For my birthday a couple of weeks ago my loving wife, Faith, offered to treat me to a birthday dinner at the restaurant of my choosing. I didn’t have to think very long about my choice. In my opinion, Veneto Ristorante Italiano is the best genuinely Italian restaurant in Salt Lake City and the perfect spot for a birthday celebration.
The restaurant is named for Veneto, Italy – one of the 20 regions of Italy – which includes the province of Verona, where owner Marco Stevanoni was born and raised. He and his wife Amy created Veneto, and it’s a place for lovers of authentic Northern Italian cuisine. The Olive Garden, this is not. Culinary specialties of the Veneto region include polenta and risotto dishes, fish, game and pandoro, a traditional Italian sweet bread that is popular at Christmastime. And like most restaurants in Italy, there is no tipping at Veneto Ristorante Italiano. There is a $5 per person service charge added to each bill, but that’s it – there’s no place on the check for tips, since servers are paid a fair wage. And I must say, the service at Veneto is stellar and utterly professional, from seasoned senior servers to Marco and Amy’s teenage son Giaccamo, who also pitches in.
Aside from being mercilessly authentic in its cuisine, the wine program at Veneto also sets it apart. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Marco is Director of New York City-based Darkstar Imports, which specializes in premium, boutique wines from Italy. Wines at Veneto run the gamut from a $40 bottle up to $16,000, so there is truly something for everyone and Marco is more than happy to share his vast knowledge of wine in helping guests to select a bottle or glass.
Veneto’s interior is gorgeous, and includes a hundreds-year old Italian sofa, antique furniture from Europe, and even marble in the restrooms. It’s an intimate space that is ideal for a romantic meal. Or, enjoy al fresco dining on either the restaurant’s front or back patio, which was our choice for my birthday dinner.
We kicked off dinner with a glass of Prosecco and a shareable appetizer of Insalata di Ricotta ($14). This was a scrumptious (and plentiful) salad featuring radicchio with polenta, honey, walnuts and homemade ricotta cheese, all topped with fried sage leaves. The honey provided a pleasant sweet contrast to the bitter, tangy radicchio – a very nice balancing act. Other appealing appetizers/antipasti include a Caprese salad with truffled burrata ($22), eggplant parmesan ($15), and Piemontese beef tartare ($20).
In Italy, pasta isn’t usually eaten as a main course, but is just one part of a multi-course meal. Primi (first courses) at Veneto include ravioli stuffed with Pecorino cheese and Bartlett pears ($20); a simple summertime Spaghetti Caprese ($21) with cherry tomatoes and basil; tagliatelle with Bolognese ($21); risi a bisi ($22); and one of my Veneto favorites: Gnocchi Sbatui di Malga ($19). This is mountain-style free-form gnocchi in a heavenly sage, butter and Monte Veronese cheese sauce with smoked ricotta. It’s an outrageously delicious dish, as was the Primi pasta course we shared: Bigoli con Ragú di Anatra ($22). This was freshly made, perfectly cooked bigoli pasta in a delectable duck meat ragú with grated cheese and garnished with fresh rosemary. I could eat this bodacious bigoli on a daily basis.
During our Veneto dinner we enjoyed a wonderful Italian Soave called Zambon Vulcano Le Cervare from an alternative natural wine producer. It’s made with 100% Garganega grapes which grow in volcanic soil – hence the name Vulcano. It has a beautiful chalkiness and a firm mineral backbone with citrus and vegetal aromas and flavors. The wine’s high acidity makes it a slam-dunk with many of Veneto’s menu items.
Secondi – main courses – include some marvelous meat selections like Lombata Wagyu ($8 per oz.) which is Wagyu flap meat served with rainbow carrots and fennel salad, and a premium dry-aged Piemontese beef T-bone aged for more than 70 days ($75/lb.). There is also a Black Angus filet mignon ($55) and pan-seared, oven-roasted tomahawk bone-in Piemontese ribeye ($55/lb.). I opted for Tagliata di Manzo ($39), which was beautifully medium-rare sliced beef filet served with radicchio and shaved parmesan cheese.
Faith was torn between two Secondi selections, one of which was organic baked salmon with asparagus and fennel-celery sauce ($33). Ultimately, she was very happy with Filetto di Branzino con Capperi Fritti ($39). It was a simple, but excellent preparation of a large branzino fillet with fried capers and lemon. My wife and I both enjoy fish dishes wherein one can actually enjoy tasting the fish because it isn’t buried under a sauce.
Side dishes at Veneto include French fries, roasted beets, sauteed spinach, mixed salad, and the one we ordered which was a generous serving of fresh steamed peas (piselli) with green onion and pink salt.
We were too stuffed to enjoy Prima de Dolci – a selection of cheeses from Veneto prior to dessert. But, we did work our way through two delectable desserts. One was a light panna cotta with kiwi and balsamico ($11); the other a more hearty Crostata alle Fragole ($11) – a scrumptious homemade strawberry tart dusted with powdered sugar.
There are many Italian restaurants in SLC and beyond that I enjoy. However, when it’s an authentic taste of Northern Italy that I’m after – for my birthday or any other time – it is a Veneto table I want to be seated at.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“Italian food is seasonal. It is simple. It is nutritionally sound. It is flavorful. It is colorful. It’s all the things that make for a good eating experience, and it’s good for you.” — Lidia Bastianich
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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.