From Torrey, we headed to Tropic, a few miles east of Bryce (opting not to stay at the enormous Ruby’s complex right outside the park). We dined at Clarke’s, in Tropic. This is more of an unpretentious local place (looked like about a 50-50 tourist/local mix). My wife had an OK trout (not nearly as good as the one she had in Moab), while I went with a 12 oz. ribeye steak (off the bone). The steak was cooked precisely as ordered (rare to medium rare), and was good enough; however, they use a thinner, longer cut than I prefer (I like it thick cut and on the bone), and the resulting flavor didn’t have the deep fat-laced beefiness of the better ribeyes I’ve had. If you’re in the vicinity, though, Clarke’s is a decent option. In another quick sidebar, breakfast at our lodging in Tropic – the terrific Stone Canyon Inn – was superb; maybe the best breakfast I’ve had on the road in several years of road tripping. Steve and Sherry are the innkeepers, and Sherry is a master cook and baker. I’d stay there again just for the breakfast!
Next stop was Cedar City, where we dined at The Garden House – which, as you might suspect – is a lovely old home in a residential section of Cedar City. Our server was also a friendly amateur, but did his job well. We started with their gazpacho, which was excellent (our server had never heard of it before it went on the menu) – very fresh tasting and nicely seasoned. We both had pasta dishes for dinner; my wife had their portobello ravioli and I went for a penne dish with a red pepper cream sauce (which turned out to be the same sauce as was served with the ravioli). Ambience was very nice, food was good and filling if not exceptional. Another sidebar – the Abbey Inn where we stayed is a solid (and immaculate) motel with some surprising amenities, including a separate building where they serve the ultimate motel breakfast buffet, included with the room (waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, sausage gravy, yogurt, fresh fruit, hot and cold cereal, etc.). Great deal for a traveling family.
From there, it was off to Springdale, gateway to Zion National Park, and the most upscale resort town we hit in Utah other than Park City. For our dinner, our hotel desk clerk (the Desert Pearl – fine place) suggested 88 Parallel, which we found comparable to the Moab restaurants and the Diablo Café in both food quality and pricing. An Asian pear salad starter with gorgonzola dolce was refreshing and nicely assembled. A special entrée that night was a seafood trio – ahi tuna, salmon, and halibut, each prepared and sauced differently. My wife, who loves tuna and salmon but doesn’t care for halibut, asked if she could substitute for the halibut – our server checked with the chef, and gave her the go-ahead. Her ahi-salmon-ahi plate made her very happy. I had a slow-braised lamb shank that was very tender and nice seasoned, but not as deeply lamby as the loin at Diablo Café. For dessert, she had a chocolate tian, which she loved, and I had a crème brule tasting – four small ramekins flavored with curry, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon (one flavor each). The curry one was good in a strange way, I loved the nutmeg and the cloves, and thought the cinnamon the least successful of the four. A fun meal and, again, a small but decent and well priced wine list.
We ended our trip in Las Vegas, where we stayed at the Venetian and dined at two restaurants there. For a light lunch, we went to Enoteca San Marco, a casual Batali take on an Italian wine bar. We shared the pizza of the day, a very good, lightly charred pie made with braised pork, fresh mozz, and arugola, which we accompanied with a glass of a delicious Lange Nebbiolo, priced at $18 (farewell reasonable mark-ups of Utah!).
For dinner, we had made a reservation at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro. This was another meal that lived up to our expectations. The ambience was fun: picture a turn of the century Parisian bistro with zinc bar, paper covered tables, apron-clad waiters, etc. – and then throw in 25 foot ceilings and a scattering of Vegas glitz. Service, as we anticipated, was absolutely exemplary: it could not have been any better. We started with two fine apps – a special salad featuring multiple treatments of the humble cucumber and a Serrano ham with melon. For entrees, she had the steak frites (a huge pile of great fries and a perfectly prepared flatiron steak) and I – no surprise – had the leg of lamb, cooked sous-vide, which was tender and – again – perfectly pink, as I like it. We also ordered a side of their mac and cheese, which was fine but (in the one lapse I noted) was served entirely too hot; it wasn’t really cool enough to be edible until half-way through the mains. For dessert we shared an order of the eponymous “bouchons” – three cork-shaped brownies (best I’ve ever eaten) each mounted with a scoop of house-made ice cream. At our dinner, the ice creams were vanilla, mint chip (strong minty flavor) and chocolate. It was a perfect end to an exceptional meal. The wine list here is lofty, as one would expect. We went with an Opolo Zin (Paso Robles), one of the lower priced selections at $61, which was just right with the steak and lamb. Prices here were in line with NYC; total dinner cost for the two of us was about $235.
Overall, we were very pleased with our dining on this trip. We hit some truly memorable places, and even the indifferent ones were pleasant enough. Servers were uniformly friendly and attentive, prices were very reasonable for the quality we experienced, and everything was immaculate – Utah, in our opinion, has got to be the cleanest state in the country. :) We owe a debt of gratitude to CH posters (and the folks on Tripadvisor) for steering us in the right direction, and hope that our own notes help others in their future dining choices.