Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
**********************************************************
1) The Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center’s 5th annual Celebrity Holiday Tree Auction and Toy Drive Kick-off event will take place on Wednesday, December 7, from 6pm-8pm, and they have recruited a special guest to help make it the most successful year yet – and just in time as the need is greater than ever. For this year’s kick-off event, longtime Christmas in the City supporter and New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will be doing the first public reading of his newly released children’s book, Flying High, exclusively for attendees. Flying High is partially autobiographical; it is the story of a passionate squirrel that learns the value of hard work, with some other familiar New England faces making an appearance in the book as well.

Edelman will take part in a live auction which will include a one-of-a-kind Julian Edelman-themed Christmas tree decorated by the wide receiver and a select number of signed copies of his book will also be auctioned off – perfect for those looking for holiday gifts for young family members.

The evening will feature additional silent and live auctions, raffles and more as well as tasty nibbles and a cash bar provided by the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. 100% of money raised will go directly to Christmas in the City to purchase toys for children in need this holiday season.

Christmas in the City, a 100% volunteer organization, will hold its 28th Annual Holiday Party in December and is expecting to serve thousands more children this year – so they need more support than ever to meet the need. 5,000 children living in shelters, hotels or transitional housing will attend the celebration with their parent or guardian. The following day, Christmas in the City will give out toys and clothing, serving 13,000 more children whose families have fallen on hard times and otherwise might find nothing under the tree. The Seaport Hotel will once again serve as a drop-off location for toys; those donating can drop toys directly at the valet parking station or in the hotel lobby beginning on Tuesday, November 29th.

Admission price is a donation of $40. Guests are also asked to please bring ONE toy to donate.
Tickets can be purchased at: https://citctreeauction.eventbrite.com

2) To celebrate the restaurant’s One-Year Anniversary and express sincere gratitude to loyal patrons who’ve warmly welcomed the brand to Massachusetts, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, located at The Shops at Chestnut Hill, will give away ONE FREE SMALL CHEESE PIZZA (takeout only, no exceptions) to every guest between the hours of 1:00PM and 4:00PM on Tuesday, December 13. Since opening last December, “Pepe’s” has enjoyed serving the Greater Boston community and is thankful for the support they’ve received.

Originally, founded in 1925 in New Haven, CT by Frank Pepe, who immigrated to the United States in 1909 at the age of 16, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana is nationally renowned for its Neapolitan Pizza baked in Coal-fired Brick Ovens.

COST: FREE (no purchase necessary) Offer is good for one free small cheese pizza (no exceptions) per guest. Takeout only.

3) Executive Chef & Co-Owner Jody Adams is proud to launch TRADE Secrets Cooking Classes. For the first time ever at Trade, Chef Jody Adams presents an interactive series of cooking classes inspired by various countries of the Mediterranean.

TRADE Secrets Cooking Classes feature lively and engaging demonstrations, lunch with wine pairings and recipes to take home from Chef Jody Adams. Exploring the Mediterranean countries of Greece, Italy, France and Spain, the Trade Secrets Cooking Classes kick off in January and conclude in April. Held one Sunday afternoon each month, the intimate cooking classes feature welcoming coffee and scones on arrival followed by Chef Jody Adams teaching her tricks of the trade. After everyone has worked up an appetite, guests delight in a 3-course lunch with wine pairings and depart with printed recipe cards to recreate the once in a lifetime experience at home.

Trade Secrets Cooking Classes are $150/person per class and are held on the following dates, starting at 11am, with respective themes for each:
Sunday, January 15 – Greece,
Sunday, February 12 – Italy,
Sunday, March 19 – France,
Sunday, April 23 – Spain.

Space is limited and tickets to each class can be purchased at: http://bit.ly/2f5qLBW.

4) Chef/Owner Dante de Magistris of il Casale Lexington has teamed up with Mario and Luciano Ercolino, founders of Vinosia Wines to present an elegant dinner pairing Southern Italian fare with this exclusive line of Campania, Italy imported wines. Founded in 2003 by Mario and Luciano Ercolino, whose family founded Feudi di San Gregorio, the brothers set out on their own to create Vinosia, a new place of wine.

On Tuesday, December 6, at 6pm, il Casale Cucina Campana in Lexington will transport guests with a full Italian dining experience featuring Vinosia Wines. Guests are invited to indulge in a five-course menu with dishes created by Chef Dante de Magistris and wine pairings expertly selected by Vinosia Wines representative Mariella Zangaro, who is flying in direct from Italy for this special event. The flavorful, traditional ingredients Chef Dante uses in his dishes are prevalent in the Campania region of Italy and perfectly pair with Vinosia Wines where the vineyards wine making techniques extract the immense depth of the Irpinia terroir and grapes also of the same region in Italy.

Vinosia Wines was discovered by Dante de Magistris and his father, Leon, while scouting their family’s hometown region of Campania. Vinosia Wines immediately made the elite list of imported Italian wines carried by The de Magistris family, and for this one-night-only, you will have the opportunity to try five exclusive pours including Greco di Tufo, Aglianico, Taurasi, Aglianico di Irpinia and Primitivo di Manduria.

The menu is $75 per person and includes the following courses:
FIRST
Ostriche Chaud/Froid
Oyster on the Half Shell with Greco di Tufo Mignonette
broiled oyster with speck and oregano
2015 GRECO DI TUFO, L’AURELLA
SECOND
Mafalde con Stinco di Maiale, Rosmarino e Pecorino al Ginepro (braised pork shank ragu, orange and rosemary sauce, mafalde pasta and pecorino ginepro)
2014 AGLIANICO, NEROMORA
THIRD
Capriolo al Caffe, Puree di Patata Dolce, Strudel di Spinaci (espresso rubbed venison loin, sweet potato puree, spinach strudel, anise glace)
2009 TAURASI, MARZIACANALE
FOURTH
Cotoletta di Cinghiale, Salsa Nera di Bosco, Crocchetta Della Nonna (slow roasted wild boar chop, black berry chocolate glace, potato croquette)
2009 AGLIANICO DI IRPINIA, SESTO A QUINCONCE
FIFTH
Trio di Fromaggi, Campani (cacio cavallo, pecorino ginepro, smoked mozzarella di buffalo, seasonal fruits and nuts)
2011 PRIMITIVO DI MANDURIA, UE PASSULA

Price is $75 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity. Space is limited – please call 781-538-5846 to make a reservation.

5) During a media interview, at Little Donkey, with Greg Davis, the Master Distiller at Maker's Mark, I had the chance to taste a new cocktail, the Beast of Bourbon ($12), which was created by Vikram Hegde, the Bar Manager at Little Donkey. Using Maker's 46, which is enhanced by aging in barrels with French staves, this was a tasty cocktail, the hint of cinnamon flavor adding to a holiday feel. You can get this cocktail at Little Donkey, or make it yourself at home.

The recipe includes:
1 part Maker's 46
1 part Angostura Amaro
½ part Lemon
½ part Cinnamon Syrup
Dash Angostura bitters
   Serve it over over ice in a lowball glass with a lemon twist.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tasting Counter: Consistently Compelling Cuisine

This holiday season, if you feel like splurging on a fine dining experience, then Tasting Counter receives my highest recommendation. Chef Peter Ungár is undeniably one of the best chefs in the Boston area. He is creative and passionate, a perfectionist and humble, talented and personable. You can check out my last review for more information about this amazing culinary experience.

Last week, on the evening after Thanksgiving, I dined at Tasting Counter, introducing my good friend Adam Japko to the restaurant. Adam stated it was "utterly mind blowing" and "I've had my head in the sand missing out on Peter Unger's brilliance in Boston for too long." Yes, he was more than impressed.

During this season, Tasting Counter has expanded their lunch hours, serving lunch from Tuesday to Saturday, 1pm-2pm. Dinner service is held Wednesday to Saturday (one seating on Wednesday at 8pm, and two seatings on the other days, 6pm-8pm and 8pm-10pm). They have also started holding a Natural Wine Bar, from Thursday to Saturday, from 10:30pm-12:30pm, where you can enjoy wine and snacks. With Lunch and the Natural Wine Bar, you even a couple less expensive ways of checking out Chef Ungár's food.

Let me lead you through our latest dinner, though please note that this is but a glimpse of the wonders you will find. I didn't take notes, just basically photos, so my descriptions won't include every special element of each dish. First, numerous ingredients are locally sourced or created in-house, from the butter to the yogurt. Second, as you receive each course, the details of its creation are provided to you, and you'll be amazed at the numerous ingredients, and their preparation, that go into each dish. And all of those ingredients coalesce into a balanced, flavorful and exquisite dish. Third, it is a joy to watch the perfection of the chefs as they compose each dish, which also look as beautiful as they taste. Aesthetics are very important to Chef Ungár.

With your dinner, you also get your choice of beverages, ten pairings of Wine, Sake, Beer or Non-Alcoholic drinks. Their beverage director, Eileen Elliott, has composed plenty of excellent drink pairings for the various courses, and she presides over their Natural Wine Bar too. For our dinner, Adam and I both opted for Sake pairings, and I highly recommend that you do the same. Tasting Counter has the largest Sake selection of any non-Asian restaurant in the Boston area. They understand that Sake works well with all types of different foods and you will enjoy experiencing the marvels of those pairings.

As for the specific dishes, there wasn't one that I didn't enjoy and there were plenty that brought sheer joy to my palate. I'm providing the pictures with only the barest of descriptions, hoping that alone will compel you to visit Tasting Counter. It is one of the best restaurants in the Boston area and if you haven't dined there yet, you really need to make a reservation.

Welcoming Bites: Sweet potato, sherry, fig, parma ham. Ocean trout, sesame & lime. Sea urchin, cultured butter, brioche.

Sea Scallop: lavender yogurt, wild herbs, preserved scallop, seaweed.

Yellowtail: rice smoke, eggplant, cucumber, meyer lemon, bashing pear.

Hand Rolled Seaweed Pasta: hen of the woods, sea urchin custard, anchovy, bonito.

Fluke: sake lees, kohlrabi, cranberry

Sea Bream: sunchoke, pine mushroom, burgundy truffle.

To cleanse your palate, you receive Schisandra Berry, a cold brewed tea which is sweet and salty, sour and bitter. I really want to make a Sake cocktail with this tea.

Whole Duck: fermented garlic roast, confit leg & liver, butternut.

Sirloin Beef Cap: patron pepper, green curry, daikon, cilantro, lime.

Green Tea & Lemon: lime leaf custard, avocado oil

Hazelnut: cardamom mascarpone, ginger milk jam, chocolate sorbet

Parting Morsels: Almond, buttermilk, thyme; Pineapple vanilla fruit crew; duck liver bonbon.

What an amazing dinner!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Posto: A Davis Square Favorite

I recently found myself in Davis Square, wanting to catch a bite to eat before an event I was attending. I chose to dine at Posto, which is on my list of the Top 50 Restaurants of 2015 and has been one of my favorites since it first opened. It has consistently been a compelling spot for Italian cuisine, including pizza, and my most recent experience wasn't any different. Everything was delicious, service was excellent, and I'm sure it will make my Top 50 Restaurant list for 2016.

I just wanted to give a quick review of my experience, to bring more attention to the worthy Posto. You can also search for my prior reviews of Posto, if you so desire,

I like to start my meal with their Pane ($2.50), a piping hot, soft bread with rosemary and sea salt. Though you can have this bread with some oil, it is also a good way to sop up the sauces of your other dishes.

The Arancini ($11) consists of five balls of crispy arborio rice with lemon & oregano, in a spicy sweet & sour tomato sauce. A crisp coating covers the tender rice within, all enhanced by the flavorful sauce (which I also sopped up with the bread). A nice appetizer to start your meal.

Their Neapolitan Wood Fired Pizza is one of the best in the region, and I chose their Meatball ($17), with beef, pork & veal, topped by mozzarella, oregano and garlic. It is a hearty-sized pizza, loaded with toppings including ample, thin slices of garlic. The thin, slightly charred crust was delicious, both soft and crisp, and the meatballs were moist and flavorful. And I loved all of the garlic atop the pizza. With the chillier temperatures of the season, this would be a perfect comfort food, filling your belly and warming your soul.

Chef Joe Carli sent me a sample of his Daily Pasta Special, Hand Rolled Garganelli with locally foraged Matsutake mushrooms, guanciale and a parsnip purée. The pasta had a great texture, cooked just right to give it some bite, and the earthy mushrooms enhanced the dish. I've always like their pasta dishes, and this wasn't an exception.

If you find yourself near Somerville, then consider dining at Posto, or even consider making a special trip to eat there. The food, from the pasta to the pizza, won't disappoint! And you will understand why it is one of my favorite restaurants.

Monday, November 28, 2016

High West Whiskey Campfire: A Triumph of Three

"How many distilleries existed in Utah, prior to 1862, cannot be ascertained, though we know there was no scarcity. The revenue collector’s record shows, between 1862, when the IRS went into effect, and 1869, the arrival of the railroad, thirty-seven distilleries operated in Utah, all owned by Mormons and with Brigham Young among them. When the first settlers arrived in Utah, distilling was a way of life because alcohol was a primary medicine as well as a way to turn food that would have spoiled into something of great value."
--The American Historical Magazine (Volume 3, January 1908 – November 1908),  Mormonism and Intoxicants by Theodore Schroeder

As I've said multiple times before, blending in alcohol production can be an exquisite art, whether it is used to create an elegant Champagne or a compelling Bourbon. Not enough credit is given to the skills needed to be an expert blender, and not enough credit is given to those products which exemplify the best of the blending art. I want to highlight some people in Utah who are excelling at the art of blending, creating intriguing and delicious whiskies.

In 2009, High West Distillery was established in Park City, Utah, by David (a former biochemist) and Jane Perkins, husband and wife, and it was the first legal distillery permitted since 1870. They began operation with a 250 gallon still and soon enough needed to expand so that they now have four unique locations, including a distillery in Wanship, which has a 1,600 gallon pot still. They currently produce about 70,000 cases annually. Although High West produces some of their own whiskies, they have also acquired a good reputation for their blended bottlings. I should note that High West Distillery was recently acquired by Constellation Brands, Inc.

It is said that High West's David Perkins met with Jim Rutledge, the former Master Distiller at Four Roses, and was inspired about the art of blending. David then began experimenting in this vein, and one of his creations has been High West Whiskey Campfire, one of the most unique whiskey blends you'll likely find.

A friend of mine, Alan Bahr, highly recommended this whiskey to me. Alan is a talented game designer, the owner of Gallant Knight Games, which has published Tiny Frontiers and the forthcoming Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters. He has also been involved in several other role-playing games like The Powder Mage RPG and Planet Mercenary.

I asked Alan to comment on this whiskey blend, and he stated: "I remember the first time I had High West Campfire. I was 24/25ish, had just moved 40 miles from religiously conservative college town to big city in Utah. One of my best friends who lived there, took me out to a bar that became my favorite very quickly, the Bourbon House.

"One of the first drinks we tried was High West Campfire, and I was in love. To this day, it's smokey, unique flavor reminds me of friendship, nostalgia and basement dive bars, full of character, clattering pool balls. High West is also a Utah export, which is a fact of personal pride (for no good reason). It's whisky, from Utah of all places, and made unique, like Utah makes it's citizens.

"Even though I've grown my tastes and expanded my horizons, I think, when the sun sets over the Uintas, and I watch get to watch red light overcome my decade long home, there's still a smell and taste, of campfire in the air. Here, in the last bastion of my high west."

The High West Whiskey Campfire ($55-$60) is a blend of a straight Bourbon, a straight Rye, and a blended peated Scotch. Are you aware of anyone else creating such a blend? It seems unusual and you might be hesitant at first, wondering whether such a blend can work well or not. However, I strongly encourage you to take a chance on this blend, and I think you'll be pleasantly satisfied with what you taste.

All three of the whiskies used in this blend, which is at 46% ABV, are at least five years old. The Bourbon is sourced from MGP, and is made from a mash bill of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. The Rye is also sourced from MGP, and is made from a mash bill of 95% corn rye, and 5% barley malt. The Scotch is from an undisclosed distillery in Scotland, and is made from 100% barley malt which has been peated. The specific proportions of the different whiskies in this blend is also a secret. In addition, all three whiskies are not chill-filtered or carbon-treated.

I shared this bottle with several other whiskey-loving friends, and they all enjoyed it. On the nose, it has a complex and alluring aroma, with hints of spice, light smoke, honey, vanilla, and floral notes. As I took a hearty sip, I was amazed at the intriguing and complex procession of flavors that seduced my palate, proceeding from a sweet and fruity start, leading through a spicy middle and ending with a mild smokiness. Sweet, spicy and smoky. It was fascinating that you could easily see the influence of each different type of whiskey, none being dominated by any other.

As you paid more attention to each sip, you could detect hints of each whiskey type in all three phases, though they were more subtle. And the more you concentrated, the more flavors you discovered in this superb melange, from caramel to citrus, leather to baking spices. With its higher alcohol content, there is some minor heat when you first taste the whiskey, but that heat seems to fade away as you sip your glass. Overall, it is a silky & smooth whiskey, with a long and lingering finish. An excellent sipping whiskey, I could easily sit and drink this all night, and it earns my hearty recommendation.

"We like to enjoy Campfire whiskey with s’mores...or good-looking strangers."
--High West Distillery website

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wednesday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new special Wednesday edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I moved up this column this week.
**********************************************************
1) On Saturday, December 10, Pastry Chef Robert Differ of Mandarin Oriental, Boston invites pastry enthusiasts for an intimate and festive Holiday Pastry Decorating Workshop. This one hour and 30 minute hands-on class will feature tips and techniques required for mastering the art of holiday cake decorating.

Upon arrival, guests will sip a complimentary glass of sparkling prosecco or a rich cup of homemade hot cocoa while Chef Differ showcases how to bring each cake to life. Students will be provided with a freshly-baked chocolate present cake, filled with Italian buttercream, pre-wrapped with a choice of red or green fondant. Working with a variety of mediums, students will learn how to prepare, create and attach fondant bows and personalized gift tags made out of professional modeling chocolate. In addition, Chef Differ will also demonstrate how to use edible markers, festive cutouts and gold paint detailing to decorate and enhance each unique design.

After crafting these elaborate cake confections, guests will be able to bring their sweet masterpiece home to share with friends and family.

Chef Differ’s Holiday Pastry Decorating Workshop will begin at 10:30 A.M. and is available for $95 per person.
For more information or to make a class reservation please visit Eventbrite.com (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/holiday-pastry-decorating-workshop-tickets-29082467443).

2) Chef Dante de Magistris and his brothers Filippo and Damian are thrilled to share the launch of Sunday Brunch at il Casale Cucina Italiana in Belmont. Having just started on Sunday, November 20, Chef Dante de Magistris and his brothers offer Sunday Brunch service from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Brunch-goers can enjoy the de Magistris’ spin on the classics with exclusive Brunch Beverages, Colazione Dolce (Sweet Breakfast), Colazione Salata (Savory Breakfast), Le Uova (Eggs) and Pranzo di Domenica (Sunday Lunch) options.

The menu opens with a selection of wines by the glass and brunch beverages carefully crafted by Co-Owner Damian de Magistris such as the bloody Mary with il Casale’s proprietary fra diavola mix and castelvetrano olives and the “cream no sugar” with earl gray iced tea, Kahlua, Frangelico, nardini amaro.

Standouts from the Colazione Dolce section include fritelle all’ Americana, traditional buttermilk pancakes, Vermont maple syrup and toast...alla Francese, brioche French toast, cinnamon vanilla batter, gelato butter, crispy pancetta. The Colazione Salata section features the S.L.T. with Nova Scotia smoked salmon, lettuce & tomato bruschetta, mascarpone rosemary fries. A robust section of Le Uova celebrates everyone’s favorite brunch staple with Uova in “purgatorio,” fried eggs in “purgatory” with spicy tomato sugo and four versions of Benedetto (tradizionale with crispy pancetta, Fiorentina with sautéed spinach, carne with sliced steak, granchio with house made crab cakes) all served on il Casale’s signature Pugliese bread with grilled lemon hollandaise and home fries.

The Pranzo di Domenica section of the menu includes il Casale Cucina Italiana’s most popular pasta dishes tagliatelle alla Bolognese, classic meat ragù from Emilia Romagna and chitarra alla carbonara, soft onions, guanciale, Pecorino Romano D.O.P. in addition to pesce spada alla Siciliana, blackened swordfish Sicilian style, eggplant caponata and pollo alla marengo, sauteed chicken breast, crispy pancetta, fried eggs, mushroom cream sauce.

WHEN: Sunday 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Reservations are suggested and can be made by calling 617-209-4942

3) Said to be superior in taste, large format wines are classified as anything more than 1.5 liters (the equivalent of two bottles of wine), and over 150 bottles are now once again available in 1.5, 3, 5 and even 6 (equivalent to 8 bottles of 750ml wine!) liter bottles at The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover

Every year, Sam and Tina Messina, siblings and co-owners of The Wine ConneXtion, set out in search for rare, large format wines produced by some of the most prestigious wineries-- and each year, their quest is unpredictable. Every large format wine is hand-bottled which makes production limited, and their availability rare. Bottles that do make it to the retail stores are found few and far between, and when they are available, are usually scooped up by wine enthusiasts who want to add them to their prized wine collections.

This year, The Wine ConneXtion searched far and wide to acquire the largest selection of large format wines in New England. Nowhere else can you find such a vast assortment of large format wine, many of which were special ordered directly from the wineries and include older vintage wines that do not exist in the 750ml format today. More than just a bold statement, large format bottles add a unique touch to dinner parties and make an impressive gift for both avid wine collectors and those hard-to-buy-for friends.

Quantities are extremely limited, so stop by The Wine ConneXtion while supplies last. Visit www.wineconnextion.com for an updated list of available bottles. Due to the size and rarity of these bottles they do not ship Large Bottle Formats.

4) Chef and Restaurateur Michael Schlow is excited to announce that Chef Brendan Pelley will join him as the new Chef de Cuisine at his Greek inspired restaurant, Doretta Taverna and Raw Bar. Pelley’s Greek heritage, deep understanding of Mediterranean cuisine, and his innovative style will bring a new added dimension to the popular Back Bay restaurant.

Most recently known for his successful year-long run of Greek pop-up Pelekasis at Wink & Nod, Chef Pelley honed his craft working in some of the top kitchens across greater Boston, including Ken Oringer’s Clio, and Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier’s Summer Winter. Brendan then went on to hold the sous and pastry chef positions at Tryst Bistro, where he refined his knowledge of classic French technique . After Tryst, Pelley went on to perfect his skills of food and wine pairing as chef de cuisine of the Stonehedge Inn & Spa in Tyngsboro prior to taking over at Zebra's Bistro in Medfield.

I’ve been a fan of Brendan’s cooking for a long time,” says Schlow. “I’m impressed by his knowledge and dedication to the beautiful cuisine of Greece; he’s the perfect match for Doretta and I’m excited to get the opportunity to work with him.”

The culinary synergy between Schlow and Pelley is already evident in new menu items and the two chefs will of course continue to offer the classic Greek dishes that Doretta has already become known for.  Chef Pelley shares Schlow’s excitement on the collaboration, “With Doretta, I've really found the perfect stage for my cooking...a beautiful space and perfect location, a passionate and excited service staff, an amazing kitchen and the support and guidance of a world-renowned chef in Michael.”

Some of the new menu items that Chef Pelley worked with Chef Schlow to introduce to the Doretta menu include new takes on gyros on the lunch menu, an expanded raw bar selection, and items such as: Braised lamb neck kritharaki (orzo) with mizithra cheese and dehydrated kalamata olive breadcrumbs, Harissa roasted carrots with onion ash yogurt, Crispy Brussels sprouts with Krokos (Greek saffron) aioli, and seared scallops with chickpea caper and parsley salad, citrus emulsion and crispy grape leaf.