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Black Cow

blackcowexteriorThe wait is finally over!  After months of watching “the old carburetor building” at 40 Merrimac Street in Newburyport undertake major renovations, we were finally able the check out the new digs for the Black Cow!  One had to wonder why they would want to move onto the main street, after all, the space they have occupied for the last 20 years, overlooking the water was pretty ideal.  With their lease coming to an end, the time seemed right for owner Joe Leone to make a move. The new space is pretty sweet!  There was a lot of attention to detail!

oysterbar

At first we were a little worried about even getting in tonight.  No reservations are taken.  Driving into Newburyport, we hit a bit of a backup and the parking lot was a crime scene!  But persistence paid off and we found a spot.  Walking up to the restaurant, we were sure we would have a wait, what with clusters of people waiting outside, but we were pleasantly pleased when we walked in and were seated right away.  This new space has plenty of room.  We sat in the main dining room on the first floor with an expansive bar with seating for at least 50.  This space featured booths all along the floor-to-ceiling windows plus a variety of high and low top tables the length of the long room.  On the other side of the bar, not seen from this room was another dining area with more booths and tables and a  “raw bar” with even more seating and another bar. Center to the room is a sailboat restored and made into the raw bar with a mast that reaches three levels.

On the second floor there is outdoor seating for both dining and more comfortable seating for gathering with friends for drinks.  Here is where you will find your water view.  Inside, still on the second floor is yet another bar to service this floor.  There is also another dining room, not yet in use, but I imagine come winter, when dining outside is not an option, this will be put to use.  Bathrooms can be found on both levels.

There is also a little patio seating right on Merrimac Street but that holds no appeal for me with the constant traffic going by.  Just seems too dirty to me.  The third level is not open to the public.  That floor is used for offices.

If you go with a party of 2 or 4, I think you can expect to be seated fairly quickly.  Larger parties may find themselves waiting.  Much of the seating is booth seating.  Free floating tables that can be combined to make a larger table are harder to come by.

We started our evening with drinks.  We both opted for the Merrimac Manhattan made with Makers Mark Bourbon, Berto Sweet Vermouth, Cointreau and Citrus dash.  It was perfectly made and delicious.  Jerry had to order a beer to go with dinner.  With close to 50 beers on tap there were plenty to choose from!  I opted for a glass of wine with my dinner.  The wine list was ample with a variety of choices.  I opted for a Nebbiolo from Italy sold by the glass as well as bottle.  It was a nice wine but should have had a little more chill to it.

With our drinks, bread was brought to the table with a variety of spreads.  The spreads included a lemon butter with sea salt, a nut-free pesto and a white bean and garlic spread.  You could not go wrong with any of the choices!

For an appetizer, we share Lobster Wontons.  When we ordered this, I was thinking it was going to be something like a crab ragoon. I could not have been more wrong!  This was served on a long rectangle plate.  On top of some lettuce lay four crispy wonton chips.  Each was spread with a cream cheese spread that had been mixed with fine herbs.  A top this lay a lobster claw, a slice of avocado and all this was topped with a spicy (not hot at all) mango relish.  This was light and “citrusy”.  This could easily be shared with four people.  Really great and different start!

For our main course I chose the Scallops & Gnocchi.  This dish was amazing!  They were not stingy with the scallops!  I had to have at least 10.  These were lightly suate’d and served with gnocchi, bacon, leeks, mushrooms, white beans, a parsley/spinach pistou (like pesto without nuts), served in a veloute sauce and finished with toasted panko bread crumbs. I think I got the dish of the night!

Jerry chose Cioppino made with shrimp, mussels, calamari, cod, chorizo (which had a little kick to it) and red potato all served in a roasted fennel-tomato broth. This meal was best enjoyed with a spoon.  Had we not already had bread, Jerry would have asked for some to sop up that tasty broth!  While his was delicious, I think my dish was better – with very interesting flavors.

We were too stuffed to even consider dessert. A stroll along the waterfront after a meal like this is one of the benefits of this location.  We were pleased with the new location and new menu.  We look forward to returning and sitting upstairs for drinks with friends!  We would give the new Black Cow four cheers!

cheers cheerscheerscheers

 

 

 

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Chopps

I will admit, after leaving the restaurant tonight, I was actually excited to write tonight’s blog – but before dinner, I wasn’t confident this was going to be a blog worthy evening!  We have been to Chopps a couple of times and have alway had a great meal, but when Jerry told me we were going to a wine tasting with no choices in terms of what we were going to eat, I’ll admit, I was skeptical!  Also, my experience with wine tastings was that they gave just that, a taste of wine, and not much more.

My fears were put to rest soon after we were shown to the recently opened terrace and handed a glass of NV Perrier-Jouet “grand brut” aka champagne, although not from the champagne region of France, so it’s not actually allowed to be called champagne.  We generally aren’t avid fans of champagne. but we really liked this.  My fears of getting just a taste of each wine were quickly dispelled as the server stopped by several times to refill our glasses.  This  Brut was served with a variety of hor d’oeuvres.  Two favorites from the apps were the bruschetta with a thick slab of rustic bread, spread with goat cheese and topped with heirloom tomato slices.  We could have stopped there and I would have been happy!  We also had a seasoned shrimp and there was a charcuterie with a variety of sweets and savories including a couple of selections of cheese and a few selections of meat.

After a relaxed reception, we were ushered into a private dining room with three long tables with enough seating for 8-10 people per table.  It was a nice opportunity to meet some new people and as always discover what a small world it is!

Our first course was yellowfin tuna tartar mixed with crushed avocado, citrus-onzu and wakame accompanied with crispy wontons which served as a sort of cracker for eating the tartar. This was served with a 2014 chardonnay Shafer from Red Shoulder Ranch in Napa, California.  This was a delicious, smooth, buttery wine that was wonderfully mellow.  It paired perfectly with the lightly seasoned tuna.  Again, we received a generous pour and were welcomed to try more.

Our main entrée was a bone-in filet served atop mushroom puree.  Roasted cauliflower, spring asparagus, squash and pistachio completed the plate.  With this main course, we were invited to try and compare two red wines.  The first was a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cade Estate, “Howell Mountain”, from Napa vs 2014 Red Blend from Ramey Wine Cellars “Claret”, also from Napa.  Each of us had a differing opinion.  The Ramey was lighter in color and flavor, the Cade was a richer fuller flavor.  Both were delicious.  The bottles had been opened about an hour and had time to enough to breath so as to not need decanting.  The meat was tender and well seasoned and the vegetables were crisp and fresh.  The mushroom puree was very much like a pate’ only lighter in texture and flavor.  My only criticism was that people weren’t offered a choice in how they wanted their meat cooked.  All were cooked medium-rare, perfect for me but another person might have liked it cooked differently.

For dessert we were served a Mocha Ganache cake that was dense, rich, and luscious.  It was served with a house made basil gelato and a strawberry-rhubarb rose wine coulis which was made with some of the wine we were also served.  I would never have thought to put basil in gelato but it was amazing!  The combination of sweet from the gelato base with the basil made for a mouth full of wonderful.  If you put a little of everything on your spoon – cake, coulis and gelato – it melded together in a mouthful of heaven.  This was served with a 2016 Rose from Chateau Ste. Michelle “Anew” from Columbia Valley, WA.  Again, another great selection.  A little sweeter to go with the dessert but not so sweet that it was an additional dessert.

All of the wines served were high-end wines.  What we would call our special occasion wines that we might splurge on for Christmas.

If you are not a picky eater – in that you will try whatever it is your served – this is a great chance to try well prepared food pared with great wines.  Bruno Marini, the Wine Director at Chopps, does a great job educating you on the wines you are drinking.  The whole meal was $85 per person and was inclusive of tax and tip.  For the meal and amount of wine we got we felt it was a bargain.  Apparently these Wine Dinners happen every so often.  If you are interested, you should get on their mailing list so that you know when they are happening.  We thoroughly enjoyed are evening and are looking forward to the next Wine Dinner.

For this special event type dinner, I would give Chopps 4 out of 5 cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheers

The Bancroft

Friday night date night brought us back to Burlington, MA which has become a hub for good eats!  The Bancroft is a place we visited a few years ago but have not written a review on.  It is a “modern American steak house” which opened in 2014.  Four years later you still need a reservation for a table on a Friday night.  Even the bar stayed full and as we left around 8:00 p.m. a line of people flanked the doorway waiting for a seat to open up.

The Bancroft has a warm, modern vibe.  It is very similar to Burton’s Grill (North Andover, MA) in its atmosphere but is a much more expensive dining experience.

When ordering, The Bancroft prefers that you order your appetizers and entrees all at once so that they can space things out.  The wait staff is very well-trained.  The waitress was well versed in the menu and what might be special on it – no actual specials for the night – and others were always glancing around at tables to see if there was something to clear of re-fill.

To start things off, water and hot buttered rolls topped with sea salt were delivered to the table as well as drinks of our liking.  We started with the Prosciutto served with fig preserve paired with baby arugula and garlic ciabatta.  We opted to include the burrata (soft fresh mozzarella) with this order.  This was absolutely delicious.  The prosciutto was carved paper-thin and the preserve added sweet to the savory.  Combined with the burrata was a near perfect start.

We had to decide how to order.  We could each order an entree which came as a complete meal or we could order steaks which came a la carte.  Since we were in a steak house we went for the steaks.  We ordered a Caesar salad to share as well as the side of mushrooms.

The Caesar salad was made of baby romaine, Treviso – a single leaf added to our salad similar to radicchio which offered a smokey char flavor, and white anchovies.  This was a wonderfully light salad that was full of flavor.  No heavy dressing found here!

Jerry ordered the Prime Steak Au Poivre served with a red wine reduction and bone marrow.  This was probably the most interesting steak on the menu and was highlighted in red as an owner’s favorite.  The steak had one side that is heavily coated with black pepper.  The wine reduction offered sweat to offset the sharpness of the pepper.  It was cooked perfectly. It was an extremely tasty steak dinner.  At $47, it should be!  Jerry did have enough left over for lunch today.

I opted for the petit fillet mignon with béarnaise sauce.  The steak was cooked perfectly but was very ordinary – especially when compared to the steak Jerry ordered.  It came with a piece of fried polenta shaped like a cow that was cute but really not worth the calories.

The mushrooms we shared were local mushrooms sautéed in a green garlic butter and served with brioche. They were firm and tasty.

This place was a high carb restaurant, serving bread with almost everything – the appetizer, salad, mushrooms and before any food hit the table.  It was a little over the top  the amount of bread that came to our table!

We had our usual espresso and cappuccino and shared a dessert – their version of a warm molten lava cake made with rich dark chocolate and paired with vanilla ice-cream to help offset the deep richness of the chocolate.

We did order a bottle of wine from their very extensive wine list.  I thought that (and Jerry disagrees) most of their wines were very expensive.  Only one or two were in the $30 range. They have a whole page of magnums for that special party.

It was a great way to unwind on a Friday night.  We would give The Bancroft three and a half cheers!

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

 

Salt Kitchen and Bar

Wentworth by the Sea is the ocean side version of the Mount Washington Hotel. One of four “Grande” hotels of New Hampshire.  Smack dab in the center of the hotel is Salt Kitchen and Bar.  When you walk into the restaurant, the first thing you notice is the lounge area with its comfy clusters of chairs scattered about.  To the right is a bar that overlooks the kitchen, again with comfortable bar stools that invite you to stay awhile.

The main dining room had the feel of old money and elegance from another era.  The focal point of the ceiling is a dome with a fresco scattered with cherubs.  The subtle lighting throughout added even more softness to the light blue and cream walls.

I started off with a summertini made with gin, aquafaba (this is the water legumes have been cooked in – like chicked peas – this water acts like egg whites and provides a foamy property for the drink), St. Germain, sweet lavender syrup, fresh squeezed lime and orange juice, basil and lavender.  This drink was a little bit too sweet for my liking but it was very tasty.  The name was right, a perfect summer time martini.

I told myself before we went out I was not going to have any bread, but then they placed hot ciabatta bread with rosemary and soft creamy butter and I couldn’t resist!  That bread was worth the cheat!

For an appetizer we shared the Rustic Hand Rolled Gnocchi served with sweet English peas, a tarragon cream sauce and jumbo lump crab.  The gnocchi were pan-fried and had a sear on the top. The dish was tasty and the tarragon sauce was rich and full of flavor.  You just wanted to savor that tarragon flavor in your mouth.  To be honest, I don’t remember seeing or tasting any lump crab.

For dinner I went for my favorite, East Coast Halibut.  It was served with house made pasta, little neck clams, cherry tomatoes, artichokes, capers and a lemon parsley butter. My cut of fish was a little disappointing.  It was from the tail end and at its thickest was only a half-inch.  I’m used to a thickness of at least an inch.  I think they should have saved this piece for a soup!  I will say, though, that they cooked that scrawny little piece perfectly.  It would have been very easy to overcook.  The dish was surrounded by six littleneck clams in their shells – no bowl for the shells.  The pasta was cooked al dente and was yummy and, of course, the capers added just the touch of saltiness the dish needed.

Jerry decided on Grilled Salmon with jumbo lump crab fondu, cherry tomatoes, a touch of local vegetables like baby green beans and chunks of summer squash, pomme puree (basically whipped potatoes that have the texture of wall paper paste), garlic root and chervil oil which is like a parsley infused oil. Once again, they cooked the fish perfectly.  Jumbo lump crab must be really expensive right now because it was pretty scarce on Jerry’s dish too!

We completed our meal with a cappuccino and espresso.  I loved how they served these with a rock candy stirrer.  My cappacinno was served with a biscotti wrapped and sealed in cellophane so we could take it home for later.  We shared he Warm Chocolate Marcona Almond Tart.  Now I admit, I read this menu in the dark restaurant without glasses so I thought it said almond croissant but what it actually said was almond croquant which is quite different!  I happen to love almonds croissants but what I have discovered is that I am not that fond of almond croquant which is more like a brittle.  I like brittle too but I wasn’t fond of this.  It was served with chocolate earl grey ice cream, sliced strawberries and a strawberry caramel sauce.  The ice cream was good with just a hint of earl grey undertones in the chocolate.  Jerry said this dessert “grew on him”. I guess I couldn’t get past the fact that there was no almond croissant.

The service was very good.  It is the type of place that when you have a large party, a parade of servers will come out with your meal so that everyone is served at once.

Although this was not a special occasion, this could easily be a special occasion destination.  The grounds are beautiful and the views from the porches are breath-taking.  I wouldn’t mind driving up for drinks on the porch on a sleepy summer afternoon!

Overall Salt scored three and a half cheers.

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

 

Bayside Seafood Grill

Friday night date night was pushed to Sunday so that we could enjoy a family dinner in Naples, Florida.   Nestled among many shops and other restaurants in the Venetian Village on Gulf Shore Blvd. North is where you’ll find the wonderful Bayside Seafood and Grill.  The skies had opened up this night, providing a soaking rain, making the valet parking truly appreciated.

As you walk in, straight ahead is the Bayside Cafe’, a more casual dining spot for drinks and smaller plates.  Upstairs we went to the Grill.  Our reservations for outside dining were no longer an option so we were shown to a beautiful table overlooking the bay.

As we settled in and were served drinks, we pondered which appetizers to order.  Jerry, seeing that their was a sausage sampler, just had to try it.  But what else should we get with so many tempting choices?  Knowing we like calamari, our waiter suggested we try that, noting that the sauce it is served with is the best we’ll ever try.  He was not wrong!  The Calamari was served with sautéed Tuscan red peppers, garlic and red onion in a white wine butter reduction, it was a unique presentation that was also delicious!  The red peppers looked like cherry tomatoes (and we popped them into our mouths thinking that) but soon realized they packed a little heat – not overbearing just a surprise when you think you are going to taste cherry! The calamari was flash fried and were light and crispy. The sausage platter too was delicious with traditional Italian sweet sausage and Cajun andouille accompanied with whole grain mustard and marina sauce.  There was plenty of both so that all six of us were able to sample a little of each.

For our main course we each opted for something different.  Having a 13 year old tag along was a challenge at first with his limited pallet.  Fortunately they did have a kid’s menu with chicken fingers and fries.  Both were cooked light and crispy and were perfect for a youngster’s taste.

I chose the bouillabaisse for which the waiter informed us was the best thing on the menu.  It was served with shrimp, lobster, fresh grouper, mussels and clams all in a  tomato-saffron broth.  Wow!  This was amazing!  The flavors just popped and the saffron was subtle.  The crostini it was served with had melted cheese that I wasn’t fond of but crusty rolls on the table provided a great substitute.

Jerry opted for the roasted half duck.  It was served with raspberry gastrique, potato-bacon hash and fresh vegetables. The duck was moist but not greasy and cooked perfectly.  The hash was an interesting side dish – it had bacon – what’s not to love!

Elena opted for the pistastio snapper which was also served with the potato-bacon hash and was flavored with a saffron-citrus butter.  Just writing that – saffron- citrus butter – makes me want to try to recreate it at home!

Bea went for the pan seared grouper served with baby spinach risotto, and a balsamic fig glaze.  When in Florida, you can’t go wrong with grouper!  If you are a New Englander and love haddock, you will love grouper.  And when you eat such a fish in a place that knows how to cook it, you can’t go wrong.

Our waiter was attentive and each suggestion he gave or comment on the menu was spot on.  He did forget to bring us plates to eat our appetizers but we’ll forgive him that.  We used our bread plates.  Overall it was a great dining experience.  Bayside gets 4 cheers.

cheerscheerscheerscheers

 

Pammy’s

Tonight’s date night found us at a little Italian restaurant on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge.  Don’t bother looking for a sign, there isn’t one – the name is painted on the window by the door but is not visible if you are driving by in your car.  There is no valet parking but if you are lucky, you will find a metered spot right on Mass Ave.

This is a small store-front restaurant that seats about 75 but probably should only seat about 60 – seating is really cosy.  You are almost tempted to comment on your neighbors conversation.  (Our neighbors were planning a trip to Italy and celebrating a birthday!)

The bar seats only about 12 and it was full the entire time we were there.  At first I thought there was a going to be a large party in the center of the dining room but I noticed that pairs of people showed up at different times.  At first I thought they were late to the party but soon realized that this was a communal table.  If you go on Opentable to make a reservation, this would be considered “counter seating”.  If I were to go back, I would make sure I had a party of 4 and ask for a booth.  Those were the only tables where you weren’t on top of one another.  This place requires a reservation.  I am sure being voted Restaurant of the Year by the Boston Globe in 2017 certainly helps.  As we left, people were waiting on the sidewalk to get in.

The dining room gave me a feel of a restaurant I might visit in Florence with white washed bricks, dark ceilings and subdued lighting.  Vases attached to the wall sprouted branches from cherry trees that were actually sprouting.  The communal table had a row of vases with flowers dividing the center to save parties from staring at strangers across the table.

The menu was very succinct with 7 appetizers, 4 pasta dishes and 5 entre’s.  Although it is an Italian restaurant, you won’t find your typical pasta with meatballs.  These chefs are not “restricted by the rules of cuisine”.

We decided to order a bottle of wine.  Don’t look for bargains on the wine list.  You won’t find any under $40.  We chose a 2016 Grenache from California.  Not my favorite, as it was very much like grape juice, but with fish – which is what we both got – it served its purpose. It was also served at the correct temperature, impressive for such a small restaurant.

As we waited for our wine the most amazing Tuscan bread was brought to the table.  Made in-house it had a the perfect crusty outside and moist inside.  It was served with olive oil for dipping – the strongest tasting olive oil I have ever encountered! I warned Jerry and he thought, “How bad could it be!” He dove in deep and nearly choked from the strength of it!  If you indulge, dip lightly!

For a starter we had artichoke hearts that were lightly grilled.  They sat on a lemon curd and something that was lemony and crunchy and were topped with fresh ricotta and Sicilian anchovies.  You have to be a really creative person to put these flavors together!  I wish I had this type of vision.  This dish was amazing!  The ricotta was light and creamy and together as a complete dish this really worked.

For dinner I went with the Branzino cooked with Maine sunchokes, honeycrisp apples, young ginger and mustard.  When you only have five entre’s they should be cooked perfectly – and they were!  The fish was crispy on the outside, moist on the inside.  The sunchokes which are much like artichoke hearts were delicious and the ginger/mustard combo were light and complimentary.

Jerry opted for the black bass served on a mixture of ground sausage and some sort of tiny pasta.  There were two sauces on his plate, sadly Jerry can’t remember what either of them were.  One was green and yummy and one was like a cherry sauce that was much like a hoison sauce.  Alone the cherry sauce was not likeable at all, but together the two sauces were amazing.  Again, the fish was cooked perfectly.

We totally went for it and each got a dessert.  They had my favorite affogato which is vanilla ice-cream served with a shot of espresso.  Jerry opted for an apple crostata served with creme fraîche ice-cream.  I usually don’t like apple desserts in restaurants because they usually are soupy with syrup but not true here.  The apples were crisp, firm and flavorful.  They were wrapped in a flaky crust.  The creme fraîche ice-cream was amazingly creamy and delicious!  As good as it was, Jerry liked my dessert better.  He also had a perfect espresso but sadly they did not have a decaf cappuccino and their decaf teas left me wanting more.

The service was great.  We had one main waiter but they all worked as a team, serving the food as it was ready – no need for heat lamps.  Between each course, all silverware was replaced with clean and crumbs were swept off the table.

If the food wasn’t so good I might not go back due to the crowding and noise but they know how to cook!  Keeping the menu simple certainly helps. If you don’t have an adventuresome palate, this is not the restaurant for you.  If you like trying new flavor combinations, you will not be disappointed!

Pammy’s gets four cheers!

cheerscheerscheerscheers

Joe Fish

We needed to stay local this weekend and I was really yearning for a good piece of fish.  Joe Fish in North Andover fit the bill.  Knowing that it was both Friday night and Lent, we acted like we were silver-haired Floridians seeking the early bird special and got to the restaurant at 5:30.  Even at that early hour the parking lot was packed!  Although the parking lot was full, we were able to be seated right away.

Joe Fish has a cool vibe, with post and beam construction.  Each of the perimeter tables have lights that look like squid changing colors every few minutes.  Around the bar were punched tin lights.  It has the feel of a Florida fish shanty.

Starting with drinks, my favorite at Joe Fish is the Fin Juice.  Fin Juice is Finlandia Vodka that has marinated with a whole pineapple for several weeks.  Served in a sugar rimmed martini glass it is a tasty treat.  Jerry opted for a Manhattan which was served with a red cherry (not a dark one – the little things matter!).  He said I make a better one!

We started with an appetizer special, humus with shrimp.  This was a weird little dish.  We liked the hummus and we liked the shrimp but together it didn’t work.  It was served with a few pieces of pita bread and vegetables like cucumber, celery and carrots.  Try picking up a whole shrimp with hummus on a piece of carrot! This would have been better if the shrimp had been chopped up or with crab meat.

Knowing that we were going to have this app, we told the waitress not to bring us bread (we know if it is put on the table we will eat it!) but if you do like bread, I know from experience that they have great rolls served warm.

For dinner Jerry opted for a special – herb encrusted salmon served with chick peas and zucchini. Encrusted is defined as: To cover or coat with or as if with a crust. Knowing this, that is what we expected.  Instead we found a piece of salmon with what looked like a pool of pesto on top.  It was a herb pesto that was rather tasty but not what was expected.  The salmon itself was ever so slightly over cooked.  The chicked peas and zucchini were a nice complement to the meal.

I chose from the regular menu – Katzu Tuna which was fresh yellow fin tuna coated in panko crumbs, flash fried and served with sugar snap peas, jasmine rice, pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. This was served just as I like tuna – rare!  The fish was cooked perfectly as were the snap peas.  The rice was not sticky enough to eat with chop sticks.  It was dry and tasteless and really not worth the calories.

The wine list was very limited but we chose a bottle of Pinot Noir that went well with our dinner.  We skipped dessert but Jerry had an espresso that was just o.k.  As we left we had to weave our way through the many people waiting for a seat.  There really isn’t a place for them to wait without being in the way and on top of one another.

We thought that considering the meal we got, it was rather expensive. Over $100 for just the two of us even without the wine.  Overall we wood give Joe Fish 3 out of 5 cheers.

cheerscheerscheers

Meritage

Some restaurants are saved for special occasions and Meritage fits that bill.  Located on the second floor of the Boston Harbor Hotel, Meritage’s expansive bank of windows overlook the harbor and Logan Airport.  During the evening we watched the occasional brave boater venturing the harbor in March and the many planes taking off and landing.  In the summer it must be even more spectacular!

We were a few minutes late thanks to Boston traffic but not to worry our table was ready and waiting (and perhaps it should be since you are required to give a credit card number in order to make a reservation). As you walked into the restaurant the first thing your noticed is the walls (plural) of wine refrigerators.  This place is known for its wine selection and ability to pair with food.  The restaurant itself had beautiful clean lines.  The bar only sat about 10 but with two hopping bars on the first floor, it was doubtful that it was used often.  The dining room probably sat about 50.  There was plenty of space for diners and all tables were positioned so that staff could get on all sides of the table so no reaching over to serve a diner.

All the staff not only knew our name, “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Natale” but they even pronounced it correctly not the typical “Mrs. Natalie”.  We were asked what type of water we would like, still sparking, filtered tap. . . as I pondered this for a half of second he also noted that all were complementary.  We opted for sparkling and was promptly brought a bottle which was left on the table (think back to Strega review!). Shortly after water was poured another server came by with a tray of sliced cucumbers, oranges, lemons and limes should we want to flavor our drink.

At first we were going to order a bottle of wine but after looking over the menu and realizing that we could get a prefix meal with wine parings, and knowing this reputation of this place, we canceled the bottle and went with the prefix.

I will do my best to remember some of the wines but as Jerry and each ordered different options of the prefix, we also were served different wines.  While we waited for our first of four courses, a server with bread stopped by our table to offer us three different types of bread.  He served us a couple of choices and left a creamy plate of softened butter with a smoky salt sprinkled on top.  Also brought to our table was a “chef’s offering”.  The tiniest grilled cheese ever about the size of a nickel with a shot glass filled with green tomato consommé.  The grilled cheese was filled with a brie and seriously was the best two bites of a grilled cheese that I ever had!  The consommé had the full flavor of a tomato soup!  It was the tiniest bit of comfort food that brought me back to my childhood of winter days when my mom made grilled cheese sandwiches with creamy tomato soup.  It was that good!

To start, I went with the arctic crab served with mint and Harissa (a hot chili paste).  The mint offset the hotness of the chili providing a lovely flavor.  It was served with paper-thin strips of cucumber.  This was served with a Black Bird rose’ from Napa Valley that was one that I would search to find for a summer meal.  For this course Jerry went with the Peruvian Scallops. The presentation of this was amazing.  The two scallops rested in scallop shells.  They were seasoned with tiger’s milk, Huitlacoche (a mexican truffle) and citrus.  This sat on a bed of seaweed.  The server added hot water to the sea weed to “release the flavor”.  When the water was added, an overflowing of “fog” spilled out from the bowl – perhaps from dry ice?  The scallops themselves were cool in temperature and were raw, with the citrus providing the “cooking” (ceviche style). I don’t remember many of Jerry’s wines just that he had a white one but liked mine better.

Next round I had the Truffle Cannelloni served with fresh shaved black truffle, laying on a bed of chopped hazelnuts in a creamy parmesan sauce.  The truffles offered an earthy flavor and the hazelnuts the crunch.  It was paired with a Pinot Noir from France – a region near the German border.  Wow, what a wine!  Jerry had the most elegant taco ever; Foie Gras Antojitos created with a banana tortilla and filled with pistachio, smoked and preserved fruit salsa and of course the Foie Gras.  The tortilla was thin and crunchy.  This was a crazy good combination.  Pared with a sparkling white wine from France.  It was a refreshing wine with just a touch of effervescence (again Jerry liked my choice better but he is not a big white wine drinker).

Round three, I chose the Atlantic Halibut seasoned with vandouvan (think curry flavors) and served with cauliflower, almonds and grape puree.  The curry flavor was subtle and did not overpower the fish that was cooked perfectly.  This was served with a Flowers Pinot Grigio again, another perfect match.  Flowers was one of the first wine names we recognized and noted that they didn’t pair out foods with cheap wines nor did they skimp on the pour.  Jerry opted for the Pilgrim Lobster, a lazy man’s version of lobster served in a bacon buttermilk with smoked corn, Johny cakes and ramp butter. As Jerry noted, “this is my way of eating lobster!”  The lobster meat was moist and succulent and the flavors together made your mouth water in anticipation for the next bite!

In between this course and the dessert course came the Meritage cheese cart.  We picked out four cheeses from a dozen different choices.  Cheese from as close a Martha’s Vinyard to as far away as France.  This was served with crustinis, almonds, a chutney jelly and “raisins on the vine” which were a cross between raisons and grapes and although looked not so great were actually delicious.  We were surprised that there was no wine with this course (not that we needed it) but I imagine that with the variety and flavors of the cheese it might be hard to pair a wine here.

Our final course was a dessert course.  The wines, of course, were dessert wines – a lot sweeter and heavier.  On their own they weren’t enjoyable but paired with the dessert they were quite drinkable.  For this course I went with what they call Hazelnut – it had a pumpkin cake filled with dulce and surrounded with speculoos – a hard cookie cover.  It was topped with hazelnut ice-cream.  At first it was hard to break into – then they brought me a knife.  One inside there was a blend of textures, soft and creamy, spongy and moist and crispy.  Really different and enjoyable!  Jerry opted for the poached pear with saffron seasoning, chopped pistachios and a rose-water ice-cream.  Crazy different but I think he enjoyed my more.

Sometimes when you go to these gourmet type restaurants with the pairing, you worry that their portion sizes will make you will go home hungry. Not the case here.  Portions were generous enough to make us feel full and again, they were not frugal with the wine pours.

The only glitch of the evening was the ending.  We were never offered a hot drink at the end of our meal (coffee, tea, espresso).  Also, when we asked the waiter if he could validate the parking ($18 valet if validated much more if not) he said we needed to do that in the lobby but when I asked the hostess not only did she say “of course!” but also offered to call down so that our car would be waiting when we got there.  Seems like the waiter should have known to do this.

On our way out everyone wished us a good evening again by name.  We were handed little gift boxes as a thank-you filled with truffles.  Overall it was a truly wonderful celebration evening.  This restaurant is not one to go to for a quick bite or a cheap date.  It is very pricey and they do not rush you at all.  There was plenty of spacing between each course. I think our dining experience was about 3 hours long.

I would award Meritage four and a half cheers!

 

Copper Door

We weren’t sure date night was going to happen what with the torrential rain, blustering wind and the potential snow but there was a window of reprieve that led us to believe we could scoot out.  And so we did, off to Copper Door in Salem, NH.  We tried to go there a couple of weeks ago but didn’t have reservations and it was an hour and a half wait so we opted to wait for another night.  As we turned around that night, they handed us a coupon for $20 off our next visit.  Tonight we had reservations and that $20 coupon in hand.

The weather made for a much less crowded night with plenty of available parking.  The first time we tried to go there we drove by the place looking for a driveway.  They had a huge sign out front but no driveway.  If you know anything about route 28 in Salem, you need to turn at the lights where the Post Office is.  There is no signage indicating this.  Also on our visit the parking lot was packed as was the postal parking and there was signage indicating that if you parked at Citizens Bank parking lot, you would be towed. Tonight there was plenty of parking.

As you enter, there is an actual copper door that must weigh a thousand pounds!  It is one heavy door.  As you walk in, the bar is front and center.  Even on this off night the bar was hopping.  There was plenty of seating and a large stone fireplace with glass on both sides offering warmth to both the bar and the dining area.

As you entered the dining area, there was a stark difference to the bar, more elegant and quiet. The space was beautiful with vaulted ceilings, large exposed beams and huge iron chandeliers.  There was scattered track lighting – minus the track, they ran along a nearly invisible wire.  I loved the seating especially if you had a large party with comfy couches combined with padded chairs made for perfect party seating. Our table for two was a little too close to the table for two next to us.  Often I wanted to add to their conversation but used great restraint to mind my own business.

When seated we were presented with a tablet that housed the bar menu with tabs for beer, wine, and cocktails.  The wine menu was subdivided by color (red/white) and then by varietals making it easy to navigate to the type of wine you might want.

We started with drinks.  I opted for the “Copper Door Cosmo”, which is their version of the Cosmo with Tito’s vodka, Gran Gala Orange Liqueur, fresh squeezed lemon, pomegranate juice and a sugar rim. I was afraid it might be too sweet but I worried for not, it was yum.  Jerry opted for a draft beer – one we haven’t tried before – Shipyard double brown it was a good tasting beer but I thought the name would have indicated a stronger flavor.  We held off on the bread and opted for the Warm Crab Dip made with Claw & Lump Meat, Artichoke Heart, Cream Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, Parmesan, and herbs served with Cajun and Herb-Buttered Naan.  I loved that the artichoke was finely chopped although Jerry thought it was a little too soupy for his tastes – I think this was just due to how hot it was.  The flavors were just right.

For dinner I had the Stuffed Haddock Oscar made with Prime Haddock made with roasted tomato, lump crab which rested on béarnaise sauce.  I liked that it wasn’t smothered in the sauce and the sauce was thin, not a thick glob. It was served with asparagus and garlic fingerling potatoes. The haddock was moist, and was presented with three filets curled around stuffing.  It was presented in a perfect way to share but I was expecting a more hearty piece of fish.  The sides were just o.k., I didn’t eat them.  The potatoes were just warm and lacking any seasoning.  The asparagus was fat, unseasoned and just warm.

Jerry opted for their Prosciutto and Ricotta Pizza, listed under the title Copper Classics.  This brick oven pizza was delicious.  It was made with balsamic onion, sweet garlic, prosciutto, ricotta, arugula, parmesan, and oregano. This was a white sauce pizza with the sweet garlic providing the base.  The ricotta was rich and creamy and with the heat of the pizza, you could spread it around with a knife.  We thought the pizza could have been cooked a little more to add a little more crisp but the pizza itself was large – easily sharable and oh so good!

We ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley that a nice light wine that went well with both dinners.

No room for dessert but the espresso and cappuccino were well prepared but served without our little spoons – like to enjoy my foam before sipping!

Service (with the exception of the spoons) was good and not overbearing.  They knew enough to replace silverware used at the appetizer service with clean silverware.

We originally thought this was going to be a great burger place.  We were wrong, not a burger on the menu.  If we had bothered looking at their website in advance we might have noted that they describe themselves at “upscale eatery for approachable fine dining cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere”.  It was a little more pricey than we expected, steaks ran in the high $30’s and low $40’s. The rest of the entre’s ran in the $20’s and the pizza were mid-teens.

Overall a good place to eat.  We definitely would go back.  Copper Door earned three and a half cheers.

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer

Nine Elm Bistro

Tax season brought us to Danvers and we figured after meeting with our accountant we could either celebrate or drown our sorrows at Nine Elm.  Nine Elm is a tiny store front restaurant in the heart of Danvers. There is a parking lot very close by (maybe 50 feet away?) The bar has only 8 seats and the restaurant seats about 30 so reservations are a must.

A chalkboard on the back wall displays the specials of the evening.  The dinner menu is clean and simple with cocktails, wines by the glass, appetizers and main courses all on one page.  The flip side of the menu lists wines by the bottle.  For a restaurant of this size, they have a descent variety of wines by the bottle.

We were seated promptly and drink orders were take right away.  Jerry ordered a Smoked Maple Manhattan, wanting to try something new.  It not only had a strong maple flavor but I could smell the maple from across the table.  It was tasty to try but not something we would order on a regular basis.

We tried an appetizer special, buffalo calamari with blue cheese.  This came out quickly.  The calamari was lightly fried and was nice and crisp, not overly battered.  The dish had just a little heat but nothing that overwhelmed the taste of the seafood and the blue cheese dipping sauce was not overly strong with that blue cheese flavor.  I was skeptical when Jerry ordered this but was quickly won over.

For dinner, I opted for one of the specials; grilled swordfish served with truffle risotto, carrots and green beans.  The fish was cooked perfectly, not dry – and swordfish can go wrong very quickly.  The risotto was rich and creamy and the vegetables were crisp and fresh.  There was plenty of food, so much so that I couldn’t finish the risotto.

Jerry opted for the seared scallops off the regular dinner menu.  His dish included eight plump sea scallops served in a sweet corn butter sauce accompanied by white truffle whipped potatoes and carrots, green beans. His scallops were cooked perfectly, moist with just a bit of crisp on the outside.  The sauce was delicious, full of corn flavor, and paired well with the scallops. The mashed potatoes were tasty.  I need to start cooking with truffle oil at home, it always adds such great flavor to the side dishes.

We were both too full to even consider dessert but Jerry did opt for an espresso.  I wanted a cappuccino but the frothing part of the machine was broken (boohoo).  His espresso was excellent.

The service was excellent, attentive but not overbearing.  The staff seemed to work well as a team. Overall a great night and no need to drown our sorrows (this year)!  Nine Elm gets three and a half cheers!

cheerscheerscheershalf-a-cheer