Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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.

Happy Friday! We all know the best way to celebrate the end of the week is with a cocktail 😉! ⁠

🍸 And our next highlighted cocktail is the perfect way to start your weekend. @alibislc's 'Far From The Tree' by Clif Reagle:⁠

1.5 oz. @shdistillery Bourbon⁠
1.5 oz. Utah Honey and Akane Apple Shrub⁠
.25+ oz. @waterpocketdistillery Snow Angel .25 oz. lemon juice⁠
Barspoon of simple syrup⁠
2 dashes Regans Orange Bitters⁠
Combine in shaker over ice, shake and strain into a footed glass. Serve with dried apple garnish.⁠

“My goal for this drink was to make it with as many local ingredients as possible,” says Reagle, “and seeing as the farm scene is pretty quiet in November I decided to go with a classic method of fruit preservation: the shrub.⁠

VOTE VOTE VOTE AWAY! Grab our magazine, grab a cocktail (or make it yourself) and get voting. Cheers!🥂⁠

Link in bio to vote and learn more about Clif Reagle!
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Yes. Thanksgiving is going to be different this year. So instead of stressing out to prepare a meal, help support local restaurants who need our love this Thanksgiving. 🦃⁠

Restaurants are doing what they can to make this Thanksgiving seamless for us. With offerings of curbside pick up, meal kits, and even delivery, ordering out this Thanksgiving seems like a no-brainer.⁠

Oh and did we mention no family-sized mess to clean up afterward? That’s a win-win in our book. 😉 Check the link in bio for full list of restaurants. 🍽️
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Don't forget to vote in our 2020 Cocktail Contest!! 🍸🍹🥂⁠

Our next highlighted coktail is @thecopperonion's “Not Today Satan” by Frank Mealy:⁠

1.5 oz. @shdistillery Bourbon⁠
1.5 oz. pear shrub (Champagne Vinegar/Earl Grey simple 2:1)⁠
.75 oz. lemon juice⁠
Preheat glass with hot water. Mix ingredients, pour into the hot glass, top with hot water and garnish with cinnamon stick, star anise and dried pear.⁠

Mealy is a full-time bartender for the Copper Group. “Inspiration for this drink came from the expectation that we’re going to be running our outdoor patio season longer because of Covid.” People are more comfortable sitting outside, Mealy says, “So I wanted to make a hot drink for the colder months.”⁠

VOTE VOTE VOTE AWAY! Grab our magazine, grab a cocktail (or make it yourself) and get voting. Cheers!🥂⁠

Link in bio to vote and learn more about Frank Mealy!
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Our 2020 Cocktail Contest is live!! 🍸🍹🥂

We’ll be highlighting our cocktail contest contestants throughout the next few weeks. Starting with @takashi_slc’s “Red Dirt Garden” by Crystal Daniels:

- 1.5 oz. Amaro Bilaro
- .5 oz. @shdistillery Barrel-strength Rye
- .75 oz. Lemon juice
- 1 oz. Red rice orgeat made with @redbuttegarden botanicals
- Pinch of Jacobsen Salt from @caputosmarket

Daniels garnished her cocktail with banana leaves and an edible begonia- if you can’t get the begonia, another colorful edible bloom will do. 🌺

VOTE VOTE VOTE AWAY! Grab our magazine, grab a cocktail (or make it yourself) and get voting. Cheers!🥂

Link in bio to vote!
...

Did you know that the first woman to cast a ballot in the United States voted right here in Salt Lake City?

In 1870, on her way to work as a schoolteacher, Seraph Young stopped by SLC’s old City Hall—right across from the Capitol—and made history as the first woman to vote under a women's equal suffrage law.

Like many of us, Young voted early in that election simply because she had to get to work on time. Her story reminds us of the power ordinary people have to make history. Now, get out and vote!

Photo: Ron Fox
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Our November-December issue is on stands now!!⁠

And our annual cocktail contest is open for voting! Take all precautions, support our hardworking hospitality community and remember to smile. 🍹🍸🧉⁠

Pick up a magazine, grab a cocktail and vote! Happy November, everyone! ⁠

Check the link in bio to vote.
...

Trick or treat? COVID cases are getting scary.

111K confirmed cases and 601 deaths in Utah.

Link in bio for a little op-ed on face masks. 😷
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Here in Utah, we live on the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute Tribes. Today we celebrate the people who first called this land home. We remember the struggles and tragedies they endured and recognize the fight for justice and autonomy that Indigenous Peoples still face. ⁠

Go to the link in bio to give to Diné Bikéyah and support Bears Ears. 🏜️
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Last night’s vigil for Breonna Taylor. ...

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