Friday, January 29, 2016

Ciders of Spain: Asturian Cider (Part 2)

(Get some background info on Asturian cider & the Ciders of Spain in Part 1 of this two-part article)

The Ciders of Spain tasting consisted of eight ciders, from four different Asturian producers,  presenting some of the diversity which can be found in that region. The tasting took place at Pastoral Artisan Pizza, Kitchen, and Bar, which provided some snacks to pair with the ciders. Paul W. Marks Co. also supplied some Spanish cheeses, which were presented with all of the fixings, including some membrillo. Cider and cheese is a no-brainer food pairing, and I certainly love the wonderful cheeses of Spain.

Chef de Cuisine Jeff Messer created a delicious wild mushroom pizza and maybe a cider isn't the first pairing you would consider for such a dish. However, there are good reasons why some of these ciders were a killer combination with the pizza. Umami is the fifth taste, often described as meaty or savory. There are a few different sources of umami and mushrooms are a rich source of guanylate, giving them a strong umami taste. Now, some of these Spanish ciders, especially the more traditional styles, possess significant amounts of glutamic acid, which also provides a strong umami taste. And when you combine two foods with umami, especially from different sources, it creates a synergistic effect that intensifies the umami taste. And that happened here, with the mushroom pizza and more traditional ciders. Just wow in your mouth, a savory explosion of flavor.

Sidra Fanjul extends back to the late 19th century, when the maternal grandfather of Don José Ramón Fanjúl Palacio established a cidery known as El Roblón.  In 1944, Antón de la Sierra changed the name of the cidery to the family name, and he passionately defended the rights of Asturian ciders, battling taxes and helping to establish the first Cider Press Association of Asturias. When Anton died, his brothers took over the cider and decided in the 1970s to auction it. Fortunately,
Anton´s sister, Josefa Fanjul, made the first and only bid, winning the cidery, and then handing over management of the business to her son Jose Antonio. Jose helped to restore and preserve some of the old equipment, eventually turning it over to his own son, Carlos, in the 1980s.

The Fanjul Sidra Natural (about $9.50/700ml) is a traditional, unfiltered sidra (with a 6% ABV) made from a blend of Asturian apples, such as Clara, Blanquina, Raxo, De la Riega, Xuanina, Perico, Verdialona, Regona and Durona de Tresali. One of its only non-traditional matters is that the sidra is fermented in oak rather than traditional chestnut. This is a dry cider, with a strong earthiness, intriguing apple flavors, some nutty accents and some tartness on the finish.  Such a delicious and compelling cider, and very different from most American-made ciders. I love its strong umami element, seeing some similarity to Kimono/Yamahai Sake. It was a superb pairing with the mushroom pizza and ended up being one of my Top Three Sidras of this tasting.

Sidra Viuda de Angelón (the "widow of Angelon") was founded in 1947 by Alfredo Ordoñez Onís at the orchards of La Alameda. In 1978 the cidery was moved to La Teyera, Nava, home of  the annual Asturian Cider Competition and the Museo de la Sidra de Asturias. It is still a family-owned and operated artisan cidery.

The 1947 Sidra de Nueva Expresion (about $13/750ml) is a petillant semi-dry cider (with a 6% ABV) made in a more modern style. It is a filtered sidra, made from estate apples, and possesses a strong, appealing apple aroma. On the palate, it presents as mostly dry, with only the slightest hint of sweetness, with a mild effervescent, enough to be a nice palate cleanser. It has delicious apple flavors with a lengthy pleasing finish. This was also one of my Top Three Sidras of the tasting.

The Viuda de Angelon Sidra Brut (about $16/750ml) is an off-dry sparkling dry cider (with a 6% ABV) that is produced by the Charmat method, creating the bubbly. It presents as mostly dry, with only a hint of sweetness, but many more bubbles than the 1947. It has a smooth, apple taste that will please many cider lovers. Personally, I preferred the milder effervescence of the 1947.

The Viuda de Angelon Sidra De Pera (about $3.50/330ml-available in a 4-pack) is a sparkling off-dry pear cider, a perry, with a 5.2% ABV. Using estate grown pears, this is an impressive cider, with a harmonious blend of earthiness with subtle pear flavor and a mild effervescence. It is dry and refreshing, with more depth than most perry ciders I have tasted before. Absolutely delicious and it too went very well with the mushroom pizza. It earns a spot in my Top Three Sidras of the tasting.

The Viuda de Angelon Daimantes De Hielo (about $21/375ml) is a sweet frost cider (with a 11.5% ABV). To make this cider, they freeze freshly pressed apple juice which is later gradually drip-thawed to concentrate the sugar and flavor intensity. It is then fermented and aged, creating a sweet dessert cider. It has an appealing aroma, with a rich, sweet taste of apples, honey, and caramel.
It was a bit too sweet for my own preferences, and I would have liked more acidity to balance the sweetness. However, it does do well with a hard cheese.

Guzmán Riestra Riestra was founded back in 1906 by Robustiano Riestra and it eventually was passed on to his daughter, Etelvina Riestra. With her husband, Ricardo Riestra Hortal, they eventually implemented some modernized advances. Today, the ciders is in the hands of Raul and Ruben Riestra, the great grandsons of the founder. The two ciders we tasted from their portfolio both are blends of apples from Asturias and Normandy.

The Sidra Natural Riestra (about $9.50/700ml) is a natural, dry, unfiltered sidra (with a 6% ABV) made in a very traditional fashion. It possesses only a very mild earthiness, with much more rich apple flavors and stronger tannins. It is dry with sour and bitter notes as well as good acidity. It went very well with the various cheeses, and it is said it holds up well with cured meats too.

The Guzman Riestra Sidra Brut Nature (about $16/750ml) is a sparkling dry sidra (with a 8% ABV) made in the Methode Champenoise. It is dry with moderate bubbles, a mild earthiness, a bright apple flavor , a hint of tropical fruit, and a pleasingly long finish. It has similar tannins to the other Riestra and this can stand up to stronger foods, like cured meats.

Sidra Trabanco was founded in 1925 by Emilio Trabanco and now the fourth generation is in control of the ciders. Over the years, the family has continued to improve the quality of their cider and add modern techniques and technology. In addition, they have expanded their business to include
a number of new products.

The Sidra Avalon (about $4/33ml, available in a 4 pack) is a semidry sparkling cider (with a 5.5% ABV). It was the most American of all of the ciders, easy-drinking, bubbly and sweet with a strong burst of apple flavor and some tartness. This would appeal to those who enjoy some of the large, commercial ciders made in the U.S. I much prefer the more dry Spanish ciders, but there is certainly a market for this type of sweeter cider.

Overall, this was a fun and educational tasting, showcasing some of the diversity that can be found in the realm of Spanish sidra. My Top Three Favorites of the tasting were the Fanjul Sidra Natural, Viuda de Angelon Sidra De Pera and the 1947 Sidra de Nueva Expression. I generally prefer more traditional ciders and I love the earthy flavors that can be found in some of them. If you enjoy cider, then you need to explore Spanish ciders, to learn about a more than 2000 year old tradition. And be sure to pair your ciders with various foods, to learn how cider be do well with many different dishes.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) Connecticut pop-up venture, [oink], is taking over the kitchen at Ribelle in Brookline for three nights in late February. Titled the “CT Chef Takeover”, the collaboration dinners are meant to give the city of Boston a taste of what Connecticut chefs are up to. The dinners will be different menus each night and will be 5-7 course tastings ranging from $65-$85.

The chefs collaborating with [oink]‘s Craig Hutchinson and Alex Lishchynsky will be Matt Wick of River Tavern on February 23rd, James Wayman of Oyster Club on February 24th, and Tyler Anderson of Millwrights on February 25th.

Ribelle owner/chef Tim Maslow and [oink] co-chef Craig Hutchinson worked together while opening Ribelle in 2013. Hutchinson became the first Chef de Cuisine of Ribelle and the restaurant received the coveted “four stars” from the Boston Globe. Since then Maslow has gone on to win Food & Wine’s Best New Chef award. Maslow offered the restaurant to Hutchinson as he will be in Montreal at a food festival for those 3 nights.

Menu’s have yet to be written and tickets go on sale soon, however these dates and chefs have been finalized.

2) On Wednesday, February 10, Tony Maws will welcome Chef Deuki Hong and writer Matt Rodbard to The Kirkland Tap & Trotter for a one-night-only event celebrating the soju-slamming, pepper-pounding, kimchi-everything adventure that is Koreatown: A Cookbook (Clarkson Potter/Publishers; on sale February 16, 2016). For two years, co-authors Hong and Rodbard gathered recipes, stories, in-the-moment photos, and thoughtful interviews from Korean American neighborhoods all across the country to comprise their portrait of a culture in Koreatown. With a penchant for global comfort foods, killer wood grill to complement the flavors of Korean barbeque, and convivial atmosphere, Kirkland is the ideal place to kick-off the cookbook tour.

DINING OPTIONS:
--Option 1: Guests can book seats at one of Kirkland’s communal tables and enjoy a family-style dinner and discussion with Hong and Rodbard, as they dig into dishes such as marinated and grilled Korean-style Beef Short Ribs; and, Kimchi and Bacon Fried Rice with Gochujang Butter. The evening includes dinner, a complimentary welcome cocktail, and a signed copy of Koreatown for $48.00 (exclusive of tax and gratuity).
--Option 2: The Kimchi and Bacon Fried Rice will be on the menu at Kirkland for any/all to enjoy that night, in addition to the restaurant’s a la carte menu. The cookbook will also be available for purchase for $30.00.

TICKETS: Advanced online ticket purchase is required for dinner at the communal table: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/feast-to-celebrate-the-debut-of-koreatown-a-cookbook-tickets-20933491637.
Space is limited, and guests are encouraged to book ASAP.
Seatings at the communal table are 6:30pm and 8:30pm. The Kirkland bar and dining room opens for a la carte dinner service at 5:30pm.

3) I'm back with a couple more restaurants which will have snow emergency specials this winter. During declared snow emergencies in the city of Boston, Coda will be offering a grilled cheese and tomato soup special. Variations may include braised beef grilled cheese among other flavors. Also during declared snow emergencies in the city of Boston, Pastoral Artisan Pizza, Kitchen, and Bar will be offering its margherita pizza with a select beer, normally priced at $24, for $18 at its bar.

4) Beginning February 1, Trystlocated in Arlington, will launch its all new pop-up concept, “Covengno” every Sunday through Tuesday from 5pm-10pm. Convegno, translating roughly to mean “tryst” in Italian, is Chef Turano’s new Italian-inspired menu which will be offered in addition to the regular menu every Sunday through Tuesday. Guests can choose from three pasta dishes including: hand cut tagliatelle with shrimp, olio santo, garlic and lemon; stuffed pasta with Sunday gravy; Roman Style Gnocchi with roasted winter vegetables, toasted pine nuts & brown butter; and orecchiette with house made chicken sausage with rabe & chilis. Each dish is $18 and will be served with a house-made to go cannoli.

Every few months Chef/Owner Paul Turano plays around with his concept. From his popular AFC, “Arlington Fried Chicken” to T’s BBQ joint, T’s Clam Shack and most recently T’s Taco Bar, each concept represents a fun trend in dining that Chef Turano and his team want to experiment with.

We like to take everyday items and play with them at the restaurant. Sometimes I think you need to pay homage to where a dish comes from, but sometimes you simply need to use the concept as a vehicle to push the concept further,” said Turano.

Convegno will launch February 1 and will be available through spring 2016 for both dine-in and take-out.

5) Osteria Nino will be opening its doors to welcome San Valentino at 3rd Ave in Burlington. Throughout Valentine’s Day weekend, this authentic Roman kitchen will be dishing out a collection of treasures from the local seas in addition to a decadent dessert.

To start, executive chef Walace Benica will serve Oysters & Shrimp with mignonette and cocktail sauce ($15). For the pasta course, there is Lobster Pappardelle with tomato and prosecco broth ($26) and the main course is a Prosciutto Wrapped Monkfish with beet risotto ($26). To end the romantic evening with something sweet, there is a Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake with chocolate covered strawberries ($10).

Osteria Nino’s all-Italian wine list has extensive sparkling options by the glass and bottle, including prosceccos, rosés, moscatos and franciacortas. Highlights include the Vigne di Alice sparkling rosé ($11/45); Sul Lievito DOCG Adami, a bone-dry prosecco with small lively bubbles ($40); and Barone Pizzini DOCG Brut, a pinot noir structure rounded out by chardonnay and bubbles ($60).

WHEN: February 12-14
For reservations please call (781) 272-1600

6) Lydia Shire alongside executive chef Simon Restrepo and executive sous chef Alex Pineda now are dishing out a seasonal menu brimming with wintertime’s most comforting tastes at ScampoItalian for “escape,” Scampo is providing diners with a winter retreat laced in delicious flavors and warm hospitality.

To whet your appetite, there are a series of new starter courses. In the “Handmade Breads” category, there is the Roti, served with or without chili, cumin lamb meatballs ($5/10) and Hot Flaky Moroccan Flatbread with petit Moroccan salad bites ($10). On the pizza side, there is a Long Cooked Broccoli & Speck with sweetened ricotta and spicy pecans ($19) and White Pizza with truffle cheese, mushroom duxelles and a Vin Santo and fig preserve ($25). The Winter’s Chestnut & Roasted Garlic Soup is poured tableside over crisped duck leg confit ($16) while the Scampo Twice Fried Chicken ‘Paddles’ sees a trio of wings served up with sweet potato tempura ($15).

For sea treasures, there is the Manila Clams Limoncello steamed with hot oil sashimi of Shire’s signature “#1 tuna” and Hamachi ($21) and Brown Butter Crab Cake with Peekytoe Maine crab, English mustard and pomelo aioli ($21). Other new appetizers include Beef Tenderloin ‘Minute Steak’ with duck fat fried gaufrettes, quail egg and caviar ($24) and Hungarian Mangalica Prosciutto with crushed Marcona almonds and hot tangerine soufflé ($36). From the signature mozzarella bar, there are a duo of newcomers: Mozzarella with Prosciutto & Warm Black Truffle Gougere, black radish and pineapple crema ($26) and Beef Sirloin Carpaccio with fried artichokes, zested winter citrus and Aleppo pepper ($21).

The “Handmade Pasta e Risotti” offerings have been refreshed to include Pear & Pecorino Ravioli with grilled trevisano and warm potato ‘butter’ ($18/28); Preserved Tomato Tortelli with crisped skate wing, garlicky toasted hazelnuts and saffron aioli ($19/29); Handmade Whole Wheat Bigoli with baby lamb ragu, giant yellow raisins and pale celery leaf chiffonade ($19/29); and, Wild Rapini Rissoto with grilled “Greek style” quail, skordalia, dill and burnt lemon ($24).

For reservations, please call (617) 536-2100

7) Alpine Restaurant Group’s Posto will be offering guests limited-time only dinner specials in addition to their regularly available menu on Valentine’s Day weekend.

The specially added dishes are as follows:
Antipasti
Scallop Crudo with preserved lemon, celery hearts and meyer lemon vinaigrette
Root Vegetables with wood-roasted vegetables, pickled carrots and herbed yogurt chardonnay vinaigrette
Entrée
Love Letter Raviolis with beet and ricotta filling, mint and shaved parmesan
Ribeye Tender with Yukon gold puree, foie gras and black truffle madeira sauce
Risotto with parsnips, grapefruit, thyme and parmesan
Dolci
Dark Chocolate Cake with chocolate mousse and raspberry port coulis
Napoleon with marsala zabaglione and raspberry mousse

WHEN: Saturday, February 13, from 5pm-11pm; Sunday, February 14, from 4:30pm-10pm
To make reservations, please call (617) 625-0600

8) Saloon will welcome Cupid to Davis Square this Valentine’s Day weekend. On Saturday and Sunday nights, executive chef Shayne Nunes will dish out two nights of specials laced in comfort that are designed to complement Saloon’s 120 rare whiskey selections.

On Saturday evening, Chef Nunes’ will dish out a customizable three-course prix fixe menu with optional whiskey pairings and the items also will be available a la carte. Appetizer options include Fried Oysters with kimchi tartar sauce ($12) or Honey Glazed Baby Carrots with pistachio-basil ricotta and crispy parsnips ($9). For entrees, there is Stout Braised Short Rib with roasted rainbow carrots, cauliflower puree and pickled red onion ($26) or Sweet Potato Gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, baby kale, parmesan and maple cream ($21). For a taste of decadence, there is an Espresso Molten Lava Cake with brûléed banana and hazelnut ice cream ($7) or Clementine Panna Cotta with citrus curd and roasted pistachio crumble ($7).

On Sunday evening, appetizer specials include the Chipotle Vanilla Butter Poached Lobster Tail with Applewood smoked bacon, clementine, frisée and avocado crème ($18) and Roasted Beets with mesclun and chicory greens, pistachio and a goat cheese fritter ($12). Chef Nunes has designed two entrees, a Pan Roasted Filet Mignon with truffle whipped potatoes, crispy shallots and mushroom demi-glace ($38) and a Sweet Potato & Red Quinoa Hash with chanterelle mushrooms, baby kale and lemon-maple ricotta ($18). For those with a sweet tooth, there are a duo of desserts: Espresso Molten Lava Cake with brûléed banana and hazelnut ice cream ($7) and Clementine Panna Cotta with citrus curd and roasted pistachio crumble ($7).

COST: Saturday: Prix fixe available for $40 per person or $65 with whiskey pairings; specials also available at a la carte pricing. Sunday: Specials available at a la carte pricing.
For reservations, please call (617) 628-4444

9) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things sparkling wine at their upcoming Bubble Rumble. The winter counterpart to Puritan and Co.’s popular summertime wine rumble event Rosé Rumble, Bubble Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best bubbles in Boston like a true insider.

Taking place on Wednesday, February 10th, Bubble Rumble will showcase a variety of sparkling wines for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 5:30 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. Tickets are $80 and can be purchased here: http://bit.ly/bubblerumble2016.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ciders of Spain: Asturian Cider (Part 1)

Have you ever tasted a Spanish hard cider?

According to Nielsen, the Hard Cider market grew by an astonishing 71% in 2014, though it seems the growth in the market was much more moderate in 2015. Many consumers are learning about the wonders of hard cider and seeking it out. Though there are plenty of large, commercial cider producers, there are numerous small craft producers as well. These craft producers are creating some delicious and interesting ciders, often in a more traditional cider. This is the time to introduce consumers to new and exciting craft ciders, such as those from Spain, from Asturias and the Basque region.

Yesterday, I attended a trade tasting of some Spanish ciders that are being imported by Ciders of Spain, which is led by James Asbel. While I tasted eight different ciders, I got to ask James a few questions about Spanish cider. The ciders were interesting, some being very different from those ciders familiar to most Americans. And it is about time that Spanish ciders received the spotlight, especially considering Spain is likely the birthplace of cider.

Though the exact origin of hard cider is unknown, evidence tends to indicate that the ancient Celts in northern Spain are likely the originators. They are also thought to be the first to have cultivated domestic apples in Europe. To the Celts, the apple tree was the Tree of Love and the apple itself was considered a lucky fruit. It is no wonder then that they transformed apples into an intriguing alcoholic beverage.

When the Romans arrived in Spain, they were impressed with apple cider and even tried to make some of their own cider from pears, which might also be the origin of perry. The ancient Romans referred to hard apple cider as pomaria and the Arabs, who later settled in the region, referred to it as siserio.

I should note that nowadays, we often separate Cider from Hard Cider, though that division generally didn't exist for much of its history. Hard cider was the norm because all cider will, over time and at room temperature, ferment. It wouldn't be until the arrival of refrigeration that cider could be preserved, prevented from fermenting. Thus, in the rest of this article, when I mention cider, I will be referring to hard cider, especially as most Spanish hard cider producers simply refer to their products as cider.

Almost all Spanish ciders come from one of two regions, either Asturias (where they call it sidra) or the Basque region (where they call it sagardoa). Asturias, located in the northwestern region of Spain, has created a Designation of Protected Origin (DOP) for "Cider of Asturias," regulating and protecting this designation. The DOP currently includes approximately 25 cider houses, 267 growers, and 587 hectares or orchards. Please note though that not all cider producers in Asturias create DOP ciders. Asturias produces about 80% of all Spanish cider and they also drink more than any other region in Spain. In fact, they drink about 90% of the cider they make.

For DOP ciders, they may only be produced from 22 authorized apples and the regulations even note their basic flavor profile. The authorized apples include:
--Acid:  Durona de Tresali, Blanquina, Limón Montés, Teórica, San Roqueña, Raxao, Xuanina and Fuentes
--Sweet: Verdialona and Ernestina
--Acid-Bitter: Regona
--Bitter: Clara
--Bitter-Semiacid: Meana
--Sweet-Bitter: Coloradan
--Semiacid: Carrio, Solarina, De la Riega, Collaos, Perico, Prieta and Perezosa
--Semiacid-Bitter: Panquerina

Interestingly, none of these Spanish apple varieties have yet been cultivated in the U.S. In discussing the possible reasons for this with James, he stated that Spanish cider has received so little attention for many years that no one had an incentive to try to transplant those apples elsewhere. In addition, Asturias preferred drinking all of their own cider rather than exporting it, claiming the cider lost its quality when it left the borders of their region. However, as Spanish cider becomes more popular, then maybe there will be a greater emphasis on their apple varieties and other countries might try to plant them. 

Asturian ciders are generally fermented with native, wild yeasts and are not fined, thus meaning they might contain some sediment. Their traditional ciders tend to be dry, about 6%-7% alcohol, and have a high acidity. When you visit a sidreria, a traditional cider house, you will often see the server hold the bottle high in the air as he pours the cider into a wide-mouthed cup. This practice, known as escanciar, will assist in aerating the cider as well as making it fizzy.

Beside traditional ciders, Asturias has been experimenting with some new styles such as Nueva Expresión, which are filtered and either still or lightly sparkling. Another style is the Achampañada, commonly labeled as Brut, which is produced through a secondary fermentation in the bottle or fermentation in the tank, creating more of Champagne-style bubbles. There is also Frost Cider, which is similar in some respects to Canadian ice cider. Frost Cider is produced by freezing the juice as the apples ever freeze on the tree. This style tends to create a sweeter, dessert-style cider.

Ciders of Spain was founded by James Abel (pictured above pouring some sidra) back in 2012. A former university professor and architect, James first visited Spain in 1974 and has returned many times since then. He fell in love with Spanish cider and eventually saw an opportunity to introduce their cider in the U.S. James mentioned that as Spanish ciders can be very different, it is only recently, with the great surge in cider interest, that Americans may be ready for these more unique ciders.

Currently, James is importing ciders from four different producers, though he is continuing to grow, adding even more ciders to his portfolio. For example, though all his ciders are now from Asturias, he will be adding a Basque cider in the near future. It is his goal to bracket the category, to present all of the diversity that is found in the world of Spanish cider.  His selection criteria for choosing ciders to import includes those that represent the Spanish character, those which are delicious, those which are interesting, and he also likes to work with experimenters.

You won't find many DOP ciders of Asturias in his portfolio, which might seem unusual for someone promoting Spanish ciders. James feels that the DOP regulations are too strict, such as limiting production to only 22 different types of apples. James believes cider producers should be able to make the best cider that they can, without such restrictions. He wants more diversity in cider, for producers to have the ability to experiment if they so desire.

As an example, some of the Spanish ciders we sampled at the tasting used more than just Spanish apples. These ciders were blends, also using apples from Normandy, France, a region with its own long history of cider production. The primary reason for the use of these Normandy apples is for their greater tannins. However, for me, and some others, this raises issues of terroir, and whether these blended ciders truly reflect a sense of place.

At its most basic, if a cider tastes good, then it is good, generally no matter how it is produced. James is seeking excellent tasting ciders, and in that regard, there is certainly nothing wrong with blending apples from both France and Spain. The blending though blurs the lines of terroir so that it is difficult to say this is truly a Spanish cider with a sense of place. It may be created in a traditional manner, with native yeasts, but you cannot avoid that it also contains apples from a different place, namely France. Terroir is important to some people, and it is a prominent topic in the wine industry, yet it also applies to other alcoholic beverages as well as different foods.

In the wine world, an appellation system exists in most regions with European regions generally having far more restrictions than the U.S. Some wineries opt out of these restrictions so they have the ability to experiment. It then comes down personal preferences whether one likes these experiments or not.  In the U.S., with fewer restrictions, you will find some wineries using grapes from different states to make their wines. You might find a Massachusetts winery using grapes from California. It might be a tasty wine, but it still doesn't truly reflect a sense of Massachusetts. And that matters to some people.

Even if a cider maker does not follow the DOP regulations, they still can produce a cider from only Spanish apples, a cider with a real sense of place. It certainly does not guarantee that it will be a tasty cider, but in the hands of a skilled cider maker, it will likely be good. The same applies to experimental ciders as not all of them will be good either. It is most important to produce a cider that tastes good, and I think it can be even better if it possesses terroir as well.

(The second part of this article will present reviews of the eight ciders I tasted).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sobieski Estate Single Rye: A "Gold" Vodka

If you think vodka is odorless and tasteless, then you don't know vodka. Sure, under U.S. law, vodka is defined as "neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color." However, the reality is that vodka has a variety of aromas and flavors, though it may be more subtle in nature. If you blind taste tested a variety of different vodkas, you would see how each has its own unique aroma and flavor profiles. 

I've written about this before, in my post Subtle Nuances of Vodka, describing a seminar I attended led by Tony Abou-Ganim, a well known mixologist and the author of Vodka Distilled: The Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails. We sampled eight vodkas, blind, and there were plenty of clear differences. If all vodka has no aroma or taste, then all vodka would taste the same and no one would have any preferences. That isn't the case and I know I have my own personal preferences for certain vodkas over others because I like their taste profiles. 

Back in 2009, I sampled a bottle of Sobieski Vodka, a Polish Rye vodka which cost only about $11. Now, I'm not a fan of most vodka at that price point , finding it too harsh and just not pleasant. However, I found this Sobieski to be an Extreme Value, even better than many vodkas at twice the price. Sobieski has now launched a new vodka, their Sobieski Estate Single Rye ($28), and I received a media sample to taste. 

The Sobieski Estate Single Rye is produced, in limited amounts, from 100% Gold Dankowski Rye, grown in Poland, and pure water from the Carpathian Fore. Dankowski rye has been grown in Poland for many centuries and there are two different types, Gold and Diamond, each with its own unique profile.  The Gold type, which is only grown on the Mazovian plans of western Poland, has a very high starch content. As it is only grown in Poland, this makes the Sobieski more unique among the world's vodkas, though there are other Poland vodkas which also use this rye. As an aside, I would be very intrigued to taste a Polish Rye Whiskey made from this grain.

The frosted bottle is elegant, reminding me of some of the higher end vodkas, from Chopin to Belvedere, which also come in frosted bottles. I sipped a glass of the Sobieski on its own, having chilled it first in the refrigerator, and on the nose, I found that herbal notes were most prominent. Tasting, the vodka was smooth and easy-drinking, without the harsh burn you find in some other vodkas. As such, it would be easy to drink this on its own or just on the rocks, without the need for any mixers. It has a bitter edge to its taste but which is balanced by a hint of sweetness, though it has a dry finish.

This Sobieski Estate Single Rye easily fits within the group of higher end Vodkas at this price point and if you enjoy drinking vodka, especially on its own, then you should give this a try. It would elevate your cocktails too if you use it with mixers, though I think it is best on its own. If you want to make cocktails, I'd recommend the basic Sobieski Vodka rather than this higher quality version.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Rant: Let's Eliminate Guilty Pleasures

                             GUILT

Guilt is "feeling bad because you have done something bad or wrong" and it's time to eliminate some of the guilt in our lives. We need to eliminate that guilt which is actually unnecessary though we have been programmed to think we are doing something wrong. I'm talking about guilty pleasures and specifically as they concern food.

Though I've thought of this issue before, it came to the forefront again recently when I saw fellow food writer Marc, of Boston's Hidden Restaurantspost an updated list, a slideshow, of Twelve Guilty Pleasures from Boston-Area and New England Restaurants. The list includes items such as a breakfast pizza, roast beef sandwich, lobster pot pie and chicken parmigiana calzone. The question that came to my mind was: Should anyone feel guilty for eating any of these dishes? I bet Marc didn't actually feel guilty about any of those dishes.

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, a guilty pleasure is defined as "something pleasurable that induces a usually minor feeling of guilt." It is clear that the twelve dishes listed by Marc would bring pleasure to many people. Many look appealing to me and I've certainly greatly enjoyed similar dishes. However, should he or anyone else for that matter feel guilt or shame for enjoying them?

I don't think so. If they taste good, if they bring you pleasure, then you should feel good about eating those foods. Just because other people might not agree with you, that should not be a sufficient reason for you to feel guilt. Just because the dishes might not be the healthiest, that too is not a sufficient reason to feel guilty.  Don't let the opinions of others indicate which foods are acceptable and which should cause guilt.

You should never feel guilty for enjoying a specific dish if it brings you pleasure. As such, there is no reason to have a list of "guilty pleasures." Such lists need to be eliminated and we should instead share lists of those foods which give us pleasure, without any taint of guilt or shame. In this case, guilt is a negative emotion which needs to be eliminated.

The next time someone asks you which foods are your guilty pleasures, tell them you aren't guilty about anything you eat.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) On Tuesday, February 9, Beat Brasserie is shaking things up with its 3rd Annual Le Mardi Gras Carnival. The restaurant will be transformed into Canal Street as it hosts a New Orleans-inspired party complete with community tables, a Cajun menu, beads, live music, Hurricanes and more.

From 4:pm-11pm, guests can get into the spirit with a special Cajun inspired à la carte menu featuring authentic NOLA-style dishes. The Mardi Gras menu will be the only menu offered that evening. Dinner will be served in a community seating to encourage “Laissez les bons temps rouler!" a Cajun expression meaning "Let the good times roll!" In addition to dinner, Mardi Gras revelers can enjoy entertainment at one of The Beat’s two bars while sipping on traditional celebratory cocktails and complimentary Mardi Gras beads.

The party will kick off at 5pm when Alex Lee Clark takes The Beat’s stage for a live jazz dinner set. Alex Lee-Clark is a trumpet player, composer, and arranger, and has crafted a unique and exciting sound by blending jazz and pop sensibilities. At 7:30pm, Clark will hand the reigns to One Finger Down Band led by trombonist Clayton Dewalt. One Finger Down will keep the crowd swinging all night long with their classic second line music infused with New Orleans backbeat funk.

MENU:
Starters
Turkey, Black-Eyed Pea & Kale Gumbo, $9
Shrimp & Grits, $14
Fried Boudin Balls with Whole Grain Mustard, $10
Pork and Pickle Board, $15
Sweet Chili Baby Back Ribs, $13
Oysters, Oysters, Oysters!!
Entrees
Chicken, Andouille & Shrimp Jambalaya, $22
Blackened Trout, Smothered Greens & Rice, $23
Braised Pork Shoulder, Dirty Rice, Pork Crackling Salad, $24
Skirt Steak Frites, Creole Sauce, Okra, Cornichons, $26

There is no cover charge for this event. Reservations are strongly recommended so please call 617-499-0001.

2) Post 390’s is starting their 2016 Farm to Post dinner series this month and for the very first time, guests will have a chance to purchase tickets to the exclusive kick-off dinners that launch the rotating Farm to Post theme. The first one, New England Winter Seafood, will be held on Tuesday, January 27, from6-9pm, and feature a multi-course menu featuring Island Creek Oysters, Snappy Lobster, Nantucket Bay Scallops, Wulf’s Fish, and beverages from Champy Sparkling Wine.

The evening begins with a oyster extravaganza reception, with offerings like freshly shucked raw Island Creek Oysters on the half shell with three types of mignonettes, fried oysters wrapped in wagyu beef carpaccio. Guests are then seated for a four-course menu that offers dishes like Mushroom & Lobster Benedict with butter-poached lobster and black truffle omelet, served with mushroom and tasso salad; Grilled Monkfish Tail Bordelaise with beef short rib and turnip hash, red cabbage sauerkraut, raw mustard green vinaigrette, and smoked bone marrow; and Spiced Chocolate Pate and Blood Orange Fish Roe with pickled kumquat, liquid sable, crostini and five spice ice cream (yes, even the dessert course incorporates seafood).

The dinner is also a rare opportunity for guests to meet the purveyors behind the food, who will be in attendance, to introduce their businesses and to showcase their offerings. And while the Farm to Post menu will be available in the main dining room starting January 29th through March 24th, this dinner menu is unique and exclusively created for the kick-off dinner.

Tickets cost $55 per person, and they can also be purchased as a package for three dinners ($140) or six ($250). Upcoming dinners include the Berkshire Cheese Trail (March 23rd) and Brambly Pig Farms (May 4th), to name a few – you can find the full list here as well as purchase tickets.

3) Osteria Nino is debuting “Express Lunch” options designed to save you time and money. The  “Express Lunch” offers come twofold, with one for dining in and the other for individual and corporate pickup orders.

Italian for “half and half,” the “Meta e Meta” lunch menu lets you pair any two items from the panini, insalata and zuppe offerings for only $10. The selections are served up in under-30 minutes on weekdays.  There are a half-dozen sandwich options, such as the Prosciutto with hand-stretched mozzarella, arugula and fig jam on ciabatta; Pork Sandwich with balsamic fig, mozzarella and arugula; and, Chicken Parm with crispy chicken, Pomodoro, mozzarella and grana on ciabatta. For salads, highlights include the Beet Salad with roasted beets, goat cheese, frisee, hazelnuts and balsamic; and the Nino Caesar Salad with hazelnuts, croutons and lemon-cream dressing. There are two traditional, hearty soups: Pasta Fagioli, a Roman pasta and bean soup with pancetta, rosemary and breadcrumbs; and, the Pappa al Pomodoro, a Tuscan tomato and bread soup with basil, olive oil and parmigiano.

Earlier this week, I stopped by Osteria Nino and ordered the Meatball Sub and Warm Goat Cheese Salad, which is pictured above. Accompanied by house made potato chips, you get a good-sized meal for only $10. And that meatball sub is excellent, one of my favorite dishes at this spot.

For those on even more of a time crunch, Osteria Nino now offers to-go lunch menus for individual and corporate orders. Whether placing for a quick bite to eat at your desk or organizing a working lunch for the board room, Osteria Nino will pack up their homemade deliciousness giving you the freedom to leave the cooking to someone else. Osteria Nino offers an expansive selection of panini, insalata, zuppe, salumi & formaggi, antipasti, primi and secondi options, fit for any palate and occasion, that come priced individually or for groups.

For reservations or to place an order, please call (781) 272-1600.

4) There might be a massive snow storm this weekend, though we still could avoid the major brunt of the storm. Several local restaurants have already made plans on how to deal with significant snow storms this winter. In the event of a declared snow emergency in the their town, the following restaurants will offer blizzard specials.

In Somerville, Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar will invite diners out of the cold and into Rosebud to enjoy brunch-for-dinner specials. In addition to the regularly available dinner menu, dinner guests will be able to choose from a variety of Blizzard Brunch-For-Dinner plates as well as a delicious Bacon Bourbon Bloody Mary to help forget all about those winter woes. Rosebud will operate during normal business hours in the event of a snow emergency unless otherwise specified.

The Blizzard Brunch-For-Dinner menu items will include:
Classy Chicken: fried chicken thigh, VT cheddar, sausage gravy, farm egg, Stone & Skillet English muffin
French Toast: thick cut brioche, orange/vanilla dipped, blackberry maple syrup, mascarpone whipped cheese
Chicken & Waffles: Belgian waffle, fried chicken, roasted peach maple syrup
Breakfast Flatbread: sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, cheddar, fontina, parmesan, scallion
Bacon & Egg Burger: Griddled Cheeseburger, yellow cheese, lettuce, shaved red onion, pickles, WGS - served with crinkle cut fries
Bacon Bourbon Bloody Mary

Also in Somerville, the Painted Burro will be offering mini tacos for $3.

Tacos will be available in the following flavors:
- Chorizo de la Casa: sunny side egg & papas, chipotle mayo


- Gulf Shrimp “Diablo Rojo”: guacamole, habañero & mango salsa

- Campechano: grilled zucchini & nopales, roasted cherry tomato salsa, salbitxada, cotija, spiced pepitas


- Pork Carnitas: crispy pork, spiced pumpkin mole, honey crisp apple salsa, Mexican crema, cotija, our own flour tortilla

- Crispy “Baja-Style” Fish: savoy cabbage & jalapeno slaw, lime-cilantro mayo


- BLT & Cheese: crispy pork belly, pico de gallo con limon, romaine, “salsa mil islas”, cotijia
- Mahi a la Plancha: avocado, jicama, pineapple & serrano salsa, frisée


- Crispy Calamari: Mexican cabbage slaw, jalapeño aioli

- Short Rib Double Stack: crunchy & soft tortillas, tres quesos, red wine & Mexican cola mole, cotija, shredded napa cabbage


- Chicken Tinga: chipotle & tomato ranchero, rajas, Mexican crema, cobija

And also in Somerville, Posto will offer wood-fired pizzas for $12 for eat-in or take-out.

Pizza flavors will include:
- Margherita: mozzarella, olive oil, basil, sea salt
- Pepperoni: calabrese salumi, mozzarella, basil, parmesan
- Marinara: sliced garlic, oregano, parmesan
- Mushroom: shiitake, white trumpet, crimini, fontina, spinach, lemon zest
- Soppressata: spicy pork salumi, mozzarella, Tuscan pepper, oregano, arugula, parmesan

In Cambridge, Puritan & Co. will offer any time it snows more than three inches in Boston throughout the winter a special hree-course “storm menu” including select appetizer, entrée, dessert for only $35.

And In Jamaica Plain, Canary Square will offer $5 tacos and $8 margaritas as snowstorm specials.

Tacos will be available in the following flavors:
- Crispy Coconut Cod: Avocado, Mango Salsa, Pickled Slaw
- Carnitas: Gala Apple Salsa, Chedder Cheese, Pickled Fresno Chilis
- Grilled Hanger Steak: Avocado Crema, House Salsa, Crisp Baby Greens
- Fried Egg: Radish, Smoky Beans, Hot sauce, Cotija

Margaritas will be available in the following flavors:
- Classic Margarita
- Spicy Pineapple Margarita
- Pomegranate Margarita
- Apricot Margarita

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pastrami on Rye: The Rise & Fall of the Jewish Deli

"The delicatessen , whether in its kosher or non kosher variant, was a second home for many Americans Jews,..."

We have seen the rise and fall of the American Jewish delicatessen, reflective of significant changes in the American Jewish culture over the last 150 years. Though you can still find kosher and nonkosher delis in the U.S., there are far less of them than once existed and they do not occupy the same central place for most Jews. What led to the deli's initial boom and what was its role in the Jewish community? Why did this all change? To understand the answers, we should read a fascinating book on the history of the Jewish deli, and more specifically the New York Jewish deli.

"A sandwich to a Jew is just as important as a country to a gentile.

Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli by Ted Merwin (NYU Press, October 2015, $26.95) is a hardcover book of 256 pages (and is also available as an e-book). In five large chapters, Merwin explores the history of the New York Jewish deli, from its origins to the present day. During this exploration, Merwin also mentions Jewish delis in other U.S. regions though the majority of the book centers on New York. He discusses the rise and fall of the Jewish deli, seeing some hope that delis can once again rise, to help the cultural identity of Jews.

"This book focuses on New York partly because it was where the majority of American Jews lived until the 1940s and partly because the Jewish delicatessen essentially began in New York and became emblematic of both New York and Jewish life."

The author, Ted Merwin, is an Associate Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies at Dickinson College, where he is also the Founding Director of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life. He writes about Jewish culture and has been published in a variety of publications, including the New York Times, New York Post, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and New York Jewish Week.

"...delicatessens are oriented around the consumption of red meat,..."

The term "delicatessen" has its roots in the Latin word delicatus which means “dainty, tender, charming, enticing, alluring, and voluptuous” and was often used to refer to "sexual attractiveness." The term was adopted by a number of other languages, becoming Delikatesse in German, and now referring to "unusual and highly prized food." German immigrants to the U.S. in the late 19th century ontroduced the word, which was adopted in its plural form, delicatessen. And as such, the first delicatessen owners in New York were from Germany and Alsace-Lorraine.

"...the pastrami sandwich, as we will see, became the ultimate symbol of carnal desire."

There is a discussion of how "Judaism has almost always revolved around meat," referring how meat consumption was once a religious activity of Hebrews, representing the expiation of sin. This religious activity led to the curing of meat by picking, the origin of corned beef. "Cured meats and sausages entered the Jewish diet during the tenth and eleventh centuries, when Jews were living in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France." And pastrami, which originated in Turkey, became a Romanian speciality which eventually spread to the Jews.

".., in Yiddish, the word for “overstuffed” is ongeshtupped; the meat is crammed between the bread in a crude, sensual way that recalls the act of copulation. The delicatessen, after all, is a space of carnality, of the pleasures of the “flesh”—the word for meat in Yiddish is fleysh."

Initially, when the first generation of Jews immigrated to New York, around the turn of the 20th century, there were over 1000 kosher butcheries but very few delicatessens. This generation preferred to cook at home and the Jewish mother would see it as an affront to her cooking skill to dine out. It would be their children, the second generation, who would start to cherish the restaurant experience, even creating a word for the experience, oyesessen. In time, kosher butcher shops started selling prepared foods, many turning into delicatessens. 

There could be no picture making,” the film director Orson Welles flatly declared, “without pastrami.

By the 1930s, there were over 2300 delicatessens, Jewish and non-Jewish, in New York. The famed Katz’s Delicatessen opened in 1888 and might be the first “true” Jewish delicatessen in New York. "The delicatessen enabled Jews to eat out in a Jewish way, by enjoying in public the foods that they associated with their heritage." It became a communal spot, a central gathering place for the Jewish community, to solidify their cultural identity. It was an important sense of place, the food being secondary to that aspect.

"While the kosher delicatessen symbolized ethnic continuity, the nonkosher delicatessen symbolized the movement of Jews into the mainstream of American society."

The book even makes mention of some specific historical delicatessens in Boston, though noting their relative lack of importance. "Other than Rubin’s, which opened in Brookline in 1928, kosher delicatessens were never very popular in Boston, perhaps because of the centrality of pork and shellfish in the cuisine of New England." This section also mentions what once was a speciality in Boston delicatessens, a sausage called cervelat which was a mixture of beef, bacon, and pork rind packed into cow intestines and then smoked and boiled.

"In the mid-1950s, the shortened form deli first came into widespread use."

As the 1960s arrived, delicatessens started being supplanted by another type of restaurant, the Chinese restaurant. Chinese food became a significant craze for the Jewish community and it started to become their main communal gathering spot, replacing the delicatessen. Kosher Chinese restaurants were established, helping to appeal to even observant Jews. You could even find Chinese inspired dishes at a few delicatessens, such as Salami Fried Rice or Chicken Bernstein, which was stuffed with bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and pastrami.

"There is much talk of “gastronomic” Jews or “bagel and lox Jews” (the term “pastrami Jew” has not yet been coined) who presumably connect to their Jewish identity chiefly through their stomachs."

Today, there are only about 15 kosher delis left in the five boroughs of New York City. Most Jews don't eat at a delicatessen on a regular basis and the deli no longer occupies a communal gathering spot. Some of the most famous delis in New York City have primarily become tourist spots. It has become more nostalgia for the Jewish community,  as well as fodder for "hipster" delis.

"As long as both Jews and non-Jews want to eat "traditional" Jewish food, delis will always exist on our culture."

Merlin has written an interesting history of the New York deli, concentrating more on the institution than some of the specifics, such as deli food. It might have been interesting to read more about specific Jewish dishes sold at these delis, from pastrami to knishes. It might also have been interesting to learn more about the operation of these delis, from the workers to the owners. As such, this history is a very good starting point and we can hope that Merwin may expand his coverage in a sequel. With those caveats, I still recommend that you check out this book and learn much more about the iconic Jewish delicatessen.

Note: All quotes in this post are from Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli by Ted Merwin

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Brunch At Puritan & Co. With Pastry Treasures

After having spent the weekend in Boston, we were headed home on Sunday and decided to grab brunch on route. There were plenty of options to consider and in the end, I chose to stop at Puritan & Co. in Inman Square, Cambridge. Puritan is one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2015 but I never had brunch there before so I wanted to remedy that situation. Around 12:30pm or so, the restaurant was fairly busy though we didn't have to wait too long for a table.

The Brunch menu, which is listed online, is slightly different than what was at the restaurant. There are around 8 Mains, priced $13-$19, with a number of A La Carte items and an assortment of Pastries. Besides their excellent wine list, you can also select cocktails, from their House Mimosa t($9) to a Bloody Mary ($10). You'll find plenty of enticing choices, reasonably priced for the quality and quantity you receive.

The Beef Patty Melt ($16) has house made rye, cheese and a secret sauce, and the above sandwich added a fried egg & bacon ($4). It was accompanied by some crispy potatoes and greens.  First, I have to give kudos to the rye bread which was thin, crisp and with just the right amount of sourness. Frankly, it was some of the best rye bread I've ever had. And the sandwich itself was excellent, with the thick slices of bacon, moist beef patty and gooey egg. The potatoes too were tasty, with a nice crisp exterior but that softer, puffier interior. A great choice.

The Sourdough Griddle Cakes ($12) are topped with syrup, honey butter and pecans though I omitted the syrup. You receive three large and fluffy pancakes which receive a slight sweetness from the honey butter. The pecans added an intriguing textural crunch to the light pancakes. A relatively simple dish but one which was executed very well. Too many places make dry, heavy pancakes so it is always a pleasure to find a restaurant that does then right.

One of the highlights of Brunch at Puritan has to be their Pastry options. At the back of the restaurant, all of the various pastries are assembled for your viewing pleasure. Each pastry costs $3 or you can get a basket of 4 for only $10. This is like having an amazing bakery in your restaurant. Back in October 2015, Puritan hired a new Head Pastry Chef, Marissa Rossi. A graduate of the Johnson and Wales’ Baking and Pastry Arts program,  Marissa has worked at a number of other local spots, including Blue Ginger, Forum, and the Forge Baking Company. Since her arrival, she has created some new and intriguing items for the pastry counter, from her signature Chocolate Pretzel Croissant, to a rotating Doughnut selection.

The restaurant sent us a complimentary basket of some pastries and based on what I tasted, Pastry Chef Marissa is creating some delicious and inventive treats, and I need to return to try some of the others which I didn't get to taste. You could easily come to Puritan and enjoy just a basket of pastries with a Bloody Mary or Mimosa and be very happy.

On the left side are the Chocolate Pretzel Croissants, a light flaky croissant with that addition of a pretzel texture and plenty of rich, delicious chocolate. A winner for chocolate lovers. On the right are Pinwheels, made with spinach and cheese, which also were quite tasty.

The Indian Pudding Doughnuts were another winner, with a light, yeast doughnut, a mild molasses flavor, crunchy nuts and the creamy pudding filling. It wasn't overly sweet and it is certainly a more unique and appealing filling. I love doughnuts so this was a treat, and so much better than what you find at the large commercial chains. It is great to see small, more artisan doughnut shops opening in the Boston area and it is great to see some restaurants stepping in as well.

The Coconut Shortbread cookies are huge, and they also are delicious. Crisp and buttery, with plenty of coconut flavor.

If I hadn't been so full, I would have ordered the S'mores Pop Tart which looked enticing. That will be at the top of my list when I return for Brunch.

Puritan & Co. gets my hearty recommendation for Brunch and I encourage you to check out the delightful pastry creations of Marissa Rossi.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Rant: Food Truck, No Cash?

We don't accept your cash. What???

This past weekend, I attended a convention at the Westin Waterfront and several food trucks showed up for the attendees. On Sunday, the two food trucks at the hotel included the Baja Taco Truck and Clover.  I wanted to order something at Clover however I realized that they didn't accept cash! You can only use credit or debit cards, even if only buying a drink that costs under $2. I chose not to buy anything from the truck as I only wanted to use cash.

Though I've visited a couple of he Clover restaurants during the past year,  this was the first time I had visited their food truck in the last year. I was unaware that they had changed their policy in May 2015 so that their food truck no longer accepted cash, though their brick & mortar stores still accept cash. In a blog post, they stated their business was over 80% credit and then listed other reasons they believed justified the change.

First, they said there were security issues with a food truck having a bunch of cash. However, as they accept cash at their brick & mortars, the chance of robbery still exists. Second, they state it takes a lot of work, basically an hour to count and deposit the cash. However, again as they accept cash at their brick & mortars, their managers still have to spend that extra time counting and depositing their cash. Third, they allege a fear of employee theft, miscounts, or errors, which still is a problem for them as they still the cash at their brick & mortars. With credit cards, there is also still a potential problem of theft of credit card numbers so they aren't preventing all theft issues. Finally, they state running out of change can be a hassle. If so many people are using credit cards, then why is this such an issue? If you start the day with a proper amount of change, it should't be an issue.

I see a very inconsistent policy here, where the complaints about cash at food trucks can be applied just as well to their brick & mortars. If those concerns were so important, then their policy should be applied across the board, but it isn't. Why aren't there similar concerns for the employees who work at the brick & mortars?  Why accept cash at all? It doesn't make sense to me.

The no-cash policy eliminates some potential customers, anyone who doesn't own a credit or debit card. This could be seen as class discrimination, making it impossible for some of the lowest economic classes  to avail themselves of the Clover food truck. For example, a homeless person who had a handful of cash couldn't buy anything at their food truck. According to a 2014 Gallup Poll,  about 29% of Americans do not have a credit card, a number that has been rising over the years.  

That concern was raised in the comments on the Clover blog post and the founder, Ayr Muir, stated "I never thought of it that way. I hope we’re not excluding anybody with this policy." There was no apparent follow-up and I didn't see any indications that Clover was trying to address this issue. For a community business to exclude certain members of that community, about 29% of that community, seems very wrong.  

From the blog post comments, it was also clear that some people objected to the policy and wouldn't patronize the Clover food truck any more. This might only constitute a small group, but it is lost revenue for Clover. And it has alienated some of those people who won't now recommend others to Clover. As the policy is still around, it is apparent Clover doesn't see a significant problem by turning away those customers as well as the 29% of Americans who lack credit cards.

They lost my business this weekend. It wasn't a big loss, definitely less than $10, but I might not ever go to a Clover truck again. And I won't be telling my friends to go there either.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) Chef/Owner Will Gilson is excited to announce the launch of a new bar menu at Puritan & Company. Kicking off the new year in a tasty way, the bar menu now offers a variety of delicious bites ranging from rosemary-maple bar nuts to corned beef ribs.

Available to bar patrons Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m., the menu includes:

Dry-Aged Beef Patty Melt with rye, Swiss cheese, American cheese, special sauce ($18)
Buffalo Skate Wings with shaved celery, Calabrian chili, blue cheese ($12)
Potato Croquettes with Parmesan, black pepper, onion dip ($8)
Fried Oysters with Johnnycake, maple aioli, lemon, bonito ($15)
Corned Beef Ribs with boiled dinner giardiniera, mustard-cider glaze ($12)
Rosemary-Maple Bar Nuts ($5)
Scallop-Linguisa Dumplings with piri-piri, garlic, paprika ($13)
Smoked Bluefish Melt with brioche cheddar, celery, red onion ($14)

The Scallop-Linguisa Dumplings sound especially interesting to me & I'll have to stop by to check them out.

2) On Sunday, January 31 from 2-4 p.m., Chef Tony Maws invites guests to The Kirkland Tap & Trotter to see and taste who can stake claim to the title of Boston’s Best French Fries! The Fry-Off is the second event in “Food Fights 3”—a series of charitable culinary competitions hosted by No Kid Hungry, leading up to the local Taste of the Nation this summer. All proceeds from Food Fights 3 and Taste of the Nation will be donated to the non-profit to help end childhood hunger in America.

Four of Boston’s culinary masters will throw-down the fry gauntlet, serving their best versions of French fries and dipping sauces for a cheering crowd. Attendees have the opportunity to sample all of the fries and crown a “People’s Choice” favorite, and a panel of three esteemed judges will select the overall winner. Tickets are $30/person (event is 21+) and include tastings of each chefs’ fries and accompaniments, bites from the Kirkland kitchen, and two complimentary drinks. The competitors are:

Tony Maws (Craigie on Main | The Kirkland Tap & Trotter)
Cassie Piuma (Sarma)
Andy Husbands (Tremont 647 | Sister Sorel | The Smoke Shop)
Lydia Shire (Scampo)

High on my list of favorite things are cooking, friendly competition, and supporting worthwhile causes—and this event lets me do all three,” says Tony. “I’m honored to work with No Kid Hungry whenever I can, and am pumped that some of my favorite local chefs will be joining! Plus, who doesn’t love fries?

TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased online at http://ce.strength.org/events/boston-food-fights
*Event is 21+

3) On January 27, at 6:30pm, Osteria Nino will host its first pairings dinner of 2016, celebrating the flavors of Piedmont in the northwestern corner of Italy. Known for its Barolos and Barbarescos made from the Nebbiolo grape, wines from Piedmont are often characterized as velvety as the tannins are polished and integrated more and more into the wine.

Osteria Nino’s executive chef Walace Benica and director of wine Sam Alberts will team up to host this evening of perfect pairings, showcasing the best tastes from Piedmont’s vine and rich cooking style heralded as Italy’s most culinary progressive region. The menu is designed around expertly-sourced local ingredients that will transport guests back to the Old Country, honoring the timeless techniques and flavors of “cucina italiana,” while highlighting Osteria Nino’s all-Italian wine program.

The four course menu will be presented as follows:

ANTIPASTO
Bagna Cauda (seasonal vegetables with anchovy & garlic dipping sauce)
Guidobono Nebbiolo 2014
PRIMO
Gnocchi al Castelmagno e Noci (housemade gnocchi with Castelmagno cheese & walnuts)
Cantina del Pino Barbaresco 2010
SECONDO
Bollito di Manzo (braised short rib with carrots, cabbage & salsa verde)
Barolo Oddero 2010
DOLCE
Sorta Nocciola (hazelnut cream tart)
Cocchi Barolo Chinato

COST: $85 per person (does not include tax or gratuity)
Reservations are required via EventBrite at: piemonteseatnino.eventbrite.com. This event is reserved for ages 21+.

4) Following the October book release of Lidia Bastianich's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to be a Great Italian Cook, join the Emmy-winning host of Public Television’s Lidia's Kitchen and Lidia’s Italy, Lidia Bastianich, January 26 at 7:30PM at the Citi Shubert Theatre for an evening of conversation and storytelling celebrating our love of Italian food.

The best-selling author is a beloved ambassador for Italian culinary traditions throughout the world. Her multiple culinary endeavors have married her two passions in life – her family and food. Her extensive experience as a chef/restaurateur includes acclaimed New York City restaurants ‐ Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto, as well as Lidia’s in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Lidia and her team opened Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in New York City, Chicago, and Sao Paolo and LIDIA's pasta and sauce can be found in supermarkets nationwide.

Steve DiFillippo, Chef/Owner, Restaurateur of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse and author of “It’s All About the Guest” will moderate the evening. DiFillippo has been in the restaurant industry for 30 years, DiFillippo was inducted into the Massachusetts Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2008 and in 2014 he was awarded Restaurateur of the Year.

Tickets start at $45 and are available at the Box Office, CitiCenter.org, or by calling 866-348-9738. A limited number of VIP tickets that include a signed copy of her new book and the best seats in the house are available.

5) Executive Chef David Verdo of Outlook Kitchen & Bar at The Envoy Hotel and Chef/Owner Rachel Klein of RFK Kitchen invite guests to brave the cold and celebrate for a cause.

On Tuesday, February 2, from 6:30pm-9pm, Chefs David Verdo and Rachel Klein are teaming up to host “Baby it’s Cold Outside” at The Envoy Hotel. Proceeds from this pop-up event will go directly to the New England Center and Home for Veterans, a downtown Boston facility dedicated to ending homelessness for our Nation’s veterans. Guests are invited to indulge on bites from Chefs Verdo and Klein while listening to tunes mixed by a local DJ and getting a sneak peek at Chef/Owner Rachel Klein’s soon-to-be open restaurant, RFK Kitchen in Needham. Refreshing spirits and wines by the glass will also be available from top sponsors Perrier-Jouët, United, Papa Pilar Rum, and Tito’s.

Tickets are $48.47 including tax & gratuity and can be purchased via Eventbrite.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

TasteCamp 2016: Vermont Bound!

Vermont, the Green Mountain State, is the leading producer of maple syrup in the country. It is also well known for its dairy farms, cheese and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. In the winter, it is well known for its fabulous ski trails while in the fall, leaf peeping is extremely popular. However, its alcohol industry is much less known, except maybe for the crazily popular and hard to find Heady Topper beer. It is well past time that the rest of Vermont's alcohol industry becomes better known, from its wines to its spirits.

Since 2009, I've written a number of articles and reviews of Vermont wine, cider and spirits and this year will see plenty of additional coverage. In prior year's, I've attended the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival which not only offered an abundance of cheese but also presented some of the wines, ciders, beers and spirits of Vermont, from Boyden Valley Winery to Whistle Pig Distillery. Over the years, I've seen a clear improvement and evolution of their wines and spirits. There is less use of grapes from outside Vermont and the quality continues to improve.

As I mentioned last week, in the Spring I'll be spending a weekend exploring the wines, ciders, beers, Sake and spirits of Vermont, gaining a better understanding of the current status of their drinks industry. From June 3-5, I'll be attending TasteCamp 2016, which will be held this year in scenic Vermont. Approximately forty bloggers, writers and their guests will attend TasteCamp, tasting our way through Vermont. I've attended all but one of the previous TasteCamps (having missed one only because I was at the Kentucky Derby) and I expect the Vermont weekend to be as enjoyable as all the rest.

As in previous TasteCamps, we will meet a variety of producers, visit vineyards, taste dozens of wines, beers, ciders and spirits, dine on local foods and hold a fun BYOB dinner. With its limited size, this is a more intimate event, allowing you to get to know everyone in the group, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones too. You also get immersed in the region, gaining a better understanding of its drinks industry. When the weekend is over, numerous posts and articles about the attendees' experiences will be written, sharing their new found knowledge about Vermont.

Along with Lenn Thompson, Todd Trzaskos, and Remy Charest, I have helped to plan our itinerary and participants, which currently includes: la garagista farm + winery, Lincoln Peak Vineyard, Shelburne Vineyard, Fable Farm Cider, SILO Distillery, Vermont Spirits Distilling Co., Stonecutter Spirits, Shacksbury Cider, Putney Mountain Winery, Huntington River Vineyard, Prohibition Pig and Hill Farmstead Brewing. This list will continue to grow and be refined and the weekend should offer some of the best Vermont has to offer. There is even a new Sake brewery in Vermont, the Mercy Brewing Company, which I hope we can get to participate too.

If you would like to attend TasteCamp 2016, there is some limited space available, but you must be a writer or other wine trade professional. You can register here to reserve a spot and if you have any questions, please contact Lenn Thompson. If you are a Vermont producer of drinks or food and are interested in participating, you can comment on this post or contact Lenn.

Can't wait for Spring in Vermont!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar: Wines of Campania

What wine pairs well with pig's tail and feet? Maybe the "Barolo of the South."

In Lexington center, you'll find il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar, the third restaurant from the de Magistris family, including Chef Dante de Magistris and his brothers Damian and Filippo. Their family is from the town of Candida in the Irpinia region of Campania, which is located in southern Italy. You might be more familiar with its capital, Naples. The restaurant reflects the cuisine of that region, including a number of old family recipes.

As it states on their website, "Nestled in the lush hills and valleys of the mountainous region of Irpinia lies their hometown village, Candida, where recipes survive only by word of mouth or at best are scratched on distressed pieces of paper hidden between the pages of a bible or an old phone book."

The Menu presents Sfizi, small plates ($5-$11), Antipasti ($9-$16), Primi, pasta dishes (small $11-$14, large $22-$28), Pasta al Forno, baked pasta ($$14-$28), and Secondi ($21-$36). It is moderately priced, offering high quality dishes in a casual and fun atmosphere. The restaurant is very open and airy, with an open kitchen and views of Lexington center. Their wine list includes some Italian wines which the de Magistris have specially imported and are not available anywhere else in the U.S.

I was invited to il Casale to experience a media dinner which showcased the wines of the Campania region. As I had just been to another Campania wine tasting the week before, I was intrigued to see how the il Casale wines would compare to those I previously tasted. Campania has a rich vinous history, extending back about three thousand years, and at least a few of their indigenous grapes extend back to the ancient Greeks. However, many wine lovers still are not familiar with the wines of Campania and that needs to change.

In addition, you should check out il Casala in Lexington for some delicious food which will transport you to southern Italy for an evening.

Our evening began with a white wine from the de Magistris’ private label, Phoenix famiglia de Magsitris. The phoenix is a symbol of Campania and also makes for a nice illustration on the wine label. The 2014 Coda di Volpe is produced from the rare Coda di Volpe grape and its name translates as the "tail of the fox." Campania is one of the few Italian wine regions which makes wine from 100% of this varietal. I found this wine to be pleasant and easy drinking, with tasty flavors of melon, citrus, and honey with floral accents and some herbal notes on the finish. An interesting wine, it has plenty of character and should appeal to many wine lovers.


As we enjoyed this wine, we received two planks of antipasti, including one hot plank and one cold plank. The hot mix included Bruschetta with cherry tomatoes, garlic, & Sicilian oregano; Burrata with candied pistachios, honey, & Sicilian oregano; 31 month aged “vacche rosse” parmigiana reggiano; Fried calamari with lemon mascarpone, crispy lemon, & donna’s pepperoncini; Speck & warren pears with frog hollow farm pears, smoked prosciutto, arugula, gorgonzola crema, & hazelnuts; Fried mozzarella & prosciutto motto, with tomato basil salad; Potato croquette, “panzerotti,” stuffed with smoked scamorza & roasted red pepper sauce; and Arancini with white wine parmigiana risotto, truffled fontina fonduta, & chives.

What an abundance of delicious flavors and textures and you could happily enjoy just some antipasti and wine rather than order an entree. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these items, though the Burrata and Speck were my two favorite bites. Everything seemed fresh, was cooked just right and each bite was nicely balanced. An excellent start to the evening.

Our second wine was also from the Phoenix label, a 2014 Fiano di Avelino DOCG. Fiano is an ancient grape and its original name was Vitis apiana, Latin for "vine of the bees." This was a bright and crisp wine, with vibrant citrus and lemon flavors, a nice minerality and a bit of tartness on the finish. This would be a good pairing for seafood, or a dish with a cream sauce because of its high acidity. An excellent white wine, this would be perfect for the summer, but would also work well in the winter, dependent on your food pairing.

All of their pastas are made in-house and they use different flours to make different types of pasta. The Spaghetti Puttanesca, is made with chitarra pasta, anchovies, capers, olives, and tomatoes. The pasta was excellent, with a nice texture to it, and there was some umami elements to the flavors of this dish.  It was a hearty dish, perfect for a winter evening.

Of the two pasta dishes though, my personal favorite was the Frutti di Mare "Alla Crema di Basilico" which was made with spaghetti, cream, clams, shrimp, mussels, and octopus. The creamy seafood was compelling and the pasta texture once again was excellent, enhancing the dish. All of the seafood was tender and again, it was a hearty dish, perfect to warm your belly during a chilly evening.

Onto the red wines, starting with the 2008 Vinosia Santadrea Taurasi, which is from a newer winery but the owners have plenty of experience and now want to create their own wines. The wine is made from 100% Aglianico, maybe the top red grape in Campania and which is sometimes referred to as the "Barolo of the South." The Vinosia was produced in a more traditional style, with a deep almost black color and an intense, alluring aroma of blueberries and spice. On the palate,  the wine is complex and interesting, with a pleasing melange of black and red fruits, from ripe plum to raspberries, with mild spice notes, moderate tannins, good acidity and hints of chocolate. Such a compelling wine, I was very enthusiastic about it and would highly recommend it. An excellent wine for hearty pasta dishes, wild game, steak and more.

The next dish was the de Magistris family "soul food," a rustic soup from the mountains of Irpinia made with braised better greens, pigs tails & feet. For the potentially squeamish in our group, all of the meat had already been removed from the tail and feet so you wouldn't have known where the meat came from if you just looked at the dish. Back in Campania, you would have found the actual tail and feet in our dish, which I would't have minded. The tender meat was delicious, with a superb savory broth, and it paired perfectly with the Vinosia, answering my initial questions in this post. Though the sound of the dish, tail and feet, might turn you off, it would be a mistake not to try this tasty dish which would please any meat lover.

The 2008 Vinosia Marziacanalae Taurus, also made from 100% Aglianico, is more of a modern, international-style wine. It is a silky smooth wine with black and red fruit flavors but also a strong vanilla streak, almost giving it a hint of sweetness.  It is a style that will appeal to wine lovers though my personal preference was for the more traditional style wine.  I think the more traditional style better reflects the region of Campania as the modern style can be found in many areas around the world, from California to Australia.

The last savory dish was the Pizzaiola, Neapolitan braised beef, San Marzano tomatoes, roasted potatoes, pine nuts, and raisins. Once again, the meat was very tender and flavorful, with crispy potatoes, and it paired well with the wine, though I think the traditional style Vinosia was the best of the two pairings. The pine nuts added a nice crunchy texture to the dish, as well as their own nutty flavor.

The last wine of the evening was the 2009 Vinosia Sesto A Quinconce Aglianico, one of the top wines from this producer. It is 100% Aglianico, from vines that are at least 75 years old, and they make only about 500 cases each year. It is dark and deep, intense and muscular yet still with plenty of elegance and restrained tannins. Back fruits, spice, cocoa and so much more can be found in this complex and intriguing wine. It is more in the traditional style and I was thoroughly impressed, finding so much to like about this wine. Highly recommended!

For dessert, we had a Rum Baba with pastry cream, amarena cherries, and crushed biscotti. A nice blend of flavors and textures, it was light enough that almost anyone could find some room tin their belly to enjoy this dessert.

We also enjoyed some Piccolini, a variety of cookies including Florentines, Biscotti (chocolate hazelnut and almond,) and Lady Fingers with apricot. The Florentines were my favorites.

Before I left, I had to try their Meletti Barrel Aged Manhattan, which is made with Overholt Rye, Meletti Amaro, & Amarena cherry. A deep and savory cocktail, it had some intriguing spice and herbal notes,  with a nice bitter tinge. It is an intriguing variation of a Manhattan, substituting Amaro for Vermouth, and it works very well. No Manhattan lover should object to this cocktail and the barrel aging seems to provide some added depth to the drink. Check it out!

And seek out the wines of Campania, both their whites and reds.