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Dining out: faustina

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There's a bit of a dissonance between faustina and its origins.

This new downtown eatery, tucked into a fairly quiet stretch of 300 South, was inspired by a one-day visit with the owner's legendary (but never-before-met) Italian aunt, Faustina, who happened to be a wonderful cook. The story inspires thoughts of warm, down-to-earth Italian- and Midwestern-accented hospitality.

But, actually, faustina has a cool, modern vibe, with food that's a sophisticated take on Italian and American cooking.

When my dad and I visited faustina for a recent weekday lunch, the skies were gray, and wind sighed gustily through the trees outside the restaurant's street-facing plate-glass windows. Maybe that accounts for the slightly chilly feeling the decor — subtly painted blue-gray concrete floors, square lampshades, stylized takes on botanical art — near our windowside table inspired in us.

In summer, that spot will be a nice refuge from the blazing heat, and certainly the ambience elsewhere in the restaurant is warmer, with mossy walls, soft upholstered booths and a padded circular banquette near the entry door, which is just off the rear parking area.

My dad started with the shrimp bisque, I with the cream-of-artichoke soup. The soups arrived at the table in little pitchers and were poured into bowls by our server, drenching the bits of food — a single shrimp and cilantro "confetti" for the bisque, a ball of fresh-cut herbs and diced sweet pepper for the artichoke soup — that had been placed inside.

I've seen that done before with soups in which, for example, two flavors need blending right at the last minute, or in others when the soup will cook or wilt what's in the bowl. In this case, none of that was necessary. This conceit is harmless and probably pretty stylish, but it also seemed a little contrived, especially considering the elegant simplicity of the other food presentations.

The artichoke soup was creamy and full of the green, slightly tangy and nutty taste of artichokes, its strong flavors brightened by the bits of pepper. The bisque, while obviously carefully made, was a bit too bland to make much of an impact, with tangy tomato notes overpowering the mild shrimp.

It did, however, pair well with my dad's meal, the crispy peppered calamari. I'm not a huge calamari fan, but this was good, with a generous pile of tender, chewy calamari with crisp and peppery breading. It was served with a mild "cocktail" aioli and room-temperature mixed greens topped with earthy, bi-colored beet ribbon crisps.

I had the house-made acorn squash-filled ravioli, a half-dozen firm rounds plumply filled with delicate, creamy mashed squash and topped with spaghetti squash, orange browned-butter sauce and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I loved the ravioli but thought the rich sauce was a bit too sweet for the already-sweet squash. The balsamic vinegar's bitter-sour accent did dispel the sweetness a bit, but at times the dish tasted more like dessert than lunch.

For dessert, we enjoyed an unusual, intensely flavored banana custard with crunchy candied walnuts and caramelized banana slices, topped with house-made cinnamon ice cream; but my favorite was the ethereally delicious blueberry souffle, with a tender browned top, cloud-like interior studded with fresh berries and sweetly aromatic honey lavender cream sauce.

Soup and salad $4.25-$10.25, sandwiches $7.95-$9.50, entrees $7.95-$15.50, desserts $5.50-$14.50.

Rating: ** 1/2

Where: 454 E. 300 South

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Friday 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Saturday 5-10 p.m.

Closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: 746-4441

Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com