PARK CITY, Utah — Silver once was the lure that brought people to this tiny town nestled in Wasatch Range 40 miles east of Salt Lake City. Now it’s the Olympics-caliber skiing and the stars of the silver screen who descend every January, when the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing. But whatever brings visitors to Park City, it’s the more than 100 restaurants and watering holes that keep them fed and happy.
Park City does its best to help the hungry. Many of the most popular restaurants are clustered along the town’s Main Street. Public transportation is free, with buses running from various points in town, including the ski resorts, from early morning to well after midnight during the winter season. There’s a trolley that runs up and down Main Street from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. There also is a lovely walking path that wends its way along Poison Creek for those who want to get away from the bustle of Main Street but still be close to the business district. And it seems nearly every eatery, no matter how informal, takes every kind of plastic.
Yes, you can get a drink. But this is Utah. Perhaps the most noticeable difference comes in the ordering. Most places will require you to buy something to eat with it. Pours are measured, too, with a maximum of 2.5 ounces of liquor allowed in a cocktail, but that limit might be a good thing if you’re already lightheaded at the 7,000-foot altitude.
Bistro 412: Can a little bit of la belle France flourish in Utah? Bien sur! Try Bistro 412, a sunny, stylish salute to traditional Gallic cooking. Snails loll in garlicky butter under a blanket of golden pastry. A single anchovy preens atop a crisp Caesar salad. Mussels in their shells nestle in a buttery, briny broth in a bowl served dramatically atop a wire pedestal. Golden crispy fries are served alongside. The décor is fun with French flair: large, colorful posters, deliberately distressed painted woodwork and various Frenchified tchotchkes. The warmth of our motherly server would quickly melt away winter’s chill.
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Bistro 412: 412 Main St., 435-649-8211, bistro412.com
El Chubasco Mexican Grill: Located in a nondescript shopping mall, El Chubasco is well worth the quick stroll down Park City’s Poison Creek walking trail. The Mexican food is delicious, inexpensive and bountiful, with plenty of intriguing moles and sauces in a do-it-yourself salsa and toppings bar taking pride of place in the center of the room. No wonder it was a stop on Rachel Ray’s televised vacation a few years ago. The decor is basic — deep orange walls, American and Mexican flags, some streamers — but the dining room is clean and comfortable.
El Chubasco Mexican Grill: 1890 Bonanza Drive, 435-645-9114, elchubascomexicangrill.com
Riverhorse on Main: Open since 1987, Riverhorse generally is credited with putting fine dining on the map in Park City. A signature dish is halibut with a crusting of crushed macadamia nuts and broccoli rabe atop mashed potatoes. It’s a longtime favorite, and you can see why. The dish has a polished sparkle while still being homey and comfortable, just like the restaurant. It’s in a former Masonic Hall whose decoratively stamped ceiling can be seen in one of the double-height dining rooms. The second dining room is of recent construction, with soaring vaulted ceilings, large pieces of original art and tall, silvery tree branches posed like sculpture. The feel is sophisticated, yet rustic. A second-floor balcony with views up and down Main Street also can be used for dining.
Riverhorse: 540 Main St., 435-649-3536, riverhorseparkcity.com
Shabu: Sushi in Utah? C’mon! Yes, exclaim Kevin and Bob Valaika, the brothers who co-own this handsome Asian-themed rathskeller. Salt Lake City’s airport is a hub for Delta, they note, and fish can be shipped in from the coasts very quickly. The sushi I ordered was certainly quite fresh. Particularly striking were some of the sushi rolls, such as a salmon skin roll with cubes of red pepper and a crunchy crab roll that had a nice “pop” from the green tobiko roe sprinkled on the outside.
Shabu: 442 Main St., 435-645-7253, shabuparkcity.com
Silver: With digs as stylized as these, the food has to look as good as it tastes. And the American regional fare delivers on both. A rectangular salmon filet is posed crusted skin up atop a lick of asparagus purée, while the small but perfectly cooked hanger steak is defended by a fortlike stack of sturdy french-fried potato logs. The kitchen isn’t afraid to spice it up: A creamy parsnip soup throbs with a gingery heat, while a sweet corn risotto gets its sass on thanks to smoked jalapeño. Desserts are smooth interpretations of American classics, such as a kiwi-topped key-lime pie. Park City’s mining past is elegantly evoked in the restaurant’s mix of rustic brick and gleaming metal accents. Even the tables are adorned with sinuous bands of metal, which look like stylized veins of silver deep under the earth.
Silver: 508 Main St., 435-940-1000, silverrestaurant.com
Zoom: Located in the old Union Pacific train depot near the town ski lift, Zoom offers a touch of Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort magic for visitors who, on my lunchtime visit, included couples from California and Michigan. The welcome is friendly; so is the food, a genial blend of pub grub seasoned with Southwestern and Asian accents. Tempura green beans are very crispy, though the batter is thicker than the classic tempura crusting. An aioli is served on the side. The cheeseburger was quite nice — well seasoned, very juicy. It was served with lettuce and tomatoes and French fries. The peach crisp, recommended by the server, was sweet, heavy, warming.
Zoom: 660 Main St., 435-649-9108, zoomparkcity.com