Dining out: Well-priced Italian chic -- now that's amore
Stellar desserts, ambience top off Vinto's offerings.
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At Vinto, first impressions can be deceiving.

The restaurant likes to call itself "casual Italian." But it is seriously chic with a marble bar, open kitchen with a wood-fired oven, silver-brushed IKEA-like chairs, funky orb light fixtures and circular booths with striking black- and white-painted walls.

All together it screams "pricey."

But nothing on the menu is over $11. This posh place is family-friendly and when it comes to the food, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

Pizzas are the backbone of the Vinto menu. Here they are oblong in shape, arrive cut in small squares and can easily feed two. I like the idea of carbs on carbs in the patate pizza ($10), which sported thinly sliced Yukon golds, Fontina and goat cheeses and a heap of pristine, peppery arugula. The Giovanni ($11) paired salty prosciutto with seasonal fruit -- apples in this case -- and Fontina cheese. The Regina ($11) was topped with chunks of chicken, wild mushrooms, roasted whole garlic cloves, Fontina and rosemary. Despite all those prime ingredients, the pizzas needed a slick of olive oil, a bit more melted cheese or a bit of salt to ameliorate the somewhat bland flavor.

Vinto also serves piadine, a kind of folded flatbread sandwich. No matter the filling they all cost $6.50 and are best suited for the lunch crowd. I tried one with Italian Gran Biscotto cooked ham, local Beehive white cheddar cheese, whole grain mustard and mixed greens. It wasn't until I was halfway through the taco-like offering that I got a bite of the much-needed tangy mustard.

I tasted two Vinto salads, a Caesar ($6.50) and mixed greens ($5) with Gorgonzola dressing. Both were light on dressing and contained components that were spot-on.

Under the appetizers, a trio of racquetball-sized meatballs ($8), along with a rich and balanced tomato sauce and grilled bread, had good flavor and would make an Italian nonna proud.

At only $5, the apple crostata with vanilla ice cream was a lovely, seasonal dessert though it needed a drizzle of something to keep it from being dry.

The molten cake ($5) took me by surprise. This properly oozing molten cake was awesome. It came with whipped cream and some of the best candied orange peel.

For those who want to start the meal with dessert and work backward, the Vinto sampler ($6) with three sorbetti and three gelati is the way to go. Innovative flavors like anise and pomegranate sorbetti and amarena (cherry) and vanilla gelato with olive oil and sea salt were paired next to more familiar -- but just as flavorful -- hazelnut and chocolate.

The only real flop during my two meals was a special pasta of the day that contained horrendously overcooked and under-seasoned rigatoni ($7). Although it was tossed in an exceptional pork and beef tomato sauce.

Vinto offers a thoughtful beverage list with seven or eight selections each of white and red wine, beer and hard liquors.

Service is friendly, professional and prompt with a capital "P." It's also high-tech with servers using handheld devices to place orders, print out receipts and swipe credit cards.

My final impression: the city could use more places like Vinto that are chic, fast and affordable.

lneilson@sltrib.com.

Vinto

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Noise »

A seriously stylish Italian pizzeria. A bit more seasoning would make the pizzas and piadine as good as the stellar desserts.

Location » 418 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City; 801-539-9999

Online » vinto.com

Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.

Children's menu » No

Prices » $

Liquor » Full bar

Corkage » $8

Reservations » Not accepted

Takeout » Yes

Wheelchair access » Yes

Outdoor dining » Yes

On-site parking » Yes

Credit cards » All major