MiniReview: Roma Ristorante - Salt Lake City, Utah

Roma Ristorante
5468 S 900 E
Murray, UT 84117
(801) 268-1017
No Web Page

This is a MiniReview - we had a special meal service with wine pairings for a local wine club, Les Amis du Vin Utah, so we can rate the restaurant, but the food, price, service, and ambiance are not typical of a normal restaurant visit. Servers brought out each course to every table in platoon fashion, so there was not much possibility of personal service for this type of event. Wine prices listed are what is charged by Utah State Liquor Stores, the only available source to law-abiding citizens in this backward state, and of interest only to them...

Date of Visit: Sunday, May 18, 2008
Time: Early Dinner - 4:30 PM
Waitpersons - entire staff
Number of Diners: 8 - 75

Food Quality: 8.5+
Service: 6*
Ambiance: 6

+The wine pairings elevated the food beyond it's native level.
*The banquet-style service precluded a true rating of the front-of-house staff.

What We had with menu descriptions...

Mediterranean Feast
Your hosts, Aida and LJ Ljubicic have prepared a delightful 5 course menu, with touches of Italy and their native Croatia, paired with wines, mostly from Italy... with a few surprises.

Starter: Bruschetta
With LD's unique style - you'll not soon forget it
2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Villa Maria, Marlborough, New Zealand ($14)

Salad: Spring Mix Organic Salad
Served with Pears and Pecorino-Romano cheese - Fresh, simple and delicious!
2006 Pinot Gris, King Estate, Oregon ($17.49)

First Course: Poached Salmon
Served with side Risotto - Subtle and full of flavor
2005 "Rafael" Valpolicella Classico, Tommasi, Italy ($13)

Main Course: Pork Tenderloin
Wrapped in Proscuiutto and served with Roasted Red Pepper potatoes - an outstanding combination!
2005 "Ruvei" Barbera d'Alba, Marchesi di Barolo, Piedmont, Italy ($17)

Dolci: Lemoncello Torta
With Berry Sauce... and a surprising wine pairing
NV Prosecco di Conegliano, (I did not get the Winemaker), Veneto, Italy ($16.69)

Members' cost for this event was $72 per person, all inclusive.

Roma is tucked away inside a suburban South Salt Lake City (Murray-area) strip mall, in the center of the block. (For trivia buffs the town of Murray is best known for being the home of American Idol finalist David Archuleta.) We arrived and quickly connected with three other couples in our mini-party, making 8 total. We all wasted no time diving into the first wine, Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, which was plentiful and flowed freely. It was cool, crisp, extremely green-grassy, and very tart. The grass and high acid content blended well with the Balsamic vinegar in the Bruschetta, making for a smashing pairing. Unusual to see such care taken for an appetizer and wine pairing! The Bruschetta was on thick, whole grain toast, with cubed tomato, basil, garlic, olive oil, and Balsamic. The whole grain toast provided a nice, meaty texture base for the very garlicky topping. Very good indeed. Most of our party were able to snag a second one from the roving waitstaff, who were busily trying to be fair to all 75 or so wine club members!

Salad - Simple and delicious was the promise, and Roma delivered. Fresh, organic greens were lightly dressed and accompanied by VERY thin slices of Bartlett pear and Pecorino-Romano cheese. The color and visual texture of the pears and cheese were nearly identical - deliberately so, deceiving some into thinking they were cheese-deprived! The combination of sweet pear, salty cheese, crispy greens, and light dressing was refreshing and delicious. The wine pairing of Pinot Gris amped up the flavor to the next level. This wine was fruit-forward, off dry sweetness, with a fresh finish reminiscent of a crisp Thompson seedless green grape.

First Course - The salmon appeared atop a slightly dry risotto, surrounded by a vivid neon-green oil, accompanied by a caper berry. Unfamiliar to most in our party, this olive-sized fruit results when caper buds are allowed to blossom into flowers with stalks that fruit into individual berries. Pickled, their flavor is somewhat less intense than the buds, and the texture is delightfully crunchy. The salt provided contrast to the relatively strong flavor of the salmon, and the risotto added to the trio of textures. The very green oil turned out to be an infusion of parsley and spinach into olive oil, made fresh on the premises. This aromatic garnish completed the dish into something quite special, transcending the fish alone. The Valpolicella had a phenomenal dry, fruity bouquet. The pairing was surprisingly not overpowering, and the slight salt of the dish mellowed the boldness and enhanced the sweet notes of the ruby red wine. A leftover sip of the sweetish Pinot Gris paired well with the risotto, but did nothing special for the fish.

Main Course - Like the fish, the pork was perched on a starchy base - this time mashed potatoes mixed with roasted red bell peppers. The slightly sweet tenderloin was wrapped in salty Prosciutto, cooked the minimum amount and very moist. The salty-sweet potato mixture was surrounded by more of the fragrant, neon-green infused oil. Taken individually and as a whole, it was all good, though not as special together as what had come before. The Barbera had a nice, musty nose, dry then sweet start on the tip of the tongue, lusciously smooth and delicious as it worked its way across the palate, finishing with a long, green maraschino cherry finish. Stunning alone, it was less successful as a pairing. Not bad, but not as brilliant as the previous pairings.

Dolci - I must confess that I am a big fan of lemon and no fan at all of sparkling wines. Our hosts surprised us with their choice of Prosecco, which the Italians drink like (or instead of) water. Meant to be a refreshing counterpoint to the silky, sweet cake, I found it to be an unpleasant rush of effervescent foam. Alone in my distaste for it, I was able to quickly give my glass away to a table-mate. While it reminded most of their summer visits to Northern Italy and Venice, I was more impressed with the Barbera as a complement for the lemon torte, contrasted well with tart strawberry/blackberry syrup - the sweetness of the cake revealing the previously hidden tannins in the wine. The Prosecco disappointed me, and I have to characterize it as an unpleasant, fizzy "alka-spumonte."

We were able to discover through the evening that LJ and his mother were the force behind the cooking in the kitchen, while Aida was responsible for the genius of the wine pairings. She was also the most extroverted, and visited nearly every diner at every table. I chided her a bit for omitting even one wine from her native Croatia. She had one chosen, but it exceeded the club's budget. Eager to please, she offered to cook anything we wanted, menu be damned. We speculated for a while about meals she could produce to pair with her favorite Croatian wines, rare and underappreciated. We shall have to return soon and put her skills to the test!

Roma Ristorante served up top quality Italian food elevated by Aida's excellent wine parings. The club event gave us good exposure at a great price. My favorites with pairings were the appetizer, salad, and fish courses, though my favorite wine alone was the Barbera. Roma is definitely worth a return visit and a full review.

Be aware that not all of these wines are available at the restaurant, and none of them are available at the prices listed. In Utah the restaurants must buy their wines from the same source at the same price as private citizens - no trade or volume discounts for anyone. So expect to pay at least 2.2 times the prices listed above if you buy in the restaurant.

Highs: Smashing food combinations, transcendent wine pairings, great value
Lows: For me alone... Prosecco-seltzer

Bon App├ętit! - W. Ego

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