Grace notes from the Methow Valley
The Freestone Inn, Mazama’s wonderful Wilson Ranch hideaway, is now owned and operated by Kerry Kozuki and David Byers. Kozuki was GM of the WAC until this past May when he opened this new chapter in his hospitality career. The Freestone’s vaulted timbers and river rock fireplaces and its ski-in and out x-country trails make Freestone the premiere snow-lovers’ base. Kozuki and Kerry are feeling their way through their first winter season before making any radical moves, but one welcome change is giving Jack’s Hut a rebirth as a wonderful haven for après-ski hot soups and drinks. And the snow is great right now.
So, too, is the intimate restaurant under the tutelage of Executive Chef Suzanne Smart, who applies her imagination and flavor insights to create an intriguing menu dotted with veggies with a touch of maple syrup or a butternut squash soup made with coconut milk. In keeping with the feel of the Methow, the emphasis is on seasonal, local food; a new American northwest style. Continental breakfast is included with the room, and there is a prix fixe option at dinner. The evening menu is augmented by a fine wine list, the backbone of which is made up of gems from Mazama's Lost River Winery.
Lost River's tasting room is on the west edge of Winthrop (plus there’s a Seattle tasting room on Western Ave, just north of the market). John Morgan and Barbara House and Barbara’s son, Liam Doyle, started the family-run winery just ten years ago. John, who gave up his civil engineer career when they moved to Mazama, is a self taught winemaker — and a damn good one. Lost River began winning medals right out of the box — or, more aptly, the barrel. And Doyle has applied his brand and marketing experience to make Lost River stand out. A couple of 2006 Cedarosas, a Cabernet Franc and a Merlot blend were very well received on Christmas Eve. The Freestone Inn's Kozuki recommends the Lost River Nebbiolo.
Back to that snow: dry light powder, absolutely clean and bright. We are not heli-skiers, which is available at Freestone; it’s the trails that beckon us. The Methow Valley Sport Trails Association, MVSTA, has an incredible 120-mile network of groomed trails, easy greens, fun and challenging blues and awesome blacks. And snowshoeing trails lace the area. Good trail guidance and all the skiing gear you might need to buy or rent are at the Mazama Ski Shop next to the Mazama General Store. Are there sno-mobiles in the Methow? Yes, but save for a temporary detour on the tough Goat Creek Trail, cross-country skiers are kept well insulated from the noisy stink-potters.
You might find some of them (along with everybody else in the valley) at Michael Clayton’s Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon in Winthrop. It’s the oldest legal saloon in Washington with swinging doors, hardwood floors and Westerner Wanna-bes; open seven days a week from “7am ‘til closing.” For a hearty lunch with pool tables, microbrews and all the rusticity one can stand, it’s the place to see and be seen at least once during a Methow weekend.
For a dinner away from the Freestone, the Arrowleaf Bistro in Winthrop is quite special. Jon Brown, chef, and Joanne Uehara, restaurant manager, opened Arrowleaf four seasons ago, and have earned their reputation for top-tier fine dining. The service is caring and civilized, and the French-themed cuisine exquisite. And it’s small, quiet and intimate.
For a very different atmosphere and delightful evening, head for Tappi in Twisp. Owner/host/pizziaolo John Bonica, drawing on his Sicilian and Venetian roots, has re-created a country Italian bistro here in Eastern Washington. There’s nothing like it west of the Cascades. Centered around an Italian fruit wood-fired masonry stove, Bonica works his magic with steaks, chops, shanks and pizzas — all based on local produce and producers.
His own creation: cuscino, a pillow-shaped pizza dough dumpling topped with roasted tomatoes and chevre; a meal in itself, says Bonica, especially when accompanied by one of his marvelous Italian wines. Plenty of pasta, music and colorful tales. Like the Arrowleaf, open four days a week. Belly up to the bar to get the best from this former ad man, newspaper publisher, now restaurateur and host extraordinaire.
Just beware: an evening with John, a stay with Kerry, MVSTA trails, Lost River wines and great dining might turn you into Methow Valley junkies.