It seems like just about every year for the past decade or so, I've reflected upon Utah's dining and drink culture and, each year, I come away thinking that the year just concluded was even better than the one before. The restaurant scene here might not yet rival places like San Francisco or New York City, but it's beginning to look a lot like Portland and Denver/Boulder. The food and service improve yearly, and chefs' and restaurateurs' attention to the use of local, organic and artisan ingredients has hit an all-time high. There was a time when I felt like an apologist for the Utah food scene; now I'm an enthusiast and cheerleader, thanks to all the hardworking—and often underpaid—food-and-drink industry folks out there breaking new Utah culinary ground.
Of the restaurants that opened in 2015, none has made a bigger splash than Current Fish & Oyster (279 E. 300 South, 801-326-3474, CurrentFishAndOyster.com). The eye-popping collaboration of Mikel Trap (Trio Restaurant Group) and Joel LaSalle (LaSalle Restaurant Group) took the old Salt Lake Antiques building and simultaneously restored and rebooted that venerable location in tandem with the Luna Design Group. The best news, though, is that executive chef Logen Crew's cuisine rose to the level of the delightful décor, and his whole grilled branzino fish was one of the most satisfying dishes I enjoyed in the past year.
In January 2015, I made my first excursion to Provisions (3364 S. 2300 East, 801-410-4046, SLCProvisions.com). Not quite knowing what to expect from the space that was previously home to Lugano, I was bowled over by the top-to-bottom, bold new décor of designer Rachel Hodson. And I was equally impressed by the bold cuisine of executive chef/owner Tyler Stokes, which includes his contemporary renditions of classics like steak tartare, and innovative ones like the pig's head torchon. I'm betting that Provisions is here to stay.
With Holladay's Copper Kitchen (4640 S. 2300 East, 385-237-3159, CopperKitchenSLC.com), Ryan and Colleen Lowder built on the success of their popular Copper Onion and Copper Commons eateries downtown. But this is no Copper clone; chef Justin Nelson—in tandem with Ryan Lowder—has created a unique, distinct menu at Copper Kitchen.
Draper's Oak Wood Fire Kitchen (715 E. 12300 South, 801-996-8155, OakWoodFireKitchen.com) put another notch in Utah's ever-expanding pizza belt—and, as I wrote previously, the Margherita pizza there is as good as any I've ever tasted. But in addition to excellent pizza, the service is stellar. So are nonpizza offerings, such as homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and the seared salmon salad. Although it opened prior to 2015, it took me until then to discover the perfect pizzas at Jack's Wood Fired Oven (265 N. Main, Logan, 435-754-7523, JacksWoodFiredOven.Blogspot.com). With fabulous wood-fired pizzas, addictive Lyon bread and economical pricing, Jack's is almost always packed, and rightly so.
In the summer of 2015, I discovered "glamping" at Conestoga Ranch (400 W. 300 North, Garden City, 844-464-5267, ConestogaRanch.com), near Bear Lake. This, I determined, is my kind of camping. In addition to luxury digs, there were no freeze-dried meals in sight. But Campfire Grill at Conestoga Ranch is an eatery with food and drink that could vie with some of Salt Lake City's best restaurants. Chef Gustavo Suclla Schiaffino has quietly created a gourmet dining experience, nearly in the middle of nowhere. His Wagyu beef alone is worth the trip.
True to its name, Laid Back Poke Shack (6213 S. Highland Drive, Holladay, 801-635-8190) has a super-friendly and helpful staff. It is their pleasure to guide customers (and offer free samples) through the dozen or so daily poke offerings, which can range, on any given day, from shoyu ahi, ginger ahi, spicy ahi, oyster ahi, California spicy ahi, shoyu salmon, sesame calamari and kimchi tako, to sweet chili shrimp, kimchi mussels, taegu (Korean seasoned cod) and spicy snow crab.
A second Porcupine Pub & Grille brings the popular Porcupine food, drink and service to the U of U neighborhood (258 S. 1300 East, 801-582-5555, PorcupinePub.com), and it's been a hit ever since the doors opened. There's an eclectic menu and wide range of offerings to choose from, but my favorite is the unsurpassed ahi spring rolls, made with sushi-grade ahi tuna, shredded cabbage, carrots, cilantro, basil, mung bean sprouts and scallions, all swaddled in a thick wonton and nori wrapper, then flash-fried and served with a heaping mound of jasmine rice topped with a pineapple slice and pickled ginger.
Of all of this year's new restaurants, however, none pleased me more than Manoli's (402 E. 900 South, 801-532-3760, ManolisOn9th.com), with Executive Chef/owner Manoli Katsanevas' elevated and updated modern Greek-inspired fare. Just don't come looking for gyros and souvlaki.
And, let us not forget the new high-altitude options for dining during the 2015-16 ski season. At Deer Valley Resort's (DeerValley.com) Silver Lake Lodge, Bald Mountain Pizza morphed into a pho bar and the sandwich deli became a taquería. Snowbird (Snowbird.com) opened its massive new Summit restaurant atop Hidden Peak, while Park City (ParkCityMountain.com) updated Red Pine Lodge and opened the all-new Miners Camp, serving a mix of focaccia pizzas, a Mediterranean menu, fresh-tossed artisan salads, upscale soups, chili and more, including a pub within the Camp. At Solitude (SkiSolitude.com), the Roundhouse is now the Himalayan Hut, offering lamb rogan josh, butter chicken, dal, naan and such.
But, let us also not forget the tried-and-true restaurants that helped pave the way for all of the newbies. In the past year, I was reminded of the importance of ground-breaking eateries such as Martine, Mazza, The Paris, Hearth, Avenues Bistro on Third, Feldman's Deli, Bombay House, Caputo's, Valter's, Caffe Niche, Settebello, Squatters, From Scratch, Alamexo, Red Iguana, Gourmandise, Caffe Molise, Hell's Backbone Grill, Takashi, Naked Fish, Moochie's, The New Yorker, Eva's and so many others to the ever-growing culinary scene here in the Beehive State.
I can't wait to see what delicious delights 2016 will bring.