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Chef Aaron Chambers has been caring for his sourdough starter for more than a decade. This precious bundle of yeast and flour was given to him by a pastry chef working for multi-Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, who had been nurturing his for some 40 years prior. Chambers carefully transported Cynthia (he named the starter after his grandmother) from a job as the opening chef at Boulud Sud in Manhattan, to Bar Boulud in Boston, to his own tiny restaurant on a side street in Salem.

There, it serves as the base for the chef’s prized sourdough bread, which is baked fresh daily and delivered with the kitchen’s compliments to every diner every night like a warm hug. Dense, chewy, and nourishing, the bread is just one of the touches that make a meal an event at Settler, named for the British chef’s journey from Michelin-starred restaurants in England to the Middle East and the Big Apple before setting down roots here in Massachusetts.

Even before the bread arrives, every meal starts with a tiny restorative drink—on a recent night, it was a chamomile tea to ward off the bitter cold outside. That tradition started during the pandemic, when guests braved outdoor dining well into November to support the fledgling restaurant. These days, fortunate diners snuggle inside the cozy space, if they can score a reservation, and that patio is reserved for when the weather is fine.

Chef Chambers has spent his career collecting the recipes, experiences, and special food items, like the sourdough starter, he presents at Settler. One night might feature a luscious Confit de Canard, redolent of fresh herbs and subtle hints of garlic, that the chef originally learned to make while working at the famed Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, U.K. That dish takes more than a day to prepare, from curing the duck legs in salt, sugar, and a mix of warm spices, to poaching and pressing the meat. A dessert might be a madeleine inspired by enjoying those simple, delicate cookies at Café Boulud in New York.

Diners are happy to come along for the ride. The menu changes frequently based on what is fresh and seasonal, with just a few items—like the Whipped Ricotta and that delicious bread—remaining since day one. They make everything in house that they can, right down to milling the grain for that sourdough. And if they don’t make it, there’s a good reason. Chambers used to make the ricotta base for his Whipped Ricotta—a rich fluffy spread blended with confit garlic and lemon zest, topped with wildflower honey and a dusting of Aleppo, a mild red pepper from Turkey—until he found someone who makes it better.

Everything is sourced as locally as possible—the ricotta comes from Connecticut—which is not without its challenges in New England. Chambers works with a number of local and regional providers to source produce, meat, and fish from the area.

Start your adventure with the Chef’s Mezze for Two. This selection of small plates changes nightly, but always features something fried, a dip or spread, and a small salad. A recent night offered fried house-made falafels, a deeply toasty, creamy hummus, and a wheatberry salad, bright with fresh herbs. The dish also had a slight heat, perhaps from Aleppo pepper, which shows up throughout the menu as one of the chef’s favorite spices. Appetizers on a recent night included that Confit de Canard, as well as an ethereal Maine Peekytoe Crab, served with bright slivers of green apple and celery.

That ricotta might also turn up in a pasta dish. There’s always fresh pasta, made in house, but it is a different preparation every night. A recent evening featured pillowy agnolotti, stuffed with that ricotta mixed with a purée of salsify, a root vegetable with a sweet-savory flavor sometimes compared to oysters. The vegetarian entrée was sauced with a mushroom-taleggio cheese broth; wise diners will save a piece of sourdough bread to mop up every drop.

For a tiny restaurant, the staff is incredibly accommodating when it comes to special diets. They clear down every surface and use a separate machine to turn out gluten-free pasta each night. They can also easily make many dishes dairy-free when needed. Such was the case with a recent Nova Scotia Halibut, served with thinly sliced purple cauliflower, dotted with hazelnuts and Cara Cara orange sections. The crisp golden-brown sear came from a hot pan with oil and a bit of butter, but the butter can easily be eliminated.

Do explore the thoughtful wine list. General manager Chuck McSweeney can guide you to something unique and perfectly delicious.

Desserts are made in house, naturally. The Basque Cheesecake, airy and light, with a dark burnt-sugar crust, is served with a scoop of house-made gelato, and it’s gluten-free (although you’d never know it). They always have several flavors of gelato (we loved the pistachio) and sorbet, as well as a rotation of desserts.

Reservations open up a month ahead and book up within a few hours, but we have a few tips for desperate diners who didn’t plan ahead. One is to put yourself on the cancellation list, because people’s plans often change. If you don’t score a table that way, arrive early or late, because the seven seats at the bar are always held for walk-ins. And, finally, when the weather is nice, capacity increases with opening of the charming patio.

2 Lynde St., Salem, 978-744-2094,