Thursday, April 7, 2011
The Hartford Food Guy: Salute
The Hartford Food Guy returns to review Salute, a fine restaurant located at 100 Trumbull St. in downtown.
Salute is an unusual restaurant. It is neither an old-school Italian restaurant like Carbone's or Francesco's in the South End, nor is it a more modern Italian restaurantlike Spris or Peppercorn's Downtown. It certainly doesn't have the old-school feel, nor does it have on the menu most of the classic dishes you'd associate with traditional Italian-American cooking. It also doesn't have the ultra-chic vibe or the cutting-edge cuisine you'd associate with the newer breed of Italian restaurants.
Probably the best way to describe Salute is that it is a restaurant that serves a lot of Italian food; delicious Italian food. In fact, the food is so good that not only do I love it, but my wife, who is an Italian-American with a passion for food and cooking, sings its praises.
The face of Salute is the irrepressible Jimmy Cosgrove, the former part-owner and manager of Hot Tomato's. Jimmy is friendly and funny, but he is also a serious restaurateur who knows his stuff. Jimmy is also classy, but he is in no way pretentious. Salute is like Jimmy.
Salute opened in 2010 and my wife and I have been there at least a half dozen times, always with good results. Tonight was no different.
We started with the sweet potato ravioli ($7). This may be the most popular appetizer on the menu and with good reason (the calamari ($10) is also right up there, however). The ravioli are served in a rich cream sauce (butter, flower, cream, and herbs) which is offset by the sweetness of the filling, which is itself offset by a savory touch of what tasted like brown sugar and cinnamon.
My wife then had the field green salad ($6) while I had the strawberry salad ($8). My wife's salad consisted of greens, and candied nuts, dressed with an oven roasted shallot vinaigrette. It was crisp and delicious, especially because the candied nuts offset the greens. My salad consisted of spinach, strawberries, toasted walnuts, and goat cheese, with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My salad was good, though it might have been a little overdressed.
For dinner I had the pomodoro ($16) and my wife had the rose pasta ($19) (all ofSalute's pasta dishes can be made with gluten free pasta for an extra $1). Both were outstanding and at least the equal of any Italian food you will have in the area.
The pomodoro was rigatoni in a tomato sauce with garlic, basil, and mozzarella. There were chunks of tomato in the sauce which exploded with flavor once they hit your mouth. They tasted as fresh as if you had picked them out of your own garden earlier that day. The rigatoni was also right on, neither too soggy nor overcooked.
The rose pasta consisted of four cheese tortellini with sweet sausage,mushrooms, and spinach in a light tomato cream sauce. I've had this dish several times and it is a treat. It is, however, pretty filling, which can be good or bad, depending on the size of your stomach and how hungry you are.
Salute's pasta dishes are not complicated, but here is a great balance of different flavors and textures. As Gordon Ramsey would say, "simple food, cooked well" (yes, Ramsey can be a complete jackass, but he does have several Michelin Stars to his name).
We also had an order of garlic bread ($5) that was very much like (if not identical to) the garlic bread for which Hot Tomato's was well-known.
Like I said earlier, Salute serves a lot of Italian food, but there are several "American" dishes on the menu, including an excellent pork tenderloin ($20) and a pretty good hanger steak ($22). Salute also has a desert menu and a separate lunch menu, along with a wine list.
The interior of Salute is warm and friendly, and not overdone. Particularly nice are the light-colored stone accents which contrast well with the dark wood of the furniture. Salute also has an outdoor patio which overlooks Bushnell Park and which is quite popular with the 20 and 30-somethings on Thursdays and Fridays.
I have known Jimmy Cosgrove for the better part of ten years and I was sorry to see him leave Hot Tomato's. I am very happy, however, that he has opened a great restaurant (in fact a much better restaurant than the old Hot Tomato's) that gives a nod (OK, several nods) to the old Hot Tomato's, but which absolutely has its own style and which is already making its own mark on the local food scene