Getting (Sur)Real at the PEM

Posted: July 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

During a cooking demonstration, Chef Matt O'Neil creates a layer of chive cream for his tuna tartare

The Peabody Essex Museum is throwing several evening parties this summer. We decided to check out Thursday night’s event because one of our favorite North Shore chefs, Matt O’Neil of The Blue Ox, was doing a cooking demonstration.

Army of Broken Toys provided the evening's soundtrack

The night was dedicated to surrealism, with a special exhibit of Man Ray paintings and music by Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys.

O’Neil was serving up tuna tartare with chive cream on a potato crisp. The connection with surrealism is the surprise of combining seafood with cheese (there is mascarpone in the cream under the tuna). Surreal or not, it was an outstanding combination of texture and flavor.

Sushi grade tuna awaits dicing, adding the "special" sauce, the finished tuna tartare

The chef mixed together one part sour cream to two parts mascarpone and added a generous amount of chives. He suggested making the cream a day ahead for more “chive presence.” The cream is piped or spooned onto thick potato chips (potatoes soaked in water for one hour and then fried).

The sushi-grade tuna gets finely diced. O’Neil prefers the very-tender loin over the belly (torro) for this preparation. To the tuna, he adds the green part of the scallion, black sesame seeds, cilantro, diced cucumber, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt.

The last step is the addition of his “special sauce,” which includes sriracha, soy, sesame oil, seasoned rice wine vinegar, and honey

The live chess game

Tastebuds satisfied and recipe in hand, we were ready for the final event of the evening: a live chess game, complete with outrageous costumes.

Check out upcoming events at the PEM here. The next summer party is Waterworks on August 25, featuring a cash bar, experiments with water, Andrew Sempere’s Bowl of Oceans sculpture, and Susan Fishman and Elena Kalman’s The Wave, an interactive installation in the Asian Garden.

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Weekend Picks, July 15-17

Posted: July 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: 5 Corners Kitchen, Event, Gloucester, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m sure you’ve noticed a lull in the action around here lately, but these things happen when summer (and numerous family events) hit town.  We’re back in action now and have a few quick  ideas to supplement your summer fun this weekend.

Looking to start the thing off right? Head over to Pamplemousse in Salem this evening from 5 -7 pm to help them celebrate 9 years in business. They’ll have cupcakes, wine and treats as well as Magic Hat’s #9 Not So Pale Ale.

If a bit respite from the sun sounds good on Saturday afternoon, Kappy’s in Peabody will be hosting their Taste of New England, which features locally produced spirits, beer and wine. It’ll be a nice opportunity to taste the wares of one of our favorite distilleries, Gloucester’s Ryan & Wood, as well as the brand new Privateer Rum out of Ipswich, MA.

Saturday evening the place to be is Gloucester, for their 2011 Downtown Block Party. Not only will there be live entertainment, street performers and general carousing, many of the local restaurants will be running deals for the evening.Yyou might want to stop in Cape Ann Brewing, where the guys are throwing a pig roast with live music, starting at 6pm.

Did you know that Hawthorne Hotel Chef de Cuisine Jennifer Normant is a contestant on this season’s Hell’s Kitchen? To celebrate, The hotel will be hosting a viewing party in their Grand Ballroom on Monday night at 7pm. Meet the chef, watch the show, and partake of cocktail and hors d’oeuvres special on offer that night.

On a sad note, we were devastated to see that an electrical fire caused severe smoke damage to both 5 Corners Kitchen and Terry’s Ice Cream in Marblehead Wednesday afternoon. Both eateries are closed until further notice for clean up. We wish them a speedy recovery and hope they’ll be open again as soon as possible. If you’re in Marblehead this weekend, show Terry’s your support by stopping by their brand new ice cream truck, which will be parked across the street from the building. We love the idea of one Facebook poster, who suggested that Chef Barry of 5 Corners open an adjacent “pommes frites” truck so local could get their fix of his addictive fries during the clean up. We’d certainly be in line.

And here are a couple of ideas from our pals in the North Shore Bloggers Consortium

Seth is all about what’s happing in Lynn in Lynn Happens.

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Café Polonia Serves Up Savory Comfort

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cafe Polonia, German, Polish, Salem | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

We were looking for a bit of comfort last week, our spirits sagging from the cold and rain, and decided to stop into Café Polonia for lunch one day. It was definitely the right decision. The bright, welcoming atmosphere and hearty warming food were just what we needed.

Cafe Polonia is the second location of the Dorchester restaurant known for its traditional Polish fare. The Salem location, which opened in October, not only features Polish foods, but German, Hungarian and Eastern European specialties as well.

We settled in with a Tyskie (a Polish lager, $5 for 500ml bottle) and ordered the potato pancake sampler for two ($8) to start. This plate could easily have been our entire meal, with four huge potato pancakes served with sides of sour cream, a chunky apple sauce, and a bowl of Hungarian goulash. The pancakes were fresh and crispy, and the goulash was delicious: rich and hearty with hunks of tender brisket and vegetables in a savory gravy. We ended up ladling the goulash over the pancakes and eating them together—comfort food heaven.

We didn’t really need another bite, but we soldiered on as we had already ordered the Polish plate and the Pyzy dumplings. The Polish plate ($14) was a sampler of traditional tastes, and once again, enough food for several people. The pierogies were lovely, delicate and crisp on the outside and stuffed with savory filling. We tried the meat, potato, and cheese and the cabbage and mushroom, all very satisfying. The kielbasa was excellent, and the hunter’s stew, made from various sausage, pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut was interesting, almost Alsatian in taste. The stuffed cabbage was quite respectable as well.

The Pyzy dumplings ($14) are meat-filled potato dumplings served with caramelized onions. The dumplings steamed rather than fried, so the thick jacket of potatoes can feel a bit gummy, but the filling of ground pork and spices made a tasty counterpoint.

There was so much food that we ended up with a meal’s worth to bring home, and there was no way we had room for dessert. We’ll have to try the apple crisp or the chocolate babka next time around.

Café Polonia
118 Washington Street, Salem
(978) 745-0045
www.cafepolonia.com

Cafe Polonia on Urbanspoon

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Food At Salem Jail Improved, But Not By Much

Posted: April 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: American, Great Escape, Italian, Salem, Seafood | Tags: | 7 Comments »

Salem has so many new restaurants that we are having trouble keeping up. Last Sunday night, we stopped into Great Escape for dinner, curious to check out this unusual space—the site of a jail built in 1813.

The décor is indeed wonderful, with a high ceiling, a gorgeous stone floor, and whimsical jail-related art. Unfortunately, other than the dessert, the food was a disappointment. The menu is well written and has a good selection of appetizers, salads, pasta, seafood, and more. But the kitchen is having some obvious issues with ingredient quality and technique.

We started with a caprese salad ($10) and the eggplant tower ($10). The salad was an unappetizing plate of watery tomatoes sandwiching flavorless mozzarella. There was a good-tasting balsamic glaze, but it wasn’t enough to save the dish. I realize it’s not tomato season, but I’ve been buying hothouse tomatoes at Stop & Shop that were far better than these. The eggplant tower had flavor, but the eggplant was too thick, the prosciutto should have been cut instead of put in as a slab, and it was literally drowned in sauce.

Our entrées weren’t much better. We tried the papardelle dish with seafood and mushrooms ($19). The pasta and the mushroom reduction were fine, and the shrimp was cooked perfectly, but the scallops were rubbery, and the sauce had some grit (presumably from the seafood). The steak tips ($16) came with flavorful broccoli rabe, but the meat was not good quality, with some pieces quite chewy.

Surprisingly, our last course was great. The coffee was very good, and the tiramisu was plenty for two and very well done, with delicious sweet cream and great mocha flavor. The service was also commendable, although I was served the wrong wine. I wondered why my pinot gris lacked flavor until the bill came and I saw I’d been served pinot grigio.

There were few patrons dining the night we were there, so we’re guessing word has gotten around that the food is lacking, and we’re sorry to have to confirm it. We hope a revamp is in the works because a great spot like this deserves cuisine that matches it.

Great Escape
50 St Peter St, Salem
(978) 745-5022
www.greatescaperestaurantsalem.com

Great Escape on Urbanspoon

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Weekend Picks, April 1-3

Posted: April 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Event, Marblehead, News, Salem | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

After a few quiet weeks, there are a slew of interesting food events this weekend.

First up is Salem’s Spring Fling on Saturday from 6:00 to 9:00 in Salem Old Town Hall. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door and include craft beer from Magic Hat, Ipswich, Stone Cat, Cape Ann Brewing, Clown Shoes, and more. There will also be wine from Pamplemousse and Market Wine & Spirits and food and desserts from several Salem favorites, including 62 Restaurant, Lobster Shanty, Victoria Station, Café Polonia, Gulu-Gulu Café, and Greenland Café. This is an over-21 event featuring music from Big Ol’ Dirty Bucket. Tickets are available at several Salem locations and online here.

Also that night is the Art Auction to benefit the Marblehead Festival of Arts. The silent auction begins at 5:00 at Abbot Hall, followed by a live auction at 7:30. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door; they include hors d’oeuvres and wine tasting during the first part of the evening, and dessert and coffee later on. More information is here.

This weekend is the beginning of an epic Salem Restaurant Week, which runs Sunday through Thursday and has been extended to run the following Sunday through Thursday as well (April 10 to 14). Meals are $15 for two courses and $25 for three courses. A complete list of restaurants is here.

Last but not least, this weekend marks the end of prohibition in Salem. Well, the winter kind, anyway. All the restaurants with partial and seasonal liquor licenses can begin serving again on April 1, and they are celebrating. The Lobster Shanty is throwing an opening day open mic shindig and rolling out a new menu, and 62 Restaurant and Wine Bar is unveiling their spring cocktail list. 62 will be serving complimentary hors d’oeuvres from 5:00 to 7:00 in the lounge. After 7:00, they’ll serve a complimentary signature spuntino with each drink purchased from the new cocktail menu in the lounge.

From 8:30 to 11:00 over at Howling Wolf, there will be free Mexican wings and buffalo wings. Lee Hawkins will be singing the blues, and there’s a raffle for Red Sox and Revolution tickets. And starting at 8:00, there’ll be live music by Clay Ventre and the Bond Girls and complimentary passed hors d’oeuvres at Café Polonia.

So ignore any white stuff that happens to be falling from the sky today and get out there and enjoy!

We’ve also got some great things to do from our pals in the  North Shore Bloggers Consortium:

Seth is all over Lynn at Lynn Happens.

Jane Ward has some great ideas for  this weekend.

Kimmy has her weekend picks in addition to another great recipe over at Lighter and Local.

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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

Coffee Time Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

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Wine and Chocolate Tasting Kicks Off Salem’s So Sweet Festival

Posted: February 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Coven, Drinks, Event, Milk & Honey, Salem, Sweets and Treats | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

We threw all caution and calorie counting to the wind upon entering historic Hamilton Hall on Friday night. The reason? The 9th Annual Chocolate and Wine Tasting, the kick-off event for Salem’s yearly Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival, running through the 14th.

We had a terrific time at the tasting, getting to see old friends and make a few new ones while sipping and nibbling our way across the room. The participating restaurants went all out with beautiful displays and an insane amount of sweets.

We can’t even begin to mention everything we tasted. Coven had an impressive table stacked with huge, beautiful chocolate cupcakes. Coffee Time Bake Shop offered vast array of luscious baked goods, presided over by a fabulous Barbie cake that induced pangs of nostalgia. (My mother used to make them!) Those that stopped by Ye Olde Pepper Company‘s table were urged to choose chocolates from the largest heart-shaped box we’ve ever seen.

We got a kick out Chef John Andrews of Victoria Station playing with fire as he expertly flambeed cherries for a tasty dessert, and we chatted with Chef Steve from the Regatta Pub at Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites (one of the event sponsors) about his hand-made truffles. They were all rich and decadent, but our favorites were the ginger and cayenne,both set off nicely by the bubbly being poured at their table.

Speaking of cayenne, we really enjoyed the Caliente Cafe cocktail the ladies of Finz were serving. Made with pablano-infused espresso, vanilla vodka, and creme de cacao and then rimmed with white chocolate and cayenne, it had a spicy zing but wasn’t too sweet.

Some of the wines that stood out were a vegan Malbec being poured by the Gulu-Gulu Cafe and the fun Apothic Red on sample from both Victoria Station and Busa Wines. It was lush and spicy yet smooth, a perfect companion to the chocolate we were consuming. Ian from Isaak’s of Salem was on hand pouring his Popp Road Raspberry, which paired nicely with the chocolate cake being served by Green Land Cafe.

We also caught up with Sharon Driscoll, owner of Milk and Honey, who was scooping ice cream. She reminded us that as part of the festival, the green grocer is running a great special—20% off all products with chocolate listed in the ingredients.

In fact, that’s just one example of the tasty specials available throughout the festival. For a full listing of events and savings, pick up a brochure or check out the Salem Chamber of Commerce website. Even if you missed Friday night’s event, there are still plenty of opportunities to savor Salem. With fabulous ice sculptures and sweet deals, it’s the perfect date destination for Valentine’s Day.

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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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