I honestly didn’t realize I’d missed blogging last week until Saturday. I’ll pretend it was because of all the bustle leading up to my family hosting TWO Thanksgiving dinners. Yeah, that’s the reason. I was certainly distracted by the massive list of things I had to do, clean, cook, prepare. When you are about to welcome and feed close to 50 people, the pressure can get to you.
I’ll stick with that. I was too busy.
But really, Thanksgiving was great! We usually host both families, but have one group over on Wednesday night to make things a bit less stressful. That didn’t work out this year, so we decided to have my family over at noon, Sheryl’s at 6. That gave us just enough time to smoke turkeys, make sweet potato casserole, prepare gravy, cook stuffing. We rely on the others for the rest of the food, and they always come through with fantastic pies, sides, rolls.
I’m fortunate to have both parents and all my siblings living near me, and while we get together often, Thanksgiving is still special. I’m also extremely lucky to have fantastic in-laws. I love my wife’s family as if they were my own. They are a huge part of my life and I am thankful for their love and friendship.
I’ve become quite sentimental in my old(er) age. My emotions run closer to the surface, and being in the same room with the people I care most about makes me insanely happy. This year was particularly poignant. Several times I found myself close to tears. I am grateful, thankful, joyful.
And the best part- I get to have all these wonderful people in my house again on the 24th of December for another fantastic evening of food and family. It really is a pretty great life.
On August 20th, Sheryl and I celebrated 22 years of marriage. It was a Thursday night, and both of us had plans taking us in opposite directions (a pot-luck with some church folk for Sheryl, a concert in the city for me). We were a bit disappointed to not spend the evening together, but we knew that our love was what mattered, not when we celebrated. Saturday would work just as well, and our plan was a good one. Spend the day together with the boys, then make our way to the book store and eventually to our favorite Italian place in Salt Lake.
Good friends turned us on to Michelangelo’s back when the restaurant existed in the basement of the ugliest building in Sugarhouse. The decor was minimalist (that’s a nice way of saying bland, dark, awful), but the food was exquisite. House-made noodles and sauces, a good wine list, nice people, made our visit something worth repeating. We returned a few times, but somehow missed the notification that they were moving location. One night, we went down to eat and the basement was vacant.
I feared they had gone belly up (as seems to be the case with too many good places in SLC. Chains rule the roost more than they should), and was quite pleased to learn (almost two years later) that they had moved to an above ground location just a few blocks away (with much better decor).
We try to introduce all our friends to Michelangelo’s, and unless they are all very good liars, no one has been disappointed.
Moving to the suburbs has actually made us go more often than we used to. It is our go-to location for great pasta and special nights.
After a day shopping with the boys, we were starving and pasta thoughts convinced us to eat before going to buy books.
The restaurant didn’t appear all that busy from the front, but when we entered, it was obvious something big was happening, and few of the staff were rattled. The service is always friendly, but can sometimes be less efficient than might be ideal. This night, the hostess was a bit frazzled. She wandered about, trying to seat people and greet those that were coming in. She mumbled something to us about a party making things crazy, and then lead us into the dining room.
She sat us between two large groups, one that had arrived just before us, and another that was already three or four bottles deep in wine. Two more tables directly across from us were filled with 10-12 people each, all laughing and drinking, making happy noises.
We had walked right into the middle of a birthday party. The gentleman next to us was turning 60 and his family and friends had gathered to celebrate. At first, Sheryl and I were a bit shaken by the loudness of the revelers. We worried with such a large group taking precedent that our food would be delayed or we might get lost in the shuffle. Our server quickly put that fear to rest, bringing bread and drinks in very quick order. Once I felt like we would not be forgotten, I was able to relax.
About three minutes after our salads arrived (mine a lovely Caprese, Sheryl’s her favorite beet salad), the wife of the birthday boy (giggle) began her first of several apologies regarding the volume of her group. We laughed and I promised her we weren’t bothered. She was still concerned with our comfort, and from that moment on, insisted that we become part of the celebration. She told us stories. Introduced us to her husband and many of the guests, who also told us stories. Soon, food was being passed to our table, including slices of a delicious birthday cake, as well as a very good glass of wine. I felt almost like we had always been part of their celebration, like we were invited guests. It was an excellent and bizarre sensation.
Sheryl and I are pretty laid back folk, which worked out for both us and the birthday party. Another couple might have been annoyed or made a stink about the craziness. We just enjoyed ourselves, met some new people, ate some delicious food and were grateful for our good fortune.
I have great friends. One of these great friends has done me the greatest of services today. She took me to get Banh Mi. For a few weeks, Katherine has been talking these sandwiches up like they were fallen straight from heaven. She has never led me wrong when it came to food or places to eat food, so today, after running some awesome errands, she asked if I wanted to go to Oh Mai and I instantly agreed.
When we walked, the smells were overwhelmingly delicious. I am a sucker for almost any Asian cuisine. My mouth began to water until I read the menu and became a bit nervous. All the sandwiches seemed to have some sort of sauce I was certain not to like. Mayonnaise or chili-lime fish vinaigrette seemed to saturate every sandwich and neither sounded very tasty. I almost backed out and ordered a rice dish or soup, but I decided to trust Katherine and chose the Honey Glazed Pork Banh Mi in the end.
Sitting on a bench at Liberty park, I took my first bite.
The baguette was the right amount of crispy and soft. The outer crust easily giving way to a flavorful interior. Instantly I was hit with the chili-lime fish vinaigrette. Amazing! What a fantastic sauce with so much flavor. It superbly complimented the crunch of the vegetables and paired with the (tons and tons of) cilantro, made every bite absolutely delicious. The meat was tender and full of honey flavor. There could have been a tad bit more, but with such tasty vegetables, I easily overlooked the small meat portion. The best moment came near the end of the sandwich when I came across the jalapeno. I had just given up hope of finding any (though the menu promised them unless I asked otherwise) when I bit into one. An entirely new flavor added a wonderful, spicy finish to the sandwich.
Not only was the sandwich fantastic, it was really inexpensive. An 8 inch sandwich cost less than five dollars and was easily enough for me. I can’t wait to go again. Maybe tomorrow?
Top Five Foods I would never have eaten as a child, but love as an adult.
1. Saag Paneer-Such a delicious spinach dish. Add that tasty Indian cheese and I am powerless to resist. I hated spinach as a kid. Anything this mushy looking would never have been allowed on my fork. The lunch buffet at Himalayan Kitchen in Salt Lake offers the best Saag I have eaten.
2.Pad Kee Mao (Drunken noodles)-My current favorite dish. It has replaced red curry as my favorite Thai (inspired) dish. I love noodles and the thick rice noodles, drenched in sauce make my face happy. I loved noodles as a boy, but the spices and fish sauce would have been instant barriers to liking this dish. My current favorite place to get them is at Bangkok Classic
3.Smothered Burrito with Cheese– All my friends liked this dish. I would never have tried it. Something about the sauce made me afraid. When I finally tried this dish in my early 20’s I cursed the years I had wasted. So rich, flavorful and decadent. This is a guaranteed five pound gain, but one so satisfying, its hard to really regret it. Of course, I only get this burrito at La Frontera.
4.Roasted Asparagus-As a child I was certain I hated asparagus. I WAS NEVER SO WRONG. I have a favorite place for asparagus and it is anywhere my brother Dylan roasts it. Second, I would pick the grilled asparagus at Michelangelo in Salt Lake. Topped with a fried egg and bathed in truffle oil, it is the best 8 dollars you can spend. I hate to share it, but will if forced.
5. New England Boiled Dinner-I prefer mine with ham or plain brisket. I am not sure I can explain or describe the wonderful smells one encounters when entering a home where a boiled dinner is roasting. Thick scents of cabbage and carrots, the air is humid and heavy. Your skin absorbs it. When properly prepared, the meat is very tender and the vegetables break apart with the touch of a fork. The best boiled dinner I ever ate was prepared by a 60 year old woman from Maine. I was dog sick with a cold and certain I wouldn’t taste anything. Wrong. It was a taste explosion I have never forgotten. Young Ryan would have hated the smells and as for cabbage, it was best thrown straight in the trash. I have not had a boiled dinner at a restaurant that was ever any good. The are always under cooked or flavorless.
Finally, enjoy this fantastic version of This is not a Love Song by Public Image Limited, just because it’s cool.
My new favorite dish is Sukiyaki.
I love the salty broth, especially when it soaks into the tofu and makes a tasty treat. My favorite comes from a restaurant called Kyoto in Salt Lake City. I prefer beef to chicken and the thinly sliced, slightly fatty beef used at Kyoto is perfect. I highly recommend it. Tender enough to easily chew, but fatty enough to compliment the broth, making a delicious blend that I find impossible to resist. I often pretend I am going to order something else when I go. I never do.
I hear the Sushi is good.
What I really want to try is Ramen-REAL Ramen, not the dried out 25 ¢ variety found in every grocery store shelf in America. Sadly, I don’t know where to go to try some. Kyoto doesn’t offer it and I have yet to come across it in any of the other Japanese places I have eaten. Perhaps it is too common, too much a every day food to be served by places that often consider themselves fine dining. If anyone knows of a good place to get good Ramen, please let me know. I am getting desperate!
In an earlier post, I discussed the fabulous omelets made at Over the Counter Cafe. Since then, I have been pondering other ways to talk food here on this fine website. Sticking with a breakfast theme, I present to you my three favorite places for one particular breakfast, Eggs and bacon. Each of the places serves a very similar dish, including Hash browned potatoes and either pancakes or toast. I have had several variations of eggs at each location, but for the purposes of this post, I will limit my discussion to meals with scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast (oh, how I love good toast) and coffee.
Original Pancake House-Without equal, the best bacon in the city. Perfectly cooked in its own fat, this bacon comes almost as thick cut as a ham slice at most other restaurants. I cannot go to OPH without ordering bacon, regardless of what else I am eating. Moist in places while crispy and blackened in others, the flavor is exceptional. For the bacon alone, I often pick OPH over most other breakfasts. The eggs are decent. I like my scrambled eggs on the moist side, and these are pretty good. They do require pepper and Cholula, but so do most eggs served at restaurants. The hash browns are cooked in butter and while not the best I have eaten, they are good enough. Ketchup and some black pepper make them quite tasty. The toast often comes cold, which bothers and the coffee can be great some days and very watery on others. If you enjoy good bacon, this is where to get it. Even with the other elements being less than stellar, this place is exponentially better than Dee’s, Denny’s or Ihop (all of these, including OPH are chain restaurants).
Finn’s-Originally located in what is now my Vet’s office, Finns serves breakfast and lunch and is famous for their Norwegian influence. All the servers here where white, which is sometimes a bit unfortunate (how judgmental of me), and annoying, but I have yet to have bad service here. My cup never gets empty and the coffee is dark and delicious. Presentation is fantastic here as well. The plate of food looks delicious and smells delicious when it is served to you. The eggs are my favorite of the three places. Moist and delicious, they require no seasoning. I tend to eat them very quickly and always want more. The hash browns are good as well. The potatoes have a very light flavor and I don’t feel heavy after eating them. Unfortunately, the bacon is not my favorite. It is not under or overcooked, just too crisp for my liking. I prefer being able to tell whether I am eating the fat or the meat and with this bacon, it all tastes the same. My favorite part of eating at Finns’ and what will influence me to chose this place over others is the toast and Jam. The toast comes out warm and buttered and when covered in the decadently sweet and savory berry jam, it is fantastic. I have gone to Finn’s just to eat the toast. The jam is that good.
Blue Plate Diner-This place is good for any meal. There dinner menu is fantastic. Burgers and sandwiches never miss but I am a sucker for their breakfasts and the Classic Blue with meat in particular. The second best bacon I have had in SLC. Peppered and thick cut, it is greasy deliciousness. I feel gluttonous just thinking about eating it. The eggs are well prepared though I hear they do better poached eggs than scrambled. I like them with pepper and hot sauce and though not as tasty as Finn’s they are much better than OPH. The coffee is not fantastic but it is quite good. I like their toast, as it is served right off the grill and the bread is better than the other two places. The jams and jellies are the pre-packaged sort and that is disappointing. They serve home fries rather than hash browns, and it might not be fair to compare these to the potatoes at the other places but regardless, they are oh so very good. Served with bits of green and red pepper, they are evenly cooked and served hot. I am loathe to share them with anyone.
Three places that are fantastic! If you haven’t tried them, do! If you have and just want to try them again, invite me. We could go this week.
One of my twins is a picky eater. For a while, I thought his food aversions were from lack of courage, being unwilling to try things. I thought this because I know most of mine were from lack of effort. I don’t like fish, but every few years I try something, just to see if I am only pretending not to like it. Shellfish is the worst. I gag at the taste of shrimp. Funny enough, I love items cooked with fish sauce.
Tomatoes were something I didn’t like until well into my twenties. I tried them on my mission on several occasions, liking them enough to eat them and not appear ungrateful when someone would serve them. Not until much later did I choose to buy them and eat them on my own. Oddly enough, I didn’t think I liked any kind of fruit preserves until around that time. The first night I was in New Hampshire, fresh faced out of Utah and sitting at the spacious dining table in the home of the mission president, we were served pastry turnovers with raspberry preserves inside. I felt sick at the thought if having to eat them and was trying to devise a plan to pass mine off to someone else. The opportunity did not present itself and I had to choose between leaving it untouched, or sampling it. I gave in and took a forkful. Oh my! So fantastic! I recall being quite angry at myself for nearly two decades of ignoring something as wonderful as fruit preserves.
My son is a different matter. He has thrown up after eating a tomato. He has nearly thrown up after eating a french fry that had sat next to a pickle. He has physical reactions to the smell of certain dips and sauces. He hates onions. As he has aged, he has expanded his food circles, now eating and loving barbecue (chicken and ribs as well as brisket), most pasta sauces, including tomato ones. His new achievement, chicken Alfredo. I made him some of my homemade sauce a week or so ago and after some angry sighs from me, he gave in and tried it. His face was priceless.
The other night, we ventured to the Olive Garden for dinner where Dylan once again had fettuccine Alfredo. There are better Italian places in Salt Lake and we frequent those often, but I have a soft spot for the breadsticks and soup the Olive Garden serves (plus I have great memories of eating there with people who mean a great deal to me). I am not snobbish enough (really) to get uptight about the whole chain restaurant thing. If the food is decent and I am in the mood for it, I will eat at most places, chains or local.
The real problem with the Olive Garden, at least the one near my home, is the crowd. No matter what night, if you go after 5:30, there is a wait. The later you go, the longer the wait. I have waited on a Thursday night for over an hour for a table. I can’t explain it. This time we went on a Tuesday at 5:45. We were able to get right in, but every table in our section was full and every table we passed on the way in was taken as well. On the way out, there lobby was full of people waiting. I know what you might be thinking. Older people, the 4:30 dinner crowd, those over 65 love their pasta and love their Olive Garden. And it is true, there were a few people in that age group, but the vast majority of the people were younger, 20 somethings or 30 somethings, most without kids, seeming to be out for the evening.
I cannot figure it out. No other chain in SLC has this type of crowd with the exception of Texas Roadhouse. But there are only two in the valley and that makes some sense. Is it just my Olive Garden? I need to have answers to this. Are they pulling a Cafe Rio and putting caffeine in the sauces? If anyone has an answer for this, I would love to hear it. I am puzzled and need some help here.
Anyway, the food was good for us, fresh and hot. I had the spaghetti with meatballs, which never disappoints. Though, it did make me crave the Gnocchi at Michelangelo’s.
I am sensing a restaurant review coming up!
One of my favorite places for breakfast is Over the Counter Cafe . This tiny hole in the wall diner is the perfect place for a casual meal with friends or an intimate breakfast with someone. Smells of fresh coffee and frying meats great you when you walk in. While it can get very crowded, it is usually not a long wait for a table. The service is quite good, friendly and fast. My cup never runs dry and the food comes quickly and is always steaming hot. Nothing waits under a heat lamp. I recommend the omelets, any of them, though I am a huge fan of two in particular- The Utah and Chicago Omelet. The Utah comes with green peppers, onions, mushrooms and cheese along with spicy ground beef (which is fantastic and has a pleasant spice, hot but still flavorful). The Chicago replaces the beef with a tasty sausage.
The peppers, onions and mushrooms are grilled together then placed inside folded egg. The ingredients pour out an onto the plate. The vegetables retain a nice crispness to them and the mushrooms blend in fantastically, while the cheese melted on top of the egg is not too sharp and adds a nice creaminess to the meal. The home fries that accompany the omelet have a nice crisp, brown edge and with a little pepper are quite tasty. Surprisingly, nothing is too greasy and the portions are a good size, not too overwhelming but filling.
They also serve lunch, but I am so stuck on the omelets that I have yet to venture into the other menu items. The hours are 6:30 to 2:00, so don’t doddle.