Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Dining and w(h)ining in Tallinn: Salt

What's the meaning of life? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How much is enough? How to choose a restaurant in Tallinn when there's only time for one meal? Those are only some of life's Big Issues. 

For a foodie Tallinn is nothing short of fabulous. Quality restaurants keep popping up everywhere and the price range is nothing if not reasonable. Normally my forays into Finland's Southern neighbour last longer than a day, which allows me to sample several restaurants. Though Kohvik Moon is somewhere I go every time. This time I decided to take a chance and book a lunch somewhere I'd never been before. "Ribe!" is what The Wine Authority always cries at this point. And yes, that is a place I absolutely want to try, but for dinner. So, for lunch we settled for Salt, a restaurant that already in its first year has been ranked #8 in Top 50 of Estonian restaurants. The restaurant, located towards the neighbourhood of Kadriorg does not have the most convenient of locations, but it is well worth the detour. The restaurant, petite and picturesque, has found loyal following among the locals. 

And what did I discover in the conversation we had with the restaurant's delightful owner? Her husband owns three restaurants in Tallinn, one of which is that very Ribe!

The menu changes often, based on what fresh and exciting is available that day. Today's special was rabbit stew which looked hearty and wonderful, but we decided on á la carte. To start with my colleague had sea bass ceviche, which was not only breathtakingly beautifully presented, but also extremely balanced and light dish. Normally the waiters' wine recommendations in the Tallinn restaurants I've been to have been worth taking but this time our waitress' recommendations seemed a bit fumbly. Though that might be down to her slightly fumbly English, which, though, is something she did very graciously apologize for . 

You can't get too many wines by the glass, so out of what was available we decided on Marlborough Gewürztraminer, which wasn't quite as acidic to really work with ceviche. A nice wine, nonetheless.

My duck rillette came with a wonderful pear chutney that complimented the duck beautifully.  A special thank you goes to the waitress, who gave me the opportunity to sample three reds before settling on this smooth Spanish from Murcia.

For mains my colleague had octopus with persillade. Lovely and light dish full of summery freshness. Simple, but so very nice. For this we chose vinho verde, though my rosé just might have worked even better.

We had been poring over the menu several times before the trip trying to decide which one of the tempting treats to go for. Pullimunad, or as the menu had translated it, "Pull Balls" never failed to get us in giggles. Perhaps that particular body part just doesn't have a better name in any language? I mean, it is bull's testicles. I had my slight reservations, but the waitress' verdict ("fabulous!") was enough to win me over. Oh the things I do so you don't have to! But now it's official: I've got balls. 

The taste is... interesting. Good interesting, mind you. It's not meaty, but doesn't quite taste like chicken either. The bread coating was well executed - if the crust is too thick and fried too dry it just makes what ever delectable treats it might be hiding taste like cheap fish fingers. Usually I fail to see the point of a pile of leaves dumped on top of a dish like that, but the pepperiness of rucola really complimented the mild richness of the testicles, served with tartar sauce. Upon the waitress' description of the taste I went for an Austrian rosé which had wonderful fruitiness and acidity. A match made in genital heaven!

On the recommendations of the restaurant owner Tiina I couldn't say no to a dish she herself had come up with: lamb liver Albanian style - especially after learning it was inspired by a dish she had on that meze restaurant street in Istanbul I, too, wrote about. The sauce was excellent, though I personally think cardamom would have worked well with it. The salad was taken to a whole new level by the coriander leaves. Unfortunately the liver, apart from a couple of chunks, was overcooked. This was the only letdown of our visit and after pointing it out to them it would have been nice had it been taken into consideration in the bill. 

Liver, as wonderful as it is, is strange in that when it's cooked over rosé, it just tastes like... well, liver. Which is sort of paradoxical. Lamb liver especially develops a strange camel-like aroma when overcooked. And to go with liver I took a note out of Hannibal Lecter's book(now there's a wine authority like no-one else...!) and washed it down with a lovely Chianti. 

There was such a lovely, toasty, caramel scent wafting out of the open kitchen we couldn't say no to a dessert. The source of that intoxicatingly sweet smell was caramelized apple and pear with goat cheese foam. Though the goat cheese was sold out so today it came with vanilla ice cream instead. A really nice vanilla ice cream, though.  For dessert wine we chose Pöltsamaa, that Estonian excellency. Good stuff.

Lemon posset was divine. Seriously. "Is this what heaven tastes like?" my colleague inquired. I would imagine so. I can't wait to have some more. For this our waitress' wine recommendation was more than a home run. Slam dunk. I was thinking of Austrian eiswein, but she talked me into having this Italian. Wow.

For a digestive I, ever the pensioner, had some of the superb sherry that I fell in love with in Ronda. Its toasty, rich sweetness reminds me of that toasty cane honey of ours.

It's possible to eat for a lot less in Tallinn. But if it's quality you're after, this is your choice. And the prices (even the most expensive thing on the menu is only €17,50) are extremely reasonable. The bill for my 4-course lunch with wines was a little shy of €80, my colleague's 3-course lunch with wines came to a little under €50. The experience was one of absolute delight. The staff is fantastic and I can't praise their patience with me and my camera enough. Thank you! Aitäh!

And from foodblogger's heaven to foodblogger's monthly food challenge! The voting has started and our entry, that miracle sushi made of cauliflower (entry number 3: "Andalusian Auringossa/ Kukkakaalisushi") is waiting for your votes! Voting ends on September 29th and you can cast your vote here!




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