Red Sky

Red Sky
224 Market St.
Credit cards accepted
Wheelchair-accessible (bathroom on ground floor)

"Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor take warning." I don’t know who penned this visual weather report, but it may have been an amateur poet in the once-great British Navy.

Red Sky is the name David and Scott Stein (no relation to me) gave to their restaurant/martini bar/lounge that opened in Old City in September. Old City is brimming with martini bars and lounges that serve food to the ever-increasing number of young professionals moving into this artsy area of the city. Stephen Starr started the trend when he opened The Continental more than eight years ago. My husband Edward and I have been to a few of these stylish haunts but, with the exception of The Continental, we were very disappointed with the food.

When I heard via the culinary grapevine that chef Michael Salvitti, a three-year veteran of Audrey Claire, was hired to head up the kitchen, I had a feeling that Red Sky might be more than a martini bar/lounge that happens to serve food. Edward and I decided to pay the restaurant a visit on one of the most bitterly cold evenings of the year. OK with me; I always have a greater appetite during the winter months.

Red Sky is decorated in a minimalist way. The bar and dining room have plain white walls livened up with red-hot lighting. The music on the sound system was at the right decibel level. Two couples were enjoying dinner in the dining room and, as we sipped our drinks, two men arrived for dinner in the bar area. This part of the restaurant has long windows that afford an easy look at the goings-on along Market Street.

"The weekend begins on Thursday night," said the charming young man who served as bartender/waiter. "We have a DJ upstairs who plays until 2 a.m. On Saturday night, the line was out the door."

Edward and I decided to dine at the bar and keep the bartender company. A young man brought us white linen napkins, silverware and warm rolls with a small ramekin of slightly sweet butter. I noticed a number of Salvitti’s dishes from Audrey Claire on the menu, such as mussels, calamari and an unusual Caesar salad.

We selected a 2002 Rioja Vega Tinto ($28) from the small wine list and discussed the menu. Riojas from Spain are among my favorite wines. They drink well with poultry, fish and pork.

I began dinner with calamari ($8), which was prepared with an interesting twist. Small calamari were cut into rings along with their tentacles, coated with crushed almonds and quickly fried. They were a light golden-brown and could have used a few more minutes in the pan. The squid were tender and came with a small ramekin of yogurt dipping sauce, which was on the sweet side.

Edward’s crab and crawfish spring rolls ($9) consisted of three large homemade spring rolls filled with sweet crabmeat and crawfish in a light wonton-like wrapper. They came with a delicious, slightly sweet chili dipping sauce. Both shellfish were slightly bland, however.

Smoked Caesar salad ($8) is one of Salvitti’s signature dishes. Grilled salads are popular in Italy but, as we know, Caesar salad is an American creation. So Salvitti took some culinary license and came up with another version.

Romaine lettuce leaves were grilled and torn into bite-sized pieces. Bits of crisp pancetta, imparting a slightly salty flavor, were scattered on top of the leaves. In place of the run-of-the-mill boxed white-bread croutons were crispy polenta croutons. The dressing had a bit of zing to it. Although I liked the flavors here, I thought some of the romaine leaves had seen better days.

From the entr�es we selected tuna ($19) and pork ($18). Tuna on restaurant menus can be iffy. It must be top sushi quality and, to my taste, presented rare. I received two thick slabs of the above-mentioned tuna variety, coated with too many peppercorns and seared rare. The dish would have had more eye appeal if the tuna was sliced and fanned out prettily on the plate. The dots of gooey balsamic vinegar reduction sauce on the plate did little to enhance the tuna.

I especially enjoyed the vegetables that came with my dinner, however. I received three long Chinese green beans that were tied together and a good-sized serving of spicy roasted potatoes. These were on the cool side, so our waiter whisked them away and brought me a freshly made order that arrived nice and hot.

The pork entr�e, on the other hand, was uncommonly good. I can’t tell you how many times we have been served overcooked, underflavored pork. There are few things worse than pork that has been cooked to a dry dust.

Edward’s plate contained a good-sized portion of perfectly cooked pork tenderloin. It was juicy and tender and could be cut with a butter knife. Fruit sauces marry well with pork, with apples and pears the usual choices for winter. But Salvitti likes to surprise his patrons with something unusual, and used peaches to make a rich coulis that enhanced this dish. We both enjoyed their slightly sweet flavor.

Homemade wild-boar sausage was included on the plate, along with polenta prepared with creamy mascarpone cheese. It may sound like there were too many ingredients on this plate, but they worked beautifully. The contrast of flavors and textures was delicious.

The father-and-son team of David and Scott Stein could have charged more for Red Sky’s entr�es, but thankfully they didn’t. Half of the choices are under $20 and portions are generous. Appetizers ($6-$10) are moderately priced as well.

The lounge area, which jumps on the weekend, is up a long flight of stairs. I suspect the music chosen by the DJ, the martini list and the late-night fare keep the young professionals quite happy.

Two tips of the toque to Red Sky.