Chris Crader's latest creation is nothing if not daring, and the new Downtown destination restaurant delivers on its early promise.

Chris Crader's latest creation is nothing if not daring, and the new Downtown destination restaurant delivers on its early promise.

Salt & Pine is the most ambitiousnew restaurant to open in the city in a long time. It's big (more than 7,000 square feet), the menu is bold and wide-ranging, and the investment-well, you don't open a place like this for cheap. The equally bold plan is to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week-as of this writing, all but breakfast are available.

The restaurant, Downtown on South High Street near the new courthouse, is the latest creation from Chris Crader of Harvest Pizza and The Sycamore-successful and well-run places for sure, but this one is a giant leap forward. Luckily for Downtown denizens and those willing to venture to the center of the city, Crader and his team have conjured cuisine and a destination worthy of attention.

Attend first to the space-a (very) long rectangle occupying the front of the newest Downtown multiuse building. The interior features plenty of natural wood and simple, clean lines. The décor is sleekly modern, but a classic Japanese ethic informs the design.

When it comes to the all-important food, Crader describes Salt & Pine as "chef-driven" with the "best available" ingredients, many of them local. And how do the chefs fare with those ingredients? Well, once the inevitable opening glitches were ironed out (one too-early review unfairly faulted them for these things, endemic to any serious restaurant), they do fine. But let's start with the sushi-there is a menu of perhaps 10 types of nigiri, a few rolls and a handful of other items. The raw fresh fish plates are all prepared well, but pay special attention to Hamachi Tataki-three slices of just-seared yellowtail snapper in a vinegary miso sauce, garnished with a bit of dried nori, scallions and sesame seeds. It is a pretty dish, and while some might complain about the size of the serving for $12 (I just did), there's no faulting the food itself, which is brightly and boldly flavored. Two of the house nigiri plates feature tuna and salmon belly, and both are rich, fatty and quite delicious. Actually, all of the sushi here is good, at least as good as the city's best sushi places.

But enough about sushi, because this kitchen is capable of so much more. At lunch there are several delicious sandwiches, from a tasty truffle oil-enhanced mushroom cheese "steak" (it's vegetarian, $13) to a horseradish-spiked, ale-braised short rib ($15), which was beefy and luscious. Kale salads may be de rigueur these days, but the version here, with oil-cured olives, dried figs and pumpkin seeds bathed in bright citrus vinaigrette, is among the best I've sampled-the dressing and embellishments highlight the slightly bitter, crunchy kale rather than concealing it ($7/$14). The House Caesar ($11) topped with a fried egg, is good, too, as is a warm potato leek soup spiced with bits of chorizo. There are large lunch plates as well, including grilled salmon ($17) and a multigrain and legume risotto ($18).

The lunch menu is varied and interesting, but the dinner menu is even more eclectic-and delicious. This is where "chef-driven" (as opposed to corporate recipes or cooking to perceived public tastes) seems to surface. Take the smaller plates portion of the menu, where there are currently 12 items, all very different and all worth sampling. From the little plate of smoked trout roe with bone marrow and brioche toasts, to roasted carrots with bee pollen and honey, to a duck leg confit with pickled onions-there's something new here for everyone, and it's all good. In fact, having tasted almost all of it, I can recommend a tour through the small plates without reservation ($8 to $15 each).

The large plates offer similar variety and quality. On my three visits I tried the big, rich S&P Burger with fontina, roasted peppers, watercress and porcini aioli ($17, served with fries), the delicious fried quail with cornbread and chestnut gravy ($27) and a fine, thick strip steak, served with fried greens, roasted garlic and olive puree ($39).

The same soups and salads are offered at lunch and dinner, along with a laudable cheese and charcuterie plate (three items for $15, five for $20), which changes seasonally. Salt & Pine has a small but equally inventive dessert menu-from ancho chili-laced chocolate cake to sticky fig pudding ($9 each). The best dessert, though, sounds standard-a plate featuring five or six tasty cookies served with milk ($8)-but delivers more surprising and satisfying flavors than you would expect. I've enjoyed a buttery pine nut, melted white chocolate with rice crispies, a chewy dried fruit and nut-laced oatmeal cookie and classic chocolate chip. Sadly, I did not make it to brunch before my deadline, but goodies like grits and bacon, salmon benedict, crumpets, biscuits and cinnamon rolls sound tempting.

As for drinks, naturally, there are craft cocktails, and of course, they feature local (OYO, Watershed) alcohol. The Ginger is Watershed Vodka, lime, ginger beer and an Alpine Amaro float-a nice variation on the traditional Moscow mule. The wine list is modest in size, but there is a wide selection of worthy wines by the glass. Service on my first visit was just OK, a little confused, but a bit of time and training have solved those problems as well.

The executive chef here is Andrew Smith, formerly of The Rossi, where he had already developed a reputation for serving tasty, inventive bar food. The cuisine Smith, Crader and the Salt & Pine team are dishing out is elevated yet another level or two. The heights they can achieve remain to be seen, but the outlook is promising.