I’ve been muttering about the recent “plateau-ing” of the Salt Lake food scene. With a California chain (Curry Up) replacing locally owned long-time Middle Eastern restaurant Cedars of Lebanon, the clone creep in Sugar House and local group Sicilia Mia taking the place of Paris Bistro and Aristo’s, it seemed like our local options were being bought up, that uniqueness was being replaced by imports and proven formulas.

But, like SLC Eatery, Oquirrh encouraged me on all fronts.

Chef Drew Fuller did stints at Copper Onion, HSL and Pago; where he met his wife, Angelena, who works the front of the house.

I like  the name—where else are you going to find a restaurant called Oquirrh? It’s strictly local and even the locals can’t spell it.

Root Vegetable Terrine

And I loved my food. The imagination behind it, the presentation and the taste. I liked carrots, a riff on the popular perpendicular presentation at Pago. Carrots of several colors were roasted, cured in miso or braised, then planted vertically in a ground of carrot-top pesto with a brown rice chip to add back in some crispness.

Other plates were equally whimsical—it was a nice change to smile as we were served. So many plates look pretentiously serious these days. Food is supposed to be fun.

The chicken confit pot pie arrived with one leg sticking out through the golden-brown crust—it looked like the bird had taken a dive. The pastry covered the filling—a lovely, just-thickened broth with lots of seasonal mushrooms—and lined the ramekin. An entire leg of lamb was crusted with a curry mixture and deep-fried, apparently after being braised, because the meat fell from the bone in tender chunks. The giant thing (Does anyone remember what “Brobdingnagian” means?) was accompanied by housemade naan, vegetables roasted in garam masala and eggplant relish. I can’t see one person finishing this plate, but it made great leftovers. Better than cold pizza!

Curry Fried Lamb Shank

Maybe it was just us, but the meal was becoming fatter and fatter and our choice of pasta, thick tubes mixed with chunks of butter-poached lobster and plenty of Pecorino didn’t change the trend. The flavor of the celery leaves did what it always does to lighten the mouthfeel and add sprightliness. Milk-braised potatoes were the meal’s Cinderella; few things could sound so humble and taste so spectacular. The milk cooks into beautiful curds These dreamy potatoes are quintessential comfort food, sweet and tender with the umami from the cooked milk lending the richness of cheese.

Oquirrh’s space is almost too small and when it’s full (as it often is, because of all the lauding) it’s loud. Those who think conversation is an essential part of a good meal complain about it but evidently it’s better to be chic than heard.