In truth, I only realized I was dining at The Landing after I was nearly finished with my meal.
My partner and I had decided at the last minute to jump in the boat from Manchester and head to dinner in Marblehead. The day was gross, and we were wet, jostled, and hungry. We arrived earlier than expected, and the restaurant we had planned on visiting was not yet open. But here was one right at the dock that was, so we dashed in.
The inside was light and lovely but all we really cared about was that it was dry. We ordered to share. My first clue should have been the heavenly grilled oysters with lime, sriracha butter, and fried garlic, or the delightful halloumi salad, or perhaps the asparagus soup that was seasoned to perfection (in truth it should have the sign outside or maybe the logo on the menu …).
On it went, the crispy haddock with parsnip puree, grilled asparagus and sun-dried tomato pesto! The insane dessert! The food was spectacular. Which after trying to understand why this place was so much better than it had been in the past, finally led to our asking our server if perhaps they had a new chef.
The answer was yes, the wondrous experience we were currently having was indeed the work of new chefs Alex Pineda and Noe Ortega. Then it hit me. Of course! Alex Pineda. The son of Lydia Shire. For a previous Cricket article, I had been researching great Boston chefs who had migrated to the North Shore, Frank McClelland, Barbara Lynch, etc. … and my editor, Erika Brown, had mentioned that the son of Lydia Shire, renowned Boston chef (of Biba fame, of Pignoli fame, of Scampo fame, of Towne fame, etc.) and two-time James Beard award winner, had begun working in Marblehead.
Now here I was, experiencing his food in this unexpectedly organic way -- with zero expectations. And it was amazing.
Alex Pineda and Noe Ortega joined The Landing in 2021. Alex bringing a vast culinary training from his mother’ kitchen, Wolfgang Puck in LA, and restaurants in London, Barcelona, and China as well as Boston. Teaming up with Noe, whose work has an inspired freshness from his time on the west coast and in Mexico as well as Scampo in Boston where he met and worked with Alex. The restaurant, located smack dab in Marblehead’s historic harbor had, in previous years, benefited from its excellent views and awesome outdoor dining, but not necessarily outstanding food. That changed in 2021 when Robert Simonelli, the Landing’s warm and lively General Manager, decided to make a change.
It took us less than a week to return. Once again—killer food. But if I’m honest, what we needed, went for, had to have, was what is simply called cheese ice cream. Sounds a little odd and maybe a little simple. It’s not; it’s divine. This world of inexplicably creamy awesomeness sits on a bed of perfectly powdered graham crackers with a wisp of mint at the top. It will make you swoon. On the evening we returned Alex made a round of hellos and stopped by our table. We confessed that while everything was, as before, delicious, it was the cheese ice cream that brought us back so quickly. He explained that while staying in Italy years ago he discovered this ice cream at a small out of the way restaurant and had it every single day he was there. Noting his adoration, as a parting gift, the chef gave him the coveted recipe on the promise that he would never ever share it. And while Alex kept his word, he does share the ice cream, making it by hand and keeping it on the menu year-round. Thank God.
The day I returned to shoot photographs, it was 11:30 a.m. and the restaurant was just opening. While getting my camera ready I happened to be within earshot of the kitchen crew chatting and laughing as they shared breakfast together. It sounded as though they were truly happy to be at work, and moreover, to be with each other. I was able to spend some time with Noe while he was, with enviable ease, turning out gorgeous dishes (grilled swordfish with saffron risotto, steak frites, spaghetti bolognese) and he shared that most of the crew was from Columbia, a place he loves to spend time for the culture and the cuisine.
He also explained that he and Alex share breakfast and lunch with the crew nearly every day. They sit together, eat whatever they wish from the current menu and discuss details about the dishes. All are encouraged to ask questions and provide input. I can say that the vibe in the kitchen reflects this. Noe added that as a crew, they have also made the decision to slow down, not be frantic, put making great food first and be easy with the dishes and one another. This is a marked contrast to the high intensity kitchens of old.
All I can say is that, whatever it is, it’s working.
From Manchester, if you have the good fortune to travel by boat, Marblehead is just a short ride away; we got there in under 15 minutes. You can tie up right at the dock or at busier times, grab a mooring ball and have the lovely folks at Jordan’s launch take you in and back. It’s a delightful way to enjoy a sunset boat ride and pair it with truly wonderful food.
As I finish this, I am still at the restaurant. It is possible that I ended up ordering the grilled swordfish after watching Noe plate it earlier. The soundtrack of playful banter and laughter from the kitchen continues, as does the scent of beautiful food. Gorgeously prepared dishes are being carried off to lucky lunchers and all around me is the hustle and bustle of a community of people making it all happen together. I can’t wait to come back.