1709 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-349-1480
The loud acoustics, kitchen timing and service need to be tweaked but Sea Salt's menu highlights fine ingredients.
Cuisine: Italian, Pizza
Hours: M-F, 11:30 am-2:30 pm; M-Th, 5-9:30 pm; F-S, 5-10 pm; Su, 10:30 am-2 pm
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 6
Recommended Dishes: Watermelon-fennel salad, caprese salad, Napoletana Margherita pizza.
September 1, 2010
Sea Salt’s Italian inspirations shine
By Lesli J. Neilson
Stylistically, Sea Salt takes your breath away.
I’d envision a place like this in Newport Beach, Calif., thanks to its white interior, clean lines and airy surroundings. A white marble bar edges the open kitchen, and reclaimed driftwood-esque oak chairs and natural hardwood floors give the place a sense of comfort.
That marbletop also adorns an 8-person bar and an impressive floor-to-high-ceiling refrigerated wine wall and preservation system for the 25 wine-by-the-glass offerings.
There may be no breeze from the sea, but if you suspend reality while eating from the Italian menu with all genres of Italian music playing in the background, you may begin to think you’re not in Salt Lake City anymore.
This Italian endeavor is the latest creation of Eric DeBonis, who also owns The Paris Bistro & Zinc Bar. This time, DeBonis has gone back to his Italian roots, collecting inspiration for Sea Salt from his great-grandmother, Maria DeBonis, who was from Pietragalla, in Basilicata, Italy.
DeBonis is a stickler for the finest ingredients. The menu tells you everything there is to know, including whether the ingredients have an Italian pedigree — the olives in an olive appetizer are Castelvetrano Nocellara del Belice from Castelvetrano in Sicily — or local — the garlic was cultivated from Summit County’s Ranui Gardens and the eggs hail from Provo’s Clifford Family Farm. And I mean everything: The salumi (cold cuts) were cut on the Berkel designer slicer. How do I know? It’s on the menu.
While I’m all for using the best local and imported ingredients, I don’t need to know the specific brand of red wine vinegar and olive oil in a salad. Diners should get more credit — we know olive oil is a staple of Italian cooking — and besides, it’s up to well-trained servers to pass along relevant information about the food.
On one visit, we had a very knowledgeable server who knew the menu inside and out. Another visit, our server was cordial and professional but much less versed in the menu and service in general.
To that end, the menu items, which are divided into “before the pasta,” soup, salad, pizza, pasta and risotto, “after the pasta” (panini at lunch) and “bitter sweet,” need to stand out. The tildes denoting the beginning of each offering aren’t enough. It’s really difficult to see where one menu item ends and another begins, especially when a menu item extends to two lines.
So, enough with my menu-writing gripes: Let’s get to the food. The best dishes were straightforward and let ingredients speak for themselves. Nearly every salad I sampled fell into that category.
Chunks of ripe watermelon combined beautifully with the anise notes of fennel, parsley and blood orange olive oil ($6.95), while multi-colored, in-season heirloom tomatoes commingled with supple buffalo milk mozzarella, basil and olive oil ($10.95). A simple arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano salad sang with the addition of preserved lemon juice ($7.95), while nubbins of umami-laden Gorgonzola dolce and walnuts heightened a roasted beets and arugula salad ($8.95).
Simplicity also reigned with some of the dozen or so wood-fired pizzas. Two of my favorites were the Napoletana Margherita DOP ($14.95) with San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo milk mozzarella and basil; and the Piemonte ($14.95) with chanterelle and West Coast porcini mushrooms, Fontina, ricotta and Grana Padano cheeses. Be prepared to eat the 12-inch, thin-crusted pies like they do in Italy, with a sharp knife and fork.
There are about an equal number of pastas as pizzas, and the gnocchi dishes were the standouts. Sea Salt’s gnocchi are bigger than most — about a ½ inch by 2 inches — and, happily, tender. Whether in a mess of English peas, green onion, portabellos and a sage-brown butter sauce ($14.95), or done in the Sicilian “norma” style ($14.95) with fried eggplant, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, the flour-and-potato nuggets impressed.
As for pastas, some were quite good, including the spaghetti alla siciliana ($16.95) with wild shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula, while others, like the spaghetti carbonara ($12.95) faltered, becoming a sad blob, because the kitchen’s timing of dishes was off.
One dish I’d like to try on a future visit is the spaghetti with Nonna Maria’s meatballs ($15.95). I had the soft, savory orbs alongside housemade focaccia as an appetizer ($8.95), but only two came on the plate. The amount seemed chintzy for the price; four come on the pasta version.
If pizza and pasta just have too many carbs for you, at lunch there are panini offerings, including an innovative one with olive-oil poached albacore tuna, fingerling potatoes, caper berries, hard-cooked egg, preserved lemon and arugula on a potato roll ($9.95). The potatoes were cut too thick and the tall sandwich can get messy quickly, but the combination of flavors was interesting.
At dinner, there’s a trio of proteins to choose from, and one standout is the juicy pink marinated flank steak slices fanned out over fingerling potatoes and arugula and accented by a vibrant, Sicilian salmoriglio sauce of olive oil, marjoram, lemon, garlic, anchovy, caper berries, kalamatas and tomatoes ($18.95).
To end the meal, the house-made gelati ($3.95, $4.95, $5.95) were really unique, with flavors such as basil, ricotta, extra-virgin olive oil and white truffle. I liked the hazelnut and pistachio flavors best. Other desserts include a chocolate mousse tart with sea salt and olive oil ($6.95), and a fantastic, trembling rhubarb, strawberry and pistachio panna cotta ($5.95).
Tweaks to the loud acoustics, kitchen timing and service still need to be addressed, but Sea Salt has only been around since July 1. Over time, the kinks will be ironed out and Sea Salt will become the ambitious Italian oasis in the Salt Lake Valley that it aspires to be.
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.