Seemingly from out of nowhere springs Abraham Salum, a fantasy chef, turning out the most marvelous roasts and mushroom spoon breads and tender, petite green beans.
“Where have you been all my life?” you’ll whisper as you slide your knife down into a fat, round knob of roasted elephant garlic, spreading its softened flesh across a slice of crisp toast, then poking the toast into a mound of goat cheese that’s been baked until warm.
“How could I not have known about you before this?” you’ll muse as the combination of flavors—mellow garlic, sharp cheese, buttery toast—melts in your mouth.
If you’ve missed out on Salum, you probably weren’t visiting Parigi, where he was chef and partner for four years. But as 2004 drew to a close, he decided it was time to fulfill every chef’s dream and open his own place.
And so Abraham Salum is having his moment—that intersection where the possibilities seem endless, where you still feel the hunger, but also the calm and confidence that goes with age or experience. For the moment, the restaurant pops. There’s the Parigi crowd, the gay crowd, the Uptown crowd, the food crowd. Dreamy trip-hop music drifts in the background like a puff of smoke. A strip of dark mirrored glass runs the circumference like a secret window that lets everyone catch entries and exits.
Many stop to salute Salum, who can smile engagingly even while stirring rice or plating a dish. Like all good chefs, he patrols the dining room to acknowledge each table, even if it’s someone he doesn’t know.
The restaurant takes the open kitchen concept to a rare level of exposure. Usually you can make eye contact with the chef, possibly see pans on the stove. At Salum, there’s no barrier. At first, it’s disarming to see the staff standing there, then charming, as if in a home kitchen.
That informality is echoed in the décor. Previously a doctor’s clinic, it has an elegant, living-room vibe with residential-style lamps and furniture selected by Salum and designer Julio Quinones. Panels of parchment fabric covering the ceiling lights look like soft rectangular sculptures, à la Claes Oldenburg. Everything’s taupe and olive and warm woods, but in a manner that enhances your meal instead of asserting its presence.The bar is cozy; at one end sits a cool little wine closet with a glass door. Bottles run on the high side here, with the majority of selections priced at around $38-$45. The staff isn’t fully versed, but the stemware is crystal, and the flatware gleams.
Salum grew up in Mexico City, attended culinary school in Vermont, interned in Provence, and worked at a San Antonio B&B before coming to Dallas. He does upscale New American, not unlike what he did at Parigi, but freer and without allegiance to Parigi’s history (i.e., no chocolate blob). His menu is small, maybe eight or nine entrées, but it changes monthly and has enormous appeal.
October’s dishes included lobster risotto, shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, and rack of lamb with a savory bread pudding studded with wild mushrooms. The kitchen hacked the lamb rack into two chops, each two inches high. That afforded a good-size chunk of meat, enough to get some contrast between the grilled edges and the rare, red meat inside.
Prosciutto shrimp is a cousin to bacon-wrapped scallop and faces the same challenge: getting both elements cooked properly, which he did, expertly so. The shrimp had such a flawless tender-firm texture, it gave off a happy squeak when chewed, while the prosciutto crackled appreciatively.
Risotto purists might cluck their tongues at Salum’s lobster risotto, which should have been too rich to finish in one sitting. But it had neither the fatal dose of cream nor the gooey-creamy texture a more traditional risotto might have had. Viewed as a creamy-ish rice—one that, in this case, came strewn with yummy soybeans and artichoke hearts—it tasted fine.
He aced the details. Salad with red and gold baby beets, another with beautiful tomatoes in all the fall colors, mozzarella, and serrano ham. Even something as minor as the steamed vegetables that accompanied many entrées stood out with its inclusion of asparagus and tender haricot verts. There was a flourless chocolate cake, but it was a light, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth thing. Salum’s escaped the blob for good.
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