In the beginning, there was Handle restaurant in Park City. And it was good. So good, in fact, that Handle begat HSL restaurant – HSL stands for Handle Salt Lake. And it, too, is good … really, really good. Some of the food, in fact, looks nearly too good to eat.
Handle and HSL were created by the talented and creative trio of Briar Handly (Executive Chef/Partner), Melissa Gray (Partner/Creative Director) and Meagan Nash (Partner/Operations). The three of them, in concert with a superlative kitchen and service staff – create memorable meals at both restaurants, night in and night out. I can’t think of a single dish at either place that I’ve been even mildly disappointed with. Quite the contrary. I feel like I could select menu items blindfolded and thoroughly enjoy everything I’d randomly selected. That’s how good the food at both Handle and HSL is.
The focus for this article is HSL, a place that was jam-packed on a recent Saturday night when we visited. And yet, the staff seemed unflustered and totally in control. While we waited a few minutes for our table, an HSL barman named Bryce recommended a couple of craft cocktails to us, which we enjoyed in the lounge area at the front of the restaurant.
While we sipped our cocktails, we perused the HSL menu. My wife – who is gluten-free and doesn’t eat much meat – was thrilled to find so many vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian menu items available and also happy to learn that Chef Handly and his staff are more than happy to accommodate special dietary requests.
As for me, I am a meat eater and the more carnivorous and caveman-like a dish is, the better I like it. So of course, I had to order Bone Marrow ($18). This was an order of two roasted beef bones, oozing luscious warm marrow, with duck liver mousse, honeycomb, cocoa “nibs,” strawberries preserved from last summer, and toasted brioche. It’s as satisfying a dish as I’ve had in a long, long time.
Probably as big a contrast as you can get from hot bone marrow is cold Hamachi Crudo ($12), but it was every bit as stupendous. Generously-portioned raw slices of fresh, sushi-grade hamachi are served with a deliciously colorful melange of pickled pineapple chunks, crushed almonds, pasta-like squash ribbons, fresh greens, and lemongrass ponzu. It’s one of the best dishes to emerge from Chef Handly’s and Chef Matt Nelson’s kitchen, and one I could eat daily if someone would let me.
As I alluded to earlier, service at HSL is about as good as service gets. The entire staff is uber-professional but simultaneously outgoing and friendly. It’s the perfect blend – like the restaurant itself – of classy and casual. We were especially well taken care of by a terrific server named Erickson.
And I even admire how each dish is plated. I don’t just mean the artistry of the food presentations, which are beautiful, but the actual plates. The dishware at HSL is unique and no two menu items seem to arrive on the same style of plate. The variety is quite pleasing.
My wife wasted no time in polishing off her scrumptious Market Fish entree ($28) of sea bass with purple cauliflower, charred scallion, roasted mushrooms and gluten-free crackers with a parsnip puree. The fish was cooked perfectly and reminded me of the expertise with which Eric Ripert and his crew at New York’s Le Bernardin treat their fish and seafood. If that sounds like high praise, you’re right: it is.
And … well … you might have guessed that I chose meat for my entree. As a longtime lover of Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, how could I resist a pork shank ($32) that’s virtually bathed in it? I admit that it’s an unusual sounding dish, but one that was extraordinary. A large bone-in pork shank is cooked until the tender meat is almost ready to jump off the bone by itself, glazed in Frank’s RedHot. The shank came on a wooden board with frisee, fennel, and green apple salad, whipped ranch dressing, and apple butter – an ingenious combination of sweet and tart flavors. The serving was so generous that I had plenty of Frank’s RedHot-soaked pork to take home and enjoy in a panini the following day.
All that was left was to indulge in dessert. Well, make that two desserts: An incredible HSL take on “apple pie” and a gluten-free, flourless Solstice milk chocolate torte – both solid winners.
For me, a restaurant is like a three-legged stool – without all three legs, the stool falls over. Those three legs are ambiance/decor, food, and service. Simply put, HSL is a gorgeous restaurant with superb food and first-rate service. If there’s a better place to dine in Salt Lake City, I haven’t found it.
Culinary quote of the week:
All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level. — Charlie Trotter
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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