If you want a quick assessment of an Italian restaurant, then select an iconic dish and see how it compares to others you have tasted in the past. If that dish excels, then it is likely the rest of the menu is delicious too. For me, I often conduct that experiment with Bolognese, an iconic meat sauce that is usually served over tagliatelle.
I had the opportunity recently to stop by the 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, an Italian restaurant in Salem located on Pickering Wharf. Though I had wanted to visit this place for some time, I hadn't actually gotten there until now. I sat at the bar, which was empty early on a Thursday evening, and was warmly greeted by the bartender.
The menu is relatively small, broken down into Spuntini (Italian "tapas" which are $6 each, with a discount for 3 or more), Antipasti ($10-$12), Primi ($11-$13/small, $22-$24/large), and Secondi ($23-$26). There were also some off the menu specials that evening. There are 11 choices for Spuntini and either 4 or 5 in the other categories. Despite the limited number of choices, what is available is diverse and sounds enticing. So, the small menu is not actually a limitation. There were plenty of dishes I wanted to taste.
Their wine list is a bit bold, especially for the North Shore region, as it only contains Italian wines. There are no California Chardonnays, no French Bordeaux, on this list. Instead, you will find a diverse selection of very intriguing Italian wines, many from small producers, which will please any wine lover. Wines by the glass, by their quartino, range from $8-$14, and there are plenty of bottles under $50.
I tried two of the Spuntini, the Arancini and Baccala. The Arancini comes with tomato confit and basil, and they had a perfectly crisp exterior with a gooey and tasty interior. These were definitely top notch arancini, the type I really enjoy. The Baccala came with a lemon-caper aioli, though there was too much aioli atop the salt cod fritters for my liking. I would have preferred it on the side, for dipping, though I will be sure to ask for that next time. The baccala though were very good, fried just right, and with an intense salty flavor.
For my entree, I had to try the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, to capture the essence of the restaurant. Was the dish worthy or not? Their tagliatelle is made on the premises and the Bolognese contains veal, pork and pancetta. I prefer such a ragu made from different meats as I think it adds complexity to the dish. Overall, this Bolognese dish was superb, intensely flavorful, meaty and well balanced. The pasta was cooked just right as well and I easily could have devoured a second bowl. They passed my Bolognese test with flying colors, which bodes very well for the rest of their cuisine.
I ended the meal with a dessert special, Bombolini with a cup of hot chocolate. Bombolini are small, hot donuts, covered with cinammon and sugar, and such donuts are a weakness of mine. They were perfect for dipping into the hot chocolate and were a fine way to end my dinner.
Service was excellent and I was extremely pleased with my first experience at 62 Restaurant. The food is delicious, high-quality, and fairly priced. The wine list is intriguing, with lots of top notch choices. I will be returning soon to check out more of their menu and recommend it to others too.