by Clifton Tolboe
(3.5 out of 4)
For our team’s most recent culinary excursion outside the Lab we were fortunate to only have to travel two short blocks to a wonderful new addition to the downtown restaurant scene. Plum Alley is a new Asian themed tapas style eatery that is the brainchild of Ryan and Colleen Lowder- who are also the owners of the Copper Onion located next door. The restaurant and its name pay homage to Salt Lake’s once thriving Asian district centered around the area (Plum Alley) and known for its many Asian residents and businesses. Many of these early Asian immigrants to Utah were instrumental in building the Salt Lake valleys railroad and mining industries throughout the early 20th century and were responsible for bringing the first ‘exotic’ Asian flavors to the area during that time. The Restaurant is open 6 days a week (closed Sunday) for dinner from 5 pm until last service, usually around 10 pm. Plum alley is one of a growing number of new restaurants relocating to the downtown corridor of the city and suffice to say that, overall, the restaurant is a stellar welcome addition.
Our early dinner started before a recent Jazz game and we let our server- Bret Sheen, a veteran of many downtown fine dining institutions - know that we were short on time. Bret assured us it would be no problem as we could order several dishes now that would all be ready within our short one hour time window. Bret also went on to explain that Plum Alley serves its Asian style dishes in small portion or ‘tapas’ style (from the Spanish for small plates) and so we should go about ordering many items. We all really enjoyed this as it gave us the opportunity to try almost everything on the entire menu! And, oh what a menu!
Our meal began with several selections from the Appetizer section including pickles, pork belly satay and the succulent, dripping with Chinese barbeque steamed pork buns. The pork buns in particular were to die for and bursting to the brim with top quality Niman farms pork which was glistening in a house made sweet and tangy Chinese barbeque sauce and then steamed in house made dim sum dough. The pickles- a specialty of the restaurant the changes frequently (vegetables and brine)-are also top notch and provided a pleasant aperitif throughout our team’s entire meal. The pork belly was my least favorite of the appetizers we sampled due to the fattiness of the pork cut- that is not to say that the crew did not enjoy the pork belly, on the contrary- as another order of the fatty charred pork belly pieces was promptly ordered by the development staff to plunge into the sweet and spicy peanut dipping sauce that accompanied them.
Continuing onward we order two salads, the larb (chicken) and the green papaya (both of proper Thai decent) and one soup, the kim-chi stew. Again all of these were superb and there is always a nice warm, fiery place in this food-porn-addict heart for a good dish of larb, but the real super star here was the kim-chi. Succulent, house made 2-day pork broth combined with little bits of pork, crunchy fried rice cakes and sour spicy fermented Korean cabbage. True food gastronomy!
The onslaught of great dishes continued- except for the unfortunate rendition of Chinese broccoli that was fine and tasty but just did not live up to the caliber of all this other Michelin quality food being of stuffed down our gullets by Mr. Sheen every other minute. We tried the Duck curry-sublime, the house made, outrageously delicious ramen noodles- to die for. Beef rending, check, another home run; braised short ribs butchered Korean style and served with a coconut curry broth that would make a car bumper taste good. The restaurant can become fairly pricy- due to the tendency to order more and more of the delicious offerings streaming through the small sized modern dining area, but this is one place that the lab feels is definitely worth the extra green backs.