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Good Food!

Saltine Pizza, Guaranteed in an Hour or Less — and Undercooked Pasta

Restaurant: Vinto
Cuisines:
Italian, Pizza
Location: 7418 E. 200 S., Salt Lake City (Map); 900 Main Street, Park City (Map)
Price Range: $2.50-$12
Grade: B- — See Foodie Report

I had never heard of Vinto, but was pleasantly surprised to see its sign when on my way up to the University of Utah for a concert at Kingsbury Hall. It didn't look busy, there was parking nearby and I thought that the "casual Italian" on the sign sounded like a nice treat. I parked in the lot next door and, when I entered, the first thought that struck me was, "Wow, that's sure a lot of employees just standing around." There were 10 tables with customers, about half the place, and I could see 11 employees, most of which were standing around at the wine bar (yes, wine bar at a "casual Italian" restaurant) like it was some pseudo-intellectual wine tasting. Fortunately, an employee I had not spotted at first glance came over to greet and seat me and my wife. He was the blond member of the 1964-era Beatles that no one knew about. He offered us a table for two and I asked about the table for four next to it, so I could sit next to my wife, and he sat down the menus on the original table before walking away without a word. I stared after him for a minute, then sat down at the table for four and poured water for us before starting to peruse the menu.

There were a variety of items on the menu, including house-made meatballs; salads that are not your everyday fare with ingredients like wild arugular, pancetta and quinoa; pizza (spelled pizze for the pretentious) that included one with prosciutto; pastas (no, they didn't spell that one with an E) that included housemade sausage and wild arugula; a children's menu and daily specials that included soups and gelato. Then, when I looked more closely, I saw that there were some odd combinations in every area of the menu, like fresh fruit of the day on the prosciutto pizza (the Giovanni), for example. So I looked around to absorb the ambiance until our waiter arrived, because I had some questions. It was 6:15, concert was at 8 p.m., shouldn't be a problem.

As I looked around, I was taken to another place. The restaurant is beautiful and really feels like something that you don't get in Utah very often. It was sleek, modern, blending dark wood with bright colors and sweeping arches, as well as some partitions between larger tables that were taken from the Jetsons. In all, I could have walked out the front door and found myself on Venice Beach or even Miami Beach and not been surprised in the least. The atmosphere was really pleasant, which started making up for the fifth Beatle's attitude.

The waiter arrived, was very pleasant and professional, although there was a little bit of hipster about him, as well, but without the attitude. We asked him questions and he answered very honestly, including nudging me away from the pizza special, which had proscuitto and thin sliced sweet potato (I know!) and nudging me toward the Giovanni. His words, "the sweet potato is a little weird, but the fruit of the day on the Giovanni is green apple and it actually works." In the end, I went with his recommendation, and opted for water to drink, because there was a heavy, plain bottle of it on the table. When he left, I watched the three chefs working at the wood-burning pizza oven, watching them lay out their thin-crust pizza without tossing them, putting them in the oven and rotating them from place to place to ensure that they cook evenly.

Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The waiter came by once to apologize for the wait, so I looked toward the kitchen, and it appeared that all three chefs had decided to go on break together, leaving the restaurant without anyone cooking. And, yes, there were still a bunch of employees standing around, not doing a blessed thing. I watched another table get their food, and was shocked at how really thin the pizzas were. I was pretty hungry, and three slices at the Pie will usually take care of that, but I was afraid that the entire pizza would leave me wondering when the entree was due to arrive.

Finally the food arrived. It was 7:22. The waiter was apologetic, asking if we had anywhere we needed to be. I told him that we did. He said, "But you'll still be able to sit and enjoy your meal?" I said, "NO! We have to leave so we can find parking!" So he asked if I wanted to take it to go. I could hardly believe my ears. But I was starved, so I told him I'd give it a shot, bring a box and I might or might not use it, picked up the incredibly thin, slightly burned pizza, which had uncooked prosciutto, fresh arugula with a bit of dressing, fresh herbs and shaved Parmesan cheese. The only thing cooked on it was the crust and what must have been the fontina that covered the center of the vaguely rectangular crust. I thought, "Nothing is cooked on this. So they spent an hour on this?" But I took my first bite.

First words out of my mouth when I took the first bite: "I'm eating a saltine pizza. This is ridiculous."

The crust was so crunchy it would crumble, just like a saltine. Must have been in the oven the whole time the chefs all went on break together. There was a little bit of citrus on the arugula and the fresh fruit was green apple. The green apple was actually good with the prosciutto, particularly since there was no sauce, and the arugula made it very light and bright. In the end, it was a very nice appetizer ... for $12. Needless to say, I managed to finish it in eight minutes, so I could get back on the road for my concert.

Before leaving, I counted tables with people sitting at them: twelve now. I counted the number of employees working: twelve. So one person for each table, and they STILL couldn't get me a saltine pizza in less than an hour.

Last words before leaving: "This place isn't gonna make it."

On my second visit, I entered with an attitude, I have to admit. I don't like feeling cheated or neglected, but I try to make two visits for every review, no matter how much the place might rub me the wrong way. Again, the place was immaculately clean (I wasn't willing to trek up to Park City to visit both their locations) and the decor was just as beautiful, with just as many employees standing around doing nothing. I wanted to just walk back out again, but thought, things can only get better, right?

The waiter, again, was very pleasant and professional, and was able to answer questions. I didn't want another saltine pizza, so I went with the pasta. The Forest Mushroom and Artichoke pasta looked very good, with fettuccini, grilled chicken, rosemary, thyme, wild arugula and pecorino. I asked the waiter what he thought about it, and he said it was one of his favorite things to eat there. That's a pretty good recommendation, it was only $9, so I went with it. Again, I opted for water to drink, because I didn't want to feel like I was getting cheated again although, at nine bucks, I was afraid of what the portion size might be. When he left, I watched the three chefs working at the wood-burning pizza oven and wondered where the kitchen was, or if they were preparing my pasta there behind the counter, as well. I never got the answer to that question, but found myself zoning out as I was once again left to the waiting game. It was not as bad as the first time, I was not angry when I finally got my food, but it was still long enough to leave me feeling annoyed.

The waiter apologized for the wait (is that the standard greeting when bringing food to the table?) and sat down a nice, white bowl of pasta and diced mushrooms that was only slightly larger than the Disney bowls I used to buy to feet my kids when they were in high chairs. Guess I called it on the portion size. I might have said something to the waiter about the portion size, but he was already gone, so I looked at my bowl. The interior of the fettucini was a bit more transparent than the edges, a little darker color than the edges, which made me wonder if this pasta, which appeared to be cooked from dry, had even reached the level of al dente — even in all the time they had to cook it in a restaurant that was, at most, half full.

First words out of my mouth when I took the first bite: "It's undercooked."

Just as I had thought by just looking at it, the fettucini was not cooked. But then the flavors started to hit me. The blend of rosemary and thyme with the cheese and other herbs was, indeed, very good. The chopped mushrooms were cooked through (surprise, surprise) and had really absorbed a lot of the herby goodness. The pasta was under, but it might continue to cook in the bowl, so I let it rest for a few minutes before continuing. Pretty sad, having to do that, but at least it worked, allowing me to eat pasta that was firm, but not quite raw in the center, although it was sticking in the valleys of my molars like wood putty, but at least it was tasty wood putty.

When finished, although I was still feeling cheated over the portion size, at least I wasn't outright furious, like the first time I left there. Nonetheless, I am going to exercise the democratic power of the dollar and not patronize Vinto again.

The back of the menu stated, "When choosing our produce, poultry and meats, we strinve to support farms and ranches guided by principles of sustainability." No excuse.

FoodUtah.com Foodie Report

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     food·ie (fd)
     noun. Slang.  A person who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet.