Breakfast 5/8/23

Western omelet, home fries, sourdough toast, avocado

Bridget wanted to go out to breakfast, and we hadn’t been to the Ugly Mug Diner in downtown Salem for quite a long time. It’s super popular, and even though we got there only five minutes after they opened for business, almost all the tables were full.

I thought the morning sun really made this omelet look especially tasty. This one had diced ham, bell peppers, and tomatos with cheese. The ingredients are diced very small, which I like. I don’t want to have big chunks of ham or green peppers or whatever in an omelet. Like most breakfast-join omelets, it was too big ro finish, but I managed a good three quarters of it.

I’m not a big fan of home fries at all, but at least these home fries are well made. Large pieces of potato, but cooked long enough on the flat-top to get some nice browning and crusting. I will flat out not eat deep-fried frozen home fries, and don’t like fresh made ones if they haven’t gotten a crust. I ate enough of them to make it look like I wasn’t unhappy with them. The avocado slices were good and seemed fresh.

I’m usually quite satisfied with a breakfast like this, and this was no excpetion. First thing in the morning is not my best time of day, so I want something I can enjoy without too much consideration. Once in a while a fancy breakfast can be fun, but give me a plate like this any morning.

Lunch 4/21/23

Pork ramen

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.

Lunch 3/30/23

Nabeyaki udon soup

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.

Dinner 3/3/23

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.

Weekend Dining 1/27-1/28/23


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.

Dinner 1/6/23

Chicken pot pie empanadas with gravy

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.

Dinner 9/26/22

Macaroni and cheese with pulled pork

We had dinner at Opus in downtown Salem a couple of weeks ago. My wife had a particularly aggravating day at work that day and wanted to go have a cocktail to try to soothe her nerves. Her first choice was Mercy Tavern, but the options were to sit outside on a cool night or wait forever for a table inside. So we came back down Derby St. and tried to find parking for American Flatbread, but no luck, so Opus was the last-chance-or-go-home choice. Because it’s that time of year again in Our Fair City. But that’s okay, because we liked Opus on our earlier visit.

Things were a lot quieter when we got there than the last time. It was a Monday night, so you might expect that, but a very different vibe than the previous visit. We got seated and had cocktails in hand soon after. Crisis averted.

I ordered the pork belly bao as a starter, and they were excellent. The pork belly was super crispy and obviously came straight out because it was sizziling hot. For my entree, I had this macaroni & cheese with pulled pork. It was quite good, but hoo-boy did it sit in my stomach like a ton of lead. I was still full when I woke up the next morning.

We’ll be avoiding downtown Salem as much as possible until afer Halloween, thank you very much.

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.