Evening restaurant review
Pine is the most recent of Greg Neville’s (owner/chef) Salt Lake City restaurants; the last being the continually popular Lugano. After reading many positive reviews of Pine, we decided to give the place a whirl this past Saturday evening. The restaurant always seemed busy as we drove by on 900 East, so a plan to reserve was hatched.
On calling to reserve that afternoon, we were greeted by a recorded message. “No problem” offered Wendi. “We will leave a message on their answering machine and I am sure they will call back”. That would have been a great plan if such an option was available. It wasn’t. Somewhat perplexed as to how to actually reserve at Pine, we headed to their website. After double checking the reservation number, we noticed a link to opentable.com.
If your are not familiar, opentable.com allows you reserve tables at a large number of locations locally and nationally. Call me old fashioned, but I like to call and speak to someone, or at least have someone call me back and confirm my reservation if forced to leave a message. After the hours of build up and preparation for an enjoyable evening out, it would be a blow to find your table not ready or even worse, no table available.
We duly reserved online and quickly received an email confirmation from the third party website. We received no confirmation call from Pine, so we noted our booking reference, and hit the road. It was thus with a touch of apprehension we walked into Pine. Did we actually have a table? Yes we did, indeed the restaurant wasn’t even half full.
What was the point of that long-winded ramble you ask? At restaurants in this price range I don’t think it is unreasonable to have a level of personal interaction while booking. There should be good vibes flowing before you put a foot through the door. That’s customer relations 101 for me.
After being greeted by the host, we were ushered to our table. As we walked through the restaurant, we were taken by how impressive the interior and design is. Simple and understated, yet warm and inviting, the space’s high ceilings and sleek wood accents drew us in. We were seated at a lovely corner window-facing table, perfect for a romantic weekend meal. If it had been summer, we would have a lovely view of the stream running between the restaraunt and 900 east.
Quickly afterwards our server brought water and complimentary sourdough bread and butter:
Warm, fluffy and not overly sour. I’m a sucker for great bread. This was just the ticket. It quickly had my reservation grumbles subsiding.
Whilst we chomped on our bread, we browsed the menu. Our waiter rejoined us to inform us of the nights special. A quite interesting sounding pork Osso Bucco. Which I nearly ordered until hearing about the Parmesan grits (regular readers will know my disdain for cheese).
It was around this time I began to scare our waiter. I’m not entirely sure if he was new or utterly befuddled by my accent. It could have been both. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and decided it was just me. That said, he was quite confused when we ordered our appetizers and then sat our menus down. He asked if we only wanted appetizers. I’d assumed it was common practice in finer establishments to allow for some contemplation of the entree whilst enjoying the appetizer. Oh well.
Wendi started with the Sweet Griddled Crab Cakes (Grilled Corn, Red & Yellow Bell Peppers, Citrus Aioli – $13.95):
Quite visually pleasing. The crab cakes were softer than we expected, less cohesive than others I have tried. Flavourwise, they were pefectly acceptable. Wendi commented they were not exceptionally reminiscent of crab. I believe I enjoyed them more, eventually finishing them off for Wendi. I also thought that the tangy corn topping was especially good.
My appetizer was the Angus Sirloin Carpaccio (Mustard Aioli, Arugula, Shaved Parmesan, Truffle Oil – $13.50) pictured minus the shaved parmesan:
As you can see from the picture above, the plate came topped with a long piece of bread. Whilst the beef was great, the dish had a few shortcomings. For me there was an excess of Arugula. The red onions also seemed out of place, overpowering the thinly sliced beef. Id love to see this dish pared down a little ala the Bambara carpaccio I had not so long ago. Less greens, drop the onions and maybe less sauce.
Waiter confusion abounded when I tried to make a little joke about us both ordering Tuna dishes. I decided at this point to let Wendi do the remainder of the talking. Clearly I was scaring the heck out of the poor guy.
For her entree, Wendi opted for the Seared Ahi Tuna “Niçoise” Salad (Olives, Green Beans, Tomato, Egg, Grilled Red Onion, Capers – $17.95). As you can see from the picture, it was quite a generous serving:
Sadly it seemed someone in the kitchen had gone pepper crazed on the Tuna. As you can see from the picture, the Ahi was liberally coated with black pepper, which completely dominated the flavour. The delicate flavours of the Ahi were completely killed. As the centre-piece to the dish this was very dissapointing and brought the entire plate down.
I opted for the Blackened Ahi Tuna Steak (Wasabi Whipped Potatoes, Roasted Pepper Tapenade, Citrus Vinaigrette – $23.95):
The tuna was cooked decently, medium-rare as ordered. Again the seasoning monster in the kitchen had struck. The dish was massively over salty. To the point of almost being inedible. Just in case this was me I asked Wendi (salt lover extraordinaire) to try. One bite and she concurred, way too salty. I briefly considered sending the dish back, but decided to investigate futher. (Note from Wendi – I wanted him to send it back. It was seriously seriously salty. I feared for his blood pressure.) It seemed the sauce was the culprit. The fish and potatoes were fine. After a little ad hoc rearrangement of the food, I happily ate the fish and potatoes. The vegetables however were far too salty to eat.
I am amazed that both entrees left the kitchen in these ultra-seasoned states. Maybe their regulars find this pleasant? Very dissapointing for us, especially for this level of dining.
Dessert, as ever, was selected by Wendi. She chose the Seasonal Fruit Crisp (Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Spiced Caramel – $6.95):
Probably my favourite dish of the evening with the crab cakes shortly behind. A classic executed very well. Berries hidden under very satisfying crunchy top, with just a little ice cream to liven things up. A very enjoyable end to a somewhat hit and miss meal.
Pine has recently celebrated their second year in business, so perhaps the problems we encountered were a one off. It has the makings off a great restaurant. The menu is varied and quite interesting. They have a great dining space with some fun quirky seating arrangements. Unfortunately the seasonings of both our main dishes just weren’t right on this visit; the appetizers were also a mixed bag. We may well be back to try again in 2008, maybe let the menu develop a little more.
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 a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”.
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