Weekend Picks, January 28–30

Posted: January 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Marblehead, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

There are three great North Shore food events this weekend, one each evening. First up is Drink for the Cure at Pamplemousse in Salem tonight. Starting at 7:00, there will be great wine, craft beer, and appetizers from local restaurants, all to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for blood cancers. There’s a $25 suggested donation at the door, and there will be raffle tickets for a 50/50 drawing, Bruins tickets, great outdoor gear, and gift certificates to local shops.

On Saturday night starting at 6:30, Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead hosts its annual Taste of the North Shore ($60). The event includes an all-you-can-eat buffet with specialties from North Shore restaurants and caterers, a silent auction, and a live auction. For more information, call (781) 631-9300 or e-mail taste@emanu-el.org.

On Sunday afternoon at 4:00, Mary Ann Esposito of Ciao Italia is visiting 62 Restaurant &Wine Bar. For $75, attendees will enjoy a cooking demonstration by Chef Antonio Bettencourt and Ms. Esposito, a multi-course dinner, and a signed copy of her latest book Ciao Italia: Five-Ingredient Favorites. Call (978) 744-0062 for a reservation.

And here are the weekend picks from our pals in the North Shore Bloggers Consortium:

Let’s start with the newest addition to the crew, Kimmy Bingham of the food blog Lighter and Local.

The wonderful Jane Ward tells us what’s up in Newburyport and Amesbury in Food and Fiction.

Choices from all over New England from The Two Palaverers.

Media giant Seth gives up the best of Lynn at Lynn Happens.

Joey’s got all that’s going on in Gloucester over at Good Morning Gloucester.

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Isaak’s of Salem Teams up with Taza to Create a Sweet Deal for Valentine’s Day

Posted: January 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Event, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

If you’re not familiar with Isaak’s of Salem, don’t worry. Ian Bennett and his wife Brittany started up the micro-winery in October of ’09 and just offered their first bottles for sale this past December.

A tiny operation currently housed Beverly, Isaak’s uses honey from Merrimack Valley Apiaries in Billerica to ferment and create honey wines. (Bennett tells us he prefers the term honey wine over mead, as people are either unfamiliar with mead or think of the beverage as heavy and sweet.)

Isaak’s has several honey wines currently available through local purveyors. The Dry Honey Wine ($22) is a traditional dry mead with no extra honey added. It’s light, refreshing, and has a wonderful floral bouquet that immediately brings to mind the field of flowers the bees were pollinating. The surprise is that it’s not particularly sweet. It’s crisp and light like a pinot grigio and would pair well with most foods.

The Sweet Tooth Honey Wine ($22) has a bit of honey added after fermentation and is steeped with bourbon vanilla beans. Again, this was drier than anticipated; it’s a bit sweeter than a Riesling but not cloying, with the vanilla mellowing the honey.

The newest offering from the winery has been released just in time for Valentine’s day; Popp Road Raspberry ($27), named after the farm in Dresden, Maine that provided the raspberries to be steeped in the honey wine for three weeks. The result is a cheeky, fun, sweet/tart, blush-colored wine that pairs well with dark chocolate.

And lucky for all of us, trying that pairing will be easy. Isaak’s has teamed up with Taza, the local craft chocolate maker that has created so much buzz in the past year with its organic stone-ground chocolate. From now until February 14, when you buy a bottle of Popp Road Raspberry, you’ll receive a free bar of Taza’s 70% dark chocolate. Ian recently toured the Taza facility and shares this video:

We think this deal a great way to impress your date come Valentines day. You’ll be savoring lush wine and chocolate and supporting a small local business to boot.

If you’re curious about Popp Road Raspberry, Ian will be pouring samples at the Salem’s So Sweet 9th Annual Chocolate & Wine Tasting on February 4. You can also grab a taste at Salem Wine Imports on February 11 from 5:00 to 7:00.

A full listing of who carries Isaak’s of Salem is on their website, and below you’ll find local vendors currently featuring the wine and chocolate deal.

Salem Wine Imports, Salem
Pamplemousse, Salem
Wine and Beer at The Andovers, North Andover MA
Waterfront Wine and Spirits, Danvers

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Hits and Misses at Salem’s Green Land Café

Posted: January 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Green Land Cafe, Salem | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

There are a lot of things that appeal to us about Green Land Café in Salem, including the warm décor with exposed brick and old hardwood floors, the creative menu, and the emphasis on local ingredients. We had had lunch there during the summer and really enjoyed the meal, so expectations were high during our visit last weekend. Unfortunately only some of the food lived up to those expectations.

Our meal started off well. We were pleased to see an Oregon Pinot Gris on the wine list ($8), and it was delicious. The cocktail list is extensive and includes a slew of classics like The Sazerac and the Singapore Sling along with signature drinks like the Fig-a-Rita and the Harvest Moon (featuring pear vodka, fig syrup, and fresh orange).

We sampled the Ode to New York ($10), a twist on the Manhattan made with cynar bitters, and a Dirty Sexy Dirty with maytag-stuffed olives ($12). Both were well made and good sized. Alongside was outstanding artisan bread paired with delicious honey butter. Our starter was also very good: crispy flatbread topped with mushrooms, Vermont goat cheese, and truffle honey ($12). We didn’t get much of a sweet note, but the crust was great and the mushrooms were tasty.

All of the entrees are priced reasonably, and there’s a good selection, including a chef’s cut of beef from Maine’s Pineland Farms and several vegetarian options. But some of the portions were small, and several of the dishes lacked flavor. The New England scallops were fresh and tender, but the accompanying butternut squash risotto was completely bland ($21). The roasted organic chicken came with mashed potatoes, asparagus, and basil cream ($19). The skin was tasty and crispy, but the meat was a bit dry.

We likewise were disappointed by the Pineland New York sirloin ($23), which was not tender and had an unpleasant amount of gristle. The roasted fennel and parsnip fettuccini was the best of the evening, with an earthy wild-mushroom sauce perfectly balanced by tangy pecorino romano ($16).

The desserts, although good sized, were once again flat. We tried the flourless chocolate cake and the chocolate bread pudding, both $6.

Since the bar was hopping as we left, and we’ve heard good things about the tapas menu, we hope the Green Land kitchen can bring its dinner offerings up to the level of the drinks and starters.

Green Land Café
87 Washington Street, Salem
(978) 744-7766
www.thegreenlandcafe.com

Green Land Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Eyes on the Pies at the Agawam Diner

Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Agawam Diner, American, Diner, Rowley | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

As regular readers know, we often interact with friends of the Dish on Facebook and Twitter. Just before the holidays, one of our Twitter pals, Liz Polay-Wettengel  (@LizPW) and her husband Dave (@Kromedome), tweeted us in search of the best pie on the North Shore.

Terrific bakeries abound in the area, but most are known for cakes or pastries. Pie is more esoteric, and we are the types that bake our own, so we were stymied. We put the question to the public, and while several suggestions came back via both Facebook and Twitter, the destination most mentioned was the Agawam Diner.

Curiosity piqued, we decided this required an investigatory road trip, and asked Liz and Dave if they’d like to join us. Finally able to synchronize our schedules last week, we made the trip up Route 1.

The Agawam has been a family business since they opened in 1940 and has been in its current building since 1954. It’s a terrific vintage dining car with lots of chrome and vinyl, right up our alley.

The staff was pleasant and welcoming and had no problem with us staking out a couple of booths till the other half of our party arrived. We sipped coffee and perused the menu and were soon joined by Liz and Dave and their adorable and amazingly polite four-year- old son.

We started off with lunch, which was hearty and respectable, but relatively standard diner fare. The coffee was decent, strong enough to stand up to the creamer and good accompaniment for the pie.

Ah, the pie. Where to start? The selection was staggering. At each end of the diner counter was a large glass case full of pies, and we were invited by our waitress to peruse them after she rattled off a seemingly endless list of varieties. What to choose: banana cream, chocolate cream, lemon meringue, cocoanut cream, custard, apple, blueberry, squash, or something else?

The most intriguing was the angel pie, which turned out to be vanilla custard in a dark chocolate cake baked into a pie shell and topped with whipped cream. Yes, you heard it right; pudding in cake in pie. Brilliant concept, and one of our favorites.

We ended up ordering various slices ($3.95 each) and sharing all around, so we got to check out an array of tastes. The cream pies were beautiful but so overloaded with whipped cream that we were full after just a few bites. The banana cream was quite good, edging out the coconut, and the chocolate was surprisingly rich.

The custard pie was eggy and tasty, and the lemon meringue was served warm from the oven. So warm, in fact, that the waitress was upset it had fallen apart on the plate. She shouldn’t have worried because the warm gooey topping was reminiscent of toasted marshmallow and a perfect foil for the lemon. The blueberry pie didn’t let us down either, sweet and tart with a flaky crust.

What you have at the Agawam is a near-perfect diner experience. No, these are not gourmet pies. Some of the crusts are better than others, and I’m sure not every ingredient is made from scratch. But they are tasty and hand-made on site, rotated out to the case piping hot and generously served up on heavy china with a mug of coffee by friendly staff.

And isn’t that what you’re looking for when you pull off the road at a gleaming chrome diner and sit down at that long formica counter?

Thanks to Liz and Dave for inspiring this outing and a reminder to all pie lovers out there; this sunday January 23rd is National Pie Day.

Agawam Diner
Route 1 & 133 Rowley
(978) 948-7780

Agawam Diner on Urbanspoon

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Alchemy Tasting Menu Takes North Shore Dining to New Heights

Posted: January 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Alchemy Bistro, Bistro, Event, Gloucester | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Wild boar chopstick rolls. Tatsoi with goat cheese emulsion. Black tea smoked Long Island duck with winter squash gratinette. Not the usual suspects, that’s for sure. These were just a few of the items on an over-the-top tasting menu last week at Alchemy Bistro in Gloucester.

We were invited to the event along with other North Shore food bloggers, and to say that Chef Jeff Cala (shown above, giving diners a tour of the board) and his team went all out would be an understatement. The appetizer, cheese, and entreé courses were served family style on huge boards custom made for the restaurant by Essex’s Walker Creek. It was a study in food still life, incredible taste combinations, and new experiences.

There were wine and beer pairings, too, including one from the restaurant’s exclusive cellar: Corte Rugalin Monte Danieli Amarone Classico from Italy with the pasta course. The chef’s outstanding black pepper pappardelle carbonara was brought to new levels by the wine.

The papardelle was voted the favorite of the evening, but the wild boar, black bass, and smoked duck were all outstanding, and the warm chocolate souffle paired with Bourbon County Stout from Goose Island Brewing Co. made a lush, satisfying ending to the meal.

But the best news is not how good the food was. It’s that the dinner we attended was a preview of a regular series being planned by Cala and Mark McDonough, who own numerous North Shore restaurants, including Alchemy, 15 Walnut, and Latitude 43.

McDonough is passionate about helping to strengthen bonds between food enthusiasts on the North Shore and spreading the word about what a unique food community we have.

It was an epic meal, and while the dinner series being offered to the public will be a slightly toned down version, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The dates and prices for these upcoming events are not set, but we’ll let you know as soon as they are, as they’ll initially be limited to 20 people. We’re told that the prix fixe dinners will likely be held once a month and will include both a standard and a cellar wine pairing option.

We were lucky to have a terrific group of people attending, so the conversation and company were the perfect compliment to the meal. You can read additional accounts on the following blogs:

Montmartre or Gloucester? by Heather Atwood of Food for Thought

North Shore Bloggers Dinner at Alchemy by Kimmy Bingham of Lighter and Local

You’re Going the Wrong Way! by Brian Knowles of The Gringo Chapin

Alchemy Bistro
3 Duncan Street, Gloucester
(978) 281-3997
www.alchemybistro.com

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An Affordable Indulgence: Brunch at Nathaniel’s

Posted: January 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, brunch, Nathaniel's at the Hawthorne Hotel, Salem | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Looking to extend the holidays a bit further, we set out for the Hawthorne Hotel last Sunday. Nathaniel’s, the hotel’s main restaurant, features a Sunday Jazz Brunch and recently changed from a buffet to a prix fixe menu, giving us the perfect excuse for a last indulgent meal of the season.

And that it was, from the service to the setting to the food. For $16.95, we were each able to choose from a large selection of salads, entrees, and sweets. For salads, we sampled the arugula with smoked salmon with ricotta salata (delicious), the spinach with bacon and hard-boiled egg (equally good), and the caesar (good but slightly overdressed).

The entrees run the gamut from sweet to eggy to more-lunch-than-brunch. We were very happy with the flavorful harvest pasta (also available as a vegan dish), the meatloaf with mashed potatoes, and the harvest frittata, which was cooked perfectly and topped with an abundance of asparagus, spinach, onions, and Vermont goat cheese.

The runaway hit was the brioche french toast, which was just crusty enough and topped with a strawberry-rhubarb compote so delicious we didn’t even pick up the maple syrup pitcher. And yes, there might have been some whipped cream involved.

To guild the lily, we sampled the buche de noel, a raspberry/cassis mousse, and an almond pear torte. All were great quality, with the torte being the favorite of the bunch. Note that coffee ($2.25) is not included in the prix fixe.

The dining room is very well appointed, with enough sound absorption to keep the noise level of even a full room in check. We commend the service, which met our every need but never rushed our leisurely meal. The jazz duo was also enjoyable, with classics given a welcome twist.

If you plan to go, reservations are highly recommended, but feel free to bring children, who can choose from their own three-course menu for $9.95. For even more selection, kids or adults can choose from a substantial à la carte menu. Also à la carte are cocktails  ($7.75) like Bloody Marys and Greyhounds made from Gloucester’s Ryan & Wood vodka, gin, and rum or the interesting-sounding lemonsecco, featuring prosecco mixed with limoncello liqueur.

Nathaniel’s Restaurant at the Hawthorne Hotel
18 Washington Square, Salem
(978) 825-4311
www.hawthornehotel.com/dining/index.htm

Nathaniel's on Urbanspoon

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Beat the Winter Blues With Local Food Events

Posted: January 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: 62 Restaurant & Winebar, Blue Ox, Event, Finz, Lynn, Marblehead, Salem, Swampscott | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The holidays are over and that means it’s time for food events to kick into high gear here on the North Shore. Our heads are swimming just looking what’s going on in January and February. And that’s without considering Valentine’s Day specials, which we’ll cover separately.

On Tuesday January 18 at 7:00, Chef Matt O’Neil will be doing a cooking demo and three-course tasting at The Blue Ox in Lynn ($39). There will be a mache salad with braised beets, walnuts, parmesan, blood oranges, and blood orange vinaigrette followed by butter-poached lobster and porcini/saffron quinoa. For dessert, a honey cake with chocolate, raspberry puree, and whipped cream. We’re salivating already. Call (781) 780-5722 to reserve a space.

The next Tuesday, January 25, Finz in Salem is putting on a vodka dinner hosted by Pinnacle Vodka at 6:30 ($59). It begins with oysters accompanied by a mango vodka-blood orange puree cocktail. Next is an Asian scallop ceviche with a lychee martini, mojito grilled swordfish with a berry vodka mojito, and espresso rubbed tenderloin with a caliente café martini. Dessert is a Pinnacle and strawberry sorbet with strawberry Pop Rocks. Sounds like a taxi may be in order after this one.

Vodka is also the star of Red Rock’s Tuesday Tasting on the 25th at 7:00 ($25 including tax and gratuity). Russian Standard Original, Platinum and Imperial vodkas will be featured in six cocktails. Russian-influenced appetizers like smoked trout, oysters, salmon roe caviar, dark pastrami, gravlox, pickled beets, and herring will accompany the drinks. Break out your (faux) fur hat and head on over to Swampscott.

On Saturday January 29 at 6:30, Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead hosts its annual Taste of the North Shore ($60). The event includes an all-you-can-eat buffet with specialties from North Shore restaurants and caterers, a silent auction, and a live auction. For more information, call (781) 631-9300 or e-mail taste@emanu-el.org.

Mary Ann Esposito of Ciao Italia visits 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar in Salem on Sunday January 30 at 6:30. For $75, attendees will enjoy a cooking demonstration by Chef Antonio Bettencourt and Ms. Esposito, a multi-course dinner, and a signed copy of her latest book Ciao Italia: Five-Ingredient Favorites. Call (978) 744-0062 for a reservation. Sounds like a true Italian extravaganza.

Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival begins on Friday February 4th with a chocolate and wine tasting at Hamilton Hall from 6:30 to 8:30 ($25). Tickets are on sale at the Salem Chamber of Commerce office, 265 Essex Street Mon-Fri from 9:00 to 5:00 and will be on sale the night of the event based on availability (the event sold out last year). Sugar rush, here we come.

On Tuesday February 8 Red Rock’s Tuesday Tastings is USA Craft Beers ($25 including tax and gratuity. At 7:00, Local beer master Kyle Sartanowicz will offer expert commentary while attendees taste six outstanding made-in-the-USA beers with foods to match.

Last but not least, on Thursday February 10 at 6:00, Caffe Graziani in Salem is hosting an international wine  dinner featuring a five-course meal and an abundance of French, Italian, and Argentinean wines. The full menu is posted here. The cost is $75, and space is limited. Call (978) 741-4282 for information and reservations.

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More Than Just Lobsters on Marblehead’s Little Harbor

Posted: January 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Marblehead, Marblehead Lobster Company, Seafood | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

We’ve been taking some time off over the holidays, so you haven’t heard much from us here at the Dish. The new year is upon us and we are back in action, hoping everyone enjoyed their holidays, vacations, families, and friends. We certainly did!

Due to a crazy few weeks, we decided to stay in on New Year’s Eve to relax and re-charge. While we love all the deals and hoopla offered by area venues, home-cooked food, cheap booze, and sleep are also things we’re quite fond of.

To usher in 2011, we decided to throw a couple of lobsters in the pot, and we clearly weren’t the only ones with that idea. Things were hopping when we arrived at Marblehead Lobster Co. A small, family-owned place that’s been around for years, Marblehead Lobster sits right on Little Harbor, affording terrific views as you park. (If you’re not familiar with the area, be careful not to overshoot it. The drive is at the curve in the road where Orne Street leads into Beacon Street, and it’s easy to miss that right turn.)

In fact, you can see the view here in a video by Katy Elliott, who must have arrived there minutes after we left. Sorry we missed her!

We picked up a couple of healthy looking medium-sized crustaceans at $8 per pound (chickens were $6/lb and selects $10/lb), and instead of heading out the door, lingered to ogle the other food stuffs available in the tiny shop. We had no idea they offered prepared foods, and on special that day were lobster quiche and a lobster bisque that was described as being “a lighter version, but still containing all of the good stuff.” The gentleman in front of us in line had called to order a couple of baked stuffed lobsters. The 1½ lb lobsters were stuffed and ready to be heated, a bargain at $10 each.

Of course, we ended up leaving with more than we came in for. The man of the house opted for some gorgeous Wellfleet oysters (.95 ea.), which they kindly shucked for a mere additional dollar and offered to us in a tray full of ice. When asked about the plastic container, we were told, “Just bring it back when you’re done.”

We also brought home some seafood-stuffed mushrooms to pop in the oven. Nine white mushroom caps generously topped with a stuffing containing crab, shrimp, and scallops as well as plenty of buttery crumbs were a deal for just under $5. And man, were they tasty–we plan to serve them the next time we have dinner guests.

Although we’ve been buying lobsters at this spot for years, we’d never really taken the time to see what else was available or to chat with the staff. Having discovered their tasty non-lobster offerings and been reminded of the great service, we’ll make it a point to return to Marblehead Lobster more often.

Marblehead Lobster Co.
Beacon & Orne Streets, Marblehead
(781) 631-0787

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