The first thing I saw when I arrived at the new fish restaurant Salt was a young man stacking up knobby baguettes on the counter of the open kitchen. “Do you make your own baguettes?” I asked him in French. He didn’t understand and asked me if I spoke English. That was a bit of a surprise in a Parisian restaurant. He turned out to be the chef, Daniel Morgan, originally from Sheffield, England, who once worked at the renowned Noma in Copenhagen. And yes, he does make his own baguettes, twice a day. And they are delicious, crispy on the outside and soft inside, with plenty of flavor.
Since our table was right next to kitchen, we got to keep an eye on him as he rushed around like the Energizer bunny, as one of my companions noted.
He, in turn, kept a close eye on every single dish that left the kitchen and even came out to show one of my friends how to eat his first course: a plate full of stones, on top of which sat some of the ugliest food I’ve ever seen: gooseneck barnacles (descriptively called
pouce-pied, or “thumb-foot” in French), with what look like overgrown toenails at the tip. Those who can get past their strange prehistoric appearance will find that their meat is delicious, rather like raw clams, but with a stronger flavor. They came with a small dish of cream of lardo di Colonnata for dipping.
I started with a lovely, more elaborate dish: roast cauliflower with goat-cheese butter, ceps, fromage blanc and lardo di Colonnata. New flavors kept popping up from the various
ingredients as I worked my way through it, and the melted goat-cheese butter was just begging to be soaked up with those fresh baguettes.
Two of us had a big bowl of clams for the main
course. Topped with fresh parsley and dill and paper-thin slices of black radish, they were stunningly flavored with fresh ginger. The resulting rich broth was a joy to spoon up when the clams were gone.
My other friend was thrilled with her main
course, merlu (hake) with grilled baby carrots, ceps and another marvelous sauce, this one made with mustard leaves.
We ordered all three desserts: a generous
helping of three excellent cheeses, served at room temperature and at the perfect state of ripeness; an original pain perdu (French toast) made with the chef’s homemade buttermilk cake with a vein of Japanese azuki bean paste running through it and flavored with fennel seeds; and a wonderful combo of kaki (persimmon), mascarpone mousse and wood sorrel. The latter added a sour touch that accorded perfectly with the sweet fruit and creamy mousse.
Our wine, a Vermentino from Domaine Salitis in the Pays d’Oc (€29), seemed to taste of the sea itself and was a perfect match for the fishy dishes.
The setting is modern and attractive. The only reservation I had was about the service, which was less attentive and efficient than it should have been, especially since there were three waitresses handling only about 30 covers. Or perhaps the problem stemmed from the kitchen; there were long waits between courses. But this is a new restaurant, and I am sure that these wrinkles will be smoothed out in time.
When I was leaving, Morgan told me to be sure to come back in the evening when the food is more complex and “playful.” I certainly will. While talking to him, I noticed that he had the word “bread” tattooed on one wrist and “butter” on the other. I like a man who gets his priorities straight.