I give Salt, a new restaurant on West Maple Road, extra credit points for its originality.
Co-owners Milton Yin — who also owns Hiro, Hiro 88 and Pana 88 — and chef John Horvatinovich have created a menu that features American standards like pasta, pizza and seafood twisted toward Asian and Italian fusion, sometimes both at once. It's a combination I've never seen before.
They've paired that menu with a chic, laid-back atmosphere that rivals any of the other 88-owned restaurants and stretches from the dining room to a hip outside patio.
Everything I tried on two recent visits was well-cooked and -seasoned. Almost all of Horvatinovich's creative fusion dishes worked; a couple were clunkers, but the menu is one worth exploring nonetheless.
Salt is modern inside, with a big white wall to the east covered with a scalloped pattern, contemporary transparent-gray chairs and hints of steel blue on walls and menus.
On the west side is a large, open bar decorated in white and blue with clear chandeliers and acrylic lamps. Two television sets hang on the back wall.
Salt has lots of hard surfaces and high ceilings, and the dining room acoustics made it hard for me and my husband to hear each other. Acoustics in the bar area and on the patio during our second visit were better.
Service across the board was friendly and informative. Salt's wait staff has clearly sampled much of the menu, and Horvatinovich told me in an interview later that a staff familiar with what's coming out of the kitchen was a priority.
We started our first meal with “the other calamari” — it's one of two calamari appetizers on the menu — at the recommendation of our waitress.
It came seasoned with salt and pepper — we mostly got salt but could see the pepper throughout the dish — and lightly breaded. Though basic, it was nicely cooked and just a bit chewy instead of rubbery like calamari can be. The dish was topped with a sprinkling of cilantro, bits of green onion and lemon zest. Two dipping sauces came with the dish, one tasting mostly of soy and the other mostly of mayo; I preferred the soy.
Entrees that evening hit a few snags.
My Chicken Terra was nicely cooked and spiced, if pretty basic. The chicken was herby and properly seasoned; a side of cooked spinach could have used more seasoning, and though I could see sliced garlic in the spinach, I couldn't taste it.
The big letdown was with the Gouda wasabi mashed potatoes, which tasted neither of Gouda nor wasabi. If they'd been advertised simply as mashed potatoes, I'd have been satisfied — they were good mashed potatoes. But it was like the kitchen forgot to put the wasabi and Gouda in my serving.
Horvatinovich told me the batch I had probably didn't have the right components, and that normally the potatoes should taste smoky with Gouda and spicy with wasabi.
I'm intrigued enough by the idea of spicy, cheesy mashed potatoes to want to try them again if they were made correctly.
The sweet and sour pizza also stumbled. Though it was cooked properly and topped with a nice amount of melted cheese and tasty sausage and was foldable in the way I like pizza to be, the addition of what tasted like standard sweet-and-sour sauce just didn't do it for me. It felt like an afterthought: Take a classic pizza, pour some sweet and sour on it and, voila, fusion.
Horvatinovich said the sauce is made in-house with jerk seasonings. The sweet and sour pizza is meant to be comfort food as a twist and is one of the restaurant's more popular pies.
I found a pizza I was more into — and a number of other successful dishes — during our second visit, where some friends joined me for Sunday dinner on the patio, which is adjacent to Eagle Run Golf Course and affords a nice view of the greens.
We wanted to check out the specials on Salt's all-day happy hour and started with a round of cocktails, including the Make It Rain, a cucumbery lemonade cocktail; the Ginger Drop, which has candied and regular ginger and is served in a martini glass; the Juicy Orange, Salt's take on the classic screwdriver; and a red sangria topped with fruit.
Though the cocktails aren't “craft cocktails,” they were tasty and creative. During happy hour, they all ran $5 or $6 each.
We also sampled four of the $5 appetizers: chicken and pork gyoza, which were small dumplings; goat cheese rangoon, a different take on the classic crab rangoon; swai tacos; and bruschetta.
The goat cheese rangoon and the gyoza were hits. My friends liked the creamy, mild filling in the rangoon and also appreciated the fact that they weren't greasy or chewy and instead were crisp and light. The slightly spicy gyoza weren't greasy either and instead had a slightly chewy, pleasant texture. No one was overly thrilled with the dipping sauce on the side, a watery red pomodoro that didn't stand up in flavor to the appetizers.
The bruschetta was standard — pieces of thick bread that came with a bowl of herby tomato topping.
The swai tacos, made with breaded fillets of the mild white fish, were sizable — easily enough for my friend to eat as an entree. A creamy cilantro sauce brought kick, and the ingredients inside — tomatoes, lettuce — were fresh.
The rangoon and gyoza are a nod to the menu at Hiro, Horvatinovich said. The made-to-order rangoon are on the restaurant's regular menu and are one of the most popular appetizers. The gyoza are served only during happy hour.
“People look for something fried and delicious to go with a cocktail,” he said.
Salt makes the rangoon fresh a few times each day to ensure that they're crispy, not soggy or chewy, and the filling is a mix of goat and cream cheeses.
“They are very tricky,” he said. “Like an ex-girlfriend.”
Entrees that evening were good across the board. I especially liked the Zagreb pizza, which a friend ordered and we all shared.
Topped with ricotta and mozzarella, big slabs of soft smoked salmon, dill and lemon zest, the pizza was like a bagel and lox — one of my favorite things to eat — translated into pizza form. Though I would have liked a bit more dill or a hit of acidity — the addition of capers would have been grand — the pie still worked. The crust, thin but crispy, has a delicious edge topped with salt, pepper and Romano cheese.
We tried two pastas. My husband got the Pesce Arrabiata, spaghetti topped with smoky chipotle shrimp, garlic and shaved Parmesan mixed with a buttery beurre blanc sauce. I tried the Lo Mein and Spicy Fish, which used thicker Asian-style noodles mixed with mussels, shrimp, breaded swai and a spicy marinara sauce.
Both were complex with flavor and spice, and the seafood across the board was well-cooked. The flavors weren't muddied — one of my pasta pet peeves.
A hazelnut-crusted rainbow trout served with a side of grilled vegetables was also successful. My friend liked the nutty, slightly salty crust on the fish and appreciated that the veggies — carrots, zucchini and red peppers — were blackened with grill marks and tasted great.
“There's a lot to be curious about on this menu,” she said. “It makes me want to try more things.”
Just as she finished, the waitress brought out dessert: three huge rounds of blue raspberry cotton candy for the table to share. We ate cotton candy on both visits — the first night, it was sour apple-flavored and bright green — and it's a fun touch to top off the creative, intriguing experience diners will find at Salt.