It wasn’t a particular type of cuisine that Abraham Salum wanted to bring to the corner of Fitzhugh and Cole with his eponymous restaurant nearly seven years ago. Unlike Komali, his newer, upscale Mexican-food eatery next door, Abraham’s projected offerings had far less of a geographical origin; if anything, their development had more to do with heredity than with geography.
“I would define it as ‘This is the food that I like to eat. This is the food that, in a small way, defines who I am,’” he says. “I am multi-cultural: born and raised in Mexico City, one side of my family is Lebanese, the other side is half Italian and half Spanish – and we were all born in Mexico. I’m very proud to say it’s four cultures that are all about food, and so I wanted to create a little restaurant that would reflect who I am, the food I like to eat, and the food that I like to cook.”
And the creativity he likes to pursue.
Salum, which will celebrate its seventh anniversary in September, is not only an amalgam of the influences with which Abraham grew up, but is an illustration of what can happen when traditional – and perhaps even rustic – food is approached with a skilled hand and a creative perspective. Monthly menu changes bring seasonal fare to the forefront of Salum’s offerings, all while he’s making the most of market offerings.
“We change the menu on the first of every month, and it’s mostly driven by what’s available, what’s in season, and what’s fresh – I start the menu every month by calling the vendors and seeing what they have,” he says. “In seven years, we’ve repeated one menu and that was because on the fifth anniversary, September of 2010, we did the exact same menu that we did September 2005. Other than that, we’ve never really repeated things exactly the same way.”
Though it goes through constant change, the menu at Salum retains a consistent level of comfortable sophistication reflective of the restaurant itself. Almond-crusted crab cakes with lemon yogurt pesto grace the dinner appetizer menu, while the entrees vary from roasted rack of lamb to grilled swordfish and Windy Meadows chicken. The warmly-lighted atmosphere belies the lighthearted atmosphere the restaurant can achieve with a full house, and the open kitchen gives diners a peek at the process of their meals’ creation.
“It’s elegant but casual at the same time. It’s not a stuffy restaurant; I think the design is timeless. Julio Quiñones did the design, did an absolutely gorgeous job with the interior,” Abraham says. “A lot of people walk in and say ‘How pretty, is it a new restaurant?’”
And while the environment and menu are both elegant and casual, Salum does like to add the occasional dish for the more adventurous diners, such as the Tuscan rabbit stew on May’s menu.
“There’s always something, some menu item that is a little off the charts; not your average thing that you’ll see on a menu,” he notes. “We don’t sell a ton of that item, usually, but the people that order it typically really like it. They’re trying to really taste something different.”
And for those looking for a different taste from the vine, Abraham observes that their wine selection varies almost as often as their menu.
“The wine is ever evolving. We try to pick small wineries with some unusual wine; wines that we think are going to go well with our style of cuisine. And obviously some of those smaller wineries don’t produce large volumes, so they run out of stock pretty quick – which helps us to rotate our wine list,” says Salum. “We have some staples, though, and we have some big names, because that’s what the market wants. But for us, the discovery of wine is as important as the discovery of food. And we’re trying to see what we can pair with our dishes, what will go well with our food. We have about 90 different wines on the list, so by no means is it considered a large wine list, but it’s a fun wine list; there are some fun finds in there.”
Rotation, along with innovation, is a readily apparent theme at Salum, and it’s one that Abraham embraces wholeheartedly. He reads books, observes trends and even peruses magazines from France and New Zealand to find inspiration for his restaurant, and what comes out on the menu every month is the culmination of his own unique creative design. Salum celebrates his heritage through his restaurant and food, but the borders his menu stays within aren’t limited even to those that he can trace. In reality, there aren’t any borders at all.