Saltbox Gastro Lounge

| October 29, 2013 | 0 Comments


The chef de cuisine is Jeremiah Bryant.

The chef de cuisine is Jeremiah Bryant.

Young children often like to make up new words. So do adults. That’s how language grows. For example, take the Greek word for stomach, gaster. Add to it lounge. Put them together to get “gastro-lounge,” that emphasizes the stomach, serving high quality food.

Or, take the common words salt and box. Put them together and you get the word for a type of house that has historic significance for San Diego.

Put “saltbox” and “gastro-lounge” together and what do you get? You get the name of an excellent lounge in which to meet friends and enjoy wonderful cuisine.

Saltbox Gastro Lounge Restaurant is located on the edge of the Gaslamp, part of Hotel Palomar, down the block from House of Blues. A Kimpton property, the hotel’s image is one of hipness and sophistication. This carries over into Saltbox, which looks and feels like the type of sophisticated lounge one would expect to find in New York or San Francisco.

After coming in through the massive clear glass door, the interior is carefully lit to create a sense of intimacy – dark walls and dark high ceiling, large supporting pillars covered with gold lined ceramic and light waves bouncing off the glassware, bottles and mirror behind the bar. There are no low tables, only dark wood high tables in front of comfortable high level leather stools. This is, after all, a lounge. The venue is small and can fill up quickly. So, no reservations are taken.

The chef de cuisine, Jeremiah Bryant, may be familiar. He came to San Diego after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland and has worked at numerous local restaurants, including such prominent venues as El Bizcocho and Delicias. Over the years, he has put together a team of assistants “on the line” with him in his kitchen whom he trusts to put out consistently quality dishes incorporating his culinary ideas. Collaboratively as a team, they even work together to create dishes.

Bryant wants to take familiar foods and present them in novel and perhaps more tasty ways. For example, he takes the common one-half chicken dish but covers the chicken with mole to give it flavor and spice, then places it onto waffles made with roasted corn and poblano. The result is delicious. Or, try the traditional pot roast consisting of a braised short rib in a savory pan jus.

The new menu Bryant just introduced for the winter is short. But it includes all the main categories — munchies, greens and grains, flatbreads and mains. The munchies – appetizers – are creative. Homemade fried pickles are panko crusted, burrata fondue contains roasted poblano, hand cut fries are fabulous. My favorite are the shishito peppers – long, thin peppers served warm, beautifully plated and presented, together with a smoked paprika aoli that Is just tantalizing.

The flatbreads, today’s pizza replacement, are delicious carrying devices for excellent grilled vegetables or spicy chicken, among other choices.

Mains include seafood selections – salmon or a type of cioppino – 1855 steak frites and a house ground burger. Portions are nicely sized to be satisfying without overwhelming.

Bryant’s approach to his creations is farm to table. He uses local vendors to make sure that his ingredients are fresh and season. For his guests, that means that the flavors are robust and full. And, since we are so close to Mexico, many of his dishes add a south of the border taste.

Since this is also a lounge, drink selections are featured. They have been created by Jen Queen, a well known mixologist who has also created for many of the local popular bars. For Saltbox, she offers such concoctions as eyes wide with corallejo anejo, curacao and espresso, or z-pak with Famous Grouse, nectarine coulis and zinfandel. The Missouri mule, another of the signature drinks, came with bourbon, lime and angostura – a large drink served in a Kerry jar.

Desserts feature chocolate, in the form of a chocolate trio or flourless chocolate cake. If some of the dishes are spicy, homemade ice cream or sorbet are great ways to cool the palate.

If Chef Bryant’s dishes are pleasing, the recipes to several are available on the venue’s website.

Saltbox Gastro Lounge is a delightful place to relax, enjoy a drink, and meet with friends or watch the world go by. Prices are moderate. To me, the most expensive item was the cost of valet parking. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a happy hour with varying selections of reduced price offerings.

Saltbox is located at 1047 Fifth Avenue, between C and Broadway. Call (619) 515-3003 for information.

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