Rhetorical question: Why does Provo seem so far away?
It's just over an hour's drive, now that the heinous construction on I15 is wrapped up. That's a morning commute for a lot of people in other states. But somehow, the trip from SLC to Provo is a project, psychologically, so I don't go there as often as I probably should. Or as much as I would like to, now that I know about all the great restaurants in Provo and Orem.
I'm not alone with my Utah County bias, which is why Chantelle Bourdeaux arranged last Friday's Frontrunner excursion. A group of SLC foodies took the train to Provo and embarked on a day-long eat-a-thon, sampling dishes at five of Provo/Orem's finest new restaurants.
Here: Lisa McCune, Margeurite Henderson and Brooke Cordray. They don't look as hungry as they should, considering what's ahead.
The first bite of the trip was a kouing aman, courtesy of Les Madeleine's Romina Rasmussen and delivered by tour director Chantelle Bourdeaux.
First restaurant stop was Station 22. Owner Richard Gregory, a Napa Valley transplant to Provo, greeted us,
and even though his chef had quit the day before, we enjoyed a perfect tasting of bite size fried chicken on waffles,
pulled pork with whiskey baked apples and shrimp and grits,
accompanied by craft sodas (like Cock n Bull ginger beer, the authentic base for a Moscow Mule.)
At this point many of us began to realize the necessity of pacing ourselves.
Then around the corner to Black Sheep Cafe, where chef Mark Mason is riffing on his own Native American cuisine, ratcheting it up a few notches with techniques he learned in top-tier kitchens. Don't worry–fry bread is on the menu. But for example, he served us a bruschetta trio, made on Navajo oven bread from Acoma Pueblo and topped with the "three sisters" of native American agriculture: beans, corn and squash.
Grilled shrimp came on yellow and blue corn polenta; the blue was infused with juniper ash, the way Mason's grandmother used to make it.
The concept of "pacing" gave way to the idea of endurance.
A questionable shuttle service ferried us up to Orem, where we took over the tiny Tortilla Bar. Chef/owner Sam Oteo
talked to us about his dedication to local, organic and sustainable foods, surprised us with a simple first course of thinly sliced radishes with horseradish-spiked yogurt,
blew us away with a lime-dressed apple salad dusted with ground toasted and sugared almonds, then challenged us to eat a hanger steak empanada.
Heading to our next stop in a stretch limo that took over when we fired the shuttle service, Pizzeria 712, seemed less than a healthy choice at this point. I have never been so dismayed at the prospect of pizza. But like a true chef and host, who anticipates his guests' appetites, Stephen Lott didn't serve it. Instead, bruschetta topped with greens and a brilliant spring dish of roast asparagus topped with fresh sorrel leaves.
Needless to say, we gobbled it up. Let's just say we'd hit our stride.
The last restaurant on our itinerary was Communal, where we rallied for a final food orgy of the day: a beautiful farro salad with fried brussels sprouts and red onions,
roasted root vegetables with gremolata butter (great idea!),
and–believe it–a butter-crusted carrot cupcake with cream cheese icing. And a drizzle of caramel, of course, because by this time we had learned that too much is the right amount.