Thursday, June 13, 2024

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
******************************************************
1) This Father’s Day, XOXO Sushi Bar in Chestnut Hill is offering a special whisky flight. This flight features four (4) one-ounce pours of some of XOXO’s most celebrated whiskys from their collection: Mars Shinshu Iwai; Kaiyō ‘The Kuri’ No. 1 Ariake Wood Collection Chestnut, Nikka Yoichi; and Yamakazi 12. This special costs $55. XOXO Sushi Bar offers a superior Sushi experience and it definitely would please any sushi loving fathers.

2) Today, Chef Leigh Whittaker will debut her new restaurant concept along Newbury Street. Le Mari – French for “the husband,” as Chef Whittaker affectionately refers to her latest endeavor – is a Mediterranean-influenced concept that celebrates fresh seasonal creations. 

After a 20-year career in the medical device industry, Leigh Whittaker made the bold decision to leave sales behind to pursue her undeniable passion for cooking. After graduating as class valedictorian of Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in 2021 (where she continues to serve as a chef instructor), Chef Whittaker quickly found herself behind the line at a renowned farm-to-fork restaurant: Earth at Hidden Pond (Kennebunkport, ME). In September of 2021, Chef Whittaker joined Karen Akunowicz at Fox & The Knife (South Boston).

Chef Whittaker was inspired to create her own restaurant that blends her love of sourcing local ingredients with her talent for crafting homemade pastas. Le Mari – located in the space formerly inhabited by Bar à vin 1855 – is a restaurant and bar that also is home to a pair of Parisan-style patios for al fresco dining. 

As for the Menu: Crudo dishes include the scallop with grilled pineapple, toasted coconut and aguachile as well as carne with bone marrow aioli, beech mushrooms and sorrel. For small plates, try the duck fat gaufrettes with shallot aioli, caviar and tarroco dust; the pansotti con cipolla, fontina-stuffed homemade pasta with caramelized onion en brodo; or carciofi Mediterraneo with dill vinaigrette, fried capers and feta. Entrée highlights include the sea bass with tzatziki, fennel, Granny Smith apple and sumac; steak frites, a picanha cut with gremolata; as well as Lion’s Mane with butterbean puree, Marrakesh and garbanzo. There are a trio of handcrafted pastas like the cacio e pepe with buffalo milk butter, white alba truffle and microgreens as well as the cavatelli con vongole with littlenecks, squid ink and San Marzano tomatoes. The menu is rounded out with a collection of seasonal soups and salads as well as side enhancements.

On the liquid side, Le Mari features a curated beverage program that mixes classic techniques with whimsical charm. In addition to showcasing an extensive portfolio of wines suited for novices and connoisseurs alike, the cocktails are rooted in the classics with modern takes.

Le Mari will be open for dinner service Tuesday through Sunday from 4:30pm through 2:00am. Le Mari also will debut weekday lunch and weekend brunch services in the coming weeks.

3) Kane’s Donuts and Samuel Adams have come together to create a Father’s Day treat, the Samuel Adams American Light Donut. The all-new Samuel Adams American Light is a light and crisp craft lager that features pleasant floral hop notes balanced by a light sweetness for a combo of flavor and easy drinking. 

Kane’s has crafted the Sam Adams American Light Donut to be a light and airy brioche donut, dipped in a glaze made from reduced Samuel Adam’s American Light Beer and Kane’s Signature Honey Glaze. Note that all alcohol burns off in the cooking process. 

Distinctly American, the Samuel Adams American Light is a light craft lager that features pleasant floral hop notes balanced by a light sweetness for the perfect combo of flavor and easy drinking. Crisp, refreshing, and ready for tailgates, beach days, and backyard BBQs. This American classic will leave you wanting more! To find Sam Adams American Light near you, visit www.samueladams.com/find-a-sam. 

Our loyal customers love when we bring other brands into our products, but it goes without saying there’s a little extra excitement in the air when they hear we’re partnering with Sam Adams yet again,” said Kane’s Donuts Co-Owner Maria Delios. “We could not think of a better way to celebrate Father’s Day than with Sam Adams!” 

The Samuel Adams American Light donut will be available in limited quantities at all Kane’s locations during Father’s Day weekend, on Saturday, June 15th and Sunday, June 16th. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

Rant: I Don't Want A French Toast Bagel

I'm very disappointed. I recently visited a favorite diner, wanting to enjoy a Monte Cristo sandwich. It's essentially ham, turkey and Swiss cheese between two pieces of French toast, though there are plenty of regional variations across the country. For example, the cheese might be different, the sandwich might be grilled or fried, it may contain spicy mustard, could be covered in powdered sugar, and so on. There might even be a side of jelly with your sandwich.

No one seems to know the exact origins of the Monte Cristo though it's believed to be a variation of the French croque-monsieur, which is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich that was invented around 1910. The earliest newspaper mentions I found for the Monte Cristo were from the 1920s, and nearly all in California, which might be where the name was coined, although no one knows the origin of that name, and if it truly is related to the Count of Monte Cristo.

This diner used to make an excellent Monte Cristo. For me, and many others, maybe the most compelling element of this sandwich is the use of French toast. What a wonderful and delicious vehicle for the meat and cheese. The eggy texture and flavors of the French toast elevate this sandwich. Without the French toast, this would be a rather boring ham, turkey and cheese sandwich. And French toast also makes a great vehicle for many other sandwiches as well. 

As I perused their menu, I noticed a significant change to the Monte Cristo. It was no longer on French Toast but was rather on a French Toast bagel. To me, that ruined the sandwich! I've had French toast bagels before, on their own, and have never been excited about them. It's more than an issue of flavor, but rather much more about the texture. I want the eggy softness of French toast rather than the chewy texture of a bagel.    

The restaurant still makes other French toast dishes, so it's not a matter that they have stopped making French toast. Why make such a drastic change to the Monte Cristo? Yes, it's different, but that doesn't make it better. Why not include both versions on the menu if you wanted to try something different with a bagel? Texture matters with food, and a chewy bagel isn't the same as eggy, soft French toast.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
******************************************************
1) Perla Rosario and Leo Baez, owners of Cacao in Newton, are expanding to the South End. Cacao—a chocolate shop and cafe—is opening at 570 Columbus Avenue, on the corner of Massachusetts and Columbus Avenues in the South End. The store will offer a panoply of handmade chocolate candies, pastries, snacks, and hot and cold beverages to take out or dine in.

Rosario’s family owns a cacao farm in the Dominican Republic, where Perla spent her childhood summers, while Baez grew up around cashew farms in the Dominican Republic.  The Dominican Republic plays an important role in Cacao. Rosario and Baez are inspired by their country every time they visit, often coming back to the United States with new ideas to incorporate into the business. They aren’t just inspired by their country, Rosario and Baez are also committed to giving back to the Dominican Republic and send toys to the country every Three Kings Day- a popular holiday in Latina America and Spain. 

At Cacao, Perla’s chocolates are meticulously handcrafted in-house at the Newton location, using high-quality couverture chocolate. This includes Cacao’s truffles, bonbons, barks and chocolate-covered nuts, orange peels, apricots and ginger. Rosario and Baez hope to someday import cacao from their family's farm and make their own bean to bar chocolate. Cacao also offers a selection of bean-to-bar chocolate from chocolatiers from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and more, with a focus on those that use single origin Dominican cacao beans.

Their signature 'classic hot chocolate' is inspired by Perla and Leo’s Dominican roots. Made with 53% dark chocolate and infused with warm spices, it is the perfect cup of hot chocolate. The menu also features several twists on the classic hot chocolate including extra dark, a bittersweet, deep hot chocolate; spicy, a hot chocolate with cayenne pepper; dulce de leche, a sweet iteration with a rich caramel base; fleur de sel, a classic hot chocolate with French sea salt; an iced hot chocolate and a frozen peanut butter hot chocolate.

Cacao’s cafe menu also features a variety of classic espresso drinks including lattes, cappuccinos, cortados, americanos, espresso shots, cold brew and drip coffee. Cacao only uses the freshest single origin Colombian coffee. The coffee is roasted a mere 10 days after leaving origin and Cacao typically receives the coffee 2 days after roasting. In addition, Cacao offers a wide selection of teas including; dragonwell, Earl Grey, english breakfast, ginger lemon, mediterranean mint, crimson berry, blood orange hibiscus, black tea, matcha, red chili, chai, dirty chai, spicy turmeric tonic and london fog.

Cacao partners with Pain D'Avignon, based in Hyannis, to provide customers with butter, chocolate and almond croissants. Pain D'Avignon delivers a batch of fresh croissants to Cacao every morning. 

Cacao is located on a site that was once home to the historic Harriet Tubman House, a settlement house named after the famous abolitionist. The new South End location offers customers a smaller selection of chocolate confections than the Newton location with a greater emphasis on the cafe. 

2) Tomorrow, Friday, June 7, is National Donut Day! WNDR Museum Boston, an immersive art and technology experience located in Downtown Crossing is offering the first 50 guests a free donut from Kane’s Donuts in honor of the sweet day. 

The Boston Museum is WNDR’s largest location to date, part of a nationwide expansion stemming from its flagship in Chicago. Located at 500 Washington Street in Boston’s Downtown Crossing, the more than 17,000 square-foot museum disrupts and redefines the traditional museum experience by inviting guests to fully engage with artworks and multi-sensory installations created by cutting edge artists, collectives, technologists, designers, and makers. WNDR was designed to ignite the joy and inner child within each of us, similar to the effect of indulging in a delicious donut. 

An assortment of Kane’s Donuts’s classic flavors will be available including Honey Dip, Chocolate Frosted, Jelly, and Strawberry Frosted. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Iwate Meijo "Dragon of Oshu" Tokubetsu Junmai Sake: The Turtle's Tail

Yesterday, I wrote about a Greek wine produced from a grape saved from extinction and I'm continuing that extinction theme today, but concerning a type of Sake rice. 

Iwate Meijo Co., Ltd., a Sake brewery in the city of Oshu in the Iwate Prefecture, was established in 1955 through the merger of two other breweries, which had been founded in the 19th century. It's the only Sake brewery still operating in Oshu. Iwate Meijo's objective is “to be a company that is loved by the local people and can contribute to the development of the local community.”  They use locally grown rice, locally sourced water, and create Sake that pairs well with local foods. Oshu is also famous for its Maesawa-gyu, beef which is highly prized, possesses a fine marbled texture and is supposed to taste superb. Thus, some of the Sake Iwate Meijo produces is intended to pair well with this beef.

The Iwate Meijo "Dragon of Oshu" Tokubetsu Junmai Sake ($39.99) was produced from Kame no O rice, a famed rice that nearly passed into extinction until it saw a rebirth in the 1980s. The origin of this rice extends back over 125 years, when, in 1893, Abe Kameji found 3 stalks in a rice field which seemed to be thriving well against the winter chill. This was more than just luck, as Abe was actively seeking such cold-resistant rices. Cultivating those three stalks and engaging in experimentation, over the course of several years, Abe eventually created the Kame no O rice, a pure strain, not a crossbreed. 

Abe initially called it Shinho, but a friend wanted to call it "Kameno-ou," which means “the king of rice that was created by Kameji.” Abe wanted a more humble name, so changed his friend's suggestion to Kame no O, which means "turtle's tail."

After that time, Kame no O was planted widely in the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions until the mid-20th century. The rice's popularity was due to several reasons, including its cold tolerance, early maturity, high yields, and excellent flavor. However, there were disadvantages too, including that the tall, rice grain was frail and susceptible to wind damage. It's a delicate rice strain, and also popular with numerous vineyard pests. By the 1950s, the rice fell out of favor, almost vanishing from the rice fields. 

In the 1980s, Norimichi Kusumi, a Sake brewer from Niigata Prefecture, wanted to resurrect Kame no O, and obtained from seeds from a seed bank. It took Kusumi about three years before he was able to use the rice to produce Sake. This resurrection story was even highlighted in a Japanese manga "Natsuko no Sake." Some refer to Kame no O, as "Phantom Rice" because of its return from near-extinction. 

The Kame no O rice in the Iwate Meijo "Dragon of Oshu" Tokubetsu Junmai Sake is polished to 60% and the Sake has a 15% ABV. The nose is interesting, with notes of steamed rice, nuts, and vanilla, while on the palate, it's dry, rich and full-bodied, with a silky mouthfeel. There are complex flavors of banana and melon, vanilla and mushroom, with lots of umami, a moderate acidity, and a lengthy finish. It is intended to be a "red meat" Sake, to pair well with the region's Maesawa-gyu, as well other meats, including pork and chicken, and I would agree it does well with beef. 

A fascinating Sake, it's illuminating to show how well it can pair with meats, which is a pairing many people who know little about Sake might not imagine. Sake is too often seen as mainly for Sushi, but people need to understand Sake pairs well with all types of cuisine, and far from just Japanese cuisine. Next type you have a steak, choose this type of Sake rather than a red wine for your pairing. 

Monday, June 3, 2024

2019 Sant'Or Santameriana Orange wine: A Greek Grape Saved From Extinction

"Orange" wines, also known as skin-contact white wines, can be divisive, as not even some wine lovers enjoy that style. Personally, I very much enjoy orange wines, relishing their unique flavor profiles. As such, I often purchase orange wines, sometimes with knowing little about the wine other than the fact it's an orange wine. 

That was the case with this wine, the 2019 Sant'Or Santameriana Orange wine. I wasn't familiar with the wine, the producer, or even the grape. However, it was a Greek orange wine, from a rare grape, and intrigued me. After tasting the wine, I'm very pleased that I bought the wine and it earns my hearty recommendation. 

Sant'Or-Santomeri, a family-owned winery, is located in the village of Santomeri, in the region of Achaia in the Peloponnese. It is at the foothills of Mount Skolli, which, according to myth, Hercules had moved part of that mountain from Mount Erimanthos in the northern Peloponnese. The name, "Santomeri," derives from a 13th century, French garrison commander named Nicolas de Saint-Omer.  

In 2007, Panagiotis Dimitropoulos chose to continue a lengthy family tradition of cultivating vineyards. He practices minimal interventions in the winery, and the vineyards are Biodynamic and organic. In 2019, they were the first Demeter certified Biodynamic winery in Greece. They currently produce no more than 20,000 bottles of wine annually. 

Santameriana is a traditional Greek grape, with a lengthy history, but it was devastated by phyloxera in the first half of the 20th century. Santameriana is a thin-skinned, white grape, which can produce an aromatic wine, intense and fruity.  In addition, during the 1960s, many Greeks began leaving the countryside, to move to the cities. So, many of the vineyards, which still had some Santamerian planted, were uprooted and planted with different crops. Santameriana survived, but it was tenuous, the vines few and scattered.

Panagiotis Dimitropoulos remembers when he was a child that his father told him that Santameriana made excellent wine. The family possessed only 10 vines of this nearly extinct grape, and when Panagiotis was an adult, he endeavored to resurrect this grape. From those 10 vines, he now has about 4000, comprising about one-third of his vineyard acreage. Sant'Or may be the only Greek winery producing a single-varietal Santameriana wine. A few other wineries use it in blends, but not all of those wines are available commercially. 

The 2019 Sant'Or Santameriana Orange Wine (about $25) was made from 100% Santameriana which were fermented with native yeasts. The wine was amphora aged (the amphora being around 200 years old), with 20 days of skin contact. It was also unfined, unfiltered, with a very low level of sulfites, and is vegan. With a 13% ABV, the wine possessed a light orange color, with an intense, complex and intriguing nose of citrus, pear, dried fruits, and tea notes. On the palate, it was medium-bodied and elegant,  with good acidity and a minerality streak. The flavors were complex, including orange, pear, honey, and dried fruit, with prominent tannins and a length, satisfying finish. It was also savory, not sweet, with subtle hints of herbs and spices. A fascinating wine which benefited from slowly sipping it over time, allowing it to evolve, presenting different flavors and aromas over time. An excellent orange wine and Highly Recommended.