Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday Sips &Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1)  Pier 6, on Charlestown’s waterfront, is holding a “Winter White” dinner in its private dining room which features a 360° panoramic view of the Boston skyline on Sunday, January 18, 2015 beginning at 6pm.

Beckoning its guests to celebrate the season, rather than hide from it, Pier 6’s Executive Chef Adriano Silva has prepared a special multi-course prix fixe dinner for $50 per person (tax and gratuity not included) which dresses the plate entirely in white. “This gives the restaurant a great reason to show people this amazing room which is one of the best kept secrets in Boston and gives me a great opportunity to play with off menu ingredients,” said Silva.

Lacking color, but not flavor chef Silva will present the following Prix Fixe Menu:

Choice of Salad
Belgian endive, heart of palm, feta cheese, white wine vinaigrette
or,
White bean and fennel salad, house made ricotta cheese, daikon radishes, white balsamic vinaigrette.
Choice of Entree
Pan seared scallops, celeriac puree, jicama, baby turnips cognac cream sauce
or,
Creamy risotto, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan
or
Baked halibut steak parsnip puree, roasted cauliflower, citrus beurre blanc
Dessert
White chocolate mousse, Chantilly cream

Please call 617-337-0054 for reservations.

2) Catalyst Chef William Kovel closes out 2014 and welcomes 2015 with a five course, prix-fixe dinner this New Year’s Eve. This celebration dinner includes a five-course menu for $80 which can also include wine pairings for an additional $40. The menu include the following:

Table
--Wellfleet Oysters, Traditional Garnish $3-
--Catalyst Charcuterie, Toasted Country Bread, Pickled Vegetables $18-
First
--Seared Nantucket Bay Scallops, King Oyster Mushroom, Tasso Ham
--Roasted Winter Salad, Quince, Pear, Beets, Fromage Blanc, Peppercress
--Crispy Oxtail Croquette, Sunchoke, Apple, Horseradish
--Mionetto, Prosecco – Valdobbiadene, Italy
Second
--Guinea Fowl Ravioli, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Parmesan, Truffle Jus
--Cauliflower Soup, Jonah Crab, Meyer Lemon
--Crispy Pork Belly, Green Curry, Shitakes, Wellfleet Clams
--Maison Roche de Ballene, Vieilles Vignes, Bourgogne Blanc – Burgundy, France
Third
--Orange Glazed Rohan Duck, French Green Lentils, Preserved Lemon, Crispy Duck Leg, Chinese Five Spice Jus
--Slow Roasted Salmon, Braised Endive, Fennel, Swiss Chard, Orange Butter
--Georges Bank Lemon Sole, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Celery Root, Lobster Emulsion
--Dry Aged Beef Strip Loin, Potato-Scallion Rosti, Savoy Spinach, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Perigourdine Jus
--Roasted Acorn Squash, Golden Quinoa, Dried Cranberries, Pecans, Pear Butter, Crispy Kale
--Lemelson, Six Vineyards, Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, Oregon
Supplement
--Assortment of Local Cheese $6-
Fourth
--Dark Chocolate Custard, Caramel Cinnamon Popcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Candied Hazelnuts
--Lime Cheesecake, Coconut Sorbet, Passion Fruit Curd, Coconut Tuile
--Carrot Cake, Carrot and Ginger Puree, Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Walnuts, Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
--Duckhorn, Decoy, Merlot – Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California

Reservations are available, starting at 5:00pm. For reservations, please call the restaurant at 617-576-3000

3) Back for the fourth year in a row, The New Center for Arts & Culture will host the annual, ‘Moo Shu Jew’ show, a comedy dinner event on Christmas Eve. Inspired by the Jewish family tradition of spending Christmas Eve in a Chinese restaurant, the night will feature several celebrity comics from primetime’s most popular late-night talk shows. This year’s lineup includes, Cory Kahaney, Harrison Greenbaum, Josh Gondelman, and Adrianne Tolsch who will perform Jewish-inspired stand-up while guests enjoy a delicious dinner (no shellfish, no pork!).

MENU

Appetizers
Teryaki Beef
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Scallion Pancakes
Vegetable Hot and Sour Soup

Main Dishes
Orange Beef
Chicken Kung Pau
Tofu with Mixed Vegetables
Spicy Green Beans
Vegetable Lo Mein
White Rice

Dessert
Fortune Cookies

Drinks
Soda
Water
Tea
Cash Bar Available

WHEN: Tuesday, December 24, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Hei La Moon Restaurant 88 Beach Street Boston,
COST: $75 Adults, $45 Young Adults (40 & under). Ticket prices include four-course dinner, (no shellfish, no pork!).
To purchase, visit www.newcenterboston.org

4) To ring in their first New Year, River Bar will host a duo of celebrations at Assembly Row. On New Year’s Eve, River Bar will be transformed into a festive Tiki Party indoors and outdoors at their fire pit and heat lamp-lined patio areas. The River Bar team will shake up tiki-inspired cocktails, including their take on a Scorpion Bowl, as revelers toast by the open fires. Executive Chef Patrick Gilmartin will bring Polynesian tastes to Assembly Row with specials like the Saugus Rabbit Legs (Chef’s tribute to Kowloon’s famous “Saugus Wings” - $12) and Nantucket Bay Scallop Rangoon (apple butter - $15).

The following morning, River Bar will open their doors for a Leftover Chinese Food Brunch. From Executive Chef Patrick Gilmartin’s kitchen comes “Leftover” Scallop Rangoon (smeared on a bagel - $12) and Kung Pao Chicken Terrine (with eggs - $10). For those looking for a more traditional hangover brunch experience, Chef Gilmartin will The River Bar Breakfast Sando (egg, Taylor Pork Roll, Brillat Savarin cheese, leeks, stone & skillet English muffin - $14), Bourbon French Toast ($10), Chorizo Scotch Quail Eggs ($9) and Housemade Chinese Sausage Sub (black bean mayo, red cabbage, cucumber slaw - $13).

WHEN: Tiki Party: Wednesday, December 31, from 5pm – 2am
              Chinese Leftover Brunch: Thursday, January 1, from 11am – 3pm

Admittance to the Tiki Party is complimentary and is 21+ with a proper ID. Food and beverage specials on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are available a la carte.

5) Pastoral owners George Lewis and Todd Winer invite guests to Pastoral for a New Year’s Eve Masquerade Party from 10pm-2am on Wednesday, December 31. Guests are encouraged to wear a mask while they enjoy music by DJ Castaneda, small bites prepared by Pastoral Chef/Owner Todd Winer, two complimentary Ketel One cocktails and a champagne toast at midnight.

Tickets are $45 from 10pm-2am and only $25 for guests who make a dinner reservation earlier that evening and want to stay for the party. Tickets can be purchased by calling the restaurant at 617-345-0005 or logging onto www.eventbrite.com.

6) Earls Kitchen + Bar will celebrate its first New Year’s Eve at Assembly Row by dishing out a customizable, three-course prix fixe menu. For starters, Head Chef Tim Pennington will serve up a choice of Seasonal Greens or a Seasonal Soup. Chef Pennington’s trio of main courses include the Oven Roasted Salmon (grilled corn, olive oil marinated fennel salad, baby new potatoes, jalapeño cilantro puree), Bourbon Mushroom 7oz Certified Angus Beef Sirloin (crimini & button mushrooms, rich demi, garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables) or the Cajun Blackened Double Breast of Chicken (custom blackening spices, garlic butter, warm potato salad, coleslaw). For one last taste of sweet indulgence in 2014, there is the Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding (chocolate & toffee sauces, vanilla bean gelato, candy snap basket) or seasonal Gingerbread Cake (roasted apples, salted caramel, vanilla bean gelato).

For those looking to toast the ball drop with some bubbly, Earls Kitchen + Bar will feature three sparkling delights: La Marca Prosecco ($9.25/glass; $37/bottle); Piper Heidseik Brut ($22.25/glass; $89/bottle); and, Dom Perignon 2004 ($275/bottle).

WHEN: Wednesday, December 31, from 11:30am – 1:00am
COST: Prix fixe menu: $40 per person (excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity)

7) No time to whip something up for that fast-approaching holiday fête? Leave the pastry prep to the pros this year with help from Cape Cod-based, European-style bakery and café, Pain D’Avignon. Following the close of farmer’s market season, the Hyannis eatery pops up at Back Bay’s Fairmont Copley Plaza, to sell party-ready treats in its only Boston-area location.

Pain D’Avignon will transform The Fairmont Copley Plaza’s tea court into a gourmet holiday farmer’s market complete with the hotel’s impressive Christmas tree and festive décor. Convenient grab-and-go options for time-crunched hosts and party-goers alike will include:

· Classic Italian Panettone
· Seasonal Pies
· Raspberry Streusel
· Buttery Croissants
· Fudgy Brownies
· Scones
· Famous Cranberry Pecan Rolls and Breads
· Baguettes
· Parmesan Crisps
· Housemade Potato Chips

Individual items range in price from $4.00 to $14.00. Customizable gift bags are also available for up to $60.00.

WHEN: Friday, December 19, 2pm-6pm

8) Bao Nation, Boston’s first and only dedicated Asian bao bar, has opened in the rear of Shalimar Indian Grocery/Dosa Factory at 571 Mass. Avenue in the heart of Central Square. Bao Nation joins its next door neighbors, H Mart and Dosa Factory, to create fresh, fast and inexpensive Asian food in the city. Bao Nation is the brainchild of Pavan and Manraj Pabla, whose father Amrik Pabla is CEO of One World Cuisine, corporate parent to a network of culinary enterprises throughout greater Boston..

Bao is short for baozi, light and fluffy buns steamed in woven straw baskets. References to bao date back to 3rd century China. Bao Nation's light and fluffy Taiwanese-style buns are slider-sized, steamed to order, and priced at $3, $4 and $5. Chicken or vegetarian dumplings are $6-7, and rice bowls – coming to the menu soon – can be had for $9-10. Bao Nation shares an indoor seating area with its four-year-old sister restaurant, Dosa Factory. In the spring, outdoor tables and a handy pass-thru window for takeout orders will become available.

Debut Menu
* Central Bao (braised Kurabuta pork belly with sesame oil, pickled daikon, cilantro and green apple relish)
* Bird Bao (crisp boneless chicken wings with pickled onion and peanut powder)
* Miso Bao (miso-cured tofu with bok choy)
* Fish Bao (with ginger, scallions, lemongrass and mint)
* M.I.T. Bao (minced lamb with ginger, garlic, pickled mushrooms)
* Harvard Bao (marinated grilled chicken with dried coconut, peanuts, cayenne)
* J.P. Bao (filled with vegetable tempura)
* Chinatown Bao (top seller so far: fried honey-teriyaki duck, chopped peanuts, red peppers and radishes, mint sauce)
* Dessert Baos – Sweet, salty, crunchy and soft all at the same time, this combination of applewood smoked bacon and peanut brittle with dehydrated brown milk and chocolate dust is indescribable. A second option is a bao that is deep fried and filled with sugared apples, almonds, cranberries and granola. Both are just $3.

Today, December 18, from 5pm-7pm, Bao Nation invites its Facebook friends toshow them that you Like them in exchange for 1 FREE Bao. You must be present during the applicable time frame to collect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue my collection of lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2014. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2014 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from donuts to candy. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more food-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Food Trade Event: For the fourth year in a row, I have selected the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. Plus, the New England Food Show is held in the same venue, offering samples of food, drink and even alcohol. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and I wrote twenty posts about the show this year. It also helped that I won the 4th Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest for my coverage. The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next SENA in March 2015.

Favorite Food Magazine: For the fourth year in a row, Lucky Peach easily prevails as my favorite. This quarterly magazine is eclectic and irreverent, with fascinating articles, essays, recipes, and more. I eagerly devour each issue when it is released and its quality has remained consistent. It entertains and educates, as well as providing much for reflection. If you love food and are not reading Lucky Peach, then shame on you.

Runner-Up Favorite New Food Magazine: A quarterly magazine, the Modern Farmer is a fascinating look at the connections between us and the foods we eat. Farmers all over the world take center focus, and the articles are informative, thought provoking and and practical. I've read several of their issues so far and it has consistently offered much of value to any food lover. It is a more serious food magazine, but it isn't pretentious. Another must read.

Favorite Food Book: The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax was a thought provoking look at food trends and provided me topics for three Rants: Lazy Food WritersEating With Your Ears, and Lazy Chefs, Written in an easy manner, it provides plenty of interesting information, and also makes you think more closely about a variety of food issues. All food lovers, and especially food writers, should check out this book.

Runner-Up Favorite Food Book: The Language of Food, by Dan Jurafsky, explains and expounds upon various food-related words, as well as examining the role of words in everything from menus to restaurant reviews. It is part history and science, psychology and etymology. If you love food, it is an excellent read, one which will intrigue and interest you, as well as make you think of food in different ways. And it too fueled three different posts, Rant: Sex Drugs & Restaurant Reviews, The Origins of Ceviche, Tempura, and Fish & Chips, and Rant: Menu Secrets & Sacrificing Choice.

Favorite Food Contest: An epic Sushi Battle pitted Chef Tim Cushman of O Ya against Chef Hisayoshi Iwa of Sushi Iwa in Japan in three rounds of sushi creation. I was fortunate to be one of the judges for this event which was televised for a Japanese station. Each chef had their own distinctive style, and both created compelling sushi so it was extremely difficult to select a winner. In their own way, both chefs made winning dishes, being true masters of their craft. Once the show airs, I'll try to provide a link so everyone can watch.

Favorite Cheese Shop: When it comes to cheese, the suburbs reign supreme with the Concord Cheese Shop, which commonly stocks 150-200 cheeses, including many local cheeses. The staff is very knowledgeable and passionate about their cheese, and they are always seeking out new cheeses for their stock. Besides all that cheese, they also carry a variety of other gourmet foods as well as wines and beers. It is an excellent destination for many reasons.

Favorite Beef: This year, wine from Uruguay made a major impact on my taste buds, and another Uruguayan product thrilled my palate too, Del Terruño Beef. Free range and grass fed beef, this was a delicious meat, tender and flavorful, with a nice gamey taste. This is a beef for any meat lover, especially those seeking cattle that have been raised well and sustainably. It is available locally and I strongly recommend you find some to enjoy.

Favorite Restaurant Meat Dish: I've long been an advocate of eating rabbit, especially as it is such a nutritious meat. Chef Michael Scelfo has created an exceptional comfort food dish, his Chicken Fried Rabbit at Alden & Harlow. A perfectly crispy coating holds a pate-like mix of rabbit and pork belly, and it is simply decadently delicious. Bursting with flavor, as well as some umami-goodness, it will transform anyone into a rabbit lover.

Favorite Offal Dish: At Ribelle in Brookline, their Sweetbreads dish, with coppa, sage brown bitter and celery root, was sublime, simply superb from the first to the last bite. A great combination of flavors and textures, I almost wanted to order a second dish just to enjoy more of it. This is also a dish that almost any food lover would savor, if they simply tasted it, and didn't worry that it is an organ.

Favorite New Condiment: A group of students from the Harvard Business School created their own version of gochujang, an important Korean condiment, which they have named Korean Summer SauceTheir sauce is made from red pepper paste, honey, plum extract, sweet rice wine, garlic, sesame oil and soy. I enjoyed the taste of this condiment, its savory flavors, with a mild spiciness, a hint of sweetness, and some umami goodness. It is a versatile sauce, and belongs in your kitchen.

Favorite Unusual Food: This category is a tie between the Insects I ate at Miya's Sushi and the Guinea Pig I enjoyed at Alpamayo. At Miya's, I savored a Cricket Maki roll as well as Nine Spice Sashimi with crispy black soldier fly larvae. Tasty and sustainable, insects are eaten all over the world, though many Americans still shy away from eating them. Guinea Pig is a Peruvian staple, and it does remind me of chicken, with mild white and dark meat. Expand your culinary horizons and try something more unusual for dinner.

Favorite New Seafood: At Miya's Sushi, I enjoyed much more than just the insects, and was also introduced to a new seafood, Cannonball Jellyfish. Rather than a gelatinous texture, it was more springy like a gummy bear, and almost had a crispness to the exterior. It was surprisingly tasty, and is now added to my list of favorite seafoods. Not all jellyfish is the same.

Favorite Restaurant Desserts: Every dessert I have eaten at Besito has been delicious and compelling, from their Pastel de Chocolate to their Tres Leches Cake, from their Pudin de Chocolate to their Churros. They taste homemade and will please any sweet tooth. Many restaurants do one or two desserts well, but it is harder to find a restaurant that does all of their desserts well.

Favorite Chips At the Boston Wine Expo, I sampled Pasta Chipsoven baked crackers made from pasta. There are five different flavors including Alfredo, Marinara, Spicy Tomato Herb, Garlic & Olive Oil, and Sea Salt. I was impressed, and nearly addicted, with these chips, which were thin but sturdy, had appealing flavors and a nice crunch. The Garlic & Oil was one of my favorite flavors, with a strong garlic taste, though I also very much liked the Alfredo, which had a prominent cheese kick. The chips are strong enough for even a thick dip, though I like them just the way they are.

Favorite Chicken Wings: At Red Heat Tavern, their Mesquite Smoked Wings, with a sweet Thai chili sauce, are slow cooked during the day in their unique Josper Oven, and then later crisped up prior to being served. Honestly, these were some of the best wings I've tasted in some time. There was a delightful crispiness to the outer skin, and plenty of tender meat inside. The sweet, and slightly spicy, taste was accompanied by a nice smokiness, all of the flavors blending together harmoniously. I could easily eat these wings by the dozen and they receive my highest recommendation.

Favorite Tofu: Tofu? Yes, I haven't been a fan of tofu in the past but I have been converted, or at least have found a compelling tofu. At Abriya Raku, a Japanese restaurant in Law Vegas, they make their own Tofu, which was smooth and creamy, with a clean taste rather than some of the bland, rubbery tofu I have had elsewhere. Their homemade tofu makes for an excellent palette for a variety of ingredients and tastes, and I would order it again and again.

Favorite Food Issue: Once again, one of the most important, and sometimes controversial, food issues I addressed this year was seafood sustainability. I have tried to cover a variety of issues, seeking to delve behind the science and rhetoric. The importance of this matter cannot be underestimated, but it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth behind the issues. In July, I started posting a new Seafood post on nearly every Tuesday, and will continue to do so through 2015. You can find links to many of my latest Seafood posts here.

Favorite Fake Food Controversy: In this age of social media, when April Fool's Day comes around, it seems everyone is aware of it so it is difficult to get away with a prank. It takes lots of planning and strategy to be able too fool people on this day. This year, I posted a prank, my The Great Purple Debatewhich was able to fool some people. It helped that I laid some groundwork earlier in the week, posting some teasers and hypothetical questions. It will be even tougher to get away with another prank in 2015, but I'll try again.

What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2014. I have already posted my Top Ten Wine lists, my Favorite Wine Related Items Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. Now, I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find a few Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled a little bit this past year.

Top Restaurant Experience: Though I have had some excellent dining experiences in the Boston area this past year, my top dining experience this year took place in Connecticut at Miya's Sushi, a sustainable sushi restaurant. From the best Tatsu-age I may have eaten to a Maki roll with Crickets, the cuisine delighted and intrigued me. Their infused Sakes are interesting and tasty, and they also make cocktails with Sake and beer. Chef Bun Lai is personable and humble, charitable and intelligent, and has a true passion for healthy and sustainable food. In addition, you'll find this restaurant very affordable. Miya's Sushi garners my highest recommendation, and I can't wait to return there for another wonderful experience.

Favorite Restaurant Comeback: After being closed for a few months due to a massive flood, AKA Bistro reopened, and there was much rejoicing. Located in Lincoln, AKA Bistro is one of my favorite suburban restaurants, offering excellent French bistro fare and Japanese cuisine. They have new items on their menu, such as the delectable Spicy Steamed Clams In A Jar. During Restaurant Week, they offered their own dining special, which was an excellent value. I'm so glad they have reopened and strongly urge all my readers to dine there.

Favorite New Restaurant: Chef Michael Scelfo now has his own restaurant, Alden & Harlow, in Harvard Square,, and it has garnered many well-deserved raves. Using a small plates concept, Scelfo has exercised his creativity to produce one tasty and intriguing dish after another, from Sikil Pak to Chicken Fried Rabbit. There is something for everyone, from vegetarians to carnivores, and the menu changes frequently, so there is always something new to try. They also have an excellent drinks program, from delicious cocktails to an excellent and diverse wine list. Highly recommended, you must check out this restaurant.

Favorite New Brookline Restaurant: Innovative and delicious, the cuisine at Ribelle, in Brookline, was impressive. The Sweetbreads, Coppa, Sage Brown Butter and Celery Root was sublime, simply amazing from the first bite to the last. It is the type of dish I would want to order every time I dined at Ribelle because it was so fantastic. The pasta dishes, from the Mafalde to the Agnolotti del Plin also were excellent, and I would love to try their pasta tasting menu. The combination of ingredients, flavors and textures of each dish worked very well together. To me, all of the dishes signified a chef that knew what he was doing, a creative soul who could bring great taste to life in unique new ways. Their wine list is also impressive, with a diverse selection of many intriguing wines.

Favorite New Inman Square Restaurant: At Puritan & Co., even their simple bread rolls are addictive. Again, there is plenty of creativity in their cuisine, though much still seems familiar. The Pan Seared Striped Bass was cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of sear to add a crunchy texture to the exterior. The Scallop Tartare, in lettuce cups, was simply prepared but impressed with its fresh, clean flavors. It too possesses a well constructed wine list which should delight any wine lover.

Favorite Mexican Restaurant: With two restaurants in Massachusetts, in Burlington and Chestnut Hill, Besito is leading the way with higher-end, authentic Mexican cuisine, that still remains very affordable. You can start with one of their many a tequilas, maybe in a margarita, or try some mezcal, I've eaten here numerous times, tried many different dishes, and everything has pleased me, from their Ceviche to their Salmon Manchamanteles. With most items costing under $20, anyone can enjoy this cuisine. And make sure to save room for dessert, as they are decadent treats.

Favorite Union Square Restaurant: The owners of T.W. Food opened a second spot, Bronwyn Restaurant, and the quality remains as high as their first restaurant, though the cuisine is much different. Bronwyn serves more German and Eastern Europeean cuisine, from killer Spatzale to house-made Pierogi. Their drinks program is interesting, with a cool wine list and an extensive beer selection. I'm looking forward to my next time dining here.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant: The Boston area doesn't have a monopoly on excellent restaurants. The Blue Ox ,in Lynn, is a great neighborhood spot with a talented chef. You'll find of delectable comfort food, from fried pickles to chicken wings, but also more elevated cuisine like Duck Breast and Grilled Swordfish. Their cocktail program is excellent, using many local spirits, and the wine list will also please. With its reasonable prices, and fun atmosphere, this is suburban restaurant you need to seek out.

Favorite Western Massachusetts Restaurant: Though I rarely dined out in the western part of the state, I did so a few months ago on my return from New York. Mostly by luck, I stumbled upon Alpamayo, a Peruvian restaurant in Lee, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality and offerings there. It certainly seems like an authentic Peruvian spot, and I even enjoyed cuy, aka guinea pig. It was a relatively small spot, but definitely worth checking out, as all of the dishes we enjoyed were tasty, and reasonably priced.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant, Las Vegas: Hands down, my dining experience at Abriya Raku was one of the best Japanese meals I have experienced anywhere, and not just in Las Vegas. From a lengthy and exciting Sake list, with extremely low price mark-ups, to its fresh sushi and diverse Robata selections, this restaurant impresses and amazes. I even enjoyed their home-made Tofu! For years, it wasn't a well-known destination, but its popularity has grown so now the media talks about it frequently. All of its raves are more than well deserved. It is a highly recommended restaurant if you visit Las Vegas.

Favorite Chinese Restaurant, Las Vegas:: With hand-pulled noodles and soup dumplings, the Beijing Noodle No.9 offers plenty of compelling cuisine, including one of the best Kung Pao dishes I have ever tasted. It has a lengthy menu, with something to please all tastes, and you can even watch them pulling noodles in the front window. It is a bit pricey but the quality of their fare is high so you can understand the prices, especially for a restaurant within a casino. 

Favorite High-End Restaurant, Las Vegas:In Vegas, you have many options for high-end dining, though not all will necessarily please you. At Sage, in the Aria Hotel, I think you'll thoroughly enjoy your dining experience. Excellent service, cuisine, and wine, all combine to create a perfect evening. Two of the wines from this dinner ended up on my Top Ten lists this year. From the Roasted Veal Sweetbreads to the Bacon-Wrapped Iberico Pork Loin, the food thrilled my palate. It helped to be dining with some great friends, but even without them, the meal would still be rave worthy.

Most Anticipated Restaurant Opening: Chef Peter Ungár is a highly skilled chef, who I believe is one of the best in this area, and has remained beneath the radar for many diners in the Boston area. I have previously enjoyed a number of exceptional dinners at his Dining Alternative Chef's Table events. Next year, he plans to open his own restaurant, the Tasting Counter, a 20-seat experimental spot, “To bring you closer to the creation of fine natural food, served in harmony with fine natural wine.” I eagerly look forward to this opening, to experience more of Chef Ungár's cuisine, and hoping he garners more well-deserved attention.

The Passionate Foodie's Top 50 Restaurants
In addition to the Favorites listed above, I've compiled a list of my own Top 50 Restaurants, those Massachusetts places where I'm sure to always have a delicious meal, whether a casual breakfast or a high-end French dinner. These are the places I seem to recommend the most to others, including some places where I dine on a regular basis . Many of these places have been listed on prior Favorite Lists, some for multiple years, and are all worthy of recognition and recommendation. This is not a list of the "Best" restaurants, but my own personal favorites and you can find my reviews of these spots on my blog.

Bedford
Flatbread Company

Boston
The Beehive
Coppa
Erbaluce 
Gourmet Dumpling House
Island Creek Oyster Bar
JM Curley
L'Espalier 
Mooo
Myers & Chang
Nebo
Oishii 
Prezza
Saus
Shojo 

Cambridge
Alden & Harlow
Craigie on Main
Flat Patties
Puritan & Co.
Tampopo
T.W. Food
Tupelo

Ipswich

Lincoln
AKA Bistro

Lynn
The Blue Ox


Somerville
Bergamot 
Bronwyn
Dali
The Painted Burro
Posto.

Stoneham
Fusion Taste
Taste of Siam
Three Amigos

Wellesley
Blue Ginger

Woburn
Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe
Taipei Tokyo

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

Shinkame Brewery: From Holy Turtle to Aged Sake (Part 2)

An important objective for Ogawahara in his visit to Boston was to promote the idea of consuming warm Sake. He states that Sake is the only alcohol in the world where the taste varies according to a wide variety of temperatures, both hot and cold. In many respects this is correct as it is much rarer to warm many other alcohols, except in limited situations. You might enjoy some warm mulled wine, with numerous spices added to it, but you aren't concerned with picking out different nuances in the heated wine. Various spirits might be used in hot cocktails, from a Hot Toddy to an Irish Coffee, but again, you are not really seeking out the different tastes of the spirit because of the temperature. Shochu might be one of the only other alcohols where heating it may truly matter to the taster.

Let's look back through the history of Sake, seeking the origins of heating. The first historical written references to warmed Sake were between 905 and 927 AD., so it may have originated sometime in the 9th century. By the early 17th century, it became common to drink warmed Sake between the 9th day of the 9th month, called the Chrysanthemum Festival, and the 3rd day of the 3rd month of the following year, called the Plum Festival. Essentially, they were generally drinking warmed Sake during the winter months. Around the start of the 18th century or so, numerous people started drinking warmed Sake year round. Only a few decades before that happened, the written character for kan, the general term for "warm Sake," was created.

There are different theories for why the Japanese started to drink warm Sake. The most plausible seems to be for health reasons. In China, people had been drinking warmed alcohol in the winter for many centuries and eventually this practice likely made its way to Japan. In some Eastern health traditions, eating and drinking warmed items is thought to be much better than cold things, which were thought to chill the the body. So staying warm in the winter and overall health seem to have been the driving factors. A Japanese philosopher and scientist, Kaibara Ekiken, also wrote a book stating that drinking warmed Sake improves the circulation of your chi, life force.

For the greater part of the 20th century, warm Sake was the norm. In the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967), Bond says, "I like sake. Especially when it’s served at the correct temperature, 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit, like this is.” This might be referred to as hitohada-kan, or body temperature, and was a very common serving temperature at that time. It would also be served at a variety of other temperatures, so there was no real correct temperature, just one that might be more common than others.

Unfortunately, nowadays in the U.S., Sake is most often served much too hot, enough that you must be careful not to burn your mouth or tongue. It is rare to find a spot that will gently warm your Sake, such as to body temperature. If you were in Japan, you could order warm Sake by asking for O-kan, a polite way to ask for it. In the U.S., you have little choice but to accept the steaming hot Sake they serve you. That really needs to change as it does a disservice to the Sake.

With the advent in Japan of the more complex Ginjo and Daiginjo Sakes, chilled Sake started to take hold, as heating was often thought to take away some of the more delicate flavors in these more highly polished Sakes. As such, many people now provide general advice to drink premium Sake slightly chilled, and for most cases it probably is excellent advice. However, there is definitely premium Sake that can be drank warm, but it is more difficult to explain to someone about these exceptions, to tell them which Sakes should be drank warm, and how they should be warmed, Sometimes the back label of a Sake bottle will recommend serving temperatures, but that is not always the case.

Sake shows different flavor profiles, dependent on its temperature. In general, the higher the temperature, the sweeter the Sake will seem. Sake also contains different types of acids, from malic acid to succinic acid, and each acid has a specific temperature that will make it more dominant. For example, succinic acid tends to dominate more at higher temperatures, while malic acid is more prominent at lower temperatures. As such, there is no one perfect temperature to taste a Sake. The flavor profile will vary, dependent on the temperature, so the optimum temperature will come down to your personal preference.

Ogawahara noted that warm Sake is growing more popular in Japan and that women generally prefer warmed Sake, though men are starting to drink more too. Interestingly, while warm Sake is popular in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, people in the colder regions, such as Tohoku, often still prefer to drink chilled Sake. Ogawahara is not opposed to chilled Sake, but he feels that you should take advantage of the full potential of Sake, its ability to show differently at various temperatures.In addition, he believes warm Sake is better for your stomach and digestion, especially if you drink it slowly over time. He even claims that he can drink two bottles of warm Sake in one sitting without a hangover.

He is also an advocate for drinking warm Sake with food, believing it pairs well with a diversity of cuisines and not just Japanese. He also claims that warm Sake may open up your taste buds, as hot water opens up skin pores, while chilled Sake won't accomplish the same. I'm not sure if that actually occurs but it is something I'm going to research. It sounds plausible but I would like some scientific validation. If it is true, it would have ramifications beyond just warmed Sake.

I know that Sake and cheese is an excellent pairing, and Ogawahara feels that warm Sake and cheese is even better, especially if the Sake is warmed to about 42-48 degrees Celsius. And we would soon put that pairing to the test when we tasted some of his warmed Sake. The maximum temperature he recommends for warming any Sake is 70 degrees Celsius, which he feels pairs best with heavier flavors like salted pork.

To Ogawahara, you cannot just sell or recommend warm Sake but you must promote the entire experience, from how it is warmed to how well it pairs with food. It requires time and explanation, to educate people about the concept. It requires restaurants and bars to understand about warmed Sake, to help promote it to their customers. There is so much misinformation out there that needs to be dispelled, that needs passionate advocates to help educate and promote. Warmed Sake needs its time in the spotlight, to illuminate its potential and possibilities.

The picture at the top of this post shows a special Sake warming device that Ogawahara invented. It has three pieces that stack together, and which is pictured above. The innermost, tin container (on the right side) holds your Sake, and that fits into a second, plastic container (in the middle) where you pour hot water, which will thus warm your Sake. Those two containers then sit in a third container (on the left side), which protects your hands from the hot inner container, and it then acts as a pitcher. I think you could also use this for chilled Sake, filling the second container with crushed ice rather than hot water. It is not yet available in the U.S., and costs about $100 US in Japan. Hopefully it will become available in the U.S. in the near future as it would make it easier for people to experience warmed Sake.

Without such a device, I can offer another recommended way to warm your Sake. Just please don't use a microwave to do so. Instead, pour some Sake into a tokkuri, a ceramic flask. Heat some water in a pot until it starts to boil, and then take it off the heat. Place the tokkuri into the hot water and wait for a minute or so, dependent on how warm you want the Sake to be. It might take several times of experimentation to determine exactly how long you should let the tokkuri sit in the hot water. You could use a thermometer to be more accurate in your Sake's temperature.

Ogawahara was kind enough to pour some warm Sake for me, his Hikomago Junmai. This Sake is produced from Yamada Nishiki rice, that has been polished down to 55%, and it was aged for three years before release. I drank some at three different temperatures, from about 45 degrees to 60 degrees, as well as from three different types of cups, including porcelain, lacquer and pottery. There were also some snacks on the table, including cheese, olives, prosciutto, crackers, and roe. I admit that I have little experience with warm Sake, usually drinking it slightly chilled, so this was an enlightening comparison tasting.

The different temperatures changed the flavor profile of the Sake, and it was tasty, albeit different, at all three levels. It presented plenty of umami flavor, and the fruit flavors varied dependent on the amount of warmth, with more fruit at the lower temperatures. There was plenty of complexity with the flavors, and it paired well with the different foods. To Ogawahara, the temperature that best brings out the umami in the Sake will depend on which food it is paired. It would be difficult for me to say which temperature I preferred, as each level was intriguing in its own way.

I wouldn't have thought of warm Sake and cheese before, but it really worked, bringing out the creaminess of the cheese. The warm Sake seemed to bring out more of the flavors in the other food too, especially the olives. The different cups also brought minor changes to the taste, which I knew would happen. I also realized that warm Sake cools down fairly quickly so having a small cup makes more sense, as you can finish it while it is still warm.

Warm Sake is a different experience from chilled Sake, and it is worthy of further exploration and experimentation. In the winter time, warm Sake can be very pleasing, and more than just because of its temperature. Warm Sake makes an interesting match to different foods, even cheese, and I definitely would like to follow up more of those pairings. Shinkame produces a type of matured Sake which lends itself well to warming, and not all Sakes would be as appropriate. I strongly recommend that you try some warm Sake, and not the steaming hot Sake you find at most restaurants.

Besides the warming device, Ogawahara has been involved in other creations as well. For example, he invented a machine to produce the clear part of Sake for Nigori. I should note that he makes a Dry Nigori, rather than the usual sweet ones. In addition, his brewery was the first to make a Sparkling Sake, and it took about two years before it received government approval. He continues to make Sparkling Sake and stated that you definitely shouldn't warm it.

I could have spent several more hours talking with Ogawahara as he had many interesting things to say. For example, he was once invited to an Italian dinner and he tried to pair his Sake with the food. In the end, he decided to blend three of his Sakes together, at the table, into a drink that he considered would be the best pairing. Ogawahara also noted that one of his favorite pairings is his Junmai Daiginjo & chocolate.

For the future, Ogawahara will continue to advocate for Junmai, for warm Sake, and for Sake & food pairings. His daughter and son-in-law, who graduated from the same university as he did, are active in the brewery and will be the 8th generation to own and operate it. They have a great role model to follow, a passionate man with a true love for Sake.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: Favorite Spirits & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite spirits and drink-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2014. I have already posted my Favorite Wine lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. This is the first year that this category has been given its own post because I have tasted and reviewed a far greater amount of spirits, cocktails and other drinks this year. For more spirits and drink related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Spirits & Cocktail Event: Last month, Thirst Boston 2014  was held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, a four day event dedicated to the diversity of spirits, cocktails and other drinks. There was myriad of interesting and informative seminars, tasting rooms, several parties and much more. The event was well organized, and everything seemed to run smoothly. It was educational and fun, with lots of great drinks available. This is the second year of the event, and I highly recommend you check out next year's Thirst Boston.

Favorite Cocktail Supply Shop: Located near Davis Square in SomervilleThe Boston Shaker offers everything you need to create cocktails, except for the alcohol. Plenty of spirit & cocktail books, a wide range of bitters, shakers, stirrers, glasses, and so much more. They also run cocktail classes, book signings and other fun and informative events. It is an excellent place to purchase gifts for the holiday season for your cocktail loving family and friends.

Favorite Bourbon: The Hillrock Estate Distillery, in the Hudson Valley, New York, produces a Solera Aged Bourbon from corn grow on their estate. From my first sniff of this Bourbon, I was mesmerized. It possessed such an alluring nose, a complex blend of smells, and you would be tempted to simply sit with a glass and enjoy the aromas without even tasting it. However, the taste won't disappoint either, providing a complex melange of flavors, including caramel, vanilla, nuttiness, butterscotch, toffee, and plenty of spicy notes, There seemed to be be mere wisps of clove and cinnamon, mostly noticeable on the lengthy finish. This was a well balanced Bourbon, impressive in its complexity and quality.

Favorite Rye Whiskey: I received a bottle of Colonel E.H.Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye from my good friend, Fred Minnick, a well-known whiskey writer. I was surprised by this rye as I was expecting something with a bold spicy profile, and instead it was far more elegant and subtle. The taste was complex, silky smooth and filled with an intriguing melange of flavors. There were delicious savory spice notes, but also some sweet vanilla and caramel, complemented with hints of mocha and dried fruit. It was seductive on my palate, and the lingering finish left me craving more. A superb sipping whiskey,

Favorite Local Rye Whiskey: Made in a small distillery in Belmont, Massachusetts, the Damnation Alley Distillery Rye was an impressive whiskey, made from 72% rye, and the rest barley. The whiskey was aged for less than six months in a small barrel. It was smooth and spicy, more savory in taste, with a lingering and pleasing finish.

Favorite Highland Scotch Single Malt: The Aberlour A'bunadh is a cask strength whiskey that is aged in Oloroso casks. It is bottled only twice a year and made in a more traditional manner, which presented a compelling profile. It possessed a creamy mouth feel, with plenty of spice, dried fruit notes, caramel and a little sweetness. Lots of complexity, smooth and with a very lengthy finish. Simply delicious.

Favorite Lowlands Scotch Single Malt: The Auchentoshan Three Wood was matured in three different barrels, including American Bourbon, Oloroso Sherry and Pedro Ximenez Sherry. With a darker hue, you get more sherry notes on the nose, including brown sugar and raisins. The taste is rich and complex, with delicious flavors of caramel, dried fruits, baking spices, and nutty accents. It has some sweetness to it, but plenty of savory flavors too. With a lingering finish, this single malt intrigued and delighted me.

Favorite Islay Scotch Single Malt: The Bowmore 15 Year Old Darkest is aged in bourbon and sherry barrels, spending its final three years in Oloroso Sherry barrels, and that is why it has a dark amber color. This whiskey was smooth and complex, a delectable melange of smoke, baking spices, chocolate, dried fruit, vanilla and hints of nuttiness. The smokiness was around mild, but pervaded every taste, gently caressing your palate. The lingering finish seemed to go on and on, satisfying long after each sip. A superb Scotch that earns my highest recommendation.

Favorite Blended Scotch Whiskey: The Monkey Shoulder is a "triple malt," a blended Scotch whiskey, made from three different, Speyside single malts, from Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie. Each single malt is aged separately and then they are blended together, and aged for an additional three to six months. This is a mellow and easy drinking blended whiskey, with pleasing flavors of caramel, vanilla and mild spice notes. This can be enjoyed on its own, of mixed into a variety of cocktails.

Favorite Irish WhiskeyTullamore Dew Irish Whiskey is made from three varieties of grain, is triple distilled, and blends three types, pot still, malt and grain. It is aged in used bourbon and sherry casks. Though it is light and elegant, it has an certain intensity with flavors of citrus, spice, vanilla, and salted almonds. Easy drinking, this would be an excellent introductory whiskey.

Favorite Asian Whiskey: Kavalan Distillery, the only whiskey distillery in Taiwan, is producing an amazing portfolio of single malt whiskies. I loved the Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Whisky, a single malt aged in Oloroso sherry casks. With a dark brown color, the same as an aged Oloroso, is provides an intriguing nose of dried fruit, nuts and spice. On the palate, it will remind you, in part, of aged Oloroso, with vanilla, nutty notes, spices, caramel, honey and raisins. It is fairly silky, with lots of complexity, and a very lengthy finish that never seems to stop. This is a whiskey you'll want to slowly savor over the course of an evening, reveling in its complex profile.

Favorite U.S. Single Malt Whiskey: Westland Distillery, located in Washington, is making serious whiskey, and is far larger than the typical craft distillery. Though it is still relatively new, their whiskies are impressive, and they will only continue to improve over time. The Westland Peated Whiskey, which even isn't on the market yet, is a whiskey you need to seek out soon when it becomes available. This Peated Whiskey reminded me of barbecued dirt, a smoky and earthy mix which I found especially compelling. The flavors were well balanced, and the smokiness didn't overpower the whiskey. It was silky smooth and delicious, with a complex blend of intriguing flavors, including vanilla, caramel, salted nuts, and subtle red fruit flavors. There were hints of chocolate, coffee and citrus, and the aroma alone delighted me. It was tempting to simply smell it and not even drink it, though I would love savoring a bottle with friends over a long fall afternoon.

Favorite Rum: From Puerto Rico, the Don Q Gran Anejo is a blend of rums aged 3-20 years and Solera rums aged up to 20 years. It possesses a complex melange of flavors and aromas, which will tantalize your palate. Silky smooth, it possesses a lingering and satisfying finish. It even possesses some Sherry-like qualities, which may also be a reason I enjoyed it so much. A high quality rum which I think is best on its own, slowly sipped with friends.

Runner-Up Favorite Rum: From Barbados, the Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum is distilled in both a column and pot still, and then aged in ex-whiskey casks and later finished in deep, charred ex-bourbon casks. Some of the rum used in the final blend may have been aged for up to seven years. The Black Barrel has a dark, amber color, like a fine whiskey, and if you tasted it blind, it would remind you far more of a rye whiskey than a rum. On the taste, there is a deep spice taste, caramel notes and a mild hint of vanilla. Layers of complexity, a lengthy finish (which has a touch of cinnamon), and a smooth, compelling taste.

Favorite Mezcal: Los Amantes Reposado remains my favorite Mezcal. Aged for about 6 months in American oak, it possesses a complex melange of flavors (including some citrus), pleasant smokiness and subtle accents of fruit. It is silky smooth, an excellent sipping spirit on its own on its own. It may remind you a little of an Islay Scotch due to its smoky accents.

Favorite Flavored Vodka: Though I am not generally a fan of flavored vodkas, I sometimes make an exception for those made more naturally. The Grand Ten Distilling Fire Puncher Black Vodka fits that bill, a collaboration with Grand Ten and Taza Chocolate. Starting with a chipotle pepper infused vodka, they add some Taza nubs and shells, and age it in an ex-bourbon barrel. With an alluring aroma, this is like a mole sauce in a bottle, a spicy chocolate mix that has a natural taste, not like the artificial flavored vodkas out there. An excellent cocktail mixer.

Favorite Local Grappa: The Hudson-Chatham Winery, in New York, produces two Grappas made from Baco Noir. Essentially, this is a distilled spirit using grape skins, and the grappa is produced for the winery by the local Harvest Spirits. The basic Grappa was aromatic and pleasant, with cherry and red berry flavors but the Grappa Reserve was my favorite. It sees some oak aging and was smoother, with delightful red fruit flavors enhanced by spice notes. It would be a pleasant digestif after a nice dinner.

Favorite Liqueur: The Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liquer, made in Mexico, relies on the signature crop of Puebla, the chile poblano. When this chile is dried, it is known as the ancho chile. This liqueur is lightly sweet with a spicy hot kick which will tingle your mouth but won't burn it. There are some other mild flavor notes beneath the spice, including some fruit and herbs. There are no artificial tastes in this liqueur. It is a very interesting liqueur which would be excellent in the right cocktail to add some heat.

Favorite Distillery Visit: My visit to the Hillrock Estate Distillery was informative and exciting, getting to see a distillery that is attempting to make their products as local as possible, a farm to glass operation. From their fields of corn, rye and barley, to their own malt house, owner Jeff Baker infected us with his passion for local spirits. It helped that their products, including a Solera Aged Bourbon, a Peated Single Malt and a Rye Whiskey were all delicious. If you visit the Hudson Valley, you must make sure to visit this distillery.

Favorite Restaurant Simple Cocktail: The classic Manhattan is simple, a mix of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. At the Blue Ox in Lynn, they elevate this simple cocktail as a  Barrel-Aged Manhattan, which is aged in oak for about two months. Barrel-aged cocktails are a new trend, and I found this Manhattan to be smooth and complex, with an added depth to it which is probably attributable to its aging. It is the type of well-balanced cocktail which I would have been satisfied drinking all night.

Favorite Restaurant Innovative Cocktail: At Fish Restaurant in Marlborough, I enjoyed the Spanish Armadamade from Torres Gran Reserva 10 year old Brandy, Fig Puree and Lustau East India Sherry. It had a prominent dried fruit and fig flavor, with some nutty elements. It was nicely balanced, without being too sweet, and it would also be easy to sit and drink a few of these over the course of an evening.

Favorite Cocktails: At Thirst Boston, there were an ample amount of cocktails for sampling and two of them especially caught my interest. The Chipotle Carrot Bloody Mary, with a slice of bacon as a garnish, had a tasty and intriguing blend of spice and carrot, and some smokiness from the bacon. A perfect accompaniment to breakfast or brunch. The Brass Gorilla was created by Christina Klein of Sonny's Restaurant & Lounge in Portland, Maine. This cocktail is made from Absolut Vanilla Vodka, orange juice, Galliano, pineapple syrup, and Fernet Whipped Cream and reminded me of an old-fashioned creamsicle, creamy and sweet (but not overly so) with a slight herbal tinge. If you want something sweet, this would please your palate.

Favorite Local Cider: Based in Salem, Massachusetts, the relatively new cidery, Far From The Tree, is making hard cider in a very old fashioned style, using primarily local ingredients such as apples and maple syrup from Central Massachusetts. Their ciders are clean, crisp and bone dry, with rich apple flavors, like a taste of autumn. The Roots is made only from pressed apples and maple syrup and is tasty on its own, and would also pair well with a variety of foods. The Rind is made with Saison yeast, coriander & orange rind, where the apple flavors are enhanced by citrus and spice notes. If you are a cider lover, you need to check out these delicious ciders.

Favorite Non-Local Hard Cider: From Virginia, the Potter's Craft Cider Farmhouse Dry is also an old style hard cider, reflecting the American farmhouse ciders. They use local, cider apples and tank aged the cider for 3-6 months What grabbed my attention was the complexity of this cider, the melange of aromas and flavors that I found within this bottle. Crisp and dry, it possessed bright fruit flavors of not only apple but also touches of pear, melon and even pineapple. A refreshing effervescence, a subtle tartness, a mild earthiness and a lengthy, pleasing finish.

Favorite Beer Drink: I'm not generally a fan of beer, but every once in awhile, a beer product garners my attention. At Bronwyn Restaurant, I tried the Stickum Uerige, a fascinating beer eau-de-vie, also known as "beer brandy" or "bierschnaps." Bronwyn carries three of their products, the Stickum Uerige Original, Stickum Uerige Château d’Yquem Barrel, and Stickum Uerige Plus Port Wine Oak Barrel. My preference was the Port Wine, which had almost no beer flavor, but plenty of concentration, depth and complexity. It does show Port wine characteristics, but you also realize that it is more than Port. There is enough acidity to balance the sweetness, and this may be my new favorite method of drinking beer.

Favorite Health Food Drink: I never would have thought I would have found a delicious health drink at the Seafood Expo. However, the Berry Kelp Smoothie impressed me. Made from bananas, frozen berries, mint leaves, kelp, and nondairy milk, it possessed a strong berry and fruity flavor, and you would never have known it contained kelp. This is a great and tasty way to get all those health benefits of kelp, and even veggie haters would love this smoothie. Kelp is gluten free and low in calories, carbohydrates and fat. It also is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron, as well as one of the few foods with the nutrient iodine, which is essential for hormone balance.

Favorite Most Unusual Drink: At the same Seafood Expo, I savored an Uni Shooter, a shot glass filled with uni, ginger beer, and wasabi. It made for an intriguing shot, with the ginger flavors enhancing the natural briny flavors of the uni, and with a spicy kick from the wasabi. These shooters proved very popular with the attendees, and there was a long line when they were offered.

What were some of your favorite spirits and drink related items this year?