La Jolla Groves

The Place: La Jolla Groves, in the Shops at Riverwoods, at 4801 N University Ave #610, Provo, UT 84604

Contact info: online at http://lajollagroves.com, on Facebook, by phone at (801) 224-5111

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 11 – 9
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 11 – 9:30

About: Our first inspiration for La Jolla Groves came to us, late one evening, while visiting the Isle of Capri. We found ourselves dining under the canopy of a lemon grove, drinking garden-fresh lemonade made from the very trees we sat under.

Upon returning home, we longed to again visit that magical place, enjoying the vibrant tastes and alluring atmosphere of Capri. It was then that we determined to create such a place of our own. We partnered with a world-class chef and started on the adventure of building La Jolla Groves.

We worked tirelessly to achieve INSANELY GOOD FOOD using HEALTHIER INGREDIENTS, all at an affordable price. With our garden-fresh, wholesome food, kind staff & charming atmosphere among a grove of lemon trees, we’ve created a dining experience that transplants you to a starry night-out on the Isle of Capri. Source: La Jolla Groves website, http://lajollagroves.com/about.html

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Groves on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/lajollagroves)

The ambiance: Sitting underneath a grove of lemon trees (artificial, of course) is actually a really lovely dining experience. It makes things feel a little more al fresco, a little more intimate. Everything about La Jolla Groves, from the flooring to the menus, indicates it will provide for you an excellent fine dining experience. I’ve been twice; the first time underneath those lovely trees, the second time in a back room without lemon trees (I preferred the first visit for a number of reasons). The back room admittedly felt a little like Olive Garden or Romano’s Macaroni Grill, since it didn’t have the personalized, unique touch of the front dining area.

The Munch: My husband and I went to La Jolla Groves with my parents; I’d been one other time and was so pleased with the experience that I felt certain my family would enjoy it just as much as I had. Knowing the pasta dishes and desserts were remarkably tasty, I stuck with that. For this review, I’ll extrapolate on all four orders, since I was lucky enough to taste each. We ordered:

  • balsamic marinated stuffed mushrooms
  • mushroom soup
  • cheese tortellini with bacon and garden peas
  • pair of beef tenderloin and chicken marsala sandwiches
  • chicken pot pie
  • lemon roasted chicken

We’re not really a family who orders appetizers, but when it comes to stuffed mushrooms, we’re generally more than happy to make an exception. While most stuffed mushrooms are smallish and filled with some sort of seasoned pork sausage, these were vegetarian-friendly, literally stuffed with fresh herbs, oodles of gorgonzola cheese that oozed with every bite, and served atop fresh greens tossed in a pesto oil, balsamic vinaigrette. These were the stuffed mushrooms to beat all other stuffed mushrooms. The cheese to mushroom ratio was probably about 2:1, which is entirely appropriate when it comes to … food, and the pesto oil, balsamic vinaigrette was light, fresh, and provided just enough sweetness to cut through the salty cheese and herbs.

Unfortunately, for the cost, we weren’t really provided with enough appetizer to feel anything short of slightly robbed. For $7.95, we got three stuffed mushrooms, and for that priced I’d hoped for at least four (since there were four of us) or, say, eight.

The mushroom soup was undeniably delicious and could probably make a believer out of any mushroom hater; it was thick, luxurious, and had an excellent mushroom taste. It was garnished with a basil oil, which added a good richness, and to top it all off, it was served in the most delightful little porcelain pot with a lid. If I return, I’ll order the mushroom soup.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Groves on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/lajollagroves)

All of the entrees were very good, although some were far better than others. The lemon roasted chicken, ordered by my father, was everyone’s favorite. The lemon sauce was nice and bright, clearly made with fresh lemon juice, but it wasn’t so acidic that you were left puckering your lips. The tender, succulent chicken was served atop some of the creamiest whipped potatoes I’ve ever had and alongside steamed vegetables. I think by the end of the night, the rest of us wished we’d ordered the exact same thing.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Groves on Facebook
(https://www.facebook.com/lajollagroves)

The chicken pot pie was less of a pie and more of a creamy chicken and vegetable filling topped with star-shaped phyllo dough cut-outs and came with a side salad. The filling was very homey and comforting, and the phyllo was crisp and light. The salad was fairly non-descript, but it was a side salad, so we didn’t expect much.

My cheese tortellini left something to be desired. My first few bites seemed extremely delicious; the applewood smoked bacon paired nicely with the sharp, salty fresh parmesan and the fresh garden peas, but the creamy tomato sauce had an odd aftertaste, and the cheese tortellini was akin to something you might buy out of the refrigerated case at the grocery store. I ate everything but wished I’d ordered something different (like, say, the lemon roasted chicken).

Husband ordered the sandwiches, which were the equivalent of fine dining sliders, and the flavors were intense and delicious. They came with a side of crispy, well seasoned hand-cut fries, which were probably the highlight of the entire meal. Sliders are, after all, just sliders.

For dessert we shared two; the orange creme brulee and the chocolate bundt cake. Admittedly, I’d eaten the chocolate bundt cake before, and it’s one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever had. With a dark, rich molten center and a few drops of sweet (but not cloying) vanilla sauce on the side, it is the epitome of dessert perfection. The orange creme brulee had a sweet, citrus flavor and smooth, creamy texture. Both are must haves if you eat at La Jolla Groves.

Unfortunately, one thing overshadowed the deliciousness of the meal and the enjoyment of the ambiance: our server dropped a couple plates on my father’s arm. That, in and of itself, wasn’t too problematic (although salad dressing ended up all over his shirt sleeves and lettuce all over his side of the table). What left a bad taste in our mouths afterward was the lack of compensation. No discount on dinner, no free dessert, no certificate for a return visit. Although the server was extremely apologetic and attended to the situation very quickly, it didn’t entirely make up for what Husband and I considered to be bad customer service. If you drop dishes on one of us, we’d like a free dessert at the least. I don’t think this is unreasonable or out of the ordinary; I daresay most people would expect something similar.

The bill: Undisclosed to Husband and me, although I believe with tax and tip it hovered around $100. To cut down on costs, you can skip the appetizer and only order one dessert to split.

Total score: This is two-part for me. Had the evening gone flawlessly, I would have given them an 8/10, but given the accident, I have to rate them at around 6/10. I am undecided as to whether I will return.

Asahi Sushi Bar & Grill

The place: Asahi Sushi Bar & Grill, in a small Asian-restaurant run strip, at 1470 North State Street, Orem, UT 84057

Contact info: On Facebook, by phone at 801-221-4759

Reservations: No

Hours: 

  • Lunch/Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 11 – 9:30
  • Lunch/Dinner:  Fri – Sat / 11 – 1 am
  • Dinner:  Sun / 3 – 8:30

Photo courtesy of MARK JOHNSTON/the Daily Herald

The ambiance: This is a hip place, but it’s not for hipsters. The lighting is dark, a little brooding, and the decor is top notch for a sushi bar (although, like all others, it features several flat screen TVs playing all manner of sporting events, which I find remarkably annoying anywhere that isn’t a sports bar). They play new age Asian fusion music, which adds to the entire experience; it makes it seem more authentic, I suppose you could say, and leaves you feeling much more Zen than if you were forced to listen to Top 40 all night long.

The Munch: I love sushi, but the concept of “fresh” sushi in a landlocked state is something of a concern to me. However, after oodles of research and a few excellent reviews, I decided to throw caution into the Utahn wind and give it a go.

  • california roll
  • sake maki (salmon)
  • chicken bento box lunch special
  • chicken donburi

Husband believes California rolls are true, authentic sushi, and he orders them wherever we go, even the grocery store. The upside of the California roll is that it’s an excellent gateway; there’s no raw fish to be found (or really fish in any form), so it allows the eater to experience the other facets of sushi — the saltiness of nori, the sharp, vinegar taste of sushi rice, and the marriage of avocado and cucumber, which are generally present no matter what you order. I pushed all fear aside and went straight for the raw fish — sake maki is literally just salmon, sushi rice, and nori, so there’s no hiding from it at all. You can’t tuck it away under layers of vegetables or thick mayo-based sauces — what you see is what you get.

I was remarkably pleased with both the Cali roll and the sake maki. The salmon was firm, very fresh, and had a sweet flavor, which, I might add, is how it should taste no matter what. I live in fear of the muddled flavors of mushy, subpar sushi fish, and there’s absolutely nothing to fear at Asahi. Paired with the ginger, my sake maki was a delightful appetizer and treat (although Husband felt it was a little too sushi-ish with all that raw fish hanging out). I need to include this disclaimer, however: I do not eat wasabi for two reasons: 1) wasabi at Americanized sushi/Japanese joints is made from a powder and therefore doesn’t qualify itself as real wasabi to me and 2) I don’t like to hurt while I eat.

Top: california roll, bottom: sake maki

If you were to go to Asahi for the sushi alone (they have some specials, such as late night Friday and Saturday specials and discounted prices on a monthly or even weekly basis (check their Facebook page for updates)), you would leave extremely happy. It’s all fresh and delicious and is served up beautifully — food is art, after all. I can also undoubtedly say, after visiting many a sushi restaurant in Utah county (about whom I’m sure you’ll hear later on), Asahi is the best.

But I would recommend that you pair your sushi with a Japanese food fix as well because everything was really delicious. I ordered the lunch bento box because I love things in bento boxes and for the price was offered a veritable feast. For a measly $6.99, I got miso soup (a nice, light broth with firm tofu and plenty of green onion), chicken teriyaki, rice, salad (and not just your typical bagged lettuce topped with neon orange dressing that makes an appearance at so many Japanese restaurants; an actual salad with mixed greens, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, shredded carrots, and mandarin oranges topped with a delicious sesame dressing), and two potstickers. I couldn’t eat it all for fear of bursting right then and there, which would have provided for my fellow diners a really bad culinary experience.

Husband decided upon the chicken donburi, not knowing exactly what it was, but now that we know, it’s magic. Imagine, if you will, a bowl the size of a small planet, filled to the brim with rice, delicious, grilled chicken teriyaki, and tempura vegetables. The teriyaki sauce is thick, a little sweet, and has a nice tang to it, and the tempura batter is very light and crispy, unlike the tempura batter you might find elsewhere that is heavier and greasier. The only downside to this particular dish is that, when all is said and done, you’ll probably be left with about four cups of rice, and that’s simply too much by any standards. That being said, it’s something either of us would order again and was fresh and delicious. His also came with a choice of miso soup or salad, and he opted for the salad (which I would highly recommend having had both).

The bill: $35.18, including tax and tip. For two sushi rolls, one lunch special, and one entree, I found the total to be extremely reasonable. You can obviously get around excess cost by only ordering sushi or only ordering lunch specials; the benefit to Asahi’s expansive menu is that you can get out with a very inexpensive bill or break the bank.

Total score: 8/10 — the sports bar feel left me frustrated, particularly with such good decor and relaxing music, but the food and service were otherwise superb.

Pizzeria 712

The place: Pizzeria 712, housed in that large, unfinished condo complex, at 320 South State Street, Orem, UT 84058

Contact info: online at http://pizzeria712.com, by phone at (801) 623-6712

Reservations: Yes

Hours: 

  • Lunch:  Mon – Fri / 11:30 – 2:30
  • Dinner:  Mon – Thurs / 5 – 10
  • Dinner:  Fri & Sat / 5 – 11

About: Pizzeria Seven Twelve is an Heirloom Group Restaurant. A collaboration between chef/owners Colton Soelberg and Joseph McRae, it is the group’s first restaurant, established in Orem, Utah in 2009. Driven by a heartfelt desire for sharing the beauty of good, simple food and all that it encompasses, the Heirloom Restaurant Group aspires to create nothing less than “experiential dining that can change your life.”

The atmosphere at Pizzeria Seven Twelve is strictly casual. We offer something for everyone, and everyone is welcome. An open kitchen invites you to watch and interact with our chefs, tables are made of sturdy wood and the artwork is original and local. There’s a small patio for outdoor dining whenever the weather allows. We are pleased to serve some nice Italian wines and good microbrews in addition to other fine beverages for all ages. Source: Pizzeria 712 website, http://pizzeria712.com/about/

Photo courtesy of http://pizzeria712.com

The ambiance: I loved everything about Pizzeria 712. The floorplan was deliciously open, but not so much that you felt as though you were eating in a drafty warehouse. The decor is modern with a touch of old-school nostalgia, and the open kitchen takes center stage, where you can watch a delightfully tattooed and mustached man put together what can only be described as the most delicious pizza on earth. The music is enhanced by the sound of people prepping dough in the background, a natural staccato.

The Munch: It was recommended to me by my hairstylist that we order one of everything and then share it, and since she, too, is a foodie and I trust her general food judgment, that’s what we decided to do. We ordered:

  • marinated rockhill creamery feta
  • hand pulled mozzarella, local tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar salad
  • hand pulled mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil pizza
  • winder farms buttermilk panna cotta

Instead of bread and EVOO (as at many traditional Italian eateries), you’re served up warm, homemade pita slices with a housemade roasted red pepper hummus. I wouldn’t consider myself an aficionado of hummus by any means, but there have been two hummuses I’ve eaten in my entire life that I considered good enough, and Pizzeria 712’s was one of them. It’s perfectly smooth and creamy, with a mild flavor, enhanced (rather than overpowered) by fresh garlic and lemon juice.

That being said, you can probably forego the appetizer in general, especially if you’re trying to eat on a budget (although my biggest recommendation is to forego a couple other meals out at lesser restaurants and order the whole menu at Pizzeria). The feta was extremely sharp, which Husband didn’t care for one bit, and very salty, which I didn’t particularly care for (I have a sensitivity to salt, what can I say?) but paired with the pita and hummus, it was almost transcendent.

If you know even an iota about food,  you know Husband and I ordered a Caprese salad followed by a Margherita pizza, and those two things are identical aside from the fact that one is cold and the other is hot and on pizza crust. We like what we like. But even though we ordered two very similar menu items, made with many of the exact same ingredients, we had two very different culinary experiences.

The hand pulled mozzarella, local tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar salad literally changed my life for the better. Housemade cheese is always going to be better than essentially everything else in the world, and theirs did not disappoint in the least. It’s silky smooth and firm, and although it has the milkiness that naturally accompanies mozz, it wasn’t slippery or too wet — wet cheese is the bane of my existence. The local tomatoes were perfection; so ripe, you almost thought they’d go bad the following day, with a vivid, deep red color and incredible sweetness. Had the server come out, saying they were somehow out of cheese, basil, balsamic, and EVOO, I would have been perfectly happy with a plate full of those tomatoes. The basil was a bright, happy green and very fresh.

The pizza was more or less the same — in regards to the similar ingredients, “ditto,” although I noticed the cheese melted really nicely (no odd pools of grease, although you’d probably be hard pressed to get grease from melting mozz in the first place, and if you do, you’re doing it wrong.) and the basil had some nice crispy edges. The pizza baked for only a few minutes on a cracker thin crust in a brick oven. In my food opinion, ’nuff said, but for those of you wanting more, it had a perfect chew, a nice, firey flavor (I’m lost for words, but I know you know what I mean), and a good, yeasty aftertaste. The tomato sauce was clearly housemade and was the sort of food that made me think, “Oh, this is how it’s supposed to taste.”

Photo courtesy of Pizzeria 712 on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Pizzeria712)

In fact, that’s what could be said about the meal as a whole: if this is how Italian food is supposed to taste, I’ve been eating the wrong Italian food my entire life. Scratch that — if this is how food is supposed to taste, I’ve been doing it wrong.

I didn’t think there was much else that could round out this perfect meal any better than it already was, but when we ordered the buttermilk panna cotta, we set into motion the close to an idyllic meal.

I’m not a big fan of panna cotta. In fact, it reminds me too much of flan, and flan is everything I don’t want food to be like. I’m a texture eater, and flan has the worst texture, in my opinion. (Yes, I eat Jell-o, pudding, and creme brulee, and yes, I realize that seems like a contradiction in terms.) But I was on a quest to have the sort of meal I hadn’t eaten before, so we decided to bite the bullet and order the panna cotta.

If someone had timed us, I daresay we devoured that silky smooth, velvety, rich, creamy, cool dessert topped with macerated blackberries in about 45 seconds tops. We never put our spoons down, till the plate was empty. And at the end of the meal, I cried, just a little bit, because I had been rendered speechless.

The bill: $42.65, including tax and tip. There are ways you can get around the cost if you’re wanting to save a few bucks here or there — as aforementioned, skip the appetizer, maybe order a half size salad — but in the end, it’s just not worth it. Pizzeria 712 is solidly a restaurant at which you’ll want to splurge in every possible way. And when you really think about the local sustainability; that your dollars are staying within the local economy in the best way possible (short of giving it straight to the farmers), then you can rest easy over the cost. Plus, for the quality of food, it’s entirely worth it. This isn’t $40 you’ve spent at P.F. Chang’s, after all.

Total score: 10/10 — I’ve yet to find another restaurant that comes even sort of close to Pizzeria 712.