I've seldom been more disappointed in a better meal than I was at Sugar House's Michelangelo Ristorante.

The food at Michelangelo is, mostly, very good. The ambience is spare but evocative of a cozy little European bistro. But the welcome, the pacing, the treatment of customers — in short, the things that turn food into a meal, an experience — were abysmal.

When we arrived, the small dining space had three or four empty tables. Despite that, there was a couple waiting to be seated, and the server who greeted us said there would be a 20-minute wait.

So, we waited, along with the first couple and another who arrived shortly after we did. Lined up uncomfortably along the bar, we gazed into the dining room wondering why, with three staff members working less than 10 occupied tables, none of us were being seated. And before too long, we noticed there was something wrong.

Several groups of diners were whispering among themselves. The wait staff seemed agitated. And just as we were seated — as promised, about 20 minutes after we arrived — one of the servers let loose with a loud vulgarity that seemed to be directed at the kitchen. We stared at one another. We stared at the table, embarrassed. We stared at the menu, finally deciding to start with the sedani ripieni appetizer, minestrone and contadina salad.

I'd like to tell you about how those dishes tasted, but I can't yet. Because first, we waited. We sat 45 more minutes, sipping water and nibbling from a basket of crusty but very overcooked bread. About 20 minutes after we ordered, the couple at the next table asked the server to bring out their meals to go, because they couldn't wait any longer. About 15 minutes after that, we started debating whether we should make the same request.

But apparently we waited just long enough, because our sedani ripieni finally arrived: tender braised celery covered with a strong, savory sauce of porcini mushrooms and sausage. We polished off the dish double-quick, which was a good thing as our soup and salad arrived about two minutes after the appetizer.

My contadina salad featured crisp greens with ruby-red tomatoes and fresh mozzarella drizzled too liberally with balsamic vinegar, which puddled in the bottom of the bowl. My husband's minestrone was full of authentic ingredients but tasted bland, with a weird greasiness to the broth.

We hoped our meals would arrive in a timely fashion, but no such luck. By the time they were set on our table, we were the only customers left, it was way past closing time and, to be frank, we'd lost heart. So had the servers, judging by their dark looks toward the kitchen and the fact that they assiduously avoided our table for the remainder of the meal.

My husband's spaghetti carbonara was rich with bacon and egg, and my veal saltinbocca was redolent of the flavors of beef, sage and fontina cheese despite its odd chewiness, but we barely noticed. We just wanted to shovel the food down our throats and get out of there.

Maybe something unexpected and awful happened at Michelangelo the night we visited. If so, why didn't they tell us when we came in? Why didn't they apologize for the ridiculous wait? Why didn't they exercise a particle of customer service? Anything would have helped. Anything at all. And we might have left with authentic Italian flavors on our tongues instead of a bad taste in our mouths.

Appetizers $12.95-$14.95, soup and salad $5.45-$10.95, entrees $11.95-$29.95, dessert about $5.

Rating: **

Where: 2156 S. Highland Drive

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5:45-9 p.m.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 466-0961

Wheelchair access: Stairs down to restaurant make access difficult, if not impossible

Also: Reservations accepted

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com