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Dining Out: A divine experience all around

June 05, 2010|By Phillip Hain
(Raul Roa )

The charm of Sweetsalt Food Shop in Toluca Lake begins with the wooden sign outside advertising its name, evoking the feeling that you've been transported to a wonderful experience of a forgotten era. And it continues when you step inside and view marble and wood-topped tables against a wall with a wainscot bottom. This place has an aura of sensory pleasure, which is akin to the meal in which you are soon to partake.

The menu is not extensive but well designed so that there is enough variety to give people choices without assaulting them. We began by sharing a small tomato bisque ($4) that was served in a white porcelain soufflé dish and came piping hot — so much that we had to take small bites as it cooled, but it was delicious. The temperature was well matched with a kick of pepper and very soothing. We tried to guess the spices and may have detected a hint of paprika. Whatever it was, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

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For me, the heart of palm salad ($7) featuring avocado, red pepper, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, mandarin oranges and grapefruit served over mixed baby greens was a dream that combined my favorite salad ingredients. It was topped with a delicious sherry and red wine dressing. Everything was fresh and crisp and melded together wonderfully. This is a salad I could eat several times every week.

My son the cheese fiend ordered a grilled cheese sandwich ($8) with a combination of cheddar, gruyere and manchego on panini. The thick, gooey cheese interior was a perfect foil to the lightly grilled bread. I'm not generally a huge fan of grilled cheese, but it was most satisfying.

The short rib roll ($10) is a sandwich with braised beef short rib, onion confit, goat cheese, roasted garlic and wild arugula on a brioche bun. The marinade for the beef is sweet and heavenly, and the meat is extremely tender. The onion, cheese and garlic make a great trio of flavors.

The only disappointment was the champagne chicken sandwich ($9) with shredded chicken, seedless grapes, celery, cucumber, shallots, champagne and goat cheese dressing on brioche. I did like the generous vegetables that added some nice texture, but the taste of the chicken got lost in the buttery brioche. My recommendation would be to add more chicken to the sandwich or pump up the spices so the chicken salad stakes out its own identity.

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