By Leslie Brenner
Originally published on September 23, 2009
A modest, beautifully executed menu. An intimate dining room, stylish but not too, that buzzes with energy but invites conversation. A wait-staff that offers flawless service.
Chef Abraham Salum opened his eponymous Uptown restaurant four years ago, and he did something wise: He stuck around. You can see him there looking over plates as they come out of the open kitchen on a quiet weekday at lunch; he's there again greeting well-dressed guests on a busy evening for dinner.
Under his watchful eye, the weeknight dinner plays out smoothly and gracefully.
One of my friends likes sparkling water, another prefers flat. "Don't worry," says the waiter. "We have our own filtration system. I'll bring a bottle of both." It's a can-do kind of attitude that you see far too little of in restaurants.
As it turns out, we don't have to ask for anything - all evening. Our gracious waiter quietly anticipates every need. And somehow he and the busboy perform their roles so expertly and unobtrusively we barely know they're there. We never hear "pardon my reach" nor "how is everything tasting for you tonight?" just as our mouths are full.
But everything tastes terrific.
Small, delicate, meaty crab cakes bask in a luxuriant piquillo-black olive relish with basil vinaigrette. Seeing the dish on the menu, I worried that the olives would overwhelm, but I needn't have. The piquillo peppers and olives are in perfect proportion, cut into precise brunoise (tiny dice) and seasoned just right. The relish is terrific with the crab cakes, with their crunchy panko crust that seals in the moist, sweet crabmeat. An emerald basil vinaigrette mitigates the relish's intensity to exactly the right degree.
A big bowl of mussels steamed in Chimay beer arrives showered with crisp shoestring potatoes and drizzled with garlicky aioli; it's lusty, serious and fun, all at the same time. The Chimay gives the sauce unexpected complexity.
And a caprese salad, slices of beautifully ripe tomato layered with good mozzarella and generously sauced with pesto, sports a jaunty cap of Serrano ham. With such good ingredients, how can you lose?
But it's not just that. Everything's prepared with care, and it shows. Even a pedestrian-sounding potato soup impresses, so velvety and soothing is it.
Australian rack of lamb, cooked to a beautiful rosy red and edged with a spot-on Dijon-truffle crust, comes sauced with a light lamb demi-glace. (I worry when I see "demi-glace" on a menu that it's going to be thick and shiny as glycerin, what I call "hotel sauce." This isn't.)
And I love the Manchego-enriched polenta that accompanies a robustly flavored buffalo rib-eye.
Plump, expertly seared scallops sit prettily atop cannellini beans sautéed with chorizo and accented with sherry soy sauce. Nice.
A grilled beef tenderloin is tender as can be and perfectly cooked.
They're not inventive dishes that amaze, but well-conceived ones, executed with skill and attention.
Our wine glasses are kept filled, but not overfilled, with a 2004 Chateau de Pez served at just the right temperature. We always have bread - good bread - and though we're bad kids, using our bread plates to taste each other's food, those little plates are replaced between courses.
I like the homey apple and berry crisp and the Bourbon bread pudding with crème anglaise and toasted sliced almonds, but they're not as wonderful as the savory dishes.
The room is graceful, with pretty Capiz shell chandeliers swathed in flowing silver-blue fabric, a cozy-looking bar, an open kitchen. Banquettes line one wall, and small tables take up the center of the room, set fairly close together for an in-crowd feel. Well-dressed diners greet one another with a wave across the room, or stop by a friend's table for a quick chat.
It feels like a room full of regulars.
It's the kind of place you'd want to bring guests for a celebration, or wary out-of-towners, to show them how nicely we dine here in Dallas. Or your family, as a treat when everyone's had a rough week. It's not snazzy or sizzling, just civilized and smart.
Nor is it terribly expensive: That caprese salad is $8.50, the lamb and the rib-eye $28 each.
The wine list offers some interesting reds by the glass, including a 2005 Fontana Fredda "Eremo" Barbera; otherwise it's a smallish, medium-priced list focused on fairly interesting choices from California.
Lunch (served weekdays) was almost as delightful as dinner: a good, rustic country pâté served with grilled baguette slices, then chicken-fried chicken - tender, flavorful and juicy, sealed in a wonderfully crisp, well-seasoned crust with garlicky, buttery mashed potatoes and tasso ham gravy. Pristine sautéed shrimp came with big pillows of ravioli filled with mushrooms (the menu says they're wild, but they've been using portobellos and criminis, says the chef); its pan sauce smartly celebrated parsley, that underappreciated herb.
The service at lunch was just as attentive as it was at dinner. In fact, there was barely a misstep in two visits. At lunch, two white wines served by the glass, a 2007 Domaine Perraud Macon- Villages ($12.50) and a 2008 Collegiata Pinot Grigio ($9), were both too cold and tasted flat, as though they had been open too long. It's a minor gripe, though, especially because I didn't mention it to the waiter. A tough, overly tart fried green tomato appetizer disappointed.
And if we're splitting hairs, the dessert menu felt uninspired.
But I don't want to think about that. I want to think about those crab cakes. Salum should put that relish in jars and sell it. And that lovely lamb. And the wonderful service.
We thanked the servers as we left, and thanked chef Salum, who stood at the door saying goodbyes. No one said "no problem." Just "you're welcome." Salum isn't a restaurant that bowls you over with the daring inventiveness of the cooking, the extravagant design of its dining room or the trendiness of the crowd. But it's definitely one you want to come back to, again and again.
Salum (4 stars)
by Nancy Nichols and Teresa Gubbins
It’s not as if Abraham Salum wasn’t an established chef. He’d studied in New England, cooked in Europe, and oversaw the kitchen at Parigi for four years. But the luster on that Oak Lawn bistro had faded; it’s almost as if he were invisible. So when he opened his self-titled restaurant on the edge of Uptown, it came as a surprise. Maybe that was part of the price: that he toil in near obscurity before getting to shine with this jewel of a restaurant. And shine it does. It’s a sleek, sexy spot, thanks to designer Julio Quinones’ warm minimalism and amber-tan tones. Chef Salum presides over an open kitchen that eliminates all borders between diner and chef. Aside from delivering a certain voyeuristic thrill, it also conveys a sense of confidence so joyous that’s it’s contagious. If he’s that comfortable with what he’s doing, so are we. And justifiably so. Dijon and truffle-crusted rack of lamb with wild mushroom savory bread pudding, pork shank with grilled polenta, chicken galantine with goat cheese and chestnuts—this is food to be proud of, with its earthy, comforting pleasures. Salum is here, and we know who he is.
Dallas Morning News
If chefs can have foodie groupies, then you'll find plenty of them "backstage" at the new eatery of Abraham Salum (pronounced sah-LOOM). The former Parigi exec chef recently unveiled his long-awaited solo debut near Uptown to much buzz. And no wonder, chef Salum delivers a rock-start-worthy performance each night in his very open kitchen: Oly the waist-hight Empire-style buffet divides the grill from the tables on the front row. The seasonal contemporary American menu changes monthly, but solid gold hits include Dijon and truffle crusted rack of lamb, prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and for desert, Sicilian fried custard. Dallas interior designer Julio Quinoses designed Salum's sleek, air dinning room. "I've always wanted to do a restaurant" says Quinones. "Abraham and I created the concept together in just tree days. We relied on a fresh neutral palette with a neoclassic modern edge. I think it came together beautifully."
On a cool evening, lentil soup had a clarity and depth of flavor seldom found in peasant pots. But deconstructed French onion soup with a warm blue cheese sandwich on the side (actually a toasty roll split and filled with a dollop of blue) didn't appear nearly as grand as the menu explainer made it sound. It certainly tasted grander, with the sandwich as crouton soaking up the dark chestnut brown broth. Might have been more presentable that way as well. Heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad with Serrano ham and olive oil was satisfying and honest. Skip roasted baby beet salad, however. With only a few halved beets and a lot of greens sitting on top of too-sweet dressing, even a house-made cheese straw couldn't salvage this salad. You may take this warning with the proverbial grain of salt, however, since the menu changes monthly and focuses on seasonal ingredients. Some, or all, of these October dishes may be gone by the time this review is published.
The cozy cafes, the smell of warm bread, the taste of fresh pastries. You’ll never forget the last time you saw Paris. Even if it was on the back of some broken-English postcard from your French grandmere whom you have yet to respond to. Luckily, you can always see Salum (pronounced Saloom), a new Uptown bistro from chef Abraham Salum, who honed his culinary skills at the beloved Parigi. The menu features contemporary American cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients — which means the menu changes once a month. For now, start with the sweet yet tart mixed green salad dressed with red wine, Dijon vinaigrette, sliced red onions, and spiced pecans. Then move on to the roasted lobster tail with vanilla-saffron beurre blanc, served atop sauteed vegetables. And try the fried flan with chilled fruit compote and whipped cream for dessert. Even the decor can put you back in touch with your City of Lights heritage — cream-colored walls and banquettes, brown granite, and black Belgian marble — only without the tricky language barrier that’s been keeping you from writing back to Nana. But at least you finally have something to write home about.
By Cheryl Ng Collett
Chef-owned eatery sparks a culinary buzz among the cosmopolitan Highland Park set with inventive New American fare and stylish presentations.
Editorial Rating: Highly Recommended
THE SCENE: White uniformed chefs bustle nonstop in the open kitchen. When owner, Chef Abraham Salum emerges, diners hug and air-kiss him like fans to a rock star. Servers are like well-traveled roadies, they know the ins and outs of the menu. Capiz shell chandeliers light the spacious dining room. Contemporary blonde wood furniture, luxe cream leather banquettes with espresso and mint accents exude a Miami-chic ambiance.
THE FOOD: Pan seared foie gras melt like butter over caramelized apples and fried pancetta. Spicy ancho chili loaded with sweet crab meat contrast well with a spoonful of cooling mango and jicama salsa. Succulent Dijon and truffled crusted lamb coupled with a savory mushroom bread and butter pudding is a signature item. The uncluttered garlic poached lobster is highlighted by a sharp layered watercress and panzanella salad. The unassuming warm apple berry crisp stirs up fanfare with a drizzling of heady toasted almond crème anglaise.
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
by Teresa Gubbins
After four laudable years at Parigi, the urbane bistro on Oak Lawn Avenue, chef Abraham Salum did what nearly every chef dreams of doing: He opened his own place. He settled on a rather unlikely, though admirably located, spot on Travis Street at the corner of Fitzhugh Avenue. Geographically, he's in the thick of it, right between Knox and Uptown, though in an odd little shopping center that seems better suited to cleaners and the like. His site used to be a doctor's clinic. All thought of that disappears once you enter, thanks to a spectacular interior by designer Julio Quinones. It's an amber kind of room, all taupe and tan, with warm woods, parchment lighting fixtures and a stripe of dark, mirrored glass that runs around the room.
Salum has one of the most open kitchens you'll find in a restaurant. You can pretty much see everything, the only barrier being a long, waist-high counter where the chef does his thing. It establishes a relaxed atmosphere, as if you are at his home -- an informality that's reinforced by the chef's congenial personality. He often leaves his station in the kitchen to patrol the dining room and extend a greeting -- that is, if the diners don't stop by to say hello first. The food accomplished a neat trick by managing to be both rustic and refined -- strong flavors executed with an elegant hand. Goat cheese appetizer ($6.50) is one of his staples; it paired a knob of soft roasted elephant garlic -- the extra-large one with the mellow flavor -- with a scoop of soft, baked goat cheese, crisp toasts and a puddle of extra virgin olive oil. Salum nobly uses great greens such as watercress, which formed the basis of an intriguing salad ($8) with strawberries and chunks of almond brittle, which has become a trendy item for salads these days. The list of entrees was small but enticing: lobster tail, duck breast lacquered with blood orange glaze, roasted chicken flavored with truffle oil. He gave a blackened beef tenderloin ($32) an accessible spin with Shiner barbecue sauce and a pile of mashed potatoes made from buttery Yukon golds and assertively spiked with garlic. The lunch menu might be even better, with a pricey but appealing selection of sandwiches, from the prosciutto and goat cheese panini ($11.50) to the chicken-fried chicken sandwich with Cheddar, bacon, lettuce and tomato ($10.50).
by Mark Stuertz
The focal point in Salum is a circa 1940s buffet captured at auction in New York. It is both an obstacle and a hem loosely defining a spacious portal spilling into the kitchen. This is not an open kitchen in the ordinary sense, where chefs can only be observed from the chest up, moving with vigor behind suspended pots above and glass partitions below. These typical blinders shield the muffed stirs and miscued sauté pan tosses that undoubtedly mar perfect kitchen choreography. Here, nothing's hidden. This modest buffet is the only set piece on a stage framed by burners, ovens and grills. The square restaurant is designed to channel attention into this sanctum so kitchen performance is open to casual scrutiny as the crew stirs, rustles and shuffles between cooking surfaces and the buffet where plates are docked.
The venison is requested medium rare; it militantly hugs rare while giving short shrift to the medium part. The center of the thicker loin slices are deep purple while the edges grow rosy before retreating to deep mauve and gray. Busywork infests the meat. The loin is crusted in pistachios and salt and pepper while a glaze of apricots and sherry attempts futilely to cling to the edges. Yet it all holds together. The apricot bits, much larger than you might expect for a glaze, are firm (no fruit mush) and chewy with a marked tang. Yet they don't impede the crust, which foils any fruity sweetness (there isn't much) with a crisp, whispering pungency. This all rests on a firm bed of butter-sautéed spelt, the coarse, ancient cereal grain native to Southern Europe. This crude, chewy heap adds a nuttiness almost as pronounced as the real nuts on the meat edges. These proceedings would be clumsy if they didn't somehow fall into line, arranging their flavors into unity even as they totter on the edge of disarray.
Abraham Salum's sleek, clean and understated restaurant offers a cleverly crafted wine list and a menu with attention to detail that characterizes chef-owned and -operated locations. Mr. Salum is confident enough to color outside the lines on occasion. The result is a restaurant that is fashionable without being cloying.
by Todd Johnson
SIMPLY CHIC: At Abraham Salum’s namesake restaurant, creative executives dine on dishes like grilled wahoo
WHY SALUM: If you’re looking for an interior designer to redo your corner office, the Dallas Design District would seem a logical place to start. Instead, try lunch at Salum. Chef/owner Abraham Salum dazzled Dallas’ top creatives at Parigi—an Oak Lawn stalwart—for years before going out on his own in 2005. Parigi has always been popular with designers, ad executives, and the like, and chef Salum’s comforting yet haute cuisine was a large part of that draw. Naturally, the crowds followed him to his new Uptown restaurant, making it an instant hit. Designer Julio Quinones transformed the drab shopping-strip spot into a chic destination with its gold tones, white leather banquettes, and glam yet contemporary decor. Salum’s open kitchen adds a splash of drama to the serene scene, making it a perfect place for entertaining guests, hush-hush transactions, or casual people-watching.
WHAT TO EAT: Much like the work of the designers that frequent his restaurant, Chef Salum’s creations are stylish but never overdone. Starters are as simple as country pate and baked goat cheese with roasted elephant garlic. Or you can opt for something more sinful like fried green tomatoes stuffed with crab and roasted red pepper remoulade. Lighter fare includes a savory spin on the classic Caprese salad, on which you can substitute pesto for balsamic vinegar, and sandwiches like Ahi tuna ciabatta and the grilled shrimp wrap with tomato relish. Heartier appetites with a creative bent will enjoy Salum’s build-your-own burger option, featuring ingredients such as marinated portobellos, Brie, and saffron aioli. Traditional entrees are an enticing lot, from the delicate prosciutto-wrapped black cod with white wine butter pan sauce to a clever spin on boring chicken. This one is pecan-crusted, served over a pumpkin croquette, and drizzled with balsamic demiglace. And though it’s hardly white dress shirt appropriate, the spaghetti and meatballs with spicy bacon marinara is worth the dry-cleaning bill.
WHERE TO SIT: The small dining room seats only 85 so wherever you dine, you’ll always be a part of Salum’s see-and-be-seen scene. For a more private affair, avoid the communal spirit of the banquettes and ask for a window perch. The natural light is just right for sharing color swatches and business talk.