Cottonwood Heights • There’s a little corner on Bengal Boulevard with a three-way stoplight that’s been a neighborhood hotspot for years — but just what restaurant is hip and happening that moment is ever-changing.
Enter Element Bistro, the first business to occupy the new building addition across the street from Angel Café.
Element Bistro straddles a tapas and wine bar without fully devoting itself to either. With the addition of Sunday brunch and weekday lunch, Element has continued to evolve since opening to find the ideal fit in this neighborhood hungry for another spot to call its next favorite.
Element’s wide-ranging menu pulls flavors from around the world — patata bravas ($8) from Spain, za’atar from the Middle East and even Kansas City barbecue from chef and owner Brett Austin DeHart’s upbringing.
Each dish is carefully crafted for the eyes as well as the palate, and Element appears to be transitioning into a high-end restaurant with the sensibility of a casual bistro. Guests are welcomed in to sit at tables made from wine barrels turned on end, at the bar with a full view of the open kitchen or on the patio in the evenings.
Most recently opened for weekday lunch, Element’s menu pulls from some of the most popular small plates from the dinner menu and adds soups, salads and sandwiches as options.
Tapas staples include the roasted cauliflower ($10) coated in tahini yogurt and sprinkled with chopped pistachios and za’atar spice for a tangy starter or the artfully presented corn cake polenta ($9) with blistered corn kernels and chunks of Hatch chiles atop cilantro pesto.
A housemade bowl of heirloom tomato soup delivered fresh, bright flavors that paired perfectly to the grown-up grilled cheese ($9) made with cheddar, smoked gouda and gruyère. The Cuban ($8) wound up on the dry side, but the firebird chicken sandwich ($9) redeemed the meal and then some. A juicy breast of Mary’s fried chicken was accented with red coleslaw and spicy house pickles alongside specially made ghost pepper jam. DeHart explained that although guests are often concerned about the heat from the ghost peppers, he only uses three or four in each large batch. The final execution of this sandwich was ideal with just a twinge of heat to add interest.
Sunday brunch diners will find the same delectable chicken and ghost pepper jam in the fried chicken ($14) offering, this time served over flaky chive biscuits with bacon lardon gravy.
Several versions of Benedict, including a classic ($11) and a Niman Ranch short rib ($13), join shrimp and grits ($13) and huevos rancheros ($12) to round out Element’s brunch selections.
Dinner is where DeHart flexes his culinary muscles. And, while not every dish is a home run, it’s exciting to see some daring choices on display like the bone marrow tortellini ($14) served in a creamy white wine sauce. Tremendously rich, each bite of house-made pasta delivered a burst of melted marrow offset by the acidic balance of capers and fried artichokes. Grilled toast points helped us savor every last drop. Sadly, this dish won’t be carried over to the summer menu, but one can hope it will return in colder months.
One of the most beautiful dinner presentations was the charred octopus with tomatillo, chorizo and chive oil ($14). Each individual ingredient was stellar — firm octopus, flavorful tomatillo and wonderfully spicy chorizo — but the overall dish didn’t work together. So, we ate all the octopus first, then ran the tomatillo through the fresh chive oil with a bit of chorizo to clean the plate.
Filet tartare ($18) came with a raw quail’s egg presented in the half shell, but the small yolk wasn’t large enough to completely coat the excessively large portion of raw beef and felt flat (even with the Malbec pepper sauce) when eaten on the bland lavash.
The hearty heirloom tomato tartlet ($10), though, brought fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic and a buttery, flaky crust together in a warm package. Drizzled with white balsamic and fresh basil, it’s a rustic dish that could feed a light appetite.
As a fledgling restaurant, Element still has some kinks. Wine selection and service are at the top of the list. By the bottle, the restaurant offers some excellent choices that, while pricy, warrant the cost and match the menu. Options by the glass are remarkably poor quality. One evening, we brought a bottle of expensive Champagne to celebrate a milestone event and our server proceeded to pour it out of our glasses and onto the table, twice. We asked to fill our own flutes for the rest of the evening.
But beyond the bubbly explosion, service at Element is notably attentive and informative. Over the course of several meals, every request was met with speed and efficiency, and Chef DeHart even visited our table to answer questions about specific items. It’s this kind of attention to detail that should make Element a staple in the Cottonwood Heights dining rotation.
Element Bistro has plenty of promise and a supportive neighborhood ready to enjoy all the creative dishes DeHart might bring with intriguing flavor combinations and top-notch presentation — resulting in a satisfying and often surprising meal.
Heather L. King also writes for www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches
★★½ (out of ★★★★) Element Bistro
Element Bistro in Cottonwood Heights is serving up ambitious small plates and more that highlight flavors from around the world on Bengal Boulevard.
Food • ★★½
Mood • ★★ ½
Service • ★★
Restaurant noise • 1 bell
Entrée price • $-$$
Hours • Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Closed Monday.
Online • www.elementbistroslc.com
Location • 2578 E. Bengal Blvd., Cottonwood Heights; 801-666-6918
Children’s menu • No
Liquor • Yes
Corkage • $13
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
Onsite parking • Yes
Credit cards • All