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Restaurant reviews: Tapas to tacos in the heart of Provo

Published October 2, 2013 3:35 pm

Dining out • Black Sheep Café deserves the hype and Blue Pablano shows potential.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Over the past few years, Provo has shed its drab dining image and embraced the many cultures and influences that surround the city.

One of the most lauded eating establishments to take root is Black Sheep Café on University Avenue.

And with owner Bleu Adam's sophomore restaurant, Blue Pablano, there are plenty of diverse dining experiences to enjoy in the downtown Provo area.

Black Sheep Café

Don't let the plywood floors fool you, Black Sheep Café is fully deserving of the praise that's been heaped upon it for its take on high-end Southwestern Native American cuisine.

Many customers choose to eat tapas-style for dinner and the appetizer selection is a great place to begin. Bleu-fire shrimp ($11) starts with a base of earthy blue and yellow corn polentas and roasted sweet corn pico de gallo topped with plump, smoky shrimp. The subtly layered flavors are even more breathtaking than the presentation.

Buffalo carpaccio ($11) was also beautifully prepared but the thinly pounded game was overpowered by the arugula salad. Far less of the fresh lime juice would have made the meat enjoyable on its own, leaving the greens and tart apples to be appreciated separately.

Salads and soups finish the front page of Black Sheep's dinner menu. Despite the iceberg lettuce wedge trend of decades past, the Black Sheep wedge ($8) wooed me with the promise of creamy cotija-chipotle-lime dressing that hit all the right fat and heat notes. Fresh cilantro and tomatoes added color and flavor but the promise of crisp bacon was delivered as a disappointing solitary crumble on the plate.

Savory posole ($11) and hearty green chile stew ($11) both emphasize deft treatment of the fork-tender pork, with colorful chile accents, and come with Black Sheep's frybread (a yeasty, fried dough) or nanniskadii (a savory, pita-like flatbread).

If you're still enjoying multiple small plates, go with the Navajo Taco Trio ($19) as a shareable dinner entrée with three filling choices. The non-meat option highlights pork-simmered pinto beans atop traditional Navajo frybread while the slow-cooked green chile pork and spicy red chile beef round out the trio. All are finished with queso menonita (a soft, white Mexican cheese), lettuce, tomatoes, onions and crema.

Other favorites include the hog jowl tacos ($19) with jicama slaw and jalapeño slices or the red chile pork chimichanga ($18). The lunch menu offers smaller portions of some dinner items in addition to sandwiches and burgers.

Whenever you're there, Black Sheep's drink menu is an interesting study in cactus pear. More tart than sweet, cactus pear lemonade ($6) leads the list but dig deeper for six cactus pear cocktail options ($6-15) including rum, gin, tequila and whiskey mixers. You'll also find lots of local names represented on the beverage list including Vida Tequila, Crio Bru cocoa, Charming Beard coffee, High West spirits and Five Wives vodka.

Desserts at Black Sheep change so frequently there is no menu, but one evening featured a luscious pear ($10) poached in red wine, chocolate and cinnamon served between a scoop of vanilla ice cream and not-too-sweet whipped cream. A perfect end to a eye-opening dining experience.

Blue Pablano

For everything Black Sheep Café delivers, Blue Pablano is still finding its way to differential dining status. Blue Pablano is primarily a takeout venue offering tacos, burritos and quesadillas along with bottle sodas ($2) and drinks like Red Bull ($3) and Vitamin Water ($2). You'll find just one table inside along with counter seating and some outdoor tables for dine-in.

"I've been asked recently why I chose the spelling pablano versus poblano," said Adams. "There are actually two ways to spell it and I like the way pablano looks. And people in Utah can't pronounce poblano."

Providing yet another take on street tacos in Utah, Blue Pablano hoped to make its mark with the namesake pablano chili pepper as a blue-corn-encrusted chile rellenos. But the recipe has yet to be perfected, so typical fillings like chicken, al pastor, carnitas, steak and veggie are current options.

Tacos are served a la carte or in the taco combo with your choice of any two tacos and sides of rice and beans for an additional $1.50. Unlike many places where these sides are simply cheap fillers, Blue Pablano puts time and care into theirs with moist pinto beans and perfectly cooked cilantro-lime rice.

We started with a baseline steak taco ($4), which was well-spiced and topped with onions, cheese, red chile sauce and fresh cilantro. An unexpectedly crispy al pastor ($3.75) taco didn't provide the awe-inspired tastes I'd heard rumors of and our disappointment continued with the veggie taco ($3.25), delivered with only beans, rice, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and raw onions—no grilled or fresh squash, zucchini or anything else resembling a vegetable to be found.

I thought it impossible to improperly serve chips and salsa ($2) but these were accompanied not with fresh pico de gallo or even bottled salsa but instead with a cup of enchilada sauce. Simply put—that's not chips and salsa.

The carnitas burrito ($8.50) was the best of the pork products offered but the thin enchilada sauce and smattering of onions and drizzle of crema didn't really equate to good value for the $2 upcharge for enchilada-style.

A chicken quesadilla ($6) was much more successful with juicy and well-seasoned chicken plentifully distributed between the cheese and tortilla layers. The four wedges are dressed with shredded cheese, crema, diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro and green salsa for dipping.

Until the actual pablano makes its official appearance on the menu, I won't make another trip down to Utah County to dine there but in the meantime I'll give their taco cart set up on Friday and Saturday nights at Salt Lake's Granary Row another chance. —

HHhj

Black Sheep Café

Food • HHhj

Mood • HH

Service • HH

Noise • bb

Southwestern Native American cuisine is as fresh and innovative as ever with high-end Navajo tacos as a starting point. A drink menu filled with creative cactus pear specials makes this a can't-miss dining experience.

Location • 19 N. University Ave., Provo, 84601; 801-607-2485

Online • http://www.facebook.com/blacksheepcafe

Hours • Tuesday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday

Children's menu • yes

Prices • $$

Liquor • yes

Corkage • $12

Reservations • yes

Takeout • no

Wheelchair access • yes

Outdoor dining • yes

On-site parking • no

Credit cards • all major Hhj

Blue Pablano

Food • Hhj

Mood • H

Service • H

Noise • bb

Blue Pablano offers burritos, street-style tacos and high-end quesadillas to Utah County residents and Salt Lake's Granary Row attendees.

Location • 434 W. Center St., Provo, 84601; 801-607-5951

Online • http://www.facebook.com/Blue-Pablano

Hours • Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – midnight; closed Sunday

Children's menu • yes

Prices • $

Liquor • no

Corkage • n/a

Reservations • no

Takeout • yes

Wheelchair access • yes

Outdoor dining • yes

On-site parking • no

Credit cards • all major