- Ted Scheffler
Considering the fact that I make a living dining and writing about food and restaurants, eating out for lunch (fast food doesn't count) is, for me, a surprisingly rare treat. That's probably because I work from home, and it's easier to snag lunch from the fridge or pantry than it is to drive somewhere to eat. So I genuinely relish the rare restaurant lunch respite.
"I'm in," I thought, when I heard that HSL restaurant was now serving lunch Monday through Friday and brunch on weekends. I've long been a fan of the dinner menus at chef/owner Briar Handly's Park City restaurant Handle, and his newer Salt Lake outpost, HSL (Handle Salt Lake). Now I'd get a chance to enjoy Handly's cuisine midday.
Although the flavors and food presentations at HSL are refined, portions skew über-generous. The grilled halibut tostada ($11) can easily satisfy four people as a starter. Gorgeous, white chunks of grilled halibut adorn a complex salad of spinach, radicchio, fresh fennel, radish and mesclun with fried shallot "rings," and a luscious coriander aioli. The crunchy housemade tostada is the perfect tool for scraping the last drops of aioli from the plate.
I was lured to the "Hearty" section of the lunch menu by the bavette steak sandwich ($17), which is served on ciabatta with arugula, fennel, Rockhill gruyère and a side selection of kale, couscous, curried lentils or french fries. Thinking I should go a little lighter at lunch, I instead opted for the slightly less decadent fried chicken chop salad ($16). This, like the tostada, was a ginormous dish; I wound up taking half of it home with me. Mixed greens are peppered with chunks of housemade HSL bacon, slivers of hard-cooked duck egg, minced chives and an exquisite buttermilk and bleu d'Auvergne dressing. Perched atop the lovely salad were crispy, tender morsels of deep-fried boneless white chicken. Handly first brines his chicken in buttermilk and Frank's Red Hot before breading and frying it. The result is chicken that you could dissect with a plastic spoon, in a truly sensational salad.
From being greeted warmly at the door to fond farewells upon leaving, service at HSL is second to none. I appreciated a wine recommendation of Bouvet Brut Rosé from France as an accompaniment to the halibut tostada, and attentiveness throughout lunch was thorough but never overbearing. The bartenders are also affable and outgoing; sipping cocktails, beer, wine, cider or mocktails at the bar is always a good choice.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my favorite HSL dishes, the beef tartare ($12). Top-quality minced beef is prepared with Chinese mustard, micro greens, duck egg yolk emulsion and crisp lavosh—it's a beautiful thing. Alongside the tartare (or any other dish, really), be sure to order the French fries ($6). These are proper, twice-cooked fries served with dijonnaise on the side. The preparation is top-drawer to begin with, but Handly kicks them up a notch with a dusting of malt vinegar power, which gives the fries a tart, vinegary snap without the sogginess that actual malt vinegar causes.
Another excellent light lunchtime offering is the smoked trout salad ($15), which my wife kindly let me nibble on. It would be as satisfying in winter just as in summer: a hearty plate of mixed greens, roasted fingerling potatoes, chopped chives, carrots, blistered peppers and grilled asparagus on a whole grain mustard dressing base. This item is a meal itself, but you could do worse than accompanying it what has to be HSL's most popular side dish—the scrumptious General Tso's-style cauliflower ($10) with pickled Fresno peppers and sriracha vinaigrette. It turned me into a cauliflower lover.
If, like for me, lunching out is a luxury, I recommend you do it at HSL.