Saturday, February 27, 2021

Home Eat & Drink First Taste: Stanza

First Taste: Stanza

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For the issue of Salt Lake magazine that will hit newstands May 1, I wrote a piece about the business thinking at Main Street Management, the partnership between Joel LaSalle and Mikel Trapp, owners of Current and Undercurrent and of the just-opened Stanza.

I heard a lot about the vision for Stanza, but I missed both “soft” opening nights, a kind of dress rehearsal when press and locals try the food free of charge while the restaurant works to get the kinks out of the kitchen line and the service staff.

I heard—from guests and restaurant staff—that there were, indeed, a lot of kinks on those nights.

But last night, when I dined there, the bumps were gone.

Yes, they spotted me, so service was over-the-top gracious, undoubtedly friendlier and more solicitous than received by other diners.

But restaurant critics are seldom successfully anonymous these days and most of them (Jonathon Gold of the LATimes, Leslie Brenner of the Dallas Morning News, John Mariani of everywhere) no longer even try to be. That’s the result of a combination of factors: The Internet that has made celebrities of ordinary people, shrinking budgets at publications that prohibit paying dedicated restaurant critics, and, maybe, the ultimate silliness of it all. All those wigs and hats.

At any rate, after 35 years of reviewing, I’ve learned a few things: Chefs either can or cannot produce superior food. If they can, they try to do it for every customer, not just the celebs and writers. It’s surprising even to me how often I am served cold pasta or even rancid food when the restaurant knows I am a food writer. Yes, it actually happens.

Stanza was built around its bar—by leaving the bar at Faustina nearly intact, the structure qualified as a remodel instead of new construction—and anyone who was familiar with that bar will feel at home here, although the menu has been utterly changed by beverage manager Jim Santangelo and cocktail designer Amy Eldredge. The wine list is friendly, with lots of by the glass and flight options and a broad range of prices. Naturally, it focuses on Italian wines and varietals. Prosecco and negronis for all!

At the table, we ate house-made burrata with a beautiful fava bean relish, mussels cooked with prosecco and calabrese sausage with grilled lemons, a round loaf of house-made bread (to be used for sandwiches when Stanza opens for lunch)

and a version of Caesar salad. I’ve almost given up on the anchovy battle, but it does seem odd to me when they are listed as “optional” on a Caesar salad—I feel they’re definitive. Then again, so are eggs, and the dressing on this putative Caesar was called a mustard vinaigrette. In other words, this wasn’t a Caesar salad at all. But it is a good salad of romaine hearts when you order it with anchovies; even garnished with a few whole fish so the umami was loud and clear.

Carrot torchio (torch-shaped pasta) with shaved purple carrot and rabbit braised in milk and shredded in a light sauce. Of course, there’s a tongue in cheek joke here about bunny rabbits and carrots (what’s up, doc?) but there’s sound culinary sense too—the gentleness of the milk braise and the sweetness of the carrot puree in the pasta dough melded to make this a soothing dish, just barely spiked with pickled fennel.

If you order it, note that the stew-like rabbit is at the bottom, so be sure to stir it up. When chef Phelix Gardner was at Pago, he served a lamb and pasta dish I will never forget—mint leaves encased in pasta served with a lamb ragu. To my delight, he has revamped this dish for Stanza. Instead of whole leaves, he makes pappardelle with a mint puree and tops the broad noodles with lamb sugo—and if there’s a definitive difference between ragu and sugo, someone please enlighten me. Castelvetrano olives provided tart contrast and grated pecorino underscored the sheepy (sheepish?) sweetness. The sauce, unfortunately, verged on too salty.

Our third dish was agnolotti, the little pillows stuffed with pea puree and ricotta and served with Gulf shrimp and asparagus tips. The whole flavor was a bright spring green.

 

All the pastas are made in-house, and Gardner takes creative advantage of that, meaning that the pasta dishes are totally Italian in spirit but not classically Italian. You can tell there’s a real palate in the kitchen.

In fact, there are two—to my surprise, David Bible, whose cooking I have always admired, is Gardner’s chef de cuisine.

Gardner delivered one dish that’s on the menu but is still being tweaked. (This is where a food writer has an advantage over a lay diner.) Big elbows of seaweed pasta nested clams bathed in a white wine broth with tiny dice of pancetta and pickled fresno chilies. The three of us drank the broth with our spoons when the clams and pasta were gone. On the printed menu, this dish is listed as being made with bucatini, but the hollow curves of the elbows served as little cups for the savory broth—much better.

We didn’t eat a classical Italian meal, either. We stopped with pasta as our main course moscato and grappa for dessert. We’ll have to go back to see if Stanza’s bistecca fiorentina ($85) is as good as the one we had in Florence.

Even in the exploration boom of the 1800s, nobody dared to explore the terrain flowing through the Green and the Colorado Rivers.⁠

That is, nobody until Major John W. Powell said the 19th Century equivalent of “Hey man, hold my beer while I try this.”⁠

Read more about his dangerous expedition at the link in our bio!⁠

Photo of Powell’s expedition courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division⁠
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A brand new issue of Salt Lake magazine is coming your way! ⁠

We can't wait to share these stories with you. This issue includes our annual Blue Plate Awards celebrating those surviving and thriving in the restaurant biz. Plus, we take a road trip to Wyoming and ask why the only Utah passenger on the Titanic didn’t survive her journey.⁠

A note from our editor Jeremy Pugh, including beautiful tributes to Mary Brown Malouf from our friends in the community, is online now. Read more at the link in our bio ❤️⁠

Subscribers: Look for this issue in your mailbox soon. The magazine will be on newsstands March 1! 📬
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Today, we are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2021 Blue Plate Awards! ⁠🎉⁠

These prizes honor the growers, food evangelists, grocers, servers, bakers, chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs who do more than put good food on the table—they make our community a better place to live. This year, just surviving as a local business deserves an award, but each of our Blue Plate winners did more than that. They made us grateful for every person involved in the essential act of feeding us.⁠ 🍽⁠

At the link in our bio, we have the full list of winners, a celebration of feats of COVID creativity and a tribute to restaurants we lost this year. If you’re hungry for more, pick up a copy on newsstands March 1! Plus, check out our Instagram for spotlights on some of the Blue Plate winners. ⁠

This year’s Blue Plate Awards are the first without our beloved Executive Editor Mary Brown Malouf. We dedicate them to her, our town’s biggest food fan, critic and champion. xoxomm⁠ 💙
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2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @ricobrandut for Staying in Beansness⁠

Last summer, it seemed that Rico would be another victim of rapid gentrification in Salt Lake. Luckily, Rico was able to find a new home in Poplar Grove and now plans to add even more employees. It’s a last-minute happy ending for a community leader who literally wears his mission on his sleeve, courtesy a tattoo in bright red block letters: “pay it forward.” 💙⁠
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2021 Blue Plate Award Winner: @spicekitchenincubator for Keeping the Spice Flowing⁠

This year Spice Kitchen Incubator, already an essential resource for refugees, became, well, even more essential. 💙⁠
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2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @thestore_utah for Special Deliveries ⁠

As grocery delivery becomes the new norm, The Store offers a personal touch that only an independent grocer can provide. Last March, high-risk and elderly customers began calling in their grocery lists over the phone, and The Store’s general managers personally delivered food to their homes. 💙⁠
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2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @cucinaslc for Preserving Neighborhood Connection⁠

Cucina’s outdoor spaces became a place where the neighborhood could gather safely. Owner Dean Pierose offered free coffee in the mornings and encouraged his regulars to linger and commiserate together, preserving a semblance of society during a socially distanced time. 💙⁠
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2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @oquirrhslc for Betting the Bottom Dollar⁠

When COVID-19 hit Salt Lake City, Oquirrh co-owners Andrew and Angelena Fullers' dream was seriously damaged. But the Fullers keep trying to follow the rules. 💙⁠
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2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @hearth_and_hill for Opening Doors⁠

As the pandemic ravages independent restaurants, Hearth and Hill has reaffirmed its commitment to small businesses in Park City and used its large dining room as an informal gathering space for the city. 💙⁠
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2021 Blue Plate Award winner: @fisherbrewing for Creative Canning⁠

This year, Fisher found ways to utilize their beer, taproom space and canning capabilities for good. They created special lines of limited edition beers in custom cans to help raise funds for local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. 💙⁠
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A wind storm #tbt for your feed today. 🌬️🛹⁠

2020 was a long, long, loooong year, so we asked local photographers to share what the new normal looked like through their eyes. The link is in our bio!
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Just hours after being sworn in, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for a review of the boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The monuments—designated by Barack Obama in 2016 and Bill Clinton in 1996—were reduced by roughly 2 million acres by former president Donald Trump, and the executive order is seen as move towards restoring the original boundaries.⁠

Read the full story through the link in bio.⁠


📸Bears Ears National Monument: Courtesy of Utah Office of Tourism
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What’s your favorite park in Utah? ...

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