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Enter the world of Pallet, which is a hip new west downtown restaurant named after the location's original purpose as a loading dock for Salt Lake City's first creamery. A relaxed, out-of-Utah vibe lingers over diners as they sit amongst the commissioned artwork, minimalist lighting fixtures, reclaimed wood and vintage décor that graces this downtown enclave.

Co-owners Rocky Derrick and Drew Eastman have maximized the small space, yet diners should be prepared to get friendly with their neighbors because there is little room to budge in Pallet whether waiting to be seated or dining elbow-to-elbow with strangers. Two large communal tables are at the center of the dining room with smaller two-tops and several larger tables flanking the periphery.

Dinner one evening was charming. We sipped on inspired cocktails like the West Side (gin, cucumber and mint $9) and the Vanilla High Manhattan made with High West Distillery's rye ($9), as we enjoyed the atmosphere on the patio with the back door to the kitchen flung open, artist-types walking by on Pierpont Avenue, hipster music playing and shade trees bathing us in dappled shade. If only I could say something on the menu was as splendid.

Pallet's lunch menu consists primarily of salads and sandwiches. Some items, such as the grilled cheese ($9) made with local Beehive Cheese, pears and arugula have all the quality ingredients to make a great dish but just in the wrong proportions. A virtual sliver of cheese was hidden somewhere among mounds of arugula and pears wedged between inch-thick bread slices. A similar problem existed for the tuna salad sandwich ($10), which was dry and bland and served on far-too-thick crusty bread for the mere tablespoons of spread.

The seared ahi tuna atop the salad ($12) was also unseasoned and slightly gray around the edges. The accompanying green beans, white beans and cucumbers were supposedly tossed with a vinaigrette dressing, although I never detected either the flavor or the moistness needed to bring everything together on the plate.

The patty melt ($11) seemed to fare the best in our lunch selections because the melted white cheddar cheese kept the beef patty moist while protecting the rye bread from becoming soggy.

Each sandwich comes with a side of crunchy and perfectly salted sweet potato chips, regular fries, herbed carrots and cucumbers or potato salad. For an additional $1.50, a cup of soup or green salad will be delivered. However, the best bang for your buck fifty are the truffle fries ($9 as appetizer) that are topped with shaved truffles and Parmesan.

A new summer menu has recently been unveiled by Executive Chef Zachary "Buzz" Willey highlighting fresh foods from the Downtown Farmers Market just down the street, which includes a featured game dish of the week.

We started with the rabbit and risotto croquette ($12), which was well-executed but uninspiring. The watermelon carpaccio ($8) came as a giant slab of watermelon on top of paper-thin coppa, proscuitto-like cured pork, with basil and pine nuts scattered about the plate. While the presentation was a complete head scratcher, the salty and sweet flavors were refreshing on a warm summer evening.

For dinner, we sampled the bison tri-tip ($24) with a root beer sauce accompanied by stone fruits, blueberries and arugula salad. Cooked as ordered at medium-rare, the meat was flavorful while the sauce offered zip and kick without cloying sweetness.

In contrast, the pepper-crusted New York steak ($26) was dry with absolutely no sauce, glaze or seasoning (beyond pepper) to bring this poor slab of meat to life. A breaded, fried blue cheese macaroni ball and vinegar-drenched onions did nothing to save the plate.

The prawn entrée ($20) was the surprise hit of the night. Four prawns prepared with heads on (something I haven't seen since dining in Hong Kong) were well-spiced and served over a bed of udon noodles along with bell peppers and long beans. Fermented beans heavily dotted the dish, which helped deliver a depth of flavor, from earthy at the start to a final spicy kick at the finish.

For those less inclined to enjoy the meat, poultry or seafood options at Pallet, the new Mediterranean tofu ($16) entrée was expertly battered and sauced, although the surrounding mushrooms were wildly overcooked, tomatoes unripe and nearly crunchy, while the purple artichoke underdone.

Perhaps most notable for a downtown restaurant catering to business and event crowds, the time that elapsed from ordering to delivery of food is abysmal. As a party of four, we waited 30 minutes from placing our orders to food delivery at a Tuesday lunch with approximately 16 people in the restaurant. An early-evening dinner fared even worse with 15 minutes for cocktails, another 20 minutes for appetizers and an additional 40 minutes for dinner after our appetizers were cleared.

We were told that the pastry chef arrives at 4:30 a.m. to begin making desserts each day. They are absolutely the quickest items delivered, and also perhaps the best on the menu. A stellar Epic stout chocolate cake ($7) made with local Epic Brewing's 825 State Stout was light and fluffy with a hint of malt. Chocolate and caramel were painted on the plate with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top.

The warm oatmeal walnut shortbread dessert ($7) was studded with huge chunks of chocolate and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for the perfect marriage between a tollhouse pie and a chocolatey oatmeal crisp.

While service is exceptional at Pallet, in general, food consistency is a problem. Flashes of culinary brilliance are overshadowed by ill-prepared elements that drag down entire dishes.

Overall, the restaurant's impressive ambience and intriguing vintage cocktails outshines a promising menu that ultimately fails to satisfy the palate.

Salt Lake Tribune restaurant reviewer Heather L. King blogs at Send comments about this review to —

Overall • HH

Food • Hhj

Mood • HHH

Service • HHhj

Noise • bbb

A menu emphasizing game meat and seafood also pays homage to locally produced items at this impressively designed restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, where the impressive ambience currently outshines the food.

Location • 237 S. 400 W., Salt Lake City, UT 84101; 801-935-4431

Hours • Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–close, Saturday 5 p.m.–close

Prices • $$-$$$

Children's menu • No

Liquor • Yes

Corkage • $10

Reservations • Yes

Takeout • No

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

Onsite parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major

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