Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tulie

My computer keyboard's a mess. Sometimes I get what I'm eating for breakfast on everything in my office. I find grease stains on papers or reports and little bits of sugar on my keyboard and mouse. I admit it. I'm a messy eater in the mornings. It's just that I find that I'm unable to restrain myself when it comes to a good morning bun from Tulie. Although I generally eat healthfully for breakfast during the week (honestly I work out at the gym each morning and then usually eat a yogurt and banana while catching up with emails first thing in the office) at least once a week I indulge in a brilliant hot beverage and a sinful pastry from a local coffee house/bakery. And for the past several months I've been on a Tulie kick.


I am a total coffee and pastry guy. I love a nice hot, slightly bitter cup of coffee after eating an indulgent, sweet, crusty on the outside-gooey on the inside kind of pastry.  I know it's so bad for me, but I revel in the smell of coffee wafting in the air and glistening sugar on that morning bun. Mmm...it's just so inviting...especially in these cold winter months. The morning bun is a cross between a muffin and a cinnamon roll. It's baked till crisp on the outside and is covered in granulated sugar giving it an almost crystalline appearance. You bite into it and out comes a combination of cinnamon and orange amidst a goop of chewy bread - it's absolutely heavenly. With one bite I instantly go into starvation mode and devour the entire thing, thankfully in the privacy of my office...where by now I've gotten sugar and goo all over my computer and desk. I wash it all down with a hot cup of coffee and my day has started off well.


Being a 9th and 9th resident, I actually have quite a few options for morning coffee. However in my case the food is the high selling point of a coffeehouse for me. Weird I know. I do like my coffee, but I guess I like my food more. In addition to your standard specialty coffee treats, Tulie offers a wide variety of house made pastries, both savory and sweet. There a few lunch items as well as some specials like fresh beignets on early Friday and Saturday mornings. Some personal favorites of mine have included their pain au chocolat and chocolate bouchon (yeah okay - I like chocolate). But in their display case you'll find more than just chocolate with rows and rows of beautiful croissants, muffins, scones, tea cakes, and more. Desserts also adorn the neighboring deli case with delightful confections such as mini chocolate tortes, cream pies, and fruit tarts. The dark chocolate torte is amazing. Dense bittersweet goodness filled in a chocolate crust? Um yeah. Ridiculous...in the greatest sense possible.  Tulie. It's an absolute dream and it's right here in my neighborhood. I'm a lucky guy.

Oh - and when I get into the office on a Tulie kind of morning, I'll sometimes close my door while I voraciously engulf my morning bun and coffee at my desk. It's a private, intimate, almost savage moment of fulfillment...and the grin of satisfaction on my face doesn't get any bigger.

Tulie ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
863 East 700 South
***


Tulie Bakery  on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chez Betty

"Unfortunately Betty died today", we were told by host and co-owner Tom Bell as we were being seated. Apparently, some kids with a big dinner party wanted to sit next to Betty during dinner that night, but Tom quickly gave us the table next to the empty fish bowl which normally housed the mascot goldfish of the restaurant's namesake. Apparently Tom didn't have time to go the store to get a replacement before dinner service, so he told the kids that Betty was on a little vacation in the Bahamas. Oh well - no Betty tonight I thought...but at least there wasn't a mystery fish special on the menu that night.

Located inside of the Copperbottom Inn in Park City, Chez Betty is what I'd describe as somewhat of a "sleeper" restaurant. To some it's very well known as the restaurant and chef have gotten some critical acclaim in the local media in the past, but because of the restaurant's location just off of historic Main Street inside of a non-major-chain type of hotel - not too many think of Chez Betty as a destination restaurant. It's "sleeper" status however doesn't keep the locals away. The restaurant never fails to pack the crowd in giving it a vibrant, cozy energy.

You're a little thrown off as you first walk in through a door common to both the Copperbottom Inn and the restaurant. Once you find your way to Chez Betty to the left of the entrance, you quickly see that the restaurant is medium-sized with what I would describe only as a very "homey" interior. The decor isn't exactly fancy or elegant, definitely not modern or chic by any means, but the dining room tables are covered with white table cloths and the walls sport an eclectic decor of decorative plates and artwork that gives the place a nice sense of charm. The menu at Chez Betty matches its decor...what I would call eclectic American. It's a short menu, the majority of which represents classic preparations with a few modern dishes thrown in, making the dishes diverse in cuisine type and versatile in technique.


My dining companions and I sampled  a number of dishes from the a la cart menu. An amuse bouche arrived in front of us - a small slice of sausage topped off with a sundried cherry and ancho chile pesto along with a toasted pine nut. The small bite gave us a lovely sweet-heat flavor combination alongside a savoriness from the meat - absolutely delicious - somewhat aggressive for a palate starter but it made me crave for more. We next sampled the tomato-basil soup and the kurabuta pork belly lettuce cups. The soup was good but lacked a little zip rendering it somewhat non-memorable. It tasted of sweet tomato with a hint of fresh basil but somehow seemed dormant, on the verge of being great...but it lacked a little punch to wake it up; acid would have been nice - perhaps some lemon juice or vinegar - something to make it less murky. In contrast, the lettuce cups were fantastic. The braised pork belly was tender and moist; the sweet chile sauce echoed the sweet-heat flavors of the amuse bouche. The crispy lettuce and cellophane rice noodles also added some textural interest and brightness of flavor. These were a hit at our table and a nice way to get us truly ready for our entrees.


We sampled the night's dinner special - an Asian style lo mein topped off with seared sea scallops. Unfortunately I didn't find this dish particularly successful. The noodles seemed dense - drowned in the thick, rich coconut based sauce. The scallops were cooked perfectly but were a little overwhelmed both in flavor and texture by the accompanying noodles. We also tried the warm spinach salad with spicy chicken livers. The flavor of the salad was nice - smoky from the bacon with some tang from the vinaigrette and savory feta cheese but I felt like the deep fried chicken livers lacked the promised spicyness and weren't as flavorful as they could have been. The deep frying process seemed to dry out the livers somewhat so I found the dish to lack some moisture in general.

The two stars at our table came with our red meat preparations. The beef tenderloin was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth like butter. The classic demi-glace served alongside jazzed up the meat giving it a smoky grilled onion flavor. The tenderloin was served atop a potato pancake topped off with some wilted spinach. Unfortunately the crisp pancake became soggy  due to the moisture of the spinach, although both items tasted great. The dish was topped off with a stack of onion rings which really did add some nice crunch with a nice, homey, steakhouse feel. We also tried the rack of New Zealand lamb. I must say that this dish was executed perfectly. The meat had a nice crust on it and was cooked a perfect medium-rare. The lamb was tender and juicy, not too gamey with a hint of garlic in the background and it paired nicely with some winter vegetables: roasted tourned (football shaped) potatoes, haricot verts (french green beans), baby carrots, and mashed butternut squash. The dish was executed nicely and made for a wonderful meal.


Although I do think that Chez Betty offers some nice dishes off of their regular menu, I really believe that the true value at Chez Betty's is from the chef's tasting menu. The tasting usually consists of a four course meal and I  think the liberation from the confines of the regular menu really lets the chefs' creativity shine. The menu changes every couple weeks depending on the timing and what's in season. One summertime menu example includes a tomato-coconut curry soup, frisee with duck confit, tortilla-crusted pork tenderloin, and profiteroles...all for $48.00 ($68.00 with wine pairing). Everything I've had in past tasting menus has always been superb, focused, and delicious. The tasting menu definitely gives you a feel for what the chefs' food is all about and provides a nice option for getting to know the restaurant in a more intimate setting (foodwise).

At the end of our meal, co-owner and Chef Jerry Garcia came by our table to talk with us. He asked us how our meal went and talked a little about the scallop special which his sous chef developed. Very rarely does the chef come out and interact with customers but from what I hear Chef Garcia tries to get out to the dining room to talk with customers or just to even help out filling water glasses during a busy service. This kind of attention to detail, in combination with good food, really makes for the right restaurant experience. In my intro above, I called Chez Betty a "sleeper" restaurant. I think the real "sleepers" are people who don't wake up and head on over to Chez Betty to give it a try.

Chez Betty ~ Park City, Utah
1637 Short Line Drive
Chef/co-owner: Jerry Garcia
Co-owner: Tom Bell
***.5

Chez Betty on Urbanspoon


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Market Street Broiler

I once worked for a chef who demanded that our salads be plated on ice cold plates, preferably served with an ice cold fork. This tradition stems from an old food serving practice seldom followed in today's restaurants - serve hot food on hot plates, cold food on cold plates. When my side salad came to the table I immediately touched the plate and felt chills jolting up my spine...the plate was ice cold. The salad was a simple plate of mixed greens, a few cherry tomatoes, and cucumber slices. It made me smile...dinner at the Market Street Broiler tonight was going to be a flashback to old school.


When I opened the menu, I was reminded about the gamut of classic dishes the Broiler serves such as clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, and seafood Louie. These dishes have definitely stood the test of time and for whatever reason - I equate these old school classics with decadence; they give me a kind of Great Gatsby feeling and I'm not quite sure why. What's also nice about the Broiler though is that in addition to these many classics, they also offer some modern interpretations such as an Asian style salad with Ahi tuna which really balances out their classic approach quite nicely. As the kitchen proclaims itself a seafood specialist, ordering the seafood at the Broiler is a safe bet. So on this night, my dining companion and I decided to try out the early bird special which includes seafood or steak (we chose halibut as our fish), a starch (boiled, herbed potatoes, rice, or french fries), salad or soup to start, and dessert for $18.99 - a great value if you're in to dine before 7pm (this concept in and of itself is also old school - not many restaurants do such a thing anymore).


We also decided to try out the fresh catch of the day, the teriyaki glazed steelhead. Steelhead is in the trout family but its consistency and flavor is more similar to that of salmon. The fish on both plates were cooked perfectly. We requested a light breading on the halibut and it had a nice, crisp exterior with a very tender, flaky flesh. In contrast, the steelhead was glazed in a slightly sweet teriyaki sauce without being too cloyingly sweet. The steelhead was broiled to a perfect medium giving it a silky, smooth texture, which was balanced nicely with crunchy green beans and herbed rice pilaf. The dish composure wasn't fancy or modern at all - it was your basic dish: protein-starch-veg at a ratio of about 50%:25%:25% respectively (an old school ratio used for portioning food). The plating on the salmon was also quite basic. The food wasn't placed on the plate to be a modern work of art, plated in a way that makes you think a lot about it...it wasn't extraordinary looking by any means - it was just food on a plate simply meant to be eaten and enjoyed. And that it was.


For dessert, we sampled their sabayon. Sabayon is a classic french custard-like sauce made with white wine (the Italian version is similarly tagged Zabaglione; when each is pronounced they actually sound more similar then they are spelled). At Market Street, they top off a small scoop of vanilla ice cream with their sabayon and top everything off with fresh berries and mint. The sabayon gave the ice cream a nice creaminess with an added depth of flavor from the white wine; the berries added a tart but sweet finish. It was really nice - not too overlwhelmingly sweet. Our evening was a hit, confirming the experiences I've had at the Broiler over and over for the past 10 years.

Gastronomy, the company that runs all of the Market Street restaurants, focuses their menu on heavy surf and turf options - an old school delight for sure. With fresh seafood delivered daily, Gastronomy's restaurants offer a regular menu of different seafood as described above but they also cater to heavy meat eaters as well. Their variety and quality of steaks is outstanding and their rack of ribs offers an excellent finger-licking-good option. I've been known to devour a whole rack of ribs with only a Hefeweizen in hand to wash it down. The ribs are that good. Their full service bar also offers a large variety of mixed drinks, wines, and beer - and  the restaurant decor lends itself to either a fancy dinner or a casual night out. The nautical theme around the restaurant isn't subtle as portholes and ship-style carpentry adorn everywhere. The upstairs is even shaped to look like you're eating on a ship of some sort. Although it sounds campy, it really isn't. The style maintains a modern, yet truly elegant feel...which really sums up my evaluation of the Broiler: unassuming but good food, great service, and a wonderful environment. The Broiler offers classics that take you back to when cold salad plates and basic three-part plating were in vogue, yet it still remains both modern and elegant enough to feel like I'm not actually eating through a cheesy recreation of the Love Boat. It's classy...in an old school sort of way.

Market Street Broiler ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
260 South 1300 East
Chef Hans Cluff
***

Market Street Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meditrina

The tapas - or small plate - trend began in the U.S. some twenty-some odd years ago. This style of eating, largely based off of Spanish tradition, has been transformed over many years to incorporate influences not only from traditional Spanish dishes but from food all over the world. For some reason, Salt Lake City has not seen a huge interest from local chefs and restaurateurs venturing into the small plate concept. In the last several years Salt Lake has only seen a sparse number of tapas places...some coming and going so quietly you'd never know they were ever open. Late 2009 has since seen the introduction of a few new tapas bars...marking some truly exciting additions to our local culinary scene. Meditrina is located in a quiet residential area of Salt Lake City. The space is highlighted by an outside patio for dining in warm weather and marked by a quaint interior dining room with lots of charm. The chefs have put together a menu of many small plates, some taken directly from traditional Spanish tapas while others are fused with multiple international influences.


The patatas bravas are a traditional Spanish tapa which are fried and served with a spicy sauce. Meditrina puts their own spin on this classic by grilling the potatoes, accompanying them with a spicy tomato aioli and sweet caramelized onions. The dish emits a nice heat from a scant amount of chili sauce and the potatoes serve as a great canvass for this sweet-heat sensation. Mushrooms and brie, served with crostini are the most popular tapa at Meditrina - and it's no wonder why. Mushrooms sauteed in the chef's secret sauce (when I asked her about the contents of the sauce, she said she could tell me but then would have to kill me) had a really sweet, deep flavor which nicely complemented the woody flavor of the mushrooms. To be honest, the taste of the brie in the dish was a little overpowered by the strong flavor of the mushrooms but the gooey cheese was a welcome addition to the overall texture of the dish.


The Asian-marinated flank steak had a nice sweet flavor with accents of ginger. The steak itself was grilled perfectly medium rare with a juicy, tender texture and the meat had a slightly smoky scent. The steak paired nicely with the Chinese broccoli which offered texture, taste, and a nice contrast of color. The stalks of the broccoli were nice and firm while the tops were soft - the broccoli had a nice bitter bite to it...a great foil to the sweetness of the steak. I didn't even need the garlic mashed potatoes it was served alongside - the stars to me were the steak and broccoli.


The chefs also offered a dish which they were testing for future menu placement. They came up with a bacon and panko crusted pork tenderloin. The pork had a nice crust and was very flavorful, served with two garnishes - carmelized okra and a butter bean, turnip, and corn puree. Unfortunately the okra didn't work for me. When okra is cooked for a long time, it develops this (excuse me) snotty consistency and it just grossed me out. However, the corn puree was absolutely wonderful with a hummus like texture, very sweet and delicious. We ended our night with Meditrina's drunken oreos - oreo cookies drenched in red wine served under creamy vanilla ice cream over which a port reduction is poured. Crunchy, gooey, creamy, and chocolately all in a few small cookies. Very unique and really good - a great way to end an evening of many small plates.



To be honest, I'm a hearty eater. I love to eat my entree, savoring my food, and I usually horde it all to myself....so my attendance at tapas bars is not so frequent. But I do think it's nice every once and again to eat many smaller plates and get a taste of something different in two or three dishes. A variety of tapas offers many different options for the varied tastes around any given table. I also love the idea of sharing food with others and talking about what you've just eaten. The tapas atmosphere is perfect for that....and the atmosphere at Meditrina really does facilitate good food, sharing, and conversation...over many small plates. At Meditrina, good things do indeed come in small packages.

Meditrina ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
1394 South West Temple
Chef/co-owner: Amy Britt
Chef/co-owner: Jennifer Gilroy
***

Meditrina on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kyoto

Would you think me crazy if I told you that the best place to go for onion rings in Salt Lake City is a Japanese restaurant? Well I'm here to say that it's true (and that the jury's still out on whether or not I'm crazy). But if you want crispy onion rings with a light and delicately deep-fried crust - Kyoto is the place to go...offering what I consider their house specialty: tempura to die for. It may sound strange that the highlight of a Japanese restaurant is its fried food given that in general Japanese food is thought to be lighter and healthier, but the adaptation of Japanese food in America has laid the way for heavier versions of traditional Japanese dishes that we've come to know and love - more or less - as Japanese-American comfort food.

Kyoto offers a range of items from traditional sushi to entrees covering the basic Japanese-American dishes such as sukiyaki, teriyaki, tonkatsu, and tempura. The entree portions are huge...a definite influence from American culture. The sukiyaki at Kyoto is served in a large, deep bowl laden full of a flavorful and slightly sweet soy sauce infused broth with thin slices of beef and other accoutrements. This beef stew of sorts is great on a cold night and is familiar enough for most people to enjoy their first time having it. The most popular Japanese-American dish, teriyaki, is done exquisitely at Kyoto. The choices for teriyaki abound at Kyoto - chicken, salmon, halibut, and beef all populate the menu as options for the sweet sauce. Any teriyaki meal is served with one of the above proteins, properly cooked with a light coat of their house made sauce which isn't too sweet...yet sweet enough. The teriyaki entrees are served with an American style green salad with a bright and sharp ginger dressing, steaming hot and salty miso soup, white rice, and Kyoto's famous vegetable tempura. It adds up to a huge pile of food on your plate - the definite American part of the Japanese-American equation.


Another traditional entree that many Americans rarely venture into is tonkatsu, a thinly pounded pork cutlet, lightly breaded and fried. And as alluded to earlier, where Kyoto truly shines is in everything fried. The thick cutlet is moist and tender yet incredibly crisp. The flavorful piece of meat is accompanied by two sauces, a sweeter, almost fruity-hoisin like sauce and more of a tart, sour, horseradish type sauce. As with all the entrees, the tonkatsu comes with salad, soup, rice, and a heaping serving of tempura. The light and crispy crust on vegetables such as onions, sweet potato, and carrots makes their tempura pretty amazing. If a deep fried product could be described as airy, the tempura at Kyoto certainly fits the bill.  


What's interesting about Kyoto is their approach to sushi. With such excess demonstrated in their Japanese-American style entrees, the exact opposite is found in their sushi selection. Here you won't find the unique and creative funky rolls that newer, trendier places offer to attract more of the teriyaki-going types to try sushi. But you do have an option of some pretty standard maki rolls, as well as the traditional sashimi and nigiri. The plates are artfully presented and the offerings are quite delicious. The sashimi is high quality - the cool, clean taste of each raw fish wakes the palate with each bite. The distinct flavors of raw salmon and hamachi are light and fresh; without a sauce or side dish, the fish is served truly naked - and only the quality of the fish dictates its rich flavor. The texture and taste of sashimi is truly luxurious. It's interesting how something so simple and unassuming as raw fish can make you feel like a king. In the face of the heaps of food you get with an entree, the sushi selection is a model of restraint...which to me is more indicative of true Japanese cuisine. So if the standard entree with all the goodies sounds like a bit much for a night out, show some restraint and get a plate of sashimi and some miso soup - that alone should be enough to fill you up nicely.


A few years ago, I vacationed in (or should I say I ate my way through?) the Japanese cities of Kyoto and Tokyo. Interestingly, aside from sushi, most of the food I had in Japan was very unlike any version of the Japanese-American food I've ever had in the United States. I ate in many noodle houses, had many soups, a lot of seafood (both cooked and raw), ate raw egg over hot rice for breakfast, and frequented food carts selling various wood-fired treats on sticks.  I don't remember ever leaving a meal in Japan feeling like I'd eaten too much and I didn't have teriyaki even once. So what does that mean exactly for the Japanese-American food popularized in the U.S.? I mean, did we American's bastardize Japanese food to the horribly sweet caricature of chicken teriyaki? Well maybe a little - but to be honest, I really do love chicken teriyaki when it's done right.


The beauty of the American melting pot is that we can take aspects of other cultures and integrate them into a more (forgive the food pun) palatable form. Western palates are very different than those in Japan and all we've done is taken what we like and run with it....hence we now have a nation full of teriyaki lovers. But I'm hopeful that we can grow in the next several years and adopt more of the traditional Japanese foods that we don't often see here in the U.S. The food in Japan is really amazing and truly more healthful than much of what we eat in the states; it would be a shame if the American public misses out on this. I think it's a matter of putting our own spin on this traditional fare as a means of introducing it gradually to our taste buds. I mean really - if you had told people fifty years ago that serving raw fish and seaweed would gain massive popularity around the U.S. they might have thought you were crazy. But today in addition to the nation full of teriyaki eaters, we now have a nation full of sushi eaters too. I for one am looking forward to the slow incorporation of new and different Japanese-American dishes among the masses. But as we all know, change comes slowly. So until then, I'm going to enjoy my huge plate of airy, heavenly onion rings at Kyoto...

Kyoto ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
1300 South 1100 East
***

Kyoto Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon



Kyoto Japanese on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Savory Palate

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to try a dish made by a young Thomas Keller when he was a green cook just starting out? Or curious to have a peek at what Bobby Flay's cooking was like when he was in culinary school? If so, now you've got your chance to see what aspiring cooking school students are dishing out. The International Culinary School at the Art Institute in Draper has opened a student-run establishment called 'The Savory Palate'. The restaurant is open to the public only two days during the week and dining at the restaurant is by reservation only.

The restaurant is run by students who are enrolled in a "restaurant class". Students who take the class are actually getting course credit to work in the restaurant. The student-chefs rotate through all aspects of kitchen prep and hot/cold line work executing dishes in a timely manner, as well as working front of house service as the host/hostess, servers, and bussers. The rationale for such a restaurant class is a great idea. It gives students a chance to get some experience with cooking on a restaurant line - which is presumably where the majority of students will end up right after they graduate. The experience also forces students who are training to be chefs to become servers - a position that most cooks will never normally have. It really gives the students a chance to see all aspects of a functional restaurant and give them a broad perspective of what it takes for a restaurant to be successful.

The Savory Palate is a small dining room adjacent to one of the school's teaching kitchens. The students are in a veritable fish bowl as the wall separating the kitchen and dining room is made of glass. The students are on display being watched eagerly by their waiting customers. The Savory Palate serves up a 3 course meal for $12.95 with choice of starter, entree, dessert, and beverage. The menu rotates and is based on dishes the students have mastered in a previous course called American Regional Cuisine.


I began my lunch with a sweet onion tart. To be honest it looked like something a culinary student might make. The tart itself was good - sweet, caramelized onions were baked atop of a crisp puff pastry dough and served with a roasted tomato sauce. The tart pureed sauce nicely balanced the sweetness of the onion and offered a nice creamy texture to the crunchy crust. I also tried the fried tomato with blue cheese and roasted red pepper sauce. This was also nice - crispy and chewy with a nice contrasting sweetness in the sauce. Not a bad start at all.

For my entree I had the smothered pork chops with orange-scented sweet potato and roasted butternut squash. The plating - again - was very much what you'd expect from culinary students. It was a nicely composed plate of the sweet potato which was piped onto the plate and browned, atop which the pork chop sat with sauteed onions and mushrooms placed on top. Roasted squash was delicately placed around the edge of the pork chop. My first impression of the dish was that it wasn't bad flavor-wise but definitely was not the most memorable of dishes. The pork was a touch dry and the food came out a little lukewarm...but really overall - it was a great effort.


People at the table commented on how the orange in the sweet potato was too over-powering but I actually found the flavor to be quite nice, adding some dimension and depth to the monotonous sweetness in the potato. What would have really made the dish for me though would have been a sauce to bring all of the elements on the plate together. A sauce would have tied things together nicely as well as provided some moisture to the dryness of the pork. The other entree option was the pecan-encrusted catfish served with the slow-cooked greens and the same orange-sweet potato. To be honest, I didn't try it but it got pretty good reviews around the table. Again, people seemed to like it but weren't swearing that it was the best meal they ever had.

For dessert I ordered the chocolate-banana parfait but was informed while we were eating our entree that they had run out. So I got the pecan tart instead. The tart was very good - crunchy pecans surrounded by a sweet, gooey filling overwhich a large scoop of whipped cream lay. It was a nice ending to the meal. Also ordered at our table was a fruit tart. Again, very culinary school looking. Sweet dough upon which vanilla pastry cream sits, on top of which various fruits are placed - a very classic French style pastry. Also quite good. Our server came by and actually dropped off a complimentary chocolate-banana parfait as well as a complimentary mango cake.  I guess she realized they actually weren't out of the chocolate-banana parfait - or perhaps she just realized that I was having lunch with one of her culinary school instructors and she wanted to make a good impression. Either way it worked out for me. The chocolate-banana parfait was awesome. Nice banana cream, fresh and bright tasting, married with a deep chocolate mousse - airy but firm. With four desserts to finish the meal off with, who could complain? You know what they say - your company may forget about dinner, but they'll always remember dessert.


Believe it or not, I've actually had meals at various culinary school restaurants before. Living in the bay area for a really long time, I've had the pleasure of dining at the student run restaurants of the Culinary Institute of America (Greystone campus in Napa) as well as the California Culinary Academy (in San Francisco). Comparatively, The Savory Palate does seem a bit dated in terms of menu items and plating as well as a bit remedial in terms of technique but despite this, the food seems to fit the Utah demographic pretty well. So it does seem like the restaurant is catering to its potential customer base and it's a pretty good value at $12.95. All in all I had a good experience at The Savory Palate. Not the most cutting edge food I've ever had, but decent home cooking turned up a notch...not to mention that our server was great and really exemplified a good model for how service in any restaurant should be. Here at The Savory Palate you get a good glimpse of what these young culinarians can do now. With the training these ambitious students get at the Art Institute - coupled with a few years of experience in a "real" restaurant kitchen - I'm sure we can expect great things in the future from this next generation of talented chefs.

The Savory Palate at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City
121 W. Election Road
Draper, Utah
801-601-4769
***

The Savory Palate at the Art Institute on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scaddy's

There has been a wave of new burger joints to open up all through the Salt Lake metro area. Some are local ventures while most are franchises of national chains. It’s become very obvious that with so many different burger places around, having a unique twist or gimmick is essential to standing out, being noticed, and getting customers in. Places are smashing their burgers, putting gourmet spins on burgers, or offering a deluge of strange toppings to get people hooked. I’ve been meaning to try some of these places out although I’m a little skeptical of the schtick. I just hate when your food has to have a gimmick in order for it to be good.


I ran across Scaddy’s while running an errand at Costco and the restaurant supply store Bintz’s. Scaddy’s is located in a strip mall right across the street from each of the aforementioned stores. I noticed the Scaddy’s sign which read, “where fresh taste is everything”. I was intrigued since it looked like your run of the mill burger joint unfortunately located in a strip mall. Being the skeptic that I am, I decided to check out what this new places’s gimmick was….something about freshness…I guessed that perhaps they had devised different types of fresh salads that came on top of your burger….or something like that.


When I walked in though, I quickly saw a very standard, small and simple menu: hand-battered chicken, about 6 different kinds of burgers, a couple of different cold sandwiches as well as some salads, sides, and ice cream. The restaurant has a very standard fast food kind of feel with a semi-sports-bar atmosphere with a few flat screen TVs thrown in. I asked the cashier what their “freshness” sign was about and she replied that they make everything from scratch – they don’t use any frozen products. Mmm…interesting I thought. When I probed a little further about this topic, I did get a little more detail. The main ingredients are all fresh, but they don’t make their own bread, ketchup, ice cream, etc. – however they pride themselves on not using frozen products like burger patties, frozen french fries or onion rings. And they do make some of their own sauces and dressings. Mmm…interesting. So their schtick is “freshness”.



So how fresh does their food taste? The Scaddyburger, a ¼-pounder served with their special Scaddy-sauce was actually very satisfying – and yes – fresh tasting. The burger had a nice texture and flavor, the special sauce was kind of a blend of thousand-island and Russian dressing (definitely ketchup based) and the French fries were definitely cut from fresh potatoes. The toppings were also of high quality, with crunchy bright flavors. I really enjoyed my burger – it also wasn’t too greasy. But the highlight on the Scaddy’s menu for me were the hand battered chicken fingers. And can I just say the chicken fingers were just AMAZING. The breading was light but crispy and the chicken was soooo moist and tender. I couldn’t believe how good they were. I mean they were really good. The onion rings were also quite good with a delicate crisp crust. They also make pretty good milkshakes. But that chicken…man. That was good.


It turns out that Scaddy’s real schtick is that they’re a locally owned and operated family business that wants to run a burger joint the right way. Owner Wayne Scadlock and his family work all facets of the operation, from cooking to cleaning and cashiering. Eating there now a few times, I’ve noticed that Wayne himself has come by my table every time to see how I was enjoying my food. Given this family feel and professionalism, their use of fresh ingredients, and a hand-battered chicken to die for, Scaddy’s stands out from the malay of burger joints that have popped up all over the Wasatch front. I for one am totally down with the freshness motto at Scaddy’s. It’s not a gimmick – just fresh, real good food.


Scaddy’s ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

1846 South 300 West

Owner: Wayne Scadlock

***


Scaddy's on Urbanspoon

Vinto

Is Vinto yet another reincarnation of the typical wood-fired pizzeria, joining the ranks of a dozen or so pizzerias around town with the exact same schtick? This is a question I’ve been trying to collect data on for the past couple weeks…which means I’ve eaten at Vinto…a lot. And to be honest, I haven’t exactly made up my mind. “Fast-casual” is the concept that owner David Harries had in mind when creating Vinto. Restaurants in this broad category generally offer meals that are a step up from fast-food but served in a timeframe conducive to getting the customer out quickly if need be (for local chain examples, think Pei-Wei or Noodles). The difference at Vinto is that you, the customer, can actually control the pace at which the food comes out (and of course it’s an independent locally owned venture). If you’re in a rush you can order everything all at once and the food will come lickety-split. Or if you’d rather linger a bit, you can tell your server what you want a little at a time in order to set a more leisurely pace. The other big difference with Vinto is that the kitchen uses a battery of fresh, high-end ingredients that come through in a very focused rustic Italian menu.



The menu at Vinto includes a small offering of antipasti, salads, piadinas, pizzas, and desserts. One daily pasta special is also run alongside the regular menu. When you take a look through the menu, one obvious theme coming out of the kitchen is evident: every item is simple, composed of not too many ingredients, usually representing well-planned combinations of tried and true flavors. This is not fussy-fine dining by any means but rather simple, hearty, rustic Italian fare – very close to what you’d get in an everyday sort of pizzeria or café in Italy. Most of the menu items I’ve had taste good and are made from good quality ingredients. The salads are huge and can be considered meals unto themselves. The Italiana chopped salad is nicely composed of chopped lettuce, chicken, pancetta, fontina cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers, lightly tossed in a red-wine vinaigrette. The individual ingredients are great and don’t need much to bring it all together but the vinaigrette seems to lack a little punch.


I’d never heard of a piadina before eating at Vinto but I must say the grilled chicken piadina is quite nice - nothing too over the top – just many high quality ingredients such as grilled Portobello mushrooms, fontina cheese, and mixed greens tied nicely together with a balsamic reduction. The piadina, an Italian flatbread or tortilla, provides a nice crunchy, yet chewy, envelope for the delicious filling which has a smoky flavor from the grill, a sharp taste from the cheese, crunch from the greens, and a lovely sweetness from the balsamic. Just imagine a large Italian style taco packed with lots of flavor and texture.



The pizza crust at Vinto has a crisp yet doughy texture. I would say the pizzas are pretty good – certainly not the best I’ve ever had, but definitely no way near the worst either. With good ingredients such as fresh mozzarella and clearly superior meat products like thick sliced pepperoni and house made artisan sausage – you really would have to do a lot to ruin a pizza made from stuff of this high quality. Taste-wise, the pizzas I’ve had there have been standardly good, not mind-blowing, but definitely solid.


In addition to the regular menu, a pasta item is also featured each day. So far I’ve had the opportunity to sample their spaghetti Bolognese – classic spaghetti in meat sauce. I must say that the depth of flavor I found lacking in the salad and pizzas was definitely present in this pasta. The pasta was a perfect al dente and the Bolognese was both a little sweet from the carrots and tangy from the tomato blended together in a velvety like consistency that made for a savory spoonful every time.


Finding a niche in the restaurant demographic is very important to the success of a new business. I think Vinto is on to something with its a little more upscale “Fast-casual” concept. The interior of the restaurant is beautiful and modern. It definitely evokes the vibe of quick and sophisticated yet casual. My impression of the food though is that the menu items are pretty safe and generally good in a standard sort of way. But it’s possible that they’ve perhaps over-sanitized their menu. I’m not sure I can explain it well enough here but I feel like the food coming out of the kitchen is a bit robotic at this point. I haven’t been really wowed by anything I’ve had. But nothing has been bad or severely disappointing either. Can anyone say status quo? So it’s almost as if Vinto truly does fall into the same “Fast-casual” category as say Noodles. But I guess I don’t want it to be in the same category because there clearly is some passion in the well thought out concept and menu. I just want to taste that passion in the food a little more. I think Vinto’s challenge will be to find the right combination of safe, best selling dishes that still deliver a complexity of flavors. With a great “Fast-casual” concept, a cool space and interior design, and truly fabulous ingredients, Vinto is well positioned to not be just another standard pizzeria or casual Italian joint. As such, I expect great things to come out of Vinto’s kitchen and am going to keep a close eye on this up and coming restaurant.


Vinto ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

418 East 200 South

Owner: David Harries

***


Note: Executive Chef Rosanne Ruiz left Vinto shortly after opening the restaurant. Apparently owner David Harries decided that the simple Vinto menu did not require the watchful eye of a full time head chef and has since hired a kitchen manager to take Chef Ruiz’s place. Perhaps this robotic sense of the food and lack of passion that I picked up on could in part be due to the loss of strong leadership and vision in the kitchen?


Vinto on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Forage

People always lament about how Utah is light years behind in terms of modern, cutting-edge cuisine. Being raised in and having eaten my way through the San Francisco bay area as well as having had the opportunity to take food-inspired vacations in New York and Philadelphia – I must say that I generally agree with this statement. Don’t get me wrong…I really think there are many great restaurants in Utah doing some great food. But sometimes I feel like it’s “monkey see, monkey do”. I think we have been lacking a strong, modern sexiness in the Salt Lake culinary scene – a place on the cutting edge that takes our palates someplace they’ve never been before. Now enter Forage, the latest of a number of new, up-and-coming restaurants in Salt Lake City.

In an old converted house, Forage sports a modern, sleek décor. Like many of the new restaurants in town, Forage is on the smaller side – its small living room offers the only seating for dining in. The menu is impossibly simple: you either get a three course meal or you do a tasting of the entire menu. Like the décor, the menu is also very sleek with little description so you have lots left to the imagination when ordering. On our first night to Forage we had just rode a 50-mile bike ride in Park City (The Summit Challenge) and we were starving. Although we probably could have done the whole tasting menu the waiter was quick to point out that it does take up to 3-4 hours to complete. We didn’t really feel like sticking around that long so we each decided to go with the three -course option.

With each three-course meal you also receive a number of amuse bouche. These tiny starters were amazing. Not only did they taste great but they were also beautiful works of art. Our first amuse was a deep-fried garlic tomato croquette. These wondrous bites of tomato exploded in your mouth with a single bite. When I asked how the croquettes were prepared, I was told they were a mix of tomato and garlic bound together by gelatin and then deep-fried. (This is what I mean by cutting edge and modern). We then received three more amuse before the start of our three-course dinner: 1) a beautifully presented brown-shelled egg filled with a sweet custard finished with a sherry vinaigrette…really reminiscient of crème brulee, 2) a little shot glass filled with a delicious, cool summer vegetable gazpacho, and 3) a single spoonful of a raw fish (tuna if I recall?) preparation topped with chive. All were wonderful little tastes, each bursting with flavor, getting our palates ready for the main event.

First course arrives and we enjoyed the summer squash risotto and the vegetable garden plate. The risotto is actually “risotto” (risotto in quotation marks). It doesn’t contain any rice (as traditional Italian risotto does) and so the term “risotto” here is only used in the sense of how risotto is made but the main ingredient is squash chopped into pieces that resemble rice. The “risotto” was a nice al dente paired with a savory tomato and garlic compote. The vegetable garden salad was less of a salad than a nicely composed plate of summer vegetables – but this was also fresh, crisp, seasonal, and delightful. These dishes provided a lovely “start” to the evening (“start” in quotation marks since we actually had already eaten 4 amuse bouche).


Our entrées came next. We dived into the beef strip loin and the roast Colorado lamb. The waiter said the beef was cooked sous vide, a cooking technique using a water bath originally designed for use in research laboratory settings. The cooking technique yielded beef that was tender and succulent; it was complemented nicely with a savory tomato confit and a potato puree - a neat take on a classic meat and potatoes dish. The roast Colorado lamb was equally as pleasant served with eggplant and cucumber alongside a chick pea “gnocchi”. Gnocchi is an Italian potato dumpling but the Forage chefs have crafted a similar dumpling made of chick peas – and this “gnocchi” is just as good with a wonderfully nutty taste. The chick pea “gnocchi” and the smoked paprika definitely gave the lamb dish a delicious Moroccan slant.


Desserts topped off our meal with a rose infused cake and a frozen chocolate terrine. The rose cake offered a delicious, but not too sweet, end to the meal. It was served with peaches and a yogurt sorbet to round out with a little sweetness and tartness. The frozen chocolate and extra virgin olive oil terrine was truly an extravagant dish served with a plum sauce and chocolate, lemon cake. These were not your typical desserts by any stretch of the imagination, but the charm of a place like Forage is that it challenges its diners to go outside their comfort zones in taking a true food adventure.


In describing the meals we had here, I know I’ve probably misspoken about some of the ingredients and/or preparations used here, likely not doing them total justice. The plates are, how shall we say, a little complicated and I didn’t feel like taking copious notes at each course (especially given we had just gone on that exhausting bike ride). I really just wanted to sit back and be amazed. And amazed is truly the right word to describe my experience. Forage definitely warrants your own investigation. What I can say is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your experience at Forage. I guarantee it will be an adventure for your palate, taking your taste buds somewhere they’ve never been before.

Forage ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

370 East 900 South

Chefs Viet Pham and Bowman Brown

*****


Forage on Urbanspoon

Cinegrill

If you haven’t already done so, you need to eat at Cinegrill. It’s a must-do, check off your Utah list kind of a thing to do. Cinegrill was originally opened in Salt Lake just after World War II. It offered simple Italian-American cuisine along with live entertainment and dancing. It was said to be quite popular with Salt Lake residents and University of Utah students. After a 7 year hiatus between 1986 and 1993, Cinegrill continues to be a Utah landmark restaurant still offering the same basic menu as well as live piano played by Cinegrill employees and family certain nights of the week.

Cinegrill is located in a strange space, essentially the bottom floor of an apartment building lit up with a pink neon sign. The inside is a little kitschy; tables are covered with plastic red and white checkered table cloths and there is an odd, old piano located directly in the front of the restaurant as you walk in - and an old bar on your right where you can order and pick up your take out. It’s been this way since the restaurant opened and continues as such today. The staff is friendly and the menu straight-forward. This is casual old diner food at its best. Don’t expect anything fancy or ultra modern here.

To be honest I’ve only had two things off the menu at Cinegrill but I would whole-heartedly recommend them both. My first recommendation is the corned beef sandwich. After all these years Cinegrill still manages to make their own corned beef in-house. That alone is pretty unique. The savory sandwich is a perfect lunch or light dinner and is uniquely served on their old-school, war-era garlic toast. The garlic toast in and of itself is fantastic – reminding me of the garlic toast I got at my high school cafeteria. They’re basically hamburger buns seasoned with margarine (really – I don’t think they use butter) with garlic powder and dried parsley. Again, it’s not fancy fare here – and perhaps not for everyone - but it does fill up your tummy and I quite like it.


My second recommendation is to start with the house salad and then dive into the spaghetti plate. The salad is a huge pile of iceburg lettuce lightly dressed in a creamy Italian dressing. It’s served with a slice of provolone and a slice of pepperoni with a garlic toast on top. It’s kind of a cool presentation really - and interestingly, the whole thing is served on a small dessert or bread plate…so you find it a bit difficult to eat without making a mess. The spaghetti is served in a small silver bowl where a heaping serving of pasta sits below a plop of old-fashioned meat sauce. I like to dump the whole thing onto the plate on which it’s served to mix all the sauce and pasta together into a unified meal. The meat sauce is a basic tomato-ground beef combination…with hints of dried basil and oregano…certainly something you would imagine getting at the home of a New York Italian grandmother or in my case it brings me back to the spaghetti of my childhood growing up with my Filipino father who was a cook in the Navy. It is true comfort food without any gimmicks or new wave interpretations.


Basic goodness is what you’ll get at Cinegrill. It’s a Utah classic that you have to try. It won’t blow your mind away but it will satisfy your soul. So go…now...and be part of Utah history. You may just be lucky enough to find a piano player tinkling away at the keys for you. If so, sit back, stay for a bit, and enjoy this true Utah gem.

Cinegrill ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

344 South 300 East

Co-owner: James Arnold

***


Cinegrill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Este

Over the years pizza has become a ubiquitous American fast food. Even though we’ve seen the pizza market slowly taken over by large-scale corporate pizza chains, you still see mom and pop pizza parlors going strong in every city in the US, carving out a niche where the Dominoe’s and Pizza Huts can’t compete. Este pizzeria in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City has carved out its own niche as being a true to form New York style pizzeria. New York style pizza is characterized by its super thin crust with wide, foldable individual slices that are lightly sauced. It’s thought that New York style pizza most closely resembles pizza from Naples, Italy and Este definitely brings an Italian slant to the menu items at their quirky, little pizzeria.

In addition to standard starter fare, Este offers a house specialty of homemade garlic knots. This is basically pizza dough baked into a bite-sized knot, basted in garlic, olive oil, and oregano. The knots are baked to a crisp, golden exterior yet still maintain a light and airy, soft inside. A nice hot, fresh knot dipped in marinara really wets your appetite for a big slice of pizza. Speaking of the pizza, at Este you can top your pizza with any of the toppings offered on their menu or you can choose from a selection of specialty pizzas. Just a note though: you can’t get pineapple as a topping here. Apparently it appears to be somewhat of a faux pas to mention it at this establishment since real New York pizza is never served with pineapple. In fact at one point a can of pineapple was hanging from the wall with a big X pasted to it (on recent trips, I’ve noticed this has been removed). If you think that this might be a hint that all of their toppings are fresh….think again – they seem to be okay with using canned mushrooms.



Este also offers a wide variety of signature pastas, stromboli, and calzones but I’m thinking the main event here is the pizza. That said - one recommendation I do have outside their pizza menu is their sole dessert offering: a traditional Italian donut, called zeppole. These crisp, little, chewy bites are coated in sugar and served with a sweet agave nectar dipping sauce. Many of the local Italian restaurants don’t serve zeppole, so a trip to Este would be worth dessert in and of itself.



Some of my favorites on the Este specialty menu include the Italian Flag pizza, which is made of pizza sauce, ricotta cheese, and pesto; or the white pizza made of ricotta cheese, fresh garlic, oregano, and mozzarella; or the lasagna pizza with marinara, ricotta, and meatballs. All pizzas are made on the thin New York style crust and cut into wide slices that you can fold in your hand. The crisp, thin crust holds just the right amount of toppings, so usually the tops aren’t piled too high with stuff. The result is a perfect hand-held item that you can eat while standing on the side of a busy New York street or comfortably hold while watching a DVD on your screen at home in Salt Lake.

Este ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
Sugarhouse and downtown locations

***

Este Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Park Cafe

Weekend big breakfasts were something that I always looked forward to as a kid. During the week we always ate something quick like cereal or toast – usually on the go on our way to school. But on the weekends my folks would cook up big meals, with multiple meats like sausage and bacon, eggs, and additional items like pancakes or French toast. The tradition of the big breakfast is something that lives on in my own household now; similarly, we seldom get a chance to eat big during the weekday mornings. Usually a cup of coffee, some cereal or yogurt, or a smoothie suffices during the week before work. But on the weekends we continue the tradition of cooking it up big at home usually with French toast, bacon, and hash browns at least one lazy weekend morning. It’s either that or we go to our neighborhood breakfast diner – The Park Café. The Park Café is a restaurant that has been converted from an old house. It is located across the street from Liberty Park (hence the restaurant name – the Park Cafe) and is a breakfast and lunch joint Tuesdays through Sundays. If anything screams “local hangout” this is it. The outside is always packed with people eating at their tables, standing outside waiting for a table, or just people standing around hanging out. The atmosphere is vibrant and alive; you won’t find pretentious attitudes or gourmet nouveau cuisine here – it’s a simple hustle bustle diner, with simple fare - no doubt about it. And that’s this place’s charm.



The breakfast menu at the Park is very simple. They’ve got a number of omelets, typical breakfast items such as French toast and pancakes, sides of breakfast meats, and a number of breakfast specials or combos. My favorite breakfast special is the ‘Michigan Hash’ – house potatoes mixed with sausage, onions, mushrooms, and green peppers topped with cheddar cheese and two eggs, served with toast. It’s huge…it’s filling…and oh so delicious. Are you kidding? It’s like a perfect mix of everything you love about breakfast rolled into a crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside type of casserole. It’s a complete savory mindblast. Luckily you can balance out the savory with some sweet with your toast. At the table you’ll also find house made jams – strawberry, apricot, peach - depending upon what’s in season and/or available at the time. With some of this homemade jam slathered on a piece of wheat toast or sourdough, you can round out your breakfast nicely.

If you’re more into a basic breakfast, more like something you might make at home yourself, check out the huge portions of the ‘Double Play’ with meat (either ham, bacon, or sausage), eggs (however you like), and house potatoes served with toast. For sweeter menu items, don’t miss their delectable, thick pieces of French toast or the super fluffy, enormous pancakes. I’ve eaten most things on the menu, including the occasional specials such as chile rellenos or the ‘eutaw omelet’ and everything is great. It’s total diner food to the max. I must say that the breakfast menu is the highlight for me, but they do have a selection of burgers and sandwiches for lunch. But if all else fails for lunch, they do serve breakfast all day.


What I really love about the Park is its homey environment. I always feel welcomed when I come through the door and what I really like is that it’s always really loud and alive inside. It kind of reminds me of my family home growing up; I grew up with a pretty loud, large, extended family. It’s very appropriate that the restaurant is located inside an old converted house. That definitely contributes to the homey feeling you get from the place. Continuing my tradition of big family breakfast feels right at the Park Café. I may not be making the food myself, but I know someone back in the kitchen is putting some love into this food. You can taste it…and it tastes good.


The Park Cafe ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

604 East 1300 South

Co-owners: Sean and Randi

***

Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bambara

Located in the trendy, high-end Hotel Monaco, Bambara is a modern fine dining establishment in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City. It has a central, open kitchen as well as an adjoining bar that serves gourmet cuisine at a reasonable price. Once you walk into the restaurant it definitely has the feel of a fine dining establishment but with somewhat of a relaxed edge (a very common feel for fine dining places in Salt Lake City). In the same style as the Hotel Monaco itself, Bambara is outfitted with a funky and modern - yet elegant and classy - decor. Bambara has been a long time favorite of mine for over 10 years. And within those 10 years the position of the executive chef who runs the restaurant has changed a few times over - and hence so has the menu to reflect the individual styles and specialties of each head chef. Within the past year, Nathan Powers took the helm and has been acclimating to Bambara. He began by taking over his predecessor’s menu but slowly incorporated snippets of his own over time. The current menu is now his unique creation and it has been exciting to see and taste the development of his own take on what Bambara means.



There is a list of about 5-6 starters that you can begin your meal with. The blue cheese house cut potato chips is a Bambara classic and has been kept on the menu throughout the years regardless of which chef is running the kitchen – they are a Bambara staple. These crispy, savory, and tangy chips are a great way to start the evening. If you’re looking for a heartier appetizer you might try the crispy fried rock shrimp and calamari which offers some kick served with a spicy remoulade. Also on the menu are a variety of salads. Right now it seems like Salt Lake is in love with beets – every restaurant has their version of a summery beet salad these days. Bambara is no exception putting up a roasted baby beet salad served with blood oranges, goat cheese and pistachios. The roasting of the beets brings out the woody beet flavor that is cut with the sweetness and tang of the blood oranges. The goat cheese and pistachios offer some texture with creamy and crunchy side notes. Beets seem to be ‘en vogue’ right now – but if being ‘in style’ means eating this good…I’m happy to jump on the beet bandwagon.





Interestingly, Chef Powers’ menu also offers what are called middles. These are medium portion sized plates such as mussels or pastas like gnocchi that are offered after the salad course. At one point a hand rolled tagliatelle carbonara was offered. The soft, made-from- scratch pasta paired nicely with crispy, salty pork and a creamy, pecorino Romano sauce. However, this item must not have been very popular as it has since been replaced by a similar fresh pasta served with tomatoes and arugula. This is unfortunate because the carbonara was quite delicious and it showcased the Chef’s ability to take a classic Italian dish and put his own unique spin on it. However, the main entrée items do demonstrate the exquisite skill of the Bambara kitchen in executing dishes such as cast iron roasted Colorado bison with pomegranate au jus and Cabernet braised Angus beef short ribs with truffled macaroni and cheese. The maple brined pork porterhouse chops served with apple fennel slaw and calvados cider butter is a very nice dish that highlights a sweet and savory flavor profile. Served with cheesy grits, it is a very hearty main course. The Chef’s signature steak frites (steak with fries) is also a lovely, classic French meal. You have the choice of a flat iron steak or dry aged New York - and your steak is cooked to order, served with crispy herbed fries, a peppercorn jus and béarnaise…a true classic cooked to perfection.

With a long history of fabulous food, Chef Powers had some big shoes to fill indeed. I’m happy to say that he’s been able to fit his unique menu in without losing the spirit of the restaurant I’ve come to know and love over the years. I look forward to many more years of good eats to come.


Bambara ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

Executive Chef Nathan Powers

Executive Sous Chef Brad Murphy
****

Bambara on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pago

When you walk in the door, there is a very modest bar which offers a direct view into the open kitchen; sitting at the bar you’re literally less than 5 feet away from the hot line where the chef’s are cranking out each order. As you look around, you immediately notice the modern décor and the fact that the restaurant itself is quite small in size, probably only seating around 40 people or so. The place manages to be quaint, elegant, rustic, and modern at all once.

The restaurant is called Pago and it’s the first of its kind in Salt Lake City.
Pago bills itself as a farm to table, neighborhood restaurant and wine bar. This means that Pago participates in restaurant supported agriculture where it gets most of its product from local farms only. They also use local artisans as suppliers, getting their cheese from the Beehive Cheese Company, lamb from Morgan Valley Farms, and chocolate from Amano Chocolate – all locally owned businesses. You can view the concept in two ways. The cynical view is that it’s purely a marketing scheme designed to attract those who think it’s “cool and trendy”. Or you can trust that what drives the concept is a true belief in the principles of supporting local business and farmers and that food is best served seasonally. I tend to believe the latter as it is a really big time investment in re-developing menus that have to change based on the season and what local agriculture can provide. I also believe the owners and chefs take pride in what they do – you can immediately get a sense of pride in the way the restaurant is put together as well as in the food that comes out of the kitchen.



Pago offers some lovely starters. I found the beet salad really refreshing – the firm yet soft texture of the beets blended nicely with the tart, creamy greek yogurt. The salad was paired with some spicy arugula and had some nice crunch with a sprinkling of candied nuts. It was sweet, tart, and peppery all it once. In contrast, for a lighter way to wet your palate, I would recommend the ceviche. A citrus vinaigrette is served over thin slices of delicate, raw white fish. The taste is clean and refreshing – very sushi-esque. Both are great ways to wake up your appetite.
Having sampled items from both the lunch and dinner menus, I have found some favorites.



The roasted salmon is always cooked to a perfect medium, served over a bed of creamy risotto with crunchy salsify chips on top. The soft salmon pairs nicely with the creamy rice and crunchy salsify.



The chicken paillard is also quite lovely – nothing too fancy here – just a classic French preparation of a chicken breast pounded thin. At Pago, the paillard is crusted with a breadcrumb topping and pan fried to a crunchy exterior offering a lovely contrast to the creamy, savory potato puree it is served atop. The chefs do well to pair flavors, colors, and textures. Other favorites include the house meatloaf as well as the hand cut pasta. Seems to me like you just can’t go wrong at this place...at least so far.

Finishing off the meal with some chocolates from Amano or some gelato from Dolcetti’s - and it appears that you’ve not only just supported Salt Lake’s first farm to table restaurant but you also just supported about 10 other local businesses. Now that’s a concept that I like.

Pago ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
9th and 9th

Owner: Scott Evans

Co-executive chefs: Adam Findlay and Michael Richey

****

Pago on Urbanspoon