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