Monthly Archives: February 2016

Mole triumphs at Salt Lake City’s Red Iguana

Who knew Salt Lake City was a destination for Mexican food, let alone the complex and elusive molé?

The city known as the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (AKA Mormonism) and site of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games also happens to have a Mexican restaurant so known for its unique molés that bus loads of tourists are willing to brave Utah’s brutally cold winter nights to wait outdoors for a table: Red Iguana.

The restaurant itself is fairly small, and its decor exudes typical eclectic Mexican hole-in-the wall vibe. Clearly, that charm has earned them part of their appeal and keeps locals coming back for more. For those that don’t want to wait at the original, demand led Red Iguana to open a second location a few doors down.


Pescado a la Veracruzano, one of Red Iguana’s great (non-mole) specialties.

The menu is full of delicious dishes for those who don’t care for molé, but if you don’t dislike it, you really must try one of their molés. If you read this, thinking uh, what the heck is molé, I’m sorry, stop reading right now because you’ve been living under a culinary rock. Or in Africa. Kidding! Sidebar, I’ve had terrible Mexican in Vienna and pretty good Mexican in Phuket, Thailand, which goes to show Mexican is universally loved – and bastardized.

Anyway, molé, known in the rest of the world as an Oaxacan dish, is an incredibly complex sauce that I myself want so badly to make myself. I am a bit terrified of the steps involved: toasting, sautéing, blending, and repetititon. The simplest way to describe it is a Mexican version of curry, or as a kitchen sink” sauce – a of seemingly incongruous ingredients – chicken or other stock, toasted seeds, chiles, dried fruit, other spices, and chocolate. Molé should make your mouth sing; the resulting flavors are far better than the sum of each individual ingredient – richly sweet, savory, and spicy. The traditional Oaxacan molé prominently features dark chocolate, chile, raisins, pumpkin and sesame seeds.


Mole negra

Red Iguana takes molé to another level. It creates no less than a half-dozen different molés. I myself tried their molé negra (black molé), which was darker in color than the typical brown molé Oaxaca. I have tried many good and bad molés in the past, and as a result, I rarely order it at a new restaurant unless I am assured it is good. Red Iguana met my expectations of good molé!

Another atypical Red Iguana molé is its spicy habañero mango molé amarillo. It packs the heat and is not for the faint of heart, but if you can bear it, it is truly a rare treat!


Enchilada duo (special request): Mole amarillo and Mole Colorado

 In addition, the bright orange molé Colorado, served with pork, was not quite as spicy or sweet, but it was as complex and delicious as the others. Everyone in my group raved about their molés; I should say instead that nobody raved until their plates were clean.

If you find yourself in Salt Lake City or its beautifully mountainous environment, step out of your Mexican food comfort zone and try a molé or two from Red Iguana.

Cocoa Amaretto Ice Cream with Cowboy Bark

A subtle amaretto and brown sugar custard base gets a burst of chocolate from cocoa almond spread and chocolate bark. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser!

For my latest diabolical ice cream creation, I drew inspiration from my favorite nocciola (hazelnut) and amaretto Italian gelato flavors. As I’ve found home ice cream makers and residential freezers distort the delicate texture of a milk-based gelato, I’ve used my standard custard base. The thickness of a cooked, egg-based custard creates an ideal, soft texture and rich product that you’ll enjoy long after it hits the freezer.

For additional texture and an intense burst of chocolate, I incorporated chocolate bark, which is usually less brittle than solid chocolate. Trader Joe’s Cowboy Bark is a personal favorite of mine, with a sweet-salty smattering of chopped nuts, pretzels, and toffee to make it extremely addictive and fun. If you’re avoiding gluten, find another type of bark to suit your needs.

Cocoa Amaretto Ice Cream with Cowboy Bark

Yield – One Quart

  • 1 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 c. Brown sugar
  • 1 c. Plus 4 tbsp. Heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 c. Amaretto liqueur
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
  • 6 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. Granulated sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa almond spread (for a hazelnut flavor, use a chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella)
  • Chocolate bark, such as Trader Joe’s Cowboy Bark (about one cup, chopped)

In a medium pot over medium heat melt the butter. Quickly whisk in the brown sugar to form a paste. Gradually add the four tablespoons of whipping cream whisk (set aside one cup of cream). Whisk in the amaretto and vanilla and allow to bubble/boil for 5-10 minutes. The liquid’s volume should reduce by 1/3 to 1/2.  

Whisk in the milk and remaining cup of whipping cream. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, separate eggs and place the yolks in a small mixing bowl (save or discard the egg whites). Beat briskly with a wire whisk (small bubbles should appear) for about 30 seconds. Gradually add the granulated (white) sugar and beat with the whisk until sugar is more or less dissolved.  

When the milk mixture has reached a boil, allow it to boil for 2-4 minutes; it should begin to expand or become frothy. Remove from heat. Pour about 1 cup of the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking in gradually to temper the eggs. Add in another cup of the milk mixture to the eggs, whisking continuously. Pour the resulting milk-egg mixture into the pot with the remaining milk and whisk to incorporate fully.

Return the pot to heat. Whisking occasionally, bring to a slight boil; remove the pot immediately from the heat to prevent curdling. The custard should now be thick enough to coat a mixing spoon.

Cool the mixture for about 15 minutes at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until thoroughly chilled (you can chill overnight or for 24 hours). Whisk periodically if possible during the first hour of chilling. You can shortcut the chilling by placing the custard in the freezer for about 30 minutes, but stir/whisk every 5 minutes to prevent a skin from forming and the custard from freezing to the metal.

Outfit your ice cream maker and pour in the custard. Follow instructions for your appliance and begin churning. Meanwhile (if not churning manually), roughly chop chocolate bark into 1/2″ (approx. 1.5 cm chunks). About 5-10 minutes from completion of churning, or when the ice cream is uniformly firm but still churning smoothly, add the cocoa-almond spread, a few tablespoons at a time. Next, complete the ice cream by adding the bark pieces directly to the mixture.

Transfer to airtight containers and freeze.

An après ski happy hour at Park City’s High West

Join me for an après ski happy hour at the restaurant and saloon of Utah’s beloved distillery. It is one not to miss!

Park City is one of America’s best ski towns and also home of the Sundance Film Festival each spring. With predictable influxes of visitors from around the world, investment, restaurant and retail in Park City has given the town a vibrance and internationally friendly – but distinctly western American – culture.

I had the chance to visit the town only very briefly after an afternoon of Nordic skate skiing nearby. Never heard of skate skiing? Neither had I – or most anyone else. YouTube it and prepare yourself to be amused. It is an awkward combination of Nordic (cross-country) skiing and skating. I don’t know whose idea it was to invent such a thing – which also requires its own specially designed skis used for nothing else. No matter how much you have skied in your entire life, should you wish to try it (I admit it, it was fun and a killer workout), please heed this lesson, because I did not do so: Always take a lesson when starting out! Trust me on this. If you do not do so, you will feel like a giant idiot. You will flail around trying to find some sort of technique or rhythm. And you’ll fail flailing this way, using muscles you didn’t know existed. You will not look remotely cool. No, you will look like a fly that got its legs stuck in honey, trying everything possible to move forward but being counterproductive with every wasted exertion. But you also will find this frustratingly hilarious – especially realizing there are others out there that look almost equally terrible doing it.

All of this digression is to explain why the three of us needed food, and why we also needed a drink after the skate skiing debacle. So we trooped into town and made a beeline for High West.

Utes (the term still sounds ridiculous) are extremely proud of High West, which, though new, is already an institution. In the grand tradition the growing network of American whiskey distilleries, they blend other people’s whiskey into fine specimens. You think I’m making a joke? This is a legit fun fact (which you already know if you’re an American male between the age of 25 to 45, consume alcohol other than beer, are particular about the ice in your Old Fashioned, and/or have been to a few whiskey bars and wanted to learn enough about the industry to impress your friends. Or women). Producing whiskey, rye, and bourbon – like wine – takes time and aging (a lot of aging, more so than wine). Starting up a distillery is a long game with little immediate payoff, which is why so many newer ones start by blending stock produced elsewhere for their own proprietary blend. As their own product begins to mature, they might begin to incorporate that into their blends until, a decade plus later, the homemade stuff is ready for prime bar time. Thanks to my brother-in-law for enlightening the little wino (me).

So that brings me back to the High West saloon in Park City. While I was disappointed to learn that High West’s spirits aren’t truly home-distilled in Utah, the saloon and restaurant is a welcome treat for the tastebuds. At 4 pm on a Saturday (before the après ski crowd should be migrating back from the slopes), the restaurant was already packed, and we barely managed to snag bar seats in the salon/saloon after a short wait.

 I ordered a very girly looking sparkling wine and vodka cocktail called the Pearl de Vere, accented with an Orchid. Lest you judge me, know that it’s made with High West’s own locally distilled vodka, High West 7000′ (it doesn’t have the obstacle of lengthy barrel aging as does whiskey), which I wanted to try. With bubbly and the sweet-tart Loganberry juice, how could I resist?


As for the hunger pains, we tried their burger (very high-end, sturdy brioche bun, excellent flavor and texture), baby kale and apple salad, and soft pretzel with beer cheese (shown in the featured photo at the top of this post). 

The pretzel was the perfect dose of tasty carbs to alleviate hunger. The cheese was akin to a pimiento cheese, bound together with a hint of mayonnaise. It was tasty, but I am anti-mayo and almost always detect it instantly. I preferred the stone-ground, beer accented mustard instead as an accompaniment. The salad was hearty and filling, and its bold stone-ground mustard vinaigrette was an interesting choice for a salad that otherwise emphasized the contrast between sweetness (apples, candied walnuts) and saltiness of shaved cheese. The mustard vinaigrette might have been perfect if toned down a little and sweetened with a touch of honey, IMHO.

We left High West definitely satisfied and more relaxed. I hope to return!

Trading Ski Boots For Elegant, Organic Cuisine at Vail’s Terra Bistro

After a cold day on the slopes, pizza and beer are an obvious apres ski choice. But for those in search of fine dining in Vail, Colorado, look no further than Terra Bistro.

 It’s easy to be skeptical when one’s hotel recommends a restaurant, and you find that practically everyone in your hotel ends up with reservations. Hmm. There goes the unique find!

But Terra Bistro in Vail is worth every recommendation. Great “new American” cuisine in Vail village instills confidence in ski resort fare. Terra Bistro markets itself as 90% organic, farm to table.

The restaurant lacks the typical rustic mountain/ski chalet atmosphere. It feels more like a modern escape, a sleek, modern – if not urban – vibe.

Pappadum – thin potato flour and pepper crisps, a staple rarely seen outside Indian restaurants – were a welcome departure from bread, paired with a lentil spread that resembled grey wasabi in appearance and texture but had a pleasant cumin scent. 

I started with the vitality salad (pictured in the featured photo, above), which features the restaurant’s own sprouted seed mix, goat cheese, cherries, and more. It was a great palate cleanser.

The hangar steak was a solid bet. I requested it cooked to medium rare, and it was perfectly cooked and tender with a salty crust that the scant bleu cheese crumbles only enhanced. A cocoa-chipotle ketchup was not necessary, but with a hint of Worcestershire, it seemed a bit more A1 and less ketchup, far more suited for a poorer cut of steak.

The steak was served with roast cauliflower and au gratin potatoes. The latter were not my grandmother’s au gratin – the cheese was ever so light, but the potatoes and cheese were baked to a wonderful level of caramelization. The resulting preparation was light and flavorful.

Our friends donated their heaping side order of honey-lemon Brussels sprouts to a good cause (my stomach). While they were slightly overdressed with a sweet and tangy vinaigrette, the flavors were a nice departure from the salty Unami variety that is more prevalent.

Sadly, we didn’t try one of their desserts, but I heard their chocolate stout cake was fabulous.

When typically hearty ski fare just won’t cut it, taste the elegance of Vail Village’s Terra Bistro.