Is Vinto yet another reincarnation of the typical wood-fired pizzeria, joining the ranks of a dozen or so pizzerias around town with the exact same schtick? This is a question I’ve been trying to collect data on for the past couple weeks…which means I’ve eaten at Vinto…a lot. And to be honest, I haven’t exactly made up my mind. “Fast-casual” is the concept that owner David Harries had in mind when creating Vinto. Restaurants in this broad category generally offer meals that are a step up from fast-food but served in a timeframe conducive to getting the customer out quickly if need be (for local chain examples, think Pei-Wei or Noodles). The difference at Vinto is that you, the customer, can actually control the pace at which the food comes out (and of course it’s an independent locally owned venture). If you’re in a rush you can order everything all at once and the food will come lickety-split. Or if you’d rather linger a bit, you can tell your server what you want a little at a time in order to set a more leisurely pace. The other big difference with Vinto is that the kitchen uses a battery of fresh, high-end ingredients that come through in a very focused rustic Italian menu.
The menu at Vinto includes a small offering of antipasti, salads, piadinas, pizzas, and desserts. One daily pasta special is also run alongside the regular menu. When you take a look through the menu, one obvious theme coming out of the kitchen is evident: every item is simple, composed of not too many ingredients, usually representing well-planned combinations of tried and true flavors. This is not fussy-fine dining by any means but rather simple, hearty, rustic Italian fare – very close to what you’d get in an everyday sort of pizzeria or café in Italy. Most of the menu items I’ve had taste good and are made from good quality ingredients. The salads are huge and can be considered meals unto themselves. The Italiana chopped salad is nicely composed of chopped lettuce, chicken, pancetta, fontina cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers, lightly tossed in a red-wine vinaigrette. The individual ingredients are great and don’t need much to bring it all together but the vinaigrette seems to lack a little punch.
I’d never heard of a piadina before eating at Vinto but I must say the grilled chicken piadina is quite nice - nothing too over the top – just many high quality ingredients such as grilled Portobello mushrooms, fontina cheese, and mixed greens tied nicely together with a balsamic reduction. The piadina, an Italian flatbread or tortilla, provides a nice crunchy, yet chewy, envelope for the delicious filling which has a smoky flavor from the grill, a sharp taste from the cheese, crunch from the greens, and a lovely sweetness from the balsamic. Just imagine a large Italian style taco packed with lots of flavor and texture.
The pizza crust at Vinto has a crisp yet doughy texture. I would say the pizzas are pretty good – certainly not the best I’ve ever had, but definitely no way near the worst either. With good ingredients such as fresh mozzarella and clearly superior meat products like thick sliced pepperoni and house made artisan sausage – you really would have to do a lot to ruin a pizza made from stuff of this high quality. Taste-wise, the pizzas I’ve had there have been standardly good, not mind-blowing, but definitely solid.
In addition to the regular menu, a pasta item is also featured each day. So far I’ve had the opportunity to sample their spaghetti Bolognese – classic spaghetti in meat sauce. I must say that the depth of flavor I found lacking in the salad and pizzas was definitely present in this pasta. The pasta was a perfect al dente and the Bolognese was both a little sweet from the carrots and tangy from the tomato blended together in a velvety like consistency that made for a savory spoonful every time.
Finding a niche in the restaurant demographic is very important to the success of a new business. I think Vinto is on to something with its a little more upscale “Fast-casual” concept. The interior of the restaurant is beautiful and modern. It definitely evokes the vibe of quick and sophisticated yet casual. My impression of the food though is that the menu items are pretty safe and generally good in a standard sort of way. But it’s possible that they’ve perhaps over-sanitized their menu. I’m not sure I can explain it well enough here but I feel like the food coming out of the kitchen is a bit robotic at this point. I haven’t been really wowed by anything I’ve had. But nothing has been bad or severely disappointing either. Can anyone say status quo? So it’s almost as if Vinto truly does fall into the same “Fast-casual” category as say Noodles. But I guess I don’t want it to be in the same category because there clearly is some passion in the well thought out concept and menu. I just want to taste that passion in the food a little more. I think Vinto’s challenge will be to find the right combination of safe, best selling dishes that still deliver a complexity of flavors. With a great “Fast-casual” concept, a cool space and interior design, and truly fabulous ingredients, Vinto is well positioned to not be just another standard pizzeria or casual Italian joint. As such, I expect great things to come out of Vinto’s kitchen and am going to keep a close eye on this up and coming restaurant.
Vinto ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
418 East 200 South
Owner: David Harries
Note: Executive Chef Rosanne Ruiz left Vinto shortly after opening the restaurant. Apparently owner David Harries decided that the simple Vinto menu did not require the watchful eye of a full time head chef and has since hired a kitchen manager to take Chef Ruiz’s place. Perhaps this robotic sense of the food and lack of passion that I picked up on could in part be due to the loss of strong leadership and vision in the kitchen?