Full disclosure: Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC is good friends with the chef-owners of Salt and Pepper, and I know them as well (through her). Because of that, CC has been helping out with the start-up, and invited a bunch of us to a group dinner there, including Official Friends of HR Intern, Yupster, Biz, Rajistan, The Suit, Aaron, and Ledzy.
Salt and Pepper lies on the stretch of Macarthur Blvd where it seems all the wonderful destination restaurants are (Et Voila, Makato, Kotobuki, Blacksalt to name a few). The difference is that Salt and Pepper sits underneath an office building. Up a set of stairs leads you to the restaurant, opening with a small square bar surrounded by a few two-tops by the large windows, and an outdoor patio area. Further to the back is the main dining area, a row of half-booth two-tops, a middle row of two-tops, and then high-backed booths on the other wall. In the rear is an open kitchen with a chef's table, and a chef's bar.
The decor theme is like the old joke about the sunburned zebra: black and white, with red all over. The main room is white paint with black wood accents and rafters, topped by flat red disc light fixtures, while the back room is red walls with black and white photos. Other cute touches abound, from boxes of dressed up Barbies to indicate the coed bathrooms, or the clipboard menus.
The group of ten or so ordered a diverse set of dishes, so I'll describe a few of the memorable ones. First along was an appetizer of cheesy rice fritters, essentially just a differently-named risotto balls. A wonderful mix of crunchy and creamy, and definitely a great way to start the meal. The other starter/side of note was the grits, a beautifully creamy rendition with butter to spare, but not in an aggressive way. Definitely some of the smoothest and best grits I've ever had, and definitely worth a taste.
Around the table, we start with my pan-roasted cod, which came with a red, white, and blue lobster has, spinach, and a sweet corn sauce. The cod itself was fine, well-cooked but a tad bit fishy and not as pleasant as some other cods I've had. The hash (so named because of the colors of potatoes mixed with the lobster) was the balancing act, providing a nice acid and textural mix, and definitely the winner from the dish.
A similar fate befell the pork chop, where the zucchini pancakes underneath outshone the otherwise simple meat. Then again, this is something I've struggled with recently; how can you really make a pork chop anything other than a simple pork chop? Have I ever had a pork chop that tasted fundamentally different than this one? Still, the sides on the dish stood out more to me than the chop itself.
The winners of the meal were two of the more American dishes. First was the American wagyu meatloaf, served with whipped potatoes, mushroom gravy, and green beans. Look, I will be the first to admit that I grew up spoiled, and definitely outside the normal bounds of conventional dinner. So my knowledge of meatloaf is admittedly limited. But this wasn't dry and boring like the stereotype of meatloaf; rather it was juicy and flavorful, and when combined with the mashed potatoes, a wonderfully warm and homey bite.
The other solid dish was the buttermilk-brined fried chicken with braised greens and mac and cheese. The chicken was solid with a nice crisp on it, and the greens were pretty good, but the mac-and-cheese stole the show, reminding me quite pleasingly of the truffled version at Equinox, where the chefs' lineage comes from. Creamy with a welcome feeling of warmth, this was an absolute pleasure.
For dessert, we picked two options. First, was a fried apple pie, which resembled a much more appetizing and cleaned-up construction of the McDonald's 50-cent version. Crunchy with some gooeyness, it was definitely a perfect and sumptuous treat for someone with a hankering for a better Mickey D's.
The second dessert was a housemade "Boston creme donut," two cakes sandwiching a a sweet cream. It was paired with an equally tiny strawberry milkshake, served in a shot glass. Both were milky and luscious, and definitely fun.
Overall, a pleasant surprise and the kind of restaurant that takes Mom's American classics and makes them that much better. A few missteps, but definitely some amazing high points. Already full of neighborhood residents, will hopefully become a destination restaurant alongside the trinity of Et Voila, Blacksalt, and Makoto.
Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Vibe: Energetic to Noisy
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)