Anyone For a Cocktail?

Posted: June 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Drinks, Marketplace, Powell & Mahoney | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

We’re constantly amazed at the things we find in our own backyard. For example, did you know that frozen-cocktail wholesaler Maui Beverages is located right in Beverly? Even better, its parent company, Creative Juices, recently launched a line of all-natural cocktail mixers based on classic drinks like lemon sours, bloody marys, and margaritas.

The Powell & Mahoney line is sold all over New England in liquor stores and specialty markets for $6.59 to $7.99. It uses high-quality natural ingredients and is made in small batches for better taste and a more consistent product, according to co-owner Mark Mahoney. His partner, Brian Powell, is a former vice president of Stirrings.

We recently got a chance to chat with Mahoney, who  grew up on the North Shore and currently lives in Marblehead. He is understandably proud of the new mixer line, which he said has been very well received by retailers and consumers. “Half the battle is getting people to try it. Once they do, we have a customer,” said Mahoney, whose favorite local bar for cocktails is Beverly’s Soma.

The Powell & Mahoney line launched in 2010 with bloody mary, red sangria, lemon sour, pomegranate martini, margarita, mojito, cosmo, ginger, and hot toddy mixers. Within the next few months, the company will introduce peach bellini and low-calorie margarita mixes (the latter will be around 35 calories per ounce, not including alcohol, and made with a natural sweetener).

Mahoney gave us samples of several of the original products, plus the new peach bellini. We found the bloody mary fresh-tasting and pleasingly spicy. The ginger is a standout—perfect for making dark and stormys or perhaps a ginger martini. Those who like a sweeter drink should try the cosmo, and for the perfect brunch drink, definitely add champagne or prosecco to the bellini, which is very fruity and not overly sweet.

As our favorite summer drink is a gin rickey, we decided to experiment at home with the pomegranate and whipped up a pomegranate rickey. Fun, refreshing and far from ordinary, it’ll be the pick of the patio this summer.

Mahoney, whose favorite drinks include pina coladas and pomegranate margaritas, told us to watch for “bar chefs” continuing to create signature cocktails and tailored drinks at high-end restaurants. He also expects to see margaritas in flavors like white peach and prickly pear and a proliferation of shelf-stable, eco-friendly packaging for everything from wine to cocktail mixers.

On the North Shore, the Powell & Mahoney line can be found at Pamplemousse (Salem), Haley’s (Marblehead), Henry’s, Depot Liquors, and Cosgroves (Beverly), Harrigan’s (Hamilton), Ipswich Bottle (Ipswich), Leary’s Fine Wines (Newburyport), and Kappy’s and Route 114 Liquors (Peabody).

Powell and Mahoney Ltd.
www.powellandmahoney.com

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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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Why the Bar at Tryst is Our New Favorite Place

Posted: October 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Beverly, Bistro, Drinks, Tryst | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I can hear you now, saying ‘New? Tryst has been around for years.’ That’s true, and it has maintained a great reputation with dining cognoscenti the entire time.

Until a few years ago, Chef Peter Capalbo and his wife Amy Trabucco offered the only game around for diners seeking a certain level of cuisine. But in the past couple of years, the restaurant scene on the North Shore exploded. We’ve been busy trying to keep tabs on all the newcomers and hadn’t had a chance to check in on Tryst. Until this weekend, that is.

Saturday night, we were in the mood for a bar-side meal and had heard good things about Sean, the bartender at Tryst. A small, warm space with a bistro feel, the room was more welcoming than we had anticipated.

Snagging the last two stools, we were greeted not by Sean, but Ingrid, who was tending bar that night. She was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked for a sidecar (this sounds like a simple request, but I can’t even count the local bartenders who don’t produce a proper one). The drink arrived perfectly made and extremely tasty.

We started with a roasted beet salad ($9) and the Hudson Valley foie gras ($14). The salad, with arugula and goat cheese in a red wine vinaigrette was good, but pretty standard. The fois gras, however, was excellent. Served with bits of grilled bread and slices of roasted apple, it was rich and savory.

We decided to forgo wine for another cocktail, although the wine list is nicely appointed, and we were interested to see that when our neighbors ordered a bottle of red, the bartender used an aerator and decanted the bottle it into a glass carafe.

The bar carries a good variety of spirits, some nicely obscure, and features Gloucester distillery Ryan & Wood’s Knockabout gin and Folly Cove rum. We chose a specialty cocktail on offer that evening made with the Knockabout, basil simple syrup, and mint. It was lovely, one of those drinks that tastes light and well blended but packs a punch.

The best tipple of the evening, though, was Sean’s manhattan. The house-made infused bourbon involves letting dried cherries steep in Knob Creek for six weeks. The results make the classic cocktail complex and layered without being too sweet.

Ordinarily, we never order roast chicken when dining out, because it’s one of those meals we make at home for a fraction of the cost. But after seeing several plates of the rosemary roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach, and herbed pan sauce appear in front of other bar diners ($23), we gave into curiosity and decided to share the entrée. Brilliant decision on our part. Beautifully crisped on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside, and complimented by lush sauce, this is roast chicken you dream about. While pricey for a chicken dinner, we would absolutely splurge on it again.

Despite not being huge fans of aperitifs and digestives, we toyed with the idea, and Ingrid joined the conversation with a wealth of information and an offer of a comparison taste-test of Aperol, Fernet Branca, and Carpano Antica. Although we found the beverages interesting, we opted instead for a brownie tart ($8) to end the evening, which arrived fresh and warm with a dollop of whipped cream. Homemade tasting and not too dense, it was tasty but not as memorable as the rest of the meal.

Tryst may not be one of the hot newcomers to the North Shore, but it surely remains among the best of the local dining scene.

Tryst
282 Cabot Street, Beverly
(978) 921- 2266
trystbeverly.com

Tryst Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Savoring the Tastes of Vietnam

Posted: August 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Asian, Peabody, Sugar Cane | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments »

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As huge fans of Asian cuisine, we’d been meaning to get to Sugar Cane, near Peabody Square, for quite a while. We’re now kicking ourselves for having waited so long.

Aside from one dish we didn’t love, everything we put in our mouths on recent visit was superb, starting with the drinks. We tried a sake-tini, a mai tai, and the zombie. All were delicious, and the mai tai stood out as better tasting than others we’ve had at other Asian restaurants.

While sipping, we studied the menu, which includes both Chinese and Vietnamese dishes for each category, side by side. Since Vietnamese is hard to come by north of Boston, we agreed to order from that side, with the exception of the house pan-fried dumplings ($6), which came with ginger soy and were crispy and light—some of the best we’ve had (and we’ve had a lot).

The small bowl of beef pho ($4) was fine but seemed bland. When we added the hoisin and hot sauces it came with, though, the flavor came alive. We also enjoyed the banh xeo crepe ($8), a large, crisp omelet with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, and mung bean. It’s a must-have. The nem cuon summer roll with grilled pork ($6) was billed as a Vietnamese specialty, so we gave it a spin but didn’t like the texture of the meat. More likely our American palates than a miss from the kitchen.

All the entrees we ordered were dishes we would have again, starting with the chicken with lemongrass ($10). Wonderful savory flavor with tender meat and crisp-tender vegetables. The kho salmon with baby bok choy ($13) featured two large fillets, perfectly cooked and topped with a delicious spiced caramel sauce.

The mango shrimp were firm and good sized, with plenty of mango, peppers, and onions to accompany them ($13). Our last entrée was angel hair Singapore style with curry sauce, chicken, shrimp, pork, peppers, and onions ($8), which was spicy but not overly so and really hit the spot. Next time, we may try the tempting option of creating our own stir fry with many options for meat, vegetables, and sauces.

The service was extremely attentive and friendly, with our waiter calling over the manager when he couldn’t understand one of our questions about the drink menu. For those of you who’ve been curious about Vietnamese cuisine, Sugar Cane is a sure bet—and you can go with someone not as adventurous thanks to the Chinese dishes on offer.

Sugar Cane
106 Main St, Peabody
(978) 532-7800
www.sugarcanepeabody.com

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Mandrake Does Bar Food Right

Posted: July 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Casual/Pub Food, Mandrake | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

We’d been by Mandrake in Beverly many times but had never ventured in. To be honest, we were a bit put off by Mandrake’s curtained windows and dark exterior. Don’t make the mistake we did—Mandrake’s interior is warmly lit and welcoming, the service is outstanding, and the bar food is reasonable and delicious.

Sitting down at the bar last weekend, we were immediately served glasses of water (we love when that happens) and a large paper cone of house-made spicy potato chips and asked if we wanted to see menus. After a long day of yard work, we did.

Between the appetizers and sandwiches, Mandrake has a great selection for those in the mood to snack rather than dine. (There are plenty of entrees we may return for, along with several specials that looked good, all in the $20 to $25 range.)

We almost went for the nachos grande ($11) and later wished we had, as it looked great. We tried the olive/hummus plate ($7) along with a couple of sandwiches. The large portion of hummus had good texture, the olives were plentiful, and the pita was warm and crispy.

The surf and turf sliders—one crabcake, one petit filet—are a good dinner value at $14, served with a mound of crispy sweet potato fries. Both sliders were excellent; the crabcake was tender inside and crispy outside, and the perfectly cooked beef was topped with béarnaise aioli. The generous, crispy Gloucester fish sandwich, also with sweet potato fries, was only $10.

We were well attended by the bar staff all evening, starting with an immediate offer of a taste when we asked about one of the white wines (followed by a full pour of our selection). The sidecar we ordered came with an assurance it would be remade if unacceptable, since it’s not a popular request. Although it wasn’t right (on the rocks rather than straight up), we somehow managed. We were pleased at the price of the 40 cl Stella Artois ordered later: only $3.50.

A couple of final notes. Mandrake offers select menu items for half price every day except Saturday from 5:00 to 7:00. Also, the Web site seems to be under construction, and the menus aren’t available at the moment.

Mandrake Bar Bistro
252 Cabot St, Beverly
(978) 922-0663
www.mandrakebeverly.com

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P.S. If you’re walking along Cabot Street after dinner and are tempted by the authentic-looking gelato at Trevi Coffee & Tea, don’t be fooled. For $2.75, we received a small cup of what tasted like ice milk.

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Take the Cygnet Challenge

Posted: June 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: American, Beverly, Cygnet | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cyg1We’ve got a challenge for all you foodies on the North Shore: go to Cygnet and try not to have a good time. Having spent an extremely enjoyable evening there last weekend, we don’t think it can be done.

It starts with the bar, which has got to be the best looking north of Boston, or close to it. And its beauty is more than skin deep: our Kettle One martini was large, chilled to perfection, and accompanied by crunchy olives. Likewise, the Lemon Drop ($11) was perfectly mixed, and the margarita on the rocks was so good we could hardly taste the tequila (but we sure could feel it).

It continues with the comfortable dining room—thick carpet, wood paneling, fun artwork, upholstered settees paired with comfortable single chairs—and the terrific service. Our waitress was energetic without being annoying, happy to leave us alone as we enjoyed our cocktails and perused the menu.

We finally settled on the duck spring rolls ($13, good but not great) and the corn crab cakes (also $13 and a must-have: crunchy, tender, and highly satisfying). We briefly thought about soup, but at $8 a bowl (!) decided to pass.

The star entrée of the evening was a wonderfully tender beef filet with a cabernet reduction. Cooked beautifully, it had perfect texture and was complimented extremely well by the sauce. We also enjoyed the soy-glazed sea scallops; they were large and meltingly tender, but the saltiness of the glaze needed to be cut by some acid or sweetness. The fish in our fish and chips was generous, fresh, and lightly breaded, and the fries were just right.

All of the entrees were in the $20 to $30 range (exact prices not recorded—blame those drinks), and we loved the fact that we could choose any two sides from a selection of about 10. The outstanding choice was the creamy sweet corn risotto.

We really didn’t need dessert, but we were having too good a time not to try the warm chocolate cake, which was accompanied by a fantastic scoop of hazelnut ice cream.

Located on winding route 127, Cygnet is off the beaten path for many, but if you feel like a relaxing drive on a warm summer evening, the excellent food and intimate atmosphere make it a great destination.

Cygnet
24 West Street, Beverly Farms
(978) 922-9221
http://cygnetrestaurant.com/
Cygnet on Urbanspoon

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Sixty2 on Wharf Hits the High Notes

Posted: April 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bistro, Mediterranean, Salem, Sixty2 on Wharf | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


If you’re ready to shake off those winter doldrums and step out, we’ve got the perfect destination for you. We had a superb meal last night at Sixty2 on Wharf, the latest addition to Salem’s Pickering Wharf.

We found the décor, the food, and the service spot on at this chef-owned restaurant featuring Boston-quality Mediterranean cuisine. We were warmly welcomed by the host and seated in the cozy dining room featuring an unusual cork floor, stylish black tables, and inviting red walls.

The menu starts off right with a large selection of antipasti, all of which are $5. (We’re already plotting a return for a night at the bar sipping cocktails and sampling the small plates.) We discussed our options over a glass of white cote de rhone and a dirty dirty martini. The wine ($10) was a generous pour served in a carafe, and the martini featured Grey Goose and gorgonzola-stuffed olives.

Our appetizers set the tone for the meal—visual appeal, layers of flavor, and perfect texture. Fresh milk mozzarella was served in coin-sized medallions with crisp baguette slices and pepper jelly on a beautiful piece of gray slate. Polpettes were small balls of porky goodness, easily enough for two to share.

For entrees, we went with the night’s pasta special, gnocchi with oxtail, and the sea scallops with romesco sauce and farro. Our waitress was a gem who seemed genuinely happy to be serving us and had an extensive knowledge of the menu and wine selections. We explained that we wanted a light red to go with the scallops and were happy with the pinot noir she recommended.

The scallops ($25) were large and succulent with a wonderful crunchy sear on the outside; they combined well with the earthy farro. The hand-made gnocchi were also a highlight—moist and feathery light. The only thing off key was the oxtail, which was quite chewy.

The mozzarella and gnocchi were part of the $22 Neighborhood Nights three-course prix fixe menu, a fantastic value currently available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. To end the meal, we indulged in the toffee pudding and the brown butter tart. Both were worth the calories, but the unusual flavors in the pudding and wonderful softly whipped cream really sang.

It’s easy to understand why the Boston Globe named Sixty2 best new restaurant on the North Shore, and we were pleased to see a good-sized crowd on a Tuesday night, since pricier restaurants sometimes struggle to fill seats in times like this. But it’s clear the locals have caught onto the symphony of flavors chef Tony Bettencourt and his crew are serving up.

Sixty2 on Wharf
62 Wharf Street, Salem
(978) 744-0062
www.sixty2onwharf.com

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Old Salts, Fresh Drinks, and Good Deals

Posted: March 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Casual/Pub Food, Jack Tar, Marblehead, Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Jack-Tar may have a historic name (it’s another term for old salt), but this restaurant is up to date, serving a variety of American dishes with a creative flair and catering to today’s cash-strapped patrons with worthwhile deals.

We visited on the Old-Town Marblehead restaurant Sunday night and were warmly greeted. We ordered drinks at the large mahogany bar and were pleasantly surprised by the Not Your Mother’s Gin & Tonic, featuring freshly muddled cilantro and Tanqueray 10. It was a bit on the sweet side, but the good-sized drink went down easy and was a nice change from the ordinary.

We sat down a few minutes later and were served warm bread with herb butter and told the specials (including the prices, which we love). Both of the appetizers we sampled were tasty: a saucy, good-sized barbeque duck quesadilla ($9) and five bacon-wrapped scallops over a salad with an apple slaw ($9). Also on offer are smaller apps portions for $2 to $4, a nice option for sampling.

We took advantage of an every-night special: a choice of four pizzas are $5 between 5:00 and 7:00. The pancetta and blue cheese ’za also featured fresh basil, plum tomato slices, and aged balsamic. The medium-thick crust had good flavor, and the toppings were plentiful and delicious.

We also ordered the Memphis ribs ($18), featuring tender ribs, crunchy sweet potato fries, corn bread, coleslaw, and baked beans. The grilled salmon ($19) with a maple balsamic glaze and horseradish mashed potatoes was perfectly cooked, moist and savory.

The junior member of our group was enthusiastic about her chicken quesadilla from the kids menu, and the price was right: kids eat free on Sunday night.

The service was friendly and attentive, and our only complaint was a wait of about 15 minutes for our appetizers. There were quite a few families with toddlers when we arrived, so plan to dine after 6:30 or so for a quieter meal. We congratulate new owners Scott and Emily Brankman, both of whom have considerable restaurant experience, on their menu and hope they keep up the good work—we’re looking forward to drinks and snacks on their outdoor patio this summer.

Jack-Tar American Tavern
126 Washington Street, Marblehead
(781) 631-2323
www.jacktarmarblehead.com

Jack-Tar American Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Wine Dinner at Sixty2 on Wharf in Salem

Posted: February 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Salem | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

On February 24, the folks at Sixty2 on Wharf are teaming up with Eric Olsen from Salem Wine Imports and Eileen Wright from Adonna Imports to serve up an Italian four-course dinner. The cost is $75 per person (not including tax and gratuity).

Here’s the menu:
Antipasti: Porchetta; house-made salame with marinated vegetables; Institut Agricole Regional Valle d’Aoste 2007 Muller Thurgau

Primi: Pappardelle al Sugo (fresh pasta tossed with a rich sauce of guinea hen, wild mushrooms, pancetta and rosemary); Le Piane 2004 La Maggiorina

Secondo: Vitello al Brasato (braised veal with balsamic vinegar, black mission figs, and radicchio trevisano over a parmesan risotto); Fattoria Di Fiano 2004 Chianti Colli Fiorentina Riserva

Dolce: Panna Cotta e Biscotti (panna cotta with dried apricot with honey and vanilla and almond bicotti); Le Biancara 2001 Recioto

Reservations are required.

Sixty2 on Wharf
62 Wharf St, Salem
(978) 744-0062
www.62onwharf.com

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