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Dec 12, 2010 03:07 PM

Salt in Baltimore - a quick review

Went to Salt the other night for the first time. Had a hit-and-miss experience, but more hit than miss for me.

There were four of us. We started with the duck fat fries, which lived up to the hype. They were absolutely fantastic, especially with the truffle mayo. Some might say it's almost cheating to pair duck fat and truffle but hey, if it's good it's good and these suckers were seriously good.

We also shared the oyster stew app, which was creamy, comforting and fabulous. The oysters were a lovely size and the portion was generous without being gluttonous. Our dining partners had the ravioli app and maybe something else that I'm not remembering. They enjoyed them.

For mains I had the wild boar pasta, which included house-made wide noodles and an excellent assortment of mushrooms and veggies in a delicious sauce. This is easily one of those dishes that I can see ordering over and over, even if it meant missing out on other items on the menu. While Salt isn't cheap (maybe a bit overpriced) this is one of the cheapest mains and has got to be one of the best.

My wife, however, got the braised veal cheeks and unfortunately found them to be woefully underseasoned. She was right; It almost had no flavor at all. I don't know how you can braise veal cheeks (they were cooked beautifully texture-wise) and end up with no flavor. It was like eating air. The other diners agreed. She asked for salt (ironically) and while it woke up the flavor slightly it really just sort of made it saltier. The damage was done. Even the grain it was served with (faro?) was bland. I don't get it. The kitchen can clearly cook but this dish was wrong.

Our dining companions had the scallops and the elk, neither of which I really tried, so I can't comment. The scallops looked lovely and the elk looked nicely cooked although a bit indelicately cut.

Service was helpful and attentive without being intrusive. The wines were great and the space is attractive and sleek without being unfriendly. Overall I would definitely go back, although I might need to do some convincing with my wife, since she was bummed about the veal cheeks. But that pasta dish is something special, I think. I feel like I could eat it all the time.

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  1. The fries are a complete meal. Wish parking wasn't such a pain.

    8 Replies
    1. re: saltmonster

      Wow, kukubura, we recently (early January) had a meal at Salt and we ordered close to the same thing that your party did. But it wasn't just good, we felt.. it was one of the best meals we've had in Baltimore. Must have been a good night. Or maybe our party was suffering from cabin fever?

      I've been meaning to write a review, so if you don't mind, I'll join yours:

      Salt is comfort food at its finest -- unpretentious, beautifully prepared dishes with attentive but low-key wait staff. I ordered the scallops with barbecued lentils and pork belly, which was fantastic. Wish I had some right now... 4 or 5 tender, perfectly cooked scallops with salted, golden brown tops were nestled in a stew of tiny, al dente French lentils in a rich, spicy, barbecue-like sauce with the mouth-watering flavor of pork belly. All of this was served atop a layer of smooth, fine root vegetable purée which may have had parsnip, sweet potato, and possibly some celeriac, but we weren't sure. Nice combination of textures & flavors. One of my dining companions had the veal cheeks (a well-seasoned, tender braise for our visit -- don't tell your wife, kukubura!). Another ordered the wild boar pasta--every bit as good as you made it out to be. One of us had the rare tuna encrusted with something (?). It was fine but not amazing. I remember liking the flavors and thinking the vegetable arrangement around it was lovely, but my friend wasn't blown away.

      We also had starters. Mmmm.... The duck fat fries and truffle mayo were addictive, but the other two sauces accompanying the fries were great also. One seemed to have smoky pimentón and was a variation on catsup. The beet salad, while it might not seem particularly original on paper, turned out to be a feast for the eyes and palate: the tiny beets were sliced and left to taste like beets (something few chefs have the guts to do, it seems). They were surrounded by crisp watercress, crunchy pecans with a hint of spice and sweet, piquant goat cheese and a light drizzle of a tangy, fruity dressing. It was the quality of the ingredients which made this dish -- I know it doesn't sound like anything new or unusual. The pork confit steamed buns were also great, and I'm not a huge steamed bun person as they can be gummy. These were not.

      Have to put in a word about the desserts, too. I think we ordered 3 to share and we all thought they were pretty stellar: there were goat cheese donuts served with house made coffee ice cream. I was dubious about the idea of goat cheese donuts, but they turned out to be lightly sweetened, cakelike in texture, and not at all greasy, and the goat cheese was not over-powering. The lavender infused honey put these over the top. We also ordered a tender, pudding-like ginger bread served in a delicate créme anglaise. Overall, a great meal. This is the kind of food I keep hoping to find at Woodberry, but it never seems to deliver and feels over-hyped. I'd return to Salt any day. Just allow an extra 15 - 20 minutes to find parking.

      1. re: elspeth mcdoodle

        Wow. I'm totally fascinated by how this keeps happening. Either we've all got wildly different tastes, or all the good restaurants in Baltimore are completely hit or miss.

        1. re: jvanderh

          I don't know about all the restaurants in Baltimore, but Salt seems to have a LOT of mixed reviews. It was a total miss for me. The quail/pheasant dish I had there was bland and unremarkable. I can't stand the sickly green lighting in that place either.

          1. re: WilliamKH

            Ha ha! For those who haven't been to Salt: over the seating area and the bar there is a grid of 9 round pendant lamps, like overturned woks, each 18" in diameter, with green covers emitting a lime green glow over the room. Our party joked that if we didn't like the food we could stand underneath and be molecularly transported to another eatery. Beam me up, Salty! See here: Still... I liked the chow.

            1. re: WilliamKH

              I've had complete hits at Salt and total misses at Woodberry Kitchen, which some people adore. I doesn't bother me if others have had not so great experiences at Salt because I know it's suited my tastes and that's enough to keep me going back there. I'm sure there are people who would feel the same way about my dislike of Woodberry Kitchen.

              Woodberry Kitchen
              2010 Clipper Park Rd # 126, Baltimore, MD

              1. re: jhjulie

                Jhjulie. We agree totally we eat at salt at least 3 times a month. We try woodberry and just don't get the hype....I do like the atmoshere though

                1. re: sas

                  I may have to give Salt another chance!

                  1. re: sas

                    Yep. I've had 4 truly crummy meals at Woodberry, unfortunately, so I don't know that I'd want to be burned again. We always took out-of-town guests there, people who knew the place was written up in Gourmet, etc. What I don't get is that WB has been lauded for doing what's been done by Alice Waters and many other chefs for several decades. I guess it was a novel idea here in Chorm City. While I love the warmth of the interior, at times the staff has oozed a we're-so-hip pretension which would never fly in a larger city with more competition.

        2. I hate chiming in on restaurants I haven't been to in a long time because things can change, but it sounds like they haven't. The real problem I had at Salt was that we had hits and misses on the same check. The apps (duck fats fries and kobe foie gras slider) were good. Of the two entrees, one was really good, fairly inventive and beautifully plated. The other was just there and probably had no business being on the menu.

          I can't remember what the entrees were, but I think I reviewed the place on Chowhound. I know I haven't bothered to go back, and not in a "I'll never go back there!" way, just that I don't really ever think about it or consider it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: JonParker

            As hinted at in this thread, I think what differentiates Baltimore from other great food cities is the inconsistencies. Salt, IMO, is one of the better restaurants in Baltimore and still has significant ups and downs. The same can be said for most of the better places throughout the city. Having eaten at most of the best places in Baltimore, I can say that the best places in better "food cities" like Philly, DC, and Chicago don't have down nights like what most have encountered in Baltimore. On a good night, I think we can hang with the best, but unfortunately Baltimore can't compare to what is being put out on a day to day basis.

            1. re: JonParker

              This was very much the experience that I wrote about in the original post: The pasta dish: Exquisite. The veal cheeks: Sad. I say I would go back but time will tell if I actually do.

              1. re: kukubura

                Nearly everyone has a short list, and a restaurant just doesn't get too many chances to make it. New places open all the time, there are old favorites to revisit, and a bad, or almost worse boring experience isn't something you want to leave as a first impression.

                I had a mediocre verging on bad version of a previously wonderful sandwich at a neighborhood place not long ago, but I chalked it up to a flub since most of my meals there (and there are a lot of them) have been very good. Had I been a first time visitor, I would not have been as forgiving. But I know that's not their normal game and overlooked it.

                In fairness, I looked up my original review, and at the time I gave it higher marks that memory tells me (which could be a topic of its own, but not on this board).