Clean Slate

Ambitious Euro-Friendly Flavors Await at Revamped 51Fifteen

The chic restaurant inside Saks Fifth Avenue hopes to reach the next level.

By Timothy Malcolm February 5, 2019

About three years ago, 51Fifteen Cuisine & Cocktails reopened its doors at Saks Fifth Avenue in the Galleria by unveiling a dramatic look and a menu of locally sourced dishes with a fine dining lilt. Stefon Rishel led the kitchen through dishes like venison tartare with wild blueberries and, naturally, a pickle board, a sign of the farm-to-fork ethos happening here.

But Rishel left 51Fifteen to return to his home in Fort Worth just months later, which seemingly stalled the restaurant's momentum. While 51Fifteen carried on, especially as a high-volume special-occasion spot, one could fairly say it was easy to miss.

But now it's attempting to get back on our radars, thanks to the addition of executive chef Luigi Shimaj, who hails from Florence, Italy, and brings a more French- and Italian-inspired approach to the menu. That was on display at a recent tasting at 51Fifteen, with a number of dishes nodding to the Mediterranean while incorporating more than a few modern touches.

This was most evident with a dish like Italian burrata cheese insalata, which combines sliced beets and tomatoes with the creamy cheese and arugula, along with a honey and balsamic reduction. Also effective was the prosciutto di San Daniele sandwich, on which light flavors danced inside a crusty focaccia. If Shimaj is aiming to make 51Fifteen a go-to spot for a lavish lunch (for people who won't mind paying $22 for a sandwich), he may have succeeded.

I'm most interested, however, in how Shimaj hopes to translate familiar continental items in an adventurous way, without alienating those seeking a simple but elevated lunch or dinner. For that, look no further than seared salmon over a green pea mousse with squid ink and cuttlefish risotto. Sounds flashy, right? While Shimaj cooks a nice fish, the flavors never gelled for me. Still, it's undoubtedly a beautiful plate with plenty of potential.

The menu has plenty of big-ticket options, from grilled Maine lobster ($36) to a selection of steaks and chops (rack of lamb lollipops for $40). And there's a twist with just about everything. It'll take a little time for Shimaj to find the perfect groove, but I believe in 51Fifteen to see it through. It certainly has ambitions, and hopefully now it has the chef to lead it to the next level.

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