THE FOODIE FILES: Off-Season Indulgence

By on November 3, 2015

Locals feel the culinary love this month.

Chefs René Stein and Paul O’Connor plate honey roasted trout with pumpkin puree (left); Chefs Jeff Drew and Stein plate Drew’s roasted pumpkin ravioli with grilled radicchio (center) and beef tartar with egg yolk, smoked paprika, roasted bread and tiny potato cubes. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

Chefs René Stein and Paul O’Connor plate honey roasted trout with pumpkin puree (left); Chefs Jeff Drew and Stein plate Drew’s roasted pumpkin ravioli with grilled radicchio (center) and beef tartar with egg yolk, smoked paprika, roasted bread and tiny potato cubes. (Photo: Annie Fenn, MD)

Jackson, WY – When I moved to Jackson 21 years ago, Shades Café was the only place in town to get a decent cup of coffee. LeJay’s Sportsmen’s Café was the only late-night eatery — the place I ducked into after working late at the hospital for a plate of eggs accompanied by bad coffee and great people watching. Town was deserted, like an actual ghost town, from October to December, and there was no such thing as a two-for-one special. In fact, most of the restaurants closed for the offseason.

Now some say town is busy all the time, that we no longer have an off-season. But there is a delicious upside to this year-round popularity: Our little mountain town has grown into a celebrated foodie destination. Last year, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Jackson Hole one of its top five “new foodie cities” — the only ski town on the list.

Our food scene is exploding with innovative chefs putting their own spin on high country cuisine. For those of us who don’t leave town come November, it’s a great time to try a new restaurant, book a table at an old favorite and discover what our chefs are up to in the kitchen.

Fine Dining Restaurant Group is to be applauded for making the offseason two-for-one special part of the local culture, as well as for raising the bar on the diversity and quality of dining options available. Believe me, when Gavin Fine and Chef Roger Freedman opened Rendezvous Bistro in 2001, it was a big deal for foodies. Since 2011, Fine Dining’s Jackson restaurants (Rendezvous Bistro, Il Villagio Osteria, Q Roadhouse and Brewing Co., Bin22) have offered an ingenious two-for-two special: buy one entrée at the regular price, get a second entrée of equal or lesser value for $2 donated back to the featured nonprofit organization of the week. At Fine Dining’s The Kitchen, plates are specially priced in the offseason at $12, with a $1 donation per guest going to nonprofits.

To date, Fine Dining Restaurant Group has donated more than $100,000 to nonprofit organizations in Teton County. “We love that the community rallies behind the off-season special and helps us give back,” said Kendra Alessandro, Fine Dining’s communications director. “Some nonprofits even hold their board meetings here during the off-season.” Bin22, our small scale, local version of the Italian emporium Eataly, is my favorite place for an in town lunch, especially when the two-for-two special is in effect.

It’s worth opening an Instagram account just to get notified of the Snake River Grill’s pop-up specials during the month of October. It could be 20 percent off your food bill, 50 percent off bottles of wine, or both. The day before closing for the season, SRG (@snakerivergrilljh) offered its famous burger with a caesar salad for $20. The Indian (@theindianjh) also posts lunch and dinner specials just for their Instagram followers.

I always try to book a table at The Blue Lion during the offseason for the two-for-one entrée special. My husband’s favorite dish in Jackson — the roast rack of lamb — is just as good now as it was the year we moved here. And now that Trio, An American Bistro has brought back its wheel of fortune, there’s no place more fun in the off-season. After dinner, the whole restaurant joins in to cheer as guests spin for a chance to win any number of great deals: a free entrée, appetizer or dessert, half off a bottle of wine, 20 percent off the total or just the tip.

Each year the array of off-season restaurant specials seems to multiply. Cafe Genevieve, Gather, Thai Me Up, Local, The Silver Dollar Bar and Grill, Sweetwater, Noodle Kitchen, Artisan Pizza and Caldera Pizza are among some of the eateries running specials this month.

This year I tried the latest restaurant to hop on the off-season special bandwagon: Figs inside Hotel Jackson. This locally owned, Lebanese-flavored spot offers two-for-one entrées at breakfast and dinner, and $5 appetizers and drink specials from 4 to 6 p.m. I recommend skipping the breakfast (at least until they get their kitchen staff reorganized) and opting for a selection of mezze at happy hour: house-made pita bread, authentic plates of hummus and baba ganoush, and lamb ribs. If you are lucky to have local mountaineer and inspirational speaker Stephen Koch as your bartender, he’ll keep your glass topped off with Jackson Hole Winery’s Rendezvous Red.

The best two meals I’ve had this off-season were two-for-ones of a different sort —Sub Rosa dinners at The Rose. Chef René Stein invites another local chef to collaborate on a 15- course menu for six lucky diners seated in the Rose’s tiny kitchen. Handpicked wine pairings by Ryan McReynolds and craft cocktails by mixologist Meagan Schmoll take the meal over the top.

The inaugural Sub Rosa on Oct. 21 paired Stein with Chef Paul O’Connor of the Old Yellowstone Garage Restaurant and Catering. O’Connor is a longtime beloved local chef who cooked at the original Old Yellowstone Garage, was nominated for a James Beard Award while at Il Villagio Osteria, and now has reincarnated OYG in Alpine. He plans to launch another restaurant concept in the Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse, which he takes over in December.

Any food enthusiast would be thrilled to snag one of the six seats in The Rose kitchen. Each dish is a perfect reflection of the chef’s individual style. Stein, who earned a Michelin star as executive chef at Seasonal in New York before moving to Jackson, creates beautiful dishes that are refined, precise, artful and vegetable-forward. His honey roasted Idaho trout with pumpkin puree, chanterelle, and hidden rose apple is perfectly balanced and stunning on the plate. Stein’s deceptively simple “Fall Consommé” with mushrooms, onion, and lovage had us all swooning over the flavors – clean and earthy at the same time. O’Connor’s style is hearty, rustic, lusty and Sicilian, but with modernist twists (like the grilled pizza smeared with a sous vide cooked egg yolk sauce, then topped with beef tartar). I hope to get the recipe for the most interesting gnocchi I’ve ever had: O’Connor’s pancetta gnocchi Parisienne made with spiced apples and kale.

The next Sub Rosa on Nov. 2 paired Stein with another James Beard nominated chef —Jeff Drew of the Snake River Grill. Fresh from his stint cooking at the James Beard Foundation’s USA Pavilion in Milan, Drew treated guests to the dishes he chose to represent Jackson Hole’s cuisine in Milan.  Brussels sprouts are deep fried and given a dusting of “Caesar” salad anchovies, Parmesan, and bread crumbs; Venison tenderloin is cooked to perfection sous vide, seared in sea salt, and served with hazelnut polenta and a grape must, star anise, cabernet reduction; a chocolate truffle oozed a sweet and spicy apricot and habañero pepper filling. The Stein/Drew pairing in the kitchen exceeded all expectations.

Dinner at Sub Rosa is not the cheapest option to be had among Jackson’s plethora of off-season specials. But Sub Rosa is not just another great meal; it’s a chance to see how cooking becomes an art form. The experience of watching two acclaimed chefs, cooking and plating side by side in such an intimate kitchen setting, while sampling some of the best food anywhere — in my mind, that’s priceless.

The good news for those who didn’t make the first two Sub Rosas: The Rose plans to continue offering Sub Rosa chef collaboration dinners on a regular basis.  PJH

About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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