I guess Valter Nassi planned a great new restaurant for Salt Lake and now we're going to get two of them.
When I walked through the former Metropolitan space with Valter a few weeks ago, he sketched out with his hands what his new restaurant, Walter's, will be like.
An open kitchen. A very simple menu, roasted meats, a few pastas and salads. An elegant bar, where patrons can sip a glass of prosecco and nibble on mozzarella, carpaccio and salumi.
I've eaten at Vivace, formerly Veloce, three times now and it's exactly as Valter described. Only instead of Valter expansively air-kissing at the door, there's Elio Scanu, quiet and courteous, concentrating on the food being prepared in that open kitchen.
It needs concentration. We tried the cena, a dinner in three-courses from antipasta, to baked pasta, to a platter of roasted meats, served family-style and meant to share between at least two diners. We've tried the pizza, the carpaccio, the crespelle dessert, the special cocktails and the octopus. The conclusion? Vivace is a restaurant still finding itself, but it's definitely worth looking for.
Designed to include the outside in the inside, giant glass garage doors open to the sidewalk patio across from Pioneer Park.
On fine nights, we request a table right on the cusp–under the roof but next to the opened wall. The gelato bar along one side and "Il Baldacchino" curving into the middle of the room give Vivace a casual, chic, very Italian vibe inviting you to dine or snack, and whichever, to converse using lots of hand gestures. We've enjoyed an early supper, an after-theater bite and a full-on dinner.
The first time I tried the full cena, I was thrilled with the antipasto plate, a sampler holding artichokes, mushrooms, Creminelli sausage, grilled radicchio, asparagus, tomatoes and bocconcini. And more. You can order the cena tutta (3 courses,) piccolo (2 courses,) or piccolina (antipasto only.) The middle course, pasta al forno (choose vegetarian or meat) and the last, a platter of roast meats–porchetta, turkey breast, chicken and sausages–ranged from excellent to so-so.
On our first visit, the pasta was farfalle with asparagus and radicchio, which sounded great and green, refreshing in the hot weather. But it was baked, defeating the vegetables. All the pasta courses were al forno–a little odd, considering the summer weather, and . On our next visit, Scanu had wisely broadened the options: the pasta was not necessarily baked, though still a tad on the borign side..
I've been happiest with our meals at Il Baldacchino. The word baldacchino is an architectural term, referring to a marble or stone canopy, usually over the altar of the church. In this case, it refers to a kind of restaurant within a restaurant, defined by the marble.
The changing menu is on a chalkboard, you sit at the marble bar set iwth Prosecco glasses (take the hint) and watch as the chef prepares your plate. It's like an Italian version of a sushi bar–platters of variations on carpaccio: traditional, tissue-thin beef with arugula, translucent slices of shrimp, simple tomatoes and burrata.
Part of the reason for the inconsistency at Vivace is sibling rivalry, I think. Cucina Toscana has been an Italian mainstay in Salt Lake for years. How do you open a complementary but not competitive Italian restaurant right next door without cannibalizing your original restaurant? Especially when such a huge part of the attraction at Cucina was the effervescent and irreplaceable personality of Valter Nassi. The new entrance on 300 West sets up this dilemma nicely: one door, two restaurants. The same, only different.
But I think there are three main defining restaurants of any restaurant: personality, place and cuisine. The very different atmospheres of Vivace and Cucina Toscana wipes out rivalry. Cucina will have to evolve and find its own place as a restaurant independent of Nassi's personality.
Vivace's place is inimitable, now it just needs to grow its cuisine.