Making one’s way down the North Temple stretch has always been an adventure for first-timers usually making their way to attend the State Fair or to dine at Red Iguana. This corridor has slowly been developed with new businesses. Heading just past KRCL studios, SLC now has a tasty reason to push farther: Welcome, Nomad Eatery.
“Fast and casual says it best” are the words from our host. He clarifies that we order at the counter and then seat ourselves in what looks less like a dining space and more like a crisply communal pueblo oasis. White walls lined with desert tapestries and native cacti set the scene, providing an earthy sort of cowboy Zen while rustic hardwood floors offer heartful stability to the room. These are all desirable qualities, as we must now decide where to seat ourselves: face to face with the cooks at work and their immaculate kitchen, at the tall bar tables throughout, in the library area by the fireplace or at the bar. Looking to spark up conversation, we meet up with the general manager and bartender for the night, David Miller, mirroring his post. Sipping beer while waiting for dinner to arrive at the bar is the best way to get a history lesson on the legacy that executive chef Justin Soelberg built through endeavors like Avenues Proper, Proper Burger and, now, his own Nomad, which is in its first months of operation.
For those who have followed Soelberg’s cooking on either end of the spectrum, finally having a restaurant that meets both worlds in the middle is as exciting as the menu he’s shaped. It’s just as Miller finishes whetting the appetite that our first round appears in the form of the Wedge Salad ($8). The Wedge shows up to the party dressed to impress with leaves of romaine appropriately doused in buttermilk ranch, smoked bleu cheese, bacon and topped with a mound of thinly sliced fried onions. It’s for this reason precisely that we came hungry, as this beast alone could fill up someone coming in for the lunch rush from the airport or one of the area offices. Leaves, onion and dressing bring a simultaneously fresh, creamy, salty crunch to the palate; but bleu and bacon throw a James Brown–level curveball of funky harmony to finish the bite in perfect proportions.
No strangers to Soelberg’s reputation for harmonizing Tesla-world resources between two buns, we transition into his latest chapter of sandwich craft. First choice in-house is decidedly the Fish Sandwich ($11). As reputation stands, all breads are fresh, flavorful and full of texture, in which skillfully battered and fried tilapia is layered, crispy and steaming. Offsetting the minimal grease accompanying said fish—as well as a natural, sweet tang from the house tartar sauce and pickled celery—enters a refreshing platform for lacinato kale/red cabbage slaw. Combining it all together, we get balance. The tender heat from the tilapia is offset by chilled coleslaw crunch and brought into unison by said pickled flavors in the celery and sauce.
Oh yeah, all the sides! It’s a double-edged sword of tasty and filling, considering that many of these—wings ($6 small, $10 large), hummus with pita ($8), and pickled and/or roasted beets ($8)—can accompany any sandwich for a price. We decide to delve into potatoes: fries and house chips. While they’re the best hand-cut potato chips this writer has ever had the privilege to indulge in, the rockstar of sides is by far the Loaded Fries ($7). If Animal Style ever smoked good crack, those are it. Thin-cut and fried, these babies get American cheese melted by a hefty drizzle of house poutine and meet an herby, green-onion crème-fraiche hybrid at the door. This is the sort of melty fry pile that will throw all New Year’s resolutions out the window. Leave yourself feeling the healthier side of indulged, and keep coming back.
Here is described only three of 26-plus variations making up the food card presented by Nomad, and we haven’t even touched their red-brick pizza oven ($10–12) or dessert ($4–7) selections. Straightforward, fast and casual: There are way too many excellent combinations of satisfaction for one not to keep coming back. To those who can’t make regular appearances, I recommend conveniently visiting Nomad Eatery to and from airport excursions. Helpful tip: Buy lots of airplane tickets.
Tuesday–Friday: 12 p.m.–9 p.m. Saturday–Sunday: 1 p.m.–9 p.m. Closed Mondays 3142 Main Street 385.229.4155 afghan-kitchen.com
As we arrived to the South Salt Lake restaurant Afghan Kitchen, located just off State Street and 3300 South, I knew that it could possibly be one of the best off-the-beaten-path meals I have had in Salt Lake. I imagined what it may be like to enter a traditional restaurant in Afghanistan—the sights, sounds and aromas one would experience—as I entered the plain building, with lettering spelling out Afghan Kitchen, smiling faces in consumption of food and the restaurant’s windows revealing guests happily conversing. I just knew that this would be good.
The decor is simple—a few framed photos of Afghan figures and cultural scenes and dining tables. I had never experienced culinary samplings from this part of the world, and was excited for the new tastes to dance upon my palate as the hint of spice tickled my nose.
First up was our appetizer, Mantu. You can find this served as street food or in busy markets in Afghanistan. This traditional dish consists of ground beef and lamb accompanied by onion and traditional Afghan spices, wrapped in a homemade, flour pastry dough and steamed in a multi-layer steamer. It was my favorite dish of our meal at Afghan Kitchen. The dumpling-style starter was a perfect balance of spice, meat and pastry coated with a yogurt sauce and split peas. Mantu is well-rounded and balanced in boastful yet subtle flavor, making it easy to recognize why it is a rich part of the country’s culinary heritage. You’ll finish wanting more.
Keep reading to hear about the main dishes, but Mantu was my favorite, if I had to pick only one. That said, I would recommend anything I ordered on the menu, and I would definitely recommend stepping out of your comfort zone for a unique experience at Afghan Kitchen. Next up, Lamb Qurma. It’s no secret: I love lamb. For some, it is an acquired taste, but for me, it’s heaven. Served with rice, the boneless lamb was the second table favorite. I enjoyed the hints of ginger in the tomato-based sauce atop the meat, with flavor enhancements provided by the cilantro/mint and yogurt side sauces.
Their naan is light and airy due to the baking process in extremely high heat, a technique used for over 100 years. I personally enjoyed this clay-oven-baked garlic naan because of its delicate texture and savory garlic taste. It disappeared instantly from its basket.
Our table consisted of a medical student, a marine, a yoga instructor and a writer, spanning three generations. Of the four, two love all things wine and culinary, and the others are in the “reach for a bag of Doritos” phase of life while attending college. I wanted all to experience authentic Afghanistan cuisine, so I could secretly watch their body language. Up to this point in our meal, everyone was all smiles and no food was left on the table. Three for three!
Mix Tandoori Kabobwas up next: a skewer of ground beef and a skewer of boneless chicken. The chicken appeared a painted-orange color (most likely due to the use of saffron), making the students at the table believe it was a vegetable and afraid to dive in. They gasped as they realized it was chicken, perfectly cooked at that. Too often, kabobs can be overcooked and chicken becomes rubbery. The Tandoor char-broil-oven cooking process provided a melt-in-your-mouth flavor to the mix kabob, a dish unique to Afghanistan.
Last, we enjoyed Burani Banjan, another traditional recipe of eggplant in a tomato-based sauce. I have come to love eggplant in the past year, and this was extremely tasty; however, my only complaint is the eggplant was slightly soggy. The spice of the sauce offered cardamom, cumin and turmeric. I find the spice from Afghanistan to be milder than that in Indian cuisine, with a heartiness through to the last bite.
Afghanistan has a history of expertise in cooking and hospitality, along with a passion to serve guests a spread of food. Afghan Kitchen lives up to its heritage. The restaurant is unassuming from the street, but don’t let that fool you. There is something to be said for simplicity. Afghan Kitchen is a place welcoming all walks of life to share a passion for their traditional cuisine deeply rooted in their soul. Breaking bread and experiencing culture in the form of culinary discovery is something we should all do more of. And of course, always say yes to Afghan breads.
What’s the worst part about posting on Instagram? For me, it’s writing the captions. They always sound bad to me. So rather than trying to come up with a clever print caption for this photo, it’s your turn for an Instagram caption. Caption this photo. Best caption gets a free beanie from SLUG. Keep an eye on the @slugmag and @bobplumbphoto Instagram accounts to comment with your caption. If it’s the best one, you get a bonus prize if you post your caption with the photo on Instagram and tag us before we post it.
It’s around 9:30 p.m. on the night before the new trailer for Avengers: Infinity War is scheduled to go wide, and I’m waiting for a phone call from Joe Russo. For all I know, he and his brother, Anthony Russo, are finalizing a few last-minute touches on the trailer for what promises to be one of the biggest films of 2018, and he’s gonna call me? For a moment, the whole situation feels unreal—like I was the butt of a cruel joke engineered by my editors. But, sure enough, my phone rings and on the other end is 50 percent of arguably the most important directing duo in the known universe.
So why, you may ask, is he calling a punkass like me? Because SLUG is in Utah, and Utah happens to be home to the Slamdance Film Festival—a festival that holds a place of reverence in the two filmmakers’ hearts. They recently revealed that this year’s Slamdance would see the inaugural presentation of the Russo Brothers Fellowship Grant, a prize that includes mentorship from the Russos, an office at their new studio in Los Angeles, and $25,000 to finance one lucky filmmaker’s next big project. “We feel that we owe a karmic debt to the universe,” Joe says. “We really felt like this was a great opportunity to give back to Slamdance, which gave so much to us.”
Before Joe and Anthony Russo became well-known directors by helming key episodes of Arrested Development and Community, and eventually taking the reins of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War, the brothers were like most indie filmmakers—passionate, starving and driven. In the mid-’90s, the brothers made a film called Pieces, which they shopped around for distribution in New York. “It was the kind of market where you sell commercial movies, but ours was noncommercial, so most everyone walked out of the theater during the first screening, except for a few people at the end,” Joe says. “They introduced themselves to me and my brother and said they were the founders of Slamdance, and wanted to know if we would show the movie at their festival.” When Pieces premiered at Slamdance in 1997, it caught the attention of industry veteran Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky), who offered to produce the Russos’ next film, the 2002 heist comedy Welcome to Collinwood. “It jump-started our entire career,” Joe says.
For many wide-eyed, sleep-deprived indie filmmakers, the Russo brothers represent a Cinderella story of sorts—the possibility that the right film at the right time can launch their creative voices into the stratosphere. “Undiscovered voices are what ultimately drive the film business into places that it normally wouldn’t go,” Joe says. “It’s invaluable for a festival like Slamdance to exist because it’s one of the only places where you can discover those unique voices.” Joe credits Slamdance’s role in independent cinema to the festival’s President and Co-founder, Peter Baxter, whose unwavering vision has made the festival what it is today. “Peter is one of the foremost scions of independent film in the country,” Joe says. “He’s a dear friend of ours, and a real champion of independent voices. It’s a dream come true to give back to him what he gave to us all those years ago.”
As Slamdance 2018 will be the first year that the Russo brothers will offer their grant, they are looking for fearless filmmakers who aren’t afraid to lob a Hail Mary or two in the pursuit of transforming the medium of cinema. “Most movie-goers are so sophisticated now that their palate is so in tune with three-act-structure storytelling that it’s hard to find ways to surprise them,” Joe says. “We’re looking for voices that are disruptive and take chances to bring something new to the table and point us toward more groundbreaking ways to tell stories.”
For those who doubt the indie circuit’s impact on commercial filmmaking, take a moment to look at Marvel’s current recruitment record. In addition to the Russo brothers, Marvel has sought out filmmakers like James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) to direct their biggest films precisely because they had the grit and creativity to make wonderful things happen with their own independent projects. “Marvel is doing what Slamdance does,” Joe says. “They look for unique voices and radical storytellers who are going to bring something different and exciting to each story, and it’s been very effective for them to bring people from outside the machine to tell stories from inside the machine.”
With Slamdance fast approaching, it’s the perfect time for hotshot new filmmakers to check out the festival and light the fire under their asses to get ready for 2019. “We used to tell young filmmakers to pick up a camera and just start shooting, but now you can just pick up your phone,” Joe says. “It’s less of a risk now because you can do what we did for much cheaper, so I would encourage young filmmakers to just get out there with their cameras.” For risk-taking filmmakers who are looking for a little extra incentive to be daring, take heart in the fact that Joe and Anthony Russo will be watching.
The Slamdance Film Festival takes place Jan. 19–25 in Park City. Learn more at slamdance.com.
On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, University of Utah Health announced a powerful step forward in the state’s public health: Utah would soon be home to one of the nation’s only free HIV prevention clinics. Yet, it was only a few decades ago that Utah faced the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, when—confronted by exile, stigma and shame intensified by the dominant religious culture—patients in Utah could only find care with two medical professionals in the entire state: partners Dr. Kristen Ries and Maggie Snyder.
It’s this legacy, this seemingly untold but recent past, that director Jenny Mackenzie and co-directors Jared Ruga and Amanda Stoddard evince in their historical documentary film, Quiet Heroes. Through home video, archival material and more, Quiet Heroes highlights Ries’ and Snyder’s exceptional work and compassion. Along the way, they tell the stories of the two women’s patients, framed by the historical and political contexts of the time.
Quiet Heroes premieres this month at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
SLUG: Jared, you found out about Kristen Ries and Maggie Snyder through a special collection at the University of Utah’s law library. Could you speak to the inception of Quiet Heroes, as a documentary film?
Jared Ruga: I was a third-year graduate student at the University of Utah, and one of my law professors, Terry Kogan, apprised me of Kristen and Maggie’s story. I was hooked, so I hired Jenny to direct and co-produce the film with me. Amanda, whose work as a documentarian I trusted and admired, and I were working on a separate documentary project during my fourth year at the U. We eventually both ended up working in-house in Sentry Financial’s Media & Entertainment division, where we finished the film together.
SLUG: What was your collaborative process like, as co-directors on this project?
Ruga: Jenny shepherded the film through pre-production and principal photography, and Amanda and I guided it through post-production. During post, Amanda and I had many long days of sitting in the edit bay arguing about story, music, and visuals with the editor, Patrick Ryan Gass, but we usually came to a common agreement. What ended up on screen is a little bit of everyone.
SLUG: What elements, footage and interviews do you incorporate in Quiet Heroes?
Amanda Stoddard: In a historical documentary that’s not about a big event with lots of news and other cover footage, it’s hard to spice up the visual aesthetic. The ’80s is a bit of a black hole, given the internet wasn’t around and archives were slim. So we incorporated home video footage, photos and other archival material from the subjects of the film. Aside from Kristen and Maggie, we included stories of their patients (like Peter Christie and Kim Smith)—or the surviving family members of their patients (like Beverly Stoddard)—and politically active figures (like Ben Barr and Jim Dabakis). To add historical context and color, we also talked to historian/professor Beth Clement and psychiatrist Paula Gibbs.
SLUG: What did each of you feel most impacted you in working with Ries and Snyder? What did you personally learn or take away from speaking with them?
Ruga: What most struck me about Kristen and Maggie is how kind, unassuming, but quietly powerful they are. They’re two women who defied the odds to do what was right, often taking great personal risk in services of their patients. They worked tirelessly (often seven days a week) for decades, without the expectation of financial or social rewards, simply because they felt they had to. And they improved thousands of lives as a result. I’m inspired by their selflessness, their authenticity and their hearts of gold. Despite being heroes in our community, they always share credit with everyone they can. They never made it about themselves.
SLUG: What unique challenges did you encounter in the making of this film?
Stoddard: One of our biggest concerns was making a historical story relevant today, and where to shine the spotlight of the story. To resolve the first, we recognized that two women doing their jobs without fanfare, literally saving lives and mitigating suffering, was a timeless and inspiring story. And we kept the focus on that—on their work. Personal details just added depth to their character; it was a film as much about the time period and patients they served as it was about Kristen and Maggie.
SLUG: What kinds of surprises, and triumphs, did you encounter in making this film?
Stoddard: I didn’t know how much this story would resonate with so many people. I thought it was an important part of history that deserved to be memorialized, but I didn’t see it as rallying a groundswell of goodwill from the LGBTQ community here locally. I’m proud to have been a part of it, but we were just the conduits for their story. We just tried to stay as truthful and accurate as possible.
Ruga: About three-quarters of the way through post, I was sick of this film. I’d been working on it for over two years and it still wasn’t done, and I was frustrated that we couldn’t get it out into the world yet. With the LGBTQ community well aware this film was in production, I was tired of telling everyone they’d have to continue to wait to see it. When we heard the news that we’d been accepted to Sundance, it made all of those long, cold, dark nights worth it. I’m excited to be able to share it with the world now (and tell everyone who asks where they can see it).
SLUG: How does the film challenge “the socially conservative religious monoculture” in Utah as it pervades past and present?
Stoddard: We did everything we could to treat the LDS Church fairly. In documentary film, you show people for who they are. The Church knows what it did and didn’t do to support the LGBTQ community, and we portrayed it as such.
Ruga: The LDS Church continues today to antagonize the LGBTQ community through both its official policies and informal culture, but I hope it sees that it’s on the wrong side of history. I will say, however, that I’ve had some LDS family and friends reach out to me and affirm their support of me personally. I think there are plenty of good-hearted Mormon Church members out there who do love the LGBTQ community, but the official position of the Church is still homophobic, even in 2017.
SLUG: Amanda, could you speak to the editing and writing behind Quiet Heroes? What aspects of Ries and Snyder’s mission and story, if any, did you find more challenging to frame or form into the narrative arc? What aspects, such as interviews or interviewees, were particularly hard to cut?
Stoddard: When I came on to this film, we had a hard time settling on the key angle to build the story around, so I went back to what I know: focus on the accomplishments and milestones in the core subjects’ careers. Then sprinkle in the political issues and personal stories to illuminate the human side. In addition to highlighting Kristen, Maggie and the Sisters of the Holy Cross, we focused on a gay man who survived, … [a] woman who caught the virus from her husband, and a heterosexual woman who left her family behind when she [contracted] AIDS.
SLUG: Very recently, University of Utah Health announced that they would provide free PrEP. For many, it was an emotional and encouraging announcement, yet the AIDS epidemic is a part of the very recent past. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why it’s important to evince these stories of the past to make present-day progress possible.
Ruga: One of the things we cut from the film was linking it to HIV in 2017; we stayed with Kristen and Maggie’s practice for the whole film. But in one interview that didn’t make it into the film, Kristen talked about “AIDS fatigue.” People are tired of hearing about it. Progress toward a cure or vaccine is slow. Transmission rates are flat or rising among certain demographics. And while PrEP is an amazing advancement in prevention, it still requires a huge swath of at-risk populations to use it correctly and regularly. What concerns me is a false sense of security about what modern medicine can do. The HIV virus is still evolving, so there’s no panacea for putting a halt to it, except maybe education and great public policy. However, I don’t want this sense of caution to take away from what the U did in offering free PrEP; it’s a massive step forward, and should serve as a model for the rest of the country. We should be—and I am—proud of their decision.
SLUG: There’s so much power in honoring quiet heroes like Ries and Snyder, and in knowing our history. Art is a powerful way to share these narratives. Given your work toward highlighting and catalyzing social change, could you speak to the power and role of documentary film in that effort?
Ruga: I love the adage “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Corruption, ignorance and fear cannot withstand the bright light of the truth for very long. Art is important because it affords us the opportunity to ignite change. Because humans make decisions—even the “rational” decisions—emotionally, the way to push social progress forward is appealing to people’s empathy for others. Film, as an audiovisual medium, is the most powerful tool we have today for advancing our collective mass empathy.
SLUG: In addition to Sundance 2018, what is next for each of you and for Quiet Heroes?
Ruga: We’re so happy and excited to be included in the Festival, so we’re looking forward to running on adrenaline for 10 days in January. As for Quiet Heroes, my goal is to get it out to as many audiences as possible. It’s a microcosmic story about the clash between urban and rural, religion and reason, fear and love. Even though it harkens back to life 20 and 30 years ago, it’s still relevant today. It still serves as a template for taking personal risk in the service of others while facing extreme adversity. We could all use more of that.
Stoddard: We have several narrative projects we’re working on at Vavani, so I’ll be focusing a lot of energy on those in 2018. I also would like to wrap up distribution for another doc project we completed this year. And I’ll be directing my first feature next year as well. We’re excited to bring more stories to the world that align with our ethos: those that are timely, compelling, authentic and socially conscious, told from underrepresented perspectives.
The 2018 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 18–28. There will be three public screenings, withQ&As following, of Quiet Heroes, on Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center; Jan. 23 at 12 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre; and Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at Holiday Village Cinema 4. For more information about the film and the festival, visit quietheroes.net and sundance.org.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly listed Jenny Mackenzie as co-director, rather than director. The correction has been made.
In recent years, Utah’s need for cold-weather comfort food has made many privy to Japan’s hot foods as the ramen craze took over. But there’s more! Enter restaurant Tonkotsu Shabu Shabu. Tonkotsu opened its doors a year ago, offering not one but two restaurant concepts under one roof. The south side of the building, Tonkotsu Ramen Bar, dishes out its hot soups, rice plates and traditional appetizers like gyoza, takoyaki (octopus balls) and pork ribs, to name a few. They were between hours when I visited; however, the menu reads as if it would be a perfect place to grab a bite either in a hurry or with some time to kill. Directly next door to the north is Tonkotsu Shabu Shabu, where dedicating time is necessary to extract the essence of shabu-shabu in all its glory—we recommend planning for one to two hours there. I went for dinner, but lunchtime diners get 10 percent off the entrée and add-on prices listed here.
We begin by entering the long, dimly lit corridor adorned with modern light fixtures and minimalist black-and-white line art on the walls. A row of large, welcoming booths is on the left side of the restaurant, in direct view of bar seating to the right where all can be seen in the open-faced kitchen. The fact that the owners keep no secrets becomes obvious as the knowledgeable waitstaff seats you and is eager to explain the menu and why each guest has an electric stove embedded into the table where they are sitting. As Tonkotsu awaits their requested alcohol license, we happily make do with an array of Japanese soft drinks, teas and Coke products.
At first glance, the menu seems as minimalist as the restaurant, yet the complexities of flavor to come hide themselves in the shadows extremely well. The guest is tasked with picking a broth. These are classically produced stocks, which make for the foundation of any good soup. For this visit, we pair the Tonkotsu broth with USDA Prime Ribeye ($21.50 regular, $25.50 large), Miso with USDA Choice Ribeye ($17.50 regular, $21 large) and Kabocha (a vegetarian Japanese-pumpkin broth) with lamb ($16.50 regular, $20 large). It’s important to note that meat is not a requirement, and all dishes come with a raw veggie bowl of bok choy, broccoli, carrots, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, kabocha pumpkin, napa cabbage, spinach, tofu and udon noodles. The Veggie Bowl itself is $11.
As the order is placed, I see the chefs go to work, immediately taking me back to my days as an apprentice chef in fine dining. During, the waitstaff prepares the table, setting each broth on a stove to heat up and adorning each place with goma (creamy sesame sauce for vegetables), ponzu (citrus soy sauce for meat) and rice (choice of white or brown). The veggie bowls are delicately decorated in the same fashion, showing precise attention to intricate details in how the mushrooms and carrots have been chosen and carved. During, the waitstaff prepares the table, setting each broth on a stove to heat up and adorning each place with goma (creamy sesame sauce for vegetables), ponzu (citrus soy sauce for meat) and choice of brown or white rice. As the chefs have finished their job, it is time for us to get to work.
As all of the broths are basic in their very essence, it is the duty of the guest to shape their own soup by slowly adding in the ingredients to cook and moving them to a separate bowl to eat. Working with many leafy greens and thin cuts of meat, everything cooks relatively fast, leaving it to the guest not to overcook anything. While the sweet earthiness of the goma is meant for vegetables, cheating and dunking a medium rare strip of steak is a treat. The sweetness and saltiness of the ponzu also offers a similar duality, while imparting another layer to the flavors in play. This is also a good time to be testing the broth, adding and tweaking ingredients at will. The amazing part of this task is that the guest is constantly playing a game of senses with themselves as the broths develop their own individual characters. Adding house-made chili sauce, garlic, radish and green onion only enhances this effect, and by the time the guest is close to finishing, the cooking soup has evaporated and reduced itself into a complexity of flavors. There is almost no way to describe how these dishes will taste at the end because they have been shaped by their creator throughout the entire process. Regardless, they are guaranteed to come out delicious every time.
The minimalistic approach to having a single appetizer, garlic butter edamame ($5), one dessert item of mochi waffles ($6) and a vast selection of exotic ice creams now makes sense due to the huge entrée that satisfies the appetite. That being said, make sure that there is room left over because the crispy, chewy sensation of a rice-flour mochi waffle paired with ginger ice cream and caramel is highly recommended. It’s safe to say that anyone looking for one of Salt Lake’s most memorable dining experiences will not be leaving disappointed after experiencing Tonkotsu Shabu Shabu Bar.
Every month, SLUG Style features a distinct and unique member of the community and asks them why they do what they do. Exploring more than just clothing, SLUGStyle is an attempt to feature the people who give Salt Lake City flavor through personality and panache.
Celeste Ristorante took the scenic route on its way to opening in an otherwise unremarkable strip mall in Murray, Utah. Tuscan-born chef Paolo Celeste originally moved to Salt Lake City in 1995, from the town of Versilia near the northwestern Italian city of Pisa. Upon his arrival, he immediately opened a restaurant in Sugar House with a childhood friend. A decade later, the pair sold the restaurant, and Celeste returned to his native Versilia for a time. He later moved to Los Angeles to work for the Ago Grandcompany and helped the food-service-savvy Vietina family open restaurants in San Pedro, New York and San Diego. Celeste returned to Utah earlier this year and opened the new Celeste Ristorante, bringing authentic Italian food to a centrally located point in the Salt Lake Valley.
Celeste Ristorante is only open a few hours each evening, Tuesday through Saturday. Suspecting that the restaurant could fill up on the weekends, my wife and I decided to visit midweek. There were only a few of us in the spacious dining room during our visit, which allowed the staff to be extra attentive—though I don’t think they would have been any less welcoming on a busier evening. Of the three or four occupied tables around us, it seemed like we were the only ones not conversing in Italian. This was an early indication that we were in for a joyous meal.
We started with selections from the salad and antipasti menus. We ordered the Insalata Contadina($9 or $4 for a half portion), an arugula, radicchio and shaved fennel salad. It was topped with generous crumbs of gorgonzola cheese and finished with an extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. At the same time, they brought out the Carpaccio di Manzo ($12), a plate of thinly sliced, seared top sirloin that is chilled and served with a salad made from sliced baby artichokes and watercress. The greens were layered with sheets of parmesan cheese and seasoned with an olive oil and lemon dressing. It is dangerous to start with food this good, because it sets the bar high. The salad balanced the trio of greens nicely with the creamy and mild gorgonzola. The carpaccio was also delightful, harmonizing the rich slices of beef with the bold hunks of cheese and fresh vegetables. We were already impressed, and this was only the beginning.
We chose our main courses so we could sample items from both the pasta and meat sections of the menu. First up was the Ravioli Incavolati ($18), a plate of homemade ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and seasoned kale, served in a butter sage sauce and completed with shaved parmesan cheese. For a seemingly simple dish, the flavors were incredibly complex. The rich sauce expertly complemented the delicate pasta. Others in the dining room spoke highly of the Fettuccine Bolognese ($18), a plate of egg fettuccine served with a classic meat bolognese sauce and parmesan. If it’s anywhere near as good as the ravioli, I’m sure it would also be a great choice.
Our second entrée was the Petto di Pollo alla Valdostana ($22), a lightly breaded and sautéed chicken breast topped with thin-sliced Italian ham and fontina cheese in a white wine sauce. This unassuming chicken dish was served with a plentiful portion of roasted rosemary potatoes and carrots. There’s something elementally satisfying about a dish this simple. A few bites in, and the complexity of the dish really shines through. Tender and succulent chicken, paired with savory ham and rich cheese, has never tasted better. The potatoes were creamy and flavorful, and rounded things out nicely. It was hard leaving room for dessert.
Celeste’s desserts vary by the day and are all priced at $8 dollars. Of the many selections available during our visit, we went with a dish of Panna Cottaand a slice of Torta della Nonna. The Panna Cotta consisted of the traditional sweetened Italian custard served with either chocolate or strawberry sauce. It was silky and creamy on its own, and it honestly didn’t need either of the flavored sauces. The Torta was a true gem. This slice of pie was made with a sweetened, cream-filled pastry crust and topped with toasted pine nuts and powdered sugar. As was the case with most of the menu, it was elegant, simple and expertly constructed—the perfect way to end the meal.
I look forward to many return visits to Celeste Ristorante. There is so much more that I am eager to try, from the housemade salads and antipasti to the myriad pasta combinations and the selections of fish, beef and even wild boar. It should be noted that diners are also able to complete their meals with selections from the restaurant’s full beer and wine list and with a post-meal espresso or cappuccino. There is nothing not to like about Celeste Ristorante. If you’re looking for an authentic Italian dining experience, there is no reason to look any further. This is the place.
237 S. 400 W., SLC | 801.935.4431 Monday–Saturday: 5 p.m.–Close Closed Sundays
Currently rated No. 28 out of 1,205 restaurants in Salt Lake City on TripAdvisor, Pallet is extremely underrated when it comes to its online popularity. This cozy restaurant is filled with ambience, including a retro typewriter begging for an inspired message from your fingertips. Its homegrown feel is embraced by Edison light bulbs and reclaimed wood decor that transports customers to a nostalgic daydream of what visiting the dining table of your grandparents’ farm may be like as your adult self. Pallet is cozy, conversational and a food critic’s dream.
Starting with the Farmer’s Salad ($8), I was mesmerized by farm-fresh vegetables and greens, complemented by a basil buttermilk salad dressing that appeared and tasted more like a salad rub than a creamy dressing. It was divine, and officially on the top of current “must-have” salads across the country. I was sucked in from the beginning—and then I had Gloria’s Meatballs ($11). I wanted to find something wrong with the the red sauce soup that accompanied the meat and parmesan deliciousness, but I couldn’t. In the interest of not letting anything go to waste, we ordered some bread to help soak up the leftover sauce, a perfect combination of sweet and spicy.
I was tempted to order the Pig Latin cocktail ($65), which comprises Whistle Pig 15-year Rye Whiskey, Grahams 20-year port, Amaro Nonino and Abotts Bitters—however, my mood was enticed by a Spanish red wine, 2014 El Chaparral DeVega Sindoa, while my husband, Scott, enjoyed their take on an Old Fashioned, River Boat Joe ($13), keeping in line with the restaurant’s early-1900s vibe. Pallet’s bar reminds me of the Buckhorn Bar & Parlor in Laramie, Wyoming (established in 1900), due to its wood-framed mirror and small-town feel that could easily be the set of a Wild Wild West bar action scene. The cocktails are visionary and full of surprise in regard to ingredient pairings and liquor choice. Bar Manager Bijan Ghai uniquely named each one. For instance, Shore Enough ($16) pays homage to Chile with its Pisco base, taking deeper roots with lime, spiced pineapple shrub, grapefruit bitters, orange curacao, turmeric and guava.
I sensed that chicken was not going to cut it for my meal, so I jumped right in for the Elk ($32). Executive Chef Zachary “Buzz” Wiley knew what he was doing when he adorned the dish with carrot-stem leaves atop a combination of sunchokes (a root vegetable), black olives, baby heirloom carrots and perfectly cooked elk meat. This was an extraordinary dish full of flavor and tenderness, something I would go back for. The sultry allure of the big game meat was a perfect match for the savory taste of the vegetables, which provided a sense of artichoke and potato flavor with a slight bitterness from the leafy carrot top. The elk was not gamey and served in the perfect portion.
Lucky for me, I was able to taste Scott’s order ofLamb Ribs ($27),which were equally delicious. The New Zealand lamb is put through a steaming process to remove the fat, flavored with Moroccan spice, and served with couscous, cauliflower and radish, and topped with edible flowers. The flavor packs a little punch, carrying hints of turmeric, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, nutmeg and ginger. It’s something I would highly recommend.
Pallet is a unique space. With attention to detail and communal tables offering a sort of casual, Great Gatsby gathering vibe, it is refreshing in its style and culinary tastes.With artwork commissioned to resemble true 1900s portraits and an exploration of farm-to-table creations beyond the imagination, the space is suitable for a date, a party, or company gathering. Only open for dinner, the restaurant allures with options for early-evening craft cocktails or after-dinner nightcaps.
We finished our meal with dessert, of course. What kind of food critic would I be if I did not dive into Comments from the Peanut Gallery ($9)? It’s a beautiful smoked chocolate ice cream with graham cracker, peanut nougat and edible flowers expressing hints of a s’more campfire minus the marshmallow. I posted a photo of this dessert on my Instagram feed, and comments came in from several friends about how much they all loved Pallet, including a fellow traveler and tour guide who named it “Best Eats in Salt Lake City.”
What’s the good word? Find the wall of wisdom above the typewriter on the way to the restroom. You may recall memories of your grandparents’ home one more time by rubbing your finger prints on the keys or with the Borax soap. No attention to detail is spared at this fine Downtown dining establishment.
Since Sept. 15, the Nox Contemporary Art Center has been home to two wildly different installations: Amy Jorgensen’s A Labor of Love and Justin Watson’s |human|, both on show through Nov. 10. Each of these works explore reconciliation, and although almost nothing about either piece resembles the other, seeing them in dialogue provides an opportunity to form connections within the world of contemporary art.
In A Labor of Love, Jorgensen continues her exploration of the apple as a familiar symbol. The piece comprises three main elements.“There are dinner napkins, cocktail napkins and then the Body Archive images,” says Jorgensen. Reminiscent of Michelangelo‘s The Last Supper and Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, Jorgensen smashes 13 apples on each table setting, leaving messy, urine-like residue on the dinner napkins while the cocktail napkins are stained with wine and blood.
Down to the title, Jorgensen is specific with meaning. “I think ‘a labor of love’ is often used in the context of the domestic space and the context of women,” she says. Her work often engages documentation through a feminist lens, and A Labor comes off the heels of her New York exhibition, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, a collection of 18 images on handkerchiefs, each of militant U.K. suffragettes from the 20th century. This feminist air carries over into the violent decadence A Labor explores.
Apples are a common thread in Jorgensen’s work. “All of my work is heavily invested in symbols and language,” she says. “When you think of the apple, the phrases and things that you think of—the Garden of Eden, of Eve, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ … I’ve actually had students bring me apples on the first day of class—it’s this wholesome representation of all-Americanness, but it’s also a representation of sexuality and sensuality for women. It represents the fall of women. I’m interested in exploring [these connotations]—and toppling them as well.”
Alongside are new additions to Jorgensen’s ongoing photography project, Body Archive.The new additions are images produced by literally exposing her body to light-sensitive emulsion while performing ALabor.The emulsion rests between her skin and clothing, documenting the body during the act. Some images feel more animalistic, some feel splotchy and dirty, while others feel calm and ethereal, beautiful to the right eye. This entry into Body Archive plays perfectly into Jorgensen’s continuing exploration of how one documents reality. Her inability to control photography’s technical aspects is key: ISO, aperture, shutter speeds—all are shed to give the body a voice.
Where Jorgensen is specific and focused in her creative intention, Justin Watson is comfortable being more nebulous. His video installation |human| sets two virtual entities projected against opposite walls in a scripted dialogue: one, a wonderwall-singing pseudo-intellectual, and the other, his critic, skeptical of the weighty, philosophical meandering over concepts such as identity and the digital self. The viewer realizes that these entities are the front and back of the same face, struggling with itself. “It’s completely ridiculous,” Watson says. “These things he says, he thinks are really deep, but in reality, it’s not deep at all.” Watson smiles when I laugh at some of the dialogue. “I’m glad you’re laughing,” he says. “Humor is important to me in this.”
Watson’s creative process relies heavily on tinkering, a holdover from his younger years of creating one-off projects that weren’t far in ethos from his current work. Now it’s more formalized. “Revision, revision, revision,” he says. “I had no idea what I was going to do for this exhibition until summer. Even then, it’s gone through several iterations. For example, I originally hired voice actors … and it sounded like a commercial. Really fine-tuned, perfectly enunciated—I scrapped it.” Now the voices are Watson’s own, and it feels more personal. |human|’s visuals are built of odds and ends, mapped images of paintings and landscapes onto oscillating 3D models. It creates a backdrop constantly shifting between meditation and overstimulation.
This cycle of tension and resolution is characteristic of the way Watson builds his works. He describes a previous piece to me, a series of videos of decomposing bodies set to audio of a hypnotist contemplating death and acceptance. “You’re kind of watching this … almost spectacle, but you realize it’s flesh that’s decomposing,” he says. The viewer is simultaneously lulled in and repulsed. “With |human| … there will be moments where it’s overwhelming and moments where it’s near silent. I think I’ve gotten better at creating that kind of roller coaster.”
Watson’s work consistently explores imagery that feels conflicting. Watson shares David Lynch’s ability to go down the rabbit hole of creative impulse, making art that can feel as finely crafted as it is bizarre. Where Lynch gets cagey about his audience, Watson is quick to be transparent. “Art is like a transmission. Some people will never get it,” he says. “I just know who I’m talking to.”
This desire for making connections, for folding reality in a cohesive frame, is a strong connection tying Watson to Jorgensen. Where Jorgensen kneads her symbols into a pragmatic expression, Watson exploits contemporary art’s lack of boundaries to close the piece like a circuit. The fruit of these efforts is now the opportunity to experience them in dialogue with each other—both |human| and A Labor of Love will be on exhibit at Nox Contemporary through Nov. 10. View more of each artists’ work at amyjorgensen.com and justinwatson.com.