Monday, February 22, 2010

Wild Grape

'Hit or miss.'

Hit or miss. It's not the best way to describe a restaurant's performance. Inconsistency is a restaurant killer. I mean really, who wants to go to a restaurant and at the end of the evening get hit with the reality that they just wasted their good, hard earned cash on a crappy meal or on sub-par service? Not me anyway. So - I've been to the Wild Grape at least a dozen or so times these past two years to try to figure them out...and unfortunately 'hit or miss' is the way I'd have to describe their food (and service). Sometimes it's good and sometimes not so good. In fact a big reason it's taken me so long to write this review is because I've got mixed feelings about the place. There are times when the stars align and I just love it and then other times I wonder why the heck I ever went back. Below I recount some highs and lows from a few experiences to exemplify what I'm talking about.

Low - flat iron steak with truffled mac n' cheese, topped with lightly dressed arugula. The steak was perfectly cooked medium rare but unfortunately both the steak and the mac n' cheese underneath were stone cold...not even room temp, but stone cold. Did the cook think that he could plate the dish up 30 minutes before the other dishes for the table were ready? And how did the cold food pass the chef/expeditor? In any case, amateurish performance at best. MISS.

High - Sunday prime rib dinner: perfectly cooked medium rare prime rib with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The meat was tender and juicy, made even more succulent served in its savory jus. I'm picky when it comes to prime rib because I think my dad's prime rib is the best ever - and biting into this meat made me think of my dad's food. Taste memory: it's a powerful thing and it's what every dish should strive to evoke in some way, shape or form. And this prime rib had a dramatic effect on me. Hard to believe that this dish came out of the same kitchen on the same night as the flat iron steak above.  HIT.

Low - Sunday brunch. Bad service, dirty tables, dry potatoes, and the absolute worst beignets and huevos rancheros I've ever had. Dry seemed to be a pervasive theme as both the beignets and huevos seemed to lack any moisture. Seriously - not good at all. Everyone knows that brunch is a time when a restaurant basically puts up their "B team" line up of cooks (since the really good cooks are needed for dinner). But on this particular Sunday it seemed like they staffed the Wild Grape kitchen with rejects from the reality TV show "Worst Cooks in America". How can a restaurant serve elegant, eclectic food for dinner and then crap for breakfast? Either inconsistency is a goal for this place or someone's just not paying attention. In any case - MISS.

High - seared salmon over gnocchi with spinach puree. On a recent trip back to the Wild Grape I decided to give the salmon a try, mostly to see if the Wild Grape could redeem itself. On a past trip, I hadn't been too enthused about the fish dish I ordered. So yeah, of course on this night - the salmon was EXCELLENT. It was cooked a perfect medium. Whoever cooked that piece of fish definitely knew what he was doing because the sear on that sucker was amazing. The fish was served crispy skin side up over caramelized gnocchi with a lovely bright green spinach sauce. The salmon was topped off with orange and lime rinds giving it a nice brightness of flavor and the spinach rendered a freshness to the dish. The gnocchi had a crisp texture but were light and fluffy - absolutely lovely. Definite HIT.

The menu changes seasonally, which means you may never see some of the above menu items on your own visit, but this gives you an idea of the style of food they serve. Other mentionables? Butternut squash soup - not my favorite. Wild Grape house salad - really nice. Lamb burger - just okay. Chocolate Smores Tort - great. where does this leave us? I'm not exactly sure but you see what I mean? Sometimes the Wild Grape is on their "A game". Other times it's like they're not even in the building let alone the game. But don't you just sometimes really want to like a place? Even if it's not the best?

I have mixed feelings about the Wild Grape. They do some great things, have a great wine list, and nice atmosphere. But then I've also gotten some really bad dishes, rotten service, and have just wanted to get the hell out of there after a meal. Ugh. So do I like the Wild Grape? Would I recommend it? It's hard for me to say...and I guess it  just shouldn't be so hard to decide if they're good or not. You shouldn't have to wonder if you're going to go to a restaurant and get a good meal or if the service for that matter is going to stink. And when I go to the Wild Grape, I guess I just always wonder.

Wild Grape ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
481 E. South Temple
Chef: Phelix Gardner
**** (on a good day)
** (on a bad day)

Wild Grape Bistro on Urbanspoon


  1. I wanted to like Wild Grape, too. However, I just cannot get over the misses. I mean, if I can make good beignets at home, what is wrong with them? Unfortunately, I don't think that I will be back...

  2. It's really just a shame. With so many other places around at the same (or better) price point that show a consistent level of excellence, why would you go back? I'm a glutton though...and I believe in giving places second chances...should we chance lunch there sometime in the future? -CD