Nestled in an airy and elegant storefront on Church Street in the bustling city of New Brunswick, Chef Christian Graciano is re-inventing the meaning of upscale dining using locally-sourced ingredients as his canvas for awe-inspiring culinary art.
Chef Craciano entered the culinary scene at a point in his life where he recognized the need for change. At the age of 26, he left his job at a distribution center and began his education at The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. During his time in NYC, he had the chance to study under Chef Alex Guarnaschelli from the Food Network. Since entering the food scene, Graciano has worked at several New Jersey-based institutions including the Witherspoon Grill, Hamilton’s Grill Room, Big Fish, and has given cooking classes to a diverse range of students from elementary schoolers to Princeton University students.
It’s all a question of how far one is willing to travel for exquisitely paired seafood-centered dishes. Graciano notes that when moving more and more inland in New Jersey, there are fewer seafood restaurants, and an even smaller amount of those that offer a refined experience.
“We’ve veered away from the still very important casual seafood restaurant vibe that exists along the coast. We have brought a refined seafood restaurant in which you can choose to have a fine dining experience or even a more laid-back experience, where you can have a few oysters at the bar and a quick bite to eat,” Graciano explains.
Decorating Salt are bright splashes of mosaic details humbled by warm lengths of reclaimed wood which, at once, give the space a welcoming rustic charm. Chef Graciano credits his wife’s affinity for interior design for the restaurant’s refined, yet intimate, style.
“My wife Tammy and I, when designing the space, asked ourselves, ‘If we were going to dinner or to a show in New Brunswick for the evening, and if there was a seafood restaurant in town, what would we want it to look like?’ And what you see is the result of that, the less-is-more attitude, distressed and reclaimed woods, brick walls, we made it just like our home. We didn’t want to hit hard on the nautical theme. In my vision that would get dated really quickly.”
Graciano notes the importance of the origin of the seafood they use. “A majority of our seafood is sourced in New Jersey. I have personally had the liberty of going down to the docks in Sea Isle and bringing in catches from 280 miles off the coast, picking pieces right off the boat, tagging them, processing them, and then had them delivered to me a few hours later that very same day.”
Chef Graciano notes that as a chef, he may be the third or fourth hand that gets to the catches that are reeled in and that it can be a bit intimidating. As someone whose craft is so heavily based on the quality of the product they are given, it is important to know and trust the parts of the equation that come before you.
“It was surreal, believe it or not. I was very taken aback by the position that I was in as I opened a seafood restaurant in New Brunswick and had the chance to grab the seafood that I would be using directly off the boat. It’s something that I had never done before. It was amazing,” Graciano says.
While individuals from as north as Parsippany and as south as Cumberland enjoy a dazzling dining experience at Salt, Graciano is proud to be able to bring him and his wife’s vision of a refined seafood experience to life. So far, the duo has knocked their vision out of the park, and their presence in New Brunswick has been one that commands attention.
Dining at Salt offers a refined, yet not intimidating, style of dining. The knowledgeable wait staff embraces the opportunity to carefully explain any unfamiliar menu items or suggest dishes that may be new to the diner. Delicate oysters are given the proper spotlight whether you choose to dine at the modernized raw bar or at a more traditional table. The crab spaghetti is sure to please, expertly blended with sourdough breadcrumbs and the brightness of a perfect parmesan cheese. You won’t want to skip dessert — especially their decadent specialty creme brulee cheesecake that’s torched right before your very eyes.
One of Graciano’s favorite parts of opening Salt thus far has been seeing its growth and the way it has been received by the New Jersey community.
“If you told me 20 years ago when I started culinary school that I would be opening arguably one of the busiest seafood restaurants in Central Jersey, I would have laughed. But that’s kind of where we are now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
As he reflects upon the journey that brought him to where he is today, Graciano is at once humbled by his past and eager to embrace the future. The team at the Salt Seafood and Oyster Bar has made a splash in the New Brunswick food scene and will continue to ride the waves of success beyond the horizon.