Sunday, March 29, 2009

L & L

In Hawaii the migrant workers of Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino descent worked together in pineapple and sugar cane fields during World War II. At lunchtime on the job, they would often share foods from their respective cultures. The Japanese workers would take their lunches in traditional bento boxes, which have separate compartments for different items. Over time the Hawaiian culture has adapted a loose interpretation of the Japanese bento box morphed with the tradition of the migrant workers who shared their different cultural foods - into what is commonly known in Hawaii today as “plate lunch”.

Plate lunch is roughly described as a cafeteria-style lunch consisting of two scoops of white rice, one scoop of macaroni salad, and a main entrée of some sort of meat. The meat dish is derived from Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, or Filipino food. Plate lunch has been a staple in Hawaii for years; it’s said the best plate lunch places are hole in the wall dives or lunch trucks. Having been to Hawaii a few times, I have experienced many plate lunches and I’ve really grown to enjoy this aspect of Hawaiian cuisine. The tradition of plate lunch has now reached the mainland and the L & L Hawaiian Barbecue franchise has been set up in about 10 states including Utah.

The dining options at L & L are quite simple. You basically have to decide what meat you want with your plate lunch. The choices are all pretty darn tasty if you ask me, so it’s really up to what kind of meat you’re feeling like that day. My favorite is the Hawaiian Barbecue Chicken. In this case barbeque sauce does not refer to the standard smoky, American barbecue sauce you normally think of. Instead this chicken is infused with flavor from a unique savory soy sauce-based marinade, likely adapted from Filipino style barbecue. If you’re feeling like something similar but would like beef instead, try the Korean style beef shortribs. If you crave sweetness, the teriyaki beef plate may be right up your alley. Feeling like fried food? The Japanese style chicken katsu is the way to go. Or if you’re feeling like it’s time for a Luau – go for the Kalua pig, a traditional Hawaiian succulent shredded pork.

There are a few other menu options which include seafood and some other Hawaiian favorites – such as Spam musubi, a sushi roll made of Spam, rice, and seaweed or the Loco Moco which consists of two scoops of white rice and two hamburger patties drenched in brown gravy over which a fried egg is placed. Sound a little heavy? This is the biggest complaint I’ve heard about Hawaiian food from various people. But perhaps as a consequence of offering this cuisine outside of the Hawaiian islands, L & L has started to offer a healthy options menu with scaled down portions, brown rice, and seafood such as salmon cakes, ahi tuna, or mahi mahi. So if you are a little health conscious, there are healthy alternatives here as well.

What I like about the Hawaiian plate lunch is its simplicity. It’s not real fancy but it’s really delicious; it’s just good hearty food that fills you up. It actually reminds me a lot of the food I ate growing up. On a day when I need something fast and filling to go, I drop by L & L to get my plate lunch, pop open a POG (Passion Orange Guava) juice (another Hawaiian favorite), and dive right into this comforting, soul-satisfying meal.

L & L Hawaiian Barbecue ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
358 South 700 East (and a Provo location as well)


L & L Hawiian Barbeque on Urbanspoon


I get together about once a month with a few friends I used to be in culinary school with. It’s a great time to see each other, catch-up with each other’s lives, and hear about what’s going on at the school for those of us who are no longer there. I like to hear about how people’s classes are going, what chef-instructor’s gotten fired (and they fire a lot of them at this school), and what culinary and life adventures people have been getting themselves into. This month it was my turn to organize our informal “food club” gathering and I chose to have dinner at Epic. I’d eaten here several times before with things generally ranging from just okay to good, but never great. So I wanted one more visit to make my mind up about this place. I wondered if Epic would be up to the challenge tonight?

Epic is located in a strange strip mall next to a toddler jungle gym and a Burger King. The location certainly doesn’t instill confidence in a casual dining establishment, but when you walk into the restaurant you see that it is in fact very nice. It’s casually decorated, but modern looking; it’s definitely a place that invites you to take a seat and have some food. If I were to directly compare it to another restaurant that I’ve reviewed before, I’d say it certainly is comparable in style, cost, and clientele to Café Trio. On this particular night Epic was also hosting an acoustic guitar player, so we even got some nice background music with dinner.

We decided to share a couple of appetizers before the main course: an order of flatbread and the grilled artichoke. The flatbread was tasty, served with grilled chicken and a cranberry-cheddar soft cheese, with a parsley aioli. The flavors reminded me a bit of the holidays – I think because of the cranberries. It was nicely balanced with creaminess from the cheese, some chewiness from the cranberries, and some walnuts for crunch. It was good, but the idea is hardly original. In fact, it’s sort of a deconstructed chicken salad. I remember having a bastardized version of this at a Pampered Chef party that I attended a couple of years ago where the sales rep made something similar out of canned chicken, craisins, and Pillsbury canned croissants. Um yeah, you can imagine how that turned out, but I digress…
The grilled artichokes were served drenched in clarified butter and garlic. So really, how bad can that be? The younger, smaller leaves toward the top were tender and delicious. You could pop these right into your mouth. However, you had to use the rougher lower leaves essentially as a vessel to scoop out the butter-laden filling. The artichokes were not perfect as they came out a bit oily because of its sauce, but health concerns aside - they were also pretty tasty.

Knowing we’d be having a few filling appetizers I felt like I should have something light for dinner. I also wanted something that would be clean on my palate, so I ordered the seared Ahi Tuna. I think this was a good choice. The Ahi was coated in sesame seeds, seared rare, and served with an Asian style spicy peanut sauce, white basmati rice, and vegetables - overall a very healthful dish. The plating was okay but it reminded me a little of a cafeteria as the rice came out in the shape of an ice cream scoop. The Ahi was placed around the scoop of rice and some mixed sautéed vegetables were placed around the rice. The tuna itself was great. It was cooked perfectly; the rare tuna was soft and tender, given some nice texture from the coating of sesame seeds. The rice was very bland and perhaps a little underdone. Even just the addition of some herbage would have heightened the rice a bit. I think the vegetables were also somewhat of a mess. I found these to be a bit clunky; they appeared to be from a bag of frozen mixed veggies similar to what you’d get from a grocery freezer aisle. I would have appreciated a simpler veg side dish – maybe a single vegetable with a cleaner taste. For example, some simple green beans tossed in a sesame vinaigrette or maybe some roasted asparagus. In this case, I think less would have been more – and the focus of the dish, the Ahi, would have really shown through.

Generally speaking, I think everyone enjoyed his or her dish. Other dishes around the table included the salmon, the pork medallions, and the white shrimp. Again, I think it was a little hit and miss with the plating. One of my friends mentioned that her salmon was actually covered up with tomatoes – as if they were trying to hide the salmon. Perhaps they were hiding an oddly shaped piece? In any case, no major complaints were heard around the table. One annoying thing that came up, however, was the fact that there were no options for those who were gluten intolerant. It turns out that one of my friends has Celiac Disease and can’t have anything made from wheat flour. The menu options at Epic for people with this condition were piss poor. So poor in fact that my friend had a special caprese salad made: tomato, fontina (I guess they didn’t have any fresh mozzarella around), and basil with a balsamic vinaigrette. She quite enjoyed it but in this day and age with people having special needs, restaurants should be more accommodating. I think it’s a little pathetic if the only dining option for someone with gluten intolerance is a cold tomato salad. It’s very uninventive and just lacks total imagination and effort. The staff should have reacted with better options and been willing to put something together that would have been truly special. I think taking this kind of extra step for customers is what separates restaurants from being mediocre to being good or great. And I think this is the reason that I consider Epic somewhere in between mediocre and good. I do think this visit with my food club helped to make up my mind about this place – and Epic was definitely not up to the challenge.

Epic ~ Midvale, Utah
707 E. Fort Union Blvd.
Chef/owner Ken Rose

Epic Casual Dining on Urbanspoon

The Mariposa

The Mariposa is Deer Valley Ski Resort’s high-end, high-brow, gourmet restaurant. The menu is eclectic ranging from classic preparations like entrees such as cassoulet with duck confit to more modern appetizers like roasted quail wrapped in pancetta. It is very obvious that the menu at The Mariposa is developed to satisfy a very sophisticated palate. And customers don’t get this sophistication on the cheap – every menu item boasts a hefty price. However, given that the ingredients are of the highest quality possible, that their wine list has consistently been awarded for excellence by Wine Spectator magazine, and that their service is not just good – but superb – it is not surprising that this place is so expensive…but believe me…it is soooo worth it.

Our waiter recognized us from previous visits. It was nice to see a familiar face and he nudged us on a little asking, “So what are we going to eat this time?” The last time we dined at The Mariposa he had convinced us to go with the Chef’s tasting menu - a six course meal highlighting certain items off of the menu. This is a great way to taste many different Mariposa favorites. For example, we sampled appetizers such as the ahi sashimi – absolutely sublime…so clean tasting and buttery that it could have just slid down my throat. Four courses later we received our final entrée taste, the rocky mountain rack of lamb. The lamb was a succulent pink, tender and juicy, served with a lovely pesto and crispy potatoes. For a tasting menu, I actually thought some of the portion sizes were just a little bit too big. I think I was full even just after the third course. But we did the impossible by finishing up with the sixth and final course: dessert, sampling a few of the pastry chef’s marvelous creations. It’s seldom that I would call a meal absolutely perfect, but I felt like this night at The Mariposa was the closest I might ever get. The night was very memorable and it definitely left me wanting for more. Specifically, I knew the next time I came in I would have to have the sablefish.

So back to our most recent visit - because of our previous experience with the tasting menu, we decided against doing the tasting again and would just order regular menu items. We began our meal with an amuse bouche compliments of the chef. This single bite contained a mix of julienned apples served over a dollop of crab all atop a small piece of crispy pancetta. The play of sweet from the apples, savory from the pancetta and crab and the crispy, smooth, and creamy textures were quite delightful on the taste buds. It made for a very nice start to the evening. We decided to go with The Mariposa’s version of fried green tomatoes as an appetizer. These fried green tomatoes were served with a sweet corn chile sauce, warm goat cheese, and nice mix of baby greens: absolutely delicious – crispy, tart, sweet, creamy…the perfect combination of flavor and texture.

My dining companion got something neither of us had had before: the bison filet. Instead of going with something new and unknown, I stuck with something I had gotten before: the sablefish. Why? Only because this was simply THE BEST fish dish I’ve ever had. I wanted to see if eating this fish again would allow me to experience the same feelings of ecstasy I remember from my last visit. And the verdict? It was better than I remembered. Just like last time, the texture of the fish was perfect…like velvet – so smooth and buttery. The fish is glazed with honey and tamari, adding a hint of sweetness and sesame as well as giving it a glossy finish. It was plated sitting atop a soft, risotto-like rice cake and some wild mushrooms. I detected a subtle ginger taste that contrasted nicely with the woody mushroom flavor. It all came together so beautifully. The stuff dreams are made of this sablefish is.

However, the sablefish was not to be outdone by the second entrée on our table. The bison filet was tender, not gamey at all, and cooked to a perfect medium rare. Compared to the clean flavors of my fish, the bison was very much on the rich side. It came accompanied by foie gras and some type of bleu cheese as well as a sweet potato gratin. The dish was lovely, albeit not what I would call a light dish – and to be nit-picky, I didn’t appreciate the symmetricality of the plating. I thought it looked a little weird. But aesthetics aside, the bison was absolutely delicious. If I had to choose between the two entrees however, the sablefish would win hands-down! To finish off our meal, we decided to do a Mariposa classic for dessert and went with the chocolate snowball. This is a very dense bittersweet chocolate cake, coated with whipped cream. It is a dark chocolate lover’s dream – not too sweet, but not too bitter, and surprisingly not too rich…and not only is it a great dessert, but it’s also a work of art as well. The artistry is just amazing; I wonder how long it took the pastry chef to pipe all of that whipped cream just to cover one cake?

The Mariposa is a unique fine dining experience in a very comfortable, informal, and relaxed setting: an old ski lodge. One unique - and quite unfortunate - aspect of being situated in a ski resort lodge is the sad fact that this restaurant remains open only during the ski season, December through April. This means that you only have five short months to enjoy the creations that come out of their kitchen. The months through spring, summer, and fall will prove extra long for me this year. And like many skiers who are waiting for the next winter season to come around, jones-ing for that first powder run, I’ll also be looking forward to next year’s ski season. I can already taste the sablefish in my mouth. I hope it will be better than I remember.

The Mariposa ~ Park City, Utah

Deer Valley Resort

Executive Chef Clark Norris

The Mariposa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 22, 2009


If I were to open up my own restaurant, I imagine it would be something like Café Trio. Trio is a neighborhood restaurant perched in the 9th and 9th area. The place itself is very modern and elegant without being too cold, uninviting, or pretentious. The fare at Trio is Italian ranging in style from items like spaghetti and meatball (yes, here they serve spaghetti with only one meatball – albeit it’s huge) and wood-fired pizzas to modern interpretations of classics like pork tenderloin picatta. Both food and wine are moderately priced and you’d feel comfortable coming into Trio either for a big celebration or just for a casual night out after work. I wouldn’t call Trio super fancy – the food is composed of basic ingredients, the preparation of which is rarely unusual – but the food is done right and is put together perfectly, the service is consistently good, and the atmosphere is vibrant and lively. This is my kind of place.

We met some friends at Trio for dinner before some theatre. We began with an order of flatbread as an appetizer and some cocktails to start. Our herb and cheese flatbread came with a standard basil pesto, a white bean puree, and an olive tapenade. I must say that this flatbread trio has become somewhat of a standard for me, as I’ve noticed it’s almost always ordered every time I go (whether by me or someone else). The bread is crisp but slightly tender and pairs well with the various dips. The white bean dip is very creamy and velvety with a very subtle taste, as opposed to the robust tang of the chunky, red olive dip. The green pesto is very earthy with lots of texture from the strong mix of garlic, herbs, pine nuts, and cheese. The trio of dips is very colorful: red, white, and green – an obvious play on the Italian flag. Usually this salute to Italian patriotism is evident in items like Margherita pizza (mozzarella cheese, red sauce, and basil – again, white, red, and green) but I quite like their own unique interpretation. Rounded out with a couple of cocktails - we had a great start to the evening.

Among the four of us, we sampled two pasta plates, a wood-fired pizza, and one of their more fancy dishes. How were the pasta dishes? Well, let’s just put it this way - how can you go wrong with layers of cooked noodle, sauce, and cheese? Talk about ooey and gooey - and oh so delicious. The special pasta of the night was a mushroom and spinach lasagna. This dish was quite lovely. I must say the mushroom flavor was a bit lost amongst the goo and overall the flavor profile was a bit of a one-noter, but it tasted great and was very satisfying. The same can be said of their baked penne, which we also had that night. Their classic carbonara (which we didn’t have this night but is another favorite that I’d recommend) is cooked to a perfect al dente made creamy from the eggs and crunchy from the bacon; peas add a nice green fleck among the yellow sauce and brown bacon. The wood-fired pizza tonight was also very delicious. The crispy, thin-crusted pizza was topped with spicy Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, and pepperoni. Again, tasty and simple, and really good – slight sweetness from the peppers and a hit me over the head savory-ness with the pepperoni and Italian sausage.

We also had the chance to sample one of the house specialties: a composed plate of seared salmon. The presentation was modern, the base of the dish was Israeli couscous tossed in a simple vinaigrette, atop which was a bed of sautéed vegetables including peppers and tomatoes. The salmon sat on the very top giving the dish some height and a creamy citrus béchamel was drizzled over the salmon. The couscous provided a nice starchy quality and the veg provided some crunch. The salmon was cooked to a perfect medium. The dish was good – some simple ingredients used very simply. Nothing pretentious about it. It was even farmed salmon. A major faux pas? Maybe in a fine dining, hoity-toity establishment…but I find Trio serving this salmon perfectly fine, fitting in with their non-pretentious vibe.

We ended our meal with a few desserts - an apple cobbler with ice cream, a tollhouse pie with ice cream, and chocolate pudding. Oh my heck, can you say comfort to the max? Anything a la mode is a great dessert in my book. Both the cobbler and the tollhouse pie were your classic sweet desserts providing some nice crunchy textures, countered well with the smooth, rich ice cream. Neither were exactly the prettiest thing to look at, and they leaned on the super sweet side, but boy were they good. You couldn’t help but keep plowing through more of it until it was all gone. But I think the definite star of desserts that evening was the chocolate pudding, demonstrating a sophisticated and elegant finish to the meal. First of all the presentation was clever: the pudding was placed in a coffee cup and topped off with whipped cream and a biscotti – mimicking the look of an after dinner cappuccino. There’s something really inviting about a dessert that’s served in a vessel that you can dig deep into. The pudding was smooth in consistency with the right balance between sweet and bitter. And unlike the a la mode desserts above, you didn’t feel assaulted with sweetness or richness. It was a nice little ditty to finish the evening off with.

Delivering consistently delicious food with basic ingredients, Trio continues to pack the people in day in and day out. It’s a vibrant place welcoming of all walks of life. Sometimes I think it would be fun to open up my own restaurant – something much like Trio. I’d want a place where people would feel like it would be affordable and casual enough to come to dinner a couple times a week but would equally feel right coming in for a special occasion in suit and tie to celebrate a major event. Trio is a like a home away from home, serving basic food that satisfies anyone. So does this inspire me to plan, save, and move forward with starting a restaurant in the future? Mmm…I think sometimes it does. Then I remember the statistic that something like 80-90% of new restaurants fail after their first year or so and the horror stories of people investing and losing tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a little bit too daunting for me. I’ll continue to think about it. In the meantime, I’ll head to Trio for dinner as much as I can.

Café Trio ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

9th and 9th (original location) or Cottonwood Heights
Executive Chef Shannon Roarke
Executive Pastry Chef Lisa Spencer


Cafe Trio on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Having just moved from a dark, dingy, basement in a sugarhouse strip mall to its new location in a spacious open space near what used to be the Cottonwood mall area, Michelangelo’s has improved upon one of its biggest liabilities: ambience. I distinctly remember the dark basement with no windows; plastic plants were scattered around in cheap plastic vases and plastic vines were strung atop doors. What’s up with the plastic? Well I assume since there was little natural light in the basement, plastic was the way to go if you wanted something seemingly vibrant, living, and green. Actually and unfortunately, I think it had the opposite effect. And the bathroom was just…well…the kind of bathroom you’d expect when visiting an elderly grandparent in a retirement home. The problem with the décor was that it set you up for immediate criticism of the food. If the place looked this way, would the food be any different? Talking to the mother of the owner, who was also the hostess the night we went to the new Michelangelo’s, this was a major motivating factor for the move.

In contrast to the old location, the new location is spacious and open. As you enter the restaurant you can see an open kitchen where you can watch cooks preparing cold items such as salads, appetizers, and bread; the exposed brick gives the area a very rustic, industrial feel – a long way from plastic plants in the basement. The main dining room is just to the right of the open kitchen and is elegantly decorated with appropriate lighting and decorations…and windows! I couldn’t resist a peek in the bathroom. Not to my surprise, it was modern and perfectly usable – no geriatric images came to mind at all, although there was a plastic garbage can in the corner that struck me as a little cheap, not exactly fitting into a newly renovated modern bathroom. I’m hoping this was a temporary fix for opening week and that someone will replace this with a more substantial stainless steel can or something like that.

With a huge improvement in space, I wondered if they improved in what I considered their second biggest liability as a restaurant: timing. To sum it up: the service here is really slow. It was super slow at the old location and unfortunately it turns out this hasn’t changed much at the new location either. We were seated promptly and our orders were taken very quickly. But once the orders were taken…well… we just sort of sat there waiting. Even the hostess swung by, chatting to us, and asked, “Haven’t you been served yet?” When we said no (this being 30 minutes or longer after being seated and not having even been served our starting course) she retorted, “Oh well, it’s the Michelangelo’s way!” I guess even they’re aware that their delivery of food takes longer than your average restaurant.

When our starters did come out, we were ecstatic. We had just played a competitive game of squash and were starving! The appetizers were also beautiful. We shared the soup of the day which was a Tuscan tomato bread soup called ‘Pappa al Pomodoro’. It looked a very nice deep red color with green basil leaves and big shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano atop. If you took a spoonful of the soup alone, you’d find the soup really bland actually – seemed it could’ve used a bit more salt. But if you dug into the soup with some of the cheese and basil, these additions really brought out the flavor of the tomato and rounded it out nicely. The soup really grew on me as I ate it. It was very satisfying. We also shared a celery salad. Can I just say that this salad was the highlight of my evening? It was a wonderful mix of celery, apple, Gorgonzola cheese, red onion, pine nuts, and raisins tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette made with Saba (syrup made from freshly squeezed grape juice). First of all it was beautiful. The texture was great: chewy, crispy, and creamy all at once. The flavor was lovely: sweet, salty, and acidic, with a little fat and tartness from the cheese. I definitely had high hopes for dinner but if I ended my meal with this salad, I would have been extremely happy.

Michelangelo’s is well known for making its own pasta. In previous visits, I’ve been amazed with their homemade raviolis, canolis, and tortellinis. On this particular visit to the new location we opted for two menu items that didn’t use homemade pasta: their carbonara and the risotto of the day. The risotto was just okay. It wasn’t exactly inedible but it was borderline too spicy for me. It was a mushroom risotto with spicy Colosimo Italian sausage. The flavor of the risotto had a nice mushroom backbone but the sausage was so spicy that you couldn’t really taste anything else after you had a couple of pieces. The consistency of the risotto was also slightly off. It was a nice ‘al dente’ but it was almost soupier than it was creamy. I was a little disappointed with this after that amazing salad. The carbonara fared better though. It was creamy and the spaghetti had a nice bite to it as well. The salty bacon added the right amount of crispiness to contrast with the creaminess and fat in the pasta. It was basically your standard carbonara. But if I were to compare it to other Italian places I’ve been to in Salt Lake, I’d say I’ve had better.

I think it was generally a good visit. The new location is a reason in and of itself to give it a try. It really is a drastic change from the old location. And if you’d never been to the old location, it will be a nice good first impression for you. The menu hasn’t changed which means their old stand-bys of homemade pasta are still available. It’s rare these days to find a place that actually makes its own pasta on-site. I’d recommend going with one of these if you choose to visit Michelangelo’s. Just be prepared for what could be a long wait…and be sure not to go when you’re in a hurry.

Michelangelo’s ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

2156 Highland Drive

Chef/co-owner: Scott Ashley


Michelangelo Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 2, 2009


It’s always said of real estate that location is everything – for any property ranging from one’s home to a successful business. Location will allow your home to gain value over the years…and location will afford your business free advertising and accessibility to a loyal customer base. Location, location, location. So you would think that situating a restaurant among people’s homes, obviously away from any other businesses, would be virtual suicide for any restaurant. This is decidedly not the case for Em’s. But then again, Em’s is not just any restaurant.

Em’s is tucked away in a residential neighborhood up near the Capitol. If you’ve never heard of it, you might never come across it. Em’s dining room is quaint, simply but elegantly decorated - giving the restaurant a warm and comfortable feel. A glance over of the menu also resonates this warm and comforting vibe. You get a glimpse of the chef’s personal style when you read through menu items such as ‘Leek stuffed wild salmon served over creamy cabbage’ or ‘Morgan Valley rack of lamb with a potato-shallot custard and jalapeno jelly’. Indeed, the chef prepares items using only the finest local and organic ingredients, and each menu item reflects this personal philosophy.

We began our meal with a few appetizers – taking our palates through a journey from Italy and Latin America to France. We started with gnocchi tossed in a fresh parsley and basil pesto. I seldom ever enjoy eating gnocchi because I find them often over-mixed and super dense. The gnocchi at Em’s, however, were fluffy and light as a cloud. There was a creaminess to the gnocchi that made them just melt in your mouth like butter. It was a perfect beginning to the evening. We moved to an order of tamales stuffed with goat cheese, served over a chipotle cream. The flavors were amazing. The corn tamales were a little sweet and contrasted nicely with the slight tartness of the goat cheese. The chipotle cream really tied the flavors in the tamales together nicely. My only complaint about the tamales was the temperature. As I bit into some of the tamales, there were noticeably cold sections, suggesting that they weren’t warmed through thorougly prior to serving. I’m a stickler for attention to details and although the temperature didn’t ruin the tamales for me, I was a little disappointed with this oversight. Lastly, we enjoyed the country pate served with toasted baguette. The pate was smooth and easily spreadable on the crunchy bread. It was served alongside a peppery aspic, which added some dimension and kick to the salty pate. Having this little bit of protein at the beginning of our meal really served to wet the appetite.

My dinner companions enjoyed a variety of entrees which I also had the pleasure of tasting. Both the special braised lamb shank and the maple-bacon glazed pork chop were excellent…rustic fare at its best. No fancy plating here – just a big old piece of meat served over some type of potato. Speaking of potato, I also found the potato lasagna to be a very unique idea. It consisted of layers of potato in between which parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses were tied together by a white cream sauce. The lasagna was very rich and creamy with some texture provided by the potatoes; though I must say that the appearance wasn’t the most appetizing. It was molded into a round form and it sort of just looked like a big white mound….like a really undercooked white cake taken too soon out of its cake pan. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly an invitation to eat. If it were up to me, I would have made the presentation a little more rustic – serving the lasgana in an individual ramekin or a deep bowl making sure the top was nicely charred and crunchy…tantalizing the diners to dig deep with their forks and their stomachs. However, when I did dig into the potato lasagna, it left me with a comforting impression…almost of a dressed up gratin – ooey and gooey – and oh so good. Okay, I forgive the chef for the choice of presentation; the potato lasagna was such a unique twist on a comfort food classic.

For my entrée, I had one of the specials of the evening, an orange glazed duck breast served with a sweet potato puree. The duck was cooked to a perfect medium with just the right amount of pink in the middle and the flavor was fantastic. The orange sauce provided a nice background for the slightly gamey meat. My only criticism of the duck itself was the lack of texture. I would have liked to see more of the fat rendered out of the skin to make it nice and crispy. The sweet potato puree had a nice smooth consistency and the flavor was lovely – with hints of nutmeg, maple, and a warm cinnamon. Overall the entree was quite delicious. However, with the sweet glaze on the duck I might have favored a more savory starch. At times, I did find the dish to be overly sweet.

Overall I would say that my visit to Em’s wasn’t without its flaws. But were there so many infractions that it deterred me from enjoying my evening? Absolutely not. The food was good and the service was excellent. Maybe I feel this way because I consider myself a biased, loyal customer. I admit that Em’s is one of my favorite stand-bys. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, as there remained a steady flow of customers coming into the restaurant late into the evening. As we left, waiters were walking by with entrees piled high and deep. Em’s isn’t the kind of place where you’ll find fancily decorated petite plates sporting the latest trends in haute cuisine. Sometimes it amazes me how a restaurant like Em’s, smack dab in the middle of a city neighborhood, does so well night after night, year after year. But maybe what they say about location isn’t all true. At Em’s you get a rustic home cooked meal guaranteed to satisfy the hungriest of souls - and just maybe the food is enough to get people to come back for more. It’s certainly enough for me.

Em’s ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

Capitol Hill

Chef/Owner Emily Gassmann


Em's on Urbanspoon