Restaurant review: Rye rocks in space next to Urban Lounge
A lot of people who visit Salt Lake City for the first time don't know where to get drinks and dinner. Some don't even know if you can drink in Utah's capital city.
So let's give props to the owners of Rye for clearing up the confusion, at least for musicians who visit Salt Lake to play at Urban Lounge.
The owners of Rye Chris Wright, Lance Saunders and Will Sartain also own the adjacent Urban Lounge and thought a diner was a natural extension, not only for their musical acts but for those of us who live in this long-misunderstood city. The trio seized a long-sought opportunity to open an eatery next to Urban when Al Forno, the previous occupant of the space, closed its doors.
Rye doesn't have a large menu, but it's open early for breakfast and lunch (no booze until 11:30 a.m., per state law), then closes for several hours until the dinner hour and remains open until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
On show nights at Urban Lounge, the music is piped into Rye, where diners can watch the performance on a suspended TV screen. If the band isn't your cup of rye, that could be a problem, I suppose. But it's helpful if you're trying to time your arrival at Urban for the headliner because you know when the warmup act is done.
On the night Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett played Urban, she and her bandmates were spotted dining at Rye. During the show, Barnett pronounced the mushroom and toast ($7), a concoction of creamy fontina and duxelles, "f-ing awesome." The synergy seems to be working.
Rye's menu consists mostly of small plates and a couple of entrÃ©e-size dishes. But under the experienced hand of chef Tommy Nguyen, formerly of Takashi, the food is high-quality and interesting, and not your typical diner fare.
Exhibit A is pork belly lettuce wraps ($11), a small plate of moist, fatty meat encased in butter lettuce, complemented by the contrasting crunch of daikon, carrots and zingy chile pickles. I could truthfully apply Courtney Barnett's phrase to this lovely dish.
Another winner is shoyu fried chicken, subtly flavored with togorashi, a Japanese blend of seven spices, helpfully offered in a half ($15) or quarter bird ($10) and served with a generous side of slightly sweet cabbage slaw. The togorashi lends a smoky flavor and color to the crunchy coating, a delicious counterpart to the tender, juicy meat. A generous side of that cabbage slaw is the perfect platemate.
The same spice is used to flavor one version of the thin, crisp house french fries ($5), which also come plain or flavored with truffle oil. The latter was my favorite, dipped in a robust garlic aioli.
Truffled macaroni and cheese ($8), a luxurious blend of pasta and GruyÃ¨re cheese garnished with fried sage leaves that's so rich it's easily shared, is diner food all right, but done for foodies. The flavor combination of the herb and truffle is superb.
It's not the only item that vegetarians will appreciate. There's an excellent kale salad ($8), a good-sized portion of different varieties of kale, perfectly roasted golden beets and marcona almonds dressed in a lively citrus vinaigrette.
A black bean burger ($10) comes with mushrooms, pickled onion and romesco sauce, which is also served with the shishito peppers ($7), one of a couple of dishes that missed the mark.
While the sauce was excellent, the peppers were unevenly roasted, leaving some of them uncomfortably spicy. The other dish that was lacking was street dumplings, filled with shrimp and pork, seasoned with garlic chives and served with a soy vinaigrette. Compared with the flavorful dishes we'd already tried, they came off as ordinary and bland.
Meat lovers should sample the burger ($13), which came cooked to order slightly pink and topped with nicely caramelized onions, roasted jalapeÃ±os, Swiss cheese and avocado sauce. It was a flavor mind meld, and possible to eat by hand if cut in half. Your choice of fries is included.
The teres major steak ($15) is a shoulder cut, but tender enough if it's cooked with care, which it is at Rye. Its main selling point is flavor, which didn't disappoint. Again, fries are part of the package.
The breakfast/brunch menu features a variety of "soft egg scrambles," with a variety of fillings. The bacon, spinach and GruyÃ¨re ($9) version was appropriately rich; the spinach, tomato and feta ($9) scramble was lighter, with that unmistakable goat cheese tang. All the plates come with rather mediocre diced house potatoes that didn't deserve as much space as they got on the plate.
Don't miss the waffle if you like whiskey-infused syrup ($8). It was flavorful without being overpowering. You can add pork belly for $4, a choice I would highly recommend. Or try the pork belly in the breakfast bowl ($11), a bed of white rice topped with an egg, flanked by a dollop of tart, house-made kimchi and several slices of that melting meat. I imagine that would go a long way toward curing a hangover.
Something you should know about refills of the tasty Charming Beard coffee, however: They aren't free.
Rye has full bar service and offers a selection of specialty cocktails, including a negroni ($9) and the amusingly titled "death in the afternoon," a concoction of absinthe and sparkling wine with a lemon twist. Oddly, the restaurant had run out of vermouth on one visit; on another, bar service was incredibly slow at dinner. I hope such kinks have worked themselves out by now.
Rye is a small place, with a seating capacity of about 50, but it doesn't feel particularly cozy due to the minimalist dÃ©cor. The lines are hard and clean; one wall is stark white and blank, save for a series of small lights that punctuate it at about eye level. It has an abundance of natural light, thanks to the windows that front 500 East, and skylights. Most of the seating is at wooden tables with comfortable upholstered chairs, but a counter at the back allows diners to watch the kitchen in action.
Servers are casual and friendly and sport a multitude of tattoos. The whole vibe is young and hip, reinforced by playlists that can include the Shins, Arcade Fire and Radiohead.
Rye feels fresh, a place where kids and grownups can meet and mingle, whether they want to enjoy breakfast or dinner, or a nosh after rocking a club show. Who knows? You could be dining with a future superstar.
Food • HHH
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • bb
Rye is a new venture by the owners of next-door music venue/bar Urban Lounge, which is why it's open until 2 a.m. on weekends. The menu is heavy on comfort food, but is more ambitious than a typical diner, and includes a standout pork belly lettuce wrap and truffle-infused macaroni and cheese. Unlike many Utah diners, it has a full-service liquor license.
Location • 239 S. 500 East, Salt Lake City; 801-364-4655
Online • ryeslc.com
Hours • Breakfast/brunch: Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 6 p.m. to midnight; Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$
Liquor • Full
Reservations • Accepted only between 6-6:30 p.m. for parties of six or more
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes, in lot behind the diner
Credit cards • Yes