Vivace, the relatively new casual Italian restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, is the literal side project of Cucina Toscana, the famed Italian restaurant that has won awards year after year. Sitting right next door to it’s older sibling, Vivace is the more casual, approachable version of the Cucina Toscana while sharing the same emphasis on quality.
Vivace is large and open. High ceilings and harsh florescent lighting give it a bit of a warehouse vibe (luckily the abrasive lighting is significantly reduced during dinner hours) but the wide windows of the corner restaurant help balance it out. When the weather is nice, the garage-like door is opened to give a slightly open-air vibe. There is also raised bar seating near the kitchen for a front seat to the food action.
Lunch :: My first encounter with Vivace was for lunch. The menu focuses on salads, sandwiches and pizza, with a few main dishes like rotisserie pork, grilled fish and tenderloin. Salad options ($7-$12) go from roasted vegetables and assorted salumi to basic Cesar and Caprese; while the range of sandwiches ($7.50-$9.50) hit everything from roasted chicken breast to eggplant/peppers/zucchini. I picked the Pomodoro personal-sized pizza (mozzarella, parmigiano and basil, $8.50) and a side of asparagus soup, the day’s special ($6). The pizza was simple and predictable, the soup was light and flavorful but both were forgettable.
Breakfast :: Vivace also has a location in the Salt Lake International Airport. The decor is reminiscent of its downtown space :: brightly lit with an open kitchen, bar seating and inviting (albeit a bit crowded). When I (surprisingly) arrived at the airport early enough for a sit-down meal on my recent trip to Portland, I gave Vivace’s breakfast menu a try. The menu is an abbreviated version of its regular location, full of paninis, pizzas and pastas plus salads and desserts. Quite a contrast from the regular airport places offering miniscule menus.
For breakfast I ordered the Crespelle ($8), described as layers of Italian crepes filled with spinach, ricotta and goat cheese, tomatoes and parmigiano. It was like a light, almost casserole-like version of lasagna. The edges were delicately crispy and overall it wasn’t too rich, with the slightest hint of sweetness. It wasn’t a typical 8 a.m. dish, but would be great for brunch or lunch.
Dinner :: Rounding out my experience at Vivace, a friend and I had dinner there last week. The harsh lighting is significantly reduced to a warm glow during dinner hours and the menu undergoes a transformation, too. Still stuffed with pizzas and salads, new options include roasted herb-marinated chicken ($18), pork tenderloin wrapped in pork belly ($18), spaghetti with clams in white wine ($20) or with crispy pancetta ($16). A wide range of appetizers are available, too; most seafood-based. We picked the Ippoglosso ($12), halibut, shaved fennel and asparagus in a truffle oil vinaigrette. Perfect parts crunchy and savory, equal parts refreshing and delicious.
My friend picked the lamb chops ($32) (and by “picked,” I mean we fought over who could order them and she won). Cooked perfectly medium rare with plenty of flavor (which is not always easy with lamb), the chops paired perfectly with the potatoes while the agrodolce (an Italian sweet and sour sauce) bridged the flavor between the two, although the eggplant flavor was a bit hidden.
I opted for the roasted lamb ($28), a hearty piece of tender lamb dripping in a tasty gravy. The meat was a bit on the fatty side, which was a turn off, but overall was delicious. The dish was rather predictable, but still enjoyable. For the finale, we tried Vivace’s house-made gelato (pistachio, $3.75) and the chocolate truffle cake ($7). Dense and intensely rich, the two were a great pair and an excellent way to end the evening.
I was not particularly impressed with Vivace’s breakfast and lunch, although owner Ken Millo told me last week that they are in the process of revamping the lunch menu for the spring. The dinner, on the other hand, was a much different story. The dishes and dessert were fantastic, the wine spectacular and the atmosphere perfect for a warm summer evening. Vivace was just awarded Best New Restaurant in Salt Lake Magazine’s Dining Awards and I think that it definitely has the potential to live up to that title.
Go to Vivace for :: a good, relaxing dinner emphasized by wine and dessert. Notes :: Breakfast is only available at the airport location. Reservations available via OpenTable.com.