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Salem newcomer delivers rich fare

April 22, 2012
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43 Church

43 Church St., Salem

978-745-7665

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 5 to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.

All major credit cards accepted

Accessible to the handicapped

On a Thursday evening earlier this month, we stopped in at a swanky new restaurant in Salem named for its street address, 43 Church. It was the final night of Salem’s Restaurant Week, during which the restaurant was offering hearty three-course meals for $25 a head.

So where was everybody? Other than us, there were only four parties in the dining room. (The adjoining bar, at least, was nearly full.)

Well, you missed a good meal at a very good price. Normally, 43 Church hasn’t targeted bargain-hunters. A 16-ounce prime here cost $43 (or it did until a menu change last week). If you wanted asparagus and mashed potatoes with that, it would have been another $15. The new price of $36 for a 14-ounce cut includes Delmonico potatoes, asparagus, and a choice of peppercorn or bernaise sauce. General manager Tim Dodge says the new menu deemphasizes à la carte red meat in favor of New American cuisine with fresh local ingredients.

The erstwhile steakhouse opened for business in September where the Lyceum Restaurant used to be. The stately brick building, erected in 1831 by the Salem Lyceum Society, once hosted public lectures by transcendentalists, abolitionists, and the occasional former president (John Quincy Adams).

Our party of five was seated at a large round table with a white tablecloth and padded leather chairs. On a wall nearby was a gigantic antique clock that might have come from a French bell tower. The atmosphere was classy but relaxed, rather than pretentious. Our waitress was attentive without being intrusive.

Four of us chose the $25 Restaurant Week specials. For the first course, some of us had the frisée salad: a bed of greens with an impressive combination of triple-crème Pierre Robert cheese, still-gooey poached egg, and fatty, flavorful bacon bits. The others among us started well too, with marinated shrimp on a chilled noodle salad with chopped peanuts and chili spices. The shrimp were few but massive.

Venturing outside the prix-fixe menu, one of our party, an Army lieutenant on leave, ordered a $10 appetizer of Prince Edward Island mussels. We were all impressed by the abundance of mussels that arrived, enough to share, in fact.

“The sauce is wonderful, and the mussels are not overcooked,’’ said the lieutenant’s mother. His father, a weekend shellfisher, wasn’t convinced of the freshness. “I’m a mussel guy,’’ he said. “I know about mussels.’’ (They tasted fine to the rest of us.)

The bargain menu gave us a choice of three entrées: fish, steak, or chicken, all with sides. The pan-seared local hake was moist and firm, and it arrived at our table steaming hot from the kitchen. It came with a dollop of fava beans, roasted cipollini onions, and a surprising bonus: a large chunk of succulent lobster meat. Such a deal.

The beef entrée was grilled flat-iron steak in a red-wine reduction. It arrived sliced - even though the meat-eaters were provided with weapon-grade steak knives - and cooked exactly as ordered, medium rare. With it was a mound of pungent mashed potatoes and a tangle of crunchy onion strings.

We never tried the third choice, a half roast chicken, but our military man ordered the 20-ounce prime bone-in ribeye steak ($42), which was served with horseradish. He pronounced the meat tender and juicy, and there was more of it than he could eat.

Course 3 was dessert: several slices per serving of dense, rich pistachio cake with whipped cream (yummy and sweet) or a demitasse of chilled chocolate-espresso pot de crème (sweet but small). Either way, we all left stuffed and happy.

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