Wednesday, September 29, 2010
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.
Monday, September 27, 2010
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)
Thursday, September 23, 2010
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)
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
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.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
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.
Oh, alright, one more picture.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
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.
Rating: Pizza 8/10, insalata caprese 3/10, overall 6.5 (the caprese was really that pitiful)
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Now, on to the food. John and I both had the 6" philly cheesesteak. I had mine with onions (which are practically obligatory) and sauteed bell peppers. John ordered the onions and mushrooms.
All philly's come standard with melted american cheese.
Now, I must make a confession: mine was alright. Here's what I liked:
(1) The bread. It was quite good. Just crusty enough on the outside and just chewy enough in the middle to stand up to the meat.
(2) The onions. They were well caramelized and tasty.
Here's what disappointed me a bit:
(1) Lack of grease/juice. When I order a big, fat, nasty sandwich like this, I want grease rolling off my chin like I'm Michael Moore eating a triple whopper on Sunday morn'. There was none to be had here. Since grease/juice equals flavor, the sandwich lacked a bit.
(2) The cheese. I thought I would trust their choice of american cheese. Bad move. As on everything, american cheese simply doesn't add much. When you go, get cheez whiz or mozzarella.
Now, don't get me wrong, this is a good sandwich (especially for $5.99). I will be back; but if Moochie's is really as good as cheesesteaks in Philly, then maybe that iconic sandwich isn't all it's cracked up to be.
(Note: Moochie's has a good drink selections, including good rootbeers. My son was a fan.)
Saturday, September 11, 2010
For those who haven't tried it, frozen custard is a different animal from ice cream or gelato. Ice cream has a high butterfat and sugar content, but it also has large amounts of air whipped into it during the freezing process, which makes it light and yet heavy on the tongue simultaneously. Gelato, on the other hand, has a low butterfat and sugar content, and the taste of its ingredients is far more more pronounced (i.e., lemon gelato really tastes like lemon, not cream and sugar). It also has almost no air whipped into it, so it's dense and assertive on the palate. In contrast to both ice cream and gelato, frozen custard is very fatty and very dense and very sweet.
And Nielsen's does frozen custard pretty darn well. They're signature creation is called concrete. It's essentially frozen custard made into a shake. Concretes come in two basic flavors: vanilla and chocolate. We had a vanilla concrete with strawberries.
The richness of the frozen custard made it silky smooth on the tongue. Meanwhile, the acid in the fresh cut strawberries (as opposed to those pitiful frozen or canned strawberries used so often) cut through the fat in the custard and provided an nice contrast of flavors. Our regular concrete costs about $5. A mini costs around $3.50. Reasonable price for a product that will make you think twice about going back to yet another ol' ice cream cone.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Review: Hello all. The name's Marco. I'm a criminal defense attorney, food lover, and occasional cuisine instructor who recently moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. I noticed a dearth of good websites and blogs on the SLC food scene, so I figured I'd start one. And here goes.