Vive Le Difference

Parasole's newest venture aims for France, but pleases everyone

BY DARA MOSKOWITZ

Salut Bar Américain
5034 France Ave. S., Edina
952.929.3764
www.salutbaraméricain.com

Many people use their brains frequently, and some almost constantly, except while driving. So it was quite a shock to read last spring, in a flurry of news reports following a paper published in the journal Nature, that the big, big brains to which we owe so much--and here I speak not only of the Italian Renaissance but also of pizza-cheese flavored corn chips in canisters sized for SUV cup-holders--that our big, big human brains evolved several million years ago because of a mutation in our ape ancestors' jaws, a mutation that led to malformed, weak, and puny jaw muscles. This allowed the skull that anchored those newly weakened muscles to become thin, and thus ever more capacious, and filled with loads and loads of brain.

High on the hog: Edina's Salut
Jayme Halbritter
High on the hog: Edina's Salut

Now, do I say it was a shock to read this because so many of us believe not in evolution, but in Genesis and the supremacy of a 20-20 shotgun to keep revenuers away from our moonshine? I do not. Do I say it was a shock because I am surprised in a world in which it is possible to follow TomKat hourly on the internet that anyone has time to read something so bereft of shopping tips as a scientific journal? Again, no, I do not. Simply, I say it was a shock because it provides scientific support for something I have long suspected, namely that pillowy layer cakes and silky ice creams are not merely coincidental to the human race, but in fact our very destiny, the one place we were headed with our weak, weak jaws, jaws which lack the powerful bites needed to fell and portion a really good steak au poivre.

Now, a really good steak au poivre is exactly the sort of thing you can get in the newest Edina hotspot, Salut Bar Américain, a place that surely is some kind of evolutionary next level in local dining: It's a half-French bistro, half-all-American crowd-pleaser where adults can partake of some of the freshest oysters in the state, and youth can direct their attention to an ice-cream sundae roughly the size of TomKat's media footprint.

Salut Bar Américain is the latest product from the Parasole Restaurant Holdings folks, the minds behind many of our most beloved, and most profitable, local restaurants, including Chino Latino, Manny's Steakhouse, and the (now independent) Oceanaire Seafood Room. In Salut, you find many of the best tricks from those other Parasole restaurants, incorporated into a room that has a heck of a lot in common with New York City's celebrity-saturated French bistro Balthazar. From the Oceanaire, Parasole borrows scrupulously sourced oysters of impeccable freshness and large fillets of fish simply grilled, steakhouse style; from Manny's comes an affection for steaks, served big and unadorned, and with the option of a lot of $6 vegetable add-ons; and from Stella's Fish Cafe, which Parasole was involved with at its opening, but no longer, come the sassy "oysters Moscow," served with horseradish crème fraîche, caviar, and a shot of vodka, as well as exceedingly affordable house wines in bottles playfully labeled with big stenciled-on numbers: 1--Cheap, 2--Decent, and 3--Good.

Where Salut departs the locally familiar is in the bistro theme, and in the decor, which is all big French bistro. The light is golden, the ceilings distant, the vintage posters gigantic, the bar soaring, and the boars' heads mounted to the wall, remarkably enough, in existence. The place feels energetic, cosmopolitan, and slightly sexy--but the kind of cosmopolitan sexy that accommodates a kids' menu and placemat to color on. (Kids meals: a hamburger, macaroni and cheese, or a cheese pizza along with choice of juice, milk, or pop for $2.95.) The restaurant serves all day, moving from lunch to dinner at around 4:00 most days, and switching from brunch to dinner at 3:00 on Sundays. The menu is printed fresh daily, though it's hard to say why, as the ones I got on visits a month apart were identical except for a single fish special.

In any event, this combination of elements has clearly hit a chord with locals: Whenever I've been there, folks have been stacked up in the bar waiting for tables (they save half the seats for walk-ins.)

If you go, I recommend the steak au poivre ($29.95), a big, ruddy New York strip seared so that the outside has all the crisp char needed to bring the sweetness of the meat into relief, and all the rich brandy and green-peppercorn cream sauce you need to justify ordering another martini to cleanse the thick fire from your tongue. Yes, martinis, and particularly generously poured specialty martinis, are one of Salut's strong suits, like their excellent variation on the Cosmopolitan, made with a touch of pomegranate juice. I was going to try their Key lime pie martini, which contains many things, including pineapple, cream, and Midori, but then I didn't, as I suddenly recalled I wasn't pledging a sorority.

In addition to steak, Salut also excels at steak: Head here for the most deluxe "steak frites" you'll get outside a steak house; Salut offers three kinds, including a filet mignon, for $31.95. If steak is not your thing, how about burgers? Salut offers five, and I've tried two: the cheeseburger royale ($11.95), with vast strips of thick bacon poking out of a pale, airy ciabatta bun, and the Burger Bar Américain ($11.95), with blue cheese, caramelized onion, and sauce bordelaise, which here works as a ketchup variation.

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