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; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV shows.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for the better part of fifteen years. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of 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”. Want to know more? This is why I am the way I am.
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16 thoughts on “Pago restaurant review”
Oh wow…the lamb looks deadly. I wanted to order that but it wasn’t available when we went for whatever reason. But it wasn’t a total loss, because I had the steak instead…and it really was awesome.
Really great review! I will definitely have to try this place. I don’t know if I’d be able to turn down the Amano though – maybe I could talk my husband into the bread pudding so I could get the chocolate!
I loved your thorough review of Pago. I’ve been wanting to go there since I first heard about it. The lamb sounds and looks heavenly.
My honey and I just celebrated our fifth anniversary with dinner at Pago. It was divine! We didn’t have reservations but they seated us at the bar which we loved because we got to watch all the action and interact with the chefs (they told us how they cooked the amazing black rice under the lamb…yum!). I have a confession, however. Pago is proving worthy of all the great press they are getting. And of course it was there farm fresh approach that attracted me in the first place, but I think it will be both the combination of their beer list and food that will bring me back. The Trappist Belgians on the menu are awesome with the chicken paillard and the lamb!
They told our group that the lamb was off the menu because Morgan Valley couldn’t keep up with the demand! Happily, I had the pork chop special instead, and it was sensational, and came with a decadent potato gratin to boot. My tip would be don’t plan on sharing dessert – they are too good, you’ll end up fighting over every bite 🙂
I recently received an email from Scott over at Pago, so thought it only right to share the info!
Take it away Scott:
There are a couple of things that you may be interested in. We have always planned to add a partition by the front door, but did not want to do so until we decided upon a set table layout. In addition, we have changed the table layout to place our two larger tables (4-6 people) by the entrance so that larger groups get sat in the busier area and the two tops are in the quieter part of the dining room. Again, this is a function of operating the space for a couple of weeks and finding out what works best. I hope to have the partition up next week and the tendency of guests to make reservations has also reduced our wait.
Other points of interest: Brunch started last weekend and we are very happy with our menu (which is an abbreviated version of our online menu for now). Lunch and brunch typically have had no wait and are very easy to get in. Also, we added a spirits list with artisanal spirits and some classics as well. We will launch a cocktail list in the next week or two. Draft beer is now set-up as well, to compliment our 12 bottled beers.
Finally, we will be changing our dinner to reflect some great new seasonal items next week.
Take it for what it is. Not real different than the rest of the food in Utah. Yet the location is fun.
A fairly sweeping comment Gary, in more ways than one! Perhaps you could let us know what you tried there, and what you thought about it specifically?
I like the inside of this restaurant. Food is good, although it took a long time to get our food. Service seemed spotty, but small portions and large prices isn’t what I’m looking for. May go back for a special occasion
We love Pago! We have been three times and, yee-hah, are finding a reservation is now necessary! Don’t expect to always find your favorite meal from last visit. This is a huge part of Pago’s charm, the menu is constantly changing!! This was one of my biggest gripes of most Salt Lake restaurants. We do like to eat out and, beyond comfort food, enjoy seeing new options on the menu. This is, of course, tougher for the restaurant, but keeps the menu dynamic and exciting. I second Stu, not sure where Gary has eaten recently, but coming from a self-confessed foodie, I think the quality of the food at Pago ranks very high for the Salt Lake food scene. My only critic is wine choices on the wine list are a little lacking to deserve the title of a wine bar, but Pago is new and space is limited so I’m sure they are working on it. We always bring our own wine. I also remember the stemware being less than ideal (I think I got a white glass for the robust red we brought last time) and please, please, please, Pago, include salt on the table!!! I am not trying to insult the chef, but I do like to season dishes to taste and have had a hard time acquiring salt at Pago in the past (we finally got some from the kitchen after asking three times). Nit-picking aside, Pago is a great new, chic, exciting, and vibrant restaurant addition to the Salt Lake food scene! A+ Pago, thanks for moving in!
Ate at Pago tonight. The food was excellent. I had the gazpacho and then the gnocchi, which was tender and delicious. My friend had a capresse salad with hand spun mozzarella abd the steak. Fabulous! My other friend had the beet salad and halibut. The sauce was excellent! My only complaint is that the waitress cleared my friend’s plate before we were all done eating! Come on! This is SOOO rude. It also hurt that she charged us corkage. I have an allergy to nuts and the entire staff was attentive and followed up by asking specific questions about a sauce on something I had ordered. I will most definitely return. I’d give it a very strong 4 stars!!!!
PAGO – Classique!
In the 70’s and 80’s my sister, Lottie Ann Ellsworth, and I owned a small French Restaurant in Holladay. I had been trained in France in classical French cuisine and remained emphatic about following classical traditions. Now, as a chef and a culinary artist, I’ve learned to take a classical idea and twist it to conform to the moment. The knowledge and background of the classics is a base to return to time and time again and yet each time the outcome is new.
Last night, my sister and I, after much anticipation, went to Pago in the “9th and 9th” district of downtown Salt Lake. The Restaurant is small and cozy with lots of exposed brick—I felt like I was in Boston or San Francisco in one of those great little historical areas which has been meticulously maintained to remain old and timeless–actually, a fresh idea in Utah!
Pago, named after a Spanish Wine, is the brain child of Scott Evans. Scott has paid his dues in the restaurant business. He has worked in and managed places like Squatters, the Depot, Stein Erickson, Grand America and the highly touted, Globe. Scott is sweet, handsome, calm, and a devoted family man with a twinkle in his eye. He seems extremely well suited to his business and very capable of making his own dreams come true. His one, great strength is in bringing together a team of classically trained artists and then letting them create. He seems to almost totally stay out of the kitchen, which, probably, accounts for the “calm” thing.
Mr. Evans is also a superb wine guy! I loved his wine list which has twenty carefully chosen wines by the glass—10 whites and 10 reds. Pago is the only restaurant in Salt Lake to use a freshness-controlled wine system. This cuts down on the waste of a very expensive product and allows people to get a really good wine by the glass—my sister and I were very impressed. Pago also offers an extensive and hand-picked list of wines by the bottle, which, to me, may be the best in town. (I brought a 1er Cru Santenay White Burgundy from my collection—beautiful mid palate sweetness with a toasted oak finish. From the restaurant Lottie got a glass of Conde Lagado Albarino, citrusy and perky, and I had a glass of the Road 31 Pinot Noir which had a hint of soft spices and complimented my entrée.)
I must say, as I always do, that I was a guest of Pago and they knew we were coming so there was no element of surprise here. My purpose in writing these articles for Q is to just convey the feelings and enjoyment I have in discovering the culinary scene in Salt Lake. Don’t judge me for being too positive—there are plenty of writers out there who are only interested in the screw-ups and the negative stuff.
We were waited on by Jeff Foehr, a consummately professional waiter who has served me before in other nice places. Jeff is tall, dimpled and emits theramons bursting with testosterone. Like his surroundings, totally masculine and Spartan—no fluff here! My sister and I were both, kind of, well, a-flutter.
Our food was just as my theme indicates—classic with a twist—and very good I might add.
We ordered off the menu this time just so we could really see what was going on. I, on purpose, chose the Lamb Brandade—which is a sort of lamb/potato hash with a poached egg on top. Our waiter made a face at this choice so I knew right away he wasn’t too pleased but the dish just seemed so interesting to me I had to go there. This hash patty was a little overcooked, I thought, and a little too seasoned. The egg was not the prettiest poached egg I’ve seen but I did get some great ideas from it—I’m going to work on this recipe myself!
Lottie ordered the pan-seared scallops, which had been a favorite in our restaurant. The chefs had spooned a very fresh-tasting tomato ragout on top which we both loved—the scallops were, huge, perfectly cooked and plump. One small criticism here—the sauce, I thought, could have been a bit more liquid—the flavor, however, was Devine.
We were then treated by two of what I believe are house specialties. Home-made honeyed beets and the Salad of the Marketplace. My sister and I grew up in North Ogden where each year our Mom made jars and jars of pickled beets so, for a brief moment we were transported to our past—the beets were a mixture of red and gold. They were earthy, sweet and still slightly al dente. Many of these starter items were served on sushi-style ceramic dishes which were beautiful and appropriate. The salad had a mixture of rocket greens and arugula in a delicious, Muscat, vinaigrette—it was garnished with garden cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced yellow squashes, then sprinkled with a house-made, crunchy granola—we were happy.
I had heard from several people that the portions at Pago were quite small, but in our case we found all the portions very adequate and in fact our entrée servings were generous. My sister had the quail and I had the pork chop. There were two quail perfectly roasted and still succulent; the flavor reminded us of wild pheasant. They were served in a pool of a beautiful brown sauce which my sister ate so fast I didn’t get a chance to experience it myself, and then garnished with some preserved huckleberries—I have a snapshot to show you. My pork chop was on a mound of delicious, creamy mashed potatoes made in a French puree style and, can I say the word “gravy”—I loved the rustic and comfort-food idea behind this dish. It was topped with beautifully hand-cut apples, lightly cooked in cinnamon. In 1997, my sister and I spent a week in Brussels and ever since we have been devotees of Belgian cuisine—both of our entrees reminded us of this remarkable culinary tradition.
Jeff brought us a dessert sampler which we both vowed only to take a bite of—but we devoured the whole thing—a house-made, lemon cello Tira Misu, Vanilla pot de crème with the huckleberries on top and some chocolate mousse made with Amano Chocolate from Utah Valley. Once again drawing from the classics—my only comment here is that the mousse, to me, was more of a crème de chocolat, it lacked the stiff texture I expect in a true mousse.
The chefs at Pago form a very compatible marriage of experience. Adam Finley and Mike Richey—I salute you! I give Pago an overall rating of 93+.
Chef Drew H Ellsworth, M.A., C.E.C.
We returned to Pago the other night and I am happy to report that the red wine glass problem is fixed (nice glasses in fact) and salt was available after a single request! Thanks for the small fixes Pago! Just a couple follow-up comments from previous contributors: corkage fees are typical anymore, please do not be insulted, and are often much higher in restaurants around the country. I have seen fees as high as $40/bottle. If you are using a restaurant’s glasses and the staff is serving you wine, you should pay a corkage. Nice restaurants often make a fair profit from alcohol, so if one brings their own wine, the restaurant cannot profit unless a corkage is charged. When a restaurant uses high quality ingredients, less profit is made off the sell of a meal than one may think. I also agree with Chef, the portions at Pago are adequate, sometimes generous. This is not a $10.99 all you can eat kind of place. Expect to pay $100 for one appetizer, 2 aperitifs, 2 entrees, and one bottle corkage. But if you are on a tight budget, this might be a special occasion only dinner spot. Wonderful new restaurant!
Okay, have to admit my companion just agreed with the previous poster, the corkage fee is too high for Salt Lake City. He thinks a better range is $10-15. Just another opinion. Pago, lower your corkage?
My wife and I had dinner at Pago last week and were underwhelmed by the spotty service, absurd wine pricing and variable quality of food.The beet app. was over cooked to the point of flavorless, pale beets and uneven prep.The waygu beef was o.k. saved from mediocre by stellar FRESH! chantrelles.My wife had a halibut entree that was o.k.(again,nothing special).Didn’t have dessert but the offerings looked better than entrees.We were surprised to see 3-4 empty tables throughout our meal,considering the hype surrounding the restaurant.I truly was looking forward to something in sustainable and local fine dining but our evening at Pago still leaves me looking for the fine dining side of the equation.Hard to spend that kind of $$ and be disappointed.