Monday, December 10, 2012

Dinner at Hyatt Escala Provisions Company

 Last week I was invited to check out the Hyatt Escala at The Canyons resort, Escala Provisions Company, or EPC.
As to be expected of a AAA Four-Diamond Hyatt, there's an upscale ambience. A fireplace that gives a sense of coziness, but the polished stone tables are spaced far enough apart that you don't feel cramped or crowded, or as if you will be privy to conversations from nearby tables. 
The open kitchen is far enough away from the dining area that you don't hear all the clanging of pots and pans. We were there on a Monday night, so there were some empty tables. But even if the dining area is full, I think you could enjoy a conversation without having to shout. Lots of windows afford a view of the mountains, if you're there before dark.
Jesse McDannell might seem young to be an executive chef at age 31, but he grew up working in his grandfather's bar and grill in New York. He has been with Hyatt for seven years, working in nine major Hyatt properties in four cities. This is the first restaurant he's running on his own.  And yes, he's looking forward to the excitement that will descend next month when the Sundance Film Festival begins.  He's already heard about last year's celebrity guests at the hotel, including Bruce Willis. 
McDannell is passionate about using as many local ingredients as possible such as Provo River trout, Cox honey and Pierre Country Bread. 
I tried the pan-seared trout entrée, and the trout was moist and meaty, and bigger than what I ever remember catching locally. Chef McDannell told me it's farm-raised. It made me really curious about this, because I was unaware that there was a fish farm on the Provo River.  The trout was served over Mediterranean couscous, which were like little pearls.
My dining partner, Marguerite Henderson, enjoyed the Willis Farm braised lamb shank with Parmesan Whipped Potatoes, Haricot Verts and a Blood Orange Gremolata. Willis Farm is located in Laketown, Utah (near Bear Lake) and is part of the Niman Ranch network of naturally raised meat.
Although it's not a local product, I still really liked the jumbo lump crab cakes! The chunks of succulent crab seemed held together by sheer willpower instead of the starchy breading and binding that so often weighs down crab cakes.
The nightly "chef's inspiration" chili offers a jumping off point for McDannell's creativity. Instead of offering the same chili, night after night, McDannell said he wanted to be able to switch things up with different types of wild game. On the night we were there, it was a hearty buffalo chili — spicy but not too hot. On other nights, you might have elk or venison.
Another starter is the short rib ravioli.  I wasn't as enthused about this one — it seemed to me that the pasta was cooked too "al dente" for my taste. 
For dessert, there's a wonderful apple cobbler, and a berry cobbler studded with little blueberries. The S'more dessert, served in a pint jar, is an ooey-gooey mashup of flourless chocolate cake and marshmallows. For me, it too was teeth-achingly sweet. (Another option is to buy a s'more"kit" at the shop on your way out of the restaurant. It's a paper bag with Hershey bars, marshmallow and graham crackers, and guests can make their own s'mores at the outdoor fire pit.
Portions are OK, but prices are "Park City resort." If you want to splurge, this might be the place. 

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