Since opening for business two decades ago, The Riverhorse restaurant on Park City’s historic Main Street has been a favorite dining destination of locals and tourists alike. Frankly, I’m not sure why. I find the Riverhorse ambiance noisy and unappealing at best, and I’ve never had a meal there where the food was any better than mediocre, sky-high Park City prices notwithstanding. I have experienced excellent service at the Riverhorse, but I’m still baffled by the praise the restaurant receives from other critics.
So, I can’t say that I was exactly keen to try out the second, new Riverhorse restaurant, which recently opened in the Hotel Park City, perched on the edge of the Park City Golf Course.
But on a recent Sunday evening, in the midst of a full-blown blizzard, I was unable to make it from Park City to Salt Lake City for a City Weekly holiday party thanks to heavy snow and heavier Interstate traffic tie-ups. So my companion got out her cell phone and called Riverhorse on the Green to find out if the restaurant was open on Sundays, and if so, could we get a last-minute reservation. Upon finishing the call, my companion, who is also in the restaurant biz, was effusive about the Riverhorse hostess who’d taken her call.
“Of course! We’d love to have you for dinner this evening,” the hostess had said, and asked if we needed directions. It’s that type of warm and accommodating greeting that restaurant reservation takers all too often fail to supply their customers. When putting us on hold, or acting as though booking a table is ruining their night, they often forget that they are the front line—the first element of the dining experience for customers. And you know what they say about getting one chance to make a first impression.
So we were impressed by the Riverhorse’s hostess. And about 10 minutes later, we pulled up to the Hotel Park City where a very helpful doorman met us at our car in the raging snowstorm and escorted us to the entrance under the protection of a large umbrella. Nice touch. A moment later we were at the restaurant’s front desk, where that same friendly and professional hostess led us to a table bordered by a large fireplace on one side and a larger window on the other. It was nice of the hostess to ask if we’d like to be seated by the fireplace. I didn’t have the heart to mention that there was no fire in the fireplace, even on one of winter’s coldest and snowiest evenings.
Even in the vast (and, on this night, mostly empty) main dining room of Riverhorse on the Green, it’s possible to enjoy an intimate meal. Tables are well-spaced and the dÃ©cor is very warm, with large windows that look out onto the golf course and Park City Mountain Resort. And I especially like the big comfy chairs, the type you don’t mind settling into for a leisurely dinner.
Perusing the Riverhorse wine list, I was struck by two things: First, the wine markups are lower than just about any Park City restaurant I can think of, with most Riverhorse wines selling for about twice the retail price. While I’m not crazy about paying $40 for a $20 wine, it’s better than paying $50 or $60, which is more common, especially in Park City restaurants. Second, although Riverhorse on the Green doesn’t boast Park City’s biggest wine list, there is a nice range of quality juice from producers like Heitz, Silver Oak, Jordan, Kistler and Far Niente, to name but a few. Since corkage at Riverhorse on the Green is $15, it doesn’t really pay to bring your own unless you’ve got something really special you want to unleash.
Many of the same menu items appear at both the original Riverhorse on Main and Riverhorse on the Green. Among them are “Original” Riverhorse potstickers and Macadamia-crusted Alaskan halibut. Like most people, I love the halibut (although I don’t love the $26.50 price tag), but I just don’t get the appeal of the potstickers ($9.50). My potstickers were overcooked, falling apart and tasted like the frozen potstickers you can buy at Costco. Maybe the potstickers were homemade. If so, they weren’t at all distinctive, nor was the ginger-garlic dipping sauce. I preferred the tempura battered “jumbo” shrimp appetizer ($11.50) even though there was nothing jumbo about them. The shrimp were tender and the tempura batter was light and airy. I was much less enthusiastic, however, about the ginger-wasabi mayonnaise, which I covertly tried to wipe from my shrimp.
Our Riverhorse entrees were much more satisfying than the appetizers. The grilled Utah red trout ($24.50) at Riverhorse on the Green is an excellent choice and, although I don’t usually go for surf and turf selections, I thoroughly enjoyed a tender, perfectly cooked lobster tail and small filet mignon ($36.50). I appreciate that the Riverhorse offers diners a choice of side dishes with beef, lamb, and pork entrees—the tempura onion rings are terrific.
Unquestionably the best thing about dining at the new Riverhorse is the service. If you’re lucky enough to be waited on by a server named Kristine, you won’t find better. In fact, the top-notch service and lovely ambiance of Riverhorse on the Green is almost enough to make me forgive the staggering menu prices, but not quite.
RIVERHORSE ON THE GREEN, 2001 Park Avenue, at the Hotel Park City, 435-200-2000, Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner