Casual Corners | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Casual Corners 

A trio of dining destinations for those who fancy something not-so-fancy.

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We are reminded at Thanksgiving that not all of the best meals take place in hoity-toity restaurants. The casual dining experience can be often the most rewarding. So I thought this week I’d reflect on three casual dining spots I’ve visited in the past month, each unique in its own way.

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When I learned that the Artist’s Palate Café in Millcreek was one of City Weekly associate editor Bill Frost’s favorite munch spots, I dropped by hoping for a Frost sighting. But the lack of paparazzi out front told me that mine would be a Frost-free lunch. Still, I was glad he’d tipped me off to the Artist’s Palate, as I discovered it’s a little gem of an eatery for casual breakfast and lunch.

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The creation of artist Vivian Woodruff and her husband/partner Henry, the Artist’s Palate is a small café'seven diminutive tables in a space the size of the average living room, its walls completely covered by the works of local artists, most of which are for sale. In keeping with the artsy theme, many of the restaurant’s specialty items'sandwiches and burgers, mostly'are named for famous artists. There is, for example, the Da Vinci, which is a “sandwich” of sorts: marinara-bathed spaghetti served over a French roll and your choice of meatballs or Italian sausage ($6.95). The Pete Petersen'named for local art teacher Harold “Pete” Petersen'is Thanksgiving all year ’round: turkey, cranberry, cream cheese, lettuce and tomatoes on sourdough ($6.95).

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The Artist’s Palate is a very friendly spot, more akin to dropping by a friend’s kitchen for breakfast or lunch than eating in a commercial establishment. As I tucked into my gargantuan Picasso sandwich'a tender grilled beef patty topped with lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, and black-bean chili, all served on a toasted open-faced bun'Vivian dropped off a couple of extra napkins at our table. “I usually wind up wearing my food, so I thought you might need these,” she said.

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At breakfast, along with oatmeal, French toast, ham & eggs and the like, you’ll also find an array of omelets including the lovely fruit omelet ($6.95), which is stuffed with fresh fruit and cream cheese and christened with yogurt, walnuts and maple syrup'not to mention a croissant on the side. The pastel-infused Artist’s Palate Café reminds me of the type of casual eatery you’d find in Ann Arbor or at Antioch, the type of place to linger over good homemade food, kind companionship and maybe a copy of Artforum.

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I’ve little to say about the new Saltimbocca Casual Italian restaurant in Sugar House, as it’s mostly a disaster. Don’t get me wrong'I love the idea of a casual, fast-food style restaurant that serves Italian classics like shrimp scampi, chicken Marsala, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo and such, mostly for under $8. It’s just that, at Saltimbocca, the concept and the execution are miles apart.

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It would have been so simple to introduce flavor to my ultra-bland spaghetti aglio/olio ($4.95). This is normally one of my favorite dishes: a ridiculously simple preparation of al dente (but not at Saltimbocca where it was mushy) pasta tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley and (normally) dried red chilies. But, alas, the olive oil sure didn’t taste virginal. Neither my dining partner nor I could detect the slightest hint of garlic. And the addition of an inferior, dusty tasting “Parmesan” cheese'where aglio/olio usually is prepared sans cheese'was the final insult. Not that my tough, overcooked “thinly sliced (not!)” chicken piccata was any better ($7.95). Thank goodness, then, for the prosciutto- and spinach-stuffed lasagna roll ($7.95), which was actually quite tasty. But skip the Caprese salad. It’s too bad that six very generous slices of fresh mozzarella were defaced by pink, unripe tomatoes. A hint of balsamic vinegar would have gone a long way towards imparting flavor to the bland, oil-doused salad.

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Needless to say, I was still hungry after leaving Saltimbocca. My partner came to the rescue: “It’s still early. Why don’t we stop by [the Metropolitan] for a bottle of wine and a snack at the bar?” she suggested. A great suggestion, as it turns out.

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I know: You’re thinking this is supposed to be a column about casual dining, and the Metropolitan is about as fancy schmancy as it gets. But not so fast! You see, the Metropolitan'in addition to its renowned contemporary fine dining'also offers a casual, inexpensive (well, relatively) menu in the Bistro.

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Settling on a bottle of ZD Napa Valley Chardonnay, we scanned the Bistro menu at The Metropolitan, which includes “legal snacks”'a choice of wasabi peas, candied almonds or shrimp chips for $3, allowing patrons to jump through the legal hoop of having to eat while imbibing, on the cheap. Bar bites are $8 each and include pommes frites with truffle oil and grana padano cheese, a wonderful salmon rillette, braised short rib (heaven!) with Yukon potato and red wine, and The Metro’s out-of-this-world mac ’n’ cheese: A decadent mélange of orecchiette, shallots, white cheddar cheese, Parmesan, and mascarpone.

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By the way, although seated in or at the Metropolitan Bistro, one can also order from the regular dinner menu and wine list. And when you do, be sure to consider the foie gras, served with brioche and pumpkin, mint and fall spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Get the foie before they outlaw it.

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ARTIST’S PALATE CAFÉ
n2819 S. 2300 East
n485-1264

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SALTIMBOCCA CASUAL ITALIAN
n790 E. 2100 South
n466-4066

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THE METROPOLITAN
n173 W. Broadway
n364-3472

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