Evening dinner review
Wild Grape first burst onto the SLC dining scene back in late 2008. It seems that since then, the restaurant has been the subject of nothing but lavish praise. Our own first visit a few months ago wasn’t bad, but neither was it as awesome as everyone else was announcing from the rooftops (see here for the review). Yet, during that first visit, we saw enough glimpses of excellence to encourage us to venture back recently.
And so it came to be that on a recent weekend evening, with no plans, no reservations, and no idea where dinner may be, we decided to stop by and see what was happening. As we expected, the restaurant was busting at the seems. The host greeted us warmly and suggested we take a bar seat, or a seat at the ‘chef’s counter’. We are both huge fans of watching chefs at work, and the bar dining concept. We gleefully jumped at the chance to try Wild Grape’s take on this approach.
The counter itself is just that, probably long enough to seat six to eight diners and fronted by a row of high chairs. The counter is positioned directly in front of all the kitchen’s action, with a perfect view of the grill. Chefs face diners directly as they prepare plates, whilst the head chef works slightly behind checking orders at the pass. The featured wood-burning grill is close enough that diners literally feel the not inconsiderable heat. Despite us walking in off chilly streets, I was soon removing layers of clothing due to the grill’s proximity and temperature. Fun after coming in out of the cold, but perhaps not as much during the summer months.
As we hit Wild Grape right in the middle of dinner service, the frantic action in the kitchen was in full swing. During our meal, various chefs expressed their apologies for not being able to talk to us more due to the kitchen’s sheer output. They explained they generally like to chat with counter-diners, but everyone on our side of the counter was more than happy to let them get on with their jobs, especially considering the excellent food we were being given.
To start, we chose the Chicken Liver Pate to share ($12.00):
I’m a sucker for a good pate, and this was everything I had hoped for. Rich, strong and creamy. The acidic bite of the pickled veggies and onions was a pleasant offset. I’d also love to know what the cauliflower was pickled in. The pickling was very light and pleasant, not the overly sour from-a-jar pickled veggies I was expecting. For such a hefty serving of pate, I would have liked a couple more slices of bread. In retrospect though, I am sure if I had asked, the chefs would have only been too happy to hand some over the counter.
Utah Trout Fillet (Creamy Grits, Wilted Greens, $19.00):
For her entree, Wen ordered the Utah Valley Trout Fillet served with creamy cheddar grits and wilted greens on a remoulade-rimmed plate. Wendi expressed her awe at the trout being perfectly done, no small feat considering the size and heat of the grill in front of us. Watching the variety of meats being prepared on the grill that evening made the fact that a relatively thin trout fillet could be so well timed and perfect when served. Wendi has commented on how much she enjoyed this dish overall several times since our visit.
I chose the Braised Morgan Valley Lamb Shank (Wild Mushroom, Tomatoes, Fingerling Potatoes, House Smoked Bacon Ragout $27.00):
This was a wonderful piece of local Lamb cooked to tender, delicious perfection. One of the chefs was keen to check in on me once the lamb had been served, indicating it was one of his favourite dishes on the menu. It’s hard to beat the soul-satisfying qualities of such an item, when executed this well.
My only complaint was that only two or three small fingerling potatoes accompanied the lamb. The potatoes were unfortunately too hard for my tastes, and not at all substantial. After I had finally decimated every last available piece of meat on the shank, I was still hungry. A larger carbohydrate serving would make this a perfect dish. I ended up assisting Wendi with her trout, which was no bad thing.
We decided to finish the meal with the Cardamon Apple Cobbler ($8.00):
Served à la mode, the cobbler was more spicy then sweet and was right up my alley dessert-wise. I think this is the first time in a long time that I ate more of the dessert than Wen.
Another perk of sitting at the chef’s counter, was the odd freebie from the kitchen. These were offered up throughout the course of our meal, typically small bite size offerings. During our meal I recall being offered (and duly gobbling down!) various morsels including samplings of potato, pork, venison, Wagyu beef, and chocolate. The chocolate was memorable as it consisted of two big chunks of rich chocolate, each containing caramel and chewy bacon pieces, in-house smoked bacon if I recall correctly. Way to combine two things everyone loves.
Since our last visit, Wendi and I both have to admit that we were very impresse, and all the rants and raves about Wild Grape now seem to make perfect sense. I don’t know if we picked better menu choices this time around or had differing expectations. What I do know is that we both *really* enjoyed our meal and the buzz of watching the kitchen at work.
I really like the concept and ambition of Wild Grape, in fact, I did the first around. Certainly their execution now seems be getting closer to their goals. The commitment to local product and seasonal menus are certainly to be applauded and supported. I look forward to plenty more trips this year. Most of which will hopefully find us at the chef’s counter, if we can manage to snag it again.
Wild Grape Bistro
481 E South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT
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 Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.