by Jennifer Thomas
In late 2013, the new owners at 2100 Ross Avenue told Pyles they would be closing Samar – a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in America – for extensive remodeling on the building. They offered to completely refresh Samar or finish out an entirely new concept. Their announcement was on the heels of Pyles’ latest trek to Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. A lover of innovation, he was struck with the idea of San Salvaje, which is Spanish for Wild Saint, and “is a play on Latin America’s long history of blending pagan and catholic beliefs into a cohesive, beautiful dance,” said Pyles.
“I wanted to do a restaurant that represents all of Latin America because of my extensive travels in Mexico, Central and South America. Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Brazil will be well represented on the menu, but it will also have influences from Cuba and the Caribbean.” Chef Pyles said only half-jokingly that the menu at San Salvaje “will incorporate everything south of Harlingen.”
Interior architect tvs design from Atlanta, in partnership with MEP Design are transforming the space and enlarging the restaurant by enclosing a portion of the former patio and re-configuring the existing interior footprint. The new finishes will display natural stone, metal lanterns and accents including colorful indigenous fabrics and ancient tribal masks celebrating traditional ceremonies of South America. To represent the Catholic influence, there will be a wall of crosses of varying sizes and materials. The dining room will feature table and banquet seating in rough-hewn, brightly colored, print fabrics. There will be an exhibition kitchen with counter seating, a full bar and lounge, dining room seating for 70, and private dining for 10 with views of the Arts District. Outside, there is an expanded patio with seating, a bocce ball court, and a massive Tristan Al-Haddad sculpture made from ribbon-like, magenta steel. The installation will soon envelop 2100 Ross Avenue’s exterior.
The wine list will showcase South American varietals and traditional Latin cocktails including Caipirinhas, Mojitos and Pisco Sours. One of the signature drinks will be the Chicha Morada, a Peruvian drink made from purple corn, pineapple and spices. It will be infused with Pisco, a grape brandy produced in wine making regions of Peru and Chile.
Pyles has always practiced a tradition of celebrating other cultures by hosting seasonal feasts and festivals of different regions at his restaurants. Live music on the weekends will be a significant fixture as so much of the Latin culture is about high energy and passion for the rhythm of life ranging from the dances of salsa, merengue, tango, rumba, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and samba. “I’m also very excited to promote Alex Astranti to Executive Chef from his current position of Executive Sous-Chef at Stampede 66,” said Pyles. “It’s always a great comfort to have a long working relationship with the person in charge of a new kitchen.”
“Celebrating the Latin culture with its diversity, high-spiritedness and much-loved customs and traditions gives a really broad canvas to paint San Salvaje on,” said Pyles.
Expect a total of 125 seats including the bar and patio. San Salvaje (pronounced San Sal-VAH-hay), which means “wild saint”, celebrates the union of pagan indigenous culture with a host of saints revered in Latin America.