Restaurant Reviews

Basque Supper at La Caille

On a Sunday night two weeks ago, I went, unannounced, to La Caille for their Basque family-style supper. I was very pleased. Let me tell you about it.

I haven’t been to La Caille for years, so I had been looking forward to this visit for days with great anticipation. I went with friends from work and we all brought great wine. Some of the younger guys don’t drive, so I picked them up and we drove south to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The epic grounds of La Caille are secluded and overgrown on the sides of the old gate — far more than I remembered. I actually drove past a couple of times before realizing what it was! The beautiful, filigreed gate which screams France, is taller and narrower than I had it in my mind, and the red brick lane leading up to the château is now older, bumpier and even more old world than ever before. My young friends thought we had been transported to another place and time. The lane, by design, meanders and serpents its way toward the restaurant, through a beautiful park of lawns and mature trees. There were families of black rabbits dining on the grasses and many peacocks strolling around as though they owned the place. The magic is still there!

We used the valet parking at the entrance where the red brick becomes a circular plaza. The Art Nouveau glass work around the gables of the château is so authentically reminiscent of France at the turn of the last century, it is almost breathtaking to a Francophile like me. Old neighborhoods in Paris, like Montmartre and Montparnasse, still display this beautiful architectural style. You can say what you want about the French, but secretly we all admire their art.

What’s cool about La Caille is the attention to detail in everything. When you enter, there are high ceilings and cracked stone walls with gorgeous, old antique armoires on each side of the vestibule. As you proceed upstairs, you pass the seemingly ancient wine cellar which is stocked by my friend Joe Wright, who has been the sommelier at La Caille for a decade. The bottles are placed in handmade ceramic pipes that have been set in concrete. Other bottles are crammed into old world wrought iron racks so you read the impressive lables: Château Mouton Rochchilde, Château Margaux, Echezeau and Clos de Beze, Caymus and Silver Oak from California, and Brunellos from Italy.

We were led by our hostess, a pretty blond woman dressed in the famous La Caille bustier, to a small, semi-private dining room. We had a view of the eves of the château and the park with the ever-present peacocks. A cool breeze was blowing and the French doors throughout the dining rooms were open to the outdoors. Our dining room had a coffered ceiling of botanical relief sculptures depicting roses and bay leaves.

By now, the boys from the Wine Store were enthralled! For newcomers, La Caille is truly amazing and a little overwhelming. It was fun for me to introduce young people to Europe via Little Cottonwood Canyon.

We were, as it should be in a French restaurant, brought baskets of bread with hand-piped, butter roses. The bread was the best French bread I’ve had in Salt Lake, which says a lot because I make a lot of French bread myself: crispy, crusty, golden on the outside and spongy, chewy and full of holes on the inside. Our first course was a flavorful black bean country soup in a rich broth with a lot of vegetables. We had cracked open a bottle of Silverbirch New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a beautiful ’03 Grand Cru Chablis which was showing a little age and was fragrant, honeyed and delicious. Next, we were served a Caprese salad on a long, rectangular plate — a simple dish with large slices of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. The salad was drizzled with very good olive oil and tangy balsamic vinegar — classically done and perfect!

The entrée was just so beautifully homemade, I almost couldn’t believe I was in a restaurant. Sometimes La Caille gets bad reviews for its food, but on this night I felt like I was at the home of a French friend. There were crisp, braised short ribs on one end of a huge platter and baked halibut on the other end. In the center was a bouquetiere of vegetables: steamed asparagus, new potatoes and broccoli. The fish was served on a bed of creamed spinach which I thought was just delicious. The veggies were perfectly cooked and the melt-in-your-mouth short ribs were laced with a flavorful Bordelaise sauce which I wanted to drink! This night, the food at La Caille was fully matched to the beautiful surroundings.

Our wine servers poured us a Premier Cru Mercurey red Burgundy and I brought a Nicolas Cole “Camille” Bordeaux-blend. The wines were awesome with our entrees.

We had our choice of three desserts: crepes, Bananas Flambé and crème brulee. How very, very French! We tried all three and although the desserts were quite predictable, they were nicely done and presented with a lot of show.

My visit to La Caille was random and they didn’t know I was writing an article so there is no prejudice here or any connection. I can freely say I just love the total experience. If I made any little comments at all, it would be that the bean soup, to my taste, was a little salty — something which no one else mentioned. I also thought the fish, although nicely cooked, had very little flavor or seasoning, something which was only noticed by one other person. But the delicious sauces and vegetables made up for any misgivings or chefly criticisms.

I rate my visit at La Caille at 90+. The plus is for the grounds and building which are incomparable to anywhere in Utah. Sadly, La Caille has just gone up for sale and has an iffy future as a time-honored restaurant in Salt Lake City, so please go again soon. The Sunday brunch and Basque Supper are, indeed, memorable.

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