Dinner 9/9/22

Swordfish with romesco, leeks, and tamogitake mushrooms

My wife’s sister came out from Indianapolis for a weekend visit to celebrate her birthday with us. We had fun with her last September when she came to visit, so we were more than glad to have her back. We took her to Settler in Salem for her birthday dinner and all three of us loved it. It was our first visit there, though we have been meaning to go for a while. Compared to some of the other “good” restaurants in town, this one really excels at the food and absolutely rates as a must-try. Just note, though, that it’s quite small inside and is on a little side street in downtown, so parking is a challenge.

My entree was called “Harpooned Swordfish” on the menu, so we joked with the server about it coming with an actual harpoon sticking out of it, but, alas, no harpoon to be had. The salty-savory-umami sauce ws excellent and paired very well with the fish, which seemed to be baked rather than seared or grilled (no obvious browning or grill marks). For my appetizer, I had a lovely salad of heirloom tomatoes wth ricotta salata and olives, and washed everything down with a glass of Viognier wine. I even ordered dessert, which I so rarely do – a slice of Basque-style cheesecake.

Heirloom tomatoes with ricotta salata and olives

Basque cheesecake

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.

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 6/22/22

Pepperoni, green bell pepper, and red onion pizza

One of the best pizzas I have had in quite a while. This was at American Flatbread in downtown Salem. They recently took over the Salem location (along with several others in Massachusetts) from the semi-related Flatbread Company chain. Other than the name change, I don’t think there’s much different, but we hadn’t been to this place under either regime, so stopped by for dinner one night last week. To be honest, I had fairly low expectations, and was completely surprised at how good this pizza was. We ordered a large pie and ate almost all of it at the table (Bridget brought home the last two slices and polished them off for lunch a few days later). I am not usually a fan of peppers and onions on pizza, but this combo worked great. Super thin crust, but not cracker-y, good cheese blend. Nobody seems to have great pepperoni anymore, but this was good. Overall, a damn fine pizza.

This particular location has its own small bowling alley as a feature of the restaurant. This came about when the Flatbread Company opened a location in Davis Square in Somerville inside an old bowling alley. They kept the lanes, and it quickly became a very popular place to go for pizza, beer, and some fun. We went to the Somerville Flatbread location a few times and loved it. Because it was so popular in Somerville, they tried to replicate it in some of their other spots. American Flatbread has kept the bowling in Salem, though it’s only a couple of lanes, not an entire “Bowl-A-Drome” style alley. We did not avail ourselves of the opportunity, but since we will definitely be going back for another pizza, maybe we’ll do it up the next time.

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 4/2/22

Crispy pork belly tacos with pickled red onion, cotija cheese, chipotle crema, lettuce

Went to The Derby in downtown Salem for dinner on Saturday night. Neither of us was especially hungry, so we figured some pub grub type food would be about the right level, and we were correct.

Like a lot of places in Salem, The Derby is focused on the bar crowd, and boy, was there a crowd. The weather was nice on Saturday, which brought people out and also meant that the usual parade of tourists has begun for the season. The noise level was deafening, and we almost walked out, but we stuck it out and enjoyed the food pretty well. We did agree, though, that we’ll avoid going there on the weekend in the future and save it for a Tuesday night or some other time when the crowd is smaller and you don’t require hearing protection.

Bridget had some buffalo cauliflower, and I had these crispy pork belly tacos. They were very good – the pork belly slices were definitely crispy and not very fatty, which is key to any pork belly dish. These were Mexican-style, so Cotija cheese and chipotle crema, but I’d bet they’d be great with a soy-ginger glaze and some Asian-style ingredients, too. They were on the Appetizer menu, so just the right size for “not-too-hungry”, but still real food. I also had a small bowl of black bean chili that was good, but nothing special.

Lunch 3/26/22

Grilled cheese sandwich

Our beloved local cheese shop does grilled cheese sandwiches to order on Saturdays, and we finally remembered to go and get them. This is Alpine Swiss, Vermont Cheddar, and balsamic onion jam on sourdough (freshly made by the bakery around the corner) slathered with butter. They make the sandwiches in a grill press, and you can order ahead or have them make it while you wait. it is worth the 10 minutes or so of waiting. Because, damn, it was gooooooood.

We each got a sandwich, but neither of us could finish a whole one in one sitting, so another time we’ll split one. I reheated mine in the convection toaster oven the next day, and it was *almost* as good as it was fresh.

Dessert 2/12/21

Trois chocolat mousse

As I mentioned in the post immediately below, I picked up some desserts at Caramel Patisserie to go along with our delightful dinner. The mild day brought people out in droves, and when we got to Caramel, there was nowhere to park nearby (a common occurrence in downtown Salem), so I got out of the car and went in, while Bridget circled the block in the car.

They’ve had these gorgeous little mousses a couple of times recently. It’s milk chocolate, white chocolate, and dark chocolate mousse and a little hazlenut crunch on the very bottom. They were as delcious as they were beautiful, like everything else we get from them. I also picked up a couple of chocolate-filled eclairs, which we had for dessert Sunday night. Tough call which was better, to be honest.

I got to the patisserie in the knick of time. I was about fourth in line when I walked in the door, but by the time I left, the line was all the way out the door and starting to head down the street. Glad to see that they do such robust business.

Dinner 2/11/22

Chicken Parmesan

I used to love watching all the cooking shows on PBS on Saturday afternoons, but over the last year or so, as I have largely stopped watching broadcast TV, I have turned to YouTube for my cooking show fix. I am a big fan of Chef John and Food Wishes, Babish, and Sam The Cooking Guy. One of STCG’s episodes last week was for a homemade chicken parm, and it got me hankering for one REAL bad. However, we don’t have a deep fryer, and the appeal of the chicken parm definitely comes from the deep fried chicken cutlet. My wife wanted to go out for dinner on Friday night because she’d had a very stressful week, so I seized the opportunity and convinced her we needed to go to a local spaghetti joint.

We went to Bertini’s in Salem, which has been in business for almost 80 years, so you know they must do something right. It’s still like 1979 or 80 in their dining room, and the crowd in the bar was bigger than the crowd in the dinig room, but no matter. A spaghetti joint can always be counted on for all the usual Italian-American favorites.

I had this good-looking chicken parm, a house salad of iceberg lettuce with creamy Italian dressing, a side of spaghetti, and a glass of Chianti. The only missing element was the red-checkered tablecloth. I’m not old enough to remember when Italian food was thought of as exotic, but I am old enough to remember when it was still a big deal to go to an Italian restaurant like this. Now they are actually kind of a rarity, and this kind of food is the province of pizza joints, In fact, I imagine this restaurant really survives on its pizza business and the bar room. Anyway, it certianly hit the spot, and I had a slice of lemon meringue pie for dessert and went home well-fed.