A Continental Touch for Snow Lovers

Smith is a free-lance restaurant reviewer in El Toro

Sparkling stemware, proper cloths and napkins and fresh flowers grace the table, and the wine list offers 30 Cabernets. And here I sit in a turtleneck and clunky boots. But it's OK. This is Mammoth. The dress is random, laid-back. But not the food. At least, not here at Roget's--or at the Restaurant at Convict Lake.

Roget's may sound classic French, but you'll find an international menu with southwest overtones (Chef Jan-Marc Baker worked with Jeremiah Tower). And the ambiance projects a sense of gracious ease.

Appetizers include escargots in puff pastry and excellent carpaccio with Dijon creme fraiche.

Lighter sauces grace such entrees as roasted pork loin finished on the grill with honey-orange pecan glaze; domestic lamb chops basted, grilled and served with choice of fresh herb butters. I particularly liked sesame prawns--four big ones, marinated, skewered and grilled--succulent and sweet/hot with an Oriental dipping sauce.

A customer favorite: fresh fish, grilled and served with a fresh fruit salsa that blends such fruits as papaya, mango, pineapple, kiwi with Anaheim green chiles, cilantro and lime juice.

Roget's dinner accompaniments are nicely done and for dessert, try satiny creme caramel with Grand Marnier or chocolate-hazelnut torte--so sweet, so rich, so chocolate, the tart relief of creme fraiche is welcome.

Roget's, Minaret at Main Street, Mammoth Lakes, (619) 934-4466. Dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. Lot parking. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only from $34 to $44.

A summertime favorite, the Restaurant at Convict Lake remains open four nights a week this winter. And it's a warm romantic haven, with real logs (not Los Angeles gas) burning on the stone hearth of a huge free-standing fireplace hooded with gleaming copper.

Tables are immaculately set, the wine list small but well chosen. And if the menu doesn't exactly startle with innovations, the food is consistently well prepared.

The chicken moutarde is rich and flavorful with brandy cream sauce accented with Dijon mustard. Raspberry sauce enhances Cornish game hen. And chef Paul O'Neill, who came via Picasso's in Los Angeles and the Ritz-Carlton, Boston, displays a sure touch with fresh seafood such as fresh poached salmon with hollandaise and golden caviar.

Four tender chops from the rack of lamb, balanced by a deep, dark reduction of lamb stock with mint, are excellent. Beef Wellington excels with quality beef, flaky puff pastry and red wine sauce.

Full dinners include spinach salad or soup. (Cream of mushroom with duck stock was terrific.)

I keep hoping for a blackout cake to equal the fudgy delight served on my first visit to Convict Lake, but desserts currently are not quite up to the quality of the rest of the fare.

The Restaurant at Convict Lake, California 395, four miles south of Mammoth Lakes opposite the airport, (619) 935-4653. Lot parking. Visa, MasterCard, American Express. Open Thursday through Sunday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Dinner for two, food only from $26 to $40.

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