When Joseph Mattioli was interviewing for the job as general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe a year ago, he told his soon-to-be bosses that he saw unrealized potential in the resort’s backyard.
The resort located mid-mountain at Northstar California takes a big step toward tapping that potential next month when it opens Backyard Bar & BBQ with casual dining menu — pizza, barbecue and the like.
As executives of the ski industry begin watching every weather forecast for hints of snow, entrepreneurs and resort operators are preparing to launch new dining concepts around Lake Tahoe to appeal to the ever-changing tastes of visitors.
Gunbarrel Tavern & Eatery at the base of the gondola in Heavenly Village at South Lake Tahoe, for instance, is putting a twist of classic American cuisine.
Rather than hamburgers, Gunbarrel Tavern serves bison burgers. Sweet potato fries with dipping sauce replace traditional French-fried potatoes.
Owner Alex Cox says the concept is designed to appeal to upmarket skiers who are accustomed to excellent cuisine at home and develop burger-sized appetites on the slopes.
The concept was fine-tuned by Cox at his 22 Bistro and Bar in the Village at Squaw Valley. The biggest difference: Cox expects stronger year-round business at the South Lake Tahoe restaurant as opposed to the highly seasonal Squaw location.
Kelly Bailey, who owns Earthly Delights, a gourmet deli in the Village at Northstar, says she’s updated the deli’s offerings to reflect changing tastes.
Fresh salads are in. So is fresh pasta. More gluten-free dishes are on offer, and quinoa is all the rage.
“Gluten-free is a big deal all the time,” says Bailey. “You have to have gluten-free options. Healthy is still the trend.”
So is cooking at home — or cooking in the condo. Earthly Delights has taken out its wine bar, and will devote more space to groceries as well as take-out meals.
Mattioli says the Ritz-Carlton is paying the same close attention to ingredients at Backyard Bar & BBQ — local microbrews, local honey in barbecue sauce, carefully selected wood for the wood-fired pizza oven.
A test of the barbecue concept that sent great-smelling smoke across the Northstar slopes in the waning days of the last season was “a tremendous success,” Mattioli says.
Now that the resort has invested in a permanent home for Backyard Bar & BBQ, he has even higher hopes.
“We built it, and here they come,” he says.