A couple of weeks ago my wife and I had the good fortune of meeting Alexa (Lex) Finch at a hospitality industry wine tasting event. Lex and her chef husband Kevin are the brains and talent behind a pop-up dining series being held in SLC this summer, called Arthur. The series is hosted at one of my favorite restaurants – Nohm – on selected Saturday and Sunday evenings, including upcoming dinners this weekend, August 13 & 14, and on August 27 & 28. On those evenings the Finches and their talented team will take over Nohm and turn it into the stage for an enchanting epicurean event that has foodies around town salivating. There’s been no shortage of buzz about Arthur and, thanks to Lex and Kevin’s generous hospitality, my wife and I were able to experience the power of this pop-up ourselves last weekend.
Kevin Finch hails originally from right here in Utah – Sugar House, to be precise – but has an impressive resume that began when he was fifteen working at The Grand America and includes cooking in Michelin-starred houses of the holy such as Maaemo in Oslo, NYC’s Betony, Ensue restaurant in Shenzhen, and – most impressive to me because Dominique Crenn is a hero of mine – as Chef de Cuisine at San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn. We are lucky to have Kevin and Lex – who handles marketing for Arthur – back in town. I hope they plan to stick around, although I know that Kevin has a cooking residency coming up at a restaurant in Paris in the fall.
Arthur is ingredient-driven cuisine of the type you might find at a modern Parisian bistro once they’ve moved beyond steak frites and coq au vin. The ingredients are sourced locally when possible, and dishes are paired mostly with wines from domestic independent boutique winemakers. There are two tasting options: a 7-course dinner priced at $120 per person or a 4-course dinner for $65. There are also add-ons such as caviar service and optional wine pairings priced at $55. Note that a 20% service charge is automatically included in the ticket pricing. According to the folks at Arthur, this is “to ensure we can pay everyone an EQUAL and ABOVE fair wage ($25 an hour). Including ourselves, everyone in the restaurant makes the same hourly wage, and we are proud to pay people what they deserve. Our goal is to offer this among full benefits and healthcare for everyone whenever we open a brick & mortar (if that is in the cards).”
It’s a testament to Chef Finch’s expertise, experience, educational skills, and affability that cooks from restaurants such as Log Haven and others are lining up to assist and learn from him in the Arthur/Nohm kitchen during the pop-ups.
Our Arthur experience began with a pair for each of us of fresh barbecued Kumiai oysters from Baja, Mexico, which were lightly kissed with herbaceous nasturtium, fermented red currants, and oyster liquid emulsion – a light and delightful way to kick off our meal.
The oysters were followed by a heart-shaped sourdough rye waffle with dollops of homemade crème fraîche and topped with trout roe, fresh tarragon, dill, and chives. A seven-course dinner can be a daunting affair and we appreciated that Arthur started out with scrumptious, but diminutive-size portions which allowed us to enjoy each course without having to hoist the white flag halfway through. We’ve attended all too many lengthy, multi-course dinners in which we felt – as my old pal Tony Bourdain use to put it – “food f**ked.” The pacing and portions during Arthur were spot-on.
Next up was a lovely summertime “soup” of compressed fresh melon and heirloom tomato with a splash of fish sauce, lime juice, olive oil, and topped with chopped barbecued dragon tongue beans. I really loved the unexpected touch of oil. With regard to produce, meats and such at Arthur, I was told that “No vegetables or proteins are bought from any large corp or unknown warehouses. We buy all of our produce at the markets or farm directly. We have been building relationships with farmers that we hope to hold and are happy paying the higher price for a better product that is their livelihood. Our chicken or beef is also from regional farms supporting our local economy. Our fish is purely from the Pacific; we believe that to serve sustainable food going beyond that ocean is out of the question. This ensures the fish is fresh and only flown once rather than flying 3-5 times before coming to Utah. We trust our purveyors at Fourstar to only deliver the best quality fish that is consistent, delicious, sustainably caught, or farmed.” In addition, they said “The distinction between regional vs ‘local’ is important. We do work with local Salt Lake farms but we expand that across the state and across the Western US/Baja which is why we use seafood from the Pacific. The goal is to minimize our footprint while sourcing and serving the best ingredients we can, as responsible as we can.”
Chef Finch’s French kitchen skills really came to the fore with his Summer Tart course. It is a homemade pâte brisée base topped with finely minced summer squash, Comté cheese, and pickled onions glazed in a roasted corn stock, with a corn and saffron sauce. The rich, luscious saffron flavor was a revelation – a tart like no other. Note the whimsical plate it’s served on; Lex Finch collects dinnerware from places like local D.I. stores and garage sales to help put a unique spin on each Arthur dish.
A small fillet of King salmon was so lightly kissed by heat that the near-sashimi fish had an almost pudding-like texture, served with grilled and pureed eggplant and bathed in a silky brown butter sauce that was poured onto the plate tableside by our superb server. “Melt-in-the-mouth” may be a cliche overused by food writers but it is totally apt to describe that sensational salmon.
At one point during our Arthur evening, I was discussing with Chef Finch how sometimes the simplest food preparation can magnify a cook’s ability or lack thereof. Specifically, I was thinking of roasted chicken. A roast chicken is one of my favorite things on the planet, and pretty easy to do, yet I’m continually amazed at how many restaurants screw it up. I almost always order roasted chicken when I spot it on a menu since if the kitchen can’t get that right, I’m not too interested in anything else they might have to offer. Well, Chef Finch’s roasted chicken was stupendous. It was easily the most tender and juicy chicken I have ever gotten my lips around – wok-roasted breast cut from the bone, served with a simple but superb chicken jus made with wine, shallots and mustard greens, and served with mustard greens from Frog Bench Farms and sorrel from Keep It Real Vegetables urban farm. This dish was the very definition of simple yet sensational.
Coming into the home stretch, we enjoyed a light cucumber granita with panna cotta and strewn with fresh marigolds. That was followed by a killer dessert: blackberry-almond-chocolate crumble made with Amano Dos Rios 70% cocoa dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic and sprinkled with more shaved chocolate. Hints of orange and cinnamon in the Amano chocolate blended beautifully with the blackberry and almond flavors of this remarkable final course.
If you dine out only once the rest of this summer, I strongly encourage you to do it at Arthur. You still have a couple of weekend opportunities left in August before Nohm is scheduled to close temporarily for a remodel and Arthur packs up for the fall. A reservation and payment in advance is required and you can book online through Tock.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
FOR MORE RESTAURANT REVIEWS GO HERE.
THIS CONTENT IS FROM UTAH BITES NEWSLETTER.
Subscribe to get the latest Utah Bites news and reviews
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.
SUPPORT OUR SPONSORS: click on their logos to visit their website