Stephan Pyles is a Dallas, nay, Texas culinary legend. I was quite excited when San Salvaje invited me in to try some of their offerings … like … beyond excited. Pyles has been a bastion of Southwestern cuisine and is branching out to a new cuisine … Peruvian. Nestled in the former Samar space on Ross Avenue, San Salvaje opened May 13 with bar, restaurant, and outdoor seating. The decor threw me a bit at first — it’s a bit of a juxtaposition of crosses and skulls (after some research, he apparently did it on purpose as his travels showed people leave church, do something sinful, and head right back into church). Overall, expect bright colors and little touches just about everywhere in the open plan (the kitchen opens right up to the restaurant).
The entire staff was as considerate as they could possibly be. (The valet walked me from my car to the restaurant and opened the door … that’s serious service.) Out waiter, Tony, was very knowledgeable and helped us along the menu. Our entire meal was determined by Chef Pyles himself and Molly Hagler, the bar manager. (I have to admit … since I hate making decisions, that was the way to best enjoy a new restaurant!)
We started with a Peruvian Welcome Drink (Pisco Porton, Chica Morada, passion fruit foam) which was as flavorful as it was colorful. The foam made it really delightful and extremely unique and the tartness struck just the right balance. Round 1 of food was the Three Cheese Arepa (a small corn dough filled with cheese and served with salsa verde), the Causa Limeña Classico (no words — the best I can do is a Peruvian deviled egg on steroids topped with shrimp and a little quail egg hidden inside), and the Sweet Corn Humita (a lobster and avocado corn tamale-type delight). I could have left a happy woman after the first course. I am no foodie, but I know that food was day-yam good.
Drinks flowed and food just somehow appeared on the table. If I wrote that much about each course, you’d check out like … a paragraph ago. (TL;DR below).
- Pisco Margarita (Pisco Portón, lime, simple syrup, lemon juice) – I posted a picture of this almost-too-pretty-to-drink cocktail on Instagram in real time and said that this margarita gets me as close to me liking a margarita as it’s going to get. The rim is festooned (this verb is deserved here) with lime and lemon zest, and it enhances the flavor if you don’t drink it from the straw.
- Saoco (rum, coconut water, hibiscus reduction) – this drink could be the best summer drink like … ever. Order one of these out on their patio this summer. My notes say, “It has coconut water … so that means it’s healthy, right?”
- Rabo-de-Gajo (Cachaça, vermouth, sugar, angostura) – the Old Fashioned lover in me died for this drink. Other than a cool name, it was the perfectly sippable drink for those of us who like a stout drink. (Oh, and they use Luxardo cherries in it.)
- Rum flight – we shared a few sippable rums to accompany dessert. Ask Molly for recommendations as she knows the options inside and out.
- Quinoa Salad – this was a delight and the slight crunch from the dried cherries were the perfect touch.
- Yellow Fin Tuna Ceviche – the tuna pairs incredibly well with Kaffir lime and virgin coconut water. This dish is served in a coconut and best enjoyed with a bit of each component … including the coconut meat.
- Sea Scallops Tiradito – while this dish was extraordinary, it was my least favorite of the dishes we had. It was very mild and perhaps a good starting point for those who aren’t ready to dive head-first into ceviche.
- Pork Belly Tacu Tacu – weird word, delicious dish (it’s typically a Peruvian rice and bean fried cake). The pork belly was perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the fig compote that accompanied it.
- Wild Mushroom-Huitlacoche Emanada – get this … and don’t skimp on the guava sauce dip!
- Fried Squid Taco – effff me these were incredible. The tempura had to have been some magical mix of spices and it was perfectly fried … just perfectly fried. Excuse me while I lose myself in a trance thinking about these tacos.
- Fried Whole Red Snapper – served completely whole, this is more than just amazing presentation. The flavor is mild and the fish tasted like it was caught an hour before and was easily forkable. (That’s a word … right?) The pickled lightly fried green beans were slightly sweet and were only somewhat addictive.
Ask your waiter to carve it tableside for you.
- Heirloom Bean Feijoada – I couldn’t pronounce this work for all the rice in China. This was a large dish and the flavor was powerful, but wasn’t my favorite of the night.
- Lucuma Suspiro – I can’t exactly describe the creamy goodness that was served to us, but I’ll say this: yummmmm. It was topped with Maracuya meringue and served with a uniquely shaped funnel cake-type swirly thing (all of those are technical culinary terms).
- Alfajore Torte with Dolce de Leche – I’m not a huge torte fan, so this wasn’t my favorite. While I’d be a good sport and share it with a buddy, I wouldn’t order it myself.
- Picarones with Guanabana Ice cream – again … sounds silly, but this is serious dessertage. The donut-type pastries are tossed with cinnamon and sugar with a slight hint of anise. Don’t miss the ice cream. Just don’t.
Something amazing about this meal was that we ate (and drank) a LOT and I left upbeat and satisfied, yet not too weighed-down … a testament to the brilliance behind the stove and bar at this new restaurant.
TL;DR: This place is a revelation. The food and drink are unique and unexpected. Try it out for a splurge dinner or enjoy their tapas and drinks to unwind from a tough day.
SAN SALVAJE by Stephan Pyles
2100 Ross Avenue, #100 (Downtown)