Restaurant Review: Contemporary American Fare at Oquirrh | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Restaurant Review: Contemporary American Fare at Oquirrh

Oquirrh serves up Utah on a plate. And we taste amazing.


  • Alex Spinger

When you look to the east of the Wasatch valley, you can't miss the regal peaks of the Rocky Mountains, a range our state shares with a large part of the Western North American continent.

The Rockies are no doubt majestic to behold, but I've always thought the Oquirrh Mountains to the west were special because they belonged to Utah and Utah alone. Much like the culinary beauty that our state shares with the rest of the country, it's nice to have places like Oquirrh (368 E. 100 South, 801-359-0426, that are able to comprehend and enunciate what makes Utah a special place for good food.

I know I'm a bit late to the game with Oquirrh—locals have been singing its praises and it managed to pick up some national recognition as a semifinalist in this year's James Beard awards. The buzz built up around this Downtown contemporary American restaurant raised my expectations just a tad—but I'm happy to announce that this place does indeed live up to the hype. Oquirrh captures the nuances of being a Utah-centric, fine dining establishment, and anyone curious about the state of Utah cuisine need only book a reservation.

From the locally-produced art to the locally-produced plates, Oquirrh is a place that is proud of its local roots. This affection for the Beehive State is also evident in a menu that focuses on seasonal ingredients and culinary concepts that gleefully showcase what Utah has to offer.

For example, the fried spaghetti squash ($16) that I started my meal with reminded me of a colorful, lighter riff on funeral potatoes. It's served on top of a creamy bleu cheese sauce and topped with a vinegary red cabbage slaw and some pomegranate seeds for a bit of crunchy sweetness. I was missing a bit of seasoning from the spaghetti squash itself, but the accompanying flavors managed to pack enough punch to make this dish stand out for me.

From there, I decided to try the sherry-glazed duck breast ($41) since I was on a bit of a Utah nostalgia trip and I have lots of fond memories going duck hunting with my dad and grandpa down in Manti back when I was a kid. Duck also happens to be delightful in the right hands, so it's a bold move to feature it in any capacity on a menu.

It arrives on a bed of rutabaga puree and roasted brussels sprouts and is topped with some crispy fried onions. It's cooked medium rare and is served with its crispy skin preserved in all its golden glory. Everything on the plate is delicious on its own—the rutabaga puree is buttery and creamy, the brussels sprouts are tender and slightly acidic and the fried onion brings a nice crisp textural contrast to the dish. The duck itself is spectacular; anyone not sold on the wonders of a well-prepared duck needs to check this out immediately.

Oquirrh has a tempting dessert menu that complements the rustic flavors of its entrees, but the one that caught my eye was their rendition of kunafa, a Middle Eastern treat akin to baklava that mixes crispy phyllo dough with a syrupy mix of honey and pistachios. The kunafa at Oquirrh spins the tradition a bit by chopping the crispy phyllo dough up and fashioning it into a nest-like cup that receives the pistachio mixture and some rose-flavored ice cream. It then gets topped with delicate tufts of coconut halva, a sweet, nutty treat typically made from pulverized sesame seeds and sugar. The dish arrives looking like something one would enjoy in the verdant court of some blithe fairy queen—you desperately want a taste, but are also concerned that doing so would result in some supernatural consequence befalling you. The kunafa at Oquirrh combines subtle flavors and contrasting textures to create an ideal experience for those who crave desserts as nuanced as their entrees.

On top of this excellent food, I was very impressed with the level of service provided at Oquirrh. I'm really quite easy to please when it comes to restaurant service—as long as you don't fling my plate at me like a frisbee, I'm usually good to go. However, I will always be grateful for servers who know their shit about the wine list and go out of their way to make sure their diners are comfortable. This friendly, accommodating service is part and parcel with Oquirrh's culinary concept, and there's a harmony within this restaurant that is rare, and much appreciated.

Like the mountain range for which it is named, Oquirrh focuses on the beauty of our backyard—it's hard to find sometimes, but it's definitely there. Ever since Pallet closed, I worried that we'd lost one of the only local restaurants that knew how to present Utah on a plate, but after my visit to Oquirrh, I think that tradition is alive and well.