I ate dinner at Cucina Toscana Monday night and didn't take a single picture.
That's because I didn't plan to write about it–this was anything but an anonymous visit. It was a planned dinner with friends, longtime fans of Valter's version of Cucina Toscana eager to eat at Elio Scanu's version.
But the evening was a good example of how and in what respects an anonymous visit and a non-anonymous visit to a restaurant can differ.
An anonymous restaurant review is still the ideal, although it's an ideal most general publications, newspapers and magazines have been unable or unwilling to pay for in a decade or so. Part of that is because of the rise of amateur food bloggers and the decline in print publishing revenue.
That we can ever pull it off is amazing. In a city the size of SLC, it's extra-difficult.
That said, just because the restaurant staff knows they're serving a critic doesn't mean they won't make some mistakes.
And THAT said, our dinner at the new Cucina Toscana was terrific.
Yes, our service was almost embarrassingly and uncomfortably attentive, but the food is as good or better than this restaurant has ever served, and you can't fake excellence. Wild boar ribs, as long and wide as a thumb, were smartly sweetened with mostarda served over arugula to cut the richness and topped with a marcona gremolata. Tender octopus tentacles were grilled and served over soft (morbida) polenta and sweet roasted peppers–a preparation to rival Aristo's grilled octopus. The sheerest of raviolis each encased a bite of rich braised beef shortrib and the risotto seafood special was perfectly cooked. Orders from the short list of evergreen Cucina favorites from former days were good too: Pasta arrabiata had bite and the chicken piccata measured up to memory.
Still, the pasta under the marvelous braised duck bolognese was a tad overcooked and the oddly colored salmon under an iodine-red tomato sauce was a mismatch.
The point is, no place is perfect, even for a critic who's been recognized..
Nevertheless, this is as good as Italian food gets in Salt Lake City right now, and the scope of the kitchen is unmatched. By the way, the space itself has been uncluttered: Like the menu, it's been edited and opened up so the dining room is airier and more relaxed.
The corner of Broadway and 300 West is where Italian's at.