Marlene Noda, owner and chef of Pagoda restaurant in the lower avenues is a new Salt Lake treasure. Visible from South Temple, the beautiful Pagoda building shines like a new yen. The small gardens surrounding the Pagoda are manicured and wonderful. I was delighted to go there and partake in all the fun.
Marlene took over Pagoda more than two years ago and has overseen its transformation. New paint, in and out, and a completely re-equipped sushi bar have made the Pagoda, once again, a contender for one of Salt Lake City’s finest Asian food palaces. With dozens of new sushi items on the menu, Marlene has been careful to keep offering the great, traditional items that everyone remembers and loves.
I watched Marlene make sushi for about 10 minutes before she sat down to chat. Marlene teaches sushi-making at the University of Utah and soon, I hope to have her as a guest chef at Ecole Dijon. Her technique is awesome and I paid special attention to her knife skills. She explained that, while living in Japan, she had a set of knives especially made to fit her small hands.
Years ago, I used to go to Pagoda for the tempura and I was so happy to see that it has not changed. The delicate batter and crisp vegetables cooked in impeccably clean oil were crisp and delicious. The night I was there, I have to say I was a bit disappointed because the variety of the veggies was not as I remembered. Green beans, a slice of yam and a crescent-cut banana squash would have made the dish exactly like it used to be.
I tried the Orollo Sushi Wine, a libation made in Spain especially for sushi restaurants. Very much like a Sauvignon Blanc in weight and character it was refreshing and perfect for Asian food. Orollo is available at the Wine Store on 300 West and 1600 South in Salt Lake.
First, Marlene brought me an appetizer sample consisting of a pot sticker and a citrus shrimp which is the specialty of the house. I could have eaten a plate-full! This shrimp, or prawn actually, is first fried in tempura and then laced with a delicate and creamy-textured orange sauce. The pot sticker was delicious but not out of the ordinary.
Next I was served a sampler plate with the tempura and another delicious shrimp with a chunk of Salmon Teriyaki and Marinated Sea Bass. The salmon was fresh and moist and the bass was unusual because it had a crispy coating but still had that fluffy, airy texture on the inside. The plate was garnished with veggies that were perfectly cooked; still al dente and delicious.
For dessert, I tried the Mochi Ice Cream balls. Marlene, has them flown in from Hawaii. Mochi is a rice paste very similar in texture to marzipan. The paste forms a thin skin around flavors of mango and berry ice cream, and then it is drizzled with raspberry coulis. I really liked being served a dish I hadn’t tried before.
Marlene says that about 60 percent of her guests order sushi now and 40 percent are still going for the traditional menu. She offers a full array of fresh sushi and sashimi, plus cooked sushi like the Spider Roll and the Dragon Roll. Appetizers are all under $7 and the sushi rolls range in price from $4.90 to $12.95.
I thoroughly recommend Pagoda and plan to go there again soon. If I could criticize anything it would be that attention to detail is not totally there. Plating and presentation are a long way from what you get at Sapa or Takashi but I do think the prices are right and flavor profiles are right on. I rate Pagoda at 89 points.