Carl and Michelle
A few weeks ago, when
Carl Kelley, chef and co-owner of the Desert Bistro, was
traveling on a plane to Boston, the lady seated next to
him followed up her questions about what he does for a
living with, “Is your restaurant any good?” Carl
smiled, wondering how to answer that. All he needed was
to wait until the end of the flight, when waiting to disembark
he heard another lady behind him ask, “Aren’t
you a chef in Utah?” When he turned around and confirmed
this, the passenger enthusiastically exclaimed, “Yes!
The Desert Bistro! That was the best meal we had on our
three week vacation through the Southwest.”
Neither that type of superlative statement nor the customer recognition
of Carl is unusual or hard to understand. The Desert Bistro is an oasis
of upscale dining in the small desert town of Moab.
Carl and his wife, Michelle, who also owns and operates the restaurant,
opened the Desert Bistro three years ago. They had spent the previous
seven years working at the Alta Peruvian and were ready to invest their
expertise and energy into their own venture. Their love of climbing,
running and the outdoors drew the couple to Moab, an unexpected venue
for such elegant, innovative cuisine.
The community has reciprocated its appreciation of the Kelleys by valuing
the Desert Bistro as a premiere restaurant and a perfect place to celebrate.
This is why my husband
and I decided to mark our fourth anniversary by dining
at the Bistro. We have commemorated several occasions over
delectable meals there and have always left raving and
reliving the experience. This last occasion was no exception.
We started our marathon dinner prepared to spend several glorious hours
at the restaurant, with the understanding that because everything is
made on the premises and to order, time is necessary. Plus, who wants
to rush through a pampering of the taste buds on par with what Chef
Carl delivers. You wouldn’t ask a massage therapist or a pedicurist
to hurry it up, so why cheat yourself here?
The only real danger in waiting between tantalizing courses is consuming
too much of the fantastic bread. It’s a blend of whole wheat,
bulgher and quinoa, which gives the bread a remarkable texture and
nutty taste that complements its accompaniment, lavender floating in
pumpkin seed and canola oils.
The two appetizers we chose, one from the menu and one a special, were
striking contrasts to one another and tickled our palettes enough to
sharpen our already strong appetites. We tried the seared Black Bean
Cakes served in a tangy, slightly spicy molé topped with Roasted
Corn Salsa. The granular texture of the cakes soaked up the delicious
sauce, while the salsa added a satisfying crunch to the mouthful of
The second appetizer we ate was a refreshing Ceviche, a blend of raw
fish, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers and avocado marinating in lime juice
for an entire day. The ceviche was served in a half avocado shell with
slices artistically arranged around and the tartness of the limes combined
with the sweetness of the fish and tomatoes was a stimulating combination.
Knowing that we wanted to save room for desserts (and I do mean plural),
we opted to share the Mixed Greens whose presentation is an optical
illusion. The salad is served within a belt of cucumber, thinly sliced
lengthwise, that sits demurely in the middle of a large plate. When
the cucumber slices are detached, the richly dressed greens tumble
freely filling the entire dish. The mixture of Gorgonzola, sesame seeds,
Parmesan and aged Balsamic vinaigrette make the salad a mouthwatering
experience. My favorite part about this salad (which I’ve had
more than once) is that all the ingredients are finely grated so that
every mouthful contains a pleasant combination of ingredients and a
We were thankful for a respite between courses at this point in order
to make room and rejuvenate our palettes before the pieces de resistance
came out. My husband and I enjoy sampling different dishes so we agreed
to share two contrasting choices.
We ordered the Chilean Sea Bass, a succulent white fish encrusted in
pinon nuts and Japanese bread crumbs, served on a calico blend of crunchy
wild rice surrounded by a delightful Peach, Ancho and Sage Beurre Blanc
(see recipe below). The tender buttery flesh of the fish contrasted
beautifully with the crispy textures of the crust and rice, while the
smoky sweet flavor of the sauce rounded out the flavors. The fish sat
on a layer of delicate grilled asparagus that practically melted in
my mouth. Grilled peaches provided a tang that balanced the sweetness
of the peach puree in the beurre blanc. The Sea Bass was a masterful
blend of rich tastes and textures while not overpowering the senses.
Our second choice was equally dazzling. We chose the Gorgonzola Crusted
Filet of Beef Tenderloin, whose towering presentation alone gave enormous
satisfaction. The tenderloin sat upon a medallion of garlic mashed
potatoes of equal proportions as the beef. A thinner medallion whose
main ingredient was Gorgonzola lay on top of the tenderloin, with crispy
edible twigs poking out in opposing directions. The accompanying Roasted
Tomato Demi-Glaze surrounded the tower and provided an acidic note
to counterbalance the rich creaminess of the cheese. This dish gives
a whole new meaning to “meat n’ potatos.” The meal
tasted as impressive as it looked.
Although we were amply full at this point, we had made a pact to get
through desert. This is where the otherwise harmonious tastes my husband
and I have diverge. He chose the warm Chocolate-Walnut Tart, a variation
on pecan tart. The bittersweetness of the chocolate blended well with
the nutty flavors in a buttery crust, topped with vanilla bean ice
cream. I couldn’t resist the Vanilla Pot de Crème, similar
to a crème brulée without the caramelized crust on top.
The silky creaminess tasted luxurious and was the perfect end to a
meal featuring a full palette of flavors.
The experience was rounded off by a visit from Carl, who routinely
visits each table as long as time permits. He enjoys giving the personal
touch to each of his creations, so it’s no surprise that he also
likes getting immediate feedback from his customers. That explains
why he’s such a recognizable chef, both by his food and appearance.
Although Carl and Michelle are the backbone of this elegant restaurant,
they never miss an opportunity to share the reason for their success
with their staff, most of whom started at the same time as the Bistro
opened. This shows in the high level of service, which is courteous,
friendly and efficient, so that customers are able to maximize the
enjoyment of the food and the experience.
One might expect that such an extravagant celebration would come at
an extravagant price. The Kelleys like to show their appreciation to
Moab residents by offering a generous 20% discount. Visitors to the
area can enjoy a similar type of discount by being seated before 6:15p.m.
Dining at such an upscale restaurant as the Desert Bistro in Moab is
an unexpected delight. This place would find quick success in any major
metropolis, as evidenced by the glowing praises the Bostonian woman
lavished on Carl’s most recent flight. Don’t let the size
of the bistro or the small-town setting beguile you into expecting
any less from such a top-notch, high-end restaurant.
The Desert Bistro is located at 92 East Center Street and
is open Tuesday through Sundays starting at 5:30p.m.. Entrées
range from $17-$24. For reservations, call (435) 259-0756.
of the Month
Pinion Crusted Chilean
Japanese bread crumbs
Ancho (Smoked Poblano) paste
equal parts pine nuts and Japanese bread crumbs.
Press the fish (8 oz.) down on both sides into
the mixture to coat. Bake in 450° oven
for 7 minutes or until desired doneness. Grill
In a separate pan, saute shallots over high heat. Deglaze
pan with white wine to desired volume. Add one teaspoon Ancho
Chile Paste and 2 ounces peach puree. Add whole butter to
desired thickness. Add sage at the last minute and pour sauce
over fish. Top with grilled peaches.