I stared at my sister incredulously. ‘What do you mean by asking me to pack my leftovers from Salmontini? That’s a high-end place and it’d look absurd if I did that!’
While I’m oblivious to where the rest of the world stands on this issue, I would personally never ask for a takeout or leftovers to be packed in any ritzy restaurant – i.e. a restaurant with gourmet food, wallet-chafing prices, and tight-lipped sneers should you have dared to enter in anything less than your Best Behavior suit for the occasion. I would either try to: (a) guzzle down every last precious morsel even if it made foie gras out of me, or (b) suffer those painful bouts of guilt that were sure to hit later when I’d mope about the exorbitantly-priced remnants that were left untouched on my plate. I was sure that Salmontini, with its French inspired name, ‘La Maison du Saumon’ (aka The House of Salmon) and renowned kitchens in both Beirut and subsequently Dubai, was surely no exception from its hauté cuisine kin.
My verdict in such cases of glam and pomp stands as before: never shalt there takeout be.
The silver SALMONTINI inscription at the doorway proudly ushered us into the restaurant, cozily nestled away from the rest of the mall with other culinary houses of rivaled nobility. On entering, we were greeted by the soft din of muted voices, creating a hushed, tranquil feeling that mirrored the pastel hues and recessed lighting of the two-tiered dining room. Tall French windows at the far end of the room gestured out over the mall's indoor ski slopes, transporting me back to my childhood days of gazing wide-eyed into handheld snow globes that were miniature stand-in's for snowless Christmas winters in Dubai.
True to the Salmontini concept, the menu boasted a lavish spread of salmon delights in each of its internationally-influenced savory forms, from raw carpaccio and sashimi to grilled ricotta-stuffed salmon and even fried salmon (‘fish and chips’ on their lunch special). Salmontini had just the right option to appease the indecisive beast in me – The Plate for two (Dhs. 120), or potentially even three people, which showcased tasting samples of salmon tartar as well as raw, cured and smoked salmon.
On a side note, as I launched into a crash course for my friend on How to Use Chopsticks, the server approached our table and sweetly offered us a set of “trainer chopsticks” – two chopsticks that were held together at the top with a rubber band in an ingenious tweezer-like manner. It was a neat little adaptation for chopstick newbies, which would have saved me many embarrassing incidents during my early chopstick days of mutilated sushi strewn across the plate, the table, the floor, and everything else but my mouth. The server’s kind – and not in the least bit arrogant – gesture was unexpected but greatly appreciated.
The runner-up on The Plate was layered in quintessential sundae fashion: marinated smoked salmon with crème fraiche and topped with a red berry (a currant maybe?), with all three ingredients composing a multi-textured melody that echoed with perfectly balanced sweet, sour and salty notes. But surpassing that act for the limelight was the heart of smoked salmon. Silence reigned at the table as we surrendered to the sensation. Tender heart nuggets. Melting on our palates. Buttery pools of sublime satisfaction. Nirvana.
(During my desperate Google quest hours later to learn about the intricacies of salmon heart and potentially the technique used at Salmontini (which I believe is prepared using a smoking technique that descended from the court of Russian Tsars), I was pleased to see that fellow reviewers of Salmontini reached a similar state of salmon heart-induced ecstasy.)
The smoked slices of salmon didn't really do it for me - I would have expected more richness and flavor, and frankly, have tasted better smoked salmon at a corporate breakfast catered by Appetite, a local family run business started by a husband and wife foodie. Their smoked salmon with philadelphia cheese, dill and capers on rye bread was totally divine, but that's a subject for a whole other discussion! Getting back to Salmontini, with all due respect to the smoked salmon slices, even if they were high quality, my guess is that nothing of any quality could have rivaled the salmon heart tasting - so next time, that's all I'm ordering for apps.
Our entreés arrived next, including a plate of salmon sushi and California Crispy maki rolls (at Dhs. 24 and Dhs. 48 respectively, both were good, though nothing extraordinary...yet again, the salmon heart may have killed the show for subsequent salmon acts), and based on our server’s recommendation, the chef’s special preparation of Entrecôte (Dhs. 115). They have 'All You Can Eat Sushi for Dhs. 160' on Mondays...though, that begs the Anthony Bourdain question (in his awesome must-read book, The Kitchen Confidential): when do these guys get their fish delivered? I'm hoping that given the calibre of this restaurant, they get their deliveries of fish daily and are not relying on all-you-can-eat specials to dump their expensive but stale stock on diners.
I felt like we were cheating when we ordered steak at a place called Salmontini, but that was actually a really wise choice in retrospect - both because I stopped trying to compare the dish to my newfound salmon heart obsession and because the sauce accompanying the steak seriously rocked. While I've never tasted the original St. Germain des Prés sauce drizzled over the Entrecote steak at its birthplace and Parisian steakhouse, Le Relais de Venise – L'Entrecôte, Salmontini’s rendition of the same béarnaise-inspired sauce celebrated a joyful reunion of herby, buttery, and other impossible-to-disentangle, but absolutely intoxicating, flavors.
Though the meal, with non-alcoholic drinks and sans dessert, racked up to a steep Dhs. 336, it was thoroughly well-spent on both exquisite food and service. Admittedly, contrary to my preconceptions about experiencing stodgy, even snobbish, service in direct proportion to the degree of ritzy-ness of the restaurant, I was delightfully surprised by the friendly, yet professional and non-intrusive, attitude of the servers at Salmontini. Not only did they graciously introduce us to the concept of trainer chopsticks, but also patiently walked us through the menu and our dishes (even after asking them to explain The Plate to me. Thrice). And in a memorable moment of poetic irony – a moment that saved me from the guilt that I would undoubtedly have experienced were any precious gems left uneaten on the plate – they obligingly offered to pack our leftovers so we could take them home.
The jury is out. Salmontini’s The Plate with its creamy salmon heart and the chef’s version of the Entrecôte steak must be had. And thankfully in our case, there shalt be takeout after all.
Mall of the Emirates
Phone: (04) 341-0222