VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Small plates are all the rage in the restaurant world these days. In Vancouver's Gastown neighborhood, Sean Heather has broken the concept down even further, to small bites.
Charcuterie is the featured player in his Salt Tasting Room, which occupies a spare but comfortable space on Blood Alley. The menu is a varied list of cheeses, deli meats and condiments such as olives and nuts, much of it produced by regional artisans. The wine list, meanwhile, is extensive and also dominated by British Columbia wines.
Say the word and staffers will prepare a plate of disparate nibbles, then match them up with tasting pours of three wines. Just the thing in the late afternoon, after a sightseeing ramble.
``The thing with Salt, we wanted to see if we could create a restaurant minus some of the bigger expenses,'' said Heather, who also operates an Irish pub -- and a good one -- in the neighborhood, Irish Heather. ``We thought, `What if we didn't have a chef? How would that work?' We kind of bandied this around. ... This kind of breaks the mold a little bit.''
Many of the food producers are small scale, so supply ebbs and flows a bit. That's why there is no printed charcuterie menu. Instead, it's written in chalk on a giant blackboard, and is ever changing. But there are always 10 meats, 10 cheeses and 10 condiments. The cured meats come from local butchers such as J, N & Z Deli
Tasting plates are served for about $13.50 U.S. For accompaniment, there are nearly three dozen wines available by the glass, as well as beer and whiskeys. Seating is at small tables or a long counter that overlooks the carving station.
If the decision-making is daunting, let the staff choose. That's what we did, opting for the ``Best of BC Plate'' with wine pairings (three two-ounce pours, for an additional $13.50). What an unusual treat it proved to be: hot capicollo and Spanish pressed-fig bread with a taste of Jackson-Triggs Sauvignon Blanc; Farmhouse cheddar and local Agassiz hazelnuts with Pentage Gamay; Mike Vittow's corned beef with Guinness grainy mustard and a Stag's Hollow Merlot.
If your appetite is a bit heartier, there are also soups, salads and sandwiches.
But where's the adventure in that?
--- Salt Tasting Room, 45 Blood Alley (the alley runs south of Water Street between Carrall and Abbott streets). Open daily from noon until midnight. www.salttastingroom.com; (604) 633-1912.