Complements and Compliments: The Dining Room at Sugar Bowl

Complements and Compliments: The Dining Room at Sugar Bowl reflects Chef Alan Davis’ Philosophy

It was almost magical, riding the gondola in the sparkling snow and winter lights, atingle with anticipation at meeting Chef Alan Davis at the Dining Room of the Lodge at Sugar Bowl. Alan is the very creative chef there, and his philosophy of wine and food is simply put: he designs food to match the wine.

When Chef Alan first joined Sugar Bowl to amplify the wine list and menu, the restaurant was known as Four Peaks. He’d come to Sugar Bowl after already putting 12 years experience at Rainbow Lodge on his resume, along with a stint in West Palm Beach training under an Alsatian chef.

“it’s a symbiotic situation,” Chef Alan proclaims. “Finding good wines is a joy, and matching my menu to those wines is a dream come true.” He likes to find complementary wines – for example, a dry wine with rich food. Alan starts every fall by tasting about 200 wines, and he has his menu in mind but not completed. The result is terrific.

Alan poured a sparkling Gruet Blanc de Noir to start, accompanied by one of his signature dishes, pan seared diver scallop on a bed of sweet mashed potatoes, with a brown butter sauce and chives. This dish is rich, and the Gruet was a nice choice. The palette-cleansing effect of champagne is a sure winner with such a pairing, and the Gruet Blance de Noir is a dryer champagne without a sweet back finish.

Next was the 2006 Mount Vernon Petite Syrah, with fruit sourced from Cooper Vineyard in Amador County and made in small quantities at the winery in Auburn CA, uses a lot of oak to emulate a French style of Syrah. On the nose, raspberry licorice chocolate aromas, with a cherry cherry taste, and a nice finish, not too tannic. 13.9% alcohol. This paired nicely with the pan seared Scottish salmon finished with a saffron broth and garnished with braised French lentils.

The absolutely spectacular dish and wine pairing was the medallions of New Zealand venison served with the 2006 Acorn Sangiovese, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley, California. I like the wines from Acorn, and it is to their credit that the winery takes care to field blend its wines from grapes that are estate-grown and sustainably farmed. This magnificently balanced wine offers a bit of spice, a touch of tannin, creamy oak, berries, and cherry, cocoa, blueberry, mocha. Yummy! 14.1% alcohol. The venison was perfect, accompanied by grilled swiss chard and finished with a lingonberry glace. This is one of Chef Alan’s new menu items; it is a winner!

Not on the printed menu, but a frequent special at the Dining Room at Sugar Bowl, is the quail in a bed of risotto redolent of white truffle, garnished with morel mushrooms. Pair this with a 2007 Domaine Des Vercheres, Macon-Village white burgundy; to the credit of the restaurant (and rare!), it was served at the perfect temperature. This burgundy complemented the richness of the asiago cheese that was used to flavor the risotto, as the wine is a bit on the dry side while still being full-bodied and rich. It is nicely balanced and flavors of peach, legume and grapefruit carry through to a lingering finish. 12.5% alcohol.

Hours for the Dining Room at SugarBowl’s Lodge are 5:30 to 9 p.m. seven days a week during the winter, until the 2nd week of April. Summer hours begin July 4th, and the Dining Room serves Wednesdays through Sundays. Reservations recommended, 530 426 9000. Watch for the winemaker dinners too at

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in February 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

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