Lunch in Lynn: Exploring Central American Flavors at Casa Antigua

Posted: March 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Casa Antigua, Central American, Guatemalan, Lynn | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

We had a couple of opportunities to lunch at Casa Antigua in the past few weeks. A Central American restaurant that opened about six months ago a few doors down from the Blue Ox, Casa Antigua serves up three meals a day with an extensive traditional menu.

On our first visit, we started with the cheese and pork pupusa ($1.75), which was excellent: crispy, cheesy, and wonderful. We moved on to a steak burrito ($7) and the tipico montanero plate ($11.50). The burrito was rich and savory, and the plentiful steak had great flavor. We liked that the whole thing was grilled a bit after having been rolled up, which melted the cheese and added to the texture.

The tipico montenero (Columbian typical dish) consisted of grilled steak, chicharron, rice, beans, fried plantain, and a fried egg. It’s served with corn tortillas and a side salad. Quite a big portion, there was no way it was all going to be eaten in one sitting. After having tasted the carne asada in the burrito, the steak was our least favorite part of the meal. While it had good flavor, it seemed dry and a little chewy. The chicharron, which the menu translates as pork rinds, is fabulous if thick chewy bacon is up your alley. The corn tortillas are fresh and hand-made, but thick and lack the flavor we are used to.

On our second visit, we were joined by Corey Jackson from Downtown Lynn, Emily O’Brien from the Urban Wine Project and Exposed Urban, and Brian Knowles of The Gringo Chapin.

We discussed our choices while munching on the addictive freshly made tortilla chips. Brian was intrigued by the tacos de lengua, as he had recently eaten beef tongue elsewhere. He ordered the tacos combination ($8.50), served with rice, beans, and fresh avocado and enjoyed it so much he was inspired to buy lengua later that week to prepare at home. Never having tried tongue, we tasted it and found the meat surprisingly tender and tasty.

Other plates at the table included churrasco, a traditional dish of steak, rice, and beans ($11) and the plato alla Antigua ($14) which featured grilled chicken and shrimp  with accompanying vegetables. The shrimp were tender and highly flavored ($11). In fact, while we really enjoy the salty seasonings used in quite a bit of Casa Antigua’s food, those looking to reduce their sodium intake should consider themselves forewarned.

The star of the afternoon was Emily’s pescado frito. We had all expected the fried tilapia ($10.50) to be standard fillets, so were delighted when a whole fish was placed on the table. Despite its wonderfully crusty exterior, the interior was tender and flakey.

If you’re looking to move beyond the same old lunch places, add Casa Antigua to your short list. It looks a bit dark from the outside, and the music is quirky (both times we visited, the TV, piped music, and juke box all randomly fought for airspace), but the food is hearty and appealing, the prices are reasonable, and the staff is efficient and cheerful.

Casa Antigua
129 Oxford St, Lynn
(781) 584-8240

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Enzo Makes Northern Italian Even Better With Local Ingredients

Posted: March 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: American, Enzo, Italian, Newburyport, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Chef and owner Mary Reilly

New restaurants are always exciting, and our visit to Enzo Restaurant in Newburyport last week was especially so. We met the owners, Dave and Mary Reilly, shortly after we started North Shore Dish. At the time, Mary was a personal chef and taught specialty cooking classes. She and Dave had dreamed of owning a restaurant for years, and last week it came to fruition.

We were invited to the restaurant’s soft opening for friends and family. The restaurant opens to the public tonight. Obviously, we’re not presenting our normal review here as we did not dine anonymously. But the food at Enzo is spectacular, and although we’re not unbiased, we stand behind the recommendations here.

Light and tender fritto misto

The idea behind Enzo is an interesting one: Northern Italian cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients and a nod to New England traditions. It’s a twist we hadn’t experienced before, and it makes for some great combinations.

We started with an order of house-made potato chips with caramelized onion dip ($5). The chips are large and crisp, perfect for dipping in the savory onion and white bean mixture. We had dip left over, and our waitress offered to bring some bread so we could continue happily dipping. We also sampled the fritto misto, in this case made with Rhode Island squid and tiny Maine shrimp, served with garlic mayo and fried lemon slices ($10). It was exceptionally light for a fried dish, and the squid was more tender than usual.

The Caldwell Smash

To round out our fried-food extravaganza, we nibbled on breaded olives stuffed with herbed cheese ($5) and declared them the perfect bar snack. We also tried two of the house cocktails, both made with spirits from Gloucester’s Ryan and Wood Distillery. The Caldwell Smash combines Folly Cove rum, allspice, dram, apricot brandy, lemon, honey syrup, and mint in a refreshing balance of sweet and tart ($10). The Cane Nebbioso features Beauport vodka, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, and Ramazzotti liqueur ($9).

The emphasis that Mary puts on using top-quality ingredients and making as much as possible in-house came through even more clearly in our entrées. The bread for the pork sausage sandwich was a house-made stecca roll, and the sausage is from New Hampshire’s Kellie Brook Farm. It was accompanied by garlicky greens and house-made chips ($14).

Indian pudding with zabaglione ice cream, bacon brittle & bourbon syrup

Fresh bread showed up again in the chicken under a brick ($21), this time in the form of big cubes of foccacia in an unconventional stuffing. The chicken was moist inside with very crispy skin, and the half-bird serving allowed us to enjoy it for lunch the next day.

We tried two traditional Italian dishes, and both were outstanding. The risotto was cooked in red wine for an unbelievable flavor, and the poached egg on top added a further touch of richness ($16). The filled pasta called pansotti was so good we kept eating long after we should have stopped—the cheese filling was flavorful, the walnut pesto was creamy, and the pasta was almost paper thin ($18).

The New England side of the restaurant’s equation gets a bit more play after dinner. All desserts are made in-house, and they are worth the indulgence. Mary has taken the childhood favorite of many, Indian pudding, to a new level with zabaglione ice cream, bacon brittle, and bourbon syrup ($7).

Chocolate addicts can get their fix with the chocolate tart featuring thick caramel and dark chocolate ganache. But the surprise favorite was the lemon posset, an impossibly silky, very tart pudding served with softly whipped cream ($6) that we hope never goes off the menu.

Enzo Restaurant & Bar
50 Water Street, Tannery Marketplace, Newburyport
(978) 462-1801
www.enzo-restaurant.com

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Wenham’s Grassy Roots Feeds Body and Soul

Posted: March 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Breakfast, Cafe, Grassy Roots, Wenham | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Let’s face it, healthy food is not always delicious. But we’re happy to report that at a lovely new spot in Wenham, we found a lunch you can feel good about. We stopped into Grassy Roots last weekend and were delighted by the airy space and the fresh selections.

We started with one of their juice combinations, which are made on the spot from whole fruits and vegetables. The Get Up and Go is a tasty combination of pineapple, lime, and cucumber ($7) that was made on the less-sweet side at our request. (It would be fabulous with a touch of gin in it, but that’s another story.)

The store carries a great selection of smoothies, sandwiches, salads, and panini, along with fresh baked goods. We tried the Lovely Viola, which featured large chunks of moist poached salmon, arugula, onion, and dill tartar ($10). Definitely worth returning for. We felt the same way about the Barstool, a combination of roasted eggplant, hummus, roasted red peppers and watercress that tasted incredibly fresh and more decadent than most vegetarian sandwiches ($8).

Of course, since we wanted to report on all of the shop’s offerings, we had to try a few of the goodies on display. Honestly, the things we won’t do for you people. The triple chocolate brownie was dense and fudgy, though we’re not sure the small size was worth $1.50; the muffins were moist and flavorful; and the cheddar chive bacon scone was one of the best savory scones we’ve ever had—cheesy and smoky with a wonderful light texture.

If you’re traveling on Route 1A, definitely stop into this high quality breakfast and lunch spot, and if you try the mocha morning smoothie, let us know how it was because we already regret not trying it.

Grassy Roots
152 Main St, Wenham
(978) 468-5200
grassyroots.squarespace.com

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Pączki Day at Coffee Time Bake Shop

Posted: March 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bakery, Coffee Time Bake Shop, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Whether you are of Polish heritage or just want to indulge in deep fried taste treats, Fat Tuesday offers a great excuse to ditch your diet, as it’s the traditional day for Polish Americans to partake of pączki.

For the uninitiated, pączki (pronounced pooch-key or poonch-key) are balls of fried dough, similar to jelly doughnuts but denser and more eggy. They can be served plain with sugar, glazed, or filled with fruit or cream. Traditionally, making pączki just before Lent was a way to use up items like eggs and lard, which would be abstained from during the pre-Easter season.

Salem’s Coffee Time Bake Shop has a reputation for making the rich pastries, and this morning while suffering the hell that is the Bridge Street construction, we spotted their sign reminding us that today is pączki day. Seizing the chance to duck the traffic, we popped in and purchased a few.

The coffee shop produces plain and several stuffed varieties, priced from $1.89 to $3.50 each. The decadent cream- and strawberry-filled option was tasty, and the whipped cream was fresh, but it was overwhelming. A bite and a half was plenty. The raspberry fruit-filled was very good, but our favorite was the unfilled glazed. The glaze provided just enough sweetness, and the flavor of the dough was still discernible.

Coffee Time makes fresh, hand-rolled pączki daily at this time of year and will have them available now through Easter Sunday. The pastries are more of a bread dough than a doughnut, so we advise purchasing them early in the morning. The ones we tried were terrific, but I can imagine they dry out pretty quickly.

They offer a huge array of baked goods, doughnuts, and cookies and has other seasonal baked goods, including king cake for Mardi Gras and Irish soda bread. So if you find yourself waiting to be waved on by one of the endless police details lining the street, a pastry break might just be in order.

Coffee Time Bake Shop
96 Bridge Street, Salem
(978) 744-0995
www.coffeetimebakeshop.net

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Newburyport Announces the North Shore’s Newest Restaurant Week

Posted: March 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Amesbury, Event, Newburyport, Salisbury | Tags: , | No Comments »

The Greater Newburyport area has just announced their very first restaurant week. Starting on Sunday March 20 and running through the 24th, participating restaurants in Newburyport, Amesbury, and Salisbury will be offering fixed-price dinners for $20 or $30 per person.

Participating restaurants include Agave Mexican Bistro, Black Cow Tap & Grill, Capri Seaside Italian Grille &vBar, Ceia Kitchen+Bar, David’s Tavern on Brown Square, Glenn’s Restaurant & Cool Bar, The Grog Restaurant, Loretta, Michael’s Harborside, Mission Oak Grill, Not Your Average Joe’s, Oregano Pizzeria & Ristorante, Plum Island Grille, Ristorante Molise, Seaglass Restaurant at Pavilion, Starboard Galley Restaurant, Stoplight Café, and Ten Center Street

To top it off, local retailers are getting into the act. Bring your receipt of $50 or more from any participating restaurant and you will receive 15% off your entire purchase at all participating retailers.

More information and restaurant menus can be found at www.newburyportchamber.org/restaurantweek.shtml

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First Look: Marblehead’s Hungry Betty’s

Posted: March 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: American, Casual/Pub Food, Hungry Betty's, Marblehead | 2 Comments »

Owner Patty Johnson and Chef Billy Glidden

Could it be that the economy is on its way back to health at the same time winter releases us from its clutches? Actually, we’re not sure, but we were encouraged when we heard about a large new restaurant opening in Marblehead and stopped in to check it out.

Hungry Betty’s is a casual dining restaurant located on the second level of the Village Plaza on Pleasant Street. Owner Patty Johnson, who took a few minutes out of her busy opening weekend to talk with us, has worked in restaurants for more than 20 years. The past 10 of those years she’s provided food and beverage to the members of Marblehead’s Dolphin Yacht Club. The menu she developed for the new restaurant with Chef Billy Glidden is highly accessible, with casual comfort food at reasonable prices.

One of Johnson’s main goals is to provide a place for families to come on a regular basis—whenever parents don’t feel like cooking. In addition to entrees like burgers, haddock, meatloaf, stir fries, and chicken with fig/onion sauce ($9 to $17), there is a $5.25 kids menu that includes grilled chicken, pizza, chicken fingers, and a cheese quesadilla. All of the food is made from scratch on site.

There’s an 18-table dining room, a bar that seats 16, and a lounge area with another 15 tables. The décor is fresh and soothing, with neutral tones, black furniture, and plenty of light. Johnson noted that she wanted to stay away from the typical nautical theme.

Although many of the restaurant’s crew are people Johnson knows from the Dolphin and other previous jobs, she held back a bit on the opening menu. There are plenty of choices, but Johnson said she has more offerings planned once the kitchen and front-of-house staff gets its sea legs, so to speak. For example, the salmon salad entree comes in a large chilled bowl and is a popular choice; Johnson plans to add several variations.

Johnson, who has lived in Marblehead since 1989 and whose nickname was the inspiration for the restaurant name, believes the time is right for this type of establishment and for the Village Plaza to be revived as a destination for Marbleheaders. We applaud her seemingly boundless energy and once she and her crew have settle in, we’ll return to try the food—we’ve got our eye on the steak bomb egg rolls.

Hungry Betty’s
161 Pleasant St, Marblehead
(781) 990-3165
www.hungrybettys.com

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Flavor and Passion Come Through at Swampscott’s G Bar

Posted: March 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: American, G Bar and Kitchen, Mediterranean, Seafood, Swampscott | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

Imagine a friend asks you to his house for dinner, and that friend happens to be a chef who whips up some amazing dishes with perfect flavor balance. With its intimate dining room, open kitchen, and terrific food, that was pretty close to our experience at G Bar and Kitchen in Swampscott last week.

We were warmly greeted when we walked in and seated at a cushy banquet. The room holds only about 15 tables, with bar seats for about 10 more, and the décor was clearly chosen for sound baffling and comfort as much as style. We ordered Stella Artois ($5.50) and a glass of pinot gris ($10) and happily snacked on fresh focaccia and delicious green olive spread.

For starters, we shared an order of spring rolls ($8) and a caesar salad (which the waitress split for us without being asked). The rolls were crispy without a hint of grease, and the flavor was great: a combination of cool mint, spicy ginger and chili, and baby bok choy. The salad was a huge hit, crisp romaine and arugula with lots of focaccia croutons and a dressing that managed to be light, creamy, and pungent all at once ($7).

We went for one of the entrée specials that night ($28). The dayboat seafood was swordfish, and it did taste amazingly fresh. It had a slight crust on the outside and a tender inside and was seasoned perfectly. It was accompanied by tender asparagus and two eggplant rollatini filled with goat cheese that would make a great entrée themselves.

The beef short ribs were equally good in their uber-comfort-food way, especially accompanied by savory parmesan-romano risotto ($25).

We were a bit too full for dessert, but we read they are made onsite, so that gives us a perfect excuse to return to try more of Chef Brackman’s thoughtful cuisine and warm hospitality.

G Bar and Kitchen
256 Humphrey St, Swampscott
(781) 596-2228
www.grestaurant.com

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