Sea Salt in Salt Lake City

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?

The glowing bar of Sea Salt.

The glowing bar of Sea Salt.

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.

Mozzarella di Bufala appetizer.

Mozzarella di Bufala appetizer.

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.

Margherita and Basilicata pizzas.

Margherita and Basilicata pizzas.

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.

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Orecchiette alla Pugliese and Gnocchi alla Norma pastas.

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.

Tiramisu and pistachio gelato.

Tiramisu and pistachio gelato.

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.

The Meyer Lemon & Roasted Pinenut Ricotta Cake was a highlight.

The Lemon & Pine nut Ricotta Cake was a highlight.

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.

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Comments

  1. I’ll have to stop by sometime as it’s pretty close to me. =)

  2. Corkage differs based on the type of wine you bring in? Er…?

  3. I have had great service. I love the blatantly ethnocentric corkage too. Only at a DeBonis restaurant!

  4. Service is among the worst I’ve ever experienced. Rivals the infamous Amy’s Baking Company featured in Kitchen nightmares.

  5. I have eaten at Sea Salt multiple times. The food is always decent and the customer service is always sub-par but never to the point where I felt I needed to leave a review. This last time was different. On 10/2/2013 we had a reservation for a group of 14. They seated us on time and everything went fairly smoothly. They were slow, we waited over 20 minutes for our first (and only) round of drinks, however they were also busy and we were a large group so that alone wasn’t a big deal. We did wait longer than ideal for our main meal and some of the dishes appeared to have been ready for a while, but still the dishes overall were decent. Again, this wasn’t a big deal as we were a large group and they were very busy. I had the “Malfatti” al Pomodoro ($14.95). It wasn’t what I expected. It was supposed to be ricotta and spinach gnocchi, but it was more like balls of ricotta. You couldn’t even pick it up whole as it was basically just a loose cheese ball. I didn’t particularly like it, but I don’t think the dish itself was bad, just not something I enjoyed. After setting my plate down they didn’t ask if we needed anything, they just left. I had someone on the other end of the table ask for some bread as they were still being served (large group) and I couldn’t hail my server. After 10 minutes my bread still had not come and no one had come back to check on us. Finally a wait staff came to fill my water so I asked him for some bread. Another 10-15 minutes go by. I ended up asking a total of FIVE people for bread. By the time I finally got it everyone was done with their meals and were starting on dessert. I expressed my dismay to one of our servers and she said she would check with the manager about getting it comped. When the manager (Anthony) came over, he didn’t introduce himself but just asked the table how things were. Once we realized he was the manager I told him that I was not happy that I was eating a cold plate of food because I had to wait 40 minutes to get some bread. He offered to heat it up, and I politely declined as everyone was pretty much done eating at that point. I did tell him that I didn’t feel like I should have to pay for a meal that I didn’t get to eat hot and with the rest of my group; he responded by saying that unless something was wrong with it then he wouldn’t comp me. Why even come over and ask how things were when you knew what the problem was in the first place and you had no intentions of trying to make the customer happy? To add insult to injury I later found out that the owner (Eric de Bonis) was there the entire time and knew what was going on. Our bill was over $700 and the manager couldn’t comp a $14.95 meal that I didn’t start eating until everyone was finished because of their poor service. We really liked this place. In fact, just a few weeks earlier we had a friend in town that owns a few restaurants in NYC and we decided to bring him to Sea Salt. We won’t be going there again, we won’t be having our large get-togethers there anymore and we definitely won’t be recommending this restaurant to anyone anymore. The only redeeming thing about Sea Salt and our experience last night was Brooke. She was a great server and would make a much better manager than Anthony, the current and incompetent manager. After reading other reviews on Sea Salt it seems that poor customer service and bad servers is a common theme. Go figure.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      That is extremely frustrating when your requests are ignored, especially by the manager. Thank you for your comment.

      – Kelli

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