As we put a wrap on 2011, I thought I’d take a look back at the new restaurants I reviewed in the past year. Frankly, I was a little surprised. Given a dire economy and an overall outlook of doom and gloom for just about any business, a surprising number of interesting, appealing, independent restaurants opened in 2011 and are thriving, seemingly bucking—knock on wood—those dark forecasts. As we ring in 2012 and look forward to more new and exciting restaurants to review, we also look back at the best of 2011. These are a few of my favorites.
A trio of Asian/Indian eateries caught my attention this year. Among them was Dojo Asian Inspired Cuisine & Lounge (423 W. 300 South, 801-328-3333, DojoSLC.com)—a clunky moniker, perhaps, but there’s nothing clunky about the artful food and ambiance that Dojo offers. The restaurant is a beautifully designed space, testament to co-owner Kelly Shiotani’s skill and eye for interior décor. And the from-scratch food is exceptional, from uber-fresh sushi and sashimi to irresistible dishes like pork-belly ramen.
The owners of Sala Thai Kitchen (677 S. 200 West, 801-328-2499) took a dark, uninviting space (previously Zanzibar) and turned it into a vibrant Thai eatery with flavors as bright and inviting as the ambiance. My niece Sarah, who teaches school in Bangkok, proclaimed Sala’s fare “the best Thai food I’ve had in the United States!” The incredible pad him ma parn—a stir-fry of meat, chicken, seafood or tofu with cashews, water chestnuts, carrot slivers, pineapple pieces, broccoli, onion, bell peppers, scallions and toasted chilies—backs up that statement.
Down in South Jordan, Lavanya Mahate’s Saffron Valley (1098 W. South Jordan Parkway, 801-438-4823, SaffronValley.com) brought Indian and Indo-Chinese street food to Zion. There’s an abundance of interesting, economical choices on the Saffron Valley menu, but the one you don’t want to miss is the dosa—Indian flatbread stuffed with various delectable fillings. Bet you can’t eat just one!
A couple of mom & pop-style Italian eateries came on board in 2011. First, there was Cucina Vanina in Cottonwood Heights (1844 E. Fort Union Blvd., 801-938-9706, CucinaVanina.com), owner/chef Vanina Pirollo’s ode to Southern Italy, complete with a Sicily-slanted wine list. Portions, like the friendly vibe, are deliciously generous. Be sure to drop in on a Thursday, which is the day that Pirollo features housemade gnocchi dishes. Over on the west side, Ross and April Siragusa opened Siragusa’s (4115 S. Redwood Road, 801-268-1520, Siragusas.com), which is the type of place where the servers seem to know all the customers by name. Why on earth would you spend good money at Olive Garden or Fazoli’s when, for about the same money, you can get made-from-scratch dishes like chicken parmigiana, crunchy calamari, slow-roasted osso bucco and fantastic sweet-potato gnocchi. Mangia!
A couple of oddities opened in 2011, which couldn’t have been more opposite, stylistically. The owners of Pho Green Papaya and Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill launched a fun and funky eatery—the type of place where you can literally write on the walls—called Bucket O’ Crawfish (1980 W. 3500 South, West Valley City, 801-419-0900, BucketOCrawfish.com). The name says it all: Piles of steamed crawfish, shrimp, crab, clams and more are dumped right onto your table (along with a selected sauce) and invite you to get down and dirty. The food here is as marvelous as it is messy.
At the opposite end of the dining spectrum is Draper’s opulent new eatery for 2011: Vuz (12234 S. Draper Gate Drive, 801-617-8600, VuzBar.com). The number of Mercedes and Maseratis in the valet parking area hint at the upscale clientele that comes to Vuz for eye-popping ambiance and Chef Kaharim Becerra’s eclectic, flavorful fare. In warm weather, the wraparound patio provides endless views of the South Valley and a bustling nighttime bar scene.
In Park City, three new restaurants made a splash. I loved Cena Ristorante (7815 Royal St. East, 435-658-9500, The-Chateaux.com/dining) for bringing family-friendly Italian fare and prices to Deer Valley, with pizzas and pasta dishes for well under $10, an appealing Italy-leaning wine list and friendly, professional service. At the high end of the dining dollar is Silver (508 Main, 435-940-1000, SilverRestaurant.com) a dazzling, spare-no-expense dining destination featuring excellent new-American cuisine and live DJs on the weekend. Hey, where else will you find goose-leg confit, grilled baby octopus and venison tartare on the same menu?
But, The Farm at Canyons Resort (4000 Canyons Resort Drive, 435-615-8080, CanyonsResort.com) made the biggest impression on my palate. The experience often begins with the friendliest of welcomes from manager Gordon Montana, and just gets better, with delicious dish after dish designed by executive chef John Murcko. The culinary foundation of The Farm is the use of fresh, local ingredients, the majority of which come from farms and producers located within a 200-mile radius of Park City. Simply put, it’s all exceptional.
Finally, two small eateries made noise with big, robust flavors: At Penny Ann’s Café (1810 S. Main, 801-935-4760, PennyAnnsCafe.com), there’s nothing on the menu priced higher than $8. The Philly cheesesteak is great, and the cooked-from-scratch corned-beef Reuben is excellent, too. At suppertime, you can get complete pasta meals, with bread, for as little as $5.99; definitely try the fettuccine with homemade meatballs. And for the best pastrami sandwich in Utah, folks in 2011 turned to 9th South Delicatessen (931 E. 900 South, 801-517-3663, www.9thSouthDeli.com), where housemade pickles, fresh-made matzo ball soup, latkes, knishes and Dr. Brown’s soda are all part of this restaurant’s special appeal.
The news, however, wasn’t all good. In 2011, we lost two restaurants that anchored downtown SLC dining for many, many years: The Metropolitan and Vienna Bistro. They are deeply missed.