Monday, October 1, 2012

It's Your Birthday, Go On, Get Zesty Now!

Zucchini Pasta with Pesto and Marinara Sauce
One of the Best Zucchini Pastas I've Had
     It’s been a few months since Veg News declared Salt Lake City the reigning champion of vegan friendly cities over the venerable, but weird Austin. Given the recent changes, the salty citizens have nothing to fear and can keep strutting around wearing their crown of kale. Union Street Eats closed for a while, but will be back on the streets, Frisch, a new vegan café featuring the most amazing kale salad ever opened, and an all-vegan sandwich shop called Buds opened this week, which will feature some Union Street favorites. I promise to put reviews of these places soon, but wait the best is yet to come.
Jalapeno Cucumber Margarita
The Perfect Summer Drink!
     From the ashes of W Lounge and Union Street Eats rises Zest Bar and Restaurant. Not only is it salt lake’s newest offering in healthy eating, but it sets the bar pretty high. The atmosphere is industrial chic. As you enter, a huge chandelier greets you as you check in with the hostess, followed by the impressive center piece bar contrasted with unfinished ceilings and dotted with wooden tables. There is even a couch where you can and drink at for the perfect lounge experience. On the walls are pictures of purple kale, a pomegranate and this took me a while (actually, it was the table next to me), a photo taken from the inside of a bell pepper. It’s one of the most thought out restaurants that I’ve been to in this city, and the closest competitor would be Vedge in Philadelphia. I’ll be honest I was expecting a small café with a few tables and a homey feel similar to Sage’s Cafe, so I was blown away with the scale and how well thought out the atmosphere is. After years of owning W Lounge, Casey really knows the service industry and created, what would be my dream restaurant and bar. But, you’ll just have to take my word for it as I didn’t take any pictures. But don’t worry, I’ll be back so maybe I’ll add some. Oh, and as if the atmosphere couldn’t be better local musician Zach Moon strummed the guitar with some soulful songs that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sons of Anarchy episode or opening for Rocky Votolato. For the first song, I was a fan, and would’ve grabbed a cd if I had one less cocktail!

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Ginger Spice
If You Could Bottle Xmas, This Would Be It!
     For many months, Casey has hosted Vegan Drinks at W Lounge and he broke nearly every rule I have about mixed drinks, like don’t use fruit juice or soy milk as a mixer. I’ll be honest; I’m a craft beer guy. Belgium, IPAa and funky beers are my drinks of choice. Each month, Casey would slowly steer me away from the barle malt with creative cocktails, from bing cherry mojitos, white Russians and others too numerous to remember, since he would always change things up. With Zest, he pulled out all the stops, in what is one of the most impressive cocktail menus in town. The first two drinks that stuck out to me were the Ginger Spice and the Jalapeño margarita. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of ginger, but as the special one said. This is what she would want to drink while decorating the xmas tree. Using fireball whiskey (cinnamon flavored) and ginger beer, this drink was warming and exciting. Oh, it had a piece of candied ginger in it, too. I can’t think of a better cocktail. The jalapeño margarita had muddled cucumber in it along with patron tequila and citron. I was expecting a spicy bit, but it was really subtle by the cucumber. My own change would be Don Julio tequila, which I think is the hands down the best tequila.
Asian Salad
Simple, Yet Delectable. The Dressing Is What Makes This
     When Union Street Closed (ever so briefly), I knew not to fret because the chef behind the cart would be on to bigger and better things. I’ve written about Chef Larayn before as she launched Union Street, but I’ll repeat some of it again. Along with hosting Vegan Drinks for almost three years now, Larayn has been one of the most underrated chefs in the Wasatch. Not only a trained chef graduating from The Natural Gourmet Institute, but she sharpened her knife at Sage’s Café, and then moved onto Union Street Eats as well as private catering events. The menu is a vegetable forward, putting the subtle of the vegetable at the forefront of the dish represents the menu.
     As we were admiring our drinks, our awesome server brought out the fresh crudité vegetable sampler with an avocado and cilantro and an almond butter dipping sauces. The picture doesn’t do it justice, because the presentation was impeccable and brimming with color. From slivers of purple, orange and yellow bell peppers, carrots and parsnips, it was simple yet delicious, especially when dipped into avocado cilantro dipping sauce. The special one and I both agreed that this was the best sauce. I liked the almond butter, but thought it paired best the celery and maybe fruit.
From there we moved on to the Asian salad with spinach and mung bean sprouts and topped with black sesame seeds, which featured a savory salad that didn’t have any bitterness, but a nice savory flavor. The watermelon gazpacho provided a perfect complement with a subtle and crisp flavor. The freshness of the watermelon really shined.
Veggie Cruddite Plate
The Avocado-Cilantro Sauce Was The First To Go. This Stuff Needs To Be bottled!
     In the interest of journalistic integrity and to provide readers with complete picture, we decided to sample some more cocktails. The cello driver was a new twist on the screwdriver with a lemon flavored vodka, fresh orange juice and basil. Orange juice is sacred to me, so it should never be mixed with alcohol, but again Casey won me over. Between the kombucha bomb (vodka and the kombucha flavor of the day) and the Nutty X and the beet sangria, I had a difficult choice, but went with the beet sangria. I’m not sure if there was a mix up, but the beet sangria was just a glass of wine without any fruit. The only hiccup of the day, it was still a decent glass of wine.
Cello Driver
Move Over Screwdriver, There's A New Fellas In Town!
     The zucchini pasta arrived topped with a fresh pesto and surrounded in marinara sauce. If you don’t know me, I spent perhaps the first decade of my vegan years eating pasta, because I didn’t know how to cook, so I know pasta. Generally, you’re not fooling anyone with zucchini pasta; they think they are eating a cleverly designed salad. I’m not sure if the folks at Zest marinade it or if it was the pesto, but this dish was perfect and even had a hint of butter coming through from the fresh zucchini. After all the zucchini that I had from my CSA (Bell Organic Gardens), this is what I wish I was making with it. Zucchini is a delicate vegetable and its impressive how they put its buttery and creamy texture to use. I can’t wait to sample more items from the large plates menu, especially the beet raviolis stuffed with cashew cream.
Watermelon Gazpacho
That's Another Word For Cold, Yet Delicious Soup!
     Although mostly vegan, just one sampler and one large plate isn’t vegan, only two of the five options are vegan. Unfortunately, the herbs de Provence sorbetto was not being featured on the day I went, but I’ll have to have it. It must be done. My only complaint and it’s more of a personal preference is that I wish they featured some more meaty dishes, ala the wings at Horizons or the grilled seitan from Vedge. I mean if I had my druthers I would open a vegan steakhouse, but it’s also because I know how awesome Larayn and Casey could conjure up. Just look at how amazing Union Street is. Regardless, Zest is one of the most exciting dining options I crossed the Mississippi many many moons ago. I look forward to sampling everything off their menu and watching their evolution.
Bring On The Nutty X
Might Be The Best Mixed Drink I've Ever Had! The Dude Would Abide!
   As I mention, the dessert weren’t vegan, so it was okay to have another drink, right? Don’t judge me. This is for you the readers. I had to go with the Nutty X, a triple espresso martini made with almond milk and Frangelico. I don’t want to betray the ginger spice but this cocktail had serious wow factor. It’s like a white Russian, but elevated. The almond milk and the Frangelico really make it pop. I highly recommend this drink.
Their grand opening will be on October 2nd from 5 pm until 1 am with their full menu. You're a little weary about zesting on a weekday, the next slc vegan drinks will be at zest on Friday October 5th starting at 7. Go on, get zesty now. And Austin, we’re keeping the crown and might even take on the big apple soon!