Live, Laugh, Lomo | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Live, Laugh, Lomo 

Noemi's Café makes a splash with its traditional menu.

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  • Alex Springer

It's not too hard to get me out and about when it comes to checking out new restaurants, but I really get excited to hear about a place that has made the jump from mobile to brick-and-mortar. As much as I love food trucks, I can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment when a mobile eatery like Noemi's Café (777 E. Fort Union Boulevard) makes that leap. It's all about putting down roots, integrating with the community and keeping a consistent location so people know where you'll be. When I heard that Noemi's made that leap last month, I wanted to swing by and see how their new Midvale digs were treating them.

Fans of this family-owned eatery may remember when it was called Noemi's Catering, and likely tried out their food truck at a farmers' market or downtown food truck event. If you haven't had the pleasure of trying out this Chilean-cuisine eatery, then you can expect a bevy of traditional dishes—both sweet and savory—such as empanadas, alfajores and seasonal dishes like hearty beef charquicán. For my dining purposes, however, I had lomo saltado on the brain.

The lomo saltado ($18.99) at Noemi's is a textbook example of what makes this dish great. The Cantonese influence comes in through wok-frying tender strips of steak, red onions and sliced tomatoes in soy sauce to build a rich, savory gravy that coats all of these fresh ingredients. The Peruvian contribution is the fried potatoes that serve as a bed for all this delectable goodness. It also comes served with a healthy scoop of white rice that helps sop everything up for later.

It's pretty easy to put one's finger on what makes lomo saltado a near perfect dish, especially when it's getting colder outside. Grilled steak, onions and tomatoes on top of fries will always be a delight. So, like all conceptually successful dishes, how do you measure its quality from place to place? You make sure every ingredient is perfect, naturally. If you don't know what a perfect lomo saltado tastes like, simply start at Noemi's and rate all others accordingly.

Let's start with the centerpiece of the operation, which is the steak. In my humble opinion, a good lomo saltado is the kind of dish that one can "scarf," which is to say, shovel into one's mouth without interruption. In order to do that, every bite needs to facilitate a fast chew. If the steak isn't tender or is too gristly, for example, the scarf factor gets negatively impacted. Every single bite of steak on the lomo saltado at Noemi's is perfectly cooked, so when you line up that perfect bite of fry, onion, tomato and steak, all you get is pleasure.

Of course, the stir-fried onion and tomato should support the richness of the steak and its soy sauce gravy, which is done admirably here. The tomato adds a pop of acidity that contrasts the lush savory elements, and the onion does its job of enhancing the steak's flavor. It's a harmonious balance of technique and ingredients that really treats those taste buds to something special. The bed of fries is thick and crispy enough to maintain their shape as they support the ponderous weight of the meat and veggies, and they also provide plenty of good starchy balance to the whole thing.

If you're not in the mood for a gigantic dish that would handily feed two people like Noemi's lomo saltado, their empanadas ($4.99) will suit you just fine. I feel like the humble empanada has been cheapened lately—so many tiny little guys trying to share a concept with something that can definitely be a meal unto itself. If you too crave empanadas that can hang with a Cornish pasty, then Noemi's has your back. I went with a ground beef empanada, which comes stuffed with the crucial additions of a hard-boiled egg and a black olive. The filling is a juicy, spicy and flavorful nod to the traditional savory pastry, but it's the crust that really makes you weak in the knees. It's got a great balance of flavor and texture, and it doesn't fall apart after you begin devouring it.

I mentioned earlier that Noemi's has sweet Chilean delights, but what I didn't mention is that the place effectively doubles as a bakery. The display cases are filled with beautiful pastries such as the berliner ($3.99) and the milhojas ($4.99) along with many others that warrant repeat visits. The berliner is a German doughnut filled with lots and lots of pastry cream or dulce de leche, and the milhojas is a multilayered puff pastry cake coated with caramelly dulce de leche—there is definitely a pattern among the desserts at Noemi's.

It's only been a few months since Noemi's opened its storefront, but the food they're whipping up is enough to bring anyone inside, especially during these colder months. Warming up with a heaping plate of lomo saltado and munching on some dulce de leche-heavy desserts sounds like a great way to spend the winter.

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