Oasis Cafe - Salt Lake City, Utah

Oasis Cafe
151 S 500 East
Salt Lake City, UT
(801) 322-1162


Date of Visit: Friday, November 7, 2008
Time: Dinner - 7:30 PM
Server: Dustin
Number of Diners: 2

Food Quality: 6

Service: 6
Ambiance: 8

After being turned away by the egotists at Em's, we detoured around a noisy and traffic-disrupting gay rights protest at Salt Lake City's Temple Square and made our way over to the Oasis Cafe. This was formerly THE place in Salt Lake for natural and organic foods. An ownership change at the end of 2007 has been met with pretty severe backlash from the locals, who have had basically nothing good to say about the service, and little good to say about the food, since 2006. We decided to give it a shot anyway. The restaurant is in a quiet neighborhood on the east side, with plenty of free parking on-street and adjacent lot. It's also attached to a "new age" bookstore. The room is large, well lit, decorated liberally with paintings in gallery style, quiet, and comfortable. It's shaped in the form of right triangle, with the long side being all windows with a view of the cozy city neighborhood. All servers were dressed in solid black, and one with "Dustin" on his name tag greeted us and showed us apologetically to the acute tip of the triangular dining area. "Is this OK?" he asked. I assured him it was, as we prefer quiet corners. He left us with a lot to read - 2 entree menus, one drinks menu, one tea menu, and one wine/beer menu. Only a couple of the green teas were marked "organic." I was surprised that the Oasis' claim to fame, natural and organic, was absent from the food menus.

Dustin returned promptly with two large glasses of tap water. Since we have recently abandoned consumption of water with chlorine in it for health reasons, it smelled like a swimming pool. We set the glasses quietly to one side while giving our appetizer order and asking for a large bottle of San Pellegrino - they offer 3 sizes. After polishing the appetizer off, I gave Dustin our food and wine order. He then remembered to tell us about the fresh Halibut special, prompting a change from my dining partner. He did neglect to mention the soup special - cream of cauliflower, which I had seen on the board on our way in. One thing that suffered in the ownership changeover is the website. The very trick java interface with music displays everything you need to know EXCEPT the menu. Several comments have been left on the site complaining about it, to no avail. So we will have to go from memory to describe the food and drinks.

What we had with descriptions...

Appetizer - Seared ahi medallions on baby spinach and arugula with mandarin oranges, sticky wild rice, and spicy mustard - $12

Salad - Mixed green salad with house dressing - $6

Entree - Special fresh halibut on a vegetable risotto - $22

Entree - Vegetarian lasagna - $18

Wine - Paul Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone "Parallel 45" - $35

Dessert - Gunbarrel Green Tea - $2

Dessert - Green Tea with Toasted Rice - $2

While the prices seemed a bit high for the area, that's to be expected for fresh and organic foods. Paying $35 for a $10 bottle of wine is also the norm for Utah.

The Parallel 45 is a reliable, inexpensive blend of French Grenache and Syrah grapes. Medium in body, we decided to risk it with the fish and veggie dinner choices. It was very fruity on the nose, opening with unsubtle dark cherry. The taste was full of fruit, barely off dry, and with a clean finish. Nothing special, but a decent pairing for almost any meal.

The half dozen ahi medallions were barely seared and served warm. Mixing the two greens with the rice, fish, orange, and mustard was a great combination. Individually the ingredients were more bland than I might have expected. The salads were also unexciting, leading me to suspect that the restaurant had abandoned its commitment to those ingredients. Instead they may have been content to settle for wierd art, advertisements for dance, zen healing, vegan events, and far left politics. While this atmosphere is sought by some, it does not necessarily translate to the plates. We were pleased with the entrees, though. The fish was fresh and delicious and went well with the slightly glue-like risotto. The very generous portion of veggie lasagna was saturated with several kinds of cheese and many vegetables, making for a very filling (if not completely hot) meal. For dessert we went with some unusual selections from the tea menu. The gunpowder tea was as good as any I've had anywhere, while the tea/rice mix was very light and different. Not to my taste, but my dining partner was quite happy with it.

All in all it was just okay, not spectacular. With tax the bill came to $105, quite high for an average/decent meal. Even though I had no big complaints with either food or service, it's possible to do better in Salt Lake.


Highs: Entrees, art, decor, windows, atmosphere
Lows: Abandoned commitment to organic ingredients, bland greens, website not up to date

Bon Appétit! - W. Ego

Em's - Salt Lake City, Utah

271 North Center Street
Salt Lake City, Utah


Date of Visit: Friday, November 7, 2008
Time: Dinner - 7:00 PM
Server: N/A
Number of Diners: 0

Food Quality: 0
Service: 0
Ambiance: 0

I have recently taken an interest in "Slow Food," which is a great concept - to sit and dine, to eat slowly, to enjoy the best of food, to focus on fresh, local ingredients. Sadly, like many good ideas, it's "gone political," and so much of the information out there is about events, rallies, donations, and the like. I only wish they could focus more on the concept and executing it locally. Still, the Slow Food Utah site has useful information on finding fresh, local foodstuffs and restaurants that specialize in preparing them. I browsed through several, checking their websites, and was drawn to a new place I had not heard about, Em's Restaurant, featuring "simply elegant food at its finest, prepared fresh by hand from only the finest local and organic ingredients." The menu looked good, and so we ventured out for an early dinner on a Friday evening. The website promised "plenty of free, off-street parking," unusual for Salt Lake. When we arrived, we found only scarce, on-street parking, but even at 7 PM on a Friday we were able to find a place on the street less than a block away - this is an advantage of living in Utah. As we walked to the place in the post-daylight savings time darkness, we could feel the chill in the air - al fresco dining season is pretty much over in Northern Utah.

We entered the dining area, which was tidy, well-lit, and tasteful, with about 15 tables on the right and a metal bar on the left with 8-10 chairs. There was no host podium, so we stood quietly by the bar while a server prepared a check with a high-tech electronic calculator. He eventually greeted us and asked if we had reservations. This being Salt Lake City, and me being unwilling to plan ahead, we did not. Apparently this was no problem at all, because on Friday and Saturday nights they are "completely booked," and dinner for interlopers such as ourselves was a simple impossibility. I glanced at the room, where there were two empty tables and a third being re-set after departing diners and asked, "You ONLY do reservations here?" He replied that "usually" on Fridays and Saturdays it was a "good idea," and that "sometimes, rarely you can get lucky." I looked him in the eye and said nothing - If he was fishing for a bribe, he wasn't getting one. This is Utah, not New York City! He offered, "We have some business cards with our hours printed on the back right here." I had previously picked one up, which I took out of my pocket and returned to the pile. "We drove 45 miles to eat dinner here. I will NEVER come back to this place." He blinked, and provided the universal GenX/Y condemnation, "Whatever..." as we turned and walked out the door.

If you live in a civilized area I'm sure that you are thinking that MY behavior was boorish at best, if not downright rude and unreasonable. Let me clarify, Utah is NOT a civilized area. While decent dining places are relatively rare, the state is an enormous small town, and as such, copping an attitude toward patrons is not going to curry favor with the locals. While I expected to have to wait, or sit at the bar, or even come back in an hour or two, I did NOT expect to be tossed out on the street. Perhaps "chef-owner" Emily Gassmann has so focused on getting local ingredients, she also believes that all her clients should live within walking distance as well, know her rules, and abide by them without complaint. The reality is that even locals from Salt Lake will have to drive at least 20 minutes (and most double that) to get to her place, and returning on another day is not without inconvenience. Or perhaps her place is small enough that she can sell out most of her stock each evening without encouraging repeat business. Most likely she has enough repeat business within walking distance that she needs no others, and actively discourages them. It's her business and she can do as she wishes, but would it kill her to list on her website that Friday and Saturday dinner seating IS STRICTLY BY RESERVATION ONLY? Telling me that I need to adjust my habits to support her schedule is not a winning strategy.

Was I unreasonable? Since I was able to drive a couple of miles down the street, park for free, and obtain immediate seating for a fine meal at a decent restaurant where they were happy to have my business at 7:30PM on a Friday night, I suspect not. Therefore Em's receives the not-so-coveted Wanton Ego "Nazi Food Medal" award pictured here. I hope Ms. Gassmann will display it with egotistical pride!

What we had with menu descriptions...

We had nothing at all, but the menu sounded good.

Potato Pancakes with Crme Fraiche & Fresh Herbs. $6.00
Flatbread with Seasonal Toppings. $6.00
Smoked Salmon & Crab Rolls with Avocado, Sesame Seed Vinaigrette & Cilantro Oil. $9.00
Phyllo stuffed with Goat's Cheese & Duck Confit. $8.00
Country Pate with Toast Points. $9.00
Tamales stuffed with Goat's Cheese served on a bed of Chipotle Con Crema. $7.00
Spinach salad with Goat's Cheese in a Balsamic Vinaigrette. $8.00
House Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Shaved Parmesan Reggiano & House made Croutons. $5.00
Pear, Walnuts & Bleu Cheese with mixed Organic Greens in a Champagne Vinaigrette. $7.00
Roasted Potatoes, Caramelized Onions & Italian Sausage with Seasonal Greens in a Bacon, Sherry Vinaigrette. $8.00
ENTRE'S (sic): Served with House salad
Potato Lasagna - Yukon Gold potatoes layered with Parmesan, Ricotta, Whole Milk Mozzarella & Seasonal Vegetables. $13.00
Nightly Pasta Special. $A.Q.
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs with Seasonal Vegetables & Mashed Potatoes. $18.00
Moran Valley Rack of Lamb with Potato, Shallot Custard & Jalapeno Jelly. $ 20.00
Ribeye with Bleu Cheese & Caramelized Onions, Roasted Potatoes & Seasonal Vegetable. $ 21.00
Dried Fruit stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Potatoes in a Bacon Sherry Vinaigrette. $17.00
Leek stuffed, Wild Salmon Roulade over Creamy Cabbage. $17.00
Free Range Chicken Breast stuffed with Goat's Cheese & Pine Nuts with Mashed Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables. $16.00
Marinated Pork Chop in a Maple, Mustard & Bacon Barbeque Sauce with Mashed Potatoes & Seasonal Vegetables. $18.00

The menu above is quoted exactly as it appears on the website, and is provided with misspelled words, comma abuse, and apostrophe errors to demonstrate that this is, in fact, Utah.

Em's - NOT RECOMMENDED - AVOID especially on Fridays and Saturdays, even in Utah equivalent (or better) alternatives are available!

Highs: Looked nice and people seemed to be enjoying themselves
Lows: Big city celeb chef attitude, GenY rudeness

Bon Appétit! - W. Ego