Friday, February 28, 2014

Boston Wine Expo: Khareba Winery From Georgia

At the Boston Wine Expo, I traveled in time and space, back many thousands of years to a region which some believe could be the birthplace of wine making. I am referring to Georgia, a country situated in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. The exact origins of wine making may never be known, but it cannot be disputed that Georgia's history in this regard extends back to the vinous beginnings. Some even believe the word "wine" derives from the Georgian word "gvino" which means "wine." Unfortunately, despite Georgia's importance to the history of wine, many American consumers have never tasted a Georgian wine.

There are over 500 indigenous grapes in Georgia though only about 38 are currently used for wine production. In time, that will likely increase as some wineries have been exploring the potential of the other indigenous grapes. It is a long, historical tradition for Georgians to ferment and age their wines in clay vessels, called "qvevri" or "kvevri." These are similar to amphorae but usually lack handles. The qvevri are commonly buried underground in a marani, sometimes said to be a sacred area, though more commonly it refers to a wine cellar.

These qvevri, for a multitude of reasons, can create some interesting wines, and the whites produced in these qvevri may sometimes be known as "orange wines," as oxidation has darkened their color and added intriguing flavors. Because of its importance, the qvevri was even added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Other winemakers from around the world have also started using or experimenting with clay amphora.

Wine is an integral component of Georgian culture, from the revelry of rtveli, their grape harvest, to the supra, a traditional feast. The term "supra" means "tablecloth" and the supra feast typically contains a lengthy amount of toasts. A tamada, a toastmaster, is selected to lead the evening, and the tamada will make all of the toasts. These toasts will honor family and friends, events in the past, present and future, and much more. It is customary to toast to every person attending the feast, saying something positive about them. The primary prohibition is that you cannot toast to anything negative.

Two years ago, at the Boston Wine Expo, I tasted and enjoyed the Georgian wines of Telavi Wine Cellar, including one wine made in a qvevri. I later sampled and was impressed by the sparkling wines of Bagrationi 1882 Winery. So, when I learned the Khareba Winery from Georgia would be exhibiting at this year's Expo, I placed it at the top of my list of tables to visit. It was the only Georgian winery exhibiting at the show, and ended up being the first wine booth at which I stopped to taste.

At the Khareba tables, I met Vladimer Kublashvili, their Production Director, and Lia Kutateladze, their Export Manager, both who were personable and obviously passionate about Georgian wines. I was eminently satisfied with the wines I found and the table also seemed very popular during the public hours of the Grand Tasting. Consumers wanted to know more about wines from this unfamiliar region. They wanted to taste something different, to broaden the horizons of their palates. Kudos to all of those consumers brave enough to explore wine outside their comfort zone.

The Khareba Winery currently owns over 750 hectares of vineyards, and 90% of them located are located in Kakheti, in Eastern Georgia. The other 10% of vineyards are in Western Georgia, 9% in Imereti and 1% in Lechkhumi. Their Kakheti winery has been in operation since 1957, and currently produces their table wines. In 2011, they constructed a second winery in Imereti which now produces their premium quality and sparkling wines. They produce over 30 different wines and started about three years ago to produce a number of wines using the traditional qvevri. It impresses me that one of the goals of the winery is to identify and cultivate old, traditional and indigenous Georgian grapes. With such a wealth of indigenous grapes, it is great that they are trying to preserve this history and potentially find obscure grapes that will make some compelling wines.

Of the 12 wines I tasted, I found the Khareba Monastery Wines, those made with qvevri, to be the most compelling. They produce about 8 different monastery wines, including 6 whites and 2 reds, and they had 4 of them available for tasting at the Expo. The four wines I tasted were all single varietal wines, using indigenous Georgian grapes that are rarely seen outside of Georgia. You might be familiar though with Rkatiseli as it is now being grown in several other regions, and some can even be found in Massachusetts, grown by Westport Rivers.

The 2011 Krakhuna Monastery Wine is a white wine that was fermented and aged in qvevri for 8 months with 5% of its skins. Krakhuna is an ancient white grape that is late ripening. This wine had a mild yellowish/amber color to it, and on the palate was dry with mild flavors of pear and herbs. With good acidity and a pleasant finish, this is a wine that would appeal to many consumers. It would be fine on its own, or paired with lighter fare, such as seafood.

The 2011 Mtsvane Monastery Wine is another white wine that was fermented and aged in qvevri, but for 10 months with 100% of its skins. Mtsvane is a light-skinned, white grape and its name means "green." This was the darkest of the white wines, with a rich amber/orange color, and also the one which I felt possessed the most complex and compelling aromas and flavors. The aroma was full of fresh fruit flavors, from peach to apple, and on the palate, there was an intriguing melange of fruit, spice and minerality. With lots of umami in this wine, its savory nature was appealing and satisfying. Highly recommended.

The 2011 Rkatsiteli Monastery Wine is the third white wine, and it was fermented and aged in qvevri for 10 months with 100% of its skins. Rkatsiteli is an ancient white grape, with high acidity, and its name means "red stem." This wine's color was medium amber/orange and presents with a more exotic taste, a blend of dried fruits, spice and herbs with a nice crispness. In some respects it reminded me of Gewurztraminer, but possessed its own uniqueness as well. Definitely one of the best examples of Rkatsiteli that I have tasted.

My favorite wine was the 2012 Saperavi Monastery Wine, a red wine that was fermented and aged in qvevri. Saperavi is an ancient red grape, known to be very hardy, and its name means literally "paint" or "dye," due to its intense dark-red color. And this wine possessed a strong dark red color and an intense aroma of black and blue fruits, with a mild spicy undertone. On the palate, there was a complex and alluring melange of black cherry, blueberry, and blackberry with subtle spicy notes. There is also an exotic element to the wine, one that is difficult to encapsulate in words, but which makes this wine interesting and delicious. The tannins were restrained, the wine was nicely balanced, and it presented a lengthy and pleasing finish. Highly recommended.

The rest of the Khareba wines I sampled were table wines, produced in a more European style and without the use of a qvevri. In general, though lacking the complexity of the qvevri wines, I enjoyed most of the table wines, finding them easy drinking and pleasant. These are more everyday wines, inexpensive wines that you would select for an ordinary dinner or a quiet night at home. As these wines use indigenous Georgian grapes, they add their own uniqueness, helping to elevate them over some other table wines. These wines can also serve as conversation starters, and help wine lovers expand their palates.

The 2010 Khareba Brut Sparkling Wine is made from the Tsitska grape and is aged for 12 months. It was a rather simple sparkling wine, with yeasty and floral notes, and didn't appeal to my own preferences. On the other hand, the 2013 Khareba Krakhuna was bright, crisp and had tasty green apple and pear flavors. It would make an excellent summer wine, an easy drinking quaffer which would also pair well with light dishes. The 2013 Khareba Mtsvane was strongly aromatic, like a Gewurztraminer, and had some of those same spicy notes on the palate. Dry, crisp and nicely balanced, this is another easy drinker and I would like to try it with some spicy Thai.

The last of the whites was the 2013 Khareba Rkatiseli, which presented a crisp and clean taste of spice and herbs, supplemented by a mild citrus nature. An intriguing taste, and another candidate for a fun summer wine. All three of the white, still wines were pleasing and should appeal to most wine lovers.

All of the red wines contained the Saperavi grape, and the different wines showed the allure and versatility of this grape. The 2011 Khareba Saperavi sees no oak, and presented juicy black fruit flavors with spicy elements enhancing the taste. A delicious and easy drinking wine, perfect for burgers or pizza. It presents just enough exotic taste to differentiate it from wines from other regions. The 2010 Khareba Saperavi Premium sees about 20% aged in oak, and the tannins are mild. Again, there were nice black fruit flavors, with hints of blueberrry, and a bit more spice.

The 2011 Khareba Oak is produced from 100% Saperavi, aged in oak, and presents a fuller and richer taste, with black and blue fruit flavors, lots of spice, and subtle herbal notes. The tannins are moderate and the finish is lengthy and satisfying. It also presents more complexity than the other two Saperavi table wines. It was my favorite of the three red wines, but I could easily enjoy the other two as well. Once again, these reds should appeal to most wine lovers.

Finally, we ended on a sweet note with the 2012 Kindzmarauli, a semi-sweet wine made from Saperavi. With a deep red color, it has a nose that reminded me of sweet candy, and that came out on the palate as well. It was not overly sweet, and had bright red fruit flavors.

Overall, the Khareba wines impressed me, especially their qvevri wines, and further enhanced my view of Georgian wines. These were well-made wines, presenting intriguing indigenous grapes that offered an exotic aspect. Their table wines would appeal to a broad spectrum of wine drinkers, while the qvevri wines might appeal more to wine geeks, though the Krakhuna Monastery wine is more consumer friendly. Georgian wines have a lengthy history, and it seems that their future is looking bright. I encourage all wine lovers to seek out the wines of Georgia, to explore the wonders of their wines.

Khareba Winery is currently seeking a national importer so they can bring their wines to the U.S. I wish them the best of luck in finding an importer as I believe their wines are worthy, and would do well in the U.S.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

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) On March 5, at 6pm, Dinner by Dames brings together five of Rhode Island's most talented chefs for a special dining event. Chefs Melissa Denmark of Gracie's and Ellie's Bakery, Jordan Goldsmith of Garden Grille, Maria Meza of El Rancho Grande, Kaitlyn Roberts of Easy Entertaining Inc. and Jessica Wood of Fire and Water Restaurant Group, gather together for the first time to prepare signature dishes and a few treats for dinner guests.

Hosted at The Café at Easy Entertaining at 166 Valley Street in Providence, Rhode Island, Dinner by Dames will begin with a 6 p.m. reception with welcome bites from each chef, then moving into a five-course dinner featuring: Gordita with goat and green salsa, Pappardelle with confit wild mushrooms and Maine white beans with roasted leek broth, Nantucket Bay scallops with other wonderful things, Pork and beans, and Milk chocolate and grapefruit crémeux, pistachio cake and espresso-toffee ice cream.

The five chefs have all enjoyed each other’s food but have not had the chance to collaborate before. Meza said, “I’m excited to work with these great women chefs and prepare plates different from the cuisine I usually create.” Denmark said, “This is an exciting way for some of the talented Rhode Island female chefs to show off all of the great food we create.” Wood added, “It’s going to be an amazing event to see women chefs highlighted in a primarily male dominated industry.” Roberts said, “I really like working with women because they tend to be a little more collaborative. The spirit when women get together is palpable, so I look forward to sharing the energy of the night.

The cost of the dinner is $85 per person (which includes an 8% sales tax and 18% gratuity). An optional wine pairing, selected by Jessica Granatiero of The Savory Grape Wine Shop in East Greenwich, will be available to purchase at the event, as well as an a la carte wine selection. Tickets are available now at

2) The 6th Annual Cheesemakers’ Festival will be held on Sunday, July 20, from 11am-4pm, at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn in Vermont. This is a celebration of cheeses, artisan foods, craft beers, local wines – and the people who make them. Over 100 cheeses from more than 40 cheesemakers as well as dozens of artisan food producers and local beer, wine and spirits producers will all be gathered for this event. This is one of my favorite events of the year and highly recommended. Plus, I advise you buy your tickets early as the event sells out every year.

Tickets are $50 per person and include full access to all festival events, including workshops, demonstrations, and beer and wine tastings. An early bird special of $45 for tickets runs through March 1. To order tickets visit now on sale through, or by calling 802-86-FLYNN.

3) Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnival; different ways to describe the same worldwide party of hedonism and excess before the long (and dry) days of Lent. This March, on Tuesday, March 4, from 8pm-12:30am, Kenmore Square craft cocktail hub The Hawthorne is doing just that by bringing true New Orleans flavor to the neighborhood with a properly gluttonous and spirited Mardi Gras feast.

Time-honored, N’awlins-born cocktails like the Sazerac, Vieux Carre and Ramos Gin Fizz will be flowing Bacchus-style throughout the evening. And for noshing, live crawfish flown in straight from The Big Easy, The Hawthorne’s own oversized muffuletta and freshly fried oyster Po’ Boys lay a stick-to-your ribs foundation for a little light debauchery – horns and beads included. Rounding out the festivities is live New Orleans jazz from Mickey Bones and the Hot Tamale Brass Band, letting guests get down to the beats of Bourbon Street. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training as they prepare to run the Boston Marathon.

Cost: $75/person, includes New Orleans-approved snacks and two cocktails; other cocktails and bites available for purchase. To buy tickets, visit:

4) Chef Paul Turano, chef/owner of Tryst restaurant in Arlington, has taken it upon himself to bring authenticity to his special Mardi Gras dinner being held on Tuesday, March 4, from 5pm-10pm. Served in addition to Tryst’s regular menu, Mardi Gras diners can look forward to experiencing a three-course prix fixe menu available for $35 per person featuring items such as barbequed oysters with creole butter, chicken and sausage gumbo with spicy fried shrimp and jasmine rice and bread pudding “Commander’s Palace style” with butter pecan ice cream and rum sauce. That’s not all, guests will be able to enjoy authentic cocktails and Hurricanes galore.

Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling 781-641-2227.

5) Taste of Iceland, an annual festival that celebrates Iceland’s vibrant culture, returns to Boston with a series of events from March 14-18. Presented by Iceland Naturally, the five-day event highlights the best of Icelandic food, music and culture, giving Bostonians a taste of what life is like in Iceland. This year’s events include a special Icelandic menu at Rialto prepared by chef Hákon Már Örvarsson, a Reyka Vodka Craft Cocktail Class, and the Reykjavik Calling concert at The Middle East.

Icelandic Menu at Rialto Restaurant
March 14-18 | 8PM | Rialto Restaurant & Bar | One Bennett St. | Cambridge
An authentic Icelandic meal will be available Friday through Tuesday at Rialto Restaurant, located in Harvard Square. Icelandic chef Hákon Már Örvarsson, winner of Bocuse d’Or and World Culinary Cup, will collaborate with Rialto chef Jody Adams, a James Beard Award winner and former Top Chef Masters competitor. Diners will enjoy a four-course meal featuring traditional tapas-style dishes, fresh Arctic Char, free-range Icelandic lamb, and Skyr of the Vikings. Prepared onsite with fresh ingredients flown in from Iceland, this special menu will be offered for $85 per person (tax, gratuity, and beverages not included). For reservations, call 617-234-8026 or email

Reykjavik Calling Concert
March 15 | 8PM | The Middle East Restaurant & Nightclub | 472-480 Mass Ave. | Cambridge
The free Reykjavik Calling concert combines three of Iceland’s most talented musicians with two Boston-area musicians for a night of spectacular collaborations. Past Reykjavik Calling performers have included of Monsters and Men, Asgeir Trausti, Lay Low and many more. Presented by WERS 88.9 FM and Iceland Naturally, admission to the concert is free and will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m. Click here to RSVP.
Icelandic musicians: Hermigervill (Electronic) | Retro Stefson (Electronic/Alternative) | Sin Fang (Indie/Electronic)
Boston musicians: The Love Experiment (Indie/R&B) | Skinny Bones (Folk)

Reyka Vodka Craft Cocktail Class
March 16 | 4PM | The Liberty Hotel | 215 Charles St. | Boston
New to Taste of Iceland in Boston, this special, hands-on craft cocktail class will teach participants to artfully assemble cocktails using Icelandic Reyka Vodka. Led by Liberty Hotel Mixologist Juan Carlos Perez, the class is free and attendance is limited to 50. Click here to reserve your ticket (required for entry). Must be 21 years or older to participate.

6) On Sunday, March 9, from 3 p.m.– 9 p.m., Forum Bar & Restaurant invites guests for a Marathon tailgate that “goes the distance!” in the support of Forum Director of Event and Marketing Erinn Fleming, along with fellow runner Peter Riddle and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation on their journey to completing the 26.2 mile 2014 Boston Marathon on April 21.

Having been introduced to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation in 2013, Fleming was immediately captivated by their mission to provide support for individuals and families coping with cancer. On April 15th of last year, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation held a team-watch party for the 2013 Boston Marathon at Forum that was brought to an abrupt stop.

This year, Fleming, Riddle, and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation are teaming up to finish what they started by running, supporting, and continuing to raise funds for those affected by cancer. “I’m running because I cannot be inside Forum looking out again,” says Fleming. “I’m running because my chest tightens and my eyes tear up every time I think about it. I’m running because there’s a voice inside my head that said you should, you will, you are, you can.”

Cocktails and light appetizers will be served while items including Red Sox tickets, a weekend getaway to New York City, and more are auctioned off.

There is no cover for this event. Suggested donation of $20 in support of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. To make an online donation, please visit:

7) On March 4, from 5pm-1:30am, Executive Chef Eric Gburski will embrace the spirit of New Orleans by offering exclusive Mardi Gras specials at his southern-style hotspot, Estelle's . To celebrate Carnival in the South End, Chef Gburski will offer a two-course prix fixe menu that will give revelers a night of pure “Fat Tuesday” indulgence. To start, there is the Traditional Andouille Sausage & Smoked Chicken Gumbo. For the main course, Chef Gburski offers up a choice of two entrees: Braised Duck & Andouille Sausage Etouffee or Estelle's Creole Seafood Jambalaya.

On the liquid side, Bar Manager Jen LaForge will be shaking up the South End Hurricane, a festive Bourbon Street-inspired mix of Prichard's Peach Mango Rum, Cruzan Pineapple Rum, amaretto, Don Ciccio Hibiscus liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice and pomegranate juice that is garnished with pomegranate seeds and a lime wheel.

COST: Two-course prix fixe: $30.95 South End Hurricane: $9.95
For reservations, please call 857-250-2999.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Boston Wine Expo: An Overview With Food

Intriguing Georgian wines made in traditional clay pots. An abundance of value Portuguese wines. Killer wines from small, artisan producers in Burgundy. Compelling Rhône blends from California. Superb high-end Spanish wines. Grass-fed beef from Uruguay. Hanging out with wine lovers Rob Ciampa and Todd Trzaskos. These are all some of the highlights of my time at the Boston Wine Expo this year.

With a media pass, I attended the trade hours of the Expo on both Saturday and Sunday, and also visited the Vintner's Reserve Lounge on Sunday afternoon. With over 185 wineries showcasing their wines, I could only sample a small fraction of the available wines so choices had to be made, many before I even showed up at the Expo. As I mentioned before, it can be helpful to do some research before hand, to check the exhibitor list and decide where you would like to taste. I always have some flexibility too, in case I find something else compelling that I missed on my prior research.

Overall, the Grand Tasting has a greater diversity of wines than what I found at the Mohegan Sun WineFest Grand Tasting, but still could work on acquiring an even better diversity. For example, there was only a single Sake exhibitor and the South Africa tables were far fewer than last year. There was no Sherry and few local wines. The Expo should be an opportunity to offer different wines, that consumers may know little about, to hopefully make them converts. I'm sure there are economic reasons why some smaller producers won't attend the Expo, but I think there are still plenty of others who could exhibit there who do not currently.

There were a number of food exhibitors at the Expo, offering free samples of their products, from Harrows Chicken Pies to McCrea's Candies. With all the wine tasting, it is beneficial to have food to absorb the alcohol and cleanse the palate. And it can also be interesting to pair some of these foods with the wines you are tasting. While sampling a hearty red wine, it can be nice to have a piece of beef to accompany your taste. You could have tried some chocolate with a Port. There were plenty of pairing options.

I want to present my top three food finds from the Expo, items I recommend to my readers.

Del Terruno, which means "from my small corner of the earth," offered samples of their free range, grass fed beef from Uruguay. The cows are raised in open fields and eat grass throughout the entire year. They are not fed corn at all. This meat is intended to be as natural as possible and the company tries to adhere to good environmental practices. Their meat has excellent traceability, and can be tracked back to the original animal. The meat is lean, but flavorful with more of an earthy taste than the beef you are used to eating. And it made a good pairing with several different red wines. I'll admit that I enjoyed several tastes of this beef during the Expo, finding myself passing by their table multiple times during each day.

The idea of Pasta Chips intrigued me, kind of oven baked crackers made from pasta, so I was curious to taste them at the Expo. Made from semolina flour and Italian herbs, there are currently five different flavors of these chips including Alfredo, Marinara, Spicy Tomato Herb, Garlic & Olive Oil, and Sea Salt. A 5 ounce bag costs about $4. I was impressed, and nearly addicted, with these chips, which were thin but sturdy, had appealing flavors and a nice crunch. The Garlic & Oil was one of my favorite flavors, with a strong garlic taste, though I also very much liked the Alfredo, which had a prominent cheese kick. The chips are strong enough for even a thick dip, though I like them just the way they are.

Pickled vegetables and cherries. Tillen Farms, founded by Tim and Helen Metzger, makes a line of pickled veggies, about ten different kinds, as well as four types of jarred cherries. They promote that their products are more natural, avoiding artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. If you have food allergies, a number of their products may also be good for you. For example, the Crispy Pickled Carrots are Gluten-Free, Vegan and made in a nut free facility. They were also delicious, with plenty of crispness and a mild pickled flavor. Some of their other pickled veggies include asparagus, beans and snap peas.

Their cherry types include Rainier Reserve, Bada Bing, Pink Blush and Merry Maraschino. Again, these are intended to be more natural with no artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. I tried all four cherries and each had their own specific taste and you got a sense of freshness from all of them, a lack of the artificial flavor you might be used to in many commercial maraschino cherries. They would be nice additions to a cocktail. They even suggested soaking the Bada Bing cherries in some bourbon for a special cocktail treat.

This year, I also visited the Vintner's Reserve Lounge for the first time since 2008, when I had a very disappointing time which soured me on that event. I can now say that the event has undergone some significant changes, and has become a far better event. First, and very importantly, they now serve a variety of foods at the Vintner's event, and not just cheese & crackers. There were 9 restaurants at the event, providing items like oysters, beef wellington, and seared halloumi. Second, there were no timed tastings. All of the wines were available throughout the entire event.

As limited tickets are sold, this is a much more casual event with few lines at the tables. And there were a number of chairs where you could sit and enjoy some of the sampled wines and foods. There were approximately 100 high-end wines available for sampling, about 60% which were from the U.S., primarily California. Another 20% of the wines were from France, with other wines from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Portugal and Canada. Once again, I wish there was more diversity in the selections. For example, there was only a single wine from Portugal, and it wasn't even a Port. There were also almost no sparkling wines at the event.

However, I was impressed with nearly all of the wines I tasted in the lounge and would return to this event next year. Tickets for the Vintner's Reserve Lounge cost $185 and I think it is worth it for a wine lover who wants to taste higher-end wines they might not usually purchase. The addition of all the food exhibitors to this event makes it a better deal than if it were only for the wine.

And if you missed the Vintner's Reserve Lounge this year, you missed seeing Chef Jose Duarte, of Taranta, serving a dish made with Del Terruno beef. Check out his Google Glass! Though he is still getting used to them, he had much positive to say about it and thinks they will be beneficial to chefs. And of course, his dish was delicious.

(During the next couple weeks, I'll be posting reviews of the wines I most enjoyed at the Expo.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) A Disneyland for Sake? Rocket News 24 reported about a "Niigata sake theme park," Ponshukan and I did a little additional research on this intriguing place. Ponshukan has four primary Sake-related attractions, including a restaurant and souvenir shop. The restaurant showcases many local Niigata ingredients, including Koshihikari rice. To relax, and rejuvenate your skin, you & can visit their Sake Bath, an onsen (hot spring) where specially prepared Sake has been added to the water. The amino acids in Sake include a few which are beneficial skin, and numerous cosmetic products, made with Sake, are available, from bath gels to soaps.

The last attraction is a wall of Sake jidō-hanbaiki (vending machines), 117 in all! 95 of those dispensers are dedicated to Niigata breweries, and the remaining 22 are from different Prefectures, and that selection rotates regularly. It costs 100 yen for a cup of Sake, and at the current exchange rate, that is roughly equivalent to $1 U.S. That is certainly a cheap way to conduct your own Sake tasting. It would be a great place to spend several hours, tasting through their entire line-up. Yes, that would be akin to Disneyland for me.

2) Some good news from the New York Times, reporting on plans of the Japanese government to promote Sake. Japan is looking to boost exports of some of their cultural products, like Sake, to help their economy. One of the new programs is funding Sake tasting booths at international airports. The goal of the government is to increase Sake and rice-based exports five-fold during the next six years. The article cites some of the problems of Sake's entry into the, which is currently their largest market. One of the problems is misconceptions about Sake, requiring increased education. The Japan External Trade Organization is increasing their own Sake education efforts, and Sake advocates, like myself, are trying to do our part too. Let us hope all these efforts lead to increased imports of Sake, and a spread across the U.S. of greater passion for this wondrous Japanese beverage.

3) In some sad news, Channel NewsAsia is reporting that the Sake breweries of the Fukushima region are having difficulties. In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami brutalized the Tohoku region, and caused meltdowns at the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant. Initially, after the disaster, there was a rallying call to support the Sake breweries that had been adversely affected by this disaster. However, it appears that recently, the support of these breweries has waned, partially due to fears of lingering radiation. The Sake breweries though want people to know the water they use to produce their Sake is perfectly safe, from sources high in the mountains, and have been thoroughly tested to ensure they are safe. We need to support the Fukushima Sake breweries, so that these quality breweries, with vibrant histories, do not vanish. Don't let fear mongering prevent you from purchasing their Sake.

4) Should you drink hot Sake? Over at Eat North, there is an interesting article by Elise Gee concerning heating Sake. Elise discusses the role of the o-kan-ban, the various temperature classes, and how to eat Sake at home. I'll add a little history here to supplement her article. Prior to the 18th century, heating Sake was done occasionally and was not the norm. It was more often drank at room temperature, and sometimes serve chilled. However, during the 1700s, heating Sake became commonplace with everyone, and it is thought this was due in large part to Chinese beliefs that hot beverages were good for your health. The written character for kan, the general term for warmed Sake, wasn't created until around the end of the 17th century. Premium Sake often tastes better when slightly chilled, but some are also very good when gently warmed. Experiment at home.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Rant: Bronuts, Ramen Burgers & the Doh! Nut

When the Cronut craze struck, Griddler's created their own Bronuts, a burger topped by a fried egg, and with a maple-bacon glazed donut as the bun. It was recently reported that PYT, a restaurant in Philadelphia, will open a location in Boston, bringing with them the Doh! Nut, a cheeseburger topped by chocolate-covered bacon and with a glazed donut bun. And Boston Magazine has been discussing the new Ramen Burger at Ki Bistro, which has a bun made of ramen noodles. I'm positive that other strange burgers, as well as other unusual food combinations, will continue to be created and promoted, discussed and debated.

When these items get discussed on social media, many people evidence their disgust, including plenty of food writers. People complain that such items are way over the top, that there is no need for such strange combinations. They state that they wouldn't eat such items, that they have much better taste than to consume such a monstrosity. These unusual foods are seen more as a joke than anything serious, and thus worthy of being ridiculed.

Doth protest too much! And sorry, but I'm not buying it.

A significant number of these people will still eat, at least once, these strange burgers and other concoctions. They might claim it is in the name of research or journalism, that they are somehow obligated to eat these items. However, that is probably not the case. It is much more likely a voluntary choice and partially a desire to garner more readers by covering a hot topic. There is also a significant element that deep down, most passionate food lovers have an insatiable curiosity to try new foods, even those they claim sound disgusting.

All the burgers mentioned above, and similarly strange food combinations, are like Sirens calling to a food-loving Odysseus. You may not want to admit your desire to taste these bizarre combos, but that doesn't make the desire any less real. Though you could ignore them, there is a strong part of you that will give into your base desires and taste these items.

It doesn't make much difference if someone else gives a negative review of these items. That desire to try them, to taste for yourself, remains strong. That is also why these trends come and go, that these unusual items usually don't stay around too long. Restaurants understand that the novelty of these items has a short shelf life, but that they can capitalize on the curiosity of the public. It also drums up plenty of publicity for whatever restaurant decides to place such odd dishes on their menu.

So don't put on a superior attitude, claiming to be above such strange burgers and foods. We know there is a good chance you'll try them, that you will be helpless to resist the lure of these culinary Sirens. It won't ruin your reputation if you state that you want a taste. Just be honest and confess to your culinary curiosity.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Two "Cheese Hoards" in Concord

There are two "Cheese Hoards" at the Concord Cheese Shop, and they are interconnected, one helping to both stock and sell the other. Earlier this week, I spent time with both "hoards," tasting some of the hottest cheeses at the shop.

The shop usually stocks 150-200 different cheeses, which constitutes its first hoard. This diverse selection includes many local cheeses, as well as other artisan, small production and more unique cheeses. You'll likely to discover a number of new cheeses here, and you'll have the opportunity to taste any of them before you buy. They even have regular customers who are devotees of specific cheeses, asking for them by name. Such people are true cheese lovers.

The second "cheese hoard" is the store's cheese buyer, Brie Hurd. "Brie" is a French cheese while "Hurd" is a Middle English form of "hoard." It almost seems like destiny that someone with that name would end up working in the world of cheese, especially considering the path that originally led her to the Concord Cheese Shop. About 6 1/2 years ago, Brie started working at the shop while she was in college studying Art History and Women's Studies. Neither of those two subjects would incline you to believe Brie was headed toward a cheese career. It began as a summer job, and Brie also worked on her breaks from college.

During the holiday rush at the cheese shop, and despite working hard, long hours, Brie thrived, relishing her work. She found it to be far more enjoyment than drudgery. She stated that her college life was "punctuated by her cheese education." When she graduated from Ithaca College in 2010, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life and continued to work at the cheese shop. As time passed, her passion for cheese grew and she found her happiness there. She finally concluded that cheese would be the focus of her future.

Since then, she has continued her cheese education, even competing in various cheese competitions. And this spring, she is going on a cheese journey in England. Brie "feels like a sponge right now," constantly learning about cheese, wine, and business. She "loves touching the consumer," working with the public, creating a special rapport and bringing those customers pleasure through cheese. With the passion I felt within her, I can easily see how well she would deal with customers, spreading that passion for cheese. Brie doesn't know what her future will bring, but it will most likely continue to include cheese.

Brie led me through a tasting of some of what she believes will be the most exciting cheeses of 2014. Some other exciting cheeses are seasonal and weren't available for tasting when I was there, but if you stop by, you might find them. As I have mentioned before, good cheese is not cheap though at the cheese shop, Brie stated they won't sell any cheese for more than $39.99 per pound. They try to have a range of cheese prices, from inexpensive, value cheese to higher-end artisan ones. Their average customer purchases from 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds of cheese on a visit.

Located in the above picture, at the bottom right, is the Taleggio La Baita ($18.99/lb), a soft-ripened raw cow's milk cheese from Italy. Taleggio extends back to at least the 10th century, and historically was known as Stracchino. The name "taleggio" derives from the Taleggio Valley in Lombardy. The La Baita is made by the Carozzi family, which has 3-4 generations of cheese makers. The cheese shop won't carry Taleggio produced by anyone else except the Carozzi family. This cheese has a nice firmness and isn't runny. It is creamy and smooth, with a full and buttery flavor, enhanced by the saltiness of the rind. There is a slight tang to the taste, enhancing its complexity. This would be a nice cheese with sparkling wine.

Located in the above picture, on the left side, is the Napolean ($36.99/lb), a raw sheep’s milk from the Pyrenees region of France. There is a mountain, called Le Nez de Napolean, which faces the farm and that is where the cheese gets its name. The top of the mountain allegedly resembles a profile of Napolean. This cheese is produced in a traditional Basque style, aged for 24 months, and is Brie's favorite sheep's milk cheese. It has an intriguing firmness, almost a fudgy texture, in your mouth, with a deep, nutty and savory flavor. It is an elegant cheese and Brie recommends pairing it with some honey.

Produced in the Minho region of Portugal, the Bica De Queijo ($29.99/lb) is a blend of goat (70%), cow (25%) and sheep's (5%) milks. The name roughly translates as "bag of cheese."  The closeness of the ocean adds a saltiness to the the area where the animals graze, and that saltiness comes out in the cheese. When the cheese is being made, it is washed with white wine and sweet red pepper. The wheel of cheese looks compelling, almost like a small gift package, and the shop has only started carrying it during the past year. This is a silky smooth cheese, with a fresh and mild taste with hints of butter and a mild herbality. This is the type of cheese that would appeal to a wide audience, a real crowd pleaser. Pair this cheese with a Portuguese white wine, like a Vinho Verde, and enjoy.

Though I enjoyed all four of the cheeses, my personal favorite was the stunning Lamuse Aged Gouda ($28.99/lb), a raw cow's milk cheese. Gouda has been produced as far back as the 5th century and takes its name from a city in the Netherlands. This Gouda is aged for about two years, and at mid-range temperatures rather than the usual cool temperatures many others use. With a rich amber, almost orange, coloration, the aroma of this cheese will first impress you, with its complex and alluring melange of aromas. When you taste it, your mouth will be flooded with a harmonious blend of flavors, including butterscotch, nuts, caramel, and savory elements. You also get some crunch from protein crystals, enhancing the sensory experience. Though firm, it also seems to nearly melt in your mouth. Highly recommended!

I also got to taste another decadent delight, the Moliterno al Tartufo ($29.99/lb), a Sardinian sheep's milk cheese that has been aged for 5-6 months, with the exterior rubbed by vinegar and olive oil. After this aging period, it is injected with black truffle paste, which creates those dark veins through the cheese. This is another cheese with an alluring aroma, a rich, earthiness that will remind you of fresh mushrooms. And that taste follows up, presenting an umami-rich earthiness that is a savory paradise. The truffle flavors are enhanced by the salty and herbal tang of the cheese. I would like to pair this with a Kimoto/Yamahai Sake, which possesses its own strong umami taste. Together, the sake and cheese would create an umami bomb of savoriness. Highly recommended.

Though not cheese related, I need to mention that the LaCuesta Vermouth Reserve ($19.99) is available at the shop. At the recent Mohegan Sun WineFest, I raved about this Spanish Vermouth, and learned that it has been a hot seller at the shop too. This is an interesting and delicious Vermouth and it is great to know that it is available here.

Go to the shop for the cheese, and pick up some excellent wines too!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

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 Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, will be holding another special wine tasting event on Saturday, March 1, from 1pm-5pm. 2014. The Wine ConneXtion has winnowed down a list of Cabernet Sauvignon wines, including omitting famous brands such as Caymus and Silver Oak, to give way to the “Rise of the Underdogs.” Guests will have an opportunity to sample some of the more unknown, yet delicious, Cabernet on the market.

Guests will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite Cab of the afternoon. Regardless of the winner, all of the featured wines will be available to purchase for a special price throughout the day. This his tasting is free to the public and, as always, walk-ins are welcome all day. *Please note: Must be 21 or older.

2) Executive Chef Paul Turano of Tryst has launched a new menu with unique takes on classic American cuisine. The new dinner menu stays true to the cuisine Chef Turano has always served, but now offers guests a wider selection of both small and large plates. Perfect for something light or for sharing, guests can choose from a selection of starters such as the Snacking Plate, chorizo stuffed dates, Serrano ham, peppadews, olives & almonds ($10), Oxtail Arancini, Barolo syrup & shaved Piave ($8), and Steak Tostada with capers, radish & cress ($10), or opt for fresh fare, a selection of salads including Chef Turano’s famed Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad ($11).

For entrée-portioned dishes, Chef’s “larger plate” section of the menu has something from everyone. From the newly added Cioppino, local white fish, gulf prawns, mussels, Sardinian cous cous ($25), Chili Glazed Pork Shank, stir fried vegetables & quinoa ($20), Roasted & Pulled Pork Sandwich ($12) to some of his staples such as the Faroe Island Salmon and Bourbon Marinated Steak Tips, the new selection of dishes will please any palate.

Tryst’s new dinner menu will be available now through spring 2014 when new seasonal dishes will appear.

3) Chef Ed Hoffey invites home cooks to the Heirloom Kitchen’s Dedham storefront to sharpen their culinary chops with a hands-on cooking class series geared towards families on the go.

Heirloom Kitchen launches its monthly “Cooking for Real Families” culinary class series on Saturday, March 1, from 7pm-9pm, as Chef Ed Hoffey leads a hands-on session on creating the perfect pasta feast for everyone in the family, including those with dietary restrictions and picky palates. Attendees will join Chef Hoffey in Heirloom Kitchen’s spacious open kitchen, working side-by-side to prepare home-style favorites from scratch:

· Use local greens and vegetables to assemble the perfect Simple Greens salad with a fresh lemon herb vinaigrette
· Learn to mix, roll, and cut Pastas like papparedelle and tagliatelle by hand and get pointers on eggless and gluten-free modifications that make it easy to accommodate dietary restrictions at home
· Cook up Heirloom Kitchen’s signature scratch-made sauces: a veggie-rich take on the classic Pomodoro; Pistou, a herbaceous Provençal sauce that is a nut-free alternative to pesto; and Creamy Parmesan sauce with comfort-food appeal for kids of all ages

After two hours of stirring, simmering, and slicing appropriate for any level of expertise, attendees will take home the delicious results of their hard work, along with recipes, tips, and techniques that make it easy for families to gather around their kitchen tables for a homemade meal.

COST: $55 per person including all supplies and ingredients
Classes are limited to ten guests to ensure opportunities for one-on-one learning and conversation.
Reservations are required; please call 781-326-4060 to learn more or secure your spot.

4) On Sunday, March 9, from 11am-1pm, Ristorante Olivio, located in Arlington, will open its doors for a special brunch to help raise money for the Boston Children’s Hospital Marathon Team, Miles for Miracles. Traditionally only open for dinner, Executive Chef/Owner Angelo “Uncle Ang” DiGirolamo will be dishing up breakfast classics in support of his son, Vince DiGirolamo’s marathon run and fundraising efforts.

Vince has devoted the past few months to training for the 2014 Boston Marathon while raising mosey to go toward helping patients at Boston Children’s Hospital—such as his 13 year-old patient partner, Jack G. In addition to training for the marathon, Vince has created, where he posts about his experiences, updates, and his own inspiration for supporters to track his progress. To donate to Vince’s marathon run, please visit

For just $25 per person, family, friends and guests are invited in for a special brunch buffet featuring dishes such as: French toast panini, filled with fig, banana and mascarpone jam, ricotta pancakes and an assortment of frittatas and omelets. Chef DiGirolamo will be donating 100% of proceeds to his son’s fundraiser, all of which will be used to help Boston Children’s Hospital provide the best possible care to children and their families in a time of need.

Reservations are necessary and can be made by calling (781) 648-2300.

5)Laissez les bons temps rouler!" is a Cajun expression meaning "Let the good times roll!" and it strongly conveys the joie de vivre ("joy of living") attitude of The Beehive’s 7th Annual Mardi Gras celebration on Tuesday, March 4. The South End hot spot has spared no expense in making this year’s festivities as authentic as possible. Diners and party goers alike can look forward to the traditional jazz style of BT New Orleans 2nd Line Brass Band which will keep the crowd singing and swinging all night long!

From 8pm-12am, Boston-based trombonist Brian Thomas, one of the most sought after musicians in the country, and his brass band will take The Beehive’s stage. Brian has been playing trombone since the age of 10 in his hometown of Rochester, NY and leads his own jazz quartet, big band, and funk power house Akashic Record, each of which feature his original compositions.

From 5pm-12am, guests can indulge in Chef Marc Orfaly’s Cajun inspired à la carte specials featuring authentic NOLA-style dishes such as Louisiana shrimp and grits, pan-fried catfish and Cajun seafood jambalaya. In addition to dinner, Mardi Gras revelers can enjoy entertainment at one of The Beehive’s two bars along with a celebratory Hurricane cocktail and complimentary Mardi Gras beads before hitting the dance floor! There is no cover charge for this event. Regular menu served in addition to all special items.

Reservations recommended, so please call 617-423-0069.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Seafood Expo North America: Why You Should Go

Grab your snorkel and mask, watch old episodes of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and get ready for the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), which is returning to Boston from March 16-18. I'll definitely be there, my fifth year of attendance, but will you?

If you are a writer, and cover any topics related to seafood, from recipes to sustainability, then I strongly encourage you to attend. As I have said before, "the seafood show is fertile soil for a myriad of story ideas as each exhibit booth has its own unique and interesting story." Any writer who attends this show should easily find the seeds for at least a dozen stories, and likely many more.

SENA is a huge trade show, and there will be over 1000 exhibitors, from over 40 countries, showcasing a wide diversity of products and services. This is an excellent place to learn more about a myriad of seafood issues, to talk to numerous seafood businesses, to explore the seafood industry. You can learn more about different countries, such as by visiting the Japanese Pavilion. In addition, the show is fun, with plenty of delicious seafood samples, from lobster to oysters. Ever had salmon bacon? Fried alligator? You never know what might be available to sample at SENA.

We all know that seafood is at the crux of some of the most important food issues in the world. The range of seafood topics touches on so many crucial matters, from sustainability to health. Not only is it delicious, but it provides numerous health benefits. It is integral to the economic health of many local businesses, from fishermen to restaurants. The potential extinction of certain fish species is a major concern that needs to be addressed. These are all issues which need more coverage by the media, and which you can make your own contributions.

Why do I care? First, I view our local writers and bloggers as a community and I believe we all benefit by helping each other, giving recommendations for excellent events. Second, I feel that seafood is a vital topic which more people need to write about so that we raise attention to all of its urgent issues. That will benefit all of us in many ways. It is with greater exposure and cooperative efforts that we can cause change in the seafood industry.

As an added incentive, iPura, a food safety company, is holding their 4th Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest. The concept is for local bloggers to tweet and blog about SENA and then their writings will be assessed by an impartial judge. You will be judged on the quality, content, creativity/originality, number of entries, and depth of your tweets and blog posts concerning SENA. The Winner receives a prize of $1000! Certainly a worthy prize and I am proud to say that I won last year's competition. Of course I will be entering the contest again, to try to maintain my crown, and I encourage all local bloggers to toss their hats in the ring too and try to win.  

And as another incentive, SENA is also held in conjunction with the New England Food Show, where you will find a plethora of food and drink related products and services, from wine to cheese, spirits to locally produced foods. You can easily visit both shows, and the Food Show will give you fodder for even more stories. If you go to both of these shows, you won't be able to complain about writer's block for months at least.

So I hope to see you this year at the Seafood Expo North America. And if you want to read more about SENA, check out my posts from last year's show.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fish Restaurant: Calamari, Sword Fish Chop & Bacon Beignets

American seafood consumption has been on a decline, and annual consumption is significantly lower than the USDA recommendations. This is despite the fact that eating seafood twice a week reduces the chances of dying from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S., by 36%. There is a mountain of scientific evidence supporting that health statistic so why aren't Americans paying attention? It is imperative that Americans eat more seafood and dining at Fish Restaurant & Wine Bar may help motivate you.

The Fish Restaurant is located in Marlborough, easily located on Route 20, and it is only about 30 miles from Boston. You might think Marlboro is too far to go for dinner but it is well worth the short trip. And you could sit in Boston traffic for the same amount of time that it would take you to reach Marlboro. If you live north of Boston, it is easy to get to Marlboro by taking Route 128 South to Route 20 West. Route 20 West has plenty of shops, wine stores, restaurants, and other sights, and would make for a great spring or summer jaunt, ending with dinner at Fish Restaurant.

The restaurant was once named Coral Seafood and there is still a second location of Coral Seafood still existent in Worcester. Fish Restaurant is owned by George Voyiatzis, the son of Ted and Georgia Voyiatzis who originally owned Coral Seafood. Their other son, Jim, operates the Worcester restaurant, which is more of a "mom & pop" place. Fish Restaurant was a rebranding, an attempt to make a bit more upscale restaurant, but still very approachable. I was invited as a media guest to check out the restaurant, to see what it is all about. I left, well sated and impressed with what I found at Fish Restaurant.

You will find an elegant ambiance, but is far from pretentious. You can sit at the long, well-stocked bar, or at one of the tables in the bar area. Or you can choose to sit in the dining room, at one of the tables of the large semi-circular booths. It has a capacity of around 150 people, doesn't feel over crowded and sound levels seems under control. There is a more private section of booths and tables which also can be used for large groups.

Approximately a year ago, Fish Restaurant hired a new executive chef, Sasha St. Germain, who had previously been their guest chef at a winemaker dinner. Sasha is originally from the Ukraine and has worked at some top restaurants in New York City, including Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurant, and Marcus Samuelsson's Riingo and Aquavit. He is still a young chef, and despite a bit of a shy nature, there is clear passion within him. You can see the roots of his Ukranian upbringing in some of his cuisine, especially his love for pickling. He also embraces the use of local, seasonal and more natural ingredients.

As their primary focus is seafood, they regularly send their own truck down to the Boston Fish Pier to purchase fresh fish. As the Voyiatzis family has a long history with seafood purchasing, they are very knowledgeable as to how to select and buy the best seafood. The restaurant's menu changes regularly, dependent on what seafood is seasonal and available. They also try to be sustainable, understanding that is not always easy to do. In addition, they try to purchase only organic meat, which is locally obtained if possible. Their produce also tends to be seasonal, and local when available. The most popular seafood at their restaurant tends to be scallops.

Ian Nal, is the General Manager and Beverage Director, in charge of the cocktail and wine list. He is originally from Belize, a certified sommelier, and has also worked in a number of top New York City restaurants. Ian selected and explained the wines we had accompanied to our dinner, and was personable, knowledgeable and an engaging conversationalist. He has crafted an intriguing and diverse beverage program for Fish Restaurant.

You'll find 6 beers on tap, nearly all from Massachusetts breweries, and about 11 beers by the bottle and 1 hard cider. There is a fully stocked bar and their special cocktails, priced $9-$10, are seasonal, and currently center on Winter cocktails. I started the evening with the Spanish Armada (pictured above), which is made from Torres Gran Reserva 10 year old Brandy, Fig Puree and Lustau East India Sherry. It had a prominent dried fruit and fig flavor, with some nutty elements. It was nicely balanced, without being too sweet, and I could have easily drank a few of these. I also tasted one of their forthcoming Spring cocktails, the Shy Geisha, which is made with Korean Soju. Once again, it was a well balanced cocktail, with only a mild sweetness. The Spanish Armada was a hearty choice for a cold, winter evening, while the Shy Geisha was lighter, a promise of the spring.

I was enamored with the diversity of the wine list, its intriguing blend of classic grapes and more obscure ones. They offer about 28 wines by the glass, priced $8-$19 though most range $8-$10. You'll also find over 100 wines by the bottle. You'll find plenty of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also intriguing grapes like Bobal, Pinot Meunier, Godello, and Gruner Veltliner. Pricing is generally reasonable, and you'll find plenty of bottles priced under $50. Wine lovers will love exploring the options on this wine list. Showing its devotion to their wine program, the restaurant's staff receives wine training every two weeks.

Fish Restaurant serves both lunch and dinner, and is open seven days a week. The menu has a Raw Bar, with items such as cherrystone clams, lobster tail, and shrimp cocktail. There are also at least 5 types of oysters, most local and priced at $2.25 each. The Dinner menu includes Soups (2 choices at $8 each, like Clam Chowder), Salads (2 choices at $7-$8), Appetizers (9 choices at $10-$17), New England Favorites (3 choices at $21-$27, all fried seafood selections), Lobsters (4 choices at $25-$43), Meats (4 choices at $23-$31, beef & chicken), Surf & Turf (2 choices at $39-$43), Seafood (8 choices at $20-$30), Vegetarian (2 choices at $18-$20), Sandwiches (2 choices at $14-$21), and Sides (9 choices at $4-$8).

The menu offers plenty of choices, without overwhelming the consumer, and most of the selections are under $30. As you can see, the focus is on seafood but there are plenty of options for those who don't want seafood. Remember too that the menu changes on a regular basis, and there will likely be specials, dependent on what is available each day.

We began our meal with a Shellfish Sampler ($17), a selection of oysters, cherrystone clams, and jumbo shrimp. I've ranted before about the disturbing fact that the U.S. imports an astounding 91% of their seafood, and I have implored Americans to eat more domestic seafood. Imported shrimp is one of the largest components of this statistic. Fortunately, Fish Restaurant uses only domestic Gulf shrimp, which earns them special kudos from me. And they were good-sized and delicious, with an excellent, firm texture. The oysters and clams were very good too, each with their own unique flavor. A fine way to begin our dinner.

Our first wine of the evening was the 2010 Olivier Leflaive Aligote, a crisp and clean wine with strong minerality and hints of apple. It was an excellent match for the raw seafood, especially the briny oysters.

Our meal progressed onto some more raw seafood. The Scallop Crudo was made with a watermelon ponzu, black garlic, dill, and cantaloupe pearls. Tender scallops were enhanced by the sweetness of the black garlic, and the acidity of the ponzu helped to balance out the dish. A dish I would order again.

The Ahi Tuna Ceviche was made with an avocado mousse, sweet pickled jalapeno, and a blood orange vinaigrette. Again, the fish was silky and tender, and the fatty avocado was balanced by the acidity of the blood orange, and the mild heat of the jalapeno.

Our next wine was the 2011 Domaine Barmes-Buecher "Rosenberg" Pinot Blanc, an Alsatian wine from a Biodynamic producer. It was more full bodied, with a nice acidity, and an intriguing mix of peach and herbal notes. Alsatian white wines are excellent choices for seafood.

Moving on to a few appetizers, the Crispy Calamari ($10), with cherry peppers & miso aioli, was one of the best fried calamari I have ever tasted. The coating was clean and crisp, and the calamari could not have been any more tender. It melted in your mouth and I could have inhaled the entire dish. Even if you think you dislike calamari, this dish will change your mind. Highly recommended.

The Grilled Octopus ($12) also impressed me. Made with sherry-braised beets, radish, and green goddess dressing, the tentacle pieces were very tender, with a nice smoky flavor. It is clear the kitchen knows how to properly prepare squid and octopus to ensure it is tender and not rubbery. It is a positive sign of the quality of the kitchen.

One of the non-seafood dishes, the Duck Rillettes ($11) are topped by a red grape gelee and accompanied by cornichons and pickled onions. Smearing the rillettes on the bread, it made for an earthy and savory spread, with a little sweetness from the gelee. It was smooth and flavorful, and a nice departure from all the seafood we had enjoyed so far.

The 2011 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier was light and fruity, with a mild touch of earthiness and spice. I've previously enjoyed older vintages of this wine, and there has apparently been some changes in their winemaking in recent years, such as the use of carbonic maceration. I liked this wine though, seeing it as similar to some lighter Pinot Noirs.

As one of our entrees, we had the Diver Scallops ($23) which have roasted fingerlings, romesco sauce, hazelnuts, and a bacon-shallot marmalade. Individually, each component worked well, and the scallops were cooked just right. However, I think there were too many components on this dish, though maybe it was more the presentation that didn't work for me. Specifically, I didn't think the romesco and marmalade worked well together. As the dish was presented, it almost seemed as if all the elements were intended to blend together. If the scallops and marmalade had been separated from the potatoes and romesco, I would have enjoyed it much more.

The Braised Short Rib ($26), with rutabaga puree, braised cippolini onions, and trumpet royal mushrooms, is for the non-fish lovers though it would please anyone. The short rib is braised for about six hours and later pressed down into large squares of very tender and flavorful meat. For a carnivore like myself, this was a compelling dish.

The highlight of the entrees was the Swordfish Chop, a special entree which is not always available. As there are only two chops on a swordfish, availability is limited and the preparation varies all the time. We had the chop topped by a chimichurri sauce, and it was meaty, moist and tender. This was a huge hunk of fish, and it was cooked perfectly, with a delectable sauce enhancing the natural flavors of the fish. Another highly recommended dish, and you might even want to call ahead before your dinner reservation to have them save you a chop.

With these entrees, I greatly enjoyed the 2009 Bodegas Mustiguillo Mestis, a Spanish red blend made of 50% Bobal, 30% Tempranillo and a mix of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. An interesting melange of flavors, including red and blue fruits, hints of spice, and a touch of smokiness. Smooth and easy drinking, but with plenty of complexity. A nice accompaniment to hearty dishes and beef.

The Dessert menu has 6 choices, priced $8-$12, and includes items from a Pear & Cranberry Cobbler to a Cheese Plate. We had two of those selections, including the Chocolate Ganache a L'Orange ($8.50) which comes with a citrus salad & lime ricotta. This dish was elegantly presented, and the chocolate was rich and creamy, with a crunchy vanilla tuile. Big enough to share, it will satisfy your sweet tooth.

My favorite though was the Cinnamon Bacon Beignets ($8), a mound of small, donut holes covered with cinnamon and bacon dust. It is accompanied by a bacon, maple caramel dip which enhanced the light, fluffy donuts. It was more of a subtle dip, without any flavor overwhelming the others. These beignets are addictive, and it is far too easy to pop one after another into your mouth, no matter how much you ate for dinner. A highly recommended dessert.

With dessert, we had a fine choice, the Blandy's 5 Year Old Malmsey Madeira. A nice, balanced taste of dried fruits, nuts, caramel and honey. More people need to enjoy Madeira.

The restaurant possesses an admirable philosophy on sourcing, attempting to be sustainable, seasonal and local, balanced by the difficulties and practicalities of operating a restaurant. Their beverage program is also admirable, with seasonal cocktails and an intriguing and diverse wine list. Kudos to Ian for all his work in regards to the cocktails and wine. The food is prepared well, and the quality and quantity of each dish is compelling. Kudos to Chef St. Germain for his work in the kitchen, and retaining him as their new Executive Chef was a great idea. I cannot wait to return to Fish Restaurant, to check out lunch and other items on the dinner menu. It garners my highest recommendation and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out.

FISH Restaurant & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rant: A Vinous Indiana Jones

Raiders Of The Lost Ark was a major hit, becoming the highest grossing film in the U.S. in 1981. I remember seeing this movie in the theater, and felt transported as the adventure progressed upon the great screen. The film evoked a sense of wonder, presenting a story of exploration and discovery, an adventure that traveled to exotic, foreign lands. It presented a mystery, which led to research into ancient traditions and cultures. There were negative forces that wanted to assert a monolithic thinking upon the world, to crush any desire for diversity.

I feel like a vinous Indiana Jones.

In a recent rant, Robert Parker lashed out against those who enjoy, promote and advocate for more esoteric grapes. He referred to them as "...some godforsaken grapes that, in hundreds and hundreds of years of viticulture, wine consumption, etc., have never gotten traction because they are rarely of interest.." He continued to say that such wines are " truth, rarely palatable unless lost in a larger blend..." I think Parker has lost that sense of wonder about wine.

To me, a large part of wine is exploration and discovery, the adventure of seeking out the vast diversity in wine, including many hundreds of different grapes. That exploration has taken me to wine regions all over the world, and back thousands of years in history, seeking the origins of rare grapes. It is the mystery of these esoteric grapes which beckon to my soul, which cry out for tasting and investigation. Like Indiana Jones, I am off on a vinous adventure, resisting the negative forces trying to impose their narrow minded thinking upon the world.

I have long been a champion and advocate of more esoteric wines, grapes and regions. I like supporting the underdog. However, I only support those wines which I feel are worthy. I don't just support a wine or grape because it is obscure. It must be delicious and compelling, interesting and palate pleasing. And unlike Parker, I have found many excellent wines produced from more esoteric grapes. For example, this past weekend, I tasted intriguing wines made from grapes like Mtsvane, Krakhuna and Saperavi. Such wines have earned my support.

None of that means I ignore the classics, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. I have immense respect for them, though we all know there is plenty of rather uninspiring wine made from these grapes too. During this past weekend, I thoroughly enjoyed some exceptional wines from Burgundy, both white and red. One can enjoy both classics and the esoteric. One doesn't have to choose one over the other.

There are calls for diversity in all aspects of our society now and the wine world should be no different. We want to see more women and people of color involved in the actual wine industry, as winemakers, winery owners, sommeliers, and more. We should also seek more diversity in the wines we drink. Enjoy Chardonnay, but also understand the wonders of Godello, Arinto and Rkatsiteli. Embrace Cabernet Sauvignon but don't ignore Mencia, Touriga Franca and Caladoc.

Not every wine seeks to attain the lofty heights of Romanée-Conti. Some just want to provide a compelling and tasty wine that delivers on its price. Esoteric grapes can produce plenty of wines exactly like that. And we may never know the potential heights they can reach unless there is more experimentation with such grapes. A hidden gem might be hiding in a remote vineyard, a grape that has almost been forgotten but with vast potential. It is the folly to think we know everything about wine and which grapes make the best wine.

For me, I want to continue on the path of Indiana Jones, exploring everything that the world of wine has to offer.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

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) Restaurateurs in Portsmouth and the New Hampshire Seacoast are looking ahead to Spring and the latest edition of Restaurant Week Portsmouth and the Seacoast. Sponsored by the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, this Spring celebration will take place Thursday, April 3 – Saturday April 12, and will feature restaurants located in Portsmouth and throughout the Seacoast.

Whether you’re a local resident or a traveler, you can find what you are looking for in Portsmouth and the Seacoast, said Valerie Rochon, Tourism Director for the Chamber. “Want to shop our independent stores or rich gallery scene before dinner? Take in dinner and a show? Stay the night in one of our charming hotels? Portsmouth and the Seacoast have it all. And, if you are new to the area, Restaurant Week is a great way to introduce yourself to this charming, culinary destination.

Participating Restaurants, to date, include: Agave Mexican Bistro; Anneke Jans; BG's Boathouse; Blue Mermaid; British Beer Company; Café Nostimo; Carriage House; Cava Tapas & Wine Bar; Common Man; Dolphin Striker; Epoch at Exeter Inn; Galley Hatch; Grill 28 at Pease; Jumpin' Jays Fish Café; Library Restaurant; Martingale Wharf; Mombo Restaurant; Moxy; Orchard Street Chop Shop; Portsmouth Gas Light Co.; Radici Restaurant; Ristorante Massimo; River House; Rosa Restaurant; Rudi's Portsmouth; Harbor's Edge; Three Chimneys Inn; Vida Cantina; and Wellington Room.

2) This Valentine’s Day relive the past while making new memories at Hyatt Regency Cambridge’s renowned Spinnaker restaurant. On February 14, from 6:30PM to 9:30PM, the Hyatt is opening up the doors to the Charles View Ballroom, once the home of Spinnaker Italia, Boston’s only rotating restaurant, for a classic $70 prix fixe Valentine’s Day dinner as a nod to the romance and celebration that Spinnaker evoked.

Spend Valentine’s Day taking in the same vast and impressive views that once ushered in countless special events, engagements, birthdays and anniversaries while indulging in a variety of dining stations, operated by expert chefs. Containing a classically inspired raw bar and contemporary, New England-style dishes; including, oven roasted, garlic beef tenderloin; creamy Arborio rice with cabernet sauvignon, prosciutto and Romano Reggiano cheese; and white chocolate crème brûlée. The Spinnaker pop-up will also include signature Spinnaker cocktails as a toast to days not long forgotten.

Located on the sixteenth floor and known for its vast and impressive views of the Charles River and Boston skyline, the Spinnaker restaurant rose to fame when it opened in 1976. Evolving from a lounge to host a variety of cuisines, including northern Italian and regional inspired fare, the Spinnaker served the public for 28 years before closing its doors in 2004.While the original Spinnaker has lost all ability to in fact “spin” the renovated meeting room space, today known as the Charles View Ballroom, will transport you back in time as you walk the circumference taking in the sweeping views of today.

To make a reservation please call 617-492-1234

3) Chef & Owner Anthony Caturano is reprising his popular Gravy Sundays weekly culinary series at Prezza. Keeping in the longstanding Italian tradition of family and food, “Gravy Sundays” provides a menu of Old World-style comfort cuisine with a new special each week, served Sundays from 4pm-9pm.

Prezza’s “Gravy Sundays” menu has six homestyle options including: Gnocchi (San Marzano tomato, parmigiano - $14/$28); Meatballs (tomato, tagliatelle - $14/$28); Fried Clams (cherry peppers - $14); Linguine alle Vongole ($14/28); Veal Saltimbocca (spinach, roasted potatoes - $26); and, Chicken Parmigiano (tagliatelle, San Marzano tomato - $26).

Over the next six weeks. Chef Caturano will dish out an additional special to celebrate the return of the Prezza tradition:
February 9: Tagliatelle (pecorino cheese, black peppercorns - $14/$28)
February 16: Porchetta (roasted potatoes, braised kale - $28)
February 23: Eggplant Parmigiano ($14)
March 2: Roasted Veal Breast (stuffed with ricotta and broccoli rabe - $28)
March 9: Ricotta Gnocchi (sausage, broccoli rabe, Taleggio - $14/$28)
March 16: Pork Cheek Ravioli (aged balsamic - $14/$28)

4) On Monday, March 17, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, A Spoonful Of Ginger will offer guests the opportunity to taste the cuisine of 24 of Boston’s restaurants at the beautiful Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts. Guests will enjoy an evening of gourmet dishes prepared by some of Boston’s most renowned chefs, including David Becker, Joanne Chang, Andy Husbands, Kevin Long, and Jasper White. I have been to this event numerous times and it is a great and tasty time.

Proceeds benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI), which strives to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, as well as working with Joslin in their commitment to finding a cure. This year’s event will honor the Director and Founder of the AADI and Joslin Diabetes Center’s Director Research, Dr. George King, for his contributions to the AADI’s mission and his active role within the Asian American community.

COST: Tickets are $250 per guest
FOR TICKETS: Call 617-309-2512, e-mail or visit: