You know the saying “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” right? Well, that can certainly be said of Marc Marrone, partner with Reed Allen Slobusky of Nice Hospitality, who opened HallPass at The Gateway in 2019 and is the founder of SkinnyFATS. Having partnered with Slobusky and Nice Hospitality, Marrone opened Italian Graffiti restaurant at The Gateway a couple weeks ago, in the space that was formerly home to California Pizza Kitchen. He comes with a mind-blowing trove of experience for such a young (maybe 40?) chef, including a 13-year stint in NYC with the TAO Group, and at glam spots like Beauty & Essex, LAVO, Marquee Day Club, The Highlight Room, and Luchini Pizzeria & Bar in Vegas and L.A., not to mention LAVO on top of the Singapore Marina Bay Sands. Newer original concepts from Marrone include Graffiti Bao, Snowmobile Pizza, and now, as mentioned, Italian Graffiti.
Given that Chef Marrone rarely seems to be stationary, I was happily surprised to find him in the open kitchen at SLC’s new Italian Graffiti last week when my wife and I visited. But there he was, working the line with his talented team of cooks. That’s him with the beard in the photo above. And I couldn’t help but notice that he was occasionally laughing with his co-workers, seemingly having a good time. And that is precisely what you will have at Italian Graffiti: a good time … not to mention excellent food, ambiance and service.
No sign of CPK is left in the space that is now Italian Graffiti. It’s a gorgeous restaurant, brimming with living plants combined with colorful artificial foliage like a cherry blossom tree as the restaurant’s centerpiece. It is a vibrant, bustling eatery that is also warm and inviting, yet feels relatively small, given some of its gargantuan neighbors that have opened nearby recently, like the sprawling Flanker Kitchen + Sporting Club. I’d bet my house that reservations will quickly be a tough ticket because Italian Graffiti is going to become a must-visit downtown dining destination faster than you can say “Spaghetti Alla Napoletana.”
Hailing originally from New York, and having been strongly influenced by recipes handed down through his Italian immigrant family, Chef Marrone began cooking at the age of 15 before studying more formally at the French Culinary Institute and learning from chefs like Jacques Pepin, Dan Barber, and Daniel Boulud. Although Marrone is very capable of dishing up cutting edge cuisine, I am thrilled to see that his menu at Italian Graffiti is stuffed with comforting dishes that his mother and grandmother might have cooked, such as Linguine & Clams ($27) with tarragon butter, garlic, white wine, and Little Neck clams; Fusilli Alla Nonna ($28) with calabrian sausage and roasted chicken brodo; and Bucatini Alla Carbonara ($27) with guanciale, prosciutto, black pepper, and Parmigiano.
But before we get to the meat of the menu, care for any bread? Italian Graffiti offers a rolling cart artisanal bread service with a table side selection of breads baked in-house from baker Oz Comez, including baguettes, sourdough, and seasonal breads with herb oil, roasted garlic, and Normandy butters as accompaniments, all for a mere 5 bucks.
There is a significant antipasti selection at Italian Graffiti, which includes wild mushroom arancini with fresh truffles ($16); baked clams ($17); prosciutto truffle fries ($18); and an exceptional starter that we shared: handmade burrata with eggplant caponato, marinated tomatoes, and “old” balsamic ($17).
One of the more inventive antipasti offerings is cacio e pepe beignets with Calabrian honey ($14). And from the more meaty section of the antipasti menu there is “Ace’s Meatballs” – a blend of beef, veal and pork with slow-simmered house tomato sauce and whipped ricotta ($21), as well as a very generously portioned steak tartare ($17) with was hand-cut Prime filet topped with a chile pepper and served with a tangy tarragon remoulade and crispy rye-spiced waffle fries. It’s an example of awesome antipasti.
When we visited Italian Graffiti the restaurant had been open about a week, and yet it was firing on all cylinders as though it had been around forever. Service from top-notch pros like Seth couldn’t have been better or more attentive and managers like Dan Jones float through the restaurant making sure everyone is happy and everything is perfect, which it was.
All of the pasta – rigatoni, spaghetti, pappardelle, ravioli, gnocchi, bucatini and more – is homemade in Italian Graffiti’s kitchen. And, it is exceptional. The order of Nana’s Cannelloni ($29) was, quite simply, the best cannelloni I’ve ever eaten. The al dente cannelloni pasta was stuffed with tomato-braised pork and bathed in a luscious marinara sauce, topped with whipped ricotta and Pecorino cheese. Other enticing pasta dishes include seafood fra diavola ($34), roasted squash scarpinocc ($27), quattro formaggi ravioli ($24), gnocchi with braised beef cheek ragu ($27), and many more.
You can think of cantori on Italian restaurant menus as side dishes. At Italian Graffiti they are larger portions than most standard sides and include eggplant parm ($21) with arugula salad; escarole with olives, capers, lemon and shallots ($9); heirloom carrots with carrot top pesto, brown butter and local honey ($9), and a cantori dish that my wife ordered as her main dish: mushroom risotto with local mushrooms and chervil ($28). Prior to opening Italian Graffiti, Chef Marrone spent time during the summer at local farmers’ markets and establishing relationships with local producers such as Lehi Mills and Central Milling, whose semolina and flour he uses for his homemade pastas.
Secondi in Italian restaurants refers to meat and fish dishes – usually entree size. And there are a lot of secondi temptations at Italian Graffiti, ranging from branzino with panzanella ($42) and Tuscan scallops with caper butter ($29), to dry-aged New York strip ($69), Prime bavette steak ($45), and roasted lemon chicken with chestnut parsley salsa verde ($32). I ordered the sensational lamb shank ($42) – falling off the bone, tender and rich lamb on a bed of Parmigiano polenta with pickled tomatoes, natural jus, mint gremolata, and garnished with edible flowers. It’s a lovely lamb dish.
I enjoy the somewhat theatrical experience at Italian Graffiti of the rolling bread and dessert carts, the latter of which displays an array of cheesecakes and a nutty cake that we tried which I think they called a Ferrero cake, perhaps referring to the Ferrero Rocher chocolate hazelnut candy on top. Whatever it was, it was delicious!
The Gateway is experiencing a resurgence coming out of the pandemic with an eclectic mixture of old and new restaurants that includes excellent dining options ranging from Flanker and HallPass, to Mr. Shabu, Chedda Burger, Fleming’s, Tucanos Brazilian Grill, Momi Donuts, and more. With the recent addition of Italian Graffiti and Chef Marrone’s inspired Italian fare, the dining bar at The Gateway has been significantly raised. But, it’s not only a great new Gateway restaurant, it’s one of the best new restaurants in the state.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week: “The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” – George Millutahbitested@gmail.com
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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.