“I want to execute food that is approachable, but in a different way than any other restaurant on Cape Cod. Refined comfort food is what I call it—a dish that is so delicious that when someone tries it, they say ‘this is ridiculous—I have never had this prepared in this way!’” Ambitious? Perhaps. But when you consider the experience Chef Charles Withers has, it certainly seems like a reachable goal.
The new chef/owner of C Salt Wine Bar & Grille in Falmouth is no stranger to Cape Cod. His grandparents bought a home in West Falmouth, and he told me he has summered here since he was a baby. Born in London, he went to boarding school near the Scottish border, then to South Africa, before returning to the US for college. “I never really found my true career while in school—my first job was in the restaurant Saus in Boston (after I dropped out). All their food was made from scratch, and that’s really where I fell in love with the hospitality business.”
Space does not allow for reviewing the complete (and rather astonishing) résumé of this talented young man, but let’s just review a few of his comments from our conversation. “When I was at the Select Oyster Bar, I learned to butcher fish, how to hold a knife, and what to buy for my first pair of kitchen shoes. From there I went to No.9 Park (Barbara Lynch’s flagship restaurant), then on to a series of high-end European kitchens in Cambridge.”
He has spent time in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. He lists a number of world-famous chefs as his mentors, adding that one of the more interesting learning experiences he had was “to go the French Laundry in California and eat as much as I could.” He came back home and ran the kitchen at a bistro on Nantucket for two summers, visiting California in the off-season.
“Then I decided to try the front of the house,” he explained. “I knew I wanted to open a restaurant, and I needed to learn all the ‘other stuff.’ That turned out to be a very different experience, but I’m very glad I left the kitchen and did it.” Then he moved on again, this time back to London where he says he stumbled upon an ad for a small French bistro looking for a chef.
“That was the Petit Pois Bistro, an upscale restaurant with an à la carte menu. I ran the Bistro and I loved it.” At 25, he earned a Bib Gourmand, which means, in Michelin language, that “they were paying attention to me, although I couldn’t yet be awarded a Michelin star because we were serving quality food at reasonable prices—you have to offer a more expensive menu to earn a star.”
He went to Paris where he said he was ready to open a restaurant but it was “a huge uphill battle,” so he turned to working as a private chef in a ski resort until the pandemic hit. “I came home to Falmouth, and learned that C Salt was for sale.” And the rest, as they say is history—a short history, to be sure, but a very promising one.
“Feedback has been good,” he told me. “We are slowly shifting the menu, running specials and learning what people want. I feel strongly that the staff need to be happy and relaxed, so we are closed two days a week—and there won’t be any ‘old school’ yelling and screaming in the kitchen. I’m especially excited to showcase various local artisans—from ceramics and plates, to seafood suppliers, to our floral arrangements. This is a perfect medium for promoting new people—and I am super passionate about that.”
The July menu reflects the local focus: MapleBrook Farm Burrata and Wellfleet Oysters for starters. Salads are locally sourced, and the entrées reflect an eclectic combination of local product and international flavors. I asked the chef to provide me with a few of his favorite dishes—not necessarily what you might get at C Salt, but things he might make at home. He sent me the recipes that follow. (In a nod to his European training, I am leaving the amounts for the chocolate mousse in metric. You can translate this to US imperial by using a conversion application such as mathisfun.com online.) Also, I have included Charles’s comments as I think they reflect his passion for cuisine that can be considered “refined comfort food.” To be sure, this restaurant is a “must-visit” for locals and visitors alike.
Tuna Tartare Sandwich On Sourdough
Sourdough bread slices for toast
5 lbs sushi grade tuna, hand-cut into small dice
Fresh limes to juice
Sea salt to taste
Olive oil to taste
Find yourself really high-quality tuna from a good fishmonger and ask them to hand-cut it for you into small chunks. Find a good bakery and get your hands on a loaf of sourdough bread. You’re going to want to slice the bread into two pieces and toast them until nice and crispy. Mash the avocado with a fork and season aggressively with fresh lime juice, good quality salt and a chili flake (I personally love Togarashi). Season the tuna in a bowl with some good olive oil, more sea salt, and fresh lime juice. Spread the mashed avocado onto the toasted sourdough and pile the tuna on top. Place the tuna on top of the avocado and then place the second piece of sourdough on top. You have now made a tuna tartare sandwich.
Cast Iron Seared Ribeye With Chimichurri And Summer Salad
”My favorite way to eat is simple things done right. Find a local butcher, find a local farmer, and buy really exceptional produce.”
2 shallots, minced
¼ cup champagne vinegar
1 cup each: mint and parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp Togarashi (or chili flake)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine shallots with vinegar and let stand for 15 minutes; mix with herbs, garlic and togarashi, and add the EVOO. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fresh garden lettuces
¼ cup fresh herbs (mint, parsley and dill)
Maldon sea salt
Wash your lettuces and get them in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar and sprinkle with salt. For a “vinaigrette” such as this, there isn’t really a quantity. You should be tasting everything, so start with a small amount of each, toss to cover the salad and then taste and adjust according to your preferences. It’s important to find really good vinegar and oil, and you’d be surprised as to how delicious the simplicity is.
Bring the ribeye (16 to 64 oz) out to room temperature. Salt the exterior liberally and let develop a crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably one hour. Use a high smoke point oil (such as grapeseed) and cover the base of a high quality cast iron pan. Once the pan is ripping hot, carefully place the steak into the pan, always placing the steak down and away from you. At this point you should be slowly rotating the steak in a clockwise manner around the outer edge of the pan. This will allow you to build strong caramelization on all areas of the steak. Depending on the thickness of your steak and how you would like it prepared, flip and then cook the same amount of time on the other side. Rest for at least the same amount of cooking time. Slice and spoon sauce over the top.
”This is quite a decadent chocolate mousse that’s been in my recipe book for years. You’ll find it sometimes on the menu here at C Salt.”
780g high-quality 75 percent cocoa butter chocolate
300g butter, at room temperature
135g granulated sugar
20 egg whites
150 ml Curacao
12 egg yolks
45g confectioners’ sugar
300g double cream
Melt the chocolate in a Bain Marie and add the room temp butter; mix with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are well mixed and smooth. To cool the chocolate down, pour in the Curaçao and mix vigorously until it comes together; add 3 egg yolks at a time until it is all incorporated—the mixture should have thickened up.
Whisk the 20 egg whites at medium speed in a standing mixer until soft peaks start to form. Add in the granulated sugar—you are looking for the consistency of whipped cream: nothing too stiff, but nice and fluffy.
Fold one-third of the whisked egg whites into the chocolate mixture, folding vigorously to incorporate. Then gently fold in two-thirds of the egg whites, being careful not to take out the air. Finally, whisk up the double cream until doubled, season with the confectioners’ sugar and then gently fold into the final chocolate mixture. The cream will act as a binder of sorts, between the chocolate and the egg white, ensuring a perfect consistency.