Regulars and Shorts

Chef Profile: Pago Restaurant and Wine Bar

By catalyst

Like cinnamon beets, Pago is a surprise and delight.
by Emily Moroz
It’s quarter to 7 on a Wednesday evening, and 9th & 9th’s new Pago Restaurant & Wine Bar is just about packed. Pago’s owner Scott Evans zooms by, greeting everyone with a confident smile while seating a restaurant brimming with eager diners. Evans (who is also a longtime occasional food and beverage writer for CATALYST) pours 3 oz. glasses of Merlot and helps servers present plates of local, fresh food to the modest 48 seats in the cozy dining area. Since opening its doors only one month ago, the neighborhood’s first “farm-to-table” restaurant is fast gaining popularity and acclaim among those who know. Evans is clearly excited by Pago’s successful opening, and says with a degree of humble surprise, “The lunch hour is still kind of slow, but every night at about 6:30, people just start filling the place up.”chefprofile_pago

Pago participates in Utah’s RSA (Restaurant-Supported Agriculture) program, which allows local restaurant owners to buy their food directly from Utah farms instead of large, corporate food suppliers. This supports the local economy and ensures that restaurants like Pago will always have fresh ingredients and inspired food pairings. As it relies on the availability of local produce and goods, Pago’s menu might feature summer greens one week and fingerling potatoes the next. Perhaps one wouldn’t immediately think to match sauteed beets with Greek yogurt, Truffle honey, cinnamon walnuts and greens, but at Pago, this unique dish (one of many) is a celebration of flavors, and is one of the restaurant’s top-selling appetizers. Another popular item is the ceviche— “fresh fish marinated in citrus with jalapeño and ginger, which essentially cooks the meat,” Evans explains.

Evans and Pago’s chefs, Mike Richey and Adam Findlay, change their menu frequently. Since opening day, they’ve already swapped out four or five items and will be doing so again, depending on what Bell Organic Farms and East Farms, two of their main sources for fresh produce, deliver. A couple dining at the bar enjoys glasses of red wine and torta rustica, filled with housemade ricotta cheese and “RSA braising greens.”

It takes a dedicated group of foodies to stay on their toes with the RSA offerings, and makes for exquisite, creative dishes. The perks of starting your own restaurant are many. Evans, Richey and Findlay regularly hold menu tastings together (read: they meet up and eat delicious food). The knowledgeable trio plans what type of produce, pasta, meat, seafood and poultry dishes they’ll be serving through every season. Richey and Findlay, nearly shoulder to shoulder, make efficient use of the kitchen’s close quarters; one chops vegetables and tosses leggy green onions onto an open grill while the other builds a tower of golden potato puree and Chicken Paillard, brick-and-mortar style, layer by layer. The two busy chefs share an unspoken language as they work on orders arriving every minute.

There’s an atmosphere of presentation and, ultimately, customer satisfaction as the carefully crafted plates land in front of hungry guests. Just like the diverse selection of food to eat, seating at Pago offers a few choices: Opt to sit at the bar, where all the magic chopping, flame-broiling and tossing happens, directly in front of the kitchen; relax at one of several tables near the front door for a lovely view of 9th East; or nestle away in a booth off to the right in the restaurant’s expanded dining area. The whole space is filled with soft light trickling in from the large windows in the front, and exposed brick abounds. Despite the seemingly frenetic activity radiating from the kitchen, everything about Pago’s energy feels welcoming.

Bellies full, diners can indulge in a decadent little bread pudding served in its own ramekin, or enjoy freshly ground coffee brewed through a Melitta filter right at your table. Departing guests are given equally warm goodbyes and offerings of “See you soon!” from Evans and the Pago team. For those who know, Pago is a very good thing, and will certainly only improve with age, like a fine wine.  

—Emily Moroz

878 S 900 E, Salt Lake City
Lunch Tues-Fri 11a-3p
Dinner Tues-Sat, 5p-9p and until 10p Sat & Sun
Brunch Sat & Sun 11a-3p. Closed Mondays.

This article was originally published on June 29, 2009.