Draper • After four visits, my feelings about Terra Mia Cucina Italiana in Draper can be encapsulated in one word: indifference.
Yet, I also find myself appreciative of its commitment to fresh ingredients, many imported from Italy, and the hours spent preparing recipes either brought from the owner and chefs’ homeland or inspired by it.
Problem is, you can’t always see or taste it.
With one really good dish and one really bad dish — and a lot more in between — the fast-casual Italian restaurant seems a victim of its concept, sacrificing consistency for speed. This becomes especially apparent for dishes with reheated elements.
A recently updated menu, which will feature new dishes each month, seems to point in a better direction. Yet, overall, Terra Mia still feels pulled between fast food and fine dining — and not completely sure of itself.
So if first impressions count, blame the bread.
While crusty on the outside and perfectly soft on the inside, the bread (complimentary with certain dishes) on nearly every visit came out cold or room temperature — not particularly ideal for dipping into the olive oil and slightly sweet balsamic vinegar provided at each table. Only once was it warm, and even then, barely so.
So the bread ended up going into a hearty tomato basil soup ($3 cup, $5 bowl) that felt fresh and inviting despite not capturing much of the basil. In taste and texture, it easily bested the watered-down mushroom dill soup ($3 cup, $5 bowl) that featured plenty of mushrooms but little dill.
The price of the side salad ($5) seemed outlandish considering it contains just lettuce, grape tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers — and ranch dressing. The Spinach Craze salad, however, was worth the price ($8). With spinach, bacon, red onion, pecans, egg, Gorgonzola and a raspberry vinaigrette that really brightened the dish, it made for a nice meal on its own.
With the menu changes came new appetizers, including scugnizzi, a fried pizza dough ($8); eggplant Parmesan ($7); and a mix of fried shrimp, calamari and zucchini ($10). I tried the latter, which was missing shrimp, but the calamari showed promise with a light batter that could have used just another minute in the deep fryer to really crisp and a more steady hand with the salt, which seemed nonexistent on some pieces and oversaturated on others. The surprise hits, though, were the fried strips of zucchini and slightly acidic marinara.
Being that Terra Mia bills itself as a pizzeria, I had high hopes for the Neapolitan-style pie. The foundation — a light and fluffy crust charred in the wood-fired oven, with mozzarella and tomato sauce — highlights the freshness and quality Terra Mia touts. When you get to the center of the pizza, however, the dough becomes too soft to hold the sauce.
If you can look past that, the Mamma Mia ($10) stands out with shaved Parmesan, thinly sliced prosciutto and arugula that struck a nice balance among the fattiness of the dry-cured ham and the slightly peppery greens. That’s Amore ($10) will satisfy meat lovers with its thick slices of sausage and salami, as well as crumbles of bacon. You can, however, skip the namesake pizza, Terra Mia ($10), featuring pine nuts and diced chicken.
Speaking of the chicken: Terra Mia’s biggest mistake might be using the same sad, unseasoned protein in so much of its menu. The owner, in fact, changed at least two dishes — the penne Alfredo and pesto-topped pizza — because diners kept asking for chicken.
The lemon chicken scaloppine with mushroom ($12) felt incomplete with so much sauce and only the other two ingredients to anchor it. But that’s intentional, the owner told me, as Italians typically do not eat the dish with pasta or other carbs.
The penne Alfredo with mushroom and chicken ($11) looked as sad as it smelled and tasted — so much so that my companion joked that the chef must have found out the Italian soccer team missed out on the World Cup just before he made our dinner and his depression seeped into our food.
Terra Mia succeeds with other pastas, though.
The gnocchi dishes ($11) stood out for their light and tender potato dumplings — and were the best example of Terra Mia’s evolution. On the old menu, the gnocchi came with a red sauce that satisfied but didn’t excite. The new menu features a stellar but subtle pesto sauce made creamy with Mascarpone cheese.
The Lasagna Classica ($11), by far, reminds me most of what I love about Italian food. With six layers of noodles, various cheeses and a hearty Bolognese that takes six hours to make, the casserole hit every marker perfectly. It feels like going home — no surprise as the recipe dates back at least two generations.
Terra Mia’s dessert selection offers standard fare, including two types of tiramisu ($8), panna cotta ($5), cannoli ($5) and gelato ($4) with such flavors as hazelnut and stracciatella. The cannoli got the job done, although the Nutella added too much sweetness.
At the end of the day, I expected a bit more from an established business with two locations (the first in Orem), years of experience, chefs from Italy and an emphasis on fresh ingredients.
At least the new menu, borne out of the chefs’ desire for more creativity, offers hope that certain issues can be fixed. With a little more care from the kitchen after a dish is ordered, perhaps Terra Mia will continue to improve with age.
Terra Mia Cucina Italiana — Draper (★1/2 OUT OF ★★★★)
Food • ★½
Mood • ★½
Service • ★½
The fast casual Italian restaurant — the second location in Utah — features wood-fired pizza, appetizers and sandwiches, as well as pasta and other main dishes. Standouts include the pesto gnocchi and Lasagna Classica, but skip the penne Alfredo with mushroom.
Location • 12361 Minuteman Drive, Draper; 801-571-4779
Online • http://terramiapizza.com/
Hours • 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Children’s menu • Yes, pick any pasta and sauce
Prices • $-$$
Liquor • Yes
Reservations • Yes, for tables of six people or more
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • Yes