It's hard to believe that Park City's Handle restaurant is well into its second year already. It still seems so new to me. But, yes, Handle has taken root and its owners—Briar Handly, Melissa Gray and Meagan Nash—have now ventured into the Salt Lake City dining scene with the opening of their new restaurant, called simply HSL.
I'll delve into what HSL is shortly. But first, let's focus on what it isn't. It isn't Handle 2.0—a clone of the successful Park City formula. "We want our customers to know that HSL embraces the same level of service and creativity of Handle, but HSL is an entirely new experience," says executive chef Handly. This is a totally different and unique restaurant, from top to bottom and front to back.
Do you remember Vinto? Well, HSL occupies the space that was previously Vinto on 200 South, but with the exception of a single high-back curved booth, virtually no trace of it remains. The new design is a collaboration of co-owner Gray (who also designed Handle) and Cody Derrick of CityHome Collective. The Italianesque look of the former tenant has been replaced with rust-colored floor tiles, olive- and sage-hued furniture and natural wood tables, all of which help create a soft, warm ambiance. Walls were knocked down, and the space has been opened up considerably, making it feel larger and airier than Vinto did.
You may want to belly up to the long bar on the right, because Handly and his partners have snatched up some world-class talent, which includes the excellent mixologist Scott Gardner, along with Ryan Wenger, who serves as HSL's wine director. During one visit to Handle, I enjoyed the first mezcal-based cocktail I've ever actually been able to swallow—a delicious creation of Gardner's. The secret ingredient was an herb popular in Mexico: epazote. By the way, look for Gardner's own bar, Water Witch, opening in the near future at the Central Ninth Market.
In addition to the aforementioned staffers and a terrific team of servers, Chef Handly has stacked his kitchen deck with über talents such as Craig Gerome as chef de cuisine, executive sous chef Tim Smith and the amazing Alexa Nolin serving as pastry chef. That is some serious star power.
Lovers of fresh, locally procured foods—especially vegetarians—will appreciate the vegetables, grains and seeds portion of the menu in particular. Take the seeded cracker ($6), for example. Sounds simple, right? Well, not so much. The gluten-free cracker utilizes ancient seeds such as buckwheat, amaranth, chia, sorghum, teff and millet; while the cream cheese mouse is whipped up with heavy cream, lemon zest, thyme, dehydrated garlic and onion and mascarpone cheese. Blue Sky Perennials, Frog Bench Farms and Badlands Ranch grow the micro greens and herbs for the dish, dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette and Maldon sea salt. "The dish is homage to my Grammy Britton on my mom's side—a riff on an hors d'oeuvre we had as kids for every family get-together during the holidays," Handly says.
Frankly, I've never given cauliflower a lot of thought; I can take it or leave it. But you won't want to leave a smidgen of HSL's cauliflower dish ($11) behind. It's a plate of lightly browned cauliflower florets in a snappy General Tso's sauce and tossed with spicy Fresno chile slices and crunchy kohlrabi. Or, give the root vegetables ($16) a try: veggies "from the ash" of the kitchen's plancha with ancient grains, golden raisins, harissa and kale.
In addition to cocktails, sake and beer, the wine selection that Ryan Wenger assembled is especially appealing. With a list that ranges from Gruet Brut (New Mexico) and Ribolla Gialla (Slovenia) to Clos La Coutale (Cahors, France), Innocent Bystander Moscato (Australia) and a number of domestic jewels from Sonoma, Willamette, Mendocino, Napa and the like, this is not your standard cookie-cutter wine list. We enjoyed a very versatile Picpoul Chapelle du Bastion from France ($10 per glass; $45 per bottle) alongside a large bowl of steamed clams ($21) with thick slices of rustic homemade bread smeared with brandade—an emulsion of olive oil and salt cod—in a divine natural broth with torn fresh herbs, such as dill and basil.
I can never pass up an order of beef tartare, and I'm sure glad I didn't do so at HSL. It's ultra high-quality dry aged beef, minced and served raw atop housemade lavosh with capers, egg yolk, torn herbs and cornichons ($15)—a generous, sharable dish. And while we're on the topic of beef, there's a magnificent new burger in town. When I think of mega-tender beef, I'm thinking of beef cheeks. And, that's exactly what HSL's beef cheek burger ($15) is made with. Slices of home-baked brioche buns envelop 7 ounces of medium-rare ground beef cheek topped with American cheese (also housemade) and caramelized onions, with duck-fat-cooked fingerling potatoes on the side. This is a burger to be reckoned with.
Since Chef Handly and his crew are committed to using the freshest ingredients, the menu at HSL changes virtually daily. Some items are relatively permanent, others not. For example, on one visit, barramundi was on the menu, served with radishes, sugar snap peas, asparagus and orange oil ($28). On another visit, it was gone. I'm pretty sure, however, the bodacious beef cheek burger isn't going anywhere.
And absolutely leave room for dessert because creations like Chef Nolin's Solstice Ecuador Chocolate Cremeux ($10) on brioche with brown butter caramel, buttermilk and parsnip ice cream are simply spectacular.
What does HSL stand for to me? Heavenly, sensational and luscious.