Pre-birthday celebration: Salt of the Earth and Melancholia

18 Nov

Happy birthday to me!

The original plan for my multi-day birthday celebration was to go last night to the 3 Rivers Film Festival to see Lars von Trier’s new film Melancholia, and then go out to dinner tonight at Salt of the Earth.  We had to tinker with the scheduling of things due to some of my work obligations, and instead last night ended up going to dinner and seeing the film at home on On Demand.  It was a really fun night!

First off- I must clearly give credit to the With The Grains blog.  All of these photos are from that blog’s entry on Salt of the Earth.  I recently discovered this blog, and if you live in Pittsburgh and are interested in the city’s restaurants and goings on, I highly recommend it (and they are much better photographers and food bloggers than I am).  I took one photo of my appetizer last night, and my photography skills are so poor that if I posted the photo, you would probably be scared off from the restaurant forever.

Salt of the Earth is in a pretty cool space. It’s in Garfield, which is not gentrifying in the East Liberty sense, but is constantly getting new and different things thanks to the Penn Avenue arts corridor.  There is upstairs reservation-only table seating, and a downstairs bar with communal tables.  We had reservations (1) because we wanted to make sure we got in, and (2) I hate communal seating.

The menu is posted on large chalkboards, and you can also pull it up on your smartphone.

This is neat in concept, but I’m an old fogey that would still prefer a real menu.  The chalkboards can be hard to see, and I didn’t want to fuss with my phone.  Also, the chairs for the upstairs tables are really really uncomfortable.  A number of diners (myself included) were hunched over, because if you sat back, you would slide down, and just couldn’t get comfortable.

Those are my only complaints about Salt.  New chairs and actual menus, and this place would have a 10/10 from me.  Everything else about it I loved.  The waitstaff was extremely friendly and attentive, and not overbearing.  Our waiter was skilled at giving recommendations (I had trouble picking an entree), and quick to fill our drinks.  Dishes were quickly removed, and silverware replaced, when a course was finished.  Even though we didn’t place our entree orders until after we finished our starters, there was no long wait for dinner.

Mr. Beez ordered the snails appetizer, which had snails, mushrooms, pasta, and chicken skin.  It was warm and salty and rich and delicious.  It would be a perfect snack on a cold night.

I ordered the salmon starter, which was a reinvented bagel with lox and cream cheese.  It was a layer of cream cheese, sprinkled with seeds and onion, topped with salmon sashimi and little pickled eggs and roe and some kind of roe foam and all kinds of other wonderful things.  It was inventive, yet approachable.  I’ve heard so much about recognizable dishes reinvented into new forms, and had yet to try one.   I was afraid such a dish would look much more impressive than it tasted.  Such was not the case here. It was visually impressive and delicious.

For my entree, I had the wangu skirt steak with root vegetables and bleu cheese.  I was afraid that the skirt steak was the option on the menu for boring people too nervous to try something new and different.  Our waiter assured me this was not the case.  He said the skirt steak has had the longest run on the menu, it’s delicious, and I wouldn’t be disappointed.  He was completely right.

For dessert, Mr. Beez and I both had the S’mores.  The dish last night had pomegranate seeds instead of whatever green fruit that is in the picture.  The dessert consists of toasted marshmallow, house made chocolates, maple ice cream, and golden grahams.  It, too, was fantastic.  I  think the dessert would have been a tiny bit better if it was topped with house made grahams, instead of golden grahams, but still the golden grahams did not detract from the whole package.

So on to the next part of our evening!

Melancholia is Lars von Trier’s newest film.  I do not call myself a von Trier fan…I am curious about his work and interested in seeing it, but not a fan in the traditional sense.  Dancer in the Dark was well made but drowns you in its misery.  I’d like to see Dogville and Manderlay.  I doubt that I will ever have any interest whatsoever in seeing Antichrist.

Melancholia follows Justine, a young woman embattled by depression, at her wedding day.  It’s a beautiful reception, but Justine is so undeterredly self-destructive that she destroys it and her marriage.

Simultaneously, the planet Melancholia is hurtling toward Earth, threatening the existance of all of its inhabitants.

Melancholia has been poorly described as a “science fiction” film.  It is not.  This film is a portrait of clinical, profound, life-altering depression.  Unlike Dancer in the Dark, where despite the heroine’s optimism, the viewer is completely sucked in to bleakness, the viewer here watches, but does not feel.  The first eight minutes of the film do an amazing job of setting up the boundaries between viewer and screen.  These eight minutes are gorgeous, slow motion scenes set to Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

This film is visually breathtaking.  Every image is beauty juxtaposed with destruction.  The “science fiction” plotline isn’t a hook to get the viewer into the story, it’s another layer of illustrating the power and devastation of depression.  Unlike many sci-fi films, I found Melancholia’s ending to be satisfying and complete.  This film keeps you thinking (I’ve still been thining about it all morning), not about what happened, or whodonit, but about the layers of meaning in each finely tuned image.  Melancholia is worth a second and third viewing,  there is so much to see that it can’t all be absorbed in one watch.


2 Responses to “Pre-birthday celebration: Salt of the Earth and Melancholia”

  1. withthegrains November 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I’m glad you found my corner of the blogosphere! Thanks for the photo and blog credit. I greatly appreciate it. Though I do like the aesthetic of the wall menu at Salt, I have to agree a table menu would be useful. I usually find the wall version to be a bit too daunting, and the glares don’t help. Form over function? I can’t wait to see Melancholia.


  1. The Tree of Life (2011) « beezuskiddo - January 26, 2012

    […] visually and structurally, The Tree of Life has a lot in common with Melancholia.  Admittedly, Melancholia does it better because it focuses on one idea, and carries its theme […]

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