Sel De La Terre has always been known for great French inspired food at their original location near the waterfront on State Street in Boston, however over the past couple of years they are pushing their brand to new heights. In 2007 they opened a second location in Natick, MA, and just recently they opened their third in the famed Mandarin Oriental Hotel- the building that changed the face of the Prudential Tower, at least to me. A few nights ago I had the opportunity to dine at this newly opened location, and I have to say, I found the reasoning behind the glowing reviews I've heard.
The Mandarin opened last fall with two big name restaurants attached, the aforementioned Sel De La Terre, and the known pinnacle of dining in Boston, L'Espalier. At the time, I found it interesting that both were of the French persuasion, leaving the only variation to its "in house" dining to Asana, which is said to encompass both Asian and American cuisine. Through a little investigation though, Ive found that the Chef of Sel De La Terre worked under the executive chef of L'Espalier for eight years. This makes their dual occupation of restaurant space in the Mandarin a lot more understandable to me.
Sel De La Terre has a very clean look to it, straight lines, dark wood and white linens. In a way it is a classic look, though the high ceilings, open kitchen leading to what seemed to be a "less formal" dining area, and blackboard signs added a funkier vibe.
We started our meal with a trio of tastings- a chick pea and olive oil emulsion, a selection of French olives, and a goat cheese and eggplant puree topped with toasted black walnuts. These were served with a variety of sliced breads. The chick pea emulsion was ok, not out of this world, I believe that they Mediterranean spices that they said to have used in it could have been kicked up a bit. Basically it just tasted like chick peas blended with olive oil. Not bad, not good. The Olives were delicious, simple, well marinated. Very tasty. The goat cheese was delicious. The eggplant, while it didn't add any real variation to the flavor, made the cheese a bit creamier and lighter in a way. The walnuts added a really nice texture variety, though we both agreed that there could have been a few more of them. However, all in all the trio was tasty and satisfying, and really set the tone for the meal.
I chose their Tazmanian Salmon for my entree. This was served over farro, and with roasted fennel and mandarin orange slices. This was a really beautifully executed dish. Skin still on the salmon, it was served to order, and I requested mine to be medium rare. The soft silky texture of the fish, with a very robust flavor, was very well offset by the crispy skin. This was laid on a bed of farro, a wheat product that when cooked maintains a crunchy texture, and has that great nutty flavor that wheat gives off. The fennel was fork tender, and had really en captured the different flavors of its preparation, without losing its own unique anise background. The final component was the mandarin orange slices-which, when combined with the fish added this wonderful sweetness that was just fantastic. The portion size was also perfect. While I could have eaten more, I certainly didn't need to.
We also split a side dish of their spaetzle, seasoned with mustard, and topped with comte. Spaetzle is a form of egg noodle or dumpling, German in origin and often cooked in boiling water. Comte, an ingredient I had to look up, is a French cheese, with a slight nuttiness to its flavor. The dish, with these beautiful ingredients was incredible. In credibly rich, the flavors of the mustard mixed with melted shavings of Comte can only be described as decadent. I had to restrain myself from eating the entire pot of it...and now just thinking about it- I want more.
Luckily, I did practice restraint as it allowed me to order dessert. I chose the Apple Galette with cider caramel, ginger ice cream, and a piece of pepita brittle. A Galette basically refers to any round crusty cake. At Sel De La Terre their adaption of this was a flaky crust placed over warm apple smothered in a beautiful caramel sauce. On the side of that was a small accompaniment of ginger ice cream. I cannot imagine how they were able to achieve such a pungent ginger flavor, while mellowed with the creaminess of the dessert, but it was really amazing. It tasted how ginger smells to a T. The brittle looked delicious, though I was so excited about the rest of my dessert, I neglected to even try it.
Sel De La Terre surpassed my expectations. The courses were well designed, beautifully plated, and wonderfully satisfying. Our waitress was knowledgeable and friendly- and really made our meal delightful. If I had pick out a complaint, and I'm hard pressed to believe me, it would be that they were almost too speedy in bringing the courses. It seemed that no time had passed after we had ordered that our tasting plate appeared, and, though we were able to enjoy the tasting plate, as soon as we were finished with it, our entrees arrived. Without the time to linger, it felt a bit rushed. Otherwise though, this is a place that ranks high on my list, and one that I will be returning to...soon I hope.
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