Monday, September 16, 2019

Rant: How To Promote Croatian Wine

"Any country that aspires to be successful today has to manage its image and identity and engage in the branding process for the purpose of getting noticed globally, keeping ahead of the competition, neutralizing negative perceptions about itself, and imposing its values on other countries."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

What have you heard about wine from Croatia? Does it have a good reputation? Have you ever tasted wine from Croatia?

If so, what persuaded you to taste their wine? Did you like what you tasted? If so, what did you like about it? If not, why didn't you like it? Would you recommend Croatian wine to your friends?

If you've never tasted Croatian wine, why haven't you done so? And what would it take for you to taste their wines?

I could ask these same questions about wines from a number of different countries which currently occupy a tiny niche in the market. Wines from Georgia, Moldova, Israel, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Hungary, and more. The key question is how do we persuade more consumers to drink wines from these countries. And as I'm currently in Croatia, I'm going to concentrate on their wines, though understand that my comments are applicable to numerous other countries as well.

"Croatia is a European tourist brand. Almost everyone who has heard about Croatia knows that Croatia has the cleanest sea in Europe, magnificent beaches, an indented coastline and beautiful islands. On the other hand, not many people know that Croatia has a rich cultural heritage."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

Many thousands of wines, from all over the world, are available to consumers and the number of choices can be overwhelming. For many consumers,  they stick to wines they know, whether from major wine-producing regions or made from common, international grapes. They embrace wines from California and France, from Oregon and Italy, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec, Chardonnay to Sauvignon Blanc. Some consumers are willing to drink outside their comfort zone, but they commonly seek guidance rather than take a risk on their own.

Wines from lesser known countries like Croatia have a tough battle to capture consumer awareness. Most consumers, at a wine shop or restaurant, generally wouldn't ask for a Croatian wine. In most instances, Croatian wines are a hand sell, requiring a knowledgeable and passionate wine store employee, distributor rep, or sommelier to persuade consumers to take a chance. It can even be difficult for an importer/distributor to convince a restaurant or wine shop to carry Croatian wines.

"They don’t know anything about Croatia apart from the fact that it is a beautiful country; they don’t know anything about Croatian products; they have never read a book written by a Croatian author; they don’t know anything about the Croatian way of life; they don’t know what makes us different from the other nations on the Balkan Peninsula."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

What do you know about the Republic of Croatia? I'll admit I knew little of the country until a few months ago. I'd previously written about one of their wines and one of these cheeses, but I hadn't delved too deeply into their history and culture. I'm sure many people are in a similar situation, knowing little about Croatia. Most of the popular news articles about Croatia have emphasized it as a tourist destination, especially its compelling beaches and islands. They haven't though revealed the complexities of Croatia, its rich contributions to the world, its vibrant cuisine and cultural traditions. I know

Who is responsible for our general ignorance of Croatia? I think that responsibility can be spread to a number of different groups, including Croatia itself. They need to do more to spread their brand in a positive way, one which encompasses all aspects of that fascinating country. They cannot and should not rely only on being a fine tourist destination, known for their beaches. They need to make the public aware of all that Croatia has to offer, to put the country in the best possible light.

A recent article in Total Croatia News, has gone into more detail about some of the specific items that would benefit the Croatian wine industry, noting there has been a "lack of coordinated promotion of Croatia's wine story." The article recommends creating four wine museums in the different wine regions of Croatia, with specifics of what those museums should include. Wine tourism can bring much revenue to Croatia, but there needs to be more attractions for them, from wine museums to wine routes.

"Croatia is a popular tourist destination but we cannot earn the world’s respect simply on account of that. Croatia has to be strong politically and economically and it has to promote its values and cultural heritage – Croatia has to become a brand that encompasses everything from economy, politics, culture, science and gastronomy to art."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

Writers also can do their part, by choosing to cover more than just Croatian's role as a tourist destination. Discuss its culture, its gastronomy, its wines, traditions and history. Show all of its depths and not just its surface beauty. Do we really need to read hundreds of articles extolling the virtues of their beaches and islands? There is much more that is both interesting and exciting that can be covered.

The more people know and understand about Croatia, the more positive they see the Croatian brand, the more likely they are to taste and buy Croatian wines. Croatian wines are diverse and delicious, interesting and food-friendly. They contain all of the elements that consumers would enjoy, if they only gave these wines a chance. I'll be contributing to spreading more awareness of Croatia in the coming weeks with a series of articles about my travels in Croatia.

Have you ever been to Croatia? If so, what fascinating stories can you share about your experiences?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Croatia: A Brief Introduction

The Croats were originally a Slav tribe who were invited by the Emperor Heraclius to free the Dalmatian coast and the Croatian hinterland from the Avars, one of the most noxious pillaging hordes who operated from a centre on the Danube far and wide:”
--Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

From the eastern shores of Italy, if you travel across the Adriatic Sea, a gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, you'll encounter the Republic of Croatia. It is alternatively known as a Balkan country or a Central European country, dependent on how one wants to depict the country. Croatia has a land area that's roughly equivalent to that of West Virginia, a population of about 4.5 million, and 90% of that population identifies as ethnic Croats. With a mainland coastline of about 1100 miles, it also possesses over 1,200 islands in the Adriatic Sea, about 50 of them which are inhabited.

It's history extends back thousands of years, with the Illyrians being one of the first most noticeable civilizations, even though little is still know of them. The ancient Greeks established colonies in Croatia, especially on a few islands, and by the 2nd century BC, the Romans began taking control of much of the land. Numerous Roman ruins are visible in the current day, especially Diocletian's Palace in Split.

Throughout the further centuries, the lands of Croatia would often immersed in war, being seized and controlled by various factions, including the Byzantine Empire, the Croatian Kingdom, the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. Around 1918, Croatia was absorbed into what would soon become the nation of Yugoslavia. It took over seventy years before, in 1991, Croatia declared its independence, leading to a war that ended, fortunately, in Croatia's favor, around August 1995.

Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.”
--George Bernard Shaw

Croatia now borders the countries of Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Bosnia & Herzegovina actually splits Croatia, at a section known as the Neum Corridor, an oddity that extends back to a treaty in 1699. It is only about 9 kilometers long, giving Bosnia & Herzegovina a tiny coastline. Croatia joined the European Union in July 2013 and though some consider Croatia a small country, it's actually larger than a number of other EU countries, including Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Culturally, Croatia can roughly be divided into three main areas, each reflective of its neighbors. The most eastern area, that closest to Hungry and Serbia, is more similar to Hungarian and Slavic cuisine and culture. The more coastal and southern area of Dalmatia, is more Mediterranean in nature while the region of Istria, to the northwest, is more Italian in nature. Great diversity in this relatively small country.

"..., for the Croatians of every degree are an amiable, open-hearted, open-handed people, who give to hospitality a very high place among the cardinal virtues and take a sincere pleasure in exercising it."
--The Times (London), August 9, 1884

Some other fun facts about Croatia, its cities and island:
  • The island of Korčula is claimed to be the birthplace of the famed explorer Marco Polo.
  • In 1783, the Dubrovnik Republic was the first country in the world that recognized the new United States.
  • In 1617, the Croatian inventor Faust Vrančić was the first to test the parachute by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617.
  • The first prototypes of the torpedo were invented by the Croat inventor Ivan Blaž Lupic Vukić. He called it Spasilac obale, which roughly translates to "savior of coastline." 
  • Croatians invented the necktie, the cravate, which was basically a scarf tied in a knot around their necks. In 1635, the cravate impressed King Louis XIII of France who helped to launch the fashion for the rest of Europe.
  • In 1432, Croatia opened the first orphanage in Europe. 
  • The oldest inhabited city in Europe is the Croatian city of Vinkovci, which has been continually inhabited for about 8,000 years.
  • The Walls of Ston are the world's second longest preserved fortification system, after the Great Wall of China.
My explorations of Croatia will eventually lead to plenty of articles, especially concerning their wine and food, about this fascinating country. It's a country that many people know little about, and the more I learn about it, the more I understand it deserves greater attention.

"Croatia is a country of great potential and greater opportunities."
Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bound For Croatia

"A record of almost 20 million tourists visited Croatia in 2018, announced the Croatian Tourist Board this week. This is 6.5% more than in 2017 and a new record in Croatian tourism history. Istria was the most popular region this year, followed by the Split, Kvarner, Zadar and Dubrovnik."
--TheMayor.eu

"In the first 8 months of 2019, 5% more tourists have visited Croatia than in the same period of the record-breaking 2018,..."
--Croatia Week

It seems that everywhere you look, Croatia is being showcased as the hot new tourist destination. The hugely popular TV series, Game of Thrones, has contributed to this popularity as a variety of scenes were shot in numerous locations in Croatia. Every week, it seems a different celebrity is seen vacationing in Croatia, basking on one of their beaches, dining in one of their restaurants, or appearing at some event. The growing, record-breaking number of tourists is indicative of the country's popularity.

The country has much to offer, from its pristine beaches to its ancient history, from its diverse cuisine to its historic wine industry. If you want a more active vacation, from water sports to hiking, Croatia can meet your needs. If you want a quieter time, you can spend your hours on the Croatian beaches. All you need to do is peruse some photos of beautiful Croatia and you'll feel a pull to visit.

Later this afternoon, I'll board a plane and fly off to Zagreb, the first stop on my exploration of the Republic of Croatia. I'll be accompanying a small group of writers and wine lovers as well explore this fascinating country, visiting numerous wineries, dining on the local cuisine, immersing ourselves in its culture, and delving its historic past. We have plans to visit places including Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Gradac, Split, Ston, Brac Island, and more. I'm obviously very excited to visit this country for the first time, and have spent the last few months researching much about Croatia.

For example, did you know "Croatia was the birthplace of the oldest documented European vampire?" Check out this article from Total Croatia News to learn more about that fun fact. Maybe I better ensure I eat plenty of garlic while I'm in Croatia.

Most of the trip is being sponsored by the K7 Cooperative, an association of seven wineries in the Komarna region, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill WinesVolarević WinesTerra Madre, Modro-zelenaNeretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. K7 is working with Boston-based Croatian Premium Wine Imports, which is owned and operated by Mirena Bagur and Win Burke, wife and husband. Mirena (who is Croatian) and Win have recently started importing Croatian wines to Massachusetts and they will be our guides throughout most of our visit to Croatia.

Thus, many of the wines that I'll review and write about, in the weeks after my return from Croatia, are either available in Massachusetts now or will be in the future. Some Croatian wines have been previously imported by other companies, but they have remained relatively rare in wine shops and on restaurant lists. Mirena and Win have been working hard to make Croatian wines more available to local consumers, and they have also been leading a number of local tastings of Croatian wines. It is such passion which is needed to persuade consumers to taste and purchase Croatian wine.

Currently, four of the K7 wineries have wines in the Massachusetts market, and I've been fortunate to sample several of them, enjoying what I've tasted. Whites, Reds and Rosé. Indigenous grapes like Posip and Plavac Mali. A number of local restaurants and wine shops now carry these wines, although the public needs to learn more about them, to be given reasons why they should drink these wines. Two of the reasons include that these wines are delicious and food friendly.

The history of wine in Croatia extends back over 2500 years, with the Greeks and Romans responsible for much of the early viticulture. For example, the Stari Grad Plain, on the island of Hvar, was colonized by Greeks during the 4th century B.C. Vineyards have been continuously planted here for over 2400 consecutive years and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage site!

The Komarna Appellation is relatively new, having first been planted with vines in 2008 and having received its official designation as an appellation in 2013. We'll spend time exploring Komarna, visiting the K7 wineries. In addition, we'll also visit wineries in other regions of Croatia, such as Grgić Vina, which was established in 1996 by Napa Valley winemaker Miljenko Grgich and his daughter, Violet. In addition, we'll visit some historic sites, such as the Narona Archaeological Museum, Diocletian's Palace,  and a few sites where Game of Thrones was filmed.

Prior to this year, I've had only very limited experience with Croatian wine and food. I previously reviewed the 2010 Vinarija Dingac Peljesac, which ended up on my list of the 2014 Top Ten Wines Under $15. I also reviewed Paški Sir, a compelling Croatian cheese from the island of Pag.

I'll have a couple days on my own as well, mostly in Zagreb, so I'll be checking out whatever intrigues me, from a Lord of the Rings themed-pub to another Bar that specializes in rakijas, brandy spirits, from the Dolac Market to Cahun (an 80+ year old hat shop). I'll explore Tkalčićeva Street, which once was filled with brothels, the first legal red light district in Europe. FYI, those brothels no longer exist. Tkalčićeva Street is now filled with restaurants, shops and bars, and is one of the most popular streets in Zagreb.

Plus, on September 14, there will be a #WineLovers Hangout at the Pod Zidom Bistro & Wine Bar in Zagreb. Organized by Luiz Alberto, Saša Špiranec, and Ana Hozjan, this will be a BYOB dinner bringing together wine lovers from all over the world. What bottles will I bring to this dinner? I've already made my choice and I won't say yet but I'm sure no one else will bring a similar bottle.

I look forward to everything I'll experience in Croatia, and then I'll enjoy sharing my stories with my readers.

As they say in Croatia, Živjeli! ("Cheers")

A writer who falls in love with a new and strange country will always find experience heightened in this way. The dawns are more noble, the crags loftier, the people more genuine, the food and wine more luscious....
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

Monday, September 9, 2019

Rant: Wine Travel & Better Understanding

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
--St. Augustine

There are various levels of understanding to all subjects, including wine. You may know little about wine, a moderate amount or be an "expert." Your wine knowledge may derive from a book, an instructor, numerous tastings, or a combination of elements. Another source of information is travel to a wine region, which is an excellent way to gain further knowledge and understanding. With the advent of harvest season, this is a perfect time to visit a wine region, to immerse yourself in grapes and fermentation.

Though it may seem self-evident, it bears stating to ensure clarity: Visiting a wine region will likely deepen your comprehension of wine. To meet the wine makers, to walk through their vineyards, to immerse yourself in the region's culture, all can contribute to a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the area and its wines. To have the opportunity to question the staff of the winery, to obtain answers to matters which might have previously confused or puzzled you, can be invaluable. A winery's website may present their brief history and philosophy, but that is most often only the bare bones. There is much richer detail to be found by speaking directly to the people of the winery.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
--Henry Miller

I strongly encourage all wine lovers to visit wine regions, so that you can gain better comprehension and knowledge. Wine writers are especially urged to do so, to give you a better perspective. Travel can be a great experience for everyone, to broaden anyone's horizons. You could visit a Caribbean island, and sit on the beach all day relaxing. Or you could take a more educational vacation and visit places such as Spain, Oregon, Croatia, Paso Robles, Argentina, or Long Island, and explore their wines, cuisine, and more. If wine is your passion, then such a journey should call to your heart.

Before you visit a wine region, be sure to do some prior research, so that you aren't a blank slate when you arrive. You can then arrive with more informed questions, ones that cannot be answered simply by visiting the winery's website. When you get to the region, be proactive, asking questions, participating in as much as you can. If you are offered the opportunity to experience something different, like harvesting grapes or tasting something unusual, then take it. Try new foods, learn local customs, and have fun. Seize the moment and squeeze every ounce of knowledge and experience out of your trip.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.
--James Michener

There is no need to worry if your traveling budget is limited, just seek out wine regions and wineries more local to you. Every state in the U.S. now produces wine, and you are likely within driving distance of at least a few of them. That will give you options, and then you can save up for a larger trip out of the country, or even just to a different state. For example, Massachusetts has 30+ wineries, and many wineries from the rest of the New England states are only two to three hours away. The New York wineries are a slightly longer trip, but still very doable.

If you have visited a wine region, do you feel that it led to a better understanding of the region and its wines? What wine regions would you especially recommend?

Thursday, September 5, 2019

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) This week, Jyoti & Aaron Mehta are celebrating the First Anniversary of the opening of their Wine Press Fenway. This is the second location of their Wine Press shop, the first being in Brookline. To celebrate, the Wine Press Fenway is having a special sale this week, offering 15% off all of the wine in their shop (though only at the Fenway location).

In addition, there will be a few tastings this week too:
--Thursday, September 5, from 5:30pm-7:30pm: European Wines with Jackson
--Friday, September 6, from 5:30pm-7:30pm: There will be two tastings, the first with Citadelle Gin & Tonic. The other tasting is St. George Spirits with President & Master Distiller Lance Winters, who will also sign bottles.

2) Next month, from October 25th-27th, you might want to check out the 4th Annual White Mountains Crush Festival, held by the Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain. The Festival celebrates the end of the harvest season and the start of the winemaking season. You can stomp grapes, sample wine, learn from their winemakers, eat, and more.

The scheduled events include:
Friday, October 25:
1pm – 10pm: Winery Open to Public
7pm – 9pm: Atrium Wine Bar Cocktail Welcome Mixer

Saturday, October 26:
12pm – 10pm: Winery Open to Public
9am: Educational Workshop #1 – “Varietal Wines vs. Blends”
10am, 11am, & 12pm: Meet the Winemakers Tour & Barrel Tasting
11am: Educational Workshop #2 – “Old world wine, new world fruit”
12pm – 4pm: Grape Stomping “I Love Lucy” style.
12pm – 3pm: Stompers Picnic, Lunch Provided
1pm – 4pm: Winemakers’ Wine Tasting in the Winery
6pm: Wine Dinner

Sunday, October 27:
11am – 9pm: Winery Open to Public
10am: Educational Workshop #3 - “Dispelling the oldest wine myths”

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to: https://sevenbirches.com/white-mountains-crush-festival/

3) On Wednesday, September 25th, starting at 6:00pm, Abe & Louie's Executive Chef Danny Levesque will use his culinary creativity to design a dining experience featuring savory dishes paired with wines from Château Caronne Sainte Gemme - a specially curated selection by Benjamin Appleby, Wine and Beverage Manager.

The menu is as follows:
Reception
Parmesan Cheese Crisps with Herbed Goat Cheese
Crispy Oysters with Avocado Mousse and Pepper Jelly
Sautéed Shrimp Skewers with Garlic, Tarragon and Lemon
Nueske Bacon Bites
Paired with: 2016 Château de Birot, Bordeaux Blanc de Birot
First Course
Local Rabbit Stew with Baby White Turnips, Kale and Juniper
Paired with: 2005 Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc
Second Course
Foraged Mushroom Risotto with Crisp Pancetta
Paired with: 2009 Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc
Entrée
Smoked Prime Rib with Watercress-Arugula Salad and Horseradish Cream
Paired with: 2010 & 2014 Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc
Dessert
Warm Local Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Paired with: 2009 Château La Rame, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont

Seats to the special wine dinner are limited, cost $125 per guest (excluding tax and gratuity) and can be reserved by calling the restaurant at (617) 536-6300.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Winnipesaukee Winery: NH Wine & St. Pepin

There are over 25 wineries in New Hampshire, and you can check out the New Hampshire Winery Association to learn more about these various producers. Within New Hampshire, you'll find grape wines, fruit wines, mead, dessert wines, and more. Earlier this year, while in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, I stopped at a farmer's market and bought a bottle of local white wine, NV Winnipesaukee Winery St. Pepin, intrigued by the grape and wanting to sample a New Hampshire wine.

Owned by Christoper Coache and Heidi von Gotz Cogean (the winemaker), the winery is located in Wolfeboro, a successor to Newfound Lake Vineyards. As their website states, "Winnipesaukee Winery is a farm winery making award winning wine from fruit and grapes. We are known for our three year old French oak barrel aged reds and our wide selection of dry to sweet wines. Handcrafted wine is our family tradition." Their Wolfeboro vineyard is planted with Seyval Blanc, Traminette and Edelweiss and they expect a small harvest in 2021. They also ran a Winery Bed & Breakfast, the only one in the state.

The NV Winnipesaukee Winery St. Pepin is an "American Table Wine," produced and bottled by the winery, though their website has no information listed about the wine. As an American Table Wine, it's likely that at least some of the St. Pepin grapes were sourced from outside New Hampshire. St. Pepin is a complex hybrid grape, of Seyval Blanc and Eler Swenson 114, that was introduced sometime between 1983-1986. It is partially named for Lake Pepin, which is in the Mississippi River. Most of the grapes are grown in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is said that St. Pepin can produce fruity wines, with some similarities to Riesling.

This St. Pepin wine, unoaked with only a 11% ABV, was actually quite delicious. It was fairly crisp, with a hint of sweetness, and presented pleasant citrus and apple notes. It was more complex than expected and definitely would be a very good food wine, though it satisfied on its own as well. I look forward to the future, to try the wines made from grapes from their own vineyards.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Rant: Drinking Advice For The Fall

Today is Labor Day, what many people see as the unofficial end of Summer, despite the fact that the official end isn't until September 23. Labor Day also presages changes in the wine and beverage world, beyond the fact it is grape harvest season, and consumers need to pay attention. There are opportunities now that they should take advantage of, to learn more about wine and other beverages, to experience different drinks, and to enjoy plenty of delicious drinks. I've compiled some drinking advice for the Fall.

1) Don't Stop Drinking Rosé 
It's a myth that Rosé is only a Summer wine. The reality is that Rosé can and should be consumed year-round, no matter what the season, especially as it is excellent with food. Don't be fooled by those who try to claim it is only a seasonal wine. The better wine stores understand it is great all year round and thus they will stock Rosé throughout  the year, even though many distributors don't push Rosé during this time. Thanksgiving is an excellent occasion for Rosé. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Don't Stop Drinking Rosé.

2) Expand Your Palate
The next several months will be the busiest times for wine stores, and many of them will hold numerous wine tasting events, sometimes large ones offering samples of 100+ wines. Most of these events will be free, providing you a perfect opportunity to experience many wines which you may not have tasted before. The best way to learn about wine is to taste it so you should attend these events to experiment and take chances, tasting new wines of which you might never have heard about. Expand your palate and broaden your vinous horizons. As these tastings are free, you have nothing to lose. You might find a new favorite wine, or even several new favorites. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Expand Your Palate.

3) Don't Stress Over Thanksgiving Wines
The holidays are a stressful enough time that you really shouldn't add to your stress by worrying about the wine. Do you really need specific Thanksgiving wine recommendations? I don't think so. The more I ponder the question, the more I realize that all you need for Thanksgiving are some good wines, the varietals and/or blends being much less important. As long as they don't blatantly clash with the meal, then they should work and few wines are going to so blatantly clash. Drink wines you'll enjoy and don't worry so much about "perfect pairings." For more thoughts on this topic, check out Rant: Stop Stressing Over Thanksgiving Wine.

4) Don't Be Cheap Buying Holiday Wines
As the holidays approach, you might be planning to host parties for your family and friends. You might need a selection of wine for these celebrations. Price is usually a significant factor in your decision as to which wines to purchase. However, instead of buying just the cheapest wine at a shop, ask the staff at that store for their recommendations for the best value wines. They might be able to suggest wines you might not have considered, wines which offer excellent value as well as taste. These are also some great discount wine shops worthy of your attention, offering compelling wines at a low price point. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Rant: When Choosing Holiday Wines, Don't Be A Cheapskate.

5) Celebrate Sake Day on October 1
Nihonshu no Hi, known in English as Sake Day, originated over 40 years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Sake Brewers Association and is now celebrated worldwide. Japanese Sake remains a niche beverage in the U.S. so this is a perfect day to learn more about it, to sample some delicious Sake, and understand its wonders. Some local restaurants and wine shops may offer Sake Day celebrations and you should avail yourselves of that opportunity. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Kanpai, Celebrate Sake Day!

6) Celebrate International Sherry Week in November
This year, International Sherry Week will be held from November 4-10. Sherry may be one of the tastiest, most intriguing, and unique wines that you're probably not drinking. It remains a tiny niche beverage in the U.S. and like Sake Day, this is a perfect opportunity to learn more about Sherry, to sample some delicious bottles, and understand its wonders. This will be at least a couple thousand Sherry events across the world, and Taberna de Haro in Brookline always participates, holding some amazing Sherry events. For more thoughts on Sherry, check out All About Sherry.

7) DON'T DRINK & DRIVE!!
This is one of the most important pieces of advice you'll receive this season. Please give this your full attention. If you've had too much alcohol to drink, if there is any doubt in your mind, don't drive. Just don't do it! Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi or Uber, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep it off. Just don't drive! For more thoughts on this topic, check out Rant: DON'T DRINK & DRIVE!!

What post-Labor Day drinking advice would you like to add?

Friday, August 30, 2019

Japanese Sake in a Juice Box! Nihon Sakari Onikoroshi Futsushu

Japanese Sake in a Juice Box! And yes, there is a Straw too.

The Japanese aren't hung up over packaging for Sake, and Tetra Paks are simply one option for producers. Plus, Sake often comes in a single-serving size, 180ml, which is traditionally known as an ichigo or just go. A traditional Sake bottle holds 720ml, or four go, and is called a yongobin.

As far back as 2009, I've been extolling the virtues of wine in a Tetra Pak, though it was rare to see any with a straw. Tetra Paks are better for the environment in a number of ways, making it a more sustainable choice than a bottle. As I've stated before, "Tetra Pak cartons use 54% less energy, create 80% less greenhouse gasses, produce 60% less solid waste volume and also have 92% less package weight, compared to a 750ml glass wine bottle." In addition, they're portable and convenient, not requiring a corkscrew. You can take them to the beach, on a camping trip, on a boat, and much more without the worries of glass.

Some people are dismissive of Tetra Paks yet their advantages cannot be ignored, especially in a world where climate change is a major issue. Plus, the sheer convenience of them makes them compelling, especially during summer when many of is travel to the mountains or beaches.

The Nihon Sakari Onikoroshi Futsushu ($7.99/180ml), with a 13-14% ABV, is produced by Nihon Sakari Co., Ltd., which was established 130 years ago in 1889 as the Nishinomiya Sake Brewing Company. In 2000, they changed their name to Nihon Sakari and they have also taken back on their old slogan, "More flavorful, more beautiful." Their main headquarters is located in Nishinomiya, in the Hyogo Prefecture, an area well-known historically for Sake production.

This Sake is Futsu-shu, non-premium Sake which constitutes about 75% of all Sake production in Japan. The quality of futsu-shu can vary widely, from cheap and harsh to smooth and flavorful. This Sake is also named Onikoroshi, which is roughly translated as "demon slayer," and during the Meiji era (1868-1911), Sake that was extremely dry was commonly known as Onikoroshi.

Drinking this Sake out of a straw was fun, and I found it to be dry, with a pleasing blend of earthiness and rice flavors. It was a simple Sake, but relatively smooth and easy on the palate with a hint of bitter on the finish. Definitely food friendly, it would also be enjoyable on its own. Don't overly think it. Just drink and enjoy.

Summer isn't over yet, so pick up some of these Tetra Paks for your travels. Kanpai!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Casa Blanca: A Compelling Moroccan/French Bakery in Revere

My first introduction to the Casa Blanca House of Pastries was when several of my good friends brought some of their pastries to celebrate my birthday. I was thoroughly impressed with those layered French pastries, a well balanced delight of flavors and textures. They came in several different flavors, and each was compelling in its own right. I knew then that I had to check out this bakery, to find out what else they had to offer.

The Casa Blanca House of Pastries originally started as a small shop on Shirley Avenue in Revere, and eventually opened a second location in Everett. This summer, they moved their Shirley Avenue location to a larger space, at 151 VFW Parkway in Revere. Owned and operated by a family of brothers, there are both Moroccan and French influences, and they offer both savory and sweet options, from breakfast to lunch, dinner to dessert. Moroccan cuisine isn't too common in the Boston area so you'll find some more unique items here.

Their Breakfast Menu includes many of the usual dishes, from eggs to pancakes, waffles to breakfast sandwiches. There is also an option for a Moroccan Breakfast ($10.99), which includes coffee or tea, m'semen (a flatbread), baghrir (spongy pancake), harcha (semolina bread), baguette, oatmeal, hard egg, cream cheese, olive oil and honey. There are very few local bakeries where you can find those Moroccan breads and pancakes.

For Lunch or Dinner, they also sell a variety of sandwiches, from burgers to steak and cheese, from lamb kabab to falafel wrap. You'll also find salads, soups and dinner entrees, generally grilled meats or fish with rice and salad. I tried their Cheeseburger ($7.00) and Mixed Grill Dinner (chicken, lamb & ground beef-$12.99), and found them to be of average quality, nothing special. Those dishes wouldn't persuade me to return here to try other lunch or dinner options.

However, the strength of Casa Blanca lies in their baked goods, pastries and desserts. And they are well worth a visit for all of these items. Not only will they delight your palate, but they will also impress your guests at a party or celebration.

First, check out the case of their various breads, including items like m'semenbaghrir, and harcha. It would be nice if they labeled the items so you knew what they were, but the servers will freely answer your questions about all of the breads. Many will look somewhat familiar, with some items resembling Indian naan and others like a thick English muffin. They possess their own uniqueness though, and are quite delicious.

The M'semen, which is available in circular or rectangular form, is a traditional flatbread of North Africa, though sometimes it is referred to as a crepe or pancake. Its name derives from a Berber word meaning "well baked" or "well kneaded" and it is made so that it possesses about eight or so layers. I found it to be buttery and flavorful, flaky and soft, with plenty of internal layers. It is thicker and larger than a naan. It is an excellent bread for dipping into various sauces, and I've even used it to make a tasty meatball sandwich. On the menu it's listed as Moroccan Flat Bread ($1.75) and it is a very good value too.

This item is similar in some respects to a croissant, and was filled with melted cheese. Again, it was flaky and flavorful, thicker than a typical croissant, and filled with plenty of savory cheese.

They sell a variety of the usual baked goods too, from doughnuts to muffins, danish to croissants. Their Cinnamon Rolls ($2) were amazing, with a soft and flaky roll, garnished with just the right amount of cinnamon and glaze. They were one of the best cinnamon rolls I've enjoyed in quite some time. It was the late afternoon when I purchased these cinnamon rolls, and I suspected they had been made early that morning, for their breakfast crowd. However, they seemed as fresh as if they had just been made. Highly recommended.


Other cases are filled with a variety of pastries, including Napoleon, Eclair, Tartlet, Cannolli, Carrot Cake, and others, generally priced $2.50-$2.99. They are visually appealing and you'll probably have difficulty choosing what you want. I don't think you'll go wrong though whatever your choice.


These French Pastries ($2.99), from Chocolate to Caramel, are layered beauties, with rich and creamy flavors. They aren't heavy, so you'll probably be able to finish one on your own. They are also available in plenty of other flavors, including Strawberry, Mango, Lemon, Moka Coffee, Black Forest and more.

I highly recommend you visit Casa Blanca House of Pastries for their breads, baked goods and pastries. They are well-made and delicious, reasonably priced and diverse. Their bakers and pastry chefs are obviously well skilled and it's also great to be able to find some of their Moroccan specialities which are difficult to find elsewhere. I know I'll be returning there again soon, to enjoy some of the items I've previously enjoyed, and to try some new ones too.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Rant: National Recognition Yet Uneven Service

Last week, I stopped for a quick bite and a glass of wine at a Boston restaurant which has received national attention this year for their wine program. This was actually my first visit, which was long overdue, to this spot. The food was delicious and the wine list was impressive but the lackluster service was a fail.

Awards and accolades aren't a guarantee that you'll have a positive restaurant experience.

I sat at the bar and during the time I was there, I was able to observe and compare the actions of two different servers, the one who served me and another who later served others at the bar. There was an obvious and significant difference in the attitudes and actions of the two servers. One well represented the restaurant and its concept, while the other failed as an advocate, evidencing a lack of passion.

A food menu and wine list were placed in front of me without real comment. Then, my server left to let me peruse the two menus. When the other server tended to his guests, he was much more communicative. First, he explained their wine program, noting some of the unique aspects of it. Second, he also detailed the day's food specials, which weren't listed on the menu.

My server didn't mention either of these items to me. He left me in the dark, limiting my choices because of my ignorance. He did the bare minimum, failing to rise to the occasion like the second server.

My experience would have been different, and more positive, if I had the second server. I might also have chosen different food and wine, based on that new information. When you have a more unique wine program, you need to ensure that your customers understand it. And that means your servers need to be proactive, to inform customers about it and not put the burden on the customer to have to ask about it. The second server did an excellent and seamless job of discussing the wine list and food specials. You felt his passion. And that is what will lead to positive reviews and bring in more customers.

Despite my experience, I'll likely return to the restaurant, hoping my experience was more an aberration.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Westmount Winery: Pinot Gris to Pinot Noir Rosé

"Westmount embodies the spirit of adventure and exploration."
--Westmount Wine website

The delight of Oregon wine! Pinot is King, especially in the Willamette Valley, but other grapes grow well in different regions of Oregon. With the heat of the summer, it's a great time to explore the White and Rosé wines of Oregon, such as those of Westmount Wine. I received a couple media samples of their wines, which were both delicious and refreshing.

Westmount Wine Company, which falls under the parent company NW Wine Co., was founded by four people, including Danielle Andrus Montalieu and John Niemeyer. The third founder was Laurent Montalieu, who acts as the Executive Winemaker. He studied agricultural engineering at the Institute of Oenology in Bordeaux, moving to Oregon in 1987, eventually becoming a partner and winemaker at the famed WillaKenzie Estate. The fourth founder was Robert Moshier, who has a degree in Production and Operations Management. He is also a wine lover, as well as an avid climber and mountaineer.

"The Westmount winemaking philosophy is to maintain the personality of the vineyard while allowing the grapes to develop into the wine they were meant to be.”
Anne Sery, Winemaker

Westmount Wine has over 100 acres planted with grapes, primarily Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with some Chardonnay. As they are outdoors people, it was only natural for them to produce wine in cans as well, something which is much easier to carry and transport in the wilderness (or beach) rather than glass bottles.

The 2018 Westmount Pinot Noir Rosé ($20), with a 12.9% ABV, possessed a medium pink color and an alluring nose of fresh red fruits with a hint of tropical fruit. On the palate, it was dry, crisp and fresh, with bright strawberry and watermelon, and subtle hints of more tropical fruits and citrus. A tasty, refreshing and well-balanced wine, it is excellent on its own though is also very food friendly.

The 2017 Westmount Pinot Gris ($20), with a 13.1% ABV, was equally as delicious. A compelling nose of stone fruit with a hint of spice. On the palate, it is fresh and crisp, bright and round, with tasty flavors of pear, apple, and a subtle spice note and hints of a floral element. Well balanced, with a fairly long and pleasing finish. Enjoyable on its own or paired with food, from salads to seafood.

Both of these wines are easy drinking, perfect for the summer, but they aren't simple. There is sufficient complexity for the price, and they'll provide much pleasure as well.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Rant: Boston Needs Vampires!

There seems to be only a single restaurant in the Boston area that serves Vampires. With all of the restaurants in this area serving Mexican cuisine, you'd think there might be more Vampires available. Unfortunately that isn't the case and it should change. Bring on more Vampiros!

"An order of Vampiros, a thinly sliced mini-steak snuggled in a corn tortilla is a must."
--Del Rio News-Herald Mundo Latino (TX), September 5, 1993

Vampiros resemble a type of open-faced taco, and basically are composed of a grilled corn tortilla which is topped by melted cheese, carne asada, and other varied toppings. Check out the recent article, Interview With the Vampiro by Dylan James Ho, for an excellent introduction to this intriguing dish. In the U.S., Vampiros have been around for at least about thirty years, and the above newspaper quote was the oldest reference I found.

"Vampiros involves white cheese melted on corn tortillas and sprinkled with bits of carne asada, like a beefed-up quesadilla."
--The Los Angeles Times, January 26, 1995

It certainly doesn't seem difficult to create Vampiros so why are they so rare in the Boston area? The only restaurant I've found that serves them is the Yard House, under the name of Vampire Tacos. Their website states, "Vampire Style" is a street taco wrapped in a grilled, crispy cheese-crusted flour tortilla shell." Their recipes is made with carnitas, bacon chorizo, chipotle, cumin crema, guacamole, roasted garlic, and cilantro. Does anyone else know of another Boston area restaurant serving Vampiros?

"That includes the Vampiro, which brings a grilled corn tortilla heaped with carne asada or pastor topped with gooey, melted Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, sweet caramelized onions, and crisp shredded lettuce."
--Arizona Republic, July 22, 2011

Why is Boston so behind on Vampiros? For at least 30 years, they've been available from Texas to California, and currently seem to be huge in Los Angeles. Why does it take so long for some trends to travel here? It seems like it would be an excellent opportunity for a local chef to present Vampiros to Bostonians. So who will step forward and offer this "undead" Mexican dish to their diners?

Friday, August 16, 2019

East Of Suez: Delicious Pan Asian Cuisine in Wolfeboro, NH

"Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst"
--Mandalay (1890), by Rudyard Kipling

What first drew me to the restaurant was the fact that it was BYOB. Then, I checked out their food menu and it intrigued me as well, Pan-Asian cuisine, ranging from the Philippines to Vietnam. It also seemed reasonably priced. And as I looked further, I learned that it had existed for over 50 years, a worthy and uncommon achievement in the restaurant industry. As I was going to spend a few days vacationing in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, I knew I wanted to dine at East of Suez

East of Suez was founded back in 1967 by Charles and Norma Powell, taking over a spot that once houses a pizzeria. Charles' father had been a naval officer, photojournalist and cinematographer, and often took Charles with him on visits to China and Japan. In 1962, Charles met his future wife, Norma Antonio, who was from the Philippines. At the time they opened the restaurant, they both lived in New York, so running a restaurant wasn't easy and during the early years, the restaurant was only open on weekends.

Currently, the restaurant is owned and operated by their daughter, Elizabeth Powell Gorai. East of Suez is primarily open for the Summer, though it may extend a bit into October dependent on the weather. Their food is prepared to order, and many local ingredients are used, except for those unavailable. It is also a BYOB spot, so you can bring your own wine or beer, though they also sell a variety of nonalcoholic beverages.

Their website states, "We are one of the oldest Pan-Asian restaurants in the United States, serving an eclectic sampling of exotic cuisine from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim, with occasional detours around the world since 1967. Our menu is small, specifically so, to represent a mix of the time-honored classics and culinary innovations our patrons have grown to love, however, each evening we experiment by adding choice delicacies to our collection, in much the way a traveler gathering mementoes might do, if he ventured to explore 'East of Suez."

The restaurant is cozy, spread out over several rooms, and decorated with an eclectic Asian decor, spanning several different cultures. I dined here twice, with several good friends, and on both visits it was fairly crowded, indicative of its popularity. We also brought wine with us on both occasions. Overall, I was impressed with the cuisine, enjoying the layers of flavors in each dish. It earns my hearty recommendation, and I look forward to dining there against some time.

The Regular Menu is relatively small, but with plenty of different choices, and each day they have a Special Daily Menu, adding even more choices. The Regular Menu generally consists of Starters/Small Plates (7 choices, $10-$12), Mains (8 choices, $19-$24) and Desserts (4 choices, $9-$10). The Special Daily Menu adds a Soup (Cup $6, Bowl $8); 4 Starters/Small Plates, 3 Mains, and 2 Desserts. So, there's plenty of options without being overwhelming. There are also Vegetarian and Gluten Free options. This is an excellent place to order a bunch of small plates and share, so you can sample the range of dishes available.

The Manila Polo Club Chowder ($6 cup/$8 bowl) is made with "Rich steamer clam and black tiger shrimp broths with chunky shrimp, bay scallops, clams, golden potatoes, veg." It is "Simmered all day in sweet cream seasoned with saffron, garlic and a hint of red chili." This was a superb chowder, rich and flavorful, with plenty of chunks of seafood. It wasn't too thin or too thick, and was seasoned well, creating nice layers of flavor. It was a big hit at our table.

Another big hit were the Goat Cheese Rangoon ($11), made from "Local NH farm goat cheese, seasoned with fresh herbs, enveloped in wonton skin & deep-fried crispy outside, melty inside; with sweet chili sauce dip." I'm not a fan of Crab Rangoon, with their fake crab meat and cream cheese, but I loved these goat cheese rangoon! Fried perfectly, with a crunchy exterior, the creamy goat cheese was a delight on the palate, enhanced by the sweet chili dip. We had these on both visits as they were just that damn good. Highly recommended!

The Philippine Lumpia ($11) were "Fingerling spring rolls of pork, tiger shrimp & veggies, deep-fried, sliced & served with pineapple sweet & sour." You can also order a Vegetarian version of the Lumpia. These crunchy rolls, with flaky layers, had a pleasing balance of flavors.

The Crab & Corn Fritters ($12) consist of "Shredded lump crab meat and shaved cob corn blended with Thai herbs and spices; Deep-fried crispy and served with nuoc cham, sweet chili lime dip." Another tasty and well balanced dish, the fritters had a great fluffy texture to them, with the crunch of the corn, some sweet crab, and a hint of spice. The dip was delicious too, as were all of the sauces and dips at the restaurant.

The Sichuan Giant Dumplings ($14) were "hearty pork dumplings steamed and drizzled with crunchy garlic soy black vinegar and chili flakes." They certainly were packed with savory pork and the sauce was intriguing, with sour and umami flavors, and a mild hint of heat.

The Japanese Yakitori ($12) include "Rock sugar & sweet soy marinated boneless organic chicken thigh, skewered & charbroiled; with ginger teriyaki glaze." Juicy, flavorful chicken, with some slight charring, and a light sweetness. Again, a well balanced and tasty dish.

Another of the regular Small Plates, Tita Glo's Lettuce Cups ($10), are "Auntie's wok-tossed turkey, apple, raisin & veggie crumble, with sesame, hoisin & garlic; served warm in a cool Boston lettuce leaf with toasted sunflower seeds." A take on lettuce wraps, it is also like a taste of Thanksgiving, with Asian accents.

The Longanisa Bao Buns ($10) are "Sweet and garlicky Philippine pork sausages in puffy steamed bar bun, with lettuce, tomato, onion and banana catsup aioli." Soft buns, with a meaty and intriguing sausage taste, enhanced especially by the aioli.

Onto some Main dishes now. The Bulgoki Steak ($22) consists of "Korean BBQ style, Angus beef flank steak, sliced thin & marinated in sesame, sweet soy & garlic chili miso paste; charbroiled & served with spicy kimchee pickles." The steak was tender and delicious, with a compelling and well-balanced sauce, bringing a nice contrast of sweet and heat.

The Drunken Noodles ($24), aka Pad Kee Mao consists of "wide rice noodles pan-fried with black tiger shrimps, red chili oil, garlic, sweet Thai basil leaves, red and green peppers, onions and Shaoxing rice wine in a sweet & spicy oyster sauce." The noodles had just the right texture and absorbed the tasty and spicy sauce. A hearty dish, there was plenty of shrimp and veggies, and it seemed fresh and bright, a delightful summer dish.

I really loved the Philippine Adobo ($20), "Mama Tars' tender confit of bone-in organic chicken & country style fatty pork, marinated and slowly braised in crushed garlic & soy vinegar with bay leaf & black peppercorns; with sliced fresh banana." Both the chicken and pork were extremely meaty and tender, in a superb and scrumptious sauce, each bite bringing gustatory pleasure.  Highly recommended.

The Vietnamese Bo Luc Lac Beefsteak ($25) is another beef dish, with "Well-marbled Angus rib-eye marinated in soy, garlic, rice wine, and lemongrass, char-broiled to order, sliced and served over mesclun greens and aromatic herb-tossed rice noodles, with nuoc cham, sweet chili lime dip." Once again, the beef was tender and flavorful, though with its own unique taste, a bit brighter here due to the lemongrass. The rice noodles were also quite tasty, with a mild herbal flavor.

Besides all the savory dishes, make sure to save room for Dessert. The Banana Blueberry Hawaiian Bread Pudding ($9) is made from "Barnstead blueberries and coconut sugared bread custard, served with Alae Sea salt butter caramel." I love Bread Pudding and will often order it if I see it on a menu. I think it is an under appreciated dessert, and still would love to see a Boston-Area bakery specializing in it. This Bread Pudding was fantastic, with an excellent, spongy texture, and great flavors of coconut and blueberry, with a salty and sweet edge from the caramel. Highly recommended.

 
The Banana Tempura ($10) consists of "Sweet bananas, batter-dipped, deep-fried light & crispy & honey-drizzled, with scoop of coconut ice cream." Another winner dessert, with an excellent tempura batter, fresh and sweet bananas, and creamy coconut ice cream. Pure hedonism.


Overall, East of Suez presents well-balanced dishes with pleasing layers of flavor. The dishes seem fresh and and everything seems cooked just right, from their noodles to steak. Some of the dishes seem very traditional while others are variations, and those variations, like the Goat Cheese Rangoon, work well. Service was very good on both visits. My only complaint is that they need better wine glasses, as the ones they offer seem more like fancy water glasses. However, you can bring your own glassware if you so desire (which we did on one visit). I strongly recommend you check out East of Suez before the summer ends.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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) Puritan & Company Chef/Owner Will Gilson; along with notable Boston-area chefs that include: Little Donkey’s Jamie Bissonnette, Chickadee’s John Da Silva; Select Oyster Bar’s Michael Serpa; Nathalie and Haley.Henry’s Peter McKenzie; Pastry Chef Brian Mercury and Spoke’s Kelcey Rusch. The Puritan & Co. team invite guests to join them for a delicious, multi-course meal inspired by culinary legend Julia Child.

On Thursday, August 29th, 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 a Julia Child recipe and present guests with a unique multi-course meal paired with wine. Taking place in August, Julia’s birth month, the dinner will celebrate one of the most important culinary visionaries in history. At this event, guests will be seated at large communal-style 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, which cost $110 each, will be available for purchase at: https://juliachild6pco.eventbrite.com

2) On Wednesday, August 28, from 5pm-7pm, Glass House, the restaurant, bar, and modern day “meeting house” in the heart of Kendall Square, is hosting 7th Annual Bombshells Against Breast Cancer to raise money and awareness for The Ellie Fund – an organization that provides essential support services to breast cancer patients.

Pink-clad guests will enjoy refreshing drinks, light bites, and a night of raising money for a great cause on the Glass House patio alongside Boston Bombshells (noun ; an influential woman in Boston who supports other women in and out of the work place through her attitude and actions), at this annual event.

This year’s Bombshells include:
Courtney Cox – Reporter, NESN
Julia Scaparotti – On-Air Personality, 103.3 AMP Radio
Fabianna Marie – CEO, Fabulously Fighting & Fabssential Wellness
Heather Higgins – Chief Cookie Officer, Top Shelf Cookies
Bekah Berger – Radio Host, Hot 106 Providence
Ashley Erling – Executive Producer, The Rhode Show
Janet Wu – Anchor, Bloomberg
Jessica Hennessy – Owner, The Haute Life
Loren Raye – Radio Host, The TJ Show
Kate Arnold – VP / Creative Director, Weston Table
Andrea Cook – AVP of Communications, WORK Inc.
Elizabeth Pehota – Reporter / Host, New England Revolution
Rachel Holt – Sports Reporter, NESN
Tanya Edwards – Writer & Producer, Boston Globe Media
And more to come!

Tickets are available for $20 via Eventbrite and benefit The Ellie Fund. Throw on your favorite pink (optional) attire for a fun filled night. Event is 21 +.

3) With National Rum Day taking place tomorrow, Friday, August 16, all locations of The Friendly Toast are ready to celebrate with a new Tiki Flight.

The Tiki Flight is offered all summer long and features four specialty tiki cocktails, including:
--Shandy’s Painkiller (Flor de Cana silver rum, Rumhaven coconut water rum, crème de coconut, pineapple, OJ)
--Singapore Zing (New Amsterdam gin, cherry & orange liqueurs, passionfruit puree, pineapple, grenadine, bitters, fresh lime)
--Original Mai Tai (Silver & dark rums, amaretto, pineapple, OJ, fresh lime)
--Mermaid’s Tail (Rumhaven coconut, water rum, spiced rum, blue curacao, pineapple, fresh lime).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hudson-Chatham Winery & Respect For Hybrids: A New Estate Blend

There are prejudiced individuals who would dislike the 2016 Hudson-Chatham Block Two Red Table Wine without even tasting it. These snobs would dismiss this wine without sampling the liquid within the bottle. Such a shame!

They would miss out on a delicious wine, all because of their shallow views concerning hybrid grapes. This Red Table Wine is a blend of four hybrid grapes but you should't allow that fact to color your opinion about this wine. Hybrids often get little respect because they are not "pure" vitis vinifera like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Hybrid wines are far too often judged by the nature of the grapes rather than the taste of the wine.

Vitis vinifera is the "common grape vine" and the one most used for making wine. All of the major grapes of which you are familiar are likely these types of grapes, from Tempranillo to Syrah, from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Blanc. Hybrids are a cross of two or more Vitis species, such as vitis vinifera and vitis labrusca. They are often created by people seeking to create a hardier grape, especially for harsher northern climates. Because they are not pure vitis vinifera, some people turn up their noses at these hybrids, refusing to believe they can produce quality wine. Drop that pretentiousness and judge these wines by their taste.

It has gotten to the point that some fans of hybrid grapes don't even want to use the term "hybrid," to avoid the prejudices that the term can spawn. I believe we should embrace the term, and don't try to hide what is being used. Instead, we need to fight the prejudice by getting these people to taste these wines, to understand the quality that can be found within them.

Sure there are poor quality wines made from hybrids, but there are plenty of poor quality wines made from vitis vinifera too. There are also some excellent wines made from these hybrids, and a wine lover would be hard pressed to guess they were hybrids simply from tasting the wine. You should approach a wine without prejudices or biases, willing to taste the wine and let it stand on its own. If you do so, you will probably find plenty of delicious wines that you might never have experienced otherwise.

In the Hudson Valley of New York, one of the most ardent advocates of hybrid grapes is Carlo DeVito. Carlo, with his wife Dominique, own the Hudson-Chatham Winery and you can read my prior article for background on the winery. The winery produces a number of different hybrid wines from grapes like Baco Noir and Chelois. I've enjoyed a number of them in the past, and I recently opened a media sample of the 2016 Hudson-Chatham Block Two Red Table Wine, sharing it with friends during a meal of grilled ribeye and sausages.

This wine is a field blend of four grapes, Baco Noir, Chambourcin, DeChaunac and Chelois, and this is their first release of this wine, made from all estate fruit. The wine was inoculated, but underwent open top fermentation for approximately 21 days. It was subsequently aged in older French barrels, for about two years, and has only a 12% ABV. When I tasted the wine, I immediately thought of Beaujolais, a light, fruity wine with subtle spice notes. Easy drinking and delicious, it was the type of wine that makes you crave a second, and third, glass. It was perfect on a fine summer day with some grilled meats. It isn't a wine to over-analyze, but one simply to drink and enjoy.

In addition, if you were blind-tasted on this wine, you'd never know hybrid grapes were used. It would certainly be an example of a wine that could change your views about hybrids. So get over yourself and stop prejudging hybrids. Drink the wine before making any judgments. Carlo certainly understands the quality that can be produced from hybrids and wine lovers should broaden their palates and enjoy his wines, including this new red blend.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Rant: At The Register, Put The Cellphone Down

Cellphone use is ubiquitous, and far too many people have great difficulty lifting their heads from the screens of their phones no matter what they're doing. They walk down the street, looking at their phones rather than looking out for others who are walking in their path. When these individuals visit a store, from a wine shop to a book shop, they sometimes continue using their phone even when they go to the register to make their purchase.

That needs to stop!

First, it's rude as the cashier generally needs to engage you in conversation when you make your purchase. It's hard to do so if you are talking to someone on the phone, or texting, or surfing the Internet. Second, it's dehumanizing to the cashier, as your attention is on your phone and you aren't treating the cashier as a human being, but rather as if they were an automaton. Third, mistakes can easily be made as you aren't paying sufficient attention and may not properly understand whatever questions the cashier asks you.

If you have to make a call, then handle the call before you go to the cashier. Once you get in front of the cashier, put your phone away or down. Give your full attention to the cashier. Treat them as a human being. Engage in some actual face-to-face social interaction. Your life is far greater than the tiny screen of your cell phone.

At the wine shop where I work, this happens on occasion. It is clear from their telephone conversations that it isn't an emergency. And it is more difficult to handle their transaction as asking them relevant questions isn't easy. I've heard from plenty of other people who feel the same way too, and stores are not the only victims. At restaurants, servers can encounter the same problem.

Have some consideration and put your cellphone down.

(This is a slightly revised, reprint of a Rant from four years ago but the issue remains as relevant now as it did then.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The First Chinese Restaurants Outside Boston (Part 1)

If you have a craving for Chinese cuisine, you likely don't have to drive far to find such a restaurant, or can get delivery service. Chinese restaurants exist in most Massachusetts cities and towns, and it isn't uncommon to find multiple restaurants in your city or town. The town of Stoneham, where I live, has a population just over 20,000, and there are five restaurants offering Chinese cuisine.

However, it wasn't always so easy to find Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts. During the 19th century, it seems there weren't any Chinese restaurants outside of Boston. It wouldn't be until the start of the 20th century that a few Chinese restaurants started to appear in other parts of Massachusetts. During the first couple decades of the 20th century, you might find one or two Chinese restaurants in other towns or cities. By 1931, there were approximately 30 Chinese restaurants located outside of Boston, from Cambridge to North Adams.

Where were these first Chinese restaurants located? When did they first open? Did they have difficulties in the cities and towns where they were situated? What are their stories?

I've previously written a five-part series, The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown, and now I'm expanding my coverage to include the rest of Massachusetts. This is a work in progress, and I'll be adding additional cities and towns in the future parts of this new series. This first article, which generally covers a period up to 1950, deals with Cambridge and Fitchburg

The first Chinese restaurant in Cambridge appears to be the Harvard Chinese Restaurant, which opened on June 21, 1902. The Cambridge Tribune, June 14, 1902, noted that this upcoming restaurant had petitioned the licensing board for a common victualler’s license. Nowadays, all restaurants need such a license to operate but it was very different back in 1902. A restaurant didn't need a license to be open from Monday to Saturday, but they needed a common victualler’s license to be open on Sunday. At the time, the licensing board placed the petition on hold as they wanted to wait to inspect the restaurant once it was fully fitted.

A week after that article, the restaurant opened, without a victuallers license. The Cambridge Chronicle, June 28, 1902, provided more details about this restaurant. It was located at 527 Massachusetts Avenue, on the second floor of the building. The restaurant employed only three people, a Chinese cook and two Chinese waiters. There were two dining rooms and their cuisine included a "variety of Oriental dishes," including “soups, chop sooy, lobster, chicken, candy, nuts and tea.

However, the Harvard Chinese Restaurant then seemed to vanish from the newspapers. Did it quickly close for some reason? Why did it pass into obscurity so fast?

The next Chinese restaurant didn't open until the next decade. The Cambridge Tribune, June 19, 1915, first reported on the plans of James Ort, which in some other sources would refer to as Ott, who wanted to open a Chinese restaurant at 2 Central Square, Cambridge. James wanted to transfer his current common victuallers license to the new Chinese restaurant. There is some contradictory information about Ort's prior business.

Some sources claim he ran a spot called Loud's Lunch at 545 Massachusetts Avenue, and other sources allege he ran a Chinese restaurant at that location. Still another source claims that though he received a victuallers license, he never actually opened the restaurant. The licensing board generally favored allowing the transfer of the victualler's license although Alderman McCarthy was an outlier, believing the location wasn't a proper place for a Chinese restaurant. As such, the decision on the transfer was delayed a week.

The Cambridge Tribune, June 26, 1915, then noted that the decision on the transfer was tabled once again. Three on the board were in favor of the license, noting that it was backed by several prominent businessmen and there was a personal guarantee that the place would be run properly. Two members now opposed it, claiming they had received letters of opposition from ministers and others, and that “such a place is not generally conducive to morality.”

That same day, the Cambridge Sentinel, June 26, 1915, reported that Alderman McCarthy alleged the restaurant, “would be conducive to immorality, as young girls would most likely be enticed up there.” The same racist rhetoric that had previously fueled efforts to ban women from visiting Chinese restaurants unless accompanied by a man. Another interesting detail also emerged from this brief article, that the rental for the restaurant would be six times the current rate!

Despite the opposition to the transfer of the license, Ort went forward with construction work on the restaurant. The Cambridge Chronicle, July 31, 1915, detailed the renovations taking place on the second floor of 2 Central Square, which was thought would be completed around September 1. The restaurant was going to be divided into three main sections. “The corner on Magazine street is to be handsomely fitted for ladies, and ladies with escorts. The portion facing Massachusetts avenue will be for gentlemen, both being elaborately furnished and lined with mirrors.” The third section was for the kitchen, storage, etc. It is fascinating that a section was being set aside primarily for women.

We also learned that Chin Fook & Co., merchants and bankers located in Chinatown, on Harrison Avenue in Boston, held a long lease on the property. Ort, who was part of the firm, was on the license. A later source would also note that the cost for the renovations would be about $10,000.

The Cambridge Tribune, September 11, 1915, mentioned that the licensing board had decided to deny the transfer of the victualler’s license. That meant that Ort could not open on Sundays. This didn't prevent the opening of the restaurant.

The Cambridge Tribune, October 2, 1915, had an advertisement for the Grand Opening of the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, offering Chinese and American foods. There would be “Special Table D’Hote Dinners, 25 cents to $1.50 per plate” and "A La Carte Bill-of-Fare", including "Chinese Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Soups, Candies, Nuts and Preserves--Chicken, Lobster and Oysters Served In All Styles."

The restaurant proved to be quite popular, as noted in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 6, 1915, which also stated, “Perfect cooking is the policy here.” It also was run quite well, and in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 27, 1915, it was noted that one of the aldermen who had previously opposed the transfer of the victualler's license, now was supporting the idea. This led to the victualler's license finally being granted in early December.

A couple months later, it was mentioned in the Cambridge Chronicle, February 12, 1916, that James Ort was now a partner in the restaurant, with Quan Soon You and others, after they had bought our the interest of Chin Fook.

For about the next twenty years, ads for the Imperial Chinese Restaurant would be regularly printed in various newspapers, though the restaurant didn't appear to be mentioned in many articles, except as a spot for a few different functions and events. There didn't appear to be any significant problems with crime, or any issues about morality. In fact, the Cambridge Sentinel, August 11, 1934, reported that the Imperial Chinese Restaurant was still as popular as ever. Chop suey remained very popular, as was take-out. They also played music, both from a piano and the radio. The newspaper also stated, “The same high grade management continues.”

The last article I found referencing the restaurant was in Boston Globe, October 24, 1940, in an article noting the Imperial Chinese Restaurant had been ransacked by burglars. After that, mentions of the restaurant, as well as advertisements, vanished. Thus, we don't know when and why the restaurant may have closed. Another mystery.

There were a couple other brief mentions of Chinese restaurants in Cambridge during this time period. The Cambridge Sentinel, March 15, 1924, reported that The Inspector of Provisions had inspected, a few times, a Chinese restaurant located over Gordon’s theater. He found it unkempt, and after several warnings failed, he closed the place. A similar incident was reported in the Cambridge Sentinel, August 18, 1934. The Board of Health revoked a license for a Chinese restaurant at 86A Windsor Street, owned by Mary China, which was found to be dirty and unsanitary.

The first Chinese restaurant in Fitchburg opened in 1902, just like the first one in Cambridge. The Fitchburg Sentinel, June 26, 1902, first reported that King Far Low, a Chinese man from Providence, would open a Chinese restaurant on June 28 over Quong Wah’s laundry, at the corner of Blossom and Crescent Streets, opposite the Cummings theater. The article noted, “Meals and lunches will be served in Chinese style and Chinese dishes and viands will be the attractions.

After its opening, the Fitchburg Sentinel, June 30, 1902, mentioned that the restaurant was at 20 Blossom Street and its food included, "Chop suey, foo youn dan, yo yo, foo chee, chow min, roast duck, fried one tune, yat ko min, and other dishes."

The Fitchburg Sentinel, July 3, 1902, posted an ad for this new Chinese restaurant. It is interesting that they offered only Chinese cuisine, and not American fare as other restaurants would do.

A raid at the restaurant! The Fitchburg Sentinel, January 7, 1904, reported this Chinese restaurant was raided by police, as they had allegedly received many complaints of violations of the liquor law. It was also alleged that girls and women frequented the restaurant at all hours and the owner sold opium as well. However, no evidence was found in the restaurant which could lead to an arrest. In the newspaper the next day, the restaurant claimed the raid was instigated by spite, caused by two young men who had previously tried to leave the restaurant without paying their 70 cent bill.

By May 1905, apparently King Far Low closed or sold his restaurant as another Chinese Restaurant, Novelty & Tea Store, opened at that location. The new owner was the Wing Chon Low Co. However, this new spot didn't last long either, as the Fitchburg Sentinel, September 8, 1906, reported the Blossom street restaurant had closed and a different, non-Chinese restaurant was going into that location.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, April 1, 1915, posted an advertisement for the Royal Restaurant, a "First Class Chinese Restaurant," located at 22 Day Street, and noting it was under new management. It would serve American and Chinese food. Back in 1912, this location was a grocery store, which had just assumed new ownership. I couldn't locate whether another restaurant had occupied this location prior to Royal Restaurant. The new management may just refer that they took over the business space from the grocery store.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, November 14, 1917, printed an ad for the new Canton Restaurant, a Chinese-American restaurant, which actually didn't provide a street address. The owner was the Canton Restaurant Co. and the manager was John Fong Ying. The ad emphasized "Pure Foods, Carefully Selected and Expertly Prepared, Our Policy." Other sources would indicate the street address of this restaurant was 294 Main Street.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, May 10, 1919, presented an advertisement with some menu items at the Canton Restaurant. That included: Turkey a la Creole Soup for 10 cents, Roast Stuffed Vermont Turkey 75 cents, Sirloin Steak $1.00, Fried Chicken (Nankin Style) 75 cents, Chicken Chop Suey with Pineapple 75 cents, Vegetables such as Mashed Potatoes and Stewed Corn, and Strawberry Shortcake for Dessert.

Check out the special Christmas dinner menu at the Canton Restaurant. The Fitchburgh Sentinel, December 22, 1922, printed the ad, which offers a multi-course dinner for only $1.00, with a choice of two entrees, Turkey or Chop Suey.

New management. The Fitchburgh Sentinel, May 2, 1923, reported that the Canton Restaurant was currently closed, and planned to reopen on May 10, after a number of renovations were completed. The restaurant was also under new management, being taken over by David Block of Colorado, who has wide experience in managing restaurants and clubs. Dancing would now be allowed at the restaurant. The May 6 newspaper noted that the new chef would be Chester Mills, the former chef at Camp Walden and the Peaks Island house.

In December 1934, the Canton Restaurant obtained a liquor licenses to sell beer and wine. And check out the ad in the Fitchburg Sentinel, August 15, 1936, discussing some of the specialties of the restaurant, as well as the ability to Dine and Dance. The last reference I found to this restaurant was in July 1943, so it seems likely the restaurant had to close soon after.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, April 2, 1938, posted an ad for the grand opening of the Peacock Chinese Restaurant, which was located at 9 Prichard Street. The owner was Mary A. (Ying) Wong, the daughter of John Fong Ying, who originally opened the Canton Restaurant. Mary ran the Canton Restaurant from 1927-1937, and then opened the Peacock, which she would operate until her death in 1967.

To Be Continued...