Just last month, I wrote in Utah Bites about Park City’s Silver Star Cafe. It’s a warm and inviting spot with excellent food, drink and live music that locals adore and visitors are lucky to learn about. Guy Fieri loved Silver Star Cafe and featured it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It’s the creation of longtime Park City restaurant couple Lisa and Jeff Ward. Well, now Jeff and Lisa are bringing their magic to Salt Lake City with a shiny new eatery: Fenice Mediterranean Bistro.
Fenice opened to the public this Wednesday, in the small but inviting space that was previously home to Fireside on Regent, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes in the midst of a pandemic. Did I mention that Fenice means phoenix in Italian? I salute and wish luck to anyone who opens a new restaurant in the best of times; to do it in 2021 takes vast amounts of fortitude and positivity, traits that Lisa and Jeff have in abundance.
Fenice is a wonderful addition to the downtown dining scene. The menu features a range of small plates, house-made pastas, soups & salads, wood oven fired pizzas, and entrees, most with a Mediterranean flavor and flair. There is also a nice selection of wines by the glass and bottle, beer & cider, spirits and cocktails. The interior features a warm Mediterranean color palette and a choice of table or counter seating, the latter of which provide views of the exhibition kitchen and bar.
My wife and I were honored to be invited by the Wards to a “friends and family” pre-opening preview at Fenice, the night before it opened publicly. And, while it’s my policy not to “review” restaurants based on preview dinners, I do want to share my first impressions with Utah Bites readers because my feeling was that Fenice and its staff were hitting on all cylinders even prior to opening. Things seemed very dialed in the night we visited.
“This salad is a life-changer,” said a fellow food writer friend who was also invited to the Fenice preview. She was referring to the Grape & Gorgonzola Dolce ($14) salad, a delicious mix of fresh field greens, plump red grapes, toasted hazelnuts and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, lightly drizzled with red wine vinaigrette. It’s a simple salad, but a stunning one, with beautifully balanced sweet and tart flavors.
Other selections from the Salads and Soup portion of the Fenice menu include an authentic Caesar ($10) salad with optional white anchovies and a Wilted Endive & Roasted Beets ($12) salad which features Labneh cheese made in-house, white balsamic-shallot-pancetta vinaigrette, and Marcona almonds. Fenice also offers a seasonal soup, Zuppa di Stagione, which in this case was a light, scrumptious tomato basil soup.
There are a number of appealing small plate choices to share or which can serve as an appetizer at Fenice. The kitchen totally nailed Fritto Misto ($16), a dish that I’ve found to be disappointing (often limp and soggy) at many restaurants. This was a large plate of crispy fried shrimp, calamari, red pepper strips and lemon with Arrabiata sauce and caper aioli on the side ($16). And, as is the case with much of the Fenice menu, this dish is gluten-free; the coating is made with rice flour as opposed to wheat flour. I counted some 15 gluten-free dishes at Fenice, which is very good news for guests like my wife, who is gluten-free.
Additional Small Plates options include Warm Roasted Olives & Burrata ($15), Polenta & Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms ($9), Patatas Bravas ($10), Roasted Cauliflower ($12), and a dish that we very much enjoyed: Roasted Sherried Grapes & Burrata ($15), with fennel, garlic, basil and crostini. The warm grapes in Sherry were wonderful with the fresh, creamy burrata.
For my entree at Fenice, I ordered a medium-rare New York Steak Au Poivre ($32). The boneless steak came sliced into medallions, perfectly cooked as ordered, with really good pommes frites and a heavenly sauce of cream, Brandy, mustard and, I believe, butter. It was silky and sensuous, I could have drank a pint of that sensational sauce!
On the Fenice beverage list is a cocktail called “In The Pink xxoomm.” It’s a drink that the Wards and bar manager Fathom (great name!) created to honor our late friend and colleague, Mary Malouf. Mary was a lover of all things pink and this pink ode to Mary is a tasty melange of Wahaka Mezcal, Green Chartreuse, lime juice, Luxardo, raspberry shrub, and Demerara simple syrup. Mary would have loved it.
My wife and I both really like branzino and we order it almost every time we see it on a menu. This was no exception. Fenice’s branzino ($30) is a complex dish of wonderfully flaky tail-on branzino with braised fennel, roasted cauliflower, Marcona almonds, crispy greens, lemon, and a rich and peppery Spanish-style Romesco sauce.
Although we visited prior to Fenice’s public opening, the restaurant felt to me like it had been operating for months. Service was top-notch, the cuisine was excellent, and the bistro has an energetic, bustling vibe that I think is going to be a surefire hit in downtown SLC. I look forward to returning and trying some dishes that I didn’t get to this week: the Salumi Pizza, Duck Confit Carbonara, Moroccan Chicken, Seafood Cioppino, and Osso Bucco, for example. For now, my advice is to jump on RESY and make a reservation for Fenice at your earliest convenience; I suspect a table here will be a tough ticket in the not very distant future.
Photos by Ted Scheffler & Fenice
Culinary quote of the week:
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” — Luciano Pavarotti
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THIS CONTENT IS FROM UTAH BITES NEWSLETTER.
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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.