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Locale Profile: The Salted Slate

saltThe new kid on the Wayland Square block, The Salted Slate, opened its doors in July. Occupying the former Farmstead location on Wayland Avenue and with Chef Ben Lloyd at its helm (a 10-year veteran of the Providence culinary scene), The Salted Slate’s menu reads like a who’s who of fabulous local producers and a what’s what of homemade delights.

I’ve been lucky enough to sample their brunch menu previously (FYI: it’s all about that chubby duckling), but heading out for dinner I couldn’t wait to try the evening offering.

The space is beautiful; I hadn’t been to the space in it’s former incarnation so couldn’t directly comment on the changes, but the final result is wonderful. The warm wooden floors and neutral walls are a natural-toned backdrop to the soapstone bar, chunky high tops on industrial metal stands and (surprisingly comfortable!) high-backed vintage-style barstools.

Awash with candlelight and adorned with eclectic seasonal flowers, the space feels honest, warm and incredibly welcoming.

We sat to the left of the bar, which, having sat at the section to the right of the bar for brunch, I have to say I prefer. Rather than the vintage, industrial-style high tops and stools, the area to the right of the open-shelved bar backdrop hosts traditional style tables and chairs. Should I have been visiting with family this would be ideal, but as a young couple our bar side location was spot on for us!

Having glanced over the menu prior to arriving, because obviously, I was really excited to try some of the sharing dishes. Normally the idea of sharing food brings me out in a rash. I’m fiercely protective of my portions and have only just started letting my husband nibble things from my plate. We’ve been together eight years. Sharing dishes, to me, should in fact be dishes you can actually share. There’s nothing worse than a menu extorting the virtues of its sharing menu, only to have some tiny little thing arrive. My hunter-gather instincts kick in and the red mist of food claiming frenzy descend.

Sharing dishes are supposed to evoke feelings of comfort food piled plentifully high and apportioned with gay abandon. The Mac and Cheese and Waygu Meat Balls did just that, with options on portions size depending on your appetite and ability to share, these two were the first dishes we knew would end up in our tummies.

Wanting to test the slate for its integrity when it comes to local ingredients and homemade produce, we also ordered the Blackbird Farm Tartar and their [Our] Own Ricotta.

The comfortable atmosphere made the wait for the food zip by, a gentle hum of good conversation wafting from tables packed with friends, couples and families, the dusk outside turning the space into a glowing hub on Wayland Avenue.

The space is one that I would happily bring anyone to, be it an easy afterwork drink with colleagues, showing off the city to visiting family or, as we were that evening, on a date with someone you really, really fancy.

Our starters arrived, quite aptly, on great organic rectangles of natural slate, seasoned with cloudy crystalline flakes of sea salt. Rather than a nod at its moniker, this was out and out whiplash; however, far from feeling gimmicky, the simplicity of the components and of the restaurant’s name itself made its presence subtly whimsical and raised a smile from us both.

Topped with a plump, bright quail egg, the Blackbird Farm Tartar looked incredibly impressive, the soft, tender beef delivering a buttery, rich flavor, pricked here and there with tastebud-waking pinches of sharp caper. The accompanying giant potato crisps, cooked to a dark brown, were earthy with a satisfying and substantial crunch.

As a contrast to the richness of the tartar, the Our Own Ricotta was light and sweet, creamy but not heavy. Its artichoke pesto partner was zingy and fresh, the pair sitting atop the home-baked sun-dried ciabatta slices beautifully.

The portions were generous, something I find can be lacking when the ingredients are of such high quality and the craftsmanship so invested, but not so that we had that stab of regret over the imminent arrival of our entrees.

We didn’t have to wait long for the heaping pile of Waygu Meatballs, sat in a rich puddle of taleggio polenta, and the piping hot plate of Mac and Cheese in the form of bacon and four-cheese-stuffed jumbo shells to arrive.

We opted for the smaller versions of each so as to allow for maximum taste testing. I did it all for you dear readers, honest. The presentation of the meatballs atop a handled wooden board made for easy sharing; the taste, however, did not. The minute that Waygu passed my lips I knew I would struggle to share.

Rich and meaty, with a wholesome texture, those meatballs certainly lived up to the standard their Japanese provenance set. You could be forgiven for worrying that a meatball was not the place for such a cut of meat, but their form did nothing but make me want to make balls a much bigger part of my life.

The Mac and Cheese was what mac and cheese for grown-ups should look like. Bold with its four cheese stuffing and seasoned perfectly by the crisp bacon, this was not your average mac.

Whilst the clean, fresh flavors of our two incredible appetizers were delicious, I find myself more impressed by the skill it takes to elevate the time old classics of meatballs and mac and cheese to a level of excellence Chef Lloyd has. To so do while retaining the comfort food style and not deconstructing it to oblivion is even more impressive.

Our meal was topped off with a battle of forks over Nanny’s Pineapple Cake, served alongside a not overly sweet burnt sugar ice cream, and seasonal pear and ginger chutney.

The Salted Slate has done a storming job of shooting up my list of ‘must visits’ in Providence. With its easy atmosphere, honest menu filled with ingredients of exceptional provenance and quality, plus a check so reasonable I feared we were doing a dine and dash, I’m steadfastly the slate’s newest and biggest fan.

186 Wayland Avenue, Providence. 401-270 3737, saltedslate.com

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