Address: 525 Fort St.
Hours: Closed Monday. Open Tuesday - Saturday from 5 p.m. Closing times vary.
Major credit cards and Interac accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
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Salute has low lighting, banquette seating and large windows that passersby tend to stare through while you're dining. Of course, it's probably not you they're looking at, but the upholstered bed in front of the fire, and a hypnotic bar that pulsates with coloured light.
That bar might also have subliminal messaging capability, as even though we visited on a freezing evening, my friend and I were holding mojitos before we even cracked a menu.
Laurie doesn't eat anything that once lived in the sea, so we passed on starters including tuna tataki served with spicy aioli and ponzu sauce, and crab and artichoke dip. Vegetarian choice is reasonable and both the cheese plate and antipasto platter would be good for sharing with a glass or two of wine.
We chose pulled-pork cigarillos, which though piping hot, contained more cabbage and carrot than meat. The gingery dip didn't live up to its description of hoisin citrus, either, but it complemented the dish well.
Chicken wings were also a mixed success. The portion and quality of the wings were better than average, but the honey chipotle flavour we picked was overwhelmingly sweet. We agreed we would eat wings here again, although picking something with a little more kick is surprisingly difficult in contrast to the rest of the menu. Still, if you're looking for a place to grab an appetizer and a drink, Salute is a good bet, particularly on Tuesday and Friday nights, when this section of the menu offers two-for-one dishes until 7 p.m.
Main course options are similarly global in range, with sesame-seared tuna, chicken linguini and braised lamb happily competing with teriyaki rice bowls. Avoiding seafood made me want to eat it, but I chose the happy compromise of steak and prawns, enjoying a very tender AAA sirloin with half a dozen prawns cooked in a crazy of amount of garlic and white wine, but I like it that way.
Laurie's chicken saltimbocca was excellent, moist chicken filled with fried sage leaves and prosciutto, each element holding its own, but the Marsala and caper sauce lost the battle here. Accompaniments included a generous serving of seasonal vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes and risotto, all piping hot and better than most places.
The only thing we didn't like was the balsamic reduction squeezed all over both plates, which frankly detracted from the otherwise good presentation of well-prepared food. This garnish technique is the lemon wedge and parsley of the late 20th century and needs to be retired -- everywhere. Though dessert offerings that night -- flourless chocolate cake, pear apple crumble, crème brÃ»lÃ©e -- were tempting, we were full and so we had a couple of coffee drinks by the fire.
We both enjoyed Salute and we plan to return. Music is edgy, interesting and kept at an appropriate level, though if you are dropping by later in the evening, please note the volume increases as the atmosphere becomes more lounge than restaurant.
Our server was skilled and knowledgeable, checking with us regularly without hovering -- a delicate balancing act that few manage well in a slow room. Dishes were clearly prepared to order, not taken out and zapped or warmed through, something that happens far too often in this town, but they lose marks for a messy reception area and the lack of finger bowls or alternatives, which a dish like chicken wings with honey requires.
Menu descriptions also need some thought. Using a cigarillo and pulled pork as a filling resulted in expectations of a dish more Mayan than Malaysian, dipping sauce not withstanding. Similarly, butter chicken is a specialty of northern India and Pakistan, but the menu indicates it is made with red Thai curry sauce, which is a bit like saying you have Greek salad but use mozzarella instead of feta.
Minor gripes aside, we enjoyed our evening and we couldn't figure out why it was so quiet. There are plenty of nightly drink specials along with the discount eats, but this is a lousy time of year for restaurant business, with most places reporting not only a drop in customers but also in what they are spending.
The HST and changes to driving laws have also had an impact, but if I were running the place, I would turn up the very dim lighting ever so slightly before 9 or so to give the impression that it is a restaurant and not a bar.
It could be that this part of town is just off people's radar a bit. Even so, Salute shouldn't be.
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Rating 1 Below bad
Rating 2 Below average
Rating 3 Average
Rating 4 Above average
Rating 5 Excellent