Expanded Natick mall serves up medley of restaurants
If variety is the spice of life, the new Natick Collection offers a spice rack filled with restaurants offering cuisine high on diversity.
French, Chinese and American fare, gourmet burgers and desserts - they all get showcased in the expanded mall.
The lineup includes Sel de la Terre, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, The Cheesecake Factory, Met Bar & Grill and Finale. Legal Sea Foods had planned to open a restaurant in the former Natick Mall, but those plans fell through.
The majority of the restaurants are set to open when the Natick Collection, home to 100 new upscale tenants, makes its debut Friday.
``All of those restaurants are great restaurants with proven track records,'' said Peter Christie, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, the Southborough-based statewide trade association representing the needs of the food and beverage industry. ``The fact there has been that much appeal to this project means that someone has taken a look at the demographics and the demographics must be incredibly strong.
``The location of the mall has always been in the middle of a very nice demographic. Now that they're bringing in Nordstrom and a residential component, it's improved,'' he said, ``This will no doubt have an impact and it will be good for business in the immediate area. All the restaurants down there are doing well.
``It's a two-way street in terms of who's attracting what. Is the mall attracting people to the restaurants or are the restaurants attracting people to the mall. They both will get a bounce from one another's business.''
Geoff Gardner, executive chef and co-owner of Sel de la Terre, said opening a restaurant in the Natick Collection provides ``a great fit.''
``A lot of it is gut instinct,'' said the Wayland resident. ``Just believing in this project, believing in the location, believing in our concept. It's a really good match. For years, people have asked, `When are you going to open a Sel de la Terre out this way?' ''
Now they have their answer. The first Sel de la Terre - the name means ``salt of the earth'' in French - opened on Boston's Long Wharf in 2000. Similar to its Boston brother, the Natick restaurant will operate as ``a rustic French brasserie'' serving seasonally and locally grown Provencal-inspired cuisine in a casual setting. It is set to open Friday.
``The Natick-MetroWest area has a need for more nice restaurants,'' said Gardner. ``It's easier for a lot of people who don't feel like going into the city for a great restaurant.''
Sel de la Terre will offer fixed prices for its a la carte items. For brunch, prices will be $9 for appetizers, salads $12.95, sandwiches $8.95, breakfast dishes $12.95 and entrees $15. For lunch, the appetizers will cost $9, salads $12.95, sandwiches $8.95 and entrees $15. For dinner, appetizers will cost $11 and entrees $26.
A sample menu included such items as grilled black angus ribeye steak frites with red wine-shallot reduction; barbecued Scottish salmon with grilled corn, chanterelles and spinach; sauteed diver scallops with garnet yams, Brussels sprouts and smoked bacon; and assiette de charcuterie with toasted brioche, french mustard and chutney.
The chef at Natick's Sel de la Terre will be Daniel Bojorquez, whose resume includes working as sous chef at L'Espalier in Boston's Back Bay and chef at Masa in the South End.
``I don't pretend to be Superman,'' said Gardner. ``I can't be at two places at once. We are a chef-driven restaurant. It really requires the full and undivided attention of the chef. My role has evolved into the creative director and operational director of our restaurant group called New France.''
This group, owned by Gardner and Frank McLelland, includes L'Espalier and Au Soleil Catering.
``I'll certainly spend a lot of time in Natick, especially in its infancy, making sure that we get everything just the way we want it,'' said Gardner.
The new Sel de la Terre will be located between Nieman Marcus and Nordstrom facing Speen Street. The restaurant has its own entrance and valet parking will be available. The eatery will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. It seats 140 indoors with an outdoor patio adding 46 seats. The restaurant has a full-service bar.
``They've brought in first-class retailers and first-class restaurateurs,'' said Gardner. ``That's all a really positive thing ... and we're really excited about it.''
Paul Conforti, president and co-founder of Finale, had a similar reaction.
``We are delighted to bring Finale's sensational dessert experiences to the town of Natick,'' said Conforti. ``This is the first Finale to be located in a mall. We expect that doing well in a mall setting will really open up our expansion opportunities.''
The first Finale opened in Boston's Park Plaza in 1998. The others are located in Harvard Square in Cambridge and Coolidge Corner in Brookline.
``We think that Finale works really well in places where there are people out having dinner, people out going to the movies and to the theater and looking for something to do after that,'' said Conforti.
The combination of restaurants and retailers in the Collection with the AMC Loews movie theater in nearby Framingham provides an ideal situation for Finale, according to Conforti.
As with it other restaurants, the Finale in Natick will feature two components. The Desserterie offers a dining-room menu of plated desserts ranging in price from $8.95 (individual dishes) to $28.95 (dessert for two). On its Prelude Menu, light appetizers will cost around $10. This non-dessert fare includes gourmet sandwiches, salads, soups, flat-bread pizzas, a cheese plate for two and antipasto. The Bakery, meanwhile, offers a takeout menu with 10-inch cakes priced at $42, 8-inch cakes $32, 6-inch cakes $22 and 4-inch cakes $12. Individual pastries will cost $4.95 to $5.95 and cookies $2.
The restaurant seats 75. It will also open Friday.
``We expect the carry-out side to be strong in this area,'' said Kim Moore, Finale's marketing director and co-founder. ``People are having dinner parties, birthday parties or baby showers at the house and we are there to provide them with a nice broad product line of cakes, pastries, cookies, gourmet whoopie pies and brownies.
Finale can also host private parties and special events.
Added Conforti, ``A lot of customers who have been to one of our locations, particularly the one in Boston's Park Plaza, live in the Natick-Framingham area. We're now giving them a chance to come visit Finale a little more often than just when they get into the city.''
The most popular dish on Finale's menu, according to Moore, is the molten chocolate cake. Baked to order, it's served with espresso gelato and milk chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate sauce. ``You see warm chocolate cake on other menus,'' said Moore, ``but our guests tell us, hands down, we have the best one in the country, in the world, in the universe.''
The restaurant also serves ports, dessert wines, cordials and after-dinner drinks.
Finale will be open from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. Sunday and Monday, until 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
``We hope to be the late place to go for people after the movies, after dinner or after anything,'' said Moore.
As part of its opening, the restaurant is hosting an event called ``Gourmet Cookie Day,'' where it will hand out free, fresh-baked cookies - one per guest - for the entire day on Sept. 20.
Later this month, Finale will hold an invitation-only fund-raiser to support Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Mass./MetroWest and the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston.
Finale will be located near Nordstrom and P.F. Chang's China Bistro.
The Met Bar & Grill represents the second restaurant for the Metropolitan Club of Chestnut Hill, a Rte. 9 steakhouse.
The new eatery will feature a ``gourmet'' burger bar, lounge area, dining area and outdoor terrace and seat about 210 people.
Todd Winer will oversee the new Natick location as well as the original Chestnut Hill restaurant. He is the former executive chef of Todd English's Olives, Bonfire and Kingfish Hall.
The Met Bar & Grill is scheduled to open Friday and will be located near Nordstrom, according to Metropolitan Cub marketing manager Jennifer Tradd.
Calls to the California-based Cheesecake Factory and the Arizona-based P.F. Chang's China Bistro were not returned. These two restaurants are scheduled to open later, according to Kerri Landry, a spokeswoman for the Natick Collection.
She noted there is room for more restaurants at the mall and that the owners of the Natick Collection are ``in talks with other restaurants.''
Boston-based Legal Sea Foods had intended to open an ``oyster bar on steroids'' featuring entrees, light fare and a contemporary lounge.
``Legal Sea Foods really hoped to join the Natick Collection, but liquor regulations in Natick restricted the ability to fully develop our concept for the space and we were unable to move forward,'' said Legal spokeswoman Ida Faber.
The specific regulation - the number of seats at the bar cannot exceed 10 percent of the total number of seats in the restaurant - ``was not in keeping with our vision of the space,'' said Faber.
Added Landry, ``Their presence was never confirmed.''
Legal already operates a restaurant nearby on Rte. 9 in Framingham.
Bob Tremblay of The MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-4409.