2350 E. 7000 South, Cottonwood Heights ; 801-947-0025
Primo has managed to thrive for years, proof that diners value its service and comfortable ambience, even if menu is predictable.
Hours: T-S, 5-10 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Veal marsala, special rockfish fillet, tiramisu.
March 14, 2007
Italian-themed eatery proves essence is the key to existence
By Anne Wilson
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS -- Many restaurants don't survive a decade, let alone thrive.
But Primo is proof that if you build a restaurant with reliable food, personable service and reasonable prices, diners will come -- and stay. In 12 years, the Italian-themed restaurant has become a true gathering spot.
On a recent Saturday night, nearly every table in the small place was filled. Here's why: If you call and say you're running late, they say 'No problem.' And when you show up later than you said you would, they're still happy you made it.
The quality of the food has been consistent, although never adventurous, as have the menu offerings: repeat customers, and there are many, evidently have enough choices to keep them from getting bored but know exactly what they're going to get. And that is a menu of pasta, veal, chicken and fresh fish specials that has changed little in recipe or price since The Tribune's visit in 2003, although the complimentary bite-sized bruschetta served alongside the menu has been done away with.
Primo still feels like a familiar living room, made cozy with dim lighting, large paintings on the walls and tables draped in white linen. Recorded arias, sung in Italian, add another sensory element but don't impede conversation.
Within minutes of being seated, we had menus. Within minutes of menus, we had drinks. While the wine list isn't long or fancy, it is thoughtful, featuring 11 Italian wines ($38 to $150) and a selection of American labels with a smattering of above-average selections such as Caymus, Kendall Jackson and Five Rivers.
Fortified with beverages, and a basket of soft fresh bread (serving it warm would be worth the trouble), we perused the menu. The half-dozen appetizers are pretty standard: a selection of hot seafood ($13.50), a traditional cold plate with cheese, peppers, anchovies and cured meats ($12.50), clams in white wine ($11.95) and beef carpaccio ($10.95). We intended to order the clams appetizer special ($11.95), but in the only service misstep of the evening, our server failed to jot down our order. We ended up with no starter, a surprise that only came to light with the arrival of salads, a generous portion of barely wilted spinach studded with chunks of bacon and a too liberal dressing of tart balsamic vinegar ($4.75 or $8 for two) and a smaller Caesar ($4/$7) whose romaine was crisp but too yellow. The dressing, which didn't have enough garlic or lemon flavor, didn't help. At least the croutons were homemade.
Five specials were offered the night we visited, including two fresh fish selections -- rockfish or sea bass -- plus beef stroganoff ($26.95) and a pasta with housemade Bolognese sauce ($17.95). The rockfish was a tender fillet, lightly breaded and pan-seared with white wine and garlic, studded with shrimp and a couple overdone clams. As with all the entrees, it came with a mix of steamed broccoli and carrots, plus peeled, parslied potatoes -- all cooked to crisp perfection.
While four variations of pasta are offered (tortellini, spaghetti, linguine or penne, $12.95 to $14.50), the choices are multiplied by sauce options, from Alfredo to garlic or marinara studded with prawns. Veal is done four ways -- with Marsala wine and mushrooms, eggplant and Fontina cheese, lemon butter and capers and prosciutto with spinach and sage (all $19.95, an increase of only 45 cents from four years ago). A dining companion chose the Marsala, a perfectly-portioned serving of tender veal slathered with mushrooms and a brown sauce rich with the wine's distinctive flavor.
Five chicken dishes, including a breast stuffed with spinach, prosciutto and cheese and a boneless breast with lemon butter and capers ($18.95-$19.95), two variations on filet mignon ($30.95) and rack of lamb with peppercorns ($31.95) round out the entrees.
At $18.95, a chicken breast dressed with lemon butter and capers, a la "piccata," was tender but seems a bit overpriced. More egregious was a filet mignon that came with an overly salty sauce of red wine and mushrooms. Only an inch thick, it was cooked to order, but just doesn't merit its $30.95 price tag in terms of presentation or taste.
Desserts are made in-house and while they don't deviate from a standard lineup (crème brulée, chocolate cake etc., all $7), the tiramisu came as a structured wedge with perfectly balanced flavors. It was a traditional but delicious way to end a meal.
Primo won't win any prizes for innovative cuisine or presentation. But there's certainly a place for neighborhood eateries that offer consistently good service in a cozy setting where it's easy to talk because the owner hasn't bought into the trendy notion that noise equals success.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
April 18, 2003
Primo Lives Up to Its Name With Extra Touches, Attention to Detail
By Nancy Hobbs
It seems incongruous that one of the best restaurants in town is hidden in a "strip" of businesses on a corner anchored by budget-shoppers' delights -- Ream's and Mac's. I was recently introduced to Primo by friends who discovered it several years ago and have adopted it as a favorite dining spot.
They are not alone. Owner and head waiter Samir Grahovic said a large percentage of his clientele are frequent visitors -- some of whom eat several meals a week at his restaurant. He doesn't advertise much, and what little he does is due to favors from some of those regulars.
Primo does a steady business, and diners who long have enjoyed the restaurant's intimacy, attentive service and excellent cuisine will probably hate having their secret exposed.
But for owner Grahovic's sake, as well as the interests of hungry people, the word should be spread.
You don't see the owners of most restaurants waiting tables, but it suits Grahovic. He is the definition of a classic European host: gracious, attentive, confident and accommodating. While some eating establishments discourage substitutions or variations on their menus, or charge more, Grahovic's menu proclaims "we will gladly make changes or additions to make the dish to your satisfaction."
The menu itself offers options: Each pasta, from tortellini to penne, comes with a choice of sauces ($11.50 to $15.50); veal is offered in four preparations ($19.50), as is chicken ($17 to $20); and, if steak is your weakness, you can choose a New York cut grilled, or sauteed au poivre with peppercorn sauce ($22 and $23, respectively).
Filet mignon is on the menu, too, either with a Bordelaise sauce and mushrooms, or grilled au natural ($23 and $24).
On a recent visit, filet mignon with bearnaise sauce was one of several specials; we went with Grahovic's recommendation and tried it, along with the reasonably priced and drinkable Chianti he suggested.
The steaks -- two of them -- were frosted with tangy, tarragon-laced bearnaise, topped with a chunk of lobster and garnished with two thin sprigs of asparagus. The filets were thick, cooked to a perfect medium-rare and incredibly tender.
Clams, shrimp and generous bites of lobster were abundant in a bed of linguine for the special seafood pasta ($22). It was enjoyed down to the last spoonful of delectable seafood broth.
But I am getting ahead of myself and the dinner's starters. Steamed clams ($11) are Primo's most popular appetizer, Grahovic said. The cold antipasto plate ($12) with melon and prosciutto, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, salami and olives is an enticing mix of flavors to whet the appetite.
Dessert, too, is worth mentioning. Our table tried almost everything: German chocolate cake, sabayon with strawberries, tiramisu, creme brulee. All are made in-house and were excellent. We didn't try the dessert souffles, only because we didn't have the foresight to order them as we ordered dinner. The kitchen will make just about any kind of souffle you want, Grahovic said, from raspberry to Irish cream. Regulars sometimes call to order a souffle for after the movie or theater, and stop in just for that.
Attention to detail and extra touches set Primo apart: the bite-size bruschetta served as you look at the menu; quality silver and dinnerware atop linen-covered cloths; coffee served from glistening silver-plated pots; and the sense that Grahovic and his fellow waiters, consummate professionals, take pride in making your experience memorable.
Grahovic acquired Primo last year, after buying out the two original owners who gave him a job as dishwasher seven years ago, when he moved to Salt Lake from Bosnia. He has worked in every facet of the business since then and still loves the many roles he plays, from kitchen prep and pastry chef to waiter.
"Finally everything I wanted came true. I'm very happy now," he said.
December 17, 1999
Primo's Cuisine Lives Up To Its Name
By Anne Wilson
Bart Skalabrin and Nevenko Baresic met when their wives delivered babies within hours of each other in a Croatia hospital. Now these two fathers have joint custody of Primo, a charming cafe in Cottonwood Heights that serves delectable northern Italian cuisine with a pinch of French flavoring.
Instead of pizza, Primo's menu features a modest selection of pastas and a wealth of fresh fish, chicken and veal, with sauces that are mostly creamy instead of tomato-based.
It is traditional food, served in a classic ambience: small and dimly lighted with white tablecloths gleaming in candlelight. Food and atmosphere are a good fit, much like the Skalabrin-Baresic partnership.
Skalabrin, who immigrated to the United States in 1974, worked in the food and beverage industry in the Virgin Islands and New York City before moving to Utah in 1993. He had planned with a silent partner to open an upscale Italian restaurant in Park City. When that deal fell through, Skalabrin called on Baresic, who had worked in some of New York's finest restaurants.
The two men acquired space in a Cottonwood Heights shopping center, put in a kitchen and created a dining room. Instead of upscale, they did cozy: They painted the walls lavender, trimmed them in purple and hung paintings by artists from Croatia. Nothing fancy, just comfortable, with food to match.
Consider the starters: There is a hot antipasto ($9.50) with clams, shrimp, crab meat and huge mussels, and a cold one ($8) offering roasted red peppers, mozzarella, olives, anchovies and tomatoes. Clams in white wine are there ($8.50), alongside fresh mozzarella with tomatoes ($7.50). Primo regularly offers specials, too, such as the bruschetta that had eggplant added to the familiar tomato and herbs on a toasted crouton.
This is not particularly adventurous food. But familiar ingredients, well-prepared, satisfy as well as comfort. The restaurant recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, proof that its tried-and-true formula is hitting the spot with diners.
Some come back for the classic rack of lamb ($21.95), cooked to order with pan juices and peppercorns. Others want to sample all of the veal dishes, some of which come napped with salty, dark sauces that get their start with browned bones eventually simmered to their very essence.
The veal sorentino ($17.50) is a good choice. Thin, tender slices of veal are topped with an even thinner slice of eggplant and covered with melted fontina cheese. Its flavor is subtle, indeed nearly overpowered by the veal sauce that comes with it. On the side were wonderful boiled potatoes dressed with nothing more than olive oil and salt and crisp-tender zucchini and yellow squash tossed with butter and olive oil.
Other veal choices include a scaloppine with marsala wine and mushroom sauce ($17.50); veal piccata with a lemon-butter sauce ($17); and the classic saltimbocca with prosciutto and sauteed spinach ($18.50).
The chicken dishes are variations on the veal: chicken with Parmesan cheese ($15.50), served with spaghetti; chicken with a lemon-butter sauce ($14.50); a breast stuffed with spinach, prosciutto and cheese, dressed with a creamy mushroom sauce ($15.50).
Steaks are classic, too: a peppered New York ($18.95); grilled filet mignon ($19.95); and a filet with red-wine sauce and mushrooms ($20.95).
The grilled filet mignon came tender and cooked to order, again with boiled potatoes and steamed squash.
Pasta (not homemade) comes in four varieties -- tortellini, spaghetti or linguine, penne rigate and capellini -- but each can be dressed with various sauces. The penne, for example, could be tossed with a vodka-spiked sauce or a light, but spicy, tomato sauce ($10.50). Choices for the tortellini ($11.50) include alfredo, primavera or pesto. The menu is a la carte, so salads are extra ($3.50 to $8 for wilted spinach salad for two).
Primo offers a daily fresh fish special in addition to the salmon with mustard sauce ($15.95) and shrimp with a spicy tomato sauce or classic scampi ($19.95).
Homemade desserts include the ladyfinger/mascarpone cheese confection known as tiramisu ($4) and a plain cheesecake ($3.50).