Restaurant Reviews

Spruce

A week or so ago, Brad di Iorio and I were treated to a nearly perfect dinner at Spruce Restaurant in Park City’s Dakota Hotel, which is located on the new north side of the Canyons Resort. The restaurant’s architecture is sort of “contemporary lodge” with a smattering of Continental stuff here and there, and some very impressive Old World crystal chandeliers. A lot of the woodwork is stained black and the ivory and gold lighting just floods into lobbies and corridors.

For several months I have had the pleasure of getting to know Michael Acheson, Jr. who is the sommelier (wine steward) at Spruce. He is an unassuming guy, tall and bearded and almost too nice to be in such auspicious surroundings. But when you start talking wine and food, he becomes a sort of Einstein or Thomas Edison!

Michael is young and kind and just so cool with his customers. His eyes light up when he brings you a new wine to try with the dish he has just placed before you. I loved being treated so graciously and “down home” in such a splendid place. Here’s what Brad and I had for dinner and our wine pairings:
We began with the grande assiette de charcuterie. I have been trained in France in charcuterie and when I use the term in my resume I’m frequently asked about it. Basically, the closest concept in English to charcuterie is deli meats, sausages, hams, etc., and the art of making them. The chefs had made an array of small bites of terrines and pates and we were served a Rosch Riesling Kabinett ’07 which was on the dry side and very elegant with the fare. I enjoyed the items but thought the tastes were almost too small and not completely memorable. I would have enjoyed, rather, a larger serving of maybe two items like jambon persillé and pâté de foie gras.

I liked the second course more. It was a homemade agnolott, a kind of large ravioli, with sweet main shrimp and scallion broth. This course was a soup without calling it such. The broth was also made with nettles which have a fresh taste of greens and the shrimp were succulent. This dish also came with a Luzzano Malvasia ‘07 which was dry and floral, like almost all Italian whites — a great pairing with dish.
Next, I was told, the chefs had made a beautiful risotto just for me. I know how hard it is to make good risotto — I need another person standing next to me when I make it. This was creamy and _al dente_ at the same time and flavored with shaved Perigord truffles and truffled Pecorino cheese. It is the best risotto I’ve ever had in a restaurant setting. I was honored. At this time Michael served us some ’95 Guigal Hermitage, 100 percent French Syrah which, I thought, was not a good pairing with the risotto. I would have liked a creamy chardonnay with this dish instead, which is something I hardly ever recommend but I think it would have been a good choice here.

Our next pairing was my favorite of the night. We just loved the honey lacquered duck breast with foie gras, and Riesling poached quince. The dish was beautiful and the skin, indeed, looked like it had been lacquered. (We both thought the duck was a little tough, but the dish with the wine was a great match.)

Our last entrée was elk which I’ve had a lot of lately. These were small medallions, bacon wrapped, like little Tournedos. I really liked the European touches. The side dish was German-style red cabbage, a bit tart and creamy at the same time and beautiful on the plate. Michael served us a Spanish wine, Alion Ribera de Duero ’03, and I was so happy to finally taste it after selling it at the wine store.

Without knowing it, Michael served me my favorite of French cheeses, L’Epoisses de Bourgogne, and, determined to find a good match for the Hermitage, we tried it again with the cheese. I’d have preferred and red Burgundy! (I did love the French tradition of having cheese as a part of the dessert course, which is rarely done anymore.)

Dessert was a sampler plate of beignets, which are like elegant doughnut holes and on the side a little partially frozen semifreddo, which is what the French call Bavarian Crème. The rendition by Spruce was stunning. We had a botrytis Royal Tokai with dessert which was great, I’m sure, but most dessert wines are not my thing, with only a few exceptions.

Like many restaurants nowadays, Spruce serves small, what I call “museum” portions — in some cases, more to be looked at than tasted. But of all the places doing this kind of “artisan” cuisine, Spruce really pulls it off. The duck and the elk, which I would consider entrées, were almost normal helpings of food, so they could be tasted and fully enjoyed. I also loved the simplicity of the dishes. It’s a huge mistake to mix too many ingredients together, and Spruce kept it simple and stuck to time-honored culinary principles.

You know, if you’ve dined in La Jolla, or in some really snazzy place in San Francisco, or at one of the great places in New York or Paris, then I think you’ll agree: Spruce is the certainly one of these places. Dining with the generous Michael Acheson and having him serve up his magic was just awesome, and I truly loved the experience. While Spruce knew I was coming so this was not a surprise visit, still the chefs created the menu on the spot. I rate Spruce 95+.

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