It seems a bit odd that you’d find a three-time James Beard Award semifinalist stashed away in a rather no-frills (though welcoming and cozy) ski lodge outside the small town of Whitefish in Montana, but that’s exactly where you’ll venture to eat the creations of the brilliant Andy Blanton. His Café Kandahar, housed inside the Kandahar Lodge on Whitefish’s Big Mountain, is aptly dubbed “Montana’s finest dining restaurant.”
Blanton and his team transform locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients into bites of beautifully plated food. Whether you order off the seven-course Chef’s Tasting menu or from the a la carte list, each carefully laid ingredient, carefully sourced, speaks to Blanton’s attention to detail. Add to that the impeccable wine list curated by Dennis Hertrich, with sips thoughtfully paired to complement every bite, and you’re in for a treat.
For a more low-key option, Blanton also oversees the tapas and small plates menu available in the hotel’s Snug Bar, just off the lobby. Beer, wine and cocktails complement items like pork belly confit, kobe skirt steak and a handful of pizzas.
Café Kandahar has risen to a place of distinction among the region’s restaurants in the 28 years since it opened. It has drawn locals and travelers alike, along with international recognition—it’s not uncommon for celebrities to venture up the mountain to dine at Blanton’s Chef’s Table.
Blanton, who owns the restaurant with his parents, cut his teeth in New Orleans, so his classical French training, peppered with Cajun and Creole influences, shows through on occasion. He got his start as a dishwasher at 15-years-old and later attended the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. Blanton’s resume includes cooking at prestigious New Orleans restaurants Commanders Palace and Brigtsen’s before he relocated to Whitefish in 1999.
On a recent visit, our meal included a delicate brioche toast topped with guanciale and a dollop of red onion caramel; melt-in-your-mouth halibut lox with sorrel, barrel-aged fish sauce and yuzu crème fraiche transformed into a sorbet; a pile of forest mushrooms coated with madiera crème and Montana chevre atop a thyme pastry; pork belly with Montana’s Dixon melons, a late-summer specialty of the region; a fan-shaped arrangement of elk carpaccio slivers and a swirl of tomato jam; rack of lamb with sauce dalise and a gratin of manchego; and a tart of local huckleberries and lemon crème fraiche for dessert.
You might be craving a big, greasy burger after a day skiing Big Mountain or exploring nearby Glacier National Park, but save room for Blanton’s food—it’s fancy, but you’ve probably earned it.