See here for the most recent Wild Grape Bistro review.
Evening dinner review
It’s often said that when a new restaurant opens, one should allow a while for the service and food to be ironed out. Indeed many a restaurant critic specifically holds out for some time before running the rule over a new venture. Kinda out of nowhere two weeks ago, we started to hear about Wild Grape Bistro. From professional critics, to walk-in patrons, everyone seemed to be raving about this new restaurant up in the avenues. Based on this positive buzz, we decided to eschew the conventional wisdom and get on over there as fast as possible. Heck, to paraphrase Mary Brown Malouf (Salt Lake Magazine food critic), if you are charging me full price for my meal, you’d better be serving quality food and service to match.
Walking into the restaurant on a frigid winters evening, was a pleasant respite. The former space of the Avenues Bakery has been transformed into an open and welcoming space. The restaurant is a very modern affair, dimly lit with exposed brick. A lively open kitchen also looks out onto the dining room. The restaurant had an excited buzz about it, but never felt loud. In addition to the standard seating, there is also bar seating space. Both Wendi and I are big fans of this concept, getting to chat with the chefs directly can often add heaps to a dining experience. I don’t think we were offered this option on arrival, but we arrived without a reservation at around 8:00 on a Saturday night, and as such, were happy to be seated at all. Once seated, a scan of the restaurant confirmed that it was indeed quite busy.
Our waitress quickly introduced herself and guided us through the menu with plenty of confidence. Much is made of the restaurant using local/fresh/organic etc. ingredients, which is always to be applauded. Additionally the restaurant features a wood burning grill and smoker, powered by fruit wood shipped up from Santaquin. The menu features items such as Rotisserie Game Hen, Lamb Burgers, and Wood Smoked Portobellos. Suffice to say, I couldn’t wait to dig in.
Wine also seems to be a big part of the Wild Grape Bistro’s focus. 10 whites and 15 reds are available, the kicker being all are available by either the glass or the bottle. For this often times liquor-reticent state, this is a welcome addition to the dining scene for sure. Our waitress was also keen to stress that they were happy to suggest pairings for whatever food we selected. As I had already spied a favourite tipple on the menu (Seven Deadly Zins Zinfandel, $7/glass, $33/bottle), we didn’t take our server up on the suggestion. I would be very intrigued to hear from anyone who has enjoyed the suggested wine pairings though. I didn’t note a Sommelier on staff, but I would love to know how skilled the staff are in navigating selections.
With our wine ready, the first item to appear was curiously an Amuse Bouche:
Whilst no description was offered by our waitress, we decided it was basically BBQ pork on coleslaw. It tasted just fine, but seemed somewhat extraneous to proceedings. With Wild Grape Bistro’s casual, neighbourhood eatery vibe, it felt out of place, maybe even contrived.
We decided to share a couple of appetizers, starting with the Seared Lump Crab Cakes (Tomato and Lentil Succotash, $10):
We both agreed these were a strong example of a classic appetizer. Plenty of crab meat and not at all greasy. The succotash lent a nice textural contrast to the soft crab cakes and was equally delicious.
Our other choice was the House Cut Rosemary Skinny Chips (Tobacco Onions, Roasted Garlic Aioli, $6):
Potato chips, rosemary, garlic? Ok, we are sold. What surprised us both about the dish was the prominent rosemary flavour, we both didn’t expect it to be such a featured ingredient, but as a result we both gave this appetizer the thumbs up taste wise. Wendi, however, commented she thought the shredded preparation was slightly gimmicky, I tend to agree. They did end up being a little messy and cumbersome to eat. We also both agreed the garlic Aioli could be boosted with more garlic; that said we are both certified garlic nuts!
Wendi’s entree selection was the White Truffle Wild Mushroom Risotto (Crumb Brothers Crostini, Shaved Parmesan, $12):
Ever a fan of risotto, Wendi jumped at the chance to try Wild Grape Bistro’s version. Wendi enjoyed the flavour of the risotto, but commented that there was something slightly off about the texture.
Much is made about Wild Grape’s signature wood burning grill; as such, I had to try one of the delicious sounding items. Torn between a Cider Brined Pork Chop and a Buffalo Filet Mignon, our waitress steered me to the latter:
Apple Wood Grilled Buffalo Filet Mignon (Wild Mushrooms, Spinach, Butternut Squash Puree, Cabernet Huckleberry Reduction, $36):
Being a leaner meat than beef, I was glad to find the the buffalo was perfectly cooked as ordered. The flavour was excellent, a richer, bolder version of beef. However, the strong taste of the buffalo dominated the affair. If there was meant to be any smokiness imparted from the grill, I couldn’t detect anything but the buffalo itself. That’s no bad thing at all mind you, I finished up every last excellent bite. I would really like to try the pork chop though, and see if the grill comes through stronger in a different dish.
As for the sides, I would have like to have seen a little more of the huckleberry reduction. The spinach, mushrooms and buffalo all combined for a very powerful tasting plate, and for me the squash puree alone was not enough to balance out all of the strong tastes.
We ended the meal with the Toasted Banana Pound Cake (Whiskey Flambeed Banana with Caramel Ice Cream, $9):
A hit and miss dish, we both agreed that the the cake itself was too dry. Everything else was perfect, perhaps a moister banana bread would suit the dish better.
For such a new restaurant (I think they are roughly two weeks old now), the service was very good throughout our meal. Friendly and eager to assist, our server was never overbearing. The staff seem to be well drilled and versed in the menu. I guess this should come as no surprise as owner/operator Troy Greenhawt comes with experience from such long standing operations as Fleming’s and McGrath’s.
Some of our dishes didn’t quite hit the peaks they promised, but notwithstanding a few tweaks here and there, the menu looks very promising. The restaurant clearly has big ambitions, they plan to open daily, serve brunch at the weekend, and even open till midnight on Mondays through Saturday (serving a smaller bar menu).
With the compelling menu, relaxed atmosphere, wine selection and ambitious late night opening hours, I can see the place being a really big hit. Everyone seemed to be having having a great time and enjoying the atmosphere on our visit. We will certainly be back to see how things progress and have some fun exploring the menu in more detail.
Wild Grape Bistro
481 E South Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
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Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake. I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”.
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