Brio Tuscan Grille at City Creek 

Not quite traditional, but plenty delicious

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I’m no great fan of City Creek Center, and usually go out of my way to avoid the place. However, should you find yourself at SLC’s most popular mall with a hankering for a sit-down meal, there is a restaurant I can recommend—and it’s not the Cheesecake Factory.

About a month ago, Brio Tuscan Grille opened at City Creek, and it’s been going gangbusters ever since. Before I say anything else about the restaurant, let me say this: Make a reservation. There’s usually a waiting line for tables at dinner, and although the restaurant is large and can accommodate many, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by reserving a spot in advance.

Although the City Creek Brio has some outdoor seating, it lacks the attractive bar/patio of its Fashion Place cousin. Still, it’s a very appealing restaurant with a modern but warm design. It does get noisy, however; the place is always bustling.

And rightly so. Because, although Brio is a national chain and not the independent sort of eatery I normally prefer to highlight, the food is generally excellent, the portions large and fairly priced. The choices, though, can be almost overwhelming. There’s a kids menu, a “light” menu and a gluten-free menu. Then, there’s the bar menu, a wine/cocktail list, a menu of daily specials, and brunch, lunch and dinner menus. It takes a bit to get your bearings. So, I recommend ordering a signature Brio cocktail like the strawberry mojito or white-peach sangria, or maybe a chilled glass of Cinzano Prosecco ($7.95) to sip while perusing the menu. Warm, sliced rustic bread and rosemary-parmesan flatbread quickly appears at the table, along with fresh butter and olive oil/balsamic for dipping, if you’d prefer that over butter.

The fried calamari ($10.95) at Brio is some of the best I’ve eaten. It’s a mix of rings and tentacles, along with peperoncinis, battered and fried until golden and crispy, and served with both aioli and red marinara dipping sauces. An equally appealing item from the primi (appetizers) portion of the menu is the beef carpaccio ($12.95), a generous serving of bright-red, raw beef sliced paper-thin and served with field greens, mustard aioli, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and capers. It’s absolutely delicious.

Brio’s bruschetta and flatbreads also make for excellent starters, especially the Margherita flatbread ($13.35), which is essentially a flatbread Margherita pizza: thin and crisp flatbread topped with ripe tomato slices, fresh mozzarella and chiffonade of fresh basil. It’s simple, and simply awesome. As for bruschetta, I recommend the sliced steak bruschetta ($12.95) with Gorgonzola dolce, fennel, arugula, charred tomato, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and Italian dressing. It’s almost a meal itself.

Among the house specialties at Brio, the chicken limone ($19.95)—which is the same thing as chicken piccata—is very good, although I wish it came with a side of pasta rather than mashed potatoes. I’d imagine, however, that it wouldn’t be a problem substituting pasta for spuds; service at Brio is very accommodating and professional. There’s an army of well-trained servers and managers on duty at all times, and despite the large crowds, the kitchen never seems to get into the weeds.

Back to the specials: The hearty lasagna Bolognese ($18.15) is really, really good. But, my favorite pasta dish at Brio is the lobster and shrimp fettuccine ($21.45). Unlike many of the pasta selections, this one begins with thick, wide fresh housemade fettuccine noodles, cooked perfectly al dente. The pasta itself could not have been better. But it gets better, because those delectable noodles are then tossed in a creamy, spicy lobster-butter sauce, with fresh mushrooms, scallions and tomatoes, along with tender, perfectly cooked shrimp and chunks of lobster.

I was pleasantly surprised by two things: First, that the shrimp was not overcooked (it was just beyond translucent) and, second, that there was evidence that an actual lobster had been used in creating this dish. It wasn’t just a frozen lobster tail, cooked and hacked up; there were claw pieces, knuckles and tail, cooked until just tender. It was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, and a large enough serving to heat up the leftovers for lunch the next day.

For a lighter pasta dish, the shrimp verduta ($19.45) is quite tasty: delicate angel-hair pasta with shrimp, roasted artichoke, caramelized onion, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, spinach and Feta cheese, all topped with pesto bread crumbs. Unfortunately, the carbonara is a disappointment. Spinach and grilled chicken in pasta carbonara? I don’t think so. Instead, opt for the peperonata pomodoro ($14.45), which is thin spaghettini pasta tossed with good quality fennel-spiked sausage, peppers, garlic, tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano. And kudos to Brio for spending the money to use real Parmigiano-Reggiano in many of their dishes. It’s also offered grated fresh at the table. And while we’re at it, I also love that the tables are stocked not just with salt and pepper, but actual pepper grinders. It makes me nuts to have a server leaning over my shoulder grinding pepper onto my food; I like to be in control of my pepper.

Brio Tuscan Grille is open for lunch and, in addition to popular lunch combos—risotto and a salad for $14.35, for example—there are paninis and other sandwiches at lunchtime. It doesn’t sound very “Tuscan,” but the chipotle chicken & applewood-bacon panini ($12.65) with chipotle mayo, Fontina, Boursin and fries makes for a satisfying lunch. Ditto the Brio bistecca burger ($13.35), which is one of the better burgers around. It comes with applewood bacon, fresh tomato, lettuce, Provolone, balsamic onions, roasted tomatoes and a tasty tomato mayonnaise.

Brio Tuscan Grille might not quite be an escape to the Tuscan sun, but it’s a welcome respite from the rest of City Creek.

BRIO TUSCAN GRILLE
80 S. Regent St.
City Creek Center
801-359-4401

Twitter: @critic1

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