314 W 300 S, Salt Lake City
5:30-9:30 pm Wednesday – Saturday
If there’s a Little Italy in Salt Lake City, it’s really little. The entire neighborhood is contained in a single structure—the Firestone building across from Pioneer Park. Originally built in 1925 to house the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, the building acts more like a gathering place for the culinarily minded these days. On one corner, there’s the posh Italian restaurant, Cucina Toscana. The other side houses the Aquarius Fish Co., a local fresh fish mecca, and Carlucci’s Bakery, a source for crusty bread, sandwiches, pastries and coffee. And then there’s Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli. Caputo’s has long been a source of specialty grocery items for Salt Lakers—a place to pick up quality olive oil, imported chocolate and Italian-grown canned tomatoes. And where many people come for the shopping, many more come for the deli. The salads and sandwiches are the stuff of local legend, and if it’s lunchtime, you are sure to find a line halfway out the door. I had long wondered what it would be like if the deli were to offer a dinner option and recently I got to see that possibility unfold.
Elegant and simple, Tipica is a project that marries the vision of chef Adam Kreisel with the best ingredients Caputo’s Market has to offer. The pasta is made from locally milled flour, the tomatoes are grown in Cache Valley and the bread is baked right in the neighborhood. They also make a point to use every part of the animal, not just easily recognizable cuts of meat. The grand idea is to adapt traditional, provincial Italian cuisine to use ingredients that can be sourced closer to home. The result has been the creation of a uniquely Salt-Lake-via-Northern-Italy dining experience.
We started off with a trio of appetizers. The first was the tomato and leek bisque, a cold soup made with San Marzano-style tomatoes and served with candied walnuts and chive oil ($6). We also got the green salad, a mix of organic baby greens served with a cumin-spiked vinaigrette and a piping-hot cheese croquette ($8). Out of pure curiosity, we also ordered what was probably the most authentically Italian choice on the menu, a roasted marrowbone served with a grilled baguette and a cherry-flavored spread ($6). The green salad was a perfectly blended mix of bitter and mild greens and the dressing had just enough bite to marry everything together. The star of the plate, though, was the cheese croquette—a breaded and fried piece of Beehive-brand rosemary cheddar. Cutting off the corner unleashed a deluge of melted cheese goodness that only got better with every bite. The velvety-smooth bisque had a pure and tangy tomato flavor that could only have come from slowly reducing vine-ripened tomatoes. The candied nuts were a pleasant addition. The marrow bone proved to be more awkward than mind-blowing. I was hoping for a deep, meaty flavor to the marrow, but the reality was that the bone concealed a pocket of difficult-to-remove fat globules that really didn’t taste like anything. Sure, it was melt-in-your-mouth, but everything else on the plate seemed designed to disguise its lack of flavor.
Next, we ordered a pair of entrées. The first was the sweet corn risotto, made with local corn and flavored with black summer truffles and garlic chives ($18). We opted to add duck confit for an additional four dollars. The risotto was deliciously creamy, with a pronounced fresh corn flavor. The addition of the confit provided the dish with a little extra richness, but this was a double-edged sword. There are very few things that taste better than duck cooked in its own rendered fat, but the subtle flavors of the truffles and the chives ended up being overpowered. The second entrée, Garganelli al’Amatriciana ($15), was recommended by Tony Caputo himself. This dish was a penne-style pasta tossed in a sauce made from tomatoes, Pecorino cheese and two kinds of pork. The star of this entrée was the meat—pancetta, a sort of cured Italian bacon and guanciale, a strong-flavored yet delicate meat taken from the pig’s cheeks. The combination of the tomatoes, cheese and pork was pure heaven. I ended up using the soup spoon to get every bit of the sauce out of the dish. I was really sad to reach the bottom of the bowl.
In all, Tipica is worthy of your dining dollar. The somewhat limited menu may seem pricey and will continue to change as different ingredients come into season, but all of that adds to the underlying charm. The food is fresh and well executed. The wait staff is excited about what they serve and are informed enough to help you choose the perfect dish and pair it with the right wine. This is Salt Lake fine dining at its best and exactly what you would expect when you see the Caputo name.