Last night, we had one of the most satisfying meals eaten out in a long time. We left the apartment with no expectations. Our mission has become to try out restaurants nearby and find a new favorite. This has become surprisingly tricky. Have my tastes become so keen that I can no longer appreciate most restaurant food? I was beginning to feel this way. Until last night.
We walked by a few restaurants, peeked inside the windows, and scanned the menus. Some were obvious no’s due to the fact that half the restaurant was empty on a Saturday night at 9:00 pm. In New York City, this is the sign of bad food, bad service, or both. We settled on a busy-looking restaurant on Macdougal street, south of Houston, called Salt. The street-facing wall was all windows and we could see a packed dining room (good sign!). Walking in we were greeted by a hostess who asked for our reservation. After saying we did not have one she had to “check and see” if there was space for us tonight (another good sign). There was, luckily, and we were seated at a two-top table, along the front wall, just big enough to fit our plates of food and a bottle of wine. My seat was on a bench against the wall, and only a foot from rubbing elbows with our neighbors. The center of the dining room had three, long, communal tables to seat guests. This is true NY restaurant style.
The atmosphere was cozy and romantic. Tables were candle lit and the restaurant had a rustic style. Dark hard-wood floors, exposed roof beams, wood tables and chairs were set off by stark white painted walls. Bowls of white and pink roses exploded off the long tables. The dining room was about 20 feet by 20 feet with the back wall’s top half open to the kitchen. The kitchen was lit brightly in contrast to the dark intimate dining room, acting to highlight the chefs and meal preparation. Due to the small room, full of diners, the noise level was on the verge of loud – but added to the feeling of being part of a hip scene.
Looking at the menu, we both found things quickly, a sign of a good menu. Does anyone else hate those tri-fold, double-sided menus that take you 30 minutes to fully inspect? There were about 8 appetizers and 12 entrees. Everything sounded good. It had something for everyone without being overwhelming.
Immediately upon placing our order we were brought a basket of dinner rolls, butter, and our bottle of wine. Our appetizers arrived timely. I had a mesclun salad with vinaigrette dressing. The dressing was a bit on the acidic side, which I like, and the greens were crisp and fresh. The other appetizer was a spring pea and asparagus risotto with cheese (we cannot remember the type of cheese). This dish was a lovely bright green and tasted smokey – was that from the cheese? We couldn’t figure it out, but loved every bite. The risotto was creamy and light, well-seasoned. Cooked just right.
The appetizers gave us high hopes for our entrees. These were met and exceeded. We ordered the marinated hanger steak with sauteed spinach and yukon gold potato puree and the Long Island duck breast with sauteed spinach and braised fennel. Both were amazing. Perfect seasoning and wonderfully crisped skin on the duck. A deliciously marinated steak with a crisp, browned exterior. Both were served at a perfect medium-rare. Tender and tasty – the meat almost melted in your mouth. This was accomplished without a French reduction sauce that is typical in most restaurants. Execution is key when flaws are not masked by a sauce. All the flavor and taste came from the seasoning, cooking, and marinating of the meat and duck. The result was delicious and we savored every bite.
Our plates were cleared and dessert menus passed out. We almost always choose the fruit-based dessert, and tonight was no exception. We chose the pear tart tatin with rosemary ice cream. I was very interested in the rosemary part. Normally, this herb is associated with savory dishes like roast chicken, pork tenderloin, or stews. Who would have thought to use it for a sweet preparation? The result was decidedly different from anything I’ve ever had, and very good. Not only was the ice cream infused with rosemary, the pear tart had rosemary flavoring as well. The pear was soft, sweet, and warm compared to the creamy, cool ice cream. The rosemary was the connecting flavor between the two and somehow – it all worked. Who knew?
Salt gets an A++. I would not have changed any dish in any way. We were left feeling satisfied and continued to talk about the food later into the evening. The prices are reasonable, and actually low relative to the portions and quality of food you can find here. They also have a lunch which I am eager to try. I would recommend Salt to anyone and cannot wait to return.