In 2004, The New Yorker published an article by the great American writer-gourmand Jim Harrison for its annual food issue. It was called “A Really Big Lunch,” and it recounted a Rabelaisian meal cooked for a dozen epicurean attendees, including Harrison, by acclaimed chef Marc Meneau of L’Espérance restaurant in Burgundy. The “lunch” didn’t wind down until around midnight; it entailed 37 food courses and 13 wines.
I doubt I’ll ever get to experience the gluttonous greatness that Harrison and his buddies achieved. However, I sometimes fantasize about combining some of my favorite local restaurant dishes—albeit a lot fewer than 37—into one extravagant and indulgent meal, beginning with my favorite breakfast and winding down with dessert. It would go something like this:
I’d begin with a brunch selection from Talisker On Main
(515 Main, Park City, 435-658-5479, TaliskerOnMain.com): the outrageous three-way eggs Benedict. All on one plate, there’s a classic eggs Benedict preparation, made with a poached Heritage Valley Farm egg and country ham, along with an over-easy fried quail egg with chicken croquette and Zoe’s Garden garlic-chive salsa verde. But what really knocks me out is the sous vide egg, which is breaded and cooked at precisely 63 degrees. The yolk is soft and runny, but the exterior is crisp and crunchy. But, since Talisker only does brunch in warm weather, in fall or winter I’d head to Pago
(878 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City, 801-532-0777, PagoSLC.com) for my Benedict fix, where fresh Clifford Farm eggs are poached to perfection and served with a light and tasty hollandaise.
I rarely go a week without Mexican food of some sort. So, I’d also have to incorporate a molcajete into my greatest meal. Named for the lava-rock mortar-and-pestle vessel it’s cooked and served in, a molcajete usually includes strips of nopalitos (cactus), cooked shrimp, boneless chicken, thin strips of carne asada beef, Oaxacan cheese, charred jalapeños and plump, Mexican-style green onions, all cooked to surface-of-the-sun temperature. There are excellent versions at El Paisa Grill (2126 S. 3200 West, West Valley City, 801-973-6660), Nuestra Cocina at Rancho Market (2470 S. Redwood Road, 801-972-8800) and http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/view-place-5657-mi-ranchito-grill.html (multiple locations, MiRanchitoGrill.com).
Next, soup and a sandwich would be in order. Specifically, the pork-belly ramen at Dojo (423 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-328-3333, DojoSLC.com), a big soup bowl filled with a generous mound of perfectly cooked ramen noodles and topped with tantalizingly tender strips of pork belly, slivered scallions, hard-boiled egg and thin slices of pink kamaboko (Japanese fish cake) in a rich, glistening homemade broth. My sandwich choice would be the catfish po’boy at Bayleaf Bar & Grub (159 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-359-8490, BayleafBarAndGrub.com). It’s a thick, jumbo-size catfish fillet dipped into an egg wash, then coated with seasoned cornmeal and served on a hero-type roll with homemade coleslaw, tomato and lettuce. Add a splash of Tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce, and you’ve got a po’boy worthy of N’awlins.
Heading into dinner dishes, I’d begin slowly with a teaser—a tapa from Martine (22 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City, 801-363-9328, MartineCafe.com). Chef Tom Grant knows what to do with lamb, and I’d have a hard time resisting his Morgan Valley Lamb and chorizo with creamed polenta. And I’d also need to spread The Copper Onion Pago ’s (111 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, 801-355-3282, TheCopperOnion.com) decadent bone marrow over slices of charred baguette for a bit of fatty fun. But I couldn’t resist Zucca Trattoria ’s (1479 E. 5600 South, Ogden, 801-475-7077, MyZucca.com) spiedini either: fresh mozzarella and prosciutto baked in Zucca’s wood-fired oven.
Next, I’d probably order up a pasta dish of some sort. There are so many good options, but I’d have to go with Sea Salt ’s (1709 E. 1300 South, 801-349-1480, www.SeaSaltSLC.com) pasta all'Amatriciana, which features thick bucatini pasta lightly coated in a tangy sauce of Biellese guanciale, San Marzano tomatoes, onion and red chillies. To cool down the heat from the spicy Amatriciana, I’d select a salad: the chopped salad at Ruth's Chris Steak House (275 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, 801-363-2000, RuthsChris.com). It’s a cylinder-shaped mold of chopped iceberg lettuce, radicchio and baby spinach, with hard-cooked eggs, hearts of palm, red onion, mushrooms, green olives, croutons, bleu cheese, lemon-basil dressing and a topping of crisp-fried, julienned onions. This, my friends, is a sensational salad.
Selecting my favorite entrees from, literally, thousands of Utah restaurants necessitates some very tough choices. But here they are. For a fish course, I would go with Fresco (1513 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City, 801-486-1300, FrescoItalianCafe.com) chef Logen Crew’s flawless sea bass: a perfectly cooked, olive-crusted fillet in a light citrus-carrot broth, served with nutty Sardinian pasta called fregola sarda, local greens and shaved radish.
The meat course would be a difficult choice, as well. In fact, I’d order two, just to play it safe. Chef Greg Neville’s braised Morgan Valley Lamb shank, slow-cooked with pancetta and locally sourced beans at Lugano (3364 S. 2300 East, Salt Lake City, 801-412-9994, LuganoRestaurant.com) is heaven. But then, so is owner/chef Bill White’s traditional braciola, served at Ghidotti's (6030 N. Market St., Park City, 435-658-0669, Ghidottis.com). It’s melt-in-the-mouth braised-beef braciola stuffed with prosciutto, pine nuts and provolone and bathed in thick, rich tomato sauce and served in the copper pan it was cooked in. And, for a side dish, I’d select the crazy-good sautéed Brussels sprouts from Eva (317 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-359-8447, EvaSLC.com)—thinly shaved and cooked with lots of butter, cider vinegar and tossed with toasted hazelnuts. Then, as a pre-dessert palate cleanser, the chopped arugula salad drizzled with acacia honey that Valter Nassi makes at Cucina Toscana (307 W. Pierpont Ave. [250 South], Salt Lake City, 801-328-3463, Cucina-Toscana.com) is as simple as it is sensational.
For dessert, I’d either keep it simple by strolling over to Tony Caputo's Market & Deli (314 W. 300 South, 801-531-8669, CaputosDeli.com) for a handful of Chocolatier Blue chocolates, made by former Alpine resident Chris Blue, or I’d go whole hog at Les Madeleines (216 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City, 801-355-2294, Les-Madeleines.com) with a buttery, rich Kouing-aman, one of the best things you’ll ever put in your mouth.
Then, since gluttony of this magnitude should not go unrewarded, I would treat myself—after an hour-long walk with a Cuban cigar—to an after-dinner drink at one of my favorite bars: The Vault (202 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-363-5454, Bambara-SLC.com) or Gracie's (326 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, 801-819-7565, GraciesSLC.com), perhaps. If I’m really lucky, the Red Rock Hot Club will be playing.
Finally, at home, I would sleep the restful sleep of the innocent, knowing both that it takes courage to eat so heroically and that, as Jim Harrison put it, “Like sex, bathing, sleeping and drinking, the effects of food don’t last.” After all, tomorrow is another day, and there will be more restaurants to explore and conquer.