Flavors without borders

Flavors without borders

Inviting world-fusion cuisine at Salar

By Brandy King

 Photo: The beef Huancaina lasagna at Salar in the Oregon District

The corner of Fifth and Brown Streets in the Orgeon District has been home to a handful of dining establishments over the years. Pacchia, for nearly two decades, the short-lived Sidebar, and now Salar. I always enjoyed Pacchia, only visited Sidebar twice before its demise and was hoping this new joint can stand the test of time and become a new dining cornerstone of the OD.

In all honesty, though, I just didn’t have my hopes up. I don’t know why I felt so Negative Nancy about it, but I figured, “What’s the harm in setting the bar a little bit lower? Then I’ll be really surprised if they pull it off.” I always want the local independents to succeed, but sometimes they just don’t deliver. It’s more disappointing to see them deliver a bad dining experience, too. I suppose I’ve come to expect it from the big guys, and hold the indies to a higher standard.

As usual, I glanced at their online menu prior to visiting, so I wouldn’t spend 15 minutes perusing while my hungry husband waited. I’d managed to narrow down my cocktail selection, but couldn’t pin anything down as far as my entrée.

La Pasion was an easy target for my pre-dinner cocktail, considering it’s comprised of both my preferred port and bourbon. I didn’t even bother reading on at that point, but turns out it also contained fresh lime juice, passion fruit puree, cane syrup, coriander and chipotle powder. That cocktail was hands-down, one of the best I’ve ever had. My only problem was that there wasn’t more of it. Served in a rocks glass with a gigantic ball of ice – about the size of a tennis ball – there was only room for only about 3 ounces of actual bevvy. Of course, we have to remember that the handcrafted cocktails are served slightly smaller than your average gin and tonic because of the high cost of ingredients. Plus, it was quite boozy, so more than two and you’d probably be mistaken for Judy Garland. If you order wine, however, you do get a second helping in a decanter.

We decided to forego the appetizers and hold out for dessert instead, provided we weren’t stuffed. It was nice to see a menu selection that had so many offerings it was difficult to decide.

Mr. FvF is the more selective eater – so I always let him choose first so we don’t order the same thing. So frequently we seem to end up at eateries – especially for reviews – where the menu seems geared to only one of us. He surprised me and went for the duck ragu ravioli. The entrée was of average size for fine dining (Salar is high-end food with a more casual atmosphere), but on the small side for a man of my husband’s appetite. More importantly, the taste was amazing. I’d never seen – or really heard of – duck ragu being served in a ravioli, but it worked very well, especially with the added elements of the cab-sav reduction, mushrooms and the sharpness of the parmesan giving it a tiny bite to balance out the sweet earthiness.

After a lot of debate, I finally chose the beef Huancaina lasagna. I have never ordered lasagna in a restaurant before (because why pay someone to do what you can do better at home?), but this was a very different animal. Seared tenderloin, yellow pepper bechamel, onions and a lot of cheese. One of my least favorite things about lasagna being served in restaurants is missing out on the bubbly, golden crust because you’ve been served a slice from the middle. Crisis averted! Salar bakes theirs individually, and I suffered no shortage of crispy cheese overflow. Again, my entrée was stand-alone and unaccompanied by anything, but it was more than enough for the average eater.

We were full, but didn’t hate ourselves, and had just enough room for a shared dessert. This was another tough choice, but we both agreed on the dulce de leche cheesecake. The texture was smooth and flawless, and the flavor of the cream, caramel and a little bit of spice was perfect. There may have been a cookie crust involved, because it certainly didn’t seem like the average graham cracker crust that accompanies most cheesecakes.

As service goes, ours was above average and the servers knew the menu well. Our gal was happy to help me pronounce one of the menu items that I didn’t want to butcher, without being judgey about it. A man – who I presume to be either the GM or the owner –  hit up a few tables as well, just to see how everyone’s meal was.

In both food and atmosphere, Salar is something that I truly don’t think Dayton has seen the likes of before, and we need to continue to embrace them with open arms. I was thrilled to see this place packed – they do take reservations, though – at the peak of Friday night dining with a little bit of everyone – young hipsters, grown folks on dates and even a few families with littles. Their vibe is such that it almost anyone should feel comfortable there.

 

Salar is located at 400 E. Fifth St. For more information, please call 937.203.3999 or visit salarrestaurant.com. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Brandy King at BrandyKing@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit her blog, foodvsface.com. Caricature by Jay King.

 

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