Faustina in Salt Lake City

Faustina is one of those places that tends to hover below the radar—or at least, it used to be.  It’s a little bit off the beaten path, just far enough from downtown Salt Lake City to give it a neighborhood vibe.  Yet once inside, the classy decor and creative menu immediately makes me wonder why everyone isn’t always talking about it.

The restaurant has been serving New American dishes for years but last year Faustina quietly changed chefs–and with him, menus.  Joe Kemp took over as Chef de Cuisine in late 2013 and transformed the menu, introduced an entire selection of small plates and revived the seafood dishes with years of expertise from his hometown of Iceland and his previous work in Maryland.

Scallops with tomato risotto at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

The night’s scallops special with tomato risotto.

While many people may not have noticed the change behind the scenes at Faustina, they noticed the change on their plates and palates.  Last weekend my friends and I stopped by for dinner on Faustina’s patio before heading to the Jazz Festival (the music one, not basketball kind).  We focused mainly on small plates but couldn’t help but dive into some of the larger dishes on the menu.

Crab cakes with corn and avocado at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Light and lemony, I could eat a dozen of the crab cakes.

And because it was a hot summer evening and a Friday night, we ordered plenty of wine.  Faustina’s wine list is filled with glasses and bottles picked to perfectly compliment the food on the menu as well as based on the practices of the winery.  Many wines are from wineries focusing on sustainable practices while still being affordable.  We picked an Atrea rosé (one of my favorite rosés) and a Spanish Albarino.

We started with Lump Crab Cakes ($12) off the small plates menu.  Lemony and light, the cakes strike the right balance of fried crunchiness and flaky crab-ness.  They come two to a plate, with a heap of roasted corn, slices of tomato and avocado and dill aioli for dipping.  Trust me on this one: ask for two orders right off the bat.

Bacon-wrapped dates with balsamic vinegar at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Bacon-wrapped dates delicious enough to win over non-date lovers.

Teamed with the crab, we ordered Bacon-Wrapped Dates ($6) that were sensational enough to turn one of my date-adverse friends into a fan after one bite.  Bacon-wrapped anything is good, but the rich balsamic drizzle and sweet soy compounded with the sweet dates doesn’t hurt either.

Chicken Pillow Pastry at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Chicken Pillow Pastry, like a chicken pot pie.

For the main event three of us shared a duo of small plates and shared the entree special: three scallops on a bed of tomato risotto with roasted cauliflower and smoked bacon, then topped with chive oil and micro greens (pictured at top).  The risotto was heavy on the tomato flavor, but was incredibly light (as opposed to the overly rich version).  I loved the cauliflower and mixture of summery flavors.  While it was the night’s special, rumor is it might be on the regular menu soon.  (It has my vote to be added!)

Lamb chops with apples and jalapenos at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Little lamb chops topped with crunchy apples and spicy jalapenos.

The small plates we picked were Lamb Chops ($10) with soft polenta (like thick mashed potatoes) topped with an apple/jalapeno mixture with a side of roasted peppers, altogether delicious enough to make me wish the chops weren’t so small.  (The lamb chops are available in entree size for $24.)  And Chicken Pillow Pastry ($8), chicken stuffed in puff pastry with cranberry, sage, pine nuts and balsamic reduction that was like a homemade chicken pot pie.  It was a little awkward to share and I felt like it was more of a cold-weather dish, even though we enjoyed it.

Stuffed beef tenderloin medallions with asparagus at Faustina in Salt Lake City.

Beef Tenderloin to the extreme!

The fourth person that opted to order only an entree got the Stuffed Beef Tenderloin Medallions ($28), a juicy, salty slab of steak with cipollini onions and shiitake chips covered in creamy peppercorn sauce with a team of roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus.  The whole dish was amazing.  It wasn’t trying too hard, just good basic flavors done really well.

Faustina’s desserts are also made in-house by Chef Kemp but we didn’t have room for the blueberry souffle with honey lavender cream sauce or the apple tarte tatin with Slide Ridge Honey gelato (!!).  Maybe next time I’ll go back for just wine and desserts on the patio.  Ok and maybe a crab cake or two.

Go to Faustina for :: a nice lunch or dinner with dishes that speak true to the flavor of the ingredients.  Notes :: Open Monday-Friday for lunch (from 11 am to 3 pm) and dinner Sunday-Thursday 4:30-9 pm and Friday-Saturday 4:30-10 pm.  Also serving brunch on weekends from 9 am-3 pm.  Reservations are available online here.  Follow Faustina on twitter and facebook for special events like beer and wine pairing dinners.

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