Faustina Bargain | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Faustina Bargain 

Oasis Café’s owner opens a restaurant for carnivores and veggie lovers alike.

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Here’s the first thing you should know about Faustina: There is parking in the rear of the restaurant on 300 South, accessed from the east side of the building. On a recent Saturday night visit, the restaurant was so full that there was no curbside parking available, and I circled the block three times before I realized that the eatery had its own off-street parking. So don’t give up: You will find a place to park the car.

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The second thing you should know about Faustina'if you don’t already'is that it’s a little gem of a restaurant, and one of the most appealing recent additions to the Salt Lake City dining scene. Faustina is a Technicolor restaurant, a sleek and modern space filled with splashes of aqua, lime, cobalt blue, earth tones and more, in a beautifully designed space. It’s contemporary but comfy, with steel and blond wood chairs and tables, which are softened at night with the addition of crisp white tablecloths. A lot of thought went into the inspired lighting. Still, the restaurant doesn’t look like someone simply threw a couple million bucks at it. It has a unique, one-of-a-kind appeal much like its sister eatery, the Oasis Café'which is also owned by Joel LaSalle.

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In contrast to many restaurants, the hosts at Faustina greet customers like old friends and as if they actually appreciate their business. What a concept! A warm welcome is your first Faustina experience. The next, in all likelihood, will be the perusal of an all-too-limited wine list'one of the few misfires at Faustina. The restaurant’s expansive and varied menu deserves a better opportunity for workable wine pairings. Unless that’s remedied, you might want to bring along an item or two from your own cellar.

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There are four menus at Faustina: lunch, dinner, dessert and a lounge menu available from 2:30 to 5 p.m. and from 9 to 10 p.m. I haven’t been to Faustina during the “lounge hours,” but it looks like a terrific place to enjoy a cocktail and a bite to eat: perhaps three-cheese macaroni with Asiago crisps ($9.95) or peppery crisp calamari with cocktail aioli, mixed greens and beet ribbon crisps ($11.25).

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In case you’re curious about the name, according to LaSalle, Faustina was the name of an aunt who was also an exceptional cook. Speaking fondly of an especially memorable meal, he says, “She was warm, generous, funny and talented. She created in one afternoon a memory that would last a lifetime.” His goal with Faustina restaurant is “to warmly welcome you into our home for a relaxing experience where the food is comfortable but exquisite.”

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At dinner, I recommend two things. First, try to score the semicircular banquet in the center of the dining room, which is partitioned by a half-wall, helping somewhat to limit the noise factor. Second, whatever else happens, make sure someone at your table orders chef Jared Young’s broiled lamb medallions ($19). It’s a plate of five boneless medallions pounded thin, sautéed and served with perfectly mashed potatoes, crunchy Port-roasted whole shallots, chips made from celery root and a rosemary demi-glaze and sour-cherry reduction sauce. Wow, that’s some dish! The five-medallion portion was so large, I thought perhaps the kitchen had beefed mine up a bit, since I’d been recognized on one of my visits to Faustina. But the very amiable manager assured me that I’d received a normal-size portion: “Everyone gets five,” he said.

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Since LaSalle owns the Oasis Café'a mostly vegetarian restaurant'it should come as no surprise that at Faustina, the chef knows what to do with vegetables. Vegetable side dishes aren’t merely an afterthought here; they are as innovative and important as the main entrée. To wit, the Gorgonzola potato croquette with creamed spinach that accompanies the oven-roasted beef tenderloin; or the roasted apple, grilled onion and cucumber-dill puree that comes with Faustina’s baked salmon Wellington (a very satisfying entrée choice). The tomato sauce that came with my homemade spaghetti (perfectly cooked, by the way) in the linguini diavalo ($8.75) dish I ordered for lunch was remarkably fresh tasting, with a just-right blast of spiciness that earns the dish the “diavalo” moniker. And even though I’m not a huge fan of mushrooms (I’m embarrassed to say), my companion’s appetizer of lobster-stuffed portobello on a bed of fresh kale with lime-butter sauce ($8.95) could make me rethink my position on ’shrooms.

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There were other high points. A grilled Atlantic salmon BLT sandwich served with light-tasting fresh dill mayonnaise ($9.50) was uncomplicated and unusually good. An appetizer of three sautéed polenta cakes ($7.95) with herbed mascarpone cheese and a contrasting bell-pepper puree came to the table looking like a work of art and tasting just as wonderful. A banana-custard dessert with homemade cinnamon ice cream, candied walnuts, caramelized banana “shingles” and a drizzle of milk chocolate ($6.75) was a beautiful way to wind up dinner.

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In addition to the very friendly but also very professional service at Faustina, I also simply like the scale of the place. It’s a restaurant that hasn’t bitten off more than it can chew'a comfy one-off bistro along the lines of Martine, Em’s, Lugano, Tiburon or Fresco, where quality control is more a matter of smart hiring rather than an army of supervisors and servers. It’s the type of restaurant I wish there were more of.

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