Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions For My Readers

As today is New Year's Eve, there will be much celebrating tonight, including plenty of Chinese food and Champagne. Some may go to Boston's First Night celebrations while others will trek to New York City's Times Square to watch the ball drop. It is also the time when people will ponder and make Resolutions, the things they want to do to make their lives better in 2014. Maybe it will be to give up smoking or lose weight, to take up yoga or join a gym.

I want to offer you some alternative suggestions for resolutions, all connected to food and drink. Rather than deal in absolutes, or exact measurements, I merely hope that you choose to follow these suggested resolutions with the simple goal of doing better than you did in 2013. And step forward is progress, and that will feel much better than having to break a resolution for which you have set specific goals that you later find yourself unable to reach.

1) Resolve to eat & drink healthier
That encompasses so much, from eating less calories to choosing items that have less preservatives and chemicals. Take small steps in your approach rather than diving into a major change. The smaller steps won't seem as burdensome and it will make it easier to take another small step later on. We probably all would benefit from eating healthier.

2) Resolve to consume more local food & drink
Local products can help the environment, the local economy and benefit the local community. Plus, many of those local products can be healthier than mass produced, overly processed foods that might come from thousands of miles away. This includes drinking local wines, as every state now produces wine, and you might be surprised by the quality of some of that wine.

3) Resolve to eat more seafood, especially domestic
Seafood can be extremely healthy for you, especially those fish rich in Omega-3s, so it is an excellent choice for dinner. And seafood is delicious, versatile and often easy to prepare. Yes, it can be more expensive, but it is well worth the added cost. And buying more domestic seafood will help our economy, rather than buying so much imported seafood.

4) Resolve to expand your drink horizons
Don't keep drinking the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful beverages out there to taste, to see if you can find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. If you mainly drink Chardonnay, venture out and try some other white wines, such as Gruner Veltliner, Trebbiano or Albarino. Try Sherry, Sake, Japanese Whisky, Mezcal, Franciacorta, and other under-appreciated beverages. Taste it all, and continue drinking those you enjoy.

5) Resolve to cook more at home
Cooking at home is another way to benefit the environment, and it can be more economical than eating out all the time. It also gives you a better handle on exactly what you eat, so you can make the food as healthy as you desire. It can be fun too, if you cook with someone else, breaking the potential boredom of cooking alone.

6) Resolve not to be a douchebag when you dine out
When you dine out at a restaurant, be polite and show respect to everyone working at the restaurant. Don't demand special treatment or threaten the restaurant just because you write reviews on some community website. Tip properly, showing your server gratitude for all their hard work. If you enjoy the restaurant, do spread the word about your positive experience. Good restaurants can use, and deserve, all the help they can get.

7) Resolve to give more to fight hunger
Despite the wealth of the U.S., there are still far too many people who can't afford to eat properly. Hunger is a major problem and one that we can do something about. Give food or money to local food banks, national organizations, or any other charity that is trying to combat this problem. Those of us without food security issues can probably all help out.

8) Resolve not to waste as much food
It is said that up to 40% of our food ends up as waste, and that is a nearly unbelievable statistic. Do your part to help reduce food waste. Food waste can lead to higher food prices and cause more environmental damage. So, as your mother probably once said to you, finish everything on your plate. Use leftovers to make additional meals.

9) Resolve not to drink & drive
As I have said time and time again, do not drive if you are impaired by alcohol. It is much too dangerous and you could injure or kill yourself or someone else. Even if you don't get in an accident, you could be arrested and that comes with its own high costs. It isn't worth doing it, so please just don't drink and drive.

Is there anything I missed?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Rant: Predictions & Desires for 2014

2014 is almost here, bringing a new year and hopefully some positive changes to the local food & drink industry. Some people have already made predictions for what 2014 will bring, and at the end of each year, the success rate of those predictions is usually quite low. Predicting the future isn't easy. It is difficult to decide what new trends will catch on in the future. Rather than provide a list of predictions, which probably won't come true, I'm going to give you a list of my desires, new trends which I would love to see take place, though I'm not predicting they will come to fruition. However, I think we would all benefit if these desires were fulfilled in 2014.

1) No More Froyo, Cupcakes Or Burgers.
We've been over saturated with froyo shops, cupcake stores and burger joints. Many of them offer similar products, insufficient to differentiate themselves from each other. Why is there a need to copy a trend until it becomes ubiquitous on every corner? Where is a sense of originality? I don't understand the excitement that generates when another one of these shops opens. Stop opening more and more of these places. Make your own trend rather than follow these trends like sheep.

2) More Bread Pudding  
Bread pudding is relatively easy to make, and can be inexpensive as it can be made with day old bread. Plus, it is a diverse dish, and can be made in a wide variety of flavors, with different sauces, and accompaniments. I've had some superb bread puddings at local restaurants, and would like to see more restaurants offering it on their dessert menus. However, I think there is a great opportunity for an enterprising baker to open a Bread Pudding Bakery. I recently learned of such a bakery in California, Schulzies Bread Pudding. Why hasn't anyone locally done this yet? Rather than open a cupcake bakery, go for bread pudding instead!

3) Cheaper Wine Prices
When you visit a restaurant and peruse the wine list, it is simple and quick to use your smart phone to check the usual retail prices of their wines. Wine geeks may not even need to do that as they often know the usual retail of common wines on restaurant lists. I hate when I see wine list prices that are marked up 3 or more times the usual retail, knowing that such wines are marked up 4 or more times what the restaurant actually pays for the wines. Such huge markups aren't necessary, and they can turn off many wine lovers. A number of restaurants are able to be quite successful with far more modest markups, so why can't other restaurants do the same? If you want more people to drink wine, then lower your prices and make wine buying more attractive. If not, there will be people like me who will call you out over your large markups.

4) A Filipino Restaurant
I've been ranting about this for two years, the dearth of Filipino cuisine both locally as well throughout the U.S. With apparently only a single Filipino restaurant in Massachusetts, and not even in Boston, there is a huge opportunity here for more Filipino spots. Filipino cuisine can be delicious and diverse, so there is no valid reason why a Filipino restaurant couldn't succeed. Or if not an entire restaurant, maybe we could see more Filipino inspired dishes on other menus. For example, Chef Erwin Ramos of the Ole Restaurant Group was born in the Philippines, and has served Filipino cuisine at his restaurants from time to time. Let's see more of that in 2014.

5) Wine Shipping To MA
A law that prohibited wine shipments to consumers in Massachusetts was ruled unconstitutional and since then, there have been numerous bills put forward to enact a law that would allow such shipments. That would be a great thing for Massachusetts wine lovers but such bills have often languished in committees. House Bill 294 recently had a public hearing, and hopefully that is but one step in finally enacting a proper law to benefit our consumers. Such a law is overdue and we need to continue supporting efforts to bring this to fruition.

6) More Local Seafood
When the latest statistics note that the U.S. imports an unbelievable 91% of their seafood, something is seriously wrong. Though there are issues with some locally, endangered species, there is also plenty of domestic seafood which is sustainable, delicious and should be served at restaurants and homes. For example, why serve Asian shrimp when Gulf shrimp can be just as good? We should support local fishermen and our local economy by buying local seafood.

Monday, December 23, 2013


(This is a repeat of a prior post, but as it is my most important Rant of the year, it bears repeating during this holiday season.)

It couldn't be any simpler so listen carefully. If you have had too much alcohol to drink, don't drive. Any questions?

Once again, I step forward with probably my most important Rant of the year. It is an absolutely vital issue for everyone who enjoys alcohol of any type, from wine to beer, from Scotch to cocktails. With the advent of October, holiday season is here, a potentially dangerous period for those people who over indulge, to drink too much at parties, feasts and gatherings. There is nothing wrong with that, and they can drink as much as they desire, as long as they give up their keys and do not drive.

As I said multiple times before, and which continues to remain relevant, "If there is any question, no matter how small, whether you are too intoxicated to drive, then don't. If your family or friends think you have had too much to drink, don't drive. Just don't. It is not worth the risk by any calculation." Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep over. Just do not drive!

Rationally, we all know the dangers of drinking and driving. We endanger our own lives as well as the lives of others. Every year, the news reports about terrible auto accidents, some with fatalities, that occur because a driver was intoxicated. Families are torn apart, lives are ruined, and much more. Why don't we learn from all these incidents? Even if you don't get in an accident, you might get arrested for drunk driving, with all the attendant high costs. You might even end up in jail.

About 17,000 people are arrested for drunk driving in Massachusetts each year. That is a huge figure, showing that far too many people still don't understand that they should not drink and drive. How difficult is it to understand? DON'T DRINK & DRIVE! I am sure drunk driving incidents in other states are just as significant.

Each time you drink and drive, you endanger yourself, your passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other vehicles. Let someone else drive you, whether it be a friend or family. Take a taxi or public transportation. Leave your car where it is parked as you can always pick it up the next day. You have plenty of options so there is absolutely no reason to drink and drive. Be responsible.

I don't want to lose any family or friends this year due to a drunk driving accident. I don't think anyone wants to lose their loved ones either. So please just don't!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 In Review: A Collection of Favorite Lists

At the end of each year, I compile a number of lists of my Favorites of the past year: the top wines, restaurants, foods, sake, spirits, and more. These summary posts help my readers more easily find my favorites of the past year, rather than skimming through hundreds of posts on their own. I also enjoy compiling these lists as it enables me to scan over my blog for the past year, to relive many pleasant memories of the food and drinks which most pleased me.

The lists do not necessarily address the "Best" of anything, as I have not partaken of everything in any category so cannot pass such judgments. However, every item on these lists gets my strongest recommendations and I have faith that they should strongly appeal to most of my readers. Kudos go to all of those who are listed in my Favorites as they have well earned the accolades.

This post collects links to all of my 2013 Favorite lists.

I hope you enjoy.

2013: Top Ten Wines Under $15
2013: Top Ten Wines Over $15
2013: Top Wines Over $50
2013: Favorite Wine Related Items
2013: Favorite Spirits & Drink Related Items
2013: Favorite Restaurants
2013: Favorite Food-Related Items
2013: Favorite Sake Items

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013: Favorite Sake Items

What were some of my favorite Sake items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2013. I have already posted seven other lists of my Favorites of the past year, from wine to food, and this is my final list, my Favorite Sake Items of 2013. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

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

Sake continues to maintain a prominent role, a specialized niche, on my blog. My passion for Sake is ever growing and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Sake and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. I want more and more people to taste it, finding joy in its flavors. I want more stores to stock and sell Sake, to make it something they recommend to their customers. I want more restaurants, of all cuisines, to carry Sake on their beverage lists. Sake is as worthy as any other alcoholic beverage and deserves at least equal billing.

My Tipsy Sensei Series: Back in 2012, I launched a new and exciting endeavor, to write Sake-related fiction. I have always loved writing fiction and previously posted several food & wine short stories on my blog. So, I eventually decided to create the Tipsy Sensei series, a collection of stories about a Sake expert in Boston who learns that the supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore actually exist. The intent of this series is to share my passion and knowledge of Sake, as well as to tell interesting and thrilling stories, delving into the rich legends and folklore of Japan.

This year, I continued the Tipsy Sensei, publishing two books. The Tipsy Sensei & Others is a book of 9 short stories, including four which are part of the Tipsy Sensei series. Hand Fed Tigers is my novel, a direct sequel to the prior Demons, Gods & Sake. Published in October, Hand Fed Tigers delves into zombies, cats and ninjas. I'm currently working on the next novel in the Tipsy Sensei series, and it will delve into the dark history of World War 2. Thanks to everyone who has bought and read the Tipsy Sensei books, and I greatly appreciate your reviews and input.

Sake in the News: Sake seems to be getting more and more attention in the media, and I also had an article, 10 Things To Know About Sake, published in the Beverage Media magazines. Magazines from Wine Spectator to Boston Magazine published Sake articles, although they contained a few errors. Most Sake articles in these magazines are introductory, so it is tougher to find more in-depth articles though some change may be on the way. Sake Evangelist John Gauntner is behind a new magazine, Sake Today, which has not yet published its first issue, though it sounds very promising. I eagerly look forward to its inaugural issue.

Most Common Sake Error: I see the same error time and time again, both online and in print. And the fact that it continues to get printed helps to perpetuate and spread the error to others. The error centers on the Junmai sake and whether there is a minimum polishing requirement for the rice. Many state that Junmai must be polished down to at least 70% of the rice kernel but that is incorrect. Ten years ago, that law was changed and now Junmai does not possess a minimum polishing requirement. To be Junmai, a Sake can only contain 4 ingredients: rice, water, yeast and koji-kin. Please stop claiming that it must be polished down to at least 70%.

Sake Exports: As I mentioned last year, Sake exports have continued to grow, breaking some previous records, though exports still constitute only a small portion of the Sake industry. During the first six months of 2013 (the most current statistics I have), Sake exports had grown by 11%, which is a reason to rejoice. The U.S.generally imported about 25% of Sake exports, but during the first half of 2013, that figure rose to 28%, showing that U.S. Sake consumption is on the rise. Though Sake consumption in Japan continues to decrease, that decrease is mainly due to major decreases in futsu-shu, while premium Sake consumption has shown a small increase. More good news!

Sake Seminar for Designers: The annual Design Blogger's Conference is a fascinating event for interior design bloggers, and not the first place you might think you'd find a Sake seminar. However, I was invited to be one of the speakers at the 2013 event, to discuss Sake and blogging, as well as to do a tasting. The attendees were very receptive and curious, and the Sparkling Sake seemed to win over many new fans. Outside of the seminar, I got to meet and chat with numerous attendees, and it was a great place to network, and spread my passion for Sake. One can make Sake converts where ever one travels.

Favorite New Sake Portfolio: Unfortunately, Massachusetts doesn't seem to see much new Sake, and I have tasted most of what is available here. When I travel, I am always eager to sample new Sakes, to see what else is available across the country. While in Portland, Oregon, my friend Gordon introduced me to the portfolio of The Floating World, a small Sake importer based in New Mexico. The company was started in 2011 by Deborah Fleig and Linda Tetrault, and they currently import five unique and delicious Sakes, though these are not available in Massachusetts right now. I tasted all five Sakes and found them all compelling in their own respect, and if they are available in your area, definitely check them out.

Favorite Overall Sake: At my superb dinner at N/Naka in Los Angeles, we ordered a bottle of the Denshin Natsu Daiginjo Nama, which I later learned was a rare Sake, with only 420 bottles made each year. It is produced by the Ippongi Kubo Honten brewery, which was founded in 1902, in the Chubu region of the Fukui prefecture. It was made from the famed Yamada Nishiki rice, which was polished to 50%. Incredibly complex, great fruit flavors, crisp, clean and smooth. A "Wow!" Sake, sure to impress, and which everyone at our table loved very deeply. It receives my highest recommendation though it may be difficult to locate.

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Denshin Ine Junmai is from the same brewery as my Favorite Overall Sake, though I enjoyed this one at the Masu restaurant in Portland. It is made from Koshinoshizuku rice, which was polished to 65%. Smooth, full bodied and fruity, this was an easy-drinking Sake, something you could sit and drink all night. This can be enjoyed with or without food.

Favorite Ginjo Sake: This category was a tie, though interestingly, both Sakes are Okarakuchi, meaning that they are dry, and usually refers to very dry Sakes. The Okarakuchi “Super Dry” Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu is from the Floating World portfolio. It is made from Yamada Nishiki rice, polished down to 60%, and has an SMV of +18, which would tend to make you feel that it would be very dry. This Sake is also said to age well, something unusual in the Sake world as most Sake is not produced to be aged. This was a bone-dry Sake, very crisp and clean, with more subtle, though complex, flavors that nearly elude your palate. You'll find some intriguing fruit flavors, such as pear and melon, and what seems like mineral notes too. This would be an excellent Sake with seafood.

The Toyo Bijin Junmai Ginjo Okarakuchi Sake is also made with Yamada Nishiki rice, which has been polished down to 55%, and has an SMV of +15. It also has a higher than average acidity, 1.5, which contributes to its perceived dryness. I greatly enjoyed this Sake, finding it to be crisp, clean and smooth, with pleasant flavors of melon and Asian pear. A well balanced Sake, it is easy drinking, and would appeal to both Sake lovers and newcomers to this wondrous beverage. This would be an excellent Sake with food too, especially as it possesses a higher acidity.

Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Style Sake: The Hakugyokko “White Jewel” Junmai Yamahai Muroka Nama Genshu, from the Floating World portfolio, is made by the only brewery that uses a Hot-Yamahai method. Usually, yamahai is brewed with cold temperatures, like nearly all Sake, to prevent potential invasion by unwanted bacteria. Kidoizumi developed a special method of cultivating natural lactobacillus and adding it to a starter kept at a very high temperature. The White Jewel is made from Yamada Nishiki rice, polished down to 60%, and has an SMV of -5, which would tend to make you feel that it would be slightly sweet. However, it also has a high acidity, at +2.1, which tends to make it more dry. I am a huge fan of Yamahai Sake, loving its rich umami and earthier flavors. I would sum up this Sake with a single word: savage. It had a more wild, earthy taste, much more savory and dry. It had a richer mouthfeel, with subtle melon and pear flavors beneath the earthier elements. There was plenty of complexity and depth of flavor, and I would love to have paired this Sake with a mushroom risotto or a leg of lamb. 

Favorite Nigori Sake: The Soma no Tengu “Forest Spirit” Junmai Ginjo Muroka Nama Genshu Usu-nigori, also from the Floating World portfolio, is produced by the Uehara Shuzo, founded in 1862, which is a very traditional brewery in many ways. Most of their Sake is produced with wild yeasts, and they use local rice, about 30 different types, which have been sustainably grown. The Forest Spirit is made from Yamada Nishiki rice, polished down to 59%, and has an SMV of +6, which would tend to make you feel that it would be dry. It is a usu-nigori, which means it is a "thin" nigori which has been pressed so only a minimal amount of the lees end up inside the Sake. You may be used to sweet nigori Sake, but this will surprise you with its dryness. It is a smooth, easy drinking Sake with mild tropical fruit flavors enhanced with a slight steamed rice taste. It has more depth than many other nigori Sakes, and I much prefer this style over the sweet versions.

Most Unusual Sake: The Inemankai “Ine’s Full Bloom” Junmai Genshu is another from the Floating World portfolio, and is produced by the Mukai Shuzō, which was founded in 1754. The current Toji is Kuniko, the eldest daughter of the owner and one of the first women in Japan to become a Toji. They are known for creating experimental batches of Sake, with unusual rice types and different yeasts. The Inemankai is made from Gohyakumangoku & Murasaki Komachi (an ancient variety of red rice). Even the polishing is more unusual, with varying rates for different rices. The brewing rice is polished down to 83%, the koji rice is polished down to 73%, and then the red rice is only polished down to 91%. It has an SMV of -5, which would tend to make you feel that it would be a little sweet. However, it also has a high acidity, at +2.3, which tends to make it more dry. I might have had red Sake only once or twice before, so it is a special treat. It possesses an interesting ruby red color and presents a more unusual taste, like smoked fruit. There is a definite smokiness to the Sake and it is more savory and dry, with a crispness due to the acidity. Its complexity is somewhat enigmatic, as you try to determine the flavors that flit across your palate.

Favorite Introductory Sake: What Sake is best to introduce a newcomer to the category? Well, the Obata Manotsuru "Crane" Junmai might be a good choice.  It is made with Koshiibuki rice, which was milled down to 65%, and has a Sake Meter Value of +6 to +8, meaning it is more on the dry side. This was a crisp, smooth and clean Sake with flavors of melon and peach. It had a rich mouth feel and the finish was long and satisfying. A pleasant, easy drinking Sake which would pair well with a variety of foods. It should appeal to a broad range of preferences and palates, so would make a nice Sake for someone just starting out, though even Sake lovers will enjoy it.

Favorite Sake Crawl: With my friend and fellow Sake lover Gordon, we enjoyed a fun Sake Crawl in Portland, starting with a tasting at my hotel. We then went out on the town, hitting three different spots, and enjoying a variety of Sakes, paired with some delicious food. We ended up at a bar that looked out on the city, a great way to end the evening. Portland truly is a city for Sake lovers, especially with good friends like Gordon.

Sake & Food Pairing: I've written a number of articles about the versatility of Sake and food, and wrote two more this past year, including Sake, Seafood and Lobster Anywhere and Pairing Cheese & Sake. Others in the media also seem to be catching on that Sake is great with all types of cuisines, especially because of the umami factor. I've been writing and talking about Sake and Umami for over five years (including this popular post The Science of Sake & Food Pairings).  In a recent article in the Japan Times, the idea of Sake and Umami is continuing to spread. Start adding Sake to your menu, no matter what type of food you are eating.

Favorite New Sake Book: Though Sake, Health & Longevity by Yukio Takizawa was published in 2011, it seems that it only recently became available as an e-book and I picked up a copy. In my post, Health Benefits of Sake, I discuss some of the findings from this small, but informative book. the book discusses more than just health benefits, and gives info on Sake production, food pairing, and more. If you are interested in Sake, pick up a copy of this book.

My Favorite Sake Rant: In Sake Don't Need No Stinkin' Scores!, I explain why I don't believe Sake should be scored on the 100 point system like wine. This was inspired by a Wine Spectator issue which reviewed Sake without scoring them. However, they indicated they might do so one day, if they acquired more tasting experience. Sake benefits from not being scored, and I hope that my Rant persuades you to agree with my position.


What were some of your favorite Sake items this year?

Friday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a special Friday edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. There is so much going on now, that I needed to add another column this week.
1) This New Year’s Eve, guests can wine, dine and ring in 2014 with a rendezvous at Tryst in Arlington. Executive Chef Paul Turano will offer a special three course, prix fixe New Year’s Eve menu featuring some of the most popular dishes served over the past year. .

Toast the New Year with Tryst’s craft cocktails including the Mistletoe egg nog, Godiva white chocolate, vanilla vodka, Kahlua ($12), the Apple Pie Mojito, Apple Pie Moonshine, Bacardi, cinnamon, mint, lime, apple cider ($12) and the Latin Manhattan, Bacardi, Falernum, cinnamon, lime & ginger beer ($11).

Starters (Choice of One)
Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad (toasted hazelnuts, parmesan & Verjus vinaigrette)
House Smoked Trout Pate (Seeded rye cracker, beet, horseradish & green apple)
Beef Short rib (Red wine and roasted tomato braise, cheesy polenta)
Kobocha Squash Soup (Prosciutto, burrata & Fig pinini)
Pizzette Bianco (Fontina cheese, dry cured sausage, herb & arugula salad)
Shrimp Taco (Avocado, red onion & aji crema)
Baked Oyster (Creamed leeks, champagne gratin)
Entrees (Choice of One)
Faroe Island Salmon (Dijon & honey lacquer toasted almond faro, apple & rosemary)
Beet & Ricotta Ravioli (Pistachio gremolata & crispy Tuscan kale)
Pig Under a Brick (Potato puree, mostarda & braised collards)
* Pan Seared Flat Iron Steak (Stilton butter, crispy potatoes, haricot vert, roasted onions & port glaze)
* Local Sea Scallops (Duck stuffed pierogi, winter squash & melted leeks)
Tagliatelle Bolognese (Veal, pork & beef, mascarpone & parmesan)
Slow Roasted All Natural Chicken (Smoked ham & wild mushroom fried rice, sassafras glaze, ginger & garlic spinach)
Dessert (Choice of One)
Baked Apple Dumpling (Date fig butter & spiced maple sauce vanilla bean ice cream)
Frozen Grande Marnier Souffle (Spiced shortbread & citruc caramel)
Flourless Chocolate Cake (“magic” chocolate shell sauce fresh mint ice cream)
*Please note: Menu subject to change

WHEN: New Year’s Eve Dinner Specials will be served on Tuesday, December 31 from 5pm-11pm. COST: $45 per person (tax, gratuity and alcohol not included).
Reservations are highly recommended. Please call 781-641-2227.

2) The “Scuola Culinaria,” - the cooking school at Tuscan Village, the property which houses both Tuscan Kitchen restaurant and the Tuscan Market in Salem, New Hampshire, has just announced a series of three new hands-on cooking classes held in January 2014, making it an excellent holiday gift for the foodie in your life.

The first class, “Hands on Risotto," held on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 from 6pm-9pm, will lead students through the making of a variety of risotto with instruction and explanations on the various techniques different risotto highlighting the regions of Italy. While students are cooking away, the chefs at the Trattoria within Tuscan Market will prepare a multi-course meal for the group to enjoy after the class comprising of not only risotto, but an antipasti course, secondi course, and dolci. All students will take home risotto after the class and receive a special gift from Tuscan Brands. The class price is $125 per person.

The next class in the Tuscan lineup is “Hands on Free Form Lasagna," held on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 from 6pm-9pm. This class will lead students through the making of “free form” veal lasagna. Students will make fresh pasta from scratch as well as build the lasagna dish. While students are cooking away, the chefs at the Trattoria within Tuscan Market will prepare a multi-course meal for the group to enjoy after the class comprising of not only lasagna as a secondi course, but an antipasti course, insalata course, and dolci. All students will take home risotto after the class and receive a special gift from Tuscan Brands. The class price is $125 per person.

The last class in the new offerings for January 2014 is a special class called, “Hands on Pizze,” held on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. The January 29th class will lead students through the making of pizze. Students will make dough from scratch as well as create their own pizze utilizing the fresh artisanal ingredients available to them at Tuscan Village. While students are cooking away, the chefs at the Trattoria within Tuscan Market will prepare a multi-course meal for the group to enjoy after the class comprising of not only pizze, but an antipasti course, secondi course and dolci. All students will take home a special pizze kit and receive a special gift from Tuscan Brands. The class price is $125 per person.

This makes the perfect holiday gift and for customers that order the entire series (3-classes) Tuscan Brands will give an additional gift of a $50 gift card to be used at either Tuscan Kitchen or Tuscan Market! Tickets can be purchased at: http://www.eventbrite.com/o/tuscan-brands-3895536199

3) This January, do good and eat well by dining at some of the Boston area’s most celebrated restaurants during The Greater Boston Food Bank’s (GBFB) 32nd annual Super Hunger Brunch. With a growing list of nearly 20 restaurants, diners can choose sweet and savory dishes from menus designed especially for Super Hunger Brunch weekend. Prices are set at $25, $35 and $50 per person and for every dollar spent, three nutritious meals will be provided to our neighbors in need.

According to Catherine D’Amato, GBFB President and Chief Executive Officer, chefs, restaurateurs and purveyors have long been among the hunger-relief organization’s most generous and dedicated benefactors. “We’re pleased to have so many members of the Bay State’s food community participate in Super Hunger Brunch again this year. As always, we are most grateful for their time, talents and contributions to this important fundraising event for GBFB,” said D’Amato.

In 2013, over 1,700 people participated in Super Hunger Brunch, raising enough funds to provide 183,000 meals to men, women, children, families, senior citizens and veterans in 190 cities and towns throughout eastern Massachusetts.

Chefs Jody Adams of Rialto and Trade, Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro, Mary Dumont of Harvest Restaurant, Andy Husbands of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel, Tony Maws of Craigie on Main, Frank McClelland of L’Espalier, Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon and Brooke Vosika of The Bristol Lounge at Four Seasons Hotel Boston are longtime champions of The Greater Boston Food Bank and serve on the Super Hunger Brunch Culinary Committee.

Participating restaurants include: 10 Center, 80 Thoreau, Blue Ginger, Craigie on Main, The Fireplace, Grill 23 & Bar, Hamersley's Bistro, Harvest Restaurant, La Morra, L'Espalier, Michael's Harborside, North 26 Restaurant & Bar, Post 390 Restaurant, Rialto, Stella Restaurant, and Tosca.

Generous in-kind donations have been provided by Cabot, Cold River Vodka, Garelick Farms, Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs and St-Germain Liqueur from Barcardi. For more information about the 2014 Super Hunger Brunch and to purchase gift certificates, visit http://www.gbfb.org/superhungerbrunch/. To view menus and make reservations visit the websites of participating restaurants.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: Favorite Food-Related Items

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

Let me continue my collection of lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2013. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2013 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from donuts to candy. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

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

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

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

Favorite Food Book: Written by a former vegan turned butcher, The Ethical Butcher, by Berlin Reed, is part memoir and philosophy, discussing butchery, meat eating, sustainability, seafood, and more. It is a fascinating tale with much to ponder, and never becomes preachy or dogmatic. If you are concerned about the food you eat, whether meat, seafood or vegetables, you should read this book.

Favorite Food Trade Event: For the third year in a row, I have selected the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. Plus, the New England Food Show is held in the same venue, offering samples of food, drink and even alcohol. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and I wrote a dozen posts about the show this year. It also helped that I won the 3rd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest for my coverage. The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next IBSS in March 2014.

Favorite Seafood Show Pavilion:  At the International Boston Seafood Show, numerous countries work together to promote their countries products, but none do a better job than the Japanese pavilion. From Tamago to Fried Oysters, from Dashi to Yellowtail, there are plenty of delectable samples, and they hold several cooking demonstrations as well. The people are personable and pleasant, enhancing your visit to their pavilion. I look forward to visiting it again at next year's seafood show.

Favorite Food Contest: This year, 18 restaurants participated in the East Cambridge Rib Fest, and I was once again fortunate to be one of the judges. I got to taste all of the various ribs, a diverse mix of beef, lamb and pork ribs, both dry and wet, savory, sweet and spicy. The weather cooperated well and it was a fun and tasty event. It was a feast for carnivores, a primal meal of gnawing cooked flesh off bones. Yes, that was bliss. And kudos to all of the winners.

Favorite Cooking Class: This summer I learned how to prepare Risotto at Lucia Ristorante in Winchester. The restaurant runs a cooking series, with different classes every month or so, and as I love risotto, I figured it would be cool to learn how to make it. Owner Donato Frattaroli and Executive Chef Pino Maffeo were excellent instructors, and the class was very hands-on. I've been to other classes which were more observational, but everyone in the class contributed to preparing three risottos and arancini. The class ended with a dinner of our risottos and I later put my new found skills to work at home, and the results came out well.

Favorite Winter Food Market: The Wayland Winter Farmer's Market, with about 40 vendors, offers plenty for winter shoppers, especially on their various event days, like MA Wineries Day. Produces to local meats, cheeses to sauces, there is a nice diversity of items available. And the pizza food truck, located outside the market, was an extra bonus, making a tasty wood-fired pizza. I look forward to visiting the market again very soon.

Favorite Food Market, New Hampshire: Though the Tuscan Market in Salem, NH, opened in later 2012, I didn't visit it until early 2013 (except for a media tour in September 2012 before it opened). The artisanal market lived up to its potential, creating a wonderful one-stop shopping place for all things Italian, as well as meats, produce, cheeses, breads, wine and much more. I love their fresh breads, homemade pastas and sauces, and their cafe puts out some tasty foods. This is a compelling culinary destination and I highly recommend it.

Favorite Food Market, Montreal: Just over the border, the Jean-Talon Market is quite a large market, surrounded by a number of food/drink related brick & mortar shops. A great cheese shop, a nice wine store, fresh breads, lots of snacks to eat, and so much more. It is a must stop in Montreal, and you'll probably load up your car with food for the trip home. This market is a happy place.

Favorite Sustainable Seafood Treat: As unagi, eel, is endangered, then the Alaska Sablefish Unagi Style can make for a good replacement. Made from wild Alaskan sablefish, with an unagi marinade, it is precooked and ready to heat and serve. It shares some of the texture of the unagi, which is important, and a bit of the taste. It may not be a perfect replication of unagi, but because it is so tasty, and has a similar texture, I think this works well.

Favorite Sustainable Caviar: With certain types of caviar being endangered too, there are a number of replacement options sprouting up. The Northern Divine Caviar, from British Columbia, is the first certified organic caviar in North America, from thirteen year old White Sturgeons. Currently, they are sold mostly in Canada, though you can find it in the U.S. and they are seeking more distributors. It is pricey, at about $88 for 30 grams, but then caviar has never been an inexpensive luxury. The taste is exquisite, smooth, briny and buttery without any fishy aftertaste. Well worth the splurge.

Favorite Frozen Soup: Mandy's Seafood Chowder  is a lobster bisque filled with shrimp, scallops, clams and fish. Most of the seafood is local except the shrimp is wild caught from Key West and sometimes they use Alaskan pollock. It is all natural, gluten free and uses sustainable seafood. It has an appealing taste with a nice creaminess without being too thick. It was well spiced and it would be excellent for a winter dinner.

Favorite New Pizza: The Vesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizzaa pizza food truck, is a cool idea and they offer some interesting pizza choices, or you can compose your own, all priced about $8-$12. Get a Breakfast pizza (cheese, bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, Egg Beaters) or the Beetza (pesto, winter moon root beets, caramelized red onions, black olives and Gorgonzola cheese).  The Vesta (red sauce, bacon, chicken, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese) was tasty, with a nice, crisp crust, plenty of toppings and lots of cheese. I was very satisfied.

Favorite Sandwich: While drinking bourbon, BBQ pork is a great accompaniment, and I enjoyed that pairing at a Four Roses event at jm Curley, with their BBQ Pork Sandwich It usually comes with cheddar, griddled onions, slaw, jamama sauce, and bacon atop local sour dough though I chose to have it a bit simpler, with only cheddar and bacon. This was a hearty and savory sandwich, with plenty of tender pork, slathered in an appealing, well-spiced sauce, complemented by the sharpness of the cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The grilled sour dough also added to the tastiness of the sandwich. Hearty comfort food, and great with bourbon.

Favorite Poutine: My friend Adam, of Wine Zag, never had poutine before, so when we journeyed to Quebec, I knew he needed to try it. At a little roadside restaurant, we ordered some poutine, and ate it while looking over the St. Lawrence River. Adam enjoyed these gravy laden fries, topped by cheese curds, and it filled our bellies for the day of wine tasting ahead. The poutine was good, but was greatly enhanced by the experience, of sharing a food discovery with a good friend.

Favorite Cinnamon Roll: Wow! And Wow! In Portland, Oregon, Sugar Mama's Cafe is a small, casual restaurant which makes most of their dishes from scratch. On Fridays, they make cinnamon rolls and they are simply superb, probably the best I have had at any restaurant. They were well balanced, with great flavor, texture and quality. I couldn't stop raving about them and if you visit Portland, you have to make sure you get some.

Favorite Donut: I've had the famous Voodoo Doughnut Maple-Bacon donut but it can't compare to the Cafe Dulce's Bacon Donut. Located in Japantown in Los Angeles, the cafe makes a yeast donut, topped by a sweet glaze and plenty of bacon crumbles. A perfect combination of sweet and salty, atop a soft, fresh donut. Very addictive and with lots of bacon flavor. I stumbled upon this find and will definitely return the next time I am in the area.

Favorite Local Donuts: Forget the chain donut shops, they can't compare with the independents. This year though, at a jm Curley's Pop Up donut event, I had several delicious and innovative donuts, from a Coconut palm sugar glazed to an Apple cider bacon, from a Mai Tai to a Mexican hot chocolate. Freshly made, they put to shame chain donuts, and I hope they have more donut popups in 2014. We don't need any more cupcake stores but we could use more artisan donut shops.

Favorite New Frozen Food: Though it is generally best to get fresh baked goods, there are times a frozen product can satisfy your cravings. Brazi Bites, a Brazilian cheese bread, come in three different flavors, including bacon, and you just have to pop them in the oven. Great texture, lots of cheesy taste, and the flavored types satisfy. They are an addictive treat and hopefully will be available locally in Spring 2014.

Favorite Frozen Seafood: Lobster Anywhere will ship frozen seafood to anywhere in the U.S., so that even someone in California can enjoy a Maine lobster. They sell a plethora of products, from lobster tails to clam chowder, and their prices are competitive with other online seafood purveyors. The seafood is all easy to prepare, tasty, and will seem as if it were fresh. If you have a hankering for lobster, you can always have it delivered.

Favorite New Ice Cream/Gelato Shop: Located in North Andover, the Pazzo Gelato Cafe sells about 20+ flavors of gelato and sorbets, including nut free, gluten free and dairy free options. The products are generally made fresh every day, and local ingredients are used when possible. Nearly every flavor I tasted possessed a bright, fresh and natural taste. The fruit sorbets tasted like fresh fruit, and not some artificial flavorings. They also sell paninis, baked goods and more.

Favorite Restaurant Dessert: I almost didn't order it but am very glad that I did. At the new Bonefish Grill, in Burlington, their Macadamia Nut Brownie includes a flourless brownie, topped with raspberry sauce, home-made whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and sprinkled with macadamia nuts. It is large enough for two people to share, though you might be tempted to eat it all by yourself. The brownie is moist and rich, with lots of fudgy flavor, and the raspberry sauce is mild, accenting the brownie without overpowering it. The whipped cream and ice cream enhance the dessert, and the nuts add both flavor and texture.

Favorite Candy: In Montreal's Chinatown, I found a stall selling Dragon Beard Candy, allegedly once reserved for only the Emperor. It is essentially strands of sugar surrounding a mixture of nuts, sesame seeds, coconut, chocolate, and sugar. The candy is made by hand, where a disk of corn starch and sugar is pulled continually until you get many thin strands. When completed, the candy resembles an insect cocoon and has some of the stickiness and texture of cotton candy. The inner mixture is very pleasant, a melange of sweet flavors and textures.

Favorite Meat Snack: Slant Shack Jerky uses only grass fed beef, from farmers in Vermont and New York, and it comes in a variety of flavors, such as Dried & True and Hot & Smoky. You can even custom order your own flavors, choosing a marinade, rub and/or glaze. I was impressed with the flavors of the jerky, as well as its texture which wasn't too tough or chewy. The Jerk McGurk's Wild Rubdown, which has ginger, garlic, brown sugar, cayenne and paprika was my favorite of their flavors. 

Favorite Healthy Snack: When I saw a sign for Certified Vegan & Wheat Free Superfood Bars, I almost walked by but decided to give it a chance. The BudiBars are intended to be healthy, and good for allergies, but without a sacrifice of taste. The Zen BudiBar is made from 80% Dark Chocolate and is nut & dairy free. It tastes sweet and nutty, with a nice chocolate taste and intriguing spice notes. It doesn't taste healthy at all. The Namaste BudiBar is also made from 80% Dark Chocolate, is dairy free but contain nuts, almonds. Like Zen, this bar was sweet and nutty, with plenty of chocolate taste and enjoyable almond pieces. And once again, it doesn't taste healthy. Everyone is going to enjoy these bars.

Favorite Restaurant Faux Pas: It is a physical disability that often is ignored, yet it can have a real impact on customers. I'm talking about color blindness, which afflicts about 7% of the male population. In Rant: A Conveyor Belt Of No Respect, I discussed my visit to Enso Sushi, a new kaiten-zushi restaurant where sushi glides through the dining room on a conveyor belt. Each plate is color coded to a specific price so that when your meal is over, the server can easily determine your bill through counting the colored plates in front of you. However, if you are color blind, you might have difficulty determining the price of some plates. That can be a real pain. Restaurants need to consider colorblindness when designing certain elements.

Favorite Food Expose: Though it displeased some, my Rant: Brandt Beef, Is It "True Natural" touched on some important issues that apparently have not been given much attention. Though Brandt Beef is certainly delicious, I don't believe they should call themselves the "true natural" especially when their cows are fed GMO corn. You won't find that fact on their website, or in most other articles, but the fact came directly from Eric Brandt. With all the furor and controversy over GMO food, transparency calls for this fact to be made known, so consumers can be best informed. Restaurants need to understand all of the facts about Brandt Beef.

Favorite Food Issue: Once again, one of the most important, and sometimes controversial, food issues I addressed this year was seafood sustainability. I have tried to cover a variety of issues, seeking to delve behind the science and rhetoric. The importance of this matter cannot be underestimated, but it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth behind the issues. Here are essentially all of my seafood sustainability posts this year:
Seafood Prices & Fate of Local Fishermen
Buy American Seafood: Four Excellent Choices
Rant: Cook More Seafood, Especially Local
Rant: Should We Take Fish Lessons From Maine?
U.S. Aquaculture Advocacy
Eat More U.S. Seafood: The Gulf Coast
Perceptions of Seafood Sustainability
Rant: Stop Worrying, Seafood Is Safe
Rant: Wake Up Japan, Bluefin Are In Danger
Verlasso Salmon: An Update
Verlasso Salmon: A Seafood Watch "Good Alternative"

Favorite Fake Food Controversy: In this age of social media, when April Fool's Day comes around, it seems everyone is aware of it so it is difficult to get away with a prank. It takes lots of planning and strategy to be able too fool people on this day. This year, I posted a prank, my Rant: Destroying A Chef's Reputation?, which was able to fool some people. It helped that I laid some groundwork earlier in the week, posting some teasers and hypothetical questions. It will be tough to get away with another prank in 2014, but I'll try again.

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

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming.
1) The 2014 Boston Wine Expo will be held February 15-16, 2014, including the Grand Tasting, Vintner's Reserve Lounge, Seminars, Chef Demonstrations and more. You can read about some of my experiences at last year's Expo, including some of the most compelling wines I tasted. As a holiday bonus, there is a discount code you can use, until December 24, to get $10 off the Saturday or Sunday Grand Tasting tickets. The code is HOLIDAY13 so if you plan on attending the Expo, now is the time to buy tickets and save.

2) Celebrate New Year’s Eve at Bondir Concord. On Tuesday, December 31, chef Jason Bond will celebrate the New Year and his new restaurant with a multi-course culinary experience. Each course will be paired with a selection from Bondir’s wine menu.

Bread-Warthog Wheat Sourdough with Bran
Cascade Hops and Currants

New England Bouillabaisse
Smoked & Brined Oysters, Smelts
Dartmouth Cider Apple Normande
Radicchio, Chevre de Bethmale, Tarragon, Liquorice and Almond Vinaigrette

Roasted Black Futsu Squash
Red Wine Poached Foie Gras, Satsuma Tangerine, Spiced Brown Butter, Petit Greens

Paired with NV Chidaine Mountlouis Brut, France, Champagne

White Alba Truffle
Durum Flour Spaghetti, L'escala Breadcrumbs, Braised Kale, Prairie Fire Chili, English Thyme

Bitter Cocoa Casarecce
South Texas Antelope Ragu, Parmigiano Reggiano, Cocoa Nibs

Walnut Ricotta Agnolotti
Butternut Squash, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Mint & Walnut Pesto, Shaved Crucolo

Paired with 2012 Rainoldi Nebbiolo, Italy Rosé

Sweet Potato Custard Tartine
Seared Teff Polenta, American Chestnuts
Autumn Vegetable Mignardises, Mustard Oil

Olive Oil Poached Cod
Creamed Watercress, Brown Bread, Roasted Fennel, Waldoboro Green Neck Turnip

Roasted Goose Magret
Triticale Berries with Lardon, Corn Flour Crumpet, Georgia Candy Roaster Squash, Black Walnuts

New York Beef Striploin
Gingerbread Beets, Honeyed Carrots, Butter-Confit Shallot, Roasting Jus

Paired with a choice of:
2012 Riffault Boucard, France, Sancerre
2010 Domaine La Garrigue, France, Vacqueyras

COST: Four courses, $85 per person, $135 per person with wine pairings. Tax and gratuity not included.
Seating is limited and reservations are required by calling 978-610-6554

3) An ongoing series, The Salty Pig's Executive Chef Kevin O'Donnell and Chef Michael Lombardi Jr. welcome some of the finest visiting chefs each month to duke it out at Porkapalooza, a pig battle of skill, culinary creativity, and tasty goodness. Each chef will be given one ingredient in common: a pig part. From there they whip up a dish and serve it up family-style where guests judge who the winner is. At the end of each dinner, we will raise a complimentary glass to toast the Head Hog, and $100 will be donated to the winner's charity of choice.

Next up in the event series, on January 6, 2014, from 7pm-10pm, Chef Sam Jackson from KO Pies will battle it out against The Salty Pig using the featured ingredient of the month, ham hock. Along with the people's vote, special guest judges include Jacki Morisi and Lisa DeCanio (from Just Add Cheese) and Brian Mercury (Pastry Chef at Harvest).

Tickets are $27.50 per person. Details/tickets can be found here: http://porkapaloozaboston.eventbrite.com

4) Join Steve DiFillippo Chef/Owner of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse, for a special cooking demo presentation and book signing event for “It’s All About the Guest,” a guide to starting a restaurant, running a successful business, enjoying food and living life. DiFillippo will share some of his recipes as well as stories and tips from his many successful years in the industry.

The event will take place at Williams Sonoma at MarketStreet Lynnfield on Saturday, December 21, from 1pm-3pm. guests will be treated to a tasting of recipes from the book including the Kobe meatballs and gnocchi bolognese. Signed copies of the books will be available for purchase at the event for $26.95.

This is a free event. Signed copies of the books will be available for purchase at the event for $26.95. For more information please call 781-334-3690.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013: Favorite Restaurants

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

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2013. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15Top Wines Over $50Favorite Wine Related Items and Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. Now, I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year.

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

There is also a section later in this post called Consistent Favorites, and it includes a list of a number of local restaurants which have been my favorites for subsequent years. Restaurants which are consistently good certainly deserve recognition, and I have tried to note some of those places to which I return again and again. I hope you enjoy all of my recommendations.

Top Restaurant Experience: Though I have had some excellent dining experiences in the Boston area this past year, my top dining experience was in Los Angeles, at N/Naka, a kaiseki inspired Japanese restaurant. A superb presentation, killer flavors, exquisite service, and an excellent Sake/wine list. In addition, my dining companions, including Adam of Wine Zag, helped to make it a great experience. I couldn't complain about a single thing at this restaurant and it receives my highest recommendation. And Adam is a great dining companion, in all cities across the U.S.

Favorite Outside Dining Experience: No, it wasn't some patio experience. Instead, it was on a beach in Provincetown, a delicious, evening Clam Bake. From, the tasty clam chowder to the steamed lobsters, the food was very good and the setting was so New England. We ate before a small fire pit, and there were even coyotes that wandered by to check out what was going on. The event was put on by Ptown Parties and if you visit Provincetown, you could hire them to do a clambake for you.

Favorite Restaurant Comeback: Prezza, in the North End, is one of my favorite high-end Italian spots but in July 2012, they suffered a significant kitchen fire. They didn't reopen until January 2013, due to extensive renovations, but I am pleased to say that their quality hasn't diminished in the least. Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano is still creating some of the best Italian cuisine in the city and Prezza continues to receive my highest recommendation.

Favorite Seafood Restaurant: Boston should have more top notch seafood restaurants than it does, but my favorite is Island Creek Oyster Bar, located in Kenmore Square. Fresh seafood, plenty of oysters, a nice wine list, and a fun ambiance all make for a very good restaurant experience. If family or friends are coming from out of town, seeking seafood, then you should send them here.

Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: For the last few years, my Favorite has been Posto though they have seen a number of significant changes this year, from a new Executive Chef to an inaugural Director of Operations. Fortunately, those changes have not diminished the quality of the food at all.  It remains an excellent destination in Somerville, a casual Italian restaurant with delicious pasta, pizza and appetizers.

Favorite Spanish Restaurant: Another repeat winner, Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro in Brookline continues to share her for passion for Spanish cuisine and wines. The restaurant also has the largest Sherry selection in the city. This year, I attended two fun events there, including tastings with Bodegas Beronia and Gonzalez Byass, accompanied by Chef Hansen's delicious tapas.Now that the restaurant has essentially doubled in size, there is even more reason to check it out, and sample fine Spanish cuisine.

Favorite New Cafe/Bakery: Chef Lee Napoli, the owner of Chocolee Chocolates, opened the Bread+Butter Cafe & Bakery in the North End. Rather than offer Italian baked goods, she makes a variety of items, many French inspired, and much of it is very compelling, from light and buttery croissants to the sublime Queen's Pastry. This cafe adds some diversity to the North End neighborhood, and you should check out Chef Napoli's pastry expertise.

Favorite New Chinatown Restaurant: It isn't traditional Chinese cuisine. In fact, it is more a fusion of pan Asian cuisine with some American influences, which could end up as a travesty, but Shojo (and more Shojo), makes it work. With approachable and delicious cuisine, it can be a gateway restaurant for people who are wary of eating more traditional Chinese cuisine in Chinatown. Even their fried pickles are tasty! Go for lunch or dinner, and I bet you enjoy the food as well.

Favorite Bar/Restaurant: I really need to visit jm Curley more often. Up front, it appears to be simply a bar and if that was all it was, that would still be cool. However, they also have a hidden dining room in the back, their secret steakhouse. Many have raved about this place, and my initial experience showed me the reasons for their raves. The simple food was very well down, and indicative of the potential of the rest of their menu. Go to jm Curley to have a drink, and then stay for lunch or dinner.

Favorite Meat Dish: The Venison Loin at Prezza. A large hunk of perfectly cooked and flavorful venison, accompanied by amarone risotto. As good as any cut of beef.

Favorite Poultry Dish: The Slow-Roasted Pheasant Breast & Confit Leg at Craigie on Main was amazing. Moist, tender meat and crispy skin made this a sublime dish which will remain in my memory for a very long time.

Favorite New Suburban Ethnic Restaurant: Located in Malden, the new Oya Cuban Cafe is owned and operated by a Cuban chef, and they are open for lunch and dinner. Most everything is made from scratch which is compelling. I've dined there a few times, and the food has gotten better each time I have been there. And their bread pudding dessert is highly recommended.

Favorite Suburban Casual Burger Joint: At the Burlington Mall, Bobby's Burger Palace will satisfy your burger craving. With about ten different burgers, crispy fries (as well as sweet potato fries), and creamy milkshakes, you have all you need for a casual and comfortable burger meal. Prices are reasonable too. When I have a burger craving, this is one of my main go to spots.

Favorite New Suburban Breakfast Restaurant: I love a good breakfast, and the new Iron Town Diner in Saugus satisfies that desire. Hearty plates of food, reasonable prices, and lots of variety make for an excellent experience. Egg dishes, omelets, waffles, French toast, pancakes and more. And the pancakes are light and fluffy, some of the best around. Breakfast is available all day too, though they do make good lunch options as well.

Favorite New Suburban Thai Restaurant: Wakefield already has three Thai restaurants so did they really need a fourth? Well, the new Phu Ket makes an impressive debut with plenty of exciting and delicious dishes, all at reasonable prices. Dishes from Spicy Lobster Soup to Saigon Dices, are bursting with complex flavors and elevate this Thai restaurant over the others in the Wakefield area. If you love Thai, then you must check out this newcomer.

Favorite New Suburban Healthy Restaurant: Not all chain restaurants are the same, and the new Seasons 52, in Burlington, is part of a chain which impresses. None of their dishes have more than 475 calories, and the restaurant doesn't use any butter. However, the dishes don't lack for flavor, and the menu is seasonal as well. In addition, the wine list has plenty of diversity. Open for lunch and dinner, it is a great place for a fine meal which won't make you feel guilty. I need to return soon to check out the new winter menu.

Favorite Provincetown Breakfast Restaurant: A small, casual spot, Cafe Heaven stole my heart and stomach with their Corn Bread French Toast. Moist cornbread, not too thick, with a nice, eggy batter. The rest of their menu is good too, from their homemade English muffins to their linguica. After breakfast here though, you really should stop by the Portuguese Bakery for a warm Malassada (kind of like a Portuguese donut/fried dough).

Favorite Provincetown Restaurant, High End: With a vodka list of over 260 selections, The Mews Restaurant & Cafe will surprise you. The chef has been there for 24 years, but the menu is not stodgy or old fashioned. The menu is diverse, with some dishes containing an Asian flair, and you'll find everything from Lobster Dumplings to Venison Carpaccio. If you want to splurge while vacationing in Provincetown, make reservations here.

Favorite Provincetown Restaurant, Casual: Gourmet hot dogs and lobster rolls can be found at Lucky Dog Ptown, a small, casual spot that will impress with its flavors. The hot dogs are made from their own recipe, and the Bacon & Blue Dog was excellent, elevating the simple hot dog to a gourmet level. A simple concept that has been executed well.

Favorite New Hampshire Diner: Based on a friend's recommendation, I checked out the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester one afternoon. With a diverse and inexpensive menu, there is plenty to interest you from breakfast to dinner. The Monte Cristo sandwich, with homemade potato chips, hit the spot, and it was one of the best versions of that sandwich I have tasted in some time. Also try their homemade pies.

Favorite Portland, Oregon Breakfast Spot: Making everything from scratch, including grating their own hashbrowns, Sugar Mamas' Cafe offers a fresh and flavorful breakfast. It is a casual spot, with excellent prices, and the big star is their fresh cinnamon rolls, only made on Fridays. It is worth visiting the restaurant just for those cinnamon rolls, though I recommend having breakfast there as well. When I return to Portland, this will be a must stop for me again.

Favorite Portland, Oregon Sushi Restaurant: Sake crawling through Portland with my friend Gordon, we stopped at Masu, which impressed me with their fresh sushi. As they also have a nice Sake list, with about 25 choices, that makes the restaurant even more attractive to me. Give me more of that sea urchin!

Favorite Oregon Diner: Part of a West Coast chain, the Black Bear Diner in Medford, Oregon, provides hearty comfort food at a good price. From tender chicken fried steak, smothered in gravy, to a tasty burger, you'll find something to enjoy. And their homemade cream pies are both large and delicious. For a casual, cheap and good meal, stop by one of these diners rather than a fast food burger joint.

Favorite Los Angeles, California Restaurants: I've already mentioned N/Naka as my top restaurant experience this year, but I need to give kudos as well to Night+Market (Thai street food) and Jose Andre's The Bazaar (Spanish cuisine). Both were small plate places where we ordered a ton of dishes, sampling a fair share of menu items. Again, my dining companions helped to make these even better experiences.

Favorite Montreal, Quebec Chinese Restaurants: While in Montreal, we stayed next to Chinatown so it was natural we dined there at least a couple times. Both Keung Kee Restaurant and Qing Hua Dumplings pleased my palate, delivering good food and inexpensive prices. Keung Kee is almost hidden on a second floor, but it is worth seeking out. And Qing Hua, with its assortment of soup dumplings, is another strong recommendation.

Favorite New Restaurant Idea: Though the Boston restaurant industry is very dog friendly, the poor cat gets short shrift. However, an enterprising entrepreneur wants to bring the Japanese concept of the Cat Cafe to Boston. This is basically a cafe that has numerous cats, which you can pet and play with while you sip your coffee and tea. If you can't own a pet, and love cats, this would be a cool place to spend some relaxation time. Let's hope it becomes a reality.

Consistent Favorites
These are all spots that have been my favorites for multiple years, and are worthy of recognition and recommendation.

Favorite Boston High-End Restaurant: L'Espalier 

Favorite Suburban Brunch, Traditional: AKA Bistro in Lincoln.

Favorite Cambridge Brunch, Traditional: Tupelo in Inman Square, Cambridge

Favorite Boston Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare: Myers & Chang in the South End

Favorite Suburban Restaurant: AKA Bistro in Lincoln

Favorite Boston Japanese Restaurant: Oishii in the South End

Favorite Somerville Restaurant: Bergamot 

Favorite Underappreciated Restaurant: T.W. Food in Cambridge

Favorite North End Restaurant, High End: Prezza

Favorite North End Restaurant, Old SchoolLucia Ristorante

Favorite North End Restaurant, Fusion: Taranta.

Favorite Non-North End Italian Restaurants: Erbaluce and Coppa

Favorite Suburban Restaurant, ItalianBistro 5 in Medford

Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: Posto.

Favorite North Shore Fried Seafood: Clam Box in Ipswich

Favorite Mexican Restaurant: The Painted Burro in Somerville

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

ADDENDUM: I do need to give kudos to another excellent dinner I experienced this past year, which I unintentionally omitted from this list as I hadn't written about it on my blog. Ever summer, Troquet holds a special wine cellar clearance, selling off some old and intriguing wines at dirt cheap prices. It is certainly one of the vinous highlights of the summer. And this year, I dined there once again with a collection of fine friends, including Adam, Dale, David, Rob, Laura, and Marco. We enjoyed some stellar wines, including a superb Pinot Meunier, which Adam wrote about on Wine Zag. Besides the great wines, the food was stellar as well. Check out Troquet any time, but also look forward to next summer's cellar clearance.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013: Favorite Spirits & Drink Related Items

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

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2013. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15Top Wines Over $50 and Favorite Wine Related Items lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

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

Favorite Spirit & Cocktail Event: Last month, Thirst Boston was held at the Hotel Commonwealth, a three day event dedicated to the diversity of spirits, cocktails and other drinks. There was myriad of interesting and informative seminars, tasting rooms, several parties and much more. The event was well organized, and everything seemed to run smoothly. It was educational and fun, with lots of great drinks available, from Bourbon to Beer, Sherry to Hard Cider. I hope that Thirst Boston returns next year.

Favorite Bourbon: I've been a fan of Four Roses Bourbon for the last two years, and even visited the distillery last year. This year, Al Young, their brand ambassador, historian and archivist, came to town and I met him, tasting bourbon at a lunch at jm Curley. At jm Curley, they purchased their own barrel of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon, and even designed the bourbon recipe. Though it was 123 proof, it still was smooth and spicy, and didn't seem that alcoholic. I could easily sit and sip that bourbon, savoring its taste.

Favorite Rye Whiskey: At Thirst Boston, I had the opportunity to taste Dickel Rye, which has only been out for about a year. It is made from 94% Rye, is about 5-6 years old, and undergoes cold filtration, making it taste smoother and mellowing some of the spice notes. I was impressed with this Rye, especially as it is priced around $25 or so.

Favorite Whiskey Tasting: As I have mentioned before, Japan is producing killer whisky, but much of it hasn't come to the Boston area yet. Thus, when I had the opportunity to taste some Nikka Japanese Whisky, I was excited to sample them. The Nikka seminar was informative, and we tasted several whiskies, both straight and in cocktails. My favorite was the Taketsuru Pure Malt, a whisky of power and balance, complexity and rich flavors. It was smoky with peaty notes, with elements of autumn baking spices, apples, caramel, cocoa and more. So much going on in this whisky, and the finish just lingers in your mouth.

Favorite Irish Whiskey: The Tyrconnel Single Malt ($72) is a Single Malt Irish Whiskey that is aged for ten years, including 8 months in a Port cask. The whisky is smooth and complex, with notes of vanilla, honey, citrus, red berries, spice and caramel. Everything is well balanced and the finish is lengthy and pleasing. A fine sipping whisky.

Favorite Sour Mash Whiskey: The Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey uses a proprietary mashbill made from a special selection of grains and is aged in charred, new American white oak barrels. Up front, there was an interesting and complex melange of flavors, including vanilla, orange peel, caramel and chocolate notes (reminiscent of a less sweet bourbon) while the finish came with more subtle spice notes, bringing to mind a pleasant rye. Smooth and easy drinking, there was no bite on the finish. Another fine sipping whiskey.

Favorite Rum: The Papa's Pilar Dark Rum is now available in Massachusetts. The company purchases a variety of rums sourced from Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. Those rums are then aged, using a Solera process, in used Bourbon and Port barrels, blended and then finished in Sherry casks. The Papa's Pilar Dark is composed of rums, aged up to 24 years, that were created through both pot and column distillation. On the nose, there are intriguing smells of spice and honey, caramel and salted nuts. The smells are reflected in much of the complex taste, with deep flavors of caramel and earthiness, strong spice and vanilla, and notes that will remind you of Bourbon and Amontillado Sherry.

Favorite Rhum: Made on the island of Martinique, the J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc is a Rhum Agricole, made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. Rhum J.M. was founded in 1845, and the Agricole Blanc impressed me. It was complex and intriguing, with a layered blend of herbal, tropical fruit and citrus flavors. It would be good on its own or used in a cocktail.

Favorite Mezcal: Mezcal loses out on publicity to tequila, yet mezcal is worthy of far more attention. Del Maguey, founded in 1995, produces 100% certified organic single village Mezcal using traditional methods and made by individual family producers. The Del Maguey Tobala is produced from a higher altitude, making it smokier and less sweet, with tropical fruit flavors on the finish. It also possesses nice complexity and a greater depth of flavor.. 

Favorite (and most suprising) Vodka List: While visiting Provincetown, I dined at The Mews Restaurant & Cafe and was surprised to find that they have a vodka list with over 260 selections! There were vodkas from all over the world, including countries you might never have thought made vodka. I tasted a couple vodkas I had never had before, and was amazed that this restaurant possessed so many different vodkas. The food was very good too, so if you visit Provincetown, you should make a stop here.

Favorite Ginger Beer
: Locally produced, the Green River Ambrosia Winery Ginger Libation was a nice find. It is touted as a "pre-Prohibition style ginger beer" and a "spicy alcoholic ginger soda." It is sweetened with cane sugar, pineapple, and citrus juices. It is technically a ginger wine rather than a beer as no malt is used. However, it tastes very similar to a ginger beer, lightly effervescent with a strong ginger flavor and mild sweetness. Perfect for a Dark n' Stormy cocktail.

Favorite Simple Cocktail: At a Thirst Boston Sherry seminar, I met Derek Brown (writer, mixologist and owner of Washington, D.C. bars The Passenger, The Columbia Room, and sherry bar, Mockingbird Hill). He invented the PX Sweet Tea cocktail, a simple mix of Pedro Ximinez Sherry and Black Tea. I've since made it a couple times on my own, and enjoy its flavors, as well as giving me something to do with my PX sherries.

Favorite Hard Cider: Made in Somerville, Bantam Cider has created a couple new products, both which impressed me this year. The Bantam La Grande Barrel Aged is a blend of local apples, including about 40% of Reine de Pomme, a French heirloom cider apple. It is fermented dry and no honey is added. The cider is aged in 60 gallon used barrels, about 60% bourbon and 40% rum, for about four months. It is a dry cider, with a lean, crisp and clean apple flavor and a mild effervescence, lightly refreshing bubbles. On the finish, it possesses an interesting and subdued bourbon flavor. The Bantam Rojo is made with sour cherries and black peppercorns. It is mostly dry, with a sour aspect up front, and a prominent cherry flavor throughout with a mild peppery note in the background. Delicious and interesting.

Favorite Beer
: I am generally not a beer guy so you rarely see beer reviews on my site. But this year I tasted a beer which appealed to me, The Trou du Diable La Grivoise de Noel is a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, and is a seasonal beer, made for the Christmas season. However, it may actually taste better with some aging. This beer is a melange of alluring spices, from cinnamon to cardamom, with notes of caramel, dried fruit and nuts. There is a slight sweetness to this silky smooth brew, and none of the bitterness I dislike. In some ways, it reminded me of an aged Sherry. I could easily drink this beer.

Favorite Beer Store: The New England Annex of the Craft Beer Cellar opened this past summer in Winchester, and they carry about 400 beers, all made in New England and at least half of them in Massachusetts. They also carry a little Sake, Mead and Hard Cider. This is an excellent place to find plenty of local beers and is well worth checking out.

Favorite Milkshake/Frappe: This category is a tie, between Bobby's Burger Palace and Pazzo Gelato Cafe. At Bobby's Burger Palace, located at the Burlington Mall, they have about ten milkshake flavors, which are topped by homemade whipped cream. I've had a few different flavors, including Vanilla Bean and Coconut, and each was rich, creamy and flavorful. Pazzo Gelato Cafe uses their homemade gelato to make excellent frappes, which have a nice creaminess to them. Bobby's frappes have a slight edge over Pazzo, only because they are less expensive.

Favorite Tea Drink
: Another tie, both choices are locally produced. The Motto Sparkling Matcha Tea was launched in late 2012, and is crafted with premium matcha, basically ground green tea, as well as apple cider vinegar, honey, organic agave, lemon juice, sparkling water and "other natural flavors." It has a clean flavor with a prominent green tea taste, a mild sweetness, and a little citrus on the finish. The renamed Evy Tea produces three different flavored teas, each which is cold brewed. The Amber is made from oolong tea, rosemary and orange zest. It is fresh and clean, with subtle roasted tea flavors, enhanced by bits of herb and citrus. The Decaf Green Tea with Figs and Pomegranate is also clean, with strong fruit flavors that accent the green tea flavors.

Favorite Spirits/Drinks Book: A fascinating historical work, Whiskey Women by Fred Minnick describes the role that women have played in the history of whiskey, from back to ancient Sumeria where women were involved in beer production. The book is filled with plenty of intriguing historical incidents and anecdotes, showcasing women's significant contributions to the whiskey industry. Well written, and easy to read, this book is highly recommended.

Runner-Up Favorite Spirits/Drink Book: The Drunken Botanist looks at alcohol in a unique way, through the plants that create those spirits. There is tons of information in this book, with cocktail recipes, historical anecdotes, botanical facts and more. It doesn't need to be read cover to cover, but you can explore those chapters which most interest you at first, and then return to read the rest of the chapters.

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