Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sweetsalt Food Shop - Sweet Valley Lunch Spot!

Though the site of increasingly frequent sightings of tween celebrities, Toluca Lake is unmistakably suburban, thus far without real culinary stars to claim as its own. 

Imagine my excitement when I heard of new-comer Sweetsalt, a tiny cafe slash to-go retail counter opened by former Top Chef contender Alex Eusebio (Season 5).

I love the simple, clean layout of the store and its concept - with its serene white interiors with black trim, and its centerpiece marble counter - it reminds me of Joan's On Third, but at about a fifth of the size.  It's an intimate space with just a handful of tables inside a turn-of-the-century-style storefront (and two tables outside).  It also reminds me of a place that you would see on the main strip at St. Helena up in Napa Valley - and I actually did feel like I had a mini-getaway at lunch!  Diners place their order at the counter, get a card with a number to put on your table, and a server brings out the food when it's ready.

The menu consists of mouth-watering sandwich creations (including lavender duck confit, short rib roll), salads (fig with mache, bacon and blue-cheese crostini, champagne chicken, organic grains - a mix of quinoa and couscous with veggies.  You can also make your own!), daily soups, a cheese and charcuterie plate for $15, and homemade desserts.

I find it difficult to resist anything with the word 'truffle' in it - so my eyes, and money, immediately went to the Shitake Truffle Panini ($9) - which was probably the best sandwich I've ever had in this neighborhood - with Shitake mushrooms, sottocenere (my favorite cheese), alfalfa sprouts, onion confit, and truffle oil.  The panini comes on a rustic silver metal plate with a side of mesclun with a simple vinaigrette dressing.  The truffle flavors were infused throughout the sandwich - which caused me to practically inhale it.

My friend got the Pesto Panini - with basil pesto, roasted pepper, mozzarella, and arugula - and though a bit oily, she enjoyed it.

We were happy to get the table for two right by the sun-lit window, and found the experience a very pleasant way to pass our lunch hour.

For dessert, we split an 'Xtreme' sweet ($3.75) - a red velvet cookie that looks like a giant Parisian-style macaroon, with some graham cracker crumbs on top.  I had high hopes for this sweet, but unfortunately the cookie was not nearly light and flaky enough, and the center filling was a single-note disappointment - so sugary I couldn't taste the vanilla.  Whereas everything else in the store was reasonably priced, we were soured on the experience with the 'Xtreme Sweet' - that is one we are unlikely to repeat.

Sweetsalt is, all-in-all, a great lunch spot, for those who want a great gourmet sandwich and refuse to settle for Subway just because they happen to be in the Valley.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites
Presentation - 4.5 bites
Originality - 4 bites
Ambience - 4 stars
Service - N/A

Overall experience - 4.5 bites
Price - $ (1 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 90%


Sweetsalt Shop
10218 1/2 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Ph: 818.509.7790


Sweetsalt Food Shop on Urbanspoon

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