Bambara, Mazza, Aristo's - Salt Lake
I had occasion to spend three nights in SLC and offer this report on what I had for supper:
Bambara: This was four of us - an 'expense account' dinner. Overall impression was fine but pricey - not sure they could get away with this pricing for this quality where I come from (metro NYC), but nonetheless a good experience - would certainly go back in a heartbeat.
For starters there were 2 Caesar salads - nice presentations with whole romaine leaves and white anchovies - plus 1 polenta crusted calamari, which was quite good, and 1 elk carpaccio, my first experience with elk, which appeared to be smoked, and also delicious. For entrees 3 had sesame crusted ahi tuna, bamboo rice cake, shiitake mushroom salad, and blonde miso. All found it delicious. I had the pan seared scallops, cauliflower puree, chinese long beans, carrot chips, chervil, and meyer lemon sauce. Lots of scallops, cooked perfectly.
We drank a couple of bottles of the Frey Vineyards Organic Pinot Noir, which was a special. It was a good choice. Overall the wine list was interesting but expensive - I would estimate a 3x markup over retail. For afters we shared a creme brulee and a chocolate charlotte, neither remarkable but both suitable.
Mazza: This is a Lebanese joint. I went to the one at 912 East 900 South. Started with a fine fatoush, followed by their signature "Mazza's chicken and eggplant dish,' which was spectacular. Not sure what they do with the eggplant, but it was chewy and almost meatlike. Wow! Had 2 glasses of Lebanese wine, a Les Breteches and a Massaya Silver. Both good, but I prefer the Les Breteches.
Aristo's: This is a Greek joint right by the U of U. They offer 6 Greek wines on their list but unfortunately had only 1 in stock, which was the Boutari Naoussa, made from the Xinomavro grape. I ordered a bottle, which was fine, though I would have preferred the Agiorgitiko that they didn't have.
Decided to have several mezedakia - marides (fried smelts), baby octopus, taramosalata/pita, and fasolakia (green beans in tomato sauce). Of these I would vote for the octopus (with peppers and mushrooms) and the taramosalata, both of which were very tasty. The fasolakia was salty and the beans were overcooked. The smelts were also overcooked, almost chewy, and needed more of a sauce than the lemon wedge provided. I got a little tub of skordalia to dip them in, which helped. It was a big order, so I had plenty left over to snack on the plane on the way home :).
Overall impression was good. If I had another three nights in Salt Lake I would be happy to do it again, although I would be tempted to have 2 meals at Mazza.
The problem you ran into with wine prices is quite typical in this city. They already have a high mark up (thanks to the DABC-state controlled liquor and wine stores). By the time you get to a dining establishment the prices have gone through the roof. I went to Melting Pot one night, the same cheap $19.00 bottle of wine I buy at the liquor store was priced at $35.00. All we can do is hope someday these crazy laws with wine will change and we can pay reasonable prices.
Bambara has a new executive chef... have not checked it out since the change... hope to soon.
I don't actually mind SLC markup. I think it's fairly reasonable, indeed I see wine mark-up at 2X or a little less sometimes. I believe one of the Utah liquor laws is a restaurant can only make X% profit from booze. I recall this being 30%.
I know back in my native England, mark-up is way way more painful.