Dining out: Small plates don't always deliver on big expectations at Salt Lake City's Eva
Part restaurant, part cocktail lounge, Eva is in many ways what folks would like Salt Lake City's Main Street to be.
The ambience, with deep earth tones, dark wood and pops of modern art and hip wine-loving clientele, is urban and upscale. The food, rooted only in the small-plates concept, doesn't pigeonhole itself into a cuisine. And the hours are wonderfully late. But as with most good things, there's always some sort of catch. At Eva, it's the inconsistency that can take a meal from satisfying to perplexing. It's not that a dining experience at Eva is offensive in any way. Rather, even with the concise menu and its roster of not-so-usual suspects, it can leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed even amid all the excitement around its opening.
Remember that "underwhelmed" is a relative term. A bland "fisherman's baker's pie" ($7.95) with an assuming jumble of calamari, braised octopus and shrimp pales in comparison to the "pig three way" ($7.95).
Both are 8-inch wood oven-fired thin-crusted pizzas that can be shared among four or inhaled by one for lunch. But the latter features prosciutto, Italian sausage and smoked ham, all sizzling and singed from the oven. Simply put, you can't beat pig.
If the pies' names are any indication, Eva has a sense of humor and is chef/owner Charlie Perry's personal paean to food. It's one of those places named after a beloved, kitchen-talented relative (Grandmother, in this case) and is wonderfully rare in that it tries to synthesize this style of food -- a little adventurous, sophisticated, but overall approachable -- at an affordable price tag.
For $9.95, octopus makes a comeback atop pillows of artichoke ravioli. The meat is appealingly tender and charred on the exterior. The filling actually rings with the grassy notes of marinated artichokes. But again, the inconsistency -- together the flavors fall flat and aren't helped by a watery red wine sauce.
Other pastas displayed lovely flavors. Pale green sweet pea gnocchi ($9.95) were fluffy, balanced with the real veg and then accentuated with a barest suggestion of truffle oil. "Crabonara" ($9.95) pairs big chunks of fresh Dungeness crab with thin, al dente strands. But the kitchen line went too crazy with the lemon juice. Oversaucing plagued both. Serving them to friends was harrowing, like doling out creamy soup with a fork.
An otherwise gorgeous salad landaise ($6), with its warm bacon pieces, cubed potatoes, chopped dense dates and textbook perfect poached egg, threw our table for a loop only because the chopped romaine below them was sautéed limp. I get warm salads, when the greens and veg eke out more flavor with a touch of heat. But the romaine had nothing more to give than the crunch of its freshness, and that altogether disappeared with a turn in the pan.
Then there were dishes that missed the mark completely. Saffron braised lamb shoulder ($9) suffered the same fate as the braised local lamb pappardelle ($9.95). Both were very different in approach and look. But they tasted identical in their citrus tang and lacked depth that usually comes with braised meat dishes.
These two dishes stick out, particularly after a round of rich "spanocopita" ($5), coiled snakelike on the plate. Or the beautiful simplicity of the tri-tip bruschetta ($8) covered with a confetti of greens that blended well with the beefy juices. The flaky phyllo salmon ($9) is large enough as a stand-alone entrée: generously portioned, golden and layered with a crunchy fennel salad atop and an electric orange spicy chorizo sauce.
Hand-on-heart truth that one of the best dishes on the menu is the sautéed brussels sprouts ($5). Eva's interpretation creates a brussels sprouts chiffonade (think little ribbons) sautéed with a slick of oil, a dash of cider vinegar for contrast and a healthy handful of deeply roasted hazelnuts to round out the veg's earthy flavors. Eat it as a warm salad or as a very satisfying vegetable course.
It was one of the first things the server -- part of a friendly crew -- recommended to us. The service also has misses, only because small-plates venues require different details -- more efficient clearing of plates, maybe some serving utensils to help with heartier dishes. But they're flexible enough to offer a glass of Matua Sauvignon Blanc (usually only offered by the bottle) when the wine you wanted is out of stock.
And if they happen to excitedly recommend the loukoumades ($5) dessert to you, bypass the other options and order it. The chef's previous stint was at an upscale Greek restaurant in Seattle. With this dessert of just-fried dough balls sparkling with cinnamon sugar, he channels his inner yia yia .
In terms of a finale, it is something to be really excited about.
Bottom line » Its fanfare and following make it seem like small plates are the key to Main Street's salvation. With "pig three way pizza," sautéed brussels sprouts, phyllo salmon, tri-tip bruschetta and kouloumades, it's easy to see why.
Location » 317 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-359-8447
Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 to midnight, (10 p.m. to midnight is happy hour); Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 to 10 p.m., 10 p.m. 1 a.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$
Liquor » Full
Corkage » $8
Reservations » For large parties only
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » No
Credit cards » All major