Everyone’s talking about it. Sicilia Mia (no website) is, apparently, the Italian restaurant most of Salt Lake has been waiting for and I’m late to the party.
Distinctly unspectacular from the outside—Sicilia Mia is a bland storefront in an unattractive strip shopping mall—the small restaurant is always crowded. We made dinner reservations and still had to wait 40 minutes for a table, which means standing on the sidewalk next to the al fresco diners. Every ten minutes or so, a server or the owner would pop their heads out the door to apologize and there is a “Now Hiring” sign propped in the window.
At a big, professionally designed restaurant from a well-financed owner, this would have annoyed me, but Sicilia Mia is small, family-owned, unpretentious and inexpensive, so my expectations were not the same. Actually, because Sicilia Mia has gotten so much hype, including being called the “best Italian food in Salt Lake,” my expectations were low. I expected the usual one-note red sauce, overcooked pasta and powdered garlic flavor you’re served at many Salt Lake Italian restaurants.
Color me biased. Color me snobby. Color me surprised.
Pollo involtini, for instance, chicken pounded thin and rolled around a filling studded with pine nuts and raisins, shows the Eastern Mediterranean’s influence on Sicilian cooking.
The menu is full of such dramatic presentations—the famous pasta carbonara is made in a hollowed wheel of Parmigiana Reggiano softened by flaming with alcohol. The pasta, egg and pancetta are tossed into the wheel and mixed quickly, the server scraping the sides of the cheese to incorporate as much as possible. The tableside drama is a little corny, like fifties Continental food, but it’s also a lot of fun—the place is so small that the spectacle entertains all the guests. The result on the plate was a much stiffer dish than you would make at home, and incredibly rich. It’s a version that makes you support Calvin Trillin’s campaign to make pasta carbonara the national dish for Thanksgiving.
Sicilia Mia isn’t perfect. I was disappointed in lasagne—the flavors were good, but I thought it was over-sauced so the layers slid around instead of being a laminated stack. I probably should have let it set for ten minutes or so. And I was surprised at the absence of caponata on the menu. On the other hand, some dishes, like the simple spinaci all burro, are stellar. Spinach was another Saracen introduction to Sicily and at Sicilia Mia it is served in a timbale shape, bright green and tender, garnished with zigzags of balsamic and shards of Parmigiana.
At lunch, sandwiches come on crusty bread made from the house pizza dough. Canoli and other pastries are made in-house; the wine list is brief but focused on Italian wines, including some Sicilian selections.
In the end, what makes Sicilia Mia irresistible is the genuine warmth of the chef Franco Mirenda and his entire—and mostly Sicilian—staff. (Here’s a nod to our Norwegian server, who was as personable and knowledgeable about the food as the Sicilians.) You can’t fake friendly.
4536 Highland Rd., Millcreek, 801-274-0223