Meditations

Salt Tasting Room: Worth its namesake


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When my ma needed a break on weekends, we’d throw together a simple meal of olives, the peppers, capicollo, prosciutto and ripe, sharp cheeses accompanied by crusty Calabrese bread; straight off the cutting board. In immigrant Italian households like the one I’m from, all this stuff’s called salumi. In France, it’s charcuterie. In England, its closest relative is the plowman’s lunch. The traditional, seemingly Pan-European appeal of such simple fare is understandable – it abandons the stuffy trappings of formal dining in favour of a down-to-earth enjoyment of artisanal specialties.

And that’s what Salt Tasting Room is all about.

The idea isn’t new but its presence as a dining establishment in Vancouver is. Its Meat-packing District aesthetic – exposed brick, concrete floor, zinc-clad bar – is all the more reinforced by its location behind the Irish Heather in historic Gastown’s Blood Alley. $15 buys you the choice of 3 cured meats or cheeses from a daily blackboarded list of 20. They’re all arranged (to me, sentimentally) on cutting boards with carefully matched condiments. Your entire experience is recorded on craft paper, so you can remember and wax poetic about it; the way I am right now.

Easy on the bottomless Terra bread; save room for the real game – JN&Z salami from Commercial Drive with cornichons (en anglais: mini-pickles). Lincolnshire Poacher, imported from a London cheese-aging house, is paired with Guinness wholegrain mustard. Headcheese (don’t judge too hastily – try it) arrives with the all-but-forgotten and amusingly old-school Piccadilly Relish. Or the Ox Tongue, paired nicely with Stella cherries. Very delicious cheese from County Cork called Coolea seems to go best with Marcona almonds. The mere memory of the sopressata (more rustic, old-world salami) and Salt’s goodly stock of stinky, wonderful, sharp cheeses could lead to my ruin (and as any real cheese lover knows, stinky equals adventure).

And all this from no kitchen. Genius.

In fact, one who wasn’t so charmed by the pedigree of the la-di-da, foody selections and the art of their manufacture and presentation, might remark that the entire experience (an amped antipasto) is some involved up-sell strategy for marked-up wine. A modest but expertly paired wine list is certainly present – reds, whites and sherries (10 each). You can order them by the glass or have them paired even more precisely by ordering a flight (three 2 oz. glasses) with the tri-selection of meat, cheese and condiments ($29).

But this skeptic isn’t going to be one today. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to eat. I don’t live in Vancouver anymore but casual, authentic and tasty Salt is definitely a place I will miss and revisit whenever I’m in town.

Ma would approve.

Salt Tasting Room is located 45 Blood Alley in Vancouver, BC; (604) 633-1912, www.salttastingroom.com

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