Decades of Delicious
For more than two decades, one of my favorite chefs has been a fellow originally hailing from Forte Dei Marmi in Italy. His name is Paolo Celeste. He is owner/chef of his namesake restaurant, Celeste Ristorante, in Murray.
I first encountered Paolo’s extraordinary cooking back when he was working in the kitchen of a small restaurant in Heber called Il Giardino. That was back around 1994. He would go on to open the original Michelangelo restaurant in Sugar House in 1995. Celeste sold that restaurant in 2004 in order to return to Italy to help care for his ailing mother. When he left, I really missed his cooking, as did the throngs of Italian food fans who’d come to love Michelangelo.
So, I was thrilled to learn last winter that Paolo and his family had returned to Utah and he’d opened Celeste Ristorante, a restaurant that is authentically Italian as any in our state.
In the Italian tradition, the Celeste menu is organized into insalata (salads), zuppe (soup), antipasti (appetizers), le paste (pastas), secondi (second course of meats or fish) and desserts. There is a small, but sufficient beer and wine list in addition to Italian sodas, coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea and such.
Service here is friendly and you won’t be rushed. So settle in and luxuriate in a truly excellent Italian dinner. I can’t resist starting a meal with Celeste’s carpaccio di manzo ($12). This is a generous plate (plenty big enough to share) of thinly-sliced top sirloin beef dressed with slice baby artichokes, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, watercress, extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice. It’s a very simple dish that, like many of Paolo’s menu items, is composed of high-quality, fresh ingredients that simply sing in his hands.
The same simplicity principle is at play with crostone di gamberi ($15), which is sliced rustic Tuscan bread that Celeste bakes himself, topped with cannellini beans, shrimp, arugula, and a lemon-olive oil dressing.
Risotto lovers should put the time aside, since it’s a dish that takes time to properly prepare, and enjoy risotto del bosco ($20). It’s risotto made with top-quality arborio rice in a sauce of mixed fresh mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Paolo Celeste is a master pasta maker and I’ve never tasted gnocchi that I loved more than his. So indulge in the slightly decadent gnocchi al granchio ($20), which is ethereal homemade gnocchi bathed in a pink tomato sauce and tossed with lump crab meat. You won’t regret it!
I’ve already mentioned the simplicity secret behind Paolo’s cooking, and nowhere it is more in evidence than with his remarkable tagliata alla rugola ($25). Again, the whole is greater, seemingly, than the sum of its parts. This dish is a superb cut of boneless New York Steak, seared to perfection, sliced, and served very simply with grape tomatoes, arugula, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, and olive oil-lemon dressing. The flavors just leap from the plate!
If you’re a fan of wild boar, try the cinghiale in umido ($26), which is chunks of boar in a red wine and tomato sauce with Tuscan olives and grilled polenta. And fish aficionados like my wife love (as do I) Celeste’s steamed grouper fillet with Tuscan olive sauce and lemon dressing, called cernia alle olive ($26).
Personally, I am thrilled that Paolo Celeste has returned to Utah to share his immense cooking talents with us. Now I don’t have to travel all the way to Italy for awesomely authentic Italian cuisine.
Culinary quote of the week:
The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.
— George Miller
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.