On a cold January evening my sister and I drove up Little Cottonwood Canyon for dinner at the legendary Shallow Shaft restaurant. We were seated in a tufted booth looking at the last moment of the alpine glow — it was truly spectacular.
The Shallow Shaft is located near the road, across from the Alta Lodge, and we were able to park right across the street. Built for skiers, we ascended a long, rather steep, wooden stairway and entered a rustic, cabin-like atmosphere. We were warmly welcomed and began what was to be a very memorable dining experience — let me tell you about it.
Our waiter was Jason Horn, who I know through restaurant circles; and although the menu was inviting and exciting, we opted to have Jason order for us and bring out the Shaft’s coolest offerings. I had brought a Bodega Norton Torrontes from Chile — if you haven’t had this wine yet you’re missing out on a treat. Torrontes can be very floral and fruity but with a dry finish and a lot of complexity for an inexpensive wine. It went great with our appetizers. While we were waiting a server brought us onion rolls with butter that was also flavored with green onion or chive.
Jason carried out a long plate with huge grilled prawns spiced with garam masala, which is an Indian rub akin to curry. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the whole platter was ablaze with flavors and colors: Spicy peppers, bits of pumpkin, julienned green apple and grilled, house-made flat bread. I was glad my sister was along to help me eat it because I knew I was looking at an evening where we were going to see a lot of food.
Next came the signature trout cakes. Moist, succulent and topped with very nice tartar sauce and caviar. (Julia Child teaches that trout, when cooked in a certain way, can imitate crab — the Shallow Shaft team has taken that thought and proven the hypothesis.) We gobbled them up in seconds and washed them down with a lovely Ballentine Chenin Blanc — lighter than the Torrontes — if suffered a bit, but was a great pairing with the trout cakes. Shortly after, we were served a braised ox tail on a bed of polenta. We grew up with ox tail soup so it conjured up the past — very unusual dining indeed. The ox tail was served with a side of wilted kale sprinkled with goat cheese and wild-boar bacon, hmmm!
My sister, Lottie Ann, and I love lamb and Jason must have seen our glazed looks when he mentioned the lamb T-bones they were serving that night. They were everything we had hoped for. They were cooked to a true medium rare and laced with a demi-glaze and spiked with a bit of red wine and brown sugar. He also said there was a second sauce, chimichuri. But my chimichuri had melted into the demi-glaze and was certainly not very prominent in the flavor profile. The plate was beautifully constructed with roasted potatoes, some were those deep purple heirlooms, and large chunks of carrot. With the lamb we had a wine I was so happy to try for the first time, a Vietti Barbera d’Asti, tre vigne, ’08. It had more body than other Barberas I have had and more tannins — it was delicious with the lamb. (Just a note about chimichuri; in South America they make it a lot and I’ve had it served very similar to a Mexican-style salsa and I’ve also had it served as a slick, herbal dressing, nearly always made with cilantro, garlic and lime juice. To me this was not chimichuri, but this is in no way a criticism.) With the ox tail and the lamb we also enjoyed several swallows of an Andezon Côtes du Rhône — a very nice and affordable wine you can get at the new Wine Store on 300 West.
By this time we were feeling really full, two old people not used to eating a lot at night and we were getting overwhelmed, but it was a job that had to be done! Jason presented us with a gorgeous miso-sake black cod. It was perfectly baked in the oven and very moist and flavorful — light and delicate like sea bass. The treatments were once again very memorable. Bits of pear chutney, a light sauce à la teriyaki, and a slice of pickled eel. We sort of went backwards here and had a very nice white wine, Atrea the Choir, which is a white blend by one of the Fetzer Brothers in California. Even though we vowed we couldn’t possibly eat that much food, by the time our servers came back the plate was clean. My sister, whom I call Lod, with great fondness, swore she couldn’t swallow another bite of anything so we tried to beg off having dessert but it was too late.
House-made, gooey pineapple upside-down cake served with cardemom sorbet and vanilla ice cream, flanked on the side by warm bread pudding drizzled with a High West bourbon and caramel sauce. And, again, even after much protesting, Lod was nearly licking the plate at the end. As a very nice touch, the dessert came with two digestives, an apricot-esque demi-sec Vouvray and a thimble full of the High West bourbon — wonderfully paired together and out of this world!
I want to thank my good friend Peri, the sommelier, for arranging this great meal. Kurtis Krause is the executive chef, and I want to acknowledge him and his staff, especially Jason who so warmly and intelligently presented this rustic cuisine to us. The Shallow Shaft, as many awards will attest, has the best record for pairing wine with food of any restaurant I know and I’m proud to rate the Shallow Shaft a well-deserved 93 points.