Thursday, January 17, 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) Beginning Thursday, January 17, Legal Sea Foods will be celebrating crustaceans with the “Shrimp Classic” feature menu available at Legal Sea Foods, Legal C Bar, Legal on the Mystic and Legal Harborside locations.

Available until February 13, seafood lovers will indulge in a series of special starters, light entrées and entrées:

STARTERS
Coconut Shrimp (orange ginger marmalade) $14.50
Shrimp Risotto Cakes (lemon aioli, herb oil, romano) $8.95
LIGHT ENTREES
Chipotle Lime Shrimp Tacos (salsa verde, queso fresco, roasted corn salsa, ham hock braised black beans and rice) $16.95
Shrimp BLT (chorizo aioli, bacon, arugula, tomato, griddled flatbread) $15.95
Buffalo Shrimp & Blue Cheese Salad (frisee, romaine, blue cheese vinaigrette, radish, celery) $16.95
ENTREES
Pesto Shrimp (pea and pancetta tortelloni, roasted tomato, pesto cream sauce) $23.95
Tempura Kung Pao Shrimp & Vegetables (snap peas, cauliflower, red pepper, pineapple, jasmine rice) $22.95
Shrimp Pad Thai (rice noodles, stir-fried vegetables, egg, bean sprouts, peanuts, Thai basil) $22.95
Grilled Bacon Wrapped Shrimp (jalapeño cheddar polenta, grilled broccolini) $23.95

2) Diane Kochilas, award-winning cookbook author, television personality, consulting chef, teacher, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on Greek cuisine, will launch Season 2 of her delectable cooking program My Greek Table with Diane Kochilas. The new season premiered locally Saturday, January 12 at 2:30 p.m. on WGBH. With 13 episodes, the new season also premieres on public television stations across the country. The series takes viewers to the source, as Diane introduces the breathtaking natural beauty, fabulous food, easy, nutritious recipes, and the unmatched hospitality Greece is known for worldwide.

To celebrate Season 2 of My Greek Table, Diane is launching her latest cookbook, My Greek Table – Authentic Flavors and Modern Home Cooking from My Kitchen to Yours (St. Martin’s Press, January 2019; $35.00).

On Thursday, January 31, Committee Ouzeri & Bar will host a Meet & Greet and Cookbook Signing with Diane. Diane and Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos will be serving treats from the new cookbook such as: avocado taramosalata, phyllo wrapped feta with poppy seed crust, mini sea bass wraps, stuffed baby eggplants and more. Should be a fun and tasty event!

There is so much more to Greek cuisine than tzatziki, souvlaki and gyros. In both Season 2 of My Greek Table and her cookbook, Diane digs deeper into the specialties and traditions of Greek cuisine, exploring ancient Greek flavors for modern cooks, the scope of Greek breakfast, the mountain roots of traditional Greek yogurt, the food and flavors of the Eastern Peloponnese, Grilling, Retsina, and the unique food and music of the Greeks who came as refugees from Asia Minor to Mainland Greece almost a century ago.

The start of the new year inevitably brings an onslaught of dietary focused resolutions and many of Diane’s recipes showcase the breadth and variety of Greek cuisine, with regional specialties, an array of delicious vegetable and bean dishes, succulent grilled specialties, authentic seafood dishes, healthy desserts, and, twists on some of the country’s most iconic classics. Adapting a Mediterranean diet in 2019 does not have to be at all about deprivation, but more about healthful whole foods and choices. Diane is an authority on the Mediterranean diet and has a wealth of knowledge from living and teaching in Ikaria which is known as “the blue zone” for the health and longevity of all who live there.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Mitho Restaurant: Compelling Himalayan Cuisine in Winchester

"Nepal! N-E-P-A-L! Viva Nepal! Viva Nepal!"
--The Golden Child

It's great to see restaurants in Boston+ area specializing in lesser known cuisines. Though there are a few restaurants in the Boston+ area serving Himalayan/Nepali cuisine, it is much more difficult to find such restaurants in the suburbs. Thus, I was very intrigued when I learned about the planned opening of Mitho Restaurant, a Nepali/Himalayan restaurant, in Winchester.

Located on the site of the former Cafe Piazza Dolce, Mitho Restaurant opened in December and I've already dined there four times. Their website states that they offer "cuisines from the foothills of the Himalayas." Nepali cuisine includes dishes and ingredients that have some similarities to what can be found in Tibetan, Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines. Commonly used ingredients include lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, chilies, coriander, cumin seeds, garlic, mustard oil, and peppers. I don't have much familiarity with this cuisine, beyond momos (their version of dumplings), so I was eager to experience and learn more about it.

The restaurant has two dining rooms, with a patio for outdoor seating once the weather improves in the Spring. The front dining room also has a small section of bar seating. The restaurant is tastefully decorated with Nepali/Himalayan accents.

This is the back dining room. Mitho is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week, except it is not open for lunch on Mondays.

Just outside the restaurant, they have a sign of Today's Specials, though it doesn't appear to be posted inside of the restaurant. And I was never given a menu of Specials on any of my visits. I ordered a couple items off the Specials menu, but they should provide you a copy of the Specials with your menu.

When you sit down at your table, and receive a copy of the menu, they also bring you a glass bottle of water. This is especially appreciated as some of the dishes can be spicy and you might want some water to quench that fire. The menu has a moderately long list of nonalcoholic beverages, from Lassi to Herbal Tea, from a Cucumber Cooler to a Virgin Mojito. I enjoyed a hot cup of Matcha Green Tea and was intrigued by the Chia Tea, which is a milk and spiced, sweetened black tea from Nepal.

Last week, Mitho acquired a liquor license, and they have just started serving beer, wine, and Sake. You can get Sake cocktails like the Mitho Mojito (Sake, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, fresh mint) and the Cucumber Cooler (Pickle cucumbers soaked in Sake, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, soda water). As the license is brand new, it will take a little time for them to select and stock all the alcohols they will normally carry.

The food menu is large and diverse, and you may be unfamiliar with some of the terminology but the menu does a good job providing explanations for most of the terms. And the servers can also answer any of your questions. Their website states they have the "most varieties of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes in New England." This is likely hyperbole, and I am doubtful as to the accuracy of the claim, however, they do carry lots of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Meat lovers will also find plenty to please their palate.

Their dishes also tend to be healthier, as their food is generally steamed,  pan-grilled, or stir-fried, seasoned with with organic herbs, and often served with steamed Basmati rice or fresh vegetables. Their sauces tend to be lighter and their flavors are very clean.

The Menu includes Appetizers, like Momos, Chhoila, and Bhuteko. For example, they have six types of Momos ($9-$12), including Chicken, Buffalo, and Vegetable. There are also Salads (4 options for $6 each), Soups (2 options for $6-$7) and Sides (3 options for $2-$3). There are Lunch Entrees (11 options for $11-$14), mostly Tarkari Curry and Namche Stir-Fry.

There are four types of dinner Entrees, including Tarkari Curry, Our Chilies, Grilled Delicacies and Stir-Fry Noodles. The Tarkari Curry ($15-$19) includes dishes served with items such as chicken, lamb, goat, shrimp, sweet potato, plantain, jack fruit, and tofu. The Our Chilies ($16-$27) includes dishes served with items such as duck, buffalo, wild boar, calamari, and mushroom. The Grilled Delicacies ($17-$26) includes dishes such as Wild Boar Ribs, Basil Shrimp, Cashew Coated Haddock, and Basil Thyme Lamb. The Stir-Fry Noodles ($16-$19) includes dishes with tofu, chicken and shrimp. The Dessert menu ($6-$9) includes 4 choices, such as Chia Seed Pudding and Sikarni.

When ordering a dish, you'll be asked the level of spiciness you desire, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hottest. This is an excellent way to customize your dish to your particular preferences. So, even if you dislike spicy foods, you can still enjoy their dishes. And if you love spicy heat, Mitho can ensure plenty of fire for your palate.

Momos! Momos are indigenous to South Asia, especially Tibet, Nepal, parts of India, and Bhutan, though the word itself seems to have Chinese origin, and simply means "steamed bun." They can be filled with a variety of ingredients, from yak to pork, chicken to vegetarian. At Mitho, they have six different Momos, priced from $9-$12, and you receive 8 dumplings with a slightly chilled dipping sauce. I enjoyed both the Buffalo (pictured above) and Lamb Momos. The dumpling skins have a nice texture, with just the right amount of thickness, and hold a rough sphere of flavorful meat and spices. The Buffalo and Lamb Momos clearly had different flavors, and the Lamb was my favorite though I certainly would order the Buffalo again too. Dumpling lovers will savor these delectable Momos.

The Lentil Dal Soup ($7), which is vegan & gluten-free, is a mix of red and yellow lentils seasoned with ginger, garlic and cumin seed. On a cold winter day, this hot soup warms the belly, and it possesses a tasty depth of flavors. With your lunch entree, you can get a small bowl of this soup for an additional $3.

The Jeera Chicken ($8) was one of my favorite dishes at Mitho, and I ordered it on two different occasions. "Jeera" means "cumin seeds" and this dishes includes pan-grilled chicken, to crisp, with cumin seeds, that is cooked in a typical Nepali way. The crispness of the chicken pieces was compelling, and the spices and seasonings were absolutely delicious, with a pleasing spicy kick. I generally ordered my dishes at Mitho to have a spiciness level of 5, which was a good choice for my palate. This dish is an appetizer, and it would be an excellent snack for cocktails or Sake. Highly recommended.

One of the Specials, the Shrimp Bhuteko appetizer (gluten-free) is a stir-fry dish with unique spices and served with crispy puffed rice. There were plenty of shrimp amidst the crisp, fresh vegetables, and once again the spices and seasonings intrigued and delighted my palate. The puffed rice added a crunchy texture and also helped to mitigate some of the spicy heat of the dish. On their regular menu, this Bhuteko dish comes with Calamari.

Another appetizer, the Chicken Chhoila ($11), which is gluten-free, is made with grilled chicken, marinated and seasoned with fresh lime juice, cumin seeds, and mustard oil with fresh chiles. The chicken pieces are basically diced, and there is an addition of what seemed to be crunchy onions, adding a textural contrast. This ended up being the spiciest of the dishes I had at Mitho, and it was also delicious, with interesting flavors.

As for Sides, this is Flat Herbed Bread ($3), a vegan dish, which is served warm. A nice texture of the bread with a crisp exterior, and which can be used to sop up the sauce from your other dishes.

One of the Lunch Specials, the Chicken Tarkari ($11) has a tomato-based curry sauce, with fresh onions, peppers, zucchini, and carrots and a side of steamed basmati rice. As you can see, the chicken is about 25% of this dish, the veggies occupying the majority of the dish. The chicken is moist and tender, cooked perfectly, and the curry sauce has a nice blend of flavors. This is not a dish though that will remind you of the usual Indian curries. It has its own unique and interesting flavor profile.

As an aside, the ingredients you find at Mitho are likely familiar to you, and some of the flavors will bring to mind other cuisines, especially Indian and Chinese, but there are significant differences as well. The cuisine at Mitho is a fascinating blend of familiar and unfamiliar, and sets apart their Nepali/Himalayan cuisine. You might have certain expectations about their dishes, based on the description and list of ingredients, but you'll find something different when you actually experience each dish. All of their dishes present something more unique and we need more restaurants that offer something different for our palates.

Another Lunch Special, the Namche Chicken Stir-Fry Noodles ($13) is an ample-sized bowl of chicken, veggies and noodles. Once again, everything is cooked just right, with a nice depth of flavor, tender noodles, and moist chicken. Stir-fry is very common, but the flavors of the dish are not.

From the Grilled Delicacies, the Lamb Tass ($19) consists of pieces of lamb filet that have been pan-grilled with dry rubbed herbs and spices. The lamb was tender and flavorful, with a pleasing taste which was both familiar and unfamiliar. The veggies were fresh and crisp, and there was a larger portion of meat to veggies in this dish.

From the Entrees, the Chicken Chili ($16) is made with a sautéed blend of different fresh chilies in sesame seed oil, olive oils, vinegar, red wine, and spices. The menu states "our chilies are not like typical chilies" and this dish won't remind you of other chili dishes. The chicken, once again, was tender and moist, with a powerful, complex and scrumptious blend of flavors. A pleasing spicy kick, a hint of tartness, and each bite pulled me into having more. This is another of my favorite dishes at Mitho, as I just loved the unique flavor profile of this dish. The veggies are fresh, cooked just right so that they maintain a nice crispness. Highly recommended.

For dessert, I was impressed with the Blueberry Haluwa ($9), a combination of semolina, blueberry and coconut, and topped with whipped cream and golden raisins. It was served warm, and resembled three donut holes, though the texture was closer to a brownie. The blueberry flavor was dominant, with coconut accents, and the flavors meshed very well together. A fine ending to a meal.

Overall, Mitho Restaurant will impress you with its Nepali/Himalayan cuisine, offering healthier but still delicious offerings. It is very reasonably priced and you'll enjoy the freshness of their ingredients. Service is good, and they are eager to answer your questions about the cuisine. With their new liquor licenses, you'll be able to get a drink with your meal, though don't ignore their nonalcoholic selections. The suburbs need more of these type of restaurants and Winchester is fortunate to have Mitho, which earns my hearty recommendation.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Rant: Does A Restaurant Need A Liquor License?

Ponder for a moment your favorite full-service restaurants in Boston, ignoring fast casual and fast food spots. Now, consider those restaurants that came to your mind. How many of them don't have some type of liquor license? Your answer is probably zero.

Check out the recent lists of the top full-service restaurants of the year that have appeared in multiple media sources. Almost invariably, each restaurant on the list has some type of liquor license. When is the last time you saw a full-service restaurant without a liquor licenses ending up on their Best Of lists? It is quite the rarity. And even when that rarity occurs, the restaurant commonly has BYOB available.

Let's face it, a full-service restaurant would have difficulty surviving for any length of time without a liquor license. It is commonly stated that many restaurants derive about 30% of their revenue from alcohol sales. In addition, the margins on food are usually low, in the single digits, while margins on alcohol sales can average about 30%, if not more. With all of the costs and expenses involved in opening and operating a restaurant, increasing your margins is an imperative to long-term survival.

Without a liquor license, a restaurant grants a significant competitive advantage to restaurants which possess such a license. And it can be even harder to overcome that advantage if surrounded by numerous restaurants that serve alcohol. If a group of people are seeking dinner, and even just one member of that group desires alcohol, then the restaurant without liquor will likely be ignored. This is one of the reasons why liquor licenses are so valuable in the Boston area, as restaurant owners understand how important alcohol is for many potential customers.

Some cuisines and foods also seem to go hand and hand with certain alcoholic beverages. At Asian restaurants, cocktails and beer are commonly more important than wine, while at a steakhouse, big, red wines are very popular. Can you imagine an Italian or French dinner without a glass of wine? Plenty of people even desire a beer with their burgers. A well crafted drinks program is important to me when I'm selecting a restaurant, and I'm far from alone in that sentiment.

So, can a restaurant survive, and thrive, without a liquor license? It is certainly possible but is also a difficult endeavor. Their food needs to be of superior quality and taste, and so compelling that people are willing to forgo alcohol to dine there. It should probably also be more unique, something that diners can't easily find elsewhere. If it isn't unique, then why should people dine there rather than a similar place where they can also purchase alcohol? People might dine there once, for novelty's sake, but unless their experience is superb, they may not rush to return.

With the difficulties and high expense of obtaining a liquor license in Boston, it is tough for a new restaurant, especially a small, independent spot to obtain one. However, the reality is that few full-service restaurants seem to survive without one. This is a reason some restaurant owners have chosen to open in the suburbs, where licenses are easier and cheaper to obtain. Changes may be coming to the liquor license scene in Boston, with the possibility of more licenses becoming available, but nothing is guaranteed.

A restaurant may not need a liquor license, but without it, they are operating their business with a significant disadvantage.

Thursday, January 10, 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) In honor of National Soup Month, Legal Sea Foods will be declaring January 15 as “Chowda Day.” Available at all Legal Sea Foods’ brands and locations for the duration of the day, $1 cups of their signature New England Clam Chowder will be served up with the purchase of an entrée. Legal Sea Foods’ iconic clam chowder recipe has been dished out at every Presidential Inauguration since 1981.

Legal Sea Foods locations throughout the country that will be serving up $1 chowder can be found here. This special offer also is available at Legal C Bar, Legal Crossing, Legal Harborside, Legal on the Mystic, Legal Oysteria and Legal Test Kitchen.

2) CityFeast returns to Boston’s North End, on Sunday, January 27, at 6pm, for the 13th year. This food-fueled evening is hosted by six of restaurants: Antico Forno, Aria Trattoria, Bricco Ristorante, Lucca, Terramia Ristorante, and Tresca. Tickets include a five-course dinner with wine pairings at one of the participating restaurants and proceeds benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s High Hopes Fund, which supports the Center’s greatest needs in research, education, and clinical care. Joslin Diabetes Center is a world-renowned diabetes research and care organization located in the heart of Boston.

Carla Agrippino Gomes, owner of Antico Forno and Terramia, founded CityFeast in 2005 in the North End with her restaurants and it has continued to grow. Since its inception, the popular event has raised more than $300,000 for Joslin Diabetes Center’s High Hopes Fund. This is a personal cause for Carla whose son David has been living with Type 1 diabetes since his first birthday. Carla credits Joslin with David’s good health over the past 27 years, as well as his interest in the medical field. Shortly before his first birthday David was slipping into a diabetic coma as health professionals failed to properly diagnose him despite his parents’ persistence that something was wrong. After that experience, Carla moved David’s care to Joslin, and her family has supported Joslin’s research for a cure and cutting-edge diabetes care.

COST: Tickets are priced at $150 each, of which $100 is tax deductible, and can be purchased at: http://www.joslin.org/cityfeast.

Due to high demand, reservations are limited and will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

3) On Thursday, January 31, from 6pm-9pm, Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and the team at Harvest welcomes noted journalist and author, Aaron Goldfarb, to showcase his new cookbook titled, Hacking Whiskey, at Harvest’s “The Book and The Cook” dinner series.  Aaron has gathered tips, recipes, and insider secrets about the weird yet delightful ways in which whiskey is being used today.

And, for this special night, Harvest will be making recipes from his collection of ingenious ideas and shortcuts to help you temper whiskey to greatness. Each dish incorporates whiskey in the recipe and will be paired with a cocktail. Aaron is also one of the most prolific liquor journalists in the country. He has also authored four additional books over the past decade.

The menu includes:
Reception
Orange Juniper Paté du Fruit
Salmon Roe, Fingerling Potato, Red Onion, Lemon & Parsley
Gruyere Cheese Gougeres
Botanical Blend Gin & Tonic
First
Beet, Bourbon & Green Apple Cured Salmon with Créme Fraiche, Dill & Mint
Smoked Mint Julep, Bourbon, Smoked Mint Syrup, Mint Sprigs
Second
Whiskey Glazed Bacon, Wheatberries, Pork Rinds & Vanilla Parsnip Purée
Benton's Bacon Fat Infused Four Roses Bourbon
Third
Beef Brisket with Orange Vanilla Poached Apricot, Swiss Chard & Confit Potato
Death & Taxes, Cigar-Infused Bourbon, Lemon Juice, Peach Syrup, Fernet Branca Rinse
Fourth
Smoked Pecan Ice Cream with Butterscotch & Black Tea Wafer Cone
Uncrustable, Peanut Butter Bourbon, Baileys Irish Cream, Frangelico, Raspberry Grand Casis Glaze
Fifth
PB & J Macarons
Tea-Smoked Hot Toddy, Scotch, Lemon Juice, Honey, Hot Water

Cost: Price is $75 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity). Tickets include a short reception, a multi-course dinner, a fun Q&A with the author and chefs, and a signed copy of Hacking Whiskey.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 617-868-2255 directly to book seats. Or visit batchackingwhiskey.eventbrite.com to purchase tickets.

4) Bistro du Midi welcomes the new year with its first Celebration Dinner of 2019 showcasing Executive Chef Robert Sisca’s love for game. On Tuesday, January 29, from 6pm-9pm, Chef Sisca is serving up a decadent meal with each dish carefully-paired with an exquisite wine selection. Be sure to grab your seat, as there are limited tickets available.

The full Chef’s Seasonal Tasting Menu: Winter’s Bounty is as follows:

Nantucket Bay Scallop Crudo, persimmon, pomegranate, white sturgeon caviar
Francois Chidaine, Tuffeaux, Montlouis-sur-loire 2017

Braised Pheasant, chestnut gnocchi, feta cheese, winter black truffle
Domaine Faiveley, Clos des Myglands 1er Cru, Mercurey, Burgundy 2016

Wild Boar Sausage, pine nuts, vadouvan, cauliflower, blood orange
Château Deyrem Valentin, Margaux, Bordeaux 2015

Elk Wellington, foi gras-truffle duxelles, black garlic bordelaise
Domaine de Bagnol, Cassis 2016

Duck Egg Crème Brûlée, hop hunter chocolate ice cream
Petit Guiraud, Sauternes, Bordeaux 2015

Cost: $175 per person. Tickets are available through Eventbrite

5) On Tuesday, January 22, at 6:30 p.m., enjoy a night of wining and dining at Chopps American Bar and Grill with Rodney Strong winemaker Greg Morthole. Executive Chef Steve Zimei is presenting a paired prix fixe menu for the evening. Rodney Strong is proudly Sonoma grown for over 55 years. The expertly expansive wine making ranges from exceptional Bordeaux varietals in Alexander Valley to the classic Chardonnay from the Chalk Hill area. Rodney Strong has been named America’s Winery of the Year and is recognized for their commitment to quality, luxury and Sonoma County.

The full menu for the evening is as follows:
RECEPTION
Chef’s Selection of Passed Hors d’oeuvres
2017 Rose of Pinot Noir Rodney Strong – Sonoma, California
FIRST COURSE
Baked Oysters, spinach, parmesan cream, herb breadcrumbs
2015 Chardonnay Davis Bynum ‘River West Vineyard’ – Russian River, California
Vs.
2016 Chardonnay Rodney Strong ‘Chalk Hill’ – Sonoma, California
ENTRÉE
Peppercorn Crusted New York Strip, River Rock Farms, baby beets, potato pave, shallot brandy
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Rodney Strong ‘Reserve’ – Sonoma, California
Vs.
2014 Red Blend Rodney Strong ‘Symmetry’ – Sonoma, California
DESSERT
Dark Chocolate Lava Cake, espresso crème anglasise, peppermint stick gelato
2014 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Rockaway Vineyard’ – Alexander Valley, California

Price is $95 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity). Space is limited, and reservations are required so please call 781-221-6643 directly to book seats. A credit card is needed to secure a reservation.

I've been to a number of wine dinners at Chopps and they are always fun and delicious, and I strongly recommend you check this wine dinner.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rebel's Guild: The Glenlivet Dinner

I've previously said, on multiple occasions, that there aren't enough Whiskey pairing dinners in the local area. With the diversity of whiskey now available, there are plenty of food-friendly options for a creative chef. Thus, I was intrigued to learn that Rebel's Guild, a Revolutionary War themed restaurant/bar at the Revere Hotel, was instituting a series of monthly whiskey dinners.

Rebel's Guild, which serves English-style pub fare, opened in April 2018 and is led by Executive Chef Sean Dutson. Dutson, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, has plenty of varied experience, from front of house management and executive chef roles in both independent restaurants and large-scale urban hotels. "His philosophy is to create a menu that is both balanced and diverse, that offers flavors to excite and delight every guest."

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and on the dinner menu you'll find items including Crispy Buffalo Oysters, Smoked Duck Breast Crostini, Lobster Fritters, Short Rib Ravioli, Berkshire Blue Burger, Brick Pressed Chicken, Meatloaf, and Old School Prime Rib. Dinner entrees range from $19-$34.

I was fortunate to attend, as a media guest, their first monthly Scotch dinner, a collaboration with The Glenlivet. During the course of this dinner, we enjoyed a Scotch cocktail and four different Glenlivet Scotches, all paired with food prepared by Executive Chef Sean Dutson. This was my first visit to Rebel's Guild and I was impressed by the cuisine, and the pairings worked very well. I've long enjoyed Glenlivet Scotch so it was a treat to have several different bottlings paired with various dishes.

Overall, it was a fun and tasty evening, made even more special because I finally got to meet, in person, Frederick Wright, who has commented on my blog far more than anyone else. It was a chance meeting as I had no idea he would be attending this dinner. We enjoyed plenty of interesting conversation over the course of the evening, and it was such a pleasure to finally dine with and raise a glass with him. Thanks to Frederick for all your fine comments over the years and thanks also for making the Glenlivet dinner even more fun.

The evening began with a cocktail made with The Glenlivet Founders Reserve Scotch, Madagascar infused vanilla, Kleos Mastiha liqueur (Greek), and sour cherries. Such an interesting taste, a nice balance of sweet and sour, with an intriguing spice element. I need to return to check out more of their cocktail program as it sounded fascinating from what I heard at this dinner.

Accompanying the cocktail was a series of tasty and plentiful hors d'oeuvres. The Applewood Smoked Bacon Deviled Eggs put a nice twist on the traditional deviled eggs, adding a bacon element. The creamy filling had a delightful smoky aspect, and just enough bacon taste, without overwhelming the dish. Frankly, these were some of the best deviled eggs I've tasted in quite some time.

These Skewers were stacked with beef, goat cheese and two types of beets. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the goat cheese creamy, enhanced by a touch of balsamic.

The Almond Stuffed Dates were a simple but delicious item, a nice blend of flavors and textures.

There were also Artichoke and Boursin Fritters, which the others at the dinner stated they enjoyed. I'm not a fan of artichokes.

My personal favorite of the hors d'oeuvres were the Pulled Pork & Cornbread Shooters, made with pulled pork, corn bread and topped with coleslaw. The cornbread was moist and delicious, with plenty of tender, savory pulled pork. A fine combination and I had several of these shooters, refraining from more so I would have room for the rest of my dinner. Highly recommended!

After all of that food, the four-course dinner began, opening with a Apple & Butternut Squash Bisque, topped by creme fraiche and spiced pecan dust. The velvety smooth bisque had plenty of apple flavor, with a little bit of sweetness, balanced by the creme fraiche. A fine start to the meal, and it would pair well with our opening Scotch too.

The Glenlivet Distillery, which was founded in 1823, was the first distillery to receive a commercial license to distill. They sell about 6 million bottles each year, and produce at least a dozen different bottlings, which includes a number of limited releases. The Glenlivet representative opened with some important advice, that you can drink your whiskey how ever you like it. You can add water, ice, or even Red Bull if that is your preference. That is sage advice with which I fully agree, and also shows that Glenlivet isn't trying to be pretentious, and tell people exactly how they should consume their Scotch.

Our first Scotch was The Glenlivet Founders Reserve Scotch ($35), a non-aged Scotch that generally is comprised of a blend of whiskies that are aged from 6 to 18 years. It is aged primarily in ex-bourbon casks, has a 40% ABV, and is one of their newer releases from the last 5 years. It is considered to be a good introduction for newcomers to Scotch and I would agree with that sentiment. The Founders Reserve is light and dry, with nice flavors of citrus, hay, and vanilla. It drinks easily and worked well with the bisque, cutting through its creaminess.

The next dish was Confit Poutine, the chef's own twist on a classic dish, using pulled duck, sweet potato wedges, cranberries, sage gravy, and cheese curds. This was pure comfort food, an excellent and seasonal blend of moist, flavorful duck with savory gravy, slightly and crisp sweet potatoes and squeaky curds. The addition of the curds helps to root this dish in the classic, and this would certainly warm and please your belly all winter.

Our next Scotch paring was The Glenlivet 12 Year Old ($35), which is the #1 selling Scotch in the U.S. and is said to be responsible for the promotion of the single malt category. It too is light and dry, but with more complexity and depth of flavor, as well as some bright fruit notes, including a touch of pineapple. There are also touches of vanilla, honey, and caramel notes in this whiskey. Elegant and delicious, this is a very good value, which is probably the major reason it is a top seller.

Our last savory course was an ample plate of Pork Belly & Sea Scallop, with sugar pumpkin risotto, caramelized brussel sprouts, and a wild berry compote. The scallops were seared perfectly and were sweet and tender, the pork belly was crisp and tasty, and the risotto was sweet and creamy. More excellent comfort food, perfect for the season.

This course was paired with The Glenlivet 15 Year Old ($65), which is aged in ex-bourbon casksand then finished in French Limousin oak barrels. This is a more delicate and elegant whiskey, with intriguing and complex flavors, including salted nuts, citrus, caramel and a spicy backbone. Such a delicious Scotch, which also possesses appealing aromatics. An excellent value at this price.

Dessert was one of my favorite dishes, a Cinnamon & Apple Bread Pudding, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. We need more Bread Pudding in the Boston+ area, and it was good to hear that Rebel's Guild usually as a bread pudding on their dessert list as Chef Dutson is a huge fan of this dish. I loved his version, moist and flavorful, with just the right balance of flavors. I would stop here just to have this dessert.

The final Scotch was The Glenlivet 18 Year Old ($100-$125), which is aged in a combination of ex-Bourbon barrels and ex-Sherry casks. I'll note that they only use authentic Sherry casks, which certainly matters to me. At a 43% ABV, I found this to be a superb Scotch, and at this price, for an 18 Year Old, this is a very good value. The whiskey contains a complex and enticing blend of tastes of figs, raisins, citrus, red fruits, baking spices, and a hint of chocolate. There is so much going on in this elegant but powerful whiskey. A superb sipping Scotch, though it also went well with the Bread Pudding. Highly recommended.

This Scotch dinner was $75 per person and that was certainly a bargain for all of the food and drink, especially considering the quality of it all. Chef Dutson prepared plenty of delicious comfort food and I certainly want to return to try more of his menu. And the Scotch pairings were interesting and worked well. I highly recommend you check out Rebel's Guild and look out for their next whiskey dinner.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Rant: Do We Need a Super-Sized Soup Dumpling?

Sometimes a food dish sounds incredibly cool, but when you actually eat it, the dish loses some of its luster.

I love xiao long bao, a type of Chinese dumpling which are also known as "soup dumplings," although a number of Chinese restaurant menus translate it as "juicy dumplings." The most common origin story for xiao long bao is that they were created around 1875, in Nanxiang, a suburb of Shanghai. The alleged inventor sold them out of a food stall next to the Guyi Garden, a famous park in the city. I

Xiao long translates literally as "small, steaming basket" while bao, or more properly baozi, are "steamed buns." These dumplings are commonly steamed in small bamboo baskets, so the name is fairly literal. The dumplings are usually made with unraised flour, making them smooth and partially translucent. They are traditionally filled with pork, but other ingredients can also be used, everything from beef to seafood.

What primarily differentiates soup dumplings from other types of dumplings is that they contain a broth within the wrapper. Meat gelatin is placed inside the dumpling, and it melts when the dumpling is steamed, creating a savory broth. The traditional dipping sauce is Chinkiang vinegar, a black rice vinegar, with ginger slivers, that possesses a rich, smoky flavor.

Though it first opened around April 2017, District Kitchen, an Asian restaurant in Malden, had a grand re-opening in September 2018, which included a number of menu changes. District Kitchen is connected to All Seasons Table, another Asian restaurant in Malden (which is one of my favorites). With their new menu, they have been offering a super-sized xiao long bao, which certainly sounds intriguing but is it as good as it sounds?

I stopped by District Kitchen for lunch and found their menu has normal-sized soup dumplings listed as "Juicy Pork Bun Dumplings" (6 for $8), as well as the super-sized version, "Juicy Pork & Shrimp Bun Dumplings (1 for $8). I ordered the super-sized version, which you can view in the above two photos. It looks appealing and you get some sense of its size.

To truly understand the size of this soup dumpling though, you can see in the above photo how it compares to a regular-sized pork dumpling (not a soup dumpling). It looks impressive, though also a little bit intimidating.

They supply you with a straw so you can carefully pierce the dumpling skin and drink the hot broth within, being careful as that broth is very hot when it first arrives at your table. I very much enjoyed the broth, a complex and flavorful soup, and I needed to move the straw around the inside of the dumpling to ensure I got all of the broth. However, once the broth was gone, how was I going to eat the dumpling?

With normal-sized soup dumplings, you are given a spoon and chopsticks, sufficient for eating them. You use the chopsticks to place the dumpling on the spoon, and once you finish the broth, it is easy to eat the dimpling skin and meat/seafood inside. With the super-sized dumpling, I only had a pair of chopsticks. I would have needed a soup ladle or spatula to pick up and hold this huge dumpling, but neither was provided. It isn't really finger food, and it is too large to pick up fully with your chop sticks. You have to lift part of it out of the bamboo steamer and bite that section.

This is not an ideal way to eat a dumpling and it wasn't easy to get a proportionate amount of dumpling skins and meat/seafood in a single bite. In addition, the dumpling skin at the top of the dumpling was a bit thicker than normal, making it a more chewy, though the bottom of the dumpling skin was thinner. The taste was there, with a delightful meaty center, but the difficulty of eating this super-sized dumpling made the experience less than impressive.

Sure, it was fun to try this huge xiao long bao but I wouldn't order it again. I'd get the normal-sized soup dumplings instead. This is a cool idea which fails in the execution, being too difficult to eat properly.

And as a brief aside, I enjoyed the other dishes I ate at District Kitchen and I will be returning soon to check out more of their menu. Overall, my lunch experience was very good and it is worth checking out District Kitchen.

Thursday, January 3, 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) Battle of the Bloodys is back for its second year and this time the stakes are even higher as it takes over Landsdowne Street on Saturday, January 19th.  Bloody fans are invited to jump from bar to bar as 20 of Boston's brunch spots battle it out for the title of Boston's Best Bloody!

With Bloody Mary tastings happening at Loretta's Last Call, Landsdowne Pub, and Bill's Bar, tickets include:

  • Admission
  • Unlimited photo booth pictures
  • 1 event program and "Bloody Mary Passport"
  • 20 samples of various Bloody Marys from 8 of Boston's brunch hot spots including Sonsie, Southern Proper, Back Bay Social, Lulu's Allston & many more TBD!
  • Brunch snacks provided by Loretta's Last Call and Lansdowne Pub!
  • 1 token to vote for what you consider "Boston's Best Bloody Mary
  • Tito's swag & giveaways
  • Access to:  

--Loretta's Last Call: Sample 6 different samples of Bloody Marys from 6 local restaurants, free customized photo booth on stage, "the world's LARGEST Bloody Mary Bar", brunch snacks, specialty Tito's cocktails, & giveaways!
--Lansdowne Pub: Sample 14 different Bloody Marys from 14 local restaurants, watch and compete in bartender competitions, try other signature brunch cocktails in the "Not So Bloody" room, and enjoy a variety of brunch snacks!
--Bill's Bar Boston: Live band from 12-3pm, raffle table set up to benefit the MSPCA, full bar, & giveaways!

Tickets cost $30 and half of each ticket sale will be donate dot the MSPCA.
Tickets to the 21+ event can be purchased here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2nd-annual-battle-of-the-bloodys-tickets-54030394364

2) Island Creek Oyster Bar, in Burlington, has recently announced the start of Ramen Mondays. Starting January 7, and continuing each Monday evening, from 5pm-10pm, through March 18, Chef Matty will offer a weekly Ramen special. This Ramen special will be priced at  $12. Will there be seafood based Ramen specials? We shall soon see as they present a different Ramen each week. If you want to make a Reservation, please call 781-761-6500.

3) A number of local restaurants offer a $1 Oyster Night, which is a great thing. When oysters can regularly cost $3-4 each, a $1 special is an excellent deal. One local restaurant is offering an even better special, offering three $1 Oyster Nights during the week!

At Bisq, on Cambridge Street near Inman Square, Chef Alex Saenz and his team offer $1 Oysters from Tuesday to Thursday nights, all night ling until they run out. Three days of $1 Oysters! They have an excellent wine list too, with plenty of good choices to pair with your oysters. In addition, it seems they may have just instituted a cocktail program too, which will expand your options for oyster pairings. I'd also recommend starting with oysters and moving onto to some of the other delicious dishes at Bisq, like their Fried Chicken or Double Cheeseburger.

To make Reservations, please call 617-714-3693

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year: Welcome 2019!

It's the New Year, 2019, and it's my fervent hope that it is an even better year than the one before. I hope you understand though that it is your own efforts which will make the most difference to your life this year. You need to take an active role to make change, on all levels, and apathy is your enemy. And when we combine our individual efforts, we can accomplish even greater change. However, it all starts at the individual level taking control of our own lives.

Last year, I encountered some health issues, and they adversely affected some of my plans, including a trip I'd planned to Vermont. I made the effort to address my medical issues, and though it wasn't easy, I made some significant strides so that I'm much healthier now as I begin this New Year. However, I understand that I must continue battling those health issues in 2019, hoping that they continue to improve with time. I don't want these issues to interfere with my plans this year, and desire that my quality of life will improve and improve.

During the next couple months, I need to catch up with some of my blogging, to finish posts that I began last year but hadn't completed. I have a number of wine and spirit samples which I need to taste for potential reviews. I must return to some restaurants, especially my Favorite Hot New Restaurants, to dine there again with the idea of reviewing them. I need to review and possibly change some elements of my blog, from format issues to certain links.

In 2019, I look forward to attending the Seafood Expo in March and the Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival in August. I'm also hopeful that I'll have the opportunity to return to Portugal this year. I'd also like the explore more of the culinary scene in Portsmouth (NH), Kittery (ME), and Portland (ME). More locally, I want to explore more of the culinary scene in Jamaica Plain, Watertown, Quincy, and Worcester. And I still need to get to Bow Market in Somerville.

In 2019, I'll continue to explore more niche wines, including those of Georgia, Greece, Turkey, Uruguay, and more. I'll also continue to explore more spirits, from Whiskey to Brandy, from Rum to Baijiu. I also plan to sample more Australian wine, to see the changes that have been made in the industry within the last several years. I have some new wine books I need to review, and I know there will be more wine books published this year which will interest me. I also plan to do some more historical articles, hoping to uncover some intriguing information about wine and spirits. Finally, I'm also working on a new Sommelier series, where I will interview local sommeliers about their wine lists, wine pairings, and more.

I'll also be open to opportunities as 2019 progresses, as no one can really predict what might arise over the course of the year. I seek inspiration wherever I can, from magazine articles to friend recommendations. And sometimes you stumble upon something cool just by exploring an unfamiliar neighborhood. I hope 2019 brings some pleasant surprises.

What are some of your plans for 2019?