Dining out in Massachusetts: Salem and Gill

I want to take this opportunity to introduce everyone to fine dining in Massachusetts, if only in a couple of destinations.

However, since this is a food blog, and I took no photos of food during either visit, I’m going to present an image taken of food from yesterday’s Farmer’s Market, before moving on to the dining reviews and other natter about the trips:

Strawberries in season are like, well, candy.   BETTER than candy!

Strawberries in season are like, well, candy. BETTER than candy!

Moving on…

Our first destination is Salem, yes, THAT Salem, home of supposed witches, and witch trials.  This is on the eastern seaboard, north of Boston (which Google Maps had routed me through, since my GPS has frozen and could not be bulged to do anything more than turn on a light), but fortunately a friend routed me back out of Salem for the mid-Sunday afternoon commute by a better route.  The idea of stop and go in a tunnel deep under Boston Harbor, tea parties or not, was anathema!

The second destination, the following weekend, was the really tiny town of Gill, Massachusetts, considered west Massachusetts, even if I think of it as central-west. It is a small town just on the west side of the Connecticut River.  (I think inhabitants of this state call anything not in Boston suburbia, and west of that, western Massachusetts…)

The dining experiences:

Opus, 87 Washington Street, Salem, Massachusetts.  We gave this a 5 star rating!

Rockafellas, 231 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts.  We gave this a 3.5 star rating, still pretty good!  Just be selective.

The Gill Tavern, 326 Main Road, Gill, Massachusetts.  I gave this a 4.75 star rating!  (I forgot to consult with my compatriots, but went by table discussion  and personal satisfaction.)

 Salem, Massachusetts

Four of us wandered to Salem, Massachusetts, for a fine weekend of relaxation, fun, the beach, shopping, and dining.  We stayed in a condo/townhouse owned by the parents of one of my friends.

Cematary, central Salem

Cemetery, central Salem

I’m going to review two restaurants we attended — and sorry, no food photos.  You’ll have to take my word about the platings and the foods…  I think you will find that all my restaurant food photos in past posts here (barring one night) have been taken outdoors.  I don’t like annoying my fellows (whether at my table, or simply total strangers) with flash, and I consider all cell phone cameras to be extremely lame with quality in the dark.  I’m not going to bother with the graininess. Or the intrusiveness.

Saturday Night :  OPUS  (Or is it O with a really huge “O” followed by opus?)

We all agreed:  FIVE STARS for OPUS!

Meals:  I shared the Tier One charcuterie board with the friend who was hosting this venture. The prosciutto  was to die for.  She loved the date preserves; I loved the pickled daikon radish (and so we switched as appropriate).  There were a variety of other cheeses and cured meats (the latter sliced as thinly as possible, except the pate.)  Theoretically, there were three meats and two cheeses, but I saw one or two  more than that in each category (and on retrospect, the pricing went with what we ordered).

On my own I ordered one of the night’s small plate specials, the seared yellowfin tuna with Chimichurri sauce.  This was totally awesome — the tuna was raw inside, lightly seared in a mild peppery marinate, and served with that excellent green sauce.  It was extremely fresh.

My charcuterie friend also ordered her own small plate:  Figs, black whipped agave mascarpone, rosemary balsamic reduction, and shaved speck, whatever a speck is.  She said it was excellent.

Another friend apparently was only mildly hungry, and ordered a shrimp roll and was quite satisfied — they have a wide selection of Japanese sushi item choices on the menu.  The fourth of us ordered organic Springer Mountain Chicken, which is described as:  pan roasted half chicken, organic vegetable ratatouille, roasted truffled fingerling potatoes & lemon garlic jus —  and was also well-satisfied.  This was a large and attractive meal.

Indeed, watching the plates and presentations as they were served at other tables, there’s a lot about proper presentation here .

We did eat dessert:  One friend and I shared a cheese plate, which was done up like the charturerie plate, but a broader selection of cheeses, and of course, no meat.  Again it had a date pate, and pickled daikon.  To be honest, I don’t recollect the other dessert ordered, probably because I’ve trained myself not to be a serious sweet-tooth anymore — AND this has worked!  I may still love chocolate, but seriously, I don’t need foods to be sweet!

Service was attentive and prompt.

Sunday Luncheon:  ROCKAFELLAS, no relation to the oil magnates turned politicians.

I ordered the vegetarian, gluten-free Portobella Tower.  It is described as “Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Zucchini and Roasted Peppers layered with a
Spicy Marinated Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomato Sauce, topped with Balsamic Onions.
Served with Risotto and Mixed Greens”

Thankfully it wasn’t a true “Tower” height.  I got worried when I saw the size of the nacho platter delivered before mine, to another of us at the table.  But, nachos are cheaper than portobellos, so I should not have fretted.

My Tower was tasty — the goat cheese between slices of eggplant was creamy and rich.  I’d rate this dish four stars, since it wasn’t quite exceptional beyond that.  I really liked the combo of veggies and shrooms in this.  That nacho dish across the way we’d rate probably about a three.  Not a good cheese to nacho ratio, or the tomato chunks.  The coconut popcorn shrimp another companion ordered were large (personally, I fear I pre-judge popcorn shrimp to be popcorn-sized, and often they have been, so I seldom if ever order.)  However apparently the shrimp themselves did not make the “Taste Muster”, even if the rest of that dish seemed to satisfy her.  Our fourth table-mate had a salad… she was fine with it, but it was neither extra-ordinary nor maudlin.  I have to say the strawberry slices on it looked worthwhile.  It was lunch — no one ordered dessert.

Service was attentive and prompt.  I’d say don’t expect the unexpected, and probably avoid the shrimp or the nachos (unless you just want nachos and minimal toppings).  The Portobello tower, however, is something I’d likely order again.

Upshots:

Neither are bad dining destinations.  There is a lot of variety on both menus to satisfy gluten-free and/or diverse taste buds, but for fine dining, Opus can’t be beat!

Some additional Salem photos, before we move on along:

Downtown Salem Plaza -- just about the least gaudy of the statuary here.

Downtown Salem Plaza — just about the least gaudy/obnoxious of the statuary here.

Marker for Capt Daniel Hawthorne, d. 1796.

Marker for Capt Daniel Hawthorne, d. 1796.  Related to the literary Nathaniel Hawthorne.

 

Gill, Massachusetts

We were in Gill because the town is next door to Montague, which annually hosts the Mutton and Mead Renaissance Faier one weekend each year.  And yes, they do serve “mutton” (tiny dried lamb chops) and mead (not sampled) at the Ren Faire, but we go for shopping and entertainment.  (Mutton and Mead?  Goats and Greens?  What’s with these alliterations?)

At any rate, Gill is on the west of the Connecticut River, and Montague is to the right, and both are in the close proximity of that apparent favorite destination of so many in Deerfield, the main Yankee Candle outlet (a place I can stand being in for about ten minutes before all the clashing aromas drive me out).  At any rate, whenever I mention being in the area to folks back home, it seems the first question is, “Is that near Yankee Candle?”  “Yes, but fortunately far enough away that you can’t smell it!”   Seriously, if you really head into Deerfield, I’d consider Magic Wings (a butterfly conservancy), and Old Historic Deerfield far superior draws…

At any rate, the Ren Faire was fun.

 

An improved road in Peru, MA.  Seriously, I had to turn around during a journey on this with my then-housemate back about 15 years ago.

An improved road in Peru, MA. Seriously, I had to turn around during a journey on this with my then-housemate back about 15 years ago.

 

Gotta love Men in Kilts dancing on tabletops!

Gotta love hot Men in Kilts dancing on tabletops!


Back to Gill and the Gill Tavern.

Saturday Night:  THE GILL TAVERN

Four of the five of us present that night for dinner opted for the lamb.  Hey, perhaps a theme?  This lamb was described as Grilled lamb with rosemary port demi-glaze, accompanied by asparagus and potato gratin.  I am not sure what cut this was, but it ended up with a bone surrounded by a LOT of really tasty, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked lamb meat.  Definitely NOT one of those stereotypical lamb loin chops with two bites o’ meat and the rest being bone.  (I understand this restaurant sources a lot of food locally and humanely.) The asparagus was tender and flavorful, and the potato gratin was not watery nor in need of salting.  Nor did the cheese taste of “faux cheese” — whatever they included of cheese into the layers of potato leant body to the potato, and was satisfying.  The fifth of us chose a flank steak, which I understand was quite good, too.

Us same four also opted to try the house mead, which we found serviceable.  Nothing but nothing beats a good home-brewed mead!  There are nuances and layers not found in commercial varieties.  (Two of our party actually brews their own mead.)

For dessert, I simply ordered coffee, but I did take a taste of one person’s order of dessert — I wish I remembered what it was called, but it did contain chocolate and was extremely rich enough (and not sicky-sweet, which I hate anyway) that I was totally fine with the taste.  (Okay, I did take a second bite…)  I am thinking it had to be a mousse of some sort.

Service was mostly attentive and prompt, but I suspect there were a fair number of unexpected diners who’d just come from the well-attended Ren Faire slowing things down for a short portion of the evening.  I’d certainly go back here again!

We looked pretty much like the below when we turned up at the restaurant — one neighboring table assumed we were staffers there (no).

And, one last view — Steampunk Ren, anyone??   Bringing Time Travel into its own.

Steampunk is a few centuries advanced of the Renaissance era...

Steampunk is a few centuries advanced of the Renaissance era…

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About goatsandgreens

The foodie me: Low/no gluten, low sugars, lots of ethnic variety of foods. Seafood, offal, veggies. Farmers' markets. Cooking from scratch, and largely local. The "future" me: Building a log home in rural western Massachusetts. Will be raising chickens and goats/sheep. Raising veggies and going solar.
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