Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back from the dead?

Wow, lots has happened! I became a dad for the second time, and I have been swamped with coaching responsibilities for both rugby and football, leaving me little time to write. Worry not, however, I will resume full reviews soon. Until then, here are some new places that I have tried which are worth checking out:

Back East Cheesesteaks (Midvale, UT)
San Gelato Cafe (Herriman, UT - In Daybreak)
Les Madelines Bakery (SLC, UT)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Best BBQ...Ever!

OK, this entry is dedicated to a loyal reader who recently posed the question about my favorite BBQ. Since "I eat therefore I blog" I thought I would go beyond just giving him an answer and instead turn it in to a full-fledged entry. So, here it is, for all those who like it low and slow:

#1 ??? (Neosho, MO)

As much as it kills me to admit this, I cannot remember the name of this place! I remember calling it "The Pit" but I think that is just the local nickname for it. I looked online for an hour trying to find even a phone listing - Nada. Not that it should be hard to find. Neosho is a tiny town in Southwest Missouri outside of Joplin. It is home to an even tinier BBQ restaurant. How tiny? Well, suffice it to say that the smoker is bigger than the restaurant. I'm not kidding! There are, like, two little tables in this place, and a gigantic smoker out back. The smells coming from this place are otherworldly, and the food is mouthwatering, moist, and succulent. I can't even remember what I had, I just remember that I vowed to return one day. That sounds dramatic, I know, but I was serious about this. And I still haven't been back, so anyone who wants to pony up the travel expenses is welcome to join me. That's how good this place is - I would honestly travel cross-country just to get a morsel of perfection. Best BBQ I've ever had, in the last place I thought I would find it!

#2 Dink's (Bartlesville, OK)

The batting average is up to .500 now, which is pretty dang good if you ask me! I actually heard about this from a friend in college who had spent a couple of years in the Sooner state. We started our journey to Tulsa from Joplin, which I am now nominating as the official BBQ Central staging point, because even though it does not have any great BBQ itself, it is within easy driving distance of Neosho, Bartlesville, and Kansas City - all BBQ meccas. If you are wondering where the Joplin connection comes in, it is where my older sister played college softball and we went back to see her play once a year...and maybe sneak a few tender, smoky morsels along the way. So, as I was saying, our story takes us to Tulsa. Now, if you have pulled out a map at this point, you are just about to realize that Bartlesville is most certainly NOT on the way from Joplin to Tulsa. Well, my friends, you have the wrong map. If you had a map made by foodies, you would discover that Bartlesville would be listed as a mandatory stop whenever one happened to be within, oh, a day's drive. Why? Dink's, of course!
Dink's has been using the same ol' pit out in the back to make their hickory-smoked BBQ since 1982. It is certainly much nicer and much bigger than my #1 spot, and I found the atmosphere to be quite welcoming. For starters order some onion straws. They are thin little crispy stings of tastiness, and offer a good excuse to drench something in Dink's incredible sauce. Scoop them up with your fork and savor the goodness. The meat should be the star at any BBQ place, and it is here, but this gets the nod over a few others because of the sauce. Put it on anything. Beef? Check. Pork? You bet. Chicken? Got you covered. Cookies? Why not! I think I need to call them up for a case.

#3 - TIE - Rudy's/Angelo's (San Antonio/Fort Worth)

I put these together because I can't choose. These are both amazing places. I have already reviewed them in my 'Texas' section, so please feel free to check that out while you are here. Bonus nugget: Turkey is fast becoming my very favorite BBQ meat, and I would do things too uncivilized to mention here for a bite of the turkey at Angelo's. I've gotta go, I've said too much....

#4 Sugarhouse BBQ (SLC, UT)

Hahahaha, I just realized that when I put this place on my top places list, I said that a review was coming soon. Better late than never, eh? This is my favorite local joint, and ranks just barely below the top 3. The smells are mesmerizing. Seriously, I could just hang out here all day and smell the lovely aroma from the smoker. This place used to be called Red Bones, but they found out that another place had the same name, so they changed it to reflect their location instead. The reason that this place comes in just below the others is that there are hits and misses. Definitely more hits, but a little knowledge does not hurt here. Lucky for you that you have me :) The one thing that will keep me coming back here is not something immediately associated with BBQ joints: Wings. The cherry wood smoked wings here are to die for. They are smoky and spicy and have unreal have NEVER had wings like this. The meats are are finely prepared and come "dry" with sauce on the side. There are four sauces here, all of which are great. Try the House Sauce, which is rich, sweet, and spicy, with some excellent Turkey or Brisket. Pulled Pork is very good and made even better with a Carolina-style vinegar sauce or a tangy Mustard sauce. Chicken is also nice and goes well with the house, mustard, or the fourth sauce, which is a fiery red Hot Sauce. The ribs are good, but I like the Tennessee Tangos (Appetizer portion of the burnt ends) better. All of your dishes come with sides, and that's where you can go hit-or-miss. First the hits: Do NOT, under ANY circumstance, leave this place without getting Greek Oven-Roasted Potatoes. OMG! These little cubes are soft, moist, and have about 25 flavors (that's two more than Dr. Pepper if you're counting) hit your tongue at once. I could eat these things for every meal of every day and would never tire of them. Mmmmmm. As for the others, I would recommend getting Jambalaya as your other side. They do it as a main dish, but will give you a side portion if you ask for it. It is not quite Bourbon Street worthy, but not a bad addition to your meal either. The beans are about what you would expect from a BBQ joint, which means they are pretty tasty. Now, for the misses: Cornbread comes with every meal, which is too bad because the cornbread here is really dry and hard to get through. The cucumber salad seemed like a nice idea but it is too weighed down with mayo and not very appetizing. Finally, avoid at all costs ANY other Cajun dishes outside of the Jambalaya. This place really ought to stick to just BBQ, and even though the aforementioned Jambalaya is a success, I have found myself regretfully sucked in to, at various times, decidedly un-tasty versions of Etouffee, Red Beans and Rice, and Gumbo.
Misses aside, order the right things and you will find yourself making excuses to go to Sugarhouse again, and again, and again.

Utah Caveat: I don't know why people love Pat's and Q4U. I've said it before and I will say it again. Even the food critics seem taken by these two places. I have been to both after countless prodding from everyone that I know and I am just not impressed. This is really average BBQ. Disagree if you will, I'll save what it would cost me for either of these overpriced places and get far superior food for less money at Sugarhouse
One more thing, and this just has to be said: The gentleman who prompted this post, we'll call him "Nick", says that the best 'Cue he's ever had is Gates BBQ in Kansas City. Having not been to KC for a very long time, I cannot say that I have ever been there, but since I trust his judgment I felt it was necessary to give Gates a mention here, and you can bet your sweet behind that I will track it down if I do happen to be in the area anytime in the next 50 or so years

Monday, October 19, 2009

Indian Food in Utah? Absolutelty!

Indian Food may be the strangest culinary journey of my life. When I was younger, and did not yet embrace all that the food world had to offer, I let a golden opportunity pass me by. You see, one of my best friends is Indian. We have been friends since the second grade, which means that I spent a great deal of my youth hanging out at his house. Have you ever noticed how Indian places have THAT smell? You're not sure what it is, you only know that it is some sort of combination of spices and, when put in to food, it produces something tasty. Well, THAT smell was ever-present at my friend's house. His mother, in addition to being a wonderful lady, is a fantastic cook. So, where does the strange part of this journey begin? That's the thing, it already has. That is because even though I was surrounded by great Indian cuisine, and even though it was being offered to the point of nagging (one of THOSE moms who always thinks you look malnourished :) I hated it. I did not like Indian food. And it wasn't the food, it was me! I know this because now when I go to visit her, I beg for her food! And I know it is the same stuff that I thought she was "pawning off" on me before. As a self-proclaimed lover of Indian food, I do find it hard to hold back the tears when thinking about years of missed opportunities in that house. OK, that may be a bit dramatic, but you get the idea.
So, how did I "rediscover" Indian food? The Sage talked me in to it, on a trip to Palo Alto. Convinced from my youth that partaking of said food would cause a slow, painful death, I nonetheless played along for the sake of good sport and food adventure. We went to Amber India (still the best Indian I have ever had), and a love affair was born. I can't get enough now! Life is funny that way I guess, which is why I make it a point never to turn down an opportunity to try, or re-try, something new - food or otherwise. OK, life history aside, here are some of my favorite spots to dive in to my rediscovered love :)

Taste of Punjab

Like many Indian places, this restaurant offers a lunch buffet. I have no idea why they all do this, but I am not complaining. After all, it offers the perfect opportunity for a guy like me to try a lot of things on the menu in one trip. A lot of Indian places will treat the buffet like an afterthought, forgoing many of the better dishes and giving customers the very very basic fare. To those places I say: Stick it up your tandoori! Anyhow, as you can probably guess, this buffet is very good because they put some of the better menu items out. It is also an excellent choice for dinner. The Butter Chicken is fantastic. I could take it in IV form. Everything else is good. Seriously, I have never been disappointed at this place, and I like that it will not disappoint whether I go for lunch buffet or sit-down dinner. This is the best Indian place I have found in Utah, because it is consistent in its tastiness. Go ahead, try and be disappointed here. I dare you!


This place has only been around for a little while, but I am already a fan. Like T.O.P, they are not afraid to include good items on the buffet and also offer good quality food at dinner time. Their Butter Chicken and a few others don't quite incite the same giddiness in me that T.O.P. does, but they are still pretty dang good. The star here is the Chili Chicken. Little bits of chicken breast with plenty of spice and some tasty peppers and onions thrown in for good measure. As a bonus, it is always on the buffet.

Himalayan Kitchen

This is good Indian food. Nothing is really worth doing backflips over, but it is solid and pretty tasty, and definitely the best downtown-area Indian. They just moved locations, and the new spot right around the corner from the old one is very nice. While you are here, try some of the nice Nepalese dishes. Some of them are actually better than the Indian standbys on the menu.

Taste of India

Layton is starting to carve out a nice little restaurant district just north of the mall. Notable places such as Rooster's, Holy Smoke BBQ, and MacCool's are all worth visiting. In the same area is Taste of India. This was advertised as the best Indian in Utah, and has been well-reviewed by a number of publications, so obviously the Sage and I thought it was worth a drive up north to check it out. It's good food. I wouldn't put it above Punjab or Ganesh, but it is every bit as good as Himilayan Kitchen. The only reason that it is not ranked up with it is because it is a hair more pricey. I probably wouldn't make a special trip back up to Layton to eat there when there are some really good places close to home, but if I were in Davis county and hungry for Indian I would not be at all opposed to stopping in

**That should do it for the Indian list. I have eaten at many, many others, but I have noticed that once you get past the exemplary ones, all Indian places kind of taste the same. I have not had really any BAD Indian in town, but the rest of the places are all pretty average I think.

Friday, October 16, 2009

St. George

Hi all, I just got back from a quick trip down to Utah's Dirty South and thought I would share some of my culinary quests while there. St. George has always been an enigma to me, because it feels like it ought to have a lot of really good food haunts. Problem is, I have not been able to find many. Anyhow, here are some quick reflections on some that I HAVE been able to find (Oh, and we DID high-tail it out of town one night to drive down to Vegas for Dinner at Batista's - and as always it was well worth the drive!)

The Egg & I

This is a pretty big chain in Colorado and Texas, but in Utah the only place that I know of that you can find it is in St. George. It's only open until 2 pm, which is fine because, as you may have guessed from its name, it specializes in breakfast. Everything is good, so order away and try some of the funky adaptations on the menu like the Hiker's Benedict or indulge in some good old-fashioned comfort food. Whatever you order, it's gonna be good. Now if only we could get this place to expand to Salt Lake!

Ted & Allen's Sports Grill

Actually, this place is in Hurricane (and if you know how to pronounce the name of that town, congrats, you are a true Utahn!) The ten minute drive from St. George is nice and filled with breathtaking glimpses of signature red rock, and the food is worth going a little bit out of your way for. Sage and his wife told me about this place when they were down about a month ago, so we decided we would give it a whirl. It's very clean and nice for a sports bar, and the food is a little better than standard sports bar fare. I had the Philly Burger, which is a gigantic concoction that starts out with a burger and tops it with peppers, onion, and cheese (Philly steak style) mixed with thinly sliced prime rib. It's a gutbomb, but it is fantastic! The fries that accompanied it were pretty good quality as well and were nice and thick. The Mrs. opted for a fish sandwich, which came (as the fish and chips do) with an enormous piece of lightly fried Pollock. Getting really full tastes good in this case, as I found it to be much tastier than the standard Cod so often used for these dishes. A side of Cream of Broccoli Soup was a nice touch, although you should be warned that there are big pieces of celery in it, which I don't mind but some people aren't too fond of in soup. The service was very friendly, but SLOW, so be warned. They also have more of a restaurant-style dinner menu (steaks and such), and there are a lot of other things on the menu that I would like to try, so hopefully my travels take me back soon. Until then, go there and report back to me so that I know what else on the menu is worth sinking my teeth into!

Pirate Island Pizza (Buffalo Chicken Pizza)

OK, this is more of a dish review since I did not really try anything else here. It's hard to take this fun place seriously, with its kid-friendly pirate theme and accompanying arcade, so when I joined my wife for a company function here, my expectations were pretty low. We tried Buffalo Chicken Pizza, which came out looking flat and ordinary and pushed my expectations lower still. Imagine my surprise, then, when I bit in to some of the best BC Pizza I have ever had. The chicken was plentiful and hidden below the cheese, as was a creamy layer of blue cheese which complemented the tasty buffalo sauce perfectly. I cannot speak for any of the other varieties there, but I will definitely be back for the Buffalo Chicken, book cover thoroughly disregarded (I hope you got that reference!)


OK, this is just a really cool concept. Krave is a self-serve frozen yogurt place! Here's how it works: You take you cup ( as big or small as you like) and fill it with as much of any of the 15-or-so flavors available as you like. Feel free to mix and match. I did, and came out with a nice looking melange of Tart Original (think Red Mango if you have been there), New York Cheesecake, and the uber-delicious Tropical Banana. All of the flavors include info on whether they are low-fat, fat-free, sugar-free, and even dairy-free (i.e. peanut butter or mixed berry). But you are not done yet, for yogurt selection and deployment is only half of the battle! Next, you get to choose from a variety of self-serve toppings, including the standard candy and candy bar toppings, cereals, nuts, fresh fruits, and even sauces that come out of a squeeze bottle and include everything from raspberry to white chocolate. Hot fudge? It's behind the counter and is the only thing that the employees will actually do for you. When you are all done making your masterpiece (there is no limit to size or number of yogurt or toppings so long as you can fit them in) you present your newfound work of art to the cashier, who will then weigh it and charge you by the ounce. At 38 cents per ounce it's not a bad deal, but the ounces can add up quickly. Best of all, it tastes terrific. Not a bad way to get your dessert on and have a little fun in the process!

Oh, and we DID find time to grab some delicious burgers from In-N-Out, but I will spare you the review since it's already in the archives :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Splurge me! (Version 1.0)

As I was writing about a couple of the nicer places in Vegas, it dawned on me that some of the reading population may want some ideas on where to go for a special night out. So, in this post we will be diverting from our stated mission of "champagne on a beer budget" as it were, and instead taking a look at some places where you, and your wallet, can get a little uppity! I'll preface this by saying that I am not a wealthy man, so there are plenty of pricey places that I have not had the privilege to venture to, but I have managed to sneak out for the occassional flirtation with the better life :)

There are lots of great places to eat in Park City, many of them splurges. This one tops the list for me, though. Right on Main Street, it's a casual sort of eatery with its western decor and (over)use of wrought iron. This is my wife's favorite place to eat in Utah, so I scored big points by taking her here on her brithday when we were merely a young couple in love...I think we had been engaged for a month and a half, actually, so I had to cement the deal before she changed her mind!
Chimayo offers Southwestern Cuisine prepared simply but elegantly, although perhaps a little different than most Southwestern places you may have been to. That's because they put a little French-American flair into the presentations, and it works wonderfully! I'm a sucker for Ceviche, and theirs is made with scallops, fish, and shrimp and is magical. Not a fish person? Try the Sugarcan Skewer of Elk, you will not be disappointed. The appetizers are as rich in variety as they are in taste and offer the perfect start to your meal. We skipped the salad, although the Stuffed Avocado with Marinated Vegetables has always looked awful tempting to me. As you move toward the entrees, you will notice a London Broil of Elk - pictured above. Get it! This is the best thing on the menu. London Broil is always tricky because (and you know this if you have cooked one) it must be sliced properly. Slice it against the grain and it will melt in your mouth. Go with the grain and you will find that you wasted your money on a tough, chewy piece of meat. The reason for this is that as you go across the grain you sever the tough, chewy fibers in the meat. Luckily, the proper slicing of a London Broil is among the many culinary skills that the chefs at Chimayo seem to have little problem with. It comes medium rare with a nice pink center, and is laid out in thinly sliced medallions topped with a Green Chile Bernaise. This dish is ethereal, even for people who don't like elk. Just relax and savor, and chew it slowly. You will want to make this dish last! The grilled Buffalo Flank Steak is another amazing piece of meat, and is finished with a nice red chili sauce. Want seafood? No problem. Among their many offerings is Striped Bass, which is a version of Sea Bass. I first had the opportunity to sample it during the 2002 Olympics. I was working security for Visa at their hospitality suite, which had its own chef, a Canadian guy from New York. He made some Sea Bass, I tried it, I fell in love. That simple. The Bass at Chimayo does not disappoint. Rich, buttery, and flavorful. For dessert, I recommend the the Maple Creme Brulee, which is served with Walnut Shortbreads. As you might expect, they have an extensive wine list to boot. Fantastic restaurant, and well worth the high prices.


When I was researching a new truck, I talked to a lot of people and read a lot of reports. I test-drove the Dodge, Chevy, Ford, GMC, and Toyota. What I found was that regardless of which full-size truck I chose, I really couldn't go wrong. Splurging on a fine steak place is kind of the same way. If you go somewhere where the steaks are pricey, they will probably be pretty good. I have heard on several occasions that Spencer's has the finest steaks in Utah, but since I have not been there myself I will review somewhere that I have been.
We went here on our anniversary. It is a nice place inside, about what you would expect from a steak place. They have the open kitchen in the back - a look that is becoming more and more popular, as I alluded to in an earlier post. Our server was, again as you would expect, quite friendly and very knowledgable. Along with their steaks, Fleming's is also known for their wines. In fact, the complete name of the place is Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. As such, your meal comes complete with an in-house sommelier, which I suggest you take advantage of if not a wine expert yourself as the wine list can be quite daunting. Upon selecting a beverage, mine suggested from the wine menu and hers a prickly pear margarita, we commenced to eatin'. I don't know why I went redneck right there, but I had to balance out the snooty feel of splurgy restaurants somehow!
My selection was the special, which was a Black n' Blue New York topped with Sea Scallops and a fantastic Bernaise Sauce. Absolutely outstanding. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare (read: cut with a fork!) and the huge scallops were a perfect complement to the succulent meat. Soapbox moment: If you are serious about eating steak, don't ruin the dang piece of meat by getting it well-done! Here is a secret...all steaks taste the same when they are well-done. If you like your steaks that way, please save yourself the cost of an expensive steak and go home and burn a $1.99 steak from Wal-Mart on your own grill. You will not notice the difference! Medium-rare, or medium AT THE MOST, will bring out the full flavor of the steak and give you a moist, tender piece of meat. OK, I'm done. Anyway, the Blue Cheese just brought it all together perfectly. The wife opted for a Petite Filet that was buttery and delicious, and pretty decent sized for something called "petite". Like most high-end steak places, sides come separate. We opted for the Half-and-Half (shoestring potatoes and onion rings) and Grilled Asparagus. The sides were all good, but nothing noteworthy enough to require any further praise here. Creme Brulee for dessert topped off a terrific meal, soured only by our discovery that my wife is, in fact, allergic to prickly pear. Flushed face and upset stomach aside, the meal was still a success.


OK, I am really going to have to jog my memory on this one, because the one and only time that I have been here was for 1994!! Do not fear, though. I was a young, aspiring foodie and already developing an unhealthy obsession for the tastier side of life :)
This place is really nice, and its location at the top of the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird provides beautiful views of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Although the menu may have changed some, I do recall having the Filet, and I recall it being fantastic. Moist, tender, and perfect. After much straining, I will unfortunately report that I cannot for the life of me remember what my date had (sorry, K!), but I do recall her giving it an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Bottom line: We all liked it, we lived like high-rollers for a couple of hours, and I would not hesitate to go back there again.

Shallow Shaft

Another Little Cottonwood locale, this one at Alta. Unlike the Aerie, this is not part of a ski resort. It is a little wooden shack on the side of the road, which you must enter by walking up a "shallow shaft" of covered stairs. Once you are inside, you find a nice, small, intimate place. The views are fantastic and the food ain't too shabby either. The prices have come down, so this is not quite the "splurge" it once was. Unfortunately, the change in price brought a change in menu, and the best item was unceremoniously dropped. The pork medallions, complete with a raspberry demi-glace, were well worth the drive up the canyon all by themselves. They have to be among the ten best things I have ever tried. So, as mad as I am that they are no longer on the much-more-casual menu, I remain hopeful that the same culinary expertise applies to the rest of the remaining menu and will keep my fingers crossed until I find myself back up there again to make an accurate judgement. Benefit of the doubt? Maybe, but I'm an optimist. Now if you'll excuse me I will be calling the Shallow Shaft and threatening torture with a wet noodle until said medallions are re-instated.
...That's all for now, more to come!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

What happens in Sin City may stay there, but news of what is eaten there should travel far and wide! What a great eating destination. I'm sure I won't even scratch the surface, because the are more places to eat in Vegas than there are schmucks who try to act like high rollers while gulping down a beer from O'Sheas (For those who did not get that reference, O'Sheas is famous for having ridiculously cheap drinks, and as a side note is the only place I know of on the strip that has beer pong). With one exception I will stay away from the staple of Vegas eating, the buffet. I wanted to stay entirely away, but I had to mention this one:

Brunch at Le Village (Paris Hotel & Casino)

This is not your typical buffet, as evidenced by the almost $30 price tag. But if ever you were going to splurge on brunch, this would be as good a place as any. The line is long, the restaurant is really nice, and you may even cross paths with a celeb or two - I happened to see former NFL running back Zach Crockett on my last visit. There are a million stations serving all kinds of goodies. I can't come close to remembering them all, but some of the highlights were lox (best I have ever had), incredible made-to-order omlettes, and to-die-for french pastries of any kind you can imagine. They have all the standard breakfast fare of course, and also a lot of really unique dishes. Everything is amazing. I put down 5 full plates and would gladly have eaten more had I not crossed the threshold between full and painful. Best brunch I've ever had, hands down.

OK, on to the non-buffet fare:

Batista's Hole In The Wall

This little gem is located right behind the Flamingo Hilton, and it is really easy to miss amidst the lights and glitz of the strip just a half block away. Don't miss this. This is incredible Italian food. I was turned on to this place by (who else?) The Spicy Sicilian. As I've mentioned before, when she talks about Italian Food, I listen! She took me here on our first trip to Lost Wages, and it has become a mandatory stop ever since.
This place is just too cool inside (picture at the top). There is so much decor (a mix of funky and traditional Italian) that you can scarcely see a patch of wall. And, as you can see, Batista's comes with a sweet little old man who will play old-time Italian melodies on the accordian for you. If you cannot enjoy yourself in a place like this you have serious issues!
There are no individual menus for you to look at. It's up on the wall, Jack. And unlike most places, it's pretty sparse. That's a good thing, because what they do they do very well. All meals come with Minestrone Soup or Italian Salad - get the latter, which is topped with a few big slices of pepperoni - as well as Garlic Bread, Pasta Salad, and a carafe of complimentary house wine (Red or White). You can order off the wine menu as well, but the free stuff is OK...for free stuff. You also get to finish your meal with a complimentary Cappuccino. Whew! I'm about exhausted and we haven't even gotten to the entrees yet. Trust me, you will not leave here hungry.
The entrees I have tried have been magnificent. I usually opt for the Canelloni. These are thin pasta crepes rolled into tubes and stuffed with meat and topped with cheese and two sauces (white and red). This is my favorite Italian dish, but it is unfortunately hard to find. They actually used to have it at Olive Garden(!) but have not had it on the menu for years. Anyhow, this is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It, like most of the dishes here, is not overly complicated. They do pretty simple preparations, but they just do them better than everybody else. This is one of those dishes that I could eat every day if I could. SS usually opts for Sausage Cacciatore, which is meaty, spicy, filling, and delicious. If you like spice, meat, pasta, chunky tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions, and honestly who wouldn't like that combination, you will love this dish. Everything on the menu looks tasty, I just haven't been able to pull myself away from my favorites to try any of it. Entrees range from $20-$37 so it is a bit of a splurge, but it is well worth it!

Lotus of Siam

Reviewer after reviewer has lauded this place as being possiblt the best Thai in the country. I'm not sure I am ready to take that leap, but I will tell you that I have eaten Thai all over and this is as good as I have had anywhere. Were it in SLC, I think it would give my beloved Thai Orchid stiff competition for my Thai destination. But who wants to see an Orchid and a Lotus fight? Could get ugly!
OK, bad floral humor aside, this place is seriously good. It is in a little strip-mall square filled with Asian eateries. It is non descript and a few blocks off of the strip, but it is worth going out of your way. It is kind of a nice hole-in-the-wall inside, which is a weird way to describe something but is nevertheless accurate in this case. I ate here one time, and it was my bachelor party (and is the only part of the night that we will be revealing), which means that with all those people we got to try a lot if different stuff. Oh, and my memory did not get fuzzy until later on in the night, so you can trust this review :)
Of course we had the requisite Pad Thai and Panang Curry. Both were outstanding. We also ventured into the world of Green Curry, and found it to be fantastic as well. Then we got a little crazy. We let the waitress suggest a few dishes and ended up with a whole Pompano fish in a red curry sauce, Drunken Noodle Seafood in a dynamite chili-basil sauce, and a house special of sliced charbroiled beef in some kind of strange sauce that was moist and tender. Basically, everything we had was amazing. I'd still take Orchid's Panang, but that's like saying that you would choose a Ferrari over a Shelby Mustang. Still nothing wrong with the Shelby! This place is a must if you are in Vegas and like Thai food.

Lindo Michoacan

This place is so good, I once drove all the way from Mesquite just to eat dinner here. I didn't even stay in Vegas for anything else, just drove down with a couple people, ate, and came back to the hotel in Mesquite! This is Mexican food worth making that kind of trip.
There are four locations, but the one I always go to if on Desert Inn. It's a big place, and nice but casual inside. The service is great and the staff really knows their stuf, which helps with a menu as big as this one! To start your meal off, get the guacamole. They come make it right at your table in traditional molcajetes, while you tell them exactly how much or how little you want of the 6 ingredients (avodcado, jalapeno, onion, tomatoes, and the two key ingredients: cilantro and lime juice). Best guac I have ever had. Next, see if you can navigate the menu. Like I said, they are willing to help with this. Don't get your panties in a bunch with worry over what to order, though, everything is good. My personal favorite, partially because it it sublimely tasty and patrtially because it gives my wife this cute little retching face, is Birria. Birria is a Mexican festival dish. They take goat meat (that's where I lose the wife!) and cook it with several kinds of chiles, spices, and beer (not water). It is slow-cooked which means the meat is fall-apart tender and moist. It is actually served in the liquid it is cooked in, and you eat it by pulling bits of the meat out and placing them on a corn tortilla with cilantro, onion, and guac. Of course, some of the liquid always finds its way on as well! Folks, you have not lived until you have experienced the wonders of succulent goat at Lindo Michoacan. Trust me. Because it is so good I usually don't order anything else on the menu, although I have been known to take bites of other people's food! I can report that the fajitas are excellent, as are the Chile Rellenos de Camaron (w/shrimp if you didn't translate), the Mole, and the Carnitas, which are a specialty of the house along with the Birria. This is Vegas, which means cheap buffets but a little higher-priced restaurants, so expect to pay $15-$20 an entree. Don't worry, it's worth it!

Del Frisco's

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never actually been here. This recommendation comes by way of the Spicy Sicilian, whose boss used to love to take retreats to Vegas and would take his employees here. This is an expense-account kind of place. At over $30 (and possibly much higher) for any of their award-winning steaks, this place is definitely a splurge. Like many high-end places, sides must be ordered separate form the entree and of course will incur additional expense. The report from the S.S. is that this is the best steak she has ever had. Ever. Thick steaks, cooked to perfection, and so tender you can cut them with your fork. Buttery would be the most accurate description of their texture. Throw in a humidor and an incredible wine list, and you can see why it's not uncommon to spot politicians, actors/actresses, mob bosses, and porn stars here (hey, it's Vegas!). Add in some appetizers (the oysters are fantastic) and dessert, and it is not hard to get the bill around $100 per person. If you can afford it, though, it might also be worth every penny!

See you all in Vegas!

Quick bites - some more all-time favorites

Black Pastrami Rueben & Cabbage Soup @ Brent's Deli in Northridge, CA

I know, this is two dishes, but I always get both of them and either is more than enough reason to head to the Valley! Brent's is straight out of New York. The same place, with the same clientel you would find in the big apple. I have learned that any Deli packed with a large Jewish population usually had pretty dang good food. The first thing you see upon entering the very crowded Deli are cakes and eclairs so big that Paul Bunyan would need several friends to help finish just one of them!
Back to the stars though. These sandwiches are enormous. The regular pastrami is good enough, but the Black Pastrami just has something extra in the flavor. It is super thin, moist, peppery, and piled higher than you can open your mouth. Served on wonderful rye bread, a half sandwich is a meal unto itself. The soup, which you can get in a 1/2 sandwich & soup combo, is like candy. A sweet soup, if you can believe it, packed with chunks of cabbage and beef. It is like having dessert for lunch. Your tastebuds will thank you!

Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken) at Amber India in Palo Alto, CA

Actually, the whole place is amazing. Hands down the best Indian I have ever had. It is also the first Indian I ever had, which is really strange. Fact is, I have been searching for something as good ever since and, while I have found some spots that come close, nothing has ever matched it. We had four dishes, all of them fantastic. The Butter Chicken stole the show though. Rich, creamy, a million different flavors dancing on your tongue, and a nice kick of Indian spices. Perfect :)

Oatmeal Pie @ Butterburrs in Pocatello, ID

There is not much good eating in Pocatello, but this pie is the real stuff! Butterburrs is one of those all-day breakfast kind of places, and the food is not extraordinary but it is solid. There a few pleasant surprises on the menu and its good enough that I would certainly not steer you AWAY from it. But, the reason it makes this list is because of the Oatmeal Pie. Think Pecan Pie filling (caramel) on homemade crust and topped with carmelized oats, coconut, and black walnuts. This is like the best oatmeal cookie you've ever had, kicked up about 5 notches and then put in pie form. I came home and told my wife it was now her mission to figure out how to make it :) My mouth is watering right now. Is Pocatello too far to go JUST to get a piece of pie?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


I love this time of year. Summer is winding down, football season is upon us, and Oktoberfest is rockin at Snowbird. As a bonus, it is always occuring during my wife's brithday, which is always a nice, ready-made idea to do since she loves German food and culture. The booths are sparse but alright...get your fill of knick-knacks and such as you make your way through. We found one place where we seem to get sucked in to buying the boy killer vests and coats each year, and another with some really cool steins and a wide selection of Ritter Sport candy bars :)
The real reason we go up, of course, is for the fantastic German food! The menu at Oktoberfest is pretty limited, but thankfully had most of my favorites. The wife and I opted for Paprika Chicken. This differs from my favorite Hungarian dish, Chicken Paprikash, in that the chicken is cooked quartered and on the bone rather than shredded and swimming in scrumptious sauce. Although I like the Parikash preparation better, this was not too shabby. Big pieces of white meat (you have to peel the skin off if you are health-conscious) came off in chunks and were dipped into the very good sauce, of which there was a tad too little. It's a bit of a mess, but worth it. The entrees are served with a big heap of sauerkraut, which was very mild. That's a good thing for me, since strongly-flavored sauerkraut does not make my list of foods I enjoy. As a side, we had spaetzle in gravy. Spaetzle are tender little dumplings and are the perfect compliment to any German meal. This particular spaetzle was very good. My kind of comfort food! My parents, who accompanied us on the journey, opted for Beef Rouladen. This is a dish of bacon, onion, mustard, and pickles wrapped up in thinly sliced beef. The beef was tender, the flavor was unique and savory, and the sauce was the right accent. Very good dish. This also came with sauerkraut, and a side of pickled red cabbage that was tasty in its own right. All of this was washed down with the traditional Black Bier (Beer), which does not taste like the dark beer that I ususally avoid, but rather substitutes flavors of chocolate in place of the hoppiness that usually dominates its similar-colored brethren. Nice change :) For dessert, the folks bypassed the delicious-looking German Chocolate Cake in favor of Apple Strudel. The strudel was good, but didn't light my world on fire. Still, a solid meal. They also have bratwurst available if you are in the mood for something tubular. Definitely worth a trip up the canyon, and you get to hear great live polka while you are eating to boot. Honestly, how can you listen to polka and not be happy? Bloody shame if you can't, I say. I was even in a good enough mood that I let my wife talk me in to going up and trying my luck on the Alpenhorn. You know, those long suckers that the Ricola guys play? Let's just say that they are a lot harder to play than they look! The sound that emanated from my vain attempt at music sounded something like cattle getting fondled. Not pretty. While you're up there, you may as well take in the Alpine Slide and Zipline, two of my favorite Snowbird activities. Just remember to use the brake every so often on the slide, as a friend of mine who moved from Puerto Rico recently discovered!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Last Sunday, the Spicy Sicilian had a birthday, and it dawned on me that we ought to go somewhere to eat. But where, oh where, is a foodie to take her? Obviously, I have a reputation to uphold, so I had to pick somewhere that didn't suck. Also, since her cooking is good enough to open up her own Italian restaurant, I did not want to take the chance that we would end up somewhere inferior to her culinary abilities. Fortunately, this is just the kind of situation I was made for. I often think that I know the woman better than she knows herself, and a thought came to me: Greek! She LOVES Greek! But where to go? Not to worry. Drawing deep into my memory, I recalled a conversation with my twin sister (yes, tis true I have a twin..but I'm older by 21 minutes!) about Greek food. She has been to Greece, and told me about a place around these parts that is about as authentic Greek as one could get outside of the cradle of Hellenistic culture. So, it was off to Aristo's we went.
This is located at one of my favorite spots - the cozy little restaurant row on 1300 E. right by the U. of Utah campus, and the Pie Pizzeria to boot. We waltzed in and found it sparsely populated enough that we did not need to tell them of our reservation. Out to the patio we went. I strongly suggest the patio if you are going to eat here and the temperature is even close to warm. What a beautiful setting. After perusing the appetizers, which took a while since there is an entire page of them(!) we decided that we were indecisive, and so ordered the Orektika. This is a sampler of any three spreads served with pita bread, cucumbers, and olives. We opted for the Hummus, Tzatziki (that white sauce they put on Gyros for the uneducated), and Kafteri, the latter consisting of Roasted Macedonian Peppers, Feta, Cayenne, and Olive Oil. The pita came out in a spiral container cut into perfect dipping-size pieces and was soft, pillowy, and pretty much the best pita I have ever had. The Hummus was magnificent. Smooth and creamy, it melted away inside my mouth. I would have downed it with a spoon if I could have, but there were other sauces to explore! The Tzatziki went great with the fresh cucumber slices, and lightened the palette perfectly. And the Kafteri...WOW. I can't do it justice in the written word. It was amazing.

For our entrees, we took divergent paths. SS ordered two of her personal favorite Greek comfort foods: Lemon-Rice Soup, which was fantastic, and the Village Salad. The Village Salad was, surprisingly, the highlight of the evening. It is a bowl of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions, and Kalamata olives tossed in olive oil. It is topped with 3 "sheets" of Feta which can then be broken up on top of or throughout the salad. The Feta by itself was delicious. Combined with the rest of the salad it was even better. You know how when you eat a salad you can pick out all of the different flavors and they sort of combine in a nice, refreshing dish? This is not that kind of salad. This salad was, to use a very unsalad-like term, smooth. That's really the best word I can use to describe it. The flavors all combined into one uber tasty treat that just seemed to dance on your tongue and remind you that you were experiencing something special. I never thought I would write that about a salad, but this was no ordinary salad! My entree was more of a tradtional entree-type meal. Unfortunately I cannot tell you the name of it because as I look at the online menu for reference, it is not listed. I can tell you about it though :) It was chicken breast rolled around spinach and feta, then breaded and quickly fried. It was served over a bed of rice pilaf and drizzled with a mushroom-scallion sauce. The presentation was beautiful, and the food did not lag far behind. This wasn't one of those "special" dishes like the salad, but it was very good nonetheless. The stuffing was a wonderful complement to the chicken, the sauce was just enough of an addition, and the pilaf was nice. One thing that stood out to me here is that the flavors don't really jump out and grab you. Instead, they are subtle and understated, and kind of catch your attention when you are going along with your meal and realize that you can't stop eating it. After finishing, your tastebuds haven't been through a an in-your-face kind of journey, but rather an artistic voyage, where subtlety is key and the mastery builds ever so gently until you are done and realize that everything just seems to be right. Ahhhh. Sounds nice, doesn't it? And the prices are far less than I would expect to pay for the quality of the food.

Not wanting to leave, we decided to finish the evening with some Baklava. One of my favorite meal-enders, it was actually the only thing here that I might say could use improvement. Granted, Baklava should not be overly sweet, but this one was almost more savory, and my sweet tooth could have used a little more kick, to be honest. Still, not bad, and upon leaving, we called the experience a resounding success and vowed to be back to the best restaurant either of us have tried this year. And I vowed to listen to my twin sis more often! (p.s. her favorite dish here is the Mousaka. Since she suggested this place to me, I would probably trust her on this entree selection, too)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beyond Glaze

In a perfect world, we could eat whatever we wanted and never get fat or unhealthy. And in that perfect world, I would eat donuts. I love donuts. They are quite possibly man's most perfect food, but that little guy with wings on my shoulder keeps me from indulging in them very often. Sometimes, though, the other guy, the one with the horns and pitchfork, needs some goodness. So when the Spicy Sicilian showed up with an unexpected treat from Beyond Glaze, he was giddy to say the least.

Beyond Glaze is a new gourmet donut place that has recently popped up just east of Riverton on 12300 S. They have several varieties, ranging from the sinfully decadent to the downright strange. SS had selected six: Strawberry Bliss, Cherry Chocolate, Bluberry Bliss, Grasshopper, S'mores, and Peanut Butter and Jelly (this is a real flavor!). All of these come with some very fancy decorative frosting on top of what turned out to be a very good, fluffy glazed donut.

I tried the PB&J first because, well, when you get a PB&J donut don't you HAVE to try it first? The owner said that this was his favorite donut but for me it was just...weird. The topping tasted like PB&J, and the donut tasted like a donut. That said, I am not convinced that they go together, but if you are curious at all it is worth a try! The S'mores and Grasshopper tasted like what you would expect, which is to say that they were delicious (the Grasshopper only so if you like mint). The Big 3, though, were (in ascending order) Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry. They were magical, wonderful, magnificent, and any other word you would like to use. I think I have gained 5 pounds just thinking about them, but it was worth it. Especially the Bluberry. This thing is just sick. Best. Donut. Ever. Excuse me, but I have to go. I have a, uh, thing. In Draper. Just east of Riverton. You can come if you want, just don't expect me to share.


This is the newest trendy burger place to pop up around these parts. A national chain making its way to Utah, it claims to have the best burgers you have ever tasted. The reason that they feel they can make this claim is because of the way they cook their meat. They smash (hence the name) a patty down and sear it, thereby locking in all of the juices and flavor before they have a chance to escape. The premise is sound, as I have found that a quick sear works well for me when cooking my own food.
The Sage and I decided that we would try it after watching some rugby nearby. Sure enough, we were assured by the cashier that this would be the best burger we had ever had. I was in a bit of a spicy mood, so I ordered the Spicy Baja with pepper jack, guac, chipotle mayo, jalapenos, and other fixins on a chipotle bun. The Sage opted to go a different route, ordering chicken (you guessed it, smashed and seared) with no bun. I also ordered some fantastic sounding rosemary, olive oil, and garlic fries.
The food came out with the speed you would expect from a semi-fast-food place, and we dug in. The Sage found his chicken to have very good flavor and he threw it down pretty quick. On the other hand, I found my burger to be quite unremarkable. It wasn't bad, but it didn't wow me either. The spicy condiments were fresh and tasty, and they were the stars of the dish. Too bad the meat couldn't keep up. The fries, however, were the biggest disappoinment. I could not make out any flavor of rosemary, olive oil, garlic, or anything else for that matter. These were just plain old, bland fries.
Needless to say, this place didn't really do anything for me. I'm not saying that it sucks. I mean, if I were Jonesing for a burger and it were the only place nearby, I would feel fine about going there knowing I would have a solid meal. But solid is about as good as it gets there, and there are at least 7-8 places in SLC that I would rather go to "get my burger on".

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tin Roof Grill

I'll be honest, it took me a while to try this place. Not because I wasn't curious, but because I was angry. You see, my wife and I used to LOVE to go to Little Italy, which was the building's previous occupant. It was our favorite Italian place in Salt Lake. We went to visit it for dinner one night and found that it had turned into Tin Roof Grill, and were so upset we vowed to never give this evil place that stole our Little Italy so much as a single dollar.
Well, time heals all wounds, and eventually curiosity got the better of us, so off we went. We were pleasantly surprised and have been back once or twice. My most recent visit was sans wife. I had been talking with a couple of my favorite guys, both of whom I used to coach, and we decided that we ought to grab a bite sometime. Since this place is so close to my house, it was a nice convenient meeting place.
The inside is very cozy. It has a sports bar feel while still feeling like a restaurant. The TV screens are usually tuned in to the big sporting event of the day, so it's a nice place to kick back for that action. Here's the thing though: This is, like, borderline gourmet-quality food at cheap prices in a chill kind of setting. It's just unique that way. I'll be honest, I was surprised how good the food was. Small plates (tapas) are getting much more popular, and are a specialty at Tin Roof. There are two you HAVE to try. The first one is the flatbread. Not quite as exquisite as Trio's, and sometimes a bit oversalted, the bread is nonetheless very yummy. The star of the three spreads is the White Bean Puree. Sounds boring, but it's not. Creamy goodness would be a better description. The Basil Pesto is strong but great flavor, and the Tapenade is solid but comes in third behind the other two. The other item you must try is the croquettes. These are deep fried balls of goodness. The filling changes by the day, so look up to the chalkboard for the latest. On this day it was sausage, mushroom, and cheese with fantastic spicy marinara and aioli for dipping. Healthy? Hardly. Delicious? Hell yes! If you cannot find culinary enjoyment from a Tin Roof croquette you need to please leave the country, cause we don't want people that weird. Among other menu highlights are the Pulled Pork sandwich (don't expect authentic BBQ flavor, but the pork is plentiful, moist, and sweet due to the spicy asian BBQ sauce, and the bun is very nice), the Chicken Pesto sandwich, and the Patatas Bravas, which accompany the sandwiches or can be ordered from the Tapas menu. Pizzas, pastas, and noodles are also available, but again seem to go more the gourmet route than the sports bar route - this is a good thing! The best thing: Every single thing on the menu is under $10. Can you say the same about Applebee's, whose food is dismal by comparison? Thought not. Oh, one more thing...along with a nice selection of beer, this place has a better wine selection than a lot of much fancier places I've been. That's right: Good food, good wine, unique menu, all in a sports bar-type setting. Who knew?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The stars at night are big and bright....

OK, maybe I've seen Pee Wee's Big Adventure too many times, but if you finished that line in your head - or better yet out loud - you know we are talking about Texas. I'll be up front, I don't care too much for Texas in general. I really don't see what the locals think is so neat about this place. Not saying it sucks, I just don't get the big deal...except...if they are talking about the food! I think the saying that "Everything's bigger in Texas" is a direct reference to the size of people's waistlines. Cause, damn, these folks can eat. I present for my case three cities as evidence of culinary triumph.

San Antonio

This happens to be my favorite Texas city. It's pretty, it's remarkably clean in that almost creepy way that people think of Salt Lake, and there's lots to do. Plus, the people are really nice. Oh, and this is going to sound weird but I love the freeway system. Real easy to get around. I had two outstanding meals here. I'm talking all-time fave neighborhood. Here goes!

Rudy's Country Store

This place is actually spread across three states now, but the original in S.A. is where we ventured. This is the way BBQ should be: unpretentious, ordered by the pound, and uncomplicated by any of the other "restaurant stuff" that doesn't make the food taste any better anyway. It is ALL about the food here. Everybody is lined up in what looks like a big red barn, waiting to place their order at a meat counter behind which smoky, seductive smells tease the senses. One word of advice: go here with a friend (or 20) so that you can try everything, becuase everything is good, but there is no way you can get it all on one plate when the smallest serving size is a half pound. Brisket, THE Texas specialty, Turkey, Pork Loin, Chopped Beef, Baby Backs, Chicken, Hot Link. We came, we saw, we conquered. We tried them all, and loved them all. I'll put this as a tie for #2 on the all-time BBQ cuisine I have had, and I have had a lot (more on the other #2 later...I'll keep you in suspense on #1 for a while). I think the sides were good, I don't remember. The BBQ, which we ate on cheap tables covered in butcher paper, was just too good to leave room in my memory for anything else.

La Fogata

Neat place, great patio dining if you want it but the inside is cool too. This review will be short but sweet. Basically, I know three things: 1. The food was utterly fantastic. 2. Since we followed our host's suggestion and ordered some of the more unique items on the menu, I cannot tell you exaclty what is was that we ate. Seriously, it was different but it was spicy and amazing. 3. They have the best Magarita I have ever had. Ever. It's one of those dangerous drinks that sneaks up on you because it is so smooth that you swear there is no alcohol in the thing, until...well, you get the idea. Rumors that this has anything to do with my memory loss on what we ate have been greatly exaggerated. Just let them suggest the dishes for you, sit back and sip on one of those delicious Margaritas, and enjoy a great night!

Non-food related tip: Whilst enjoying the Riverwalk, a must if you go to S.A., poke your head in to Howl At The Moon, a rockin' duel piano bar that can best be described as a just barely under control party. Good times.

Dallas/Ft. Worth

Two cities right next to each other so there's bound to be some good food. I have actually found that Fort Worth is the better culinary destination. Here are a few highlights:


I am going to save a full review for Houston since that is the first place that I encountered Pappasito's. Just take note that there is one in Fort Worth


The (not so)long wait is over! This is the aforementioned "tie for #2 BBQ" with Rudy's. I'm still not revealing #1 yet but will tell you it is not in Texas. Like Rudy's, this place is unapologetically unpretentious. Low light, meat counter style ordering, styrofoam and paper containers, and butcher paper on the tables. Also like Rudy's, it is easy on the wallet. Each meal comes with the following: Sauce, beans, potato salad, cole slaw, pickle, onion, bread. All are good, with extra points to the tasty pickle and the bread for its excellence as a sauce delivery device. First bit of advice here is to GET THE TURKEY. BBQ turkey has become one of my favorite foods, and Angelo's should be lauded for its ability to get the least traditional and least naturally flavorful meat to its position at the top of the menu. It's the best BBQ turkey I have ever tasted. After the turkey, order everything else, because everything is good. Delicious smoky goodness. The only problem is stopping before you explode, cause you're not going to want to.

Cafe N'Awlins

You may notice that this is the first Cajun restaurant reveiwed on this blog. That is not for a lack of interest in the cuisine. It's simply, and sadly, a statement of how few good cajun restaurants there are in the places I have been too. Most disappointing is that the lack of these fantastic eateries extends to Salt Lake, where I am sad to report I have never really found a Cajun place worth mentioning to others.
This place, on the other hand, IS worth mentioning. We started with a shared appetizer of fried seafood and moved on to Jambalya. Both were outstanding. We sampled some other fare as well and found the etouffee, often the measuring stick for how truly great a cajun chef knows his stuff, to be very good. Red Beans and Rice were a perfect compliment to good Blackened Catfish as well. One of the nice things about the three other people I was with is that we are all food-sharers. Life is too short to dine with people who won't share their food. After all, how else is one supposed to sample all of life's delicious dishes if he has to order them all himself? I would have long since seen the better side of 300 pounds were that the case!
Anyhow, we decided that no visit to a place calling itself "N'Awlins" would be complete without a few pounds of crawfish. So, we ordered 3 pounds...and then another 3 pounds. They were so good we would have ordered more had our stomachs been able to expand further! After all of the head and tail sucking was completed and our appetites thoroughly satiated we decided to call it a day with some excellent beverages. Should I find myself in Dallas again those beautiful little crawfish will be calling my name...ahhhhhhhhh.


OK, I've mentioned this place a couple of times. Once in my Best Of section and once in this posting. Strange that I would be so fond of this place seeing as how its a pretty big chain and there are other places that get better reviews. Then again, my tastebuds say to hell with that logic, it's really good food! The fajitas are heavenly. Get the combo, because the chicken and steak are equally moist, tender, and melt in your mouth delicious. Veggies and accompaniments are very good, as are the fresh-made tortillas (I prefer corn myself). Finally, use plenty of the warm butter sauce that comes with them, it ties the dish together. If I had to choose one dish only to have for the rest of my life these would merit serious consideration. But, not a fajita fan? That's OK, we all have our own little problems. And not to worry, there is plenty else here to tantalize your tastebuds. Ceviche, one of my favorite reasons to eat anywhere near the gulf coast, is primo here. If you are unfamiliar with Ceviche, it is a dish where the seafood has been "cooked" by letting it simply marinate in lemon or lime juice. Pappasito's version comes with shrimp, scallops, and fish marinted with lemon, lime, and cilantro, and finished off with avocado. The perfect, refreshing way to beat the Texas heat, not to mention the perfect starter to a meal. I've tried a few other dishes and nothing disappoints. The food is a hair pricier than standard Mexican fare. But then again, there is nothing standard about this place, including the relaxing cantina-style setting which makes you almost think that you are in one of those Corona commericals. Trust me, it is WAY worth an extra buck or two to eat here.


When my travels take me on a return trip to Houston, I had better have enough time to eat at least two meals. That's because not only do I refuse to miss the chance for Pappasito's Fajitas, but I equally refuse to miss a return visit to this place. We were in Houston to watch an NFL game featuring a large friend, whom we took out to dinner that night (the night before the game). He wanted Mexican and, having already visited Pappa's on the trip, we opted for somewhere different. Thankfully the concierge at the hotel was knowledgable on the local scene and, once he understood we were foodies, told us we would be foolish not to try this place just off the beaten path from downtown. I almost laughed when the valet attendant approached our car, because there could hardly be a less-likely place to find valet service. This place is a hole in the wall. It was also packed, so we knew we may be in for something good. This is the original Ninfa's, which I was told makes all the difference. Inside I found it to be cramped, noisy, and aromatic, not in the least due to the enormous tortilla-making operation going on to your left as you enter.
Our guest, who is shy and would much rather be anonymous, was nonetheless recognized by a few people, who were brave enough to come say hi but also nice enough to let him enjoy his dinner without constant hounding. This was probably made easier by the fact that he played for the visiting team, not the Texans. Follwing an excellent Shrimp and Halibut Ceviche, we proceeded to order. I was thrilled to find Cochinita Pibil on the menu (third time for those who have been counting!) and my decision was easy to make. The other two were more indecisive so our server, who seemed so genuinely excited to be serving us, suggested Mixtas. These are basically HUGE combination plates. Now, I can eat, but I was out of my league on this night. The Sage ordered Mixta Rio Grande, which consisted of Shrimp, Fajitas, and Carnitas. Not to be outdone, our large friend began stocking up energy for the next day's game by ordering the Parilla Mixta, which contains Fajitas, Carnitas, Ribs, Shrimp, and Chile Relleno. It is an order meant to serve two. He polished it himself!
Quick food report: Pibil - heavenly, as always :) Shrimp, Fajitas, Carnitas, Ribs, Relleno - All fantastic. This place rivals the very best Mexican food I have ever had. Everything was amazing, and our waiter is one of my all-time memorable people. What a hoot this guy was! We got pictures with him at the end of the night and it didn't even seem weird. Just a nice, fun guy to have for a server. I think he knew our guest was someone important, but had no idea why and yet had this giddy attitude that came off as innocent and charming, which is sometimes easier to do when you don't speak much English and have very little idea what the game of football even is. This is one of my favorite meals. The combination of great food, great service, and great times with people you care about is pretty hard to beat.
As a side note, our friend had an interception and helped lead his team to victory with a great game, but all he wanted to talk about after the game (I could not make this up if I tried) is the place we ate the night before! How's that for an endorsement?

Kenny & Ziggy's Deli

Good enough that we had two meals there...on the same day! We woke up on game day and headed out of our hotel to grab some breakfast. New York-Style delis are nice to find because besides having great sandwiches they usually also serve a mean breakfast. Breakfast was good. I mean, I've had better but were we in the Houston area together I would feel fine about taking you here for some early morning grub. We then decided that the lunch menu looked so good that we ought to take a to-go order for lunch instead of paying ridiculous prices at the stadium. I cannot tell you the exact name of the order since my computer freezes up every time I try to pull up the online menu, but I can tell you that they were double-decker sandwiches of Pastrami and Corned Beef and that I could not fit a whole bite in my mouth because they were so big (see the actual picture at the top of this posting). We were barely able to finish these delicious sandwiches in the car before the game due to their immensity, which was good since they needed to keep us full for an entire NFL game. We need a place like this in Utah.

All in all, a very tasty state. I think I gained weight just writing about the food. Um, I'm gonna go for a jog.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tasty Thai, Pho Green Papaya

OK, I missed a couple of places. These are two places that I ate at in the past week, and I remember promising to my devoted followers that I would write about every place I went! So, here we go:

Tasty Thai
I heard about this place from none other than The Sage, so we decided to grab lunch there earlier this week and sample the goods. I'm noticing a lot of places have gone to the "open kitchen" look, where you can literally see all of the cooking going on as you sit. It's like watching Iron Chef without the cheesy, overdramatic commentary! We ordered an off-menu special for an appetizer: shrimp, crab, and pork wrapped in a thin tofu wrapper and fried, served with plum sauce for dipping. Pretty tasty (yes, I will be making puns at the restaurant's expense...that's what they get for putting the word "Tasty" in the name of their establishment). Next, and this took a while because somehow there was only one server for the 20 or so patrons(!) we had the standard Pad Thai and Panang Curry. Standards for us becuase when you are comparing something against other places it is nice to go dish-by-dish and then branch out later if you decide you like it. The Panang was very good. Nice flavor, good kick, mighty tasty (that's 2 if you're counting). I would put it right behind Thai Orchid's, which is quite a compliment. 2-for-2 so far on the dishes. The only thing I did not like about the curry is that it did not have nearly enough sauce with the dish and we had to order a little more on the side. The Pad Thai on the other hand was, well, not so tasty. The flavor was good but the noodles were overcooked and chewy, and the chicken was dry and bland. I was assured by The Sage that it was inferior to the week before when he had tried the same dish. So, not a bad find. I would still go to Thai Orchid were I going out of my way to get Thai, but it is definitely worth dropping in if you are near the Liberty Park area. Just get something other than Pad Thai for you noodle fix.

Pho Green Papaya
This space by the E-Center has been about 20 different restaurants but I this one is actually sticking. It's nicer inside than its previous occupants. The Sage and I happened upon this place as a 4th option. We were going to go to La Izalquena (El Salvadorian food) for some pupusas but found it is no longer there. Undaunted, we ventured down to East Sea for some Dim Sum before being informed that they are now only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Third time was not the charm, as we found that Thai Paradise, an old hole in the wall secret place of mine, is also no longer there. So, Vietnamese it was! Lesson #1 in Vietnamese cuisine: Pho. This noodle - and usually meat - soup is THE staple. Ours was chicken though it is more common to have it with various incarnations of beef. The Pho was pretty dang good, nice complex flavors that are unique to this type of food. We had an appetizer of Fried Quail and found it to be OK. Good sauce, good spices, average meat. Again, just OK. We had small helpings of 4 dishes: Vermicelli noodles with chicken were good once we figured out which sauce was poured over them. Beef short ribs were tender and pretty flavorful but really small even for "short" ribs. Panang (we couldn't resist) curry is better left to Thai places. It was good, but nothing to get excited about. Thai basil stir fry with chicken was about the same. So, decent food, nothing to shout from the rooftops but nothing to complain about either. Just a pretty solid place, although if I do go back, which I might if I'm in the neighborhood again, I am ordering ALL Vietnamese. Lesson learned.

Texas coming soon, I promise! (Houston, DFW, San Antonio)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Men (and women) in the field

Far be it from me to think that I am the only one with some good things to say. Therefore, I will from time to time be posting some thoughts from some other reliable sources. Here are a few of them (though I may be adding more, who knows?)

The Sage - A wise old fart, this contributor has accompanied me on several excursions and, as he is a bit ahead of me in years, has an encyclopedia of eating knowledge.
The Gambler - So named because the man can't be within 10 miles of a poker table without getting an antsy little twitch. His expertise will be filling us in on the culinary nuggets of small-town Utah
The Spicy Sicilian - She tends to be a bit sassy, which is a fantastic quality, and also happens to be a terrific cook, so we'll trust her judgement on how others cook as well - especially in regard to Italian food.
The Chicken Wing - This is an old inside joke because he got mad at someone for taking the last wing from the just had to be there. Well-traveled, and may fill in some of the places I have not been

Monday, August 17, 2009

Burger Joints

Wow, how do we narrow this one down? There are as many places that serve these standbys of American cuisine as there are opinions at a Health Care Town Meeting! No politics here, though, except the politics of food. I proudly present the best places in Utah to bite into some beef:

1. In-N-Out Burger
OK, this exists only in St. George for now but is on its way - finally! - to Northern Utah. Guess we'll have to come up with a new excuse to go to Vegas now that we can get our fix here, but that shouldn't be too difficult to do:) Double Double with cheese, and I strongly suggest grilled onions as a topper. Course, you could always make it "Animal Style", the not-so-secret secret order: pickles, extra sauce, grilled onions, and mustard fried into each patty. Regardless of how you like 'em, they taste amazing. I'm not even sure you could classify the patty as beef, since this burger seems to have some sort of otherworldly quality which causes it to melt right into your tastebuds upon contact, seemingly not requiring chewing so much as allowing it to just become a part of you. Mmmmm. Only caveat here: the shoestring-style fries are just OK, and unlike the burgers can be inconsistent from location to location. But we're rating burgers, and I say that California has been greedy with this chain for long enough. Bring it on!
2. Five Guys Burgers & Fries
This Baltimore-area transplant started serving em up last year, and has immediately made its mark. No drive-thru. You have to get off your lazy rear end and go inside people! It's worth the short trip. Upon entering, you will notice a few things. First, you will see bags of potatoes for making fries stacked everywhere. These are not just decorations, they actually use these. Second, there are little paper trays into which you can put peanuts. Like, in-the-shell peanuts, which are of course addictive to much on while you wait for your food. But please wait until after you have ordered to grab them. No one likes to look at a slob eating their peanuts in line. Third, you will hear a lot of yelling. That is the staff, who do not believe in intercoms and instead prefer to yell your order number throughout the restaurant. It's kinda cool, actually.
OK, the food. Their name pretty much says it: Burgers and Fries (plus a small selection of hot dogs if you are a pansy and are scared of a burger). Oh, and a regular burger is a double, so if you are not very hungry order the "Little Burger" if you can live with saying that with a straight face. All joking aside, the Little Burger is not little, just one patty instead of two. The burgers are fantastic. Were it not for In-N-Out's burger this place would easily be #1. Trust me, this is better than anything you can grill up at home. Choose from 16 free toppings to put on your burger, which is always fresh because Five Guys never freezes ANY of their food. And the best part? The burgers aren't even the star of the show. That distinction belongs to the fries, which are quite simply the best fries I've ever had. Thick cut, skin-on, and made from Idaho potatoes, they may just be the perfect fry. Order a regular unless you have a LOT of mouths to feed, because the regular is really big, and the large is just ginormous. Cool fact: Ginormous is now a recognized word by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. That makes me laugh probably more than it should! Anyway, back to the fries. They rock. I know we are rating burgers here but get some fries when you go here or you may insult the food gods who will probably then proceed to give you Botulism. OK, time to move on because this post is bordering on ridiculous. Just go and enjoy this place.
3. Cotton Bottom Inn
See that nice big fancy restaurant that looks like a chateau and has valet parking? That's called Tuscany. Go just west of that and turn in to a little dive bar. Don't worry that it looks unsavory, the people here are actually quite nice and just happen to possess a legendary Garlic Burger. Don't overthink it. Walk in, sit down, order the legend that this place has been serving up since, well, way before yours truly was born. While you are contemplating Garlic Burger nirvana, enjoy the faded signs of Bugs Bunny that adorn the place (Cotton Bottom, get it?) and see if the waitress can't rustle you something to drink. I'm sure they can oblige :)
4. Crown Burger
I have two words for you: Pastrami Burger. This thing is so good the New York Times wrote about it! The burger and bun by themselves would be worth ordering, but don't you dare get one here without pastrami. It amounts to sacrilege around these parts. Just enjoy the juicy pastrami which is good enough that it could probably sneak its way into a New York deli or two without anyone noticing the difference. Not bad for a bunch of Greek guys!
5. Salt City Burger Company
Two of the women in my life would vehemently disagree with this ranking. My wife, whose stomach did not take a liking to this place, would probably advise me to take it off entirely. My sister, on the other hand, will be outraged that it is not #1. I think it works nice right here. This is more of a gourmet burger place. The meat is very good on its own. Really flavorful. Then come the toppings, which sadly will cost you extra (one reason why this is not ranked higher). Toppings are great though. Of course bacon, blue cheese, and sauteed mushrooms are available, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. I'd like to point you to the carmelized grilled onions, which can overwhelm the whole thing but that's OK because they taste like candy. No joke, they're delicious. You can also get avocado slices, fresh guacamole, onion rings, pastrami, pineapple, or chili. OK, random thought. Did you know that when you rearrange the letters in "pineapple" you get "ape nipple"? You just tried that, didn't you! Sicko. I can't take credit for that discovery, but it's a great story (thanks, Sara!)
Anyway, they also have sweet potato fries on the menu which is a plus, and they will let you go half and half with any combo of regular fries, sweet potatoes, and onion rings. Kind of nice for indecisive chaps like me.
Honorable Mention
Lots of places to narrow down to five, so here are some others worth trying: Fat's Grill & Pool, The Counter (neat idea, but too many options), JCW's, Triple Prime Burger at Ruby Tuesday, and, as much as it pains me cause I hate this place, The Surf & Turf Burger at Applebee's.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eggs In The City

Continuing our theme of all things breakfast today; and if Ruth's is comfort food then Eggs in the City counters with a bit of a hip, casual air befitting its location near Emigration Market. And it works just fine thank you. This is one of those places that you would expect to find in a big city with lots of liberals talking politics (are we in Salt Lake?). The digs, like the parking lot, are not what you would call spacious. Then again, you can only do so much with a converted service station. Speaking of the former occupants, the garage door still works, which is a plus since it opens to some cool patio dining. The servers are younger and very nice, and will not balk at you admiring the colorful tatoos which cover a great deal of some of their bodies.
The food is excellent. They serve the standard breakfast fare, of course, and do it quite well. Vegan or vegetarian? They've got you covered with many excellent possibilities. I am far from being either, but one thing that I've learned is that places that will cater to V/V's make good food, becuase they have to rely on quality, fresh ingredients and inventive preparations to carry the meal in lieu of natural flavorings from meats. Thankfully this carries over into ALL of their dishes, thus making the carnivorous ones that much better. The menu seems to have a little bit of a Mexican influence too, always a plus for breakfast, and can be seen in delicious Huevos Rancheros - my fave on the menu - and a Mexican skillet which looks tasty but has yet to be sampled by yours truly. The breakfast burrito is big and yummy, helped out by the same Chili Verde that makes the Huevos so good. Omelettes are consistently good, and have many options to choose from (you get any three ingredients to create your own, including could see that coming couldn't you?). They also offer a good Salmon Benedict and hit a home run with the breakfast potatoes that come as a side to most meals. The most interesting thing about this place, though, is that it is the only place that I know of where people come just for the oatmeal. If you like oatmeal, you will love their version which is called Oatmeal Brulee. Made with carmelized brown sugar, walnuts, and bananas, along with high quality steel-cut oats, it is easy to see why people fall in love with it after one bite.
Great food, and a bit of cool that is much-needed in this state. Plus, almost everything on the menu is under $10. The only question is why are you reading this instead of eating there?

Ruth's Diner

THE place to go to breakfast around Salt Lake, as evidenced by the sometimes hour wait on weekends. If you've been there you know the wait is worth it however. I love this place. The setting, just up Emigration Canyon, is beautiful. Inside feels like an old dining car and outside is about the best patio dining anywhere, including the live music that can so often be heard. Ruth's recently got renovated and while I don't really like the new, modern look of the outside I am reserving judgement until I see the rest of it (I was only driving by). Plus, I'm sure a place so old needs a bit of a facelift every now and then.
But if the setting is what draws people initially, the food is what keeps them coming back. And though I have heard rumors of tasty fare on the lunch and dinner menus, this is first and foremost a breakfast place. And oh what a breakfast place this is. The first thing you need to know about are the biscuits. Huge and delicious, these homemade staples come with every meal, which means it is impossbile to have a bad meal here. One will almost certainly fill you up, but you will want more. Then the rest of the menu. My personal favorite, which cannot always be found on the menu, is the crab cake benedict, which is made with real lump crab and is simply exquisite. Benedicts are one of the specialties at Ruth's also coming in Salmon, Pulled Pork, Florentine, and Traditional varieties. The rest of the menu runs the gamut from a healthier section called "The Lighter Side" to old-time favorites like biscuits and gravy and numerous eggs-and-meat dishes, to rare finds such as Red Trout and Eggs or the Chinese Chicken omelette. Rest assured though that not only can anyone find something they like on the varietous menu, but that it will most likely bring back wonderful memories of comfort food at mom's. Especially if mom lives in the mountains!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bellissimo Gelato

We had a great picnic at the park for dinner today and afterward decided to check out a gelato place in Murray we have heard about: Bellissimo Gelato. It's in a strip mall on 700 E. right by Sports Authority. I have developed a new love for gelato, an Italian dessert which differs from ice cream in three ways: 1. It has less butterfat than ice cream (a little under 10% compared to 25-30%) resulting in less fat overall. 2. It is denser than ice cream, meaning that serving sizes are usually smaller because it will fill you sooner. 3. It is slightly warmer than ice cream due to a different freezing point, so when you eat it it feels like it just melts in your mouth. I have found that good gelato has better flavor than ice cream does, which dispels the traditional thought that fat adds flavor. I wouldn't call gelato healthy per se, but if you are craving a frozen treat it is a better alternative for your waistline than ice cream.
The place was pretty packed when we went in and it was easy to see why. They must have had 40 flavors of the stuff in there! The special flavor of the night was marshmallow, which my wife decided to pair with chocolate - they will gladly fix you a half and half serving if you are indecisive. They were both very good, but amazing when eaten together. I opted for Donatella, which is chocolate-hazelnut, and cheesecake. The Donatella was amazing. I will definitely get it next time. The cheesecake flavor was bland and disappointing, and I regretted not getting the coconut flavor that I was considering instead. All in all, a good place. And the ladies behind the counter were really friendly and happy to boot. I think I'll be back pretty soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Red Iguana

If you live in Utah and have a pulse, you have not only heard of this place but have probably eaten there as well. This is as much of an institution as we have around here, and it pretty well speaks for itself, so I won't take much time selling everybody's favorite hole in the wall. Instead, since the menu is fairly big and quite varied, I'll talk about some of my favorite dishes...they may just give you a new idea next time you eat there. Oh, and if you live outside of Utah, you need to eat here when you visit. If you live here and have not tried it, um, hurry and go before I find you and beat some sense in to you!

Fantastic Dish #1 - Cochinita Pibil
I first discovered this dish on my honeymoon. We were on our way back from a trip through the jungle to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. Magnificent! But I digress, this is not an archealogical forum. We drove our little Dodge Attitude (this was really the name of the car, I am not making this up!) into the plaza at the center of a modern Mayan city called Valladolid. After parking right behind the Bimbo ice cream truck (also true) we crossed the plaza, which reminds me of a miniature Boston Common, to an open-air restaurant which led in to a hotel. In Mexico, sometimes if it looks clean and cool, it is good enough! We sat down and with a nice breeze blowing through took a peek at the portion of the menu which was (thankfully) translated into English. My eyes kept coming back to dish described as "Yucatan-style pork, slow-roasted and marinted in its roasting juices, wrapped in a banana leaf." I couldn't resist, so after ordering a Sol, which is a terrific mexican beer, I proceeded to sample the Pibil. Heaven on a tortilla. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I vowed that I would search the menu of every Mexican restaurant back in the states and if I saw it, there would be no decision on what to order. Imagine my delight, then, when I saw it on the menu at my favorite Mex joint back home. No banana leaf at the Iguana, but there is an abundance of moist, mouthwatering shredded pork that comes tantalizingly close to that first heavenly encounter. So good, I may never order anything else here. As a side note, I have found this dish only one other place: Pancho's in Manhattan Beach, CA. Outstanding there as well.

Fantastic Dish #2 - Mole
Mole is one of those love it or hate it kind of flavors. There really isn't much inbetween on this stuff because the taste is so distinct. For those of you who are Mole virgins, it is a sauce made with, among other things, dried chilis, spices, herbs, nuts, and quite often, chocolate. The flavor of the mole depends greatly on the type of chilis used, and the Iguana has a guide to all of them and the Mexican regions from which they hail. There are 7 different varieties here and, being one of those people who loves mole, I have tried most of them. They all come with a different pairing of meat and are all outstanding, although you have to be a TRUE mole lover to like the Mole Negro, which can be a bit strong. My favorite is the Mole Poblano, which can also be found with the avocado-and-sour-cream Enchiladas Suizas, although as I said all of them are good.

Fantastic Dish #3 - Gringas
I'll borrow from the menu here: "Tender tips of carne adobada grilled with pinepple, sliced green, red and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes and onions, folded in a warm flour tortilla." That pretty much says it all. The meat is tender, spicy, and delicious. The other items compliment it perfectly. Just come hungry, because the serving is HUGE.

Fantastic Dish #4 - Everything else!
You really cannot go wrong here unless you do not go at all

Sushi in Joy

Remember what I said on my post about Thai Orchid and it feeling like home? Well, I get the same thing here. My wife and I used to go to the Mikado in Cottonwood for sushi, even though we found the prices to be a little high. When it left Latitude Restaurant Group and we could no longer get good deals, we decided to look elsewhere. One day, we happened upon a small little place in a strip mall right next to Hopper's. We had gone to Hopper's for lunch and noted the Sushi Restaurant next door so we vowed to make it our next Sushi destination. Wow, what a great decision.
You can't help but feel good when you go in here. The owner and servers were excited to see us and ready and willing to take care of us the first time we visited, and if anything they have become even more friendly as we have become regulars. They always remember us, even after our first visit, and like to recall how we were one of their first sets of loyal customers when they were struggling and did not have much business. They have plenty now, partially because we have told all of our sushi-loving friends about this place. The people here are so nice that they have, on more than one occassion, offered to take and hold our fussy baby so that we can enjoy our meal for a few moments. It is telling of our comfort level with them that we have actually allowed them to do it! How is that for service?
Great service, however, only goes so far of the food isn't up to par. No worries here. This is better sushi than I have had at much more expensive and higher-rated places. If you are at all inclined toward tuna, you must try the Double Tuna Roll. Soft, delicious, buttery tuna on the inside, and the same in big, and spicy, layers on top. It just seems to melt away in your mouth. That's what get me about this place. The ingredients are always fresh and always top-notch. They don't try to hide flavors with all kinds of other add-ons, they just let superior quality stand on its own. The Playboy is another star, with shrimp tempura, tuna, and spicy sauce. Like your entire roll tempura fried? Try the Volcano Roll, it is decadent. Not your style? Try the Red Dragon, or choose from about 40 other varieties, some not even on the menu. You can never run out of options here. You will also not run out of cash, as the sushi here is about $4-$8 cheaper than what you would pay elsewhere! Make sure you check the daily specials, too. We almost always order at least one of these, and some of them (like the Double Tuna) make it on to the menu permanently. In review, I will state categorically that we have tried about 20 different rolls/preparations here and have NEVER been disappointed. That is the mark of a true find. That, and the fact that after 9 months without sushi this was my wife's first post-pregnancy meal. We had planned this for months and I went and grabbed a to-go order, which we ate right in the hopspital! The staff still gets a kick out of that story as well. And they have been pretty good about keeping a couple of my clandestine solo visits during the pregnancy a secret from my wife. Oops, guess I spilled the beans. Hey, some places are just too good to stay away from :)