So this delightfully fun place is right smack dab in the Avenues of Salt Lake City. If you are familiar with the Ave's (as the locals call them) you know it's gonna be a cool place with a fun vibe. And yes, it is!
Debbi had gotten there first and she sent me a picture to let me know they were already taking care of her and that my beverage would also be waiting for me.
(Debbi's hot tea, while my diet coke was on the way)
(while she was waiting Deb took pictures of the food in the counter displays)
(and of the menu - a little blurry)
From the time we walked in, we had people taking care of us. Joey emerged from the kitchen to come give me a hug and then talk to all of us at the table. He gave recommendations and discussed some of the dishes. As I watched him talking, I could see that this man was clearly in his element, knew exactly what he was doing and that we were NOT going to be disappointed.
(what a looker huh? Runs in the family)
I chose a tapa, a salad and a main entree! And yes, I have decided to go vegetarian for the most part, but when I saw a filet on the menu, I knew I was going to break that rule for just this evening.
The excellent serving staff got our beverages going, and then began the appetizers coming out from the kitchen. Some we had ordered and some complimentary from the chef so we could enjoy some of the different options he has to offer.
There were some breaded cheese sticks with a sauce to dip them in, and no I didn't taste them, but based on the sounds coming from my table mates, they were delicious! Everyone was hooked and eagerly awaiting to taste all the wonderful and different things we ordered.
Another appetizer came out. Small baby beets with fennel and other things that were complimenting everything that I wish I could remember, but OH MY GOSH! They were delicious! I could have ordered a couple plates of those and made that a meal!
My yummy cauliflower appetizer came out next. They were also paired with some cashews in a spicy sauce with some kick that was just perfect. I began to think, how does one even know HOW or WHAT flavors perfectly compliment others? I was seriously amazed.
My salad came next. A kale, quinoa, pine nuts, and dried cherries in a light vinaigrette dressing. Yes, again, I could have made a meal of this! So yummy. So, absolutely delicious.
Before I go any further, let's talk about presentation. I watch enough of the Food Network to know that much of a the appeal of a dish will be the presentation. Joey has that nailed down. Everything looked as beautiful as it tasted. And that is an understatement, I just don't really have the words to do him justice.
Before we get to my entree, let me insert that everything was perfectly timed as it came out from the kitchen. My beverage was always fresh and the serving staff was outstanding.
My entree: a beautiful filet perfectly prepared and cooked to the precise medium well. Smashed baby red potato's (not mashed - big difference), asparagus and served all in a wine sauce that was the perfect combination. It could not have been put together in any other better way.
After talking with everyone else at the table and seeing their satisfaction with their entree choices as well, I knew we had a hit on our hands. I was hoping that Joey would get an opportunity to come out and chat again with us if for no other reason than we could compliment him, and let him how perfectly satisfied every one of us was with the food that had been prepared for us.
At some point I took a minute to use the powder room facilities and look around. Such a cute and perfectly Avenues style place. There was a room off to the side for private parties and I could picture a wedding luncheon or dinner being held there. A patio on the west side was beautiful and would be a place I would love to enjoy a long dinner and just enjoy the sights of the city.
As you know, I do not drink alcohol, but I did peruse the backside of the menu and boy do these guys offer so many selections. I was pleased to see that the majority of the beer offerings were local drafts. I love seeing a small business owner supporting and offering other small business owners and giving them opportunities to include their drafts. For those of my friends who love a locally brewed beer, this would be the place to come and enjoy some. And....they cater!
As full as I was with all the food that I had experienced, dessert was not even a question. The restaurant does have a local pasty chef who provides them with much of the dessert options but there are a couple that are made in house and of course, those were the options I wanted. It was tough to decide between the creme brulee or the chocolate...... concoction (I can't remember what it was called, but it was something, besides the brulee, that Joey had his hands in making, so that was what I wanted. Knowing that my besties the Blands would order one of the other options, I went with the chocolate because we would share bites. As besties do, you know.
Oh my heavens! The chocolate, caramel, roasted almonds dish that came to me was HEAVENLY! If you love chocolate - than this was it. It was more of a dark chocolate but paired with the caramel, it balanced to the perfect taste of appeasing the sweet tooth in one, but not so sweet that you could only enjoy one bite. It was perfectly sized as well.
Then I got to dip my spoon into the creme brulee. Oh my heavens! (yes I know I am repeating myself - oh well). It was no ordinary creme brulee, it was an orange ginger brulee. So amazingly delicious. I wish I had ordered both and thrown calories out the window. They were simply divine!
As our experience wrapped up to a close, Joey came out, let me hug him AGAIN, and then shared with me some of his ideas with the menu, the seasonal changes, his ideas going forward, etc. He noted that he has many regulars that come in several times a week and even though he has been there for a short time, he is developing some wonderful relationships with his customers.
As I thought about it, I realized that it's kind of a lost art. The art of the small, neighborhood restaurant with familiar staff and patrons that develop friendships that make the entire experience much more than just a meal. It made me think of Little Italy in Boston. The small restaurants owned by usually family, with home cooked food that become regular places for people to enjoy a meal, a glass of wine (if they choose) and relax with friends. I loved it. No pager, no call ahead seating, no waiting in line...... just enjoying a perfect meal all in the calm atmosphere with good friends and great staff. I don't want to lose that art in the hustle and bustle of a busy world of chain restaurants.
I am so proud of Joey and all his accomplishments. I asked him how he could possibly think of all the ways to combine flavors that would perfectly compliment each other. His answer was a simple one: "Experience". And yes, he does have quite the experience. And let's not forget the innate, God given talent to have the taste buds and the artistic nature to put it together in a beautiful plate of perfectly prepared wonderfulness.
So yes, I have gushed. And then gushed some more, but there is no other way for me to describe what a wonderful experience I, and my FHE besties, had Monday night. Cucina's is now at the top of my list of favorite's. I would like to say it's not just because of Joey, but it is indeed BECAUSE of Joey. His experience, his dishes, his art that he chooses to share with the rest of us. That art is what makes it my favorite. He is indeed a very talented chef. And I am lucky enough to be his favorite Aunt (lol) (but seriously).
So, if you are in the SLC area and looking for something different, creative, has an awesome vibe, local drafts, and outstanding food, then Cucina's is for you. I imagine that reservations are preferred for large groups and for weekends, but don't let that fool you into thinking that this as any other feel than a comfortable, low-key, cool as ever place.
And you can always tell the chef that Aunt M sent you.
*I wanted to provide a link to the restaurant home page, but it hasn't been updated yet and until it has been, just take my word for it. Go, enjoy and you're welcome.