ITS NAME TRANSLATES to “gray salt,” and, yes, the walls of this relatively new restaurant on SE Hawthorne Blvd are also gray, but Sel Gris is anything but dreary or drab. In fact, the warm lighting, numerous candles, classy-yet-quirky artwork and puffy custom-built banquettes manage to make the small dining room both understated and inviting in a masculine, big-city sort of way.
The menu, conceived by chef Daniel Mondok (formerly of Olea, and before that, Carlyle), manages to stand up to its lofty environs, offering innovative American and French-inspired fare that in many ways resembles that of Mondok’s former enterprises. Few Sel Gris devotees I’ve met can stop talking about the ris de veau (sweetbreads), which are crisped perfectly on the outside while maintaining a fluffy interior, and accompanied by “bacon and eggs,” a pairing Mondok has translated into a flaky, savory cream puff that envelops an egg yolk and is topped with bacon-flecked maple syrup. It’s undeniably over the top and utterly delightful in its excessiveness and playfulness. But for those who can’t stomach offal, even offal that good, there are plenty of other dishes worth sampling—from mussels “billi-bi,” a take on the elegant French soup with saffron-studded cream, charred tomatoes and chorizo, to a sort of deconstructed Caesar salad made with escarole, capers, shaved grana padano and some of the most tender boquerones (anchovies) I’ve tasted in town. While a few entrées, like Mondok’s “pork and beans,” which comprises braised pork cheeks, flageolets and a scallion salad, could have used a bit more seasoning—namely sel—so far Mondok and the friendly staff seem to have executed their dining mission with crystal-clear execution. Closed Sun, Mon.