It's a magnificent blend . . . the combination of Il Sansovino, a bright star in the city's cuisine constellation, and downtown's newest and most dramatic skyscraper - the 25-story American Stores Center located at Main and 300 South (the restaurant is on the second floor).
Valter Nassi, developer and proprietor of the northern Italian restaurant, recently guided us on a tour of the place named after his hometown, Monte San Savino - a village located in the Chianti region of central Tuscany, 35 miles east of Siena and an hour southeast of Florence. The restaurant is patterned after the village.Valter's father was a businessman - a poultry and cheese distributor. From him, Valter learned how to select quality meats and cheeses. His mother imbued him with a love of Tuscan cooking.
"My mother made the most wonderful family meals, a magic I will try to recapture in my restaurant," said Valter. "Even when I was little, I would watch her and, without realizing it, learn from her. Like fresh bread absorbing the finest olive oil, I absorbed my mother's love and understanding of Italian cooking," he says.
Leaving his beloved village as a young man, Valter began to hone his restaurant skills under the tutelage of an uncle who owned a Sardinian restaurant. Moving on, Valter perfected his restaurateur skills in Africa and Europe - finally landing in New York where he was general manager of Castellano, one of Manhattan's first and highly celebrated Tuscan restaurants.
Now the American Stores connection.
While dining at Castellano one evening, Utah's Vic Lund, chairman of the board of American Stores Company, met Valter. Delighted to discover that they shared a common idea of what a fine Italian restaurant could and should be, they eventually decided to give their dream a go.
Valter recalls, "I had the chance to join with American Stores to develop a Tuscan restaurant that captured my memories of growing up in Monte San Savino - the food, the ambience."
Valter didn't hesitate to take advantage of an offer he couldn't refuse. "I believe in him (Lund)," he says.
Il Sansovino is their vision realized.
Tuscan cuisine is simple, austere - reflecting the freshest fruits and vegetables of the season. Here's a sampling of the bar menu - a more casual room that seats 70:
Antipasti: pollo nassi con carciofini (thin slices of roasted chicken breast served with baked artichokes).
Soups: pasta e fagioli della case (traditional Tuscan bean soup).
Salads: insalata di prataioli e cannellini (marinated portobello mushrooms and cannelini bean salad).
Pasta: lasagnette (homemade pasta filled with meat and a light mushroom besciamelle).
Meat: scaloppine di vitello del circolo (veal scallopini in a sauce of the day).
Pizza: la vostra (make your own - cooked in a woodburning oven).
Desserts: gelato (several flavors); tiramisu; various fruit tarts (these don't appear on the menu.)
The formal dining room, with a more expansive menu, seats 90; plus there's a private dining room for 40. In warm weather, the outdoor terrace will seat 200.
Rich citron-colored walls surround the expanse throughout, with white marble floors. Black and white photographs of various Monte San Savino scenes and residents bring patrons a sense of "being there."
A wine cellar with a brick ceiling to be stocked with 7,000 bottles (Valter's private label has been okayed by the Utah liquor powers that be) will perfectly suit an intimate dining experience for eight to 10 people. Bottles of excellent olive oil - also Valter's label - line the shelves, along with cheeses and balsamic vinegar. Sort of a mini Balducci's.
Our favorite nook is the fully-dressed table for four situated in the corner of the working kitchen. Fine linens, china, crystal and silver - used throughout the restaurant - is par at the table of honor. Valter's personal guests dine here, where they can feel the electricity and energy of the first-class kitchen staff headed by chef Marcio Cordero, Valter's talented import.
The entire Nassi family has moved to Utah including wife Phyllis, who designed the restaurant's coat of arms, and 10-year-old son, Enrico.
Thus far, advertising has been by word of mouth - and business is brisk. Perhaps Il Sansovino's success is because of the food, the surroundings, or Valter's personal greeting and attention to each table.
Whatever the reason, Valter and Vic's dream has awakened Salt Lake City's dining scene.
ARISTA FIORENTINA CON PATATE
(Florentine loin of pork with pan-roasted potatoes)
1 boneless center loin-end pork roast, about 4 pounds
or 1 unboned center cut loin roast, about 6 pounds
6 large garlic cloves, cut into slivers
8 rosemary sprigs
20 small potatoes, peeled and parboiled for 5 minutes (optional)
Sea salt, to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, or 3 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary
Bring the meat to room temperature. Combine the rub ingredients and use to massage the meat. Make 1/2-inch deep incisions all over the roast with a small, sharp knife. Slip the garlic slivers into the cuts. If desired, pork can now be covered, refrigerated, and left to marinate overnight. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set the roast fat side up on a rack in a large roasting pan, arranging the detached bones* underneath. Slip the rosemary sprigs in between the bones. Roast the pork for about 30 minutes, then baste it with the pan juices. Continue to cook the pork for 25 minutes, then, if using potatoes, place them around the roast and cook for 45 minutes longer, or until the meat's internal temperature reads 150 degrees F. Baste every 20 minutes or so. Turn the potatoes halfway through cooking. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the roast and the potatoes with salt, then cover with foil. Let the roast rest for 15 minutes - the meat will continue to cook as it rests. Skim the fat from the pan juices and serve them hot with the meat. Serves 6.
- Each serving contains 1045 calories, 89g fat, 1g carb, 200mg sodium, 284mg cholesterol.
- From "The Classic Italian Cookbook" by Julia Della Croce
- * Ask the butcher to give you the bones trimmed from the pork roast.
PASTA E FAGIOLI ALLA TOSCANA
(Tuscan Pasta and Bean Soup)
1 3/4 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked and rinsed, or 41/4cups canned, with some of its juices
7 1/2 cups cold water
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
l medium-large red onion
1 medium carrot
1 medium celery rib
1/3 cup tomato pulp or puree, such as Pomi brand
1/2 beef stock cube, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably estate Tuscan
2 fresh rosemary sprigs, left whole*
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 1/4 cups short pasta such as ditalini or small macaroni
Freshly ground pepper
Combine the beans, water, 2 garlic cloves and bay leaves in a heavy saucepan. Cover and place over medium heat. When it reaches a boil, lower the heat and gently simmer with the lid just slightly ajar, until the beans are very tender, about 1 1/4 hours. Add the 1 teaspoon coarse salt toward the end of cooking (if using canned beans, add 6 cups water and simmer for about 30 minutes.) Remove the bay leaves. Shortly before the beans have finished cooking, combine the oil and minced onion, carrot and celery in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and saute over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato and stock cube and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes more. Drain the beans, adding most of the broth to the sauteed onions, carrot and celery mixture. Puree the beans with remaining broth through the small-holed disc of a food mill and add to the soup pot (if using a food processor, puree with a couple of ladles of broth and push through a sieve to eliminate the skins). Stir well to combine and gently simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, in a small heavy saucepan, combine the oil, rosemary, and garlic. Saute over low heat until the garlic is golden, about 10 minutes. Gently crush the garlic with the back of a fork to release its juices, then remove along with the rosemary. Stir 2 tablespoons of the flavored oil into the soup and place the remainder in a server, allowing it to cool. Add the salt to taste and bring the soup to a lively simmer. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. The broth should have a silky texture. If necessary, add a little boiling water. Season with a few twists of freshly ground pepper and serve with aromatic oil. Serves 8.
- Each serving contains 262 calories, 7g fat, 39g carb, 795mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol.
- From "Soups of Italy" by Norma Wasserman-Miller
- *NOTE: The sprigs of rosemary can be replaced with dried rosemary leaves. Soak 2 tablespoons in warm water to soften, drain and pat dry. Strain the oil to remove.
PAN FORTE DI SIENA
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup chopped candied orange peel
3/4 cup chopped candied lemon peel
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the walnuts, almonds, candied peels, cinnamon, anise seed, ground cloves, nutmeg and flour. Reserve. In a small saucepan, heat the honey, brown sugar and butter. Bring to a boil, then continue to cook for 4 to 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Carefully combine with the reserved nut mixture. Pour the mixture onto an oiled cookie sheet. Flatten to 1/4-inch with a metal spatula and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool, cut into 2-inch squares and serve. The pan forte can be stored, covered, at room temperature, for up to 2 weeks. Serves 8.
- Each serving 427 contains 0 calories, 29g fat, 1g carb, 143mg sodium, 4mg cholesterol
- From "Little Italy Cookbook" by David Ruggerio
CANDIED FRUIT PEELS
Peel of 1 orange
Peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
Blanch the peels in boiling water. Refresh in an ice bath and repeat. In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in 1/2 cup of water. Boil until thick and syrupy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the peels and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the peels from the liquid and allow to cool. They are ready to use for desserts and garnishes. This recipe can be made with either lemon or orange peels, or both. Makes about 4 servings.
- Each serving contains 108 calories, 0g fat, 29g carb, 1mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol.
- From "Little Italy Cookbook" by David Ruggerio
POLLO AL MATTONE OR AL DIAVOLO
(Tuscan Grilled Chicken)
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes or to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
About 6 or 7 pounds of chicken; 3 very small chickens split in half or larger chickens cut into 6 or 8 pieces
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon wedges for garnish
Mix the olive oil with the salt, black pepper, red pepper, rosemary, parsley and thyme and set aside, covered, for several hours or overnight. Prepare the chicken by cutting away excess yellow fat from the insides of the birds. (To reduce fat, you can discard the skin if you wish.) Flatten small chicken halves by laying them skin side up on a board (a flattened chicken will cook more evenly on the grill). Cut away the wing tips and pound each chicken half with the flat side of a met cleaver or a Chinese cleaver - this should crack the breastbone. Place the chickens in a dish or on a platter large enough to hold them all in one layer. Cover them with the flavored olive oil. Leave to marinate in the oil, turning occasionally, for at least one hour. Or, refrigerate, covered, for several hours or overnight. Prepare the grill, leaving plenty of time for it to heat up if you're using charcoal. When the fire is hot enough, place the chickens skin side down on the grill and set the grill a good 8 inches from the source of heat. Add the lemon juice to some olive oil and baste the chickens frequently as they cook. Grill for 15 minutes on each side, turning each piece once. Test for doneness: The juices should run clear yellow when chicken is done. Serve the chicken piled on a platter and garnished with lemon wedges. Serves 8.
- Each serving contains 574 calories, 43g fat, 1g carb, 271mg sodium, 143mg cholesterol.
- From "The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook" by Nancy Harmon Jenkins