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United Hemispheres, Global Gourmet

Spring Fling

Gorgeous Grazing

Thanks to a growing influx of food-savvy visitors and locals, Salt Lake City's restaurant scene is living up to the grandeur of its panoramas. Now, getting an impressive meal is as easy as enjoying the slopes. /By Virginia Rainey

AS MARCH USHERS IN THE JOYS OF SPRING skiing, Utah is the place to be. The stunning scenery and sumptuous sustenance found in Salt Lake City and neighboring Park City have helped spur the area well beyond the dazzle of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The area is now a mature destination. On the edge of breathtaking wilderness and just 30 minutes from seven major ski resorts, Salt Lake has put on some weight over the past few years. Downtown development, including the grand Main Library, designed by Moshie Safdie, and a revival of shopping districts has polished the city's profile. In Park City, a half-hour away and less than an hour from Salt Lake International Airport, the population and the ski resorts keep expanding.

Over the past decade, the restaurant scene in both destinations has been transformed from iffy to impressive by an influx of foodies and oenophiles, including migrating chefs. Artisan bakers and cheese makers have sprouted up all over the state, as have organic farms that produce ingredients such as baby arugula and heirloom tomatoes so that chefs can adhere to their culinary mantra, "local ingredients." Some visitors may feel a bit overwhelmed by Park City's concentration of restaurants. There are more than 100 between Olympic Park and Deer Valley Resort. But, at last, Utah is serving dining options to equal the grandeur of its mountains.

Takashi / Sushi master and avid snowboarder Takashi Gibo moves fast. On the slopes, the wiry chef is know as a hard-boot-wearing whirlwind, and a similar energy pulses at Takashi, the sushi bar and Japanese restaurant that he and his wife, Tamara, opened in 2004 in downtown Salt Lake. Takashi has an appealing rock-and-roll vibe and a 24-foot silver-mesh fish suspended from its ceiling. The Okinawa-trained Gibo is known for sourcing exotic seafood, including local favorites such as red uni, and love conch, and he finds a balance between the unusual and the traditional, the raw and the cooked.

Start with the exquisite but simple tai nigiri (sea bream), covered in a layer of lemon pesto, and follow that with a delicate sunshine roll, which has cucumber and avocado in a spicy sauce on the inside and salmon and lemon on the outside. A glass of the dry, faintly fruity, unfiltered cold sake called Ama No To (Dreamy Cloud) complements both. Then, try a shredded green papaya salad tossed in a bright chile-lime dressing for a refreshing segue to mellow, miso-grilled eggplant with cucumber and tomato dice. After that, surrender to a bowl of clams and glass noodles in red curry and coconut broth before jumping into the fire with Ramone's roll of spicy tuna and fresh chile peppers. Don't miss the chile- and lemon-infused mussel shooters on the half shell, each topped with a quivering quail egg wrapped in a sliver of avocado.

18 West Market Street. Open weekdays lunch and dinner, Saturday dinner only, Sunday closed. Tel:801-519-9595. Pine / "We like to keep things simple," says chef and owner Greg Neville of his new-American restaurant, Pine. And indeed, Neville's pure, deep flavors, variety, and moderate prices represent the best kind of simple. At his sleek, stylish getaway, eight miles from downtown Salt Lake and four miles from the Cottonwood Canyons, you can linger at the bar or enjoy a table with a view on one of the restaurant's multiple levels. East windows face Mount Olympus, which rises across the valley and emphasizes one of Salt Lake's most distinguishing features: the startling shift from residential neighborhood to steep slope.

At Pine, you'll be tempted to make a meal of the starters, including Neville's velvety bourbon-cured salmon–best enjoyed between sips of a luscious L'Ecole No. 41 Semillon from Washington state. Add a mahogany-hued, crackly skinned leg of five-spice duck confit with creamy white grits and you'll experience a sample of the yin and yang of flavors and textures that typify Pine's cuisine. To start, you could also have a bowl of Manila clams with potatoes and linguisa in yellow curry broth or the lemon- and olive oil-dressed salad of butter lettuce and blue cheese. For your entrée, order the scaloppini style organic pork served with a silky chard flan that resonates with the tang of capers and the fruitiness of an apple-cranberry pan sauce. Finish with a divine, rose-scented flan, a tangle of candied orange peel, and thin, sugary cookies. 4760 South 900 East. Open all week for lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tel: 801-288-2211 or pinerestaurant.com

Remainder of article describing two Park City restaurants available on request.