Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hunting For A Quick Getaway

Hot in Dallas in late June, hot in Glen Rose as well, so why not be hot out there? "There" being Rough Creek Lodge, where friend Gerard Thompson is Executive Chef over this upscale hunting resort approximately 1 1/2 hours southwest of Dallas. It's a quick trip that transposes you from the "citified" green North Texas to the cusp of the desert southwest, with semi-arid plateaus arising from the ravines that mark the northern end of Texas' Hill Country. This is the Texas of the 1800's, the Chisolm trail, and on the drive out you'll pass by more than a few longhorns.

Rough Creek Lodge sits at the base of Chalk Mountain, quite a distance down a county road that continues seemingly forever until you turn into the resort entry. A long and beautiful drive across the rolling grounds, over four dry creek beds and around the lake, you arrive at the limestone building, modern, yet fitting of the starkness of it's setting.

While built primarily as a hunting resort/lodge it is no less a luxury hotel with an emphasis on 5 star accommodations in every respect. It is quintessential boutique: small, elite, with a purpose that services the upscale hunting niche. Or the guest who wants to get away to a world-class resort within a close driving distance of Dallas.

An exclusive hotel with only 51 rooms, the initial reaction to the room rate of $270 per person (based on double occupancy - essentially $540 per night for two) may elicit a slight gasp. But the price includes such things as a three-course dinner, a full gourmet breakfast the next morning, and the list of included resort activities is impressively lengthy.

Unlike a recent San Antonio stay which charged an extra $30 per night for parking and $10 for Internet access, about 90% of the activities are included with the nightly rate (among the extras - spa services, horseback riding, small charge for skeet shooting for ammo and clays). And they invite people to continue their stay even after checkout time, offering to hold their bags until they choose to leave the lake or pool, this stay could conceivably be stretched into two days and one night.

After check-in, everyone in the family had their eye on a different activity. Since it was over 100 degrees, mine involved (air conditioned) antique shopping in Stephenville, 20 minutes down the road. Sister was treated to her first massage, she declared afterwards it was glorious, then she enjoyed their large pool and water slide. The Boy and his Dad used the resorts guns to shoot skeet, then utilized their fishing boat for a little "catch and release". We all met up back in our amazing accommodations, all rooms face the north/north-east and overlook the lake and as the sun set the temperatures began to drop as hubby and I enjoyed a bottle of Chardonnay we'd brought along.

The restaurant's dinner menu is based primarily on product that is in season, chef Gerard is a California native and loves to utilize the freshest ingredients in his cuisine. I can't do his cooking justice, and I don't review restaurants, so I'm just going to post the entire menu for that evening - just remember it changes:

Starter: Grilled Texas Quail (Beluga lentils, Tasso ham & sherry maple glaze), Pan Roasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras (black pepper biscuit, shaved parma proscuitto, house made Texas peach chutney), Peach Barbecued Gulf Shrimp (Anson Mills grits and sun flower sprouts), Iron Skillet Seared Rare "Kobe Beef Sirloin" Tostada (tomatilla sauce), Poblano Pepper & Cheddar Cheese Soup (smoked duck-sweet corn fritter), Oak Grilled Wedge of Romaine (tomato caper relish & romano cheese), Warm Baby Spinach Salad (hard cooked egg, oak grilled mushrooms, red onions and mustard vinaigrette).

Main Course: Potato Crusted Halibut (oak grilled locally grown zucchini, warm heirloom tomato saffron vinaigrette and radish micro greens from the green house), Bourbon-Molasses Soaked Moulard Duck Breast (goat cheese-asparagus "mac & cheese"), Hard Wood Grilled Pork T-Bone (wild flower honey-chipotle chile whipped sweet potatoes and spinach roasted over the oak grill), Oak Grilled Filet Mignon (caramelized onion whipped potatoes, roasted asparagus, charred tomato-red wine sauce and aged black garlic), Black Pepper-Lime Marinated Hanging Tender Steak (house smoked bacon-sweet corn hash & tomato chutney).

Desserts: Valrhona Chocolate Glazed Chocolate Pound Cake (peanut butter ice cream), Vanilla Bean Banana Pudding (crisp phyllo & ginger caramel sauce), Warm Texas Pecan Pie (bourbon molasses sauce and vanilla bean ice cream), Baked To Order Texas Peach Cobbler (vanilla bean ice cream and peach ginger-lime sorbet).

Enough about the food, except that they grow their own herbs and greens in their green house, and except that we porked out on the breads that they make in-house (as well as all the sorbets and ice creams). In fact, we had no room for dessert by the time the course came around, and requested it "to go", which they informed us would be awaiting us in our room. And it was. A sign of the exemplary service they offer, reinforced the next morning when they called the room to let us actually know that brunch was ending - and we'd been missed so they just wanted to be sure we knew. The boys had gone out for more fishing and the girls were eating dessert for breakfast, but the call was very much appreciated.

From the blazing bright stars in a moonless sky that accentuated the ruralness, to the deer that wandered in the strip of land between the hotel and the lake the next morning, we were transposed to another Texas, close but not Dallas, if only for one night.

So why else read this useless blog, unless to get some extra inside scoop. Here's what I'd suggest to stretch the most out of your stay, this is the kind of place that will accommodate if they can. If you are staying on a slower evening, say a weeknight in late July or August - at check-in you may want to see if they'll upgrade your room to one of the Presidential suites, it can't hurt to ask. Or at dinner, ask if the excellent breads are available to take home, we left with a goodie bag of 3 different breads and two kinds of cookies for our drive. It was almost gone by the time we arrived home.

DISCLOSURE: We didn't get free accommodations, but we did have an "employee rate" based on the chef-brethren relationship (and many years of dining at RCL over the years). I don't think they even know I write a blog, nor was it ever discussed. I in no way altered the delightfulness of our stay in order to convince people to visit this wonderful place. I think I'm pretty sure, anyhow.

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