Edible Monterey Bay

Salt Wood Kitchen offers a bite of the bay

Marina residents and fellow foodies of the Monterey Bay, rejoice! The highly-anticipated Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette at the Sanctuary Beach Resort in Marina will at last open its doors to the public this Thursday, August 31.

Situated above the dunes overlooking the Monterey Bay, Salt Wood features a menu of raw, cured, and wood-fired specialties with a focus on local seafood. At the helm is the young, talented, vibrant executive chef David Baron (formerly of Casanova, and, prior, Michelin-starred Coi and Atelier Crenn).

I became involved with the vision for the restaurant and the road to Salt Wood’s opening when I accompanied Baron on a two-day road trip back in April. We visited a series of his vendors along the Central Coast and beyond. (You can read about my journey and feast concluding the trip in the fall issue of EMB, available later this week from your local distributor.)  But when I visited the restaurant on Monday, I was floored to see just how perfectly the vision had come to life.

Representing the Central Coast in color and concept in a way that doesn’t border on beach town kitsch, the restaurant is beautifully designed with clear intention in every detail—from the drafting table acting as the hostess stand, to the neatly stacked floor-to-ceiling almond wood when you enter the door, to the custom-made sailing canvas with the Salt Wood logo, seemingly weathered by years at sea.

Chef David Baron

Foggy seaside hues of gray and blue are brightened by white marble bars, warm wood tones, and the flood of natural light from surrounding windows and skylights impressed into the vaulted ceilings of the main dining area. At night, the restaurant glows with honey-hued light from multiple fireplaces and Edison bulb light fixtures. Two major pops of color come from a display of house-made pickles and vinegars along the main dining room and a specialty spirits case in the bar. One of two banquet rooms is dramatic, with a deep ocean hue drawing the eye to the giant picture window to the ice plant-covered sand dunes and hazy glimmer of the Pacific.

The four areas of the 120-seat restaurant stay within the theme, but are marked by their own unique textures and design, like the tweed-bucket-seat bar stools of the Oysterette, the high-back camel leather chairs of the banquet rooms, and the patterned benches surrounding the fire pits on the patio. Many will be excited for a seat at the restaurant’s hearth — the raw bar with a display case of that day’s treasures, and live-fire kitchen where all of the wood-fire grilling on the menu will occur.

After touring the equally beautiful back-of-house kitchen with Baron, I had the privilege of sitting down with him and his two sous chefs to go over the opening menu. Set with the challenge of opening a destination restaurant that will serve the local community, resort guests, and gastronome travelers alike, Baron opted  for an extensive and approachable menu with dishes fresh and familiar. There was an obvious excitement among the team as we went through the prep list and a clear pride in the dishes they were creating. “Almost everything is locally sourced,” they repeatedly said. “Like right down the street.” This was made clear when one sous chef mentioned all the stone fruit he was about to harvest were from his grandmother’s garden.

Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette

The menu will change based on availability and seasonality, but opening dishes that are emblematic of Baron’s style include specialty seafood items like Monterey red abalone cooked in its shell served with cauliflower, brown butter, citrus, and salsa verde ($19) or the whole grilled fish for two, a 3-pound catch from the bay served with two sides ($42). Elevated vegetables and side dishes like the oak-roasted carrots with fresh yogurt, pistachio brittle, golden raisins and pickled herbs ($8) and shelling beans with chorizo, shallots, olives, and bread crumbs ($7) complement comfort classics like fried chicken with braised greens, Schoch Farms cheddar biscuits, and house-made hot sauce ($27). In addition to table shares, oyster bar, appetizers, entrees, and sides there are also five salads and three homemade pastas as part of the opening offerings.

The menu is reasonably priced; everything except the whole fish for two and Left Coast Seafood Platter is under $30. This extends to the bar program, where the extensive California-centric wine list (with specific focus on the Monterey Bay region) are kept in the $30-$60 range. Other bar specialties include local craft beer, barrel-aged spirits, and an extensive assortment of tequilas. The cocktail menu ($10-$12) is clean and classic with rye Manhattans, Moscow Mules, and Ramos gin fizzes.  

After the menu meeting, I realized a staff meal was in the works. And when staff meal is about to be served at a buzzworthy soon-to-be-opened restaurant, I find a way to linger. Especially when staff meal is rockfish tacos with fish caught from the Monterey Bay the day before and a sizable toppings bar with everything from marinated heirloom tomatoes with pickled sweet peppers to a stone fruit slaw. Fish tacos will not be on the opening menu, but this fun staff meal is indicative of what to look forward to: familiar yet elevated dishes inspired by the Central Coast with the freshest ingredients from land and sea.

The restaurant will be open seven days a week, with the bar and lounge opening at 3pm and dinner service from 5-10pm. You will eventually be able to access OpenTable through Salt Wood’s website, but in the meantime call the restaurant for reservations and inquiries. A grand opening is set for September 27.