Salt Lake City
275 S. 200 W.
Tue.–Thur. 4 p.m.–11 p.m.
Fri.–Sat. 4 p.m.–1 a.m.
There are few places in Salt Lake City as unique as Zest Kitchen & Bar, an intimate bar serving spot-on, downright craveable food with lively flavor. Contributing to Salt Lake City’s reputation as an up-and-coming vegan hot spot, the menu boasts intriguing cocktails and sustainable vegetarian (mostly vegan) fare as well as live music, DJs and dancing on the weekend.
Casey Staker, of the popular W Lounge, is the owner and operator of Zest Kitchen & Bar, which has been gaining a steady following since they opened over a year ago, appealing to the vegetarian and gluten-free crowd as well as hardcore foodies. This can only be attributed to Staker’s mad food skills. He is well trained in both raw and “regular” food. The menu is unprecedented in downtown Salt Lake: Raw, gluten-free and vegan have never been so good. You won’t find vegetarian food masquerading as the Standard American Diet. There are no veggie burgers or imposter chicken fingers here, only an emphasis on real, local food, bright flavors and unique combinations.
Among the small plates offered, I adore the Brussels Sprouts and Slivered Almonds with Masala Almond Sauce ($7). Tender, crunchy Brussels sprouts mingle with a rich, spicy vegan cream sauce with hints of curry and pepper. I’d put this in the ring with Salt Lake’s other popular Brussels sprouts from Eva and Copper Onion. It’s also worth mentioning that, as leftovers go, this dish rivals cold pizza when eaten out of the fridge the next day. Other small plates to indulge in are the delectable Hot Stuffed Mushrooms with Cashew Cheese ($8) and the Local Cheese Plate with House Marinated Olives, Nut Crackers and Raw Honey ($13). Tempting dishes like these are included in the daily special, Appy Hour. Every day from 4–6 p.m., diners can enjoy $2 off each of these small plates. It’s a great time to get acquainted with the menu, enjoy a cocktail or two and unwind from a day of work.
Speaking of unwinding, Zest’s cocktails are impeccable. My favorite is the Cello Driver ($8). In a world of pretentious cocktails, I appreciate how straightforward and tasty it is. Fresh-squeezed orange juice, a bit of basil for depth and organic lemon vodka tastes like a bright, sunny day in an ice-cold glass. I’m looking forward to plenty of these to battle my Seasonal Affective Disorder this winter. The Cello Driver also pairs well with Zest’s delightful raw dishes.
A raw dish I find myself craving is the Zucchini Noodles with Fresh Tomato Sauce, Pesto and Pine Nuts ($13). The thin, curly noodles made from zucchini hold their shape against the tomato sauce and absorb the tangy, bold flavors. A scoop of fresh, creamy pesto and pine nuts elevate the dish, adding exquisite texture and flavor. I was a bit shocked that a raw dish would be substantial enough for a proper meal at first, but now this is one of my favorites!
If you’re looking for an entrée served warm to keep the chilly winter at bay, I’d suggest the Lemon Risotto Cake ($13). It’s as comforting a dish as you would imagine. Another delicious option is the Eggplant Parmesan ($13), served with traditional parmesan cheese, or their mouth-watering cashew cheese. You can’t go wrong with either.
Out of everyone I’ve talked to, the unanimous appeal of Zest Kitchen & Bar is dessert—more specifically, the Chocolate Beet Cake with Avocado Mousse ($6). This cake is a revelation in two sumptuous layers. Each bite contains rich chocolate, studded with sweet beets, topped with light-yet-creamy chocolate avocado mousse. The beets add sweetness and a gorgeous silky texture. The end result is the kind of cake you want to be alone with. You can buy the entire cake for $40, and someday soon, I might just do that.
Another impressive dessert is the Rosemary Infused Tart topped with Honey Whipped Goat Cheese and Fresh Strawberries ($6). In the few bites I stole from my husband’s plate, I fell in love with the tang of goat cheese with the sweet strawberries and perfectly crumbly crust. Next time, I’ll be ordering my own slice with a cup of black Charming Beard Coffee.
Zest Kitchen & Bar has established itself as part of Salt Lake City’s dining and nightclub scene. Minimalist and modern in decor, Zest is a comfortable spot for drinks. Daily specials, including free corkage on Tuesday nights and Vine Wednesday, where the entire array of organic, biodynamic and sustainable wine is $2 off, are also a draw. The staff is always welcoming and friendly. Whether you’re stopping in for a drink and dinner after work or a night on the town, Zest Kitchen & Bar fills in a niche in Salt Lake.