First things first: I love attending wine dinners almost as much as I can’t stand attending wine dinners. Having been a customer at a most enjoyable wine dinner recently, I felt it might be time to write about just what the hell these things are exactly. If you’ve never attended a formal wine dinner, this might help you decide if it’s for you. If you have, you’ll recognize the good and the bad in this wine dinner deconstruction. No, let’s call it a decanting.
A quick multiple-choice question: Wine dinners are A. educational; B. a good place for like-minded fellowship; C. tedious; D. bargains; or E. all of the above. Well, if the wine dinners I’ve attended over the years are any indication—and I’m sure I’ve attended well over a hundred—the correct answer is E. Wine dinners, more often than not are informative and boring, good values and a great place to meet other food and wine enthusiasts like you. In a place like Utah, that last ingredient is of special import.
For those who’ve never had the pleasure, here’s a brief wine-dinner overview. And for the purpose of this column I’m talking about open-to-the-public wine dinners hosted by restaurants. What’s done in your home is your business. What’s done in restaurants is mine.
Since they can’t be “advertised” in Utah, word about wine dinners here usually gets out via private mailing lists and in columns like this one. A few restaurants—Fleming’s, Monsoon Thai Bistro, Spencer’s, Market Street Grill, Baci, Blind Dog Grill, for example—host frequent, regularly scheduled wine dinners. Some other restaurants have them sporadically. The idea at its most basic is this: Get a bunch of people with an interest in food and wine together, and let’s see if we can have some fun and learn a little while discovering the affinities between particular foods and various wines. Wine dinners are a chance to sample a range of a restaurant’s menu offerings along with a variety of different wines, at a price that would be ordinarily impossible to pull off. That’s because, for instance, at a wine dinner you can taste a glass of Domaine Weinbach GewÃ¼rztraminer RÃ©serve Personelle from Alsace at a much lower cost than if you had to buy the entire bottle from the restaurant for $50.
This is exactly what I got to do last week at a Monsoon Thai Bistro “Tour de Europe” wine dinner. At restaurant-hosted wine dinners, you’ll typically find a set price for the food and another charge for optional wine pairings. At the Monsoon Thai dinner the price for a five-course meal was $20 with an additional $20 for the wine pairings. If you eat out often, you know that $40 will rarely buy you five dinner courses, never mind five courses plus five wine pairings. Not all wine dinners are priced as reasonably as those at Monsoon Thai Bistro, which is why I recommend getting your feet wet with wine there, or at Gastronomy’s value-priced dinners.
A wine dinner often begins with a brief social and a glass of sparkling wine or sherry, followed by a light amuse or appetizer. In this case, deep-fried shrimp on a sugar-cane skewer was served with a glass of Rudolf MÃ¼ller Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Piesporter Goldtrpfchen from Germany. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s not a wine I’m going to encounter every day. And I certainly wouldn’t walk into a Thai restaurant expecting to find it on the wine list. That’s part of the appeal of wine dinners: You’ll get to sample wines that you might never consider ordering in a restaurant or buying in a store. These dinners expand one’s palate and wine knowledge at the very minimum by simply exposing customers to wines they might not otherwise bump into.
On the downside, this means that someone—a wine “expert”—is going to lecture you about that unique wine. I refer to this as the downside of wine dinners because these experts are in an especially difficult position: They have way more information and knowledge about the wines than you or I will ever want or need, unless you’re one of those oenological sponges who sucks up every detail about the fermented grape. In which case, you’ll never be satisfied by the wine expert because he or she won’t talk enough about the wines for your taste. I was at a wine dinner once (not at Monsoon Thai) where the hungry audience had to sit through nearly an hour of wine expertise before they could get their lips around the rapidly wilting salads and the wine paired with them. This is another potential downside of wine dinners: They tend to go on way too long. The Monsoon Thai dinner I attended was quick-paced, held at under two hours. That’s about perfect, and a nice contrast to the four- to five-hour marathons I’ve endured in other restaurants.
Ultimately, and sometimes unfortunately, the wine dinner is only as good as the wine expert in attendance—since he or she is essentially your host for the evening. These people have an interest, since most of them are wine sellers, in getting you to buy their wines, so they tend to talk a lot more about the wine than the food. At this particular Monsoon Thai wine dinner, I didn’t hear a single utterance made by the wine expert about any of the dishes paired with his wines. He spoke exclusively of the wine, when what matters to me is why wine does or doesn’t pair with a particular dish. The other thing I always hope for in a wine expert is enthusiasm. I don’t think a little passion is too much to ask for. Sadly, so many wine pros are cynical, jaded and just so damned full of themselves that it’s maddening to hear them blither on.
But hey, that’s what bathroom breaks are for.
For more on Monsoon Thai Bistro’s wine programs see Grapevine.
MONSOON THAI WINE DINNERS 1615 Foothill Dr. 583-5339, www.monsoonthai.com
• I am always happy when chefs and restaurateurs in our community find ways to come together as colleagues rather than competitors. So I’m intrigued about a new dinner series beginning in April at the Singing Cricket restaurant. According to Singing Cricket owner/chef Lara Kierstead, chefs who own and operate their own restaurants “belong to a rare breed.” They are professionals who “not only create the cuisine but sometimes fix the plumbing and worry about everything from hiring staff to fielding customer complaints.” So to recognize these do-it-all captains of cuisine, Lara is planning a seasonal tribute at her restaurant with a series of dinners called An Evening with Utah’s Chef/Owners. In the first dinner on April 7, Kierstead will team up with Lugano’s Greg Neville to prepare a five-course Italian dinner, including wine pairings. And then on May 18, Mazza’s Ali Sabbah will join Kierstead in the Singing Cricket kitchen to prepare a five-course dinner with a Lebanese theme. Look for more chef/owner dinners to be announced later. The dinners begin at 7 p.m. and are priced at $60 per person with an additional fee for wine pairings. The Singing Cricket is located at 673 East Simpson Ave. (2100 South and 700 East) in Salt Lake City. Phone 487-0056 for reservations.
• In one of the more entertaining communications I’ve received lately, I was reminded by kitchen manager Steve White that Trails Men’s Club serves up a bargain brunch on Sundays priced at only $3. “I do not intend to compete with Mediterranean frittatas,” says White, “but I have biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steak with country sausage gravy, French toast, breakfast burritos, marinated New York steak and something I call The Kitchen Sink.” Trails Men’s Club is located at 921 S. 300 West and its phone is 363-2871. Brunch is served “from 11 a.m. to 3 or 4-ish.”
• Quote of the week: My husband says I feed him like he’s a god; every meal is a burnt offering. —Rhonda Hanson
Send Food Matters tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Ted over the airwaves on Sound Bites every Thursday on KSL News Radio 1160.
Food Perfect pairings, tedious talk, Thai tastes and other wine dinner phenomena. Wined and Dined 1CCF8DFB-2BF4-55D0-F1FFC619BF7ED78A 2007-06-11 16:02:50.0 1 1 0 2005-03-31 00:00:00.0 20 0
For about a decade now, I’ve been saying to anyone who would listen that if an enterprising businessperson were ever to open a brew pub or sports bar in the Kimball Junction area of Park City, it would essentially be a license to print money. Kimball Junction—just south of Interstate 80 between Jeremy Ranch/Pinebrook and Park City’s Snyderville Basin—is a rapidly developing commercial area with a smattering of cafes, fast-food restaurants, motels, retail stores and assorted other enterprises. There is one private club (Suede) and a new cinema complex; Kimball Junction now even boasts its own Wild Oats Market. But until recently—and with the exception of the tiny bar in the back of Ruby Tuesday out near the Factory Stores—there’s never really been a place for the 15,000 or so residents of the area to order a beer and a sandwich or pizza and watch a ballgame outside the home. You know, at the local bar.
So kudos to the folks at Red Rock Brewing Co. for not putting their new brew pub/restaurant in Park City’s Old Town, but out in Kimball Junction’s new Redstone development, where it’s sorely needed. I know; I live there.
Judging by the crowds, the new Red Rock is indeed a moneymaker. There was an hour-and-a-half wait for a table on a recent Monday night. Why would anyone wait for more than an hour for a table at Red Rock? See paragraph No. 1.
Of Utah’s many brew pubs, the original Red Rock in Salt Lake City is the one that seems the least publike to me. That first Red Rock appears to have morphed into a family restaurant that happens to serve freshly brewed beer. Indeed, the marketing emphasis at Red Rock seems to be as much about homemade sodas as homemade beer.
The uniquely Utahn art of downplaying the fact that a brew pub is a brew pub is evident even in the new Park City Red Rock’s name: It’s called Red Rock Junction, not Red Rock Brewing Co. like the one in Salt Lake City. But then, maybe that’s just a matter of truth-in-advertising, since Red Rock Junction at Redstone doesn’t have its own brewery; the beer comes from Salt Lake City. So I suppose in that sense, Red Rock Junction isn’t really a brew pub anyway, though it sure does look like one.
It’s always demoralizing to stroll up to a restaurant’s entrance and see 20 or 30 people standing outside and another couple dozen inside huddled around the hostess stand, all clutching those plastic electronic buzzer/beepers that inform you your party has been granted a table. It’s not what I expected to encounter on a Sunday evening, that’s for sure. But on my first trip to Red Rock Junction, my companions and I happened to stroll in on an evening when 95 percent of the restaurant was booked for 200 World Cup skeleton racers and their entourages. Bad luck. Thankfully, a few stools at Red Rock’s bar opened up, and we hunkered down for what we were told would be an hour’s wait for our table.
Blimey! Just when I think I’ve come across every last ludicrous liquor law this state has to offer, I discover yet a new one. One of the people in my Red Rock Junction party wished to drink wine rather than beer. Luckily, Red Rock Junction serves beer, wine and hard liquor. But not so fast, pardner! You see, the bar at Red Rock is only equipped with a tavern license, which means you can drink beer there without having to order food, but customers seated at the bar can’t be served wine or anything stiffer. At a table a mere 4 feet and an hour’s wait away, I could drink Kamikazes and tequila shots and wash them down with Champagne if I wanted to … but not at the bar.
The good news, though, is that my nonbeer-consuming companion was able to get a glass of wine sooner than we’d thought, as the estimated hourlong wait for our table turned out to be only 35 minutes. We scrambled to our table and quickly ordered Red Rock Hefe Weizen, a dark brown Porter, an Amber Ale—all perfectly serviceable, if not memorable—and for good measure, a bottle of Kenwood Lodi Zinfandel ($22) from our harried and unhappy server.
Since what I’ve done mostly at Red Rock Junction is wait, I thought I’d wait until now to mention the food. Call me crazy, but paying approximately a buck per shrimp for Red Rock’s Cajun fried tiger shrimp ($8.99) appetizer isn’t something I’ll do often. The shrimp was crispy and tender with a nice Cajun spice zing, but for $9 I’d expect at least a couple dozen of ’em. Then again, this is a place where you’ll pay $5 for fried-green tomatoes, and $8 for a handful of Buffalo chicken wings. Where I really felt mugged, though, was at lunch recently, where three smallish pieces of batter-fried halibut and a pile of remarkably unappetizing steak fries cost me $12.99 plus tax and tip. Whaaaaaa? The fish was fine, but the fries were thick, soggy and mealy. I’ve never been a fan of those big potato wedges called steak fries, which I think of as “lazy-cook fries.” My opinion certainly didn’t change at Red Rock Junction.
Let’s face it: The food at Red Rock Junction, as it is in many brew pubs, is uninspired. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few high points. Pizzas from the wood-burning oven are terrific. And the rotisserie-roasted half-chicken I had for dinner recently was perfectly succulent, juicy and tender. But you’re better off ordering the chicken for lunch when it’s only $8.99 rather than at dinner when the price jumps up to $10.99 for the same dish.
Red Rock’s bartenders have always been a draw for me. Al and Erica downtown were longtime favorites of mine, and I’m always happy to see Jon behind the bar at Red Rock Junction. And so what if the food isn’t especially innovative—where else are you gonna go for a brew, a burger and a ballgame?
RED ROCK JUNCTION 1640 W. Redstone, Park City, 435-575-0295. Open daily for lunch and dinner
• Stay tuned to City Weekly for a more in-depth report, but for now I’d like to recommend trying out the new Thai Spice restaurant at 854 Fort Union Blvd. in Midvale. Thai Spice is a small, very attractive restaurant with prices that seem ridiculously low to me. Everything I’ve tasted so far at Thai Spice has been absolutely wonderful, and the same goes for the service. No beer or wine, though. Thai Spice is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday; closed Sundays. The phone number is 255-1550. The Thai Spice Web page at www.thaispice.us was still under construction the last time I checked.
• There aren’t too many choices when it comes to Sunday brunch in Salt Lake City, so brunch enthusiasts will be happy to learn that Cafe Trio has begun serving Sunday brunch. Along with Trio favorites from the regular menu, Sunday brunch at Trio also includes items like challah French toast, lemon chicken salad and Mediterranean frittatas. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, and Trio also is open serving its regular menu on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. CafÃ© Trio is located at 680 S. 900 East; phone 533-8746.
• A reminder that aprÃ¨s ski is in full swing at Snowbird this ski season with cheap eats at many of the resort’s restaurants. Keyhole Cantina at the Cliff Lodge features $1 tacos from 4-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Sundays, all-you-can-eat mussels are offered at the Lodge Club Bistro for $7. Twenty-five cent chicken wings are available at the Wildflower Lounge daily from 4-6 p.m., and at the Aerie Sushi Bar you’ll discover sushi specials on Sundays from 4-6 p.m. Phone 933-2222 for more information or go online to www.snowbird.com.
• Quote of the week: Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.
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Food Beer and burgers come to Park City—at Park City prices. Red Rock Redux 1CCF8E59-2BF4-55D0-F1F8E32360044613 2007-06-11 16:02:50.0 1 1 0 2005-03-17 00:00:00.0 3 0
About a gazillion years ago—well, at least 10 of them—I wrote a review of a nifty little upstart restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City called CaffÃ© Molise. The eatery was named for the Molise region of Italy, and many of the menu items derived from recipes handed down to owner/chef Shelly DeProto from her grandmother, who grew up in Molise. At the time, DeProto and CaffÃ© Molise cook Curtis Pearson were churning out rustic Italian fare from a two-burner tabletop stove to customers seated on white plastic patio furniture. There were a total of eight tables in the CaffÃ© Molise dining room; at the time, I referred to the overall sense of the restaurant as “an inviting minimalism at work.”
Well, much has changed about CaffÃ© Molise in the past decade, yet most of what I liked so much about CaffÃ© Molise in 1994 remains intact today. The patio furniture is long gone, replaced by attractive wood tables and chairs. There’s new flooring and wall treatments, as well as a bar in the rear of the restaurant that was built by DeProto a few years ago. In warm weather, the restaurant now expands eastward into the pocket park next door with outdoor patio seating for customers. And last month, CaffÃ© Molise also headed west, knocking down a wall and opening a second dining room in the space previously occupied by the Oxford Shop, which moved down the block. That’s especially good news for CaffÃ© Molise patrons who might have had to wait for a table on a busy Friday night when the John Flanders Trio is in full swing, offering up both vintage and modern jazz to restaurant customers. The new dining room effectively doubles the size of CaffÃ© Molise.
But more important than any of that is the fact that DeProto sold her beloved baby of a restaurant two years ago in order to go raise newborn twins of her own. Since CaffÃ© Molise was a labor of love for her from the start, she insisted on leaving the restaurant in trustworthy hands. So eventually DeProto sold her restaurant to longtime CaffÃ© Molise chef Fred Moesinger. His mission, I recall both Fred and Shelly saying at the time, “Was not to f—k the place up.” And anyone who knows Ms. DeProto knows that her statement was as much a threat as a desire.
Shelly got her wish. I think she’d be happy with the way CaffÃ© Molise has evolved under Moesinger’s watch. He didn’t come in and immediately revamp the menu. As a longtime customer, I’m still happy to see that Shelly’s grandmother’s lasagna ($9.95)—with layers of tender beef, spicy sausage, ricotta and asiago cheeses, and homemade marinara—hasn’t changed an iota since Fred took over. And a simple house salad at CaffÃ© Molise is still a minimalist marvel: fresh greens, ripe red Roma tomatoes, slivered red onions, and basic oil and vinegar dressing that is hard to improve upon. It was one of the first things that caught my attention 10 years ago.
It’s tricky allowing a restaurant like CaffÃ© Molise to expand and evolve without killing what made it so appealing in the first place, which was a dedication to wholesome, straightforward cooking and flavors, along with an emphasis on excellent, fresh ingredients. So I was thrilled recently by the simple but startling redness and ripeness of the tomatoes on my salad. When I asked Chef Moesinger where he found tomatoes like that, I learned that he buys them from his neighbors, straight from their gardens. Shelly’s grandma would have been pleased.
Even as CaffÃ© Molise continues to gratify with one foot firmly entrenched in the past, Moesinger is also moving the restaurant forward with innovative menu touches of his own. For example, a traditional Molise staple like marinated grilled beef tenderloin (“bistecca alla Do”) is balanced by a more modern offering of “arista,” which is ridiculously tender medallions of pork tenderloin with a contemporary-style spice rub, roasted and served with a stunning Black Mission fig compote ($20.95). Chef Moesinger’s “arista” is about as perfect a dish as I’ve encountered in a while. Likewise, I was bowled over by a simple but spectacular bowl of steamed clams in a fragrant saffron broth ($13.95). Chefs almost inevitably overuse saffron in their dishes—a little saffron goes a long way—but Moesinger’s judicious touch was spot on.
I don’t really know how to explain when something tastes “homemade,” but try CaffÃ© Molise’s fresh gnocchi with tomato cream sauce, toasted pine nuts and basil ($14.95) and you’ll know what I mean. Those same homemade flavors—as if they’ve been kissed by an Italian grandmother—are equally present in “penne al sugo” ($13.95), which is al dente penne pasta tossed in a rustic slow-cooked pork and beef sauce with tomatoes and asiago cheese. Fresh herbs give the sauce a dimension missing from most.
Dishes like these are complemented at CaffÃ© Molise by an improved, well-rounded wine list that has the fingerprints of local wine consultant Francis Fecteau all over it. There’s even a selection of after-dinner drinks now available at CaffÃ© Molise and I highly recommend a glass of the remarkable raspberry-flavored Jacopo Poli Stagione di Lamponi (see Grapevine) as an after dinner “digestivo.”
Service at CaffÃ© Molise has always been one of this restaurant’s strong points and remains so with talented employees like Kassi roaming the floor. So I suppose if I wanted to send a message to Shelly DeProto at her beachside home in Connecticut about how her first baby is faring, the message would be “he didn’t f—k it up.” Maybe that doesn’t sound like high praise for a chef. But with a place as special as CaffÃ© Molise, it’s an affording of top honors. In fact, after two years with Fred Moesinger at the helm I believe CaffÃ© Molise is better than ever, with an improved wine list, more appealing ambience, and an innovative menu that still retains the flavors that grandma DeProto would look for.
55 W. 100 South
• Look for a new restaurant to replace Rivers in Cottonwood late this spring. Rivers will close on March 31, having been purchased by the Trio Restaurant Group, owned by Mikel Trapp, Mark Stamler and David Harries. Last year, Trapp and Stamler became owners of Fresco Italian CafÃ© and CafÃ© Trio. Now they expand their restaurant reach with the takeover of Rivers, which will become a second location of their popular CafÃ© Trio, featuring pizza, pasta, wood-fired oven dishes and a unique, accessible wine list. According to owner and executive chef Mikel Trapp, “Many of our ‘commuter’ guests have encouraged us to bring Trio to their neighborhood. Trio is a perfect fit in Cottonwood.” Which begs the question, I suppose, will there eventually be a trio of Trios? Maybe one in Murray? Why not? It’s a concept that I think could take hold in a number of neighborhoods. No word yet on what will become of Private Reserve, the exclusive private dining (and private club) establishment at Rivers. An Italian-themed wine bar, perhaps?
• Looking for a fair alternative to high-priced Park City dining? I suggest trying out the Wabo House, located on the plaza at Park City Mountain Resort. Wabo House chef Wai Kuin Lee serves up Southeast Asian cuisine, with a focus on dishes from Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. Many of the dishes at the Wabo House come with fragrant coconut rice, like “nasi lamak,” which is a zippy mÃ©lange of curried chicken, shrimp sambal, eggs, peanuts and coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Chef Lee also features tempting unique Malaysian desserts like mango pudding, steamed Malaysian cake, honey-fried wontons and red bean ice. There’s also a small selection of retail goods like rice crackers, teas, candy and specialty spices available at the Wabo House. Wabo House is located at the base of Park City Mountain Resort at 1385 Lowell Ave., or phone 435-649-7800 for more information.
• Quote of the week: Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.—Sophia Loren
Send Food Matters tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Ted over the airwaves on Sound Bites every Thursday on KSL News Radio 1160.
Food With an expanded menu and added space, there’s now more Caffe Molise to enjoy. Caffe Nation 1CCF8F24-2BF4-55D0-F1FF6699E115B30A 2007-06-11 16:02:51.0 1 1 0 2005-03-03 00:00:00.0 0 0
There is an amusing quote attributed to National Review columnist and notorious right-wing homophobe John Derbyshire that sums up many people’s notions about Irish cuisine: “We put the food in boiling water. Then we go and hoe the fields for 10 hours or so. Then we have a ‘ceili’ [dance party] for a few hours. Then, when we have slept off the ‘ceili’ we go to Mass, followed by quiet private devotions for the rest of the day. Then we take the food out.”
Yup, we all know the clichÃ©s about Irish cooking, which may be saved from landing on the bottom rung of world cuisines thanks only to the Scots. But it’s true: Irish cuisine is not particularly refined, complex, exotic or innovative. It’s functional food.
Before you sharpen up your WÃ¼sthofs and start firing off e-mails, rest assured that I’m very aware of the “New Irish Cuisine” currently sweeping cities like Dublin. I know that Irish eating is suddenly hip. It’s not difficult these days in urban Ireland to find restaurant dishes like baked cod in a tomato-cream and sorrel sauce or salmon topped with a sauce of watercress and fresh herbs. In the southwest of Ireland a new cuisine is emerging, blending traditional Irish fare with French cooking techniques and ingredients.
But that’s not the food I’m talking about. With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I begin to salivate for old-fashioned Irish dishes like champ, coddle, colcannon, barm-brack and boxty. Most of all, I yearn on the 17th of March for corned beef and cabbage—which, as it turns out, might not be very Irish at all.
For starters, since early times in Ireland, cattle have been kept primarily for milk, not meat. Meat was far too expensive in Ireland’s history to be consumed regularly by average folks. As the lines from a popular poem by Frances Shilliday go, “Your average Pat was a peasant/Who could not afford beef or pheasant/On the end of his fork was a bit of salt pork/As a change from potatoes ’twas pleasant.”
Also, making beef into corned beef requires large amounts of salt, which, too, was expensive. In fact, to “corn” beef means to rub (in the old days) large pellets of salt into the beef, often the size of corn kernels. Salting the beef in this manner served to preserve it and to prevent spoilage. So corned beef in its original form had more to do with storage than flavoring. In modern times, salt water has replaced curing with dried salt as a means of preserving beef. Technically speaking, “corned beef” is really brined beef.
The corned beef and cabbage dish so ubiquitous on St. Patrick’s Day here in America probably originated here as well. When Irish workers emigrated to North America in the late 1800s, they found both beef and salt to be cheaper and more abundant than back home. So they treated the beef as they would salted and smoked pork in Ireland, braising it with cabbage and potatoes and using only a minimum of spices, then serving it in its own stewed juices.
That’s not to say that you won’t find corned beef served in restaurants on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Although it’s more popular as an Easter dish, most Irish find corned beef to be too pedestrian and simple to serve on St. Patrick’s, except in restaurants that cater mostly to tourists. Over here on the other side of the pond, however, corned beef and cabbage will take center stage on the 17th of March much like turkeys do on Thanksgiving.
There aren’t many Irish pubs or eateries in Utah; we don’t even have our own Houlihan’s. Nevertheless, you’re likely to find corned beef and cabbage, freshly poured Guinness and, of course, green beer on St. Patrick’s Day at places like Port O’ Call, Murphy’s, Fiddler’s Elbow and The Bayou. And for a double dose of Irish spirit on the 17th, I’d recommend stopping by Piper Down on State Street (although it’s bound to be mobbed by green-clad revelers). For a less crowded way of getting your Irish kicks, try Piper Down on Mondays for live Irish music or at Sunday brunch (beginning at 10 a.m.) when it serves its Big Irish Breakfast.
It’s hardly traditional—I imagine bananas aren’t a staple of the Irish diet—but here’s an easy and delicious dessert to follow up your corned beef and cabbage on St. Paddy’s Day. It’s called Guinness Creamed Bananas: In a skillet, place four peeled bananas and cover them with 2-3 cups of Irish stout, preferably Guinness. Bring the stout to a boil and cook the bananas for a couple of minutes, turning them frequently. Cover the bananas with one-half cup (or a little more) of brown sugar. Let the sugar melt and then top the bananas with 1-1/2 cups of heavy cream. Let the cream simmer for a couple of minutes and serve hot. Guinness Creamed Bananas are especially good served over ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce. And you’ll be amazed at how good a pint of fresh Guinness tastes alongside this dessert.
As you’re enjoying your Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, be sure to, as they say, “drink responsibly.” It might be a good idea to remember that while Guinness and Ireland are inseparable, it’s actually black tea with milk and sugar that is Ireland’s most omnipresent beverage. Here’s wishing you “Erin Go Bragh” and plenty of corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day.
• If, like me, you’re a fan of the authentic Italian fare at Michelangelo Ristorante, you’ll be stoked to know that Michelangelo is now open for lunch, Tuesday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Michelangelo Ristorante is located at 2156 S. Highland Dr. in Sugar House. The telephone number is 466-0961.
• California Pizza Kitchen restaurants have long been known for innovative menu items like their popular sesame ginger chicken dumplings and Singapore shrimp rolls, as well as fancy signature California-style pizzas. Apparently the creative kitchen team at CPK never sleeps, because they’ve just launched two innovative new CPK menu items. Bangkok calamari is a new CPK appetizer, served with a sweet Thai dipping sauce and homemade remoulade. In addition, CPK has added chipotle chicken ravioli to their menu, a southwestern-style chicken ravioli with fire-roasted chiles, onions, roasted corn and red and yellow peppers, all served in a spicy chipotle cream sauce topped with fresh cilantro. California Pizza Kitchen is located in The Gateway.
• On Saturday, March 19, at Squatters Pub Brewery, Slow Food Utah will present “An Evening with Gina Mallet & A Feast of Five Senses” to benefit the Wasatch Community Gardens Youth Program. Toronto-based food writer Gina Mallett will discuss “the fate of taste in the country and the importance of local organizations such as Wasatch Community Gardens” during a multicourse meal prepared by chefs Greg Neville of Lugano, Eric Bell of Squatters, Perry Hendrix of Metropolitan and Romina Rasmussen of Les Madeleines Patisserie. Menu items include puree of sunchoke soup with black trumpet mushrooms, handmade ravioli filled with organic bitter greens and local ricotta, blue cornmeal crusted trout with shitake pine polenta, and a sampler of citrus desserts. The cost is $75 per person, which includes antipasti, dinner, wine and beer pairings for each course, and take-home gifts. RSVP at 359-2658 or email@example.com.
• Quote of the week: What I say is, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.
Food How to feast on traditional, pseudo-traditional and contemporary Irish grub this St. Patrick’s Day. Green Day 1CCF8F72-2BF4-55D0-F1F2CCD1691F6EE9 2007-06-11 16:02:51.0 1 1 0 2005-03-10 00:00:00.0 6 0
I’ve often heard it said that Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a prefabricated American Hallmark holiday, more about commerce than canoodling. And that’s probably true. Well, call me a sentimental romantic, but Valentine’s Day is still my favorite holiday of the year. Any pretext for celebrating love, lust and desire is OK by me. And what better way to demonstrate affection and admiration for someone special in your life than with food? I’ve always felt that sharing food with someone is showing that you care; Valentine’s Day is the ideal time to show just how much you care.
For the past few years, I’ve forgone doing Valentine’s Day roundup articles and steering readers toward romantic restaurant interludes, because the same cast of characters keeps popping up. You don’t have to be a restaurant insider—or very creative, for that matter—to know that the perennial winners on the culinary connubial bliss-o-meter are fine restaurants like Chenez, Grappa, Fresco, La Caille, Log Haven, Metropolitan, Private Reserve, The New Yorker, The Tree Room and Tuscany. But true romance doesn’t necessarily mean high finance. There’s a wide range of not-so-obvious Valentine’s Day dining options in our area that might impress your date even more than the old standbys. Remember, in romance, creativity counts.
While I won’t weigh in on the question of whether size matters in affairs of love and lust, I will say that when it comes to romantic restaurants, my opinion is that small is beautiful. I tend to favor intimate dining on Valentine’s Day, and for that reason, a trio of my favorite Salt Lake restaurants come to mind. First, there’s CafÃ© Madrid. Todd and Gabriela McAfee’s family-run restaurant is a warm, enchanting place where romance seems to be in the air every night, not just on Valentine’s Day. Sharing plates of Spanish tapas with your special someone in one of CafÃ© Madrid’s intimate booths might just be your ticket to paradise. Speaking of tapas, Salt Lake City’s original tapas restaurant, Martine, is another ideal spot for romance. The sensuous flavors of chef Tom Grant’s Moroccan and Mediterranean-inspired menu perfectly match the candlelit sensuality of Martine’s ambiance. Along the same lines, I’ve always thought that Caffe Molise is the ideal eatery for a first date—or the 50th. The menu seems to improve every year right along with the ever-evolving dÃ©cor, and chef Fred Moesinger’s spot-on Italian-inspired cuisine makes Caffe Molise a risk-free Valentine’s venture. Especially recommended for V-Day is Fred’s ravioli di Aragosta, Maine lobster wrapped in black and white striped pasta served in tomato saffron broth.
Sushi is sexy. In fact, sharing sushi and sake with someone you lust after might be the ultimate way to spend Valentine’s Day, and there’s no shortage of good sushi venues in our town to choose from. Among my favorites for both quality of food and romantic ambiance are Happy Sumo, Ichiban, Kyoto, Mikado, Shogun, Takashi and Tsunami.
Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a French kiss, but traveling to the City of Lights can be costly. So for French flair closer to home, I’d point Cupid’s arrows toward L’Avenue and The Paris Bistro. Both restaurants have wonderful bars that are ideal for mild French flings. Or, for a full-fledged French flirtation, choose the main dining rooms with their lovely and authentic bistro-brasserie dÃ©cor and French food to match. Up in Park City, Bistro Toujours is a wonderful place to begin your love affair with France, a love that will continue to flourish at Easy Street Brasserie.
Since many relationships begin in bars, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to also nurture them there. I think sharing bar menu snacks and a glass of wine with the object of your affection is a terrific way to say, “I’m nuts about you!” Oysters (an aphrodisiac, remember) on the half-shell at The Oyster Bar and a bottle of Muscadet is a fine way to kick off Cupid’s Day. Ditto for the scrumptious crab cakes at Club Bambara, the private club adjoining the Bambara restaurant, or the equally addictive blue-cheese potato chips. Potato chips for Valentine’s Day, you ask? Well, sure. Remember that love and affection aren’t about how much money you spend, but about whom you’re spending it on. If you’re with the right person, a plate of blue cheese potato chips and a beer at Club Bambara can be as effective as a seven-course Parisian supper. Sharing a splendid sushi roll at the romantic (and very red) Circle Lounge is another good Valentine’s Day bar option.
As much as lovers like to be wined and dined, the most direct path to your honey’s heart may be to stay out of restaurants altogether by putting some effort and love into cooking for your Valentine at home. That’s what I intend to do. Trust me, your in-house Valentine’s Day dinner doesn’t have to be elaborate or costly. Sharing a homemade pizza can be as romantic as slaving over a five-course meal. Besides, you’ll want to spend most of your time on Valentine’s Day with the apple of your eye, not in the kitchen fussing over a complicated dinner. The idea on Valentine’s Day is not to impress, but to express the love and respect you feel for the person who lets you get away with murder the other 364 days of the year.
Guys, if you find yourself solo on Valentine’s Day, perhaps you should run to your local bookseller for Cooking to Hook Up: The Bachelor’s Date-Night Cookbook, by Ann Marie Michaels and Drew Campbell. According to the authors, “It’s a fact. Cooking is dead sexy. Women will always choose men with wooden spoons over men with Gold Cards.” But helping decide on whether to serve sushi or meatloaf is where Cooking to Hook Up comes in. The first step, according to husband and wife team Michaels and Campbell, is determining what type of date you’ve found and what type of food will keep her coming back. I’m especially fond of the last chapter of Cooking to Hook Up. It’s called, “So You Got Lucky: Recipes for Breakfast.” For more info, log on to www.cookingtohookup.com.
The folks at the Mandarin restaurant in Bountiful would like to wish Utahns Gung Hay Fat Choy!, “Happiness and Prosperity” for the Chinese New Year. To celebrate the Year of the Rooster, Mandarin will prepare a special eight-course Chinese New Year menu for parties of four or more, priced at $20 per person, including dessert and tax. The two-week Chinese New Year celebration at the Mandarin takes place Feb. 9-23, beginning nightly at 5 p.m. A traditional Chinese Lion Dance will be performed by an eight-person troupe with performances at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 and Feb. 17. Mandarin is located at 348 E. 900 North in Bountiful. Phone 801-550-1535 for reservations (accepted only for groups of eight or more).
Lugano’s chef Greg Neville is now offering “piattini”—small bites (sort of like tapas) of Italian regional antipasti. The $4 to $7 piattini prices encourage exploration and sharing: big, bold flavors with smaller portions and pricing. Included on the current piattini menu are rice balls (Arancini) with peas and Fontina; eggplant “caponata” with red peppers, zucchini, roasted tomatoes and basil; and grilled albacore tuna and cannelloni bean salad. Lugano is located at 3365 S. 2300 East. Phone 412-9994 for reservations.
Quote of the week: Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time … made new.
—Ursula K. Le Guin
Food Looking beyond the obvious for romantic interludes. Valen-Dine’s Day 1CCF8FB1-2BF4-55D0-F1FA17C236850147 2007-06-11 16:02:51.0 1 1 0 2005-02-10 00:00:00.0 26 0
A recent confluence of events served to remind me how much I love—and how much I miss—the people of Brazil and their cuisine. My love affair with the food and culture of Brazil dates back more than 20 years, when I happened to attend a New York City performance of a group called DanceBrazil. I was awed by their demonstration of a Brazilian martial art/dance called capoeira—so much so that I became a student of the art myself, and eventually traveled to Brazil to study there with the founder of DanceBrazil, capoeira master instructor Jelon Vieira. I had also intended to research and write a (still-unfinished) doctoral dissertation in anthropology about the social history of capoeira, which can be traced back to African slaves brought to Brazil from Angola.
So when I heard this week that DanceBrazil would be performing on Friday, Feb. 25 at Kingsbury Hall (see 24-Seven, p. 26), it triggered some wonderful memories for me. Among those recollections is one where I was standing on a street in Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema neighborhood almost exactly 20 years ago. The memory is vivid because I was there to witness a country’s true (not imposed) transformation from military dictatorship to democracy, which occurred in 1985 with Brazil’s political “abertura”—“opening.” I’ll never forget the wonderful cacophony of sound as gleeful Brazilians celebrated their newborn democracy by setting off fireworks, shouting, singing, honking horns and dancing in the streets, all accompanied by a week of endless drumming and music. It gives me chills just to think about it. Twenty years ago on a street in Ipanema I cried tears of happiness for the people of Brazil.
It was at about that time in Rio that DanceBrazil’s Jelon Vieira introduced me and some fellow “capoeiristas” to a Brazilian phenomenon called “churrascaria rodizio,” which from the Portuguese translates roughly as “circle of meats.” Most churrascarias are all-you-can-eat restaurants specializing in grilled meats and poultry. Typically, waiters patrol the place carrying long skewers of grilled food—everything from a richly flavored pork sausage called linguiÃ§a and grilled chicken hearts (“coracÃ£o”), to lean and tender slices of top sirloin (“picanha”) and slices of grilled pineapple (“abacaxi”). Churrascaria servers generously (and continuously) load plates with grilled meats as they endlessly circle the restaurant. On my first visit to a churrascaria in Rio, however, I did not know this.
“Certino”—Jelon called me by a nickname he’d given me meaning “certain” or “precise,” apparently owing to my less-than-fluid Germanic approach to the art of “capoeira”—“you’ve got to eat to be a strong ‘capoeirista.’” For the first 15 minutes or so of my initial churrascaria visit, I’d been sending the servers away thinking that if I tasted everything they were offering me, the tab would be astronomical! I didn’t know until Jelon admonished me to eat that we were indulged in a one-price, all-you-can-eat affair.
I’m happy to report that you can get a reasonably authentic, if pricey, version of the Brazilian churrascaria experience in Salt Lake City at restaurants like Rodizio Grill and Samba Grill. I’ve always felt that the low-key atmosphere of Made In Brazil was more akin to what you find at nontourist churrascarias in Brazil, whereas Samba Grill and Rodizio are sort of to Brazilian cuisine as Buca di Beppo is to Italian. That is, the food at those restaurants is very good but the atmosphere is perhaps a bit over the top.
Not that they aren’t fun. I really like the atmosphere at Rodizio, which can become nicely chaotic if there’s live drumming and samba music going on. Ditto for the aptly named Samba Grill. But Made in Brazil was where I would have chosen to sit and enjoy authentic Brazilian cuisine on a Saturday afternoon while watching a soccer game on their TV. Sadly, as I was writing this column, I learned that Made in Brazil has closed. Darn it.
Although it’s a very small cafÃ© and not a full-blown “churrascaria rodizio,” another wonderful place to get the flavor of Brazil is at Alberto da Silva’s Brazil Brasil. A big plate of grilled steak, chicken and sausage—accompanied with sautÃ©ed vegetables, french fries, rice, black beans and “farofa”—at Brazil Brasil can be had for only $7.95. But then, you don’t get servers dressed in gaucho garb at Brazil Brasil—just honest, inexpensive, everyday Brazilian fare. There’s also a newcomer in Murray, Braza Grill, that I haven’t yet had the chance to check out.
I urge you this Friday night to join me in celebrating two decades of Brazilian democracy by visiting one of the great Brazilian eateries in our area, perhaps topped off by a performance of DanceBrazil at Kingsbury Hall. Tell them Certino sent you.
(Tickets for the Feb. 25 performance of DanceBrazil at Kingsbury Hall may be purchased at Rodizio Grill.)
BRAZA GRILL 5927 S. State, 506-7788
BRAZIL BRASIL 4031 W. 4100 South, 955-7403.
RODIZIO GRILL 459 Trolley Square, 220-0500
SAMBA GRILL 162 S. 400 West (The Gateway), 456-2200
* Brazilian cookbooks aren’t easy to come by and my favorites—Brazilian Cookery: Traditional and Modern and another called Cozinha Apetitosa e Acessivel—are out of print. But recently I came across a handful of respectable books dealing with Brazilian cuisine that, as far as I know, are still available. You might try to track these titles down at a store with a good selection of used books like Sam Weller’s or perhaps from Amazon.com. Michael Bateman is a British writer and his nicely photographed, small book CafÃ© Brazil is big on flavor with recipes for traditional Brazilian dishes like “feijoada completa” and shrimp, okra, and peanut stew with coconut rice.
* To me, Delightful Brazilian Cooking by Eng Tie Ang is worth the purchase price merely for containing recipes of two of my favorite Brazilian dishes from the north of Brazil: chicken “vatapÃ¡” and Bahian shrimp “moqueca.”
* Christopher Idone’s Brazil: A Cook’s Tour is a terrific introduction to the regional cuisines of Brazil, beginning in the southern metropolis of SÃ£o Paulo and working up to the Amazon and Minas Gerais. More than just a collection of recipes—although Brazil: A Cook’s Tour does include more than 100 recipes—Idone explores numerous aspects of Brazilian cuisine and culinary history, from Brazil’s home kitchens and marketplaces to restaurants and unique spices and exotic ingredients. There’s an outstanding recipe that I love in Brazil: A Cook’s Tour for shrimp and hearts of palm casserole. I’d avoid The Art of Brazilian Cookery by Dolores Botafogo, however, since it’s an English translation of a Brazilian cookbook and a pretty bad one at that.
* Quote of the week: Poultry is for the cook what canvas is for the painter.
Food Celebrating 20 years of Brazilian democracy with churrascaria and fancy footwork. Rodizio Does It 1CCF8FEF-2BF4-55D0-F1FDC23FC7D39275 2007-06-11 16:02:51.0 1 1 0 2005-02-24 00:00:00.0 23 0
Frody Volgger always seems to have his hands full--and never more than during the recent weekend crush of the Outdoor Retailers convention. We were a little understaffed, and I was cooking as fast as I could, says Volgger. But in the end, everything turned out fine. It was a good experience.
Dining at Volgger’s new Vienna Bistro on Main Street is indeed a good experience. The new eatery in the Kearns Building is a lovely addition to downtown dining and, from top to bottom, the creation of one of the most energetic restaurateurs I’ve ever met: Frody Volgger.
Volgger is a slim, handsome, very personable fellow who hails originally from the western Austrian Alps. He began his culinary career with a degree from Salzburg’s Hotel Fachschule, and from there set sail for kitchens in places diverse as Puerto Rico, Canada, South Africa and Switzerland, with U.S. stops at Santa Barbara’s Harbor Restaurant and the Lodge at Pebble Beach. In the early ’90s, he opened The Depot in Park City; more recently, as executive chef for the Utah Food Services, he handled the opening and closing receptions of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Now as executive chef and owner of Vienna Bistro, Volgger is where he ought to be: running the show at his own restaurant.
Refined and soothing are words you’d use to describe Vienna Bistro. It’s hard to believe it was recently home to Quizno’s; there’s not a trace of the sandwich shop left. Beautiful light-colored hardwood floors (which Volgger installed) contrast with the restaurant’s cherry furniture and wood trim (Volgger did the carpentry work) and pretty sage green walls (that Volgger painted). About the only aspect of Vienna Bistro’s dÃ©cor that Volgger isn’t responsible for is the attractive wall art--created by local Utah artists, much of it for sale. From the open kitchen in front where customers can watch Volgger work to the well-adorned bathrooms in the back--there’s even original artwork hanging there--his touch is everywhere. This really is Frody’s place.
It’s a new restaurant--one that just began opening for dinners a month ago--so there are the usual new restaurant service kinks and glitches, although they are few. On one visit our server was, let’s say, less than polished. I grant her points for being very friendly, but within five minutes of being seated I’d learned more about this gal than I know about some long-standing friends and colleagues, including where she’d worked previously and why she’d been fired.
But on a second visit, a server named Colleen simply couldn’t have been better. She hasn’t been serving in restaurants long enough to be jaded or hostile. In fact, this is her first serving job. And I agree with Volgger who said, I wish I could hire four more just like her. Good restaurant help is hard to find and Colleen has a promising career if she chooses to stick with it.
The menu at Vienna Bistro is mostly a mix of typical German and Austrian dishes, with a smattering of more eclectic items added as daily specials at Volgger’s whim. On a recent Wednesday evening, the seafood special was a halibut filet with a hot chile and cilantro sauce. It was a stunningly good dish, despite the incendiary effect of the chile, and the first time I’ve ever seen fish with what was essentially a Thai chile sauce accompanied by spaetzle and red cabbage. Chef Volgger’s homemade spaetzle, by the way, is reason enough to visit Vienna Bistro. And for people like my companion who think they don’t like sauerkraut--well, they just need to tuck into Volgger’s slightly sweet homemade kraut or his shredded and braised red cabbage. Volgger’s cabbage finesse makes me wish he’d put choucroute on his menu.
The last meal I enjoyed at Vienna Bistro began with a plate of melted Raclette ($7.50), which is served with dark rye bread from Vosen’s Bakery, pearl onions and gherkins. Unfortunately, the Raclette was accompanied by a warm bottle of German Riesling. But Colleen, our stellar server, quickly took care of the problem and brought us complimentary glasses of chilled white wine while our bottle rested on ice. Wine and beer are served at Vienna Bistro, but the choices are somewhat undependable. On one evening, our only option for white wine was an Italian Pinot Grigio, so the wine list seems to be a work in progress. I’d certainly expect to see GrÃ¼ner Veltliner in an Austrian restaurant, but Volgger says he’s had a tough time stocking it. You might want to bring a bottle from home as a backup.
I loved the Wiener schnitzel ($18.50) at Vienna Bistro. It’s a simple dish, but one that cooks often don’t get right. Thin-pounded veal (pork is often used in restaurants) is breaded and quickly deep-fried, and that’s about it. The breading crust on Volgger’s Wiener schnitzel was crunchy and perfectly seasoned, and the meat was tantalizingly tender. So I was surprised when I saw another critic take Volgger to task for not serving his Wiener schnitzel with sauce. I’ve spent time dining in and around the German-Austrian border and have had numerous helpings of Wiener schnitzel in German restaurants in this country and abroad, but I’ve never seen it served with sauce. It’s traditionally served with slices or wedges of lemon, maybe a sprinkling of parsley--that’s it. Volgger’s Wiener schnitzel is exceptional, as is the Rahmschnitzel (boneless pork cutlet sautÃ©ed and served with a delicate cream sauce).
And I don’t think I need to remind you to leave room for homemade apple strudel or Black Forest torte.
VIENNA BISTRO 132 S. Main, 322-0334. Lunch Monday-Friday, Dinner Tuesday-Saturday
As I mentioned above, although it sounds exotic, Wiener schnitzel is a very simple dish and easy to make at home. It’s also one that’s deceptively delicious. Here is a good all-purpose recipe for Wiener schnitzel. Many restaurants in Europe and America use pork for Wiener schnitzel rather than veal. I’ve made it with both and even make mock Wiener schnitzel with thinly pounded boneless chicken or turkey breasts.
For four servings, pound thin slices of veal scaloppini or pork cutlets between sheets of wax paper to about a quarter-inch thickness. Put cup flour on a shallow bowl or plate, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper (some chefs also add a smidgeon of paprika). In another bowl, lightly beat 1 egg and mix with cup milk. In a third bowl or plate, place 1 cup fine breadcrumbs. To coat the pork or veal, take one piece of meat and coat with flour, shaking off the excess. Next, dip the meat into the egg-milk mixture and then into the breadcrumbs. Press to make the breadcrumbs adhere to the meat, and set aside on a large plate or tray. Repeat the process with remaining meat slices and lay them out on the plate or tray in a single layer. I like to let the uncooked Wiener schnitzel rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour, which seems to help the breadcrumbs form a good crust. Fry the Wiener schnitzel pieces in hot vegetable oil at a temperature of about 350 degrees. If the meat is pounded thin, the Wiener schnitzel pieces only take a minute or so per side to cook. Serve immediately with lemon wedges for sprinkling.
By the way, virtually the same recipe can be used for making Japanese deep-fried pork called tonkatsu, which is essentially a Japanese version of Austrian Wiener schnitzel (or vice-versa). For both Wiener schnitzel and tonkatsu, I like to use fine Japanese breadcrumbs called panko, which results in a wonderful crisp coating. You can find panko breadcrumbs in Asian markets and many supermarkets.
Quote of the week: Had I but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread. --William Shakespeare
Food Viennese flare and Austrian fare arrive on Main Street. Volgger’s Viennese Vibe 1CCF9109-2BF4-55D0-F1FEADA27B49DDB4 2007-06-11 16:02:51.0 1 1 0 2005-02-17 00:00:00.0 984 0
Prior to emigrating from New York to Utah in 1992, I was wined and dined by a headhunter here whose job it was, in part, to “sell” me on Salt Lake City and its environs. Her choice of restaurant for dinner was Baci Trattoria. Good choice.
Back then, as now, Baci was a feast for the eyes with world-class design, architecture and dÃ©cor. It’s a stunning restaurant, and one of the first in Utah to use powerful eye appeal as a selling point. Since that first dinner at Baci—one of my first in Utah—I’ve dined at Baci numerous times, yet for some reason I’ve never gotten around to formally reviewing Baci Trattoria. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps because it isn’t a “new” restaurant, but rather a well-established dining destination in Salt Lake City, Baci has sort of hovered under my culinary radar screen for years. So, I recently decided to revisit Baci Trattoria, a restaurant that is arguably downtown SLC’s most popular.
On a Wednesday night whim—we had no reservations—my companion and I stopped by Baci for dinner only to discover that the restaurant was fully booked. Thankfully, the courteous hostess at Baci worked us in after a brief wait, and we were shown to a table just up the stairs from Baci’s gorgeously appointed bar.
It’s hard when writing about Baci not to overuse adjectives like “gorgeous,” “beautiful” and “eye-popping”—because it is. Gastronomy Inc. (parent company of Baci Trattoria) owner/partner John Williams has a love of art, design and architecture, and Baci Trattoria is his masterpiece. From the post-modern brushed metal lamps and ceiling fans to the triptych stained-glass wall and murals produced by local artists, Baci is one of the most visually inviting restaurants I’ve ever set foot in. There’s a nod to rustic Italy with braided garlic and jars of peppers lining the walls, but if you’re looking for homey Italian schmaltz, you’d be better off at Buca di Beppo, Macaroni Grill or The Olive Garden.
Baci Trattoria has always been visually striking, but the food, in my opinion, has from time to time been much less so. Over the past 13 years, there have been periods when I’ve loved the Italian-influenced cuisine at Baci, and times when I’ve found it only average. During my earliest visits, Baci was cresting on a high wave, back when Greg Neville (now owner of Lugano) served as executive chef. Over the years, with various chefs and managers coming and going, the Baci setting remained as tempting as ever while the food and service sometimes wavered. And I recall being shocked a couple of years ago at the outrageous markups on wine at Baci, leaving me to feel mugged at the bar.
Well, a lot has changed recently. For starters, Will Pliler—executive chef at The New Yorker—is now also overseeing the Baci kitchen, and you can certainly see Will’s capable touch reflected on the current Baci menu. He’s lending a deliciously creative hand to items like Baci’s homemade raviolis, created from scratch at Baci daily. On a recent visit, a decadent plate of raviolis stuffed with butternut squash and served in sage cream sauce and toasted pine nuts ($18.95) was absolutely delightful, although rich enough to perhaps have worked as dessert. With a dish that lush, I’d recommend nothing more than a light starter like Baci’s scrumptious mixed green salad ($6.95) tossed with toasted walnuts, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, red flame grapes and topped with yummy apple-balsamic vinaigrette. I also suspect Chef Pliler was influential in developing Baci’s oh-so-tender braised veal shank osso bucco ($17.95), served with wonderful nuggets of homemade gnocchi in a light, creamy sauce. The osso bucco was marvelous, although I could have done with slightly less citrus in the braising sauce.
During one particularly appealing dinner at Baci, service seemed to be well above par, too. A very outgoing server named Kierstin and her floor manager—whose name escapes me, but I remember he plays tuba in the U of U marching band—paired up to provide my party with stellar service. I was especially bowled over by Kierstin’s wine knowledge, which even extended to a flight of esoteric Italian wines, including a luscious vino from Campania: Falanghina Fuedi di San Gregorio 2002. The flight of bright, crisp Italian white wines paired particularly well with our orde