Dining review: Zest minds its bar and its kitchen
By Heather L. King
Special to The TribuneFirst published Mar 19 2013 09:14PM
Here’s the first question everyone asks about Zest Kitchen & Bar: Is it a restaurant or a bar?
After several visits, the answer is a bar with a quality kitchen supporting it. This format isn’t surprising given the owner/operator is former W Lounge owner Casey Staker. His background is in clubs so his restaurant has a club-type feel.
Fortunately, under the supervision of Staker and chef Emily Maxwell, the food at Zest is worthy of a fine restaurant — even though at 9:30 p.m. on most evenings Zest turns down the lights, opens the dance floor and invites various artists to share their music.
Zest’s unassuming gray building on 200 West has seen a few dining establishments come and go over the past few years, most recently Hapa Taqueria and Acme Burgers.
Today, only those 21 and older can enter Zest to see its modern décor with beautiful prints of fruits and vegetables or experience the loud music and low lighting.
Zest’s menu is a relatively tight selection of small and large plates that change to highlight seasonal ingredients from local vendors such as Mololo Gardens. All of the food, as well as cocktails, focus on sustainable, organic, fresh — and often raw — ingredients. Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are typical offerings.
On the small plate menu, chilled marinated mushrooms ($8) were stuffed with a generous amount of chopped kalamata olives and packed with Mediterranean flavor. The stir fry of the day ($7) — a table favorite — featured an excellent mix of lightly steamed peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and broccoli in a delicate curry sauce. Crunch, spice and color added up to a delightful bowl to share.
That appetizer, along with a fine rendition of baked sweet potato fries with a red pepper dip ($6) and an impressive cheese plate with local raw honey and Beehive Cheese selections ($13) are all part of Zest’s daily "Appy Hour." Every day from 4 to 7 p.m., guests can get $2 off select small plates. And every Wednesday, the bar/restaurant offers Vine Wednesday specials beginning at 4 p.m.
Rounding out the small plate selections was a cold, creamy avocado soup of the day ($6) that could have been punched up with some well-chosen spices. Chilled hummus ($7) was dry and bland but the accompanying vegetables were fresh and crunchy.
At $13 each, the large plate selections aren’t large at all but the flavors are still prominent. The grilled portobello mushroom dinner was served with a delightfully bright lemon risotto — and an overly salty spinach side salad.
Raw options include the stuffed avocado with spicy walnuts and cashew sour cream and zucchini noodles accented with pine nuts, pesto and tangy tomato sauce. For a more traditional take on dinner, try the eggplant Parmesan topped with a raw and well-flavored tomato sauce and a small side of fingerling potatoes.
If dessert is on your mind, close with the carrot cake, chocolate cake or salted caramel hazelnut chocolate torte — all $6.
Zest head mixologist, Cristin Hofhine, blends fresh fruits and vegetables with high-end liquors to create some new versions of familiar drinks. The Cello-driver cocktail is made with fresh-squeezed orange juice muddled with plenty of basil leaves and then topped with organic sorrento lemon vodka. ($7). Other interesting offerings include the beet sangria ($7) and the spicy jalepeño margarita ($9) with cucumber and jalapeño. Local beer selections from Squatters, Wasatch and Epic join a list of wines from vineyards that embrace sustainable practices.
With its club-like atmosphere — complete with loud music and dim lights — Zest might not be attractive to everyone in Utah. But for those looking for small plates with healthy, fresh ingredients and great cocktails, Zest will put some zip in your evenings.