The Limone Di Sicilia combines the sumptuous and beautiful textures of lemon as mousse, sponge, and curd.

Dining Out: Cortina

For chef Michael Patria, arriving at Cortina felt like a kind of homecoming. The Northern Italian restaurant sits on the slopes of Lone Mountain in Big Sky, Montana, and Patria has enjoyed leading its kitchen, where he rekindles the traditions of his ancestors. Even though he grew up in Georgia, Patria remembers standing on a stepstool beside his Piedmontese Italian grandmother, rolling gnocchi as a child. But, when he graduated high school, Patria left home for a cattle ranch in Wyoming with the goal of becoming a cowboy. 

Instead, some years on, he’s become a celebrated chef, having opened restaurants all over the country, including several in California and Hawaii. But there’s something about the mountainside setting and the Northern Italian traditions and cuisine at Cortina, one of six restaurants Patria oversees at Big Sky’s Montage Hotel & Resort, that brings it all back. This place and this food, Patria says as a smile spreads across his face, offer him “a sense of warmth, a sense of home.” It is precisely what he wants to ensure every diner experiences when they spend an evening at Cortina. 

Cortina’s chef, Michael Patria, poses with his much-loved and traditional lasagna, which is layered with a meat ragu and bechamel sauce, and garnished with San Marzano sauce and grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

The welcome begins straightaway with the restaurant’s inviting natural palette of dark wood, marble flown in from Italy, and soft leather chairs. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out to the pool, firepit, and ski trails beyond. Servers welcome guests warmly, asking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. It’s team service here, and everyone is attentive. Cortina, considered a chophouse, does indeed have the comfortably sophisticated feel of a fine Italian steakhouse. 

The menu is simple but elegant. Patria employs Northern Italian techniques for cooking and says that adding seasonal local produce and game — including everything from bison and trout to venison — is very much in line with those traditions. So, too, is the natural tendency toward shared plates. “I’m a sharer when I go out,” says Patria, and the menu he created — which includes antipasti, main courses, pasta, and side orders — lends itself to that kind of communal eating where everyone gets to taste a little bit of everything. 

The steelhead trout in Trota Cruda is cured for 24 hours in a mixture of salt, sugar, lemon, lime, and orange. This specialty of the house is garnished with smoked trout caviar and a sweet herb salad of fennel, micro basil, and white balsamic vinaigrette.

“These flavors are deep and super complex,” Patria says. And layering them builds even more complexity. Consider the carpaccio starter, which includes bison tenderloin, Parmigiano-Reggiano, arugula, garlic chips, capers, and lemon olive oil. Every bite is a balance of textures and flavors: salty and sweet, citrus and spice, silky and crisp. 

Other standout antipasto dishes include the burrata with heirloom tomatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette; sautéed black mussels with basil, lemon, parsley, white wine, and black pepper; and the cured steelhead trout with smoked trout caviar, fennel, basil, white balsamic vinaigrette, and lime. 

Cortina dishes up elegant and hearty Northern Italian cuisine and is open daily for breakfast and dinner.

Specialties of the house include grilled mountain trout and a pan-fried breaded veal chop. The main courses, all of which are cooked to perfection over the wood-fired grill, include an array of proteins ranging from beef tenderloin and whole chicken to bison rib eye and seabass. As at any traditional chophouse, the side dishes, or contorini, are ordered à la carte and include, among others, seasonal mushrooms, whipped potatoes, sautéed spinach, and mascarpone polenta. 

For many though, the pasta is the thing. And all of it is either handmade in-house or imported from Italy. “The whole pasta thing has always been my Zen,” says Patria. From risotto with four cheeses to pesto, pomodoro, and carbonara, the offerings reflect simplicity done to perfection. The Lasagna Bolognese is a favorite, as is the Cacio e Pepe: bucatini noodles with pecorino romano and black pepper. The creaminess is over the top but the portion isn’t overdone, so one can actually finish a bowl of pasta without feeling stuffed. 

This Pappardelle Bolognese is made with a white ragu containing five meats: bison, venison, veal, pork, and chicken. It’s accompanied by herbed breadcrumbs, with garlic, mint, and tarragon, to enhance flavor and texture.

The desserts are as sumptuous as you might imagine — picture tiramisu for two, with flakes of gold coating the espresso-soaked ladyfingers, whipped cream, and mascarpone. The confections change regularly, thanks to the creative French pastry chef on staff at the resort. 

One thing that might surprise area residents about Cortina, and the Montage in general, is the degree to which locals are encouraged to use and enjoy the services and facilities on the property. “Most people coming up to Big Sky aren’t in the habit of going left at Town Center unless they live on this side of the mountain,” says Colleen Cronin, director of public relations and marketing for Montage Big Sky. “We want to change that.”  

Montage is the largest building in the state and always open to the public. Inside are five restaurants, a 10,000-square-foot spa, and 139 guest rooms, suites, and residences situated with ski-in/ski-out convenience.

From the property’s inviting and cozy lounges — one aptly called “the living room” — to the four-lane bowling alley adjacent to the pub downstairs, the Montage makes every effort to welcome the community. “The bowling alley gets pretty popular when it’s minus 20 degrees outside,” says Cronin. In addition to the resort’s six restaurants, the 10,000-square-foot spa is open to the public, as are the grand lawn and sitting areas throughout the property. Locals can wander in and peruse the extensive art collection, grab a bite to eat, or just curl up by the fire with a good book. 

“We want Cortina to be the best restaurant in Big Sky. And in Montana,” says Patria. “We want this to be a pillar restaurant for the community.” As such, Patria hosted Harvest Dinners this fall at $55 for three courses. In addition, Cortina prepared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with Italian flair and periodically offers cooking classes.

Some of Cortina’s most popular entrées include bison rib eye, venison rack, and whole poussin, all of which are seared before baking in the white oak wood-fired oven. The meats are rested and then basted with fresh butter, thyme, and garlic.

Patria hearkens back to his grandmother and their time together in the kitchen as he describes what he wants an evening at Cortina to be for his guests. “I want them to feel nourished,” he says, “by the food and the experience.”

The gold-tinged tiramisu offers a stunning finish to any meal, with ladyfinger sponge, mascarpone filling, ristretto café, and cacao powder.

Carter Walker is the author of several guidebooks, including Moon Montana & Wyoming (November 2022), Moon Montana (January 2023), Moon Wyoming (January 2023), and Moon Yellowstone to Glacier National Park Road Trip (May 2023). She lives in the Horseshoe Hills of Montana with her two daughters and a motley collection of well-traveled animals. 

Photographer Lynn Donaldson shoots regularly for National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset, and The New York Times. The founder and editor of the Montana food and travel blog The Last Best Plates, Donaldson lives outside of Livingston, Montana with her husband and three children.

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