El Tovar (Grand Canyon South Rim)
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (last visit: May 2009).
The El Tovar Dining Room, located in the hotel of the same name, is the top dining spot at the South Rim. Open all year, it serves, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast includes the basics, adds a few Mexican dishes, and even offers a few fancier dishes like eggs Benedict. The lunch menu offers sandwiches, but also prime rib and pork roast. For dinner, things get a little fancier, with choices such as roast duck and veal scallopini.
The room has a vaulted ceiling with large beams. The roof peak is perhaps 20 feet high, sloping down to around 12 feet at the side walls. There is a lot of dark wood. Tables are nicely spaced; soft music plays in the background; there's some noise, but it isn't objectionable. Moderately large windows let in lots of light during the day, but there was no view of the canyon from anywhere near where I sat.
Service was generally efficient, although not especially warm or friendly. One minor lapse: the check was presented, without comment, along with the dessert. Still, by national park standards, this was good - much better than at the North Rim or at Bryce.
Meal #1 - Lunch
I had lunch soon after I arrived at the Grand Canyon Village - around 2:20 pm. The sign (and the web site, for that matter) said that lunch service ended at 2 pm. However, the hostess said I was welcome to enter. Pretty nice!
I ordered a Navajo Taco: Navajo fry bread, shredded Cheddar cheese, beans, lettuce, onion, tomato and ground beef, with salsa on the side. The fry bread was neither crisp nor flavorful. The other ingredients were pretty standard.
Meal #2 - Dinner
I had been hiking all day, and was ready to eat everything in sight. The bread basket didn't stand a chance. The herb muffin was crumbly and good. The herbed dinner rolls were standard but decent.
My appetizer was buffalo carpaccio. Four oval slices of toasted bread were topped with rolled carpaccio and pine nuts. The meat was soft, lean and slightly sweet - or was that the dressing? I liked it.
Next were peppercorn crusted venison rib chops. It was indeed very peppery - best eaten with most of the crust scraped off. The four ribs, a large portion, were OK, but the pepper overwhelmed any other flavors, and the meat was pretty tough. I'd give it a rating of good minus. The accompanying Stilton rosemary mashed potatoes sounded exotic, but were just odd - not good at all.
For dessert: flourless chocolate cake a la mode. Super rich, of course. It was a gooey yet firm chocolate and raspberry and nut "cake" with chocolate ganache icing. Oddly, the scoop of ice cream was served in a separate dish - but who really cares? As a confirmed chocolate fiend, I rated it very good.
National parks are not the place to go for gourmet meals or stellar service. Nonetheless, El Tovar is reasonably good, and does a better job than any of the places I've tried in other parks.
$63 plus tip.
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