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The spring menu at Saltbox showed me a few things, chiefly that executive chef Simon Dolinky is a smart guy. I say so because he seems to think outside the box with his dishes. Not in a wild, Wylie Dufresne kind of way. It’s not like they’re firing up the anti-griddle at Saltbox. But a lot of the flavors on the newest menu at the restaurant are more clever than I expected.

Take the hamachi crudo ($16), for instance. At first glance, it’s yet another fish tartare. But the mixture of vanilla, olives, and fresh citrus that trimmed the dish beguiled me. My friend called it “complicated,” and he was right. It was also unexpected, subtle, and showed a great deal of lateral thought, melding that uncommon trio of flavors together.

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More conventional cheese and charcuterie plates ($16-$18) showed that Saltbox’s kitchen is more than capable of curing meats and procuring cheeses. The lomo (dried pork loin) was of particular interest, being a meat you don’t see on every menu. Perhaps most intriguing were the green almonds that came on the cheese plate. You don’t see these very often. They’re unripe almonds, picked before maturation and split open for easy access. The nutmeat inside is like an almond crossed with a lychee. Very cool.

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Equally clever was the use of eggs. They may be the most provincial of ingredients, but a smartly used egg makes a dish stand out. Roasted asparagus ($8) came with a soft-boiled egg, chilled and split down the middle so that the yolk pooled in the hemisphere of white, available for spreading around the roasted spheres. A similar dish of peas, chorizo, and soft boiled egg ($14) was a hodgepodge of roasted veggies, piled inelegantly in a bowl, but concealing some rich, earthy, herbal flavors that weren’t immediately apparent.

The spring chicken dish was expertly roasted and served on a panzanella salad. Up in SF, at the Zuni Cafe, they get $48 for a dish like this. Saltbox’s is $21 and makes use of a zesty watercress chimichurri sauce on the side. This is a good, fresh way to eat roast chicken.

The grilled yellowtail, which can easily fall into unremarkable ubiquity, managed to disguise itself as a sort of puttannesca dish, resting atop a pool of spicy tomato sauce, briny olives, and poached fennel. Clever!

For a hotel restaurant owned by a major group (Kimpton), Saltbox’s menu was remarkably subtle, breaking with convention in the right places and following the rules with equal sense. Like I said, it looks like chef Dolinky is a smart guy.

1047 Fifth Avenue
619-515-3003
Dinner served daily 5:30-10

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