I’ve eaten at restaurants thousands of times over the course of my life so far. I’ve had thousands of dishes put in front of me. The plate that was placed in front of me this day at SALT, was nothing short of extraordinary, and one of the top 5 plates of food I’ve ever had. This is saying a lot, not only because of the sheer volume of dishes I’ve had, but the quality of restaurants I’ve had them in – from Babbo and River Cafe in New York City, to Le Frou Frog in Kansas City to Geronimo in Santa Fe. This is not restaurant-dropping, it is to illustrate the point that a mid-week lunch at a seemingly casual place in Boulder knocked me off my feet, unexpectedly and delightfully.
The plate. I am not a vegetarian. Sometimes I would like to be, but I love pork too much and don’t think I could live in a world without bacon, especially. So, I didn’t order an all vegetarian meal for this reason, but just because it sounded good and different and I was in the mood to try something outside of what I would normally order. SALT has a fun element to their lunch menu – Farm to Table lunches [$9.]. You select a 1/2 sandwich, a soup or side and a “tiny treat” dessert. I went this route and ordered the chickpea and quinoa fritters with an asparagus salad [$2. supplement]. More on the tiny treat in a minute. The fritters are their take on falafel and come sitting on a kiddie pool of their housemade yogurt sauce. Garnished with a few sprigs of grilled asparagus, they also kindly side it with fresh, local beets. What took this dish over the top, was the fresher-than-I’ve-ever-seen-or-tasted peapods. I bit into one and the outside had a nice crunch, while the individual peas began popping in my mouth one by one. They tasted fresh and real and honest. I was beside myself. The asparagus salad was a perfect composition of greens, grilled asparagus, a cheese frico, a light vinaigrette dressing it all with a perfect hand. And the absolute piece de resistance, a large, grilled shitake mushroom perched on top. The tiny treat changes periodically, and this day it was a lemon tartelette. A not-too-lemony delight – the perfect bite of a sweet – not too big and not too small.
It is my work here to give words to things, describe and help with a greater understanding of them, but sometimes there just are no words. And this is one of those times. My husband often makes fun of me, because when I take an especially good bite of food, I don’t even realize I go “Mmmmmmmm”, but I do. That’s not even a word. It’s a sound. But it says everything. The level of attention to detail, and skill to create each of these individual components to construct the amazing whole, is not lost on me. This is the kind of food we call art. Because, that’s exactly what it is.
The service was some of the best I’ve experienced in Boulder County. Informed. Gracious. Attentive. A special thanks to my server, Will, for delivering this service. He should be a trainer – he’s that natural and good. The food. Stunning. Detailed. Delectable. Another special thanks to the chef and cooks in the kitchen that day. And again, this was not a frou-frou dinner out with white tablecloths and valets. This was the corner of Pearl Street in an old Tavern space, on a weekday for lunch. It’s even more impressive to me they delivered this kind of quality, service and attention to detail, when many other places would have been saving their best energy and skill for dinner service and higher menu prices. Most of us know Chef Bradford Heap as a local food visionary – one of the first to nod to the names of the farms he sources from and that his other gem of a place, Colterra in Niwot, is worth the drive. He creates atmospheres that are comfortable and comforting, while delivering stunning food to the table. Having something of his in town in Boulder is convenient when craving this kind of food and environment. SALT is clearly a place of dedication to quality and one we’re lucky to call ours in Colorado.