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.

Now Open sign

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.

French toast, with less than fresh fruit

French toast, with less than fresh fruit

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.

Antipasto plate

Antipasto plate

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.

Interior of Bread & SaltI 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.

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10 comments

  • This makes me sad. I want to like this place, and Tenleytown needs more, better eating establishments. I hope B&S can get it together.

  • My family and I had a pretty good meal here two weeks ago, but we’ve only been that one time. Have to try it again and see, but it would be a shame if it’s truly as shaky as you say.

  • A spot on review, particularly your comment about the restaurant’s identity crisis.

    One of my other big problems with the restaurant — and something that would prevent me from going there for an evening out even if the food were good — is that there are TVs everywhere. Not just in the back area by the bar, but also all over the front of the house. You literally can’t sit at a table without being distracted by a massive TV in the background. Who exactly wants to watch the local news or Wheel of Fortune on mute while dining out with family and friends? And if they’re supposed to be for sports, well, this is not a sports bar, Public is next door for that or you can watch TV at the bar if that’s what you’re there for. The TVs in the dining room make absolutely no sense.

    Everyone in the neighborhood desperately wants to like this place and see it succeed. And how they can do so is not complicated, really. They should pare down the menu and focus on making what’s left better (and maybe offer a more robust order-at-the-counter takeout option given their massive and seemingly underused counter space). And they should get rid of the TVs to make the place into the welcoming neighborhood spot that they bill it to be. That’s it.

  • I have had a completely different experience of Bread and Salt, and think the (from what I can tell anonymous) review is intentionally and unnecessarily snooty. In my experience, the food at B & S has been excellent and the service most helpful and friendly. I do recognize from the review the occasional confusion and misstep which one might expect from a new restaurant, but other than that the restaurant has been a breath of fresh air–modern design, orange chairs and brightness included. I too could probably do without some of the tvs, but that is a small issue compared to the generally high quality of the food and the friendliness of the staff.

  • Have not been there yet. But with a name like Bred & Salt I was expecting something more slavic, maybe even Russian. It would be a nice addition to the neighborhood. and a hoped for replacement for the Serbian Crown that is still missed by so many old neighbors.

  • Sorry to hear bad news about a much sought after new place to dine in Tenleytown.

  • Sorry but I agree completely with the author. I have been twice and have been underwhelmed with the food and service. It’s so disappointing because there have been such high hopes for this place. I also agree with the comments about all of the TV’s. There is a sports bar next door for that. The orange chairs are a nice touch but the lights are too bright (at night at least) and the marble floors and tables are not inviting on a cold day or night. Perhaps they’ll do better when their large patio is open in good weather. They need to re-fashion their menu and ‘identity’ quickly. Everytime I drive or walk by there seem to be fewer and fewer people there even though Guapo’s remains packed as always.

  • I asked about all the TVs. The manager explained it was to show the restaurant was causal, yet slightly upscale (?). I think this is a case of too many restaurant consultants spoiling the broth. The bar was a disaster. Our tiny manhattans maybe filled half the glass. The bartender insisted at first this was the proper size (one shot). It’s not. To his credit the next round was much larger. The food prices seem ok, but the portions are small. I was expecting a more inviting, wholistic experience given the advertised ethos of the place. It is indeed quite harsh, unwelcoming and generic. Much better off at Guapos.

  • Haven’t been yet but overall the response is not positive

  • I completely agree with this review. I very much anticipated the opening of a “neighborhood restaurant” but its ambiance doesn’t jive with what I was expecting. I’ve been here twice. The chipotle chicken sandwich is less flavorful than something I could get at Panera. The pesto gnocchi was tasty but so very oily. B&S would be a convenient place to dine but I’m just not feelin’ it…