As we had an about-to-expire Groupon for the Back Bay location of Sel de la Terre, Barbara and I had dinner there this evening. We’ve been to the original Long Wharf location many times, so it seemed appropriate to try out their newest incarnation. This is my fourth review of Sel de la Terre, but my first review of this location.
Capsule summary: food was excellent (almost the same quality as at Long Wharf); service started out hectic but calmed down; atmosphere was…well…a bit too young and trendy for us.
Barbara started with an Aviation (including the canonical crème de violette, unlike Mark Bernstein’s version) and a huge portion of curried chickpea purée, served with olive oil and “yummy breads.” She pronounced this appetizer excellent but had to take home half of it. I started with a small flatbread pizza, which came with mushrooms, onions, and feta cheese; it was good, but nothing special. For her main course Barbara had roasted monkfish with littleneck clams, cranberry beans, and brussels sprouts, all of which she liked; I had duck breast with fingerling potatoes and red cabbage. The duck was supposed to come medium rare, but it actually came rare — fine with me, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be fine for some other people. It was well-prepared and delicious, as were the sides. (The potatoes were there because I said I didn’t want the puréed squash that was supposed to accompany the duck; Erika, our server, volunteered the potatoes as a substitute, without my having to ask.) We had the same wine we had ordered 21 months ago at Long Wharf: Les Arbousiers Domaine La Remejeanne 2005 Cotes de Rhone. We enjoyed it just as much this time, and paid the same $40 we paid then. Erika encouraged us to aim a bit higher next time: she enthusiastically recommended a Regusci Cabernet at $80 a bottle. While this is distinctly above our price range — and our facial expressions must have shown that — she claimed that it was a steal as it would cost $120 anywhere else. Maybe so. Hmmm….
Speaking of our server, service was a tad inconsistent overall. The place seemed understaffed and overworked when we arrived at 6:32 for a 6:45 reservation. We were seated in six minutes (pretty good for a promised five-minute wait!) but then had to sit at our table for another eleven minutes before anyone came over to take our order for drinks. Since Erika was so busy with others, including a large party at another table, it was someone else who spotted us sitting there and stepped in to help. A third server came over at another point, as did the manager. So in the end we got plenty of attention and good service, but it didn’t match the calm atmosphere of the Long Wharf location. Valet parking works well in both places, as on-street parking would be a nightmare at either one and garages would cost more than the valet parking while being less convenient.
We would go back, but on the whole we prefer Long Wharf. It’s more relaxed, and for this kind of money we want a relaxing dining experience. The style fits us better.