Happy Place: SALT the Bistro, 1047 Pearl Street, 303-444-7258.
The Hours: Daily from 3 to 6 p.m.
The Deals: $3 beers; $4 house wines; $4 element cocktails; $1-$5 small plates; $10-$15 large plates.
Were we happy? Flip the page to find out.
The Digs: For every five chain restaurants spewing grub on Boulder's Pearl Street Mall, there's an independent gem boasting a menu we'd love to try, a chef who isn't on a corporate salary and a bar full of talented mixologists who know just the right way to float our boat: SALT the Bistro is one of these places. Decked out in earthy wood tones with bright-colored accents, SALT is simple and rustic. The narrow room features a long bar, coupled with tables that reach all the way back to the kitchen, which has its own chef's counter. To top it off, the farm-to-table menu walks the walk, and the staff graciously bends over backwards.
The Verdict: SALT took us in on a chilly November evening, and we reveled in the scents of warm spices and roasting meats as we slung our jackets over our barstools. We had fifteen minutes left until happy hour ended, and we needed to make some decisions quickly.
Our bartender put laminated beverage menus in front of us that were covered with small pictures of herbs and fruit -- and he told us that this was how we would construct our drinks. It seemed like a lot of work for a cocktail, but we obliged. And after we ordered a few items off the happy hour menu, we anxiously awaited our "choose your own adventure" cocktails.
And let's just say that they were worth the wait. The first round featured tall tumblers filled with a lovely concoction of gin and pomegranate fragranced with a generous hint of rosemary. It was divine, and for many days after our visit, we thought about this cocktail...we longed for this cocktail. A friend breezed in through the door as we were taking our first sips and picked another drink from the menu, a hot toddy made with scotch. It arrived warm and steaming, with a frothy rim and a rich, warm flavor complemented with a little lemon on the finish. Again, wonderful.
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SALT's happy hour food is a unique mix that's perfect for those wishing to sample a collection of different dishes. We each ordered our own quinoa fritter, a delightful amusé with clean flavors and lovely texture. The braised duck confit was a novelty for a happy hour roster, although the portion was barely enough for sharing. And while the cheese plate was mediocre, we were so happy with our cocktails that we barely even noticed. Our bartender was a stellar example of the knowledgeable staff at SALT, and he made sure we had another round before the happy hour clock ran out.
Overall Grade: A-