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    Categories: Eat & Drink

First Taste: Trestle Tavern

I reserve the right to write about a restaurant from the day they open—if they are charging customers full price for food and wine. This has been my stance since I first started writing about restaurants 32 years ago.

I know a new restaurant has “kinks” to work out—the kitchen may still be tweaking some dishes, for instance. But actually, tweaking never stops in a good kitchen, and paying customers should not have to perform as the chef’s involuntary guinea pigs for a new menu. I know servers must be fully educated about the food they’re serving to sell it effectively to the customer. That takes time, but it shouldn’t happen on the paying customers’ dime.

Bottom line: Restaurateurs: open when you’re ready and not before—or own the consequences.

I do have a reason to restate this philosophy right now—my first visit to Trestle Tavern, Scott Evans’ new restaurant in the old Fresco space next to King’s English Bookshop—and the “rye dumplings” I was served that turned out to be “crackers.”

Evans has opened several successful restaurants in Salt Lake City: Pago, Finca, East Liberty Tap House and Hub & Spoke, the last few in a fairly short-time period. Trestle Tavern is housed in one of the prize restaurant locations in Salt Lake. The tiny restaurant and the trellised patio have the kind of organically quirky charm that can’t be planned by an architect or “concepted” by a designer. No one would make a dining room this small, inconvenient and inaccessible if they had a reasonable choice, but what ought to be drawbacks are advantages here, creating the authentic and endearing eccentricity Americans love in European restaurants but consistently fail in counterfeiting at home. Evans jumped on it when previous tenant Mikel Trapp decided to close Fresco and I don’t blame him. This is the kind of space Evans does best with.

I’m not sure why he settled on Eastern Europe as the culinary inspiration, though. I know that national food magazines, consumer and trade, have trumpeted Eastern Europe as the next big food trend. I’ve eaten at Kachka in Portland. And there are no chic Eastern European restaurants in Utah. When pierogies and cabbage rolls sweep the nation, Trestle Tavern is poised at the head of the pack.

I’m just not sure that Eastern European is a cuisine Utahns, who are still leery of eating rabbit, are hungering for yet.

Smoked trout cakes are exactly what they sound like, though—like crab cakes but made with smoked trout, and chicken paprikash made with Mary’s chicken had a delightfully light and spicy paprika sauce. Cabbage rolls made with red cabbage—pretty or uncomfortably anatomical-looking, we couldn’t quite decide—were filled with mushrooms or braised oxtail and short grain rice. Since our first visit that’s been changed to “braised beef” on the menu and I hope there’s therefore more of it and that the rolls are cooked until the cabbage ribs are tenderer.

Like a lot of TT’s food, this would have been better appreciated with a nip in the air, which is why I ordered the grilled Utah trout which leads me back to the rye dumpling/crackers. In an email, Evans explained that the Tavern’s chef makes rye dumplings sort of like you make matzoh balls, only using rye bread instead of matzoh. The crisp, dry crackers I was served with my trout were slices of dumpling that had been toasted and looked similar to pita chips. The menu now calls these, properly, crackers.

So, things are evolving. Another bafflement for us was the impressive list of spirits which our server told us were only available as a shot or over ice or with a little water—there was no menu of mixed drinks. Again, Evans says this will change in the near future.

In the meantime, we were happy to start with a glass of Gruet sparkling in lieu of a cocktail, and go on to Schloss Gobelberg, one of the two Gruner Veltliners on the list.

We finished with the only dessert offered—some kind of chocolate pudding—which our waiter strongly advised us against. He told us the kitchen was still “working” on it.

Clearly, although Trestle Tavern is open, it’s not finished. We left feeling like we’d only half-finished reading a book. But we’ll be back for the next chapter.

`1513 S. 1500 East, SLC, 801-532-3372

Mary Brown Malouf :Mary Brown Malouf is the Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.