Restaurant Review: Top of the Tapas with Mar Muntanya | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Restaurant Review: Top of the Tapas with Mar Muntanya

Salt Lake's newest tapas bar is the real deal.

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ALEX SPRINGER
  • Alex Springer

One of my resolutions for 2023 was to be more accepting of tapas places. My first experiences with restaurants that claimed to be tapas places wear the moniker as a gimmick, allowing them to serve less food for more money.

I've traveled around a bit since then, and realized that the buzz around Mar Muntanya (170 S. West Temple, 385-433-6700, mar-muntanya.com), downtown Salt Lake City's newest tapas bar, is well-deserved. Like all trends, when you get a chance to experience the genuine article, you start to understand a bit more about why the trend became popular in the first place.

My initial interest in Mar Muntanya was piqued when I learned that the Basque cuisine of Northern Spain was its culinary focal point. Coming from this perspective, the tapas style of serving small, sharable plates of food makes sense. When you consider the fact that Mar Muntanya operates on the sixth floor of the new Hyatt Regency hotel next to the Salt Palace Convention Center, everything lines up in a clear picture. A hip concept executed with traditional knowledge of regional cuisine is an impressive addition to a hotel designed to impress the downtown convention-hoppers.

I was on board with the concept when I visited during their updated brunch hours, which are from Wednesday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and even more so when I made another trip back to check out dinner. The space is lovely—diners are surrounded by warm, rustic colors and a great view of the downtown cityscape. There is patio space, though it's currently hibernating under a blanket of that greatest snow on Earth. Once the weather warms up, however, I could see this evolving into one of the coolest patio spots in the city.

Like everything Mar Muntanya prepares, the brunch menu is full of classic favorites reinterpreted with Spanish flair. My wife and I were most curious about the biscuit and gravy ($9), the shrimp and grits ajillo ($15), the short rib hash ($18) and the quince waffle ($13). The Mar Muntanya spin on these familiar favorites was an excellent intro to their overall concept, and the biscuit and gravy was a prime example. It's a warm, flaky biscuit sliced in half and topped with a thick country gravy that swapped the maple sausage with Bilbao chorizo. It may not sound like much of a tweak, but that dry, crumbly chorizo releases its smoky and spicy flavors into the gravy, which envelops the whole dish in an aromatic, peppery bouquet.

We both liked the short rib hash and the shrimp and grits, but the braise on the short rib made it overpower those lovely Yukon gold potatoes and greens. The shrimp and grits are made from paella broth—a fantastic idea, btw—but though the grits were buttery and smooth, I was hoping for a bit more of the paella kick. A little saffron would have sealed the deal.

On the sweeter side of thing, the quince waffle might be the unsung hero of the brunch menu. It's a wonderfully dense waffle filled with sugary pearls like unto the Belgian boys, and topped with slivered Granny Smith apples and a dollop of quince jam. Topped with a bit of maple syrup, this is a sugary-sweet and tangy-tart joy to eat. The quince jam and tart apples are an excellent contrast to the sweetness of the waffle and syrup.

When the sun goes down on the metro area, Mar Muntanya breaks out its dinner menu, which is still replete with small plates though it adds some larger shareables to the party. You can't call yourself a Utah foodie if you don't try the funeral croquetas ($8), a dish that I appreciated to no end. They roll out like a golden-brown stack of mozzarella sticks, except they're stuffed with a cheesy potato casserole and breaded with crispy corn flakes in a high-end nod to one of Utah's most notable culinary contributions. The thinly sliced pickled Fresno peppers on top add a nice acidic punch to the cheesy, starchy goodness, and the fact that this is on the menu hints at Executive Chef Tyson Peterson's understanding of local culture.

I also went with the oysters ($15) that come topped with a bit of beef tartare and served with house made còctel sauce and a vibrantly acidic spruce mignonette. This is an excellent contrast to the rich croquetas, and prompted me to wrap the evening up with a lemon natilla ($5). This dessert is a silky-smooth Spanish custard topped with a thin layer of lemon curd and served with a mantecado cookie that is meant to be crumbled on top of the dessert for a bit of textured crunch. Once again, the sweet side of the menu caught me off guard—this is a spectacular way to finish things off and is a must for dessert fans.

I like that Mar Muntanya will be the face of Utah's food scene for the convention circuit travelers—you have to respect a place that maintains its hip sensibilities while making cheeky nods about Utah culture in its menu. On top of all the subtleties, the team here goes above and beyond to create a memorable experience for its diners, and I'll look forward to checking them out again very soon.