Saturday, July 28, 2007

Provo, Orem and Salt Lake City, Utah

I spent a week in the Provo, Utah area and I have to share about this interesting area. I found one commonality among the vast majority of the businesses there. The staff seems friendly, if not eager, to do their jobs and do them quite well. A strong work ethic and positive attitude dominates the general public and those working to serve it. Waiters and waitresses were friendly, store clerks were pleasant and helpful. Stopping in at a local bakery, Kneaders, one night 10 minutes to close I found the typical teenage staff working, except they didn't treat me like I was in the way, but rather a welcome customer. Kneaders, by the way, makes some fantastic cookies, pastries, croissants and muffin tops. I will be spending a bit of extra time at the gym making up for my excessive enjoyment of their delectable goodies. The area itself is beautiful and the drier climate a pleasant change from the normal 70% humidity of my home in Arkansas.

While I was in Utah for the week, I visited a few other noteworthy restaurants. A few were something worth writing home about, as bakery I already mentioned. One afternoon for lunch I made the trip up to Park City, about an hour drive, and stopped in at Zoom. Despite it's attempt to appear gourmet and swanky, the macaroni and cheese was the best dish on the menu; using a blend of Havarti and White Cheddar, I'd rank it in my top 5 of mac & cheese dishes around. The bacon used in their dishes was also exceptional, but overall it was overpriced for a just so-so meal.

After nearly a year long hiatus, I finally had the opportunity to return to one of my favorites of all time, Ruth's Chris. Their location in Salt Lake City did not leave any room for disappointment. The restaurant itself is fascinating in its design. The feel is though it is a place to be seen, with a long, slightly stair-stepped room, accented with archways and a look of that classic elegance that you don't see in restaurants anymore. Oh yes, and the food was excellent as always. I did sample a different desert, their bread pudding. I think I have decided to stick with what I know is always fabulous, the creme brulee. The bread pudding wasn't bad, but the whiskey in the sauce was a bit overpowering. Besides, as the waiter told a table of Ruth's Chris newbies at the next table, "We have other dishes, but really it's all about the steak." Well said indeed.

An interesting find was a chain that it turns out isn't all that far off from my own hometown, Mimi's Cafe. The variety on the menu alone makes it an excellent choice for families or groups. My husband tried the chicken fried steak, and we both agreed it was some of the best we've had, and ordinarily I do not like chicken fried steak. I will definitely put this on my list of places as I travel as a safe bet when I'm not feeling particularly adventurous.

Wingers is another good local chain, featuring their own in-house wing sauce. I'm not a huge wing fan, but their diner car type restaurants have a level of kitsch that makes them fun. The large menu can satisfy the wing fans and those who aren't into wings as well.

Probably one of the more pleasant surprises was the Megaplex Theater at Sandy, Utah. If the theaters in my area were this great, I'd go at least once a week, even to see the movies I'd normally catch on a movie channel later. Set up similar to what I've seen in Las Vegas, the inside is like that of a city walk. It has multiple restaurants like a small food court, including a deli, ice cream shop, pretzel shop, soda fountain style diner and of course the requisite popcorn and sodas. The food at the diner was good, and not as overpriced as I would have expected. Also their option to purchase tickets online is wonderful; buy the tickets from the comfort of home, or in my case the hotel room, at the theater walk up to a kiosk, feed it my credit card and there's the tickets. No lines. For some screens they also offer reserved seating, making a crowded or likely to sell out movie more pleasant. I know I'll get a good seat without having to get their an hour in advance, or more. Catching a movie on the Imax doesn't hurt things either; the insanely huge screen and clarity is something to see. Throw in some 3D action and the extra cost is money really well spent.

The Courtyard by Marriott in Provo, Utah is a clean, nice hotel with a very friendly staff, of course. My room included hi-speed internet access that was reliable and most notably, it was very very quiet. Very quiet. I've come to appreciate that in hotels, many find it not a worthwhile investment to add a bit of sound deadening to the walls and doorway areas. I rarely heard a peep in the hallway.

Overall the area is beautiful, the people are friendly and it's simply put a nice place to visit.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Utah meets Italy

Ottavio's, located in downtown Provo, Utah, has some utterly fantastic garlic cheese bread. That's just the starting point for a very delicious meal. Their house meat sauce served on the dish I had, Rigatoni Ottavio, was wonderful. Pizza also is a good choice, as the pepperoni had a fresh-sliced taste. If I have one complaint, it's that the portions are huge. I can't imagine one person eating a whole dish from there; which at the pricing makes it quite the good value too. The atmosphere is quiet and relaxing.

My rating: 4.5 stars

Cons: Portions are beyond generous, they're simply gigantic. Sharing with a friend is a must for any dish. Parking is a bit limited in the downtown area. It's also located in Utah, and who knows when I'll get back out that way!
Pros: The taste is fantastic and the garlic cheese bread some of the best I've ever tasted. Everything seems fresh, or had at least a fresh enough flavor it fooled me.

Rising From the Dirt

Panchos is one of those quirky places that has changed and evolved over time using the same base structure. I grew up eating at a location in my town, but several years ago the building caught fire. The owners apparently didn't think it was worthwhile to repair or rebuild, so they closed permanently. Its a shame too as the restaurant has a different flavor than most other local Mexican or tex-mex blends. Their cheese dip, hot dip and house dressing are popular enough local grocery stores sell it packaged. My own favorite dish is called Shrimp Veracruz and is a mixture of seasoned rice and cheese topped with grilled seasoned shrimp and more cheese. While the locations across the river in Memphis are strikingly more upscale, the Arkansas location has an interesting character. Its a bit of a dive but not unclean. Its not a place I'd stop without knowing its safe and good; its not in a swanky retail district. I've been told that the dirt floor was finally tiled over in recent times (I'm not making this up, really.)

My rating: 4 stars
Pros: unique tasting Mexican cuisine, oh and that fantastic dip.
Cons: the location in west Memphis is in an armpit of an area. The location in downtown Memphis requires parking and walking, usually a block or so. I'm not accustomed to having to do that so its a strike against it in my book.

Also to note: this is not the same restaurant chain found in southern Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. That one is a buffet. Its ok, somewhat bland and nowhere nearly as flavorful as the group based in Memphis.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Headed for Utah

A bit later this month I'll be traveling to the Provo, Utah area for business. I've been doing a little brief research of things to do and restaurants to try while I'm there. I have discovered that while some towns that are tourist-oriented tend to do a reasonably good job with self-promotion, others that aren't quite the usual tourist destinations lag behind. Even many large cities do a better job of providing a "must see" list of places to check out while visiting the area. Tiny tourist towns like Eureka Springs have more readily available info about local dining and accommodations than areas with a population that many times over exceeds that of tiny Eureka Springs. Even my old standby research tool of has little to say about the area, short of what hotels to visit.

So I beg, plead of anyone who is familiar with the area to shed some light on what I can do while there to entertain myself after hours. Good food, things to see, you name it. Enlighten me!