A discouraging first visit to Salt, plus news about town
Lots of people were excited about the opening of Salt (794 Juniper St., 404-541-1988). Replacing the kinky Cavu across from the self-conscious Spice, Salt promised to bring Midtown Southern-inspired comfort food. What a concept! Neither blue-haired like Mary Mac's nor trendy like South City Kitchen, Salt would seek the middle ground. All those Midtown boys and girls from middle-class Southern homes would have a place to recollect their mamas' special meatloaf and homemade chicken potpie while swilling martinis and margaritas.
Hey, I even took my friend Brian, a displaced Alabama boy, to the restaurant. He drove all the way from Alpharetta to join me in Midtown. And you know what? He's still speaking to me after I subjected him to the most unpleasant meal I've eaten in a year.
I should start with a caveat and a compliment. The caveat: The restaurant had only been open for three weeks when I visited. My one compliment: The staff is delightful. Our server Cynthia, Waitron of the Week, spoke with such a honeyed Southern accent that I couldn't help laughing. "Whuuuut? You're laughing at my accent, aren't you?" she said. "I'm from Hartwell." I assured her that I, having lived near Hartwell for a period, loved her accent. Three Yankee women next to us, obviously in town for a convention and wearing diamonds the size of brass knuckles, clucked when Cynthia walked away from their table. "Do you think she really talks that way?" one asked. "I think it must be — you know — part of the show," another said.
Cynthia's pleasant demeanor was absolutely the only thing enjoyable about our meal in this Victorian-era house. Two flavors predominate here. One, of course, is salt. The second is sugar. Our meal began with a basket of bread that included a super-sweet corn muffin with blueberries and slices of what Brian quite accurately described as "chocolate fruit cake." If you like to start a meal with candy, you'll love it.
We tried three starters. The "farmer's ear" is a roasted ear of corn with "magic butter" and powdery Parmesan cheese and — oh yeah — sea salt. Actually, it was pretty tasty but would have been better without the cheesy talcum powder. I also ordered three "hand pies." They are baked but will remind you of fried pies filled with diced country ham and white American cheese. Oh yeah — they are coated in pretzel salt. A lot of it. And they are served with (oy) a bowl of cheap yellow mustard. If you like sharp, salty flavors that make your mouth feel like a gaping wound, you will love the hand pies.
We tried a third starter, "Buford Highway Korean BBQ skirt steak." Actually, the spicy meat — marinated in ginger, teriyaki and soy, then grilled with green onions and Serrano peppers — was a pleasant break from the salt and sugar, even if it was served over yellow rice with utterly no character.
Entrees were no better. Brian's salmon, marinated in "real maple syrup" and grilled with a Dijon sauce, was vastly overcooked. If you like candied dried fish, you will love it. I ordered the menu's second-most-expensive dish, lobster succotash. The butterbeans and peas were summery fresh, but the lobster, like Brian's fish, was overcooked. If you like to floss your teeth with stringy lobster, you will love it. Both dishes were served with oversalted mashed potatoes.
We didn't think dessert could be sweeter than the chocolate fruitcake that started our meal. How wrong we were. Two cobblers were available — an apple-cherry and a blueberry. Both were full of fruit that tasted like it was stewed in Kayro syrup. On top of the fruit was a layer of pastry literally sparkling with sugar, and on top of that was a dollop of whipped cream that should be patented. A quart of this stuff dropped in the average city's water supply would cause an epidemic of tooth decay. Holy moly, Mr. Happy Tooth!
By meal's end, I was immobilized. It's not often I get up from a table thinking of arteriosclerosis and diabetes at the same time. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Here and there
My recent complaint about Starbucks provoked an e-mail from Rich Tanksley of 3rd Wave Inc.:
"Hey, I was reading your column about the missing power outlets for laptop users at Starbucks and I thought to myself: 'What's a hip freelance writer for a cool indie newsweekly doing paying for wi-fi at a corporate conglomerate like Starbucks?'"
Yikes! Yo, bro, I forgot how hip I am. Of course, it's not the coffee that draws me to Starbucks at Ansley. It's the proximity to my gym and the fact that friends who have also forgotten they are hip hang out there.
Rich goes on: "We've got more than 20 hotspots in Atlanta that are entirely free and are in much hipper joints than Starbucks. You should check them out and instead of giving a free plug to Starbucks, give one to us, or one of our hotspots ... Octane Coffee Lounge, for example, has power outlets throughout the entire cafe, including outside."
Rich notes that wi-fi for pay is rapidly going extinct. Cometa, which used to supply McDonald's and Barnes and Noble, has gone out of business, for example. To see more of 3rd Wave's free wi-fi locations in town log onto: www.3rdwavehotspot.com. ...
Cliff Bramble of Rathbun's writes to correct the location of the new restaurant in Cabbagetown. It is technically in Inman Park, he says. That is true. It is a few blocks from the Krog Street tunnel that separates the two neighborhoods. ... Commune, which opened with almost unbearable and unmerited hype, has closed. ... Fishmonger has opened a third location on Piedmont in the space vacated by Balance. ... Bob Amick, the former Pleasant Peasant partner who scored a hit with One Midtown Kitchen, is opening another restaurant, Two Urban Licks, on Ralph McGill Boulevard. Most important, he has hired talented chef Scott Serpas away from Mitra. ... Figo is opening a new location in Decatur.
Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.