Friday, December 13, 2019

Osteria Posto: Holiday Lunch Delights

After doing some Christmas shopping yesterday morning, we headed off to lunch, to Osteria Posto in Waltham, which has been one of my favorite restaurants since it opened in 2015. During the holiday season, Osteria Posto opens for lunch, with a full menu of Italian delights, from pizza to pasta, meatballs to burgers. I've raved about this restaurant multiple times in the past and once again highly recommend it to all my readers. Check it out for lunch during this holiday season, or dine there in the evening.

We began with celebratory cocktails, including the Red Sangria ($12), pictured on the left, which is made with Applejack Brandy, oranges, apples, cinnamon, and cider. It is almost like liquid apple pie, though with only a minor sweetness, and rich flavors of apple and cinnamon. Very refreshing and tasty. I opted for the Golden Age ($13), made from Old Overholt Rye, Cynar, Orange Bitters, and with Smoked Ice, a kind of variation on the Manhattan. It has a strong bitter and spicy taste with a hint of orange and touch of smoke. Both cocktails were balanced and delicious.

One of the staple appetizers I nearly always order is the Pane ($2.50), a fresh, hot and soft bread made with rosemary and sea salt. It's perfect for dipping in sauce or oil,

Another appetizer is the Arancini ($12), made with mozzarella, oregano, basil pasata, and pomodoro.  A nice, crunchy exterior with a firm but soft and cheesy interior, accented by the flavorful tomato sauce. Cooked perfectly, they are sure to please, and you can sop up the remaining sauce with the Pane.

The Bruschetta ($14), made with roasted tomato, goat cheese, basil, and vincotto, is another delicious standard. The creamy goat cheese, slightly sweet vincotto and acidic tomatoes balance each other nicely, along with the crusty slices of bread. Fresh, quality ingredients enhance this dish.

For entrees, there were tough decisions to be made. Do I opt for one of their delightful pasta dishes, or go more casual with a pizza? Or do I choose one of the larger entrees? One of our choices was the Duck ($28), in a red wine demi with a mushroom risotto. I've had multiple duck dishes here over the years and every one has been pure deliciousness. The duck was cooked perfectly, quite tender, and full of flavor, with crispy skin atop a thin layer of fat. In the U.S., duck is most commonly found on Chinese restaurant menus, but its popularity in other restaurants is growing, as it should. Duck is a fantastic protein and I hope more restaurants do put it on their menus.

Our other entree was the Pork Milanese ($26), made with mozzarella and tomatoes. Initially, you should be very careful with the juicy tomatoes as you bite into them, you can spray your mouth with hot tomato juices. The pork, pounded thin, was coated with a thin, crispy coating and the pork itself was very tender, covered with plenty of gooey cheese. Once again, a killer dish that more than pleased my palate.

To finish our lunch, we shared a Tiramisu, a dessert I've ordered frequently because it is so good. An excellent blend of flavors and textures, and everything you want from this dessert. And it is certainly large enough to share.

I might have to return for lunch again before the holiday season ends.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

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 Feast of the Seven Fishes, known as La Festa dei Sette Pesci, is a deeply rooted Italian Christmas Eve tradition, originating in Southern Italy and honoring the vigil prior to a religious holiday when no meat was served. Join Davio’s Lynnfield on Tuesday, December 24, from 4pm-10pm, to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes with good food and great company.

The three-course prix-fixe menu, prepared by Executive Chef Andres Tavares, will feature unique and delectable seafood courses in addition to the regular dinner menu.

Fritto Misto, Calamari, Scallops, Oysters, Calabrian Chili Aioli
Tagliatelle, Maine Lobster, Shallot, Cognac Cream
Halibut, Crab Meat, Shrimp Risotto, Asparagus

COST: The prix-fixe menu is $75 per guest (excluding tax & gratuity).
Reservations are recommended by calling 781-944-4810.

2) Committee Ouzeri & Bar has a new festive cocktail list, Let's Get Lit! Like a Christmas Tree. This is available for the entire month of December and Bar Manager Lou Charbonneau and his talented team have collaborated to create some unique libations, including the following:

Santa's Little Helper (old fashioned with Grandma's secret sugar cookie syrup, bourbon, lemon & bittahs kid)
Naughty List (Bottled Eggnog-eggs, applejack, rye, blackstrap rum, cream, nutmeg)
Jingle Juice Shooter (Served in Christmas ornament flask glassware)
Krampus Karol (spiked hot chocolate with choice of green chartreuse or ancho chili liqueur, whipped cream and peppermint bar)
Picture with Santa (Holiday milk punch made with seasonal fruits, spices, tea and a medley of spirits. Rectified with Dairy curd to add silky texture and clarified. Smooth, Silky, Spiced, Fruity and Boozy.)
Christmas Came Early Winter Tiki (all the rum, beach umbrella, toasted marshmallow)

Additionally, they have 2 new large format cocktails:
Group Therapy (Keel Vodka, Rooibos Cider, Mandarin Napoleon, Allspice Dram, Lemon, Bottle of Sparkling Wine)
Athena's Liquid Courage (Don Julio Reposado, Blood Orange Liqueur, Diktamo, Pineapple, Lime, Aztec Chocolate Bitters

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Tussock Jumper Wines: Tasty Value Wines

Tussock Jumper WinesA portfolio of wines with animals, wearing red jumpers, on the labels.

As far back as 2008, I wrote about how having animals on wine labels often increases sales, and there were studies explaining the reasons for such. Working at a wine store, I regularly hear customers tell me how they choose a wine because they simply like the label. So why not take advantage by adding cute animals to your label? However, it raises the question, is this merely a gimmick for Tussock Jumper?

According to their website: "All the animals wearing red jumpers on our wines isn’t just a gimmick or a clever branding idea to stand out on the crowded shelves of your local store. It’s more than that. The jumper is a seal of authenticity which is your guarantee that everything has been done to provide you with the finest quality, best tasting wine." The key then is sampling the wine, to assess its taste and quality, and determine whether it is merely a gimmick or not. I recently received several media samples from Tussock and did my own taste testing.

Tussock Jumper Wines was founded by a group of people "with over three decades in the wine business," with an objective of creating "a way for wine lovers to discover the world of wine, all under one label, and at approachable, budget friendly prices." Their wines are sourced from 11 different wine regions, including California, Spain, South Africa, Italy, Argentina, Australia, France, Portugal, Chile, Germany, and New Zealand. They source the grapes for their wines from multiple small farms and vineyards, bottling the wine near the source, to help the local communities.

Their first wine was a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, which seems to be the origin of part of their name as well." As their website states, "tussock" is "a tuft-like grass that grows in meadowlands all around the world, but each species is unique to its region. It’s also a nod to our commitment to preserving nature, and sustainable winemaking." Currently, I'm reading a series of novel by a New Zealand, and the term "tussock" is used several times in those books.

Currently, in the U.S. market, Tussock Jumper has 24 wines available, generally priced at under $15 each. These are value wines, everyday drinking wines, but how do they compare to similarly priced wines? Actually, they do quite well. The four wines I sampled were tasty and pleasant, delivering at their price point, and their quality was indicative that they weren't just gimmick wines. You might enjoy the cute animal on the label, but you'll probably also enjoy the wine inside the bottle. Tussock Jumper Wines earn my recommendation.

The 2017 Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc ($12), from South Africa, was a pleasing white wine, at 13.5% ABV, with crisp acidity, tasty pear and pineapple flavors, an underlying minerality, and a satisfying finish. Lush and delicious! This wine can be enjoyed on its own or paired with food, such as a chicken alfredo, risotto or even lobster.

The 2013 Tussock Jumper Touriga Nacional-Aragonez ($12), from the Alentejo region of Portugal, is a blend of 25% Touriga Nacional & 75% Aragonez, with a 13.5% ABV. About 50% of the wine spent 6 months in French and American oak. This light bodied red wine had lush red fruit flavors, with vanilla and spice notes, and a hint of chocolate on the finish. Portugal usually delivers well at these price points and this wine is no exception.

The 2017 Tussock Jumper Organic Malbec ($14/750ml), from Argentina, partially spent about 3 months in American and French oak. At 13% ABV, this was a bolder wine than many other similarly priced Malbecs, yet the tannins were well integrated and it drank smooth and rich. Lush black fruit flavors, hints of chocolate, and dark spices. This is definitely a wine for a good steak, or a hamburger from the grill.

The 2017 Tussock Jumper Pinot Noir ($13/750ml), from France, at 12% ABV, is also a bolder red wine, with more black cherry and plum notes, vanilla, dark spices, and a touch of almost sweet fruit. This isn't the light bodied Pinot that some might desire, but more a pairing for beef and rich dishes.

These wines are also sold in Single Serving sizes, pictured above, with their own plastic cup, for $3.99 each.

Have you tasted any of the Tussock Jumper wines?

Monday, December 9, 2019

My Favorite Fiction of 2019

What were your favorite fiction books this year?

Back in December 2011, I started a series, Authors, Alcohol & Accolades, which asked some of my favorite authors about their preferred drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There have been 11 editions of this column so far, with more coming in the future. The inspiration for this series is that I am a voracious reader, of both fiction and nonfiction, and I wanted to combine that interest with my love of food & drink. The series has proven popular and it has been fascinating to explore what authors enjoy drinking.

Each year, as an addendum to that series, I've been posting a list of my Favorite Fiction Books, including books of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Crime/Thriller. During the past twelve months, I've read over 250 books, both fiction and non-fiction, which provides a large pool for my choices. Most of the books on these lists were published in 2019, though there are some exceptions which were published in prior years but which I didn't read until this past year.

Onto my Book Recommendations...

First, let me provide my Top Three Reads Of The Year, those three (or actually four) books which thoroughly impressed and engaged me, compelling and creative works which I'm sure to read again in the future. These exceptional books have my highest, and unqualified, recommendation. They are not listed in any specific order of preference.

For the Killing of Kings (Ring-Sworn Trilogy Book 1) and Upon The Flight of the Queen (Ring-Sworn Trilogy Book 2) by Howard Andrew Jones
Both of these books, the first two in a trilogy, were published in 2019, and were absolutely riveting, the kind of book you starting reading and later look up, not realizing hours had passed. In some respects, there is a retro-feel to these novels, with roots in Zelazny's Amber series, but there is plenty of a modern edge to these fantasy books as well. There is a rich cast of characters, nonstop action, a fascinating magic system, great battle scenes, and so much more. They are well written novels, and based on my love of the author's prior novels, definitely not unexpected. Jones weaves a compelling tale and I can't wait to see how this trilogy ends.

Smoke and Stone (City of Sacrifice Book 1) by Michael Fletcher
Fletcher is another author whose prior books I've very much enjoyed. This novel though may be his best work to date, being both innovative and riveting. It's a dark tale with creative world building and a fascinating magic system relying on the use of drugs. There is quirky edge to the tale, which seems to be a signature of Fletcher, and it works so well. It is very much an original fantasy tale, with inspiration from Mesoamerican mythology, and should excite even the most jaded fantasy reader. There are plenty of plot twists, lots of blood, and at times, pure craziness. This is another book where you'll be wishing the sequel was already available.

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy Book 1) by Tamsyn Muir
This is another dark and innovative book, a science fantasy novel immersed in necromancy, great mysteries, and humor. Yes, despite the grim material, there is also a pleasing humorous element. The characters are fascinating, the world building is intriguing, and the fantasy and science fiction elements blend well together. The plot centers around a grand and deadly contest, and each faction has their own secrets and agendas. Excellent swordplay scenes and dark necromantic elements. A more unique novel, unlike anything else I've read in quite some time. Bring on the next book in this trilogy.

Second, let me provide some of my other Favorite SF/Fantasy/Horror Novels of 2019. Please note that these books are not in any specific order of preference.

Where Oblivion Lives (Los Nefilim Book 1) by Teresa Frohock
The Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey
The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War Book 2) by R.F. Kuang (Book #1 was one of my last year's Top 3)
Holy Sister (Book of the Ancestor 3) by Mark Lawrence 
Jade War (The Green Bone Sage Book 2) by Fonda Lee
The Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons, Book 1) and The Name of All Things (A Chorus of Dragons, Book 2) by Jenn Lyons
The Iron Codex (Dark Arts Book 2) by David Mack (Book #1 was one of my last year's Top 3)
A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan Book 1) by Arkady Martine
Blood of Empire (Gods of Blood & Poweder Book 3) by Brian McClellan
Priest of Lies (War for the Rose Throne Book 2) by Peter McLean 
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
Ship of Smoke and Steel (The Wells of Sorcery Book 1) by Django Wexler

And this book deserves some recognition for simply being fun, an excellent popcorn-novel.
Blood Island by Tim Waggoner

Third, here are my Favorite Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels of 2019. From gritty noir to more high-tech thrillers, this books are exciting and riveting, sure to get your blood pumping and your heart racing. Again, these books are not in any specific order of preference.

The Shameless (Quinn Colson Book 9) by Ace Atkins
One Small Sacrifice (Shadows of New York Book 1) by Hilary Davidson
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
Rage by Jonathan Maberry
Glimpse by Jonathan Maberry
What You Did by Claire McGowan
The Chain by Adrian McKinty
Like Lions by Brian Panowich
This Side of Night by J. Todd Scott
The Border (Power of the Dog Book 3) by Don Winslow

Fourth, here are my Favorite Anthologies, Novellas & Short Stories of 2019. These often seem to get ignored on many other "Best Of" lists but I believe they are definitely worthy of attention.

Uncanny Collateral (Valkyrie Collections Book 1) by Brian McClellan (Novella)
The Broken King by Brian Panowich (Short story)
A Lush And Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs (Two novellas, one which was one of my last year's Top 3) 
Weird Tales #363 (Magazine with great stories by Victor Lavelle, Hank Schwaeble, Jonathan Maberry, Stephanie Wytovich)
The Abyssal Plain: The R'lyeh Cycle (4 horrifying novellas by Brett Talley, William Holloway, Rich Hawkins, and Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason)
Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volume I (Fascinating anthology of SFF tales by New Zealand authors)

All of the books on this list garner my earnest recommendations and you should check them out. They would make great holiday gifts for others, or even yourself. Please support an author, a small, independent business person, and buy more books. And if you read and enjoy a book, please leave a review of that book online and tell all your friends about it. The author would greatly appreciate your efforts.

What were some of your favorite books this year?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Moldova Restaurant: Their First Wine Dinner

"Wine costs about 400 Moldovan roubles a bottle in Kishinev shops. Moldovans drink it the way Russians drink vodka, downing an average-sized glass in a single gulp."
--The Age (Australian newspaper), August 31, 1993

The Republic of Moldova has been producing wine for about 5,000 years and currently exports about 67 million bottles annually. In Massachusetts, we are fortunate to have access to some of their wines through Vins Distributors, a local importer and distributor of Moldovan wines. In addition, we can experience Moldovan cuisine, paired with their wines, at the compelling Moldova Restaurant in Newton. And now, the Moldova Restaurant has started holding special Wine Dinner events, and I attended their first wine dinner as a media guest.

For some background on Moldovan wine and the Moldova restaurant, please check out my prior articles, Exploring Moldova Restaurant & Moldovan Wine: Part 1 and Part 2. Since those articles were written, the restaurant has expanded, roughly doubling in size, and adding a small bar. It still retains its homey vibe, and it's great that they have more seating so customers won't have to wait so long to get a seat on a busy evening.

About 12 people attended their first wine dinner last month, a fun group of diverse people including someone from Croatia and another person from the country of Georgia. We had plenty of laughs, excellent conversation, and enjoyed plenty of tasty food and wine. Artur Andronic (pictured above on the right), owns the restaurant with his wife Sandra, and both are natives of Moldova. Artur, who is very personable, introduced the wine dinner, helping to serve the dishes throughout the meal, and answering questions.

Andrei Birsan (on the left side), is the owner of Vins Distributors, and he presided over the dinner, explaining about the various dishes and wines, as well as expounding upon the country of Moldova and its wine industry. Andrei is charming and knowledgeable, regaling us with plenty of tales of Moldova, such as its world record wine tunnels. The guests were inquisitive, asking plenty of questions, which Andrei eagerly answered, sharing his passion for Moldovan wine.

"Noroc" is a Moldovan word which basically means "cheers," and is used when toasting with wine. This sign hangs inside the restaurant, over one of their doors.

The food menu, prepared by Chef Victor Sorici, was a selection of some of the restaurant's classic Moldovan dishes. I've enjoyed most of these dishes before, so I'll repeat some of my same, relevant comments from my prior articles. Future wine dinners will offer different menus, other enticing dishes to keep things fresh and new. I'd also recommend that don't need to wait for their next wine dinner to dine at the Moldova restaurant. You can go at any time, for lunch or dinner, and order from their intriguing menu. They'll help you with Moldovan wine pairings.

We began the evening with a traditional PLĂCINTĂ CU BRÎNZĂ ȘI VERDEAȚĂ,  a thin, pan-fried pie filled with cow cheese and herbs, which was served family style. The term "plăcinte" derives from the Latin "placenta," which means "cake." Traditionally, they use sheep's milk cheese but that is difficult for them to source locally so they chose to go with cow's cheese instead. The filling is made with egg whites, local feta, cottage cheese, dill and parsley, but they don't add any salt. The pie is thin, flaky and crisp, reminding me a little of a scallion pancake (without the scallions), and the cheese filling is creamy and lightly salty.

On their menu, there are other variations of PLĂCINTĂ, savory versions with cabbage or potatoes and sweet versions with cherries or apples.

This dish was paired with the Cricova Crisecco Vin Spumant Alb Brut, produced by a winery which was founded in 1952. The winery is located in the town of the same name and their extensive (miles upon miles) wine cellars are the second largest in Moldova. This Sparkling Wine is a blend of 90% Fetească Albă (an indigenous grape) and 10% Muscat, and is produced by the Charmat method (like most Italian Prosecco). Fetească Albă (which translates as "white maiden") is a white grape, the most widely planted indigenous grape in Moldova.

At 12.5% ABV, this bubbly is aromatic, with a distinctive Muscat nose enhanced by some citrus notes. On the palate, it is dry, crisp and tasty, with flavors of apple, pear and subtle citrus. A very pleasant and easy-drinking Sparkling Wine, priced at about $11.99, making it an excellent value.

Next up was a Rucola Salad, with chunks of beet and pumpkin. A pleasant salad, bringing some crisp freshness after the crunchy and creamy first course.

Our second wine of the evening was the 2018 Gogu Winery Blanc de Merlot ($14.99), produced by a very small winery which started selling their wine in 2014, though the family has been making wine for four generations. This is a wine white, made from Merlot, and it is aromatic, with a fresh and tasty palate of citrus, herbal accents, and a floral element. Easy drinking and food friendly, this is something different for your table.

The third course was the SARMALE, cabbage and grape leaves, stuffed with rice, chicken, tomatoes, carrots, fried onions and herbs, and served with a side of sour cream. The rice plays the prominent role in this dish, and with the chicken it is a very traditional and inexpensive Moldovan dish, especially prepared by the women in the household, and always served at Moldovan parties. These were delicious, with a slight crunch to the grape leaves, and less crunch from the cabbage, and plenty of flavorful filling, with lots of rice and finely chopped chicken and veggies. They make for a tasty snack.

The 2016 Fautor Merlot-Rara Neagra ($12.99) is produced by a winery which was purchased in 1997, though their first commercial release wasn't until 2010. A mother & daughter team run the winery, and they have an intriguing deal with a local prison, providing work release opportunities for prisoners. This wine is a blend of Merlot and Rara Neagra (an indigenous grape grown only about 200 acres around the world), made in a more international style. It is fresh and fruit forward, with plenty of red fruit flavors, especially cherry, and spice notes. It is smooth and easy drinking, a wine that would go well with pizza to burgers.

The final savory course was the FRIPTURĂ DE MIEL ($24.95), roasted lamb, stewed in special wine and rosemary sauce, which was served with polenta, feta cheese and sour cream. The lamb is cooked for over four hours, braised and then roasted in the oven. All that slow cooking has made the lamb extremely tender, and you certainly don't need to knife to cut it. Your fork will suffice. The lamb also is superb, with a hint of rosemary, and plenty of juicy, tender meat, lacking that gaminess which turns off some people to lamb. As a lamb lover, this dish impressed me immensely and I highly recommend it.

I loved the label of the 2015 Gitana Winery Lupi Reserve ($27.99), with its wolf paw print, as "Lupi" means "wolf," and it's named after a pack of wolves that wander through the vineyard. The small, family owned and operated winery was purchased in 1999 and it took a number of years to renovate the property and plant vineyards. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Saperavi, which was aged for two years in big, used oak barrels and then for another year in new barrique. This is a complex and delicious wine, with plenty of rich, black fruit flavors, mild spices, some vanilla notes, and hints of chocolate. It is full bodied and powerful, yet with well-integrated tannins, and paired beautifully with the lamb. This was my favorite wine of the evening.

For dessert, we enjoyed the CUȘMA LUI GUGUȚĂ ($9.45), sour cherries crepes with home-made whipped cream and chocolate. This is an extremely popular item on their menu, and they have even run out some nights when many customers ordered it. It was certainly a hedonistic pleasure, plenty of creaminess, tart sour cherries, and that spongy texture of the crepes, with a chocolate accent. It's easy to understand the popularity of this dessert and it was a great way to end a compelling Moldovan dinner.

Our final drink was the 2009 Cricova Patriarh, a vin rosu licoros, a red dessert wine that is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and has a 16% ABV. I was expecting a heavy, sweet wine but that was far from the case. Instead, it had a lighter body, with intense ripe plum and fig flavors and only a moderate sweetness, balanced by some nice acidity. It was silky and delicious, an enticing wine which made for an excellent after-dinner drink.

A representative of Marty's Liquor Store also attended the dinner, and all of the wines were available for pre-order, at am approximate 20% discount. Not only could you enjoy the wines at the restaurant, but you could buy some to enjoy at home, at a nice discount.

The Moldova Restaurant is a unique destination, offering a cuisine not readily available elsewhere in Massachusetts. Plus, you can check out a number of delicious and diverse Moldovan wines. You definitely should attend one of their wine dinners in 2020, so keep an eye on their website or social media to learn about the next event. For now, you also might want to consider attending their New Year Eve Dinner.