Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef and restaurateur, has gone viral on social media for his singular method of preparing and sprinkling flaked salt on his restaurant’s luxuriously priced prime steaks (which run from $100 to over $1,000). Known as “Salt Bae,” the chef has opened 13 eponymous restaurants worldwide, including one in Dallas, Texas.
Nusr-Et Dallas features many stunning details, ranging from subtle Turkish motifs in the patterning of ceiling tiles to crystalline pendant lights that harken to sprinkles of salt crystals, to displays of prime cuts of meat. Meals at the restaurant, served family-style, are an unforgettable experience.
The iconic dining spot beckoned for a setting where guests could create “Instagrammable moments” during their visit. Chosen as the perfect environment for each guest’s selfie: an artificial rockwork sandstone wall near the entrance to the restaurant, etched with a larger-than-life portrait of the steakhouse’s namesake. While Nusr-Et’s and design architect Tabanlioglu Architects’ inspiration for this project was Salt Bae’s famous sprinkling, the sandstone wall was inspired by the project’s location in the American Southwest as well as Sobrino de Botin, a restaurant in Madrid, Spain, and the oldest restaurant in the world.
Working with the design architects and architect of record JonesBaker, OTL was tasked with designing and building Nusr-Et Dallas’ unique sandstone wall, including etching the restaurant magnate’s likeness, that would appear in so many guests’ photos.
Just like preparing a meal in a crowded kitchen, designing and installing the magnificent wall was a carefully choreographed dance of close coordination. The rockwork that OTL created ties into the project’s architecture, kitchen fixtures, and wine storage – and each of those interactions carried challenges.
Architecturally, the rockwork had to look realistic, with fenestrations that appear to be carved out of solid stone, while being easy to clean and not protruding so far that the finish treatment impeded upon code requirements. Integration with the showcases and kitchen display elements required precision tolerances so that the pre-fabricated stainless steel items would fit into the completed rockwork. In addition, the illuminated wine bottle holders, which were installed by general contractor Benge Texas Inc., had to mate with the rockwork so that it appeared as though they had been cored from solid stone.
In addition to these technical challenges, which were solved with careful planning and coordination, etching Salt Bae’s image into the sandstone wall was a creative challenge that required a creative solution. More than just a mural, the owners requested something to be engraved into the surface of the artificial sandstone. While OTL’s initial plan was to hand-carve the artwork into the wet plaster, we became concerned that this method would not allow enough control over the final outcome.
Our Director of Creative Design Chris Roy devised a new solution after creating the public art component for another of OTL’s projects at Jordan Downs Freedom Plaza in Los Angeles: using masks so that a sandblasting process could incise the artwork into the hardened plaster. The artwork, provided as an image by Nusr-Et, was traced in a digital program, giving us a vector (or line-based) drawing that could be scaled up without degrading in quality. A computer-controlled cutting machine then sliced the artwork from rubber masking material, which was temporarily adhered to the wall so that the image could be sandblasted to a depth of one-eighth of an inch. A dark stain was added to finish off the art piece, ensuring that it contrasted with the sandstone layering effects running across the wall.
Nusr-Et Dallas now has a one-of-a-kind, customized art piece honoring its inimitable chef and drawing in innumerable diners from near and far.
In addition, OTL has created an exceptional etched sandstone wall that will serve as the location for thousands of guest selfies for many years to come.
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