On The Menu

Sel De La Terre (JP Review)


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Sel De La Terre means "Salt of the Earth"...but a better translation could be "The Big Disappointment". As our choice for restaurant week, we had some high hopes for getting a great meal from this restaurant. As I described in my review of Hen House, restaurant week can sometimes provide one with an experience that is not common to the restaurant during normal times. The portions are small, the service is geared towards quick turnover due to the increase in reservations, and the menu might be altered to fit more for the masses (ie steak or common fish) than to showcase what the chef can really do (ie sweetbreads and foie gras).

As we entered Sel De La Terre, escaping the rain, we are greeted by not one hostess, but by two or three hostesses and 4 or 5 waiters...quite a large group of servers just milling around the host stand. I give my name for the reservation and we are lead to a four-top in the middle of the back room. I notice a smaller two person table along the wall and ask if we may be seated there instead, not wanting to be the center of attention for the small back room. There were no objections, so we sat down. Immediately as we sit down, the waiter comes out of no where asking if we were ready to order...not our drinks mind you, but our dinner. We haven't even opened the menu yet! We tell him no, and he starts to list off the restaurant week menu for us hoping we would make a decision. We tell him we need a few minutes to look over the menu and decide. The restaurant week menu didn't seem all that bad. There was a choice of tomato soup or oysters, blue fish or strip steak, chocolate cake or puff pastry with caramel ice cream. The regular menu had some very interesting items that sounded really good, such as the plate of goat cheese and the confit of goat.

(Oh I forgot to mention that sitting next to us was a young couple that was finishing their dessert. The guy might have been the loudest talker in Boston. As we were walking to the back room, we could hear him talking. Luckily they left soon after we sat down, or I'd be writing a whole long rant about shutting your god damn trap.)

Anyway, we got our order in (I went with the oysters, steak, and chocolate dessert, Abby went with the entire opposite) and we looked around the restaurant. The crowd was diverse, a mix of tourists in shorts, some older clientele in nice blazers, and some young professionals coming for the restaurant week experience. Abby witnessed our waiter doing some unprofessional stuff, like counting cash directly at the table he just collected the bill from, and we start discussing the job of a waiter. (I'm currently reading "Waiting" by Debra Ginsberg...a book I thought would be the equivalent of "Kitchen Confidential" but for servers...I'm not really enjoying this book much. It's all about her whining about being in and out of love and getting pregnant and other womanly things...I just wanted to know if waiters really do put their penis in our food, if chefs spit on our entrees. The cover of the book even states that this book will "revel that when pushed, a server will spit in the food", but other than one line in the book about this very fact, there is nothing else about this bad behavior and the author just goes on and on about her late hours and loneliness...kinda boring.) So Abby, having worked as a waitress before, usually empathizes with servers, saying how there are many things that go on in the kitchen that is not the server's fault, but the customer takes it out on the server anyway. I, who tends to treat servers as my personal slave for the duration of our meal, thinks this is crap. Yes it maybe other people's fault, but since the server is the face of the restaurant and my only liason to the kitchen, of course I'm going to take my frustration out on them. They are working for my tip, something that I wish we as Americans can change in our culture from being mandatory. I hate the fact that I have to tip any type of service. Oh, these people make less than minimum wage you say? Screw that, they chose to be in this profession, knowing that tipping should really be based on their service, not just a plain given that they should get 20% each and everytime. I follow a couple of strict tipping guidelines myself: If the service was exceptional, I'll tip normally over 20%; If the service was horrible and the food sucked, I'll try to leave 5%, but Abby will force me to give at least $15%; If the server is a man, no tip; If the server is a young lady with a low cut top and at least a C cup, a large tip. Very simple and easy to follow rules. So you say that at my job, whenever I do exceptional work I get a bonus? You obviously have not worked in my field at all...where I am nothing more than a glorified grunt. There has been times in the past where I've busted my ass, working late nights and weekends, just to get a project done in time for my company to win millions of dollars in award fees, and I hardly get a pat on the back. It sucks, but that's life...I don't expect my bosses to walk by and drop a twenty off at my desk...it's my freaking job and I do it to the best of my ability. Waiters should be acting in kind as well. None of this, "It's busy, sorry for the delay" crap...of course the place is busy, any good restaurant is busy on the weekend. You should be prepared for it. (None of this applies to our dinner tonight really, the service wasn't great except for a bus boy that was really a lady who did a wonderful job, but we got our food in a timely manner.)

Back to the food. My oysters arrive and I'm a little disappointed. I only have two oysters and as you can see by the large empty space on the right of the picture, I believe they have misplaced my salad. A fact I was not aware of until after I've already had the two oysters and noticed other similar dishes being served at a table next to ours...I say similar because on there plate was a large salad located in the large open space of my plate. The oysters themselves were very good. There was a truffle-sea salt laid in a pile under the oysters that I sprinkled over the two medium-sized oysters.

My steaks came out next, and I could tell immediately that they were cooked well. (Actually medium rare, but you know what I mean.) A very nice pink center with a good seared pepper crust with no exotic butter or sauce...which is all I ask for in a steak. (Please, oh, please, let the meat speak for itself! I cringe when my dad puts A1 on his steak. When people ask for well done, I want to know why they want to absolutely destroy such wonderful cuts of meat.) Along with the steak, there were "summer vegetables" and this consisted of mashed potatoes, some squash, green beans, and corn. All good in a typical restaurant way, the exception being the corn was very good.

Finally for our desserts. When they came out, my loving dining companion stated that these must have been sitting out for a while because both our ice cream were melting rapidly. I said it's probably because our pastries are really warm. But I was wrong about that. My chocolate cake was chilled, so there was no way that was causing my coffee ice cream to be leaking all over my plate. This was just an OK dessert...nothing fancy other than the raspberry/blackberry fruit that was on my plate. Some cross bred berry that was really sweet and juicy. I wish they made juice out of this fruit because I'd bet it'd be wonderful.

I'm giving Sel De Terre a 2 1/2 out of 5. I was going to give them a 3, because maybe my experience was skewed due to restaurant week, but nothing of dinner really made me want to come back and give it another try. My meal was not bad at all, my steak being the highlight and it was a really good steak. But the atmosphere and overall dining experience really made me desiring more.

Sel de la Terre on Urbanspoon


Somewhat similar experience here. I've been to Sel De La Terre (the one at the new Natick Mall) and wasn't impressed. It wasn't restaurant week and I found that the prices were way too high for the quality of food which was way mediocre :P