Salem Food Digest - New Days At NAT’S Nathaniel’s Restaurant at the Hawthorne - Tempting Fare and a Tuned Piano

By The BaldOne

There are often times when you tune out a place even though your experiences in the past have been positive. This is especially true of restaurants, and most especially true in Salem. Our choices here are vast and varied.

The Hawthorne Hotel, with four options for dining, two each at the hotel itself and two at the PEM may have one particular spot that has fallen victim to its own success. Many of us visit the Tavern. It is a favorite winter time spot of ours. The museum draws its own crowd.

NAT’S, known formally as Nathaniel’s Restaurant seems in our eye to be the primary victim of so many Salem options. Maybe it is seen only a more formal, “tie and jacket” option.

Not any more, not to us. We recently visited and were favorably impressed all the way around. The fact that a couple of us hadn’t been there in a while, and at least one had never eaten there created a situation that the NAT’S team was well prepared to use to their advantage.

The decor is formal but not stuffy. A well lit room is pleasant to see and the locally themed artwork and photos present an opportunity for conversation and perhaps a little reminiscing. The Grand Piano at the far end, which on a Monday night featured an actual piano player was a surprising plus. I spoke with him of the days when the Piano Man himself would visit Salem with Christie Brinkley.

Klassic Geoff started with the Moules Mariniere. For those who do not parlay francais, that would be mussels in white wine. He was quite impressed. “Generous, plump, flavorful, broth was bright and fresh with a nice color.”

The First Lady and Salem Jean split the Beet Carpaccio, which is baby arugula, evoo, parmesan, sea salt, and fresh black pepper drizzled with a balsamic glaze. The staff plated it for two and it was quite the hit. Jean found that “the light dressing really allowed the beet flavor to come through.”

For me it was the Non-Traditional New England Chowder of shrimp, clams, scallops, diced potatoes, and cream. Like Goldilocks and her porridge I prefer my chowder neither too thick or too thin. The consistency of the broth was perfect and there was plenty of non-potato ingredients in each spoonful. This particular bowl had some nice chunks of scallops.

The main courses around the table were the Spiced-Honey Rubbed Half-Chicken for the First Lady, Chimay Infused Short Ribs for Salem Jean, Roasted Duck Breast for Klassic Geoff, and for the BaldOne the Steak & Fries. 

Lets lay it out for all to see.

Spiced-Honey Rubbed Half-Chicken - In the First Lady’s own words. “My Chicken Dish was cooked perfectly along with the potato croquettes and grilled asparagus.” The First Lady eats out quite often and is not often so effusive in praise, so these are heady words. The plate comes with a grapefruit gastrique. The asparagus was a house substitution for the green beans listed on the menu.

Chimay Infused Short Ribs - “The taste was good and the meat melted in my mouth. The baby carrots were complimented by the herb topping (pesto and evoo),” said Salem Jean.

Roasted Duck Breast - Klassic Geoff opines, “I was a little afraid of the candied orange concept,  but it brought out just enough sweet without overpowering. The grilled baby asparagus had a nice blackened tip and was really done very well. The blend of wild rices complimented the duck and matched the orange sauce nicely.”

Steak & Fries - There are a few good places for a steak in Salem. In this guys mind there are only two places for a great steak. NAT’S is one of them. Big Steve and his boys in the kitchen know their temperatures, something that is becoming rare these days. My steak was rare as ordered, tender, full of flavor and complimented greatly by the garlic herb butter. Roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts were excellent, and the truffle-salted fries a nice touch on the side.

The service by Cody was excellent. He is attentive, polite, conversant, and able to withstand a little ribbing from a strange group of food loving local characters.

We will save the deserts, which went over very well for our soon to be seen “Deserts in Salem” feature.

Put NAT’S on your schedule for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and try the fare out for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

Address: 18 Washington Square W, Salem, MA 01970

Phone:(978) 744-4080

Web: http://www.hawthornehotel.com/

Salem Food Digest - Bambolina Brings A Fresh Look To Italian Dining To Salem

Photo by John Andrews for Creative Salem

Photo by John Andrews for Creative Salem

Bambolina Brings A Fresh Look To Italian Dining To Salem With the Hottest Pizza in Town at 925 Degrees

By The BaldOne

A few months back while walking across Derby Street I noticed that the old Salem Wax Museum gift shop was being demolished. Seeing that the door was open, and being as bold as brass I just stepped on in and had a look.

Much to my surprise the space had been leased out to a couple of guys who were planning on bringing their take on Neapolitan cuisine to Salem. Included in these plans was some sort of super-heating oven that would cook a pizza in 90 seconds.

Over the next few months a few visits were made to see how things were going and photos were posted on the Salem Food Digest Facebook page to keep the dining public apprised.

Yesterday, after being open for a couple of months was their Grand Opening and ribbon cutting for Bambolina. Dignitaries and local celebrities attended, but the most important people in the room were some construction guys, hard hats in hand who were looking for some lunch.

A few weeks back Bambolina played host to six Salem Food Digest operatives who sampled just about everything on the menu. We finished sated, and very happy.

Gathered around the long high top in the middle of the floor the six of us fortified ourselves with ice water and a few glasses of wine. Tim, the owner chatted amiably and prepared us for each course as it came out.

The first shared starter to hit the table was the Zucchini Ceviche with lemon dressing, fresh herbs, and a ricotta salata. It was accompanied by the Blistered Shoshito Peppers with macrona almonds, goat cheese, lemon, and sea salt. A third dish, Fire Roasted Castelvetrano Olives rounded out the trio.

Everything was fresh and attractively plated. The olives were fresh with full slices of lemon and bits of roasted garlic. They were flavorful and and firm to the bite. The little ceramic bucket on the plate in which to place to olive pits was a nice touch. Everyone enjoyed the Ceviche. The plate was beautifully done and a sharp accent was added by the lemon dressing which was rounded off well by the ricotta. Shoshito peppers are something that are starting to appear in north shore restaurants, but this point Bambolina is setting a high Salem bar.

Next to test our palates was the Shaved Speck, house packed vegetables, and olive oil grilled bread paired with the Tuna Carpaccio in caper dressing with green beans, olive dust, and focaccia crisp.

We really enjoyed the Shaved Speck. Its vegetables were pickled nicely with a good bite, but it was the Tuna Carpaccio that dominated this round. It did not stay plated for very long. In a country raised on tuna in a can, it is really a wonderful thing to see it elevated to this level. Fresh, full of omega fats, flavorful, and pleasing to the eye. This dish has it all.

Tim and his kitchen decided to send a couple of entrees out next.

Slow Cooked Short Ribswith whipped polenta, wilted spinach, and grana padano was brought to us along with the Pork Belly which was plated with roasted peaches, braised traviso, cracklings, and a pearl onion vinaigrette.

Short Ribs are a staple in many American style eateries and these would hold up well against any of them. They came apart easily and I found that the pairing with the grana padano which is a hard and grainy cheese worked well. 

But now let me tell you about the pork belly. 

As a kid the only time I ever saw pork fat was when my mother made chowder or baked beans. Nowadays it has become a speciality and it is not always done right. You want to be crispy on the outside but not dry. This pork belly was perfection, crispy and juicy at once.  The traviso was braised perfectly so that it still had some bitterness and a little bit of spice. Some of the ladies were worried about the fat content but the plate was left empty.

We finished up with what is without a doubt the most unique pizza in Salem. The custom made oven cooks at 925 degrees and their 11-inch pizza pies are fully cooked within 90 seconds.

We first had the Soppressata which is crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, oregano, and pecorino. Next for us was the Forest Mushroom with smoked mozzarella, wood fired mushrooms, organic kale, and truffle oil. Finishing up was the Artichoke and Kale. This entry has creamed goat cheese, kale, pesto, baby globe artichokes, and hot peppers.

The deserts we were served rate an article all by themselves.

Fresh, creative ingredients, a hand made chewy and blistered dough cooked at a high temperature is what I call a winning formula. 

Visit Bambolina soon. Good food, good prices, a great atmosphere, and owners and staff who want to do it right are what they offer.


 

Bambolina

288 Derby St, Salem, MA
(978) 594-8709


Photo highlights from the Salem Chamber Ribbon Cutting at Bambolina by Creative Salem

Salem Food Digest - A Saturday At Caffe Graziani

Paula and Giovanni Host Some Old and New Friends

By The BaldOne

We all have our favorite spots. Sometimes you can explain exactly why a place really draws in your business. It could be the a particular entree or the way that they serve a broiled haddock. Maybe the wine list or the beer selection is the attraction. It could be the staff or the ambience, or even the location.

For the last 18 years I have been a fan of Caffe Graziani. The wine selection is fine. They serve a cold Perroni beer. The staff is friendly, Nancy and Donna always take good care of customers. Add it up with the really good, home-style Italian food and you have a winning formula. A formula that has led to a very loyal following for twenty years.

But wait… there’s more.

There’s Paula and Giovanni. Paula is the dark-haired ball of energy that runs the front of the house. She covers the floor, pours your wine, suggests a menu item, and stays on top of the many conversations developing around the dining room. In the kitchen is Giovanni, the creative chef, speaker of many tongues, and a fine and good looking native of Piglio, Italy. They have created a true family type atmosphere aided and abetted on occasion by sons, Giancarlo and Giacomo.

Last month they allowed a rowdy rabble of Salem Food Digest fans to invade their business for a little wine, a little food, and a really good time. 14 of us sat in the middle of the dining room and raised a ruckus for two solid hours.

The set menu began with a chilled and delicious Antipasto. One of the things I love about an antipasto is the presentation. Few places do it exactly the same. This one came with a little brushcetta, three cheeses including mozzarella garnished with fresh basil, artichoke, and of course a nice proscuitto. 

Our main entree was a 1/2 & 1/2 dish of pastas. The Gnocchi came in a fresh cherry tomato basil sauce. Gnocchi seems to be the most basic and under appreciated of the pastas. Every time I eat some, the question occurs as to why I don’t eat more of it. The paired dish was a Trofie pasta with shrimp and peas. Trofie a a short twisted pasta that originated in Genoa and is usually served in a pesto sauce. Giovanni however, surprised us with a curry cream sauce.

The curry generated much conversation and a few wondered how well it would go with the Gnocchi. This may be something a few of us will try at home.

Desert was a Ricotta Pie, made in-house by Giovanni. If you like fresh made pie, and haven’t had one made at Graziani then your life is not complete. His pies are the “Capo de Tuttio Capi” of pies. Apple, cherry, ricotta, it doesn't matter. Giovanni is a Master Pie Maker.

“We must issue a correction on the origin of the Ricotta Pie. While Giovanni is in fact the Pie Master he does not make this pie. It is “Nonna” made by none other than Paula’s Mother in East Boston. We sincerely regret the error and would like to avoid any sort of old-school Italian corporal punishment.:

All of the aforementioned food was washed down with the house red, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the house white, Tebiano d’Abruzzo.

We had a fun and very conversational group which included a few who had never been there before. The First lady of Downtown Salem Jacqui attended, as did friends Sarah, Katrina, Alicia & Michael, Tommy & Don, Shama, and Barbara. We were also treated to a late entry by one of Salem’s more well know Italian-American families, the Cornacchio clan.

I can’t end end this without mentioning that Paula & Giovanni will be retiring soon so your window at Caffe Graziani is closing slowly.

They are open for breakfast also, and in the opinion of this not so humble lover of fine food, their pancakes are the best in Salem. Let other places serve frisbees on a plate. The pancakes here are small, thin, and full of flavor. Try the lemon-ricotta.

You can also like Salem Food Digest on Facebook for day to day news and nuggets from the Salem food scene


 

Caffe Graziani

133 Washington St, Salem, MA 01970
(978) 741-4282

Salem Food Digest - A Tale of two Festivals

A Tale Of Two Weekend Festivals 

A little seafood, a little culture, and one clear winner

By The BaldOne

“It was the best of festivals, it was the worst of festivals, it was the age of food wisdom, it was the age of food foolishness, it was the epoch of falafel, it was the epoch of The Adriatic’s fish tacos.”

I hope that Charles Dickens will forgive the above, because I just couldn’t resist.

Over the last two weekends Salem was host to two festivals. The first was the Salem Willows Seafood Fest. The second was the Salem Culture Fest which was held at the Salem Common. We and our highly qualified operatives attended both and in the case of one festival came away very impressed with the food offerings across the board.

The seafood festival was basically unchanged from last year when the major complaint was the lack of “top north shore restaurants” as declared in the marketing materials. There were three Salem businesses represented, The Clam Shack and Cindy’s Planet both of the Willows and The Adriatic from Washington Street. All three were there last year and all three again represented themselves well.

There was a shish-kabob stand, a  Boston burger truck, a fried seafood stand, an oyster shucker, and a place with some pretty good cajun chowder and a nice jambalaya. They were all from elsewhere.

The Salem businesses served some good offerings and to our experience none of the food served by the other places was bad. What hurts is the fact that this Seafood Festival lacked more seafood. Where were these “top north shore restaurants” that were promised? Three Salem businesses and a small gathering of the regular fair type food just does not fulfill the promise.

The Salem Culture Fest did not advertise itself as a destination for food, but in reality they really were, to us all about the food.

There were two Salem based business there, Paaastelito’s and Celia’s. Both serve Latin American fare, Paaastelito’s was serving their empanada type pastries and Celia’s served a full menu of lunch and dinner items. Both have been reviewed here and we still consider Celia’s the best kept secret in Salem.

On Sunday the “Most Interesting Reviewer In The World” accompanied us as we sampled the fare on the Common. He was drawn without delay to a tent creating lebanese specialities, Marouk Bread out of Gloucester.

His eye may have also been drawn by the attractive lady who stretching the dough called markouk, which she explained is the precursor to pita bread.

Here I will let the Interesting guy inform you.

“For those of us who yearn for the good old days, if Markouk preceded the sad 

dry pita shells I find at the grocery store, then Lebanese Markouk Bread is most definitely the good old days of pita. Fresh off the dome griddle (the Saj), slathered with hummus, sesame, zataar, mint and a variety of explosively gorgeous herbs and spices the Markouk hummus wrap was the best wrap of its kind I’ve had since the days of sitting at the counter talking with John the old scientist and falafel king who spent his retiring days helping his son in the Armenian restaurant in Carlsbad.

Along with the hummus wrap, we sampled the chef’s special, which is only something one samples at places where one trusts the chef. The chicken, cheese, and pesto Markouk wrapped sandwich did not disappoint. For the palate of this former Falafel Man, between the fresh made Markouk and mouth watering hummus, that is one of the best bets for good fair food on the North Shore of Boston.

It was to my great sadness to discover that they do not visit Salem often, and do not have a restaurant. They can be found every Thursday at the Cape Ann Farmer’s Market in Gloucester, and they also cater, and you can find them online at http://www.markoukbread.com.”

Now that is some “floury” prose.

We also indulged in some very good Jamaican food, Jerk Chicken, spicy mac & cheese, and some really wonderful soft and lightly fried plantains which had a sweetness to them that the hard fried plantains lack.

The Salem Culture Fest ruled when it came to the food and we declare them to be.

“The Best Festival Food Of The Summer…. so far.”