- Alex Springer
During the early stages of lockdown, I started to fret about all the great local restaurants I had yet to visit. It seemed like every month claimed a great local place, and I quickly realized how much we take our neighborhood eateries for granted. Now that the vaccine is helping to ease people back into dining out, I'm trying not to waste any time visiting places that are long overdue on my list. At the top of said list was Mint Tapas and Sushi (multiple locations, mintsushiutah.com), one of Holladay's—and now Sandy's—hidden gems. Chef Batsaikhan Ariunbold, or "Soy" to his friends and colleagues, holds a 10-course tasting menu ($60) at both locations, and it's a perfect way to re-introduce yourself to the wonders of local dining.
Mint offers both patio and indoor seating, both of which are well spread out to ensure social distancing. My corner table kept me at a safe distance from other diners, and this relative seclusion—coupled with a nice view of the sunset—primed my senses for the 10 courses of sushi goodness that were on the way. Chef Soy and the Mint sushi team are all about expanding the average sushi fan's perspective on what sushi is and can be. Yes, the regular menu includes plenty of options for fans of sashimi, nigiri and specialty rolls, but signing up for the tasting event puts you at the whims of Chef Soy and his team—I highly recommend checking this out.
It wasn't long into my dusky reverie before the first course came my way. It was three cuts of hamachi, stacked into a cube, topped with two thin slices of jalapeño and drizzled with soy sauce—simple, colorful and sublime. As it's the first course in a series, this unassuming dish does a lot of heavy lifting to properly wake up the taste buds and prepare them for what's coming. The second course, lovingly dubbed "noodle tuna" by the staff, ramps up the acidity with rosy ribbons of tuna doused with soy before taking it down a notch with a creamy avocado puree. At this point in the journey, you realize that these flavors are starting to paint a picture, and you can't wait to see what comes next.
Dish No. 3 was a sharp diversion from the acidic notes that the first two courses were playing with. It was a plate of crisp tempura shrimp slathered in a custardy pineapple sauce and topped with shredded coconut. On its own, I think this would be a complete star—that pineapple sauce and coconut ramped up the sweetness of the shrimp and the tempura batter adds a nice crunch to the mix. Showing up right after the first two exercises in acidity and umami, however, this dish packed a bit too much of a saccharine wallop.
The following dish of salmon and caviar brought things back to a more subtle level—the sea breeze flavor of the caviar melted into that fresh salmon quite nicely. After that came a kind of sister salmon dish which was drizzled with slightly sweet sauce that contrasted a bit better with the preceding course. These presented two sides of the salmon sushi coin and highlighted different flavors within the salmon itself. I absolutely loved this back-to-back presentation.
At the halfway mark is where Chef Soy plays a few wildcards. After that killer salmon duo came a white tuna ceviche topped with a mix of garlic, ginger, green onion and finely chopped apple. The tuna itself is stellar but taking a bite with that lovely mix of sweet and piquant is nothing short of a dream. It's a hard dish to follow, which is where the pork belly comes in. Topped with a bit of shredded radish and a thicker drizzle of soy sauce, it's a simple testament to the crisp, salty deliciousness of pork belly.
The final three courses of the evening were equally spellbinding. I loved the spicy tuna topped with avocado and served with a fried crisp you could dip into the creamy, heat-filled mixture, and the lamb chop finale was a marvelous showstopper. An adorable bowl of purple-yam ube ice cream topped with sliced apple and a bit of strawberry arrived as dessert, exemplifying the understated sweetness of this popular purple sweet potato.
Those looking for a traditional sushi experience can look forward to having their expectations challenged by Mint's regularly scheduled menu any day of the week. However, if you're looking for a way to give you and your pals a culinary indulgent gift, just let Chef Soy and his team take you on this special little journey.