Cucina Toscana has been a Salt Lake City fixture for years, famously led by the airkissing Valter Nassi and serving his brand of Tuscan-inspired cuisine. Now Nassi is gone and taken his Sansovino food with him. It's Elio Scanu's kitchen now and his experience inspires a new culinary vision.
“It's a painful change,” says Scanu.
He's right–when you take over a personality-driven endeavor and transform it into something less familiar, people are unhappy. We are emotionally attached to food. We cry when you take away our favorites. This is the hardest kind of change for a business to make.
Scanu's wise. He's had a transitional menu in place for several months, a pared-down version of Nassi's voluminous list with the addition of some new dishes.
“Now, I present my own interpretation of where Italian food is going,” says Scanu. But still, there will be an insert list of “Cucina Favorites,” for those who can't kiss scaloppini and saltimbocca, ciao.
Most American diners don't think about where Italian food is going. We're still learning about where it's been. American-Italian fare has evolved from Southern red sauces to North Italian white wine sauces to understanding it's more complicated than that, that there are dozens of traditional and authentic Italian foodways.
But “Cuisine is alive, like a language,” says Scanu. It changes constantly–American steak is not like Chianina beef. “Creminelli salumi is made with hundreds-year-old methods, but with American ingredients,” Scanu points out. “It's a different terroir, with its own taste.”
In other words, authenticity changes all the time. “My father would throw up his hands, but you can make a risotto with shiitake, not porcini.”
This idea is what Scanu is putting on the menu at Cucina Toscana, starting this week.
Roasted beet gnocchi with a goat cheese foam, carpaccio of tuna with ricotta foam–
only these aren't the spittle-like foams we've seen in other local molecularly gastronomic efforts. Scanu's foam is richer, with more mouth feel. So don't imagine tricky concoctions that are more about the punch line that the flavor.
He brought out a plate of one of the new dishes: pork pastrami, pork belly and tenderloin cured like pastrami with threadlike pickled cabbage.
He's dry-aging a T-bone for 43 days–but it's a pork T-bone. Grilled octopus comes with smoked polenta.
Pappardelle comes with a leek fondue, speckc and buerre blanc, emerging like “a variation on carbonara”, says Scanu.
Besides this contemporary Italian cuisine debuting this week, Scanu is introducing a weekly menu of what he's calling “trattonomy,” which can be loosely translated as “really edgy Italian food.”
Examples from the $95 prix-fixe menu starting May 21: ahi tuna tataki with a “tonnato” sauce (think vitello tonnato), arugula shots and a blood orange/campari emulsion. A duck leg, roasted for 24 hours, lacquered with raspberry balsamic and served with broccoli rabe mousseline. And a dish with a tempting Forage-style description: lamb, garlic, grapefruit and juniper.
I. Can't. Wait.