Salt in Baltimore: A tale of decadent appetizers

Far be it for me to turn this blog into a “hey guess what rad thing I ate” bragging fest, but sometimes you just gotta. We were in Baltimore a few weeks ago, and Cat’s sister and brother-in-law took us to a restaurant called Salt. Funnily enough, we’d actually been the ones to introduce them to the place; Cat suggested sending them a gift certificate for her sister’s birthday, based on good reviews. They liked Salt so much they’ve been back several times and wanted to share it with us. And who are we to say no to such kindness?

Salt may not be the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten at, but it certainly gave it the ol’ college try. I probably could have made a meal out of the appetizers that made their way to the table, honestly. Actually, I probably could have stopped at the Kobe beef slider with foie gras… ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Buster Brown: Bourbon + vermouth + bitters = surprisingly tasty.

Dinner began with drinks. No one makes gin & tonics like Scott, so I went with the only house cocktail that didn’t sound disgustingly sweet, the Buster Brown. It’s a mix of bourbon, vermouth, and bitters with a maraschino cherry on top. Kind of like a sundae… a potent, boozy sundae. I rarely drink whiskey, so this was all the drink I needed for the night. (For the week, really.) Strong stuff, but it had a good flavor.

Duck fat fries and truffle aioli? This'll work with my diet, right?

Fortunately, we didn’t waste any time rounding up some fatty food to soak up the alcohol. This little tableau here is a basket of French fries cooked in duck fat and served with three different kinds of aoili: malt vinegar, chipotle, and truffle. This might actually be the single most fattening thing I’ve ever ingested.

The thing about fat is that it is delicious, and these fries — each one guaranteed to necessitate a coronary bypass — were incredibly delicious. I’d actually eaten something similar years before at a place called Villegas in Okemos, Michigan (which Yelp tells me is tragically no longer in business), but these were a step beyond what they served at Villegas. I’m pretty sure the duck fat made the difference.

The fries were fantastic: Extremely rich in flavor, crisply fried yet tender inside, and not greasy in the least. They were lightly seasoned with herbs, just enough to add a little depth to the flavor but not so much as to be obtrusive. And the aiolis were exceptional. The malt vinegar was potent but not overpowering, the chipotle was creamy but left a lingering heat, and the truffle was rich and earthy.

Possibly the highlight of the night: Kobe beef, foie gras, and truffle aioli sliders.

However, the fries were nothing next to the real highlight of the evening: The slider. I’m sorry that this photograph makes this dish look so revolting, because it was the furthest thing from it. I tasted only a tiny bite of the slider myself, but that was enough to fill my life with joy. It’s extraordinary.

And why shouldn’t it be? The patty was Kobe beef — and while the concept of Kobe beef has been cheapened by less-than-stellar meat that disreputable people have been known trot out to bump up prices, this was Kobe beef worthy of the name. Buttery, juicy, rich, generally just incredible. The patty was topped with a portion of foie gras, and the crown of the perfectly baked bun was slathered with a dollop of that truffle aioli they served with the fries. The aoili was topped with red onion marmalade, which admittedly sounds kind of gross. Please accept my assurance that it was not.

Chris Kohler tells me they serve an entire full-sized burger exactly like this at Burger Bar, but honestly as rich as that single half-bite I took was, it’s hard to imagine eating the entirely slider… let alone a quarter-pounder.

The lobster roll and shellfish chowder appetizer was basically a full meal.

Cat’s sister ordered a lobster roll and a cup of chowder. I tried a tiny bit, and it was very good. Sadly, I was still basking in the glow of the slider, so it’s hard for me to really remember much about this. I seem to remember something about… bread? And some kind of seafood, maybe?

I don't know whose idea it was to put ox tail in ravioli, but I love that person.

Actually, Salt seems to excel at beef-related dishes. The seafood appetizers were fine, but anything involving red meat jumped straight to “incredible.” This tiny fellow is an ox tail ravioli. Again, I tried just a tiny bite of it, and it was exceptional. The wrapper was delicate and melted in the mouth; the meat was flavorful and potent, but it too melted in the mouth. Accompanying the oxtail was potato purée, a flake of shaved parmesan, more truffle, and butter blended with chives. It’s a shame the ravioli was so small, because it encompassed a lot of wonderfully complementary flavors all at once and really merited further exploration.

The salad reinforces my theory that grapes are just olives who were disowned by the family.

However, I had to save room for my own appetizer (the rest were for other people and I merely sampled them). I decided to go with a salad, based on the logic that it would be the healthy selection. I didn’t expect for it to be soaked in a creamy hazelnut dressing, though. But at least all that fat helped soak up the Buster Brown, I suppose.

It was a delicious salad, which is neatly in keeping with the tradition established by the rest of the meal. Despite the photo, it didn’t feature olives; rather, those are grapes. An unorthodox choice for a salad at first glance, but actually a great choice. The bulk of the salad was a combination of radicchio and fennel, which made for a very bitter base. The sweetness of the grapes was a perfect way to offset the flavor of the greens, and the rich nutty flavor of the dressing tied it all together in a full yet subtle way.

It’s always nice to have one of those meals where you can take it slowly and savor every bite. Because, let’s be frank, most food you buy just isn’t worth it — at least not on our budget, anyway. Salt serves food worth savoring. I think it’s entirely possible that it took us longer to work our way through the appetizer course than it did for me to write about it. It’s one of those places where every bite is memorable.

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