By Any Other Name
A Pleasing New Canton Spot Shows Promise
Sauté is a new addition to the Canton dining and hanging-out scene. I'm worried about that name, which makes it sound either like a mall pasta chain or the moderately priced offshoot of an expensive restaurant. Sauté is really just a handsome neighborhood place trying to serve up some quality food without being pretentious or elitist. It might be just enough to encourage some attention, and eventually devotion.
Sauté is on one of those parched side streets that run between Canton Square and Patterson Park, and saying that Sauté feels somewhat incongruous here is a compliment. It's a good-looking place, golden-lit and woody, with a long expanse of tall windows bringing in natural light to the large and airy entrance bar. A long, long banquette runs the length of the dining room, which is dark, too, contemporary and very comfortable. It could get clubby here in a hurry, but when we visited, early in the evening, friendly and helpful service, a midweek wine special (a free bottle if folks order entrées), and an upbeat soundtrack (Hootie, Sugar Ray, not ironically) kept the room from turning too moody.
What Sauté is doing right now, with its still evolving menu, it's doing very well. Food is prepared with confidence and plated prettily. The menu itself is midrange ambitious, not much that diners haven't seen before but with just enough bursts of creativity to hold attention. Sauté, despite its name, is not trying to be Salt or Taste or the next new farm-to-table restaurant. What Sauté does want to be proved ultimately elusive--what it lacks most at the moment is soulfulness.
Parmesan-fried oysters ($8) are a fine appetizer, juicy inside, crispy and golden outside, drizzled with a lovely béarnaise sauce and arranged carefully on fresh field greens. Pulled-duckling nachos ($10) is another impressive effort, kept simple, with colorful bread-and-butter peppers and one cheese--Vermont cheddar--layered onto crispy chips with what was very tender duck meat. Nachos can be a mess; these weren't. Fried chile-dusted calamari ($8) seemed overdone, both in concept and preparation, without much essence of calamari left beneath a coarsely coated exterior. Points for trying, and for the accompanying spicy aioli and sweet-and-sour sauces.
One salad turned us on, one didn't. The grilled Caesar ($7) makes good use of mild and creamy pecorino Toscano and dollops of anchovy dressing, but a strawberry Bibb salad ($8) needed some better construction, a more complete folding in of berries, walnuts, and goat cheese into the greens. The ruby-red grapefruit was inert.
Entrées, across the table, were solid, all recommendable, particularly a perfect pan-roasted chicken ($19) with root vegetables (yay, parsnips!), one of the best versions of this hard-to-pull-off dish we've seen, with crispy skin and juicy chicken-tasting chicken, helped out by whipped potatoes and a dusky cabernet reduction. Sauté's meat loaf ($17) is a success, too: good, well-seasoned meat, made attractive with pleasing sides of green-bean casserole, pomme purée, and lingonberries.
More good feelings for the achiote-crusted ahi tuna ($23), sliced into gorgeous rosy strips, complemented by a towering won-ton crisp, a fresh snow-pea salad, and sauce-dots of wasabi (bright and perfect) and ancho (not quite right, too musky). Porcini-encrusted diver scallops ($25), served with asparagus and a dried-fruit orzo preparation, showed off some good kitchen skills--the four big scallops came out firm and full of flavor.
So, Sauté served very good food, and nothing went wrong. There are a few pizzas we didn't get to, but not really anything else, like a sandwich that would encourage a casual approach. This a good, perhaps bland, place, and people are trying hard here to make a good impression. If Sauté doesn't right now offer much in the way of character, it's certainly pleasant. H
Open daily for lunch and dinner and brunch on Sunday.