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Dining out: Michelangelo serves pasta worth the price

Published December 14, 2011 1:51 pm

Dining out • Service still needs tweaks, but changes — including to prices — hit the spot.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The restaurant industry is a fickle business; it's hard to keep track of who's opening and who has closed. Several months ago, Vienna Bistro, on Salt Lake City's Main Street, shut its doors, and now Michelangelo Ristorante has taken over the Kearns Building space. Michelangelo's on Main is the second location for the veteran Italian restaurant, at 3005 S. Highland Drive.

A look at the company's updated website reveals something you seldom see: "New lower prices. New casual look. Same great food." Prices — especially for the pastas — really have gone down.

The new restaurant is divided into two areas. A few tables near the eatery's entrance allow diners to look out onto Main Street, while the majority of seating is at the back. Old black-and-white photos of the Kearns Building and Italian posters add minimal, yet tasteful design touches to the historic space, while an imposing "self-serve" soda dispenser front and center seems bizarre.

The menu is identical at both Michelangelos — consisting of appetizers, salads, soups, panini (lunch), pasta, fish, meat and chicken, and desserts. Pizzas are only available at Highland Drive. There also are daily lunch specials for $5.95. (Spaghetti carbonara and a salad on Monday or Tuesday's penne pomodoro with a salad.)

Also, on Saturday on Main Street, if you buy one entrée, you get another entrée of lesser or equal value free. Specials are all good and fine, but is it the same great food? In short, some of it is.

Pastas — both kitchens' forte — at lower prices for the same quantities are a welcome sight. Back in 2009, gnocchi al pomodoro and spaghetti carbonara were $13.95; today they're $10.95 ($8.95 at lunch). Fettuccine bolognese was $14.95 (now $9.95 at lunch and $11.95 at dinner). In all, the 16 pasta choices cost $7.95-$11.95 at lunch and $8.95-$12.95 at dinner.

Standouts on Main are the ravioli — half-moons made by hand that rest in a delicate sage-butter sauce (spinach ravioli) or balanced red sauce (cheese ravioli); and penne with a creamy, rich Gorgonzola sauce. I usually have this unforgettable sauce with miniature pillows of gnocchi, but the kitchen had run out. Be sure to ask for the house-made focaccia to sop up every last drop of the sauce. The same kitchen turned out an undercooked daily risotto ($8.95; $12.95), this one with mushrooms and asparagus. The earth-and-grass flavors worked well together but I couldn't get past the crunchy short-grain rice.

The Highland Drive location still turns out impressive bolognese sauce, replete with beef, pancetta, onions, celery, carrots, tomato sauce, wine and milk that's cooked for hours to achieve its complex flavors. Tossed with gnocchi, the dish was a knock-out.

Spaghetti Michelangelo has al dente pasta mingling with whole garlic cloves, serious spice from cracked red pepper and wilted arugula. Shavings, rather than sheets, of fresh parmesan covering the dish would make for a better presentation. Spaghetti carbonara, with pancetta and peas nestled in a creamy sauce made of egg yolks, needed a bit more sauce to be memorable.

Meat dishes weren't nearly as good as the pastas. Green beans served with main dishes tasted squeaky and previously frozen but roasted potatoes were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. An accompanying crock of creamy tomato sauce couldn't save a dry, overcooked veal milanese ($22.95; $24.95), while a heady sauce of Dijon mustard, brandy and green peppercorns couldn't rescue a tough filet ($24.95; $29.95), which was the only dish not worth its price tag. By comparison, chicken piccata ($11.95; $12.95) was a moist chicken breast cloaked in a delicate sauce of white wine, lemon and capers.

The appetizers are seasonal, but of the current choices I'd recommend the grilled asparagus ($8.95) with truffle butter and a fried egg, which would have been spectacular if the yolk had been runny. Prosciutto e melone ($3.95; $7.95; $8.95) was a success because of the sweet melon.

Caesar salad ($5.95) sported fresh, crunchy romaine, and had the requisite croutons along with a garlicky, balanced dressing. If you're a fan of mildly bitter chicories, the tricolore salad ($8.95; $9.95) combines red-hued radicchio, arugula and Belgian endive in a honey-fennel vinaigrette with Gorgonzola crumbs. The sweetness of the honey cuts the bitterness and the umami of the cheese makes this one of the best salads I've tasted.

Other starters disappointed. The ubiquitous and oft-boring caprese ($2.95, side; $7.95; $8.95) with coins of cow's milk mozzarella and tomato slices was forgettable, as was carpaccio di carne ($8.95; $9.95), raw, rosy meat peaking out on the edges of a plate of arugula, which was, like the spaghetti Michelangelo, cloaked in sheets of parmesan.

When it comes to dessert, the tiramisu ($5.95) and gelati ($4.95) in flavors such as pistachio and lemon, are good. The other offerings need to be rethought. A lemon crêpe ($4.95) was dry; chocolate cake ($4.95) tasted of cheap chocolate, and panna cotta ($4.95) was made with too much gelatin. All three unimaginative desserts were garnished identically — with aerosol whipped cream, fresh blueberries and a purplish coulis.

At lunch, there are panini ($6.95-$7.95), including the Piedmont (roast beef, caramelized onions, cheese, arugula), "veggie" (cream cheese herb spread with zucchini artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes and red bell peppers, grilled onions), and sun-dried tomato turkey with artichoke hearts, provolone, arugula and sun-dried tomato pesto, all served on the scratch-made focaccia.

Also available at the Highland Drive location are nine pizzas (9-inch, $6.95-$8.95; 12-inch, $9.95-$11.95). Though I usually stick with pasta, I'd have to give the pizza another try as a margherita ($6.95; $9.95) we sampled arrived warmish and was nothing special.

For beverages, there's a concise list of mainly reasonably priced wine, Italian sodas, soft drinks and espresso drinks (espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, latte — all $3.95). I received a slightly bitter macchiato — an espresso shot with a spot of steamed milk — at Highland Drive, while I got an unwanted taste of mocha in a mug on Main. The reasoning was the server was new to coffee drinks and thought I was asking for a Starbuck's caramel macchiato — an espresso-caramel-steamed milk concoction. As there was no caramel, he substituted chocolate. Wow. I don't fault the server, but it's apparent that training is lacking.

Service has always been the Achilles' heel at Michelangelo. At Highland Drive, despite a less-than-full restaurant, our entrées came out right after our appetizers, leading to a ridiculous shuffling of plates. On Main, in addition to the macchiato mix-up, our table was left with dirty dishes when subsequent courses arrived.

Michelangelo took a bold move by lowering many of its prices just as it added a second location. Now if the company can learn to train the staff on a continuous basis and fine-tune the timing in the kitchen, both Michelangelo locations could become known for fantastic and reasonably priced pasta.

Salt Lake Tribune restaurant reviewer Lesli J. Neilson can be contacted at lneilson@sltrib.com. Send comments about this review to food@sltrib.com or post a response at facebook.com/tribremix. —

HH

Michelangelo's on Main

Food • HHhj

Mood • HH

Service • HH

Noise • bbb

When the kitchen and staff are working on all cylinders, this is the place to go for fresh pasta dishes such as gnocchi al Gorgonzola and fettuccine bolognese.

Location • 132 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-532-0500

Online • http://www.utahitalian.com and http://www.michelangeloristorante.com

Hours • Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$

Liquor • Beer and wine

Corkage • $10

Reservations • Accepted

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • No

Credit cards • All major —

HHhj

Michelangelo Ristorante

Food • HHhj

Mood • HHhj

Service • Hhj

Noise • bb

Lower prices, especially on the excellent made-from-scratch pastas, make the service glitches a bit more tolerable at this Italian restaurant.

Location • 3005 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City; 801-466-0961

Online • http://www.utahitalian.com and http://www.michelangeloristorante.com

Hours • Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 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