I haven't thought much about sport celebrity restaurants since the last of Gene Fullmer's short-lived ventures closed its doors several years ago. But New York restaurant critic Gael Greene's recent glowing recommendation of Mickey Mantle's as a place to treat "restless prepubescent boys" in the Big Apple jogged my memory.
While Salt Lake's professional sports traditions don't quite compare with New York's epic heroes and teams, I imagine that within the next few years a major sports figure from Utah will try a similar venture to Fullmer's or Mantle's. In the meantime, if one has an interest in following the appetites of the Trappers, Eagles or Jazz, it is best to read about them in the sports pages.But like many of the dining-out public, I share a curiosity where these sports figures do dine or the restaurants they may run. After all, they add an air of excitement to all our lives by their activities on (and occasionally off) the basketball court, ball diamond or ice rink. And there is a little bit of that "restless prepubescent boy" still left in my dilapidated middle-aged body that gets a thrill when I see a prominent sports figure in public.
While visiting with another transplanted Easterner a few weeks back, I listened to his lament about the local lack of Italian food he was used to while growing up and going to school in the New York area. When I asked where he thought he might try, he mentioned Ferrantelli in Trolley Square, adding, "I know it's good because Frank Layden goes there." I shrugged off the name- dropping as typical New York braggadocio.
The facts are, however, different. Yes, Layden, by his own admission frequents Ferrantelli at least three times a week. On our recent visit, he and his lovely wife were enjoying a quiet dinner, except for this columnist's uninvited intrusion to verify a few facts. And, yes, the food is very, very good.
The moderately priced menu features traditional Italian specialties, such as pasta like linguini, capelli, tortellini, rotini, ziti as well as manicotti and canneloni, with tomato or herb butter or cream sauces, priced from $5.95 to $11.25.
Dinner entrees include chicken cacciatore ($9.50), with a fresh basil and marina sauce, veal caggiano ($12.95), veal rolls stuffed with proscuitto, spinach, pine nuts, mozzarella, sauteed in a light brown sauce, scampi ($12.95), seafood marinara ($13.95), as well as fried calimari ($9.95), to name a few of the 16 selections.
We began our dinner with an order of garlic bread ($1.25), petite lightly toasted rounds of french bread moist with melted sweet butter, garlic and herbs and the hot antipasto ($7.95). The latter dish is a nice sampling of baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, one stuffed shrimp, and two slices of sweet red pepper. Each is stuffed with an herb breading and served with a white wine and butter sauce. Other appetizers include fried zucchini strips ($3.50) and fried mozzarella,($5.95), both served with a tomato marina sauce.
For our main course we sampled the rotini primavera ($7.25), fresh vegetables sauteed with herbs, butter and garlic. The sauce was subtle, a bit too timid for my tastes, but it was successful for the other diners in our group. I was more impressed with one of the nightly specials, chicken Francese, a split breast of chicken sauteed in a sauce of lemon, white wine and garlic. It had a richness and texture that was engaging without being overpowering. Another successful entree was the veal ceccio ($11.95), scallops of veal sauteed in a brown sauce and topped with prosciutto, tomato slices, mozzarella and artichoke hearts.
We also enjoyed the creamy house Italian dressing on the salads as well as the pizza, a moist, almost puffy crust topped with a flavorful sauce. One of the side orders, sauteed green beans in olive oil and garlic, was good - the beans needed to be a bit more al dente, however.
Desserts include tortes and cakes, New York cheesecake, chocolate mousse, cannoli and the bocci ball, all $2.95. The bocci ball, a chocolate- covered ball of ice cream, is more memorable by its cutesy name than for its flavor. The chocolate ricotta filling in the cannoli was more impressive.
Ferrantelli Ristorante Italiano offers transplanted Easterners a taste of the Italian restaurants they left behind. It also serves up the kind of hearty and colorful cuisine that will appeal to Western appetites.
Ferrantelli Ristorante Italian, Trolley Square, 531-8228. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., and for dinner from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and till 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Open Sunday from 5 until 10 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of 6 or more. Children's menu available. Accepts major credit cards and checks with check guarantee card.