Thursday, September 20, 2018

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) October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and Osteria Nino is raising awareness and funds with Think Pink: a fun night of floral arranging with Alice's Table. On Wednesday, October 10th at 6:30 p.m., sip on seasonal cocktails while you learn the tips and tricks of flower arranging. At the end of the night bring home your arrangement in a stylish new vase.

$10 from every ticket purchased will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Tickets cost $65 and can be purchased at:

2) Join Executive Chef Stefano Zimei and Sommelier Bruno Marini of CHOPPS American Bar and Grill for a Global Wine Dinner, where wines from around the world are expertly paired to offer guests a cultural experience unlike any other. On Friday September 21st, from 6:45pm-9:45pm, sommelier Bruno Marini and the team at CHOPPS will transport guests from Burlington to international grounds with a global tasting of wines from around the world. Guests will nosh on an four-course prix fixe meal paired with international wines.

The full menu is as follows:
Chef’s Selection of Passed Hors d’oeuvre
NV Louis Roederer ‘Brut Premeir’, Reims, France
First Course
PRIME BEEF CARPACCIO (Olive Relish, Truffle Aioli, Shaved Parmesian, Ciabatta)
Alborino Martin Codax ‘Burgans’, Val do Salnes, Spain
PEPPERCORN CRUSTED NEW YORK STRIP (River Rock Farms, Potato Pave, Shallot Brandy)
Cabernet Sauvignon Kelleher ‘Brix Vineyard’, Napa, California
Super Tuscan Ca’Marcanda ‘Promise’ by Gaja, Tuscany, Italy
NV Moscato Di Asti Michele Chiarlo ‘Nivole’ Piedmont, Italy

Price is $85 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity). Space is limited, reservations are required, and tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.

3) As part of Legal Sea Foods’ 10th annual Oyster Festival, they will once again host an event on the all-weather rooftop at Legal Harborside. “Mollusk Mania" is an “everything oyster” celebration featuring a raw bar of six varieties. Amidst panoramic harbor views, guests will be treated to bushels including freshly shucked seasonal standouts from Wellfleet, Cotuit, Katama Bay, Cranberry Cove, Standish Shore and Washburn Island. Legal Sea Foods’ shuckers will be on-hand giving interactive "How to Shuck an Oyster" tutorials.

VIP ticket holders will be granted early admission at 1pm and receive a VIP plate of shell-shockingly good prepared appetizers: baked oysters, grilled oysters, an oyster slider and a fried oyster sushi hand roll.

Restaurant specialties will be available for the duration of the Oyster Festival through October 10 and include Fried Oysters (three for $10) in four preparations (buffalo, BBQ, sriracha lime and BLT); Baked Oysters (three for $12) available in a quartet of options (lobster spinach, crab & cheese, scampi and roasted); and the Legal Sea Foods teams will shuck seasonal standouts at their raw bars daily for those who opt to go au natural. Legals also suggests washing it down with the official drink of the 2018 Oyster Festival, the Deadrise, with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, muddled cucumber, lime and grapefruit bitters ($11).

Date: Sunday, September 23
VIP admission: 1:00pm-3:00pm
General admission: 1:30pm-3:00pm

COST: VIP admission: $65 per person (includes tax)
General admission: $55 per person (includes tax)
But your Tickets online here.

4) Gather, the Briar Group eatery at District Hall in the Seaport, invites Boston’s brunchers to get a taste of some friendly competition between some of the area’s best restaurants at the 4thAnnual Brunch Battle, held on Saturday, October 6, from 12pm-2pm, to benefit Community Servings.

Guests will cast their vote for their brunch favorites as Boston's best brunch spots duke it out to see who will be voted this year's Brunch Battle Champ! Competitors include Gather, LuLu’s, Brownstone, Row 34, Southern Proper, Metropolis, Branch Line, Towne Stove & Spirits, The Broadway, and more.

Sponsors: Lunetta, Barrington Coffee and Tito's Handmade Vodka, who will generously match the donation to Community Servings up to $1,500.

Tickets are available for $25 and include admittance and brunch samples from all restaurants. This event is 21+. For tickets and information, visit this link:

5) Executive Chef Nick Deutmeyer and the Post 390 team invite guests to rejoice in cooler weather with a special Farm to Post dinner on Wednesday, October 3, from 6pm-9pm, featuring the freshest local apples and cider from Kimball Fruit Farm, a third-generation family run farm owned and operated by Carl and Marie Hills in Pepperell.

Post 390's Farm to Post tasting series features a monthly spotlight on some of New England’s finest farmers, producers, vineyards, brewers, and fishermen and focuses on ingredients that are sourced locally and produced sustainably. Every month or so Executive Chef Nick Deutmeyer and his team create a special “Farm to Post” menu highlighting products from these farms and producers.

The Apples & Cider Kimball Fruit Farm Dinner menu is as follows:
Cocktail Hour
--Apple & Cheddar Cheese Tasting
--Pork & Apple Sausage Tartelettes (blue cheese, dried fig, frisee, apple cider vinaigrette)
--Brandied Apple Flambé (duck liver mousse, parsley)
First Course
Chilled Crab & Apples (tart apple & herb gelée, peekytoe crab celery root salad, hackleback caviar, marcona almond, Florentine, chive crème fraiche)
Second Course
Sing a Song of Sixpence (roasted young pigeon, moutarde violette, rye & honey crumble, apple tarte tatin, blackberry-rosemary jus)
Entrée Course
Hand-Carved Heritage Porchettea (apple & sage bread stuffing, wild mushroom velouté, pumpkin mousse, cider reduction)
Dessert Course
Warm Apple Spice Cake (vanilla ice cream, maple glaze)

Tickets to the Farm to Post Dinner on October 3 are available on Eventbrite for $55 per person, and include a special cocktail hour, three course dinner and beverage pairings. Following the kick-off dinner the menu will be available in the restaurant for six weeks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

2013 Bedrock Griffin's Lair Syrah: Bold Like Fred Flintsone

"Yabba dabba doo!"
--Fred Flintsone

Though I doubt the name of Bedrock Wine Co. was inspired by The Flintstones cartoon show, which took place in the fictional town of Bedrock, Fred Flintstone's catch phrase above, which signaled his excitement and happiness, echoes my own thoughts about Bedrock's Griffin's Lair Syrah.

I was fortunate to receive a bottle of the 2013 Bedrock Wine Co. Griffin's Lair Syrah, Sonoma Coast ($50-$60) as a birthday gift from my good friend, Andrew Witter. Bedrock Wine Co. was founded in 2007 by Morgan Twain-Peterson in a converted chicken coop and six years later, he was joined by his friend, Chris Cottrell, and they have since expanded their facilities. They have multiple passions, including the preservation of old vineyards, especially those over one hundred years old. They also want to showcase and promote Syrah, a grape which has been frequently under-appreciated, an even maligned, in the U.S. In addition, they like to showcase different wine styles, from all across California, to show the myriad possibilities. They tend to prefer making wines simply, with little manipulation although understanding that all wine-making is a form of manipulation.

The Griffin's Lair vineyard, owned by Joan and Jim Griffin, has provided fruit for the famed Pax Mahle Winery, and eventually, Bedrock was able to purchase some of their grapes for their own wines. The 2013 Bedrock Griffin's Lair Syrah is a blend of 88% Syrah and 12% Viognier, which are co-fermented, with about 50% whole clusters for "perfume, finesse, and general awesomeness." From  the Bedrock website, it states, "I adore the 2013 in all of its exotically feral, Syrah wonderfulness—I think it might be the most complete wine we have made from the vineyard."

The dark, almost purplish colored wine, emitted an alluring nose of black fruits and spice, with subtle, almost fleeting aromas of other elements, such as herbal and floral notes. You can detect the complexity of this wine from the start, and that complexity is further elaborated on the palate. Full bodied and intense, it is lush and seductive, possessed of an intricate melange of flavors, including plum, black cherry, vanilla, dark spice, and an underlying earthiness. Such a long and lingering finish, each sip providing pleasure for minutes at the least. The tannins are well integrated, the silky feel of the wine caressing your palate. A hedonistic and complex wine that will please almost any wine lover.

This is a wine for hearty dishes, a thick steak, a rich stew, a Bolognese, wild boar and more. It could also be slowly sipped on its own, especially during the cold months, maybe in front of a fireplace. It is a wine too that would bring people together, savoring the mutual pleasures of sharing this wine. I owe much gratitude for Andrew for gifting me this wine, introducing me to its wonders. It is well worth a splurge and receives my highest recommendation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

il Casale, Olio Taibi & Olive Oil

"The olive tree is first of all the trees."
--Columella, Roman agronomist

There have been olive trees on Sicily for over two thousand years, at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, and currently Sicily produces about 10% of Italy's olive oil production. Worldwide, there are about 700 different olive cultivars and some of the most common olives varieties on Sicily include Biancolilla, Castiglione, Carolea and Nocellara. Sicily also has 6 Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) olive oil regions, more than any other Italian region.

Like wine grapes, olive cultivars have different flavor profiles and may be presented in an olive oil as a single variety or a blend. Because of these different flavor profiles, pairing olive oil with various foods can be similar in some respects to pairing wine and food. However, how many consumers actually consider the flavor profile of their olive oil when using it in their recipes? Probably few people do so and they could benefit from some pairing suggestions. Last week, I attended a dinner, as a media guest, where such pairing suggestions were front and center.

il Casale, in Lexington, hosted a five course dinner, showcasing the two olive oils of Olio Taibi owned by Giuseppe Taibi, who has lived in Lexington since 2009. As the olive oils are from the Taibi estate in Sicily, the wine pairings were also from Sicily. The demand for this dinner was so high that the restaurant shut down regular service for the evening, hosting only this special dinner. This was a repeat situation of the last wine dinner I attended at il Casale, though at the Belmont location. It is clear that il Casale has a very solid and loyal customer base. I've attended numerous wine dinners and they rarely take over the entire restaurants, and sometimes only occupy a table or two. il Casale seems to possess the formula for success for these special events.

Like the Belmont wine dinner, there were probably over 100 people at the Lexington olive oil dinner. As I mentioned previously, when you have so many people enjoying the same dishes, at the same time, there is always a worry that it will overwhelm the kitchen, and that your dishes will be less than hot when they reach your table. However, once again, that was not the case at all, as each dish we enjoyed in Lexington was at an optimal temperature. Their professional kitchen is obviously well experienced in dealing with such crowds and know exactly how to handle the situation. Overall, il Casale once again provided a superb dining experience, with excellent food, wines, and service. If you've never dined at il Casale before, I highly recommend you do so.

Chef Daniele Baliani took the lead on presenting the cuisine for this wine dinner. Daniele has worked with Chef Dante de Magistris and the entire team on and off for 24 years at both il Casale Belmont and Lexington. If you spend a little time speaking with Chef Baliani about the food, you'll quickly notice his passion. And during the course of the evening, he stopped by many tables to speak with the various guests about the cuisine, as well as Italy in general.

The special guest of the evening was Giuseppe Taibi, a 4th-generation olive oil producer, and also a  tech entrepreneur with a PhD in artificial intelligence from Boston University. Giuseppe grew up in Agrigento, on the southeast coast of Sicily, near the famed Valley of the Temples, an archaeological site containing the ruins of seven ancient temples. Back in 1867, his ancestor, Cav. Gerlando Taibi purchased an estate and grew olives, starting a family business that continues to the present, though that almost didn't happen.

In 2006, Giuseppe's father felt that their olive oil business was no longer sustainable so he believed it needed to be sold. Giuseppe didn't want that to happen and began examining the business to see what could be done to save it. He quickly realized that the family business had been closer to a hobby, never generating significant income, though the olive oil was well loved. To save the business, Giuseppe knew it would require a significant restructuring, and he chose to undertake that great endeavor.

Giuseppe opted to institute organic and sustainable agriculture, and to harvest for quality over quantity. Part of this quest for quality included harvesting earlier than other farmers. All these changes weren't easy, and were costly, but Giuseppe was driven to transform the estate. The estate currently consists of about 30 acres of olive trees, primarily the Nocellera and Biancolilla cultivars, though they have a small amount of a third olive cultivar. Giuseppe also chose to treat his olives like wine varieties, and this paradigm shift is both logical and should make it more accessible to consumers.

Olio Taibi produces two organic, monocultivar, EVOO from the Biancolilla and Nocellara olives (each $49.95/500ml). At each table, there were two small bottles of this olive oils with tiny plastic tasting cups. Prior to the dinner, after our Processo aperitif, Giuseppe led us through a tasting so that we could taste, experience and understand the differences between the two. I think Giuseppe did an excellent job of differentiating the two olive oils, and making it easier for people to know which they should use for different dishes.

The Biancolilla olive cultivar, one of the oldest olives in Western Sicily, is said by Giuseppe to produce an olive oil with "green fruitiness, delicate bitterness, medium pungency, & well balanced." It can be lightly spicy (especially pepper notes), slightly fruity, and may have notes of tomato, artichoke, almond and fresh grass. It is a more delicate and subtle olive oil. Giuseppe states that this an olive oil that pairs well with dishes and ingredients that are typically paired with white wines, such as seafood, vegetables, and fresh cheeses. That advice makes it much easier to pair this olive oil at home.

The Nocellara olive cultivar, grown primarily in Sicily, is from the Valle del Belice area of south-western Sicily and can be used for both olive oil and table olives. It derives its name from the Italian word for "hazelnut" as the olive's shape resembles a hazelnut. Giuseppe says that it produces an olive oil with "green fruitiness, medium bitterness, intense pungency, and well balanced." It has a more intense fruitiness with a peppery finish. It will pair well with dishes and ingredients that are typically paired with red wines, such as red meats, legume soups, and red sauces. This was my personal favorite of the two olive oils as I enjoyed its intensity, both its fruitiness and spiciness.

Our dinner began with Insalata di Finocchio all'Olio Taibi "Biancolilla", a salad of fennel, arugula, orange slices, and sliced Castelvetrano olives dressed with the Biancolilla olive oil. The delicate olive oil went well with the salad, just the right touch of dressing, enhancing the spicy arugula, acidic oranges, and briny olives. A fine way to open up your palate for the rest of the courses to come.

The salad was paired with the 2017 Stemmari Chardonnay, from Sicily, which possesses excellent acidity, some tropical fruit notes, a subtle floral aspect and mineral notes. Fresh, dry and delicious.

The second course was Bruschetta al Pesce Azzurro con Olio Taibi "Biancolilla, a smoked bluefish pate with grilled garlic bread bruschetta finished with the Biancolilla olive oil. There was the addition of a salad of diced zucchini, shaved radish, torn mint and parsley, dressed with the EVOO, lemon juice and finished with fresh cracked black pepper. The bluefish pate was brined in a solution with demerara sugar, and then citrus peels were added before it was all cold smoked. The pate was bursting with delicious flavors, earthy and briny, with a hint of smoke. It was also silky smooth, and excellent when slathered on the bread. A superb pate! The salad added some crunchiness to the dish, and that type of textural addition was included on the next two courses too.

Paired with the pate was the 2017 Planeta Rosé; a blend of 50% Nero d'Avola & 50% Syrah. I've long been a fan of this winery and you can read a couple of my prior articles for more background on Planeta: Planeta Wines: Indigenous Treasures of Sicily and Planeta Wines: More Indigenous Treasures of Sicily. This Rosé was excellent, crisp, light and full of tasty red fruit flavors, from strawberry to raspberry, with subtle hints of peach. Easy to drink, very food friendly, and perfect year round. This would make for a great Thanksgiving wine and at an average cost of $12, this is also a great value wine.

Next, we enjoyed the Maccheroni al Pesto Siciliano, homemade tube pasta with sun-dried tomato pesto, almonds, and pecorino pepato, finished with the Nocellara olive oil. You might be confused that there are no pine nuts in this pesto, but the Italian term "pesto" simply refers to something crushed by a mortar. The familiar version of pesto, with pine nuts, is a Genoese speciality. This is il Casale's own version of pesto. Pecorino pepato is a Sicilian sheep's milk cheese studded with black pepper. This was an interesting and tasty dish, with al dente pasta, crunchy almonds, and strong peppery notes. The intense olive oil also added an additional layer of flavor. A well crafted dish and a worthy pesto variant.

Paired with this pasta dish was the 2016 Feudo Maccari Noto Nero d'Avola, which is aged only in stainless steel. Silky smooth, with bright cherry, raspberry and plum flavors, enhanced by some pepper and spice notes. Nice acidity, well-restrained tannins, and a family long finish. An easy drinking wine, it could be enjoyed on its own though it would pair well with plenty of dishes, from pasta to pizza, burgers to hotdogs. Simply delicious.

M favorite dish of the night was the Agnello al Forno alla Saracena, Cous-cous al Pistacchio con Olio Taibi "Nocellara", an oven roasted lamb saracene style, atop pistachio cous-cous, with crispy artichokes and Nocellara olive oil. I love lamb and this was so tender you didn't need a knife, only the side of your fork, to cut it. The lamb was earthy and flavorful, with an added crunch from the pistachios and the nuttiness of the cous-cous. Each bite was sheer gustatory pleasure and I would definitely order that if I saw it on the menu another time.

The 2014 Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico, a blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, was aged for at least 18 months, with the Nero in oak botti and the Frappato in glazed cement tanks. With an intense, dark red color, this was a superb wine, with intense flavors of black cherry, plum, spice, chocolate, and a touch of earthiness. Moderate tannins, good acidity, and a lingering, pleasing finish. Perfect with the lamb, this wine showcases the quality of wines that can be found in Sicily.

Dessert was Torta della Nonna all'Olio Taibi "Biancolilla", Grandma’s olive oil tea cake, with whipped ricotta and candied orange peel. A light dessert, with plenty of flavor and not overly sweet.

The final wine of the evening was the 2015 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, which is produced from the Zibibbo grape, also known as Muscat of Alexandria. Intensely aromatic, this dessert wine was mildly sweet with balanced acidity, presenting flavors of apricot and dried fruits, with some herbal notes.

Overall, this was another winner of a dinner from il Casale, once again indicative of the quality of these two restaurants. The dishes evidenced creativity, with a nice balance of flavor and textures, and the wine pairings were spot on, showcasing some of the best of Sicily. It was a pleasure to meet Giuseppe and taste his high-quality olive oils, and it was great how he presented them so consumers could more easily choose which specific olive oil would work best with their own recipes and dishes. Kudos to Chef Dante de Magistris, Chef Daniele Baliani and the entire team at il Casale.

"The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven."
--Thomas Jefferson

Monday, September 17, 2018

Rant: Boston Needs A Georgian Restaurant!

The country of Georgia may be the birthplace of wine, with evidence stretching back about 8,000 years, which is why Georgians sometimes state they have 8,000 vintages of history. Georgia is located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, in the Southern Caucasus mountain range, which forms the northern border of the country. It is bordered on the west coast by the Black Sea, by Russia to the north and Turkey & Armenia to the south, with Azerbaijan to the south and east.

When Georgians drink, they eat, rarely drinking on its own. Sometimes they engage in the supra, a traditional formal feast that features near endless food and a vastness of wine. And the various regions of Georgia each have their own food specialties, plenty of diversity in this fascinating region. Georgian wines have started making inroads into the U.S., and you can find a number of them in the Boston area.

However, we need a Georgian restaurant in the Boston area! None currently exists, though other cities, from New York to Washington, D.C., have such restaurants.

It may seem strange that I'm calling for a Georgian restaurant in Boston when I've actually never been to one or eaten Georgian cuisine. However, I'm a passionate advocate of Georgian wines, having tasted well over 100 different ones, and have written 16 articles about Georgian wines. Check out All About Georgian Wine which collects the links to those articles.

Georgians always drink wine with food so their wine is produced specifically to be accompanied by food. And based on the quality and diversity of their wines, it seems logical that their cuisine must be equally as compelling. I've read multiple articles about their cuisine and they have enticed my palate, made me yearn to dine upon many of their dishes.

For example, Khachapuri, Georgian cheese bread, is considered an essential element of the supra, as well as an everyday food item too. There are over over 50 different varieties of khachapuri, made with various fillings. The Adjaruli Khachapuri, a type of molten cheese bread, originated in the seaside region of Adjara and has become hugely popular in New York City according to NY Eater. All you have to do is look at the various photos of this dish and you'll probably start salivating. Who wouldn't love Georgian cheese bread?

Check out this intriguing map of the top dishes from each region of Georgia, and you'll see plenty of enticing photos at that site as well. You can look at Mtsvadi, Georgian barbeque that is made with pork, mutton or veal, often marinated in pomegranate juice. Khinkali, a Georgian dumpling, is often made with mixed pork and beef, though sometimes also with lamb. Shkmeruli is a dish of fried chicken in a creamy garlic sauce. The list just goes on and on with one alluring dish after another. The Georgian Journal also has numerous articles and recipes about Georgian cuisine.

Spend just ten minutes reading about Georgian cuisine, and perusing photos of their foods, and you'll probably become a convert as well, desirous of a Georgian restaurant in the Boston area. This is an excellent opportunity for someone to bring a unique, new restaurant to the area. Who will step forward and be a pioneer, an advocate for Georgian cuisine? We really need Khachapuri!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Provence Rosés: Château de Berne Emotion & Urban Provence

As I wrote recently, When Labor Day Arrives, Don't Stop Drinking Rosé! It's not just a summer wine, but one which should be enjoyed year round. Let me provide reviews of a couple Provence Rosés which you can enjoy this fall and winter.

Château de Berne, located in the village of Lorgues, owns a 1,235-acre estate (with 330 acres of vineyards) which dates back to the 12th century, though its roots extend back over two thousand years to the ancient Romans. In 1960, the estate was restored and then in 1995, the estate was purchased, with the new owner replanting numerous vineyards and modernizing the winery. In 2007, a British businessman purchased the estate, which has also become a five-star Relais & Châteaux property. They are currently converting over to 100% organic production.

The 2017 Château de Berne Emotion ($16) is an AOP Côtes de Provence Rosé, a blend of 50% Grenache Noir, 25% Cinsault, and 25% Syrah. The grapes undergo cold soak maceration for 2 to 3 hours, and then fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks for 2 to 3 weeks before bottling. With an ABV of 12.5%, this pale, pink Rosé has a pleasant nose of red fruits and hints of peach. On the palate, it is light, dry and crisp, an easy drinking Rosé with delicious flavors of strawberry, cherry, and peach with a mineral aspect and a moderately long and pleasing finish. This Rosé went very well with a flaky piece of cod, and would pair well with dishes from a goat cheese salad to a roast chicken, or even a pizza. This wine is what you seek in a Provence Rosé.

And I will note the more unique bottle shape of this wine, its gentle curves and white bands reminiscent of a woman in a striped bathing suit.

Ultimate Provence, located near the village of La Garde-Freinet, has a recently renovated 100-acre estate and they focus on a single wine, the Urban Provence Rosé. The 2017 Urban Provence Ultimate Provence Rosé ($23) is an AOP Côtes de Provence Rosé, a blend of 45% Grenache Noir, 35% Cinsault, 15% Syrah, and 5% Rolle. Like the Emotion above, the grapes for this wine undergo cold soak maceration for 2 to 3 hours, and then fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks for 2 to 3 weeks before bottling. That shouldn't be surprising as both wines were produced by the same winemaker, Alexis Cornu.

With an ABV of 12.5%, this pale, pink Rosé has a pleasant nose of red fruits, accented by some peppery notes. On the palate, it is typical Provence, light, dry and crisp. There are tasty flavors of strawberry, raspberry and cherry, with some spicy notes, a mineral backbone and a lengthy, satisfying finish. This Rosé is a bit more complex than the Emotion and will hold up to a bit heartier of a dish. I would enjoy this with burgers or pizza, lobster or scallops, roast chicken or even pork. Another winner of a Rosé, sure to please.

This bottle is also a bit more unique, tall with multiple ridges and a large crest. It is the type of bottle you might save as it is empty.