HSL was decorated by The City Home Collective, Salt Lake's arbiters of hip and trend. I wish that they would stop making restaurants so dark and green but I'm sure I'm in the minority when it comes to my opinions about their design choices. The space is creative and comfortable and certainly most of you will think it's more than that.
We walked in and saw Matt Pfol at the bar and any skepticism I had about HSL vanished. I don't know Matt personally but he kind of changed our lives while working as the barman at Pallet and to this day he has made the best drink I've ever tried. Things were looking up, and then I found out that Scott Gardner, Matt's partner at Church and State Spirits, was the bar manager. If Matt is the best drink maker I've sat with, Scott is also the best.
I ordered the Rum cocktail. The list is the opposite of what I've seen at other places where these guys have worked - ultra simple. I was initially a bit bummed and wanted to ask them to make me something crazy, but I took a recommendation and ordered this drink of clarified lime, tarragon and rum. It was perfect. Super balanced, maybe something like a Hemmingway daiquiri but cleaner without the maraschino. Go get one.
We started our meal with the chicories and broccoli. This is broccolini served wth various chicories over a bed of almond tahini and sprinkled with herbs and crushed nuts. Great starter - if I had to ask for something it would have been more vegetable and less radicchio, but this is worth a try. There was a root veggies and herbs vegetable dish that I'm coming back for soon, so this certainly wasn't the only appealing option on this section of the menu.
We got another great recommendation in the beef cheek burger. Pago and Copper Onion have a new challenger for best burger in SLC. The bun was great, the temp was spot on and the burger had enough extras to make it interesting but still allowed the beef cheek to play the starring role that it deserves. It was served with house made pickles and fried potatoes. At $15 I was really happy that this was on the menu because it means that I can come back to HSL when I want one of those cocktails and a reasonably priced meal, and not only when I want to do a multi-course extravaganza.
As you can see, the burger was cooked perfectly...
The large plate we went with was the wood burnt pork shank. Again, HSL gets an A+ for execution as this pork was cooked absolutely perfectly. The dish is served with a creme fraiche, carrot chips, celery and la sauce chaude de Frank (aka Frank's Hot Sauce). I feel like there is room to improve on the sauce. When you first taste the pork, you, like my wife, will say, "oh wow that's a lot of Frank's". Don't let this dissuade you, the dish is still very good, but there may be some room for subtlety in that glaze.
We finished the meal with a rhubarb hand pie (despite our fantastic server's recommendation that the cremeux was the right choice). If this hand pie is pastry chef Alexa Nolin's second (or third? who knows?) best effort, I'm almost afraid to experience her best effort. We loved it - dulce de leche, a fried rhubarb pie roughly the size of a fuzzy car dice, and a scoop of coconut iced cream over puffed black rice.
I think HSL is going to compete for my favorite American restaurant in SLC. Alongside Provisions, it offers the kind of dining experience that makes me love our food scene here more than any other in the country. The fact that it will almost certainly be cocktail Mecca for our city means I would have been a repeat customer even if the food had been mediocre, but the food matched the drinks in quality and execution.
The verdict? HSL is a top option for American cuisine in Salt Lake City. Perfect execution paired with enough creativity to make things unique made for a fantastic first visit. I assume that it will be hard to get a seat here once the rest of you figure out what's on offer.