With each passing year, food and drink in Utah seems to get better and better. 2019 was no exception, with a boatload of excellent new restaurants joining the more venerable, established ones. I had great meals at both types of restaurants. Here are some highlights.
At Oquirrh, owned by the talented Andrew (Drew) and Angelena Fuller, my favorite dish was House Made Pasta: an exceptional preparation of homemade bucatini-type pasta with generous morsels of butter-poached lobster, Pecorino cheese, celery leaf and crushed black pepper. The kitchen absolutely nailed it with this perfect pasta.
MidiCi at The Gateway is renowned for its outstanding Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizzas. But the salads shouldn’t be overlooked. One of the best salads I enjoyed this past year was MidiCi’s Purple Kale & Ricotta Salad. It’s big, generous bowl of baby spinach, purple kale, dates, fresh ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, with a mustard-vinaigrette dressing. Healthy and yummy.
I love just about everything about Manoli’s, including Manoli Katsanevas – one of the most talented and generous restaurateurs I know. And while everything on the Manoli menu is excellent, I especially look forward to the occasional Lamb Dinner, where Manoli roasts a lamb outside on a spit. During a lamb dinner this year, I got to enjoy all sort of lamb cuts: There was leg of lamb, of course, along with loin, crispy skin, neck, belly, back and much more. If you love lamb, or just great food in general, you’ll love Manoli’s like I do.
There is so much at Caffe Molise that I really like, including the beautiful, spacious new-ish digs on South West Temple. I’m a big fan of Chef/Owner Fred Moesinger’s Italian fare – dishes like the infamous Caffe Molise Lasagna and the unbeatable Pappardelle al Sugo. Another favorite dish of mine is the generously portioned Gamberetti Salad: a large plate filled to the brim with mixed greens and seasonal fruits, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onion, Feta cheese, and strewn with grilled Gulf shrimp. It’s a sensational salad.
For many years, I’ve held the opinion that Takashi is Salt Lake City’s finest restaurant. My absolute favorite menu item at this top-notch Japanese restaurant is Ankimo: monkfish liver that is salt-rubbed, rinsed with sake, and then rolled into a cylindrical shape and steamed. Takashi serves the ankimo as a salad with fresh daikon, cucumber, radish, tobiko and scallion. If monkfish liver sounds a little off-putting, did I mention that it tastes like foie gras? It’s incredible.
One of the best bang-for-the-buck restaurants I visited in 2019 was Oak Wood Fire Kitchen, in Draper. It’s the brainchild of operating partner Michael McHenry and executive chef/partner Brandon Price, and the restaurant is named for the oak that’s used in the wood-fired oven in which many of the menu items are cooked. While the pizzas and other offerings are all top-notch, the dish that blew my mind was Chef Price’s Short Rib Gnocchi. Typically, gnocchi is served with a basic pomodoro sauce, butter-sage sauce, or creamy Alfredo-type sauce. But kudos to Oak Wood Fire Kitchen for combining oh-so tender chunks of braised beef short ribs with heavenly homemade gnocchi, charred scallion crema, black garlic and chives. Simply put, this is one of the best things I’ve eaten, ever.
While I enjoyed many great meals at Log Haven restaurant this year, I think my favorite dish from Chef Dave Jones’ kitchen is a new item from the winter menu: Grilled Duck Breast. My grilled duck breast was cooked medium-rare – lovely pink on the inside, served atop a puree of butternut squash with duck confit-frisee salad, pomegranate syrup, maple vinaigrette, and topped with toasted pecans and pomegranate seeds. Simply put, this is delectable duck.
You might not expect to find some of Utah’s best sushi in Kaysville, but that’s because you’ve probably never eaten at Nikko Sushi & Ramen. And, well, that’s your loss, because one of the state’s finest sushi chefs – not to mention certified sommelier and sake expert – Sunny Tsogbadrakh is co-owner and chef at Nikko. The ramen at Nikko is flawless, as are the sushi and hot menu items. One of my favorites is Hamachi Jalapeño, which is fresh hamachi sashimi and thinly-sliced jalapeño which gives the dish a little heat, tossed with a slightly sweet, delicious yuzu-miso sauce, and served with julienned daikon. The Hamachi Jalapeño alone is worth a trip to Kaysville.
One of the smartest moves that Stoneground Italian Kitchen owner Bob McCarthy ever made was in recruiting Justin Shifflett – formerly of Metropolitan and Trio, among others – to be his head chef. Another great move was to host Sunday Suppers at Stoneground – a prix fixe, laid back, all-you-can-eat affair where various bruschetta, salad, pizzas and pasta rotate from table to table throughout the evening. It’s a terrific way to taste an array of Stoneground dishes during a single meal. Since I’ve always thought it a crime to put pineapple on pizza, it came as quite a shock to me that my favorite pizza during a recent Sunday Supper was Capicola & Pineapple Pizza. The sweetness of the pineapple provided a counterbalance and contrast to the capicola’s saltiness, resulting in me eating crow vis-a-vis putting pineapple on pizza. Who knew?
In 2019, I discovered a wonderful, family-run taqueria called Tacos Los Lee. And, while the tacos, gorditas, burritos and such are all outstandingly fresh and tasty, my favorite menu item is their Pozole. For anyone who loves pozole as I do, I strongly urge you to head to Taqueria Los Lee on a Thursday when pozole is the daily special. It’s red chile pozole with lots of tender, shredded pork, hominy, and all the fixins – like diced radish, onion, lettuce, homemade tortilla chips and such, so you can customize your pozole to suit your taste. And, the folks who work at Tacos Los Lee simply couldn’t not be more friendly and accommodating.
One of my favorite dining destinations in winter is Deer Valley’s Fireside Dining, where dinner courses are cooked and served from a quartet of large stone fireplaces at rustic Empire Canyon Lodge. I can’t get enough of the gooey Raclette melted over the fire there. But an astonishingly delicious new dish from Fireside is Grilled Guinea Hen Gnocchi. It’s simply brilliant, and contains a number of ingredients that I love. It’s a magnificent melange of grilled guinea hen with Meyer lemon and thyme infused gnocchi in a smoked Gouda cream sauce. Additionally, there’s housemade chorizo, cured egg yolk, fresh fava beans and slow-roasted tomatoes to round out the presentation. That’s a tough dish to top, and kudos to Empire Canyon Lodge Executive Chef Ryan Lloyd and his team for this killer creation.
Dem bones, dem bones … There’s a lot to love about Executive Chef/Partner Briar Handly’s cooking at HSL restaurant, not to mention the lovely decor/ambiance and top-notch service. Now, I don’t usually think of beef bones as haute cuisine, but Chef Handly elevates beef bones to fine-dining status with his Bone Marrow dish. It’s two roasted beef bones, oozing luscious warm marrow, with duck liver mousse, honeycomb, cocoa “nibs,” strawberries preserved from last summer, and toasted brioche. This was as satisfying a dish as I encountered in 2019.
We all miss Matt Tauszik, the Thistle & Thyme Executive Chef who died tragically last month in an avalanche. I certainly won’t forget his memorable take on Chicken and Waffles. At Thistle & Thyme, buttermilk fried chicken is cornflake coated and served with a Liege waffle, candied bacon, fried sage leaves, maple-walnut butter, and a small carafe of thyme and pink peppercorn-infused maple syrup. I’ve tasted a lot of variations on the chicken and waffle theme, but none any better than this.
At the new-for-winter 2019 Courchevel Bistro in Park City, talented French chef Clement Gelas is at the helm, serving up modern takes on French fare, particularly the cuisine of Savoie, where Gelas hails from. The dish that floors me is his Baked Crozets. In France, Crozets de Savoie are small buckwheat pasta squares – sort of like square buckwheat gnocchi. At Courchevel, Baked Crozets are served with a melange of Gruyere, truffle, house-cured bacon and wild mushrooms, topped with green peas and microgreens. These Crozets are crazy good.
It’s indisputable that Feldman’s Deli is one of the finest Jewish-style delis in the West, and certainly Utah’s best. There’s a lot to love about Michael and Janet Feldman’s namesake eatery – overstuffed New York deli-style sandwiches, the best bagels in town, chopped liver, knishes, potato pancakes, kishka, and much more. But the one thing I can never get too much of at Feldman’s Deli is Janet’s from-scratch Matzo Ball Soup, lovingly made with homemade chicken stock, a judicious amount of schmalz, fresh carrots and a big, bodacious matzo ball made with unleavened bread and egg. It’s something that in the Beehive State you’ll only find at Feldman’s.
One of the best appetizers I tasted in 2019 was at Paul Chamberlain’s and Logen Crew’s inventive restaurant, SLC Eatery. It was their Calamari. The tender, flavorful grilled calamari is tossed with crispy fried rice wafers, sliced jalapeño, tajin seasoning, and cilantro aioli. It’s a modern, delicious take on calamari that’s irresistible.
Not all of my favorite foods of 2019 were fancy. I love a plate of fish & chips as much as just about anything, and it’s hard to beat the quality of the Fish & Chips at The Garage on Beck. I just can’t resist them: Beer battered Alaskan pollock that’s deep-fried to perfection, served with equally perfect house-cut, double-cooked fries and fresh-made tartar sauce. There’s nothing quite like exceptional fish & chips with a cocktail like The Garage’s Raspberry Gin Rickey to sip alongside.
I’ve been a fan of Cucina in the Avenues since back when Marguerite Marceau Henderson opened it back in 1995. And, it got even better when current owner Dean Pierose turned it into Cucina Wine Bar and hired the talented chef Joey Ferran to head up the kitchen. (Read about the new Winter Wine List at Cucina in my “Food & Drink 411” column.) One of my favorite Ferran dishes is his deceptively simple Ahi Tuna Poke. The key to this delicious dish is top-quality ingredients like sushi grade ahi tuna, fresh avocado and mango, homemade wonton chips and guajillo chiles to give it some zip.
One of my favorite new dining additions for 2019 was the opening of RIME – an on-mountain raw bar created by Tupelo restaurant owners Matt Harris and Maggie Alvarez. Rime specializes in fresh seafood: oysters on the half shell, crudo, ahi tartare, lobster rolls, shrimp cocktail, clam chowder and the like. Chef Harris’ Lobster Roll is second to none. It’s a Connecticut-style roll: Tender morsels of fresh Maine lobster are stuffed into an authentic hot dog-type bun that also comes from Maine, adorned by nothing more than sweet melted butter. It’s the perfect food, served with potato chips and spicy pepperoncinis alongside. I’ve eaten lobster rolls from Boston to Annapolis and I repeat: you won’t find a better one anywhere.
I was thrilled when Paulo Celeste, who opened the original Michelangelo restaurant in Sugar House in 1995, returned after a stay in Italy to SLC and opened his namesake eatery, Celeste Ristorante. It’s one of the most authentic Italian restaurants I’ve ever dined in, outside of Italy, with heavenly homemade gnocchi, outrageously good ravioli, mare caldo, orecchiette alla Pugliese, and much more. One of my favorite menu items at Celeste is Paulo’s outstanding Carpaccio di Manzo appetizer (manzo in Italian translates as beef or young steer). It’s a shareable platter of thinly-sliced top sirloin beef dressed with sliced baby artichokes, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, watercress, extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice. It’s a very simple dish that, like many of Paolo’s menu items, is composed of high-quality, fresh ingredients that simply sing in his hands.
I’ll bet you came across some deliciously memorable dishes in the past year. If so, we’d love to hear about them!
Culinary quote of the week:
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. — J.R.R. Tolkien
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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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