Monday, December 31, 2012

Rant: No Predictions For 2013, Only Wishes

Break out your crystal ball, look into its depths and envision the future. What food and drink trends do you see coming up for 2013? If you don't have your own predictions, you will find numerous articles making their own predictions. It happens every year but if you review the previous year's predictions, you will likely realize that most of the predictions probably never came true. Our prophetic powers seem to be lacking. It would be futile for me to predict a list of trends which might occur in 2013.

Instead, I want to offer my wishes for which trends I want to see, though it may be doubtful that these trends will actually occur. I believe my wishes address gaps in the local food and drink scene, and which present opportunities for adventurous entrepreneurs to capitalize on. Too many trends extend for far too long, becoming stale and trite, because they seem safe. I am hoping more people choose to take a risk by leading the way in a new trend rather than following others like sheep.

1) Bread Pudding: I am so tired of cupcakes, especially as it seems many are average or lower quality. A good bread pudding can put those cupcakes to shame, and bread pudding is so versatile, available in a myriad of tasty flavors. Maybe you would enjoy a moist chocolate bread pudding or a light bourbon bread pudding with caramel sauce. Why don't more restaurants offer this dish on their dessert menus? Why isn't there a local bakery that specializes in different bread puddings? Can you make a bread pudding out of all those mediocre cupcakes? My favorite dessert of 2012 was a Pineapple Bread Pudding and I would love to see more restaurants creating their own compelling bread pudding.

2) Meatloaf: I am also tired of burgers. I love a good burger but I think we are over saturated with burger joints, with even more coming in the near future. When is enough enough? Why not use all that ground beef and create some amazing meatloaf recipes? I admit that meatloaf never did much for me but The Painted Burro has changed my mind, showing me the potential of this comfort food. Their Yucatan Meatloaf was stunning, a blend of alluring flavors that won't remind you of the bland meatloaf you might have once had as a child. I want other restaurants to step up to the plate and create their own unique meatloaf recipes, recipes that will change the mind of even meatloaf haters.

3) Filipino Restaurants: There isn't a single Filipino restaurant in Boston and the closest restaurant appears to be in Quincy, JnJ Turo Turo. Where is the love for Filipino cuisine? This isn't just a Boston problem as there are less than 500 Filipino restaurants across the country. However, it can be a delicious cuisine, with a rich history, so it is very strange that there are so few restaurants. This is a great opportunity for a Filipino chef to blaze a trail in Boston. Bring on adobo, mechado, kare-kare and more!

4) Peruvian Ingredients: Peruvian cuisine is under represented in the Boston area despite the myriad of fascinating Peruvian ingredients which exist, from thousands of potatoes to numerous indigenous fruits. Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta, an Italian/Peruvian restaurant in the North End, has opened my eyes to the vast potential of Peruvian ingredients. He has created some superb dishes and I am perplexed why more chefs are not delving into the treasure trove of Peru, using such ingredients to enhance their dishes too. Let us see  lucuma, auyuma, panca pepper and more.

5) Sake: Sake seems to be growing in popularity, but very slowly. I want that trend to continue though I would prefer that the pace accelerates. It truly is a complex and wondrous drink with a rich history and culture. It is extremely food friendly and many more people would enjoy it if only they tasted it. I will continue my own campaign to spread my passion for Sake and hope others take up the effort as well. Come to one of my Sake dinners, tastings or classes in 2013 and learn why you should be enjoying Sake.

6) Fortified Wines: Sherry, Port and Madeira remain niche beverages, though they are worthy of far more attention. Consumers often possess misinformation about these wines and need more education to better appreciate them. For example, many think all Sherry is sweet yet a large portion are actually dry, like Fino and Manzanilla, and they are food friendly. Why not enjoy some oysters and briny Manzanilla? Port is great after dinner, yet it too can work well throughout an entire meal. Explore these fortified wines and learn the marvels they contain.

7) Spirit Paired Dinners: Wine and beer paired dinners have become commonplace but it is still a rarity to find dinners paired with spirits, such as bourbon, scotch, tequila, and rum. For example, Legal Sea Foods ran their first Scotch paired dinner this past year. I have attended several spirit paired dinners in 2012 and the pairings often worked quite well. People usually don't think of drinking spirits with dinner but they should give it consideration. Restaurants have the opportunity to present unique events by creating harmonious pairings with spirits. Show the potential to consumers.

What food & drink trends would you like to see in 2013?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve Recommendation

With New Year's Eve around the corner, Sparkling Wine takes center stage, including Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and domestic bubbly. Some people are willing to splurge on pricey Champagne while others are more frugal, seeking inexpensive, value sparkling wines. One excellent value option, which may be overlooked by the average consumer, is Crémant d'Alsace.

In 2008, Americans consumed almost 99 million bottles of domestic sparkling wine, 17 million bottles of French Champagne and over 45 million bottles of sparkling wine (like Cava and Prosecco) from other countries. Out of that 161 million bottles, only about 300,000 bottles, a mere drop in the bucket, were Crémant d'Alsace. It is clear how little Crémant d'Alsace is consumed here, though the amount of imports seems to be slowly increasing.

In the Alsace region of France, they have been producing sparkling wines since the early 19th century but it was not until 1976 that the Crémant d'Alsace AOC was created. Back in 1979, their total production was less than 1 million bottles but that has now increased to around 33 million bottles. The term "crémant" basically means "creamy" and originally referred to sparkling wines that were produced with less pressure, which tended to make them taste more creamy than effervescent. There are six other Crémant AOCs in France, including Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Die, Jura, Limoux and Loire.

Crémant d'Alsace is produced in a similar fashion to Champagne, though there are some differences as well. The Crémant d'Alsace AOC has strict regulations on viticulture and viniculture, and six grapes are permitted including Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Most of their Blanc de Blancs is made from Pinot Blanc while Pinot Noir is the only grape permitted in their Rosé. For those who want value, Crémant d'Alsace usually sells for $10-$20, making it very affordable. But what does it taste like?

Based on my recent experiences with several Crémants, they generally seem to be more Old World in style, with restrained and subdued flavors. They generally don't possess bold fruity flavors like Prosecco and Cava, and are more dry, crisp and clean. They are refreshing, excellent with food and offer good complexity at their price point. I want to review two Crémants I recently enjoyed around the Christmas holiday (both being media samples) and I'll be discussing more Crémants in the near future. In short though, consumers should be seeking out Crémant d'Alsace if they want an excellent value sparkling wine.

The Willm Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut NV ($13) is produced in a winery that has been around since 1896, and their wines were the the first Alsatian wines imported into the U.S., in the early 1930s, just after Prohibition. This Crémant is made from 100% Pinot Blanc. using the méthode traditionnelle. Crisp, dry and fresh, it possessed pleasant tastes of green apple and pear. A refreshing bubbly, it made for an excellent apertif as well as an accompaniment to some pre-Xmas dinner appetizers, including cheese. At this price, I strongly recommend this Crémant.

My favorite of the two wines though was the Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace Rosé ($19). The winery extends back to 1680 so it has a long, rich history, making a comeback after being nearly destroyed during World War 2. This wine is produced from 100% Pinot Noir and is aged for about 12 months on the lees. It has a rich and vibrant pink color with a compelling nose of red fruits. The red fruit flavors, strawberry, cherry and hints of watermelon, are more subtle on the palate with mild accents of peach and minerality. Clean, crisp and dry with a pleasing finish. It reminded me of a delicious Provence Rosé and was a fine choice for my Xmas Eve dishes. Highly recommended for year round pleasure.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)  Celebrate New Year's Eve at A Tavola in Winchester. Chef Vittorio has created a special menu to welcome the New Year, which is available on December 31, from 5pm-10pm. The Prix Fixe Menu costs $65 per person (tax and gratuity not included) and wine pairings are available for an extra cost. You can make reservations by calling (781) 729-1040.


A Small Taste From the Chef to Begin your Evening
--Chestnut Crepes (Duck and Homemade Ricotta Cranberry Agrodolce)
--Bucatini (Long Saffron Hollowed Pasta with Maine Shrimp, Leeks and Arugula)
--Crispy Polenta (Organic Mushroom Ragu, Truffled Pecorino Cheese and Quail Egg)
--Arugula Salad (Red Wine, Poached Pears, Goat Cheese and Toasted Hazelnuts_
--Concerto di Mare (Seared Halibut, Mussels and Cockles, Kimball Farm Heirloom Tomato, Fregola and Spinach_
--Bistecca (John Crow Farm Sirloin Steak, Grilled Escarole and Chickpea "Torta"
--Polletto "Al Mattone" (Pressed Young Chicken, Cured Black Olives, Green Beans and Spaghetti Squash)
--Cannelloni (Rolled Pasta Filled with Organic Mushrooms, Herbs and Goat Cheese)
A Tavola Trilogy

2) Join the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro for the return of its Fondue Sundays featuring classic, French-style fondue. Suitable to be shared as an appetizer or to be enjoyed as a main course ($26 per pot), guests will be treated to hot French fondue featuring the distinct tastes of Domaine Giachino Abymes from the Savoie, Bergkäse Alpenblumer, Emmentaler and Gruyére Vieux.

Served with rustic, locally sourced bread as well as less traditional accompaniments including small potatoes boiled in sea-salted water, cornichon pickled vegetables such as ramps, cipollini onions, and cauliflower.  Fondue Sundays will be served every Sunday beginning Sunday, January 6, 2013 through the spring. The special will be served during dinner service, 5:30pm-10pm, in conjunction with their regular menu. Reservations are recommended by calling 617-723-7575.

Recipe: Classic Fondue in French style

3oz dry white wine (Domaine Giachino Abymes from the Savoie)
Pinch kosher Salt
2 grinds white pepper, from a mill
5 passes fresh grated nutmeg
2 ounces Bergkäse Alpenblumer, grated
2 ounces Emmentaler, grated
2 ounces Gruyére Vieux, grated
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp Kirschwasser
1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch

--Make a slurry with the Kirschwasser and the cornstarch. It should be thick, but pourable. Use more or less Kirschwasser to get a consistency you like. Set at the ready, next to the stove.
--In an enameled cast iron fondue pot, add the wine, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and add the grated cheese all at once. Whisk over heat until the cheese has melted. Add the minced garlic. Whisk in your slurry, a little at a time, until the fondue has a pleasant texture. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot.

3) To toast Japan’s most important holiday of the year, Haru will host a shogatsu celebration this New Year’s Eve, inviting revelers to close out the calendar with an exclusive three-course prix fixe complete with bubbly. Haru’s bonekai (or “year-forgetting”) night will allow guests to leave 2012’s worries and troubles behind while indulging in a customizable feast. The cost is $45 per person (includes complimentary glass of champagne).

-choice of-
King Crab Dumplings (Steamed, with spicy soy vinaigrette)
Rock Shrimp Tempura (With creamy spicy sauce)
Tuna Ceviche (Tuna, grape tomato, red onion, avocado and apple in ceviche sauce)
Chicken & Beef Yakatori (Grilled, on skewers)
Field Green Salad (With ginger dressing)
-choice of-
Chicken Teriyaki (With steamed vegetables)
Grilled Garlic Shrimp (Marinated in hot chili sauce)
Sashimi Entrée (Assorted sashimi with a kani cucumber roll)
Sushi Entrée (Assorted nigiri with a California roll or tuna roll)
Mixed Tempura (Six jumbo shrimp, shiitake mushroom, asparagus and yam)
-choice of-
Mochi Ice Cream (Red bean, green tea or vanilla) Banana Spring Roll (With chocolate dipping sauce)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my family, friends, my readers and everyone else!

May the glad tidings of this holiday season shine on you, your family and friends. May your celebrations be joyous and overflowing with great people, excellent conversation, fun times, delicious food and fine drink. May the gifts you give to others be well appreciated and bring joy to the recipients. May you thoroughly enjoy whichever holiday you celebrate at this season.

This is one of my favorite times of year as I love sharing the holidays with my family and friends, enjoying their company as we eat and drink to celebrate the season. It should be a joyous occasion, reveling in all of our blessings, for no matter what ills there may be, there still is much to appreciate. That appreciation deserves recognition and sharing, and not only during the holidays. Do not dwell on the negative but rather embrace all that is good in your life.

It is also a time for giving, for sharing with those less fortunate than us. Please donate as much as you can to your favorite charities, whether you give money, time or goods. Even small donations can make a significant impact.

Make sure you have a safe holiday as well. Please don't drink and drive, and drive safely and cautiously. If you are going to drink, let someone else drive, or take a taxi or public transportation. Again, please do not drink and drive! I hope that everyone will remain around to celebrate the New Year and see what 2013 brings all of us.

Drink and dine with passion this holiday, as well as every day of the year! Passion is what gives our lives meaning, what drives us toward excellence. A life devoid of passion is empty and shallow, and desperately needs change. Seek out whatever makes you passionate and revel in its delights.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012: Favorite Sake Items

What were some of my favorite Sake items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2012. I have already posted seven other lists of my Favorites of the past year and this is my final list, my Favorite Sake Items of 2012. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more sake related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Sake continues to maintain a prominent role, a specialized niche, on my blog. My passion for Sake is ever growing and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Sake and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. I want more and more people to taste it, finding joy in its flavors. I want more stores to carry and sell Sake, to make it something they recommend to their customers. Sake is as worthy as any other alcoholic beverage and deserves at least equal billing.

My New Sake Endeavor: This past year, my thoughts led me to a new and exciting project, the publishing of Sake-related fiction. I have always loved writing fiction and previously posted several short stories on my blog. However, now I wanted to go beyond that, to actually publish some new fiction. I created the Tipsy Sensei series, a collection of stories about a Sake expert in Boston who learns that the supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore actually exist. The intent of this series is to share my passion and knowledge of Sake, as well as to tell interesting and thrilling stories, delving into the rich legends and folklore of Japan. During 2012, I published three short stories, all as ebooks, including Yurine's Pot, The Ghost Of A Ninja, and The Fox & The Katana. As the fourth installment in the series, I also published a novel, Demons, Gods & Sakeas both a trade paperback and ebook. They have been well received so far and I am currently working on the next novel in the series.

Sake Tastings & Classes: I have presided over a number of Sake Tastings, Dinners & Classes this past year, helping to promote this worthy beverage. This included a Sake & French cuisine dinner at AKA Bistro, a number of Sake & Sushi classes at Haru, and a Sake Tasting for International Sake Day at Thelonious Monkfish. The response from the attendees at these events has been very positive, and many have been surprised by the diversity of Sake, often finding styles they enjoyed. You can look forward to more tastings, dinners and classes in 2013. I also was a guest host for a Sake Wine Chat on Twitter, which led to an intense Q&A where I spent much of the hour typing responses to everyone. The discussion was very well received, and numerous people voiced their pleasure at learning so much about Sake. The passion and excitement about Sake was contagious and some of the attendees were even drinking Sake at home while they participated in the discussion.

Sake Exports: There is good news to report on this front. Sake exports in 2011 set a new record of 14,013 kiloliters, a rise of 1.2%, and the first positive increase in 16 years. This rise in exports appears that it will continue through 2012. During the first eight months of 2012, exports were up 2.1% over the same period in 2011, so if that continues, we could see a new record made in 2012. Exports still constitute only a small portion of the Sake industry but it may be the best path for growth for breweries in Japan. Let us hope these figures continue to grow, and even faster.

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Nishiyama Kotsuzumi Tokubetsu Junmai is made with a local, rare rice called Hyogo Kita Nishiki and the rice was milled down to 65%. It also has a Sake Meter Value of +9, meaning it is more on the dry side. This Sake possessed a subdued aroma, an intriguing whiff of steamed rice combined with nutty elements. On the palate, it was very dry, crisp and full bodied with a pleasant blend of flavors, including marshmallow, almonds, and caramel, reminding me in some respects of an aged Sherry. The finish was pleasing and fairly long, and it earns a hearty recommendation.

Favorite Ginjo Sake: The Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Limited Release technically qualifies as a Daiginjo, as 50% of the rice has been polished away, but they chose to label it as a Ginjo. It is a light, dry and complex Sake, with some subtle fruit flavors, including peach and melon, with hints of herbs on the smooth finish. A very easy drinking Sake which would appeal to newcomers to Sake as well as experienced Sake lovers.

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: There was a tie in this category and interestingly both were produced using the rare shizuku ("drip") method, where bags of the sake and lees are tied off at the neck and hung up, so the sake will slowly drip out over time. This is also sometimes known as kubi-tsuri ("hung by the neck") and is supposed to produce a high quality Sake, though you also produce less Sake than through other pressing methods. The Okunomatsu Juhachidai Ihei Daiginjo was one of my favorite Sakes from a tasting of over 45 Sakes. It was elegant, restrained, complex, and absolutely compelling. Words don't do justice to the experience of this Sake. The Shichi Hon Yari Shizuku Junmai Daiginjo is another amazing sake, crisp and clean, complex and subtle, delicious and dry. It goes down so smoothly, as they say, "like drinking water," which is a high compliment for Sake. Both of these are expensive but well worth the price.

Favorite Kimoto Style Sake: Kimoto is an old and laborious method of production, though still used by a small number of breweries, and which often produces Sake with an earthy, gamey profile. It is one of my favorite Sake styles. The Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai has a delicious, complex rich and earthy taste, an excellent example of the Kimoto style. It possesses a high level of umami, which makes it very food friendly, helping to increase the savoriness of many different dishes.

Favorite Sparkling Sake: The Dassai Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori was one of the best sparkling Sakes I have tasted. Most Sparkling Sake is fairly simple in nature, lightly sweet and effervescent. On the other hand, this Sake was not too sweet, with a light effervescence, mild tropical fruit flavors, and a savory backbone. It has much more complexity than the usual sparkling Sake and should appeal to all Sake lovers, as well as newcomers.

Favorite Aged Sake: Last year, the Kirin Daiginjo Hizoshu was my Favorite Sake and it deserves recognition once again this year. It has been aged for five years under very low temperatures and presents an incredibly complex and intriguing Daiginjo. It is clean, smooth and mellow with plenty of subtle and captivating flavors. I would highly recommend this to all Sake lovers.

Favorite Nigori Sake: The Dewatsuru Hiten No Yume Junmai Daiginjo Nigori is not yet sold in the U.S., but hopefully it will be in the near future. It is made with Akita-Komachi rice, a variety that grows only in Akita, and is more of a savory than sweet Nigori. It was elegant, with a mild hint of sweetness, flavors of tropical fruits but also a strong savory component. One of the best Nigoris I have ever tasted.

Runner-Up Favorite Nigori Sake: The Yuki No Bosha Junmai Ginjo Nigori is an usu-nigori, a "thin" nigori which has been pressed so only a minimal amount of the lees end up inside the Sake. This Sake would also qualify as a Daiginjo as 50% of the rice has been polished away, but they chose to label it as a Ginjo. Unlike many sweet Nigoris, this is more on the dry side, with a Sake Meter Value of +3. This was a smooth, bright and dry Sake, with nice fruity accents.

New Domestic Sake Brewery: There is a new kura, a Sake brewery, coming to Maine. I don't have much information about the Blue Current Brewery and their website and Facebook page also lack detail, but I am attempting to gather more information. It does not appear that they are yet legally in operation but when I learn more, I will be sure to share it with my readers. The cold winters in Maine should be excellent for Sake brewing, so there is some potential there.

Favorite Restaurant For Sake: Most restaurants significantly mark up Sake, as they do wine. However, Moksa in Central Square, Cambridge, is an exception. Though they carry only about six Sakes, the prices are quite compelling. For example, the Bunraku Yamahai Junmai (300ml) costs $18, when it usually retails for about $15. A mere $3 markup is excellent, making this Sake a great bargain. The best value though is the Manabito “True Blue” Kimoto Junmai Ginjo (300ml) which costs $19 and usually retails for over $20. It costs less at the restaurant than what you would spend a wine store! That is a rarity for any alcoholic beverage at a restaurant. The Manabito is also a killer Sake, one of my favorites, making it an even better value.

Favorite Sake Event:
This past June, I attended a special Sake tasting held at the at the residence of Takeshi Hikihara, the Consul General of Japan, located in Chestnut Hill. John Gauntner, the famed Sake expert and "Sake Dendoushi" ("Sake Evangelist"), gave a fascinating and informative speech about current Sake trends as well as recommendations for stocking and serving Sake in restaurants. There was also a tasting of over 45 Sakes with a number of toji and other brewery representatives. Overall, a compelling event where a passion for Sake was more than evident.

Favorite Sake & Food Pairing: Last month, I presided over a Sake & French Cuisine dinner at AKA Bistro in Lincoln. It might not be a combination which immediately comes to mind but the pairing worked well. About 20 people attended the dinner and I received much praise for the pairings. Sake & Foie Gras? Yes, it was excellent. My friend Adam posted a detailed review of the dinner, raving about the savory pairings. Start experimenting and pair Sake with any and all cuisines.

Favorite Sake News Article: It only took them 2000 years, but Japan finally declared Sake (as well as Shochu) to be a National Alcoholic Beverage. It is hard to believe that they never did so before now. The idea behind their decision was to help local economies, increase the demand for rice, and boost export sales.  It is still unsure how much support the Japanese government will put behind this new promotion but we can hope that they do something which succeeds in spreading the passion.

Favorite New Sake BookBrewing Sake: Release The Toji Within, by William G. Auld, is one of the only books in English, and maybe the only one currently in print, that explains how to brew your own Sake. It is a more technical guide with the intent of providing detailed instructions and explanations for how to brew Sake at home. It begins with a list and description of the equipment you will need for brewing, and then moves to a detailed, step by step procedure for brewing. For anyone interested in brewing their own Sake, this will be an invaluable reference book.

Favorite Sake Books, Reissued: This year, John Gauntner has made two of his books available as ebooks, including The Sake Notebook and Sake's Hidden Stories. The Sake Notebook is a concise primer on Sake while Hidden Stories tells the compelling stories behind 13 breweries. Hidden Stories is one of the best books on Sake available and it is highly recommended. It is a fascinating and informative book, delving you deeper into the inner workings of thirteen breweries, each with its own unique differences.

My Favorite Sake Post: Last year, my favorite Sake post was Sake, Amino Acids & Food, exploring some of the science behind Sake and food pairings. I noted that I was working on an expanded article, which I posted this past year: The Science of Sake & Food Pairings. It was a very popular article, discussing the role of amino acids in Sake, the effects of umami, and much more. Sake is extremely food friendly, pairing well with basically any cuisine, and there are scientific reasons for its versatility. Check out my article and understand the foundations of Sake and food pairings.  

My Favorite Sake Guest Post: In a similar vein of Sake and food pairings, I wrote a guest post, Slurping Oysters & Sipping Sake, for my good friend Jackie of the Leather District Gourmet. Jackie has been heavily involved in all matters oysters recently, including starting the Oyster Century Club. She asked me for a Sake/Oyster post and I was glad to do so. Rather than Champagne or Chablis, try some Sake the next time you slurp some raw oysters and learn that Sake is a killer pairing.

Favorite Sake Quote: In a comic play called Mochisake, which was written during the Muromachi period (1338-1573 AD), there is a list of The Ten Merits of Sake. This is a great list of the benefits of drinking Sake, from being excellent for your health to making you warm during the cold. It also shows the importance of Sake in Japanese culture for hundreds of years. All Sake lovers should check out this list, and maybe keep a copy handy to share with others.

New Sake Blog: My friend Gordon Heady, a Sake aficionado who has been spending time in Japan, has started a new Sake blog. Though he just started writing in September, you should put it on your radar to learn more about Sake. You can read articles like Ginjo vs Junmai: Don't Fall Prey To Polish Bigotry! or Eleven Fun Facts About Sake. Gordon will be working in a Sake brewery soon so his insights should be invaluable. There certainly are not enough Sake blogs out there so I am very pleased that Gordon seized the reins and chose to take that route.


What were some of your favorite Sake items this year?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)  On Monday, December 24, from 5pm-11pm, Avila’s Executive Chef, Rodney Murillo, will pay tribute to the Mediterranean region’s rituals and traditions that coincide with Christmas Eve, paying special attention to Italy where the sea’s bounty takes center-stage in the form of the “Feast of Seven Fishes”. In true Avila style, Chef Murillo has recreated a menu that is synonymous with this annual celebration and utilizes locally sourced ingredients that culminate in a classic New England interpretation of this authentic Italian meal. To complement Chef Murillo’s delectable 5-course feast offerings, guests will have the option of pairing each item with a carefully selected varietal from Avila’s worldly wine selection.

In addition to their a la carte menu, Avila’s five-course Christmas Eve “Feast of Seven Fishes” will be presented as follows:

1st Course
Creamy Corn Soup (coriander, fresh Maine lobster)
2nd Course
Crispy Oysters (baby mache salad, sea urchin aioli)
3rd Course
Spaghettini (Nantucket Bay scallops, lemon cream)
4th Course
Crabmeat Stuffed Lemon Sole (clam & squid ink risotto)
5th Course
Pastry Chef Tom Ponticelli’s Dessert Selection

COST: Five-course prix fixe: $59 per person (beverages, taxes & gratuities not included). An additional $20 for wine pairings.

2) Celebrate New Year’s Eve on Monday, December 31, from 9pm-2:30am, at The Beehive in Boston’s South End as they host their 6th annual New Year’s Eve gala celebration. The Beehive’s, “Discothèque Burlesque New Year's Eve 2013” is an evening of bohemian decadence and eccentric fun. Guests will explore their senses as they take in the wonders of sultry Parisian burlesque performances (by NYC’s hotties Francine “The Lucid Dream” & Essence Revealed) and dance to the live powerhouse 60’s pop and soul sounds of Amy Lynn & The Gun Show. The vocal gymnastics that diva Amy Lynn can pull off in a mini dress and stilettos would have Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner on their feet a curtain call! Throughout the evening Executive Chef Rebecca Newell will feature a delectable buffet of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, all served in a cocktail setting. To top it all off, guests can toast the evening with one of The Beehive’s signature cocktails from the evening’s sponsors including Hennessy Cognac, Milagro Tequila and Svedka Vodka, as well as Domaine Chanson wine and Moët & Chandon champagne.

Cost of the event is $115 per person with food buffet, or $75 per person without buffet (tax and beverages not included). Both ticket options include admission and entertainment. There is a cash bar all evening. Tickets/reservations are available by visiting or call The Beehive at  617-423-0069. Non-refundable without 24 hour advance notice.

3) L’Espalier is rolling out the red carpet for guests to ring in the New Year in style. Chef Frank McClelland has handcrafted a lavish menu at this luxe dining destination in the heart of Back Bay. Enjoy the lights of the city from the enchanting dining room while welcoming 2013 with a delectable eight-course menu complete with champagne, for $195.

The menu is as follows:

Hors d’œuvre:
Apple Street Farm spinach pithivier with béchamel
Paired with Pool Roger Brut Champagne, France
Amuse Bouche:
Bergamot and Earl Grey tea spritzer, heirloom egg with American caviar, freeze dried tropical fruits, ham and cheese croissant
First Course:
Warm Wellfleet oysters with smoked bone marrow, vermouth and sturgeon caviar
Winter salad with citrus, barely cooked Maine shrimp, wintergreen vinaigrette and mache
Alba white truffles with Italian chestnuts
Paired with 2009 Kiralyudvar Tokaji Furmint Sec, Hungary
Second Course:
Butter-poached Casco Bay lobster with hearts of palm, and red wine emulsion
Roasted Hudson Valley foie gras with a black truffle and beluga lentil ragout
Slow roasted squab breast with pomegranate, and prickly pear sherbet
Paired with 2008 Domaine Huet "Le Mont" Demi-Sev Vouvray, Loire, France
Third Course:
George’s Bank Grey sole with Nantucket Bay scallops mandarin orange, warm lemon curd and pine
Paired with 2007 Bodega Chacra "Trienta Y Dos" Pinot Noir, Patagonia-Rio Negro, Argentina
Fourth Course:
Guinea hen; slow poached and roasted with black truffle-turnip “risotto,” pear purée, and foie gras jus
Roasted Maine beef tenderloin with braised tongue; “tartiflette” with Abbaye de Tamie, and Bordelaise
Paired with 2001 Lopez de Heredia "Vina Tondonia Reserva, Rioja, Spain (In Magnum)
Grand Fromage:
Paired with 2004 Chateau LaFaurie-Peyraguey, Premier Cru Sauternes, France
Dessert Tasting:
Espresso praline roulade with hazelnut cream and caramel macchiato ice cream
Black and white gâteau with caramelized white chocolate cremeux and rum raisin ice cream
Green apple meringue with eucalyptus compressed apple, calvados crème anglaise and saffron ice cream
Paired with 2010 Bera Bracehetto, Piedmont, Italy

Please note this menu is subject to change. The restaurant will be closed for lunch on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. For Reservations, please call 617-262-3023.

4) Tres Gatos Tapas Bar, a full service restaurant, book and music store, will be celebrating New Year's Eve. Dinner service will feature their classic menu with some luxe new additions from Chef Marcos Sanches such as:
--Monkfish croquettes with uni sauce, wild greens & urfa pepper,
--Squid noodles with black tomato sauce, crispy tentacles, pimenton & celery hearts
--Seafood paella.

Starting at 10pm, the three cats will change gears into a late night party as Music & Literary Guide Phil Wilcox spins music from the record player and salutes the New Year with vuvuzela blowing. Plenty of Cava will be flowing and grapes will be abound in the true Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes, 1 for each month, to the chimes of the clock at midnight.

For reservations, please call 617-4774851.

5) Toast with Turner Fisheries, known for its sustainable approach, on New Year’s Eve for an a la carte seafood dinner. Some menu options include, but are not limited to:

Atlantic Shelf
An assortment of local Atlantic shellfish, tomato horseradish, mignonette, luis sauces
Soups and Starters
Turners “hall of fame” clam chowder with house-made oyster crackers $6
Butternut bisque, cinnamon crème friache $5
Jonah crab cake, chipotle remoulade $14
Tuna two ways, ginger-curry marinated yellow fin tuna, cumin seed crusted tuna, wasabi aioli $16
Caesar salad, crisp romaine hearts, parmesan crisp ,classic caesar dressing $9
Golden beet carpaccio, rainbow swiss chard, cider glaze, pistachio dust $11
Rockport merluza filet, pernod, crispy bacon, creamed brussels sprouts $31
Grilled salmon, roasted garlic, baby potato wild mushrooms $33
Grilled pomegranate tofu, ginger fried rice, shaved carrots $24
Lobster thermidor, cured tomato hollandaise gruyere
Steamed Maine lobster, steamed and served with drawn butter

For dinner or brunch reservations, please call 617-424-7425.

6) On a night of the year when restaurant prices soar to astronomical heights, Olé Mexican Grill located in Cambridge, is not only offering á la carte options for New Year’s Eve with its menu of Mexican fare, but is also treating its customers to free samples of “lucky foods” from around the world. On Monday, December 31, all guests that are on hand just before the clock strikes midnight will receive a free platter of lucky foods from around the world to accompany their champagne toast and ensure luck in the New Year! (1 Per Table)

Dinner reservations are accepted until 11pm and the celebrations will continue well into the early hours of the morning with a lively lounge scene and a festive environment. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling Olé Mexican Grill at (617) 492-4495.

7) The Feast of the Seven Fishes (festa dei sette pesci) is celebrated on Christmas Eve and is believed to have originated in Southern Italy. Today, a tradition of Italian-Americans, it is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes.

Join Tuscan Kitchen, located in Salem, New Hampshire, as it celebrates Christmas Eve with a “festa dei sette pesci” dinner on Monday, December 24, from 1pm-8pm. Guests can look forward to a five course, prix fixe feast, featuring none other than seven types of seafood, alongside family and friends for only $65 per person (tax and gratuity not included, beverages additional). Pair your dinner with Tuscan Kitchen’s amazing and extensive wine list. Tuscan Kitchen’s regular menu will also be available for guests looking to order their favorite Tuscan dishes.

Reservations accepted for parties of seven or more. Call ahead seating is available for parties smaller than seven. Please call (2) hours prior on Friday, Saturday and holidays. Simply call (603) 952-4875 before leaving your home or office and if on a wait, you will be added to the wait list ensuring priority seating. Upon arrival, please check in with the host at the front door. * There may be an additional wait when you arrive.

Feast of the Seven Fishes 2012 Menu:
--Cacciucco “Tuscan Shellfish Stew”: Classic Fish Stew from Livorno Pan Seared Monkfish, Scallop & Clams, Tomato Saffron Brodo
--Insalata Di Polpo Alla Griglia: Wood Grilled Octopus & Fingerling Potato Salad, Warm Pancetta Dressing
--Gambero Fritto: Semolina Crusted Head on Prawn, Pan Seared, Lemon Extra Virgin Emulsion
--Merluzzo Nero: Pan Seared Black Cod, Maine Lobster & Focaccia Mista, Braised Cavolo Nero, Orange Zest Crèma
--Valrhona Chocolate & Mascarpone Bread Pudding: Salted Caramel Gelato

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue my collection of lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2012. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2012 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from cheese to candy. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more food-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Food Magazine: For the second year in a row, Lucky Peach easily prevails as my favorite. This quarterly magazine is eclectic and irreverent, with fascinating articles, essays, recipes, and more. I eagerly devour each issue when it is released and its quality has remained consistent. It entertain and educates, as well as providing much to ponder. Their recent Chinatown themed issue was very cool. If you love food and are not reading Lucky Peach, then shame on you.

Favorite Ethnic Cookbook: If you enjoy Chinese cuisine, then you should read Feeding The Dragon by Mary Kate Tate and Nate Tate. The book is a combination travelogue and cookbook, broken down into regions of China. Each regional section begins with interesting essays about that area and then provides about 10-15 recipes, spanning the range from appetizers to desserts, and including several beverages too. The book is a fascinating culinary survey of China with a sampling of recipes that provide some authenticity for home cooks. It is aesthetically pleasing, with numerous beautiful photos of not only the dishes, but also of the people, places and items of China. An excellent read.

Favorite Food Trade Event: For the second year in a row, I have selected the International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. It is an engaging event and I wrote over a dozen posts about the show this year. It is a compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next IBSS in March 2013.

Favorite Cheese Shop: The Concord Cheese Shop has a huge and diverse selection of local, domestic and imported cheeses, including many small production and unique cheeses. Local cheeses are one of their specialties. In addition, they sell a good selection of wines and other gourmet foods. A one-stop store to stock up for any party. The staff is very helpful and it is in a good location, where you can also check out many other intriguing shops. Make it a day and visit Concord and the Cheese Shop.

Favorite Cheese Event: Each summer, the Vermont Cheesemakers' Festival is held at Shelburne Farms and I have attended many of their events, always enjoying myself. This year, the event showcased over 40 Vermont cheesemakers, with over 200 cheeses for sampling, a smorgasbord of dairy pleasures. There was a vast diversity of cheeses, from chèvre to blue cheese, from cheddar to mozzarella. Besides all these cheeses, there were other foods as well, from candy to croutons, breads to hot sauces. In addition, there were local wines, beers, ciders, spirits and other drinks. It does get crowded, but it is still well worth attending.

Favorite Cheese: I love cheese, in all of its forms, and it was not easy to select just one to be my top favorite for the year. However, I made my selection, the Grafton Village Cave Age Truffled BismarkThe Bismark, named for a legendary Vermont ram from the late 19th century, is a sheep's milk cheese that has been aged for at least three months. The Bismark has an intriguing taste; nutty and creamy with a delicious earthiness due to the addition of white and black truffles as well as some truffle oil. This would be a perfect cheese for an umami rich Sake, like a Kimoto or Yamahai. An amazing cheese with such a depth of flavor and complexity. Highly recommended.

Favorite Seafood Treat: Bacon? How about Salmon Bacon? Yes! I enjoyed two different salmon bacons, and they were significantly different. Though I liked both of them, my preference was for the MacKnight Salmon Bacon as it seemed more like bacon rather than just smoked salmon. It still had a salmon flavor, but was thinner and crisper and I would eagerly place it on any breakfast plate. It is even supposed to be healthier for you than pork bacon.

Favorite Pickled Food: It seems that almost any food can end up pickled and this year I was especially impressed with Pickled Willys seafood. They currently have four different types including Wild Ling Cod, Wild Sockeye Salmon, Alaskan King Crab Tail, and Halibut. They use only sustainable, wild Alaskan seafood and it is prepared with organic vinegar, cane sugar, and a blend of pickling spices. The end product is delicious, the fish still having a firm flesh and the light pickling enhances the taste. The salmon was my favorite though I enjoyed all of them.

Favorite Japanese Ingredients: At the International Boston Seafood Show, there was a Japanese pavilion, showcasing numerous food products. The Shinmarusyo Co. Ltd. produces dried bonito and also makes dashi, kind of a fish stock. Dashi is very important in Japanese cuisine, and is a common base for many dishes. Their dashi can be used to make a savory soup, which is rich in umami, that was subtle but complex flavors. In addition, they make a couple soy sauces, including the Shiro Dashi Soy Sauce, and Katuobushiya Dashi Soy Sauce. The Shiro is a light colored soy sauce with dashi and fermented seasonings. A nice depth of flavor and though like many other soy sauces in some respects, it also possessed its own exotic and unique nature. The Katuobushiya is made from dried bonito and Rishiri seaweed. It has a deeper flavor, more like regular soy sauce, but more intense and with a greater umami.

Favorite Mac n' Cheese: Though I had mixed feelings on some of their other dishes, I was impressed with the Mac & Five Cheese Gratin at GEM Restaurant & Lounge. Cooked perfectly, with a crispy top of buttered breadcrumbs and rich, cheesy noodles, this was the perfect comfort food, elevated to a high level. Nice levels of flavor, this bests many other mac n' cheese dishes you will find elsewhere. It is only a side dish, but you could easily make a meal out of it.

Favorite Frozen Food: Though it is generally best to get fresh baked goods, there are times a frozen product can satisfy your cravings. Gagne Foods, located in Maine, produces both fresh and frozen products, including sweet potato biscuits, cinnamon rolls, cream cheese biscuits and more. The sweet potato biscuits were fantastic and I enjoyed all of their products. The frozen biscuits are easy to cook and your guests might even believe they were fresh. Try the sweet potato biscuits and become a convert.

Favorite Local Ice Cream Shop: In West Concord, you will find Reasons To Be Cheerful, a dessert cafe that makes ice cream in small batches using a natural, hormone free, 14% butterfat ice cream mix from a local dairy. Their flavors vary from the common vanilla and chocolate chip to more unusual flavors like sweet azuki and ginger. They even make several ice creams using alcohol such as the Milk Chocolate Guinness and the Dark & Stormy. I found the various flavors to be rich, prominent, and well balanced so that you receive exactly the flavor you desired. The Dark & Stormy was one of my favorites.

Favorite Dessert Sauce: I have raved before about the goat's milk caramel sauces from Fat Toad Farm and this year I tasted a new flavor, their Salted Bourbon Caramel SauceIt lived up to my expectations, with a sweet, creamy flavor complemented by a salty element and the vanilla notes from the bourbon. Pure heaven. You must try their this sauce or any other of their caramel sauces.

Favorite Candy: Speaking of goat milk, Big Picture Farm is producing some compelling goat's milk caramels. I tasted two of their hand-made caramels, the Chai and Vanilla & Sea Salt. The Chai was spicy, with a nice cinnamon and nutmeg kick, and it was not overly sweet. My favorite though was the Vanilla & Sea Salt, just bursting with creamy flavor, prominent vanilla, that great salty contrast and just the right amount of sweetness. These are very addictive.

Favorite Fruit: Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta introduced me to a new fruit, lucuma. It is a Peruvian fruit which is also known as egg fruit because its flesh seems to resemble the texture of a hard boiled egg. Chef Duarte prepared a dessert using lucuma, a smooth and creamy pudding-like item that reminded me of a delicious butterscotch pudding. Peru is a country rich in exotic food products and I hope more of them make it to the U.S. if they all can be as delicious as lucuma.

Favorite Cupcakes: I am very picky about cupcakes, and am often disappointed by the myriad cupcake stores that have spread throughout the area. However, I found a bakery, Cakes For Occasions, which makes very satisfying cupcakes. Properly moist, the cupcakes are topped by a creamy and light frosting, and the flavors are compelling. These are cupcakes that have earned my recommendation. The bakery sells many other baked goods, such as delicious whoopie pies, cakes, cookies, pies and more. Check out the bakery, get some cupcakes and see what else tantalizes your taste buds.

Favorite Healthy Snack: Kind Healthy Snacks makes all natural whole nut & fruit bars, which have natural protein, fiber and 5 or less grams of sugar. They have plenty of different flavors, including a number with chocolate. My favorite was the Almond & Coconut, which contains almonds, dried coconut, honey, non-GMO glucose, puffed rice, chicory fiber, and soy lecithin. Plenty of delicious coconut flavor, a mild sweetness, nutty accents and a nice chewy texture. It didn't taste healthy and is going to please any dessert lover.

Favorite New Food Market: A short ride away, in Salem, New Hamphire, is the new Tuscan Marketa large artisanal market, which is a one-stop shopping spot for Italian food and ingredients, as well as other quality items. Many of the foods are prepared on premises while others are purchased locally or imported from Italy. Fresh baked breads, wines, cheese, produce, meats, seafood, desserts, prepared foods and much more. There is also a 65-seat café where you can grab a bite, from pizza to pasta. This is a compelling culinary destination and you should be shopping there.

Favorite Food Contest: My inner carnivore roared in approval at the East Cambridge Rib Fest, where over 20 restaurants prepared their own version of ribs. I was even more fortunate as I was one of the judges and got to taste nearly all of the various ribs. So many tasty dishes, including beef and pork ribs, both dry and wet, savory, sweet and spicy. There was live entertainment, local beers and the weather cooperated well. I can't wait to attend this event again next year and highly recommend everyone else go as well.

Favorite Food Controversy: Once again, one of the most important, and sometimes controversial, food issues I addressed this year was seafood sustainability. I have tried to cover a variety of issues, seeking to delve behind the science and rhetoric. The importance of this matter cannot be underestimated, but it is sometimes difficult to get to the truth behind the issues. Last year, the Legal Sea Foods blacklisted dinner made headlines but this year I followed up with Roger Berkowitz (see Part 1 and Part 2to assess the dinner's impact and Legal's continued efforts. Some of my other posts addressing seafood sustainability include: Stop Eating Cod, Tuna & Salmon, A Sustainability Primer, Verlasso Farmed Salmon, State Of Fisheries Address, How A Restaurant Becomes Sustainable, Aquaculture & Cobia, Consumers Purchasing Sustainable Seafood, Can Bordeaux Save The Sharks?, Eat More Seafood Especially Local, and Bluefin Tuna Stocks Recovering?

My Biggest Personal Food Issue: Last January, I announced that I had been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, which required some adjustments to my lifestyle, including more exercise and watching my diet. I have fortunately been successful and brought my blood sugars back to normal levels, also losing a significant amount of weight. It is a health issue that will require ongoing attention but it can be managed. Thanks to everyone who supported me in my efforts and I will continue to make this a priority in my life.

My Food Prediction For 2013: A few restaurants have been experimenting with seafood charcuterie this past year and I predict that it will become an even more popular and prevalent dish in 2013. Charcuterie has been huge, with many restaurants making their own sausages, chorizo, pates and more from a variety of meats. As chefs are often looking to innovate, I feel they will move from pork, beef, poultry and other meats toward seafood. The few examples I have tasted this past year have been delicious and I think seafood charcuterie has great potential.

What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012: Favorite Restaurants

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

I have already posted several of my drink-related Favorites' lists and and now I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled some this past year.

There is also a section later in this post called Consistent Favorites, and it includes a list of a number of restaurants which have been my favorites for subsequent years. Restaurants which are consistently good certainly deserve recognition, and I have tried to note some of those places to which I return again and again. I hope you enjoy all of my recommendations.

Favorite High-End Restaurant: Superb cuisine, an amazing wine list and impeccable service combine to make L'Espalier a Boston treasure. I have dined there before, and always been impressed, and this past year I attended an amazing Barons de Rothschild Champagne lunch and Cheese Tuesday. The restaurant can transform even the simplest of dishes, such as roast chicken, into a wonder. It is well worth the splurge.

Favorite Restaurant Comeback: My last visit to Avila Modern Mediterranean had been a few years ago and my dinner was disappointing. A few others who I spoke to at that time had also reported less than pleasant experiences. However this year, I recently attended a Glenmorangie Scotch dinner at Avila and was surprised at the high quality and creativity of the food. It was an amazing meal with such compelling items like goat cheese croquettes, creamy corn soup, chicken liver ravioli, and braised Waygu beef cheeks. It seems Avila has greatly improved and I will definitely return.

Unfortunate Tragedy to a Favorite RestaurantPrezza, in the North End, has been one of my favorite high-end Italian spot but this past July the restaurant suffered a kitchen fire. For the last six months, they have been closed as they have conducted extensive repairs and remodeling. This has been a great loss to the community but fortunately it appears the restaurant is set to reopen any day now. When they reopen, please dine there and give them your support. Their food is exceptional and I am sure you will enjoy whatever you order. Good luck to Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano and all his staff.

Favorite Local Food Dinner Series: Numerous Boston area restaurants are emphasizing local ingredients but special kudos must go out to Post 390 for their monthly Farm to Post dinner series. Each month they emphasize a different local purveyor, from farmers to fishermen, and not only use their products but also bring in the purveyors to talk to diners. That helps diners better understand the sources of their food and it also helps immensely that the food is creative and delicious. Check out their Farm to Post dinners.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Old SchoolLucia Ristorante, with a second location in Winchester, opened in the North End back in 1977 and recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. It is very much old school yet the food is actually quite tasty. Their chef's skill was quite evident at a fantastic polenta dinner and their anniversary celebration also emphasized their culinary skills. You may not consider Lucia when selecting a North End restaurant, but you should give it some consideration. Their Winchester location also carries excellent pizzas.

Favorite Italian Restaurant Outside the North End: For some of the most creative Italian fare in Boston, you can't go wrong with Erbaluce, Chef Chuck Draghi continues to impress with his unique take on many traditional Italian dishes and the restaurant also has a compelling Italian wine list. How many other restaurants in Boston make fried sunflower heads? His dishes, generally prepared without butters and creams, are often lighter yet still full of flavor. Dine there and check out their ever changing menu or attend one of their compelling events.

Favorite Spanish Restaurant: Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro in Brookline continues to invest great passion into her Spanish cuisine. The restaurant has recently expanded in size, nearly doubling, and have added a bar. They are also adding more Spanish wines to their already expansive wine list, including more Sherries. One of their newest culinary events is Roasted Sucking Pig Tuesdays, which I haven't yet attended but plan to do so soon.    

Favorite Mexican Restaurant: Chef Joe Cassinelli of Pizzeria Posto, one of my favorite Italian spots, opened a second restaurant, The Painted Burro, which offers Mexican cuisine. The food I tasted during my two dinners and brunch there have all impressed, including the Yucatan Meatloaf. I am usually not a meatloaf fan but this opened my eyes to the potential and I cannot recommend it enough. The Burro also has an extensive list of tequilas and mezcals, with plenty of tasty cocktails. A great addition to the local area.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant, Italian: Italian restaurants are ubiquitous in the suburbs, but too many of them are simply average. However, the new A Tavola in Winchester, the second restaurant of Chef Vittorio Ettore (who also owns Bistro 5 in Medford) rises above the masses. Lots of Piattini, small plates, make a great way to start your dinner from their homemade charcuterie to seafood dishes. Then you can move onto their killer pasta, their exceptional risotto, smoky Porchetta and more. It is an intimate restaurant, showcasing the culinary genius of Chef Ettore, and can compete with any Boston restaurant.

Favorite BYOB Restaurant: In the suburbs, you can find a number of BYOB restaurants and one of them is my usual go to spot when I want to bring my own wine or Sake. Kyotoya, in Stoneham, is an inexpensive Japanese restaurant with delicious food, such as superb tempura, and they do not charge a corkage fee. I have dined there numerous times, usually bringing wine or Sake, and those I have introduced to the place have all very much enjoyed it.

Favorite New Hampshire Restaurant: Moxy, situated in Portsmouth, would shine wherever it was located. Chef Matt Louis, with an impressive culinary resume, has created a superb restaurant which emphasizes Spanish inspired tapas, using local ingredients and a New England flair. The food is excellent and the menu concept works well. They also have a good drinks program, from wine to cocktails and including numerous local beers. I would even stop there just for their desserts, such as mini-Whoopie pies. It gets my highest recommendation and I eagerly look forward to my next visit.

Favorite Connecticut Restaurant, Casual: At the Mohegan Sun Casino, there are plenty of restaurants but which one should you select? For amazing fried chicken, in a casual atmosphere, check out Big Bubba's BBQThe restaurant serves BBQ and southern cuisine and the plates are quite large, stacked high with food. The Finger Lickin Fried Chicken plate included two large chicken breasts and two wings, more than enough chicken to satisfy any craving. It was superb, perfectly cooked, with a nice crispy and well seasoned coating and very moist, tender white meat.

Favorite Connecticut Restaurant, High-End: If you are seeking something more elegant for dinner at the Mohegan Sun, then Bobby Flay's Bar Americain would be a good choice. It has a menu of American favorites, some with a southern flair, as well as plenty of fresh seafood. The food is delicious, well prepared, and worth the high prices. Enjoy their Buttermilk Fried Chicken or Duck with Dirty Wild Rice, Pecans, & Bourbon. I would also highly recommend ordering a side of Hot Potato Chips with Blue Cheese Sauce, a decadent delight with crisp chips and a creamy, tangy sauce.

Favorite Louisville Restaurant, Casual: Sometimes you stumble upon a restaurant and end up having a delicious meal. Seeking a quick lunch, I stopped at the Bluegrass Burgers in Louisville, Kentucky, knowing nothing about it beforehand. This burger joint prides itself in serving mostly local ingredients, from their meats to their produce. The Kentucky Grass Fed Bison Burger, topped by local Bleu-Gouda cheese, was an excellent burger, moist with plenty of tasty flavor and the cheese added an intriguing and compelling element. Their sweet potato fries were also addictive, with a bright sweet potato flavor and a crisp exterior. I wish we had a burger place like this in the Boston area.

Favorite Louisville Restaurant, Mid-Range: Another restaurant dedicated to local ingredients, Harvest has huge portraits of the farmers they use on their walls. The food, from the Buttermilk Fried Chicken to Crispy Pork Confit, is tasty and reasonably priced. And for dessert, their Bourbon Bread Pudding was amazing, one of the best bread puddings I have tasted. It has a casual ambiance, a good wine list and service was excellent. A great choice in Louisville, Kentucky.

Favorite Louisville Restaurant, High-End: After attending the Kentucky Derby, a group of us went to Corbett's for a special post-Derby prix-fixe menu. From a Smoked Salmon Parfait to a Creekstone Tenderloin, the food was exquisite, with killer wine pairings and superb service in an intimate dining area. The cuisine could compete with any high-end restaurant in Boston.

Favorite Nova Scotia Bakery: While visiting Dartmouth, my hotel was just around the corner from the Two If By Sea Cafe, where I had heard they made exceptional croissants. I found that was not an understatement. They are heavier than the usual croissant, containing far more layers, and probably weigh at least twice as much than the usual croissant. Yet they remain flaky and soft throughout the croissant, each bite a pure delight. Their prosciutto & cheese was my favorite, the prosciutto adding a salty flair to the croissant and some of the ham that stuck out the ends was satisfyingly crispy. This is one of the best croissants I have ever tasted, putting to shame so many meager ham & cheese croissants. Highly recommended.

Favorite Nova Scotia Restaurant: In Halifax, Chives Canadian Bistro offers a menu based on seasonal produce from local farmers, artisan cheese and meat producers, and sustainable seafood. The cuisine offers contemporary Canadian bistro dishes rooted in European culinary history. It is an intimate place, with cool decor, and the food and wine impressed. General Tao's Bacon, New Orleans Po' Boy Sandwich, Lobster Tagliatelle and more. The chef has won numerous awards and they are well deserved.

Favorite Carnivore Dinner: It is no secret that I love meat. When I traveled to Tuscany, I had a dinner that would have satiated even the most demanding carnivore. At the Officina della Bistecca, famed butcher Dario Cecchini offers an incredible prix fixe meal, which includes five courses of beef. All of the meat was superb, especially the beef tartare, which melted in my mouth. Cecchini uses high quality beef, simply prepared, and the flavor fills your mouth with joy. Seated at communal tables, dinner is more of an experience than simply a meal. My highest recommendation.

Favorite Dessert: At the Red Lantern in Boston, their Pineapple Bread Pudding, with coconut ice cream, was superb, a perfect blend of tropical flavors. The bread pudding had a nice firm, but soft, texture and it was bursting with fresh pineapple flavors. I really think an enterprising baker should open a bread pudding dessert shop, offering a variety of different bread puddings. Forget cup cakes, let us see more bread puddings.

Consistent Favorites

Favorite Brunch, Traditional Fare: For a third year, the winner is AKA Bistro in Lincoln.

Brunch, Traditional Fare-Honorable Mention: For a third year, my choice is Tupelo in Inman Square.

Favorite Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare: For the fourth year in a row, the winner is Myers & Chang in the South End.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant: For the third year in a row, the winner is AKA Bistro in Lincoln.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant: For a third year, the winner is Oishii in the South End.

Favorite Chinatown Restaurant:
For a third year, the winner is Gourmet Dumpling House.

Favorite Somerville Restaurant: Last year, Bergamot was my Overall Favorite Restaurant and it continues to be worthy of kudos. I haven't been there as much this past year but need to remedy that in the new year. My highest recommendation.

Favorite Underappreciated Restaurant: For the third year, the winner is T.W. Food in Cambridge.

Favorite Asian Buffet: For a fourth year, the winner is Taipei Tokyo Cafe in Woburn.

Favorite North End Restaurant, High End: For a third year, the winnner is Prezza.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Moderate: For a third year, the winner is Nebo.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Fusion: For a third year, the winner is Taranta.

Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: For a third year, the winner is Pizzeria Posto.

Favorite Suburban Steak House: For a fourth year, the winner is Beacon Grille in Woburn. 
Favorite Fried Seafood: For a third year, the winner is the Clam Box in Ipswich.

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012 In Review: A Collection of Lists

At the end of each year, I compile a number of lists of my Favorites of the past year: the top wines, restaurants, foods, sake, spirits, and more. These summary posts help my readers more easily find my favorites of the past year, rather than skimming through hundreds of posts on their own. I also enjoy compiling these lists as it enables me to scan over my blog for the past year, to relive many pleasant memories of the food and drinks which most pleased me.

The lists do not necessarily address the "Best" of anything, as I have not partaken of everything in any category so cannot pass such judgments. However, every item on these lists gets my strongest recommendations and I have faith that they should strongly appeal to most of my readers. Kudos go to all of those who are listed in my Favorites as they have well earned the accolades.

This post collects links to all of my 2012 Favorite lists.

I hope you enjoy.

2012: Top Ten Wines Under $15
2012: Top Ten Wines Over $15
2012: Top Wines Over $50
2012: Favorite Wine Related Items
2012: Favorite Spirits & Drink Related Items
2012: Favorite Restaurants
2012: Favorite Food-Related Items
2012: Favorite Sake Items

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012: Favorite Spirits & Drink Related Items

What were some of my favorite spirits and drink-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2012. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15Top Wines Over $50 and Favorite Wine Related Items lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. This is the first year that this category has been given its own post because I have tasted and reviewed a far greater amount of spirits, cocktails and other drinks this year. For more spirits and drink related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Spirit & Cocktail Event: The first Boston Cocktail Summit was held this past October, a three day event dedicated to a great diversity of spirits and cocktails. Though there were a few logistical issues, which are common with most large, first time events, there was much to like about this summit. A myriad of interesting and informative seminars and discussions, three spirit tasting rooms, plenty of parties and much more. I had tons of fun, learned lots, consumed copious amounts of delicious spirits and cocktails and met plenty of cool people. I eagerly look forward to the next Summit and encourage everyone to check it out as well.

Favorite Spirits Trip: Last May, I visited Louisville, Kentucky to see the Kentucky Derby but also made plans to explore the world of bourbon. I got to hang out with my good friend Fred Minnick, who also put us up in his home for part of our trip. In addition, Fred helped me with some of my bourbon plans. I visited the distilleries of Four Roses and Buffalo Trace as well as met the owners of Jefferson's Bourbon. At different restaurants and bars, I sampled a myriad of bourbons, both straight and in cocktails (like Mint Juleps), as well as savored several foods prepared with bourbon, including a killer bourbon bread pudding. I had an exceptional time in Louisville and highly recommend it to anyone who loves bourbon. You should also check out my two Bourbon 101 posts, Part 1 and Part 2.

Favorite Bourbon: It is simply too difficult to choose a single favorite out of all the bourbons I tasted this year. There were too many bourbons that impressed me with their complexity, flavors, texture and more. So I will just list a handful of the bourbons which especially intrigued me, including: Elijah Craig 18 Year OldFour Roses Japanese bourbonsJefferson's Bourbons, Van Winkle Special Reserve, and Eagle Rare Antique. The bourbon world has much to offer and is well worthy of an exploration. Your palate will thank you.

Favorite Unusual Bourbon: If you like Bailey's Irish Cream, you will be amazed by the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream Liqueur. It is made with real cream and has a rich, creamy and sweet taste, just pure hedonistic pleasure. I even tried some mixed with some root beer, which was kind of like a float without the ice cream, and it was delicious. Sadly, this is currently only available at the distillery but we can hope that they will distribute it outside Kentucky in the near future.

Favorite Spirits Dinner: Dinners paired with spirits and cocktails are starting to make their presence in Boston and I am a big supporter. The Glenmorangie Distillery Dinner at Avila was an exceptional event, with plenty of superb food and scotch. The distillery has a diverse portfolio of scotches, each presenting a unique flavor profile, and the pairings worked quite well. My favorite was their 18 Year Old, which is finished in Oloroso Sherry casks. The dinner, from the Goat Cheese Croquettes to the Wagyu Beef Cheeks, impressed me, especially as my last experience at the restaurant, years before, had been less than stellar. I hope the trend of spirit paired dinners continues to grow in 2013.

Favorite Scotch: Again, this was a tough choice but I felt there was one Scotch that eeked out a win against the others, though the race was extremely close. The Glenlivet Nàdurra is a 16 year old Scotch, which is unfiltered and left at cask strength, so it has an alcohol content of 54%. I found the Nàdurra to possess very intense and complex flavors, a harmonious collection of spice, herbs, honey and much more. You really need to sit with a glass of this and sip it slowly, to better understand its nuances. Though there is some heat from the alcohol, it is much more balanced than you might think.

Favorite Blended Scotch: The blended Scotch, Pig's Nose by Spencerfield, received its name from an old saying: "Tis said that our Scotch is as soft and as smooth as a Pig's Nose." It certainly lives up to its name, presenting a silky smooth mouth feel that caresses your palate. It is a blend of oak-aged Speyside, Islay and Lowland malts with Invergordon gentle grain whiskies. Its flavors run the gamut from caramel to nuts, from dried fruits to subtle smoke notes. A very easy drinking and delicious blended Scotch, it is something to savor and enjoy.

Favorite Irish Whiskey: This category was a tie between the The Irishman Single Malt and the Jameson Black Barrel. The Irishman is produced from 100% malted barley, triple distilled and then matured in first-fill bourbon and sherry oak casks. It is a more serious whiskey, being complex, subtle and intriguing. There is less sweetness and more spice than their Original Clan and the finish is even longer and more pleasing. This is definitely a whiskey to slowly sip and savor, and will appeal to all whiskey aficionados. The Jameson was created to make a sweeter style whiskey and I believe they succeeded in their objective. The Black Barrel is a blend of pot still whiskey and small batch grain whiskey, and they use virgin bourbon casks for aging. It has a sweet aroma, actually reminding me a bit of a nice bourbon, and on the palate, there is plenty of sweetness, yet not cloying. There were creamy tastes of vanilla, caramel, honey and even toasted marshmallow. It was mellow and smooth, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. A fine sipping whiskey, especially on a chilly autumn or winter evening.

Favorite Rye Whisky: Whistlepig Straight Rye Whiskey is made from 100% Rye, which currently comes from Canada, and it is aged and bottled at a farm in Vermont. The rye is 100 proof and has been aged a minimum of 10 years, seven in new, charred oak barrels and three more in used bourbon barrels. The aroma is a complex melange of appealing spice notes, all which present themselves up front on the palate, including some clove, anise, nutmeg, as well as hints of vanilla and caramel. It is the lengthy finish though that is even more impressive, silky smooth with a rich and compelling taste of butterscotch, vanilla and mint. This is definitely a fine sipping whiskey, something to slow savor with good friends.

Favorite Local Rums: Rum is once again being produced in Massachusetts and the new micro-distilleries are creating some tasty products. My two favorite local rums include a white and an amber. Andrew Cabot of Privateer Rum produces the compelling Silver Reserve White Rum, made only from cane sugar and brown sugar, without any molasses. It is 80 proof, and had a very appealing nose, smells of tropical fruit, such as banana, with herbal accents. Both come out on the palate as well, especially the herbs, such as anise and fennel. It actually presents a fairly complex taste, very different from many other white rums, and I very much enjoyed its herbal elements. In addition, it is fairly smooth on the palate, with only a mild bite on the finish, and I could easily drink it on its own. On the other hand, Turkey Shore Distilleries makes an impressive amber rum, Old Ipswich Tavern Style Amber.  I was really enamored with this rum, which had plenty of complexity and depth, and interesting flavors of vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, herbs and a subtle smoky aspect. It actually reminded me of a whiskey in some regards, and I would certainly drink this on its own rather than mix into a cocktail.

Favorite Domestic Rum (Non-Local): Made in Colorado, the Montanya Distillers Oro Dark Rum is produced from water, sugar cane (from Maui, Hawaii), yeast and honey. It is aged in a fresh, American oak whiskey barrel that previously held Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. The Oro was a fine sipping rum, with a pleasant blend of flavors, including vanilla, honey, caramel, and mocha hints. Nice complexity, great flavors and a satisfying finish.

Favorite Spiced Rum: The good folks from Turkey Shore Distilleries have made a limited edition Old Ipswich Golden Marsh Spiced Rum, basically a blend of 80% of their White Cap rum and 20% of their Tavern Style Amber with the addition of ten different spices. The rum presents a bright, golden yellow color and a spicy aroma, which will bring to mind autumn and cool weather. It has a smooth taste, with delicious fall spice notes and hints of orange peel. This is definitely a rum to enjoy now, either on its own or in a cocktail. Try it with some hot apple cider.

Favorite Flavored Rum: The Dunc's Mill Elderflower Rum is an intriguing flavored rum made in Vermont. It is created with Vermont elderflower blossoms and Austrian elder essence, which is infused into a light rum. I was impressed with this rum, which possessed a delightful floral aroma, and on the palate was smooth, clean and dry with a prominent, but not overwhelming, taste of elderflower. It was a well balanced spirit which reminded me somewhat of a dry version of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.

Favorite Vodka: I am very selective when it comes to vodka but Cariel Vodka was able to appeal to me. Made in Sweden, it is created from Swedish winter wheat and barley, as well as glacial water from Lake Vattern. I found the vodka to have an almost subtle sweetness to the aroma, with an intriguing and smooth taste, elements of herbs, grain, and subtle peach flavors. It is definitely not a tasteless vodka but rather presents an enticing melange of subtle tastes. Great on its own or in a cocktail.

Favorite Flavored Vodka: I am generally not a fan of flavored vodkas, but I did like the Cariel Vanilla Vodka, which sees the addition of vanilla from Southern India and Madagascar. It had a big, bold vanilla aroma and flavor, yet it remained only mildly sweet, not cloying or artificial like many other flavored vodkas. I can see this working well in the right cocktail.

Favorite Tequila: The Tanteo Jalapeno Infused Blanco Tequila is a blanco tequila infused with hand-sliced, organic jalapenos which are mixed in a 10,000 gallon tank with the tequila. On the nose, there are some grassy notes as well as the typical agave, and on the palate, the tequila flavor was very prominent up front. On the finish, rather than the usual tequila bite, you ended up with a spicy and delicious jalapeno burn. It was not overly spicy, but very noticeable and I loved that heat. I could easily enjoy this on its own though it would make great cocktails as well.

Favorite Pisco: The Macchu Pisco La Diablada is intended to be a high-end Peruvian Pisco and is currently not available in the U.S. but that will hopefully change soon. They only make 1000 bottles so even when it becomes available, it will be in very limited supply. La Diablada is a blend of 3 Pisco grapes: Quebranta, Moscatel and Italia that is rested, not aged, for about 18 months and sees no oak. It is very aromatic with a smooth taste of herbs and fruit, with some underlying spiciness. A complex taste with a lengthy and pleasing finish. Though many know of the Pisco Sour, this is a Pisco that you might want to enjoy on its own, rather than as the base for a cocktail.

Favorite Mezcal: Delirio de Oaxaca is a traditional palenque in Matatlan, Oaxaca, producing Mezcal by Master Distiller Fernando Santibanez. The Mezcal Joven is double distilled in copper alembics from 100% Agave Espadin and only 10,000 bottles were produced. It had an intriguing smoky nose with a prominent taste of agave fruit and a mild smokiness. Quite tasty and I could drink it on its own or in a cocktail. The Mezcal Reposado has been aged for about 4 months in lightly toasted American oak and only 5000 bottles were produced. It had a lighter nose of smoke, and on the palate it was softer and more subtle, with the same delicious fruit flavors and hints of smoke. Again, another winner. My preference between the two, by a slim margin, is the Reposado.

Favorite Simple Cocktail: In the hot Douro region of Portugal, the Port and Tonic cocktail is very popular. I had the Fonseca Siroco White Port, a dry Port, with some added tonic in a tall glass on the rocks, with a lemon slice. It reminded me of a vodka & tonic, but with more citrus flavors and a slight nuttiness. It was a clean and refreshing cocktail, perfect for a summer day.

Favorite Cocktail: Post 390 has created two similar cocktails, the Peach n' Pig and the Fig n' Pig. The Peach n' Pig was bacon infused and made with house-smoked Bulleit Bourbon, Punt E Mes, homemade peach simple syrup, homemade bitters, and a grilled peach garnish. It was a well balanced drink, smoky with a mild sweetness and nice vanilla and peach flavors. The Fig n' Pig was similar, but with Fig instead of the Peach, and it pleased me even more, with a greater depth of flavor. Both also paired well with food, especially pork dishes.

Favorite Margarita: The Masa restaurant, with locations in Boston and Woburn, infuses their own Reposado tequila to make a Habanero Watermelon Margarita. I love the taste of watermelon and this cocktail presented a nice watermelon taste, not too sweet, with a tequila undertone and a very spicy finish. If you love fiery heat, then you should check out this Margarita.

Favorite Frozen Cocktail: I think there is a pattern here as I am once again raving about another spicy cocktail, this time the Burro Colada from the Painted Burro. The Burro Colada is a frozen cocktail made with Ron Virgin, Cream of Coconut and Cayenne Pineapple Juice. The addition of the cayenne elevated this cocktail, providing a delicious spicy kick on the finish, balancing out the initial chill. A great variation on the traditional Pina Colada.

Favorite Restaurant/Bar For Cocktails: Though there are plenty of excellent places to get cocktails in the Boston area, I want to highlight three places which especially impressed me this year. The Painted Burrowith its huge list of tequilas and mezcals and intriguing cocktails and margaritas. Post 390, with its fresh ingredients and innovative cocktail creations like the Fig n' Pig. ArtBar, with a constantly changing list of intriguing and well made cocktails (plus killer sweet potato tots).

Cocktail Cupcakes: Cupcakes are another trend which I wish wasn't still saturating the market. However, there are still a few standouts worthy of recognition. Cakes For Occasions, in Danvers, has created their Cupcakes After 5, where they use alcohol to make a variety of cupcakes. First, the cupcakes were compelling, all properly moist while the frosting was light and creamy. Second, some of the flavors were impressive, including the Rum & Coke, Sam Adams Cream Stout, and the Bailey's Irish Cream. They showcased the flavors of the alcohol without overwhelming the cupcakes. These cupcakes are still relatively new and they are continuing to hone the flavors, creating new ones all the time.

Favorite Hard Cider: The Woodchuck Farmhouse Select Original '91 is a small batch hard cider made with Vermont apples and Belgian beer yeast. The '91 simply reflects the year that Woodchuck started production, and does not indicate the year of brewing. It has an alcohol content of 6.9% and is unfiltered, so it looks a bit cloudy and there are tiny pieces of apple still in it. It is primarily dry with a fascinating and complex taste of apple and spice notes. It is absolutely delicious, well balanced, and once you have a glass, you will desire another. Some hard ciders are simple but tasty drinks while others attain for higher heights, to be something to slowly savor and enjoy. This Farmhouse Select reaches those heights.

Runner-Up Hard Cider: Made in Somerville, the Bantam Cider also impresses. It contains only fermented pressed apples, honey and sulfites. The apples are a mix of Cortland, Empire, Macintosh and green apples, all from western Massachusetts. They use a sparkling wine yeast and ferment it dry, adding the honey later more for body than sweetness. It has an alcohol content of 6%, is gluten free and is mostly dry, with only a light sweetness. There are lots of tasty apple flavors, hints of some floral elements and a fuller body than some other hard ciders. It was refreshing and the type of hard cider that you can easily drink a few bottles on a nice summer day.

Favorite Beer: I am generally not a beer guy so you rarely see beer reviews on my site. But this year I tasted a beer which did appeal to me, the Innis and Gunn Rum Cask. Innis and Gunn is a Scottish brewery, established in 2003, and they oak age their beers. This limited edition beer is aged in old rum barrels. This beer has a deep reddish color and the taste is compelling, a melange of tropical fruit and spice with a very mild beer flavor. It reminded me of the Caribbean, and I could see it also being food friendly. Even if you dislike beer, you should give this a chance.

Favorite New Alcohol Column: This year, I started a new series on my blog called Authors, Alcohol & Accolades. There are currently six installments of this series, each containing interviews with four different authors, asking them about their favorite drinks, alcoholic and nonalcoholic. In addition, each of the authors has written books which I enjoyed so I also provide book recommendations in these posts. It has been a fun series, and it has been cool to learn what some of my favorite authors like to drink.

What were some of your favorite spirits and drink related items this year?