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Exceptional Japanese cooking joins Salt Lake’s Marmalade neighborhood

Koyote - counter seating (Gastronomic SLC)

It’s at this time of the year that all eyes fall on the A-list-lined Main Street of Park City. As the Sundance spectacle descends, celeb spotting becomes as much a Utah pastime as complaining about the traffic. Jon Hamm? Call me when you’ve found some Taylor ham.

And then Hiro Tagai sidles up to me during a first meal at Koyote []. “How is it?”, the softly spoken chef-owner enquires. “Sorry, I’m a little lost for words presently”. I’m as agog as Summit County’s citizen paparazzi. I am star-struck, or should that be flavor-struck? As my wife will attest, a respite from the firehose which is my constant nonsense is a woefully rare event. This my friends is Oscar-worthy cooking, exceptional stuff.

Before we get into the details of the dishes though, a little about the duo behind this new Marmalade restaurant (551 W 400 N). First up, the aforementioned Tagai. The Tokyo-born toque first earned his stripes in Park City, serving as head chef at the lauded Happy Sumo for a decade. A sojourn in Japan came next, rolling up his sleeves in the kitchens of several ramen shops, before attending “ramen school”.

Back in the Beehive, Tagai went on to help open the Sapa Group’s Purgatory – launching with an American spin on Japan’s izakaya scene, something Tagai fell in love with during his travels. Other local stints would follow, including the chef-driven HSL.

Koyote - more seating (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – seating (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - seating (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – seating (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - counter and back booths (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – counter and back booths (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - counter looking into kitchen (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – counter looking into kitchen (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - precise noodle controls (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – precise noodle controls (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - cool izakya lights (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – cool izakya lights (Gastronomic SLC)

Joining Tagai in opening Koyote is Felipe Oliveira who oversees the front of house. Oliveira’s culinary journey in Utah began at Sugar House’s Per Noi Trattoria, a management position at Valter Nassi’s renowned Osteria would follow. Detours out of state didn’t stick and his return to Utah saw him land as restaurant director for the Sapa Investment Group. That’s where the dream for Koyote started to slowly simmer.

Back to the restaurant itself, and the dining room is smartly appointed, affording guests a mix of banquette, booth, and counter seating – which is where I plonk myself ay during a first visit. The counter affords an eagle-eyed view into the kitchen action. A high-end rational oven sits a few chopping blocks from a Star Trek-like display of electronic timers; each dialed into the nuances of the varied noodles that Koyote offers. A pyrotechnic flash from a cooking torch is the final step before an exquisite shioyaki saba ($12) lands before me.

Funky mackerel is the centerpiece of this Japanese staple. Crisped skin and brittle tail remain intact, with mouthwateringly juicy fatty fish lurking inside. The saba is thoughtfully deboned and is the best example I’ve tasted in Utah. I say this with a solemn seriousness – I was briefly known as “saba guy” at one of my former regular haunts. The composition is finished with grated daikon, perked with ponzu. It’s perfection and only a smidge of tail remains from my flurry of chopsticks.

Another fine way to begin a meal is the karage wings. Brined for some sixty hours, the chicken is coated in gluten-free potato starch before being deep-fried. Twice. The relatively thin coating is the diametric opposite of a heavy-handed batter, lending a slight crisp and impeccable shatter. A dusting of vinegar salt and mizuna (Japanese mustard greens) complete the plate. A quartet comes to an order ($9) and much like the mackerel, I can’t immediately name a better version in the city.

Let’s return to that track-stopping ramen though, the centerpiece of Koyote’s menu. The first bowl I scoop from is the American shoyu ($14). I’m reeled in by the presence of house-smoked brisket, slow-cooked for hour upon hour before being galvanized in beef tallow. This alone should steal the show but a coy co-star – ajitama – is equally captivating. The soft-boiled eggs are boiled at a specific temperature and time, then peeled, left to marinate for several days. The process renders a dreamy, custard-esque texture. Green onions, scallions, blanched spinach, and fermented bamboo shoots complete the picture.

Oh, the broth? It’s a mere ten-hour creation built upon chicken and pork stock. It’s utterly mesmerizing. From the fractally hypnotic oils that lacquer the surface, through to the soulful, savory depth. The lighter, clear chintan-style broth is my personal favorite, but those who prefer more heft to their bowl won’t be left disappointed.

In stark contrast is the tonkotsu tsukemen ($13), a robustly thick paitan-style broth topped with a small heap of gyofun (dried and blended fish powder). Indeed this ceoncentrated ‘dipping’ broth packs so powerful a punch, it’s served on the side and might more accurately be called a sauce. A little goes an exceptionally long way, ingredients are lowered into the thick concoction which clings to each dunk. This requires a mind-boggling forty-eight hours to prepare, with Oliveria telling me it, “demands precision and specialized equipment for measurements to achieve the desired thickness.”

Koyote - shioyaki saba (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – shioyaki saba (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - karage wings (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – karage wings (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - karage wing up close and personal (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – karage wing up close and personal (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - American shoyu ramen with brisket (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – American shoyu ramen with brisket (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - tonkotsu tsukemen ramen with brisket and chashu (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – tonkotsu tsukemen ramen with brisket and chashu (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - brisket close up (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – brisket close up (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote - tantan-men ramen (Gastronomic SLC)
Koyote – tantan-men ramen (Gastronomic SLC)

Slightly less umami overload is the tantan-men ($13), another creamy paitan broth that’s enameled with sesame and mild spice. On the roster, a dollop of plant-based “mapo chili” is joined by green onions, scallions and baby bok choy. The bowl is loaded up again with beautiful ajitama and slices of house-made chashu – pork belly marinated for two days (yes, days) and then slow-cooked for practically half of the next. The resulting texture is beguilingly delicate.

It comes as no surprise then that the deliberate methodology continues through to sourcing with the restaurant receiving weekly deliveries of vegetables directly from Japanese farms in California. Throughout Koyote’s dishes, you’ll taste naga negi (Japanese green onions), mizuna, kyuri (Japanese cucumbers), renkon (Japanese lotus root), and purple shiso. Pasture-raised eggs, premium regular and gluten-free soy sauce, premium Japanese rice, the list goes on.

Worthy of note for newcomers is the restaurant’s streamlined ordering system. As you sit, scan your table before doing the same with a QR code. You’ll place, update, and complete your order entirely via your phone. The system allows guests to keep a tab open until the end of the meal – need an extra Asahi – just tap the button. A friendly server will arrive within moments. It’s a unique system I’ve not encountered in SLC to date.

After a brace of visits to Koyote I’m reminded of both the opening of The Pearl and Bar Nohm, both invigoratingly exciting openings that dramatically moved the needle of SLC’s food scene. This is that once again.

551 W 400 N, Salt Lake City, UT 84116
(385) 262-5559

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