Fresh Tracks

At Alice and Lulu’s, Ciana and Laura Godin bring alpine cuisine and style to Sugarloaf.

Fresh Tracks

At Alice and Lulu’s, Ciana and Laura Godin bring alpine cuisine and style to Sugarloaf.

Issue: December 2019

By: Susan Axelrod
Photography by: Nicole Wolf

When Alice and Lulu’s opened at Sugarloaf before last ski season, mountain regulars didn’t know exactly what to expect. Neither did its owners, Laura and Ciana Godin. With barn board–topped tables, stools upholstered in black and white toile, an open kitchen, and a vintage map of Paris on the back wall, the cheerful space in the heart of Sugarloaf Village recalls a snug bistro in the French Alps. Instead of the burgers, pizzas, and heaping bowls of pasta more commonly offered mountainside, the menu includes salads made with locally grown, organic produce, cheese and charcuterie boards, sweet and savory crepes, a small yet sophisticated wine list, and raclette, a cheese-focused dish of Swiss origin that many Americans have never heard of. Named for the owners’ grandmothers, Alice and Lulu’s was something new for Sugarloaf, and as they opened on Homecoming Weekend 2018, the Godins held their breath. The Alpine-style wine bar turned out to be an instant hit. “I would have been satisfied if we had served five people a night all winter long, and for probably eight weeks straight we were turning people away,” says Ciana.

Like skiers sure enough of their skills to point their tips downhill and just go for it, the Godins had both the experience and confidence to carve a new culinary trail at Sugarloaf. Ciana knew the mountain, having grown up skiing there with her family, and both she and Laura, who was born and raised in France, knew restaurants. The two women met in Boston, and after a particularly brutal winter, moved to Los Angeles for the warmth and sunshine. Ciana, who is Alice and Lulu’s chef, was sous chef at Tavern, owned by celebrity chef Suzanne Goin, while Laura was ensconced in champagne and caviar at Petrossian Paris Boutique and Restaurant in West Hollywood. In the summer of 2017 Ciana came to Sugarloaf for a break from the frenzy of Los Angeles restaurant work and wound up being offered the executive chef job at 45 North in the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. By Thanksgiving, Laura had joined Ciana on the mountain and was running Bullwinkle’s at Night. Just before that, they got married. Ciana flew back to California and drove across the country with Laura the week before their wedding; Laura then returned to L.A. for several weeks to finish out her contract with Petrossian. “It was a wild year,” says Ciana. “She took the job at Bullwinkle’s before she could ski, then learned to ski and fell in love with being on the snow every morning.”

Sugarloafers have embraced Alice and Lulu’s with a similar zeal, making reservations as far ahead as Christmastime for raclette over February break. At the restaurant, raclette is offered for dinner by reservation only. It’s served at a special table large enough to fit the raclette grill, which has two heated “arms,” each with a griddle on top and individual pans for melting cheese underneath. A Swiss specialty also popular in the Savoie region of France, the dish is traditionally made by heating a half-wheel of raclette cheese (which has a mild, nutty flavor similar to gruyere) next to a fire; the melted cheese is then scraped off over boiled potatoes, with cornichons as an accompaniment. Modern raclette often includes meats and vegetables, which are grilled at the table while slices of cheese bubble underneath. At Alice and Lulu’s the concept is expanded to include other cheeses, including cheddar, which is popular with children. Raclette is also offered for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, when it is first come, first served.

While Alice and Lulu’s dinner menu includes three or four entree plates, my companion and I of course want to experience the raclette. We start with splits of Veuve du Vernay Brut Rosé, which is served in pretty, pale pink vintage glasses. It is a perfect match for Ciana’s silky chicken liver mousse with whole-grain mustard, a small pile of homemade pickles, and crusty baguettes. We also share the salad, which changes with the seasons; on this late-April evening it’s a perfectly simple salade verte, comprising peppery arugula topped with a mound of grated pecorino cheese and a lemon vinaigrette. Then it’s time to settle in for the raclette. We relax into a pillow-backed banquette (the raclette table occupies a back corner of the dining room) as Laura opens a bottle of white burgundy from Château de la Greffière in the Mâcon region of France, a dry yet supple wine that she rightly says will pair well with all the flavors on the board Ciana then brings from the kitchen. It’s generously and artfully arranged with sliced meats—soppressata and smoked ham from New England Charcuterie (owned and operated by Moody’s Delicatessen and Provisions in Waltham, Massachusetts), and bacon from Cold Spring Ranch in New Portland—plus blanched sliced red potatoes, broccolini, carrots, and spring onions, both Emmentaler and raclette cheese, a crock of whole-grain mustard, and cornichons. We warm the par-cooked vegetables and meats on the griddle tops and slide the little pans of cheese underneath to melt, breaking off pieces of a warm baguette to nibble in the moments between filling our plates, and delighting in this leisurely, interactive, and utterly casual meal. “People have realized that this isn’t upscale, posh, fine dining; it’s really simple food,” says Laura. “The raclette in particular gives families an opportunity to be engaged with their meal and each other,” says Ciana. The restaurant’s small size makes it possible for the chef to engage with customers; both she and Laura enjoy introducing their guests to what may be new experiences in food and wine. “We try to have a conversation with every table, and see what it is they love, and cater their experience to what we believe they would enjoy,” says Laura. “We want you to leave here having had the meal that’s right for you.”

For après-ski, a popular choice is Alice and Lulu’s cheese and charcuterie boards; guests can build their own or let the chef choose for them. Maine makers are well represented, with cheeses from Hahn’s End, Winter Hill Farm, Kennebec Cheesery, Lakin’s Gorges Cheese, and Fuzzy Udder Creamery and sausages from White’s Farm and A Small Good. At the time of our visit, the accompanying bread was being flown in from France and baked off in the restaurant. Now it comes from Bigelow Fields Farm in Stratton. The Godins sell cheese and charcuterie by the pound from a refrigerated case just inside the front door, as well as jams, wine, and accoutrements such as spiced nuts. “We purposely wanted to have a retail shop so you can come in and get your baguette, cheese, and meat for the week and go back to your condo after a long day to enjoy it with your family,” says Laura.

Although we’re thoroughly satisfied after the raclette, we can’t resist trying one of the crepes, which are made to order and available in plain or chocolate with a variety of fillings. We choose chocolate with Nutella and homemade vanilla ice cream for a decadent end to a meal we will remember. Alice and Lulu’s also offers macarons and a variety of after-dinner drinks. We watch, enthralled, as Laura flames a marshmallow to top Cocoa Caliente, a heady mix of spiced hot chocolate with Patron XO Cafe and a cinnamon sugar rim. All eyes in the room are on her as she carries the blazing drink to a nearby table.

The chef making crepes.

While Alice and Lulu’s cheese-centric menu is especially ideal for ski season, the Godins plan to keep the restaurant open all year, with the exception of a month off in the late spring (often to travel to France). The Outpost Adventure Center is right next door, and in front of the restaurant a swath of lawn with flower-filled planters and Adirondack chairs offers a spot to sip rosé in the sun following a mountain bike ride or a trip down the zip line. Staying open gives the women a firmer foothold in the community they have grown to love. “In a way, I don’t feel too distant from the French Alps; there’s a small-town feel, and everybody knows each other,” says Laura. “But the people are from such a wide range of backgrounds and places that it never feels like a little town in the woods,” says Ciana, finishing her wife’s sentence. “I can’t believe that we do this thing that originated as just what we like to do, and people love it so much. They come here to have a very different kind of experience, and they all leave happy.”

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