| Each week, I do my damnedest to review restaurants fairly and anonymously. But after eight years of writing about restaurants locally, I've developed relationships—not always positive—with servers, chefs, sommeliers, restauranteurs and restaurant PR folks, and I'm not always able to slip into restaurants unnoticed. Most of the time however, I could be wearing nothing but a tutu and no one would blink an eye.
And so I sometimes wrestle with my conscience. Should I avoid writing about restaurants where I might know the owners? Probably. But is that fair to the restaurant—to be ignored just because they are unfortunate enough to know me?As chefs around town and ex-wives would probably tell you, I can be ruthlessly objective about food that's prepared by people I'm close to. Yes, I'm a cheerleader for talent, but I'm also not shy about lowering the boom when the duck confit that a buddy made was too salty. Ultimately, it doesn't help a chef or a restaurateur if I rave about mediocre food. That only kills my credibility and causes disappointment among knowledgeable consumers.
So the best I can do is be honest and up-front about my relationships with restaurants I choose to review. Which brings us to this week's disclaimer: I have a personal relationship with and have known the owners of Log Haven restaurant for a number of years. I know Chef Dave Jones, and I like him. He's a good guy. Does that mean I can't be objective about his cooking? I don't think so. I tend to re-review restaurants periodically when chef changes occur. But it seems to me that restaurants should also be rewarded for not changing chefs every year, and I've tasted enough interesting dishes at Log Haven lately to think it's worth writing about again. So here we go.
One of the things I like about Log Haven Chef and co-owner Dave Jones is his humility. He winces and is geninely embarrassed at being called "The city's top chef" by Bon Appetit magazine, because he doesn't think he is. And in a time of celebrity chefs—every executive chef from Pizza Hut to The Four Seasons has his or her name embroidered onto a chef's jacket—Chef Jones is happy enough just to wear a generic Log Haven jacket. He sees himself as just one member of a skilled team, so why try to stand out? He's also decidedly uncomfortable mingling with guests in the dining room.
Casting a line: Log Haven's Dave Jones takes a break between shifts in Millcreek Canyon
Many chefs seem to spend more time mingling than actually cooking, whereas Jones is clearly much more at home in the kitchen. That's not to say he isn't friendly and outgoing. He is. He's also witty and can be brutally sarcastic. But deep down, Jones is a softy without a mean-spirited bone in his body. And the man can cook.
I'll let others decide whether or not Chef Jones is "the city's top chef." I will say this: Log Haven is on the short list of Utah's best restaurants and Jones is one of the most talented chefs in the state. He'd be embarrassed to tell you this himself, but at the last two Four Seasons Four Chefs dinners—where he collaborated with other great local chefs—his dishes were the real crowd-pleasers. Jones came out on top. A couple of weeks ago, his Four Seasons Four Chefs contribution at Bambara—Tandoori brushed Yellow Eye Snapper in parchment with Island Rice and Curried Passion Fruit Butter—blew away the competition and wowed the crowd of critical diners, including myself. Jones' parchment-wrapped snapper dish was one of the best things I've ever tasted. So why in the hell, Dave, isn't it on the Log Haven menu!?
The current menu at Log Haven reflects Jones' eclectic tastes. There are Pacific Rim-influenced dishes like his fabulous coriander-rubbed Hawaiian "sashimi" tuna with lemon-guava sauce and soy-ginger glaze, and there's green tea-smoked duck breast with sesame stir-fried long beans, Chinese rice cake and gingered tangerine sauce. But just when you begin to think you've died and gone to fusion heaven, you come across a dish like garbanzo-crusted pork T-bone with black-eyed pea cassoulet. The thick, delicious pork T-bone is served with a zippy Cajun spiced tasso ham gravy that's about as down-to-earth as anything you'd find in the Deep South. Too bad the pork itself was overcooked and dry.
| The composed salads at Log Haven—meals in themselves—are divine. Whether it's almond-crusted goat cheese and grilled quail with spinach in green apple vinaigrette, a salad of smoked beef carpaccio in truffled vinaigrette, or crispy fried oysters, you can't really go wrong with any of the salads. Ditto for the appetizers. The spicy Mandarin tacos are refreshing. The roasted corn tamales with Manchego cheese are sublime. And even if you don't like squid, you'll enjoy the grilled calamari with oven-dried tomato-veal reduction.
Having said all that, I must admit that I'm not always thrilled about the liberties that Jones, and other creative chefs like him, take with classic culinary terms. For example, his veal scallopine and pasta dish is described as "tossed in a sauteed shrimp lightly creamed bolognese." To me, bolognese sauce means one thing: meat. What's the point in calling a shrimp and cream-based sauce "bolognese?" And yet, I have to admit that the dish, with those thick rope-like bucatini pasta strands, tender veal and heavenly sauce, is delicious.
If you need to know about the top-notch service and wonderful ambiance of Log Haven, or the sensational wine list that co-owner and general managr Ian Campbell has put together, you can find that elsewhere. I've written about it before. But the menu continues to evolve at Log Haven and it reflects Jones' growth and culinary expertise. Of course, he'd never use those terms. He'd just say, "Hey, I like to cook!"
Log Haven Restaurant, four miles up Millcreek Canyon. Open nightly for dinner. Patio dining; wonderful wine selection; valet parking.