Saturday, July 17, 2010

Salt Tasting Room

I'm a little torn when it comes to Salt Tasting Room.  A few days ago, I had a chance to visit Salt for the second time, and the service wasn't too bad compared to my first visit.  Then again, I didn't encounter the manager this time around.  That being said, we'll leave the ugly stuff for later.

My buddy Eric looking skeptical while standing there in Blood Alley, Gastown Vancouver.  Salt is located in a pretty ugly little alley, but I guess that's where a lot of trendy type places are going nowadays.....trying to be the gem in an ugly place (a la Yaletown Vancouver).  It looks worse at night.

Once you get through the the nastiness of the alley, the entrance looks very respectable and upscale.
The main dining area is not extraordinarily large or anything, but it's a good size I suppose.  I've heard some complain that the seats were uncomfortable and the tables were too small, but it was okay for me.  It's not like I'd ever go here to get a full meal anyway.
I was intrigued by the fact that they had sake at all, and even more so that they had sake from Niigata, Japan's sake capital.
Unfortunately, they may have had this particular bottle sitting there for a while, and probably opened for just as long.  If I ever visit again, I think I'll stick to scotch.

Just as the name of the place suggests, it's more for sampling a variety of food, in this case a huge variety of preserved meats and cheeses.  Though I don't have nice things to say about my first visit, I have to be honest and say that the samples they provide are pretty good.  You can't get full here without ending up in the poorhouse, so don't try, and don't expect a filling meal.  What you can expect is some tasty samples.

Now, for the nitty gritty.  Back in March, my friend had his birthday party at the Salt Tasting Room, in the cellar.  It was a really cool idea, to have a dining room down in the cellar of a restaurant.  Their vast collection of wine was clearly visible through the glass display.  There was one long table that my friend had reserved for oh, about 20 people or so.  On both sides were seats and all along the wall on one side of our table was a concrete bench (at least it appeared to be a bench).  I thought to myself, what a cool place to have a party. 

So, what could have possibly gone so wrong to put me off the Salt Tasting Room?  It wasn't even my birthday, but the taste of aweful service still lingers.  The party was just getting started, and it's not like we were a bunch of rowdy gangsters or something.  What does one do at a dinner party?  A birthday party?  People get up and socialize right?  Well, not long after arriving, the rules started to come down on us as if we were a bunch of elementary school students.  Most people were seated at the table, but a few people had gotten up to chat with other people, some were seated, some were standing, and some and found a spot to sit along the concrete bench.  This is fine right?  Nobody was screaming, no bottles were being thrown, no fights were breaking out, everyone was just happily chatting away and having a good time.  Apparently something we were doing was a no-no because someone who claimed to be the manager came over and told us that we were not permitted to sit on the concrete.  WTF?  It was okay to have our bags and jackets there, but apparently sitting on the concrete was prohibited.  Without much of an explaination, we were left dumbfounded.  It wasn't my party, so I didn't make a stink of it and just returned to my seat.  But no sooner than I started to nibble on some snacks, there was another commotion involving the "manager".  This time he was scolding a couple of my buddy's friends for standing around.  He told them that they had to remain seated......ok, now this was just beyond bizarre.  We were basically told that everyone had to remain seated for the duration of the party...a party of over 20 people, so essentially, one end of the table would never see people from the other end until the end of the night.

Needless to say, I didn't surrender much of my money at Salt that night.  It was outrageous and what should have been a fun-filled night turned into a story of complete bitterness that none of us could believe.  My second experience almost balanced out my negative memories of Salt, but that was only because of the pleasant company I was with, compounded by the fact that the little fascist of a manager wasn't there that night (or perhaps he was torturing customers in the cellar). 

I remember saying to myself that my experience at Milestone's a few months back was far superior.  It was around the same time of my first visit to Salt a few months back (March or April).  It was a similar scenario, an after work party of about 20 people, packed in the smallish lounge area.  Our group was all over the place, nobody was sitting where they started, and a lot of us were starting to get a bit tipsy, yet the servers were able to keep track of all of us, all seperate bills, and doing this with excellent, friendly, customer service.  Again, we weren't rowdy or anything, there were no bottles being thrown or fights breaking out, everyone was just having a good time, and so was the staff (seemingly anyway). 

So Salt is supposed to be a bit more upscale compared to a place like Milestone's?  Well, the little fascist need to take a lesseon in customer service from a supposedly "lesser" restaurant, perhaps even work there for a while instead of running his cellar daycare/toture chamber house of horrors that is Salt Tasting Room - Cellar.

Salt Tasting Room on Urbanspoon


  1. some food first establishments do not allow their patrons to be standing while imbibing..just so you know. While the manager could have been nicer about his approach, large parties such as yours are difficult enough as is to deal with without everyone moving around then asking for seperate bills (of course I'm not saying you guys were "difficul" per se but large groups confined space is never easy for a server).

  2. Hi Edwina,

    Thank you for reading and taking the time to post a comment. Yes, I am completely aware that some establishments would prefer patrons remain seated....places like Le Crocodile, or Bishops...places where I would feel a bit naked without a shirt and tie, and I respect those unwritten rules.....if the restaurant fits that bill.

    The problem with Salt is, it's promoted as an upscale, trendy place to be, in the middle of a dingy alley where people used to get hanged. It's supposed to be cool it's supposed to be hip, but it's just not the case when you have someone like that barking at the customers. We knew it wasn't a sports bar like The Flying Beaver or Rugby's, but at the same time, we also knew it wasn't anything in the realm of a place like Le Crocodile.

    Our party was made up of 30- something, well dressed yuppies who were there to relax, not get wasted. We're talking about a bunch of wine-sipping, scotch-tasting, cheese-nibbling, run-of-the-mill middle-class workers, not a bunch of teenage football hooligans who were out to get legless. We were very well behaved, and hardly being difficult.

    A server's job is never easy, and I appluad them for that, but in customer service, your goals for the evening are not piss off your patrons, make sure they leave with a smile and leave you with a fat tip), and make sure they come back to drop more $$.

    Suffice to say, our group has agreed to never return to Salt, and whenever we have a get together for a little fun, it will be someplace that IS a little more fun. If we are going to have to have an elegant sit-down meal, it won't be Salt either.


  3. I work in the industry and as a regular customer of salts I know they are food primary. This means that under no circumstances are you aloud to stand up and move around with alcohol in your hand. All food primary establishments have the same rules. Places like Milestones often have a certain amount of lounge seating ( max 10% of total capacity) where you can stand and drink, move around and not eat if you dont want.

    It doesn't matter you are in an old school fine dining restaurant or a hip Gastown spot the same license applys. I agree that this should have been dealt with in a better fashion. I used to work on Granville street so I know how difficult it can be. One other thing I noticed was that your bad experience was in March. If it was right after the Olympics keep in mind how carefully restaurants were being watched by liquor inspectors( it was more brutal than you can even imagine!)

    I have friends who are close with some of the staff at salt and I have heard that they have a new management team who are fantastic. Check it out again and I'm sure your opinion will be much more positive! I go at least once a month and always leave very happy and with a big smile on my face

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for posting. I can understand that they are food primary and that means that customers are not allowed to stand up with drinks in their hands, but my friends did not have drinks in their hands. And the same goes for those of us sitting on the concrete "bench". Either way, rules or not, the little facist could have been a little more diplomatic about it.

    My crappy experience with Salt was actually just after the Paralympics (Mar 12-21). My awesome experience with Milestone's was during the Olympics (Feb 12-28) so I don't think he was overly stressed about the liquor police, he was just a bad manager.

    I'm glad that they have made some changes to the management team, and I have been back since my first bad experience.

    My second experience with Salt wasn't bad, but I still haven't found a good reason to go back. The last time I was there, I tried some sake they claimed was from Niigata (sake capital of Japan) but the stuff was rancid. It was my own fault to have any expectations at all (I should go to an izakaya...or Japan for decent sake), but still, don't boast to have good sake, charge and arm and a leg and keep it around so long it turns bad while waiting for someone to buy it. Sake, unlike wine, does not get better with age.

    Anyway, the issue isn't the sake. Sorry, I'm just rambling. I guess I would go back if the group I was with decided on it, but I don't think I'd volunteer the idea to go to Salt for any sort of part or event.




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