Thursday, June 2, 2016

San Juan River Kitchen’s Gourmet Mexican.

San Juan River Kitchen

281 East Main (Hwy. 191)
Bluff, Utah, 84512

Phone:(435) 672-9956

Hours: Tuesday thru Sunday, 6pm-9pm, closed Monday

This story begins with an email to San Juan Record owner and editor, Bill Boyle: “Hi Bill, This is not a letter to the editor. It is just a suggestion. We finally had the pleasure of going to the San Juan River Kitchen for dinner last night, here in Bluff. It was truly awesome. It looks like you have a food editor now. Just guessing that she would have the most delightful time checking out Leah's amazing fare. It is Mexican but it is with Leah's special touch. Just fabulous. The San Juan River Kitchen is open every day, but Monday. She opens at 6:00pm for dinner. Leah's number is 672-9956. I'm sure your editor doesn't need to call ahead, but I'm providing the number just as contact info.  Thanks and I hope you are well, Theresa Breznau”.  Bill forwarded the email to me with a message, “This may make a fun story!” and correct he was.

In 2006, Leah Schrenk opened up the San Juan River Kitchen in Bluff, along Highway 191; a colorful metallic rooster being the restaurant’s mascot.  However, in 2012, the Kitchen closed with Leah moving to Springfield, Illinois and opening up “La Calia”.  The concept was “farm to fork” with a Spanish flare; locally sourced from organic farmers.  In only two years, Leah had created a dedicated following, but San Juan County and the river were still deep in her heart.  With a mixture of sadness and exhilaration, Leah and the rooster were back in Bluff; reopening San Juan River Kitchen in the winter of 2015.

Leah Schrenk (Kitchen), Kristen (foreground)
San Juan River Kitchen has quickly developed a dedicated following, once again; open Tuesday thru Sunday for dinner only (6-9pm).  Leah puts her unique spin on her dishes, and while she simply calls it “Mexican”, it is more gourmet Baja style than the typical food at a chain style Mexican eatery.  On one bite, from appetizer to salad to entrée, the freshness of the ingredients comes out strong; buying local produce and products is a must for Leah.  Speaking with Kristen, a perky and knowledgeable waitress, she told us about Leah working on a fishing vessel in Alaska.  Leah knows her fish and frozen won’t do!  The salmon, mahi-mahi and other seafood are shipped in directly to the restaurant to ensure they are served up fresh.

Our purpose of being at the Kitchen was twofold; this article, and to celebrate a friend’s birthday; it was the perfect choice for a celebration meal!  We began with freshly baked tortilla chips and a mild salsa brimming with flavors of cilantro, garlic, chiles, onions and tomatoes.  Also, Baked Jalapeno Poppers served in their own skillet and stuffed with three cheeses; crisply, naked peppers without tons of breading and oil.

 We each chose a different entrée each which we happily shared for tasting pleasure.  Grilled Mahi-Mahi Tacos: one inch thick sections of fish grilled to perfect moistness and flakiness; mango salsa with cilantro perfectly balanced to enhance, not overpower.  The Spanish rice was moist, lightly seasoned; black beans plump and tasty.   

Grilled Flank Steak, served sliced, tender as can be; pan fried potatoes and onions lightly seasoned with a fresh salsa of onions, tomatoes and chiles.  Are you noticing the theme of fresh yet?  It’s in all the dishes! 

My husband had the special, 16 ounce bone-in Pork Chop, brined in juniper berries; served with a green chile polenta and braised kale.  There was nothing left on the plate, but the bone; Leah commented, “Oh, that’s usually the way it is with that pork chop.”  We certainly believed her; considering we all couldn’t help digging into the polenta.

For dessert (house made, even the ice creams); a huge chocolate brownie chock full of chocolate chunks; cinnamon almond ice cream with a strong scent of cinnamon, but so pleasing to the palette; beet mint (yes, I said beet) which is berry delicious in flavor, creamy and luscious.

Beet Mint Ice Cream - Homemade!
San Juan River Kitchen has what every diner craves...great food, great atmosphere, great staff.  By being open only for three hours nightly (except Monday), Leah ensures that the quality and quantity will be a pleasure for each patron.  If you’re a local, you’ll be coming back and introducing others to the Kitchen.  If you’re simply visiting the area, you’ll definitely be spreading the word about San Juan River Kitchen to others visiting the area.

Mary Cokenour



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