Birthday Dinner 8/27/22

Tagine Djaja – roasted chicken with preserved lemons, garlic and olives on Israeli couscous

Cigar sampler – spinach and feta, Brie and honey, spiced ground beef with raisins

“Blue Fez” martini – orange vodka, blue curacao, champagne

I didn’t particularly feel like going out to dinner for my birthday on Saturday, but my daughter seems indignant about that, so we called an audible and went to Blue Fez, a Moroccan place in Salem that we’d been to once before the pandemic and had been meaning to go back to evere since. We sat indoors, in part because the weather was fairly humid, but also because my daughter has a phobia of bees and other flying insects and hates to eat outside. We were the only diners inside, though the outside tables seemed well-occupied.

Though I was unenthusiastic to begin with, the meal itself was excellent, and by the time we were finished, I was quite pleased that we’d gone. The Blue Fez martini was delicious and not too boozy tasting, even though it was all booze. We shared the appetizer, so I got one spinach-and-feta and one beef, but they were crispy and tasty. The combination of spiced meat with the sweet raisins is a common flavor pair in Moroccan cuisine that I really like. My chicken tagine dish was a nice combo of the sharp flavors of perserved lemon and olives, with spices like cinnamon and saffron.

We skipped dessert, since we had treats from Caramel Patisserie waiting for us at home, but it made for a fine birthday dinner.

Dinner 8/13/22

Steak bowl with brown rice, red quinoa, shiitake mushrooms, snap peas, bok choy, carrots, red onion, asparagus, red pepper flakes.

Chain restaurants generally leave me cold, but we’ve had some decent meals at the Yard House location in Lynnfield, and this recent one was especially good. My daughter and I shared an order of shiitake garlic noodles as an appetizer that we both enjoyed, and then I had this steak bowl, which was really excellent.

For starters, they did a good job with the steak. I asked for medium-rare, which places like this can never seem to accomplish, but they did hit medium spot-on, so that’s close enough for me. The veggie combo, though, was great. I love bok choy and asparagus in stir-fry. They maybe needed to do a little bit better job of de-stringing the snap peas, but they were tasty. And the grain combo of brown rice and quinoa had good textural contrast. My general assumption is that chain restaurant kitchens do very little actual cooking, but this did not seem like it came from a freezer bag.

Lunch 8/7/22

Steamed clams

The heat wave here over the last week or so has kept me and my wife hiding in our air-conditioned apartment, but by Sunday we were suffering from some serious cabin fever, so we braved the “feels-like-100” degree temps and went out to get some lunch so we could say we left the house.

Our goal was to find a restaurant where we could sit inside and continue to keep cool in the AC, but we chose The Lobster Shanty downtown for some reason, and almost all their seating is outside. At least we got the host to seat us under the canopy instead of directly in the sun. Two demerits to us, but one point back for the canopy.

They had steamed clams as a daily special, so I got them as a starter. Steamed clams seems almost as bad as sitting outdoors in the heat, but eating them isn’t partiicularly hot and steamy.

If you are from a part of the world where steamed clams are not a thing, these are soft-shelled clams that are dug up on tidal mud flats (“clam flats”) all over New England. The clams live in the mud and stick up a little siphon that they use to filter their food out of the water. The clams are simply steamed and served with drawn butter. You remove the clam from the shell, pull off the outer layer of the siphon, rinse the clam in water or broth, dip it in the butter, and eat the clam. They are one of the most unappetizing-looking foods you can imagine, but the combination of the melted butter and the fresh taste of the sea is yummy.

My wife, the notoriously fussy eater, usually recoils from the very idea of steamed clams, so I was a bit stunned when she decided to try a couple of her own volition, and even more surprised when she said she enjoyed them. Granted, she did gag trying to swallow a couple, but her overall impression was quite favorable. Like a lot of other somewhat unusual-looking foods, I think it takes a little getting used to. I would not have eaten a steamed clam for the world when I was a kid, but I enjoy them a lot now.

The clams went down well with an ice cold IPA and were followed up with a so-so lobster roll that suffered from the use of celery, lemon aioli in place of plain mayo, and a $30 price tag. Afterward, we retreated back to our private icebox and spent the remainder of the afternoon recovering from the heat.

Dinner 7/30/22

Caprese salad with Burrata

Swordfish puttanesca

Our daughter has been enjoying her summer job working as a camp counselor at a hoity-toity girls’ summer camp in Maine, but when she gets a full 24 hours off, she likes to come spend an evening with us. She was home this past weekend and we went to dinner at The Adriatic in Salem by her choice.

Still giddy with the novelty of being 21, she likes to have a cocktail with dinner, so she and I each had a Bellini martini – your basic Bellini boozed up with vodka and peach schnapps. They were excellent and we both had a second one, which I regretted later but thoroughly enjoyed at the time.

Someone needs to explain to the kitchen at this restaurant that it isn’t 1995 any more, because their plating leaves a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, the burratta caprese was very tasty and featured some very colorful heirloom tomatoes that my photo doesn’t really show all that well.

The swordfish puttanesca was also delicious, if dated-looking. A very nicely seared piece of swordfish on a bed of pearl couscous and spinach, topped with tomatoes, green olives, and arugula. The big olives were exactly the right level of briny and salty to contrast the sweet tomatoes and peppery arugula.

The one drawback to our experience was astonishingly slow service. It seemed like they had plenty of waitstaff working, and a few tables emptied up not long after we sat down, so I’m not sure exactly why it took almost 20 minutes for someone to come bring us water and then another 10 to get our drinks. Maybe they were time-travelling back from the 1990s in the kitchen.

Dinner 6/11/22

Pan-fried noodles with seafood; Pork belly and tofu in 5-spice sauce

A little dinner with my friend Tony at Dumpling Cafe in Chinatown befor going to a concert. Tony had never had soup dumplings (xiao long bao), which are Dumpling Cafe’s speciality, and the restuarant is just around the corner from the Wang Theatre where we were going, so it seemed like a perfect choice.

I, of course, forgot to take a photo of the dumplings, but I have posted them here previously. These are the other dishes we ordered. The pork belly and tofu dish was outstanding. The five-spice sauce was savory and not too overpowering, and the contrast of the crispy pieces of pork belly and silky soft tofu was amazing. They do the pan-fried noodles witha few different proteins, but this one featured seafood (mainly scallops and squid) and the sauce was deeply flavored by the seafood bits. We probably should have ordered one of their spicier dishes, but I’m not really sad that we didn’t because I didn’t bring a towel to wipe down my sweaty head.

The XLBs were, as ever, fantastic. We ordered both varieties (one that is just pork, one is pork and crab). Tony enjoyed them enormously.

Dinner 6/3/22

Shredded chicken and shredded beef tacos

This was dinner at Howling Wolf Taqueria in Salem. Very popular spot. We’ve done takeout from them a couple of times and have eaten there a couple of times. Our daughter was leaving to go to her summer cmap job up in Maine the next day, and this was her request.

I like to keep tacos fairly simple, and these were just that – the meat, some pico de gallo, and a sprinkle of cheese. I wasn’t especially hungry, so I only got two tacos. One had shredded chicken (cooked in a sauce that is not described on the menu, but seemed like achiote-based) and shredded beef (deshebrada de res). I liked the beef better than the chicken, and another time would order two of them instead.

Their menu features a lot of other stuff. There are some fancier tacos, plus quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, and the like. They also have a bar (every restaurant in Salem is essentially a bar that also serves food) and make some tasty margaritas. My daughter, who just turned 21, was tickled to order her very first strawberry margarita.

Dinner 5/21/22

Dinner at Mistral

Last Saturday was our daughter’s 21st birthday, and we took her to Mistral in Boston to commemorate the occasion. She got to enjoy her first legal drink with a birthday toast (sparkling rosé) and we all enjoyed our meal. The restuarant seemed to be full of special occasion diners – grad parties, birthdays, romantic occasions – which is what fine-dines are best for. The menu at Mistral is pretty standard bistro fare, but very well prepared. I had the crab ravioli and roast duck, my wife had the escargot and the sole, and our daughter had the carpaccio and the lamb.

Probably the most remarkable thing about the meal was the price of the lamb. It was listed on the menu as “Market Price”, which is usually reserved for things like lobster, but almost always means it’s going to be expensive. Which it was. $125 for the entree. Either the supply chain crisis has driven the price of lamb WAY WAY up, or that is some pretty special lamb. Yikes.

Dinner 4/17/22

“Feddy cheesesteak”

Our hotel is right around the corner from Kramer’s Bookstore and Cafe, which came recommended to us by a friend, so we decided to check it out for dinner after our jaunt to the American history museum. Sadly, my dinner did not live up to expectations. This is their cheesesteak sandwich, done Philly-style with cheese sauce instead of melted cheese, and slathered with a cherry pepper relish that really didn’t sit well with me. The relish was both too vinegary and too spicy for me, and it made the sandwich hard to enjoy. I ate maybe a third of the sandwich. It also didn’t help that the roll had split on the bottom, and was very full, so the filling fell out of it and had to be eaten with a fork. All in all a bust, as far as I was concerned. At least Bridget enjoyed her sandwich, although hers also had the same pepper relish and she said there were a couple of bites that were a bit too much.

When something like this happens, I try to be sanguine about it. It’s not the fault of the server or the kitchen, it’s just not what I had hoped the dish to be. I ate enough of it that I didn’t leave hungry, and we didn’t make a fuss for the server, we just paid the chcek. Afterward, we walks across to the CVS and bought ice cream bars to soothe our assaulted taste buds.

Dinner 4/16/22

Elote corn dip, BBQ meatloaf sandwich, Beet and goat cheese salad

My wife and I are in Washington DC this week on our firt week-long vacation since 2020. We spent most of Saturday on the Acela train from Boston to Washington, arriving in the late afternoon. After we got settled in at the hotel, we wandered over to City Tap – Dupont for a casual dinner.

Not a bad place, but nothing really amazing. There are City Tap locations in a variety of cities, including Boston, and it’s mainly a bar that also serves food. I had a glass of bourbon and Bridget had a cucumber cocktail with vodka that she said was nice and refreshing. We split the elote dip, whcih was pretty good. She had the beet and goat cheese salad, and I had the BBQ meatloaf sandwich (which also had arugula, melted cheese, and a fried egg).

Vacation dining is always a balancing act – you are forced to eat out for every meal, and you want to try interesting things, but you also need some basic and/or cheap eats. This was pretty casual, but definitely a step up from a quick-serve or fast food experience. I don’t get the sens that Washington is a foodie city, even though there are plenty of restaurants.