The expansive kitchen setup is understandable when you survey the large and open dining space, which used to be home to Yorgio's. On arrival, diners are greeted by a host in the lobby area before being led to the main dining room a large, dimly lit room, neutrally decorated, that appears more like a steakhouse than Indian restaurant. On the left, there's a full bar, while the whole room is framed by large windows looking out to the exterior courtyard for al fresco dining and outdoor events.
Eager to test the chops of the Indian chefs, I began with an order of two vegetable samosas ($4.95). I was happy to discover these were well executed, as good as any I've had around town perfectly crisp fried pastry shells packed with mildly seasoned potato. Chicken pakora ($5.50) were a surprising revelation. These battered and fried morsels of chicken can be mushy, greasy or heavy, but here they were exquisitely light and moist, perhaps the best in town.
The creamy delights of a lamb kurma ($15.95) didn't disappoint, thanks to a rich orange sauce with a generous serving of mostly well-butchered tender lamb. The only downside was that in order to mop up that delicious sauce with fluffy Naan bread, you have to pay an extra $2.25 per side of bread (rice is included as standard).
A vegetarian biryani ($11.95) was the most lackluster dish I sampled. What can be a fragrant, textural treat was actually an underwhelming bowl of mushy rice and equally mushy vegetables. Instead, I found much more luck with the some of my favorite vegetarian curry dishes.
Saag paneer ($11.95) packed some of the freshest Indian paneer cheese I've tasted into a lush creamy sauce tempered by bitter spinach. Bhindi aloo ($10.95), a curry composed of okra, potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes, hit the spot, and at Spice Bistro, the designation of hot does mean hot. A dessert of kulfi ($4.95), pistachio and cardamom-inflected Indian ice cream, was the perfect way to cool off at the end of the meal.
Of course, you can also cool off from the full bar, too, featuring wine, beer and signature cocktails. In addition to the usual domestic and Indian beers such as Kingfisher ($5) or Taj Mahal ($8), you can choose from several house cocktails, such as the crisp Mojimlet ($7.00, rum, lime, coriander, nectar and sprigs of cilantro) or tart Desert Hound ($6.00, fresh grapefruit, vodka, grapefruit bitters). For non-drinkers, there are sodas, juices ($2.50), Creamy Chai ($2.95) and Lassi ($3.95).
On the American side of the menu, the approach is confusingly scatter shot. Options include an array of steaks, pasta dishes, meat and fish, even fish tacos and sliders. The selection feels clumsy, attempting to satiate as many possible dining desires as possible, rather than paring down to a core of steakhouse selections. Indeed, the filet mignon ($32.95) I ordered on one visit was not only cooked precisely to temperature, but was tasty, only partially let down by a side of limp tempura green beans and a bland melange of corn, green beans and peas.
From the appetizer selections, sweet potato fries ($4.00) were a solid rendition and the Spice Bistro calamari ($9.95) only ever-so-slightly veered into the territory of chewy.
The American menu also falters when it dips its toes into the waters of fusion cuisine. A side salad came with a mango-based house dressing, which I found overtly sweet, and while I ordered both the steak and calamari "Spice Bistro" style, the choice didn't seem to impart any extra oomph in either.
For dessert, Bananas Foster ($5.50) jumped from the page, and I was hoping for a tableside flambé masterclass. Disappointingly, the dish skewed far from the traditional show stopper. Instead, I got a plate of cold sliced bananas, topped with ice cream and a sauce bereft of any rum and too much sugar.
As you might expect with the more upscale approach, prices are higher than most traditional Indian eateries around town. Spice Bistro's success will ultimately rest on the debate within a dining party.
Time will tell, but the business seems to have started on a bright note. During a meal on a recent Saturday evening, the restaurant was packed to the rafters.
Salt Lake Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at gastronomicslc.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food • HH
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • bb
With a more upscale approach, a full bar featuring signature cocktails, al fresco dining and a menu that mixes Indian and American cuisines, Spice Bistro might challenge your idea of what an Indian restaurant can be. Recommended dishes: chicken pakora, lamb kurma, and filet mignon.
Location • 6121 S. Highland Drive, Holladay; 801-930-9855
Online • www.spicebistroutah.com
Hours • 4-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Children's menu • No
Prices • $
Liquor • Full bar
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Visa, MasterCard, Discover