Monday, January 12, 2015

Communal Restaurant - Provo, Utah

Communal caught me by surprise. I figured I would like it - it is locavore, my favorite type of restaurant, where they "use local and sustainable meats and cheeses." However, I particularly like locavore restaurants that have really unusual menus, such as dishes using offal or exotic meats, or both. Communal's menu is a little unusual, but with ordinary foods and a quality and creativity as good as any restaurant I've been to. This was one of the better meals I've ever had.  

First, our fantastic waiter brought us some drinks - Judy got a fresh lime drink with Mexican Sprite, lime and mint, and I got a grapefruit spritzer. Judy's was good, mine was perhaps the best drink I've ever had. It included fresh squeezed Texas pink grapefruit, which I love, with added sugar and sparkling water. I would go to Communal again just for the grapefruit spritzer. An amazing sparkliness and citrus sweetness that was astoundingly good. Judy also got a ginger ale that was sparkly and gingery. I was won over at the start.
Lime, Mexican Sprite and mint.
Grapefruit spritzer
We shared plates, but Judy primarily focused on a salad that included winter greens, farro, mushrooms, winter squash, pomegranate arils and a sherry vinaigrette.  We'd just had farro for the first time at another amazing restaurant, Meddlesome Moth in Dallas. That farro, a type of whole wheat, was larger and more work to chew. This farro seemed smaller and more of a background player than the star of the dish, the vinaigrette, which took top billing. The leafy greens and the arils overshadowed the farro, which I liked, and combined with the dressing made a great salad.
Farro salad
While Judy worked on the salad I got seared pork belly, braised cabbage and Allred Farms apple puree. The yellow perimeter around the pork belly looked like mustard and I slathered some on a slice of pork belly expecting a mustardy sharp flavor and was floored to find it very sweet - the apple puree. I never quite got over that shock. How that mustardy looking concoction could be so incongruously sweet was a perception shock. The outside of the pork belly was seared crispy, but inside nice and moist with a nice stripe of flavorful fat. The cabbage was a nice touch, but mere surplussage to this dish. Another winner.
Seared pork belly.
Part of the pork belly sliced.
Next we dug into main dishes. I had the braised short rib put in front of me, with roasted shallots and a braising jus. It was another contradiction for me. I love very fatty, moist short ribs and that was what I was expecting. This had more of a pot roast consistency, moist, but a little stringy, something that would be perfect on a sandwich with a nice slather of creamed horseradish. This was the dish I looked most forward to and was perhaps my least favorite, in a relative sense, because I still loved it.
Short rib
But the next dish, put in front of Judy, stole my affection. It was the Niman Ranch pork chop with roasted mushrooms and squash. Normally pork chops get massacred by restaurants and I don't order them. Restaurants are squeamish about under-cooking pork and a dry pork chop is baaad. However, I understand that Communal brines the pork chop and then cooks it sous vide. It is unlike any "pork chop" I've ever seen. It is boneless, very tall, long and wide, and sliced into thick pieces. The pork was still very tender, despite its thickness, and the layer of fat around it captured the flavors and exploded with rich juiciness with each bite. The zig-zagged lines which looked like the apple puree on the short rib in front of me were squash, I believe, and not as sweet. Another contradiction. This was the dish I least looked forward to and may have been my favorite. The fact it was in front of Judy did not prevent me from liberally partaking of it.
Amazing pork chop
We got two vegetables, a roasted winter squash and roasted cauliflower with a curry vinaigrette. The winter squash seemed like it had a semi-sweet glaze of some sort on it and was mushy and sweet, like you would expect winter squash to be. The cauliflower was not quite al dante, but not mushy either, and it had a nice curry flavor that was ever-present but not overwhelming. Great vegetables.
Winter squash
And Judy can't pass up mashed potatoes, her favorite. So we got Yukon gold mashed potatoes with chives and parsley. They also had to be liberally injected with butter and cream because no potatoes can taste so good on their own and the butter was too prevalent to dismiss. No picture of these, but Judy swooned and experienced potato nirvana.

And of course, we had to try each of the desserts. We were so full that we had one packed directly to go - the best one: butterscotch pudding, with chocolate cookie crumbs, whipped cream and salted caramel. I sampled it later that night and then devoured it the next day. I loved the consistency and taste of the cookie crumbs (perhaps Oreo's?) mixed with the butterscotch pudding, all beneath the layer of whipped cream with a design of salted caramel. If I could have only one of the desserts, this would be it.
Butterscotch pudding taken away and eaten ate home.
The other two desserts were good, but not dream-inducing like the butterscotch and some of the other dishes. The butternut squash gingerbread was thick and not particularly sweet, but I loved the whipped cream. As long as I had a liberal scoop of whipped cream with each bite, it didn't matter what was beneath it.
Butternut squash gingerbread
The other dessert we had is not on the current on-line menu so I don't remember the particulars. But I believe it was a buttermilk panna cotta, a blend of thick cream, egg white and honey, with spiced pears and peanut brittle. Light, understated sweetness and good.
Panna cotta
Communal has entered my mental list of top restaurants that I will try to go back to. Excellent all the way around. 


  1. I'm disappointed you didn't have a video (or at least one picture) to post of Judy swooning and experiencing potato nirvana. Nevertheless, the food looks amazing!

    1. Chris, I'll make sure to have him film me next time we go back. Perhaps you could even be present, that way we could sample YOUR food as well as our own. We have our hearts set on trying every dish on the menu.