Reasonably Priced “Culinary Vacations” Now Available At SaltAir
On a roughly biannual basis, chef Brandi Key and staff get an opportunity to let whimsy reign at SaltAir. At only $45 each, the resulting prix fixe theme menus are a boon for diners. The latest chef series is a tour around the world, featuring the cuisines of the Baja California peninsula, Hawaii, the Guangdong province of China, Gujarat, the “jewel of Western India,” and Havana.
Each menu is available for about a week at dinnertime Tuesdays through Saturdays. The Baja California menu is the kick-off and is available until June 3. For Key, it’s the expression of a dream road trip all the way down the peninsula.
The meal begins with the issuance of a “passport”: a nice keepsake that includes all the chef’s series menus. Each dish represents a very specific destination, as we discovered during a media preview of the Baja one. “This is where we go to the Sea of Cortez. We’re far south at Cabo San Lucas where they do clam bakes,” she said, as she laid down an elegant plate of three roasted and stuffed Venus clams atop a bed of rock salt.
Not that these needed any help, but Key enriched the meaty mollusks with onion butter and olive oil, then added fresh touches of chopped tomato and cilantro. Next to it went a small glass decanter of what Key declared as, “my favorite hot sauce.” (That turned out to be Valentino. This was not a dish that demanded anything more.)
The next course is a beautifully wrapped “tamale fajados,” a classic dish from the same area of Mexico. (Fajados means “to swaddle.”) It’s stuffed with stewed chicken ranchero but interestingly enough, the corn used in the soft, fresh masa seemed the real star.
The shameless show-stealer, though, was the filleted and flattened pescado zarandeado. Left head-on, it’s grilled over wood on a plancha (cast iron griddle). Over centuries, immigrants from across the Pacific—Japan, China and Korea, for example—have influenced cuisine on the western coast of Mexico. So, the fish marinade includes soy sauce, as well as citrus and chiles. The fish served will be sole, lenguado or snapper, depending on what is fresh and available from the Sea of Cortez.
Best of all, it’s served with all the fixings needed for fish tacos: toasty griddled tortillas, onion, tomato salad and habanero sauce, “in case you want to kick it up a little.” (Key’s definition of “a little” may or may not jive with yours, but we loved the heady concoction.)
Wrapping up a pretty healthy meal is a touch of welcome sin: thick, fried triangular doughnuts. SaltAir makes these from a sweet, sopapilla-like dough before dredging each in cinnamon-sugar and adding scoops of vanilla ice cream. (Key is sourcing the ice cream from various local purveyors. On the night we visited, Lee’s Creamery was featured.)
Here’s the full list of themes and dates for the SaltAir chef’s series:
May 30 to June 3: Baja, Mexico
June 6 to June 10: Hawaii
June 13 to June 17: Guangdong Province, China
June 20 to June 24: Gujarat, India
June 27 to July 1: Cuba