Yurts So Good
Food Tastes Better in the Woods
Strangers when the meal began, the couples seated across the table from each other now seemed fast friends.
“Tell me the next time you come to Utah and I’ll pick you up from the airport,” one says to the other.
After several hours at a communal table inside Viking’s cozy yurt, feasting over berry-spiced glogg in pewter mugs, lobster and salmon cream soup, braised short ribs and lemon tarragon sorbet, a friendship was forged.
Viking Yurt and The Yurt at Solitude are two notable spots in Utah that offer high-mountain fine dining experiences in an intimate environment.
The Viking Yurt in Park City
Joy Vik says she’s seen many such relationships germinate in her 20 years as co-owner with Norwegian husband Geir of Viking Yurt at Park City Mountain Resort.
“I think we need more relaxed interaction with strangers these days,” she says. “We’ve had couples meet and date; one eventually got married and returns every year for their anniversary. Our staff is amazed too, but I think like-minded people want the dining adventure we offer and that’s why it works.”
The adventure begins at 11:30 a.m. for lunch and 6 p.m. for dinner every day from December through March. An excited group clad in bulky coats, gloves and knit hats waits excitedly in the warm Legacy Lodge at the Park City resort before braving the frigid air for the journey to the yurt. Lap blankets are distributed for extra warmth.
At 23 minutes, the ride in Viking Yurt’s open sleigh 1,800 feet up the mountain through towering pines and under twinkling stars is just long enough to be fun without freezing. Welcoming light spills out the windows of the festively decorated yurt into the surrounding forest. Inside, communal tables are beautifully set and waiters smile in greeting.
For the next few hours, a parade of exquisite dishes is prepared and served in view of the guests. A pianist tickles the ivories at a baby grand, adding to the joie de vivre. At meal’s end, diners climb back in the sleigh full and happy for the ride down the mountain.
The Yurt at Solitude
Picture a 20-minute walk on a winter evening through a snowy pine-scented forest with the sun just beginning to set. It’s a peaceful and exquisite beginning to The Yurt at Solitude’s fine dining experience in the woods. Snowshoes are optional.
As with Viking Yurt, tables are communal, and the maximum number of guests is limited — 26 at Solitude and 40 at Viking. Solitude’s menu varies according to the freshest seasonal ingredients Chef Craig Gerome can find locally from week to week, but on this particular night guests are served a salad of winter chicories, persimmon, Bellwether Farm ricotta, pine nuts, prosciutto and aged balsamic dressing. Soup is diver sea scallops, Prince Edward Island mussels, coconut and lemongrass, smoked chili, and fried shishito peppers. The main entrée includes a butter-and-herb-basted filet mignon, fork-crushed English peas, patty pan squash, bordelaise sauce, and bearnaise. Dessert is served in a jar — a mix of local honey and vanilla bean panna cotta, warm chocolate cake, dulce de leche and dried peanut butter.
Prior to dinner, the three-man kitchen team puts on a comedy show of sorts as they explain the history of The Yurt, their various roles and the menu.
Again, strangers quickly become friends. Overheard: “Can I use my fingers to get the mussels out of the shells?” “What happens in The Yurt, stays in The Yurt,” jokes a diner visiting from New Hampshire. It’s his family’s first time at Solitude, and they plan to return next winter for five nights instead of just two. “We love skiing on the quiet snow here,” he says. “Back east it’s so icy and loud.”
Before leaving The Yurt, some of the guests exchange social media information.
On the walk back, guests comment on how much they enjoyed the intimacy of the experience, excellent food and stroll through the woods. One expressed surprise that the two 18-year-olds in his group “absolutely loved it.” “I don’t think they thought they were going to have fun with a bunch of ‘old people.’”
Because you’re already splurging, consider making a night of it in a spacious slope-side room at The Inn at Solitude where you can watch skiers glide down the mountain under blue skies. And when dinner concludes, simply walk into your room instead of driving down the canyon.