We’re fond of Cape Ann, and especially Gloucester, the oldest active fishing port in the United States. This city, which dates back to 1623, has it all: history, tradition, ethnicity, restaurants, art, museums, shops and natural beauty. We never need an excuse to visit the area, but when we received an invitation to join some North Shore friends for dinner at the Alchemy Bistro in Gloucester, we gladly accepted – or at least one of us did. The other, unfortunately, was hosting an event further inland in central MA, but let’s stick with Gloucester and return to the coast.
Alchemy is defined as the act of turning ordinary metal into gold. The aim of Alchemy Bistro is to turn extraordinary ingredients into culinary gold. On this night, the alchemist (also known as Chef Jeff Cala) spun course after course of wonderful dishes, mining flavors from Asia, Italy, France, and America, many of which were sourced with local, New England ingredients.
The meal was well organized and delicately balanced a bit of formality with a lack of pretentiousness – not an easy task at a tasting dinner. The staff maintained a nice cadence, allowing us to maintain lively and continual conversation over the centerpiece of food. The chefs emerged at each course and explained the preparation of the dishes along with the sourcing of ingredients. Concurrently, Matt Rose (the general manager) would share his vast knowledge of wine, beer and mixology by offering pairing suggestions for each individual item within the course.
Logistically, the dinner, spread between two tables, blended individual courses separated by samplings of communal tapas. The tapas selections were tastefully presented on rustic serving boards made especially for this evening by the artisans at Walker Creek Furniture of nearby Essex, MA. We’re partial to New England ingredients, even if that means non-edible ingredients (such as serving boards) too.
The dinner selections, representing a sampling of the broader menu, were diverse and creative. Some of the standouts and liquid accompaniments for the evening included: wild boar and native shrimp chopstick roll; cheese sampler paired with an Estrella Damm Inedit witbier from Barcelona by Ferran Adrià (a new favorite); black pepper pappardelle carbonara with a farm raised duck egg (that was picked up by Chef Cala somewhere along his drive) nicely matched with Corte Rugolin Monte Danieli Amarone Classico; and, finally, warm chocolate soufflé complemented by a stunning Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.
I applaud the team at Alchemy Bistro and their creative spin on New England cuisine. One doesn’t need to drive to a major city like Boston to have a wonderful dining experience. Alchemy proved that. The restaurant plans to host more of these events, which is good news for the New England palate.
Visitors, as well as locals, north of Boston should seek out the many wonderful things both culinary and non-culinary in the region. Take in some of the Gloucester sights and then head to Alchemy to reflect on them over a delicious dinner.
-Laura Ciampa, Palaverer Too
Photo Credits: The Two Palaverers, Brian Knowles (aka The Gringo Chapin)