I have lived in Boulder since 1987, almost 24 years. Salt, which opened in what used to be Tom’s Tavern in 2010, perfectly encapsulates how Boulder has changed since then.
Believe it or not, there used to be dive bars in Boulder, and not just the kind frequented by students. I didn’t drink at them, but I knew they were there. You could actually buy a house in Boulder for around $100,000.
As I walked up to Salt on my second visit (after risking truck and limb in the Broadway parking garage yet again—at least that hasn’t changed), I wondered if the windows at Tom’s were that open and shiny when I ate there during grad school and in the years following.
I remember Tom’s as a dim place, with a bar in the back, on the left. I don’t remember being able to see out the windows. There were booths but not tables. My friends and I would go there and order the burger, a thin patty served on a fairly thin bun with mayo, etc., and a scoop of macaroni salad. Boulder plate lunch, with beer.
Since I moved to Broomfield in the mid-1990s, I hadn’t been back to Tom’s much, but I always thought of it as an old friend I really should visit. Salt reminds me of going to visit such a friend and finding out he’s had extensive cosmetic surgery. He looks good, but …
I haven’t ordered Salt’s version of Tom’s burger yet. I will one of these days, but I want to preserve the memory of Tom’s for the moment, just as I cherish the idiosyncracy of going to Winstead’s Plaza location in Kansas City and ordering one of the square burgers wrapped in paper.
I’ve been to Salt twice for lunch, once in December and once in January. Both times I had cannelloni filled with local butternut squash. Both times it struck me as more of a wrap than a pasta, but I loved the roasted finish and the delicate sweetness of the filling. It’s very satisfying.
And, of course, there was salt, four different kinds. On our first visit, I bothered to ask their origin: the white flakes that melted on my tongue from Cypress, the pungent pink salt from Tibet. In January, I tasted the black and gray salts but didn’t inquire. The strong flavor of the black overwhelmed the gray. Oddly enough, or appropriately enough, I’ve never felt the urge to salt anything at this restaurant; sometimes I’ve noticed saltiness in the food, but not in a bad way. When I didn’t like a flavor, adding the namesake would not have helped.
As you can see from the menu above, the cannelloni is an entree, but I’ve only ever had it as part of the Winter Vegetable Tasting. The menu here dates from January, but the veggie platter from December had the cannelloni, white bean curry cake (bottom left), roasted cauliflower, wild rice risotto cakes over farro and lentil salad (upper right), and a saute of local chard and spaghetti squash (center).
I recommend the platter, if only to see what’s on it. I didn’t like everything: the squishy texture of the curry cake bothered me, and I kept tasting bell pepper in addition to spice. My two favorites were the wild rice risotto cake, with its creamy filling balancing the crunchy rice and going well with the firm grains of farro, and the roasted cauliflower (definitely salty). The risotto cake could have been a meal in itself.
So could the white bean and local vegetable farinata I had in January, a small plate big enough for a light lunch. I had to check with Denveater about variations on farinata, a thin, crispy pancake made from chickpea flour. I didn’t notice anything like that, but perhaps the polenta was meant to replace it?
The farinata had the consistency of a thin casserole and was very cheesy. There’s enough for several friends to use it as a topping for bread.
In short, Salt does some wonderful roasting, and everything is beautiful, from the décor to the servers to this unconventional chicken pot pie. You can mark up your own drinks on a reusable menu. It’s worth another visit to try the salads or the “never never” beef and, eventually, the burger.