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Review Roundup: Are Critics Predicting the Early Demise of Salt Cellar?

Both Heavy Table and City Pages have turned in scalding reviews of the Cathedral Hill eatery.

Joy Summers

Salt Cellar opened just before the New Year on Selby Avenue in St. Paul serving a classic steakhouse menu with the Forager Chef Alan Bergo running the kitchen. Bergo arrived from Heartland where he worked under James Beard Award nominated chef Lenny Russo.  Salt Cellar is owned by the same team behind Eagle Street Grille, a bar that thrives across the street from the Xcel Energy Center. This is their first foray into fine dining.

Heavy Table's Peter Sieve was the first to weigh in on his experience. While he noted a pleasant vibe and attractive space, he found the food over priced and under seasoned. Flavors were unbalanced. Sieve writes the beef tartare, "was overwhelmed by unpleasantly intense mushroom flavors, leaving any flavor from the presumably high-quality Piedmontese beef languishing in their fungal wake."

The table side Cesar salad service was overly long, "gimmicky" and yielded underwhelming flavors. The mushroom soup was bad enough that, "we began to wonder about Bergo’s bonafides as a fungus whisperer." Entrees were "bland," "forgettable," compared to a rawhide dog treat dipped in LeeAnn Chin orange sauce and "lacking in basic cooking skills."

The best things that he found were the complimentary relish tray served at the beginning of a meal and the bar menu's burger and prime rib sandwich.

Sieve's parting shot assesses the kitchen as "whiffing amateur swings," where they should be hitting it out of the park. Summing up his review, "The value isn't there."

Salt Cellar: Peering Inside Cathedral Hill's Newest Restaurant

City Pages' Mecca Bos goes one step further, using her experience as a chef and working in the industry, detecting signs of a sinking ship.  She noted, "A general crackle of frenzy, like an exposed nerve."

It seems since the Heavy Table team dined inside Salt Cellar, the kitchen had over-corrected. While their food was bland, Bos was inundated with salt, including pork belly so salty that the table had to concede, "It saddened us to admit that we finally met a bacon we did not like."

The Cream of Bolete (mushroom) soup was a miss again, "one low note of earth and one high of sodium." Bos also chimed in that she could do without the table side service on the salad.

Meat was cooked improperly and the staff didn't demonstrate a grasp of the difference in the beef cuts.

The highlights were small including a solitary, dehydrated blood orange dessert garnish, a "thimble-sized" portion of wild mushrooms served alongside the steak, Brussels sprouts and the beef-tallow fried French fries. Although, with the fries, all agree that the house-made ketchup is skippable. (Our unsolicited advice is to order them with a side of the choron sauce: Bearnaise with tomato.)

Overall, sounds like the bar is the best dining bet and hopefully, the food evens out and this isn't an early death knell on a new restaurant. Sieve pondered, "Something more problematic is at work than the simple opening jitters of a new restaurant."

While Bos gazed longingly at a neighboring restaurant while walking away from The Salt Cellar. She quotes a chef friend predicting an impending bubble burst after 2014's record year of restaurant openings. She ruminated, "What's happening here is confounding. It was supposed to be good. Really good."

Have you been to Salt Cellar? Let us know what you think: are the critics right on or off the mark?

The Salt Cellar

173 Western Ave N, Saint Paul, MN 55102

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