Hotel Palomar, 1047 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Pity about Saltbox at the Hotel Palomar. The place used to have something going for it when Simon Dolinky wore the big hat in the kitchen. His dishes weren’t always mind blowing, but they had character and made the menu stand out. That’s no mean feat for a downtown hotel restaurant. The dining room upstairs had a subtle charm, too.
All that is gone. The management saw fit to shut down the upstairs dining room, though the tables and chairs remain in place for some reason. The clamorous downstairs lounge remains. The most exceptional thing at the restaurant, in terms of food or decor, is the architectural wonder of the unisex bathroom.
Dolinky has left the kitchen, and his replacement, Jeremiah Bryant, has dumbed the menu way down. There’s no point in crucifying Bryant, who boasts a reasonable resumé. He’s just trying to broaden the appeal of a restaurant that’s struggled under numerous names and numerous chefs.
But, $15 huaraches as a starter? Might as well go to Ponce’s.
Just-OK pretzels for $6? At least they come with a funky truffle honey to captivate diners attention for all of 15 seconds.
Look at the main dishes: Grilled salmon with asparagus. Braised short ribs. Mushroom risotto. Expensive burgers.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these dishes, but they’re unspecial in every way, and that’s a tragedy considering the novelties of the old menu.
To make matters worse, the kitchen’s only attempt to innovate fails epically. The chicken and waffles dish is unworthy of the name. Molé sauce soaks into the chunky waffle, creating something mushy and unpalatable. The uncomplicated allure of fried chicken gives way to a roasted half-bird, which does nothing but fade into obscurity. And how should it be plated, anyways?
Look at photos from Saltbox’s Facebook page, where the chicken perches delicately atop half a waffle as jicama slaw cascades across the plate and sauce pools gently to the side.
Look at the dish as given to Food and Beverage Magazine for a friendly article about Bryant as a “culinary cutthroat.” The ¾ waffle seems drenched in sauce, as does the chicken.
In all fairness, the chicken and waffles is the only outright Bad Idea on the menu. Nobody could be lured to his death over this! The rest is just very...average, and dinner for two is no longer worth $100.
Sorry, Saltbox, but you’re doing it wrong.