There aren’t as many ramen joints in our area as there are in other parts of Greater Boston. We ended up at Ginger Asian Fusion in downtown Salem because some people in the /r/SalemMA subreddit on Reddit said they had decent ramen. This restaurant serves Louisiana-style dishes like po’boy sandwiches and seafood-in-a-bag alongside sushi, Chinese noodle dishes, and other Asian items. Kind of a weird combo, but hey.
This was a pretty basic bowl of pork ramen. Pork broth, several slices of chashu pork, some baby bok choy, and a medium cooked egg, plus the noodles. It certainly fit the bill, but no comparison to the good ramen joints we like in Cambridge and Somerville, or the late, lamented Amateras Ramen in Boston. The broth was recognizably pork, but nowhere near the depth of flavor of the tonkotsu broth that cooks for hours and hours. The chashu pork slices were tender and tasty; it looked lke maybe they used pork tenderloin to make it. The baby bok choy was a nice addition. I prefer my egg to be “jammy”, but at least this wasn’t hard-boiled to death. The noodles themselves were of good quality and had good texture. Overall, this would not be my first choice for a bowl of ramen, but good enough to satisfy an urge without driving a long way.
Pulled pork macaroni and cheese, steamed asparagus
Smoked bluefish pate with pickled red onions and fennel, mustard, rye toast
Thai red curry mussels
Seared bay scallops with roasted beets, horseradish cream, and raspberry vinaigrette
Strawberry rhubarb shortcake with rhubarb sorbet and whipped cream
Wow! I mean, WOW!
We both had a three-day weekend for Patriot’s Day, that holiday unique to Massachusetts and Maine that celebrates the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was kind of a cold, foggy, rainy day (good for the Boston Maratthon, bad for the Red Sox), so an actual outdoor activity didn’t seem very appealing. I suggested we go out to lunch, and Bridget found CK Pearl in Essex, MA, just a few miles up Rt. 128. There are a handful of restaurants looking out over the marshes in Essex, mainly fried seafood places, so that was what I was expecting.
I was way off. The place itself looks like it was indeed an old clam shack like its neighbors once upon a time, but the chef has high-end experience in some big-name places in Boston, and ii looks like it’s been open in this form since 2017. The menu is still primarily local seafood, but the dishes are all fairly elevated.
We opted to get dishes to share rather than individual entrees, starting with the smoked bluefish pate. I don’t even recall where we first tried smoked bluefish pate, just that we both loved it and are always excited to see it offered somewhere. It came on a charcuterie board along with a little salad of pickled red onion and fennel, two types of mustard (whole grain and Dijon), and lightly toasted rye bread. There was way more pate than you could eat on a couple of slices of bread, but we passed on getting more bread because we had several other dishes ahead. The combo of the mustard, the pate, and the salad on the bread was like Danish smørrebrød.
I also got a cup of the seafood chowder, which was good enough, but probably the least interesting part of the entire meal. There were no discernible chunks of seafood in my cup, and only a couple pieces of potato, but quite a bit of bacon. It came with a huge fried clam on top, which was visually appealing. I can imagine that it’s fine for tourists who show up looking for chowder, but didn’t impress me.
The Thai red curry mussels were incredibly good. I’ve never seen such huge, juicy mussels anywhere. The red curry was nicely nuanced – hot, sweet, a little herbal. I make Thai red curry mussels at home once in a while, but obviously I need to step up my game.
We were both surprised by the beautiful presentation of the bay scallops, served with diced roasted beets and a horseradish cream. The beets were in a raspberry vinaigrette, so each bite was a little sweet, a little tangy, a little earthy, a little ocean-y, and a little hot from the horseradish.Truly the star of the meal.
For dessert, Bridget had a bread pudding and I ordered the strawberry-rhubarb shortcake. It was a bit of a deconstructed presentation. Strawberry compote on a biscuit, with a piping of whipped cream on the side and a block of rhubarb sorbet. I would eat a whole bowl of that sorbet. The strawberry shortcake part was reasonably good, but the sorbet stole the show.
In addition to their dining room, they also have an outdoor patio and a second seating area, so I’ll bet this place hops in season. Even on a cold, wet, foggy day it was busy.
One day a couple of weeks ago, I got a hankering for Thai food and convinced my wife that we should go downtown to have lunch at the aptly-named Thai Place restaurant. When we got there, though, it wasn’t open, even though the hours posted on their website and their door said they would be. Somewht frustrated, we walked into a bitterly cold breeze a couple of blocks to Koto. Koto bills itself as “Asian fusion”, which means its a mishmash of some Chinese and Japanese dishes plus sushi. Not at all Thai, but defnitely the closest substitute in walking distance.
The wind was so cold that by the time we made the very short walk from one place to the other, both of us were chilled to the bone and wanted nothing more than a big bowl of hot soup. Bridget got a noodle suop with kimchi and tofu, and I ordered nabeyaki udon. Classic nabeyaki udon is a dashi soup base with some chicken, a slice or two of kameboko fish cake (that swirly thing you get in your instant ramen sometimes), maybe some fried tofu, mushrooms, and a tempura fried shrimp. This was their own variation, using chicken broth, plain cooked shrimp instead of tempura, and baby bok choy alon with the customary chicken pieces and soft-boiled egg (which was utterly perfect, by the way). Though I was a little disappointed not to get the tempura shrimp, I did not mind the alterations in the slightest. I especially liked the inclusion of the baby bok choy, which is one ov my favorite vegetables. I also had a side order of fried spring rolls, which at least was a nod to the Thai food I had waned in the first place.
Foxtown Diner, Shelburne Falls – Cheeseburger and potato chips
We took a brief roadtrip to the western portion of Massachusetts over the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day. Our daughter goes to college in North Adams, and she is graduating in just a few weeks, so we wanted to spend some time with her out there to see the places she has come to know before she likely says goodbye to them to begin a new adventure elsewhere.
Our first stop was in Shelburne Falls, and the first order of business was lunch at the Foxtown Diner. You could hardly get more small-town breakfast-and-lunch than this. The woman in the kitchen was cooking up huge pots of boiled corned beef and cabbage that no one was ordering, and the whole place had the gentle farty scent of cooking cabbage. A lady at a table in fron tof us ordered what she thought was a corned beef sandwich and was voluably disappointed. My cheeseburger was excellent other than being on a bulkie roll instead of a proper hambyrger bun. After lunch, we popped in and out of a couple of shops, bought a few things, and drove on to North Adams to do a car swap with the kid.
From North Adams we drove through Pittsfield to Lenox, where we had a room at a country inn for the two nights of the roadtrip. Lenox is a very popular summer tourist spot for exceedingly rich people, but in the depth of winter the hotel rates come down enough for mere mortals to afford lodging. The inn itself was sort of a corporate vision of what a country inn should be, but definitely better than the Marriott or the HoJoMoLo down the street. Once I had a chance to get in a little nap, we used Yelp to find a tapas place called Brava for dinner.
Brava, Lenox – olives and wine
Brava, Lenox – white anchovies with lemon and olive oil
Brava, Lenox – calamari with spicy remoulade
Brava, Lenox – gambas al ajillo
Brava, Lenox – prosciutto, Fontina and arugula pizza
Everything was good except the shrimp, which were not bad per se, but I have had much better elsewhere. The anchovies were especially good. Somehow I managed not to take a picture of the roasted Brussels sprouts. Charlotte ordered the pizza for herself and only ate a couple of slices. My glass of Rioja was perfect with the marinated olives.
Haven Cafe, Lenox – ham, tomato and cheddar omelet with home fries and salad
We started Friday with breakfast at Haven Cafe and Bakery. I was anticipating nothing more than coffee and a pastry, but they serve actual breakfast food and turned out this nicely folded omelet along with some home fries and a little pile of dressed lettuce. It was tasty and filling enough on top of the previous night’s dinner, that I felt no need for lunch later in the day.
We spent the morning at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Bridget and I had been there one time many years ago, but not with Charlotte. They have some of his originals – the Four Freedoms paintings, the Ruby Bridges painting, and some others – as well as some original magazine covers and reproductions of all of his Saturday Evening Post covers. On our earlier visit, we were able to go into the little house that was his studio that now sits on the museum’s grounds, but it was closed for the winter on this visit.
Even though we weren’t hungry for lunch, we did drive into Stockbridge and have some mid-afternoon pie.
Tiffany’s Cafe, Stockbridge – chocolate cream pie
Made the short drive back to Lenox and took a guided tour of Ventfort Hall, a “summer cottage” mansion owned by the sister of J.P. Morgan, and now open as a museum of Gilded Age luxury. Though not as remarkably ostentatious as the “cottages” in Newport, RI, this is a large, stately home that sits next door to Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra spends its summers today. The tour guide was a lovely lady who was exceptionally knowledgable about the Morgans, the house, and the local history. The house passed through several sets of hands after the Morgans and was in disrepair and danger of being destroyed by a local developer, but the town rallied to save it and the restoration project is still ongoing.
Appropriately enough, we chose a place called Morgan’s Tavern in Lee for dinner, though I doubt they were the same set of Morgans. This place featured a “traditional” menu of old-fashioned stuff like meatloaf, turkey dinner, and pot roast alongside some burgers and a few other things.
Morgan’s Tavern, Lee – pot roast, garlic mashed potatoes, broiled asparagus
Yum. Classic comfort food. I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish my dinner, considering everything else I ate that day, but I devoured this. Bridget had the turkey dinner (turkey, gravy, cornbread stuffing). Charlotte ordered pasta bolognese and barely touched it. Lesson – do not order pasta bolognese in a place that specializes in pot roast and turkey dinner. Oh, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was obliged to have a glass of Jameson’s.
The final food stop was Otto’s Kitchen in Pittsfield for breakfast on Saturday morning. It’s a place that Charlotte and her college friends like to go to for weekend breakfast, so she wanted to take us there. We arrived just ahead of the crowd and got a table before people had to start waiting.
Otto’s Kitchen, Pittsfield – “The Late Night” two eggs, bacon, English muffin, French toast
I went with another basic breakfast, though there were more elaborate choices available. Bridget and Charlotte both went with bowls that were combos of eggs, cheese, tater tots, and assorted veg. They were both well-pleased with their breakfast, and mine was good, but definitely basic.
We drove on to Williamstown to see the Clark Art Museum as the last stop before Bridget and I dropped Charlotte back at her dorm and headed home. None of us had the slightest clue that we found find such a treasure trove of Impressionist paintings – so many Renoirs, and also Manet, Monet, Pisarro, Degas, even an early Van Gogh. A world-class museum out in the middle of nowhere. Amazing.
To be candid with you, I had not really wanted to go on this road trip, but ended up enjoying myself a lot more than I expected. Every stop had something good, whether it was the food or the museums or the adorable little shops in Shelburne Falls. I think three days was just the right amount of time to hit the highlights, especially in March, when the weather in the Berkshires is still very much winter. We’ll be back out there in early May for Charlotte’s graduation and to help her haul all of her stuff back home, so there won’t be the time to see anything, so this trip was well worthwhile.
Omelet with black beans, shredded chiptole chicken, avocado, cheddar cheese, salsa, pico de gallo, and crema
Chilaquiles with black beans, queso fresco, and cheddar. Topped with eggs, crema, salsa verde and roja, pico de gallo, avocado, cotija cheese, and cilantro
Cafe Luna in Kendall Square in Cambridge is a seriously luxe breakfast experience. We’ve been a few times, but not since the pandemic. It’s insanely popular and you have to make reservations weeks in advance to even get a table (much to the disappointment of the people who show up without them and must wait forever to even get a chance to sit). It means getting up a little early on a Satdurday morning to drive to Cambridge, but it is entirely worth the drive.
Even though we ordered different things, there wasn’t much difference between the omelet and the chilaquiles except hers had tortilla chips and mine had pulled chicken. They were equally delicious, though.
Oh, and I almost forgot the biscuits. They make delicious biscuits and usually serve them with honey butter, but the waitress clued us into getting the maple bacon butter instead. OMFG, so good.
Sea scallops with mushrooms, asparagus, and gnocchi
Oyster platter with shrimp
As you might expect, Salem has a passel of seafood restaurants. They’re clusteered mainly around the Derby Wharf area, where the tourists are when they are not looking at spooky stuff. This being the non-tourist time of year, we opted for a weeknight dinner at Finz as we had not been there yet in the three and a half years we’ve lived here.
I started with a half-dozen oysters as an appetizer. When raw oysters are on offer, I almost always get them. My friends on Facebook and I had been talking about our love/dislike of oysters, so I was already primed to have them. These were served with cocktail sauce and horseradish and I had to ask for mignonette sauce separately. The mignonette, however, was not good at all. Waaaaay too vinegary and harsh. I felt the burn on the back of my throat all evening. I don’t care for cocktail sauce with oysters, but I ended up having some anywaym just to combat the taste of the mignonette sauce. Might not bother with ordering oysters at this restaurant again.
On the other hand, I thought my entree was splendid. The scallops were seared, but not burnt (a too-common result with scallops). They surrounded a very tasty combination of mushrooms, asparagus, and browned gnocchi that seemed more elevated than I would have expected from a typical seafood restaurant. Looks like they change up what goes with the scallops, since their current online menu has them paired with a corn risotto at the moment.
I imagine we’ll go back again, though I like Sea Level Oyster Bar better overall. They are apparently owned by the same people, and I’m not entirely sure why they would be any different, but I suppose each kitchen is going to be its own thing.
Baba ghannoush with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint
We visited a new-ish restaurant at the Market Street mall in Lynnfield last night. It’s called La Gallina, and the menu is a mish-mash of Mediterranean food. They have tapas, they have pasta and pizza, they have souvlaki, they have falafel. Despite this bit of an identity crisis, though, the food we had was exceptionally good. Because it was a Monday night, the very large dining room was kind of empty, which was no issue for us, but I wonder how loud it is on a Friday or Saturday.
We started with a shared app of baba ghannoush and pita chips. I loved the presentation with the pomegranate seeds and mint. The dip itself was a little bland, so the garnshes helped the flavor, too. They also had a whipped feta and red pepper dip that we agreed to try the next time.
For my entree, I had fideua (called Spanish noodle paella with seafood on the meni). Fideua uses little vermicelli noodles called fideos instead of rice, but is otherwise pretty much just like paella in all other respects. The seafood consisted of mussels, calamari, shrimp, and white fish. The portion was very generous, and I couldn’t finish the whole thing, but I enjoyed it a lot. I like the combination of pasta and seafood in several different dishes, and the dish was a little saucier than paella generally is, which was good, too. My wife had spaghetti carbonara, which I did not get a photo of, but she enjoyed it, too. We each had a dish of gelato for dessert.
I have gotten to be very fond of CaliBasil in Beverly as my local go-to for pho. We go for lunch or dinner probably twice a month. Lately, I have been ordering the House Special pho, which has sirloin, brisket, and bo vien meatballs.
I wish that they offerred a bowl that also includes tendon and tripe, but I get that those two ingredients might turn some people off. I don’t love the tripe, but it adds an interesting texture. I do love the bits of tendon that get all silky in the hot broth.
Even with the lack of those two things, they make a really decent bowl of soup, and I expect to be there again very soon.
Pizza with pepperoni, green peppers, and red onions
Even after I had that bowl of pho for lunch, I was hungry enough for dinner to convince my wife that we should go out. We went back to Americna Flatbread Company in downtown Salem and had this excellent pizza. We haven’t tried them for takeout yet, but now that we’ve been a couple of times and really like the pizza, we’ll probably give this a go the next time we want delivery.
Tacos – short rib and spice-rubbed chicken
We finally checked out Barrio in Salem for lunch on Saturday. Salem has a bunch of taco places now, and this one is the most recent addition. Unlike the other places in town, Barrio is a chain, with locations all over the country. Usually that’s not a good sign, but the tacos were excellent and we agreed we liked them better than any of the local joints.
To order, you are asked to “build your own” using a sheet of options and you color in bubbles with a pencil like you are taking a test at school. The choices are myriad, so the combinations are pretty much endless. They also have a few a la carte options, along with appetizers and specials. I opted to get one soft flour taco with shredded short rib birria, smoked Cheddar cheese and pico de gallo, and one with spice-rubbed chicken, salsa verde and queso fresco. I also got small sides of cilantro-lime rice and black beans. Both were excellent, but I loved the beef taco. I also really appreciated that the sides were small – many taco places give you way too much rice and beans when what you want are great tacos. My wife got the Thai chili tofu on one taco and gochujang tofu for the other and also enjoyed hers.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this appetizer anywhere else, but it is a brilliant idea for fall/winter. Empanadas filled with chicken and veg as you would find in a chicken pot pie, with the gravy served on the side as a dipping sauce. I had this at The Derby in dowtown Salem on Friday night and it was really good. The dough is standard empanada dough, and they’re deep fried, all of which was fine but I wonder how it would work, or even if it can work, with puff pastry and baked. I might have to try making it myself both ways.
This is on the menu as an appetizer, bur I had it as my main because I’d eaten a big lunch at work and did not feel like having a big entree. The Derby is pretty much focused on apps, sandwiches, and such in the first place, so that was no issue. My wife had the fish tacos and our daughter had buffalo mac and cheese. We’ve been to The Derby a couple of times now and have enjoyed the food, sticking to apps both times. At least in the middle of winter there aren’t a gazillion tourists, though it was normal Friday-night level of busy.
Had to run an errand in Harvard Square on Saturday, which was a perfect excuse to go to Santouku Ramen for lunch. The weather was freezing cold and windy, so a hot bowl of ramen really hit the spot. As usual, the place was packed, but we didn’t have to wait much more than 10 minutes to get a table.
Hokkaido-style ramen uses a miso-based broth, which you can easily tell from the cloudy beige color of the soup. I am more partial to tonkotsu ramen, where the broth is made by slowly braising pork bones, but Santouku makes such good soup that there’s no reason to quibble. My other favorite ramen joint, Amateras Ramen, made the best tonkotsu, but they closed for business a few months ago. I ate the gyozas, which did not come out of the kitchen hot, but I skipped the aji-tama egg this time, mainly because the soup itself was very filling.
Ramen had a real moment in the Boston dining scene a few years ago, but it has definitely faded somewhat. The large number of Japanese students at Harvard, along with tour buses of Japanese tourists in Harvard Square keeps this restaurant doing well, so I don’t expect it to disappear any time soon.
On Sunday, we went to see Phil Rosenthal, the star of Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil”, doing a book tour appearance at the Wilbur Theater. Phil is as adorable in person as he is on the show. He’s one of our favrotie things to watch, and has been inspirational to us as we plan and dream about places to go on vacation. Even though it was the first snowy evening of the season, we took the train into town and trudged to the theater. The show began at 7:00 and was over by 8:30, but the train back home wasn’t until 10:00, so our plan was to go back over to North Station and check out the new food hall there. Even though there was a big concert at the TD Garden, most of the places in the food hall were closed, so we ventured across the street to Halftime Pizza and had a couple of slices.
Pizza-by-the-slice is always a crapshoot, because who knows how long the pizza has been sitting around, and a lot of pizza places manage to barely re-heat the slices. This pizza must have been pretty fresh, and they definitely got it back to piping-hot to the point that I would not have guessed it was reheated at all. It was exactly what I had been in the mood for – the right level of greasy, the right proportion of sauce to cheese, thin crust that had a little crunch but wasn’t overbaked. During his appearance, Phil admitted that his favorite food is pizza, and I am right there with him on that.