SLC Eatery had me at “hachees.”
They were beet “hachees,” to be exact. And as it just so happens, I hate beets. At least, I thought I did. I still might. But in SLC Eatery’s small plate preparation ($9), I loved every bite of the chopped root vegetable topped with a crisp, slightly salty, black garlic crumble, fresh herbs, Comte cheese and sweet yet tangy onion whipped cream.
Divine. That’s one word to describe it — and nearly every dish I sampled there.
SLC Eatery, 1017 S. Main St., succeeds not only in fusing Asian, French, Latin, Mediterranean and other global cuisines, but also in transforming and elevating everyday ingredients and dishes.
While the menu reads fine dining, chef Logen Crew said he and co-chef/owner Paul Chamberlain wanted the modern American restaurant to be a comfortable, fun space.
“[Guests] don’t need to even order off the menu,” Crew said. “They can come in and just get some cart items and hang out for a half-hour.”
Indeed, with the dim sum cart, a full cocktail, beer, wine and spirits list, and small and large plates menu, it’s really up to diners to decide the type of experience they want. Patrons also will have the option of Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Whatever you decide, service starts with a complimentary amuse-bouche, prepared while you wait to be seated. On both of my visits, the bite-size hors d’oeuvre included a lightly pickled cucumber in different preparations.
Besides free food, the most exciting feature might be the rolling cart, with a menu that typically ranges from $3 to $7 per item. Since opening the restaurant, Crew said he and Chamberlain have featured about 360 dishes on the trolley, an amazing but difficult feat. Now, however, they plan to move toward a rotating menu, with items returning on specific days.
I hope the crab cake ($6) makes the rotation. Packed into a thin, crisp breading, the delicate, sweet crab really shines, especially when paired with the delightfully bright curry sauce. I also enjoyed the sweet, savory and salty Tokyo turnip ($3), soy-forward bulgogi ($6) and lightly spiced chorizo taquito ($5).
Of all the dishes I tried, the English peas ($4) from the cart were my least favorite. Each component tasted fantastic on its own, particularly the thyme custard foam, but the bowl didn’t really come together.
As for the small plates, Crew said the calamari ($11) tends to be the most popular. And it’s easy to see why. The grill adds a subtle smokiness to the spicy Tajin-seasoned squid served with crunchy cubes of sour fried rice, a cilantro aioli, jalapeno and various greens.
Oysters ($3) also are available, shucked by a man named Monson, whose prep station is framed by a large window where people can watch him work.
Don’t miss the sweet and savory Little Gems ($7), a salad consisting of the small lettuce, dates, croutons, bacon and a Heber Valley white cheddar dressing.
Given Crew’s recent work at Current Fish and Oyster, it’s not surprising the large plates menu includes several seafood dishes. The trio of scallops ($30), seared to perfection, stole the show. I loved the contrast between the slight char on the crust of the scallop and the sweetness of its meat, as well as the tart yet savory lemon-miso sauce, crispy cassava root fritter and sorrel.
I also really enjoyed the blue prawn agnolotti ($21), a stuffed handmade pasta served with two heads-on shrimp, shaved mushrooms, bacon consomme and chervil, even though the dish had a little too much Napa cabbage.
Likewise, I found that the betel smoked beef ($32) had far too many shaved Brussels sprouts. With a satsuma and fennel salad, as well as grits and black garlic demi-glace, the entree already has enough flavor and texture. The beautifully tender bavette steak — which is cold smoked for six to eight hours with tobacco-scented betel leaves and hickory chips, cooked sous vide, chilled, then grilled — more than made up for it.
Save room for dessert. The Nata de Coco ($8) is a joy to eat — from the kiwi, pineapple and almond granita to the tapioca pearls and coconut gelatin. I’d also be happy with a bowl of the crunchy, decadent, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate feuilletine served with the hot chocolate mousse ($7), which also comes with an herbal, somewhat minty Fernet marshmallow and chocolate cake. But the cake — like the miso brown butter pound cake served with the sake poached Asian pear ($8) — was a bit dense, with the former verging on dry.
Our servers varied from helpful and knowledgeable to inattentive. But the kitchen maintained a nice pace to our meal, and the cart and its crew helped fill any gaps.
Besides a more consistent cart rotation, Crew said the menu will receive an update ahead of the launch of brunch. So don’t be surprised if one of the dishes above or one of your favorites disappears. But fear not; Crew said with enough notice, he and Chamberlain would be happy to make it again.
I am really looking forward seeing what Crew and Chamberlain come up with next. Because even with a few minor misfires, SLC Eatery served my favorite meal since moving here two years ago — and it included beets!
(Try the beets.)
SLC Eatery • ★★★1/2 (out of ★★★★) The modern American restaurant fuses global cuisines for elegant, yet accessible offerings for its dim sum cart, and small and large plates menus.
Food • ★★★1/2
Mood • ★★★1/2
Service • ★★★1/2
Location • 1017 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-355-7952 or www.slceatery.com
Hours • 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday. Starting May 11, brunch from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Entrée Price • $$-$$$
Children’s Menu • No
Liquor • Yes
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
Onsite parking • Street parking only
Credit cards • All