Last night, at the U. of U. Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake Magazine held what the organizers not-so-humbly call "the Academy Awards of Utah dining," the magazine's annual dining awards. The evening began with a bang - or at least, a pop from Champagne bottles - with good food and drink supplied by Libation, Inc, Southern-Odom Spirits West, Bohemian Brewery, Nicholas & Co. and Cuisine Unlimited. One of the highlights was Cuisine Unlimited's lobster corn dogs paired with mini-pils glasses of Bohemian Czech Pilsner.
Things took a turn for the clunky, however, when the crowd - mostly restauratuers - were stripped of their food and booze and ushered into the Museum's auditorium for the award presentations, hosted primarily by SL Mag editor Jeremy Pugh and the dining award panelist/judges: food writer Virginia Rainey, Downtown Alliance Director Jason Mathis and wine educator James Santangelo. Gone, but fondly missed, are the days when a tipsy Randall Carlisle used to emcee the event, which sometimes teetered on disaster but was aways entertaining, which this event wasn't. The evening began with magazine publisher (who seemed like she didn't really want to be there) Margaret Mary Shuff feeling it necessary to assure attendees that the awards are not influenced by advertisers. (A quick tally of my own indicates that of the 31 award-winning restaurants only 13 have advertisements in the current issue of Salt Lake Magazine.)
In full disclosure, I should note that for a number of years I was one of the dining award judges, until I finally had enough of the in-fighting and twisted logic behind some of the awards and excused myself, permanently. Still, the folks at SL Mag, for some reason, courteously invite me to the awards event.
There weren't a lot of surprises last night. Squatters was inducted into the magazine's dining "Hall of Fame," which really means that like co-Hall of Famers Red Iguana, Log Haven and Cucina Toscana, they'd won so many awards in their category that they were retired to allow others to have a shot. In fairness, we have a similar situation with City Weekly's Best of Utah competition. Takashi Gibo was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, even though his restaurant has only been around for seven years and he's a mere 35.
There were a handful of head-scratchers, however, such as Bountiful's Sego Lily Cafe being awarded Best Salt Lake City Brunch - huh? Next year, the panelists might want to consult a map. Eric DeBonis' Sea Salt received the Best Italian restaurant award although it's only been in business for a few months. Kathmandu won the Best Indian restaurant award and Downtown Alliance member Ekamai Thai somehow came out on top as Utah's best Southeast Asian restaurant, even though it's primarily a fast-food, quick service Thai eatery with a very limited menu. This, in a town brimming with great, full-service Thai restaurants. How in the world did that happen? Oh, and Log Haven's Ian Campbell won an unprecedented second Golden Spoon Award for service, the organizers failing to remember that when I was still a panelist we bestowed the first Golden Spoon Award on Campbell, seven years ago. Or, maybe they were just aware that someone actually filched Campbell's award from the restaurant last year and decided to replace it.
There were a couple of nice surprises, such as the award for Best Wine List going to Alta's Shallow Shaft and wine manager Peri Ermidis; Zucca Trattoria winning Best Restaurant for Ogden & Northern Utah; John Murko of Park City's Talisker on Main winning the Best Chef award; Tulie coming out on top for Best Bakery; and J. Wong's Asian Bistro garnering the Best Chinese restaurant honors.
Now, a reminder: City Weekly's Best of Utah - where readers, not judges, decide who's best - is just around the corner, so be sure to get out and vote!