Brunch at Zest Kitchen & Bar

 

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Jalapeno Margarita and Brussels Sprouts

My love for Zest Kitchen & Bar is well known. Chef and owner Casey Staker makes some of my favorite food in Salt Lake City. One of my first reviews for SLUG Magazine was a love letter to the plant-based restaurant with killer cocktails and exquisite food. When my friend Chelsea from Heartbeat Nosh invited me to Sunday brunch at Zest along with other foodie-minded ladies, I was in. When she reminded me that we could order cocktails at 10:00 am since Zest was technically a bar, I was definitely in.

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Hot Stuffed Mushrooms & Brussels Sprouts

Our Sunday brunch started with cocktails and small plates. The Brussels Sprouts ($7) have a fantastic crunch combined with a creamy sweet and spicy masala almond sauce. Hot Stuffed Mushrooms ($8) stuffed with a decadent cashew cheese are scrumptious, and perfect to nibble on while you peruse the brunch and cocktail menu. Be sure to ask about the specials, Casey always has something interesting going on, like this cocktail.

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Matcha & Bourbon

 

When there’s a special,  I can’t resist. My first brunch cocktail was a combination of matcha tea and bourbon topped with a dusting of cinnamon. The sweetness of the matcha was subtle and the bourbon was warming, a nice touch in the morning!  Another drink not on the menu is the Spring Fling.

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Spring Fling

The Spring Fling is a refreshing combination of Beehive Gin, green chartreuse and house-made green juice. Perfect for day-drinking.

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Savory Chickpea Pancake

There was one item on the brunch menu I knew I had to try. The Savory Chickpea Pancake ($10) was delectable topped with avocado slices, fresh pico de gallo and house-made cashew sour cream. The southwestern flavors made me crave a margarita.

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Jalapeno Margarita with berries

The Jalapeno Margarita is spicy and tart – ideal to pair with food. I opted for the Jalapeno Margarita with Berries, a sweeter (and pink!) version, which I adored. I’ve been craving it ever since.

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Southwest Skillet

Another brunch option we enjoyed was the Southwest Skilled ($10). The base is fluffy quinoa and black beans topped with tortilla chips, cheddar cheese (or Daiya for a vegan option), avocado slices, pico de gallo and cashew sour cream. It was extremely satisfying to dig into the layer of crispy tortilla chips. The combination of texture was appealing, and the amount of food for only $10 was impressive. For a dollar more, you can add an egg – I think that would be divine. Paired with a Jalapeno Margarita, this is brunch elevated!

The brunch menu is filled with both sweet/savory and vegan/vegetarian offerings. Not to mention $5 mimosas made with fresh juice in intriguing flavors like orange-basil. (I can’t wait to try these!) There’s something for everyone. And now with the addition of offering brunch on Sunday mornings, AND the fact that you can imbibe at 10:00 am, Zest Kitchen & Bar is a brunch-must in Salt Lake City.

 

Alamexo Mexican Kitchen

It’s a challenge to stand out in a city full of Mexican restaurants, but Alamexo Mexican Kitchen shines. Located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City at 268 S. State Street, this upscale restaurant offers regional Mexican specialties with approachable, but refined flavors.

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Chef Matthew Lake

Chef and owner Matthew Lake is passionate about Mexican food. “This is the only cuisine I can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.” confides Lake. “I just really love the food and the people. If the dish is not Mexican, it’s not on my menu.”

His food philosophy is intriguing. Everything is made from scratch, using local and organic ingredients – a notion that jives with traditional Mexican values. Using classic techniques and ingredients is important to Lake. “I’m immensely proud to embrace time-honored techniques. Everything is done the right way. That’s what I’m most proud of.” he says.

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Alamexo has a comfortable and cool interior. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the restaurant was a black and white Day of the Dead mural. I was instantly charmed since I love skulls and Day of the Dead. Mexican folk art and photos of street markets in Mexico decorate the restaurant and hint at the traditional food on the menu. The sleek and modern decor is welcoming – just the sort of restaurant I enjoy spending time in, lingering over a three margarita lunch or a romantic date night.

I was invited to a media dinner last month at Alamexo. It was my first visit, but I can’t wait to go back. I’ve been thinking (more like swooning) about this meal. Usually at these media dinners, chefs will try to seduce members of the media with exorbitant and unusual dishes. So confidant in his cuisine, Chef Matthew Lake took the exact opposite approach by offering dishes that were currently on the menu, and served daily. Here are the highlights.

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A welcoming site!

We were greeted with a gorgeous pink Alamexo Margarita. Made with Espolón reposado, Cointreau and fresh citrus, it was as tasty as it was pretty –  a wonderful way to start a meal!  Appetizers awaited us, served family style. Ceviche with plantain chips was refreshing and tasty.  Guacamole was served in a large black stone molcajete  with chips and salsa. My mouth watered in anticipation. I dug in right away, placing a huge dollop of the green goodness on my plate.

Our dinner started with a show. Chef Matthew Lake prepared Guacamole en Molcajete tableside for the group, explaining the process as well as educating us about the ingredients. I appreciated the guacamole in front of me, understanding more about the dish. When you visit Alamexo, you can experience this guacamole show yourself (and you should because not only is it delicious, it’s really fun to watch!)

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Escalope y Camarones Ajillo

The second course started with decadent Escaplope y Camarones Ajillo. Sumptuous creamy rice was topped with tender scallops and shrimp. Wild mushrooms and roasted vegetables added texture and flavor. The word “heavenly” comes to mind.

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Enchiladas Rojas con Queso y Aquacate

Enchiladas Rojas Con Queso y Aguacate won my heart with deep, rich flavors contrasted with mellow avocado cream and queso. I’m fond of enchiladas and order them quite often, but I’ve never tasted anything like these. I complimented Chef Matthew Lake on his vegetarian options and he told me that eats vegetarian frequently, believing meat-free cuisine should be as flavorful and rich as the other items on the menu.

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Tacos Conchinita Pibil

My husband would have loved the Tacos Conchinita Pibil, anchiote and bitter orange marinated pork shoulder served with habanero pickled escabeche and wonderful sweet plantains. I’d be a terrible wife if I didn’t bring him back for this entree. It’s his standard order at Red Iguana, but this version had interesting flavors and accouterments paired with the succulent pulled pork.

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Tres Leches Cake

For dessert fluffy Tres Leches Cake with delicate churros and Fried Sweet Plantains were served. Each bite was delectable. I’m generally not a dessert person, but I’m definitely an Alamexo Dessert Person.

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Vida Anejo Neat & desserts

Vida Anejo (a local tequila) was served neat, with a chaser. The chaser had a warming spiciness and a subtle fruity flavor that was unusual and utterly delicious – a distinct way to end our meal.

 

 

 

 

 

Sparkling Wine Festival in Salt Lake City

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One of our favorite things about the holiday season is celebrating with a glass of bubbly.  Sparkling wine is the most celebratory of all drinks!

The inagural Sparkling Wine Festival hosted by the LaSalle and Trio Restaurant Groups is the ideal way to celebrate the holidays and usher in the new year. Beverage Director Jim Santangelo has selected some of the finest sparkling wines from around the world that will be paired with each chef’s special winter delicacies. These will be available from Dec. 3 through the end of January 2016 and prices will vary by restaurant.

If you’re looking to be educated in all things bubbly and delicious, Santangelo and Under Current Bar’s general manager Amy Eldredge will also offer the next in their seasonal line of educational events, a “Winter Sparkling Wine” forum on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. at Under Current Bar. The evening will include a lively discussion on bubbles and small bite pairings from Executive Chef Logen Crew. The cost to attend is just $55 for the event (or $30 without sparkling wine pairings). It’s a great value!  RSVPs are required and can be made by emailing events@currentfishandoyster.com

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Jimmy Santangelo, photo credit: Adam Finkle

“A bottle of bubbles will make any occasion a celebration!” says Santangelo. “Sparkling wine is always a home run with food pairing. In fact, I’ve paired sparkling wines with each course throughout the meal. It’s very versatile….and tasty!!”

Participating restaurants include: Current Fish & Oyster, Under Current Bar, Fresco Italian Café, Café Trio (Downtown and Cottonwood), Oasis Café and Caffé Niche.

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Selected Sparking wines will include:

Oasis Café: Zonin Prosecco – a lively Italian Sparkling wine bursting with white peach and pear flavors.

Caffe Niche: Sumarroca Brut ‘Reserva’ Cava, Spain 2011- This vintage Cava tastes more like premium Champagne but without the price tag.

Fresco: Adami ‘Garbel 13’ Prosecco, Italy – bursts on the palate with honeydew melon with a green apple like finish.

Café Trio(s): Michelle Brut Rosé, Columbia Valley, WA – dry blush colored sparkling wine bursting with raspberry and strawberry.

Under Current Bar: Sofia ‘blanc de blancs’ Sparkling Wine, CA – Sparkling wine in a can, with your own straw! Enjoy the holidays all on your own with this delicious juicy fresh pears, melon, and honeysuckle.

 Current Fish & Oyster: Willm Cremant d’Alsace blanc de blancs Brut, France – This sparkling wine from Alsace is made in the same methodé traditionnelle used in Champagne to produce sparkling wine. Think fresh apples, peaches and apricots in a glass.

 

 

Dinner at Martine

The first thing you notice about Martine is the 19th century sandstone architecture, an inviting contrast to Salt Lake’s newest downtown renovations. Walking up the foot worn stairs of the historic building, you can sense this restaurant is special.

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Vaulted ceilings, huge windows and dark wood create a sophisticated ambiance. Fresh flowers and candlelight decorate each table. Martine is a restaurant that’s ideal for a special night out. The low lights and cozy atmosphere are a perfect setting to a wonderful meal with a special someone.

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Open since 1999, Martine is a local favorite. Chef and owner Tom Grant focuses on seasonal, local ingredients. His dishes are classic and sophisticated.

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We were graciously invited to try the new winter menu and we’d been looking forward to it for weeks! We hadn’t visited Martine in years, and frankly, the restaurant had dropped off our radar with the influx of new dining options in downtown Salt Lake City. We’re pleased to re-discover Martine.

The service was superb. Our server, Miko, knew the menu inside and out and was happy to share recommendations. I was especially impressed with her throughout knowledge of the long wine list (100+ bottles!).

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Our meal started with cocktails. The Nectar was a pleasant combination of Salt City Vodka ($10), Slide Ridge honey vinegar, vibrant orange blossom, a hint of mint, finished with a splash of soda.

Martine has always been popular for their tapas menu, and we eagerly indulged in a few different dishes. Grilled Oysters ($9) were served with a spicy chili mignonette – very tasty. The Wagu Beef Tartare ($13) was delectable with buttery, melt in your mouth beef served with crusty bread, chili oil and fresh greens.

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We both loved the Chanterelle Mushrooms ($12), a combination of savory mushrooms served with caramelized apples and melty taleggio cheese.

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We both ordered a bowl of the silky smooth Butternut Squash Soup ($8) for our next course. Topped with a drizzle of mascapone, the soup was rich and comforting with a hint of sweet spiciness, perfect for a chilly night.

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One of the nightly specials was Farro with Roasted Vegetables ($16).  It was a filling, gratifying dish with flavorful roasted beets, greens, mushrooms and okra. The farro was cooked perfectly, firm and a bit chewy (and awesome for lunch the next day). I was so impressed by Martine’s vegetarian dishes! This is one of the few American restaurants where you can order a substantial, filling vegetarian meal.

Dave ordered the Pan Roasted Pheasant Breast ($26) served with butter beans and andouille. It was rich and hearty – the sort of meal thats fit for a king. The low lights made it impossible to get a good picture, but trust us, it was impressive. Miko, our server, suggested the perfect glass to accompany the dish, a full-bodied pinot noir.

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For dessert, we opted to share the gingerbread cake topped with vanilla gelato ($7). Each bite of the frozen gelato melted over the warm gingerbread cake was heavenly. Accompanied by frothy cappuccinos, it was a perfect end to an unforgettable meal. If you haven’t been to Martine lately it’s time to visit.

Brunch at Porch

Chicken Biscuits

Chicken Biscuits

Located in a prefab shopping/living development (think Disney meets Santa Monica on a small scale) 30 minutes south of Salt Lake, you’ll find a modern and cozy restaurant serving up comfort food with craft cocktails. Porch serves simple, crave-able food with a focus on Southern dishes.

The thought of driving to Daybreak for brunch was kind of crazy. It’s about a half hour away, and there are plenty of good brunch spots closer to home. But, it was a gorgeous sunny fall day, perfect for a long drive; and we’d heard interesting things about Porch. Good enough to convince us to leave Salt Lake, and we’re so happy we did.

A Bloody Mary & Sunrise Julep

A Bloody Mary & Sunrise Julep

The restaurant is open and airy. Large windows allow you to enjoy the unobstructed view of the Wasatch mountains. An open kitchen, located in the middle of the restaurant is also interesting to observe. Watching your food being made is awesome.

Drinks were ordered. I opted for the Bloody Mary ($5), a tasty and savory way to start a meal. Dave opted for the more sophisticated Sunrise Julep ($6) – a combination of Jim Bean, mint, lemon, honey and soda. Both were ideal for brunch and very reasonably priced.

Bruleed Grapefruit

Bruleed Grapefruit

Dave ordered the Chicken Biscuits ($10),  Fried chicken and biscuits were covered in a blanket of peppercorn gravy and topped with a runny egg and diced green onions. The best part of the dish were the housemade biscuits. The biscuits were fluffy, crispy and crumbly, perfectly standing up to the rich gravy and fried chicken. The Bruleed Half Grapefruit ($3) was an ideal accompaniment to the dish – tart and sweet speckled with Maldon salt.

House-Cured Utah Trout

House-Cured Utah Trout

I opted for the House-Cured Utah Trout ($10.00). My plate was decorated with pieces of trout and dollops of buttermilk dressing, with scatterings of hard boiled eggs, bacon, red onion and crispy trout skin chips. Assembling each bite from a pallet of flavors and color was a pleasure. This dish was more substantial than you would think, but I couldn’t resist the Brunch Fixins.

A Biscuit and Spiked Watermelon

A Biscuit and Spiked Watermelon

To accompany my trout, I ordered the House Biscuit with butter and jam ($1). Porch’s biscuits are delicious – crumbly, yet fluffy and tender on the inside, served with a housemade jam and apple butter. The Spiked Watermelon ($3) consisted of delectable slices of ripe watermelon drizzled with a cider bourbon vinaigrette. The Brunch Fixin menu is delightful. There’s a perfect match for anything you order.

It’s a blessing to have a nice restaurant serving killer cocktails and comfort food classics in the South end of the valley. Porch’s brunch options proved unique and delicious. Any qualms we had about leaving Salt Lake City proper for brunch were quashed the minute our food hit the table. I think we’ll be back to further explore the menu.

Fall into Current Fish & Oyster

photo 4When Dave and I were first dating in the mid 90’s we spent a lot of time exploring downtown Salt Lake City. Our favorite destinations were coffee shops, book stores and antique shops. We spent a lot of time wandering through the antique store at the corner of 3rd South and 279 East. Who knew that 20 years later our favorite restaurant would inhabit that space?

After a million dollar renovation, Current Fish & Oyster opened last spring. Expectations were high with both the LaSalle  and Mikel Trapp’s Trio Restaurant Group developing this new restaurant. With Chef Logan Crew behind the menu, the contemporary seafood restaurant quickly became a Salt Lake City favorite. “We extracted what we feel are the golden nuggets from each region in creating this menu,” said Chef Crew. “We are not trying to recreate the wheel here. We just want to offer our favorite classic American seafood preparations and add our contemporary spin on some new tastes with innovative dishes. Oysters are huge for us. We like to highlight regions and educate people about different profiles and pairings and watch with delight as our guests discover some new favorites.”

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The Grilled West Coast Oysters with a Grapefruit Spice oyster back

In the months since Current opened, they’ve expanded their hours, serving lunch and brunch on the weekends. Under Current, their crafty bar, opened next door. Their latest addition is an updated menu for fall and winter. “We now have a good feel for our diners’ preferences,” said Crew. “This is a great opportunity to really tailor our new fall and winter menu offerings to seasonal specialties and to what’s resonating with Salt Lake City’s tastes.”

Both Dave and I fell in love with Current Fish & Oyster while I was researching my review for SLUG Magazine. We enjoyed dinner and brunch, sampling a variety of dishes from each menu. We were recently invited to sample the new dinner menu and were beyond impressed.

photo 1(2)Of course we started our meal with drinks. Amy Eldredge has crafted an innovative and delightful cocktail menu. I opted for the Vesper, a sophisticated combination of vodka, gin and Lillet Blanc, a fancy French aperitif.

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Octopus a la Plancha

Whenever we dine at Current, it’s a fun opportunity to try something new.  Since we’d never eaten octopus, we opted for the Octopus a la Plancha ($16). Each bite was tender and juicy with a pleasantly mellow flavor. A creamy bean puree with bright, briny olives accentuated the tender octopus while a champagne sauce added a whisper of sweet and sour.

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Grilled Hawaiian Prawns

The Grilled Hawaiian Prawns ($25) served with hominy, Utah corn and a thick tomatillo sauce were earthy and satisfying. It was a good dish to share; we each had two shrimp and plenty of other good stuff.

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Oysters Casino

Since it’s ridiculous to NOT order oysters at Current, we opted for a new oyster dish. The Oysters Casino ($10) were delectable. Raw oyster goodness topped with pork-fried breadcrumbs topped with a dollop of  what tasted like good bbq sauce. Next time we’re ordering two plates.

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The special that night was unforgettable. Marlin was flown in that day and elegantly prepared with olive oil and thinly sliced shallots. The fish was barely grilled, letting the true flavor shine.

We’ve never enjoyed such a perfectly paced dinner! Splitting every dish, and only ordering one cocktail left us with room for cappuccinos and dessert.

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Two lovely cappuccinos

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Yuzu Posset

Desserts are popular at Current Fish & Oyster. Pastry chef Alexa Norlin makes crave-able and imaginative desserts. Her Yuzu Posset ($7) is the most popular dessert in town! It’s a tart, creamy custard dotted with rosemary jelly and dusted with a feather-light powdered olive oil. If you don’t like rich overtly sweet treats, this is the dessert for you!

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Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

Our other dessert was a new item. The Vanilla Bean Cheesecake ($7) was scrumptious. Served with chopped green apples, graham crumbs and caramel white chocolate gelato drizzled with warm caramel, this cheesecake was the ultimate fall dessert. Each carefully constructed bite was a caramel apple masterpiece with different flavors and textures.

Current Fish & Oyster is a comfortable, sophisticated restaurant with impressive food and drink. The service is spot-on – friendly and knowledgeable without hovering. The restaurant itself is gorgeous – both contemporary and rustic with high wooden ceilings and preserved brick walls.

Current is the perfect balance of comfy and fancy for us. The well executed menu, with interesting cocktail and dessert options is exactly what we crave.

Slow Food Utah’s 11th Annual Feast of Five Senses

Beautiful tablesettings set the mood for the meal.

Beautiful tablesettings set the mood for the meal.

When Slow Food Utah hosts a meal, you know you’re in for a treat. Their 11th annual fundraiser, Feast of Five Senses, was a showcase of Salt Lake’s finest chefs. Proceeds from the event, as well as the silent auction, fund their micro-grant program which supports farmers, food artisans and community and school gardens. Slow Food Utah is everything that’s good about our local food movement.

Chicken live pate from Tyler Stokes of Provisions with Scaia Corvina Rosso wine

Chicken liver pate with Scaia Corvina Rosso wine

The evening began with mingling, snacking and bidding on the silent auction. Our favorite bites included the organic chicken liver pate with smoked bacon, cider reduction, pickled fall vegetables atop toasted crostini from Tyler Stokes of Provisions. We both went back for a few of these. Bowman Brown of Forage had an impressive spread of tiny, delectable mushroom tarts served with small cups of earthy tea with a tiny bundle of forest plants (which was also adorable!).

So cute!! I adored this tiny soup from Bowman Brown of Forage

So cute!! I adored this tiny soup.

After a few hours of eating and chatting, it was time for dinner. The table settings were  dramatic, decorated with pumpkins, squash and pretty fall-colored flowers against a black table cloth.

“Our Family Table” was the theme of fundraiser. Gwen Davis, the head of Slow Food Utah, talked about the importance of community and sharing meals with friends and family.

The first course was a salad from Jennifer Gilroy from Porch (which we’ll be reviewing soon!). Combining flavors and textures, paired with a chardonnay, this salad was the perfect way to start the meal. The ranch dressing came in the form of panna cotta, made from Drake Farm goat’s milk which was totally fun to eat.

Jen Gilroy of Porch served this lovely fall salad with panna cotta dressing and crispy squash and heirloom tomato confit

The next course was made by Elisabeth LaFrond from Cafe BonAppetit at Westminster College, where the event was held. The tender raviolis stuffed with savory short rib were delicious, but I was really digging the smoky, blistered tomatoes that shared the plate. The tomatoes were a delight to pop in your mouth – smoky, flavorful and super juicy. A glass of Sierra Cantebria Riojo wine was the perfect accompaniment to this dish.

Braised short rib ravioli with blistered tomatoes and a wild mushroom demi glace

Braised short rib ravioli with blistered tomatoes and a wild mushroom demi glace

Last year, my favorite dish was created by Amber Billingsley from 3 Cups, an intermezzo of grape sorbet and a little square of sunflower brioche served in a tiny jar. This year she did it again with a winter squash gelato paired with quince sorbet topped with a dollop of marshmallow fluff and savory, candied pecans. Divine!
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Up next was meatloaf served family style from Logan Crew of Current Fish & Oyster. The presentation was gorgeous with colorful veggies and greens atop the old-fashioned meatloaf and mashed potatoes. La Valentina Spelt, a lush red wine, was served with the dish.
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A simple dish made from local pork and beef from Taylor farms, the meatloaf was flavorful, moist and utterly delectable. The accompanying vegetables and mashed potatoes were divine. Chef Crew is one of our favorites. His “simple” dishes  knock your socks off and this meatloaf was no exception.

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Since Dave had to wake up early (like at 2:30 am early) to work at the bakery, we had to sneak out a bit early. Unfortunately, we missed Romina Rasumussen’s dessert.

We were lucky enough to catch the Snail Awards, presented to members of the foodie community. Adam Kreisel, behind Chaia Cucina, was awarded as well as the lovely duo, Kasey and John Francis, from Amour Spreads.

The 11th Annual Feast of Five Senses was a wonderful evening, a testament to good food and good friends. We’re grateful that we were invited to be a part of the Family Table! It was a memorable experience, full of unforgettable food and wine, and most important, those who make the Slow Food scene in Utah so special.