Pampering—the sort of VIP-customer pampering you can experience in the best New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris restaurants—is not really the forte of Utah restaurateurs. There is a smattering of exceptions. Most notably, Park City’s Chenez and a handful of others. But while there are lots of really good restaurants in Utah that feature high-quality professional friendly service, I can’t think of many I’d suggest to diners who wish to be pampered or spoiled.
At Private Reserve, the staff’s mission clearly is to pamper and spoil the customer. Of course, you’ll pay for the privilege. More about that later. But first, some insight into what Private Reserve is and isn’t. Because it’s a little hard to get a fix on. I’d heard rumors for months about Private Reserve before I visited the place, and had begun to think it was a sort of secret society. Not quite.
Private Reserve is a private—very private—club located inside Rivers restaurant in Cottonwood. But if “private club” to you means Port O’ Call or Lumpy’s, think again. Because this is an entirely different beast. Private Reserve is exactly as the name implies: a private reserve. It’s exclusive “terroir” for food and wine lovers who don’t mind paying a little extra for VIP privileges like priority reservations for private wine dinners, preferred seating, convenient signing privileges and invitations to special “members only” events and mixers. Then, there’s the pampering. Sometimes you get what you pay for. That’s certainly the case at Private Reserve, where the customer most definitely comes first.
You may recall that when Rivers opened a few years ago, it included an on-premise brewery. Large steel tanks reaching three-stories skyward held specially brewed ales and lagers. However, Rivers’ customers preferred to drink wine along with the food served there, perhaps encouraged by Rivers’ innovative wine program which allowed diners to order wine by the bottle, glass or “splash.” At any rate, the brewpub aspect of Rivers never quite caught on and was eventually abandoned, leaving a three-story “hole” where the brewery used to be.
Never wont to ignore a challenge—Rivers helped pioneer the way for other restaurants and businesses in the Old Mill area of Cottonwood—the brain trust at Rivers decided to go from brews to views and built Private Reserve smack dab where the brewery at Rivers used to be. Somehow, they turned a three-story pile of metal and copper plumbing and tanks into one of the most luxurious dining rooms in Salt Lake City, with one of the best views of that same city.
To get to the Private Reserve dining room at Rivers, you pass by a small bar (stop and have a cocktail if you wish) and wind your way up a steep flight of stairs. You’ll note the gorgeous artwork, large chandelier and beautifully appointed design of Private Reserve as you reach the “mezzanine” dining room. I was surprised at both the contemporary elegance of the space, which includes a 16-foot walnut wine cabinet, as well as the intimate scale of the room. Private indeed. But what really grabs your attention are the stunning views: mountain views, city views and everything in between.
I recommend getting started at Private Reserve by ordering a specialty cocktail to sip while you get your bearings. The process of ordering dinner at Private Reserve is a little confusing on the first visit, so having a drink to sip while you sort things out is not a bad idea. Perhaps a “PassionnÃ© of Kenwood Yalupa Brut, Chambord and fresh orange juice ($12) or an “LDS” made with LimÃ³n, Di Saranno, and Stoli Vanil ($8) would do the trick.
The menu at Private Reserve is a bit unusual, but basically boils down to a choice of two prix-fixe meals, priced at $28 or $39. You get to choose from three columns: Column A lists entrÃ©es like Private Reserve’s popular porcini-crusted filet mignon, roasted rack of lamb, pine-nut chicken with tiny grapes and seasonal fish dishes. Columns B and C are side dishes such as truffled spaghetti squash, roasted asparagus, fingerling potatoes and winter fruit couscous. So for $28, you get to select one item from columns A, B and C: an entrÃ©e and two side dishes. Appetizers and desserts are extra. The $39 prix-fixe menu, on the other hand, is a three-course seasonal menu with appetizers like roasted butternut squash or roasted candy-striped baby beets with chÃ¨vre and entrees such as almond-minted lamb and duck breast and confit. Side dishes and dessert are also included in the $39 price tag, as is a complimentary “amuse.”
To help you with these choices, and especially Private Reserve’s daunting wine selection, is a stellar service staff (pampering is their specialty) and general manager/sommelier Randall Corcoran. Private Reserve is really Corcoran’s private baby, and if you love wine like he does, you’ll definitely want to enlist his expertise in food and wine pairings during the course of dinner. In addition to the fixed-price menus, Private Reserve also offers a menu with recommended wine pairings. Another neat touch for wine aficionados is Private Reserve’s wine flights, which offers customers an opportunity to sample three differing versions of one varietal. Corcoran changes these offerings frequently, but on a recent evening wine flights of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were both featured.
Frankly, I had my doubts that the food at Private Reserve would be distinguishable enough from Rivers’ to be worth the price, since they both share the same kitchen and chef. But California Culinary Academy graduate chef Dan Shootman and his staff know how to shift into a more refined cooking mode for Private Reserve dining, and a delicious dish of duck breast with confit, brick-oven-roasted Brussels sprouts, and whipped Yukon potatoes is a downright steal at $28. It’s rare to find a man who can do justice to a Brussels sprout, but Chef Shootman has the right stuff. That might not sound like high praise for someone who helped to open the Bellagio in Las Vegas and was a member of the 1992 U.S. Culinary Olympic Team. But to me, cooking Brussels sprouts is a fine culinary art.
If fancier food is more to your liking, you’d be hard-pressed to improve on Chef Dan’s “Tuna Two Ways” appetizer ($10). It’s seared and sliced sushi-grade tuna with Chinese mustard and Sriracha oil, alongside tuna tartare served with wakame salad and mirin-marinated shiitake mushrooms. Still, I’m especially fond of a chef who can work with funky foodstuffs like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. If you think you don’t care for cauliflower, you’ve never tasted Shootman’s cauliflower “custard” with caviar and a porcini mushroom emulsion ($7).
Even though the cuisine at Private Reserve is terrific and indeed much better than I’d expected, what really sets this restaurant/club apart is the level of attention and service that diners receive. In fact, it can almost get to be too much. Sometimes you just want to be left alone to sip a fine glass of wine, take in the gorgeous views and grope your dining companion. Private Reserve is off the charts in terms of lust appeal.
But there is a price to pay for all this. As I mentioned, Private Reserve is a private club. Two memberships are offered: The Grand Cru membership will run you $250 annually but includes a host of privileges, including invitations to exclusive Private Reserve events. The more economical Premier Cru membership costs $50 and includes invitations to monthly wine classes and tastings as well as monthly members’ mixers. Expensive? Sure it is. But don’t you deserve a little extra pampering?
Quote of the week: I’m at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table. —Rodney Dangerfield
PRIVATE RESERVE AT RIVERS, 6405 S. 3000 East, (Old Mill Business Park), 733-6600, Open nightly for drinks and dinner