Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pizzamia, Once Again

So, I ordered delivery from Pizzamia again. This time, I ordered a large Bianco pizza, a white pizza, and a steak & cheese calzone. The pizza was excellent. The crust was thin, crusty on the bottom and chewy on top. There was plenty of cheese and garlic and it was delicious. It was not too oily either. The calzone was as good as the other ones I had there. It was slathered with garlic on top and there was plenty of fillings. This could become one of my favorite pizza/calzone delivery/takeout places.

67 Franklin Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 572-3300

New Sushi Books

I love sushi! I love Japanese food in general. And I love learning more about sushi and Japanese food. I think that knowing more about the food enhances my enjoyment of it.

I recently read two new books on sushi and think both of them might interest others as well.

The first book is The Sushi Economy by Sasha Issenberg. This book is more about the business of sushi, from the huge Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo to the tuna ranches in Australia. There is also information about the history of sushi and sushi restaurants, including some biographical details on the famed Nobu Matsuhisa. Though I found this book interesting, and well written, I am not sure that it will appeal to everyone. It will appeal more to those interested in the business aspects of the sushi world.

The second book has more general appeal. It is The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson. It is the tale of 12 weeks at a Sushi Academy in California. It describes the lives of a number of the instructors and students as well as their lessons, activities and tests. Interspersed with the events of the academy is a ton of interesting items about sushi, fish, sushi etiquette, and other Japanese foods. The book is very informative and will teach you much about sushi. It is an easy read and is well written. The author even has a intriguing website with additional information, including a sushi blog. If you enjoy eating sushi, I think you will find this book very fascinating.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2006 Craftsman Pinot Noir Rose

With the warm weather, a chilled Rose can be quite refreshing. This evening, I opened a bottle of 2006 Craftsman Pinot Noir Rose from Hungary ($10). Hungary is a lesser known wine region but I have had a couple good wines from there, including this Rose.

This wine is a rich pink color with an abundance of fruit flavors, noticeably strawberry. It is a bit sweeter than the last Rose I reviewed, but still is very crisp and the sweetness is far from cloying. The finish is not overly long but it is a refreshing wine, light and flavorful. It is a good value Rose and I recommend it as a Drink & Buy.

Flatbread Company

In Bedford, nestled behind the Bamboo and Melting Pot, is the Flatbread Company. It is one of their six stores in the New England area, their seventh store being in Hawaii. They advertise themselves as a place for organic food, especially organic pizza. Their website notes that they support local organic farming, are very charitable and want to present a positive experience for their customers.

We chose to have lunch there today, to try their pizzas and experience the restaurant. As I walked into the restaurant, I found the décor rather striking. Some of it almost made me feel like I had traveled back to the 1960s, to the time of Woodstock. There is a lot of original art, mostly of very positive images. It was also very rustic, with a lot of wood and stone. There were actually several stone columns in the restaurant, mostly around the clay oven. The oven is huge and quite beautiful. All of the cooking is done in this oven. There is also an open kitchen area where you can see them preparing all of the food. There is even a small bar area where the wines are kept. Overall, it certainly presents a homey feeling.

I looked at the beverage menu first. They had a small but interesting selection of wines, a number of them being organic. Prices seemed reasonable. They also carry beers and nonalcoholic drinks, many which are natural. We both chose iced tea, which was fresh brewed, unsweetened and tasted very good.

The food menu is small, basically only salads and pizzas. But, there is a nice variety of different style pizzas and you can even make your own combination. They even had two special pizzas that were not on the menu. Flatbread uses spring water, organic flour, kosher salt and real cake yeast to make their pizza dough. They also use organic tomatoes and a dozen other organic ingredients in their tomato sauce. Plus, they use such items as free-range chicken, nitrate-free pepperoni and sausages. There are two sizes for the pizzas, large and small. The small is sufficient for one person. Prices for smalls averaged about $7-8 and double that for the larges.

We ordered a Cheese and Herb pizza, which is made with mozzarella, parmesan, garlic, oil and herbs. This is a white pizza with no tomato sauce. We also ordered a Jay’s Heart, with mozzarella, parmesan, tomato sauce and herbs, and had them add some pepperoni. Once they were cooked in the clay oven, they were delivered hot to the table. They were a good-size for a small and the large pizzas we saw were good-sized as well.

The pizza is thin crusted and the bottom of the pizza was cooked well, nice and crispy, while the rest of the crust was softer and chewier. There was plenty of cheese and toppings on both pizzas. I very much liked the white pizza. It was not greasy or overly oily. The cheese was quite delicious. The pepperoni pizza was equally as good. Their pizza sauce is quite good and the pepperoni were spicy, though with a tinge of sweetness as well. I was impressed with both pizzas and felt they were well worth the price.

Flatbread also serves a few desserts, different types of sundaes. We chose to split a brownie sundae. The brownie is warmed in the clay oven and is then served with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, and covered with chocolate sauce. The ice cream is natural and the whipped cream is made with maple syrup, though you do not get a maple flavor. The brownie was awesome, especially when warm. The entire sundae was delicious and definitely worth ordering.

Service was very good. Our waitress was pleasant, courteous and did her job very well.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this restaurant and I will return to try more of their pizzas and sundaes. It makes for a quick and healthy lunch or a more leisurely and causal dinner. The fact that most everything is organic is an added bonus.

Flatbread Company
213 Burlington Rd
Bedford, MA
Phone: (781) 275-8200

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stoneham Recommendations

Revised as of 6/1/09

This is the first post of a planned series of posts noting my personal recommendations for food/wine places in various towns and cities. I am beginning with my home town, Stoneham. This post lists my favorite wine stores, restaurants, and food stores in Stoneham. This list might be expanded and/or revised in the future but I will note when it changes. Be sure to check my extended reviews of many of these places elsewhere on my blog.

Wine Stores:

Rapid Liquors
171 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-0595
(Rapid has the best prices in town. In fact, its prices are some of the best of any of the surrounding towns and cities. They also have a good selection and are very willing to order what they don't carry.)


Rang Indian Bistro
6 Central Square (Across the street from Stoneham Theater)
Stoneham MA
Phone: (781) 438-8200
(Very good Indian food)

58 Montvale Ave.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-9688
(Excellent Japanese food and inexpensive sushi. Superb shrimp tempura. It is BYOB.)

Sato II
147 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-8786
(Very good Chinese and Japanese food)

Taste of Siam
499 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-4001
(Excellent Thai food.)

Melissa's Main Street Bistro
407 Main Street (Stoneham Square)
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-7243
(Higher end, intimate Bistro. Great place for special occasions or romantic dinners.)

Georgie D's Place
125 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 481-9300
(Excellent Italian food, great bread, good prices.)

Bacci's of Stoneham
316 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-9200

Dairy Dome
474 Main St.
Phone: (781) 438-9425
(Excellent home-made Italian food, pastries, and ice cream.)

Liberty Bell Famous Roast Beef & Seafood
219 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 279-2000
(Great roast beef sandwiches. I love their fries and onion rings as well. Extensive menu.)

67 Franklin Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 572-3300
(My favorite take-out spot for pizzas, calzones and sandwiches.)

Anthony's Italian Specialties
408 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-9840
(Excellent deli, sandwiches and they now have Finnegans.)

Daily Scoop
232 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-9831
(Excellent ice cream and slush.)

Pignone’s Café
319 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 279-0131
(Excellent breakfast, which is also served at lunch.)


Revised as of 5/29/07---Conundrum restaurant is now closed.

(Originally posted 10/3/06)

While in Harvard Square last evening, I stopped for dinner at Conundrum, whose sign states they are a restaurant and wine bar. This is a relative new restaurant of which I have read some positive press.

It is a small place, maybe 25-30 seats with a small bar area as well. It looks as if someone's home was turned into a restaurant. This does make it seem homey and intimate.

After being seated, I was brought four pieces of a thick white bread with butter. Very fresh and delicious. A nice start to my dinner. The menu was interesting, with some exotic choices, and the prices seemed reasonable. I decided to go with two appetizers, including Braised Veal Cheeks, with goat cheese, sun dried tomato, polenta & Trio of Game Sausages, including wild boar, pheasant, rabbit and plum chutney. Both these dishes were exquisite. The veal cheeks were tender, tasty and went quite well atop the polenta. There was only a small smudge of goat cheese, though it added abit of tang to the dish. The sausages were halves, and each one was quite delicious while being unique from the others. I would heartily recommend both dishes to anyone. Presentation was also very nice on both dishes.

As this was purported to be a wine bar, I assumed that they would have a good selection of wines by the glass. But that was not the case. They only had about 8 wines (4 white and 4 red) and they were rather mundane choices. Though bottles prices seemed reasonable, about $25-40 for most bottles, the cost was more than twice the retail of some of the bottles I knew. A good wine bar should at least have a better selection of wine by the glass.

I drank fresh brewed iced tea, which was very good. But, when I later got the bill, I found a glass cost $2.75 and they charged me for two glasses. Iced tea probably costs less than a quarter per glass so it is outrageous to charge those prices for it. And to charge for refills is sheer thievery. Nearly every good restaurant I know gives you free refills.

For dessert, I tried an apple spice cake with bourbon spice ice cream. Presentation again was fantastic. It was a tasty dessert but the cake should have been warm. When I mentioned it to the server, he spoke to the chef who claimed it had been warm when he picked it up. The server apologized to me.

Service overall was very good. The server was efficient, prompt and good natured.

Conundrum has some good things going for it, including some excellent food. But, I do think they need to work on their beverages, from the wine to iced tea. Such matters are significant and can diminish an otherwise excellent experience.

56 JFK St
Cambridge, MA
Phone: (617) 868-0335

Conundrum in Cambridge

Monday, May 28, 2007

2006 Verdad Rose

As we sat in the bright sunshine yesterday, awaiting the BBQ, I chose to open a bottle of 2006 Verdad Rose, Santa Ynez Valley, California ($13). I wanted a refreshing wine, something chilled and falvorful.

Verdad Winery uses Spanish varietals in their wines and the wines are also organic. I have previously tasted their Albarino and Rose but this was the first time I would do more than just taste the Rose. The Rosé is made from 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvèdre. Only 1200 cases of this wine were made,

The wine is a nice pink color, not too bright but not too pale either. It has a fruit aroma, strawberries and watermelon. And on the palate you get the same flavors, with the strawberry being the most prominent though it is not overpowering. It has a tinge of sweetness but is not overly sweet. It is very crisp and refreshing. This is a well-balanced and flavorful Rose and definitely great on a warm summer day. A definite Drink & Buy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Il Capriccio

About a week ago, I made dinner reservations for Il Capriccio in Waltham. It has long been been praised in the media and by devoted foodies. But, I have recently read a few negative reviews on some of the local foodie boards. They felt the food was too expensive, portions too small and the food just ordinary. For me though, I had positive expectations.

Jeannie Rogers, one of the restaurant's co-owners, also operates Adonna Imports, a wine importing company. They import primarily Italian wines, usually from small producers. I first tried some of the wines in their portfolio at the Grapevine Travelers wine store. I very much enjoyed the wines, including a Dolcetto and Barbera. They were different than other Italian wines I have had. I later found more of their wines at the Wine Shop in Reading and enjoyed them too. And last weekend, I got to try even more of their wines at a tasting at the Grapevine Travelers. I met Eileen there, who also works as a bartender at Il Capriccio.

Based on my experiences with their wine portfolio, I felt that Jeannie Rogers truly had a passion for wine. And if she had such passion, then I felt it would transfer to her restaurant as well. And if so, then the restaurant should be excellent too. So, I went with high expectations.

I used Open Table to make my reservations and noted that it would be my first time dining there, but that I was a fan of the wines of Adonna Imports.

Last night, we got to the restaurant a bit earlier than our 7pm reservation to have a drink at the bar. Their drink menu includes many different items, from sherries to prosecco, and martinis to wine. They do not have a long list of wines by the glass though. There were only about 4 red wines available by the glass, though the two that we had were very good. Their list by the bottle though is quite extensive and concentrates on Italian wines. This has to be one of the best Italian wine lists I have ever seen. It includes many different types of Italian wines that you do not usually see on wine lists. There was a good range of prices, from inexpensive bottles to high end bottles. We ordered a 2001 Pinot Nero (the winery name escapes me) from the Trentino Alto Adige region. This was a superb wine, like a fine Burdgundy but with a spicy edge, from an intriguing region of Italy. As it is like a Pinot Noir, it is a bit lighter and went well with all of our food.

We were seated at 7:15pm. The restaurant was packed and it is more than obvious that this is a very popular restaurant. Though reservations are highly recommended, you might be able to sit and eat in the bar without them. The tables can be a bit close together though there are good acoustics and it does not seem like a noisy place.

The menu is small but has a very diverse selection, which apparently changes monthly. Whatever your preferences, you should be able to find something you like. There are dishes with chicken, pork, fish, steak, pasta and more. It is also not your typical Italian menu. You will not find spaghetti and meatballs, or even chicken parm. It is more creative and you might find difficulty choosing from several dishes that appeal to you. So many of the dishes sound quite appetizing.

Prior to our appetizers arriving, we were served bread with oil. There were two kinds of bread, one a softer bread and the other more crusty. They were both fresh and it was a nice start to the meal.

We began with a salad and an appetizer special. My wife had the beet salad with Capri goat cheese and balsamic. She enjoyed this very much and we both found the goat cheese to be very creamy. I had the special, foie gras with crushed white peach and Moscato d'Asti. This was a superb dish! The foie gras was like butter in my mouth and the peach went quite well with it. I received two pieces of foie gras and there was plenty of peach sauce. Highly recommended!

Off the Primi menu, we next ordered a small order of the Pappardelle with Braised Vermont Rabbit. The Primi are all pasta dishes and can be ordered in small or large sizes, dependent if you want them as an appetizer or entree. I was very torn about this section as a couple of the other Primi, such as the Fettucine with Duck and the Lobster and Pancetta Risotto sounded so good too. The Pappardelle was exquisite. There were good-sized pieces of duck in this dish, and not just thin threads of meat. The dish had some small pieces of carrot and possibly celery too. The pasta was cooked just right. This dish was quite delicious and and there was plenty of food.

Then, compliments of the Chef, we were given an order of Mussels. These are steamed P.E.I Mussels with white wine, garlic and pear tomatoes. There were a lot of mussels in the dish and they were very tender. In fact, they were some of the best mussels I have ever had.

For our entrees, my wife had the Sauteed Port Tenderloin, Spiced Cabbage, Sweet Potato Lasagna, Tomato and Sambuca. She received two good-sized tenderloins and they were certainly very tender and flavorful. The sweet potato lasagna was very intriguing, and extremely delicious. It was essentially mashed sweet potato between layers of cheese. I could have eaten a large portion of that. My entree was the Organic Chicken Schnitzel, Fried Egg, Lemon and Sage with Herbed Spaetzle. This was a large chicken breast, with only a token bone at one end, with a nicely spiced breading. The chicken was moist and flavorful. The egg was cooked so that the yolk was still gooey, which I like. The spaetzle were very tasty as well.

After all of that food, we still had a bit of room to split dessert, an orange and cardamon creme brulee with chocolate sorbetto. The creme brulee was very good and the sorbetto was excellent, a nice creamy chocolate.

Service was excellent. Our waiter was helpful with being obtrusive. We did not feel rushed and we never had to hunt for him. He was there when needed.

I should also note that throughout the meal, we saw the co-owner Jeannie Rogers working in the restaurant, whether helping with wine or setting up a table. On a holiday weekend, she was at her restaurant and not away on vacation. That surely indicates a true dedication and passion.

Prices for appetizers range $7-14, small Primi from $13-20, large Primi from $21-30, Secondi from $25-33. I think these prices are quite reasonable for the amount and quality of food you receive. This is a higher end restaurant but you definitely get what you pay for. You won't go home hungry and you will definitely enjoy the creative dishes.

Overall, I highly recommend Il Capriccio. The food is phenomenal, the wine list is superb and service is excellent. The food is reasonably priced for what you receive, the portions are good and the dishes are quite creative and exciting. Kudos to co-owner Jeannie Rogers whose passion for wine extends to her restaurant as well. Kudos also to Chef Rich Barron who has put together an excellent menu and some great food. I will definitely return there and encourage others to do the same.

Il Capriccio
888 Main St.
Waltham, MA
Phone: (781) 894-2234

Il Capriccio in Waltham

Saturday, May 26, 2007


It was too hot to cook last night so we decided to order out. But what should we order? And from where? Ronnie's Place was now closed. We flipped through a number of menus and found a new menu we had recently received from Pizzamia so we decided to give it a try.

Their menu has much of the usual Italian items, including pizza, calzones, subs, wraps, pasta dinners, salads and appetizers. There are also panini grilled foccocia sandwiches and Angus burgers. As for the more usual items, they make some different versions than the usual. Some of these different items include the potato skin pizza, Hawaiian Calzone, and the Stuffa sub (turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce).

We ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger Calzone and the Chicken Cutlet Parm Calzone. Each cost $8.25. We were told that it would take about 45 minutes to be delivered but it was actually around 30 minutes. Each calzone came in a small pizza box, and they filled much of the box. The calzones came with a side of red sauce, for dipping or spreading atop the calzone. The calzones came presliced, about 5 slices, and are slathered atop with garlic. I love garlic so this was a nice touch. Each calzone was filled with plenty of meat and cheese. The bread was thinner in the middle of the calzone and thicker on the ends. Both calzones were very tasty, some of the better calzones I have had from a local sub shop.

I would recommend these calzones and I am looking forward to trying out their other items, such as their pizza and burgers. Another interesting point is that you can order online rather than calling in your order.

67 Franklin Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 572-3300

Pizza Mia on Urbanspoon

2003 Musar Cuvee Rouge

I like to experiment, trying wines from lesser known countries and regions. Wine is made in many countries all over the world yet a number of those wines are rarely available in local wine stores. Or if available, you will find only a very limited choice. Greece makes many wines, yet Greek wines can be difficult to find locally. And when you can find them, there might only be 3 or 4 wines available. And if you seek wines from places like Hungary, Estonia, India or Lebanon, you will have to hunt long and far to find them. Yet wines from these areas can be quite good.

While at Astor Wines in NYC, I found wines from many of these lesser known countries. I bought a 2003 Musar Cuvee Rouge ($18) from the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Lebanon wine making extends back thousands of years. Wine making continues today, despite the problems of war that have plagued that country. This wine is the second wine of Chateau Musar, one of their most famous wineries.
The wine is a blend of Cinsault, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This wine is very French in style, very Old World. It is a more subdued wine and not a fruit bomb. On the palate, there are tastes of red fruits, a little spice and some earthiness. All of the flavors seem to compliment each other. There is complexity but you need to pay careful attention to the wine as it won't jump out at you. If you are used to California or Australian wines, this wine might seem bland but it is not bland. It is just a different style of wine. If you love French wines, then you will definitely enjoy this.
I enjoyed it very much and think it would be a good food wine as well. I would recommend this as a Drink & Buy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dinner Reservations

Imagine is 6pm on a Saturday night. You drive to a hot, new restaurant and try to get a table. But you don't have reservations. The hostess tells you that the restaurant is fully booked until 10pm. So, you leave that place and try another restaurant. Yet that place is also fully booked. Sure can be hard to find a good restaurant that has an opening on a weekend night.

This is a far too common occurrence. Your best option would have been to make reservations prior to the weekend. Especially for popular restaurants.

How far ahead should you make reservations? As far ahead as possible. If you wait too long, you might find the restaurant is already booked. You are usually safe if you make a reservation one week prior. Though there are a few hot restaurants where you will need to make reservations even longer before.

Most people used to make reservations by telephone. If you do so, get the name of the person who takes your reservation and make sure you note the date and time of your call. This will help in case there is a problem and they lose your reservation. It does not happen often, but is very annoying when it does.

A newer method of making reservations is online reservations, commonly through a system like Open Table or Savvy Diner. These systems are replacing the usual telephone reservations and I am in support of them. I think they benefit both the restaurant and the diners. My preference is for Open Table.

Open Table is international on scope, though it is more entrenched in the U.S. You can check your local area for restaurants, or places where you are going to travel to. For example, 282 restaurants in the New England area are part of the Open Table system. Generally, these are more higher end and/or popular restaurants. These are the type of places where you generally do need reservations, especially on the weekends. It is an easy system to use. You just type in your proposed reservation time and you instantly will learn whether there is an opening or not. If you like, you can confirm the reservation and then print out a confirmation. This helps to prove you made the reservation if the restaurant loses the reservation. Though with this system, the restaurant is even less likely to lose it.

You can even just type in a proposed time and find all of the restaurants that have openings for that time. Open Table restaurant listings usually have restaurant's website noted so that you can check out its menu. When you make your reservation, there is a place to write any special instructions or to note a special occasion. If you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, note it here and the restaurant will be aware and may make your visit more special.

I have used Open Table for a few years and had excellent success with it. Not only do I use it locally, but when traveling to other states I have used it as well. None of my reservations have ever been lost. And nearly all of the restaurants have acknowledged whatever special instructions or celebrations I noted in the reservations.

There is an added benefit to using Open Table. Free money!

It costs nothing to register on Open Table. And each time you make a reservation, and keep it, you earn at least 100 reward points. Once you reach 2000 points, you can redeem your points for a $20 restaurant gift certificate. It is valid at any Open Table restaurant. There are even some special reservations that will earn you 1000 points. So, just for making reservations which you would have done anyways, you can earn free gift certificates.

If you make reservations for a restaurant, and you cannot honor that reservation, you should call the restaurant to tell them. Tell them as far ahead as possible. This is only courteous and will allow someone else to take your reservation space. If you just don't show up for a reservation, the restaurant might lose money. Unfortunately, statistics on no shows indicates a high rate. This probably does lead to higher prices. So, just don't be a no show. Call to cancel.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fried Dough Sundae

Take a moment to savor this Fried Dough Double Delight Sundae. Just try not to drool on the keyboard.

Ever since I saw this sundae listed on the new menu at the Dairy Dome I have wanted to try it. I love fried dough and having it topped with sugar, ice cream, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream sounded fantastic! My mom had it recently and raved about it. I finally got an opportunity to try it.

The fried dough is made fresh to order so it has not just been sitting around getting stale. They are like fried dough sticks, not the large flat pieces you see at carnivals. They had the right consistency and taste. You can have the sundae with either soft soft or home-made ice cream, in your choice of flavors. I went with the vanilla soft serve and there were two good-sized scoops of ice cream. There was also plenty of whipped cream, with a cherry on top. The sundae is quite large and should satisfy the hunger of anyone. It tasted as excellent as it looked. Pure decadent pleasure, sure to put a smile on your face. It costs $5.49 for soft serve and $6.49 for home-made ice cream and is definitely worth the price.

So stop on by and try this sundae, or any of the other delicious sounding ones they have such as the Wicked Awesome Whoopie Pie or the Death by Chocolate Brownie.

Dairy Dome
474 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-9425

2005 Luna Beberide Mencia

I opened a bottle of the 2005 Luna Beberide Mencia ($14) from the Bierzo region of Spain. Bierzo is an up and coming region of Spain and the Mencia varietal is the primary grape in this region. I have had several Mencia wines before and enjoyed them, especially those of Dominio de Tares. So, what of this wine?

It had a fruity nose, reminiscent of darker berries, and its color was darker as well, though not inky. You still could see through the wine. As you taste it, there is a rush of fruit, tinges of blueberry and blackberry, with a hint of a floral taste. It is medium-bodied with a lush feel. What an inspiring beginning. But, on the finish, it seemed a bit too tannic and bitter. At least for drinking alone. This wine probably needs to be accompanied by food. It is not as good as the other wines from Bierzo I have had but it is still a good wine. Just serve it with dinner.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Next to the new Melting Pot in Bedford is Bamboo, a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. I stopped there for the first time today for lunch. I had heard some good things about Bamboo and knew that they had a lunch buffet. I had almost chosen to eat at Flatbread Pizza, in the same area, as I had not been there yet either. But, I decided in favor of Bamboo.

It is an impressive looking restaurant, very elegant and clean. It is not kitschy like some Chinese restaurants. There is a nice bar area, a sushi counter, and several dining rooms. Lunch began at 11:30am, but I arrived a few minutes earlier so waited to be seated. While waiting, I took a look at their takeout menu.

The menu is diverse with many of the usual Chinese and Japanese appetizers and entrees plus a few different ones such as eel tempura (which sounds delicious to me). Prices are average. Instead of the lunch buffe you could order some of their lunch specials. They do have a dinner buffet as well but only on Sundays. I was surprised to see that Bamboo is related to five other Asian restaurants, including the Mandarin in Reading. I have eaten several times at the buffet at the Mandarin so expected something similar at the Bamboo. In the end, I thought the Bamboo was the better place.

Once seated, I checked their drink menu and found they had a few chilled sakes available. I ordered a Hakushika Namazake ($9.50 for a 180ml bottle). When they brought my sake, they gave me a chilled glass and the bottle sat in a glass bucket of ice. What a perfect way to serve chilled sake! This earns Bamboo several points from me. The sake was excellent, mellow and flavorful. I would definitely order that again.

I chose the buffet and initially it did seem similar to the one at the Mandarin. But, I actually found the food to be better and there was some more variety. There was sushi on the buffet, lots of maki plus some nigiri though most of the nigiri was small. They did have some shrimp tempura maki which was excellent. There were plenty of appetizers, including items such as shumai, dumplings, chicken fingers, chicken wings, chicken teriyaki, scallion pancakes, boneless spare ribs. There was white rice and fried rice, chicken and beef dishes, veggie dishes and more. All of the food was very fresh and tasty. The chicken fingers were very good, with much less batter than average and more meat. The boneless ribs were very meaty. I certainly ate my fill of food. They also had desserts, including vanilla and green tea ice cream, jello and several pastries.

Service was very good. The restaurant filled up very quickly and it is obvious this is a popular lunch spot. Lunch only cost $10 which makes the buffet an excellent value. You could easily eat twice that much in sushi alone. I definitely recommend this buffet lunch and think that dinner there would be good as well.

213 Burlington Road
Bedford, MA
Phone: (781) 275-5888

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Winery Simulation Game

SimVin is a winery simulation game. With three different skill levels, you can try develop your own vineyard. You get to make numerous decisions during the process, from where to get the grapes to marketing. The game is free to play and can be a lot of fun! Wine Education has a few other available games, including trivia and crossword puzzles.

Supporting Your Favorite Restaurant

It is said that 9 out of 10 restaurants fail in their first year. Recent research though seems to indicate that only 1 out of 4 restaurants close or change hands in the first year. Within three years, the closure rate rises to 3 out of 5. Though those statistics are better, it still is a relatively high rate. If you have a favorite restaurant, how can you, as a customer, help keep it in business?

One of my reasons for this blog is to help keep open my favorite restaurants. I try to spread the word about them, to share my experiences with others so that they too will patronize that restaurant. I recommend my favorites to family and friends. Word of mouth is easy to do and you can do the same for your favorites. The more business your favorite restaurant generates, the better its chances of remaining open.

I also recommend my favorites on this blog as well as other restaurant review sites. You too can spread the word about your favorite restaurants. There are several major food reviews sites where you can post your own thoughts on restaurants. Positive media attention always helps. You can check out the following:

Pat Whitley Restaurant Show
TV Diner
Phantom Gourmet
Boston Chowhounds

You might want to keep your favorite restaurant a secret so that it does not get too popular, too crowded. But, in doing so, you might not be helping the restaurant. Restaurants need patrons to stay in business. And if few people know about a place, it might not generate sufficient business to remain open. So, spread the word!

Monday, May 21, 2007

2003 Pietra Santa Zinfandel

One of my recent purchases at a recent tasting was the 2003 Pietra Santa Zinfandel, California ($16). I had some with a buffalo chili this evening and it held up very well. The wine is full bodied and very dark in color. It has an aroma of dark berries, maybe some blackberry or blueberry. There is a fruit burst on the front palate which quickly becomes a spicy and smoky finish that lingers in your mouth. The wine seemed to mellow the spicy chili some made a nice pairing. This wine would go well with BBQ, as most Zinfandels do. A Drink and Buy!

Wine Quotes

Here are some interesting quotes on wine.

Drink wine, and you will sleep well. Sleep, and you will not sin. Avoid sin, and you will be saved. Ergo, drink wine and be saved.
---Medieval German saying

Good wine ruins the purse; bad wine ruins the stomach.
---Spanish saying

Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.

"Good wine is a necessity of life for me."
---Thomas Jefferson

Both to the rich and poor, wine is the happy antidote for sorrow.

It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend; one's present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.
---Latin saying

Good wine is a good familiar creature if it well used.

Wine is a constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
---Benjamin Franklin

No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God.

God made only water, but man made wine.
---Victor Hugo

Wine is bottled poetry.
---Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shutendouji Oh Oni Sake

Friday evening, while at poker, I brought a bottle of Shutendouji Oh Oni Sake ($40). This is a Namazake and only released in the spring. It is a limited production sake with only 120 cases being made. It uses estate grown rice, a rarity in the sake world. In addition, the label is a woodcut so that each bottle is unique.

This was a superb sake, very smooth and with a multitude of flavors, including some apple, melon and floral tastes. It seemed both delicate at times and heartier at others. It was very easy drinking, without even a touch of bitterness. It is a dry sake and needs to be serve chilled. A definite Drink & Buy.

New Spring Menu

Savory Tastes Cafe recently changed to their Spring Menu so a group of us went there last night for dinner, to try out the new selections. Some of the selections had been on the Mother's Day brunch menu. I started with the Smoked Gouda Risotto with Sliced Duck, something I had on Mother's Day as well. This is an extremely tasty dish, with a nice smoky flavor to the Risotto and lean pieces of duck. Just a great combination of flavors. I moved onto a cup of Roasted Corn and Fish Chowder. This was a prior favorite of mine and it was as good as before. It is jam packed with fish and corn in a light and delicious broth. For dinner, I had a special, lamp chops wrapped in prosciutto with a pistachip pesto sauce. Another past favorite, and an excellent dish!

The others had some of the other selections, including chilled avocado soup, crab cakes, rib eye steak, salmon, and halibut. Everyone very much enjoyed their meals. The restaurant was packed last evening and we were lucky to get a reservation. If you wish to go there on the weekend, you definitely should make reservations ahead of time.

I have to add as well that they are also serving home-made potato chips, their chipotle chips, which were delicious! Home-made potato chip continue to catch on!

Savory Tastes Cafe
601 Main St.
Reading, MA
Phone: (781) 942-8287

Grand Wine Tasting 2

Our second wine tasting event was at the Ourglass Wine Co. There were over 80 wines available for tasting, plus about 10 beers. They also had cheese, crackers, sausage and bread to help cleanse your palate in between the tastings. There was a quite diverse selection of wines, many from small boutique wineries all over the world. There were whites, reds, roses and sparkling wines. This was another great opportunity to try many different wines.

Here is a list of the wines that I especially recommend from the tasting.

2004 David Coffaro Unfiltered Cabernet, Dry Creek, California $30
2005 Berberana, No. 1, Shiraz-Tempranillo, Spain $11
2005 Dona Rosa Albarino, Rias Baxias, Spain $18
2003 Pietra Santa Zinfandel, California $16
2004 Trentadue Old Patch Red, Sonoma, California $15
2005 MozaFresca, godello/Dona Blanco, Valdeorras, Spain $12
2005 Alate, Kosher Tempranillo, Navarra, Spain $14
2000 Bordeje Don Pablo, Cigales, Spain $30
2006 Dom. Saint Cyrgues Costieres de Nimes Rose, France $10
2000 Archenes Ludakis, Crete $18
2005 Chave, Mon Couer, Cote du Rhone $23
2004 Rupert & Rothschild Cabernet Classique, South Africa $20
2005 Barahomda Carro Tinto, Yecla, Spain $10
2005 Dom. Brunet Pinot Noir, France $10
2004 Benzinger Syrah, North Coast, California $14

Grand Wine Tasting 1

Yesterday was quite a day! Two grand wine tastings and dinner out.

I organized a North Shore Winers event to attend two grand wine tastings, one at Grapevine Travelers and the other at OurGlass Wine Co.

We began at the Grapevine Travelers at 1pm. There were over 70 wines available for tasting, plus 9 beers. They also had cheese and crackers to help cleanse your palate in between the tastings. There was a quite diverse selection of wines, from all over the world, including lesser known regions such as Hungary, Uruguay and Brazil. There were whites, reds, roses and sparkling wines. This was a great opportunity to try many different wines.

Here is a list of the wines that I especially recommend from the tasting.

2004 Castel Noarna Lagrein, Rovererto, Italy $19
2003 ABC-Bricco Buon Natale Barbera, California $15
2004 Hopler Zweigelt, Burgenland, Austria $19
2006 Craftsman Pinot Noir Rose, Neszmely, Hungary $10
2005 Fairvalley Pinotage, Paarl, South Africa $11
2005 Dominio de Tares Baltos, Bierzo, Spain $16
2005 Alamos Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina $12
2005 Hofstatter Meczan Pinot Nero, Alto Adige, Italy $24
2004 Solo Maremma Micante, Italy $18
2005 Lavis Dipinti Riesling, Trentino, Italy $12
2005 Verdad Albarino, Santa Ynez Valley, California $15
2006 Verdad Rose, Santa Ynez Valley, California $13
2003 Domaine du Perat Pineau des Charentes, France $20

Friday, May 18, 2007

Home Made Potato Chips

I can remember having home-made potato chips when I was a child. They tasted so good! And over the years, I have had them at a few stores and restaurants. But, in recent years, they have been very hard to find. Until now. Within the last couple months, I have had them at 3 different places. Maybe they are making a come back which I heartily welcome.

One was a grocery store in Connecticut, Stew Leonards. The second was the Capital Grille in Burlington for lunch. Instead of french fries, you can have their home-made potato chips and they are delicious. And today, for lunch, I had them at Dairy Dome. This is a new product for them and they were very tasty. I had ordered a burger and fries but Lisa, their chef, offered me the chips instead of the fries. In fact, she just said that she would surprise me with something other than the fries. And it was a most pleasant surprise. By the way, the burger was delicious too. Thick and juicy!


Meat Overload

Last evening, I met with my Real World Winer friends for our weekly gathering. We were going to dine at the Churrascaria Rodeo in Woburn, a Brazilian rodizio restaurant. But, when we arrived, we found that the restaurant was closed for a private function. As we still wanted rodizio, we decided to drive up to Peabody, to the Fire Bull Restaurant. The Fire Bull does have its own parking lot.

I have been to the Fire Bull a number of times before though a few of the other Winers had never been there before. Though they have a number of entrees on their menu, we all chose the rodizio. This is an all-you-can eat BBQ buffet. You receive a salad, white rice, fried plantains, and a bean dish. Then, a server come by your table with skewers of different meats, slicing off the amount you wish. And he keeps returning until you are too full to eat anymore. Last evening, the meats included sirloin, roast beef, garlic steak tips, pork loin, lamb tips, chicken wrapped in bacon, chicken sausage, chicken hearts, chicken wings, and ribs.

The meats were delicious, usually juicy and tender. The garlic steak tips and the ribs were particularly tasty. There is a slight variation in what meats they serve each night. On different visits, they have had different types of sausage and sometimes even fish. At $21.95, it is very reasonably priced for all of the meat you can eat. The six of us gorged ourselves last night!

The Fire Bull has a small wine list, though it is very reasonably priced. It has selections from Portugal, Argentina, California and a couple other places. We ordered a few different wines from Portugal, including Vinho Verde and a Dao. We also got a Alamos Malbec from Argentina. Each of the bottles only cost about $16-18 each.

We did not get any dessert as we were too full.

Overall, we had a very good meal. My favorite rodizio restaurant remains Midwest Grill in Cambridge but I do enjoy and recommend the Fire Bull. You won't be disappointed.

Fire Bull Restaurant
5 Central St.
Peabody, MA
Phone: (978) 531-5744

Home Cooking Take-Out

You are tired from a long day of work and just don't feel like making some labor intensive dinner. You want to whip up something quick, but tasty. You could order out, get a pizza or sub, but you really want something more substantial. What are your options?

One excellent option would be to stop by the Dairy Dome and pick up one of their pre-made dinners. They have a diverse selection of dishes which are rather inexpensive. The other night, I stopped by and picked up a Chicken Marsala and a Chicken Cordon Bleu. Each dish was large, more than plenty for one person, and only cost $7 each. They come in a foil pan which can be popped into the oven and heated up. You then have a quick, home style meal without alot of fuss. Plus, you can pick up a loaf of fresh bread at the Dome too. So, for under $20, you have a good dinner with bread for two!

And if you need larger portions, for a larger family, they have those as well.

Now, I have not yet had the occasion to try their new sundaes though there are a few that have peaked my interest, including a fried dough sundae. But, a couple family members did stop by and try it and raved about it! I trust their opinion on such matters so I eagerly look forward to tasting it myself.

Dairy Dome
474 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 438-9425

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

2004 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec

The 2004 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec is a Rhone style blend from California. It is 40% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre and 11% Counoise. The wine comes from the Santa Ynez Valley and only 3250 cases were produced. It costs about $18 a bottle.

This is an interesting wine. It has a fruity nose and a taste of dark berries on the front palate. The dark fruits meld into a spicy finish that lasts fairly long. It is more full bodied, very smooth and with a touch of tannins. An easy drinking wine that would pair well with many meats. This is a more complex wine and all the different flavors work well together. At the price, this is a good value wine and a definite Drink & Buy.

Ginger Pad

Want a great fast food value? Then try the Ginger Pad at the Wayside Commons in Burlington. I had lunch there again today and had an excellent meal. I have been here a number of times and each time my experience has been the same. Excellent!

The Ginger Pad largely has a menu of rice and noodle bowls, with various sauces and ingredients. You can add chicken, beef, shrimp or veggies with tofu to any of these bowls. The bowls cost only around $6-8 and you get a ton of food! They make each bowl to order so you can get the bowls without certain ingredients if you wish. I have tried several different bowls and all of them have been very good, including the Lo Mein Noodle, Korean BBQ Beef, Mongolian and Thai Coconut Curry. The menu also has some appetizers, soups and salads. The Shanghai Potstickers are especially good.

Service is very good and your meal is delivered quickly. If you have limited time on your lunch hour, the Ginger Pad won't delay you.

Inexpensive. Very tasty food. Large portions. Quick service. Perfect qualities for a good fast food restaurant.

Wine Tags

I have a large wine refrigerator that holds about 260 bottles. I sometimes want to place wine tags on the bottles but found that the tags available at the local wine stores don't always fit. Some bottles have large necks and the standard tags won't fit around those necks. But, I finally found a solution, tags that have little cuts around the hole, allowing them to fit around larger necks. And they have fit every bottle I have.

You can order these tags from the Wine Enthusiast. A 100 tags, in 4 different colors, costs $14.95 and there is currently free shipping. I ordered 100 and they were delivered the next day!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sangria Recipe

Summertime is a perfect time for a big glass of chilled Sangria. The best Sangria I have ever had is from Dali, a Spanish restaurant in Somerville. And I was lucky enough to get a copy of their recipe, which tastes exactly like what you get at the restaurant. I have made it for numerous parties and it is always a hit.

Here is the recipe.

--3 bottles of Vina Borgia (An inexpensive Spanish Garnacha wine though you could substitite many other inexpensive Spanish reds)
--1 cup of brandy
--1 cup triple sec
--1 cup of sugar
--1/2 gallon of orange juice

---Mix all the ingredients together and then let it sit overnight. If you do not let it sit, it may seem bitter. Add some sliced fruit when it is ready.


Astor Wine & Spirits

(Originally posted on 421/07)

This past weekend, I stopped by at Astor Wine & Spirits, located at 399 Lafayette St at East 4th St, New York City. They have recently moved to a new and larger location. This was my first visit to Astor. I had seen their website and was intrigued. First, they had a huge sake selection. Second, they had in stock Sean Thackrey's Pleaides XV, a rare wine I have been seeking for quite a while.

I was very happy that I stopped there. This is an exceptional wine store. It is quite large and spacious. They have lots of wine, from all over the world. One of the wines I picked up was a Cabernet blend from Lebanon. They have a huge sake selection, probably the biggest selection I have seen outside of True Sake in san Francisco. Most of the sakes were kept cool in a refrigerated area. There was another cool room for wines as well. I found plenty of wines that I had not seen before elsewhere. Plus, I found some wines I had been eagerly hunting. I bought six bottles of the Pleaides XV, as well as a bottle of Sean Thackrey's Petite Sirah. Of course, I bought several bottles of sake, including some limited namazakes. Prices are average though they had a good number of wines on sale. Plus, you get 10% off on a mixed case.

The staff were helpful and the store was clean. I will definitely return here when I go back to NYC and highly recommend this store to anyone visiting the city.

While unpacking my wine, I realized that the store had inserted a couple sheets into the box, a "Buyer's Guide." This guide discusses all of the wines I purchased, telling me a bit about all of them, such as tasting notes, history, etc. This is the type of info you might see on the info tags attached to some wines. I think this is a nice extra.

Connecticut Wineries

(Originally posted on 4/22/07)

Connecticut has 15 vineyards that you can visit. This weekend, I visited a few of them.

My first stop on my tour was the McLaughlin Vineyards located at 14 Albert's Hill Road, Sandy Hook. This is a small, family-owned winery with about 30 acres of vines. They make white and red wines. The tasting was free. The favorites of the wines I tasted were the 2000 Vista Reposa and the NV Snow Goose. The Reposa is a red blend though it is primarily Cabernet Franc. It is a dry wine, that reminded a bit of popcorn. It might have been the hazelnut flavors in the wine. The Snow Goose is a white blend thast reminds me of a slightly sweet Riesling. It was crisp and would be a good food wine.

Next stop was the Hopkins Vineyard at 25 Hopkins road, Warren. This was a very nice winery and you can even do a self-tour and check out some of their wine making equipment. Tasting costs $5 and you get to keep your glass. The tasting includes 8 wines. There is a $2 extra charge if you want to try their ice wine. They make white and red wines, plus some a peach wine. My favorite of the tasting was their 2005 Vineyard Reserve, a white wine blend of Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc. No oak is used. It is crisp and light, with nice fruit. The peach wine had a strong nose of peach though on the palate there was a strong apricot flavor, which is not one of my favorite tastes. Their ice wine also had a strong apricot flavor. They also make sparkling wines though none were available for tasting.

Lastly, went to the Haight Vineyard at 29 Chestnut Hill Road, Litchfield. The tasting cost $6. They have white, red and fruit wines though none of them really impressed me much.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Wine Rating System

In my numerous wine reviews, I have been using a rating system that the Real World Winers developed for our original blog. It is a rather simple system with three basic rating categories. These are: Drink & Buy, Drink Not Buy, and No Drink No Buy.

Drink & Buy: These are wines that I enjoy drinking and consider worth their cost. These are the wines I would recommend to others. Within this rating, there is also a special subcategory, the Value wines. These are wines that I consider to be worth more than their cost, and thus are a very good value. Such value wines generally cost $25 or less.

Drink Not Buy: These are ordinary wines that I could drink but generally would not buy myself. I don't consider them worth their price. I would drink them at a function, or if someone else was buying. But I would save my own money for wines in the first category.

No Drink No Buy: These are wines I would not even drink if they were free. I would not recommend these wines to anyone!

As you can see, it is very simple. And that probably won't change as I don't see that I need anything more complex.

2006 QM Alvarinho

As part of a monthly Virtual Tasting organized by Catavino, I have been trying some different Albarinos/Alvarinhos from Spain and Portugal.

This past weekend, I tasted the 2006 QM Alvarinho Vinho Verde, Portugal. QM stands for the Quintas de Melgaco winery. I am most familiar with Spanish Albarinos and enjoy them. I find them generally crisp and fruit, with a touch of sweetness. So, I was curious how the Alvarinhos of Portugal would compare. The QM had the same crispness I was used to but the flavor had some significant differences. The QM was much more minerally than fruity though it did have some apple in the background. It was also drier and really had no tinge of sweetness. So to me, it lacked some of the richer flavors of the Spanish Albarinos I have been recently drinking.

I had some of this wine as an apertif and later paired it with macaroni and cheese. It held up to the food and did seem mellower. Though this wine was ok, I would not rush out and buy it again. Drink Not Buy.

Otokoyama Yukishibare Namazake

I recently bought several Sakes, including some Namazakes, from Astor Wines in NYC. A Namazake is an unpasteurized Sake, so it is intended to be drank soon after it is sold. Over the weekend, I tasted one of these, the Otokoyama Yukishibare Tokubestsu Junmai Namazake ($33). This Sake is only made in the spring and in limited quantities. It is made in the Hokkaido Prefecture of Japan. It is a slightly cloudy as it is drawn off the rice lees. It is also intended to be served chilled. I enjoyed the Sake very much. It was fresh, smooth and full of lively fruit flavors, including some apple, pear and even a little banana. It did not have a heavy alcohol flavor and was rather mild. I started drinking the Sake as an apertif and later had some with a dinner of takeout Japanese food, including some teriyaki scallops, sesame chicken and pan fried noodles. It paired well with the food and I would definitely buy this again. A recommended Drink & Buy.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The North Shore Winers

Would you like to meet other fellow wine enthusiast and attend local wine events? If so, then maybe you should check out The North Shore Winers.

A few months ago, I was checking out Meetup, a site where people can create or join groups of people with similar interests. There were only two local Wine groups and none that concentrated in the North Shore area. So, I decided to create a new Wine group that would concentrate on events in that region. Though I concentrate on North Shore events, a few events may be held elsewhere too.

As the organizer, I select or create various wine events for the members of The North Shore Winers to attend. These include wine tastings, wine dinners, winery visits, educational seminars, and more. We have attended wine tastings in Reading, Winchester, Woburn and Saugus. We have visited the Red Oak Winery in Middleton. We had a private wine dinner, a Spanish Tapas dinner, at Savory Tastes Café in Reading. We have upcoming events planned for Medford, Saugus and North Andover. Some of these events are free while others do have a fee.

We currently have 100 members and continue to grow. Membership is free and open to everyone. All you need to do is sign up for the group on Meetup and then RSVP for future events. So come and join us! Have fun, drink wine and meet some interesting people!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.

Wine Emporium

(Originally posted on 9/2/06)

On my excursion to the South End, I also stopped by the Wine Emporium, located on 607 Tremont St. This is a two-level store with beer and hard liquor on the first floor and wine on the lower level. They have quite a diverse selection available, one of the most diverse I have seen. They cover all of the usual wine regions, as well as the much less known ones, including India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Prices are average. This store is well worth a look, especially to find wines from different countries that you normally won't find elswhere.


(Originally posted on 9/2/06)

Today I went on an excursion to the South End of Boston, to hit some of its stores and restaurants. One of my stops was to Seiyo, a combination wine store and Japanese restaurant located at 1721C Washington Street. This is an interesting combination.

On the left side of the store are the wines for sale, and there is a decent selection, including some high end wines. Prices are about average. I picked up a bottle of 2004 Las Moras Bonarda, an Argentine wine, and a 2001 Flor De Pingus, the second tier wine of a famed Spanish winery. They also have more than a dozen sakes available for sale.

We sat down at the sushi bar to try out their fare. We ordered some tekka maki, unagi maki, tamago, unagi, and maguro. But, I did not get maguro. In fact, the chef gave me chutoro instead, a fattier and more expensive tuna cut. This was intentional on his part, and I was charged only for a maguro. Chutoro can be up to twice as expensive as regular maguro. All of fish was very fresh, good sized and tasty. The chutoro was especially good, with a buttery texture. Prices were average for the sushi and well worth it. I had some Hakushika Junmai Ginjo sake with my sushi.

Overall, the visit was very good and I would return to try some of their other dishes.

Seiyo in Boston

Legal Sea Foods--Cheaper Wine

While reading the Spring 2007 issue of Quarterly Review of Wines, I read a short article about Legal Sea Foods and their new policy on wine. In essence, if you order a bottle of wine, they "guarantee" you won't find it for a lower price in any other restaurant. This policy is not listed on their website and the article does not state if anything happens if you do find a cheaper wine elsewhere. The article listed several wines found at Legal that were at a low markup, including even a couple that were at the same price as retail.

I have not yet been to Legal Seafoods to check on their wine prices but I plan to do so soon. And if it is accurate, I hope that other restaurants decide to follow their lead. We all know that wine prices at restaurants can be quite excessive, two to three times the usual retail. And sometimes even more. Do they need these excessive mark-ups? Definitely not! First, restaurants are generally not paying retail for their wine. So the markup on their cost is even higher than you think. Second, sure there are costs for wine storage and such, but not sufficient for the mark-ups. Restaurants could sell much more wine if they were more reasonable priced.

If you know the retail prices of some common wines, you can gauge how much a restaurant marks up their wines. This can help you identify restaurants that are trying to gouge you, and others who are far more reasonable.

Mother's Day Brunch

For Mother's Day Brunch, ten of us dined at Savory Tastes Cafe. I had been to brunch there last year and had a very good meal. As last year, the menu this time included breakfast dishes, appetizers, soup, salads and lunch entrees. All of the non-breakfast items are on their new Spring menu, which has been in place for less than a week. There were so many choices, making it difficult to decide what to order.

I eventually chose to start with an appetizer, the smoked Gouda Risotto with Slices of Duck. This is very similar to a dish they had at a previous wine dinner. And it was excellent! The Risotto was creamy, smoky and very tasty. The duck slices were meaty and tender. Highly recommended. I then had an omelette with crabmeat and gouda cheese. The omelette was stuffed with sweet crabmeat. Very delicious. It was accompanied by toast, crisp bacon and a bowl of potatoes.

The other people with me ordered such dishes as the ribeye, panko-crusted salmon, roasted pork loin, French Toast, and the Frittata. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals. All of the dishes had plenty of food. We even ordered dessert, from a tray of several choices including fruits tarts, mousse, chocolate flourless cake and a turtle cheesecake.

Service was very good, especially considering they only do brunch once a year. I hope that they decide to have brunch more frequently. The meal was excellent, as usual. Thanks once again to Chef Bell and his crew at Savory Tastes Cafe.

Savory Tastes Cafe in Reading

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Shopping Excursion

While out today, I decided to stop at the Merchants Liquor Mart in Danvers. I had seen their ad in my local paper, claiming they were a discount store. So, I was curious and wanted to see for myself. Though they have a website, it does not give much specifics about what they have. It is easy to find the store, just off Rt.128.

The store was supposed to have a wine tasting today, from 1-3pm, but I did not see one. The store itself is good-sized and has a decent selection of wine, including many of the usual suspects, the most common wine brands. Yet, if you look past those generic wines, you can find some more interesting wines as well. They have a small glass enclosed area with their high end wines, but there were maybe only a dozen wines there.

But it is their prices which making stopping here the real treat. Their prices all seem at least a few dollars less than most other stores. This makes it more akin to Rapid Liquors in Stoneham or the New Hampshire Liquor Stores. As an example, they had the Caymus Conundrum for $23. It normally sells for $27-30 elsewhere. (Though I also stopped by B.J.'s in Danvers today and they were selling the Conundrum for $20!) If I am up in the Danvers area, I might stop by their store though Rapid's is much closer for me.

I also stopped at the Beverly Wine & Beer Co. to take a look at their selection. I found a bottle of 2003 Duckhorn Goldeneye Pinot Noir. Now, this was a wine I had at a recent wine dinner which I thought was superb. I had bought a couple bottles at Rapid's for $50 each. But, Beverly was selling it for $65. So, I got a great deal at Rapid's and will get it there if I want more.

The only wine I bought today was a couple bottles of 2005 Boekenhoutskloof, The Wolftrap, from South Africa. I have had the 2004 before, and there is a review elsewhere on this blog. It is an intriguing red blend, that is smoky and spicy. The wine usually sells for around $10-12 but I got it for about $8 at the Merchants.

Next Saturday will be a much bigger wine day. I will be attending two grand wine tastings, one in Medford and the other in Saugus. I will need a designated driver!



An internal flame indicative of a person's consuming interests. Get a person talking about their passion and it becomes evident. You can see the fire within their eyes. You can hear the crackle of the flames in their voice. You can feel the heat emanating from their aura. In all they do, they show their passion.

So why is passion important? Because passion can pave the path towards greatness.

There are wine store owners who only wish to make money. They only buy wines that know will sell well, and their prices are often higher than other stores. They recommend more expensive wines to their customers. They don't care about educating their customers. These owners might have a passion for money, but that does not help their customers. The same can apply to restaurant owners and chefs, or any other type of sales person. Stay away from these people!

Then there are the wine store owners and restauranteurs who love wine and food, who truly have a passion for their field. These are the people I seek out, as they are the places which truly cater to the customer. These are the places you will learn, where you will get your best deals. There are the places with the most diversity, where the customer is the priority. Because of their passion, they wish to share that passion with others. Sure, they want to make money, as anyone would, but that is not their only priority. Sharing their passion is very important as well.

I too have a passion for food and wine. So, I write this blog, sharing my passion. I want to tell people about the wines and foods that please me. I want to recommend the restaurants and stores that I find to be the best. I enjoy discussing food and wine. I enjoy reading about food and wine. I enjoy eating and drinking. It is definitely a passion for me.

When I go places, I look for a similar passion in others. For I have found that it is those passionate people that make places better. They are the people who truly care about their customers, rather than just trying to make a buck.

So, when you go out, seek that passion as well!

A New Beginning

Welcome to A Passionate Foodie, my new Food & Wine Blog!

After contributing for the last year and a half to the Real World Winers blog, I decided to branch out on my own so that I could address more than just wine. A Passionate Foodie will address two of my passions, good food and good wine. It will include restaurant reviews and recommendations as well as listings of upcoming food-related events. It will also include wine reviews, wine store reviews and listings of upcoming wine-related events. There are also recommended Links. Plus, I will post on any other food or wine related topic that interests me.

For completeness, I have already copied here a number of restaurant and wine reviews that I previously posted on the Real World Winers blog. I have listed the original posting dates and may have revised some of the posts slightly, mainly to make them read more clearly. If you are looking for a specific topic, you can use the Labels.

As I live just north of Boston, Massachusetts, much of my travels take me to the North Shore, Boston and Cambridge. But, I do enjoy traveling so my posts will touch upon where ever I visit. Previous posts have touched upon places such as Seattle, St. Croix, Pittsburgh, New York City and Portland. This fall, I will be spending two weeks in Spain so I will post about the many restaurants and wineries I visit.

Feel free to add comments to any of my posts, or email me with any questions or suggestions for the blog.


Savory Tastes Cafe, part 5

(Originally posted 4/27/07)

Last weekend, I hosted a private wine dinner at Savory Tastes Café in Reading for my family, friends and members of my local wine group. It was a Spanish Tapas wine dinner and Chef Stephen Bell worked with me to create the menu and accompanying wines. I wanted a diverse menu, with Spanish wines that people might not be familiar with but that they would enjoy.

We began the evening with glasses of Casteller Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine that is made like Champagne but which has a different style. It is a bit fruitier and sweeter than Champagne, and lacks that common yeasty flavor. I have had this Cava before and have always enjoyed it. It started off our evening well as everyone arrived and settled in.

Prior to our dinner, the Chef started us off with a little Amuse Bouche, a Blue Cheese and Apricot Tart. This was paired with a glass of dry sherry, a Pedro Romero Manzanilla “Aurora.” The sherry went very well with the tart, their flavors complementing each other. I found the sherry to have almost a nutty and floral taste that meshed with the bit of tartness from the blue cheese. Even those who did not care for the sherry alone enjoyed it when they had it with the tart.

The dinner then started with our first course, the appetizer. This consisted of two tapas, the Trucha Con Jamon (Trout with ham) and the Pimiento De Piquillo Rellenos De Pollo (Chicken stuffed piquillo peppers). This was paired with a Laxas Albarino from the Rias Baxas region. The trout was very simply prepared, with little more than salt, pepper and some olive oil. There was Serrano ham between the two pieces of trout. Many of the guests stated this was one of their favorite dishes of the evening. The trout was obviously very fresh, quite flavorful and the salty ham went well with the trout. The stuffed peppers provided a nice contrast as they sat in a spicy tomato based sauce. The large pepper was stuffed with minced chicken and was quite tasty. The Albarino paired well with both dishes. It is a fruity, crisp white wine, and complemented the fish as well as the spicy stuffed pepper.

The second course, our soup and salad, included Sopa de Ajo (Castilian garlic soup) and Ensalada De Escarole Con Jamon Y Peras (Frisee with pears and honeyed lardoons). This was paired with a Falset Marca from the Montsant region, which is near Priorat. If you love garlic, then you would have loved this soup. It was a simple soup but very flavorful. The salad was also very good, especially the lardons. They were crunchy, sweet and so very tasty. I could have eaten a plateful of just them and the other guests raved about them as well. The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carinena, and Garnacha. It is light, fruity and very smooth. It is an easy drinking wine that would pair well with many foods, including the soup and salad.

Our next course was our first entrée, including the Albondigas Con Manzanas Y Setas (Catalan meatballs with almond saffron sauce) and Patatas Bravas (Crispy potatoes with spicy tomato sauce). This was paired with a Vinos Sin Ley M5 Monastrell from the Yecla region. The sauces for both of these dishes were superior, with interesting flavors that complemented the meatballs and potatoes. The wine is 100% Monastrell, one of my favorite varietals, and added a bit of an earthiness to the flavors, though the wine had plenty of fruit as well. It stood up well to the different dishes. The next course, our second entrée, consisted of Carre De Cordero Con Pistachios (Lamb chop with pistachio pesto) and Arroz Cremeso Con Idiazabal Con Pechuga (Creamy Basque smoked cheese risotto with duck). This was paired with a Pares Balta Hisenda Miret from the Penedes region. This was another phenomenal course. The lamb chop was incredibly tender and most delicious, with an intriguing coating. Again, this was one of the favorites of the night. The duck was also very tender and flavorful. The risotto was outstanding, with a nice smoky flavor. I could have easily devoured a full plate of either dish. The wine was Garnacha based and stood up well to the meats, without overpowering them.

Our final course of the evening, our dessert, was Mousse De Yogur Y Chocolate Blanco Con Gelatina De Fruta De Passion (Yogurt mousse with white chocolate and a passion fruit gelee). This was paired with a Pedro Ximinex Barbadillo, a sweet sherry. I generally dislike yogurt but I really enjoyed this dessert. It was sweet, fruity and did not have that yogurty taste which I dislike. Everyone else seemed to enjoy this very much as well. The sherry paired well with the dessert.

Service throughout the evening was excellent. We were not rushed in the least. Chef Bell was very personable during the dinner, even sharing some of his recipes with the guests. Overall, this wine dinner was exceptional. With five courses of food and seven wines, everyone left quite sated. I did not have a single complaint about the meal. And all of the guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves as well, some telling me this was one of the best meals they have had in quite some time. Chef Bell really outdid himself for this wine dinner.

I have long been a fan of Savory Tastes Café and it is meals like this one that continue to prove my faith in Chef Bell’s talent. Savory Tastes is available for anyone to hold a private wine dinner or similar private function. Chef Bell is very good at working with you to develop a menu as well as any other extras you might need. I would highly recommend Savory Tastes Café to all.

Savory Tastes Cafe
601 Main St.
Reading, MA
Phone: (781) 942-8287

Savory Tastes Cafe, Part 4

(Originally posted on 12/27/06)

Savory Tastes Cafe held a special Spanish Tapas Wine Dinner. This was a phenomenal dinner, with exceptional food and drink.

We began with a glass of the Casteller Cava, a sparkling wine that is made like Champagne. This is a slightly sweet and fruity wine, without the yeasty flavor of many Champagnes. It is sure to please most people, even those who generally do not like Champagne.

The Amuse Bouche was the Cabrales Blue Cheese and Pear Tart. The usual sharp flavor of the blue cheese had been toned down so this was a milder tart, and very tasty. It was paired with a Pedro Romero Manzanilla "Aurora," a mild Sherry with a slight nutty flavor.

The 1st Course included two dishes. The Trucha Con Jamon, Trout with Ham, was delicious! Tender fish with the salty ham made for an excellent pairing. I could have eaten a plateful. The Rape Con Romesco, Monkfish with Romesco Sauce, was also very good. Both appetizers were decent sized pieces though you still longed for more due to their excellent taste.

The 2nd Course also included two dishes. The Gazpacho Sevillano, a Gazpacho soup, was tasty with an interesting broth. I was less keen on the Cojondongo, the Gazpacho Salad, but only because I am not a big veggie fan. The others with me though very much enjoyed it. This course was paired with the Falset Marca, an exceptional red wine that was very aromatic, fruity on the palate and overall a sumptuous wine. Highly recommended!

The 3rd Course once again had two dishes. The first were the Pimento De PiQuillo Rellenos De Carne, Veal Stuffed Piquillo Peppers, which included tender pieces of veal. The Patatas Bravas, Crispy Potatoes with Spicy Tomato Sauce, was a simple dish but excelled as eveything was cooked perfectly and the seasonings were just right. The wine pairing was a Vinos Pinol Sacra Natura that complimented the dishes well.

The 4th Course had two dishes, as if I had to mention that again. The first was phenomenal, the Carre De Cordero Con Pistachos, Lamb Chops with Pistachio Pesto. This had to be my favorite dish of the evening. The lamb was incredibly tender with a unique and flavorful seasoning. It could not have tasted any better and everyone in my group raved about it. The second dish, the Pechuga De Pato Con Prunes y Olives, Duck Breast with Prunes and Olives, was delicious too, though the lamb may have overshadowed it. On its own, the duck definitely would have been a winner.

Finally, for dessert, there was the Turron De Chocolate, Chocolate Nougat, which was a rich and decadent chocolate dessert. It was paired with Pedro Romero,"Vina el Alamo" Moscatel, a sweet wine that paired well with the luscious chocolate.

Overall, this was one of my most favorite wine dinners at Savory Tastes. The food was exceptional, the variety was exciting, the wines were great. the wines, they chose Spanish wines that were generally off the beaten path. They did not stick with the standard Riojas. This was a bold and ultimately exciting choice. And I am avidly seeking the Falset Marca! Chef Bell deserves kudos for this exceptional feast!

(Originally posted on 2/15/07)

Despite the weather, we made it to Savory Tastes last night for a Valentine's Day dinner. The restaurant filled up so the weather obviously was not a major impediment to everyone else either. Savory Tastes had their new winter menu, which had only been in place for a week. As we persued the menu, we received a glass of complimentary champagne and my wife received a rose. Much of the menu was new, with a few prior dishes retained. There were many interesting dishes on the menu.

We started off with the veal involtini as an appetizer. This is three pieces of tender veal, wrapped with prosciutto and cheese, in a veal jus with grilled peppers. Very delicious! We also had a bowl of crab and carrot soup. This was like a carrot puree filled with lots of sweet crab meat. It was spiced just right and tasted very good. For entrees, my wife had the Red Trout, a skin-on piece of tender and flavorful fish. It was quite a good-sized piece as well. It came with some asparagus and a bowl of some chipotle spiced potato chips. The chips were warm and out of this world. I could have eaten a bowl of those for my meal. The chipotle spices were very subtle so the chips were not overly spicy. I had the ribeye with lobster-mashed potatoes and asparagus. The ribeye was tender and juicy, and the potatoes were a delight.

With our meal, we had a bottle of a 2004 Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel. This was an excellent wine, full bodied with a alot of spice. It also had a nice long finish. It definitely went well with the ribeye. For dessert, we split a warm pear and almond tart. This was also very good and the almonds really added a nice flavor to the pears.

Service was excellent, as usual. No complaints. Overall, another excellent meal at Savory Tastes cafe!

Savory Tastes Cafe, Part 3

(Originally posted on 9/27/06)

On August 29, Savory Tastes Cafe held a wine dinner that concentrated on seafood.

Peeky Toe Crab cocktail with Chateux Le Sarte Graves
Oysters on the Half Shell with a Spanish Cava
Sal De Mer with Domaine Fournier Sancerre
Choice of Entree: Wild Salmon with Bethel Heights Casteel Pinot Noir or Dover Sole with Pilott Puligny Montrachet
Dessert includes bite size versions of the usual excellent Savory Taste desserts

We attended this wine dinner, and had an excellent time as we always do at Savory Tastes. The food, wine and service were of top quality. Once again, I highly recommend this restaurant to everyone.

We began out meal with the Peeky Toe Crab cocktail. This consisted of a mound of crab pieces that had been seasoned with scallions, red peppers, olive oil, salt and pepper. The seasonings were light and only enhanced the sweetness of the crab. This was one of the most flavorful crabs I can remember having in quite some time. This dish might end up on their Fall menu.

We next had 3 different oysters on the half shell. Each one was very good and noticeably different in taste. I just ate them with a bit of lemon juice, rather than adding any horseradish. The oysters were paired with a Castellar Cava, the same Spanish Cava we had at our private wine dinner.

Next was the Sal De Mer, a salad with shrimp and scallops. This was a tasty dish with just a light dressing on it. It seemed that the chef was making all of his dishes with only light accompaniements to let the natural flavors of the fresh seafood come out.

Then the entrees were a Wild Salmon and a Dover Sole. Both were good sized pieces of fish, again with only light sauces and seasonings, and tasted great. The salmon was accompanied by a Bethel Heights Casteel Pinot Noir, a superb pinot. I have always enjoyed the Bethel Heights pinots and this did not disappoint.

For dessert, we had three small desserts, including a new chocolate cake. This was an excellent cake, moist, the right amount of sweetness and a savory chocolate flavor. Another big hit!

By the end of the evening, I was pleasantly stuffed. And everyone accompanying me was quite pleased with the entire dinner. No one had any complaints and we all look forward to their next wine dinner, as well as their new fall menu (which should arrive about October 1).

(Originally posted on 11/4/06)

Last evening, I went to Savory Tastes Cafe to sample some of the items from their new fall menu. I had seen the menu online and was intrigued by a number of the new dishes.

As I decided what to eat, I began with a glass of wine, Trinitas Mataro Old Vines, Contra Costa County, California ($8 a glass). This was a new wine for the restaurant, and Doug, their wine guy, recommended it to me. Mataro is another word for the varietal also known as Mourvedre or Monastrell. is one of my favorite varietals so I was excited to try this new wine. And I was quite pleased with its taste. It was complex, with dark cherries, and maybe even a bit of chocolate. It was not too heavy or tannic so it would go well with many different foods. I had several glasses over the evening, and it continued to please me. And went well with all of the different dishes I ordered. I will definitely look around to try to buy some of this wine.

I decided on ordering several appetizers, to better sample the diverse new dishes on the menu. I began with the Peeky Toe Crab Martini ($13), which consists of Peeky Toe Crabmeat from Desert Island, Maine tossed in a Light Lime Vinaigrette. It comes in a martini glass. This was a superb dish, with chucnks of sweet crab and a light vinegarette that did not distract from the taste of the crab. There was an ample portion of crab though I could have easily eaten three more of these. I highly recommend this appetizer.

I then ordered the Hawaiian Tuna Poke ($11) which consists of square chunks of Sushi Grade Yellow Fin Tuna combined with Soy, Ginger, Sesame Oil Seasonings sitting atop a lettuce leaf, and with a drizzle of Chili Sauce Mayonnaise around the edges of the plate. The tuna was delightful, with a silky smooth texture and obviously quite fresh. Personally, I felt the tuna was perfect without the need for the mayonnaise. The soy and ginger added just the right amount of flavor. Those though who want more of a spicy tang would enjoy the mayonnaise.

I moved on to a cup of Fish and Sweet Potato Soup ($4), which consists of a pureee of Sweet Potatoes, Cod, Haddock and a hint of Oregano. This soup was almost bisque-like and was very flavorful, with the sweetness of the potato standing out. I might have preferred it better if it had at least a few chunks of fish in it. But, it definitely is a good choice for a cold night.

After that, I chose the Veal Involtini with Grilled Peppers ($12) which consisted of three Veal Scaloppines, rolled with Prosciutto, Sage and Provolone, seared and accompanied by Grilled Peppers and Veal Au Jus. This was another superb dish! The veal was very tender, the prosciutto and provolone were very flavorful. With three rolls, you get an ample dish of food. I savored every mouthful of this. Another highly recommended appetizer!

I finished the evening with the Seared Long Island Duck Breast ($12), which consists of slices of duck breast served over a Jerk-seasoned, infused toasted, Israeli Cous Cous and splashed with a spicy Mango sauce. There was more duck on this dish than I have seen on many duck entrees elsewhere. The slices were thick, meaty and tender, with only a small bit of fat on each piece. The mango sauce is mild on the mango but makes for an intriguing addition. The Cous Cous look like tiny peas but are very tasty and plentiful. This is another highly recommended appetizer!

At this point, I was well stuffed so did not order dessert. But, I was immensely pleased with my meal, and will definitely return to sample some of their new entrees, as well as to have some of those appetizers again too.