Brandy Molasses Flan at the Salt Lake Magazine Dining Awards Gala. Photo: Alex Springer
This time of year, the words “red carpet” tend to conjure up glossy images of impeccably dressed movie stars preening for Ryan Seacrest. Though I have no problem with preening movie stars, it was nice to have those images replaced with those of risotto, duck confit and osso bucco, courtesy of Salt Lake Magazine’s 2013 Dining Awards. Since 1996, the local publication has been celebrating Utah’s culinary best and brightest with a gala awards ceremony that allows local chefs and restaurateurs the chance to celebrate their accomplishments and maintain bragging rights over their competitors. The task of determining the award winners was appointed to a panel of local gastronomical experts, such as Jimmy Santangelo, owner of the Wine Academy of Utah, and Chantelle Bourdeaux, the national sales manager for A Priori foods.
The evening began with the induction of two new members to Salt Lake Magazine’s Dining Hall of Fame. Salt Lake’s Aristo’s and Boulder’s Hell’s Backbone were proud to join a group of eclectic eateries such as Mazza, Takashi and Red Iguana. As for the awards, let’s start with the restaurants that allow us landlocked Utahans the ability to sample food from all over the world. When the mood for something exotic like pumpkin curry or hamachi strikes you, these are the places to check out:
Best Asian: Plum Alley
Best Indian: Saffron Valley
Best Chinese: J. Wong’s Asian Bistro
Best Japanese: Naked Fish
Best Italian: Sea Salt
Best Mexican: Frida Bistro
Utah’s culinary landscape needs fresh blood to sustain itself. Though it can be risky to try out a new restaurant—do it anyway. However, if you’re in need of a recommendation to get your courage up, here are two up and comers that are worthy of attention:
Best Discovery: Taqueria 27
Best New Restaurant: Vivace
The next few restaurants have followed Henry John Heinz’s dictum and found success by doing a common thing uncommonly well. For best results, try eating at each of these places within a 24-hour period.
Best Breakfast: Roots Café
Best Lunch: Caffe Niche
Best Quick Eats: Oh Mai
Best Comfort Food: Pig and a Jelly Jar
Best Bakery: Harmon’s
Best Wine List: Finca
Ambiance is an important factor when considering a place to eat. If you’re looking to impress a date with your fancified taste in food and décor, look no further.
Best Design: Pallet
The following are awards given to individuals who have honed their craft into a finely tuned weapon of mass consumption.
Best Mixologist: Scott Gardner, Finca
Best Pastry Chef: Amber Billingsley, Vinto
Best Chef: Viet Pham & Bowman Brown, Forage
It’s down to the home stretch. Salt Lake Magazine has divided the “best restaurant” category among restaurants from each region of the state. I’ve taken the liberty of arranging them geographically, in case a state-spanning road trip is in your future. You’re welcome.
Best of Northern Utah: Jasoh
Best Restaurant (Salt Lake City): Copper Onion
Best Restaurant (Park City): Talisker on Main
Best of Central Utah: Pizzeria 712
Best of Southeast Utah: Hell’s Backbone
Best of Southwest Utah: Painted Pony
In addition to celebrating the local establishments dedicated to purveying fine foods to people across the state, Salt Lake Magazine has also recognized members of the culinary community who have used their talents and influence to give back to the community and help new restaurants find their footing.
Community Service Award: Jorge Fierro, Frida Bistro
This award was presented to Jorge Fierro for his dedication to his city. He raised over $20,000 for the Utah Food Bank last year, provided a location for the Farmer’s Market’s winter pop-up market, and graciously lent Frida’s warehouse out to Local First’s Celebrate the Bounty—an event that spotlights the talents of local restaurants.
Golden Spoon Hospitality Award: SuAn Chow, The Chow Truck
A few years ago, the idea of a food truck was foreign to most Utahans. Then SuAn Chow started The Chow Truck and began convincing locals that Asian fusion tacos are necessary to happiness. Thanks to The Chow Truck’s success, it has pioneered a food truck movement that is quickly gaining national acclaim.
Green Fork Environmental Award: Colton Soelberg, Joseph McRae & Casey Bulkley, The Heirloom Group
The Heirloom Group is responsible for some of Utah’s finest restaurants—Communal, Pizzeria 712 and Mountain West Burrito. Apparently, food tastes better if it’s harvested locally and not processed into oblivion, which is the basis of their culinary philosophy. A while back, I had the opportunity to chat with Soelberg about his work with Communal, which you can check out here.
Food & Wine Education Award: Francis Fecteau, Libation, Inc.
Regardless of the legal minefield that is Utah’s liquor laws, Francis Fecteau has made educating individuals and establishments about the complexities of wine production and selection into a successful brokerage. In addition to providing counsel to local restaurants regarding their wine lists, Fecteau also hosts classes and tastings that are available to the public.
Having eaten at most of the restaurants honored tonight, it is gratifying to see some of the most hard-working people in the state get a bit of recognition. Forgive the pun, but local restaurants have a lot on their plate. In addition to sustaining themselves as businesses, they’re also responsible for maintaining the sanctity of well-made food—which is something that our chronically quick and dirty fast food culture is trying to destroy. Before hunkering down for Oscar Sunday, show some love to Utah’s local food celebrities and check out some of the excellent cuisine that these places have to offer.