I have a good friend who’s a very knowledgeable wine expert and talented ex-chef and restaurateur. So when he talks about food and wine, I listen. That’s because he is very discriminating about both. So when he told Faith and me about a new Italian restaurant – raved about it, actually – I was thrilled. That’s because there are only a handful of Italian restaurants in Utah that I think offer guests truly authentic Italian regional cuisines. They include Veneto, Osteria Amore, Caffe Molise, Cucina Toscana, The Gateway’s Italian Graffiti, Grappa, Le Nonne in Logan, and sadly, the recently closed Celeste.
Well, add to that relatively short list Matteo Ristorante Italiano – a terrific new restaurant that, although it’s been open only a very short time – seems to be hitting on all cylinders right out of the gate. It’s named for owner Matteo Sogne and his namesake restaurant is truly a family affair, with both his mother and father cooking in the kitchen.
Indeed, the walls in this beautiful new restaurant are peppered with black and white framed photos of Matteo’s family, including grandparents, great-grandparents and children from multiple generations. I love feeling that I’m surrounded by still shots from a Fellini film when seated at Matteo.
The Matteo space underwent quite a transformation from the bright green Pulp juice bar – which was completely gutted – to a very classy, inviting space with a small bar, some larger booths and tables, and a number of two-tops lined up against the back wall of the eatery. It’s not a quiet place to dine – hard surfaces and a bustling crowd result in a pretty high noise level – but it’s a terrific new restaurant to add to a lot of other great ones on Harvey Milk Boulevard.
One of the goals at Matteo, according to “Our Story” printed on the menu, is to “pay homage to our Italian heritage by bringing the authentic flavors of Modena, Italy to your plate. Our menu is inspired by the recipes and techniques passed down through generations of Matteo’s family and perfect by Chef Damiano Carlotto.” At Matteo, that begins with optional ($3 per person) bread service – breads baked in-house and served with imported olives and, on the evening we were there, garlicky truffle butter. Tagliatelle Bolognese ($22) is another classic Modenese dish, usually served as a first (primi) course. At Matteo the homemade tagliatelle is bathed in Matteo’s grandmother’s Bolognese meat sauce.
Nestled in the heart of the Emilia-Romagna region, Modena, Italy, offers a cornucopia of gastronomic treasures and is particularly known for balsamic vinegar (the “liquid gold” of Modena), Parmigiano-Reggiano (the “king of cheeses”), tortellini, Lambrusco wine, and slow-cooked pork sausage called cotechino. Modena also is home base for one of the world’s great chefs – Massimo Bottura – the site of his 3-Michelin-star restaurant, Osteria Francescana. Many of the pastas and risottos at Matteo are love letters to Modena, such as the Risotto Modena ($32), made with acquerello rice, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and aceto balsamico del nonno (grandpa’s balsamic vinegar).
But in addition to traditional Modenese dishes and ingredients, you’ll find more contemporary fare at Matteo, such as Burrata ($16) with grilled zucchini, focaccia, and confit of tomatoes, or Crudo ($19) made with fresh, raw hamachi drizzled simply in citrus vinegar and topped with microgreens. We could have eaten three or four plates of crudo, it was so scrumptious and the hamachi was melt-in-the-mouth tender.
Cannolo alla Carbonara
One thing I like about Matteo is that no two dishes seem to come on the same plates. Each dish appears to be uniquely plated, like the Cannolo alla Carbonara ($16) which comes on what I think was a slate tile. I admit I was intrigued by this dish and, on paper, it sounded like a great idea. It’s essentially a savory cannoli piped with creamy egg yolk and crispy guanciale pieces – carbonara sauce, essentially – served on a bed of arugula with a generous amount of grated imported Pecorino cheese. Unfortunately, I felt like this dish – although very creative – missed the mark a bit insofar as I had expected it to be a warm or hot dish, but it’s actually served cool to cold – somewhat of a surprise at first bite – and the cold egg yolk just didn’t rock my boat. But I also understand that the egg would probably curdle or scramble if heated. At any rate, I think it would be helpful if servers at Matteo – who are impeccable, by the way – forewarned guests that the Cannolo alla Carbonara is served on the cold side. Speaking of servers, I also like that they sport casual but classy uniforms with black trousers, white shirts, and leather-strapped aprons. Call me old fashioned, but I’m tired of eating in restaurants where servers wear beanies and flip-flops.
Other starters and antipasti include Polpette (meatballs in pomodoro); Frisella – toasted whole wheat bread with roasted tomatoes, shallots, olives, basil, and chevre; beef Carpaccio with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, truffle aioli, and walnuts; an Italian Antipasto plate of cured meats, cheeses, and accompaniments; and Whipped Brie with walnuts, raisins, focaccia, and crostini. For folks looking for splurge, Matteo offers caviar service ranging from $60 to $320.
Calamarata allo Scoglio
Being an Italian eatery, there are a number of tempting pasta dishes on the menu, including Lasagna al Ragu ($23), Ravioli ai Funghi ($28), Gnocchi with butternut squash cream ($26), Fusilli al Pesto ($22), Chitarra e Aragosta ($36), and others. I especially loved the briney fresh-from-the-sea flavors of Calamarata allo Scoglio ($30). This was homemade pasta rings (made by Matteo’s mom) in the shape of calamari (hence “calamarata”) with clams, mussels, shrimp, tomatoes and garlic in a lovely, light white wine sauce. Incidentally, pasta portions are not dainty at Matteo; diners get a good bang for their pasta buck and I had plenty of my calamarata to take home and heat up for lunch.
A truly stunning “Secondi” dish from the Matteo menu was my wife’s entree of Merluzzo ($36). This was tender, perfectly cooked chunks of boneless black cod in a white wine foam with green beans and microgreens. Secondi in Italy usually refers to “main” type dishes of meats and seafood that follow antipasti and pasta courses. At Matteo secondi includes filet mignon with cacio e pepe raviolo ($54); pan-seared chicken breast with picatta-style butter-lemon-caper sauce ($26); veal with mushrooms and white wine sauce with roasted vegetables ($34); Faroe Island salmon with olive-tomato cream sauce and roasted potatoes ($32); and others.
Before moving on to dessert, I should mention the wine list at Matteo. Simply put, it’s one of the best in the state. I counted an incredible 42 wines by the glass, alone. And, the by-the-bottle selection is eye-popping. A couple seated next to us had come to Matteo Ristorante because they are wine lovers and had heard about their excellent wine list, but said that they were bowled over by the food, as well. With just a few exceptions such as French Sauternes and Champagne, the wines are all-Italian and range in price from $45 for a bottle of La Lecciaia Ovieto Bianco from Umbria, to $780 for Antinori Cabernet-Sangiovese “Solaia” from Tuscany, with plenty of offerings in the $50 to $70 range. Many if not most of the wines are special orders that you won’t find at your local UDABS store.
Matteo was kind enough to send some desserts out for us to try and my favorite was the stunning Semifreddo with fresh strawberries, chocolate drizzle, mint and imported Italian pistachios. It was every bit as delicious as it looks.
Chocolate Brownie Tiramisu
I believe that Matteo said that his Tiramisu was inspired by Chef Massimo Bottura. Having no affection for soggy ladyfingers, Matteo prefers a sort of deconstructed, layered Brownie Tiramisu in a glass with coffee, mascarpone and chocolate brownie bits. I’m totally on board in the fight against limp ladyfingers.
Red Velvet Cake
Matteo Sogne is a fan of the elusive artist Banksy, so he cleverly created special plates based on Banksy’s “Girl with a Balloon” to serve his individually-portioned, heart-shaped red velvet cake.
In the past year or so, we’ve seen a boatload of multi-million dollar hotel restaurants take flight, and the more the merrier. But it’s also really nice to find a place like Matteo Ristorante Italiano, an independent, family-run, one-of-a-kind restaurant with outstanding service, excellent Italian fare, great ambiance, and a winning wine list. To paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger, “We’ll be back.”
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:“It’s in the nature of Italians to live life with a positive tone and to celebrate the invitations that come along in life. Italian food is so conducive to all of that.” – Lidia Bastianich