Monday, May 9, 2011

Salt Bistro, Boulder

It's a destination, really. Figured as much when I overheard a beigey-blonde Mom in yoga class tout its fabulousness, “Food SO GOOD, atmosphere SO CHIC. Oh em gee!!” The kind of place a McMansion suburban family goes for "fancy." Salt Bistro in Boulder is one of many highly-touted and highly-reviewed joints in hip local media:

“… one of the best be-cool and be-seen spots in all of Boulder…”
~ elephantjournal.com, Sept. 2009


And that’s what it feels like. But I'm already cool.

Been to Salt once before, about a year ago, one afternoon around holiday time. Hungry, cold and looking for one of the infamous "prohibition-era “cocktails and hot meal. Met with a small happy hour menu instead, much of which I don’t recall (thinking spiced nuts, something figgy, maybe an oniony flatbread.) Have attempted dinner or a burger or a much-raged about dessert since then, but always turned off and turned away given the usual hour-to-hour-and-a-half wait at the door (and that they take reservations only for parties of 5 or more.)

When a girl in heels needs to eat, she needs to eat.

Luckily made it for lunch on a sunny Saturday after a stroll through the Boulder Farmer's Market. Salt is odd in its hours of operation - open for lunch and dinner with a mid-day gap between 3-to-5 p.m. with just the house burger and limited appetizers offered. I think. Still not entirely clear.

Salt was Tom's Tavern, Boulder legendary as a college drop-in-and eat-on-the cheap beers and burgers. Doors opened in 1962 and closed to much sad fanfare in 2007. A lasting tribute can be found on the Salt menu, the original Tom’s Tavern Burger (Never-Never beef, Vermont cheddar, pickled onion, house made fries and ketchup). For $13. In the day, thirteen bones bought smart groceries for a week.

The Never-Never beef (Salt partners with ranches that produce only humanely raised animals, without anti-biotic or growth hormones, hence the silly name – got me thinking tofu) was juicy with  a capital “uicy.” Squirted it did, meat highly seasoned (salty even to my tongue and I’m known to chew a Murray River flake as a palate cleanser.) Little else to it, save gooey cheese and a side of greens.

The Never Never (really, Peter Pan?) Steak Sandwich (shiitake mushroom, caramelized onion, roasted poblano pepper, fontina cheese, serrano aioli) ate like a grown up Philly Cheese Steak housed in the same pillowy, egg bread bun as the burger, good if out out place. And $12.

The fries were crispy and meaty, ketchup spicy and sweet (server recommended the garlic aioli, savory without being heavy) but also a bit over-salted. Washed it down with a Vanilla Bourbon Sour (Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, vanilla and lemon juice.) At $13. Tart and not too sweet with an actual float of vanilla bean pods on top; made several more at home later that night based on the simple recipe.

Any local reviewer will insist the Dark Chocolate Caramel Salt Tart (served along coffee cocoa nib ice cream) is a must. Chewy and lush, although a little hard to fork into; I’d have preferred a smaller piece or two of the candy-like dessert next to a larger scoop of the divine coffee ice cream with crunchy frozen cocoa nibs cracking under molars like tiny chocolate chips.

Service friendly but mostly absent; had to remind our otherwise lovely and eyeball-to-eyeball waiter to take a food order after sipping drinks for a good 15 minutes. Accommodating is a good thing; feeling rushed in a posh spot a peeve. But it felt more as if the staff was waiting us out until the easier, appetizer only mid-day crowd arrived.

Tally for lunch (two burgers, two drinks, one dessert) ran $70 with tip. With a plethora of known and yet-to-explore places to eat it, Denver (and Boulder and Arvada and Lyons and Louisville) can’t say I’m salivating to return.

The web site sorts of tells why, screaming style over substance:

"...European technique...innovative thinking...truly remarkable experience...simple, yet elegant and delicious."

Show me.

1 comment:

AmyB said...

Holy cow ... $70 for burgers? They must have been made from Holy Cow.