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Utah Diners Guide

Zagat’s 2012 Restaurant Survey Reveals Americans’ Dining Habits

by Kiri Tannenbaum

How long are you willing to wait for a table? Fifteen minutes? Thirty? An hour? Well, according to this year’s Zagat survey, you’re in the majority if you said 30 minutes. What about your favorite kind of food? Apparently, most of us prefer Italian. You can find more answers to diners’ habits in Zagat’s 2012 America’s Top Restaurants, which was released this week. The guide includes votes from over 150,000 avid diners who ate out an estimated 25 million times in the past year.

More From Delish: Esquire’s Best New Restaurants 2011

Despite the economy, the average number of meals eaten in restaurants did not differ from last year’s survey. But who eats out the most? Texans. Houston residents came in number one at 4 times per week. Seems if you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, you might want to consider the Longhorn State.

More From Delish: Life-Changing Cuisine: 10 Best Restaurants in the World

If you want to break the bank, the most expensive dining options are, of course, found in Vegas. According to the survey, an average meal in the city of bling costs $47.53. While the least expensive dining can be found in New Orleans, with an average meal costing $28.36.

It also seems from the survey that cheaper meals mean better tips: New Orleans, home of the cheapest average meal, is also home of the best tippers. The average gratuity per check is 19.7% — that’s just slightly above the national average. West coasters take the prize, once again, for being the least generous.

More From Delish: The Brunch Bunch: Where to Find the Best Pancakes in the U.S.A.

A new poll question to the food lovers this year: Are you in favor of restaurant’s requirement to post their health department grade? A whopping 81% were in favor, with the majority of respondents saying that they would only eat in restaurants with a letter grade of B or higher. “Our surveyors’ support for the display of health department letter grades has grown as fast as support for the smoking bans a few years ago,” said Tim Zagat, Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Zagat. “By requiring restaurants to maintain sanitary environments, these laws are benefiting the overall safety of the consumer.”

What about you? How much do you tip? What’s your favorite restaurant in your city? And how many times a week do you dine out? We want to know!

American’s Disappearing Restaurant Chains

By Charles B. Stockdale

MSN Money Partner

These 10 once-loved eateries now register the biggest sales declines in the business.

There is a school of thought that says the restaurant business is always a good business because people need to eat. A glance at the sales of many of America’s largest restaurant chains over the past decade quickly dispels that myth.

Using data provided by food industry research firm Technomic, 24/7 Wall St. has looked at the 10 restaurant chains with the greatest decline is sales from 2001 to 2010. In every case, sales have fallen 60% or more.

Many restaurants on this list are casual family-dining establishments. Most offer American-style cuisine — steaks and burgers — in a bar or grill setting. These restaurants — including Bennigan’s, Ground Round and Damon’s — expanded quickly during the 1990s. But their presence was overshadowed by newer restaurants that consumers found more exciting, such as Applebee’s. Even now, new fast-casual restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle are outselling, and in many instances replacing, older restaurants.

Of course, economic factors also have contributed to a drop in restaurant attendance. Most of the restaurant chains on our list have filed for bankruptcy and closed large numbers of restaurants over the past decade.

These are 10 America’s disappearing restaurant chains.

1. Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern

Bennigan’s is an Irish-themed casual-dining restaurant with locations nationwide. In July 2008, the restaurant filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The company closed its 160 corporate-owned locations, laying off approximately 10,000 employees. Of the 138 franchised locations that avoided the bankruptcy filing, only 35 remained as of 2010. 

2. Ground Round Grill & Bar

Ground Round is a casual-dining restaurant chain that serves burgers, steaks, Tex-Mex and more. It has locations in the Midwest and the Northeast. In February 2004, the restaurant’s parent company declared bankruptcy, immediately ceasing operations at 59 company-owned restaurants on a Friday night before the dinner rush. The 72 franchise locations remained open. Ground Round is now owned by Independent Owners Cooperative, LLC, a group of 30 franchise owners. As of 2010, only 25 Ground Rounds remained in business.

3. Bakers Square

Bakers Square is a casual-dining restaurant that, although serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, is best known for its pies. The restaurant is located primarily in the Great Lakes region and in California. In April 2008, parent company VICORP, now American Blue Ribbon Holdings, LLC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of declining restaurant sales and high lease rates. The company closed 56 stores, including the original Bakers Square in Des Moines, Iowa. Only 45 Bakers Square restaurants remain, compared to the 148 that existed in 2001.

4. Damon’s Grill & Sports Bar

Damon’s, based in Columbus, Ohio, is an American-style restaurant that emphasizes prime rib, grilled steaks, chicken, seafood, salad and  ribs. The restaurant, which also positioned itself as a sports bar, ran into tough times in 2006 as the quality of home entertainment improved enough to keep sports fans at home. This was an aspect of the business the restaurant depended on. The chain had 137 restaurants in 2001, but only 86 in 2007. The company has begun reformatting its restaurants, altering their interiors, menus, and logo. Today, however, there are only 38 Damon’s locations.

5. Don Pablo’s

Don Pablo’s is a national chain that serves Tex-Mex-style food. In September 2007, Avado Brands Inc., the parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company sold a number of its assets, including many buildings that were subsequently auctioned off to other restaurants, such as Buffalo Wild Wings. From 2001 to 2010, the number of Don Pablo’s fell from 131 to 39.

6. Gloria Jean’s Coffees

Gloria Jean’s Coffees was founded in Chicago in 1979. By 1995, the brand spread to Australia, where it is a huge success today. In the U.S., the brand, which was owned by Diedrich Coffee, expanded rapidly, reaching 330 locations by 2001. The expansion proved too much for the company, which began to have financial troubles. Diedrich sold the international segment of Gloria Jean in 2005. In 2006, it sold a large number of cafes to Starbucks. In 2009, Diedrich sold the remaining Gloria Jean’s Coffees to Praise International North America. As of 2010, only 87 cafes remain.

7. Big Boy

Big Boy is the restaurant with the most locations on this list. It is also perhaps the most well known. In 2000, the company’s owner, the Elias Bros. Corp., declared bankruptcy after experiencing cash-flow problems and difficulties with expansions. The month before it filed for bankruptcy, the company closed 43 restaurants. The restaurant, which specializes in double-decker hamburgers, has not done very well since. In 2001 Big Boy had 405 locations. By 2010, that number had decreased to 141.

8. Tony Roma’s

Tony Roma’s is a casual-dining restaurant that markets itself as specializing in ribs, seafood and steak. Over the years, the number of Tony Roma’s restaurants has dwindled, largely because of a decline in the brand. On a national scale, the number of Tony Roma’s has dropped from 162 to 45 between 2001 and 2010. However, the restaurant maintains a large international presence.

9. Country Kitchen

Country Kitchen is a rustic home-style restaurant that serves self-described “comfort foods.” From 1977 to 1997, the brand was owned by Carlson Cos., which deals primarily with hotels. It is perhaps unsurprising that many Country Kitchens are attached to travel plazas and hotels. Overall popularity of the chain has fallen dramatically, with the number of restaurants dropping from 249 in 2001 to 64 in 2010.

10. Black Angus Steakhouse

Black Angus Steakhouse currently has 46 restaurants in six Western states. As of 2001 it had 107 restaurants. ARG Enterprises, the restaurant’s former owner, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004 and then again in 2009 before being purchased by Versa Capital Management. Many Black Angus Steakhouses were in areas that were hit exceptionally hard by the mortgage crisis, causing business to decline significantly

How to Treat and Prevent Food Poisoning

How will you know if you have food poisoning?

Because most food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days, most people do not go to the doctor. You can usually assume that you have food poisoning if other people who ate the same food also got sick.

If you think you have food poisoning, call your local health department to report it. This could help keep others from getting sick.

Call your doctor if you think you may have a serious illness. If your diarrhea or vomiting is very bad or if you do not start to get better after a few days, you may need to see your doctor.

If you do go to the doctor, he or she will ask you about your symptoms (diarrhea, feeling sick to your stomach, or throwing up), ask about your health in general, and do a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about where you have been eating and whether anyone who ate the same foods is also sick. Sometimes the doctor will take stool or blood samples and have them tested.

How is it treated?

In most cases, food poisoning goes away on its own in 2 to 3 days. All you need to do is rest and get plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea. Drink a cup of water or rehydration drink (such as Pedialyte) each time you have a large, loose stool. Soda and fruit juices have too much sugar and should not be used to rehydrate. Doctors recommend trying to eat normally as soon as possible. When you can eat without vomiting, try to eat the kind of foods you usually do. But try to stay away from foods that are high in fat or sugar.

Antibiotics are usually not used to treat food poisoning. Medicines that stop diarrhea (antidiarrheals) can be helpful, but they should not be given to infants or young children. You should not take antidiarrheals if you have a high fever or blood in the diarrhea, because they can make your illness worse.

 If you think you are severely dehydrated, you may need to go to the hospital. And in some severe cases, such as for botulism or E. coli infection, you may need medical care right away.

How can you prevent food poisoning?

You can prevent most cases of food poisoning with these simple steps:

Clean. Wash your hands often and always before you touch food. Keep your knives, cutting boards, and counters clean. You can wash them with hot, soapy water, or put items in the dishwasher and use a disinfectant on your counter. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables.

Separate. Keep germs from raw meat from getting on fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Put cooked meat on a clean platter, not back on the one that held the raw meat.

Cook. Make sure that meat, chicken, fish, and eggs are fully cooked.

Chill. Refrigerate leftovers right away. Don’t leave cut fruits and vegetables at room temperature for a long time.

And finally, when in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure if a food is safe, don’t eat it!

-WebMD Article

How to Recognize Food Poisoning

 Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling

PART  1

 What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating foods that have harmful organisms in them. These harmful germs can include bacteria, parasites, and viruses. They are mostly found in raw meat, chicken, fish, and eggs, but they can spread to any type of food. They can also grow on food that is left out on counters or outdoors or is stored too long before you eat it. Sometimes food poisoning happens when people do not wash their hands before they touch food.

Most of the time, food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days. All you can do is wait for your body to get rid of the germ that is causing the illness. But some types of food poisoning may be more serious, and you may need to see a doctor.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptom of food poisoning is usually diarrhea. You may also feel sick to your stomach, vomit, or have stomach cramps. Some food poisoning can cause a high fever and blood in your stool. How you feel when you have food poisoning mostly depends on how healthy you are and what germ is making you sick.

If you vomit or have diarrhea a lot, you can get dehydrated. Dehydration means that your body has lost too much fluid. Watch for signs of dehydration, which include having a dry mouth, feeling lightheaded, and passing only a little dark urine. Children and the elderly can get dehydrated very quickly and should be watched closely. Pregnant women should always call a doctor if they think they may have food board for chopping vegetables and preparing raw meat, germs from the raw meat can get on the vegetables. poisoning.

 How do harmful germs get into food?

Germs can get into food when:

Meat is processed. It is normal to find bacteria in the intestines of healthy animals that we use for food. Sometimes the bacteria get mixed up with the parts of those animals that we eat.

The food is watered or washed. If the water used to irrigate or wash fresh fruits and vegetables has germs from animal manure or human sewage in it, those germs can get on the fruits and vegetables.

The food is prepared. When someone who has germs on his or her hands touches the food, or if the food touches other food that has germs on it, the germs can spread. For example, using the same cutting board for cutting both raw meat and fresh vegetables can cause this kind of cross-contamination. 

-WebMD Article

Stay tuned for part 2: treating and preventing food poisoning.

Molly’s at Sleepy Ridge Review

Review by Dan Purdon

I remember one day as I was driving along on Columbia Lane in Provo.  I looked up to see the word “Molly’s” proudly emblazoned on a tall sign in front of a new restaurant.  I made a mental note as I always do when I spot a new place, telling myself I’d be back to try them out.  As the months went by, I heard rumors about Molly’s tasty homemade lunches.  But since I worked every day in west Orem, I never found the chance to experience them for myself. (Much to my chagrin).

Evidently, Molly read my mind!  Because recently they opened up a cafeteria-style remote location VERY close to my day job, so I have since had ample opportunity to find out first-hand what all the buzz is about.  (You can find them at the Sleepy Ridge Golf Course’s clubhouse, open Tuesday-Friday from 11-2.)

For starters, Molly’s offers an impressive array of hearty American BBQ fare.  You can feast on smoked chicken, pulled pork, and tender brisket, and many more – and most have the option to come in sandwich form if you’re looking for a quick bite.  Cheesy roasted potatoes are a hugely popular side, or you can opt for baked beans, mashed potatoes, or other hearty treats.  But don’t worry, dieters, they also offer plenty of lighter options, too!  Like a delicious sweet and nutty spinach salad and a variety of steamed/sauteed veggies to choose from.  For today’s review I will focus on one of my favorite items, which has been a godsend during my recent high-protein/low fat diet: smoked chicken breast.

The other meats are delicious too, don’t get me wrong.  But I am addicted to the smoked chicken.  It is covered with a savory dry rub and smoked to tender perfection in Molly’s smoker every day.  The subtle smoky flavor is detectable in every inch of this luscious bone-in chicken breast, and every bit of it is supremely soft and tender.  Feel free to add Molly’s signature barbecue sauce to yours if you wish, but I’ve found that I don’t even need it.  You get the wing attached to the breast as well – I like to save that for last.  It’s a wonderful little flavor-packed treat!

And if you get the chance to try Molly’s freshly baked bread slices or other baked goods, don’t pass it up!  It’s another area where Molly’s made-from-scratch attitude really shines.  They also have a rather unique item called Tomato Basil Pie – you might think twice about ordering such a dish, but take a little leap of faith and try it! It will blow you away.

And finally, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the atmosphere.  I’m especially a fan of the outdoor dining area at Sleepy Ridge.  Where else in the area can you dine next to a babbling brook, surrounded by bright flowers and majestic stone pillars?  Not to mention the golf course itself, which spreads out for miles in front of you, fading away into wetlands and finally Utah Lake.  The tables are completely shaded during the afternoon, so it’s an absolutely perfect spot to enjoy a bit of lunch.

If it’s lunch time and you’re anywhere near Sleepy Ridge Golf Course, Molly’s in Provo, or now the Tahitian Noni offices, stop by and try them out!  You won’t be disappointed.  Or if you have a big event coming up, you can always hire Marvellous Catering to do the food.  Their menus are more varied and customizable of course, but Marvellous offers many of the same exact tasty treats that Molly’s does.  Just on a much grander scale!

Pricing: Under $10 per person

Molly’s @ Sleepy Ridge: Sleepy Ridge Clubhouse, 730 S Sleepy Ridge Drive, Orem.

Thai Ruby Review

Review by Dan Purdon

Anyone who’s familiar with my reviews knows that I love a good Thai place, and here in Utah County we have a huge variety of local Thai purveyors to choose from.  Every time I think I have them covered, a brand new one pops up.  (Or, as is more often the case, one that’s been there forever but has somehow escaped my notice).  Such was the case with Thai Ruby, a wonderful Thai restaurant tucked away in an unassuming location next to BYU.  I had heard whispers from local Thai food enthusiasts about such a place, but it wasn’t until last week that I actually saw it with my own eyes.  It’s just a few dozen feet off a well-traveled road (the one that passes J-Dawgs and the like), but for some reason I just never saw it back there!  My wife and I tried them out for lunch on Saturday.

For some reason, I’m predisposed to not expect much in the way of atmosphere from a restaurant that’s tucked away in a shopping plaza or shared building.  But Thai Ruby has it down cold.  It’s tasteful, it’s cozy, and it’s rustic in the best sense of the word.  Pieces of Thai art decorate the walls without being too cluttered, and a soft glow comes from iron lanterns hanging from the ceiling and attached to pillars throughout the dining area.

Our server (a friendly older Thai gentleman) was quick to bring out our selections of Pad Thai and Pad Kaprow, customized to our heat preferences.  (I reluctantly agreed to limit it to “medium”).  I also threw on an order of chicken satay to further help the cause of my protein diet.

The satay was simply amazing.  I tried it first without the sauce.  The grilled chicken strips were savory with a touch of sweet, and cooked to tender perfection.  Then I dipped it into the small bowl of peanut sauce and took another bite.  It was absolute rapture.  I actually have the words written in my notebook: “Now THIS is satay!”  The sweet and nutty sauce was absolutely perfect for this tasty treat.  I have tried a lot of satay in my day, but this was exceptional.

The pad kaprow was a savory mix of sauteed chicken, peppers, baby corn, onion, bamboo shoots, and sweet Thai basil.  The delicious scent of the basil was enough to serve as an appetizer all by itself, and the flavor didn’t disappoint.  Everything was cooked just right – tender chicken, soft sauteed onions, and peppers that still have just the right bite of crispness.

For anyone who’s still new to the world of Thai food, Pad Thai is always a good place to start.  It’s a tasty foreigner-friendly combo of Thai noodles, fresh veggies, crushed peanuts, lime, and a sweet-savory sauce throughout.  It’s filling, it’s fresh, and it’s flavorful!  Try it out.

We walked out of Thai Ruby feeling like we had indeed discovered a precious gem that day.  Rest assured, next time the Thai mood strikes, we’ll be back!

Pricing: Moderate, $10-15 per person

Thai Ruby – 742 E 820 N, Provo

Milagros Review

Review by Dan Purdon

If you find yourself on 800 North in Orem close to the freeway, no doubt you’ll notice a spunky new southwestern-style building there proclaiming itself to be “the best Mexican food around”.  That place is Milagros – “miracle” in Spanish.  Of course, “best Mexican” is a pretty lofty claim to be bandying around in a county with so many different Mexican food options.  (And no, I’m not talking about Taco Bell).  I made a note to come in and put them to my own taste test.

I found my chance as my wife and I were in the North Orem area for lunch one Saturday afternoon.  We came in to find a busy scene of full tables and happy chatter.  I looked up to see amazingly high ceilings that gave a vast sense of openness to the dining area, and equally tall windows that illuminated the entire place with natural light.  Brightly-colored wooden carvings of saints adorned the walls, and beautiful hand-worked glass lamps descended from the tall ceilings to hover over the tables.  It was an impressive scene.

The hostess seated us next to a window, and provided us with two kinds of fresh salsa and a bowl of warm tortilla chips to munch on.  I particularly enjoyed the salsa verde – it tasted lightly sweet at first, and finished with a pleasant spicy kick that kept me coming back for more.

For my entree, I was enticed by the Milagros “Mata Hambre” (“appetite killer” in Spanish).  It came with a protein-trio of steak, chicken, and pulled pork, plus hearty portions of grilled vegetables, rice, beans, salsa fresca, one of their signature grilled onion balls, and fresh tortillas.  Basically, everything you need to make some killer fajita wraps.

I tried everything separately first, as is my habit.  The grilled meats were wonderful: soft and savory marinated chicken and tender, smoky steak strips.  The beans were savory and just a little smoky, which was a pleasant surprise.  And their signature grilled onion was interesting indeed.  Apparently, they marinate and bake the sweet yellow onion first to make it soft and flavorful, then grill the entire thing to a honey-sweet finish.

But the real magic happened when I grabbed a warm tortilla and started mixing things up.  When I combined the tender meats with salsa, rice, beans, veggies, and pieces of the grilled onion on a flour tortilla, it turned into a smoky-sweet n’ savory tube of love. Delicious.

As a small disclaimer, I don’t consider myself an expert on authentic Mexican food by any means.  I’ve had plenty of Mexican food in my day (yes, some of which was actually in Mexico), but I’m still a gringo by all means.  But with that said, this gringo left Milagros very satisfied that day.  Try them out for some tasty food and a strikingly beautiful (and yet fun) atmosphere.

Pricing: Moderate – $10-15 per person average.

Milagros – 970 W 800 N in Orem

Braza Express Review

Review by Dan Purdon

First off, if you’re a regular reader you’ve probably noticed a sharp dropoff on my review count since the start of Summer.  The culprit for this is an intense 3-month workout program, which packs an equally-intense nutrition plan.  While the program is great for making my muscles sore, the nutrition part greatly narrows the amount of restaurants that I can review.

But diet or no diet, I love exploring new restaurants, and there are few things on this earth that can keep me from it for long!  This is a review of one restaurant that is just perfect for the high-protein diet: Braza Express.

Braza stands proudly within the new Zions Bank building in downtown Provo.  The promise of Brazilian-style roasted meats was incentive enough to lure my wife and I in for a Saturday lunch.  The interior was boldly decorated in a modernist take on Brazilian earth-tone colors and textures, and it was clearly outfitted to accommodate fast-casual service.  Many in the valley have already simplified it as “Take-out Tucano’s” – think Tucano’s food with a Cafe Rio model of service, and you’ll have the basic idea.

Stomach growling, I decided to order the meat combo platter.  I opted for all beans instead of the usual beans and rice (as per the diet), and ordered a vinaigrette salad and mixed veggies for my sides (again, being good nutrition boy).

I did have to bend my diet just a little though – right after I found out that they have guarana soda on tap!  That stuff is delicious.

We paid and took our plates back to a raised table.  I dug into the meats first, trying a few bites of each one.  The chicken was very well done – soft and tender on the inside, full of smoky barbeque flavor on the outside.  The garlic sirloin was savory and (surprise!) garlicky.  The top sirloin was decent but a little dry, which confirmed my one concern with roasted meats on a fast-casual model: holding meat in a warming tray is bound to dry it out sooner or later!  But I wouldn’t let that stop you – just make sure to go during a busy time when everything is sure to be fresh, or simply ask the server which meats are fresh off the grill.  Always do one of those two things, and you’ll be in flavor country!

The sides packed some pleasant surprises of their own that added a great sense of wholeness to my dish.  For one, I discovered that the hearty black beans had an even tastier surprise hiding inside – generous chunks of pulled roast beef!  Deliciously savory, and perfect for more protein.

My vinaigrette salad was composed almost like a coleslaw, except instead of creamy (and fatty) mayo-based dressing, it had a wonderfully light, refreshing, and slightly sweet sauce tossed with it.  This salad was the perfect foil for a plate full of savory flavors – I’d recommend it to anyone!  My mixed veggies also played out nicely, with a flavorful seasoning that kept my palate interested until the end.

Braza Express is a great place for a quick lunch under $10 that still packs plenty of flavor and lots of fresh ingredients.  If you work anywhere in central Provo, stop by and check them out sometime!  They’re open for dinner too, so if you don’t have the time (or the stomach capacity!) for Tucano’s, Braza is a solid option.

Oh, and to answer your question: Yes.  They do have sugar-roasted pineapple.

Pricing: Inexpensive, under $10 per person

Braza Express – 180 N University Avenue, Provo

Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar Review

Review by Dan Purdon

I’m always on the lookout for new sushi places to try, and if I hear about a good one I won’t hesitate to make a trip out of it!  (Seriously, I’ve been known to go all the way to Japan when the cravings get bad enough!)  So when I heard that the guys from Shoga in Orem had a hand in the creation of Tokyo Sushi Bar and Steakhouse in Lehi, I just had to jump in the car and head north.

My wife and I found Tokyo sitting right on Lehi’s Main Street, in the downtown area.  A sleek, modern atmosphere greeted us as we walked in the door.  Shiny stainless hibachi tables glinted on the right side of the dining room, regular tables took up the middle, and semi-private booths lined the left wall.  And as luck would have it, one of the booths was free!

Tokyo has an all-you-can-eat sushi menu with a nice mix of traditional rolls and specialties.  It was lunch time, so of course we didn’t get access to the full dinner sushi menu – but they still had plenty of choices to keep us busy!  (For a discounted price, no less).  We wasted no time in getting to work.

Rather than give the play-by-play of every roll (which could take pages), let me go into detail on some of my top picks.

The Crunchy Roll – This little gem had a tempura-fried fillet of eel in the middle, hence the crunchy.  Eel may scare those who have never tried it, but rest assured it’s one of the safest bets for anyone new to sushi.  Whether it’s braised/roasted (which is much more common) or deep-fried, eel has a savory meaty flavor that is always complimented by the savory-sweet eel sauce.  Crunchy roll does indeed have eel sauce, and they also add avocado slices for a delicious creamy-fresh foil that I loved.

The City Roll – The city roll boasts a classic combo of smoked salmon and avocado – if you like both of those ingredients, then you haven’t LIVED until you’ve tried them together – plus an addition of tempura shrimp, which seems to make itself right at home in this delicious roll.

Sake (Salmon) Nigiri – Of course, I always have to get a plate of my staple favorite (and thus my litmus test for any sushi restaurant), salmon nigiri.  Here they dip their salmon in ponzu sauce before setting it on top of the rice, which gives the salmon a refreshing citrus/soy sauce flavor.  Typically I prefer my salmon nigiri au natural, but the ponzu sauce was a worthy companion to this delicious savory fish.

Kappa Roll – This is a much more traditional Japanese roll that is quite healthy and very refreshing.  It is a very simple combo of nori (seaweed wrapping), sushi rice, and fresh cucumber.  With a little drop of soy, it is a delicious crispy treat.  (And with a dash of wasabi, it becomes doubly refreshing!!  In a sinus-exploding kind of way.)

Shrimp Tempura – A classic fusion sushi roll.  This is another superb choice for those just starting out with sushi.  It combines crispy-fried tempura shrimp, creamy avocado, fresh cucumber, and a savory sauce to bind it all together.  Shrimp Tempura is generally a failsafe at any sushi restaurant, but Tokyo did a particularly perfect job.

I lived in Lehi for a few months when I was an up-and-coming adult.  While we were dining at Tokyo Sushi I couldn’t help thinking, “Why didn’t they open this up while I was living here?”  Who knows, maybe I would have stuck around!

Pricing: (all you can eat sushi) $13-18 per person.

Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar – 127 E Main, Lehi

Asian Panda Review

Review by Dan Purdon

I seem to be on a real Asian review kick lately, and Utah County is all to happy to oblige my addiction.  Seriously, how many different Asian restaurants are there in the UC?  I’m pretty sure it’s physically impossible to count them – one of the ever-shifting mysteries of our age.  Just when you think you have them all accounted for, BAM!  Five more open right across the street from your house.

Keen to keep my streak going, this weekend I jumped into the car with my wife and paid a visit to the new Asian Panda restaurant on 800 N in Orem.  This particular restaurant’s existence kind of snuck up on me (just like the rest of the sprawling shopping district that surrounds it did).  From the outside it looks to be a typical shopping plaza-type Chinese restaurant, but once you’re inside, you find yourself in the middle of a posh combination of modern decor and classical Oriental touches, like a the bamboo fountain at the door and colorful Asian-style artwork adorning the walls.

We settled down at a table by the window and started looking over the menu.  Our server informed us that we were still in time for the lunch specials, meaning that every one of the entree listings (except those containing shrimp) were only $5.75.  But that wasn’t all!  On top of that, every roll on the sushi menus was buy-two-get-one-free!  We needed no further encouragement.  We ordered a trio of sushi rolls (unagi roll, spicy salmon roll, and tempura shrimp roll) and an entree of Beef Udon for the lunch special.  And to top it off, I just had to throw on an order for salmon nigiri sushi.  I am a SUCKER for salmon whenever I spot it on a menu.

Our Beef Udon came out first with a veggie egg roll on the side.  For those of you who have never had the chance to try udon noodles, I recommend giving them a shot.  Udon noodles themselves are fat, white and slightly chewy, and they are served in a savory broth with plenty of veggies and your choice of meat.  It’s a world apart from our typical view of pasta or noodles, and yet it’s strangely comforting.  As soon as you take your first slurp, you can see why this is a staple food of the East.  It’s hot, filling, and pretty much serves as an entire meal in itself.  If you do decide to try it out, Asian Panda is a worthy place to do it.  The broth was nice and flavorful, the noodles were just right, and the veggies were lightly sauteed.  Very nice.

Now, as a general rule I don’t have the highest expectations for sushi that comes from any kind of “combo-genre” restaurant.  But all three of our sushi selections here were really stellar; they could easily hold their own against the full-time sushi guys.   The unagi tasted like unagi should – savory broiled eel with sweet and salty sauce, plus ripe avocado for balance.  The spicy salmon was fresh and had a pleasant kick that kept you nice and warm.  (Note: spicy tuna is great and all, but when you see the more illusive spicy salmon roll on a menu, I suggest you try it if you have any love of salmon at all.  It’s delicious!)  And the tempura shrimp was two big crispy-fried shrimps interwoven with refreshing cucumber and a tasty sauce.  All three rolls were definite hits in my book.  And as for the dealbreaker/maker: the salmon nigiri was fresh, flavorful, and delicious. Good work.

Everything at the Asian Panda exceeded my expectations.  Whatever mood you’re in – traditional Chinese food, Japanese classic entrees, or fresh sushi – go give them a try.  They’ve got you covered!

Pricing: Avg. $10 per person for sushi, $5.75 for lunch.

Asian Panda – 1166 W 800 N in Orem (by WinCo Foods)