Sunday, August 18, 2013


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


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