We were settled in a comfy banquette at Tree Room, Sundance Resort's premier restaurant-beautifully worn antique Persian rugs on the plank floor, service plates made of recycled wine bottles on the table, a menu of $30-plus entrees in our hands.
To my left was the tree after which the restaurant is named, apparently growing up through the floor and through the ceiling.
We were dining with a couple of Sundance vets-they know the resort well.
"Do you want to know the story of the tree?" she asked. I allowed as how I didn't know the story of the tree.
"The tree died."
A short story.
No need to chop a metaphor to splinters, but I cannot tell a lie: Tree Room has lost a lot of its vitality, too. Once in the vanguard of sustainable, local and organic food philosophy in Utah, now the restaurant-underneath its veneer of quiet class-is as mundane as any glitzy resort.
It's not that the food was uniformly bad-big sea scallops were perfectly cooked to the consistency of quivering silk and the avocado mousse and dried strawberries were a nicely novel accent. The pearly bones of the lamb chops held lovely lumps of raspberry-colored meat and the accompanying tabouleh was a great way to add the traditional mint flavor.
But the free range chicken was dry, dry, dry. The bison tenderloin was nice, but the goat cheese potato puff that came with it was a little like eating Pelaspan.
I do think menus that laboriously mention the provenance of every ingredient in every dish are sanctimonious and stupid; on the other hand, I want my server to know where the chicken comes from. He didn't. Nor the lamb.
On a related note, when I called Sundance restaurant Foundry Grill to ask some questions about their hamburger, which I'd heard is excellent, I was told that "all our vegetables come from Sysco." Not what you call a hard sell or even encouragement in a culture that's as gung-ho for local sourcing as Utah is.
Only a few years ago, the Sundance folks made a big show of introducing private label wines from California wineries that shared the "Sundance values"-organic, sustainable, small wineries that considered their craft an art.
The "Wine as Art" program has been dropped, along with the Sundance Food & Wine Festival.
Add to that our lackluster but expensive experience at the Tree Room and you can't help but wonder, what is the deal?