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Desert Companion

At first bite: Honey salt

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Photo credit: Christopher Smith

One of my closest friends, a chef on the East Coast, groans whenever he hears the term “farm-to-table.”

“I hate it but I have to use it because diners want things spelled out for them,” he says. “When people ask what kind of restaurant I run, they’re confused if I don’t say Italian, Chinese, or French. I just want to say, ‘One that makes delicious food.’”

Kim Canteenwalla (of Society Café at Encore) is a chef in the same bind. At Honey Salt, his new restaurant in Summerlin, he and his wife Elizabeth Blau present local diners with a menu that defies classification. One can evoke summers in Hyannis Port with the New England Fry — a tangle of crumb-coated calamari, clams, and blistered green peppers — or channel the Andes with a Peruvian yellowtail crudo. Kecap manis, an Indonesian sweet soy sauce, is added to steak tartare, and an entrée called Nana’s Tiffin Chicken Curry is unexpectedly listed between the roast chicken and burger.

The only tie that binds these disparate dishes is the farm-fresh ethos that informs Canteenwalla’s cooking. Not unlike the acknowledgment page that precedes a novel, the bottom of Honey Salt’s menu gives shout-outs to the various growers responsible for your meal.

Honey Salt

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But for a restaurant that celebrates sustainability and seasonality, it’s unfortunate that not one business on the list is from Nevada. Also lamentable is the fact that the chef’s work is hit-or-miss. A dish inaccurately described as turkey Bolognese with farro did not feature the actual grain, but boxed pasta made with spelt flour. Although the menu was corrected shortly after my first visit, this didn’t make up for the fact that the noodles were cold and tasted as if they had been shocked in ice water just before they hit the plate. On a separate visit, the Backyard Burger — ordered medium — arrived rare and with a side of fries that seemed to come from a frozen bag.

Canteenwalla walks a fine line between resourcefulness and redundancy. The Bolognese is basically the restaurant’s turkey meatball appetizer, repurposed as a sauce. Quinoa is used in three separate dishes, and kale — despite its status as the It vegetable of the moment — becomes tiresome after making appearances in a Caesar salad, soup, and side dish of mac and cheese.

But for these few missteps, there are definite highlights. The mac and cheese may not be enhanced by the addition of leafy greens, but the rich béchamel sauce and crunchy breadcrumb topping is solid and satisfying. And the filet mignon — a cut I consider overrated — is perfect when paired with a smoky bacon and potato hash.

Guests will fare even better at lunch. A simple grilled cheese, infused with truffle oil, is outstanding, and the last bite of a fried chicken sandwich with “Durkee’s dressing” (a kind of honey mustard sauce) almost incited a riot at my table. Even a small bowl of chopped salad, chock full of colorful vegetables (including more kale), is an inspiring side that I immediately recreated at home.

The transition to dessert is seamless, thanks to pastry chef Justin Nilson’s comforting creations. A warm cookie plate and mile-high chocolate layer cake both cry for a glass of cold milk. And an apple pie served in a brown paper bag is a flawless seasonal dish, even if its aesthetics are too precious for my taste.

Give Honey Salt some time to find its groove before you try it. If your dining companion asks where you’re eating, you’ll only have to say, “A place that serves delicious stuff.”   

Honey Salt 1031 S. Rampart Blvd., 445-6100, honeysalt.com; 11:30a-10:30p daily

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