Monday, August 20, 2018

Rant: Beauty, Wine & The Beast

"Wine is, at its best, an agent of beauty, and the writer does well to engage with it on that level."
--What Makes A Wine Worth Drinking by Terry Theise

I've begun reading an advance copy of Terry Theise's new book, which is due out in November. The Introduction, which many people commonly skip when reading a book, is a fascinating read, full of intriguing ideas and poetic language. The above quote is in the introduction, and I suspect it will be elaborated further within the book. However, it is a concept which Theise touched on in his prior book, and which others have advanced as well.

The quote brought to mind one of my old posts too, which dealt with beauty, and I felt it was warranted to bring it back as the ideas are timeless and worthy of reflection. What are your thoughts on beauty and wine?

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast is well known, and its theme and basic framework have been used many times, in books, movies, television shows, plays and more. It teaches us to look past the shallow surface, to find the beauty within, and it would not have had such an impact if beauty were not an important value. There is probably not a single human culture which does not possess a concept of beauty, though what they consider to fit their definition of beauty can vary widely. In the end, it boils down to cherishing what we find to be aesthetically pleasing.

Beauty, of whatever kind, invariably excites the human soul to tears.
--Edgar Allan Poe

The appreciation for beauty often seems to get lost in discussions of food and wine, though its importance there should not be underestimated. I am talking about beauty in all its aspects, not solely the visual, which can touch any of our senses. And I am not discussing any particular definition of beauty either, but merely the aesthetic concept which can encompass all of the diverse definitions. We need to embrace beauty, to praise it, to savor it, to share it.

Beauty in things lies in the mind which contemplates them.
--David Hume

Last week, I mentioned Ernesto Catena who possesses a Japanese aesthetic, which influenced the creation of his Alma Negra winery. An appreciation of beauty is one of his primary motivations, and his passion for that beauty is infectious. He relishes the beauty of nature, of simplicity, of balance. Fred Minnick, a friend of mine, is an accomplished photographer, often taking wine and food related pictures. He has an excellent sense of aesthetics, drawing out the beauty of his subjects, whether they are people or inanimate objects. Even the most grotesque of subjects can be transformed into a beauty through a skilled photographer's eye. Terry Theise, wine importer and author, wrote Reading Between the Wines, which contains many beautiful phrases and sentences, showcasing the aesthetics of language.  

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
--John Keats

Writers understand the beauty of language, and how a special turn of phrase can elevate a story to another level of aesthetic appreciation. A wine bottle may possess an ugly label, yet the wine within might be indescribably beautiful, a sublime sensory pleasure. A plate of food which is presented beautifully will often seem to taste better than a messy, unappealing looking plate. It is often said we eat through our eyes, and there is some truth to that. There is no endeavor where beauty does not play some role, and we should endeavor to cherish beauty where ever we encounter it.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
--Rachel Carson

To that end, I would like to see more food and wine writers embrace the beauty, in what they experience as well as how they present themselves. Let your writing highlight beauty while you also attempt to make your words beautiful. Eaters and drinkers, don't just swallow and guzzle, but take time to appreciate the beauty of what is on your plate and in your glass. Take time to allow your senses to properly savor everything. Beauty elevates our experiences so we should be eager to seek it out.

Beauty awakens the soul to act.
--Dante Alighieri

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibble

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) National Clear Out The Shelters Day, a unified campaign dedicated to helping families bring home a furry friend, will soon be here and Harvard Gardens wants your help. Join the Beacon Hill bar on Saturday, August 18, from 11ma-3pm, for specialty cocktails, food specials, and raffles, all in the name of a cause you can feel good about.

All proceeds from the raffles will be donated to cover adoption fees at local shelters for dogs and cats in need of a loving home. Some prizes will include: a class pass to Soul Cycle, jewelry from Crush Boutique, something sweet from Beacon Hill Chocolates, an assortment of gift cards to local restaurants, and more!

Every year millions of companion animals end up in shelters, and that number continues to rise. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 1.5 million dogs and cats combined, are euthanized due to overcrowding. This number can be reduced dramatically if more people adopted pets instead of buying them. So stop by Harvard Gardens next Saturday to help these animals find a home!

For more information, please visit
To book a reservation please call (617) 523-2727

2) During the month of September, Kendall Square’s Sumiao Hunan Kitchen will be shaking up its specialty Mai Tai cocktail for only $5. Sumiao’s Hunan-style Mai Tai is an interpretation of the spirit-forward worldwide classic, paying homage to the original cocktail recipe from Trader Vic Bergeron but with subtle changes to complement its signature Hunan cuisine.

Because Hunan cuisine employs many spicy elements, Sumiao has increased the sweetness of its Mai Tai without adding the abundance of fruit juice that’s often found in a traditional Mai Tai. Complex flavors such as clove, cinnamon, citrus and molasses come with each sip as a result of the decadent Chairman’s Spiced Reserve Rum.

WHEN: Available during normal operating hours throughout the month of September.

3) On Wednesday September 12th, at 6pm, guests can enjoy a genuine taste of Sicily. The Lexington il Casale team has curated a very special experience featuring olive oil from Lexington native Giuseppe Taibi of Olio Taibi. The evening showcases a special 5 course menu of dishes with Olio Taibi’s handcrafted oils, such as his fruity Nocellara and peppery Biancolilla. The dishes are also complemented with il Casale’s in house wine from the same region. The full menu for the evening is as follows:

Insalata di Finocchio all'Olio Taibi "Nocellara" **
fennel, arugula & nocellara olive salad dressed with Olio Taibi's "Nocellara" olive oil
Chardonnay, stemmari, sicily, italy
Bruschetta al Pesce Azzurro
smoked bluefish pate, grilled garlic bread bruschetta finished with Olio Taibi "Biancolilla"
Rose, nero d'avola & planeta, sicily, italy
Maccheroni al Pesto Siciliano **
homemade tube pasta, sun-dried tomato pesto, almonds, pecorino pepato siciliano D.O.P finished with Olio Taibi "Nocellara"
Gnero d'avola, noto, feudo maccara, sicily, italy
Agnello al Forno alla Saracena, Cous-cous al Pistacchio con Olio Taibi "Nocellara"
oven roasted lamb saracene style, pistachio cous-cous, crispy artichokes & Olio Taibi "Nocellara"
Cerasuolo di vittoria, cos, sicily, italy
Torta della Nonna all'Olio Taibi "Biancolilla"
Grandma’s olive oil tea cake, whipped ricotta, candied orange peel
Passito di pantelleria, donna fugata, sicily, italy

All courses marked ** are vegetarian
All courses can be made nut free

Tickets for the five-course meal are $85 (exclusive of tax and gratuity) and can be reserved over the phone at 781-538-5846.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sousaku Bistro in Malden: First Impressions

Malden is home to numerous interesting & tasty restaurants, including a significant number of ethnic spots, from Vietnamese to Haitian. It would take you plenty of time to explore all of them, meaning you might miss out on some of the best places. For example, though Sousaku Bistro, a Japanese restaurant, has been open since the end of 2015, it was only until recently that I dined there a couple times for lunch.

Located at 166 Eastern Avenue, and set up a little from the road, it can be easy to drive by and miss this spot. And it isn't in an area that seems to get much foot traffic. Around the corner, on Ferry Street, you''ll find several other restaurants and most of the foot traffic is there. As such, Sousaku seems to fly under the radar and you need to intentionally seek it out. It is open six days a week, closed only on Tuesdays.

Sousaku has a quite large menu of Japanese cuisine, from Sushi to Yakitori, Kushikatsu to Rice Bowls, and so much more. Many of these are traditional dishes, but there are also plenty of more innovative dishes where the chef has created his own unique takes. Prices are generally reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the dishes. They have a fully stocked bar, including Sake (with several good options) and Japanese Whiskey.

The Sushi Lunch ($12) includes 5 pieces of Nigiri Sushi and a Tuna Roll, accompanied with Miso Soup and Salad. The miso and salad were good, with a light and tasty dressing atop the salad.

The Sushi was good-sized, tasted fresh and was very satisfying. Two pieces of Maguro are usually $7.50, meaning their Sushi is a bit more expensive than many other spots, but still less expensive than some high-end places. And based on the size and quality, the price is fair. This lunch special is a very good deal.

The Sweet Potato Tempura (3 pieces for $2.95) was exquisite, just perfect crispy tempura batter covering the tender sweet potato. I often judge a Japanese restaurant by the quality of their tempura and in this regard, Sousaku is a big winner. I would probably order some tempura every time I dined here.

The Tatsuta-Age ($6) is deep fried marinated fried chicken in a light batter, and it was tender and moist with a nice taste to the flavor, with hints of possibly ginger. This has a much lighter batter than "chicken fingers" and it is more about the chicken than the batter.

The Boky Bun ($6) is a roasted pork bun, served with lettuce, fried scallion & their special barbecue sauce. However, the menu doesn't mention there is also mayo on the bun, which was a fail for me. Otherwise, it was a delicious sandwich, with tender pork, a soft bun, and the fried scallions added a nice little crunch.

The Chashu Pork Noodle Soup ($9.25) is made with slices of roasted pork, shiitake mushroom, fried onion, scallion, corn, half-boiled egg, sesame, and wakame. You then have the choice of a Curry Broth or Tonkotsu Broth. You also have the option of Soba, Ramen or Udon noodles. I opted for the Tonkotsu with Ramen, and it was okay but nothing special. Presentation was lacking and it lacked the depth of flavor you find in better Ramen soups.

The Yakitori menu has 12 options ($3-$10 per skewer), and you order by the individual skewer, though there is a Combo plate available.  I tried the Matsusaka Pork, Oyster Mushroom Wrapped in Bacon, Scallop, and Chicken. I liked the barbecue sauce on each grilled skewer, with the nuttiness of the sesame seeds, and the meats and seafood were cooked well, being moist, tender and flavorful. A nice variety of flavor and textures, and I would like to try more of the skewers.

The Dessert Menu has 4 choices, such as Fried Ice Cream and Mochi, and I enjoyed the Fried Banana ($5). A nice, crispy light batter covered the sweet, slightly mushy banana pieces.

Sousaku is worthy checking out, though maybe their menu is too large and they might be better off concentrating on less. Service was excellent on both of my visits. I will be returning there to check out more of their offerings and would like to hear from anyone else who has dined there.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rant: Making Hospitality Better With A Japanese Proverb

Servers, consider this hypothetical: You have been asked to serve a once-in-a-lifetime table of customers. How would your service differ in this experience over your usual service?

Take some time to ponder your answer. Be honest with your answer. You aren't giving a public response so there is no need to put up a front.

Now, if you answered that your service might be better, more extensive, more accommodating, more personable, or something similar, then maybe you need to change your mindset concerning service. Maybe you need to learn some Japanese.

Ichigo ichie is a Japanese proverb that can be literally translated as “one time, one meeting,” or more loosely translated as "one chance in a lifetime" or "never again." The underlying meaning of the proverb is that you need to cherish every encounter in your life as if it will never be experienced again, as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime event. Even if you meet the same people at multiple encounters, each of those encounters is unique in its own way, and you never know if that meeting will be the last one.

This proverb is a central component of Japanese hospitality, also known as Omotenashi. I'm not going to go into depth on the concept of omotenashi in this post, but will concentrate on ichigo ichie. Japanese servers cherish the moment with each guest, understanding this might be their only encounter with this person so they want to present their best face and give their best service. You give your all, for every guest, at all times. You don't adjust your service as to whether you feel someone is a big tipper or not.

This is far from an easy concept to enact, especially considering what we are taught in our American culture. In addition, for this concept to best work, customers need to embrace it as well. They need to accept each restaurant visit as something unique, a once in a lifetime meal. There needs to be a mutual respect between customer and server. The customer needs to strive to be the best they can be as well. And it might be far easier to get servers to change than customers. How many customers are going to be open to lessons in how they can be a better customer?

Let this be a starting point for further discussion. The Japanese certainly have fascinating thoughts on hospitality and maybe they can be adapted for the U.S. hospitality industry. Or maybe the U.S. isn't ready for such a change.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

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.
1) The Table at Season to Taste is proud to host the first-ever Boston Chefs for Gun Safety dinner at Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester on September 17, at 6:00PM. Chef Carl Dooley and Pastry Chef Mary Edinger of The Table are delighted to welcome some of the city’s best chefs to participate in this event at the picturesque barn at Wright-Locke Farm for a very special dinner benefiting an important and all-too-real cause.

VIP Guest chefs creating a memorable five course dinner paired with wine include: Alex Saenz/BISq, Cassie Piuma/Sarma, David Bazirgan /Bambara and Lydia Reichert/Sycamore. Guest speakers at the dinner will include representatives from Moms Demand Action Massachusetts and the Survivors Network. All proceeds will benefit Everytown for Gun Safety.

The Table’s Chef Carl Dooley explains why the restaurant felt it was important and necessary to host this first-time event. “After the Parkland shooting in February, I asked our team if we could donate all the profits from that night’s sold-out dinner service to Everytown for Gun Safety. We all felt strongly that it was important to put our money where our hearts were, and that shooting, like each one before it, just made no sense at all. When the opportunity was presented to host another benefit with our friends at Wright-Locke Farm this year, this just felt like exactly the right cause for us to put our time and energy behind. I never felt scared going to school. This was something I never thought about, and now that I have a daughter, I hate that kids don’t have that same sense of security in their learning environment that I had.”

Rina Schneur of Moms Demand Action, MA says, “We are extremely grateful to The Table at Season to Taste and the participating chefs for their decision to donate the proceeds of this unique event to Moms Demand Action and Everytown. We are a volunteer-based organization and this donation will help us greatly with materials and expenses related to our efforts to recruit and mobilize members, and lobby for sensible gun safety laws. "

Robert Harris, owner, The Table at Season To Taste shares, “We are excited to work with Wright Locke Farm for this event. They share our passion for sourcing from our local growers, and they are a leader in providing agriculture education in the town of Winchester. They care about families and communities. We’ve hosted several events at this beautiful venue over the years and we are so grateful Wright-Locke Farm has agreed to host us for this event. This is such an important cause, I am glad we can create a memorable dinner and experience for everyone participating, from the setting to the food to the live music, it will be a one-of-a-kind evening.”

This first-time event is an RSVP/Ticket event. Please reserve your tickets at

2) The Bodega Canal teams invites guests to celebrate Taco Tuesday with delicious taco deals every Tuesday evening. Steps away from TD Garden, new Mexican hotspot Bodega Canal celebrates Taco Tuesday with special deals.

Every Tuesday evening, from 4:30 to 10 p.m. (unless otherwise noted in case of TD Garden event), Bodega Canal offers a $1 rotating taco and $2 specialty rotating taco. On event nights at TD Garden, Taco Tuesday specials are available beginning at the event start time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Brunch at Ledger Restaurant & Bar: Bloody Mary, Cinnamon Roll & Fried Chicken

Ponder this: Is Brunch just an excuse to have a cocktail for breakfast? 

This past Sunday, I wanted to check out a Brunch and after perusing the interesting menu for Ledger Restaurant & Bar in Salem, I decided to dine there. Ledger serves Brunch on both Saturday and Sunday, starting at 10am, and you can opt to sit on their patio or inside the spacious restaurant. It was fairly busy on Sunday, though we didn't need a reservation to be seated. Though I'd had some cocktails at Ledger when it first opened, I hadn't dined there yet.

There are 6 cocktails on their Brunch menu, including a Mimosa, Paloma and Sangria. Most are priced at $9-$10 except for their 22 oz Bloody Mary ($14), which is pictured above, and garnished with celery, an olive, a gherkin, and a hot pepper. It was a well made drink, with a pleasant spiciness and some other intriguing spices that were hard to identify, but which helped to make this cocktail different from many other Bloody Marys.

We began our meal with a couple Sides, which are priced from $4-$6. One of their Sides is their Daily Donut ($5), and its flavors vary week to week. Their two flavors this week didn't appeal to us so we opted for a couple others, including the Cinnamon Roll ($4), smeared with an ample portion of creamy, sweet frosting. The Roll itself was fresh, soft and flaky, with plenty of cinnamon. An excellent way to begin your Brunch. My only minor complaint is that they didn't need the light touch of powdered sugar. That is certainly a pet peeve of mine as I see no real reason for its necessity.

And the Banana Bread ($4) also didn't need the powdered sugar either. Slightly warm, the banana bread was moist and flavorful, with a rice banana taste. Another very good way to start your brunch, or end it, dependent on when you choose to have your sweet.

The menu has 14 Entrees, priced at $10-$17 except for the Prime Skirt Steak & Eggs ($29). You'll find items such as the House-Cured Pastrami Hash ($15), Breakfast Burger ($17), Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich ($12), and Maple Glazed Pork Belly ($14). I am also intrigued by the Banana Bread Foie-ster ($15) which consists of grilled banana bread, rum caramel sauce, seared bananas, & foie gras butter. I also ordered that but will likely do so on a future trip to Ledger.

The Eggs Bendict ($14) has house-made Canadian bacon, soft poached eggs, & smoked hollandaise atop a megamuffin with a side of breakfast potatoes. The hollandaise sauce was done well, contributing to the excellent taste of this dish. The potatoes were also cooked just right, making this a hearty and delicious dish.

I opted for the Chicken & Waffles ($14), which included buttermilk fried chicken, a corn waffle, green chile butter, hot honey, and a side of pickles. The fried chicken was superb, with a great, crisp and clean coating, moist chicken with an added sweetness from the honey. The waffle too was very good, with only a mild corn flavor, enhanced by a subtle spice from the green chile butter. One of the best Chicken & Waffles dishes I've enjoyed in some time, and it is highly recommended.

Service was excellent, and out server was pleasant, personable and accommodating. Prices were reasonable considering the quality and quantity of food. My first impression of the Ledger's cuisine was certainly very positive and I look forward to dining there again soon.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Rant: Restaurant Success & Failure

What is the secret to restaurant success?

Recently, Taberna de Haro celebrated their 20th Anniversary, a huge milestone, and during those years it has earned numerous raves and accolades. Though there have been some changes to the restaurant over the years, it has remained true to its original concept, serving Spanish food and wine. Taberna has the best Spanish wine list in the Boston+ area, and maybe even all of New England, and also they also offer a large list of Sherries, again more than any other restaurant in the area. I know that if I am in the area, I usually stop there.

On the other hand, Les Sablons, in Harvard Square, has closed, after only about one year in business.  The restaurant was owned by the same team that owns the successful Island Creek Oyster Bars and Row 34. Les Sablons received much acclaim and accolades, for both its cuisine and wine list. It would have seemed to have a bright future so its sudden closure is puzzling, and the owners have not publicly released any reasons for that closure. Why did it fail? We might never know the exact reasons.

Two well acclaimed restaurants. Why does one last for 20 years while the other lasts only 1?

I certainly don't have the answers, and I'm not sure anyone else does either. If the answers were that easy, then far less restaurants would close after a relatively short time. There are certainly though some known factors which contribute to a restaurant's success. At the most basic, a restaurant needs a sufficient number of customers and that would seem obvious. However, how do you bring in those customers? A good location is important, an area that might have good foot traffic, or where the restaurant is easily visible by those driving in the area. Customers need to know of a restaurant's existence, and some places can be open for years but some people still don't know anything about it.

Social media has a role too, helping to alert potential customers to the restaurant's existence, and providing reasons why customers should go there. That includes not just posting on social media but also interacting with potential customers, sharing their reviews, addressing their concerns, and being seen as a place that cares. It can also be as easy as having a restaurant website that clearly lists your hours. This weekend, I went to the website of a local pizza shop and their hours weren't listed. I placed an online order and didn't learn until almost an hour later, that the restaurant was closed all day. A major fail not to have their hours listed, and to allow me to order online despite their being closed.

Owning a restaurant isn't easy. It is more than just being a good chef. You need excellent business skills too, juggling your costs against your income, acquiring and managing your staff, dealing with landlords and investors, and much more. Many close within the first three years of operation. You would almost have to be a masochist to open a restaurant.

If you are a customer and love a restaurant, then please support them in whatever manner you can. Spread the word, telling your friends and family, telling strangers that want to know where to dine. Dine there as often as you can. Tip well. Try to understand restaurant costs and why they might need to raise their prices to stay in business. Even your favorite restaurant might close so do what you can to help them survive.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

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.
1) SRV’s co-executive chefs of Kevin O’Donnell and Michael Lombardi bring back their popular cicchetti takeover series with guest chef, David Punch of Buttonwood, Little Big Diner & Sycamore on Wednesday, August 1st from 5:30pm – 7:30pm. This culinary event series invites a local chef to step into the cicchetti station and serve up a creative and complimentary take on the Venetian-style small bites for guests of the bar to enjoy.

Guests will be treated to Punch’s spin on cicchetti to the likes of; Calabrian Hot Link (peppers & pecorino pienza), Compressed Heirloom Melon (iberico ham & basil), Local Goat Cheese (Mountain Honey & Fennel Pollen), Sweet Corn & Jonah Crab Croquettas (”remoulade”), and Marinated Littleneck Clam (avocado & chili crisp).  Chef Punch will join O’Donnell & Lombardi in SRV’s sleek bar and bacaro area of the restaurant where guests can pair their gratis bites with Italian-inspired cocktails, amaro or a variety of wine by the glass and bottle.

Reservations are not required. Featured cicchetti will not be available in main dining room. For more information, please contact (617) 536-9500.

2) CHOPPS American Bar and Grill welcomes guests for an evening of fun backyard cornhole games and tasty treats garnished with a dollop of friendly competition and a generous serving of philanthropy, as they fundraise to support Mass General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center.

On Thursday, August 16, from 5pm-8pm, guests are invited to join a team and compete in a cornhole tournament for a grand prize as they support Mass General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center on the Terrace at CHOPPS. Whether you’re tossing the bean bag or cheering on your team, CHOPPS has prepared a night of entertainment for all. Guests can sit and unwind while listening to live music by the talented Jay Psaros and enjoy lager-than-life tastings from local Massachusetts breweries such as Lord Hobo, Sam Adams, Night Shift, and Ipswich Ale Brewery.

CHOPPS’ Executive Chef Steve Zimei will offer his crowd-favorite small bites, while Sean Lynch from Natick’s Ice Haus will cure anyone’s sweet tooth with his famous creamy gelato. Guest Bartender Michael Ray from Proximo will also be onsite to shake things up with craft cocktails you won’t want to miss.

100% of proceeds from the silent auction will go to the Children’s Cancer Center. Eight teams will compete beginning at 5:00 PM and finalists will take the stage at 7:00PM. Tickets can be purchased via Eventbrite for $35, with proceeds benefitting Mass General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center. CHOPPS will provide T-shirts, bean bags and cornhole boards all adorned with competing companies’ logo.

To enter your team into the tournament, contact Bianca Dickey via email at, or call 781-221-6684

3) Dine Out Boston (formerly Restaurant Week Boston) will be held August 5-11, and August 12-17. It is ponsored by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and American Express twice a year, providing locals and visitors a chance to enjoy some of Boston's finest dining at special prices. Some Restaurants offer more interesting choices than others so you should carefully look through the listed menus to find what you like best.

Let me give you a few of my own preferences:

CHOPPS American Bar and Grill: Their menu includes a 3 course dinner, for $38 (plus tax & gratuity), with dishes such as Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Grilled Double Cut Bacon, Seared Bronzino and Plum-Cardomom Crumble.

Pabu: Their menu includes a 3 course dinner, for $38 (plus tax & gratuity), with dishes such as Tokyo Fried Chicken Kara-age, Salmon Oyako Donburi, Waygu Flank Steak and Mochi Ice Cream.

Select Oyster Bar: Their menu includes a 3 course dinner, for $38 (plus tax & gratuity), with dishes such as Maine Lobster Caprese, Roasted Arctic Char, and Smoked Bluefish Pate.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

World Baijiu Day Is August 9--Celebrate at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen

Have you ever tasted Baijiu, a Chinese spirit which is actually the most popular spirit in the world? Many Americans haven't tasted it and know little, if anything about it. When is the last time you saw a Boston-area writer pen an article about Baijiu? It is a rarity, indicating that more attention should be paid to this spirit. Not enough people are writing and talking about this unique beverage, despite its fascinating history, production methods, and customs. We need to change this and World Baijiu Day can help spread the word, and maybe entice more writers to talk about Baijiu.

Next Thursday, August 9, is World Baijiu Day, a holiday created by Jim Boyce, who runs the nightlife blog Beijing Boyce and wine blog Grape Wall of ChinaThe intent of the day is to raise awareness of Baijiu, to highlight its wonders beyond the borders of China. Jim does a great job year-round to promote Baijiu and his site is a wealth of information. As I've said before, Baijiu seems to be the Durian fruit of the spirits world, both having a reputation for funkiness which turns off some people, while others become fervent fans. It is a compelling beverage and I strongly encourage everyone to seek it out and sample some of its wonders.

I've written eight articles about Baijiu, covering a diverse selection of topics, from Baijiu reviews to a detailed explanation of its production methods. Check out these articles to learn some basics about Baijiu.  

Baijiu: The Durian Fruit Of The Spirits World (Part 1)
Baijiu: Its Unique Production Process (Part 2)
Baijiu: Drinking Etiquette & Some Reviews (Part 3)
Baijiu: Cocktails, Boston & World Baijiu Day (Part 4)
Baijiu: Food Pairings (Part 5)
Vinn Bajiu: Made in Portland
Baijiu: The Essential Guide To Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus
Taizi Baijiu: A New Zealand Treasure

In celebration of World Baijiu Day, there will be events held all over the world, from Beijing to Alsace, Marseilles to Vancouver. Within the U.S., you'll find special events being held in Los Angeles, New York City, Portland (Oregon), Washington D.C. and Cambridge (Massachusetts). Hopefully other places will decide to host events for World Baijiu Day too.

In Kendall Square, Cambridge, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is once again celebrating this holiday. First, from August 6th to 12th, they are offering a special dish, Sizzling Baijiu Shrimp, for $30 per serving.

This dish is prepped table-side on a sizzling hot plate that is loaded with shrimp, splashed with Baijiu and oil, and then covered.

Once uncovered, they get drizzled with a mix of soy sauce, scallions, and red and green peppers. This looks intriguing, and I'm very curious how the shrimp will taste with the Baijiu. And that dish has tons of shrimp!

In addition to popping baijiu by the bottle including Maotai ($288), Wuliangye ($160) and Luhzou Laojiao ($98), the team at Sumiao also offers tastings of baijiu in one-ounce pours from the Hong Kong ($11) and Jiannanchun ($12) bottlings. Sumiao’s baijiu cocktails are great options for those seeking a sweeter taste of Chinese culture, including Sumiao’s Side Car mixing Hong Kong baijiu, Hardy VS cognac, cointreau, lemon reduction ($12); as well as the Perpetual Motion made with Mianzhu Daqu, blood orange, lime, elderflower liqueur and mint ($13).

Baijiu still isn't easy to find in the Boston area so Sumiao might be one of your best options for celebrating this holiday and learning more about this compelling spirit. Expand your palate and try something different and more unique. Drink some Baijiu and celebrate World Baijiu Day!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Rant: Can Chefs/Restaurant Owners Afford To Speak Out?

Within the last few years, social media has become seemingly dominated by the discussion of political and social issues. There are some chefs/restaurant owners who have been vociferously vocal about such matters while others have remained mostly silent. And other chefs/restaurant owners fall somewhere with this range. Chefs/restaurant owners who speak out risk losing potential customers who are offended by what is said. With the razor-thin margins that most restaurants operate under, can chefs/restaurant owners afford to lose a percentage of their customer base?

If you offend 10%, 20% or even more of your potential customer base, how will that affect your bottomline? The simple math would seem to indicate it could be a serious problem. Can you count on your supporters making up for your lost business by dining at your restaurant more frequently? Restaurant costs have been increasing so is now really the proper time to offend potential customers and turn away their business?

Every time a chef/restaurant owner speaks out on a political or social issue, they risk losing some customers. It is a complicated matter though, and much depends on exactly what is said, what isn't said, and how it is said. Some positions are relatively noncontroversial. The more inflammatory the language you use, the greater the risk. If you denigrate and insult those who possess an opposing viewpoint, your risk increases even more. You could even end up offending those who might agree with your basic position, but dislike how you present your views.

Even if a chef/restaurant owner remains largely silent about their political and social views, some people will be upset, thinking they should speak out on certain issues. It can be a no-win situation, where you risk losing potential customers whether you speak or remain silent. It is no longer sufficient to simply provide good food, drink and service. Now, a number of customers want to judge you based on your political and social positions.

Chefs/restaurant owners need to very carefully consider what they say, and don't say, on social media.   Before you post, or choose not to post, take time to consider how that might reflect on your business. Are you willing to risk losing customers over what you say or don't say? Is there a better way to say what you want to say, which won't be as offensive but will still depict your position? Remember that your words, or silence, could ultimately affect everyone who works for you.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

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.
1) il Casale Cucina Campana + Bar teams up with Lexington’s own Wilson Farm for an authentic, farm-to-table, Summer Harvest Dinner. On Saturday, August 4th, starting at 5pm, the team at il Casale Cucina Campana in Lexington showcases a five-course rustic Italian dinner with the fresh and local produce of Wilson Farm’s summer harvest.

Chef Dante de Magistris encapsulates the crisp, natural, and uncomplicated feeling of summertime for this exclusive experience. The event is a must attend with each course carefully paired with fresh, white wines exclusive to the il Casale family - including a beautiful sparkling rose from Greece. The full menu is:

First Course
Involtino di Zucchine (Oregano Marinated Grilled Zucchini, Local Field Greens, Haricots Verts, Pecorino Aioli)
Coda di Volpe, "Phoenix", Contrada, Candida, Italy (2016)
Second Course
Bruschetta di Sogliola (Lemon-Sole Bruschetta, Native Heirloom Tomatoes, Spicy Basil-Garlic Pesto)
Fiano di Avellino, "Phoenix", Contrada, Candida, Italy (2016)
Third Course
Risotto di Barbabietole (Roasted Beet Risotto, Watercress, Baked Vermont Goat Cheese, Crispy Beet Chips)
Grechetto, "Grecante", Arnaldo Caprai, Umbria, Italy (2013)
Fourth Course
Sulla Spaggia Americana (Cape Cod Grilled Striped Bass, Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes, Grilled Corn on the Cob)
Greco di Tufo,"Giallo d'arles", Quintodecimo, Campania, Italy (2015)
Fifth Course
Magna Grecia (Watermelon, Greek Feta, Phyllo Nests Dipped in Honey, Fresh Mint)
Sparkling Rose, Xinomavro, Kir-yanni Akakies, Greece (2017)

Price is $75 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity.
Space is limited – please call 781-538-5846 to make a reservation.

2) Saturday, July 28 is the official 20th Anniversary of the opening of Taberna de Haro, a Spanish restaurant in Brookline. This is one of my favorite spots, and they possess a fantastic Spanish wine list, including plenty of Sherry.

To commemorate this Anniversary, they will offer a free glass of Cava o diners that evening, July 28. Also, Chef/owner Deborah Hansen has created a section on the menu called “Favorites from the Past 20 Years” in which she offers some of the best-loved dishes. This section, which includes dishes such as ‘orange-scented rabbit with olives & marcona almonds’ and ‘grilled langostinos with spicy pimentón mayonnaise’, will continue throughout the year. Unique Wine Tasting Seminars will be held in the fall to further celebrate this big birthday. 

Taberna de Haro opened in July of 1998 with the simple goal of serving the most authentic Spanish food in Boston. After twenty years Taberna de Haro is still the go-to place for discerning diners who seek high quality, authentic Spanish food in a friendly environment, accompanied by the most interesting Spanish wines. Back in 1998, the wine list consisted of about 40 Spanish wines. Today, the list is 40 pages long and offers 315 wines, all from Spain, making it one of the largest all-Spanish wine lists in the country. 85 of those entries are sherry. Hansen carefully curates the list, thoughtfully tasting each wine and then writing an elaborate description for every one of them. “The aim is to inform and to tempt,” says Hansen. Guests often remark that the literary style and the detail of the descriptions invite them to try wines completely unfamiliar to them. The prices are notably fair, and the wine program has garnered local, national, and international acclaim.

The cuisine offers a taste of the humble Spanish food that you find on a family’s table or a local tavern’s menu. Yes, there are tapas, beloved items such as jamón croquetas, saffron & salt-cod balls, stuffed little piquillo peppers, spicy garlic shrimp,etc.; but there are also lovable main dishes that show off the heart of Spanish cuisine, such as pan- fried sole, free-range chicken half, Madrid-styled meatballs, lamb chops with garlic- vinegar splashed french fries, and more. The sizable, satisfying dishes of Spain can get overlooked in the tsunami of tapas in any given city, and Deborah wants to give them their proper recognition as an integral part of classic Spanish dining. She visits Spain at least once a year to keep her repertoire broad and her recipes faithful.

Although initially opened by partners Deborah Hansen and Julio de Haro, Taberna de Haro has been owned and led solely by Deborah Hansen since July of 2007 when she and Mr. de Haro parted ways. (He went on to open Estragon Restaurant). In 2012, Deborah expanded her 36 seat restaurant to 60 by taking over the adjacent real estate. The expansion included upgrading to a full liquor license and the creation of a 13-seat bar in the airy new space. The backbar that dominates the room is of local historical note. Purchased in an architectural antique store, the stunning piece that now holds sherry and gin bottles was once the marquee for the Paramount Theatre in Boston. You can see the tell-tale ‘P’ on the stained glass panels that flank the structure.

Although not technically Spanish, Ms. Hansen has spent enough time in Spain to have mastered the art of warm hospitality and loving preparation of traditional Spanish food. Over the eight or so years that she lived in Madrid, Deborah travelled to all corners of this culinarily diverse country eating the local foodstuffs and drinking the wines unique to each zone. After receiving a B.A. from Bates College and an M.A. from NYU (in Spanish, and Spanish and Latin-American literature, respectively), Deborah also received her Sommelier title in Madrid while co-owning a restaurant there called Cornucopia.

3) Post 390 is celebrating Shark Week the best way possible – with their very own Charc Week Sharkuterie Menu. From July 22 – 29, guests are welcomed to stop in and grab some of the following bites at Post 390’s tavern:

--Cape Shark Pastrami - house-baked marbled rye, spicy brown mustard, fermented cabbage
--Pickled Herring Rollmops*- beetroot, watermelon radish, spent grain bread, cultured butter
--Chilled Smoked Mussels - herb aioli, pickled allium, breadcrumbs
--Scallop Mortadella - pistachios, smoked pork fat, sweetcorn relish, petite pain de mie
--Dill-Cured Bluefish Gravlax*- mini everything bagel, chive cream cheese, capers, pickled fennel, red onion
The full board is $35, or diners can order one item for $8 each.

You can also pair your charcuterie with selections fro, Post 390’s extensive beer menu, including Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Cisco Brewery Shark Tracker Lager.

4) Dave Cagle, co-owner of The Automatic, welcomes dear friend Chef Jamie Bissonette to The Automatic for the return of PAELLA ON THE PORCH on August 5. Jamie will be cooking up a huge pan of his award-winning paella as he takes over The Automatic’s porch. The public is welcome, reservations are recommended, this event sold out quickly last year. “We are stoked to welcome Jamie back to The Automatic to cook up his over-the-top paella for one hot summer night” says Cagle. “What’s better than hanging out on your porch, drinking some cocktails and having a friend whip up some amazing paella for you and a crowd? This is fantastic!

I attended this event last year & it was delicious & fun. Check out my previous article, Paella Showdown, and see some pictures of the paella and details on last year's event. I highly recommend you attend this event. Who doesn't love a good Paella?

When: August 5, 5pm onward til the paella runs out
Reservations: Strongly Recommended so please call 617-714-5226

5) Chef Will Gilson, along with notable Boston-area chefs, and the Puritan & Co. team invite guests to join them for a delicious, multi-course meal inspired by culinary legend Julia Child. Other participating chefs include: Cassie Piuma of Sarma, Tony Messina of Uni, Nick Calias of Brasserie Jo, Douglass Williams of MIDA, and Rebekah Cote of Puritan & Company

On Wednesday, August 15th, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Puritan & Co. will team up with area chefs to celebrate the life and culinary adventures of one of the culinary world’s greatest heroes, Julia Child. Guest chefs from around Boston will prepare their favorite recipes from, “The Art of French Cooking” and present guests with a unique multi-course meal. Taking place on Julia’s birthday, the dinner will celebrate the birth of one of the most important culinary visionaries in history.

This event will be seated in a communal style at larger tables, though each dish is served individually. Carafes of wine on each table will be kept full for all to share with full wine, beer, and cocktail lists available for purchase.

Tickets can be purchased at

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Committee: The Democratization Of Wine Pop-Up

"Wine is best in its natural state--when it's a pure expression of its traditions and origins, without the gloss of additives or industrial winemaking."
--Lauren Friel, Wine Director at Committee

Let me ask you once again: Why aren't you drinking more Greek wines?

An excellent spot to gain experience with Greek wines is at Committee Ouzeri + Bar, located in the Fan Pier area, and one of my favorite restaurants. As I previously mentioned, Committee has taken a bold step forward, honing their wine list until now it is 100% Greek Wine and 100% Natural Wine. Their wine list is broken down into two menus: By The Glass and By The Bottle, though all of the By The Glass options are also available by the bottle.

The By The Glass list includes two Sparkling wines, two Rosé wines, three Whites and 3 Reds (priced $11-$16/glass and $44-$64/bottle). The By The Bottle list has a total of 27 wines, broken down into 11 Whites, 3 Orange wines, and 13 Reds, with 19 wines costing $60 or less. As you can see, their bottles prices are reasonable, with a few splurge-worthy wines at higher price points. The list ranges across the varied regions of Greece, and include wines made from numerous indigenous grapes including Vidiano, Aidini, Roditis, Savatiano, Mandilaria, Limnio and more. Wine Director Lauren Friel has put together a well-focused, diverse, intriguing and delicious wine list. I've previously tasted some of the wines on the list, and all of those wines are excellent choices.

In addition this summer, Committee is holding a Natural Wine Bar Pop-Up on their patio every Wednesday night, starting at 5pm, and running through August 29. Each week, they will offer a small list of special Greek wines, which will change regularly, including some rarer selections. At last week's Pop-Up, I attended as a media guest, enjoying the four Greek wines which were offered. The weather was perfect that evening, so it was a delight to sit out on the patio and enjoy some fine Greek wine and food. The patio was quite busy, and I saw a significant number of people enjoying the wines that were being offered.

Lauren moved from table to table, describing the wines to those who were interested, sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience. A great opportunity for any wine lover to learn about Greek wine. The full dinner menu is available on the patio so you have plenty of choices to pair with the various wines, and Lauren will give you recommendations if you so desire. I very much enjoyed all four wines that were offered, each providing its own unique taste profile.

First, I sampled the 2015 Ktima Parparoussis Assyrtiko ($13 glass/$52 bottle). At an average retail price of $28 retail, the bottle price is less than twice the retail cost which is a good value in the restaurant world. I previously attended a wine dinner hosted by the winery's founder, Athanassios (Thanassis) Parparoussis so you can check out my prior article, Parparoussis Winery & Greek Delights, for background on the winery. I also got to meet Dimitra & Erifyli Parparoussis, the daughters of Athanassios, and taste more of their wines, and you can read about that in An Odyssey Greek Wine Tasting with Cava Spiliadis

From the Achaia region of the Peloponnese, Lauren states this is "Assyrtiko off the beaten path," as most Assyrtiko is from the island of Santorini. As such, the Parparoussis Assyrtiko has a different profile than most Santorini Assyrtiko, with a fuller body and riper fruit. There are tastes of melon, pear and citrus, with good acidity, and hints of floral notes. There is a nice complexity to the taste and a long, satisfying finish. A very pleasant summer wine, this would go well with seafood, light chicken dishes, and cheeses.

The 2017 Papras 'Oreads' Black Muscat ($11/glass, $44/bottle--about $22/average retail) is produced by Papras Bio Wines, the first winery in Greece to be certified as organic back in 1990. Stergios Papras was the oenologist from the start, and helped to give fame to the grape Black Muscat of Tyrnavos. Though Black Muscat grows in various parts of the world, the grape in Tyrnavos has its own unique characteristics. Tyrnavos sits on a plain at the base of Mount Olympus. The name "Oreads" refers to mountains nymphs in Greek mythology.

The Papras 'Oreads' is a rare blanc de noirs, which was vinified in stainless steel, with indigenous yeast and almost no skin contact but 70% of the stems were reintroduced into the fermentation tank and then removed once it was completed. The wine was both unfiltered and unfined, which accounts for the cloudy nature of its appearance. On the nose, there is a strong aroma of Muscat spice and they too are prominent on the palate as well. The palate is more savory, with subtle notes of peach and citrus, and a touch of spritz. A very unique flavor and texture profile which should appeal to wine lovers seeking something different. 

From the same winery as above, the 2017 Papras 'Coccinella' Rosé ($11/glass, $44/bottle) is also made from Black Muscat of Tyrnavos. This wine was fermented, with indigenous yeast, in stainless steel and was a surprising wine to me. The nose presented with alluring and bright red fruit aromas yet on the palate, the wine was much more savory and spicy, with only subtle red fruit flavors. Such a dichotomy between the aromas and taste, but that isn't a bad thing. The taste was complex and intriguing, delicious and intense. Definitely a Rosé to slowly savor, marveling in each sip, especially while sitting on a patio on a fine summer evening.

The 2014 Thymiopoulos Naoussa Xinomavro ($12/glass, $48/bottle--about $25 average retail) is produced by a family which has owned vineyards in this region for several generations, selling their grapes to other wineries. It was only recently though that Apostolos Thymiopoulos, upon his graduation with a oenology degree from the University of Athens, started their own label Thymiopoulos Vineyards. Lauren told me that this was one of her top favorite Greek wines of all time.

The wine is made from 100% Xinomavro, from 30 year old vines, and it spent about twelve months in oak. It is unfiltered and has a low 12.5% ABV, making it easy to have a second or even third glass. It has a nice, dark red color with a compelling and complex nose of red fruit, earthy spice, and a touch of vanilla. On the palate, it is silky smooth and elegant, with well-integrated tannins and excellent acidity. The complex melange of flavors include ripe plum, cherry, olive, and vanilla, with elements of earthiness and deep spice. It is full bodied with a delightful, lingering finish. An excellent and well-balanced wine, I highly recommended it!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the delicious food I enjoyed while sipping these wines. The Feta ($14), which is sesame encrusted with honey, is a perennial favorite, with that crispy, nutty coating, and the salty feta balanced by the sweetness of the honey. It is hard not to order this dish every time I dine at Committee.

A new dish for me was the Kalamboki ($10), which is an ample-sized dish of sautéed corn with Kalamata olive butter and shaved graveria (a Greek cheese). Quite tasty, there was a nice blend of sweet butter with the salt of the cheese and the olives. It elevated the corn to become an even more comforting dish, with a Greek flair.

The Crab Kataifi ($16) consists of shredded phyllo, forming a type of nest, golding chunks of lump crab and tipped by a sliced plum. The phyllo sits atop some whipped feta. The various textures and flavors blended well together, from the crunch of the phyllo to the sweet plum. The sweet crab remained prominent, enhanced by the slightly salty touch of the whipped feta. Another winner of a dish.

The Keftedakia ($14) are chicken meatballs with smoked honey and sitting atop warm hummus. The meatballs had a slight crunch to the exterior, and the inside was moist, meaty and flavorful, with hints of smoke and sweet. Another well-balanced dish, it went very well with the Xinomavro wine.

For dessert, there was Xinomavro Chocolate Cake ($10), with merenda, vanilla ice cream, and a Nescafe crumble. They even put a candle on it for my birthday. The cake was rich and fudgy, perfect for any chocolate lover, and I've really become a fan of merenda. A fitting end to a wonderful evening on the patio.

I've previously given you Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine and once again strongly encourage you to drink more Greek wine. And Committee is a perfect spot to enjoy a diverse selection of natural, Greek wines and to expand your knowledge through the experience of Wine Director Lauren Friel. On Wednesday nights this summer, check out their Wine Pop-Up, and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rant: Beets, Dirt & Enjoyment

Beets are a polarizing vegetable, with a significant number of people hating them, believing that they taste primarily like dirt. There are plenty of others though that love beets, specifically seeking them out on restaurant menus or at the grocery store. Beets are especially healthy and nutritious, making them a great choice for your diet. If you can only get past them tasting like dirt.

It's probably not a surprise that I'm not a fan of beets. Yes, I believe they taste like dirt, and not in a good way. I enjoy earthiness in my wines, but I feel there is a different type of earthiness in beets, one that doesn't appeal to my palate. I don't enjoy beet salads, no matter what other ingredients are included in such a salad. And I'm definitely not alone in my opinion of beets.

Could a chef find a way to get me to enjoy beets? The possibility exists, no matter how remote. Then, last week, that possibility became a reality.

While dining at Committee, a Greek restaurant in the Fan Pier region, they always provide you with a complimentary meze, usually a special Dip of the Day with warm pita slices. Their Sun Dried Tomato & Feta Dip has long been one of my favorites. Last week, their complimentary meze was a Beet & Garlic dip, and I winced a little when it was brought to the table. I assumed I wouldn't enjoy it because it was made with beets. Dirt-tasting beets!

However, I made the effort to taste it, to open my mind to the possibility that maybe I would like it. I did have high expectations but there were reasons to hold out a tiny bit of hope. First, I know the talent that Committee has in the kitchen, the culinary skills that transform ingredients into delicious and interesting dishes. As I've long said, a great chef can make me eat just about anything. Second, I wanted to be open, to be willing to at least try something new and different. I've often encouraged my readers to do the same, to be willing to eat or drink new things, to broaden their palates.

So, I slathered some of the beet & garlic dip upon a slice of pita, and took a tentative bite. And then another, and then another. It actually was tasty, with more of an earthiness rather than a dirt taste. It was enhanced by the garlic, and there was even a hint of sweetness to the dip. I was enjoying something made with beets! I ate and savored a good portion of the dip, and have to give kudos to the Chef and kitchen staff at Committee for creating such a tasty little dish.

When you go out to eat and drink, take chances. You never know where they might lead.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Perfection In A Bottle: Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry

Is this Sherry truly perfection in a bottle? 

In my own personal view, it was perfection, though I'll qualify that declaration by stating the sense of perfection came through due to a variety of factors, from the friends who shared that bottle with me to the lengthy history of this bottle. However, on its own, without all of those other factors, this Sherry is exceptional, maybe the best Sherry I've ever consumed. It very likely may be the best wine I drink this year. I can't recommend it highly enough and I hope to acquire more of it one day. If you ever find this Sherry on a wine store shelf, don't hesitate: BUY IT!

Before getting into the history of this Sherry, I should give a brief explanation of the Solera system, a process of fractional blending that is essential to the production of Sherry. A solera consists of a number of different tiers of barrels, known as criaderas. The oldest tier is commonly located on the floor of the bodega and progressively younger tiers are placed above this oldest tier. At various times during a year, Sherry will be extracted for bottling from the oldest tier, commonly 10%-15% of the barrel though it may be as much as 35%. Then, Sherry from the next oldest tier will be added to refill the oldest tier, and this process is then repeated for each tier as it is used to refill another tier. As such, the oldest tier eventually becomes a blend of Sherries of many different ages.

Now, onto the fascinating history of this very old Sherry. The origin of the Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry extends back to the early 18th century, when the solera system first started to be used by the Sherry industry. The bodegas of Aguilar y Cia were established in 1740 in Sanlúcar, and the solera that would eventually result in the Yuste Amontillado was founded sometime between 1740-1750. Just take a moment to consider its age, before even the U.S. acquired its independence, and maybe during King George's War.

We then consider the family of León Aldama y Respaldiza, which came to Sanlúcar from the province of Álava, part of the Basque region. In 1823, León took possession of the bodegas of Aguilar y Cia, acquiring their old barrels of Sherry. His family became quite famed in Sanlúcar, especially for their vast vineyards and fine wines. When León died in 1863, his two nephews, Pedro Aldama Gaviña and José Gabriel Aldama Camba, became his primary heirs. Eventually, José became the first Conde de Aldama ("Count of Aldama") and seems to have taken primary control of the family's wine holdings and production.

During the 1880s, the dreaded phylloxera came to the Jerez region, destroying numerous vineyards and causing a number of bodegas to close. José lost some of his valuable vineyards and though American rootstock was used to save Spanish vines, José found fault with these new vines. He didn't care for the wine made from the new grapes and refused to add the wine to nearly all of his soleras, except for a few test cases. He basically stopped producing any further wine, and only purchased pre-phylloxera wine to add to his established soleras. Around 1888, José finally decided to seal at least some of this oldest soleras, such as those acquired from Aguilar y Cia, behind plaster, allegedly to protect their value and prevent them from being adulterated with wine from new grafted vines.

When José passed away, his nephew, Antonio Aldama Mendivil, the Marqués de Ayala, acquired the estate. Antonio took well to the Sherry business, acting as an almacenista for a number of other companies, and he also invested in other business, from mining to banking. The old soleras, hidden behind the plaster, remained untouched. Eventually, around 1921, there were significant changes and Antonio's financial situation came down crashing as he had started paying insufficient attention to his businesses, being distracted by other matters such as his philanthropy.

Due to his bankruptcy, Antonio was forced to sell off most of his businesses and investments. It then appears that in 1927, the old solera from Aguilar y Cia that had been hidden behind plaster was finally unearthed and then sold to Manuel Argueso Hortal, a wine company that no longer exists. Even under that new ownership, the solera remained essentially untouched, eventually being sold to Valdespino and then later being acquired, with a winery, by a property developer.

Bodegas Yuste was founded by Francisco "Paso" Yuste Brioso, and in 1991, he purchased the historic Bodega Santa Ana in Sanlúcar, and then in 1998, he bought the Viña La Alamedilla, 46 hectares of vineyards in the Jerez pago Carrascal. Around 2001, the property developer who acquired the old solera and winery from Valdespino sold it all to Bodegas Yuste, which took the materials to reconstruct the Bodega Los Ángeles, located in Sanlúcar. This became the home for the ancient solera begun so long ago by Aguilar y Cia.

To this point, the only wine that entered the solera was a small amount to compensate for natural evaporation. Bodegas Yuste later chose to bottle two Sherries from this solera, an Amontillado and, due to some barrel variation, a Palo Cortado. The average age of these Sherries is estimated at 130-150 years old.

Have you ever tasted a wine that old? And how much would you expect to pay for such an old wine?

Last fall, while visiting Chicago with my friend Adam, we stopped at a wine store and I noticed the Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry (500ml/$210) on a shelf. As a passionate lover of Sherry, it was difficult to resist the siren call of this unique Sherry. I've previously enjoyed some old Sherries but nothing this old. I also loved the nature of the bottle, almost like a decanter (and I've kept it now that the Sherry is gone). I bought the Sherry and then fervently hoped it would make the flight home safely, which it fortunately did.

To me, the price was extremely reasonable considering the age and uniqueness of this Sherry. Sherry is too often under-appreciated so it can be an excellent value. You would be hard pressed to find another type of wine, of a similar age, at this price point. I also felt that this might be my only opportunity to purchase this Sherry, considering it is a very low production wine.

The next important question I needed to consider was when to open the bottle. Obviously, this was a special wine, and should probably be opened for a celebratory occasion. I finally decided that I would open it for my birthday this year, a kind of a milestone event. Though I could have easily stored it away for several years, I wanted to experience this Sherry, to drink and enjoy it. I didn't want to wait too long. I couldn't deny the siren within this bottle beckoning to me.

And as I've said many times before, wine is meant to be shared, and tastes better when consumed with family and friends. Thus, I needed to make the hard decision of who to share this Sherry with, especially considering it was only 500ml, about 17 ounces. It was extremely difficult to narrow down my list of wine-loving friends to a mere handful, and I hope that I can share another bottle one day with others of my friends.

Now, how can I describe this unique Sherry when words are truly inadequate to depict its totality? First, it is easiest to begin with the Sherry's color, a rich mahogany. Then, after pulling out the cork stopper, it becomes more difficult to describe the nose, a rich and complex melange of harmonious aromas that seduced and tantalized me. Such an intensity and it was easy to sit there and continue to sniff the glass for a time, seeking everything within the aromas. You could identify some of the aromas, such as almonds, citrus, and tobacco, but then there were wisps of more exotic spices and aromas, which sometimes were tougher to identify, but pleasant nonetheless.

And the taste. Wow! Wow! Once again, there was complexity and harmony, a diverse melange of flavors, both familiar and not. So much concentration and bright intensity, yet still remaining elegant and subtle in certain aspects. There was the brine of the ocean, almonds and walnuts, caramel and vanilla, citrus and dried fruit. There were also hints of more exotic spices as well as a touch of earthiness. Each sip brought something new to my palate, exciting me with each taste. The finish lingered on and on, almost endlessly, with sharp acidity and more enticing flavors. I never wanted to stop drinking this Sherry and have never tasted a Sherry as good as this one.

Considering its extreme age, high quality and exquisite taste, I highly recommend this Sherry and consider it an excellent value, even at its price point. This Sherry truly made my birthday a most memorable occasion.

(For more information about Sherry, check out my 40+ articles at All About Sherry)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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.
1) All kids want to have fun. But for millions of sick children currently cared for at local Children's Miracle Network Hospitals® (CMNH), fun is on hold. The Dairy Queen®system wants to help those kids get out of the hospital sooner and back to having fun again.

DQ® will once again bring communities together to support CMNH during the 13th Annual Miracle Treat Day on Thursday, August 2. On Miracle Treat Day, $1 or more from every Blizzard® Treat sold at participating DQ Grill & Chill® and Dairy Queen locations throughout the U.S. will be donated to the local Children's Miracle Network Hospital. Funds raised during Miracle Treat Day support critical treatments and healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment and charitable care to help save and improve the lives of local children.

"We want to make Miracle Treat Day the most fun, most meaningful day of summer. The kids at children's hospitals across America are depending on us," said Maria Hokanson, executive vice president of marketing for American Dairy Queen Corporation (ADQ). "Miracle Treat Day is a celebration of how our communities come together to help the kids treated by Children's Miracle Network Hospitals so that they can be at home with their family, having fun and playing with their friends as soon as possible."

Every minute, 62 children are admitted to a Children's Miracle Network Hospital. One in 10 children in North America are treated at Children's Miracle Network Hospitals each year.

Last year, DQ® operators across the U.S. and Canada contributed more than $4 million on Miracle Treat Day alone in support of local Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Since 1984, the Dairy Queen system has raised more than $135 million for the charity through fundraising efforts including Miracle Treat Day, the Miracle Balloon campaign and other local initiatives.

The featured Miracle Treat Day Blizzard Treat of the Day is Oreo®, the most popular Blizzard Treat to date. The Blizzard Treat of the Month for August in the U.S. is the new TWIX® Blizzard Treat. All other Blizzard Treats, including those on the new Summer Blizzard Menu, are also available that day.

2) As French Bistro Les Zygomates enters the quarter century mark, owner Mark Tosi combines the old with the new to create an exciting atmosphere of wine tastings, small plate dining and live entertainment.

Starting on Monday, July 23, newly appointed executive chef Guara Pimenta (formerly of Ambrosia, Restaurant L, & Blue Ox) will feature a small plates menu of globally inspired dishes. Complementing the new menu will be live entertainment from a variety of Americana artists.

Les Zyg will continue to celebrate its 25th year with a soon to be announced series of complimentary wine tastings hosted by former owner and celebrated sommelier Lorenzo Savona highlighting wines from the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Burgundy among other Parisian favorites.

The New Small Plates Menu:
Lamb Lollipops (Herb Marinated, Zyg’s Chimichurri 2/$5)
Mediterranean Olives (Citrus, Chili Flake, Rosemary, Garlic $7)
Crispy Mini Crab Cakes (Jonah Crabmeat, Pequillo Pepper Couli $5ea)
Blistered Shishito Peppers (Lime $7)
Chicken Meatballs (House Made Breadcrumbs, Coconut Curry 3/$3.50)
Hot Dates (Medjool Dates, Bacon, Gorgonzola Dolce, Balsamic Glaze $2ea)
Honey Spiced Carrots (with Bleu Cheese $7)
Fried Polenta (Crispy Polenta Lardons, Putanesca Sauce $9)
Roasted Cauliflower Almondine ($7)
Chicken Souvlaki (Yogurt Marinade, Sumac Spice $3.50ea)
Grilled Asparagus ($7)
Zyg’s Stuffed Sliders (Gorgonzola Dolce, Brioche Bun, Bacon–Tomato Jam $4.50ea)
Roasted Mixed Mushrooms ($7)
Parmesan Truffle Frites (Hand-cut Aged Idaho Potatoes, Parmesan Cheese, Truffle Oil $7)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Cheers To The Quinta Santa Eufemia 20 Year Old White Port

Many Americans are familiar with Ruby and Tawny Ports but they have much less familiarity with White Port, known in Portuguese as Porto Branco. White Port is made with a wide variety of white grapes, such as Arinto, Cercial, Codega, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, and Viosinho. It is generally produced in the same manner as Red Ports but, they are usually fermented without any skin contact and commonly aged, for two to three years, in 550 liter oak pipes. White Ports range from dry to sweet, and the sweetest versions are sometimes known as Lagrima. There is also a special category called Leve Seco ("light dry") which has a lower alcohol content, about 16.5%.

White Port is usually consumed slightly chilled and it's very common to mix young White Ports with tonic to make a Port Tonic cocktail. With the heat of the Douro, a Port Tonic is a very refreshing libation and would make for an excellent drink this summer.

A much smaller and unique category of White Ports are those specifically aged for 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years, similar to Tawny aging categories. They are difficult to find locally though at least some are available in Massachusetts. For example, the aged White Ports of Quinta Santa Eufemia (including their 10, 20 & 30 year olds) are available at Julio's Liquors, which is where I purchased a few bottles. And I highly recommend you buy those aged White Ports.

Quinta Santa Eufemia was essentially founded in 1864 by Bernardo Rodrigues de Carvalho and it is now managed by the 4th generation. Located on the left side of the Douro River, the vineyards occupy more than 50 hectares, planted with field blends of 20+ grapes. They produce both table wines and Ports, including a 10, 20 and 30 year old White Port. At this time, they do not produce a 40 year old White Port. I've previously reviewed their 10 Year Old White Port ($25), noting "With a beautiful amber color, it possessed an alluring nose of floral and herbal notes, and on the palate the taste was complex and intriguing, a bit of an oxidative style. It had a tough of honeyed sweetness though it finished dry, and that finish lingers long in your mouth. It is surely a Port to slowly savor, enjoying the multitude of flavors that pass over your palate."noting

For one of my birthday celebrations, I opened a bottle of the Quinta Santa Eufemia 20 Year Old White Port ($25). It too is a blend of at least Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Moscatel Galego, and Rabigato. It is fermented in traditional lagares, granite treading tanks where the grapes are trod on by foot. It was aged for about 9 months in stainless steel and then for at least more 20 years in wooden casks. Only about 60 cases of this wine are produced each year, so supplies are very limited.

Sniffing your glass, you'll be seduced by an alluring blend of honey, floral and herbal scents, with wisps of citrus. On the palate, the complexity of the aromas is still evident, with each sip bringing something new to your mouth. There is a mild sweetness, well balanced by its acidity, with bright honey notes, citrus flavors, and touches of herbs. It is more full bodied and rich, with a long, lingering finish that soothes and satisfies. It would work well with a variety of desserts, though you could also sit and savor it on its own. An amazing Port, I highly recommend this to all wine lovers. It is well worth the effort to seek it out, especially due to its complexity and superb taste.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Crémant D'Alsace Rosé: Domaine Camille Braun & Alsace-Willm

For any celebration, it's great to open some bubbly, and there's a wide choice of sparkling wines you can select. For my birthday celebrations this year, I enjoyed three different sparkling wines. One of these was a Grower Champagne, the excellent Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, which I drank at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington. I've visited that winery before and love their Champagnes, all which are made from 100% Chardonnay. It was a great way to begin my birthday dinner at ICOB.

The other two sparkling wines were similar, both Crémant D'Alsace Rosé though from different producers. As I've said multiple times people, Americans need to drink more Crémant d'Alsace, and in fact, they need to drink more wines, of all types, from Alsace. They often provide excellent value and taste. They are enjoyable while young but can also age well. They can provide a sense of history, as well as showcase state of the art wine making. They pair well with a diverse variety of foods and cuisines. And at their most basic, they are absolutely delicious.

For more background on Crémant d'Alsace, check out some of my previous articles where I share my passion for this tasty bubbly, including: Crémant d'Alsace & The Spartans At ThermopylaeSchoenheitz Winery: A Taste Of BeautyPuritan & Co.: Alsatian Wine AdviceGustave Lorentz: More Alsatian Wine TreasuresAlsatian Wines & Pheasant at Craigie On Main, Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve Recommendation, and Starting the New Year With Crémant d'Alsace & Lobster.

The history of the Domaine Camille Braun extends back to 1523 in Alsace, and they have been producing wine in the village of Orschwihr since 1902. Currently, the owners, Christophe and Chantal Braun, own about 13 hectares of vineyards in or near Orschwihr, including the famed Grand Cru site Pfingstberg, which has been documented since 1299. The vineyards are now certified organic and Biodynamic, and their total production is only about 8,000 cases annually.

The NV Domaine Camille Braun Crémant D'Alsace Rosé ($25) is made from 100% Pinot Noir, the vines averaging about 30 years, as it is the only grape permitted in Alsace Rosé. Made in the méthode champenoise, the wine remains on the lees for about 18-24 months and only about 10,000 bottles are produced. The Rosé had a pleasing nose of red fruits and on the palate, the red fruits were more subtle and delicious, with hints of spice. It was dry and creamy, with a nice crispness to it as well. The fine bubbles helped to cleanse the palate and cut through the richness while I enjoyed this bubbly with a lobster dinner. An excellent choice for this pairing.

Maison Willm's fame began before it ever started making wine, and it centered on a compelling recipe, Escargots à l’Alsacienne, in which the snails were cooked in a broth of spices and white wine. Around 1896, the Willm family established a wine estate in the town of Barr, located at the base of the Grand Cru Kirchberg ("hills of the church") de Barr. This is a prime area in Alsace for vineyards. In the 1930s, they were one of the first wineries in Alsace to export to the U.S., allegedly becoming a favorite of the gangster Al Capone! I've previously enjoyed a couple other of their crémants, including the NV Willm Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut and the NV Willm Cremant d'Alsace Blanc de Noirs Brut. 

The NV Willm Crémant d’Alsace Rosé ($18), made from 100% Pinot Noir, is produced by the méthode champenoise and remains on the lees for about 12 months. With an appealing nose of red fruits and a touch of spice, this was a delicious and lush Crémant with ripe flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. Dry, crisp, and clean, with a fine effervescence, this was a true crowd pleaser. At this price, it is an excellent value for the taste and complexity found within the bottle. Highly recommended!