The last time I dined at The Aerie was back in 2008, which translates to eons in restaurant terms. While revisiting the restaurant for this review, I remembered enjoyable evening meals at this dining room perched atop Snowbird’s The Cliff Lodge. Why had it been almost five years since my last visit?
As I took in the beautiful mountain vistas, it hit me. Snowbird’s flagship restaurant had been resolutely stuck in a certain time and place. The décor hadn’t been updated since the 1980s, while an imposing wine list and a relatively expensive menu only compounded matters, at the same time the Salt Lake valley dining scene was progressing at a rapid pace.
The Aerie Restaurant
Food » HHH
Mood » HHH
Service » HHH
Noise » bb
This remodeled flagship Snowbird eatery mixes up a heady broth of New American cuisine flavored with equal parts refinement and creativity — while every seat in the house offers staggeringly beautiful mountain views.
Location » Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, 9600 Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, Level 10 of The Cliff Lodge; 801-933-2160.
Online » www.snowbird.com
Hours » Open Sunday-Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. (hours change seasonally)
Children’s menu » Yes
Prices » $$$
Liquor » Full bar
Reservations » Yes
Takeout » No
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major
If that’s your memory of The Aerie, too, it’s time to head back up Little Cottonwood Canyon to appreciate the restaurant’s complete overhaul. All that really remains of the old restaurant is an equally award-winning wine list — with nearly 1,000 selections — and those fabulous views framed by the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The revised space is now chic and sleek, done up in light whites, creams and browns. Words like elegant, modern and bright come to mind, as the place looks radically different from the former dark palette with chrome accents. A sushi bar separates the restaurant from a newly added casual lounge area — and in all dining areas you can order from the revamped menu.
That menu offers refined comfort food, prepared with creative twists and a dollop of mountain flair. One great example of this new menu is a seemingly innocuous cheese steak ($16) that reworks the basic comfort food with more gourmet ingredients such as elk and locally produced cheddar from Beehive Cheese.
Entrees run $18-$36, with the majority hovering in the mid-to-low $20s. Thanks to the restaurant’s regular promotions, there’s a bargain to be had most days of the week, with Martini Mondays, Whiskey Wednesdays and Sake Sushi Sundays specials. During one visit, I sampled a $30 special, which included a wonderful roasted beet salad with locally sourced goat cheese, beautifully cooked rockfish with a sunchoke risotto and a luscious white chocolate croissant bread pudding to finish.
On one visit, I started by sampling a spicy tekka roll ($9), which was passable, but not as distinctive or well priced as rolls served at the valley’s sushi restaurants. A much better starter is the three elk meatballs ($9), which are dressed in a creamy Madeira mushroom sauce, a great foil for the gamey, dense meat. Smoked trout cakes ($11), served with coming with crème fraiche, red pepper aioli and scallion aioli, were another fun departure from routine appetizers. I’d order these over their crab counterparts any day. Slightly less unusual, but still exemplary, were two jumbo seared diver sea scallops ($14), served with a tarragon carrot coulis ($14), which made every bite a delicate treat.
While the menu changes on a regular basis, my favorite item over several trips was the magnificent beef tenderloin ($36). There’s loads of creativity here, taking recognizable meat-and-veggie combinations and using them in delightful ways. The tenderloin is served with mushroom butter, roasted red onion sauce, and a ramp and potato custard that was as light, fluffy and joyful as a souffle — all in all, a really unique entree.
Pork and beans ($22) offered a playful re-imagining of the campfire classic utilizing tender shredded pork shoulder, piled high on a bed of white-bean ragout. Crispy pork belly delivered texture, while sweet and sour collard greens balanced the plate with sharp acidity.
Slightly more sedate — but still with lick your plate clean flavor — was a cold smoked salmon filet ($26). Like every other fish and shellfish dish I tasted, the salmon was cooked with expert precision. It also came served with a creamy mushroom risotto cake, cold fennel relish and warm bacon vinaigrette.
Of my fonder memories of Aerie meals past, I recall dessert being something to savor, and that tradition continues. Lemon pudding ($7) popped with zing and a citrus blast, while a S’mores cheesecake provided a rich mix of toasted meringue, fudge and graham crackers ($8). Along with dessert, you might want to consider a fun nightcaps, such as the boozy after-dinner Banana split ($9), a drink every bit as indulgent as the cheesecake, with banana liqueur, Godiva chocolate liqueur, Smirnoff vanilla vodka, hot chocolate and whipped cream.
Along with the newer, more playful menu and comfort food updates, service was stellar throughout. Wine, dish and and ingredient questions, plus random queries about the mountainside in general, were handled with the well-drilled professionalism you would expect from a fine dining destination.
With fall colors now starting to explode over the mountain landscape, this restaurant remodel provides a perfect excuse to make the scenic drive up to Snowbird and enjoy the mix of wonderful cuisine and scenery before the ski season begins. Certainly my next visit will surely be measured in weeks, not years.
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