NORTH CONWAY, N.H. -- Finding a ski bum working in a ski town restaurant is easy. But Peter Willis took it a step further.
"Peter went to business school, but he was a ski bum and had to find a way to ski during the day and still make money," said his wife, Kate.
The couple, married for nearly 20 years, met while both worked at a Conway inn in the early 1980s. Nearly three years ago, they started serving creative cuisine at the intimate and casual Coyote Rose, formerly a pizzeria and service station.
Their adventurous Southwestern menu appeals to varied tastes, from an apple-wood-smoked duck breast with a prickly pear-chipotle glaze that's been smoked on-site to the mild spices of seared sea scallops flamed in tequila and lime with chilies, cilantro, and Spanish olives.
This is no place to grab a taco or overindulge in hot sauce.
Having worked in several area restaurants such as the Darby Field Inn, the Wentworth Inn, and the 1785 Inn, the Willises had always wanted to open their own place, but without the constraints of a country inn image.
The Southwestern influence of Coyote Rose comes from Utah, where they have also worked. The decor is one of muted desert colors and faux brick. A family portrait with their four daughters, taken in the desert, hangs on the wall by the open kitchen where patrons can watch Peter cook. Kate's strength is baking, but she can be found on line when sous chef Richard Scarzello has the day off.
"I have a lot of fun with food," Peter said. "When people come in here they are open to new flavors."
That they will find. Gorditas -- little flour tortillas served with salsa and a root vegetable called jicama -- start things off before the corn bread -- a yellow smoked cheddar, blue cornmeal, and sweet, red pepper offering. The cinnamon-hinted fruit of prickly pear cactus sorbet with toasted spices is a refreshing intermezzo.
Wild boar, antelope, and buffalo (from Waterford, Maine) also are among the offerings, along with more than 25 tequilas, from the smooth and woodsy Jose Cuervo Family Reserve to the vanilla-laced Don Julio's 1942. There are prickly pear margaritas and desserts from chocolate chip ginger bread to pinenut cake.
With all that cooking, Peter doesn't have much time to ski.
"My bicycle and skis are all getting rusty," he joked.
His adventures now are in the kitchen.
Coyote Rose, 2733 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, N.H., 603-356-,7673 www.coyoterose.net; open daily at 5 p.m.; reservations appreciated; entrees $15-$35.