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.

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.

The first taste of fall: Autumn Cider Festival & Tasting class on October 6

photo 2(3)Last week I was lucky enough to preview a fantastic fall event, the LaSalle and Trio Restaurant Groups inaugural Autumn Cider Festival. Beverage Director and all-around charming guy, Jim Santangelo has selected some of the finest hard ciders to be paired with each chef’s special fall creations – available from September 17 through the end of October. Participating restaurants include: Current Fish & Oyster, Under Current Bar, Fresco Italian Café, Café Trio Cottonwood, Café Trio Downtown, Oasis Café, Caffé Niche and Kyoto.

photo 3(2)I tried the special cider pairing for Current Fish & Oyster and was totally impressed! The Mint Stinger (that’s right, a mint-flavored apple cider!) from local favorite, The Hive Winery paired with a fresh oyster was a fun combination of flavors.

photo 3(1)I was so smitten, I took two photos of the tasty combination.

Along with the Autumn Cider Festival, there is a proper tasting class. I learned a lot at the preview. We tasted eight different ciders and I was surprised that each one was so unique. I was especially impressed with the Stella Artois Cidre – it was refreshing and flavorful.

photo 1(3)Santangelo and Under Current Bar’s general manager Amy Eldredge will offer a “Autumn Cider Tasting and Class” on Friday, October 6, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. at Under Current Bar. It’s totally reasonably priced – just $20 for cider pairings and $15 for food from Executive Chef Logen Crew. RSVPs are required and can be made by emailing events@currentfishandoyster.com. If you love fall flavors, it’s the ultimate drinky and learny experience.

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Caffe Niche: New menu & new faces

Pistachio Encrusted Salmon

Pistachio Encrusted Salmon

Caffe Niche is featuring a new menu as well as a few fresh faces: a chef, a General Manager and Operations Manger. Caffe Niche’s new executive chef, Andy Morrison, brings over 20 years of experience at Michelin starred restaurants and high quality bistros to dining guests. After attending the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Andy immersed herself in the food and wine culture in Sonoma County serving as Sous Chef at Chateau Souverain, among other kitchens. General Manager Joseph Gee will be on hand to greet guests and is there to ensure the dining experience is highly professional and seamless from arrival to happy and delighted departure. A native of Salt Lake City, he recently returned from the Hawaiian Islands where he was the general manager of The Lighthouse. A native of Seattle, Washington, Sarah Fults joins The LaSalle Restaurant Group as operations manager most recently from The Grand America Hotel managing teams in four different restaurants. A graduate of Washington State University, she has a strong educational background in business finance and investing, adding to her strong food and beverage background.

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We think the new menu is brilliant because you can order anything you want, whenever you want. Isn’t that genius? You can have breakfast for dinner, lunch for breakfast, and well, you get the idea. New menu items include the following tempting dishes:

  • Irish Coffee French Toast: Bailey’s battered challah bread dipped in espresso with house made whipped cream,  whiskey, caramel espresso syrup, chocolate shavings  ( I peeked at another table who had ordered this dish. It’s very pretty! I should have asked for a bite.)
  • Croque Madame grilled rye bread, smoked ham, teleme cheese, Dijon aioli, two local free range fried eggs atop, served with Niche apple slaw or small Niche salad
  • Endive Salad: endive and mixed greens, asparagus, Manchego cheese, sherry Dijon vinaigrette, topped with a poached egg, truffle oil
  • Niche Club: grilled wheat bread, turkey, smoked ham, bacon, haricots vert, tomatoes, spring mix, Dijon aioli
  • Grilled Veggie Sandwich: ciabatta bread, eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, red onion, spring mix,  parsley pesto, basil aioli, balsamic
  • Pistachio Crusted Salmon: lemon lentil rice pilaf, haricots verts, fava beans & petit  tomato salad, house made parsley pesto (I ordered this!! More on that later….)
  • Corned Beef Mac & Cheese: Kobe corned beef, elbow macaroni, beer cheese sauce, rye bread crumbs, side of niche apple slaw
Grilled Artichoke

Grilled Artichoke

Caffe Niche is a comfortable restaurant – the perfect place for lunch dates or romantic dinners. We arrived to a bustling brunch crowd on a Sunday afternoon. We were graciously invited to visit Caffe Niche to sample the new menu (Thank you!!). Spending some time there this afternoon, we were reminded of the things we like about this restaurant – fresh, local, good food and friendly service.

Artisan Antipasto

Artisan Antipasto

The concise menu is organized in small plates, breakfast, lunch and dinner options. We started our meal with the Grilled Artichoke ($8) and the Artisan Antipasto ($13), both from the small plate menu. The Grilled Artichoke, halved and grilled, was drenched in butter. Our meal was off to a very good start. After a few minutes digging into the artichoke, the antipasto plate showed up. Slices of Creminelli salumi was served with Beehive Cheese’s Barely Buzzed, a ball of goat cheese and a blue cheese. Caramelized onions were a nice touch.

photo 3We both ordered off of the dinner menu. Dave had his sights on the Morgan Valley Lamb ($21), lamb tenderloin marinated in a lemony, herby garlic sauce served with fingerling potatoes, broiled cherry tomatoes and spinach. He noted that it was perfectly cooked and an interesting balance of flavors. He also ate everything on the plate, even the tomatoes. I’ve never had lamb before so I was intrigued. The bite I took was phenomenal! The marinade was bright and flavorful and the little potatoes were dreamy.

Morgan Valley Lamb

Morgan Valley Lamb

I settled on the Pistachio Crusted Salmon ($24) since I didn’t have my usual fish-eating reservations knowing Caffe Niche has fresh, sustainable fish flown in daily. Served with a tasty lemon lentil rice pilaf and ultra-fresh green beans, fava beans and a mini tomato salad, the plate was dressed with dots of fresh pesto. The salmon was unlike any I’ve had before – tender, flaky with a rich crust. Even Dave, who is even more suspicious of fish, was sneaking bites off my plate.

Pistachio Crusted Salmon

Pistachio Crusted Salmon

Caffe NIche is a gem, a small restaurant with a concise menu, doing everything right. We’re looking forward to checking out the other new menu items.

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Caffe Niche is located on the corner of 779 East and 300 South / 801-433-3380 www.caffeniche.com / Facebook: CaffeNicheSLC