Perusing last week’s “Best of Utah” issue of City Weekly reminded me that it’s been another great year for dining in Utah. Our restaurants keep getting better, the chefs more creative and service improves continually.
In the past year, I’ve eaten more than 100 restaurant meals, and there were certain dishes that stand out in my mind. Among them, the papardelle with lobster and cream sauce at The New Yorker, a mind-blowing beef filet with sea urchin glaze from Metropolitan, fluffy gnocchi with sage butter at Cucina Toscana, Log Haven’s Little Neck clams steamed in Fisher-Belle ale with poblano chiles, the osso buco at Grappa, Urban Bistro’s brescaola, and rabbit in mustard sauce at Chenez, to name a few.
There were also less fancy meals that were just as satisfying: Moochie’s meatball and cheesesteak sandwiches, tapas from CafÃ© Madrid, the pastrami on rye at the Uinta Brewing Co. pub, and the “Ultimate” grilled-cheese sandwich at the Avenues Bakery come to mind.
But of all the meals I’ve enjoyed in the past year, there’s one dish that left all the others in the dust. It’s a specialty of chef Arturo Flores at Park City’s Chimayo restaurant: London broil of elk. I’ve eaten this Flores masterpiece twice now, and I’m convinced that it can’t be improved upon. It’s perfect in every way, from the clever presentation to the last delicious bite.
I’ll try to describe it: Seared elk loin is cut into oval medallions and served on a long, slender platter that looks sort of like a bread dish made to hold a baguette. It’s a linear presentation with a circular mold of tomato concasse on the left. Next, there’s a heavenly “quesadilla” patty of potato, bacon, cheddar cheese and sour cream, garnished with sprigs of fresh thyme and deep-fried spaghetti strands to give the dish visual height. A crisscross of steamed asparagus spears leads, panning to the right of the plate, to the elk medallions, which are overlapped and bathed in a phenomenal green chile “BÃ©arnaise” sauce. Chimayo’s London broil of elk is a brilliantly conceived dish that looks as sensational as it tastes. And it tastes like the best dish I ate all year.
Chimayo isn’t the newest of restaurateur Bill White’s string of Park City jewels that also includes Windy Ridge, Wahso, and Grappa. But it might just be the best. In fact, it’s the restaurant that White himself eats in most frequently. And while there are menu hits and misses at his other restaurants, I’ve yet to discover a dish at Chimayo that wasn’t a slam-dunk. Chef Arturo Flores’ kitchen is definitely hitting on all cylinders.
Kicking off a Chimayo evening with a special treat is easy. Just order the “queso fundido.” It’s an iron skillet of hot, melted mild Mexican cheese with mushrooms and the delectable fungus that grows on fresh corn called “huitlacoche.” It’s funky-looking stuff, but “huitlacoche” is considered a delicacy in Central Mexico and has been a treasured treat there since pre-Columbian times. It adds a delicious dimension to Chimayo’s “queso fundido,” served with blue corn tortilla chips for dipping.
“Arturo’s Tortilla Soup” is another of Chimayo’s satisfying starters, especially if you’re wise enough to sip one of the restaurant’s signature margaritas alongside. I’m particularly fond of the Patron Silver margarita, made with 100 percent blue agave Patron tequila, a blend of natural fruit juices, and a splash of Grand Marnier. Woo hoo! The Chimayo margaritas also blend nicely with Chef Flores’ chile rellenos, stuffed with goat and mozzarella cheeses with poblano chile and pumpkinseed pesto. And if margaritas aren’t your bag, try a glass of the aromatic Morgadio Albarino from Rueda, Spain.
A dinner at Chimayo is enhanced by stellar table service and warm, southwestern dÃ©cor and ambiance. The restaurant was inspired by the famous mission at Chimayo, N.M., and general manager Mark “Turbo” Turnbow seems to be on a mission of his own to insure that every guest at Chimayo has a memorable dining experience. He patrols the restaurant doing everything from pouncing on dropped napkins to flambÃ©ing spectacular tableside desserts.
Simply put, Chimayo is a food lover’s delight. The green lipped mussels in chipotle garlic broth are plump, tender and savory. A crown roast of spareribs with caramelized pineapple glaze is stunning to look at and to eat. Mole-rubbed filet mignon with grilled sweet potatoes, corn fritters, and an ancho chile Mexican oregano sauce is precisely as amazing as it sounds. And the avocado salad with pasilla chile vinaigrette is simple and wonderful. Oh, and did I mention the London broil of elk with green chile BÃ©arnaise?
Through the years and just in the past year, I’ve seen restaurants come and I’ve seen them go. I have my own reliable favorites. But I honestly can’t think of any Utah restaurant that is as consistent in its quality and excellence as Chimayo has been through time. It was great the day the doors opened, and somehow just keeps getting better and better. My advice to owner Bill White would be, “Don’t change a thing.”
Still, I’m certain Chef Flores will continue to invent, experiment, inspire, and create. So I guess my advice is simply this: Don’t change the London broil of elk!
CHIMAYO, 368 Main, Park City, 435-649-6222, Open daily for dinner