Friday, June 10, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Our present-day times have fostered an era of selfishness unseen since perhaps the 1980's "Me Generation" when everyone was all coked up and greedily trying to emulate Gordon Gekko. Everyone today thinks they are a special and unique snowflake. This mindset lends us to having everything our way, especially our food. Any food dislike can be taken off a prepared dish. Anything can be changed because the customer is always right.

Enter Salt of the Earth. This is Kevin Sousa's vision. It's his restaurant. He's not Executive Chef at Alchemy...wowing us with Molecular Gastronomy in the Bigelow. He's not Executive Chef at Red Room. He's not biding his time re-visioning Yo Rita's menu. This is his vision, we are along for the ride, and there is no room for your personal epicurean quirks.

I mentioned in the last post that 2011 may be the height of Pittsburgh's dining scene. Part of the reason for this crescendo may be Kevin Sousa. He's the closest thing to Pittsburgh's version of an Iron Chef. He was recently named Pittsburgh magazine's Chef of the Year.

Salt of the Earth was a long time coming. Sousa decided to locate Salt of the Earth in a section of town that is more often avoided, because of perceived crime problems, than explored -- Garfield. It's not named after the fuzzy orange cat. His restaurant of Penn Avenue, whether by design or not, expands the Interest Zone from neighboring East Liberty, which has started to revitalize itself through new restaurants (Spoon, Dinette, Plum, BRGR, Paris 66, Abay).

When you walk into Salt, you're staring directly into the all stainless steel open-style kitchen. When you're greeted by the hostess you are staring directly into and up at the 20 foot high chalkboard that serves as the menu for Salt. There are no paper menus. If you are seated right adjacent to the chalkboard, you feel as if you are in the front row of a movie theater looking up at the screen.

The walls are a soothing sage/celery green. There are three long communal wooden tables with square, backless chairs. There is also a mezzanine above you with standard tables, which is where the reservations are seated.

The menu is like what I imagine goes on inside the mind of noted mash-up artist Girl Talk -- a bunch of random things jammed together that ends up coming out great. Have you ever wondered what scallops, cauliflower, banana, lobster roe, and sesame would taste like together? Well, that's one of the apps.

DB~ and I went with her aunt and her's aunt's friend to Salt on Tuesday. This was their 4th time to "Salt" as they only call it. We got there at 7:45 p.m. on a Tuesday and it was comfortably busy. A very underrated part of Salt is their drink menu. Much like Embury, Salt does Prohibition era cocktails (in addition to a massive beer and wine list). DB~ had "Vodka" -- Boyd and Blair potato vodka, Creme Yvette, rose, elderflower. I'll admit I only know what Boyd and Blair is. Her aunt had "Gin" (a cucumber mint drink) and I had "Punch" -- kind of a Planter's punch-esque drink. Her aunt's friend had a beer.

As for dinner, both DB~ and her aunt's friend had the Halibut dish. They both said it was flavorful and perfectly executed. It was served with avacado and tamarind on a bed of buckwheat.

DB~'s aunt had the softshell crab (of course we talked about DB~'s SSC experience!) which had a deep-fried crust on a bed of seaweed with a delicate dollop of tartar.

I had the flank steak, served on a puree of black-eyed pea with a zone of chimichurri that I couldn't get enough. I wanted to rub it on like a skin moisturizer and let it soak into my pores. There were just the tips of asparagus, which is even better than a bakery that just does muffin tops (who eats just the stumps?). I usually order steak as medium-well, but of course at Salt you get what the chef makes. That meant a medium-rare for max chef-ing flavor. I was OK with that because you have to accept that you are placing your dining hands into the hands of the chef.

Sousa wasn't there...not sure how much he actively cooks, especially on a Tuesday night. Salt of the Earth, and Kevin Sousa in particular, should be commended for being a worthy addition to the Pittsburgh dining scene.

No comments:

Post a Comment