Mama Mia | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Mama Mia 

Bill White honors his mother’s cooking traditions with his magnificent fifth restaurant.

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Whenever I embark on reviewing a new Bill White operation'he’s the owner of some of Park City’s best restaurants: Grappa, Chimayo, Wahso and Windy Ridge Café & Bakery'I’m predisposed, perhaps unfairly, to believe that this time he finally bit off more than he can chew and overextended himself. So far, I’ve been proved wrong every time. I’ve yet to meet a restaurant of his that I haven’t loved.

A couple months ago, White opened his fifth Summit County restaurant: Ghidotti’s in the Redstone Center at Kimball Junction. I didn’t know what to expect, although I’d heard that White had strayed from his original conception of Ghidotti’s. Two years or so ago, White told me of his idea for a new Italian restaurant at Kimball Junction. It would be a family-friendly place, with red-checkered tablecloths, candles in wicker Chianti bottles, and low-cost meals featuring Italian-American pasta dishes and pizzas. If I remember right, White had just returned from Chicago, where he was pricing and evaluating pizza ovens for his new restaurant, named Ghidotti’s for his mother’s family name. It sounded like Ghidotti’s would be sort of a mix between Buca di Beppo and The Old Spaghetti Factory.

Fast-forward to September 2005 and my first visit to White’s new restaurant: “Looks OK from the outside,” I thought. “Being next to a cinema complex must be good for business, if not for parking.” So far, I was not too impressed, though.

And then I walked into Ghidotti’s. Mama Mia! No red checkered tablecloths. No pizza ovens. No cheap, kitschy Chianti bottles on the tables. Obviously, White had shifted gears since we’d first spoke about his plans for Ghidotti’s.

“I’m not sure quite what happened,” White says today with a grin. “It started with a chandelier …â€

That’s the way White creates his restaurants: He might literally envision a restaurant designed around a single lamp, a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers, or a work of art. In this case, it was a chandelier obsession that led White to abandon his original notion of what Ghidotti’s would be and to create a restaurant that is visually on a par with the best of Las Vegas. Walking into Ghidotti’s is akin to strolling into any number of big-time Vegas eateries like Picasso or Olives'and not really comparable to anything that exists in Utah.

The restaurant is a successful attempt to blend Old World Roman architecture with the comfortable feel of a sunny Mediterranean villa in a 10,000-foot space. Jamie Catley and his Kent Construction, Inc. (who built Wahso and Chimayo) must have had their hands full with White’s constantly evolving notions of what a Park City Italian-American restaurant should look and feel like. The end result features 20-foot ceilings, gorgeous wall hangings large enough to carpet an average living room and'as always'the attention to detail (just check out the cutlery) that White’s restaurants are renowned for. It’s one of the most stunning restaurants I’ve ever seen.

Your first thought entering Ghidotti’s will be, “Wow! What a gorgeous place!” Your second thought will be, “Wow! This is going to be expensive!” But that’s the Ghidotti’s curve ball: Dining in luxury doesn’t mean having to pay Vegas prices for dinner. In fact, the menu prices are pretty much on a par with the aforementioned Buca di Beppo. Most pasta main dishes and entrees range from $12.95 to $16.95, and only two veal dishes and filet mignon even puncture the $20 mark. I’ve simply never been to such a beautiful restaurant with such affordable prices.

White said he formed the concept of Ghidotti’s “in an effort to revive my mother’s cooking traditions that I grew up with.” The result is a menu filled with Italian comfort food like spaghetti with meatballs (killer meatballs, by the way), veal scaloppini, shrimp scampi, clams Casino, fettuccine Alfredo and my Ghidotti’s favorite, beef braciola. White’s beef braciola ($19.95) is made with top round that he braises in wine and tomatoes, garlic and herbs for at least four hours until it’s so tender you can eat it with a spoon. The braciola is then served with a rich, rustic sauce in a hot Al-Clad saucepan'a very nice touch. It’s like being served a meal on a $150 dinner plate. With the rich braciola flavors, I’d suggest ordering a side of hearty rigatoni Bolognese. Pasta “sides” like polenta, spaghetti or ravioli marinara, linguine with white clam sauce, and fettuccine Alfredo are available for $4.95.

The hearts of palm salad at Ghidotti’s is a steal at $7.95, and plenty for two to share as an appetizer. A crispy plate of calamari fritti (fried calamari) comes with a lovely lemon and caper aioli ($7.95). Unfortunately, those capers also show up in the beef carpaccio at Ghidotti’s, ultimately resulting in an over-salty dish. The thinly sliced raw beef is wonderful, topped with arugula, thin slices of red onion and shaved Parmesan cheese. But those capers'along with salty cheese and the onion, which also has a salty affect'combined with a heavy dose of table salt from the kitchen, had me reaching for the water glass. A bit of quality control can easily remedy that problem.

As you’d expect in any of White’s restaurants, service at Ghidotti’s is top-notch, led by a managerial staff that includes pros like Josh Jensen and Alain Viny. The wine program (see Grapevine) is fabulous, and the chicken Vesuvio is completely addicting.

So once again I’m forced to admit that Bill White knows exactly what he’s doing. Not only did he not overextend himself with Ghidotti’s, but I think he’s created what will ultimately be the most successful piece of his growing restaurant empire. Discover it for yourself while you can still get a table.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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