Saturday, October 8, 2011

Salt of the Earth (Guest Post)

Another 'Guest Post' from SP, who dined at Salt of the Earth earlier this week. I still have not been there.

"As part of a work "project summit" here at the Pittsburgh office, we've been hosting coworkers from another office.  Part of that has been team dinners every night this week.  The first night was Burgatory, which I've already written about. I also attended the team dinner on the second night, at another new-to-me place -- Salt of the Earth.

Before I go much further, a disclaimer is in order.  I've been wanting to try Salt to see what all the fuss is about, but the fuss is part of the problem.  I'd grown somewhat weary of all the raving "this is the best thing that's ever happened to me" reactions.  I was a bit burned out on the hype before I ever set foot in the door, but I tried to keep an open mind.

That preconception wasn't helped any when I asked for a simple iced tea and was told "no".  No?  Seriously?  I realize there was a lovely wine list, and bonus points for having an East End beer on tap, but my meds only allow for one drink a week and I'd already done that, all I want is a simple iced tea.  Well, at least they didn't foist some crappy premix stuff on me like some places would.  Ok, water then...
Chalkboard Menu
Our team of 15 (a slightly different group than at Burgatory) arrived around 6:30 on Tuesday and were seated right away as two groups.  Looking over the chalkboard menu, our table quickly ordered several appetizers to share -- Soup (squash, apple, chervil, argan); Beef Tartare (marrow, quail egg, sansho, peanut);
Lettuce Wraps (pawpaw bbq, pickle);
Lettuce Wraps
Chicken Livers (bell pepper, hops, local mushroom, succotash; we also ordered the vegan version of this dish which used seitan instead of chicken liver); and Risotto (octopus, prosciutto, cantaloupe, miso).
I tried all of them except the Beef Tartare.  My favorite was the Risotto, but all of them were quite tasty.  The plate sizes were just large enough for everyone at our table to sample a bit if they desired.

For my main entree I debated between the Squab (popcorn grits, rapini,  huitlacoche), Trout (same accompaniments),
and Scallops (panzanella, chorizo, saffron, rapini, anchovy, kalamata) before selecting the scallops.
As with the appetizers, the meal was quite tasty.  I was afraid the delicate taste of the scallops would be lost among the heavier chorizo and anchovy flavors, but those were more of a sauce under the scallops and panzanella, and the balance was well-handled.  The saffron consisted of an orange-saffron foam on top of the scallops, presenting a nice texture contrast to the tender scallop itself.  Portion size was perfect for me -- I was able to finish my meal leaving just enough room for dessert.
Cheese Dessert
Everyone at our table ordered dessert (after we talked one woman into it), covering all three options.  I was the only one who ordered the Cheese (Misty Morning, almond, fruit, maple), which proved just sweet enough to be classified as a dessert without being some sticky sweet mess. 

The other options were a deconstructed S'More (chocolate, elderflower, golden graham)
S'More Dessert
and a Honeycrisp (apple, bourbon, thyme).
Honeycrisp Dessert
So, what were my impressions?  If I'd gone in without all the hype surrounding the place, this was a very good meal.  I would happily go back (even if it may not be at the top of my list given all the other places we've yet to try). it the end-all of dining in Pittsburgh?  I'm afraid not.  If anything I suffered a very slight case of "anticipointment".  It was good -- very good -- but after all that hype it just didn't quite make it to the levels some would have you believe it achieves.  That's not at all a BAD thing, mind you -- Pittsburgh has plenty of room for great dining experiences, and Salt is indeed one of them, just not the ONLY one."

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