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Uncovering Utah's Epicurean Side

Published: 01/16/2009

by Vanessa Chang, Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Thoughts of Utah might include visions of spectacular mountains filled with incredible powder, miles of rugged red rock landscape, proselytizing Mormon missionaries; rarely does fine wine and food make the list. For the past decade, though, this notoriously dry state has undergone a quiet culinary evolution. As hundreds of stars alight on Park City for the Sundance Film Festival and as the 2009 ski season commences, we present some tips on experiencing Utah's myriad epicurean delights.

The state's two main epicenters are Salt Lake City (the political capital) and Park City (the trendy one). Both locations feature plenty of posh hotels, the civilized base camps for alpine or high desert adventures. They're also the best cities to let your inner gourmand come out and play. Thanks to peculiar liquor laws, wine bars are scant so do as the locals do and look to restaurants for the best imbibing options.

Savvy diners know that the bulk of culinary and oenophile activity centers in Salt Lake City or "SLC" for short. The Paris Bistro  has a cozy set-up with a zinc bar and dark wood dining room; the polished service team can offer excellent wine pairings for everything from the Bistro Burger to bouillabaisse.  For something more exotic head to Mazza for beautifully scented Middle Eastern entrées and a surprising selection of Lebanese and Moroccan wines.

The best place in SLC for sushi and sake (or Riesling) is Takashi, where the torched sablefish nigiri is known to fans as "sex on rice."  For authentic Neapolitan pizza, head to the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certified Settebello Pizzeria, whose kitchen is helmed by the talented Pizzaiolo Marco. If you're seeking fine cheese and charcuterie to go, check out Caputo's Market  which has a cheese cave, succulent salumi from local Creminelli Fine Meats, crusty loaves of bread and regular fine cheese and wine pairing classes open to locals and travelers alike.

As the Beehive State continues to embrace fine wine and dining, getting a good drink and a great meal to go with it-whether you're a wary business traveler or a die-hard skier/rider-isn't as hard as you'd think.

Interview: Pete Mondavi Jr. on Utah
We sat down with the winemaker during one of his many visits to Utah to talk food, wine and mountains.

Q. How often do you visit Utah?
Peter Mondavi, Jr:
At least once a year. I come to promote our wine and I've gotten in some skiing as well. The snow up in these mountains is unmatched.

Q.  Where in Utah can travelers find your wine?
PM: Metropolitan, Bambara , Sundance Resort, Squatters, Wild Grape - a variety of places.

Q. What are your observations about wine and Utah?
PM:  The general discussion with restaurateurs here is that the economic crunch hasn't hit the state as hard as it has larger cities. Our wine sales are fantastic and they continue to grow. In Utah, wine has to be purchased from state wine stores and they carry a beautiful selection, especially the new venues, with very reasonable to expensive items.

Q. What do you say to travelers skeptical about the local food scene?
PM:  There's no shortage of places with wonderful wine lists and great food. In Salt Lake City, Spencer's in the Hilton is fantastic. Bambara at the Hotel Monaco, too. Metropolitan is a fun restaurant.

Q. When do you plan on coming back?
PM:  When I come to this market, it's really about food and wine. But I love getting up to the mountains and into the beautiful scenery. I may expand my summer activity beyond tennis and come out next September for the fly-fishing.