The Taste of Perfection: Corner House Grille

corner house
Downtown flavor at Whitefish's Corner House Grille
By Amelie Trufant Dawson

There are so many reasons to love Whitefish. The town itself is a good, strong, tight-knit community with the flavor of the old west. Big Mountain Ski Resort rises up from the head of the Flathead Valley, creating a grand focal point from downtown.  Glacier National Park is a stone's throw away. And gradually, world-class cuisine has found its way to this low-key ski town. 
    On the northeast corner of Central and Second avenues, in a building built in 1921, lies the Corner House Grille, an upscale restaurant in the low-profile town of Whitefish. Owned by William Foley, chairman and CEO of Fidelity National Title Insurance, the largest title insurance and real-estate services company in the country, the Corner House Grille attracts gourmands from just off the mountain to just off of work.
    Chef Zachary Bernheim and his wife, Erin, have been the proprietors of the Corner House Grille since its opening in January 2003.  They met Foley over a decade ago while catering for him in California, and they became friends.  When Foley decided he wanted to open a restaurant in Whitefish, he thought of Zach and Erin, who were living in New Orleans at the time. The couple gladly moved to Montana and set to work designing and preparing the restaurant for opening.
    With hardwood floors, brick walls with mirrors and sconces, a high-tin ceiling with large hanging lanterns, and heavy timber around the restaurant, the Corner House Grille's interior has a rustic elegance and a warm atmosphere.
    Bernheim has worked with prominent chefs Michel Richard, Wolfgang Puck and Paul Bocuse. He has created an evolutionary menu, which changes with the season and available ingredients.  His meat comes from Misty Isle, an organic vendor in Washington that specializes in choice plus to prime grade beef.  "I love it," says Bernheim, "I've used all kinds of certified Angus steaks, and these are the best steaks I've ever had." His produce and pork are all local, as is his coffee, a unique blend of medium dark roasted Indonesian and Ethiopian beans from Montana Coffee Traders.
    Erin Bernheim is Corner House Grille's sommelier.  Having been trained at Citronelle in Santa Barbara, Calif., she is an expert at pairing wines with different flavors. Their very extensive wine list includes several bottles from Foley Vineyards, owned by none other than restaurant's owner, William Foley. A number of premium bottles of wine are offered as glass pours, so that customers may try out the more expensive wines before ordering a case of them.  The attentive servers are also very knowledgeable about wine pairings.
    The appetizer menu offers a plethora of gastronomic treats, including a Roasted Beet and Gorgonzola Strudel with Port Wine Syrup and Roasted Walnuts, or the delicious Thai Fish Cakes with Coconut Green Curry and Mango Basil Salad. Each presentation is unique and graceful, and the flavors meld nicely. Bernheim likes each dish to have three bold flavors. "I like spice. I like things to be concise and clear, I don't like muddy flavors," he says. A small bit of sorbet is brought out to cleanse your palate between courses.
    In keeping with Bernheim's love of bold flavors, the entree menu offers such fare as a White Stew of Veal with Chanterelle Cream Demi and Lemon Parsley Basmati, Peking Duck Two Ways with Plum Sauce and Sesame Ginger Noodles, and the Red Chile Lemongrass-Encrusted Yellow Fin Tuna over a Vegetable Pad Thai.  The traditional style Pad Thai has a wonderfully unexpected kick to it and is topped with perfectly seared rare yellow fin tuna. Another favorite is the Filet of Beef with Shrimp Risotto, Roasted Tomatoes and Sweet Onion Sauce.
    This amazingly tender cut of beef is placed atop a bed of richly textured, but delicately flavored risotto. The presentation is flawless. "I like cooking for people," says Bernheim, "I like to make them excited about eating."
The restaurant features a prix fixe menu - prelude dining that's available from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in conjunction with the Whitefish Theater. Offering a three-course meal and a glass of wine for $18, the Corner House Grille's prix fixe menu is an inexpensive local favorite.
    A handsome, dark stairway leads you down into the basement where a bar and lounge are set up, offering drinks and tapas.  Here you can choose from four or five rotating savory dishes like chicken pate, salmon mousse or goat cheese with pistachios and fig molasses. The basement is a great spot for having a low-key dinner with friends, or for having an aperitif before heading upstairs for dinner. "We try to keep it friendly," says Bernheim. "We don't want to be too austere."
    The basement is becoming a wine bar where people can stop by after work and have a drink and a snack. The full menu is also available downstairs, along with a private dining room for 12. The Thursday Night Wine Series has been another successful addition to the Corner House menu. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, four or five wines (including at least one rare wine) are paired up with tapas for under $30.
    Arriving at the dessert menu is like coming to the end of a journey.  All of the Corner House Grille's desserts are made in- house by pastry chef Rene Taylor. While winding down with a hot cup of coffee, the sweet indulgences include the very popular Apple Tarte Tatin with Maple Walnut Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce, and the ever- decadent Double Decker Chocolate and Vanilla Crème Brulee with a Chocolate Macadamia Cookie and Grand Marnier Sorbet.
    The mood upstairs at the Corner House Grille is jovial. Happy, well-fed patrons mill about, greeting other tables as though the entire restaurant is one big dinner party. Wine is sent around, plates are handed off to share. In true form of a small town, people know each other. Whether you've just come down the mountain with your friends or are stopping by for a snack after work, the Corner House Grille is yet another reason to love Whitefish.

The Corner House Grille is located at 147 Central Ave. 
Call (406) 863 2323 for reservations.

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