While dining at one of Salt Lake City's newer restaurants, characterized in part by its closely arranged tables - I think the term is "intimate" - we overheard a comment from the next table. One of the diners was proclaiming, with a voice level considerably above the rest of the conversation in the restaurant, "Gosh, this is really good bread!"

She appeared to be a bit embarrassed, since a few other patrons looked her way, but I was noticing how other people were reacting to the bread. More than a few basket-fuls were quickly being emptied by many of the fashionably thin customers. Many of us were realizing how right she was. We were just too busy to talk since our mouths were full of the best French bread we had ever sampled in Salt Lake.Much of the bread that has crumbled tastelessly upon local restaurant tables has been, until the arrival of Bakers de Normandie and Pacific Bay, just filler until the main course arrived. And while these two reputable and quality bakeries have given many of us a taste of the quality one might find in either New York City or San Francisco, there is now a new bakery offering discriminating diners bread of superlative quality.

Pierre Country Bakery, as well as comments about its bread, has been turning heads and titillating palates since it opened a few months ago. Located in a new line of shops on 33rd South, the modest store, decorated with a few classic antiques, also serves a variety of breads, pastries, soups, sandwiches and other gourmet delicacies including pates and salads.

In addition to the wicker baskets and shelves lined with the various loaves of bread, there is a small dining area with a window offering a close-up of its giant imported ovens. While the view of the nearby mountains is soul stretching, the sight of these ovens offers comparable inspiration for those of us who love bread.

Before packing off with some of the freshly baked specialties, we sampled some of the offerings on the premises. Except for a delicious warm chunk of goat cheese, adorned with roasted peppercorns, a dried tomato slice and a drizzle of olive oil, served with a round of herb bread ($4.50), we found the rest of the fare disappointing and a bit overpriced.

The menu, hand-lettered on a poster board, changes daily. On our recent visit we tried the Italian bean soup ($3.25). It was lovely in color and texture but had little flavor. The tarragon chicken sandwich with chutney and watercress was adequate; however, the portion did not seem to match the $4.50 price. The wild rice duck salad, a few chunks of cold roast duck tossed with a mix of white and wild rice, was also bland. We were somewhat put off by the fact that we had to bus our own table prior to sitting. The setup is self-serve; we just did not like having to move other people's dirty dishes.

Other menu items include brie on walnut bread, provolone and garlic sausage with peppers, pesto torte, each around $4, a celery remoulade salad ($2.50) and a ham-and-cheese croissant ($1.80).

Two desserts we tried were more substantial. The strawberry tart, a cream-filled flaky pastry dotted with berries, and the croissant pudding, filled with apples, bananas, golden raisins and covered with a hot caramel sauce, were more deserving of Pierre's price and reputation.

We took home several of the baked treats, including an apple-filled pastry, marzipan and cheese-filled croissants and, of course, several loaves of the bread, like the oat bran, baguette of the classic French, and rye. They were of exceptional quality and restored our faith in Pierre Country Bakery and its significant contribution to local gastronomy.

Rating: ***1/2

Pierre Country Bakery, 3239 E. 33rd South, 486-0900. Open Mondays-Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Checks accepted with guarantee card.

*NOTE: Freddy Volgger, formerly of Frody's in the Crane Building (now occupied by Chef Trujillo's Mexican Cafe), recently celebrated the grand opening of his new restaurant, The Depot, in Park City. Located in the renovated railroad station on the south end of Main Street, the Depot offers a menu featuring some of Volgger's creative and carefully crafted specialties.