Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spaghetti Mama's

Address: 9400 S State St, Sandy, UT 84070. 801.304.4075.

Review: Here's a sure fire why to tell a self-professed Italian restaurant won't produce good Italian food: it's name contains a misspelling. Amazingly, you would think someone would misspell "spaghetti" what with its seven letters and all. But no, somehow someone misspelled "mamma," creating the distinctively non-Italian "mama." Now, one could argue "mama" is an American word and signifies Italian-American food, but in this case even that's a stretch. Spaghetti Mama's does in fact make Italian-American food, but not very well.

The first thing we notice about this restaurant was the austerity of the menu. For dinner (dinner mind you) there were only about seven main entrée choices.

We started our meal with the house salad. Normal house salad everyone's had a thousand times. Next was the calamari. It came lightly breaded (good) and tender (good). It also came doused (bad) in a spicy sauce (meh) which removed all crunchiness from the breading (bad), and inexplicably topped with chopped tomatoes (worthless and tasteless). Then came the chicken parmesan served over spaghetti. Like so many American Italian restaurants, the tomato sauce was not incorporated with the spaghetti, creating a mound of partially dry, partially hydrated pasta. This technical faux paus aside, the sauce was watery and had no character. The chicken was breaded and fried and topped with cheese (what you would expect), but lacked any of the crunchy goodness you expect from good fried chicken. Additionally, the cheese lacked good mozzarella flavor. It was bland, lifeless, soulless food.

At one point during our meal, we looked to the booth next to us and noticed a plaque with the following inscription, "Larry and Gail Miller." Not even the presence of this great businessman and philanthropist can save Spaghetti Mama's from itself.

Rating: 3/10 (5/10 is average)

Spaghetti Mama's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thai Siam

Address: 1435 S State St, SLC, UT 84115. 801.474.3322.

Review: Thai Siam is one of my buddy Dan's favorite haunts, and for good reason. Upon examining the menu, the lunch special stood out. It allows you to choose two dishes (from among about 15-20 options), gives you a spring roll, as well as sticky rice. I chose the coconut soup with chicken and the pad pra ram vegetarian.

The coconut soup was sweet and savory and aromatic, with infusions of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. While it lacked the presence of sour and heat so often present in Thai cooking, it had enough elements to make it work. The mushrooms were uncooked and yet not soggy in the least. The chicken was thinly sliced and tasty and added a necessary protein element.

The pad pra ram vegetarian was equally good, if not better than the coconut soup. The vegetables were well cooked (i.e., they were cooked, but only to the al dente stage). The peanut sauce was unexpectedly sweet (in a good way) and afforded depth to the vegetables. Like the soup, however, the sauce lacked the balance of salty, sweet, sour, and heat so revered in Thai food. In a sense, the dish felt a little muted in order to appeal to an audience of Americans. This is understandably, if not somewhat disappointing. This said, I really enjoyed the dish. Heck, it even made me forget it lacked meat.

And the best part of this lunch: the price. It was $8 including tax. Honestly, a very tasty and reasonably-priced lunch.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Thai Siam on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 12, 2010

East Coast Subs

Address: 5018 S State St., Murray, UT 84107. 801.262.7827.

Review: I happened upon this place while I was visiting a bail bonds shop in Murray. It was 12.45 and the office was closed, so I decided to grab a bite to eat nearby.

East Coast Subs has a family-run business feel. Not dirty like the Philadelphian, and not slick like DP Cheesesteaks. It had the appearance of an old Tastee Freez (remember those?) turned sub shop. It should have stayed a Tastee Freez.

Because it is my mission to find the best cheesesteak in SLC, I tried (you guessed it) the cheesesteak. No cheez whiz here. White American, provolone, or pepper jack only. Ugh. After eschewing the offer of lettuce, tomatoes, etc., etc., etc., I ended up with pepper jack and some hot peppers. The steak was dry, the bread was soft like the mid-section of Chris Christie is soft, the cheese was nondescript, and the peppers weren't spicy. And it was expensive to boot. Not impressed was I.

Rating: 4/10 (5/10 is average)

East Coast Subs on Urbanspoon

Lone Star Taqueria

Address: 2265 Fort Union Blvd, SLC, UT 84121. 801.944.2300.

Review: As you enter Lone Star Taqueria's (LST) parking lot you realize a couple things: (1) there's never enough parking, and (2) it looks like a psychedelic hippie cowboy decorated the joint just before he went the way of all the earth. Amazingly, once you get inside and taste the tacos, neither of these matter in the least.

Now, LST serves all manner food: burritos, tacos, salads, tamales, etc. However, since LST is in fact a taqueria, I stayed with the tacos -- carnitas, carne adovada, and pescado to be precise.



Let me say up front that all three were good, but the pork tacos were very good. The carnitas was flavorful and crunchy, yet tender and juicy. This is a true feat since most carnitas are dry and a little tough. The carne adovada was equally good -- seasoned and fragrant, moist and tasty. The standard accompaniments of onions, cilantro, pico de gallo, and and hot sauce added to the experience. Sublime it was.

And now, the pescado, or fish taco. It had all the elements of a good fish taco: cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro, lime, and onions. What it missed for me was the breading. See, this fish taco is made with marinated and grilled fish, not breaded and fried fish. I know in my mind marinating and grilling produces better flavor, but my heart longed for fried crispy fish on my taco. There is no rhyme or reason to this desire; the heart wants what the heart wants. However, whether it's my heart or my mind, this was a good taco I would eat again and again.

Here's my only real beef with LST: price. You can, conceivably, find tacos or similar quality from a taco stand for half the price of LST tacos ($2.69 for most, $3.29 for the pescado). Of course, why go searching all over kingdom come for something of potentially equivalent quality when you can just drive to LST? Just hope you find some parking.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average)

Lone Star Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Bayleaf Cafe

Address: 159 S Main St, SLC, UT 84111. 801.359.8490.

Review: Okay, so I'm writing this review a bit differently than I usually do. Usually, I assign a rating to the reviewed restaurant. However, I can't in good conscience assign a rating to the Bayleaf Cafe because it has, in essence, multiple personality disorder. One personality is an old fashioned southern restaurant which serves soul food. Another personality is that of a southeast Asian restaurant. I partook of only one personality, and until after having partaken of the other, I will withhold all ratings. Now, on to the food.

I had one of my favorite dishes: chicken and waffles. Ain't much better than fried chicken. Ain't much better than waffles. Ergo, ain't much better than chicken and waffles. And while this syllogism is unsound, Bayleaf Cafe's chicken and waffles is not. The dish was served with only the chicken and the waffle, which is good since the dish didn't need anything else muddying the waters. After cascading loads of honey onto the dish, I dug in. The waffle, which should be the star of the dish, was crunchy and fluffy (if not a little thin for my taste). The chicken was golden brown and juicy. While I would have preferred a chicken thigh to the breast used (thighs have more flavor), and slightly more seasoning to stand up to the honey, I enjoyed the chicken. In all, the combo was just plain good and satisfying.

I look forward to going back and experiencing Bayleaf's Asian personality. If it's anything like the southern personality, it's gonna be good.

Bayleaf Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Burger Bar

Address: 5291 S 1900 W, Roy, UT 84067. 801.825.8961.

Review: I was in Roy for some training (I know. I know. Who goes to Roy for anything?) and tried the "Diner, Drive-ins, and Dives" recommended Burger Bar.


I figured the joint would be good when I talked with a regular who had been frequenting since he was a child many a decade ago. Let's see if the regular's years of loyalty were worth it.

The first time I went, I decided to go a little back country and try the elk burger.


Elk has a distinctively different taste than beef. It's not gamy, but it does have a full-bodied flavor that works well in burgers. Elk is also a very lean meat, which means it dries quickly upon cooking. My burger was slightly dry, but the flavor more than made up for that. The burger was simply dressed with fry sauce, lettuce, and pickles. The fry sauce was tasty, and not overpowering at all, but what made the burger was the pickles. For whatever reason, when the pickles and the elk combine, they sing. And the bun was soft yet firm -- i.e., perfect.

The second time I went, I had the Big Ben. The Big Ben is nothing more than a really large burger. And it's large in width, not in height. This is what makes it different than other large burgers. The Big Ben was simply dressed, and it was slightly juicier than the elk burger. That said, the elk had better flavor.

The fries were what you would expect: crispy, light, flavorful.


The fry sauce that dressed the burger also dressed the fries. Good combo. I also had a chocolate malt on my second visit. Good stuff. Nothing spectacular, but a good ol' timey malt.

In the end, this place produces good stuff, especially the elk burger. My next trip to Roy (whenever that will be) will be filled with more quality time at the Burger Bar.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average)

Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Capo Gelateria

Address: 262 south 200 west, Salt Lake City, UT 84101. 801.364.4248.

Review: After the BYU v. U of U game, my wife, son, and I decided we would grab some pizza at Settebello. Since everyone in SLC had the same idea, we waited next door in Capo Gelateria for about thirty minutes. Well, next door is really a misnomer. The two establishments are attached to one another. You can order your gelato and pay for it while dining in Settebello. It turned out to be a good wait.

My son became addicted to gelato while living in Italy when my wife was performing "Madama Butterfly" near Rimini. The addiction has proven long-lasting, since every time he sees gelato he stares at it, points at it, longs after it, until we purchase it for him. He's rather fond of chocolate. We're rather fond of pistachio. We picked up a medium cup with both flavors.

Now, we don't normally buy gelato in America since we are so often disappointed by it. This time, however, we enjoyed it. Both gelati were dense and creamy, although a little airier than it should be. The chocolate had a nice, deep chocolate flavor. (Aside: this chocolate gelato possessed none of the pronounced bitterness found in the chocolate gelato at Vinto.) The pistachio lacked a truly upfront pistachio flavor (this is a shame since we have very good pistachios grown nearby in Arizona), but it was quite good nonetheless.

We also sampled some of the other flavors. All were good. We could tell they use fresh ingredients and cared about their product. This said, as with all American gelaterie, the fruit gelati lacked assertive fruit flavors. Hopefully, Capo will continue tweaking their recipes. They're certainly on the right track.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average)

Capo Gelateria on Urbanspoon

Lamb's Grill Cafe

Address: 169 S Main St., Salt Lake City, UT 84111. 801.364.7166.

Review: I experienced the Lamb's Grill Cafe for the first time during a recent group lunch. We all sat in the dining hall in the back of the restaurant. The ambiance was great. Classy. Relaxed. Quiet. Everything you want in a great lunch spot. The food, however, was not good.

Since our group was of fairly ample size, we had a limited menu. I chose a ground beef steak. The steak was altogether dry and tough. Worse yet, it was smothered with a vinegary roasted bell pepper sauce. There was almost as much sauce as steak -- never a good thing. The mashed potatoes were unremarkable, and the vegetables were standard, unseasoned steamed vegetables with about as much character as your junior high math teacher.

Attempting to assess whether I just picked a substandard dish, I talked to others around me about their food. All said the same thing: The food wasn't very good. Eventually, one of the lunch organizers told me they knew the food wasn't that good, but they chose Lamb's Grill because of its downtown location and the dining hall space. Sounds about right.

I honestly hope the rating I'm about to give will change as I frequent the Lamb's Grill again. That said, hope doesn't change bad food into good food.

Rating: 4/10 (5/10 is average)

Lamb's Grill Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 27, 2010

MacCool's Public House

Address: 11610 District Dr., South Jordan, UT 84095. 801.727.3111.

Review: MacCool's is sort of, kind of, an Irish pub with pub food. I say sort of because much of the food is quite americanized. That's fine. Hybrid food is very often good food. This hybrid food, however, is a bit hit and miss.

My buddy and I started with lamb's ribs which were topped with a barbeque-esque sauce, a creamy blue cheese sauce, and scallions.

Now, I love lamb but I had never tried lamb ribs. These were a good intro. They were tender and meaty. The sauce complimented the meat, which you could readily tell was lamb. The blue cheese sauce was a bit of a throw away component since it didn't taste much of blue cheese. While I'm not entirely sure what this dish had to do with Ireland, it was tasty.

Next on the menu was the potato and cheese casserole. This was a far more Irish-inspired dish. Unfortunately, the dish lacked taste. The potatoes were al dente (which was probably purposeful), but even with all the cheese (and there was a lot of cheese) the dish was under salted. Coupled with a lack of salt, the dish lacked anything that made the taste interesting. It was very one note, as it were.

Last was the bison burger with homemade chips. Again, nothing to do with Ireland here, and not much to do with taste either. The bison, as it so often is, was overcooked and dry. The sauce added so little to the dish that I can't even remember the ingredients, although I vaguely recollect tomatoes. The chips were fried in house, but they added little to the dish. No real flavor, not much salt. In all, not a quality burger.

In MacCool's defense, we only ordered one Irish-inspired dish. As I go back to MacCool's, I'll make it a point to eat the Irish dishes. Hopefully, those will be of a higher quality.

Rating: 4/10 (5/10 is average)

MacCool's Public House (South Jordan) on Urbanspoon

Philadelphian

Address: 9860 S 700 E # 13, Sandy, UT 84070. 801.572.3663.

Review: It's cliche to say the Philadelphian is dirty. Sometimes cliches are true, and this one is. Parts over the grill are blackened by hot grease. The backroom is visible for all to see, and it's stacked to the rafters with junky stuff. But, you know what, sometimes dirty is good. Hole-in-the-wall joints so often produce great, unpretentious food. The Philadelphian delivers on unpretentious food, but only half delivers on great food.

I ordered the cheesesteak with onions, hot peppers, and bell peppers.


A cheesesteak has three primary components: 1. bread, 2. steak, 3. cheese. The bread at the Philadelphian was soft, very soft, too soft. Some people like ultra-soft bread. I'm not one of those people. A bread with a little tooth makes a much more interesting sandwich. The steak was tasty, although a bit dry. The cheese was provolone only. As I eat more cheesesteaks, the more I'm convinced Cheez Whiz is the way to go. There's just something about how it melts into the steak juices that makes the cheesesteak experience special. In all, the cheesesteak was alright.

And then there were the onion rings.

I know. I know. They look like fat fried calamari. Part of the reason they look like this the batter is hand-made in a bucket right before your eyes. It's a beautiful thing to watch. Unfortunately, the batter to onion ratio is about 5 to 1. The onion is simply lost amongst all that batter.

In the end, I liked this place. There's something to be said for small joints churning out pretty good food day after day. But I didn't love this place like I hoped I would.

Rating: 6/10 (5/10 is average)

Philadelphian on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Summerhay's Halibut & Chips

Address: 4870 S. Highland Cir., Salt Lake City, UT 84117. 801.424.9000.

Review
: Summerhay's Halibut and Chips was a "I've-driven-by-this-joint-a-thousand-times-let's-check-it-out" decision. Oftentimes such a decision uncovers hidden culinary gems. This was not one of those times.

Summerhay's, obviously, prides itself on it's halibut and chips meal; so much so that when I asked the cashier what I should order, he said, "our halibut is what makes us famous." Um, not so much. For $12 I received three small breaded halibut pieces and a mess of ho-hum fries. The halibut, in addition to being under-seasoned, was overcooked. The malt vinegar served with the meal was an industrial vinegar anyone can buy at Walmart.

There were two things I enjoyed at Summerhay's: the fry sauce, and the cole slaw. I'm a sucker for fry sauce, and Summerhay's makes a pretty darn good hickory version. The cole slaw was a shredded slaw with a sweet yellow sauce. While I'm not sure what made the sauce yellow, the sweetness and acid were nice contrasts to the fattiness of the fries and fried fish.

Bottom line: the signature dish was expensive and not very well done.

Rating: 3.5/10 (5/10 is average)

Summerhays on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Little America Coffee Shop

Address: 500 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, UT 84101. 801.596.5700.

Review: Restaurants in hotels are usually hit and miss. Often, it seems the hotel proprietor thinks, "Hey, we have a captive audience here, so let's serve them marginally-okay-although-thoroughly-overpriced food." Alright, I'm not sure how often that actually happens, but that sure seems to be what the proprietor of Little America was thinking when he opened his restaurant.

I had the buffalo burger. (Note: The American buffalo is actually bison, but we've been using the wrong name for centuries now.) Having lived in Nebraska, where Ted Turner has annoyed everyone by buying every plot of land and turning it into a buffalo range, I've eaten buffalo before. It's a good and tasty meat. This burger, however, was not. The meat was bland and lifeless (no pun intended). The menu indicated it came with grilled onions and blue cheese. Hogwash. The onions were barely cooked, and the blue cheese was so minimal I could barely taste it. Additionally, the bun was soggy and started breaking apart within forty-five seconds of the burger arriving at the table. The whole thing was a total loss, and at $10+ it was an overpriced total loss to boot.

I wasn't the only one in the group who felt this way about his lunch. We all disapproved of the quality of the food. In fact, we unanimously decided that next month's networking lunch would take place at a restaurant not in a hotel, and preferably one with far better food.

Rating: 4/10 (5/10 is average)

Little America Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bombay House

Address: 2731 E Parley's Way, Salt Lake City UT, 84109. 801.581.0222.

Review: I have a confession: I love Indian food. I love it almost as much as I love Italian food. In fact, when I enjoy a little Indian, it sort of feels like I'm cheating on Italy. Oh well, a little cheating never hurt anyone, right?

Seriously though, both cuisines are as delicious as they are divergent. Italian food is the ultimate rags to riches story. At its heart, it's a pauper food, based on severe poverty, simplicity, and quality of ingredients. Only relatively recently has it been elevated to a rich man's food. Indian food (in a broad sense), a pauper food in its own right, is based more on complexity of spicing, heat, and extracting maximum flavor from lower quality cuts of meat. Indian food's strong vegetarian strain also sets it apart from other cuisines. Anyway, does the Bombay House do Indian food justice and make me feel okay about my cheating ways? Hell yes.

I've been going to the Bombay House since a friend recommended it at BYU during our ungrad days. The place had me at chicken coconut kurma. Since that first time, oh so many years ago, the Bombay House has extracted untold amounts of money from my wallet. And the quality has only increased over the years. It is one of the better restaurants I have ever frequented. Tonight's dining experience was no different.

We started with the saag shorba (a soup of cream, spinach, tomatoes, and spices).

Sure doesn't look like much, but add a little lemon wedge and this stuff is money. The spinach and the cream make it substantial. The spices make it complex and flavorful. The tomato and lemon cut through the fat of the cream and make the soup refreshing. Goodness, I'm salivating just lookin' at it.

We then moved on to the main event: bhuna gosht. (At least, I think it's called bhuna gosht. It's a new dish, so I might be off base with the name. In any case, it's a lamb dish cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, ginger, and various spices.)

Here's a picture of the entire spread.

Top right hand corner is the rice, and mango chutney populates the right bottom right. The lamb dish was had a good acidic quality on the tongue, which played well against the inherent fattiness of the lamb. The potatoes were really well cooked: mostly soft, but with just enough texture left to make them interesting. This, coupled with a little mango chutney, made my mouth happy.

And let's not forget the naan.

Light, carbonized in the right way, not doughy. Good stuff.

While we only had water tonight, the mango lassi is very good, as are the desserts. The kheer is a rice pudding with cardamom, cashews, and golden raisins. If you like cardamom (and why wouldn't you?), you'll dig kheer.

A note on price: the Bombay House ain't cheap. The saag shorba is $3.50. The entrees range from $12 to $15. A full dinner for two will run you about $35 to $40. But who gives a rip? Buck up and pay the cash. You'll be better for it.

Rating: 9/10 (5/10 is average)

Bombay House (SLC) on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bruges Waffles and Frites

Address: 336 West Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT 84101. 801.363.4444.

Review: First things first, Bruges ain't no McDonald's, nor is it a Waffle House, although it sells both fries (a.k.a. frites) and waffles (a.k.a. gaufres). While I don't usually comment on ambiance (because, in the end, who really cares? It's all about how the food tastes), this place is wonderfully unpretentious. It's small like a phone booth is small. In fact, more institutional space seems devoted to the mayonnaise container than to customer seating. Eat outside or take the food to go. And now, the food.

Bruges's frites are made in the Belgian vein. They are thicker than the shoestring potatoes, yet they are smaller than steak fries (thankfully, because, really, who's ever had a good steak fry?). The key to frites like these is the cooking, or rather double cooking. They are initially partially cooked in oil in order to cook them through. Then they are cooked a second time in order to crisp the outside. This procedure produces a light, airy, and crispy frite. These fatty little crunchy gems are paired with hand-made mayonnaise. (This is as it should be. Once you try a good mayonnaise with fries, you'll never want ketchup again.) The mayonnaise selection is wide-ranging. I tried the aioli (mayo with garlic) and a spicy version, the name of which I can't remember. Both were quite good. These were the best fries I've had in a very, very long time.

And then there are the waffles. These waffles are yeast risen, and are not poured; the dough is far too thick for that. They are sweet and dense, with a good amount of crispiness on the outside. My wife and I ordered ours with creme fraiche. This decision is a departure from our wont to put nutella on bready desserts, but what a grand departure it was. The creme fraiche was both light and lightly sweetened -- a great compliment to the waffle.

I dig this joint, a lot. It has become the go-to place when I need a fix for fat, salt, and potatoes. My one disappointment was the price. Usually, this stuff is simple street food in Europe, and is priced accordingly. At Bruges, however, the food is priced as if you were sitting down at a restaurant. That said, I'll be paying whatever they want in perpetuity.

Rating: 8/10 (5/10 is average)

Update: Last night, I took a friend to Bruges's for his birthday. He ordered the torpedo (two chocolate bars melted inside a liege waffle). Said it was grand, he did. I went the savory route and purchased a machine gun sandwich. It's a baguette stuffed with lamb sausage, topped with frites, and smothered in sauce andalouse. Yeah, two words describe this sandwich: big, money. Each component was quite good, and each was designed to accentuate the the meaty nature of the sandwich. In all, great combination of savory flavors. I would suggest, however, sharing this sandwich with a loved one. Eating the entire thing is almost a sisyphean undertaking.

Bruges Waffles and Frites on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pizzeria 712

Address: 320 S State St #185, Orem, UT 84058. 801.623.6712.

Review
: Pizzeria 712 is a newish pizza joint opened by former Sundance employees. It's location doesn't appear terribly auspicious (it's right off State Street in Orem on the bottom floor of a partially defunct condo-commercial complex), but none of this has anything to do with the quality of the food. So, on to the food.

My buddy Marc and I started with 712's rendition of the insalata caprese.

It included Jacob's Cove heirloom tomatoes (local organic tomatoes), house-pulled mozzarella, olive oil, basil, balsamic vinegar. I can't say enough good things about this salad. Pulling the mozzarella in house removes the graininess found in many commercial mozzarellas. And the tomatoes, oh the tomatoes. They were perfectly ripe and garden sweet with a beautiful texture. Wonderful, just wonderful.

We then moved on to the pizzas.

Mine had soppressata, speck, garlic, tomatoes, and mozz.

It was disappointing. The crust was light and non-doughy, which is good, but it was pulled in such a way that portions were thicker than others. Because of this, the crust was altogether too thin is some spots. Additionally, cooking the speck (a form of smoked prosciutto) caused it to lose all semblance of smokiness and gave it a leathery texture; a true shame.

Marc's had marinated tomatoes, arugula, grana padana (an aged cow's milk cheese in the parmesan vein), ricotta, and shaved garlic.

The ricotta was creamy and wonderful. The marinated tomatoes were money. Everything else worked well, although the arugula was wilted and tasteless. Unfortunately, however, this pizza suffered the same crust problem as the first.

In all, a little hit and miss. That said, I'll certainly be back to try more dishes at 712.

Rating: Tomato and mozz salad 9, pizza 6, overall, 7.

Pizzeria 712 on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Kathmandu

Address: 3142 South Highland Dr., Salt Lake City, UT 84106. 801.466.3504.

Review: I heard about The Kathmandu (TK) the day I arrived in Salt Lake. I asked for restaurant suggestions, and a friend recommended TK because it was right down the road. He was especially sold on the lunch buffet. Well, it took me a couple months, but I finally followed his recommendation.

We began the meal by ordering the Kathmandu Combo Platter, which includes Lamb boti kabab (a type of lamb sausage), chicken tikka, chicken tandoori, paneer pakora (fried homemade cheese), aloo tikki and sami kabab.

At $10.95 this is a little pricey for an appetizer, but well worth it. The lamb boti kabab was flavorful and well seasoned, as was the chicken tikka and tandoori. (To be truthful, the chicken tandoori was a little dry, but still good.) Perhaps the best part of the platter were the vegetables, which, even after cooking, retained their structure and fresh flavor. The cauliflower spiced with tandoori spices was especially tasty. Now, on to the entrees.

We ordered three entrees:
khashi (goat curry), chicken coconut korma, and prawn curry. Let's look at each individually.

1. The khashi, a Nepali specialty, was spicey goodness.

The thing I most appreciated was the goat was still on the bone, complete with sinews. In all, the goat was tender and not particularly gamy. As they always do, the bones imparted additional flavor.

2. The chicken coconut korma (one of my favorite dishes ever) was not particularly well spiced. In fact, it fell flat. There was none of that Indian depth of flavor that comes from its complex and heavy spicing. Additionally, the sauce had a mayonnaise consistency to it. Just a bit thick for my taste.

3. I was divided on the the prawn curry. The sauce was good enough (although nothing particularly special), but the actual prawns were overcooked and tough. Overall, substandard.

Now, on to the sides. The naan was slightly more dense than I usually enjoy, but had good taste to it. The mango lassi (mango and milk drink) was the best I've ever had. Thick with lots of mango flavor, and not too sweet.

In all, I really enjoyed some items, and some others had some significant problems. TK was about average as far as Indian-Nepali restaurants go.

(Note: I have heard the lunch buffet is quite good. I obviously haven't tried it, but I'll blog about it when I do.)

Rating: 5/10 (5/10 is average)

The Kathmandu on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vinto

Address: 418 E 200 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. 801.539.9999.

Review: My buddy's law firm is across the street from Vinto's. I've passed it a hundred times. Today, I partook.

Vinto is based on an increasingly popular concept: the wood-fired oven pizzeria. It's interior is hip and trendy. My son quite enjoyed the ceiling lights suspended in large white-weaved hollow balls. Yeah, trendy shmendy. You know what's really trendy? Good food, and good pizza in particular.

My buddy Todd and I (we have both lived in Italy) began with pizza. I ordered the margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil).

I actually wanted a prosciutto cotto (pizza with tomatoes, mozz, and cooked ham); but when I asked the waiter if they had prosciutto cotto, he stared blankly for a few seconds before saying, "We have prosciutto." I realized at that point things would not be going well. The margherita was not terribly good. The crust, while light and thin as a good crust should be, was stiff and tough. The tomatoes, while of sufficient quality, were too few. The pizza felt dry. The cheese was good, but nothing special. Additionally, the portion size was small. (Now, Italian style pizza is not about size, it's about quality, but this was small even for an Italian style pizza.)

Todd ordered the tuttabella, i.e., "all things beautiful" (sausage, caramelized onions, sliced tomatoes, garlic, roasted bell peppers, fresh mozzarella).

The sausage (made on site, to Vinto's credit) was the best thing on the pizza. The roasted peppers lacked flavor, and the caramelized onions were lost in the mix. This just didn't work well.

We ended the meal with dessert. I ordered the Vinto Taster, a collection of Vinto's house-made gelati (flavors: coconut, amarena, strawberry, mango, pistachio, chocolate).

Now, when I eat gelato, I expect the flavors to hit me in the face, and then yell, "You like that!? You taste me now!?" Vinto's gelato did nothing of the sort. While creamy and smooth, the tastes were not assertive on the palate. The fruit gelati tasted like milk and sugar with some fruit as an afterthought. The chocolate possessed an odd bitter component (I say odd because I love bitter chocolate) that overtook the taste and made it almost unpleasant. The only gelato that really worked was the coconut. It's mild coconut flavor made me actually desire coconut: a true feat.

And Todd ordered the apple crostata.

(Wow, what a gorgeous presentation.) Having enjoyed a fair number of crostate in my day, I can't say this was one of the better ones. The apples were entirely dry (and I mean dry, like English sitcom dry), and the vanilla gelato lacked a pronounced flavor of vanilla. (Do we see a theme here?) The dough, which should be the star of the show, was just okay.

Rating: 4/10 (5/10 is average)

Vinto on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tacos Don Martin

Address: Just south of the intersection at 2100 S 1100 E. It’s on the west side of 1100E.

Review: Tacos Don Martin (TDM), what can one say about you? Here are a few things: alright; okay; meh; not bad; sure, I’ll go again, maybe. I had high hopes for this little Sugar House taco stand. This place is surrounded by restaurants with much higher budgets and fancier facades. Heck, not a block away is Chipotle: that bastion of slick corporatized Mexican fast food whose recipe is so formulaic that its burritos somehow (and only heaven knows how) taste like meat twinkies. Against such great odds we all want the little guy to succeed. Unfortunately, objectivity must prevail.

As I approached TDM, all signs pointed to “this place will be good.” There were a number of Latinos ordering, none of which spoke a word of English. So far, so good.

The condiment tray had all the normal condiments. Cool. The stand itself was simple and elegant in its ergonomics. The selection of meats was standard, yet authentic — e.g., al pastor, lengua, pollo, tripe, etc. Promising, promising.

I ordered three tacos (all of which came on two white corn tortillas): al pastor, lengua, and cabeza.

The al pastor was stringy, dry, and not spicy. The lengua was tender and juicy, but entirely lacking in seasoning and flavor. (Note: to all those out there who cringe at the thought of eating tongue, don’t. Tongue is one of the best cuts of meat out there. The generous amount of intramuscular fat makes it tender and lovely. Try it. It will not disappoint.) The cabeza, which refers to the meat taken from the head of a cow, not the brain of the cow), was quite good. The meat was cooked to tender perfection, and the spices accented the flavors well. So, one out of three. That might be a good batting average in baseball, but it doesn’t cut it in the land of taco stands.

The condiments were all freshly prepared. However, the salsa had no kick to it at all. Not even a twinge of capsaicin on the tongue.

I’ll go back for the cabeza taco, but that’s it.

Rating: 4/10

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Downtown Philly Cheesesteaks

Address: 300 South 83 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. 801. 883.8966.

Review: Now this is a damn cheesesteak. This is the kind of cheesesteak that makes you want to do nothing, absolutely nothing, but sit down and watch TV for hours after you eat it. 'Kay, with the platitudes out of the way, let's get down to specifics.

I ordered the 12" cherry pepper steak (steak, onions, cherry peppers, cheez whiz).

(Ah, that picture brings back happy memories.) The steak was flavorful, fatty, juicy. Its juices comingled with the whiz and dripped off the sandwich in a wonderful little cascade of lusciousness. The cherry peppers added a nice heat component, as well as a nice acidic contrast to the steak and whiz. The onions were a little undercooked for my taste (i.e., they were crunchy); but, to be honest, there's so much going on here I didn't mind. My only beef (get it? beef?) is the bread: it's too soft. It was so soft it actually stuck to my teeth after my first bite. A harder crust and more substantial interior would have made this cheesesteak absolutely incredible.

One more picture, just 'cause.

The prices at DP's are pretty reasonable too. There are three sizes to choose from: 6", 9", and 12". Most six-inchers are $4.99 to $5.99, jumping to $9 and $10 for twelve-inchers. In addition to cheesesteaks, you can order pastrami and ham hoagies. Chicken is also available on all sandwiches (why, I'm not quite sure). DP's also has some East Coast favorites like Birch Beer (sort of like root beer) and Tastykakes (pre-made pastries in the Hostess mold).

Oh, one last thing. Like Moochie's, DP makes a creamy jalapeño sauce, as well as a horseradish sauce. I used both sauces, and prefered the jalapeño sauce. Really though, the cheesesteak was so flavorful, any such sauces are completely unnecessary.

In sum, good prices, very good cheesesteaks, fast service.

Rating: 8/10

Oh, alright, one more picture.


The Downtown Philly Cheesesteaks on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana

Address: 260 South 200 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84101. 801.322.3556.

Review: There are very, very few things in this life I claim any expertise in. (Parenting. Goodness, no. Law (I'm a criminal defense attorney). Meh, sort of. Vacuuming. Maybe.) But if there is one thing I am an expert in, it's pizza. I lived in Italy for years. I speak Italian to my son. I have taught classes on pizza artistry. I have sat around and chewed the fat with pizzaioli. I have eaten pizza at the best restaurants in Naples. Pizza is how we know God loves us. With that in mind, let's examine Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana.


Settebello is a certified VPN (vera pizza napoletana) establishment, and is the only such establishment in Utah. The VPN certification, which is expensive and time consuming to achieve, was developed to help publicize restaurants that conform to Neapolitan pizza making standards. (This is significant since Naples is the birthplace of the modern pizza, and is almost universally recognized as having the world's best pizza. Sorry, New York. Double sorry, Chicago. Had your pizza. You ain't got nothin' on Naples. Nothin'.) In essence, Settebello is trying to taste like a real Italian pizzeria tastes. Did it accomplish it's goal? Let's find out.

Salad: When my wife was singing in Italy last summer, my son fell in love with insalata caprese; that incredibly simply salad of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. If given a choice, it's all he would eat. So, naturally, we ordered the caprese. It was not good. It was under seasoned. The tomatoes were not ripe. The mozzarella was all right for a domestic mozzarella, but somewhat grainy. At $7.50, it was absolutely not worth it. (Disagreeing with my assessment was my son. He ate every last mouthful with abandon.)

Pizzas: There are three components to a good pizza.

First, the dough. This is the star of a pizza (not the toppings). A good pizza dough should be thin in the middle with a little rise on the sides in order to keep the ingredients on the pizza. It should be stretchy, light, and somewhat delicate. Settebello's dough was pretty well done. The middle was thin, and while the sides were not quite as light as an Italian pizza (i.e., they were a little dense and doughy), it worked well. Additionally, there was just the right carbonization on the bottom of the pizza. That's right, a real pizza should be burned slightly on the bottom. This is a natural, and tasty, consequence of cooking a pizza in a 800+ degree wood-fired oven. So far, so good.

Second, the sauce. It should be nothing more than crushed tomatoes and a little salt. The tomatoes should not be cooked prior to being placed on the dough. Settebello hit the money here. The tomatoes were high quality. Great stuff.

Third, the toppings. We ordered two pizzas. A margherita (tomatoes, cheese, basil), and a prosciutto cotto (tomatoes, cheese, basil, cooked ham).


The mozzarella was the same used in the insalata caprese. It didn't work terribly well there, but when melted it lost its grainy component. It certainly isn't water buffalo mozzarella, which is the gold standard, but accommodations are necessary sometimes. The basil was fresh and clean. One thing I loved about the basil is it was sliced, as opposed to being left whole. Italians usually utilize whole basil leaves, and I've never understood why. Slicing imparts much more basil flavor. In any case, Settebello got it right. Lastly, the ham was a good quality prosciutto cotto. My only beef was the portion size was too small for the pizza.

In all, I have had better pizzas in Italy, but I have also had worse pizzas there. Settebello does an admirable job replicating a unique culinary taste. It is the most authentic Neapolitan pizza I've had in America.

Price: The margherita was $10. The prosciutto cotto was $12.50 (the extra $2.50 was unjustifiable given the amount of cotto on the pizza). When you figure a large pizza from Pizza Hut is $10, and this pizza is twenty times the quality, you're getting a pretty good deal.

The oven: And then there's the oven. It's a thing of beauty.

I could go on about it's dimensions and capabilities, but suffice it to say, it is equivalent to those used in Italy. For those who have never seen anyone make a pizza in such an oven, here's a video of a Settebello pizzaiolo doing his thing.

video

Rating: Pizza 8/10, insalata caprese 3/10, overall 6.5 (the caprese was really that pitiful)

Settebello Pizzeria on Urbanspoon