Unchained Malady | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Unchained Malady 

Tucci’s may be local, but that doesn’t mean it’s great.

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As I’ve noted before in this column, I don’t do restaurant reviews on demand. I’m badgered continually by restaurant owners and chefs to review their restaurants, and my response is always the same: Be careful what you wish for.

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Nonetheless, I was taken in by a letter I received from a manager at Tucci’s Cucina Italiana at Trolley Corners. It asked me to come check out the restaurant, promising that “over the last few years, Tucci’s has changed a lot and for the better.” I was already aware of one change at Tucci’s: Where there were once three Wasatch Front Tucci’s locations there is now just one, at Trolley Corners'plus a second in Moscow, Idaho.

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One of the reasons I decided to take the Tucci’s challenge is that I realized I held fairly strong opinions about Tucci’s'mostly negative'despite not having dined there in many years. In my mind, I equated Tucci’s with the Olive Garden chain; indeed, I’d always assumed that Tucci’s itself was a restaurant chain.

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But it’s not: Tucci’s is a Utah-based, family-owned restaurant, with owner Stefano Bronzati at the helm. Live and learn.

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Before being seated at Tucci’s, customers are given a brief visual presentation of the daily specials. It’s an odd way to greet customers, but plated, plastic-wrapped mock-ups of each of the day’s appetizer, entrée and dessert specials are displayed at the entrance to Tucci’s where a host, hostess or server leads diners through a description of each menu item prior to being seated. But then, maybe this is a good idea'if only because it prevented me from ordering Tucci’s spaghetti Carbonara since it had large, raw, saucer-sized slabs of fatty pancetta on top of the pasta, rather than diced and incorporated into the sauce as is traditional.

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Ordering the Tucci’s antipasti “combo” ($10.99) allowed me and my party to sample a trio of Tucci’s appetizers: fried calamari, bruschetta and “spinaci,” which is a very tasty artichoke, spinach (this was before the current spinach scare) and Parmesan cheese dip, served with crunchy pizza chips. The fried calamari was standard'nothing special; it was served with warm marinara sauce where I’d have preferred lemon wedges. The bruschetta got the job done, although it was not especially memorable.

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Virtually every lunch or dinner at Tucci’s includes a “bottomless” salad and fresh-baked focaccia-style bread. The bread is warm and toasty, a perfect canvas to slather butter all over'if, that is, Tucci’s placed butter on the table. Instead, as is the case with so many restaurants these days, I was forced to dip my bread into a pool of olive oil and balsamic vinegar when what I really wanted was a stinking slab of butter! As for the salad, it was a large bowl of ice-cold greens, overdressed with Tucci’s house vinaigrette and tossed with slices of red onion, ripe Roma tomatoes, soggy croutons and wickedly hot pepperoncinos. So far, so average.

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Naturally, the kids opted for pepperoni pizza ($10.99), and they loved it. There’s nothing particularly original or distinct about the pizzas at Tucci’s but it’s a dependable, crowd-pleasing pie. However, my preference is Tucci’s calzone. If you’ve never had a calzone before, Tucci’s is a good place to start. The calzones there are literally inside-out pizzas: pizza dough turned into a half-moon shape and stuffed with a variety ingredients. The calzone Tuscano ($9.99) is filled with pepperoni, mushrooms, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses while Tucci’s calzone bianco ($10.99) has chicken, creamed spinach, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, pine nuts and three cheeses. These babies are large. Plan to take some home for a midnight snack.

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Service at Tucci’s was consistently outstanding. Guys like Jamil (aka “Jammer”), Tom and Joe (even though he’s a Yankees fan) make eating at Tucci’s a more pleasant enterprise than it might be. Even so, Joe couldn’t make up for what recently turned out to be a most disappointing lunch.

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Dining out on the front patio was nice. Service was terrific, and my partner’s “panino bobo” ($7.49) was awesome. It was a tender grilled chicken breast and crispy pancetta served on a square Italian roll with tomato, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and a delicious aioli. I was not so lucky, having ordered what turned out to be the absolute worst lasagna ($6.99) I ever recall eating. First, it was too hot to enjoy until I gave it five minutes to cool down. The lasagna noodles were overcooked and mushy, the cheese and meat stuffing was gooey and bland, and the sauce tasted closer to Mexican ranchero sauce than anything I’ve ever tasted in an Italian restaurant. The overall consistency was more of a puree than something resembling layered lasagna. I’ve eaten microwaveable frozen lasagna from the supermarket that was literally eight times better than Tucci’s.

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Unfortunately, even aided by a more than adequate wine list and a very nice glass of St. Supery Chardonnay, a dinner entrée of a Tucci’s specialty called Bruschetta Chicken ($11.99) wasn’t a lot better than the lasagna. Aside from the confusing name'there’s nothing “bruschetta” about the bruschetta chicken'the dish was essentially tender, tasteless chicken breast in a thin and watery herb-butter-garlic sauce atop a bed of slightly overcooked spaghetti. I had a feeling I should’ve ordered the butternut squash ravioli ($11.99). As for the Alfredo that is so popular at Tucci’s'well, if you like American-style Alfredo sauce, then you’ll like theirs. That is to say that as in most Italian-American restaurants, it’s made with cream. I much prefer an authentic Alfredo “sauce” made simply from tossing warm noodles with butter and Parmigianino-Reggiano.

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But hey, at least it’s not a chain restaurant.

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TUCCI’S CUCINA ITALIANA
515 S. 700 East
533-9111
Monday-Thursday
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday
11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday
noon-9 p.m

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