Adventures (and Failures) in Park City Dining

Coming out here to ski for all of those years, I never used to mind that Park City didn’t have great food. Our family would go to the Claimjumper (gone), Texas Red’s (now Bandits), or the Eating Establishment (still blah), and that was good enough of for us. We were in a ski town; we didn’t expect much.

But Park City isn’t just a ski town anymore. It’s a year-round luxury destination, and of course it’s a mini la-la land for ten days in January. No wonder, then, that so many high-priced restaurants have taken over Main Street in the past ten years. What is surprising, however, is how underwhelming—and overpriced—most of the food is. (For the record, the Clockwork Café, a lunch spot at the bottom of Main, has the best cost-to-quality ratio in the area.)

A couple of nights ago, I took the last seat at the sushi bar at Yuki Arashi, eager for a beer and a special maki roll. I figured I’d spend $20, but opened the menu to find that the roll itself would cost nearly that much. Well, fine—just as long as it’s good. I went with the Jupiter Access roll: “tempura shrimp and lemon zest, rolled inside-out and topped with hamachi and shiro maguro, finished with spicy ponzu sauce.” In hindsight, I should’ve seen that it was overkill. Not only was the roll not worth the price, it was the worst roll I’d ever had in my life. No joke. I would have rather eaten a California roll from an EZ Mart in Arkansas. The hamachi and shiro maguro weren’t rare, but rather partially cooked (no, not even seared), and the “lemon zest”—which appeared to be lemon juice sprayed from a plastic bottle—gripped my throat and left me feeling, for the next two days, like I was on the brink of a cold.

Riverhorse on Main, where I ate on opening weekend, suffers from bi-polar interior decoration. One dining room’s attempts at elegance are undermined by horse paintings (which were bought, no doubt, at one of the “art” galleries nearby). The adjoining dining room, conversely, takes exposed air ducts to the Brooklyn extreme. As for the food, the veggie potstickers were over-fried and under-stuffed, but at least the $36 pan-roasted Chilean sea bass was fresh and nicely cooked (although I would have preferred a more inventive accompaniment than fingerling potatoes).

Another night I tried the acceptably designed 350 Main, and chose to play it safe: the tower of ahi and hamachi (with tobiko caviar, pineapple shoyu, and wasabi aioli), followed by traditional steak frites. The tartare tower was more than serviceable; the two fish, despite my reservations, worked well together. (I would have preferred less sauce, however, and perhaps something crispy to eat it with.) The steak, meanwhile, was done bloody right, but the “frites” may have well come from McDonald’s. If I’m paying $36 for the entrée, I’d rather the fries be something more than an afterthought. Show me a little potato skin—something.

Last night, after a quiet and rainy Thursday night, Main Street was busy again. Walking around with a friend, I had trouble finding a spot where I could eat a full meal and she, having already eaten, could get a drink. We finally settled on a place in the very building where I work: Jean Louis, a French restaurant in the Gateway Center. The service, even at the bar, was spotty, but alas the food didn’t disappoint. I didn’t feel I’d been ripped off by the tender, perfectly medium-rare $36 rack of lamb (though putting baby greens atop corn mashed potatoes probably isn’t the best idea). It also helped that the waitstaff and customers alike were friendly. A couple seated beside us, James from Minneapolis and Jill from North Carolina, bought me a drink and then shared their absolutely delicious ceviche appetizer with us.

I hadn’t recalled seeing it on the menu.

“It’s not,” said James, who visits the city year-round, explaining that Jean Louis only serves ceviche in the summer—except to regulars.

Figures that the best thing I ate all week wasn’t even on the menu.