Salut’s French Menu Surrenders

Alyssa Vance / Heavy Table

Parasole’s newest arrival opened this week. Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group will be (according to the website) serving “the food we love to eat.” It’s the ninth restaurant from Minnesota’s largest independent restaurant group and it looks like there’s no end in sight. Mozza Mia, an Italian concept eatery serving wood-fired pizzas and showcasing a mozzarella bar, is also slated to open this year. Tack on the plans to open additional locations of Burger Jones and Good Earth, and it’s clear that Parasole has no plans to slow down. But might their recent growth spurt be hindering them from paying close attention to their already existing restaurants? And where is the line between being fresh and creative versus overly ambitious?

Take Salut, for example. Visit the website and you’re prompted to choose between English or French. Drive by a billboard and you’ll see le signature Frog, sporting a beret, taking a drag of a cigarette. Skim the menu and you’ll find it laden with steak frites, sauce boats, and Duck a l’Orange. Take a seat in the fenced-in courtyard in a wicker French bistro chair and you’ll hear “La Vie En Rose” oozing out of the speakers. You get the point. The restaurant has “bonjour” spilling out of it every which way.

However, a recent visit left this writer confused. The Escargot Rangoon touched it off. I was sold before ordering. I like escargot. I like crab rangoons. So what could go wrong if you replaced the crab with ze French snail? Upon review: Snails have no business being deep fried in wontons. My preference is still that they be served in garlicky butter that you can sop up with baguette, a classic dish for a French restaurant. But hey, that’s me. Regardless of the dish’s quality, it highlighted something. Salut is slowly adding menu items that are, in fact, not French. Doesn’t this go against the Parasole theme of opening concept-driven restaurants? (Though on Cafeteria’s website they’re quick to point out that the concept is, in fact, having no concept at all.)

What are Ricotta Hushpuppies doing in the hors d’oeuvre? Isn’t bolognese of Italian descent? Miso Red Snapper served with bok choy doesn’t sound very French to me. This didn’t make sense. Not from Parasole. Burger Jones serves… burgers. Plus the standard pairings: shakes, fries, and the works. Manny’s is renowned for its red meat and mammoth portions, and expected steakhouse sides like buttery hash browns and heaping plates of veggies. Good Earth’s menu is filled with dishes that are, well, good for your body. These restaurants have clear, concise concepts that are carried out in food, décor, and ambiance. But it seems that Salut has been quietly introducing non-French menu items without any explanation.

Salut doesn’t stand alone in its culture confusion. Il Gatto (the Italian restaurant that replaced the landmark Figlio and is one of now three Parasole restaurants in a one-block radius in Uptown) is serving french fries and hamburgers alongside linguini and salumi. There are certainly other local restaurants outside of the Parasole family that serve pizzas or chicken salad in addition to sushi. But then again, they’re not claiming to be Japanese. Perhaps Salut is exhibiting globalization or France has seen an increase in immigration.  Or maybe I’m just bitter because I like my snails in butter and not a deep-fried wonton. (Next time, it’s off to Meritage to get my fix.)

Aside from restaurants straying away from concepts, I’ve heard many locals reminisce about two landmarks that used to be — the place that was formerly Figlio (mostly about the old happy hour — $2 gorgonzola fries and wine, anyone?) and the former Hyatt location of Manny’s (where they didn’t have cameras in the restaurant and the decibel level sometimes dropped below “passing freight train”). In both cases, was Parasole trying to fix something that wasn’t broken? One starts to wonder, what’s the rush to grow? There’s a fine line between quantity versus quality, and with all the money that continues to be invested in new openings, Parasole could risk being spread too thin.

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16 Comments

  1. No brainer – don’t go to Salut for a French dining experience. And I know you weren’t actually drawing a comparison between Meritage and Salut, but just hearing them mentioned in the same column gave me a little shudder. But I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment – run, don’t walk, to Meritage from the Salut on Grand Ave. Likewise, if you find yourself craving French cuisine near 50th and France, get yourself to Cave Vin at 56th and Xerxes as quickly as possible.

    I’m not a Salut hater – it’s perfectly fine if I’ve got some Parasole reward points burning a hole in my pocket. I enjoy some of their food (hangar steak, french onion soup, crab cake…) and the atmosphere can be kind of fun, but their French schtick is really in name only. I don’t think that should be held against them too much, though. It’s done so tongue in cheek that expectations shouldn’t be set too high.

  2. But isn’t modern American culture founded entirely on the concept of ill-conceived cross-pollination, cultural misappropriation, uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake and the unintended irony that ensues? I mean, between trucker hats on bike messengers, the Frankenstein musical concept that is Kid Rock, suburban moms dressing like teenagers, a left handed chain smoking basketball lover of mixed race and questionable birth and qualifications in the White House you’re not finding much true-to-form pedigreed anything in this country. Except for maybe the AKC dog show every year. The only thing homogenized in this country any more is the milk. But even that is adulterated beyond repair.

  3. Also, knowing the Parasole sense of humor, I wouldn’t be surprised if Phil Roberts is tempted to throw a rock at the neon “A” in the Salut sign every time he drives past. In fact, I can’t believe nobody has done that yet.

  4. Parasole will give the diners in Edina what the diners want, not what some folks think should be served because of the suggested theme according to the restaurant’s name. If they want pizza or burgers at a restaurant with a french name, they will get the pizza and burger. Parasole is successful because they give a quality product in a very nice enviornment and the dining experience is reproducable upon each visit. They have written the book on how to do it right!
    Meritage is one fantastic restaurant. Will be there Sat. night, again.

  5. Isn’t it more accurate to say that Parasole plagiarized the book on how to do it right?

  6. Has Meritage corrected its tendency to oversalt the food, NOT a French habit in my opinion? (meaning tendency to oversalt is not French)

  7. My food-loving (cooking & eating out) relatives who live near Salut go there regularly. Obvs it is not French, but they like the location, the food, the prices, so they don’t car about the French part of it. I’ve been there a couple times and the food was great once and good once.

    I also don’t care that Haagen Dazs is not from Scandinavia but New Jersey.

  8. Everything ends up in the middle. Look at Crave for christ sakes. If you want to keep the wallet thick, you give the people what they want.

    Now pass me some chicken strips and ranch dressing

  9. Haven’t been there lately (it doesn’t give me quality for the price…), but is the thought that they’re incorporating French colonial food? Rangoons and the miso snapper could certainly be considered SE Asian, if not directly Vietnamese…

    And as Jane notes, they’re not exactly traditional French, but more of a “French vibe…” (They do have “le cheezeburger” afterall…)

  10. I really don’t think Parasole’s intention in creating “concept” restaurants was to be truly authentic in every item placed on the menu. Concept, to me, and it seems to Parasole, is more about an atmosphere, a vibe. While the food on the menu should certainly jive with that atmosphere and vibe, it does not need to be painfully, traditionally authentic. When I want authentic Mexican food, I march my butt to an Mexican-family owned restaurant that typically does not have a great ambiance but has stellar enchiladas or paella. When I want a night out on the town complete with AMAZINGly tasty and certainly creative dishes, I got to a Parasole restaurant. Often times, that includes Salut. Salut’s “concept” was never, ever to be a traditional French restaurant. They are the place I think of when I want the best burger and fries of my life (ironically NOT Parasole’s burger-specific Burger Jones) and they always will be. Salut’s “concept” reflects the dynamic pairing of the founder’s (Phil Roberts) jovial and irreverent sense of humor and taste for innovative, yet crowd-pleasing, cuisine. Parasole’s ability to class-up traditional bar-food never ceases to amaze (re: Homemade Mozzarella “In Carrozza”
    with arrabiatta sauce served at Il Gatto which is basically high-end mozz sticks)and its cocktails make me seriously contemplate forking over around $10 a drink to get drunk on the most delicious path available (quite an expenditure). Pardon me if I am willing to sacrifice the traditional for a creative-American take on it. The Japanese may be none-too-happy about the idea of deep frying sushi, but my husband still moons over Chino Latino’s Snoop Doggs. If Parasole were truly endangering the sacred art of traditional cuisine, I would be the first raise my oppositional flag. Since that has never been and will never be the case, I see no point in vilifying something Minnesotans have clearly embraced, and, frankly, are damned proud of. Parasole, you go girl.

  11. Did you really leave confused? You didn’t do the due diligence of reading and knowing about the place before you went? Because since day one it’s been a mash-up, French-American, that we’ve all known about. It’s not a slow addition of menu items that they’re “quietly introducing”, that’s the concept. There’s been a burger since go.

    It seems more like you needed a sword to take on the dragon of a big company (how dare they),framing your misread with the assumption that they aren’t paying attention because they’re growing too big.

    Ambition is such a sin these days, except for writers I guess. Sadly, in her eagerness to call out the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes, it just looks like Ms. Vance came to school without pants.

  12. I wouldn’t say Salut has a French vibe, even. Not a whiff of one. Fine, except for the name.

  13. @Greg

    I hate to nitpick, but you’ve got your facts wrong. (And I feel like I should probably intervene, as Heavy Table’s resident Vietnamese American.) Rangoons and miso are far from Southeast Asian inventions. Cream cheese doesn’t really exist over there, but that’s a moot point: the dish was created at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco. Miso, on the other hand, is a Japanese food.

  14. If it weren’t for Trader Vic’s there would never be Crab Rangoons or MAI TAI’S which are a far more greater necessity on a hot summer day. Bless them.

  15. Perhaps the high concept behind Salut is so high that went over the head of our critic. When I was introduced to the restaurant by a friend, I was told it’s French-American in a peculiar way: It’s how a French restaurant would imagine American food. It’s not meant to be Americans doing French food. Give that, Ricotta hushpuppies would be apropos … as would the other mash-ups.

  16. Parasole is a serious restaurant company, but many of its restaurants, including Manny’s, are parodies to varying degrees. Salut was Robert’s vision of gently mocking the French (while paying some homage), which he has said in countless articles—there is nothing confused about it. At the St. Paul Salut, one enters beneath neon “Le Cheeseburger.” Click on the “French” button on the Web site, and it reads, “It has been determined you don’t speak French.” What do you expect?

    Critiquing Salut’s menu against Meritage’s—or any Parasole concept against strict “authenticity”—is, uh… Well, if Roberts read this review, I could hear him say simply, “Yeah, so?”

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