Saturday, June 25, 2011

J Dawgs

Address: 880 N 700 E, Provo, UT 84606. 801.373.3294.

Review: I eat a hot dog once every six months or so. Why, you may wonder? Because, for the most part, hot dogs are disgusting tubed amalgams of the forgotten nether-regions of pigs, cows, chickens, etc. So, it was with trepidation I walked into J Dawgs after helping a friend in Provo pack up a thirty-foot moving van.

At J Dawgs you can get an all-beef hotdog or an all-beef polish dog; no more no less. Your topping choices are similarly limited: sauerkraut, pickle (dill spear or sweet relish), onions, jalapenos, banana peppers, yellow mustard, ketchup, and special sauce (more on this later). This type of model is risky business because the single product you sell has to be very good, otherwise everything you sell sucks. Let's see if J Dawgs business model is successful.

I had a polish dog with everything on it. The special sauce came highly recommended, so I went with it.

The first bite. Dang. The first bite. I don't yet know where J Dawgs sources its beef, but they found some winner meat. The polish was big and meaty, savory, had nice pepper and spice, and just enough fat to make it juicy, even after significant time on the grill. The casing even had that little snap you look for in a quality dog. Great stuff. The bun was hearty, soft, and freshly prepared. The toppings were a little hit and miss. I enjoyed everything, but the sauerkraut lacked punch. And the special sauce, which was generously applied, was so aggressively sweet that it overpowered the beautiful savoriness of the polish. Some spicy mustard, instead of the special sauce, would have been a perfect condiment. (Upon reviewing J Dawgs website, spicy mustard is a special-request condiment, but it's not advertised in store. Wish I had known.) So, leave the sauce and down the dog.

I'm looking forward to going back to J Dawgs, and it'll certainly happen long before six months from now.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average). This rating may well increase if the spicy mustard they serve is good quality.

(Update: I drove to Provo to file a divorce and frequented J Dawgs again. This time, I had a polish with kraut, onions, dill pickle, and spicy mustard. The great savoriness of the polish shone through. I wish the mustard had been a little higher quality, but this is a general critique of all J Dawgs toppings. In any case, I dig these dogs.)

New Rating: 7.5/10

J Dawgs on Urbanspoon

Goodwood Barbecue Company

Address: 133 E 12300 S, Draper, UT 84020. 801.495.4840.

Review: As a general rule, Barbecue is not a food genre conducive to the chain restaurant model. For whatever reason, mass standardization kills the smokey goodness of barbecued meats, and the sides don't seem to fair too well either. Goodwood Barbecue Company does nothing to challenge this general rule.

I had a lunch plate with pulled pork, brisket, sweet potatoes, and coleslaw. The pork was stringy and dry. The brisket, which, when cooked well, is dripping with juice and teeming with smokey flavor, was dry. (See a pattern here?). It also had little smoke flavor and even less of a smoke ring. The sweet potatoes (which were really yams, but whatever), on the other hand, were soft and steeped in brown sugar, just as nature intended them to be. (Aside: there is little better in this world than yams mixed with loads of brown and finished with a dollup of butter. Mmm.) The coleslaw was, well, I can't rightly remember, which means it didn't make a lasting impression either for good or for evil.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the barbecue sauce. It was quite sweet, lacked depth of flavor, and possessed almost no heat. Overall, it didn't add much beyond sugar to the meal.

In the end, if you think McDonald's produces a superior burger, then you'll probably like Goodwood. And if you don't, you probably won't.

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

Goodwood Barbecue Company on Urbanspoon

Taj India

Address: 4515 S 900 E, Murray, UT 84117. 801.268.2423.

Review: Taj India is innocuously situated next to a former gas station that has been recently converted to a blanket market. (You know, one of those where they hang up huge blankets with pictures of Bob Marley on clothes lines.) Thankfully, Taj's food is far more classy than the blankets that adorn its flank.

I showed up during the early lunch hour, and was the only one present for most of my meal. Maybe it was for this reason that I had such good service (although, I have a feeling the owners are simply good at attending to their customers' needs). For example, my water was always filled, which I dearly appreciate. And now, on to the food.

I began with the lamb and pea samosa.

The samosa skin was light and fried to a golden brown. The filling consisted of ground lamb, spices, and peas. The lamb had a good flavor and the peas added a nice color contrast, but I would have enjoyed it more if the peas had been fresher and sweeter. Adding tamarind chutney to the samosa brought some sweetness to the dish and round out the savory flavors.

Next came the paneer korma and rice.

The korma had a good mix of sweet and savory characteristics. Cardamom balances out the garam masala and garlic, etc. I ordered the korma hot, and hot it was, which was a nice touch. (Most Indian restaurants really cut the heat from their dishes to appease American palates.) The paneer was quite enjoyable. While paneer doesn't usually have a ton of flavor on its own (and this one didn't), the fresh-made, slightly dense, squeaky texture of this paneer helped make things more interesting. This noted, this korma isn't my favorite. Ultimately, the flavors were a bit muted and the spices kind of ran together instead of retaining their individual properties. The rice was plain, which was okay, but it didn't add much besides starch to the korma. In all, good, but not special.

Finally, the naan.

Well cooked. Not dry. Had flavor thanks to the ghee. However, very thin and without any bready elasticity. Again, solid, but nothing to put it over the top.

Taj serves solid Indian food.

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

Taj India on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chow Truck

Address: Wherever they are in Salt Lake City (schedule available at

Review: Chow Truck is a Salt Lake City pioneer in the increasingly popular food-from-a wheeled-apparatus movement. It's particularly special because most of the apparatuses in Salt Lake are in the form of food carts driven by good old Fred Flinstone power, while Chow Truck is just that: a truck (and a scorch-your-eyes-yellow one at that).

So, what fare is divulged from the bowels of this yellow beast? Asian-inspired fusion, of course. Specifically, tacos sliders, root veggie chips, etc.

I ordered a taco and a slider.

The taco was filled with pineapple, ginger, pork, Asian slaw, cilantro, and fired wanton skins. Immediately upon biting the taco, a wave of pineapple hit. That was followed by the fresh, cool slaw and the crunch of the wanton skins. (The wanton skins were a very thoughtful textural contrast that made the taco far more interesting than it would have been otherwise.) The pork was juicy and tender, although it was more of a background ingredient than anything else.

The slider included the identical asian slaw and wantons skins, but it featured panko-crusted fried tofu and a cilantro pesto. The tofu was the unmitigated star of this slider. It was crunchy, flavorful, and had a slightly silken feel on my tongue. Very impressive element. I found myself longing for something other than the slaw and wanton skins I had already eaten though. This tofu deserved topping all its own.

Other than the redundancy of the toppings, my own real critique regarding Chow Truck is the use of standard, supermarket-quality corn tortillas and slider buns. It really brings down the overall quality of the product. I know it's fusion food and they want to use at least some standard American ingredients. I get that. But if the thought and care that went into the fillings also went into the tortillas and buns, Chow Truck could produce truly killer food. As it stands, they produce pretty good food with spectacular tofu.

Rating: 6.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Chow Truck on Urbanspoon

Edo Kitchen

Address: 815 E 2100 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84106. 801.264.3979.

Review: Edo Kitchen is a new West African restaurant.

Having first been introduced to this food in Europe by African immigrants, I became intrigued. It's built on the idea that pairing large amounts of starch with some meat suspended in soup, you can get full for a relatively meager capital expenditure. It's also built on the idea that all parts of the animal get used: sinew, cartilage, all.

I had the goat meat stew accompanied with fufu (an oblong ball of mashed plantain).

Fufu is what it is. There's not much flavor to it. It's there to fill your belly, not much more. The goat stew was a bit the same. The liquid was tomato based and quite simple in that it was not heavily spiced or salted. The goat itself was dry and tough, which is pretty par for the course for goat. In all, authentic, but not terribly flavorful.

My friend had egusi soup with plantain. Egusi is a mixture of beef, shrimp, spinach, and other ingredients. It had more flavor than the goat stew, and the meat (being beef) was more tender. This was a superior dish.

In the end, West African food is an acquired taste for most Americans. I happen to enjoy it (possibly because of the good memories associated with it), while my friend didn't. That said, I didn't find Edo Kitchen's food particularly compelling.

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

Edo Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 17, 2011

Salt City Burger Co.

Address: 9176 South Village Shop Drive, Sandy, UT 84094. 801.495.4111.

Review: Salt City Burger Co. (Salt City) was a recommendation from a friend. Since I have a difficult time passing up a burger, I couldn't not try the place.

Salt City is a build your own burger kind of joint. You initially buy the meat and the bun, and then you can pay for add-ons (e.g., cheese, grilled onions, avocado, etc.) as you wish (or don't). This noted, you don't pay for standard burger items (e.g., lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc.).

I order the bacon blue burger. It came with, you guessed it, blue cheese. And a tangy, mildly creamy blue cheese it was. It also came with bacon, but not in the form you're imagining. Instead of frying the bacon and putting it on top of the patty, Salt Lake minces the bacon and places it inside the patty. This technique has some interesting pros and cons. The primary pro is the bacon's fattiness imbues the patty with juiciness and smokiness. The real con is the bacon never gets crispy, so every so often you bite into large, relatively uncooked portions of bacon fat. I prefer my bacon crispy, so adding it to the patty was interesting, but ultimately not my thing.

I ended up loading my burger with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and mayo. Notwithstanding my reservations about the bacon-inside-the-patty thing, the burger was good. Nothing particularly stunning about it, but it made me want to come back for more.

The fries on the other hand, did not. They were limp and unremarkable. The onions rings looked good; try those instead.

One last thing, my buddy ordered a peanut butter chocolate shake, from which I was allowed to partake. Awesome. Vivid peanut butter flavor. Good chocolateness as well. Creamy. Smooth. Very good.

So, Salt City gets some things right, some things not, and some things better than right. Certainly not the best burger place in SLC, but I'll be back.

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

Salt City Burger Co. on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ruth's Diner

Address: 2100 Emigration Canyon, Salt Lake City, UT 84108. 801.582.5807.

Review: Ruth's is a (or is it "an"? I can't ever remember) historic restaurant located in Emigration Canyon a couple miles north of Salt Lake. You're reminded of Ruth's historic nature upon entering when you see the sign that says "Ruth's is the second oldest restaurant in Utah," and when you see the picture of Ruth (hint: she was old when the picture was taken eons ago, and she apparently like wearing moo moos while cooking). Of course, history means nothing when it comes to taste. For example, the oldest restaurant in Salt Lake is simply not good. So, how does Ruth's stack up when it comes to taste? Let's see.

The first item Ruth's treats you to is their biscuits.

I was duly impressed with this, the ultimate of farinaceous foods. These big, rustic biscuits possess a slight sweetness that made them good without any accompaniment. When you add complimentary butter and raspberry jam, the experience is enhanced. I will say, these biscuits are a little more bready than other biscuits (as in, they've been worked so more gluten develops), but that slight breadiness works perfectly well.

Post biscuits, I had me a pot roast sandwich, which came with thick-sliced pot roast, tomatoes, lettuce, and swiss cheese on a ciabatta roll.

Honestly, I ordered this sandwich because I don't particularly like pot roast or swiss cheese. I figured if Ruth's could make me like this sandwich, it was a pretty good joint. And like it I did. The pot roast is the star. It's nicely thick, not dry at all, and full of great pot roast flavor. Very impressive. The other elements give a necessary lightness to the sandwich, but they don't overtake the pot roast flavor. The bread is a bit softer than it should have been. A bit more heartiness would have complimented the meaty pot roast. In any case, this was a very nice sandwich.

(Note: the fries were just okay. In fact, they were a bit limp.)

My wife had the caprese sandwich.

It seems whenever this sandwich is on a menu, my wife orders it. According to her, this is one of the best she's had.

In all, a very enjoyable experience. Some elements could have been stronger, but the food was quite good. And, as I understand it, Ruth's breakfasts are better than its lunches and dinners. If that is indeed the case, I can't wait for breakfast.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average) - subject to change after breakfasting.

Ruth's Diner on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Koko Kitchen

Address: 702 S 300 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84111. 801.364.4888.

Review: Koko Kitchen is located in exactly the spot you wouldn't expect a restaurant would be located. It's surrounded by houses and some apartment complexes. In fact, the place looks like an oddly misshaped house.

The first thing I noticed upon entering Koko was the clientele; they were mostly Asians. This gave me confidence, and I was not disappointed.

Since it was lunch, I tried a rice bowl with fried shrimp and veggies.

Simply put: it was good. The shrimp was freshly prepared and cooked well (i.e., it wasn't at all tough or dry). The veggies were plentiful and not overcooked, which meant they had a lot of flavor. The rice was white and sticky: exactly what you want in a dish like this.

Koko offers much more than simple lunch fare, and I can't wait to go back to sample more.

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

Koko Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Bagels & Buns

Address: 2487 Grant Ave, Ogden, UT 84401. 801.394.7142.

Review: I'll make this quick 'cause there ain't much to discuss. I had a bagel (meh) sandwich with sliced beef (meh), tomatoes (meh), lettuce (meh), cream cheese (meh), and cheese (meh). Yep, you guessed it, it was all perfectly meh. Especially meh was the bagel. There was no toothiness present in a good bagel. Its taste was flat and bland, as was the sandwich as a whole.

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

Bagels & Buns on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Venezolano Restaurante Andinitas

Address: 4139 S 1785 W, Taylorsville, UT 84119. 801.966.9097.

Review: Let's get one thing straight upfront: when you're looking for Venezolano Restaurante Andinitas, look simply for Andinitas; it's what's on the sign.

There are relatively few times you go to a restaurant and find something that makes you think, "Holy crap. That's a brilliant idea." My experience at Andinitas was one of those times.

Andinitas is a Venezuelan restaurant with about eight tables. The menu is comprised of about the same six meats prepared in different ways. I had an arepa pabellon. Arepas are sandwiches that use fried or grilled corn cakes as the bread component.

The pabellon arepa was filled with shredded beef, fried sweet plantains, black beans, and cheese.

As with any sandwich, it all starts with the bread (or corn cake, as it were). This one was lighter than a ho cake (which is the closest comparison to an American food I can make), but not nearly as light as wheat bread. Its density helped it stand up well the the decidedly heavy filling. The shredded beef was tasty and juicy. The beans were okay, but didn't add a lot of flavor. The plantains added an unexpected sweetness. But what made this arepa was the avocado crema. It brought all the flavors together and lightened the arepa ever so slightly. Quite good.

And now, the main attraction: the patacon.

As you can see, a patacon is a sandwich that utilizes fried plantains instead of bread. This patacon came filled with ham, cheese, lettuce, avocado, onions, and tomatoes. This dish is the one I was referring to earlier. (You remember, the "holy crap" part above.) It's so simple, and yet so ingenuous. The fried plantains are sweet and work wondrously well with the ham. The lettuce adds a crispy component, and the vegetables add needed lightness and acid. Everything went together perfectly. Fried plantain sandwich!? Who'da thunk it? Anyway, I could have ordered another on the spot if my wife would have let me. But alas, I will have to wait for the next go 'round with the patacon, which will be soon.

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

P.S.: Mad props to SLC Cheap Eats for first reviewing Andinitas. Those guys find some good restaurants.

Venezolano Restaurante Andinitas on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tortillas de Mano

Address: Corner of 200 E and 300 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111.

Review: The one thing I always find lacking in taco stands is the tortilla. It's never made by hand; instead, it comes from a plastic bag you can buy at Smith's. Now, I'm not sure about you, but if I want Smith's tortillas, I'll go to Smith's and buy them. A real, quality taco stand should make its own tortillas. And Tortillas de Mano is a real, quality taco stand.

We started our meal with a pair of tacos: chicken and carnitas.

The chicken was dry cooked and not braised or wet cooked, which seems to be a popular taco stand way of ensuring the chicken doesn't turn out dry. In any case, the chicken was slightly dry, but the seasoning added big flavor. The carnitas was juicy and tender. Slathered with the standard salsas, pico de gallo, onions, etc., both tacos were mighty good. Oh, and the tortilla: money. The hand-madeness factor really helps these tacos. Very good.

And then there was the torta, which is a big sandwich made with taco fillins. I had barbacoa on mine.
The procedure for making a torta is kind of interesting. First, they cut the bread in half and slathered on sour cream. They then fried the bread on the skillet, sour cream side down, while they prepared the meat. After adding the meat, you get to add your favorite toppings, and, voila, a torta is born. The bread was a little soft for my taste, but the flavors were money. Good stuff. And for $3, it's a screamin' deal. Honestly, this is a taco stand.

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

Taco Taco

Address: 2931 Washington Blvd, Ogden, Utah 84401. 801.393.6526.

Review: After a hearing in the Ogden District Court, I figured it was time to grab a bite. I happened upon Taco Taco and figured, "What the heck? Why not?"

First thing you notice when you walk in Taco Taco is it seem like a pretty standard little Mexican-food joint. Then you get the menu and realize they serve some pretty cool stuff. I was enamored by the platillo de lengua, which is, you guessed it, beef tongue served with green chiles.

Now, before you get all, "Really? Tongue? That's so gross," you have to try it. Tongue is actually a really nice meat. It contains a lot of intramuscular fat, which makes it juicy and tender if cooked correctly. And the tongue at Taco Taco was cooked correctly. The chiles added just the right amount of heat and flavor. The queso fresco is a nice touch on top of the beans, which otherwise would be lacking in flavor. I wish Taco Taco served hand-made corn tortillas (the ones you get are from a supermarket), because doing so would have set this meal over the top. As is is though, it was a pretty darn solid meal, and some of the best tongue I've ever had.

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

Taco Taco on Urbanspoon