Dining | The Best Meal You’ll Never Eat: Planning a fantasy Salt Lake City Dine-O-Round 

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When you have the good fortune to spend a week on Maui, as I just did, there’s not a whole helluva lot to complain about. Fabulous weather, wonderful people, incredible scenery, and … the food. Well, I never thought I’d utter these words, but if I were forced into making the choice, I’d rather eat in Salt Lake City for a week than in Maui. I’m speaking, of course, strictly about the food, not the sights, scenery and other accoutrements that go along with the meals.

Now, I know you—or at least my editors—don’t want to read a tedious plate-by-plate report of my dining excursions in Hawaii: I ate this, I ate that, nyah nyah nyah nyah. So I won’t burden you with all the gory details. Briefly, the highlights included phenomenal sushi at a strip mall location in Kihei called Sushi Paradise, where Chef Watanabe dishes out generous portions of the freshest sashimi and sushi I’ve ever encountered. I could swear the toro I ordered was still moving. Best of all, there were no macadamia nuts anywhere on the menu. That’s the problem with high-end dining on Maui: macadamia nuts. There are macadamia nuts—typically along with coconut in one form or another—in, on, under or around everything. The pancakes have macadamia nuts in them; the fish are coated with macadamia nuts; the ice cream is, you guessed it, macadamia nut. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I read the words “coconut-macadamia crusted.” All right, we get it: Macadamia nuts are plentiful in Hawaii. Now bring me some duck confit.

So as I was enjoying a macadamia nut-free shrimp po’ boy sandwich at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Lahaina, it occurred to me that I’d just as soon be eating at Cucina Toscana, The New Yorker, Vienna Bistro or any of a number of favorite Salt Lake City restaurants, even despite the lack of an ocean view. And with the 2nd Annual Spring Downtown Dine O’ Round (see Food Matters) nearly upon us, I began thinking about the ultimate Salt Lake City Dine O’ Round. Sure it’s impractical—and probably even impossible—but, given a healthy enough appetite, a pocketful of large bills and a tank full of gas, here are the stops I’d make.

First, we must have oysters. So restaurant No. 1 would be the Cottonwood Market Street Oyster Bar for a dozen or so Blue Points on the half shell with mignonette sauce. I’m so addicted to mignonette that I’ve been accused of just using oysters as a vehicle for getting the sauce. Order Muscadet de Serve-et-Maine to go with the bivalves.

Next, we motor north nine miles to Monsoon Thai Bistro and drop in for Chef Sinlap Vongsay’s lovely lobster and mango spring roll: delicate rice paper stuffed with generous chunks of lobster meat, Thai basil, mango and lightly seasoned with nam pla. Choosing a wine from the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-worthy wine list is a cinch: I’d opt for a glass of Moët & Chandon White Star Champagne. Follow that luscious spring roll up with Chef Jared Young’s equally delectable candied pecan butternut squash soup with fresh rosemary and bell pepper brunoise at Faustina and well, the evening’s beginning to take on a very special flavor.

A salad would be nice. So let’s head over to Fresco Italian Café for the fresh and delicious arugula salad. It comes with Shepherd’s Dairy chèvre, prosciutto, beets and sweet honey vinaigrette. And since we’re in the neighborhood, a stroll over to The Paris Bistro is in order. There you’ll find one of my all-time top 10 SLC restaurant dishes: Owner/Chef Eric DeBonis’ irresistible duck confit served with French lentils and cress. You’ll swear you’re sitting at a bistro in Gascony. So what the hell, let’s also treat ourselves to a bottle of Guigal Hermitage.

But let’s not leave France just quite yet. I’ve heard it said that pâté is just French meatloaf. But French-born Franck Peisel’s meatloaf really is meatloaf, and it’s marvelous. He makes it with a combination of veal, pork and chicken, all slowly cooked and then formed into a cylindrical tower and topped with a rich berry/wine reduction. Where’s the meat, you ask? It’s at Franck’s. And speaking of pâté, none is better than the monkfish liver pâté (ankimo) at Takashi downtown.

Time to lighten up a little at Bambara with Chef Dave Jones’ phenomenal tuna tartare, done up with avocado-Thai chili, pea sprout salad, shiro-miso crisp and yuzu-ponzu sauce. I’ll have a glass of Pine Ridge Chenin/Viognier with that, please.

Heading into the home stretch, I’d stop by The Metropolitan for a hearty dish of American Kobe beef served with egg noodles, wild mushrooms and brown butter, which will go great with a glass of Judd’s Hill Merlot. And since we’re close by, it’s wise to drop in on Adam Kreisel at Acme Burger Co. for one of his mini burgers—you don’t want to overdo it, after all—made with Great Basin beef. It’s the best burger in Utah.

Now, dessert will require a bit of a road trip. So it’s prudent to snag a Margherita pizza at Settebello—just across the street from Acme Burger Co.—before we head south. We’ll be headed to the Left Fork Grill in Murray for chef/owner Jeff Masten’s unsurpassed banana cream pie (just ask Phil Jacobsen!). The secret to that irresistibly flakey crust is, of course, lard. But, hey, surely we’re not counting calories tonight.

All that’s left now is to head east across town to Tuscany for an after-dinner nightcap, featuring owner Aaron Ferer’s custom-designed martini menu. For me, it’ll be “The Hemingway” martini, and let’s also have an order of the 7’4” old-fashioned chocolate cake with that. Total mileage: Approx. 68, total cost: $359.32. And not a macadamia nut in sight.

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