Saturday, January 31, 2009

La Spinetta Barbaresco Tasting: February 5

On February 5, from 5-6:30pm, the Lower Falls Wine Co. will be holding a special wine tasting with Giorgio Rivetti, co-owner and winemaker of La Spinetta in the Piedmont region. The winery produces Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, a Blend, Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Sangiovese, and Moscato Passito. Their wines have received many rave reviews and I am sure this will be another excellent tasting.

When I receive any additional details about the tasting, I will add them.

Lower Falls Wine Co.
2366 Washington Street (Rt. 16)
Newton Lower Falls, MA
Phone: (617) 332-3000

2009 Boston Wine Expo: My Experiences

Once again I made the journey to the Boston Wine Expo, seeking some new wines to tantalize my palate. This year, my Expo experience began Saturday morning at Dunkin Donuts, located just outside the Expo building. Before the Expo opened, I met up with several wine friends, some whom I had previously known only online. Derek, Ana, Kristin, Dale, Sharon and I met and chatted a bit, getting to know each other, talking about wine and the Expo. It made for an excellent and memorable start to the day.

With my press pass, I entered the Expo during the trade hours, when it is far quieter. This is a perfect opportunity to really talk to the wine makers and distributors about their wines, to leisurely taste their wines. You don't have to fight any crowds to access the tables. You have total freedom to check out whichever table you desire. It certainly would be good if their trade hours were extended, especially as I was unable to attend the Sunday session.

With so many wines available, probably close to 2000, there is not sufficient time to taste everything, or even a significant fraction. You must be very selective in what you taste and it is beneficial to make a game plan before you even arrive at the Expo. I had done so, deciding before hand which wines I wanted to concentrate on, but with some leeway in case I found something different that enticed me. Though the Expo gives you a list of participants before hand, the list can be somewhat ambiguous if you don't know what products a particular named distributor provides.

When I first entered the main Expo hall, I spent a little time doing a walk through of all aisles, checking for anything that might not have been specifically listed, something I did not know about. This also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the food vendors. My exploration uncovered a few treasures of which I will post about soon. I was disappointed though that I did not see any Japanese Sake available for tasting. as I had enjoyed it last year.

I chose to concentrate my efforts on Greek wine and the wines of the New York Finger Lakes. I wanted to taste some less commonly available wines, something bit different. I can find and taste wines from California, Spain, France or Italy any time. Much better to check out something I have more difficulty finding. I will be posting about the wines I tasted in detail in the near future though I can tell you I found some impressive wines, and both regions are well worth checking out.

When the public hordes descended upon the main hall, it became far more difficult to speak with the wine makers and distributors. They had much more pouring to do, as well as handling a myriad of questions. It was also tougher to get close to some of the tables because of the crowds surrounding them. So, after a time, I chose to leave the Expo as I knew I could not get any more proper work done.

I knew too that I would be attending an Expo After-Party at the Boston Wine School later that evening, meeting more of my wine friends as well as tasting some new wines. I will be posting about that party too in the near future.

So keep an eye out for all of my Expo posts during the next couple weeks.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Unconventional Valentine's Day: Beacon Hill Hotel

I previously told you about the Valentine's Day dinner at the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro but they have added a new twist, a rather unconventional celebratory item. Valentine’s Day will also be the inaugural kick-off for a special hotel package for couples called "The Married Too Long Package."

The best way to describe this package is a celebration of our differences as well as the little things that make up the yin and yang of a happy and enduring relationship,” says Proprietor Peter Rait of The Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro. The package is the brainchild of Rait and his wife of 17 years Cecilia Rait.

A couple receives an overnight stay for two, dinner for two, breakfast for two and a discounted shopping card to area boutiques for her, and a universal remote (upon check-out) for the him!

Guests after check-in may separate and “do their own thing” guilt free. Amenities for the package include:

Perks for Him:
-Drinks and snacks at The Beacon Hill Bistro’s Bar
-Lounging all day in one of the Beacon Hill Hotel’s luxurious beds watching sports or movies
-Free admission to the Boston Sports Museum
-Universal Remote upon check-out (parting gift!)

Perks for Her:
-Exclusive shopping pass offering between 10%-20% off at Beacon Hill boutiques and shops such as: Wish, Good, Moxie, Crush, Beauty Mark and others!
-Shopping Bag Drop off Service
-Swanky Cocktails in front of The Beacon Hill Bistro’s fireplace

*Map Boston will also provide their Boston Guide Book with highlighted His & Her Boston Activities!

Couples reunite at day’s end for a lovely evening of dining and then upon retiring to their room compare notes on their day with a complimentary glass of champagne!

The Married Too Long Package is Available for booking between February 14 to March 31 and is $399.00 (not including room tax, beverages at dinner and gratuities). Availability is limited, and there is a $50 surcharge on Valentine’s Day itself (due to the extra special holiday menu).

Make your reservation today by calling 617-723-7575!

Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro
25 Charles Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-723-7575

A Sampling of Chilean Wines

Chile has become a very popular wine country. Though it may seem to many to be a relatively new wine country, it actually possesses a fairly long viticultural history. The first grape vines were planted during the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors. But quality wine production is much more of a recent matter. An important factor that has helped Chile is that it was very fortunate to avoid any problems with phylloxera.

One of the most enticing reason to try Chilean wines is that you can find many, inexpensive value wines. But don't be mistaken and think that they only have cheap wines. They do produce some exceptional high-end wines as well, such as 2005 Almaviva or the 2005 Casa Lapostolle Red Blend Clos Apalta (which was recently ranked Wine Spectator's #1 wine of 2008).

I recently had the opportunity to taste six different Chilean wines and wanted to share my thoughts. As I was not about to drink six bottles of wine on my own, I brought them to one of my weekly get-togethers with my wine buddies. We generally meet once a week to drink wine, chat and maybe play some cards or other games. And they were more than willing to help me drink some wine.

We began with a white wine, the 2007 Casa Silva Angostura Gran Reserva Chardonnay ($19). This is a 100% Chardonnay from the Colchagua Valley. This vineyard was founded in 1882 by a Frenchman from Bordeaux and it is currently owned and operated by the Silva family. They produce a full line of wines, of a variety of grapes, including Petite Verdot (which really interests me).

This wine had a light gold color with a nice smell of citrus and melon. I was pleased that it did not have a strong oak smell. The wine initially had a slight fizziness to the taste, but that vanished once the wine sat in the glass for a short time. I really enjoyed the taste of this wine, lush flavors of melon, green apple and pear. It was very crisp with only a hint of oak. This is the type of Chardonnay I prefer, letting the fruit stand out far above any oaky flavors. Though most of my friends are not big white wine drinkers, this wine seemed to please them and we finished the bottle. This is a wine I highly recommend.

Onto the red wines. The first red was the 2006 Viu Manent San Carlos Estate Single Vineyard Malbec ($25), a bit pricier than some Chilean wines but it also is a higher quality than many others. The wine is a blend of 93% Malbec and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Colchagua Valley like the Chardonnay. The wine was aged for about 14 months in new oak barrels (92% French and 8% American).

The wine was a dark purple in color with an enticing nose of bluberry and plum. Those fruit flavors come through on the taste as well, accompanied by a bit of an earthy touch. It is a tannic wine so you should drink it with food, maybe some wild game or even steak. It also has a long, satisfying finish and enough complexity to intrigue a wine lover. My friends did not care as much for this wine as I did. Though they generally liked it, it did not impress them. I though do recommend this wine.

The next wine was almost the opposite situation. It was the favorite of my friends, though it was not my style. This wine was the 2006 Viña Morande Edicion Limitada Carmenere ($22), a blend of 85% Carmenere and 15% Merlot from the Maipo Valley. Viña Morandé was founded in 1996 with the aim of producing high quality, innovative wines. Carmenere is the signature grape of Chile and is very popular But I am not a fan of Carmenere, often finding it akin to Cabernet Franc and usually having a green, vegetal taste which turns me off. I continue to try Carmenere wines, seeking one that I might like.

This wine was dark purple in color and did have a bit of a green smell to me. When I tasted it, I did detect a green, vegetal flavor accompanying some dark berry, ripe plum flavors. So I did not care for it. But my friends very much enjoyed this wine and felt it was the best of the group. So, though it is not my style, I would recommend this wine based on the opinions of the rest of my wine buddies. If you like Carmenere, this will definitely be a wine that will please you.

The 2006 Maquis Calcu ($12) was a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carmenere, and 15% Cabernet Franc from the Colchagua Valley. In the local Mapuche language, Calcu means “magician.” Though there is Carmenere in this blend, I did not detect any of the green taste or smell which turns me off. This wine was lightly oaked and had a very dark red color. On the nose, there were aromas of black cherry and plum. It had a delicious fruity taste with blueberry and plum, some minerality and plenty of acidity. The tannins were mild, making this a very easy-drinking wine. This was an every day wine, at a very reasonable price, and I would also recommend this wine. This was probably the best value wine of the group.

The 2006 De Martino Organic Cabernet/Merlot ($19.99) was a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Malbec from the Maipo Valley. This wine also had a dark red color (which appears to be a common trait of all these reds) with a bit of a closed nose. This felt more New World, fruit-forward with good flavors of blackberry, black cherry and ripe plum. It was a bit tannic and had a moderate finish. This was a good wine but it did not stand out for me. Everyone else kind of felt the same way, that it was nice to drink but a bit forgettable.

The only wine that really did not show well for my group was the 2007 Concha y Toro Cassillero del Diablo Carmenere ($10) from the Rapel Valley. For me, this wine had too much of the green, vegetal flavor I dislike. For the others, the taste did not appeal to them either, though not because of any green taste. Maybe though it showed poorly as it was the final wine, and just did not compete with the other wines we enjoyed. We have had wines from this winery before and liked them so this wine was more an exception.

Overall, we found some very good wines from Chile and I recommend you check them out. With the number of successes, we will continue seeking out Chilean wines to find more treasures.

For more information on Chilean wines, I also suggest you check out the Wines of Chile website.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Valentine's Day: Burtons Grill

For Valentine’s Day, you might want to consider Burtons Grill which will be offering a Valentine’s Day Features Menu in addition to their extensive regular menu.

Plus, they are offering a special gift to diners: Each party that orders two entrees after 6:00pm on Valentine’s Day will receive a $20 gift card that is redeemable in the Boston location Monday – Thursday, February 15 to March 31. “We are always looking for ways to encourage our patrons to make us their neighborhood restaurant, whether they live in the Fenway or not. A true neighborhood restaurant to us is an establishment that consistently strives to make their customers feel welcome,” said Bridget Kelly, General Manager of Burtons Grill.

The Valentine’s Day Feature Menu will include:

--Oysters Rockefeller ($12.95): 4 each blue point oysters served with creamy spinach, bacon and a touch of pernod
--New York Strip Au Poivre ($32.95): 14 oz aged angus beef, seasoned with cracked black peppercorns and finished with a cognac sauce, served with Baked potato and seasonal vegetable
--Salmon Oscar ($24.95): North Atlantic salmon topped with our crab meat imperial and lemon hollandaise, served with freshly grilled asparagus and risotto.
--Chocolate Flourless Torte ($5.95): With fresh whipped cream

Featured Martini:
--First Kiss ($9.00): A smooth blend of Bacardi Razz, Champaign, Guava and Cranberry juice, garnished with edible rose petals!

Seasonal Beer:
--Lambic Framboise Raspberry Beer ($9.00): A rose colored delicate palate of raspberries with a hint of fruity acidity

100th Wine:
Cupcake Vineyards (California - central coast)
His and Her Choice of
--2006 Cupcake Chardonnay, lots of citrus, but not to sweet, $8 Glass /$30 btl
--2006 Cupcake Cabernet, Scrumptious nose of fruit and vanilla, $8 glass /$30 btl

Valentine’s Day reservations are recommended by calling 617-236-2236.

Burtons Grill
1363 Boylston Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-236-2236

2003 Prats and Symington Chryseia

One of the joys of browsing the shelves of a wine store is finding a special bargain, a discounted wine that is worth far more than its price. At Bin Ends in Braintree, they have a special bin filled with assorted wines, all discounted 50%. Some of these wines were once rather expensive, over $100, so the discount can be quite substantial.

On one of my last visits to Bin Ends, I found a high-end Portuguese wine in this bin, the 2003 Prats and Symington Chryseia from the Douro region. It normally sold for $60 but was discounted to $30. I have tried many inexpensive Portuguese wines, but few higher-end ones so I decided to buy it and give it a try.

The Chryseia is the product of an alliance between the Symington family and Bruno Prats. The Symington family has been producing Port since 1882 and currently owns the Port Companies of Warre, Dow, Graham and Quinta do Vesuvio. Bruno Prats is a wine maker from Bordeaux and is also the former owner of Chateau Cos d'Estournel. The alliance between Symington and Prats began in 1998 with the objective of creating a high quality Douro wine. This led to their first vintage, the 2000 Chryseia.

"Chryseia is made from Touriga Nacional, a low yielding variety of great complexity and finesse, and Touriga Franca (was Touriga Francesa) which is more tannic. Also used are Tinta Roriz, known as Tinto del País (Tempranillo) in Ribera del Duero, and Tinto Cão, a variety with a most attractive aroma." The percentage of the grapes is generally not given and will vary from vintage to vintage. In addition, the Chryseia is only produced in good vintages. The 2003 vintage was notable for a very hot summer but some light rain at the start of September allowed the grapes to develop well. The harvest also took place under excellent conditions.

This wine had a deep purple color and the nose was a bit muted at first until it sat a bit. After some time, the nose gave hints of dark berries and floral notes. When I tasted the wine I found it rich and concentrated, with flavors of ripe plum, blackberry and a little chocolate. It was incredibly smooth, with very restrained tannins and a lengthy finish. An elegant wine that reminded me a bit of a Bordeaux, except it had its own unique taste in the background. That unique flavor is what I usually associate with indigenous Portuguese grapes. And the longer the wine sat and breathed, the more complexity it seemed to possess. I had some of the wine the next night and it seemed even richer and bolder.

On the first night, I paired the wine with some lamb tips, which had been obtained from a local arm. The lamb had a stronger flavor than the usual lamb tips but this wine paired well with them, its rich flavors complementing the flavor of the lamb. Overall, I was very pleased with this wine, especially as I bought it at such a great price. It is more than a simple table wine, having much more depth and flavor. With its mild tannins, it will also pair well with many different foods. If you can find this wine, buy it.

For more information, you can check out the interesting Catavino interview with Bruno Pats.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tour De Champagne

Who does not like bubbly? And of all bubbly, Champagne remains the most popular. Now you have the opportunity to try some of the finest Champagnes of France paired with culinary treats from some of Boston's finest restaurants. The Tour De Champagne is making a stop in Boston on March 14, 2009 at the Charles Hotel Cambridge from 7pm-10pm.

The Main Event includes:
--Featuring many major brands, along with smaller houses you may not know!
--Champagne & Caviar Reception
--Taste culinary delights from Boston's Best Chefs
--Live Music

Fin de Soiree at Regatta Bar
--Live Jazz
--Continue the evening compliments of our feature Champagne House (TBA)
--Or enjoy a snifter of Cognac served with dessert crepes
--And a dessert and chocolate buffet

Tickets cost: $115 General admission or $150 VIP admission

Check out their website for more details!

New Liquor Store in Stoneham?

A new wine & liquor store may be coming to Stoneham and I am not sure if that is a good idea or not. Though I normally would be excited about such a new store, there are some details about this potential store that fill me with trepidation. I don't expect that this new store will be the type of place I will support.

This month, the Stoneham Board of Selectmen granted a new liquor license to RWJ Beverage LLC, this being the last available liquor license for a package store in town. This means there will be five package stores in Stoneham. This new package store is supposed to be located within the BJ’s Wholesale Club. RWJ Beverage will sublease about 2100 square feet within BJ's.

Interestingly, the Board had previously rejected this request for a liquor license back in October 2008. Some felt that this was just a way for BJ’s Wholesale Club to circumvent state law which permits a business to only possess three liquor licenses. That is why only three BJ's in the state sell liquor and wine. But RWJ claims it has no affiliation with BJ's, and my own brief searches could not find a connection.

RWJ Beverage LLC is not some small business, not some struggling entrepreneur, but is rather connected to a major corporation, the Pyramid Hotel Group. This corporation is "a privately held full-service hotel company based in Boston." It employs over 7600 employees and manages over $8 billion in hotel real estate. They now appear poised to get involved in owning package stores.

Originally known as Pyramid Beverage LLC, they changed their name to RWJ Beverage LLC in August 2008. This change came just after they were denied a request for a liquor license in Framingham. In November 2008, they were successful in Danvers in obtaining a transfer of a liquor license from Mormax Corporation, d/b/a BJ’s Wholesale Club. It seems likely they will try to obtain a third liquor license elsewhere.

What kind of liquor store will such a big corporation create? It is supposed to be a discount store, possibly similar to the stores that already exist in BJ's. The current liquor stores in BJ's have good prices though the selection is limited and service is almost nonexistent. So, I don't consider them serious competition to other liquor and wine stores. If RWJ continues to run similar liquor stores, then there is little for other stores to worry about and not much to interest wine lovers besides some lower prices on a limited selection.

I am not confident that such a major corporation is going to create the type of liquor & wine store that I prefer. I don't feel they will have the same passion that a small business owner would possess. It will be an impersonal place, relying primarily on their lower prices to attract customers. I don't foresee an educated staff who can provide intriguing recommendations. I could be wrong, but I am willing to bet I am not.

The closest wine store to BJ's is Corporate Wines at Cummings Park in Woburn, also a discount store. If anything, Corporate Wines could have some competition from the new store at BJ's. But, it should be far enough away that it won't have much effect on the other Stoneham liquor stores.

Time will tell as to what type of liquor store is created within BJ's but I don't have high expectations.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BiNA Osteria: Superbowl Party

Do you have plans yet for the Superbowl? Well, if not, you might be interested in the Super Pig Fest at BiNA Osteria. BiNA Osteria is a hot new restaurant, owned by the same people that own Bin 26 Enoteca and Lala Rokh.

BiNA osteria is hosting a pig fest tail gate party honoring Super Bowl XLIII with the fresh slaughtering of their very own pig.

Menu items include:
Pig Chips & Dip
Pigs in a Blanket
Coppa di Testa
Pork Croquettes
Pork Confit Pannini
Bacon & Egg Pizza
AZ “Huckin Hot” Ribs
Herb Marinated Pig Butter

WHEN: Sunday, February 1, starting at 5pm

COST: $20.00 per person

BiNA Osteria
581 Washington Street (At Avery)
Boston, MA

Duck Walk: Thai in Wakefield

One of the most popular restaurants in Wakefield center is the Duck Walk, a Thai place. It is a medium-sized restaurant with a large and hip-looking bar. It presents an elegant ambiance, resembling a place that would fit into Boston. They seem to be seeking to present a more high-end feel in the suburbs.

When you are seated, you are presented with a food menu and an extensive wine and alcohol list, including many high-end options. But the wine prices are expensive, generally seeming to be triple the usual retail cost, especially for their least expensive wines. Thus, I would not recommend ordering the wine unless you are willing to really overpay for it. In addition, I don't think this restaurant needs such an extensive list. They may have over 100 Cabernet Sauvignons for example, and I really don't see any need for all of those similar wines. I somehow doubt they get that much call for all of those Cabernets.

Food prices tend to be on the pricier side as well, making this one of the most expensive Thai restaurants I know. But, on the plus side, the food is excellent, high quality food that is likely to please, making the high prices a bit more palatable. On a recent visit, I began with the Chicken Fingers and Pan-Fried Dumplings, both around $8 each. The Chicken Fingers have a thinner batter, which I prefer, than what you find in many Chinese restaurants. So when you bit into it, you get far more chicken than batter in your mouth. The crispy batter covers moist white meat and there is a delicious sweet sauce for dipping. I definitely recommend these. The Dumplings were good too, though not exceptional.

For entrees, we had the Tamarind Duck and Garlic Shrimp, each around $22. The Duck is a half duck, boneless, with a delicious crispy skin covering a meaty duck breast. The Tamarind sauce has a nice sweetness to it and there is a hint of spiciness too. There was a lot of duck on the plate and it was well worth the price. I have had this duck before and it always has been very good. The shrimp was also an excellent choice, with plenty of shrimp in a mound of veggies with a flavorful garlic sauce.

On previous visits, I have almost always enjoyed the dishes I ordered. The food is consistent and service is usually very good. Besides the high prices, there is little to complain about. And the prices don't seem to keep the people away as it is often quite busy, especially at the bar. I do recommend this place with the caveat about their prices, especially in these leaner economic times.

Duck Walk
397 Main St.
Wakefield, MA
Phone: (781) 246-3715

Duck Walk on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2009

WBW #54: A Passion for Piedmont

The theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday #54 has been announced and I am already ahead of the game with my earlier post from today. David of McDuff's Food & Wine Trail (who I recently awarded the One Lovely Blog Award) is this month's host and he has chosen the theme: A Passion for Piedmont.

Piedmont, located in the northwestern corner of Italy, produces a wide variety of whites and reds, including Gavi di Gavi, Moscato d’Asti, the famed Barolo and Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto and other indigenous grapes. I am a big fan of wines from this region and you will find numerous reviews of Piedmont wines on my blog. My earlier post of today was a review of three Barbera wines from the Cascina Roera winery in Piedmont. On my list of Top Ten Wines Under $15 of 2008, the 2004 Le Piane La Maggiorina from Piedmont made the list. And on my Top Ten Wines Over $15 of 2008, you can find the 2007 D.J. Vajra Moscato D'Asti from Piedmont.

The rules for this theme are quite easy. Just pick any wine from the Piedmont and review it. So your choices are multitude. Will you select an effervescent Moscato or a well-aged Barolo? Will you compare Barberas from different wineries? Will you seek the most obscure Piedmont varietal?

Your review is due on Wednesday, February 18. Once you have posted your review, just email the link to David at and he will make sure you get added to the round up. If you lack a blog, feel free to email your review to David.

Cascina Roera

I always enoy attending wine tastings where the wine makers are present. You learn so much about the wines as well as getting to see the passion within the wine makers. Above you can see Piero Nebiolo and Claudio Rosso, two Italian wine makers of Cascina Roera, that I recently had the pleasure to meet at a wine tasting at Salem Wine Imports. Arranged by Adonna Imports, I brought a bunch of members of the North Shore Winers to the tasting and everyone seemed to really enjoy the tasting and the wines. I was very impressed with the Barberas I tasted.

The Cascina Roera winery was founded in 2002, on land that had long been in the family of Claudio Rosso. Claudio's father was one of the first in the area to start bottling his own wines rather than sell everything in bulk. Piero Nebiolo also grew up in a grape growing family. Cludio and Piero came together with a goal of creating high quality wines. Their vineyards are located in the commune of Costigliole d'Asti, which is in the heart of the Barbera D'Asti appellation. Their vineyards are mostly grown with Barbera, about 65%, as well as 18% Chardonnay, 10% Nebbiolo, and the rest of Arneis, Cortese and Freisa.

They feel that wine should generally be made in the vineyard and they engage in organic practices. They are not certified as organic, though they could be, but that is their choice. They do not feel the label sufficiently protects consumers. They usually produce about 35K-40K bottles of wine, but in recent years production has been closer to half that amount due to new plantings and adverse weather.

Claudio spoke about the wines as Piero speaks very little English. They were both very personable, despite the language barrier, and I was happy to feel their passion for their wines. These Barberas are labors of love for them, an infusion of their desire to make more natural, high quality wines.

Barbera is the most heavily planted grape in the Piedmont region and its style can vary quite widely. In general though, barbera has high natural acidity, low tannins and a deep ruby color. It is a great food wine due to its acidity, and can be paired with various dishes depending on the style of the Barbera. For this tasting, we got to try three Cascina Roera Barberas.

First up was their 2006 Vino Rosso da Tavola IGT ($19). I actually have tasted this wine before, back in September 2008. I very much enjoyed it then and it was just as good this time. About 1000 cases of this wine were produced and it is a smooth, easy drinking table wine, perfect for pizza to pasta. It has delicious dark berry flavors, a decent finish and good acidity. A nice every day wine that is sure to please most people.

The next two wines were similar in that they were both 100% Barbera d'Asti Superiore but they came from different vineyards. And those vineyards produced two different style wines, though both quite excellent. The differences were not produced in the winery but were effects of terroir. Comparing these two wines was very informative as to how different vineyards can produce such different style wines from the same grape.

The 2004 San Martino Barbera d'Asti Superiore ($29) is produced from a vineyard with southern exposure and its soil has a high percentage of clay. The vines average about fifteen years old. The wine was aged for about a year in large oak casks. They generally use Austrian oak and they use larger barrels so as to not impart too much oak into the wine. They want to add some tannins for ageing potential, but don't want to mask the flavor of the wine with oak. The wine also has an alcohol content of 15% and only a few hundred cases were produced. The wine has a rich, deep red color and an enticing nose of black cherry and blackberries. It had a delicous taste, rich berry flavors with rustic notes. It was very smooth, with low tannins and a lengthy finish. The more you tasted, the more you realized the complexity of this well-balanced wine. Plenty of acidity make this a fine food wine. This wine impressed me and I was sure to buy some of it.

The 2004 Cardin Barbera d'Asti Superiore ($32) is produced from a vineyard with a west exposure and the soil is of medium structure. The vines average over thirty years old, so are older than the San Martino grapes. The wine was aged for about a year in large oak casks and has an alcohol content of 15%. Again, only a few hundred cases of this wine were produced. The wine is also named after a nickame of Claudio's father, who name in English would be Richard. And such a grand name that is. This is a more elegant wine, without the rustic notes. And the most dominant fruit flavor is blueberry, one of my favorites. It too is complex, balanced and has a lingering finish that really satisfies. This would also be a fine food wine. I probably preferred this wine slightly more than the San Martino.

As the San Martino and Cardin are of limited production and of such high quality, I feel their price is very reasonable. These are wines that will impress and should last for a number of years in your cellar if you can keep yourself from opening them right away.
The above intriguing illustration is on their wine labels. The crustacean is an "astice," the Italian word for "lobster." Unfortunately, the ilustration has no real meaning or story behind it. But I do enjoy its look.

You should seek out the wines of Cascina Roera, excellent examples of what small, artisan producers in Italy are producing. Why drink mass-produced wines, ordinary wines when you can drink fine, artisan wines of character? For me, the choice is easy. Find and drive the more unique wines, such as these.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saké Articles in Wine & Spirits

Saké lovers: Check out the latest issue of Wine & Spirits magazine (February 2009) as it has a couple items of interest about Saké.

First, learn about Moto-i, the first Saké brewpub in the United States. Owner Blake Richardson opened this place in Minneapolis and currently sells three types of Saké on draft, including a junmai nama nigori, a junmai nama and a junmai nama genshu. He plans to expand his range to nine different namas. The bar is like a Japanese izakaya, serving small plates of food to have with your namazake. I think it is so great to see how Saké consumption continues to expand across the U.S.

Second, read the article "Niigata Saké: The Peak of Jizake" which explains about the Saké from this prefecture of Japan, and how small breweries are taking advantage of the terroir to craft distinctive Saké that reflects the region. Niigate Saké is generally light, crisp and clean, a style that should especially appeal to newcomers to Saké. Learn all about this region and its Saké, as well as find some recommendations.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Food Blogger Dinner: Sandrine's Bistro

As I have said before, local food bloggers just do not seem as united as local wine bloggers. Yet food bloggers can help each other in so many different ways, just as wine bloggers have been doing and continue to do. There is no reason why food bloggers cannot organize and help each other. In general, food and wine blogging is not a competitive field so we lose nothing by assisting each other. We can only benefit.

A positive step was taken this past Thursday evening at a food blogger dinner, organized by Chris Lyons of Lyons Communications, at Sandrine's Bistro in Harvard Square. Several local bloggers met each other for the first time: chatting, eating and drinking. The guests included Jacqueline Church, the The Leather District Gourmet; Adele, the Basil Queen; Pam of Cave Cibum; and Megan of MenuPages.

The dinner was delicious and Jacqueline has posted an excellent description, with photos, which you should check out. For my own entree, I had the New England Rack of Lamb which was superb. Meaty and flavorful lamb in a rich and slightly spicy sauce. I have reviewed Sandrine's before and have always very much enjoyed it, whether brunch, lunch or dinner. Master Chef Raymond Ott is quite talented and I highly recommend you stop by his restaurant.

It was a fascinating evening. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, getting to know the different bloggers, each with their own unique background and style. There was much laughter and many smiles. I do think we grew closer, sharing tips and information, acknowledging that we can do so much more together rather than as separate individuals. This was a big step forward and I believe there will be more progress in the near future, including other such dinners and meetings. The people I met will become at least colleagues, and some may even become friends.

Good bloggers all share a similar quality: passion. They write because they love food and wine, because they want to share their joy and passion with others. That passion unites us on many levels and I was pleased to see that passion in others at dinner, especially Jacqueline. So at our dinner, there were several passionate foodies, though I remain THE Passionate Foodie. :)

Addendum 1/27/09: The other guests at this dinner have now all posted their own take on this wonderful evening so I thought you might like to check out their thoughts too.

Megan of MenuPages: Alsace in Your Face
Adele, the Basil Queen: Life Lessons
Pam of Cave Cibum: Blogger Dinner at Sandrine's

Friday, January 23, 2009

2009 Penin Guide to Spanish Wine

The 2009 Penin Guide To Spanish Wine has recently been released in the US. It is considered one of the most definitive books on Spanish wine. The Penin Guide is is a trade-sized paperback book and has only been available in English for a few years. I have been buying copies since 2006 and think they are valuable resources.

The 2009 Penin Guide is similar to the 2008 edition, which means it also lacks about 175 pages of general educational information about wine that had been in the earlier editions. I would like to see this section placed back into the book, making it more helpful, especially to those new to wine.

The book primarily consists of thousands of wine reviews and listings for the wines and wineries of Spain. It also provides information of the current vintage in Spain and specific information on each D.O. The 2009 contains about 400 more wines than the last edition. The book also mention that they have seen less use of new oak by Spanish wine makers, many now using second-hand barrels to impact less oak impact to the wines.

There are also twice as many white wines in this edition as there were in the last one. White wines are really starting to become popular in Spain, including from regions that once were known mainly for red wines. I have seen a surge locally in Albarino and a few other Spanish whites, though Spanish reds still seem the most popular here.

The price of the 2009 Guide is $45, the same as last year's edition. But, you can buy it online through Barnes & Noble for only $36, and even less if you have a membership there.

If you really love Spanish wines and want more specific information about Spain and its wineries, then this guide is worthwhile to you. It is a good resource to find Spanish winery websites and other contact information.

Valentine's Day: Pho Republique

Good news, Pho Republique is another restaurant doing something about the fact that Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday, and is likely to be an extremely busy night. They are offering their specials all week from February 9– February 15.

In addition to serving their regular menu, they will be serving up a la carte specials such as:

Crispy Thai Love Pouches with Chicken ($10)
Scallion Pancake with Sweet Potato Curry ($10)
My Heart Beets Salad (Hearts of Palm, Artichoke Hearts, Red Beets, Fresh Greens, Miso Ginger Dressing) ($10)
Grilled Teriyaki Hanger Steak with Lobster Fried Rice ($24)
Seared Florida Grouper with Chinese Red Vinaigrette & Avocado Salad ($24)
Brown Sugar Banana Spring Rolls with Coconut Ice Cream ($8)
Sesame Macadamias Tart with Ginger Ice Cream ($8)

Call 617-262-0005 for reservations! And I am definitely considering making reservations here.

Pho Republique
1415 Washington St.
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-262-0005

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Culture: The Word on Cheese

I love cheese, of all types, and think it pairs well with so many foods. Ooey, gooey, melted Monterey Jack on a sandwich, a mound of shredded Parmesan on a salad, chunks of Manchego with some agave nectar, a pungent Gorgonzola ravioli. The options are endless, and eminently delicious.

I love visiting a cheese shop, marveling at the incredible diversity of cheese, tasting the unfamiliar and unusual. Give me some bread, cheese and wine and I am very happy. Many times I am happy at a fine restaurant to have a cheese plate rather than a sweet dessert.

Cheese and wine share commonalities, and there is much you can learn about both topics. I have read a few books about cheese but know there is much more I still don't know about cheese. And I want to learn more. Thus I was quite pleased to find a new resource, an intriguing magazine devoted to cheese.

The premiere issue of Culture: The Word on Cheese has just been released and this is how they describe themeselves. "With every issue you will discover the flavors and textures of great cheeses. You will learn about new cheeses and cheesemakers. You will read about the stories behind the cheeses you love. You will finally have a place to turn to satisfy your passion for all things cheese."

I picked up the Winter 2008 ($6.99) at a local Barnes & Nobles book store. This is apparently a special introductory price as it is usually priced at $12.95 an issue. The magazine will be published quarterly and is slightly larger than a normal-sized magazine, yet smaller than a magazine like Wine Spectator. It is a glossy magazine, of 96 pages, with plenty of large pictures inside, many quite enticing images of cheese.

Yet this is not just a pretty, but shallow, magazine. I found plenty of interest within the magazine, a wide variety of informative articles. There are some brief news items and trivia. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson was the first US President to receive a massive block of cheese as a gift? I didn't. I was also amazed to learn that cheese consumption in the U.S. increased 106% between 1976 and 2006. In comparison, wine consumption during that same period only increased 38.2%. It certainly seems that the popularity of cheese is growing at an incredible rate.

Read about Bob Wills, a Master Cheesemmaker of Cedar Grove Cheese in Wisconsin. Find recommendations for cheese options in San Francisco. Learn about cheese making in Ireland. There is even a Centerfold, though there is no nudity, just a highlight of Winnimere cheese. I especially enjoyed the article on pairing grower Champagne and sparkling wine with cheese as well as the informative essay on the various types of blue cheese.

Though I am not a beer person, you can find a brief item on pairing beer and cheese. Some of the recipes in the magazine also intrigued me, including the Farmstead's Cheesemonger's Mac 'n Cheese and Pleasant Ridge Gougeres. You will even find dessert recipes that use cheese. I even ended the magazine with a laugh, amused by an essay in their Stirrings column, the tale of a cheese cart which had a terrible accident.

Though some warn of the demise of print magazines, there is also ample evidence that niche magazines stand the best chance of longevity. This is a niche magazine which I suspect will survive and thrive. It covers a fascinating topic, cheese, and has little serious competition, except for food magazines which may occasionally publish a cheese article.

I found their articles to be well written, interesting, and supported by some beautiful photography. It is not pretentious and caters to all types of cheese lovers, who will likely learn much within its pages. I heartily recommend this magazine and I will eagerly await its next issue.

Feast of St. Vincent

Raise a glass of wine today and celebrate the Feast of St. Vincent of Zaragoza, patron saint of wine growers and wine makers. This Spanish saint, also known as Vincent the Deacon, Vincent Tourante, and Vincent of Aragon, is the earliest known Spanish martyr. He was eventually imprisoned, tortured and martyred in Valencia in 304 A.D.

Allegedly, the governor Dacian was persecuting Christians, trying to eliminate the religion from his lands. Vincent, his bishop Valerius, and some other priests were apprehended. The bishop had a speech impedient so Vincent acted as their spokesman being bold and unrepentent. This only angered Dacian even more, so he had Vincent horribly tortured and eventually killed. There is a legend that his dead body was tossed into a bog to be eaten by wild animals. But, a raven protected the corpse from being eaten by any animal.

It is thought that Vincent became patron of wine growers and makers more due to the symbolic echo of his name rather than anything he did wine related. In the villages of Burgundy, on the Feast Day, they carry a statue of Vincent for a tour of the village, ending at the church. After Mass, the statue would be taken to a family of wine growers to keep it safe for the year.

Do you do anything to commemorate the feast day of Saint Vincent?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

I was surprised and pleased yesterday to receive the One Lovely Blog Award from Erika of StrumErika, a fellow blogger who covers both food and wine, including many restaurants in New York City. So it is now my duty, and my pleasure, to pass on the love to seven food and/or wine blogs that I especially enjoy.

1) Catavino
Ryan and Gabriella have recently given their excellent site a significant makeover and it is well worth checking out. Their site concentrates on Iberian wines yet also includes information on food, restaurants, and travel to Spain and Portugal. It is a model example of what can be accomplished with a blog by two very dedicated and personable individuals.

2) Good Wine Under $25
Dr. Debs covers primarily excellent value wines but has been branching out a bit more to cover food as well. She is a skilled writer with a discerning palate and her posts are always entertaining and informational.

3) Lenndevours
Another niche blog, Lenn covers the world of New York food and wines, from Long Island to the Hudson Valley. He has a number of contributors help him out but he clearly devotes much effort and passion into his blog. I have used some of his recommendations on a recent trip to Long Island, and he was spot on, making it a very enjoyable trip.

4) The Pinotage Club
I love Pinotage and there is no better place for information about that grape than Peter May's blog. He covers only Pinotage and does a great job at it. He is also very personable and passionate.

5) McDuff's Food & Wine Trail
David covers both food and wine on his blog, which is very well written and evidences plenty of knowledge about wine. I always seem to learn something on his blog and look forward to each new post.

6) Drinks Are on Me
Dale Cruse, a Boston area blogger, covers food and wine on his well-designed site. I have also had the pleasure of hanging out with Dale on a number of occasions and he is down-to-earth guy and friendly guys. His irreverant take on food and wine is very interesting.

7) Cave Cibum
Pam is another Boston area blogger but her emphasis is on food, from recipes to restaurant reviews. She has excellent photos on her site as well as many intriguing recipes.

These seven awardees just need to follow the simple rules below to receive this award and pass it on:

1. Add the logo to your blog.
2. Link to the person from whom you've received the award.
3. Nominate seven blogs of your choice.
4. Leave a message on the nominees’ blogs telling them of their award.


Aura & Bonny Doon Vineyards

Aura Restaurant welcomes Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyards for a special wine dinner with guest of honor, winery founder and self-proclaimed “vitizen of the world,” Randall Graham. If having the opportunity to experience Randall’s rants on “ugly duckling grape varietals” isn’t reason enough to reserve your tickets today, than perhaps Chef Rachel Klein’s spirited 3-course pairing menu will be:

First Course:
Georges Bank Scallop
with Gnocchi, baby fennel, Coulommier cream and apple
Paired with the 2006 Cigare Volant Blanc

Second Course:
Moulard Duck Breast with Star anise, black garlic and Chinese shiitake mushrooms
Paired with the 2003 Cigare Volant

Apricot Crumble
with Greven Broeker, marcona almond and honey-yoghurt sorbet
Paired with the Le Vol des Anges

The wine dinner will be held on Friday, January 23. There will be a Reception at 6:30 PM and Dinner at 7:30 PM. The dinner costs $85 per person (includes tax and gratuity).

Reservations are Recommended. Please call 617-385-4300.

One Seaport Lane
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-385-4300

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Valentine's Day: Bella Luna & the Milky Way

Bella Luna Restaurant and The Milky Way Lounge & Lanes are also celebrating Valentine's Day just on Saturday, February 14. The owners state they have a very romantic location. "We had our first date at Bella Luna!” is a line that owners Kathie Mainzer and Carol Downs hear on a regular basis. “Not only have many couples had their first date here, but they have also gotten engaged here, celebrated their anniversaries here and we’ve hosted over fifty weddings downstairs! Bella Luna and The Milky Way have strong love connections for many different people and we hope they all join us for our last Valentine’s Day in our Centre Street location before our move in Spring of 2009,” said Carol Downs.

With Bella Luna and The Milky Way Lounge gearing up for their relocation in Spring of 2009, this will be the final time many couples will be able to dine here. Bella Luna and The Milky Way will be celebrating with their Lover’s Rendezvous event which will include a fabulous four-course prefix dinner for $35 per person followed by Latin Dancing at their famous Mango’s Night downstairs at The Milky Way Lounge and Lanes. Also, returning couples to Bella Luna will receive a complementary photo courtesy of Bella Luna!

Valentine’s Day Prefix Menu

--Italian Wedding Soup
--Miniature Meatballs, Escarole and Pastina
--Summer Love (In Tuscany)
--Citrus Marinated Lobster Cake & Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Salad (Shared Course)
--Two Hearts as One: Champagne Marinated Hearts of Palm and Organic Greens with Basil Infused Goat Cheese Raspberry & Hearts of Palm Jam and Crispy Flat Bread

--Pepper Crusted Beef Tenderloin: Creamy Mascarpone Polenta, Braised Brussels Sprouts and Chianti Demi Glace
--Love Touches the Sole: Tender Pan Roasted Filet of Sole Filled with Sweet Potato Stuffing Cauliflower Au Gratin and Preserved Lemon Sauce
--Fire Side Risotto: Flame Grilled Portobello, Yellow Peppers, Asparagus and Red Onions Finished with a touch of Madiera Wine and Cream. Drizzled with Balsamic Reduction.

Desserts (Shared Course)
--Love comes in the form of Chocolate…: House Made Truffles, Cookies, Chocolate Strawberries, Miniature White Chocolate Cheesecakes and Cannoli

Bella Luna Restaurant
403-405 Centre St.
Jamaica Plain, MA
Phone: 617-524-6060

Valentine's Day: Beacon Hill Bistro

The Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro is having a special Valentine's Day dinner though it is only available on February 14, from 5:30pm –11pm. So, if you wish to partake of this special dinner, I advise that you make reservations as early as possible.

Executive Chef Jason Bond will prepare the following menu:

Amuse Bouche
Potato Chips, Bagna Cauda


--Four Wellfleet Oysters, Hot and Cold: Two Chilled with Champagne Gelée, Two Gratinée with Creamed Leeks, Shaved Radish and Frisée Salad
--Celery Velouté: Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Savory Croutons, and Rillons
--Seared Bay Scallops: Blood Orange, Mustard Fruits, Sunchoke Puree, and Arugula
--Skewered and Grilled Duck Hearts, Duck Liver-Armagnac Mousse, Crisp Pancetta, Fresh Cranberry Bean Salad
--Boston Bibb Lettuce, Pomegranate, Hearts of Palm, and Goat Cheese with Tarragon

--Wild Striped Bass Roasted with Bronze Fennel and Fresh Bay, La Ratte Potatoes, Glazed Macomber Turnips, Picholine Olive and Bergamot
--Tortelli di Zucca Dolce-Amaro, Pumpkin Broth, Burnt Butter Hazelnuts, Amaretti
--Pekin Duck Breast with Quince Glaze, Slowly Braised Root Cellar Vegetables and Pickled Cranberries
--Whole Roasted Lamb Saddle, Baby Leeks, Salsify, Madeira Jus

--Chocolate Terrine with Vin Santo, Pear, Fig, and Chestnut Marmalade
--Pavlova, Pistachio Anglaise, Red Currants, Spruce Cream
--Macaron en Blush, Pineapple, Grapefruit, Kalamondin Macedoine
--Bouton de Culotte, Strawberry and Sage Blossom Syrup

Cost: $65 Per Person. Please call 617-723-7575 for reservations.

Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro
25 Charles Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-723-7575

Poison Pen Press

Would you like to learn how to brew beer like a Trappist monk? Have you ever wanted to prepare a dinner based on ancient Roman recipes? Are you fascinated by ancient Chinese tea culture? Do you want to know about medieval cheese making?

If so, you can find information on these topics and many similar ones if you know where to look. Let me point you to one valuable resource, the Poison Pen Press, a book seller which carries many unique titles, a fair share that deal with historical food, wine and beer and which many contain recipes. They also sell books dealing with such topics as costuming, gardening, blacksmithing, weaponry and even juvenile fantasy.

Though their books can be ordered online, Poison Pen Press also attends a number of science-fiction conventions, including Arisia in Cambridge, and that is where I first encountered them. Over the years, I have bought many books from them, most dealing with historical foods and drinks. I have found the books to generally be very intriguing and interesting. Some of the books are a bit pricey, but these are usually the rarer books which are hard to find anywhere.

I recently purchased a couple books from them. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods by Meredith Dreiss and Sharon Greenhill is a historical look at the place of chocolate within ancient Mesoamerican civilization, including its place in myth, ritual and daily life. Cooking in Ancient Civilizations by Cathy Kaufman contains information and recipes on cooking in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. You can learn about such items as Sumerian beer, Athenian wine, Roman garum sauce, Egyptian Matzoh and much more.

Check out their website and see what they have to offer. I am sure you will find something to peak your interest. The unique books also make great gifts for the foodie who seems to have everything.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Zephyr on the Charles

I recently spent a couple nights at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge and while dining at the bar within the Zephyr on the Charles, I had an excellent appetizer, home-made potato chips with blue cheese ($9). Though the dish usually comes with carmelized onions and scallions, I had them left off the dish. I wanted something simpler and I felt the onions would have distracted from the dish.

The chips were obviously home made, thin and nicely crisp. The crumbles of blue cheese were partially melted and added an interesting tang to the salty chips. The blue cheese was a milder form and did not overpower your taste buds. The chips and cheese paired very well together and did not need anything else. The plate had plenty of chips, though I would recommend asking for extra blue cheese. They did not charge me for the extra cheese.

I am not crazy about their wine list, too many of the usual, unexciting choices but they do have excellent taste in vodka. They carry two of my favorites, Stoli Elit and Chopin.

Zephyr on the Charles
575 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-441-6510

Zephyr on the Charles on Urbanspoon

Valentine's Day: The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot is also doing something about the fact that Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday, and is likely to be an extremely busy night. This year, they are offering their special Valentine's menu from Friday, February 13 to Sunday, February 15.

This special 5 course menu is only $60 per person, and it includes:

First Course:
--Champagne Swiss Cheese Fondue
--Boston Lager Cheddar Cheese Fondue

Second Course:
--House Salad
--Strawberry Hearts Salad

Third Course:
--Strawberry Sorbet
--Lemon Sorbet

Fourth Course:
---Cupid's Delight: Lobster Tail, Filet Mignon, Cedar Plank Salmon, Memphis Barbecue Pork Tenderloin, Key West Shrimp, Honey Dijon Chicken, Spinach Artichoke Ravioli
--Valentine's Feast: Filet Mignon Medallions, Cedar Plank Salmon, Memphis Barbecue Pork Tenderloin, Key West Shrimp, Honey Dijon Chicken, Spinach Artichoke Ravioli

Fifth Course:
--Pure white or milk chocolate fondue swirled with Chambord
--Chocolate S'Mores Fondue: Milk or dark chocolate with marshmallow cream, flambéed & garnished with crushed graham crackers.

Vegetarian Entrée Option: $50 per Person

1/2 Bottle of Champagne & Chocolate Fondue (After 10pm) - $45 per Couple

Additional Flower & Champagne Packages
1 Rose - $15
3 Roses - $25
6 Roses - $40
1/2 Bottle of Champagne & 1 Rose - $40

The Melting Pot
213 Burlington Rd. (Rt.62)
Bedford, MA
Phone: 781-791-0529

Valentine's Day: The Beehive

Many of us go out to dinner on Valentine's Day, seeking a romantic meal to add to the ambiance of the evening. As Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday this year, it is sure to be a very busy night, not only with couples celebrating the holiday. So what are you to do?

The Beehive offers a solution. They have decided to offer a weeklong opportunity to wine and dine your significant other with their “Make Love all Week” Valentine’s Day offering being held Monday, February 9 to Saturday, February 14.

We wanted to do something for our customers taking into account that they should be able to make their Valentine’s Day plans around their schedule and not the other way around,” said Jack Bardy, Co-Owner of The Beehive.

The weeklong event will give customers the freedom to enjoy al a carte food and cocktail specials, special live performances, and a 10% discount on The Beehive’s Champagne list.

Executive Chef Rebecca Newell has whipped up some romantic offerings on the culinary end for the weeklong celebration including:

--Lobster & Truffle Fondue for Two Lovers: A three-cheese fondue with fresh lobster meat and shaved black truffle served with brioche toast ($45 for Two)

--Roast Chateaubriand for Two: Served with spinach-stuffed tomatoes, roast asparagus and twice baked potatoes with a bordelaise sauce ($45 for Two)

--Love by Chocolate: A chocolate lovers paradise including fresh fruit such as bananas and strawberries smothered in melted chocolate ($12 for Two)

The Beehive will also be hosting special romantic and fun performances all week starting at 7:00pm on Monday – Wednesday and 6:30pm Friday and Saturday including the following artists:

February 9: Malavasi-Fieldman Jazz Quartet (Jazz)
February 10: David Fiuzcynski (Electric Jazz)
February 11: Marlene Delrosario w/Gregg Hopkins (Jazz Vocalist)
February 12: Jerry Bergonzi- 10pm-2am (Jazz)
February 13: Early Performance: Maggie Grebowicz 6:30pm – 8:30pm (Jazz)
---Evening Performance: Huervo Circo 10pm-2am (Latin Folk Rock)
February 14: Early Dinnertime performance starting at 6:30PM – 8:30pm Isabella Dugraf (Jazz Vocalist)
---Patrice Williamson 10:00PM – 2:00AM (Valentine’s Day Standards)

Reservations Recommended. For reservations, call 617-423-0069

The Beehive
541 Tremont Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-423-0069

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Israeli Wine Tasting: February 4

The Israeli Consulate to New England invites you to meet leading Israeli wine makers at a special tasting of their wines. This event is presented by Israeli Wine Direct, an importer of boutique wines from Israel. The five participating wineries will include Margalit, Pelter, Flam, Tzora, and Tulip.

Have you had Israeli wines before? If not, I think the wines you will find at this tasting will surprise you. Israel is making some excellent wines now but they have yet to become widely available or known. Plus, it is always an interesting tasting where you can speak with the actual wine makers. I attended the last Israeli wine tasting in September 2008, and it was excellent with some impressive wines.

This tasting will take place on February 4, from 6pm-8pm at the Bulthaup Showroom, 200 Boylston St., Boston, MA.

Please RSVP by January 27 by email to or call 617-535-0218. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Menu Bargains: Sandrine's Bistro

Want more menu bargains? Well you can find some at Sandrine's Bistro, a restaurant which I recommend.

First, celebrate the Presidential Inauguration on January 20 with a one-day only "Economic Stimulus." Every appetizer on the ala carte menu is just $5-10; every entrée only $15-22; every dessert $6. This is a deep discount for deeply discouraged diners so take advantage and reserve today.

Second, Maitre Cuisiner de France Raymond Ost loves winter. He loves making soups that simmer, terrines that slow-roast, meats that braise, and hearty ingredients like pork, leeks, cabbages and beef. It reminds him of his home in Strausburg. Beginning this month and continuing throughout the coldest months, Ost will create one signature Alsatian dish per night and offer it as a menu special for just $25.

Look for:
--Bakeoffe: A carnivore’s delight, this rarely-seen specialty combines chunks of beef, pork and lamb marinated in white wine for three days, then oven-roasted for hours with potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks.
--Beouf Bourguignon
--Winter Vegetable Wellington
--Melknepfle: Herbed dumplings layered with spinach and white sauce

Third, Chef Ost is offering a nightly amuse bouche of moules mariniere (mussels sailor-style)swimming in white wine and served in charming copper pots. This treat will be offered all winter for only $2.

Sandrine's Bistro
8 Holyoke Street
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-497-5300

Bistro 5 Wine Dinner with Isole e Olena: January 29

On January 29, prepare for an amazing wining and dining experience. I'll be there and hope to see some of my readers as well.

Bistro 5, an excellent Italian restaurant in Medford, is hosting a wine dinner with a special guest, Paolo De Marchi, a famed Tuscan wine maker who owns the winery Isole e Olena. This will be a four course dinner with wine pairings for $75. This should be an exceptional event.

I met Paolo last April and got to taste many of his wines, and they were superb. He was also a very nice person, charming and down-to-earth. His Chianti Classico even made my list of Top Ten Wines over $15 of 2008.

I am also a big fan of Bistro 5 and you can find multiple reviews here and here. Bistro 5 was also my "Favorite Local Restaurant" of 2008.

Here is the menu for this wine maker dinner. I know the various courses really appeal to me.

First Course--
House Cured “Salumi” (Duck prosciutto, Boar prosciutto, brioche, poached pear, foie gras mousse and vincotto)
Paired with a 2007 Isole e Olena, Collezzione De Marchi, Chardonnay

Second Course--
Risotto al Chianti (Truffled Fondue and wild mushrooms)
Paired with a 2005 Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico

Third Course--
Braised Veal Breast (Gorgonzola, figs and veal jus)
Paired with a 2005 Propieta Sperina

Fourth Course--
Cheese Selection
Paired with a 2005 Isole e Olena, Cepparello Toscana Rosso

Call the restaurant (Tel: 781-395-7464) to make reservations, and tell them The Passionate Foodie sent you! I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Menu Bargains

Many restaurants are feeling the economic squeeze and they are taking steps accordingly to try to entice people to dine out. What this means is that you can find inexpensive or less expensive specials at many places, including some high-end restaurants. So if you can treat yourself to a night out, this may be the time to try some place new. Here are a couple suggestions.

At the Eliot Hotel in Boston, both Clio and Uni are offering specials. I am a big fan of Clio but it is pricey, though well worth it. Right now, they are running a Weeknight special, a 3-course Market Menu for $49. They also have a new bar menu with small plates and Japanese inspired tapas. I like Uni as well, but feel the portions are often small and too pricey. But as a special, they are running Maki Mondays, offering all-you-can-eat maki for only $32. I think that is a good deal and probably will try to drop by soon to check it out.

Do you enjoy lobster and/or oysters? They too are usually pricey though B&G Oysters is running some specials this winter. From January through March, they are offering a special small plate menu focusing on lobster and oysters.

On Sunday evenings, starting January 11, they will feature Oyster Small Plates. They have created over 15 variations of the oyster on the half shell, which will change weekly. Dishes will include Oyster Shooters, Poached Oysters with Caviar and Crème Fraîche, and Baked Stuffed Oysters. Prices range from $3 to $12 per plate.

On Monday evenings, starting January 12, they will feature Lobster Small Plates. They will feature traditional dishes, such as Lobster Bisque, as well as their own signatures dishes such as Lobster Sliders. The menu will change weekly. Prices range from $6 to $12 per plate.

2003 Olabisi Knights Valley "Betsy's Vineyard" Syrah

Everyone, including me, loves winning something. Recently, I won three wines in a contest run by Jill of Domaine547. I was very happy to receive those wines and opened one of them the other night to accompany my steak tip dinner.

The 2003 Olabisi Knights Valley "Betsy's Vineyard" Syrah ($21.99) is from Sonoma, California. The winery's name, "Olabisi," is a Nigerian word meaning "joy multiplied." The winery was founded in 2002 by Kim Wedlake and Ted Osborne, a husband and wife team. Ted is the wine maker and he has worked at wineries all over the world, including places like Australia, South Africa and France. They now make small production wines, seeking to create distinctive wines.

Less than 200 cases of this particular Syrah were produced. When I opened this bottle, strong aromas of ripe dark fruits wafted up, enticing me to taste it. I poured some of the very dark, purplish-colored wine into my glass. When I tasted it, I realized this was a big wine, rich and concentrated, and I was very glad I had steak to accompany it. The primary flavors were fruit, ripe plum and bluberries, lush and smooth. There was almost no spice component as some Syrahs possess, and the other flavors were mere hints, such as a touch of earthiness. It did not remind me of an Australian Shiraz or even a French Rhone. It had a long and satisfying finish.

Over the course of my meal and the rest of the evening, the wine seemed to open up more, showing additional depth and complexity. Maybe I should have decanted this for a time before dinner. I did enjoy it with dinner, but liking it even more as time passed. The wine does need to be paired with a hearty meal, such as a nice roast or steak. For its price, I think it is a good value and I would recommend it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Menu Truths

Restaurant owners listen up!

I have a complaint and I bet I am not the only one. This is something that has bothered me for years and when it struck again recently at lunch, it was the proverbial final straw. I just can't take it any more and I want answers and action.

I want to see truth on restaurant menus. Is that too much to ask? No, it is not. So why can't I always find such truth?

The other day I was at P.F. Chang's China Bistro for lunch. I ordered the P.F. Chang's Fried Rice which states it is mixed with egg, soy sauce and sliced scallions. You also have a choice of beef, pork, chicken or shrimp. I chose the pork and assumed the rice would not have any other ingredients besides what was listed. Yet when the rice came, it had other ingredients, including bean sprouts and carrot slivers. And that upset me.

So why didn't the menu mention those other ingredients? Why did the menu only mention a few of the ingredients? Why did it mention those specific items? It seems almost deceptive to me, to provide only a partial list without mentioning that fact. It is not like all fried rice has carrots and bean sprout. But all fried rice uses soy sauce so why mention that fact?

If I order something, and there are ingredients listed, I want those ingredients to be complete and accurate. I don't want an unpleasant surprise when my food arrives. I don' t think that is too much to ask from a menu. I don't like bean sprouts in my fried rice and I was not pleased to see them when the menu description did not mention them.

This has happened plenty of times before, not just at this restaurant. For example, you might see a sandwich listed, with a partial listing of the fillings and condiments, yet they omit to mention a certain mayonnaise or mustard that is also on the sandwich. And you don't realize that until you bite into it. If you dislike mayo or mustard, that is going to displease you. Unfortunately, this happens too often.

You shouldn't have to ask the restaurant for a list of ingredients for every dish you order. If a menu chooses to list ingredients for a dish, they should mention them all and not just some of them. Let us see truth on menus.

Addendum 1/23/09: I did email the corporate office concerning my issue. It took about a week to receive a response. They apologized and stated that the descriptions on the menu were not intended to be ingredient list but more of a flavor profile. They also mentioned that they have recently introduced brand new menus, which were designed to "get the server involved in your dining experience." They also mentioned that you can always speak to your server about any allergens and they will do their best to accomodate.

To me, the menu does not clearly identify that the listed ingredients are only a "flavor profile." They give the appearance that they are a list of what is in the dish. I will check out the new menus and report back on what I think of them.

Addendum 3/7/09: I have now seen their new menu. Much of the menu is the same though it appears they have added some new dishes, including some grill entrees. Most of the changes seem more subtle. But I am happy to report that they did remove their partial list of ingredients on their fried rice. Now, that change certainly had nothing to do with my inquiry on the matter. The menu changes had already been completed. But I am glad to see them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Urakasumi Junmai

Time again to try another Saké from those I purchased from Sakaya in New York City. I brought this bottle to my local poker game, and as I won some money, maybe it brought me some luck.

The Urakasumi Junmai ($35.99-720ml) is from the Miyagi Prefecture. "Urakasumi" means "misty bay." The brewery was established in 1724 with the intent of producing Saké as "an offering to the gods of Shiogama Shrine, which was loved and admired by the leader of the Sendai Clan." The water used for brewing sake is drawn from wells near Matsushima Bay, and is relatively hard water with the proper amount of nutrients for healthy yeast development.

This Saké has an alcohol content of 15-16% and a Saké Meter Value of +2, which means it tends to be balanced between sweet and dry. The type of rice used is Mana Musume. I found this Saké to have a nose of cooked rice with a bit of a nutty smell. It has more of a medium body, with a dry taste and flavors of pear and melon. It does though have a slight bitterness to its taste, which might be off putting to some. Though that bitterness is much less noticeable as you drink more of the Saké. It feels more like a light red wine in style.

Though I enjoyed this Saké, it did not really impress me. It probably would not appeal to someone new to Saké, especially due to its bit of harshness on the palate. I would drink this again, though it would not be at the top of my list to buy. Though it did bring me luck so maybe I should buy it again.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Two Tastings With Women Wine Makers

I have never been to Vintages: Adventures in Wine, which has locations in West Concord and Belmont. But I am going to visit there soon, especially because they are having a special wine maker tasting that really interests me.

Vintages' website states: "Explore the best wines of Barolo, Barbaresco & Brunello, Burgundy & Bordeaux Rioja & Rhone, grower-maker champagnes. Discover the new and traditional, classic & radical. Artisan wines made with care, wines of originality and substance. Wine is our passion; we work for you!"

From what I have read on their website, it sounds like an intriguing wine store. And on January 29, they are hosting two women wine makers, one at their Belmont location and the other in West Concord.

The West Concord tasting, from 4-6pm, will present Maria Lopez de Heredia from Rioja, Spain. "Established in 1877, Lopez de Heredia is now run by the fifth generation, but little has changed in the wine cellars. "We're proud of not changing," says Maria, who co-manages this legendary bodega with her father. Maria will present a selection of wines -- red, white and rose -- at this tasting."

Lopez de Heredia makes some exceptional and traditional wines. I have previously reviewed their 1997 R. López de Heredia Vino Tondonia Rosado Crianza which made my list of the Top Ten Wines Over $15 of 2008. There is going to be some very delicious wines at the tasting, and I look forward to meeting Maria Lopez de Heredia.

The Belmont tasting, from 4-7pm, will present Anna Maria Abbona from Farigliano, Piedmont. "Anna Maria and her husband gave up their careers to return to the family vineyards in 1989. It didn't seem like a smart move, since the vineyards were not prestigious or of easy viticulture. Yet, they knew that Dolcetto had always thrived in this area, and they focused on maximizing its potential over the last two decades. Annamaria has also planted Nebbiolo in a sunny, protected spot on the hillside, which has produced equally delicious results!"

Wine tasting with the wine makers are usually very informative and enjoyable events. If you can check out one of these tastings, you definitely should do so.

Vintages: Adventures in Wine
53 Commonwealth Ave.
West Concord, MA
Phone: 978-369-2545

32 Leonard St.
Belmont Center, MA
Phone: 617-484-4560

Friday, January 9, 2009

Another Cascina Roera Wine Tasting

Claudio Rosso and Piero Nebiolo of the Cascina Roera winery in Costigliole d'Asti, Italy will be in the Boston area later this month and you have several opportunities to meet them and taste their wines.

I have already told you about a few of those opportunities and I want to add one more. There will also be a free wine tasting with these gentlemen on Thursday, January 22, from 5pm-7pm at the The Wine Bottega located at 341 Hanover St., Boston (North End).

With all these chances, you definitely should be able to attend at least one of these events and meet the wine makers.

Taipei Tokyo Cafe

This week, the Taipei Tokyo Cafe opened in Woburn, not far from the end of Montvale Avenue. This is the second of their restaurants, the first being located in Davis Square in Somerville. I stopped by for lunch the other day and was generally pleased with what I found.

It is a medium-sized restaurant with a sushi bar and an elegant Asian decor. It primarily serves Chinese cuisine and sushi. Most of the Chinese dishes are the standard ones you will find any almost any other Chinese restaurant. The sushi selection is fairly standard as well. Their prices are comparable to other similar restaurants. They do not have a liquor license but you can bring your own wine, for which they charge the table $10 for wine service.

They have a lunch buffet, $9.95 to eat in and $5.95/pound for takeout, and after looking at what was available, I decided to give it a try. Each of the buffet selections was made in small quantities, which obviously helps keep the food fresher and hotter and which I really liked. When you have a large tray of food on a buffet, the food can sometimes sit there for quite some time. I thought there was a good selection of items on the buffet, from appetizers to entrees.

Chicken fingers, boneless spareribs (one of my favorite items), Peking ravioli (large and filled with lots of meat), fried rice (without bean sprouts), an orange flavored chicken, some beef an seafood dishes, scallion pancakes, and more. They also had some maki rolls, about eight different types, though no nigiri available. A couple of the maki rolls were still being made when I arrived so they were definitely fresh. Overall, I enjoyed the food. It may be standard fare, but it was fresh and generally well made. You definitely can eat your fill.

Service was excellent and they are definitely working hard to make their new customers welcome. The service though was not annoying or oppressive. It was just very good food service.

For general Chinese food with sushi, this is a good place to visit. It is not fancy or high-end, and it is not unusual or even uncommon. Just basic food done well. I will return to check out some more of their dishes.

Taipei Tokyo Cafe
318 Main St.
Woburn, MA
Phone: 781-933-6699

Taipei Tokyo Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 8, 2009

House of Blues: Job Fair, Jan.13-14

The House of Blues is returning to Boston!

The new House of Blues will open in February 2009 with a new larger location across from Fenway Park at 15 Lansdowne Street. The venue will feature a full service restaurant, 2400+ capacity concert hall, retail store and the exclusive VIP membership club, Foundation Room.

But they need people to work there, with over 200 jobs available. So the House of Blues will host a Job Fair on January 13-14, from 9am–7pm at the Absolut Clubhouse at Fenway Park, 72 Brookline Ave, in Boston. They are looking to fill a wide variety of positions, including ticket sellers, line and prep cooks, cocktail staff, restaurant hosts, servers, retail associates, bartenders, security staff, training coordinator, HR assistant, sous chef and dishwashers.

We are seeking experienced individuals who are enthusiastic about the return of House of Blues to Boston and are ready to bring our signature hospitality back to the Boston market,” said Julie Jordan, general manager for House of Blues Boston. “We are looking forward to being fully-staffed and opening the doors in mid-February.

I am glad the House of Blues is returning to Boston. I miss some of their food, especially items like their Catfish Nuggets and their incredible Skillet Baked Rosemary Cornbread with Maple Butter. Plus it is a great venue for live music. I look forward to its opening in February.