Last week I, after great anticipation, was able to dine at Forage, which is located in the Liberty Park area on 9th South. This restaurant is the brainchild of two chefs who are truly artists following their dream: Bowman and Viet were fellow chefs at a restaurant in Arizona where they both hated their boss and decided to do their own thing.
The concept behind Forage literally comes from the ancient human endeavor of foraging for any type of edible substance. It is in our genetic makeup to eat a huge variety of foods and to eat foods available in each season. If I’m not mistaken, this is the mantra of the boys who run this restaurant.
Bowman and Viet are charming, kind and, of course, extremely intelligent and quite intellectual about food. I love talking to them because all our eyes light up when we discuss chefly topics — and because they have unique ideas.
They have taken an old bungalow at 370 E. 900 South in Salt Lake City and have completely turned it into a contemporary temple to cuisine. The walls are stark white with a few open beams in the remodeled ceiling and tasteful modern art hangs on the walls. Here and there, however, there is just a hint of fluff in the pleated lampshades which be-sconce the walls. The dining room is also inviting with very traditional white linens and settings.
The owners had offered me their “Chef’s Table” for the night. Let me tell you about it:
To begin with, the server brought me a tiny cube of mushroom croquette. I knew instantly how it was made because I do the same when I make Belgian shrimp croquettes. This is a sort-of mushroom sauce, set in gelatin and rolled in crumbs or batter and then fried. The gelatin turns back into a sauce and this is how the shape is achieved. As a chef I was impressed, but I’m not sure the general public would understand the work involved in such a tiny offering. Recently, Karen at the Metropolitan also served me a miniscule “amuse-bouche” of similar size at the beginning of a meal. This must be a trend somewhere, where I have not yet been! (It was nevertheless delicious.)
I brought along a wine new to the state of Utah: Pierre Grisley’s sparkling Vinho Verde from Portugal. It was bubbly and full of lime zest, peach and Limonade. We all just loved it as an appetizer wine, and it paired so well with the first several plates brought to me.
Next came the Forage Egg. This dish is the boys’ version of oeuf-a-la-cocque. Beautifully presented in French egg cup, the perfectly opened shell contained layers of soft, scrambled egg, sherry vinaigrette and maple syrup. I loved the concept, but I have to say I could have done without the maple syrup; to me it did not particularly enhance the other flavors. Almost as an accompaniment to the egg, on a separate plate, I was served a New Orleans-style beignet with squash in it. This was tasty and very unique, and I would have liked to eat about 10 of them.
The boy chefs also create beautiful homemade breads with sourdough starters they’ve produced themselves — and get this, they churn their own butter from Central Utah cream. It is as delicious as their breads.
Course number five was a beautiful ocean trout — what I would call tartar. But Bowman explained to me that he actually cures the fish briefly is a sort of brine several hours before the service. The waitress also poured a drizzle of green apple juice laced with cedar water over it. This ceviche-style tartar came with one lonely cracker — a beautifully made cracker, yes, but I’d have liked more with the fish. I guess I could have asked for more!
The next seafood, course number six, was a small portion of thinly sliced abalone. It was chewy and clam-like and was served on a spoonful of sunchoke mousse which was rich and, to me, a bit like mayo.
By now, I had opened a very interesting Oregon Pinot Noir — whole cluster crush by Biggio Hamina. For a pinot, it was tannic and acidic due to the stems which are left in the fermentation process. To me, this wine was quite unusual — not unlike a eucalyptus and camphoric d’Abruzzo from Italy or a Pinotage from South Africa. To borrow a phrase from Robert Parker, this wine was one, more to be admired than enjoyed!
The plates just kept coming. I was served duck egg noodles with slices of black truffle, kale and a really smoky house-made farmer’s cheese; a beautiful salad-like plate with tiny slices of Chioggia beets with regular red and golden beets, blanched onion, turnip and mitoki mushrooms which are similar to enoki. Then, red snapper with creamy quinoa and a slice of duck with a cinnamon/fig sauce surrounded by brussels sprout leaves. Each of these dishes was amazingly plated and carefully executed with great detail. I was mesmerized by the amount of preparation needed to put this all together.
The last wine I had opened was the very nice but inexpensive “Flare,” which is a sparkling, orange Muscat from Valencia, Spain. It has a surprising rose petal nose and is, I think, one of the best value dessert wines there is.
Altogether I was served 14 plates and the last three were desserts — here’s 12, 13, and 14:
The dessert courses began with a small scoop of Elderflower sorbet with shreds of fennel, which I found to be a lot like coconut, and the top was dusted with fennel flower dust. Next came a poppy seed and Meyer lemon/white chocolate mousse. This plate was garnished with dried citrus fruits, mango and blood orange — just gorgeous flavors! I really loved the final dessert which was green apple made three ways: a scoop of sorbet, a baked piece of apple and poached piece of apple. The server came with a small cruet and poured a warmed hazelnut soup/sauce over the different small bites. The flavors here were remarkably comforting and reminiscent of old fashioned apple pie.
I really loved going to Forage and interviewing Bowman and Viet. They are true artists and so meticulously focused on their art, I’m afraid, for their sakes that they might be not listening to the dictates of common sense. I love Nouvelle Cuisine too, and I know that food will never be the same because of that movement. However, in Utah, and from the point of view of a hungry man, I have to suggest that Forage should, at least, offer three heartily-portioned entrees each night. The chefs don’t have to compromise their art here. They just need, for the sake of most diners, to add a few items to their menu that are not “museum” food. I love what they do and I hope, with all due respect, they take advice from another artist, who in the past, has had to make many compromises in order to survive.
For art and dedication and for many, many preparations so finely made, I’d like to give Forage a 95 rating. But until they add some traditional, fully-loaded entrees to their menu I’m giving them a 90.