One of the very first restaurant reviews I ever wrote—as a fresh-faced newbie just discovering the Utah dining scene—was some 20-plus years ago, on the Tree Room at Sundance Resort. Don Heidel was the chef back then; he's now executive chef at the Alta Club. A couple of decades ago, I liked the Tree Room and Sundance a lot. I still do. It's amazing how timeless Sundance seems. Prices have risen a bit through the years and the cuisine evolves with the times, but it is still one of the state's most appealing and reliable dining destinations.
Time seems to slow down at Sundance. No one appears to be in a rush, and it's the perfect locale to unwind and catch one's breath. The resort and its employees manage to combine world-class professionalism with a relaxing, friendly style—a mix that's not easy to achieve. The dining and drink venues in particular—under the watchful eye of Steve Solomon, director of food and beverage—are not just among Utah's most revered, but I think some of the best in the West.
If you've never heard the Tree Room genesis story, Sundance's fine dining restaurant was thusly named because in 1970, when it was built, founder Robert Redford—who is nothing if not environmentally conscious—chose to build his restaurant around an existing 65-foot pine tree rather than cut it down. The Tree Room—and the tree—are still going strong.
First-time visitors should allot some time to wander the restaurant and take in the Native American art and Western memorabilia that is on display from Redford's personal collection. Then sit back, chill and enjoy one hell of an evening. No one will rush you should you decide to linger over just one more glass of wine or some other after-dinner drink.
Although every Tree Room staff member I've encountered is first-rate, thank your culinary luck if you should wind up with Skyler Saenz as your head server. This guy could work anywhere. He's not only knowledgeable down to the last pea tendril in the polenta agnolotti starter, but since he is also working on his second-level sommelier certification, he knows his wine pairings as well. He started us off with a clever bite-size take on strawberry shortcake for an amuse bouche, which we enjoyed with glasses of Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut. By the way, the wine list is excellent.
The grilled octopus ($16)—tossed with tiny white beans, piquillo peppers, migas (Mexican-style croutons) and chimichurri—was remarkably tender. Just as delicate and lovely was sushi-grade diced hamachi ($17) served alongside a hollowed-out and sliced avocado, with grapefruit, fried rice and fresh basil. As delicious as this dish is, I'd suggest serving the hamachi atop the hollowed avocado rather than underneath it, just for aesthetic appeal. My son, Hank, was willing (barely) to share his starter of grilled asparagus and morels with a poached egg, parmesan cracker and Madera veal, and I'm glad he did. It's a wonderful appetizer or shared dish, and one that pairs beautifully with Honig-Sundance Napa Sauvignon Blanc—part of the Sundance Artists Wine series.
Another superb wine pairing suggested by the Sundance folks is Bucklin Sonoma Zinfandel and tender, juicy elk loin with an array of seasonal mushrooms, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts and tart blackberry-pomegranate mostarda ($48). If that sounds like a dish better enjoyed in winter, opt for the summery Moroccan-spiced airline chicken breast ($32) with pearl couscous, colorful heirloom carrots and natural chicken jus.
I've felt over the decades that Tree Room cuisine has often varied from good to great, depending on who's been heading up the kitchen. Right now, under the supervision of resort Executive Chef David Mullen, it's hitting very high notes. He is ably assisted by a talented team that includes Senior Restaurant Manager Jonny Losee, Executive Sous Chef Eric Miller, Resort Pastry Chef Ashleigh Dougherty and Sous Chef Ashley Parkins.
Opened in 1996, the Foundry Grill at Sundance is named for the large foundry wall located in the main dining room. On Sundays, they offer a top-notch all-you-can-eat buffet brunch ($34/adults; $17/kids), from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. I don't know where Sundance finds all of its affable, professional servers, but Charlie Behan is another gem. He walked us through the buffet—from the salad and omelet/carving stations through the massive array of desserts—encouraging us to take our time and enjoy everything.
I started Sunday brunch with chilled shrimp and local artisan cheeses before moving on to the yummy poached eggs on steak hash. Curried chicken with basmati rice was delicate and delicious, as I worked my way toward the carving station's roasted lamb and prime rib. Drinks (coffee, tea, juice, milk and soft drinks are complimentary) were regularly refilled, and used plates efficiently bussed. Other can't-miss options include the divine French toast, smoked trout, spinach salad, smoked salmon and, of course, notable desserts like killer chocolate cake, banana-chocolate bread pudding, housemade cookies, tarts and more.
After all that enjoyable eating and imbibing, we were more than ready to take advantage of Sundance's summer biking and hiking trails to help burn a few calories. We also hope to return soon to attend one of the special evenings of the Bearclaw Supper Club at the mountaintop Bearclaw Cabin, which take place on June 25, July 30 and August 27.
People often ask me where, in culinary terms, they can find Utah. I think the soul of Utah is at Sundance.