After spending much of 2020 writing “Tales of Takeout” articles in the midst of a pandemic, in 2021 I returned to reviewing restaurants in person. I am grateful to all of the hard-working and resilient restaurant workers and owners who continue to weather the storm and feed me the fodder which allows me to produce this weekly food and drink newsletter. I am especially grateful for the support of Utah Bites’ sponsors. Utah Bites would literally not exist without you. As we close out 2021, here’s a look at the 25 most memorable (and most delicious) restaurant dishes I enjoyed in the past year.
At the posh Yuta restaurant, located in The Lodge at Blue Sky Ranch near Wanship, a gorgeous dish that tasted every bit as awesome as it looked was a delicious crab and avocado roll with minced red pepper and pickled ramps. Atop the crab and avocado roll our server poured fresh, bright tasting green gazpacho, redolent of cucumber and cilantro. It’s a delectable summertime memory.
During a visit to Afghan Kitchen in South Salt Lake, I discovered a traditional Afghan soup called Aush. It’s a scrumptious bowl of chicken broth, spaghetti-style noodles, chickpeas, vegetables and a sprinkling of dried mint and dill – perfect on a chilly winter’s day.
I’m amazed at the high quality of the food you can acquire at the drive-through takeout window of Sobe Eats in Sandy. I especially love the rice bowls there such as the poke tuna bowl. My favorite, however, is the Sobe Eats birria rice bowl. They slow-cook beef short ribs for seven hours, until it’s oh so tender and tasty. The delicious shredded boneless short rib comes of course with rice, plus cotija, guacamole, heirloom beans, pickled red onion, crema, salsa macha, regular and watermelon radish slices, and cilantro.
And speaking of bowls, in my opinion nobody does ramen in Utah better than Toshio Sekikawa (aka “Tosh”). At Tosh’s Ramen I’m a fan of all of the different ramen varieties, but my favorite is the traditional tonkotsu ramen. This is the classic Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen, which is pork broth-based, made with thin, melt-in-the-mouth slices of chashu (pork), with scallions, bean sprouts, a poached egg and thin wheat noodles that are cooked to perfection – not mushy, just slightly al dente. A spicier variant called karai ramen features niku miso (spicy miso marinated ground pork), bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and bean sprouts.
Another fabulous soup – one of the all time great comfort foods – is matzo ball soup. And, although they are justifiably renown for their fab overstuffed Jewish deli-style sandwiches, Feldman’s Deli nails traditional matzo ball soup, as well. Janet Feldman makes her chicken soup with celery, carrots and fresh dill, a big baseball sized matzo ball, and lots of love.It’s like being fed by your mother, if your mom could make world-class matzo ball soup.
Another excellent example of classic comfort food done to perfection is to be found at Weller’s Bistro in Layton. The specialty here is German cuisine, although the menu goes beyond Germany with items like pizzas, burgers, and dishes such as soy-glazed salmon. Personally, I love Das Schnitzel at Weller’s Bistro. It’s pounded pork loin crusted and fried with parmesan breading, with a choice of lemon caper beurre blanc or mushroom gravy called jagersaus in German. Be sure and order a side of homemade spätzle to enjoy with your schnitzel.
Mexican street style tacos have raced up the charts of Americans’ favorite foods in the past few years, and I love them too. One of my favorite taco joints is in Ogden, called Taqueria La Tapatia. It’s not much bigger than a taco cart – a family affair with mom cooking in the small kitchen and teenage son taking orders at the walk-up window in front. One of the keys to the excellent street-style tacos at La Tapatia is that the tortillas here are made by hand, in-house, which adds flavor and texture that’s often lacking elsewhere. Among the terrific tacos at La Tapatia are a really great chile verde taco, al pastor, carne asada, cabeza, pork carnitas, and barbacoa.
One of my favorite fish dishes this past year was branzino served at Veneto Ristorante Italiano. In my opinion, Veneto is one of the most authentically Italian restaurants in Salt Lake City. A good example of the Italian way of cooking is the simplicity of Veneto’s filetto di branzino con capperi fritti. It is a straightforward, uncomplicated preparation of a large branzino fillet with fried capers and lemon. This is a case of less is more, wherein the fish itself is the main attraction, not buried under a distracting sauce or unnecessary garnishes and such.
Another excellent fish dish was one my wife and I enjoyed at Mint Tapas and Sushi in Holladay. At the latest restaurant venture of Batsaikhan “Soy” Ariunbold, the sablefish is sensational. It’s one of the 30 or so small plate (tapas) options at Mint: torched black cod served with a delicious puree of green onion and garlic chile oil.
A favorite go-to bistro dish of mine is steak tartare. I’ve eaten steak tartare from Paris to NYC and beyond, and I have to say that none was any better than the steak tartare at the St. Regis Deer Valley Brasserie 7452. Top quality raw beef is minced and tossed with parsley, cornichons and mustard, served with slices of grilled sourdough baguette and homemade Dijon mustard. It is superb steak tartare.
While we’re on the subject of meat, Mariposa restaurant at Deer Valley Resort treats meat lovers very seriously. In addition to Prime steaks, Utah rack of lamb, bone-in Piedmontese short rib, and other attractions for carnivores, there is a spectacular veal tomahawk. It’s a 16-ounce veal chop that’s about two inches thick and cooked to perfection – oh-so tender and juicy and topped with a choice of sauce from four different options. It’s the single best meat entree I had in 2021.
I’m a huge fan of beef stroganoff, and nobody does it better than chef/owner Ryan Lowder and his team at Copper Onion restaurant. Their Wagyu Beef Stroganoff is thick and wide homemade pappardelle pasta smothered with Snake River Farms Wagyu beef, fresh mushrooms and crème fraîche. It’s extremely satisfying Stroganoff.
Another delicious surprise in 2021 was found at Beirut Cafe in Murray. They have a vast array of Middle Eastern foods ranging from falafel, kebabs, gyros, pita wrap sandwiches, baklava, hummus, baba ghanouj, and much more. And all of it is really good. But what got my attention was the restaurant’s homemade pita bread, which is absolutely wonderful. The pita is cooked in a special gas-flame oven and comes out warm, puffy, airy and delicious. It is pita perfection.
At Log Haven restaurant in Millcreek Canyon, I enjoyed many of chef Dave Jones’ outstanding entrees this past year. But none satisfied me more than his risotto with grilled shrimp. Chef Jones’ risotto is made Northern Italian-style, which is more creamy and almost porridge-like as opposed to “drier” risotto that you might be familiar with. Anyway, it’s absolutely delicious: arborio rice cooked in broth with lemon and tomato butter, plump and tender grilled shrimp, Parmigiano-Reggiano, asparagus, and finished with extra virgin olive oil. It’s one of the more decadent and delightful risottos I’ve ever enjoyed.
I can rarely resist gnocchi when I see it on a restaurant menu, and I’m sure glad I didn’t resist the very good version at the new Pago on Main. It’s a generous serving of heavenly homemade potato gnocchi with lots of mushrooms bathed in a three-cheese “fondue” with leeks, black garlic and hazelnuts, garnished with minced parsley. It’s about as perfect as pasta gets.
Another outstanding pasta dish is a French-inspired one at Courchevel in Park City, where talented chef Clement Gelas is at the helm. Gelas hails originally from the Savoie region of France, and the dish that floors me is his baked crozets de Savoie. 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, Niman Ranch pork belly and wild roasted mushrooms. These crozets are crazy good.
Yet another unforgettable pasta presentation from 2021 was butternut squash pasta, which is served up at both Caffe Molise and its sister establishment BTG Wine Bar. It is melt in the mouth handmade butternut squash ravioli with a luscious garlic-brown butter sauce and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, grated Asiago cheese and fresh minced parsley. Who knew squash could taste so spectacular?
One of the best pizzas I ate in 2021 was at Nomad East. Their Upper Crust pizza is, essentially, a pepperoni pizza. Now, here’s the thing: I don’t normally like pepperoni pizza, which is often a nasty, grease-pooled atrocity. So I was more than pleasantly surprised that I liked the Upper Crust pizza at Nomad East so much, seeing as how it’s topped with pepperoni. It is a high-quality, delicious pepperoni, however. The pizza has a tomato sauce base with mozzarella, topped with the aforementioned pepperoni slices, homemade Italian sausage, piparra peppers, minced scallions and fennel seeds. It’s a hot n’ spicy pizza that, for me, just checks all the right boxes.
At one of my favorite Japanese restaurants – Park City’s Yuki Yama Sushi – the fish and seafood, both raw and cooked, are top-notch. However, a dish of theirs that always blows my mind because of how simple and yet delicious it is, is the Wagyu beef tataki. This is a DIY dish where the beef is cooked at the table on a sizzling hot Himalayan block of sea salt. It begins with thin, sashimi-style slices of uber-marbled raw Wagyu zabuton beef. As I understand it, this cut of Wagyu beef – similar to a Denver cut – is called zabuton which means “Little Pillow” in Japanese due to its tenderness and beautiful marbling. The slices of beef are quickly seared on the hot salt rock – which obviously imparts a subtle saltiness to the meat – and then dipped in cilantro red pepper and/or citrus soy dipping sauces. Yuki Yama’s Wagyu Beef Tataki is seriously one of the best things I’ve ever gotten into my mouth.
I’m pretty picky about fried chicken, but one place I can always count on it being fabulous is at Afterword restaurant in Heber. Chef Matt Harris is co-owner of Afterword and Tupelo restaurant in Park City, along with his wife and partner Maggie Alvarez. Well, the “Tupelo’s Famous Fried Chicken” at Afterword might just be the best fried chicken I’ve eaten. One of the secrets to this sensational chicken is that it is organic chicken brined in dill pickle juice for 24 hours prior to coating and frying it to perfection. It’s simultaneously crispy, juicy, tender and delicious.
When I’m craving Indian cuisine, I often turn to Royal India. Since 1998, Royal India in Sandy has been a can’t-miss dining destination for Indian cuisine in Utah. Not only is the food excellent at Royal India, but chef/owner Emmanuel Shanthakumar and his family provide warm and friendly service in a very appealing atmosphere. There’s an array of killer curries to be enjoyed at Royal India, including coconut kurma, tikka masala, boti masala and others. My favorite curry is Goan-style vindaloo, which Royal India does very well. I adore the chicken vindaloo, which is tender cubed boneless chicken pieces bathed in a spicy curry with hints of vinegar, tamarind, traditional Indian spices like cumin and red chilies, with cream and potatoes.
A favorite Ogden destination for food, drink, CBD products, live shows, gift boxes, and more is WB’s Eatery. I like to sip a craft cocktail such as White Widow Colada while enjoying one of the best sandwiches I know of. It’s the chimichurri steak bocadillo: a generous portion of oh-so tender grilled flank steak with chimichurri (a dry “sauce” made with parsley, garlic, oregano and olive oil), and fresh arugula on a bocadillo bun. Alongside was a tomato/red onion spread and delicious kettle-style potato chips.
Another excellent sandwich is to be found at Fletcher’s in Park City. Chef/partner Scott Boberek has created one of the best versions of the grilled cheese sandwich known to mankind. It’s his short rib grilled cheese: an award winning combo of tender, juicy boneless beef short rib and Beehive Cheese Promontory Cheddar with tomato and arugula, grilled to perfection with roasted garlic aioli. It’s a simply spectacular sandwich.
Looking for a really superb salad? This one was described to me by a happy customer and fellow food writer as “life changing.” It’s the grape and gorgonzola dolce salad at Lisa and Jeff Ward’s Fenice Mediterranean Bistro, a delicious mix of fresh field greens, plump red grapes, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, lightly drizzled with red wine vinaigrette. It’s a simple salad, but a stunning one, with beautifully balanced sweet and tart flavors.
We’ll wrap up this look back at 2021 with lamb. Specifically, the crazy good crispy lamb ribs appetizer at Ghidotti’s restaurant in Park City’s Newpark business district. It’s a plate of tender, falling off the bone lamb with sticky, sweet-and-tart balsamic agrodolce, and served with wine soaked cherries and an herb, arugula and parmesan salad. It is simply luscious lamb.
Well, that’s it for 2021. I can’t wait to find out what delicious dishes await me in 2022.
Happy New Year!
Photos by Ted Scheffler and Courtesy
Culinary quote of the week:
“What is patriotism but the love of the good things we ate in our childhood.” — Lin Yutang
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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.