Usually I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new restaurants when I travel. The weather in Salt Lake City and my lack of sensible, well-insulated, walking shoes had me staying close to the Grand America Hotel, after Wednesday and nearly slipping on ice and braving 9 degree weather for almost twenty minutes (waiting for TRAX and wandering aimlessly in a seemingly never ending mall).
I'm going to share highlights (and two lowlights) from my meals. If I had to stack rank them, I'd say the dinner at Flemming's sponsored by La Crema was the best, my dinner Saturday night at the Garden Cafe, lunch on Wednesday at Finca, dinner at the Clue party, and Saturday's buffet lunch.
Over the course of my trip, there was only one night when my stomach was growling and almost left unsatisfied. That was the night of the mini-parties. I got to the parties early when they started and quickly scoped out the rooms. Only one room had dairy-free food. My focus was talking with sponsors before it got too busy, so I decided to save food for later. (Next year I'm going to eat a full meal ahead of time.)
By the time I finished talking to all of the sponsors, the carving station was bare. The chef said 15 minutes. After waiting about half an hour, I gave up. In the process of seeking out and finding Adina of Gluten Free Travelette to get recommendations for where to eat, the carving station was restocked. A plateful of perfectly cooked roast with mustard saved me from having to resort to protein bars for dinner (it was after 9PM and I was guessing the Garden Cafe was not open).
I typically eat well when I travel, having to go without or resort to a protein bar only occasionally (Cisco Live Las Vegas in 2011). After Cisco Live's lack of dairy-free options at their buffets, I went into Alt somewhat skeptical they'd be able to accommodate dairy-free. Ignoring the hiccups at the lunches on Thursday and Friday, Alt kept me well fed; I returned to San Francisco with my entire stash of dairy-free and refined sugar-free protein bars in tact.
A group of us, PJ of A Girl Named PJ, Sarah of Sarah Hearts, Lauren of Stylized Existence, and Kristin of The Cuisinerd, who were getting into Salt Lake City mid-morning on Wednesday decided to grab lunch together. Someone, I think it was Lauren, recommended Finca and we all agreed. The menu offered lots of options.
Finca's chef offered to modify dishes so that I could eat them. For example, the Coles de Bruselas (Brussels sprouts, bacon, sherry cream). As I had a suspicion that the cream made the dish, a suspicion my fellow diners confirmed, I opted for tapas that were dairy-free to start. (Larger photos of the individual dishes can be viewed in my Flickr gallery.)
I ordered the soup for myself and shared two tapas, the Gambas (Rock shrimp, garlic oil, lemon, chile) and Aceitunas (marinated olives, fennel, citrus, bay leaf). The shrimp (Gambas) and the olives alone would not have been enough variety. With the Sopa de Ajo, a tomato-based soup with Castilian garlic and Spanish ham broth, paprika, croutons, and egg, I had more than enough. The soup alone, had I known the size of the portion, could have been a meal in and of itself. It was hearty without being heavy. The chewiness of the bread balanced by the spice of the ham. Of all the dishes the table ordered, the olives were the only disappointment. Rather than taste fennel or citrus, Sarah and I both agreed we just tasted salt.
Now I love La Crema wines; we served their wines at our wedding. So when I saw they were sponsoring a dinner at Alt Summit, I knew I had to be at their dinner. This was one Alt-related decision that was a no-brainer.
When I saw their dinner was at Fleming's I was even more ecstatic. One of my favorite meals is a Filet Mignon paired with a Pinot Noir. Fleming's is one of my favorite steakhouses. I first "discovered" them in Austin when I was working with Chef Ped. What I love about Fleming's is that they are really considerate of allergies. For the dinner with La Crema, they even presented me with my own special menu of dairy-free options. (Some restaurants don't do this and it makes ordering really tricky.)
I had Shrimp Cocktail served with Chipotle Horseradish Cocktail sauce to start, followed by a dairy-free Fleming's Salad with candied walnuts, dried cranberries, tomatoes, onions, and herbed crostini. For my entree, I selected Petite Filet Mignon with a side of Sauteed French Green Beans. Dessert was a simple dish of fresh berries with mint.
Lunch on Thursday took a typical crowd pleaser, Pho, and elevated it with a few snags. First, there were no instructions, so most of us were curious as to how it was supposed to be eaten. We had a take out container filled with warm noodles and a bowl with a thinly sliced mushroom and crispy noodles. By the time the waitstaff came by and poured piping hot broth into our bowls the noodles were no longer warm. The flavors of the dish were good; unfortunately the execution was challenged.
Our second course was sushi which brought a new set of problems. With the exception of one us, when our first courses were removed from the table, we let the staff take our chopsticks. We're all doers -- so fingers became utensils. We discovered that while we had tons of wasabi, we didn't have a dish into which we could pour our soy sauce. This inconvenience paled next to the schooling we received regarding imitation crab by our waiter. He was adamant that imitation crab, which is made with fish, was vegetarian. Eventually, the manager brought Melanie a vegetarian sushi roll.
Melanie's experience and our waiter's subsequent tossing of plates onto our table, left me staring at a dessert that was obviously full of dairy. I did find a piece that I could enjoy: the fortune!
The main course was definitely an improvement over the day before and over the salad of which the best part seemed to be the shaved Parmesan "bowl." The only difference between dairy and dairy-free entrees was that my chicken breast wasn't stuffed and I had a different sauce.
Now dessert was a different story. While the plating of the fruit was very artistic, the quantity was somewhat perplexing.
Less than a full strawberry. Two grapes. Three cantaloupe balls. Three slices of honeydew melon. After getting a fortune the day before, and the small portion of fruit, I guess they were equating dairy-free with "Dieting, Don't Feed Me"?
Thursday and Friday's lunches left me with low expectations for Saturday's lunch. I was fully expecting to head over to the Garden Cafe, so I was amazed to see a taco bar with tons of dairy-free options. The one criticism with the buffet was that none of us realized it was a taco bar, we thought it was salad with chips, and loaded up our plates with the salads before realizing there was more. The marinated chicken was moist and delicious.
After the design camps ended on Saturday, my plan had been to pack, have a quiet dinner in the Garden Cafe, and then indulge in a bath. I finished packing and headed down to the almost deserted Garden Cafe. With both Alt and the Outdoor Expo wrapping up, the dining room was nearly empty.
Service was fantastic. The waitress, bus boy, and manager all made sure I had everything I needed and timed the arrival of my steak perfectly with the completion of my Ahi Tuna appetizer. (They must have thought I was a little crazy as I kept rearranging my table to photograph my Champagne and appetizer and my wine and steak. I was more than a little inspired by the Food Photography design camp I'd taken less than three hours earlier.) My entree was a Prime New York Strip with Heirloom Carrots, Potato Puree, and Red Wine Jus.
Where do you recommend I eat next year?