Tucked away inside a corner strip mall off of Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas, almost as if it doesn’t want to be found, at least not yet, is Salt, the new restaurant from Chef David Iino that has no business being located in a nondescript, last-chance-for-fast-food-before-the-beach strip mall.
Once you round the bend of the dry cleaner and the florist shop you actually can’t miss it. Salt’s 5-foot tall illuminated letters mark the entry quite clearly. Inside is a stark wonderland of modern sleek decor built of reclaimed materials in browns and grays and blacks.
This week the place was decorated for the holidays, although it was hard to tell, because twinkle lights in tree branches and treacherous-looking icicles dangling from the ceiling could have been part of the restaurant’s year-round look.
Salt’s cuisine is a mix of updated comfort foods, Asian fusion, Hawaiian, small plates, and larger meat main dishes. In a large group, dining family style, it seems at least one of everything appeared on the table. Standouts were the wild mushroom mac and cheese, which elicited groans of pleasure, the chicken and waffles which was on the appetizers list but is big enough to be an entree, and the Kurobuta pork chop served with sauteed apples and carmelized onions.
The star of Salt is, well, salt. Iino said that the name of the restaurant is a celebration of simplicity, with salt being the most basic of flavor enhancers that is used in cooking and baking across so many types of cuisine. During this dinner, he brought out four types of special salt in tiny little serving dishes that guests sprinkled over their food by hand. A pinch of smoked salt over French fries made them taste like a campfire — and that’s a good thing.
The bar at Salt is handily adorned by three flat screen TV’s for sports fans, but on this night the place was relatively quiet. That didn’t make the drinks come any faster, but once they started, they kept coming in a steady flow. The wine list is fine, a serviceable gin and tonic was served, but then a true delight came along: a grapefruit basil martini served in a stemless martini glass with one giant ice cube, garnished with a tiny wedge of grapefruit. This drink had the perfect blend of sweet and tart flavors, and went down dangerously easily.
A meal at Salt wouldn’t be right without dessert, so again, family style, one of everything was served. The Salt banana is still a mystery because it didn’t make it all the way around the table – instead, it was devoured along the way. It looked like a delicious deep fried confection. Crowd favorites were the bread pudding – Iino’s wife’s mother’s recipe – served in a jam jar and topped with ice cream, and a miraculous creation of salted caramel and chocolate in the form of ice cream, made fresh at a shop in Santa Barbara.
Salt has been open for just a month. They serve dinner and lunch, until 10 p.m. on weekend nights. There’s a nice alcove of tables off to the side for large parties, just in time for the holidays. And, this being a strip mall in Calabasas, parking was easy to find on a Thursday night, and free. That’s no small consideration in this town.