Decisions, decisions, decisions. It’s the season of decisions. What to buy. What to serve. How to cook a mostly bland fowl. Hint: all the recipes add more butter than bird for good reason. Should I sit crazy aunt Edna next to drunk uncle Bob, and do I have enough medical supplies for the ensuing carnage? It’s enough to turn even the most disciplined of minds into a bowl of wobbly green jello.
A break is in order, and a timely restaurant visit is the perfect excuse to escape the “festivities”. But wait. Yet more decisions unfurl before you on a menu that’s longer than a Peter Jackson movie and about as much fun to decipher as a Rubik’s cube at gunpoint. No doubt, it’s why many a server is asked day in, day out: “What do you like”, in that moment of bewildered exasperation.
Is it any wonder then that small plate menus have exploded across Wasatch front restaurants the past decade. There’s no need to commit to a single, possibly erroneous decision – pick a bunch of things and have at it. Faustina* in downtown Salt Lake City is one of the newest members to the small plate club and I recently had the pleasure to eat gorge my way through most of their offerings.
As my Christmas gift to you dear reader, I’ll guide you through a range of Faustina’s small plates, and make the call on what dishes you should order along the way. When the holiday chaos inevitably reaches a crescendo, head on over to Faustina this holiday season, and follow this simple guide to holiday happiness.
Before diving into the menu proper I’d suggest a cocktail. Under the direction of new GM and La Salle Group partner Tyler Jolley, great strides have been made in this part of Faustina’s menu. Options run around $8.50 to $10 and in addition to regular classics there are a range of winter wonders available now too: Hot Buttered Rum with Kraken dark run, house-whipped cream and spiced butter; Negroni with Tanqueray, Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange peel; Dark & Stormy with Kraken dark rum, Cock & Bull Ginger Brew and Angostura bitters with lime.
Bonus tip: Faustina’s wine list is excellent too. Crafted during the tenure of now departed GM Hillary Merrill, it has excellent options by the glass – and should you give the nod, the exemplary Faustina staff will help select you the perfect pairing.
Getting started requires no decision making at all. As at Oasis Cafe (another La Salle restaurant) meals at Faustina always begin with a hefty hunk of foccacia style bread, olive oil and vinegar. It surprises me how few, newer higher end joints eschew this free nibble starter these days; surely arresting diners low blood sugar ASAP makes for happier clients, willing to ponder the menu longer and order more. I digress, Faustina’s bread is as excellent as you remember, and yes, ask and ye shall receive more.
Goat cheese kicks off proceedings proper in a couple of guises. First as deep fried, golden orbs – served with apples, honey and citrus ($6); secondly as a vibrant beet salad with orange segments and arugula ($8). A Burrata Mozzarella ($8) tomato salad with herb pesto-crostini rounds out the lighter beginnings to the small plates menu.
Each was more than enjoyable, and hey, if deep fried cheese is your thing, don’t let me dissuade you. My pick for the indecisive though would be the beet carpaccio. I’m always a sucker for that mineral-earthiness of beets and trust me, you’re going to need those nutrients when you see where my selections take you next.
Bacon Wrapped Dates ($7) with almond, sweet soy and balsamic are what is next. Sweet, fruity, crunchy, fatty – every bite causing a sideways glancing look of guilt. This is the kind of dish that makes me recommend starting with the relatively saintly beets. This plate is downright devilish. I joked with chef Joe Kemp I needed two dozen of these to take home to snack on while watching TV. I bet he did just that after we left – you’re welcome for the idea chef.
No decision making is needed here at all, if its the only thing you order, order these. In fact bring a group of strangers with you if needs be, so you can justify ordering a bunch more.
Next up, an oceanic quandary. Crab or calamari? Born in Iceland and raised in Florida, it’s no surprise chef Kemp has a certain affinity for the seas and their stock. Calamari ($8) comes with a tangy house made cocktail aioli and Lump Crab Cakes ($12) are plated with with roasted corn, tomato, avocado and dill aioli. Kemp’s calamari is as good as any in town but the crab cakes are even better, which is to say they’re excellent. Go with the crab cakes.
And finally, the heartier options, the first decision of which is a no brainer. Faustina’s lamb chops ($10) are easily some of the best in SLC. Cooked to a glorious ruby red interior this is killer cooking; what’s more they’re a steal at this price in my opinion.
Two steak options round out the menu, and in truth, it’s impossible to go wrong with either selection. Filet Oscar ($14) or Filet Au Poivre ($14) are both fabulous, and again, the kitchen at Faustina cooks to a perfect temperature (see: not a charcoal briquette). My selection here goes to the peppercorn resplendence preparation, purely because I recommended crab earlier. It’s a good dish to ask your server for a recommendation of something deep, rich and red too. You will be glad you did.
Joking aside, it’s hard to choose anything incorrect from the new Faustina small plates menu – I didn’t experience a single let down. I didn’t manage to eat the whole array mind you – I missed the Chicken Pillow Pastry, Three Cheese Macaroni and Polenta with short Rib – not that they don’t read equally delicious. Also, I couldn’t even look a dessert menu in the eye by the end of the meal; if you do, be sure to order up one of Faustina’s renowned souffles and maybe a final splosh of something festive.
So this holiday season keep Faustina, their cocktails and small plates in the back of your mind. When drunk uncle Bob keels falls face down into his mashed potatoes and aunt Edna announces her plans to begin life as an alpaca farmer – you know where to go…
* Gastronomic SLC is a proud local partner of Faustina – who graciously hosted and comped this meal.
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.
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