SalÉ

297 Lafayette Street
MARCH 25, 2013

 

KEYWORDS: SODIUM CHLORIDE RAYGUN!

 

At Salé, salt is nowhere to be found in the food, nor can you find it in a the familiar little container on the dining table. That's because the dining table, and plates, and chairs, are actually made of salt itself.

It’s a bit more colorful than you would think, with the plates alternating in gray and red salts, the table a sparkling white sea salt, but the ambience is still more akin to a supervillain's lair than a restaurant, without the computers and the thugs.

“I'm scared,” said the fashionable couple next to me, after reading a menu that listed more facts about salt than you would think imaginable, in a tiny all-caps typeface:

SALT IS A PRESERVATIVE A FORMER ROMAN CURRENCY A PART OF YOUR BODY AN IDEAL A SPICE A CONCEPT IT IS IN YOUR TEARS AND IN YOUR FOOD AND SO FORTH

If this was the kind of chipper nonsense that you found printed on a mylar bag of gummi bears, it might not seem so ominous. But the words themselves are printed in salt, using a printing process I'd rather not know about.

Still, great food is generally the best justification for this kind of hokum. The problem is that the food itself is scarce and strangely undercooked, as if it were an afterthought. Nearly raw fish, lightly steamed chard, chestnuts, razor clams, ginko nuts, radishes. They all go well with salt (what doesn't?) but none of them are really mouth-watering.

Speaking of water, it is in short supply, which cannot be an accident.

The creeped-out couple had actually given up on eating their meal and had asked for the check when suddenly Salé's proprietor, a tall man with shockingly white hair, wearing his white chef's uniform, mirrored sunglasses, and leather gloves emerged from the kitchen, studying them. “The salt is not to your licking—err, liking?” he asked, his voice a coarse whisper.

“We loved it!” they said while bolting for the door.

He pointed to a salt pillar that ornamented a small alcove, and in a coarse, cold voice, whispered, “Do not look back,” and then sat across from me, not speaking, while I could see myself in his mirrored sunglasses. Which he was wearing at 8 P.M.

I imagined him telling me something terrifying, such as finding his father preserved in a salt mine, or perhaps outlining his plan to turn Manhattan into a salt city, but he said nothing. I imagined him telling me that his favorite episode of Star Trek was the one where the shape-shifting monster would leach all the flesh and bones from its victims and leave a pile of salt. That did not happen.

It’s at this point that I realized that I was being a bit unkind in my impressions of this gentleman sitting right across from me at a table made of glittering salt. I decided to try and make conversation:

“Have you ever seen salt under an electron microscope?” I asked. Because that, my friends, is an easy icebreaker.

“Beautiful,” he said. And then, silence. I decided to ask for the check.

After returning home, thoroughly confused, I placed my salt shaker in the back of the cabinet and vowed not to think about it for a few days — but I have not been able to stop. I have tried reading the compelete Wikipedia entry on salt many times. And I've come to the conclusion that what I visited wasn't so much a restaurant as it was a salt exhibit at a salt museum.

I don't think Salé's proprietor is building a sodium chloride raygun. I don’t think he’s planning on returning to his salty planet. I think Monsieur Salé, much like the mineral itself, does not really care about opinions of his restaurant, positive or negative, because he knows that what he is offering is not a haute cusine, but something so omnipresent in our terresterial lives that we barely pay any attention to it.

 

 

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