The move to serving locally grown and produced foods has been difficult and slow to catch on in this town at 8,000 feet, where the growing season has a half-life of zero.
But it’s Marc Mora’s goal: Local. Sustainable. Eastern Sierra.
Mora is Executive Chef for all of Mammoth Mountain’s restaurants. He expanded on his mantra during a recent dinner at Lakefront, the intimate eatery in the Tamarack Lodge. Our dinner gave new bite to the word fresh…fiddleheads and mussels, beets and fennel, arugula, halibut and veal.
We started this food adventure in the lobby, sitting on tall chairs with a view out the window of men fishing in lower Twin Lake. While we sipped an amazing pinot noir as smooth as the surface of the lake at that time of evening, chef Bobby Brown brought us a plate of fiddleheads.
Okay, stop right there. Fiddleheads? I always knew they were ferns. Where I grew up, they popped out of the ground like groupings of violin scrolls. But I never knew you could eat them until I learned that succulent fact in Japan, where there is a delightful practice of eating what grows outside your door in the springtime. It’s called fukinoto, or eating spring.
And that’s what we did. These fiddleheads were from Oregon and presented on a lovely green plate. In Japan presentation is at least half of the food experience; this was true at the Lakefront as well.
Executive Chef Mora and Bobby Brown, Lakefront’s chef, described the components of these delights, so that we were able to identify flavors and accents we never would have known.
The fiddleheads were prepared with Meyer lemon skin, black garlic and pickled ginger—all balanced, enhancing those divine curls of green. The consistency was perfect.
Our second appetizer, Mutiny Bay mussels from Puget Sound, were prepared in an artisanal chorizo broth, which tasted like the ocean with a kick. We couldn’t stop scooping up that heavenly wine/butter/fish stock broth with the mussel shells, until the platter was clean as a whistle.
Little did we know what came next.
We moved to the historic dining room (10 tables) where Chef Mora brought us a small plate of what looked like grass clippings. It held strands of sorrel and arugula for us to taste—the lemony lightness of the sorrel and the peppery sharpness of the arugula. Both are grown locally and both appeared in the salads we were served. The first was a trinity of beets tossed with shaved red horseradish root and a black garlic crème mousse—a feast of color and taste, nothing competing, all enhancing. Then a refreshing citrus fennel salad that layered flavors of arugula, fennel, grapefruit segments and mixed them with a citrus vinaigrette, grapefruit peel and pistachios. Yum.
As Mora told us (he’s emphasizing seasonality in the menu, and at the time, spring applied), “We’re looking for a ‘taste of spring,’ a light taste on the palate.” They succeeded. With a flavor-forward mindset and a commitment to seasonal foods, this pair of chefs is superb at matching flavors. They are aided and abetted in their flavorful explorations by the produce of Banner Springs Farm in Benton and Sierra Bounty. Meats come through Sierra Meats in Reno from Durham Ranch in Wyoming, known for high standards and quality.
Complemented by an Archery Summit Pinot, our entrees ranged from Alaskan line-caught halibut and grilled Colombia River king salmon to steak, veal chop and venison—all delicious. All served with exceptional vegetables, fresh, light, unexpected, such as organic red quinoa, blue lake beans, red sunchokes, beluga lentils and farro risotto.
Chef Mora is from Los Angeles, where there are no seasons. Coming to Mammoth has fostered a keen interest in seasons and seasonal cooking. He arrived at this altitude in the fall season of 2011, and brought Bobby Brown to Lakefront just before last Thanksgiving.
In the same breath that Mora tells a story of his grandmother and her belief that the most intimate thing you can do for someone is to cook for them, Brown says that food brings people together. They are clearly a match made in the kitchen, two guys with a flair for food combinations, and trying new things. We had the sensation that we were being fed the food of love, and indeed, Bobby Brown loves what he does. The 29-year-old, CIA trained chef loves to cook, he cooks what he loves to eat, and he cooks with imagination and excitement.
Every waiter worth his sea salt will tell diners to save room for dessert, but we almost never do. No one in our group refused the almond custard tart, the gala apple strudel or the bittersweet chocolate ganache. Indescribably delicious.
Every aspect of the meal was perfection, as was the company. The location is magical. Even if you live in Mammoth, there’s something about Lakefront that makes you feel like you’re on vacation in the north woods. Celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, life—with a repast at Lakefront. Often.
(Photo: Peter Morning)