Friday, August 26, 2016

Georgian Toast: A Taste Of History

"What is called the traditional drinking cup or horn, kanzi, is conch-shaped and comes in different sizes, often decorated with silver. Because Georgians are famously hospitable people, an essential feature of the horn is that once filled with an appropriate libation, usually wine, it requires drinking to the bottom (bolomde) on each toast."
--Cuisines of the Caucasus Mountains: Recipes, Drinks, and Lore from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia by Kay Shaw Nelson

Back in 2008, when I first tasted a wine from the country of Georgia, a former Soviet republic which is located in the Caucasus region, they were a rarity in the Boston area. It is only in the last few years that Georgian wines have started becoming more readily available in the Boston area. At the last few Boston Wine Expos, a number of Georgian importers and producers have showcased their wines, and I've eagerly tasted these wines, enjoying the unique, indigenous grapes, as well as some of their traditional wine-making processes, such as the use of qvevri, earthenware vessels used for fermentation and aging.

In addition, Georgian wines present a taste of history as Georgia is often said to be the birthplace of wine, with archaeological evidence extending back approximately 8,000 years. Their use of qvevri also extends back to those earliest times, so modern producers using these earthenware vessels have a connection to the ancient past. As qvevri clearly affect the taste of the wine, it is actually like you are sampling a piece of history, and that is exciting.

Last week, I had the opportunity to sample some more Georgian wines, as a media guest, at an intriguing tasting event held at the Matter & Light Fine Art Gallery, located on Thayer Street in the South End. Thayer Street is lined with art galleries and Matter & Light is located on a lower level. It is a small gallery, displaying works from contemporary artists from all over the world. Much of the works are abstracts, though there are also some figure studies.


The art gallery made for an interesting venue for the wine tasting, a pairing of the beauty of the art with the aesthetics of the wine. The room was also large enough for the crowd that attended the tasting, and gave attendees something else to do, to admire the paintings, besides tasting the food and wines.


Proceeds from the event tickets benefited the Ballets Russes Arts Initiative, a non-profit, based in Boston, that promotes creative exchange in the fine and performing arts between the U.S. and the post-Soviet region. They host numerous events, promoting the arts, including films, concerts, dances, plays and more. If you're interested in the arts of the post-Soviet region, then you might like to check out this Initiative.

Numerous hors d'oeuvres were provided, catered by Bazaar International Gourmet, with stores located in Brookline and Allston. It is a specialty grocery store with a large selection of Russian and Eastern European foods. Some of the hors d'oeuvres were more traditional Georgian dishes, though they were not labeled so I'm not sure as to the identity of many of the dishes, though they were tasty, and went well with the wines.

The wines were supplied by Georgian Toast, a Massachusetts-based boutique importer focused exclusively on wines from Georgia. I previously encountered their wines at the last Boston Wine Expo and you can check out my prior review for background on Georgian wines, background on Georgian Toast, and reviews of a number of their wines. Above, holding a bottle of wine, is Kosta Middleman, one of the passionate members of Georgian Toast.

At this event, there were 12 wines available for tasting, from four different providers (Georgian Valleys, Jakeli, KTM, and Orgo), and included wines made from indigenous varieties such as Rkatsitelli, Mtsvane, Ojaleshi, and Saperavi and from specific regions including Kakheti, Khashmi, Lechkhumi, and Gurjaani. Some of the wines were fermented in qvevri while others were made with more modern wine-making practices. I'd previously tasted many of these wines, and retasted them again, finding them just as delicious and compelling as before, especially the 2012 Jakeli Wines Saperavi.

There were three wines which were new to me, and they all deserve some attention.

The 2014 Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking (KTW) Ia's Rosé is a semi-dry Rosé wine, with a 11.5% ABV, that is made from a blend of three grapes, Saperavi, Muscat and Mtsvane. The wine spends about 8-10 hours on the skins, giving it a bright pink color. It has a lovely aroma of red fruits and floral notes, and on the palate there are tasty flavors of strawberries and raspberries, with hints of rose petals, and a little tartness on the finish. It is crisp and easy drinking, perfect for the summer, though it is food friendly and you can easily drink it year round.

The next two wines were produced by the Orgo Winery, which Georgian Toast recently started distributing in Massachusetts. Orgo is a small, artisan winery located in the Kakheti AOC in eastern Georgia. This winery is a joint endeavor between Gogi Dikishivili, a famous Georgian wine maker, and his son Temur Dakishvili. As Gogi is a pioneer in the revival of the use of qvevri, Orgo uses these earthenware vessels for all of their wines. Many of the grapes they source are from old vines, aged 50-80 years, and few other wineries are able to source such grapes. When Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, many of the older vines, which notoriously are low yielding, were unfortunately torn up and replaced, with the intent of increasing production.

The 2014 Orgo Rkatsiteli (about $20) is made from 100% Rkatisteli, has a 12.5% ABV, and is fermented and aged in qvevri for about six months, with skin contact for that entire period. Referred to as an "amber" or "orange" wine, this wine is also made with wild yeasts and is unfiltered. It has a more unusual, yet intriguing, aroma, a melange of spice and fruit. On the palate, the spice notes dominate with more subtle undertones of citrus and peach and a touch of honey. It is fresh and crisp, complex and well-balanced. Kosta stated they don't don't usually chill this wine as it is so full-bodied.   This wine would pair well with a variety of foods, from seafood to chicken, cheese to charcuterie.  

The 2014 Orgo Saperavi ($20) is made from 100% Saperavi, has a 12.5% ABV, and is fermented and aged in qvevri. This wine is also made with wild yeasts, is unfiltered, and only 5,000 bottles were produced. It possesses an alluring aroma of lush black fruit, herbal notes and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, it is full bodied and lush, with mild tannins, and delicious flavors of ripe plum, lots of spice, herbal accents and an earthy undertone. Harmonious and complex, it possesses a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is a wine for meat, from sausages to lamb, burgers to steaks, or even a hearty Bolognese.

I highly recommend both of these Orgo wines, and they are an excellent introduction to Georgian qvevri wines. If your local wine shop doesn't carry Georgian wines, then ask them to check out the Georgian Toast portfolio.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) On Wednesday, August 31,  at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Neyers Vineyards. Established in 1992 by Bruce and Barbara Neyers, the vineyard sits in the heart of Napa Valley and produces about 15,000 cases of wine annually. In 2002, Wine and Spirits Magazine named Neyers Vineyards the “Artisan Winery of the Year.”

Legal Sea Foods will team up with owner, Bruce Neyers, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring cuisine paired with selections from the Neyers vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Cod Fritter, Herb Aioli
Swordfish Kabob, Citrus Glaze
Striped Bass Mini Taco, Pickled Red Onion, Sweet Potato
Neyers “304” Chardonnay, Sonoma, 2015

FIRST COURSE
Cedar Plank Imperial Sole (bacon-wrapped red bliss potatoes, portobello mushrooms)
Neyers “Chuy’s Vineyard” Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, 2014
Neyers “El Novillero” Chardonnay, Carneros, 2013

SECOND COURSE
Mesquite Grilled Tuna Block (black currant-chipotle sauce, whipped Yukon gold potatoes, fried Tuscan kale)
Neyers “Left Bank Red,” Napa Valley, 2014
Neyers “ÂME” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2013

MAIN COURSE
Herb Crusted Pork Loin (sweet potato medallions, bourbon & sage molasses)
Neyers “Garys’ Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands, 2014

CHEESE COURSE
Grafton Two Year Aged Cheddar
Smith’s One Year Aged Gouda
Spring Brook Farm Six Month Aged Tarentaise
(wild mushroom tapenade, brioche toast points, spicy almonds)
Neyers “Neyers Ranch – Conn Valley” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012

COST: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and Boston’s culinary all-stars invite guests to join them for a delicious evening benefiting No Kid Hungry.

On Monday, October 17, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign will bring together Boston’s best chefs for a very special evening featuring a cocktail reception, live auction, and a multi-course seated dinner intimately prepared tableside by the biggest names in the restaurant industry.

Participating chefs include: Karen Akunowicz of Myers & Chang; Jamie Bissonnette of Toro, Coppa, and Little Donkey; Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and Myers & Chang; Dante DeMagistis of Restauant Dante; Louis DiBicarri of Tavern Road; Tiffany Fasion of Sweet Cheeks BBQ and Tiger Mama; Will Gilson of Puritan and Co.; Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, Sister Sorel, and The Smoke Shop; Matt Jennings of Townsman; Kevin Long of Empire; Colin Lynch of Bar Mezzana; Tony Maws of Craigie on Main and Kirkland Tap& Trotter; Rodney Murillo of Davio’s; Steve “Nookie” Postal of Commonwealth; Susan Regis of Shepard; Jason Santos of Abby Lane and Back Bay Harry’s; Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow and Waypoint; Michael Serpa of Select Oyster Bar; and Meghann Ward of Tapestry.

Tickets are tax-deductible and range in price from $1,000 for an individual ticket to $25,000 for a party of 20.

WHEN: Monday, October 17
Cocktail Reception: 6:00 p.m.
Multi-Course Seated Dinner: 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: Space 57 at the Revere Hotel, 200 Stuart Street, Boston

OTHER: Please visit http://ce.strength.org/events/boston-no-kid-hungry-dinner for more information and to purchase tickets.

3) Davis Square spot Saloon is celebrating the final month of summer with updated menus that reflect the season’s boldest flavors and the industry’s purest spirits. Executive chef Shayne Nunes’ revamped menu focuses on shareable cuisine to create delicious experience.

Newcomer hors d’oeuvres include White Truffle-Honey Popcorn ($4); Caramelized Mission Figs with chorizo, whipped gorgonzola and cider-honey glaze ($8); Grilled Angus Flat Iron with cornichons, watercress and truffle vinaigrette ($12); Poutine with hand-cut potato wedges, smoked cheddar and Applewood smoked bacon gravy; and, Maple Buffalo Wings with bleu cheese dressing ($12). Additionally, Saloon is shucking $1 local oysters every night from 5:00pm-7:00pm through Labor Day.

For bigger appetites, there is a trio of new entrees: Grilled Angus Ribeye with seared jumbo shrimp, toasted fingerlings, asparagus and a lemon cream sauce ($30); Hot Fried Chicken with a warm polenta cake, marinated cucumber salad and honey-basil yogurt ($19); and, Berkshire Pork Chop with grilled asparagus, honey grits and a peach-pepper relish ($23).

On the spirits side, the beverage team has debuted a menu with a dozen new bespoke cocktails that are available in addition to Saloon’s roster of 120 whiskey selections. Bourbon lovers can order up the Strong Hand with bourbon, Apple Jack, honey, lemon and allspice ($12) or the B-Laz with rosemary-infused bourbon, chai-spiced vermouth, raspberry, lemon and egg whites ($13). Gin enthusiasts might opt for the Grand Optimist with gin, Montenegro, ginger, lemon and Peychaud’s bitters ($11) or the Nighttime Sky with gin, Averna, Amaro Nonino, pineapple syrup, lime and Peychaud’s bitters ($12). Other highlights from the new menu include the What Makes a Man with tequila, Cocchi, yellow chartreuse, Fernet and basil ($13), the Step Side with Carpano Antico Sweet vermouth, Mandarine Napoléon, Fernet, lime and sugar ($14), Holy Mountain with sherry, rum, burnt cinnamon, pineapple, lime and bitters ($12) and Problem Solver with cognac, Cardamaro, Benedictine, Ancho Reyes and bitters ($13).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TasteCamp Vermont: When Life Gives You Apples, Make Cider

Autumn in New England is the time for apple picking, for hot cider donuts and chilled apple cider. It is a time for home-baked apple pies, cider-braised pork, apple stuffing and so much more. With the prevalence and popularity of apples, it's easy to understand why hard cider is also quite popular in New England, and Vermont is certainly no exception.

During TasteCamp Vermont, we had the pleasure to taste a range of hard ciders, some very traditional while others were more experimental. Vermont is cutting their own unique path through the hard cider industry and are producing some fascinating and delicious ciders. No matter what type of cider you prefer, you'll likely find some in Vermont, and if you are willing to expand your palate, you'll find plenty others which should appeal to you. As a cider lover, I was impressed with Vermont's offerings, and brought a number of bottles home with me.

The hard cider industry has a long history in Vermont. Even when Prohibition was enacted in Vermont in 1852, 67 years prior to the passage of Federal Prohibition, the production of hard cider was not banned, provided no other fermentable sugars were added to it. However, you couldn't sell cider at any "...victualing house, tavern, grocery shop, or cellar, or other place of public resort.” Why was cedar allowed to remain legal? First, it was easy to make and with "...the abundance of apple trees and orchards across the state, it would have been impossible to outlaw production." Second, cider was "...an important staple of daily nutrition. Consuming water was still a dangerous gamble, and beer produced at breweries was illegal under the law." The effect of Vermont's Prohibition was to significantly increase cider consumption but it must have eventually been seen as a significant problem as they finally outlawed cider production and consumption in 1880.

(All the above quotes are from Vermont Prohibition: Teetotalers, Bootleggers & Corruption by Adam Krakowski.)

Eleanor Léger, the founder of Eden Specialty Ciders, showcased a number of her ciders, and they were very popular with the TasteCamp attendees. See my previous post Craft Cider-From Orchard To Glass for more information about Eleanor, her cidery, and reviews of some of her tasty products. Eleanor is making exciting ciders and has inspired other producers in Vermont to get into the cider industry. I want to highlight two more of her ciders, both which I highly recommend.

The Eden Imperial Rosé ($15) is produced from heirloom apples, red currants, and a touch of ice cider. At 11% ABV, it is off-dry, with a mild effervescence, and is fresh and crisp with delicious apple and currant flavors, blending together well. It is tasty on its own, though would pair well with food too, and this would be great on your table at Thanksgiving. At this price, it is a very good value and I was sure to pick up a couple bottles.

I've previously raved about the Eden Orleans Herbal Aperitif, kind of an apple Vermouth, a cider infused with organic herbs including Basil and Hyssop. I stated that it "is an intriguing and compelling cider, a unique blend which has lots of potential." At TasteCamp, I got to sample the companion to this aperitif, the Eden Orleans Bitter Aperitif ($30). The Bitter, with a 16% ABV, is a cider made with red currant, dandelion, angelica, and gentian. It possesses a complex and fascinating taste, with a potent bitterness, enhanced by more subtle hints of red fruit and apple. It is more of an apple Amaro, and should be an excellent ingredient for a variety of cocktails.

I was impressed with the Bitter just as much as I was the Herbal and would highly recommend both. They are very unique, quite delicious, complex and versatile. Many of the TasteCamp attendees seemed to agree as Eleanor sold plenty of bottles of the Aperitifs.


Whetstone Ciderworks, which is located on the banks of the Whetstone Brook, was founded in 2010 by Jason and Lauren MacArthur. They use apples from both their own orchard as well as some other local farms. Jason, on a trip to France, became enamored with wine making and upon his return to Vermont, he wanted to create something appropriate to the land and climate. Apples, rather than grapes, became his fruit of choice, thinking it best exemplified Vermont and its cold and wet climate. Jason noted that "cider is a delicate beverage" and they usually drink cider with food.

The Orchard King ($14) is made from a blend of apples including Jonagold, Pinova, Cox's Orange Pippin and some later bittersweet cider apples.  Dry and crisp, it possessed tasty flavors of tart apple and citrus, with a nice minerality. This would be excellent with cheese, and I could also see it working well with seafood dishes, from oysters to cod.

The Orchard Queen ($14) is made from a blend of apples including Lamb Abbey Permian, Orleans Reinette, Co'x Orange Pippin and Kingston Black. This too is dry and crisp, with a strong tart apple flavor and mild citrus, but its main difference is that it possesses an earthy element, a complex and intriguing aspect that appealed to me. I would pair this with other umami dishes, from sushi with soy sauce to mushroom risotto.

Stowe Cider was founded in 2013 by Stefan Windler, a chemist and biologist, and his wife, Mary. They use Vermont apples and make small batches of their diverse ciders. Their Summer Shandy is a blend of homemade lemonade and semi-dry cider. It is mostly dry, with bright citrus and lemon flavors, a nice tartness and a crisp and refreshing taste. Their Ginger Cider is aged in Vermont Rum barrels, their own version of a Dark n' Stormy. It is crisp and dry, with strong and clean apple & ginger flavors, and caramel and vanilla accents. The Wild Reserve is naturally fermented, made like a traditional Spanish cider, and is earthy and funky, with underlying tart apple flavors. Quite delicious.

Citizen Cider was founded in 2010 by Justin Heilenbach (a small farmer), Bryan Holmes (a chemist) and Kris Nelson (a wine salesman). It started off as a small project but quickly exploded so that by 2014, they had created a large production facility in Burlington, Vermont. They produce over 10 different types of cider, a diverse portfolio of intriguing ciders. The Northern Spy is a single varietal cider, made from apples sourced from Happy Valley Orchard. It has a complex and delicious taste, with nice tartness, a hint of sweetness, and is very crisp and refreshing. Citizen Plum Intended is intriguing as it is made with Sake yeast,  as well as co-fermented with macerated plums, also from Happy Valley Orchard. It was only mildly sweet, with a subtle plum flavor overlying the crisp, apple flavors. It was delicious and I picked up a couple bottles to take home.

In 2002, Bradley Koehler and his wife purchased the Windfall Orchard, a three-acre orchard which now grows over 80 varieties of apples and other assorted fruits. It is currently a small operation, with their only produce an apple ice cider. The Windfall Ice Cider is blend of 30 varieties of apples, including 50% heirloom and 50% traditional cider apples. Some of the traditional cider apples include Roxbury Russet and Esopus Spitenburg. It has a wild fermentation as well as a secondary fermentation, with some ice cider as a dosage. It ends up with a 9% ABV and 15% residual sugar, and tastes mostly dry with good acidity. It has a prominent and complex apple flavor with savory notes. There are also notes of honey, dried fruit and almost ripe pear. An excellent dessert wine.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Rant: Don't Stop Drinking Rosé

As the end of summer nears, and the cooler weather of the fall approaches, general wine drinking habits tend to change as well. For example, people start drinking more red wines, savoring the heartier wines as temperatures drop. Plenty of people will still drink white wines, from Chardonnay to Riesling, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. This also makes sense when you consider wine pairings with food, as red wine generally doesn't pair as well as white wine with some dishes.

However, one type of wine often gets mistakenly labeled as a "summer wine" and far too many people won't drink it in the fall and winter, despite the fact it can and should be consumed year-round.   The situation has slowly improved during the last several years but change is still needed. The myth that Rosé wine is just for the summer needs to be shattered.

The media is partially responsible for perpetuating this myth, especially with the pre-summer deluge of articles declaring that it will soon be "Rosé season." These articles lead consumers to believe that Rosé is for summer only. Distributors play their part in this myth, promoting Rosé for the summer, and often stopping their promotion once Labor Day arrives. Too many wine shops stop selling Rosé wine after Labor Day, except to sell off their summer stock, so consumers are hard pressed to find Rosé even if they wanted it.

It's interesting that many of these individuals responsible for promoting this Rosé myth actually know better. They understand the truth, that there is absolutely no reason you should stop drinking Rosé just because fall arrives. Rosé is appropriate year-round, especially because it pairs so well with a diverse selection of foods. For example, it works very well with a Thanksgiving dinner. If you can drink white wine in the fall and winter, there is absolutely no reason you cannot drink Rosé too. I drink Rosé all year round and strongly encourage everyone else to do so as well.  

There are some wine stores which stock Rosé throughout the year and if your local shop doesn't, then you should recommend that they stock some. And if they don't bring in some Rosé, then seek elsewhere for this wine. Share some Rosé this fall and winter with your friends, showing them the potential of this delicious wine. Don't ask if they want Rosé but just pour them a glass. Once they taste the wine, they'll probably come to the realization of what they have been missing.

We also need more wine writers to pen Rosé articles during the fall and winter, to persuade consumers that this pink wine is appropriate during every season, and not just during the summer. Raising consumer awareness is vital to spreading a passion for Rosé year round.

Drink more Rosé, now and throughout the fall, winter and spring.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) TAMO Bistro & Bar will be welcoming Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyard for a special wine dinner on Thursday, September 8th from 6:30pm-9:30 pm with guest of honor, winery founder and self-proclaimed “vitizen of the world,” Randall Grahm. Bonny Doon specializes in Rhone varietals and practices biodynamic farming. Guests will have the opportunity to experience Randall’s rants on “ugly duckling grape varietals” while enjoying Chef Robert Tobin's spirited four course menu.

FIRST COURSE
3 amuse of salmon
Le Cigare Blanc, “Bee’s Wax Vineyard”, Arroyo Seco 2013
SECOND COURSE
Wild boar ragu and gnocchi (pictured above)
Clos de Gilroy, Grenache, Monterey County 2014
THIRD COURSE
Coffee & chili crusted ribeye, port and red wine cipollini puree, grilled shishito peppers and marrow butter
Cigare Volant, California 1994
DESSERT COURSE
Roasted peach tart, crystallized ginger, ginger ice cream, and husk tomato crumble
Vinferno, “Bee’s Wax Vineyard”, Arroyo Seco 2013

Tickets for this are $85 and can be purchased online at: http://tamobonnydoon.eventbrite.com

I have enjoyed many delicious wines from Boony Doon, and Randall Grahm is quite a fascinating personality. This should be a fun and tasty event.

2) Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar invites whisky lovers to join them for a guided tasting through four of Nikka's Japanese whiskies with Gregory Fitch, Regional Vice President of Anchor Distilling Company.

Although Scotch has long been considered the standard for quality whisky production, over the past twenty years Japanese whiskies have quietly been changing the way the world sees and thinks about whisky. Nikka is among the top whisky producers in Japan and honors the traditional Scottish production methods, such as using the Coffey still, as well as using innovative and modern techniques to produce delicate yet incredibly complex whiskies.

Join Rosebud on Friday, August 19, at 4 p.m. for a unique and exclusive guided tasting through four of Nikka's Japanese whiskies. Featured whiskies from Nikka's Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries include:
Coffey Grain Whisky
Coffey Malt Whisky
Taketsuru Pure Malt
Yoichi Single Malt 15yr

Guests must be 21+. Tickets cost $45 and can be purchased at JapaneseWhiskyTasting.Eventbrite.com.

3) This summer Boston’s newest seafood destination, Saltie Girl, is bringing brunch to Back Bay. The restaurant is bringing tastes of the sea to a carefully curated brunch menu which maintains Sidell’s focus on globally sustainable iterations of fresh fish & seafood be it fried, sautéed, raw, house-potted, smoked or tinned.

Every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30AM to 3:00PM, guests can enjoy creative interpretations on brunch dishes prepared by the talented Chef Kyle McClelland. In addition to the regular menu, Chef has added two unique entrees including Eggs & Eggs, soft scrambled eggs and caviar served with butter brioche, and Bagel Benedict with avocado, poached egg and house béarnaise served with a choice of smoked salmon, caviar paddlefish or lobster, as well as a savory side of Pork Belly Bacon.

Saltie Girl’s regular menu will also be available all day long including dishes such as the Fried Lobster & Waffles served with sweet corn butter and spicy maple syrup, the Gloucester Lobster Roll mixed with chive, parsley, Japanese mayonnaise and Meyer lemon juice served hot or cold on a buttered brioche roll with house-made salt & vinegar chips, and the Saltie Girl Burger, a three beef blend topped with gruyère, avocado, fried lobster, house cured pork belly and angry or classic sauce.