Saying that Zest Kitchen & Bar is unique is a bit of an understatement. Just trying to categorize it is proof that it’s different from everywhere else in Salt Lake City. It’s a restaurant specifically focused on vegetarian cuisine, conveniently making it vegan- and gluten free-friendly. It’s also a bar, so visitors must be 21. It’s open late, at which point its focus shifts primarily to a bar, complete with a dance floor and sometimes a DJ.
I went to Zest a few weeks ago to try out the bar scene and was excited to find out that they play house music on Fridays (a rare find for Salt Lake City). The crowd was intimate and the vibe was energetic. Anxious to try the food side of Zest, a few friends and I returned last week for dinner.
The cocktail menu has some creative concoctions on it, but I was disappointed that most of them were on the sweet side. The High West Whiskey Sour (Lemon Ginger Kombucha, High West Double Rye, $9) was a little sour for my taste and the complexity of the Ginger Spice (fresh apple juice, ginger beer, cinnamon, bourbon, $8) was lost in the mix. Sweeter options, like the Zest Sugar Snap (snap peas muddled with lime, agave, cilantro and gin, $9) and the Straw-Bubbly Lavender Lemonade (lavender lemonade muddled with strawberries, peach vodka, topped with Prosecco, $9) were much better.
The dinner menu was full of enticing dishes I’d never tried before. Being curious about so many, we decided to start with a round of small plates to share between the four of us. We went with Brussels sprouts in a Masala almond sauce ($7), a zesty take on the ordinary take with good crunchiness; and Jalapeño poppers stuffed with quinoa and cashew cheese with a berry dipping sauce ($8), which were spicy with excellent texture.
Also in our round of small plates were the chilled marinated stuffed mushrooms ($8), good but lacked any standout flavor. Their coldness threw me off a bit. Finally we had coconut curry green lentils with portobello mushrooms ($8) that had a nice kick of spicy sweetness. All of the dishes were enjoyable but none of them were outstanding.
Which is why I’m glad we decided to order two entrees to share. We picked the black bean sliders with lettuce wraps and a veggie slaw with barbecue and red pepper dipping sauces ($12). It was my first experience with black bean burgers and they had much more flavor than I imagined. We also had zucchini noodles with tomato sauce, pesto and pine nuts, a refreshingly light but delicious take on pasta. I couldn’t believe it was zucchini; this will definitely be my go-to next time.
Zest fills many holes in Salt Lake City’s restaurant and bars scenes, especially in the vegetarian and late night categories, making it another great asset to downtown.
Go to Zest Kitchen & Bar for :: vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free food and to try something completely different. Notes :: Only 21+ are allowed. Zest is closed Sundays and Mondays, but open until 1 a.m. Tuesdays – Saturdays. Reservations are available online via OpenTable.com. Check out their daily specials, like $2 off wine on Wednesdays.