Recently I was invited to Faustina for a press gathering; an effort, I’m sure, by the owners to spur new interest into their Faustina property. (Faustina is part of the La Salle group of restaurants which includes the Oasis Café and Carver’s restaurant.)
For years I’ve enjoyed going to Faustina. I love the cozy neighborhood setting toward the east end of 300 South, which has always been inviting and centrally located. There is plenty of off-street parking and I like the bar area. My cousin, Carol Ellis Armstrong, had her birthday party there and my artist friend, Trevor Southey had a recent reception there.
The Salt Lake restaurant scene has had some shakeups lately. Bill White lost one of his good managers to the Trio Group and Faustina’s long-time manger just left to go out to Tuscany/Franck’s, just to name a few. To keep interest going in this economy, the La Salles hired a marketing firm to create some new buzz, but I just had one question. The La Salles are the nicest, most engaging and charming couple. Why didn’t they just do this press junket on their own? Not a criticism, just a question.
One great thing about the evening was that I was able to sit next to my friend Kathy Stevenson who is one of the food editors at the Salt Lake Tribune. Let me tell you about the evening.
While waiting for the whole group to gather we were served a very succulent, little Adami Prosecco, which seems to be all the rage these days at Italian restaurants. It was delightful.
Next we were served a lamb chop starter: perfectly grilled atop a spoonful of creamy polenta. The chop had a sort of pepper relish on the side, a bit like some kind of chutney and the chop was also garnished with beautifully cut cucumber and jalapeno. The starter was paired with a Crios Rose of Malbec. We then had the refreshing watermelon salad which I have had before at the Oasis and is still a crowd-pleaser. This came with Nobilo New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; I’d forgotten how much I like that wine.
The fish course was a revelation and something I found very delicious. Kathy and I gave each other a mutual glance of approval. Served in a soup plate, there were two large, grilled scallops, crusted with Asiago cheese with a mound of angel-hair pasta in the center. These tasty items were served in a fresh tomato broth flanked with grape tomatoes and a few garden peas. The whole dish from the perfectly cooked scallops to the simple broth was stunning. The wine pairing here was with Tangent Ecclestone which I call one of the “conundrum” knock-offs. (I didn’t think the wine was the best pairing of the night. I’d have chosen something with a bit more acidity.)
Next came a Faustina standard — their stuffed chicken breast. Evidently this has been a staple on the menu for a very long time, although I hadn’t had it before. It was filled with feta cheese, spinach, bell pepper and served in a chorizo broth. This dish was paired with Marietta Old Vine Red, a nice little Zinfandel blend which I have always liked.
The dessert was a very nicely made Panne Cotta, which the French call pots-de-crème. It was flavored with true vanilla bean and surrounded by strawberries, lightly laced with Balsamic vinegar. They served this dish with a Dow Tawny Port. The Panne Cotta was light, gorgeous and tasty, but I have to say, both Meditrina and Takashi are serving this dessert too.
It’s hard for me as a critic to give a rating on a prepared menu at marketing event because I think the menu is very tightly controlled and there’s not a lot of room for error. The dinner was beautifully executed and served, and I hope it does generate some new interest and inject more business into Faustina’s coffers. I know how hard it is to keep momentum going in the culinary industry in a sluggish recession.
I’ve been a happy customer at Faustina for years and I always enjoy the food and the atmosphere. That being said, if Faustina is making a new beginning, I’m not sure I saw that. I saw some old ideas being reworked. I liked all the wine choices too, but once again there was not a lot that was new about these wines; well chosen, thoughtfully paired, and I hate saying this, but not particularly new and not particularly exciting.
I absolutely loved the scallop dish and the dessert — they were to die for! If I were to rate the overall experience at Faustina, it would have to be an 89.