Every foodie has vivid memories of the “best meals they ever ate.” If they’re lucky, they live within walking distance of the restaurants that made it happen. In Ketchum, it’s not unusual to experience such transformative and long-resonating meals. In researching the signature dishes that have helped define the local restaurant scene, I spoke to the masterminds behind the process and learned the difference between simply cooking and creating food that resonates forever after.
Ketchum Grill’s Mushroom Strudel
Chef/Owner: Scott Mason
Scott Mason was hunting for mushrooms in Oregon when I spoke to him, so it seemed only fitting that he chose Mushroom Strudel as one of Ketchum Grill’s signature dishes. Mason opened the Grill 22 years ago, after training and cooking in kitchens in Santa Barbara, Paris and Alsace. The Grill is the culmination of his efforts; a place where he creates food that diners come back for season after season.
“I had this mushroom mixture in the back of my mind and Anne (his wife and pastry chef) was making Apple Strudel at the time. I thought I’d like to make it a savory thing instead of a sweet thing,”he said.
Mushroom Strudel is a magical marriage of cream cheese, mushrooms and herbs rolled into layers of Filo dough, baked and left to cool. It’s then baked in breadcrumbs and herbs until brown and served warm with an onion marmalade, sautéed spinach or atop a salad. It’s tough to beat when accompanied by a glass of wine on a cold winter’s night in Sun Valley.
Cristina’s Restaurant’s Spezzatino
Chef/Owner: Cristina Ceccatelli Cook
Cristina Ceccatelli Cook comes by her culinary credentials naturally—she was born and raised in Tuscany, surrounded by wonderful food and wine. She came to Idaho to see America and stayed for love, marrying Ketchum architect Steve Cook. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Cristina’s in its current location, a quaint, salmon-colored bungalow rife with cozy elegance and food that is flavorful without being fussy. She loves comfort food, which is why she chose Spezzatino, classic Tuscan stew, as her signature dish.
Spezzatino is a “stufato” (Italian for food cooked on top of the stove)—loaded with beef, potatoes, tomatoes, wine, pancetta, onions and kale—cooked at low heat, all day long, ensuring a rich, delicious outcome. Spezzatino can be customized to include elk, lamb or venison, giving it a definitive Idaho twist.
Globus Restaurant & Wine Bar’s Muc Chien (Calamari)
Owner: Wendy Muir Chef: Ryan Stadelman
After managing Globus for six years, Wendy Muir bought the restaurant in 2005, after what began as a “world cuisine” bistro had slowly morphed into an Asian-themed eatery. In Wendy’s hands, that trend is changing. “My chef and I are trying to move it back to a global-fare restaurant. We still have Asian dishes, but we do some Indian dishes and others that make it more reflective of a world-themed restaurant.” Globus’ menu changes four times a year and includes the construction of seasonal salads that complement the weather. There are many local favorites, but Muir believes the Muc Chien (calamari) is a standout.
This light and airy take on an appetizer that changed the way Americans looked at squid is gluten-free and delicious. Briefly washed in egg whites, breaded with cornstarch and seasoned with salt and pepper, it’s flash fried and joined on the plate with a sweet chili Thai vinegar sauce that makes itself right at home in your mouth. It’s a great way to start off any evening.
The Kneadery’s Hiker’s Delight Oatmeal & Oatmeal Pancakes
Owners: The Witmer family
Since The Kneadery first opened in 1974, oatmeal has been a staple on the menu. The Witmer family (who also the own The Pioneer Saloon) knew a good thing when they saw one. They purchased the popular breakfast and lunch restaurant in 2004 and have maintained its home-cooked, rustic, family-friendly vibe ever since. Listed as the “Hiker’s Delight” on the menu, The Kneadery’s oatmeal has just the right amount of warmth, sustenance and flavor on cold Ketchum mornings and is the main ingredient in the oatmeal pancakes. Alyson Witmer, who bussed tables as a youngster with her dad at “The Pio” and learned the finer points of the restaurant biz at The Kneadery, is proud to be involved in this Ketchum fixture. “It’s great to see people of all ages come in together and start their day at the breakfast table. Our customers feel very at home at The Kneadery. I think our staff and our food have a lot to with that, but it’s really the customers that have made The Kneadery the local favorite that it is,” she said.
You’ll get most of your food groups covered in this old-fashioned oatmeal topped with raisins, seasonal fruit, walnuts and vanilla yogurt. For an extra hearty meal, the oatmeal can be included in their Famous Kneadery Pancakes.
Vintage’s Sun Valley Pecan-Crusted Chicken
Owner/Chef: Rodrigo Herrera
The diminutive and intimate setting at Vintage doesn’t prepare diners for the big flavors that come from the kitchen. Chef Rodrigo Herrera, who bought Vintage from founder Jeff Keys last summer, is a native of Mexico and learned about food as a child while picking produce alongside his father. “It was fun,” recalled Herrera. “It’s hard work, but it helps you understand the whole dynamic of food. From the farmer, to the broker, to the kitchen.” Herrera came to Vintage seven years ago after more than a decade in the industry. He said Vintage’s signature dish is the Sun Valley Pecan-Crusted Chicken, “We make it year-round and people come in just for that.”
A tender, organic chicken breast is encrusted with pecans, roasted and served with a sour cream Dijon mustard sauce or tomato currant chutney. Herrera varies the side dishes based on what’s seasonal—asparagus in the spring or artichokes in the fall.
Roundhouse’s Cheese Fondue
Owner: Sun Valley Company/The Holding Family
A scenic gondola ride up the mountain takes you back in time to 1939, when the The Roundhouse first opened. The Roundhouse was the mountain’s first real on-mountain “lodge” and the restaurant and bar have gone through a facelift or two over the years, but continue to offer sumptuous fare in an Old World setting with epic views. This spring they’ll unveil a remodeled Averell’s, the downstairs bar that pays homage to the resort’s founder.
Ordering fondue at The Roundhouse is a picture-perfect end to any day of making turns. In true Tyrolean tradition, fondue is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
“The biggest mistake that most people make with fondue is that they don’t get the right mixture of cheeses,” explained Todd Rubenstein, Director of Mountain Food and Beverage. That’s not a problem at The Roundhouse. Their fondue’s golden, gooey goodness is so filling it can do the job of two meals. With an expanded fondue menu this winter, they hope to do what they’ve always done—offer great food in a setting that’s nothing short of paradise.