Evening restaurant review
Long vaunted in the local food press as a decent mid range Italian eaterie we were both intrigued. Previously living back in the UK (Manchester) I was spoiled with a large array of Italians. Locating a reliable Italian in SLC has long been a quest of mine.
I have tried as many places as possible from the chain food fare of Johnny Carino’s through to long established independant Rino’s right on to the trendy hipness of Michelangelo’s in Sugarhouse. So far none has come close to the epicurean heights of back home.
Reserving a table was easy enough if not a little weird; “Can we have a table for two at 6.30PM”, “no, but will 6.45PM do?”, “Er, sure”. The oddity was compounded when we arrived early anyway and were promptly seated in a 2/3 full dining room.
Initial service was fast and friendly with the standard fare of free bread and olives to chomp down on while browsing the menu. I opted for the carpaccio ($11.95) followed by rib eye and rosemary potatoes ($24.95). Readers will know how I prize a good rosemary potato… Wendi chose the smoked salmon ($12.95) and a veggie penne pasta for main (Around $15).
Fully remembering how my peculiar hatred of cheese had rendered past Italian dining experiences a flop; and not forgetting the propensity of Italian kitchens to rain asunder like the stuff grows on trees, I made sure to let our waiter know.
“Hi, I really don’t like cheese. I know I am strange coming to an Italian and not likeing cheese but could you tell me if anything I order comes with cheese?”, “No problem sir”. Excellent I thought.
Until of course my carpaccio arrived hiding beneath what looked like a reconstruction of mount everest in 1/0th scale made of shaved parmesan. “Oh dear they seemed to have put cheese on there”, our waiter offered. “Do you think maybe you can eat around it or move it to one side?”, he ventured furthermore. “Do you think me telling you I don’t like cheese was some kind rabid tourettes cry that actually meant please hurl as much cheese as you have in the fridge onto my plate?”, I almost replied.
Being less caustic in reality I simply asked for another plate. And to be fair, in only a few minutes he did so:
A hefty sized portion with perfectly cut and seasoned raw beef. Nice fresh crunchy and bitter arrugula. A fair price of $11.95 as well. While beating our waiter about the head with my breadstick Wendi was already half way through her smoked Salmon:
Also a quite staggeringly large portion coming with four slices of mini pizza/garlic bread and topped with capers, onion and lemon juice. Fresh fish, good flavours.
Up next the main course, Wendi’s looked colourful enough:
but apparently lacked any real depth of flavour. Pasta really isn’t my cup of tea at the best of times, but Wendi is a big fan so I will defer to her judgement. We have been cooking a lot of rich, fresh herb powered sauces recently, which I am told are far better than this.
My main looked suitably impressive for 22 ounces of seared beast:
Flavourwise it was well seasoned, hard to go wrong with a big grilled piece of rib eye. Temperature was a little uneven mind you. Rare in parts and medium in others (as I ordered). But I am not too fussy on meat, so let’s get onto the real test.
What about the potatoes? Those iconic centrepieces of Italian menus world over, capable of saving most any meal.
Terrible in a word.
The over riding taste was pepper. Not a trace of rosemary to my palate, nor Wendi’s (just to check my wine ravaged tongue was broken by this stage). They were overcooked, flimsy rather than crispy and peppery to the point of me leaving half of them. A sad day in the world of the potato. I could understand coming into a restaurant at 10PM and getting the dregs of the main service spuds, but 7.30PM? Service should be in full flow and the perfectly cooked stuff should be rolling out onto the dining floor.
Not tonight unfortunately. And that was a real shame. Maybe I am far too obsessed with a good spud but places I have eaten at before have used them to great aplomb elevating the whole plate. Sadly, they brough into focus the rest of the meal.
In retrospect appetizers were too large and we weren’t advised to share one between two. My rib eye was at best standard and decent and Wendi’s pasta was bland. The subsequent desert was nothing more than average.
Desert by the way was a flourless chocolate torte with mocha gelato:
We sampled, became a little bored and didn’t bother to finish it.
Not the worldwind of tastebud excitement that I had hoped for. Two appetizers, two mains, one desert, 6 glasses of wine and coffee came to $125 roughly.
In conculsion Lugano wasn’t bad, just underwhelming given the praise regularly heaped on it. Maybe the kinks we experienced were the result of the kitchen having an off night. I am sure we will be back in the future to give them a second chance.
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.