Known around the world to many as a blistering inferno and virtual "hell hole," Death Valley National Park in Southern California is a place of ungodly extremes: It is the hottest, lowest and driest place in North America. Perhaps that's why some say it is Satan's abode above ground.
There is more than just pretty rooms and Hollywood nostalgia at this remote place in the sun. The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining Room has also developed quite a reputation for its fine dining scene - one that extends far beyond the boundaries of the park. Case in point: During my recent stay at the Inn at Furnace Creek, I saw a private helicopter land less than 500 yards from the hotel. A female passenger emerged and briskly walked to the hotel's dining room to enjoy their famous Sunday brunch.
Naturally curious, I asked around about her. I was told that the mysterious guest from Santa Barbara comes about once a month for a quick getaway and to enjoy dining in the desert. That's quite a tribute to the resident chef, Michelle Hanson, who has been with Xanterra Parks & Resorts for almost 12 years (The Inn at Furnace Creek is operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts).
Preferring to be called "Mic," her bubbling personality and infectious smile easily announce her presence in any room. She exudes a zest for life. As for her flair for food, she claims to come by it honestly - a DNA sort-of thing that her grandfather passed on to her.
"He bought my first 25 cook books," she explains. "I would dog-ear a few so that when people would ask who I was trained by, I could say Julia Child...and Mr. T.N. Baker (grandpa)."
I asked Chef Mic for starter recommendations. "Our desert appetizers such as Mojave Margarita as well as crispy cactus or warm jalapeno cheesecake are always popular," she replies (The Mojave Margarita is a hand-stretched pizza with heirloom tomato puree, mozzarella and a basil chiffonade). My run-away favorite is the Fig & Proscuitto pizza - a smoked gouda concoction with dried figs, prosciutto di Parma and rosemary-infused extra-virgin olive oil.
However, Chef Mic adds that everyone should at least try the cactus. After munching on a second helping, I readily agree. If you have room after a sampler of appetizers, a variety of entrees will entice the palate. Try the duck - a recommendation by the chef.
In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, Afternoon Tea is served daily and can be enjoyed with hotel favorites such as date bread and date cookies - specially baked by the Inn. I confess to having snuck some date bread back home to Maryland and enjoying it with Zentis Wild Berry Preserves.
Sunday brunch draws crowds from miles around, so best to come early. Afterwards play golf on the lowest golf course in the world. Or go horseback riding, hiking or jeeping. Many guests prefer to simply lounge around the pool while soaking in some of the most magnificent desert vistas around.
The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining Room is open to hotel guests as well as to desert ramblers in search of fine dining. When I asked Chef Mic why people should come to such a remote place, she said, "It's for the view, but I have been told by a couple of regulars that it is also for the food."
Photo Credit: Karin Leperi & The Inn at Furnace Creek
Furnace Creek Inn
Furnace Creek Inn
Pool & Desert View