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South Ogden • If someone had suggested that I could enjoy a meal in northern Utah reminiscent of one you can get in Italy, I wouldn't have believed it.
But here I was, seated at 2-year-old Zucca in South Ogden, dining on simple, yet oh-so-good Roman-style artichoke hearts ($8), a Caesar salad ($7.50), whose smoky and slightly wilted romaine leaves had momentarily met the grill, and a perfectly executed margherita pizza ($10). All this while sipping a glass of crisp, chilled 2008 Crios rosé of Malbec from Argentina ($7.50 a glass).
Add to the food the ambiance of a space done with avocado and maize walls adorned with vintage Italian posters, plus friendly service and a smart-looking Italian market. Located in a corner of the restaurant, the market makes it possible to take home Mediterranean cold cuts, olives and cheeses or order a sandwich to go.
But the moment was short-lived, and I was snapped back to reality by the surrounding cacophony. I don't mind the acoustics of a bustling restaurant, but if you can't converse with your tablemates without really raising your voice, I consider that a noise problem. Couple that with some sub-par menu items on another visit and that first positive dining experience was quickly forgotten.
Take an appetizer of mussels ($5). One order had eight of them stuffed into a small cup with an overly spicy red sauce dotted with pancetta. I mention the cup because several of the fragile shells had broken off and gotten incorporated into the sauce, making for an altogether unappetizing appetizer.
Another example of flawed execution was an entrée of scallops wrapped in bacon ($24). Thinking each scallop would be individually encircled with bacon, I was surprised to see five unevenly browned orbs corralled by one wide slice of barely cooked bacon. The ivory UFO sat atop slightly sweet, creamy risotto with strange strawberry and Meyer lemon notes.
Several dishes were delivered tepid to the table, including otherwise mouth-watering lobster bisque ($4/$6), hearty rigatoni Bolognese ($10/$14), spaghetti and meatballs made with beef, veal and pork ($9.50/$13), earthy eggplant parmigiana ($16) and a special of seafood-laden and spicy fettuccine al pescatore ($18).
Other menu items, with tiny tweaks, could make great ones. The blistered crust of a quattro stagione (four seasons) pizza ($12) one of 15 pizzas offered with cooked ham, artichoke hearts, olives and high-end mushrooms, suffered from too much of those quality ingredients, quickly turning soggy.
Slices of green beans, a few olives and roasted garlic weren't enough to make a successful gnocchi al pesto ($11/$15). The addition of briny capers would really make that dish sing.
Among the appetizers, there are five vasi (vases, $5-$7) to choose from, including a ridiculously delicious, layered Gorgonzola-walnut mousse and piquillo pepper jam ($5.50). But the darn, squatty Mason jar was more fashion over function, and I think we got more spread on the jar's insides rather than on our bread. Maybe we'd have better luck with the vasi holding olives, chickpea salad or cipolline onions.
Of the seven or so desserts, I enjoyed the rich and creamy chocolate mousse ($6), tangy goat cheese pudding ($6) sweetened with local honey and berries, and the bundt-like olive oil cake ($6.50) with lemon curd.
The wine list is well conceived and the markups are reasonable. Otherwise, there are soft drinks, Italian sodas, coffee and tea drinks to choose from.
The restaurant also has daily specials, including "Wild Wednesday" where any pizza is half off and any draft beer is only $2. The kitchen also highlights an Italian region with a list of specials; Tuscany is showcased through Oct. 15.
In two short years, Zucca has made a name for itself in northern Utah. It's got the makings of a great restaurant. Now, if all of its dishes could be as memorable as that smoky, grilled romaine salad, I'd make it to South Ogden more often.
Food • HH
Mood • HHhj
Service • HH
Noise • bbbb
Italian Zucca has all the makings of a great restaurant. With tweaks to food temperatures and sometimes noisy surroundings, diners can thoroughly enjoy dishes such as grilled Caesar salad, margherita pizza and rich chocolate mousse.
Location • 1479 E. 5600 South, South Ogden; 801-475-7077
Online • http://www.myzucca.com
Hours • Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Children's menu • Yes
Prices • $$
Liquor • Full bar
Corkage • $10
Reservations • Accepted
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • No
Credit cards • All major