The act of raising a glass to the health of your dining companions is one of the oldest extant traditions in Western culture. It was around for at least a thousand years (probably more) before the humble fork even found a place at the dining table. Around the Northern shores of the Mediterranean, you’ll hear a similar word being uttered as glasses are raised: “salute” in Italian, “salud” in Spanish and Catalan, all from the Latin “salutaris,” a wish of good health.
It’s from this root that Salú Bistro and Bar, a family-style Mediterranean restaurant in New Orleans’ Irish Channel, takes its name… and its general outlook on food and eating.
It’s a convivial sort of spirit, a lighthearted wish for the continued wellness of everyone at your table, both in a more general sense and in a more immediate one. Good health starts with great food, and good toasts are best made over great wine, and all of these things are brought together at Salú.
Though it’s not typical New Orleans fare, the pan-Mediterranean menu at Salú Bistro and Bar is heavily influenced by local ingredients and seasonal flavors, all with a global twist. The kitchen is headed up by Chef Dustin Brien, an import from Boston (his wife is a New Orleans native) who won several prestigious awards in the Northeast and who’s starting to (rightfully) turn heads in New Orleans, as well.
Mussels are a highlight, steamed to a perfect tenderness in a variety of broths, each more tempting than the next. Be sure to swirl the meat around in the broth a bit, and order a pocket bread (a flatbread with no toppings, puffed up in the oven) to dunk in the juice as well.
From the small plates menu, try the crabcakes. They’re crabbier than they are cakey (that’s a good thing, in my opinion), and they come topped with sauces that change with the seasons. Mine came with a spicy piri-piriaioli and an avocado cream — a nice heat up/cool down combination.
Carnivores, try the braised pork belly. Unctuous but definitely meaty, the bacon-like morsel was served on top of a sweet potato mash and topped with a mostarda and a crispy kale chip (yes, kale in New Orleans – it does exist). A total reconfiguration of every bland holiday pork roast we’ve suffered through at the hands of well-meaning hosts, this dish nearly had me licking the plate.
The grilled sea bass was everything you could want in a piece of grilled fish, and if healthy eating really is a priority for you (or, frankly, even if it’s not), it’s an ideal main course. Light, herbaceous, and sweetly juicy, it’s a simple but powerful dish, and very classically Mediterranean.
You’ll find a nice variety of desserts on the menu, including a solid flourless chocolate cake, but if you’re of the sweet-salty persuasion, as I am, circle back to the small plates menu and order the Medjool dates small plate. These fat dried dates, which are brightly-flavored with notes of caramel, are stuffed with smoked paprika mascarpone and wrapped with bacon, making for a flavor and texture-filled bite that will finish the meal as strongly as any traditional dessert.
An extensive wine list is an essential component of any Mediterranean-style restaurant, and general manager Greg Thomas, formerly a sommelier at Emeril Lagasse‘s French Quarter restaurant NOLA, takes an inspired lead on that front. The collection is international and can be a bit overwhelming, but Greg will gladly guide you to a perfect pairing (probably accompanied by a big bear hug; he’s that kind of guy), so don’t be afraid to ask him or your server.
Greg is also in charge of a line of house-infused vodkas, with fun flavors like cucumber and mixed melon. These make a nice aperitif, either as part of a cocktail or on their own, and are a far sight better than their largely unappealing pre-seasoned commercial alternatives.
Happy hour, from 3:00 pm-7:00 pm Monday-Friday, offers half-priced drinks (all of them) as well as half-priced mussels and flatbreads — one of the best early-dinner deals in town.
Service and Ambiance
The room is styled like a Southern French bistro with Spanish colors, and it’s generally more quiet than you might expect. There’s a neighborhood vibe here; it’s the sort of place where whole families can enjoy each others’ company right next to a couple on a romantic date, with no one disturbed or bothered by this configuration.
Quiet live guitar music adds a special touch to Thursday nights, which also feature a paella special (buy a pan of paella, get a free bottle of wine).
Service is friendly and quite quick, and the open configuration of the room means that if you need something, you won’t be at a loss, with every server in the house off in some other zone. If you’re not up for a full dinner, the bar’s not a bad place to have a cocktail and a snack. Outdoor tables allow you to sit and people-watch on a busy stretch of Magazine Streetwhile you eat. All-in-all, it’s a grand place to raise a glass.
3226 Magazine St. / (504) 371-5809 / salurestaurant.com