Walk into any Ritz Carlton, and you immediately become enveloped in a welcoming scent that permeates the entire building. My curiosity got the better of me on a recent trip to Amelia Island, Florida, and after inquiring about the floral aroma that first hit me in the lobby and stayed with me throughout the halls, the front desk directed me to the gift shop. Candles and air fragrance were on display for purchase in this boutique, and I was told each individual Ritz has their own signature scent. They apparently all have their own Signature taste as well, because The Salt, located in a cozy corner of the Ritz that includes unrivaled beach views, was the most memorable experience I had during my stay.
Our party arrived early and opted to have a cocktail at the bar, located at the entryway to the restaurant. A fireplace was roaring along one wall, and on the opposite was an expansive bar made of gilt and mirrors. In between both of these were small alcoves made of Rattan, meant for intimate groups of four or five. We grabbed the last open space and discovered it to be very private, and also very comfortable with its sofa-like booths facing one another, and a low table in the middle that was perfect for placing hors d’oeuvres and a cocktail. We ordered a drink, and were also presented with a bowl of Tapioca chips to nibble on. Coated in Truffle oil, they had a popcorn consistency that made you want to eat them by the handful, but also so light that our appetites wouldn’t be compromised for the lavish meal ahead.
After being seated at a table facing the window, the ladies were offered Cashmere pashminas to ward off any chill in the air. We were then introduced to our three servers for the evening, and given our menus. But after hearing of the legendary Chef Tastings at The Salt, we knew we didn’t even have to peek at the food offerings – we would be putting our palettes in the hands of the kitchen. The friendly staff took down any allergies or preferences we had (one in our group was allergic to onions, and I preferred not to have meat). With that, we awaited our four course meal with anticipation, discussing the possibilities we could receive from a chef with an entire ocean at his fingertips.
What we at first took to be the first course, turned out to be an Amuse Bouche sent out compliments of the chef. This was comprised of a Lobster Salad and Apple Cucumber Gelee, served in a shot glass and presented chilled. The majority of the table were fans, although some didn’t like the “green” aftertaste that it left.
Following this came a basket of warm bread. As the server unfolded the napkin that contained the rolls, she noted that there were cheddar, multigrain, and date nut varieties. All paired very well with the European butter given with the bread. Another server brought out our Salts for the evening, giving us a bit of an education about the nutritional properties found in the restaurant’s chosen organic seasoning.
The trio that we were given that evening were hand selected for the meal we would be having, and each contained their own story and history. The Salish was a northwest Alderwood smoked sea salt. This Pacific sea salt is cold-smoked for 48 hours until it absorbs the full flavor of the natural smoke. The Himalayan Pink was a pure, hand-mined salt found in the Himalayan Mountains. The crystals can range in color from white to varying shades of pink and red, indicating a beneficial amount of trace elements. The final salt we received was a favorite of mine, and I’ve used it in cooking since receiving some that evening. This was a Mediterranean Black Garlic, which was harvested in southern Italy, where the tradition of harvesting salt dates back to 200BC. The salt is infused with black garlic, which is known to have great health benefits. All three of these could be added to any of our upcoming dishes.
Our first course arrived and was presented quite artistically. For the onion allergy, an alternative was given with a Smoked Big Eye Tuna Tartare. This was served in an acrylic dish with small basins for each bite-size serving. Complimenting this was Wianno Oysters and a Soybean Crisp. Everyone at the table took a bite, finding it very fresh and flavorful in its simplicity.
The remainder of us received a Terrine of Scallops, Halibut, and Salmon. Served in the shape of large Maki rolls drizzled in a Balsamic and Cognac sauce, it was tasty enough for a main course had it been a bit larger. This was accompanied by an Arugula, Fennel and Radish salad.
Following this was the hot appetizer course. Everyone was able to eat this Crispy Red Fish in a Rutabaga Puree. It was served alongside Heirloom beans, a Potato Crisp, and a Brown Butter froth. I’ll admit to scooping some of the froth off of another plate just to get one more bite – it was that delicious. As for the fish, it was flaky and tender, but with crispy edges that gave it a heartier texture. Not wanting to be completely full before the main course, no one finished this appetizer.
Out came the third course. I was the odd man out for this dish, because everyone else received a Pork Loin with Creamy Polenta and Swiss Chard Puree. It was a gorgeous presentation, covered in an Apple and Cherry Gastriaue and served with Root Vegetables. My dish came out only moments later – an Atlantic Halibut with Wild Rice, Peas, and Braised Artichokes drizzled with a Dill Pistou. Both entrees received high reviews from the table. My only complaint may be that I had received a fish dish for the previous course, and would have preferred something a bit more adventurous, even seafood in a form other than filet. That aside, the fish was just as fresh as the previous course, and the dill sauce gave it a unique flavor.
Finally, the course we had all been anticipating came out in all its glory. A cart was rolled out by the server, and we were each able to choose which of the four desserts we would rather have. We had all decided to share whatever was brought to us, so it didn’t matter as much who wound up with which version. They were so beautiful that I’ve opted to put up multiple pictures of the sweet endings to our evening.
The Chocolate Caramel Torte was probably the favorite of everyone. This was served with a Passion Fruit Sauce and Mango Sorbet. Next on the popularity scale was the Meyer’s Lemon Souffle. Lemon Curd and Vanilla Bean Anglaise were poured into the piping hot dish, and served alongside a Grapefruit Sorbet. My dish for the evening was the Apple Tarte Tatin in a Caramel Sauce and Apple Cider Foam. Served with Vanilla Ice Cream, this was the perfect compliment to the very rich flavor of the Chocolate Mocha Souffle, which had a Kahlua Anglaise and Coffee Ice Cream to accompany.
Before the evening was finished, I was invited back to the kitchen to see how everything was prepared. It was a treat to be able to see the creators of our meal in action. I was surprised to find that although the Ritz is still a hotel, there was a chef for each restaurant, even one for In-Room Dining. Also of note was the Chef’s Table, which was located in the kitchen behind a glass partition. We’ve already decided to schedule this room for our next trip to the Island, where we will get a customized menu and be able to see our food prepared from beginning to end.
Upon leaving that evening, each couple was given a token of the restaurant’s appreciation. Inside was a large container that held six of the varieties of salt that the restaurant keeps on hand. As I stated earlier, I’ve already used some of these in cooking since we returned, and will just have to restock when we visit the Chef’s Table!