194 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City ; 801-596-7222
A variety of traditional Italian food, wines, good service and reasonable prices that make it a good pick for a date or a casual dinner.
Hours: M-Th, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Su, noon-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Recommended Dishes: Grilled calamari, bruschetta, Caesar salad with tofu dressing.
July 23, 2004
By Nancy Hobbs
Traditional Italian food served in a casual, friendly setting has been the hallmark of Biaggi's since the family of that name opened its first restaurant in Bloomington, Ill., five years ago, according to news releases announcing its arrival in Salt Lake City. With doors of the new establishment -- the 15th nationwide -- open at the southeast corner of The Gateway since early June, and the early buzz singing its praises, it was time to check it out.
Biaggi's is in a new building designed specifically for the restaurant, with an open, airy dining room surrounded by large picture windows, and such comfortable and attractive amenities as a small patio, a private lounge, and cushy sofas and chairs in the foyer that almost beg for someone to plop down in them and relax.
Since the restaurant is huge, there were plenty of open tables. We were promptly greeted and seated on both occasions, and soon after approached by our servers, each of whom lent a different feel to the experience. That is intentional, according to manager John Buescher, who transferred from Biaggi's in Colorado Springs. The extensive menus and service standards are consistent from one locale to the next; servers are encouraged to add a personal touch -- within the confines of being attentive and professional -- to give each restaurant its own identity.
At the same time, Biaggi's appears adept at adapting to its clientele, working simultaneously as a casual, reasonably priced, post-movie diner and a special-occasion destination, with its white-clothed tables, high ceilings and warm wood finishes. On the night we visited, it was interesting to note a large group of college-age students, a family with small children, and a romantic duo, all seeming to have an enjoyable evening. (Of course, one of the reasons it worked was the restaurant's large size and the receptionist's wise placement of dissimilar parties in separate areas.)
With at least five-dozen items on Biaggi's menu, ranging from a dozen antipasti, even more pasta dishes and a wide variety of entrees, from eggplant or veal parmesan to grilled steaks and seafood, making a decision can be difficult. Luckily, cost shouldn't be too much of a factor, because everything is reasonably priced. The pasta dishes, for example, range from $8 to $14, and all of the handmade, thin-crust pizzas and lunchtime sandwiches are less than $8.
We took our waiter's recommendation and began dinner with tender, flavorful grilled calamari, served with fresh tomatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a nice departure from the more-common fried variation, which also is available. With tomatoes in season, the bruschetta was also a hit, topped with fresh basil and served with a side of balsamic vinaigrette to add just before eating so the toast stayed nice and crisp.
Our waiter also suggested that a single Caesar salad, split between two of us, would be sufficient in addition to our pasta entrees. That kind of advice is always welcome, and proved true. An interesting note about the Caesar dressing, he added, is that it's made with tofu rather than the raw eggs called for in the original recipe. The healthier substitution works well, and the homemade croutons are another nice touch.
You can't seem to go wrong with Biaggi's pasta. The ziti al forno -- shrimp and chicken cooked with ziti pasta in a lobster cream sauce and cheese -- is one of the restaurant's most popular dishes, and for good reason. The flavors are complemented by Italian cured ham and red onions, making for a sumptuous meal.
Another favorite was the portobello lasagna, with spinach, mushrooms and a cheesy white sauce layered in the classic presentation. The rich bolognese sauce, served over rigatoni with the addition of sliced Italian sausage, was full of tomatoes.
All of the meals come in such generous portions that we, and most everyone else, were carrying a grocery-sized bag of leftovers. The only thing not taken home was dessert, which was shared and finished. Prettiest of all was the tulip sundae, with luscious chocolate-chunk ice cream served in a fluted, fried-crepe "bowl," adorned with fresh strawberries and swirls of chocolate and strawberry sauce.
Parking is plentiful, both on the street (meters need feeding until 6 p.m.) and in the busy Gateway lots, for which Biaggi's offers validations.
Biaggi's offers a wide variety of traditional Italian food and wines, good service and reasonable prices which, combined with its attractive and comfortable setting, make it a good choice for special occasions, a romantic date or even a casual lunch or dinner.