When you have eased yourself into the caramel colored interiors of Sel de la Terre, remember to insist on a spoon upon ordering the striped bass en papilotte. The bass is a good enough specimen, with the red and green touches of tomato and basil, the emblems of Italy that are also prominent in Provence. But in the end, the most winsome of part of the dish is the flavorful broth that the fish has cooked in, a lovely lagoon that captures the flavor of the fish, along with the essences of lemon, garlic, onions and fennel root. The paper wrapping that the dish is cooked in allows none of their vegetable nature to escape, instead they mingle like lovers with some wine between them and nothing to hide. That's where the spoon comes in handy.
Before the fish, a frank but mild duck liver pate, creamy and smooth and lined on one side by a dark port aspic. It's great on the toasted brioche, that crumbles into a crisp delightful sandiness, while still held together by pate. Provence smiles its summery smile again, with a sweet and bright tomato puree that is wonderful beside the pate. Artfully scattered bits of onion reinforce this sweetness, while demure cornichons contrast their acid to the livery richness. In another corner of the dish, Burgundy makes a more subtle statement, in the grain-loaded Dijon mustard.
Since my taste of France and its culinary glories, my heart has always been firmly planted in Alsace (I know, Sandrine's is next) and so I picked a glass of Trimbach Tokay Pinot Gris 2000 with a wilful sweetness followed by a sharp finish.
I get nearly everything for dessert in the Grande dessert, a platter of five sweets. The cantaloupe sorbet is light and fragrant, supported by tiny diced bits of the melon and wisps of mint that make it my favorite. Mango ice cream brings out a richer fruit, served on a crispy tuile. The creme brulee is an outstanding rendition, utterly smooth, without any trace of excessive moisture. I liked the black forest cake a lot, with its generous side of dark seductive cherries. The heavy chocolate semifreddo is a devastingly rich paste of chocolate and not for the faint of heart or cholesterol level.
Sel de al Terre is a very appropriate name. The kitchen offers a very agreeable kind of cooking that highlights the beauty of straightforward composition. I was very satisfied with the pleasant simplicity.
Price tag for all the above and a cup of mint tea: $67 including a 20%ish tip.
Many thanks to JBM and winnie for recommending this place.
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