The recent occupation of the historic Devereaux House by the Chart House organization represents continued expansion of national chains into Utah. The General Mills-owned Olive Garden restaurants continue to expand locally. The almost completed Red Lobster in Sugar House is another example. Their national ads have long tempted Utah diners who, judging by my mail bag, are anxious to dig right in. Undaunted by consumer reports about the safety of some seafood items, Salt Lake customers are no different from their seafood-loving counterparts across the country.
Fueled by financial backing and management expertise, these establishments usually have the resources to weather just about every storm, from recessionary tailspins to the fluctuating costs of lettuce.The Chart House, at the upper end of the consumer scale (an average entree price excluding salad is $16), has the right qualifications, from its tried and tested American menu (prime rib is a house specialty) to its national reputation. When adding the elegance of the beautiful Devereaux House, the Chart House should have a secure place in the Salt Lake dining-out scene.
During our recent Saturday night visit, everything was technically flawless. Our attentive waitress, adorned in tropical garb, couldn't say enough good things about her transfer to the Salt Lake operation from San Diego. Even while the outside was suffocating with a thick inversion, her enthusiasm and competence inside erased any doubts about her sincerity.
The same competence was apparent with the appetizers, salads and entrees we sampled. The rich, creamy New England clam chowder was very good (though $4.25 for a shallow bowl seemed a bit steep) as were the four coconut- coated shrimp ($6.75). The tender beef and chicken satay skewers ($2.95) were equally good; the price seemed a bit more in line.
Other appetizers include sauteed mushrooms ($3.75), Maui onion rings ($4.50), prawn cocktail ($7.45) and artichoke ($4.50). A top sirloin steak sandwich and large green salads topped with either grilled chicken or steak are also available, each around $9.
There is no salad bar like at other Chart Houses, but the $1.50 price includes an unlimited serving of the green salads from the menu. Our Caesar salads were served with icy plate and fork along with large croutons and mixed with a tangy dressing. The bleu cheese comes in a pitcher on the side. While lukewarm, it still added to the large serving of mixed greens.
There were no disappointments or surprises with the entrees. The grilled sword fish ($15.95) was moist in the middle as requested; the tender prime rib ($16.75) just pink enough; the New York strip ($17.50) a juicy medium rare; and the chicken teriyaki ($10.95) an ample serving of glazed boneless chicken breast. Some of the distinctiveness of flavor came from a side of buttery scalloped potatoes, the best we had ever tried.
Other than sampling of the aioli, or garlic mayonnaise, we asked for on the side, there is little in the way of creative touches or color with the entrees. And maybe that is the reason for the Chart Houses' success as a mainstream upscale restaurant. Even a cold angel hair tomato pasta, a starch option with the entrees, was good but just lacking that little extra.
Other entrees include top sirloin ($12.75), teriyaki top sirloin ($12.95), peppered New York served with carmelized onions ($18.50), extra thick prime rib ($18.50), Hawaiian ahi ($16.95), Australian lobster ($26.95), and several shrimp or lobster and steak combinations.
Besides the peppered steak, the other most interesting sounding entree was the grilled Sante Fe chicken breast ($10.95), chile-rubbed and served with a bleu cheese sauce.
While the dessert that got the most attention was the enormous slice of chocolate mud pie ($4.50 and big enough for two), we thought that the key lime pie ($3.95) and Macadamian nut sundae served with a pitcher of melted bittersweet chocolate sauce were more distinctive in taste and texture.
The Chart House nautical decor is quite exhaustive. From intricate scale models of schooners to pictures of surfers perched atop their vintage woodies, just about every nook and cranny, as well as the sailing charts atop each table, carry onlookers well beyond its mountain desert setting.
The current management might consider including a short history of the Devereaux House on its menu if only as a reminder to customers that the grand old house itself has seen as much history as the sailing ship models that grace the stately hallways.
Rating: * * * *
The Chart House (at the Devereaux House), 334 W. South Temple, 596-0990. Open for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card. Reservations accepted for parties of 10 or more.