Given that I've been writing restaurant reviews for more than 20 years now, I guess by default I'm a restaurant critic. However, that's not a job description I've ever found particularly endearing. It carries the connotation that I visit restaurants to criticize—specifically, to find fault.
But that's not what I do. Or at least, it's not only what I do. First and foremost, I visit restaurants to suss out what's good about them. And frankly, that's the part of restaurant criticism I enjoy: championing the talented, hard-working chefs, servers, bar staff and restaurateurs out there. I prefer to think of myself as a food enthusiast. And every now and then, a restaurant comes along that I can get very enthusiastic about.
Provisions is such a restaurant. It's the brainchild of chef/owner Tyler Stokes, a Park City native who left Utah for Sun Valley, where he served as executive chef at Globus before opening his own restaurant, Dashi. Prior to that—as a teenager—he worked in the kitchen of Lugano, the very space that is now Provisions' home. Life is a circle, so they say.
As you walk up to and into Provisions, it's hard to see a trace of Lugano, so total and complete was the restaurant's makeover. Even the entrance is new. Interior designer Rachel Hodson—whose creative design sense is displayed at Copper Onion, Copper Common and the new Copper Kitchen—makes a bold statement at Provisions. And that statement is, "I love the color orange!" The restaurant is contemporary, but comfortable and spacious, with a shiny gray cement floor and coral-orange wallpaper. There is orange everywhere, including orange roses on the tables—and somehow, it works.
Like the decor, the cuisine at Provisions—self-described as "an American craft kitchen"—is also bold. It's one of the more interesting menus I've set eyes on in a long time. It strikes me as comfort food with an edge. For example, Chef Stokes takes steak tartare ($15)—a classic dish if there ever was one—and makes it his own. Frankly, I nearly screamed "sacrilege!" when I saw that he incorporated soy sauce and mint into his tartare, not to mention Meyer lemon and sunflower seeds. Mint in steak tartare? But it was a revelation—a much more flavorful and satisfying steak tartare than any of the classic iterations I've tried.
I also loved the citrus-meets-spice flavors of Provisions' diver scallop crudo: a single raw scallop cut into four slices, topped with blood-orange wedges (there's that orange theme again), Thai chilies,olive oil and minced chive. The only thing I didn't like was the price: $11 for a single scallop.
I applaud the freedom of choice the Provisions menu offers. There's a small section devoted to "raw" fare like the aforementioned steak tartare and diver scallop, along with hamachi sashimi ($14) and oysters on the half-shell ($18/half-dozen). The oysters were delicious and featured, like the scallop, blood-orange pieces and thinly sliced green Thai chilies.
The menu continues with a dozen small-plates options, a "wood-fired veggies" section (roasted mushrooms, baby carrots, cauliflower, beets, etc.), a half-dozen or so "large plates" and a dessert quartet. You could roll in for a plate of olives marinated with rosemary, fennel and, of course, orange ($4) with a glass of wine, and get out for about $10. Or, you could go whole hog with a multicourse dinner. We chose the latter.
On Sunday evenings, Provisions is becoming a place where professional chefs and restaurateurs gather to close out their weekend. In fact, on a recent Sunday, we seemed to be the only folks in the dining room who weren't restaurant pros. Takashi Gibo and his wife, Tamara, were at one table, the folks who own Kobe restaurant in Olympus Hills at another, and a duo from Molly Green's Pub in Brighton had staked out a couple seats at the bar. That these talented people chose to spend a rare evening off at Provisions, I took as a good sign.
Well, it was, because the food continued to impress, as did the top-notch service. Don't pass up the small plate of fried quail ($15). It has a spicy kick to it, served with shoestring-style pickled root vegetables, butternut-squash purée and julienned Fuji apple. The small-plate wood-fired mussels ($14), too, are excellent: plump black mussels cooked in Uinta 801 Pilsner and coconut cream, with Thai chiles (again), basil and garlic, and served with slices of grilled bread. But our favorite small-plate choice, by far, was the pig's head torchon ($10). Niman Ranch pork (from the pig's head) is formed into hockey-puck-like torchons, deep-fried and served crispy with a cherry-ginger compote, pickled mustard seeds and butter-leaf lettuce for assembling "pig's head wraps." From the torchons themselves to the pickled mustard seeds, the entire dish was remarkable yet simple.
And that's what I like about Provisions: The food is complex, but not contrived nor convoluted. For example, a dish like the tagliarini ($19) could have easily suffered from too many ingredients. But under Chef Stokes' watchful eye and judicious hand, it's a comfort-food masterpiece. Fresh tagliarini pasta (similar to tagliatelle) is tossed with juicy, tender, braised rabbit meat; thin-sliced garlic; crispy speck lardons; and sage-brown-butter sauce. It's about as perfect as pasta gets. And the melt-in-the mouth caramelized black cod ($25) is about as perfect as fish gets, served with parsnips "three ways," Meyer-lemon confit and an herb emulsion—again, simple, but sensational.
So, this was one of those weeks where I donned my restaurant "critic" hat and found an eatery to be very enthusiastic about. I'm betting that, at Provisions, you will, too.