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Restaurants

Salt Wine Bar

Posted by Meaghan Binstock / Reviewed on December 26, 2010 / review policy

Salt Wine BarSalt Wine Bar on Lower Ossington has had a long struggle to get up and running but that's a story we've all heard many times. What matters is that now, finally, the wine is officially (and legally) flowing at the long awaited restaurant. Focusing on Portuguese and Spanish cuisine, Salt offers a variety of tapas dishes and a decently sized wine list to match. After the space sat unopened, teasing us for so long, and then opened briefly only to close again, there was plenty of time to build up intrigue about what this wine bar has to offer, and so last week I finally make my way to find out.

The front door of Salt is surrounded by a giant curtain creating a makeshift alcove between the freezing cold outdoors and the dining room, and as I step around the curtain I'm immediately struck by the beauty of the place. Dark and cozy, an all wood room is dotted with little candles everywhere, the flames twinkling off of the wine bottles and preserves that stock the floor-to-ceiling shelves. Small wooden tables fill the warm space, and on this cold night there are very few customers other than us.

Salt Wine BarWe begin by examining the somewhat baffling wine list, and the owner comes over to greet us and help with some suggestions. Although the Salt website is now up and includes tasting notes to go with each wine, the menu we receive in the restaurant denotes neither country of origin nor description. When I inquire, the owner explains the wines are mainly Spanish and Portugese, with some Italian. I ask for a specific suggestion as this does little to help us narrow down the selection, and we eventually settle on the full-bodied Alento ($45), a blend of Syrah and Alicante.

With the wine selected we begin the process of deciding what we'd like to order, another difficult task considering the mildly overwhelming number of options. Our knowledgeable server takes the time to describe many of the dishes, offering his favourites and weighing them against the dishes we mention we're curious about. After much deliberation we finally figure it out, and the dishes begin to arrive, soup first and then in no particular order, just sort of when they're ready, which ends up being a nicely paced meal.

Salt Wine BarOxtail consomme ($5) is rich, comforting broth with a mild sweetness from the sherry countered by a slight tanginess. The soup is peppered with tiny cubes of carrots and parsnip and thin strips of translucent onion. Some fishing around with the spoon also reveals only a couple tiny hidden gems of tender, delicious oxtail. The other soup, a puree of Jerusalem artichoke and leeks is a smooth, earthy blend with just a subtle aroma from the added truffle. Both are excellent starts, and happily my dining companion favours the latter, leaving me to finish my preferred consomme.

Salt Wine BarNext comes the Portuguese sardines ($10), served on grilled baguette with smoked tomato jam. Though the thinly sliced bread's toppings cause it to become slightly soggy towards the centre, the sweet and smoky tomato flavour paired with the meaty grilled sardines is a pleasant combination of textures and flavours, the chervil on top adding a nice subtle pop of parsley-like freshness.

Salt Wine BarWhen choosing amongst the fried options on the menu, I'm heavily leaning toward the jamon serrano croquettes, but our server insists that the salt cod quenelles ($5), a common Portuguese street food, are the way to go. The quartet of golden quenelles are perfectly fried and crisp, but the filling is somewhat disappointing. The smoothness of the mash potato mixed with the fish contrasts nicely with the crunchy exterior, but the bland, fishy taste is underwhelming. The snappy parsley aioli does help somewhat, but not enough to shake the feeling that I should have gone with my gut and ordered the croquettes.

Salt Wine BarBraised wagu short ribs ($15) are a definite highlight (though my friend might argue that the sardines were the night's winner). The braised meat is fatty and indulgent, so tender is falls away from the bone with the slightest jab from a fork. Each piece sits on a small mound of warm, silky garlic mashed potatoes, and tiny cubes of lightly pickled vegetables add an extra little bite.

Salt Wine BarIt's extremely hard for me to decline a creme brulee, and in the case of Salt's brown butter version with pecans ($8), I'm glad I didn't attempt such a feat. With the tap of a spoon, the familiar crunchy exterior gives way to a smooth, creamy interior, the odd piece of pecan dotting the rich custard. Chocolate and red wine has long been a favourite pair for me, and so with our bottle not yet empty, the chocolate tart ($8) is another obvious choice. The dense, dark chocolate filling is just enough decadence, and the scoop of gelato full of vanilla flavour is a very nice touch, but had the tart been served at room temperature rather than cold, I have a feeling this dessert would have tasted even better.

Aside from a few mild disappointments, our meal at Salt was quite enjoyable in itself. What made the experience even better however, was the attentive service. Our server not only offered his suggestions, but also seemed genuinely curious what we thought of the dishes, never hovering too often, and also never disappearing for too long. The main attraction at Salt Wine Bar, in my opinion, is the room itself; a space so lovely and inviting that its twinkling candlelit atmosphere alone is almost enough to make the visit worthwhile, and with so many intriguing items on the menu to sample, there might just be an interesting meal to be had as well.

Salt Wine BarPhotos by Taralyn Marshall

Discussion

38 Comments

mmmmm / December 27, 2010 at 09:04 am
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Someone please tell my neighbour about this joint so he stops grilling sardines in his backyard 8 times a summer.
ml replying to a comment from mmmmm / December 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm
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My neighbour cooks them in a deep fryer in his backyard. The smell comes through my windows and knocks me over.
DB / December 27, 2010 at 03:26 pm
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Ha!
I'm guessing you might live in the neighborhood, in which case, welcome to little Portugal. You're a long way from Yonge and Eglinton Dorothy.
JS / December 27, 2010 at 04:53 pm
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I guess this isn't associated with that Salt wine bar in Vancouver right? ...anyone?
Chester Pape / December 27, 2010 at 05:32 pm
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We ate there a couple weeks ago, the wine list is more than a little odd and the relative weakness of the by the glass selection puts the lie to the "wine bar" part of the name. Food wise I was reasonably happy, as a rule the best dishes were those that stuck closest to Spanish or Portuguese classics. I actually through that short rib dish was pretty weak. The octopus was very nice (although why they label it as Gallacian when it was stylistically all wrong for that label).

Service was a flop though.

Rumour has it that the owners are the same people who own Chaido so the service thing is a bit of a shock.
Minty replying to a comment from mmmmm / December 27, 2010 at 06:29 pm
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Tell me about it! In the summer, I have to keep the windows closed on Sundays when all the Portuguese are frying their fish in their backyards. I know that it's part of living in Little Portugal- but it sucks!
Justin Adam / December 27, 2010 at 08:39 pm
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http://salttastingroom.com/
illu45 / December 27, 2010 at 08:49 pm
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How was the creme brulee? You mention that it was crunchy and the interior was smooth, but was how was he sweetness/bitterness of the shell, and was it served warm, reheated or cold?
enid / December 29, 2010 at 12:21 pm
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sad service. disappointing charcuterie.
GL / December 30, 2010 at 03:56 am
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Had the tart been served anything but cold, you would have had chocolate sauce on pie shell instead of a tart.
Abraham / January 5, 2011 at 07:17 pm
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Excellent restaurant!
Abraham / January 5, 2011 at 07:18 pm
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Excellent restaurant!
Tim / January 5, 2011 at 08:45 pm
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Great atmosphere!
LB replying to a comment from JS / January 7, 2011 at 01:03 pm
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it is associated with the one in Vancouver. Or else there in for a huge lawsuit as they've stolen the name, logo, and menu....


I think Salt is highly overrated. Tapas is over, it's over priced, and not very interesting in Salt's case.
Louis / January 8, 2011 at 12:30 am
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It is not the sardines that smell. The smell is because they have not removed and cleaned the guts of the sardines. They do not removed the stomach contents. Yummy.
Jack / January 8, 2011 at 05:36 pm
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People when will you allow something to shine without passing personal judgement.
Salt has a beautiful room full of life.
Salt has a great chef, always looking to improve on his talents.
Salt has servers that are hired and trained and human.
The restaurant itself is the deliverance of someones idea of what they want for their restaurant, for those with negative comments can attempt to create their own restaurant and see how easy it really is.
I'm thankful for a great restaurant.

Cheers!
Former Vancouverite replying to a comment from JS / January 10, 2011 at 12:41 am
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I was wondering the same thing - I seem to remember the Vancouver one wasn't Portuguese/Spanish - the food was primarily comprised of charcuterie/cheese plates, with a heavier focus on the wine. I haven't been there in a while, however, so things may have changed. There wasn't really the Tapas focus that there is at this one, so I would think they are different.
Asha / January 13, 2011 at 09:26 am
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I ate at Salt last week with a couple of friends. Actually, ''ate'' is misleading: The portion sizes were so small that it would be physically impossible to fill up at this place. I lived in Barcelona, love tapas and understand the small dish concept - but Salt is really taking the piss with price/food ratio. The wine was excellent, the service was bad, the atmosphere fine. Go for a glass of wine, but don't go hungry.
Foodie / January 14, 2011 at 08:25 pm
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Wow you must have a huge appetite or just didn't order enough.
i've been twice with my wife and have come out quite content - not overly full and certianly not feeling like I needed to run to the closest fast food joint. The experience was quite wonderful. The staff needed a little more polishing but they were much better the second time around. I'll be there again next week to try the new menu.
mmmmm / January 16, 2011 at 06:51 pm
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@GL, a properly made chocolate tart should be consumed at room temp. If it doesn't hold up than there has been too much cream added to the ganache. Chocolate should be consumed at room temp for optimum flavor.
Markham Restaurants / January 19, 2011 at 04:27 am
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wonder who snapped up rent leases on locations that we stalled due to the ban that are worth a lot more as possible restaurant locations???
Ally / February 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm
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Yum! I love Spanish tapas - did they have a tartare dish? I had a killer steak tartare at a Spanish tapas place in Melbourne. I still dream about it.
Reviewer / February 20, 2011 at 05:50 am
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The restaurant has a nice interior, but the service is sort of spotty and I found the waiter sort of rude. The charcuterie is not all that great, and for the price you pay for some of the items, a total ripoff (3 bucks for 5 thin slices of baguette). Some good cheeses though and pretty decent wine and cocktail menu.
MJ / February 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm
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We went to Salt Wine Bar last night. We really enjoyed the atmosphere, and our waiter was very attentive and helpful the whole evening, even as the the place started to fill up. I appreciated that there were several bottles of wine on the menu in, what I considered, a very affordable range. We chose a simple Portuguese Red wine for around $45. It went along very nicely with the olives, baguette with tapenade, jamon serrano, and trio of charcuterie. The Waygu beef short rib was divine.. it was melt in your mouth decadence... We also ordered the striped beet salad that had an oh so creamy goat cheese with it.. yum. We finished off with the Churros with a dark chocolate sauce, which was actually my least favorite of all the dishes... but still quite tasty. I thought that the churros were too heavy, and would have preferred something closer to the churros con chocalate that I've had in other locals around the world.
We are planning to return.. there are several items on the menu we are looking forward to trying such as the grilled calamari,and lobster bisque, and the selection of house specialty martinis look too good not to try...
Emelia / May 6, 2011 at 10:40 pm
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If you like tapas-do not go here because this is not tapas. The portions are TINY, did I say tiny-really tiny. I have lived in Spain and I understand tapas portions. The prices are way overpriced for the sizes and the service was bad. The manager argued with us-after we were charged for bread. At tapas restaurants usually you can eat all the bread you like. We will not return to this restaurant and as stated above-we left hungry-our bill was $105 and we left hungry.. wow....And, to claim this place is a wine bar-most and all of the reasonably priced wine was from Portugal-Portugal, really-it is not even known for wine......
foodie / June 22, 2011 at 12:31 am
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Are you joking? Portugal is one of the renowned wine producing countries in the world.
Get knowledable before you write.
foodie / July 14, 2011 at 10:29 am
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Tries the new summer menu and I was blown away.
The diversity of the plates are amazing. Had some out of towners join me and they couldn't get enough of it. Will return again to try some items we missed out on. EXCELLENT
Tasting / July 22, 2011 at 12:41 am
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My Husband and I went here last week for dinner and found it very nice and the service was great. Not pushy and they didn't hover with was nice because we were out for a romantic evening.
The Food was great and just what we were looking for.
We had Striped and Golden Beet Carpaccio, Butter poached Lobster,Goat cheese crostini, Maple BBQ Lamb Ribs, Charcuteria and Cheese then the Cinnamon Churros with dulce de lech . Everything was great and just the write amount of food for 2 people to share.

The Wine list was incedible. Order a bottle if you can over a glass because the selection is better and you might be a little happier in the end. Hopefully your dining partner likes the same wine as yourself.
Ssc / March 28, 2012 at 10:25 pm
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To all those people that complain about the smells of grilled sardines in Little Portugal - get over it and get over yourselves!
This is an established neighborhood. Those families were here long before gentrification settled in ... When you move in to a neighborhood like Little Portugal, Little Italy, or Greektown you should be fully aware of what you are getting. The smells of food, the loud seasonal festivals are all part of the traditions of the cultural group that made that neighborhood what it is. This is something that as Torontonians we should embrace.
If you want to live in a neighborhood without these cultural traditions, move to the suburbs.
Gb / April 13, 2012 at 05:53 pm
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Love how people can hide behind a computer and go out of their way to bad mouth a perfectly good restaurant. I'd like to see you do any better. P.s every time I pass by Salt it is packed... Cant be so bad after all!!
stephen / August 7, 2012 at 12:11 am
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Giving ones opinion along their own personal rating is what blogs and sites like Yelp are for dah. So if it is a positive comment it is okay,but as soon as someone has a bad experience and say as much they are hiding behind their pc?? haha, funny... are you one of the owners of the place perhaps?

Salt is a great looking eatery,is about all i can say that positive about it,staff are more interested in chatting up the female customers and each other...slow and small portions,good luck Salt..it's a long road and i think yours is about to go down a hill.



Angelika / September 14, 2012 at 06:43 pm
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I agree from Ssc from March. He or she hit the hammer on the nail. This is Toronto-which is envied by many in the world-where diversity works and is embraced. These Portuguese as well as many other cultural festivals and foods are authentic,and have been celebrated way before gentrification happened! This is one of the many things that makes our city so special- the many areas of ethnic restaurants. We should embrace this!
GUIDO replying to a comment from Asha / September 20, 2012 at 04:35 pm
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This restaurant is amazing.. anyone that complains about small portions has no clue about food cost.. The whole menu is between $8 and $20 dollars , are you kidding me thats cheap .. The ingredients are top quality, fresh and delicious... If you wld like a double portions=double the price like most High end restaurants in Toronto.. I love this place its excellent quality, value for money.. The StaFF is knowledgeable about the product / food and wine. . The room is beautiful! if you go there without predjedice and just relax , enjoy the atmosphere/ food/ wine.. you will be happy !
Tanya / April 7, 2013 at 12:47 am
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Let me start of by saying that as a business owner I typically shy away from writing reviews about any other business as it directly jeopardizes their bottom line. However, this visit was our first and our last to Salt wine bar for a number of reason. I would love to go into the details as they would give you a complete insight into the experience that my friends and I have gone through in attempting to become their customers and dropping $200 as a result. However, I will only list the key disappointments:
1. The food, as previously mentioned by many who have commented on this forum, is severely over priced. The portions are small and the food is lacking in culinary quality present in many of the nearby restaurants with substantially lesser price tags.
2. The server was rude and almost borderline insulting because we were attempting to order in several stages as oppose to order all in once, which prompted the server to slap the menus off our tables and angrily walk away.
3. It took a long time for food to be served and the dishes served were not the ones we have ordered. Once again, after bringing this to her attention, she was confrontational and displeased with the fact that she made a mistake.
4. The bill included the food we did order as well as the food that she has mistakenly brought to our table; once again, after this was brought to her attention, it was very obvious that she was perfectly aware of the fact that we were being charged for her mistakes.

There were several other issues that I will not mention. However, we typical tend to sample newly established restaurants around the city and the price tag is irrelevant if the end result is satisfying. Having said that, we will certainly not be back and will not recommend this restaurant to any of our friends and we definitely do not recommend this restaurant to you.
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