Saltcellar as Symbol

A salt can be "an element that gives flavor or zest," but a new local restaurant chooses a different metaphor: "Throughout...

Co-owners Steve Rosen (chef) and Lisa Mandy-Rosen at Salts.

A salt can be "an element that gives flavor or zest," but a new local restaurant chooses a different metaphor: "Throughout history, the offer of salt has been regarded as the offer of hospitality," its menu declares. This warm and welcoming bistro, nestled into a restaurant-dense block outside Central Square in Cambridge, acts out that motto with great charm.

SALTS

798 Main Street, Cambridge
617-876-8444
Dinner only.
Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30 P.M. to 10 P.M.
Sunday, 5:30 P.M. to 9 P.M.

Salts' dining room is cozily small, seating 45 at 17 tables. Even when the place is full, it is quiet enough for relaxed conversation. There's a hardwood floor, black wooden Windsor chairs, and a signature black saltcellar on each table. The effect is one of elegant simplicity.

In contrast, the food embodies, well, elegant complexity. Salts' seasonally inspired menu offers subtle, intoxicating combinations of flavors and textures in the New American mode with eastern European influences. Take the slow-roasted veal and truffle sausage. Reminiscent of a French boudin blanc, it contrasted nicely with its bed of frisée and brandied apples. Pierogi--Slavic dumplings--arrived scallop-shaped and cooked to perfection. A stuffing of sage, farmer's cheese, caramelized onions, and cabbage did not overwhelm the subtle sauce built on creamed butternut squash purée and a cider and sage reduction.

Red lentil and smoked paprika soup included small dumplings of white lentils and roasted garlic for a textural contrast soup rarely provides. Then a lamb's lettuce salad, topped by a cylinder of fresh Maine crab with sherried mayonnaise that resembled a toy-soldier's shako, showed witty presentational flair.

The entrée of roasted eggplant and ricotta pie assigned most of its flavor message to sweet red peppers and the pungent, robust Kalamata olives. Grilled Maine salmon--a generously thick cut-- with creamed leeks and a smoked bacon vinaigrette became a robust winter meal. Supporting players included Yukon Gold potatoes and baby carrots.

Our wines by the glass all proved satisfactory, if unsurprising. Had we wanted a bottle, we could have chosen options from four continents at prices from $24 to $76. For dessert, we split a warm apple tart whose Fuji apples had not, thank God, been baked into submission; the huge portion came drizzled with sinful caramel sauce. Dinner at Salts will run about $50 per person, unless there are true gluttons or guzzlers in attendance.

Among the evening's delights was our waitress, a Boston University student who was knowledgeable without being pretentious, attentive yet not intrusive. The restaurant reflects the same attributes: the food is sophisticated, but there is nothing aloof about Salts. This friendliness may be traceable to the motto and the owners, Lisa Mandy-Rosen and her husband, chef Steve Rosen, who was designated "best new chef" for 1999 by Food & Wine magazine. But if this is a Mom-and-Pop place, it's one in the tradition of Julia and Paul Child.

~ C.L.

Read more articles by: Craig Lambert

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