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ALTA LODGE

While gazing over the vast quilt of wildflowers above the little town of Alta last weekend, I thought about the axiom, "The more things change the more they stay the same." The consistency of nature's wonder should gladden, at least for the moment, the heart of anyone worried about the commotion of development that is creeping up local canyons. Even the whirring of a LifeFlight helicopter and the long lines of cars seemed secondary to the beauty of the flowers.

Changes in the restaurant scene are equally complex, though we still have our stalwart and consistent places which continue to please our palates over the years despite the mounting pressures of a complex marketplace. One of the more competitive arenas for change has been the mushrooming growth of places offering Sunday brunches. From hotels to resorts to places in between, the choices are growing.Like the wildflowers themselves, we found the consistency as well as complete aesthetic quality of the Alta Lodge's Sunday brunch pleasing and reaffirming. Executive chef Paul Raddon, who has presided over the kitchen since 1979, and his crew, present a colorful and tempting array of culinary treats in a relaxed and informal setting.

We were distracted a bit by a very good jazz duo that began playing around noon (we felt it was a bit too lively for the sedate time and setting). But as we savored the multitude of specialties on the buffet tables, from salads to hot entrees to desserts, I don't think a sonic boom could have dampened our enthusiasm for the offerings.

For a reasonable $12.50 per adult (ages 6 to 16 cost $8.25; under 6, $4), we sampled dishes that spanned the globe - including chicken curry (Indian), blintzes (Jewish), guacamole (Mexican), taboule (Middle Eastern), French pastries, herring in sour cream with green apples (Dutch), trifle (Scottish) and chicken teriyaki (Japanese).

As I was commenting on the international flavors we were sampling, my daughter, having seen "Gremlins II" a few nights earlier, said, "Don't forget the chocolate mousse!" as Canadian. I had to remind her that it is indeed French in spite of the movie's silly pun.

Everything we sampled was freshly prepared and distinctive in taste and texture. We especially enjoyed a slightly sweet spinach crepe with raisins lightly splashed with a cheese sauce, the sparsely spiced chicken curry accented with just about all the traditional condiments from chutney to yogurt, colorful lavosh sandwiches layered with herbed cream cheese and thinly sliced vegetables, and a crab and shrimp salad with pineapple chunks.

Baked goods also receive special attention, with long loaves of oatmeal bread, dense wheat and nut muffins, croissants, raspberry Danishes, each nicely crafted. Some of the other desserts included a double chocolate fudge layer cake, a strawberry and kiwi tart, sour cream cake, banana cake and a rich cream cheese cake.

The table of salad offerings also presented a garden of delights, ranging from a fresh green salad with butter lettuce to a bow tie pasta salad with a modest herb vinegar and oil dressing.

In listing the array of choices, I am still a bit overwhelmed. But we never felt rushed nor were the serving tables or dining areas overcrowded. Obviously the Alta Lodge management is sensitive to the diner's need to enjoy Raddon's craftsmanship in a leisurely manner.

Rating: * * * * 1/2

Alta Lodge, Little Cottonwood Canyon (9 miles from the flashing light), Alta. 322-4631. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. through mid-October. Reservations recommended. Lodge accepts check with guarantee card and most major credit cards.