Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Loving Alchemy Again

Ryan and I hit up Alchemy Bistro in Gloucester the other night, meeting my darling foodie nephew Zachary for some midweek nosh at his place of employment. 

For those who are new followers, I was once the AGM at Alchemy and later the DOM of the company that owns Alchemy, Serenitee Restaurant Group before moving on to the agency scene. It was a delicious time in my life and Alchemy, the group's flagship, eatery has always held a special place in my heart. 

In fact, my connection to the space dates to long before it was Alchemy. In the days of my youth, it was the Glass Sailboat, a natural foods cafe and grocery (*opened in 1977, it was one of the first in the state because Gloucester has always been just a tad bit hipper than most) where I worked in college during summer and winter breaks. This happy, hippie little spot on 3 Duncan Street has a magical connection to my life, and now my godchild works there. Perfect.

Our visit was the first in quite some time, as the restaurant has for several years been going through something of an identity crisis. Alchemy has been reworked too many times to count, both as the 100 faces of Alchemy and for a very brief stint (2 weeks?) as Pignoli following a 6 month closure to create this new concept and then, like a freaky flash, back to Alchemy it went.  During this series of reincarnations, it was very difficult to get attached. Items we tried and loved one week would be gone the next. I suspect I'm not the only Alchemy enthusiast who waited with frustration and anticipation for her to settle back into who she was, a quirky little eatery with locally sourced outside-the-box dishes that you quickly learn to love and could trust to be there for you. I think it's finally happening.
We had sampled the Farmer's Picnic Board at the recent Taste of Cape Ann, so we had it firmly on our radar and it did not disappoint. Loaded to the edges of this gorgeous recovered wood serving platter, the quantity and quality of the contents of this sharing appetizer make it a culinary home run - and something we will certainly return for often. Pork rillette, chicken liver mousse, mortadella, and a glorious pork terrine represented on the charcuterie side. Mounds of  Jasper Hill Farms Bayley Hazen Blue Cheese, Grafton Village's  5 Year Cheddar and Old Chatham Brie filled the cheese lover's portion. All of these protein perfections were nestled among piles of house made orange marmalade, pickled carrots and peppers and coarse ground mustard providing endless flavor possibilities and enthusiastic sharing of suggested combinations. 

Sharing platters, well envisioned and executed, naturally evoke that beautiful, purposeful breaking of bread - and the best kind of dining experience - the sharing of a meal, the camaraderie of the cafe. Add wine pairing, here we sampled solid selections of Chateau Ste Michelle Merlot, The Show Pinot Noir, Saumur Chenin Blanc  and you have a sensory safari, highlighting in their own unique and powerful way, the flavors of the board, and offering even more opportunity to talk gastronomy. 

For an entree we split -  for the number that farm board had done on our appetites - the Long Island Duck Breast with roasted mushrooms risotto, Brussels sprout leaves & pomegranate gastrique. It was magnificent. So much rich flavor in the duck, brightness in the sauce and nutty bitterness of the Brussels made for a plate best described as simply symphonic.

Zachary indulged in the house ground burger with bacon and bleu, worth mentioning for two reasons. First, free range beef tastes like nothing else and Alchemy has been rocking the best burger in town for the longest time because they were early adopters of this food phenom. Try it, you'll never look as factory farm beef again. Secondly, the burger has heavenly slices of that Bayley Hazen Bleu which is one of the most delicious things you can put in your mouth. Plus add bacon and this is THE BURGER you want.

We didn't leave room for dessert, though our server assured us that the Semifreddo is a treat we must come back for and we will. We did indulge in one of the restaurant's very creative cocktails (they're name says it all - Alchemy is sorta famous for their mixology). The Hemingway Daiquiri was a luscious and potent potable comprised of locally made Privateer rum, Luxardo maraschino liquor, fresh lime and red grapefruit. It took my breath away in the best possible way.

This midweek visit was no ordinary date night, it was food as an experience, and my favorite way to eat. Satiated with sustenance and hydration, we left happy and hopeful that Alchemy has finally gotten it's groove back. Serenitee decision-makers , if you are listening, please don't change anything.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holiday Family Theater at The Larcom - so much good, clean fun

Quick shout out from the folks at GimmeLive about some fun, family shows happening this weekend at the lovely Larcom Theater in Beverly, MA. My daughter and her fellow YMCA Teen Leaders will be volunteering as elves at Saturday's show.  A portion of the proceeds goes to the YMCA of the North Shore. Tickets are still available for both shows, so click away for some good clean fun for the whole family.

TIME7:00PM(Doors 6:00PM)
Larcom Theatre
13 Wallis Street
Beverly, MA 01915
Venue Details
OPENERBrian King &
Nathan Cohen

$19, $29, $39

TIME11:00AM (Doors 10:30AM)
Larcom Theatre
13 Wallis Street
Beverly, MA 01915
Venue Details
$20, $25

Monday, November 23, 2015

Funk Fest is Back - Beverly Music Bonanza is Bigger and Better!

Sharing this press release from Seth McNally at M.E. Productions about the hottest, hippest night of music this year. Get your tickets to the 2nd Annual Beverly Funk and Blues Festival and dance off that Thanksgiving Turkey with some groovy music guaranteed to make you "shake everything you got".  The lineup includes some of my very favorite people, both on
and off stage, folks like John Iltis, Brandon Tarricone, Henley Douglas, Jr.,and Dennis Monagle who are some of the coolest cats I know. Most of these guys play in several bands, so even if you don't know them by name, you have probably heard them rock out nasty good music in local bands like Krewe de Groove, Safe Ty, GrooveTherapy,The Peter Fedele Trio and so many more. The event is sponsored by Salem Jazz and Soul Festival .

The show is on Saturday, November 28th at the Historic Cabot Theater in Beverly,MA formerly the home of Le Grand David Magic Show, and now reborn as a nonprofit entertainment complex.  DUDE - if it's anything like last year, which was JAM PACKED with tunes, I'd HIT THIS LINK NOW for tickets. 

Here's the 411, plus some video links to some of the musicians. Give a look and listen, and then get your seat. This is big...

Last year's Funk Fest was off the hook, so we decided to make it an annual show!  We brought together the best musicians & coolest cats in Boston's Funk scene for a Monster show; Barrence Whitfield, HDRnB w/ Phunky guests, & Qwill...

Beverly's own local hero and international icon, BARRENCE WHITFIELD is putting together a rockin' set with The Grits & Groceries Orchestra. Winner of seven Boston music awards, Barrence is a full-throttle soul screamer in the spirit of Little Richard, Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke.  He has been described as the owner of one incredible pair of lungs, with limitless energy and unmatched enthusiasm for his music and his audience. For the better part of two decades, Whitfield has sustained that energy, bringing his yowling brand of classic and roots rock ’n’ roll from New England’s working-class stages to the summer festivals of Europe and Japan with a rotating cast of backing musicians.

Barrence also performs regularly with local greats the Grits & Groceries Orchestra who recently performed a New England tour with George Thorogood and the Destroyers. The Grits and Groceries Orchestra consists of Robert Lyons (Tenor sax), Charlie O’neal (guitar), John Anthony (Bass) and Kemp Dunn (Drums).
HENLEY DOUGLAS RnB returns this year with very phunky guests Sarah Seminski (of The Nephrok! All Stars & Sarah and the Wild Versatile), Garret Savluk (Boston Horns), & Yahuba Torres (formerly Ryan Montbleau band). They blew the roof off the house last year with a super high energy set, and we expect nothing less this year.

QWILL aka Jesse Ciarmataro: Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer currently based in Salem. He is putting together a live band that will open the night with music that fuses a wide spectrum of influences from Soul, Modern Jazz, Hip Hop, Roots, and Rock.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Party Pics - shots from this year's super successful TOCA

The 7th Annual Taste of Cape Ann was, without question, the biggest, best foodie fest north of Boston yet. Proceeds benefit Cape Ann YMCA's Service Trips and Initiatives for Teens.  My daughter is a Teen Leader now. My nephews were before her. I've been involved since the first year, when my now 20 year old nephew, Dominic went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with the group. This is an important event for great kids doing important work. This year we broke another record. Over 300 guests attended and dined on the most interesting mix of local cuisine we've had since it all began. At a family friendly ticket price of only $25 a head, we made over $8,500.
Mile Marker 1 Crab Cake BLTs and Sea Glass at Castle Manor Duck Confit Arancini
Newcomer Sea Glass at Castle Manor, who's chef Nick Peters was a season 14 Hell's Kitchen contender, making it to #5 before he got cut, went big with Duck Confit and Butternut Squash Arancini,  Lobster Bisque and Pumpkin Munchkins with creme Anglais. 

Alchemy Bistro Picnic Board, Sea Glass Pumpkin Munchkins and Latitude 43 California Rolls
Also new this year was Manchester-by-the-sea culinary hot spot, Foreign Affairs Bistro who came in big with Bluefin Pate Crostini. Magnolia 525 Tavern was also a first timer. Their Roasted Free Range Chicken, root veggies and kale did not disappoint. And I hear the Amaretto Spice Cake was the bomb - I never got back for sweets. Speaking of sweets, Cake Ann joined us, as well, and man oh man am I glad she did. If you missed her at the Taste, don't cry. She's opening her own space in The Common soon.
Carson afKlintenberg, the ladies of Emerson Inn, Katrina's crew, Tim Burton and Manny Lapa from Azorean and Caroline Thompson and Janet Downey pouring vino

New in the hydration department this year was Wachusset Brewing with their Boston sports inspired cans of solid local liquid and Emory Vodka, who created 4 different signature cocktails from their locally made spirits.
My parents, Jerry and Pattie Goulart with my baby girl, Julia, a Leader, my sister, Jillian Amero, Margo Barry, sister Kristen and nephew/former Y Leader, Zachary Nicastro, Lisa Carlson and Greta Bagshaw and my hubby, Ryan Amero with Uncle Vinny Galise

Changes to promotion this year included leaking the menus as chefs committed their contributions, which I think resulted in a noticeable leap towards haute cuisine in the overall menus. The competitive nature of chefs seemed to kick a little bit of "Bring it On" into the scene and with each menu announced came another, more elevated announcement. 
Vinny Galise with Kathy Low, Jenn and Tom Fernandes, Lisa Carlson and Tory Bagshaw, Jerry and Pattie Goulart, Kristen and Zak Nicastro, Rick Hemeon

Regulars like Mile MarkeMile Marker 1 upped their game with the addition of Pain Killer cocktails to their food offerings and Jalapenos bringing Dos Equis to wash down terrific tamales. The general buzz was that this was the night of the culinary A GAME, but I think the pictures speak for themselves.

My sister, Jill Amero, Nick from Sea Glass, Inga and Susan from Cake Ann, Jalapenos crew, myself and Rick Doucette, Liz O'connell at the Emory Vodka station, TJ Peckham with Wachusett, The 525 crew, Classic Cooks and Mojo Cold Brew
This is my favorite non-holiday event of the year, especially now that I'm out of the foodie marketing business. My agency job doesn't require photographing sushi or tasting wine, so this is a project I anticipate like Christmas. Nothing brings me more joy than organizing and networking, securing restaurants and promoting the event in social and in the press and I will do it FOREVER if they'll let me. And I'm good at it. At least, it seems that way. And with YMCA Executive Director and friend, Rick Doucette as my event partner, it's a piece of cake!

The Fernandes, Jen and Tom, parents of Jack, a leader and Joe Lioacano from Mile Marker 1 at the end of the night

Big, giant, heartfelt THANK YOU to all the restaurants, spirits companies and raffle donors who made last night the BEST Taste of  Cape Ann yet. Until next year...
7 Seas Whale Watch​
 525 Tavern
Alchemy Gloucester
Atlantic Salt works​ 
Azorean Restaurant
Beach Gourmet
Cake Ann
Cape Ann Brewing
Classic Cooks

Duckworth's Bistrot​
Emory Vodka

Elizabeth Grady Salon
Essex River Cruises and Charters​

Foreign Affairs Wine Bar & Bistro Grand cafe Emerson Inn
Jalapenos Mexican Restaurant
JennyCakes Bakery

Laurie Lufkin
Lobsta Land
Mile Marker One
Mojo Cold Brew Coffee

Railroad Ave Liquors
Seabreeze Liquors
Seaport Grille
Stones Pub & Eatery

Skydive New England​ ​
Schooner Thomas E Lannon
Virgilio's Italian Bakery​
Wachusett Brewing Company 
Wally's Blackburn Bistro

Get me to the Greek - Brendan Pelley's Pelekasis

Today I'm giving a special shout out to my boy, Brendan Pelley who was our snarky, quirky Cure-listening, super talented sous in my Alchemy Bistro days. His spin was super creative, almost zany and yet perfectly balanced and beautiful. It was a great time at Alchemy, with Brendan in checks.
brendan pelley, pelekasis, hell's kitchen, jennifer amero 
I left Alchemy to become DOM for the restaurant group (Serenitee) and Brendan soon moved on from the group and back towards his hometown, landing a spot at the helm of Zebra's Bistro in Medfield where he has been Executive Chef for the past few years.  While at Zebra's, Brendan did his time in Hell's Kitchen where he competed for the win under the (terrifying) Gordon Ramsay. He didn't win the game, but he definitely won the spotlight in the Boston restaurant scene as a result.
After a recent trip with his new bride to the land of olives and Ouzo, Brendan left Zebra's to start a pop up Greek concept, Pelekasis, which is making a lot of noise already. His next event, "Pelekasis at Commonwealth" is on Monday, November 16th. Thereafter, he turns up at Wink and Nod where he plans to dazzle diners with dolmas throughout 2016.  Opa!

Amuse: Ouzo Marinated Bay Scallop, beet tzatziki, pomegranate, dill
Bread Service: sprouted grain bread, barrel aged feta, marinated olives, olive oil
First Course: Foie Gras Dolmades, lemon puree, cured egg yolk, dill powd
Second Course: Grilled Octopus, chickpeas plaki, cured olive vin, herbs
Third Course: Braised Lamb Neck, cinnamon tomato sauce, orzo, mizithra cheese
Fourth Course: Whole Grilled Fish, citrus, olive oil, pickled fennel, seasonal horaitiki salad
Fifth Course: Pistachio Baklava, sesame seed, orange blossom custard, hibiscus
Mignardises:Semolina Halva, Carob/cashew and cherry/pistachio 
Reservations: www.commonwealthcambridge.com

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stuff I Ate: A Mano Italian Kitchen and Pizzeria, Salem, MA

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Hit A Mano Italian Kitchen in Salem on Saturday night. It's a new spot, which is always a tad scary in October, when Salem is swamped with Halloween hellraisers filling every seat in the city. Our plan was last minute, though, so we took a shot on one of the few tables available before midnight through Open Table. I'm so glad we did.

First off, it's NOT a new spot. It's a new concept by Antonio Bettencourt. It's in the same location as his very successful 62 Restaurant and Wine Bar but has gone through a transformation to create this slightly more casual, definitely more amenable to repeat visits location with the same solid staff and the same chef and BOH team. I'd say he nailed it.

The place has a great vibe. It's cozy but not too dark, lively but not too loud. I think you could bring anyone here and they'd be comfortable. I'd come for a date with my husband or on a girls' afternoon with my twelve year old and be equally as happy, for real. I went with my college roommates who live in the city and eat out a lot. We couldn't have been happier with the service (Meg was terrific), the wine list, the variety of the plates, every bit of the experience.

The menu is rustic Italian with just a dash of middle eastern to give dishes their signature flavors. The Arrancini have the tiniest hint saffron and are small bite size gems served in house made ragu with soft shredded cheese. The meatballs are stuffed with ricotta cheese. A table favorite was the chickpea fritters with date compote, though a tad bit of savory would have worked there, I think.  Brussels sprouts will bring me back for sure. In fact, we liked the small plates so much, we ordered two rounds of these, plus a lovely salad with prosciutto and figs and never made it to entrees or dessert. Sampling the artisinal pizzas and entrees are just an excuse to go back.

Chickpea Fritters with Date Compote
Check out A Mano before you can't get in. This place is bound to be a locals haunt, if it isn't already. Price point was really low for the quality and portion of the dishes, enough so that I suspect Salem natives will make this a multiple times a week venue. I know I would if I lived there.

A Mano is at:
62 Wharf St, Salem, MA. 01945
Reserve online http://www.opentable.com/a-mano-italian-kitchen-and-pizzeria-reservations-salem

Friday, October 23, 2015

Cool Stuff, Happening: Frost Ice Loft gets Pinked for Breast Cancer


Cool just got cooler...

Frost Ice Loft is lit up pink and sporting a Pink Ribbon ice sculpture for Breast Cancer Awareness Month through Sunday, October 25, 2015. Check out their site here: http://frosticeloft.com/

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Born-in-the-70s Guide to films you should watch with your tweenager.

I was born a middle class middle child (though that wouldn't be determined until a couple years later) on September 11,1974. 

This means a couple of things:
Yes, everyone gasps when I tell them my birthdate.
It was mine before that.
I started kindergarten when I was only 4, but only for a couple days.
I suffered through my adolescent and teen years in the late 80's and early 90's.
I lived to tell about it and I even found a silver lining.
As a teenager in the Z Cavaricci and New Kids on the Block era, I, like my contemporaries, have a lot of apologizing to do. "Everyone wore Skids", "I was 14, I didn't know better", "I thought for sure the clock-a-book would stay in style", "MC Hammer really seemed cool", "Like YOU knew Milli Vanilli were phonies!".

It was an era of bad music and worst style. It was blindingly bright and, thankfully, brief. I could STILL kiss Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl for breaking up the glam band, silly-hop music and style scene and bringing back flannel and garage rock, but not before me and all of the 7000 other 70's born Jens and Mikes went full neon.
And I am one of three girls, with very little time between us. Estrogen and Aquanet would be the Goulart girls' personal Yankee Candle scent if we commissioned such a thing in those days. Sleeplessness and cheap beer would be my parents'.

My poor mother and father. I'm fairly certain that between the three of us girls fighting over the bathroom before school anywhere from 1987-1995 we not only wore a hole in my parents' eardrums, there's also gotta be a CFC spawned fissure in the ozone above Hartz Street of shameful and considerable berth.

The one highlight of living through the decadent, day-glo eighties and evolving into a mini grown-up in the sulky, sad nineties is that OUR MOVIES ROCKED. Brilliant film makers like John Hughes captured the heart-wrenching moments of teenage-hood in the picture perfect burbs while authors like S. E. Hinton not only exposed class-ism through the eyes of the Soces and the Greasers, they brought today's most accomplished actors from nobody to somebody through roles so gritty that bright young faces showcased deeply emotional character acting like no actor before. Swayze, Lowe, Estevez, Macchio, DiCaprio, Howell, Sheen, Hall, Haim, Feldman, Sheedy, Gertz, Ringwald might as well be names read off at my commencement - we all GREW UP together. The words, " Stay golden, Ponyboy", will make me cry FOREVER. And that scene in Basketball Diaries, with Leonardo DiCaprio begging his mom to let him inside was my first taste of sympathy for addicts - and foreshadowed the brilliant career ahead of him.

Film got real in the 80s and 90s. We watched films about addiction, poverty, bullying, the differently-abled, and coming of age with as much openness and appreciation as we enjoyed the simple, funny films about puppy love. And I'm pretty sure I learned something.

I'm a mother now, raising a tweenager. I'm leaning on these films to augment the parental teachings about what's coming in teenager years, to guide Julz on how and why to keep on being her quirky, awesome, b-side self when society tells her to be like everyone else and how to prepare for the cruelty of boys and girls she will meet in the near future. As a parent, I'm way too lame to get this right by myself, so I made a reference list of the best films to share with your tween/teen if you were born in the 70's. We have had a TON of fun watching these and checking them off, adding new ones based on the recommendations of friends (I put the original list on Facebook and watched it grow exponentially. It is in no particular order as it literally came from a root list of what we'd seen and grew in the comment section.

And now, I'm sharing so that anyone out there who is TOTALLY MESSING UP trying to guide your kid through acne and driving lessons can have a leg up. 

BEST films of the 80's and 90's for teens
Forrest Gump
Stand by Me
Lost Boys
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
The Outsiders      
That was then, this is now
The Water Boy
Can't buy me love
Sixteen Candles            
Reality Bites
The Wedding Singer
Dirty Dancing
Crocodile Dundee
Spies like Us
Breakfast Club
Pretty in Pink
Jewel of the Nile
Indiana Jones
Edward Scissor Hands
Star Wars Triology
Lord of the Rings Triology 
Back to the Future
Teen Wolf
Adventures in Babysitting
The Dark Crystal
Pee-wees Big Adventure
Monster Squad
The Secret Garden 
Harry and the Hendersons
Field of Dreams
My Cousin Vinny
My Girl
Weekend at Bernie's
Pump up the volume
Drop Dead Fred
Death Becomes Her
Hocus Pocus
St Elmo’s Fire
The Neverending Story
  • Say Anything
    Honey I Shrunk the Kids
    Home Alone  
    National Lampoon - all of them
The Princess Bride
  • Good Will Hunting
    Dead Poet’s Society
    Shawshank Redemption

    Naturally, different kids can handle different levels of drama and gore and adult situations and lofty language at different times. Go with what feels right. You can be sure you'll be wrong (insert eye roll here)