Filling the traditional niche at Salve

  • 2007-04-25
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon
RIGA - The waitress was exceedingly friendly in meeting us at the door and setting us up at a table. She discreetly hovered nearby while we browsed through the menu. I soon saw why the waitress was being so amiable: there were only two other customers in the bar 's a foreign couple 's and they got up to leave shortly after we arrived.

It seemed a little strange for the place to be so dead around lunchtime on a warm and beautiful Sunday, especially considering the fact that this is one of the few places in town where it's possible to sit partly outside so early in the season. I attributed the lack of people to the fact that Salve is just entering it's second month of existence.

Being the only customers naturally makes one the object of increased attention from the staff. When the head chef spied me jotting down notes as I flipped through the menu, he immediately took on a look of agitated suspicion: I could almost hear him thinking that his newly created menu was about to get stolen by some upstart restaurant in desperate need of inspiration.
And he had reason to be protective 's the menu features a wide variety of fancy sounding traditional food, the creation of which must have been no small feat. It is actually a two-part menu, oddly reflecting Latvian society, with one section devoted to traditional Latvian food and another to traditional Russian food.

The food here may be traditional, but it's a far cry from the breaded pork chops and sauerkraut you'd come across in the typical supermarket or majas virtuve. Salve offers some more eclectic, but still traditional, dishes such as herring tartar with quail eggs or boiled beef tongue.

I decided to play it safe and ordered some cabbage stew, while my companion tried the honey ribs 's both from the Latvian part of the menu. When the waitress brought the food I was a little disappointed by the size of the serving, but it turned out to be more filling than it looked. The cabbage stew was strikingly similar to the cabbage that can be found anywhere and everywhere Latvian food is sold, at twice the price, but at least it was served with a particularly good cut of bacon. The ribs were tender enough to be cut with a butter knife and were basted with a tasty (but under-applied) honey glaze.

Salve's interior seems to be based on the theme of an early 20th century distillery. There are various types of distilling equipment tastefully scattered throughout the restaurant, and the walls of one room are lined with small kegs. The general atmosphere was vaguely aristocratic. One room felt like the sort of place one would find Winston Churchill smoking a cigar (although smoking is forbidden in the bar), drinking fine whiskey (they have a wonderful selection), and discussing the proletariat. The other room was a little more refined, with a set of china adorning one wall and expensive looking chandeliers hanging over the tables. The light jazz background music fit well in both rooms.

At between three and four lats for an appetizer or soup and five to nine for a main course, Salve isn't exactly cheap, but still not so expensive as to restrict itself to the dining elite. Salve is located in Old Town, next to the Blackheads building.

Ratslaukums 5, Riga
Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Tel. 704 4317