- Enrique Limón
Salt Lake City has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance when it comes to plant-based cuisine as of late. Regardless of where you land on today's nuanced culinary spectrum, the downtown dining scene has no shortage of vegan-friendly diner food, doughnuts or even French pastries. Thanks to this rich bedrock of nontraditional eateries, local restaurateurs are stepping up their game in an effort to show local diners just how good cooking can be without meat or dairy.
As it's among the first of these up and coming cruelty-free eateries, Seasons Bistro (1370 South State St., 385-267-1922) has found itself on the cutting edge of what I'm sure will be a wide variety of more upscale culinary destinations.
Taking over the space of the former Bakery Street, Seasons opened its doors in October of this year, but the impeccable décor and knowledgeable staff evoke a distinct air of experience. My server was happy to oblige the many different questions I had about the ways in which they work their vegan-friendly magic on dishes like bacon carbonara ($14) and the pictured braised short rib polenta ($16). One such question came immediately after their beautifully curated crudité board ($8) arrived at the table. Not only is it piled high with house-pickled veggies like asparagus, carrots and artichoke hearts, but it comes served with crostini and homemade butter that holds its own up against its dairy-based counterpart. It turns out that a mixture of emulsified coconut- and sunflower oils churns out quite nicely. Crudité boards can be hit and miss, but as Seasons prides itself on its locally-sourced produce, it was the perfect way to begin a meal.
Keeping in theme, the drink selection is laden with multiple beer and wine options—all of which are vegan-friendly and do not use any kind of animal byproducts during their production process.
But back to the food.
With a menu that offers plant-based takes on classic Italian and French cuisine—neither of which is particularly forgiving to those who skew vegan—the restaurant has thrown down a rather large gauntlet. Its mere existence dares diners to venture away from their traditional views on cooking with butter, cream and meat, but it's a dare that everyone, vegan or otherwise, should risk.
The two stalwart examples of Seasons' attempt at rewiring a cultural paradigm would have to be the potato gnocchi ($15) and the berry cheesecake ($6). While gnocchi's origin as a potato-based Italian dumpling makes it an obvious choice for a plant-centric menu, preparing a rich, hearty sauce with nary a drop of heavy cream or butter is a little trickier. The gnocchi stood up well to the flavors of garlic and shiitake mushrooms that permeated the velvety gravy, but they were a bit too soft for my taste.
On the sweeter side of things, the berry cheesecake instantly captured my attention when I first spotted it on the menu—it's a bold move to serve something as famously dairy-centric as cheesecake at a restaurant that doesn't use cheese. Upon arrival, it looked deceptively familiar—a generous triangle of filling, a graham cracker crust and an artful drizzle of berry glaze. The base of their cheesecake, it turns out, comes from chilled cashew butter, which is indeed a worthy substitute for cream cheese. Texture-wise, the cheesecake was spot on and the cashews imparted a nuttiness that was an excellent complement to the berry drizzle. My one gripe was that it lacked the tartness of traditional cheesecake, which is something that a bit of strategically added lime juice could have provided.
The final verdict? As someone who could never quite commit to a vegan or vegetarian diet, I like knowing that restaurants like Seasons are out there. The thoughtful, lovingly prepared food here is something that everyone should be able to enjoy, regardless of their diet earning Seasons Bistro a definite spot on this year's culinary nice list.
AT A GLANCE
Open: Tuesday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-10 p.m.;
closed Sundays and Mondays
Best bet: The I-can’t-believe-it’s-vegan cheesecake
Can’t miss: Vegan beer