Got to admit I groaned a bit when we pulled into the parking lot at Celeste. It’s in a Murray strip mall and only a few buildings can look less promising than a standard beige strip mall. There’s not much of a chance for charm in such a setting and certainly you don’t have high hopes for. Inside, same. The floor is astonishingly beautiful turquoise-swirled polished concrete but the rest of the dining room is pretty strip mall-y.

Paolo CelesteCeleste and Salt Lake:
The Tale of the Peripatetic Chef

Once upon a time, Paolo Celeste and his friend Marco Gabrielli moved to Salt Lake City and opened an Italian restaurant in Sugar House called Michelangelo’s. A decade later, they sold the restaurant and moved back to Italy, to Versilia where Paolo was born, to open a restaurant there. But Paolo missed the U.S. so he moved back to glamorous Los Angeles, where he worked for Ago Grand group. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Tired, we assume, of glamour, Paolo moved back to Salt Lake City in 2017 and opened Celeste.

Open the menu, though, and your spirits rise. Though there are a lot of familiar faces, there are some descriptions, even of dishes you know, that give you a hint these won’t be the same over-cheesed versions Salt Lakers seem to love.

For example, ravioli incavolati—the menu emphasizes “fresh” and “homemade”—is a plate of delicate half-moons, the ricotta-kale filling showing through the sheer pasta, whole fresh sage leaves scattered on top, a butter bath and a shower of parmigiana—a radical change from the doughy pockets usually served. Every food writer in the Valley and then some has raved about this dish and rightfully so. Porchetta, rolled stuffed pork loin in a light sage sauce with spinach and roasted potatoes, also caught our eye. Why don’t more restaurants serve this dish? And when they do, why don’t they make a nice reduction sauce instead of a thick gravy?

We dined at Celeste midweek and the place was far from full. Our server seemed to warm to us after he caught on that we had met a lot of these dishes elsewhere and he kept an eye out for the empty water glass, apologizing (unnecessarily) for the ice cube that accidentally plopped into my glass after I requested no ice. Cinghiale, another traditional Tuscan dish, is a hearty boar stew, slightly hefty for the outside temperatures, but with a deep brown flavor. A slightly heavy panna cotta and a beautiful crostata—another classic that I wish would replace tiramisu—finished the meal. Too bad the wine list is meh but worse is the fact that local and out of state changes occupy so much of the best restaurant real estate in town. Celeste should be front and center.

IF YOU GO

Address:  Oakwood Village Shopping Center, 5468 S. 900 East, Murray
Web: celesteristorante.com
Phone: 801-290-2913
Entrees: $$-$$$

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