Park City » For years, Las Vegas has lured celebrity chefs to open restaurants. Ski resorts are now doing the same. Aspen and Vail enticed Nobu Matsuhisa and Wolfgang Puck to the mountains of Colorado. Mammoth and Lake Tahoe pursuaded Joachim Splichal and Traci des Jardins to partner with the California resorts. In July, Park City got its first celebrity chef with the opening of Spruce in the Dakota Mountain Lodge.
Mark Sullivan's name doesn't roll off the tongue like Mario Batali or Thomas Keller, but Sullivan has made a name for himself in the Bay Area at restaurants such as 42 Degrees, The Village Pub and the original Spruce.
The design of Park City's Spruce is similar to that of its sister. The Waldorf-Astoria property is done in earth tones with such opulent touches as crystal chandeliers. The sophisticated look segues to the restaurant with mohair walls, dark wood accents, brown velvet drapes, and tan leather chairs. Even the menus are bound in leather.
Sullivan's daring menu is a refreshing change from some Utah restaurants. This is a guy who isn't afraid to put sweetbreads (thymus gland), foie gras (fattened liver) and "parts" such as pig's ear and veal tongue on his menu. It's past time we embraced offal.
Among other things, Sullivan is known for charcuterie, the crafting of pâtés, salami and the like. Order items individually or sample them all with Spruce's grand selection ($22), which has small portions of duck rillettes, duck liver mousse, country pâté, chorizo, salumi, pig's ear terrine, poached veal tongue and ciccioli (pronounced CHEECH-oly and made with leftover pork). Course-grain mustard, cornichons and toasts round out the plate. If you're a meat lover like I am, it's a must-order.
Those gorgeously tender sweetbreads ($17) are served Lyonnaise style with pancetta and a runny poached egg that, upon breaking, coats a bed of wilted, slightly bitter chicories. The portion could easily feed two. On another visit, I couldn't resist the poached and seared foie gras ($21) that comes with macerated nectarines, lightly toasted brioche logs and a tangle of dressed frisee.
For those who aren't into as such adventurous beginnings as I am, simple salad greens come delicately coated with a champagne vinaigrette alongside a crostone -- a big crostino -- topped with chopped green olives ($11) or a bowl of incredible-tasting chilled heirloom tomato gazpacho ($11) may be a good way to begin a meal.
Most main courses are examples of precision, expert technique and creativity. Wild salmon ($36) is slowly poached in olive oil, leaving the fish vibrant orange in color. Za'atar -- a subtle herb-spice blend of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac -- coats pork tenderloin ($29) that comes with a square of luscious pork belly, gigante beans and mustard greens. And a complex bordelaise sauce is poured tableside over a bavette steak ($30) with duck fat-fried potatoes.
Other dishes had only minor flaws. Chunks of bland plum did nothing for an otherwise successful dish of duck breast slices, cinnamon-tinged foie gras, plum gastrique and sautéed radicchio ($39), and an unsweet, grilled peach detracted from a succulent dish of slow-roasted beef short rib ($29).
Service here is what you'd expect from a fine-dining establishment. Napkins are refolded. Tables are "crumbed." Water glasses are continuously filled. Leftover containers await you at the host stand. And curiously, when a table is reset, bussers discreetly iron the creases on the new tablecloth directly on the tabletop with a cordless hot iron.
That same attention to detail can be seen within the 33 pages of wines the restaurant offers. A sommelier is on hand to suggest one if selecting among the 1,400 options is too daunting.
Our table really liked a 2007 Hugel Gentile, an Alsatian blend of pinot gris, pinot blanc, gewürstraminer and riesling, priced at $42. But a sommelier-recommended $60 bottle of 2007 Bethel Heights Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley wasn't as good as its price suggested. The markup was four times the retail cost. Other wines I determined were three to four times the cost of retail. Usually 2 ½ to 3 times is the norm. It's a bit steep, but there is always the option of bringing your own wine; if you do, corkage is $20.
If dessert beckons, I'd order the warm, sugar-dipped beignets ($10) with crème anglaise and plum-raspberry preserve. The baked-to-order cookies ($7), with overly browned bottoms, were a disappointment, as was the peach Melba ($11), whose star ingredient was crunchy and bland -- right during peach season.
Though not everything about my meals at Spruce was perfect, it is so refreshing to have a restaurant of this caliber in Utah that it's easy to forgive minor flaws. I wonder if Jamie Oliver would be interested in a winter getaway?
Bottom line » The elegant mountain setting is a perfect backdrop for Chef Mark Sullivan's San Francisco-style dining.
Location » 2100 Frostwood Drive (in Dakota Mountain Lodge at The Canyons Resort), Park City; 435-647-5566
Online » sprucepc.com
Hours » 7 to 11 a.m.; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 5 to 10 p.m. Bar menu, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$$$
Liquor » Full bar
Corkage » $20
Reservations » Recommended
Takeout » No
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Valet
Credit cards » All major
Through Dec. 21, Dakota Mountain Lodge is offering a suite for $199 per night.
You also receive a $100 credit each night that can be used toward Spruce, room service, Golden Door Spa treatments, fitness classes, personal training and retail products.
A daily $25 resort charge and taxes are not included.