My mom—bless her departed soul—was not a great cook. But she made two things really well: baseball-size dumplings, and what our family called "up-and-down noodles." The egg noodles were homemade, thick and wide, and crafted with a fluted pasta/pastry cutter (hence the name). In Japan, our housekeeper occasionally made ramen for the family, and in Spain, fideuá sometimes appeared at the dinner table. The point being that from an early age I was raised on really good pasta preparations. Today, it would be my deserted-island dish if I were forced to choose one. There will be no low-carb diets for me.
Over a couple of decades of reviewing restaurants in Utah, I've tasted hundreds of pasta and noodle dishes—ranging from kugel to cannelloni—and there are dozens I'd happily sing the praises of. For space considerations, I've distilled my favorites down to just 10 in SLC. Please try them, and tell us about your faves, as well.
When I want to escape the dilemmas of the day, I sometimes opt for lunch at Cannella's (204 E. 500 South, 801-355-8518, Cannellas.com), a friendly, inviting spot that seems to be a throwback to simpler times. I especially like to pop in on Thursdays, when the lunch special is manicotti stuffed with creamy cheeses and a housemade meatball the size of my fist. It's a fully satisfying lunch special that comes with soup or salad and garlic bread.
Another excellent (if decadent) Italian pasta dish is the variation on classic cacio e pepe at Valter's Osteria (173 W. 300 South, 801-521-4563, ValtersOsteria.com), where it's reformulated as gorgonzola e pepe. Fresh, eggy fettuccine is bathed in a rich gorgonzola sauce with lots of tangy black pepper, and the resulting palate pleasure is undeniable.
One of my favorite Chinese noodle dishes is Sichuan dandan noodles, and nobody locally does it better than Mom's Kitchen (2233 S. State, 801-486-0092, MomsKitchenRestaurantSaltLakeCity.com). Called simply "Mom's Cold Noodles" (get the spicy version), the perfectly cooked lo mein-style egg noodles are tossed in a silky, peanut-and-chili-oil sauce that just can't be improved upon.
If there is a pasta preparation more popular than good ol' macaroni and cheese in this country, I've yet to find it. The mac 'n' cheese at Ruth's Diner (4160 Emigration Canyon Road, 801-582-5807, RuthsDiner.com)—distinctive enough to be featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives—has a secret (and surprising) ingredient: cottage cheese. It also incorporates some other untraditional flavors such as onion, Monterey Jack cheese and bay leaves. Somehow, it just works.
Japanese ramen is really all about the broth. And at Tosh's Ramen (1465 S. State, 801-466-7000, ToshsRamen.com), owner and executive chef Toshio Sekikawa makes his from scratch, simmering bones overnight and even making broth on Mondays—his day off. The tonkatsu broth is nearly clear, served in a huge ramen bowl with a very generous helping of hearty wheat and egg noodles from Los Angeles' Sun Noodle Co. It's adorned with crunchy bean sprouts, thin-sliced pork belly, half a hard-cooked egg and minced scallions. This ramen is rockin'.
Growing up on my mother's homemade dumplings in broth, it didn't take much for me to make the leap to classic Jewish matzo ball soup. For those unfamiliar, matzo balls are generally about handball-size or a little larger, and made with matzo meal, eggs, kosher salt, baking powder and oil or, preferably, melted schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). The balls are served in made-from-scratch chicken broth, which is the way Janet Feldman makes her matzo ball soup at Feldman's Deli (2005 E. 2700 South, 801-906-0369, FeldmansDeli.com).
One of the most delicious pasta dishes I've ever enjoyed anywhere wasn't in Italy but in SLC: the bigoli con ragu di anatra at Veneto Ristorante Italiano (370 E. 900 South, 801-359-0708, VenetoSLC.com). This is a very common dish in the Veneto region of northern Italy: thick, homemade spaghetti-style pasta topped with a ground duck ragu. It's drier than what you'd normally expect from a "sauce": mirepoix (minced celery, onion and carrot) cooked with tender ground duck and topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. By the way, the "Mountain Gnocchi" at Veneto is equally amazing.
There's an abundance of eateries around town serving excellent versions of the Vietnamese noodle soup pho, but none better than La-Cai Noodle House (961 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-322-3590, LaCaiNoodleHouse.com). The pho broth is rich and flavorful—with fragrant hints of cinnamon, clove and star anise—and the large, deep bowl is packed with perfectly cooked rice noodles. At La-Cai, the beef is added at the last possible instant to the pho and is delicately simmered in the steaming broth, literally on the way to the table.
Germans aren't exactly known for their culinary prowess, but I could eat spaetzle—the tiny German egg-and-flour dumplings—on a daily basis. And so can you, by just visiting Siegfried's Delicatessen (20 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-355-3891, SiegfriedsDelicatessen.com), where their homemade spaetzle is a popular side dish. It's served with (optional) glistening brown gravy and is the perfect partner for Siegfried's sensational schnitzel.
As much as I relish pad Thai, a noodle dish ubiquitous in American Thai restaurants and especially good at Skewered Thai (575 S. 700 East, 801-364-1144, SkeweredThai.com), I actually prefer their delectable "drunken noodles" (pad kee mao). It is a large platter of wide, pan-fried rice noodles with a distinctively spicy mélange of tender shrimp, red bell pepper, mushrooms, broccoli, carrot, tomato, fresh chili, egg, onion and fragrant Thai basil, which nicely balances the heat of the chilies. I get a little tipsy just thinking about this delicious dish.
I could go on, but I must go use my noodle.