Sunday, April 2, 2006

The Chef's Table

"Don't make me go back to Utah! Have you seen what the culinary situation is like there?" Such was the cry of one worried cook in Fox's untimely cancelled television program, Kitchen Confidential.

On April 1, 2005, following a viewing of the John Cusack classic High Fidelity, I bent on one knee and asked my then girlfriend to marry me. A fortunate lapse in judgement caused her to say yes (maybe it's her kind of prolonged April Fools joke), and we have been happily married since September. Yesterday, to commemerate the occassion, we visited The Chef's Table, currently rated as one of Utah's top 10 dining establishments.

While I have dined there before, this was my wife's first visit. We parked my beautiful Toyota Ferrolla next to a shiny red Corvette and ambled past the Mercedes and Beemers into the restaurant. There was a woman holding the door open, who smiled us into the restaurant and offered to take our coats. The hostess found our reservation and we were led our table, the smiling woman congratulating us on our celebration and setting us up for a wonderful evening.

She pulled out my wife's chair for her and as we sat, a menu was promptly provided. A cornocopia of textbook selections awaited us, and she decided to go for a mushroom gorgonzola beef tenderloin, and I with a white marbled pork tenderloin. We started with crabcakes as an appetizer. I am reminded of Chef Holihan in culinary school decrying the overuse of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. They seem to have become such staples amongst cooks now that they've become a culinary cliché. And the good chef that designed our dishes apparently loves clichés. My wife refused to eat more than one such endrenched crabcake, claiming that she could not taste anything over the balsamic. I finished them off, enjoying the soft texture, and mostly succeeding in ignoring the vinegary overload.

While I wish I could write off the appetizer as the only such dish, the arrival of my soup and her salad belied any such desire. Again, the chef's fondness for balsamic embraced my wife's otherwise enjoyable house salad. My french onion soup was intense, and I quickly overcame my disappointment in the already soggy cheese crouton floating in its murky depths. Unfortunately, the soup was as rich as the cars outside, and I was unable to finish it. We awaited our entrées anxiously.

As a possible homage to the few scattered trees in the desert Utah, our entrées were each graced with a sprig of rosemary rising from the otherwise simple, but creamily enjoyable mashed potatoes in the middle of our plates. While beautifully sauced meat lined one side of the plate, leaning against the starchy mound, overly crunchy par-cooked carrots and cucumber, and admittedly well-cooked asparagus adorned the other. My pork was amongst the best I've had, and my wife seemed to thoroughly enjoy what beef she did not have boxed to finish at home. Following what dishes they did, I expected my meat to exhibit the tough and dry texture so common in pork these days, and yet it was moist and flavorful. I can only imagine my wife's beef was also so well-attended to.

As a former baker, I admittedly have a passion for desserts. My wife's créme brulée and my hazelnut "dome" (really a pyramid) did not disappoint. I've oft decried America's love of a créme brulée that rather that being bruléed (French for "burned") is indeed only golden brown, the good chef ensured that his offering was indeed properly darkened to just the right degree. The satisfying snap of breaking the surface revealed to her a creamy interior which she claimed to be so light as to delightfully offset the rest of the meal. Indeed, my own dessert was inspirational, a smooth pyramid of chocolatey hazelnut goodness topping a round of chewy brownie, garnished simply with a blackberry and petite mint leaflet, and a wonderfully fruity raspberry sauce underneath that I could not get enough of. The bill was one to make a Rockefeller proud, and was fortunately offset by a gift certificate from a friend.

As we waited for my wife's coat, we met the chef chatting with the hostess. He was inordinately friendly, and I was torn between discussing the dishes of the evening and holding my peace. We bid him a good evening as he did us, as we exited to the much emptier parking lot, the Corvette's presence still graced my car's own. My dreams that night were graced by Chef Holihan in her usual splendor, running a combination auto part/gourmet drinks bar, frequented by old wannabe muscle cars driven by overzealous teenagers. While we did not discuss vinegars and oils, she did chide me good-heartedly over the Shirley Temples I ordered for my wife and me. Utah, I hope that one day we can make Chef Holihan proud. But I'm afraid that day is still forthcoming.

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