Everyone can be a critic. From food bloggers to Yelp-ers, people everywhere have taken it upon themselves to publicly judge a new restaurant. Too upscale? Then too snobby. Too casual? Then too dirty.
To open a place where class groups can co-mingle over martinis and murmuring babies? Usually, too difficult.
Then, there was Salt.
“I wanted to have a restaurant where people could truly enjoy their experience,” said owner and head chef John Horvatinovich. “I want people to feel like this is a place where they can indulge and enjoy themselves.”
Described as a modern American restaurant with a Mediterranean twist, Salt is a brand new baby. Open for 6 months, it was born into a well-connected family and is nestled in West Omaha. “My business partner is Milton Yin, from Hiro. I was the general manager for Hiro for quite some time, but I really wanted to open a place that wasn’t downtown and not a chain.”
Approaching the restaurant, one notices the wide floor to ceiling windows, showing a glimpse of the design and black-clad staff. We had a bit of a wait, which was soothed by two Absolut martinis from a dapper bartender. The host staff were friendly despite being busy, and in no time we were escorted to our table.
The accent in the restaurant is an elegant, cursive design that is etched on various walls. Designed by Alley Poyner, the space is warm with deep blues and greys, with hints of stainless steel. Loft style open piping on the ceiling is framed with black velvet to soften sound and light as you enjoy your meal. Italian made curved chairs sparkle with reflections of light in the room.
The menu is both detailed and easy to navigate. Appetizers, salads, entrees, pizzas, and pastas are laid out in an unintimidating way with brief descriptions. We decided on the Goat Cheese Rangoon to start, followed by the Miso Marinated Salmon for Jason, and the Pasta Maitake for myself.
Upon arrival, the first things one notices about the rangoon is its familiar appearance. With buttons of sun dried tomatoes and ribbons of goat cheese, the flavors of this appetizer are far too rich to be served in the cookie cutter rangoon skin that we see at all Chinese restaurants. Though the edges of the rangoon have a satisfying crunch, the earthy, nutty flavor of the goat cheese is nearly lost in the dough.
Two Maker’s Mark manhattans are brought as promptly as our entrees. Our server, Nikki, is friendly without being overbearing. “In the early 90s, servers would hammer you with questions, dying to get that upsell,” said Horvatinovich. “Now, restaurants are trying to get back to customers having an experience rather than a quick bite.”
I can smell the Pasta Maitake before it arrives. Warm, rich, buttery bits of pancetta kiss the earthy punch of maitake, chanterelles and king trumpet mushrooms, lounging in soft pasta with fava beans. The Miso salmon is perfectly cooked, literally melting in your mouth with a pop of umami. Nestled on a bed of lemon risotto, brussel sprouts wait to steal the show. Whomever still hates brussel sprouts needs to come to Salt. Your life will be forever changed.
One of the ways Salt stands out amongst a saturated restaurant scene is a sweet one. Namely, pink sugar cotton candy on a stick. “We partnered with a stay at home mom who makes this out of her kitchen,” said Horvatinovich. “I feel it is important to help out small businesses like this. Plus, this treat is something unexpected that we like to give our customers, and seeing people smile as they leave with the cotton candy is so great.”
As I enjoyed a scoop of espresso Italian gelato, it was fun to look around the dining room. Men in formal suits held their candy sticks with smiles, and well-behaved babies politely shared vegetables with relaxed mothers. “We try to appeal to everyone, regardless if they have children or not,” he said. “I want people to feel as though, even for just a bit, they got to try something different. Whether it is the wine, the ambiance, or the cotton candy they can share with their families, I want people to really enjoy themselves before they go home.”
As we toured the pristine kitchen, exclusive owners table, impressive back patio, and private room, it isn’t hard to see why Salt is enjoying a hearty beginning. With the food, the ambiance and care from the staff, it is easy to see how “enjoying the good things” has become the mission and mantra of this impressive eatery.
Salt, an 88 restaurant, is located at 3623 N. 129th St. Omaha, NE 68164.
Hours Sunday-Thursday are 11:00 a.m.- 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m.- 11:00 p.m., and happy hour is everyday from 3:00-6:30 p.m. Contact (402) 991-9088 or go to http://salt88.com/contact/ for reservations.