Delicious Crab and Mascarpone Stuffed Piquillo Peppers from Meditrina. Photo: Barrett Doran
Meditrina is the ambitious love child of local foodie entrepreneurs and married couple Jennifer Gilroy and Amy Britt. Britt and Gilroy opened the “small plates and wine bar” in November 2008 in the same space where Southern Plantation fried up catfish in the ‘90s.
The menu at Meditrina is tapas (small plates) with a thoughtful wine selection and a beer menu that includes some of the new Uinta beers. It would be nice if one could also order a brandy or scotch, but that is the deal the devil makes with Utah diners.
Reminiscent of the do-it-yourself stylings that informed my favorite restaurants in the eighties, Meditrina is a bit of small town earnestness in this most metropolitan setting. With its “porch-swing in the evening” friendliness, it’s a refreshing change from the polished generic aesthetic of many typical tapas joints. The dining room is artsy and urban, and with its handmade modernist flourishes and grape-flavored color scheme, it feels vaguely Eritrean. The food itself is spare, handmade and contemporary. The cuisine is created and the wines are selected by Gilroy (who our server described proudly as a self-taught chef). Gilroy uses her own instinctive reactions and conclusions on flavor and the menu choices. Although Gilroy serves as head chef, each item featured on the menu is a total collaboration with Britt, who handles the marketing aspect of Meditrina and also acts as a sous chef. In short, there are some unexpected pleasures and unanticipated oddities on hand at Meditrina.
I had never before considered Meditrina, in fact I didn’t even realize it was there, but at my editor’s suggestion, I ducked out of the afternoon heat and decided to give it a try. On my first visit, with an old friend in tow, I had a small, very pleasant lunch that included a flight of cold and attention-getting wines—“Jen’s Flight” ($10), a set of lighter, but distinctly good whites, with the usual flavors of hay, melon and peach. This was paired with a salad of Penne with Goat Cheese ($7), featuring asparagus and scallions, which went down just fine. I then perused the slightly sweet strains of the Crab and Mascarpone Stuffed Piquillo Peppers ($8), savoring the delicious glow of marzipan on my tongue.
Several weeks later on an evening out with my main squeeze, we started with the Patatas Bravas ($5). I thought they were OK, but she called them for herself when we divvied up the plates after tasting. For me the sauce was great and the potatoes were fine, but they just didn’t make it together. We then sampled the Risotto Cake of Forest Mushrooms and Herbs ($7), which was obviously a labor of love, but had a cripsness that seemed to lose the inherent joy of its Risotto-ness. This was followed with a mutual “wow” in the Mushrooms and Brie ($7), a dish wonderfully created with the flavors of a balsamic and red wine reduction. The effect is first-rate with the sauce over the enigmatically splashy brie.
Our next small plate, Grilled Barbequed Spiced Prawns ($9), was served over an excellent cheesy polenta made with Utah-sourced Irish Cheddar. These were a pleasure and the polenta almost stole the scene from the prawns. Regardless, there was a harmony in the combination. This, I thought to myself, is good American food.
We finished with the Scallops Picatta ($9) which was lemony and very savory, with dramatic colors (the squid ink used is a natural food dye) and a sea-edged scent. This year the scallop is my favorite seafood, and these scallops are as fine as any.
There is something earnest and nostalgic about Meditrina. It has the fresh labor of love feel and is great, but sometimes odd food that marks the restaurants I look back on most fondly from my early foodie days.
Whether you sit inside, or outside on the small patio, Meditrina offers good music, a nice atmosphere, and great, enthusiastic service.