Cooking Class: Mousse di Salmone e Saor at Senti Restaurant & Wine Bar
Cooking Class visits the kitchens of area restaurants whose chefs share their popular recipes.
When diners enter Senti Restaurant & Wine Bar, the cool new modern Italian venture in Lawrenceville, they are immediately enveloped in an arty, New York vibe.
Walls are painted in deep colors, modern art sizzles on the walls and lights shine through color panels behind the bar. An Enomatic automated wine dispenser allows imbibers to try measured portions of high-end wines. Soft music plays in the background.
Annette Ishida, 51,of Shadyside, the effervescent co-owner of Senti with her husband, Franco Braccia, 50, calls the Enomatic “Franco's baby.” “He absolutely wanted to have one of these,” she says, so diners could try small portions of expensive wines without breaking their dining budgets.
Braccia is a native of Chieti, Italy, in the Abruzzo region. He worked for 30 years in the hotel business, including spots in Venice and at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, and for several years at Lidia's in the Strip District and the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel. He and his wife met in the Veneto area of Italy, where Ishida, who worked in the fashion industry, was overseeing some fashion production.
And then there is Senti's food. Executive chef Shawn Carlson, 39, of Ross, who got out of the Army and began working in restaurants, grew up in Carmichaels, Greene County, where his grandmother “made everything from scratch.”
“I tried college a couple of times; it wasn't for me,” says Carlson, who decided to hone his cooking skills with studies at Le Cordon Bleu, formerly in Pittsburgh. But Carlson attributes much of what he knows to chef Tony Pais, owner of the former Baum Vivant restaurant in Shadyside.
“I was very lucky to work at Baum Vivant,” Carlson says. “That's where I was able to see different foods and different techniques.”
Senti's cuisine is “very true, authentic Italian, not chicken parm,” Carlson says. “We buy local as much as possible,” striving for clean, fresh flavors. And in plating the food, “I play off the artwork,” Carlson says.
Diners can order from the small plates, luncheon or dinner menu, which includes appetizers, soups, salads and side dishes.
Antipasti, or appetizers, include Seppia Con Polenta, or cuttlefish with polenta, for $10; and Capasante al Rosmarino, or rosemary-infused sauteed scallops, served over a beet-apple puree and garnished with speck, at market price.
Dinner entrees include Cotoletta di Maialino alle Mandorle, a pork cutlet breaded with almond flour and served with arugula and apple, for $21. Anatra in Pevarada is duck in Pevarada, for $25. Pevarada is a traditional Venetian sauce with a long history. It can include spices and vinegar and may be sweetened with honey and darkened with other ingredients.
Pastas include Lasagna alla Veneta, or lasagna Venetian style, for $14; and Oriechetti ai Rapini, or oriechetti pasta with broccoli rabe, for $12.
The lunch menu includes Piacina, a Caprese flatbread, for $10.50; and Pollo, chicken marinated with pesto and zucchini, for $11. Salads with grilled salmon, steak or chicken are available for $10 to $10.50.
A variety of small plates includes Seppia con Nero di Seppia, or cuttlefish with squid ink, for $4.50.�
“Senti” means “feelings” or “senses” in Italian, and the restaurant owners' goal was to appeal to the senses of taste, sight and hearing.
“We wanted to maintain the feeling of an art gallery,” Ishida says.
Her mother, Traute Ishida, is a native of Germany who once showed her work in New York City galleries. Her artwork now decorates the walls of Senti. Ishida's father, Susumu Ishida, is a native of Japan who came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in 1961, then worked as a chemist for Dupont in Delaware and Aristech here before his retirement.
“So, we were familiar with Pittsburgh,” Annette Ishida says.
Her sister, Christina Ishida of Cici Crib Interiors, was the interior designer for Senti.
It's the staff's and Ishida-Braccia family's attention to details that make Senti popular. One recent midafternoon, the bar and many tables were still occupied by lingering diners.
“We'll be back,” said one patron as she left with a friend.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Mousse di Salmone e Saor
Shawn Carlson, executive chef at Senti Restaurant & Wine Bar in Lawrenceville, “has a real talent for balancing subtle flavors,” says restaurant co-owner Annette Ishida.
That talent is particularly true in Carlson's Mousse di Salmone e Saor, which balances the distinctive flavor of salmon with the sweetness of raisins and marscapone cheese, the tartness of balsamic vinegar with savory spices, and the smoothness of the mousse with the crunch of pine nuts.
“Saor” means “sour” and is a traditional Venetian tart and slightly sweet marinade for fish. Franco Braccia spent several years at a five-star restaurant in Venice.
6-7 ounces salmon, poached (see note)
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon marscapone
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking and garnish
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed from sprig
1⁄4 cup onion, chopped
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon regular raisins
1 tablespoon golden raisins
Bouquet garni (several of each: whole cloves, peppercorns and juniper berries, wrapped in cheesecloth)
Pea shoots, optional
After the salmon is poached, place it in a food processor. Season it with salt and white pepper and add the marscapone cheese. Process until it is combined and pureed. Chill the puree so it sets up, and place it in pastry bag.
Mix the olive oil and rosemary in a bowl and add the shrimp. Marinate the shrimp for an hour.
Lightly saute the onions in oil until they are tender but not caramelized. Add the vinegar and cook it down, reducing it by half. Add the pine nuts, raisins and ramps, including the white and green parts. Add the bouquet garni and cook until the ramps are tender.
Remove the shrimp from the marinade and grill them.
Take the onion-ramp mixture and strain off the vinegar; remove the bouquet garni and reserve the pine nuts and raisins. Divide the onions and ramps between 2 small ramekins. Pipe the salmon puree over the onion-ramp mixture in each ramekin. Invert each ramekin onto a plate, leaving the ingredients in a circular shape.
Place two shrimp over each circle of mousse. Garnish with the pea shoots and the reserved raisins and pine nuts. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil.
Makes 2 servings.
Note: To poach the salmon, heat water over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet for 5 minutes. Slide the salmon pieces into the poaching liquid. Bring it to a slow boil, reduce the heat to medium, and poach until the salmon flesh is firm, for about 10 to 15 minutes.