My family's definition of après-ski eating usually involves a pile of wet outerwear on the floor and sandwiches for dinner. But after a recent outing, I knew we were out of bread, so my husband, our twins and I opted for après-ski the traditional way — tucked inside the warm, upscale setting of Hearth & Candle at Smugglers' Notch Resort.
We came straight from the slopes and found the small upstairs dining room empty, though it filled with families, resort employees and couples over the course of our meal.
Some of them, like us, were local, but Hearth & Candle also caters to resort guests on luxury ski vacations, and the prices reflect this. Entrées such as prime rib, chicken stuffed with ham and cheddar, and braised short ribs cost $25 and up. But the kids menu is a bargain, with entrées — your standard burger, noodle and chicken-finger fare — priced between $5 and $7.
There is also a "young diners' menu" for those too old for the kids menu but not yet adventurous enough for the adult version. (What 13-year-old wants duck confit?) For some reason, our otherwise attentive server didn't give us that menu. I found out about it after our meal — a shame, since my 11-year-olds would have appreciated choices like the Oscar Jr., a petite filet mignon served with grilled shrimp, mashed potatoes and green beans ($22).
My preteens were excited, however, to see that the kids menu included appetizers. They each ordered fried mozzarella sticks and savored every gooey bite while they worked intently on their coloring pages — one winning entry, selected daily, scores a free sundae the next day. My day-skiing kids wouldn't be around to collect the prize, but the activity gave me and my husband a quiet moment to sip après-ski drinks and enjoy our shrimp-and-grits appetizer. Its bright lemon flavor and buttery richness made up for the tiny size of the portion.
Our meals, well flavored and made with quality ingredients, came quickly. Each dish was good but felt like the workingman's version of a gourmet meal — a bit disappointing, considering the prices. My husband's wild-boar gnocchi sounded amazing, but both the meat and dumplings were dry. The steak that my son ordered off of the main menu came medium-rare as ordered, but the outside was charred enough to put him off.
My cedar-plank salmon was the best of the bunch. Firm but moist, it was drizzled in a delicious creamy lemon-butter sauce. The sautéed Swiss chard that accompanied it was cooked to perfection — not too crunchy, not too soggy and seasoned with just the right amount of salt. I enjoyed mine so much I ate my husband's, too. The kids-menu burger was big enough to satisfy my hungry daughter, though she could have put away a few more fries.
Except for the charred steak bits, we cleaned our plates and had room left for dessert. The maple-brioche bread pudding and brownie sundae were both good, but not lick-the-plate fantastic. My daughter, on the other hand, ordered her first crème brûlée, and it was love at first bite. Hers was the best of the desserts we tried and worth coming in for again next time Mommy "forgets" to buy bread and we are forced to après-ski in style.
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