We were at the “Salt Tasting Room” for their “San Sebastian experience”. From September 8th to October 11th they have partnered up with “Bosa Foods” to create a special tasting menu to partner with their wines. I believe it is a take on their happy hour, as it is only available between 3-6pm.
“Salt” specializes in artisanal cheese, small batch cured meats, and a wide variety of beers, wines, and sherries. Thus making them the perfect place for in between meal snacking, the ideal destination for an after dinner drink, and a good option for a first date where you don’t want to commit to with a full meal. It is located in “Blood Alley”, a back street in Gastown. This alley earned its name from the butcher shops that use to flank it. Today there was no blood, just the smell of urine. Though that inevitably aside, I still appreciate the unique layout and charm of this area. And by far, this is the nicest alley downtown.
As you would expect from the side of the building facing said alley, it wasn’t very ornate. An all black building with a concrete base, flagged by a banner. On the banner, their logo: an upside down salt shaker. Though that didn’t say much. Facing the restaurant head on, there is no sandwich board, no awning, no lit sign. You barely make out the tiny script, “salt”. It was like they weren’t tying to earn walk in customers, that those who know, just knew to come. And looking into the window, you got even less, it just looked like the patrons inside were in a fish bowl.
Inside, the restaurant was set with a brick wall on the left and flanked by their bar on the right. The red brick and mortar ran the length of the restaurant. On it were black boards written with white chalk. One listed their online presence, another gave out the wifi password, and the rest engaged guests to try their salt series. Multiple glasses of wine meets multiple servings of cheese and meats. A more fulsome listing of each was charted on the back wall, more chalk written on a larger black board.
The preparation portion of the bar was boxed off with glass. Behind it was a refrigerator, a meat slicer, boxes of fine cheeses, and all the plates you would need to serve on. On top of the glass counter was a row of piggy banks in different styles and different colours. Some pigs were polka dotted, others had pointed ears, one was speckled in paisley, another stood up right. I didn’t get their significance and didn’t bother to ask. But was it pig for pork and ham they specialized in. Another more realistic pig, sat high above the black board wall, at the back of the room. But they were pretty much the only element here that served no other function outside of decoration.
Looking in and down towards the rest of the restaurant there wasn’t much to it. Their theme was definitely minimalistic. Not that you needed more outside of plenty of wine, fine Cuban music, and one other’s company. On either sides of the room were rows of single bulbs dangling from wire illuminating the scene below. Metal stools set apart, framed a long banquet table for share. They had family style seating where everyone surrounds one table; and if it is full, you are forced to connect with your neighbour. Not necessarily a bad thing if you are looking to make a friend or run out of topics in which to discuss with your current friend. There were also two person tables for those wanting more intimacy, but all those were already taken. Therefore our group of three was seated in the middle of the long banquet table, having both ends already sat. Given the lack of patrons currently in, we were allowed clearance between us an our neighbours to the right. Though were not separated far enough that I couldn’t lean over to see what they were having. I used their dishes as a way to be able to make a more informed decision on what I would order.
For the “San Sebastian experience” you order a drink and you get a tasting size dish for free. You make your choice between nine different dishes. The more drinks you get the more dishes you get. For one glass of wine you get on choice. Each flight of three you get, earns you the choice of two dishes, and for any bottle of wine you get to pick six plates. We did the math and found the flights were the best deal, seeing as we couldn’t commit to finishing a whole bottle at this time. Plus one of my guests never had a wine flight, so we wanted to make this her first.
For the flights you can choose any three wines from a predetermined list off the menu. Most of it were wines local to the Okanagan. My guest, who was the wine expert amongst us, did the ordering for us. She specifically choose as many international wines as she could, giving us a good balance of red, white, and sherries for each flight. Our orders were written on pieces of paper that would later be used to set each glass.
For every wine flight we ordered we had our choice of two Spanish tapas, though most came with twos servings on one plate, which was complicated to share when in a group of three.
The “Manchego and chorizo potato croquettes” sounded like the best out of the nine choices, or at least the most heartiest. And when we learned that they were sold out of “Smoked paprika devilled free run eggs”, we double our order of the croquettes. I believe the group to our right got the last egg. So I saw that it was just one egg, cut into half, with its yolk removed and seasoned, then scooped back in, and finally dressed with a cornichon. Though if you are trying to consider more bang for your buck when ordering, the “Salchichon Iberico with quince paste” would do it at $6 a portion. Otherwise most of the other servings were $4 each, including the croquettes. The other exception was the ham below at $8, and it was well worth its price tag.
“Manchego and chorizo potato croquettes” with an aioli of roasted red peppers and smoked tomato. My Cuban guest informed us that when eating Spanish food you have to have chorizo, so as a vegetarian, she was willing to eat around the cubes of chorizo just to try the croquettes. Coming out of an even deep fry, I suggested eating these earlier on. Though warm or room temperature, they melted in your mouth. Once you break through the gold brown and crisp crust, you hit fluffy and smooth potato whip. It is what I imagine clouds to be like: cheesy. The chunks of chewy chorizo gave the bites salt and some texture. Looking at it you would think they would be spicy or that the sauce would have more zing. Though in reality, we found each bundle lacked flavour. It just tasted like potato and cheese, like a fresh tater tot, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. More of them, paired with a sirarcha mayo would make for a good late night snack.
“Sliced off the bone, 20 month old Serrano ham”. Just by looking at it, it seemed disappointing. Irregular cuts of meat barely speckling a plate. It didn’t look like it would be worth or should cost $8, luckily I got past it because it was technically “free”. Though tasting the ham painted a very different story. Based on its uneven jags you could tell these cuts were with a knife. It would have been better as an even slice using the precision of a meat cutting machine. Though each irregular piece of ham surprisingly had the perfect amount of fat on it. The gentle gum of fat gave each bite a nice chewy texture, to go along with its smokey nature. I have never had ham this good. It would be a waste to build this into a sandwich, or to pair it with anything else. It is best enjoyed alone, to pick out all its great flavours; especially after a sip of red wine. And apparently you can tell that this was authentic Serrano because it was listed as being 20 months old. That’s how long it takes pork persevered with salt to taste this good.
“Medjool dates stuffed with 12 month old Mahon cheese”. The sweetness of dates and the saltiness of cheese is a tried and true winning combination. A popular choice to have with wine. Though with these I got more sweet than I wanted, and missed a sharp and creamy cheese. They were stingy on the latter.
“Tomato tapenade bruschetta”. I suggest eating this one first and fast. The bread based got very soggy from all the excess juice off the tomatoes. Luckily the bread’s edges managed to remain crisp, giving it some needed crunch. The lack of seasonings really allowed for the highlighting of the freshness of the tomato. Though I would have preferred it to have more olive oil, some salt and pepper, and perhaps a drizzle of aged balsamic, just for a kick that matched that of the wines.
“Warm salad of Spanish artichoke hearts, piquillo peppers, and mixed Mediterranean olives”. Not what you think of when you hear the work salad. This was not chilled, fresh, or leafy. This was warm, preserved, and salty. I have never had warm olives before, it was okay, but I couldn’t pass my focus from the distinct briny flavour that is most familiar cold. I did appreciate that each component was soften to the same texture and enjoyable to take in as little nibbles. Though we could have used a separate bowl for pits. Spitting them out onto the table, in front of your guests, hardly seem dining out appropriate.
As a unique little feature, our bill was presented to us in this cute little cheese box. And even the smallest of details can make an experience memorable.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I am the type of person who likes to take advantage of free things. Whether I like or need it, if it’s free I want it. So I was definitely excited to pay for my drink and get some small bites to nibble on with it for free. Though I made the mistake of anticipating appetizers, instead of tasters to highlight our drinks. And as a result, I was disappointed by the selection and smaller portion. Though considering what it is and what the restaurant hopes to achieve, they do a good job. Once again this is the perfect place for in between meal snacking, the ideal destination for an after dinner drink, and a good option for a first date where you don’t want to commit to with a full meal. Don’t deny your cravings.
45 Blood Alley, Vancouver BC