It would be too easy to say that chef Alan Bergo and his team of investors are turning your daddy's steakhouse on its head. Yes, Bergo is an avid forager of native Midwestern fauna and flora and a student of "interesting, funky and old forgotten ingredients." He researches Chippewa cooking methods to figure out how to remove the toxicity from milkweed.
He's bound and determined not to let any aspect of the steakhouse experience go on "that's the way its always been done" reasoning. No asparagus and no tomatoes in the winter, period.
But some things are classic because they work, and those things? They not only remain intact, but they receive the Midas touch. See also: The Salt Cellar Is Now Open in Cathedral Hill
In certain ways, this place is what your dad's steakhouse wishes it was.
They're only using certified Italian Piedmontese beef, a rarity in the U.S., and anywhere in the world outside of northern Italy. The breed is prized for its muscle, resulting in some of the leanest, tenderest beef available anywhere, with some of the highest nutritional value to boot. Bergo chose it on advice from his chef mentor Lenny Russo. Russo said: "Do you want to use the best beef you can possibly get? Then here you go."
It's also incredibly expensive, and Bergo says their profit margin on the stuff is very slim. "Actually, we lose our ass on it." He creates a cushion with his exacting use of every part of the beast -- even cooking their superior French fries in the fat. All the cuts are butchered in-house.
The 90-seat dining room is expense-account lavish, with white tablecloths, glowing fireplace, masculine brown leather upholstery, and cool-kid use of refurbished barnwood ever-so tastefully smattered within, on the 10-person "farm table" and the fireplace mantle. There is also a 50-person private dining space dubbed the Capital Room, peppered with what else but tasteful black and whites of the Capital. The team hopes the Salt Cellar will be around to stay, as classic a landmark as nearby W.A. Frost, which now has competition enough to have them quaking in their kitchen clogs. Classic cocktails are a no-brainer, and almost all of the recipes are pre-Prohibition era.
Much of the management team has a country club background, which means table-side service. Caesar salads and Bananas Foster get the showman's treatment complete with flames jumping out of the pan. Instagram! The dessert is a throwback luxury finished with homemade ice cream. Everything at Salt Cellar is made from scratch, from the Parker House dinner rolls to the sausage to the sumac curing salt on the gravlax.
Good meat is nothing without good wine, and they've wisely invested in a real-deal wine program complete with real-deal cellar and onsite sommelier. If your wine knowledge isn't on a par with your dad's, do not fear; they've got iPad wine list technology that will assist in choosing a wine pairing at the touch of a button.
The Salt Cellar 173 Western Ave., St. Paul 651-219-4013
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