Ask anyone who has dined at Valter's Osteria in Salt Lake City, Utah, about their experience, and they will probably mention the meal last. Don't get me wrong - the food is excellent! It's just that there are so many other things to mention first, things that grab the senses when you're a newcomer to Valter's Osteria.
Interior of Valter's Osteria — Photo courtesy of Valter's Osteria
First, let's talk about Valter - not the restaurant, but the man himself. Valter Nassi is obviously not from Salt Lake City. From his first enthusiastic, robust "Buonasera!" greeting, you will feel like family from the get-go. Never mind that you are in the middle of Salt Lake City and in the U.S.A. You have just been transported back to his homeland of Tuscany.
Locals know Valter as the former frontman of the popular Cucina Toscana, also in downtown. For unknown reasons, Valter decided to 'retire' in June 2012. Lo and behold, it wasn't long before he moved into the old Metropolitan restaurant space (with acquired partners), did a total design revamp and voila - the birth of Valter's - a warm and inviting urban culinary hot spot.
Now, most people would think it a bit pretentious to name a restaurant after one's self. Not in this case. Valter's loyal patrons followed him from Cucina Toscana, not only for the food, but for the restaurant's namesake: Valter himself. He's a beloved host, maestro and impressario extraordinaire.
He meanders graciously through tables. If he happens to stumble upon a fellow Italian like himself, it is not uncommon for Valter to bestow a complimentary dessert or bottle of wine upon his newfound countrymen. Valter's passion for good food and love of people shines through.
Valter himself — Photo courtesy of Valter's Osteria
His new restaurant opened in November 2012 and incorporates some of the same popular recipes from Cucina Toscana. Most guests in the know will order the pasta sampler, a variety of gnocchi and ravioli that's made fresh daily.
First-timers need not worry. You will be guided by the knowledgeable servers towards the great selections that have established this eatery as possibly one of the top Italian restaurants in the country. They will even mention things not on the menu or take special requests, such as those needing a gluten-free meal.
The best of personal care, including tableside preparations and individual plate garnishing, adds to the quality of this restaurant, modeled on a Tuscan granary. Sophisticated warmth emerges amongst its hardwood floors, open kitchen and European-style china lining the wall.
No, it doesn't look matronly at all, but true Italians will tell you it tastes just like their grandmother's cooking. Valter even incorporates his own mother's porcini and meat sauce recipe in the Rigatoni al Suggo della Mamma. Other tempting pasta, seafood, veal and chicken dishes are on the menu, as are fresh homemade potato dumplings in a mixed mushroom cream sauce.
But be sure to save room for dessert. Complimentary biscotti and the best hot chocolate arrive for all . . . or you can go more decadent by opting for the Molten Lava Chocolate Cake topped with gelato.
This is premium dining. No pizzeria here, so expect to pay premium prices. But after meeting Valter personally and receiving the best service and experiencing the most wonderful Italian food in Salt Lake City, you'll be all smiles.