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Thursday, December 30,2010

Add Salt to your list

By Clay Fong

Downtown Boulder’s Salt packs them in during weekday lunches, and other restaurants would be ecstatic to have comparable crowds at Friday dinner. One downside of this popularity is that consigliere Keith and I weren’t able to get a proper table in this venue, which emphasizes brick and found objects. Instead, we sat at the counter overlooking the open kitchen. While most of the spots here are likely fine, I found myself tightly wedged in between Keith and the wall. It felt strangely like a cross between yoga class and having a middle seat while flying coach. Nevertheless, my inner food geek appreciated the opportunity to observe the cooks hard at work.

 

Our friendly server quickly produced copies of the lunch menu, although there was a noticeable lag before she took our orders. The addition of a server or two would prevent such delays, although we did find comfort in a plateful of rustic bread. Coarsely textured and slathered with sweet butter, this hearty baked good took the edge off while we studied the reasonably condensed menus.

The modernistic locavore philosophy that influences most local restaurants is also readily apparent at Salt. But this establishment parts company from the others by way of a heavy emphasis on comfort foods, albeit prepared with artisan ingredients. There’s $13 fish and chips prepared with Oskar Blues pilsner batter, a $14 ahi nicoise salad highlighting local green beans, and a $15 vegetable plate featuring chard from nearby farms. Acknowledging this spot’s previous incarnation, Salt also offers up a $12 interpretation of the classic Tom’s Tavern burger. If memory serves me correctly, the original came with American cheese versus the present incarnation’s decidedly high-end Grafton Vermont cheddar topping.

Keith ordered up the $12 pot pie, a robust mix of rotisserie chicken, local carrots, parsnips and spinach.

The construction consisted of a disc of light, flaky pastry floating amongst the filling rather than completely covering it.

While some may pause at this aesthetically non-traditional approach, the execution of this dish was beyond reproach. The gravy possessed winning buttery undertones, and substantial chunks of tender white-meat poultry enhanced the experience. The parsnips were a touch lighter than the usual potato and added a subtly sharper flavor. This dish would make Marie Callendar pick up her culinary ball and go home due to feelings of inadequacy.

I enjoy lamb, particularly its gamier qualities, so I ordered the $13 meatballs featuring this protein. These meatballs had a milder flavor than I expected, but I was not at all put off by this, and most diners would probably prefer the less pungent taste. I especially enjoyed the chunky consistency of this entrée, and the wide ribbons of accompanying papperdelle served as a reminder of how velvety good fresh-made pasta can be. Despite the restaurant’s name, this dish also benefited from not being overly salty, which likely enables diners to more fully appreciate the exotic salts offered as condiments.

Salt is perceptible in the $8 chocolate caramel tart, arguably the best dessert currently available in Boulder. Sodium and caramel are a popular duo nowadays, and the resulting pairing perfectly balances sweet and salty with a whisper of unexpected complexity. This ability to take seemingly simple flavors and make them more than the sum of their parts is one of Salt’s strongest traits.

Clay’s Obscurity Corner

Mining salt

The aficionados of salt will want to make a pilgrimage to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, outside of Krakow, Poland. Situated hundreds of feet underground, this mine produced salt as far back as the 13th century and only recently ceased sodium production. Noteworthy features include an underground lake and extensive rock-salt carvings, ranging from reproductions of The Last Supper to unusual tableaux featuring statues of vaguely disturbing gnomes. The salt here is more grayish than the bright white typically associated with table salt, and as a consequence, the sculptures more closely resemble those carved from granite than the ubiquitous condiment.

Salt 1049 Pearl St. Boulder 303-444-7258

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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