I passed it during the day after checking out SF Camerawork – an unassuming brick building, formerly a warehouse or something like that, with subtle signage that says “too hip for the likes of you” while reading simply, “salt house.” Was it really a salt house? What is a salt house anyway? Could somebody who likes salt as much as I possibly pass this up? Especially after the morning’s flyover of salt ponds? I made a note and resolved to return in the evening.
At 9pm on a Wednesday, salt house (they use e. e. cummmings’ capitalization – or more likely, k. d. lang’s – in the name) was packed. It seemed a little late for the after-work crowd but maybe people work late here, or just go for a drink after work and linger. Lots of business casual and not so casual, and a few poor souls who were still wearing their company logo gear after a trade show. True to its warehousy heritage, Salt House is all exposed brick and weathered metal and wood. Way too dark to photograph without flash. There’s a loft space in the front and double-high ceilings in the back, lit by fixtures made from postcard racks with 4×6 bits of wood in the slots. In addition to regular tables, there’s a small bar and a long but narrow communal table that reminds me a bit of the one at Toro in Boston. I found a spot at the group table.
I immediately got a 3-segment pain d’epi (that French bread that looks a bit like a stalk of wheat where you tear off individual rolls) served on a sheet of butcher paper, and after asking, a milk bottle of tap water. The wine list divides the universe into reds and whites by new world and old world. Being in California, I chose a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Silver Palm on the new world’s North coast. It was extra purple with a big plum cherry currant thing happening, a little spicy at the end. Delicious.
The dinner menu was on the brief side with seven entrees and a dozen or so small plates. Keeping it light since I intended further grazing, I ordered white corn soup with aleppo chile and crispy scallions and heirloom tomatoes with garlic croutons and balsamic.
The soup arrived first with dire warnings about the plate temperature. It was a bisque with a small pile of whole kernels and fried zucchini flowers in the middle. No sign of the scallions, but there were a few swirls of chile oil to keep things interesting. The white corn was smooth and sweet, and the flowers perfectly done with just a bit of crunch, and the chile oil wasn’t overpowering. I had to slap away an attempt at premature bussing as I reached for some bread to mop with.
I’m almost never disappointed by a nice plate of tomatoes, but I have to say my heart sank when I saw this one. It was huge. I was hoping to have room for a third dish (peaches with bacon and pistachios, marinated yellowtail, and poutine were all on deck in my mind) or even dessert. And it was tasty enough that I ate nearly all of it anyway. Big chunks of red and yellow tomatoes were heaped in the center with the croûtons under a layer of microgreens and some shaved cheese on top and pools of oils and vinegar all around. The thoughtful waitress brought salt and pepper. The tomatoes were meaty and sweet, working well with the cheese and greens. The croûtons had gotten soaked in balsamic, and I’m not that big a fan of overbalsamified things, but it all worked together well. I did add salt, but not that much. it was sea salt from a grinder, but nothing special, salt-wise.
Definitely worth a return to check out the entrees and desserts.