The name Valter Nassi resonates with a many Utah diners. He is equal parts restaurant impresario and beaming host, brimming with hugs, handshakes and flair. His popularity with diners stems from his erstwhile years at the award-winning Cucina Toscana.
But he broke away in 2012 to create Valter’s Osteria. His namesake restaurant is located in the space left vacant by the departed Metropolitan restaurant. The plush remodel is a remarkable transformation from what was previously a far sterner, austere and modern aesthetic. Apparently modelled on a Tuscan granary, the update breathes a warmer more welcoming character into the building. It’s an impeccably appointed dining room, featuring a bar at the front, private dining to the rear and whizzing servers in sharp attire.
For such an upscale venture, the menu is surprisingly large. Time and again I witnessed diners happily defer to their server or Nassi himself. A common recommendation is a multi-course dinner taking in an antipasti, pasta, a meat course and dessert. That’s the path I took for my first meal at Valter’s, kicking things off with an antipasti of Fette Di Anatra & Pate’ Di Nana ($16) — a sublime plate of sliced, fennel crusted duck breast, served with duck pate and plums. The dish was fabulous with tender duck, rich creamy pate and a sweetness from the plums.
The delivery of the dish, though, presented the first of many curious service issues. It was delivered and presented to the table on one plate — before being redeployed using the silver service technique of spoon and fork —to each diner. Maybe it was our waiters shakiness and nervousness, but the vibe felt awkward, I’d rather have shared the single plate with my dining companion; especially in the context of a restaurant that wants to showcase its affable host, welcoming you into his house, sampling the food of his Tuscan homeland.
The fussy service continued with various items such as the Traditional Caesar Salad For Two ($16) being prepared tableside. Due to the tight spacing of some tables though, this approach is unfeasible in certain areas of the dining room — waiters having to wander quite far from a diner’s table to accomplish their task. This extra demand placed on the waitstaff seemed to stretch them too thin at times and left me scratching my head as I watched the complexity unfold.
Individual faults persisted through my meals. On one evening our waiter abruptly left our table right while I was speaking and placing my order, and on the same night a souffle arrived to the table more as a chocolate molten cake ($15), and a not so great one at that. On a subsequent visit an antipasti of Carpaccio Di Bue Al Porcino E Tartufo ($25) — beef carpaccio with mushrooms and truffles — sounded decadently exciting. Sadly it arrived without the truffles. Despite my waiters sincere apologies for the lack of truffles the price remained eye-wateringly unchanged — but the carpaccio was first rate.
On a brighter note, a fresh house-made pasta sampler ($20) was downright stunning. I eagerly devoured the trio that included a fistful of light gnocchi in spicy arrabiata sauce, two plump ricotta and spinach ravioli and a heavenly creamy capellini. Hands down the best I’ve sampled in Salt Lake. It was so good I could even get around the hefty price tag.
Which brings us to another cautionary note, Valter’s is a spendy restaurant. The multi-course dinner for two — with a single drink each from the full bar— was slightly north of $200 with tax and tip.
Entrees are some of the priciest in the downtown area. Grilled Piedmontese Flat Iron ($38) was recommended more than once, so I eventually bit. Served medium rare, medallions of beef encircled a measly pile of undercooked potatoes — the beef had fantastic flavor but was marred by excessive saltiness. For the lofty price, the dish left me wanting far more.
Scaloppine Di Vittello Al Limone Con Capperi ($34) suffered similarly. While the milk fed veal in buttery, citrus sauce with capers (and a side of spuds and beans) was competent enough, the price tag demanded something closer to exemplary than merely acceptable. Slightly better value was Salsicce E Mare ($34) — sliced, sweet Italian sausage layered over grilled calamari, scallops, shrimp and sauteed spinach all in a garlicky broth. Again, good, but not exceptional as the price point might infer.
For dessert, a supremely rich and enjoyable hot chocolate served with lemon raisin biscotti comes complementary, and was a pleasant surprise treat to end the meal. If you want to push the boat out a little further though, skip the aforementioned chocolate cake for the Tiramisu ($8.50), heaving with tons of cream.
There is unquestionably some special food to be enjoyed at Valter’s. There’s also a thoroughly happy crowd who enjoy the lavish attention and showmanship that the eponymous host brings to proceedings. At times, though, I felt like an interloper at a private party. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, while I couldn’t get past repeating service quirks and the odd stumbling dish. And at the price point Valter’s Osteria is asking, its doubtful I’ll be back enough times to be invited to the party.
Food • HH
Mood • HH
Service • H
Noise • bb
Valter Nassi returns to Salt Lake City’s dining scene with a chic restaurant that pays homage to his Tuscan homeland, serving antipasti, house made pasta, seafood and steak.
Location • 173 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-521-4563
Online • valtersosteria.com
Hours • Monday-Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Bar opens at 4:30 p.m. Closed Sunday
Children’s menu • No
Prices • $$$$
Liquor • Full bar
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • No
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Pay lot nearby, valet
Credit cards • all major