Saturday, March 7, 2009

Michelangelo's

Having just moved from a dark, dingy, basement in a sugarhouse strip mall to its new location in a spacious open space near what used to be the Cottonwood mall area, Michelangelo’s has improved upon one of its biggest liabilities: ambience. I distinctly remember the dark basement with no windows; plastic plants were scattered around in cheap plastic vases and plastic vines were strung atop doors. What’s up with the plastic? Well I assume since there was little natural light in the basement, plastic was the way to go if you wanted something seemingly vibrant, living, and green. Actually and unfortunately, I think it had the opposite effect. And the bathroom was just…well…the kind of bathroom you’d expect when visiting an elderly grandparent in a retirement home. The problem with the d├ęcor was that it set you up for immediate criticism of the food. If the place looked this way, would the food be any different? Talking to the mother of the owner, who was also the hostess the night we went to the new Michelangelo’s, this was a major motivating factor for the move.

In contrast to the old location, the new location is spacious and open. As you enter the restaurant you can see an open kitchen where you can watch cooks preparing cold items such as salads, appetizers, and bread; the exposed brick gives the area a very rustic, industrial feel – a long way from plastic plants in the basement. The main dining room is just to the right of the open kitchen and is elegantly decorated with appropriate lighting and decorations…and windows! I couldn’t resist a peek in the bathroom. Not to my surprise, it was modern and perfectly usable – no geriatric images came to mind at all, although there was a plastic garbage can in the corner that struck me as a little cheap, not exactly fitting into a newly renovated modern bathroom. I’m hoping this was a temporary fix for opening week and that someone will replace this with a more substantial stainless steel can or something like that.

With a huge improvement in space, I wondered if they improved in what I considered their second biggest liability as a restaurant: timing. To sum it up: the service here is really slow. It was super slow at the old location and unfortunately it turns out this hasn’t changed much at the new location either. We were seated promptly and our orders were taken very quickly. But once the orders were taken…well… we just sort of sat there waiting. Even the hostess swung by, chatting to us, and asked, “Haven’t you been served yet?” When we said no (this being 30 minutes or longer after being seated and not having even been served our starting course) she retorted, “Oh well, it’s the Michelangelo’s way!” I guess even they’re aware that their delivery of food takes longer than your average restaurant.



When our starters did come out, we were ecstatic. We had just played a competitive game of squash and were starving! The appetizers were also beautiful. We shared the soup of the day which was a Tuscan tomato bread soup called ‘Pappa al Pomodoro’. It looked a very nice deep red color with green basil leaves and big shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano atop. If you took a spoonful of the soup alone, you’d find the soup really bland actually – seemed it could’ve used a bit more salt. But if you dug into the soup with some of the cheese and basil, these additions really brought out the flavor of the tomato and rounded it out nicely. The soup really grew on me as I ate it. It was very satisfying. We also shared a celery salad. Can I just say that this salad was the highlight of my evening? It was a wonderful mix of celery, apple, Gorgonzola cheese, red onion, pine nuts, and raisins tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette made with Saba (syrup made from freshly squeezed grape juice). First of all it was beautiful. The texture was great: chewy, crispy, and creamy all at once. The flavor was lovely: sweet, salty, and acidic, with a little fat and tartness from the cheese. I definitely had high hopes for dinner but if I ended my meal with this salad, I would have been extremely happy.


Michelangelo’s is well known for making its own pasta. In previous visits, I’ve been amazed with their homemade raviolis, canolis, and tortellinis. On this particular visit to the new location we opted for two menu items that didn’t use homemade pasta: their carbonara and the risotto of the day. The risotto was just okay. It wasn’t exactly inedible but it was borderline too spicy for me. It was a mushroom risotto with spicy Colosimo Italian sausage. The flavor of the risotto had a nice mushroom backbone but the sausage was so spicy that you couldn’t really taste anything else after you had a couple of pieces. The consistency of the risotto was also slightly off. It was a nice ‘al dente’ but it was almost soupier than it was creamy. I was a little disappointed with this after that amazing salad. The carbonara fared better though. It was creamy and the spaghetti had a nice bite to it as well. The salty bacon added the right amount of crispiness to contrast with the creaminess and fat in the pasta. It was basically your standard carbonara. But if I were to compare it to other Italian places I’ve been to in Salt Lake, I’d say I’ve had better.

I think it was generally a good visit. The new location is a reason in and of itself to give it a try. It really is a drastic change from the old location. And if you’d never been to the old location, it will be a nice good first impression for you. The menu hasn’t changed which means their old stand-bys of homemade pasta are still available. It’s rare these days to find a place that actually makes its own pasta on-site. I’d recommend going with one of these if you choose to visit Michelangelo’s. Just be prepared for what could be a long wait…and be sure not to go when you’re in a hurry.


Michelangelo’s ~ Salt Lake City, Utah

2156 Highland Drive

Chef/co-owner: Scott Ashley

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