Patience isn't my strongest virtue. When I discovered from friends, informants and repeated drive-bys that Michelangelo Ristorante was to occupy a rather large place on Highland Drive, I stayed true to form. I penciled in an opening date and scheduled visits with friends who enjoy a well-executed Italian meal.
When it finally opened earlier this year, before I even had a chance to eat there myself, friends, friends of friends, colleagues and anyone else who had already dined at Michelangelo commented on the experience. What they said made me wait. (Astonishing, I know.)
Even though there was praise for Executive Chef Scott Ashley's daily specials and menu classics and for the larger, more comfortable and stylish location, there were also consistent complaints about the service. Timing, attitude and accuracy were never quite in sync. With experiences of my own, I held off on reviewing the new location.
Now after a few months, I can honestly say that the grievances regarding service are much less severe. But the disclaimer is that for as much as the food and wine list can be good (particularly for a reasonably priced lunch), Michelangelo is still rife with inconsistencies. And no matter what you happen to encounter, it will most likely come with a hefty price tag.
Mind you, I -- like most of Michelangelo's diners -- don't mind spending hard-earned income on a good meal. I'm willing to try a $21 special truffle pizza. I loved the fact that it features thinly sliced fresh truffles but was perplexed as to why it was treated like pepperoni. The potent yet fragile fragrance fades when exposed to Michelangelo's oven. Other successful truffle pizzas I've had blended the preciously small amount of spore with cheese or something with fat to conduct and naturally amplify its flavor.
But then, I loved Michelangelo's whole roasted branzino ($28), which arrived with head and tail. Simply roasted, it evoked the memories of meals on the Mediterranean and the physical promise of savoring the tender cheeks of the medium-sized white fish. Flaky, and well seasoned, it's one of many times at this restaurant where simplicity trumps egotistical flourish. Other "pesce del giorno" vary in price from $14 to $30.
Simplicity, too, is a magnifying lens for good or bad technique. Ashley's gnocchi al pomodoro ($13.95) is a gorgeous example of good technique, accentuated by the bright, basil-spiked namesake tomato sauce. It coats small, tender pillows made of fluffy potatoes, flour and eggs resembling mini-marshmallows in size and shape. The pasta-to-sauce ratio is perfect and proves that this now ubiquitous dumpling-cum-pasta (usually paired with heavy sauces) can shine in a lighter guise.
On the other hand, a caprese salad ($11.95) was too simplistic relative for the price. Granted, it's a larger portion that can be shared among a party of four, but at face value, the small ovals of generic cow's milk mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and olive oil wasn't extraordinary and nothing that couldn't be replicated by most home cooks.
A good Bolognese sauce is harder to come by in home kitchens -- and even some professional ones. Michelangelo's version ($14.95), strewn between long, flat strands of eggy fettuccine, was texturally spot on. But the deep flavors conjured up from hours of low simmering were muted. It needed a good deal of salt along with a grating of cheese to really make it sing.
When I recounted this to a friend who had eaten the same dish, she replied hers was just fine without the addition of salt. But she agreed with me when I mentioned that the spaghetti carbonara special ($13.95), otherwise gorgeous with al dente pasta, generous amounts of smoky bacon and a proper sauce of egg yolks (no cream), needed salt. In my case, the sauce was noticeably runny, the egg yolks still needing time over the stove to transform into the thick sauce that should hug each strand of pasta.
Every dish I tried varied so drastically in seasoning, from the undersalted pasta to a primordially satisfying, juicy, Milanese di vitello ($23.95) to an oversalted saltimbocca ($21.95), I wondered if the chef or anyone in the kitchen is tasting the dishes, particularly the ones made in advance, such as Michelangelo's concise selection of texturally-gratifying desserts.
The saltimbocca's trio of small veal cutlets, pounded thin, sautéed quickly and topped with fontina and prosciutto, would've been perfect if the sauce hadn't been so salty. There's plenty of salt contributed from these ingredients. The inadvertent rescue of bland chunks of roasted potato from the vegetable side dish was a happy discovery.
I pondered all of this in the new dining room -- huge windows that let in an abundance of light, highlighting the clean modern lines and open kitchen space facing the entrance. One man impatiently eyed each passing server, apparently waiting for his group's tab. He tapped his fingers on the table. He made snide comments to his friends. When the bill finally came, he paid without much politeness.
It seems patience isn't his virtue, either.
Noise » 3 bells
The modern décor of its new space finally catches up to the straightforward, if expensive, Italian dishes on the large menu. Service peaks at inconsistent.
Location » 3005 Highland Drive, SLC; 801-466-0961
Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; Sunday 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $$$
Liquor » Beer and wine
Corkage » $10
Reservations » Accepted
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major