PROVO There are progressively fewer reasons for Utah County residents to pass the Point of the Mountain in search of a good meal these days. Restaurants are popping up all over, and while some of them are the same chains you find everywhere else, a few are unique.
Two cases in point: Provo's Shoots and Smart Cookie Company.
We had a weekend lunch recently at Shoots and dessert at Smart Cookie. True, they're about a 15-minute drive apart, with Shoots gracing the Shops at Riverwoods and Smart Cookie just off the southeast corner of the Brigham Young University campus. But that was just enough time for our lunch to settle.
The decor at Shoots is a cut above most other Chinese restaurants: modern, with simple fixtures and furniture, and lots of openness, light and a generally serene vibe.
We didn't plan to eat dinner, so we went all out, ordering the pu pu platter to start. The platter was fascinating for our kids, with its flaming metal bowl surrounded by egg rolls, tempura shrimp, sliced barbecued pork, meat-filled fried wontons and teriyaki beef.
The first thing I noticed was the high quality of the meat. Even at good Chinese restaurants, I've noticed that the beef is often stringy or tough. At Shoots, it was juicy and tender, as were the pork and chicken. The shrimp was sweet and fresh, and the tempura was as perfectly cooked as the crisp-but-chewy wrappers of the crab puffs and wontons.
For our meal, we had fresh-and-hot pork-fried rice and tangerine chicken, a twist on our usual lemon chicken. The tangerine variety's sauce was infused into the meat's breading. It reminded me a little of really good British marmalade, with its dark, deep, slightly bitter sweetness.
But our two favorites were the mu shu crepes and one of Shoots' unique features, the "design a dish" on which my husband and daughter collaborated. They chose pork with broccoli, carrots and snow peas, with brown soy-based sauce. You can get different levels of spiciness, too, but we stuck with mild, and it was both savory and light.
The mu shu crepes were wonderful: shredded chicken with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, fluffy scrambled eggs, cabbage and green onions in a light Peking sauce. We folded spoonfuls into the soft, warm Chinese crepes provided (hint: it's worth it to pay a couple extra bucks for extra crepes), rolled them up and, voila! a deliciously different take on traditional Chinese. The meal finished with chocolate-dipped fortune cookies.
But as tasty as those morsels were, they weren't the best cookies we had that day. Smart Cookie Company has bold orange walls; framed pictures of historical "smart cookies" like Albert Einstein and, yes, Charlie Chaplin; and walls festooned with sayings like the company motto, "It takes one to be one."
It also has wonderful, wonderful cookies. This is a place that makes you feel happy just walking in: the cheery decor, the friendly server, the delectable smells of cookies and hot chocolate and ice cream. The menu is cookies, ice cream, ice cream sandwiched between cookies, shakes and various types of hot chocolate.
We sampled most of the menu: a sweet, cinnamony sandwich of strawberry ice cream between two snickerdoodles; three scoops of creamy mint-chocolate chip between dark fudge cookies, which may be the best ice-cream sandwich ever; a frothy Coke float with vanilla ice cream; and frozen hot chocolate, an ironic-sounding drink that is rich, icy, decadent and so good I must get it wherever I find it. Lucky BYU students, to have it right in their back yard.
Lucky Provo, to have this nice crop of homegrown eateries to enjoy.
Shoots: Lunch specials $7.95-$9.95, appetizers $3.95-$12.95, soup and salad $3.75-$13.50, three-course dinners $12.95-$15.95, specialties $8.95-$13.95, design-a-dish $9.75, noodles and rice $1.95-$7.95, other entrees $8.95-$12.95, special drinks and desserts $1.95-$10.95.