Good for the Soul | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Good for the Soul 

Learning to appreciate winter at Pallet Bistro.

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JOHN TAYLOR
  • John Taylor

When dining out in the cold winter months, I've found that I need more than just physical sustenance. With winter chipping away at my sanity, I find that I'm drawn to places that feed the soul as well as the stomach. Because merely going out in such a drab, gray milieu is taxing all on its own, I seek out destinations that function as spiritual lighthouses in the sea of ashen fog. One such beacon in the downtown mists is Pallet Bistro (237 S. 400 West, 801-935-4431, eatpallet.com).

Pallet has been a Salt Lake institution since 2012, and its reputation preceded my first visit. I knew I'd like its rustic menu of locally sourced contemporary American cuisine with a few Mediterranean highlights, and I knew I'd become enamored with the complementary aesthetic of its interior space because everybody does. The building itself is a holdover from the early 1900s, when it was a staging area for one of the valley's first creameries—Pallet takes its name from the pallets of dairy goods that were loaded and shipped there. The design pays clever homage to this era of Utah's history through its functional use of reclaimed wood to the selection of art—like the steely eyes of Orrin Porter Rockwell keeping the peace from his portrait on the exposed brick walls.

From a design perspective, Pallet is a meticulously crafted space that hearkens back to its traditional roots while maintaining a modern look and feel; the place is too sexy to be called old-fashioned. It's a cozy destination, and I'd recommend setting up reservations regardless of what day you're planning a visit. I did so on a weeknight and was glad for the extra bit of foresight.

While I'm positive that Pallet's menu would be a welcome sight regardless of the weather, there's something about a menu packed with hearty options for starters and main courses that shines a bit brighter when it's cold outside. I knew what main items I wanted to try, but I had a tough time deciding on one or two starters. I asked for a recommendation, and the quick reply was the ribs ($16) or the arancini ($15)—so I got both. The arancini, crispy rounds of sliced wild mushrooms balled up, fried and served with a raclette fondue, are delivered in orders of three because any more of that richness could be dangerous. The wild mushrooms in the core of these arancini set the stage for the warm blanket of raclette to ramp up the savory notes to the breaking point. That's when the peperonata of sweet peppers and onions hops in to slice through that richness and prime the taste buds for another bite.

The ribs were equally satisfying and layered—the richness of the glaze and slow-cooked rib meat is complemented by a helping of kimchi and balanced with a dollop of rice porridge. Altogether, the experience nods to Eastern influences of Korea and China, which makes this dish stand out among its more Western European characteristics.

As far as mains went, I only had eyes for the gnudi ($19) and the venison ($36, pictured). I'm always a sucker for gnocchi, and gnudi is prepared similarly but with ricotta cheese instead of cooked potato. The dish comes with pine nuts, brown butter and shaved Brussels sprouts—tailor made to get one through the most unforgiving winter nights. The pasta itself maintained the dumpling-like texture that I've come to adore, and piling the fork high with the buttery pine nuts and earthy Brussels sprouts sends every bite straight to the soul.

The venison caught my eye because I'd be hard-pressed to call out a protein that says winter in the same way it does. It's served on top of cooked barley and slices of red cabbage with a port reduction and horseradish foam to boot. It's tender, but I'm talking the kind of tender that you'd find Elvis Presley or Otis Redding singing about. Dipping a slice of this wonderfully cooked meat into that port reduction and horseradish foam is the kind of dining experience that makes you forget that the weather outside is frightful.

Pulling up a chair in a restaurant like Pallet just might cause us to rethink our dislike of winter. Once you sit down and take in the historical ambiance and a menu prepared with the state's own meat and produce, you begin to appreciate winter as an integral part of Utah. Pallet wouldn't be Pallet without the endurance, and Utah wouldn't have that endurance if it didn't have to deal with a harsh winter every year. As long as we've got a place like Pallet keeping the fires warm for us, it's easier to see winter as the beginning rather than the end.

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