Forage - Salt Lake City, UT

Dinner - Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chefs Viet Pham (pictured at right) and Bowman Brown were part of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs awardees last year. Despite the accolade, there's been a relative dearth of information (aside from a post by the ulterior epicure that caught my attention) about their shoebox restaurant - a converted house in a quite Salt Lake City residential neighbourhood.

With only one night in town, we knew we would spend it here. The space is sparse but comfortable, seating ~30 covers. A $74 prix fixe menu is served to everyone, with options being limited to beverage choices. We opted for the non-alcoholic pairing of juices and infusions, which turned out to excellent.

Snap peas, almond butter, blossoms
Radishes, buttermilk
Fantastic. The tartness of the whipped buttermilk worked so well with the crisp, peppery radishes. I am usually turned off by radish greens, but these were surprisingly mild and I wolfed them down.

Soft-scrambled egg, maple syrup, sherry cream
A particularly good iteration of the Arp├Ęge egg. I really liked the substitution of the scrambled egg for the usual poached version - it lightened the dish considerably, although it was somewhat counterbalanced by the sherry cream. I did miss the usual acidity one expects, but this course felt fresh and quite well calibrated.

Crab, asparagus, toasted buckwheat
Sadly, the weakest dish of the evening. It sounded terrific on paper, but the delicate crab and asparagus were swamped by the flavour of the toasted buckwheat, and neither of us cared for the mealy tuile wrapping.

Cucumber, green garlic ash
Onion soubise, gin emulsion, toasted quinoa, cow's milk cheese
One of my favourite courses of the evening. A pickled and compressed section of cucumber coated in an umami ash. It played nicely with the complexity of the gin and the sweetness of the onion soubise. The toasted grains, so overwhelming in the previous course, were matched perfectly here. Hitting all the senses, this was a "complete" dish.

Forest herbs and leaves
Woodland aromas
A cornucopia of foraged greens (I counted more than 10 different types), served in a deep-tasting mushroom broth. Quite challenging, given the vegetal nature of many of the herbs. This was partially alleviated by the (delicious) dollop of fresh cheese, but ultimately, it felt more like a dish for the mind than the mouth.

Young beets and carrots
Crustacean sauce, whitefish roe, toasted wild rice
My favourite dish of the evening, this was splendid. The sweetness of the vegetables, the salinity of the sauce and roe, the crunch and smokiness of the wild rice - this has the makings of a classic dish. To top it off, it was rather inspiringly paired with a tart blackberry juice that really highlighted all the flavours on the plate.

Roasted scallop, fresh peas
Bonito-mint butter, garlic ash
Slow-cooked pork, hazelnut yogurt
Greens with their stems and flowers
The pork came from Oregon pigs raised on regular feed but finished on hazelnuts during their last month of life. Rich, creamy flesh - the meat was cooked sous-vide for two days, then charred over embers to finish. A sage-infused pork stock was spooned over tableside. The yogurt nicely echoed the subtle nutty notes in the pork fat. Quite an unabashed salt bomb, but very tasty.

Sweet peas, yogurt, sorrel
Like my favourite desserts, this dish blurs the line between savory and sweet. Yogurt was presented as a sorbet, and in a fizzy espuma. The whole peas were augmented by their young leaves and a sweet pea parfait. The sharp sorrel powder added to the tang of the yogurt while balancing the flavour of the peas. A very nice transition between the pork and the next dessert.

Poached rhubarb, milk ice cream, milk skin
Toasted buckwheat, rose petals, rose geranium mousse
Mignardises 1 - "Pez" strawberries
Mignardises 2 - "Stones"
These immediately brought back memories of Mugaritz's clay potatoes. Equally realistic, these were bittersweet chocolate chunks encased in a black sesame shell, served on a bed of soft moss (quite a pleasure to feel and stroke).

If the Scandinavian vanguard were Utahns, would this be the type of food they served? I asked myself this as we ate through the menu, but really, Forage is a completely different animal. Limited resources tend to force creativity, but also repetition - is reusing flavour themes boring, or does it provide a thread to tie a menu together? I enjoyed my meal greatly, and since I know we won't be passing this way often, this is a restaurant I'll have to continue following from afar.

370 E. 900 S
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Phone: (801) 708-7834