5468 S. 900 East, Murray ; 801-268-1017
This beloved eatery has found a new home, continuing to offer good service and homey Italian fare.
Hours: M-F, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; M-S, 5:30-10 p.m.; Su, by reservation
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Corkage: $ 10
Recommended Dishes: Apple streudel, rigatoni al turco, prosciutto-wrapped pork mignons.
September 19, 2007
Many hits, some misses at Italian eatery
By Vanessa Chang
MURRAY -- We couldn't stop eating the apple strudel ($5.95) in all its homemade, generously portioned glory. First bite. Tart, chopped fruit infused with cinnamon was not only delicious but also comforting. Second and third bites. Sliced unpeeled almonds flecked the mixture as did soft golden raisins that barely stood out from the warm hues of the dish. Northern Italian geopolitics aside, it was an unusual dessert to encounter in a restaurant noted for its Mediterranean flavors. But it was indicative of Roma Ristorante, where things are never quite standard.
Zeljko and Aida Ljubicic, originally from a sunny coastal town in Croatia, opened the original Roma six years ago in a former greenhouse on 3300 South. Commuters noted the unique green dome. Regulars noted the veal saltimbocca and various pasta dishes.
The new digs in Murray occupy a chunk of strip mall that's divided into one large dining room and a smaller one for large groups. On days where you're the only table around, it can seem vacuous and cold . . . literally. (During one lunch visit, the AC was set to be colder than a walk-in fridge). But when the room fills and the chatter goes up, you're thankful for the generous spacing within the terra-cotta-washed walls and warm lighting.
Wife Aida runs the front of the house, greeting customers and catching-up with regulars. The Andrea Bocelli soundtrack consistently looped into the dining room -- that's sometimes played a little too loudly -- is an appropriate addition not only because it evokes "Italian" to many diners, but also because your experience can reach the same highs and lows as Mr. Bocelli's vocal range.
High: Service for the most part is excellent. The appeal of Roma is that you always feel welcome and at home. The experienced servers bring out complimentary, flavorful bruschetta, tell you the evening's specials, the exact ingredients in an inventive rigatoni al turco ($12.95) and the side dishes for entrees without missing a beat.
Low: The less-experienced waiters, admittedly very green, rely on reminders from co-workers and reply to side-dish questions with "I think it comes with rice or potatoes or something." I figure if I'm to pay $23.95 for a lamb chop entree featuring local lamb, I'd like to know exactly what that something is.
Turns out that something is a mélange of whatever Zeljko finds to be fresh in the kitchen. There's an emphasis on sauces, stocks, bread and desserts being made from scratch and utilizing whatever is seasonal; the way the Ljubicics would've cooked back in Europe.
The kitchen is Zeljko's domain and he wields his influence with a colorful flair -- Jackson Pollock-like drizzles of balsamic reduction, slicks of basil, chive or parsley oil and beet sauce. The vibrancy is dramatic, but not always necessary for the sake of flavor.
But it serves as something of a visual constant for diners who expect such flourishes as much as they expect to always see the succulent house dinner scampi ($17.95) on the menu. The freshness is far more appealing in something as humble as a bowl of the soup of the day ($3.95 cup; $5.50 bowl) -- fresh whole peas in a savory minestrone-like broth or a zesty spinach and potato that was mercifully free of ubiquitous cream.
Like the service, there are exceptional highs and disappointing lows. The lamb chops ($23.95) were tender, but cooked far past a requested medium-rare. Crunchy romaine lettuce was overwhelmed with a creamy but lackluster Caesar dressing ($6.50).
What Roma excels at is offering dishes that sound traditional but have unique touches. Hefty, ridged pasta tubes soak up all the savory notes in cinnamon-spiked braised beef sauce ($12.95). Spaghetti bolognese ($11.95) is more tender ground meat than sauce. The tricolore appetizer ($6.95) uses silky buffalo milk mozzarella to add intrigue to fresh basil and slices of prosciutto and ripe tomatoes. Instead of ladyfingers, tiramisu ($5.95) gets its structure from house-made sponge cake, as did the wonderfully light lemon mascarpone cheesecake ($5.95).
The prosciutto-wrapped pork mignons ($19.95) were exceptionally tender, drizzled with pan jus, mushrooms and placed atop a nest of mashed potatoes, flanked by a sliced beet salad. Those seeking hearty, creamy pasta will love the chicken and mushroom fettuccine ($8.95 lunch) and a pancetta-studded carbonara ($9.95 lunch) that relies on extra egg yolks (not cream) for a moister result.
There are many lovely cabernets and merlots on the concise wine list. But I suggest flipping over the page and trying out the lesser-known Italian varietals. When the food is approachable and the ambience is comfortable, it's worth a risk to try at least one thing new. But in the off chance you aren't impressed with a light, white Soave or an earthy Primitivo, there's always apple strudel to look forward to.
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.