SALEM, November 4, 2012 – Traveling in New England, a visit to a seafood house where the bounty found beneath the water is there for your pleasure is de rigueur. However, a real experience takes more than just putting seafood on a plate.
A memorable New England seafood experience with a modern sensibility is found at Finz Seafood & Grill, Salem. The seafood house is located on Pickering Wharf where even the crisp, cold drizzle could not mask the smells of the saltwater.
While delicious dishes from the sea are available at many a lobster shack in varying degrees of success, there is a difference between the paper plated lobster and a real dining experience.
This journey starts with a variety of dishes, including Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($12.99) featuring a half dozen, very large, very firm, shrim.
The real standout here is the house made cocktail sauce served with a flavorful, but not overpowering, fresh ground horseradish. You can tell it is freshly ground because it does not burn, instead offering that olfactory clearing burst of flavor.
Clam Chowder ($5.99) is creamy, filled with large meaty clams, diced celery, and potato, just as a good New England Chowder should be.
The real dining starters for this eater are the oysters from Crocoset Creek in neighboring Cape Cod. A small oyster, this choice was mild, with excellent mouth feel and mild brine. Chef dresses this jewel with a Wasabi “caviar” and a splash of Stoli “Raz” vodka (FINZ Wasabi-Stoli Oysters – 6/14.99)
The only regret is not getting to the restaurant early enough to spend an hour or so at the oyster bar, rated “best” in the area, to spend some time sampling the various local offerings.
Did I mention how moderately priced seafood is right now? There is an abundance of lobster so if that is your seafood crush, now is the time. A full lobster dinner at Finz comes with traditional red bliss potatoes and drawn butter and is at market price, very reasonable this year.
A late night dinner meant keeping the courses to a minimum, so eschewing a salad course. The arugula is hard to pass by as it is crisp, with a lovely hint of pepper, small, and tender and it has yet to disappoint.
But we moved straight to the entrees. This was a very good idea as they were not only well prepared, but also generously proportioned and beautifully plated.
New to the menu for fall is the Shrimp and Gnocchi ($21.99) that has Brussels sprouts and Applewood smoked bacon, the fat of the bacon canceling any tartness in the Brussels sprouts.
Fresh medium sized shrimp and potato gnocchi supported by a lighter than air pumpkin cream sauce laced with a tart pomegranate molasses and finished with the crunch sweet potato hay. The dish is surprising in is construction. It is a sophisticated layering of flavors and textures, while being a comfort dish perfect for the first cold nights of fall.
I have found that Lobster Mac and Cheese is more often a disappointment than not with the lobster often being over cooked, creating a rubbery, over fishy tasting dish that, with the richness of the pasta and cheese is just overwhelming for the diner.
Chef manages to take the richness of pasta and cheese and mix it with the sweet luxury of lobster. The dish stays light and delicious, finished with a savory, aromatic, truffle breadcrumbs that add just the right amount of contrast flavor to the dish. With no “I can’t eat one more bite” dining fatigue Finz Lobster Mac n Cheese ($23.99) perfect to the last bite.
Usually avoiding the heavier dishes, at Finz I would order the Lobster Mac and Cheese with anticipation. A dinner companion rightly declares at this is “the only Lobster Mac n Cheese” he will eat, ever again!
Such bold statements are often made when the atmosphere, the weather (cold and crisp with a light rain), and delightful companions and restaurant staff combine to create a memorable meal.
As tasty as a dish can be are the Pan Seared Scallops ($24.99). While these pillows of the sea would be tasty traditionally served with just a bit of lemon on the side, Chef does so much more. Adding sautéed gnocchi and wild mushrooms for savory comfort with a bit of tart via the acid of the tomato and bacon beurre blanc, created a plate that did not overpower, instead supporting the light texture of the scallops.
The dish is delightfully scented and flavored with truffle vinaigrette, and the bright green pepper of the arugula base. The dish is well structured, and surprising, in texture, taste, tactile and aroma. The last bite, after all the flavors have combined, is definitely the best.
Every table seems to have a fan of the field, and Finz’s menu features a choice of pasture and farm options including extremely tender Marinated Sirloin Tips ($16.99). The dish featured a large portion of steak, marinated perfectly in a demi sauce that allowed the quality flavor of the protein to emerge with each bite. Traditionally served, the tips are served with mashed and seasonal vegetables.
In addition, on the menu, but not yet enjoyed are a Roasted Statler Chicken in vanilla curry sauce ($18.99) and steakhouse favorite the Bacon Crusted Filet Mignon ($27.99) with mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus (in season), onion rings and blue-blue cheese finish.
Finz Seafood & Grill also serves 1.5 lb. lobsters classically steamed, baked stuffed with crab, scallop and shrimp, or served “New England Clambake” style accompanied by clams, mussels and chorizo (market prices).
From breakfast, through lunch to a leisure dinner staring out across the water, full moon, or gentle rain, it is a surprising dining destination.
Finz Seafood & Grill
76 Wharf Street Salem, MA 01970
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