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Dining review: Moochie's, Saffron Valley expand — impressively

Published January 16, 2014 9:05 am

Dining out • Taking a chance on second locations a good bet for two restaurants.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In some respects, casinos offer an easier way to earn a dime than the restaurant business.

In blackjack, there's a best strategy for every hand. If you land in a pickle, even the dealer will give you hints on the best call.

In the restaurant world, there's no such safety net; any new venture is a gamble that would make many a 21 player wince.

And doubling down at the blackjack table is a relatively straightforward affair — but in the restaurant world, it's a crap shoot.

Despite the risks, the owners of two popular Utah restaurants — Moochie's Meatballs and Saffron Valley — have decided to gamble on second locations. One offers more of the same, the other something new. Both have a winning hand to play.

Moochie's Meatballs and More

In the case of Moochie's Meatballs and More, the owners have staked their bet on more of the same. No one could claim that this local favorite's second outlet has strayed too far from the humble original's blueprint. In fact, on entering the new Midvale location, my first impression was that the place could still benefit from a lick of paint and TLC. The former Mexican restaurant space just off State Street is still rough around the edges. And a note to whoever had the idea of reimagining toilet plungers as quirky queue markers: Please sit down, take a deep breath and think hard about that decision.

On to the food. The menu will be familiar territory to Moochie's fans, mirroring the original restaurant. The stars of the menu are subs offered in 6- and 12-inch sizes, with hot and cold selections. The hot sandwiches are where the action is, though, helping Moochie's rake in various accolades, the pinnacle being national TV coverage from everyone's favorite escaped lunatic, Guy Fieri.

Moochie's Philly cheesesteak ($5.99 6-inch, $9.99 12-inch) is routinely held up as one of the finest in town. I'm no more inclined to pick a best cheesesteak than to counsel a biker on how to ride his Harley, but I'll certainly go on record as saying Moochie's version is a downright craveworthy sandwich, worth your time and money. Melted American cheese and grilled onion are the standard toppings on piles of thinly sliced juicy ribeye. Good ol' Cheez Whiz is on hand, too, if that's your predilection, and no, I'm not going to light that touch paper, either.

The bread at Moochie's is solid and brawny. You could probably infuse the stuff with rebar and use it in construction work — inasmuch as it's hefty and solid, mightily holding up to any of Moochie's sandwich ingredients, soft inside, crisp outside.

My personal favorite at Moochie's — and hey, they named the joint after it — is the meatball sub ($6.49 6-inch, $10.49 12-inch), loaded with hearty meatballs and topped with in-house marinara sauce. I'm still puzzling over how they make the darned things so tender. It's probably illegal, so I won't ponder too much further.

Among other subs, such as a ho-hum sausage and peppers ($5.99 6-inch, $9.99 12-inch) and cheese chicken ($5.99 6-inch, $9.99 12-inch), lurks another strong contender for champion sandwich elect — a ridiculously enjoyable Reuben. Corned beef is grilled with sauerkraut and topped with Swiss, pickles and Moochie's own Reuben sauce. Every last bite is made better by that solidly unyielding bread.

Much like the décor, side dishes were merely a forgettable work-in-progress verging on "let's just skip altogether." With a Moochie's meatball sub in hand, though, who cares about the divey digs or mediocre french fries? The rest of the world simply melts away just like the provolone topping as you hunker down — and maybe that's the point.

Saffron Valley East India Cafe

In contrast, Saffron Valley East India Cafe in Salt Lake City marches to a different beat than its predecessor in South Jordan. The second outing for restaurateur Lavanya Mahate sees her evolving the initial fast-causal concept into a full-service, more expansive restaurant.

From the outside of East India's new Avenues digs, it's hard to get away from the fact the building is the literal interpretation of its former tenant, the departed Japanese restaurant Pagoda. Inside, however, the new business has made great strides in stamping its own personality on the space — that of late-colonial-era India.

While the décor might be misty eyed over the past, the menu looks excitedly to the possibilities of the future. You'll find items like a Tandoori Caesar Salad ($8) and a whole range of wraps such as Paneer Passion Wrap ($8), where warmed naan bread lovingly holds fresh paneer cheese, peppers, onions and tandoori spices. It's a fun break from the familiar faces you might expect on a more traditional menu.

From the appetizers section of the menu, Vada ($6) — fried, savory lentil doughnuts — were quite dense for my taste, so plan on sharing. The eyebrow-raisingly named Toddy Shop Fry ($9) comes as either shrimp, calamari or sardines deep-fried in a "special spice." While the intent of the dish has potential, those special spices never really sing loudly enough to make the dish anything more than colorful deep-fried food. Chicken 65 ($9) was my favorite appetizer — spicy morsels of chicken breast fried dry and slightly crunchy.

Among the more common curries ($12 fresh paneer, vegetable or chicken, or $14 lamb, bone-in goat, fish or shrimp), you will see more unorthodox dishes. Three Saag leapt off the page and for a moment I almost convinced myself I'd found the ultimate health food. The mix of blended mustard greens, Swiss chard and spinach ranks as one of the tastiest green things I've ever tasted. No doubt the underbelly of the dish was powered by a good dose of cream — my dreams of healthy living crushed.

The menu is rounded out by a familiar tandoor selection and a modest Indo-Chinese section from where I sampled another fun change of pace — Szechuan Fried Rice ($10 vegetable, $11 chicken, $12 shrimp) — wok-fried Indian basmati rice flavored with hot chile paste, soy sauce and vegetables.

If I we're a betting man, I wouldn't wager against either restaurant being a success. Despite their differing approaches to tackling a second outlet, each offers something enjoyable for existing patrons and newcomers alike.

features@sltrib.com

HH

Moochie's Meatballs and More

Food • HHhj

Mood • H

Service • H

Noise • b

The second outlet of this local favorite hasn't strayed far from the original in décor or menu, offering great Philly cheesesteaks and meatball subs as well as a Reuben that is truly an undiscovered gem.

Location • 7725 S. State St., Midvale; 801-562-1500

Online • moochiesmeatballs.com

Hours • Monday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $

Liquor • No

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major —

HH

Saffron Valley East India Cafe

Food • HH

Mood • HH

Service • HH

Noise • bb

In her second restaurant outing, owner Lavanya Mahate has created a full-service restaurant with a décor that harks back to late-colonial-era India and a menu filled with forward-thinking Indian cuisine.

Location • 26 E St., Salt Lake City; 801-203-3325

Online • saffronvalley.com

Hours • Lunch daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m., and Sunday, 5-9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$

Liquor • Beer and wine

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major