Historic Firestone Building
307 W Pierpont Avenue
Salt Lake City, UT 84101
Date of Visit: Saturday, August 23, 2008
Time: Dinner - 10:00 PM
Server: Justin & staff
Number of Diners: 4
Food Quality: 8
Valter Nassi took over the deserted Firestone Building space in 2002 and created his version of a Tuscan kitchen for Salt Lake City. As with any new place, reviews raved. Unlike other new places, the reviews escalated year by year, and the quality consistently improved. Picked as a no-contest best Italian restaurant by Salt Lake Magazine several years in a row, Cucina Toscana was also picked in 2008 by that publication as the best restaurant in Salt Lake City, period. Having been there a number of times, I find it easy to agree. It's inconceivable that this city could deserve or maintain such a place.
With that modest setup, we found ourselves downtown with friends late one Saturday evening, having just viewed the movie Bottle Shock - a great story poorly done for Sundance and released to art houses this year. Wait for it on cable. But I digress. Where to go near 10 PM on a Saturday in Salt Lake City for some wine and dessert? Unlike civilized regions, most dining establishments were already closed. We knew that the trendy, downtown places would be open until maybe 10, so we took a chance and went to the best one - Cucina Toscana. The parking lot was half empty, and folks were pouring out of the place. I had some trepidation, but we proceeded boldly inside. The bar area (not a real bar - this is Utah!) was being cleaned after hosting a private party, and the hostess greeted us cheerfully. I replied, "I was hoping to get some drinks and dessert." She said, "No problem!" and quickly seated us in the main dining area, in a prime table on the busy deli aisle. The restaurant is designed to make you feel as if you are eating in a kitchen, and the best tables are in the noisy, active areas. The host, impeccably dressed, introduced himself as Justin, and snapped his fingers, "Get some bruschetta for these folks!" The near-invisible staff made the complimentary appetizer appear, and it was perfect - freshly toasted baguette slices covered with diced tomato and fresh spices doused in olive oil. We asked for San Pellegrino for the table and it appeared immediately in endless quantities.
Just for fun, we perused the dinner menu, and I discussed wine selections with my friend. Justin reappeared and added his recommendations. My friends chose two different chardonnays by the glass, and I stayed with the Pellegrino as designated driver. Even though we were not hungry, the smells were tantalizing. So I ordered a "tuna carpaccio" while my wife got the Caprese salad. Our friends split an enormous pasta entree. The tuna was fresh, uncooked, and delicious. The Caprese was a work of art with fresh, organic, hydroponic, Wyoming tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and basil covered in fine extra virgin olive oil. The pasta was al dente and the sauce delicate. Valter appeared from the banquet room and provided handshakes and hugs for the men and kisses for the ladies. As always, he made us feel welcome - as if we were visiting the home of an uncle. After some time and several glasses of wine and Pellegrino, we were given dessert menus. Four demitasse cups of the house special hot chocolate (also complimentary) appeared to help us in our selections. The drink was warm, rich, and amazing - too rich to finish even the tiny portions. Our friends shared a triamisu. We were abstaining from sugar, so I asked if a dessert of cheeses and berries was available. Nothing like it was on the menu, but it appeared in concert with the tiramisu, and the selections were generous and delicious.
By now it was nearing 11PM and the restaurant was still about half full. Our friends noticed comedian Lewis Black come in with an entourage, and they were quickly and discreetly seated at a large table in a quiet corner. They were happily digging into their bruschetta as we split the $140 check (leaving $85 apiece) and made our way home. Expensive, but well worth it - the perfect finish for a nice evening out with friends.
Cucina Toscana - UNCONDITIONALLY RECOMMENDED any time for anyone in the Salt Lake area (closed Sundays)
Highs: Valter, service, activity, food, dessert, and hospitality
Lows: Very busy at "rush hour" 7-9 nightly
Bon Appétit! - W. Ego