Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Salut Bistro in the Prospect Building in the Heights has changed its allegiance a bit and is now saluting Italian cuisine (and the culture of owner Dave Bisceglia's forebears), using the talents of nearly-new chef Mike Jones.
Jones himself came to our table recently when one in our party inquired, after practically drinking the sauce the mussels were steamed in with a straw, about the possibility of getting cioppino on the menu. He was excited that a customer had asked about the dish, and said he would think about adding the fish stew when the right season rolled around. He seemed truly gratified that a cioppino-lover had come to try Salut's new menu, and proud, too, of the fare he was turning out.
This is to say that there is a certain energy emanating from the kitchen of Salut. There are also a lot of rich ingredients coming out as well, so that almost every dish on the menu is an indulgence.
The mussel broth — though we prefer a simpler brew ourselves for mussels — was indeed delicious enough to drink, being made of roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, garlic, basil, saffron and white wine. A bowl of the broth and a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine might be our idea of a lovely way to pass an hour or two.
Yet, review we must, so rather than lingering over the mussels we kept going, dipping, literally, soft bread and garlic toast into four creamy go-befores of tomato, garlic and bell pepper and a sinful artichoke concoction. We felt it our duty to try the calamari, as well, and we must say we've had better; the ratio of calamari to its fried jacket was too slim to detect the squid.
On to the main courses we marched, not overfull since one of our number was a gentleman with a bottomless pit of a stomach and he'd helped out a lot with the hors d'oeuvres. Hence our appetites were not spoiled for what was to come next: shrimp and grits, a spicy sausage and tortellini dish, spaghetti alla carbonara, and the beef tenderloin and risotto for Mr. Bottomless Pit.
We'll pause here to praise the wine, a BV Coastal Chardonnay, no we don't know what year. No, it's not so out of the ordinary but it was light and lovely and filled enough of our glass that we could only get through one before the meal was over, sad to say. And only $6.
Back to the grub, and we're going to go first to our main beef: the diced Italian bacon. The carbonara was loaded with chunks of this too-chewy, too-bold persuasion of pancetta, and it suffered for it. OK, maybe we're philistines and too used to using regular old bacon in our carbonara. Just saying we weren't wild about the texture. A less significant beef was the beef — it was tender, but not particularly flavorful, though perhaps the $23 price tag clouded our thinking, making us expect something astonishing.
The shrimp and grits were delicious, particularly the grits, which were baked into a wickedly rich cake, a disc of decadence. The shrimp was beer battered and fried and delicious but less tender than we wanted with this particular dish, which we like with more forkable shrimpers. The oil-butter-crustacean-corn calorie count was more than we're comfortable thinking about, or even eating, so we took half the dish home for Mr. B.P.'s future dining pleasure.
Raves came from opposite our plate, repeated raves, as our third companion exclaimed over his spiced sausage. He offered bites all around and it was, indeed, delicious.
So the bottom line on the food — it's every bit delicious as the application of animal and vegetable fats was generous. Which made us wonder — is there something a little lighter, less stupor-inducing on the menu?
Well, the pizza Margherita might fill that bill, or the rosemary and thyme roasted chicken. Or you could simply stop with the mussels (though caramelized onions draped over the mussels was a bit much) and the aforementioned loaf and bottle.
Having made the obligatory protestations over the oversumptuousness, what we did we do after finishing our rich repast? Ordered dessert of course, something the waitress confessed later that she and the chef found extraordinary, delighting in our voraciousness. The chocolate creme brulee and a chocolate espresso cake were excellent — but nowhere near the treat Salut once offered on an old menu, the flourless chocolate cake. Perhaps the cake will reappear ... cioppino and chocolate cake, we'll drink to that. Salut!
1501 N. University
Suite 160 (ground floor, north side of the Prospect Building)
The decor doesn't match the food. No tablecloths and sound-system components crammed into the corners seemed a tad informal, given our $140 tab (four diners, two glasses of wine, three appetizers, four entrees, two desserts ... well, maybe that's not quite white-tablecloth-worthy, but we could appreciate a fix-up in the looks of the joint nevertheless). Also: the late night component continues, with the bar open until the last man can no longer stand Wednesday through Saturday.
Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, bar 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Full bar, all credit cards accepted, dining patio.