As we close the book on 2005 and look back on the local dining scene over the past year, I’d say that overall 2005 was a year of mostly small culinary pleasures and surprises. While New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami and Las Vegas continued the trend of building bigger'if not better'superchef blockbuster restaurants, the scene here in Utah was more subdued. The restaurants I enjoyed most during 2005 tended to be small, independently owned restaurants'some old and some new.
Dependable, award-winning restaurants reached milestones in 2005. Grappa, Log Haven'here’s my Ben Fulton-mandated disclaimer that I have a personal relationship with a Log Haven employee'and The Metropolitan all celebrated 10th anniversaries this year, while Market Street Grill kicked off its 25th year of serving fresh seafood in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, Mazza and LugÃ¤no each enjoyed their fifth year in business.
My favorite tried-and-true restaurants continued to chug along with excellence in 2005: places like Bambara, CafÃ© Madrid, Caffe Molise, Chenez, Chimayo, Cucina Toscana, Fresco, Hong Kong Tea House, Q4U, Mandarin, Mariposa, Martine, Michelangelo, The New Yorker, Red Iguana, Squatters, Snake Creek Grill, Spencer’s, Takashi and Wahso.
Sensational New York-style pizza came to Salt Lake City in 2005 with the opening of Este, and eating at the new Thai Garden was like being adopted by a Thai family that prepares Thai cuisine like your Jewish grandmother prepares matzo-ball soup. In the midst of endless downtown construction, Frody Volgger brought his Viennese flare to Main Street with the opening of Vienna Bistro, a wonderful addition to the downtown dining scene. And my own desire for down-home, soulfully inspired cooking was deliciously quenched with the opening of William Davis’ JazZee Cajun CafÃ© on State Street and the OJAM Grill on Ogden’s Washington Boulevard.
Over in Foothill Village, MacCool’s brought an authentic touch of Ireland to the east side while in Murray, Greg Neville’s new Pine restaurant opened to rave reviews, including my own. Also in Murray, Braza Grill opened putting to rest the question, “Where’s the beef?” Downtown, an enthusiastic character named Bill Zierle broke ranks with traditional Japanese sushi culture by opening his island-inspired Aloha Sushi. Meanwhile, Denise Cerreta’s One World CafÃ© proved that doing good in the community and doing well in business aren’t mutually exclusive. And 2005 was also the year John Winders’ Spotted Dog Creamery went big-time.
Some high-profile chefs changed addresses in 2005. Among them, Frank Mendoza returned to Utah to take over the Log Haven kitchen after David Jones departed for the new Cottonwood Trio, then ultimately a gig with Sysco. Perry Hendrix departed The Metropolitan for Liberty Heights Fresh and was replaced by another recent Utah returnee, Todd Mark Miller. Jason Knibb left The Tree Room at Sundance while Em’s restaurant literally changed addresses by moving from downtown up to Capitol Hill, all the while getting better and better.
Up in Park City, the opening of a new Red Rock Brewing Company, the Latitude Group’s Hapa Grill, and Bill White’s stunning new restaurant Ghidotti’s turned the Redstone Center at Kimball Junction into an instant dining destination. A little further into town, Keiko and Howard Moffett’s Good Karma restaurant near Park City’s Town Lift became an overnight Mecca for curries and more. And in Logan, Utah’s best kept secret (and perhaps its best new restaurant) opened: Chef/owner Nelson Swett’s Painted Table restaurant makes a Logan road trip a must for discerning diners.
The good food, ambience, and service at new restaurants like Mimi’s, Paradise Bakery & CafÃ©, The Original Pancake House and Biaggi’s served to remind us in 2005 that not all franchise or chain operations are the devil’s work.
Unfortunately, we lost some good restaurants in 2005, too. Among those I was sad to see go were Third & Main, L’ Avenue, Panini and Rivers/Private Reserve.
For me, however, the most significant event to take place in the domestic dining world this year was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. For a couple of decades, my favorite New Orleans restaurant has been Brigtsen’s, which I heard was destroyed by the hurricane. A protÃ©gÃ© of the great Chef Paul Prudhomme, Frank Brigtsen created food that was always flawless. I enjoyed chatting with this most amiable chef, as I did during a marvelous dinner at his restaurant last March. I’ve heard that Frank has relocated to Atlanta.
But that’s just one person’s story. According to Jim Funk, executive vice president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, “Prior to Katrina, 54,000 people worked directly for the restaurant industry in New Orleans. We’re estimating right now there are probably 7,000 to 8,000 at most back in the city working in restaurants.” Brigtsen’s, Broussard’s and Galatoire’s are three of my favorite New Orleans restaurants, but they were just a tiny fraction of the 3,400 restaurants that were destroyed or at least damaged and closed by Katrina. My heart goes out to everyone adversely affected by Katrina, and at the same time I’m reminded to be thankful for those small gastronomic gems and tasty treasures right here at home. Here’s hoping that 2006 will be an even better year for Utah’s restaurants and workers.