Friday, February 5, 2010

Review: Sel de la Terre

Guess who brings an almost dead camera to a nice dinner? This guy, right here. I even get bonus points for forgetting we had it.

We went to dinner at a great place located near Copley Square on the green light. Sel de la Terre, the name in no way reflects the clientele.* We sat down at 8pm in a moderately filled upstairs dining room. Our server was immediately available, and patient with us as we made our initial conversations and choices. (Found out later at dinner that he was from Utah, and was familiar with the best kitchen I ever worked in Le Moulin.)

Drinks: The wine choices were vast, and rather tasty, even though I can't really drink them. The observation was made that the glasses seemed smaller than customary. I opted for a maker's mark manhattan - rocks (The bourbon selection was really lacking.), when it came it was good, but the glass was filled with shaved ice. Shaved ice is a big no-no, made my drink smaller than it should have been, and it diluted very quickly, with a $13 price tag it's not a mistake I'll make again.

First course: We ordered two charcuterie plates, and one pureed eggplant "dip" with spiced walnuts. The eggplant was good, as it was mixed with a good creamy cheese, it was a touch forgettable once the charcuterie came. Now the charcuterie plate was truly inspired. It offered tastes of a well made lardo, a great basic sausage, an amazing duck liver mousse, and bresaola. The bresaola seemed merely an after thought, an "also-ran" if you will. It was good, but not very inspired. The amazing bit in the plate was the duck liver mousse. Covered in a light aspic, it came in a shallow square bowl. Light, creamy, ducky, and well spiced. Touches of a little cinnamon, pepper, and high quality duck liver. (I will make this at home!)

Entree: Our entrees came, and the table was split, two of us ordered Seared Duck Breast with Pommes Robuchon, and braised Brussels Sprouts with a red wine glaze. The other half of the table ordered Veal Paillard with a chorizo risotto.

The duck was perfectly cooked, but tasted reminiscent of five spice duck... I lost the idea I was eating french, and thought I might have wandered into china town. The pommes Robuchon were gritty, which ruined the experience for me. The brussels sprouts and sauce were perfectly done, and when paired with the duck - a true treat. I have to admit though, I wasn't completely turned off by the gritty potatoes, I ate them all. I also ordered a foie gras bread pudding, it was very tasty, although a little too sweet to be served as a main dish accompaniment, and there was no foie gras flavor to speak of. It was a well made bread pudding though, soft, crunchy, dry and moist all at the same time.

The veal was very tasty but hardly a paillard. It was easily a full 3/4in. thick in some places. It was nicely breaded, still crispy, and the meat still wonderfully juicy. The risotto was a bit of a miss though, it was ultra salty compared to the rest of the meal, and each piece of chorizo was a salt bomb waiting to go off. Salty risotto and salty chorizo make it hard to really love the dish. The risotto was perfectly al dente though, just the way I like it.

Dessert: This part of the meal made me wonder if we were still at Sel De La Terre. While everything we've had up until that moment had been very well made (even barring my critique above), the desserts seemed merely as overpriced afterthoughts. They lacked the polish and quality the rest of the meal had up until this point.

We ordered the cupcake plate, and the chocolate fondant with graham cracker ice cream and house made marshmallows. I'll say this about the cupcake, dry, insipid - we sent it back. There was to be some passion fruit flavor in one, and gingerbread flavor in another, but it just wasn't there. These cupcakes were disappointing. At 2 cupcakes for $10, I would expect a high quality, moist, tasty cupcake with a light and well made frosting. The passion fruit one was overly dense, tough, and dry. The gingerbread one had a cloyingly overly sweet frosting, although that same frosting had a wonderful texture.

The chocolate fondant was a little better, it seemed undercooked, as it completely fell in upon itself once pierced. It was definitely molten in the middle, but the lack of structural integrity turned it into a chocolate puddle on the plate. I'm a stickler for chocolate, and found it way too sweet, and it tasted like Callebaut chocolate, which is one of my least favorite. However, Carla loved the chocolate, and nary a word was murmured until the fondant was gone. The graham cracker ice cream was wonderfully made, as was the marshmallow. My only wish regarding the mashmallow was for it to be roasted a little more. It had a nice light brown coloring to it. I prefer them a little darker.

The service: Impeccable. Our server was perfection. He was attentive, knowledgeable, and great to talk to. He timed our meal out well, and even indulged my more esoteric questions about the charcuterie.

Bonus: After our meal, our server brought us a little sausage to taste. A sweetbread and foie gras sausage. This single taste has inspired me to make this item at home. The foie couldn't really be tasted, the flavors were too pronounced. However, the sweetbreads were in a large chunk, and very well flavored. Perfectly soft, not gristly, or fatty.

Final word: This was the best meal I've had in New England. Even with the challenges I outlined above, I would happily go here again, and again, and again. I wouldn't order dessert here again, not with the current pastry chef at least. It was apparent that the desserts were an after thought. They lacked the general care and polish that the rest of the meal had.

Beautiful place, beautiful meal, I'll be back.

(*In fact, I felt underfunded as I spied a very large, ancient and well accessoried eastern Euro man, with his 20 year old blonde "date".)

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