Salt Tasting Room
If you think you've got the wrong address, then you most probably got the right address. Located along Blood Alley and depending on which end of the alley you enter from, you might have to make your way past some back alley dumpsters. Salt Tasting Room is located right in the middle along the alley.
Situated in the neighborhood of Gastown in downtown Vancouver, this area seems to be the magnet for great restaurants and nightlife. With so much heritage attached to Gastown being the place where Vancouver was born, this area today is anything but old-fashioned. Characterized by it's cobblestone streets, restaurants and cafes are becoming part of the important scene of Gastown. However, if there is one thing that is unfortunate about the location, it would be the fact that just outside Gastown is the area of Hasting Street where druggies hang out on the streets. People will tell you to stay away from that part of Hasting Street, so if you need to get to Gastown or the neighboring Chinatown, avoid walking along Hasting Street to get there. However, this by no means make Gastown (or Chinatown) a dangerous place. Hasting Street is not in Gastown or Chinatown; it is just unfortunately located right in between both areas. It is only part of a normal city life that sometimes there are spillovers from neighboring areas and we got to witness that on our way to Salt Tasting Room as we entered Blood Alley. A group of people were hanging out at one end of the alley and they looked high from drugs, presumably. If you feel uncomfortable walking past them, just turn around and enter Blood Alley from the other side. These people are not violent; they are just unfortunately hooked onto drugs. Gastown remains a very safe place where foodies and scenesters continue to hang out due to the increasing number of highly regarded restaurants and bars that have opened up in the area.
The minute we entered Salt Tasting Room, we sensed a charm to it. The decor is bare and minimalistic with unfinished brick walls with individual light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The wooden tables are also bare, accompanied by metal chairs. The entire back wall of the restaurant is made up of a blackboard that functions as the daily-changing menu where you feast your eyes on the unique options of cheese, meats, and condiments before picking your selection choices for the night. The wine and beer lists are dynamic and perfectly compliments their artisanal cheeses and charcuterie items.
When it comes to being impressed by a restaurant, we look not only at the execution of the food but also the knowledge of the staff employed. At Salt, our server was extremely knowledgeable and was able to articulate clearly each of the items on the menu when telling us about the menu. The concept here is that you get tasting portions of their cheeses and meats. You choose 3 items total from the cheeses and meats in any combination i.e. 1 cheese + 2 meats, 2 cheeses + 1 meat, 3 cheese, or 3 meats. You then choose from their list of condiments that you would like as the accompaniment for each of your cheese and meat selections. Many of their unique selections on the blackboard were unheard of by T and I, which we saw as a good thing, as it reflected the attention that Salt takes to source for these unique tasting items.
Since we were unfamiliar with most of their unique and unheard-of cheese names on the menu, we asked our server for her recommendation based on our cheese preference. We wanted a mild cheese and asked which of their cheeses would be similar to brie. Her recommendation was the Montboissie cheese from France. To say the least, the Montboissie turned out to be an excellent choice and recommendation as it was very, very unique. The physical appearance looked like bleu cheese and the texture was akin to aged cheese. When we first sliced into it with the knife, we thought that maybe our server gave the wrong recommendation. However, our first bite into the Montboissie put our doubts to rest. The cheese tasted very mild just as we wanted. The mildness was also reminiscent of brie in terms of taste, which was exactly what we described to our server when telling her what we were looking for that night. We learnt some cheese lessons that night. Cheese that has an aged texture and that looks like bleu cheese can taste like brie. Also, not all firm cheeses necessarily have sharp tastes. Our condiment of choice for the Montbossie cheese were they slightly sweet dried cherries which complemented the mild-tasting cheese perfectly.
Clearly, at Salt, when they decide to name an item smoked beef, they take it seriously. Right from the time the piece of meat entered our mouths, the smokey fragrance wafted through inside our mouths. Though the smokey fragrance was strong, it was pleasantly welcoming and if anyone thought that a piece of meat with strong smoked fragrance would also reflect a strong taste, they would be wrong. The beef was delicate in flavor; it was mild and light in taste. The fig bread, which we chose as the accompaniment to the smoked beef, were chopped into candy bite-size pieces. The fig bread tasted so fresh, we couldn't stop popping them into our mouths.
The hot capicollo, while also another mildly flavored meat, was a spicy ham. We love spicy food and although the ham was already spicy, we chose to have the Spanish piparras peppers as the condiment. The result was a very satisfying explosion of heat in our mouths and the best part was that the heat seemed to be short-lived and never lingered long on our palates.
If unsure, your server will be happy to recommend the condiments best suited for the cheeses and meats you have selected.
There are other non-tasting items like the pig head terrine which was very smooth in texture. We found it great to be eaten either on its own or with the basket of bread and crackers. Picadillo relish was served on the side.
The entire concept and execution of Salt Tasting Room makes it a solid place for people who appreciate cheeses and meats in tasting portions, accompanied with good wine or beer. If we lived in Vancouver, this is where we would bring our out-of-town guests. Since we don't live in Vancouver, we would just have to bring ourselves back there when we next visit.
Salt Tasting Room
45 Blood Alley
Vancouver, BC V6B 1A4
2010 Sommelier of the Year Award by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2010 Platinum Winner for Wine List by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2009 Gold Winner for Wine List by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2008 Gold Winner for Wine List by Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival
2007 Gold Winner for Best New Informal Restaurant Award by Vancouver Magazine
2007 Silver Winner for Best Design Award by Vancouver Magazine
2007 Achievement in new Retail Concepts
2007 Third Place Winner for Top 10 Best New Restaurants in Vancouver
2006 Georgia Straight Golden Plates Award Best New Restaurant