Dining review: French passion lacking at Caterina
Caterina seems like a solid dining addition to Sugar House with its prime location in the old post office, its reasonable prices, and its emphasis on French food which has been under-represented in Utah's dining landscape.
It also has a pedigree. It is the newest addition to the Cucina Restaurant Group which includes Cucina Toscana and Vivace, in downtown Salt Lake City.
But for all its assets, Caterina under-whelmed my senses.
Jean Louis Montecot, previously of Jean Louis in Park City, is the larger-than-life chef at Caterina. And while Montecot is heavily touted on the website, he made no appearance during either of my dinner visits. After tasting the menu, I wondered if his oversight of the kitchen is in name only or if his presence is required only at larger private dining events.
The building, formerly known as Cucina Nassi, was previously used as a space for special events. Very little has changed in the building since Caterina moved in, except for the bright yellow and white striped awnings and front patio seating. Inside, the entryway now serves as the restaurant with the vast majority of the space still reserved for parties. While the arrangement is somewhat awkward when you first walk in, once seated the space feels neither cramped nor confined.
Over the course of two visits, I tried much of the succinct and well-priced menu. All meals begin with a complimentary bread basket served with a roasted head of garlic and olive oil and balsamic for dipping.
Appetizers run the gamut from an overly-hyped ahi tuna tartar (tartar de thon, $8) topped with avocado and served with bland shrimp chips to a wild mushroom cake (le gateau aux champignons, $6.50) with a delightful tomato coulis and parsley oil. The moules mariniere (mussels, $9) delivered a generous bunch of steamed bivalves in a garlicky, buttery white wine broth.
The item that delighted us most was the salade du jardin de saison ($6) mixed greens lightly dressed in a honey lemon vinaigrette with roasted pears and warm goat cheese. Hitting all the right notes and in a sharable size, this was an excellent beginning to dinner. The French onion soup (les cinque oignons gratin, $7) provided a rich beef stock base; caramelized white, yellow and red onions topped with sesame seed bread (the same as in the bread basket) and melted Gruyere.
Caterina's entree selections include fowl, fish, pork, lamb and steak. Some are hits, others miss the mark.
The flavorful duck confit with potato dumplings (quenelle de pomme de terre aux confit de canard, $19) in a complex mushroom broth was executed precisely but has since been taken off the menu. The grilled skirt steak (la bavette lyonnaise, $18) offered excellent smoky flavor and was cooked as ordered. Porc vallee d auge (pork medallions, $18) arrived ever-so-slightly pink with caramelized apples and earthy mushrooms.
Less stellar was le cassoulet (white bean stew, $16), which lacked the duck confit, lamb and sausage listed on the menu which meant it was just a huge casserole of less-than-flavorful beans. Moist lamb in tomato sauce (le navarin d'agneau, $16) also was brought down by a potato side served nearly raw.
In addition to the reasonable food prices, Caterina's wine list offers a smart selection of well-priced sparkling wines, whites, roses and reds beginning in the low $30s per bottle. With a $12 corkage fee, it doesn't pay to bring your own here.
To end the meal, choose from fondant au chocolat ($9), a moist chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream, a traditional French clafoutis ($7) with cherries and crÃ¨me anglaise or the crÃ¨me brulee ($8).
From the small restaurant space to the good-but-not-great food to the service (which, while informed, felt somewhat stiff) Caterina falls short of expectations.
Perhaps with time and the opening of the patio this summer, all the pieces will come together for a more exciting dining experience.
Food • HH
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • bb
A new restaurant in the heart of SugarHouse offering affordable French fare with nice wines to match.
Location • 2155 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City; 801-819-7555
Online • caterinaslc.com
Hours • Monday-Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.; closed Sunday
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