Evening dinner review
It seems as if Pago has been on the tip of everyone’s tongues for the last several weeks. The anticipation of Pago’s opening was palpable in foodie circles. For the uninitiated, Pago’s menu is built around a “farm to table” ethos. All ingredients are sourced from local farms ensuring seasonal, fresh fare.
The two Co-Executive Chefs both come with local cred as well. Adam Findlay was Executive Chef at the Metropolitan, while Michael Richey was Sous Chef at Sundance’s Treeroom. Throw in a commitment to wine, and a neighborhood, 9th and 9th in this case, appreciation/sensibility and it’s not hard to see why excitement has surrounded Pago.
With a couple of weeks under the restaurant’s belt, we eagerly headed over on what we thought would be a quiet Thursday evening. We were wrong. The place was rocking, even at the early-ish 6 p.m. Lucky to get in at all, we were seated at the second-to last empty table. The space itself is quite small. I think I recall reading Pago seats 48 when filled to capacity. That would definitely be a squeeze. The space is separated in two by glass cabinets which hold bottles of wine and stemware. The open kitchen space, bar dining area, and three small tables greet you upon entering. The other section features more tables and booth seating. Decor is in the currently fashionable urban vibe. Think exposed brick and high ceilings. We were given the choice of the tables for two near the door, providing us with great views of 900 East and the bustling kitchen.
The first thing we gathered about Pago, is that the tiny space doesn’t cope too well with excess clientele. Reservations are quickly going to become essential here. As we enjoyed our meal, customers waiting for a table lingered to our side. I know its not the restaurant’s fault, but I struggle to enjoy a meal with people ogling hungrily at my plate. We felt especially sorry for the diners next to us, who were seated at the table for two right next to the door. They literally had people hovering above and behind them throughout their entire meal.
Diners who managed to catch a seat at the bar didn’t fare much better. They appeared to be packed in like sardines and lacking any elbow room whatsoever. I’m not sure if there is an easy solution for so many people wishing to eat in such a small space, maybe one less table near the waiting area, maybe a screen between the waiting area and the door, perhaps outdoor seating? Regardless, Pago does appear to be bringing in the customers in droves, which can only be a good thing (unless you’re dining in the waiting area).
But, I digress. As well as an intriguing menu based around the aforementioned farm-fresh approach, Pago features a nice little wine list to boot. 20 different options are available by the glass in 3 oz and 5 oz pours. With that number of wines by the glass on offer, I suspect Pago has invested in a high-tech wine saver device of some sort, always a plus.
We started the meal with what I consider an oft overlooked veggie, the beet! Cinnamon Beets (Greek Yoghurt, Truffle Honey, Nut Crunch, Greens, $6):
This was a great opener to the meal, and showcased just what Pago was all about. In fact, we both commented on how these might’ve just been the best beets either of us had ever eaten. The toffee-ish nut crunch and truffle honey served to highlight the almost equal sweetness of the beets with the slight sourness of the Greek yoghurt bringing everything together wonderfully. Who would’ve guessed I would ever leave a restaurant wishing I knew how to prepare a beet dish?
Potato ‘Pillows’ (Creme Fraiche, American Caviar, $12), came up next. Apparently the replacement for the prior charcuterie plate that monopolized too much of the small kitchen space:
I expected more from this dish. I’m not sure what exactly, it just felt a little underwhelming after the exceptional beets. I can’t put my finger on anything in particular, it tasted pretty good. Essentially, creamy, rich, super-fancy little tater tots. I’ve enjoyed caviar before, but it seemed lost amongst the fried potato and creme fraiche here. Almost as if it was there purely to make the dish “fancy enough”.
The highlight of the meal for me was my entree, Moroccan Spiced Lamb (Cous Cous, Grilled Lemon, Gremolata, $19):
The only low light was that the meat didn’t come out medium rare as I had asked. This turned out to be a very minor complaint though. Even at medium, the lamb was delicious, tender, and really quite superb. The cous cous was a wonderful surprise, punctuated as it was with pistachios, apricot, and a variety of other sweet fruits. The zingy lemony accent of the gremolata really helped to elevate what, for me, was one of the more enjoyable plates of food I have eaten in some time. A definite no brainer, I will be reordering this dish again!
For her entree, Wendi decided to try the Golden Potato Gnocchi (English Peas, Cherry Tomato,Preserved Lemon, $13), also opting for the addition of poached crawfish ($17):
A slight disappointment after the heights of the lamb dish, this dish was rated as “just ok” and a little under seasoned. Wendi did mention that the texture of the potato gnocchi was perfect and that the dish definitely satisfied her carb craving.
We ended the dinner with Banana Bread Pudding, $6. I failed in my efforts to convince Wendi to go with the award winning Amano chocolate, but that ended up okay:
Simply put, this was the best bread pudding we have ever had in SLC (and Wendi is a bread pudding expert). In our opinions, Pago wrestles the SLC bread pudding crown from Tin Angel, which is no small feat. Even myself, not a huge bread pudding fan by any means, had to fight with Wendi over each spoonful. Prepared in its own little ramekin, the pudding’s pleasantly moist interior was topped with a crunchy crispy top and then a-la-mode with vanilla-peppered ice cream. Perfect.
Service did seem stretched during our visit. Our waiter was obviously experienced, professional, and completely courteous. We noticed as he zipped between tables, that he did seem to have a little too much on his plate though. Rather obtusely, the chefs were not passing plates to the tightly-packed bar diners, and there really was not enough room between the bar seats for the servers to serve them in the traditional manner. Nevertheless, the servers were attempting, and amazingly somehow managing, to do so. Add to this the group of ten or so people packed behind the bar waiting to be seated, it all seemed a little bizarre and like a recipe for disaster.
A little more information regarding the menu would have gone down well too. Clearly the buzz surrounding Pago highlights the fact the restaurant is setting its goals a little higher than most, and they seem to be succeeding, but don’t they want to shout that from the rooftops and let us all know exactly what we are getting? Seems like they should, but our waiter didn’t offer up much menu guidance, although considering how busy he was, this may have just not been possible.
Pago promises great things, and on most counts it delivers admirably, making for a great addition to the local neighborhood and indeed the SLC dining scene as a whole. The small space and obvious popularity caused our only real gripes. We definitely recommend you give Pago a try but make sure you have a reservation! We will also be returning and attempting to work our way through the menu, but we may struggle, due to our love of the lamb and bread pudding!
878 S. 900 E. Salt Lake City
Lunch: Tuesday – Friday 11am – 3pm
Dinner: Tuesday – Saturday 5pm – Close
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.