Smoked plum and Alaskan halibut are just a couple of foods you might try during an early fall dinner at Marina Del Rey Hotel restaurant SALT in Los Angeles. Come again in late winter or mid-spring, and the menu will have changed.
That's because chef Mark Gold keeps the menu in season, changing dishes according to inspiration he finds at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. He likes to let the food shine.
"I've always been inspired by Japanese cuisine, just based on the fact that it's sourced in the season," he said. "And so that's what we try to do -- just source things that are in the season and prepare with simplicity."
So as not to neglect the many fresh offerings on SALT's menu, we tried several dishes. First was our favorite: Japanese hamachi (yellowtail) with plum, buckwheat, avocado and a citrusy yuzu sauce. The buckwheat was roasted until crispy, and in between pieces of fish, it served as a crunchy contrast to the soft and bright sashimi.
Next came a plate of charred octopus. Each suction cup on the tentacles was perfectly blackened, but the standout of the dish were the delicately crispy roasted fingerling potatoes and Spanish chorizo underneath. The salsa verde tied each element together for flavorful finish.
Because we never forget to eat our greens, we ordered a salad of assorted lettuces, plum, marcona almond and aged provolone, dressed with vinegar. The sharp cheese and roasted nuts gave each bite of salad an earthy punch.
Our appetites sufficiently stimulated, we opted for a line-caught swordfish entree. The fish was flanked by deliciously sweet figs and grilled artichokes, and everything sat on top of velvety potatoes that were so smooth they felt more like a buttery cream sauce. We made sure every bite got a bit of the apple mustard and pine nut gremolata (a textured accompaniment of pine nuts, parsley and garlic) artfully presented on the plate.
Since there is always room for dessert, we ordered two: brown butter cake with fresh berries and vanilla bean ice cream, plus a chocolate pot au creme, served with a caramelized banana and whipped cream. The miniature cakes, each bite moist with butter, were easy to share, and the caramelized coating on the banana was a welcome complement to the rich chocolate custard.
Attire is casual, but going to a place where the plating -- and waterfront scenery -- is prettier than your face, you feel like dressing up a bit. That should become especially true as the restaurant continues to grow in popularity and draw a more food-loving crowd, as opposed to solely hotel guests.
"We've made a mark in Marina in the sense that people know us for being consistent and the quality," Gold said. "This is really a freestanding restaurant inside the Marina del Rey Hotel. It's become a destination, which is awesome, so we've been able to evolve with the menu."
SALT is open for brunch, lunch, happy hour and dinner. With seating right on the marina, it's not a bad place to watch the sunset with friends, wine or craft cocktails and eats like fried chicken thighs and avocado hummus. You can also make champagne toasts over lobster rolls and oatmeal "brule" for brunch or wow guests with a steak dinner.
Gold said he's had the freedom to take the restaurant to a new level since he started there two years ago. The dinner menu used to feature fish tacos and cobb salad, and now it boasts Maine lobster pasta and prime filet of beef. He said the future of SALT holds an even more in-season focus, tasting menus and an emphasis on consistency.
"For me now, I think it's really developing the team to take it to the next level," he said. "I want every item on the menu to be pristine."