OK, I haven’t tried everything at Bambara; if I did, my ski pants wouldn’t zip. But at this reliable gem, located in the Hotel Monaco in downtown Salt Lake City, the entire dinner menu is enticing and the few items I tasted were delicious and gorgeous. This is not common in Utah, sadly, where you go for certain items and avoid others like the plague. Chef Nathan Powers skillfully incorporates the restaurant’s classics with his own seasonal offerings.
The mood at Bambara is a balance of swank and buttoned-up, the booths clad in an oversized black-and-white houndstooth complemented by whimsical brushed steel and edgy stripes throughout the long dining room. The open kitchen stands in the center. It’s generally fancy, but as at most Utah restaurants, for better or worse, you are just as welcome in a little black dress as you are in fleece. It’s a place for celebrations, business meetings, and for our purposes, après ski.
I have been going to Bambara for years for the house-made potato chips covered in melted blue cheese and the seasonal crab bisque. If you only try these and nothing else, you’d be happy. These aforementioned classic are not Powers’ creations, but are kept on the menu because they’re so good. The chips are crisp, salty and perfectly thick to hold up to gooey blue cheese. The soup is a rich and silky with just the right amount of crab.
Powers’ menu offers a great mix of light and hearty, depending on your mood. Yet whatever you choose, it feels indulgent. To oppose the chips, try the Hamachi crudo. It’s like taking a quenching bite of a sea water-infused orchard. The fish is served with a slaw of green apples and cabbage, a dollop of horseradish sour cream, topped with crunchy Kilauea Black Sea salt. Walnut oil finishes it off. The mussels are a meal and would warm your cockles after a day on the slopes. Local chorizo, leeks and roasted garlic give them a sweet, rich broth, with a bite of white wine and drizzle of crème fraiche. A big slab of grilled bread is great for sopping up every drop of broth.
Both salads we tried were delicious and distinct. The Fuji apple with watercress has a tasty, tangy port vinaigrette. I loved the brie toasts on the side. The plate of roasted beets and walnuts was meaty and velvety. For entrees, we chose highly seasonal flavors, including a venison dish with a perfectly cooked fingerling potato hash, and the gnocchi. The venison was tender and rich, complemented by a very purposeful placement of celery root puree and huckleberry sauce. The gnocchi were like mini bites of Thanksgiving dinner. Earthy, spicy, autumnal. Sides of mac n’ cheese and risotto were perfect.
Whether you’re a guest of the Monaco or a local, Bambara offers options. Both the restaurant and adjacent Vault Bar & Lounge start serving food at 5:00. The restaurant’s breakfast and lunch menus are also great, and they highlight gluten-free items. Pricewise, items are just as indulgent as they taste, removing it as an option for every meal on a ski trip, but worthy of at least one. Or a few.
202 South Main St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Things to Know:
• Bambara and the Hotel Monaco are located in what was the Continental Bank building. Built in 1924, the historic structure was gutted and renovated 14 years ago, yet they left a few architectural features in the lobby which adorn the restaurant.
• The hotel offers valet parking and Bambara will validate, or there is a garage next to the hotel. Pets are welcome hotel guests.
• Next Door: Martinis and live music at The Red Door Martini Bar