Autumnal Enchantment | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Autumnal Enchantment 

Chef Patrick LeBeau takes the reins at Bambara.

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I've been a regular at Bambara (202 S. Main Street, 801-363-5454, ever since it was the site of the first dinner my wife and I had as a married couple. The wedding reception was amazing, but the two of us were exhausted and were dying for a decent meal—which was exactly what Bambara delivered.

Since then, Bambara has been one of my favorite upscale restaurants because it's consistently delicious, the space is gorgeous and it sits on one of the most interesting corners of Downtown Salt Lake City. I found Bambara once again in my sights as I heard the news of Chef Patrick LeBeau taking on the role of executive chef at this downtown establishment, and I was eager to see what he had planned.

Before coming to Utah, Chef LeBeau served as chef de cuisine at the Loews Hotel in Kansas City; before his time in Kansas City, he was chef de cuisine at NoMI Kitchen at the Park Hyatt in Chicago. I had a chance to meet LeBeau not long after his move to Utah, and it's easy to tell that his previous experiences have made him into the type of chef who lets his ingredients speak for themselves. "I went to the farmers' market the first Saturday I was here," he says. "I couldn't wait to let our menu showcase the local farms and ingredients in Utah."

LeBeau's first crack at updating Bambara's menu took place only recently—he was particularly excited about using a fall menu to make some waves. "I really wanted to make a splash," he says. "I want to make it known that this is the identity of the restaurant going forward." My wife and I visited Bambara soon after Chef LeBeau's menu changes were implemented, and were impressed with the direction it's taken. There are some ballsy moves here to be sure, but I also think Chef LeBeau's decisions are very true to the spirit of Bambara and what Utah diners have come to expect from the establishment.

It was a tough call, but we ended up starting with the whipped goat cheese ($15) and the Kurobuta pork shoulder adobo ($30), both of which were highly recommended by the chef. Both dishes can be found on the shared appetizers section as they are perfect to split among the table.

The whipped goat cheese is topped with apple butter and candied pecans and served with local Crumb Brothers sourdough bread. While its components seem straightforward, your first bite of that creamy, tangy goat cheese as it mixes with the sweet apple butter and crunchy pecans is nothing short of autumnal perfection. It serves as an overture to Chef LeBeau's knack for selecting primo ingredients and dressing them up just enough to really showcase their talent.

Moving on to the pork shoulder adobo delivered another knockout that absolutely screamed autumn harvest. Chef LeBeau's take on adobo sees this lovely Kurobuta pork stewed in a magical and savory broth until it's barely keeping itself together. It positively melts in your mouth and leaves a smoky, spicy ghost of flavor in its wake. It's served on top of a creamy sweet potato puree and then topped with roasted pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of cotija cheese, all of which creates an excellent ebb and flow of muted and intense flavors.

For entrees, we ordered the Scallops a la Plancha ($48) and the grilled venison loin ($54), which were dressed almost too beautifully to eat. The scallops are served with some nutty quinoa, cubed butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and a slather of mint yogurt. The scallops of course are the star of the show here—plump, perfectly seared and an absolute pleasure to have in your mouth. The heartiness of the quinoa and squash balanced the lightness of the scallops, and that sweet punch of pomegranate was welcome whenever it appeared. If you're planning on going heavy on the appetizers and want something beautiful and breezy, the scallops are the way to go.

On the other hand, if you want to simply double down on rich, stick-to-your-bones flavors, then the grilled venison loin would be happy to oblige. It's a primo cut of venison with a coriander and fennel crust that wakes up your tastebuds enough to appreciate the flavor of the venison. It's served with a sprinkle of fried sunchoke chips and some breaded oyster mushrooms to complete the arboreal flavor profile. I can't really say enough good things about this dish—it's everything you'd want in a fall dinner.

For dessert, you can rest assured that Pastry Chef Rebecca Moore will have something to finish your meal off right. The restaurant has partnered with Hollow Tree Honey, a Sandy-based wildflower honey vendor. For a true celebration of this beehive bounty, check out the spiced honey rum cake ($13) served with Hollow Tree Honey ice cream and a poached apple.

While it will be exciting to see what else Chef LeBeau and his team have planned for Bambara, I'm hoping that most of this fall menu will stick around. This is the kind of food that you enter a semi-committed relationship with, and I don't know what I'd do if all of it vanished until next year. All the same, it'll be fun to see what Bambara serves up next.

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