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Thursday, April 5,2012

A reasonably priced lunch at a high-end place

By Clay Fong

My first job out of college was working for the U.S. Forest Service in Rutland, Vt. Unfortunately, lunch choices in this town were limited, and I ate most meals at the family-run Sandwich Shoppe. Pricing was in line with my entry-level salary — today, you can still get a big meatball sub there for $6. However, after months of nonstop patronage, the experience began to wear thin.

In happy contrast to Rutland, many well-regarded Boulder eateries now offer reasonably priced lunch specials. The burger deals at Pinyon and Oak and the lunch combination at Pizzeria Locale all hover around $10 for a satisfying sit-down meal with beverage. The latest entrant in this category is downtown Boulder’s Salt Bistro, which now serves a “farm-to-table” lunch for $9.

This meal includes a half sandwich, a side (such as soup or salad) and what the restaurant dubs “a tiny treat dessert.” Like the mix of antique exposed red brick contrasted with the modern lighting fixtures that characterize Salt’s ambience, this lunch menu melds elements of the old and new. You can order a slider version of the venerable Tom’s Tavern burger as part of this special, but those seeking something more contemporary may opt for the chickpea and quinoa fritters.

Vegetarian friend Margot did just that, and received a portion of coarsely textured morsels that resembled a more muscular take on falafel. These came accompanied by triangles of fluffy flatbread and cooling yogurt sauce. These were better than most meatless selections by virtue of their nutty flavor and considerable heft.

A light touch marked the local honeycrisp apple salad, available for a $2 upcharge. These fruits live up to their name, and their namesake qualities were balanced by the addition of romano cheese, celery and cider vinaigrette.

Friend Carin’s similarly priced beet salad married the earthy characteristics of area vegetables with exquisitely creamy soft cheese.

Both Carin’s open-faced tuna salad and the chicken curry sandwich ordered by my third companion, Shirly, were well-executed and held no surprises. While I’d be surprised to find out these dishes were made to order, each possessed a recently prepared freshness with balanced but not too assertive seasoning.

Shirly lauded the tomato soup as something she would “take a bath in.” While I don’t know if I would incorporate this preparation into my ablutions, I can certainly attest to its fine balance of sweet and acid, making for a lively flavor. A witty addition was a petite wedge of grilled cheese sandwich floating in the soup.

I had the Reuben, which swaps in pork belly for the traditional corned beef, making for a more decadent sandwich. Some bits were slightly crisp, almost bacon-like, while others were moist and tender, making for a unique mouthfeel. I dropped a buck on the crisp pickles, of which Margot was particularly fond, noting that they weren’t too soggy or briny.

The dessert was a diminutive cube of not-too-sweet toffee cake garnished with whipped cream and fresh blueberries. Our only complaint was that the texture was dry, a problem I hadn’t encountered on previous visits.

Our tab was $49 before tip for a sitdown lunch for four, which seemed more than fair. Granted, the food is not the fanciest that Salt has on tap. But the menu makes sense for those desiring a reasonable meal prepared with care that can be enjoyed quickly.

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