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Aug 7, 2002 11:19 PM

Sel de la Terre, Financial District-ish, Boston (long)

  • l

When you have eased yourself into the caramel colored interiors of Sel de la Terre, remember to insist on a spoon upon ordering the striped bass en papilotte. The bass is a good enough specimen, with the red and green touches of tomato and basil, the emblems of Italy that are also prominent in Provence. But in the end, the most winsome of part of the dish is the flavorful broth that the fish has cooked in, a lovely lagoon that captures the flavor of the fish, along with the essences of lemon, garlic, onions and fennel root. The paper wrapping that the dish is cooked in allows none of their vegetable nature to escape, instead they mingle like lovers with some wine between them and nothing to hide. That's where the spoon comes in handy.

Before the fish, a frank but mild duck liver pate, creamy and smooth and lined on one side by a dark port aspic. It's great on the toasted brioche, that crumbles into a crisp delightful sandiness, while still held together by pate. Provence smiles its summery smile again, with a sweet and bright tomato puree that is wonderful beside the pate. Artfully scattered bits of onion reinforce this sweetness, while demure cornichons contrast their acid to the livery richness. In another corner of the dish, Burgundy makes a more subtle statement, in the grain-loaded Dijon mustard.

Since my taste of France and its culinary glories, my heart has always been firmly planted in Alsace (I know, Sandrine's is next) and so I picked a glass of Trimbach Tokay Pinot Gris 2000 with a wilful sweetness followed by a sharp finish.

I get nearly everything for dessert in the Grande dessert, a platter of five sweets. The cantaloupe sorbet is light and fragrant, supported by tiny diced bits of the melon and wisps of mint that make it my favorite. Mango ice cream brings out a richer fruit, served on a crispy tuile. The creme brulee is an outstanding rendition, utterly smooth, without any trace of excessive moisture. I liked the black forest cake a lot, with its generous side of dark seductive cherries. The heavy chocolate semifreddo is a devastingly rich paste of chocolate and not for the faint of heart or cholesterol level.

Sel de al Terre is a very appropriate name. The kitchen offers a very agreeable kind of cooking that highlights the beauty of straightforward composition. I was very satisfied with the pleasant simplicity.

Price tag for all the above and a cup of mint tea: $67 including a 20%ish tip.

Many thanks to JBM and winnie for recommending this place.

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  1. I think it important to note Limster's instinctively correct timing for the introduction of spooning into the wine-soaked love lagoon placed before him. In this case premature spooning would have precluded consummation of the comingling, which, in my experience, is never a good idea.

    It is only after the broth's complexion is deepened by the emission of oils, essences, and sundry other fluids, a process that takes time, coaxing, and a gentle, knowing touch, that it is truly right and proper for spooning to occur.

    How you must have reveled in that languid, happy, post-poisson moment I can only imagine, L-dog. But my hat is off to you.

    dragging everything through the gutter for a better view of the stars,

    4 Replies
    1. re: Psmith

      Yes, for sometimes the stars shine more brightly seen from the gutter than from the hilltop. (Gleefully stolen from Somerset Maugham)

      1. re: Limster

        Good call, Limster. :) I was pilfering from Wilde (We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.) but frankly I like your quotation better.

        Is Sel de la Terre a Frank McClelland place? If so, does L'Espalier have a specific style of French influence akin to Sel's Provencal? Just wondering..


        1. re: Psmith

          I looked up citysearch and they say that the chef is Geoff Gardner, who used to be the sous chef at L'Espalier.

          I looked over L'Espalier's menu from the Amazon website, can't really pin down a French region, particularly since I see ingredients from all over.


          1. re: Limster

            It is a Frank McClelland Resto, butit bears no resembelance, food wise or otherwise to L'Espalier

    2. Very glad that you enjoyed it. i've never had a bad meal there.