Osteria Amore offers hearty, calorie-worthy Italian near the University of Utah

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crescentine e Crudo with crescentine, prosciutto di parma and cream cheese, $12 at Osteria Amore, serving traditional flavors of Italy with a modern spin, Jan. 10, 2020.

A quote written in Italian on Osteria Amore’s menu translates roughly to: If nobody sees you eat dessert, the calories don’t count.

Oh, how I wish that were true. I’m not thinking of the scoops of Italian gelato or massive portion of tiramisu, or the frankly strange deconstructed cannoli. It’s all the housemade pasta and wood-fired pizza crust and creamy sauces and oodles of cheese that I wish didn’t count against my caloric budget.

Salt Lake County’s newest Italian restaurant, opened in the space left by the Greek Aristo’s near the University of Utah, serves hearty and mostly delicious authentic Italian food in an upscale setting. The menu tantalizes with ingredients like scamorza (drier and firmer than mozzarella), guanciale (pork jowl), coffee powder and pistachio. The latter flavors gelato, but is also sprinkled over pasta and dots pizza. Plus, there are all the cheeses you already know, from brie to burrata, Parmigiano-Reggiano to ricotta.

Osteria Amore opened in October and is a labor of love by owner Eduardo Daja and executive chef Marco Cuttaia. Notice they are both Italian, the former from Bologna and the latter from Palermo. They say they’ve blended their respective northern and southern Italian sensibilities and cuisine. Their families work at the restaurant, too. Like Cuttaia’s father, who can be seen making the pizza in the cherry-wood fired oven, which renders the crust perfectly smoky and crispy but also chewy.

Daja says staff make all the pasta in house, along with sandwich bread, pizza crusts, gelato and fresh ricotta, which is offered gratis with toasted and crusty slices of bread.

Daja kept wanting to say that the food was homemade, which of course you can’t serve at restaurants. But the slip makes sense. “It feels like home, since we work here every day, all day,” he says. “We make everything in house that we can. We want to ... provide the best that we can of what we know of Italian food.”

You will see Daja at his home away from home, and he might take your order and deliver your meal or glass of wine.

The restaurant has a full liquor license, and a couple of spots to eat at the bar. For now, they really only serve wine and beer while they work on the cocktail menu. I say “really” because one server said she could get our table a cocktail, but couldn’t say what was available. No worries, the bottle of Ruffino Chianti ($40) will do. Nearly all of the wine served is from Italy.

Silky and rich, the Parmiggiana appetizer ($10) is a meal, with grilled eggplant, mozzarella, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and tomato sauce. We liked the Carciofini Fritti ($10), deep-fried artichokes and shishito peppers to be dipped in a large helping of lemon aioli. That one you will want to share, along with the four individually plated Arancini Siciliane ($8). The deep-fried rice balls sit on a smear of tomato sauce, with a slice of parmesan sitting on top like a hat.

Among the nine pastas on the dinner menu, I’ve tried four of them. The standout was the Cestini di casa ($21), five large raviolis filled with grated pear and gorgonzola and swimming in butter and fried sage. The Noci e Gorgonzola ($15) had that coffee powder sprinkled on top. That’s meant to be a palate cleanser — and it cut down the tang of the gorgonzola, which was a little spare to begin with. Like all the pasta we tried, the short twists of pasta (known as casarecce) were perfectly al dente to stand up to the hearty sauces. Between the Carbonara ($18) and the Osteria Amore pasta ($21), the house pasta was better. Both were flavored with flecks of pork, but the house had the pistachio and a pouch of burrata cheese. The pasta dish I didn’t get to try but would like to return for is the Lasagne Verdi ($18). Daja says the recipe has lasted for 60 years and is the most authentic way to make lasagna in Bologna, with bolognese and béchamel sauces.

Pasta feels like a treat to me, so that’s what I tend to get at Italian places, where I usually skip the secondi section of the menu. But don’t pass up the Trancio di Salmone ($28). The large salmon portion is covered in a creamy sauce spiked with paprika, red chili pepper, garlic and basil. The cream is balanced by the tang of thick, sun-dried tomatoes. Speaking of seafood, there are a couple of seafood pasta dishes, including spaghetti with squid ink, shrimp and calamari ($20). But the restaurant likes to reserve the seafood dishes as specials, to ensure freshness.

The pizza choices are many: one dozen. Most are 12 inches, though the ones labeled “gourmet” are 22 inches. I was able to try three. The crust was mostly great — besides the fire-flavor, the dough is left to rise for 24 hours so it is airy and fluffy. Still, the Contadina ($22) was disappointing. The crust couldn’t stand up to the brie, porcini and steamed potatoes.

Osteria Amore also serves lunch. That menu shares the dinner pizza list, switches out some pasta dishes and adds paninis, all named for theaters in Italy. The sandwich bread is made with the pizza dough, so you know it’s good. I tried the Della Pergola ($12) and was surprised at how good the sautéed carrots and zucchini were — they could have ended up soggy or too crisp. My only wish was more Italian sausage (it comes crumbled amid the veggies and slices of provolone).

When it came to dessert, our server warned us against the cannolo ($6), and we should have listened. The pastry, ricotta and the cream sit separately. It’s an interesting idea, but didn’t work for us.

Really, a scoop of gelato ($3) is all we “needed” for dessert. The flavors rotate, and you can check out the case at the front. I don’t know if anyone was watching, but the calories were worth it.

Osteria Amore • ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★) This modern Italian restaurant near the University of Utah has a lot to like — perfectly al dente house-made pasta that stands up to creamy sauces; pizza crusts and sandwich bread fired in a wood-burning oven that offer a smoky base for delicious toppings. All in a fine-dining atmosphere decorated with warm wood accents.

Food • ★★★ 1/2

Mood • ★★★ 1/2

Service • ★★★ 1/2

Noise • 2.5 Bells (out of 4)

Location • 224 S. 1300 East, Salt Lake City; 385-270-5606

Online • osteriaamore.com

Hours • Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Children’s menu • No

Prices • $$-$$$$

Liquor • Full liquor license

Corkage: $12

Reservations • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • No

Credit cards • Yes