Prestigious clients, glitzy venues, superstar chefs, trend-setting concepts in Las Vegas and beyond—Elizabeth Blau and her namesake Blau & Associates restaurant consulting company have done it all in fine dining. But it’s Honey Salt, the new casual dining concept from Blau and chef/husband Kim Canteenwalla, that’s the center of her universe now.
Much like any other independent restaurant operator, Blau is hands on at her new place. She works the floor, tweets the latest info about Honey Salt and goes on Yelp to respond to complaints.
How come she’s involved at this level? Blau and Canteenwalla have done almost everything there is to do in the restaurant business. But they did it as consultants and/or employees at high-end operations. Neither has gone the independent neighborhood restaurant route and, perhaps more importantly, they’ve never owned a potential growth vehicle. Until now.
Honey Salt is a Las Vegas restaurant, but not the kind of Las Vegas restaurant we’ve seen from Blau before. It’s in the suburbs—Summerlin—not on the Strip. And it’s designed as a neighborhood spot to which the locals can relate.
“Honey Salt is all about approachability,” Blau explains. “That means great food and service at affordable prices. Also, social consciousness about ingredients, culinary preparations, philanthropy and our team are at the forefront of what we believe in and what we bring to guests. Customers say Honey Salt’s look and feel are reminiscent of their ‘hometown,’ whether they’re from Napa or New York.”
Part of that feel is that the owners are on the premises. Canteenwalla keeps a sharp eye on the kitchen and guests see Blau out front.
“I still work the door with the hostess team at both lunch and dinner,” she says. “It’s how I started my career at Le Cirque. Sirio Maccioni taught me the most valuable lesson about the customer experience and it all starts at the door.”
Canteenwalla’s menu is built around seasonal comfort food, with ingredients sourced from local and regional growers, farmers and fishermen, most of them California-based. It has five sections.
“Get Comfortable” starters range from Tuscan Cannellini Bean Soup (tomato, kale, Parmesan baguette) at $8 up to Yellowtail Crudo (Peruvian salsa, shaved jicama & radish, pickled cilantro, rice) at $14. The popular New England Fry (Ipswich clams & calamari, blistered shishito peppers, cured lemon aioli) goes for $13.
“Market Greens” lists the Honey Salt Caesar (black garlic dressing, Parmesan, white anchovy) for $9; My Wife’s Favorite Salad (duck confit, arugula, frisée, pine nuts, pomegranate) at $13; and Burrata, Rosso Bruno & Teardrop Tomatoes (figs, basil, blood orange balsamic, extra virgin olive oil) for $15.
The “Pizza” section sticks to three basics: Margherita for $11; Whole Wheat at $12; and Charcuterie (cured meats, Bellwether farm ricotta, fennel salad) for $14.
“Family Favorites” test the upper boundaries of pricing for neighborhood restaurant fare. Caramelized Sea Scallops ($28), Roast Swordfish ($27) and Scottish Salmon ($25) head the list. Nana’s Tiffin Chicken Curry ($20) and Mary’s Free Range Brick Oven Chicken ($22) are less costly options. Beef choices are a 12 oz. NY strip ($28) and a filet mignon ($32).
Side dishes are $7, with the Kale and Anaheim Pepper Mac ‘n Cheese a signature. Everything on the dessert list—seven items in all—costs $9.
Blau has been on the leading edge of foodservice trends several times before, which is what makes her choices here of interest to her fellow operators. The biggest one: a glance at the menu prices show that her interpretation of casual neighborhood dining could produce a check average that reaches $50.
Which is to say that, at least in Las Vegas, Blau sees an unfilled niche in what might be called the casual fine dining segment. Given her track record of spotting trends early and translating them into restaurants that work on every level, and given her stated intention of building out Honey Salt in other markets, other operators may wish to pay close attention to what she and Canteenwalla have done here. This one isn’t just their next consulting job. It’s their baby.
Photography: Bill Milne