Wahso in Park City

Park City’s Main Street is lined with iconic landmarks.  The historic post office, the western-looking general store, the Egyptian theater—these famous trademarks symbolize Park City to tourists and locals alike.  Even walking underneath the hanging red lights at Wahso is a reminder that I’m indeed in Park City.

The menu at Wahso in Park City, Utah.

Wahso’s menu is beautiful.

I’ve walked past Wahso a thousand times, each time gazing up at their second-story patio topped with red glowing globes while wondering about their food.  But self-described as Asian fusion, admittedly not my favorite type of cuisine, Wahso has remained on my To Eat list for years.  Last week I finally had dinner there and I was surprised from the moment I stepped inside til the moment I left, full and satisfied.

The Asian-themed interior of Wahso and the iconic red lights outside.

The Asian-themed interior of Wahso and the iconic red lights outside.

As a second story restaurant, it’s impossible to gauge the decor of Wahso from passing by.  Which is both unfortunate and surprising because you’d never expect the interior to be the Asian oasis that it is.  After walking up the stairs, Wahso opens to a large dining room that transports you to 1930s China.  Decorated with bamboo plants and Chinese statues, surrounded by Asian art and wood paneling, I felt like I was in a Chinese gangster movie–in the good way.

Pork belly buns with pickles at Wahso in Park City, Utah.

Pork belly buns with pickles.

But summer in Park City isn’t something to be missed so my friend and I sat on the patio overlooking Main Street with its mountainous background.  We were presented with warm hand towels and a massive book of cocktails and wines with bottles from around the world.  Thankfully it was well-organized so it wasn’t overwhelming and there were plenty of inexpensive bottles to chose from.  (We picked a lightly crisp J Pinot Gris.)

Perfectly seared Wagyu with a hint of Thai flavors at Wahso in Park City.

Perfectly seared Wagyu with a hint of Thai flavors.

The appetizers lean toward traditional Asian items like Vietnamese Spring Rolls ($12), Wok-Seared Potstickers ($13) and Kung Pao Shrimp ($17).  We ordered the Thai Beef Tataki ($21), togarashi-seared wagyu beef, haricot verts (green beans), cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes in a lemongrass vinaigrette with slight flavors of fish sauce and Sriracha for spiciness.  It was a great summery dish with a good use of vegetables for texture.

Hamachi sashimi appetizer at Wahso in Park City, Utah.

Refreshingly citrusy with a hint of spice, the hamachi appetizer was our favorite.

We paired it with the Steamed Chinese Buns with Pork Belly ($14), house-made pickles and Sriracha sauce.  The pork belly wasn’t as flavorful as I hoped, with the condiments standing out the most.  (The buns are also available with kimchee and duck confit.)  Our favorite appetizer was the Hamachi Sashimi ($24) topped with spicy citrus kosho (made with apples, jalapeno and limes) and house-made ponzu sauce.  It was a perfect combination of citrus and spice, while letting the hamachi flavor shine.

Duck, Wahso-style.

Duck, Wahso-style.

The entrees add a modern twist to the Asian theme: the Beef & Broccoli ($52) is their version of Wagyu New York Strip with garlic-roasted broccoli; Forbidden Tofu ($31) is crispy tofu with Thai basil in a lychee vinaigrette, and red curry lamb sirloin ($42) with fennel and chard stir fry with polenta.  We picked the Chili-Galangal Duck ($45) with hon shemiji-snap pea stir fry, duck confit quinoa and pomegranate-teriyaki jus.  The duck is cooked sous vide for hours, then pan seared so it was intensely juicy and savory; the jus had the slightest hint of delicious smokiness to it.

Miso Black Cod, a refreshing favorite at Wahso in Park City.

Miso Black Cod, a refreshing favorite at Wahso.

Our other main dish was the Miso Black Cod ($51), a staple on Wahso’s menu that has remained unchanged for 14 years.  (How impressive is that?!)  Served with aromatic rice, shiitake mushrooms and bok choy in a mushroom-ginger broth, it was simple in flavor profile but surprisingly amazing.  Everything played nicely together to create a light dish that was anything but boring.

Toasted Coconut Creme Brulee served in a coconut shell at Wahso in Park City, Utah.

Toasted Coconut Creme Brulee served in a coconut shell.

Finally, we finished with Toasted Coconut Créme Brûlée ($10), served in a coconut shell.  Normally I’m not the biggest fan of créme brûlée, but this isn’t normal créme brûlée.  Deliciously coconuty, with a perfect sugar crust on top, this was a wonderful end to our meal.

“Asian fusion” accurately describes the menu at Wahso, but that term doesn’t do the dishes that come out of kitchen justice.  The cuisine is more than American dishes with an Asian flair, it is expertly combined flavors reminiscent of a region in creatively compelling compositions.  While dinner at Wahso is definitely a splurge, it’s one worth making.

Go to Wahso for :: An amazing splurge meal full of Asian flavors.  Notes :: Many dishes on the menu are available gluten free.  Open Wednesday-Sunday at 5:30 p.m.  Reservations are available online here.  On Wednesdays throughout the summer, Wahso has $3-6 starters, $12 entrees and $5 wine and cocktails.  More information on Wahso Wednesdays click here.

Disclaimer :: I was graciously treated to this meal by Bill White Restaurant Group.  As always, all opinions are my own. 

Wahso on Urbanspoon

7 Must Eat Foods in Spain

One of the most compelling aspects of traveling is trying new or unique food.  Whether it’s good or bad, what you eat while traveling definitely adds a component to any trip.  As someone who’s obsessed with food, I picked two countries notorious for their excellent cuisine for my first trip to Europe, and they did not disappoint.  So much of what we ate was memorable, but here are 7 must eat foods in Spain that you can’t miss.

Anchovies in olive oil next to a plate of jamón ibérico in Barcelona.

Anchovies in olive oil next to a plate of jamón ibérico at Fidalgo in Barcelona.

1. Ham :: Jamón Ibérico

Spain is famous for their ham.  And not just any ham, cured Iberian ham made from black Iberian pigs that spend their lives eating acorns and olives, which is actually reflected in the pork’s flavor.  The ham is dried for two weeks, rinsed, dried for another 4-6 weeks, then cured for a year.  The melt-in-your-mouth, slightly salty, juicy slices of pork are often served with cheese and other charcuterie and can be found all over Spain.

Iberico ham on display at Los Bellota in Barcelona.

Iberico ham is freshly sliced. Here the pork is on display at Los Bellota in Barcelona.

2. Tomato Bread :: Pa Amb Tomàquet

I anticipated eating jamón ibérico before heading to Spain but had never heard of Pa amb tomàquet before.  The dish is simple but deliciously satisfying.  Bread, sometimes toasted, is rubbed with garlic, then tomatoes until they are crushed, then topped with olive oil and salt.  It often accompanies charcuterie plates or served as an appetizer; found mostly in the Catalonia and Majorca regions.  (Here’s my travel companion’s recipe for tomato bread.)

Patatas bravas at Cafe y Tapas in Madrid.

The best patatas bravas we had in Spain were at Cafe y Tapas in Madrid.

3. Spicy Potatoes :: Patatas Bravas

Another staple in Spanish cuisine, patatas bravas are fried white potatoes topped with a spicy tomato or aioli sauce.  Originally from Madrid, the potatoes can be found in many of Spain’s regions and the sauce varies depending on local customs.  (In Valencia, they are topped with a red pepper and paprika sauce.)

Amazing paella at Bosque Palermo in Barcelona.

Amazing paella at Bosque Palermo in Barcelona.

4. Paella

Paella is another well-known Spanish dish that originates from the Moorish residents of Spain in the 15th Century.  Since then, the dish has spread throughout the country with each region putting a local spin on the dish.  Ingredients vary widely, but the main component is rice and vegetables flavored with saffron and paprika, cooked over an open flame and served in the cooking pan.  Seafood, duck, chicken or rabbit is usually added.

Morcilla, or blood sausage, at Mesón Cinco Jotas in Madrid.

Morcilla, or blood sausage, at Mesón Cinco Jotas in Madrid.

5. Blood Sausage :: Morcilla

I didn’t know blood sausage was a thing in Spain and having promised myself I’d never touch the stuff, I unknowingly ordered morcilla in Madrid.  Instantly overwhelmed with how delicious whatever it was I was eating, I later learned I’d just fallen for blood sausage.  Which is exactly what it sounds like: cooked pork blood added to rice, onions, fat and salt and stuffed into a casing.  It tasted like a rich sausage with a hint of sweetness.  Like most dishes, different regions change the additions to the blood, adding potatoes, breadcrumbs or nuts instead of rice.

A fried egg on top of potatoes and sliced iberico ham at Hotel Preciadod in Madrid.

A fried egg on top of potatoes and sliced iberico ham at Hotel Preciadod in Madrid.

6. Huevos Estrallados

Fried eggs topped a multitude of dishes in Madrid.  Turns out, huevos estrallados, fried eggs over fried potatoes, is a classic Madrid dish.  It’s often served with sliced meat or sausage (like chorizo).  What seems like a breakfast dish to Americans makes a great dinner dish in Spain.

Razor clams at Ferran in Barcelona.

Razor clams at Ferran in Barcelona.

7.  Anything with Seafood

Spain consumes the highest amount of seafood in all of Europe.  Before I visited, I didn’t equate seafood with Spanish cuisine, but every restaurant we went to had a plethora of ocean-dwelling creatures on the menu.  Octopus, squid, shrimp, anchovies, clams and other seafood dishes were a main part of our Spanish diets and all of it was amazingly, deliciously fresh.  So wherever you are in Spain, order a seafood dish; you won’t be disappointed.

Anguilla (baby eels) and shrimp on bread at Cafe y Tapas in Madrid.

Anguilla (baby eels) and shrimp on bread at Cafe y Tapas in Madrid.

Other dishes not to miss: gazpacho (from the Andalucia region), churros with chocolate (from Madrid), Anguilla or baby eels (another Madrid favorite), burrata in Toledo, and croquetas, fried balls of dough stuffed with everything from vegetables to pork (found throughout Spain).

Related :: Four days in Barcelona and a 17-course dinner, four days in Madrid and the oldest restaurant in the world.

SLC Updates & Events :: June 2014

Hey Salt Lake City, need something to do next week?  There’s a cocktail class and an Epic Beer dinner plus announcing new beer at The Annex and a new locally-produced gin.  (Plus the Arts Festival is next week!)

Amy Eldredge pouring a cocktail at the Gibson Lounge.

Amy Eldredge pouring a cocktail at the Gibson Lounge. [Photo courtesy of Grand America.]

Cocktail Class by Amy Eldridge @ Grand America :: June 25, 2014

The Grand America is launching a new bar program at their Gibson Lounge paying homage to the golden age of the hotel bar.  To kick things off, the Gibson Lounge is hosting a cocktail class taught by the uber talented Amy Eldredge (who won the Campari Cocktail Contest I judged last fall).  She’ll show how to make a great craft cocktail using a five-star menu.  Space is limited to 10 guests; $50/person.  Sign up online here.

Faustina Hosts Epic Beer Dinner :: June 26, 2014

Faustina is hosting their first beer dinner of the season, featuring Epic Brewing drink pairings alongside a special beer-centric menu.  Epic’s beermaster Kevin Compton will be there for educational insight and tasting notes on the beers.  The four-course dinner is $40 for food plus $20 for beer.  Reservations required.  Call 801-746-4441.

Beehive Distillery's Jack Rabbit Gin

Beehive Distillery’s Jack Rabbit Gin [Photo courtesy of Beehive Distillery.]

Utah-Made Jack Rabbit Gin Hits Liquor Stores

Now Utah can add gin to its list of locally-made alcoholic products thanks to Beehive Distilling, the only gin distillery in the state.  Jack Rabbit Gin is Utah’s first legally made gin since 1870 and is now available in liquor stores around the state plus a handful of Salt Lake City restaurants.  The small batch gin is hand-crafted with juniper berries, lemon peel, sage leaves, coriander seeds and rose petals.

The Annex & Lauter Day Brewers Collaborate on New Beer

The Annex by Epic Brewing (you know, the brewpub restaurant by Utah’s awesome brewery) teamed up with the Lauter Day Brewers homebrew club to create an “untraditional Pale Ale” made with a Brettanomyces Bruxellensis wild yeast from Belgium.  The beer has a complex, rusty aroma countered with a tangy citrus and spice flavor.  The beer will be on tap at the Annex starting today until it runs out.

Create Your Own Gelato Contest @ La Bonne Vie

It may not feel like summer thanks to this week’s weather, but that doesn’t mean we can’t eat like it’s warm.  And warm weather means cravings for cold treats.  To kick off the summer season, La Bonne Vie is holding a create your own gelato contest.  The winner not only gets bragging rights and a lot of gelato, but a night’s stay at The Grand America Hotel.

[Image courtesy of La Bonne Vie's facebook page.]

[Image courtesy of La Bonne Vie's facebook page.]

The I Love Gelato Contest runs through this Sunday, June 22.  Create your signature brand of gelato by combining three flavors, stamp it with an equally creative name and submit it to the La Bonne Vie facebook page here to be entered to win.  Then stop by the patisserie to vote from the top three creations (read: taste lots of delicious gelato) from June 28 – July 12.  The winner will be announced July 14.

Two finalists will win a $50 gift card to The Grand America, a random voter will win $20 to La Bonne Vie (by the way, have you tried their pastries?) and the grand prize gelato creater wins a tray of the custom gelato, a night’s stay in the Garden Room and a gelato party at the outdoor pool.  Not a bad reward for dreaming up creative gelato, huh?

The World’s Oldest Restaurant :: Casa Botin in Madrid

I am lured to old cities by their stories.  The monumental ones are captivating, yes, but it’s the little ones, the daily ones told day after day, that truly seduce me.  Some may say it’s the history that draws me to old places, but I like to think that it’s the city’s stories that truly make me swoon.

Casa Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, in Madrid.

Casa Botín’s building is from 1590 and the wood paneling added in 1725.

Whenever I visit an old city, my mind often wanders to the stories of people who lived there in its past.  I wonder what their lives were like, what they did and what they ate.  But in Madrid, I didn’t have to use my imagination.  Much of the city’s architecture has remained intact for hundreds of years, the same roads still taking people down the same paths, the same squares still the gathering places for festivities.

Casa Botin's side door with "1725" engraved above.

Casa Botin’s side door with “1725″ engraved above.

Just outside of one of those squares is the world’s oldest restaurant, Casa Botín, continuously serving Madrid since 1725. The ground-floor restaurant, opened by Jean Botín and his wife, served guests of the inn upstairs.  Later the restaurant expanded to include all four floors of the inn and at the turn of the 20th Century the ownership transferred to the Gonzalez family, whose descendants still own it today.

Casa Botin's specialty, suckling pig.

Casa Botin’s specialty has been suckling pig since the 18th Century.

Among the many survival stories surrounding Casa Botín is its oven.  The 18th Century firewood oven still slowly roasts suckling pig from Segovia, the restaurant’s specialty for generations.  The juicy meat remains tender while the skin is so crispy it cracks, almost like a crust.  It’s so a novel-worthy dish, literally.  Ernest Hemingway lamented about Casa Botín’s suckling pig in the closing lines of his book, The Sun Also Rises.

Squid ink pasta and rice at Casa Botin in Madrid.

Squid ink pasta and rice.

Casa Botín has had its share of famous diners over the course of its 289 year existence— Hemingway and the Spanish painter Goya are just a few—but as I sipped Sangria during lunch there, I wondered about the thousands of regular people who have dined there.  It’s incredible to think of the generations of people that have eaten the same Castilian cuisine for centuries, from women in floor-length dresses to me in my jeans snapping photos of food with my iPhone.

Spanish Sangria at Casa Botin.

Spanish Sangria at Casa Botin.

Because of its impressive history, today Casa Botín is a bit touristy.  Menus come in different languages, there are take-home postcards at the door.   But the restaurant does a good job staying true to its roots, serving good food and providing excellent service.  After all, it has quite the reputation to stand up to.

The story of Casa Botín is very much a part of Madrid’s story and the best part of eating at the charming restaurant is the feeling of adding to the city’s history just by having lunch.

Go to Casa Botín for :: a historic meal in the world’s oldest restaurant.  Notes :: Both the lunch and dinner menus are identical.  Reservations are recommended and can be made online here.  Servers and staff all speak English and menus are in several languages.

Salt Lake City’s Bar Scene

Have you noticed how much Salt Lake City’s bar scene has exploded in the past few years?  It seems like the city went from having only a handful of decent bars to suddenly having a whole host of places to indulge.
Shelves of whiskey at Whiskey Street in Salt Lake City.

Shelves of whiskey at Whiskey Street, one of my favorite bars in Salt Lake City.

In just the last few months Salt Lake City has been introduced to a classy whiskey bar (Whiskey Street), a beer bar serving gourmet sausages (Beer Bar), and a cocktail bar with small plates (Copper Common); while last year we saw the opening of a wine bar (BTG) and a speakeasy (The Rest).  I love that Salt Lake City is finally a place where the answer to “Where should we go tonight?” requires some real thought.

If you need some suggestions on where to drink for certain occasions, check out the list of Best Bars in Salt Lake City I wrote for The Utah Review.

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