Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Eva's Bakery

Address: 155 South Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. 801.355.3942.

Review: Lunch, lunch, lunch. Where to go for lunch? Seems like we're always on the look-out for that next great lunch spot. Criteria include, but are not limited to: not too expensive, good food, quick, convenient location. Eva's Bakery has some things going for it. It's not too expensive. It has a nice, convenient downtown location. The atmosphere is quaint and unpretentious (if you don't include the Relief Society dyed-blonde thirty-somethings who talked like woo girls enjoying a girls' mid-day out). But, like always, it comes down to the food. The food is king.

I started with the French onion soup.

Now, I must admit, my favorite component of a French onion soup is the cheesy soaked-in-oniony-broth crostino on top. (Well, to be entirely candid, the farinaceous part of any recipe is usually my favorite.) The soup included, not one, but three cheesy crostini. And they were money. Wonderfully soggy. Mmm. The soup itself was alright, but not my preference. I prefer a deeply rich soup. This was a lighter version without the caramel flavors of well cooked onions. 

On to the main course: salad nicoise. This is a classic and beautiful French salad, and when something is as iconic as a salad nicoise, you either need to make the best icon possible, or change it up in such a way that you improve upon the classic recipe. Eva went with the latter option, and decided to use tuna salad instead of straight tuna. It didn't work as planned. It muddied the waters as it were by adding fat and other elements that took away from the tuna, and, hence the salad. I liked the salad as a salad, but not as a salad nicoise.

Now, I must say I saw a lot of dishes that looked quite good. And they may well be. Additionally, the pastries made my eyes dance. So, it could be I just ordered the wrong items. That said, I was happy to have lunched with a dear friend at Eva's. She made up for the just okay food I chose.

Alas, the search for that money lunch spot continues.

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

Eva's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best Meals of My Life: Part I

I'm going to take a little break from reviewing Salt Lake restaurants to reminisce about some of the the best meals I've ever eaten. Perhaps not surprisingly to those who have read more than seven consecutive words of my writing, most of these meals have taken place in Italy. In fact, the first took place in Verona.

Verona is a magically delightful city. Situated in Northern Italy's Veneto region (a historical anomaly brought about by Venice conquering Verona back in the day), Verona is the home of, among other things, Romeo and Juliet; one of the best preserved Roman coliseums in the world (which hosts an amazing open-air summer opera season); and the sublime, winding Adige river. It is also home to one of the most developed horse cuisines in Europe. (I know, horse. Sounds crazy to Americans, but horse is one of the best red meats out there. Honestly, if you get the chance, try it.)

Some years ago now, my wife, son, and I were winding down our Italian vacation. Verona was on the ville du juor, as it were. We took in the coliseum, Piazza Brà, Parco Cesaro Lambroso, etc. Part way through the day, we happened (intentionally) upon Juliet's balcony. For those who have never been, Juliet's balcony is a tribute to lovers. The archway leading to the courtyard is covered in love messages scrawled on ancient stone. Inside the courtyard, within the shadow of her balcony, stands Juliet in all her one-shiny-boob splendor. After basking in the romance of the scene, and having taken the obligatory good-luck photos with Juliet, we meandered east toward the Adige. It was time for lunch, so we walked north along the west side of the river until we found a promising restaurant: Trattoria all'Amelia. 

I believe we were the only ones in the Trattoria, which meant we received the proprietor's undivided attention. An interminably nice man, he suggested various dishes. I settled on the gnocchi with ragù veronese, braised rabbit, and grilled polenta. Demaree ate something, although I can't remember what. Elliot ate part of our dishes, but he also devoured a head cheese sort of sliced meat the proprietor provided gratis.

I began with the gnocchi. Like the mystics of old, the experience of eating these gnocchi was transcendent, almost ineffable. They were light like pillows, toothsome, and delicious to the taste. The ragù was a tight sauce made of almost all meat, with just enough tomato and onion to bind everything together. Incredible. By far the best gnocchi I have ever eaten. (I asked the proprietor how he made them. He responded by saying he used standard red potatoes and giving me a general gnocchi making procedure. When I pressed him for more information, he politely declined. I wanted to yell, "Damn you, you nice old man! Tell me what kind of voodoo do you practice to create such food?!" In the end, I didn't.)

The rabbit, unlike most, was succulent tender. It was lean and meaty, and ever so slightly gamey. It went perfectly with the braised vegetables and grilled polenta. (Rabbit and polenta: you know you're in Northern Italy when those words are joined by a conjunctive.) These people had put a lot of thought and time into this dish, and that was readily apparent.

We ate. We talked. We basked in the afternoon sun shimmering off the Adige. Elliot exited his chair and scampered about. 

There is nothing better in this world than passing time with my family eating memorable food. These are the times I will remember when I'm about to pass the way of all the earth. Not remembered will be the hours spent at the office, or the time spent watching television (except "Breaking Bad") or lifting weights. No, these small moments made special by family and food is what I will think about before beginning that singular journey to the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah. And during that journey, the angels who stand as sentinels will serve heaping plates of Trattoria all'Amelia's gnocchi, for they are the food of God. 

Rosa's Cafe

Address: 4235 Sherwood Way, San Angelo, Texas 76901. 325.942.7597.

Review: Rosa's is my wife's favorite spot in San Angelo. I think she used to eat there fairly often in high school, and that habit's been tough to beat  over the years. Rosa's is sort of fast food, sort of not. It's not in the sense it doesn't taste like fast food. It is in the sense you receive your food quickly.

Let's talk about Rosa's interior for a moment. First thing you notice is color, lots and lots of vivid, eclectic color. In fact, it's like a Frida Kahlo painting blew up all over the joint. The other thing you notice is the tortilla machine churning out fresh-made tortillas by the dozen. My son and I can sit and watch that machine forever. 

The food. Well, it's good. We've had a number of items on the menu and we've liked the all. Demaree usually orders the taco carbon plate, while I usually grab fajitas or the like. Nothing is spectacular here, but everything is pretty darn good. The salsa bar contains the usually suspects: pico de gallo, mild and hot salsas, limes, etc. All are flavorful.  Quite honestly, I east at Rosa's for the tortillas. I love them. I crave them. I eat copious amounts of them at every sitting. The sopapillas are money: light, airy, steeming hot, sugary. Top them with honey. Mmm. And they come eight to an order for next to nothin'. 

Just and enjoyable place to catch a quick bite.

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

Rosa's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Hi Sushi

Address: 1400 Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 801.906.8320.

Review: I have stated before that I am no sushi expert. I have never eaten sushi in Japan, nor have I eaten it outside the United States. This notwithstanding, I dig me some good sushi, and I don't dig me no bad sushi. Hi Sushi's sushi is the latter kind of sushi.

I started with the spicy squid and octopus rolls. 

Octopus is one of the better things you can put in your mouth, but not here. It was bland and tasteless. There was no spicy. The squid was even worse, to be honest. It was impossible to tell it was squid both because it didn't taste like squid, and because it had been chopped up into an indeterminate mass and mixed with other indeterminate stuff. Blah. The pickled ginger was very good though. 

I also tried a couple daily specials: black cod and monkfish liver. The black cod was tender and perfectly cooked. Among the best cod of any sort I've eaten. 

Monkfish liver is dubbed the foie gras of the sea. Foie gras is, of course, fattened duck liver, and is a beautiful, beautiful product. Maybe fresh monkfish liver approaches or surpasses foie gras, but not this stuff.

This liver was grainy and stale. It just wasn't good at all. The sauce added nothing.

Also, my buddy's salmon teriyaki was tough and overcooked. Not a good outing.

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

Hi Sushi on Urbanspoon

From Scratch

Address: 62 East Gallivan Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. 801.538.5090.

Review: A lawyer and a CEO of a silencer manufacturing company walk into a restaurant. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, right? Nope, it was lunch a couple days ago. For this lunch, the lawyer and the CEO picked a new joint: From Scratch. It's premise seems simple enough: make good food from scratch. To do this, they trucked in an Austrian flour mill (one of ten or so in America, I'm told). And it really does appear they make everything in house, which is great. Now, let's see if this gristmill's in- house fare is good eats.

We started with the short rib.

It is what it is: meat and potatoes. (There was supposed to a be a polenta cake as well, but it didn't come on our dish, which is fine.) The short rib was good and flavorful, if a bit dry. Not sure if they wanted a firmer finished product so they didn't cook the short rib until it was uber-tender, but it was a little tougher and less succulent than I prefer. The potatoes, on the other hand, were perfect when matched with the honey au jus. Rich, thick, meaty, wonderful.

Next on tap was the pumpkin ravioli.    

Beautifully presented dish, although I have eaten this enough times in Italy to know presentation correlates relatively little to taste. Pumpkin ravioli is a lesson in contrasts, the contrast of thin sheets of ravioli with the sweet pumpkin and savory sage butter. That contrast is about balance; balance makes the dish work. The balance was off here. It was entirely too sweet. The filling was sweet, the brown butter sauce (which didn't have much browned taste to it) mixed with aceto was sweet. Everything was just sweet. The pasta was also a bit thick and gummy. It just didn't work.

Last: salumi pizza. 

Now, this pizza is sort of supposed to be Neapolitanesque, but not really, so I will try not to judge it on Neapolitan criteria. First things first, the crust. It's thin and thick at the same time. It's quite airy inside, although as you get toward the center it's thin enough that it droops. Best way to eat it is to fold it like you're eating a slice of New York pizza. From Scratch makes the mozz in house, which is much appreciated. It was good. The salumi is Creminelli, which is a high-quality product. The greens don't make a bit of sense, however. They wilt and don't add any flavor. They also added additional salt to the pizza, which, when coupled with the naturally salty salumi, made things a bit too salty. Overall, a good product that can improved with relatively few tweaks.

In sum, intriguing new place. I like some aspects quite a lot. Some didn't work at all. I'll likely be back to give it another shot and try more of the menu.

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

From Scratch on Urbanspoon