Heavy on the tradition

Seafood salis (front) and chicken rolatini.
Photo by Antonio Padilla

Salis Italian Restaurante
7115 Blanco Rd.
11am-9pm Mon-Thu; 11am-10pm Fri & Sat
Entrées $9.95-$13.95
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As we all know, the Eternal City wasn’t built in a day — and not because of problems with building inspectors. It just takes time to get things right, to acquire that desired patina of life well-lived. So if Rome wasn’t in a hurry, perhaps we shouldn’t be concerned that Salis — an Italian restaurant with foundations that are, if not actually ancient, resolutely traditional — seemed almost empty on a Saturday night. They’ve been open since last October, but maybe both public and personnel just need a little more time and tweaking.

The appetizer list could use some work, for example: It’s reasonably priced by today’s standards, but at five items, one of which is garlic bread with cheese, it’s just too small. Bored to death with fried calamari and finding fried mozzarella sticks and mushrooms not much of a challenge, we opted for shrimp scampi, and were very pleasantly surprised. The five shrimp were carefully cooked, the sauce lemon-bright and blessed with gobs of fresh garlic. All we needed was some simple bread to sop the sauce.

There’s another way to deal with a short apps list: Split a pasta. Fettuccini Modo Mio called to us from a selection that ranged from spaghetti with meatballs to cappellini primavera. The fat fettuccini took well to its creamy marinara, spangled with morsels of melanzane and sliced ’shrooms. It was rich and subtle at the same time, and it was inhaled. It may have been too much, too soon. The actual entrées had a hard time measuring up.

Passing over the House Specials, all riffs on chicken and shrimp, we dutifully selected one plate from each of the remaining categories: chicken, veal, and seafood. Though straying from tradition, the chicken rolatini sounded promising and almost lived up to its potential — at least the chicken, stuffed with a modest amount of crab, spinach, and mozzarella, was a crumb-coated package that dutifully delivered the goods. It was the wine sauce that stumbled. Billed as bearing sautéed mushrooms and red peppers, it came across as indulgently rich but disappointingly bland. “Too much bell pepper,” claimed one diner. Not enough thought this one, having expected the bells to be blended into the sauce, not sprinkled through it. But hey, at $9.95, including a side of spaghetti …

A creamy but equally uneventful sauce diminished the impact of the Veal Salis as well. Mushrooms, garlic, and artichokes were the supporting cast, and with a little more garlic, the combination might have worked. But who needs that much cream? (The terms “cream” and “creamy” appear throughout the menu in such numbers that it appears the kitchen has judged its audience and found it clamoring for calories.) The suitably thin and almost acceptably tender veal was fine in its own right, though, and if you picked out the artichoke hearts and made a kind of spiedino with the veal, the result was worth the work.

Less cooking might have salvaged the Seafood Salis; the linguini, the mussels, the shrimp, the hard-to-detect chopped clams and scallops, were all either overdone or undersupplied, leaving the “pink sauce” to save the day. A little more of it (too much, too little … there’s no pleasing some people) and it just might have — though I’d lobby first for more clams and scallops.

No beer or wine is offered at Salis, so feel free to bring your own; there’s not even a corkage charge. Although Salis tried, they didn’t quite get there in the atmosphere department; it has the blandness of many of the sauces, but there are strains of Sinatra and Bennett to counter the cream. And based on our single sample, the desserts — not made in-house — can safely be ignored. The tiramisu looked pretty but was overwhelmed by a taste of synthetic extract.

So, my advice, for what it’s worth: lighten up. Even Rome has done it. Though controversial, architect Richard Meier, the Prince of White, recently completed a coolly contemporary building in the heart of Rome, and the Queen of Curves, Zaha Hadid, is at work on a new modern museum that’s bound to shake up the antiquarian establishment. There will be complaints, but in time even dyed-in-the-wool denizens of (creamy) red sauce should come around. 

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