Regulars and Shorts

Chef Profile: Finca

By Jane Laird

Old World dining with a modern, casual flair.
by Jane Laird

Your friends want to meet somewhere. Sit and relax. Enjoy craft cocktails and good wine. Order food whenever you want—plates of small somethings to share. Ideally, these dishes are so finely crafted, they become their own topic of lively conversation.

This convivial locale doesn’t have to be an elusive imagining. It could happen. You could meet at Finca in Sugar House, Salt Lake. And if you do, owner Scott Evans knows you’ll have fun dining in true Spanish tapas style.

Evans’ love of eating out in Spain is the inspiration behind Finca, a Spanish word for farm or vineyard. With 17 diverse growing regions, Spain takes its food and wine seriously. Neighborhood bars, doubling as restaurants and social establishments, serve cocktails, conversation and local cuisine late into the night. Spanish tapas-style dining means ordering small plates on the go or combining these for a full meal to pass around with friends.fincaChefs

“The experience is so much more exciting because with the diversity of dining tapas style, you can try things out of your comfort zone,” says Evans.

His goal with Finca, which opened this past spring, is to recreate the relaxed sociability and appreciation for fine cuisine found in Spain. Tucked into a Salt Lake City neighborhood of 11th East and 13th South) Finca continues the farm-to-table philosophy of Pago, Evans’ popular first restaurant in the 9th & 9th neighborhood. Contrary to the usual American way of ordering meals, individual small plates come out when ready, hot off the asador—a wood-fired grill. The casual décor uses sustainable and local material for a 1940s warehouse feel.

Finca’s hours are deliberately set long. Pop in for a cocktail and an appetizer at 3 pm. Or enjoy a paced dinner with friends, choosing tapas combinations for a full meal and wine. If you want to do it American style, order from a selection of large dishes, platos grandes, to come out at the same time. Need a late-night finish to the evening? There are coffees and house-made desserts from Finca pastry chef Courtney McDowell. Knowledgeable servers will answer any question. In true tapas style there are no linens, no reservations (except for large groups), and no expectations as to how short or long to stay.

It would be right to have high expectations for the menu at Finca. Evans describes it as really thoughtful food, at fine dining standards, inspired by Spanish cuisine. Chef Phelix Gardner, who was born in Spain, curates a changing farm-to-fire lunch, dinner and brunch menu that depends on what is currently available. The menu is inspired by ingredients such as local bread, eggs, pork, beef, honey, cheeses, and produce. Evans affirms that “food tastes better when it is in season and local. Your taste buds know the difference. When farmers take time to grow things that are great, it’s nice to be able to take the time to appreciate it.”

Using the open flame asador—a rustic preparation technique – Chef Gardner can create complex flavors in what appear to be very simple dishes. Finca’s most popular item, for instance, is the Tosta Setas, comprised of only four ingredients. House-smoked ricotta cheese is piled on asador-grilled local bread and topped with pine nuts and cavegrown, Utah-sourced sautéed mushrooms. “It’s very simple and sums up everything we do well. It’s earthy, light but complex in flavor,” says Evans.

smallplatesIn Spain, having a drink is an integral part of the experience, so Finca beverage manager Scott Gardner puts more effort into cocktail planning than most restaurants. Using fresh squeezed juices, artisanal ingredients such as house-made tonic and often incorporating sherry and Madera Port, even the cocktail selections are tailored to the seasons. Its “Sugarhouse Smash,” a libation using local beets, local basil, fresh grapefruit juice, grapefruit bitters and Park City’s High West Bourye, recently won Salt Lake Magazine’s cocktail competition. Monthly events include port wine dinners, craft beer pairing dinners and Rioja wine dinners.

Evans aims to offer something unique to the area, something cutting-edge and not necessarily fashionable; “Neither Pago or Finca are safe concepts,” he laughs. However, Evans’ appreciation for Spanish-style dining might soon be shared all over the country. “Over the next decade, dozens of American cooks schooled in the authentic cooking of Spain and trained in Spanish restaurants will begin to populate the United States,” wrote Glenn Collins in September in the New York Times. Utahns can enjoy this all now, at the neighborhood Finca.

1291 S. 1100 E.
Salt Lake City, UT
Patio in season, Catering, Full Bar, Private Room Available
Reservations available to groups of 6 or more.
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11am-5pm
Dinner: Mon-Sat, 5pm-10pm
Brunch: Sat—11am-3pm, Sun— 10am-3pm
Late night tapas & cocktails: Fri & Sat—10pm-12am

This article was originally published on November 30, 2012.