(In First Look, we pay a quick visit to a new restaurant or bar in Central New York to give readers an idea of what to expect. Our food critics might visit these places eventually and give us their take, but we want to highlight what’s new in our area. If you know of a new place, send an email to [email protected] or call/text me at 315-382-1984.)
Syracuse, N.Y. — On the surface, the concept behind Board & Bar Charcuterie in downtown Syracuse might seem strange. This new restaurant in Clinton Square has built its entire menu around the traditional appetizer.
But once you actually sit down and have a conversation with friends while picking away at whatever charcuterie board you choose, you’ll understand why this could become a trend.
Nick and Laurie Salvetti, a husband-and-wife team that met at West Genesee High School, opened Board & Bar two weeks ago. Nick had been the chef and CEO of Défi Cuisine, the previous restaurant in this spot. Défi had its kitchen in the center of the dining room where he and another chef created unusual meals based on the customer’s mood and sense of adventure.
Défi closed for good during the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying restaurant shutdowns, but Nick wasn’t ready to give up on this spot. He and Laurie came up with a new approach based on their own habits.
“When we were going out to dinner—just the two of us—we were getting away from ordering entrées,” Laurie said. “We would have a couple drinks, and then we got to a point that we were ordering charcuterie boards. We’d pick at them while having a conversation. It was enjoyable.”
Imagine that: Sitting down for a meal, talking to each other and sharing food from the same cutting board. A year ago, we weren’t even allowed to eat inside a restaurant without having a Plexiglas divider between stools, and we wouldn’t have had a conversation without a mask. Board & Bar is a welcome relief.
The meals are all board-based, meaning they are all constructed on a 1- or 2-inch thick hunk of maple. The size and price of the board varies, depending on how many people are sharing. A board for one to two people is $20, two to four people is $35, four to six is $50.
The dinner menu lists three boards: a seafood platter, a vegan tray and a traditional mix of cured meats, local cheese and pickled vegetables. They also serve a cheesecake board and a chocolate board for dessert.
On weekend mornings, Nick has five brunch boards: a griddle board, bagel board, meat board, fruit and yogurt board, and a quiche board.
This restaurant has the same footprint as Défi, with the kitchen maintaining top billing. Board & Bar, though, is more casual, and they added some comfortable sofas and upholstered chairs to match the mood. Charcuterie also works well with outdoor dining and sitting at the bar. It also travels well for takeout orders.
You must try …
Basil Cucumber Martini ($10): Bartender Patrick Bain asked what my mood was when I sat down one night last week. “Well, I feel festive,” I said. “Festive, indeed.”
He then asked what I usually drink before a nice dinner out (a very dry Bombay Sapphire gin martini). From that, he decided to take my regular cocktail and put a fun spin on it. He came back with a basil cucumber martini. He chilled and stirred Aviator gin, lemon, prosecco, with a hint of basil.
Usually I don’t like any produce in my alcohol except for a vermouth-soaked olive. Somehow, this did the trick. It was refreshing, but it didn’t last nearly long enough.
Before we move onto the food, I have to make a pitch for the after-dinner drink Patrick prepared for me and one of my guests. Earlier in the night, he boasted, “I make a mean classic Old Fashioned.” How could I leave Board & Bar without making sure he was telling the truth?
He uses Makers Mark bourbon as the base to mix with classic bitters, cane sugar and muddled orange. The large ice sphere is a classy touch.
It turned out being the perfect nightcap.
Charcuterie Board ($20): OK, back to the food. I was with two friends for this meal, so we ordered one of each board. We stuck with the 1- to 2-person-sized boards so we could pick at all three and still be satisfied.
Each board was loaded with food we watched Nick prepare. We liked pretty much everything on each board. (I wasn’t a fan of the vegan cheddar cheese because, well, I’m unrefined.) The house-smoked carrots were my favorite, and seemingly easy to make. Nick said he soaks them in a brine and then lays them out in a smoker for two hours.
The seafood board had plenty of smoked salmon, shrimp salad, whipped herb cheese, parmesan cheese, pickled vegetables, whole grain mustard and crostini. The highlight, though, was the scallop mousseline. It actually looked like a giant scallop, but it was spreadable. Nick said his mousseline is a simple blend of scallops, dijon mustard and egg that he poaches and cools. That alone was worth the $20.
The traditional board was our favorite. It was also the heftiest.
Our two favorite items were the pork rillette with hot pepper jam (upper right in the photo below) and the chicken and sage mousseline (lower left). The meats and cheeses were fancier than any charcuterie I’ve prepared at home. The prosciutto was paper-thin, and the blue cheese weighed nearly a pound. It also had goat cheese, local fontina with black pepper, olives and other pickled vegetables.
The crisphy hand-sliced potato chips and crostini served as the spoon for the cheeses and mousseline.
Cheesecake Board ($20): Nick and Laurie talked our group into buying dessert. We couldn’t decide between the cheesecake board and the chocolate board, so Rebecca, our server, said she’d bring us a sample of each for the same price.
The cheesecake portion is actually a deconstructed cheesecake. You get a mound of filling made with sweet cream ricotta and a slice of shortbread to serve as the crust. You take a fork of the filling and smear it onto a piece of the crust. Then top it with some of the toasted pecan brittle, fresh berries and caramel sauce.
We thought we had been prudent with our order, yet we left with plenty of food to go. “I told you, you’re not going to leave here hungry,” Nick said. “That’ll probably be the biggest misconception about this place.”
He’s right, but that wasn’t the best part about our night out. The three of us sat in Board & Bar Charcuterie for more than two hours and not once picked up our cell phones. Instead, we talked about each nugget we pulled from the boards and the fancy drinks in front of us.
The whole charcuterie concept encourages conversation. Nick and Laurie are onto something. C’mon, folks. Keep this conversation going!
(By the way, it’s pronounced shaar·koo·ter·ee.)
The venue: Board & Bar Charcuterie, 208 W. Water St., Syracuse. (315) 497-6229
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday dinner 5 p.m. to midnight. Saturday and Sunday brunch 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Monday.
Credit cards? Yes
Parking: Plenty of on-street parking.
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