I’ve never been to Chez Panisse. I’ve only read about it, imagined it. Its food is legendary, but just as vital as its revolutionarily simple yet divine menu is the philosophy of the great Alice Waters: from local farm to table with a focus on community. Bringing that philosophy to life in Salt Lake is Avenues Bistro, a comfortable little Avenues restaurant where I was greeted one recent afternoon by a friendly hostess, and an old chalkboard with the hand-written words: Community, Conversation, Cuisine.
As I took a seat with my party, the background hummed pleasantly with laughter from the surrounding tables and Beatles tunes from the speakers. The aromas from the open kitchen, jars of homemade pickled peppers on the counter, old rolling pins, hanging copper pots and pans and antique mixer accoutrement gave me the sense of stepping into an old French kitchen.
Kathie Chadbourne, owner and manager, personally sets the tone at the bistro, making it a home away from home for many. On this visit, Chadbourne was making her usual rounds, welcoming diners into her community. Her interest and sincerity bring people back and the Bistro has a number of regulars who come in hoping for their favorite spot.
Of course, it’s the Bistro’s culinary experience that really keeps customers coming back. A great way to start is with Nan’s Cheeseboard, an array of local artisan cheeses, accompanied by fresh fruit, pickled onions, housemade butter pickles and roasted tomato compote and crostini— a wonderful sensory journey, all the flavors blending nicely.
When the fettucini Bolognese arrived, the aroma tipped me off that this would be a special dish. The sauce, made with beef and pork from local farms, managed complex flavors with simple, pure ingredients. The perfectly al dente housemade pasta was topped off with a dollop of creamy ricotta and fresh herbs. The sweetness of the ricotta tamed the intensity of the sauce and reminded me of my grandmother’s Bolognese.
I love a good burger. The problem is finding one that lives up to my simple standards: moist, flavorful beef with a toasted bun and perfectly melted cheese. The Bistro Burger started with a housemade brioche bun toasted to a light crispy on the inside, soft on the outside. The burger, made from Utah-raised beef, was juicy, tender and cooked just as I had ordered. Topping the beef was candied bacon, melted smoked Gouda and beer & mustard aioli. Juices flowed. The condiments delighted. But the beef was, as it should be, the star of the show.
The Asian-Style Noodles, not an ordinary bistro menu item, was a refreshing addition. The dish can be ordered either vegetarian or with duck confit. The housemade vermicelli noodles were served with sautéed green onions, zucchini, pickled carrots, roasted jalapeños and cashews in a rich, tangy glaze.
Last was the Spicy Chicken Tortilla, an original from head chef Kevin Romans. The pan-fried bone-in chicken breast was crusted with ground tortillas, rice flour and spices, and served in a bowl with a spicy tomato-based soup of corn, rice, black beans, arugula and burnt lime. The tortilla crust had a perfectly crisp texture and the chicken was juicy and flavorful. Aromatic and well-displayed, it was a sublime match and arguably my favorite dish of the night.
My check came, at the end of the night, tucked into a copy of Alice Waters’ cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. Laughter still surrounded me, as Kathie continued circulating to new tables, passionately discussing food and her restaurant’s exciting future—the patio will be reopening on April 1. (And then, there’s spring in the surrounding organic vegetable and flower garden….)
I, too, had found my home away from home.
Avenues Bistro on Third, 564 E. Third Ave., SLC. 801) 831-5409. 9am-9pm, Wed.-Sun.
Closed Mon. and Tues.
Opening this Month: Current Fish & Oyster
Current Fish & Oyster, a new SLC restaurant featuring classically prepared, contemporarily envisioned seafood and bar menus, opens March 5 in the revitalized circa-1906 “Three and Three UnCommons” building on 300 South at 300 East. With its soaring reclaimed barrel ceilings, walls of industrial glass, shady patio and exhibition kitchen—plus a bike and TRAX-friendly location—Current is a collaboration of two of Utah’s most popular dining innovators: LaSalle Restaurant Group and Trio Restaurant group.
Partner Mikel Trapp of Trio tells CATALYST he was inspired to work with the LaSalle Restaurant Group on this project “because this fabulous old building with lots of history became available. We really wanted to create a timeless restaurant in this great space. We are so excited about opening a seafood restaurant that’s very contemporary—one that speaks to current trends. We also are passionate about creating this seafood menu with a focus on healthy choices and sustainability. People are going to be blown away with our cuisine from Executive Chef Logen Crew.”
Joel LaSalle agrees with Trapp, adding that “the Salt Lake City market, and Utah in general, needs this. We feel there is a huge void in the market for fresh seafood selections done right.”
Although the timeless building anchors the dining experience, the partners say that the main attraction is the inviting, artfully crafted, and carefully sourced seafood menu, featuring the best fish from a variety of North American regions. The sumptuous oyster selections from both East and West coasts, for instance, will include nightly specials with old favorites and new discoveries. Other specials will depend upon what’s fresh from the boats. Diners will chose from a menu of small plates, composed salads and entrees.
An innovative beverage program created by James Santangelo to complement the chefs’ creations includes wine, craft beer, soft drinks and spirits.
Initially open Monday-Saturday for drinks and dinner, Current will soon add lunch and brunch.