Dining out: For starters, Pago's got the goods
Artisans, local, farm fresh. That's the motto at Pago, the almost 3-month-old restaurant in Salt Lake City's 9th and 9th neighborhood.
The "farm-to-table" restaurant, pronounced with a short "a" and meaning "single vineyard" in Spanish, currently invests in Bell Organic, East Farms and Sandhill Farms in a program called Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA). The practice is beneficial to both restaurant and farm during spring and summer but staying local and farm fresh may have its challenges come November. But with prime product arriving daily at Pago's door, the 47-seat place is bustling most days and nights.
The smart-looking interior includes straw-colored walls, distressed brick, reclaimed wood accents and a cool Cruvinet system, which preserves and dispenses wine. It's a wise purchase as wine comes in three- and five-ounce pours by the glass as well in bottles. There's also a great selection of beer, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages.
The waitstaff is professional and knowledgeable and look particularly hip in their black attire and long, blue denim aprons, crafted by former "Project Runway" contestant and local, Keith Bryce.
The service is impeccable, but what is truly impressive is the food the co-chefs produce out of a kitchen that is no more than 10-feet-by-7-feet.
Both spring and summer menus have reflected the seasons, which is as it should be. Enough with those dreaded caprese salads in March!
Appetizers that shouldn't be missed include the cinnamon beets ($6) with truffle honey, a dollop of Greek yogurt and candied almonds and the ridiculously tender braised beef cheeks ($13) with polenta, greens and a "succotash" of rotating RSA vegetables -- corn and red bell peppers on this visit. The beef dish could easily be ordered as an entrée.
Chicken paillard ($16) and a Wagyu bavette steak ($29) were delicious entrees. Two pounded chicken breast halves were lightly breaded and pan-fried until crispy, then served atop creamy mashed potatoes and a pale yellow sauce with a hint of sweetness along with the RSA vegetables. The same potatoes and seasonal vegetables also came with the perfectly cooked medium-rare slices of beef.
I didn't care for the gnocchi ($14; $18 with crawfish) with peas, preserved lemon, tomatoes and butter-poached crawfish from the spring menu. The tiny crawfish tasted overly fishy. The kitchen browns one side of the potato dumplings, which is an interesting twist. The gnocchi offered on the summer menu has green curry, tomatoes, basil, mint and summer squash ($19; $26 with Morgan Valley lamb).
It's not often that pheasant is on a menu, so I ordered it. The kitchen substituted gooseberries for the peaches that adorned previous plates earlier in the evening. The little orbs were a tart counterbalance to the nutty red and white quinoa on the plate. The leg and thigh were perfectly moist with crunchy skin. But the breast was dry by the time I got to it. Still, I give the chefs credit for creativity.
Creativity is why I went for the limoncello tiramisu ($8) for dessert. The use of Everclear in the making of the house-made limoncello did not deter me but perhaps it should have. While the mousse and first layer of ladyfingers were great, the bottom layer had soaked up all the Everclear, er, limoncello. Next time gentlemen, use less limoncello or more lemons. Panna cotta ($7) was a work in progress as too much gelatin made it rubbery rather than jiggly.
Previous desserts, banana bread pudding ($6) and a cherry buckle ($6), both served a la mode, were exquisite. And Pago's Melitta coffee ($3.50), presented tableside, is not to be missed. Millcreek Coffee Roasters supplies the beans that are ground and put into a manual coffee maker that drips rich-smelling coffee into big mugs.
Pago is in its nascent stages, but with so many things going for it so early on, I can't wait to see what they do in November.
Bottom line » Great local and seasonal food is transformed into delicious food at this farm-to-table restaurant. Its Achilles' heel will be what to do in the winter months.
Location » 878 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City; 801-532-0777
Hours » Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Closed Monday
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$
Liquor » Full bar
Corkage » $10
Reservations » Recommended
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » No
Credit cards » All major