Restaurant Critique: Chimayo

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Park City, Utah

When Bill White opened his first restaurant, a tiny Italian café in Park City, Utah, he didn’t see himself as a culinary pioneer. He was an aspiring 28-year-old chef with an “if you cook it right, they will come” kind of dream. “I wanted a piece of the rock in a place where I could ski,” he remembers. “Aspen’s food scene had already bloomed. Park City was ripe.”

Almost eight years later, White epitomizes a new breed of Rocky Mountain chefs. His showcase restaurants, Chimayo and Grappa (a third Park City restaurant is slated to open this winter), dare to differ from the Western-themed establishments of Park City’s past, in both the integrity of the architecture and the originality of the food.

His challenges differ, too. Spurred to create cutting-edge cuisine in a ski-town setting, White imports many of his ingredients¿chiles from New Mexico, seafood from Florida, produce from California. Pressed for prep and pastry-making space, he operates a service kitchen downvalley, where rent is a fraction of what he would pay in downtown Park City.

White’s creativity is readily evident at Chimayo on Main Street (spot the cluster of tin stars above the door and you’re there). It’s reminiscent of a New Mexican hacienda, with heavy wood beams, colorful, hand-painted tiles and a collection of Southwest artwork. At first glance, the menu may seem a bit overwhelming (White tends to write dish descriptions like he talks, in detail and at length). At first taste, you’ll swoon over chipotle-tamarind spareribs, a crown roast of ribs served standing on end and surrounding, crown-like, creamy, green-chile-laced mashed potatoes. Other fave-raves are pepper-and-salt-crusted London broil of elk with green chile bernaise, and blue-corn-and-pumpkin-seed-crusted Utah rainbow trout.

Reflecting on his success, White admits to taking a hands-on approach, from writing menus to tinkering with the lighting to planning wine seminars for the waitstaff. “There’s too much competition in Park City now to survive on status quo,” he says. “You’ve got to stay fresh and innovative, or you’re gone.”

Food and Wine Pairing Tips

Matching food and wine can be tricky, especially when it comes to regional mountain dishes you may be less familiar with. The following tips and pairings from ski-town wine stewards and sommeliers will help.

Jay Fletcher, Master Sommelier, Restaurant Conundrum, Aspen, CO “Look for like characteristics of food and wine (earthiness or fruitiness, for instance).” Pairing Grilled elk loin with figs,caramelized onions and sundried cherry sauce and 1995 Côte-Rotie Brune et Blonde, E. Guigal Rhone, France.

Craig Dunne, Wine Steward, Doc Martin’s, Taos, N.M. “Try matching food and wine with contrasting elements. For example, sweeter wines with spicy ingredients.” Pairing Chipotle shrimp on corn cakes and Dr. Prum Reisling.

Chris Van Nus, Sommelier, Araxi, Whistler, BC “Consider sauces, marinades and cooking techniques, as well as the main ingredient.” Pairing Brown sugar-rubbed sea bass with tawny port and green peppercorns and SaintsburyPinot Noir.