Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Salento's Is an Inexpensive Little Find for Meat Lovers; Colombian-Inspired Menu Is Mostly Grilled, Spicy If You like It

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Salento's Is an Inexpensive Little Find for Meat Lovers; Colombian-Inspired Menu Is Mostly Grilled, Spicy If You like It

Article excerpt

Byline: Jay Magee

From the picnic-bench-style tables to the colander light fixtures overhead, Salento Colombian Steakhouse isn't likely to wow you with avant-garde dcor.

While the dining room is rustic and spartan, they save the embellishment for the grill in back.

The Mandarin storefront, which opened nearly five months ago in the Mandarin Central shopping center near Old St. Augustine and Losco roads, is by all accounts a steakhouse. Thin-cut, grilled meats rule the menu here. But cast off any highfalutin' perceptions you have about the word steakhouse. Salento's carnivorous feasts are refreshingly budget-friendly.

Owner and chef Silvio Orozco, who owned restaurants in Colombia and Costa Rica before coming to Jacksonville seven years ago, named his latest venture in honor of the town where his grandfather lived. He keeps a simple menu of appetizers, corn cakes (arepas) and a variety of proteins, sides and natural juices, along with bottled beers, served in a long dining room of nearly a dozen tables.

Our server filled us in on the specials that haven't yet made their way onto the work-in-progress menu. One not-quite-ready-for-ink appetizer, the beef empanadas (four for $3.69), deserves a spot. These diminutive golden-fried turnovers came out piping hot and moist with plenty of mildly seasoned beef hidden away inside. If you want the other kind of heat, ask for a side of the excellent verde hot sauce. The timid need not apply.

We also sampled the Salento homemade sausage ($4), a platter with two sizable pork sausage links, served with a petite corn cake. The sausage had an excellent, mild and chunky texture, but the corn cake needed something more for flavor enhancement. Its larger, entre-sized brothers come standard with tasty toppings. Some melted cheese might do the trick.

Speaking of entre-sized corn cakes, Salento dresses them up in seven varieties, from naked to fully decked out.

My friend checked out the beef, avocado and cheese ($5.99) iteration. She got a thick, grit-like sphere about 6 inches in diameter topped with grilled, marinated strip steak atop melted cheese with a mini-cast iron pan of creamy mashed avocado on the platter. …

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