The quaint building on Boston Avenue that once held the beloved Tom’s Folk Cafe is now home to a significant restaurant. Chef Norbert of Tabla and Ode Brewing, wine director Manny Jemente and artist Marie Rohde are a detail-oriented trio of owners that have transformed a cramped space into an elegant yet cozy and intimate dining experience, utilizing both indoor and outdoor space. Jemente is one of two certified sommeliers in El Paso, which is evident in the carefully curated list of exclusive wines. Multiple beers on tap are also available.
The current menu gathers local ingredients from companies engaged in sustainable practices that then undergo painstaking processes. Braised oxtail takes up to six hours to make and is served with smoked onion puree mashed potatoes and haricots verts. Specials have included Torchon of Foies Gras, a multi-day process that ends with a peach glaze accompanied by a fresh fava bean salad and pistachio shortbread cookies. Starters include a Scotch quail egg with green chili duck sausage, blue cheese croquettes with fig jam and empanadas stuffed with charred corn, mayocoba beans and oyster mushrooms from Myers Mushrooms (cultivated in El Paso). Other notable items are curried chickpea salad (sous vide carrot, seasonal greens, feta, roasted pistachio, cilantro lime vinaigrette, pancetta syrup) and the pasta dishes, all freshly handmade in house. Offerings include rabbit sacchettini (mesquite bean pasta, wild sage oil, desert marigold, spring herbs), poppy seed gnudi (lemon asadero crema, spring peas) and beet pappardelle (manchego, horseradish crema, oxtail au jus).
Breakfast is in the works, but Sunday brunch and daily lunch menus have debuted. Lunch serves up chicken salad sandwiches on Bella Cora Bakery croissants, lamb burgers on Seham’s Bakery buns and a beet melt that tastes of spring; salt-roasted beets are layered with arugula-walnut pesto, manchego cheese and aioli.
High quality artisanal cheeses are flown in and offered as dessert, but can be ordered as any course. Past options have included fresh figs and local mesquite honey served with The Drunken Monk, a Trappist-style cheese from Eagle Mountain Farmhouse Cheese Co. in Texas. For something on the sweeter side, try the pistachio pound cake on hibiscus syrup with hibiscus chantilly and candied hibiscus leaves while it lasts.
While the caliber of wines, ingredients and techniques along with price tag ring fine dining, all pretenses are absent, making it a warm experience. Salt Box reflects the wines it serves, layered and complex with a nice finish.