On a recent, all-too-brief trip to Salt Lake City, I wondered what I was going to find to eat and drink in the notoriously homogeneous capital of the Latter Day Saints. In the neighborhood near University of Utah, though, you'd never know there was a history of teetotalism--the streets are lined with the same artisanal cafes and charming coffee shops you might expect to find in any college town.
My hostess told me that SLC's nightlife changed for the better when the Olympics came to town in 2002 and this charming, if previously isolated, valley in the mountains was opened to the world. She took me to Aristo's, a terrific little Greek place around the corner from campus and minutes from downtown.
Besides the usual comfort dishes (spanakopita, fried calamari, and other college-kid fair), the menu offers some sophisticated and very well-prepared meals served with sides of lemon rice with lentils and grilled vegetables. The fish selections (salmon, swordfish, and halibut the evening I visited) are particularly well prepared and surprisingly fresh; although SLC is land-locked, it serves as a hub for Delta Airlines, my hostess informs me, allowing for daily deliveries of fresh seafood from the Southeastern coast. Entrees are well-presented and well-balanced. Of course, you can still fill up on the fatty stuff if you prefer--the pastitisio comes in an individual baking dish that looks like it could easily feed a family of four.
Finally, despite stereotypes to the contrary, Aristo's, like so many other modern restaurants in the new SLC, offers a full wine list to cover most tastes. (Though they might still be getting used to the idea--what other tourism site has a page devoted to the state's liquor laws?!) It's a great neighborhood cafe like one you might stumble upon in Berkley, CA or Boulder, CO, and well worth the stop if you're in the area.
Greek Lemon Rice with Lentils
This is my take on Aristo's standard side accompanying entrees.
1 cup long grain white rice
½ cup green lentils
3 cups water
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
Bring 3 cups of salted water to boil in a large stock pot. Stir in the lentils and mustard, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, then add the rice and cover again. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid--if not, add in ¼ cup increments until cooked. Cook until the rice and soft and fluffy and the water has been absorbed, about 10-15 more minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, drizzle with olive oil, and seaosn with salt and fresh black pepper to taste.