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Restaurant review: New chefs at Salt Lake stalwarts Faustina and Lugano

Published February 26, 2014 4:07 pm

Dining out • New chefs offer a reworked menu and updated recipes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When a new chef takes over the top position at restaurants well-known (and loved) by diners, there are two possible scenarios that can shape the future of the establishment: throw caution to the wind and start fresh, with new menus and direction; or stay the course and make minor adjustments to a familiar formula.

Recently, two long-standing Salt Lake favorites — Lugano and Faustina — have experienced leadership changes in the kitchen with one keeping things relatively the same while the other offers new concepts and ingredients.

Faustina

With a fresh face at Faustina, new chef de cuisine Joe Kemp, along with executive chef Jared Young have reworked Faustina's dinner menu to focus on more small-plate options and seafood dishes.

Additions to the comprehensive small-plate menu now occupy the entire left-hand side of the menu. The selections, in the $6-$12 range, include bacon-wrapped dates ($6) with creamy goat cheese and balsamic drizzle; beet carpaccio ($6) with gorgonzola, fresh orange segments and arugula to more filling options of filet two ways — an old-school Oscar-style topped with crab, asparagus and bernaise sauce or au poivre with pink peppercorn sauce, both for $12 each. The perfectly cooked-as-ordered Two Way Filet is also available in full dinner-sized portions for $24.

Having spent much of his cooking career in Maryland, Chef Kemp brings his nuanced skill with ocean-dwelling creatures to the forefront at Faustina, with new seafood items such as moist lump crab cakes ($10) with roasted corn, cool avocado and a dill aioli; a delicate seafood scampi ($18) with shrimp, scallops and crab swimming in a white wine lemon sauce; and a San Francisco Cioppino ($21) featuring a breathtaking slab of garlic bruschetta for dipping in the spicy tomato broth.

A spinach and feta cheese-stuffed chicken breast ($19), grilled lamb chops ($24) and pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin ($21) round out the meat and poultry entrée options. Hearty pasta offerings including linguini diavalo ($15) and the meat and veggie layered lasagna ($18) still remain.

Hillary Merrill, Faustina's general manager, has also built a refreshed wine list designed to highlight the new dishes on the menu, with selections from California, Oregon, Italy, Spain and Argentina.

End dinner on a sweet note with the warm apple tarte tatin ($7) with Slide Ridge Honey gelato or the nicely set vanilla bean panna cotta ($7) with a crunchy pistachio cookie and tart citrus gastrique.

Busier than I've seen in recent years, service during dinner ranged from expertly attentive one evening to cluelessly inept another, with a failed attempt to split a check evenly and charge two cards an equal amount (the entire bill ran on one card in two transactions).

Despite this hiccup, if it's been some time since you've visited Faustina, make a reservation to experience Chef Kemp's new offerings or enjoy his take on an old favorite.

Lugano

On the east side of the city, changes at Lugano are more subtle, with a focus on updated recipes and techniques used to create Lugano's long-time specialties, locally sourced products and dish execution.

Now operated by the restaurant's former chef di cucina Jonah Hornsby, along with chef Barney Northrop who returned to the restaurant after a number of years away, regulars will see fresh presentations of familiar dishes with a few new additions here and there.

The beef carpaccio ($14) appetizer caught our eye and didn't disappoint with paper-thin slices of meat topped with shaves of grana cheese, truffle oil and arugula. A house breadstick was rather hard and we used it more as a serving implement for the carpaccio than an edible garnish.

Happily, personal favorites including the fragrant steamed mussels ($16) in white wine and garlic broth and the braised lamb shank ($25) are still on the menu here.

Pasta entrees such as the linguini and clams ($19) satisfied with a chili flake-studded tomato sauce heavy on garlic and basil while the spaghetti ($15) with roasted cauliflower, sautéed Napa cabbage along with a generous portioning of crisp pancetta, was flawless.

Less memorable was the pedestrian spinach salad ($9) with dried cranberries and candied walnuts and the wood-fired margherita pizza ($14) plentifully covered with sweet San Marzano tomatoes and basil but served with a wetter crust than desired.

Nightly specials are worth noting and ordering. One evening, a truffle risotto ($28) with slow-roasted pork belly, poached egg, meaty shiitake mushrooms and roasted Brussels sprouts was the hit of the table with balanced proportions of earthy and fatty notes.

Desserts are still similar to those at most Italian restaurants in the valley but interesting interpretations such as the pumpkin panna cotta ($7) with candied pepitas and a raspberry reduction along with a flourless chocolate cake ($7) topped with a tangy blood orange sorbet seem to hint at what might be on the horizon for this latest chapter of Lugano.

Prior to ownership changes, recent visits had resulted in impeccable service as always but with the sad announcement that many choices on both the food and wine menus were "temporarily unavailable." Thankfully, inventory appears to have been replenished and ordering is once again as seamless as expected with knowledgeable insights offered from the wait staff.

Sometimes a forgotten favorite given it's neighborhood location, Lugano looks to remind Salt Lake residents of its place in the dining community. —

HHhj

Faustina

Food • HHhj

Mood • HHhj

Service • HH

Noise • bb

Still exploring the concepts of new American cuisine, Faustina now offers 13 small plate options from $6-$12 each along with seafood-focused entrées in addition to pasta, meat and poultry selections.

Location • 454 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-746-4441

Online • http://www.faustinaslc.com

Hours • Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$

Liquor • Yes

Corkage • $12

Reservations • Yes

Takeout • No

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major —

HH

Lugano

Food • HH

Mood • HHhj

Service • HHhj

Noise • bb

Lugano once put Italian dining on the map in Utah and new chefs Jonah Hornsby and Barney Northrop are looking to reinvigorate long-time favorite dishes with fresh preparations and ingredients.

Location • 3364 S. 2300 East, Salt Lake City; 801-412-9994

Online • http://www.luganorestaurant.com

Hours • Monday-Saturday 5 – 10 p.m.; Sunday 5 – 9 p.m.

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $$

Liquor • Yes

Corkage • $12 and $16 (magnum)

Reservations • Yes

Takeout • No

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major