It’s been a busy time of late for the Cucina Restaurant Group. If you aren’t up to speed on the latest news, here’s a quick recap: Longtime Cucina Toscana impresario Valter Nassi left to open Valter’s Osteria, in the old Metropolitan space. Cucina Toscana welcomed new sister restaurant Veloce, subsequently renamed to Vivace. And a third restaurant, Caterina, a French-themed restaurant in Sugar House, opened last week.
Vivace has two locations. The main restaurant sits adjacent to Cucina Toscana in downtown Salt Lake City, and the restaurants share a foyer on 300 West. A second outlet lies on concourse D of the Salt Lake City International Airport, part of the recent dining shake-up focusing more heavily on local operators. Heading up kitchen operations is chef Elio Scanu, also the expertise behind Ogden’s well regarded Zucca Trattoria.
I’ll concede my Italian is poor, so a quick detour to the translation book was required to discover “vivace” means lively, vivid, bright and brisk. It’s an apt name, and those concepts are reflected in the restaurant’s design and menu, both of which are exciting and engaging.
The dining room is a brightly lit, large and commanding space. In contrast to the softer Cucina Toscana, Vivace has a harder, more contemporary feel, with dining in the front, and various stations at the rear each preparing different items. The more austere design does create problems, as all those hard surfaces and the open space raises the noise level once the restaurant begins to fill up.
The menu, too, has an edgier feel. For example, in addition to staples such as pasta and pizza, the restaurant features a crudo, carpaccio and mozzarella bar, which you can also enjoy up at the counter itself, much like a sushi bar experience. With so many moving parts, the restaurant wisely offers a special “Cena Vivace” option for $22 per person (minimum two people) that includes a platter of assorted antipasti, pasta and a daily chef selection of grilled and rotisserie items.
The crudo options sparked my interest, and I received four thin slices of the rich, deep-water fish escolar ($12) came beautifully presented with avocado, micro cilantro, and a spritz of citrus. More sedate but equally delicious was ippoglosso ($12), four slices of delicate halibut, quail egg, truffle vinaigrette and asparagus salad.
I’d take these bright, refreshing plates over more ho hum salad and soups any day. Not that these aren’t worth exploring at Vivace, though. A traditional Caprese ($9.50) salad is prepared with burrata (mozarella with cream). The Insalata di Polpo al Mare ($12) provided a heartier start, a heaping bean salad topped with charred octopus and shrimp. Antipasti plates work well for sharing; in particular, the Piatto Di Salami ($12) provided a generous platter of finocchiona, felino, sopresetta, mortadella, olives and crunchy bread rounds.
Vivace’s pasta dishes offer a safer haven for diners not ready to take the leap into raw fish and grilled octopus. Bombolotti arrabiatta ($16) is a pleasingly spicy tomato and basil sauce covering thick hoops of pasta, but the Maloreddus alla Norcia ($22) was even better. Loops of thick al dente pasta were sauced thinly and peppered with pieces of earthy porcini, truffle and meaty chunks of Creminelli sausage.
Best of all were items from the “Grill” section of the menu. La Porchetta ($18) was recommended as a favorite by the waiter, and it’s definitely now one of mine. Pork tenderloin is wrapped in pork belly, stuffed with rosemary, fennel and garlic — roasted, then sliced and served as messy, wonderful rounds —in this case atop crunchy fried potatoes and a drizzle of salsa verde. It was also encouraging to see the restaurant rely on local sources where they can, as the pork in this dish came from Ballard Farms in Benson.
Il Tachino ($17), turkey breast with Tuscan herbs served over roasted cranberries, onion marmalade and wonderful, crunchy potatoes, seemed like a seasonal flourish to the menu and tasted fine enough. But I was more bowled over by the Spiedino di Carne ($16), three skewers of succulent and charred meat from the grill, including pancetta, sausage and sage, all of which tasted wonderfully smoky and juicy.
For dessert, the centerpiece of the selections was the crespelle, a dessert crepe filled and topped with a multitude of options ($4-$8), everything from nutella spread and hazelnut pralinesto lemon sorbetto and limoncello. Other choices such as bread pudding ($4.50), tiramisu ($6.75) and gelato ($3.75 a scoop) were all worthy of ordering in their own right.
My meals weren’t without quirks. While servers were knowledgeable and keen to explain the menu as required, when the restaurant was filled, they seemed stretched to their limits. Every bite of food I tasted was good to excellent, but several dishes hit the table lukewarm or incomplete. I personally enjoyed the vibrant space, but some might be put off by the volume and the bright lighting.
For the time being, these minor gripes keep this very good restaurant from being a great one, and I’m hoping as time passes Vivace will iron out the wrinkles. Maybe the slight kinks are just part and parcel of such a vibrant concept. At any rate, I plan to return often to see how this enjoyable new addition to downtown develops.
Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at gastronomicslc.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food • HHhj
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • bbb
This contemporary sibling to sister restaurant Cucina Toscana next door serves up fresh, seasonal cuisine with plenty of edge. Play it safe with pizza and pasta or sample one of the more unique items from the raw bar, such as crudo, carpaccio and mozzarella.
Location • 308 West 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801) 328-3463
Online • dinevivace.com
Hours • Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Children’s menu • No
Prices • $$$
Liquor • full bar
Reservations • Yers
Takeout • No
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • all major