43 Church, Salem, Mass.

Our wedding is just 6 months away! I've been wading through all the checklists trying to stay on top of everything we need to do. During the past month, we've really been tackling finding somewhere to have our rehearsal dinner. We're getting married in Beverly, and I'm not super familiar with the area. Luckily, Jeff's aunt and uncle live nearby, and they've been more than happy to dine at some restaurants for us and give us their feedback.

We went with them to try Brutole in Danvers, but I didn't take any pictures that night. While we enjoyed the food, we were up in the air on the atmosphere. The restaurant doesn't have a private room or event space, so we'd be tucked in a corner of the restaurant right by the door. We looked at some other places in the area too but just didn't get the feeling we were hoping for.

I checked in with my venue, and the wedding coordinator there suggested we try 43 Church in Salem. I scanned the menu and thought it sounded like my kind of restaurant. Jeff and I made an appointment with the event coordinator there, made a reservation for dinner, and headed up there on a Friday after work. We met with the coordinator, went over event menus, and toured the event space. The upstairs of the restaurant features lots of private space in the form of a big open room with rustic wood floors and a fireplace. The space feels historic and cozy. We loved what we saw and stayed to have dinner back downstairs in the restaurant.

We each ordered a glass of wine (Riesling for Jeff, Malbec for me) and nibbled on fresh bread and the most wonderful butter (doctored up in house with salt and chives).

We shared a bowl of French onion soup, and by shared, I mean I got to eat all the bread. Jeff loves French onion soup but not the crouton... more for me! We both liked this one but didn't find it as beefy and full flavored as some others we've had.

I had my eye on the wedge salad (one of my favorite salads to order at a steak house) from the moment I first scanned 43 Church's menu, so I had to order it. I loved how the wedge was cut into slices. This is how I typically make a wedge salad at home, but usually it's served in an intact (difficult-to-eat) wedge at restaurants. The bacon was crisp and the blue cheese creamy.

Jeff got a Caesar salad (one of his favorite salads to order just about anywhere).

Going with my new favorite cut, I ordered the rib eye cooked medium-rare for my entree. 43 Church gives you the option to choose an accompanying sauce, and I went with a wine sauce. The steak was so flavorful it didn't even need the sauce.

Jeff chose the NY sirloin, which was suggested to us as one of the most popular rehearsal dinner options. I knew he wouldn't want a creamy sauce (like Bernaise or horseradish), so I talked him into the house steak sauce, which ended up being tangy and bright.

And we shared an order of garlic mashed potatoes (amazing).

My steak was better... but how could it not be with all that buttery fat to give it flavor? We decided we'd definitely go with the rib eye for a rehearsal dinner option.

I rarely leave anywhere without having dessert or at least looking at the dessert menu, so I took a glance at one, and as I was reading all the options, I saw something called Chef's Dessert Board. I asked our waiter about it, and he confirmed my suspicions: It was indeed a sampling of many of the desserts on the menu. That was all I needed to hear.

Soon a platter arrived before us featuring the lemon cheesecake with raspberry sauce, chocolate chip cookies, apple ravioli, and warm chocolate cake with vanilla malt ice cream and hot fudge. The perfect assortment for someone who has trouble choosing just one dessert. (Don't tell me that just happens to me!)

This is Jeff's are-you-done-taking-pictures-can-I-eat-dessert-already face. He's a good sport.

I think we fought over the chocolate cake most. It was so warm, soft, and gooey and clearly went perfectly with the malt ice cream. I could do without the cookies, but I enjoyed the dense, rich cheesecake with tangy raspberry sauce and the cinnamon-y sweet apple ravioli.

We had a great evening and just booked 43 Church for our rehearsal dinner. I'm so happy to have checked something else off the list!

Have you been to any great North Shore restaurants?

43 Church on Urbanspoon