1435 E University Drive
Tempe, AZ 85281
I have been wanting to drop by Salut Kitchen Bar since they opened and I spotted the "grand opening" sign on my drive home from work. That was two years, which may speak to the location. The restaurant recently celebrated its two year anniversary with great deals and I was wooed in by a $2 bottle of wine coupon (do read the very fine print on the wine specials, usually these deals require purchase of one bottle at full price--$28-$49).
As a wine bar, I expected something pretensions from Salut, but the atmosphere is warm and inviting--more rustic villa than sleek wine bar. The patio is spacious and charming. The eclectic menu features small plates and sandwiches with most options in the $10-12 range. The wine list is fairly standard with the usual varieties from the popular spots with glasses ranging from $7.50-$14.
The menu is broken down into "Tapas," "Bruschetta," "Salads," "Sandwiches," and "Entrees" and is much heavier on lighter fare. We went for a happy hour and ordered from the special menu the quinoa fritters ($9.50, $7 during HH) and the hummus nachos ($9.00, $6.50 during HH). My partner ordered the Malbec Burger ($13) off the regular menu.
The wine special was for the house Chardonney, which was blessedly non-oaked though nothing particularly interesting as is usually the case with house wine.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quinoa fritters. I'm not always thrilled with the texture of quinoa,
but the fritters were similar to falafel in texture. The crimini mushrooms and dill havarti were the dominant flavors. The red pepper sauce was a nice compliment and added a sweeter note. I felt like the fritters could have been fried a bit more crisply to stand up to the sauce, but the fritters were good on the whole.
At our servers insistence, we tried the hummus nachos. I said they didn't sound like my thing, but our server promised to comp them if we didn't like them. I will say this, I still object to the name, but they were really good. The pita is crisped and tastes a bit like a churro--perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon. The hummus was nice but the balsamic reduction and pomegranate seeds were really what made a bite. The feta was lost in the dish, but added some brightness to a mostly brown plate.
My partner rounded out the meal with Malbec burger, which was kind of a take on steak Marsala--Malbec reduction, caramelized onions, mushrooms, provolone. He was impressed with the toppings, but less so the burger which relied on the extras for flavor. He also got a side of the Salut fries--think Greek fries, but with a citrus vinaigrette and feta. He found the orange and feta overpowering. I kind of liked them, but would have rather had Greek fries.
And that is the issue with Salut. Despite the eclectic menu and names like "hummus nachos" the food isn't quite fusion. It is more of little twists on old favorites. And while that's fine, I think I would have just liked the "hummus nachos" just fine if I had not had those two images in my mind--plastic cheese on salty chips and hummus. Because yuck. On the other hand, I probably would have rather had falafel and Greek fries than quinoa fritters and Salut fries, which doesn't sound very progressive, but in my opinion a "fresh take" has to blow the original out of the water and that's just not quite happening with many dishes at Salut.
And that was my perception over all--everything was just a tiny bit off. The owner was hovering throughout the meal, but I sat without water for more than 10 minutes after I was seated. The server, while very friendly, wasn't particularly trained in service or educated on the menu. When I inquired what he would recommend out of several options, I was informed he doesn't like bruschetta because it is just "bread with toppings" (yes, in fact, that's exactly what it is) and that he didn't like vegetables--more of a steak and potato guy. Not exactly helpful for figuring out the best dishes on the menu. And then there were the little things--the very unbalanced table was tiny for two people (our wine got it's own chair to give us a little more space) and the hot water wasn't hooked up to the sink in the men's bathroom.
I would recommend giving Salut a try for Happy Hour (3:00-6:30 daily)--there's $5 house wine, $5 absinthe cocktails, and $8 specialty drinks along with six different small plates that are about $2 off. The food was decent on a whole even if I didn't enjoy the concept, at happy hour prices, you might find yourself more open-minded than I am--it's not all that difficult.