Archive for the ‘Best restaurants in Montana’ Category

The Horse – “Seasonal Sensation” Featured in Montana Magazine

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The April issue of Montana Magazine featured The Horse in an article written by Sydne George. Titled “Seasonal Sensation”, George captured the true nature of the lodge and owner Kathleen Moon in words and photos that reflected the warmth and hospitality that for thirteen years has been the hallmark of this small Swan Lake lodge and bistro.

From the initial welcome by Nikki and Cooper, the two resident golden retrievers, to the morning ‘hello’ from Sampson the African Grey parrot, guests quickly understand that this is not a ‘motel as usual’ stay.

Currently celebrating a luxurious fall, the Horse is offering up a two night all-inclusive package featuring great wines and Chef Kate’s signature dishes from the kitchen. To discover this ‘seasonal sensation‘ before the late October closing, visit to learn more about the Fall Package and to make your reservations.


Where’s Waldo? Or in this case, Where’s Chef Kate?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Winter is quickly loosening its grasp on Swan Lake, although the shadowed snow drifts will probably remain until well into May. But with the temperatures nearing 50, thoughts turn to spring and the inevitable crush of a fun-filled, visitor-packed summer.

While the Horse still slumbers under several feet of snow, and Chef Kate still lingers somewhere near the equator, plans are underway for an exceptional year of good food, music and even better Montana hospitality at Laughing Horse Lodge.

So where exactly is our intrepid hostess? We caught up with Kathleen at a remote 5 star eco-resort on the west coast of Panama where for the past few months she has been guest chef, teacher, student and explorer…a typical winter for this 12 year Montana resident.“I originally came to Panama to build up my Spanish so that I could bring in a South American guest chef for the summer and have a way of communicating in the kitchen,” says Kathleen. But not satisfied to have just one ball in the air, the study trip turned into a temporary gig at one of Panama’s newest luxury resorts, Boutique Hotel Cala Mia located on an isolated Pacific island in the Archipelago Chiriqui.

“This has been an experience in self-sufficiency and creativity,” laughs Moon as she recounts the first trip to Isla Boca Brava…a two hour journey by bus, cab and boat from the nearest town. “ I arrived all jazzed only to discover that there wasn’t a single piece of chocolate on the island and it would be two more weeks before anyone was going shopping back on the mainland.”

Surrounded by troops of howler monkeys, noisy parrots, and a 3’ iguana living in the thatched ceiling of her bungalow, Kathleen went to work (without chocolate) with the property’s Italian owner Vittoria Ghini, establishing a Spanish-language SafeServe-style  training program for the kitchen, setting up an on-line reservation system, and giving the island chef a break each week. “It’s been a real struggle in the kitchen being ‘forced’ to work with fresh fish and lobster brought to the dock each afternoon,” Moon quips, a smile in her voice.  “I’ve also learned a bit about making artisan cheese…and in Panama of all places.”

Ghini, and her Dutch husband Max, opened the resort 4 years ago and  support the dining room at Cala Mia with an extensive organic farm and dairy operation located a few kilometers east on the island. Fresh arugula, herbs,  aubergine, peppers, tomatoes and a dry-land rice are produced, as well as organic butter, cream and an outstanding Gouda.

Building and maintaining a luxury eco-resort and an accompanying organic farm with a small but state of the art dairy processing facility would be a challenge even in the US or Europe, but to do so on a remote second-world  island with a single car ferry (built by Max) and the feat becomes extraordinary.

“These people are impressive,” states our traveler, “my highest complement to Vittoria and Max would be that with their independence and entrepreneurial abilities remind me of many of the Montanans I’ve befriended over the years.”

Kathleen returns home just in time to participate in the annual Taste of Bigfork on May 1st.  She’ll be bringing with her new ideas and a renewed dedication to providing even more organic offerings on her already outstanding menu.

The dining room at Laughing Horse Lodge reopens May 20th with dinner served Wednesday – Sunday, from 5pm. Reservations are highly suggested.

Howlers in the trees.

Pesce in Acqua Pazza – From the sea to the plate in minutes

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Cuando los ingredientes son óptimas, la cocina puede ser simple.”

“When the ingredients are optimum, the cooking can be simple”.

No truer words have been written, especially when it comes to fresh –beautifully fresh – fish still redolent of brine, eyes bright, firm fleshed and loaded with culinary possibilities. Last evening four Americans showed up at the dock, a stringer of corvina (sea bass) in hand, and a request for dinner. The menu was already set for the Cala Mia dining room, and with only 30 minutes before the hotel’s guests would be arriving, an uncomplicated dish was required.

I remembered reading David Shalleck’s Mediterranean Summer, a biographical journal of his first year’s as Chef on a luxury sailing yacht in the Med, and how he was challenged to create new dishes every day using only the freshest of ingredients for his discerning and demanding owners. Cheffing at an isolated island resort is similar to cooking on a yacht…you just can’t make a quick run to the market when the whim hits you. So you get creative and simplify, simplify, simplify…and use what your location offers up…in this case fresh fish.

One of Shalleck’s ‘go to’ recipes was Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Fish in Crazy Water), a traditional Neapolitan dish that exemplifies simplicity.  With Cala Mia’s ‘go to’ guy, Beto, cleaning the sea bass, I began to assemble the dish. Thirty minutes later, as our four fishermen finished their first course of organic gazpacho with Feta and virgin olive oil, their pesce was served.  After the ‘oohs and aahhs’, silence reigned as they quite obviously enjoyed their dish. (Although I would like to take full credit for its success, the kudos go to the Neapolitans who for centuries have mastered the art of simple, yet elegant dishes; and of course, the tasty corvina.)

Pesce in Acqua Pazza (Cala Mia Style)


Fresh fish…the best is flaky fish like halibut, snapper, bass or grouper.


Firm, ripe tomatoes

Italian Parsley



Kalamata Olives (optional)


Virgin Olive Oil

Sea salt and white pepper

[Although this recipe is designed for cooking whole fish, I have adjusted it to individual-serving stoneware  oven-to-table dishes.]

Brush the ramekins with olive oil.

Cut fish into 1″ chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Layer the ramekins with thinly sliced leeks, zucchini and a touch of minced garlic.

Place the fish chunks on top of the vegetables.

Place thinly sliced tomatoes over the fish.

Sprinkle with minced parsley, a bit of diced kalamata olives and capers (rinse both well to remove excess brine).

Drizzle with olive oil and cover for the oven.

Note: The dish will appear somewhat dry, however, after 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, the fish will be simmering in a lovely bath of ‘crazy water’. Do not overcook!

Bon appetit! Chef Kate

Ceviche De Angosta con Pomelo, Simple Elegance in the Wilderness

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

A Pacific  storm has circled Cala Mia and Isla Boca Brava, the freshening breeze dropping the temperature to near tropical perfection. It is the first day in a month without sun, and I am happy for the change.

The morning begins well before sunrise with a boat ride  to Boca Chica to meet up with Chef Ricardo who is taking me on my first shopping expedition in the provincial town of David. There are no large grocery stores in David  thus our first stop of the morning is a triple wide garage off a residential side street filled with the morning’s fresh produce…melons, peppers, yucca, papaya, guava, pineapple and a variety of lettuces and cabbages overflow boxes and bins. There is a riot of color and chaos reigning in the aisles as farmers bring in their offerings, trading or selling fresh carrots and broccoli, bartering still warm jugs of milk and cream for a bag of butter beans or squash. As I walk around and select what I want to use in the restaurant for the next week, I am amused by the dichotomy of this market experience and those experienced last fall during my trip to Languedoc. Like produce, familiar Latinate faces, but there the similarities end.

The European markets are masterpieces of visual splendor…it is not enough to have a stack of carrots for sale at the Menton halle, no, the carrots have to be laid out in an intricate design, framed by vivid aubergines and the delicategreen gold of artichokes – each farmer’s display trying to out do that of his neighbors’.  In the David market, no such attempt is made. This is a working man’s tiende, the only real display being one of beautiful bags of garlic – grown in China.

But at the end of the day, a carrot is a carrot and a pomelo (grapefruit) will taste the same whether it was crowded in a burlap bag in Panama, or in a geometrically perfect pyramid interspersed with vibrant purple plums in France. So the carrots and the pomelos and a dozen or more relatives are bagged up and loaded into the back of a rented white Kia work truck and off we go to the Super Baru – a combination general store offering hardware, groceries, clothing and butchery…a little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything (except Olive Oil of which there are 27 varieties!).

 It takes two hours going up and down and back up the aisles translating labels and doing menu exchanges in my head to get close to what I want and am envisioning for the dining room in the coming week when it is my turn to head up the kitchen.

Another hour to check out and then back to Boca Chica to meet up with Chombo and the Cala Mia boat.

Loading fresh produce onto Chombo's boat.

When I consider the physical difficulty of getting raw ingredients to this isolated island, the dedication of Cala Mia’s owners and staff to presenting exceptional food is singularly inspiring.

Well, the sky is darkening and a few stars are peaking through the remaining clouds…it is time to head to the kitchen and begin assembling tonight’s offering. Chef has asked me to create a first course using locally harvested lobsters and I am happy to oblige, especially since I have those beautiful pomelos…

Ceviche de Angosta con Pomelo


Freshly poached lobster tail, chilled and loosely diced in large chunks

Grapefruit segments, skins and seeds removed

Cilantro (minced)

Red and Yellow Peppers (demeated), minced

Garlic, minced

Red Onion, minced

Lime juice

Passion Fruit juice

Olive Oil

Salt and White Pepper

Hot Pepper Flakes

Arugula and Mustard Greens

Toss cilantro, peppers, garlic and onion with the lime and passion fruit juices, add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and pepper flakes. Chill for an hour to let the flavors meld. Toss in lobster and grapefruit segments and refrigerate for another hour, stirring occasionally.

Place fresh greens in the bottom of  large martini glasses, leaving a few sprigs sticking out as garnish. Place ceviche into the glasses, distributing the remaining liquid as a dressing for the greens. Serve immediately

Bon apetite!

The Horse Featured in AAA’s Via Magazine!

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

“It’s all about the food!” and this fall readers of AAA’s Via Magazine shouted that loud and clear. From Kirkland, Washington to Swan Lake, Montana readers of Via wrote to tell of their favorite breakfast and brunch places in the Northwest. Montana rated three cafes -yours truly the Laughing Horse Lodge, Main Street Overeasy in Bozeman and the Stray Bullet Cafe in Ovando.  So take a ride this Sunday down to Swan Lake -the fall colors are spectacular- and enjoy some delicious fare including Huckleberry Peach Pancakes, Huckleberry Chevre Stuffed French Toast and the best omelet you’ve ever had!

Sunday Brunch at the Horse runs from 9am to 2pm. Reservations for parties of 5 or more are required due to limited seating.