This review of my recent lunch at Sel de la Terre should probably be taken with a grain of salt. I would give it a B/B-, but my vote is skewed for two reasons. First, it is only based on what I ordered. I was with colleagues, and I felt a little odd asking to try their food or surveying how they felt about it. Second, I can’t actually remember everything that I ordered. I remember what I ate, but my appetizer was a “daily” charcuterie plate and I’m not entirely sure what was on it. That said, I did eat there, and I ordered as much as I could (three courses) without raising suspicion that I was planning on “rating” the food.

To begin, the decor and service are both nice. The decor is pretty basic, and it’s not very romantic, but I think it’s the ideal place for lunch. It’s bright and sunny and bustling without being loud. I have been there a couple times, and the service has always been extremely friendly, reliable, and unobsequious. Next, the menu is varied without being overburdensome. They offer little tastes you can order as a pre-appetizer to go alongside the complimentary rustic bread and butter. They have nice salads (e.g. I once ordered a nicoise that I remember thinking was good). They have good-sounding sandwiches.

I went awry when I ordered one of the main courses. And I went further awry when I ordered the pasta main course. What was I thinking?? I go to a rustic French/New England lunch spot and I order gnocchi . I guess I was still dreaming about Carlo’s gnocchi the other night, and thought this would compare. I was sucked in by the words “foraged” and “hazelnuts” all in the same menu option. I have no idea, but that’s what I ordered, and I lived to regret it. The gnocchi themselves were actually okay; not spectacular, but had the sauce been good, I might have given it a B. Instead I’m forced to give it a D-. It was drenched with red pepperness. It was drenched in cream sauce. It did not taste like truffles and there were no hazelnuts to be found. I took a few bites when it first arrived and then made the mistake of taking a minute break from eating. By the time I was ready to start again, I was so disgusted that I couldn’t take another bite. I blame myself for misordering, but then again, I do expect restaurants to make well anything they put on their menu. Everyone seemed to like the salmon they ordered so maybe that would have been a better bet.

The charcuterie plate merits a B+/A-. It was basically three pates. One of them had a fig paste in it; one had some nuts in it; and one was like a creamy foie gras paste. The latter was really good and the others were decent–very rustic. The little brioche and apple compote and cornichons were all good. It was what I expected and have no complaints.

The dessert was delicious and saved the meal from a much lower grade. I didn’t actually get what I ordered but I didn’t care. There was some sort of peach, berry something or other bread pudding on the fixed price menu and I asked if I could have that instead of the regular bread pudding. The waiter said that it was no problem at all and then brought me the regular bread pudding: “warm brioche bread pudding with black currants, spiced anglaise and pineapple compote”. Either way, it was fantastic, perfectly cooked: moist without being soupy. The pineapple compote was so good that I had to apportion a little bit to each bite of bread pudding or else I would have eaten it at all at once missing out on the harmony between the compote and the pudding. The spiced anglais had no flavor, but it didn’t matter. I would go back just for this dish.

So in sum, Sel de la Terre has great desserts (everyone else got watermelon sorbet and loved it), good salads and good-sounding sandwiches, and terrible entrees (I am writing them all off because that sauce was so bad). I will have to go again and try more stuff before making a judgment, but at this point, I recommend going there for a salad and burger and bread pudding.

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