Park City, Utah
We recently finished a weeklong visit to picturesque Park City, Utah, home to much of the action during the 2002 Winter Olympics. This is a city rich in history, blessed by beauty, and adorned with sky slopes, chair lifts, and gondolas. But this mountain city is also home to a number of fine dining establishments, most of which dot the architecturally and colorfully diverse Main Street.
While here, we took advantage of a number of these restaurants. And, yes, many were good and worthy of their own reviews; however, this section of our website is focused on our favorite experiences, often restaurants we find too good to pass up. And, we especially love to highlight entrepreneurs at work!
We were excited to find all of that and more in a small culinary gem called Twisted Fern, brainchild of Chef/Owner and entrepreneur, Adam Ross.
Always an entrepreneur…
Adam grew up in Naples, New York, a rural community far from the lights and noise of city life. Adam learned kitchen basics as a boy from his entrepreneurial mother who owned a local bakery. However, Adam’s early skills were not honed on people, rather he crafted gourmet dog treats! At a young age, his entrepreneurial spirit was born!
Upon graduation, Adam migrated west, and received his formal culinary training at Johnson and Wales in Denver, CO. He then came to Park City, started in the kitchen of locally known Bistro 412, and soon became head chef. After a ten year tenure there, he decided to branch out on his own, and the Twisted Fern became a reality.
An unexpected gem…
The location of Twisted Fern was a but unexpected. While the outdoor eating area offered views of Park City’s more austere mountains, we found the Twisted Fern humbly located at the end of a small shopping strip, far from the more dramatic (and busy) tourist areas of town. But that just meant easier parking!
We found the modern décor minimalistic, crisp, and clean. It had a professional feel, yet was also welcoming with hints of shiplap and wrought iron. The lighting was reminiscent of the past, with soft incandescents overhead providing just the right illumination to peruse the menus.
The wooden seating was semi-comfortable, offering a soft contrast to the grey-painted concrete floor. Various plants, ferns, and prints depicting nature were scattered throughout the restaurant, adding further warmth and contrast. As our visit was early summer, both the front door and the patio doors were flung open, providing a gentle cross breeze throughout the restaurant.
A Park City gathering place…
We really appreciated the sense of community at Twisted Fern. The music was subdued, allowing for plenty of conversation. And, while the bar was in view, we didn’t see any distracting televisions or video screens. As we glanced around the restaurant, it was clear that many of the patrons were locals – and regulars. New customers were greeted by already-seated guests, and one newcomer gave the hostess a warm hug. Twisted Fern is clearly a place for community.
The waitstaff was professional, friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive. And they didn’t intrude into our space. Efficiently managing the front of the house was a gentleman named Eamon McCormick. When our server (Jessica) was busy attending to the needs of a large party, Eamon was there clearing the table and providing clean flatware for each course (appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert).
Let’s discuss the food…
Twisted Fern’s menu provided something for just about anyone, from vegan to carnivore. And, almost all of the menu was listed as gluten-free! Each item was made with real food, simple and fresh ingredients, much of it sourced from local farms, ranches, and crystal clear Utah streams. The restaurant bills itself as serving “creative, conscientious, New American cuisine.” And that’s exactly what we found.
One warning, if you are gluten-free by necessity, and not just by choice, be sure to always ask about menu items that are fried, even if they say they are gluten-free. Case in point, we almost ordered the the homemade potato chips with whiskey French onion dip as our appetizer, which sounded amazing. After clarifying, we discovered the restaurant does not have a dedicated fryer, which means fried items are not really gluten free.
Thankfully, our second choice redeemed the situation! We started our meal with a shared appetizer of blackened octopus, one of our favorites when it’s properly prepared. The bar was set high, with the most exquisite version we’ve ever tasted served seaside and fresh from the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. Yet, almost every time we’ve ordered this dish since, it’s been tough and rubbery.
However, this time, we weren’t disappointed! It was literally the best octopus we’ve had in North America. Sadly, we ordered just one plate, and while we love each other, it was hard to share. Tender, moist, and perfectly blackened, this fresh fare was amplified by small samplings of Hugo coffee-rubbed lardon and roasted garlic. Served on a bed of saffron polenta and a swish of paprika aioli, this dish reminded us of Stacy’s Gulf Coast heritage (blackened seafood and grits), yet with a more exotic nod to the Mediterranean. Yes, it was that good!
We chose to share a salad next, and what a treat! Our selection was a refreshing farm to table Fennel and Grapefruit Salad. Visually appealing, the juicy sweetness of the grapefruit complimented the crisp flavors of the field greens and cucumbers, and included tasty caramelized fennel and tender, roasted baby carrots. The whole salad was crowned with a subtle lemon vinaigrette dressing to enliven our palates, without distracting us from the freshness of this unique dish.
For our entrée’s, it was a surf and turf night. Stacy selected the trout, while I went with the sirloin. They were both exquisite. The trout was fresh and perfectly grilled, topped with ramp butter and floating on a bed of beluga lentils. Roasted bok choy and pickled ramp provided color and contrast. Stacy is not usually a huge lentil fan, but she could not get enough of these! Perhaps it was the ramp butter, or the trout juices, I don’t know. But wow! And the trout was so fresh! We were once told by a waiter in Europe, “Fish are created to swim three times – once in the sea, once in the oil, and once in the wine.” This trout fit the bill!
My sirloin was served perfectly medium rare with just the right amount of charring – billing it as a “baseball sirloin” was spot on. It was a grand slam! Sirloins are not normally my cut of choice, but this one was incredibly tender.
Sourced from the Prime Nieman Ranch, this grass-fed cut came from what Stacy calls a “happy animal.” Not just packed together in some feedlot, these cows enjoyed a healthy “cow’s life,” and then allowed me to enjoy the benefits (you can probably tell I’m not a vegan). Topped with more of that amazing ramp butter and served with roasted carrots and fingerling potatoes, I’ll remember this plate for a while!
And then, dessert. We don’t often indulge in dessert. Mostly because typical dessert menus are rarely gluten-friendly. However, when Stacy heard they were offering a gluten-free lemon basil cheesecake, she couldn’t resist. Served in a small bowl, this creamy delight was topped with gluten-free granola and fresh berries. I was only going to sneak one bite when Stacy wan’t looking, but…
Inspiration and vision…
After dinner, we had the chance to meet Chef Adam Ross. I asked him where he found the inspiration for his amazing menu. He replied:
“Inspiration for me is really dynamic. My inspiration comes when I see what is available at the time. I know I can’t make something happen without ingredients. I can’t go out looking to fulfill an idea; I need to see what’s available and try to create fun and unique dishes with what I’m offered.”
This guy knows how to take advantage of what is before him! He has to make it happen – and he does!
Lastly, I asked him about his vision, where he sees Twisted Fern in the future. Adam said:
“In the future, I am hopeful that Twisted Fern has grown into a restaurant that can be more self sustainable. By that I mean having my own farm that sustains the restaurant during the Utah growing season. Possibly even raising animals as well but, that is a harder nut to crack. I would also like to become even more eco-conscience. I am already a Utah Green Business but to continue on that venture.”
Adam seems to know that taking care of his resources is crucial for the growth of his business. This is a lesson some fail to heed, and grow to regret. I’m glad Adam is thinking long term!
In summary, Twisted Fern was an amazing culinary experience! We enjoyed the warm environment and attentive service; and we especially appreciated the efforts of Chef Adam, a creative, entrepreneurial visionary. We plan to be back next time we’re in Park City.