The first thing I noticed is how symbiotic this hotel is with its Sierra Nevada environment. Out by the pool is the lunch restaurant, featuring traditional barbecue, wood-fired oven-baked pizzas and seasonal beverages. The executive chef is Stanley Miller and this potentate of pots and pans is a thoroughbred in the chefdom world.
Starting at age 13, working in his father’s butcher shop, he followed his passion for baking and graduated from Johnson and Wales in Charlotte, North Carolina. His resume reads like a fine dining Americana tour: CreoLa in New Orleans, Bacchanalia in Atlanta, Marriott Marquis Time Square NYC, Vix at South Beach in Miami, the Ritz-Carlton Orland, and now this jewel at Northstar.
Arguably America’s great luxury hotel chain—its parent company is Marriott—everything is at top shelf level. I was shown the custom-built meat smoker from a company in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and then the custom-built pizza oven. Then I got a sniff of the three proprietary rubs for the meats and poultry. I got a tour of the on-site herb garden and root vegetable garden. Are you getting the picture? The Ritz has a standard, creates and meets expectations, and yes, has a bit higher prices. These accoutrements make the Ritz’s kitchens the epitome of restauranteuring.
That being said, all the food they served me, I ate with my hands. The menu ($14-$29) includes sandwiches, burgers, brisket, pork, chicken, ribs, salmon and flatbread pizza ($18 each). Everything is al a carte, and it has a backyard picnic feel. There are 10 custom libations at $14 each, including Zephyr Refresher with Grey Goose, St. Germain, cucumber and lime juice, and Lady Lavender with Hendricks Gin, Cointreau, lavender, orange marmalade and lemon juice.
A few wines by-the-glass ($12-$16) and some interesting beers on tap, in growlers and bottled. Since I ate at the barbecue, I tried one of the beers, Take-a-Hike IPA 16 oz. ($6) from Block 3 Brewing out of Ontario, Canada. It wasn’t too hoppy with a citrusy finish. There’s a frozen drink machine and shaved ices with, of course, house-made syrups—blueberry, strawberry and others.
The meat fell off the ribs (half a rack $21). Apple-wood smoked and four house-made sauces, from tangy sweet to bitter, allow you to create your own flavor profiles. I tried a dab of each and all had distinctive, flavorful tastes.
The Carson Sausage Factory make them a jalapeño cheddar sausage ($16) which is smoked and topped with ale—soaked sauerkraut and amazing grain mustard mixed in to give your palate a ride in flavors and textures. Sharp-tart, smoky heat and a rich finish backed by the cheddar makes this link memorable.
The pulled pork sandwich ($18) is over the top with flavor. It’s a bone-in pork butt smoked for 18 hours until the bone pulls out. The rub includes paprika, cayenne, black pepper, garlic, chili powder, oregano, brown sugar and salt. All sides are extra at $5 each, and I tried them all. The slaw was memorable, purple cabbage marinated in an apple cider vinegar, sugar, celery seed and mustard powder dressing, tart with a savory zing.
For those who are coffee aficionados, the coffee shop serves Blue Bottle coffee ($4.50). For those who have never heard of this quaff, it’s the single-cup-at-a-time brewed liquid black gold standard of java.
It’s summer, and it’s an easy drive to Northstar. Have an adventure and find this new place to eat. Know that the prices are not for the faint of wallet, but you pay for a memorable foodie experience with excellent food and super service—where you’re made to feel special, and in a magnificent Sierra setting. César Ritz and Georges Escoffier would approve.