Shedding light on the dark world of Utah fine dining
Monday, February 27, 2012
Fresco Itallian Cafe
We headed to the newly christened "Best Overall Restaurant" (Salt Lake Magazine) this weekend to finally try out the place where Tom Call (last seen on this blog at the Bacon Battle post) has been cooking since he arrived in Utah. The result was a mixed bag - some very good and some marginal. Nothing was bad, but Fresco certainly doesn't top the short list of restaurants we've reviewed in SLC over the past year. We came with four people for this meal, plus two friends randomly sat down next to us, so we really got to look at six entrees, three salads and a few appetizers. We took advantage of the $12 corkage fee twice. The restaurant was super dark and I only take shots with an iPhone so my janky photos are the best you're going to get. Here's the skinny:
We started with the antipasto. It was well done - three cheeses (a sheep/cow blend, a bison cheese and a cow's milk hard cheese). All were good, and accompanied by three cured meats that I could not distinguish between. Cured meats are not yet a part of my culinary vocabulary. Sorry. The antipasto came with an interesting selection of accompaniments as well. Overall, good start.
Next appetizer course was the Calimari. Reviews were mixed between "good" and "great" at our table. The caper salsa is a really cool twist on this dish and the thin sliced butternut squash serves to balance out the flavors and add some color to the plate. Continuing along on a positive trajectory here...
Salads arrived. I split a pear and radicchio salad (arugula, rocchetta, and supposedly some hazelnut vinaigrette). The salad looked great on the plate and the ingredients looked good on paper, but we all swore that they forgot the dressing. The salad was bone dry... we could certainly have been wrong, but either way our salad was missing something and turned out pretty disappointing.
There was also a Caesar at the table and it tasted like a Caesar, no complaints. Next time I go to Fresco, I'm going to try out the roasted beet salad given that I've had some really impressive beets before coming from Chef Tom, and we should have gone that route this weekend.
Entrees. Here's the rundown:
I ordered the risotto - which was a pork tenderloin wrapped with a pork belly on a bed of risotto with a balsamic reduction and broccolini. The dish was topped with some crisp greens. Flavors on the risotto were great, veggies were crisp and the greens were a really nice addition. Sadly, my pork tenderloin was significantly overcooked. At this point, I'm worried about the overcooking trend with this chef and pork tenderloin. My pancetta-wrapped tenderloin at the Bacon Battle was also overdone, but this was a full step worse than that. The pork belly was also not cooked particularly well. All in, this entree broke my heart. Chef Tom prepared the best pork belly that I have ever eaten, so maybe my hopes were too high, but this one fell very flat.
My wife went for the Maltagliati (Chicken Cacciatore, Parmesan, Wild Mushrooms). This was perhaps the winner of the evening - PERFECT sauce, and a really nice pasta. Nothing was wrong with this and Amelia now continues her streak of out ordering me whenever we go out.
Our friends did Fettucini Carbonara (house made pancetta, red onion, local egg and Parmesan) and the Cavatelli with Lamb Bolognese. The Fettucini scored points on presentation (beautiful unbroken egg yolk FTW!) and really nice, fresh ingredients. It was easy to pick out exactly what you were tasting in that dish, and everything worked well together. On the other hand, it wasn't particularly exciting and we all agreed it wouldn't be a repeat order.
The Bolognese was one that we had eyed on the menu before coming to Fresco and I feel like it should be the dish by which the entire restaurant is judged. Seasoned with Marjoram and topped with a portion of ricotta, it was very simple, but it is really hard to pull off a well-done bolognese, and I think that Fresco was successful here. This dish is very opposite of the Maltagliati, which was great because all of the big flavors were right in your face. The Bolognese was subtle, and executed really well.
We also had a taste of the Ballard Farms Pork, which is pretty much the entree Tom cooked at the Bacon Battle. Mine was overcooked that night, but on this night it was done perfectly so I'll chalk up my bad experience to the perils of working with a cadre of culinary students at a big event. The Niman Ranch short ribs looked great, but were too far away to steal a taste. I'd be temped to go for them based on appearances, for what that is worth.
We finished the meal with a couple of desserts: the date tiramisu and the itallian doughnuts ("Zeppole"). The doughnuts were a clear winner due to the slightly sweet lemon curd and some ricotta cheese mixed into the dough to add some body to the pastry. The date tiramisu was interesting and we all enjoyed it, but next time I'd just double up on the Zeppole.
Notes on service: our server was great though we didn't really ask for much direction. We did get quite a few attempts at clearing our table while we still had plenty of food in front of us, which was odd to me. In sum, the wait-staff didn't significantly add or detract from the experience so no complaints on that front.
The verdict? Fresco may be the best Italian in Salt Lake. It certainly puts competitor Cucina Toscana to shame, and I really appreciate the changes to the menu that reflect chef Tom Call's more continental style. There is still room to grow in terms of execution, and based on our experience this place should not even be in the conversation for Salt Lake's best overall restaurant, but we will be back.