Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 In Review: A Collection of Favorite Lists

At the end of each year, I compile a number of lists of my Favorites of the past year: the top wines, restaurants, foods, sake, spirits, and more. These summary posts help my readers more easily find my favorites of the past year, rather than skimming through hundreds of posts on their own. I also enjoy compiling these lists as it enables me to scan over my blog for the past year, to relive many pleasant memories of the food and drinks which most pleased me.

The lists do not necessarily address the "Best" of anything, as I have not partaken of everything in any category so cannot pass such judgments. However, every item on these lists gets my strongest recommendations and I have faith that they should strongly appeal to most of my readers. Kudos go to all of those who are listed in my Favorites as they have well earned the accolades.

This post collects links to all of my 2014 Favorite lists.

I hope you enjoy.

2014: Top Ten Wines Under $15
2014: Top Ten Wines Over $15
2014: Top Ten Wines Over $50
2014: Favorite Wine Related Items
2014: Favorite Spirits & Drink Related Items
2014: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50
2014: Favorite Food-Related Items
2014: Favorite Sake Items

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014: Favorite Sake Items

What were some of my favorite Sake items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2014. I have already posted seven other lists of my Favorites of the past year, from wine to food, and this is my final list, my Favorite Sake Items of 2014. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more sake related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Sake continues to maintain a prominent role, a specialized niche, on my blog. My passion for Sake is ever growing and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Sake and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. I want more and more people to taste it, finding joy in its flavors. I want more stores to stock and sell Sake, to make it something they recommend to their customers. I want more restaurants, of all cuisines, to carry Sake on their beverage lists. Sake is as worthy as any other alcoholic beverage and deserves at least equal billing.

Sake in the News: I;m very glad to see that Sake seems to be getting more and more attention in the media. This year, I have been posting a series of regular Sake News articles, which collect the links to some of the most interesting and informative Sake articles in the news. Each Sake News post references about 3-4 new Sake articles found online, and is a good way to see the diversity of Sake articles that are currently being written.

Sake Statistics: For the last few years, Sake exports have been growing and breaking previous records. In 2013, Sake imports to the U.S.increased by 13%, to 516,000 cases. That still makes Sake very much a niche beverage in the U.S. but continued double digit growth is a positive sign. What is also positive is the amount of domestically produced and consumed Sake. In 2013, Sake produced in the U.S. increased by 1% to 1.7 million cases, over three times the amount of imported Sake. The top U.S. brand is Sho Chiku Bai, constituting 27%, about 587,000 cases, which is also greater than the amount of imported Sake. SakeOne, located in Oregon, grew by 8.4% to 89,000 cases. There is plenty of room for growth so we need to continue advocating for greater Sake consumption.

Favorite Honjozo Sake: The Nyukon "Into Your Soul" Tokubetsu Honjozo, produced by the Musashino Shuzo, is made from Gohyakumangoku rice which has been polished down to 60%, so it would technically qualify as a Ginjo though they do not label it as such. The taste was dry and clean, with subtle peach and melon flavors, and hints of herbs. Smooth and easy drinking, this was delicious and would appeal to Sake lovers as well as those new to Sake.

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai "Three Dots", produced by the Kamoizumi Shuzo, is made from Hiroshima Hattan rice which has been polished down to 58%, so it would technically qualify as a Ginjo though they do not label it as such. An elegant Sake, this presents with a strong umami taste, more mushrooms and leafy herbs. It has a bit more body than the Nykon, but remains dry, smooth and easy drinking. This would be an excellent Sake with meat dishes.

Favorite Ginjo Sake: The Kokuryu Tokusen "Crystal Dragon" Ginjo, made by the Kokuryu brewery, is made from Gohyakumangoku rice which has been polished down to 50%, so it would technically qualify as a Daiginjo though they do not label it as such. This was a more powerful Sake, with bolder flavors of fruit, especially melon, pear and even a bit of cherry. There were depths to the Sake as well, showcasing hints of other, nearly elusive flavors. Definitely a Sake to slowly savor, to enjoy its complexity.

Favorite Daiginjo: The Evoluzione Junmai Daiginjo, produced by Ume No Yado brewery, is an elegant Sake, with a nice melange of subtle fruit and herbal notes. It has a lighter body and plenty of complexity, making it an impressive Sake. I don't have much technical info on this Daiginjo, but its flavor profile and style make it a worthy selection.

Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Style Sake: The Mioya Shuzo Yuho "Rhythm of the Centuries" Yama-oroshi Junmai Kimoto, made by the Mioya Shuzo, is made from Notohikari rice which has been polished down to 55%, which would qualify it as a Ginjo though it is only labeled as a Junmai. It has a higher acidity, at 2.2, than the usual Junmai. Most Sake is aged for six months to a year before it is released, but this Yuho is aged for about four years prior to release. This may be why the Sake is so smooth on the palate, an easy drinking liquid which goes down far too quickly. It has a powerful umami taste, with underlying elements of earthiness, some citrus flavors and even Sherry notes on the finish. Nice acidity, a lengthy finish and plenty of complexity. An excellent choice, it garners my highest recommendation and I think it will be enjoyed not only by Sake lovers, but also those new to Sake.

Favorite One-Cup Sake: The Kibo is produced by the Suisen Shuzo, a Sake brewery that was destroyed by the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake, but which rebuilt itself. "Kibo" means "hope" and it is a very appropriate name. The Sake is produced using local Hitomebore (which means "love at first sight") rice, which has been polished down to 70%. It has a dominant aroma of steamed rice with hints of melon, both which also come out on the palate, along with a bit of green apple. It is dry, smooth, and full bodied with some pleasant umami. It is easy drinking and you could pair it with pizza or a cheese burger.

Favorite Sake Liqueur: The Ume No Yado brewery also produces an Aragoshi line, Sake-based liqueurs, including a Yuzu Shu. Each of their liqueurs contains Sake, 21% of fruit by volume, and a tiny bit of Shochu for depth and aroma. The Yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit, possessed a bright citrus flavor, a bit of tartness and a mild sweetness. Very pleasant and would make an excellent cocktail addition, though many people might enjoy it on its own too.

Favorite Infused Sake: At Miya's Sushi, they create numerous infused Sakes, generally offering 7 or so, at any one time though their experimentation with different flavors continues. You might find the Emerald Witches' Lips, flavored with hand picked white pine needles, or the Dragon Lady Sake, made with ginger, lemongrass, and honey. The Pineapple & Sumac Berry Sake was delicious and the Ultraviolet Kisses Sake, a briny drink made with homegrown red aged shiso and sour plum. My favorite though was the Chinese Firecracker Sake, a blend of home grown hot chili peppers, lemons, limes, citron, lemongrass, and honey. It was a complex and intriguing blend of citrus and underlying heat. The mild sweetness helped to balance the spiciness, and the citrus provided some nice acidity.

Favorite Organic Sake: The good folks at The Floating World a small Sake importer who I've previously raved, has a new Sake and it too is a winner. The Mutemuka Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu is rather unusual as it is a premium Sake made from two types of rice, including a table rice. For their moto, the yeast starter, they use Kaze Naruko, which is a Sake rice grown only in the Kōchi Prefecture. For the fermentation tank though, they use Hino-Hikari, a type of table rice, which means this Sake uses more table rice than Sake rice. For this Sake, the rice is polished down to 65%. Up front, there is a fruity taste, some melon and pear notes, but that quickly transforms on your palate into a more savory and earthy element, which then dominates your mouth. A surge of umami floods your palate, with hints of herbal notes and a tinge of bitterness. It possesses a fascinating complexity and this is also a very food friendly Sake, especially because of its high umami.

Favorite Warmed Sake: Yoshimasa Ogawahara introduced me to warm Sake through his Hikomago Junmai, and it was an enlightening experience. I tasted the Sake at a few different temperatures, witnessing how the taste profile varied at the different temperatures. The Hikomago is a matured Sake, aged for three years before release, and was made so that it could be enjoyed warm. It also paired well with a variety of foods, from olives to cheese. Drink more warm Sake.

New Sake Brewing Innovation: Getting geeky, I explained about a new Sake innovation in my article, The 10,001 School of Sake Brewing. A different fungus, rather than the usual, is the subject of experimentation to produce koji. It is supposed to create Sake with more amino acids than normal. The first commercial version has been released, and though I haven't tasted it yet, it is very intriguing to me. It could be an umami bomb of epic proportions with those added amino acids. It is always cool to see the cutting edge of Sake innovation.

Favorite Sake Sorbet:: The Pazzo Gelato Cafe invited me to create my own gelato/sorbet flavor, and my choice was the Tipsy Sensei, a sorbet blend of Ty Ku Coconut Sake, Yuzu and Coconut. It was such a fun experience, though the Yuzu was very dominant in the sorbet, and the recipe needs adjustment to bring more of the coconut out. However, it was indicative of the potential for using Sake to make ice cream and other frozen treats.

Favorite Sake Bar, Las Vegas: Located off the Strip, the J Sake Bar is a new spot and carries over 100 Sakes and serves a variety of Japanese dishes. I had a fun time, though it was far too brief, and I could have easily spent several hours there, tasting a range of Sakes. It is more like an izakaya, and certainly a spot that all Sake lovers should visit if they go to Las Vegas.

Favorite Restaurant Sake List: At Abriya Raku, a Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas, you'll find an incredible Sake list, with over 75 choices, 50 of which are available by the glass. There is a nice diversity of Sakes, and the markup is one of the lowest I have ever seen at a restaurant, usually less than twice the usual retail. For example, a $30 Sake at retail may sell at Raku for only $50. That makes it a very affordable spot to try a few different Sakes, and it helps that they serve plenty of delicious food too.

Favorite New Sake Book: Famed Sake expert John Gauntner has a new book, Sake Confidential, and is an excellent work that addresses more advanced topics about Sake. This book fills a gap, as most Sake books are generally introductory, with mostly basic information. However, it is still easy to read and understand, and provides plenty of fascinating information about Sake. Even those knowledgeable to Sake are likely to learn at least a few things from this book. I loved this books and I highly recommend it to everyone interested in Sake.

Favorite New Sake Magazine: John Gauntner is also behind a new magazine, Sake Today, which is a quarterly magazine all about Sake. The magazine has plenty of interesting articles, great photography, and also fills a needed niche. The articles are diverse, and you'll find both introductory articles as well as more advanced topics, as well as cool interviews. Other magazines rarely publish Sake articles so a magazine devoted only to Sake is very welcome..

New Sake Menu: I was pleased this year to design the new Sake menu for Thelonious Monkfish, an Asian restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge. It now has some delicious and interesting Sakes, fairly priced, and it's great to see that the restaurant is doing its part to promote Sake consumption. It was fun to work with them, teaching their staff about Sake, and I hope you visit the restaurant and taste some of the Sakes I selected for them.

Kanpai!

What were some of your favorite Sake items this year?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday Sips &Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1)  Pier 6, on Charlestown’s waterfront, is holding a “Winter White” dinner in its private dining room which features a 360° panoramic view of the Boston skyline on Sunday, January 18, 2015 beginning at 6pm.

Beckoning its guests to celebrate the season, rather than hide from it, Pier 6’s Executive Chef Adriano Silva has prepared a special multi-course prix fixe dinner for $50 per person (tax and gratuity not included) which dresses the plate entirely in white. “This gives the restaurant a great reason to show people this amazing room which is one of the best kept secrets in Boston and gives me a great opportunity to play with off menu ingredients,” said Silva.

Lacking color, but not flavor chef Silva will present the following Prix Fixe Menu:

Choice of Salad
Belgian endive, heart of palm, feta cheese, white wine vinaigrette
or,
White bean and fennel salad, house made ricotta cheese, daikon radishes, white balsamic vinaigrette.
Choice of Entree
Pan seared scallops, celeriac puree, jicama, baby turnips cognac cream sauce
or,
Creamy risotto, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan
or
Baked halibut steak parsnip puree, roasted cauliflower, citrus beurre blanc
Dessert
White chocolate mousse, Chantilly cream

Please call 617-337-0054 for reservations.

2) Catalyst Chef William Kovel closes out 2014 and welcomes 2015 with a five course, prix-fixe dinner this New Year’s Eve. This celebration dinner includes a five-course menu for $80 which can also include wine pairings for an additional $40. The menu include the following:

Table
--Wellfleet Oysters, Traditional Garnish $3-
--Catalyst Charcuterie, Toasted Country Bread, Pickled Vegetables $18-
First
--Seared Nantucket Bay Scallops, King Oyster Mushroom, Tasso Ham
--Roasted Winter Salad, Quince, Pear, Beets, Fromage Blanc, Peppercress
--Crispy Oxtail Croquette, Sunchoke, Apple, Horseradish
--Mionetto, Prosecco – Valdobbiadene, Italy
Second
--Guinea Fowl Ravioli, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Parmesan, Truffle Jus
--Cauliflower Soup, Jonah Crab, Meyer Lemon
--Crispy Pork Belly, Green Curry, Shitakes, Wellfleet Clams
--Maison Roche de Ballene, Vieilles Vignes, Bourgogne Blanc – Burgundy, France
Third
--Orange Glazed Rohan Duck, French Green Lentils, Preserved Lemon, Crispy Duck Leg, Chinese Five Spice Jus
--Slow Roasted Salmon, Braised Endive, Fennel, Swiss Chard, Orange Butter
--Georges Bank Lemon Sole, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Celery Root, Lobster Emulsion
--Dry Aged Beef Strip Loin, Potato-Scallion Rosti, Savoy Spinach, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Perigourdine Jus
--Roasted Acorn Squash, Golden Quinoa, Dried Cranberries, Pecans, Pear Butter, Crispy Kale
--Lemelson, Six Vineyards, Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, Oregon
Supplement
--Assortment of Local Cheese $6-
Fourth
--Dark Chocolate Custard, Caramel Cinnamon Popcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Candied Hazelnuts
--Lime Cheesecake, Coconut Sorbet, Passion Fruit Curd, Coconut Tuile
--Carrot Cake, Carrot and Ginger Puree, Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Walnuts, Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
--Duckhorn, Decoy, Merlot – Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California

Reservations are available, starting at 5:00pm. For reservations, please call the restaurant at 617-576-3000

3) Back for the fourth year in a row, The New Center for Arts & Culture will host the annual, ‘Moo Shu Jew’ show, a comedy dinner event on Christmas Eve. Inspired by the Jewish family tradition of spending Christmas Eve in a Chinese restaurant, the night will feature several celebrity comics from primetime’s most popular late-night talk shows. This year’s lineup includes, Cory Kahaney, Harrison Greenbaum, Josh Gondelman, and Adrianne Tolsch who will perform Jewish-inspired stand-up while guests enjoy a delicious dinner (no shellfish, no pork!).

MENU

Appetizers
Teryaki Beef
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Scallion Pancakes
Vegetable Hot and Sour Soup

Main Dishes
Orange Beef
Chicken Kung Pau
Tofu with Mixed Vegetables
Spicy Green Beans
Vegetable Lo Mein
White Rice

Dessert
Fortune Cookies

Drinks
Soda
Water
Tea
Cash Bar Available

WHEN: Tuesday, December 24, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Hei La Moon Restaurant 88 Beach Street Boston,
COST: $75 Adults, $45 Young Adults (40 & under). Ticket prices include four-course dinner, (no shellfish, no pork!).
To purchase, visit www.newcenterboston.org

4) To ring in their first New Year, River Bar will host a duo of celebrations at Assembly Row. On New Year’s Eve, River Bar will be transformed into a festive Tiki Party indoors and outdoors at their fire pit and heat lamp-lined patio areas. The River Bar team will shake up tiki-inspired cocktails, including their take on a Scorpion Bowl, as revelers toast by the open fires. Executive Chef Patrick Gilmartin will bring Polynesian tastes to Assembly Row with specials like the Saugus Rabbit Legs (Chef’s tribute to Kowloon’s famous “Saugus Wings” - $12) and Nantucket Bay Scallop Rangoon (apple butter - $15).

The following morning, River Bar will open their doors for a Leftover Chinese Food Brunch. From Executive Chef Patrick Gilmartin’s kitchen comes “Leftover” Scallop Rangoon (smeared on a bagel - $12) and Kung Pao Chicken Terrine (with eggs - $10). For those looking for a more traditional hangover brunch experience, Chef Gilmartin will The River Bar Breakfast Sando (egg, Taylor Pork Roll, Brillat Savarin cheese, leeks, stone & skillet English muffin - $14), Bourbon French Toast ($10), Chorizo Scotch Quail Eggs ($9) and Housemade Chinese Sausage Sub (black bean mayo, red cabbage, cucumber slaw - $13).

WHEN: Tiki Party: Wednesday, December 31, from 5pm – 2am
              Chinese Leftover Brunch: Thursday, January 1, from 11am – 3pm

Admittance to the Tiki Party is complimentary and is 21+ with a proper ID. Food and beverage specials on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are available a la carte.

5) Pastoral owners George Lewis and Todd Winer invite guests to Pastoral for a New Year’s Eve Masquerade Party from 10pm-2am on Wednesday, December 31. Guests are encouraged to wear a mask while they enjoy music by DJ Castaneda, small bites prepared by Pastoral Chef/Owner Todd Winer, two complimentary Ketel One cocktails and a champagne toast at midnight.

Tickets are $45 from 10pm-2am and only $25 for guests who make a dinner reservation earlier that evening and want to stay for the party. Tickets can be purchased by calling the restaurant at 617-345-0005 or logging onto www.eventbrite.com.

6) Earls Kitchen + Bar will celebrate its first New Year’s Eve at Assembly Row by dishing out a customizable, three-course prix fixe menu. For starters, Head Chef Tim Pennington will serve up a choice of Seasonal Greens or a Seasonal Soup. Chef Pennington’s trio of main courses include the Oven Roasted Salmon (grilled corn, olive oil marinated fennel salad, baby new potatoes, jalapeño cilantro puree), Bourbon Mushroom 7oz Certified Angus Beef Sirloin (crimini & button mushrooms, rich demi, garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables) or the Cajun Blackened Double Breast of Chicken (custom blackening spices, garlic butter, warm potato salad, coleslaw). For one last taste of sweet indulgence in 2014, there is the Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding (chocolate & toffee sauces, vanilla bean gelato, candy snap basket) or seasonal Gingerbread Cake (roasted apples, salted caramel, vanilla bean gelato).

For those looking to toast the ball drop with some bubbly, Earls Kitchen + Bar will feature three sparkling delights: La Marca Prosecco ($9.25/glass; $37/bottle); Piper Heidseik Brut ($22.25/glass; $89/bottle); and, Dom Perignon 2004 ($275/bottle).

WHEN: Wednesday, December 31, from 11:30am – 1:00am
COST: Prix fixe menu: $40 per person (excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity)

7) No time to whip something up for that fast-approaching holiday fête? Leave the pastry prep to the pros this year with help from Cape Cod-based, European-style bakery and café, Pain D’Avignon. Following the close of farmer’s market season, the Hyannis eatery pops up at Back Bay’s Fairmont Copley Plaza, to sell party-ready treats in its only Boston-area location.

Pain D’Avignon will transform The Fairmont Copley Plaza’s tea court into a gourmet holiday farmer’s market complete with the hotel’s impressive Christmas tree and festive décor. Convenient grab-and-go options for time-crunched hosts and party-goers alike will include:

· Classic Italian Panettone
· Seasonal Pies
· Raspberry Streusel
· Buttery Croissants
· Fudgy Brownies
· Scones
· Famous Cranberry Pecan Rolls and Breads
· Baguettes
· Parmesan Crisps
· Housemade Potato Chips

Individual items range in price from $4.00 to $14.00. Customizable gift bags are also available for up to $60.00.

WHEN: Friday, December 19, 2pm-6pm

8) Bao Nation, Boston’s first and only dedicated Asian bao bar, has opened in the rear of Shalimar Indian Grocery/Dosa Factory at 571 Mass. Avenue in the heart of Central Square. Bao Nation joins its next door neighbors, H Mart and Dosa Factory, to create fresh, fast and inexpensive Asian food in the city. Bao Nation is the brainchild of Pavan and Manraj Pabla, whose father Amrik Pabla is CEO of One World Cuisine, corporate parent to a network of culinary enterprises throughout greater Boston..

Bao is short for baozi, light and fluffy buns steamed in woven straw baskets. References to bao date back to 3rd century China. Bao Nation's light and fluffy Taiwanese-style buns are slider-sized, steamed to order, and priced at $3, $4 and $5. Chicken or vegetarian dumplings are $6-7, and rice bowls – coming to the menu soon – can be had for $9-10. Bao Nation shares an indoor seating area with its four-year-old sister restaurant, Dosa Factory. In the spring, outdoor tables and a handy pass-thru window for takeout orders will become available.

Debut Menu
* Central Bao (braised Kurabuta pork belly with sesame oil, pickled daikon, cilantro and green apple relish)
* Bird Bao (crisp boneless chicken wings with pickled onion and peanut powder)
* Miso Bao (miso-cured tofu with bok choy)
* Fish Bao (with ginger, scallions, lemongrass and mint)
* M.I.T. Bao (minced lamb with ginger, garlic, pickled mushrooms)
* Harvard Bao (marinated grilled chicken with dried coconut, peanuts, cayenne)
* J.P. Bao (filled with vegetable tempura)
* Chinatown Bao (top seller so far: fried honey-teriyaki duck, chopped peanuts, red peppers and radishes, mint sauce)
* Dessert Baos – Sweet, salty, crunchy and soft all at the same time, this combination of applewood smoked bacon and peanut brittle with dehydrated brown milk and chocolate dust is indescribable. A second option is a bao that is deep fried and filled with sugared apples, almonds, cranberries and granola. Both are just $3.

Today, December 18, from 5pm-7pm, Bao Nation invites its Facebook friends toshow them that you Like them in exchange for 1 FREE Bao. You must be present during the applicable time frame to collect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue my collection of lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2014. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2014 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from donuts to candy. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more food-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Food Trade Event: For the fourth year in a row, I have selected the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. Plus, the New England Food Show is held in the same venue, offering samples of food, drink and even alcohol. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and I wrote twenty posts about the show this year. It also helped that I won the 4th Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest for my coverage. The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next SENA in March 2015.

Favorite Food Magazine: For the fourth year in a row, Lucky Peach easily prevails as my favorite. This quarterly magazine is eclectic and irreverent, with fascinating articles, essays, recipes, and more. I eagerly devour each issue when it is released and its quality has remained consistent. It entertains and educates, as well as providing much for reflection. If you love food and are not reading Lucky Peach, then shame on you.

Runner-Up Favorite New Food Magazine: A quarterly magazine, the Modern Farmer is a fascinating look at the connections between us and the foods we eat. Farmers all over the world take center focus, and the articles are informative, thought provoking and and practical. I've read several of their issues so far and it has consistently offered much of value to any food lover. It is a more serious food magazine, but it isn't pretentious. Another must read.

Favorite Food Book: The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax was a thought provoking look at food trends and provided me topics for three Rants: Lazy Food WritersEating With Your Ears, and Lazy Chefs, Written in an easy manner, it provides plenty of interesting information, and also makes you think more closely about a variety of food issues. All food lovers, and especially food writers, should check out this book.

Runner-Up Favorite Food Book: The Language of Food, by Dan Jurafsky, explains and expounds upon various food-related words, as well as examining the role of words in everything from menus to restaurant reviews. It is part history and science, psychology and etymology. If you love food, it is an excellent read, one which will intrigue and interest you, as well as make you think of food in different ways. And it too fueled three different posts, Rant: Sex Drugs & Restaurant Reviews, The Origins of Ceviche, Tempura, and Fish & Chips, and Rant: Menu Secrets & Sacrificing Choice.

Favorite Food Contest: An epic Sushi Battle pitted Chef Tim Cushman of O Ya against Chef Hisayoshi Iwa of Sushi Iwa in Japan in three rounds of sushi creation. I was fortunate to be one of the judges for this event which was televised for a Japanese station. Each chef had their own distinctive style, and both created compelling sushi so it was extremely difficult to select a winner. In their own way, both chefs made winning dishes, being true masters of their craft. Once the show airs, I'll try to provide a link so everyone can watch.

Favorite Cheese Shop: When it comes to cheese, the suburbs reign supreme with the Concord Cheese Shop, which commonly stocks 150-200 cheeses, including many local cheeses. The staff is very knowledgeable and passionate about their cheese, and they are always seeking out new cheeses for their stock. Besides all that cheese, they also carry a variety of other gourmet foods as well as wines and beers. It is an excellent destination for many reasons.

Favorite Beef: This year, wine from Uruguay made a major impact on my taste buds, and another Uruguayan product thrilled my palate too, Del Terruño Beef. Free range and grass fed beef, this was a delicious meat, tender and flavorful, with a nice gamey taste. This is a beef for any meat lover, especially those seeking cattle that have been raised well and sustainably. It is available locally and I strongly recommend you find some to enjoy.

Favorite Restaurant Meat Dish: I've long been an advocate of eating rabbit, especially as it is such a nutritious meat. Chef Michael Scelfo has created an exceptional comfort food dish, his Chicken Fried Rabbit at Alden & Harlow. A perfectly crispy coating holds a pate-like mix of rabbit and pork belly, and it is simply decadently delicious. Bursting with flavor, as well as some umami-goodness, it will transform anyone into a rabbit lover.

Favorite Offal Dish: At Ribelle in Brookline, their Sweetbreads dish, with coppa, sage brown bitter and celery root, was sublime, simply superb from the first to the last bite. A great combination of flavors and textures, I almost wanted to order a second dish just to enjoy more of it. This is also a dish that almost any food lover would savor, if they simply tasted it, and didn't worry that it is an organ.

Favorite New Condiment: A group of students from the Harvard Business School created their own version of gochujang, an important Korean condiment, which they have named Korean Summer SauceTheir sauce is made from red pepper paste, honey, plum extract, sweet rice wine, garlic, sesame oil and soy. I enjoyed the taste of this condiment, its savory flavors, with a mild spiciness, a hint of sweetness, and some umami goodness. It is a versatile sauce, and belongs in your kitchen.

Favorite Unusual Food: This category is a tie between the Insects I ate at Miya's Sushi and the Guinea Pig I enjoyed at Alpamayo. At Miya's, I savored a Cricket Maki roll as well as Nine Spice Sashimi with crispy black soldier fly larvae. Tasty and sustainable, insects are eaten all over the world, though many Americans still shy away from eating them. Guinea Pig is a Peruvian staple, and it does remind me of chicken, with mild white and dark meat. Expand your culinary horizons and try something more unusual for dinner.

Favorite New Seafood: At Miya's Sushi, I enjoyed much more than just the insects, and was also introduced to a new seafood, Cannonball Jellyfish. Rather than a gelatinous texture, it was more springy like a gummy bear, and almost had a crispness to the exterior. It was surprisingly tasty, and is now added to my list of favorite seafoods. Not all jellyfish is the same.

Favorite Restaurant Desserts: Every dessert I have eaten at Besito has been delicious and compelling, from their Pastel de Chocolate to their Tres Leches Cake, from their Pudin de Chocolate to their Churros. They taste homemade and will please any sweet tooth. Many restaurants do one or two desserts well, but it is harder to find a restaurant that does all of their desserts well.

Favorite Chips At the Boston Wine Expo, I sampled Pasta Chipsoven baked crackers made from pasta. There are five different flavors including Alfredo, Marinara, Spicy Tomato Herb, Garlic & Olive Oil, and Sea Salt. I was impressed, and nearly addicted, with these chips, which were thin but sturdy, had appealing flavors and a nice crunch. The Garlic & Oil was one of my favorite flavors, with a strong garlic taste, though I also very much liked the Alfredo, which had a prominent cheese kick. The chips are strong enough for even a thick dip, though I like them just the way they are.

Favorite Chicken Wings: At Red Heat Tavern, their Mesquite Smoked Wings, with a sweet Thai chili sauce, are slow cooked during the day in their unique Josper Oven, and then later crisped up prior to being served. Honestly, these were some of the best wings I've tasted in some time. There was a delightful crispiness to the outer skin, and plenty of tender meat inside. The sweet, and slightly spicy, taste was accompanied by a nice smokiness, all of the flavors blending together harmoniously. I could easily eat these wings by the dozen and they receive my highest recommendation.

Favorite Tofu: Tofu? Yes, I haven't been a fan of tofu in the past but I have been converted, or at least have found a compelling tofu. At Abriya Raku, a Japanese restaurant in Law Vegas, they make their own Tofu, which was smooth and creamy, with a clean taste rather than some of the bland, rubbery tofu I have had elsewhere. Their homemade tofu makes for an excellent palette for a variety of ingredients and tastes, and I would order it again and again.

Favorite Food Issue: Once again, one of the most important, and sometimes controversial, food issues I addressed this year was seafood sustainability. I have tried to cover a variety of issues, seeking to delve behind the science and rhetoric. The importance of this matter cannot be underestimated, but it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth behind the issues. In July, I started posting a new Seafood post on nearly every Tuesday, and will continue to do so through 2015. You can find links to many of my latest Seafood posts here.

Favorite Fake Food Controversy: In this age of social media, when April Fool's Day comes around, it seems everyone is aware of it so it is difficult to get away with a prank. It takes lots of planning and strategy to be able too fool people on this day. This year, I posted a prank, my The Great Purple Debatewhich was able to fool some people. It helped that I laid some groundwork earlier in the week, posting some teasers and hypothetical questions. It will be even tougher to get away with another prank in 2015, but I'll try again.

What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2014. I have already posted my Top Ten Wine lists, my Favorite Wine Related Items Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. Now, I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find a few Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled a little bit this past year.

Top Restaurant Experience: Though I have had some excellent dining experiences in the Boston area this past year, my top dining experience this year took place in Connecticut at Miya's Sushi, a sustainable sushi restaurant. From the best Tatsu-age I may have eaten to a Maki roll with Crickets, the cuisine delighted and intrigued me. Their infused Sakes are interesting and tasty, and they also make cocktails with Sake and beer. Chef Bun Lai is personable and humble, charitable and intelligent, and has a true passion for healthy and sustainable food. In addition, you'll find this restaurant very affordable. Miya's Sushi garners my highest recommendation, and I can't wait to return there for another wonderful experience.

Favorite Restaurant Comeback: After being closed for a few months due to a massive flood, AKA Bistro reopened, and there was much rejoicing. Located in Lincoln, AKA Bistro is one of my favorite suburban restaurants, offering excellent French bistro fare and Japanese cuisine. They have new items on their menu, such as the delectable Spicy Steamed Clams In A Jar. During Restaurant Week, they offered their own dining special, which was an excellent value. I'm so glad they have reopened and strongly urge all my readers to dine there.

Favorite New Restaurant: Chef Michael Scelfo now has his own restaurant, Alden & Harlow, in Harvard Square,, and it has garnered many well-deserved raves. Using a small plates concept, Scelfo has exercised his creativity to produce one tasty and intriguing dish after another, from Sikil Pak to Chicken Fried Rabbit. There is something for everyone, from vegetarians to carnivores, and the menu changes frequently, so there is always something new to try. They also have an excellent drinks program, from delicious cocktails to an excellent and diverse wine list. Highly recommended, you must check out this restaurant.

Favorite New Brookline Restaurant: Innovative and delicious, the cuisine at Ribelle, in Brookline, was impressive. The Sweetbreads, Coppa, Sage Brown Butter and Celery Root was sublime, simply amazing from the first bite to the last. It is the type of dish I would want to order every time I dined at Ribelle because it was so fantastic. The pasta dishes, from the Mafalde to the Agnolotti del Plin also were excellent, and I would love to try their pasta tasting menu. The combination of ingredients, flavors and textures of each dish worked very well together. To me, all of the dishes signified a chef that knew what he was doing, a creative soul who could bring great taste to life in unique new ways. Their wine list is also impressive, with a diverse selection of many intriguing wines.

Favorite New Inman Square Restaurant: At Puritan & Co., even their simple bread rolls are addictive. Again, there is plenty of creativity in their cuisine, though much still seems familiar. The Pan Seared Striped Bass was cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of sear to add a crunchy texture to the exterior. The Scallop Tartare, in lettuce cups, was simply prepared but impressed with its fresh, clean flavors. It too possesses a well constructed wine list which should delight any wine lover.

Favorite Mexican Restaurant: With two restaurants in Massachusetts, in Burlington and Chestnut Hill, Besito is leading the way with higher-end, authentic Mexican cuisine, that still remains very affordable. You can start with one of their many a tequilas, maybe in a margarita, or try some mezcal, I've eaten here numerous times, tried many different dishes, and everything has pleased me, from their Ceviche to their Salmon Manchamanteles. With most items costing under $20, anyone can enjoy this cuisine. And make sure to save room for dessert, as they are decadent treats.

Favorite Union Square Restaurant: The owners of T.W. Food opened a second spot, Bronwyn Restaurant, and the quality remains as high as their first restaurant, though the cuisine is much different. Bronwyn serves more German and Eastern Europeean cuisine, from killer Spatzale to house-made Pierogi. Their drinks program is interesting, with a cool wine list and an extensive beer selection. I'm looking forward to my next time dining here.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant: The Boston area doesn't have a monopoly on excellent restaurants. The Blue Ox ,in Lynn, is a great neighborhood spot with a talented chef. You'll find of delectable comfort food, from fried pickles to chicken wings, but also more elevated cuisine like Duck Breast and Grilled Swordfish. Their cocktail program is excellent, using many local spirits, and the wine list will also please. With its reasonable prices, and fun atmosphere, this is suburban restaurant you need to seek out.

Favorite Western Massachusetts Restaurant: Though I rarely dined out in the western part of the state, I did so a few months ago on my return from New York. Mostly by luck, I stumbled upon Alpamayo, a Peruvian restaurant in Lee, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality and offerings there. It certainly seems like an authentic Peruvian spot, and I even enjoyed cuy, aka guinea pig. It was a relatively small spot, but definitely worth checking out, as all of the dishes we enjoyed were tasty, and reasonably priced.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant, Las Vegas: Hands down, my dining experience at Abriya Raku was one of the best Japanese meals I have experienced anywhere, and not just in Las Vegas. From a lengthy and exciting Sake list, with extremely low price mark-ups, to its fresh sushi and diverse Robata selections, this restaurant impresses and amazes. I even enjoyed their home-made Tofu! For years, it wasn't a well-known destination, but its popularity has grown so now the media talks about it frequently. All of its raves are more than well deserved. It is a highly recommended restaurant if you visit Las Vegas.

Favorite Chinese Restaurant, Las Vegas:: With hand-pulled noodles and soup dumplings, the Beijing Noodle No.9 offers plenty of compelling cuisine, including one of the best Kung Pao dishes I have ever tasted. It has a lengthy menu, with something to please all tastes, and you can even watch them pulling noodles in the front window. It is a bit pricey but the quality of their fare is high so you can understand the prices, especially for a restaurant within a casino. 

Favorite High-End Restaurant, Las Vegas:In Vegas, you have many options for high-end dining, though not all will necessarily please you. At Sage, in the Aria Hotel, I think you'll thoroughly enjoy your dining experience. Excellent service, cuisine, and wine, all combine to create a perfect evening. Two of the wines from this dinner ended up on my Top Ten lists this year. From the Roasted Veal Sweetbreads to the Bacon-Wrapped Iberico Pork Loin, the food thrilled my palate. It helped to be dining with some great friends, but even without them, the meal would still be rave worthy.

Most Anticipated Restaurant Opening: Chef Peter Ungár is a highly skilled chef, who I believe is one of the best in this area, and has remained beneath the radar for many diners in the Boston area. I have previously enjoyed a number of exceptional dinners at his Dining Alternative Chef's Table events. Next year, he plans to open his own restaurant, the Tasting Counter, a 20-seat experimental spot, “To bring you closer to the creation of fine natural food, served in harmony with fine natural wine.” I eagerly look forward to this opening, to experience more of Chef Ungár's cuisine, and hoping he garners more well-deserved attention.

The Passionate Foodie's Top 50 Restaurants
In addition to the Favorites listed above, I've compiled a list of my own Top 50 Restaurants, those Massachusetts places where I'm sure to always have a delicious meal, whether a casual breakfast or a high-end French dinner. These are the places I seem to recommend the most to others, including some places where I dine on a regular basis . Many of these places have been listed on prior Favorite Lists, some for multiple years, and are all worthy of recognition and recommendation. This is not a list of the "Best" restaurants, but my own personal favorites and you can find my reviews of these spots on my blog.

Bedford
Flatbread Company

Boston
The Beehive
Coppa
Erbaluce 
Gourmet Dumpling House
Island Creek Oyster Bar
JM Curley
L'Espalier 
Mooo
Myers & Chang
Nebo
Oishii 
Prezza
Saus
Shojo 

Cambridge
Alden & Harlow
Craigie on Main
Flat Patties
Puritan & Co.
Tampopo
T.W. Food
Tupelo

Ipswich

Lincoln
AKA Bistro

Lynn
The Blue Ox


Somerville
Bergamot 
Bronwyn
Dali
The Painted Burro
Posto.

Stoneham
Fusion Taste
Taste of Siam
Three Amigos

Wellesley
Blue Ginger

Woburn
Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe
Taipei Tokyo

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?