How the Wild Grape has grown. Literally. Proof: Restaurnt owner Troy Greenhawt gave me a bunch of warm green grapes
just picked from the vines that have overgrown the front of this Avenues bistro since it opened, and they were planted.
Wild Grape Bistro has always had a loyal neighborhood following, even though chefs have come and gone and food quality has fluctuated, reaching a peak several years ago when Phelix Gardner ruled the cuisine.( Soccer fans: Salt Lake Real captain and Team USA soccer star Kyle Beckerman is among the regulars.)
With the new chef, chef David Bear Stromness, judging from a dinner last night, the kitchen is on an even keel. The food is concentrated around the wood fire–grass-fed beef, lamb, organic chicken, salmon and halibut are all grilled, so paramount here is simple accuracy: proteins cooked to the correct degree of doneness. This sounds basic but often it seems to me that a server asking how I would like my meat cooked is merely a polite convention. I order “medium rare,” but a steak arrives “medium.” I ask for pink-in-the-middle salmon, the fish comes out fully, meaning over, cooked. Except at high end steakhouses like Ruth's Chris, where meat cooking is a science, I am usually served meat the way the chef or his line cook likes it, not the way I like it.
So I was exceptionally pleased to find my grilled salmon at Wild Grape was a lovely opalescent pink in the center and the filet was the color of raspberries. Both came with grilled asparagus; the steak with mashed potatoes and the fish with roasted fingerlings. Simple plates. But to me, it's a relief to be served a simple dish. Desserts, a deep chocolate pudding and an orange-whisky crème brulee, followed suit.
There were issues–my salmon didn't need its glaze ladled over it like a sauce. It was fine for brushing on the fish, but far too sweet for such a general purpose. Caesar salad, made with kale, was tasty, but underdressed, although the tempura-fried anchovies were brilliant.
But mostly, the food was satisfying, clean and wholesome, with emphasis on quality ingredients instead of fancy treatment.
The changeup comes at the bar where Sean Neves used to shine: Cocktails at the Grape are still inventive and delicious. My French 75 had a touch of fresh strawberry, basil and ginger and my friend's old-fashioned was tinged with blackberry.
Troy Greenhawt knows me; so this was not an anonymous review and maybe that's why our service was so smooth. However, I've been recognized yet served badly with poorly cooked food more times than I can count.
Chef Stromness recently returned to Utah from Portland, and he loves to shop Salt Lake farmers markets. Starting this weekend, Wild Grape will be featuring special weekend menus featuring the chef's finds at the market. Check it out.