Last night my friend and I dined at Salt House. Although it was both of our first times dining at this San Francisco gem, we had both been to the sister restaurants, Town Hall and Anchor & Hope (where I had previously dined on the most visually memorable dish of my lifetime: sea urchin and dungeness crab). Based on my experiences at those restaurants I had very high expectations for Salt House, which were met deliciously. Lucky for us, I know the hostess at Salt House so she hooked us up with a good seat in the back and let the waitress know that we were “VIP” – thanks, Kat!
I had decided to bring a bottle of wine to dinner the night before. It took me nearly a half hour of menu reading, winery web surfing, and food pairing research but I finally settled on a bottle that I had purchased this past weekend at BevMo under the suggestion of my father. He urged me to look for a South African Chenin Blanc, and I found and purchased Simonsig Chenin Blanc for a mere $11.99. I didn’t have that much exposure to South African Chenin Blanc (or Chenin Blanc in general), but based on what I had read about the grape I knew it would be the perfect fit for the majority of the menu options at Salt House – most of which consisted of seafood, soups, salads, chicken and a couple of read meat dishes. I figured if we stuck to the lighter stuff than this wine would go with just about anything we ate. And boy, was I right!
After Kat seated us at our VIP table, I told her to ask the waitress to bring an ice bucket for my wine. She quickly appeared with a bucket, added the wine, and went back for more ice. My friend and I let it cool as we sipped on our water and caught up on the latest in our lives. After about fifteen minutes of chatting, we decided it might be time to look at the menu.
We selected to share the crispy shrimp dish and wild arugula salad with blue cheese, English peas and Hazelnuts. She ordered the scallop dish as her entree and I ordered the Fulton Valley chicken with sausage and sunchoke puree. After we ordered we sampled the wine that I had brought (thankfully it was a screw top so I didn’t have to worry about any corkage issues). The wine had a bouquet of slight floral notes, but was outshined by the luscious tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and pear. The taste was crisp and fruity with a hint of honey. I immediately loved it and couldn’t wait to pair it with our meal.
The crispy shrimp arrived first (they split it on two plates for us – so VIP) and looked and tasted fantastic! The dish consisted of battered shrimp over green beans, Serrano ham and almonds with sprinklings of mint and parsley (or maybe it was cilantro?). The flavors blended perfectly with the Chenin Blanc, and the crunchy texture of the meal was a nice juxtaposition to the smooth, silky wine. I was midway through gobbling up my shrimp when the arugula salad arrived. Once I finished the crispy shrimp, I dug into half of the salad. It was very light with a citrus vinaigrette, and the hazelnuts added a nice sweetness to the salad that was juxtaposed to the soft, salty blue cheese. I was excited for the English peas in this dish, but I think they got somewhat lost in the fuss of all the other elements – or maybe my dining partner got more peas than me. The tropical fruit flavors in the Chenin Blanc complimented the sweet and salty flavors very delicately, and brought out a deeper complexity in the fruit of the wine.
Our entrees arrived about 10 minutes after they cleared our appetizers. I appreciated this break in the meal because we could savor the wine a bit, and let ourselves get hungry for more food. I hate when restaurants rush the courses and try to get you out the door to seat someone else. Salt House was so relaxed and the service was so smooth and attentive, that I didn’t even notice we had been there for over two hours by the time we left!
I used to be weary about ordering chicken at restaurants, because I felt like I was missing out on something more exciting. However, the Fulton Valley chicken at Salt House was the second best chicken dish I have had in San Francisco (any San Francisco foodie knows that the roasted chicken for two from Zuni Cafe is the best in the city. Order it as soon as you sit down, as it takes about an hour to cook). The chicken was presented in six 1-inch slices over a blend of sausage, Chinese broccoli, and sunchoke puree with a delicious brown sauce spread on the side of the plate. I wish I took a photo! Initially, I was a little concerned about the size of the dish but of course I ended up practically licking my plate clean (after I gave a hefty portion to my dining partner). As I expected, the wine paired perfectly with the juicy chicken and spicy sausage. I also tried a bit of my friend’s scallop dish. The shellfish was cooked perfectly in a rich puree, that also would have been suitable for a Chardonnay or Sancerre.
We finished off our meal with a bit of mason jar cheesecake with pomegranate and a crumble – the perfect way to end the meal. The pomegranate brought out new flavors in the Chenin Blanc, such as peach and nectarine.
Overall, the meal was quite delicious and I would definitely recommend this restaurant to someone looking for a place to dine close to the financial district. I would also recommend their other two restaurants: Anchor & Hope for some of the best seafood dishes in San Francisco, and Town Hall for a fancy lunch date with clients (don’t forget to order the pot de creme).
I will most certainly go back to BevMo and pick up several bottles of the Simonsig Chenin Blanc, and I won’t have to worry about breaking the bank! But who am I kidding? There is no doubt that most of my spending money goes to wine. I consider it an investment.