Alamexo has recently opened in the space previously occupied by one of my favorites, ZY. In fact, Alamexo has the same owners, staff, and even the same chef: Matt Lake.

Matt moved to Utah a few years ago from New York, where he worked as chef for one of New York’s premier Mexican restaurants. After a few years operating the contemporary American restaurant, ZY, Chef Lake decided to go back to his culinary roots and switch to Mexican.

After an incredibly quick menu and restaurant decor switch (Lake didn’t want to close down for three months and have to lay off staff) which took only a few days, ZY has now transformed to Alamexo. And while I’m sad to see ZY go (Lake was adamant that we will see ZY once again in Salt Lake), Alamexo is a very welcome addition to SLC.

You won’t find any other Mexican food in Salt Lake in such a contemporary, modern environment. But don’t equate “contemporary” and “modern” to “expensive.” Entrées range from $13-$25 with sides and appetizers filling in the $3-$12 range.

Go with the guacamole, made tableside by your server in a molcajete. For $10, it’s a little on the pricey side for one avocado’s worth of guacamole, but worth the show.

My favorite side dish was the Mexican corn. Sweet, fresh corn accompanied by hints of chile, lime, and cotija. My mole poblano enchiladas were rich, complex, and the pork was cooked perfectly. Lake has always said the he doesn’t choose his signature dishes; his customers do. And I have a feeling that these will be on the menu for a while.

A dining companion’s steak dish was equally tasty and cooked spot-on.

As we went during their soft opening week, desserts were not on the menu, however, the kitchen brought out the best churros I’ve had. Don’t leave Alamexo without ordering some.

I’ve always viewed Matt Lake and ZY as a bit of a sleeper in the SLC dining community. I attribute part of this to Lake’s low-key demeanor. He is a guy that cooks because he loves to cook. He’s not in it for the fame. But if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he won’t remain a sleeper for long. Salt Lake’s lucky to have him.

Dinner at ZY

Well, I didn’t get around to many restaurants for the Dine O Round, but I knew there was one I couldn’t miss: ZY. ZY serves upscale, yet approachable modern American cuisine. Luckily they extended their Dine O Round deal an additional week, which gave me time to wrangle a group of buddies together to check it out.

They changed the interior around slightly, mainly by adding some walls made out of wood slats. Miles, the general manager, explained that the redesign was partially due to the Zion Curtain laws, and partially because they were ready to change things up. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the new walls–I’ve always though of ZY as having a modern, hip atmosphere, and adding walls made out of rough-hewn timber didn’t exactly fit, in my opinion. 

On to the food. Chef Lake treated us to an amuse-bouche that was really fun. He wouldn’t reveal much about the dish, so when we all dug in and half of us said “pear” and the other half said “potato,” we began to seriously doubt each others’ sanity. Turn out this dish had two potato balls and two pear balls sitting atop a delicious pumpkin sauce. It was a really nice, well-executed dish.

For the appetizer, I went with the buttermilk fried oysters. After trying oysters on the half-shell in the Ferry Building, I swore them off for good (gotta try things at least once, right?). However, the allure of cooked oysters was too much to resist. These oysters were indeed tasty, with just a hint of spice and a nice crunchy texture on the outside. I was really pleased with this dish.

On to the main course. Beef short ribs served with grits and collared greens. One thing that’s always impressed me about ZY is that Chef Lake understands the value of presentation. The short ribs were presented in a very fun, if not a bit over-the-top manner, with the servers carrying the dish out, topped with a glass container. As they lift the container off the dish, you immediately smell the beautiful scent of smoked wood, which lightly carries through the dining room.

The short ribs were cooked to perfection, fork tender and deliciously moist. The sauce which topped the ribs is a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce that brings the whole dish together. This one is a winner. I asked Chef Lake if he’d be willing to share the recipe, and he said “of course.”

I went with the lemon cake and huckleberries for dessert. The cake had a lovely consistency, almost shortcake-like, and the tart berries were a nice counter to the sweet cake and sauce.

Chef Lake surprised us with a fun drink at the end of the meal. It was simply hot apple juice with a bit of honey, grilled grape, and rosemary. Four things I would never think of to make a drink out of. But it really worked well. The rosemary would waft into your nostrils as you sipped the drink, creating a sweet, yet savory experience. 

Service was excellent as usual. Brady, our server, was very knowledgeable about the menu. The pace of the meal was steady, and it seemed he always stepped in at just the right time throughout the evening.

ZY Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cooking Class at ZY

If you asked me to list my five favorite dishes in Salt Lake, ZY Restaurant’s scallops dish would certainly be on the list. Chef Matt said today that he strives to make dishes that diners regularly crave, and this dish fits the bill. Perfectly cooked scallops resting on a bed of almond romesco and drizzled with a red wine reduction and curry-infused oil. I haven’t forgotten this dish since I first had it last year.

Craving would be an apt description.

I was thrilled to hear that ZY was putting on a lunchtime class where Chef Matt would demonstrate how to make their signature dishes. Matt explained that there are only two dishes that have remained on the menu throughout their entire first year of being open: the scallops and tender pecan pork. When he first opened he had a lot of people ask him what his signature dishes are. He said he couldn’t answer that–the customers decide what the signature dishes are–and these two have remained extremely popular.

Attend a class that unlocks the secret to these dishes, and then be treated to lunch afterwards? Sign me up!

General Manager Miles Broadhead and Chef Matt Lake

I’ll share some tips that Chef Matt shared with us.

-Whenever possible, get “dry” scallops instead of “wet” scallops. Wet scallops have been treated with a chemical (sodium tripolyphosphate) to help them retain their moisture. Wet scallops are extremely difficult to sear due to the high water content–and a good sear is key with this dish. Talk to your local fish guy and ask them if they sell dry scallops. Chef Matt said that Whole Foods and Harmon’s does, but they might not be found in other grocery stores. Of course, Aquarius downtown would be an excellent source as well.

-Don’t overcook your scallops. They should be warmed throughout, but not overcooked. Put them in a very hot pan and by the time the scallops have a good sear on both sides, they’re ready to go.

-Whenever possible, use Kosher salt in your cooking. Sea salt is a great finishing salt, but doesn’t dissolve well, and iodized salt is, well, iodized salt. Matt uses Kosher mainly because it dissolves so well during the cooking process.

-Never, ever use bottled lemon juice. Lemons are cheap and plentiful, and fresh juice makes a huge difference in the overall taste of your dish.

-For the red wine reduction, use a red wine that you would drink (meaning not too crummy), but it doesn’t have to be top-shelf, either.

-You can make the red wine reduction ahead of time and then seal it in an airtight container and keep in the fridge. It can last up to a month if sealed properly and makes for a great finishing sauce.

-You can use a high-quality curry powder from the store, but Matt also likes to go to the Indian markets where you can make your own special curry powder blend. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play around with the ingredients.

-Chef Matt also shared a unique way to make infused oils. Fill a sterilized mason jar with oil, and then put whatever spices you want to infuse the oil with in with it (curry, rosemary, thyme, etc). Seal, and place outside in direct sunlight. On a hot day the sun will gently heat the oil to around 120 degrees and will begin to be infused with the spices. Once infused (taste to know when), filter the oil through cheesecloth and store the oil in a cool, dry place. It’s the fancy-pants take on sun tea.

Matt was a great instructor and even sent us home with the recipes! The scallops recipe is posted below, with permission.

Oh, also, Miles, the general manager, said that they plan to hold these classes quarterly, with the next class on December 1st. If you want to be put on their newsletter to be sure you don’t miss a class, call the restaurant at (801) 779-4730. You can also find ZY on Facebook and Twitter.

Scallops with Almond Romesco, Curry Oil, and Red Wine Reduction

Tender Pecan Pork (I’ll be posting this recipe later)

ZY Scallops

Scallops with almond, curry, and red wine reduction.
Yield 4 portions


12 ea. U12 dry sea scallops
Kosher salt
Fresh black pepper, ground

Almond Romesco

2 cups blanched, slivered almonds (don’t use roasted)
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 clove peeled garlic
Juice of one lemon
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Bread crumbs (approx 1 cup–don’t use panko)

In a food processor combine the nuts, garlic, and parsley. Blend till coarse ground and add the lemon juice. Slowly add in the olive oil and puree to a loose pesto consistency. Remove the mixture from the bowl and place in a clean mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the bread crumbs to lightly bind the mixture. Season with salt and set aside. May be made up to two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Bring up to room temperature before serving.

Red Wine Reduction

3 cups red wine of medium body
¼ cup raw sugar

Place the wine and sugar in a small sauce pan. Reduce until light syrup consistency (when reduced about 2/3 of initial volume).

Curry Oil

1 tbsp yellow curry powder
2 cups grape seed oil

Combine the curry powder and oil in a small sauce pan. Heat on low heat until aroma from the curry develops (or use the “sun tea” method above)

To Assemble

Sear the scallops in a hot pan with a little oil until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, flip, and repeat. When the scallops are just warmed through, remove from heat. Place the almond romesco in the middle of the plate, top with the scallops, drizzle a little of the curry oil and red wine reduction around the scallops. Serve.

ZY Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Brunch at Zy

Have a hankering for brunch, but tired of the same old french toast and eggs over easy?

How about a wild mushroom and goat cheese quiche, chicken and waffles (!), or Peking duck hash browns?

Chef Matt Lake has set out to raise brunch in Salt Lake City to a new level. Prices for entrees range from $7 to $14. I can’t wait to try it.

Brunch will be offered on Sundays from 10 am to 2:30 pm.


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