Sunday, April 25, 2010


'...they still got it.'

Three things I like about spring: 1) an end to snow, 2) the weather is not too hot yet, but not freezing cold (it reminds me a lot of the weather I grew up with in the bay area), and 3) new spring restaurant menus. New spring menus mean that a restaurant changes their menu according to the seasons. Eating what's in season means using the freshest product out there; it's also a nice change to the monotony people might feel in a menu that stays the same year in and year out. I think we all get in a rut, eating what we know and love at our favorite establishments. The thought of something new on the menu allows a restaurant to grow and re-introduce itself to you. It had been a while since I had been to the Metropolitan...and I felt like it was time to get re-acquainted.

The Metropolitan offers a great space - the mix of materials such as exposed concrete, stainless steel, and polished copper all work together in a fluid modern concept. You can't help but feel sophisticated and chic in this place. The service is equally as bright, with obvious professionals aiding you at the front door, serving you pre-dinner cocktails at the bar, and executing near flawless service tableside during your meal. The experience is seamless at the Metropolitan; it's easy to be there...and the good news is that it's even easier to eat there. We started our meal off with an amuse bouche of a crisp potato wafer in a potato and leek puree. This duo of potato nicely reflected a deep, rich potato flavor in the puree with the crispy potato adding some nice crunch. We started our meal off with ease.

We continued with a plate of the artisanal green salad. The salad was lovely, lightly dressed in a creamy ramp dressing, topped with shaved fennel, crispy sweet potato, and smoked onions. The smoked onions gave a nice smokey background and almost a pickled kind of taste - adding some zest to the salad. This paired nicely with the licorice flavor from the fennel and the sweetness of the potato crisps. Ramps, which are relatives of the leek, really give this salad a nice bright, spring coating in the form of a creamy vinaigrette. This composed salad was really quite amazing....artisanal indeed.

We continued to be impressed with our entrees. The Utah trout was particularly satisfying, served over a pear and pistachio puree alongside some radishes and fiddlehead ferns. The trout was well cooked, although I thought the skin could have been crisper (I'm a big fan of crispy fish skin) and the pistachio and pear puree offered a rich, sweet, nutty, and creamy alternative to mashed potatoes. The soft texture of trout paired with a soft puree screams for some texture and that's where the fiddlehead ferns came in. If you've never had a fiddlehead fern, I suggest you try it...before it's too late. Fiddlehead ferns are only available for a limited time in the spring so I'm sure this is one entree on the Metropolitan's menu that will change in the next month. The fiddlehead ferns are a bit like green beans in that they don't have a strong flavor, but they offered a nice crunch to the otherwise soft accoutrements.

Also pretty amazing was the Wagyu beef. Wagyu is essentially the American version of Japanese Kobe beef, arguably the best beef in the world. At the Metropolitan, their Wagyu is served over fava beans and ciopollini onions, with mashed leeks and cashew butter. The beef, cooked perfectly medium-rare melted in your mouth. I hate to say it because it's kind of cliche - but it was like butter. The onion and mashed leek gave it an American steakhouse appeal but the cashew butter added a richness that brought this dish to another level. Could it get any better than this?

Indeed it did. Better came in the form of dessert: a red curry crepe served with caramelized bananas and chocolate with a dollop of yogurt sorbet on top. In a word: delicious. The bananas were sweet and silky, a hint of cinnamon gave it a Banana's Fosters feel. The use of red curry in the crepe batter was ingenious. The curry offers a slight bit of heat as well as that wonder factor. If the menu hadn't told me there was curry in the crepe, I would have never guessed it. It doesn't register on your tongue as the spice that you know from Indian or Thai food - but the crepe has a unique flavor that keeps you guessing and that's what I really enjoyed. The chocolate and yogurt sorbet melted into a sauce that really brought the entire thing together. A superb ending to a great meal.

The dessert, the entire meal really, kept me on my toes, taking food I was familiar with and giving it a little unique twist - turning everything into something a little more special. To me that's what New American cooking is all about: a modern interpretation on classic American flavors. The Metropolitan is a master at its craft. In my mind it was the first and is really still one of the few forerunners of modern, cutting edge food here in Salt Lake City. The Metropolitan has long been Utah's model for New American Cuisine and their new spring menu is a reminder to me that sometimes the tried and true places like the Metropolitan...they still got it.

The Metropolitan ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
173 West Broadway
Principal Owner: Karen Olson
Executive Chefs: Chris Durfee and Justin Shifflett

Metropolitan on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hatch Family Chocolates

'We all have our weaknesses in life...'

I have a confession to make: I'm a chocolaholic. I need to eat a piece of chocolate every day...even if it's just a little bite.  I know I have a problem...I'm addicted but acknowledging you have a problem is the first step right? There are a number of places to go to get my chocolate fix around Salt Lake City but one of my favorites is Hatch Family Chocolates. Located in the Avenues neighborhood of SLC, this family run chocolate shop offers a variety of chocolate confections, as well as ice cream, coffee, and espresso. If I'm in the neighborhood (or sometimes even if I'm across town) I'll swing by this candy shop for some sweet relief.

One really cool aspect of their store is that all of the chocolate is made and dipped by hand. That means if you've got a chocolate covered caramel, they not only roll out the caramel by hand but then they dip individual pieces into different chocolates by hand as well. Now that's dedication and true artistry - not to mention time consuming. Most chocolate places use a conveyor belt system to "enrobe" their candies in chocolate giving them an endless supply. I like the fact that at Hatch, it truly is a hands-on affair for these chocolatiers. It also means that everything in the cases is pretty fresh; however, that also means there is a limited supply of particular candies. So they can and do run out of candy quickly...therefore, if you see what you want - get it.

There are different chocolates that fill the cases but some of my favorites include the dark chocolate caramels, the haystack, orange creams, and the chocolate covered dates. I love the bitter taste and chalky feel of dark, dark chocolate. It makes for a great contrast with the sweetness of Hatch's smooth, soft, rich and creamy caramels. Orange and chocolate is another great combination and not only are the flavors paired nicely in Hatch's orange creams,  the thick layer of chocolate is also a great textural contrast to the orange cream's gooey center. Although I mostly indulge in dark chocolates, I also believe there is a time and a place for milk chocolate. Hatch's haystacks offer a nice milk chocolate bite amidst crisp, toasted coconut - another classic flavor combination. And an interesting fruit filled delicacy to try is the milk chocolate covered date. It's a date stuffed with nougat, covered in chocolate and walnuts. It's sweet, savory, and fleshy all in one bite. It's got some fruit in it, so it's healthy right? In addition to an array of different chocolates, Hatch also serves up some specialty desserts. Need a last minute dessert for a dinner party? Pick up a few of Hatch's chocolate pot de cremes. These creamy little chocolate puddings go a long way to end any meal just right; they also work as a great afternoon snack...with whip cream or without.

Neighborhood chocolate stores are becoming a thing of the past. So it's nice to see a shop like Hatch's doing well. It's perfectly located in a place where you can drop by, get a sweet treat and move along. And I often find myself doing just that. It doesn't take much for me to fill my chocolate addiction. Just one of Hatch's little creations usually is enough to curb my craving. But when I enter the shop and get the whiff of all that chocolate in the air, I usually end up stocking up on a few things. We all have our weaknesses in life...and I am an addict after all.

Hatch Family Chocolates ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
The Avenues
390 4th Avenue
Co-owners: Steve and Katie Hatch

note: Steve, Katie, and the gang at Hatch Family Chocolates appear weekly (every Tuesday night) on the cable channel TLC in their own reality show/documentary series called Little Chocolatiers.

Hatch Family Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 1, 2010


' unfortunately was pretty sad.'

I've always been fascinated with the exterior of the Pagoda restaurant in the Avenues. The beautiful Pagoda like structure and the exquisitely kept landscaping out front has always caught my eye. I'm a sucker for aesthetics, so every time I drive by the Pagoda I feel like the restaurant is calling my name - and I always have the urge to drop in to try it. This has been going on for the past 10 years. Why, then have I never stepped foot into this restaurant if I've been so curious? How did I withstand the urge to ever have a meal there? Well the answer is simple: everyone I ever talked to about the place has told me it sucks. "Sucks ass" - I think that's an exact quote. Recently though, the original owners of Pagoda have sublet the restaurant out to someone else. When I heard that Marlene Noda, formerly a manager at Ginza, took over the reigns at Pagoda - I seized the opportunity to finally eat at this classic Utah establishment.

I wish I could say the aesthetics inside of the place match the fun exterior. The interior in fact was much the opposite of fun - it unfortunately was pretty sad. Upon finally entering the restaurant, I was surprised to see what must be the original furniture (which was probably purchased in the late 50s/early 60s?) still occupying the dining room. The dining room itself is very, very dark. Somewhat odd, generic-looking Asian-type screens are scattered sporadically around the tables to break the room up but the mix of this more chic decor alongside old, beat up vinyl black chairs is a little unsettling. In fact, it gives off a little bit of a convalescent home-trying to be hip-kind of feel. Not at all appetizing.

A friend and I had lunch at the Pagoda and began by sharing the self-proclaimed house specialty sushi roll - "The Pagoda Roll". Big mistake. The roll consisted of either tuna or salmon (I couldn't even tell what fish was in it) rolled in traditional Maki style with rice and seaweed (I think there might have been cream cheese or avocado in it as well, who knows?) that was then battered and tempura fried and topped with a flavored mayo (aioli) and soy.  Ack.  The flavors were so muddled. It could have been chicken in there for all that mattered. A few hours later, both my friend and I felt a little sick in the stomach. We both think it was thanks to this house specialty.

To try a variety of things for lunch, I decided on getting the "Daniel-San" which was a Bento box consisting of the famous Pagoda BBQ ribs, gyoza, a California roll, tempura onions and white rice. This is a lot of food, but for $14.95 it seemed a bit steep to me for lunch. This priced seemed even more steep after I actually tried the food. To be fair, the ribs were the best out of the bunch - soft and tender with a sticky and slightly sweet sauce. Nothing totally superb, but they were good. The gyoza, little Japanese potstickers which I normally love, were a little off tasting to me - a bit too gingery, the texture of which was a little mushy. The tempura onions were unmemorable, crispy yet pretty bland; I've definitely had way better. To top it off the California roll was uninspired; krab with a k is just crab with a p. Overall the Bento box was limp, definitely lacking some major personality. I think I would have been happier with just a plate of the ribs and rice. My friend who got the "Noda-san" (vegetable tempura with chicken teriyaki, a tuna roll, and rice) also commented how unimpressive it was. In fact he mentioned that the teriyaki at the Smith's grocery store at 8th and 9th is a lot better...and cheaper. Too bad they can't just stick a big ol' pagoda inside of there to attract more customers.

To top it off, we wanted to talk a little with Marlene about her move from Ginza to Pagoda, as well as to see if there were any major changes coming to the restaurant under her supervision. We asked the waiter several times if she were available and although he insisted she was coming out to speak with us, she never showed. The restaurant wasn't busy at all, so it would have been nice to get a hello at the very least.

It seems this new Pagoda has got some problems - problems that the beautiful exterior unfortunately can't help. I guess it's true what they's what's on the inside that really counts. For their sake I hope Pagoda has a major overhaul coming up. The place has so much potential with such a great exterior; it's got curb appeal as they say. Finally eating at this Utah classic was essentially anti-climatic for me. Like their Bento box, the restaurant was poorly executed, limp, and seemingly soul-less. I drove past Pagoda the other day on my way to the chocolate shop in the Avenues and, not surprisingly, I no longer had any desire to drop in.

Pagoda  ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
26 N. E Street ~ The Avenues
Owner: Marlene Noda

Pagoda on Urbanspoon