I cringe when the third course arrives at Gold Hill Inn. I cringe because I realize there’s no way to describe this unique experience without feeling gross and unqualified.
You can’t review Gold Hill Inn in the same way you can’t review, say, a whale.
You can’t review it because it is unique, earnest and wonderful in a way that cannot be put into words but can only be experienced. This is what the best restaurants (and whales) do. But more than that, it’s hard to simply describe Gold Hill Inn without a catalog of experiences and a mental encyclopedia of everything from mining to homesteading to fine dining.
So what can I do for the next three columns? I can describe Gold Hill Inn and its dinner service as simply as possible and urge you to go for the first time or revisit the place before season’s end in December.
My Korean car has about 200 horses worth of power, which is apparently just enough to get up Lickskillet Road. How this 12 percent grade, all-dirt and potholed road exists is a mystery but it’s a fitting portal to Gold Hill. We walk down the wooden plank sidewalks of the Bluebird Lodge. It’s quiet and cool, and there’s a yellow dog running toward us with a big goofy grin on his face. The dog veers off, and we step into the Gold Hill Inn. There’s a big bar room in front. To the left an old man is playing acoustic guitar and belting out a Jason Isbell tune and to the right is an unlit fireplace. There’s 1-by-6-ish wood beams supporting the roof and old wood creaks as you walk across the floor.
The menu is only available on a chalkboard before you enter the dining room. You can order a 3- or 6-course meal for $28 and $36 respectively.
We sit by an open yellow window. Three white daisies drink from a small glass vase on the table, next to a homemade candle and a table setting with assorted vintage silverware.
The first course was a cucumber boat with herb cheese. The cucumber was skinned and hollowed, then filled with a fluffy combination of cheeses and spicy green herbs. It’s topped with paprika and served alongside a fresh fruit jam of strawberries, rhubarb and melon, and homebaked bread.
Next were the duck miso soup and a cup of cold peach and yam soup, which was slightly tart, sweet and had cinnamon mixed in. It was about the consistency of applesauce. The duck miso soup was rich in umami, benefitted by the duck broth and the rich brown mushrooms.
Two salads arrived next — one with a house “Casey” dressing and one with a plum vinaigrette. The plum vinaigrette was thick and sweet. The house dressing was like a lighter, sweeter Caesar dressing. Without the anchovy or heavy cream, it was refreshing with the slivered beets, jicama and veggies on the salad.
The main courses were a roasted half duck in rhubarb slaw and a marinated lamb steak. We also had dessert later (a rum cake and a cheese plate), which was fine, but I want to talk about the duck for the remainder of this review.
There was a beautiful char on the duck, which caused the skin to slightly bubble. The skin was like eating crunchy smoke, and when added to a forkful of savory, juicy duck meat and the tart-subdued rhubarb slaw, it was heaven. And there was a whole halfduck’s worth of it to go around — all juicy, all rich in flavor. But that charred skin, man, there’s no way to describe. You just have to experience it.