Plat8 chef Moussa Salloukh trims beets for a salt-roasted beets salad with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette.
Toledo's newest dining experience, Plat8, has the city and the Village buzzing. Backed by a group of investors made up predominantly of Villagers, the new 55-seat premier restaurant is in the Ottawa Hills Shopping Center, 4330 W. Central Ave., in the space formerly occupied by Mac & Tong's.
Appetizers include Brussels sprouts with pancetta artichoke glaze, a roasted bone marrow with herb salad, toast points, roasted garlic and Sicilian sea salt, as well as pecan chicken lettuce chips with smoked gouda cheese, pickled red onions, and sesame peanut dressing.
Salads include a smoked chicken Cobb with artisan romaine lettuce, bacon, avocado, egg, smoked gouda, and tomatoes, and a smoked salmon kale and quinoa salad featuring avocado, butternut squash, quinoa, truffle oil roasted almonds, house smoked salmon and white balsamic vinaigrette.
Entrees on offer include seared jumbo sea scallops with chard kale and a fig reduction, a Tuscan harvest bowl of organic Venere black risotto, baby kale, Brussels sprouts, truffle roasted almonds, local goat cheese, grilled chicken and honey balsamic vinaigrette, and a roasted, braised, and grilled rib eye, served with seasonable vegetables and roasted redskin potatoes.
As if the exceptional farm-to-table offerings on the menu and the freshly remodeled space were not enough, Moussa Salloukh and his reputation as one of the area's most popular chefs has people flocking to the new eatery.
Salloukh and his business partner Gus Nicolaidis are the duo behind the popular La Scola Italian Grill in south Toledo.
"The initial response has been good," Salloukh said. "I have been back in the kitchen quite a bit, training and coaching, trying to get everything down pat. We work on service all the time, wine knowledge, craft beer knowledge, all the time."
"We are kind of getting our groove," he said. "It is a small restaurant, and you are readjusting all the time. I have readjusted the kitchen three times already. We just got approved by the health department to do a prep kitchen across the hall. That will be a great help."
"We have some great investors. I think they see a vision, they see we all have great passion for food and wine. That is the direction we want to go, just get better every day," Salloukh said.
"We want people to have an overall great experience, with the meal, service, and atmosphere. When you can put all of those together it is a satisfying, magical experience," he said. "We don't want to rush people, just want people to sit back, relax, enjoy the atmosphere and some great food. We have a menu that evolves into something seasonal, stays ahead of the curve all of the time."
"I want to make this menu so it is constantly changing," he said. "We will still have some staples. A lot of people are enjoying the lamb shank. They say it is one of the better ones they have had."
"To have people say it is a good item, that is great," Salloukh said. "People I look up to, like Labib Hajjar at The Beirut, that is where I would go - besides my mother or my grandmother - to get great lamb shanks. My benchmark is a guy like that, or my mother or grandmother."
"There are some things I am putting on the menu, the kafta, every Lebanese family has their own version of what they put into it," he said. "In mine is a little bit more cinnamon a little bit more all spice, and then I do a cucumber yogurt over the top of it with a little bit of honey in it. I can do stuff from my heritage and put different twist on those things."
Salloukh is focused on the food and the experience.
"I don't want people to come in and leave hungry. I want people to leave satisfied," he said. "When you go to bigger cities, you are paying a lot of money just to look at pretty food. Throw a picture of it instagram, woo-hoo, but you are getting a slice of pizza to eat later."
Salloukh has his fan base in the Toledo food scene, and a reputation to back it up, but he doesn't take anything for granted.
"There is a lot of great talent in the city. I have been fortunate to work with a lot of them during the Chef's Collective, where we all came together a few years back and started having pop up dinners at different restaurants."
"I have a lot of great friends and we have a lot of great chefs in this town. We have a great culinary scene, and I think it is under rated."
"I always look at the independent (restaurants). Toledo is going to support the chains, but if you are an independent, working hard, and you put out good food, you can succeed," he said. "You also have to get out there and appreciate your clientele and patrons who come through your door, and thank them. They have a ton of choices, and they picked you."
"You can't think 'Oh I'm an independent and every body is supposed to support me,' it isn't going to happen," Salloukh said.
Salloukh is serious about food, and has been from an early age.
"Growing up in a Middle Eastern home, in a Mediterranean home, there was food everywhere, and we always had company coming over," Salloukh recalled. "My mother and grandmother always had food ready, at will. Food is love, love is food. I remember as a kid, my grandmother and a bunch of older ladies sitter around rolling thousands of grape leaves."
Salloukh started on the Toledo food scene years ago as a front of house manager at the former Navy Bistro, across the river from downtown. He ran a number of restaurants at the Docks for years.
"I dabbled in the back of the house as needed, to make things work," he said. "Through them, my mom, my grandmother, a lot of the people I have been fortunate enough to work around, I kind of self taught myself."
"I just became very passionate about food," he confessed. "When you get to a certain level, you try to be as perfect and immaculate on taste and presentation."
"It is a lot of hard work, but that is something I am not afraid of," he said. "I was brought up in a home where that is all I saw. I never saw my dad because he worked so much. There are plusses and negatives to that. We had a good upbringing and food on our table, but the sacrifice was he was always working. I think I fell into that a little bit, but right now I love what I do."
So what does a successful chef such as Salloukh enjoy when he wants to unwind, or just needs some comfort food?
"At the end of the night, if I am hanging out with my girlfriend, I might whip up some tomato bisque and put four different cheeses on some multi grain bread and make grilled cheese, and just dip it," Salloukh said. "It was comfort food my mom used to make when I was sick. It is crazy, you are around this food all day and then you go home and make a grilled cheese."
Another one of Salloukh's guilty pleasures? A good old hamburger.
"My favorite is what I call the Fat Elvis," he said. "A hamburger with caramelized bananas and peanut butter. There is nothing like warm peanut butter on beef, and then banana."