Thursday, January 31, 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) Indulge in all that Valentine’s Day has to offer this year at Bistro du Midi with a special five-course meal, presented by Executive Chef Robert Sisca. With picturesque views of Boston Public Garden from the second floor dining room, Bistro du Midi is a romantic setting to impress that special someone with exceptional service and a delicious menu.

The full Valentine’s Day menu is as follows:
FIRST
--Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare, winter radishes, white chocolate snow, passion fruit pearls
Optional Wine Pairing: Da Luca Prosecco, Veneto Italy
SECOND, Choice Of
--Endive & Arugula Salad, pine nuts, winter vegetables, green olive vinaigrette
--Nantucket Bay Scallop Crudo, sturgeon caviar, blood orange, persimmon
--Island Creek Oysters, Santa Barbara uni, pink lemon mignonette
Optional Wine Pairing: Fournier, Sauvignon Blanc, Val de Loire, France 2016
THIRD, Choice Of
--Beet Gnocchi, cricked creek farms feta, pine nuts, basil
--Scituate Lobster, smoked parsnip soup, hen of woods mushrooms, pomelo
Optional Wine Pairing: Santa Barbara Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, California 2016
--Hopkins Farm Braised Lamb Daube, black truffle potato puree, aged goat cheese, crispy onion
Optional Wine Pairing: Faiveley Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Rouge, Burgandy, France 2016
Chef’s Optional Course (choose one: supplement $25)
--Black Truffle Tagliatelle, périgord black truffle, wild mushrooms, preserved lemon
Optional Wine Pairing: Domaine Depeuble Beaujolais 2016
or
--Seared Foie Gras, pear, pomegranate, duck cracklings
Optional Wine Pairing: carmes de Rieussec, Sauternes, Bordeaux France 2013
FOURTH, Choice Of
--Crusted Halibut, manila clams, spigarello, crab-tomato broth
--Ora King Salmon, chorizo, cauliflower, chestnuts, golden raisins, preserved lemon
Optional Wine Pairing: La Craie, Chenin Blanc, Sec, Vouvray, Loire, France 2016
--Brandt Beef Filet Mignon, mushroom duxelles, puff pastry, black garlic bordelaise
--Crescent Farms Duck Breast, baby kale, husk cherries, turnips, spiced chocolate duck jus
Optional Wine Pairing: Chateau Deyrem Valentin, Cabernet Blend, Margaux, Bordeaux 2015
FIFTH, Choice Of
--Dark Chocolate Panna Cotta, orange tuile, blackcurrant sorbet
Optional Wine Pairing: Churchill, Ten Year Tawny, Port
--Éclair, strawberry ganache, hazelnut praline, raspberry-rosé sorbet
--Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake, rose crémeux, pistachio ice cream
Optional Wine Pairing: La Spinetta, Moscato d’asti, Piedmont, Italy

Cost: The Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu is $105 per guest, with an optional $50 wine pairing, and the special additional Chef’s Course is an extra $25.
Please call 617-426-7878 to make a reservation.

2) Try something new with your loved one this Valentine’s Day with a special Couple’s Sushi Making Class at Red Lantern Restaurant & Lounge. The class will take place on Saturday, February 9th from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Guests will get a hands on sushi class with the talented sushi chefs at Red Lantern, complete with appetizers and beverage pairings – and of course the one-of-a-kind sushi creations!

A limited number of tickets are available on EventBrite for $175 per couple and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/red-lantern-boston-presents-couples-sushi-making-class-tickets-54774703613

3) The Boston Marriott Burlington and Chopps American Bar & Grill team welcome guests for an unforgettable romantic evening. The team welcomes couples to experience their Romance Package (available February 13 – February 17), designed to make the sparks fly! Let the Chopps and Marriott teams take care of all the romantic details so you can spend time with that special someone. Rates start at just $249/night and include:

Romance Package:
· King Bedded Guestroom
· Complimentary upgrade based on availability
· Dinner for Two – 3-course prix fixe Menu in Chopps American Bar and Grill
· Breakfast for Two – Either Fresh Bites in-room or in Chopps
· Complimentary High Speed Wi-Fi
· $50.00 Long’s Jewelers Gift Card
Available on the evenings of February 13 – 17, 2019
Rate Code: RMPD
Priced at $249 per couple + room tax

Chopps American Bar and Grill is serving a special Chef’s Tasting Menu for a romantic week-long affair February 13th – February 17th. In addition to the full dinner menu, Executive Chef Stefano Zimei has created a decadent three course prix fixe menu for $50 per person (not including tax and gratuity). This menu will be available for the entire Valentine’s week.

The full prix fixe menu is as follows:
APPETIZERS
Double Cut Smoked Bacon, chimichurri, honey, black salt
Arugula Salad, roasted beets, crispy goat cheese, apples, coriander vinaigrette
Lobster Soup, butter poached lobster, tarragon crouton, aged sherry
ENTREES
Short Rib Ravioli, caramelized onion, smoked potato puree, trumpet mushrooms, madeira sauce
Grilled Skirt Steak, brown butter sweet potato, salsa verde, maytag blue cheese
Herb Crusted Atlantic Halibut, Maine mussels, fregola, tomato-fennel broth
DESSERTS
Tiramisu, marscapone, espresso chip gelato

For reservations, please call 781-229-6565

4) Experience a romantic dinner at Il Casale Cucina Belmont or Il Casale Cucina Lexington this Valentine’s Day. Chef and Owner Damien DeMagistris presents a special 4 course prix fixe menu for $75 per person.

The four-course prix fixe menu is as follows:
First Course. Choice of:
--Antipasto misto, arancini, maiale meatball, bresaola, montasio cheese, cauliflower salad, olives
--Papa al Pomodoro, roasted tomato bread soup, creamy stracchino cheese, basil, lemon zest (V)
--Fagiolini string bean salad, shaved fennel, citrus vinaigrette, toasted hazelnuts, fresh mint (V)
--Burrata field greens, house made burrata, seasonal fruit, speck from Trentino Alto-Adige
Second Course. Choice of:
--Ravioli ignudi, naked ricotta grana & spinach balls, rich tomato mushroom ragu, crispy trumpets (V)
--Risotto di mare, bay scallops, rock shrimp, mussles, saffron brood, lemon breadcrumbs
--Mezzi rigatoni, walnut pesto, buffalo ricotta, red wine sausge, sweet broccoli
--Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, the traditional meat sauce from Emilia-Romagna
Third Course. Choice of:
--Salmon, grilled Faroe Island salmon, citrus mustard glaze, hazelnut, Romanesco broccoli
--Branzino, grilled mediterranian sea bass, shredded creamy beets, herb salad, preserved
--Pollo, roasted half chicken, crispy brussels sprouts, black truffle vinaigrette
--Tagliata*, sliced prime sirloin, potato gratinate, shaved vacche rosse cheese, arugula, truffle vinaigrette
--Parmigiana di melanzane, eggplant parmigiana layered with tomato, basil, mozzarella di bufala (V)
Fourth Course.
--Insieme, ricotta mousse heart with strawberry glaze, passion fruit, pistachios, chocolate crunch bar (V)

The four course prix fixe menu is available for $75 per person.
To make a reservation for il Casale Belmont, please call 617-209-4942. To make a reservation for il Casale Lexington, please call 781-538-5846.

5) If you’re feeling rebellious with your loved one this Valentine’s Day, dine at Rebel’s Guild for an inspired Valentine’s Day prefix menu from Executive Chef Sean Dutson. The team at Rebel’s Guild is pulling out all the stops to make this Valentine’s Day the most delicious one yet with a special 3-course menu for just $60 per person.

The special Valentine’s Day menu is as follows:
Includes:
Glass of Sparkling Wine
House-Made Brown Bread with Maple Butter & Sea Salt
Appetizer. Choice of
--Parmesan Papperdelle, shaved black truffle
--Kale & Mushroom Salad, parmesan, soy-truffle vinaigrette & panko egg
--Rebel’s Deviled Eggs, lobster meat, smoked bacon & dusted with cayenne
--Pan-Fried Sun Chokes, yogurt herb sauce
--Grilled Endive with Pickled Black Trumpet Mushrooms, delicate mustard cream sauce
--Crispy Buffalo Oysters, carrot, blue cheese dressing, seaweed salad
--Clam Chowder, house-made traditional recipe
Intermezzo 
Sorbet with bubbles
Entree. Choice of
--Lamb Rack (for two), lightly crusted domestic lamb with blackberry reduction, spaghetti squash & whipped potato
--Parchment Baked Cod Loin (for two), day boat cod loin baked in paper with herbs and seasonal vegetables
--Vanilla Lobster (for two), spilt 2lb Maine Lobster broiled with vanilla-thyme butter and stuffed with winter vegetables and bread crumb
--Grilled Atlantic Salmon, parsnip puree, butternut squash, beet gastrique, arugula & quinoa salad
--Braised Short Rib of Beef, white corn grits & roasted heirloom carrots
--Brick Pressed Chicken, half chicken, mushroom risotto, charred broccolini rosemary pan sauce
--Seared Sea Scallops, butternut risotto, roasted brussels sprouts
--Filet of Beef, grilled with Hen of the Woods mushroom sauce, sugar beets & whipped potato
--Orecchiette Pasta, rabe & goat cheese
Dessert. Choice of
--Rebel’s S’more, frozen chocolate terrine, brûlée of marshmallow fluff and graham cracker dust
--Crème Brûlée, vanilla bean with fresh berries
Tea or Coffee 

Additional Items for 2 
--Duxbury Oysters on the Half Shell, - half dzn 18/dzn 32
--Dessert for 2 Adults, bubbles with cotton candy – 15
--Table Side Dessert - 12 per person
Rebel’s Sundae: vanilla bean ice cream, warm fudge brownie, bourbon caramel, whipped cream, candied pecans and luxardo cherries, finish with flambé of Bookers Uncut Bourbon

To make a reservation, please call 617-457-2625.

6) On Wednesday, February 20th at 6:30 PM, join Chef Michael Serpa of Select Oyster Bar for a special event that Chef Serpa has been passionately supporting for the past few years; @chefscycle for @nokidhungry. Chef Michael Serpa has invited a few friends to take over the kitchen to help make his goal a reality.

This 4 course dinner will feature dishes from some of the best chefs in the game, Tiffani Faison (Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama, Fool's Errand, & the upcoming Orfano), Will Gilson (Puritan & Co., Puritan Trading Company, The Herb Lyceum), John DaSilva (Chickadee), as well as our chef Michael Serpa of Select Oyster Bar and Grand Tour, a bistro refreshed coming later this year on Newbury Street.

The crew will be popping Island Creek Oysters to kick off the dinner, followed by a course from each chef. The wine offerings for the evening will focus on some of the best progressive producers in the country; Banshee Wines, Arnot-Roberts, Scribe, Pax & Wind Gap, Fausse Piste, Sandhi, Cruse Wine Co, and more will all be available by the glass, allowing you to pair each course to your liking. They will mark menus with suggested wines from each producer.

This is a very limited event, offering only one seating. So grab seats if you want them -- immediately if not sooner.
Links to Eventbrite Tickets to Dinner &
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/select-oyster-bar-friends-american-wine-dinner-tickets-54945314916
Chef Cycle Details: http://join.nokidhungry.org/site/TR/ChefsCycle/General?px=3320162&pg=personal&fr_id=1571

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Mind Of A Sommelier: Jesse Eslin

(Check out my Introduction to the The Mind of a Sommelier series.)

Jesse Eslin is the Wine Director at The Table at Season to Taste, located in northern Cambridge. I've previously given raves to The Table, and was quite taken with their intriguing wine list, enjoying some delicious selections from their list, including the Hild’s Elbling Sekt. Jesse was one of the first sommeliers I thought of when I created my new series, The Mind of a Sommelier.

Jesse’s deep dive into wine came when he worked at Craigie on Main and learned as much as he could. He says “working and learning at Craigie On Main with Chef Tony Maws and his amazing team was like going to graduate school for wine. It was crazy, intense, exhausting and I loved learning as much as I could.” In 2016, Jesse opened The Table at Season to Taste with Chef Carl Dooley, creating new wine pairings every six weeks when the Prix Fixe menu changes.

Now, onto the Interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
Wine Director

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
Our wine list is a constantly changing creature that should make almost anyone happy, as long as they are willing to step a little out of their comfort zone, which is almost a prerequisite for eating here.

What are your objectives with the wine list?
I just want to have fun with it, and make it easy for guests to make a quick decision. Early last year, I tried to add a larger selection of bottles to the list for the sake of it, and found that it did more harm than good. Most of the time, guests come in knowing exactly what they are going to do, menu wise, and I don’t think they wanted to bother looking through a list that had 100-plus different options, so they would punt and just order a couple of wines by the glass. I think it’s an overlooked quality to make all of your decisions very quickly and have the rest of the night to just enjoy the company that you are with, so I trimmed it way back, and it feels much less intimidating.

How often does the wine list change?
The wine list changes pretty frequently. Inventory wise, we don’t buy a whole lot at a time, so it gives us the flexibility to change it up whenever we feel like. The pairings change every time the menu changes, and we try to be seasonally conscious in what we put on the list in terms of glass pours and bottles. The weather tends to dictate what direction our guests want to go, drink wise.

Are there omissions on your wine list you would like to fill?
The challenge is keeping the wine list small – we have a tiny restaurant, tiny kitchen, and you can imagine, a tiny wine cellar. So of course I am tempted to have bottles from every region, every grape – but we keep it tight and flavorful and memorable here.

How do you learn about new wines?
It’s a mix of tasting a lot of new bottles from the awesome distributors that we work with, falling down the rabbit hole of book surfing and online articles, and just scrolling around SevenFifty and researching things that look interesting.

What is your strategy on pricing the wines on your list?
As with everything here, our prices come with tax and hospitality included in the price. There can be sticker shock included in this pricing structure when looking at a wine list, so I just have to work that much harder to find really good wine at really good values. It seems to all work out. I appreciate that our guests seem to trust me and jump right into the pairings I suggest. We have bottles at various pricing levels; I like to think it is an adventure that is worth the ride. I try to take care of guests who are coming in regularly, and love wine, but can’t break the bank on it. And equally important is taking care of our guests who are coming in for a special occasion and want something quite celebratory.

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
I’d say it’s “What should I drink?” Because of the wide variety of the flavors on the menu, you can go in a bunch of different ways, depending on your mood. Most of the wines that we have are high acid and medium bodied, food-friendly wines that can morph and bend depending on the dish.

What is the most common criticism you receive from guests about your list?
I’d say if there is one thing, and I don’t know if it’s a criticism, it’s that guests often times are unfamiliar with what we have to offer. I think having a short list with a bunch of obscure grapes or familiar grapes from different places is a fun way to get our guests to broaden their horizons and place their trust in us to give them something delicious. I think the way the menu sets up, guests are much more comfortable putting their whole experience in our hands. Plus, it’s stimulating to have that interaction, rather than have a guest just cold order a cabernet.

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
I think the pairings are a fun challenge. Carl loves flavors from all over the globe, and oftentimes, flavors that would be much easier to just give over to a crisp lager. I think that’s the excitement in wine though. It doesn’t have to be so serious, and it has a place at the table along with these cuisines that have a lot of spice, a lot of energy. Every pairing is not going to be absolutely perfect, but it’s fun to see how certain aspects of the wine and the dish play together depending on what bite you take.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the best value wines on your list?
Generally speaking, if wines have a little bit of sweetness to them, they are going to play well with a variety of the spices that you will find on the menu. The Dandelion from Alberto Nancleras is an off-dry albariño from the Rias Biaxas in northwestern Spain. It’s like drinking the wine version of lemon sherbet sprinkled with sea salt. I love wines that feel like a lightning bolt, and this definitely falls into that category.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
I love the Broc Cellars Counoise. Chris Brockway makes some really cool stuff out of a warehouse in Berkeley, California and this is my favorite. Counoise is a blending grape commonly found in the Southern Rhone in France, but really shines on its own. It has this really bright, spicy fruit and is just a pleasure to drink. If fresh, new world Pinot Noir is your thing, you will love it.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
The sparkling wine that we are pouring by the glass, Hild’s Elbling Sekt, is my latest obsession. It’s gorgeous. It smells like walking into a flower shop. It’s dry, crisp, lively, and the glass is almost impossible to put down before it’s empty.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your wine list, your work as a sommelier, or wine service?
I really appreciate the guest trusting us and going along for the ride. I am a happily obsessed wine geek and of course could talk wine all day and night. And I do. There is always something new to learn and try. Here at The Table at Season To Taste we love embracing the new menu every 6 weeks, which also means a new wine list, new breads, new desserts – all new pairings - it’s an adventure and we appreciate that it seems to be working, and I am just so grateful to this community.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

BISq: Fried Chicken to Ricotta Cavatelli

BISq, located on Cambridge Street near Inman Square, is on my list of Top 50 Restaurants of 2018, and one of my resolutions this year is to dine there more frequently. Besides its delicious cuisine, it is owned and operated by some genuinely nice people, including Servio Garcia (co-owner and general manager) and Executive Chef Alex Sáenz. BISq is a small and homey restaurant, with the dining room up-front and a small bar to the back. There is also a Chef's dining counter in front of the kitchen.

I stopped by for dinner recently, and was pleased to see that the restaurant was packed, which is great especially considering it is winter and commonly a slow season for restaurants. As I walked down Cambridge Street, past a number of other restaurants, they didn't seem as busy. It's clear BISq has a good following, and it is worthy of that attention. If you haven't been to BISq, you really need to check it out. And if you already love BISq, maybe it is time for another visit.

BISq has an intriguing and well curated Wine List, with 15 wines available by the glass, generally as a Half (about $5.50-$7) or Full Glass (about $10-$13). Those wines, which are all European, can be broken down into 2 Sparkling, 2 Rosé, 4 White, 4 Red, 2 Sherry, and 1 Dessert Wine. These are not the usual suspects and wine lovers will found plenty of wine choices to tantalize their palate. In the near future, BISq will be adding Spirits to their drinks program, so you'll be able to find tasty cocktails too.

I began my dinner with a glass of the NV Mirco Mariotti "Set e Mez" Rosato (pictured above), a Sparkling wine, from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, which is produced from the indigenous Fortana grape. This wine is made in the méthode ancestrale, with native yeasts, and only about 800 cases are produced. It was delicious, dry and complex, with pleasing red fruit flavors and a touch of earthiness. I selected this wine to pair with Fried Chicken, as bubbles is usually an excellent pairing for that dish. And it definitely worked as well as hoped.

Later in the meal, I opted for a glass of 2016 Winzer Krems "Sandgrube 13", an Austrian Zweigelt. It too was dry and delicious, with lots of bright cherry and strawberry notes, some minerality, and a fairly long and satisfying finish. I chose this wine to pair with a pasta dish, with a rich Bolognese sauce, and it too was an excellent pairing.

The Food Menu at BISq is primarily a collection of creative small plates intended for sharing. The menu lists 14 items, priced from $8-$22 although only one dish is priced over $20. You'll find items such as Acorn Squash, Black Bass Ceviche, Beef Heart Anticuchos, Black Eyed Pea Hummus and Maitake Mushrooms. With advance notice, they can also arrange Whole Animal Dinners, such as Suckling Pig, Lamb, Goat, Duck, Chicken or Fish.


One of their famous specialties is their Fried Chicken ($15) with Thai Bird Chili Salt. You receive four ample-sized pieces of boneless fried chicken, with your choice of dipping sauce, Buttermilk Ranch or Chipotle BBQ. I chose the Chipotle BBQ sauce, which had a pleasant tangy and slightly spicy taste. The fried chicken has a very crisp, crunchy and flavorful coating, covering the moist and tender chicken within. I can easily understand why this chicken is so beloved, and at this price, I think it is a very good value as well.

The Ricotta Cavatelli ($22), made with a veal bolognese, parmesan, and bread crumbs, was a stunner! The tender cavatelli was pillowy soft, but with a sufficient texture so its wasn't mushy, a very well-made pasta. The veal bolognese was meaty, flavorful and spiced well, an excellent base for the cavatelli, enhanced by the cheese and the crunchy texture of the bread crumbs. On a winter's evening, this is perfect comfort food, made to satisfy the belly and soul. It even looks beautiful, the type of dish that immediately draws your attention. Highly recommended!

BISq is consistently excellent, and my most recent experience was just further evidence of why it is one of my favorite restaurants. An intriguing wine list, delicious food and excellent service. So what are you waiting for? Make a reservation to dine at BISq!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Rant: Stopping Restaurant Closures

"It amazes me when people can’t believe a restaurant is closing & when they find out it is they are all like “OMG” & “not another one” & “I love that place, but haven’t been in...” GO support all the places you don’t want to fucking disappear cause we are all dying without YOU"
--A Tweet from Chef Alex Sáenz of BISq 

I've espoused the sentiments found within Chef Sáenz's tweet before, multiple times on my blog, and I'm likely to continue doing so in the future. It is something that needs to be constantly repeated, to ensure that people listen and understand. It's clear that not everyone comprehends these issues because every time a restaurant closes, you hear the same words, the same disbelief at the closure.

However, it is actually a very simple idea. Unless a restaurant has a sufficient number of customers, it won't be able to earn a sufficient income to stay in business.

With the recent spate of restaurant closures, there has been lots of speculation as to the reasons for the closures. Most closures are likely due to a myriad of factors, some the public may know about and others of which they have no clue. At their most basic, the reasons are usually economic and a large part of that equation is the number of customers that dine at the restaurant. No restaurant can survive unless they have enough customers. The winter can be a tough time for restaurants as not as many people dine out during this season. Plus, bad weather, such as a snow storm, can keep customers away.

So, unless you want your favorite restaurants to close, you need to be active in your support, just as Chef Sáenz said. First, you need to dine at your favorite spots, as much as you can. Dine out during the winter. Dine out during the week, when the restaurant may be at its slowest. Dine out at their special events, from wine dinners to pop-ups. They are one of your favorite restaurants because you love their food, so make the effort to dine there more.

Second, recommend your favorite restaurants to your friends and family, as well as anyone else you might encounter. When you talk to these people, relate your experiences at your favorite restaurants. Put the bug in their ear that they should dine there too. This is very important, as the word needs to be spread about these restaurants, so that others patronize it as well. And if they spread the word as well, then even more people will dine there.

Third, spread the word through social media, from Twitter to Facebook, tagging the restaurant. Show photos of your food, tell others about your positive experience, share your thoughts. Your reach will extend to others that you may not speak to on a regular basis and hopefully bring even more customers to the restaurant.

Fourth, write reviews on  the restaurant's Facebook page, Yelp, Trip Advisor, or elsewhere. It doesn't have to be a lengthy review, just sufficient to show your passion and love for the restaurant. It can make a difference, and could be sufficient to convince someone to dine there too. Just keep spreading the word, far and wide.

I implore you to take action today, to make a reservation for one of your favorite restaurants. Make plans to have lunch, brunch or dinner. And then, make plans to spread the word about your dining experience, to let many others know about one of your favorite spots.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Cusser's Roast Beef & Seafood: Impressive North Shore Flavor

When you live north of Boston, you probably have your favorite spots for Roast Beef sandwiches. Those spots commonly offer seafood options as well, from fried clams to chowder. I've devoured plenty of roast beef sandwiches during my life, generally eating at least one a week, and have my own favorites. And I may have a new favorite, except that it comes from a restaurant in Boston, not the North Shore.

Back in July 2017, Mooncusser Fish House opened, a joint endeavor led by Ian Calhoun, Vincent Vela, and Chef Carolyn Johnson, all who also own and operate 80 Thoreau in Concord. This seafood restaurant is actually divided into two parts, the Moon Bar located on the first floor and the Mooncusser Fish House on the second floor. The Moon Bar is the more casual dining area while the upstairs is more higher-end. And in May 2018, they expanded their concept, opening Cusser’s Roast Beef & Seafood within the Moon Bar.

Last weekend, I stayed at the Boston Park Plaza, so last Friday I stopped by the nearby Cusser's for lunch. Cusser's is only open for lunch, Monday through Friday, from 11:30am-2pm. You can dine in at the Moon Bar (which I did), or get take-out from a special window located outside the restaurant. The menu is small, but with a sufficient range of choices, including Roast Beef Sandwiches ($10), Lobster Roll ($25), Tuna Burger ($14), Fish Tacos ($10), Fish & Chips ($12), and Swordfish Souvlaki ($15). They also have Sumac Lemonade ($3), which I found to be tart, only lightly sweet, and quite tasty and refreshing.

Lunch began with a cup of their Mooncusser Chowder ($8), with clams, smoked scallops and skate. The half-moon crackers atop the chowder were made by their pastry chef Katherine Hamilburg, whose skill touched on other elements of the lunch as well. I love this chowder, and it was one of my 2017 Top Ten Favorite Restaurant DishesPlenty of tender, tasty seafood with a flavorful broth that wasn't too thick or too thin. And on a cold winter day, it certainly warms the belly, and is an excellent way to start your lunch at Cusser's.

The Fish & Chips ($12) includes several pieces of fried Hake, and their choice of fish delights me. Though Hake is a member of the Cod family, its flesh tends to have a milder taste and softer texture than cod. And with some of the sustainability challenges that face Cod, Hake is an excellent alternative. The batter was crisp and light, with plenty of mildly sweet hake inside. And the Fries were quite crisp, with a fluffier interior. Another winner of a dish.

The Roast Beef Sandwich ($10) can be ordered in two different styles: North Shore and 80T Style. The 80T Style is served with cheddar, pickled red onions and Thoreau sauce (a type of spicy mayo). I went for the North Shore style, which usually comes with barbecue sauce, mayo, and cheese, though I had them omit the mayo. I'd heard some good things about their roast beef but I still wasn't prepared to be so impressed with it.

The rolls are made daily by pastry chef Katherine Hamilburg, and it originally took them quite a while to decide on the right roll for their roast beef. It was soft and fresh, with the slight crunch of the seeds atop the roll. Honestly, the rolls you get with most North Shore roast beef sandwiches aren't particularly interesting or memorable. Hamilburg's roll was an excellent vehicle for the extremely tender and flavorful rare, roast beef. They freshly slice the roast beef for each sandwich, which you can watch within the Moon Bar. The barbecue sauce had a pleasant tang to it and didn't overwhelm the sandwich. Each bite was so satisfying. The ratio of bread to beef was also good, and overall, it was a well-balanced sandwich and one which I found absolutely delicious.

I actually ordered another sandwich to go, planning to eat it for dinner as I knew I would be stuck in the hotel for the rest of Friday. Plus, I knew Cusser's would be closed for the weekend so I wouldn't have another opportunity to get one of their roast beef sandwiches.

After lunch, we received a couple complimentary Whoopie Pies ($3/each), which are made fresh daily by pastry chef Katherine Hamilburg. Another winner from Hamilburg, the chocolate pies were fresh, mostly soft with a slight crunch to certain parts, and provided a delicious and rich chocolate flavor, which went well with the sweet, creamy center. They weren't too big, and just seemed the right size to be a great ending without being so large that you felt bloated once you finished it.

Cusser's Roast Beef & Seafood is a lunch spot worthy of your attention, and if you love roast beef, then their sandwiches will impress even a jaded North Shore aficionado. I suspect that their Roast Beef Sandwich could even end up as one of my Top Ten Dishes of 2019. Their seafood dishes remain consistently excellent and you definitely should pick up some whoopies pies for a sweet treat. I like this lunch concept and maybe other restaurants could emulate this idea, creating something a bit more unique for the lunch crowd. Kudos to the entire Mooncusser team!

Thursday, January 24, 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) Chef Dante de Magistris and his brothers Damian and Filippo are introducing Wellington Wednesdays to the line up at their newest restaurant, The Wellington Neighborhood Eatery in Belmont Center. Chef Dante has been making Beef Wellington as a menu addition and for special events at his restaurants ever since he made it for the first time during a stage in Nice, France. Since then, he has loved the dish and gone through many iterations to perfect the version that he is excited to share with guests at the Wellington.

Dante is re-inventing the classic Beef Wellington and dedicating an entire weeknight to the sumptuous dish. Every Wednesday, Chef Dante will be serving up a limited amount of their classic Beef Wellington. Chef Dante’s twist on the classic showcases 8 oz. of grass-fed filet mignon from Moyer Farms that is wrapped with a black truffle tapenade, caramelized onions, speck and puff pastry and served with sautéed spinach and dijon au jus ($48).

For reservations, please call 617-932-1750.

2) On Thursday, February 14, Tuscan Kitchen in the Seaport District will welcome San Valentino to their Boston home with a celebration of artisan Italian cuisine and Romeo & Juliet-inspired cocktails laced with romance.

Available on Valentine’s evening, chefs Joe Brenner & Nimesh Maharjan have created seven a la carte additions that showcase the best regional cuisine inspired by Italy’s rich lands and seas. For antipasti courses, there is Carpaccio di Manzo with crispy capers, mache, winter truffles and Parmigiano Reggiano ($17); Zuppa di Zucca with compressed apples, toasted seeds, croutons and maple mascarpone ($14); and, Wild Mushroom Tart with fonduta, arugula, poached egg and tartufo ($19).

For secondi options, they are threefold: Agnello alla Griglia with grilled lamb chops, carrot puree, olives, artichoke and fennel jus ($48); Pesce Spada with seared swordfish, Tuscan white beans, smoked pancetta and roasted pepper agrodolce ($45); and, Surf & Turf, an 8oz filet mignon, lobster tail, mascarpone-whipped potatoes, cipollini onions and demi ($65). The dolce per due is Chocolate Torte, Chocolate Mousse, Strawberries ($22; serves two people).

To complement the culinary features, beverage manager Jose Luis Betancur is taking a page from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to showcase twists on classic cocktails inspired by traditional ingredients found in Verona – the city in northern Italy’s Veneto region featured in Shakespeare’s book of romance – in addition to pouring a pair of champagne offerings. The Romeo is crafted with Bulleit bourbon, housemade maple-fig simple syrup and orange bitters ($16) while the Juliet is a sparkling mix of Grey Goose L’Orange, Aperol, St-Germain and prosecco ($16). For champagne-lovers, available by the glass and bottle there is Ferrari Brut ($15; $70) and Moët & Chandon ($25; $100).

For reservations, please call (617) 303-7300

3) Matt Light and Rob Gronkowski are teaming up with Chef/Restaurateur Steve DiFillippo to raffle off a chance for one lucky fan and guest to win this once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta

Former New England Patriots Offensive Lineman and three-time Super Bowl Champion, Matt Light has teamed up with current New England Patriots Tight End and two-time Super Bowl Champion Rob Gronkowski to raffle off the ultimate Super Bowl trip to benefit The Light Foundation and Gronk Nation Youth Foundation as well as The Greater Boston Food Bank, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, ME.

Chef/Restaurateur Steve DiFillippo, owner of the Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, is also joining forces with the duo to offer up this incredible fan experience. The Grand Prize winner will receive two tickets to Super Bowl LIII game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, February 3rd in Atlanta, Georgia.

The raffle winner and guest will enjoy flights to and from Atlanta, a two-night stay at a hotel, dinner at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse and score seats to the Super Bowl LIII game to cheer on the Patriots as they face off with the Rams on Sunday evening.

Raffle tickets are $1 each at www.gronkraffle.com. Proceeds will benefit the Light Foundation, the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation, The Greater Boston Food Bank, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, ME.

The Big Game Raffle includes:
GRAND PRIZE: (2) tickets to the Super Bowl LII on February 3rd Patriots vs. Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – 6:30P.M. Kick-Off
Roundtrip Flights for (2) to Atlanta, Georgia
Hotel accommodations for (2) at Hotel Indigo in downtown Atlanta on Saturday, February 2nd and Sunday, February 3rd
(2) Tickets to the Taste of the NFL’s Party with a Purpose event in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, February 2nd
(2) tickets to the NFL Pregame Party on Sunday, February 3rd
Dinner for (2) at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse to use at any location

WHEN: Raffle Entry Deadline: Friday, February 1st, at 2:00pm ET.
Drawing Date: Friday, February 1st, 2019. Playoff Raffle Series Experience: Sunday, February 3rd, 2019; Kick-Off at 6:30PM.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2004 Shavnabada Mtsvane: Black Cloak, Amber Wine & Savoriness

An Amber wine that has been aging in a qvevri for 11 years? Color me intrigued!

While perusing the shelves at The Wine Bottega, I found the 2004 Shavnabada Mtsvane, a Georgian wine which had been matured in a qvevri for 11 years. As a huge fan of Georgian wines, including their fascinating qvevri wines, I had to purchase this unique wine. I wanted to experience a wine of this age, to better understand the longterm effect of the qvevri maturation and extended skin contact. It intrigued me on an intellectual level but also ignited my vinous passion.

In southeastern Georgia, you'll find the Shavnabada Mountain, an extinct volcano that reaches to an altitude of over 2500 feet. The mountain's name derives from the phrase "shavi nabadi," which translates as "black cloak." This name is based on an ancient legend where St. George, wearing a black cloak, led an army of the Georgian king in an important military victory. Located atop this mountain is the Shavnabada Monastery, a medieval Georgian Orthodox monastery.

The monastery was originally constructed in the 12th century, and later rebuilt in the 17th century. Unfortunately, when Stalin took control of Georgia, the monastery was forced to close, though it would reopen once Georgia regained its independence. In 1992, the monks restored their wine cellar,  “The Monastery Blessed,” and started producing wines in 1998. Only about a dozen monks work at the monastery, and it seems that they may hire others to help them produce their wine, though under their close supervision, and their annual production is about 150,000 bottles, or about 12,500 cases. Besides wine, they also make Chacha, pomace brandy.

Their wines are produced in a traditional manner, and their main grapes, which are all hand harvested, include Rkatsiteli, Kakhuri Mtsvane and Saperavi. The grapes are crushed by foot, in a  Satsnakheli, a traditional wooden press. Both their red and white wines are fermented in qvevri, where a little sulfur dioxide is burned in the qvveri while it is still empty. The finished wines are also unfined and unfiltered.

The 2004 Shavnabada Mtsvane ($40) is made from 100% Kakhuri Mtsvane, sourced from the village of Gurjaani in Kakheti, and only has a 12% ABV. Mtsvane, which roughly translates as "young" or "green," is a very old indigenous grape, that may extend back at least to the 5th century. It is a light-skinned, white grape, which can commonly present peach, citrus and mineral notes. The grapes were foot trodden, and then macerated in qvevri for about five months, before aging in the qvevri for about 11 years. The bottleneck is then sealed with beeswax, from hives raised at the monastery.

The wine has a light mahogany color, with an intriguing nose of nuts and savory spices. On the palate, it is a complex melange of savory notes, with basically no fruit elements. This may turn off some wine lovers, who seek out fruit flavors, but I encourage you to think out of the box and embrace the savory and delicious aspect of this wine. It isn't your usual type of wine, but there is nothing wrong that that, and you should expand your palate to experience this type of wine. I was enthralled with its flavors, hints of salted nuts, smoke, as well as savory spices and herbs. In addition, the taste is very clean and elegant, different from many other amber wines you might find outside of Georgia. That clean taste presents a feeling of freshness, and you might not even believe it has been aging for 11 years. I've experienced this before in many other amber wines from Georgia.

I shared this wine with a number of wine loving friends and they nearly all loved it as well, the only outlier being someone who isn't a fan of amber wines in general. To me, this was a superb wine, and I believe it is very reasonably priced, especially considering the prices of amber wines from other countries, including wines that have seen much less aging than the Shavnabada. You don't get much more traditional than this Gerogian wine and the monks have succeeded in producing a fantastic wine, Highly recommended, and this will probably be on one of my Top Ten lists of 2019.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Mind Of A Sommelier: A New Series

I know plenty of wine lovers who select a restaurant based, at least in part, on the nature of their wine list. They'll peruse the restaurant's website, hoping to find a copy of the wine list online so they can scan it, to determine whether there is anything of interest or not. If the list isn't online, they'll speak to their friends and others, trying to gather information about the nature of the wine list. If they find the wine list isn't particularly interesting, they may decide to dine elsewhere.

As such, a restaurant's sommelier can play a vital role in a restaurant's success. I'm using the term "sommelier" at its most basic definition, referring to the person in charge of a restaurant's wine program, even if they are not a "certified" sommelier. They might refer to themselves as a Wine Director, Wine Steward, or some similar term, but I'm collecting all of those people under the "sommelier" designation for the purpose of my new series.

I want to delve more deeply into the minds of local sommeliers, to better understand their decisions when creating wine lists, and to know more about the inspirations, challenges and joys of their work. I want to showcase some of the best local wine lists, and highlight some of the most intriguing and delicious wines on those lists. Hopefully this will also help my fellow wine lovers decide which restaurants to visit.

I appreciate and admire those sommeliers who create an intriguing wine list, one which consists of excellent and interesting wines, those which pair well with a restaurant's cuisine. I hope to gain even more admiration for their profession through analyzing their decisions, processes, and challenges.

In the coming weeks, I'll start posting interviews with a number of local sommeliers, allow my readers and I to delve into their minds. I hope these interviews are well received, and if so, the series will continue. If you enjoy this series, or even if you don't, please let me know. With your feedback, I can hopefully make this endeavor even better.

And if you're a sommelier and you would like to participate in this series, please contact me and I'll explain what's involved, a rather easy process.

Interviews:
Jesse Eslin of The Table At Season to Taste (Cambridge)
Bruno Marini of Chopps American Bar & Grill (Burlington)
Christopher Williams of Harvest (Cambridge)
Sandy Block of Legal Harborside (Boston)
Jose Luis Betancur of Tuscan Kitchen-Seaport (Boston)
Leo Keka of Alba Prime Steak + Seafood (Quincy)
Peter Nelson of Puritan & Co. (Cambridge)

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.