The Grand America’s Garden Cafe | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Grand America’s Garden Cafe 

Land, Sea & Brunch: The dish on Grand America’s opulent Garden Cafe.

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I’ve already documented my less-than-loving feelings for the over-the-top décor at Grand America’s Garden Café, so I won’t dwell on it here. My sensibilities and those of owner/billionaire Earl Holding simply clash. But hey, it’s his hotel. This is Holding’s legacy: He paid for it, and he and his missus can decorate it however opulently they wish.

What I really care about is the food. And so, I dropped in recently to check out Sunday brunch and the new “Land & Sea” dinner offered on Saturdays.

Before dinner, however, I recommend first enjoying a cocktail, cup of tea or glass of wine in Grand America’s Lobby Lounge, which is open until midnight. On Friday and Saturdays, the Joshua Payne Trio plays live jazz and, if you’re looking for a bite to eat, the Lounge menu ranges from a simple cheese plate or tomato and mozzarella salad to pizza and pastas, sandwiches and burgers, and even entrees such as fish & chips or steak frites.

The Saturday evening Land & Sea dinner combines the best of both worlds: an all-you-can-eat buffet with full-on, sit-down service and made-to-order entrees. Diners are first treated to an amuse from executive chef Phillip Yates, which in our case was a generous, thinly-sliced piece of hamachi, served sashimi style (raw) with cucumber and citrus sauce. Next, we indulged in Garden Café’s self-serve “grand buffet” of salads, artisan breads and appetizers, all of which could make a satisfying dinner, alone. But the raison d’etre of Land & Sea lies in Yates’ tempting entrees, which come with sides and accompaniments that are served family-style. The cost of the Land and Sea dinner—amuse, buffet, sides and dessert included—ranges from $32 to $45 per person, depending on the entrée selection.

The dreamy selection of Land & Sea entrees rattled my brain a bit. How to pick from such alluring dishes such as sous vide Maple Farms duck breast with cracklin’ duck skin ($38), Pitman Farms free-range roasted chicken with natural jus ($38) and crispy-skinned Scottish salmon with caper pan sauce ($35)? There were others, too, just as noteworthy, like “Squash Vegetarian Quattro” ($32): peanut squash soup, butternut squash and farm egg ravioli, roasted acorn squash risotto, and tempura squash blossom with forest mushrooms, the produce supplied by Zoe’s Garden in Layton. I had to check myself: Was I really at the Grand America? The food seemed other-worldly.

Yates gets fresh seafood from fishermen in Hawaii each week. The catch varies, but the fish is always caught on Friday and appears on customers’ plates by Saturday. So, how could we resist the fresh, line-caught blue marlin ($40)? The menu even documents the catch: in this case, the marlin was caught on the Viking One, out of Honolulu. The blue marlin filet is given a crushed pistachio coating, seared just until fork-tender with a gorgeous brown crust, and served with a “salsa” of diced Utah peaches, red onion, tomato and cilantro, then garnished with edible flowers. It’s a beautiful dish that tastes even more stunning than it looks.

It’s hard for me to resist Niman Ranch products, because with Niman Ranch, quality is guaranteed. That is, if the kitchen treats Niman meats with loving care. My Niman Ranch natural ribeye ($45) was cooked exactly medium-rare, as I’d ordered it, and served very simply (again, why mess up a superb cut of meat?) with red-eye pan jus, similar to the red-eye gravy of the south, but lighter and adorned with nothing more than a rosemary sprig and a single roasted shallot, button mushroom and cipollini onion. Side dishes include Chinese green beans with lemon and cucumber and a confit of red beets with roasted onion cream. But, my favorite was decadent French-style gnocchi with forest mushrooms and parmesan-beurre “fondue.” OMG.

Prior to dessert, an enthusiastic young man named Devin travels from table to table with his rolling cheese cart, dishing up both imported and domestic cheeses (also included in the price of dinner) from producers like Beehive Cheese Company, along with interesting sauces and condiments—a nice touch. Ah, and then … dessert. New Grand America executive pastry chef Jeffrey de Leon offers a bodacious buffet of sweets: cakes, pastries and other confections, but I just can’t resist the seductive simplicity of his fresh-made beignets and doughnuts, brought to the table almost too hot to eat, and offered with warm salted caramel, cinnamon chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis.

It’s nice, I’d imagine, having a billionaire at the helm, helping to subsidize the melt-your-mind Garden Cafe Sunday brunch ($39.95/ages 5 to 12 $19.95). Payne is back on Sundays to lend live jazz to the event—and it is an event. I tend to skip the eggs Benedict, crepe and omelet stations and head straight for the seafood and sushi stands, to load up on chilled King crab legs and jumbo shrimp, ceviche, nigiri, hosomaki, futomaki, spring rolls and pot stickers. Only after that do I hit the carving station and warm buffet area for Prime rib, rack of lamb with Dijon-thyme jus, halibut with preserved lemon creme, grilled vegetable ravioli, mascarpone whipped potatoes, beef tenderloin carpaccio … I could go on. There’s even an easy-to-reach, pint-sized station for the little ones. (I cop to stealing some mac & cheese and a baked chicken fingers from the kids.)

And, tying it all together—at lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch—is the restaurant’s superbly professional, always warm and friendly, general manager Ali Raafati. He, alone, can make me forget the décor. 

555 S. Main, Salt Lake City

Ted Scheffler:

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