A week past the new year and Lugano still had holiday decorations up – seemed a bit strange, and maybe even a bit tacky. But hey – tables were set up nicely, and the restaurant was pretty busy for a weekday evening. Surprisingly, Lugano did not seem noisy even with all the people dining there. Once seated, my guests and I felt relaxed and certainly didn’t ever feel hurried in any way.
To get our evening started right, Lugano supplied us with some pieces of foccacia, along with some tasty olive oil and an assortment of olives. As grateful as I was for the foccacia, the presentation was plain, and the bread had obviously been sliced prematurely, as some of the edges were not as soft as they could have been. Plus, a little bit more salt on top of the bread could have made the flavor pop out a bit more. The olive oil was certainly the highlight during this sampling, and the olives were a nice contrast to the oil, even though they were not pitted. All in all, the gesture presented us with enough time to make a decision on what starters and entrees we would order.
My guests each ordered a salad: two hits out of the ballpark. The baby spinach salad was decorated with dried cranberries, candied walnuts that I was prepared to steal off the plate, feta cheese, red onion and a perfect ratio of dressing. The beet salad was served with avocado, fennel, blue cheese and, again, a nice balance of dressing. There was some discussion at the table about if the avocado fit in the salad or not – we decided it just depended upon the simple fact of liking avocados or not. Both of these salads would certainly be ordered again. This was a great sign to the rest of our evening…or was it?!
Our final starter were pyramids of parma prosciutto, arugula, “torched pears”that incorporated a dabble of mascarpone, and a drizzling of balsamic vinegar. This was a dynamite dish in presentation. The nuttiness of the arugula complimented the sweetness of the torched sugared topping of the pears, and it just worked well. I still wish I had that taste in my mouth. The only disappointment to this starter was that the pear wasn’t as ripe as I would have liked it – it had a crunch to it, which is too bad, because the texture was just slightly amiss. Besides that setback, this starter dish was out of this world. The flavors really jumped out at me. I recommend the torched pears.
Did you know the house fettuccini is supposedly Lugano’s best selling dish? Upon learning that, I had to hands down go for this entree. Soon after ordering it, I discovered that it contained perfectly in-house made noodles bathed in an Italian sausage ragout, canned like mushrooms, and red onions in a tomato cream sauce. The presentation was as nice as I think this dish could offer. The noodles were fantastic and I was certainly impressed by the skill set of Lugano to make such a perfect noodle. Yet, I could have done without the mushrooms or at least a higher echelon of mushrooms, for example, a porcini instead of the white button canned like tragedy. The flavoring was what was to be expected, but could be comparable to an Olive Garden entree, unfortunately. It’s a wonder why this is the best selling dish. Maybe because the portions are so huge: it defeated me and I ended up taking leftovers home, after I shared the entree with one of my guests.
My first guest was the smartest of all three of us and ordered the osso bucco over risotto, which had a very rich taste and smoky smell. The plate was beautifully created. The risotto had an appropriate consistency, the meat was amazingly tender, and the squash wasn’t mushy at all. Her dinner tasted fresh and was prepared nicely. Hands down we would all order her dish again and scrap what we ordered. Thank goodness for people who share what they ordered AND allow us to steal bites here and there!
My second guest had ordered the fish of the day: sea bass. Again, the presentation was outstanding, but something was wonky. The aroma wasn’t right. Could it be? What was that awful smell? Was there a seasoning or spice that was just throwing us off? After everyone at the table tasted the sea bass we all agreed – the freshness of the fish was beyond questionable. After finally getting the attention of the server, we sent it back. The server informed us that all the bass was sold out, but offered up some suggestions on the menu to compensate for such a misfortune. We decided to just share the remaining dishes. Lugano, rightly so, took the bass off the bill. My guest said that if he could do it all over again, he’d skip the sea bass and go with the recommendations from the server. Drat.
Overall, the service was fast. The wine we ordered was promptly brought to the table while we were deciding what to eat. However, after I decided not to participate in any wine consumption, the server didn’t suggest other options. Therefore, I drank water as a default and even then no lemon or lime wedges were offered. Beyond that, the waiter was very friendly, knowledgeable, and mostly attentive, except when we had a problem with the bass – we found it tricky to summon him: this detracted from the most positive dining experience. Too bad American restaurants don’t have a call button to request a server to attend to the table without trying to give the wave, the nod, or some other indicator.
We didn’t end up ordering any dessert – nothing floated our boat. Doesn’t every restaurant in Salt Lake City extend a selection like this: chocolate flour-less cake, tiramisu, crème brulee, gelato, apple crisp, and pumpkin cheesecake? I wish to believe that it would all taste great, but it would be refreshing to have a dessert that would wow me and give me reason to call Lugano and get it to-go one night. No doubt we would have ordered a dessert to share if something sounded tasty; instead we all went home with a sweet tooth unsatisfied.
In conclusion, the walls by and inside the very cold and uncomfortable bathrooms are framed with accolades and other ego driven pats on the back; unfortunately Lugano didn’t show off what makes them so special tonight. I don’t think we experienced exactly what one ought to expect when reading such high fives. Why have these awards posted when the restaurant’s execution is inconsistent?
Rating – I would be willing to return for a salad or parma prosciutto starter and certainly not for the sea bass.