The Delights of Salt
14053 Greenwood Ave N, 365-6025
Dinner 5 pm- 10 pm nightly.
As a child, I compulsively ate rock salt meant for the cattle on my grandma's ranch in Eastern Washington. I've witnessed my gay boyfriend assiduously salt entire platefuls of food before tasting anything. My friend from the Deep South, when she was growing up, never ate fruit without salting it first, not even apples. Gay Boyfriend and Deep South and I have no idea, despite the name, that our trip to Saltoro will be a glorious celebration of our love of sodium.
We're all monstrously hungry, having stupidly planned a late dinner for no apparent reason, and now we're filled with trepidation. Saltoro's location, near a strip mall, is less than auspicious and the cheesy sign outside advertises "SEAFOOD" and "LANDFOOD." (Landfood? It sounds terrible, like steak that's been dropped on the carpet.) We're stunned to find the inside modern and cozy, glossy and comfortable--an entirely improbable oasis. In a low-blood-sugar moment, I ask the hostess the meaning of "Saltoro," and then the three of us stand, emulating patience, while she tells us about the highly skilled salters of Italy's famous Parma hams.
We're deposited in a caramel-colored wooden booth and we order, desperately, at the first possible opportunity. A Saltoro salad ($3.95) appears and is summarily devoured, though Gay Boyfriend and I wish its almonds were candied, and Deep South opines that its leaves have been salted. I believe this is just the influence of some excellent Point Reyes blue cheese, but Deep South is onto something. The salad is the shy beginning of what will become the evening's theme: salt.
We've also ordered a plate of miniature prawns ($10.95), with big chunks of pancetta and goat cheese in a stewy mix of sweet onions and spicy peppers. The flavors overlap beautifully--it's hot and definitely salty--and I have to fight Gay Boyfriend and Deep South just to get a bite of it. Then I'm distracted by a small plate of duck confit ($10.95); its intense meat is tasty enough, but hardly compares to the accompanying endive, which has been braised in a gravylike sherry jus to a state of grace--a platonic ideal of obscenely salty intensity. I can't get enough of it, mopping the jus diligently with crispy toasted bread borrowed from the prawns and then, when I run out of bread, with my fingers.
"Would it be bad if I actually licked this?" Gay Boyfriend asks about the confit plate. Meanwhile, I'm experiencing some sort of full-body reaction to the peppers and the sodium, and blurt, "Is it hot in here? My nose is sweating." It's pleasurable, but I'm burning up. We consider whether I can remove my tights in our semi-private booth without "visibly writhing," as Deep South puts it. Turns out, I can. And I do.
Soon Gay Boyfriend is waxing rhapsodic about his top sirloin ($17.95), chivalrously carving us bites of pink cloud-like meat. It's been rubbed with herbs de Provence and is restrained in the sodium department; his greens, however, leach salty juices into his mashed potatoes, though not to their detriment. Deep South is suspiciously silent, addressing a pretty, pale stack of halibut and risotto cake ($15.95). Her fish is flaky and moist and all it should be, with a pan-seared crust featuring our friend salt; the risotto has been rendered nicely hash-brown-like, crisp outside with a melty interior. A little pile of Basque peppers makes for contrast. I've got a big blue Fiestaware platter with three giant raviolis ($10.95) lolling in simple sage and butter; their different-colored pasta jackets are fresh and tender. The venison filling in one is slightly stringy; the crab in another is light and unassuming; and the apricot-mascarpone filling in the third ravioli balances savory and sweet, offering the little thrill of caramelized onion. Much as all the salt has been a pleasure, everyone adores what we designate the dessert ravioli.
Then there's dessert proper: a very creditable créme brólée ($5.95) made with muscovado sugar, which Gay Boyfriend professes to be in love with; and a plate of fried walnuts in a pool of honey with New Zealand Windsor blue cheese and figs ($5.95). The components of the latter, eaten in one big mashed bite, make for an insane and somewhat disconcerting burst of flavor that's sweet and unmistakably salty.
We've eschewed wine, having had way too much at a party the night before--a shame since Saltoro offers 18 different bottles for $18 each--but we keep having to ask, parchedly, for water refills up until the very end. We depart very happy and very full, stopping in the rain at the gas station on the corner for more water.