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Going for the Gold 

One Man’s Quest for Olympic Quality Meals

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I have a rich, if not always indulged, fantasy life. And many of my fantasies involve food. So with the 2002 Winter Olympics in mind, my thoughts of late have turned to Olympic medals. It’s rare that I ever dine in a restaurant where the meal is completely satisfying from aperitif to dessert—the type of experience that would be deserving of a culinary gold medal. But what if you could pick and choose? Order an appetizer from, say, The New Yorker followed by an entree from Metropolitan or Log Haven and dessert supplied by Deer Valley’s pastry chef Letty Flatt? Surely that meal would garner a gold.

So in the spirit of the stiff competition of the Olympics, I’ve assembled three fantasy meals. The gold medal meal is a “money-is-no-object” collection of some of the finest restaurant dishes to be found in Utah. The silver medal dinner consists of treats from moderately-priced restaurants around town, while the bronze medal meal is an assemblage of some of my favorite penny-pinching meals. However, don’t assume that just because a particular dish falls into the bronze category that it’s any less appealing to the taste buds than a gold medal dish. I’d be hard-pressed to find anything that makes me happier, for instance, than a grilled cheese sandwich from Deer Valley Resort, no matter how much foie gras you try to feed me. And for all the wonderful dishes and chefs I mention here, I’ve probably left out dozens more who are equally worthy. But such is the nature of Olympic competition.

Bronze Medal

In this category, I haven’t assembled a complete dinner as such. Because at the low-priced end of the dining spectrum, we don’t usually indulge in four and five-course meals. For me, a burrito from La Macarena, a pizza from Brick Oven in Provo or a sandwich from Caputo’s will suffice. Here, then, are my choices for Bronze Medal dining.

At the top of the heap, it just doesn’t get any better than munching on a grilled cheese sandwich at Deer Valley Resort’s Silver Lake Lodge. Made with a combination of cheddar and Swiss cheeses, it’s the perfect lunch to enjoy while kicking back on a lawn chair on “The Beach” at Silver Lake Village. Of course, you’ll need a side of fries, preferably the french fries from Susie’s in Coalville. A close runner-up is the Croque Monsieur sandwich (ham and cheese) at Bistro Toujours, just across the street from Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley.

I mentioned Brick Oven Pizza. The thin-crusted, brick oven pizzas from Provo are the best I’ve had in Utah—certainly worthy of a bronze medal. For delicious pizzas with an international flair, try the pissaladiere at Dijon with onion confit, black olives and garlic-marinated tomatoes, or the Middle Eastern Massa pizza called sfiha, which features subtly spiced ground beef, tomatoes, onions, parley and a pine nut topping, with cucumber-yogurt dip on the side.

Indian food is a mainstay of my diet, so I frequently find myself indulging in these three dishes from the subcontinent: Chicken Vindaloo from Bombay House, chicken curry (with that light touch of coconut milk) from Curry in a Hurry and the truly incredible Keema Mutter at Royal India. Yummy.

In this budget category, I wouldn’t want to overlook Mexican food. The tacos at Tacos Daniel are still the best in the city, and for chile verde, I’d have to opt for Manuel’s El Burrito in Clearfield, with Red Iguana coming in as a close second.

On the Asian side of things, anything that sushi chef Takashi at Shogun puts in front of you is wonderful. And I can’t imagine going a month without Little World’s clams in black bean sauce.

But where would we be without good old down-home American cooking? For that, I’d recommend the fried chicken or catfish—with a side of hushpuppies, of course—at the Southern Plantation. But for the best meal you can buy for under 10 bucks, the bronze medal goes to Q4U. It doesn’t matter what you eat there, from messy ribs and brisket to pulled pork and sweet potato pie, it’s all great.

Silver Medal

My silver medal dining experience would begin at Café Eclipse, where I’d order one of the most appealing dinner salads in the city: baby spinach leaves lightly coated with a delicious house vinaigrette and topped with slices of ripe pear and sweet candied pecans.

Next I’d head south to Made in Brazil for a bowl of feijoada. Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish—a thick, dark and brooding stew made with black beans and parts of cows and pigs that you don’t want to know about. I’d have a cup of feijoada with a couple of Made in Brazil’s quail eggs on the side. Then for a light appetizer that packs a flavorful punch, I’d venture next to W.H. Brumby’s for the seared scallops with bacon, arugula and lemon-chive vinaigrette, preferably enjoyed on Brumby’s sun-drenched sidewalk patio. A second appetizer option you couldn’t go wrong with would be Bill White’s tasty chile relleno at Chimayo in Park City, a green chile stuffed with goat cheese and topped with a zippy poblano and pumpkin seed pesto.

Choosing an entree in the moderate price category was difficult. Not because of slim pickings, but because there are so many possibilities. Dishes from Café Madrid and Caffe Molise were contenders, along with Mr. Z’s, Stoneground, Third & Main, Argentine Grill and a slew of others. Where the rubber hits the road, though, is Lugano. It’s hard to beat Chef Greg Neville’s simple yet superb grilled rib eye steak. The rosemary-roasted potatoes that accompany the rib eye are wonderful, but since this is my fantasy meal, I’d substitute the Lugano potatoes with the phenomenal homemade Maytag Blue Cheese potato chips from Bambara as a side dish.

For dessert, two possibilities come to mind. But you’ll have to travel beyond the Salt Lake Valley for these tasty treats. One of my absolute favorite all-time desserts is Barb Hill’s Black Bottom Banana Creme Pie at Heber’s Snake Creek Grill. It just doesn’t get any better than banana creme pie … unless you get your lips into the coconut creme brulee served at Wahso on Park City’s Main Street.

Gold Medal

For this “fine dining” mother of all meals, you should prepare to pull out all the stops. Neither cost nor calories can be a consideration. The courses will be many, and delights aplenty. Indulge in this fantasy dinner with someone you lust for.

How else would one begin an extravagant evening than with caviar? I’d opt for a romantic table or booth at The New Yorker and an order of Osetra—oh hell, why not spring for the Beluga?—caviar served with all the traditional accouterments. And be sure to share a split of good Champagne with the person next to you. Next, I’d head up to Bistro Toujours in Deer Valley for a little “tease” of a soup course. Light, refreshing and delicious is Chef Bryan Moscatello’s mussel and saffron “cappuccino” served in a demitasse cup. Then, in keeping with the mussel theme, I’d indulge in an order of Santa Fe’s mussels. The Prince Edward Island mussels in ancho chile and garlic broth at Santa Fe demonstrate Chef Don McCradic’s creativity as well as his finely-tuned palate.

For a truly memorable appetizer, I’d follow up the Bistro Toujours soup and Santa Fe mussels with Braised Oxtail Ragoût at Metropolitan. Chef Jonathan Perno’s stupendous starter is rich in bone marrow, with light-as-clouds homemade gnocchi and flash-fried sage leaves in a wonderful red wine reduction. Perno’s ragoût is a hard act to follow, but might I suggest a salad course before the entree? If so, I’d go with Log Haven’s Grilled Quail Salad, featuring baby frisee topped with walnut-crusted Montrachet cheese, blackberries, green apple vinaigrette, crème fraiche and, of course, grilled quail.

How do you choose when it comes down to making a decision about a single gold medal-worthy entree? It’s difficult. I was tempted by a memorable veal chop I once had at The New Yorker, and by Metropolitan’s incredible seared diver scallops with chanterelle demi sauce. And over in Sandy at Valerie and Ken Rose’s Tiburon, the Muscovy duck breast with sun-dried cherry demi glaze still makes my mouth water. But since I had to choose a winner, let’s go with Deer Valley Resort’s Mariposa restaurant. One of the most satisfying dishes I’ve eaten in Utah is Mariposa’s New Zealand Red Deer. The impossibly tender deer medallions at Mariposa are served with a simple, yet perfect, Cabernet Sauvignon reduction, caramelized shallots and a flawless side dish of Potatoes Anna. You can’t beat it.

Winding down the evening of decadent dining, I’d head back over to Metropolitan, where I’d enjoy Chef Perno’s selection of imported and domestic artisan cheeses while I sipped a good glass of Bordeaux or perhaps a vintage Port. And then, although it’s not listed on Metropolitan’s regular dessert menu, I’d beg Perno to make me the dessert he created for a recent James Beard House dinner preview: ground peanut butter mousse with caramel and Sharfenberger chocolate sauce. And I’d savor that fabulous dessert with the perfect (if not traditional) after-dinner accompaniment, which Chef Perno and Metro owner Karen Olsen suggest: a White Russian.

Of course, a meal like this would require good wine matches. So for my gold medal meal, I’d want to select from the wine lists of Metropolitan, Log Haven, Mariposa, Tuscany and Stein Eriksen Lodge. And to assist me with my wine choices, I’d really on experts like Cara Schwindt from Stein’s, Snowbird’s Vicky Martinez, Ian Campbell of Log Haven and Deer Valley Resort’s Kris Anderson.

Whew! After all of that, the only thing left to do is to book a reservation at The Canyon Ranch health spa, recover, and do it all again.

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