In 1799, Salem’s weathered seafarers founded the East India Marine Society and began to assemble “natural and artificial curiosities” brought back from their journeys to Asia, Africa, and other distant lands. Over the following centuries, the collection grew, and while it did, the Society evolved through various shapes until it became the Peabody Essex Museum. Today, more than 1.8 million of these works invite visitors to explore the world in a facility that underwent a $200 million transformation in 2003.
The majority of works now rest in a Moshe Safdie–designed glass-and-brick building, focused around a sunny atrium whose various architectural silhouettes echo local forms. This new building joins the East India Marine Hall, built by the seafarers’ society in 1825 and dedicated in a ceremony attended by President John Adams. Today, that National Historic Landmark hosts society-member portraits and a number of the hall’s original objects; in other galleries, paintings and sculptures by Japanese, Indian, and Chinese artists hang on the walls or perch in glass cases like pies with personal-space issues. Guests can also tour Yin Yu Tang, the only complete Qing Dynasty house outside of China and a 200-year-old structure with intricate carvings.
In 2013, the Peabody Essex Museum will add exciting new displays to its rotating special exhibitions, from Faberge treasures to impressionistic masterpieces from the likes of Monet, Renoir, and Manet, as well as modern African-American art and contemporary art from India. After marveling at the skill and diversity of the artwork, visitors can drop by the Atrium Café or the Garden Restaurant for a bite to eat.
One might leave Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar, which was named this year's best new restaurant north of Boston by Boston Magazine, with some sense of the broad scope of Mexican cuisine, geography, and culture. That epiphany might come from the selection of 180 tequilas, which slip down in shots, release bell peals of clicking ice in glasses, or blend with lime in thick margaritas rimmed with salt. The tantalizing menu also parades traditional Mexican ingredients, though they are tangled into surprising configurations.
Red chandeliers glow, bringing to life the colors of chipotle peppers on plates at plush black booth seating, all beneath red wallpaper. In the tequila lounge, ample couches create a circle around red, candlelit tables for resting a glass of sangria or a mojito muddled with strawberries or cucumber. A row of inset shadowboxes displays the colorful lucha libre masks typically used in overblown battles and attempts to go out in public without being recognized as Kevin Bacon.
Jocelyn’s Restaurant's menus offer up healthy, reverently crafted Lebanese and American cuisine for lunch and dinner. Playful palates can begin a meal with bouncing kibbee balls, volleying seasoned ground beef, crushed wheat, and pine nuts and spiking hunger in the face ($8). Sea-sourced entrees include baked haddock topped with tahini, cilantro, garlic, and pine nuts ($18) and grilled shrimp skewers transfixing six jumbo shrimp with garlic-paprika spice ($21). Jocelyn's falafel plate satisfies stomachs with creamy ground chickpeas, seasoned and fried fava beans with tahini sauce, and promises of meat-free dreams ($15). The mixed mediterranean grill compiles one beef skewer, one chicken skewer, and two kafta skewers—a kebab comprising a mixture of lean ground beef and lamb—nicely charred over an open flame ($24).
Recipients of Northshore magazine’s 2010 Best of North Shore award for Best Movie Theater, CinemaSalem fills four screens with first-run, art, and documentary films. Evening flicks after 6 p.m. offer stargazing opportunities for adults ($9.50) and kids ($7.50); 3-D films levy an additional $2 to compensate the hardworking technician who throws props and actors at the audience. Take in a morning movie before 12:30 p.m. ($6), or escape incessant summer sun by ducking into a matinee ($8 for adults, $7.50 for children). While you watch, crunch popcorn or traipse to the café for movie-minded concoctions such as the Vanilla Sky, a froth of espresso, vanilla, and clouds of foam ($3.50–$4), or the Holy Grail ($4.50), a peanut-butter-and-banana milkshake.
Rockafellas delights diners by dishing up a menu of fresh steaks, seafood, and gourmet pizzas in a casual, historic setting. Stop by for lunch to try a fresh lobster roll ($17) or a Missing Staircase, a shredded-chicken panini named for the building's grand foyer staircase ($8), which was demolished after the simultaneous invention of fireman's poles and jetpacks. Evening eaters can placate their palates with entrees such as the 12-ounce, brown-sugar-smothered grilled harvest pork chop, which comes plated with cranberry chutney ($21), or the fresh crab-stuffed haddock, served buttered and lightly seasoned ($17).
Sixty2 on Wharf is owned by Tony Bettencourt, the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts–trained former chef of the acclaimed Tomasso Trattoria in Southborough. Since opening in 2008, Sixty2 has seduced Salem stomachs with contemporary re-inventions of Italian classics. Bettencourt's meals use local and fresh ingredients shipped to the restaurant via seahorse-drawn gondola. The antipasti platter ($22) allows the chef to drop some knowledge on your plate, as he fills the plate with whichever antipasti options he deems best for the climate and current astrological alignment. Pasta dishes include the potato-filled cappellacci ($24 for full size) and the ribbon-like tagliatelle with a traditional meat-based Bolognese sauce ($26 for full size), while an assortment of entrees ($22–$30) include duck, lamb, chicken, and sea scallops seasoned and spiced to flavorful magnificence. The warm toffee-pudding dessert is a sweet salvo guaranteed to lob a taste grenade at any lingering post-entree hunger.