Years ago when I was a young restaurateur in Salt Lake City, I was looking for equipment for my Restaurant Dijon. In those days, the old Salt Lake High School building on Pierpont Avenue was a crumbling and dilapidated structure in the middle of downtown. It was being used by a restaurant equipment company as a warehouse. And I did find what I was looking for there — a beautiful old-fashioned pastry table with a massive butcher block top. The table was the focus of many of my creations as a young chef; once, my Dad brought a 90-lb. lamb from Ogden Valley and we butchered it on that table.
To go back to the high school building, the salesman took me on a tour and we went upstairs to the gymnasium which had remained in remarkably good shape. The hardwood floors were still intact and it reminded me of the gym at the old Weber High in Ogden. You could hear the echoes of cheers and see ghosts shaking the pompoms of a bygone athletic scene — I’ve never forgotten it!
So, last Monday night, when I went to the new Christopher’s Steak House, and as I turned onto Pierpont from the west end, all those memories came swooshing back; when I entered the building, I was very, very pleased at the look of the place. The handsome architecture of frontier days adds such a depth of character and nostalgia to a dining setting—I was immediately impressed! (Thank God this gem of a building has not been destroyed like so many of our heritage sites in Utah — you need to go there just to look at the ornate façade as a tribute to old Salt Lake.)
Christopher Patterson, who is of Greek descent, is a kind and charming host, and has been a fixture in Salt Lake for many years. He was originally hired by Gastronomy to be a general manager at the first Market Street Grill and Oyster Bar. Since then, he has owned and operated his own restaurant, which for several years was in the old Peery Hotel. When Donovan’s left town, with their tail between their legs, Christopher took no time in pouncing on the idea of moving to the Peirpont location. He has updated the interior with beautiful wood paneling and accentuated the vaulted ceilings which were the product of an earlier renovation. The décor is modern/traditional and there is a new and quite cavernous bar area where live music is to be performed several nights a week. The bar was beautifully rebuilt and is adjacent to upstairs dining rooms that can be sectioned off for private parties. All the dining rooms are open and spacious with high ceilings and simple, but elegant appointments. If they do the right things with their food and beverages — there’s no reason why Christopher’s should not become the new hot-spot in downtown Salt Lake City.
Adrian Alcaino hails from Chile, and seems almost too young to be the general manager of Christopher’s, but after talking to him and listening to his ideas, I came under his spell and both he and Christopher are totally immersed in the re-branding of the restaurant to match its new environment.
Right away the chef, Anthony, who did not want to use his last name, brought me something that I just loved — the Lobster Corn Dogs — wow!
These were two large lobster fillets, skewered, dipped in a light and delicious batter and then deep fried. When I bit into them, the sweet flavors of the sea popped out with mouth-watering juiciness. Normally I’d have restrained myself with anything fried, but these babies were delicious — there’s no getting around it and I shamefully gobbled them down, not even tempting to share them.
I sat with Christopher and Adrian and we were systematically served dish after dish — each of us tasting, commenting and even criticizing a bit. These guys really want to work on their food and make some real changes. They brought me a yummy and beautifully made clam chowder which is an original recipe from Christopher’s past in New England — it was not too thick and the clams were fresh, soft and succulent. The flavor was excellent.
Next we tasted a Caprese salad made with strawberries in the place of tomatoes. Although I though the idea was good, it didn’t quite come off for me and we all agreed the mozzarella balls were a bit bland. We had the waiter bring some additional balsamic and it did add some zip to the dish.
I was served some great little rolls that were heated up and tasted just like fresh-baked. They were served with a small scoop of butter that was flavored with just a touch of honey. I was glad to get some bread since it has almost disappeared from so many trendy restaurants these days.
When I was taken on a tour of the kitchen, I saw one of the pantry cooks making two beautiful salads; one was just a large wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with beautiful veggies and a good-looking dressing — I didn’t have that salad but when I go back, I’m going to ask for it.
We tried the scampi with huge hand-peeled prawns, gorgeous and delicious, and we tried the lamb, and the New York Steak with peppercorn sauce, and the Tenderloin steak topped with delicious king crab in a true Bearnaise — I say true, because so many people make it using a packet or something that is not Bearnaise at all.
We also were served two desserts — a beautifully made and presented Crème Brulee, and a delicious, French-style bread pudding. I call it French style because in French bakeries, they make pudding in a spring-form pan with a crust on the bottom and sometimes a crust on the top. The pudding was not too sweet and topped with a Whisky hard-sauce which harkens back to Southern cooking — I really liked the desserts.
There are some comments that I feel free to make because I think Adrian and Christopher will agree with me. They were still bummed out because of a recent scathing review that got from another critic and tasting all these dishes was a great exercise for them. My critical comments would be that even though the food is beautifully prepared and made with only the most expensive ingredients, the treatments are all a bit outdated. I would find a new sauce for the New York Steak and a new treatment for the filet, and I would experiment with some new side dishes. I also think that Christopher’s needs a bit more soul in its menu — I think, because of Christopher’s Greek heritage, he could add some character to his menu by adding a few Greek elements to his cuisine, and likewise with Adrian, who is from South America; he could make some statements by using inspired ideas from his culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m highly recommending Christopher’s, and giving it a rating of 90, but I hope they take this opportunity in their new digs to really step out and up — there’s too much competition out there to not be on the forefront of culinary creativity.