Dining | U Can Dine: Chowing down at the University of Utah, with nary a Salisbury steak in sight | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Dining | U Can Dine: Chowing down at the University of Utah, with nary a Salisbury steak in sight 

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It doesn’t seem like so long ago that I was in college—after all, I didn’t grow up in a log cabin built with my own two hands—but university food has changed radically since then. Gone, seemingly, is the mystery meat of yore, fish cooked into pottage and indistinguishable from mashed potatoes, and veggies with all the flavor of the can they came in. Nowadays, college kids have an immense array of tasty (and sometimes even healthy) food options on campus.

Recently, The Princeton Review named the 10 best colleges in the United States for food. Among them are the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (serving homemade ketchup and herbed mayo with their fries), Wheaton College (boiled lobster tail, Asian duck consommé and oven-roasted beef with black pepper demi-glace) and Virginia Tech (New Orleans-style gumbo and wood-fired pizza). So this week, I decided to investigate a few of the dining destinations at the University of Utah. And, while I doubt that the U will be winning dining awards from The Princeton Review anytime soon, there are some decent alternatives to The Pie, Gandolfo’s, and other just-off-campus eateries.

One of the tastiest items I ingested at the U was at The Point Bistro, located right next door to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. I suggest dropping by the museum to catch Susan Swartz’ Natural Revelations show before it leaves town and then treating yourself to a sandwich at The Point Bistro—specifically, the tomato-basil sandwich ($5.75). It’s sliced tomato and thick pieces of fresh mozzarella served on soft Italian ciabatta bread with basil leaves and Mezzetta brand basil pesto. The sandwich comes with a dill pickle wedge and chips, and it might not be quite as good as Granato’s mozzarella, basil and tomato sandwich, but it ain’t far off. Freshly baked pizza by the slice ($2.75) or whole ($12.50) is better than expected and the Caesar salad with salmon (large, thick filets) makes for a hearty and healthy lunch.

The A. Ray Olpin University Union at the U just celebrated its 50th anniversary. I suspect that for many of those five decades, cafeteria food was the only game in town there. Well, not today. Now there’s the thriving Terrace Food Court at the Union to rival those you’d see in the malls, but with better, healthier food. OK, there is a crappy Pizza Hut Express. But next to that is Rosita’s, where you can enjoy Southwest-Mexican fare such as burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas and such. Rosita’s is right next door to Coyote Jack’s Grill, offering freshly cooked burgers and cheesesteaks. Then there is also Sandwich Central where you can order up your favorite customized ’wich and the Garden Emporium where you’ll find fresh salads and wraps, along with Au Bon Pain soups like red beans with rice or potato-cheese. The latter is highly addictive. And if you’re loading up on carbs, fat and sugar in preparation for an exam or draft deferment, might I suggest Banbury Cross Donuts? My single favorite dish among the eating opportunities at the Union—all well run by Chartwell’s food service—is the Spicy Kung Pao noodles at Mandalay Express, specializing in Asian stir-fries.

You might be surprised to learn that the restaurant with the best view of Salt Lake City is located at the University of Utah. That honor goes to The Point Restaurant located on the top floor of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, where the hilltop eatery actually comes to a point. From a window-side table (and there are loads of them) you can see for, well, miles and miles, albeit partially obstructed at present by humungous construction cranes. It’s a unique, not to mention very reasonably priced, place to enjoy breakfast or lunch. In fact, The Point Restaurant is unique enough to even have been featured on the Food Network’s The Best of TV program. At The Point, the stated point is to serve healthy, low-fat, low-sodium meals to the patients, employees, students and visitors of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. But don’t get the wrong impression: It’s not boring, flavorless health food.

At the same time, the food at The Point Restaurant doesn’t reach the lofty heights these days as it did when chef Brandon Howard (more recently of Panini) was on board. The interesting Medicine Lodge Buffalo dishes that Point regulars once cherished, along with his low-fat potstickers and Napa cabbage, now are to be found mostly in The Point’s private-reception menus. There, you’ll see the Medicine Lodge Buffalo Tortellini that the Food Network’s Jill Cordes raved about. And it’s not surprising that many of Howard’s more eclectic creations—lobster polenta cakes, Tuscan pork medallions, or mini chicken en croûte, for example—now adorn the plates of wedding guests. Yes, The Point Restaurant, which is open to the public for breakfast and lunch only, is also a venue for weddings.

Blackened snapper “Monterey” ($6.49) is an interesting dish: A thin but flavorful filet sautéed with Cajun spices and served with Spanish rice but, unfortunately, also bathed in dark gravy better suited to prime rib. I did, however, enjoy my thick slices of roast turkey breast with cranberry sauce from The Point’s carvery station, although topped with (again) a dark brown, salty-tasting gravy where a light poultry gravy would have done the trick. Whatever happened to low-sodium at The Point? Maybe it went the way of mystery meat.

THE POINT BISTRO 1645 Central Campus Drive. 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

THE POINT RESTAURANT Huntsman Cancer Institute, 2000 Circle of Hope, 6th Floor. Breakfast 7:30-10:30 a.m., Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday

A. RAY OLPIN UNIVERSITY UNION TERRACE FOOD COURT 200 S. Central Campus Drive, University of Utah. 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday

Correction: In my recent review of Fratelli’s I stated that the owners, Pete and Dave, are sons of Cannella’s owner. I was wrong; they are the nephews of Cannella’s owners.

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