Complaints of a lack of snow fell upon deaf and frostbitten ears in Park City, where skiers recently flocked for good powder (note to my L.A. friends: flocking for good powder is not what you think it is). Simultaneously, indie filmmakers made their annual pilgrimage to the high ground, exchanging smog for smug at Sundance.
Mid-winter in Utah's Wasatch Mountains during an indie film fest is (apart from being really white) an ideal environment to dine and drink. So, like a triangle calling me to sup, I heard the clarion call of the Park City culinary scene beckoning my jaded palate and haggard liver.
Ever in search of the novel and unexpected, I vowed that my now-annual Epicurean journey would only include restaurants that had not previously fed my appetite. This left out some of the city's finest: Talisker on Main, The Farm at Canyons, Slopes at the Waldorf-Astoria and Riverhorse on Main, among others. So where then to begin?
Silver. The city's origins are buried deep in the earth in a glittering precious metal. If silver was reason enough to build a city, it seemed a good enough joint what to find some hot victuals. Turns out, Silver is the sort of modern casual-elegant establishment in which those of us from a coast will feel right at home: sleek décor, drapes slung over exposed brick walls, diffuse illumination, dark woods and silver accents.
The cuisine highlights the flavors of Provence and San Sebastian. The foie gras, a light mousse, combines goose and chicken liver, and is served with hearty whole grain bread, cranberry mustard and smoked leek. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the braised bacon glimmering in a maple-Bourbon glaze. Right?
Some of the best discoveries I've made in life have been by straying off the course. So no matter how well I've scripted my dining routine on a trip, I always make time to wander into a place I never thought to look for in advance. This time, that spot was Park City Broiler. Located in a strip mall in the vicinity of Prospector's Square, this humble meat-and-veggies grill was an eye-opener.
Down-to-Earth co-owner Kreg Van Stralen, whom locals will be familiar with for his neighboring Wasatch Grill, teamed up with Brad Grieve, who first got behind a grill in Newport Beach 40 years ago and has been cooking ever since. In the last year, Grieve modified his diet and shed nine stone, and now employs his healthy recipes into the menu. Although he uses only heart-healthy ingredients, he won't call it "tree-hugger" food. It isn't. It tastes like the barbecue my dad used to pull off the grill.
Now, I'm of the opinion that at any destination festival, it's important to take the time to get out of town. Normally, a trip to Salt Lake City would fit the bill, but a night bus to nearby Deer Valley Resort transported me effectively enough thanks to an incredible meal at The Mariposa. When I informed the driver of my destination, he told me that the restaurant was where he proposed to his now-wife. Setting foot inside the place, I figured out why she accepted.
The menu is arranged to present a four or five-course tasting, but with several options, rather than a prix fixe or a chef's choice. The suggested wine pairings with every dish are well-chosen. Those dishes include Diver scallop ceviche; Pancetta-wrapped Monkfish; bison filet topped with foie gras; even the mashed potatoes here are a revelation; but I'm just going to say this: The Beggar's Purse -- puff pastry-wrapped forest mushrooms atop warm brie in a Cabernet sauce (or was it Burgundy -- too much drool on my notes).
Because it's one of the hottest tickets in town and because every belly needs a night off, I opted for lunch at High West Distillery & Saloon. Once home to master carpenter Ellsworth J. Beggs et al, the century-old two-story Victorian now houses perhaps the most iconic eatery/drinkery in town.
At High West Distillery, whisky and "vittles" pair off like partners at a square dance, with the spirit's caramel and vanilla notes complementing the "High Country" cuisine. Among the meals being served are elk and chanterelles; pan-fried Utah Trout salad; whisky-braised short rib, and, of course, a three-bean Bourbon chili.
My final foray into culinary Park City took place at yet another historic site -- the fourth-oldest building in town (1892, for those of you taking notes). Although Purple Sage is a mere decade old, proprietor Travis Axtell is a Park City native and a second-generation restaurateur, embodying the heritage of this special place.
The menu is entrée-driven with traditional favorites (meatloaf, braised short rib, chicken-fried chicken, corn-battered Utah trout), but Chef Chad Tanner introduces modern touches that sophisticated diners have come to expect. The cocktails, too, are up-to-the-minute, and the wine list is well-curated and features second-generation vintners, as Axtell supports lineage in business.
A shot of espresso at campy Java Cow and a fantastic stracciatella affogato at elegant Le Niche, and my final morning in Park City was complete for another year. However, if there was one thing that I kept hearing during my winter retreat here, it was that I really need to come back in the summer. My palate is enticed by the possibility, and my liver would have plenty of time to detox in the meantime.