Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stango's Coffee Shop

Address: 221 South Chadbourne Street, San Angelo, Texas 76903. 325.659.8999.

Review: First things first, Stango's isn't a coffee shop, at least not in the modern sense of the phrase. It's more an old-timey soda fountain than anything else. And while I don't normally comment on ambiance, Stango's is filled with kitsch (in the good sense) from the past and old video and pinball games. It's a fun place to hang. Now, on to the food.

The lion's share of Stango's menu is dedicated to sodas and ice cream dishes. Sandwiches are about the only savory dishes served. I ordered the roast beef on wheat. 


The bread was solid, although not particularly toothsome. (My wife ordered the Italian on white, and the white bread was superior to my wheat.) The roast beef was a good deli quality roast beef, and the horseradish mayo, a classic accompaniment helped round things out. My favorite part of any deli-style sandwich is the pickle, and the pickle was quality. All around, a solid sandwich.

For those who don't know, San Angelo tap water tastes like death. Honestly, it's just plain awful. So, while I'm in San Angelo I have learned to drink soda the entire time. Today's soda choice was Diet Coke. Now, most soda shoot out of a mixing system in perfect industrial ratios, but not at Stango's. The nice woman behind the counter mixed the syrup with water and then added the soda water at the end. It was all very 1930s, and it was nice to see. The result is a soda with less carbonation and more syrup. Good stuff.

My wife and son bought an ice cream cone, of which I did not partake, but about which they said good things. My son also enjoyed his very first pinball game.

Solid, fun place for lunch or dessert.

Rating: 6/10

Stango's Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tsunami

Address: 10722 South River Front Parkway, South Jordan, Utah 84095. 801.748.1178.

Review: Utah. Sushi. One of these things is not like the other. Well, actually, both of these things are not like the other. 

A week or so ago, we, as University of Nebraska Law School alums, invaded Tsunami during the lunch hour to get our sushi on. Since two members of our group served their Mormon missions in Tokyo, and since they picked the restaurant, I harbored higher-than-normal hopes for sushi in the Intermountain West. 

I began with the sashimi sampler. 


To be honest, I don't know enough about sushi and sashimi to give them an in-depth analysis. I just know I like them, and this sashimi I liked. The fish, while obviously not abundantly fresh, was still fresh as you can expect under the circumstances. The wasabi was light and wonderful. (I received assurances from the waiter that the wasabi was actually freshly grated wasabi, as opposed to the normal paste crap you get in supermarkets or other low-end Japanese restaurants.) The soy sauce was flavorful and not too salty. 

I followed my friend John's lead on the sushi and ordered what he ordered. One roll was blue fin tuna and nothing more. Simple. Unadorned. Great. The other was a fried roll, which I was somewhat reticent about, what with it being fried and all. It was the D.T.H. roll. It contained tuna, salmon (an odd choice for sushi far as I'm concerned, but that's because my father ran a salmon hatchery when I was a child), and yellowfin. It was warm, but none of the fish was cooked. While I prefer the purity of nigri, sushi, and unfried rolls, this was pretty good, and the crunch was a nice textural element not normally present. 

All in all, an enjoyable sushi meal.

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

Tsunami - River Park on Urbanspoon

Cork and Pig

Address: 2201 Knickerbocker Road, San Angelo, Texas 76904. 325.227.6988.

Review: Where, oh where, to eat in San Angelo, Texas? It's not in the Hill Country, so barbecue isn't king. It's not south enough to have great Tex Mex. It's sort of in the center of Texas, without a culinary identity.

Today, we tried Cork and Pig. Standard American fare, and quite a few specialty pizzas, were on the menu. 

I ordered the Cuban sandwich, which came with a roasted peanut coleslaw.


Let's begin by extolling the virtues of the coleslaw. Coleslaw is so often a gloopy, mayonnaisey mess. Not this. This coleslaw was light, crunchy, and full of interesting flavor. The roasted peanuts gave the dish a pad thai feel. I've never experienced a coleslaw like this before, and I'd love to experience it again, and again, and again.

The sandwich was not as successful as the slaw. Cuban sandwiches are all about contrast. Contrast of the fatty soft roasted pork with the acidic pickles, and the fatty ham with the mustard. The bread (the most important component of any sandwich) is pressed and grilled and dense. While the pork in this sandwich was beautifully roasted and flavorful, I was completely unable to taste the ham. The contrasting elements (i.e., the pickles and mustard) weren't prominent at all. Like the ham, I couldn't taste the Swiss cheese. I knew there was cheese, but it could have been mozzarella or any other mild cheese. The bread wasn't entirely pressed, and portions tasted like Wonder Bread.

I also partook of my brother-in-law's Southwestern pizza. I'm going to assume because they had pizzas like Margherita D.O.C. and the like, that they were going for a Neapolitan-style pizza. If that is the case, then the pizza was entirely unsuccessful. The crust had huge air pockets (which are very easy fixed). It was also thick and tough. The roasted green chiles were tasteless, so the only prominent flavor present was the pepperoni. The cheese was exceedingly mild, as was the cream sauce. It was all just bland.

My wife ordered the cheeseburger. Quickly, it needed salt, lots of salt. The bun was the best component of the dish. Toothy and structurally sound. The rest was, well, bland. Meh.

So, again I query: where, oh where, to eat in San Angelo, Texas?

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

Cork and Pig on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ekamai Thai

Address: 1405 E 2100 S, Salt Lake City, Utah 84105. 801.906.0908.

Review: Sometimes you go to a restaurant and have a few things, and when you think about it after the meal, you say to yourself, "Wow, I wish I had just ordered five plates of X." That's how I felt when my buddy Dan and I ate at Ekamai Thai, so I'm going to focus on the X dish.

In this case, X stands for fried calamari. (Noted: I love that a Thai restaurant calls the dish fried calamari, since calamari is an Italian word which somehow became popularized in America even though we could utilize the perfectly legitimate English word squid.) The calamari (see, there I go again) was all rings battered and fried in a very light and crunchy panko-style batter. It was accompanied by a sweet cilantro sauce. Initially, I wasn't altogether sure about the sauce. I like cilantro, but it overpowers easily, and I've never thought it went particularly well with seafood. The sauce was light and not overpowering at all, however. I was surprised how well it married with the ultra-light calamari. Not sure if it was the unexpectedness of liking the sauce so much, but this was one of the better calamari preparation I've eaten. And I say this as one who actually prefers the legs of the calamari to the rings. One can only imagine what this recipe would taste like if Utah were located next to a calamari-rich ocean. 

Wonderful dish.

Rating: Hot dang good fried calamari/10. 


Ekamai Thai on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bistro 412

Address: 412 Main Street, Park City, Utah 84060. 435.649.8211.

Review: My parents are in town for Thanksgiving; so, naturally, my wife and I leave our child with them and escape to Park City for the evening. (Good thing they like our son more than they like us.) 

Our first thought for dinner was Ruth's Chris. However, we had just grilled some tasty T-bones and New York strips the night before, so the wife vetoed the yet-more-meat option. Not knowing the Park City scene, we texted a Park City friend for help. She suggested Wahso, but, alas, it was closed until after Thanksgiving. In the end, we decided on Bistro 412. A little French food every so often is good for the soul, after all.

We started with the escargot. It came in the classic escargot vessel covered in puff pastry. Each de-shelled snail was in its own little divot, swimming in butter and parsley.  


Now, you would think snails would possess a kind of earthy (read: dirt) taste, or possibly a slimy quality. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are nice and light, if a bit chewy. My wife, who steadfastly refuses to touch a snail, asked me what they taste like. "Snails" was about the best response I could muster. Honestly, I could have used a little more parsley in the dish, but it was thoroughly enjoyable as prepared.

And here's a gratuitous snail selfie. 


And then on to the main event: the lamb shank. Now, my wife vetoed the yet-more-meat option, but only for herself. I mean, how can one pass up a tender lamb shank topped with field mushrooms, and accompanied by pureed sweet potatoes and broccolini. The lamb was tender and of serious quality. The mushrooms, mmm. They were meaty in their own right. The sweet potatoes constituted the obligatory sweet component in every lamb dish, and it filled the bill perfectly. The broccolini were green and good, and I don't like broccoli. (As in, I think broccoli is a vile weed.) And the lamb jus. Sopping it up with a bit of the toothsome bread provided is what dreams are made of. Must, not, drool, at, thought, of, jus.


Oh, and we had some pommes frites. Good. Crispy. Garlicky. Nice compliment to the shank.

In all, an enjoyable meal. Score one for the yet-more-meat option.

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

Bistro 412 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria

Address: 1044 E 2100 S, Salt Lake City, Utah. 801.467.2180.

Review: I read an interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in which he lamented about how he felt like he was always making the same arguments and saying the same things. That's sort of how I feel when I review pizzerie. 

At this point I usually talk about the structure of the pizza, how pizza is really about the dough and about balance, as opposed to toppings. I may wax nostalgic about living in Italy and eating the best pizza in the world on spaccanapoli (it really is transcendent). This time I'm going to forgo all that and just talk.

I had the carpaccio to begin. It wasn't carpaccio. Carpaccio is a raw meat dish, and I received a cured meat with a bunch of arugula. Look, I get that sometimes dishes aren't what you quite expect, and you just have to take them as they come and analyze what is good and what might not be good about the dish you receive. This, however, was simply false advertising. Carpaccio is one of the best dishes served in Italy because the meat is raw, fresh, and deliciously tender. A heavy, cured, fatty product, lightened up with some greenery, is not equivalent. 


Next: the pizza.


The crust was tough, way too thick, and lacked any flavor at all. The meat was good quality. They had baked the pizza with so little tomato that it was dry as a bone. The basil was uncooked (as in they didn't put in on until after the pizza came out of the oven). Also the pizza hadn't been properly rotated in the oven, so one side was burned, while the other was not. This was a poorly executed pizza in every way. 

Just an unfortunate experience.

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

Flatbread Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Penny Ann's Cafe

Address: 1810 South Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115. 801.935.4760.

Review: About every month or so, a group of young attorneys picks a restaurant for our lunchtime get together. This month was Penny Ann's Cafe. The staff was exceedingly nice and accommodated our group with ease. What you understand the moment you enter Penny Ann's is that you will receive standard dineresque fare. There's nothing fancy about this joint, and thank heaven for that. And while lack of pretense is a good start, food is king. It is to this we now turn.

I began with the fried ravioli ("ravioli" is already plural, so, please, no more "raviolis").


Fried ravioli are what you expect: ravioli rolled in bread crumbs and fried. The quality of the fried ravioli is entirely dependent on the quality of the underlying ravioli. These ravioli tasted industrial, filled with gobs of mozzarella (kind of a non-standard choice as a filling), but lacking in any real taste. The sauce was equally blasé. (Note: of course diner fried ravioli are not haute cuisine (although they could be), but that doesn't mean blah components make a dish taste anything other than blah.)

Next up was the grilled Reuben. I asked for sourdough bread because me and rye, we no get along so well.   


The bread (i.e., where all sandwiches begin and end) was okay. Nice and crispy, but without any discernible sourdough flavor. The corned beef was okay; nothing special. The sauerkraut was unassertive to the point of not really being there. (Existential query of the day: when sauerkraut is just there to be there, then why is it there?) Couldn't taste the Swiss cheese at all, like at all. Man, to be honest, there just wasn't much to this sandwich.

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

Penny Ann's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Trattoria Brown: Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce

With an abundance of heirloom tomatoes to use and/or preserve at the end of Salt Lake City's growing season, we have decided to make boatloads of tomato sauce. Now, this is a fairly standard preserving procedure, so we thought we'd get a little creative. Usually, tomato sauce consists of blanching tomatoes, removing the skin, and then canning them as is or cooking them down before canning. Honestly, however, I don't much like peeling tomatoes, and with this recipe you don't need to.

Ingredients

1.5 pounds fresh heirloom tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. If your heirlooms are large, quarter them and place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil of parchment paper (your choice) so they don't touch. If you are using smaller heirlooms, halve them. If they are cherry tomatoes, just put them on the baking sheet as is. Chop the onion into large pieces and place on baking sheet, along with garlic cloves. Salt and pepper to taste and drizzle olive oil over everything. It should look a little something like this:
 

(As you can see, we used a variety of heirlooms. Six different types to be precise. You can use one type or many, depending on your tastes.) 

Roasted in the oven for approximately 90 minutes, turning every thirty or so. When everything is roasted, place everything in a food processor and process until smooth. It is read to use at this point. You can also freeze the sauce in ziploc bags to use during those clod, tomato-less winter months. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chabaar

Address: 87 W 7200 S, Salt Lake City, Utah 84047. 801.566.5100.

Review: Thai food is good, there's no two ways about it. The sweet, the sour, the bitter, the spicy, the salt, all at the same time. It's like a complex little dance on your tongue. Mmm.

Chabaar fashions itself as Thai and beyond. I guess that's an ode to a Thai-American fusion cuisine, but, honestly, I'm not sure. We ordered standard Thai fare, and that was good enough for us.

I ordered the kow soi (here Chabaar's description of the dish: “More popular to Northern Thailand this curry is coconut gravy served over egg noodles topped with fresh shredded carrot, red onion, pickled mustard greens, basil, bean sprout, and lime.”).



Now, Chabaar's has an interesting heat index. It starts at 0 and goes to 10. They will not serve you anything above a 3 on your first visit. You will be thankful for this rule, as 3 is fairly hot. Not scorch your mouth hot, but hot enough to make things uncomfortable. I appreciated this because most Thai restaurants dissipate the heat so thoroughly for American palates that it really loses any bit of authenticity.

The kow soi was beautifully creamy and dark and rich. The egg noodles were what they were (i.e., filler), and the pork was thin and soft, if not somewhat indistinguishable from any other type of meat. The vegetable made the dish. The carrots were crisp and refreshing and livened the sauce's deep flavor. The pickled mustard greens did the same, although in a more mild and more acidic way. Quite enjoyable dish.

We also ordered the appetizer sampler, complete with fried tofu, fried and fresh spring rolls, cream cheese wontons,  and pot stickers.



Some items were more successful than others. My favorite (and I hate to admit this): the cream cheese wontons. They were airy, crispy, cheesy goodness. The pot stickers were also good, but a little too dry. Fried tofu. Who knew? Simple and light. Tofu will take on whatever flavor you wish, so the sauces really came through. Thankfully, the sauces were good. The spring rolls were okay. Nothing entirely special, although the fresh spring rolls were beautifully fresh.

My wife ordered the green curry. She quite enjoyed it, declaring it creamy with a mild curry flavor.


We enjoyed our meal, and we will be back.

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

Chabaar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mountain West Burrito

Address: 1796 N 950 W, Provo, Utah 84604. 801.805.1870.

Review: Query: what does one do after securing a deserving father custody of his children in Heber in the morning, and securing an equally deserving father custody of his children in Orem in the afternoon? Why, one drives his car to Provo's local hookah emporium/organic burrito shop, of course.

In the now venerable vein of yuppifying that which is inherently not yuppie, Mountain West Burrito has taken local, organic (read: yuppie) ingredients and shoved them in an equally yuppie flour shell. It's all very Upper West Side Provo. And, all joking aside, it's pretty darn good.

(Now, just a quick word on the whole organic, sustainable, micro-regional, we-will-only-use-produce-trucked-in-on-the-back-of-an-organically-grown-grass-fed-yak fad we have going on today. Who in the Hades cares? Food is foremost about taste. If food tastes good, then it is done right. If it is not, then no manner of feel-good growing practices can change that mediocrity.)

I ordered the steak burrito with roasted veggies. It came with a side of home-made chips, pico de gallo, and a green salsa.


The first bite announced immediately that this was a good burrito. The steak was tender and flavorful. The pinto beans were soft (not mushy) and tasty, which is difficult for a pinto bean in my experience. the tortilla was thin and resilient and added that farinaceous quality you want in a good burrito. The cheese lent heft and gooeyness. It was a good bite.   


As I progressed and thought more about the burrito, I noticed the vegetables: a medley of squashes more than anything else. They were roasted, but, honestly, they were steamed. There was none of the beautiful char you desire in a beautifully roasted vegetable. That char is what lends flavor and depth, and that was lacking here. For that matter, I notice the same to be true of the steak. Now, I imagine the idea of the steak was to be incredibly juicy, which is was, and that came at the loss of some flavor. (Of course, what I'm saying is merely a proxy for stating my preference regarding how one should cook a steak burrito. Mountain West went a different way, and their way worked well.)

A tale of two salsas. First, the pico de gallo. Okay, fairly tasteless. Meh. Second, the green. Hot, but not too hot. Wonderfully flavorful. Acidic. Great compliment to the heaviness of the steak and other heavy ingredients. Money.

The chips. Quite good. Light, with some heft. Crispy. Not overtly flavored.

In sum, good meal. I ate it all with gusto. Obviously, my preferences are slightly different, but Mountain West crafts good foodstuffs. 

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

Mountain West Burrito on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen

Address: (1) 3425 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115, 801.467.6882; (2) 6093 South Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84121, 801.277.9888.

Review: Moment of complete honesty: I have eaten a bánh mì at exactly two establishments; therefore, I know exceedingly little about this French-Vietnamese fusion sandwich. Well, I do know one thing: if French Colonialism succeeded at nothing else, it succeeded at creating one dang good sandwich. 

Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen makes relatively few things: bánh mì and pho far as I can tell. I like pho, but I come to Oh Mai for the sandwiches, and they is tasty. Imagine a sandwich built on a classic baguette then filled with all manner of Asian goodies. There's cucumber, pickeled daikon and carrots, cilantro, kimchee (depending on the sandwich), sliced jalapeños, etc. Then there's the meat. It's uniformly good and juicy. I have tried the cold cuts, the curried chicken, the shredded pork, the ribeye, and enjoyed them all. My favorite sandwich, however, is the short ribs. The meat is smothered in a sweet glaze, and the sandwich is loaded with a good and not to overpowering kimchee, and all the usual vegetables described above. The sweet and savory meat with the crispy beautiful vegetables, all topped with siracha. Mmm, love, tasty, tasty love. This is, bar far, my favorite quick lunchtime treat.

Now, I must say, when Oh Mai initially opened, they had some troubles with the bread. It was often overcooked and tough. They seem to have fixed that problem now. And while it's not a killer baguette, its crustiness is exactly what you want with that beautiful meat.

Again, I have absolutely no idea how authentic these sandwiches are, and I don't pretend to know. What I do know, however, is these sandwiches are money.

Go now. Go often. It good.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average)

Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen on Urbanspoon Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cucina Vanina

Address: 1844 E Fort Union Blvd, Salt Lake City, Utah. 801.938.9706.

Review: Nomenclature is important. For instance, the word "South" means different things in different parts of the world. In the United States it refers (at the very least) to the area below the Mason-Dixon Line. In Italy, South usually refers to the area below Rome. Of course, if you're a member of Lega Nord, it might mean anything below Bologna, or, heck, maybe Trento, who knows with those people. 

It was with this in mind that I was somewhat perplexed when we arrived at Cucina Vanina and saw the following on the restaurant minivan out front (to their eternal credit, there was a restaurant Fiat 500 immediately adjacent to the minivan): "A culinary tour of Southern Italy." This statement was juxtaposed against the following nightly special announced on the chalk stand next to the front door: "spaghetti alla Bolognese." These two things are completely incongruous. A restaurant touting itself as a specialist in Southern Italian cooking should have nothing whatsoever to do with spaghetti alla Bolognese. Bolognese cuisine is a world apart from that of Southern Italy. It is based on different ingredients and requires a completely different cooking style. You wouldn't expect good shrimp and grits from a chef in Fargo, North Dakota, and you shouldn't expect good spaghetti alla Bolognese from a Southern Italian restaurant. This was an ominous beginning.

After discussion, my wife and I ordered bruschetta al pomodoro (bruschetta with tomatoes), insalata di rucola e finocchio (salad of arugula and fennel with shaved parmigano reggiano), ravioli con sugo di pomodoro (cheese ravioli with tomato sauce), and involtino di carne (roulade of beef stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, served with oven-roasted potatoes and a light arugula salad). 

Before the bruschetta arrived, we were given bread (a form of focaccia, it seemed) and what the server called "Italian salsa."



The salsa was excellent. Pungent, smooth, acidic. The bread was obviously house made, and somewhat wonder-bready with a firmer crust. Nothing terribly authentic about it, unlike the sauce, which is still making me drool. 

The bruschetta al pomodoro had as its base, the same bread as that described above. Thankfully, however, the tomatoes utilized were beautifully fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes from a local grower.



The tomatoes were dressed simply, with olive oil and basil. Wonderfully vibrant. The dish was served with a side of the ormai obligatory, and completely unnecessary, balsamic reduction. This bruschetta was the highlight of the meal. 

The insalata was, well, an insalata with arugula and fennel and shaved parm.



Salads like this are limited by the quality of ingredients. The ingredients here were fine, hence, the salad was fine.

The ravioli, hmm.



Ravioli are meant to be light with a little filling to compliment the pasta, and lightly sauced. These were none of those things. The pasta was extraordinarily thick and the edges had not been cooked all the way through (they were very tough). They were filled with copious amounts of okay ricotta. There was far too much sauce for the four ravioli (and $17.95 for four ravioli? Seriously? Four?). Everything that could be wrong with a raviolo was wrong here. Very poor execution.

The involtini were blah.



The first one (of only three, mind you) was fairly gamey. The predominant flavor, oddly, was that of mozzarella. The prosciutto was indiscernible (my wife had no idea it was there until I told her). The oven-roasted potatoes had no flavor, none. No rosemary, no parm, no salt, nothing. $19.99 for three involtini and tasteless potatoes? Come on. 

In fine, some excellent elements, but poor overall execution and flavor. Oh, and the Southerness of the menu. It's sort of Southern. There is a variety of seafood dishes, some of which are certainly Southern, but many of the dishes are straight Northern fare, or simply American (e.g., spaghetti and meatballs). 

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

Cucina Vanina on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Faces

Address: 659 North 300 West, Salt Lake City, Utah 84103. 801.596.0344.

Review: "You want to go to lunch, Marco?"

"Sure. Where do you want to go?"

"There's this place called 'Faces'."

"Face? Really? That's the name? What kind of food do they serve?"

"Good Southern food: fried catfish, po' boys. They even to Philly cheesesteaks."

"Let's do it."

And so my buddy Greg and I left the Bountiful District Court and headed to Faces. Apparently, Faces used to be located in some dive bar that went under because the building couldn't pass code inspection. Well, that's what I initially thought when I approached the place. The paint job looked thirty years old. The windows were blacked out. There was an old storage shed in the back that could have housed gremlins. I love places like this.

Upon entering Faces, one sees a greasy spoon, completed with soap operas on the television and paper menus. The proprietors (a lovely black-American couple from, well we get to that in a minute) were salt-of-the-earth types, cooking food they grew up with. And that food is down home Southern, with a touch of East Coast. Shrimp po' boys, fish po' boys, fried catfish, hushpuppies, and smoked sausages made in house. These are some of the mainstays. 

I had a fish po' boy. The fish was breaded with cornmeal and fried to perfection. It was juicy and flaky, if not the tastiest fish under the sun. the bread was soft and airy and exceedingly white, with a flaky crust. The fish was covered in coleslaw. Topped with some hot sauce and mayo and this was a solid, satisfying sandwich.

Before we left, we engaged the husband/cook in conversation. My buddy (who knows him pretty well) told him I'd be back for the cheesesteak. I then asked him if he puts Cheez Whiz on his cheesesteaks. The response was a resounding no, followed by a history lesson regarding how Cheez Whiz was not a standard cheesesteak topping until relatively recently. He then told me where to find the best cheesesteak in Philly (the location is locked in my brain awaiting my next East Coast vacation). And while I like Whiz on my steak, I can't wait to return to Faces to give their non-Cheez Whiz version a taste.

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

Faces on Urbanspoon

Brio Tuscan Grille

Address: 80 Regent Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. 801.359.4401.

Review: If you have read any of my past review, you know I am no fan of American Italian restaurants. Their cuisine is usually based on Italian-American cuisine, not actual Italian cuisine. (There is a world of difference between the two.) They also are usually of nominal quality (compare to 95% of Chinese restaurants you have frequented in your life). And the situation is usually worse when the restaurant is a chain. This is why it's always surprising when you find an Italian restaurant that works, even if not fully.

After a divorce mediation that went a big nowhere, a few of us jaunted to Brio to give it a try. The outdoor patio was a perfect spot to enjoy a couple appetizers. 

First was the fried calamari frito misto. A true frito misto usually includes a number of different types of seafood, as well as other fried items (e.g., fried lemon slices). This was more limited, with fried calamari and peperoncini. There were two sauces: a beautiful aioli and an obligatory tomato sauce. (Why in the world anyone eats tomato sauce with calamari is beyond me.) The bater was light. The calamari were soft and flavorful. The aioli was garlicky, lemony, and mayonnaisey: i.e., everything it should be. 

Second, we tried the beef carpaccio with mustard aioli and capers. Carpaccio is all about the beef. There is no possible way one could be good without good quality beef. This beef was good. I mean, it's not like eating a carpaccio of chianina in Tuscany, but it was tasty and wonderfully light. The aioli was pungent and mustardy. There were some greens on top dressed with olive oil, which made little sense to me. carpaccio is decidedly light by nature. It doesn't need greens to make it lighter yet. Good beef, good aioli: it's all you need, and Brio had that. 

Next up was the wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon. This was a very un-Italian dish, and it shouldn't be on the menu. Wedge salads have a fairly low ceiling (in other words, they can only be so good), and this was no different. It was okay, just like every other wedge salad. I must say, however, you ever serve anything like this in Italy and call it a salad, Marlon Brando will come back from the dead and cap you while you're getting massage. 

Finally, we sampled the lobster bisque. There is this fantastically funny scene in "Seinfeld" in which Elaine is asked about her date with a new man-crush. She indicated they got frisky, and that the lobster bisque was the best part of the date. (It's way funnier when you watch it, trust me.) Well, the lobster bisque was not the best part of anything here. Too viscous. Too salty. Not enough lobster flavor.  

So, on the scorecard Brio was two for four. Honestly, not bad for an American Italian restaurant. The two good dishes were quite good.

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

BRIO Tuscan Grille on Urbanspoon

Bambara

Address: 202 South Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101. 801.363.5454.

Review: I have an opinion about high-priced dining in Salt Lake. Now, admittedly, this opinion is based on incomplete data since I haven't eaten at every restaurant in city (and there are a number of exceptions to what I'm about to say), but I've experienced enough of a cross-section the I'm fairly confident in its veracity. Here it is: Salt Lake has quite a variety of very good lower-priced and middle-priced restaurants; however, its high-priced restaurants, while good, are good, not great.

Bambara is a perfect example.

My son and I went on a whim one evening after strolling around downtown. The atmosphere was elegant, simple, modern. The menu is modern American. So good so far. My son is a man on simple tastes, so he ordered plain noodles with cheese. I ordered the bacon-wrapped filet with summer tomatoes, a sourdough crouton, olive tapenade, charred onions, Maytag blue cheese (which topped the fillet) and some bone marrow. As you can see, it was a beautifully presented dish.



Elements of the dish were as tasty as they were pretty. For example, the fillet itself was perfectly medium-rare, soft, and gorgeously fulfilling. The bacon wrap was a needless crutch that added nothing to the fillet (this is pretty much the case with all bacon wraps surrounding steaks). On the other hand, the Maytag was light and luscious and added just enough blueness to the steak to enhances its flavor.

The tomatoes were of two varieties: beefsteak and cherry. Both were perfectly ripe. The beefsteaks were a meaty, acidic counterpoint to the fillet. (You could almost sense a little whimsy in the choice of a vegetable steak opposite an animal steak on the same plate.) The cherry tomatoes added a nice sweetness and contrast with the more savory beefsteaks, as well as with the very salty (we'll get to this in a minute) fillet and bone marrow.

The bone marrow was exquisite. Perfectly cooked, its fattiness spread wonderfully on the house bread. Among the best I've had.

Elements of the dish did not live up to its plating. For example, the olive tapenade was misplaced and only served to muddle the taste of the tomatoes over which it was lathered (I removed it after finishing the first slice of tomato). It also added a fair amount of saltiness to the dish. This would have been fine if the dish needed salt, but it was over-salted without the tapenade. In fact, there was so much salt that the grilled sourdough crouton, on which the fillet sat, and which soaked up the steak's juices and the tapenade, was salted beyond any pleasantness.

All in all, I enjoyed this dish. The bone marrow was wonderful. The steak was quality. The tomatoes sang. The other issues transformed it from a wonderful and simple summer steak dish into a good steak that shouldn't cost what it did.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average).
  
Bambara on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Epic Casual Dining

Address: 707 Fort Union Boulevard, Midvale, Utah 84047. 801.748.1300.

Review: I thought about crafting this review using iambic pentameter, or, more boldly, iambic pentameter within a terza rima. That would have been all Dantesque and whatnot, but the subject matter has to warrant such linguistic exertion. This subject matter, unfortunately, does not. Maybe I'll save terza rima for the copious multitudes of Napton pizzerie we will be frequenting next summer. For now, the following couplet will suffice:

We journeyed in search of a succulent steak experience;
What we found left us perplexed and delirious.

(Yes, I know, it's an approximate rhyme. Sue me. I'm tired.)

By way of explanation, the waitress recommended the grilled beef tenderloin. "People come for miles around to eat it," she said. "Okay," I replied, "Let's do it. Medium rare. And can I have the creamed spinach?" A "sure" escaped her lips. And so, the die was cast. 

The steak, cooked to medium rare perfection, came practically affogato in a port reduction that lacked depth or much flavor. The steak itself lacked salt (a common theme, as wel shall see) and had a grainy texture on the tongue. The mashed potatoes, pleasantly extruded from a piping bag, were piping cold. The creamed spinach was the best part of the dish. It was mustardy and creamy with a bit of bite still present. One element does not a dish make, however.

My wife ordered the angel hair pasta with a cream sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, mushrooms, etc. Heavy is the word that sums up this dish. Nothing lightened the palet. There were no tastes to counterbalance the cream and fat. And it was entirely undersalted.

Ultimately, there just wasn't much there.

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

Epic Casual Dining on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Los Molcajetes

Address: 4031 W 4100 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84120.

Review: There's something magical about hole-in-the-wall joints. So often they're among the best food you ever have. They're entirely unpretentious. They're cheap. They're usually focused on food, and not on worthless things like cleanliness and tablecloths. Such is Los Molcajetes (Molcajetes).

I came to know of Molcajetes from a Mexican friend whose food opinion I deeply trust. Apparently, he and his family stumbled upon this place one evening, and it so impressed them they returned the next morning for breakfast. With an endorsement like that, how could I not partake?

Molcajetes is sandwiched between a Mexican grocery store, which come to find out is also quite good, and a hair salon. It's almost impossible to find unless you're looking right at it. Having come from work, I walked in with my pasty white skin enveloped by a Hugo Boss suit. I didn't quite fit in this working-class Mexican restaurant where the proprietress spoke only limited English. None of this was to matter in ten minutes. So, fumbling around with my limited Spanish, I managed to order a taco plate, complete with three tacos (carne adobado, cabeza, and carnitas), rice, and beans. My buddy ordered a cheese quesadilla plate. 

The tacos were good. The meats were tender, juicy, and flavorful. Not the best tacos I've had (that distinction is reserved for some taco truck guys around the city), but they were quite good. The tortilla were nice and crisped. The rice, like all rice one receives at a Mexican restaurant, was blah. I'm not sure why this is, but it seems like all these rices just filler. Anyway, after these two items, I thought I was in for a good, but nothing spectacular, Mexican meal. And then, the beans. Holy crap, the beans. I'm not sure what magic fairy dust they sprinkled over these beans, but they were very likely the best I have ever had. Only some Brazilian black beans and some Southern smoked ham hock beans even come close. The beans were earthy, meaty, viscous, and deeply satisfying. I polished off mine with gusto, and then turned to my friend's. He's not much of a bean guy, so I ate his entire portion. Fabulous, fabulous beans.

We also had horchata, which was sugary goodness, as it always is.

I hope next time I find an entree I enjoy more than the tacos, but it won't rightly matter, because I ain't going back for the entrees. I'm going back for those beans.

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

Ruth's Chris

Address: 2001 Park City Avenue, Park City, Utah 84060. 435.940.5070.

Review: We recently traveled the thirty miles from our home to Park City to celebrate my wife's birthday. The birthday meal was a challenge since most of Park City's upper-crust restaurants still hadn't opened by this time. Now, my wife an I aren't steak people. Once every six months is about our max. This noted, we thought we'd give Ruth's Chris a try. We'd heard good things. We were not disappointed.

We started with the osso bucco ravioli. Osso bucco is a wonderful concoction of veal shanks seared and then cooked low and slow in vegetables and wine. Honestly, the braising liquid is generally the best part of dish. And while the ravioli part of Ruth's Chris's osso bucco ravioli was good but not great (the pasta was too thick, among other things), the sauce was exceptional. Sauces like this is why crusty bread was invented. it was wonderfully fragrant and meaty; a joy to eat.

Next, the side. We ordered creamed spinach, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, and a roasted tomato. First, the spinach. Creamy, rich, silky. You could taste the spinach, but the taste wasn't overpowering as it can be with some cooked spinach dishes. It went very well with the steak and blue cheese (more on those later). Second, the mashed potatoes. Velvety, garlicky, buttery. The roasted garlic gave the potatoes a deep and somewhat sweet flavor. Very good. Third, the tomato. Not sure what type it was, but it was roasted to sweet perfection. It kept its shape and texture well, and the roasting process brought out the natural sugars. We fought over this tomato to the bitter end.

And then, the steak. We ordered the bone-in ribeye. Medium rare, of course. Topped with blue cheese crumbles. It was perfectly cooked and tender. I'm not entirely sure how you adequately describe the taste of a good steak other than deep and meaty, which this steak was. My wife and I agreed the blue cheese was a distraction, not because it did not taste good, but because the steak tasted so good it needed nothing more than salt. Next time, we will have our steak naked, and we'll like it.

I'm not much of an ambience guy, but Ruth's Chris had a good feel to it. Low lighting. Large tables. Live music. Nice, high-class establishment where you can spend entirely too much for a very good steak, and an even better roasted tomato.

Rating: 8.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Ruth Chris Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Café Galleria

Address: 6055 S 900 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84121. 801.266.2225.

Review: Sometimes you have to say what you mean and mean what you said, and do it quickly. This is one of those times. Here it goes: Café Galleria is a hot mess. We were intrigued by the fact it utilizes a wood-fire pizza oven (usually a good sign), and the promise of Neapolitan-style pizza (Napton pizza). Lies, all lies. 

One of the advantages of using a wood-fire oven is it runs scalding hot. It should cook a pizza in approximately ninety seconds to two minutes, depending. So, it was disheartening when we were the only lunch patrons and we waited fifteen minutes for our pizzas. Not a good start.

I ordered the Siciliana, which included San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, roasted bell peppers, Italian sausage, and red onions. I also asked for prosciutto cotto (my favorite pizza ingredient). Every element of the pizza was, just, sad. Good Napton pizza has a thin supple crust. This crust was dense, gummy, and tough. The tomatoes tasted like nothing. The mozzarella had no flavor, no character. The sausage was dense, overly spiced, and overly processed. The onions ring slices were all different sizes, and some were end pieces entirely took thick, big, and dry to be on a pizza. And, to top it off, the prosciutto cotto advertised wasn't actually prosciutto cotto. It was, instead, prosciutto crudo that had been cooked until it took on the consistency of shoe leather. And just in case you think I'm being picky about nomenclature, I'm not. Prosciutto cotto refers to a very specific type of meat that is entirely different than prosciutto crudo. No one who has ever eaten a pizza in Italy would pass off cooked prosciutto crudo as prosciutto cotto. This lack of product knowledge is indicative, and very likely one of the primary reasons the pizza tasted as it did.

My wife's margherita was more of the same: bland, tough, lifeless, bad.

Now, to be fair, this is a new location for Café Galleria. My understanding is it's a Midway restaurant which recently opened in the Salt Lake Valley location. I have read good things about the Midway location. Maybe they haven't worked out the kinks in Salt Lake yet. We can hope, I guess.

Rating: 2.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Cafe Galleria on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Neptune Oyster

Address: 63 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02110. 617.742.3474.

Review: Boston conjures up so many thoughts: the Red Sox, the Patriots, the word "wicked," and, perhaps most prominently, lobster rolls. A lobster roll is an exceedingly simple concept. You put lots of lobster on a grilled roll and eat. In fact, the logic confirming a lobster roll's goodness is clearly demonstrated with the following syllogism. Lobster good; roll good; ergo lobster roll good.

I heard Neptune Oyster had one of the best lobster rolls in the city, so while seeing the historical sites, I dropped in. First thing I noticed was Neptune doesn't not sport many seats, so I waited outside for a while before gaining entrance. Once inside, I began with a buttermilk johnnycake topped with honey butter, smoked trout tartare, and sturgeon caviar. It looked a little sometin' like so. 



Honestly, the johnnycake was a this-sorts-interesting-so I-guess-I'll-try-it choice. So glad I took the chance. This was a damn johnnycake. the cake itself was moist, creamy and surprisingly light. The trout was beautifully smoked. The caviar was salty and tasted like the sea. And the combination of the smoke, salt, and honeybutter was magical. One of the best dishes I've experienced in a long time.

And then came the roll. Again, this is an exceedingly simple dish. the Maine lobster was cooked in butter and placed on a grilled roll. Oh, yeah, and there were fries, but who cares? (The fries were good,  not great but good, and the mayo accompanying them, which is not pictured, was quite good.)



So, no matter what's on a sandwich, every sandwich starts with the bread. The roll in this case was exceedingly white, toasty crunchy on the outside, and nicely dense and chewy on the inside. Good start. And while bread is always the starting point, and usually the most important component of any sandwich, lobster is the star here. And, thankfully, this lobster was as good as American lobster gets. Cooked to perfection in seafood's best friend (i.e., butter), it was succulent and luscious on the tongue. It also possessed that slight sweetness every lobster lover adores. I squeezed on a bit of lemon, which added a nice acidity and cut through the butter a bit. In the end, deliciousness found in utter simplicity: nothing could be better.

Beautiful meal in a beautiful city.

Rating: 8.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Neptune Oyster on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 4, 2013

Korea House

Address: 1465 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115. 801.487.3900.

Review: Korean cuisine represents the confluence of a food I know relatively little about, and tastes I dearly love. The heat, the sweet, the sour, the salt. So good.

My buddy Dan and I went in search of some good Korean, and the Korea House got the nod today. Upon entering, Gangam Style filled the restaurant and a boy was dancing that ridiculous horsey dance Psy popularized heaven only knows how. After Gangam Style ended, the child stopped galloping and nondescript Korean music ensued, as did the food. I ordered osam bulgogi (i.e., spicy Korean bacon and squid). Surf and turf, baby.


Our meal came with a number of sides, including the best kimchi I've ever tasted (more on this later).


The osam bulgogi was a beautifully savory dish. The Korean bacon is bacon like pancetta is bacon: sort of but not quite. It doesn't have the smokey quality of American bacon, but it is pork belly nonetheless, and pork belly can never be anything but money. The squid had that chewy-tender quality of well cooked squid (it could have been a little more tender, but nothing's perfect). The onions and garlic added a savory earthiness that did not overpower either the Korean bacon or the squid. The sauce was all chiles and luscious oil. Just an enjoyable dish. And, while there wasn't as much heat as I would have liked, there was enough to balance out the dish.

The sides. Oh, the sides. There was some seaweed, some broccoli, some yada, yada, yada, and then there was the above-referenced kimchi. Tender, salty, spicy, acidic, and yet amazingly fresh for a fermented dish. Best I've ever tasted, although my experience with kimchi is admittedly limited. 

Mmm, can't wait to go back and try more dishes.

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

Korea House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 3, 2013

High Note Thai Cuisine

Address: 8005 S 700 E, Sandy, UT 84070. 801.256.0209.

Review: Thai food is based on balance and juxtaposition of contrasting flavors. Sweet juxtaposes sour. Salty contrasts with sweet. Sour and bitter enter the mix. Capsaicin adds a beautiful heat that adds interest and aids in digestion. In order for Thai food to work, all these must be present and in the right amounts.

I'm going to be brutally honest, I'm watching Oregon take it to K State right now, so I will cut to the chase: High Note Thai Cuisine just didn't stack up. Well, okay, I'll elaborate a bit. I ordered the yam salad with beef and pork.  


The salad included sliced beef and pork, an an assortment of raw vegetables (i.e., tomatoes, carrots, onions, sweet peas, and a nicely acidic lime and herb sauce. It was served on a bed or romaine and only heaven knows why. The best part of this salad was the vegetables: crispy, tasty, refreshing. The meat was rather indistinguishable. I had no idea the pork was pork. It could have just as easily been chicken. Likewise, the nuts sprinkled atop (a combination of peanuts and cashews) all tasted like peanuts. The sauce was sweet and acidic. It would have worked well if there had been heat to balance out the sweet, but there was no heat at all, which is unforgivable since I specifically asked that the dish be made exceedingly spicy. Without the heat, the dish didn't really come together in any meaningful way.

And then there was the rice. White. Beautifully sticky. Great stuff.

Rating: 4.5/10 (5/10 is average).

High Note Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon