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Rostra rating: 4
Tim Good’s career tracks closely with the emergence of Whitefish as the foodie destination of Northwest Montana. Team Mago has been partaking of Tim’s culinary skills since he was a food dude sleeping in a tent and cooking at The Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge. Since then he has done his time on the line all over County Seven, and then worked as sous chef at most of the best restaurants in Flathead Valley. His first solo venture was The Cuisine Machine, still one of a very few Montucky food carts that could easily hold its own in Portland or LA. Then came large-scale high-end catering, and finally in the last 18 months a brick and mortar showcase for his globally inspired apres-ski drinking food. Since Chef Good was recently named 2017’s best chef in Whitefish it seemed to MagoGuide that a review was long overdue.
Almost equidistant between downtown Whitefish and Big Mountain ski resort, The Last Chair Kitchen and Bar is blessed with a bucolic creekside location and ample parking (although I have never heard anyone there shouting “howdy neighbor!”). Inside seating is dark and convivial, but not claustrophobic given the tall wrap around windows that front the restaurant. Two outside seating venues show off Whitefish’s second and shoulder seasons, especially in the early fall when the aspens and larches start to turn. Recent visitors from Oregon were delighted by an impromptu appearance of a flock of wild turkeys in the nearby woods.
It will come as no surprise to MagoGuide’s readership that Team Mago are big fans of the bar with its eight fanatically curated taps and impressive yet affordable wine list. The rustic comfort of the interior is fleshed out with high and low tables as well as booths, all swathed in lots and lots of wood. The only thing I would change if I could would be the addition of a chef’s counter/open kitchen where we could watch Tim and his team work and pester them for cooking tips and recipe details while hoovering the results.
Chef Good draws on all aspects of his two decade career for The Last Chair’s menu, and the result is a spectrum of culinary diversity that will comfort the pickiest eaters as well as satisfy those looking for fare that you will not find in most of Whitefish’s “fine dining” establishments.
The snacks and small plates are mainly faves that have migrated from the Cuisine Machine catering menu. The tot-chos are a delicious form of apes-ski crack composed of tater tots, house queso, black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole,and lime that can be further juiced with pork carnitas or highland beef. I have long thought that the only problem with most nacho preparations was the enormous strata of tortillas that basically diluted the toppings’ intensity and brought on very premature satiation. Chef Tim substitutes perfectly cooked tater tots that put any other nacho or tot prep in the valley to shame. If you pair the tot-chos with Tim’s sweet potato fries served with house bleu cheese dipping sauce you could well clog all your major arteries in real-time, but your expiration will be blissful as you ascend to dine at the right hand of Adephagia for eternity.
The Last Chair’s take on meatballs consisting of local highland beef, spicy tomato jam, crisp shallots, and shaved pecorino sure ain’t your grandma’s “Swedish” protein orbs in cloyingly weird sauce. Neither, despite the ingredients, are they really Italian, although you might break into an aria if you try them with a glass of Planeta rose. The five spice shrimp with coconut-lime green curry and slaw can serve as an easy introduction to the Subcontinental and Southeast Asian regions of Chef Good’s formidable palate.
In a place like Portland, a restaurant of The Last Chair’s caliber would have to serve a burger, maybe just at the bar, but they would have to if they wanted any respect from the locals. Tim, however, devotes a significant fraction of his menu to sandwiches and burgers that are of such quality that they often lure clientele away from the entrees in a delicious outbreak of menu fratricide. The absolute best sando is made with cornmeal crusted walleye, slaw, and fresh herb tartar sauce. That’s all there is to it, but Chef Good has had a long standing love affair with walleye that is on full display with what could also be styled Plato’s fillet o’ fish sandwich. I have wolfed these puppies down by the fistful when the Cuisine Machine is parked at the Whitefish Farmer’s Market on Tuesday evenings, but they go even better with a glass of the house vinho verde at The Last Chair. Oh, and it would be a major sin not to get those amazing Beauregard fries as your side, although you could probably just squeak by with some tots–side salad? hmmmmm, well yes even Californians are welcome in Outer Montucky.
And while the burgers don’t pop quite like the pickerel sanguich, they are some of the best in Whitefish. The meat is seriously sourced and then cooked to order. While I love Tim’s classic bacon cheese burger, I think his culinary imagination really shines with the huckleberry burger (crisp prosciutto, huckleberry goat cheese, balsamic onions), which is a most interesting savory take on the vaccinium parvifolium.
If couscous royale is a special or rotates onto the changing menu, then eat it for all love Jack! I like to think that Chef Good first deployed this amazing North African comfort food for my fiftieth birthday when he catered a feast that has become a North Fork legend, but that is certainly hyperbole, if not out and out mythomania. In any event the composed effort is anchored by bespoke merguez sausage redolent of garlicky lamb with back-up vocals from roast chicken, seasonal vegetables, and perfect fluffy couscous napped in a harissa broth. It will have you doing the Cap Bon two step, brah.
Chef Good’s goodie bowl is an evolutionary take on the North Fork pothole that he introduced at The Northern Lights back in the day. Its components are seasonal, but Team Mago’s fave is built with farro, golden lentils, radish, sunflower sprouts, pickled butternut squash, cilantro pesto, and creamy tamarind sauce. Try it and vegans will swoon while carnivores will be forced to rethink their flesh-based biases.
Mexican is some of the most abused cuisine in the Flathead Valley. It is not an authenticity issue, after all Mexican cuisine is every bit as regional and varied as its Italian or Asian counterparts. The issue is basic gastronomic abuse with eateries good and bad simply throwing bland, usually previously frozen and then microwaved abominations at squiffy and ignorant tourists in the hopes of lowering their cost of food without damaging reputations. This culinary charade is unmasked at The Last Chair. Consider Tim’s tacos made with Kurobota pork cheeks from Snake River Farms. Just when was the last time you had tacos made with Kobe piggage raised to the exacting specifications of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture? Add slaw, pineapple salsa, cotija cheese, house green hot sauce, corn tortillas, and you have the last best place’s take on Sino-Latino fusion cuisine (eat your heart out Roy Choi).
The most expensive entree at our last episode of gastronomic excess was Chef Good’s version of chicken and waffles. This Montucky soul food IED’s components are buttermilk fried chicken, savory waffle, huckleberry – gorgonzola cream, and maple balsamic syrup. The fried yard bird would make both my Texas grandmothers apoplectic with jealousy, while that unsweetened waffle serves as a platform for a sapid amalgam of rich, huckleberry-tinged blue cheese cream mingled with sweet acidic notes from maple syrup cut with aged balsamic. Now just what kind of side would a gourmand prefer with such an elevated version of classic diner fare? Collards of course, and Tim knows his coleworts, producing a classic pairing for his haute chicken and waffles replete with killer pot liquor.
With respect to the liquid side of the house, The Last Chair’s taps dispense some of the most interesting craft beer and cider in Western Montana. Much as I love brewskis at The Chair, however, the real jewel in the crown is wine. How many restaurants in the valley have twenty-eight wines by the glass? The house red and white are from Portugal, very unusual for (ahem) resort town bistro plonk and perfect matches for Chef Good’s cuisine. The one hundred plus bottle wine list is a VFM food friendly masterpiece. Rather than pack it with expensive and boring cabs and chards like many of his competitors, Tim has cultivated a diverse oenological ecosystem with large and geographically dispersed listings of pinot gris/grigio, rose, malbec, and sparklers (to include interesting brut roses). There are also plenty of pinot noir and shiraz as well as outlier chefy wines like Gruner Vetliner and Cotes Du Rhone Blanc. In short, you can drink very good and superbly paired wine at the Last Chair for less than $30 a bottle. Whales need have no fear, however, you can also drop a C-note plus on a couple monster cabs, and a bit less for a few big time pinot noir, red blends, and over the top chards. Team Mago’s only quibble with the wine list is that given such a fine collection of Iberian wines, why is cava totally AWOL?
Desserts? The Last Chair does some of the best in County 7. Tim is not afraid to outsource his ice cream to Sweet Peaks, and his clients reap significant benefits from this culinary division of labor. Sweet Peaks is a regional chain with locations in Montana and Idaho and a passion for local sourcing. If their bear scat flavor (chocolate and blue berry) is on the menu, you must try it (trust me on this one). Team Mago’s current dolce fave is beignets with lemon-huckleberry curd, a perfect complement to that bear scat ice cream and made with a more authentic ursine dropping ingredient. And you can wash down the best beignets this side of Cafe du Monde with a short but shweeet desert wine list, to include an intriguing Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Pommeau Apple Dessert Wine from Salem, Oregon.
It has been a a pleasure as well as an education to eat our way through Chef Good’s culinary evolution, as well as just hang out with him and his wonderful wife Alley over the years. It is quite clear to MagoGuide that Tim’s career is far from over and we want to be there for whatever new directions he decides to take. The rest of you need to get your butts over to The Last Chair and find out what Whitefish’s top chef is cooking’.