Since it first opened in 1967, Ristorante della Fontana has maintained a reputation for consistent quality and generous portions. The interior of the renovated church, complete with vaulted ceilings, wrought-iron chandeliers and flags from around the world, resembles a dining hall that might be the setting for a royal feast.
Of course no wenches scurried about with decanters of the fabled beverages from the days of King Arthur, but our table was well tended. We were served plenty of icy water decanters along with loaves of bread and the seemingly endless courses that are part of the complete dinners.Our waitress reflected the maturity of della Fontana. As is the case with so many of the trendy restaurants today, the service personnel all look as if they just finished a workout at the spa, tucking their order books in their slim waistbands while hopping about in the black Reeboks. Our waitress was a seasoned veteran, patiently dealing with our children's hesitations and efficiently balancing the many plates and selections that come with each meal. We welcomed her quiet humming as she served us; no snappy patter about the latest snow conditions.
The lengthy menu features Italian specialties that include eggplant, steak, seafood, veal, chicken and pasta, about 30 choices in all. We sampled four and found them satisfying, though a bit unimaginative. Prices range from around $9 for the eggplant parmigiano to $15 for the veal entrees.
The favorite entree was the fettucine con pollo ($12.95), pieces of chicken breast tossed with a slightly sweet cheese sauce over a steamy portion of al dente egg noodles. The spaghetti can be ordered with a choice of sauces including garlic butter, mushrooms and beef sauce, as well as accompanied with sausage or meat balls. Our sausage order was one large spicy sausage almost burying the pasta. The tomato sauce was tasty, with hints of herbs and black pepper.
Our other two choices just simply fell flat, especially when compared to the menu descriptions. The eggplant supreme ($9.95) featured a bland creamy sauce covering the two breaded eggplant slices. The tomato sauce for the spaghetti was replaced by more of the cream sauce.
While the veal with the vitello Fontana ($14.95) was nicely prepared, it was awash in a thickened roux distinguished only by a hint of cayenne or white pepper. To add to the gooey texture, this was covered with melted mozzarella. The so-called "delicate brown sauce" explained on the menu did not materialize.
Entree disappointments aside, we thoroughly enjoyed the other courses, especially the luscious and hearty minestrone soup, truly a meal in itself. Redolent with herbs and chock full of macaroni and various vegetables, the steamy cauldron was a wonderful way to start the meal. Some homemade marinated vegetables also heightened our expectations. Fresh pineapple slices added to our taste sensations as did the large Romaine salads. The house dressing, a creamy vinaigrette with hints of blue cheese and mustard, was very good.
The palate pleaser (I hate to say "cleanser") in preparation for the entrees was a choice of either lemon or raspberry sherbet. Not exactly gelato, they were still pleasant, nonetheless.
Other entrees include such specialties as merluzzo al forno in casseruola ($11.55), halibut baked in a cheese and mushroom cream sauce; veal parmigiano ($14.95); chicken cordon bleu ($13.95); pollo allal cacciatore ($13.45); lasagna ($10.95); cannelloni ($11.55); and several combination plates.
Ristorante della Fontana just may have set a few trends during its early days, particularly the idea of serving Italian cuisine in a renovated historic building. While some of its preparations seem a bit out of step with some of the innovative trends in Mediterranean cooking today, this is a restaurant that has clearly established a well-deserved place in Salt Lake's dining out scene.
Rating: * * * 1/2
Ristorante della Fontana, 336 S. 400 East, 328-4243. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Reservations recommended for weekends. Accepts check with guarantee card and major credit cards.