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