Tuesday, May 25, 2010


'Sometimes "nice enough" isn't worth driving out of town for.'

To be honest, I rarely go outside city limits to try restaurants. Living in SLC, I find that we have a plethora of options that can fit any craving, price range, or style preference that anyone can ask for. But when I hear good things about restaurants, regardless of geography, I am more than willing to take a little drive to check it out. So many people I know who live outside of Salt Lake City rave about Tiburon as THE RESTAURANT for a fine dining experience. I've also heard so much about Tiburon over the years through various reviews, most of which were positive.  I thought this place warranted some investigation, even if I had to drive a few extra miles south to do so.

Having never been to Tiburon, I thought the restaurant was "nice enough", albeit perhaps a little boring. The outside has some definite curb appeal and I like the fact that they plant their own vegetable garden out back that is clearly visible from the parking lot. The interior was a tad on the smaller side; the decor was generically sort of nice but really just a bit un-memorable (literally - I couldn't tell you about the interior to save my life and I was there just a week ago!). I guess sometimes nice can be bland enough not to be noticed? We walked through the restaurant which was fairly crowded for a Wednesday night and got seated in what appeared to be overflow or patio seating. Again, "nice enough" I thought.

Darting through the menu, one particular appetizer immediately caught my eye...so we decided to get a head start on dinner with the kurabuto pork belly. Now this was a really great dish. The pork was braised tender and delicious, served with a creamy Brie (St. Andre's) and a caramelized onion jam. This appetizer was absolutely divine. The pork was crispy from a hard sear, as well as both tender and savory (as only pig can deliver) from a long flavorful braise. This tasty morsel contrasted well with the tart, creaminess of the cheese; the sweetness of the caramelized onions really unified the flavors quite nicely. It was a well composed dish: modern yet elegant - definitely fit for a fine dining experience. As I slowly devoured the appetizer, I thought that we were going to be in a for a true fine dining experience.

Unfortunately in scoping out the menu, nothing else really jumped out at me. Like the decor, I found the menu a little boring...nothing really earth shattering or mind blowing. I mean nothing sounded horrible, the menu just seemed a little mundane to me. Tiburon proclaims that they are well known for their elk - so I figured I would have to go with that. Interestingly, the entrees came with a house salad and an intermezzo sorbet to cleanse the palate. I'm glad that these came with the main course because the pricing is what I would consider on the higher end for this type of straight forward menu. Although the salad was "nice enough" it was not my idea of a gourmet salad one would expect from a fine dining establishment. Mixed greens were tossed with a light vinaigrette and topped with candied pecans, apples, and shredded mozarella cheese. I thought the cheese was a strange touch...sort of reminding me of a topping you'd see at an all you can eat salad bar. For this price point I think fresh mozarella would have been a more appropriate choice, coinciding with a true fine dining experience. The shredded cheese seemed like a chintzy corner cutting cost measure (say that three times in a row fast). Unfortunately it just made the salad look cheap. Cheese aside, the salad was "nice enough" (much like the decor) but it did begin to make me think that Tiburon and I had different ideas of what fine dining meant. 

For the main course we tried the elk - the house-specialty - as well as the pepper crusted steak. Steak "au poivre" is a classic French preparation for a steak loosely crusted with cracked and whole black peppercorns. Generally speaking I'm not a big fan of steak au poivre but I can enjoy it from time to time. The steak prepared as it was here was almost inedible for me. The pepper literally burnt my palate and would have prevented me from really being able to taste anything else if I continued to eat it. This could have been my own sensitivity but I do think they went a bit heavy handed with the pepper. Others at the table seemed to think it was fine and luckily I had the elk to fall back on. The grilled elk tenderloin was served with a creamy mushroom "duxelle" and a green peppercorn demi-glace.  The elk was cooked nicely, very soft and tender, not gamy at all - but for whatever reason the flavor didn't really pop for me. I was hoping that the accompanying preparations would help with that but these side sauces just ended up confusing me a little. The "duxelle" wasn't a true duxelle but instead whole mushrooms cooked in a cream sauce. I thought the sauce was lovely but I'm not sure why they felt the need to call it a duxelle which is typically a sort of paste made from chopped up mushrooms (as I learned it in culinary school anyway). The green peppercorn demi-glace was intensely sweet - really cloying on the palate. I actually thought it was a blueberry reduction because of the sweetness mixed with the size of the peppercorns (which I at first mistook for a berry of some type). I thought the sweetness of the demi-glace was too much for the elk - masking its flavor instead of enhancing it. I also found the two sauces a little confusing on the plate....almost like overkill. I would have been in favor of one really great sauce to complement the elk as opposed to two mediocre sauces that didn't marry very well on the plate.

Adding to the confusion of the mains were the sides of veggies served with both dishes. The veggies were actually the same for each dish, which I also found to be a little chintzy. I once worked in a hotel restaurant where we did exactly that - we served all the same side dishes and starches with any protein ordered. I hated it because it made it seem like we were just doing what was easiest and cost/labor effective - not necessarily what paired best with a particular protein. I got a little bit of that same feeling here...a feeling you shouldn't be getting at a "fine dining restaurant". The side of vegetables consisted of a couple of rods of asparagus, some carrots, and an odd smattering of spaghetti squash. I didn't really get the spaghetti squash. It was an interesting texture but it almost seemed like a random placement with not much thought going into why it was there. It also added to the overt sweetness of the dish with the demi-glace. The garlic mashed potatoes came as the starch on both dishes as well. Again "nice enough", but pretty boring.

Given the cost of the meal, I was fairly disappointed with Tiburon. I didn't get the sense of a true fine dining establishment and the food, while not horrible, was way off from a 5 star experience. If I paid a half or two-thirds of what the bill was, I think I would have been pretty satisfied - but when I shell out some major cash for a "fine dining" experience I expect the restaurant to meet some level of my expectation. Tiburon definitely did not. The one true star the whole evening was the appetizer of the kurabuto pork belly. It was a focused, well thought out dish with a nice layer of flavors. Its appearance was inviting and it was plated artistically - essentials to a fine dining experience. Given that this dish came out of the same kitchen as the entrees, there is obviously some talent in the kitchen. Unfortunately for me, I didn't see this talent come through in the main courses; I also found the attention to detail lacking in many aspects of the meal. Sadly, eating at Tiburon reminded why I don't often venture out of the SLC restaurant scene. Sometimes "nice enough" isn't worth driving out of town for.

Tiburon ~ Sandy, Utah
8256 South 700 East
Chef/owner: Ken Rose

Tiburon on Urbanspoon


  1. I've never been to Tiburon. I've driven past it dozens of times but never had the desire to stop. Good to know that it may not be worth it.

  2. Yeah...it's not bad, just perhaps not worth the price in my opinion. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think...

  3. Their more affordable sister restaurant, Epic in Midvale do the exact same thing with the sides. Different proteins, same ubiquitous side. Regardless of the price, its a big turn off for me.

  4. Yes - I agree. Carrots and brocolli don't always go well with everything...it's like a lack of attention to detail or just a lack of effort in developing individual dishes. Thanks for the comment.

  5. From a fellow foodie....your post comes off as a bit...pretentious. "chintzy" is that a technical term?

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  7. Pretentious is what pretentious does Kristan. Thanks for setting the example!