Bryce Canyon Lodge
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (last visit: September 2007).
Dining choices at Bryce National Park are pretty limited. Within the park, there's the lodge, or snack bar items at the general store. There are a couple of choices within a few miles of the park. Other than that, be prepared for a long drive. The Lodge is the most ambitious attempt at fine dining (or to be realistic, decent dining). I ate dinner here twice.
The limited menu contains basic preparations of fish, chicken, steak and pasta. There are a number of vegetarian entrees.
The dining room is large, with a very high ceiling and massive timbers. It has the feel of a lodge. Unfortunately, it's also noisy, tables are packed in tightly, and servers are rushing around. This is not a place to relax.
Service is not a strong point. Servers act (and probably are) rushed, and tend to let little things fall through the cracks. At my first meal, I experienced the worst timing of courses I can remember. My appetizer appeared after a reasonable amount of time. I'm an overly fast eater, but I had barely begun eating my appetizer when my entree appeared. The server looked distressed, but simply put it on the table, with a cover to keep it warm. Hint to server: yeah, the cook should have done better, but preserve the illusion of good timing by keeping the entree on a warming table behind the scenes.
An appetizer of mozzarella bruschetta consisted of four baguette rounds with thick chunks of mozzarella and chopped tomato. It would have been pretty good, but the bread was so hard I couldn't bite through it, and so dry that using a knife tended to shatter it. However, at this point in themeal I was still optimistic.
As noted above, my entree - grilled chicken molé - was served ridiculously early. That left a bad taste in my mouth. So did the chicken. The sauce looked dark and rich like molé, but tasted more like tomato sauce. The accompanying rice and green beans were bland.
Bryceberry bread pudding was the featured dessert. The bread pudding was soft, with lots of apples and raisins. Not great, but given my experience so far, I was pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, bryceberry topping with bourbon sauce was flavorless - not sweet, not sour, not anything.
Puffy potato wrapped shrimp? What was I thinking? I don't know, but I liked them. Five shrimp were wrapped in finely shredded potato and deep fried. The accompanying "oriental dipping sauce" bore a strong resemblance to those packages of orange duck sauce you get in cheaper Chinese restaurants, but it wasn't really needed anyway.
I decided that perhaps I should stick to basics, and ordered a New York strip steak. It was properly cooked, large, and had good steak flavor - a much better choice than the previous night.
For dessert: a vanilla ice cream sundae. My advice: stick to plain ice cream. The ice cream itself was pretty good, but the whipped cream and chocolate fudge were best left uneaten.
People don't visit national parks for the food - which is fortunate. Keep your expectations low, or eat snacks, or get a cooler and buy food before you reach Bryce.
As I think back on my reviews, I think the biggest reason I was so harsh is the pretention of the restaurant. I'd be quite happy with food quality even lower than I found. However, the fancy surroundings, the smartly dressed hosts, and the overall air of the place make a statement that this is a fine dining venue. It isn't.
$30 to $35 dollars for a three course meal, plus drinks, tax and tip.
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