Even Utah residents have a hard time saying the name of this new Salt Lake City restaurant. That’s why the drink menu helpfully spells Oquirrh (can you spell it without looking?) phonetically as “Oak-er.”
The restaurant opened in February and is named for the mountains on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, the ever-present but maybe still-unfamiliar range.
And that’s a good way to describe the food at Oquirrh: familiar dishes but with a twist.
“We want … to have stuff that’s approachable but that’s interesting that people haven’t seen,” says chef Andrew Fuller, who owns Oquirrh with his wife, Angelena Fuller.
Evenly divided between shared plates and entrees, the 14-dish menu features risotto and chicken pot pie and steak — but the risotto isn’t made with rice, the pot pie looks like the drumstick is punching out of the top to escape, and the strips of flank steak hide fermented cabbage.
What’s also familiar at Oqurrih is the farm-to-table ethos with an emphasis on local produce and products that were pioneered and perfected at places like Pago, Copper Onion and HSL. Which makes sense since the chef has worked at all three spots (he and Angelena met at Copper Onion).
But the Fullers have their interpretation of that, too. The walls are decorated in local art, which is for sale on the spot, with the idea of rotating artists every three months. The literal plates are made locally. And the couple is finding interesting ways to squeeze every bit of flavor from their ingredients.
That fermented cabbage in the beef bavette steak ($31) was a delightful surprise, mixed with grainy polenta that tastes creamy but doesn’t use a lot of cream or butter. The cabbage was preserved from when the Fullers were catering before opening the restaurant.
The gnocchi ($21) is made of sourdough bread crumbs that could have found their way into meatballs or been swept into the garbage. Instead, they create the same texture as potatoes when they are molded into dough. The beef sauce lacked zip for my taste, but I like the reuse ethos.
Our server explained that instead of rice, the risotto ($17) is made from rye berries and kale stems (another way to reuse). We wondered if it was a warning, but she said diners have complained when they expect the traditional taste and end up with something much more tart and nutty. The goat cheese in the dish tamps down the tartness.
Our server also listened closely enough to call us by our names, and she made sure I drank every drop of my Pama Anne cocktail of Sugar House rye, prosecco and pomegranate liqueur ($12). The cocktails range from $9-$14. That less expensive one, called Okurrrrrrrr, is a summer delight, full of cucumber-y freshness. Several local beers are available, along with local distillers and plenty of wine.
Speaking of summer, the confit chicken pot pie ($21) sounds too heavy for hot temperatures, but it’s not. The crust is puffed pastry. Cooked in duck fat, chicken is added to fennel, mushrooms and mirepoix in a lightly creamy gravy. The drumstick is fried to order and protrudes from the bowl. We were so eager to eat it, we burned our mouths. So slow down!
A playful presentation is also found among the small plates, including my favorite, the asparagus + morels ($15), which is sometimes served with the stalks standing up like some kind of fairy forest, among boulders of morels on a sheep’s milk fondue.
The excellent market fish ($32) sits in a complex, Japanese-style broth made from fish cured in kelp and salt that is later smoked. It’s served with turnips, mushrooms and greens. We didn’t get around to the Indian-influenced lamb ($41) but have heard good things about the nearly 1-pound curry-fried shank, served with veggies roasted in garam masala, house-made naan and a cucumber condiment using house-made yogurt.
The space is small and filled with lots of grays, whites, blacks and browns, along with indie rock pouring from the speakers. There’s a bar at the entrance to seat four (where those under 21 aren’t allowed).
The dessert menu is also understated, with three options. The berry cobbler ($8) features streusel made with white miso left after curing carrots and other veggie scraps. In this dish, the streusel is cracker-like on top of the warm berries. It lends the dessert a savory kick. The pain au chocolat ($7) promises sour cream ice cream.
Seems that while you’re learning to say Oquirrh, you’ll happily need to understand umami, too.
Oquirrh • ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★) This New American restaurant joins the likes of HSL, Table X, Pago and Copper Onion — chef Andrew Fuller worked in three of those spots — in elevating local products in a fine dining setting. Echoing the ever-present but hard-to-pronounce mountain range to the west, the dishes are familiar, but with a twist, like risotto made with rye berries or dessert featuring white miso.
Food • ★★★ 1/2
Mood • ★★
Service • ★★★ 1/2
Noise • 2 bells
Location • 368 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City; 801-359-0426
Online • oquirrhslc.com
Hours • Wednesdays-Sundays, 5-10 p.m.
Children’s menu • No
Prices • $$-$$$$
Liquor • Full bar
Reservations • Encouraged
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Street parking
Credit cards • Yes