PARK CITY, Utah - If you build it they will come. That’s what the owners of Canyons Resort were counting on last December when they opened a kosher restaurant at this burgeoning ski resort four miles from Main Street. Bistro at Canyons, billed as a New American kosher bistro, is attracting folks from New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Mexico City.
Most of the restaurant’s patrons are Jewish (and kosher) vacationers and part-time residents, many of whom would otherwise have to travel with their own kosher foods and cook themselves. One woman from Chappaqua, N.Y., says her family ate at Bistro six nights in a row and were thrilled to have a restaurant at the resort meet their dietary requirements.
For religious Jews, keeping kosher goes well beyond not eating pork or shellfish or mixing meat with dairy products. Many foods must be kosher certified, including meat from kosher animals slaughtered and handled in a specific way. The kitchen at Bistro is closely supervised by a rabbi, who also opens the restaurant each day and turns on all the equipment.
Bistro at Canyons is part of real estate developer Talisker Corp.’s sprawling collection of restaurants and properties (which includes Canyons Resort, purchased in 2008). Talisker chairman and CEO Jack Bistricer, who lives in Toronto, is Jewish and keeps kosher. Talisker executive chef John Murcko, who just received a James Beard nomination for best chef in the Southwest, and Bistro chef de cuisine Zeke Wray spent months studying kosher dietary laws and working with chefs in New York, Toronto, and LA before opening.
Because of the required separation of meat and dairy products, Bistro offers a meat-based menu paired with pareve (neutral) foods such as vegetables, fruits, and grains. “The most obvious limitation is no dairy, which rules out butter, milk, cream, and cheese,’’ says Wray. “It’s a good test as a chef to create dishes which don’t leave people missing certain ingredients,’’ he adds. Wray employs substitutes, such as almond milk reductions, nut butters, bean spreads, and flavored oils. A puree of cauliflower and chicken stock adds creaminess to some soups and sauces. In desserts, he uses margarine in tender little chocolate cakes and coconut milk for panna cotta.
“We do a lot of smoked foods,’’ he says, including chicken, duck, and cured beef belly. The chef renders the fat from the skin of smoked chicken and duck and uses it to impart a smoky flavor to risotto and sauteed dishes, “because we can’t use bacon,’’ he says.
From Sunday through Thursday, the menu resembles any other upscale restaurant’s offerings: appetizers such as portobello gratin with garlic bread crumbs, smoked chicken flatbread, seared ahi tuna with cucumber sesame salad, and a pureed tomato and white bean soup. Main course selections might be gnocchi with braised beef cheek, mustard-crusted salmon with braised endive, and smoked duck breast with red cabbage ragu. There’s also a pastrami sandwich with pickled slaw on rye bread, as well as a large selection of kosher wines.
The rhythm changes on the Sabbath. “The atmosphere depends on the people here on any given Friday evening,’’ says manager Ryan Skowron. Some tables sing and say prayers over the wine and challah. Before dinner, guests can participate in an Orthodox service at a shul built in the same lodge as the Bistro.
The five-course Sabbath meal, which is cooked before sundown and held in warming ovens, begins with homemade gefilte fish and chicken soup with fresh noodles, followed by a salad and choice of sliced, stuffed, and rolled turkey breast or prime rib roast, both served with sauteed vegetables and potato kugel. Dessert is often soy milk ice cream sandwiches on crisp chocolate chip cookies and a slice of chocolate cake.
Since opening, Friday nights have brought from 20 to 200 guests - the numbers swelling during Hanukkah. Not surprisingly, word of good kosher fare in an unlikely place travels quickly.