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Salt and Pepper, MacArthur Blvd. in Palisades - Chef Russell Braitch replaces Nathan and Lindsey Auchter


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Signs up in the old Kemble Park Tavern space. Info, including a sample menu, in their application to serve alcohol. Doesn't look too exciting, but a good neighborhood joint is always welcome. They will be open at 6am for breakfast. . .

The address in the application is the same as Bambu, but on the second floor. This appears to be above that establishment (consistent with the picture in the application).

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Upstairs above Bambu or taking over the Kemble Park/Starland space? Either way the menu looks like a big snooze. And why on earth did the application assert that it is Metro accessible? Bus maybe, but the closest Metro station is in Tenleytown, about three miles away and on the other side of a big hill.

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I too am confused as I thought Salt & Pepper was to be opened by Nate Altshuler {Not sure of the last name} in the old Kemble Park space. There is also to be a new addition above Bambu but I thought that was by the owners of Bambu with a different name.

In any case, the list serve in the area was very adaament about wanting a family restaurant menu much like the one listed in this application. I looked into the KPT space and did get feedback thru the listserve.

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This is a rare example of a time when I'm glad I didn't check dr.com before trying a new spot. Salt and Pepper is open as of today. Partially tried it (explained below) and see I'm not the first to post on it but first upon open. Most of what precedes this is pretty negative--early menu concept, website, etc.

Headline: Very Promising, True to the Chefs/Owners' Vision, Reasonably Well Executed and We'll Be Back Very Soon.

The Back Story

Hadn't noticed a thread had been created for Salt and Pepper. But, had read an article in one of the neighborhood newspapers (can't remember which one) about the story behind this place. Young couple, Nate & Lindsey Auchter, who'd met at Bethesda's L'Academie de Cuisine. Lived next door in a Palisades building to an older couple who'd been operating a long time lunch/sandwich/restaurant/not sure spot. The Auchters had worked at Equinox and Blacks. The two couples decide to do something together. Something for the neighborhood. Something approachable, accessible yet reflecting the culinary backgrounds and seriousness of quality, ingredients and technique. An all-domestic, US concept. It was a lovely story that made me want to try it out. But, a couple of months went by and I didn't hear anything more about it. Just vaguely remembered the story as told here (I'm sure with factual errors) and that it was in Palisades. Couldn't even remember its name.

So tonight, we went to Kotobuki for dinner. For us it's an old standby and one of the better (if not best) options in the lower priced but still decent quality sushi segment. After finishing dinner and heading outside into air cooled by the passing storm, I remembered the story of the place in Palisades. Still couldn't remember the name but knew it was somewhere west of where we were on MacArthur. So we took a short drive and, after passing Listranis and determining that "Sur la Place" was NOT it, we came upon Salt and Pepper. It wasn't obvious at first. The name didn't instantly click and it seemed much larger than I expected it to be. And, it's on the second level of an apartment building. But, upon entering and talking with two hostesses and Marco (helping with the open, normally of Equinox, soon to be of NYC), we knew we'd found the right place.

The Experience

We'd already had dinner at Kotobuki but I can always eat and had to try something so, with the NBA Finals Game 6 tonight, we asked for an order of "Blazin' Wings and Drums" to go. That's the only thing we actually tasted so everything else here is about what we saw, smelled, heard or otherwise experienced. I realize that would make a review like this verboten on Yelp but that's number 7 on my list of reasons why I don't attach a ton of value to Yelp. In no particular order, some things we observed or otherwise experienced:

1. Staff all really customer focused and genuinely nice

From the new hostesses and Marco who greeted us to wait staff who talked with us and the bartender (wish I'd have gotten her name--she was great), everyone seemed genuinely glad to be there, eager to help and just down-to-earth good people. Couple of examples:

- I asked Marco if best to just put in my takeaway order at the bar and he agreed. But, the bar was pretty swamped and after I'd waited just a few minutes there, Marco came over to me and took the order himself. He didn't want me to wait any longer.

- One of the hostesses encouraged us to walk around since we'd made evident our interest with plenty of questions. So we did and, during a full walk-through of the space, no fewer than three staff said hello, asked if they could help, chatted with us, etc.

- The bartender ended up taking care of the wings order and it took a bit longer than it probably should have. She offered us any of the $10-12 cocktails from the menu on the house. We thanked her, declined the offer but asked to see the beer/wine/'tails menu and then had a nice talk with her and another bartender about it while waiting.

2. The menu on paper and on the tables looks very good

- Mac & cheese: served in a rectangular oven safe container (metal or ceramic); nicely browned, bubbly. Can't speak to how it tastes but will try this for sure on next visit

- Burgers: 3 or 4 different options on menu and they looked very good as several went by us. We were told they're all from locally sourced, grass fed, "wagyu" beef

- American Wagyu Meatloaf: This is supposed to be a big-time contribution from Mrs. Auchter, who runs the front and is also a chef. Can't say much from the brief look we got of one but did overhear some genuine raves.

- "Blazin' Wings and Drums:" We got these to go but I had a couple in the car and I suspect they may be a good proxy for much of the menu. About 6 pieces with two full drumsticks versus drumettes. Good heat. Nice flavor. Fresh blue cheese crumbles rather than some kind of blue sauce and diagonally sliced fresh celery. Enjoyed these thoroughly.

- Beverages: Really impressive all-US list with 20+ wines by the glass, maybe a dozen or so all-craft beers with 2-5 on tap and then 10 or so very original, labor intensive, creative, ingredient focused, almost healthy sounding (in just a few cases) cocktails with fresh fruit purees, maple syrup and a few other non sugar sweeteners and one or two unfamiliar ingredients. I'm not a cocktail drinker but, had I not been keen to catch the start of the game, I'd absolutely have tried one...or two.

3. Concerns

We didn't really have any from what we experienced. The place is very large with 3 distinct seating areas including a kitchen side bar with full view of the line and big outdoor patio. We'll go again within a week or so and really put Salt and Pepper to the test.

But, having spent 30 minutes in the place tonight watching many dishes fly by (they were nearly at full capacity), trying one and taking to several of their people, I'm pretty optimistic Salt & Pepper may well turn out to be exactly what its owners aspire for it to be: accessible, american, but with no compromises on quality; just simple (yet elegant) delicious food.

Hopefully someone else will do a more proper review on the menu items soon before I get back again later this week or early next.

Best of luck to Salt & Pepper--hope to get them on this board!

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Full(er) review for S&P.

HEADLINE

Made it for dinner over the weekend and bottom line think it a good neighborhood spot with decent food, excellent value and a few differentiators worthy of praise. Not so much a destination place if jarringly-great grub is your thing but they do stand out more on the bar menu and the staff. To be fair, they aren't trying to be a 5-star spot. Nice alternative if not heading to other spots in the area like Blacksalt, Makoto, Kotobuki, Et Voila or even Listranis. A spot I'd visit semi-regularly if I lived closer. Specifics follow.

VENUE

Nothing much to add here from the initial writeup I posted except to suggest others request seats that are either booths (for privacy/comfort), the long bar alongside the open kitchen (if in the mood to watch/stare/observe the action) or outside on the patio if the weather is good. They're happy to accommodate you but won't automatically seat that way.

SERVICE

Good with the typical opportunities new places often have. Server was very friendly and sincere, generally efficient, etc. One small nit that turned out as a cool plus: I had asked for a substitution on a side and was told they'd do it but not advised about a [reasonable] up charge. Not a big deal and cool that the server agreed she should have so advised and I'm sure will going forward. Emily, the bartender, rocks. She remembered me from the previous week when she'd offered a comp drink (any drink) and, sure enough, the $6.50 charge for my pint didn't appear on my check. More than that though, she was just super hospitable and knows the products well.

FOOD

Credit to Salt&Pepper for declaring an interesting focus (all american, not necessarily local, quality and transparent sourcing) and then walking the talk as they seem to really do.

- Cup of tomato basil soup ($4): fresh, enjoyed it. nothing too breakout here but definitely respectable. one nice touch I initially though gimmicky but then enjoyed once tried: a small "grilled cheese crouton" floating in the soup. It was good, toasty (not soggy) with two different kinds of cheese. Maybe about a 1.5" hypotenuse triangle..

- Bacon & blue burger ($11): Again, good. Grassfed beef I think sourced from Oregon if I remember what our waitress told us when I asked. My SO got this without the blue cheese (crime of crimes I know!) or bun so can't comment on those. Bacon was meaty and the patty itself was cooked to order and good. I think they grind their own beef. Could use a bit more seasoning. Not as good as burgers I've had recently at Ray's, Palena and even Newton's Table in Bethesda but, again for a neighborhood spot, totally respectable and practically healthy as a special extra bonus.

- Wagyu meatloaf ($17): Liked this. It is one of the more promoted items on the menu and in some of the advance local press coverage. It's served gourmet style in a sort of manageably-sized log leaning on fresh, smooth (i.e., not lumpy) mashed potatoes. Clearly good quality beef. Ketchup on top as a coating. Again I'd have liked a bit more seasoning to boost the flavor. The potatoes were fine and the green beans very good and nicely seasoned.

- Mac & Cheese ($4 up charge, normally $6 as a side): Again good but not a top-5-in-the-city kind of mac & cheese. Nicely baked/toasted and served in a personally sized cast iron dish. I was surprised to learn it's made with four cheeses. I'd have guessed it was just a single milder cheddar. Finished it but might not order this again given I'm a bit of a mac&cheese snob.

- Had a nice micro hefeweizen style beer but forgetting the name. They had a bunch of interesting (at least to me) craft brews from all over both times we were there. The spirits/wine/beer list is a definite highlight here but I'll wait to see what those more expert than I think.

VALUE

Very good consistent with the positioning. Our dinner would have been less than $50 even if we had been charged for my pint and including tax. S&P is a great addition for the 'hood and a good spot for an occasional visit for those of us coming from beyond the 'hood B)

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First visit in the new Salt and Pepper incarnation. We were semi-regulars when it was Starland Cafe, went only once when it was Kemble Tavern. We'll probably be back, not because it is fabulous, but because the food is good and the prices not outrageous, and sometimes that's all you need in a neighborhood place where you don't have to dress up, deal with traffic and distance, valet parking, etc.

We skipped appetizers and went right to mains--ordered buttermilk-brined fried chicken and meatloaf, and split both. The fried chicken was super crunchy, a boneless thigh and semi-boneless half-breast. The crust was well seasoned, but might have been a shade too dark from a few too many moments in the fryer. The breast meat was slightly dry, but J. had no complaints about his thigh meat. The greens and mac and cheese that came with the chicken were delicious, both had hints of slightly unusual and intriguing flavor elements. Was there a bit of cinnamon in the mac and cheese? The greens had a touch of sweetness which I really enjoyed. In fact, the greens were my favorite savory dish of the meal. The (wagyu) meatloaf was also nicely seasoned, but suffered a bit in J's estimation, compared to meatloaf he eats at home, when I make it. I thought it could have used more panade--it was a bit tough. Our earnest young server brought and poured the wrong beer for J.--a porter instead of the brown ale that J. had requested. A prolonged search for the correct bottle which then needed to be chilled meant that we shared my draft Bell's Oberon through more than half of our meal, until we tracked the waiter down and just had him bring a second pint of Bell's instead of the brown ale. J. didn't want dessert, and I skipped the heftier-sounding ones in favor of bellini sorbet, which suffered from a complete absence of peach flavor and a grainy, icy consistency. We were eating it because it was cold and that was reason enough, when the waiter checked with us to see if we liked it. I was honest, but declined his offer to bring us something else. A few minutes later, a pleasant young man came to the open space next to our booth and introduced himself as Nate, the chef. He was genuinely interested to hear our critique of the sorbet and thought that he'd probably put too much champagne in it in an attempt to compensate for the acidity of the peaches.He explained that the fruit had come from the five acre farm that his business partners, the couple who own Bambu, own in Great Falls. He asked us if we would please taste the raspberry sorbet he'd made from berries that had come from their farm, and the sorbet came topped with black raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries. And it was fantastic. Not too sweet, with intense raspberry flavor and smooth texture. And the black raspberry sauce on top was ambrosial. Every time I taste cooked black raspberries, I am reminded that they are my favorite berry of all. Nate was very happy that we liked the raspberry sorbet: "I've redeemed myself. Thank goodness." They'll be bringing in more fruit, berries and vegetables from the farm for their menu as the summer progresses--tonight they had a squash blossom appetizer--and they've planted lots of tomatoes.

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I'm almost two weeks behind in my reviews, but here's my advance conclusion: Salt & Pepper is somewhere you want to go ASAP because if you don't, one of three things will happen: it will become more expensive, it will become worse, or it will become crowded. What a wonderful surprise this place is! (And don't hesitate to get the $6 glass of Riesling "on tap.")

Because of your enthusiastic mini- review, we booked a table there for a Sunday night in mid-July. Hope parking will not be a problem.

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Salt & Pepper is somewhere you want to go ASAP because if you don't, one of three things will happen: it will become more expensive, it will become worse, or it will become crowded. What a wonderful surprise this place is! (And don't hesitate to get the $6 glass of Riesling "on tap.")

Took Don's advice and went this evening with a couple of friends and enjoyed it immensely. We had lots of things - chicken wings (tasty!), french fried onion rings (quite good - the coating was not too greasy, and did not fall off), burger and fries (also good). You can see this was a low-cal meal! Actually I had the roast cod with lobster sauce which I enjoyed. We all shared a brownie sundae for dessert which was delish. We also all had the draft Riesling (Finger Lakes) which hit the spot. Good suggestion. What a very pleasant neighborhood place. Oh, and our very pleasant young waiter was exceptionally good.

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Took Don's advice and went this evening with a couple of friends and enjoyed it immensely. We had lots of things - chicken wings (tasty!), french fried onion rings (quite good - the coating was not too greasy, and did not fall off), burger and fries (also good). You can see this was a low-cal meal! Actually I had the roast cod with lobster sauce which I enjoyed. We all shared a brownie sundae for dessert which was delish. We also all had the draft Riesling (Finger Lakes) which hit the spot. Good suggestion. What a very pleasant neighborhood place. Oh, and our very pleasant young waiter was exceptionally good.

What did you like about the roasted cod? Cod can be quite boring. BTW, I shot an email to Nate about parking, and he said that dinner guests can park in the Wachovia lot.

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What did you like about the roasted cod? Cod can be quite boring. BTW, I shot an email to Nate about parking, and he said that dinner guests can park in the Wachovia lot.

It was served with very nice spinach and a sort of lobster hash. The cod itself was tasty, roasted very crisp on the edges. We lucked out and found parking on the street right in front.

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Matt on the Deck of Salt and Pepper, July 1, 2011, 7:49 PM

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We had dinner there on Sunday evening during the latest heat wave. I suspect that the AC couldn't handle the outside temperature plus a nearly full dining room, but Nate had installed some large fans to lessen the discomfort. The food was OK. Seafood stew had two shrimp, three clams, and seven mussels plus some finely diced vegetables. What saved it was a savory, garlicky sauce. The crabcakes were very tasty, with no hint of OB seasoning (just a nice hint of mustard) and a minimum of filler, but they were served on buttery mashed grits which reinforced the richness of the crabs instead of offering a counterpoint. My carmelized onion tart had too much crust and not enough onions. We were disappointed that the cod and the salmon had been removed from the menu.

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The wife and I decided to give Salt and Pepper a try last night and were pleasantly surprised. When I spoke to Don last week he mentioned to me to save my money I would spend at Graffiato and instead check out S&P. I think he was right on.

We dined late so the place was about 25% full. The staff was very friendly and efficient - a bit high-schoolish - but nice for a change.

For drinks I ordered the Gotham Project Riesling on tap. This is a finger lakes Riesling served from a keg. The wine was rather delicious - dry, nice fruit - very good. I have to go track down one of those kegs now.

For appetizers my wife had the watermelon soup and I had the cod fritters. Both were very good. The watermelon soup was delicious - basically tasted like a fresh, flavorful gazpacho. Very nice. The cod fritters were also very good. Nice breading and fried perfectly. I enjoyed the salt-cod-esque filling. They fritters were served with a sour cream dipping sauce which was good.

For main courses my wife had the meatloaf which was served with mashed potatoes and string beans. The meatloaf was very good - nice flavor, juicy and a reasonably good sized portion. The beans were good and the mashed potatoes were creamy and very good. I ordered the fried chicken. It was served with collard greens and mac and cheese (served in a staub container). The chicken was good - juicy and a nice breading. I received two breast halfs on the bone. The mac and cheese was delicious - bubbling hot, crisp exterior and very cheesy. The collared greens were the low point. They were tossed in hot sauce or vinegar which ruined them. Otherwise they would have been great.

We passed on dessert. Overall, a great meal and the prices are very reasonable for the quality and portion size. We enjoyed our visit to S&P and will be back again.

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Our second visit and first time sitting at the bar in the kitchen, where we could watch Chef Nate Auchter calmly presiding over an efficient and low-key team. We got an order of onion rings--Nate says he's been selling a lot of these since Sietsema raved about them. And they are really tasty, hot and crusty and the breading stays on the onions, even when cut in half with a knife. I really liked the spicy remoulade served alongside for dipping. We also enjoyed an appetizer special--a peeled whole tomato from their farm, stuffed with panzanella and mozzarella then roasted in the oven, and served drizzled with red wine reduction. I thought it a creative way to serve ripe tomatoes. It would have made a satisfying lunch entree, the way it was served with a small salad on the side. I had a burger which was made with flavorful beef, with a good crusty char. I had the regular Angus burger, and they also have a Wagyu burger which Chef Nate says he prefers. J got fried chicken again, and this time it was perfectly cooked. The white meat was juicy and well seasoned. and the mac and cheese is superb. I don't know why Sietsema dissed the greens--I thought they were delicious. If I am not mistaken, these were mustard greens, or perhaps mixed mustard and turnip greens. Less sweet than the collards I enjoyed on our first visit, and gently spiced. We had black raspberry sorbet for dessert, which was refreshing though not as intensely flavored as the red raspberry sorbet on our previous visit. We drank Son of a Peach on draft-- a lambic-style wheat beer which was delicious and refreshing. A perfect summer beer with lots of peach flavor without being cloyingly sweet, and a slightly bitter finish that reminded you that this was indeed beer. As we were finishing, Nate brought in a heaping crate of white peaches from the farm, small and gnarly but aromatic. We tasted one together with him as he thought about how to use them, and talked about the community garden space on Sherier Place and whether he could plant an herb garden there. Why not? This is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, with an honest and talented young chef at the helm and worthy of support from beyond the Palisades.

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Had a nice first experience here last night. I wouldn't necessarily italicize it if I were the guy running the Dining Guide, based only on this one dinner, but the staff was very friendly and the food was good, so no complaints whatsoever.

Maybe it is just the time of year, or the day of the week, or the things that we ordered, but I got less of a vibe of "this place must be run by chefs with a farm and a real vision" than I expected based on some reviews here and elsewhere. (Among other things, there were no specials, meaning nothing that was notably in-the-moment. And the menu, which you can see online, requires a little creative thinking and puzzle-assembling for those who want to eat heartily but without meat. But again this is not meant as a complaint, because the staff were very helpful for those who wanted to assemble that particular puzzle.)

If the phrase "Peanut Butter Whoopee Pie" excites you even a little bit (as it did with my son) you should get that, and it comes also with a little milkshake and some peanut brittle, creatively thought-out and well-prepared.

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Oh man, sign outside tonight says "closed pending further notice" -

which is weird/sudden/sad, since Open Table was happy to give me a reservation this afternoon

I hope that whatever the problem is, it gets resolved.

Wow. This was second on our list for tonight. I've been waiting for breakfast service. I hope it all turns out well for them.

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A couple of days ago, Nycci Nellis had a cryptic blog post about Salt and Pepper, that she'd heard that "the chef couple is out and the owners are remodeling" and asked if anyone had details. I'd be interested in knowing what happened, too. The "owners" refers to the family who own Chen's Gourmet and Bambu and who were the "partners" who Nate Auchter told me about on one of the several occasions I ate at Salt and Pepper. The family also own a five-acre "farm" in Great Falls that Nate told me was providing some of the vegetables and fruit he was using. Too bad. I really liked what Nate and Lindsay were trying to do there. I have not been nearly as impressed by the Chinese and pan-Asian efforts of the family which owns Chen's and Bambu. Now what?

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Don had originally posted about Salt & Pepper:

"Salt & Pepper is somewhere you want to go ASAP because if you don't, one of three things will happen: it will become more expensive, it will become worse, or it will become crowded."

Sadly, it was a fourth thing: It will go out of business for reasons unknown and reopen as a totally different restaurant with different owners and chef. Not sure why they've even kept the name given the repositioning. Sigh, too many promising spots fading in recent weeks.

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Reopened - has anyone been?

No, but it has been (quietly) reopen for some time now - I noticed people in there at least a good month ago.

And, your post prompted me to visit their website - they feature half-price wine on Mondays. As soon as I find out if this means "by the glass," "all bottles," or "certain wines," I'll put them on the Monday Discounts section of the Calendar.

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