After a day of slicing your skis through blankets of snow, you're ready to tuck into a cozy, fireside chair with something warm and boozy in your mug and a plate of comforting, Alpine-inspired fare. Preferably, cheese-laden.
As ski season officially kicks off, Lake Tahoe area chefs are whipping up winter fixings for a lively après scene. The dishes range from Swiss favorites, such as a tartiflette, a potato and pancetta gratin at Z Bistro in Carson City, to seasonal, wood-fired pizzas and a modern barbecue blowout at the northern Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, where a new slopeside restaurant will debut in mid-December.
"Think of it," executive chef Stanley Miller says. "You're on the slopes at Northstar, and you're building up an appetite. Suddenly, you smell charcoal, wood and smoke going up the mountain."
Miller promises saloon-style cocktails to pair with his on-site smoked St. Louis-style ribs and brisket as well as seasonal flatbread pizzas from the outdoor oven. If you want something truly warm and savory, duck inside to tuck into a bowl of his butternut squash porridge, made decadent with honey and heavy cream, at the Manzanita restaurant.
Still craving that fireside feeling? Toss back a mug of TCHO drinking chocolate and attend a daily roasting session with the resident marshmalogist (yes, for real) who helps guests personalize s'mores with mint, vanilla, raspberry, caramel or pumpkin flavors at the resort's fire pit.
"It starts at 4 p.m. daily, and at 3:55 p.m. you start seeing hordes of kids line up," Miller says.
Farther south, at Jake's on the Lake in Tahoe City, bar manager Rylan Cordova crafts winter-inspired cocktails to complement chef Scott Yorkey's hearty cuisine, from a tart, pickled cranberry lemon drop to a popular Keoke Coffee served warm with brandy, Kahlua and crème de cocoa.
"It really warms you up after a day on the mountain," he says. Bonus: It perks you up, too.
However, Jake's most popular hot toddy is Yorkey's Secret Family Recipe hot buttered rum, which regulars have asked for by name for the past seven years. "Let's just say it's got a good, balanced flavor with a warm sweetness," says Cordova, who, along with Yorkey, works with farmers through Tahoe Food Hub to source local and organic seasonal ingredients from within 150 miles.
If you want to make your own drinks at the cabin -- or at home, for that matter -- author Maria del Mar Sacasa offers modern takes on traditional cold-weather drinks, like Earl Grey-Lavender Hot Chocolate spiked with honey, or Rompope, a custardy, Venezuelan eggnog, in her new book, "Winter Cocktails" (Quirk, $22.95, 160 pages).
The food stylist and "Serious Eats" columnist created many of the recipes based on flavor combinations she loves in the baking world. Her Mulled Wine is reminiscent of pear compote: It starts with fruity white zinfandel simmered with sage and thyme, and finished with pear eau-de-vie and fresh, thinly sliced pears.
"It's a great, unexpected way to greet people when it's cold outside," she says. "And it goes down really easy."
Her Pumpkin-Bourbon Eggnog, which gets extra warmth from a shot of brandy, came out of the desire to create something unique in the midst of pumpkin overload -- not to mention her dislike of the cloying carton nogs.
"It gave me a gag reflex the first time I tried that stuff," del Mar Sacasa says. "A good nog should be light and taste like melted ice cream." She gets that effect by beating egg whites into glossy, meringuelike peaks, then folding them into the pumpkin mixture.
"It's really fluffy and airy," she says, "like snow drift."
Reach Jessica Yadegaran at jyadegaran@bayareanews group.com.
Looking for more molten cheesy goodness? Mill Valley chef Tyler Florence favors a classic cheese fondue made with equal parts Gruyere and imported Swiss, white wine and kirsch.
Sue Conley and Peggy Smith are no strangers to Alpine fromage either. The owners of Cowgirl Creamery dish on Swiss Raclette in their new "Cowgirl Creamery Cooks" (Chronicle, $35, 256 pages). Slices of raclette cheese are toasted over an open fire until they turn golden brown and bubbly, then served with boiled potatoes and crisp cornichons or homemade pickles.