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Sep 19, 2010 05:26 PM

Sel de la Terre -- good but not great

We had a couple of out of town visitors last week, and we wanted to take them out somewhere fairly nice, but not blow-out expensive. Given the recent groupon for SDLT Back Bay, I thought coupling that with an afternoon around Back Bay and the Common would make for a nice afternoon/evening.

There were 5 of us in total including our 14 month old daughter. We booked an early reservation (18:00 if I recall) and mentioned that my daughter would be with us. I've heard that sdlt is pretty child-friendly from this board.

We were greeted nicely and shown to the table. I was the first to arrive since I was coming straight from work. The service as a whole was pretty good, but not over and above. They were pretty good about our daughter, but not in any way moreso than other recent experiences, even from less child-friendly locations such as Toro.

Given it was our first time, I wanted to sample different aspects of the menu. We ordered 2 orders of the charcuterie (after being told it was 'amazing'), and one of the squid starters, as well as 3 of the small tastes -- bluefish pate, an egglplant dip, and a chickpea dip. For the mains we had one steak, one burger, one gnocchi. I was unsure what to order and asked for a suggestion, and was persuaded to order the prix fixe, which was duck confit salad, a sausage and an almond cake. Since I'd heard such good things about it, I also ordered the grill cheese sandwich/fries for my daughter -- she normally eats what we are eating, but I wanted to test this out in case we wanted to come again. None of our party drank (alcohol), and we had a couple of bottles of sparkling water.

In retrospect, we ordered far, far too much food. I was a little concerned about this, and asked that very question from out waitress, who paused a little bit (which I should have taken as a hint) but said that we were fine. Of the starters, the bluefish pate was by far the best dish, and at $3 was a steal. The touted charcuterie plates were pretty good, but far from amazing -- the pork jowel was rather moreish however. The other two dips were OK but nothing special, and twice the price of the fish pate. The squid dish was fine, but was extraneous, as was my confit salad. We wolfed them down, but knew we had too much food coming our way.

We sampled each other's dishes, so I got a taste of all the mains. My daughter's cheese sandwich was pretty good actually, but just far, far too much for a 15 month old. It would have been fine for an adult in fact. My sausage was very sweet -- I don't like sweet sausages, and specifically asked about this when ordering, but was re-assured it wasn't an 'overly sweet' sausage. Again, I should have taken the hint, and had we been out as a family, I might have steered clear, but there weren't too many dishes on the menu that really caught my eye, and I wanted to order several different things to get a flavour of the place. However, my companions like the sausage a lot. The burger was pretty good. Not the best I've tasted, but more than passable. The same could be said for the steak. It was competently prepared, but again, I can't say I was blown away by it. My wife's gnocchi was the best dish by far. Having said that, it too, was not outstanding.

We were so full we didn't order dessert other than the almond cake, which was actually rather good.

Overall, including tax and tip, the whole bill came to just over $200. WIth the 2 groupons, that reduced the damage to $150. Even at that price, I don't think it was great value for money, and at the upper price point ($50/ pp), there are many, many meals that can be had for less in Boston that would simply blow this one out of the water.

Nothing was terrible, but I left thinking that we had made a poor choice. Not every meal one has can be a total winner. However, since we dine out much less often since starting a family, perhaps there is a level of anxiety that the meal should be a success. Mostly, I was disappointed that our friends (who are not adventurous eaters and don't dine out much) could have had a much better meal somewhere else.


Sel De La Terre
776 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

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  1. In my book, more or less by definition, as soon as a place starts doing coupons, groupons, etc. it is not a good sign. Though I will admit I have been shocked at some of the place that ARE doing them.

    4 Replies
      1. re: FoodDabbler

        compared to the long wharf sdlt, the back bay location is really struggling. chicken and egg though: i also find the bb location simply doesn't execute the food as well and that the service is much more lackadaisical. i've stopped going entirely.

        that being said, i've never had anything (except the fig bread and the rosemary french fries) that are excellent there. the food is good, but that's about it. it's convenient for me when i have a hankering for charcuterie, but afterward i always feel like it's better in many other places.

        the quibble about the grilled cheese seems unfair -- it's not sold as a child's portion is it?

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          Actually, the grilled cheese _is_ from the children's menu.

          That's perhaps fair: a 12 year old is still a child I guess, but it was rather a substantial portion. However, I agree it was a minor quibble, and at any rate, we took half of the sandwich back with us and it was my daughter's lunch the next day.

          The lack of excellence in execution of the meal was more concerning.


          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Same here, if I go to SDLT, we only go to the one at long wharf. We've been to BB and Natick, BB's food was not on par, and Natick just well-roundedly sucked.

            SDLT has gone down in quality over the past year or two IMO.

      2. I've had two experiences with SdlT. The first was around Thanksgiving 2008 at the Long Wharf location. Eight of us -- four hungry, tired, and irritable kids, and four hungry, tired, irritable, and harassed adults -- wandered into their takeout food area in the dead period between lunch and dinner. We ordered small things to eat. When they saw how beleaguered we looked, they invited us to sit in the bar area to eat our food. The staff couldn't have been nicer. It was a lovely interlude on a busy day.

        A few months later three of us ate at the BB location. The food seemed overpriced but adequate. It was unmemorable enough that I can't now remember a single thing I ate there that day.

        1. Has anyone tried the burger? I heard it's supposed to be one of the best in town, but so far everyone in this thread seems to be suggesting that it's better to avoid Sel de la Terra altogether.

          4 Replies
          1. re: The Food Buster

            I had the burger a couple of years ago at the Long Wharf location and could not imagine why so many people had made such a fuss about it. I thought it was no more than "pretty good" as the OP described it.

            1. re: The Food Buster

              have had it numerous times and also not sure where the raves originate. it's good, but not consistently so. it;s the same price point as a steak house burger where i i KNOW i'magonnaloveit. PLUS, they have the curious habit of cutting it in half for plating? seriously? DO NOT CUT MY BURGER FOR ME.

              it's not that sdlt is to be avoided. it's good, but i feel never quite lives up to what i want it to be. maybe that's too existential, but i feel like it aspires to more than it delivers.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                It's not a showstopper of a place but it's very good for a group of friends looking for a casual meal that won't kill the wallet.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  Agree...summed up my feelings far more succintly. Nothing was actually wrong, but nothing felt too right either. And for the price, there are many better options in Boston.


              2. I've never been to SLDT back bay. However I'm just not understanding "they were pretty good about our daughter". What exactly were you expecting that they didn't deliver? I'm happy with anyplace that doesn't give me the stinkeye for bringing my kids. They have a kids menu that actually has real food on it, which is a huge plus for me so I dont have to order my 4 year old a $26 entree (she's not really a chicken nugget kind of gal). It seems your complaint is that the kids portions are too large? Big deal. I'm happy to help out with that grilled cheese. :-)

                1 Reply
                1. re: MrsCheese

                  Mrs Cheese, I think you misunderstand, with all due respect. Yourself, and others on previous postings had noted that SDLT was a particularly child friendly venue. I was stating that they were decent about having a child there (not a negative in any way), but not any more accomodating than other venues not noted for their 'child friendliness'. As an example, they put us in a small booth, which was barely big enough for the five of us. It was just about OK, but it required a lot of juggling of the dishes etc, especially, since we couldn't put too much into arm's reach of my daughter. That's not a negative per se, but it did not imply an intuitive understanding of the different needs of children. I didn't bring that particular matter up because it wasn't a big deal. Perhaps it means that most places are fairly child friendly to an equal degree, and one doesn't need to worry about where to go.

                  With regards to the portion size: again, I was not irritated by the size of the portion itself, but that the waitress, who in a 'service industry' I (perhaps naively) feel should have the customer's needs reasonably high in their priorities, did not even hint that this was a fairly large portion -- really far too big for our little daughter. I would have happily ordered the grilled cheese and shared with my daughter rather than the prix fixe that was suggested to me. :)

                  My main gripes were not about the child issues. They were that throughout the meal, there was a noticeable and not so subtle lack of desire for excellence, and a lack of desire to cultivate the sort of environment where patrons will want to return to. That was my perception, and we will be much less likely to return. As I said (repeatedly), there were no out and out gaffs, but just not enough high points to make me want to go back.


                2. Visiting from DC, staying in the Back Bay, and given the temps, didn't want to walk too far, so SDLT seemed like an OK match from other threads I'd read on this board.

                  Good duck leg entree, did oysters for the starter, and closed with a banana cake. All the way across the board, the meal was good, not stellar, just good, and not worth the $75 I paid (no booze).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fisherdm

                    was there yesterday using a groupon and was seriously disappointed. I've been there several times before in the past...not within the last year....and this was the Long Wharf location. The fries and bread are great as usual. We got the three "petit gouters" and the fresh goat cheese was fine if nothing wonderful but no evidence of advertised eggplant. The salade nicoise for $15 was a joke. three thin slices of not so great/fresh tuna with a tangle of nice greens. The merguez sausage special for $15 was very good. Two of us got out with 3 glasses of rose for $75, no dessert, and ok service. The place was almost empty at 1 pm and the weather is awful, but I think the food beyond the fries is not what it used to be.