Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Have a three-way at Salut Bar Americain

As I've been boring and huddling in my Uptown hovel, I asked my friend Laura to give me her take on the new Salut. She's so glamours and hip. All the cool kids want to go out with her.

Have a three-way at Salut Bar Americain

I had a three-way at Salut Bar Americain on Friday night. That’s right: Someone in the Salut kitchen has ménage-a-trois on the brain – so much so they put it on the menu. The French brasserie situated appropriately at 50th and France in Edina made a great scene for a 27th birthday party for eight hungry diners. Warm honey-toned wood and rich red paint made for a jovial setting in the high-ceilinged dining room.

The “Fromage a Trois” – an appetizer cheese course – caught our unsettled attention upon opening the menu. We mused about stodgy old Edina being shook up by such naughty nomenclature. We chuckled and continued to peruse the menu. Me being the only foodie of the group (there was a non-ironic reference to TGI Friday’s I kid you not), I took charge and ordered the veggie pizza and the “crispy, crunchy calamari” for my seven charges. We snickered about the superfluous ‘crunchy’ adjective and debated the merits of crispy versus crunchy. The calamari showed up crispy as promised with some measure of crunch. Better than that, they had nice heat that was tempered by a dunk in the cool, lemony aioli. Those crisp little squid went quickly until we got to the bottom of the bowl. There we found the sad remains of our crispy friends drowning in oil. Without hesitation, the TGI Friday’s aficionado fished them out (no pun intended) and polished them off. Ick. Everyone enjoyed the veggie pizza, bright with the springtime flavors of roasted tomato, squash and artichoke, lightly drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano and parsley.

I washed down the amus-ing goodness with what Salut has dubbed its Parisian cocktail: gin and crème de cassis with a splash of vermouth. It had my preferred pink color without the cloying sweetness or ubiquity of a Cosmopolitan. The gin gave it edge but the pine-needle effect (I’m new to gin) was softened by the crème de cassis. At $9 for a nine ounce martini glass, it was my only alcoholic indulgence during dinner.

The second nod to the beast with three backs was listed among the seafood entrees: ahi tuna three ways. I wavered between this and the boursin-and-sauteed mushroom burger. My companions were no help. During the salad course, one couple ordered a shared pre-dinner fish soup as a prelude to... the bouillabaisse? Huh? Our crisp and polished server didn’t bat an eye – she could tell they were out of their element – but gave me a knowing glance. She attentively and articulately answered my 1700 questions about the menu. This woman would be comfortable in the likes of La Belle Vie, a real testament to the quality that permeates the Parasole empire.

I finally chose the ahi tuna prepared three asian ways. It arrived artfully presented: three small square trays on one long rectangular one each with a filet of seared tuna atop its accompaniment. The first was a fresh, clean-tasting okra salad. The second had pungent roasted garlic that I could not consume. The third presentation featured the tuna on a bed of pickled ginger, which, again, was a waste to my taste (I like to taste the fish). The other caveat: Each piece of tuna was served crusted in black and white sesame seeds, which to me was a mistake. I felt the seeds did not allow the other flavors to shine.

In my mind, the other diners seemed to order their entrees according to their role in the group. The ‘cheap one’ ordered the steak sandwich ($8.95) which was served with unfortunate looking handcut fries. And gee, did you guess the ‘manly one’ ordered the NY Strip steak? Quel surprise. But was it good! The meat was flavorful, juicy and cooked according to the diner’s request which has not been the case in several local restaurants of late. The middle of the road type ordered the safe and boring salmon which ended up being plated with a gem of a delicious side dish of meaty roasted mushrooms with the lightest drizzle of balsamic. The birthday boy enjoyed a large pork chop while the Italian based her entrée choice according to size (so much for the much-touted European quality over quantity maxim) and scarfed down the meat-filled tortelloni in cream sauce without so much as offering a taste to anyone.

The same Italian ordered her own huge slab of chocolate cake while the rest of the table shared desserts. We thought it appropriate for the birthday boy to partake in a three-way of his own: cheesecake served in a trio of shot glasses and topped with strawberries, blueberries and hot fudge. The fish soup couple continued sharing with the chocolate fondue. Oh, get a room already! A chocolate mousse was tasty but tiny and served with strawberries that looked like they came from Cub accompanied by a shot glass of runny zabaglione. Before excusing myself for a bit of fresh air, I wondered aloud why a red velvet cake would be on a French restaurant’s menu. I returned to find a blood red layer cake where the remainder of my drink had been. I was not happy – and not Southern – hello! One of my companions thought I wanted it and ordered it while I was attending to a phone call. I tried a bite and almost died of sugar overload. A sickly sweet raspberry taste was cut by unsweetened cream cheese. This could have been a textbook example of the Southern staple but it was not something I was interested in taking home in the doggie bag which featured a French poodle with wood. (They want you to be very happy about the prospect of leftovers from Salut.)

Everyone enjoyed Salut but not for the same reasons. I was delighted with the menu. It offered a nice variety of classic French and non-French dishes at accessible price points in an attractive dining room with attentive servers. The rest in my group weren’t as critical and enjoyed it probably because of the company. I did hear a gripe about our water carafes not being refilled but that is easily remedied by simply asking. The free parking garage made for an easy get-away and provided cover for a light drizzle. For eight people enjoying drinks, appetizers, entrees and desserts, our tab came to $397.

I want to go back to Salut. I want to dine with foodies – or at least people with a passing interest in enjoying a quality dinner and being able to dissect a menu and know that a red velvet cake is out of place there. I want to try the boursin burger. And I want to find that chef who likes the ménage-a-fromage. Salut!


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