“Err… yes.” I stumble. “But it brings out the flavor in the apple and dried cranberries – like salting oranges or pineapple!”
Again, my roommates exchange a look.
“You salt your oranges?!” Betsy exclaims in shock.
“Well… I… yes.” I say finally, bowing my head in shame. I don’t mention that I also salt the top of my chocolate chip cookies before baking them. And dislike margaritas except for the salted rim of the glass. And lust after desserts like the salted caramel at Huckleberry Café in Santa Monica.
They know too much as it is.
Despite my roommates’ averse reactions, my obsession with the salt shaker isn’t a true personal quirk like my (slight) affinity for the color pink or my irrational bouts of anger when someone (I’m not naming names) uses one of my “special” spoons. My salt habit is something I seem to share with many Americans who are consuming way more than their daily allotment of sodium.
It’s not a healthy obsession – especially since the more salt I eat, the more I seem to become desensitized to its pungency. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve now begun requesting it at restaurants when I deem a dish underseasoned for my tastes – something that many view as a serious faux pas (though to my credit I always try the item first before applying the salt shower).
I haven’t paid my addiction much attention, however, until a recent late night dinner with two girl friends at Akasha in Culver City -- a restaurant that is devoted to promoting sustainability and healthy eating. The meal at the polished eatery proceeded like most meals shared between food bloggers do – we quizzed the waiter for recommendations, ordered what he told us to, took pictures when the food arrived, and then started eating. Two bites into our respective dishes, however, we each came to the same conclusion: Our food needed salt.
“You don’t use a lot of salt, do you?” One of my dining companions politely asked the waiter when he came by to check on us shortly after.
He shook his head, explaining that the kitchen makes an effort to keep the salt, sugar and butter to a minimum.
We nodded and exchanged knowing looks that said, “Oh it’s one of those places.” As in, a place that attracts the “dressing on the side” set.
But then our server said something else – that this practice of restraint also allows customers to salt the dish as they please.
The brief conversation continued to run through my head as I ate my entrée – the barramundi with romanesco zucchini & parmigiano-reggiano risotto, tomato, pine nuts, golden raisin, olive & caper relish ($24). I began noticing that the dish was thoughtfully concocted in such a way to create sweet and salty flavors through the ingredients rather than excessive seasoning. The raisins added a punch of sweetness that was balanced out by the brininess of the olives and capers. Both brightened up the mild white fish and accompanying risotto in a way that I hadn’t noticed before. My initial reaction that the dish needed more salt was somewhat mollified by this realization – though, in the interests of full disclosure, I did still shower away once our table received the requested shaker. (My dining companions also showered their dishes – the baked macaroni & cheese, and another order of barramundi – as well.)
The waiter’s other point stuck with me, however, as I cranked the shaker over my friend’s uneaten leftover portion of the oozing mac & cheese ($8). Just because I like to coat every cheese-lubed elbow noodle with salt crystals doesn’t mean that everybody does. My roommates certainly wouldn’t wish that fate upon their entrees. And as every chef or aspiring chef or everyday cook knows, there is no undo button when a dish is overseasoned. I have had many moments of regret in my kitchen – most recently with an excessively salty bowl of oatmeal. (I drank a lot of tea that morning.)
What initially seemed to be a Cooking 101 fail at Akasha was redeemed by my new perspective on the matter. A restaurant that actually respects the health and well-being of its customers – imagine that!
Of course, that’s not to say I wasn’t relieved when I took a bite of the salty chocolate peanut tart with candied peanuts, peanut butter gelato, and caramel ($9) dessert. There was no salt shaker needed here, and I happily neglected my intensely cinnamon-flavored pear and cranberry tart ($8) to apprehend more than my fair share of my companion’s more prescient order. The overt presence of the chocolate truffle-like bars and potently peanut buttery ice cream negated the restrained use of sugar in the dish. Again, it was another thoughtful preparation.
While I haven’t stopped salting my oatmeal or fruit since my meal at Akasha a week and a half ago, the dining experience has inspired more thought than I’m accustomed to after a dinner out. Normally I leave a restaurant thinking, “Ugh, I can’t believe I ate all that.” Or “What the heck am I going to say about this one?”
Not so with Akasha. This kid on the Culver City block isn’t just some pretty blonde Barbie with nothing going on between the ears. And it’s not just a restaurant for the “hold the everything” folks. I’d certainly return if I were hungry and in the neighborhood again. And next time, I might even take a pass on the salt shaker.
9543 Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
Phone: (310) 845-1700