L'Espalier and Sel De La Terre are OPEN!
I was surprised to see the now open sign hanging in SDLT's window. I went in to take a look. Short version: as far as atmosphere, I think it's pretty much our worst fears confirmed. L'Espalier now has a very generic, contemporary hotel fine-dining feel to it. Lots of sleekness: I'm sure some of the sterility will wear off with some use, but count my initial impression as disappointed.
SDLT I'm happier with: the downstairs bar already feels like a fun, lively place: great for high quality bar snacks or a dinner at the bar.
We went Tuesday and had an interesting experience.
First, decoration is not complete. It have no idea whether that will make it any less generic, but it's too early for final judgments. While I agree with the poster who said that the library is the most interesting room, we watched people being led to it then asking to be seated in the outer room.
The staff is clearly elated by the new place and the fact that they don't have to march up and down stairs so many times. We felt like we were being invited to their housewarming, and they were happy to take us on a tour and show off the new place. We are by no means regulars, but they couldn't have been friendlier or more welcoming. Perhaps the soft opening status have loosened them up a bit.
The most interesting thing was what seemed to us to be a different trend in the food. If memory serves, while there was an occasional use of foams and other little stunt cooking tricks, there was more of it now. I speculate that the larger kitchen lets them use new gadgets and techniques, and they used it to good effect.
[Spoiler alert. If being surprised when you bite into your food is important to you, stop here.]
The single best taste experience of the night was something called a coconut ravioli. Think a small egg sized water balloon, filled with coconut milk, and the balloon made through some technique that congeals the milk into a rubbery balloon skin. It was extraordinary. It sits on a spoon, and the generic name gives no hint of the texture and flavor explosion when it bursts in your mouth.
If this is the sort of thing that will come from a better equipped kitchen (no flames, it's all induction stoves) with room to play with the food, it's going to be an interesting ride.
I fully expect the cuisine to be a more evolved version of Frank's cooking. I imagine with his new kitchen he won't be able to ignore what's current, as he could at the townhouse. I have long felt that l'Espalier, while nice enough, wasn't particularly relevant. Am I alone in being excited for him and the new opportunity?
I suppose I'm excited and a bit nervous for them. L'Espalier has long been considered one of Boston's top restaurants, and the quaint location has allowed Bostonians to feel comfortable with a menu that solidly delivers but didn't push any culinary bounds.
So I think they've got two challenges:
1) Do they have the expertise to explore some of the truly innovative culinary techniques and execute them consistently well? If (and I think that is a big IF) that's what's required to be a world class restaurant, then this is going to be important. I'd guess the answer to this is yes, but it's pure speculation since I'm not in the industry and can only judge by what's been on my plate.
2) Is cutting edge culinary innovation what their clientele wants? I don't know how much of their business is made up of repeat customers... but I'm wondering if the Brahmin location has led to a Brahmin-style clientele who likes to play it safer. If so, a more evolved (to use your term, Al) menu could be a big risk, at least initially.
Time will tell and I"m looking forward to seeing what happens!
re: Chris VR
I want to be clear that this wasn't, say, Clio, which can be an exercise in stunt cooking. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The innovation here was all in accents and grace notes, and not a fundamental reorientation of the cuisine. To me, this adds "interesting" to the list of adjectives one could use to describe L'Espalier's cuisine, and I always enjoy interesting.
Went on Saturday night. Walked by, and both places had hostesses standing in the door which gave you the sense that they were closed for private parties. We walked into the L'Espalier door and told the hostess that we just wanted to take a peek and she happily let us into the elevator. When you exit the elevator, there is a nice, but small lounge that will seat about 12-15. I am guessing it will end up being mostly full of folks waiting for their tables and not a real lounge destination, but you can have drinks and snacks there. Since we know the folks at Childs Gallery who worked with them on the artwork, we asked if we could take a peek into the dining room. The hostess was very nice and took us on a guided tour of the 3 dining rooms. The smallest and probably most appealing is the "library" which is the farthest back and is a dark paneled room.
We thanked the hostess and then walked through a connecting hallway to the upstairs of Sel de la Terre, where we had dinner at the bar. (the upstairs bar seats probably around 10? we didn't walk through the downstairs, but seemed like a much larger bar when we looked in the window). My DH and I had a nice bottle of Rhone and split:
- Heirloom tomato salad with Eva’s wild basil and mint; chilled heirloom tomato soup $13
- Seared diver scallops with white gazpacho, olive oil roasted almonds and mint * $15
- Skillet roasted pork tenderloin and spice rubbed baby back ribs with warm bacon-potato salad and glazed carrots * $28
(the bartender told us that for the most part, each of the SdlT's do their own menu -- which makes it feel much less like a "chain"_
Our waiter confirmed that the 2 apps and 1 main would probably be enough, and it was.
The real stand-out was the chilled heirloom tomato soup component of the first app. Only about a 1/2 cup, it was amazing and had more of that fresh tomato taste than the tomatoes themselves.
Afterwards, we really wanted some cheese and another glass of wine. Although we knew that SdlT would have fabulous cheese, we were hoping for a nice crystal wine glass, so we walked back over to the lounge at L'Espalier and ordered a cheese plate. The cheese cart was huge, so we relied on the staff to suggest a variety -- all great.
note - the L'Espalier dining room seemed very noisy and in fact we saw some older (seemingly regulars) complaining to the maitre d on the way out. I would suggest that if you or your guests have problems in noisy rooms, you specifically ask to be seated in the Library room.
Agreed on the L'Espalier space and worst fears confirmed after taking a walk through. Admittedly we were certainly clouded from our lingering disapointment over the Gloucester Street location being closed, but...what a total disapointment. Generic would be an understatement. The new space could be any high end hotel dining room. Truly tragic to move out of the beautiful old space and into something just totally ordinary.
For the record, I don't give a crap that the kitchen is not as cramped, as I don't see how the food (which I am sure is still outstanding) could be improved upon due ti having a nifty new kitchen.
SDLT will be a nice addition to the neighborhood. The L'Espalier situation makes me sick though.
Do you think Frank McLelland gives a crap that he traded in a beautiful old restaurant for a sleek, new, modern pile of garbage? No. Why? Because he's going to make money hand over fist in the new location, particularly from all those millionaires staying at the Mandarin.
Sick to ones stomach is right, but you can't blame the guy, I guess.
I will miss the lovely setting as much as all of you. But, in a conversation about it last evening, I came to this conclusion. L'Espalier has always been far more than a setting. I think, that when I enter the new restaurant and sit at a table, I will really feel the impact of the new place and miss the old one.
But, as I think back on the few meals I've enjoyed at L'Espalier, the setting was soon secondary to the service, the wine, the food and the feeling of being pampered and part of another world from the one outside the doors.
As I interacted with the staff and enjoyed the nuances of my meal, I forgot the details of the room. Between courses, with sips of wine, I would go back to noticing the woodwork and the fireplace. But, by then, I was also people watching and enjoying other guest's reaction to the food and staff.
This is an odd position for me because I'm normally resistant to change and a preservationist at heart.
I don't feel that this is some sort of a betrayal. I don't expect to love the new setting but I do expect to love my next dining experience at L'Espalier.
"Do you think Frank McLelland gives a crap that he traded in a beautiful old restaurant for a sleek, new, modern pile of garbage?"
WOW. A most astonishing choice of words.
The new space is beautiful, though beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. It is certainly not as grand or classic, but this is the inevitabie byproduct of change.
For what it's worth, L'Espalier has been and always will be about catering to the millionaire class of Boston. Anybody who visited the back of the house on Gloucester, and I had the privilege, understands that McClelland was working wonders in space built for the 1800s.
It is year 2008. I humbly suggest that a briliiant, focused restaurateur like Frank deserves a modern kitchen and dining space suited to the present era.
re: Bob MacAdoo
I got a peek backstage at the old place, and have to say it's astonishing that they were able to do what they did in those kitchen facilities. I know the FoH staff were all singing Praise Jeebus at the prospect of never having to climb those narrow stairwells a hundred times a night ever again.
We went to Sel de la Terre this afternoon and despite the soft opening status, we had a great meal with very good service. We ate at the upstairs bar. (There are two bars, one on the first floor, and on adjacent to the dining room.)
* Native corn chowder with lavender, scallion and bacon bits
* Plancha grilled shrimp with local heirloom tomato, field greens and mint
* Grilled hanger steak with panko fried poached egg, frites and béarnaise
The corn chowder was so good that I nearly licked the jar it came in. And the rosemary frites with the hanger steak are still among the best in the city.
Everything was great and the service was wonderful, warm and welcoming.
They are also working on plans to do a sort of Boulangerie each morning in the downstairs bar. Those plans are tentative at the moment but it could start on Monday.
I think we may have found a new hang out!
photos and more here:
I had lunch at SDLT yesterday in the downstairs bar. The barman passed his Negroni test with flying colors. I started with the tastings app (local tomato poached in oil, nice goat cheese, assorted olives including delectable picholines) and went on to a nicely deconstructed salade niçoise with sushi-grade yellowfin. The breads were terrific---nothing beats fresh unsalted butter on a slice of fresh brioche---and the portions, though a bit pricey, were just enough. Washed everything down with a startlingly good French sav blanc.
The only service hitch was that all the food came out together, to the mortification of the barman, but not such a big deal to me (it being the first full day of operation, ya know). I love my leisurely Saturday lunches and I guess I've found a new favorite spot.