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Salt House

Hot off the Printing Press

The guys behind Town Hall and Postrio have done it again. Located in a 1930s printing house, the 75-seat Salt House is a tall, warm space with a lived-in feel, despite its recent opening in October 2006. Notorious for excellent service and haute foodie cuisine respectively, GM Doug Washington and chefs Steven and Mitchell Rosenthal have given the historic building at Mission and 2nd a facelift, providing San Francisco with another solid option for high-end casual dining.

High, picture-frame windows shelved with slabs of marble span the half-exposed, half-painted brick walls. High ceilings are punctuated with round, wood-paneled light fixtures made from cylindrical postcard racks, while rustic wood floors extend from the small front bar to the exposed kitchen in the rear.

Great care has obviously been given to every detail of the interior; from butcher block tabletops set as dining tables to the letter printing stamp presented as a weight for your check. The only drawback is the lack of sound absorption that forced us to listen to the soul-less conversation of the suits sitting at the next table.

The menu is concise and gives seafood the starring role. Shellfish selections change daily depending on whatís fresh. On a recent visit, we couldnít resist indulging on the shellfish plateau (small $42, large $72), a platter of three types of raw oysters selected by the chef, accompanied by poached shrimp, clams and mussels. Shaved horseradish, lemon wedges, and a duo of mignonette and cocktail sauces are served for dressing. Well worth its price, the platter could easily replace a main course.

A praiseworthy signature dish, the crispy shrimp ($13) were lightly battered and fried, then served over a bed of spicy green beans tossed with Serrano ham and seasoned almonds. A drizzle of the harissa-based sauce took this dish over the top. The flavors and textures played off of one other beautifully.
On a separate visit, the luscious, housemade boudin blanc sausage ($11), served with braised red cabbage and grain mustard, showed itself to be one of the most compelling starters in town.

Entrees are also thoughtfully orchestrated. The pan-fried atlantic monkfish ($26) is given a rich, satisfying complexity when matched with caramelized endive and veal cheeks. Muscovy duck leg confit ($21) is another crowd pleaser, nicely accented with quince and wild huckleberries -- fruits with just enough of an acid highlight to cut the sweetness of the meat.

Desserts donít jump off the page, but the lemon pudding cake ($8) is impressive, topped with a dollop of lime meringue and dressed with a huckleberry sauce. The moist pudding consistency is given just a hint of form to allow it to set. Not only is the huckleberry sauce a pretty visual contrast to the little bit of sunshine on the plate, but it brings some balance to the tartness of the lemon and lime as well.

Wines are organized by style and are moderately priced. Itís charming to see interesting varietals on the wine list in addition to the ubiquitous Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet. We were impressed in particular with a Ribolla from Movia, a Slovenia boutique winery ($40), and a very special Cinsault blend from Chateau Musar in Lebanon ($85). Keg blends of house white and red are served on tap, contributing to the air of grown-up fun that pervades Salt House.

Cocktails are equally intriguing. Two standouts include the Ginger Snap -- a mix of Ketel One vodka, cointreau, and Ginger-Cinnamon ($8) and the Cumbersome -- a muddle, shaken mix of Hendrickís Gin, English cucumber and basil ($9).

Service is knowledgeable, attentive, and mindful while relaxed and congenial; servers are aware of timing for each course and check in periodically without being pesky.

With formidable food, service and charm, Salt House is an ace addition to the cityís food scene. Itís casual enough to roll up for cocktails and starters at the bar, fun enough for a group of friends, and serious enough for a date or business meal. However, due to the askew acoustics, youíd better be ready to shout at your dining companions when the place is running at full tilt.


Reservations Essential? Yes.