A selection of charcuterie items drapes a crostini at Salame in Ashland. - Photo by Sarah Lemon

Salame in Ashland

A new restaurant on Ashland's Plaza delivers the meat its name promises while departing from the mainstream concept of Italian fare.

Bruschetta make up about a quarter of the menu at Salame, which appropriately plays up charcuterie with a daily selection listed — along with cheeses — on chalkboards in the dining room. Toasted slices of bread topped with a variety of vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses, the bruschetta make for fine appetizers, lighter suppers or cocktail snacks priced from $4 to $5 per serving. For an extra $1, they even can be made gluten-free.

The remainder of the menu is devoted to an eclectic but short list of starters; green and composed salads, under the heading "intermezzi"; and main dishes, such as chicken breast, meatballs, mussels with kale and an imaginative sausage-stuffed fennel bulb served with mashed potatoes. Diners hankering for pasta dishes should look elsewhere in town.

The moniker Salame practically compels customers to try the charcuterie — salumi in Italian. In addition to salami, selections on a recent Sunday evening included coppa, mortadella and prosciutto, all preparations of pork. Champagne mousse rounded out the platter with crostini, cornichons, pistachios, grain mustard and microgreens ($17).

Bruschetta options ranged from obvious combinations — prosciutto, fig and mascarpone — to the intriguing eggplant chutney with cilantro yogurt. After ordering the charcuterie plate, my husband, Will, and I eschewed meat-topped bruschetta for the tuna and arugula with mustard vinaigrette ($5) and the chipotle-spiced mussels ($15) for a main course.

Seduced by eggs in all their forms, particularly when truffles are involved, I couldn't resist the truffle-egg toast ($11). Our server didn't provide much explanation of the dish, except to say that once we saw it, its dissimilarity to bruschetta would be apparent.

Dominated by Italian labels and varietals, Salame's wine list can be a little daunting to the uninitiated despite organization by styles: light, dark and sweet. Nevertheless, my husband gravitated to the glass of Oregon pinot gris (unidentified by any label or region; the menu blames the owner Anna Hogan's "mercurial whims").

Salame's description of "house-infused" fennel vodka in its lemon drop ($11) sealed the deal on my choice of cocktail. And Will gallantly ordered the lavender margarita ($12) in defiance of its feminine overtones so I could try a sip. He was so taken with the cocktail that the server kindly wrote down ingredients for making the floral-flavored simple syrup.

The lemon drop's fennel notes were subdued and harmonious enough to complement rather than clash with the truffle-egg toast, a play on "egg in the hole" using a length of baguette draped in melted fontina cheese. While the egg yolk had a satisfying savor heightened by the truffle oil, the dish would have been more enjoyable with a softer type of bread like focaccia.

Likewise, the mussels were sound in concept but could have been refined by a more nuanced broth and more pristine shellfish.

We could find no fault, however, with the charcuterie board, which mingled silky mortadella with coarser coppa. I liked the bits of gelatin lending texture to the paté. The bruschetta seemed like a good value for $5, although it appeared to lack the arugula the menu promised.

Bruschetta with romesco sauce, fresh ricotta and tomato or that eggplant chutney would lure me back, as well the cheese board, especially if creamy, rich tallegio was on offer. And while we thoroughly enjoyed our creekside table, the interior decor of brick, wood and rustic table settings in the former Grilla Bites location would be a pleasant spot to become acquainted with some Italian wines.

— Sarah Lemon

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