Who would have guessed that for 5 years this little sophisticated hole-in-the-wall restaurant has been around? Tucked between Children’s Hour and Smith’s, one could easily look past this place on 9th and 9. But, after reading this, I hope that you won’t.
Upon approaching the quaint but modern establishment I noticed a reasonably packed restaurant through a few large window panes that allowed me to gaze into Pago from the street. If you were to spy this little place you would quickly see that there is an open kitchen that is enveloped in wood, wood, and more wood from the flooring, to the walls, to the tables.
Pago seems to be a perfect date location, as you could get close to your date without being obvious or awkward, plus I didn’t see any children or youth that evening – what a grown-up place. In fact, Pago was absolutely packed with hipsters, yuppies, and most people ranged from their twenties through their sixties. Glasses of wine flowed at every table. The staff was extremely attentive, contributing to the feeling that everyone at my table felt right at home…minus a small draft at our table which was the most unpleasant aspect of our evening.
After enjoying a glass of sherry and a glass of wine we got serious about ordering food I mean, how could we not, the place was surrounded by wholesome dishes that left a thick aroma in the air which tantalized our taste-buds. Did you hear that? Yup…that was my stomach grumbling.
One of my guest and I ordered the soup of the day which was a smooth and velvety taste of potato and sunchoke. The garnish didn’t only add a visual component, but it added a little extra garlic/salty goodness to a few bites. Mmm, I’m actually getting a hankering for another bowl as I reflect on this starter.
My other guest wanted to have a lighter meal and ordered oysters in the shell, which were held in place with beautiful helpings of decorative pink salt, along with Pago’s version of a Caesar salad. The salad ditched the traditional greens and fixed up the salad with kale instead. The salad was finished with, the star ingredient of the soup of the day, sunchokes (am I sensing a Pago favorite ingredient?), fennel, and a classic dressing that anyone with an intolerance to dairy wouldn’t have to worry about digesting. The salad was satisfying and tasty.
It didn’t take my other guest long to determine what he was going to order as his main dish – the trout. To his surprise it was a healthy size portion of fish, prepared medium-rare over a bed of hearty lima beans and medium, diced butternut squash along with apple and fennel. Yes, he enjoyed every bite of it.
I decided to order the gnocchi, because I thought it would balance out the other plates that were ordered. I am glad that I did, because it had a hearty taste to it – something that I was after on such a bitter-cold winter night. These heavenly little potato dumplings were smeared with a cornucopia of smoky onion, broccoli, mushrooms, leeks and a crown of dusted parmesan cheese. Really, if Pago wanted to evolve this vegetarian dish and offer a bit of protein I would suggest elk or even venison would be a beautiful addition to the entree.
We didn’t go with dessert, as the three choices just didn’t do it for us. One dessert sounded fabulous; until they mentioned it had “marshmallows”. Another dessert was a pie – but it wasn’t heated and just didn’t sound that great, really. The third option… bread-pudding with a funky twist of white chocolate roped into it. I felt like the options didn’t really flow with the style of the menu and I didn’t want to take a detour away from the impressively tasty meal we all just had. What could have been a great alternative, now that I’m thinking about it – since we weren’t shy about consuming glasses of wine, which the server suggested…and then the sommelier talked with us about. Oh, and then there was some wine that picked out… The server could have hinted about a cold winter’s night drink and that could have been a perfect replacement to the lacking desserts they presented. Too bad it wasn’t offered – or suggested. Baaah.
Above all, the server gave us room to roll with what we wanted. In fact, what sets Pago apart from other restaurants is how the staff looks out for each other. I did notice the entire Pago team casually sweeping through the dining room checking up on, without interrupting, their guests. Way to pay attention to details and making sure the customer service is supreme!
Overall, this restaurant seems to belong in San Francisco or Portland because it focused on local products, and presented dishes with a sophistication: simple, clean, and certainly focused on the food. Having said that, I am delighted that it is right here in Salt Lake City. Sure, other restaurants attempt to have a smaller establishment, niche menu, and farm-to-table food offerings, but I don’t see other restaurants really competing. Even their sister restaurant, Finca, that I am admittedly not fond of, doesn’t pull off what Pago does!
Rating — I would be willing to return to see what improvements they do with the dessert menu before I make it a regular go-to place.
Edited by MDK