A new concept is coming to the former Cafe Natasha space on South Grand later this month, with three hospitality industry experts at the helm.
On May 27, Natasha Bahrami, owner of the Gin Room and the daughter of Cafe Natasha co-founder Hamishe Bahrami, will open Salve Osteria with Grand Spirits Bottle Co. owner Michael Fricker and local chef Matt Wynn.
The concept, described as “years in the making” in a Tuesday news release, will breathe new life into 3200 South Grand Boulevard, the former home of Cafe Natasha. Salve Osteria will serve a “harvest-centric” menu inspired by the cuisines of Italy, Spain and the Mediterranean. The seasonal, shareable and sustainably sourced menu will feature vegetable dishes, pastas and roasted meats, “substantial in flavor and aesthetics,” the release notes.
Wynn has cooked at some of the most lauded spots around town, including leading the kitchen at James Beard award-winning chef Gerard Craft’s Taste in the Central West End.
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“We are so thrilled to have Matt’s talent and passion in our kitchen,” Bahrami said in the release. “Every dish he creates is simply gorgeous, but it’s also accessible. We love the fact that Salve Osteria can be a date-night destination or a place to linger over a meal with friends.”
Bahrami, who grew up in the restaurant industry — in a restaurant named for her, no less — will bring her decades of hospitality experience to Salve. Even before Cafe Natasha opened in 1993, Bahrami was learning the ins and outs of restaurant ownership and entrepreneurship from her parents. Hamishe and her late husband, Behshid, opened their first restaurant, the Little Kitchen, in downtown St. Louis in 1983.
When St. Louis Post-Dispatch food writer Daniel Neman spoke to Bahrami last month about Cafe Natasha closing, Bahrami said longtime guests can expect to see Hamishe still greeting guests and serving as “the maître d’ of all time.”
“It’s an honor to be cooking in a space with such warmth and history,” Wynn said in the release. “While Salve Osteria is a wholly different concept than Cafe Natasha, it will absolutely maintain the throughline of warmth and hospitality that the Bahrami family created so beautifully.”
Capturing the warmth and family- and community-focused feeling of Cafe Natasha was very important to Bahrami. She describes having that kind of experience in restaurants around the world — one where guests feel welcomed the way they would in someone’s home kitchen.
“What we’ve always provided (at Cafe Natasha) is something comfortable, something genuine — comfort food in a way that makes you feel like you’re coming home,” Bahrami said Tuesday. “Mike has known since he met me that I’ve always been in love with the culture of the Mediterranean and Italy and Spain as well. It’s a different type of hospitality. When you go into someone’s home, they’re introducing you to their lives, they’re introducing you to a social atmosphere that they’re welcoming you into.
“What I was struggling (with) when we would have to close Cafe Natasha, (was) how I can go forward in the industry without that same love and passion and care? It came so easily (with) Cafe Natasha, because it was made directly with our sweat and blood. That was built by immigrants sharing their culture and love with their new community. What we’re creating is a passion for food. Matt isn’t just making food; (it’s food that) makes you feel like you had a hug.”
The Persian restaurant will shut its doors when owner Hamishe Bahrami retires in April.
Bahrami and Fricker have been working on the concept for more than two years and have had a couple of starts and stops. “It’s been maybe two (or) two and a half years of Natasha and I trying to figure out what the transition would be and who would be right (to partner with),” Fricker said Tuesday. “We didn’t want to just hire a chef, we wanted a partner — somebody who was in it with us. I’ve known Matt for four or five years. I have a ton of respect for Matt and his food, and everything that people said about him as a person, which was wildly important to us.”
Fricker texted Wynn about the possibility of partnering together on a new concept. “It’s been three months or so, and it just clicked. Everything just came into line. The food matches the cocktails and the vibe. We started talking about names, and within the first 24 hours, we had Salve. It was correct.”
As for the concept’s name, which translates to “hello” in Italian, Bahrami describes it as capturing the essence of Salve’s convivial spirit. That approach informs the shareable plates Wynn has developed for the menu, which he describes as “fun takes on older classics.”
“One dish I’m very excited about is a play on a Caesar salad,” Wynn said. “It’s cabbage that’s been brined and grilled and tossed in miso instead of anchovies. You almost get the salt of the anchovy (with the miso), and then breadcrumbs and a little bit of chile oil on top for some heat. (My focus is making dishes) in a way that’s very familiar and comfortable but expressing them in a new format with a new life.”
With Bahrami and Fricker’s resumes, guests can expect an innovative beverage program at Salve. Bahrami opened the Gin Room inside Cafe Natasha in 2014, and the following year, hosted the first Gin Festival at Cafe Natasha. By 2016, she was hosting Gin Week and Gin Fest, the largest gin festival in the U.S. As of last year, Bahrami is the first and only American to be inducted into the Gin Hall of Fame. The Gin Room menu will remain separate from Salve, Bahrami said.
In addition to Fricker’s work at Grand Spirits, he brings a background of cooking and hospitality as well, having worked as executive chef at Cinder House at the Four Seasons St. Louis. At Grand Spirits, Fricker and his team regularly host wine tasting events, inviting the community into the space to learn more about the natural wines sold at the store.
At Salve, Fricker plans to focus the bar program around natural wines and cocktails. He says the wine list will reflect the concept of “what grows together goes together,” with regional wines from regions of Italian such as Tuscany and Piedmont and southern Spain featured on the wine list. The cocktail menu, which will exist entirely apart from the Gin Room’s offerings, will feature four to five spritzes.
Fricker is especially excited about Salve’s amaro cart, which will be a regular fixture in the dining room, offering guests pre- and post-dinner cocktails, or aperitifs and digestifs.
“One of the most fun things for me is sitting down and having an Aperol spritz or a Cynar and soda, (something) that starts my palate for the night,” Fricker said. “And then finishing the meal with an amaro really puts the finishing touch on that experience. (We want to make) it a little more approachable, the European-style pre- and post-dinner drinks. I’m super stoked to introduce (that) in a relaxed manner.”
In addition to the Gin Room inside Salve, the restaurant will make use of the charming outdoor garden bar familiar to Cafe Natasha diners. Fricker says the restaurant’s interior is being completely updated to give Salve its own identity, although the Gin Room will retain its current look and feel, as will the patio.
“The whole environment between the Gin Room, the amaro service and the food is an experience culminating together, so when you walk in the door, it’s a whole service,” Bahrami said. “We’re going to refine, learn and grow along the way, that’s who we are. We want to give our love with this. We’re looking at each other and our separate expertise to come together and create something new.”
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