Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The "Vineyard" of Boston & Elyse Winery

Who says Boston cannot produce great wine? It just takes a bit longer from "vineyard" to the bottle.

The Elyse Winery, located in Napa, California, has celebrated 25 harvests however one could say that the original seeds of the Elyse vineyards were planted in Boston. Elyse Winery is owned by Ray and Nancy Coursen, and they grew up on opposite coasts, Ray on the East Coast in New Jersey and Nancy on the West Coast in the San Francisco Bay area. Despite this great distance, it seemed the gods of the vine saw fit to bring them together.

Ray eventually attended the Stockbridge Agricultural College at the University of Massachusetts, and while attending school also worked at Bauer Wine & Spirits on Newbury Street in Boston. It was at Bauer that Ray became enamored with French wine, and the first seed of Elyse was planted. Nancy acquired a degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Pennsylvania, and took a job working with special needs children in Boston.

In 1982, Ray worked at the former Callahan's Steakhouse in Newton and that is where he met Nancy, who was a customer. Sparks flew and another seed was planted for Elyse. In fact, in the next year they traveled together to Napa Valley with the goal of starting a winery. A passion for wine brought them together and they spent the next years trying to transform their ideas into a reality.

First, Ray worked for some other wineries, gaining valuable knowledge and experience. Ray and Nancy also became innkeepers for a bed and breakfast. Their daughter, Elyse Sarah, was born in 1986 and the next year saw the birth of their own wine label, named after their daughter, and the production of a few hundred cases of Zinfandel. Their son, Jake, was born in 1990 and they eventually created a label for him as well, Jacob Franklin. Finally, in 1997, they purchased their own winery and vineyard, which you can now visit and taste their wines.

The Elyse Winery produces only about 10,000 cases annually though the wines are available nationally and internationally. They state that their "focus remains on creating vineyard driven wines that pair well with food." They produce around 13 different wines under the Elyse label, including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and some using Rhone grapes. I was intrigued by these Rhone style wines and received samples of three of them. And after tasting them, I am pleased that I had the opportunity to taste these gems.

The 2011 Elyse L’Ingenue ($28) is a blend of 2% Roussanne, 32% Marsanne, 11% Viognier and 5% Grenache Blanc from the Naggiar Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. The wine is aged for about 16 months, sur lie, in used French oak, has an alcohol content of 14.6%, and only 416 cases were produced. I think Rhone whites don't get enough attention despite the fact they can be stunning wines. This Elyse was no exception. The aromas pleasantly caressed by nose, subtle fruits and flowers, while its full-bodied mouthfeel caressed my palate. Crisp and fresh, the fruit predominated, lush peach, pear and citrus, while there were mild floral elements. Complex and delicious, it possessed a satisfying and lengthy finish. With a dinner of scallops, this was a delightful wine and earns a hearty recommendation.

The 2009 C’est Si Bon ($28) is a blend of 39% Grenache, 33% Mourvèdre, 12% Syrah, 8% Cinsault, 5% Counoise, and 3% Viognier from the Naggiar Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. The wine is aged for about 22 months in French oak puncheons (10% new), has an alcohol content of 14.4%, and only 1,594 cases were produced. With a medium-red color, the aroma of the wine presented a nice balance of black fruit and dark spice notes. Its intriguing melange of tastes, with a great depth of flavor, included ripe plum, black cherry, dark spice and an earthy backbone. Smooth and complex, it also possessed a lengthy and pleasing finish. Another stunner, I paired this wine with grilled steak and it was a fine pairing. I think this wine would also have paired well with a hearty ragu, or grilled lamb. Highly recommended.

The 2008 Le Corbeau ($37) is a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah from the Hudson Vineyard in Los Carneros. The wine is aged for about 22 months in 20% new French oak, has an alcohol content of 14.4%, and only 300 cases were produced. "Corbeau" means "raven" and though the Raven is well known for speaking the word "Nevermore," you won't be saying that after you taste this wine. You will be asking for more, for another glass of this dark and compelling wine. The wine is darkly colored, almost purple and opaque, with dark spices and black fruits on the aroma. On the palate, it is a dark and brooding wine, with ripe plum, blackberry, vanilla and dark spices, especially on the finish. There is a strong earthy streak and plenty of complexity to intrigue you. Well balanced, the finish is lengthy and alluring. This is a bigger and bolder wine than the C'est Si Bon, and pairing it with a grilled steak is an excellent idea. My highest recommendation.

Seek out the wines of Elyse Winery, especially their Rhone-style wines, and see what the "seeds" of Boston have brought forth.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rant: Brand Loyalty & Wine Geeks

"...hard-core wine buffs...have no product loyalty. They like to sample a different wine every day, so they don’t support brands very well even when they love them."
--Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft by Clark Smith

How much brand loyalty do you possess? How many bottles of the same wines do you buy every year? If you truly love a wine, do you buy multiple cases of it every year? Or, despite your love for specific wines, do you generally spend most of your time and money exploring new and different wines? Are wine bloggers less brand loyal because of their desire and efforts to review numerous wines each year?

One of the most fascinating wine books I have read recently is Postmodern Winemaking by Clark Smith, a controversial figure in the wine industry because of his involvement in technological methods of wine making. Some see his efforts as over manipulation of wine, a charge he vehemently denies. The book itself does not shy from controversy, yet it raises many intriguing issues and should cause any reader to think about some of their closely held beliefs. At times, the book gets technical, and could confuse a non-winemaker, though Clark has tried to make it as easy to understand as possible. There is plenty in the book which any reader though will be able to comprehend and I highly recommend this book to all wine lovers.

But back to Clark's quote at the top of this post. Each year, we all drink and buy a limited amount of wine. We are constrained by our finances, by time, by our capabilities to drink. As I ponder my own annual wine consumption, I would have to agree with Clark that my own brand loyalty, in regards to repeat purchases and drinking, is low. I am definitely a wine explorer, always seeking out something new and different to try. If I go to a restaurant, I am more likely to try something new than I am to drink an old favorite. At a wine store, I more often buy something new rather than pick up the same old wines. And I don't think I am unique in this regard, especially among other wine bloggers.

However, despite my lack of repeated purchases of the same wine, I possess brand loyalty in another regard, in my promotion and advocacy of those wines, whether it be on my blog, in print media or by word of mouth. If I love a wine, I might not purchase it on a regular basis, but I will rave about that wine to others, encouraging them to try the wine. And those written recommendations on my blog remain available to everyone all the time. People regularly ask me for wine recommendations, and I will tell them about the wine I love, spreading brand loyalty.

To me, Clark's words have some relevance, but they do not address the complete situation. Even hardcore wine lovers who do not have blogs will spread their love for wines through word of mouth. Wine bloggers and writers have an additional forum to spread their brand loyalty. Though they might not purchase a specific wine often on their own, their advocacy is likely to lead to far more sales from others who take their recommendations.

Are you brand loyal or not?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Restaurants & Liquor Licenses: Interesting Numbers

Sometimes it's revelatory to see the larger picture, to get a sense of the actual numbers covering an entire area or region. It can help place matters into perspective, giving you a better understanding of how everything interacts and intersects. In my recent researches, I found some fascinating statistics concerning restaurants and liquor licenses in New England, and more specifically Massachusetts. I think these facts contribute to the current discussions on lifting the liquor license cap in Boston.

There are approximately 15,131 eating and drinking places in Massachusetts, almost more than the combined total of the other five New England states. The totals of the other New England states include: Connecticut 7323, Maine 3006, New Hampshire 2926, Rhode Island 2694, and Vermont 1346. The city of Boston has about 4,150 restaurants eating and drinking establishments, which is more than four of the New England States.

Comparatively, Boston has a ton of restaurants which then raises the question, does Boston need still more restaurants? Is there a sufficient market for all of those restaurants, plus more? How many more restaurants should Boston have? Is there an over saturation point, and if so, what is that point?

In Massachusetts, out of 318 communities, there are only 10 communities which currently possess over 100 on-premises liquor licenses. Boston stands at the top of the list with 1033 and second place drops significantly, down to 234 for Worcester. It is interesting to note that Worcester does not have a quota limit on the number of on-premises liquor licenses. Without a quota, the number of licenses is still only about 20% of the number in Boston.

Cambridge comes in third place with 229 licenses while New Bedford stands in fourth place with 150 licenses and Springfield comes in fifth place with 146. Quincy (116), Barnstable (112), Fall River (111), Lowell (107) and Plymouth (103) round out the bottom half of the top ten.

Some people like to point to Cambridge and state that it lacks a quota system so that restaurant owners will flock there as they can't pay the high prices for liquor licenses in Boston. However, that is not a fully accuracte depiction as Cambridge does restrict the number of licenses in certain neighborhoods, though not all. So, if you want an all-liquor license in Harvard Square you might pay $300K-$400K, similar to what you would pay in Boston. Porter Square is a bit cheaper, though an all-liquor license is still going to run you about $200K.

Kendall Square, where a cap basically doesn't exist, is where you will have much better luck getting a license for a less expensive cost. However, there is a current proposal before the License Commission that would double the annual fee for a specific type of liquor license and charge a $5,000 user fee every three years. The specific license at issue is the “no value” license, which cannot be sold or transferred. In addition, it would only affect licenses that were issued after February 28, 2008, to restaurants that have seating of 50 or more. It is unsure whether the proposal will ultimately pass or not.

Rather than removing the cap on liquor licenses in Boston, maybe a more measured approach, as I have previously stated, would be best. Like Cambridge, there are neighborhoods in Boston which would most benefit from additional liquor licenses, while other neighborhoods already have plenty. That also helps protect the economic interests of restaurants with existing liquor licenses. A more measured change would be best for all.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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.
1) The Blue Room and neighbor Bon Me are uniting, on Wednesday, July 31 (rain or shine), from 6pm-9pm, for a collaborative pop-up picnic at the scenic Rings Fountain on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. Guests are invited to lounge on provided blankets and dine picnic-style on a four-course fusion feast prepped in Bon Me’s newest truck.

The collaborative menu includes:
1970s Chicken Galantine with Modern Farm Slaw (The Blue Room)
Chilled Cucumber Soup Shooter (Bon Me)
Bon Me Sandwich with Sweet + Spicy Chinese Sausage (Bon Me + The Blue Room)
Forbidden Rice Pudding (The Blue Room)

Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available if requested in advance by emailing jenn@bonmetruck.com.

Cost: Tickets cost $25 per person in advance or $30 at the event. Purchase tickets at http://picnicpopup.brownpapertickets.com.

2) Tavolo chef de cuisine Nuno Alves is excited to be taking delivery of a caja china,… a charcoal-fueled cooking box that can roast whole animals outdoors in a 6-foot-long chamber constructed of wood and steel. Culinary historians disagree on its origin but what matters is that caja china cooking requires patience, but results in crisp yet moist meat with little fuss or attention. The caja china’s trial run occurs Wednesday, August 7 at Tavolo’s Porchetta Festival. The porchetta festival features three authentic dishes from the Italian region of Liguria for $25 per person and advance reservations are recommended.  

On the morning of August 7, white-ashed charcoal briquettes will be heaped into the caja china and sealed tight to cook for 5-7 hours with a brined pig from Brambly Farms of Norfolk within. One pig can feed 30 salivating diners generously. Sides might include tiny stuffed peppers, pasta with eggplant, and a pork sausage stuffing fragrant with fennel fronds and seeds.

Tavolo will also hold an annual Gnocchi Fest on Wednesday, August 21. Experience a variety of Venetian recipe gnocchis – from hearty buckwheat versions to delicate egg spheres– combined with local farm vegetables, swordfish, and more. The cost is $25 per person for three courses.

Future Italian festivals coming up are:
Calabrian Hot Pepper Fest on September 4
Apulian Lambrusco Fest on September 18
Tavolo marks its 5 Year Anniversary with a gala party on Sunday, September 22.

3) Chef/Owner Chris Coombs, of Boston Chops, Deuxave and dbar, has teamed up with Smolak FarmsWhim” 2013 to present a dinner on Wednesday, July 31. Whim is a unique “pop up” dining experience held at Smolak Farms every Wednesday evening from July 10 through August 21 where some of New England’s best chefs prepare a three-course dinner in the Smolak Farms Pine Grove. Guests enjoy beer, wine and cocktails and a seated three-course dinner under the tent in the pine grove. Notch Brewing Company will also be on site sampling beer and offering a wide selection of their delicious, local craft beer for purchase.

Coombs’ one time menu will include:
First Course: Cucumber Soup with Marinated Shrimp, Lemon Creme Fraiche, Crouton
Second Course: Two Hour Egg, Orecchiette, Grilled Kale, Summer Squashes, Parmesian
Third Course: House made Sausage, Warm Potato Salad, Basil Pistou, Peach and Sweet Pepper Relish
Fourth Course: Blueberry Cobbler

Check in and cocktails begins at 6 pm and Dinner begins at 7 pm
Cost: $69 per person (includes tax), beverages and gratuity not included. There is one 3-course menu presented by the chef: no substitutions. Dinner is held rain or shine, no refunds after purchase. Wine, beer and soda will be available for purchase. (No BYOB allowed). Dress is casual. Tickets must be purchased in advance at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/6800946815.

4) Rather than the usual Restaurant Week menu, Piattini will be serving a multi-course family-style Italian Wine Dinner on Monday, August 19, 2013 at 6:30pm. Piattini will be joined by Francesco Calderaro from Winebow Boston as they wine and dine guests through an exciting 3-course tour of Italy. For $35 per person (+tax and gratuity), guests will get to try two antipasti and two entrées served family-style, each paired with a different Italian wine. Known for its educational wine program, Piattini and Carderaro will educate guests on the ins and outs of pairing Italian cuisine and wine, and everyone will leave with a wine card detailing the region, tasting notes, and other pertinent information of each poured wine.

First course (shared)
Arugula (Seasoned, chopped fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts, arugula, Parmigiano reggiano, lemon-oil dressing)
Polpo alla Griglia (Grilled marinated baby octopus, white cannellini bean salad, myer lemon drizzle)
Wine: Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna DOC 2012
Second Course (shared)
Bolognese (Homemade fussilli, traditional meat ragout)
Stracotto di Manzo (Braised Short ribs, glazed onions, parsnip puree)
Wine: Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2009 Veneto
Vanilla Almond Panna cotta
Wine: Bera Moscato di Asti DOCG 2012
Aromas of fresh grapes, honey, white flowers and orange blossoms.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How Restaurants Can Be More Sustainable

To me, it’s about bringing community together. I look at what we do in our restaurants as being something bigger than just providing nutrition for people."
--Rick Bayless

Sustainability. It's a hot buzzword and its definition has been warped and twisted by many companies, trying to use it as a marketing tool. However, it's an important concept and a worthy goal to help some of the problems which plague our world. Restaurants need to pay attention to sustainability, but it can be a complex issue and restaurants can use all the help they can get to know what are the right things to do. There is a new, free resource which provides some basic, but valuable, information on sustainability and every restaurant owner should download and read this report.

When a restaurateur grabs hold of the role of storyteller and starts telling about where the food is coming from and how you can connect with people in your community who have supplied some of it, suddenly the restaurateur takes on a role that is, to me, sort of the ground level of real sustainability.”
--Rick Bayless

The National Restaurant Association recently held their annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show and there was a strong concentration on sustainability, including seven educational programs. Fortunately, if you didn't or couldn't attend, they have released a special report, collecting much of the information on sustainability. The report, Bright Ideas: Sustainability Tips From Industry Experts, is available as a free download and I strongly encourage all restaurant owners to read it. The report contains information from people like Chef Rick Bayless and Joe Carbonara as well as companies such as Starbucks and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

"..restaurants use five to 10 times more energy per square foot than other businesses, ..."
--Joe Carbonara

Some of the information is a bit philosophical, detailing how some people view sustainability as much bigger than merely worrying about local products and waste. For Chef Rick Bayless, sustainability is all about community. Some of the information is more practical, from the general down to detaiiled specifics. For Caitlin Leibert, of Chipotle, the general starting principle is to ask lots of questions, to gain as much knowledge, data and information as you can obtain. Joe Carbonara provides some specifics on designing a restaurant to be more sustainable while Jim Hanna, of Starbucks, give advice on recycling and composting. You'll even find a discussion on seafood sustainability.

Don’t settle for what is out there. Research, ask questions and dig in. It’s really just about asking the right questions."
--Caitlin Leibert

At the bottom line though, a restaurant needs to be profitable. If it isn't making money, then it won't be sustainable itself and will eventually have to close. That doesn't mean a restaurant needs to compromise on its principles and convictions. You can be both profitable and sustainable, though there can be friction between these two goals. That sometimes means you must better educate your customers about food costs and sustainability.

The most successful franchisees believe that being socially involved helps their sales.
--Don Fox

Customers have a growing interest in the corporate and business practices of restaurants, from how they treat their employees to how they handle complaints. They want restaurants to be more socially responsible, concerned about issues from fair trade to environmental issues. Sustainability falls within that purview and a failure to address such issues can lead to a strong blacklash, especially in social media. It is not enough to just serve food anymore. People expect far more from restaurants.

We first and foremost have to stay in business. But we aren’t going to give up on our convictions. We will find the balance in the middle.
--Rick Bayless

Besides eight articles, the report also contains eight sidebars, with more practical advice, including lists of actions to take. You'll find sidebars on topics like Energy Efficient Best Practices, Convert Trash Into Cash, Four Keys To Food Sustainability and How To Be Socially Responsible. Overall, this report is a great starting place for restaurants to think more about sustainability, and will hopefully give you some new suggestions that you might not have considered before. Sustainability is only going to become more and more vital, so the time to work at it is now.

What are you waiting for?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rant: Andelman, Liquor License Quotas & Food Trucks

""Liquor licenses are a lot like food trucks, chefs and owners won't say that they bitterly resent that these trucks are pulling up right in front of them after they built up a restaurant and pay rent.""
--Dave Andelman

It seems that Dave Andelman, of the Phantom Gourmet and also President of the Restaurant & Business Alliance (RABA), has a seeming obsession with attacking food trucks, no matter what the topic of conversation. Andelman recently appeared with Boston Councilor Ayanna Pressley on Greater Boston, hosted by Emily Rooney. The topic of discussion was Pressley's home rule petition that would essentially remove the cap on liquor licenses in Boston. Despite that being the topic at hand, Andelman made sure to interject his disgust for food trucks into the conversation.

I previously ranted at length about the topic of Pressley's petition in Eliminating the Liquor License Cap. In brief, I am opposed to the petition as I believe it will unnecessarily hurt over 1000 existing business by drastically reducing the existing value of their liquor licenses, creating an economic hardship through the reduction of a valuable asset. I also offered a solution, which would help to protect that asset while also making liquor licenses more accessible and affordable to businesses in places like urban renewal areas and empowerment zones. And that is the primary concern of Pressley, helping out such urban renewal areas and empowerment zones which currently have few liquor licenses.

During the Greater Boston segment, Pressley restated most of the talking points she has repeated before, adding really nothing new to the discussion. She failed to indicate if Mayor Menino supports the petition, or what members of the legislature support the position. The only support she has offered is now Andelman and RABA. She also failed to address the economic problems her petition would cause to existing restaurants with liquor licenses. Though she states her petition would allow them to still sell their licenses, those licenses would be nearly worthless if there is no longer a cap on licenses in Boston. Pressley remained silent on that point.

Andelman has now stepped forward, speaking on behalf of RABA, and apparently supporting this petition. Though if you review the RABA website, there is nothing on it about the petition. Andelman believes the petition is a good idea for "depressed" areas like Dorchester and Mattapan. He believes, and I agree, that restaurants are often helped out if they possess a liquor license. Andelman indicated that the petition should be sensitive to restaurants that already possess a liquor license, and he seems content with Pressley's petition as currently written.

However, that petition is a slap in the face to the RABA restaurants that Andelman represents. By supporting that petition, Andelman is doing a major disservice to those restaurants. Maybe he fails to understand the effect of the petition. It certainly is not sensitive to the restaurants that have already paid large amounts of money for their liquor licenses.

We all know that the only reason the existing liquor licenses are so valuable is because there is a limit on the amount of licenses in Boston. If you suddenly remove that cap, as this petition wants to do, then obviously the value of existing liquor loses drops drastically. The only bone the petition throws to these restaurants is that they retain the ability to sell their liquor licenses. But who cares? As the licenses will be worth so little, selling them won't amount to anything. The restaurants certainly won't recoup what they paid for their licenses. Why buy a license from an existing restaurant when you can simply apply for a new one instead?

Hurting over 1000 restaurants with existing liquor licenses is wrong! And Andelman, as a restaurant advocate, should be ashamed for supporting this petition which will hurt RABA members and other restaurant owners. The solution I offered previously will accomplish Pressley's primary goal, helping places like urban renewal areas and empowerment zones, but also will help protect existing licenses.

If you are concerned about this petition, the Boston City Council's Committee on Government Operations will hold a public hearing on this matter on Wednesday, August 14 at 2pm. If you cannot attend in person, the hearing will also be broadcast live on Comcast Channel 8, RCN Channel 82 and online in City Council TV. You can even send in written comments to the Council via email, christine.o'donnell@cityofboston.gov

Friday, July 19, 2013

Decanter Power List: Omissions & Influence

Which individuals in the wine industry possess the greatest influence over the wines you drink?

The answer depends on numerous factors, as well as what limitations you place upon that answer. For example, are you restricting your answer to only the United States, or do you include the entire world? How do you determine which individuals are influential? Is influence measured solely by how many bottles of wine are sold? This is a complex area, yet numerous people and companies have taken a stance on trying to answer the initial question.

Decanter Magazine has offered their own answers in the latest edition of their Power List. This list, which comes out every two years, is in its fifth edition. They select the "50 most important people who influence what’s in your glass today" and claims that the "list is as objective as it is possible to be." Can such a list truly be objective? It would seem the complexity of the question would have to interject a good measure of subjectivity into the answers.

You can check out the people listed in The Decanter Power List 2013 and many of those names probably won't be much of a surprise. I am sure there are individuals on the list you will disagree with, and you probably believe deserving people were omitted. The significant number of individuals with connections to China and the rest of Asia seems to indicate the growing importance of this region. However, what intrigued me more were the people who were not on the list.

In their last list, The Decanter Power List 2011, the Amateur Wine Blogger was ranked at #16 yet they did not even make the 2013 list. Why is that the case? Is the influence of wine bloggers decreasing? If so, why? Or is it merely the perception that wine bloggers have lost much of their influence over the last couple years?

In the 2011 list, there were six women and in the 2013 list, the number of women remained the same. Four of those women, including Jeannie Cho Lee MW, Gina Gallo, Jancis Robinson, and Annette Alvarez Peters, were on both lists. Why aren't there more women on this list? You might expect to see at least a couple more women added each edition, but that wasn't the case with the latest 2013 edition.

The 2011 list also presented seven names of people to watch for in 2013, who could end up on the Power List for "reflecting the trends seen in the main list, and expected to proliferate over the next two years." These individuals included Ian Harris, Eric Asimov, Simon Tam, Debra Meiburg MW, Ryan Anderson Opaz, Bill Foley and Bruno Paillard. Not one of those seven people though actually made it on the 2013 list. Why is that the case? Have they not proliferated sufficiently? Has their influence actually decreased during the last two years? I should also not that none of these people even made the 2013 list of people to watch.

In 2013, they selected five people to watch for in 2015, and that includes Antonio Galloni, Daniel Johnnes, Edouard Moueix, Patricio Tapia and Alejandro Vigil. Will any of them actually make it on the 2015 list, or will they fade away like the people to watch of 2011?

What are your thoughts on the Decanter Power List?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

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.
1)  Abby Lane Chef/Owner Jason Santos introduces a weekend brunch to the theatre district. Abby Lane is now offering brunch every Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 am through 3 pm.

Menu highlights include:
--Smoked Salmon Bagel “Nachos” made with house-made boursin, pickled onions and capers ($11)
--Crispy Buffalo Oysters with celery root puree, gorgonzola, and house-made hot sauce ($11)
--Made-To-Order Cinnamon Doughnuts with three dipping sauces ($7)
--Blue Corn and Blueberry Pancakes with orange-honey butter, grilled sausage, and cinnamon pecan syrup ($12)
--Lobster Roll with a buttered brioche, fresh lemon, and fries ($21)
--Breakfast Pizza with cheese, bacon, sunny-side-up eggs, and potatoes ($15)
--Gin & Jam with gin, fresh lemon, strawberry jam, and a cinnamon sugar doughnut ($10)
--Cure for the Common Hangover with bourbon, ginger, fresh orage, and carrot juices ($11)
--There Once Was… with Nantucket’s 888 blueberry and mint Vodka, topped off with cisco grey lady ($12)

2) Puritan & Company launches its Sunday brunch this weekend, introducing the first “Provisions Table” approach of its kind. The main attraction of Sunday mornings at Puritan will be the transformation of the communal dining table into an a la carte Provisions Table, which will display all the house-made pastries, biscuit sandwiches, and more, presented in pre-priced individual portions. These selections will change weekly, but may include house-made nosh such as: Boston Cream Doughnuts, Coconut Cake, Babka, Croissants, Cookies, and Ham & Cheddar Biscuit Sandwiches. Guests are welcome to take whatever offerings they please from the Provisions Table (while they last), and each plate will be attached to a certain price point.

Taking the same approach on brunch as on dinner, Chef Will Gilson also presents a seasonal and fresh, modern New England a la carte menu in the form of griddle cakes, smoked bluefish pate, and more. The a la carte menu (attached) will also change weekly due to produce availability, and will include, but not be limited to:

Smoked Bluefish Pate// allium bread, herbs, chili flake $7
Greek yogurt parfait// granola, summer fruit preserve $6
Chopped Salad// market vegetables, egg, tarentaise $9
Duck Rillette// pumpernickel, pickled fruit $10
Muscovy Duck Hash// farm eggs, herbed-crème fraiche $15
Early Summer Vegetable Quiche// market greens $12
Organic Griddle Cakes// maple, honey butter, nuts $13
Pumpernickel toast $2
Cream of wheat $6
Smoked pork belly $5
In-Square Shandy// summer ale, ginger, lemonade $8
Market Bellini// strawberry, mint, prosecco $10

When: Every Sunday, beginning July 21, from 11am-2pm

3) The “Scuola Culinaria,” - the cooking school at Tuscan Village, the property which houses both Tuscan Kitchen restaurant and the artisanal foodie wonderland of Tuscan Market in Salem, New Hampshire, has just announced its first hands-on cooking class to be held on Tuesday, July 30, from 6pm-9pm.

The first demo-based class held at the restaurant in late May sold out over 100 seats in less than 24 hours. Joe Faro, the owner and creator of Tuscan Brands, says “The demo class was great, but teaching artisanal techniques is at the core of what Tuscan Market does. We have a virtual army laboring over fresh baked breads and handmade pasta every day. We want to share that with people in an authentic and transparent way. We are extremely passionate about the food we create at the market and we want people to be connected to the food we make for them in a very personal way.

The class which will be taught by Faro will lead students through the from-scratch creation of one of Tuscan’s most popular pastas, “Roasted Butternut Squash Cappellacci.” Students will create their own pastas as well as complete the plated dishes with a sage brown butter sauce, topped with Parmigiano Reggiano. While students are cooking away, the Chefs at the newly opened Trattoria within Tuscan Market will prepare a multi-course meal for the group to enjoy after the class comprising of not only the fresh cappellacci, but an antipasti course and a secondi course of roasted pork tenderloin. All students will take home all the pasta they make after the class and receive a Tuscan t-shirt. The class price is $125 per person and can be reserved via: http://www.tuscanbrands.com/kitchen/cooking-school/

Tickets will be released to the general public on July 22.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gonzalez Byass & Taberna de Haro: Sherry Food Pairings

"Although it is indeed a rare pearl, the king of food pairings really exists, and it's fino sherry."
--Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food With Wine by Francois Chartier

Too many people in the U.S. still believe that Sherry is primarily a dessert wine, and that is partially due to the fact that primarily sweet Sherry is imported into the U.S. However, dry Sherries are wonderful wines, and extremely food friendly. More people need to taste dry Sherry. Like Sake, many dry Sherries possess a prominent umami taste, contributing to its versatility with food. Sherries can also pair well with some foods which other wines have difficulty working with, such as asparagus.

I am a huge fan of Sherry and you can read more than two dozen of my articles at All About Sherryfrom a History of the Sherry region to the Mystery of Palomino. Several of those articles discuss pairing Sherry with food, such as Sherry Food Pairings: More Bellota Please, Thanksgiving Wines? Consider Sherry or Saké, and Fino Sherry: The King of Food Pairings. Fortunately, in the Boston area, there are some restaurants which are promoting Sherry, helping to show their customers its versatility with food. This is great news for wine lovers willing to expand their horizons, to take a chance on something new to them.

Chef Deborah Hansen, the owner of Taberna de Haro, a Spanish restaurant in Brookline, is a huge Sherry fan and it is reflected in her restaurant. Taberna de Haro was also my Favorite Spanish Restaurant of 2012. One year ago, Deborah expanded her restaurant, essentially doubling it in size, and adding a very cool bar (pictured above). The restaurant carries over 40 different Sherries, and Deborah is planning on adding even more in the near future. This is a perfect place to experience the joys of Sherry, accompanied by compelling Spanish cuisine.    

Last week, Deborah (pictured above) hosted a special media Sherry event, presenting nine different Sherries from Bodegas Gonzalez Byass paired with various tapas selected by Deborah. The Sherries of Gonzalez Byass are imported by The San Francisco Wine Exchange and distributed in Massachusetts by Bay State Wine & Spirits. The tasting was led by Christopher Canale-Parola (pictured above), the Export Manager for Gonzalez Byass and a former winemaker. Christopher is young, knowledgeable and passionate and his love for Sherry is infectious. He is an excellent spokesperson to help introduce Sherry to a new generation of wine lovers.

Three years ago, I traveled to Spain, visiting Bodegas Gonzalez Byass, and you can read my article, Apostles & Thirsty Mice, for background on the winery and their wines. It was a fascinating visit, with plenty of delicious sherries. And thirsty mice who love sweet Sherry.

Our evening began with a glass of Tio Pepe Fino, which is made to be a richer style of Fino, and not as pungent or tart as other Finos. It is a more approachable of a Sherry, so is a great introductory Sherry for newcomers. It is dry, crisp and clean with hints of nuts and bread and possesses a fairly lengthy and pleasing finish.

Deborah feels that Fino pairs well with fried fish, and one of the dishes paired with this Sherry was Bienmesabe, small pieces of delicious, marinated fried haddock. The pairing worked very well and I could easily see having Fino this summer with fried clams. This Fino also works well with salty foods, and that was evidenced with the Gildas (skewered olive, boqueron & guindilla pepper) and Aceitunas (Spanish olives). Think Fino for oysters too!

We then moved onto two Amontillados, the Vina AB and Del Duque VORS. The Vina AB was dry and light, with delicious nutty notes. The Del Duque VORS is named after the Duke who, in 1835, sold the first barrels to the winery. I have raved about aged Sherries before, and a VORS Sherry must possess an average age of at least 30 years. This Amontillado didn't disappoint with a smooth, complex melange of flavors, from dark nuts to leather and caramel notes. It is compelling and alluring, a superb Sherry which is sure to seduce your palate.

Deborah stated that Amontillado is very food friendly and she likes pairing it with fish. So, we enjoyed it with Sepia a la plancha, griddled cuttlefish with garlic, Spanish olive oil and sherry vinegar. I have enjoyed Amontillado with seafood before and I agree that is it a very good combination. We also had a dish of Jamon serrano con esparragos asados, Spanish ham wrapped around roasted asparagus with a house made oregano mayonnaise. As I dislike bitter green veggies, I didn't eat the asparagus though everyone who did partake, raved about the pairing. Asparagus is a very difficult food pairing for most wines, but Amontillado seemed to work great.

Next up was an Oloroso and Palo Cortado, darker, more oxidized Sherries. The Oloroso Alfonso was rich and spicy, with flavors of caramel, nuts and a mild brininess. The Palo Cortado Apostles VORS is an exceptional Sherry, made from 87% Palomino and 13% Pedro Ximinez (PX). As Palo Cortado can sometimes be bitter, some wineries add a little PX for sweetness. With the Apostles, they age the wine for 12 years before adding the PX for the next 18 years. This is a hedonistic wine, smooth, complex and tantalizing. This is a Sherry to slowly savor with great friends.

Deborah mentioned that she likes bitter tastes with darker sherries, and loves pairing Oloroso Sherry with pate and poultry. With these two Sherries, Deborah prepared a Pate de pato con endibias, a duck pate with endive and a fig vinaigrette. The pate was amazing, and its rich, earthiness went very well with the two Sherries. The bitter endive was also intended to be complemented by the Sherry.

We continued with two more Oloroso Sherries, though both with a bit of sweetness. The Oloroso Solera 1847 is a blend of 75% Palomino and 25% PX, a concentrated, velvety wine with flavors of figs, raisins, and nuts. Its mild sweetness might remind you of some aged Ports. The Oloroso Matusalem VORS is a similar blend but it has an average age of at least 30 years. It is more complex, with deeper flavors of dried fruit, spice and leather. There is some sweetness but it is restrained, and the finish is lengthy and pleasing. Two more winners.

Deborah informed us that mushrooms is a classic Oloroso pairing and she also wanted to pair these Oloroso Sherries with the "pure animal of blood sausage."  Thus, we had Champinones rellenos de jamon (mushrooms stuffed with Spanish ham) and Morcilla a la plancha (griddled black sausage with roasted red peppers). The mushrooms were amazing, earthy and salty, and the blood sausage was tasty too, meaty and earthy. A superb course, I could have easily devoured a few more plates. Both Oloroso Sherries worked well with these dishes, and Deborah was spot on once again.

We ended the evening with two PX Sherries. The Vina Nectar PX is aged for about seven years, and had delicious flavors of caramel, figs, nuts and spice. The Noe PX VORS is aged for at least an average of 30 years, and its complex, sweet flavors tend more to raisins, coffee, spice, and cooked plums.

PX and blue cheese is a classic pairing, though Cabrales is usually used. Deborah though chose a Mitiblu cheese, a rich and creamy Spanish blue cheese, with dried apricots, walnuts, olive oil and honey. She did not add any bread, feeling it muddles the dish. It was pure creamy goodness with that tasty tang of blue which I love so much. Deborah also added that the best way to enjoy PX is often poured over ice cream. She even mentioned that bacon and PX work well together.

The evening provided more evidence of what I have said before, that Sherry is an excellent food wine and more people need to take a chance on placing it on their tables. Sample and taste some dry Sherries, from Fino to Palo Cortado, Manzanilla to Amontillado, and see what you have been missing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rant: Don't Drink & Durian

The infamous Durian fruit, native to Southeast Asia, has a reputation for possessing one of the most foul odors you will ever smell. However, there are plenty of people, especially in Southeast Asia, who love the taste, and even the smell, of this fruit. In Indonesia, Durian flavored condoms are even very popular. You can find Durians locally in some Asian grocery stores, and its thorny exterior is very distinctive and recognizable. For some people, they might have to be really drunk before they were willing to try a Durian.

I was intrigued this weekend to learn from The Drinks Business that some students from the National University of Singapore have created the world’s first wine made from Durian. Allegedly, the wine has a rich creamy color and a buttery taste, and does not taste like the fruit itself. The students hope to make it commercially available, though I wouldn't expect to see it on U.S. shelves anytime in the near future. It would likely start in Southeast Asia and could take years before it reaches us.

However, this raises an important health issue, that drinking and Durian don't mix. What do I mean? Well, drinking alcohol while consuming Durian fruit can be dangerous, and potentially even lethal. For a long time, this has been considered a bit of folklore, and though there were alleged incidents of deaths caused by alcohol and Durian, most seemed to believe there was no rational basis for the belief. But there is at least one scientific study which provides support to this belief.

A New Scientist article reported on the results of a study by John Maninang and Hiroshi Gemma from the University of Tsukuba, Japan who sought to determine if durian and alcohol did pose any danger. The results seemed to show that the high sulfur content of Durian significantly impaired the breakdown odd alcohol in the body. More specifically, the Durian "inhibited the activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase - an enzyme that clears toxic breakdown products - by up to 70%." This enzyme is the liver's primary defense against the toxic effects of alcohol, so that if the enzyme is prevented from doing its job, a person could technically die from alcohol poisoning.

So it might be better to be safe than sorry, and don't drink alcohol while consuming Durian fruit.

However, what about this Durian wine? It should be safe as the fermentation process significantly reduces sulfur levels, to trace amounts, so its effect on the enzyme should be nominal. So if the Durian wine ever ends up on U.S. shelves, it will be safe to consume.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

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.
1)  51 Lincoln Owner Jeff Fournier and Chef de Cuisine Nate Gibson present Raw August, a month-long celebration of internationally influenced raw cuisine, featuring vegetables from 51 Lincoln’s own rooftop garden and proteins in their purest form.

During the month of August, Jeff Fournier and Nate Gibson will prepare dishes that are globally influenced, yet locally sourced. These carefully prepared dishes will not only delight your palate, but also provide you with a love of proteins in their natural state. Served with complimentary wine pairings, these dishes provide the perfect finishing touch to summer. Below are sample menu items for Raw August:

Wagu Steak Tartare with Red Onion, Capers, Truffle Dijon Dressing
Onset Oysters on the Halfshell, Pickled Ramp Mignonette, Peach Gastrique, Fresno Chili, Chervil
Colorado Lamb Kibbe, White Onion, Parsley, Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette, Naan Bread
Scallop and Mango Poke, Poi and Taro Root Chips, Radish Slaw
Cold Smoked Sail Island Salmon Tartare, House Baked Fennel Bread, Soft Boiled Farm Egg, Fennel Fronds, Pickled Mustard Seed Vinaigrette
Duo of Tartares: Yellow Fin Tuna & Fresh Blueberries, Red Onion, Lemon, Cilantro, Blueberry Aioli
Rhode Island Fluke Ceviche, Jalapeño, Lime, Cilantro, Pineapple, Avocado Espuma
Faroe Island Salmon Carpaccio, Crispy Green Bean Frites, Brandy Cream sauce

When: August 1-31 (Tuesdays through Saturdays, starting at 5:00pm)

2) From Sunday, September 8 to Sunday, September 15, restaurants and wine shops located north of Boston will join together to hold the third annual North of Boston Wine Week (NOBOWW). Sponsored by Merrimack Valley Magazine, in conjunction with NECN’s “TV Diner,” M.S. Walker, Horizon Beverage Company and Cape Ann Foodie Tours, North of Boston Wine Week will celebrate the towns north of Boston as a premier destination for fine wine and food. Throughout the week, the area’s finest businesses will highlight their wine selections with various events and great deals including everything from specially crafted wine tastings, wine dinners, wine flights, pairings, special events and more. For the complete calendar listing of events visit www.NorthOfBostonWineWeek.com.

North of Boston Wine Week will kick-off with a complimentary inaugural event at the Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, on Saturday, September 7, from 1pm-5pm, during an exclusive, free wine tasting event featuring cuisine from several participating venue’s chefs.

Buy local, drink global and join North of Boston as a vibrant food and wine community and support local businesses including: 50 Warren Restaurant, 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, Adriatic Restaurant and Bar, Alchemy Bistro, Andiamo Restaurant + Bar, Angelina’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria, Blue Stove at Nordstrom, Burton’s Grill, Busa Wine & Spirits, Café Escadrille, Centro, China Blossom, Emerson By The Sea, Evviva Cucina, The Grapevine, Hanover Street Chophouse, Joseph's Trattoria, Laurie's 9:09 Gastro-Diner, Luna Rossa Ristorante, Michael's Harborside, Nathanial's at the Hawthorne Hotel, On The Bone, Oregano Pizzeria, Orzo Trattoria, Phat Cat Bistro, Ristorante Olivio, Salvatore's Restaurants, Smolak Farms, Stonehedge Inn & Spa, Ten Center Street, Tryst Restaurant, Tuscan Kitchen, Tuscan Market, Waterside Grille, and the Wine ConneXtion.

3) Executive Chef/Owner Paul Turano of Tryst Restaurant in Arlington, MA (and the soon to open “Cook” restaurant in Newton), has been nominated by Governor Deval Patrick to represent the state of Massachusetts at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 3. The Great American Seafood Cook-Off is one of the nation’s most prestigious seafood competitions showcasing domestic, sustainable seafood featuring acclaimed chefs from across the country. Chefs are asked to create unique dishes and flavor combinations with domestic seafood that is native to their home states and representative of their region. Hosted in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the most renowned cities for all things gourmet, the event is sponsored by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and presented by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.

It’s such an honor to represent Massachusetts in this competition,” said Chef Paul Turano. This will be the first time Massachusetts is represented at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off. The Great American Seafood Cook-Off takes place at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, in Hall J, alongside the Louisiana Restaurant Association Food Service Expo on August 3.

4) On Sunday, July 28, at 6pm, Chef Paul Turano of Tryst Restaurant in Arlington is collaborating with New England’s very own root beer company, Tower Root Beer, for the third annual Root Beer Dinner, celebrating Tower’s 99-year-old classic soda recipe.

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 and competition from the two major soda conglomerates 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.

Tryst Restaurant is celebrating the return of the timeless drink with a classic three course, $34 prix fixe dinner ($14 for optional cocktail pairing) by Chef Paul Turano featuring root beer inspired dishes and innovative cocktails inspired by the sweet treat. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Tryst at 781-641-2227.

And here is a special Recipe from Chef Turano for Root Beer Braised Short Ribs

3 lbs Boneless Beef Short Ribs (about 1 1/2" thick with good marbling)
1 ea yellow onion, rough chopped
1 ea carrot, rough chopped
2 ea celery stalks, rough chopped
3 ea garlic cloves, rough chopped
3 Tbls tomato paste
4 ea fresh thyme sprigs
1 ea bay leaf
½ bottle dark beer
½ bottle Tower Root Beer
3 cups chicken stock
3 Tbls balsamic vinegar
flour, as needed
salt and pepper
canola oil, as needed

Season short ribs with salt and pepper, dredge in the flour, bang to remove excess flour. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat, add a little canola oil and cook the ribs in batches (Do Not Overcrowd the Pan!) Brown the ribs on all sides, taking care not to burn the flour. Remove ribs and place in an oven proof casserole about six inches deep. Sear remaining ribs.

Wipe out excess oil from the sauté pan. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with salt and pepper and continue to cook until light brown. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste and cook an additional 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the beer, root beer and bring to a boil for two minutes. Pour into the casserole over the ribs. Add the aromatics and chicken stock. Cover the casserole with lid or aluminum foil. Place in 300˚ oven. Half way through cooking, flip the ribs in the liquid to ensure even cooking. Cook approximately two and a half hours, until the short ribs are tender, but not falling apart.

Remove the meat from the casserole, strain the liquid through a sieve, skim excess fat and return to casserole or a stove top safe pan. Reduce the liquid until the desired consistency. Return ribs to the liquid to slowly reheat. Serves 4-6 people.

5) On July 31-August 25, Rosa Mexicano will launch their annual Ice Cream Festival, featuring a dedicated menu of sweet and salty ice cream flavors, Paleta popsicles, dessert guacamole, ice cream-stuffed churros and more.

Part of their ongoing Flavors of Mexico series, the beloved festival will introduce specials including but not limited to:
· Guacamole de Postre: a decadent sundae of sweet avocado ice cream "guacamole," prepared tableside with fresh raspberries, white chocolate shavings & coconut crunch; served with piloncillo chocolate sauce and cinnamon sugar Buñuelos
· "Paleta" Popsicles: in flavors such as Guava, Chile & Huckleberry; and Papaya & Passionfruit
· Ice Cream Stuffed Churros: a twist on the traditional "deep fried ice cream," three churro fritters filled with various ice cream flavors such as malted coffee and plantain & peanut butter; served with chocolate fudge ganache
· Ice Cream Cones: highlights include Plantain & Peanut Butter; Strawberry Rose; Sweet Cream, Mexican Chocolate & Cajeta Swirl; and Mexican Sour Gherkin & Jalapeño Sorbet

6) Bringing a taste of the North End to the Greenway, Carla and Christine Pallotta have now opened the doors to the relocated NEBO at 520 Atlantic Avenue. The new 180-seat restaurant, with a 65-seat patio on the edge of the Greenway with 180-degree views of the Financial District, is now open for dinner service, and will add lunch in the next few weeks, followed by a takeout program specializing in Italian sandwiches, baked goods, and pastries.

After eight years at the original NEBO, our hearts – and our parking spaces – will always be in the North End,” say sisters, chefs, and co-owners Carla and Christine Pallotta. “Though we’re not technically located in the neighborhood any more, we’re still close enough to do our morning shopping. Instead of ‘North End Boston,’ NEBO now means ‘North End brought over’ to the Greenway.”

In addition to the pizzas, handmade pastas, and antipasti for which NEBO is famous for, the new NEBO menu will offer even more traditional Italian dishes that the original, smaller NEBO kitchen wasn’t equipped to execute. These new dishes include about 10 new pizzas and summer entrees that focus on seafood and vegetables such as Branzino, Squid Ink Pasta with Salt Cod Confit, and Cioppino with Lobster, Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels and Smelts in a Spicy Tomato Brodo with Crostini.

NEBO has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the building, a vaulted brick ceiling, and an open layout that includes: a 60-person bar area with two communal tables, an Italian marble bar, and 12-seat drink rail; a 120-person dining room with banquettes, coffee-stained rift oak tables, and chocolate brown Herman Miller bucket chairs interspersed with refinished Thonet chairs from the old NEBO; and a semi-private dining room with an Italian alabaster chandelier. The state-of-the-art open kitchen with adjoining gelato and sandwich bar is the “dream kitchen” Christine imagined eight years ago when she crafted the business plan for NEBO’s original North End location. During the warmer months, NEBO’s outdoor patio on the edge of the Greenway includes custom furniture designed to match the original cast iron work of Atlantic Wharf, nutmeg umbrellas, and Winston Flowers arrangements.

NEBO is now open for dinner Monday through Saturday beginning at 5:00 PM. Lunch service begins late July; takeout by September. NEBO is closed on Sundays.

I am a huge fan of NEBO so I am very excited to check out their new location, and I think it is great that they will soon be open for lunch too. This is definitely a restaurant I strongly encourage my readers to check out.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tea Cuvee: Cold Brewed Pleasures

The South End is a cool area that abounds with restaurants and unique shops. I recently attended a Blog And Tweet Boston event, at Gifted, a gift shop with lots of funky items, from jewelry to art, greeting cards to tableware. At the event, we got to meet numerous local shop owners and artisans, showcasing food, drink, jewelry, candles, glassware and more. It was a fun evening and good to learn about some of the new places and purveyors in the South End.

Travessia Winery presented three of their wines, including a Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc and Rose. As I have said before, Travessia is one of the best wineries in Massachusetts and you really need to check out their wines. All three of these wines are great for summer, and would pair well with a wide range of foods.

There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
--Lin Yutang

Prior to attending the event, I was most intrigued to experience the new Tea Cuvee by Evy Chen (pictured above). I love tea, especially iced tea, so the idea of Tea Cuvee intrigued me. Evy is originally from the Fujian province of China, which has a lengthy history of tea and is a major region of tea production. At bars and elsewhere, Evy desired a nonalcoholic option, something other than soda or water. However, she also found most commerical tea products to either contain little tea or possess many artificial ingredients and flavorings. This inspired her to create a solution, to produce a new tea product that would be natural, refreshing and delicious.

The company is only about one year old, and Evy currently produces two different teas, with a third in production. The first tea is Moonlight, which is made from white tea, apricot and jasmine and the second is Amber, made from oolong tea, rosemary and orange zest. The tea is sold in 13.4 ounce bottles for $8.99 at places like Whole Foods, Shubie's and small gift shops. Organic whole leaf teas are used, and there are no sweeteners, artificial flavors or colors. Plus, it has 0 calories.

Tea ... is a religion of the art of life.”
--Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

One of the essential aspects of the Tea Cuvee is that it is fully cold brewed and there is absolutely no heating involved. In small batches, the tea leaves are soaked in cold water for 16-20 hours. Why did choose to use cold brew rather than hot brew?  Because cold brewing is chemically different from hot brewing, and some say that it is a better process.

In short, brewing extracts various substances from the tea leaves and hot brewing performs this process faster. In addition, the heat causes certain chemical reactions which cold brewing does not. Cold brewing tends to produce less caffeine and acid, and the flavors are often more delicate and subtle. In addition, cold brewing is supposed to create more antioxidants, making it healthier for you.

Only the Amber was available for tasting, and I found it to be fresh and clean, with subtle roasted tea flavors, enhanced by bits of herb and citrus. It wasn't sweet and was quite refreshing. Evy suggests pairing the Amber with aged cheese or grilled meats. This is definitely a tasty tea that you should check out and I look forward to tasting more of Evy's teas in the near future.

I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea.
--Lu T'ung

Monday, July 8, 2013

Non-Rant: Family, Friends, Wine & Food

Though it is Monday, this is going to be a glorious week so I don't have a Rant in me. Instead, I just want to emphasize one aspect of wine drinking which is deserving of far more attention than it may receive. It's fine to read a wine review, to learn the history of a grape, to understand the life of the winemaker, and similar such items. However, when it comes down to it, nothing tops sharing wine with friends and family.

For example, last week, I spent the day with Adam, of Wine Zag, and his lovely wife, Liz, at their summer house on Lake Wentworth in New Hampshire. We drank wine (from an Alsatian white blend to a fine white Burgundy), ate some delicious grilled foods (plus Liz's excellent potatoes), and just had a great time together. It was the experience which elevated everything we drank and ate, just being together with such good friends.

This week will also be special, and it will be the family and friends that I spend time with which will make the drinking and dining experiences even better. And I am sure that is the same way it is with most people, that our food & drink experiences are so much better when shared.

Starting on Thursday, I will be attending Readercon, a convention devoted to imaginative literature, such as science fiction, fantasy and horror. I will get to meet writers in person that I have previously known only online. I will get to share meals and drinks with these writers, and those experiences will be even better because it is with cool new friends, like Zachary Jernigan and Wesley Chu.

On Saturday, I am having a festive birthday party, for a milestone birthday, with plenty of wine, beer, homemade Sangria and plenty of food (though my official birthday is on Friday). What will make it most memorable though will be all my friends who will be there to share my special day. Though the food and drinks will be good, it will be the friends and those memories which will remain with me the longest. And that is how it should be.

Don't fret over selecting the wine so much. Instead, fret more over who you will share the wine with, which of your friends or family will best elevate the experience for you. That is the most important thing to know about wine.

Friday, July 5, 2013

New England Authors Expo: Book Sale & The Tipsy Sensei

Would you like to meet me and obtain signed copies of my two Tipsy Sensei books? Would you also like the opportunity to meet other local authors and check out their books?

If so, then you should attend a special Book Sale being held by the New England Authors Expo on Wednesday, July 31, from 4pm-9pm, at the Danversport Yacht Club. The Expo is FREE to the public and the first 100 attendees will also get a FREE gift bag.

The Expo's Book Sale will consist of numerous New England authors, illustrators, publishers, writer's groups, schools, associated businesses and sponsors. It is an excellent place to buy books and gifts, meet many authors and artists, and discuss book writing, illustrating and printing with dozens of publishing professionals.

For a list of all the participating authors, illustrators and more, please check out this Book Sale site.

I will be at the Expo selling paperback copies of The Tipsy Sensei & Others ($13) and Demons, Gods & Sake ($15). If you purchase copies of both books, it will only cost you $25.00. And as a special bonus, I will give my blog readers an additional $2.00 off their purchase. All you have to do for this discount is tell me you saw it mentioned on my blog.

The Tipsy Sensei & Others is a collection of nine food, wine and Sake short stories, including the first three stories in the Tipsy Sensei series. Demons, Gods & Sake is a novel and the fourth installment of the Tipsy Sensei series. I am currently working on Hand Fed Tigers, the next novel in the Tipsy Sensei saga.

Come see me, purchase copies of my books and chat about Sake, writing, Japanese legends, and more. Plus, check out all of the other local authors at the Expo, and pick up plenty of books to read over the summer, whether on the beach or within your air-conditioned house.

The Expo takes place at the Danversport Yacht ClubThe Harborview Ballroom, 161 Elliott Street (Rte. 62), Danvers, MA 01923.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

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.
1)  Boston Nightlife Ventures announces that Griddler’s Burgers & Dogs is teaming up with Union Square Donuts to launch the first ever ‘Bronut’. This donut-burger ($6) will combine a Griddler’s burger patty finished with a sizzling fried egg on top, inside a sweet, yet salty maple bacon glazed Union Square donut “bun”. The ‘Bronut’ will be offered only at Griddler’s with limited availability – beginning Saturday, July 6, it will be available Saturdays and Sunday only, from 11am-11pm, while supplies last.

I am not a fan of the name "bronuts" but the idea of a burger/donut combo is interesting.

2) This year, La Fête Nationale, the national celebration, is going international once again at The Beehive. On Sunday, July 14, in partnership with the French Government, the Consulate General of France in Boston, the restaurant will commemorate the storming of the Bastille with dinner, libations and a French flair of live Bastille street music. The doors will open at 5pm with inspired cocktails and flowing champagne from Domaine Chandon and Champagne Moet & Chandon. Dinner service will begin at 5:30pm and continues until 12am.

The event will heat up with a live special guest performance at 8pm when Lamine Toure will take the stage and fill the The Beehive with a French tribute to world music. Lamine Toure comes from a long line of musicians from Senegal and has been drumming since the young age of 4. Toure will be bringing his expert percussionist skills to The Beehive and will entertain the audience with a fusion of sounds combining Sengegalese mbalax with elements of jazz, funk, reggae and Afrobeat.

In addition to the regular menu, The Beehive will be serving Bastille Day specials including Frisèe aux Lardons Salade with Goat Cheese Crouton ($14), Skirt Steak Frites, Béarnaise sauce ($27) and Steak Tartare Frites ($26).

This event is 21+ and a cash bar will be open until 1am. For more information, or to make dinner reservation, please call 617-423-0069.

3) Mâitre d' hotel and Fromager Louis Risoli and Wine Director & Sommelier Lauren Collins present Salon Sessions, held at L’Espalier each month. Louis Risoli has defined the role of Grand Fromager across the east coast, as he was one of the first to bring this unique culinary practice to a restaurant setting. His passion for cheese is unparalleled and is the driving force behind the Grand Fromage at L’Espalier since 1988. Lauren Collins, Wine Director & Sommelier at L'Espalier, joined the team in 2012 and is a certified Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. Lauren is one of five people in Boston to obtain this esteemed certification.

L’Espalier presents Salon Sessions—an intimate yet educational wine and cheese pairing. Join experts Louis Risoli and Lauren Collins, as they share their knowledge on pairing cheese with wine and beer. Cheeses are selected from L’Espalier’s award winning cheese cart and the sessions are held in the L’Espalier salon which overlooks Boylston Street. The July Salon Session, on July 11, at 6pm, focuses on the classic pairing of Italian Cheese & Wine. The cheese selections will feature: Caciocavallo, a spicy and bold ubiquitous cheese of the south that is gourd shaped and dense with a bit of elasticity. Pecorino Toscano, a classic sheep’s milk cheese that is well aged, dense and slightly crumbly with flavors of butter and sweet/sour undercurrents. Robiola del Rocca, a creamy soft cheese made from cow, sheep and goat’s milk. Taleggio, often called Italy’s most elegant cheese, has a supple meaty texture and rich summery flavors.

Reservations are required. Event pricing is $55 per person. For additional information and to reserve space, please call L’Espalier at 617-262-3023

4) L’Espalier’s Tea Sommelier Cynthia Gold with special guest Ron Mutai of the Kenya Tea Development Authority, presents the latest Sunday Tea Tasting featuring the Teas of Kenya. From poaching and picking to brining and smoking, Cynthia is an expert using numerous techniques to combine flavors of teas and food to create appetizers, salads, main courses, and desserts. She has created a unique line of L’Espalier signature teas as well as a full line of tea cocktails. Ronald Mutai, Founder of Majani Teas, is a Kenyan native and expert in Kenyan teas. Growing up on a tea farm in Kenya, Mutai has a deep appreciation for the smooth, non-bitter flavor Kenyan teas embody.

Every Sunday, L’Espalier hosts a special Sunday Tea Tasting which highlights five teas around a specific theme. The theme is selected by Tea Sommelier, Cynthia Gold, and each are served and discussed along with a selection of tea sandwiches, pastries and petit fours. The menu includes dishes inspired by the theme and dishes cooked with the teas being served. The latest installment, on Sunday, July 21, 2pm, will be featuring the Teas of Kenya.

Tickets are $50 per person For reservations or more information please call (617) 262-3023.

5) Chef Jason Santos is mixing things up in the Financial District on Sunday, July 14, from 11am-3pm, with the return of Superhero Brunch at Blue Inc. Superhero Brunch features a superhero inspired soundtrack, superhero adornments, and a staff dressed head-to-toe in superhero fashions, and a menu full of dishes with the ultimate superhero aptitude. The menu will feature four brunch appetizers and ten brunch entrées, all priced under $15. Guests can choose to be the hero by choosing from the ‘The Good Guys’ menu (a menu that offers lighter options such as scrambled eggs and smoked salmon pizza) or the villain by choosing a dish from the ‘Villains’ menu (a menu that offers more indulgent options such as peanut butter pancakes and a crispy fried chicken sandwich), along with a choice of their very own ‘Sidekick’ of toast, hash browns, two eggs, fruit, bacon, and/or sausage to complete their perfect superhero or villain duo. Guests may also choose from a choice of espresso, cappuccino, an organic pot of loose leaf MEM tea or, a bottomless pot of coffee to pair with their superhuman meal.

Superhero Brunch is being offered at Blue Inc. for one day only, July 14.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A New Craft Beer Cellar In Winchester

The Passionate Foodie walks into a beer store...

I know, it sounds like the starting line from a joke but it isn't. On Monday, I checked out a newly opened beer store in Winchester. Yes, I went willingly. And even if you dislike beer, you should check out this store for its other offerings.

Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow used to work at the Cambridge Common restaurant and embraced the craft beer movement when it started becoming more popular. They eventually wanted to strike out on their own and, in time, decided on opening a craft beer store. In 2010, they founded Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont and with their success, they have desired to open additional stores, as well as sell franchises. On Monday, they had the Grand Opening for the New England Annex in Winchester.

The primary focus of the new store is beer, and they currently carry about 400 beers, all from New England, and at least half of them are from Massachusetts. The store is only about 1/3 the size of their Belmont store, so they can't carry as much and must use their limited space to the best of their abilities. Everything is displayed well, and it is easy to see all that they carry. They will hold free tastings most Thursdays to Saturdays. This is a beer lover's haven, especially for those who love it local and craft.

I asked Kate to give me three top beer recommendations, without regard to any particular preferences. She chose the Mayflower IPA, GreySail Flagship Ale, and the Pretty Things Jack D'Or. If you need a gift for a beer lover, and don't know their taste, try one of these beers. I then asked her what was the strangest brew they carried, and she pointed me to the beers of Night Shift Brewing. For example, they make a rye ale aged on habanero peppers, a saison fermented with honey dew melon, and a wheat ale with orange blossom honey that is aged on tea leaves. Very intriguing brews.

If you need a beer glass for your brews, they also sell a small selection of glasses of various shapes and sizes.

They don't sell just beer and their other offerings are compelling. First, they have a nice selection of local Hard Ciders, including Fatty Bampkins, Bantam, Woodchuck, Farnum Hill, Angry Orchard, Citizen Cider and more. I am a big fan of hard ciders and most stores don't carry more than 2 or 3, so it is nice to see this wide selection.

They also carry a nice selection of local Meads, from places like Moonlight Meadery, Honeymaker, Green River Ambrosia and more. Mead is another beverage which most stores only carry a few choices, so it is good to see all the available options here.

And, dear to my heart, they even carry 8 Sakes, and may add more in the future. Todd, of Boston Sake, helped them make the selections and there are some excellent choices available from cool breweries like Dassai and Nanbu Bijin, as well as the Kikisui Funaguchi in a can. I look forward to the additional Sakes they will eventually add.

You will also find approximately 20 wines available, though only one of those is from a local, New England winery. The Still River Winery Apple Ice Wine. Frankly, these wines seems more as an afterthought, just to have a few for any non-beer drinkers. Though the store's focus is on beer, I think this is a lost opportunity to extend the the theme of the store. As they carry all New England beers, ciders and meads, why not also carry just New England wines? As they only carry about 20 wines, they could easily fill that number with good New England wines, from Westport River Sparkling Wines to hybrid wines from Vermont. It would make this store more unique.

Overall this is a cool store, with a beer selection sure to please and even if you don't like beer, you can check out their meads, ciders and sake. I think it is great that most everything is from New England, though I think they need to extend that to include their wines too. There is passion to be found here and I would love to hear my reader's thoughts about this new store when you check it out.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Enjoying Portuguese Wines at Meritage

As I have said repeatedly, Portugal has some of the best wine values in the world. I recommend their wines all the time, and those who take a chance on those wines usually love them. At a recent luncheon held at Meritage, Chef Daniel Bruce's wine-centric restaurant at the Boston Harbor Hotel, I found even more value Portuguese wines, including a killer dessert wine at an unbelievable price. If Portugal is not on your wine radar, then you are depriving yourself of some delicious, value wines.

The luncheon was put on by Full Circle Wine Solutions and Master Sommelier Keith Goldston discussed the wines we tasted, as well as Portuguese wines in general, during the course of the afternoon. Keith mentioned that the greatest strengths of Portuguese wines are their diversity, acidity, earthiness and the fact that they pair very well with food. I would essentially agree with him on these points, though I would add that they often are excellent values too.

For Keith, the biggest problem for Portugal is the lack of organized distribution. They do not have a plan for U.S. distribution, and often rely on friends or happenstance to find an importer. Instead, they need to made a concerted effort to target the best potential markets, to make more of their wines available where they best would be appreciated.

Keith also provided us some of his generalizations about the different grapes and wine regions of Portugal. He feels that the wines of Castelao are similar to Merlot and Zweigelt style, easy drinking, middle of the road wines. The wines of Lisboa are more easy drinking while the those of Alentejo are more modern, with strong oak use. The wines of the Dao are more similar to the wines of northern Rhone or Burgundy while the Douro wines are more similar to those of Priorat. As an interesting aside, he also mentioned how people in Portugal often omit the last syllable of many words. For example, they pronounce "Vinho Verde" as "Vinho Verd."

The luncheon began with a brief reception, a glass of the 2012 Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima Colheita Loureiro Seleccionada, Vinho Verde ($8). This wine was made from the Loureiro grape and presents with a crisp, clean citrus taste and a bit of frizzante. Lemon is most predominant on the palate and it makes for an excellent summer wine, especially at this price. It is refreshing, an easy drinker not a complex thinker.

Keith stated that the Portuguese generally don't respect their white wines, and don't drink them much either. He also indicated that in the Vinho Verde region, about 40% of their production is for red Vinho Verde, which is a rarity locally. The red version is inky dark, tannic and is very tart and sour on the palate, like a sour Japanese plum. Rosé Vinho Verde is also produced and I have seen a couple locally over the years. I want to find a red Vinho Verde though.

Our first course was a Pan Roasted Line Caught Cod Loin with black olive tapenade and zucchini olive oil puree. A fine piece of flaky white fish, I actually enjoyed the puree too, though I am not usually a zucchini lover. The puree complemented the fish, adding some more subtle flavors.

With this course, we tasted three more Portuguese whites, and my clear favorite was the 2011 Quinta da Romeira Arinto, Lisboa ($11). Made from 100% Arinto and matured for a month on the lees, this is another superb value. It has a more subtle citrus aroma with a complex melange of flavors, lemon, apple, orange peel, minerality, and subtle herbs on the finish. It was crisp and dry, clean and fresh, with plenty of character. An excellent food wine, I recommend stocking up on this wine for the summer, and keeping some aside for the rest of the year too.

The second course was Char Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with wild mushrooms, fresh garbanzos, melted leeks and a red wine butter. Silky tuna with a compelling and light butter sauce, it was a good choice for our first round of red wines.

Of this flight, I had two favorites. The 2008 Quinta de Lemos 'Dona Georgina', Dão ($45) currently does not have an importer into the U.S. It is a blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Roriz and spends about 18 months aging in French oak. It has a dark red color with an alluring nose that beckons to you for a taste. On the palate, it is a full bodied wine, with moderate tannins, and a meaty taste, with ripe plum and blackberry flavors, accented by subtle spice notes. Complex and with a lengthy, pleasing finish, it is a high quality Portuguese wine.

The 2010 Luis Pato Vinhas VelhasBarraida ($25) is made from the Baga grape, which often can be overly tannic. Not the case with this wine, which was aged in used oak for about 12 months. With a medium red color and a deep fruity aroma, the wine offers an intriguing and complex palate of red and black fruits, herbs and mild spice. It is a wine that best goes with meaty dishes, though the tannins are well integrated. Would be excellent this summer with grilled meats.

Our final savory course, my favorite of the lunch, was a Tomato Braised Kurobata Pork Belly with white beans, spinach and sundried tomatoes. Melt in your mouth tender, the flavorful and meaty pork belly was fantastic, and another excellent accompaniment to the red wines to come.

Two of the three wines in this flight impressed me. My favorite red wine of the luncheon was the 2009 Mouchao 'Dom Rafael' Tinto, Alentejo ($14), a blend of 40% Alicante Bouschet, 40% Trincadeira and 20% Aragonez. The grapes are trod by foot and the wines is aged in large oak barrels for about 24 months, with an additional 6 months in the bottle. Dark red, this wine had an exotic and exciting palate of black fruits, earthiness, and spice. Moderate tannins, a lengthy finish and plenty of character. An excellent value and highly recommended. You are probably going to see this wine on my end of the year Favorites list.

The 2010 Sogevinus 'Veedha', Douro ($12), made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz, is another very good value. Fruit forward, it still possess some depth with underlying spice and chocolate notes. A good choice for pizza, burgers, or BBQ.

For dessert, we enjoyed a Mini White Peach & Ginger Pie, with nice, tender peach pieces topped by a crumbly topping with mild ginger notes.

We enjoyed a killer dessert wine with this course, the 2005 Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal, Peninsula de Setubal ($12/750ml). Made from 100% Moscatel de Setubal, this is a fortified wine with a 17.5% alcohol content that was aged for three years in small, used oak barrels. A rich, golden amber in color, the nose was compelling, and on the palate I found notes of apricot, dried fruit, honey, and herbs. A well balanced wine, the acidity ensured the sweetness was under control and its full-bodied flavors lingered long on the finish. Plenty of complexity and depth at this low price point make this an amazing value. Highly recommended.

Get on the Portuguese wine wagon now!