Monday, December 28, 2009
"Unfortunately Betty died today", we were told by host and co-owner Tom Bell as we were being seated. Apparently, some kids with a big dinner party wanted to sit next to Betty during dinner that night, but Tom quickly gave us the table next to the empty fish bowl which normally housed the mascot goldfish of the restaurant's namesake. Apparently Tom didn't have time to go the store to get a replacement before dinner service, so he told the kids that Betty was on a little vacation in the Bahamas. Oh well - no Betty tonight I thought...but at least there wasn't a mystery fish special on the menu that night.
Located inside of the Copperbottom Inn in Park City, Chez Betty is what I'd describe as somewhat of a "sleeper" restaurant. To some it's very well known as the restaurant and chef have gotten some critical acclaim in the local media in the past, but because of the restaurant's location just off of historic Main Street inside of a non-major-chain type of hotel - not too many think of Chez Betty as a destination restaurant. It's "sleeper" status however doesn't keep the locals away. The restaurant never fails to pack the crowd in giving it a vibrant, cozy energy.
You're a little thrown off as you first walk in through a door common to both the Copperbottom Inn and the restaurant. Once you find your way to Chez Betty to the left of the entrance, you quickly see that the restaurant is medium-sized with what I would describe only as a very "homey" interior. The decor isn't exactly fancy or elegant, definitely not modern or chic by any means, but the dining room tables are covered with white table cloths and the walls sport an eclectic decor of decorative plates and artwork that gives the place a nice sense of charm. The menu at Chez Betty matches its decor...what I would call eclectic American. It's a short menu, the majority of which represents classic preparations with a few modern dishes thrown in, making the dishes diverse in cuisine type and versatile in technique.
My dining companions and I sampled a number of dishes from the a la cart menu. An amuse bouche arrived in front of us - a small slice of sausage topped off with a sundried cherry and ancho chile pesto along with a toasted pine nut. The small bite gave us a lovely sweet-heat flavor combination alongside a savoriness from the meat - absolutely delicious - somewhat aggressive for a palate starter but it made me crave for more. We next sampled the tomato-basil soup and the kurabuta pork belly lettuce cups. The soup was good but lacked a little zip rendering it somewhat non-memorable. It tasted of sweet tomato with a hint of fresh basil but somehow seemed dormant, on the verge of being great...but it lacked a little punch to wake it up; acid would have been nice - perhaps some lemon juice or vinegar - something to make it less murky. In contrast, the lettuce cups were fantastic. The braised pork belly was tender and moist; the sweet chile sauce echoed the sweet-heat flavors of the amuse bouche. The crispy lettuce and cellophane rice noodles also added some textural interest and brightness of flavor. These were a hit at our table and a nice way to get us truly ready for our entrees.
We sampled the night's dinner special - an Asian style lo mein topped off with seared sea scallops. Unfortunately I didn't find this dish particularly successful. The noodles seemed dense - drowned in the thick, rich coconut based sauce. The scallops were cooked perfectly but were a little overwhelmed both in flavor and texture by the accompanying noodles. We also tried the warm spinach salad with spicy chicken livers. The flavor of the salad was nice - smoky from the bacon with some tang from the vinaigrette and savory feta cheese but I felt like the deep fried chicken livers lacked the promised spicyness and weren't as flavorful as they could have been. The deep frying process seemed to dry out the livers somewhat so I found the dish to lack some moisture in general.
The two stars at our table came with our red meat preparations. The beef tenderloin was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth like butter. The classic demi-glace served alongside jazzed up the meat giving it a smoky grilled onion flavor. The tenderloin was served atop a potato pancake topped off with some wilted spinach. Unfortunately the crisp pancake became soggy due to the moisture of the spinach, although both items tasted great. The dish was topped off with a stack of onion rings which really did add some nice crunch with a nice, homey, steakhouse feel. We also tried the rack of New Zealand lamb. I must say that this dish was executed perfectly. The meat had a nice crust on it and was cooked a perfect medium-rare. The lamb was tender and juicy, not too gamey with a hint of garlic in the background and it paired nicely with some winter vegetables: roasted tourned (football shaped) potatoes, haricot verts (french green beans), baby carrots, and mashed butternut squash. The dish was executed nicely and made for a wonderful meal.
Although I do think that Chez Betty offers some nice dishes off of their regular menu, I really believe that the true value at Chez Betty's is from the chef's tasting menu. The tasting usually consists of a four course meal and I think the liberation from the confines of the regular menu really lets the chefs' creativity shine. The menu changes every couple weeks depending on the timing and what's in season. One summertime menu example includes a tomato-coconut curry soup, frisee with duck confit, tortilla-crusted pork tenderloin, and profiteroles...all for $48.00 ($68.00 with wine pairing). Everything I've had in past tasting menus has always been superb, focused, and delicious. The tasting menu definitely gives you a feel for what the chefs' food is all about and provides a nice option for getting to know the restaurant in a more intimate setting (foodwise).
At the end of our meal, co-owner and Chef Jerry Garcia came by our table to talk with us. He asked us how our meal went and talked a little about the scallop special which his sous chef developed. Very rarely does the chef come out and interact with customers but from what I hear Chef Garcia tries to get out to the dining room to talk with customers or just to even help out filling water glasses during a busy service. This kind of attention to detail, in combination with good food, really makes for the right restaurant experience. In my intro above, I called Chez Betty a "sleeper" restaurant. I think the real "sleepers" are people who don't wake up and head on over to Chez Betty to give it a try.
Chez Betty ~ Park City, Utah
1637 Short Line Drive
Chef/co-owner: Jerry Garcia
Co-owner: Tom Bell