Cut the Cheese 

Dining at Biaggi’s can be a cheesy experience for the aspiring metrosexual.

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David, the fellow who cuts my hair, proclaimed recently that I was a real metrosexual. “You were a metrosexual even before there were metrosexuals,” he said. His words gave me a warm feeling, like I belong.

I’ve never really been a soldier in a stereotypical army before (unless you count that decade-long flirtation with Marxism). Gays are stereotyped. Jocks are stereotyped. Politicians, lesbians and boy-band singers are stereotyped. There’s even a Mormon stereotype. But I’ve never fit very comfortably into any congregation that, as far as I know, is stereotypical. Until now. I’m a metrosexual and proud of it!

The reason I think Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano in The Gateway would be a good place to launch into the metrosexual lifestyle is that it’s classy and contemporary without being intimidating; there might as well be a sign at the entrance saying “Metrosexuals welcome!” And the food at Biaggi’s is more challenging than, say, The Olive Garden, but not so demanding that the wannabe metrosexual would blow his cool during a date. It’s sort of a “training-wheels” restaurant—a step up from Macaroni Grill, but not so sophisticated that a server is likely to make you look like the Spam-eating schmuck you might be.

It’s a very attractive restaurant, with lots of browns and tans and high ceilings, but one that suffers a little from color-palette monotony. A splash of yellow or red or orange here and there (flowers, for instance) would go a long way. Still, Biaggi’s looks like a million bucks—which is probably what it cost to build. Perched on the southeast corner of The Gateway, it’s easy to miss the restaurant altogether since the entrance looks almost like a hotel lobby. But what stands out about Biaggi’s for me is that it’s an expensive-looking restaurant with very inexpensive prices. That’s another plus for the would-be metrosexual.

Biaggi’s is a “concept” restaurant with other locations in the Midwest, mostly in Illinois and Iowa; the Salt Lake City Biaggi’s is No. 15. And while I pretty much love the look and feel of Biaggi’s, the meals I’ve had there have left me wanting. Most of the dishes I’ve had weren’t bad, but they weren’t remarkably good either.

The exception is the thin-crust Margherita pizza ($6.50) which is the best Margherita pizza I’ve eaten in Salt Lake City. That’s not saying a lot, but I should give credit where credit is due. The only thing I didn’t like about the Margherita pizza—and it’s the same thing I didn’t like about most of the dishes I’ve tried at Biaggi’s—is a heavy-handedness with Parmesan cheese. Almost everything at Biaggi’s comes doused in salty, inferior-tasting grated Parmesan. I’m not talking about quality Parmigiano-Reggiano here. The first thing that happens when you sit down at Biaggi’s is that a server pours a few tablespoons of olive oil onto a saucer and then adds a heaping helping of grated cheese. This, in lieu of butter, is for dipping bread. The last time I ate at Biaggi’s, I almost got to my server before he mucked up my olive oil with that nasty-tasting cheese, but I wasn’t quite swift enough.

I feel for anyone trying to maintain a low-sodium diet at Biaggi’s, because the primary flavor component there seems to be salt—usually a result of that aforementioned grated cheese being dumped on the food, but not always. The tender homemade spinach gnocchi ($8.95) would be wonderful in Biaggi’s browned butter-sage sauce, except that for some reason the chef also dumps in a handful of salty julienned prosciutto—and then, of course, a pile of Parmesan cheese. The result is an oily, salty mess that even the most crisp and acidic white wine can’t cut through. This is a simple dish that could be fantastic prepared in the traditional manner, without prosciutto and cheese.

The shrimp “oreganata” ($14.95) sounded like a good idea: A plate of plump, tender shrimp oven-roasted in a garlic breadcrumb and oregano crust and served with capellini pasta tossed in a simple tomato-basil sauce. And again, this would have been a very appealing dish if not for the cheese I had to fight through to find the clean underlying flavors. Even the perfectly “al dente” rigatoni—with the best tasting Bolognese meat sauce I’ve encountered in a long time—suffered from cheesy overkill.

And it’s a shame, because the prices at Biaggi’s are so appealing that I’d like to have an excuse to dine there more often. Nothing on the lunch menu tops $10 and, even at dinner, the most expensive menu item is filet mignon, priced at a very reasonable $18.95. But guess what the filet is topped with? That’s right: Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheese.

Service at Biaggi’s runs the gamut. There’s a terrific server named Joey whom I’d hire in a heartbeat if I opened a restaurant. And then there’s the guy who (literally) rolled his eyes at me when I stopped him from making a wine recommendation. The reason is that A. I happen to know quite a bit about wine myself, and B. my partner and I hadn’t decided what we were going to eat yet, so why make a wine recommendation at that point? It’s this kind of canned, one-size-fits-all table service that makes me go postal. Don’t managers ever train their servers how to read a table before they launch into their well-studied presentations? And at any rate, it’s never a good idea to roll one’s eyes at a customer who hasn’t tipped you yet.

Still, there’s a lot of potential at Biaggi’s. It’s a lovely restaurant with prices that are more than fair. Now, if we could just get the kitchen to lighten up on the cheese.

BIAGGI’S RISTORANTE ITALIANO, 194 S. 400 West The Gateway 596-7222

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