Salt and Pepper, Palisades

What a wonderful surprise this new restaurant is. It was a gorgeous, sunny evening, so my young dining companion and I grabbed a couple of seats on the patio. He, with his usual Diet Coke ($3, refilled without asking (from an actual can)); me, with one of Salt and Pepper’s two wines “on draft,” the 2010 Gotham Project Riesling ($6), varietally correct with decent acidity, and a really fun wine to drink – especially at the price (with generous pours). A lot of people are talking about the Prosecco on tap at Graffiato, but I’m much more impressed with the draft wines at Salt and Pepper.

Our enthusiastic server recommended the Cheesy Rice Fritters ($7), and I have to admit that from the name, I wasn’t expecting much. But these were surprisingly good (arancini in everything but name) with a pale green color inside that had me wondering if they had a tinge of pesto. Nope, my server told me – the green comes from adding a bit of ramp puree!

With my confidence in this restaurant ratcheted up, we waited for our entrees, and were delighted with both: all-American plates of Buttermilk Brined Fried Chicken ($16) and American Wagyu Meatloaf ($18).  Salt and Pepper’s fried chicken is one of the best you’ll find in the area, with a simple batter that has something many other simple batters lack – flavor. It comes served with braised greens and a truly good mac & cheese, presented in its own cast iron skillet. Even if you don’t get the chicken, do consider getting the mac & cheese as a $6 side order. The meatloaf is delicious, correctly seasoned, and served on top of real whipped potatoes with mushroom gravy and green beans. These two dishes were Sunday dinner at grandma’s, with the notable difference that they were great plates of food. Even though they’re the two least expensive entrees here, you should not hesitate to order either one.

And now it’s time to play Guess The Dessert, and your objective is to guess which one my fourteen-year-old dining companion got, and which one I got. Your choices are: 1) Plum Tart ($7) with plum sorbet, and 2) Chocolate Brownie Sundae ($7) with vanilla ice cream. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner.

Our server rattled off at least ten desserts – I lost track of how many there were – and when she was finished, I asked her how many were made in-house, figuring there was no way they could handle all of them. “All of them,” she said. The plum tart was lovely and refined, but acidic enough to almost be considered savory instead of sweet, and clashed with the decadent, gooey homemade brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and freshly whipped cream. They were both great in their own way, but sometimes you covet your tablemate’s goods (even though thou should not), and that was the case here. A perfect ending to a start-to-finish great meal without a single flaw. And we even got a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookies with the check.

After my first visit to Salt and Pepper, I had dinner at a very highly hyped new Italian restaurant that opened in the area. That dinner was such a let-down that I felt badly for the restaurant (although I’m not sure why since it’s the hottest place in town right now). The meal was so disappointing that, even though I desperately wanted to return to Salt and Pepper, I instead went back for a second round of punishment. After the second dinner (which was every bit as disappointing as the first), I was driving home, and remember thinking to myself, “Forgive me, Salt and Pepper.”

And so, the very next night, I went back to Salt and Pepper, and took a seat at the bar, noticing that the restaurant is attracting a slightly older clientele (it is, after all, a neighborhood restaurant in Palisades), and also thinking that it will be putting downward price pressure on Et Voila! across the street.

I started with another glass of draft wine, the same 2010 Gotham Project Riesling ($6) thinking it would pair well with a Caramelized Onion and Pepper Tart ($8) with farmhouse cheddar, whiskey and beer glaze (it didn’t, because it had a touch too much residual sugar – this tart would have done better with a slightly drier white). The tart itself was a single-serving round, with an almost shortbread crust which complemented the mild cheddar and onions beautifully. Eight dollars for this is priced about right, and I can recommend it.

One funny thing about that glass of wine: my bartender put the glass under the tap, turned it on and got distracted, then walked away only to discover a couple of minutes later that the tap had been spewing out wine the entire time (I didn’t notice this until it was too late, or I would have said something – but it was funny to see their reactions).

Next up was the other draft wine they had, the 2010 Charles and Charles Rosé ($7) from Washington state, an equally worthy wine, and a good pairing with my entree of 2nd Place Crab Cakes ($25, never did find out where they got the name) with cherry tomatoes (*), creamy grits, pickled ramps, and mustard butter. (*) And in the interest of fairness and balance, the tomatoes at Graffiato are leagues better than these.

There was precious little lump crab meat in these cakes which I think seems appropriate given that it’s a “dark meat” presentation, although I can understand where people may balk at this.

After my crab cakes, I continued my progression with a cup of Salt and Pepper Chili ($5) with poblano chilis, angus beef (they offer American wagyu for a $3 supplement), heirloom beans, and northern cornbread, paired with a 2007 Andrew Rich “Tabula Rasa” ($8) because it was the oldest by-the-glass red on the list. The nose of the wine was extremely dusty, smelling like an old attic, but it was fine on the palate – it’s a Rhone blend and went very well with the chili. The cornbread was very crumbly, and I ended up just crumbling it into my chili (a good call) which was spewing out steam from a room-temperature bowl.

Sorry, Matt, but this time I had the Chocolate Brownie Sundae ($7) all to myself. This is a tin-roof preparation with peanuts, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh whipped cream, and even a maraschino cherry on top, but there’s also some fresh mint (which I love with chocolate). On this evening, the bartender only rattled off about five homemade desserts.

I left stuffed, happy, and confident that Salt and Pepper was the best new restaurant I’d been to this week (and I’d been to three).

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