Alamexo Cantina

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During his travels throughout Mexico, Matt Lake, chef/owner of Alamexo Kitchen downtown, was always struck by a certain type of restaurant. The cantinas he encountered are vibrant, lively, and most importantly, promote a sense of community and togetherness. Families, friends, strangers gather around tables sharing various dishes and libations, telling stories and laughing together.

These memories drove Matt’s vision as he put together his newest project: Alamexo Cantina, which opened this week in the 9th and 9th neighborhood. The style of service is different than at Alamexo downtown. The cantina cuisine is reminiscent of a street market in Mexico, but in a sit-down situation.

“Everything will come family style, everyone orders and you have it all at once, mixing and matching. I don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. But I do want it to be fun. It needs to be super easy and fun,” says Lake. “The best way to get at this concept is that I wish I could pick what people eat but I can’t. I felt this was the closest way to get to that experience of just letting the chef guide your dining experience. Whatever time [of the day] you come it’s the same [price]. One menu, all day long, with a wide array of shared dishes.”

The space itself is striking, with bright, vibrant colors contrasting with the dark tables and ceiling. A large glossy Adam Finkle photograph adorns the back wall, showcasing the multitude of ingredients involved in making a molé. The centerpiece of the bar area is a large mural by local artist Harry Baldwin, and depicts the iconic Espolón Blanco label. There is a gorgeous candle wall that is interesting during the bright daytime hours, but turns into something living, breathing, and very special at night. My favorite part is that most of the front wall separating the dining room from the patio breaks down, opening up completely and blurring the line between inside and out. This will be the spot to be on a warm evening. The kitchen itself is small, and is limited to a long comal (flat top griddle) and two fryers for chips. That’s it.

“We’re limited in the kitchen. But with that limitation comes clarity,” says Lake.

For those of you who haven’t been to Alamexo downtown, or his previous project, ZY, I highly suggest you try Chef Lake’s creations out. He is, in my opinion, one of the most talented chefs in the city. He won Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award in 1996 and worked at New Heights in Washington D.C. and Rosa Mexicano in New York City, one of the city’s first and foremost upscale Mexican restaurants. He graduated at the top of the class while attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. He, along with his team, make everything from scratch, from roasting whole chickens to making the various molé sauces.

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Chef Lake
So be sure to stop by, grab some guacamole and a drink at the bar, or dive right in to some dishes to share with some friends.

Alamexo Cantina
1059 East 900 S
Salt Lake City
(801) 658-5859

Reservations not accepted

http://www.alamexo.com/cantina

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Addendum: Johnny Slice

I’m going to keep this one brief, but I felt it merited a follow-up.

Back a few years ago (ok, maybe quite a few more than that), I was a mediocre little league basketball player. The only hot streak I ever had was the record number of consecutive games in which I would warm the bench. Of course, at the end of season awards ceremony, I was always the proud recipient of the “most improved player” award, even though technically I probably didn’t improve and even more technically it was a stretch to even classify me as a player. But they needed to award me something, and most improved was all they had left at the bottom of the trophy pile.

Anywho.

I wanted to post an addendum to my previous review of Johnny Slice and award their pizza the SLCeats Most Improved Player award. Except unlike my little league awards, this one is actually merited. It pained me in my initial review to praise the pizza place for everything except, well, the pizza. Truth be told, it wasn’t that great and I wasn’t a very big fan. But to their credit, it appears that ownership listened and made the necessary course corrections, because in the numerous times I’ve been since, their pizza has improved remarkably and is now among my favorite slices in SLC. The buffalo chicken pizza, laced with bleu cheese, is my new favorite.

Anyways, that’s it. Credit where credit is due. Johnny Slice is making some mean pizza now. Go and enjoy.

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HSL

A new restaurant has opened in the old Vinto space on 2nd South in Salt Lake. HSL is endeavor #2 for Chef Briar Handly, with #1 being his wildly successful Handle restaurant in Park City. Handly has brought Chef Craig Gerome as chef de cuisine. I don’t know Handly very well, but anybody smart enough to get someone as talented as Gerome has my respect. I’m a fan of Gerome ever since I met him when he was at the helm of Annex.

I was invited to a press preview event, and the photos that follow come from said event. “New American” seems like such an overused term, however, I love the breadth in food and presentation styles that such a category provides.

The restaurant was designed in partnership with Cody Derrick at CityHome Collective, so naturally expect your dining environment to be a bit darker and cozy, with plenty of floral print wallpaper to go around. Upon entering, you are greeted by a beautiful, bright bar, lounge area, and communal table, with regular seating throughout the remainder of the restaurant.

Mark my words: get in there now, because it’s going to get harder and harder to get a table at this place as word spreads. I’m especially thrilled as it’s only a five minute walk from my house. which is both exciting and terrifying all at once.

Expect to pay $20-$30 for an entree and $10-$20 for an appetizer. 

HSL
418 E 200 S, Salt Lake City
(801) 539-9999
website

For some reason, RYE has been on my “must try” list for a while now, but it seems like every time we tried to swing by and grab a bite, we hit the few hours of the day they are actually closed: between 2 and 6 pm. But the stars aligned a few weeks ago, and we checked out RYE for the first time. 

RYE is in a unique setting: it shares a building with the Urban Lounge, and in fact the restaurant is owned by the same owners as UL. The owners had always wanted a place where they could grab early morning bites and late night food, so when the space next to UL opened up, they snatched it up and opened their own restaurant. Another unique feature is that when you’re enjoying a concert at Urban Lounge and go next door for a drink or some grub, they have TV’s streaming the concert next door so you don’t miss a beat. Pretty great idea.

As you might expect based on the current dining trends in SLC, upon entering RYE you will be greeted by Edison bulbs and plentiful beards–during our visit, I counted 11 dudes and 10 beards. I’ll let you guess which diner can’t grow one didn’t have one. So, while the atmosphere is plentiful in hipsterness, the restaurant is also plentiful in delicious food.

A friend recommended the pickled quail eggs to start, and they were indeed unique. At $3, it’s definitely worth giving them a shot. I love pickled anything, and these were right up my alley, although my wife was not interested in them at all.

For our entrees I went with the shoyu fried chicken with fresh corn grits and pickled peaches. My wife had the RYE burger with roasted jalapeños, caramelized onions, and avocado creme, all sandwiched between a lovely Eva Bakery bun.

Flying in the face of most new restaurants, the serving sizes at RYE are plentiful. The ½ chicken meal was easily enough for two meals. And while I was a bit disappointed in the toughness of the chicken, the breading was deliciously crisp, and the fresh corn grits were perfect. And let’s not talk about the pickled peaches, because they were so good, so in-season, so perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, that I am salivating right now and may need to run down there and get an order if I keep writing about them. So let’s just move on.

The burger was also fantastic. Well cooked, with buns that are hearty enough to withstand the juicy drippings of this fabulous burger. And I loved the fries. Get the burger and you won’t be disappointed. 

Service was really good. Attentive, responsive, but not too intrusive. Exactly how it should be.

So there you have it. The kitchen is currently being run by Erik Daniels (formerly of Avenues Bistro and Copper Onion. Erik has gradually added some more American flare to the menu to complement former chef Tommy Nguyen’s emphasis on Asian flavors.

I’d also be remiss to not mention that RYE offers a very solid breakfast/brunch menu as well. I have not had the chance to try it, but look forward to being able to in the near future.

That’s it. I’d give RYE 8 pickled quail eggs out of 10, with a half egg deduction for chicken that was a bit too chewy. Definitely go check it out, and stick around for a show next door as well.

RYE Diner and Drinks
239 S 500 E, Salt Lake City
(801) 364-4655

El Chubasco

I won’t lie, my taste buds may have been influenced a bit by my ravenous post mountain bike situation, however, I am here to declare the following important factual information: the carne asada burrito at El Chubasco is hands down the best rendition in all of our fair state. And I don’t say that lightly, with strong competition such as Hector’s giving chase in a close 2nd.

But up here the meat still looks like meat, is crispy in all of the right places, and has a healthy dosage of melty cheese, black beans, and pico to make this food baby the top food baby around.

If you haven’t been to El Chubasco, get there. I think they have other stuff on the menu, but I haven’t really ever checked.

1890 Bonanza Drive, Park City

Winter Menu at Pallet

On the western end of Pierpont Avenue, at 237 South 400 West, sits an old building which was built in the early 1900’s and used as a loading dock for a creamery. The owners of Pallet, Drew Eastman and Rocky Derrick, worked tirelessly to preserve as much of the original building as possible, and they did a fantastic job. Drew told me of the many days it took to painstakingly strip the paint off the ceiling of the restaurant in order to bring it back to original condition.

Quite simply, this restaurant is designed like no other restaurant in Salt Lake City, and you owe it to yourself to check it out and get a unique perspective on refreshingly bold restaurant design. Old-time lightbulbs, rough-hewn wood floors, exposed brick, and original doors preserve the charm. I was especially excited to learn that the majority of the design work was done by one of my favorite people in Salt Lake – Cody Derrick of City Home Collective. Cody has an eye for style and design that is becoming more and more rare in a world of beige walls and white vinyl fences.

Pallet invited some local food bloggers to stop in and try out their new Winter menu. There were some definite hits and one unfortunate miss.

The seared scallops dish was very well done. The (huge!) scallops were perfectly cooked and served on top of delicious lentils (the new farro?) and the thick cut, house-smoked bacon was the cherry on top of this dish, so to speak as the savoriness of the bacon acted as a perfect counterpoint to the sweet scallops.

I was able to grab a bite from my dining companion’s plate to try the “Ocean Pasta” dish. Squid ink pasta was accompanied by a menagerie of seafood and rounded out with a lovely curry sauce that really added a unique aspect to this dish. Most people agreed that this was the favorite plate of the night.

The bison osso bucco was the dish I was most excited about. Bison is such a lean meat that I figured that preparing it as osso bucco would help boost the moisture and tenderness that is naturally lacking in this meat. But, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I wrote it off as “first night of the new menu” jitters in the kitchen, but I’ve recently heard reports from others that they also found it a bit dry. Perhaps cooking too long at too high of a heat? I hope they can dial this one in because the flavors of the dish, and the polenta it was served on, were spot-on.

We were able to try quite a few of their desserts, and I was very impressed with their warm oatmeal almond shortbread, which was rich and full of chocolate. Our server mentioned that it is their best-selling dessert, and I’m not surprised why. It was fantastic.

Eastman mentioned to me that in a prior life, he traveled extensively for work, and loved it when he found a unique space offering exceptional food in whatever city he happened to be in. When the opportunity presented itself to Eastman to make something similar in Salt Lake City, he jumped at the chance. I admire his passion, and can’t wait for my next opportunity to spend more time in this lovely space.

Disclosure: I was treated to this meal by the restaurant

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