Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can You Taste Calcium in Wine?

Blame the mice.

I recently discussed Umami, the fifth flavor, that accompanies the original four taste flavors of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. But could there be a sixth flavor? Fox News is reporting a story that such a new flavor may have been discovered, based on studies done with mice.

This potential sixth is calcium. It is hard to pinpoint an actual description of what calcium tastes like, but it does have some elements of bitterness and sourness. We might detect it in water, though too much calcium can make it taste bad. Some high-calcium veggies, like collard greens, bok choy, and kale may be bitter due to a high calcium content. Yet in some products, such as milk, you cannot taste the calcium despite its high content. This is because calcium binds to fats and proteins and stops you from tasting it.

Research now will pursue whether humans, like mice, have calcium receptors on their tongues. Could this affect how we taste wine?

You may not realize it but there is often calcium in wine. For example, calcium may be found in vineyard soil or calcium carbonate may be used during the fermentation process. If calcium is found to be a sixth flavor, then maybe the calcium content within a wine could have an impact on its taste. So, measuring the amount of calcium in a wine might be very important, especially if certain calcium levels "taste" better than others. Could we eventually see wine reviews talking about the calcium taste of the wine?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beija, Mixologist Jonathan Henson & Great Bay

Have you muddled before?

Last evening, I did a bit of muddling, something which I will admit I rarely have done. But it was fun and the end results were delicious. I am talking about using a muddle, a kind of pestle, to mash and crush some fruit and brown sugar cubes for a cocktail.

Kevin Beardsley and Steve Diforio, who created Beija, began their Art of the Cocktail Series last evening at Great Bay in Boston. This is an opportunity for a small group of people to get some lessons in cocktail creation, using Beija, with the assistance of some of Boston’s finest mixologists. I attended their inaugural event and it went very well and everyone present seemed to have a great time.

I have been a fan of Beija since I first tasted it in January. I love its smoothness and unique herbal flavors. It is a very distinctive liquor and is good just on the rocks or mixed in a cocktail. I found it to be a very versatile liquor, that can mix well with a wide variety of items.

At the Great Bay event, we met Mixologist Jonathan Henson who was to be our guide and instructor. Jonathan was very personable, down to earth and knowledgeable. It was a pleasure to meet him, especially when I saw his passion for mixology.

About ten people attended the event, making for a nice, intimate class. We began tasting The Beekeeper which is made with Beija, Laxas Albarino and Bärenjäger honey liquer. This drink intrigued me as I very much like Laxas Albarino and was curious how it would pair with the Beija. I enjoyed the taste of Beekeeper but found it a bit sweet for my tastes. Though I could easily drink one, it would be too sweet for me to want a second. Though people who enjoy sweeter drinks would very much like this. The flavor of the Beija was noticeable and not hidden by the other ingredients. Plus, I detected some of the good citrus flavor of the Albarino as well.

Jonathan was also nice enough to make a couple precursors to the Beekeeper, to show how the cocktail has changed over time. First, we tried it with just Beija and Lillet, and no honey liquer. I very much enjoyed that cocktail and it is the type of drink I could sit and have a few. We also tried it with just Beija and Laxas Albarino, again with no honey liquer. That too was an excellent combination and I definitely preferred it without the sweetness of the honey liquer. In both of these drinks, the flavors of the Beija were prominent but there was the addition of other, intriguing flavors as well that complemented the Beija. Though these two drinks are not listed on Great Bay's cocktail list, just ask Jonathan, or another bartender, for them and they will make one for you.

While we were sipping cocktails, we were served a diverse selection of delicious appetizers, from halibut tacos to tuna maki. My personal favorite of the evening was the pork belly topped with peach and black truffle. This was a new creation of the chef and it was outstanding. The pork was moist, tender and flavorful and the peach and truffle made an excellent combination. I could have easily wolfed down a dozen of them. It is possible, and I will keep my fingers crossed, that the pork belly with get added to their $1 bar menu.

Next up, we tried the Beija New Fashioned and got to muddle. Our old-fashioned glasses contained Peychaud's bitters, orange slices, cherry preserves, couple brown sugar cubes and a little simple syrup. We then took our wooden muddles and started to crush and mash everything together. The fruit became juice and the sugar eventually dissolved into the liquid. When we felt we had muddled enough, ice and Beija were added to the drink. This was intended to be an update of the traditional Old Fashioned, which usually uses bourbon. This was another winner cocktail, and had been voted on at Great Bay as the best Beija cocktail. I enjoyed the blend of herbal and fruit flavors, the Beija's distinctive taste shining through. It was not too sweet and was quite refreshing. I could easily drink these all night.

The final cocktail of the evening was the Expatriate, a Beija version of a Mai Tai. This is certainly a fitting mix, replacing ordinary rum with Beija. Jonathan also put his own spin on it with some different ingredients such as Ginger Beer and Orgeat, a sweet syrup. I like Mai Tais, though they also sometimes tend to be too sweet. The Expatriate though was not like that. It actually had a strong resemblance to a Mai Tai but with a slightly more herbal taste though I liked it very much. Another top notch cocktail.

Jonathan's cocktails let the flavors of Beija stand out and not get masked by the other ingredients. I think that is very important when you have a liquor with interesting flavors. You don't want to drink just fruit juice. You want the flavors of the liquor to shine through as well, and be complemented by the other ingredients. Jonathan succeeded quite well in that regard.

Here are Jonathan's recipes for the Beija cocktails. Stop by Great Bay and order a couple or see if Jonathan has created something new. If you go, maybe you will see me there too as I will be returning for drinks and food.

Beija Beekeeper
1 oz Beija
1 oz Bärenjäger honey liquer
1.5 oz dry white wine (such as Laxas Albarino)
Combine all the ingredients in a shaker, Stir gently 20-25 times. Strain into a wine glass. Garnish with mint or an edible flower.

Beija New Fashioned
2 oz Beija
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
a wheel of orange
a maraschino cherry
2 brown sugar cubes
a dash of simple syrup
Combine all the ingredients, except Beija, in an old-fashioned glass. Muddle until sugar dissolves. Add ice, top with Beija. Stir and enjoy.

The Expatriate
1.5 oz Beija
1/2 oz orange Curacao
1/2 oz Orgeat
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Ginger Beer
Float of Pimm's No. 1
Combine all ingredients, except Pimm's, in a shaker. Using the back of a bar spoon or the lip of the glass, gently pour Pimm's onto cocktail. Garnish with candied ginger.

I would also recommend that you check out the other upcoming Art of the Cocktail Series events, including September 9 at Vintage Lounge and September 23 at Lobby Bar & Kitchen. This event was a great time, with lots of nice people, delicious food and excellent cocktails. Check out the myriad of possibilities of Beija.

Stoneham Sun: Sei Bar, a New Asian Option

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the August 27 issue issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column has been published today and will soon be available online. The new column is a restaurant review of Sei Bar, a new Sushi, Thai and Asian restaurant in Everett. They also have a second location in Medford. They are an inexpensive place that serves plentiful portions of good food.

I also announce the winner of my First Anniversary contest!

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Dine with passion.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wine Tasting Season

With Labor Day weekend nearly here, summer is almost over and autumn is around the corner. September also begins a significant wine tasting season around here. It is when numerous local wine stores hold large tastings, sometimes with over 100 wines. So many new wines come to the market and you have plenty of choices available.

Wine tasting is still the best way to learn about wine. Especially if you have the opportunity to try a number of different wines together, to compare and contrast styles, grapes, blends, regions and more. When you can attend a wine tasting with 50+ wines, you get that chance to compare and contrast. Maybe you do not like oaked Chardonnay but have you ever tried an unoaked Chardonnay? If not, you might find several Chardonnays at a local tasting so you can compare and contrast the taste with and without oak. You might also get the chance to taste wines made from more unusual grapes, wines you might not normally buy unless you tasted them first.

If you want to learn more about wine, if you want to broaden your wine horizons, then you definitely should check out the large wine tastings that are coming up during the next few months. I will add listings for these tastings to my Events section as soon as I learn about them. I actually already have a few listed, including:

  • September 20: Wine-Sense 2nd Anniversary; Wine-Sense, 166 Main St., Andover,
  • September 25: Salem Wine Expo, $20 prepay/$25 at door; Salem Wine Imports, 32 Church St., Salem,
  • November 8: Fall Grand Tasting. Over 70 wines, beers & cognac; Grapevine Travelers, 18 High St., Medford,

I try to attend many of these events so maybe I will see you there!

2005 Georg Mumelter Griesbauerhof Lagrein

I felt like having an Italian wine last evening so I looked through my cellar and decided on the 2005 Georg Mumelter Griesbauerhof Lagrein ($19). This wine is imported by Adonna Imports and I bought it at the Farfalle Italian Market in Concord.

This wine is from the Alto Adige region. The bottle mentions the Sudtirol which means "South Tyrol" and is old name for the Alto Adige. This region is close to Austria which helps explains the label which seems to be more German than Italian. Georg Mumelter's farm, which is named "Griesbauerhof," is located outside of Bolzano. Bolzano is main of the Alto Adige region.

The 2005 Georg Mumelter Griesbauerhof Lagrein uses the indigenous Italian grape, Lagrein. Said to be a cousin to Syrah, it does share some common characteristics of Syrah as well. Red wine made from Lagrein may also be referred to as Dunkel or Scuro. Like Syrah, Lagrein can be very dark in color and tannic. Lagrein thrives in sandy, alluvial soils such as those around Bolzano.

This wine certainly was dark, a rich, deep purple in color. It had an interesting nose of dark berry with a hint of spice and almost herbal notes. On the palate, there was plenty of dark fruit, including blackberry, blueberry and black cherry. There were spicy undertones that enriched the fruit and just a tinge of herbs. It did not have that really vegetal taste I dislike, more just a sprinkling of intriguing herbs that complemented the wine. ,It had a decently long finish, plenty of acidity and was moderately tannic. Definitely a food wine, and for a hearty dish such as beef.

I enjoyed this wine as it had an overall unique taste to it. All of the flavors melded together well and each provided its own interesting component. For under $20, I recommend it as a Drink and Buy.

Monday, August 25, 2008


This past Saturday morning, I headed to The Beehive for brunch. I guess I missed the notice mentioning that it was not open on Saturdays in August for brunch. Though the website apparently mentions it, there was no sign outside at the restaurant mentioning this fact. Luckily, I only waited fifteen minutes before leaving, figuring something was wrong.

As I walked down Tremont Street, I noticed that Aquitaine was open for brunch. It only took a quick look at their menu to entice me into the restaurant. I also knew that I had previously passed Aquitaine on several Sunday mornings and noticed a good-size crowd at their brunch.

Aquitaine is a French Bistro owned by Executive Chef Seth Woods. It certainly is a comfortable place with leather booths along one wall. The large front windows look out on Tremont Street, making it a great spot for people watching. It was fairly busy for brunch but we were still able to get an immediate table.

The breakfast menu is quite diverse, with a French flair to many items. Get scrambled eggs, eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, Brioche French toast, an omelette, a Croque Monsieur, or much more. There is even a Saturday Prix Fixe Brunch ($9.95). You get a warm house-made cinnamon bun with icing and a choice of one of three entrees (Eggs Piperade, Omelette à la Grecque or an Omelette de la maison). They are served with caramelized onion home fries, seven grain toast, fresh orange or grapefruit juice, and bottomless coffee. The Prix Fixe is certainly a good value.

We all began our meal with their house-made cinammon buns. It was very tasty, with a strong cinammon flavor and a light sweetness from the icing. For my meal, I chose the Baked Mac & Cheese with Gruyere and Sharp Vermont Cheddar ($8.95) as well as a side of Grilled Chorizo Sausage ($3.95). The Mac & Cheese came in a large round bowl and seemed topped with panko, light Japanese bread crumbs. They used elbow macaroni and it was delicious, with a nice taste from the two different cheeses. Excellent comfort food and I saw a few others get it as well. The Chorizo was also delicious, with a delightful spicy flavor. One of the better Chorizos I have had in some time. The Eggs Benedict with Canadian Bacon, Hollandaise & Fines Herbes ($9.95) was also a very good choice, everything prepared just right. The Bacon and Cheese Burger with Frites ($13.95) was a large, thick burger with plenty of bacon and cheese. My nephew thought it was one of the best burgers he has had recently. The frites were delicious too.

Service was excellent. I very much enjoyed their brunch and would definitely return again. There are plenty of other choices on their menu that I would like to try. It is easy to see why Aquitaine is so popular for brunch.

569 Tremont Street
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 424-8577

Aquitaine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Satsuma Hozan Imo Shochu

I had never tasted a shochu before but wanted to know more about them and to start an exploration of the various types of shochu. I am adventurous and always open to trying new wines and liquors. But where to start? I really needed a recommendation from someone, to find a shochu for a beginner like me.

So, during my recent visit to Sakaya in New York City, I asked Hiroko, one of the owners, for a shochu recommendation. They obviously knew their Sake and they carried a number of different bottles of shochu. I wanted something relatively smooth, something to ease my way into the world of shochu. Newbie shochu.

Hiroko recommended the Satsuma Hozan Imo Shochu ($36.99) and I bought a bottle. This shochu is from the Kagoshima Prefecture and made by the Nishi Shuzo brewery. It is made from 83% sweet potato and 17% rice. It is also an otsurui, meaning it had only a single distillation. The shochu has an alcohol content of 25% and they used white koji in the distillation process.

I brought the bottle with me to my local poker game, figuring my buddies would be interested in trying the shochu. Many of them enjoy premium liquors, such as vodka, tequila and scotch, so I felt the shochu would fit in. I chilled the shochu and everyone drank it straight.

I found the shochu to have an aromatic nose, almost like a less expensive tequila or scotch. I think the smell could be a bit strong for some though I had no problem with it. As I have no other comparison, I can't say whether this smell is typical to sweet potato shochu or not, though I am aware sweet potato shochu is aromatic. As for the taste, it is smooth and easy drinking until you get to the finish. The finish is a bit harsher, more like a scotch but without any real burn. You can tell as well that it has a high alcohol content. I found it interesting and did have a few small glasses of it. My friends also generally liked it though none of them raved about it.

I really need to try some more shochu, to get a better baseline for how it should smell and taste. I liked this shochu though I did not find it to be excellent. It was a bit harsher than I prefer my premium liquors. But, I liked it enough to keep trying more shochu. If you have not tried shochu, this is probably a good place to start.

What is Shochu?

Sometimes when you are checking out the Saké selections at a local wine store, you might see a bottle labeled "Shochu" or “Soju.” Is it an exotic version of Saké or something completely different?

Well, Shochu is relatively new to me though I knew what it was. It is not Saké at all though it is sometimes made from rice. It is actually a distilled liquor with about a 25% alcohol content, though it sometimes can be as high as 42% or more. Shochu is often clear in color, like vodka, which it resembles in a few other ways as well. The word shochu is written with the Chinese characters for “fiery liquor.” In Korea, they also make shochu but they call it soju. Some Japanese shochu will be labeled as soju. For most purposes, they are the same thing. The main difference is that nearly all Korean soju is of the koshu type, meaning it has undergone multple distillations.

Shochu probably originated in China or Korea. The first known usage of the term in Japan was around 1559 in Kagoshima, on the island of Kyushu. Shochu is currently very popular in Japan though it is only starting to make some headway in the U.S.

Saké brewing requires relatively lower temperatures but shochu can be distilled in warmer regions. Plus, the higher alcohol content and drier feel of shochu is more appealing to many in milder climates. Health conscious consumers prefer shochu than other types of alcohol because of its low calories, only about 15-20 calories per ounce.

Shochu can be made from any number of ingredients including barley, rice, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, chestnuts, buckwheat, shiso leaf, sesame, and even milk. The most common ingredient is barley, which makes up about 53% of all shochu. About 21% is made from sweet potato though it is considered more for connoisseurs. Dependent on the ingredients and how it is made, shochu can have a wide range of flavors. It can be smooth and light to peaty, earthy and strong.

Here are a few descriptions of different shochu styles.

  • Rice Shochu: This has a fairly thick taste and may have developed in regions that were too warm for Saké production.
  • Barley Shochu: This is generally less distinctive than rice shochu and more easy to drink. But, if it is cask-aged, then the taste can be sharper and stronger.
  • Sweet Potato Shochu: Also called imo-jochu, this is most commonly made in the southern Kyushu region, especially in the Kagoshima Prefecture. Kagoshima is the only prefecture in Japan that does not make Saké. Imo-jochu tends to have a strong taste and a very distinctive smell. The smell can be offputting to some so it was mainly a local product for a long time. Recently though, producers have suppressed some of the aroma and it has become more popular. It does offers complexity and fullness of flavor that appeals to many.
  • Brown Sugar Shochu: This has a mild taste and really does not have much of a sweet taste.
  • Soba or Buckwheat Shochu: This has an even milder taste than barley.

Shochu is generally separated into two categories, dependent on whether it undergoes a single distillation or multiple ones. Otsurui, or otsushu, is distilled once and korui, or koshu, is distilled several times. Otsurui has a more distinctive aroma and flavor. It is more often enjoyed on the rocks. This type may also be referred to as honkaku, or authentic, shochu, because it’s the original style, dating back at least to the 13th or 14th Century. Koshu, as it is lighter and cleaner, is more often mixed in cocktails. Perhaps its most popular form is the "chu-hi," a shochu high ball made using numerous fruit flavors. It can be found in single-serving cans or mixed fresh at bars and pubs. Another way to enjoy either type is known as "oyu-wari," which is simply mixing it with a bit of hot water. This reduces the alcohol flavor, strengthens others flavors and warms the body.

In the distillation process, koji mold is used (which is also used in making Saké). There are three main types of koji mold used: yellow koji, white koji and black koji. The type of koji used will affect the taste of the shochu.

Have you tried shochu before? If so, please share your thoughts about it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Twitter Tasting 2: Another Success!

This past Thursday, the second Twitter Taste Live event, hosted by Bin Ends, took place and it was even a bigger success than the first one. The special guest was Etienne Hugel of Hugel et Fils in Alsace. Etienne was up quite late to participate in this tasting as it must have been at least six hours later in Alsace. For more info about Hugel, you can listen to a podcast with Tim Elliott, Etienne Hugel and Craig Drollett.

There were many wine bloggers, including myself, and many others as well who participated this time. The participants were also from all over the world, including France, Germany, Poland, Puerto Rico, Spain, Australia, and Canada. There may have even been people from a few other countries as well. Such a great showing for a very fun event.

One of the most fascinating elements of this tasting is that you get to hear so many different descriptions of the same wine, showing how people clearly smell and taste wines differently. Where one person smells apricot another might smell banana or another cardamon. Wine truly is an individualized beverage which can affect people in a myriad of ways. This tasting also gave shape to the passion that so many feel for wine, their love for the grape evidence in all they said. It also showed such a commonality of wine lovers all over the world.

Practically, the event ran very smoothly. There were a couple minor blips with Twitter due to overload, but they were very short lived as well as expected on Twitter. We really must thank Etienne for devoting so much time to the tasting and answering all of our questions. These tastings are a great opportunity for a wine maker to get much feedback about their wines, to interact with bloggers who talk about wine all the time. Bin Ends certainly deserves much thanks as well for hosting these events and providing samples of the wines for the tasting.

The wines that were tasted included, with a few of my notes, the following:

2006 Gentil : An intriguing blend, which follows an ancient Alsace tradition, of about five white grapes. Very aromatic on the nose, almost a perfume smell but with some citrus notes. On the palate, it is a crisp wine with flavors of grapefruit, lemon, mineral, and even a touch of spice. At $10.40, this wine is an excellent value providing far more dimension than many similarly priced white wines.

2006 Pinot Blanc: I really loved this wine and it reminded me of a Spanish Albarino. Crisp, refreshing with plenty of delicious citrus flavors. A perfect wine for seafood. Plus, at $13.60, it is another excellent value. We finished this wine on the evening of the tasting.

2006 Gewurztraminer: This wine had a more floral nose combined with spice notes. That spice came out in the taste and the wine had a rich flavor with a touch of sweetness. A perfect wine for spicy foods, from Thai to Indian. Maybe even for a spicy chili.

2004 Riesling Jubilee "Grand Cru": I did not get to taste this wine but those who did loved it. The wine is a bit pricier, at $49 (a discount though from the usual $62), but as so many people raved about its smell and taste, it might very well be worth it.

2001 Gewurztraminer VT: This reminded me of a dessert wine. It had a spicy nose witha touch of apricot. On the palate, it had a rich, thick taste with flavors of apricots, orange and some floral notes. It had some sweetness to it. For those who enjoy Gewurz, this is probably your idea of bliss.

There were plenty of very positive comments about these wines from the other participants. I don't recall anyone having any significant issue with these wines, beyond any personal preference matters. These are well made wines that are likely to please.

You can read some other reviews of the tasting at Smells Like Grape and The Wine Conversation. I may add links to other reviews in the near future.

Stay tuned as the next edition of Twitter Taste Live will be in September. I will post the details once they become available. I strongly urge you to get involved. Sign up now for Twitter (it's free) and get ready for the next Tasting.

236 Wood Road
Braintree, MA
Phone: (781) 817-1212

Lala Rokh: Restaurant Week

After my previous exceptional experiences at Bin 26 Enoteca, I felt that I had to try their other restaurant, Lala Rokh. Lala Rokh was the first restaurant opened by the brother and sister team of Chef Azita Bina-Seibel and Babak Bina. Since its doors opened in 1995, it has received much acclaim and positive press. Lala Rokh was participating in Boston Restaurant Week but their menu was not posted online but I decided to take a chance anyways.

Lala Rokh is a Persian restaurant, offering authentic dishs from various regions, so it is rather unique to the area. It is a rather spacious restaurant, though broken up into several different rooms so it is does not look as large as it does. Plus, the smaller rooms provide a more intimate atmosphere. When we entered the restaurant, Azita Bina-Seibel was at the hostess desk. It is always nice to see the chefs and owners at their restaurants.

They have a full list of cocktails and wines, including some with a Persian flair. The wine list is interesting and seems reasonably priced with plenty of bottles under $40. We chose a bottle of Domaine du Pegau Plan Pegau Rouge ($36), a simple Rhone style blend. It was a good wine, easy drinking and went well with much of the food we ate.

As for the food menu, there were many interesting dishes but many were not to my preference as they had too many vegetables. That certainly does not mean the food is not good, it is just not my preferred cuisine. But if you really like veggies, then you will likely enjoy this place.

My wife ordered off the Restaurant Week menu. She started with a salad of bitter greens, cucumber and tomato topped by a vinaigrette. Everything was fresh and she enjoyed it very much. I chose not to start with an appetizer.

For an entree, I had the Kebab E Bareh ($23), which had pieces of roasted lamb, a ground lamb sausage, a small pile of Basmati rice and grilled veggies. The lamb was excellent, tender and flavorful. My wife enjoyed the grilled veggies. She had a veal entree, a slow cooked dish mixed with spices, veggies and rice. The veal pieces were very tender and had an excellent taste. She thoroughly enjoyed the entire dish.

For dessert, she had a type of custard with rose water, strawberries and almonds. Again, my wife enjoyed the dessert though it was not my style.

Lala Rokh has very good cuisine, but make sure that you enjoy the style of the cuisine. Though it is not my preference, I still would recommend it, especially as it is a rather unique place.

Lala Rokh
97 Mt. Vernon Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-720-5511

Lala Rokh on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 22, 2008

Boston Restaurant Week Extended!

Boston Restaurant Week, which was supposed to end tonight, August 22, is going to be extended by at least a week for over 65 of the participating restaurants. So there is still time to make reservations and check out some new restaurants. With three-course lunches at $20.08 and dinnrs at $33.08, you may be able to dine inexpensively and get an excellent meal. Check out my prior post for more details.

Also check out the list of restaurants extending their participation to see which ones are participating and for how much longer.

Beija’s Art of the Cocktail Series

Have you tried Beija yet? Beija is a new Brazilian Cachaca, also known as a virgin cane rum, that I think is great just on the rocks or mixed in any number of cocktails.

Come check out Beija’s Art of the Cocktail Series. On the second and fourth Tuesday of every month a small group of guests will receive an exclusive, hands-on lesson in cocktail creation from one of Boston’s finest mixologists.

As part of Beija’s commitment to helping Brazil’s poorest children, 100% of your reservation price will be donated to the ABC Trust.

Learn to make original cocktails, meet new people and enjoy gourmet food and drink. Reservations are first come first serve and will be limited to 20. Visit Beija to make reservations.

I will be there for their inaugural event at Great Bay on 8/26 from 6-7pm. Mixologit Jonathan Henson will be creating a Beija Old Fashioned. Hope to see you there!

Pignone’s Café: A New Steak House Is Coming

Pignone’s Café, in Stoneham, is an excellent place for breakfast or a burger for lunch. It is a nice local place where you will end up seeing many Stoneham residents. I have met many different people there, some who I had not seen in years. The food is very good and reasonably priced. And now they are expanding.

At the end of next month (provided everything goes well), Pignone's Cafe will start opening for dinner as a steak house. The menu is not yet set but it will concentrate on meat, with a few non-meat entrees as well. you will find steaks of all cuts, pork, sausage, and maybe lamb. They have acquired a liquor license as well, and have a small bar already set up. They will serve beer, wine and hard liquor. They will also have a few large screen TVs for your viewing pleasure.

I look forward to their new menu and will report again once I have more details. And don't despair, as Pignone's will continue to sell breakfast and lunch too.

Pignone’s Café
319 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: (781) 279-0131

Bistro 5: Restaurant Week

One of my choices for Restaurant Week was Bistro 5 in Medford. Their menu choices looked very interesting, one of the better ones I saw, and I only live about six miles from the restaurant. Yet I had never been there before. After my dinner there the other night, I will be making many more trips to Bistro 5.

Bistro 5 is an Italian restaurant owned by Chef Vittorio Ettore. It actually is a spacious restaurant, though divided into a few different rooms. It has a casual ambiance with an interesting decor that seems to provide a more intimate atmosphere as well. For a Wednesday night, even during Restaurant Week, the restaurant was very busy, nearly full. That usually bodes well.

Our server turned out to be someone I knew, Angus, who also works for Vineyard Road, a fine wine distributor. I had recently met Angus at the Scholium Project wine tasting. He was an excellent server, personable, knowledgeable and attentive. I watched him handling his other tables and he evidenced all those qualities to everyone. And he certainly knows his wines.

Before our food started to arrive, we were brought a basket of warm, fresh bread with some oil and a chickpea spread. As I have said repeatedly, I love warm bread and think it is such a good way to start off a meal. This bread was delicious!

We chose to get the wine pairings with our meals, and it only cost $22 extra for three glasses of wine, one for each course. They have an interesting wine list and we even able to make some changes if you desired. For example, our server offered an Italian red wine rather than the white wine that went with the Rabbit Ravioli course, a change I much appreciated. We had some excellent wines with dinner and were very glad we chose the wine pairings as it allowed us to try several different wines.

We began our first course with the Calamari and Peach Risotto selections. The Calamari was semolina-coated fried squid with a sweet and spicy chutney of cherry tomatoes, ginger, champagne vinegar and a touch of honey. My wife really liked the squid and the chutney was very tasty with a mice melange of flavors. The Peach Risotto had Gorgonzola, Prosciutto di Parma & mint oil. I was intrigued by the description of this dish but a bit wary how the peach would be with a risotto. But the dish was superb! Every flavor melded together beautifully and I greedily devoured it. There were good-sized pieces of peach in the risotto but their sweetness just complemented the creamy rice. My wife and I were impressed with the first course.

For the second course, we chose the Veal Milanese and the Rabbit Ravioli. The Veal was breaded with pistachio crumbs and parmigiano served over sage-garlic mashed potatoes, escarole, shallots and a porcini demi-glace. An excellent dish with tender and flavorful veal. It was topped with crisp carrot slices which were quite intriguing and delicious. The potatoes were quite delicious too. A top notch dish that continued to impress. The Rabbit Ravioli came with shaved Pecorino Toscano, golden cherry tomatoes & Tuscan kale. The Ravioli was superb! Such a savory taste, with buttery flavors, some creaminess and fresh pasta. Each bite was decadently delicious.

For dessert, we had a Chocolate Pot de Creme and the Duet of Sorbets. The Chocolate was a creamy, rich chocolate blend that would be sure to please any chocolate lover. The Sorbet included a peach sorbet and a berry one. Both were very fruity and flavorful, the scoops sandwiched between light, crispy cookies and with a fruity sauce on the side. An excellent ending.

Bistro 5 very much impressed me, especially for Restaurant Week. The food is absolutely delicious and the chef has created some intriguing dishes. I will be back very soon to try out their regular menu and I highly recommend you check out the restaurant as well. They have three and five course tasting menus which would be a good way to see the range of the chef. And much of what was on the Restaurant Week menu is on their regular menu too. Mmm..maybe I will be back there next week.

Bistro 5
5 Playstead Road
Medford, MA
Phone: 781-395-7464

Bistro 5 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Beehive's Honky-Tonk Hoedown

Polish your boots and belt buckles and come on in’ for The Beehive's Honky-Tonk Hoedown on Wednesday, September 10, beginning at 5:30pm.

The evening is a collaborative effort by both The Beehive, and the Boston-based country music label Cow Island Music. The Beehive will get a themed makeover of music and fare including performances by Cow Island Music artists Preacher Jack kicking off the evening’s festivities at 8:00pm, followed by the Massachusetts-based country sensation Girl Howdy at 9:30pm. Rounding out the evening between sets and until the cows come home will be DJ Easy Ed spinning country hits so y’all can line dance your achy-breaky hearts out.

Tie it all together with a la carte dinner specials by head chow line buckaroo Executive Chef Rebecca Newell providing such down home fare as:

Cat Fish Nuggets with Tartar sauce ($7)
Basket of Chili Rubbed Chicken wings ($8)
Rack of BBQ country style baby back Ribs with baked beans, biscuits and cole slaw ($22)
Pan-fried Rocky Mt Trout with Hazelnut brown butter, creamed corn & collard green ($21)
Comfort Apple pie and Chantilly cream ($7)
Deep fried Snickers bar on a stick and ice cream ($7)

What country themed night would be completed without firewater specials such as:

Brokeback Mountain ($10.50) which is: Basil Hayden Bourbon, Peach liquor, Mumm Napa
The Granddad Old Fashion ($9.50) which is: Old Granddad Bourbon, Angostura bitters, Maraschino Cherry
The Urban Cowboy Shot ($10.50) which is: Baker’s Bourbon, and Godiva Chocolate Liquor.

For those hardcore cowpokes let us make you a bourbon special to your liking using: Baker's 7 year, Basil Hayden 8 year, Booker's 7 year or Knob Creek 9 year which will be sure to put a kick in your step!

Reserve your table for some feedbag at 617-423-0069 or just join the herd at the bar for a true hoedown! Dinner Service begins at 5:30pm, Live Music Begins at 8:00pm, and they are open until 2:30am!

The Beehive
541 Tremont St.
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-423-0069

Eastern Standard: Dinner at the Bar

While driving through Kenmore Square, I was considering grabbing a burger at Uburger. It was still a bit early for dinner time, before 5pm, so some of the other restaurants in the square were not yet open. But I caught out of the corner of my eye that there were people sitting outside on the patio in front of Eastern Standard. I have never been there but had heard some good things about the restaurant. So I decided to give it a try.

I chose to skip the large outside patio area and sit in the bar area. Their main restaurant area was not yet open. The bar is named the Ann Corio Lounge & Porch, after a famous burlesque dancer and a picture of her hangs in the lounge. This is a very comfortable and compelling lounge, with marble tables and red leather couches. The bar is over forty feet long and seats 22 people. The lounge can be an intimate area, perfect for couples, though it is also conducive to large groups. The rest of the restaurant gives off a very hip vibe, a good fit for Kenmore Square.

There is an extensive list of cocktails though I chose to check out their wine list by the glass. There were about 15-20 choices with about eight different Roses available. I love a good Rose during the summer so it was nice to see so many choices. The wines by the glass ranged from about $7-$14 though they had a special on Roses where you could try two for $10. The sounded good to me so I began with a 2007 Skylark Pink Belly Rose from Mendocino and a 2005 Ramian "Highland Vineyard" Rose from Napa.

My server, Melissa, brought the wine bottles to my table and poured the wine into my glasses. It was a generous pour and thus a very good value for $10. The Skylark was a fruity Rose with a lovely nose and a very good taste. It is definitely a more New World Rose. The Ramian was a very different Rose, a more full bodied wine with more of a taste of apricots and even herbal notes. But then it is a little older of a Rose. It went well though with my food.

I did order a couple more Roses later on during my meal, including a 2007 Lanier Zweigelt Rose and and Gamay Rose (the name escaping me). The Zweigelt was pure pleasure, an Old World Rose with plenty of subtle flavor and complexity. The Gamay Rose did not thrill me as much, seemingly a tinge bitter.

The bar food menu has of appetizers and sandwiches, priced from $5-$19 with an average of about $10. I decided to start with the Steak Tartare ($12), which is a dish I usually enjoy very much. When it came to my table, the Tartare looked like a thick, raw hamburger as it was compressed into a round patty. All of the spices and ingredients were already mixed into the meat. It was accompanied by small, thin slices of baguette and a few cornichons. Plus, it came with a side of french fries. That was a good amount of food for the price, the fries being a nice extra. I smeared the Tartare on the baguettes and savored the tasty meat. A very good Tartare. The fries were thin and cripsy on the outside, with a fluffy interior. I definitely enjoyed them as well. All in all, a very tasty dish and a good value.

I then decided on the Baked Raclette ($10). This creamy cheese included pieces of Sauternes poached-apples which added a nice sweetness to the dish. Plus it came with several long slices of warmed baguette, perfect for smearing the cheese atop. The bread was very good and I almost wanted to scrape the dish clean to get all of the cheese. Another very tasty dish!

During my meal, the restaurant opened so I was able to order off of their regular menu. I just wanted one more appetizer and decided on the Crispy Frog Legs ($11) with a smoked butter sauce and fennel slaw. I know that many people get squeamish about frog legs, especially when you see them on a plate as they look exactly like frog legs. There is no concealing what they are. But they are tasty, and yes and they do kind of share a taste like chicken. You definitely should get past your fright and try them. When cooked right, they are very delicious. And these frog legs were done well. They were meaty and moist with a nice crispy coating. A good choice.

I still had a bit of room left so I checked out the dessert menu. The Beignets ($7) sounded good to me. There were five small beignets that looked like fluffy, fried pillows. They had a bourbon caramel sauce on them and there was a dish of coffee cream for dipping. Decadently delicious and a fitting ending to an excellent dinner.

Service was very good. Overall, this was a very good introduction to Eastern Standard and I will definitely return. The food is delicious, very reasonably priced and I enjoyed the wines as well. I recommend you check it out as well. Check it out before or after a Red Sox game. Have a drink there after work. Or while away a summer afternoon on their patio.

Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-532-9110

Eastern Standard on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Boston Wine Writers: Initial Meeting

Last evening, the newly formed Boston Wine Writers met for the first time at Jonathon Alsop's Boston Wine School. Currently, the group is rather informal and meets once a month.

The basic idea is to give wine writers a place to meet each other, exchange ideas and contacts, discuss story ideas, critique each other's work and more. It is free to attend and everyone is welcome to come, not just wine writers. Jonathon states: "As long as you have a passion for good wine writing, it doesn't matter whether you're a published writer, editor, sales rep, importer, restaurateur, blogger, PR person, publisher, wine lover, whatever: you're invited!"

There were nine people at last night's meeting, including five with wine blogs. Some of the attendees included Dale of Drinks Are On Me, Tyler of The Second Glass, Cathy of 365 Days of Wine, and Callie of The Crushed Grape Report. Jonathon provides some food, cheese and snacks for us, and a few other attendees brought some wine and food too. It was a very pleasant and relaxed meeting.

We spent some time talking about ourselves, sharing our backgrounds and current work with wine and wine writing. This led to various discussions about wine, writing, blogging, and much more. Callie also brought a wine article for us to critique. The meeting was a good opportunity to network and discuss relevant issues. I am sure the number of attendees will grow and there will be even greater opportunities. I am sure as well that more people will bring wine articles for critiques.

The current schedule for meetings is:
September 16, 6:30-8:30pm
October 20, 6:30-8:30pm
November 24, 6:30-8:30pm
There will be no meeting in December.

You do not have to attend every meeting. Just come whenever you want. I would encourage all local bloggers and wine writers to come join the Boston Wine Writers. The group can benefit all of us. Though I cannot attend the September meeting, I should be there for the October meeting so I hope to see many more people there.

Stoneham Sun: Chilling With Sake

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the August 20 issue issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column has been published today and will soon be available online. The new column covers some basics of Japanese Sake, especially the wide variety of chilled Sakes that can be found. No matter what type of wine you might like, there is probably a similar style of Sake that would also appeal to you. So take a chance on chilled Sake. And forget any bad memories you have of drinking hot Sake!

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Dine with passion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Riesling: The Next Big White Grape

What will be the next big grapes? Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 gave her own thoughts on that question over at Serious Eats. Though she chose Petite Sirah as the next big red grape, she had more difficulty in selecting a white grape. She was unsure whether Pinot Grigio or Riesling could become that big grape. In my own comment to her post, I thought that Albarino might become the next big white grape. No one really commented that Riesling might actually be the big grape.

So I was rather surprised last evening, while perusing the lastest copy of WineS Magazine (Sept.2008). There was a short article about the rise of Riesling. It states that Riesling is the "fastest-growing white wine varietal for the third straight year." In the period of May 3, 2007 to May 3, 2008, it was also the "second-fastest growing of all varietals, second to pinot noir." Sales of Riesling have increased 54% over the past three years.

Those are certainly impressive figures and they make me think that Riesling is posed to be the next big white grape. I did a little more digging though on the issue.

Wine Business Monthly (11/15/06) had an earlier article about the rise of Riesling that places it in a bit more perspective. Riesling is "the fourth-largest white wine sold" in the U.S. Between November 2003 and August 2006, Riesling sales increased by 72%. Only Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir had stronger growth rates. Since November 2003, imported Riesling sales have grown by 155% and domestic sales by 40%.

The article also stated: "Sales of Riesling are so strong that some believe the varietal may eventually challenge Sauvignon Blanc's place as the third-largest white varietal sold in food stores. While Sauvignon Blanc sales are currently double that of Riesling, the growth rate is only about two-thirds that of Riesling. If these growth rates were to continue, Riesling sales would, indeed, eventually surpass Sauvignon Blanc."

So it seems that Riesling has been showing steady and significant growth from at least 2003. With such growth, I would have to say that Riesling is already the next big grape and will only get bigger in the near future.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Food & Wine Events This Week!

There are a few food & wine events coming up this week that might be of interest to you. I will be paticipating in all of these events.

1) Boston Wine Writer's Group: Jonathon Alsop of the Boston Wine School has started a new Boston Wine Writer's Group and its first meeting with be held Tuesday, August 19, at 6:30pm. Jonathon states: "As long as you have a passion for good wine writing, it doesn't matter whether you're a published writer, editor, sales rep, importer, restaurateur, blogger, PR person, publisher, wine lover, whatever: you're invited!" Check out my prior post for more details.

2) Twitter Taste Live: This Thursday, August 19 at 7pm, Bin Ends is hosting their second Twitter Taste Live event. The special guest will be Etienne Hugel of Hugel et Fils in Alsace. And he will be joining us live from Alsace." The co-host for this Twitter Tasting will be Tim Elliot of There will be plenty of other wine bloggers, including myself, who will be participating as well. Check out my prior post for more details.

3) Boston Restaurant Week: Restaurant Week continues this week until Friday, August 22, so there is still time to make reservations and check out some new restaurants. With three-course lunches at $20.08 and dinenrs at $33.08, you may be able to dine inexpensively and get an excellent meal. Check out my prior post for more details.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo

I recently opened another bottle of Saké from the case I recently bought at Sakaya in New York City. The Naraman Muroka Bin Hiire Junmai had been a winner so I hoped that the other Saké I had bought would be at least as equally as good. I was not disappointed in the new bottle I tried.

The Kokuryu Junmai Ginjo ($33.99 for 720ml) is from the Chubu region of the Fukui Prefecture. The Saké name, Kokuryu, translates as "Black Dragon."  The dragon name derives from the nearby Kuzu-ryo river (the "Nine-headed Dragon" river). The rice used for production is known as "Gohyaku Mangoku," which roughly translates as "five million bushels."  This rice is a big-grained rice variety that is only produced in the Fukui Prefecture. The rice for this Saké was polished to 55% and it has an alcohol content of 15-16%. It also has a Saké Meter Value of +3, which means it is slightly dry.

This Saké is supposed to be rich in Umami flavors. And what is umami? It was once thought that we could only taste four flavors: sweet, sour, bitter and salty. But eventually it was discovered that there is a fifth flavor, umami. Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist isolated this flavor, finding that glutamic acid could not be truly described by the existing four flavors. the name "umami" derives from the Japanese words "umai" (which means "delicious") and "mi" (which means "essence."). We usually describe the taste of umami as meaty, savory or delicious. Some foods rich in umami include parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce and scallops. Saké can also possess umami in varying degrees.

The Kokuryu had a mild aroma, a touch of steamed rice with underlying hints of fruit, maybe a bit of melon. Yet when I tasted it, the flavor first exploded across my palate. This was a rich and full-bodied Saké with definite umami flavors. My first thought upon tasting this was "Wow! This is incredibly delicious." But I also found it to be a very smooth Saké that caressed my palate, seducing it with a complex melange of flavors including touches of fruit, rice and nuts. It has a very satisgying finish too. This has to be one of the best Sakés I have tasted in some time.

Overall, this was an exceptional Saké though again, it is probably not one for someone new to Saké. This would also make a good pairing with rich foods, including grilled meat. At its price, I consider this an excellent value and it would get my highest recommendations.

Next Sunday, I will review my first Shochu!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Le Patissier: More Photos

Here are some more photos from my recent visit to Le Patissier. Enjoy and please don't salivate on your keyboard.

Le Patissier

As I recently mentioned, Troquet has now opened Le Patissier, a new desserterie on their first floor. I had the fortunate opportunity to check out Le Patissier at a special dessert tasting this past week. After my exquisite dinner upstairs, I was hopeful to be impressed once again.

At the helm of Le Patissier is Pastry Chef Sarah Woodfine, formerly of The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport. I was able to speak a little with Sarah and it was quickly obvious that she was a passionate person. She is doing what she loves and that passion is leading to extraordinary concoctions. She takes great care in the creation of her pastries and desserts and is rightfully proud of her work. Basically everything is made from scratch, including her ice creams and sauces. So, you are not getting some pre-made or boxed dessert here.

The baking area is open so that you can watch Sarah work her magic. Though Le Patissier specializes in desserts, they have several savory items on their menu as well, more casual dining items yet clearly interesting. You might try the Summer Corn Bisque ($6.75--which is the same as the delicious Crab & Corn Bisque I had for dinner except without the Crab), the Mini Lobster Tacos ($11.75), or the Cubano Panino ($8.75).

The desserts are separated into Classics, Seasonal, Chocolate and Tastings. Please note that some of the items on the menu will change, especially the seasonal items. You can also order a Three Course Dessert Tasting ($24) or a selection of three or six Cheeses ($13/$24). Each dessert also has a recommended wine, including ports, sherries and sauternes.

Classics has such dishes as Vanilla Brulee with sour cherry & blueberry ($9.75) and Cookies & Cream, an assortment of gourmet cookies, fresh berries and a malted vanilla milkshake ($10.75). The Seasonal section has an item that particularly enticed me, the Honey Crisp Peach Souffle ($11.75) and you can find a Dark Chocolate Souffle with salted caramel ice cream ($11.75) under the Chocolate section. The Chocolate Tasting ($13.75) gives you Souffle, Fondant Cake and a Truffle Tart. I think there are plenty of choices on their menu which should please everyone.

For the dessert tasting, Pastry Chef Sarah Woodfine laid out about ten plates filled with chocolates and pastries. I have provided a couple pictures of some of the concoctions and will add another post of pictures as well. It was certainly a diverse selection of delectables and I enjoyed everything I tasted. The chocolate items were very rich and creamy. The cookies were flavorful and mostly seemed fairly light. A nice accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. Everyone else at the tasting was enjoying the desserts too.

I even got to try some chilled strawbery soup (which is on their menu together with a strawberry shortcake). It came in a small martini glass, rimmed with sugar, and with pieces of strawberry in it. I found this particularly delicious.
I cannot fail to mention the cheeses we got to try as well. There were almost twelve different cheeses available with crackers, a veritable smorgasbord for cheese lovers. I have been on a cheese kick for months now, often opting for cheese plates rather than dessert. And this was an excellent selection, from creamy soft cheeses to a harder Manchego. I am sure that if you order the cheeses off the menu, they come with a full assortment of accoutrements.

Though New York City has a number of desserteries, Boston has not yet really gotten onto that wagon. There is Finales, which has several locations, but Le Patissier is a worthy alternative. I think La Patissier provides a more intimate atmosphere and has a passionate pastry chef who is truly working to create excellence. As I will return to Troquet for dinner, I will be sure to make a stop at Le Patissier as well. I recommend you check it out as well.

Le Patissier
140 Boylston Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-695-9463

Troquet: An Exquisite Dinner

Some restaurants get known for a particular thing yet that can cloud the other positive qualities of that restaurant. For example, Troquet is most known for its intriguing and reasonably priced wine list. Yet I think their food deserves equal billing, at least based on the exquisite dinner I had there recently.

Troquet is French slang for "small wine cafe." The restaurant is located across from the Boston Common, actually the part which is a historical graveyard. It is close to the theater district and not far from Beacon Hill either. Troquet has two floors and the restaurant is located on the second floor. The first floor has a small bar as well as La Patissier, a new desserterie (which I talk about about in more detail in another post).

The restaurant area is elegant without being pretentious. There is an open kitchen at one end of the restaurant, near the stairs, while the other end has large windows that look over the Boston Common. I was seated at the window and had a very nice view, despite the fact there was some scaffolding up.

Their cuisine is primarily French with some American influence. The menu, which changes seasonally, has about ten appetizers and nine entrees. You also have the option of a five or seven course tasting menu. On the evening I dined, there were also two entree specials. One of the first things you will notice about the menu is that it is a bit pricey. This is a high-end restaurant and the food is not inexpensive. Entrees average $16 and entrees $36. But do not let the prices deter you.

In between the listings for the appetizers and entrees are 57 wines available by the glass, quite an extensive and diverse list. The wines are available in 2 or 4 ounce pours and are matched to the different dishes. You certainly do not have to follow their wine recommendations, but you certainly won't regret it if you do. They also have a separate list of wines available by the bottle. The prices on the wines are very reasonable, probably some of the smallest mark-ups in the city.

As an example, they carry the 2005 Sine Qua Non, a difficult to obtain cult wine from California. At local wine stores, the retail price for this wine ranges from $150-$350, averaging about $250. At Troquet, they sell a bottle for only $169!!! That is a steal at that price. Some of their least expensive wines have a higher markup but overall you won't find too many other restaurants with comparable or lesser prices. The kudos they receive for their wine list are well deserved. Plus, with all the money you save on their wines, then the food prices don't seem as high.

I decided I would just order some appetizers, to create my own tasting menu of sorts. Before my meal began to arrive, a server brought me a fresh, warm roll with butter. The bread was excellent and I had a couple more rolls over the course of my meal. Warm bread may not seem like much of a big deal with it certainly puts me in a good mood when I am at a restaurant. And I know plenty of others who savor a hot roll with dinner. So why don't more restaurants serve warm bread? That is a mystery for another day.

My server had no problem with staggering my appetizers so that I received only one at a time. That ensured I could devote my full attention to each appetizer while it was still hot.

First up was the Maine Crab & Corn Bisque, with a crab souffle, red bliss potatoes and chive blossoms. The corn was from a local farm. This was a fantastic bisque, a light creamy broth with sweet crab meat and tiny pearl-sized bits of potatoes. The crab souffle sat in the middle of the bowl and was absolutely delicious, crisp on the exterior and light and fluffy inside. A very impressive dish and a very positive start to my dinner. I chose to have a glass of Burgundy with the bisque, the 2005 Jean-Claude Boisset from the Mercurey region. I enjoyed the wine very much, a fruitier, more modern style Burgundy.

My second appetizer was the Crispy Duck Confit with Puy lentils, marcona almonds and rhubarb aigre-doux. Again, another excellent dish with a perfectly cooked duck. The outer skin was crispy and the meat was tender and juicy. There was also plenty of delicious meat on the small bone. There were some greens to the side with shredded pieces of duck in what seemed a tasty vinaigrette. The Puy lentils are like tiny peas but had more of a nutty taste to them. For the duck, I moved on to a glass of 2006 St. Cosme Cotes du Rhone, another very good wine.

Next, I tried the Short Rib Canneloni, with aromatic vegetables, smoked bacon and parmesan broth. This might have been my favorite dish of the evening. The canneloni seemed to be homemade and it was rolled around plenty of tender and flavorful short rib meat, with a few pieces of veggies inside. The broth was delicious, with a buttery flavor to it and the tiny smoked bacon pieces added to the enjoyment of this dish. I almost wanted to ask for another dish of this because it was so exceptional. All of the ingredients worked so well together.

I finished my meal with their Duo of Hudson Valley Foie Gras with pistachio, honey crisp peaches and pickled cherries. It also came with four large pieces of grilled/toasted Brioche that was incredibly light and buttery. Just the perfect accompaniment to the Foie. Though I could have devoured the Broiche on its own as well. One Foie was the traditional piece atop some of the cherries pieces and was smooth, silky and everything good Foie should be. The other Foie was like a pate, made into a cylinder with the peach slices. That Foie was more spreadable and also quite excellent. A very decadent dish that I paired with 2005 Royal Takaji, Ats Cuvee, from Hungary. A nice sweet wine that fully complemented the rich Foie.

The presentation of all of the dishes was very nice. Overall, the food was exceptional and well worth the price. All of the dishes contained very complementary ingredients that worked together well. I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner and can't wait to return to try some of their other dishes. Service was equally as good as the food. My servers were attentive, personable and accomodating. Troquet gets my highest recommendation and I hope you check it out.

140 Boylston Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-695-9463

(Update 8/18/08): The Boston Globe Sunday magazine had an article on fresh corn at restaurants and Troquet's Maine Crab & Corn Bisque was mentioned.

Troquet on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 15, 2008

2006 Pelter Winery Trio

I don't have much familiarity with wines from Israel but have tried a few in the past, including recently a 2005 Galil Mountain Rosé which I very much enjoyed. The Rosé was particularly interesting as I did not know they grew Sangiovese in Israel. Most of the Israeli wines available in my area are also Kosher wines. I am still hoping to find an Israeli Pinotage.

I recently posted about a new online wine store, Israeli Wine Direct, which focuses on hand-selected, artisanal, mostly non-kosher wines from Israel. They even have their own blog. As most wine stores carry few, if any, Israeli wines, Israeli Wine Direct expands your options. I received a couple of samples from them and recently opened one.

The 2006 Pelter Winery Trio ($28.99) is from the from Galilee region of Israel. Pelter Winery was established in 2002 by Tal Pelter, who learned much about wine making in Australia. Initially it was located on a family farm in Moshav Zofit. It soon became apparent they needed a larger facility and chose a location at Kibbutz Merom Golan. But, temporarily, the winery was established on Kibbutz Ein Zivan, adjacent to Merom Golan. The winery's grapes come from the Golan, the Upper Galilee and the Jerusalem Mountains.

The winery produces two main categories of wine: the Pelter series, which are quality wines at reasonable prices, and the T-Selection series, limited edition & exceptional wines. So the 2006 Trio is one of their value wines.

The 2006 Trio is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. the grapes were hand picked and the wine spent about 14 months in French oak barrels. It has and alcohol content of 14.5% and about 870 cases were produced. I paired this wine with some lightly seasoned steak tips.

The wine is fairly dark red in color with a mild nose of spice and black cherry. It was medium-bodied with an interesting taste of spice, black cherry, blackberry and a hint of herbs. I definitely think the Cabernet Franc makes itself noticeable. The tannins were moderate and the wine had a long and spicy finish. It went well with the steak tips. I do think this wine is ready to drink now though it probably could mature for a few years as well. This is a wine I would recommend as a Drink & Buy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Melting Pot: Park Plaza

A new Melting Pot restaurant will open on August 14 in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. This will be their third Massachusetts location. I am a fan of their Burlington/Bedford location so was pleased to see they were opening a Boston location.

I had a chance the other evening to see the new restaurant. The main entrance from the street leads first to the bar area. As you can see above, the bar has a very modern look and will carry a full selection of wines, beers and liquors, including many different Martinis. The bar here though is different from their other Massachusetts locations as there are actually a few grills on the bar. Thus, you can order fondue at the bar.

Starting in the bar area, and along part of the side of the restaurant, there are a number of booths with windows facing the outside. You can dine here and people watch at the same time. You also won't feel confined in these booths either. The basic booth has like a marble top with the central grill plate. There are larger tables, with two grill plates, for larger parties. All in all, the restaurant can hold about 200 people. There is also a function room which can hold about 36 guests.

Like the other locations, this one has a Lover's Lane section, secluded booths for two that provide a more intimate ambiance. These are great for dates or special occasions when you just want to feel more private. Thus this location caters to all types of diners, from large families to intimate couples. It certainly feels like a large place with plenty of booths everywhere.

The restaurant has a hipper, more urban style than the other Massachusetts locations. Though the area around the Park Plaza has plenty of restaurants, the Melting Pot offers a unique alternative to the other cuisines available.

I had the opportunity to taste some of their food as well, and all of it was delicious and high quality. They had a new cheese fondue, a Boston Lager, that had an interesting taste, but without a strong beer flavor. Even had a couple glasses of Folie A Deux Menage a Trois Rose, a delicious, dry wine with nice strawberry flavors.

You should check out this new Melting Pot, though you better make reservations as I expect it will be busy, especially as it just opens next week.

At the Boston Park Plaza Hotel
76 Arlington Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-357-7007

Melting Pot - a Fondue Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Braai: South African Restaurant

On my last trip to New York City, I visited Xai Xai, a South African wine bar. Besides wine, they serve an assortment of appetizers. They have decided though to expand their repoirtoire and have now opened Braai, a South African restaurant. It is described as a BBQ Bar and Grill.

Though the website does not yet list their menu, they will carry items such as sosaties, peri-peri, slap chips, venison steaks, ribs and more. They should have several different types of wild game meat available, such as antelope and ostrich. The restaurant is located about 250 feet up the block from Xai Xai.

The idea for this restaurant definitely intrigues me and I may make a stop there on my next trip to New York City.

329 West 51st (Hell's Kitchen)
Phone: 212-315-3315

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sei Bar

While driving down Broadway in Everett, I noticed a new restaurant, Sei Bar, where Antoinetta's used to be located. Sei Bar is a Sushi, Thai and Asian restaurant so I decided to stop by for dinner one evening and give it a try. I would later find out that they have a Medford location as well.

The Everett location is small and can only fit about sixteen people. It is a casual place with an Asian decor. Their menu is fairly large and includes: Japanese appetizers, Thai appetizers, soups, salads, Japanese entrees, Thai entrees, Noodles and Rice dishes, Chef's Specials, Sushi, Sashimi and Maki rolls. You will find much that is familiar as well as a few different items too. With all the choices available, you should easily be able to find something you like.

We chose to get some appetizers, sushi and a couple of entrees, to get a feel for their food. We started our meal with some miso soup, which comes with the entrees. It was lukewarm though it was otherwise good. The Gyoza (8 for $5.50) were excellent, perfectly fried and filled with lots of tasty meat and veggies. Plus, you got more Gyoza than most other places serve. The Beef Kushiyaki (small $6) were pieces of beef with teriyaki sauce, just like they had Beef Teriyaki, taken them off the skewers and cut them into pieces. The bowl contained plenty of meat, especially for a small, and they were delicious.

The Popcorn Tuna ($7) was a more unusual dish. It contained a large bowl of fried pieces of tuna. I could not believe the amount we received for the price. And they were very good, with an interesting spicy batter and tender tuna. I was disappointed with the Shrimp Tempura ($7) though. The Shrimp could have been bigger and the batter was too heavy and thick, not the way tempura should be. The veggie tempura did contain very fresh veggies but the batter was still too heavy. For sushi, I tried some Maguro (tuna-$4.80), Unagi (eel-$5.10) and Tamago (egg omelet-$3.10). The sushi was fresh enough and tasted good though a bit smaller than some other places.

For main dishes, we tried the Chicken Pad Thai ($8.20) and General Gao's Chicken ($11.20). Both dishes were good sized and very tasty. My wife very much enjoyed the Pad Thai. The General Gao's tended toward the spicy, which I enjoy, but still with some sweetness. One of the better General Gao's I have had in some time.

Service was good, though they did bring out too many dishes at once rather than spacing them out better. As this is a new restaurant though, some allowances have to be made. Overall, many of the dishes are good-sized, reasonably priced and delicious. There were a couple less than stellar items but may be they wil improve over time. I would return again to try some of their other dishes, and maybe even their lunch specials. It is worth checking out.

Sei Bar
918 Broadway
Everett, MA
Phone: 617-381-1880

182 Main St.
Medford, MA
Phone: 781-391-4363

Sei Bar on Urbanspoon

Stoneham Sun: Charles Street Trek

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the August 13 issue issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column has been published today and will soon be available online. The new column discusses a foodie trek down Charles Street in Boston. Check out restaurants, bakeries, wine stores, markets, a chocolate shop and more. It is a great way to spend a sunny day, wandering down the street, exploring all the foodie finds.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Dine with passion.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Blue Room: Restaurant Week

Boston Restaurant Week has begun! You now have the opportunity to try three-course lunches ($20.08) and dinners ($33.08) at over 170 participating restaurants. I have made several reservations at local restaurants and went to my first this past Sunday evening.

I had never been to The Blue Room but it came recommended so I decided to give it a try. Plus, their dinner menu for Restaurant Week looked enticing. The restaurant is located on a lower level within a complex of other restaurants and stores. There is patio tables outside the restaurant. Inside, it is fairly large with an open kitchen at one end and a small bar at the other end. It has a causal ambiance, a fun place to drop by after work for a drink or some appetizers. By 7pm, the restaurant was quite busy and I am not sure if that was due to restaurant week or just their usual crowd.

Their wine list is intriguing with many different options, from all over the world. They generally do not carry the usual brand wines but seem to have sought different choices. I very much liked their selection and the prices seemed fairly reasonable, with many bottles under $40. The mark-up on several wines that I knew was less than twice the retail. I chose a bottle of Monte Aribaldo Dolcetto D'Alba ($37). This was a very good wine, versatile so that it pairs well with many different types of food. It had nice fruit flavors with a touch of violet and the tannins were mild.

On their Restaurant Week menu, there were three choices for each of the courses. Prior to our food arriving, we first received a basket of fresh bread with butter. Then, we received a little amuse bouche, a dish of yellow watermelon pieces with mint and feta cheese. The watermelon was juicy and the feta was very good too. A pleasant way to begin the evening.

For the first course, I chose the Equinox Farm baby greens and roasted New Zealand lamb loin with Banyuls vinaigrette. I received five pieces of lamb, more than I expected, and they were quite meaty, tender and tasty. I think though that the vinaigrette needed to be a bit stronger as it did not quite cut through the bitterness of some of the greens. My wife has the hot & sour squid with lime & chilies. She enjoyed that dish very much and the chilies were very hot!

Next up, I chose the Veal "Marsala" with criminis & creamy polenta. The veal was covered with more of a Marsala glaze than in a dish of sauce. The veal was tender and the Marsala was very flavorful, with just a touch of sweetness. The polenta was creamy and delicious, making a nice complement to the veal. I was very pleased with this dish. My wife chose the Roasted Bay End Farm eggplant, with cous cous, yogurt, and toasted chickpeas. Though she liked it, the dish did not impress her. The eggplant, couse cous and chickpeas were all dry and the yogurt was insufficient to moisten up the dish. Also, she did not feel all the different ingredients really worked well together.

For dessert, I chose the Champagne Granita with Verill Farm strawberries and tarragon. The granita was very good, as were the fresh strawberries though the tarragon seemed out of place. My wife chose the Local peach & blueberry crisp. The crisp had a ginger topping which was quite tasty and different for this type of dessert. It worked very well in this dish. The fruit was very good though I think the blueberries overpowered much of the flavor of the peaches.

I also ordered their One Perfect Cheese ($8) and the day's selection was Ader Kase, a type of blue cheese. Though it is of German origin, it is also now made in Wisconsin. The cheese came with crackers, nuts, strawberries and I think kumquats. It was an excellent cheese, much milder than the usual blue cheese. An excellent ending to our meal.

Service was very good and the servers worked well together. Overall, this was a good dining experience though a couple of the dishes couple have been a little better. I like the fact that the restaurant tries to use many local ingredients. They also have a very good wine list. I will return here to check out their usual dinner menu.

The Blue Room
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-494-9034

Blue Room on Urbanspoon