Salt Lake City’s dining scene has catapulted itself onto the national stage within the last few years, thanks to a handful of restaurants that could easily compete with those in much bigger cities. Easily crowning the top of that list is Forage, the molecular gastronomy restaurant in the 9th and 9th district of downtown, owned by Bowman Brown and Viet Pham.
Not only have Bowman Brown and Viet Pham made a name for themselves among Utahans, they’ve made their way into the national culinary conversation. Food & Wine magazine named the pair Best New Chef(s) of 2011, after one of Forage’s dishes made their list of 10 Best Restaurant Dishes in 2010. More recently, one of Forage’s desserts was mentioned in the New York Times’ 10 Trends for 2013. Viet Pham was also the runner-up in the reality TV series Extreme Chef on Food Network and competed against–and beat!–Bobby Flay on Iron Chef last weekend.
Forage is unlike any restaurant in Salt Lake City. The tiny space is camouflaged as a house and easy to miss while driving by. The cozy dining room is bathed in white, from the walls to the table cloths, with the exception of the heavy wood tables. The aesthetic is clean, leaving diners to focus on one thing and one thing only :: the food. There is only one option on the menu, the tasting menu ($84/person), which is a series of about 13 courses that runs around 3-4 hours. An optional wine pairing is available for $59/person or a non-alcoholic pairing for $26. The tasting menu leaves the diners to a relaxing–yet adventurous–culinary journey through food.
A few weeks ago as the Christmas season was picking up and therefore sending my stress levels to their extremes, a few friends and I gathered for a much-needed distraction and a few hours of friend time at Forage. For my friends, it was their first time at Forage and their first experience with a tasting menu. For me, a tasting menu addict, it was my fourth time at Forage–and still just as memorable as the first.
The journey begins with a handful of amouse bouches, tiny bites to give the palate a taste of what’s to come. The amouses are always so exciting; the incredibly creative nibbles pack an intense punch of flavor that leaves me anxious for the next bite. The first one was a glass of fuji apple cider that warmed us up from the cold and calmed our anxiousness. Along with the cider were sticks of chicken liver mousse that arrived in a plant that we thought was a table decoration! (Pictured above.) That was followed by buckwheat with house-made sour cream and trout roe, crunchy and dry on the bottom, crunchy and bursting with flavor on the top, all joined together by soothing sour cream.
Next was my favorite amouse bouche :: miniature celery root and horse radish sandwiches topped with arugula–in ice cream form. One of the things that makes molecular gastronomy great is when your eyes trick your mouth into thinking a dish will taste one way, only to have it blow your mind completely by tasting another way.
The celery was followed by aged cheddar onion meringue, then the famous soft-scrambled egg with sherry cream sauce (pictured at top) that is a signature of Forage; then potatoes with smoked yogurt and smoked oat leaves (think of the best Tater Tot you could ever imagine). Then came the main courses…
Course #1 :: King Valley elk heart with thyme, turnip, elderberry and beets.
Course #2 :: Leaves from Forage’s farm with roasted chicken vinaigrette and brown butter vinegar.
Course #3 :: Carrot and goat’s milk curd emulsion.
Course #4 :: Kohlrabi (a type of turnip-like cabbage) and apple.
Course #5 :: Trout with cabbage, preserved elderberries and dill.
Course #6 :: Sunchoke puree with black walnuts.
Course #7 :: Lamb belly and lamb loin with pumpkin puree and elderberry vinegar.
Course #8 :: Pine and lime mousse and woodruff (a strongly-scented plant).
Course #9 :: Baked apples with acorns.
Course #10 :: Pistachios and lemon curd.
The last and final course was a plate of chocolate truffles, camouflaged as rocks and disguised on a plate of real rocks. (Pictured below.) It was one last shock to our eyes and taste buds. As the night ended, all of my senses were satisfyingly overwhelmed and my belly was pleasantly full. The whole table was on a high after experiencing so much wonderfulness.
Forage is not your everyday restaurant, and with food like this, it shouldn’t be. While dining there is quite an investment–of both time and money–that doesn’t mean you have to wait for a special occasion to go there. All you need is the willingness to try new and unexpected foods and the desire for a great night.