When Goldener Hirsch Inn’s restaurant won last year’s Best Park City/Deer Valley Restaurant award in Salt Lake Magazine, it caused me to do a bit of a double-clutch. That’s because there must be more fine-dining restaurants in Park City per square inch than just about anywhere else on the planet'except for, maybe, Paris. A short list of the Goldener Hirsch’s classy competition in Park City and Deer Valley includes 350 Main, Bistro Toujours, Blind Dog Grill, The Cabin, Chenez, Chez Betty, Chimayo, Glitretind, Grappa, Mariposa, Riverhorse and Wahso, to name just the most obvious comers. And while I’ve always enjoyed chef Jean Louis Montecot’s cuisine, I’ve never been entirely convinced that the Goldener Hirsch kitchen was the best place for him to strut his stuff.
The Austria-laden gestalt of the Goldener Hirsch Inn and its restaurant make for a wonderful winter getaway without having to book a flight to Europe. But the food there'with the exception of a few high notes when chef Zane Holmquist, now at the Glitretind, ran the kitchen'has never been particularly refined. Wienerschnitzel, cheese fondue and apfelstrudel have long been the most requested dishes at the Goldener Hirsch, and I wasn’t sure a classically trained French chef like Montecot could make much of a dent in the Goldener Hirsch’s Sound of Music vibe.
But then last winter, the Goldener Hirsch won the SL Mag dining award and I began getting e-mails and phone calls from trusted informants about how good the food at Montecot’s restaurant had become. So I visited the restaurant late last winter, and again recently. And while I can’t really say if the Goldener Hirsch is Park City’s best restaurant, I do think it’s better now than it’s ever been.
For starters, the service at the restaurant is superb. When Regis Perret, Goldener Hirsch’s general manager, guides you to your table and flawlessly opens a bottle of wine to pour, you know you’re already in good hands. And then excellent servers like Keith and Jeff keep proving the point all throughout the evening with their skill, knowledge and friendly pampering. These pros know when to be at the customers’ side and when to give them some breathing room. Since Perret took over the dining room, service at the Goldener Hirsch has improved dramatically, going from sometimes feeble to habitually flawless.
Unfortunately, there are still those damned pink tablecloths that have been annoying me for years at the Goldener Hirsch. But then the restaurant’s ambience has never been its strong point, in my opinion, although a seat out on the deck on a warm summer evening can be a pretty comfy place to hang. Go for the food and the service; deal with the décor.
If you’re already familiar with the Goldener Hirsch’s Normandy-born chef, you might recall that Montecot served stints in Paris, Chicago and New York City, including the Big Apple’s La Cote Basque, and more recently at the Sundance Tree Room and Inn on the Creek. His pedigree is a prestigious one.
And to my surprise, his expertly conceived cuisine is starting to take hold at the Goldener Hirsch, where the powers-that-be don’t exactly ride the cutting edge. For example, Chef Montecot has taken an Austrian classic like strudel and turned it on its head: Montecot’s strudel appetizer is phyllo dough stuffed with fresh crabs, peppers, shallots and cilantro and served with a fragrant dill aioli ($12). Old-timers needn’t worry, though'there’s still classic apfelstrudel ($9) on the menu as well, made with slow-roasted apples, cranberries and raisins and served with caramel sauce and vanilla Haagen Dazs.
Anyone who knows Montecot knows that he’s a bit of a “whack job” (as he says self-deprecatingly of himself). He’s well-known as not only one of Utah’s most creative chefs, but also as its most entertaining. But I thought he’d flipped his toque when I saw “Mushroom Ceviche” on the menu. The concept of mushrooms served ceviche-style seemed to me to be one of the worst culinary ideas I’d come across in a while. So naturally, I had to try it. Or rather, I made my dining companion order it so I could try it. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Chef Montecot “cooks” wild mushrooms in a tangy vinegar-lime-cilantro-red onion marinade and then serves his “ceviche” ($9) up in a crispy Parmesan cheese cone. As my companion pointed out, the saltiness of the Parmesan cone and the acidic tang of the ceviche marinade merge with the earthy, rich mushrooms to create an exciting combination of flavors and textures.
Unfortunately, another exciting dish'“Trio of Tartare” with tilapia, salmon and tuna in a mustard dressing'has recently fallen off the menu due to the owners’ lack of enthusiasm for the dish. Too bad they couldn’t have left it for the rest of us.
The only glitch in otherwise near-perfect meals at the Goldener Hirsch was a roasted chicken with Burgundy-infused au jus ($23). The sauce was killer but the chicken itself tasted a bit off, as though it had been pre-cooked early that day or maybe even the night before and then reheated. That’s somewhat typical for restaurants with impatient diners, but I’d have been willing to wait for chicken cooked from scratch while I sipped my glass of St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc from the Goldener Hirsch wine list.
All in all though, I recommend taking advantage of the Goldener opportunity to experience Chef Montecot’s solid cuisine in Deer Valley since Montecot is better while one hand tied behind his back than most are with complete kitchen sovereignty.