Named for rare, hand-harvested sea salt prized in cooking, Fleur de Sel is a reflection of the owners' unusual combination of French heritage, classical training and passion for the food industry. When they met at hotel management school in Nice, France, Laurent had already apprenticed at a catering school in the French Alps and received his bachelor's degree in hospitality. While he worked into managerial positions in Cannes' prestigious resort hotel community, Patricia worked as an events coordinator. They eventually immigrated to the United States -- Billings, Montana, of all places -- where they operated the hugely successful Enzo Mediterranean Bistro for many years.
In Billings, the Zirottis met local realtor Frank Bennett, who eventually connected them with Highlands Day Spa owners Jeanne Plastino-Wood and her husband Steve. The spa location was a natural fit, explains Patricia. "We believe our businesses complement each other."
Although diners certainly will feel pampered at Fleur de Sel, the prices will make you feel like you deserve it a little more often. We intended to share just a glass of wine (from their extensive list) and an appetizer -- a cold-smoked salmon tartare atop a mouthwatering tapenade of sun-dried tomatoes and crispy frybread ($10) -- and ended up staying for dinner: a delightful duck sausage and gnocchi ($13). And we lingered over dessert -- a swoon-inducing cr & egrave;me brul & eacute;e ($5). Fleur de Sel is a dining experience that will definitely rub you the right way.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
Fleur de Sel, 4365 Inverness Dr., Post Falls, Idaho, is open Tue-Sat, 5-9 pm. Reservations recommended. Call (208) 777-7600.
DINING Tasty Health
& lt;span class="dropcap" & & Agrave; & lt;/span & votre sant & eacute; ... it's French for "to your health!"
SANT & Eacute;, owned by Jeremy and Kate Hansen, is an example of what passion and a lot of hard work can do for a business and a community. Together the Hansens refinished floors in the caf & eacute; space next to Auntie's and laid tiles in the dining room and the kitchen; they also designed and built tables, a Website, and a fabulous menu drawing inspiration from time spent in Europe.
"We want it to make it a big ol' collaboration," says Kate, the operations manager, who envisions a "symphony night" as well as themed dinners for book readings and other community events.
A three- or seven-course dinner, complete with wine, is served on Friday and Saturday nights, and breakfast and brunch are served seven days a week. "We hope to be 'the beloved brunch' the downtown needs," says Kate. All ingredients are natural, organic and local, she says: "You can look in the kitchen. Nothing comes in a can."
The Autumn Soup ($6 served with buttered/grilled French bread) starts with kabocha squash -- a winter squash with a flavor that's similar to butternut squash, but noticeably more intense. A touch of honey enhances the sweetness of this lively orange-hued soup while a hint of sage rounds the flavors and gives it a surprisingly earthy taste. The texture holds up nicely to a spoon, but as you get more into it, try dipping the buttered and grilled slices of French bread and eating it that way.
And you know that sausage on a bun you get at Costco? Forget about it. Chef Jeremy's German sausage ($10 with berry mustard and grilled French bread) is deliciously savory and lean, as are the other sausages he makes in-house, like the spicy chorizo and the mild white weisswurst.
"I try to emphasize flavors and the balance of flavors -- flavors that punctuate, very concentrated flavors you can taste ... it's not just sitting on your palate, you're actually tasting all the flavors," he says, adding that he has "chopped [the fat content] to half --15 to 20 percent. My biggest thing is to try and keep the fat content down and keep it as healthy as possible. That's what we're about here -- keeping it a healthy as possible, as local as possible, as sustainable as possible."
After all, Sant & eacute; translates to health.
-- M.C. PAUL
Sant & eacute; Restaurant and Charcuterie, 404 W. Main Ave. (Liberty Building), is open Mon-Thu 8 am-6 pm, Fri 8 am-4 pm and 5-11 pm, and Sat 5-11 pm. Call 999-5428.