Salt Tasting Room – “Salt Cellar Series”

Restaurant: Salt Tasting Room – “Salt Cellar Series”
Cuisine: Wine Bar/Tapas/Charcuterie
Last visited: January 31, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 45 Blood Alley
Train: Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain
Price Range: $20-30 (Not including wine)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!

Food: 3 (Good, based on event)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4 (Very good, based on event)
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Wine pairings
  • Meat and cheese
  • No house made charcuterie
  • Simple 10 meat, 10 cheese menu
  • Local/International selections
  • Weekly menus
  • Daily tasting plates/wine flights
  • Good wine selection
  • House made desserts
  • House made breads
  • Limited hot sandwiches at lunch
  • Casual, but sophisticated
  • Special tasting events
  • Daily lunch 12pm-5pm
  • Mon-Sun 12pm-12am

**Recommendations: n/aLocated in downtown Vancouver’s historic Blood Alley are Salt Tasting Room and Judas Goat Taberna, which are two of the seven restaurants growing under the Heather Hospitality Group. Stories say that the area is referred to as “Blood Alley” because butchers used to pour pails of blood onto this side street. Well blood be gone, because times have changed. It’s a bit hard to find for those unfamiliar with the area, but it’s nicely tucked away in a cozy space that feels warm enough for the stylish Gastown neighbourhood, but sophisticated enough for a weekend.

For me, dining at Salt Tasting Room was treading on new territory. It’s not that I’m new to wine, meat and cheese, but it’s not my first choice to do outside of the home. It’s harder for me to get full off of and I prefer doing this sort of thing in the context of home and in a potluck type of manner if I’m not entertaining. I just find if you point me to the right suppliers, or I do my own research, I can recreate a similar experience. That being said, I’ve been to tasting rooms before, and Salt Tasting Room is a rather well-liked and a popular local favourite for it. The question I had was why? Out of Gudrun Tasting Room (one I do like), Brix Restaurant & Wine Bar, R.TL, Yaletown L’Antipasto, and Uva Wine Bar (just to name a handful), what makes this one particularly better or unique?

Well for starters, this was one of them! Similar format to the popular Long Table Series at their sister restaurant The Irish Heather, is their more elegant Winemaker’s Dinners or “Salt Cellar Series”. I was invited to experience this dinner which took place on a pre-scheduled weeknight in The Salt Cellar conveniently located below the Salt Tasting Room.

Wine, cheese and meat lovers came together at one long communal table to enjoy a set menu of house selected cheese plates, meat plates and two accompanying wine flights (each guest is presented their own plate). Tickets to the event are $45 and the next one is to be announced on their website – see Events for upcoming Salt Cellar Series.

The wine list and events are the highlight and what makes Salt Tasting Room unique and a bit more community oriented. If you’re looking for an interactive experience and event style dining you may also be interested in the Fourplay Series. It is a special 4 part dinner/theatre experience (1 play, 4 episodes; 1 restaurant, 4 dinners) put on by In the House Festival at the same cellar at the Salt Tasting Room. For more details and tickets see here.

The Salt Cellar Series features different wine makers and producers who may attend the event to discuss their products and how they have been paired. On this occasion I was attending “The Salt Cellar Series: Best of America” which featured cured meats from L’Quercia in Iowa, Goat Cheese from Cypress Grove in California, and wines from Truchard, Trefethen, Zacherle and Central in Napa Valley.

Being in Vancouver the idea of anything not being local is almost frowned upon nowadays – except when it comes to wines, cured meats, and artisan cheeses. There are just some things that are made better elsewhere and since Vancouver doesn’t necessarily have the ideal climate and/or resources to provide “the best” in each respective category, it’s not a bad thing to go international by any means. On the other hand I do value those restaurants making their charcuterie in house, which would be nice to see at Salt Tasting Room in the future.

The overall experience at The Salt Cellar Series is great value if you appreciate tasting plates, exploring new wines and having them professionally paired. You do get to sample a lot of quality products at a fair price. On the other hand, all of the featured ingredients were things I could find and purchase at Bosa Foods, or other specialty food stores. As mentioned, I do find this style of dining hard to get full off of, but there is unlimited bread to help and a good amount of wine. If you want convenience, an experience, ambiance and social context, then yes, I would recommend this. But if you’re interested in just the food and wine, then let this be an introduction to what’s available, and it’s not necessarily something you would have to specifically come back here to enjoy.

On the table:

Complimentary Bread & Butter

  • These were actually made at Penn Bakery, the off-site bakery for The Heather Restaurant Group.
  • There was a selection of soft baguette, crunchy crostini and multi-grain crackers which had some flax seeds.
  • The basket is often refilled, so there’s no shortage of carbs for your meat and cheese plates.

Cheese Plate (Goat Cheeses)

  • On a regular night their daily cheese plates (3 cheeses of their choice + 3 condiments) is $15
  • Wine & cheese pairing (left): 2009 Zacherle Riesling with Purple Haze and Pear William Jelly
    • The Riesling was quite acidic, crisp and citrusy which is usually better with goat’s cheese than a sweet Riesling.
    • The purple haze was a milky goat’s cheese that was very mildly salty with a floral scent of lavender. The mildness of the cheese made it better with the wine, but I do which the lavender was a bit stronger.
  • Wine & cheese pairing (centre): 2009 Trefethen Chardonnay with Humboldt Fog and Spicy Fig Jelly
    • I actually like buttery rich chardonnays, but this was very crisp and not that buttery with a hint of spice which complemented the spicy fig jelly.
    • The cheese is creamy, soft and not that salty, but a bit tart. It has a bit of vegetable ash and I would have loved this with a slice of apple too.
  • Wine & cheese pairing (right): 2007 Trefethen Merlot with Bermuda Triangle and Quince Paste
    • I’m accustomed to Merlot because it has a velvety texture more so than flavour. I’m a texture person. It was rich and smooth and not too spicy as to overwhelm the cheese.
    • I got mostly rind for the cheese, so I couldn’t really taste it. This one was more to do with texture than flavour for me and it was ultra creamy so it paired perfectly with the Merlot and both just melted in my mouth.
    • This was my favourite pairing.
  • Goat cheeses can be very gamey and strong, but these were actually all quite tame and well balanced.
  • The cheeses were all more or less in the same flavour and texture profile to match the wines, and at times I just wanted more of a switch up.
  • It was a pretty obvious selection of wines for goat’s cheese, except I was looking for the Sauvignon Blanc (a classic with goat cheese).
  • I was hoping to have some dried or fresh fruit or some nuts to experiment with and I would have preferred a cheese knife instead of a regular knife.
  • All of these cheeses and condiments can be found at specialty food stores or at Salt on a regular night.
  • The wine pairings worked well and the cheeses were served room temperature which is ideal.

Meat/Butcher Plate

  • On a regular night their daily butcher plates (3 meats of their choice + 3 condiments) is $15
  • Wine & meat pairing (left): 2009 Central Pinot Noir with Pancetta Flat Natural and Olives
    • The pancetta was incredibly fatty and rich and it was almost like pure lard. Being from the belly it would be, but still, it was almost pure white.
    • It wasn’t that salty at all which was nice to have a bit of salt coming from the juicy green olives.
  • Wine & meat pairing (middle): 2008 Truchard Syrah with Speck Natural and Balsamic Cipollini Onions
    • The onions were nice and sweet and not that acidic at all so it didn’t interfere with the sweeter speck which had a smokiness at the end.
    • It balanced well with the earthy Syrah, which I actually could have enjoyed alone.
  • Wine & meat pairing (right): 2004 Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon with Coppa Natural and Spicy Red Pepper Jelly
    • This was the meatiest and it went with a nice spicy red pepper jelly, but I wanted it with a strong aged cheese too.
    • At this point I wanted to dabble in a cheese plate with the meat.
    • The Coppa was more marbleized than usual and a bit softer due to its thinner slice.
  • To be honest, I have a liking to Spanish and Italian cured meats, but La Quercia meats are still good quality, antibiotic free, hand crafted and produced responsibly.
  • Again, I wouldn’t mind having some grapes or more things to sample with.
  • All of these meats and condiments can be found at specialty food stores, but the wine pairings worked well. These are all available at Salt on a regular night too.

Truffle Tremor Cheese & Okanagan Falls Amaretto Squash Spread

  • This last selection was a bonus. If I’m going to have cheese as a dessert, I don’t mind it this way.
  • It was a Truffle Tremor goat’s cheese and it was infused with the scent and subtle flavour of truffle and it melted like brie. It was my favourite of all the ripened goat’s cheese I had this evening. Forget the “been there, done that” blue cheese, I wanted to melt this on a steak.
  • The cheese was accompanied with an Okanagan Falls Amaretto Squash Spread which was heavenly. It was incredibly strong with almond flavour. It’s all natural with butternut squash and sugar, but it tastes like there is a hint of vanilla and I absolutely love how fragrant it is.
  • I wanted my white wine back with this pairing, although without the jelly, the pinot noir worked quite well.
  • These are also available at specialty food stores, but if you want to sample them first, you can come here.

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  • A tasting event like this would be awesome in a party, don’t you think?

  • Mijune says:

    @Michelle Chin – for sure! Basically what it was 🙂

  • Linda says:

    mmm i love charcuterie! but can you believe that i don’t know where blood alley is?! lol i know i know, i’m embarassed for myself lol

    the pairings here look great! i really like the fact that they pretty much give you an unlimited supply of bread because otherwise, i don’t know how full you can really get lol do you have to do the pairings with wine? i’m not really a winey person 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @linda – nice pun 😉 yes the wine list is good here though.

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