Bread & Salt: Tenleytown’s Newest Restaurant Leaves Much to be Desired
The latest installment of Tenleytown, D.C.’s restaurant reviews takes us to the recently opened Bread & Salt.
With much anticipation, I awaited the opening of Bread & Salt, which the owners described as a friendly, neighborhood gathering spot that would offer reasonably priced, high-quality cuisine with a Mediterranean influence. The restaurant seemed destined to be a fresh, slightly upscale addition to the Tenleytown dining scene and to bring new energy to its small strip of 41st Street, which also includes the Dancing Crab and Public Tenley. Not wanting to sample the food while Bread & Salt worked out the kinks any new restaurant faces right after opening, I waited a month before visiting in the hopes of sharing a rave review. Unfortunately, I should have waited longer.
The waiter on my first visit was overly attentive to the point of annoying. He was at our table so often that my dining companion and I felt like we should have pulled up a chair and asked him to sit down. The frequency of his visits, however, did not translate into better service. Dishes were delivered without the proper utensils or, in one instance, plates. A return visit reinforced that the front of house staff simply have not been trained properly. Wait staff forgot to bring dishes my companions and I ordered – or delivered them to a different table altogether. Getting creamer for coffee alone took three people. And no one knew anything about the food.
The latter, however, seems to be less the wait staff’s fault and more a sign of problems in the kitchen. On both of my visits, my waiter complained that the menu was constantly changing and that he couldn’t keep up from week to week. The written menu does not offer much help as the description of dishes is either non-existent or does not always match what is served.
I could perhaps forgive some bad service if the food was stellar, but Bread & Salt misses the mark time and again. The lamb stew tasted like condensed soup out of a can, and the lamb was overly fatty, coating the tongue in an unpleasant way. The diced vegetables resembled those you can find in any freezer case, and a giant glob of mashed potatoes swam in the middle. I didn’t expect a faithful recreation of the wonderful lamb stews I’ve enjoyed along the Mediterranean coast and in the Middle East, but this was completely inedible. The chicken sandwich I substituted for the stew was mediocre at best. The chicken was cooked well and the chipotle mayo had a nice spicy flavor, but the sandwich was difficult to eat and the brioche bun too large for the meat and toppings. My friend’s Reuben was a similar let down with too much corned beef and not enough sauerkraut or cheese to complement the flavor of the beef.
Not wanting to write off Bread & Salt from just one visit, I went back for breakfast with my family a week later. Sadly the food did not improve. My French toast consisted of soggy, overly battered, plain white bread with absolutely no flavor, accompanied by sad looking strawberries that clearly had been sitting around for quite some time. My son’s pancakes were just okay, neither fluffy nor flavorful, and he left them largely untouched. My husband fared better with the smoked salmon on simit bread, but didn’t receive sufficient bread, and was charged extra for additional bread that ultimately ended up at someone else’s table. I will say the coffee was good – once it arrived – but not worth the trip alone.
While the concept behind Bread & Salt is solid, the execution leaves much to be desired, and quite frankly the restaurant appears to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. There are hints of the touted Mediterranean influences here and there, but Bread & Salt fails to commit and the hints become confusing rather than defining of the restaurant. Turkish, spice-rubbed pastirma is added to an otherwise generic antipasto plate, simit bread is substituted for a bagel, and lamb stew arrives without any of the signature flavors of the region.
Bread & Salt further fails to live up to its neighborhood eating house slogan. The décor is, as one dining companion described, “aggressively modern” and does not jibe with the warm, friendly ethos of breaking bread that forms the basis of the restaurant’s name. I share the opinion of another diner who said she expected a more rustic charm, with wood tables or earth tones, instead of the glass, marble and chrome which, when combined with the strong orange and purple color palate, feels a bit cold. And as for bread? If you want any, you will have to pay $5 for a basket of generic sliced bread. Given the name, one might instead expect servers to greet diners with a complementary basket of warm artisan bread to enjoy as they peruse the menu.
I really expected more from Tenleytown’s newest restaurant. The owners hailed their chef, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who helmed the now-closed, iconic Capitol Hill restaurant La Colline for two decades. I had the pleasure of eating at La Colline a time or two, and the food there was classic, elegant, and respectful of its ingredients. However, the food coming out of the Bread & Salt kitchen tastes as if it were prepared by a novice chef. The menu is uninspiring and generic, and certainly not in line with what one would expect from the likes of someone who once headed La Colline. I have no problems with simple food, but if a restaurant is going to do simple food, it needs to do it well.
Tenleytown has a definite market – dare I say, hunger – for new, slightly upscale restaurants. But I’m tired of new places opening, talking a big game, and failing to deliver. Firelake Grill was similar and it’s gone the way of the dodo. I don’t want to see the same happen to Bread & Salt, but the food and service need an overhaul. I hope they make changes and give us something to rave about. If they do, I’ll be the first to pull up a chair and sing their praises.
Bread & Salt is located at 4619 41st Street, and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The website is still under development, but you can find Bread & Salt on Facebook.