Have to Admit: I Love the New Salt Lake City

I have just spent a few wonderful days in Salt Lake City, staying with family while attending a conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center (wow, one of the best in the nation!). As a proud inhabitant of Wisconsin (you may know it as Zion 2.0), it’s hard to admit that something outside the Midwest can be so nice, but Salt Lake has become a genuinely delightful city.

I was a teenager in Salt Lake and liked it, but think it’s so much better now. So clean, so much interesting architecture, such beautiful mountains, and many great people and fun places to eat. The downtown is really spectacular, and many of my friends who were here with me this week for a big chemical engineering conference agree (4,200 people came here for the Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, AIChE). I heard so many positive comments about this city from engineers from all over the US and beyond. Very nice.

I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Salt Lake Temple, where I barely caught a temple session and also took some very fun photographs. Do you Salt Lake folks realize how amazing the architecture of that building is? Especially inside, it’s so incredible that such quality and beauty could be crafted in the wild desert by the pioneers.

After the conference ended, I enjoyed a visit to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where the best view in town is on the 10th floor. A well-known professor from the other side of the world was with me at the time and I thought we’d be parting ways after I dashed into the Joseph Smith Building where I needed to buy something for my son at the LDS Distribution Center, but he politely followed me. As I walked by the collection of foreign language Books of Mormon, I was amazed to see that they had a copy – just one – in his native language (I didn’t even know the Book of Mormon was available in that language). He now has it as well as an English version as a gift, and I asked him to let me know how good the translation is. By the way, he really enjoyed seeing the Joseph Smith building and I think that’s a great tourist stop, especially the 10th floor.

I was able to keep costs low for my employer low by staying with family in the south end of the Valley. That worked out really well. The remarkably efficient interstate system in Salt Lake made commuting into town a breeze. I-215, I-80, and even I-15 were great (tried a couple of different routes, all good).

In the Cottonwood Heights area, near the Old Mill region, I found a very good Chinese restaurant that I gladly recommend. Like many of the best Chinese restaurants, it has a weak name indicating that it wasn’t the work of skilled marketers relying on focus groups with English speakers. “Tasty China” isn’t the best name, IMO, but it has excellent Chinese fare in a very pretty and relaxing setting. I took my parents there and they loved it, too. (By the way, if you’re a Mandarin speaker in the American Fork area willing to help Chinese immigrants improve their English, let me know. Long story, but interesting.)

I also found that Canyon Coffee and Gelato in the Old Mill area has the most amazing gelato I’ve tasted. Theirs is made by a master gelato maker at a place in Salt Lake–I forget the name, though. Can you help me? Somewhere near 10th East and 10th South, or was it 9th East and 9th South?

OK, I know I’m rambling (it’s late and I’m ready to crash), but I want to thank you Utah folks of all faiths for making such a beautiful state and for giving us outsiders such a wonderful place to visit. Thank you!

Oh, a couple more eating tips: Tony Caputo’s market has the best Italian subs ever. Wow. Amazing ingredients. Vasuvio’s Organic Gourmet Cafe, almost next to Lamb’s Grill, is another winner. Wonderful salads, good soups, and always healthy. Shocker: Acme Burger was closed with a notice of seizure posted on the door for failure to pay $470 in taxes. Ouch. Was one of the only burger places that I dared to admit liking.

On the negative side, I was quite disappointed with Buca di Beppo. Had been there before and thought it was good, but when I took a guest there, they seated us in a booth with a wall of genuinely disturbing photography, including a photo verging on the obscene, in my opinion. My guess is that this was a manifestation of an “in your face” attitude that some local establishments have, almost as if it were a badge of honor to violate the standards of those “repressed Mormons” in the area. I just can’t imagine that this supposedly family-friendly restaurant would dare have such a photograph leering at its customers in a Midwest restaurant of this chain (in fact, they started in the Midwest so they can’t be completely clueless about the fact that many of their customers might have conservative values and not appreciate extremely risque material). I asked if we could be seated somewhere with less troubling photography, and then after waiting too long for a new spot to be made ready, my guest (who shared my reaction) and I decided to walk and try someplace else. That’s how we found Tony Caputos. Even they had something that may have been racy pinned up on a bulletin board that walked past to get into the restaurant, as I recall–just saw from the corner of my eye and didn’t pay attention–but don’t think it was close to the in-your-face tackiness of one particular booth at Buca di Beppo (maybe all the other booths are fine, by the way).

Update: On the way back to the airport, I stopped at Tony Caputo’s planning to pick up a famous Utah product, Creminelli’s Sausage, the only entirely dry-cured sausage made in the U.S., apparently much like the good Italian stuff nice Swiss people sometimes fed me on my mission. But in walking into Tony Caputo’s, I paid more attention as I walked in to make sure I could give them a thumbs up, and was disappointed to see another “in your face” display of excessive flesh. Large, racy photos of some starving model who couldn’t afford the upper half of an already budget-sized swimsuit. Can’t Church welfare do something to help these poor girls? How bad was the photo? Hey, I didn’t stay and linger to check out the details, but I’d say it’s even worse than the toddler-height mags in the checkout lane of your local grocery store. Sigh. I’ll have to get Creminelli’s from some other source. Any of you tried it? (I don’t expect you to react the way I do–if the decor of a place doesn’t bother you or if racy media is a plus for you, then enjoy.)

Deciding to take my appetite elsewhere, I stumbled across a delightful little Thai whole-in-the-wall just a few yards west of Tony’s. Ekamai Thai Curry is super small, but they’ve got great food. I was surprised to see that they had purple rice–actually their version is a mix of three kinds of rice, including brown rice with the rich purple color and flavor that comes from an exotic species of rice called Black Rice in Chinese (that’s what it said on one package that I bought, anyway). Purple rice is my favorite part of Hmong cuisine and I jumped at the chance to try some. The Ekamai version is terrific. They added some smooth peanut sauce on top–what a great combination. That delight was only $2. I also had a great egg roll and a cold can of roasted coconut juice. A heavenly lunch. I originally asked for the mango sticky rice, but they decided their mangoes weren’t ripe enough for the dish. Nice of them to check and care.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

5 thoughts on “Have to Admit: I Love the New Salt Lake City

  1. The picture in the restaurant story is very disappointing, as well as alarming. Ther seems to be a lot of things in the face of religion and society standards.

  2. And I’m glad you enjoyed downtown! We’re working really hard on making it amazing. Soon, you’ll even be able to take lightrail from the airport!

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