Friday, September 18, 2020

New Sampan Article: A Restaurant Review of Việt Citron

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 nine articles for Sampan, including:


My newest article, Việt Citron: Phở, Bánh Mi & More, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Việt Citron, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Burlington, opened a short time before the pandemic began, and now has reopened, offering take-out, delivery, and patio dining. I've been a regular, eating there about once a week, and I've been impressed with its fresh and delicious Vietnamese cuisine. Pork Belly Bahn Mi, Beef Pho, Chili Lemongrass Ribs, Bo La Lot, and more. Read my review for more details about this excellent new spot, and I hope you'll check them out.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which should be published near the start of October. 

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!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
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1) Puritan & Company’s Chef/Owner Will Gilson and Pastry Chef Brian Mercury have created a space next to the restaurant called Puritan Provisions focusing on grab-and-go foods, takeout orders, pantry goods and homemade staples.

Every Thursday & Friday, 12pm-4pm, and Saturday & Sunday, 10am-4pm, Puritan Provisions will be open next to the restaurant, Puritan & Company. Puritan Provisions will be a gourmet shop offering homemade staple pantry items, grab-and-go breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and pre-made meals to take home and finish off. 

Some of the menus available include:
Grab And Go Breakfast Sandwiches: Bacon Egg and Cheese; Pastrami, Egg and Cheese; Sausage, Egg and Cheese; Broccoli Rabe, Egg, and Cheese
Grab And Go Lunch Sandwiches: Roasted Pork, Broccoli Rabe and Provolone on a Sub Roll; Pastrami, Mushrooms, Swiss and Dill Mayo on Rye; BLT with Miso Mayo on Sourdough; Roast Turkey Apple Onion Chutney, Cheddar and aoli on Seven Grain 
Bake at Home Meals: Eggplant Parm; Zucchini Cakes; BBQ Chicken Thighs; Beef Short Ribs and Polenta Sauces and Dips: Pistachio Pesto; Green Chile Sauce; Truffle Butter; Pimento Cheese; Pea Hummus; Za’Tar Onion Dip; Bluefish Pate 
Pantry Items: Pickles; Jams; Brian Mercury’s Granola; Everything Bagel Crumble; Brian Mercury’s Homemade Ice Cream 

2) Time Out Market Boston announced a new addition to its culinary roster, Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood Chef Carolyn Johnson and Co-Owner Ian Calhoun present a menu showcasing the North Shore’s roast beef sandwich alongside other coastal classics, such as their signature lobster rolls—served either warm with lobster beurre rouge or cold with tarragon and grainy mustard mayo. 

Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood is the fun little sibling to Mooncusser Fish House and we are very excited to keep growing and join the culinary lineup at Time Out Market Boston,” says Chef Carolyn Johnson. “We started Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood in 2018 out of a takeout window and are now thrilled to share the concept’s greatest hits at Time Out Market Boston, where guests can experience our very personal take on New England classics from land and sea.” 

I'm a huge fan of their Roast Beef sandwiches so this is big news. Their seafood is also excellent, and I hope you can also find Carolyn's Whoopie Pies there too. Check it out!

3) Union Square Donuts owners Josh and Noah Danoff enthusiastically welcome Sarah Belisle, formerly Wallace, as Head of Culinary Productions. Sarah, most recently General Manager at Magnolia Bakery Boston, brings experience including lengthy stints at Magnolia Bakery in Boston and New York City (where she also worked with Daniel Boulud), and as Pastry Training Manager at Flour Bakery + Cafe.  

Sarah joins Union Square Donuts at a moment of transition. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the shop went dark for two months, forcing co-owner Josh Danoff to consider the challenges facing small businesses (especially food businesses) in a post-pandemic world. A serendipitous meeting with Sarah, led to discussions about the importance of taste memories during stressful times, which led the Danoff brothers to hire Sarah, and jointly elevate the Union Square Donuts’ menu to satisfy the public’s hunger for nostalgic flavors that conjure up kinder, sweeter times.

During the toughest weeks of March, April, I realized I wanted to use the pandemic as a catalyst to further connect Union Square Donuts with the community,” says Josh Danoff. “With Sarah Belisle on board, we’re better positioned than ever to serve up happy memories in every donut. Next level!”

Some of the Union Square Donuts include Peach Pie, filled with golden peaches and topped with buttery pie crust, the Chocolate Caramel Delight, a new twist on the favorite Girl Scout Cookie -- a classic chocolate cake donut topped with toasted coconut, smothered in decadent caramel and drizzled in rich, dark chocolate, and the Caramel Apple Crisp , an apple butter-filled donut dipped in salted caramel and topped with a brown sugar oat streusel.

They have four locations, including: 20 Bow Street in Somerville, 409 Harvard Street in Brookline, Time Out Market Boston in Fenway and Boston Public Market in Downtown/North End. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Epic Oyster: A Fine North Falmouth Seafood Destination

It was a wonderful weekend, spending time and relaxing on a friend's boat in Pocasset, down the Cape. Such serenity and watching the sunset was sublime. There was also home-made Sangria, Margaritas, and a Thirty-Year Old Port. 

Where to dine on Saturday night? Our friends highly recommended Epic Oyster in North Falmouth so that is where we went. The menu intrigued me and I read other positive reviews of the restaurant, so I was excited to go. Owned by Marc and Sarah Warner, it is primarily a seafood restaurant with some Portuguese influences. And if you don't like seafood, there are other options as well, from steak to chicken.  

The building itself is historic, having started as a Tierney dining car in 1922, eventually ending up in Falmouth where it became known as the North Falmouth Diner. Finally, in 2017, the Warners purchased the property, starting Epic Oyster. Marc used to sell wine and also worked at Legal Seafood, while his wife was previously involved in teaching. Both have Portuguese ancestry, and also hired a Portuguese chef for their restaurant.

Currently, the restaurant has a large outside dining area, which wraps around much of the restaurant, and we sat in a booth which was nestled away, providing much privacy and a feeling of safety. During the course of the evening, the restaurant staff seemed cognizant of proper safety precautions, helping to make this a more pleasant and safer experience. 

The menu, which is mostly seafood; has lots of options, without being overwhelming. There were 11 different types of Oysters available, all from Massachusetts, and most from Cape Cod. It was cool to note that many of the listings included the name of the oyster farmer. The menu also has numerous small plates as well as larger entrees, including Poke bowls, Salads, Shellfish Bisque, a Burger, Piri Piri Chicken, Prime Ribeye, Bento Boxes and more. Of course they have Lobster Rolls ($32), including a Warm Truffle Lobster Roll ($39).

There were three Cocktail Specials ($12-$14), and I opted for the Velvet Fist ($14), which was made with Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, natural ginger ale, and blood orange. It was refreshing and tasty, a fine way to start the evening. 

We generally ordered Small Plates, so we could share and experience more of the diversity of the menu. And of course there were plenty of items I'll need to try the next time I visit Epic Oyster. I really want to taste their Shellfish Bisque. 

The Bang Bang Shrimp ($16) includes flash fried shrimp, sweet chili, scallion, and shredded iceberg. Large, plump shrimp with a thin crunchy coating and a delectable sweet chili sauce. The dish was well made, balanced well, and a real winner. 

The "Old School" Spare Ribs ($20), prepared take-out style with house duck sauce and home-made pickles, was another winner. Extremely tender, meaty and with a luscious and compelling sauce. There actually was no need for the side of duck sauce as the sauce already on the ribs was so delicious and didn't need anything extra. And pickles were a nice, crunchy side, with a touch of sour. 

The Stuffed Quahog ($7), which came with drawn butter and lemon, was quite large and very tasty, with plenty of pieces of clam, and a nicely spiced stuffing. A true touch of New England. 

Their Wine list has about 13 choices by the glass ($9-$26) and17 choices by the bottle. You'll find Sparkling, White and Red wines, with plenty of big brands. Prices are generally very reasonable, such as only $59 for Veuve Cliquot, which is essentially its retail price. The Caymus Cabernet is $100, for a liter bottle, which is also about retail. Excellent deals for such wines. 

However, the restaurant also has some wines that aren't listed on their menu, and you would only know that if you had inside information as they don't mention that fact on their menu. Fortunately for me, someone told me about their off-menu wines so I asked about them when I was at the restaurant. I ultimately selected the 2014 Vale de Maria Three Valleys ($60), an excellent Portuguese wine, priced at about twice the usual retail. 

The wine is a field blend of various Portuguese grapes, from 35+ year old vines, and the grapes are foot trodden in traditional lagares. Complex and intriguing, silky and lush, the wine had fresh notes, as well as a touch of age. Delicious and compelling, I give it a hearty recommendation. 

We ordered a Side of the Grilled Chourico & Azorean Pineapple ($12). The pineapple slices were juicy, with a touch of smoke, and the chourico was plump and meaty, with a pleasing taste. The chourico went very well with the wine. 

The Grilled Oysters ($20) are made with a garlic-herb butter and pecorino crumbs, and were another delicious dish. The pecorino crumbs added an extra touch of saltiness to the briny oysters and the sweet and herbal butter. 

The Shrimp Mozambique ($16) was made with Portuguese EVOO, garlic, pepper, cilantro, and whiskey flambé, and came with a couple slices of bread. Again, the shrimp were plump, though this time in a delightful spicy sauce with sliced cherry tomatoes. The sauce was also great for dipping the bread. Of the two shrimp dishes, I give a slight preference to the Bang Bang Shrimp but both are worthy dishes. 

A simple dish was the Lump Crabmeat Cocktail ($18), accompanied by a mustard dressing, but with an ample mound of sweet crab. I asked for a some cocktail sauce, which they quickly brought as I'm not a fan of mustard dressing, though the others with me enjoyed it. 

Finally, we ordered one of the large entrees, the Miso Black Cod Bento ($36), with miso marinated black cod, pickled oyster mushrooms, sushi rice, pickled ginger carrots, and scallions. The black cod was excellent, with a tasty sweet glaze, and that sweetness was balanced by the pickled mushrooms and carrots. 

Service was excellent, and though we had plastic silverware and paper plates, they were all of high quality, sturdy and even visually appealing. The dishes were ample, fresh, delicious and prepared well. Though it isn't an inexpensive restaurant, the prices are reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients, the size of the dishes, and the excellent taste. Wine prices though are very reasonable, and help to make your overall check lower than it might be at other restaurants where wine prices can be as much as three or four times the usual retail price. 

I definitely want to return to Epic Oyster and it earns my hearty recommendation. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Rant: Secret Wine Lists

Many people area aware of restaurants, especially chains, which have secret menu items. Consider the famed Animal Burger at In-and-Out Burger. You'll also find secret items at McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Starbuck's, Five Guys, KFC, and plenty more. A quick Google search will turn up all of that information. There are higher end restaurants which also offer secret menu items, though it might take a little more effort to Google them.

However, are there secret wine lists? 

Yes, they exist but they seem to be much more undercover, and you may not find them listed online anywhere. You often have to receive information about the existence of these secret wines from some insider. Or, you could ask a restaurant's sommelier or server whether such a list exists. Why are these lists so much more secret than the food items? Are wine lovers just more secretive than food lovers? 

This past weekend, I dined at a Cape Cod restaurant with a rather ordinary wine list, nothing truly exciting. At such a restaurant, I might have just ordered cocktails with dinner, especially as they had a couple compelling cocktails listed on their menu. However, prior to my trek to the Cape, I received a valuable tip from an insider about this restaurant, mentioning that they had some intriguing wines off their menu. All I had to do was ask them about such wines. 

I certainly wan't expecting a secret wine list at this restaurant, and it wasn't an actual printed list. Instead, I spoke to the server, telling him what type of wines I liked, as well as a price range, and he brought out a couple of choices, including a delicious Portuguese wine which I selected. If I didn't want either of the two wines he brought out, I suspected he would have brought more choices. These two wines were definitely much more interesting than what was on their ordinary wine list. And the wine made our dining experience even better. 

Maybe I need to ask more often about "secret" wine lists at the restaurants where I dine. It's a simple question to ask and it could lead to surprising vinous pleasures. 

Do you know of any restaurants with secret wine lists? Do any restaurants want to tell us about their own secret wine lists?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well. 
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1) Bergamot, located in Somerville, closed in March due to the pandemic but now is back, although it has transformed into a new restaurant. It will now be called Food Art Bar (FAB), and is a collaboration between Bergamot old-timers, including Chef/owner Keith Pooler and Servio Garcia, and Bergamot bar regulars, Ben Holmes and David Gerzofsky, the creators of FAB Cans. The new place, at the same location of the former Bergamot, will be a combination of an art gallery, a brewery, and the same new American kitchen of Bergamot, featuring the creations of Chef Pooler and second in culinary command, Cam Catarius

They are just getting started with soft launch activities and will soon be open Thursday to Saturday, 5:30pm-9pm. Looking forward to seeing this new incarnation.

2) As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Croatian wines, and we are fortunate in the Boston area that we can find numerous Croatian wines, largely due to Croatian Premium Wine Imports (CPWI). Plus, they ship to many other states, so people all across the U.S. can experience these delicious wines. Recently, CPWI has updated their online inventory and you can now find nearly 50 wine labels in their inventory. Plenty of diversity, unique grapes, and just tasty wines. 

They began their company with only wines from the Komarna Appellation but have expanded to cover many other Croatian wine regions too, including:  
---Dalmatia: Komarna Appellation, Konavle, Pelješac, including Dingač, Šibenik, and soon to be added Brač with varieties of Plavac Mali, Pošip, Dubrovačka Malvasija, Babić, Debit, etc.
---Istria & Kvarner: two wineries, one from inland at Motovun, and one from the coast in Poreč, and the Istrian Malvazija and Teran
--Croatian Uplands: eight wineries with a selection of wines including Pušipel (also known as Furmint, Šipon or Moslavac), Graševina, etc.

So, now is the time to experience Croatian wines, ordering them from the safety of your home. 

3) Do you enjoy the pies at Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar? Well, the pastry team behind those delicious pies has opened a new pastry shop, Elm Street Sweets. Their site states: "We use local produce whenever possible from right here in New England, real butter, sea salt and carefully chosen spices. Fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, no cans of that goopy stuff here! Our apples are all hand selected and carefully peeled and cut to give just the right texture to that classic apple pie."

They sell a variety of products including cakes, pies, cookies and gluten-free items. Banana Bourbon Cream Pie. Peach Blueberry Crumble Pie. Pecan Carrot Cake. Double Chocolate Walnut Cookies. And more. Each item on their website lists all the ingredients, and also mentions a number of allergens. So check out their new site!

4) Let the team at MIDA bring Italy to you with its signature “At Home with MIDA” series: a Wine Tasting and Dinner at your home as you follow along on a Virtual Wine Tasting Tour of Emilia Romagna, Italy. Emilia Romagna is a well-respected food and wine region of Italy, home to delicious Lambrusco. Imagine relaxing on a sun-soaked Adriatic Beach at one of the region’s top resorts, tasting some of Italy’s finest wine and food

The food and wine of Emilia Romagna is perfect for this time of year” according to Seth Gerber, partner, MIDA. “We are excited to share these robust and uniquely made Italian wines paired with some of Chef Douglass Williams’ favorite dishes.” MIDA is offering this peek into the Emilia Romagna region on two nights, September 11 and 12, at 6pm.

RSVP by calling the restaurant 617-936-3490. The price is $120 per couple, which includes a three course dinner and four wine pairings. You can then pick up your dinner kit on the day of the event from 4:30pm-5:30pm. You will then be given a Zoom link, so you can dine and drink with everyone else online. James Mucci, of Mucci Wine Imports, will talk about all four of the wines.