The job of eating out in restaurants and letting John Saltas foot the bill is rarely a burden. This past week, that was especially true. That’s because new endeavors at three of Salt Lake’s best Italian restaurants afforded me the opportunity … er, excuse to visit all of them. And each visit was just about a perfect 10.
In case you haven’t heard, “tapas” are in. Remember the term “grazing” from the ’90s? Well, it’s back. Many diners, myself included, often prefer to graze on a number of smallish servings rather than dig into a single jumbo-sized entrÃ©e. And tapas—the bite-size plates that originated in Spain—can now be found in restaurants serving all sorts of cuisines besides Spanish.
At LugÃ¤no, chef/owner Greg Neville has rolled out not only a new menu for spring, but he’s also expanded the LugÃ¤no selection by offering “piattini,” which are small tapas-style plates of regional Italian antipasti. According to Neville, these small portions offer “big, bold tastes and encourage sampling and sharing through the meal.” The cost for piattini is pint-size, too: $4-$7.
One of my Top 10 favorite Italian foods is “arancini,” which are racquetball-size spheres of cooked Arborio rice mixed with fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and tender green peas, then rolled in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Biting into one of Chef Neville’s arancini is a real taste treat, the creamy melted cheese mingling with the rice and peas; it’s about as simple as “piattini” comes and absolutely divine.
Thin carpaccio-style slices of raw (“crudo” in Italian) tuna is served at LugÃ¤no with a simple yet delightful topping of lemon, oil and caramelized onion relish. But probably my favorite piattini—and this is just a mention of a few of the many offerings at LugÃ¤no—is an amazing ravioli stuffed with organic goat milk ricotta and dandelion greens from Bell Organics Farm, tossed in a sage-infused brown-butter sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled amaretti cookies, balancing the rich saltiness of the dish with sweetness. Phenomenal. The only way to improve on these delectable piattini dishes is to have them served up by top-notch LugÃ¤no staffers like Shasta, Bill and James. Oh, and don’t forget to hit up barkeep Brig for an after-dinner glass of Amaro, Italy’s answer to Jaegermeister.
I’m happy to report that Michelangelo Ristorante in Sugar House is now serving lunch on weekdays. I’m also happy to report that with new chef/owner Scott Ashley at the helm, Michelangelo is as good as ever—and with an improved ambience to boot. I always felt that despite its marvelous authentic Italian cuisine, Michelangelo always seemed a bit out of kilter. Visually, something just wasn’t quite right. Well, Ashley has remedied that by making subtle changes here and there, like removing those decorative bottles that cluttered up the place and rearranging tables to create better traffic flow and eye appeal.
Everything on the Michelangelo lunch menu is priced under $10—even the wonderfully rustic “battuta di pollo con rosmarino,” which is a boneless chicken breast kissed with fragrant, fresh rosemary. I was concerned about the gnocchi at Michelangelo since Paulo Celeste left the kitchen. It was always one of the menu’s strong points and I’m happy to say, still is. In fact, it’s never been better. Ashley’s homemade gnocchi are small pillows of potato pasta, made with the exact right composition—not too airy and not too dense—served in a simple and uncluttered “pomodoro” sauce or available also with richer Gorgonzola cheese sauce. The penne puttanesca—not a dish I’m normally too fond of—was marvelous at Michelangelo: al dente penne pasta served with sauce of Kalamata olives, capers, fresh tomatoes and oregano to provide a unique tang. It’s spectacular with a glass of house Chianti.
I can’t wait for warm weather and the patio at Trio CafÃ© to open, especially now that Trio is serving brunch on Sundays. Trio’s brunch is not your typical all-you-can-eat affair, although you certainly won’t leave hungry. The brunch menu at Trio is about as extensive as I’ve ever seen, and includes not only breakfast items like orange-pecan waffles, challah French toast and scrambled eggs with mascarpone cheese, but also offers brunchtime diners pasta, pizza and panini to choose from.
For a mere $1.95, it’s a no-brainer to start brunch with a plate of Trio’s cinnamon and sugar sprinkled flatbread strips. But be careful—these things are addictive. You’re likely to fill up on them before you ever get around to a unique brunch dish like eggs “alla Italiano,” a fennel sausage polenta base topped with poached eggs and topped with a delicious homemade hollandaise sauce. By the way, the cinnamon flatbread also keeps kids happy and content.
When my companion ordered a panini sandwich at Trio, I thought to myself: boring! Man, was I wrong. The chicken “piccata” panini at Trio simply cannot be improved upon; it’s as good as it gets. Executive chef/owner Mikel Trapp uses top-quality country sourdough bread from Crumb Brothers for his panini, and grills it with tender chicken breast (breaded and pre-cooked) served with melted fontina cheese and a subtle lemon-caper (hence, piccata) and garlic aioli. It sounds simple; it’s simply stunning.
Looking for a perfect Italian 10? You just read about three of them.
LUGÃ„NO RESTAURANT 3364 S. 2300 East 412-9994
MICHELANGELO RISTORANTE 2156 S. Highland Dr. 466-0961
TRIO CAFÃ‰ 680 S. 900 East 533-TRIO (8746)
The 17th annual Art & Soup fundraiser to benefit Community Nursing Services will be held March 30-31 at the Salt Lake Sheraton. This year’s Art & Soup will have a distinctive Italian flair with a Roman Holiday theme and will feature Italian food, strolling musicians, original artwork created by Utah artists and unique soups prepared by nearly 30 different chefs and participating restaurants. Art & Soup lunch is available each day 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.; dinner 5- 9 p.m. Tickets are $8 for lunch and $10 for dinner, and are available at the door. CNS provides home health and hospice care to thousands of under- and uninsured Utahns each year. For more information about Art & Soup or CNS, phone 233-6100 or visit the Website at www.cnsvna.org.
Are you looking for a place to dine for Easter Brunch? Here are all of the Easter Brunch listings I’ve received as of press time (neither City Weekly nor I recommend or endorse any particular brunch; I’m just relating the information received): The Grand America is offering an Easter Sunday “Eggstravaganza” brunch from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. in the Imperial Ballroom. Offerings include a fresh seafood display, salads, a carving station, fresh desserts and an appearance by the Easter Bunny: $39.00 adults/$20 children. Log Haven will serve a four-course brunch menu on Easter from 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Menu highlights include honey-brined pork chops, grilled Pacific Northwest salmon and pan-roasted chicken with tarragon-Dijon mustard sauce. $29.95 adults/$14.95 children under 12. Easter brunch will be served at the Cottonwood Market Street Grill from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. with an appearance by the Easter Bunny. No menu details were provided. The Singing Cricket CafÃ© will offer a special brunch buffet for Easter from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. In addition to traditional items like home fries, bacon and sausage, scrambled eggs, eggs Benedict, waffles and french toast, the buffet will have a variety of new hot and cold dishes. A cold selection of fresh fruit, bagels with cream cheese, smoked-salmon platter, sweet breads and cinnamon buns will be available. Hot items will include grilled salmon, tri-colored tortellini with garlic cream and grilled chicken. $15.95 per person.
Quote of the week: The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.—George Miller
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