Just lately, downtown Provo has turned into a prime location for gourmet cooking.
Between Gloria's Little Italy, Spark, Rooster Dumpling and Noodle Bar, and now Communal, you can find some of the finest food (and some of the finest chefs) in the valley within just a couple of blocks on University Avenue.
Communal is the work of the former Sundance Resort chefs who created Pizzeria Seven Twelve in Orem. The organizing idea is Sunday dinner, with starters, sides, main dishes and desserts ordered a la carte, to be shared, if you like. The dining area has a few small tables and one extra long one with 12 seats, where diners might sit side by side with strangers. There also is a private dining room that seats up to 10, and Communal does take reservations.
The main dishes include a flatiron steak, pan-seared halibut, spinach-stuffed chicken and other meat portions. The halibut was of a quality we've never seen around here. It was tender and flavorful, which flavor was only enhanced by the chopped tomatoes and oil spooned over the top. Our flatiron steak came with a dollop of herb butter, and it turns out we liked it more than horseradish, steak sauce or many of the other strong flavors sometimes paired with steak.
The side dishes include potato leek gratin, sauteed green beans, polenta and more, but our favorite was a squash baked with apples and thyme. The squash came out soft and sweet and was so good we've tried to replicate the dish at home (and failed, so far).
For dessert, we tried the butterscotch pot de creme, a simple and creamy pudding.
The atmosphere at Communal is uncommonly friendly -- for a restaurant, anyway. The kitchen is behind a bar in the middle of the dining area. So if you're lucky enough to be seated at the bar, as we were, you'll even get to chat with the chef as he prepares the food. He asked if our meat was done to our taste, then placed it right back in the oven when we said no. The servers are equally as attentive.
The meal started with a few slices of olive walnut bread, after which our party of two finished off two entrees and two sides. We were stuffed.
Entrees cost between $15 and $19, and sides, desserts and starters were between $5 and $10. With all the good things on the menu, the bill (which came with pear fruit leathers instead of mints) can add up quickly. But if you can save up for a special occasion, Communal is worth every penny.