Worth the wait
Where: 114 Prospect St.
WHEN: 4pm to closing, Tues.-Sat.
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Almost a year after Saltine opened, in the former Real McCoy space on Prospect Street, I still hadn’t eaten there. It was partly that I was a huge fan of the McCoy and childishly resented its replacement, but also because of Saltine’s extremely short menu (which changes seasonally). Having food allergies, I tend to prefer places with longer menus so I have more choice. But when I finally made it in, the food was so good and the service so attentive that all my objections vanished instantly. Instead, it became one of my favorite places in Bellingham.
The dark brick and dim, moody lighting of the old space has given way to a bright, almost harsh, whitewashed look, sparsely ornamented with seafaring maps and botanical drawings of coral. The effect is very neutral, which means that the food and drinks really pop (a nod to Instagrammers, perhaps?). And once your food comes, you are unlikely to be looking at anything else until it’s gone.
For example, the salmon carpaccio ($14). A generous plate of lox with capers and grated boiled egg, with three (why only three?) pieces of crisp toast, this is a perfect starter with a cocktail. The fried green olives with yogurt and salsa verde ($5 during happy hour) I found greasy and, oddly, not particularly flavorful, but the winter Caesar salad ($12) was sheer delight: fresh bitter radicchio well-dressed with anchovy and lemon and topped with a wonderful combination of toasted pine nuts and crispy breadcrumbs. My dining partner and I inhaled that salad in a matter of minutes.
I seldom order steak frites—usually that’s my husband’s job—but on one of our visits he went for the Pasta Bolognese special so I felt like somebody had to try the steak ($26). It came cooked exactly as I’d requested, pre-sliced and nicely seasoned with loads of pepper. Alongside it was a fluffy pile of thin bistro fries and tubs of both ketchup and aioli. It was a classic and perfectly executed plate. The Bolognese, tossed with house-made tagliatelle, was also fabulous.
I appreciated that the vegetarian entrée, a Moroccan tagine chock full of vegetables ($17), was really flavorful and made a substantial meal, not always the case with the token veggie option. The prosciutto-wrapped chicken ($18) with ethereal mashed potatoes and roasted garlic, another popular dish, was hearty enough that I was able to share with the rest of the table—and still take some home.
Cocktails (which range from $8-11) are interesting and well made, with an emphasis on the classics. The Negroni on tap was excellent, but so was a pear and mezcal concoction that was delicious, yet unlike anything we’d ever tasted. Their house cocktail, the Saltini, is a lovely cilantro and chile-infused riff on a Margarita (I didn’t really taste the jalapeño but it was still delicious). And the wine list is well-chosen, with many options by the glass.
You are probably going to want to save room for dessert. We ordered the vanilla malt ice cream, curious how it would compare to one my husband makes at home that many of our dinner guests have considered the best ice cream in the world. It was exactly the same, but with cocoa nibs on top. We also adored the pot de crème, and the citrus olive oil cake was heavy and rich in all the right ways, perfectly cut with orange zest flecked whipped cream. Our table demolished all three desserts, chased with freshly brewed French press coffee, and were happy.
I almost feel like I shouldn’t give Saltine any good press because it’s already insanely hard to get a table (they do not take reservations). Attempting to have dinner with friends on a recent Friday night, we waited for 20 minutes, then were told that it would be at least another 50 minutes before the next table opened up.
We were far too starving to wait, so had to eat elsewhere and were sadly disappointed. The trick, I am told, is to send an advance scout to put a name in for a table, leave a cell phone number, then go have a well-earned drink while the rest of your party assembles. But in the end, as every other customer assured us as we lurked in the doorway, Saltine is worth the wait.
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