At downtown Salt Lake City’s Bistro 222, a smartly done, sophisticated urban space with a strong environmentally-friendly profile, presenting a menu that strikes just the right harmony of elegance and refinement with rustic, even homestyle comfort food can be a formidable challenge. The temptation to emphasize elements on either side of the culinary equation risks contradictions and paradoxes that can confuse the diner and muddle the restaurant’s intended brand identity.
However, in the hands of Dave Bible, the restaurant’s new chef who had earned awards as well as national attention for his food previously at the Silver Star Café in Park City, Bistro’s 222 winter menu is full of warm harmonies and worthy respect to locally sourced ingredients.
An outstanding example is Bible’s take on pork and beans, with kurobuta short ribs with five spice and a soy-honey glaze along with green beans similarly glazed and punched up with the right touch of serrano chiles and chopped cashews. A soulfully fragrant dish, it hints at the promise of warmer, sunny days returning at the end of a dreary, hazy winter. Likewise, a bacon-wrapped tenderloin served with a sweet potato puree and a gastrique made from several varieties of berries reinvigorates the bistro patron who sits at a table facing the Main Street sidewalk and observes pedestrians or riders on the light-rail station platform clutching coats and scarves as chilly winds sweep through the urban corridor. The dishes are never heavy and the proportions are wisely done. A good example is the warm mushroom salad topped with a fried egg, courtesy of Clifford Family Farm, and served with endive, quinoa and just the right sunny touch in a citrus-herb vinaigrette.
There are just a few minor glitches, the sort worked out in short order as the learning curve is mastered with a menu that befits the season. The meat in the lamb osso bucco was a bit overdone but the dish is as fragrant as the ribs and bean offering. It is accompanied by pan juices flavored with chocolate from Mezzo and accompanied by a soft polenta which includes once again that buttery promise of summer with the rosemary-mint cheddar from Gold Creek Farms, which is based in Woodlands, Utah. The rustic lentil stew with locally sourced winter squash and root greens sustains the ideal nutty texture but it could be boosted with the same type of spice which elevates those green beans accompanying the five spice kurobuta short ribs.
Slowly but surely, the Main Street blocks just to the south of the City Creek shopping complex have begun to stir back to life and the unusually long period of mild weather has especially been helpful in bringing people to downtown prior to the holidays. A good example of a revitalized central business district corridor, Bistro 222 is an especially handsome restaurant at the street level podium of the 22-story office building, designed by the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architectural firm, which has to its credit projects such as the new World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building located in Dubai. The restaurant certainly is an ideal spot for a power business lunch and it regularly serves customers from the building’s tenants, including employees from Goldman Sachs offices which occupy seven floors of the office tower space.
Indeed, the winter menu also is quite reasonably priced for a downtown dinner outing. Entrees run in the $11-$20 range, and many nicely proportioned salads are under $10. Bible also is expanding the offering of house-made items for appetizers such as house-made pickles and house-made charcuterie such as capicola. The wine list also offers some pleasantly affordable surprises in both reds and whites, such as Morgan Cotes du Crow’s, a 2012 vintage from Monterey, and the 2011 vintage of Whitehall Lane Merlot from Napa.
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Disclaimer: The Utah Review was invited to a media dinner by Bistro 222. All opinions are the writer’s own.