Salut! at Prospect Place is becoming the toast of the Heights, if business at mid-week lunch and dinner is any indication. The Christmas-tree-light bedecked patio, slate-paved and surrounded by trees, may be one reason. The glass-walled cool interior, which features a long bar and bright paintings against faux-marble yellow walls, may be another. The location, on the first floor of the Prospect Building and surrounded by easy parking, another.
Ambiance is a huge part of the appeal of Salut. Fortunately, the food’s good too.
Chris Tanner of Cheers in the Heights, Dave Bisceglia of Dave & Ray’s and chef Matthew Ratcliff of New Orleans are the brains behind Salut, and they’ve come up with menu items that are pleasantly quirky: Rosemary barbecued shrimp on seared polenta, gnocchi in a cream sauce with asparagus and red onion, and amberjack in a cream sauce that included corn are three we tried. There are short ribs with braised fennel, short ribs ravioli and Low Country shrimp and grits.
We had a too quirky dessert, but more about that later.
From start to finish, here we go:
The house salad: One companion was just back from the culinary paradise of San Francisco and still she decided that the Roquefort dressing on the salad of spinach, baby lettuces, cucumbers and kalamata olives was the best she’s ever had. Our vinaigrette was superb (but maybe a tad sweet for some) and the big square cubes of thick bread that stood in for croutons, soaking up all that olive oil, were delicious. We left behind the tomato, prompting our server, his brow creased, to assure us they were grown in Arkansas and free of salmonella. We explained we weren’t fearful he was trying to poison us. We just prefer eating tomatoes to shipping tomatoes.
If you love gnocchi, you’ll love Salut’s creamy, garlicky sauce. The menu says the sauce is “truffle-scented,” which is just short of actually containing truffles, and because we don’t have pig snouts the scent passed us by. While good, it was the least exceptional of the meals, but that’s probably because potato dough will never make anyone hot and bothered.
The entrees: The amberjack, the day’s fish special, was delicious, cooked expertly and not overpowered by the corn-cream sauce. Our other companion went the comfort-food route, choosing meatloaf with herbed tomato sauce. On the side were roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus, a combination we laud.
The menu also offers “small plates,” which are more like tiny meals than appetizers. We love barbecued shrimp and we loved Salut’s.
Now about that weird dessert. Someone was trying a leetle too hard, whomping up what was called a lemon tart and then dousing it with a basil-infused simple sugar. The result was an egg-yellow cylinder in the middle of a deep green pool. The basil-sugar concoction was … interesting. Not bad, but … . The tart, which should have been the saving grace, was neither tart nor sweet. Someone left the sugar out of the eggs. Perhaps the basil-sugar was meant to substitute. When we could no longer make excuses for the dessert, the green began to look like pond scum and we quit on it.
But then Salut made up for it with a flourless chocolate cake with a swirl of raspberry coulis, an intense chocolate experience. The homemade banana puddin’ — the server made sure we knew they called it puddin’ — was good, not great. It was a little too cold, which slightly inhibited the banana taste. It did have vanilla wafers in it, so that’s OK.
The wine list is short, but we had a great sauvignon blanc for $6. The wine glass isn’t as full as one gets other places, but the food servings are more than generous.
Salut may be the first occupant of the Prospect Building to make it since the late great Bella Italia. What made Bella Italia work was the reliability of its not-so-quirky and slightly less pricy dishes, like eggplant parmesan and spaghetti alfredo. A plain pasta dish without any bells and whistles might be a nice addition to Salut as well.
Salut! at Prospect Place
1501 N. University
All price ranges here: Entrees run from $12 to $23 and whatever the market price for fish is, the salmon salad is $10 and burgers are $6.
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Full bar, credit cards accepted.