Restaurant Review: Celeste Ristorante

Italian chef Paolo Celeste returns to Utah with the authentic Tuscan dishes he was known for during his years at Michelangelo.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Celeste Ristorante's Carpaccio Di Manzo with seared beef top sirloin, thin sliced baby artichokes, watercress, parmigiana cheese, extra virgin olive oil and lemon dressing, $12. After formerly owning and operating restaurants in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Chef Paolo Celeste is back with his Tuscan-inspired Celeste Ristorante. Originally from the Forte Dei Marmi in the Versilia Beach area, located near the city of Pisa in the Tuscany region of Italy, Chef Paolo says he learned the art of Italian cooking from his grandmother.

Murray: More than a decade after Paolo Celeste and his business partner sold Salt Lake City’s popular Michelangelo Ristorante and left the state, the Italian chef has reappeared, opening another dining gem — Celeste Ristorante.

Celeste’s return and the memorable Tuscan cuisine he is serving in a Murray strip mall are worth celebrating.

I visited Celeste Ristorante before and after a trip to Tuscany, and it is a delight to continue to enjoy Tuscan cuisine so fluidly at a neighborhood spot just minutes from my house.

The menu at Celeste is organized just as it would be in Italy. Soups and salads are followed by antipasti, then pastas and the meat course (secondi), with desserts and coffee to finish. Although Tuscan dishes might be considered rustic in their preparation, one shouldn’t mistake the simple presentation for anything but spectacular flavors.

Here, breads and pasta are house-made, bottles of the restaurant’s extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic are delivered to the table, sauces are slow-simmered and even the wine list is representative of the region.

One evening, we started our meal with the insalata di spinaci ($8), a generously portioned spinach salad dressed with slices of pears and almonds topped with grated dry ricotta cheese and a simple balsamic and olive oil dressing.

Another visit sent us straight to the antipasti, where we dived into the carpaccio di manzo ($12), a beautiful offering of paper-thin slices of seared beef sirloin piled high with shaved artichokes and fresh watercress encased in shaves of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and extra-virgin olive oil with a final flourish of lemon dressing that brought all the flavors together.

We also couldn’t pass up the prosciutto di parma ($14) highlighting thin slices of melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto ham. In the center of the plate, a wall of shaved Pecorino Toscano cheese hid roasted and marinated eggplant slices. Although the eggplant overpowered the other flavors of the dish, I did enjoy each element individually.

Eggplant also made an appearance on the melanzane alla parmigiana ($12) — a familiar favorite of many Americans who love fried eggplant layered with flavorful tomato sauce, parm cheese and basil.

Pasta is always my go-to area of an Italian menu, and several dishes we sampled at Celeste proved that Italians really are geniuses when it comes to turning flour and eggs into a delicious masterpiece.

The ravioli incavolati ($18) brought together ricotta cheese and kale for a toothsome bite bathed in a mellow butter and sage sauce just savory enough for cold winter evenings. The gnocchi al granchio ($20) delivered pillowy, housemade nuggets enveloped in a creamy pink tomato sauce and studded with lump crab meat. My dining companion and I ultimately felt it was a bit one-note as an individual entrée but eaten as a shared course — as is the custom — provided the right amount of richness to the meal.

Meat and seafood offerings range from familiar favorites such as the salmone in salsa verde ($22), with a caper sauce and lemon dressing, to the filetto di Manzo ($32), a filet mignon served with a green peppercorn and brandy cream sauce. More unusual suggestions caught my attention like the seppie in zimino ($20) — a perfectly prepared cuttlefish sliced and served with sautéed Swiss chard and peas in a wine-spiked tomato sauce. It was similar to stew and would have been easier to eat with a spoon rather than a fork and knife, but the grilled Tuscan bread served to soak up the sauce nicely.

The cinghiale in umido ($26) — wild boar chunks simmered in red wine and tomato sauce — was overly salty on its own but was partially brought into line by the thin slices of grilled polenta that accompanied the meat.

Desserts, such as tiramisu, are $8 each and change daily. Each can be enjoyed with espresso ($2.50) or cappuccino ($3.50).

Carmen was our server both times I visited and was a delight. When I ordered some of the more unusual dishes (cuttlefish and wild boar), she assured me that these were a few of her favorites but that many people might not understand or like them. It’s a thoughtful way to make sure that guests will be happy with their choices, and I appreciated her insight and knowledge of each item we ordered throughout our meals.

Reservations are a must most evenings, as Celeste Ristorante already has won over the hearts and palates of the neighborhood and word about the addicting cuisine is slowly spreading. Mangia!

Heather L. King also writes for www.slclunches.com and can be found on social media @slclunches

Celeste Ristorante ★★★½ (out of ★★★★) Food: ★★★½ Mood: ★★★ Service: ★★★ Italian chef Paolo Celeste returns to Utah with Celeste Ristorante, which serves authentic Tuscan dishes from a strip mall in Murray. Location: 5468 S. 900 East, Murray; 801-290-2913 Online: celesteristorante.com Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Children’s menu: No Prices: $$-$$$ Liquor: Wine and beer Corkage: $12 Reservations: Yes Takeout: Yes Wheelchair access: Yes Outdoor dining: No On-site parking: Yes Credit cards: All major