One of my favorite Utah restaurants is Manoli’s, the namesake eatery of chef/owner Manoli Katsanevas. It’s hands-down the best Greek restaurant in our state, and Time named Manoli’s Utah’s best restaurant in their “Best Restaurants in Every State” roundup.
Although labeling Manoli’s a Greek restaurant doesn’t quite do the place justice. That’s especially true if your concept of Greek cuisine begins and ends with gyros and souvlaki, which aren’t even served at Manoli’s. But if when you think of Greek cooking you think of fresh, bold flavors prepared with the highest quality local products from scratch, then yes: Manoli’s is Greek to the bone.
You can never go wrong with that Greekest of Greek meze (appetizer) offerings: Dolmathes ($10). The classic grapes leaves stuffed with seasoned rice, tomato and herbs with Greek yogurt is a Manoli’s must-have. Note that although the Manoli’s menu is comprised of mostly “small plates” items, the plates aren’t usually very small at all and are more than suitable for sharing. For example, the Fasolakia meze ($10) would be a pretty large appetizer for just one person. It’s a plate of blistered, slightly charred green beans with sunflower-jalapeño Romesco and lime aioli, topped with crispy fried shreds of Greek pastry dough called kataifi, which looks like vermicelli. Green beans never tasted so Greek!
Another marvelous Manolii’s meze is the sashimi market fish called Apsitos – regardless of what fresh fish happens to be the daily special. Manoli slices the raw fish sashimi-style, super thin, and tops it with strawberry-chive vinaigrette, crispy fried grape leaf, manouri cheese (a creamy, semi-soft Greek goat cheese) and sesame dukkah. It’s a light and delicious dish.
I highly recommend signing up to receive emails from Manoli’s because that’s how you find out about special events such as wine dinners and the occasional lamb dinner, where Manoli roasts a lamb outside on a spit. We attended a lamb dinner in June and it was absolutely terrific – a must for lamb lovers like me.
I can’t even remember all of the lamb bits I got to enjoy. There was leg of lamb, of course, along with loin, crispy skin, neck, belly, back and much more. During the dinner, wines from Bon Vivant Imports were being poured, such as Redentore Chardonnay, Solar de Randez Rosato, and Asenjo & Manso Ceres Tempranillo. I strongly urge you to book a table pronto for Manoli’s next lamb dinner.
During the special lamb dinners, the regular Manoli’s menu is also available for guests like my wife, who prefer not to make an entire meal of meat. Instead, she ordered what I have come to think of as one of a handful of the best restaurant dishes in all of Utah: Psari Psito. This is a plate of pan-seared branzino and it is phenomenal – perfectly cooked, moist and delicate, with braised greens and lemon roasted potatoes alongside. A less confident chef than Manoli would probably clutter up the buttery branzino with a sauce of some sort and ruin it; here it’s preparation is perfect in its simplicity.
And while we’re speaking of simplicity, somehow even a simple side dish of rice becomes something ethereal in the hands of Manoli Katsanevas. His Pilafi ($6) is nothing more than long grain rice cooked in chicken stock with lemon and a dollop of housemade Greek yogurt, but it’s rice that rocked my world.
Manoli was kind enough to send us out an assortment of desserts to sample and needless to say, not a one of them was a clunker. I probably liked the simplest dessert the best of all: Loukoumathes, which are Greek donuts with spiced honey syrup, cinnamon, and sprinkled with sesame seeds ($7).
As if all the outstanding food and drink and the wonderful ambiance of Manoli’s isn’t enough, the restaurant is also powered by one of the best serving and management staffs in the city, the model for which is Manoli himself and his wife Katrina – some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. So call it Greek or call it a small plates restaurant or label it however you’d like, I just call Manolil’s magnificent.
Culinary quote of the week:
I adore seafood, especially saltwater taffy. — Milton Berle
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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