Dec. 14, 2011
Michelangelo serves pasta worth the price
By Lesli J. Neilson
The Salt Lake Tribune
The restaurant industry is a fickle business; its hard to keep track of whos opening and who has closed. Several months ago, Vienna Bistro, on Salt Lake Citys Main Street, shut its doors, and now Michelangelo Ristorante has taken over the Kearns Building space. Michelangelos on Main is the second location for the veteran Italian restaurant, at 3005 S. Highland Drive.
A look at the companys updated website reveals something you seldom see: New lower prices. New casual look. Same great food. Prices especially for the pastas really have gone down.
The new restaurant is divided into two areas. A few tables near the eaterys entrance allow diners to look out onto Main Street, while the majority of seating is at the back. Old black-and-white photos of the Kearns Building and Italian posters add minimal, yet tasteful design touches to the historic space, while an imposing self-serve soda dispenser front and center seems bizarre.
The menu is identical at both Michelangelos consisting of appetizers, salads, soups, panini (lunch), pasta, fish, meat and chicken, and desserts. Pizzas are only available at Highland Drive. There also are daily lunch specials for $5.95. (Spaghetti carbonara and a salad on Monday or Tuesdays penne pomodoro with a salad.)
Also, on Saturday on Main Street, if you buy one entrée, you get another entrée of lesser or equal value free. Specials are all good and fine, but is it the same great food? In short, some of it is.
Pastas both kitchens forte at lower prices for the same quantities are a welcome sight. Back in 2009, gnocchi al pomodoro and spaghetti carbonara were $13.95; today theyre $10.95 ($8.95 at lunch). Fettuccine bolognese was $14.95 (now $9.95 at lunch and $11.95 at dinner). In all, the 16 pasta choices cost $7.95-$11.95 at lunch and $8.95-$12.95 at dinner.
Standouts on Main are the ravioli half-moons made by hand that rest in a delicate sage-butter sauce (spinach ravioli) or balanced red sauce (cheese ravioli); and penne with a creamy, rich Gorgonzola sauce. I usually have this unforgettable sauce with miniature pillows of gnocchi, but the kitchen had run out. Be sure to ask for the house-made focaccia to sop up every last drop of the sauce. The same kitchen turned out an undercooked daily risotto ($8.95; $12.95), this one with mushrooms and asparagus. The earth-and-grass flavors worked well together but I couldnt get past the crunchy short-grain rice.
The Highland Drive location still turns out impressive bolognese sauce, replete with beef, pancetta, onions, celery, carrots, tomato sauce, wine and milk thats cooked for hours to achieve its complex flavors. Tossed with gnocchi, the dish was a knock-out.
Spaghetti Michelangelo has al dente pasta mingling with whole garlic cloves, serious spice from cracked red pepper and wilted arugula. Shavings, rather than sheets, of fresh parmesan covering the dish would make for a better presentation. Spaghetti carbonara, with pancetta and peas nestled in a creamy sauce made of egg yolks, needed a bit more sauce to be memorable.
Meat dishes werent nearly as good as the pastas. Green beans served with main dishes tasted squeaky and previously frozen but roasted potatoes were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. An accompanying crock of creamy tomato sauce couldnt save a dry, overcooked veal milanese ($22.95; $24.95), while a heady sauce of Dijon mustard, brandy and green peppercorns couldnt rescue a tough filet ($24.95; $29.95), which was the only dish not worth its price tag. By comparison, chicken piccata ($11.95; $12.95) was a moist chicken breast cloaked in a delicate sauce of white wine, lemon and capers.
The appetizers are seasonal, but of the current choices Id recommend the grilled asparagus ($8.95) with truffle butter and a fried egg, which would have been spectacular if the yolk had been runny. Prosciutto e melone ($3.95; $7.95; $8.95) was a success because of the sweet melon.
Caesar salad ($5.95) sported fresh, crunchy romaine, and had the requisite croutons along with a garlicky, balanced dressing. If youre a fan of mildly bitter chicories, the tricolore salad ($8.95; $9.95) combines red-hued radicchio, arugula and Belgian endive in a honey-fennel vinaigrette with Gorgonzola crumbs. The sweetness of the honey cuts the bitterness and the umami of the cheese makes this one of the best salads Ive tasted.
Other starters disappointed. The ubiquitous and oft-boring caprese ($2.95, side; $7.95; $8.95) with coins of cows milk mozzarella and tomato slices was forgettable, as was carpaccio di carne ($8.95; $9.95), raw, rosy meat peaking out on the edges of a plate of arugula, which was, like the spaghetti Michelangelo, cloaked in sheets of parmesan.
When it comes to dessert, the tiramisu ($5.95) and gelati ($4.95) in flavors such as pistachio and lemon, are good. The other offerings need to be rethought. A lemon crêpe ($4.95) was dry; chocolate cake ($4.95) tasted of cheap chocolate, and panna cotta ($4.95) was made with too much gelatin. All three unimaginative desserts were garnished identically with aerosol whipped cream, fresh blueberries and a purplish coulis.
At lunch, there are panini ($6.95-$7.95), including the Piedmont (roast beef, caramelized onions, cheese, arugula), veggie (cream cheese herb spread with zucchini artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes and red bell peppers, grilled onions), and sun-dried tomato turkey with artichoke hearts, provolone, arugula and sun-dried tomato pesto, all served on the scratch-made focaccia.
Also available at the Highland Drive location are nine pizzas (9-inch, $6.95-$8.95; 12-inch, $9.95-$11.95). Though I usually stick with pasta, Id have to give the pizza another try as a margherita ($6.95; $9.95) we sampled arrived warmish and was nothing special.
For beverages, theres a concise list of mainly reasonably priced wine, Italian sodas, soft drinks and espresso drinks (espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, latte all $3.95). I received a slightly bitter macchiato an espresso shot with a spot of steamed milk at Highland Drive, while I got an unwanted taste of mocha in a mug on Main. The reasoning was the server was new to coffee drinks and thought I was asking for a Starbucks caramel macchiato an espresso-caramel-steamed milk concoction. As there was no caramel, he substituted chocolate. Wow. I dont fault the server, but its apparent that training is lacking.
Service has always been the Achilles heel at Michelangelo. At Highland Drive, despite a less-than-full restaurant, our entrées came out right after our appetizers, leading to a ridiculous shuffling of plates. On Main, in addition to the macchiato mix-up, our table was left with dirty dishes when subsequent courses arrived.
Michelangelo took a bold move by lowering many of its prices just as it added a second location. Now if the company can learn to train the staff on a continuous basis and fine-tune the timing in the kitchen, both Michelangelo locations could become known for fantastic and reasonably priced pasta.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.