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Salts offers flavorful, favorable views

The window table at Salts, a natty French bistro in Central Square, offers a direct view of Cuchi Cuchi, a noisy, not-so-natty establishment where the menu is multicultural.

On Friday night this is the place to be, a front-row seat to the to-ing and fro-ing across the street: open-shirted waiters ducking out for a smoke, singles idling winsomely as they wait for friends to show up. We like Cuchi Cuchi from this distance.

And it completely baffles us that Salts isn't packed to the seams with a line out the door. We guess the good news is slow to spread: Salts changed hands, and for the last three weeks, young Gabriel Bremer and his betrothed, Analia Verolo, have been giving it lessons in French (as in mirepoix and gastrique) and fresh (as in seasonal herbs and cheeses).

About two dozen cheeses cover a table in the middle of the dining room, surrounding an enormous vase of white tulips and gladioli. "Come on possums, wave your gladiola," one of us sings, channeling Dame Edna a bit too loudly for the mature patrons. Edna would love this room, chockablock as it is with spring flowers and red velvet.

We eye the cheeses, pretty rounds of goat's milk and raw cow's milk, for dessert ideas as we sip Chateauneuf de Pape. French descriptions keep popping up on the menu. We half-expect Edith Piaf on the sound system instead of Ella singing Cole Porter.

Bremer, who worked at Rialto, Metro, and Le Soir and owned a restaurant in Portland, Maine, before buying Salts in February, doesn't claim a French influence as much as a love for anything at its seasonal peak. He orders herbs and microgreens from a farm in Ohio; they show up on a Fedex truck the next day.

It was those microgreens, over citrus-marinated hamachi with slices of blood orange, that sent us into such bliss we had to order a second round. It's as good as anything we've had at Oishii or Clio.

The hamachi is from a fishmonger in Maine. "It's just sliced like sashimi and topped off with vinaigrette with Banyuls vinegar and orange oil that we make," Bremer says later. (Is he sure he isn't single?)

It's exciting to find a sweet-savory tug of war in another fish appetizer: cauliflower potage with a Maine diver scallop and caramelized kumquats and vanilla. Baby lettuces with pickled red beets, a poached quail egg, and black truffle vinaigrette offers its own sweet-savory balance.

Spring may be all over the room, but on the menu it's still winter: Most of the entrees are dressed up with turnips, parsnips, and winter truffles. Bremer is installing the spring menu this week; let's hope he keeps the whole roasted boneless duck for two.

The bones are gone, but the shape stays intact, the skin as crispy as the best Peking duck. It's carved tableside on a big copper platter, and the presentation alone is worth the $55 freight.

One other entree was as much work for the kitchen: a ballotine of free-range chicken, deboned and rolled over a farce (French for stuffing) made with chicken breast and foie gras. It is poached, seared, roasted in the oven, and served with a pomme puree, more microgreens, and a mirepoix of celery, carrots, and shallots.

Ignoring the cheeses, we finish with warm chocolate cake with a spiced chocolate frappe and lemon souffle tart with frozen Meyer lemon curd. At a nearby table, duck is making another appearance.

Salts 798 Main St., Cambridge. 617-876-8444.

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