271 North Center Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
Date of Visit: Friday, November 7, 2008
Time: Dinner - 7:00 PM
Number of Diners: 0
Food Quality: 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