Tuesday, November 24, 2020

2016 Bulgarian Heritage Dimyat: An Excellent Value Wine

Wine making in Bulgaria has an ancient history, extending back at least a few thousand years to the Thracians. What might surprise you is that during the 1980s, Bulgaria was the second largest wine producer in the world! However, with the collapse of communism, their wine industry took a heavy hit. In recent years, the wine industry has been rebounding, and the quality of their wines has been improving. As such, you may soon start seeing more Bulgarian wines on store shelves and restaurant lists.

I've only tasted a handful of Bulgarian wines, though much of what I've tasted I have enjoyed. Recently, I opened a bottle of 2016 Karabunar "Bulgarian Heritage" Dimyat with dinner and was intrigued with its taste. 

The Karabunar Winery was established in 2008, and then expanded in 2010, and is located in the middle of the Thracian Valley near the village of Karabunar. The region is said to have some of the best soils for vineyards and over 80% of the arable land is planted with vines. One of their main brands is Bulgarian Heritage, which includes only wines made with native varietals. They also grow some international grapes. 

Dimyat is an old white grape, that potentially originated in Bulgaria although there is a legend the grape began in Egypt and traveled to Bulgaria with the Crusaders. However, the evidence does not seem to support the validity of this origin tale. Dimyat is said to be a fairly neutral grape, with good acidity, and which is used to produce dry wines, sweet wines, and even sparkling wines. 

The  2016 Karabunar "Bulgarian Heritage" Dimyat ($12-$15) is from the PGI Thracian Lowlands, made with 100% Dimyat, and has a 13% ABV. I found some contradictory information about the aging of this wine, one source stating it spent no time in oak, and the other than it spent one month in a large new Bulgarian oak barrel. On the nose, there were intriguing spice notes that reminded me a little of Gewurtztraminer. There were also some notes of pear and citrus. On the palate, I was again reminded in part of a Gewurtztraminer, with a nice spice element, along with tasty notes of pear, citrus and toasted nuts. Very crisp and with a moderate richness, it was a pleasant and refreshing wine. At this price, it's an excellent value, over-delivering for this price point.

So now I need to seek out more Bulgarian wines, made from indigenous grapes.

Monday, November 23, 2020

New Sampan Article: Chinese Restaurant Finances in the 1920s

  The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."

--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I've mentioned previously, I've a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. I've previously written eleven articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, Chinese Restaurant Finances in the 1920s, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. I examine two large Chinese restaurants, one in Chinatown and another in Cambridge, and delve into some of their finances during the 1920s. You'll find out their annual revenue, the number of partners owning the restaurants, how much some contributed for their interest, information on salaries and more. It provides an intriguing peek into the financial situations of Chinese restaurants during that time period.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which should be published in the beginning of December. 

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Greek International Food Market: Great Destination For Greek Food & Wine

"When there is no wine there is no love."

In a recent article, Early History of Greek Restaurants in Boston, I mentioned some of my favorite Greek restaurants in Boston and also noted that there are some compelling Greek markets in the region, including the Greek International Food Market in West Roxbury. Until recently, I was actually unaware of this fascinating market, despite it being around since 2009. And now, I can't wait to return, to try more Greek specialties adnd restock my larder for the holidays. Have you been to the Greek International Food Market yet?

I was initially sent a media sample of one of their Greek gift baskets and the items within the basket intrigued me sufficiently that I decided to journey to the Market, to check out all of their offerings. It's a relatively easy ride, mostly down I-95, and I had no trouble finding the Market. Overall, I was very impressed with all that I found. This medium-sized store carries a diverse and interesting selection of Greek foods and wines, almost anything you might want, and in each aisle, I saw items I wanted to sample and buy. It's also important to note that it was a very clean store, adhering to pandemic safety precautions, and you should feel safe shopping there, though they do have curbside pick-up and local delivery options. 

While at the store, I also met and chatted with the owner, Katerina Iliades, who was personable, down-to-earth, and clearly passionate about Greek food. Katerina's father, Savvas Iliades, established the Farm Grill and Rotisserie, a Greek restaurant in Newton, in 1996. Katerina is a graduate of Babson College, and during college, she began formulating the plans to create a Greek market, which opened in December 2009. Katerina is following her family's culinary traditions, expanding the concepts, and spreading a love of Greek cuisine. I'll also note that Katerina provided me some complimentary samples of some Greek products and foods. 

The market was established to both provide a wide variety of Greek ingredients, many imported directly from Greece, so people can cook at home, and also to sell a variety of prepared Greek foods, many using her father's recipes. Plus, another of Katerina's important objectives was to promote a healthier lifestyle, like the Mediterranean diet. On all these points, Katerina has succeeded and the Greek International Food Market is a more than worthy destination for all food and wine lovers. 

About half of their customers are Greek, and they commonly shop there about once a month, stocking up with a large order to last them for a month. On the other hand, the non-Greeks shop more frequently, sometimes even multiple times in a week, but tend to buy smaller amounts, more supplies for a few days or just a specific meal. Or they stop to buy their lunch or dinner from the prepared foods.

The pandemic has had its negative effects on the Market too, and one of the primary problems has been the elimination of their regular food and wine tastings. That is a similar problem with other Markets and wine shops. However, there are plenty of ways to obtain the Greek Market's products, even if you can't or don't wish to visit the shop. Locally, they have delivery but they also can send orders through USPS, even out of state. They also offer curbside pick-up. However, if possible, I'd highly recommend you stop by the store and check out all they have available. Some of their freshest prepared foods are best if purchased on site. Supporting small local businesses is always a good idea, so why not visit the Greek International Food Market rather than some massive chain grocery store? 

You can also purchase a Gift Basket, perfect to send for the holidays. Some of those gift baskets include (though you can also customize a basket): 
● A Sliver of Greece, featuring ION and Papadopoulou chocolates, Extra virgin olive oil, hand picked olives, thyme honey, decadent jam preserves and other goodies 
● Chocolate Lover, a luxury basket of imported chocolates
● Spice it Up, featuring potent Greek spices and seasonings, such as oregano on the stick, souvlaki meat mix and ouzo infused tomato sauce 
● Olive Oil Sampler, with pure extra Virgin Greek olive oil to infused Oil with herbs, hand-picked oregano, and Cretan olive oil rusks

Let's now see some of what's available at the Greek International Food Market.

There' an aisle of Greek wines and I was excited to see some of my favorite Greek wines available. There'a a diverse selection available, and any wine lover should be able to find something to appeal to their palate. Assyrtiko to Retsina, Xynomavro to Agiorgitiko. More people should drink Greek wine, and it pairs very well with Greek cuisine, as well as many other cuisines as well. And if you need more incentive, check out my Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine.

You'll also find some Greek beer, like the Mythos, a lager. 

For non-alcoholic beverages, you'll find Greek tea and coffee. For example, their Krinos Mountain Tea is made using dried leaves and flowers from plants found on Mt. Othrys in central Greece. Greek mountain tea has been renowned for its health benefits since at least the 5th century BC, when the famed Hippocrates recommended it. I found the tea to be light and very herbal, with an earthy undertone, and a hint of mint. Very pleasing, especially on a chilly morning. 

Of course they sell Greek olive oil, which is considered one of the best olive oils in the world. One of their special offerings is the Eleones Early Harvest EVOO, which is made from Hondrolia olives, harvested by hand, from Mt. Athos, Halkidiki. It's very naturally produced and has a clean, fruity taste with a touch of bitterness on the finish. Perfect for cooking, or for just dipping your bread.

You'll find an assortment of lentils, beans, and pastas.

There are also pasta sauces, like the Kyknos True Greek, with tomato and feta, which has a rich and flavorful thickness, with a slightly salty touch of feta. Quite tasty. You can also find a variety of Ajvar, a condiment commonly made from red bell peppers, eggplant, and and oil. Smear some on pita or toast for a quick snack. Or use it in your cooking, to enhance a recipe.

There's jams, preserves and fruits in syrup, like the above Oranges.
I was pleased to see an assortment of imported tinned seafoods, such as sardines, anchovies, tuna, mussels, octopus, squid and more. These are often much tastier than tinned seafoods in the U.S. And tinned seafood has started to become popular in a number of restaurants as well. Europeans love tinned seafood and you should check them out and see what you're missing.

There's an ample amount of frozen Greek foods, easily heated at home. I tried one of the frozen Tiropitas, cheese pies, which are heated in the oven for about 30 minutes. The triangular pies, with a flaky phyllo crust were filled with two Greek cheeses and were absolutely delicious. They don't seem at all like they were a frozen food. Crisp and creamy, with plenty of taste, they would make excellent hors d'ouevres for a party, or an appetizer for your dinner. They are so simple to prepare, and you'd probably be challenged to make them on your own. Katarina mentioned that she serves them often at dinner parties at her home. 

Want dessert? They have you well covered. You can find Merenda, kind of a Greek version of Nutella but with a higher proportion of chocolate to hazelnut. I prefer it to Nutella as I like the greater chocolate taste to the Merenda. It has plenty of uses and it's delicious on ice cream. 

You can also grab some Greek chocolate bars, like the Ion with Hazel Nuts, which was creamy and chocolatey, with plenty of crunchy nuts.
Greek pistachios!  I didn't suspect that these pistachios would be so good, with a slightly different flavor than most other pistachios. There was a vibrancy to these pistachios that is lacking in many other commercial pistachios you might find. 

Many of their baked goods are made by local bakeries, small businesses the Greek Market has chosen to associate with because of the quality of their products. There's plenty of appease your sweet tooth, and I'm sure you'll find items you've never tasted before. 

Their Baklava is a sweet and pleasing treat, with many layers of crispy phyllo, crunchy nuts, and honey notes. It's a well balanced dish, not overly sweet.. Many people are familiar with Baklava, but there are other Greek desserts available at the market that you might not be familiar.  

Melomakarona, honey cookies, are a traditional dessert item for the Christmas season. 

Kourabiethes are an almond shortbread cookie.

Koulourakia, also known as Greek Easter cookies, have a history extending back a few thousand years.  These are kind of a butter cookie, topped with an egg glaze.

There are refrigerated cases holding numerous dairy products and more. You can purchase various commercial Greek yogurts but the Market also sells Homemade Greek Yogurt, which has a more unique taste, creamy and flavorful, and might even change your mind if you dislike most yogurts.

There'a a variety of Greek Cheeses available too.

There are also some frozen meats available, such as Loukaniko and Souvlaki

On the right side of the market are large display cases, offering numerous prepared foods and they look quite enticing. Most of these items are prepared using recipes from Katarina's father and his restaurant. On the wall above the cases, you will find a Catering Menu, including Appetizers, Mains and Desserts.  It's an easy way to cater a party at home. For individuals, for lunch or dinner, there is also a menu of various selections, such as Salads, Sandwiches, and Soup. Order a Greek Salad, Grape Leaf Bowl, Cheese Pie Plate, Grilled Chicken Gyro, Avgolemono Soup or whatever else appeals to you,  Nearly all of the selections cost under $10 so they are very affordable.

There's a selection of Olives, both green and black, including famed Kalamata olives. Fine for salads or just on their own.

They make a variety of dips, from Hummus to Tzatziki, and salads, like Calamari Salad, all which look fresh and delicious. 

There's Pasta Salad with fresh veggies and feta and an Orzo Salad

Tabouli, Beet Salad, Babaganoush. Lots of Greek and Mediterranean specialties. 

There is Spicy Feta, made with hot peppers, and Extra Spicy Feta, made with jalapeños. Both are very tasty but the Extra Spicy Feta was especially delicious, with just the right amount of spicy heat. They have homemade pita chips at the market, perfect for dipping into the extra spicy feta. 

There are also a number of other prepared foods, like Spinach Feta Pie, Stuffed Eggplant with Ground Beef, and Meatballs.

You'll also find slices of traditional Greek dishes like Mousaka and Pastitsio. Each slice is quite ample, and I loved the Pastitsio, with the crispy top layer, plenty of well seasoned ground beef, and tubular pasta in a compelling sauce. It's a hearty dish, perfect for the chillier weather, and makes for an easy dinner. 

There is Chicken & Feta Pie and Feta Cheese Pies too. The Chicken & Feta pie had plenty of light, flaky layers, and contained an enticing blend of chicken, feta, and seasonings. I suspect the Feta Pie would be equally as delicious. Great for snacks or appetizers.

At the front of the store is a fresh Cheese counter, where you can find a variety of different Feta Cheeses, including some Barrel-Aged Feta. 
Who doesn't love feta? I sampled several different feta cheeses, including a couple barrel-aged ones, such as the Horio Barrel Aged Feta, Parnassos Barrel Aged Feta, and Dodoni Feta Cheese. That tasty salty tang to the crumbly and moist feta is appealing, and it can be enjoyed on its own, atop salads, in sandwiches, or in other recipes. There is a unique depth of flavor to the barrel-aged fetas, with a mild woody, herbal tinge. There are other compelling Greek cheese as well, including Kasseri, Kefalograviera, Kefalotiri, and more.

This is Katerina and I, in the wine aisle. 

I heartily recommend that everyone check out Greek International Food Market in West Roxbury, and view their extensive selection of Greek foods and wines. There is such a diverse selection of enticing foods, ingredients to take home for your own cooking as well as prepared foods you can take home and just enjoy. Katerina's passion for Greek cuisine is evident in every inch of the market. And if you can't visit the market, then consider ordering online, for yourself or for gifts for loved ones. I'll definitely be returning soon to the Market, and hope to see you there as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

First Impressions of Frank in Beverly: Pasta Raves

When L'Espalier closed its doors, Chef/Co-owner Frank McClelland eventually moved onto his next endeavor, opening Frank restaurant in Beverly, and it just celebrated its first anniversary. Their website states Frank is "...lower-key but no less vigorous approach to local and season-centric food. With the same farmer-first philosophy and enduring commitment to credible food origin, we are thrilled to offer an ethical, affordable and delicious option for everyday eating."

Adam Japko and I recently stopped by for dinner, and we were fortunate the weather was beautiful and we were able to sit out on their patio. Prior to dinner though, we explored the small market attached to the restaurant, which sells a variety of foods, wines, spirits, and kitchen items. The wine selection is small but diverse, with plenty of intriguing options. There is also a small case of their baked goods, from cookies to brownies, and more. Both Adam and I bought some wine before we went to dinner. 

I'm presenting my first impressions of Frank, which are briefer than a full review. And I'm definitely returning to Frank, to try more of the menu, so will provide updates in the future. Overall, I was impressed with Frank, especially their Pasta dishes. 

The restaurant is open for Lunch and Dinner, and their Dinner Menu has Raw Bar (Oysters & Little Necks), Cheese & Charcuterie, Salads, Locally-Sourced Sides (like Iron Ox freshly dug potatoes and Alprilla braised fall greens), House-Made Pasta (available in half and full size), Grills & Roasts, and Treats & Temptations (dessert). Most of the Entree dishes are in the $20s, with a couple exceptions, and they also offer a Duck For Two ($110), which you must order ahead of time. There's lots of choices, and the hardest part might be deciding which dish of many you wish to order.

The list of Wines by the Bottle has about 35 choices, the majority ranging from $44 to $100, include Sparkling, White, Red, Rose, and Orange wines. It is fascinating list for wine lovers with lots of great choices, especially many more natural wines. We opted for the 2019 Frank Cornelisson Etna Rosato "Susucaru" ($72). As this wine retails for around $36, the markup is reasonable. This wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese, Malvasia, and Moscadela from Sicily. It was refreshing and crisp, light-bodied, and had a delicious blend of flavors, including red fruits and earthiness, as well as a vein of minerality. It was also an excellent food wine.

We began the meal with some House-Made Focaccia with honey butter ($3.75), and it was quite tasty, with a crunchy crust atop it and a soft, pillowy interior, enhanced by the slightly sweet butter. As a bread lover, this was a fine introduction to the quality of their dishes.

We then went for some cheese and charcuterie, including the Magic Mountain Reserve Cheese, with peach jam and spice bread ($7.75) and Duck Rillette, with cherry mostarda ($10). The spice bread was a winner, especially with the peach jam. And the Rillette was intense, creamy and earthy. 

There are 3 Pasta options on the menu and we tried two of them. The Clam Chitarra, with pancetta, and sofrito ($13.50 half/$27 full), was amazing. Such a depth of flavor, a nice blend of textures, and a great taste. The pasta was cooked perfectly, the pancetta added a smoky and salty element, and the clams gave that tiny bit of the sea. Highly recommended!

The Lumache, topped with Bolognese and whipped ricotta ($13.50 half/$27 full), was also amazing. The Lumacha pasta was very al dente, and the Bolognese also had a nice depth of flavor, with plenty of tender meat. The addition of the whipped ricotta added a pleasing creamy element to the dish. It was a very ample portion and every bite was pure delight. Also Highly Recommended.

The Frank Hamburger ($19.50), is topped with pepper jack cheese, Frank hot sauce, mayo, pickles, crispy onion strings, and onion bacon jam, and also comes with hand-cut fries. It was a juicy and tender burger, with a nice blend of flavors from all the toppings. And the fries and onion strings were quite delicious, crisp and fresh. 

Service was excellent and we didn't opt for dessert but both were very pleased with dinner. The pasta dishes were killer and I look forward to trying more of the menu. I'd definitely recommend Frank for its delicious food and fine wine list.