Dining Around the World in Salt Lake City

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datwlogo2The International Rescue Committee and the Utah Refugee Coalition’s upcoming Dining Around the World fundraiser is just around the corner. Dining Around the World is a collaboration between local restaurants, refugees in Salt Lake City, and local non-profit organizations. Chefs will create a special entrée inspired by produce from the New Roots agriculture program and the refugee community to feature in their restaurant the week of Saturday, August 24th to Saturday, August 31st. Proceeds from the dish will benefit the International Rescue Committee and the Utah Refugee Coalition.

I certainly encourage all Salt Lakers to participate in this event to try food from Sudan, Iraq, Burma, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This event only happens once a year at participating local restaurants. So, mark your calendar, head out to Cafe Trio, Caffe Niche, Squatters Pub & Brewery, The Tin Angel Cafe, Mazza’s on 9th and 9th, and the Avenues Bistro on Third, then purchase the special entree to support the diverse refugee community here.

Plum Alley

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Plum Alley

DSC_0048It was unanimous that we all enjoyed the décor of Plum Alley. The colorful lanterns made our visit. The restaurant was a nice combination of modern and charm, clean and professional, with a nice wooden floor. It had the feel of a Japanese ski lodge to it. It was inviting and hip, without any pressure to conform to their style. The prices were reasonable, the ambiance was trendy, and its location contributed to an urban and young setting.

I discovered, to my surprise, that Plum Alley has Asian fusion cuisine going on. Before entering the establishment, I thought it was a hip local Chinese stomping ground. Having said that, I would rather pick my ethnic culinary entree and head to a Chinese, Japanese, or Thai restaurant instead of coming back to the mediocre food here.

Are they truly using fresh, quality ingredients as I have heard rumored around town? I wouldn’t risk a high bet here. But, I guess it depends what you compare it to. One of my guests stated, “At no point was there a question of freshness. From any of the discernible tastes there was no hint that it wasn’t made with me in mind.” And my other guest stated,”I thought the food was very fresh. I had no complaints.” Still, the dishes tried to showcase the ingredients, but when it came down to it, the presentation of the dishes wasn’t anything special.

I ordered a Thai iced tea and it didn’t have any sweetness to it. This was disappointing, because when I saw it on the menu my mouth started to get ready for such a flavor, but it didn’t quench what I thirsted for. It tasted like buckwheat instead of amazing milky goodness. What a pity.

DSC_0049The green papaya salad, made with red onion, radish, jalapeno, cilantro, olive oil and a lime dressing had WAY too much citrus screaming and shouting at me. It stung my mouth so much that I wish they would have placed some balancing agent in the dressing to offset the final product. Perhaps some honey or avocados?

DSC_0058For five years I have been hoping that somewhere in Salt Lake City, someone would offer us patrons a fine and authentic bowl of ramen where the noodles are plentiful and filling and the protein is soft and flavorful. Where the ratio of broth and ingredients harmonize. Where the hard boiled egg is edible and where the scallions are thinly sliced, but scattered around the bowl with purpose. This, unfortunately wasn’t the place to offer such a delicate blend. Yes, the protein was tender and flavorful, but overall their ramen was just a watery mess. My search continues. Sigh.

DSC_0062I ventured into the duck confit house steamed buns that were served with orange slices. It was dry all the way around. I think it would have been better if the duck was cooked in its fat, perhaps served with something more. A sauce? Probably not. Caramelized onions? Perhaps. This dish has so much potential, too bad it was not seized. So disappointing.

DSC_0055One of my guests ordered the green curry and reported, “It was very well prepared. It came in a huge bowl with potatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce, peppers, and of course the rice/sauce. It tasted as good as it looked. It certainly didn’t lack flavor or spice. I had to have a glass of water nearby to cool off.”


DSC_0053My other guest ordered what he considered to be a very safe, dependable dish and described his culinary experience: “The Coconut Thai soup was presented in a very traditional yet appetizing way. Both from the color as well as the smell, you were certain it was a coconut based dish. It tasted better than good but not quite great. Which could mean that the ingredients did most of the heavy lifting, which was fine, but yet it was still missing a surprise, kick, or anything that would have made it more savory.”

The service was basic but satisfactory. We were attended to as often as one should expect. Our server made sure we always had plenty to drink. In fact, she stayed up on her game and was a pro at refilling one of my guest’s water glass frequently, which apparently is where most servers fail. She was helpful in describing the day’s specials, and was patient as we took our time ordering.

Rating – I would be willing to return if I saw a movie next door and couldn’t afford another nearby place.

Edited by SELF
Plum Alley on Urbanspoon

Caffe Niche

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http://www.caffeniche.com/

Blossom BeverageHave you ever checked out a website prior to going to that particular restaurant? Did you expect it to be an extension of the restaurant itself? Of course you must have. Well, this was the case when my guest and I checked out Caffe’s Niche website, but we felt like it just didn’t offer the same flow in person. Simply put, the restaurant had a different vibe. Though its architecture and website portrayal is industrial, the interior decorating seemed a bit too warm for the exposed brick, ceiling piping, and stainless steel foundation. I would say that it was more modern, but with a bit of a girly touch. As my guest pointed out, there seemed to be a decoration conflict. It would seem to flow better if the walls were of a steel grey or cool blue color. Their website, as cool as it is, isn’t an extension of the personality of the cafe, but still, there was beautiful natural lighting and the space was pretty clean.

Caffe Niche offers only the brunch menu on Sundays. What is the deal with brunch in SLC? Why do a majority of restaurants offer brunch? Brunch seems so outdated. Is it to justify that I can order an alcoholic beverage way before 5:00 hits? Yes? In that case, one special blossom drink, please.

Fish TacosMy guest ordered a lunch item: the blackened fish tacos which came along with corn tortillas, cabbage and a cream sauce. My guest describes her thoughts about her meal, “Had there not been a cream sauce, these tacos would not have even been mediocre. The fish was blackened and had a good flavor to it, but all around it was a generic fish taco. Everything that is expected on a fish taco was there, but nothing to set it apart from the hundreds of fish tacos I’ve had in the past. When I ordered the fish tacos, the waitress said ‘good choice’, I’m not quite sure what made these tacos better than tacos from another restaurant, but the fish was definitely fresh tasting.” Do you think she will order these again? Probably not.

Coconut PancakesI ordered the coconut pancakes, because it is apparently the bestselling brunch dish. As anybody knows, all the ingredients it takes to make this can hang out in a pantry and so… the quality of the ingredients were on par with what you can find in your own kitchen. I don’t think pancakes can be served with any flair. Still, it could have been nice to have freshly grated coconut on top of the cakes. But, I did appreciate that the syrup stayed in the middle of the plate. After my first bite I thought, “What a (literally) sweet dish.” Well, hello! Salt Lakers have quite the sweet tooth. It was beyond my sweet tolerance and I needed something to balance it out. One order of sausage please. Ok…I’ll settle for non-crispy bacon. Sigh. I don’t mind eating bacon, even though I don’t eat it often. But, a link or patty would have been far better in my opinion to soak up the syrup on the plate. Drats.

What could have been better about this Caribbean sounding paradise dish? Add more coconut. I didn’t taste any. Neither did my guest when I offered her a bite. Plus, offering a side of protein – even if it comes á la carte without my request – would have added that much more to my experience. Even though this is the popular item of their brunch, let’s be honest – any place could sport a stack of cakes. Regretfully, it wasn’t so great that I would head back to Niche for this brunch item. In addition, I wasn’t a fan of the special blossom drink, but glad I gave it a shot. The taste all around wasn’t so pleasing, and the aftertaste wasn’t a highlight either.

Above all, our server seemed knowledgeable enough, though her opinion on drinks was not to my liking. She was nice and helpful. She was there to take care of us and was respectful of our decisions. She was a solid server. Wish the brunch food would have reflected that same sentiment.

Rating – I would be willing to return to Caffe Niche for lunch which they have nailed in prior experiences.

Edited by SELF
Caffe Niche on Urbanspoon

Authentic Cuisine

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I had the privilege to taste authentic Burmese, Shan, and Thai food a couple of weeks ago in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son, and other towns along the Burma/Thailand border. I can wait to compare and contrast what I tasted there and what I will taste in Salt Lake City. Stay tuned…one of these days a future guest will want to check out another Thai restaurant with me…and I will certainly have something to say on the topic.

Yellow Bean

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Road-Side Pad Thai

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Soup without snake head or mole’s eggs

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Burmese Green Tea Salad

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Shan Quasi Potato Pancakes

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Road-Side Lettuce Wrap Appetizers

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Sticky Rice with Sauteed Shredded Coconut Grilled in a Banana Leaf

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Road-Side Roti Stand

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Roots Cafe

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Roots Cafe Website

Roots Cafe has a very warm and welcoming feeling. Upon approaching the restaurant, you will be greeted by the patio. During this season the patio is surrounded by beautiful flowers, plants, and shady trees. And we didn’t get much farther than this point – who would want to eat inside on such a beautiful day? Even though the patio was definitely louder than anticipated, without a doubt, I am sure this will still be a hot spot for the rest of the summer because of the ambiance which it offers. This would be a great place to have a meal with a family member or friend you haven’t seen in a while, have a casual business meeting, or swing by after you pedal around SLC.

Sitting on the patio, we noticed that the serving staff poured the remaining glasses of water on the outside plants. Being someone who likes to recycle and not produce much waste, I certainly took note and really respect and appreciate this simple step in water preservation. Go Roots Cafe for being mindful about our environment.

The CleanserOur server seemed overwhelmed by how busy it was, which was it really that busy?!?! Before I showed up, she asked my guest if she was ready to order or if she wanted to wait. Of course she informed the server that she would wait. HELLO! Then after my guest slipped away to use the restroom, our server approached our table again and asked, “What will you have?” I was not impressed. This was a table of two. I was stunned and politely requested that I would like to look at the menu and at least wait for my guest before ordering. Still, when we were approached again it was all business. Sigh. It would have been nice to have been offered an amazing drink from their juice bar or even hear about the daily sandwich. This, needless to say, set the tone for our service. I wasn’t interested in interacting with the server from that point on. Too bad. Lucky us – we never saw our server again because our food was brought out by another person.

The Peeto French Dip with Polenta Cake - sans bunMy guest’s take on her meal: “I ordered The Proto which is a vegetarian take on the French dip sandwich, except instead of bread I ordered it over polenta. And it came with a side salad. I had ordered this dish on a previous visit but this time I was craving polenta so I thought I’d give it a shot. The colors were beautiful – dark brown from the mushrooms, bright green from the salad, sunny yellow from the polenta. So excited to eat!

Until I actually tasted it. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to return to Roots after my last visit because they had put an avocado horseradish sauce on it that blended this perfect taste of creaminess and burning spice. But this time, they really skimped on the sauce. The mushrooms, polenta, and salad were good, but I was definitely disappointed because there was no expected horseradish burn.

It was sort of like going to a concert where you love the band, but leave disappointed because they didn’t play your favorite song.”

Dirt BurgerMy take on my meal: to drink I treated myself to the fresh pressed Cleanser: carrot, apple, beet, lemon, and ginger. Ahhh. Is it possible to get this to-go? I’m sorry to inform Blue Star that they have major competition when it comes to this little niche. For my actual meal, the kitchen presented The Dirt Burger (AKA veggie burger) open-faced so one could see every gmo-free ingredient stacked on top of the bun. Crisp Granny Smith apple slices and Brie were waiting to be smoothed by the other bun, which was weighed down with grated carrots and cucumbers. Underneath all of these nourishing ingredients laid a healthy amount of spicy Dijon mustard aioli spread that seemed as if it was garnished with wasabi. The apple slices were refreshing, as it gave the burger a crunchy texture. Without the apples this menu item would be rather mushy and unappealing. As a side I chose kale chips. These were perfectly airy, crisp and flavorful.

The flavors flowed. Yet, there was too much aioli for my liking. Gobs of flavored mayonnaise just doesn’t do it for me, but in the same breath it is nice to find a food establishment that isn’t afraid of a spicy flavor. Based on my guest and me, I would suggest that we all have our goldilocks particularities, but one suggestion has surfaced due to this: why not serve a ramekin of aioli/horseradish quasi-wasabi goodness along with all sandwiches instead of having the kitchen determining the specific amount?

I am sure another place could offer these or similar dishes, but Roots is offering what no other place is: healthy food which more or less tastes great. Having said that, there was definitely an apparent pride in freshness of the food and dietary needs of their customers. Menu items are gluten-free, vegetarian, grass-fed, cleansing, and organic. My guest and I appreciate this consideration as we actually care about what we eat and where our food comes from.

Still, as much as we enjoyed our meals, something else was still missing – a third flavor. I would have liked some kind of signature sample that could be offered with every dish. I am not sure what that could be, but perhaps something seasonal that can also be the Roots Cafe namesake. Something that I couldn’t simply order by itself, but that would come with every entree to give the plate the umph that it needs.

I would be willing to return when I feel a local, organic, environmentally-conscious, healthy vibe craving.

Edited by SELF
Roots Café on Urbanspoon

New Roots & Culinary Establishments Unite

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New RootsAs an essential part of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) broader resettlement efforts, the New Roots program gives refugees a way to celebrate their heritage, nourish themselves and their neighbors, and often earn extra income by putting down actual roots in their new communities.

A partnership between IRC, Salt Lake County, and the Utah Refugee Coalition, New Roots was developed to inspire and encourage the growth of small scale, urban farms and community gardens that increase food access for refugees in Salt Lake City.

This happens in a couple of ways.

New Roots 2Refugee growers involved in the New Roots Micro-Training Farm program have access to land, resources, training and technical assistance so they can grow and sell produce at the weekly Neighborhood Farm Stand and to local restaurants and grocery stores.

The Farm Stand improves food access and affordability through the Fresh Fund, which matches each dollar a customer spends in SNAP (food stamps) benefits at the Farm Stand up to $10 a week, allowing customers to purchase additional healthy, locally-grown produce. The Farm Stand is located at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center.

TomatoesIn 2012, many farmers expanded sales beyond the farm stand to include local grocery stores and restaurants such as Southeast Asian Market and The Community Food Co-op.

Farmers also worked closely with local chefs to supply high quality, seasonal vegetables such as amaranth, long beans, rare varieties of eggplant, and okra.

At Caffé Niche, the 2012 summer menus often included dishes featuring okra grown by a New Roots farmer from the Darfur region of Sudan. At the Tin Angel, a stew featuring vegetables grown by Burundian farmers and inspired by Central African culinary traditions, made its way onto tables.

The Rose Establishment and Sea Salt both purchased spicy Thai chili peppers and featured them in their summer and fall menus. Ethan Lappe, the chef and owner of Café Niche was impressed by amaranth greens – a fast growing and highly nutritious plant with African origins – grown by New Roots farmers that he chose to cook them while a guest on a local morning TV show.

All of this interest and support for New Roots culminated in 2012 with growers earning roughly $4,000 through retail sales to grocery stores and local restaurants, and making an additional $12,000 in farm stand sales. For 2013, the farmers have set the bar higher.

Goals for 2013:

- Increase community gardening opportunities for refugee families, focusing on providing gardens to new arrivals.

-Increase productivity and income for refugee Micro Training Farm growers by helping them improve their production skills and access more local markets. In 2013, growers have identified a goal of $10,000 through retail sales at restaurants, and of reaching out and developing relationships with new restaurants during the 2013 season. In 2013 the growers have set a sales goal of $20,000.

-Pilot five new specialty ethnic crops, including: sweet potato vines, winter squash vines, fava beans, Aubergine de Burkina Faso eggplant, and green Thai eggplant

- Increase food access for refugee and immigrant community members by increasing the customer base at the market and increasing sales. In 2012, the Farm Stand opened in mid-July and 40-50 refugee families shopped at the Farm Stand each week. In 2013 New Roots hopes to open the Farm Stand on June 8th, provide healthy food for at least 60 families per week, and provide $5,000 in Fresh Fund dollars for low-income customers.

-New Roots is reaching out to Salt Lake City community members by offering volunteer and internship opportunities for individuals, groups, ongoing volunteers, and volunteer work days and events. We will also be hosting awareness events in the spring and fall in order to encourage community members to visit our Redwood Road farm site, meet New Roots growers, and get involved in the program.

If you would like to learn more, please contact:
Grace Henley, IRC Refugee Agriculture Coordinator, at Grace.Henley@Rescue.org

Supreet Gill, Salt Lake County New Roots Project Coordinator, at Skgill@Slco.org

You can also stay informed by visiting them online or “liking” New Roots on Facebook.

The Paris Bistro

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The Paris Bistro

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White WineMy experience at The Paris Bistro all started when I made reservations online. Immediately I got an email confirming my reservation. Sweet, all was good to go. But shortly after the first confirmation I received a voicemail that confirmed my reservation. I soon became irritated, because I made the reservation online to avoid a such a phone call. Too bad the message required me to call back to confirm my party of three reservation. Really?! Why even have an online reservation feature if we have to play phone tag on what was an already confirmed reservation? Time to take a couple of breaths. Don’t worry, I got back to neutral and shook my annoyance goodbye.

But the bumps in the road crept up again: I recall an awkwardness as the three of us entered the bar entrance and hovered over diners searching for the hostess stand. I wish we knew to have entered through the door that is just north of the entrance we went through. Bummer. As we waited to “check in,” I was looking forward to sitting down and catching up with my friends. Too bad our evening turned out to be a less than ideal.

Bread and ButterYes, the local bistro was clutter free, decorated simply, yet elegantly, with a strategically placed mirror angled just so in the back of the dining room to watch over all the patrons. We were seated next to “restaurant main entrance” and right in between two tables. I felt peeved again – this is what a reservation got us even though there were plenty of other tables for three available? I regret not inquiring for another table. In addition it was quite noisy, and therefore we did not feel particularly comfortable, because we had to strain to hear what each other were saying. I am sure that half the restaurant could have seen my cleavage as I leaned over the table for the couple of hours we were there. Oh the memories were stacking up.

It took us awhile to get through the menus, which certainly is in competition with the infamous size of the Cheesecake Factory’s. Nevertheless our server was nice and friendly and attempted to be attentive, but wasn’t a fine dining pro. Several times, she could not answer any of our questions and failed to come back with an answer to one of them all together. She failed to chill our bottle of white wine, while scattered around the restaurant we could clearly see that other diners’ received coolers for their wine. Unfortunately we had a conundrum over the logistics of the billing, too. I could think of other less-than-professional examples, but I think I made my point – my expectation of great service ended up being mediocre. Isn’t this one of the finest restaurants in Salt Lake City or am I mistaken? Is it wrong to expect more?

Paris Bistro VichyssoiseFinally after navigating through the menu, that seemed more Italian than French, we all decided to try the vichyssoise soup. I was utterly disappointed. It seemed to be missing the main ingredients: potato and leek because the velvety texture was completely missing. Instead we were served an intense green soup that had more nettles and crunchy peas than I would ever want to remember. I was worried about what the rest of our dining experience would bring if this is what we were starting with.

GnocchiOne of my guest decided upon the Gnocchi a la Parisienne, which was a serving of pan-seared potato dumplings with mostly spinach and wild mushrooms stacked on top of the main ingredient. He describes it as, “attractively presented, well prepared, it smelled and tasted good, but was a bit rich for my taste.” Upon asking if he would order it again he retorted “Maybe, a bit rich, but while the menu was huge, this was one of only a couple items that appealed to me.”

ChickenMy other guest ordered the “Poulet Rôti à L’estragon”. The menu describes this dish as an “all-Natural Wood-Oven Roasted Mary’s Chicken Breast, Mustard & Tarragon Jus, Wild Mushrooms, Fava & Pea, Roasted Root Vegetables.” Sure, it looked nice. It smelled fine. It looked incredibly delicious. My guest mentioned that the ingredients tasted fresh, but didn’t have a farmer’s market freshness. She doesn’t recall consuming any fava or peas so it might be worthwhile to have the kitchen put in a little extra amour into this dish, but the rest was reported to be perfect: “It was perfectly cooked and just the right amount. I was delighted with my plate.”

Butternut Squash RavioliAs for me, I am a sucker for butternut squash stuffed ravioli with a sage and butter sauce with hazelnuts. I know, this dish doesn’t sound very French either, but this is their best selling dish apparently…so I had to go for it! The beurre blanc was a great balance between too delicate and too thick. The filling was the perfect temperature. Yes, this dish was worth the wait, but the portion size left me grateful that I had some bread to munch on before it arrived. However I felt beyond rude eating so much bread in front of my friend who couldn’t eat the offering due to a diet restriction, especially since the Bistro didn’t have an alternative bread option. Tsk tsk.

Creme BruleeFinally since two out of three of us were all still a bit hungry and looking for any remaining morsel on our empty plates, we decided to share the lemongrass creme brûlée. That is French with a Thai twist. Fortunately the dessert had a terrific crunchy top, but where was the lemongrass? If you can’t taste it why, advertise it as such? Too bad we felt like we just came full circle again with a less than ideal dining experience. I was really looking for the cat’s meow tonight, too. Sigh.

To sum it up, The Paris Bistro definitely does not get the top snobby rating. And all together we can’t say if we would return either, not unless we knew someone who was dying to go there and insisting on paying! Overall the food was good and interesting, but the menu can be tightened up, and the service and attitude can improve. It was our gamble to have chosen The Paris Bistro as the place to catch up. It provided an atmosphere that was nice and mostly comfortable, but too loud. Having said that, it obviously wasn’t a nightmare. Just looks like I need to realign my expectations if I ever go back.

Rating — I would be willing to return when I’m not the one picking the joint.
Edited by SELF
The Paris on Urbanspoon

Kathmandu 2

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http://www.thekathmandu.net/

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Kathmandu Dinner SpreadWouldn’t ya know that you don’t have to travel half way around the world to go to Kathmandu? You can get a taste of it here in Salt Lake. Nervous about eating at a restaurant in a strip mall? You shouldn’t be, because Sprouts Market and McDonalds is Kathmandu’s neighbor. I assure you that such hesitation will quickly melt away as you walk into the warmly decorated Nepali and Indian-themed restaurant. The aroma, music, ethnic images on flat-screens, and service may hypnotize you into an eastern-themed trance that will allow you a culinary experience worth going out of your way for. The space is perfect for a business lunch, a date night, or to try something new. The seating is equally spaced around the restaurant, it’s fairly quiet, and the servers are literally at your service.

Vegetable SamosasMy guest and I started our evening off with an order of vegetable samosas stuffed with spuds and green beans. Of course by themselves they were bland, but these deep fried little numbers came to life once we poured the appropriate sauces over them. They weren’t the world’s best samosas because the pastry wasn’t as delicate as I like; however, I would certainly order these again, especially since they were served hot and made in-house.

Aloo Tikka MasalaMy guest ordered one of her Indian go-to dishes, aloo tikka masala with a side of raita (traditional yogurt cucumber sauce). She says, “This is a vegetarian dish made with chunks of potato cooked with onion, tomato, nuts, cream, and spices. The color was a rich reddish/orange and the smell was something that I can’t describe but it seduced me to eat nearly EVERY BITE. The flavor was some of the best tikka masala I have had in Utah, leaving me very satisfied.”

Possibly Methi Flavored CurryAnd to tell you honestly, I don’t know what I ordered. I asked our shy, yet attentive, server to make the decision for me. Yes, he was a bit nervous, because it appeared that he has never been up against such a task! And wouldn’t you know it – I ended up ordering the most succulent chicken served with the richest tomato based sauce I have tasted yet. The naan and rice served with our dishes were perfectly warm and fluffy – on both counts! This Kathmandu specialty was out of this world. I would absolutely order this again. How would I do that? Who would like to find out what I ordered and report back here!?

By the time dessert was offered, my guest and I were already taking home doggy bags and were way too full to consider their amazing sounding kheer, jamun, or kulfi. Certainly there will be another time to test those offerings out.

Rating – I would be willing to return again, again, and again to order the mystery dish and learn a bit more about the owners.

Edited by SELF
The Kathmandu II on Urbanspoon

Bruges Waffles & Frites

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http://www.brugeswaffles.com/

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Did ya know that Bruges Waffles & Frites opened a second location a few months back, in Sugarhouse – ain’t that sweet? If you didn’t know, now you do. So, once you decide to set out to this hot spot, know that the parking between the liquor store, gym, and Bruges is a bit hairy. In fact there was some shared concern about how much of a hassle it was to simply get a parking spot. Eeek. But, heck, in the end it was worth the risk to park in a spot not meant for Bruges customers. All worry melted away when we walked into the quaint little place.

The restaurant is a little hole in the wall: a small, local little bistro that offers savory and sweet items. Are you following? The space had some capricious things on display that gave it a little character, like the manneken pis fountain hanging out in a corner.

If you have never experienced Bruges, you might be a bit confused by the concept of this stomping ground. Some of the items may seem bizarre, like their torpedo waffle – a waffle stuffed with two entire chocolate bars – or sandwich stuffed with French fries. In retrospect I should have ordered one of each – dang it. Regardless, you might think that this would be a good place for a snack…until you start digging in.

As I was looking over the space some more, I noted that there is more seating here than their downtown location. Whew, we didn’t have to compete to get a table with anybody. In sum, it was a cool spot and although the food was “fast,” Bruges didn’t have any fast-food feel. And OMG, they have bathrooms here, too, which are not available at the downtown location or The Canyons location.

You order at the counter at this joint. The young lady taking our order was helpful and nice: after studying the menus on the walls for a few moments, we were offered a paper menu to survey what they offered. She helped us decide on a freak’n dog, liege waffle with toppings, and a machine gun sandwich.

imageThe guest who ordered the freak’n dog declared, “It was a tasty sausage in an over-sized baguette with chopped onions and curry sauce, served with a side of fries [with his choice of samurai in-house made mayonnaise].” Alas, the verdict was somewhat of a disappointment, because the bread to dog ratio was too high. Sure, the frites were perfectly crispy, but overall there was just too much bread. My guest was left jonesing for more chopped onions and/or other accoutrements to satisfy his expectations. Therefore instead of ordering this at his next Bruges rendezvous, he would most likely order the freakendel, which should leave him satisfied, as it is a Belgium sausage equipped with the same topping, but sans baguette.

imageAnother guest had a bit of the sweet tooth and decided to order a liege waffle, which had a thin caramelized glaze on it, topped with strawberries and crème fraîche. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Don’t let the vocab scare you – it’s more or less a tasty waffle with strawberries and whipped cream. It certainly satisfied her sweet tooth. Yup, it was a delicious little hearty goody that was more like a dense pound cake due to the special ingredients in the dough. What a perfect combination of tastes and textures: fresh strawberries, nice and fluffy crème fraîche. Yes, my guest would absolutely order this again. In fact, as I’m writing this, I am thinking about heading down the road and grabbing myself one!

imageAnd finally, I was the one who ordered the machine gun sandwich, a famous menu item, which has spicy lamb sausage (merguez) cradled by a wedge of a baguette, salty, yet tasty, frites covered with in-house andalouse mayonnaise. It took me awhile to find the merguez, but once I did, the spiciness and flavors presented themselves with a bang. But, just like my guest who had the freak’n dog I, too, was a bit frustrated with the baguette. Simply put it was a bit difficult to eat, and I ended up tossing the baguette because I was not going to wrestle with it and in the end embarrass myself by ripping off a piece with my teeth, inevitably creating a scene around the table. Fortunately there were more than enough frites and I left full.

All in all, Bruges offers a unique menu to those who visit either location in Salt Lake City by none other than a Belgium man himself. Still, I haven’t tried everything on their limited menu, and I do believe that the Sugarhouse location has other goods that are not available downtown, like the ricky burger, the dogs/sausages and some other ice cream dessert. Even though there was a waffle craze that passed through our town a couple of years ago, I do feel like Bruges is here to stay and I welcome it with open arms. I hope you will, too.

Rating — I would be willing to return when I get a salty or sweet tooth craving.

Edited by SELF
Bruges Waffles and Frites on Urbanspoon

The Dodo Restaurant

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www.thedodo.net

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There I was in Sugarhouse advancing upon a well known modern landmark, the Dodo Restaurant. I was dreaming how my experience would play out, because their reputation seems to be secure around the dessert arena, but what about their dinner menu? As I walked into a crowded lobby, I noticed there were groups of families, dates, friends … and without a doubt it seemed clear that everyone belonged there. Yup, this is a place where my guest could see her husband and herself going out for a date night, or choosing as a girl’s night out destination. The dark wooden floors added a depth to the modern space and without diminishing the openness of the restaurant. Somehow the fluorescent hot pink lighting went well with the quirky dodo paintings and deep maroon walls. Staff members were all engaged at their tables – nobody was loitering around and soon enough we would acknowledge that even though the tables were close to each other, we didn’t feel like everyone around could listen in on our conversation. My guest and I felt comfortable.

Artichoke Pie with Baguette Slices.jpgIn short, the chef had it going on the night we visited. Please allow me to explain, most of the time when I hear the word “special” I chalk it up to…we gotta get rid of these ingredients before they turn. Well, well, well… the Dodo proved that thought wrong. The chef satisfied my demanding palate. The presentation of the dishes was colorful, had clean edges, and featured fresh ingredients. The flavors of every dish boosted with pizzazz. The only knit-picky thing I walked away with is: I could have skipped the Denny style slice of cantaloupe on our appetizer’s plate.

Speaking of our appetizer, we first ordered the artichoke pie, and, as per a thoughtful suggestion from our server, we substituted the crackers for baguette slices. I can’t imagine this plate any other way. Indeed the bread offered a good balance for the rich combination of …let’s face it – basically cheddar cheese and artichoke hearts.

20130325-204127.jpgWe both got a side caesar salad and  this sucker wasn’t a side: I could have been full with this and a cup of soup. It was beautifully dressed and the lettuce was prepared in manageable bite-sized pieces. If I were on a date, I wouldn’t worry about eating this salad. High five to the Dodo for knowing how to execute this basic.

20130325-204112.jpgMy guest ordered one of the specials, which was a filet of beef topped with caramelized onion, blue cheese and crispy bacon. It looked out of this world. It came with a side of vegetables and mashed potatoes. My guest reports that, “The food was delicious!!!” Or did she mean the filet? Because she did feel that there were too many vegetables and potatoes, most likely used as plate filler. Even though I am a fan of veggies, I would agree – the Dodo could get away with smaller sized plates and/or small portions. Regardless, she mentioned that the sides were nothing to write home about. The potatoes could have used some seasoning or gravy of some sort. But the star of her dish – the filet mignon – was DIVINE!!! She later told me that, “the meat melted in my mouth. I’m not a big fan of blue cheese so I was somewhat apprehensive, but the flavors together were amazing!!!” No doubt she would absolutely order this again. Um, dear Dodo, can we find out when you are going to offer this as a special again? Or can you let us know if you are going to make this a regular item on the menu?

20130325-204104.jpgI was caught between the herb chicken and another special. So, I looked to our server for some guidance and she rallied. I was impressed how she owned her opinions about the menu instead of going for the defaulter, “It’s all good.” She dug into what I was after and voila – I ordered another special: cilantro marinated, bone-in chicken that was presented with a healthy dollop of guacamole and placed over the best tasting chipotle cream sauce. This was all served with a massive helping of jasmine rice and black beans. Again, were the sides a plate filler? My guest and I clearly would have been happy to have less of those items and still pay the same price. When will restaurants learn? Yet, I’m happy to report that the chicken was nice, tender, and juicy. Luckily they didn’t 86 the special before I decided on it and…whew…I got the last one. Again, this dish ought to be on the main menu and not just a special. Dodo, do I have to beg?

20130325-204140.jpgAnd then there was dessert. My meal defeated me, but the Dodo is known for their pies. How could I not have their signature tollhouse pie? Oh right, my stomach was too full, and even though I was considering pretending like it was Thanksgiving and unbuttoning my jeans, I decided to get a slice to go and wear a skirt next visit. My guest also ended up taking home a slice. I have yet to sink my fork into it, but I am looking forward to the opportunity.

The question now becomes, “Can any restaurant make these dishes or is this place one of a kind?” I’m sure another restaurant can give us what we wanted, but no restaurant would give up two meals worth of food for the price of one. Hello leftovers!

Finally, when it came to service, our server was clearly knowledgeable in the specials and all items on the menu that we inquired about. Because of that, I was able to trust her completely, and that isn’t something that happens easily. Again, the server rocked it and made our dining experience what it was – terrific. But, could something have been better for the overall dining experience? Wouldn’t ya know I’ve come up with something. Wanna hear it? It’s a small detail, but it would have been a nice gesture if the hostess were to offer something to drink while we waited for a table for 20 minutes. I mean, the bar was right there in plain view waiting to provide such service.

Rating – Damn, somebody needs to contact the Michelin Man, if they bring the specials onto the regular menu.

Edited by SELF
Dodo on Urbanspoon

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