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Faustina was once a pretty regular hangout of mine: The food was reliably good, the service was friendly and the ambience was comfortably cozy.
The news that it would undergo an extensive renovation and "rebranding" was better than if it had closed for good, so I looked forward to the rebirth. To be honest, my first glimpse this spring of what is now called Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar was a bit of a shock: The cozy, one-story Faustina had become an imposing and decidedly modern two-story structure.
While that supersizing took some getting used to, the $1 million redo has produced a dining space that feels expansive but doesn't overwhelm. The soaring ceiling is covered with warm wood, and suspended light fixtures help define the space. Upholstered booths and banquettes provide most of the seating. It's sleek and chic yet still comfy.
A new second half-floor, which occupies the south end of the restaurant, allows space for private events with a capacity of about 75 people.
As the space was redone, so was the menu, with a more prominent focus on Italian foods and flavors. It's an improvement on the Faustina menu, and most of what I've sampled has been very good, although there were a few disappointments.
An entrée of trout ($23) was flawed on several counts. The fish itself was bland, and the bean purée on which it sat was both visually unappealing and almost devoid of flavor. Color was provided by some good fresh greens and a variety of beets, but some of the sliced raw beets were gritty and some of the cooked ones were hard.
And a dish of linguine with clams ($24) was so salty I would have sent it back, although my dining companion declined to do so.
I'm thinking both of those plates were early season fumbles, because almost everything else I tried has been well executed.
When it's 100 degrees, pasta with Bolognese sauce ($20) seems like a recipe for heat stroke. But not this Bolognese. A succulent sauce flavored with veal, pork and pancetta lightly coated noodles shaped like half-moons. (Normally it's served with a penne-like noodle called garganelli, but they had run out.) It was a first-course-size serving, but just the right amount, and so flavorful we all kept begging the rightful owner for more bites! Poor guy, he probably went home hungry.
A friend and I split the pea agnolotti ($23), which was absolutely symphonic in its blend of house-made pasta stuffed with puréed peas, ricotta and lemon zest, then topped with fresh peas, asparagus, gulf shrimp and shaved cheese. A shrimp-infused sauce was the conductor that made everything sing. And yes, we did share a bite with him whose Bolognese was pilfered.
Another outstanding pasta dish was lamb pappardelle ($19). House-made spinach noodles made a tender bed for a sauce studded with shredded lamb, diced carrots and mint leaves, all tucked in under a light blanket of grated pecorino.
The lasagna ($20) is notable, too, for its light, flavorful sauce and generous ricotta filling. It looked like summer, with a sunny smattering of fresh cherry tomatoes and shredded basil leaves. Although meatless, it's rich enough and big enough to share, or take home leftovers for lunch the next day.
Carbonara at Stanza ($21) is made with stout bucatini noodles, a good fit here because this is a heavy rendition with its rich coating of béchamel sauce, chunks of pancetta and fresh peas. It was crowned with a poached egg, which melted over the pasta. But for all that was going on in this dish, it was a bit bland. For that reason, and because I prefer a lighter version of carbonara, it wasn't my favorite, but is still a worthy version of this popular dish.
Stanza offers a respectable selection of small plates, including octopus ($16). It wasn't the most tender I've ever eaten but came with an addictive relish of roasted corn, green olives, tomato and sunflower seeds that more than compensated.
Perhaps the best element of the fritto misto ($16) was the lightly breaded lemon slices, extraordinarily crisp and not too tart. The shrimp were more flavorful than the calamari, but all of it tasted good when dipped in the garlicky aioli. Other small-plate options include creamy polenta with mushrooms, creamy fontina and tomato sauce ($10); clams with calabrese sausage ($15); and bruschetta with chickpeas, ricotta and pickled onion ($8).
Salad selections run from a traditional Caesar ($9) and caprese with burrata ($12) to an outstanding composition of arugula brightened by "compressed" strawberries. The marinated fruit was a sweet counterpart to crumbles of crispy proscuitto and dabs of goat milk ricotta ($10).
For those who wish to venture beyond small plates and pasta, there's a hefty 16-ounce porterhouse served with mushrooms and a yummy-sounding brown butter zabaione ($46); branzino with grilled baby carrots ($30), which may have taken the place of the trout; a half chicken with creamed corn, grain salad and grilled eggplant ($22); and a duck breast with a corn and ricotta ravioli, blackberries soaked in red wine and greens ($28). The latter was a bit of a disappointment because the ravioli was rather tough, but the filling was flavorful and the boozy berries added a welcome hint of sweetness.
Speaking of sweets, don't miss the budino, $8, a stout little glass layered with chocolate and butterscotch pudding, then finished with lightly sweetened mascarpone. It's rich enough to share with two, or even four, unless you're a real puddin' head.
Lunch is an abbreviated version of the dinner menu, with the addition of several sandwiches: fresh burrata ($12), grilled steak on focaccia ($16), and chicken salad on grilled bread ($13).
Stanza's craft cocktail menu is heavy weighted toward negronis ($9-$13), but there are several other interesting selections, including a blend of vermouth, Campari, lime, soda and chocolate bitters ($9); and as a signature drink with white wine, cappelletti, rhubarb bitters, soda and grapefruit ($12).
The wine menu is more than adequate for the menu in terms of price and varietals ($40-$250), with a nice selection of wines by the glass ($8-$16). If you prefer to bring your own, corkage is $15.
From the changes I've seen over several visits, it seems the menu at Stanza is still evolving, and in a good direction. During one visit, bread was on the menu for $3, served with a choice of compound butters. That option is gone, but you can order grilled house-made bread for $2, a welcome change because that bread is outstanding.
I'm hoping that the evolution will continue outside to Stanza's large patio, which could use a little decorating, perhaps with the addition of tablecloths and potted plants. It has a nice focal point in a gas fireplace, but a bit more polish could make it one of the city's best.
Kudos to the LaSalle and Trio restaurant groups, which also own nearby Current Fish & Oyster as well as others, for taking this dining space and menu to the next level. I still have fond memories of Faustina, but there's no denying that Stanza is a beautiful addition to the city's food scene.
Stanza Bistro & Wine Bar
Food • HHH
Mood • HHHhj
Service • HHH
Noise • b
The restaurant formerly known as Faustina has undergone a seismic transformation into the sophisticated two-story Stanza Bistro & Wine Bar. Along with the remodeled building comes a reworked menu that is heavily Italian and offers favorites such as a light but luscious Bolognese, meatless lasagna and a delightful pea and cheese-stuffed agnolotti that is studded with grilled shrimp. A nice selection of small plates, including octopus and a spicy raw hamachi, together with a few larger entrées, make for a well-rounded, satisfying menu.
Location • 454 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-746-4441
Online • stanzaslc.com
Hours • Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (lunch menu offered through 4:30 p.m.); Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $$-$$$$
Liquor • Full service
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Valet only, $5
Credit cards • Yes