Summer Lovin’: Outdoor Dining Season Begins

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Cafe, Casual/Pub Food, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

outdoor

The weather may not be cooperating just yet, but we’ve pulled out our tank tops and beach cover-ups and officially declared the start of the no-socks season.

To that end, we’ve got a round-up of the best al fresco dining we’ve found on the North Shore, followed by a list of several more we’re hoping to get to before Labor Day.

We’ve just begun compiling this list, so feel free to vote for your favorites from below or add any we might have overlooked. Please note that we’ve purposely left out clam shacks and beach-food places like Lime Rickey’s in Marblehead (we’ll have more coverage of lobster rolls, fried clams, and ice cream as the temperature rises) and a few places that have outdoor seating but may not meet our criteria for good food.

The Barnacle, Marblehead
It’s lunchtime on a sunny day, you’re sipping a bloody mary on the deck of the Barnacle and waiting for your fried clams—you’ve officially hit the seaside dining jackpot. The food at this unassuming pub is good, not great (stick with the chowder, the fried seafood, and the bloodys), but you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer view than Marblehead harbor in the summer, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.

Jack-Tar, Marblehead
The patio outside one of our favorite pubs is small but charming, and the food is both comforting and reasonably priced. We’re fond of the generous drinks, the $3 to $5 tapas, and the pizza with pancetta and blue cheese (a selection of pizzas is $5 from 5:00 to 7:00 every night).

The Landing at 7 Central, Manchester
The pubby front rooms at the Landing are great for cozying up in cold weather, but make your way all the way to the back, and you’ll be seated on the comfortable second-story porch. The menu is large and varied, featuring everything from burgers and caesar salad with salmon or steak tips to pepper encrusted duck. We recommend the lobster omelet for brunch.

The Landing, Marblehead
This Marblehead institution is right in the thick of the summer action at the town landing on Front Street. Sitting out on the deck overlooking the harbor you’re likely to see anything from lobster boats unloading their catch to campers returning on the ferry from Children’s Island. As you’d expect the menu offers many summer seafood favorites; ours are the lobster roll and the baked scrod.

Rockafellas, Salem
The place to see and be seen in Salem in the summer, Rockafellas’ entrees are reasonable (honey glazed salmon is $16, bourbon turkey tips are $15), and there are plenty of tapas for those just needing a little something with their cocktails, including quesadillas and catfish fingers. If the wait at Rockafellas is long, there are several options for outdoor dining nearby, including Gulu Gulu Café, Fresh Taste of Asia (best dumplings on the North Shore), and the Lobster Shanty.

The Farm, Essex
Whether you are heading back from the beach hungry or just looking to savor a cold brew on a summer night, a brand new patio with live music and weekly specials like their 35-cent wing night make this new addition to the Essex restaurant scene fun central.

Grapevine, Salem
Sumptuous food is the attraction at this Italian gem, starting with tuna carpaccio over crispy flatbread and proceeding to rigatoni with braised veal or perhaps oven roasted swordfish with lemon-caper sauce. With only eight tables in the outside garden, the atmosphere is romantic and the service is top-notch.

Can’t Wait to Try:

The Lobster Pool, Rockport
This seems to the favorite among foodies for casual outside dining in Rockport. The straightforward menu of seafood (and homemade pie) implies a no-fuss-no-muss attitude, and we’re looking forward to trying the lobster roll this summer.

My Place By the Sea, Rockport
We’ve been hearing good things about the food at this upscale restaurant for years. From the pictures we’ve seen of the outside deck, this is the place to be on a summer night with your sweetheart.

Madfish Grille, Gloucester
Rocky Neck is one of those places that always makes us feel happy, and the Madfish Grille looks like just what we’re in the mood for when eating outside in the summer. Margarita shrimp, crab BLT, panzanella salad, grilled lamb, scampi pizza—need we say more? (Ed. Our review 9/3/09)

Plum Island Grille, Newbury
Creative cuisine and a fabulous sunset: sign us up. This island retreat is at the top of our list to try—if anyone has been recently, please leave your menu recommendations in the comments. (Ed. Our review 11/13/09)

Michael’s Harborside, Newburyport
The Newburyport waterfront is always hopping in the summer, and Michael’s is right in the thick of things. The menu says their lobster roll is famous, we hear good things about their burgers, and the balsamic brown sugar short ribs sound intriguing.

Danversport Grille and Bistro, Danvers
Quite a few North Shore residents have pointed us toward this restaurant, part of the Danversport Yacht Club but open to the public. The menu tends to classic dishes like chicken oscar and prime rib, and the view overlooking the inlet’s docked boats looks spectacular.

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Exploring Cambodian Flavors at Floating Rock

Posted: May 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Asian, Floating Rock, Revere | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

float1Edited: May 1, 2010

Floating Rock in Revere has closed, and opened at a new location at 485 Mass Ave in Cambridge. Their website isn’t up at this time, but you can find them on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cambridge-MA/The-Floating-Rock-Restaurant/137014088221

The next time you’re up for a little food adventure, we’ve got the perfect place. On the recommendation of folks from the Boston Chowhound board, we recently had lunch at Floating Rock in Revere, which serves Cambodian food. From the outside, it looks like a hole in the wall, but the interior is nicer than that, the service is friendly, and the food is both delicious and a bit exotic.

We started with tiger’s tears, a spicy beef salad that was raved about on Chow, and we can see why. Marinated thin slices of beef, sliced red and green bell peppers, onion, basil, red pepper flakes, and lime juice—a party in your mouth. There were crunchy bits we couldn’t identify, but our server told us they were ground up roasted rice. We also tried the squid salad: tender chunks, not quite as spicy, a wonderful citrus punch, and also delicious.

For main courses, we had a Cambodian pad thai, white rice, and a chicken stir fry. The latter was listed only as Spicy Chicken on the menu, but our waitress told us it was a curry stir fry and thought it was a good choice. She was right. The right amount of heat, wonderful curry flavor, tender meat, and crisp-tender bell peppers. My favorite dish of the visit.

squidsalad1She also recommended the Cambodian pad thai, which is nothing like the traditional but has interesting flavors. The noodles were pasta rather than rice, and they were served on top of bean sprouts, surrounded by hard-boiled egg wedges, and topped with dried bonito flakes (looks like sawdust, tastes like salty shrimp). The sauce was salty and sweet at the same time, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

For those who like to cook Asian dishes at home, there is an Asian market across the street (and another next door that was closed the day we were there) with everything from 15 types of rice noodles and shrimp paste to fresh produce and strange-sounding Thai candy.

Floating Rock is a few blocks from the Revere Beach stop on the Blue Line. If you commute to Boston on 1A, when you’re at the Wonderland rotary, you’re less than five minutes away. Their closing time reportedly varies though, so if you’re looking to take home dinner make sure to call ahead. If you go or have already been, please recommend your favorite dishes in the comments—we definitely plan to return.

Floating Rock
144 Shirley Avenue, Revere
(781) 286-2554

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Salem’s Lobster Shanty Is More Than Meets the Eye

Posted: May 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Lobster Shanty, Salem, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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After running some early evening errands in Salem on Friday, we passed the Lobster Shanty and decided to stop for a bite. A local dive bar lauded by Yelp-ers as the best place around to get drunk with your dog, the Shanty advertises “warm beer, lousy food, surly waitresses, rude bartenders and cranky cooks.” How could we not investigate?

The place is one of the tiny buildings in Artist’s Row, so the actual bar is relatively small, but what draws locals on summer nights is the good-sized patio area with free live music on weekends. We opted to sit outside and perused the very reasonable drinks menu, choosing a Belfast Bay Lobster Ale ($4.25) and a specialty cocktail, The Perfect Storm ($7.50), that turned out to be a tasty rum punch with a nice kick.

Along with the requisite boiled lobster and fried seafood offerings, the menu provides a wide range of choices, including grilled pizzas ($7-$9), gourmet burgers ($7-$10), and entrees ($13-$20) We got a chance to chat with executive chef Diane Wolf, who co-owns the Shanty with her husband, Lee. When they bought the place two years ago from the previous owner, she told us the menu was very limited, and she couldn’t resist having a little fun with it.

So while it boasts about limp salads and the tepid sodas, The Shanty’s menu actually reflects creativity and quality not found in your standard pub food; a burger dredged in sesame seeds and cracked black pepper and topped with gorgonzola, grass-fed Guinness-soaked steak tips, and side dishes like wilted spinach and bacon and grilled seasonal veggies. All of the seafood is bought from local fishermen, and Wolf said they make their own mozzarella.

We ordered the calamari ($10) to start, the lobster roll ($17) with a side of the spinach and bacon, and a fishwich ($7) with sweet potato fries and an extra side of pickled beets. The teenaged member of our party ordered the chicken tenders and fries basket.

The calamari was terrific, lightly breaded and very tender. Our only disappointment was that it wasn’t a larger portion—we inhaled it in short order. The chicken basket was pub standard, but the fries were salted with what looked like sea salt, a nice touch.

fishfriesThe lobster roll was what a lobster roll should be: chock full of meat, not overly dressed or seasoned, served on a toasted hot dog bun (we’re sticklers on that point). The piece of fish in the sandwich was good-sized, lightly breaded, and crisp. Our server, a smiling young man who answered to the name of Betty (!?), forgot the tartar sauce but was highly apologetic about it. The spinach and bacon was lovely, and the sweet potato fries were divine. Delicious and crispy with large flakes of salt, we would return on their merit alone.

In truth, there are many reasons to return to The Shanty. Yes, it’s a small unassuming place with some surly looking characters haunting the kitchen, but we found the staff genial, the food tasty, and the prices excellent. (Wolf told us that with an eye to the current economy, they’re staying with last year’s prices). With outdoor seating, music on weekends, inexpensive drinks and snacks as well as the more gourmet options, we’re thinking it’s a great place to chill on a summer night. Whether or not you bring your dog is up to you.

The Lobster Shanty
25 Front St. (At Artist’s Row) Salem
(978) 754-5449
http://lobstershantysalem.com

Lobster Shanty on Urbanspoon

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Corks and Forks and the Best Cheese Ever

Posted: May 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Marblehead, Marketplace | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

corks2Saturday we took some time to check out Shubie’s First Annual Corks and Forks event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. We got there just before 2 p.m., and the place was packed. There were seven distributor tables in a relatively small space, with each pouring six to eight wines and so many people milling around it was almost sensory overload.

While we are far from being true oenophiles, we love wine and really enjoy learning about and tasting new vintages. Most of the wines were in the $11 to $25 range, and discounts were offered when purchasing six or more bottles. A few of the whites we liked were the Siblings Sauvignon Blanc, which was full of super sassy citrus; the Domain de Huards Cheverny, which was grassy and crisp; and the Zenato Pino Grigio, which was light and summery.

Reds we enjoyed included the Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, which was rich and fruity; the Casa Castillio Monastrell, which was savory and a bit peppery; and the Jiminez Landi Tinto, which was strong and direct but quite beguiling. Andrew Crookes, who poured the Jimenez and other Eric Solomon Selections, was by far the most engaging of the reps. Young, chatty, and enthusiastic, he knew his stuff and seemed to genuinely love his job.

cheeseThere were also several tables of cheese vendors set up, various chips and dips and sweets set out throughout the store, and servers circulating with appetizer sized tastes from Chef Lynn Aronson’s kitchen.

Our favorite cheeses were the Springbrook Farm Tarentaise, a Vermont Alpine cheese similar to a gruyere; the Vermont Butter and Cheese Coupole, another of their “age in your fridge” offerings; and several selections from Jasper Hill Farms.

While their Constant Bliss and Bayley Hazen Blue were both excellent, the knock-your-socks off star of the day was the Jasper Hill Farms Winnemere, which is only produced November to April. This was simply the most amazing cheese I have tasted. It is an aromatic raw milk cheese that has had its rind washed in lambic beer and wrapped in a strip of spruce. Everything from the cow’s milk to the wild yeast for the lambic and the spruce bark is harvested from Jasper Hill’s Vermont farmland. The result is complex: a smooth and creamy yet bright tangy flavor with an earthy, almost woody, note that is truly addictive. We brought some home, and it is only through sheer force of will we haven’t inhaled it all and licked the package clean. Yet.

Another discovery of note was the Fra’Mani handcrafted salumi which was tasty in the extreme. We tried the salametto, the soppressata, and a rosemary ham, all of which had us snitching extra samples.

While the event really only offered bargain prices if you were interested in buying larger quantities, Corks and Forks was  a terrific opportunity to widen our taste horizons and take home a few new favorites. Certainly worth checking out the next time Shubie’s hosts it.

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Bella Verona: A True Trattoria

Posted: May 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bella Verona, Italian, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

interior3If we were going to open an Italian restaurant, we’d want it to be cozy and softly lit, have great food at reasonable prices, and be staffed by handsome waiters with appealing accents. Fortunately for us (and our credit scores), this restaurant already exists, tucked away on a side street in Salem near the Hawthorne Hotel.

We’ve been fans of Bella Verona for quite a while, and our meal there Sunday night bolstered our view that the food and the atmosphere at this tiny trattoria are as genuine as it gets.

After reciting the night’s specials to us and leaving a hand-written blackboard as a reminder, our waiter left to secure the carafe of house chianti we ordered ($25). Several of the selections sounded interesting, and we ended up with two starters and two entrees from the board.

The baked eggplant and baked artichokes (both $10) were a huge hit—moist, tender, and flavorful. We did wish for a slightly larger serving of the eggplant for the price, though. The veal saltimbocca special was to-die-for delicious—tender cutlets in a salty, savory sauce ($20). The chicken almalfi ($18) was also full of flavor, this time lemon, accompanied by mushrooms and olives.

The pasta dishes we ordered from the main menu were expertly prepared and very reasonable: spaghetti bolognese ($12) had a generous portion of meat sauce, and the tagliatelle alla puttanesca ($13) was a spicy mix of capers, olives, and anchovies.

The atmosphere definitely put us in a North End mood because we felt the need for some Italian pastries before we left. We sampled the tiramisu ($5.50), crème caramel ($4.50), and cannoli ($5.50). The cannoli shells were crisp, but the ricotta cream lacked richness, so the tiramisu was the clear winner. Cake drenched in espresso and topped with sumptuous cream—we couldn’t have designed a better ending.

exterior

Bella Verona
107 Essex St, Salem
(978) 825-9911
www.bellaverona.com

Bella Verona on Urbanspoon

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