Dinner at Paradise Inn

4 October 2015 | Episode |

A few weeks ago, I very much enjoyed my trip to Lake Crescent Lodge and you really enjoyed reading the review of my dinner on that glorious sunny evening.

So, last weekend we found ourselves at Mount Rainer National Park. The sun was setting and my family’s collective tummies were rumbling. We had to make a choice. We could drive out of the park, find a fast food joint along the route back home in Eatonville/Yelm or enjoy the park for a few hours longer and stop at Paradise Inn for one last time this season and get a taste of the mountain. With the sun slowly setting basking the lodge in a warm glow, this was an easy decision to make.

The historic lodge is beautiful. I could go on forever how glorious the Paradise Inn structure is. Originally built in 1917 and renovated in 2006-08, it offers the perfect old National Park Lodge charm, along with new amenities and comfort. It is exactly what you expect from a building like that. The main foyer still boasts the gigantic fireplaces warming the place, both physically and emotionally. The rugged wooden beams, the towering lampshades in the vaulted ceiling, the handmade furniture. It’s fantastic. Really.paradiseinn3

Mount Rainier National Park guest services throughout the park are managed by a company smartly called Mt Rainier Guest Services LLC. a subsidiary of an equally smartly named company called Guest Services out of Fairfax, VA. According to their website they have a long history of providing hospitality services of all kinds throughout the country, from resorts, condos, event management, and tennis clubs. Whenever I do research in companies like this, I am sort of blown away by the sheer scale and diversity of operation those enterprises conduct.
Not surprising, almost every breakfast buffet in the country tastes the same, why every menu boasts the same 20 dishes. The corporate sameness and lack of local identity disappoints, especially in places like this. I won’t stop with pointing out the huge opportunity that’s been missed. You just can’t expect a corporation from Virginia to fully embrace and deliver local ‘terrior’. Can you imagine a caliber of the type of Tom Douglas or Ethan Stowell running a restaurant in a National Park lodge here in the Pacific Northwest?

Well with that said, back to dinner at the Inn.
We arrived with a bit of time to spare before the restaurant officially opened for dinner at 5:30pm. This gave us time to listen to the piano player and relax and refresh from a day planting plants and digging in the dirt with National Park officials.
After waiting in line for a few minutes, we were seated in the sun-filled, giant dining room. There was really an opportunity missed when they did the renovation a few years ago. The foyer of the Inn is beautiful, warm and cozy from the fireplaces, and full of historic charm.
The dining room is big, huge, way too big in my opinion. The sign calls for a maximum capacity of over 300 people. That’s like a conference center space. Yes, with lots of windows it provides nice views of the outside, but after spending time in the cozy foyer, walking into the cool, cavernous, and almost sterile dining room felt like big letdown.paradiseinn4

The menu wasn’t overfull with dozens of options.
The were obvious contenders on the kids menu, among them: mac and cheese, a burger, and chicken fingers. Main Entrees on the adult menu included steak, pasta, chicken, meatloaf, salmon and trout. Decent offerings, but nothing to write home about. We ordered a calamari appetizer, which the kids enjoyed, but felt straight out of Costco wholesale. The kids were happy with their dinners, especially my son. His burger was huge, which he was delighted over.
My wife’s really enjoyed her pasta dish with fresh mushrooms and a flavorful sauce. The meatloaf with mashed potatoes I ordered tasted like someone microwaved yesterday’s dinner. The meatloaf was overcooked and tough, the sauce completely missing, except two little tomatoes. The mashed potatoes were unimaginative. I thought I’d go safe, but I was sorely disappointed. Drinks were the usual suspects, pop, lemonade, beer and wine.

The service was pleasant, but you could tell that they were on their last week of operation before they’d close for the Winter. Everything felt a bit on auto-pilot and exhausted.paradiseinn1

Now, you could argue that I am too harsh. Often, blogs like ours are in the business of promoting the very places I am criticizing. We still are, and we love the National Park lodges. However, at prices of up to $30/plate and a million dollar atmosphere, one hopes for a bit more than Applebee’s style food. I’m sure there are boundless real reasons for why a restaurant, high in the remote mountains at a National Park Lodge, which is only open seasonally, would have a hard time providing excellent food options, but, sigh, it makes me sad. I do really think there’s a different way. I’ve experienced it.

I don’t want to leave here on a sour note. Paradise Inn had their last open days for the season this weekend. Now, it will go into hibernation for the winter. As the snow falls and access to remote areas becomes limited, we dream of these special places. This lodge is a beautiful, a historic place, that’s worth visiting whenever you’re at the park. We always do.