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Dining out: Reconsidering two Utah favorites
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

With all the construction going on, downtown Salt Lake City looks deserted much of the time. That's not the case at Bambara, located in the Hotel Monaco. Day or night, the 10-year-old restaurant bustles with business people dining on "power lunches" ($13), theatergoers briskly eating their "3 for $33" meals and other diners enjoying leisurely nights out.

The Tribune last visited Bambara in 2007 when Robert Barker was chef. Nathan Powers has been in charge of the exhibition kitchen for a year now and the food is better than ever.

The cuisine here is seasonal New American. That means appetizers such as the popular Russet potato chips blanketed with melted blue and Monterey jack cheeses ($7), a trio of torpedo-shaped, smoky, crimson piquillo peppers packed with a creative crab-and-corn tortilla stuffing ($14), and an entrée of ridiculously juicy bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin pieces, and an entrée with a maple-brined pork chop with apple-fennel slaw and white cheddar polenta ($25).

If red meat is more your style, Chef Powers makes a mean steak frites (flatiron, $26, or dry-aged New York, $34; both are 12 ounces). The flatiron we ate was expertly grilled to medium-rare and came with some of the best fries I've tasted, adorned with flash-fried rosemary sprigs and sage leaves that shattered between the teeth.

Other menu items sounded a lot better than they tasted. A pool of puréed avocado, serving as a base to a tangle of mixed greens, grapefruit segments and ricotta salata -- dollops of goat cheese on our salad -- looked like unappetizing baby food.

Luscious-sounding chocolate-pecan crostada was overcooked and dry despite embellishments of caramel ice cream and a cocoa-caramel sauce ($8). The delicious huge chunk of pecan brittle that "garnished" the dish could have been dessert by itself.

The wine list has improved considerably since we last visited. Glasses range from $6 to $14; bottles from $26 to $240. Gone are the humdrum Beringers and Estancias, replaced by the refreshing and steely Austrian Hoplers (2007 Grüner Veltliner, $9, $38) and black cherry Apulian Taurinos (2004 Riserva Salice Salentino, $10, $42).

Service was professional, though a bit too casual, and our water glasses went empty for long stretches of time. But those are minor issues. It's evident Bambara is aging elegantly.

Holladay » French restaurants in Utah are few and far between, which is why some of Franck's menu items -- fondue, escargot, coq au vin, tarte tatin -- sound so appealing. My dining companion and I chose the first two to begin our meal.

The fondue for one ($11.95), a gorgeously molten mass of Gruyère, Emmentaler and Swiss cheeses, could have happily fed four ($19.95 for two or more). Basil pesto and garlic butter sauce overpowered the tender nuggets of escargot ($9.95), making the dish way too salty.

Chef Franck Peissel's true talent shows in soups such as a bisquelike tomato-carrot soup with savory whipped cream (soup or salad comes with each entrée) and desserts like his butterscotch-chocolate pôt de crème ($7.95). Well-executed vegetables were often highlights of dishes, including the caramelized carrots that outshined the oversalty escargot, while gingered-candied watermelon was a unique and delicious addition to a plate of pan-roasted duck breast.

The kitchen falters when it delves into fusion food, with menu items such as "pan-seared diver scallops served with baby vegetables, creamy cardamom Japanese eggplant and strawberry seaweed polenta cake in a white chocolate green tea sauce" ($33.95) Come again? Again, technique was impeccable -- the five scallops were seared to perfection, for example -- but the rest of the flavors competed with each other, with a bad end result.

The burnt orange-hued dining room, complete with "chef cam" -- focused on Peissel and others preparing meals -- looks just as it did when the restaurant opened nearly four years ago. The place shows a bit of wear and lack of attention -- in the occasional burned-out light on the strands outside, in the perfunctorily polished silverware and the intermittent disjointed service -- that detracts from the overall "wow" factor of the dining experience when The Tribune last visited in 2006.

But Peissel's technique will keep me coming back. Next time I dine at Franck's, I'll order the fondue, a simple salad and glass of white wine.

E-mail Lesli J. Neilson at lneilson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">lneilson@sltrib.com.

Bambara

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Neither construction nor recession can keep this 10-year-old restaurant from being one of downtown's most popular dining destinations. The New American cuisine is as good as ever with Nathan Powers manning the stoves.

Location » 202 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-363-5454

Online » http://www.bambara-slc.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.bambara-slc.com

Hours » Monday to Thursday, 7-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30-10 p.m.; Friday, 7-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8-11 a.m., 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m.-noon, 5:30-9 p.m.

Children's menu » Yes

Prices » $$$

Liquor » Full bar

Corkage » $10

Reservations » Accepted

Takeout » Yes

Wheelchair access » Yes

Outdoor dining » No

On-site parking » Valet

Credit cards » All major

Franck's

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Chef Frank Peissel deftly crafts seasonal dishes that range from French bistro to American fare. A bit more attention to detail could bring Franck's back from fine to fabulous.

Location » 6263 S. Holladay Blvd., Holladay; 801-274-6263

Online » http://www.francksfood.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.francksfood.com

Hours » Tuesday to Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6-9 p.m.

Children's menu » No

Prices » $$$

Liquor » Full service

Corkage » $12

Reservations » Recommended

Takeout » No

Wheelchair access » Yes

Outdoor dining » Yes

On-site parking » Yes

Credit cards » All major

New chef at downtown's Bambara keeps the stove hot, while side dishes reveal innovative cooking technique at Holladay's Francks.
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