Evening dinner review
A few years back, if you wanted to enjoy “small plates” dining, you were pretty much limited to the hit and miss Panache, the exceptionally short lived Zola, or perhaps Martine. These days, it seems like Salt Lake City has become awash with the concept.
The excellent Meditrina on West Temple started a mini-renaissance back in late 2008. The equally great Tin Angel Cafe also now features a small plates menu. This year downtown SLC welcomes two new small plate restaurants in the form of a a place opening in Exchange Place in mid April, and the focus of this review, Eva, located at 317 South Main Street. I won’t bore you with my ramblings on small plate dining. We love the idea, heck I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t.
Situated next to the Cheers To You on Main Street, when we first approached Eva, we thought we might be out of luck for a seat. A crowd of people milled ominously outside. As we got closer, it turned out they were just the exiled smokers from the adjacent bar. Making our way inside Eva, we were greeted by a cool, contemporary, space occupying what was formerly the Lazy Dog Pizzeria. The long thin restaurant features super high ceilings, which were tamed by the massive pieces of artwork lining the walls. Everything was shrouded in a dim “adult” lighting.
As we surveyed the space, we were greeted by our congenial host and waiter for the evening Rob. He took us to our table. The restaurant is lined on one side with banquette seating and wit small tables on the other. We were almost ready to order a glass or two of wine, but spotted a bottle Navarro Correas Malbec on the menu at just $20, so we decided on sharing that for the evening. The liquor menu also features a few interesting beers and cocktails to boot.
The menu was broken into three distinct sections. “Bakers Pies” are essentially 8″ wood-fired pizzas. Priced at $7.95 each they feature creative combinations, for example the French Pie (Brie, Pears, Toasted Walnuts, Arugula). Pasta dishes are available at $9.95 and finally, there is the selection of small plates. We eschewed the first two options and set out to try a host of small plates.
We placed our orders for a several items, and sat back to relax with a glass of wine. First to arrive was an order of the Fries ($5.00):
These were a perfect start to our meal. Top notch french fries in the true thin-sliced pomme frites style, the fries were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The gentle hints of garlic, rosemary and parmesan added welcome flavor dimensions. These were incredibly addictive, I made sure every last bite was vanquished. For fear of starting a riot I won’t declare these the best in town, but they were damned good. (Wendi here declaring them the best in town, let the rioting begin!)
Next up was Wendi’s choice of the Wood-Fired Flatbread ($4.00):
The flatbread is served with a white bean puree and truffle oil. Wendi had heard our waiter mention to the next table that the bean puree was “very heavy” on truffle oil. This sold her on the dish. The flatbread itself was a generous portion of balanced crispy and chewy goodness The white bean puree did indeed contain plenty of aforementioned truffle oil. For a meager four bucks, this delicious starter was a steal. Indeed, it was at this point I started to realize the absolute bargains which continued to tempt us on the menu. Which leads us on nicely to the next dish, Mussels ($5.00):
One of the evening’s specials, the plump and juicy mussels were cooked in a flavorful broth . Wendi did urge me to note the ingredients, but I was too giddy tucking into the bowl to take careful note. I do recall Chorizo lending an enjoyable zing and heat to the broth. Another wonderful dish, which had me triple-checking the specials board. $5? Really? I could imagine this being easily double the price at other eateries.
Next up, the Sauteed Brussel Sprouts caught both our eyes ($5.00):
These came tossed with Toasted Hazelnuts and Cider Vinegar. The few bites I did manage to sample were mighty fine. The plate seemed to suspiciously gravitate towards Wendi’s side of the table. When I did attempt to try a few more bites, they had mysteriously vanished. (Wendi here, vouching they were great.)
My final choice was the Saffron Braised Lamb Shoulder ($9.00):
This came with chunks of artichoke atop cous cous. Raisin’s also punctuated the dish adding a hint of sweetness. This was probably my least favourite dish of the evening. That isn’t to say it was bad, far from it, I guess I expected something else. There was also a lamb special on offer at $14, and in retrospect that might have been a better choice. Nonetheless I happily finished off the plate, while once again considering the very generous portion for the very reasonable price.
Wendi’s last choice was the far superior Phyllo Wrapped Salmon ($9.00):
This came with a fennel-citrus salad. Wendi couldn’t unload enough superlatives quickly enough about this dish. She loved the salmon, the rich buttery phyllo and the accompanying salad too. Her stand out favourite of the night. The only downside was that the accompanying sauce made the underside of the phyllo somewhat soft and stodgy if not eaten quickly, but it was eaten quickly, so not much of a problem for us. Another excellent plate, that left the table empty.
We just about had room at the end of the meal to share the Frozen Banana Bread ($4.00):
Served ala mode with a smattering of strawberries. Again, for a paltry $4 we couldn’t resist choosing this. And we were both glad we did, as we finished the meal doing battle with spoons over the last bites of flavoursome cake.
After a Coffee ($1.75) to finish the meal, our bill arrived and confirmed my suspicions. The total for 7 plates of food (some not so small at all), a bottle of wine and coffee? $67! In these tougher economic times, it’s a welcome respite to see such excellent food at genuinely low prices. We enjoyed our first meal so much, we were straight back the following week. Sadly, due to a DABC snafu, Eva had its liquor license temporrily halted. As I write I believe this has now been restored (04/22/09). Oh well, not too big of a deal for us, but a couple of patrons did seem to leave without ordering on hearing this. We wanted to shout to them that they should stay and enjoy some truly excellent food at a great value.
On our second trip we tried a few new items, plus some tried and tested faves (fries, salmon). Some of the additional items we sampled were as follows:
Shrimp Special ($7.00):
This was a pleasant enough mix of olives, shrimp, avocado and mango. My only complaint was that the majority of the dish was over chilled, not too fun for us of the sensitive teeth persuasion. It was as if the plate was prepped ahead of time, and refrigerated too long.
I also went with the Glazed Pork Ribs ($6.00):
I’m by no means a rib expert, but these four tender examples were very enjoyable also. The sauce was actually quite salty, which made me wonder if the ribs (surely pre-cooked) had been resting in the sauce for maybe too long. I could certainly see another person finding the dish overly-salty, not me though!
A French Bakers Pie with Brie, Pears, Toasted Walnuts and Arugula ($7.95):
Wendi declared the mini pizza a roaring success, tasty and again a very generous serving. Big enough that half came home with us as a delicious late night snack.
Finally, our second trip ended with Loukamates ($5.00):
Donut holes, deep fried and doused in a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon and a dollop of ice cream. Really how can you go wrong with that? Answer, you really can’t. That said, a while ago I did have something similar in a Vegas restaurant that filled the middle with molten white chocolate. That’s the only way this dish could be better!
Two great meals, both being favourites of many months of dining out. Service on both nights was warm, friendly, and very informative. The staff seem to be ever present (from a lunch visit I didn’t cover in this review) and really keen to drive the success of the restaurant. From customers coming and going it looks like Eva is already building up a popular following. We were also intrigued by Eva’s “food happy hours” which run 4am-6pm and 10pm-1am.
If you are looking for a meal downtown, you would be hard pressed to beat Eva. Especially at these prices, it would be almost impossible to lose. So in summary. Eva. Small plates, small prices, big on taste and even bigger on enjoyment!
317 S. Main Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84111