Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
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1) On Tuesday, June 28, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods will host their next Legal Holiday: Fourth of July. Guest will enjoy champagne and sparkling appetizers in this “Pop Goes the 4th” celebration in Park Square’s 10,000 bottle wine cellar. To help capture the spirit of Independence Day, a trio of sips and bites will be served as follows:

FIRST COURSE
Crispy Fried Shrimp Empanada (daikon radish, jalapeno, cilantro, corn, lime juice, mango-ginger chili sauce)
Paired with Mini Ginger Snap Cocktail
SECOND COURSE
Taco Trio (mahi mahi, carnitas, crab)
Paired with Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Cremant d’Alsace, NV
THIRD COURSE
Strawberry Short Cake (marinated strawberries, vanilla whipped cream)
Paired with Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Aqui, Piedmont, 2008
COST: $35 per session (includes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling: 617-530-9392 or make them online here.

2) The Boston area’s only free Bastille Day celebration takes place in the heart of Harvard Square on Sunday, July 17 from 3 to 10 PM.

Revelers can expect high end street food ala “cart” from Sandrine’s and other Harvard Square restaurants like Chez Henri, a traditional waiter’s race, local artisans, and an international beer garden. After dark, there will be dancing in the streets under a canopy of twinkling lights, to French techno-music.

Sandrine's Bistro chef-owner Raymond Ost, who hails from Strasbourg, France, presides over his favorite French fete by offering grilled Alsatian sausages outdoors on the grill, cooling cocktails like The Sparkling Pear in his al fresco lounge, and a “revolutionary” three-course $25 prix fixe menu served on July 14 and 17.

Chef Ost brings Alsatian authenticity to this event, which draws Francophiles from across New England and as far as Montreal. While our intent is to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, Holyoke Street often finds itself awash in international flavor. We look forward to welcoming folks of all ages, French or not, to join us at this wonderful summer street festival!” says Denise Jillson, Executive Director of the Harvard Square Business Association.

** NOTE: Holyoke Street will be closed to motor vehicle traffic during those hours.

3) Two brothers behind All Star Sandwich Bar in Inman Square will expand their brand with the introduction of All Star Pizza Bar, opening this fall in a small space caddy-corner from their sandwich shop.  It’s a return to the past for chef Johnny Diamantopoulos and his older sibling, Kosta. Their parents operated a successful pizza parlor in Lynn for more than 35 years. The difference will be a streamlined list of only about a dozen ingredients that are always fresh and local, like mushrooms, cheeses and greens. Some of their pizzas will be more unique, like the Mojito Drizzled Smoked Peach & Prosciutto Pizza, the Atomic Meatloaf Meltdown Pizza, and the Deconstructed Chile Relleno Pizza.

Prices will range from $10 to $20 for a standard-sized pie. Geared primarily towards takeout, the All Star Pizza Bar will have seating for about 15, and will also serve local microbrews, sangria, entrée salads and a few side dishes.

4)  The Beehive will celebrate their 4th Annual Bastille Day Celebration on July 14, from 5pm-2am.  The doors will open at 5pm with cocktails and champagne. Dinner service will begin at 5:30PM and continue until 9pm featuring both The Beehive’s regular menu and several specials with French flair such as steak frites, sole meuniere and salad nicoise. Enjoy the first act of the evening with live Gypsy Jazz by the French group “The Chicken Thieves” from 6:30PM-8:30PM.
From 9pm-2am, The Beehive will transform for mature adult oriented dancing St. Tropez-style with DJ Kamal spinning French beats as the kitchen closes for regular dinner service and becomes a large French street food cart serving traditional baguette sandwiches with assorted fillings such as ham, brie, pate and merguez sausage.

Reservations are highly recommended for dinner service between 5:30pm-9pm. Call 617.423.0069 or go to www.beehiveboston.com for more info.

5) As recently posted, the Farm Hill Farmer's Market in Stoneham is now open on Tuesdays, from 2pm-6pm. There has been some good news since its opening.  First, this week the Still River Winery was granted a license by the town to sell their apple ice wine at the market. This is a very positive development, and you might even see their apple ice wine at next week's market. I love their product and think many others will enjoy it as well. So stop by their booth and taste their Apfel Eis, their apple ice wine. I suggest you try it with some cheese too!

A new vendor is now at the market, John Crow Farm, which sells grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, including beef, poultry and pork. The farm is based in Groton, and is based on more humane animal raising practices. I have not tasted any of their products yet, but I certainly respect their philosophy and I do enjoy grass-fed beef. You may feel their products are somewhat pricey, and they probably are compared to ordinary, factory farm meats. But, the added quality you will likely get from the John Crow products is worth the added cost. Plus, you get the satisfaction of eating meat that is more humanely raised. So give them a try.

Another new vendor is the Vermont Gourmet Candy Dish, which sells a line of jellies, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, horseradish and more. You can taste all of the products and I really liked the taste of their caramel sauce. The wine jelly was also interesting as well as more unusual apple horseradish jelly. These too would be a nice accompaniement to cheese.

6) Basho Japanese Brasserie is bringing back their sushi making classes. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon starting July 9, at 2pm, Basho’s talented sushi chefs will teach the fundamentals of rolling your own maki or hand rolls.     

COST: $35 for class plus dessert or $45 for class plus sake flight

Please call (617) 262-1338 for more details or to register

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2010 Casal Garcia Rosé Vinho Verde: Fizzy Fun

While perusing the shelves of the Newport Wine Cellar, I found a line of Rosés and of course they drew my attention.  I love Rosé wines, and not just during the summer, though you most often find them sold during the late spring and summer.  Rosé is often fresh, crisp and pairs well with a wide variety of foods. My best summer recommendation to you is to drink Rosé, to explore the diversity of this compelling wine style. 

I bought two Portuguese Rosés, including the 2010 Casal Garcia Rosé Vinho Verde ($9.99). The Casal García brand is produced by a large winery, Quinta de Aveleda, which also has additional labels such as Aveleda Fonte, Quinta da Aveleda, Aveleda Alvarinho, Charamba, Follies and Adega Velha.  Casal Garcia, with its blue lace label, is a white Vinho Verde and has been around since about 1939. In 2008, Casal Garcia decided to add a Rosé Vinho Verde, using a pink lace label.

The Rosé, relatively low in alcohol at 10.5%, is a blend of three grapes you may never heard of before: Vinhão, Azal and Borracal. Don't let that scare you though. It has a deep pink color with a strong and fruity nose. On the palate, there are prominent flavors of lush strawberry and raspberry and it also has a light effervescence to it, which is refreshing and helps to cleanse your palate.  The wine is primarily dry, with only the mildest hint of sweetness, and good acidity.  Though it is a relatively simple wine, it is quite tasty and fun. I opened a bottle with a meat-covered pizza and it worked well.

For $10, the Casal Garcia Rosé is a very good choice so look for it on local wine shelves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Passion of Portugal: Esporão and Murças

I have heard a clarion call for the wines of Portugal, those intriguing wines which seduce with their tantalizing aromas and flavors. Will you heed that call as well?

The delicious still wines of Portugal remain, in large part, unknown to many wine consumers. Though there has been growing publicity about the quality of these wines, that growth remains slow, which is a boon to Portuguese wine lovers as those wines often offer an excellent value. You may not be familiar with the names of their indigenous grapes, their wine regions or producers, but you should take a chance on their wines. Sample a few of them and you will quickly realize the attraction. Let their exotic aromas and flavors transform you into a believer.

As a Portuguese wine lover, I was thrilled to recently receive an invitation to attend a special Portuguese wine dinner at the famed Le Cirque in New York City.  Chef Miguel Vaz Oliviera (pictured above) of Herdade do Esporão, a large winery in the Alentejo region, received an invitation to come to Le Cirque as a guest chef, a great honor. So, Chef Oliviera created a Portuguese inspired menu, based on several traditional recipes, and selected the accompanying wines for a crowd of about sixty or so attendees.

Though the establishment of the Esporão winery is more modern, the Herdade estate, in the Alentejo region, actually extends back to 1267, when the estate's boundaries were first established. About 700 years later, in 1973, Joaquim Bandeira and Dr. José Alfredo Parreira Holtreman Roquette bought the estate, naming it Finagra, with plans to create a winery. The winery was eventually built in 1987 and ten years later, they expanded operations to include the production of olive oil. In 2009, the winery was renamed Esporão S.A., and they have also begun to produce wines in the Douro region under the Quinta dos Murças brand. The Herdade estate consists of about 4500 acres with 1115 acres under vine and 200 acres with olive groves.

I have previously tasted and enjoyed wines from Esporão so I especially looked forward to this six-course dinner, each course paired with a wine from Esporão or Murças. During the dinner, two related "secrets" were also revealed about Portuguese wines, secrets which provide a revealing insight into the nature of those wines. And I'll share those secrets with my readers.

The first general secret to Portuguese wines is blending, using a mix of different grapes to produce a single wine, whether red, white or rosé. Each grape brings its own particular characteristics to the wine, so hopefully the mix becomes greater than any individual grape on its own. Though you will find single varietal wines in Portugal, blends are far more common and they certainly can be quite compelling.

The second related secret pertains to the Douro region, where the key there is field blends. A field blend is a vineyard where different grape vines co-exist and intermingle together, and you may not even know the specific grapes that grow together. Thus, when you harvest those grapes, you already have a blend, though you generally don't get to manage the proportions of each specific grape. This can create a very intriguing wine.

Neither of these secrets is unique to Portugal, but they are important elements of wine making in that country, helping to create a Portuguese identity.

The first course of the dinner was a Fava Bean Salad (baby fava beans) with pieces of lightly smoked sausages and herbs. I am not a fan of fava beans, though others at the table loved them, but I very much enjoyed the sausage. This dish was paired with a 2010 Esporão Verdelho, which is produced from 100% Verdelho and sees only stainless steel. After swirling the wine in my glass, I sniffed at the aroma, immediately captivated by its compelling and complex nose. The taste was equally as enticing, with delightful flavors of pear, grapfefruit, and even hints of banana. It was crisp and tasty, with a satisfying finish and would be a great summer wine. And at about $12, it is a great value too. A very fine start to the evening.

Next up, a dish of Acorda de Alho (Portuguese garlic soup) with a slice of goat cheese and coriander infused olive oil. The garlicky broth was flavorful and paired well with the creamy goat cheese, and I could have easily devoured a second bowl of this soup. With this course, we drank the 2010 Esporão Defesa Rosé ($14), a blend of Syrah and Aragones. The nose was mild with some subtle red fruit aromas, but that red fruit, especially cherry and raspberry became more prominent on the palate. It was a dry wine, with good acidity, some complexity and was a pleasure to drink. It was neither Provence nor California in style, rather maintaining its own identity. Another perfect summer wine.

The next course was Farinheira, a smoked sausage, with organic scrambled eggs and a fresh herb and shoots salad. This was scrumptious, and would even be a perfect breakfast dish. The smokiness of the sausage was enticing and went very with the rest of the dish. It was paired with the 2009 Esporão Reserva White ($14), their flagship white wine, a blend of three indigenous grapes: Roupeiro, Arinto and Antao Vaz. About 20% of the wine was fermented in American and French oak, as they wanted to keep the wine crisp and approachable. I found the wine to have a delightful nose of tropical fruits.  On the palate, the wine had more melon and pear flavors with hints of nuts and smokiness, which complemented the sausage. It was a more full bodied wine, with good acidity and a lengthy and satisfying finish. For the price, you are getting a lot of character in this wine.  

The Bacalhau Esporão, salt cod, was accompanied by panadeira, layered potatoes cooked with Esperao Extra Virgin Olive Oil, garlic and dried oregano. The flaky cod was delicious, with a nice salty kick, and the potatoes were superb, with a crunchy exterior concealing the soft and fluffy interior layers. The wine pairing was the 2008 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Red ($45) from the Douro region. The estate dates back to the 1700s and the wine is a field blend of old vines. Only about five of the grapes in the blend are identifiable, and there are maybe 15-20 other unknown grapes in the blend. What a fascinating and mysterious field blend.

This might have been my favorite wine of the evening, the type of wine I feel is typical of the best of Portugal. It had an enticing and exotic nose, with an earthy and spicy smell mixed in with blackfruit.  On the palate, it delivered on the promises of its nose, with a complex melange of earth, spice, vanilla, blackfruit and even mild hints of herbality. The tannins were moderate and the finish was long and pleasing. This is a wine to slowly savor, relishing its complexity, as well as a perfect wine for wild boar, lamb, or a juicy steak. Consequently, I didn't think this wine worked well with the bacalhau, the wine seemingly to overpower the more subtle flavors of the fish. I did save some of this wine for the next course, and it was a much better pairing.    

The Assado Esporão were pork cheeks slowly braised in red wine and then roasted, served with creamy mushroom rice and chives. The moist and tender pork was excellent, and the rice added an intriguing earthy and umami element.  The pairing for this course was the 2007 Esperao Private Selection Red ($42), their flagship red wine which is a blend of Alicante Bouschet, Aragones and Syrah. It was the biggest wine of the evening, with strong aromatics and more ripe fruit flavors, including plum, black cherry and blackberry. The fruit was complemented by a mix of mushroom, spice, vanilla, and toast. This is a meat wine, perfect for a hearty BBQ or a slow roasted prime rib.

Finally, we ended on a sweet note with the Sericaia, with confit plum puree and cinnamon ice cream. Though the menu stated the sericaia was a "creamy souffle like preparation,"  it was more of a cinnamon cake, and checking online it appears that is more the case. It was quite tasty, a fluffy and sweet cake with the creamy ice cream and fresh plum slices.  With this yummy dessert, we drank the Quinta dos Murças 10 Year Old Tawny Port. Now, my personal preference is for 20+ year old Ports, so though I enjoyed this Port it did not thrill me as it might some others.

Overall, this was a superb wine dinner event, with some amazing food and wine, great people and lots of fun. It reinforced my love for Portuguese wines, and I cannot recommend enough that you expand your palate to include the fine still wines of Portugal. A good place to start would be with the wines of Esporão and Murças, especially their value wines.  In addition, consider dining at some local Portuguese restaurants to enjoy their cuisine, though don't forget to accompany your meal with some Portuguese wines.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rant: Tapeo, A Social Media Failure

Tapeo, a Spanish tapas restaurant on Newbury Street, has four wines listed under the category "Jerez: Sherry" yet none of them are from Jerez or are actual sherries. That is undisputed, and I was also told that the restaurant might add an authentic sherry to their list in the future. But that is not the main point of this rant, though it is still something important to me.  When I sought to learn the restaurant's rationale behind this matter, I encountered a much larger issue, which serves as the theme of this rant as well as a cautionary tale for other businesses.

Let me begin with some preliminary background. Tapeo uses social media, including Twitter and Facebook.  On April 29, I posted an inquiry to Tapeo on both Twitter and Facebook, basically stating: "Could you tell me why your menu has 4 wines listed under "Jerez: Sherry" but none are actually sherry or from Jerez? Three of the wines are from Montilla-Moriles and the other is from Malaga." One week later, on May 6, I received a response on Facebook that they did not know the answer and would check for me.  So far, everything seemed good, but it did not stay that way.

Two weeks passed without a response from Tapeo, so I sent them a reminder on Facebook. By May 31, I still had not received any further response from Tapeo so I posted again on Facebook, including that I considered their ignoring me to be poor customer service. Sometime within the next two weeks, Tapeo deleted all of my Facebook posts, without any notice or explanation. And they still had not provided me any response to my original question. It was very clear then that I would not receive any type of answer through Tapeo's social media, so I decided to stop by the restaurant to discuss the matter.

Last Wednesday, I dropped by Tapeo and spoke with the General Manager, Anthony Montanaro. It was he who told their Function Coordinator, who runs their social media, to delete my Facebook posts. She had provided Anthony an inaccurate and incomplete version of what had occurred, so that Anthony believed that everything had happened within a timeframe of several days, rather than over more than a month.

Anthony felt that any questions about Tapeo should be sent directly to the restaurant, through the telephone or their email.  He does not see Twitter or Facebook as the appropriate place for questions, especially those like mine which he sees as negative. If similar such questions were posted by other people on Facebook, they would probably be deleted too. This then is the crux of the matter, over the proper use of social media.

Social media is about engagement, about interaction with consumers. It is not merely another forum to broadcast information about your business. Social media is not a one-way street, like a print ad. The key to successful social media is creating a conversation with your customers, allowing them to ask questions, to comment, and for you to respond to their inquiries, negative or not. It should be seen as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

Tapeo seems to fail to understand these points, seeing their social media only as a place to broadcast information about themselves. They are unwilling to engage in conversation with their customers. They are ignoring the "social" aspect of this type of media. And they fail to tell consumers that is how they view social media. They could derive so many greater benefits from their social media but they have chosen not to do so.

I, like many other people, assume that if a business is using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, then it is acceptable to ask them questions there. I do it all the time, with many different companies.  So there was nothing wrong with asking Tapeo my original question about sherry. Then, when I was told by their Function Coordinator on Facebook that she would get back to me with an answer, I had a reasonable expectation she would do so, and within a reasonable time period. Her failure to ever respond to me was a social media failure as well as a business failure. Deleting my Facebook posts just compounded the error.      

Remember, that whoever runs your social media, whether an employee or an outside consultant, is an agent of your business, and their actions or omissions reflect on your business. As a business owner, do you monitor what occurs on your social media? Do you know what is being said about your business? You should, as you never know what might be going on and what you are ignoring could negatively impact your business.

Restaurants and other companies should learn from this cautionary tale. Use social media properly, interacting with your consumers, not ignoring them.  Address questions posed to you, rather than deleting them because you don't like them. Get over your antiquated ideas about media, that it is only there to broadcast about your own views. Be responsive to your customers as that is what they now desire.

Interact, listen, converse, learn and reap the benefits.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
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1) On Sunday, July 17th, at 6:30PM, Chef Paul Turano of Tryst Restaurant in Arlington, is collaborating with New England’s very own Root Beer company, Tower Root Beer, to create an exclusive Root Beer Dinner, celebrating the return of Tower’s 97-year-old classic soda recipe after a 30-year hiatus.

Founded in Somerville, MA, in 1914, Tower Root Beer evolved from a tonic company into a specialized Root Beer company. During the Prohibition of the 1920’s when Root Beer became the substitute for beer that was no longer available, their pharmacist- perfected recipe contributed to Tower’s early success and allowed them to withstand the stock market crash of 1929, even when the bank that held their working capital could not.
Spanning New England, Tower Root Beer grew into a well-known business before an unsuccessful merger forced them off the market.. For the past 30 years, Tower’s recipe has sat under lock and key, before a third generation of the family decided to reestablish the family business after finding their grandfather's handwritten recipe.

Finally back, Tryst Restaurant is celebrating the return  with a classic, three course, $29 prix fixe dinner, $40 with optional cocktail pairings, by Chef Paul Turano featuring Root Beer inspired dishes.  Tryst will also feature innovative cocktails inspired by the sweet treat.  Reservations are required and can be made by calling Tryst at 781-7641-2227.

MENU:

First Course
Licorice and sassafras rubbed pastrami, root beer pickle & toast points
Second Course
Tower Root beer & stout braised beef short ribs
Third Course
Old fashioned root beer float with a banana cream filled Twinkie

Paired Cocktails
Tower of Manhattan
Sassafras infused Bourbon with a root beer reduction and orange bitters
Dark and Cloudy
Goslings Black Seal with Ginger Beer and Root Beer
Spiked Float
Root Beer float with Tuaca and Vanilla vodka

2) The concept of purposefully eating in complete pitch-black dark originated with Jorge Spielmann, a blind clergyman from Zurich. When guests ate dinner at the Spielmann house some would wear blindfolds during their meal to show solidarity with their host and to better understand his world. What Spielmann’s sighted guests found was that the blindfolds heightened their sense of taste and smell and made their dining experience more enjoyable. This unique dining concept opened as a restaurant in Switzerland called Blindekuh (Blind Cow) and has expanded to restaurants in Paris, Moscow, Berlin, Prague, Hong Kong and more recently in New York and California.

The concept was brought to Greater Boston by founder David Goldstein, producer of Mystery Café, creator of the Boston Chocolate Tours and founder of the award winning team building company, TeamBonding.  For the next Dining in the Dark Dinner David Goldstein has partnered with Chef Tony Bettencourt and his restaurant 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar in Salem. On Sunday, July 10th, at 7:30pm, 62 Restaurant will take blindfolded guests on a journey through the tastes and smells of Italy.

Guests will begin their three-course journey by being transplanted to a bacari (Venetian pub) where their first course will be traditional cicchetti (hors d'oeuvres) highlighting the key components of Venetian cuisine which is in-season fish, seafood and regional vegetables. Guests will taste the salt air and be guided by their narrator and tour guide.  Next stop on the trip will be a rustic farm and vineyard in Tuscany where guests will smell burning wood and the waft of grapes from the vineyard paired with the sounds of local music.  Finally, guests will end up in the capital city of Rome where they will conclude their journey at a bustling city cafe.

Each course will involve only the heightened senses of taste, smell, touch and sound; and will be a journey not to miss as narrators and musicians guide diners through each region. As menus cannot be revealed until the night of the event, dietary restrictions or allergies should be mentioned when calling the restaurant to make reservations. The cost of the dinner is $75 per person and includes 3 courses and all N/A beverages. An additional/optional wine pairing is available for $15 or guests may have their drinks cocktailed.

For reservations please call the restaurant at 978-744-0062.

3) At Flemings Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, guests can enjoy a three-course Prime Rib Dinner at a special price every Sunday evening in July and August (July 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31; August 7, 14, 21, and 28).

MENU: The Sunday Prime Rib Dinner is a 3-course meal featuring:
· 12 ounces of succulent Prime Rib, served with a trio of sauces
· Choice of The Wedge, Fleming’s or Caesar salads
· Choice of one side dish
· Choice of dessert

COST: $29.95 per guest

4) On June 27th, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host the Alsace Wine Dinner, part of their ongoing celebration of the region located in northeastern France that boasts the most natural and authentic grape flavors in wines. Hosted by Legal Sea Foods’ Vice President of Beverage Operations and Master of Wine, Sandy Block, this special four-plus-course dinner will pair signature cuisine with brilliantly perfumed French wines.
The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’ OEUVRES
A Variety of Seasonal Tastes
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace Brut NV
FIRST COURSE
Spring Greens Salad (asparagus and egg, with warm ramp and slab bacon dressing)
Hugel Gentil 2009
Willy Gisselbrecht Pinot Blanc 2009
Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2007
SECOND COURSE
Smoked Salmon Tartare (fried capers with dark rye, preserved lemon mustard sauce)
Domaine Weinbach Sylvaner Reserve 2009
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Gueberschwihr” Riesling 2007
THIRD COURSE
Grilled Trout and Juniper-Scented “Choucroute Garnie” (bacon wrapped potatoes and whole grain mustard)
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Clos Windsbuhl” Riesling 2006
DESSERT COURSE
Warm Apricot Croustade with Mascarpone Ice Cream
Rolly Gassmann Gewurztraminer 2004

COST: $75 per person (excludes tax and gratuity)
Reservation required by calling: 617-530-9397, or visiting: www.legalseafoods.com.

5) The 14th annual Taste of Allston will be held Saturday, June 25, from 12pm-3pm, at the Murr Center at the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston and features food from an international array of Allston Village eateries, samples of several international and domestic beers and wine, a silent auction and live music.

Allston Main Streets and President Marc Kadish are excited to announce that Allston’s vibrant dinning scene will be coming together to show off their amazing restaurant diversity and help support the community. The neighborhood’s cuisine features popular food from around the world, including tastes from China, Korea, Brazil, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Colombia, France, Thailand, India… and of course good old U.S.A. tried and true favorites.

Rain or Shine at the Murr Center at the Harvard Athletic Complex, 65 North Harvard Street, in Allston. Ample parking is available at the site, which also has door-to-door service via MBTA buses #66 and 86.

To benefit the vibrant Allston community! All proceeds will benefit Allston Village Main Streets, a community-based public-private partnership working to revitalize the Allston commercial district.

Tickets are $15 per person in advance, and $20 at the door, $10 for kids under 12. Tickets are available on-line at www.allstonvillage.com.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

East Village Highlights: Tinto Fino, Sakaya & Pomme Frites

On my recent trip to New York City, I visited a number of new places, but I still cannot forget some of my favorites either. Four years ago, I first visited Tinto Fino, an all Spanish wine store in the East Village. Since that time, they now carry more wines, including even more diversity.  If you love Spanish wine, or just want to experience more Spanish wines, then this store will thrill you.  You will find old standbys from Rioja and Priorat, as well as lesser known areas such as the Canary Islands and Cigales.

The wines are shelves by region with mirrored maps and signs above the shelves to indicate the region. Both long walls have shelves with plenty of different wines.

You'll find a large selection of sherries, including some aged ones (VOS and VORS).

Their website has a listing of much of what is available at the store, and they also have four Wine Clubs, including a Sherry club. I picked up a couple bottles while I was there, including a Txacoli Rosado and an older Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia. I could easily though have picked up a mixed case. I can't recommend this wine shop enough, just such a cool and interesting niche shop. Viva Spanish wine!

No trip to the East Village can be complete without a stop at Sakaya, the all sake store. When I need to restock my cellar with sake, this is one of my main go-to choices. You'll find an excellent selection and the owners, Rick and Hiroko, are very knowledgeable and can answer your sake questions. They are always getting in new sakes, and host plenty of free sake tastings. Search my blog and you will find a couple prior reviews I have done of Sakaya. It gets my highest recommendation.

A true hidden gem is Pommes Frites, a narrow hole-in-the-wall which makes superb Belgian frites, with a plethora of various dipping sauces. These frites are just so good that it is hard not to stop here when visiting the East Village. Even after my superb duck lunch at Ssäm Bar, I forced myself to stop here to have at least a few frites.

The East Village is an international mecca, with lots of intriguing restaurants and shops, and you can easily spend an entire day exploring the neighborhood.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rant: Do Vegans & Manure Mix?

There are numerous types of vegetarians, such as lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarians, and pollo-vegetarians. Many people have heard of these different types of vegetarians, but most people know only of a single term for vegans.  That gives the impression that all vegans follow the exact same philosophy but that is not actually the case. Vegans may have as much diversity as vegetarians, though not as many terms exist to differentiate them.

There appear to be two main types of vegans: dietary vegans and the lifestyle (or ethical) vegans. Dietary vegans generally refrain from eating any type of animal product, though there is still some ambiguity over whether certain foods, such as honey, are acceptable or not. Lifestyle vegans are more hardcore, not only refraining from eating any animal products but also avoiding the use of any animal products at all. But even then, there is some ambiguity as to what is acceptable.

Do vegans and manure mix? The question arose to me whether vegans accepted the use of animal manure in the growth of the produce they eat.  Even many organic farmers still use manure as fertilizer. Besides manure, other animal products may also be used in agriculture. It seems that dietary vegans would not care as much about this issue but lifestyle vegans would likely object to the use of animal manure as fertilizer, as well as the use of other animal products in agriculture.

Vegan-organic methods of agriculture do exist, such as the Vegan-Organic Network, but they are few and most restaurants find it difficult to source from such farms. While I was pondering these issues, I did find The Vegan Vine, which produces vegan wines, and they do not use animal manure, instead using mushroom compost as fertilizer.

I emailed several local "vegan" restaurants to see whether their produce suppliers used animal manure or not. Peace o' Pie and Red Lentil failed to respond to my inquiry. True Bistro stated they were unsure, as their produce comes from large commercial organic vendors. In the future though, they hope to connect with local farms, and gain a better understanding of their agricultural practices. The Pulse Cafe responded that some of their food is probably grown using animal products. They have sought to use a vegan farm, but have been unsuccessful in finding one that can meet their needs.

So where does a lifestyle vegan go out to eat?  Local vegan restaurants do not appear to specify that they will most likely appeal only to dietary vegans. I would have to say that some of the best advice comes from the Boston Vegan Association, where they present a fascinating article on just this dilemma. It becomes more of an individual approach, where each vegan must decide what level of animal product use is appropriate for them.

If you are a lifestyle vegan, where do you eat out in the Boston area? (As my site is probably not a fav with local vegans, I don't expect much response, but I am curious anyways.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sake Dinner at Uni

Looking for an intriguing sake-paired dinner? Then maybe you should make reservations on July 18 at Uni Sashimi Bar. Uni will present an evening with Sake Maker Kenji Ichishima of the Ichishima Sake Brewery in the Niigata region of Japan.  Sake expert Michael John Simkin, of MJS Saké Selections, works with Ichishima and you may have met him before at other local sake events. I have previously had the pleasure of tasting through the entire Ichishima portfolio, and they are top notch sakes. So this dinner should be quite compelling. 

Menu

First Course:
Gliddenpoint Oysters (prosecco, sour strawberry, chili)
Toro Sashimi (umeboshi, fresh grated wasabi)
Paired with Ichishima Tokubetsu Honjōzō

Second Course
Konbu Cured Bronzini (shiso ponzu, wolfberries, burdock, basil oil)
Suzuki Ceviche (sudachi lime, Sparrow Arc Farm beets, coconut green curry)
Paired with Ichishima Junmai Genshu

Third Course
Hiramasa (yellow chive vinaigrette, lily bulb, negi)
Steamed Abalone (wakame, cauliflower ceviche, aji amarillo)
Paired with Ichishima Junmai Daiginjō

Fourth Course
Lacquered Foir Gras (charred cipollini, onion kabayaki, pickled watermelon)
Wagyu Beef Sukiyaki (pine dashi, soba noodles, scallion)
Paired with Ichishima Ginjō Koshu

Fifth Course
Yamamomo Confetti (dry lime soda)
Paired with Ichishima Silk Deluxe Junmai

Cost is $150 per person. To make a reservation, call Uni at 617-536-7200. Maybe you will even see me there.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Momofuku Ssäm Bar & Milk Bar: Duck Extraordinaire

When you ask for New York restaurant recommendations, the name Momofuku often arises. Momofuku, which is Japanese for "lucky peach," is its own little culinary empire in the East Village, currently consisting of four restaurants and a bakery. The Chef-Owner is David Chang, a Korean-American who has garnered an excellent reputation, having won several culinary honors.  Prior to opening Momofuku Noodle Bar, his first restaurant in 2004, David worked in the kitchens of a few famed chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio. A number of my friends strongly recommended that I check out the Momofuku restaurants.

So, on my recent trip to New York City, I scheduled some time to visit Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Milk Bar, which are located across the street from each other.  Their menus change frequently and they attempt to use local and sustainable ingredients, whenever possible. They are both worthy culinary destinations in the East Village.

I first stopped at the Milk Bar, a creative and intriguing bakery. It is a small place, with a short counter where you could stand and partake of their baked goods. There are also benches outside where you can sit while eating one of their treats. But mainly it is a takeout place, where  you can buy baked goods to take home with you.

The menu is eclectic, with items which would be good for breakfast, dessert or a savory snack. Where else might you find a Compost Cookie, which contains pretzels, potato chips, butterscotch, oats, coffee, and chocolate? True to its name, they also sell milk jugs and milk shakes, as well as cereal milk soft serve.

The baked goods all look very appealing, and I tried some of the cookies, cake truffles and corn bread. Everything was very fresh, and lasted well for a couple days. The Cornflake cookie, with marshmallows and chocolate chips, was soft with an interesting crunchy texture and gooey marshmallow highlights. It was tasty, with plenty of chocolate chips, and some buttery notes. I really enjoyed the cookie and recommend it. The Blueberry cookie has dried blueberries and milk crumbs and was also very good, flavorful with a nice texture to it.

The Birthday Cake truffles and Banana Hazelnut Chocolate truffles looked like small donut holes, and had rich flavors, and a more cakey texture. My favorite of the two was the Banana, as I liked the interplay of the different tastes.  The Cornbread was also a delight, containing cortija cheese, jalapenos and corn kernels. It was moist with a spicy undertone from the jalapenos, and the cortija added a bit of creaminess to it. An excellent savory item, I really wish I had brought more of this home with me.

This sampling impressed me and I would gladly return there on my next visit to NYC. If you want some more creative baked goods, high on flavor, then make sure to visit Milk Bar.

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar on Urbanspoon

After buying a few things at the Milk Bar, I went across the street to have lunch at Ssäm Bar.  In Korea, ssäm refers to "wrapped food." The restaurant is medium-sized, though basically separated into two sections, one which has a bar. At lunch, they have a more limited menu, specializing in rotisserie duck, including dishes such as duck dumpling soup, duck sandwich and pulled duck bun. They also have small plates, including broccoli salad, spicy fingerling potatoes, and pickles.

The ducks come from Crescent Farms on Long Island, and you can watch them cooking in the rotisserie. Lunch plates run from $12-$14, and small plates from $5-$11. You order at the counter, take a seat, and then wait for your food to be delivered. I should note that when you order soda, you receive a chilled glass, which probably would be the same for beer. As I enjoy my soda ice cold, this is a nice element.

Their beer and wine list is eclectic and interesting. You will find local New York brews, but also beers from South Korea and California. Unfortunately, they do not carry any New York wines (which I think they should remedy), though you will find wines such as Chateau Musar from Lebanon, sparkling Riesling from Germany and Italian Rose. If local is so important to them, then why don't they carry New York wines?

I selected the lunch plate ($14) with Rotisserie Duck over rice, with ginger scallion, ssäm sauce, and crispy shallot. You can also add on lettuce ($1) or chive pancake ($2), to make your own wrap if you wish. The chive pancake is a thin, crisp and tasty pancake, which I really enjoyed. The first bite of my duck was exquisite, so tender and juicy, nearly melting in my mouth. The crispy skin was addictive, and I had to stop myself from moaning in pleasure.  This was one of the best sliced duck dishes I have ever tasted and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Cooked perfectly, it will excite even a jaded palate. 

I also ordered the Steamed Pork Buns ($10), with hoisin sauce, cucumbers, and scallions. The pork belly was as tender as the duck, melting in your mouth with each bite. The soft steamed bun seemed lighter than regular bread, and the hoisin sauce added a tangy aspect to the sandwich. You could probably just order this as your lunch, as you receive two buns.

An amazing lunch, indicative of the culinary genius of Chef Chang. I must check out the rest of his restaurants, as well as have dinner at Ssäm Bar. All of the positive press he has received seems well deserved. Lunch at Ssäm Bar gets my highest recommendation, and if you go, you must try the rotisserie duck.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
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1) As I have said before, AKA Bistro is one of my favorite suburban restaurants and they have a new culinary event which should be quite enticing. Chef-Owner Chris Chung introduces "No Boundaries," a five course dinner, for only $45, served on Mondays at 8:00 PM. Neither French nor Japanese, No Boundaries features whatever Chef Chung is inspired by that day.   So you won't find a menu, it is all up to the chef's whim.

Here is an example of what such a creative meal might include:
* Cold Fennel-Cucumber Soup with Baby Squid “Salsa” and curry oil drizzle
* French-style Marinated Sardines on Toast with local farm greens
* Rhode Island Striped Bass Ceviche with spicy lychee puree, goji berry and shiso
* Braised Kobe Short Rib with Vidalia onion reduction, local morels, organic black rice
* Blue Heron Farm Organic Rhubarb Compote over Genoise with Strawberry Granita

2) Celebrate the start of the summer solstice from Sunday, June 19th, through Thursday, June 30th, at Tryst in Arlington. Tryst will be preparing a number of new summer cocktails  all $12. From 5pm-7pm, guests that order one of Tryst’s new summer cocktails in the bar & lounge area can enjoy some of Executive Chef Paul Turano’s bar bites such as Korean Chicken tacos ($2), Popcorn shrimp with habanero & ranch ($2) and Oysters on the half shell ($1), all for under $2!

Summer Cocktail List:
Cranberry Blossom (Ketel One, Local Cranberries, Mint, Prosecco)
Blackberry Crash (Bombay Sapphire, House-made Dry Vermouth, Lemon, Blackberry)
Tryst Sangria (Red and White Wine, Limoncello, Citrus)
Rum Diary (Leblon, Gosling’s Black Seal, Port, Pineapple, Orange Bitters, Ginger Beer)
Mocha Espress (Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate, Tia Maria, Bailey’s, Espresso)
Raspberry-Lime Rickey (Stoli Razberi, Triple Sec, Sweetened Lime)
Old No. 11 (Bluecoat, Cointreau, Traditional Lemon Sour, House-made Grenadine)
Daly Dose (Black Tea Infused Famous Grouse, Aperol, Grapefruit Bitters, Charred Lemon)
Hot One (Nut ‘n’ Honey Frangelico, Amaretto, Tuaca, Honey, Hot Water, Whipped Cream)

3) Summer is a popular time for Rosé, though it is a pleasure year round. I have long been a fan of Rosé, finding that it pairs well with many different foods.  Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks is once again initiating their annual Summer Rosé-By-the-Glass List, available until October 10. Highlights include rosé in both magnum and jeroboam format—a first for Eastern Standard. Wine Director Colleen Hein shares her picks and inspiration behind this summer’s list:

2010 Domaine Collotte Marsannay Rosé, Burgundy ($12 glass) - 100% Pinot Noir from the Cote d'Or in Burgundy offers an extracted strawberry hue, medium body and a soft, weighty mouth feel. Colleen finds this wine to be most versatile in terms of food. “While certainly quaffable on its own or with lighter "aperitif" offerings, this wine really sings when paired with steak tartare, charcuterie and other heartier offerings. A refined Burgundy rosé for a real food and (rosé!) wine lover.

2010 Chateau Commanderie de Peyrassol, Provence, ($11 glass) - The quintessential Provencal rosé! A blend of Cinseault, Syrah, and Grenache that results in a brilliant salmon pink hue with lively acidity, notes of stone fruit, minerality, and a "peaches and cream" quality that makes this wine a consistent winner from vintage to vintage. This is a wine that truly transports you to the place that it is from…think grilled fish, herbs de Provence, freshly shucked Island Creek oysters!

2010 Leiu-dit Cocagne Rosé, Coteaux du Vendemois, Loire Valley, ($8 glass) - This 100% Pineau d'Annis is a little known varietal that is high in acidity and citrus fruits, with notes of pink grapefruit and a briny salinity that sings from this coastal wine region. “It’s oh so discernibly Loire!”

2010 Domaine Magellan Cinseault Rosé “Le Fruit Défendu,” Languedoc, ($8 glass) - An expression of old vine Cinseault, the Le Fruit Défendu is a perfect expression of the varietal in its “other than red” form. The saturated cherry hue suggests a touch of depth, though the palate remains lively and lithe with a lift of wild strawberry as well as an herbaceous note of garrigue—a term used for a variety of herbs that sprout wild along the roadsides of Southern France. The passionate focus of Domaine Magellan has been to stay true to creating wine from the indigenous varieties and terroirs of Southern France’s Languedoc region.

2010 Domaine de la Petite Marie Bourgueil Rosé, Loire, ($12 glass) - Though this rosé boasts telltale hints of the Cabernet Franc varietal, the softly blushed hues of peach and pink embody its more delicate and effeminate form. The dedicated couple that produces this wine in the eastern Loire Valley comes from a distinguished history in winemaking; Corinne and James Petit tend to the vines with James’s Uncle, Jean Gambier, the master and recently retired President of the Syndicate Growers of Bourgueil.

2010 Margerum Rosé, Santa Barbara, ($12 glass) - Margerum is a small winery in Santa Barbara committed to producing handcrafted, natural wines. This is winemaker and proprietor Doug Margerum’s small parcel offering of a most unique rosé. Though it is made solely from the Grenache variety, a portion of the wine is made from extracted juice with a higher skin to juice ratio, producing a more complex, deeply flavored wine. This is a dry rosé that has tannin, complexity, and matches well with a diversity of foods.

2010 Chateau Peyrassol Rosé, Cotes de Provence (1.5L/3L) ($100/$225) - Eastern Standard’s first offering of large format rosé, the Chateau Peyrassol is available in both magnum and jeroboam format! Chateau Peyrassol, created 30 years ago, boasts the excellence of the domaine, using fruit from its oldest and low-yielding vines. A classic expression of Provencal rosé bound in large format Bordeaux style bottles, the wine exudes a classic salmon hue coupled with a crisp, herbaceous palate.

Ambassador Wine & Spirits: Sake, Shochu & Lots of Wine

New York city has tons of wine stores, and when I visit the city I try to stop my some of my favorites, as well as check out one new to me.  On my most recent trip, I was most intrigued to visit Ambassador Wine & Spirits because they were supposed to have an excellent selection of Japanese sake. I was unsure whether I would have the time to visit the store while I was in New York City, but was able to squeeze in a little time before dinner on Tuesday night. I would have preferred to have more time, but it was sufficient to get a basic sense of the store, as well as to see the wide variety of wines, sake, shochu and spirits they carry.

The store has two floors, and most of the wines are shelved by geographic region. There are easily thousands of wine squeezed onto the shelves, with a good selection of brands, including numerous lesser known and more unique wines. You will also find a fair share of some types of wine here that you often do not find at other wine stores, such as a large collection of wines from Israel, Spanish sherries and shochu. Generally, it is very easy to peruse the shelves, to see what treasures you might discover. 

The downstairs area is a bit fancier, and you'll find a room devoted to Burgundy. You will also find Champagnes, including those of the major houses as well as grower's Champagnes.

There is another downstairs room which holds sherries and ports, including older vintages, such as 1955 and 1960. Their sherry selection is one of the best I have seen in a wine store, including some of the aged sherries (VOS/VORS). If you explore these shelves, I think you will find many treasures.

On the first floor, there is a long set of shelves with Shochu (also known as Soju), a distilled Asian liquor, maybe the largest selection I have seen anywhere. I have only tasted a handful of shochu, and it is a liquor of which I still need more experience. It is an interesting drink, which can be produced from many different ingredients, from sweet potatoes to milk, from rice to buckwheat. In the Boston area, it is difficult to find shochu, and even those stores that do carry it, only have 2-3 bottles.

Their sake selection is stored within a temperature controlled room, keeping the temperature low so the sake remains fresher. That is an excellent idea, and shows their concern for this wonderful drink. They have a good selection of brands, types and bottle sizes, maybe close to 100 different sakes.  Junmai, honjozo, ginjo, daiginjo, nigori, sparkling, and much more. A number of the bottles have shelf talkers, which will help intimidated consumers who know little about sake. If you enjoy sake, then this store will definitely appeal to you.

They also have a good selection of 1.8 liter bottles, party-size bottles, and difficult to find in most wine stores.  One of the most interesting bottles I saw was the Okunomatsu Junmai Daiginjo Formula Nippon Sparkling Sake ($160), probably the most expensive sparkling sake I have ever seen. It was originally designed for Formula Nippon race drivers to spray at the finish line instead of Champagne.

This is an independent wine shop that is worthy of your patronage. Interestingly, they mentioned that their younger customers, ages 25-35, are buying more spirits than wine, and they don't see that changing in the years to come. Because of this, the store has had to stock more spirits than they once did, though they still have plenty of wines, an interesting and diverse selection. The staff was generally very helpful to me, and I think they would be very helpful to all of these customers. On my next trip to NYC, I will make sure to take more time to explore this store.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Farm Hill Farmers Market: Now Open in Stoneham

Yesterday was opening day of the Farm Hill Farmers Market in Stoneham, located on the Stoneham Common. The market will now be open every Tuesday, through October 11th, from 2pm-6pm. (Though the banner says 7pm, the time was changed to 6pm). It is open late enough so you can make a stop there after work to bring home something for dinner. Throughout the seaon, the Market will also offer entertainment, weekly raffles, and information on healthy eating and organic products. If you live in the local area, you should make a stop here to check out all the delicious offerings. 

The Farm Hill Farmers Market, now in its third season, is the premiere fundraising project of the Senior Center Friends of Stoneham. Proceeds from the Market benefit the programs and services of the Stoneham Senior Center.  At the Market, you'll usually find about 15 or so vendors, with some of the vendors only present every other week. Despite being cool and overcaste yesterday, plenty of vendors still showed up for the opening, and I got a good sense of the nature of the Market this year, and it should be even better than last year.

Let me mention some of the vendors you'll find this year.

Hanson's Farm, located in Framingham, grows over 52 acres of fruits and vegetables. This is their first year at the Market, and currently offer a variety of fruit, vegetable and herb plants which you can plant in your own garden. They also sell fresh strawberries, some vegetables, and will be selling many more items in the near future.

Got a sweet tooth? Then buy some Caramel Corn or Confetti Corn (a multi-colored popped corn).

Lawton's Family Farm/Foxboro Cheese has some intriguing offerings, including their own cheese, grass fed beef, and humanely raised veal. They sell Asiago cheese as well as Fromage Blanc, in several different flavors such as chive and lemon honey. I sampled the Asiago and it was good. Their grass fed beef is available as ground beef, patties, hot dogs, kielbasa and more. The veal is available as rib chop, osso buco, veal stew, veal sausage and more. I will be buying some of their meat in the near future, but am excited that it is available at the Market.

The famed Piantedosi Bakery sells a wide selection of breads, from foccacia to ciabatta rolls, from scali to olive loaf. Most of us have probably eaten their breads before so you know what to expect.

 You'll find more than just food here, such as the Kaleidoscope Soaps, selling a diverse selection of artisan made soaps.

Maybe the cupcake craze is dying off, as whoopie pies seem to be now dominant.  Whoopdedoo Bakery, based in Stoneham, makes large whoopie pies ($2.50 each), in several flavors, including original chocolate, mint chocolate, lemon, vanilla raspberry, peanut butter and strawberry. I bought a couple of the original chocolate to taste, as they did look enticing.

Wenger's Farm offers plenty of tasty choices, including eggs, strawberries, vegetables, pies, cookies, breads, honey and more. I bought a loaf of their cinnamon pull-apart bread ($3.99).

If you get tired while walking around, Philip Davidson, LMT of PMD Massage, can give you a short massage.

Jones Farm, an organic farm, has a diverse selection, including eggs, strawberries, veggies, honey, breads, granola, maple syrup and even goat's milk soaps. If you seek organic produce, then seek them out. 

West River Creamery, located in Vermont, brought several different cheese, as well as some maple syrup. Their selection of cheese will rotate each time they are at the market, which should be every other week. The cheeses this week included Cambridge (a farmhouse cheddar), a Smoked Cambridge, Farmhouse Jack, Firehouse Jack, Chevre, Marinated Chevre and Marinated Feta. Samples of all were available, and they were very good cheeses. I really enjoyed the Smoked Cambridge and the Chevre.

Rett's Home Baked Goodies has a smorgasbord of baked goods, including cookies, breads, muffins and more. They sell Snickerdoodles so I will have to try some soon to see how they match up to my favorites.
A couple of the stalls were still setting up while I was there, one that seemed to be selling cosmetic jewelry, maybe handmade, and another that was apparently selling TupperwareMamadou Bakery, which makes superb breads (especially their sesame semolina) was unable to attend this first Market but should be there next week. You will see other vendors there in the coming weeks.

Still River Winery, who sell Apfel Eis, a delicious apple ice wine, also were not there this week. They are currently still trying to acquire a license from the town. The Governor passed a law last August, permitting local wineries to show their wines at farmer's markets, but each town must grant a license.  Many other communities have already granted licenses to local wineries and Stoneham should do the same.

Their primary concern may be liability, but that risk appears quite low. Still River has a single product, just one apple ice wine, so each customer will only receive a single sample, one ounce, of wine. That won't be enough to make anyone drunk, and obviously the owners would check everyone's i.d. before providing them a sample.  Still River is a small, local family business that deserves our support, especially as their apple ice wine is so delicious.

I hope to see some of my readers at the Stoneham Farmers Market in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eataly: Italian Mecca in New York City

On my recent visit to New York City, I wanted to visit Eataly, the new Italian market and eatery which many have raved about. Eataly is a partnership between Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali, Lidia Bastianich and Joe Bastianich, and aims to be a extensive market with several restaurants where you can dine on Italian specialties. The main complaint I have heard is that it gets too crowded, but on my Tuesday morning visit, that was not a problem at all. I was able to freely wander around, checking out everything without having to maneuver through a throng of people.

You will be able to find wine, beer, other beverages, salumi, cheese, pasta, bread, meat, seafood, produce, olive oil, housewares, books and more.  Some of the foods are freshly prepared while others are boxed or canned. Eataly was very clean, and it is awe-inspiring to see so much packed within this large space.  The foods looked enticing and I wish I had been able to load up a shopping cart with a diverse mix of items. New Yorkers are fortunate to have such a market available to them.

Plenty of fresh vegetables and food are available.

There is even a Vegetable Butcher on the premises (and where else can you find one?), who will prep your veggies for you. In addition, you will find Le Verdure, a restaurant specializing in Italian-style vegetable dishes, so vegetarians will want to visit here.

The fresh pasta were compelling, and you could even watch it be made behind the counter. Agnolotti, ravioli, pansotti, fettucine, gnocchi and much more. Lots of variety, and if you want dried pasta, you can find plenty of that as well, including many well known brands.

Loaves of fresh bread, again plenty of variety, which are all produced on the premises.

An extensive case of meat, from beef to rabbit, pork to lamb. The meats look very appealing, and once again diversity reigns.  You can even learn the source of some of the meat, and you could probably ask about the source of the rest.

Seafood ranges from shellfish to fillets. You'll find razor clams, PEI mussels, kumamoto oysters, and steamer clams.  You'll find wild King salmon, wild halibut, Arctic char and much more.

Cheese galore, from ricotta to parmesan, and dozens of more choices. I am not sure I have ever seen as many different types of Italian cheeses as here.

Near the cheese, they also carry plenty of salumi, from prosciutto to pepperoni. And if you any questions, just ask the cheesemonger on duty.

There are numerous appealing desserts, from gelato to tiramisu. 

Besides all the food, you'll also find houseware, such as dishes, plates, expresso makers, and more.  Plus, there is a book section, concentrating on Italian food, but including other food-related titles.

For lunch, I stopped at La Pizza & La Pasta, which makes Neapolitan pizzas in gold tiled ovens. Pizzas range from $9-$19, dependent on the toppings. Choose a simple Margherita ($13) or a heartier Salsicciotta ($19), with tomato sauce, smoked provola cheese, mushrooms, Neapolitan sausage and fresh basil. If you don't want pizza, there is a separate menu with a list of pasta entrees.

I chose the Quattro Formaggi ($14), with mozzarella, gorgonzola, and parmiggiano reggiano. Cooked perfectly, this pizza was superb, with a thin, crisp and chewy crust, and plenty of flavorful cheese, especially the tang of the gorgonzola. This is my kind of pizza.

Next door to Eataly, you will find their Italian wine shop, where you can find a huge selection of Italian wines, from all over that country.

The medium-sized shop is jam packed with wines, generally arranged by geographic area. Prices seemed reasonable, based on prices I knew about, and varied from about $10 to several hundred dollars.  I was impressed with the diversity available, finding plenty of wines previously unknown to me. Besides Prosecco and Barolo, you will also find Friuliano and Pelaverga. They even stock grappa and amaro. After shopping at Eataly, you can stop here and buy a couple bottles of wine for that evening's dinner, or to store for the near future. 

A display of some of the Gaja product line.

This all is but a brief sampling of what is available at Eataly, hopefully enough to entice you to check it out if you are in NYC.  I found it to be an impressive market, and would advise you to visit it during more off times to avoid the crowds. The weekend is probably the busiest time there so you might want to avoid it then, and visit instead during the week.  The quality and diversity of products available is excellent, and I wish we had such a market in Boston.

Eataly on Urbanspoon