Cliff Hanging | Wine | Salt Lake City Weekly

Cliff Hanging 

Sampling Snowbird’s delights from the Pit to the Aerie’s lofty heights.

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Food Matters
• This year marks the 35th anniversary of Oktoberfest at Snowbird, which will take place on weekends at the resort center Aug. 25-Oct. 7. Snowbird’s Oktoberfest Halle becomes a Bavarian-themed frenzy of activity and good eating featuring live entertainment, dancing, German cuisine, craftspeople, artisans, shopping and, of course, beer. Over the past three and a half decades, Oktoberfest at The Bird has grown to 70,000 visitors annually. They’ll consume some 4,000 pounds of paprika chicken and tens of thousands of bratwurst and weisswurst sausages. The beer consumption might not approach that of Oktoberfest in Munich (6.1 million litres of beer last year), but then the lines won’t be as long, either. Plus, admission is free.

• If you read Food Matters online or pick up a paper early, you might still get in on the first ever Party on the Boulevard in Layton. Jake Garn of Corbin’s Grill, Roosters’ Kym Buttschardt, Scott Schliffman from MacCools and Bella’s Fresh Mexican Grill are teaming up to throw a party celebrating locally owned restaurants in Layton. It’ll take place from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23, on Layton’s “restaurant row,” between the Layton Hills Mall and the Davis Conference Center. They’ll block off the street on Thursday evening for visitors to stroll the boulevard sampling the restaurants’ foods, shop a local farmers market, mingle with artists and vendors and enjoy live music from Full Circle. Party on the Boulevard takes place at Layton’s Heritage Park Boulevard. It’s free and open to the public—even non-Davis County residents.

• Fans of actor Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Men In Black, Full Metal Jacket) will be interested to know that he’s now a Utah restaurateur. He and his sister Toni Jorgensen have opened a Rib City Grill franchise at 2071 E. 9400 South in Sandy. Man, I still can’t get over how creepy D’Onofrio was as Pvt. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket!

Quote of the week: It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. —Lewis Grizzard

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It had been a couple of years since I’d done any dining up at Snowbird Resort. So, earlier this month, I spent a few nights hanging out at Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge and sampling some of the restaurants there. The results were somewhat surprising.

Hanging at the Cliff is something you can do literally. There’s a massive climbing wall on one side of the 10-story structure to test and hone one’s mountaineering skills. For my visits to the Aerie restaurant at the top of the Cliff Lodge and the Steak Pit in the bottom, I chose to use the elevator instead. Spider-Man I’m not.

One of the unfortunate aspects of dining at Snowbird is that its signature restaurants tend to reflect the décor sensibilities of owner Dick Bass, which apparently stalled circa 1975. The Steak Pit is a prime (pun intended) example, with its antiquated rustic furniture and hanging ferns. If the weather is warm, by all means, avail yourself of the option to eat outside on the newer (2-year-old) patio, where the views are breathtaking and the Snowbird Tram floats overhead. You’ll no doubt be visited by the Steak Pit’s most loyal customers: the resident porcupines that come to visit nightly. Resist the urge to pet them.

For some reason, the Steak Pit’s popular dry-aged 20-ounce “bone-in” ribeye wasn’t on the menu the night I visited, so I made do with a 10-ounce top sirloin ($28), which turned out to be a very good choice. The Steak Pit now serves USDA Prime beef, and from the peppercorn New York strip steak with sherry-mushroom sauce ($43) to the 8-ounce center cut Filet ($39), the quality of the meat there is top-notch.

But before you tuck into one of the steaks or seafood offerings, I recommend sharing a steamed artichoke ($10) with an intimate. It’s served with a delightful buttermilk-dill dressing and drawn butter—nothing fancy, just a solid, traditional appetizer. The chilled Gulf shrimp with tomato-horseradish sauce ($12) were also very tasty, although the shrimp themselves reminded me of Kate Moss; for $12, I’d expect jumbo Gulf shrimp. Oven-baked sea scallops ($26) are an old-fashioned entrée that seems to fit the Steak Pit gestalt: think scallops Casino. I have to admit to loving the ultradecadent plump bivalves swimming in an ocean of artery-clogging butter. The outstanding nine-grain bread served with meals—along with a “bottomless” salad bowl—is perfect for soaking up every last drop of that naughty butter.

Step into The Aerie restaurant on the top floor of the Cliff Lodge, and you’ll likely be greeted by the restaurant’s general manager, Frederic Barbier. Originally from Normandy, France, Barbier was recruited by Snowbird food and beverage manager Chris Mueller from an exclusive resort in Lake Placid, a retreat for heavy-hitting CEOs. Barbier’s wife Lucette (from Strasbourg) also made the move to Utah and works at the Cliff’s front desk. I mention Frederic Barbier because he, in conjunction with Aerie chef Fernando Soberanis, have managed to turn the aging Aerie into one of the finest dining destinations I’ve found in a long time. Frankly, I was unexpectedly bowled over by the food, wine and service there.

The massive Aerie restaurant has always been a tricky one from a design perspective. Bass’ collection of Oriental rugs and screens is a mainstay of the restaurant, which has a tendency to look a bit dated. But it’s amazing what a keen eye and a simple flourish here and there can do. Barbier picked out attractive, high-quality crystal stemware for the tables, which themselves are cloaked in crisp white linens. But at each table setting is a bold, cobalt-blue bread plate, which Barbier chose to pick up highlights in the restaurant’s blue carpet. That simple attention to detail, along with retooling the look of the restaurant’s menu itself, help to transform the otherwise dullish Aerie into an eye-catching eatery with much visual appeal.

{::INSERTAD::}But it’s in the kitchen where the rubber meets the road, and the Aerie kitchen is hitting on all cylinders at present. “In France, I’d eat pâté about every other day,” says Barbier, so it’s no surprise that the Aerie’s duck pâté en croûte ($13) is so damned delicious. It’s a serving of two hearty, country-style wedges of duck pâté with an attractive drizzle of bright red cranberry “jelly” down the middle of the plate, micro greens and a sweet-tart orange dressing. Slices of heirloom tomato nearly as large as the plate they come on makes the Aerie’s heirloom tomato carpaccio ($11) a meal in itself. It comes with fresh Buffalo mozzarella, Great Salt Lake salt, a balsamic reduction, frisée and red oak salad and grape vinaigrette. Outstanding.

Then there were the short ribs ($14), served with julienned jicama and apple “coleslaw” and a bright, spicy and sweet-tasting chipotle barbecue sauce. Barbier, who also functions as sommelier and maître d’ of the restaurant, suggested an unorthodox pairing of Affligem Belgian Ale with the ribs. It was sensational, and an offbeat surprise, given the Aerie’s extensive wine list (see The Grapevine).

To dote on the grilled medium-rare tenderloin of venison ($38) with caramelized pear and apple potato tart, the braised lamb shank with silky garlic mashed spuds and natural jus ($31), or the scrumptious Aerie desserts at this point would be piling on. Do yourself a favor: Call Frederic Barbier for an Aerie reservation today, before someone gets it in his or her mind to turn it into a noodle house.

THE AERIE 933-2160 THE STEAK PIT 933-2260, Snowbird Resort, Cliff Lodge, Little Cottonwood Canyon
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