Globe North Dining Out

Local flair on menu at Green Land Cafe

By Coco McCabe and Doug Stewart
Globe Correspondents / July 4, 2010

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Green Land Cafe
87 Washington St., Salem
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted
Accessible to the handicapped

The name of Salem’s new Green Land Café has nothing to do with Greenland, the ice-covered subcontinent. It’s a reference to green dining: consuming foods that are locally, sustainably, and organically harvested, where possible. The beef is from Vermont, the fish from Gloucester.

All the same, this is a fine-dining establishment. Customers don’t have to forsake the pleasures of exotic foodstuffs, from Medjool dates to Bailey’s Irish Cream.

The restaurant opened on the ground floor of Salem’s venerable Odd Fellows building next to City Hall two months ago. The newly renovated space absorbed two adjoining storefronts: a printing shop and a real estate office.

On a recent Tuesday evening, we sat at a small wooden table next to a picture window. We felt we were sitting right on the sidewalk, enjoying the comings and goings of an early summer evening. As the place filled up — and it seems to be drawing a crowd already — we noticed most diners preferred the darker parts of the restaurant farther from the windows. For atmosphere, an array of fat candles glowed on narrow shelves along an exposed brick side wall. A spacious bar dominates a second room. A patio out back seats 40.

It’s a big restaurant and, unfortunately, a noisy one. In the main room, all that glass and brick, plus the bare hardwood floor, reflects the sounds of dishes and chatter and scraping chairs. Of course, some people may actually prefer that to a place where you can hear a pin drop.

Green Land’s ambitious menu is loaded with active verbs: blistered asparagus, truffle-whipped potatoes, deconstructed crabs. Our waitress was friendly but a little unsure of the varied offerings. She had to check on what shallot-infused butter was, and how pork belly differs from bacon.

The number of entrees isn’t overwhelming; there are just nine, ranging in price from $16 to $25. Adding variety are two dozen small plates and tapas, both hot and cold, from $5 to $13. These include Buffalo duck wings with pomegranate ($7), crab fritters with chipotle honey ($9), and native shrimp ceviche ($9). Also tempting to the economy-minded are the grilled flatbread offerings, which include wild mushroom and goat cheese ($11), and fried oyster with bacon and spinach ($13).

A basket of crunchy warm bread with the aforementioned shallot-infused butter —delicious! — along with a pair of hearty Reissdorf Kölsch drafts ($5) took the edge off our appetites and then some. The mild bitterness of a baby arugula salad with shaved fennel ($8) was nicely balanced by delicate roasted pear chunks and a slightly sweet confit shallot vinaigrette.

A $10 appetizer of seared scallops and crispy pork belly (it’s uncured bacon, we learned) with shallot confit purée was a memorable burst of flavors and textures.

Less impressive was an entrée of duck-filled ravioli ($21) with bourbon-infused cherries, shaved white asparagus, and an unsweetened chocolate demiglace. It sounded exciting on the menu, but the main flavor of the monochromatic brown dish was the sweetness of the cherries, and the pasta’s chewiness seemed dry rather than al dente.

Among the tapas dishes, the mild cheesiness of the fontina fondue with warm bread ($8) let the flavor of its roasted artichoke hearts stand out. And the lemon chicken with garlic ($7) was pleasantly tangy, and capers gave it a jolt of saltiness.

For dessert, we settled on a flourless chocolate torte with a blueberry coulis ($7). It was a yummy, pudding-like confection that came with fresh strawberries and a sprig of mint.

We were impressed by Green Land’s leftover containers. Rather than plastic or Styrofoam, they are made from an egg-carton-like cardboard, suitable for composting. We’re not sure what our food’s carbon footprint was, but that struck us as an appropriate finish to a satisfying meal.