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


New Age Guy said...

You’re totally wrong, and you're an asshole, too! They’re not going to list on their website that the restaurant is totally by reservation on the weekend. I can’t think of any restaurant that does that. Sometimes you get lucky when you walk in, most often you don’t. If you don’t want to call ahead that’s your choice, not theirs. All restaurants are happy to fill seats when there are seats – including this one – and they’re not going to have signs that say “Don’t ask”). That said, your evening they had no seats and whose table should they have given you? Someone, unlike you, who’d been wise enough to phone ahead and get a reservation? Methinks not. That table would have gone to someone like me – who’d have called.

I don’t think the guy copped an attitude. He simply told you the facts. The waiter reminds me of Harry Truman. He said, "I never gave them hell. I just told them the truth and they thought it was hell."

Whether or not Utah is civilized (and you’re not helping) the restaurant fills up on weekends with reservations. That’s the way it is. Sounds like just the kind of restaurant you should reserve and go to. They acted as any restaurant I know would have acted and this is on you.

Wanton Ego said...

The comment posted above was not anonymous, but was emailed privately to me by a good friend, who we should accurately call "East Coast Liberal Elitist." I posted it above in the interest of fairness to an alternative (and wrong) point of view.

Here is my rebuttal:
You are incapable of setting aside NYC standards and expectations. The tables were NOT full. There were 3 empty at the time and more coming. We could have been invited to wait to see if there was a 7PM (or later) reservation no-show, or seated at the completely deserted bar, or whatever. At 7PM your friendly waiter was miraculously able to predict that every table in the near future WOULD be filled both that evening and the next and that every reserving party would show up, which he has no way of knowing.

I just told the truth. If I sound like an asshole to a New Yorker, I can live with that. I am willing to accept the label of asshole and wear it with pride.

If I follow your rationale, that place is free to act like places in cities where there is essentially no competition due to high demand. And it is incumbent on me to explore alternatives with them, rather than being incumbent on them to offer alternatives (inferior or not) to me as a service. So in your world every place that is good can and should act like they are based in Manhattan, regardless of the local situation.

While we did settle for a lesser dinner at a lesser place, it was because we wanted to try a "new to us" place. And it was not necessary. I could have easily gotten into any of a dozen places we have been to before that are equal to or better than the one that threw us out on our asses.

My last substantive argument is that Em's is starving for business Tuesdays -Thursdays, unless there are a bunch of people in town from the East Coast. Being rude to local people who have the poor judgment to show up when it's busy won't help her very much on those other nights.

While I might be practicing stubborn self-denial, in my scenario everybody wins. They don't have to deal with me, and I don't have to deal with them. And I get to say anything I want to about it on the internet, even if sophisticated folks disagree.

New Age Guy said...

On reflection, I agree totally with you, Wanton Ego. If a restaurant doesn’t want to make space for you where they have no space you have every right to trash them. There is always a spot for you at Burger King. Who needs these elitist restaurants with their green attitudes, fresh ingredients, cooking to order and no room for stragglers without reservations on weekends?

I checked Zagat and the latest review for this restaurant said:
>Food was superb! Service excellent! Outdoor seating was wonderful on a mid-Auguste evening. Menu very innovative and had difficulty choosing. Very good and reasonable wine list. Quiet neighborhood away from downtown hubub. Recommended.<

I’d certainly not bother to reserve a restaurant like this. Walking out in a huff was the right thing to do and I applaud. It speaks volumes about you!

PS: If I'm such an elitist why don't you tell everyone whose Ferrari you were driving in the photo that starts your other blog?

Wanton Ego said...

Trash them? Hardly. I merely described my experience and failed to recommend them. I made no comments about their food, service, or decor. I listed their website, address, and phone number. I also listed their entire dinner menu, which looks tasty despite the spelling and grammar errors.

Two things should be noted - Firstly, walking out was the ONLY option offered to me. Whether I was "in a huff" is left to the reader to judge. And secondly, only an elitist would mention Burger KING rather than McDonald's, or would describe potential paying customers as "stragglers."

KatNell said...

I guess I need to add my two cents worth since I was the other person in the party. Salt Lake City is not even close to the caliber of New York City or even surrounding area for dining. Rarely do you absolutely have to have a reservation, and if reservations are suggested, it is well published. Upon arriving, there were 3 tables open, apparently all were reserved. There was no option of waiting, so we left, not in a huff, but quite taken aback and surprised at the attitude we received from the server/host. In most of the "fine dining" restaurants (and I use the term generously) in SLC we would have had the option of waiting for a short period of time, to come back at a certain time or to sit at the bar for dining. The cavalier attitude of the server was unacceptable and our response was appropriate.

New Age Guy said...

OK, based on what Katnell says I withdraw and the discussion (on this, at least) is over. I know I'm right but you can never beat the moderator (or his far better half) in an online argument anyway. It's the modern equivalent of Mark Twain's old saw that you “Never pick a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel."

That said, two things before I retreat:

First, I originally planned to use McDonalds in my response instead of Burger King but, not having been to either one for at least 30 years, I wasn't sure how McDonald's was spelled (thought it might have been "MacDonald's"). So it wasn't elitism but being too lazy to look it up that lead to Burger King.

Second, Wanton Ego is still an asshole.