by J.M. Murdoch

I like to think I wasn’t the only one who waited impatiently for the “epic reveal” of the business which would fill the vacant space adjacent to the Historic Grand Theatre. Officially opened in April, the restaurant “Paradiso” surprised Salem with its intimate and regal Gatsby-esque interior design, an extensive wine list and full bar, and infallible food items on every inch of the impressive menu. We didn’t even know we needed this until it arrived.

Walking in, I was instantly drawn to the glinting shelves boasting the display of liquors…and then up…to the vaulted ceilings. It’s hard to believe this is the same establishment where a wine shop once stood. Firstly, full marks on prompt and efficient service—as soon as I entered I was greeted by a charming hostess, and immediately seated in the already-busy restaurant. The professionalism never faltered during my entire stay. The seating is organized in sixes—six booths, six two-person tables, and six comfortable barstools. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but they’ve done well to maximize the space, making it feel like a miniature 1920s palace. Even the lighting is just right—low enough to set a calming mood, but bright enough to add a cheerful glint to their brilliant use of glass and mirrors in the architectural design. The atmosphere is relaxed and flexible; you can dress up or down and Paradiso will shift to suit your mood.

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The menus are gorgeous. I know this might not matter if the food isn’t equally gorgeous and delicious. But can we talk about these menus? Creamy thick paper with attractive font, and secured by small gold bolts onto a thick piece of genuine black leather. As a reviewer, I think, “If this attention to detail extends into the kitchen, I’m about to have my mind blown.”

As you can tell by now, this is a positive, 5-star quality review of Paradiso. I like good food. I’m no official food critic, or “foodie.” But I love food. I love experiencing it, not just eating it. After spending some time going to restaurants where culinary skills were equivalent to a form of fine art, I realized that not all restaurants were created equal. Paradiso is no exception.

I am sincere when I say everything (yes, everything) on the menu is on point. It helps to go with a group of people, ordering multiple items to share them family-style to get a good read on the restaurant’s offerings. I partook of their Balsamic Glazed, Herb Roasted Chicken with Gorgonzola Polenta, which is a surprising spin on a simple dish. The chicken, slightly blackened, is melt-in-your-mouth tender, positively dissolving with each bite. The polenta pairs very well, not too rich or dry as polenta can be sometimes. Ask your waiter for the evening’s dessert selection—I had the cheesecake, oh yes, please—but feel free to just pick any of them. You can’t go wrong.

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As for drinks…well, their bartender, Daryn, knows his mixology. The Mai Italiano is an Italian twist on the classic Mai Tai cocktail. This one is definitely a stronger one, so caution to the lightweights; it knocked my delighted socks off. I also happened to try the Rose Martino, which is a light and easy floral cocktail with citrus hints. I could easily see myself enjoying it during one of our inevitable scorcher-days. Their wine menu is quite large, and I would like to see their beer menu expand to complement its enormous partner. Being in craft brew country, I was a bit disappointed to see that they currently only offer three beers.

Their General Manager, Calen, expressed his excitement for how well the restaurant is doing after being open for just a month. While their days and hours of operation are limited at the moment, Calen assured me that their goal is to expand, especially to serve theatre-goers who will be enjoying shows by Enlightened Theatrics or Salem Progressive Film Series in the Grand Theatre next door. (Fun fact: There is a pass-through connecting Paradiso and the Theatre to ease full bellies from dinner to their evening entertainment without having to step outside.)

And everyone is just courteous and friendly. At the end of the day, Paradiso is easily one of my new favorite spots in the Salem food scene, but what makes a meal is not just the food but the people you’re with. Whether you’re riding solo or with a hungry entourage, the people at Paradiso makes you feel like an old friend, and that your happiness is their priority. And that’s because it is. Five stars, you guys. Thank you for ushering in another exquisite dining experience to Salem.