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Globe North Dining Out

Fine cuisine amid a touch of history

May 17, 2009
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Lyceum Bar & Grill
43 Church St., Salem
978-745-7665, www.lyceumsalem.com
Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30.-10 p.m. Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Credit cards accepted
Handicapped accessible

Even though it's pricey and has consistently served excellent fare for a couple of decades, the Lyceum is hardly pretentious. Its dining rooms have an understated grace, furnished with utilitarian wooden tables and slatted chairs. But the exposed brick walls and wooden beams do give a hint of the building's rich history, which dates to an era when Salem was one of the busiest US ports. John Quincy Adams and Frederick Douglass once lectured here, and Alexander Graham Bell held the first demonstration of the public phone at the Lyceum in 1877.

The bar - filled most nights with an over-30 crowd - is a fine place to take out-of-town guests for a quality scotch or substantive martini.

We were seated in the back dining room, a slender section filled with a handful of tables that overlooks a courtyard and magnolias.

Service was top notch, and through the night, different servers brought us our orders as soon as the food had been prepared.

You're not supposed to overindulge on bread and butter, but the house sourdough was fresh, its crust crisp.

We started with a simple green salad ($7), a Caesar salad ($8), and portobello mushrooms ($8.50). The green salad, largely fresh romaine, was light and delicious, flavored with a maple vinaigrette. The Caesar salad also did not disappoint, and was a simple plate of long romaine leaves, topped with shaved Parmesan and a light dressing. The portobello plate was a splendid presentation of thick brown mushrooms, topped with a mix of red and yellow tomatoes, pine nuts, capers, and arugala. The mushrooms were marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, and tasted like a nice cut of red meat.

We chose fish for our entrées and were pleased by the fresh, generous filets and presentation. The grilled salmon ($17.50) was not overcooked and came with a side of couscous, a bold, steamed fluffy Levantine variant that steered the conversation toward the Middle East.

The halibut ($26.50) was a divine white filet, pan-seared and served over a bed of risotto. The fish was spice-filled, and the creamy risotto was the perfect accompanying dish, mixed with roasted red pepper relish, rich Kalamata olives, red onions, and saffron.

We were also pleased with the house fish and chips ($17). The lightly fried haddock was a fresh, soft boneless filet served over skinny, delicious fries.

For dessert, we settled on one of the Lyceum's best, the house lava cake ($7.50). The small circular cake was filled in the center with hot fudge, and served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

STEVEN ROSENBERG