Review: After the appetizers and before the desserts, a not-so-fine dining experience at Salt Lake City’s new Sonoma Grill

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Spicy Asian Ribs at Sonoma Grill & Wine Bar, a new restaurant inside the Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday March 18, 2019.

On paper, Sonoma Grill + Wine Bar looks exquisite, from the elegant space inside the Peery Hotel to the photos of beautifully plated food on its website.

In reality, the menu at the downtown Salt Lake City restaurant feels unfocused, the kitchen execution is inconsistent and the service team struggles at times.

The menu, described as a “wood-fired and farm-inspired dining experience” with a focus on California cuisine, includes a variety of items that includes pork belly tacos, an Asian chicken salad, a country chicken-fried sandwich and burrata ravioli. It’s an identity crisis that crops up when a restaurant decides to use the catchall term “New American” cuisine.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sonoma Grill & Wine Bar, a new restaurant inside the Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City on Monday March 18, 2019.

This became more apparent as I sampled various dishes.

The small plates, sandwiches (called hand-helds) and entrees were a disappointment, primarily due to poor execution, while the appetizers, pizza and desserts were more successful.

The chicken and mole tamales ($12) had an imbalanced ratio of filling to dough, with only about two tablespoons of shredded chicken and green paste inside the thick masa. Additionally, the roasted corn salad on top included just a few kernels mixed in with heaps of greens.

Our bowl of pineapple chipotle pork belly ($13) included five strips of poorly rendered fat cap and one strip of overcooked, dry and chewy meat. There was almost no pineapple flavor, and only the fat had any semblance of the chipotle seasoning. The cheesy grits could have been creamier and less grainy. And the muscat honey, frisee and lime vinaigrette were missing.

Since we didn’t have a meat thermometer, we’ll never know whether the country fried chicken sandwich ($13) with a pink center yet overcooked edges was safe to eat. And the crispy chicken atop the Pasta Meliss’ ($23) was chewy and difficult to cut. The rest of the creole-flavored dish tasted greasy.

I’ll give the Sonoma burger ($15) a pass because I enjoyed the flavor of the beef and ham. But the thin hamburger was charred beyond well done, and the sandwich needed a condiment — perhaps the garlic aioli that we repurposed from another dish.

If you’re wondering whether I enjoyed any dish at Sonoma Grill, the answer is yes.

The spicy Asian ribs ($14) and rosemary garlic fries ($8.50) were my favorite appetizers. I also enjoyed the thick calamari fritti ($13) with sweet chili sauce. The sticky ribs, which had been slow-cooked but remained crisp on the outside and pulled easily from the bone, reached the right sweet and spicy balance. And the rosemary garlic fries, while not overly herbaceous, really nailed it with the minced garlic and parmesan atop the crispy shoestrings cooked in olive oil. The accompanying garlic aioli complemented them perfectly.

The table easily finished the Creminelli pizza ($15), a simple yet satisfying Neapolitan-style pie with two kinds of salami and fresh mozzarella. The toppings brought a slight heat, and the thicker crust was crisp but remained soft inside.

It’s easy to love Sonoma’s desserts — and not just because they are exquisitely plated, often with additional sauces, fruits and flowers. The texture of the marbled bread pudding ($8) won me over, as did its whiskey butter sauce. The vanilla-flecked custard in the creme brulee ($10) was cooked perfectly, even if the sugared top had been torched a little too much. And the chocolate torte ($14) offered decadence bite after bite.

Service at Sonoma is mixed, as well. On my first visit — despite a miscommunication with the waitress — it was stellar. The restaurant manager checked in often and quickly corrected any issues. On my second visit, the pacing of the meal floundered and our waitress often lacked attentiveness and had to be prompted to check on missing items. When we sent back the raw chicken sandwich, our server offered a free dessert but did not remove the mostly uneaten dish from the check.

Being the third restaurant from the BonPatt Restaurant Group, which also owns and operates Christopher’s Prime Tavern and Grill (also inside the Peery Hotel) and Fat Jack’s Burger Emporium, I expect more from Sonoma Grill, especially with prices increasing from 50 cents to $2 on some items in the month or so between my two visits.

Instead, I paid fine dining prices for a less-than-fine experience.

Sonoma Grill + Wine Bar • ★★ (out of ★★★★)

The New American restaurant offers wood-fired pizzas and entrees, as well as other California-inspired dishes.

Food • ★★

Mood • ★★★1/2

Service • ★★★

Location • 110 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City; 801-890-6612 or https://sonomagrillut.com

Hours • 4:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday

Entrée Price • $$-$$$

Children’s Menu • No, certain items can be customized

Liquor • Yes

Reservations • Yes

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

Onsite parking • No

Credit cards • All