Fresco Italian Café
A Review Of A Restaurant In Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America

27 April 2006
By Jason Luttrell
United States of AmericaSalt Lake City, Utah, United States of America

Two of my friends treated me to dinner at the Fresco Italian Café in Salt Lake City, Utah, for my birthday. I had never heard of the restaurant before, but it was recommended by my friend's co-worker.

The small, 20-some table café is easily missed. Sandwiched between King's English bookstore and the Mazza Middle East restaurant is a small brick walkway that leads patrons to the al fresco dining area. It is also possible to access this part of the dining area from the eastern parking lot, behind the bookstore. Though this is the first part of the restaurant customers see, the hostess station is located inside. This is a tactless, poorly planned entrance to a restaurant. My friends and I stood in the al fresco area for a minute, unsure where we should go, until a female server told us to head into the house-like building to be seated. During our entire meal outside, other customers followed our example, and the servers repeatedly ushered people into the small building, only to lead them out onto the patio area by the hostess to enjoy their meals.

Since my friends and I dined on the patio, we only briefly saw the inside décor of the restaurant while we checked our reservation. Inside, customers can expect a warm and cozy restaurant atmosphere. A soft yellow-orange paint covers the walls, with elegant linens draping over the tables, while a single votive candle illuminates the glimmering silver set on each table. A few windows let in natural light, but mostly the small room is filled with the flickering ambience of candle light and the soft glow of light bulbs, imperceptibly placed to enhance the atmosphere. Simply put, the inside of the café is elegant but comfortable. However, it is small, and if it were full of customers, it may be a loud environment.

The patio features two rows of tables, not exceeding 10 tables total. Each table was decorated just as similarly as those tables inside, except that the candles were replaced with small potted plants. There are three gas-powered heating lamps for when the night gets chilly. A number of potted flowers have been placed around the patio, and the south wall is covered in latticework, complete with ivy growth. It is a comfortable eating area, though the usual problems of outdoor dining occur: excessive pollen during allergy season, insects and bugs, and the noise of the nearby streets and shopping areas. Even though the area is outside, it is cramped between two buildings, so the tables are rather close, and the noise level can get high from the echo effect, especially if a table near you is boisterous.

The best part of dining at a restaurant (especially a pleasant one such as the Fresco Italian Café) is that you can share and sample other entrees. We started with the Fresco Seared Polenta appetiser and the complimentary bread, a combination of multi-grain poppy seed bread and a standard enriched wheat bread with freshly minced garlic and butter. The best part of the appetiser was the peppery tomato sauce that complemented the sweet and buttery polenta [?]. Topped with diced mushrooms and melted fontina cheese, it is a worthy appetiser, and highly recommended, especially with the poppy seed bread.

For entrées, we ordered Linguini alla Bolognese, Shrimp and Crab Risotto [?] (the chef's special of the night), and the Pan Seared Ahi. The linguini is a simple bowl of noodles with a carrot and tomato sauce, complemented with veal and pork ragu [?]. The ragu was not peppery, full of garlic, or salty; one could taste the meat combination and the sweetness of the minced carrot. Since I am allergic to pork, I took only a small bite of the linguini, and was not impressed. For the price (US$19 [?]), even the most amateur cook could prepare a similar meal, and potentially enhance it by seasoning the meat. Likewise, the Shrimp and Crab Risotto was buttery and tender, but not full of either type of seafood. Garnished with a type of spinach greens and a simple sauce, a more intermediate level cook, with enough patience, could create this meal for probably half the price (because it was the special, and it was my birthday, I never saw the cheque to know how much this dish cost, but I'm sure it was not a modest expense).

The crowning entrée we ordered was the Pan Seared Ahi (and luckily, it was the dish I ordered, so I ate most of it!). The fish was expertly seared so that the insides of the four thick slices of meat were just warm, while the outer edges were cooked fully. I could see the gradation from cooked meat to semi-cooked to raw: my definition of perfectly seared. The fish was liberally crusted with a black pepper and lemon seasoning that enhanced the natural juices and subtle taste of the meat, while also providing a strong flavour of its own. The fish sat atop lemon and olive oil flavoured orzo [?], prepared al dente [?]. Garnished with oiled watercress and freshly ground pepper, this is an excellent entrée choice and is highly recommended.

For dessert, we ordered the tasting of gelato [?], the tasting of sorbet [?], and the chef's special: puff pastries filled with vanilla ice cream and liberally drizzled with dark chocolate and white chocolate sauces. The tasting of gelato included the following flavours: coffee, pistachio, and chocolate. As far as flavour is concerned, I would rank those flavours in exactly that order. The pistachio gelato included bits of real pistachios, and the entire dessert was garnished with cookie crumbs and a stick of lemon biscotti. The tasting of sorbet included lemon, raspberry, and orange flavours, which I would rank similarly. This dessert also included the lemon biscotti and a dusting of cookie bits. The pastry puffs and chocolate sauces were a nice effort in a dessert, but the pastry seemed to lack sugar, and tasted as if they were mass-produced, pre-baked, store-bought pastries. The vanilla ice cream also tasted like any ordinary commercial variety. While the dessert was rich and the chocolate sauces were very delicious, the dessert as a whole was not impressive enough to be considered a chef's special.

The café also boasts a lengthy list of wines from across the world, as well as an interesting and drool-inspiring cocktail menu. I know little of wines, so I did not order any with my meal, but for those people who are inclined to enjoy a glass of wine with their meal, they will not be disappointed. Furthermore, the dessert menu features a number of coffee drinks, espressos, and liqueurs to complement their desserts. I was ecstatic to see that the café offered Amarula Cream, which I have heard much about, but have never seen on a menu because of its limited availability in the States (and especially in Utah). Unfortunately, the restaurant had not kept up its stock of this liqueur, and I was left to have a mere shot of Bailey's Irish Cream on the rocks with my dessert.

Finally, the service of this restaurant is perfectly adequate and professional. For the mere number of tables in the restaurant, there were a number of servers watching over the tables and seeing to our needs as customers. Our plates were cleared promptly, our food and drinks were delivered in a timely manner, and the service was friendly, but not pushy or demanding.

My only complaints are the price, the preparation of some of the entrées, and, of all things, the water. Personally, I felt that many of the meals were marked up to garner a ridiculous amount of profit, and I am certain that if I made these meals at home they would cost half the price, and exhibit a similar taste. I am not a particularly experienced chef, but I firmly believe that anyone with patience and a sense of adventure could also make these meals at home. Second, the fact that Amarula Cream was not available was annoying to me, but I understand that restaurants run out of particular items on occasion, especially rare items, such as this drink. Finally, water is served upon request, and the restaurant offers distilled, mineral, and tap water. I strongly recommend customers order the distilled water, because the tap water has a horrible, metallic taste, and I could even see particles settling to the bottom of my glass.

In summation and with final recommendations: on a beautiful night, while everyone else is outside, dine inside. The atmosphere is better and quieter, and you will avoid the troubles of pollen, noise, and insects. Enjoy the Fresco Seared Polenta and the Pan Seared Ahi, complete with a glass of wine of your choice. Finish your meal with the tasting of gelato, and consider enquiring about a shot of Amarula Cream on the rocks, if it is available. Remember to make reservations and dress appropriately, even though the dress code is not strictly enforced.


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Key Facts
Restaurant: Fresco Italian Café
Cuisine Style: Italian/Mediterranean
Address:
1513 South 1500 East,
Salt Lake City,
Utah 84105,
United States Of America
Phone: +1 801 486 1300
Hours:
  • Sunday-Thursday: 17:00-21:00
  • Friday-Saturday: 17:00-22:00
Menu:
Price Range:
  • Appetisers: US$8-$12 [?]
  • Pastas: US$16-$22 [?]
  • Entrees: US$22-$28 [?]
  • Wine By The Bottle: US$24-$195 [?]
Vegetarian Options: Limited
Vegan Options: None
Smoking Section: No
Child Friendly: Not particularly
Dress: Business casual
Reservations: Recommended
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