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Restaurant Reviews

Pago

Crush at First Sight: There’s a lot to love about Pago—and some room for improvement.

By Ted Scheffler
Posted // July 8,2009 -

There’s a lot to love about Pago—and some room for improvement. Since the opening of Pago restaurant in May, the Salt Lake City foodie community has been awash in adoration and affection for this interesting new 9th & 9th eatery; it’s been a case of love at first sight. People are going gaga over Pago, and it’s nearly impossible not to get swept up and onto the bus.

Virtually since the night Scott Evans opened Pago, the place has been jammed for both lunches and dinners. It’s unusual not to see folks waiting on the sidewalk outside for a table. This is, in part, because there’s really no place to wait inside, unless you’re lucky enough to snag one of the five counter seats that border the open kitchen. But, chances are, they’ll be occupied, too. So you have the option of hovering over someone’s table while they eat, or chilling outside. Note to Mr. Evans: Consider putting a bench out in front of the restaurant where Pago patrons can park their buns while they await their tables. Note to everyone else: Before you visit Pago, make a reservation.

Pago (Spanish for “originating from a single vineyard”) pushes all the right buttons—on paper, anyway. Evans’ mission is for Pago to be a “farm-to-table” restaurant. He is committed to seeking out quality products from local growers, farms and artisans. That’s sometimes easier said than done. For example, Morgan Valley Lamb is having a tough time keeping Pago supplied with enough lamb for its popular Moroccan-spiced lamb ($19), so I’ve yet to be able to try it.

Still, it’s an honorable goal, and Pago is also an RSA restaurant (restaurant-supported agriculture), meaning it invests directly in local farms such as East Farms and Bell Organics. Evans would be the first to admit that Pago is not unique in this respect; many local chefs have been committed to local-sourcing for years. The question for me is always: OK, you’ve got all these fine, fresh, local food products at your disposal, but what do you do with them?

That’s where co-executive chefs Adam Findlay and Michael Richey come in. Both have prestigious résumés and intersected a number of years ago at one of my favorite, now-defunct restaurants, The Globe. Anyway, you can watch them work in Pago’s small, open kitchen. It’s the same kitchen where Evans actually worked a decade ago, when the space was home to the Park Ivy restaurant. Since then, he’s plied his trade at Squatters, Zola, The Depot, Stein Eriksen Lodge, Grand America and Sage’s. As I said, the Pago staff’s résumés are strong.

For the most part, all that experience and talent comes through with flying colors on the plate—literally, since many of the dishes at Pago are plated works of art. I had to take a picture of the vibrant cinnamon- infused beets ($6) topped with Greek yogurt, crunchy granola, fresh greens and truffled honey. This dish will turn the most profound beet-o-phobe into a beet-o-phile.

A great way to begin a meal at Pago is with four caviar “pillows” ($12): bite-size, puffy potato pillows topped with creme fraíche, chives and American caviar. The pillows are perfect with a glass of Adami Prosecco alongside to cut the caviar’s saltiness. By the way, all wines at Pago are available in three- and five-ounce pours or by the bottle, thanks to a cruvinet wine-storage system that keeps open bottles fresh. Unfortunately, while wines by the glass at Pago are served at the correct temperatures, a bottle of Clar de Castanyer Xarello ($30) was so cold, I couldn’t taste the wine.

During my Pago visits, there have been victorious dishes aplenty. A simple appetizer of grilled scallions ($6) on rustic country bread with homemade romesco and aged balsamic vinegar couldn’t have been more pleasing. Both the ceviche ($9) and braised beef cheek ($13) appetizers were delicious. Ditto for the Utah elk bratwurst sandwich ($8) served Italian sausage-style with peppers, shallots and crunchy potato chips made in-house. A Wagyu steak salad ($13) was outrageously good: rare Wagyu steak strips on a bed of spring greens with fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, homemade croutons and Rosé Champagne vinaigrette.

On the other hand, I couldn’t hide my disappointment in the Pago gnocchi ($17). These were plump, homemade potato gnocchi, cooked perfectly with a toasty golden crust and served with butter-poached crawfish, English peas, cherry tomatoes and preserved lemon. Still, the dish was about as bland as it gets. Those beautiful gnocchi cried out for a sauce of some sort. I tried mashing the cherry tomatoes in an attempt to create my own sauce, to no avail. Salt would have helped, but there is no salt or pepper on the tables at Pago. This is a pet peeve of mine. Unless every dish at a restaurant is perfectly seasoned every time, or your name is Charlie Trotter, I suggest granting customers the right to salt or pepper the food they paid for. Paillards of chicken ($16) in brown butter seemed like a good idea, but much of the panko crust wound up as burnt, bitter bits of blackened debris on the plate, ruining the dish.

And then there is the issue of space at Pago. Being generous, I’d call it intimate. Not-so-generously, I’d call it cramped. During one lunch, an employee literally brushed against the back of my friend’s chair with a bin of oozing kitchen trash as he wheeled it out the front door during lunch. Isn’t there a back door for that sort of thing?

Pago is new, and it’s still a work in progress. Evans and his crew have set very lofty goals for themselves, and I hope they hit them. They’re close now, but there’s room for improvement. Maybe it’s not love at first sight, but it’s easy to have a crush on Pago.

PAGO
878 S. 900 East
801-532-0777
PagoSLC.com

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  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // July 13,2009 at 11:44

Mr. Scheffler,

We appreciate your comments and criticism, it can only allow us to provide a better experience for all our guests. I did want to share with you and your readers some of the items that you addressed in your article. In regards to a bench outside, we completed the process with the city to obtain a permit for a bench and a bike rack about 2 months ago and ordered them both over a month ago, yet they have not come in. So look for a bench and a bike rack shortly. Next, as far as a back door - we don't have one. I fell in love with the space and location of the restaurant and had to compromise on some standard specifications that most restaurants have, such as a back door for deliveries and trash removal.

Other items in progress include a partition between the entrance and the bar tables, which will allow more privacy for our guests seated in that area. In addition, it looks like we have struck a deal with Smith's and can begin work on our patio which will add additional seating outdoors.

Mike, Adam and I have been working on our Summer menu which we plan to offer by this coming weekend. One item on the Summer menu includes the Curried Lamb Gnocchi which allows us to incorporate Morgan Valley lamb back into the menu and offer people a succulent sauce along with the gnocchi.

Lastly, the lack salt and pepper shakers on tables was a decision based on aesthetics rather than culinary arrogance. My personal feeling has always been that tables are often cluttered with unnecessary items and we decided to happily bring out salt and pepper by request instead of leaving them on the table full time.

Again, we appreciate the feedback and look forward to continued improvement through our guests feedback and guidance.

Cheers,

Scott & Pago

 

Posted // July 13,2009 at 16:03 - Scott, Thanks for your thoughtful response and updates. Looking forward to the new additions and menu items! Ted

 

 
 
 
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