Sel del la Terre in Natick

So last night I went to Sel de la Terre at the Natick Mall. Even before it opened, I've had my worries about the location of the restaurant being in a shopping mall, and maybe I took that bias into my dining experience last night, but I came out although super full, unsatisfied and underwhelmed.

My fiancee and I walked in and liked how they decorated the place, it's all very comfortable chic as if Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel came in and decorated the place floor to ceiling, but you can't help but know that your still within a shopping mall. The "windows" of the restaurant, although the curtains are drawn, do look out onto the hallway that leads to Nordstrom. It all just feels artificial, a theme that lent itself to the rest of the meal.

We started our meal with the garlic and shallot confit and the eggplant-goat cheese puree to spread on our bread. The bread that everyone has been raving about is good. It's a good bread basket. It had an interesting mix of different slices, from the standard white / potato / whole wheat to more interesting ones like a fig or a fennel rye. It's good but it didn't have that artisean feel that I thought it would, something about the bread just seemed a little too plain and without character. We did go through two baskets worth to sop up all the goodness from our petit gouter.

We moved onto our first course. I had the assorted charcuterie which was a nice plate of different pates and terrines served with accompiments like toasted brioche and baguettes, cornichons, whole grain mustard. A very good start to the meal. My fiancee had an interesting salad of honey roasted cashews, red grapes, currants, beets, chickpeas and romaine with curry vinaigrette which was a little on the bland side even with all those ingredients, the salad was underdressed.

Our main courses were both beef, I had the braised short rib with olive oil mashed potatoes, fried onions and roasted brussel sprouts, while my fiancee had the steak frite, a huge juicy rib eye in a shallot red wine reduction served with rosemary pomme frites. I'm a big fan of braised short ribs, and these were although competently cooked, had very little flavor other than of it's beefy goodness (which in itself is great, but I just wish there was just something more to it). The meat was off the bone which made me even question if the cut was short rib in the first place, it almost could have been any fatty cut of meat that was cooked until it was falling apart from itself (it probably was, just cut differently that I would have expected). The broth it was cooked didn't have any sort of contrast to the heaviness of the beef. I wish there was some sort of herb or acid component to cut the fatty beef flavor. The mash was very good, the sprouts were roasted perfectly, the fried onion were perfectly crispy mini onion rings that added great texture to the whole dish, but overall I couldn't be forgotten of the disappointing cut of meat. The steak was again competently cooked, the sauce just felt like every other red wine shallot reduction everyone's ever tasted, the frites were obviously machine cut since they were shoestring in size and way too uniform, and although crispy and delicious, in the end they're just french fries with fresh rosemary sprinkled on them.

We ended our dinner sharing the flourless chocolate cake which was the best part of the whole meal, and also the least expensive dish. The chocolate itself was heavenly, like one huge dense chocolate truffle. It came with brulee'd bananas that had a good crisp caramel coating, and a hazelnut creme anglaise that was really lacking in one thing; hazelnut flavor.

Drinks were delicious. I had my requisite martini, perfectly made but at $14 a bit steep in price. My fiancee's beer was $12 (for a 12 ounce bottle of Lindemans Framboise Lambic), my glass of wine a very respectable Zinfindel was $12; drinks are expensive, even beer on tap (Hoegarden) was $7.

Service was acceptable albeit a little inattentive. Nothing to rave about, there were a few mix ups, such as my glass of wine served well after my main course came out to accompany it, there were a few times we waited for water to be refilled, and our server seemed a little rushed in a more than half empty dining room. Portions are huge, which actually doesn't help the restaurant because it all just feels "Americanized" with big plates and big portions of mediocre food. The presentation of the dishes had a little to be desired, the presentation of the dishes were very plain, all kind of slopped onto the plate which maybe that's what they're going after, a casual French dining experience, but I couldn't help but feel like the dishes looked like they could have come from a TGIF or Applebee's kitchen.

There's obviously a lot of potential to the place, the menu is focused, the food itself is cooked properly albeit maybe a little too plainly (not that there's anything wrong with the classics, but if your going to do them straight up, you better do them perfectly since everyone else is familar with what the dish should be), the service can be worked on, but in the end it's at the Natick Mall. All of it just feels a little artificial like fake plastic trees. The restaurant will have a bit of an identity crisis, does it want to be a real French brasserie with all it's charm just in an odd location, or does it want to cater to who the new Natick Mall's clientele is which to me feels like people who have expendable income who are willing to spend more money on the perception of luxury rather than real quality.

G'vanni's ~ North End

Let me say right up front that I have very high standards when it comes to Italian food. I lived in Bologna, Italy for two years and I'm an excellent cook myself. So, it's fair to say that generally I'm a little harder on Italian restaurants than others I know. 

Having said that... 

G'vanni's is simply awful. The absolute worst place I have been to in the North End. Ever. It would have been simply so-so if it weren't for the completely brutal service. I went there with my boyfriend and another couple on Saturday night. We had made a 6pm reservation and we weren't seated until almost 6:45. Thank goodness it's summertime because the only place to wait is outside on the street. Practically the second we were seated the waitress wanted to take our order, but we hadn't even finished perusing the wine list. She seemed rather put out that she would have to come back. As the evening wore on we discovered this was because they were trying to turn over tables faster than the patrons could actually eat.

The menu is extensive, but I don't personally find that to be a point of favor. To me it says the kitchen doesn't know what it wants to be. In fact, they had something on the menu they called Tuscan Fusili Bolognese. Um... ok... do you want to serve food from Tuscany or from Emilia-Romagna? It was fusili with tomato sauce with carrots, celery & onion. OK, that's the start of a bolognese sauce. Where's the pancetta? Where's the pork? And they added "chunks of primo sirloin." OK, so you're trying to say you added a bistecca alla fiorentina? Well that's essentially a porterhouse. I see neither porterhouse nor a true bolognese in this. GACK. Then they had saltimboca (Roman) and a valdostana (Torino). Make up your mind!!!

We ordered one grilled scallop entree, one pumpkin ravioli, one pollo carciofi and one pollo marsala. The bread we were served while waiting was absolutely delicious - very fresh - and the olive oil was rich and fruity. Along with a glass of cabernet, this was the most enjoyable part of the meal. I had the pollo carciofi (chicken with artichokes). An insipid piece of chicken arrived with a thin tomato-cream sauce and two pieces of fried artichoke. The artichokes were ok, but a bit bland. The chicken was completely white - it was certainly cooked, but it had no color. The sauce was lacking. It was almost like tomato soup had been drizzeled over everything. No body, no richness. I am told the chicken marsala was "ok", the pumpkin ravioli were "good" and the scallops were "good." We were given a plate of ziti with marinara sauce for the table to share. 

The waitress cleared plates the moment someone finished eating, even though others were still eating. I find this incredibly rude. 

We were given dessert menus and ordered 3 bombe, which were good. Can't really screw up ice cream with chocolate coating. The waitress practically took my plate away as I was eating and brought the check before we had finished. 4 entrees, 4 glasses of wine and 3 desserts came to $160.

One friend had to use the restroom and we were joking that there would already be people eating their appetizer at our table by the time he got back. The rest of us waited outside and when he came out he said, "I was kidding, but there really were people already seated at the table!" 

Considering how long we had to wait to get a table we had made a reservation for, they sure couldn't wait to shove people out the door. Since the food was way overpriced for it's so-so-ness, I will never, ever, be back there. 

Incidentally, if people are looking for decent places to go, I have had good meals at Antico Forno, Saraceno and Monica's. I haven't been back to Monica's since they rennovated, but I probably will go there in the next few months.

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(no subject)

I took some out of town guests to Meritage on Friday night. I have to say that I came away slightly disappointed.

The food was great. The, amuse of cream of tomato soup was outstanding, soft shell crab I had was incredible as an appetizer, my filet of beef was tender and full of flavor with a delicious cream / wine reduction, my chocolate trio of mouse, trifle and coconut tart was outstanding. My guests also had a baby lamb chop with risotto which was equally as outstanding, a summer gazpacho poured table side with a perfectly seared sea scallop in the middle, and their desserts / cheese plate was equally as wonderful. All for the bargain basement price of $33.07 and wine pairing of each course of $15 per head. Food cost wise it was worth every penny. The wines selected were nice, but nothing outstanding, but did work with each course, especially the first dry French chardonnay, and the dessert late harvest semillon, the middle course had a wine I didn't particularly enjoy, it was an off varitel of something that they usually blend into Borduex wines which escapes me right now, but I understand why it's blended instead of served 100%, it just had some off bitter / overly dry flavors.

The real disappointment came from sloppy service. I've dined at Meritage now for 3 times, and have had friends and family dine there and all came back with glowing reviews of the food but especially of the service. This time around though the service just didn't quite hit the mark. And it was all in the details more than anything else, for instance, the bread course, which was really tasty and still warm from the oven, came in waves instead of all at once, our bread server forgot a specific roll and had to come back to us instead of just waiting to serve it all at once, when our food came, every single course our wait staff had put the wrong plate in front of each person, even asking "Who had the beef?". At such a dining destination, we're really expecting them to be keen knowing who had what without asking, especially since the main courses had their choice of doneness, so when I got my steak a little too overdone from my asking, and my friend who is pregnant get served almost raw beef, there's a bit of alarm there and it's completely unsatisfactory / inexcusable. Our silverware was cleared after each course, but on several occasions they actually handed us our silverware instead of placing it on the table, reaching over the table a few times, and our water glasses were empty longer then they should have been, I've become accustomed to having it filled at almost every opportunity at previous dining experiences there. Only two of the diners at our table had the wine service out of four, but instead of clearing the wine glasses of the other diners, they were just left there and use to pour separate wines from course one to course two, and when they were empty, they were never wisked away with each course / we were never asked if we wanted more. It was quite the clutter at the end of our meal with four empty wine glasses that had no use whatsoever. Our servers were kind and had the right attitude, and did their jobs, but it felt like they were doing the bare minimum instead of going the extra mile like they had in previous experiences. It just left a slightly bad taste in my mouth and although I will return, having good friends who I haven't seen in years, I wanted to impress them, and I left feeling a little embarrassed.
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(no subject)

Anyone been to McCormick & Schmick's for Restaurant Week?  Some co-workers and I have been hitting various spots near my office, but we couldn't find M&S's menu. 

Also - Anybody have a particularly good lunch somewhere?


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I went to Oishii last night for my third time. I was really looking forward to it. Has anyone else been recently? Is it possible that it just isn't as good as it used to be? I left kind of sad about it...

new restaurant?

i noticed a new restaurant...not open yet.. called OYA on East Street between South Street and Atlantic Ave. Anyone know anything about it? Is it going to be sushi only or are they also going to serve japanese grill dishes?


Burger Joints & BBQ

It's summer time and that means I crave good burgers and BBQ. And lately I'm looking for good places. The best burger place I know of is Wild Willy's in Watertown. It's low-hassle, easy on the wallet and has parking. The meat is juicy, the buns are toasted, and the combinations of flavors are great. I usually order the Rocky. Plus, they've never hassled me about mixing flavors for milkshakes (i.e. ordering a chocolate-strawberry as opposed to just chocolate or just strawberry).

Lately I've been going to The Waterfront. Their 10z angus burgers are awesome, but way too much for one person. However, I've never been hassled about sharing a burger and they have plenty of TVs to watch the Red Sox on. The service, however, is spotty. Friendly enough, but painfully slow. 

BBQ is much harder to find. Sure, there's Redbones, but I'm rarely in Davis Sq. And there's Blue Ribbon, but there is no where to sit and that stuff gets soggy fast when you try to get home. I need a new place. 

So, where do you guys go for great burgers and coma-inducing BBQ?

(no subject)

I don't remember where I heard about this restaurant, but guys if you really want to impress a girl or girls if you're planning a bridal/baby shower or just want a really nice girls brunch out, go to The Langham Hotel and Julien Restaurant before July for their Saturday only 12-3 Chocolate Buffet. The buffet lasts from Sept. to the end of June every year. It's $30, but worth it for a once in a while treat or to celebrate something. They have a doughnut making table, a crape making table--at both tables you choose the fixings, and also several tables of incredibly delicious and beautifully presented desserts. Coffee is included in the $30. It's on Franklin Street in Boston kind of near government center. Their website has images and a list of what's on the menu. Bring a camera.

(no subject)

Addis Red Sea Ethiopian restaurant is opening a second location on Mass Ave. in Cambridge between the Porter Square and Harvard red line stops, but closer to Porter. Their window says, "Opening Soon" and doesn't give a specific date.