I’m incredibly envious of “trendier” cities restaurant scenes. I dream of going to places such as Ludo Bites, with what look to be genuinely fun – food focused crowd. These dinners are not just meals but events, with the chef leading the entertainment.
I feared Pittsburgh would never see a spot like this; then I started hearing about Salt of the Earth. A new restaurant that was to come from chef Kevin Sousa. Sousa has bee in charge of some of Pittsburgh’s trendier spots, and hosted a set of guerilla/pop up dinners last year a la Ludo. I followed the blog, made note of the concept, and set my expectations incredibly high.
Were they met?
|Black Board Menu|
I invited my friend Katie to be my date for the evening. We made our reservations for 6 which is incredibly early for a restaurant that serves until 12 and is open until 1 a.m. As such we were probably some of the first diners in the restaurant.
We first asked for a tour from our waitress; she more than happily obliged and provided us with some background on the architectural aspects of the restaurant.
|Mezzanine Level (reservation only)|
With all the seating options available; we chose the first floor bar in front of the open kitchen so that we could be a part of the action. I should note that I absolutely love open kitchens, it adds another level to the performance when dining at such an establishment.
|Sousa and staff at the open kitchen bar|
Everything on the menu sounded great, but Kate and I (with the help of the very knowledgeable waitress) narrowed it down to 2 apps and 2 entrees.
|Sandwich – trout, quail egg, uni|
I saw Kevin tweet about his trouble finding uni earlier in the week. Seeing that he got it, I knew I had to try it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the description on the menu, but this was indeed a sandwich in the traditional sense. The trout was cooked perfectly, a nice crust with a moist interior. Complimented by a perfectly fried quail egg; crsip white, runny yolk. The fish sat above a small bed of a sweet slaw with a tiny bit of spice from the addition of sliced jalapeno. The uni was actually an alioli of sorts which may be in my top 3 sauces of all time. I think I may have stolen the bottle had no one been looking. I generally prefer breads with a bit more of a crust, but here the soft brioche played well to contrast the char of the trout. Fantastic way to start the meal
|Octopus – chorizo, potato, epazote|
This was a favorite of our waitress’, and I can see why. The natural chew of the octopus was contrasted by another fantastic crisping of the outer portion. The chorizo was spicy and had the great snap quality that one looks for in a sausage. The diced potatoes added a wholesome feel, and great texture. There was a definite spice to the dish but it never became uncomfortable.
|Pork Belly – pretzel, cabbage, sarsparilla|
This may be the least eye popping photo, but I think it may have been the strongest dish of the night. This was supposed to be Katie’s, but luckily for me she became sated quite quickly and I had to finish it.
The pork belly was marinated overnight, paired with the sarsparilla sauce it had just the right amount of sweetness. The pork belly itself was like all the other main proteins of the night, perfectly crusted yielding to a tender inner layer. There were a few bits that were just too fatty, but hey it’s pork belly. The pork rinds on top also had a fantastic flavor, almost a caramel like note. The cabbage slaw was a great addition to lighten up such a heavy dish. All of this sat above a bed of pretzel polenta, which I have to recommend everyone try. It had a flavor that I couldn’t quite place, so I won’t try, but I wish it were offered as a side on the menu: incredible.
|Scallops – brussel sprouts kim chi, rice cakes|
Starting again with the protein portion, these scallops were perfectly cooked. I overheard Kevin tell his sous chef that unless otherwise requested, all scallops were to be done medium rare to rare, these were the the definition of that preparation, with that familiar crust. The brussels kim chi added a nice texture to go alongside, and the spicy Korean sauce, similar to the octopus app provided heat but it never became overbearing. The rice cakes were actually little balls of glutinous rice. The consistency was reminiscent of mochi; a really fun and tasty component.
Beyond the incredible food, I have to say this was one of the best restaurant staffs I’ve come across. Our waitress was knowledgeable about all the items and was able to tell us about the dishes without prompting. From observing the open kitchen one can see that Sousa leads the kitchen firmly and efficiently, but doesn’t take himself too seriously to have a bit of fun. I noted the Chef talking about his techniques for the various dishes throughout the night, all the while participating in some banter and even having time to pause for a few photos with the delivery man bringing in fresh mushrooms. The staff looks to genuinely be enjoying themselves as they work.
The spot is great, the food is better, and the overall feel is fun.
Were my expectations met? Exceeded.