It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Yes, dear friends, this is a tale of two experiences, though not quite a tale of two restaurants like Chung Moo Ro was. I went to the same restaurant twice, and ordered just about all the same dishes, but with two very different groups of people, and had extremely different feelings. I’m trying not to call anyone out, but I suppose some people may feel unhappy about what I’m about to say… on the bright side, they don’t read my blog, so I doubt they’ll read this. And it’s not meant to be insulting: this is a record of how I felt after these two dinners.
When Salt & Fat opened in Sunnyside, Queens, I was ecstatic. Why? Because salt & fat are two of my favorite things to eat, and because Queens is finally stepping up the game in terms of restaurants. It’s only a short drive from where I live (but annoyingly, two subways), so my friends and I headed over there on the Wednesday after they’d opened. The fifth day of service for the restaurant – something I consider a gamble, because most restaurants need a month or so to work out the kinks, get the staff trained properly and just to get in the groove. I was really excited to try it though, so I pushed aside these concerns and met up with my friends, one of whom lives in Manhattan and wanted to try it, along with two who live in Queens (though one very far away). These friends I’ve eaten with many times over the years, but I will refrain from using their standard nicknames for privacy reasons.
As I sat down, a bag of bacon popcorn was placed on the table for us. The smiling server informed us what it was, then scurried off to wait on some other tables. While we were seated immediately, the place quickly filled up and was pretty busy the rest of the night. I don’t recall why I didn’t try any of this, but I know there were comments about the popcorn not being bacon-y enough. I thought it was a nice and interesting alternative to bread or an amuse. Something different.
After a few minutes’ discussion, we decided to order a slew of dishes and share everything. First up: scallops with roasted carrot puree and truffled golden beets. The immediate concern here was that as a table of four girls, there were three scallops… requiring a bit of creative sharing. Not that big
Next dish: Korean BBQ wraps, hanger steak, pickled daikon and seasoned miso. Again, there were three on the plate, and while these were a bit more difficult to split properly, really not that big of a deal… right? Well, no. The suggestion was raised that three is an odd number, and there should be an option to add another piece to the dish with a small surcharge for another one. Hm.
Another dish: “crack” & cheese, fried potato gnocchi, cheese bechamel and bacon, was slightly better received. Or at least, I don’t recall any specific complaints about this dish (though this was back in late March that we went); this may have been the point in the night when everyone at my table began complaining about the lights. You see, the light switch is right in front of the hostess stand, so throughout the night, people came in to talk to the hostess, leaned up against the wall and inadvertently flicked the light on, then off. Yes, it was annoying, and our heads started to hurt a little from it. But it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault; they were open literally for 5 days at this point, and needed to figure out a way to prevent this (a plastic box over it, perhaps?). Give them time to figure out the glitches.
Yet another dish with only three pieces: braised pork belly tacos, pico de gallo, kimchi salsa, queso fresco. More complaints about there being only three pieces, and the option to add another piece should be available.
And our last savory dish, oxtail terrine, caramelized onion puree and roasted mushrooms.
The only dish I didn’t want to order; my vote was for fried chicken. I don’t believe anyone at the table enjoyed this dish: it looked like chocolate cake and while completely tender – a fork pushed in easily removed a chunk – it was deemed fairly bland. I jealously watched fried chicken being eaten at other tables.
Dessert; a blurry photo of their house-made ice creams and sorbets, quickly melting.
Lychee panna cotta with yuzu buttermilk sorbet.
After the meal ended and we’d all exited the restaurant, my friends complained once more about the lighting situation, the food coming in trios, and then – despite appearing to enjoy the food itself throughout the meal – said they would not return. “With a name like Salt & Fat, I expect to eat salty and fatty food,” one said. “I expect to leave full of both those things!” I tried to explain that it was the 5th day they’d been open, and some issues (specifically, the lights) would be resolved shortly, but no one wanted to hear it. Later in the evening, when we’d all returned home and other friends asked us how it was, the response was “don’t bother visiting from Manhattan,” and “I won’t be returning.” I offered my opinion but it was dismissed.
A little over a month later, searching for a place to dine with new blogger friends, I suggested Salt & Fat. I realized too late that I was the only Queens-dweller and was a little nervous. After all, my friends had all but hated the place, and while I thought the food was good, had all the kinks been worked out since that first visit? But the name caught interest and everyone agreed, so on a Friday night in June, Ken of Hungry Rabbit NYC, Andrea of High/Low Food/Drink, Jackie of Diva That Ate NY, Siobhan of Blondie & Brownie and I gathered to eat our way through the menu.
After much discussion, we picked out just about the whole menu, and eagerly awaited the arrival of our dishes.
Our first course, the pork belly tacos, were about the size of my palm, a few inches across. Crisp shells housed strips of fatty pork belly; I could see the gelatinous blobs when I picked up my taco. Excited, I bit into the edge, and was immediately rewarded with the crack of the shell as my teeth broke through it, and then the meltingly tender flavor of pork belly fat. The pico de gallo accented the flavor, and the acidity of the pickled jalapeno did well to cut through the fat to reduce the feeling that I was just eating globs of fat – not that I would have minded, but at some point, my mind rebels against the idea of eating straight fat.
No one complained about there being only three tacos, though we were five strong. Splitting was handled neatly, once the photos were done being taken 😉
The next dish, crack & cheese, was no less delicious than the first time… perhaps even more so, as the portion of bacon was extra generous. Each fluffy piece of gnocchi – something I don’t normally enjoy – was deep fried, giving it a crisp shell to bite through, while covered in the cheesy bechamel. There was practically enough bacon to have a piece of bacon with each piece of gnocchi; this was a most excellent dish. I believe I wound up being the one to finish it, digging through the cheese for that last piece of gnocchi… delicious.
Yellowtail with Italian speck, pickled jalapenos and citrus was a light, refreshing and bright dish – reminded me of a similar dish at danny brown wine bar – but given the name of the restaurant and the nature of the other dishes, this one didn’t stand a chance. My palate was obliterated by the fat in the other dishes, and this light dish was quickly left in the dust; that isn’t to say it didn’t taste good, it just wasn’t a stand out among the rest.
Meatballs, with a spicy tomato sauce and basil, were almost as good as my own – and those are high honors I bestow. Soft without being mushy, meaty without being dense and impossible to eat, these were great. The bread was great swiped through the sauce, and we politely ‘fought’ over the pieces.
Once again, the Korean BBQ wraps, which I thoroughly enjoyed – the crispy shallots on top imparted textural contrast, an oniony taste, while the meat was soft and juicy. I even thought of these while I made my first bulgogi lettuce wraps a few months later.
The oxtail terrine this time, though it looked much the same, fared much better taste-wise. Nothing bland here; the meat was tender and had the salt I’d thought it lacked the previous time. This was quickly polished off as well.
Hampshire pulled pork sliders, Sriracha BBQ sauce and pickles, came three to a plate, but no one was complaining about that. We’d gotten splitting down to a science by this point – and easily offered up the extra halves to whomever liked. I find this remarkable because some of us had only met each other once or twice before (mostly me), whereas I’ve known my other friends for literally years upon years.
The puffy bread soaked up the fat from the pulled pork easily, while the pickles added a nice crunch. I didn’t taste much Sriracha (I’m fairly a wuss when it comes to spicy food), but that is no negative in my book. I loved the play of flavors here: fatty meat, soft (and by definition, this type of bread is meant to be super bland) bread, crunchy pickles – the perfect bite. I think this may have been the piece I decided I wanted an ‘extra’ half… very tasty, and I may just try to replicate these.
Prince Edward Island Mussels, Thai oyster sauce and Chinese sausage: mussels tend to be lost on me, as I’m not a huge fan. I do know that I ate more than one, which speaks volumes, and I believe someone said the sauce was fabulous.
Scallops fared better this time around as well: we were all enamored of the swipe of carrot puree, and the sweet golden beets underneath the scallops were amazing (though truffle is not a flavor I detected). The scallops themselves were expertly cooked, though I could happily have sat there with a piece of good bread eating the carrot puree and truffled golden beets. (Sorry for the distant photo; I was at one end of the table and I didn’t want to keep moving all the plates to get close ups.)
And… finally… the fried chicken, with herb ranch. Oh my, this was a juicy bird, and that ranch was incredibly flavorful – would love to get my hands on that recipe. Well, for everything, really; I’ll make, I mean, ask, someone else to fry the chicken for me 😉 But the chicken itself was fried expertly, super moist meat, and just lovely, lovely. It didn’t need the dipping sauce, but that herb ranch was fantastic. I would happily dip many things in that and eat it, even things I don’t actually like!
Though we must have been stuffed to the gills by this point, we opted to order the entire dessert menu (it’s only three items!). Rice Krispies Treats, which were fairly standard, but served with… marshmallow ice cream. Oh my! This was rather tasty. I mean, it tasted like if you took a big ball of fluff, and then somehow made it slightly creamier, and well, cold. I enjoyed it a lot, though the treat part was, well, a treat. A BIG one – two big ones! – but still.
Our sorbet/ice cream trio was quite interesting: jalapeno, Thai ice coffee and lychee. Jalapeno didn’t do it for me, though it didn’t taste like jalapenos, either, while the Thai ice coffee tasted much like its namesake. The lychee was quite refreshing, but honestly, aside from the marshmallow ice cream above, I was way more preoccupied with the next dish.
Yes, we’d had it last time, but the yuzu buttermilk sorbet captured my heart. Light, icy and citrussy all at the same time, I loved it. I was trying to share, but it was quite hard when this beautiful globe was in front of me, just begging me to finish it. Mmmmmm… Oh, the panna cotta was good, but I’m really picky with panna cotta and knew for sure I could make it better myself. So I focused on the yuzu buttermilk sorbet, which is not as accessible to me. So good. So refreshing. Ahhh…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I’m an optimist, and I vastly prefer positivity to negativity. While the food was nearly identical both times, the latter time was infinitely more enjoyable, as it was shared with people who wanted to like the food,… and then did. It really does go to show how subjective food is; though I constantly spend my time here telling you what was good, what wasn’t, I am fully aware that any one of you can visit a restaurant that I did, order the same exact things, and feel completely different from me. You could have a bad experience because of your mood, or your friend’s mood, or just not like the same things. I’m OK with that – I don’t claim to know what you will like without ever having met nor eaten with you. I would like you to read these, and take from the posts what you can, based on your own tastes and experiences… I hope that’s clear, that I hope to build a relationship with each and every one of my readers so they can understand where I come from and why I like or don’t like certain things.
Yvo says: Would I recommend Salt & Fat? Yes, heartily, and I already have. Understand that this second meal, with some alcohol and soft drinks tossed in, tax AND tip included, came to $35/person for 5 people, and we all left very happy and sated. It’s a block from the 7 train station (or across the street; I drove so I’m not entirely sure). If you like salt and fat, you will like this place. Go and check it out… you will not be disappointed.
very much recommended