Updating a Wenham Classic

Posted: June 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bakery, Breakfast, Tea, The Exchange at Wenham Tea House, Wenham | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

As we suspect is the case with many of you, we hadn’t been to the Wenham Tea House in years and years. While we weren’t paying attention, manager Emma Roberts completely revamped the place, so when they recently became a Dish sponsor, we drove over to experience The Exchange at Wenham Tea House for ourselves.

They still serve tea, of course (Thursday through Saturday from 2:30 to 4:15), but the restaurant has a new chef and now serves gourmet breakfasts and lunches. All of the food is made from scratch, including the raspberry jam served with terrific scones and the decadent Crescent City French Toast you see here, which features cream cheese filling, pecans, sautéed bananas, and brandy syrup ($8.75).

Roberts, owner of Capers Catering, is a Wenham resident and is clearly enjoying bringing this town landmark back to life. She told us how residents often donate their old china to the restaurant and about her plans to update the gardens and put in a patio for spring/summer use. She has already updated the shop next door to the restaurant, which now features jewelry from local artists alongside appealing cookbooks, whimsical dishes, candles, and hand-made quilts. Right next to the gift shop is Irresistibles, featuring upscale women’s casual wear.

There is also a small take-out operation where you can buy the housemade jam, baked goods, and frozen gourmet casseroles. Many of the recipes from the restaurant and shop can be found on Emma’s blog. Also on the website is information on holding an event at The Exchange, which has become a popular spot for children’s birthday parties, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, and charity events.

The Exchange at Wenham Tea House
4 Monument St, Wenham
(978) 468-1398
www.wenhamteahouse.com

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Local Takes on New Meaning at The Market in Annisquam

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Breakfast, Gloucester, Steakhouse, The Market | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

You couldn’t get much farther apart than Berkeley, California and Annisquam, Mass, but these two towns do have something important in common—a love of fresh, local food. And now, they have something else tying them together: The Market Restaurant, owned by Annisquam native Amelia O’Reilly and Berkeley’s Nico Monday.

Both recently moved back to the North Shore after more than five years cooking at Northern California’s famous Chez Panisse. They brought Monday’s brother, Oliver, with them to oversee the purchase of local produce and seafood.

It’s no coincidence that O’Reilly and the Mondays arrived in May to set up their new restaurant. For one thing, the idea is to take advantage of the abundance of the New England summer—lobster and other seafood, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and people not wanting to turn on their stoves. For another, their restaurant license is seasonal (until October 15), although O’Reilly says they may hold cooking classes or offer catering out of the space during the winter.

The restaurant’s space is small and casual but charming, with eight indoor tables and six outdoors, overlooking picturesque Lobster Cove. Starting June 4, dinner will be served nightly except Wednesdays; the menu will feature three entrees, three salads, and one or two desserts. For now, dinner service is BYOB, but a beer and wine license is in the works.

The menu will change nightly depending on what seafood and produce are freshest and will include options like fish stew, fried scallops with homemade onion rings, and a vegetarian option. O’Reilly says they plan to serve meat only if it comes from a local, organic source.

Starting June 5, breakfast will be served, starting with fritter-like sour cream donuts at 7:00 and full entrees at 7:30. Expect to see hearty fisherman’s fare like fishcakes, beans, and anadama bread (a local favorite flavored with molasses and cornmeal). On June 21, a picnic-style lunch service will begin with items like lobster rolls and fried fish sandwiches, perfect for taking to an outside table, the beach, or a boat.

We were invited to attend the restaurant’s grand opening this weekend, where we sampled crispy brandade, lobster paella with aioli, and rocket salad with shaved fennel. Everything we ate was delicious—perfectly cooked and seasoned—a successful tying together of the traditional (brandade are fritters made with salt cod), the local, and the gourmet. The paella looked marvelous and tasted even better, with large chunks of lobster, mussels, clams, saffron flavored risotto, and the addictive aioli.

It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of these three food lovers and their passion for local products. Seafood comes from Cape Ann Fresh Catch and other local purveyors and may, one day, simply arrive at the restaurant’s dock. Bread baskets will be filled by Salem’s A&J King, hot dog rolls are from Virgilio’s in Gloucester, and Oliver has posted a Google map showing North Shore farms that will supply the restaurant’s produce.

Some greens won’t have to travel even that far—lettuce and herbs are already growing at O’Reilly’s mother’s house in nearby Lanesville. We can’t help but think that Alice Waters would approve.

The Market Restaurant
33 River Rd, Lobster Cove, Gloucester
(978) 282-0700
www.themarketrestaurant.com

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Five Corners Kitchen Offers Casual Elegance and Memorable Meals

Posted: May 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: 5 Corners Kitchen, American, Marblehead | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sunday night we finally got a chance to check out the recently opened 5 Corners Kitchen in Marblehead. They have been open for a couple of weeks now and look to be doing a booming business. Reservations are definitely recommended as tables fill up fast.

The room has a casual elegance, the decorative tin ceiling and fun light fixtures lending texture to the clean lines and no-nonsense table settings. Our table wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we visited the bar. Although a relatively small space, the bar area is friendly and warm and features a fun seating niche in the window. The bartender was terrific, smiling and helpful and pouring us samples when we inquired about various wines. He entreated us to stay and eat with him, but our table was ready to go.

The wine list covers a good range, from $6.50 to $13.50 a glass, and the bottles were reasonable as well. We started with several of the appetizers; the cauliflower, leek and potato vichyssoise with lobster and fine herbs vinaigrette ($9), the rustic country pork terrine with whole grain mustard and pickled vegetables ($7), and the roasted beet and watercress salad with shaved fennel, red onion, ricotta salata, and horseradish crème fraiche vinaigrette ($8). Both the soup and the salad were quite good, with a lovely complexity of flavor. The terrine came with a plate of grilled bread and was excellent, quite a bargain given the amount of food for the price. That and a salad could be a meal.

The star of the starters, though, was the simplest—we had heard good things about Chef Edelman’s fries and were not disappointed. These are some seriously delicious fries; fresh house-made beauties served with a lush basil garlic aioli ($5). If we hadn’t ordered so much other food, we might have come to blows over the final few.

For entrees, we were interested in the sautéed skate wing, but they had sold out by the time we ordered. Instead we went for the roasted half chicken with oyster mushrooms, wilted spring greens, and brown butter jus ($18), the potato gnocchi with grilled asparagus, fava beans, fiddleheads, braised lettuce, mushrooms, and house-made crème fraiche ($17), and a special that night, a house-made saucisson on creamy lentils ($16).

Roasted chicken when done well can be a revelation, and this one was: crispy, juicy, and savory. The sausages were also excellent, not too dense and full of flavor. The gnocchi was tender and the vegetables perfect, sautéed but still crunchy, but some might find the portion a bit small.

Currently, 5CK is only offering one dessert per evening, which was an orange panna cotta with raspberry rhubarb compote ($6) the night we were there. Light and refreshing, the delicate texture and flavor were a perfect end to our meal.

The only drawback of the night was the noise level. It’s a small space with a high ceiling, and sound really bounces around. Clever use of fabrics or acoustical panels would help immensely. The din seemed to drop around 8:30 when the crowd thinned, so a later seating time is in order for those in search of a quieter meal. The restaurant will soon be offering lunch, and that might prove a less noisy alternative as well.

When we interviewed Chef Edelman in March, he spoke about his passion for creating simple meals with local foods and having attentive staff. We found he has come through on both counts. Our waitress was phenomenal, and the food was excellent. Chicken, sausage, pasta—all simple, ordinary foods made extraordinary by the obvious freshness and thoughtful preparation.

5 Corners Kitchen
2 School Street, Marblehead
(781) 631-5550
www.5cornerskitchen.com

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North Shore Noshing with Alex and Luke

Posted: April 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Engine House Pizza, In a Pig's Eye, Marblehead, News, Salem, The Driftwood | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Who the heck are Alex and Luke? That’s what I wanted to know. Better known in their native Canada, these adventurous pals from Toronto have embarked on a whirlwind road trip/social media experiment.

Recently featured in the Toronto news, Alex Sabine and Luke Vigeant set a goal to visit every state and province in North America, guided by suggestions given to them on Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. Where to drive next? They put it up for a vote and let the public decide. Where to eat, where to sleep? You tell them.

Having made their way through the Maritimes into New England, they hit Boston and continued on to Salem earlier this week. Apparently, when it comes to road trip destinations, witch history is a big draw. “When we said we were coming to Massachusetts, Salem was the place people wanted us to visit, even more than Boston. People from all over, some who had never even been to the state, suggested Salem.”

That’s what is fascinating about the social media driven model; the quirky randomness of the experience. You’re not going to a restaurant touted by Fodor’s or lauded on Trip Advisor; you’re having a burger at a place some tweeter’s cousin thought was awesome.

“Most of the suggestions that come our way are food related. Everyone wants us to try their favorite restaurants, but there are so many suggestions, and you can’t use every one. We’ve both already gained weight,” Alex grinned. They claim that so far, they haven’t been given a bum steer yet—they’ve enjoyed every place suggested.

While in Salem, they stayed in one of the purportedly haunted rooms in the Hawthorne Hotel. Exhausted from traveling, then ended up having pizza delivered from Engine House , which they gave two thumbs up. Their Salem stay also included a visit to A&J King, where they enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere along with the delicious macaroons and cookies. Taking a suggestion from a follower, they had a meal at In A Pig’s Eye, about which they later tweeted “It’s a cool place—neat building, food is pretty good— great nachos!”

I caught up with them for breakfast at the Driftwood in Marblehead. “This is the kind of place we love,” said Alex, “and Marblehead is beautiful. That’s what is so great about this—we never would have known to come here.” While Alex enjoyed her poached eggs and “brown toast” (Canadian for wheat), Luke dove into a plate of chocolate chip pancakes, which he declared among the best he’s eaten.

The two are now off in Rhode Island, and who knows where after that. If you’d like to follow their progress and make suggestions, you’ll find them at alexandluke.com, where you’ll also find links to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. And the next time you’re thinking about where to eat, why not try asking the social media world for a suggestion?

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Savory Sunday at Cala’s in Manchester

Posted: April 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, brunch, Cala's, Manchester | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Sunny spring weekends inevitably mean yard work, but on Sunday we decided to fuel up before heading to Corliss Brothers to ogle shrubbery and went in search of brunch. We ended up at Cala’s in Manchester, a cute storefront on Beach Street in the center of town. The interior is warm and contemporary with lots of wood and eye-catching oil paintings by local artists.

Being brunch, we had to begin with the requisite Bloody Mary, which was good sized and respectable, though not particularly spicy, if that’s your thing. We decided on the blueberry pancakes ($7), the pan seared lobster cake ($11), and an order of applewood smoked bacon to share.

Two to a serving, the pancakes were lovely—light and fluffy, with a hint of cinnamon and citrus, certainly not your average flapjack. They were served with a standard side-cup of fruit and fried potatoes, which were nice and savory if a bit heavy on the peppers. The bacon was crisp, tasty and not greasy.

The lobster cake was small but quite flavorful and packed with lobster meat. It was served with a root-vegetable and squash fricassee, which included some sautéed greens that were terrific. The whole thing was nicely complimented by the light and tangy chive crème fraiche.

Indulgently, we ordered dessert, the chocolate terrine with berry compote and crème anglaise ($7) The dense chocolate slices and rich cream hit the spot on their own and didn’t really need the barrage of sauces striping the plate.

With reasonable prices, appetizing offerings, and friendly waitstaff, Cala’s makes a pleasant brunch destination, and if you need to walk off those calories, you can take a turn around the park by the bay or pop into the surrounding shops. Before you get back to the yard work, that is.

Cala’s
7 Beach St., Manchester
(978) 525-3304
www.calasrestaurant.com


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Marblehead’s Ataraxis Tavern Brings New Energy to the Avenue

Posted: March 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Ataraxis Tavern, Casual/Pub Food, Marblehead | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Edit 12/29/10: We are sorry to report that Ataraxis Tavern has closed it’s doors.

Marblehead’s got a new bar and grill in town, though you likely haven’t heard of it yet. Ataraxis Tavern has quickly and quietly filled the space left by Flynnie’s and in the month since their soft opening, has been generating great buzz.

Jeff Flynn and his family are well regarded by Marbleheaders and both Flynnie’s on the Avenue and at Devereux Beach were favorites of many, so while it may not be fair, comparisons by locals will be inevitable.

We stopped by last night to take a look for ourselves and had the opportunity to chat with owner Dean Santamaria-Capetanelis. Dean grew up in Marblehead and when he and friend Paul Riccardi, previously the executive chef at Jack Tar, were looking to open a restaurant and saw the space for sale, they jumped at the chance to return to town. Dean and Paul’s shared vision is that of a relaxing family-friendly tavern atmosphere serving quality comfort food. The name, Ataraxis, is actually an English word meaning “the absence of mental stress or anxiety.”

On first glance, the interior feels darker, warmer and indeed quieter for such a small space. The paneling on the walls, which was originally reclaimed wood from a tannery in Peabody, has been stained a dark walnut. The other big change is the black tablecloths and linen napkins at each table.  Dean explains that not only does this help in baffling noise, but using linens is also more cost effective and creates less waste than paper. The new chairs and fresh coat of paint add to the revived atmosphere. And families with children shouldn’t be put off by the new look—our junior Dish member was delighted at the offer of an Etch-A-Sketch from the stash at the hostess stand to occupy kids waiting on their food.

332010aThere are a couple of changes that haven’t happened yet, but are in the works. The floor needs refinishing, but instead of fighting the salt, sand and snow of winter, that will wait till warmer months. Also, the custom painted glass between the restaurant area and bar is in the process of being replaced.

Much of the transformation, Santamaria-Capetanelis tells us, will never be seen by the public. The kitchen has gotten a facelift, as well as new chef (Riccardi) and sous-chef (Jake Soucy), and a new computer system installed. There are some familiar faces, though, because he hired back the former Flynnie’s wait and bar staff which made the transition smoother than most.

The menu, as promised, centers on hearty and comfort food favorites. The big difference here is that everything is prepared to order from scratch, using fresh ingredients. Dean already uses local suppliers like Patriot Lobster for seafood and Atomic Café for coffee, and is interested in locally sourcing as much as he can as the seasons change.

332010bWhile we didn’t get to explore much of the menu, we did try the ribs ($14.50 for half rack, $21 for full) which were terrific. They were fall-off-the-bone tender and had great flavor. The grilled farmhouse burger ($8.75) was fresh, juicy and generous, and the fries plentiful and tasty.

Santamaria-Capetanelis is pleased with the initial public reaction, and said that business for February, (a difficult month to open anything) exceeded their expectations. Visitors have warmed to the new place, and with so many storefronts still vacant from economic upheaval, we’re thinking Atlantic Avenue can only benefit from the energy generated by Dean and his crew.

If you are interested in checking out the AT for yourself, think about heading over tomorrow night, Thursday March 4th, for their grand opening celebration. They will be serving up samples of their signature dishes as well as handing out fun freebies from Cape Ann Brewing Company from 5-7 pm.

Ataraxis Tavern
28 Atlantic Ave., Marblehead
781-639-2100
ataraxistavern.com (the menu is up, but the site is still under construction)
Ataraxis Tavern Facebook Page
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Our Valentine’s Crush: The Blue Ox

Posted: February 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: American, Bistro, Blue Ox, Lynn | Tags: , , | No Comments »

We had planned to take a night off from reviewing when we headed to dinner on Saturday night for a Valentine’s Day treat. But we had such a great meal at The Blue Ox that we’d be remiss not to tell you about it.

Feeling in a celebratory mood, we chose Matt O’Neil’s $39 prix fixe menu, which included two options for each of the three courses. The cauliflower soup was outstanding: creamy and smoky with a generous serving of bay scallops. Not loving frisee, we were skeptical about the salad but wanted something light before the pasta entrée. As it turns out, we don’t mind frisee one bit when it’s dressed in a maple vinaigrette and accompanied by fantastic duck prosciutto, tangy blue cheese, sweet apricots, and salty pistachios—an incredible combination.

Our main courses were also highly satisfying. The grilled filet mignon was properly cooked to medium rare and kissed with a flavorful port wine glaze. A heaping serving of mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus were perfect accompaniments. Just as good were the firm but light potato gnocchi with a generous portion of lobster and a wonderful sauce of butternut squash, mascarpone, and parmigiano.

Yes, we were too full for dessert, but we had to at least sample the mascarpone cheesecake (to die for) and the decadent chocolate layer cake with whipped-cream filling.

Given that it was Saturday night on Valentine’s Day weekend, we half-expected to run into kitchen missteps and/or harried waitstaff. We’re happy to report this was not the case. Despite a very crowded dining room, our waitress was smiling and calm throughout, and we never felt rushed or neglected.

With O’Neil’s obvious talent and reasonable prices for this quality of food (entrées run from $15 to $19), the crowds are no surprise. Still, opening this type of restaurant in downtown Lynn was a risk, so we’re glad to see that diners are not letting the location get in the way of a terrific meal.

Next Tuesday (2/23) at 7:00, O’Neil is holding a demonstration on deboning a chicken and preparing a chicken roulade. The cost is $35, which includes a three-course meal of escarole soup, the chicken roulade, and almond cream cake. We attended an earlier demonstration and found it informative and fun—you can read about it here. Call if you want to reserve a spot, as these tend to sell out.

The Blue Ox
191 Oxford Street, Lynn
(781) 780-5722
www.theblueoxlynn.com

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Local Flavors Shine at Hamilton’s 15 Walnut

Posted: February 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: 15 Walnut, American, Bistro, Hamilton | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

With a focus on local food and a frequently changing menu, the bistro called 15 Walnut is a terrific addition to Hamilton’s dining scene, which leans toward pub-style restaurants. It’s also beautifully decorated in warm, inviting colors with exceptional art work and a large bar.

We sampled two sandwiches and two salads, with all four dishes clearly focused on top-quality ingredients. The Cuban sandwich ($10) was decadent and melty, with crisp grilled bread and pulled pork along with house-cured ham. The crispy haddock burrito ($11) was surprisingly light for a fish sandwich, a wrap with a perfect mix of fish, vegetables, and salsa fresca.

The 15 Walnut salad features red oak lettuce, Valley View goat cheese, candied walnuts, and fried shallots ($8). The wood oven beet salad mixes arugala with beets, almonds, and a very light aioli ($15 with chicken). We liked that the salads can be accompanied by steak ($7), chicken ($5), or scallops ($6), but we were surprised by the portion sizes, which were closer to side salad than entrée.

Since we were there for a quick lunch, we didn’t have a chance to sample any cocktails or desserts, which sound intriguing. For example, the Endless Summer is made with fresh-squeezed orange juice, orange vodka, cointreau, and splash of sour, and the honey crème brulee and the apple crisp are made with local honey and fruit. The entrées also sound good (especially the marinated skirt steak and the lobster mac and cheese) and seem reasonably priced at $17 to $22 with two sides.

Open from 11:30 am to 11:30 pm every day, 15 Walnut is definitely making it easy for us to return to sample more creative food with a local emphasis.

15 Walnut
15 Walnut Rd, Hamilton
(978) 468-2434
www.15walnut.com

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The Lyceum: A New Twist in Old Salem

Posted: December 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Lyceum, Mediterranean, Salem, Seafood | Tags: , | No Comments »

A newly renovated Lyceum opened to much fanfare in November, and we were eager to investigate. The original restaurant, opened in 1989, featured mainly American fare and was a long-time favorite of ours for burgers at the bar and Sunday brunch.

There were a few missteps during our dinner, but overall, we’d call the changeover a success. The new interior is particularly well thought-out—rich woods and neutral tones make for a cozy, elegant feeling while the high ceilings and brick walls evoke Old Salem at its historic best. A fire crackling on one side of the dining room adds to the ambiance.

We chose the crab cake appetizer to start our meal. The cakes had a crispy exterior and very little filler, and the accompanying corn salad was tasty. Still, at $13 for two small cakes, the value is questionable. There’s an emphasis on seafood for appetizers, including raw bar items, shrimp cocktail, steamed cockles, and tuna tartare.

Under new chef de cuisine Dan Friley, the menu is Mediterranean influenced, and there are several interesting-sounding pasta dishes available in small or full portions, including pumpkin ravioli with sage brown butter and gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce. We tried the diver scallop entrée, also available in two sizes ($14 for half portion, $26 for full). There were four large scallops with a flavorful sear outside and tender middle along with a tasty mushroom risotto.

The duck l’orange entrée ($25) was good but not great, with lentils that were less done than we’re used to. The filet with potatoes au gratin ($31) was served medium rather than the requested medium rare, and the potatoes were a bit dry.

The most successful dish, and it’s a must-try, was the pork osso buco with gnocchi and sautéed apples ($23). The meat had a delicious savory sauce and fall-off-the-bones texture. The gnocchi were large and unusually creamy.

We sampled the chocolate mint bread pudding for dessert. It was comforting, with the mint adding a nice side-note to the chocolate and custard-soaked bread.

We were very pleased with the service, which was friendly and highly professional. We had an early reservation and appreciated the fact that we were never rushed. We anticipate that the kitchen will smooth out its rough spots, and we’re interested in checking out several items on the revamped brunch menu.

The Lyceum
43 Church Street, Salem
www.thelyceum.com

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Putting Ingredients Front and Center: Beverly’s Soma

Posted: December 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Soma | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

It’s one thing to have a feel for flavor combinations, it’s another to have a true passion for ingredients. That’s the feeling we got during our recent lunch at Beverly’s Soma—as though someone had lovingly hand selected each ingredient and combined them in the best way possible. Indeed, the Web site says quality ingredients (local when possible), creativity, and attention to detail are what the restaurant is all about.

We began with a wonderful appetizer of braised lamb and gnocchi ($9). The lamb was tender, the gnocchi were incredibly light, and they were both bathed in a rich sauce along with spinach and mushrooms.

Our entrees were equally satisfying. The fresh mozzarella and prosciutto panini ($8) was lightly crisped so as not to melt the thick slice of cheese and accompanied by wafer thin slices of prosciutto and very flavorful black olive tapenade. We picked cole slaw rather than fries, and it was great (freshly made with a dash of curry), but the fries we saw going by looked worth a try.

The garlic shrimp pizza ($9) had an abundance of toppings, including crisp/tender broccolini, on a marvelous crust—crispy and not too dense.

We shouldn’t have, but we had to try the Aphrodite chocolate cake, which came with vanilla bean ice cream and salted caramel sauce. Much lighter than the typical molten cake, it was rich, meltingly tender, and not too sweet. A bite of cake with the sauce and ice cream put us in dessert heaven.

If you’re looking for a relaxing lunch spot with top-notch food, Soma should be at the top of your list. The service was superb, and the menu is varied enough to please just about any craving, including a large wine selection and the option to build your own pizza from a list of 41 ingredients.

The dinner menu also looks great, and we’re sure the food will not disappoint, but be aware that bar, which specializes in creative martinis, gets quite lively on weekends. If that’s not your thing, try a weeknight or daytime visit to truly appreciate this kitchen’s
well-crafted meals.

Soma
256 Cabot Street, Beverly
(978) 524-0033
www.somabeverly.com
Soma Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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