Sala. West End & Bucktown: 124 Lake Marina Ave. 504-513-2670.
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
In an effort to keep up at least the semblance of following culinary trends, I have become sensitive to menus that appeal strongly to my twenty-something daughter. I am finding a lot of these lately. They’re easy to spot: if ordering a complete meal requires you to assemble appetizers into entrees, you are in a Millennial restaurant. There’s no question that this is going on at Sala. It’s the right approach at the right time for the Riccobonos, some of whom are at the perfect age for this bold step forward.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Lakeview and West End cannot have too many restaurants. The neighborhood is riddled with residents who represent much growth that predates Katrina and more than picked up where it left off. Sala is a pretty hip place, adding a lot of diversity to the scene and drawing a much younger clientele than it had ten years ago. Lots of people come here for to sit at the lively bar, and stay to eat a meal that might have Mexican, Japanese, Italian, and Creole-French on its menu.
The younger Riccobonos have built Sala’s cuisine on a foundation of familiar ingredients–seafood, Italian sauces and pastas, and sandwiches. But they back off when it comes to deep flows of marinara sauce. At that point, the menu reaches out in every direction for inspiration: the Far East, the south of France, the Hispanic culinary world, and whatever else sounds good to the kitchen. Thus far, the best bets seem to be some of the tried and true Italian fare, but even that is quite different from what we are accustomed to eating.
The Riccobono family has a long history of operating restaurants around New Orleans. It began in the early 1960s with the Buck Forty Nine Pancake and Steak House, whose several locations served a menu much more interesting than the name might suggest. In the 1970s, patriarch Joe Riccobono went along with his wife Josie’s idea to open the Peppermill, a more sophisticated, less cowboy-style restaurant. It was a big hit for decades, but despite its consistent goodness the Peppermill saw its many loyal customers getting long in the tooth. The third generation of Riccobonos–mostly in their thirties or so–saw a need to open something distinctly new. Sala is the first product of that effort, and a long stride from the Peppermill.
The building began its life as a hamburger joint, A Mexican menu took over in the early 2000s, to be followed by the Maple Cafe, an import from Uptown. All of these tenants kept up a look that makes the place feel circular, with many windows all around. Concrete floors and other rough stuff give forth the much-liked warehouse style that gets more popular all the time. The servers are as young as the customers, and can build a good conversation with you just by talking about the menu.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Cured salmon board, herbed cream cheese
>Oysters panné with a sharp cream sauce
>Shrimp salad, pink remoulade, avocado
St. James cheese board
Duck empanadas, sweet chili sauce
Sesame-soy seared ahi tuna
>Wonton chips, housemade pickled vegetables
>Sweet chili-fried calamari
Steamed mussels, herb truffle fries
Bacon brussel sprouts
>Broiled gulf fish beurre blanc, gilled asparagus
Fried drumfish amandine, lemon butter sauce, brabant potatoes
Fried seafood plates (catfish, oysters, shrimp, combo, fresh-cut fries)
Pasta fra diavolo, shrimp, calamari, red pepper tomato sauce
>Panné chicken linguine, tomato cream sauce
Braised short rib, mushroom and red wine demi
>Char-grilled filet, sherry cream sauce
FOR BEST RESULTS
Check to make sure that you are not at a table that will give you a sunbath. Ask the server lots of questions. It will turn up some interesting specials, which may be the most interesting aspect of the place.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Being an old-timer, I’m not nuts about the hyper-casual look, the occasional loud acoustics emanating from the bar, and especially the music played in the background. But I am not their target customer.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Sidewalk tables
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open all afternoon
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted