After this year’s run of high-end North End bistros, I wasn’t expecting very much from Salute, a neighborhood-oriented bar-restaurant in Roslindale Village, which already has several high-end Italian bistros. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Chef Dominic Oliverio picked up some flashy moves at the just-closed Gusto down the street, and dug up some solid family fare to fill the menu. Not everything works, but enough does — at a price-portion ratio that allows for several levels of dining — to remind you that instead of going to the North End, you could avoid a lot of traffic and go to increasingly hip Roslindale Square.
SALUTING ANOTHER: fine addition to Roslindale’s dining scene.
Food begins with a basket of crusty bread with big holes, and an olive salad/spread that will leave you hankering for more. The “best buy” appetizer is fried calamari and shrimp ($9) — a portion large enough to appetize about five diners, very nicely fried, with dribbles of a spicy pink mayonnaise. Seafood prices are doing something interesting when shrimp are being used to fill up a calamari plate, but it’s all great eating.
On the other hand, fried “tortoloni” ($8) is too much of a good thing, and I concede that starch is a good thing. You take a wrapped cheese-stuffed dumpling, and then put in heavy breading — think suburban Chinese chicken fingers — and that’s a lot of stodge per flavor unit. A sour, creamy herbal dip does not help.
Chilled shrimp “lemoncello” ($8) had no trace of limoncello liqueur, or any other lemon flavor; it was, however, a large, classic shrimp cocktail at a very attractive price. The beet salad ($8) also breaks no ground, although the combination of diced beets, baby-spinach leaves, and goat cheese was good to the last scraped-up leaf. A roasted-pear salad ($8) had a neat creamy sauce and a pleasantly bitter salad of chicory and radicchio. What it needs is a slightly riper pear that nonetheless holds its shape — probably a Bosc.
Family groups may well appetize or dine on the wood-grilled pizzas ($8 to $12) and the $14 pasta entrées. Of the latter, funghi al funghetta ($14) was those same tortellini from the fried appetizer, rescued and elevated by a fine wild-mushroom sauce featuring aromatic black trumpets and crunchy enoki mushrooms. North End? What North End? Maybe even “What South End?”
Sardinian seafood stew ($19) is a tomato-saffron broth, like bouillabaisse, toned up with caperberries and including some grapeshot-size couscous. Presumably, these are the Sardinian parts. The seafood was chunks of swordfish and salmon (both excellent in this kind of stew), a lot of mussels, and some shrimp; a couple of big toasts were served as croutons. I liked this dish, but I leave the chef with two words: skate wing.
Double-cut pork chop ($18) was actually a two-bone double pork chop, more than an inch thick, perfectly cooked with a nice spicy crust, a garnish of spiced apple sauce, and splendid mashed potatoes. Several of the entrées came with the same grilled vegetables, but they were an outstanding melange of sliced fennel bulb, asparagus, carrot, and green beans. Hanger steak ($18) had the aggressive, beefy flavor of the cut, medium-rare as ordered, and the same vegetable garnish, but it included a starch of bland macaroni and cheese.
Pan-seared salmon ($19) was a nicely grilled chunk of filet. I’m not sure about basil-cream sauce on salmon — you just so expect dill. But I am sure that the lemon-flavored risotto, as if made in a real Italian-American home with ordinary long-grain rice, was excellent. The bright-green broccoli looked underdone, but tasted overdone and watery. I think this is what happens when you cook it to that color, shock it with ice water, and then reheat. I still prefer it to underdone broccoli, but the problem here is easy enough to fix.
The wine list is global and looks good and inexpensive. I broke my vow about 2003 barbera for the “2003 Prunotto barbera fiulot” ($21), because Prunotto is such a trusted name in Piedmont reds. In fact, the wine poured was a 2004, with the top appellation barbera d’Asti; it was full of fruit and had a little more structure than the 2003s. “Fiulot” means “young man,” and Prunotto is using this name for a steel-tank, no-oak wine intended to be drunk young and with food. At this price, I support the project and endorse the 2004 vintage. Decaf ($2) was thin but clean; cappuccino ($4) was just fine.
Of the three desserts left on our night, the fallen chocolate cake ($8) was the winner. It was served in a bowl, like hot pudding, with espresso ice cream. Crème brûlée ($6) was just that: no more, no less. Tiramisu ($6) was appealing in that you could actually see the lady fingers in cross section. This implies a somewhat drier and less sweet tiramisu, and I’m down with that variation, too.