Big Wood

Chef Paul Corsentino tends to rotisserie chicken, a popular item on his new menu at Marina’s Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette. The chef known for intricate and elegant dishes at Sur House - part of Ventana Big Sur - shifted to the Marina restaurant in February.

Although Chef Paul Corsentino is known for his fine dining ways and clever use of ingredients – he teamed with celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian on Iron Chef America, after all – he had something more approachable in mind.

“If seafood restaurant met smokehouse, that would be my ideal,” he says.

Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette leans toward seafood. It features a wood-fired grill and there are plans to install a smoker. Good so far. Bringing his refined flair to the menu – that’s a process just getting underway.

On a recent visit, Corsentino plated king salmon with a rhubarb mustardo, edamame and pickled fiddlehead, creating a dish that brings a sense of amazement – yet it is still a piece of fish. A soup of spring onion and potato also involves a drizzle of lemon oil and pops of juicy sweetness from grapes that seems to elevate the whole.

Yes, grapes. It’s a trick he learned along his travels through New York restaurants. “Potatoes, onions and grapes play well together,” the chef explains.

This is what you expect from a Corsentino kitchen. But even as he introduces his style, he is downplaying the white tablecloth opulence. Sure, you may see phrases like nasturtium and pistachio pesto or saffron creme fraîche, but there are familiarities – such as rotisserie chicken (that appeared to be on every table) and the all-American burger.

OK… maybe wood-grilled red onion marmalade isn’t always found on a burger. But roasted tomato aioli is just a finer form of ketchup. And the burger is remarkable – husky and rugged, with a char that sends smoky streaks across the palate and vivid memories of backyard cookouts and good roadside diners through your mind. It would be a great burger without all the accoutrements.

“I cheat,” Corsentino admits. “It’s a brisket and chuck blend. It tastes like meat.”

So he can cook simple food, after all. Or not – he goes big on basic shrimp and grits, smothering the shellfish in his take on the bold Guangdong favorite, XO sauce.

Not surprisingly, the mash of dehydrated shrimp and scallops, chili oil and chili sauce (which Corsentino spikes with a pair of fermented elements, black bean and raspy ginger) works neatly with the shrimp, lending depth and an earthy baritone. It does somewhat trample the delicate coconut-scented grits, however.

His version of mac and cheese has a sweet acrid note from smoked trout, along with a grassy cheese sauce over radiatore pasta instead of the common macaroni. It is rich without being conceited.

There is careful thought and years of experience evident across the menu. An egg yolk coulis, touched with Parmesan and Worcestershire, brings a briny tang to steak tartare, for example.

There were moments when it is apparent Corsentino’s kitchen is still in a learning curve. The fries limped alongside that standout burger, for example. But new concepts make for a work in progress.

“We’re on our way,” he says.

SALT WOOD KITCHEN & OYSTERETTE 3295 Dunes Drive, Marina. 5-10pm daily, bar 3pm, brunch 10:30am-2:30pm Sat-Sun. 883-5535, saltwoodkitchenandoysterette.com
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