a selection of dishes from salve osteria photo by michelle volansky

First Look: Salve Osteria on South Grand in St. Louis

Salve Osteria celebrated its official opening at 3200 S. Grand Blvd. on June 2. Natasha Bahrami, Michael Fricker and chef Matt Wynn launched Salve Osteria’s “harvest-centric,” Mediterranean-influenced menu after a few busy days of soft opening.

The restaurant is located in the space that was formerly Cafe Natasha, the Persian restaurant founded by Bahrami’s parents. There are more changes to come in the dining room, but work on refreshing the space has already seen new flooring added, the walls repainted, new lighting fixtures added and bathroom upgrades. Colorful prints inspired by retro liquor ads hang on the walls, hinting at the restaurant’s fondness for amaros and spritzes.

Perhaps the strongest influence on the menu is Italian, with pasta dishes like tagliatelle with juicy cherry tomatoes, basil oil and Parmesan, and cavatelli with a lamb ragu, ricotta, Parmesan and tarragon. The pasta and ravioli are rolled and hand-cut in the kitchen. “Everything on there we do from scratch,” Wynn said. There are also small plates including lamb arancini and meatballs with tomato ragu, and desserts like cannoli cheesecake and vanilla panna cotta.

However, Salve Osteria is pulling in ingredients from around the Mediterranean and beyond. One of the entrees is a harissa-spiced half roast chicken with yogurt, fregola sarda and herbs. Wynn’s take on a Caesar salad dresses grilled cabbage with miso bagna cauda, scallions and Parmesan. He plans to add a few additional items to the menu, and there will be changes with the seasons. However, Wynn said that even after only a few days, he can tell that some dishes are going to be mainstays. “It’s a great problem to have,” he said. “Half the menu is already staple items.” There will also be off-menu items and specials – for example, on Sundays, Wynn will be cooking wings with Calabrian chile, brown sugar, apple cider and honey molasses.

In the restaurant’s early days, Wynn said customer response has been particularly enthusiastic about a number of the vegetable-led small plates. One of those features fresh beets served with pickled gooseberries and pistachio, served on an ajo blanco base (cream puree, garlic and almond). It looks stunning and fits the season perfectly. The bacon fat carrots are another must-order: chopped carrots slow cooked in water and bacon fat, with bite-size cubes of bacon, dressed with mustard and blue cheese crema.

Diners will notice the drinks carts being trundled around the dining room – and you should definitely ask about this bespoke service. One cart offers curated spritzes, the other a range of amaros and digestifs. Bahrami said she’ll elicit clues from the customer about what kind of flavor profile they might like – light, bright, herbal, bitterness, viscosity – and use these prompts to build a drink specially for that customer. “It’s an entire tableside curated experience that’s curated for you,” Bahrami said. “This is built for education.” The carts are designed to offer an accessible and affordable route in to a drinks category that is growing in popularity locally but still misunderstood and under-appreciated. If diners want to compare and contrast different drink styles or brands, they can order a flight rather than a single drink.

One thing that remains essentially unchanged here: The Gin Room will be just as integral to Salve Osteria as it was to Cafe Natasha. The look and feel remains, but Bahrami explained that she felt it was time to switch up some of the offerings, including enhancing the bar’s approach to gin and tonic. “We were not at the level we needed to be at,” Bahrami explained. “Gin and tonics are intentionally built cocktails. They're not ‘here's the gin, here's the tonic’ – that was not up to par anymore. When you get it, it’s this beautiful balloon of flavor.”

While The Gin Room continues to define itself by its martinis and gin and tonics, the patio now has its own distinct set of seasonal vegetable- and herb-driven cocktails. “We technically have two completely different bar concepts,” Bahrami said. “The garden bar is an entirely different beast … lots of vegetable, celery, seasonal herbs and fruits and things, focusing on spritzes.”

Salve Osteria is open from 3 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Reservations are available through Tock.