Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) Because December is for savoring the holidays with loved ones, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen in Kendall Square is giving you every reason to do just that. The contemporary and vibrant Hunanese restaurant will be decked out in sparkly festive décor, setting the mood for a Christmas-themed dining experience designed to spark holiday spirit - amongst even the grinches.

All month long, enjoy special chef creations such as Snow Pea Shrimp (pepper, scallion, garlic and seasoned soy sauce, $22); Merry Tomato Eggs (stir-fried eggs with tomatoes, $15); and Happy Yin Yang (mountain yam, black fungus, carrots, green and red peppers, $22). From December 21 to December 31, a decadent and healthful Christmas Roasted Chicken will be a must-try, made with organic, cage-free whole chicken and served with red and green accompaniments: beets, cherry tomatoes and broccoli ($58).

From the bar, there will be four new cocktails on the spotlight: a bubbly duo including the Lychee Bellini made with lychee liqueur, lychee puree, sparking, lychee garnish ($10) and the Pama Mimosa with pomegranate liqueur, cranberry juice, champagne, fresh cranberries and rosemary ($10); a steamy Spiked Apple Cider with Myers dark rum and a dried apple slice ($8); and the White Christmas, bursting with the quintessential winter flavors of eggnog, white chocolate liqueur, Southern Comfort and cocoa powder ($8). Sumiao’s November Hot Toddy will also be available for another 31 days, bringing you lemon-honey black tea, whiskey, house made lavender clove reduction, Disaronno and a lemon twist ($7).

2) Enjoy time amongst friends and family this holiday season with a variety of festive events at Bar Boulud, Boston and the Mandarin Oriental, Boston, including the following:

Family Bûche de Noël Decorating Class – December 8 & 15
Aspiring bakers and pastry enthusiasts of all ages are invited to join Chef Robert Differ and team for an exclusive Parisian holiday dessert decorating class. Participants will be presented a pre-rolled Bûche de Noël that serves as a confectionary canvas, allowing students to focus on all of the fun aspects of holiday baking without the stress of measuring, mixing and manipulating. After crafting this holiday-themed dessert, participants will depart with a recipe to recreate the iconic sweet at home, along with a freshly baked (and decorated!) Bûche de Noël to enjoy with friends and family. Tickets for the event are $98 per person and available on EventBrite.

Ruinart Champagne Dinner – December 13
What better way to toast the holiday season than to sip on bubbly with Guillaume Grillon, Maison Ruinart Market Manager; Bar Boulud Head Sommelier David Bérubé; and Bar Boulud Chef de Cuisine Brian Arruda as they host a festive four-course menu paired with the Maison Ruinart tradition in all forms. Accompanying menu includes Burrata Salad, Potato Gnocchi and much more. Bar Boulud’s Ruinart Champagne Dinner is $195 per person including tax and gratuity. View the full menu and make reservations here.

Holidays Champagne Afternoon Tea – Daily Through Jan. 6, 2019
After braving the cold this holiday season settle down at Mandarin Oriental, Boston for a Holidays Champagne Afternoon Tea. Whether you are looking for a fancy retreat or just a dash of warmth, join us daily from 1 P.M to 6 P.M in the Lobby Lounge for $78 per person. Listen to the crackling fireplace while enjoying a cup of house-blended tea, toast the holidays with a glass of bubbly and indulge in afternoon tea classics reimagined by Pastry Chef Robert Differ. Details and tickets available on EventBrite.

Christmas Day Brunch and Dinner at Bar Boulud
A festive feast awaits you on Christmas Day at Bar Boulud. Sit down with your family for a buffet of signature creations and crowd pleasers including Viennoiserie, a Brunch Egg Station, Coq au Vin, Artisanal Cheese and Charcuterie Boards, a Smoothie Station and more. Bar Boulud’s Christmas Day Jazz Brunch will be served from 11:30 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. for $98 per person and $46 per child under 12 years. Christmas Day Dinner will then be offered from 5:30 P.M. until 10 P.M. The prix fixe menu is $95 per person and features first course, main course and dessert; supplemental offerings to make your holiday dinner even more luxurious include the Petit Plateau of lobster, oysters, tuna tartare, peekytoe crab salad and shrimp cocktail, as well as black truffles shaved over house tagliatelle. To enjoy a feast before the feast join for Christmas Eve Dinner, also available 5:30 P.M. until 10 P.M. for $95 per person. To view the full menu and to make reservations, visit www.barboulud.com/boston.

3) Does it feel cold enough to ski the French Alps right about now? Let's stay warm and cozy instead, and just toast one another with beautiful wine from the Savoie region. Jesse Eslin, Wine Director, at the Table at Season To Taste, has collected extraordinary wine from the Savoie region of the French Alps and is creating a five course wine dinner with Chef Carl Dooley. It's the perfect season to experience the wine of the French Alps, without the cold!

The Savoie Wine Dinner will be held on Wednesday, December 12, from 5:30pm-9:30pm. The cost is $175 per person, which includes five courses, wine pairings, tax and hospitality. You can make a Reservation by calling the restaurant at 617-871-9468.

4) Chef David Vargas, of Vida Cantina, announces a new event this holiday season: Hip Hop Holiday: A Not So Silent Night, a celebration of art, music, street food and cocktails, and benefits Gather, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending local hunger through collaboration and leadership.

Vargas shares, "I have always wanted to do something like this during the holidays - to bring everyone in the community together to have a great time with food and music and to make a difference. I am so excited and grateful to this incredible team for making it happen this year!"

The event takes place December 15, at 7pm, at St. John's Masonic Lodge, 351 Middle St., Portsmouth, NH. Street food is by Vida Cantina and cocktails by The Nice. The music headliners are STL GLD & RAYEL; with DJ's Teeba and DJ Skooch. There will be live painting by Stephen Godlieb, Michael Valotto, and Marisa Kang.

Tickets are $20. and are available in advance via Eventbrite, or stop by Vida Cantina and The Nice to purchase tickets.

5) Celebrate Christmas Day at Chopps American Bar & Grill with a Three-Course Christmas Tasting Menu. The Dinner will be available from 1pm-6pm, and the full regular dinner menu will also be available.

The tasting menu includes:
APPETIZERS
--Maine Lobster Soup (cognac, tempura lobster)
--Baby Arugula (quinoa, wild mushrooms, feta, yuzu)
ENTREES
--Potato Crusted Atlantic Cod (roasted mushrooms, chestnuts, za'ata)
--Sweet Potato Ravioli (brown butter, sage and walnut)
--Butternut Squash Ravioli (hearty greens, sage butter, parmesan)
DESSERT
--Ginger Bread Cake (glazed, cranberry compote, gingerbread gelato)

The Cost is $49 per person and you can make Reservations by calling 781-221-6643

Monday, December 3, 2018

Rant: Splitting A Plate At Matadora

The restaurant industry is a competitive field, with far too many restaurants closing after only a short time in existence. There are a myriad of factors which can help a restaurant survive, and sometimes those factors are small, seemingly inconsequential, but which can have a great impact. Under the umbrella of "good service," there is much that can be done to make your guest's experience special, even if it is something minor. It can be those little things that resonate with your guest.

Over the weekend, I dined, with a friend, at Matadora, a Spanish tapas restaurant located in the Hilton Boston/Woburn. We enjoyed several tapas, from the Flaming Chorizo to the Basque Street Corn. Then, we decided to split the Matadora Burger, which is topped with Jamon Serrano, Queso de Bola, and Roasted Garlic Aioli. As we ordered that burger, our server made a simple offer which was a service win.

The server offered to split the burger for us, to cut it in half and serve it on separate plates for us. Very simple but also very meaningful. We would have split the burger on our own without complaint. I don't expect a restaurant to split such a dish, but when they offer, it elevates their level of service in my eyes. It is such little things that make a restaurant stand out from similar places. I've been to other restaurants which have made the same offer, to split an entree onto separate plates, and it always pleases me to see such a level of service.

I understand that though this seems like a minor thing, it involves the kitchen veering from their usual course of plating, to cater to a special order of sorts. However, that extra work should lead to a more satisfied guest, happy for receiving that special bit of service. When restaurants offer a menu of small plates, with a handful of larger entrees, it is common for guests to share a number of small plates and then split an entree. Thus, splitting that entree in the kitchen can be a great idea, making your guests more grateful.

This is but one example of a simple bit of good service which can benefit a restaurant. There are plenty more out there. What bit of service pleases you when dine out at a restaurant?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) Making plans post-New Year's Eve revelry can be tough both mentally and physically, but  Puritan & Co. is here to help. On January 1st, the folks at Puritan & Co. will be throwing a brunch celebration based on their favorite hangover cure, the Vegas buffet.

Tickets are available for one of two seatings- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tickets include as many trips as you'd like to a loaded buffet offering housemade pastries, raw bar, ribeye and smoked pork loin on the carving station, bagels with cured fish and every schmear you've ever dreamt about, sourdough waffles, and more; one complimentary bloody mary, spritz, or mimosa. There will also be a cash bar available.

Tickets cost $100 and can be purchased here: Eventbrite. Refunds can be made up to 7 days before. If you'd like to buy tickets for a large group, please send a note to rebecca@puritancambridge.com

2) On Tuesday, December 4, from 7pm-10pm, Chef Daniel Bruce and the team at the Rowes Wharf Bar are excited to welcome LOUIS XIII Cognac for a reception and three-course dinner hosted by Brand Ambassador Philippe Vasilescu. Enjoy one of the world’s most coveted and expensive spirits while indulging in an inspired three-course meal.

First created in 1874, Louis XIII Cognac is an exquisite blend of up to 1,200 grapes eaux-de-vie sourced 100% from Grande Champagne, the first cru of the Cognac region. The spirit ranges from at least 40 years to 100 years in age. Each decanter is individually numbered and designed after an original 16th Century flask, made from fine crystal. The classic 750ml Louis XIII decanter retails for $3,000. Louis XIII is a product of Remy Martin.

The full menu for the Louis XIII dinner is as follows:
Reception
2009 LOUIS Roederer Cristal Champagne
First Course
Caviar Topped Flash Seared Sturgeon Popped Amaranth, Cognac Cream
LOUIS XIII de Rémy Martin
Second Course
Mint & Fennel Laced Slow Roasted Colorado Lamb Chop (Crispy Wild Mushrooms, Baby Rabe, Black Garlic, Pearl Onion Confit)
2003 Château Cos d'Estournel
Grand Finale
Apple Tart Tatine
Grapefruit Sorbet, Smoked Caramel Fennel Pollen
LOUIS XIII Rémy Martin

Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite for $350 per person (including tax and gratuity). This is a 21+ event.

3) Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey and the entire team at Harvest welcome guests to indulge in a tasty doughnut pop-up that is inspired by the classic holiday movie, The Grinch. On Saturday, December 8th, starting at 10am, the Grinch is stealing more than Christmas with a very special doughnut pop-up. Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey, a doughnut devotee and finalist on the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, has crafted a series of festive creations.

The custom doughnuts are $3 each (plus tax) and available in the following seasonal flavors:
Where are you, Christmint (Mint Chocolate)
Who Pudding (Eggnog)
Max Snax (Gingerbread)
Cinn-dy Lou Who (Cinnamon)
You’re a Green One, Mr. Grinch (Pistachio)

Guests are encouraged to arrive early as Joshua’s doughnut pop ups are known to sell out early.

4) On Wednesday, December 5th at 7 p.m., dbar will treat guests to taste of bubbles paired with a four-course dinner. The Best of Bubbles Wine Dinner will feature seasonal parings such as crab cake  with various sparkling wines.

The full menu will include:
First
Pear and Frisée salad, Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Laura Chenel Goat Cheese
Bollicini Prosecco Veneto, Italy
Second
Crab Cake, Delicata Squash Ribbons, Bernaise, Grilled Lemon
Pol Roger White Foil Champagne France
Main
Roast Pork Loin and Brunos BBQ Ribs, Black eyed peas and collard Greens, Crispy Shallots
Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco Emilia Romagna, Italy
Dessert
Créme Brulée with Spiced Plum Sorbet
Cavas Hill Cuvée Panot - Cava Rosé Penedès, Spain

Cost: $65 per person.
Reservations can be made by phone at (617) 265-4490.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Favorite Fiction of 2018: Lots Of Book Recommendations

What were your favorite fiction books this year?

Back in December 2011, I started a series, Authors, Alcohol & Accolades, which asked some of my favorite authors about their preferred drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There have been 11 editions of this column so far, with more coming in the future. The inspiration for this series is that I am a voracious reader, of both fiction and nonfiction, and I wanted to combine that interest with my love of food & drink. The series has proven popular and it has been fascinating to explore what authors enjoy drinking.

Each year, as an addendum to that series, I've been posting a list of my Favorite Fiction Books, including books of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Crime/Thriller. During the past twelve months, I've read over 200 books, both fiction and non-fiction, which provides a large pool for my choices. Most of the books on these lists were published in 2018, though there are some exceptions which were published in prior years but which I didn't read until this past year.

Onto my Book Recommendations...

First, let me provide my Top Three Reads Of The Year, those three books which thoroughly impressed and engaged me, compelling works which I've already read at least twice this year, and which I'll read again in the future. These exceptional books have my highest, and unqualified, recommendation.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
A compelling fantasy, based in part on Chinese history, this is a grim and riveting novel, depicting the horrors of war, including the moral decisions that may be made. In part, it is also a coming of age novel, detailing how a determined, young peasant girl is able to enter an elite military academy and become a potent force against those seeking to destroy her country. The history of China is well integrated into this tale, the characters are interesting, and the magic system is intriguing. And the ending has a powerful and shocking impact! Such an impressive debut novel from R.F. Kuang and I eagerly await the sequel.

The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky by John Hornor Jacobs
I've long enjoyed the work of John Hornor Jacobs and this could be the best thing he's ever written. It is a superb novella on several different levels. It is very well-written, evoking such powerful emotions with poetic & beautiful language. On the surface, the book is about an odd friendship, fueled in part by a shared origin in a repressive South American regime. Then, the story becomes about so much more, such as cosmic horror and mundane evil, love and hope. It is absolutely riveting from start to finish, and on a reread, you will find more of the nuances that you might have missed from a first read.

The Midnight Front by David Mack
I was hooked on this book from the very beginning and I remained so until the very end. An impressive and riveting supernatural thriller, this book focuses on a magical war during WWII. The magic system, where wielders derive their powers from demons, is intriguing and well developed. The magical battles are intense, complex and fascinating. The various characters are interesting and their moral dilemmas helped to elevate the novel. WWII was well integrated into the narrative and you experience a number of the most important aspects of the war. The novel can be dark at times, as expected, but overall there is a thread of hope pervading through the text. Plus, alcohol, from wine to spirits, plays a role which especially pleased me. This is another book where I highly anticipate the sequel.

Second, let me provide some of my other Favorite SF/Fantasy/Horror Novels of 2018. Please note that these books are not in any specific order of preference.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean
Iron Gold by Pierce Brown 
Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence 
The Point by John Dixon
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Shadowblack and Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell 
The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence Schoen
Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan
A Veil of Spears by Bradley Beaulieu 
Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

And these two books deserve some recognition for simply being fun, popcorn-novels.
Chicken Dinner: A Novel of Battle Royale by Timothy Long
Kill Hill Carnage by Tim Meyer

Third, here are my Top 10 Favorite Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels of 2018. From gritty noir to more high-tech thrillers, this books are exciting and riveting, sure to get your blood pumping and your heart racing.

Into The Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Super Con by James Swain
The Far Empty and High White Sun by J. Todd Scott
Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz 
Raven's Sword by Adam Baker
Blood Standard by Laird Barron
Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Fourth, here are My Favorite Novellas of 2018. Novellas often seem to get ignored on many other "Best Of" lists but I believe they are definitely worthy of attention, especially considering the high quality novellas that are appearing more frequently.

War Cry by Brian McClellan
Invasion, Scorched Earth, and Bitter Harvest (Seeds of War #trilogy) by Jonathan Brazee and Lawrence Schoen

All of the books on this list garner my earnest recommendation and you should check them out. They would make great holiday gifts for others, or even yourself. Please support an author, a small, independent business person, and buy more books. And if you read and enjoy a book, please leave a review of that book online and also tell your friends about it. The author would greatly appreciate your efforts.

What were some of your favorite books this year?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Alsace Pinot Noir: For Thanksgiving & Much More

When you think of wine from Alsace, you're most likely to think of their white wines, from Riesling to Gewürztraminer, from Pinot Blanc to Muscat. You might be hard pressed to identify a red grape used in Alsace, though if you're a fan of Crémant d'Alsace, especially their Rosé versions, you might know Pinot Noir is grown there. In fact, Pinot Noir is the only red grape authorized for Alsace AOC Red wines and Rosé.

Don't feel bad if you didn't know Alsace produces Pinot Noir wines. Unfortunately, only about 2,800 cases, a mere drop in the bucket, of Alsace Pinot Noir were imported into the U.S. in 2016. That makes it a very tiny niche wine and it needs to grow and grow, as Alsace Pinot Noir is delicious and compelling, worthy of notice.

Within Alsace, Pinot Noir is planted in nearly 11% of their vineyards, and they produce about 105,000 hectoliters of wine with Pinot Noir, which appears to include Crémant d'Alsace, Rosé and Red still wines. Pinot Noir has a lengthy history in the Alsace region, with some claiming it extends back to the ancient Romans. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Alsace Pinot Noir was even more valued than all of their white wines. For unknown reasons, that changed over time so that their wine wines came to dominate.

Within the various terroirs of Alsace, it has been learned that Pinot Noir grows best in their clay and limestone soils, while Pinot Noir grown in more gravel and sandy soils is best suited for use in Crémant d'Alsace and Rosé. In addition, due to climate change, temperatures in Alsace have risen, making it easier to ripen their Pinot Noir. Some of the best areas to grow Pinot Noir are also designated Grand Cru, but only for white wines. Currently, Pinot Noir cannot be designated as Grand Cru though there are efforts to change this and it seems likely that within several years, Grand Cru Pinot Noir will be authorized.

In general, Alsace Pinot Noir tends to present bright red fruit flavors, crisp acidity, and vibrant freshness. Many are intended to be consumed while young though some have the potential for aging. Oak aging is sometimes used, and when it is, it is more of a light touch, allowing the fruit to take center stage. Curiously, their Pinot Noir is usually bottled  in "flutes," those bottles you most commonly see used for Riesling.

Pinot Noir is often recommended for Thanksgiving, a complement to turkey, and this year I enjoyed three Alsace Pinot Noirs with my Thanksgiving feast. Beside the turkey, we also had a honeymoon roast. All three were excellent wines, as well as each having its own distinctive characteristics. My guests each had their own personal favorite of the three wines, though they too enjoyed all three. This isn't the first time I've tasted Alsace Pinot Noir, but it certainly has provided me even more reason to promote this compelling niche wine.

Please note that two of the Pinot Noirs (the Ostertag and Schlumberger) were media samples while I purchased the Binner on my own. I'm also presenting the wines in order of their vintage, from the youngest to oldest.

Domaine Ostertag isn't as old as some of the historic Alsace wineries, but it still makes an impact in the region. In 1966, winemaker André Ostertag returned to his family estate and founded Domaine Ostertag. André had previously trained in the Burgundy region, which obviously gave him experience with Pinot Noir. At his family's estate, he improved vineyard management and in 1997, he started instituting Biodynamic agriculture in his 35 acre vineyard. The winery produces three wine ranges, including Vins de Fruit (expressive of the grape variety), Vins de Pierre (expressive of terroir), and Vins de Temps (expressive of overripeness or noble rot).

The 2016 Domaine Ostertag "Les Jardins" Pinot Noir ($27) is made from 100% Pinot Noir, from 20+ year old vines. The wine was aged in stainless steel tanks for about nine months, has a 12% ABV, and is certified Biodynamic. This wine was the darkest red of the three, with an intense aroma of red and black fruits, and a touch of an earthy smell. On the palate, the wine presented with a complex blend of bold flavors, including red cherry, black cherry, and strawberry, with a prominent earthy element, a touch of the savage. Good acidity, with a fairly long and satisfying finish. It especially paired well with our honeymoon roast.

Domaine Christian Binner is nearly 250 years old, having been established in 1770. The estate now owns vineyards in the Kaefferkopf, Schlossberg and Wineck-Schlossberg Grands Crus and other parcels in Ammerschwihr, with most vines averaging 35 years old, and the rest between 60 and 100 years old. It has been sustainable farmed for about 35 years and in 2012, the winery built an eco-friendly winery, whose roof is covered in soil. They produce a wide range of wines, from Crémant d’Alsace to Late-Harvest.

The 2015 Domaine Christian Binner Pinot Noir ($33) is also made from 100% Pinot Noir, with 60% of the grapes an average age of 35-years old and 40% being over 60 years, including some that are over 100 years old. The wine was aged for about 11 months in 100 year old wood vats. It is also certified Biodynamic, unfiltered, has a 13% ABV, and has no added yeast or sulfites. This wine also had an alluring nose of red fruits and earthiness, with a hint of spice. On the palate, it was lighter than the Ostertag, but with a similar flavor profile in many respects, though tending more toward red fruits rather than black ones. It's earthiness was also milder than the Ostertag. A well balanced wine, with a lengthy, pleasing finish, it paired well with the turkey, as well as a the roast.

Domaines Schlumberger got its start in 1810, when a small vineyard was added to their textile business. Since then, the estate has grown significantly, owning over 330 acres in Geubwiller, and also vineyards in the Grands Crus of Kitterlé, Kessler, Saering and Spiegel, making them the largest Grand Crus owner in Alsace. The estate is now operated and managed by the 6th and 7th generations of the Schlumberger family. The estate has about 30 acres of Pinot Noir, with 20% planted in the Grand Cru Saering.

The 2014 Domaines Schlumberger "Les Princes Abbés" Pinot Noir ($25) is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, from vines of an average age of 19 years. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged on the lees for about 8 months in old wooden foudres. This was a wine of silky elegance, of bright, fresh red fruit flavors, a hint of spice, and a wisp of earthiness. Excellent acidity, some floral accents, soft tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Such a well balanced and delicious wine, it went perfectly with the turkey. And I loved this wine! That elegance was so compelling and its complex melange of flavors pleased me immensely. Highly recommended.

Overall, all three Pinot Noirs were excellent choices, helping to showcase the diversity of Alsace, as well as being illustrative of its terroir and quality. It's a shame so little Alsace Pinot Noir finds its way to our shores and hopefully that will change in the near future. If you love Pinot Noir, I strongly encourage you to seek out those from Alsace. Plus, check out Crémant d'Alsace Rosé, which is also made from Pinot Noir.