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Paint Elsewhere

A road trip to Logan brings you to one of Utah’s finest dining establishments.

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It’s only been open for about four months, but the Painted Table in Logan feels like it’s been around four years, or maybe 40. The food and service there is so spot-on it’s hard to believe that this fine, fine restaurant is a newbie.



But before you turn the page, let me remind you that Logan is really not that far away. It’s an easy two-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Sure, gas prices are high. But this is a trip well worth making.



I could go into a lot of detail about chef/owner Nelson Swett’s pedigree. But I’d rather tell you about his food. It’s astonishingly good. And I don’t mean good for Logan. I mean good, period. If the Painted Table were in Salt Lake City or Park City, I’d eat there weekly.



The vibrant but classy colors on the Painted Table sign out front draw you in. And yet, according to Swett, the linens throw some people. Linens in Logan? Yep'there are crisp white tablecloths on each of the dozen-or-so dining spots at the Painted Table. It’s a small place, about the size of Caffe Molise before it expanded'the perfect size, in fact, for a top-notch chef to strut his stuff.



Like the restaurant, the wine list is small. Because a place this size can’t have an elaborate wine cellar, you might want to bring along that bottle of something special you’ve been saving for a perfect meal. Begin with the mussels ($10.95). Swett grills them so they have a delectable charred flavor. But amazingly, they are plump, tender and not overcooked, no easy feat to accomplish when grilling mollusks. The mussels are absolutely spectacular all by themselves, but dipping them in Swett’s orange-chipotle aioli will cause you to think lusty thoughts.



And why not? The Painted Table is perfect for romance: tiny, quiet, intimate. There should be one on every block. That’s especially true if you’re lucky enough to get a young server like Graham. This kid looks like he should have a paper route or be mowing lawns to supplement his allowance, but the youthful looks are deceiving. This guy could work in any restaurant, anywhere. He’s that good.



So tell Graham that you’d also like a bowl of roasted winter squash-apple cider soup ($6.95). I know of only one chef in northern Utah with the chutzpah to serve soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, pie spice crème fraiche and a kiss of pumpkin-seed oil. And it comes to your table looking like a piece of edible art, as indeed do all of Swett’s culinary creations.



Swett believes in the “fresh and close” method of food procurement. So the grapes in his “hearty fall greens” salad are from nearby. The bread, which you will eat until there are no crumbs left at all, is from Logan’s Crumb Brothers'the best bread bakers in Utah. Swett supports his local food artisans, and the payoff is clean, fresh, wholesome flavor in every single dish.



If there’s roasted chicken on the menu in a restaurant, I always order it. My thinking is that this is a baseline dish; if the chef can’t cook a decent chicken, then I’m not much interested in the rest of his or her menu. And yet, there are very few good restaurant chickens to be had in Utah. The best of them is, you guessed it, at the Painted Table. It comes to the table as pretty as a picture: a succulent free-range spit-roasted half bird ($11.95) perched atop the best buttermilk whipped potatoes you might ever get your lips around. To the side of the sensational spuds are wilted greens (which my companion generally hates but loved at the Painted Table) and the whole thing is surrounded by delicious cider-mushroom jus. Did you happen to catch the price? For $11.95 I felt like I was committing a felony!



Temptation, temptation: How do you decide between offerings like wood-grilled, molasses-marinated pork-loin chops ($18.95), Medicine Lodge bison rib-eye with roasted garlic-herb butter ($24.95) and wood-grilled salmon with cashew-apple brown butter ($17.95)? I took the easy way out and ordered the wood-grilled New York strip steak ($19.95) as soon as I caught note of the huckleberry-balsamic reduction. My grandma wouldn’t have known balsamic from balsa wood, but she picked her own huckleberries ,and I grew up with her jam on my mind, in my mouth and in my heart. I wish I could show you this steak. Visually, it was a thing of beauty. Imagine a perfectly cooked N.Y. strip, laid out on a bed of roasted fingerling potatoes, chanterelle mushrooms and applewood smoked bacon. It was surrounded by a lovely border of that yummy huckleberry-balsamic reduction and contrasting lime-green cilantro oil.



Chef Swett is newly married to the lovely Sarah, who joined us for a bodacious butterscotch panna cotta dessert ($7) with cocoa “consommé” and garnished with some sort of homemade candy-foam. Fantastic.



What else can I say? I think a move to Logan might be in my future.

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