Monday, May 18, 2009

Sel de la Terre -- Mandarin Oriental

As a surprise, my boyfriend took me to dinner at the new Sel de la Terre on Boylston Street, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel (how sweet, I know).

I've been to Sel de la Terre before, but only the one on the Waterfront, and this one had a much cooler set up -- hostess greets you on the ground floor, sends you up to the second floor to get seated. The space wasn't anything special, but it was certainly nice. We were seated by the open kitchen, but weren't bothered by noise or heat.

To start, we had the rosemary pommes frites. If you've never had the french fries at Sel de la Terre, you need to go get them right now. They're cut extra thin and dusted with rosemary and salt. They are definitely in my top 3 favorite French fries in the city.

For the main course, I had pan-seared salmon with a fava bean and pancetta succotash, along with lavender honey cornbread. The salmon was perfectly cooked -- I do not like salmon cooked all the way through, and the center was perfectly cool and raw. The skin was crunchy and flavorful, and the fish basically fell apart as soon as I dug my fork in. The succotash didn't really seem to be a succotash. It was a couple of chunks of onion, with a bit of pancetta, in what I guess was a fava bean sauce. I expected REAL Southern succotash, with actual corn and fava beans, not this limp sauce with a few pitiful onions. It tasted good, but wasn't succotash.

The real highlight was the lavender honey cornbread. Oh. my. It was heaven in a cupcake shape. I don't think it necessarily fell under the category of real cornbread, as it was very dense -- it seemed more like a heavy pound cake, and wasn't as bouncy as I like my cornbread. I think the honey may have had something to do with that. But the flavors, combined with the fish, were excellent. I wish the succotash had been better, and it would've felt like a classy Southern set with a perfectly cooked piece of fish.

My boyfriend's red snapper was also delicious. The generous portion of pan seared fish was atop a bed of red peppers, chick peas, pickled onions and olives. The Mediterranean flavors really complemented each other.

The service was generally good. Our server was excellent. As I was draining my glass of the last few drops of ginger ale, she put down another glass, as if she could read my mind and knew I wanted another one. I suppose had I been drinking an alcoholic drink, this wouldn't have happened, but still, that requires a certain level of attention and care on her part. She was also very personable and knowledgeable about the menu.

The only hiccup in service came towards the end of the meal. I had taken a piece of my fish with some of the set and put it on a side plate for my boyfriend to try. He waited until he finished his meal to start in on the side plate. So picture this: two empty entree plates, but he's clearly eating from the side plate. Then the bus boy came by, and he started to clear the empty plates! The server came by and saw him and gave him a dirty look, but because he had already begun to do so, she had no choice but to help.

This may be my biggest pet peeve in nice restaurants. It is EXTREMELY awkward to either be the one who's still eating or the people who are finished if there are no other plates or anything left on the table but the person who is eating. Worse than that, the only plate left on the table was the small side plate! So my boyfriend is eating off of this tiny plate while all silverware, everything, is being picked up around him and the table is empty, save for this tiny plate.

All in all, it was a good night. For the most part, the service was good, minus that one hiccup. The prices were reasonable, entrees are in the high 20s and the quality of the fish was excellent. The pommes frites are infallible, and the location is great. We walked around the Mandarin Oriental after, and it was quite pretty. While I wouldn't say Sel de la Terre is the best restaurant in the neighborhood(being right next to L'Espalier will cancel pretty much anyone out), I would say it's one of the better values compared to the prices and quality at places such as the Palm or Turner Fisheries.

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