Where There’s Smoke 

Dropping in on an incendiary night of food and drink at La Caille.

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To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable turning over my car keys to a kid in knickers. But that’s the southern half of the uniform for most male employees at La Caille, so I hand the valet my keys, not quite sure if he’s supposed to be a pirate, a footman or a baseball player from the 1800s. A pilgrim, perhaps?

It had been a long, long time since my last visit to La Caille. Frankly, I’ve never been too enthusiastic about the place and probably less than kind to it in these pages. But lately I’d been hearing rumors of improvement. Although it’s still ridiculously expensive, one foodie friend said, the food is really good. And I’d heard that the folks at La Caille were hellbent on developing one of the best wine lists in the state. Things change. The center does not hold, as Yeats said. So, I decided to motor down to La Caille to partake of the first in a new series of wine dinners being presented there.

After giving the pirate our ride, we were greeted by a very smartly clad, efficient and professional hostess. We’d arrived a bit early, and she suggested we take a stroll around the grounds. I couldn’t help but notice she wasn’t wearing a bustier but, rather, a business suit. Indeed, either the breasts have gotten smaller or the uniforms on the female servers at La Caille have gotten more conservative since my last visit. (I’m pretty certain it’s the latter.) I didn’t feel like I was at an upscale Hooters this time around.

Anyway, we weren’t able to roam the entire 22-acre estate that is La Caille, but its gardens, patios, streams, paths, vineyards and wildlife are absolutely stunning. It’s unlike any restaurant I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. To say La Caille is gorgeous is sort of like saying Isabella Rossellini has nice skin.

Joseph Wright is worried about smoke. He’s the youthful wine director/sommelier at La Caille. Only 26 and vaguely resembling Mo Rocca, he’s worked at the restaurant since he was 14 doing all sorts of jobs and only taking off periods for school and to spend time in San Francisco obtaining his sommelier certification. Wright built the La Caille wine program into a formidable one and, tonight, he’s worried about smoke. Because on this special night—the night of his first hosted wine dinner—the foothills just behind La Caille are on fire. There is literally ash falling from the sky as we stroll the La Caille compound, and Wright is very concerned that the smoke and ash might taint his customers’ wining and dining experience. I counsel him to relax, encouraging him to think of this as a unique and memorable evening.

And it was. La Caille now has a dedicated chef named Ryan Murray, and this fellow has chops. Wright chose to begin the La Caille summer wine tasting with two Champagnes—a wise move, since you can bank on good bubbly to put everyone in a festive mood, smoke or no smoke. He paired Scottish lox and roasted corn blinis—smoky, come to think of it—with Taittinger “La Francaise Brut,” followed by a delightful sushi “snow cone” and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin “Demi-Sec” Champagne. The cone was ahi tuna, gari (young, sweet ginger) and spicy wasabi tobiko served on a banana leaf. Wright was a tad nervous about the unorthodox pairing of a sweet Champagne with the fiery sushi, but it totally worked: opposites attract.

As we inhaled tender pillows of pan-seared Diver scallops with a buttery Sancerre reduction, I began to wonder if this was the same place where I’d had all those less-than-memorable meals in the past. The fruity acidity and flinty chalkiness of Compte Lafond Sancerre 2004 made it seem like it had been created with scallops in mind.

I have to admit, I think the whole “deconstruction” craze in restaurants these days is a bit silly, sort of like those pants the male bussers at La Caille wear. The idea is that you take something like a hamburger and serve it “deconstructed”: bun here, the meat over there, lettuce and tomato on the side, etc. Murray’s deconstructed salad of duck confit and frisée with strawberry vinaigrette was delicious, although I’d just as soon have had mine constructed. At La Caille prices, customers shouldn’t have to do the work of constructing their own salads.

Heading into the home stretch, the crowd at my table was getting a little giddy from the great food and wine, and I had to pry more than one set of fingers from my oversize glass of Testarossa Pinot Noir “Gary’s Vineyard” 2005. Man, oh, man, did this stuff ever rock with Murray’s carré d’agneau: tender New Zealand lamb chops in a Grand Marnier reduction glaze. To be truthful, there were those seated at our table who wished the chef was a little less stingy with his sauces. On the other hand, I applauded him for resisting the urge to bury everything in them. I appreciated being able to actually taste my lamb and the peppercorn- and lavender-crusted ribeye that followed it. Once again, Wright worked his wine magic, pairing the seared ribeye with Jean-Luc Colombo “La Louvee” Cornas 2003.

By the time we all dipped into the fabulous cheese selection courtesy of special guest Pat Ford of the Beehive Cheese Company, accompanied as it was by glasses of Chateau Rieussac Sauternes 1997, I’d gone from thinking of La Caille as one of my least favorite theme parks to viewing it as a real restaurant with some serious potential. We had all but forgotten the smoke and ash.

LA CAILLE 9565 Wasatch Blvd., Sandy, 942-1751, LaCaille.com. Dinner Monday-Saturday from 6 p.m. Brunch & dinner Sunday

Well, you just can’t keep a good chef out of the kitchen. Following a stint as a representative for Sysco foods, Dave Jones—formerly executive chef at Log Haven—has been hired as the new executive chef for Bambara restaurant in the Hotel Monaco, according to restaurant manager Art Cazares. So, for all you loyal Jones fans who’ve been asking me what he’s up to these days, there’s your answer. Welcome back to the kitchen, Dave.

• The Taste for the Cure 2007 to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation will be held the evening of Oct. 20 at Kimball Distributing, 2233 S. 300 East. This special food-and-wine fund-raiser features cooking demonstrations every 15 minutes by local chefs as well as a silent auction, wine and beer tastings, and a chef showdown featuring Gastronomy’s Ty Fredrickson up against Brandon Mikulich from Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Everyone’s favorite zany French chef Jean Louis Montecot hosts the evening. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation promotes breast-cancer awareness and education, screenings and treatment projects for the medically underserved. Tickets are $40 in advance or $50 at the door and available at any Wild Oats store and KomenSLC.org.

Green chili alert! I wasn’t aware of this but, apparently, you have to have a license from the Utah State Health Department to roast and sell chilis; the health department has shut down most roadside chili roasters. However, anyone looking for legal chilis during green chili season can find them at La Hacienda restaurant at 1248 S. Redwood. At La Hacienda, they’re roasting famous Hatch, N.M., green chilis to order, in their licensed on-premise gas roaster, priced at $25 per bushel basket. For more information, phone La Hacienda at 973-0738.

• Quote of the week: If junk food is the devil, then a sweet orange is as scripture. —Audrey Foris

Send Food Matters information to teds@xmission.com. Hear Ted over the airwaves on Sound Bites, Thursdays on KSL NewsRadio 1160 AM and 102.7 FM.
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