Friday, September 6, 2013

Cucina Vanina

Address: 1844 E Fort Union Blvd, Salt Lake City, Utah. 801.938.9706.

Review: Nomenclature is important. For instance, the word "South" means different things in different parts of the world. In the United States it refers (at the very least) to the area below the Mason-Dixon Line. In Italy, South usually refers to the area below Rome. Of course, if you're a member of Lega Nord, it might mean anything below Bologna, or, heck, maybe Trento, who knows with those people. 

It was with this in mind that I was somewhat perplexed when we arrived at Cucina Vanina and saw the following on the restaurant minivan out front (to their eternal credit, there was a restaurant Fiat 500 immediately adjacent to the minivan): "A culinary tour of Southern Italy." This statement was juxtaposed against the following nightly special announced on the chalk stand next to the front door: "spaghetti alla Bolognese." These two things are completely incongruous. A restaurant touting itself as a specialist in Southern Italian cooking should have nothing whatsoever to do with spaghetti alla Bolognese. Bolognese cuisine is a world apart from that of Southern Italy. It is based on different ingredients and requires a completely different cooking style. You wouldn't expect good shrimp and grits from a chef in Fargo, North Dakota, and you shouldn't expect good spaghetti alla Bolognese from a Southern Italian restaurant. This was an ominous beginning.

After discussion, my wife and I ordered bruschetta al pomodoro (bruschetta with tomatoes), insalata di rucola e finocchio (salad of arugula and fennel with shaved parmigano reggiano), ravioli con sugo di pomodoro (cheese ravioli with tomato sauce), and involtino di carne (roulade of beef stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, served with oven-roasted potatoes and a light arugula salad). 

Before the bruschetta arrived, we were given bread (a form of focaccia, it seemed) and what the server called "Italian salsa."

The salsa was excellent. Pungent, smooth, acidic. The bread was obviously house made, and somewhat wonder-bready with a firmer crust. Nothing terribly authentic about it, unlike the sauce, which is still making me drool. 

The bruschetta al pomodoro had as its base, the same bread as that described above. Thankfully, however, the tomatoes utilized were beautifully fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes from a local grower.

The tomatoes were dressed simply, with olive oil and basil. Wonderfully vibrant. The dish was served with a side of the ormai obligatory, and completely unnecessary, balsamic reduction. This bruschetta was the highlight of the meal. 

The insalata was, well, an insalata with arugula and fennel and shaved parm.

Salads like this are limited by the quality of ingredients. The ingredients here were fine, hence, the salad was fine.

The ravioli, hmm.

Ravioli are meant to be light with a little filling to compliment the pasta, and lightly sauced. These were none of those things. The pasta was extraordinarily thick and the edges had not been cooked all the way through (they were very tough). They were filled with copious amounts of okay ricotta. There was far too much sauce for the four ravioli (and $17.95 for four ravioli? Seriously? Four?). Everything that could be wrong with a raviolo was wrong here. Very poor execution.

The involtini were blah.

The first one (of only three, mind you) was fairly gamey. The predominant flavor, oddly, was that of mozzarella. The prosciutto was indiscernible (my wife had no idea it was there until I told her). The oven-roasted potatoes had no flavor, none. No rosemary, no parm, no salt, nothing. $19.99 for three involtini and tasteless potatoes? Come on. 

In fine, some excellent elements, but poor overall execution and flavor. Oh, and the Southerness of the menu. It's sort of Southern. There is a variety of seafood dishes, some of which are certainly Southern, but many of the dishes are straight Northern fare, or simply American (e.g., spaghetti and meatballs). 

Rating: 4/10 (5/10 is average).

Cucina Vanina on Urbanspoon


  1. A shame to hear their quality may be wavering. I've had some truly excellent meals there - a few months after they opened and were super keen.

    Perhaps their intent was to focus on the cuisine of their home, but have fell into the trap of tweaking their menu increasingly to local palates, thereby getting so far away from their original goals they miss the mark massively.

    I'm still crying inside from the time I ate at Banana Leaf in Provo (Singapore restaurant) when they said they stopped serving Singapore Noodles as customers kept expecting spaghetti.

  2. I was disappointed by the review given by Marco Brown re: Cucina Vanina. I found the food to be excellent. Perhaps he and his wife should take a trip to Italy where they can perhaps find a ristorante more to their liking. I have had all of the dishes he and his wife had and mine were superb. I have traveled throughout Italy and I would put Cucins Vanina right up there on my list of many ristorants I ate at in Italy. I give it 8.5/10
    Barbara Van Asdlan