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Who Says There’s No Fish In Salt Lake?

By Nick Anis

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The Great Salt Lake may not have any fish (because it is several times saltier than the ocean), but Salt Lake City has a great seafood restaurant, Gastronomy’s “Market Street Oyster Bar.” Salt Lake City was once known for its modest unsophisticated dining. These days with the growing population (about 800,000 for the City and 1.7 million in the metropolitan area), Salt Lake has become a Mecca for fine eateries offering not only fine food, but good presentation and ambiance as well.

The Gastronomy restaurant consortium is quite an operation. The company employs 700 people and serves about 1,500,000 guests annually. The company owns and operates the Market Street Oyster Bar and six other clubs and restaurants within the city limits: Baci Trattoria, Club Baci, Market Street Broiler, Market Street Grill, New Yorker, and Pierpont Cantina.

Owners, John Williams, Tom Guinney, and Tom Sieg share a similar vision for their company – to bring a variety of fine dining to Salt Lake City. Judging by the number of meals they serve and the 500,000 pounds of fresh fish they have flown into Salt Lake City by Delta Airlines, it appears they are well on their way to achieving this goal.

Oysters are the Specialty at the Market Street Oyster Bar

The fresh oysters served raw on the half shell at the Market Street Oyster Bar are quite popular. According to general manager, Michael Nelson, Utahns have developed a real taste for oysters. “We fly in oysters from the Pacific and North Atlantic coasts and always have six different types of oysters to offer.”

Because most oysters today come cold water farms in the Pacific Northwest they are available year-round. The Market Street Oyster Bar has a West Coast exclusive for the Alaska Sterling Oyster from Canoe Cove. They also serve highly sought after, Kumamoto oysters from Washington State.

As an appetizer before a meal, patrons at the Market Street Oyster Bar may eat a half-dozen oysters. As an entrée for lunch or dinner, diners typically eat a dozen or two. Varieties and prices vary according to market conditions – they range from $6.99 for a half-dozen Blue Point Oysters on the half-shell to $20.00 per dozen for specialty oysters like Kumamoto or Alaska Sterling.

The first thing you notice when you enter the restaurant is the oyster bar in the center. The fresh seafood on display creates an inviting visual culinary impact. Besides a variety of fresh oysters on ice, there are fresh crabs, lobster, shrimp, scallops, and mussels. The bar has a half-dozen jacketed steam kettles for preparing most of the chowders and stews including:

  • Steamed Mussels with Wine and Shallots
  • Vegetable Stew with Pasta
  • New Yorker Kick Ass Chili
  • Steamed Clams with Wine and Shallots
  • Oyster Stew, Oyster Chowder with Potatoes and Onions
  • Scallop Stew with Potatoes, Onion and Tomatoes
  • Shrimp Bisque
  • Bouillabaisse with Clams, Halibut, Shrimp, Scallops, and Mussels
  • Cioppino with Lobster, Shrimp, Crab, Clams, Mussels, and Halibut
  • Lobster Bisque
  • Whole Main Lobster

Meals are served with delicious fresh sourdough bread served piping hot. It is specially prepared at an outside bakery using de-mineralized water that is re-mineralized to approximate San Francisco’s water.

The portion sizes, presentation, and service are very good. The fish served at the Market Street Oyster Bar is excellent – in fact, all the fish served is “fresh” and never frozen. The market Street Oyster Bar also serves marvelous beef and chicken. They use US Prime dry-aged Angus beef that rivals many of the fine dedicated steak houses.

When I visited, I started by ordering and devouring some of the “incredible” fresh chilled Florida Golden Crab (a delicious farmed crab that tastes like Dungeness), oysters, and giant shrimp as appetizers. Although shrimp is usually my favorite, I liked the Florida Golden Crab the best.

Next, I ordered the fresh Maine lobster and filet mignon combination plate as my entrée. When my waiter came with the giant platter at first glance it was so big, I thought he had gotten my order wrong. The Maine lobster was huge and it was served on its split shell. Its presentation was great and it tasted as good as it looked. (They also serve frozen whole Australian lobster that is carefully cold-water defrosted on a shift-by-shift basis.) The 14-ounce filet mignon was an excellent, lightly marbled cut that was tender and delicious, although it was slightly undercooked.

This feast was accompanied by a Jolly Green Giant sized portion of freshly steamed broccoli and some delicious fried shoestring onion rings, along with the best rice pilaf I have ever tasted. As my waiter placed a large rosewood handled steak knife at my right side he asked if I would like the lobster taken out of the shell. Fearing I might have trouble doing it, I said: “Yes, thank you.” To my surprise the lobster came out of its shell with the greatest of ease. If I knew it was going to be that easy, I would have saved that honor for myself.

Gastronomy has perfected the “recycle and reuse” real estate philosophy; their eateries are located in historic buildings that have been restored, renovated, and reused. The Market Street Oyster Bar occupies what used to be the New York Hotel. It conformably seats about 125, is multileveled, and has a variety of seating, including bar seating, tables, and some intimate but conformable circular booths.

The Market Street Oyster Bar features 13 striking painted murals by 13 local artists. Gastronomy partner, John Williams was inspired to do this in 1992 after visiting the La Coupole restaurant in Paris where the works of Marc Chagall and other noted Parisian artists grace the restaurant columns. According to Williams, new murals will be added to the collection about every two years until all the columns are completed.

After having such wonderful appetizers (averaging $9.) and entrées (averaging $22.), it was hard to even think about and dessert and coffee. Alas, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

All 12 of their desserts are prepared on premises by their master baker and pastry chef. Notable desert delights include a heavenly fat-free angel food shortcake covered with fresh whipped cream, and smothered with fresh, paper-thin coconut chips and fresh strawberries, their trademark chocolate decadence cake, classic New York cheese cake, also with fresh strawberries, vanilla marble cheese cake, and fresh berry topped creme brulee, each served in specially patterned desert plates decorated with powered sugar and saucing.

When my server brought the palate seducing dessert tray to our table I wanted to resist, but couldn’t. I surrendered to a fruit tart with luscious white custard filling. In fact, everyone at our table tried one of the deserts, and by all accounts all of them were excellent. The Starbucks coffee (regular and decaffeinated) they served was also quite good.

Because I was having seafood and beef I decided to sample both a white and red wine from their standard list. My choice was a California white wine, Arrowood Viognier. Viognier is said to be one of the great French grapes yielding velvety wine with a violet grassy aroma. I also chose another California wine as my choice for red, Calera Pinot Noir, 1994. Pinot Noir is the same grape as the French Burgundies. In general, Burgundies (which come from the area a croissant’s throw from Paris) are my favorite, and the Calera Pinot Noir ranks among the better Burgundies I’ve tasted.

I also started my meal with a well-prepared and tasty mixed green salad. But to be honest with you, the delicious crab, lobster, oysters, shrimp, and filet mignon made such an impression on me it is hard to remember the salad. Whenever I’m in Salt Lake City, however, I will remember where to go for fish. Not the fishless Great Salt Lake, but the “great” Market Street Oyster Bar, an excellent place for delicious fresh seafood, great U.S. prime beef, and a dozen varieties of tempting and delicious desserts.

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Nick Anis is a computer and technology writer and the author of 24 books who also writes about travel, food & wine, entertainment, skiing and family recreation. He writes for Ziff-Davis, Microtimes, The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Travel Watch, TravelGram, and Restaurant-Row. He is responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach Press Telegram. Nick is a member of the Computer Press Association, The International Food Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFW&TWA), and the North American Ski Journalists Assn. (NASJA).

Nick can be reached at NickAnis@travel-watch.com, Phone: 909-860-6914, Fax: 909-396-0014.

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