by Clifton Tolboe
Spring has finally crept into summer and the ThoughtLab team decided to use the opportunity to explore some restaurants around town that have been focused on the “farm to table” movement. Many of these farm oriented restaurants have sprung up in the state over the last several years, and amongst them the well-received Copper Onion in downtown Salt Lake, The Farm in Park City, and of course Pago restaurant located in the urban concept driven 9th and 9th neighborhood of Salt Lake. While both Cooper Onion and The Farm restaurants are a wonderful addition to the state food landscape, worthy of their own reviews in the ThougLab archive to be sure, the best amongst the three- in this author’s humble opinion may just be the uber trendy Pago run by owner operator Scott Evans. What follows is an example of what one can expect to encounter when being whisked, beaten, baked, seared, braised, whipped and glazed while dining in Mr. Evans’ creation.
Upon your first experience entering Pago you are greeted by a bustling small sized restaurant that is reminiscent of a urban Paris bistro—chefs front and center, small tables with a few booths and a patio that is seemingly always full of people both blue collar and white. The restaurant has an almost urban-chic feel without feeling overly presumptuous. Seated after a short wait (reservations are recommended on weekend nights) we were promptly seated by the hostess and introduced to our server—a woman named Susan who was extra helpful in explaining ingredients to the table. One thing to keep in mind when dining at Pago is that the Menu is primarily locally sourced making the discovery of new local ingredients a focus and a real part of the pleasure of having a meal here. Susan also explained how the wine list, albeit small, is carefully curated to match the regional flavors and can produce some pretty spectacular pairing results—something that we dared not disagree with!
Having entered our appetizers they arrived promptly and were just the right start to a large meal—not too heavy, but with loads of strong flavor combinations. The first dish we tried was the Yellowtail Crudo, which is a shashimi quality yellofin served raw with mushrooms, cucumbers and a very unusual white soy sauce—pungent yet light and flaky with a strong Asian influence—delicious! The next appetizer that we devoured was a nice large bowl of clam steamers served in the Italian style with a tomato base that is light and grilled chucks of bread. While personally I tend to like the French version of this dish which uses a white wine base, this particular Italian version was sublime—striking the perfect balance of light tomato, garlic, a pinch of fennel and the essence of the sea water from the clams. Truly a perfect example of the less is more concept to cooking. I also think that the chef used a considerable amount of a dry white wine with this particular recipe that nicely offsets the acidity from the tomatoes. During our starters we also tried two vegetable dishes—the roasted beets as well as the artichoke risotto while these dishes were both perfectly fine and tasty our group felt that they definitely lacked the punch and well thought out nature of the other starters we tried. Next time we will skip the vegetables and probably go for the market salad—something we didn’t try, but noticed at other tables to be looking mighty fine.
Eating ever onward our entrees began to arrive, and at Pago when the mains arrive you are in for a Utah farm to table treat. Roughly 50 % of the entire entrée menu is locally sourced. Stars here include the renowned Morgan Valley lamb, an excellent rendition of Steelhead trout served with a delicious coriander vinaigrette, and my personal favorite the Pleasant Creek Beef steak. The steak in particular was a brilliant dish. The steak was seared at an extremely high temperature to produce a hard shell around the succulent beef—beefy crunchy buttery soft flavor townplosion! The sides were also incredible—a ricotta creamed spinach? Not to mention the crispy fried fingerling taters (did taste a hint of duck fat there?).
The general consensus among the ThoughtLab team was that this was a top notch restaurant; perhaps our favorite so far—which means if you haven’t gone already then you should definitely go. The restaurant is open this summer for lunch: Tuesday - Friday 11am - 3pm, dinner: Tuesday - Sunday 5pm - 10pm and brunch Saturday & Sunday 11am - 3pm. Reservations are accepted and recommended on weekend nights.