Thursday, March 1, 2012

Salt of the Earth: Delicious and Innovative

Exterior shot of Salt of the Earth
I absolutely detest the term "foodie." As much as I love food, I think it sounds quite elitist to describe oneself as such and for one's hobbies to basically just include a lot of fine food and drink. Nevertheless, when I visited my brother and sister-in-law in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, I was pretty excited to go to the newest and most talked about restaurant in the whole city:  Salt of the Earth.  Loved by foodies everywhere, this new restaurant has been creating quite the buzz in Pittsburgh.
Chefs hard at work...right in front of customers' eyes
So what makes this restaurant so creative? Honestly, pretty much everything about it. Chef Kevin Sousa came up with the master plan for Salt of the Earth, but not without help. He collaborated with architects Doug and Liza Cruze to create a unique and innovative dining experience.  To quote the Salt of the Earth website, "The thought was to create an exceptional dining experience without all the unnecessary pretense and added cost of conventional 'fine dining.'  The space, food, and service reflect our views on what we think a creative American restaurant can be."  And Salt of the Earth does just that. The open seating area is unlike any restaurant I've ever been to. The seats are all (or mostly all) bench-style seating, with a very open and almost cafeteria-like atmosphere. However, the lighting and complete openness of the environment make it much more appealing than a cafeteria. Basically, it's just a cool atmosphere. The bench seating makes you feel closer to the people you're eating with (or near) and the menu isn't handed to's expressed on a giant blackboard on a wall on the side of the restaurant. Why is this? The menu changes about every two weeks...there is no standard menu that you can consistently order from. 
Inside of the right is the giant blackboard menu, to the left is the grill area
If you can't already tell, this restaurant is super cool and creative. But a restaurant wouldn't be called a restaurant if food wasn't involved, right? Well, the interesting and creative thing about Salt is all about Kevin Sousa. Named 2011 Chef of the Year by Pittsburgh Magazine (you can read the full article here), his innovation in food is deliciously inventive.  Like I said above, they work with a rotating menu - Kevin Sousa always creates new dishes that will be put on the menu in about 2-3 week intervals. When I went for dinner, we shared snails, I ordered scallops, and I tasted some of my sister-in-law's duck dish. Ok, so you could have those dishes at basically any restaurant, right? Wrong. Each plate was more delicious than the one I had just tried. The wait staff made a point of saying every ingredient in the dish, and you would never think that those ingredients would go well together.
Salmon dish from Salt...yummmm
How does Kevin do it? Of course, he only chooses those ingredients that are in season, and collaborates with other chefs to find the best flavor palette. In his words, "I see it as my role in helping to build a burgeoning food scene where people have options that are very specific. Nobody wants every restaurant in town to do the same thing with the same seasonal ingredients." But like a true creative, he also just picks things that he likes, without necessarily considering others. As he says in the interview I mentioned above, "I never say, 'Maybe someone will like this.' It has to be something I like." Well Kevin, I definitely liked it and so did everyone leaving the restaurant, so I'd say you're good to go.
Chef Kevin Sousa in front of his blackboard menu
Although it is a little bit pricey, I highly recommend this restaurant if you get the chance to go to Pittsburgh. If the hip atmosphere and creative food (both made by creative people) isn't enough to make you go, think of it as a new experience unlike anything you've tasted before. But beware...reservations are few and far between (my brother called two weeks in advance and there was only one open time slot), so make sure you think well in advance or don't mind waiting over an hour and a half to get seated. I promise you won't regret it once you sit down on your bench next to some strangers, diving into a delicious plate of whatever Chef Sousa has come up with that week.

1 comment:

  1. It would be nice to hear a little more about what makes the actual ingredient choices creative, but I can see what makes this restaurant style unique.

    Its good to see that a chef like this is getting positive recognition. As you've shown, the customers are enjoying this food, and from the look of the Pittsburg article there seems to be positive reviews, but from what I know about the restaurant business it can be very hard for a unique restaurant to do well, particularly when your comments imply that he is not strictly product driven, and does not care about the tastes of others.

    I hope I don't sound cynical; I really do hope that this restaurant continues to go well and is able to adapt to the environment as well as he's planned! ...At least until I get a chance to try eating there.


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