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
878 S. 900 East