Sunday, April 26, 2009

Alta Club

I was invited to dinner at the Alta Club for a University of Utah event. The Alta Club is a private social club located in a beautifully restored historical building in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. The club offers membership to any working professional, including university officials, political leaders, and business executives. When we walked into the Alta Club it really was like a blast to the past. The club was developed in the late 1800s to be a social gathering place for the state’s elite. Honestly it felt a little weird being there. At one point, one of the members we spoke with told us that when she was younger only men were allowed through the front door and that their wives had to enter through the back. It also made me think about race: a non-caucasian person like me probably wasn’t even allowed into the club at all back then. But I thought to myself: it’s 2009 and the Alta Club has changed a lot….and here I am.

If you walk through the Alta Club you quickly notice that in some instances not a lot has changed…at least from the standpoint of décor. I must say there is something very elegant and luxurious feeling about the dated architecture, furniture, and paintings. Scenes out of the book The Great Gatsby flashed through my mind; it was like being in a different time and place - where status was celebrated - and I appreciated having the opportunity to be here. Another reason I was really excited to have dinner at the Alta Club was that my friend Heather from culinary school works as a cook in the kitchen and I got to visit with her. She was working pantry that night - preparing all of the cold items: salads and desserts. It was great to see Heather and catch up before the festivities began. It also gave me an opportunity to see the kitchen – it was nice to see that the kitchen was clean and well organized…a nice departure from some of the kitchens I’ve worked in.

Much like touring around the old building, sitting down to the dinner table was also a nod to history. The china had a floral pattern and the stemware was really dated. I mentioned to one of the people sitting at the table that it made me feel like I was eating in a palace in Russia or something like that. Dinner started and it was obviously going to be a basic banquet style meal. We weren’t given any options as to meal choices and we were all served at once. We started with a basic mixed green salad with vinaigrette. Nothing too fancy or complicated but it was good with fresh ingredients - a nice refreshing start to the meal. Just a side note: our server was kind of interesting. He seemed to throw each plate of food on the table in front of us, as if he was somewhat in a rush to get to his next table. It was a little odd, but entertaining at the same time. He was nice enough but it made me fear that the food might slide off the plate and hit me when he threw something in front of me.

Our entrée of grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and mixed veggies came next. It was very standard fare. The veggies were plain, steamed probably with not much to them, but they were cooked to a nice ‘al dente’ which I appreciated. The potatoes were good but nothing to write home about - they did have a nice texture and flavor though. The grilled salmon was good and had nice grill marks, but for me it was a touch overcooked. I’m more of a ‘medium' or ‘medium rare’ person on my fish and my pieces of salmon were on the verge of being ‘medium well’. However what I did really appreciate was that the salmon came with a nice lemon wedge. I love that touch of fresh citrus juice with salmon. It changes the dimension of the dish, giving it a little acidic brightness to cut through the fattiness of the salmon. We ended our meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a chocolate cream-filled cookie. It was kind of an odd dessert but it was a nice ending to dinner. I mean, who doesn’t love a cookie and some ice cream for dessert?

Overall I would say the food was pretty good but not very daring or imaginative. But I think if you look at the clientele of the Alta Club this would certainly fit in well with that demographic. You do after all have to cater to your customers. Moreover, banquet cooking can be difficult seeing as how you have to cook, plate, and serve everyone’s food at the same time; often times dealing with crowds of over 100 people. And I must say the food served at this banquet was pretty good compared to other banquets I’ve been to. On a whole I would be happy to have this meal again be it at a huge banquet dinner at a hotel or conference center; I’d be ecstatic to get this for dinner at someone’s home. I would however not be so enthusiastic if I got this meal at a fine dining restaurant. This did make me wonder then what a regular dinner was like at the Alta club if I were a member eating in their dining room, ordering off of their regular menu. Mmmm…perhaps I should look into becoming a member? It is 2009 after all and it would be interesting to see how much of the Alta Club’s menu has changed to meet the times.

Alta Club ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

100 East South Temple

Executive Chef Brian Edwards