Dining Edition: 9 East “I Wanna Lotta Panna Cotta”
This week at ZionNationalPark.com we are extremely excited to roll out the very first exclusive dining edition of our blog where we visit in person one of the many unique dining establishments in the Springdale/Zion Canyon area and report our experiences back to you, giving you an insider’s look into the area’s absurdly good restaurant circuit. This week we visited 9 East, a fine dining hideaway specializing in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine as well as Artisan desserts and baked goods. Prepare to get hungry.
My wife and I drove about ¾’s of the way down Zion-Mount Carmel Hwy (Springdale’s main drag) to find 9 East on the right. At a little past 6 pm we approached the entrance from an adjacent dirt parking lot and the restaurant’s intended ambiance was already apparent. Finding ourselves surrounded by Zion’s majestic red cliffs nearing 9 East’s romantically lit modern-style structure with a desert sunset just beginning, we knew we were somewhere special. As the host accompanied us inside, we noticed the restaurant had both indoor and outdoor dining areas that can be seamlessly connected or separated with impressively designed, enormous sliding panes of glass. Once inside we were introduced to the headwaiter who invited us to sit wherever we’d like and then concluded by saying, “And don’t forget to smell the paintings.” Confused and supposing I heard him incorrectly, I asked for clarification. He then explained that the Jackson Pollock-esque wall paintings featured there, created by artist Matthew Ruddy VIII, were composed using paint infused with spices and herbs intended to give the artwork an engaging aroma. What?! I hadn’t experienced artwork that smelled good since scratch-and-sniff stickers as a kid, but this was something else entirely. Beautiful abstract drip paintings with edible and aromatic ingredients – needless to say we were thoroughly intrigued with this place before we were even seated.
We decided to sit outside and were promptly introduced to our waitress, Katie, who was fantastic the whole evening, by the way (attentive but not overbearing with a calm disposition. She got a nice tip). I told her about this blog and if there were any signature dishes the chef would prefer we order that he would like featured. Within minutes we were joined by Chef himself, Michael Vitangeli, who extended a warm welcome offering his recommendations as well as a short professional history which included an executive chef role at Osteria Del Circo, a longtime Italian cuisine fixture inside Las Vegas’s Bellagio Resort & Casino. My favorite part of his story, however, was that during his time in Vegas he hired Tina Lee, an accomplished and renown pastry chef who later became his wife once they were forced to reevaluate their relationship when Michael’s departure from Vegas became inevitable. Tina and Michael opened 9 East together.
After a variety of recommendations from Chef, we decided we wanted this to be an evening of trying new things. We started with Burrata (my wife and I love cheese). Served quickly, Burrata was a soft cheese with very light texture adorned with wedges of marinated heirloom tomatoes (grown locally in Santa Clara), roasted bell peppers, delicious greens including basil leaves, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Pressing down into the cheese was like cutting into a soft marshmallow. Earlier, Chef encouraged us to put a little bit of each item displayed on the plate onto our forks when eating our food, in order to experience properly and fully the meal’s intended flavor. We did so, and were floored with how much incredible flavor this appetizer had. It was perfect. I was able to easily isolate the particular taste of each item while tasting it’s combined effect, proving how expertly crafted it was. It was amazing; so good. We both agreed that it was one of the absolute best appetizers we had ever had.
My main dish was Smoked Duck Wood Stoned Fired Pizza. In addition to loving cheese, I also love mushrooms. When I saw that this pizza was made with a mushroom cream sauce (as well as fresh basil and white truffle oil), it was a quick decision, especially since Chef said it was one of his favorites. The thin crust pizza was much larger than I was expecting which was a pleasant surprise. The smoky and savory duck breast literally exploded in my mouth, and the mozzarella-gouda tag team was just incredible. If you like pizza…oh man. Next to me, my wife ordered Grilled Mediterranean Sea Bass that had candied fennel, Yukon potatoes, baked tomatoes, and an herb-lemon salsa. It was perfectly grilled to the exact texture you want fish to be. Each of the items on the plate excellently complimented the meat. It was delicious seafood – just delicious.
And finally for dessert – which is still lingering with me days later – was Passion Fruit Panna Cotta. Recommended to us by Katie, our waitress, this was without a doubt the number one best tasting dessert I have ever had in my entire life. A large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the most incredible lemon custard I’ve ever had. I’m trying to think of another word other than custard to associate with it because it tasted so much better and so different than any lemon custard I’ve ever had. And that garnished with immaculate miniature slices of passion fruit, citrus, and avocado. The exact marriage of sweet and sour was just unbelievable. The first bite was so surprisingly good that I instantly became fully hungry again and wished we had ordered two of them so I could have my own. I would make the drive to 9 East just to eat the Panna Cotta. Period. It was that memorable.
Well, there you have it. I think you can tell that we liked it. Thank you, Michael and Tina, for an absolutely incredible evening. We can’t wait to come back.