Italian restaurants have a hard battle to fight. Italian food is so well integrated into American cuisine that diners have high expectations that the food be both familiar and intriguing, yet approachable. On top of that, Italian restaurants are on every block in every neighborhood, so competition runs high. I recently gave Sea Salt, the neighborhood trattoria in Sugarhouse, a try. So how did the winner of Salt Lake Magazine’s Best Italian restaurant compare to every other Italian restaurant in Salt Lake City?
Sea Salt is hidden amongst the peaceful houses of Sugarhouse, across from the Immigration Market Harmon’s and Eggs in the City. The open restaurant is bright with large windows, a nice buzzing noise inside and an overall warm atmosphere. That is, unless you have the server we did. I’ve heard rumors of pretentious staff and unfortunately our server seemed disinterested in, well, serving, and didn’t even offer to open the wine we brought with us or greet the first person to arrive at the table until the rest of us arrived.
I’m a big believer on asking the staff for their recommendations. Not only does it give you a good idea of what dishes to lean toward, it allows them to provide some insight to the food or restaurant itself. Even though our server had rubbed us the wrong way already, we took her advice on several dishes; the first being the appetizer. She suggested the Mozzarella di Bufala ($14.95), a relish plate with eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, zucchini and roasted red pepper with mozzarella and crusty bread. All of the vegetables were drenched in the same marinade, making it difficult to distinguish between them. The mozzarella, however, was flavorful.
Two of us went the pizza route for dinner, picking the traditional Margherita ($10.95) with the usual basics of basil, mozzarella and tomato sauce; and the more creative Basilicata ($14.95), topped with pancetta, green onions, fingerling potatoes, ricotta, grana padano (a grainy cheese), chile, rosemary and caciocavallo (a stretchy cheese). The Basilicata was deliciously intriguing and the classic Margherita was surprisingly outstanding. Both were big enough to share.
The other half of us ordered pasta. We went with the Orecchiette alla Pugliese ($16.95), with house-made pork sausage, braised Cavolo Nero (a Tuscan kale) and tomatoes with a chile garlic sauce. The dish was traditionally familiar with a bit of spice and a good range of textures. Our other pick was Gnocchi alla Norma ($15.95), with eggplant, mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Basic Italian flavors but enjoyable nonetheless.
To finish the night, the four of us split three desserts :: Meyer Lemon & Roasted Pine nut Ricotta Cake ($7.95), a fluffy cake reminiscent of cheesecake, without the heaviness; Tiramisu, a refreshing take on the classic; and House-made Pistachio Gelato ($5.95 for three scoops), dense and delicious.
While Sea Salt has its high points (dessert, wine), its low points (namely, service) are quite the turn-off. Hopefully it was just a Friday night fluke and not an example of the service overall. The prices and proportions were both incredibly reasonable and the menu offered both classic and creative options.
Go to Sea Salt for :: dessert, wine and the atmosphere (plus the patio looks promising). Notes :: Corkage fee is $6 for Italian wines and $12 for non-Italian wines. Reservations available via OpenTable.com.