Monday, November 29, 2010


'A vegan cool is that?'

We were headed downtown to meet some friends for a show. To avoid the disastrous parking slog that is downtown on a Friday night, our usual strategy is to park our car in a neighborhood adjacent to a TRAX stop and take the train into town. Normally we time it perfectly so that as we park and bop on over to the TRAX stop, we only wait a minute or two. On this particular night we were cutting it close. The train was due in a couple minutes, so we parked on 9th east and dashed out for the train stop...when my eyes came about a small bakery I had never noticed before - Cakewalk.

We only had maybe a minute before the train got there, but I just had to stop in. How did I never notice this place before? I jumped in, said hi, took a mental note of the cupcakes and other baked products in the display case...they looked great....told the staff 'I'd be back' and then ran right out to catch our train. Fortunately we made the train and got to dinner and the show on time. We had a great night but didn't have time for dessert. To make up for this obvious atrocity, I decided to pay a visit back to Cakewalk the next day.

Not being in such a rush this second time around, I now noticed that the bakery itself was entirely vegan....a minor detail that had eluded me in the rush of trying to make the TRAX train the night before. It appears that all items in the bakery are vegan-friendly; a  substantial number of the baked goods are also gluten-free. To remind you of what we're talking about, here are a few definitions:

Vegan. People who avoid either using or consuming any animal products are known as vegans. In terms of their diet, vegans choose not to eat any animals as well as dairy products or eggs.

Gluten-free. People who do not eat ingredients derived from wheat, barley, or rye have a gluten-free diet. People adopt a gluten-free diet usually as a solution to health problems caused by severe wheat allergies.

'Very interesting' I thought to myself as my eyes glazed over in sugar shock. I asked the guy at the counter what his favorites were and methodically picked a few out. I ended up purchasing a number of different cupcakes and a dillo (a vegan twinkie kind of thing). They packaged it up and I ran straight home. My spouse and I devoured them over the course of two days. For the most part, the cupcakes were all pretty successful. My personal favorite was the Boston cream cupcake - yellow cake filled with a soy-type-cream with a chocolate topping. Although I thought they could have been a bit more liberal with the creamy filling, the cake was moist and flavorful and when eaten with the chocolate top, it did resemble a nice Boston cream pie. It didn't feel at all that I was eating the vegan version of a Boston cream pie. Also of note was the wonderful peanut butter chocolate cupcake (the favorite of the guy at the counter). Rich, decadent, chocolate cake paired naturally with a sweet peanut butter frosting. The mint chocolate cupcake to be honest wasn't a favorite, if only because the mint frosting tasted a bit medicinal in quality...a little too much like mouthwash...but the chocolate cake again was fantastic. I also tried a dillo, a vegan twinkie if you will. I'm a chocolate lover (if you couldn't tell from my above selections) and the dillo with its chocolate cake filled with chocolate cream, covered in chocolate coating, shaped like a twinkie was pretty darn good. Cakewalk also makes a selection of muffins, breads, cookies, and pastries and also has a bakery (pick up only) location in Bountiful.

I always thought that having either a vegan and/or a gluten free diet didn't lend itself much in the way of being able to make/enjoy luscious desserts. I mean really, most desserts have eggs, cream, milk, or flour in some form or another. How can you make a nice fluffy cake without flour and eggs? Well you certainly can...and Cakewalk certainly does it well. Although I am not vegan or gluten-free (or likely will ever be), a tasty dessert is a tasty dessert...and I for one am glad I accidentally ran into Cakewalk.  A vegan bakery...and a good one at cool is that?

Cakewalk ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
434 S 900 E

Cakewalk Vegan Bakery and Grocery on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pampas' Bakery

'Best to keep an eye on this place...just don't look too closely at the decor.'

Growing up we often visited an aunt of mine in southern California. My aunt Florence is an amazing cook, whipping up the most tasty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you can imagine. Although Disneyland or Universal Studios was often the planned "activity" of the vacation, in retrospect I would argue that the true attraction and highlight of our trips down south was her food (both for the adults and the kids). One of the things that my aunt introduced me to that I am absolutely in love with today - is the empanada. And my aunt made the best empanadas. The empanada originated in Spain but many Latin American and/or Spanish colonized/influenced countries have their own version of this stuffed bread or pastry. I thought that the farmer's market was one of the only places where you could pick up an empanada to go in SLC when...

I was meandering down a strip mall in Sugarhouse enjoying the artwork in a local gallery this past weekend. I noticed a bakery just below the shop I was in. It was about 3pm in the afternoon (time for my afternoon snack) so I thought a drop into the bakery was well in order. I immediately got the sense of deja vu (a glitch in the matrix?) when I dug deep to remember that this space was formerly occupied by the Italian restaurant Michelangelo's. I had a hard time connecting the space to Michelangelo's because the owners of Pampa's had really changed the interior. In a word, the decor is...well...bizarre. The place is oddly situated with a few tables, covered in plastic, on opposite ends of the restaurant separated by a humongous wooden bar. I wouldn't call the layout off putting, but my first impression was that the decor wasn't exactly calling me out to come take a seat.

What the interior design lacked was well made up by the warm and friendly service at Pampa's. I was greeted at the front counter by the owner who explained the Argentinian concept and walked me through several dishes and pastries. He was very proud of his Argentinian food and described the kind of flavors that were commonly found in Argentina. Unfortunately when he mentioned empanadas, I tuned everything else he said out. I knew what I wanted: 2 empanadas please! He also spoke really highly of a pastry filled with a homemade caramel that I also ordered as well. $4.00 later (can you believe how cheap it was?) I took a bag home with one chicken empanada, one beef empanada, and my caramel dessert.

Once I got home, I opened up the bag up with much excitement and immediately devoured the empanadas. The filling was still piping hot and the savory beef and onion mixture oozed out of the crusty bread when I took a big bite. The beef was robustly flavored with a slight hint of tomato, very moist and tender with onions and garlic. Although not done in the style of empanada of my aunt, I very much enjoyed this Argentinian version. The chicken empanada was also very tasty, a lighter dish than the beef option, stuffed with pieces of hard boiled egg. I really should have stopped there. I mean really, I was going to eat dinner in like 3 hours. But I just had to try the highly recommended caramel pastry. The pastry itself was light, buttery, and flaky topped with powdered sugar. It contrasted nicely with the caramel - a thick, sweet goo. I got about halfway through the pastry before I had to quit eating, to save myself from gluttony (too late actually).

Pampa's also offers a variety of Argentinian style dishes such as pizzas, sandwiches, pastas, and various Milanesa dishes. But there is something I just find so brilliant in the empanada; the meaty filling wrapped up in a baked buttery dough pouch is truly the perfect all in one meal.The kitchen is still getting its sea legs, so the owner encouraged me to come by when things really get going. If the empanadas are any indication of what good can come from the kitchen, Pampa's is bound to serve some truly great dishes. Best to keep an eye on this place...just don't look too closely at the decor.

Pampa's Bakery
2156 S Highland Dr
(801) 738-8058

Pampas Bakery on Urbanspoon 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shahrazad Market and Restaurant

'I found the smells of different spices and herbs that permeated the aisles intoxicating.'

If you've never set foot in an international market, it's well worth doing. Not only do you see an array of products you've never seen before, but the people, the decor, the smells, and the overall vibe really give you a glimpse of the cultures behind the market. A friend of mine told me about a Middle Eastern Market on the West side of Salt Lake with a restaurant in the back. I must say his description of the place really piqued my interest, both as a lover of food as well as from the standpoint of an interested tourist on a virtual vacation to the Middle East. The Shahrazad Market and Restaurant is a great introduction to Middle Eastern culture and food. The market is simple, reminiscent of a large mom and pop operation - think Emigration Market... Middle Eastern style. I found the smells of different spices and herbs that permeated the aisles intoxicating. In fact, I found myself gravitating toward the back, past the deli cases of freshly butchered meats, to where there was clearly some food being fired.

The restaurant in the rear of the market is pretty simple with some nicely situated tables and a front counter from which to order. A placard above the counter spells out the menu - combination plates of kabobs, meatballs, different yogurt type beverages, some sweets, and some breads fill the menu. It can be overwhelming, especially for someone like me who doesn't know much about Middle Eastern cuisine. However the guys at the restaurant are really good at explaining the dishes and are genuinely interested in helping you to have a great experience. Moreover, the deli case contains some examples of the food, so you can always point to what you want if you see it.

We started off with a yogurt, mint drink called dugh (pronounced doog) - a really refreshing start to the meal. We quickly gobbled up some hot naan that came alongside. The naan (a leavened, flat type of bread) was served steaming hot with mint, parsley, goat cheese, and walnuts. We were told to rip some of the naan and then add in the above acoutrements, roll everything up like a sandwich, and then eat it. The warm naan melted the goat cheese and helped the mint and parsley to open up. The crunch of the walnuts added some texture to the gooey cheese, while the herbs left a clean, fresh taste in your mouth.  Absolutely delicious.

For the main course we had the chicken and beef koobideh (pronounced koo-be-day) and the lamb liver skewer. The savory chicken and beef koobideh are like meatballs shaped in almost a square shape. The skewered lamb livers are just like they sound - rotisseried livers on a skewer. These were all served with basmati rice, a side salad, and a baked tomato. We were told that the proper way to eat the dish was to take the meat off the skewer, cut all of the meats and tomato up, and then mix everything together, dusting the whole thing liberally with sumac (a middle eastern spice). The meatballs were tender, moist, and had a floral quality to them with the addition of the sumac. Mixed in with the rice and tomato, it was all together quite a filling meal. The livers tasted like most any liver I've eaten and were suprisingly tender and tasty. I devoured half my plate (which was humongous - see picture at left; we each got a plate like that) but still had a whole table full of treats ordered by my Persian friend who encouraged us to try a couple different things. To be honest, the rest of the meal is kind of a blur; I'm lucky to be able to share the little I can remember at this point. What I can I tell you though is that the meal was terrific; something about eating at the Shahrazad Restaurant made it feel like we were that much closer to a true Middle Eastern experience. 

Living in Utah, you often forget that we have great international food resources right at the tip of our fingers. There are a few really good Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Mexican, even African markets in town. What's really cool is that most of these markets sell prepared food items for take away or even dine in. These markets offer true, authentic food from the trenches...made by those people submerged in the culture. So if you're like me and you love wandering around these markets, but don't really know what to do with half the stuff...take advantage of the good home cooking offered at these places: grab a quick bite, take all of the ambience and culture in, and then let the food guide you through a virtual vacation...right here in Utah.

Shahrazad Market and Restaurant
1615 West 2100 South
(801) 975-9977

Shahrazad Market & Restaurant on Urbanspoon 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Little World

'...don't worry. They also have a drive-thru.'

You walk in and are not sure what to make of it. Cooks in the kitchen seem to be yelling at each other in a high pitched Chinese dialect. A restaurant worker is seated at a table in the middle of the dining room cleaning green beans - placing the clean ones in a colander and tossing the refuse in a plastic bag, while another employee slurps up hot noodle soup at the same table (guess it's her dinner break?). By the looks of the customers seated at the various tables you might have guessed you just walked into the DMV; some of the patrons are loud and cheerful, while others give you a dirty look making sure you don't look that way again. The restaurant doesn't look at all clean, let alone sanitary. In fact it's a dirty dive but you can't let that fact stop you. Your first instinct is to turn around and quickly walk out, get in your car, and drive straight to the nearest P.F. Chang's. But you've come this have to go through with it. If you choose to accept this mission, you will be guaranteed perhaps the most flavorful and authentic tasting Chinese food in Utah...and it'll be cheap to boot.

Not daring to actually set foot into Little World? Okay, so there's an alternative. I do like to encourage people to go outside their eating comfort zones from time to time. It is, after all, character building - giving you a perspective that you might not have considered or experienced. But I also understand peoples' limits. Divey, hole-in-the-wall places like Little World do have their time and place as well as some charm (kind of), but if the dining room described above reminds you more of a scene out of a bad horror movie rather than a place you want to eat, then do what I do...and order for take-out! Little World might be a dumpy little place but they serve really great Chinese food. What I love about Chinese food is the amazing depth of flavor in each and every dish, the pungent odors, and the complex textures. As a kid my parents would often bring us to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant for dinner. Back then, I equated Chinese food to a fancy night out. In college, Chinese food garnered a more everyday kind of feel for me. With Chinatown only a hop, skip, and a jump away from my school, noodles, steamed pork buns, and dumplings became important staples to my San Francisco diet.

Little World brings me back to the flavors of San Francisco that I consider to be authentic in Chinese style cooking. Sure you can still get your sweet and sours, beef with broccoli, fried rice, and chow mein here...but you can also get so much more. You can't get more Chinese than to eat duck and the BBQ roast duck reminds me a lot of walking through Chinatown glancing at all of those hanging ducks in the windows of butchers and restaurants. Slightly charred, tender and moist, this duck will satisfy anyone's poultry craving. For those wanting to break the habit of getting General Tso's chicken (which I must admit is really delicious here - glazed gooeyness with a sweet-heat to it) I encourage going outside of what you're used to. I love Little World's chicken with black bean sauce. Black beans in Chinese cooking refers to fermented soy beans (not the traditional black beans you think of in terms of Southwest food). The beans provide a starchy and savory sauce with very deep soy flavors. Chinese food is well known for this penetrating savoriness and the black bean sauce here delivers great depth. Instead of the standard chow mein, give your noodles a little twist and order the Beef Chow Fun. Big fat, short, and wide rice noodles are dowsed and slightly seared with soy sauce creating a scrumptious morsel packed with flavor. The soft yet crispy and firm texture of the noodles is what makes this dish so great.

Little World offers a multitude of options for dine-in or take-out. With the servings they provide, you can get dinner plus leftovers for lunch the next day, maybe even lunch and dinner the next day. Chinese food has become so ubiquitous that people really take it for granted. It's a default in food courts, hospital cafeterias, and college campus' across the country and across continents. The globalization of this cuisine has caused a really probing, deep, soulful food to become readily available and recognizable. Unfortunately in this transition, a sad sanitization of the food has occurred in order to fit a more general (aka bland) palate. Some of the stuff you get around town at different chains isn't half bad at all, but throwing bok choy on a plate with soy sauce doesn't make it Chinese. Little World plays to the deep rooted flavors we all know and recognize in Chinese food. Though the restaurant could use a serious makeover, the food makes up for the lacking ambiance. So what to do the next time you don't feel like cooking dinner or when a night "in" with your favorite DVD is on tall order? Call up Little World and show up 15 minutes later. If you're still too scared to actually set foot in the restaurant to pick your order up, don't worry. They also have a drive-thru.

Little World ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
1356 South State Street

Little World on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Greek Souvlaki

Enter the gyro (pronouced yeero).

When I was a kid, my mom would often drag me to the mall where she went on frequent shopping excursions. I found solace in these endless marathon shopping sessions by spending time in the bookstore flipping through comic books and then eventually picking up a snack at the food court. A food court in the mall. Not exactly the kind of place where you might expect to be introduced to a new and exotic food. But picture it: it was the mid-80s and I was a 12 year old boy (bowl cut and all) searching for something to eat in a big indoor shopping mall in the east San Francisco bay area. My usual snack was a square slice of pepperoni pizza and a soda. I rarely diverged from this all too familiar habit, but it was in the food court that I was introduced to something I'd never seen before.

Enter the gyro (pronouced yeero). A free sample persuaded me to try it and after a small bite - I was hooked. My then under developed palate told me that I liked everything going on in this Greek sandwich...even if I couldn't tell you back then what I liked so much about it. So here I am today and I have to tell you that I still love the gyro - and better yet - I can tell you exactly what I love about it. A great place to go for a quick, inexpensive gyro experience is Greek Souvlaki. We frequented this little gyro shop when I was a grad student at the U, but they've remodeled since those days and it's really quite nice on the inside. It's definitely a fast food kind of place, focusing on Greek delights. And the gyros here don't disappoint - luscious lamb meat, crisp tomatoes, a creamy yogurt sauce, a puffy hot toasted pita -the gyros here are delicious, savory, creamy, and crunchy. The perfect sandwich.

If you're looking to go outside the norm of the classic gyro there are a few options at Greek Souvlaki. One of my favorites is the Philly Gyro. The name Philly implies a cheesesteak feel and this sandwich certainly ties into this theme nicely. Sauteed peppers and mushrooms, and gobs of cheese top off this bad boy adding a depth of sweetness and earthiness to the classic gyro taste. If you want to go outside the realm of sandwiches, try out the Greek Spaghetti. The red sauce is oddly familiar but the addition of cinnamon really transforms the dish into something else. The cinnamon adds a heat or warmth to the pasta that is unexpected. Diving into it you immediately say to yourself, "Mmmm...what is that I'm tasting..."

There are a world of options for people who don't want to eat lamb (such as the chicken gyros), for vegetarians (like veggie gyros), as well as for those who want other classic Greek food (the kabob dish souvlaki, or filled grape leaves - dolmathes). For dessert the baklava is also great - crunchy layers of pastry with a gooey, sticky, nutty filling. An individual portion is small but filling and provides a great finish to your big, fat, Greek Greek Souvlaki is Greek fast food at its best. It's not super fancy, but the service is fast and the food delivers an important one-two: taste and value.

Greek Souvlaki ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
404 East 300 South
With locations in Murray and West Valley City

Greek Souvlaki No. 1 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


'Sometimes "nice enough" isn't worth driving out of town for.'

To be honest, I rarely go outside city limits to try restaurants. Living in SLC, I find that we have a plethora of options that can fit any craving, price range, or style preference that anyone can ask for. But when I hear good things about restaurants, regardless of geography, I am more than willing to take a little drive to check it out. So many people I know who live outside of Salt Lake City rave about Tiburon as THE RESTAURANT for a fine dining experience. I've also heard so much about Tiburon over the years through various reviews, most of which were positive.  I thought this place warranted some investigation, even if I had to drive a few extra miles south to do so.

Having never been to Tiburon, I thought the restaurant was "nice enough", albeit perhaps a little boring. The outside has some definite curb appeal and I like the fact that they plant their own vegetable garden out back that is clearly visible from the parking lot. The interior was a tad on the smaller side; the decor was generically sort of nice but really just a bit un-memorable (literally - I couldn't tell you about the interior to save my life and I was there just a week ago!). I guess sometimes nice can be bland enough not to be noticed? We walked through the restaurant which was fairly crowded for a Wednesday night and got seated in what appeared to be overflow or patio seating. Again, "nice enough" I thought.

Darting through the menu, one particular appetizer immediately caught my we decided to get a head start on dinner with the kurabuto pork belly. Now this was a really great dish. The pork was braised tender and delicious, served with a creamy Brie (St. Andre's) and a caramelized onion jam. This appetizer was absolutely divine. The pork was crispy from a hard sear, as well as both tender and savory (as only pig can deliver) from a long flavorful braise. This tasty morsel contrasted well with the tart, creaminess of the cheese; the sweetness of the caramelized onions really unified the flavors quite nicely. It was a well composed dish: modern yet elegant - definitely fit for a fine dining experience. As I slowly devoured the appetizer, I thought that we were going to be in a for a true fine dining experience.

Unfortunately in scoping out the menu, nothing else really jumped out at me. Like the decor, I found the menu a little boring...nothing really earth shattering or mind blowing. I mean nothing sounded horrible, the menu just seemed a little mundane to me. Tiburon proclaims that they are well known for their elk - so I figured I would have to go with that. Interestingly, the entrees came with a house salad and an intermezzo sorbet to cleanse the palate. I'm glad that these came with the main course because the pricing is what I would consider on the higher end for this type of straight forward menu. Although the salad was "nice enough" it was not my idea of a gourmet salad one would expect from a fine dining establishment. Mixed greens were tossed with a light vinaigrette and topped with candied pecans, apples, and shredded mozarella cheese. I thought the cheese was a strange touch...sort of reminding me of a topping you'd see at an all you can eat salad bar. For this price point I think fresh mozarella would have been a more appropriate choice, coinciding with a true fine dining experience. The shredded cheese seemed like a chintzy corner cutting cost measure (say that three times in a row fast). Unfortunately it just made the salad look cheap. Cheese aside, the salad was "nice enough" (much like the decor) but it did begin to make me think that Tiburon and I had different ideas of what fine dining meant. 

For the main course we tried the elk - the house-specialty - as well as the pepper crusted steak. Steak "au poivre" is a classic French preparation for a steak loosely crusted with cracked and whole black peppercorns. Generally speaking I'm not a big fan of steak au poivre but I can enjoy it from time to time. The steak prepared as it was here was almost inedible for me. The pepper literally burnt my palate and would have prevented me from really being able to taste anything else if I continued to eat it. This could have been my own sensitivity but I do think they went a bit heavy handed with the pepper. Others at the table seemed to think it was fine and luckily I had the elk to fall back on. The grilled elk tenderloin was served with a creamy mushroom "duxelle" and a green peppercorn demi-glace.  The elk was cooked nicely, very soft and tender, not gamy at all - but for whatever reason the flavor didn't really pop for me. I was hoping that the accompanying preparations would help with that but these side sauces just ended up confusing me a little. The "duxelle" wasn't a true duxelle but instead whole mushrooms cooked in a cream sauce. I thought the sauce was lovely but I'm not sure why they felt the need to call it a duxelle which is typically a sort of paste made from chopped up mushrooms (as I learned it in culinary school anyway). The green peppercorn demi-glace was intensely sweet - really cloying on the palate. I actually thought it was a blueberry reduction because of the sweetness mixed with the size of the peppercorns (which I at first mistook for a berry of some type). I thought the sweetness of the demi-glace was too much for the elk - masking its flavor instead of enhancing it. I also found the two sauces a little confusing on the plate....almost like overkill. I would have been in favor of one really great sauce to complement the elk as opposed to two mediocre sauces that didn't marry very well on the plate.

Adding to the confusion of the mains were the sides of veggies served with both dishes. The veggies were actually the same for each dish, which I also found to be a little chintzy. I once worked in a hotel restaurant where we did exactly that - we served all the same side dishes and starches with any protein ordered. I hated it because it made it seem like we were just doing what was easiest and cost/labor effective - not necessarily what paired best with a particular protein. I got a little bit of that same feeling here...a feeling you shouldn't be getting at a "fine dining restaurant". The side of vegetables consisted of a couple of rods of asparagus, some carrots, and an odd smattering of spaghetti squash. I didn't really get the spaghetti squash. It was an interesting texture but it almost seemed like a random placement with not much thought going into why it was there. It also added to the overt sweetness of the dish with the demi-glace. The garlic mashed potatoes came as the starch on both dishes as well. Again "nice enough", but pretty boring.

Given the cost of the meal, I was fairly disappointed with Tiburon. I didn't get the sense of a true fine dining establishment and the food, while not horrible, was way off from a 5 star experience. If I paid a half or two-thirds of what the bill was, I think I would have been pretty satisfied - but when I shell out some major cash for a "fine dining" experience I expect the restaurant to meet some level of my expectation. Tiburon definitely did not. The one true star the whole evening was the appetizer of the kurabuto pork belly. It was a focused, well thought out dish with a nice layer of flavors. Its appearance was inviting and it was plated artistically - essentials to a fine dining experience. Given that this dish came out of the same kitchen as the entrees, there is obviously some talent in the kitchen. Unfortunately for me, I didn't see this talent come through in the main courses; I also found the attention to detail lacking in many aspects of the meal. Sadly, eating at Tiburon reminded why I don't often venture out of the SLC restaurant scene. Sometimes "nice enough" isn't worth driving out of town for.

Tiburon ~ Sandy, Utah
8256 South 700 East
Chef/owner: Ken Rose

Tiburon on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010


"The intimate setting is inviting and comfortable..."

When I graduated from college many years ago, my closest friends and I invited all of our parents to celebrate with a quaint dinner we hosted at a local Italian place called Cafe Riggio in the Richmond district of San Francisco. The restaurant was a neighborhood place, close to our university, that we reserved for special occasions due to price as well as the special, intimate atmosphere the small restaurant fostered. The food was always wonderful and the feeling of celebration in the form of pasta, polenta, and risotto at our graduation celebration had a huge impact on me. It was a special place I'd never forget and it forever shaped what I look for in a special occasion restaurant - small homey, intimate, yet sophisticated climate with food to match...modern yet approachable.

Fast forward to life in Salt Lake City. I was invited to Fresco in the 15th and 15th neighborhood to join some friends for a celebratory dinner (this was some 8 odd years ago). I immediately had a sense of nostalgia for Cafe Riggio as I walked into the tiny Fresco dining room. Fresco is situated within an old house. By virtue of limited space, tables are close together which builds a quaint and intimate setting. In the winter this tiny dining room offers the only seating available but spring time sees the opening of a lovely outdoor patio until Fall. Although I can't remember a lot of the details of the dinner (this was a long time ago) I do remember the risotto having been the best risotto I'd ever eaten. Over the next few years, Fresco had quickly become my new go-to special occasion restaurant...fulfilling what I looked for in a place where I wanted to celebrate something memorable.

Unfortunately, I noticed a quality change in Fresco as the years passed. Although the ambiance and service were always great, I moved from loving the food one year to thinking it was overrated the next. The quality and vision of the food changed with the hands of a new chef that took the helm at Fresco every few years and I felt these changes were often for the worse. I visited Fresco maybe once or twice a year for a good four years to celebrate birthdays or major milestone events and I finally just got frustrated with Fresco's variability. My recommendation to others regarding Fresco at that time was that it could be good, but for the price it should be better.

In an odd series of events, I actually ended up working briefly in the Fresco kitchen years after I had stopped eating there. I did what's called a "stage" and worked for a brief few weeks on the line. The chef that I worked for was amazing and I enjoyed everything I did, learned, and ate. When I started reviewing restaurants I never felt comfortable reviewing Fresco because of my short lived connection to the place and my respect of the chef. However hands at the helm of the Fresco kitchen have changed since then and Martin Combs is now the chef. Coinciding with his arrival and his new spring menu was a graduation in my family; I knew the perfect place to celebrate this special occasion - and reservations for dinner at Fresco were quickly made.

We started with a simple bruschetta to open the evening: crisp bread slathered with ricotta, roasted garlic and peppers, covered with prosciutto, and a lightly dressed arugula. The flavors melded nicely with a sweet and savory combination from the garlic and peppers, a saltiness from the prosciutto, and a sharp bite from the arugula; the crisp bread did its job nicely to hold all of it together and provide a platform for everything else. It was a well constructed dish - a lovely layer of flavors. We followed with the cafe salad which was a nice basic salad with apples and mixed greens in a sherry thyme vinaigrette (I made this vinaigrette many a time when I was there), served with a tasty fontina crusted slice of baguette. While simple, and really not even that elegantly plated, the salad was a great prelude to the main event.

We shared two pasta entrees: the agnolotti and the rigatoni. The rigatoni was served with sausage and goat cheese. I must say it was just okay. The pasta was well cooked and individually the components were of great quality, but the marriage of everything wasn't there - the dish seemed a little no means bad, but a little disconnected...nothing really tying it together. The agnolotti however was quite the opposite. It was superb. The agnolotti was stuffed with ricotta and mixed in with a chicken jus and wilted greens. Crisp, perfectly cooked roasted chicken was served atop the agnolotti dripping its succulent juices all over the bite sized morsels of pasta. The perfectly seasoned chicken was crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside; the agnolotti gave a contrast in flavor and texture with its soft, mild ricotta stuffing - all of which was tied together nicely by the savory jus. Wilted radicchio added a nice crisp, peppery contrast. It was just a perfect dish to me. I could have ended dinner there and would have been more than satisfied.

Of course having spent some time in the kitchen, there was no way I wasn't having dessert. While I "staged" at Fresco, I plated up intricately designed desserts conjured up by Fresco's amazing pastry chef Melissa Phillips - and there was no way I was not going to finish my meal in style. We ended with a warm chocolate cake and a chilled chocolate espresso soup with cinnamon whipped cream. The cake was warm, gooey, and delicious. The rich bittersweet chocolate was perfectly balanced - not too sweet or too bitter - and the chilled soup added a nice chocolate milk/coffee element. It was nice to wash down the warm cake with something cool; that little bitter zing from the espresso didn't hurt either. I was very content by the end of my meal and my time spent at Fresco that night reminded me of why this restaurant is great for special occasions. The intimate setting is inviting and comfortable and I must say that the current chefs' food certainly matches the ambiance the restaurant has to offer. Does this mean my next special occasion will be at Fresco? Well...I think it just might.

Fresco ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
15th & 15th
Chef/Owner: Mikel Trapp
Chef de cuisine: Martin Combs
Pastry Chef: Melissa Phillips

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