Three-hundred-twenty million dollars is what it took to build the St. Regis Resort in Deer Valley — $10 million in the kitchen alone.
But what I really enjoyed about the St. Regis is how understated it is and how beautifully this restaurant has been nestled into an eastern hill above Deer Valley. Two elegant funicular cars carry guests from the valley floor over rolling granite cliffs. Unlike the Waldorf Astoria at the Canyons Resort, the other posh place in Park City, the St. Regis is rather plain, elegantly built out of heavy wood and stones, thus keeping a very masculine and solid, skier quality to the place. St. Regis has been built for no-nonsense outdoorsmen and the restaurant and dining rooms reflect this same philosophy. Ski in, ski out, that’s what it’s called.
I was met by my friend, who just happens to be named Regis, a long-time French acquaintance who has lived in the Park City area for 13 years. He is part-owner of Jean-Louis, one of my favorite restaurants in Utah, and like many Park City residents, he has to work two jobs in order to survive the ups and downs of the food industry up there. Regis led me and my dining partner Brad to a cozy table right next to the fireplace, which is open on two sides. The chairs were made of heavy walnut and covered with glowing, tan-colored leather. The carpets are made for skiers, not diners, and the stone work and décor are almost spartan.
The menu is just what I like to see — simple, three choices in each category, two pages—boom! We began with a wood-fired pizza spread with fresh pesto and black truffles. The pizza was then topped with a poof of baby frisée greens, which had been tossed in a light truffle-oil vinaigrette and fresh baby chives. The crust was paper-thin and the Parmesan cheese was of the finest quality and beautifully melted. This was maybe the best pizza I’ve had all year. Brad and I were hungry and we wolfed it down! (There is also a hamburger on the menu.)
Regis and chef Matt Harris, who hails from Atlanta, were very kind to us and brought us more food than we could possibly eat. Our next plate came: two simply-made sushi rolls — red tuna surrounded with Japanese cracker crumbs, quickly deep fried but without cooking the tuna. The sushi was served with a dollop of a tangy green onion sauce which I thought was perfect.
We were also surprised by a marmite de moules. These are no ordinary mussels. They come from Maine — shipped to Utah only by Ingrid Bennis, the owner of a Maine lobster company who only deals with great chefs like Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Jean Georges Culinary Concepts who governs the St. Regis kitchens. The mussels were cooked in the traditional way: garlic, shallots, butter and white wine. The butter was so delicious in these mussels that I knew it was special. I thought it was probably the beurre Breton or Normand from France.
I requested a small, simple salad to come before our entrées and that’s what I got … sort of! Jaime, our server who doubles as a cook during the day, said we had to try the house Cesar salad. As it turned out, this was a work of art in itself. The salad was made only of the hearts of Romaine, the most tender and crisp lettuce there is. It had been molded into a perfect round, sprayed with a light lemon-based vinaigrette driven by nitrous oxide, then topped with a cloud of very finely-shredded Parmesan. The salad was mixed with tiny hand-diced bread croutons perfectly cooked to a golden brown — I thought at first that they were pine nuts. To give a little color, the salad was dusted in the center with a high-end chili powder.
By now we were already full and asked for just bite-size entrée servings, but it was too late. We both got full helpings of lamb and beef short ribs. The lamb was from Utah — Bear Lake country, which I know well because my grandmother was born and raised in Lake Town. The lamb was purchased from Will Clark Farms, and believe me, I’ll be contacting him soon for my own cooking! The chops were large and marbled with fat, but still lean enough to enjoy the tender, succulent but robust flavor. They were nicely rubbed with fresh herbs and then laced with a sherry glaze. Brad’s beef short ribs were first browned on both sides and then finished in a braising pot. On the side the chef had made an anise-flavored offering that I would call a grit pudding, wrapped in a wonton and quickly fried. I enjoyed the newness and creativity, but Brad thought the anise flavor was too strong. The ribs melt in your mouth, and were made with the same care I recently experienced at La Caille.
The meal was served with warm bread and butter, which doesn’t happen a lot anymore, and we were attended, easily and silently by a small army of wait staff — not the kind that hovers, but the kind that really know how to serve guests in a fine dining room.
I have a note about my choice of wine. I brought a Bordeaux, an ’05 Chateau La Croix, Pomeral. This “right bank” Merlot-based wine is of an excellent vintage, and when we first had it decanted I had the feeling it would open up and be smooth and dreamy. Unfortunately, for me, it had a tannic bite that never went away. Although I tried and hoped for the best, the wine became a downer and I only wish I had chosen a wine I knew better. But there’s always next time.
The waiter scolded me for not having a Pinot Gris or a French Muscadet with the mussels, and was right to do so. Any domestic cab or even an Argentine Malbec would have been nicer than my ill-fated Bordeaux.
We did share a small scoop of house-made, caramel ice cream which I would have called Butter Brickle. The scoop was resting in a bed of butter-toasted bread crumbs and topped with a delicate caramel Tuile, a classic French cookie.
The Executive Chef, Matt Harris, said it best, “When you choose the finest ingredients, they almost cook themselves.” He was right. Every ingredient, down to the European butter, was so carefully chosen and then perfectly cooked. I had cracker crumbs that tasted like expensive pecans; croutons that taste like pine-nuts, and then bread crumbs that taste like expensive Pralines. Wow!
It is a chef’s dream and a tribute to the staff at the St. Regis to not over-complicate things. Simple, classical culinary methods are in play here, and I couldn’t have been more impressed. The simple rule of spending money on the most important things, like the lamb and the dairy, is coupled with using the intelligence and creativity of chefs to fill in with the rest. All restaurants should operate like this.
My friend Regis took us on a tour of the kitchen before we left. It has been designed with layer after layer of cooking areas which will be humming during the high season. An open kitchen flanks the main dining room, complete with marble surfaces and a counter/bar area where guests can dine quickly, and sitting at a counter is a good choice when you’re alone. Then we were escorted into a back kitchen with AltoSham quick cooling equipment, so needed in today’s climate requiring perfect sanitation. There were also four walk-in fridges — one for the chef, one for produce, one for meat and one for dairy.
During the high ski season, the chef is planning an outdoor patio grill and a skiers buffet on the enormous outdoor deck to add more seating and culinary choices to the already cavernous dining facility. On a warm, sunny day, you can ski in and grab a hot steak sandwich, with rustic fries and a beer, without taking off your gear! St. Regis will also be hosting wine tasting dinners in its Chapel-like wine vault. I wanna go!
St. Regis resort is gay-friendly and is on the list for the annual skiers event this year. If you can afford it, that’s where you need to be.
I rate our experience, and the food at St Regis a 93, remembering that I was invited there as a guest.