Friday, March 25, 2011

AJ's Taza Grill

Address: 268 South State St, SLC, UT 84111.

Review: AJ's Taza Grill serves primarily Greeky, Mediterraneany food. As a sort of side note, they also serve Chicago-style hot dogs. It is for this side note a friend of mine and I walked in and partook.

(Initial note: AJ's is a very new restaurant. In fact, they had only been only open two days when we ate there.) So, I had the Chicago dog with everything on it. Everything actually means quite a lot. There was, in addition to the dog, a steamed poppy seed bun, tomatoes, a pickle spear, onions, sport peppers (i.e., little vinegared green chilies), mustard, an unholy looking neon green relish, and celery salt. Eating this dog is an experience, man. The dog portion of the hot dog was dang good, and that's a tough thing since dogs are, by their very nature, disgusting. The bun was steamed and soft. The toppings, as strange as they seem, work. The neon green relish is a bit sweet for my taste, but the rest of the everything else makes the hot dog sing. Even the celery salt added something interesting to the taste. It was one of the better hot dogs I've ever eaten.

Review: I can't speak to the primary foodstuffs, but I can say the Chicago dog will bring me back.

AJ's Taza Grill on Urbanspoon

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Address: 1148 Fort Union Blvd, Midvale, UT 84047. 801.565.8100.

Review: I usually don't review chain restaurants, but Five Guys Burgers and Fries feels enough like a small chain that I don't feel bad about giving them free advertising. Anyway, continuing on this month's meat-centric diet, we tried Five Guys. So, here's the skinny.

First, the fries. They are of the fresh-cut-once-fried persuasion. They are blazing hot when they reach you (which is actually kind of nice), and if you're lucky enough not to burn your tongue, you'll find they are mildly crunchy on the outside and not too dense on the inside. Unfortunately, they are only mildly crunchy, and they are somewhat dense. While they are certainly better than the fries at In-N-Out (which feel like a potato rock sitting in your mouth), they're just okay.

And now, the burger. I had the double bacon burger with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, and mayo. It was thick, very thick. The bun was alright, although it became juice-logged and flimsy after my first bite. The meat was standard if not a bit dry because (for a reason I can't fathom) Five Guys squishes their burger patties when they're about half cooked. Doing this causes large amounts of juice (i.e., flavor) to escape, hence the dry patty. The toppings were pretty good (rather enjoyed the pickles and grilled onions), although the bacon was dry as a bone in the Mojave.

I don't know. The whole experience was just okay. Five Guys is certainly better than other burger chains, but it's not as good as almost any independent burger joint that tries.

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

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Philadelphia Sub Shop

Address: 189 South State St, Clearfield, UT 84015. 801.825.2844.

Review: Okay, during the last few months, I've been on a journey to find the best Philly cheesesteak in the SLC area. The newest leg on this endeavor is the Philadelphia Sub Shop. After finishing a morning of court in Farmington, I trekked up to Clearfield for this little out-of-the-way joint.

The first thing I noticed about this place was it offers far more than cheesesteaks. There was an entire array of subs and other sandwiches. And even the cheesesteaks came loaded with tomatoes, lettuce, etc., etc., etc. What they didn't come with, however, was cheez whiz, but more on that later.

Since I'm sort of a purist, I had a cheesesteak with american cheese and some hot peppers.

Let's start with the bread. It had a quite soft interior with a slightly crusty exterior. I prefer bread a bit harder and crustier because it stands up better to the meaty steak. In any case, the bread was good and worked just fine. Now, the cheese. As I eat ever more cheesesteaks, the ever more I'm convinced cheez whiz is the only way to go. This experienced reinforced that conviction. The cheese here was american, and it didn't add anything distinctive to the steak. And, finally, the steak. It was not a collection of individual thin cuts of steak, but a amalgam of small, almost chopped, pieces of thin steak. This method of cooking created a dry and somewhat stringy steak. Without much juiciness, flavor was a bit shortcoming.

Ultimately, it was about average as far as cheesesteak joints go.

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

Philadelphia Sub Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tucano's Brazilian Grill

Address: 4801 N University Ave, Ste 710, Provo, UT 84604. 801.224.4774.

Review: As pretty much everyone in Utah knows, Tucano's (as well as Rodizio's) is a restaurant in the churrascaria vein. The business model is simple: dazzle people with meat on a spit. Not a bad model, if you ask me; provided, of course, the meat is of sufficient quality and cooked correctly. And, oh, yeah Tucano's has a salad bar. Let's talk about the salad bar first.

Salad Bar.

Okay, lots of ground to cover here. I'll take the items individually starting from the top of the photo and progressing clockwise.

1. Quail eggs: Cute idea. Honestly, they taste like small chicken eggs.

2. Marinated mozzarella: Good, herbaceous marinade. Mozzarella is always good.

3. Tomatoes and onion salad: Onion doesn't overpower the tomatoes, and the tomatoes are firm and tasty. Simple, good. Acid is refreshing in light of all the meat and fat you're eating.

4. Marinated mushrooms: Mushrooms are a bit soggy because they've soaked up all the marinating oil. Onion flavor comes through well, which is good.

5. Marinated olives: Green olives are briny and fine. Black olives tasted like they removed black olives from a can and put them in some marinade. Unfortunate.

6. Broccoli and raisin salad: Consists of broccoli, carrots, raisins, and onions. This salad is quite good. The non broccoli elements are universally sweet, and actually mask the taste of the raw broccoli. (I'm not a broccoli fan, so the sweetness is a welcome thing.)

1. Rice and black beans: Rice is overcooked and lacks interesting taste. Black beans possessed some, but not much, pork flavor. Bland.

2. Collard greens: Greens still had some tooth to it. I actually prefer long-cooked collard greens that melt in the mouth. Moreover, greens don't have much flavor to it. Seasoning is inadequate.

3. Capicola: Tough, thick, listless.

4. Fried bananas: How could this be anything other than good? Bananas are warm and fluffy. Not overly sweet. Just a tasty and addictive snack.

1. Bananas: already addressed.

2. Collard greens: already addressed.

3. Bread crumb salad: Dry. Bacon interspersed through, but not a pronounced bacon flavor. Honestly, didn't get this one.

4. Pea and ham salad: Peas are sweet, ham is salty, mayo is creamy. Good combo.

5. Baked cheese ball: This is a ball covered by a bread outer skin, but the inside is all cheese. The cheese is very mild with a good texture. It would have been better if the cheese had more personality.

In all, hit and miss. Some things were quite good (fried bananas, broccoli salad), but more often than not, the dishes lacked depth and flavor.


So, meat is what makes or breaks Tucano's. I won't address each meat individually because they tended to share the same positives and minuses. There was, however, a rather stark contrast between beef and poultry.

The poultry is very good. Chicken thighs are juicy, with just enough browning to make things interesting. Loved it. Likewise, the turkey wrapped in bacon is juicy like a good fried turkey at Thanksgiving is juicy. Money. Very impressive.

The beef, contrastingly, is not very good. The majority of the beefs are overcooked and charred to the point of carbonization on the outside. Now a little carbonization isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there is an overabundance here. And the beef that isn't overcooked wasn't allowed to rest before slicing. Thus, when sliced, the juices spill all over creation and create a dry meat the moment it hits the plate.

And I didn't get the feeling the meat used was of the highest quality. Ultimately, for the price, the meat is simply not up to snuff.

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

Tucanos Brazilian Grill (Provo) on Urbanspoon

B & D Burgers

Address: 222 S 1300 E, SLC, UT 84102. 801.582.7200.

Review: About two years ago I decided to take a vegetarian friend's challenge to abstain from meat for a month. (She called it the "veg pledge," which I thought was a bit too reminiscent of Evangelical "chastity pledges," but whatever.) Good experience; was happy when it ended though. Now, I've decided to go the other way by eating a meat heavy diet for a month. I'm not evangelizing for either diet, but thought I would mention it to explain why I frequented B & D Burgers after dropping my wife off at the U for one of her many opera rehearsals.

Honestly, I cannot remember the name of the burger I ordered. It consisted, however, of two patties of charred beef, loads of cheese, and bacon. It, unabashedly, was what it was: a big honkin' load of beef and pig. And it was good, nothing special, but solid.

The bun was hearty enough to soak up the meat juices without becoming remotely soggy. The meat, while a little more charred than I like (I could taste a bit of carbonization), was solid. The bacon was, well, tasty bacon. The cheese american, I think. Solid burger. Very satisfying.

In the end, if you're looking for a gourmet burger, B & D ain't your joint. If you're looking for a solid burger with no pretense, B & D delivers.

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

B & D Burgers on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 4, 2011

Atlantic Cafe & Market

Address: 325 S Main St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. 801.534.9900.

Review: The Atlantic Cafe & Market tries to recreate that European feel on Main Street Salt Lake City. It does an admirable job. The place is unadorned, straightforward, and has little tables. The food is a cross section of Mediterranean and Eastern European cuisine. Heard that in the summer they have nice outdoor seating.

So, I glanced over the menu, bypassing the myriad of standard sandwiches and happening upon something called cevapi. Cevapi, for the uninitiated like myself, is a Balkan sausage that is often served as a sandwich. The sausage is caseless and made primarily of lamb and beef. The sausage was nicely spiced and salty, although being caseless, it was a little dry and tough. The bread. Ah, the bread. It's sort of a thick spongy flatbread. The spongy quality allows it to soak up the sausage juices. (I think they may also soak is lightly in beef stock or something similar.) Such a different experience than any other sandwich bread I've ever had -- and different is good. Then, for good measure, and because the dish is Balkan in origin they add some raw (or barely cooked) onions to spice things up. The rawness of the onions lightened the sandwich a bit, but the flavor was a bit overpowering. The cevapi was served with kajmak (a thick dairy product akin to clotted cream), which had a mildly tangy flavor. It went very well with the cevapi.

So, after dissecting this dish I'm left teetering. Some elements were incredibly enjoyable (the bread, particularly), and some not so much. In all, this sandwich is in keeping with so much of Eastern European food: heavy, but heavy in an interesting way that makes you want to keep eating.

(Note: My friends had kabobs and veggie lasagna. They enjoyed their dishes quite a lot.)

Rating: 6.5 (5/10 is average).

Atlantic Cafe & Market on Urbanspoon

Golden Tree Cafe

Address: 12600 S Redwood Rd., Riverton, UT 84065. 801.254.7651.

Review: The Golden Tree Cafe is a Chinese restaurant in the style of all those other Chinese restaurants that make crappy Chinese food. Now, within this universe of not-very-goodness, Golden Tree Cafe is average. The sweet and sour pork is average in its not-very-goodness. Likewise, the ham fried rice (which contains no discernible ham flavor), is about average. The kung pao chicken is neither spicy nor overly tasty. The veggies are liquid logged, and, therefore, not terribly crunchy. It is simply par for the course in a universe that isn't that good.

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

Golden Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon