One of the country’s most ambitious new restaurants is nestled in the Montana desert

“Watch out for the rock. It’s very hot, ”said Brandon Cunningham, Executive Head of Social Haus at green o, a new luxury resort in Montana. In front of us was a jet black stone plucked straight from the Blackfoot River flowing near the property, smoking and sizzling at 600 degrees. A plate with a piece of raw Hokkaido wagyu, generously salted and marbled, toasted Japanese milk bread and crème fraîche with caviar was placed next to it.

It’s Cunningham’s immersive play on a Japanese sando, one of the eight courses we were served that night. Tomorrow, a brand new eight to nine course menu will be imagined, tasted and impeccably executed for up to 24 diners by Cunningham and his team.

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Set on 37,000 acres of rugged, rugged Montana wilderness, this is perhaps one of the county’s most ambitious hotel-restaurants, and certainly one of the most exclusive.

Nestled in the desert.  - Credit: Photo: Courtesy of the green o

Nestled in the desert. – Credit: Photo: Courtesy of the green o

Photo: courtesy of the green o

The green o opened the walnut-wood doors of its 12 artfully designed freestanding houses (called ‘hause’) on June 23, 2021. With a complex nearly full in its first few months, Cunningham said: “I was nervous as hell before the opening, but the response was very overwhelming.

An elegant sister property in paws in the air, green o customers can ride horses and mountain bikes, fly fishing or have a massage alongside those in the Paws Up cabins, but only green o customers can dine at the the social house.

Meeting point for all meals, the Social Haus is marked by the luminous logo of the station. This circular symbol resembles the rings of a cut tree trunk and honors the former herder of the property who stalked his sheep using a large green O, also influencing the name of the complex.

Inside is an open-plan dining room centered around a large circular blazing copper fireplace. The dark green leather banquette forms a semicircle with a view of the flames and pine trees from the floor-to-ceiling folding doors. Custom tall seating adds to the homey atmosphere, as do the bar stools along the large open kitchen.

Chief Brandon Cunningham.  - Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Stuart Thurlkill

Chief Brandon Cunningham. – Credit: Photo: Courtesy of Stuart Thurlkill

Photo: Courtesy of Stuart Thurlkill

Before and after activities, breakfast and lunch is a casual a la carte menu featuring classic dishes like egg in a basket with mornay cheddar, country ham, and sourdough marinated mustard seeds, all from within 160 km of the complex. International dishes like crispy Vietnamese pancakes with Dungeness crab and an accompaniment of nước chấm, butter lettuce and herbs are favorites with guests, but the star of the show is dinner.

“I thought about doing a standard a la carte menu, with maybe a few specials, and that just didn’t appeal to me at all,” Cunningham explains. “So I kind of rolled the dice and I was like, okay, we’re going to be changing locations every night. Our greatest thing is not to let the customer eat the same dish twice.

Each menu contains only two words per dish, such as “chestnut and raclette” or “ham and coffee”. “It helps us focus on two ingredients and multiple ways of representing them,” explains Cunningham. “And then it also creates a bit of mystery at the tables. They have no idea what they are getting.

While around 90 percent of customers opt for the tasting menu every evening they can choose to order a small a la carte menu on request. Cunningham also offers a pizza program with pies delivered hot in their Scandinavian-inspired haus or in the dining room.

Aged duck.  - Credit: Photo: Courtesy of the green o

Aged duck. – Credit: Photo: Courtesy of the green o

Photo: courtesy of the green o

“People come here and I don’t think they have a lot of expectations when it comes to food, and they end up eating their entire trip,” Cunningham explains. “It’s a huge compliment to me when all they want to do is keep eating the food and so people will end up ordering the pizza after dinner as well.”

Cunningham rose through the ranks from dishwasher to sous chef in Portland, Oregon, learning real fire cooking at places like Ned Ludd. If permits allow, he hopes to incorporate the excitement of an open flame into the dining room on the green o. “I thought about cooking at the table on a charcoal log. Maybe by making a fun fondue-type situation with a little charcoal keeping the pot hot.

He and his team are also experimenting with making their homemade cold cuts and cheeses. “At the moment, we are sourcing locally, which is a good step. But I want it to be as global and as internal as possible, ”he says. “I’m looking to do a bit of dry aging here as well.”

The green o is praised for its striking design, with comfortable touches throughout, and its exceptional dining program. Although Michelin did not visit Montana, a James Beard award is not out of the question, but it does not motivate Cunningham.

“In the end, it sounds super cliché, but I promise you this, I never knew how important and amazing it would be to get to know the guests,” he says. “They become more than acquaintances, and you are more than a leader to them.”

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