Chef Mark Gold has some kind of rope-a-dope strategy going on at Salt, his waterfront restaurant at the new Marina del Rey Hotel.
Salt, which opened last month, could potentially become one of the city’s most ambitious seafood-focused restaurants. But the current menu doesn’t hint that much at Gold’s plans.
“As we establish ourselves, we will be featuring such specialty items as imported wild Japanese yellowtail, Santa Barbara spot prawns, wild black bass, live sea urchin, and hand-harvested scallops,” says Gold, the former Eva chef who has gotten scallops from a supplier in Stonington, Maine, for more than 15 years.
Gold can often be found on Tuesdays hand-selecting ingredients at fish purveyor IMP, and his love for and skills with seafood are revealed at Salt through some seemingly simple menu items that end up being knockouts.
“Should I get the Crab Louie salad?” a diner asked her waiter on a recent Saturday night at Salt.
“The Dungeness crab is still alive,” the waiter replied.
Saying “I’ll just have the salad” at Salt is no sacrifice at all.
“We source live Dungeness and handpick the crab meat for the salad,” Gold says. “It’s part of the process of taking it from a standard dish to an extraordinary one. But I must say it’s a lot of work. We may have to hire a dedicated crab picker!”
There are 3.5 ounces of crab meat in every salad, making it easy to get crab in every bite.
“I have always disliked how certain restaurants fill the bowl with lettuce, and then you end up with a bowl of lettuce,” Gold says. “We want people to be able to eat not only the crab with each bite, but the other components that accompany the dish, as well. They are there for a reason.
“We start with organic little gem lettuce. I love the texture and crispness of this variety. We steam off the crabs, then pick out the meat. The dressing is made in-house with coddled eggs, olive oil (we make an aioli), house-made tomato jam, shallots, lemon juice, mustard, chives, parsley, and cornichons. We garnish the plate with vine-ripe campari tomato, soft-boiled egg, Hass avocado, and fried capers.”
Eating this dish while sitting outside at Salt, next to the hotel pool and all the grand boats in the marina, feels luxurious, like you’re on vacation even if you have go back to your Silicon Beach office and look at spreadsheets the rest of the afternoon. It feels like you’ve discovered a secret, especially because the hotel is on Bali Way, off the neighborhood’s main lodging drag of Admiralty Way.
“Being in this location, it’s only natural that we are inspired to really celebrate and explore seafood,” says Gold, who says that Crab Louie was one of his first food memories before he started cooking.
He remembers waiting for a trolley in San Francisco with a friend, seeing a woman in the window of a restaurant eating this gorgeous salad. Gold and his pal blew off their plans and went inside to order the salad.
For another example of what Gold can do with seafood, order Salt’s fish and chips. It’s made with Alaskan true cod battered in an imported ale and cooked in canola oil. The tartar sauce includes lemon aioli, fried capers, shallot, lemon zest, and fennel pollen. The fries are ⅛-inch thick, cut from Kennebec potatoes, and soaked for 24 hours. Then they’re blanched in 300-degree oil for four minutes before they go in the freezer. The frozen potatoes are fried at 400 degrees until crispy.
L.A. is lucky. It has no shortage of fantastic fish and chips, from Tom Bergin’s to Connie & Ted’s to what chef Kris Morningstar boldly calls “City’s Best Fish & Chips” at Terrine. But Gold’s dish, bolstered by a setting that those land-locked restaurants can’t compete with, is clearly ready to rumble.