To endure the crotch of February, I need Paris, the moon, chocolate, great sex. At the very least a gun. When I flew to the Zion of Middle America (aka Salt Lake City) to be with Brigham, my ex-Mormon Internet lover, I knew I wouldn't be drinking stars. And I expected compensation. Flowers, certainly. Confection by the truckload. Tears of gratitude exploding from his eyes. Fondue. In the end, I got a vibrator and some Mormon fast food at the Training Table ("a Utah original"). It is with a heavy, heavy heart that I recommend the cheese fries. Don't forget to order the local fry sauce for only forty-nine cents more: perfect for dipping and crying into. I did both heartily. Tomorrow, he assured me as I shoved the last cold cheddar-crusted tater into my pie hole, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" roaring in the background. Tomorrow, he'd make it all up to me...
Drinks: Wine, starting at $20 a bottle
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Payment: American Express, Diners Club,
Discover, traveller's cheque, cheque
Veronica's Verdict: A big, heaving bust.
But where could we go in Utah-land of fry sauce, frog-eyed salad (that's cottage cheese punctuated with chunks of green Jell-O to you foreigners), funeral potatoes, Chuck-A-Rama and the Wagonmaster? With the exception of the notably wonderful Log Haven, Ruth's Diner and Zin Bistro, cuisine is hardly what comes to mind when in Zion. And I'd already been to those establishments anyway. Still, there were other choices, I supposed. We could go for Mexican, feast on fine moles and margaritas. We could go for steak-even the cheesiest of the steak chains boast meat fine enough to bloody the teeth of any carnivore, potatoes exploded with trimmings, salads with ranch dressing. (Not my favourite thing on the menu, but when in Rome ...) Brigham took me instead to a famous fine French restaurant: La Caille. "The internationally acclaimed restaurant and menu will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time to the rural valleys of Bordeaux, Champagne and Alsace," raves the website. Not Paris, but close. And right here, in yonder Cottonwood Canyon.
A bad beginning: my kneel-down-before-me-and-beg-for-it dress didn't fit. Even with a village of helpers, alas, the zipper wouldn't brave my vast country of boob and back fat. So, I was as far from happy as I was from Paris as we travelled in the dark, between mountains, down a winding Lynch-like highway, listening to my favourite French accordionist. But I soon perked up. For as we passed through the iron gates of La Caille, crossing a moat over a frozen pond laden with cold geese, I had to gasp. It was the gasp you gasp when faced with the immense intricacies of Disney rides and the Las Vegas replicas of whole cities: this, whatever it was, would be something else. Maybe even "an island in time," as the website suggests. We drove down a lamppost-peppered, serpentine driveway flanked on either side by snow-covered Douglas firs and box elders, throttled by the charm of it all. I was grinning still when we arrived at the "château," for there is no other word to describe such an ornately turreted establishment. It was then that a pimply boy in breeches and a Utah Jazz sports jacket offered to valet-park our car, and I knew we were still in Utah.
La Caille has won a Salt Lake City Weekly award for ambience ''three years running now. And indeed, to eat at La Caille is to be bludgeoned by the ambience: think Pirates of the Caribbean does fine dining. We were seated at a table overlooking the vast snowy acres, where a vineyard groweth and, in summer (I'm told), peacocks roameth. Atop our white-linened table, two pinkish roses bloomed and a lone candle burned. Citizen Kane-esque fireplaces roared on all sides. The walls and pillars were harpooned with sconces, animal heads and cascading faux foliage. Gilt-framed paintings of flowers and pensive women in poufy dresses abounded. So did breasts: all the waitresses sported what can only be described as Bavarian-milkmaid outfits-peasant blouses, flowing skirts and bodices that lift the bust to the heavens and then squish it together. The waiters were dressed in the male equivalent-what I imagine Hans wears in all the fairy tales-a white tunic, khaki breeches, white knee-high socks, cobbler shoes. The whole thing reminded me of a period-piece Hooters.
The breasts that served us were very polite and eager to please. "My name is Sandra," they said, handing us the wine list and the hors d'œuvres menu. The breasts encouraged me to choose the lobster bisque over the Hudson Valley foie gras with broiled pineapple. Brigham went for the baked French onion soup. The breasts, ever informative, helped us to select our bottle from the award-winning list. One of the Hanses poured for us. We drank, blinked at each other, chewed on doughy bread. Brigham had told me the butter would be shaped like goldfish. Reader, it wasn't. And you cannot know the depth of my disappointment.
We were finally given the entrees menu. By this time, I was getting tipsy enough to stop hating the breasts for making me feel like less of a sex goddess.
There were other disappointments, and they ran deeper still. My lobster bisque, "capped with a mille-feuille and salted with caviar," was pale and cold as death. I know a bisque should be rich, but this was just too full of cream. And bland. The little dollops of caviar and sour cream placed on top of the puff pastry (pardon me, the mille-feuille) floating belly up in the bowl were cold comforts and added nothing. Brigham's soup was also terrible. The broth was salty and cold, the cheese colder. We ate more doughy bread, drank more wine, stared at other breasts and happier couples. A complimentary salad accompanies your meal at La Caille. The breasts suggested wilted spinach with mushrooms, feta cheese, bacon, egg, but I didn't have the strength for the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink option so loved in America. Instead, I went for simple hearts of romaine with asiago cheese. Brigham got a caprese. Our salads were ice-cold, which is all I can really say about them.
We were finally given the entrees menu. By this time, I was getting tipsy enough to stop hating the breasts for making me feel like less of a sex goddess. So it was at their behest that I opted for the young, pan-roasted, Eastern duck served with cognac, amaretto, port, ginger and the fresh fruit of the season (raspberries?!). The duck was accompanied by a sweet lump of butternut squash, one massive floret of broccoli and some carrot shavings. While the sides were wanting, I enjoyed the duck: the meat was tender and flavourful, the liqueured raspberry sauce that the breasts set aflame at the table (which I had to blow out, nearly burning my hair) was light and complemented it well. I ate it happily. My Internet lover had the tenderloin. It came with potatoes squirted with sour cream, spinach in a thin pond of cream and limp onion fritters. It was not "the best food you ever flopped a lip over," which is the promise of the good people at the Wagonmaster. Still, warm and whetted with wine, we ate everything down to the last scrap of Romanian flatbread. At that price, we would have been fools not to. Besides, the entrees were not necessarily examples of either fine or French cuisine, but they were good enough to eat. Honestly, though, you can get the real deal in Montreal for a third of the cost. But you wouldn't get the geese, the moat and the hooters.
The last bastion of hope for something out of this world lived, I suppose, in the dessert menu. I wanted the crêpe Suzette. I wanted the crème brûlée. I wanted it all. But dessert is where I cannot abide disappointment. And we had already broken the bank on this ludicrously expensive Alsatian adventure. So I gave up the dream and embraced the here and now-told Brigham to take me somewhere, anywhere-for something sweet and hopelessly Utah. He took me to Nielsen's Frozen Custard, another Utah original. According to the locals, "If we really like you, we'll take you to Nielsen's." How right they were. The custard is a soft-serve, vanilla ice cream that can be blended with any variety of toppings-brownie bits, cookie dough, coconut, chocolate, fruit. Sort of like a Dairy Queen Blizzard. In fact, damn near exactly like that. But somehow better. I had a brownie and chocolate one. He had the cookie dough. We drove into the canyons, parked the car and sampled them beneath the black desert night. The cookie-dough one was... meh. But the brownie-bit one, I must admit, was the moon and back.
Veronica Tartley (Mona Awad) has eaten, shamelessly or barely at all, in nearly every city in the world. She enjoys rain, hurling things against walls and walks on the beach. She lives beautifully in an undisclosed location at the edge of the known universe. There, she weeps her mascara tears, churns butter in the old style and listens to French accordion music.