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Ski or Sun?

Buck's T4 Lodge

Duck two ways at Buck's T4 Lodge.

I travel a lot for work. However, every December, I go on vacation. To me, that means completely unplugging for a week with my family; there’s nothing better than spending time off the grid with the people you love. We like relaxing on a beach or hitting the slopes. Here are two places we can’t wait to get back to.

Big Sky
Less glitzy and busy than its Colorado counterparts, Big Sky offers unfussy mountain skiing with all the benefits of the largest ski areas.

After a day on the slopes, I crave the kind of stick-to-your-bones fare they serve at Buck’s T4 Lodge. Originally built as a hunting camp, this is one of the only places in Big Sky that’s been around longer than the ski resort. The bar, bedecked in pine, dates back to 1950 and beams with Old West magic, perfect for après ski. Dinner here means refueling like a cowboy on char-grilled bison tenderloin served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and crispy onion straws or Montana-raised rainbow trout with wild rice-quinoa risotto.

If you’re looking for more of an adventure, check out the Montana Dinner Yurt. This three-hour excursion departs from the Summit Hotel, where you board a snowcat and spend 20 minutes climbing to a candlelit yurt. Dine on hearty comfort dishes such as French onion soup, followed by beef tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed carrots, zucchini and yellow squash. It’s BYOB, so be sure to grab a six-pack or bottle of your favorite wine to accompany your meal. After dinner, fly down the torch-lit sledding hill or cozy up by the campfire before heading back to town. It’s the perfect outing for those who love the wilderness but aren’t up for roughing it.

San Juan

The Isle of Enchantment has said goodbye to the legendary La Bombonera, a pastry and coffee shop founded in 1902 and known for sweeping patrons away with its old-school vibe. I was crushed, but the island’s food scene has been experiencing an onslaught of innovative restaurant concepts.

A shrimp dish at Mi Casa. Photo by Don Riddle.

José Andrés’ Mi Casa, located a half-hour’s drive west of San Juan in Dorado Beach, is a stunner. Don’t skip the salted cod fritters and the grilled Iberico pork with pineapple.

Another big name in Puerto Rican cuisine? Jose Enrique, who last year became the first Puerto Rican honored as one of Food & Wine magazine’s 10 best new chefs. His casual but sophisticated namesake restaurant showcases the area’s freshest ingredients. Enrique writes the daily menu, a true chef-inspired experience, on a whiteboard. Try his signature crispy fried yellowtail snapper served with mashed batata (a local sweet potato), avocado and a fresh, acidic papaya mojo. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so prepare for a wait.

Good news for those traveling to the island of Vieques (highly recommended and only a 25-minute flight from San Juan): Enrique’s latest restaurant, El Blok in the hotel of the same name, features refined riffs on Puerto Rican favorites such as mesquite-grilled mackerel and bacon and egg empanadas.

For more from chef, author and teacher Andrew Zimmern, host of
Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, go to andrewzimmern.com.

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