But hey, it’s only money, right? So throw caution to the wind and kick off dinner with an appetizer of Hawaiian blue prawns ($14). The two large head-on prawns are poached in olive oil, then splashed with preserved Meyer lemon vinaigrette, served atop “risotto” of Yukon potatoes with small disks of homemade shrimp “chorizo.” It’s a remarkable dish with which to begin an evening of Tree Room dining: the tender, juicy shrimp exploding with flavor—absolutely delightful. Equally successful was chef Jesse Moreno’s exquisite sautéed diver scallop, with a crisp, tangy exterior, perched on a bed of Anson Mills grits, with wild mushrooms and roasted heirloom tomato vinaigrette ($13). I was impressed by Moreno’s cooking during the time that he served as executive chef at Midway’s Blue Boar Inn, and he really seems to be firing on all cylinders at Sundance, which he joined just over a year ago. Moreno’s cooking hits the high notes of past Tree Room chefs like Jason Knibb and Jean Louis Montecot.
On this particular evening, the Sundance service staff was a tad strained by the large number of drop-in diners, customers who’d found their way to the Tree Room after the Food & Wine Festival. Our key server was M.I.A. for much of the night, but a young woman named Ashley filled in quite nicely, keeping our wine and water glasses filled, replacing cutlery and, in general, keeping things moving along steadily. This, despite also having a monkey wrench thrown into the evening’s service by a tipsy visiting restaurateur, who bounced from table to table shouting directions such as “Suck the heads!” (of the prawns). The Sundance service staff rolled with the punches like the pros they are. But I couldn’t help wonder how the restaurateur would have liked having the Tree Room crew come to his establishment and misbehave so.
The uninvited third wheel notwithstanding, we managed to enjoy dinner pretty thoroughly. A main course of Wagyu hangar steak ($37) was flawlessly executed, the most satisfying Tree Room beef dish I’ve had. Seared perfectly to medium-rare as ordered, the steak was then sliced into thin, juicy medallions and served with a rich, velvety Cabernet Sauvignon reduction, roasted baby potatoes, and topped with a green herb “salad.” I’ve eaten Wagyu beef in many different forms and preparations, but none was any more flavorful than Chef Moreno’s. And, for traditional beef lovers, there is also the long-time Sundance crowd-pleaser on the menu: Tree Room pepper steak with buttermilk mashed potatoes ($42). It’s a wildly popular dish that’s not likely to go away anytime soon.
I’m usually loath to order boneless chicken breast in restaurants, since it invariably arrives dry, stringy and flavorless, or is so smothered in sauce to hide the dry, bland meat that it’s unidentifiable as chicken. But the Tree Room kitchen handles free range chicken with kid gloves. It shows up juicy, tender and actually tasting like chicken, served with Roquefort polenta, fresh asparagus and a generous amount of shallot-marmalade chicken jus, which preempts even the tiniest hint of dryness.
For the adventurous—or extremely hungry—Chef Moreno offers a seven-course tasting menu, which changes frequently, since the Tree Room cuisine is in-sync with the seasons and what’s freshest at any given time. Whether you indulge in the lengthy tasting menu or not, make time to wander the Tree Room, taking in Robert Redford’s celebrated collection of American Indian and Western art. As with the candles, comfy seat cushions and soft dining room lighting, the Tree Room décor is, simply, made for romance—an extremely serene and seductive spot to dine.
I normally cringe at a server asking, “Save room for dessert?” But, at the Tree Room, you really should. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on pastry chef Meghan Rule’s sweet delights such as hot pineapple beignets with coconut sauce ($12) or her warm chocolate truffle cake, served with Rocky Road ice cream and almond caramel sauce ($11). And, for the kids and kids-at-heart, there’s the Tree Room malted-milk chocolate shake with chocolate chip cookies ($10).
If you’re lucky or smart, you’ll have booked a room in one of the Sundance Cottages for the night, which means you won’t have to jump back into the car and drive home. “Lucky,” because then you’ll be able to hop over to the Owl Bar at Sundance for a post-dinner libation. The bar itself was restored from the 1890s Rosewood Bar, purchased by Redford in Thermopolis, Wyo., where Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang were said to hang out. It’s always enjoyable to sip a single-malt Scotch or maybe a High West Distillery whiskey by the Owl Bar fire, while grooving to live tunes from the likes of Joy & Eric, The Ides of Soul, Daniel Day, Blues on First, Dan Weldon and other great musicians. On the other hand, you could just choose to linger late, sipping cordials at one of Utah’s most enticing restaurants, the Tree Room.