The Copper Onion restaurant review

UPDATE: See our updated 2013 review of Copper Onion.

Evening dinner review

What an unusual 18 months it has been for Salt Lake City’s restaurant scene. It is almost as if the city is eagerly thumbing its nose to the current economic downturn. Recession? What recession? Restaurant after restaurant has opened, including plenty of outstanding additions worthy of anyone’s time and money: Eva, Meditrina, Frida Bistro, Forage, and Pago to name a few. With the addition of The Copper Onion Salt Lake City welcomes another newcomer, one which may just top them all.

But first, lets get the introductions out of the way. The Copper Onion is the work of husband and wife team Ryan and Colleen Lowder, Chef and General Manager respectively. Both have impressive resumes. While Chef Lowder can list stints under such luminaries as Jean Georges and Mario Batali, Colleen Lowder’s experience includes time at the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar in NYC. Throw in world travels which include time spent in Colombia and Spain, and you have an experienced and seasoned duo.

The Copper Onion may have the location fates working against it, as previous restaurants in this space (just next door to The Broadway Theater) have fizzled out with little fanfare. Frankly, I have always been perplexed by how a clever restaurateur could not make a hit of the location. A popular downtown spot, right next to a hip movie theater, it surely isn’t rocket science. Thankfully The Copper Onion’s wonderfully flexible menu is set up to perfectly embrace its surroundings. Wanting a quick light snack before a movie next door? No problem. Looking for a long meandering, romantic meal? Well, that’s just fine too. One could quite happily graze on a handful of small plates, side dishes, and the very tasty house-made breads, or just as easily enjoy the more traditional appetizer, entree, and dessert.

While on the subject of the menu, I should mention the liquor too. Wine is available by the glass, bottle, and the not-so-common quartino; a 10 ounce mini decanter, or two decent sized pours to me and you. As well as wines and a selection of beers, a number of impressive house special cocktails (all $10) are offered as well. A recent favourite of mine is the ultra-smooth Commodore (rye whiskey, fresh ginger, bitters, lemon, fresh o.j.), while Wen has become a fan of the Honey Drop (Ketel One vodka, Cointreau, Wyoming white honey, lemon and lime).

Inside, the space has been re-invigorated. The dark interior of the previous tenant has been replaced with warm tones and plenty of heavy wooden tables and chairs. There is a small private dining area, and as the weather starts to warm up, patio dining in the plaza between the restaurant and the theater will become available. The comfortable setting exudes the word “bistro” effortlessly, which is kinda funny given the number of joints around town that use the phrase in the name, and are anything but.

After a few visits now, we have managed to sample a large portion of the menu, so rather than detailing one meal, here are a number of things we just loved at the time and have craved ever since:

Pork Belly Salad (brussel sprouts, pickled carrot relish, $9):

copper onion pork belly salad

The picture doesn’t do this dish justice at all. All those toppings hide chunks of crispy on the outside, meltingly-delicious and fatty on the inside pork belly. Also hiding under there are deep fried brussel sprouts, which I could eat like popcorn. The acidic bite of the pickled carrot keeps the dish nicely balanced. Ok, so it probably isn’t heart healthy, but if I need to have a dish that pushes me closer to coronary failure (and I do!), this would be the one.

Sauteed Mushrooms (fried farm egg, potato sticks, pickled carrot relish, $8):

copper onion sauteed mushrooms

A great example of how fantastic ingredients win the day every time. How can you get simpler than mushrooms and egg? Yet the perfectly cooked (how do they do that every single time?) creamy egg melts into the earthy mushrooms and crispy fried potatoes to form little bites of heaven. This one is quite possibly Wendi’s favourite dish from a local restaurant in as long as we can remember.

Manila Clams (creamy black pepper sauce, $14):

copper onion manila clams

From talking to other people who have sampled this dish, it could be overly peppery for some. Me, I’m a black pepper nut. So now you’ve been warned, this dish doesn’t hold back on the spice kick at all. I’m a big fan and would definitely recommend this one to any other spice lovers.

Mussels (Creminelli calabra sausage, $13):

copper onion mussels

Another elegantly simple preparation. A splash of white wine, garlic, a dusting of paprika and voila. The Creminelli sausage adds a meaty textural counterpoint as well as a depth of flavor to the dish. For those who haven’t tried mussels before, this would be a great introduction.

Smoked Niman Ranch Lamb Riblets with Shishito Peppers ($16):

copper onion lamb riblets

I hate to use the phrase, as its wheeled out ad nauseum when talking about meat and bones, but these lamb ‘riblets’ really are fall off the bone tender. The deep fried shishito peppers, which are a separate side dish, are also fantastic, fried and lightly tossed with sea salt. If you’ve never tried these peppers, you should know they aren’t spicy, just very addictive.

Pasta Carbonara (house made fettucine with egg, smoked bacon and cream, $15) with sides of brussel sprouts, thrice fried potatoes:

023

copper onion sides

The indulgent Pasta Carbonara is decadently rich with bacon and cream, but even better, it is topped with an egg, which mixes with the other ingredients to form the perfect compliment to the house-made fettucine. This is a dish worth cheating on your diet for. It will make you remember why you love carbs.

Utah Trout Filet (fennel salad, olive tapenade, chili oil, $16):

copper onion trout

With another nod to local sourcing where possible, this trout dish hit all the right notes. Perfectly cooked, and seasoned with a judicious hit of chilli oil that complements, not competes with the fish. The crunch of the fennel and salty dabs of tapenade round out probably the best Utah trout dish I think I have sampled locally. And yes, that is another bowl of shishito peppers you see in the background, they really are that good.

Deep Fried Bread Pudding:

copper onion deep fried bread pudding

Whoever thought of deep frying bread pudding is a crazy genius and we love them. It’s every bit as good as it sounds and probably something that should be savored only on special occasions.

Guinness Ice Cream Float ($10):

guiness ice cream

One of the more unusual desserts I can recall trying over the last few years, a play on the traditional root beer float. House-made Guinness ice cream floats atop a pint of the black stuff. It was fun to take spoonfuls followed by swigs of dessert. By the end, it resembled more of a Guinness milkshake, which was every bit as tasty as it sounds weird. Our server advised us that they also serve the Guinness ice cream on its own.

So by now, you’re probably craving The Copper Onion as much as I am. On weekends or busy evenings, you might want to grab a reservation first, as word has gotten out and the place can be hopping. The Copper Onion is listed on OpenTable.com so reservations are a cinch.

Service has been impeccable during each of our visits. The service staff are not only enthusiastic about the food, but knowledgeable too. Any questions we posed were answered with expertise and that oh so hard to find mix of friendliness and professionalism. If you want to compliment the Chef and his team directly on your way out, you can go right ahead as The Copper Onion features an open kitchen (with bar seating too). There is a great vibe and buzz about the place, everyone seems finely attuned to providing a great customer experience.

I hate to wax lyrical, but truth is I cannot find fault with The Copper Onion. Everything hits the mark, food, service, ambiance, prices. It’s quite simply the real deal folks. So yes, go ahead and believe the hype, but even more importantly go try The Copper Onion! I promise that, just like me, you’ll be recommending it to all your friends!

The Copper Onion
111 E. Broadway, Suite 170, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
(801) 355-3282

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15 COMMENTS

  1. The Copper Onion may have decent (not fantastic) food, but the service is HORRIBLE. There was a female manager there (named Kay?) she was terrific and a real pro but apparently grew a brain and left. The new manager (Colleen?) is simply unprofessional and the chef is a total ass- but most are.
    SERVICE is what keeps establishments thriving, NOT food alone. They should go to hospitality school if they want to stay in business. The world is full of great chefs with failed restaurants. This will be another example if the don’t get the service piece worked out.

  2. btw, I recently moved here from Los Angeles for my medical practice- LA has some excellent dining options, and SLC is not too far behind.
    Remember: It’s SERVICE SERVICE SERVICE. My friend Danny Meyer is a great example and the Copper Onion management would be well served to study Danny’s methods.
    SERVICE.

  3. Sorry to hear that your visit didn’t pan out as good as ours David. We have had nothing but excellent service on our own visits to The Copper Onion.

  4. stu, thanks very much for your reviews. as a long-time new yorker who’s spend a lot of time seeking out good restaurants in less gustatorily advanced cities like columbus, ohio, and boulder, colorado, i was apprehensive about the food culture here in slc when i arrived a few months ago. blogs like these are very helpful and can lead people to excellent experiences.

    one thing that might be nice to see in these write-ups is a few snapshots of the interior of the restaurant, just to give an idea of the ambience. i think the overall experience of a restaurant is very important to one’s comfort and enjoyment. mr. cohen’s comment speaks to this point — danny meyer restaurants do boast exceptional service and clean, well lighted spaces in which to eat. (of course, danny meyer restaurants also have some of the better chefs in the country in the kitchen, so it’s not just about service…)

    anyway, thanks for your efforts. looking forward to more posts.

  5. I completely agree jroth, a memorable meal is the sum of so many parts.

    I would love to take interior shots but there are a few problems that prevent that. I typically like to dine anonymously to really get a feel for the service etc. To take restaurant wide shots would require the operators permission which would then forgo the anonymity.

    The restaurant would also have to be without patrons too, otherwise I’m sure their permission would be required one by one to be in the shot. This would mean early morning photo shoots and my day job would conflict badly there too.

    Thanks for posting and keep the ideas rolling, I like to try and make the reviews as detailed as I can.

  6. I’m not sure that these name-dropping references to “Danny Meyer” serve well in this context. Maybe the writer should just fly to Los Angeles when he wants “excellence”. I ate at the the Copper Onion and the food, as well as the service, was excellent. Of course I am nobody. Just a very good cook, who in the past has been paid for my services, and who is very particular about restaurants. I will waste neither my money, my calories, nor my time in a pretentious restaurant that produces bad food. Unless the Copper Onion has changed since my last visit, it is not one of these.

  7. Our third visit. Sorry – Copper Onion now goes into the “inconsistent” category for us, and given their price point we’re unlikely to go back. This time it was a very poor experience. Noise level was utterly intolerable – we had to shout across the table to be heard and and cup ears to hear our server and each other. The sauteed mushrooms were much, MUCH too salty and dripping in oil. Horrid to see pools of oil in the plate – tried to drain it off to no avail. Over-salting is a problem at CO – the toast points that accompany the mussels are also inedible due to oversalting. The roasted chicken entree was unflavorful, boring even; sorry I ordered given the price. Pork osso bucco was nice, but not enough to mitigate other flaws. They don’t put salt or pepper on the table, so you can’t spice your own food, but there is no remedy for oversalted dishes.

  8. We have made every effort to contact the owner about our complaint, but with no response. This would be typical of our entire experience at The Copper Onion.

    I completely agree with David Cohen’s comments/review. While the food I personally ordered was very good, the way we were treated was deplorable. A group of 9 of us (friends/family) were going there for lunch to celebrate some very big news we had all just received, and we were seated at two different tables. When one of the group asked before all of us arrived if we could simply slide together the two tables that were about 5 feet apart he was told “no”. When the rest of us arrived to see what was going on, we asked our server if we could move our tables together. She said, “no”, and had no reason. After ordering, it began to bother us, and we asked to talk to the manager – a very young gal with red hair. We asked if we could slide the smaller two-top table that was even closer over to the larger table so that we could all sit together. She said “no” and claimed it was a fire-code issue. She was not kind, she was not empathetic, or even apologetic even after explaining we were there celebrating. She then walked back up to the open cooking area and talked to our server about what she told us and they began laughing. My husband called her back over, and pointed out we didn’t appreciate that, as well as the fact that they had two tables blocking the glass door exit, one of which was missing a handle to open it, if “fire code” was truly her concern about moving our table over to our other group. She gave a curt answer, and my husband said we were finished talking to her. She then said, “If you keep this up, I am going to have you leave the restaurant.” We had already ordered our food, as well as our other table of friends, and having never been in a situation like this before, we stayed not wanting to make a scene. We were in complete shock. The manager again went back to the open cooking area and told the head-chef about it, and again, not one restaurant staff tried to fix the situation for us. It completely deflated the fantastic news we had received two hours earlier.

    I worked at a high-end restaurant years ago, and our manager would have bent over backwards to help remedy this situation. He understood the value of great customer service. We were not obnoxious, did not swear, we were not in her face, we did not yell and create a scene – we simply asked to bring our two tables together. We will never go there again not necessarily because of food quality, but because their customer service is the poorest I have ever seen. I am from San Francisco, and dining out is a near daily experience there. We will also make sure to continue to tell others about this experience. Again, I attempted several times to reach the owner to let him/her know how their staff behaved, with no response. They could have fixed this with apologies and a gift certificate to create a loyal customer. We were there on March 17th, 2011. Badly done, Copper Onion.

  9. I’ve been twice and both times I told myself, ‘this is the best restaurant in Salt Lake.’

    Previously that honor was held by Sapa.

    Tonight I am trying Forage for the first time and hope that it exceeds all expectation but The Copper Onion will be a restaurant I return to often.

    As for service, the best service I have ever experienced was at Le Bernardin in NYC; One waitstaff for every 3 guests, flawless attention to detail, and most importantly you felt welcomed into this restaurant by each and every employee you saw. It was as if I came there once a week and they were all old friends very excited to see me and say hello. This is customer service. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the food…

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