On a recent trip to Bozeman, Montana, I was eager to try elk—but that turned out to be trickier than it sounds. Many Montanans hunt game and eat it at home, but restaurants are allowed to serve only farm-raised meat. All the same, I had deliciously rare pan-roasted farmed-elk tenderloin at the wine bar Plonk, along with a Midnight Manhattan, a killer cocktail made with fresh cherry–infused bourbon. I got to taste some local beer too, when I dropped in for a late-night snack at the year-old Over the Tapas. I drank amber ale from the Bozeman Brewing Company with a juicy flank-steak sandwich, which chef Jeff Merlau tops with Manchego cheese and a garlicky chimichurri sauce on a mini ciabatta-like roll.
For my next carnivorous adventure, I drove just outside Bozeman to the nearby town of Gallatin Gateway. At the historic Gallatin Gateway Inn, chef Ray Rutzen often works with ingredients grown and raised around the state, and I loved his Montana Mountain Bison rib eye topped with chile-spiked butter. Even though I’m not a hunter, eating Rutzen’s bison made me feel almost like a local.
Although being in Montana made me crave meat more than usual, that’s not all I tasted on my trip. In downtown Bozeman, I stopped in at Vino Per Tutti, a new wine shop. Owners Tim and Beverly Christiansen focus on small-production labels like Plan Pegau, a less expensive wine from the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Domaine du Pegau. At seafood shop Montana Fish Company, I tried the take-out sushi made from beautiful Hawaiian escolar. Then I headed to the west end of Main Street, where I found a terrific shop, La Châtelaine Chocolat Co., owned by chocolate artisans Shannon H. Grochowski and Jean-Pierre Wlady Grochowski. I picked up some handmade truffles, including a jasmine-scented ganache with black sesame seeds—perfect for the plane ride home.