We’ve been grousing lately about the trend of quality, fairly high-end restaurants opening up in strip malls. Now, there are all sorts of sound reasons for restaurateurs to do this, economic and otherwise. In fact, we’ve had many fine meals in eateries wedged into these retail sprawls. While technically the aesthetics of a restaurant don’t impact the food itself, the surroundings can definitely dampen the dining experience. So we were really excited to head over to the CWE’s newest culinary destination, Salt, which boasts the most beautiful dining space we’ve been to in recent memory, and has a menu to equal its ambience.
You might remember Salt’s location as the home of the short-lived restaurant Savor. Before that, the building was a funeral home and a private residence. It’s a classic, huge West End manse that has dining areas on three floors, gorgeous woodwork and stained glass and details galore. We could devote a column just to the restrooms.
The brick and mortar, though, is only half the story. Chef Wes Johnson has put together a menu that is the equal of his impressive space. We started with the Prairie Breeze Cheddar ($4), a small plate of simple, delicate cheese, then sampled the Pickled Pig’s Tongue ($7) and the Salume Beddu Finocchiona ($6) from the charcuterie list. Despite being ‘pickled,’ the tongue wasn’t briny or salty, but subtly spiced with a touch of sweetness. Salume Beddu makes some of the best salumi around, and does not disappoint with its version of this mild Tuscan salami seasoned with fennel.
It wasn’t easy choosing from the variety on the small plates section, but we chose often—and well. The Pear Salad ($6), was one of those surprises that doesn’t sound great on paper but comes alive on the plate. Strips of mild pear, tart blueberries and bits of smoked jowl bacon made for an understated flavor sensation. The Asparagus Gratin ($5) and the Wine-Braised Marrow Bone ($5) were equally as delicious. Our last selection was the Duck Fat Frites ($6). Instead of the large-cut potatoes used so often, these frites were of the shoestring variety, and they came in a salty, slippery heap that seemed to be never-ending. Some of the best we’ve had.
Since we spent most of our time with the small plates, we decided to give the large plate lineup a try and had the Seared Trout ($13). The generous slice of fish was served with flavorful stewed lentils, and topped with a chilled pea salad. The combination of warm fish and lentils and cold veggies was a great match, very well-balanced.
We highly recommend the Cheesecake ($7), made with goat cheese in an oat crust. There should be a rule that all cheesecake should be made with goat cheese from now on. And with one taste of the Candy Bar ($5), with its nougat, chocolate and fleur de sel topped with cashews, you’ll never go back to a Baby Ruth.
With a stellar menu, first-rate wine list, interesting craft cocktail lineup, weekend brunch menu, not to mention the superlative dining rooms, Salt seems to have all of the culinary bases covered. Make sure you take an extra look around before you leave! LN