Thursday, January 31, 2013

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) For Valentine's Day, consider The Beehive which is presenting “3 Days of Lovin’!” A 3-day long love fest of Valentine’s Day inspired dinners accompanied by romantic live music, drink specials from Svedka Vodka, Domaine Chandon and Moët & Chandon as well as menu specials including: “My Heart Beets Crab Salad” with beets, hearts of palm & sugar snap peas, Rack of Lamb for Two with salsa verde, roasted potatoes & blood orange salad, and Roasted Sea Scallop with spinach & truffle pommes puree, to name a few. Pair the dinner of your choice with delicious cocktails from Svedka, or toast your love with a glass of Domaine Chandon or Moët & Chandon to set the mood.

Reservations are highly recommended, and can be made by calling 617-423-0069.

Performance Schedule:
Wednesday, February 13:
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Alex Brown Piano Trio, 7pm-12am
Thursday, February 14:
--Romantic Early Jazz Set featuring Fernando Huergo, Yulia Musayelyan and Nando Michelin: 5pm-7pm
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Gabriela Martina: 7:30pm-9:30pm
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Sissy Castrogiovanni: 9:30pm-1am
Friday, February 15:
--Romantic Early Latin Jazz Set: Gilson Schacknick Trio, 6:30pm-8:30pm
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Wishes and Thieves: 10pm-2am

2) Ashmont Grill’ will host its first stemmed glass wine event on Monday, February 18 at 7:00 PM. Winemaker Rodney Schatz of Hybrid Wines, an offshoot of Peltier Station, will host a communal dinner for a maximum of 20 guests. Cost is $55 per person (including tax and gratuity) and you can RSVP to or call them at 617-825-4300.

Over five courses of seasonal cuisine, Schatz will chat with diners about how top-rated, sustainably grown grapes from his family’s 1,200 acre vineyard in Lodi, California were meticulously blended to make a new breed of affordable, food-loving wines. Blends to be poured include Hybrid’s pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and petite sirah. Vintages span 2007 to 2011. Menu will be posted online soon.

Ashmont Grill will now also be open for lunch every Friday at 11:30 AM. A 10-item menu of salads, sandwiches, pasta and soup will be available, and lunchtime will segue into dinnertime, so that the Grill’s famous Super Turkey Burger, Pearl Hot Dogs, and Cobb Salads can be enjoyed anytime until 5 PM on that day. Lunch items range from $7-15.

Desserts, always a top draw at Ashmont Grill, will also be available at the new Friday lunch. Pastry Chef Clare Garland’s lineup for January includes:
Chocolate Crème Fraiche Cake with Roasted Pears
Parfait of Banana Cream & Butterscotch Pudding with Pecan Crunch
French Apple Tart with crème anglaise

3) Chef Brian Poe is bringing the Tip Tap Room’s first Valentine’s Weekend to Beacon Hill. For three nights, Chef Poe will serve up The Love Game menu which features a series of bold – and aptly named – dishes. In addition to the regular menu, “The Love Game” is offered as a five-course prix fixe or with the items available a la carte:
--Wicked Tuna: Tuna tartare in soy vinaigrette with wasabi and pickled ginger sorbet ($10.95)
--You Had Me at Carpaccio:  Cayenne-dusted buffalo carpaccio, horseradish, truffle & rosemary vinaigrette and a touch of caviar ($11.95)
--Mixed Emulsions:  Peppercress, celery root chips, seared foie gras, apple-cider-champagne vinaigrette ($12.95)
--Wildly in Love:  Kangaroo in peppercorn, antelope in cranberry gin, elk in rosemary-sage marinade, rutabaga puree and parsnip-parsley salsa ($28.95)
--Hot Sticky Mess:  Hazelnut & chocolate waffle with white chocolate chip-marshmallow butter and chocolate caramel maple sauce ($11.95 – for two people)

Cost: Five-course prix fixe: $75 per person (individual items are also available via a la carte pricing)
For reservations, please call: 857-350-3344.

4) On Tuesday, February 12, from 5pm-12am, 75 on Liberty Wharf will get decked out in festive décor for a special Mardi Gras-inspired night in celebration of this year’s Creole carnival. In addition to the bayou-themed embellishments, Corporate Chef Markus Ripperger has assembled a selection of Southern-inspired dishes featuring an array of the region’s most iconic ingredients - think succulent crawfish, spicy andouille sausage and zesty Cajun flavors - that promise to make your taste buds shout, “Holy Trinity.” And, inspired by the Big Easy’s chief customary cocktail, 75 will offer a line-up of Hurricane-themed sips ideal for those really looking to get in the spirit.

75 on Liberty Wharf’s menu of Mardi Gras-themed cuisine will feature the following specials:
Louisiana Seafood Burger (homemade burger with fresh halibut, Atlantic salmon, center cut swordfish, toasted croissant, lettuce, tomato, spicy aioli, field greens) $14
Jambalaya (crawfish, shrimp, chicken, spicy andouille sausage, peppers, tomatoes, steamed white rice) $19
Crawfish Étouffée (crawfish, garden vegetables, tomatoes, Cajun spices, white rice) $19
Shrimp & Chicken Gumbo (shrimp, chicken, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, Cajun spices, white rice) $19

75 on Liberty Wharf’s Mardi Gras specials will be served in addition to the regular New England-centric menu.
For reservations, please call: 617-227-0754

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Westport Rivers: Local Wines Worthy Of Respect

Can vitis vinifera, the common wine grape, grow well in Massachusetts? Can it produce delicious Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, or should local wineries purchase their grapes from outside of the state? Should Massachusetts concentrate more on growing hybrid grapes or making fruit wines?

The 30+ Massachusetts wineries present a varied picture and many of them do not grow their own grapes. Some make fruit wines while others purchase grapes from places like California and New York. Of those that do grow their own grapes, especially vitis vinifera, most seem to be located in southeastern Massachusetts, along the Coastal Wine Trail.

Consisting of about 80 acres, the largest vineyard in Massachusetts, and possibly all of New England, is owned by Westport Rivers Winery, which was founded in 1986. The owners believed the climate and soil at their site was an excellent location for a vineyard, and their wines give proof to their belief. They only produce wines made from grapes they grow on their vineyard, such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat and Pinot Noir.

I lasted visited the winery over six years ago though had enjoyed their sparkling wines for a few years before that. About seven years ago, when I began blogging with a group of friends at the Real World Winers site (now defunct) and before I started The Passionate Foodie, the 2001 Westport Rivers Brut Cuvee RJR Sparkling Wine was one of our most highly recommended wines. Since that time, I have generally only seen their sparkling wines available at local wine stores. Their still wines were elusive but I now wish more shops would carry them, so that they were more readily available. I also need to make a trip down to the winery again, maybe this spring, to learn more about everything they are doing.

Westport Rivers recently sent me samples of two of their sparkling wines, the 2006 Brut Cuvee RJR and the 2001 Blanc de Blancs Brut. Then, this past weekend, the winery had a table at the Wayland Winter Farmers' Market and I had the opportunity to taste and be impressed by several of their still wines and one apertif/dessert wine. Their winemaker, Bill Russell, is producing plenty of wines of which he should be proud, showing the potential for Massachusetts wines produced from locally grown grapes.

The 2006 Westport Rivers Brut RJR ($34.99) is produced from a blend of about 70% Pinot Noir with the remainder Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Meunier. It spent over four years in tirage, was disgorged about eight months before release and has a dosage of 0.8%. This is a compelling sparkling wine with a fine golden color and a pleasing nose of toast and citrus. On the palate, it is clean, dry and crisp with lovely green apple and toasted bread notes. It has a nice depth of character, a long satisfying finish, and will remind you of a nice Champagne. It is not inexpensive but I think it can compare well to Champagnes at a similar price point.

For New Year's Eve, I chose to open the 2001 Westport Rivers Blanc de Blancs Brut ($45), produced from 100% Chardonnay. It spent about ten years in tirage, was disgorged a little over eight months before release and has a dosage of 0.2%. This is a superb sparkling wine that is well balanced and possesses great complexity. It has prominent acidity, is very dry and has intriguing notes of green apple, toast, pears and hints of other elusive flavors that will tantalize your palate. I was extremely happy that I opened this bottle to bring in the New Year, starting off the year with a fantastic local wine. At this price point, I think it competes very well with similarly priced Champagnes. It gets my highest recommendation.

As for their still whites, I tasted three of them and enjoyed all three. The 2011 Westport Rivers Chardonnay ($18) is a blend of 80% oaked Chardonnay and 20% unoaked, made in a more French style. It is crisp and dry with bright apple and citrus flavors and only a touch of richness from the oak. An excellent food wine, it is also pleasing on its own. The 2011 Westport Rivers Riesling ($18) is also crisp and dry, with bolder citrus flavors and hints of tropical fruit. Easy drinking and food friendly, this is another delicious wine from their portfolio.

I was intrigued by the 2011 Westport Rivers Cinco Cães ($18), a unique white blend of Rkatsiteli, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat and Chardonnay. Cinco Cães, a Portuguese phrase that means "five dogs," is named for five dogs they owned, four Labrador retrievers and an Azorean cattle dog. Though an easy drinking wine, you might at first overlook its complexity. A fascinating blend of aromatics with tastes of green apple, pear, citrus, and herbal notes. It is crisp and delicious, with a lengthy finish and after having a glass, you are going to crave another and then another. Highly recommended.

How do red grapes fare in Massachusetts? Westport Rivers grows Pinot Noir but they have only produced a still wine from Pinot Noir twice, including the recent 2010 Westport Rivers Pinot Noir ($25). Most of their Pinot Noir ends up in their sparkling wines. About 600 cases were made of the 2010 Pinot. It was a light bodied wine, with tasty notes of cherry and ripe plum along with a mild earthiness. Mild tannins, an alcohol content of 13.2% and a pleasing finish. A Pinot that is sure to appeal to many wine lovers.  

Pinot Noir also figures into a fascinating apertif/after dinner wine, the Grace Pinot Noir ($25). The winery sends out some of their Pinot Noir to a distillery to make a brandy. When the brandy is returned, they add some Pinot Noir juice and age it for five years in French oak. Five different vintages are blended together and the end result has a powerful alcohol content of 17.5%. It is going to remind you of an aged Tawny Port in some respects with its intriguing flavors of caramel, dried figs, dark cherry and other savory notes. There is only a hint of sweetness in its rich and luxurious mouth feel. Unusual and compelling.

Massachusetts can be proud of Westport Rivers, making true local wines that will intrigue and satisfy wine lovers. Seek out their wines and you can look forward to more coverage from me of this compelling winery.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shōjō: A Welcome Addition To Chinatown

In Japanese mythology, a shōjō is commonly considered to be a water spirit that loves Sake. You'll find several legends about them that center around magical Sake, from Sake that can cure any illness to Sake pots that are always full, no matter how much your pour out. The legend has a Chinese origin and the term is sometimes translated as "orangutan" so that a few legends describe shōjō as resembling monkeys. In my first Tipsy Sensei story, Yurine's Pot, the legend of the shōjō played a pivotal role. With my interest in such matters, I was intrigued by a new Chinatown restaurant called Shōjō.

The restaurant opened last August but it wasn't until recently that I stopped by there for lunch. I was going to be in the area so decided to check it out. I learned from their Facebook page that during the month of January all of the items on their lunch menu were only $5. Sounded like a great time to sample a variety of their dishes inexpensively. However, their lunch menu was not listed on their website so I contacted their PR person to obtain a copy. My friend Jackie and I then dined there, and at the end of the meal we learned that the restaurant had comped our lunch. You can also check out Jackie's compelling review of our dining experience.

Shōjō is a small restaurant and bar, seating around 50 people, and located in the heart of Chinatown on Tyler Street. Its intent is to attract people to Chinatown who might feel intimidated by some of the more authentic and traditional restaurants. To that objective, its cuisine is Pan-Asian with a modern twist, a playful take on more traditional and authentic dishes. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and the menus change weekly "...depending on the availability of fresh and local ingredients." The walls have various paintings of a simian shojo on a search for a river of Sake. There is an enticing casual vibe about the restaurant.

The usual lunch menu is divided into three sections, including Soup & Small Bites (8 items, priced $4-$8), Mains (10 items, most priced $7-$9) and Desserts (1 item, priced at $5). They have a list of vegetarian options too. The lunch menu we viewed at the restaurant was a bit different due to their anniversary special where all the items were priced at $5. There is plenty of diversity on the menu, and there should be something for all tastes and preferences. In addition, I feel it is reasonably priced, even considering the usual lunch menu prices.

I looked at their drinks menu, which intrigued me, but we didn't order anything to drink besides green tea. They have about nine Sakes, some Shochu and numerous unique cocktails. There are some good Sakes on the list though nothing especially unique. For a restaurant using a Sake legend in their decor and motif, I would have liked to see a greater number and variety of Sakes available on their menu. I am interested in trying some of their Shochu cocktails.

Overall, our food was delicious and satisfying and I am eager to return. The Red & Hot Wonton Soup (usually $5) is a perfect dish for winter, a savory and spicy soup with several small wontons. It was a good-sized dish and the broth seemed more intense and complex than the usual wonton soups served at many Americanized Chinese spots. A great way to start your lunch.

The Char Sui Empandas (which are not on the regular lunch menu) resembled a fried ravioli filled with a savory, moist chunk of pulled pork. A tasty starter which will appeal to everyone.

The Duck Fat Fries with Sirracha Aioli (usually $5) were addictive, crispy with a fluffy interior, and with that welcome flavor addition from the duck fat. A great bar snack with Sake or a cocktail.

My favorite dish was the “Damn! Damn!! Noodles!!!” (usually $8), which comes with ground pork, bean sprouts, egg noodles, and Szechuan peppercorn though I had mine prepared without the sprouts. This is a twist on Dandan noodles, which are often found in Americanized Chinese restaurants made with a peanut butter sauce. Traditionally, no peanut butter is used. The fresh noodles were cooked nicely, with just the right amount of firmness to them, and the entire dish offered a delectable taste, savory, salty and rich, especially with the egg yolk. The crispy pork bits really added to this dish. I liked the presentation too and would highly recommend this dish.

The Grilled Chicken Coconut Curry Over (usually $8), atop jasmine rice, was another winner of a main dish. A large, moist and tender boneless chicken breast was covered by a spicy curry with a rich coconut taste and some crisp veggies. This is another dish I would strongly recommend.

For dessert, we had some Chocolate Sesame Balls (usually $5), which are a twist on a traditional Chinese dish that usually contains Azuki bean paste. This was an interesting dessert, made from a glutinous rice flour which gave it a chewy texture, which was covered in sesame seeds, adding nuttiness, and then fried. The center contained rich, warm chocolate and made for an intriguing blend of textures and flavors. You might fight over who gets the last of these tasty treats.

We also tasted a Coconut Jelly dessert, covered in a berry puree, which was ok, just not my preference. It had a different jelly texture, much firmer than the typical jello, panna cotta or similar dessert. The coconut flavor was mild and the berry taste seemed to overwhelm the coconut.

My first experience at Shōjō was very positive and I look forward to my next visit, to try more of their dishes and to delve into their drinks menu.  I like the fact the menu changes frequently, so you will find something new all the time. This is not the place to go if you are seeking authentic Chinese dishes. Rather it is a spot where you go to enjoy their playful takes on traditional cuisine, a great entry spot for newcomers to Chinatown who might feel intimidated in more traditional spots. However, even if you love traditional Chinese food, it is well worth visiting here for their unique take on Asian dishes.

Kanpai to Shōjō!

Shōjō on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 28, 2013

Rant: Reviewer Card, Douchebags & Ethics

By now, you probably have read at least one article about the new Reviewer Card, a plastic card that states "I Write Reviews." The Los Angeles Times was one of the first to bring this card to our attention and numerous others have written about it during the past week. A self-described "lifelong entrepreneur" essentially decided that if restaurants and other businesses were aware that he wrote online reviews then they would provide him special service. As he felt there were other online reviewers in a similar situation, who wanted special treatment, he created the Reviewer Card.

An online reviewer simply flashes this card at a business and the hope is that the business will fawn all over this person, providing them special service, far better than the average person receives. It can be used at almost any business, from a restaurant to a hotel, from a dentist to an auto service station. The catch is that there is absolutely no guarantee that use of the card will be successful, and based on the comments of some restaurant owners during the past week, it could actually get you kicked out of some places.

This entrepreneur charges $100 for the plastic Reviewer card and states he will only provide them to "highly active review site users," though there are no parameters for what that entails. It is the entrepreneur's sole discretion as to who can receive the card. Interestingly, their membership application has apparently changed during the past week, maybe due to all of the recent negative press. Previously, they listed specific online sites, such as Yelp and Trip Advisor, where you indicated your contributions. There was no place though to list if you wrote a blog. Now you simply list your "Top Reviewer Profiles" so it could also include a blog.

In addition, there appears to be a new question on the application: "Do you accept to use this card ethically and morally?" There is nothing on their website that indicates what constitutes an ethical and moral use of the card. Thus, it is a question with no real teeth. Based on comments made by the entrepreneur, his grasp of the ethics of restaurant reviewing seems questionable. For example, he apparently sees nothing wrong with failing to disclose any special treatment he receives, which many others would see as an ethical failure to be transparent, an ethical failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The question seems to be new, drafted in response to all of the negative publicity.

The entrepreneur claims that he has sold about 100 of the Reviewer Cards and has given away another 400 or so though we should probably take his claims with a grain of salt. If true, he has already earned about $10,000, which is fairly lucrative for selling a cheap plastic card which guarantees nothing. It makes little sense for anyone to purchase this card. Why pay $100 when any reviewer could spend $10 and buy a bunch of business cards that say the exact same thing? In fact, they could even get a bunch of business cards for free from a few different companies.

Those business cards possess the same potential as the Reviewer Card. Even without any card, some try to assert that they possess a privileged status as an online reviewer. There have always been stories of Yelpers and others who have just announced their status to a restaurant owner, demanding special service or comped meals. Use of the Reviewer Card only elevates the level of ignorance and arrogance of these people.

If you collect all of the various articles about the Reviewer Card during the past week, the most common pejorative you will find about the card and those who would use it is "douchebag." It is an apt description. Few have defended the practice and rightfully so. It raises a number of ethical issues which any restaurant reviewer should consider but which some unfortunately ignore. Despite the entrepreneur's denials, the Reviewer Card seems designed to violate these ethical considerations

Use of this card can be seen as a form of extortion, where the reviewer demands special service from a restaurant or other business with the unspoken threat that they will write a terrible review if the business does not comply. A threat does not need to be spoken to be intended or understood. With the spread of the Internet, and all of the consumer review sites, restaurants and other businesses fully understand that any customer can write a negative review that thousands will see. It is in their best interest to treat all customers equally as they never know who might or might not write a review.

Use of this card can also be considered a type of bribe, where the reviewer agrees to provide a top review if they receive special service. A pay for play situation. The entrepreneur behind this card sees nothing wrong with this practice, though responsible restaurant reviewers understand the ethical problem with that type of behavior. Transparency is required for any situation where there is a potential conflict of interest, such as receiving free samples or a comped meal. The FCC certainly sees this as a necessity for bloggers, though there are certainly a few bloggers who violate those disclosure requirements.

The Reviewer Card is for narcissistic, entitled douchebags who think they deserve special treatment just because they write snarky reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor. They don't want to be treated like any average customer. They want to be special, to receive special treatment. They don't want to tell the truth but rather brag about the treatment they received, which the average patron might not ever receive. It is also for someone dumb enough to spend $100 for a card they could create on their own for a minimal cost, if not free.

I think that the example of the Reviewer Card should cause anyone who reviews restaurants, wines, and other businesses to do some soul searching, to review their own behavior and ensure that it is ethical. They should ask certain questions and honestly answer them. Are you always transparent in your reviews? Do you ever guarantee a review in exchange for some type of consideration? Do you threaten in any way, verbally or not, to write a negative review if you do not receive special consideration? Do you endeavor to be honest in your reviews, to share both the positive and negative?

For bloggers, I recommend that you post your own ethical policies on your sites, to indicate the standards you endeavor to follow. As an example, you can read my own Code of Ethics, Disclosure, Advertising and Sample Policies. If you wish to be taken seriously in any way, you should be an ethical reviewer. It will enhance your credibility and reputation.

Don't be a douchebag!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Signing Event For Demons, Gods & Sake: Feb.2

Have you read my Boston-based, supernatural thriller yet?

As I previously mentioned, my new novel, Demons, Gods & Sake is now available as a Trade Paperback through AmazonThe Trade Paperback is 252 pages long and sells for $14.95. This novel is the fourth installment of the Tipsy Sensei series, the adventures of Nate Randall, a Sake Expert from Boston. The novel is also available as an Ebook and the prior three Tipsy Sensei short stories are available as Ebooks too.

Demons, Gods and Sake can now be found at three bookstores, The Book Oasis in Stoneham, Bestsellers Cafe in Medford, and Pandemonium in Central Square, Cambridge as well as the AKA Bistro restaurant in Lincoln. I am hoping to make it available in a few other local and independent book stores in the near future. If any restaurants, book stores or other businesses would like to stock my new novel and/or do a book signing, please contact me.

On Saturday, February 2, from 2pm-3:30pm, I will be presiding at an author event and signing my novel at Bestsellers Cafe in Medford. So come on down, meet me and pick up a copy of my book. I will be answering questions about my book as well as any Sake questions people have. Pick up a copy for yourself or get one for the book lovers in your life.

Hope you see you at my author event and signing!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Health Benefits of Sake

It has been brutally cold for the last couple days and people have been warned that drinking alcohol will not keep them warm. However, is that fully true? A Japanese doctor, Yukio Takizawa, disagrees when it comes to Sake. "Recent studies have shown that moderate consumption of saké can maintain our body temperature in the cold. During acute exposure to a cold environment saké may prove advantageous by increasing blood circulation and heat production."

Though Dr. Takizawa does not differentiate whether he is referring to cold or warm Sake, it is common for the Japanese to drink warm Sake during the winter. Kanzake is the general term for warmed Sake though there are several specific terms for Sake served at various heated temperatures. The first written references to warmed Sake are from the early 10th century and it was not until the early 17th century that drinking warmed Sake during the winter became commonplace. Interestingly, around the start of the 18th century, the Japanese started drinking warm Sake year round.

Why did the Japanese drink warmed Sake? It is thought that the primary reason may be for their health. The Chinese had drank warmed alcohol for a long time before the Japanese and they had health traditions that drinking warmed beverages were better for your health. During the early 18th century, Kaibara Ekiken, an influential samurai, physician, scientist and philosopher, wrote a book promoting the idea that warm Sake improves the circulation of one's life energy.

The health benefits of Sake extend well beyond protection from the cold. "Consuming saké in moderation has been hailed in Japan since ancient times as a healthy practice that delivers good health, longevity and excellent skin tone." Though you might want to dismiss that as primitive folklore with little basis in reality, recent scientific studies have provided a solid foundation for these beliefs. "In light of the best current medical knowledge, moderate saké consumption is good for liver health, effective in preventing most forms of cancer, enables good blood flow, and reduces stress." Dr. Takizawa also stated: "Saké too offers a number of particular health benefits, including increased HDL (or the good) cholesterol, thus preventing heart attacks, strokes and other health problems. Furthermore, saké contains many naturally occurring nutrients." Sake can even help you sleep better. "Moderate consumption of saké is known to reduce REM sleep and increase the non-REM or deep sleep, therefore helping to make for more restful sleep."

All of the above quotes can be found in Dr. Takizawa's compelling book: Sake, Health and Longevity (Veronica Lane Books, May 2011). This short, but fascinating, book details a myriad of health benefits, based on numerous studies, provided by Sake. You can read this book to learn more detail about the general health statements I quoted above. Besides the health benefits, it also provides basic information about Sake production, Sake types and pairing Sake with food. It is a great starting point for learning more about Sake and raises many intriguing points that deserve follow up and exploration. Sake is delicious but it also appears to be good for you, providing another important reason for everyone to check it out.

"In fact, an ancient Japanese saying reminds the gourmet ”to drink sake, not to get drunk by it.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

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) For Valentine's Day, consider Tavolo where Chef Nuno Alves will be have a special ala carte Valentine's Day menu from Thursday, February 14 through Sunday, February 17. .

In addition, they are offering a Couples Cooking Class on Saturday, February 16 at 12pm. Come to Tavolo, strap on an apron, and learn together how to make beet (think pink) raviolis, roast rack of lamb, and seasonal sides. All this togetherness, plus a post-class luncheon with wine, is $120 per couple. Call to reserve your space at 617-822-1918.

Also on Saturday, February 16, at 6pm, there will be Live Acoustic Guitar from their own Ryan Beke. Ryan is a local musician who attended Berklee, teaches several instruments to kids, records, and brings a funky energy. Beke has become a regular at the infamous Wally's in Boston, but you can skip the crowds and see him here, and you never know who he'll bring along to jam with.

2) For Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14, the four restaurants of the Grafton Group, including PARK, Russell House Tavern, Temple Bar and Grafton Street, will have special menus.

Valentine’s Day Dining à la Carte

First Course
Chilled Crab & Melon Salad (Avocado, Roasted Lime Vinaigrette)
French Onion Soup (Bone Marrow Toast) Seared Foie Gras (Armagnac-Soaked Prunes, Brioche)
Seared Scallops (Truffled Cauliflower Purée, Crispy Kale)
Grilled 12-oz. Ribeye (Potato Gratin, Roasted Asparagus, Red Wine Sauce)
Red Velvet Cupcake (Mascarpone Frosting)

Russell House Tavern
Three-Course Prix Fixe
$59 per person ($10 discount for reservations before 6:30 PM)
$18 per person optional beer or wine pairing

First Course
Potato & Pernod Soup (Smoked Moosabec Mussels, Watercress)
Parsley & Ricotta Cavatelli (Braised Goat, Raisins, Pine Nuts, Mint)
60-Degree Egg (Parsnip Honey, House-Smoked & Cured Speck, Arugula)
Smoked Duck Rillettes (Fernet, Cherries, Toast)
Roasted Half-Pheasant (Toasted Sunflower Butter, Wild Mushroom Pancake, Pea Greens)
Salt Cod & Roasted Tomato Stew (Crispy Oysters, Sea Urchin Rouille)
Moscato & Fennel-Braised Veal Shank (Anson Mills Polenta, Black Fig Gravy)
Crispy Cider-Glazed Heritage Pork Belly (Apple, Celery Root & Guanciale Hash, Soft-Poached Egg, Vinegar Greens)
Chocolate Strawberry “Snowball” (Chocolate Truffle Cake, Strawberry Mousse, Coconut, Marshmallow)
Olive Oil Cake (Lemon Gelato, Pine Nut Cookie, Mint Simple Syrup)
The New England Cheese Board (Three Local Cheeses, Traditional Accompaniments (add $9)

Temple Bar
Three-Course Prix Fixe
$49 per person ($10 discount for reservations before 6:30 PM)
$18 per person optional beer or wine pairing

First Course
Thai Coconut-Lemongrass Soup (Poached Shrimp, Thai Basil, Frizzled Leeks)
Panko-Crusted Scallop Cakes (Beluga Lentils, Candied Bacon Jam, Crispy Beet Root)
Foie Gras Terrine (Kumquat Marmalade, Fennel Pollen, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Brioche)
Teriyaki-Braised Short Rib (Green Tea Rice, Pickled Veggies)
Warm Eggplant Casserole (Fennel-Parmesan Gratin, Wild Mushroom “Meatballs,” Cured Black Olives, Capers, Grilled Baguette)
Rosemary Honey-Glazed Rohan Duck Breast (Sweet Potato Pavé, Broccoli Rabe, Black Mission Fig Jus)
Pan-Seared Mahi-Mahi (Israeli Couscous, Sliced Almonds, Grapes, Cilantro, Pineapple Curry Sauce, Crispy Plantains)
Grilled Ribeye Steak (Creamed Spinach, Truffled Duchess Potato, Gorgonzola Butter, Bordelaise)
Chocolate & Peanut Butter Mousse Cake (Dark Chocolate Ganache, Caramelized Banana)
Passion Fruit & Strawberry Napoleon (Filo Dough, Coconut Mochi, Ginger Caramel)

Grafton Street
Valentine’s Day Dining à la Carte. Suggested wine pairings available

First Course 
Chestnut Rangoon (Oxtail Marmalade, Young Celery Leaves, Pine Nuts, Truffle Oil)
Parmigiano Reggiano Tartlet (Tuscan Kale Salad, Toasted Almonds, Plump Golden Raisins)
Pan-Seared Atlantic Halibut (Red Curry Sweet Potato Purée, Radish, Edamame, Tarragon, Green Apple)
Grilled Brandt Farms Ribeye (Aligot Potatoes, Rapini, Smoked Bone Marrow Butter, Bordelaise)
Dark Chocolate Decadence Cake (Brandied Amarena Cherries, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream)

3) Lucia Ristorante & Bar has teamed up with United Liquors, a Massachusetts-based distributor focusing on wine and spirits, to present a four course wine dinner. Guest speakers from the beverage industry will kick off the evening, introducing each course which will be paired with Italian wines from Zyme, a wine company founded by Celestino Gasperi, son-in-law of Giuseppe Quinterelli, one of Valpolicella’s most legendary winemakers.

The four course menu with wine pairings is as follows:

Antipasto / Salmon Carpaccio
2011 Zyme “il Bianco from black to white
Parpardelle with Wild Mushrooms, black truffles
2008 Valpolicella Classico Superiore
Braised Leg of Lamb
2007 Zyme 60/20/20 grape varietal Cabernet, Merlot, and Cabfranc
Parmesan Reggiano
2004 Zyme Amarone

When: Monday, January 28, 6 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $50 per person.
For reservations and more information, please call 617-367-2353.

4) Chef Paul Turano, chef/owner of Tryst restaurant in Arlington, has taken it upon himself to bring authenticity to his special prix fixe Mardi Gras dinner being held on Tuesday, February 12, from 5pm-10pm. Served in addition to Tryst’s regular menu, Mardi Gras diners can look forward to experiencing a three-course prix fixe menu available for $38 per person (tax and gratuity not included).

The menu will feature items such as oysters with chorizo mignonette, crawfish and chicken etouffee and Southern comfort bread pudding with pecans, apples & vanilla bean ice cream. Guests will also be able to enjoy authentic cocktails and Hurricanes galore.

Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling 781-641-2227.

5) On Saturday, February 9, from 12pm-5pm, check out the Wine ConneXtion’s fourth annual “Battle of the Big Cabs,” a complimentary in-store wine tasting featuring high-end, luxury wines that are rarely uncorked. The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, will be bringing out the big guns and opening some of the world's most distinct and exclusive Cabernets names such as Silver Oaks and Faust. Guests will have the opportunity to sip and swirl the featured wines before voting on their favorite Cab while munching on complimentary cuisine from Sultan Mediterranean Cafe located in North Andover.

Regardless of the winner, all of the featured wines will be available to purchase for a special price throughout the day. Walk-ins welcome all day. Free to the public. *Please note: Must be 21 or older.

6)Laissez les bons temps rouler!" is a Cajun expression meaning "Let the good times roll!" and it strongly conveys the joie de vivre ("joy of living") attitude of The Beehive’s 6th Annual Mardi Gras celebration on Tuesday, February 12. The South End hot spot has spared no expense in making this year’s festivities as authentic as possible. Diners and party goers alike can look forward to the traditional jazz style of BT New Orleans 2nd Line Brass Band which will keep the crowd singing and swinging all night long.

Further indulge with Chef Rebecca Newell's Cajun inspired à la carte specials featuring authentic NOLA-style dishes. Finish off your meal with a big old Hurricane, put on your complimentary Mardi Gras beads, and you’ll be ready to hit the dance floor.

Come for dinner, come for the music and cocktails…come to see what “New Orleans Style” is all about. There is no cover charge for this event. Regular menu served in addition to all special items. Reservations recommended so please call 617-423-0069.

7) Special for Mardi Gras, Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen will be welcoming New Orleans’ own jazz musician, Henri Smith, this Fat Tuesday. Henri Smith made his mark on the music industry in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, where he polished his talent for many years. As a radio personality for New Orleans’ premier jazz station for 14 years, Smith was a household name even before he began thrilling audiences with his jazz, blues, creole, and Cajun flavored music. Finding himself in Boston after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, Smith has established his groove in New England. Engaging audiences all over the area, he has become the go-to for traditional jazz entertainment.

Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen's menu for Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras will transport guests straight to Canal Street. Full of authentic New Orleans cuisine, dinner choices include: gumbo with okra; fried catfish strips; Jambalaya with shrimp, sausage, chicken, mussels, and rice; and more.

The special New Orleans themed cocktails are the other piece of the equation, equaling a “big fat” time. Specials include: DCBK Hurricane – Darryl’s take on the New Orleans original, built with dark rum, light rum, amaretto, fresh orange and pineapple juice, grapefruit bitters, and topped with grenadine; The Sazerac – Named after the coffeehouse where it appeared for the first time in 1859, this New Orleans signature cocktail features rye whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters, and homemade simple syrup, served to preference, chilled neat or on the rocks; Dirty Cajun Martini – Southern style dirty martini served shaken and up with premium vodka and hot sauce; Dirty Oyster Martini- Literally, a dirty martini with a fresh oyster in lieu of an olive.

DCBK is encouraging guests to wear masks, collect beads, and march into Boston’s best corner bar dressed for the celebration, as the “best dressed” will win the choice of a DCBK $100 gift card or a Sunday Jazz Buffet Brunch for four. There is a $5 cover charge for live entertainment. For more information and reservations, please call 617-536-1100.

8) This Valentine’s Day wine, dine and seduce your significant other at Tryst, located in Arlington. Guests enjoy a special 3-course prix fixe menu created by Executive Chef Paul Turano. This exclusive menu features specials such as Tagliatelle Bolognese, Berkshire Pork Porterhouse Chop, Grilled Flat Iron Steak and Miso Glazed Sea Scallops. After dinner, guests can relax, reminisce and indulge in Tryst’s house-made Valentine’s Day desserts such as Vanilla Bean Cheesecake and Flourless Chocolate Torte, while sipping on after dinner cocktails with a twist.

Tryst’s Valentine’s Day dinner menu is $45 per person (tax, gratuity and beverages not included), and will be offered exclusively on Thursday, February 14 from 5pm-10pm. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling 781-641-2227.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Niigata, Obata Shuzo & Sake

The Niigata Prefecture of Japan is well known for producing excellent Sake, with its climate, rice, water, and people all contributing to the quality of their brew. The prefecture has many sunny, warm days in the summer, conducive to rice growing, and many snowy days in the winter, conducive to brewing. The brewers usually use rice that was grown in Niigata and have also invested much in developing new and better varieties. The water in Niigata is usually soft, excellent for brewing.

The Echigo Toji, or Guild of Niigata Master Sake Brewers, are very talented and knowledgeable, renowned throughout Japan. If you see the term Echigo on a Sake label, it usually is an indicator that the Sake is from Niigata. The prefecture has around 96 breweries, the second most of any prefecture, and their annual production places them in third place. However, they excel in making premium Sake and about 62% of their production is premium, compared to the national average of 26%. In addition, their per-capita Sake consumption is 18 liters, higher than the national average of 7 liters and the highest in Japan.

A significant portion of the Sake made in Niigata is produced in the traditional Niigata style, described as tanrei. This term loosely translates as "clean, smooth, and gentle" and refers to a smooth, easy drinking Sake which is sure to please those new to Sake as well as long time Sake lovers. It is a style I very much enjoy.

Obata Shuzo is a Sake brewery, founded in 1892 by Yososaku Obata, and located on Sado Island in the Niigata Prefecture. The island, because of its remoteness, was once a destination for political exiles. Exile was a severe punishment, second only to execution, and once you ended up on the island, you were likely there for the rest of your life. In modern times, Sado Island has been in the forefront of wildlife and nature conservation. For example, they have devoted much effort to protect and conserve the Toki, the Japanese Crested Ibis, which is extinct in the wild but was successfully bred on the island. There are about six Sake breweries situated on Sado Island.

The Obata kura, sake brewery, is still owned by the Obata family and their family crest is Four Diamonds, each which represents an element crucial to Sake brewing. These elements include rice, water, humans, and climate/nature. Their motto is "to brew sake where the four treasures may work harmoniously." Their goal is to make well balanced Sake and they produce only about 120,000 bottles annually.

At a local wine shop, I bought two Sakes from Obata Shuzo as I had never tasted any of their brews before and I was pleased that I had done so as both were pleasing and tasty.

The Obata Manotsuru "Crane" Junmai (about $15/300ml), which is pictured at the top of the post, has an origami red crane, which is a symbol of good luck. It is made with Koshiibuki rice, which was milled down to 65%, and has a Sake Meter Value of +6 to +8, meaning it is more on the dry side. This was a crisp, smooth and clean Sake with flavors of melon and peach. It had a rich mouth feel and the finish was long and satisfying. A pleasant, easy drinking Sake which would pair well with a variety of foods. It would be an excellent introductory Sake. This is the type of Sake you could easily drink all night.

The Obata Manotsuru "Bulzai" Ginjo (about $15/300ml) was more intriguing. It is made with Gohyakumangoku rice, which was milled down to 55%, and has a Sake Meter Value of +6 to +8, meaning it is more on the dry side. It is also a namachozo Sake, which means it is pasteurized only once, during the bottling stage. It is lighter than the Crane and has more of a liveliness in the taste, which possesses more tropical fruit flavors with mineral notes. There is plenty of complexity in the taste and a lengthy, pleasing finish. With more character to it, I preferred this to the Crane, though I still enjoyed the Crane very much. This Sake would still appeal to newcomers but Sake lovers will especially appreciate it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rant: Cheap Chinatown Cakes

At your favorite bakeries, how much does it cost to buy a slice of cake? When a simple cupcake may cost you $3 or more, then a slice of cake can easily run you $4 or $5. Their other desserts are usually similarly priced and purchasing a dozen treats can be rather expensive. You could easily spend $30-$50 for a dozen sweets and that can be tough for many of us to do during these tough economic times.

How many bakeries do you know where a slice of cake, or other desserts, cost only $1? Probably few, if any. They do exist though and you can find several of them within a short distance of each other, if you know where to look.    

Last week, I ate in Chinatown twice and during those visits I stopped at a few bakeries to purchase several treats to take home with me. One of my stops was at Eldo Cake House, a favorite spot, especially as I love their coconut cake slices. It is almost unbelievable that they charge less than $1 for that slice of coconut cake! In fact, they sell a number of cake slices and various other baked goods for under $1. The other Chinatown bakeries I visited have similar pricing and you can find so many different items for under $1.

Cheap, cheap, cheap! 

Though these prices are cheap, what about the taste of these desserts? I have enjoyed nearly everything I have eaten at these Chinatown bakeries and believe they offer an excellent quality for the value. You can find plenty of diversity, something to appeal to all tastes and preferences, and you won't break the bank. I don't think the Chinatown bakeries receive enough credit for what they have to offer. They might not be as flashy as some of the more lauded bakeries, but their more subtle or plainer treats can well satisfy your sweet cravings.

Don't elevate style over substance, especially when that style comes with a much greater cost. What truly is important to you in a dessert? Price? Taste? The next time you want to visit a bakery, why not consider a trip to Chinatown.

What s your favorite Chinatown bakery?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Tuscan Market: A Worthy Italian Destination

There is a new Italian market located in Salem, New Hampshire but is it worthy of your patronage? Is it too expensive as some consumers have alleged? Does it live up to its potential?

Last September, I attended a preview event for Tuscan Market, a new Italian food market that eventually opened in November. You should read my prior review for background on this new endeavor. As I said then, "I think the concept behind the Tuscan Market is excellent, a one stop destination for great, fresh Italian food and wine." I was impressed with what I saw and tasted, and believed that Tuscan Market had great potential. Obviously, I wanted to follow up, to determine if it lived up to that potential once it opened to the public.

Recently, I visited the Tuscan Market for the first time since it officially opened in November, having given it a couple months to work out any initial kinks. In short, Tuscan Market has lived up to its potential and is worthy of my highest recommendation. It is a one-stop shopping destination for a diverse variety of Italian foods, wines, ingredients, equipment and much more. Some of the foods are prepared on premises, such as bread and pasta, while others are imported from Italy. There is also a small café where you can grab a bite to eat, such as pizzas and paninos. Having all of these delicious items available in a single location is convenient.

As you enter your store, to your left are the cashiers and just past them is a section of kitchen supplies, from coffee makers to pizza stones and cookware. You can find wine glasses, cork screws and other wine-related paraphernalia. In a different area of the store, there is also a table of Italian cookbooks and magazines. So it is not all just food and wine.

Past the kitchen supplies it the wine room and their selection currently includes about 220 wines, with more coming. Most of the wines are displayed on the above shelves but there is also a small cooler holding white and sparkling wines. Most of the wines are Italian though you will find others from all over the world, from California to France, and the choices range from big producers to small, more artisan ones. Wine tastings are held on Saturdays, from 11:30am-3pm. Prices are reasonable and some even seem low compared to other wine stores.  

These shelves held a variety of packaged foods, many imported from Italy, including dry pasta to tea, tuna fish to sauces. Once again, the prices are reasonable, and some products are even lower than what you will find at large supermarkets. At this point, I am starting to realize that those people who have claimed the market is too expensive might not have been correct.

There are refrigerated coolers holding homemade frozen pastas and other items. Prices also seem very reasonable and you can get 8 big ravioli, such as cheese or mushrooms, for only $5-$6, while lobster raviolis cost $14.39.

Want a homemade sauce? Check out their 16 ounce packages, including such varieties as San Marzano Tomato sauce $5, Bolognese $7, and Wild Boar Ragu $7. If you don't have enough time to make your own sauce, but don't want to use a jar sauced, then these fresh made sauce are an excellent option. And then are less expensive than some jar sauces too.

Ah, the breads! You can watch them baking fresh bread in their ovens and the smell is intoxicating. They had seven types of bread available, including Ciabatta, Focaccia, Roasted Garlic, Rustic Olive, Seven Grain, Cranberry Walnut, and Pane Pugliese, all reasonably priced from $3.99-$5.99. Their Roasted Garlic is amazing, with large garlic cloves inside the bread. I bought a loaf on my visit and it had just come out of the oven. It was even too hot for them to slice. Beware, you might need to buy two loaves as one might not survive your drive, as you decided to tear off a piece and devour it while it is warm.

They have a good selection of cheeses, though not as extensive as you will find in some other larger markets and shops. However, there are plenty of excellent options and prices are comparable to other cheese vendors.

There is also a good selection of cured meats, sausages, hams and such. Prices are also competitive, such as the Prosciutto di Parma at $16.99/pound. Get some wine, bread, cheese and cured meats and you have the makings for a great meal.

Several varieties of fresh pasta were available, including: pappardelle $5.99/lb, orecchiette $5.99/lb, tagliatelle $5.99/lb, and capellini $5.99/lb. I have tried a couple of the pastas, and they both tasted great, with a nice texture. For two people, a pound of pasta may be sufficient for two meals, making the pasta a great value.

Their fresh filled pastas include items like Short Rib Tortelli $8.99/lb, Mushroom Ravioli $7.99/lb, Butternut Squash Cappellacci $6.99/lb, Quattro Formaggi Ravioli $6.99/lb and Maine Lobster Ravioli $19.99/lb. I tried the Short Rib Tortelli and they were delicious, with plenty of moist, tender meat inside a compelling pasta triangle. They did not skimp on the fillings. Again, you get plenty of pasta in a pound, and the prices are very reasonable.

There is a small, but good, selection of meats. You can find a greater selection at a butcher shop but there are plenty of fine options here. You will find beef options such as Filet $22.99/lb and Aged Ribeye $12.99/lb, and prices are comparable to numerous other markets.

There were three different Sausages available, priced $5.99-$6.99/lb, and once again a reasonable price. You will also find another case with packages of marinated meats, from chicken to lamb. Overall, you have plenty of meat choices.

The Market sells a variety of freshly prepared items such as lasagna, arancini, eggplant parmigiana, chicken parmigiana, meatballs and more. The food looks enticing and comes in good-sized portions.

There was not much produce available but that is likely a seasonal issue.

Presently, they sell very little seafood, except for shrimp, but they are working on changing that. Sometime in the near future, they will likely have a much better selection of seafood available.

At their cafe, you have several options and nearly everything is $10 or less. Above, you can see their Panino sandwiches ($8.99), which are pressed to order and are good-sized, and freshly made that day. They were making sandwiches and putting them in the case while I was there. They also have Soup and Salads available, most salads costing $6 except for the Antipasto at $9.

You can also order Pizza, which I tasted and very much enjoyed during the preview event, or a pasta dish with your choice of pasta, sauce, and finish. Prices are reasonable, making lunch very affordable.

There are plenty of dessert options, from Cupcakes ($2.50) to Tiramisu ($2.99), from Cakes to Cookies. You can buy entire cakes or just slices. They even sell gluten free baked goods, though those are not made on premises as they lack a gluten free kitchen.

Or you can try some of the delectable Gelato, coming in a wide range of flavors, priced from Small ($2.69) to Large ($4.69). The gelato is made on the premises and comes in many compelling flavors.

Service was great, the employees all being very pleasant, courteous and helpful. Free food samples are available, enticing you to buy more. Overall, I found the prices here to be very reasonable, and even lower than other food markets. One must also remember that fresh, artisan food products may sometimes cost more than cheap, mass-produced, prepackaged items. However, they are usually worth the higher price. I love the diversity of food and wine available here, especially as all of it can be found under one roof. The Tuscan Market receives my highest recommendation and you should make the easy drive up Rt.93 to Salem to shop here. I will certainly return soon and hope to see you there.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

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) Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House will celebrate Cupid’s Day, on Thursday, February 14 and Friday, February 15, with a special “Live Large, Love Big” Valentine’s Day menu that includes an eight-ounce filet and an eight-ounce lobster tail for $79.

Featured additions available:
- Steak toppings: Oscar Style $15, Port-Foie Gras Butter $6
- Optional lobster accompaniment: Champagne Beurre Blanc $6
- Dessert: Godiva Chocolate Mousse Cake $12

2) The newly reopened Prezza is about to be struck by Cupid’s arrow with the arrival of San Valentino in the North End. On Valentine’s Day, Thursday, February 14 from 5:30pm–10pm, Executive Chef & Owner Anthony Caturano will dish out five exclusive specials available for one night only.

To start, there are Razor Clams (fregola, garlic, olive oil - $16). For a handmade pasta course, Prezza will serve up Ricotta Gnocchi (artichokes, chanterelles - $18). For entrees, there is Red Snapper (Milanese style - $28) and Grilled Bone-In Ribeye Steak (grilled red onions, lobster mashed potatoes - $46). For the finale, indulge in traditional Zeppolis (honey, hazelnut - $10).

3) Celebrate Monday nights with Chef Evan Deluty as he welcomes friends for Stella's 4th annual "Guest Chef Mondays". This annual event has grown and recommendations are highly suggested by calling Stella at 617-247-7747. Each visiting chef will create a special appetizer, entree and dessert, and Stella's regular dinner menu will also be available. The "Guest Chef Mondays" menu will be available starting at 5:30pm for $40 per guest.

The "Guest Chef Monday's" lineup runs through March 31:
--Dante deMagistris, Dante, Il Castel January 21
--Robin King, from Oro Restaurant January 28
--Will Gilson, Puritan & Co February 4
--Rodney Murillo – Davio’s and Avila February 11
--Marc Orfaly - Pigalle February 18
--Jay Silva – Bambara Restaurant March 4
--Colin Lynch – Menton March 11
--Doug Rodriguez – Clio March 18
--Louis Dibiccari – Tavern Road March 25

4) Post 390’s Chef Eric Brennan shares his latest menu in his “Farm to Post” dinner series, showcasing raw cow’s milk cheese from 5 Spoke Creamery, Goshen, NY. The dairy farm and creamery is located north of NYC, bringing together the dedication of a dairy farm with the artisanal hand of the cheesemaker. Post 390 showcases a farm every month as part of its “Farm to Post” dinner series, creating new weekly menus featuring the particular farm.

5 Spoke Creamery is both a dairy farm and a cheese-maker, as its motto is ‘great cheese starts with great milk.’ Their Holstein cows are grass-fed, roaming free on the farm, choosing from a variety of grasses, herbs, flowers and weeds. 5 Spoke Creamery believes the raw milk of grass-fed cows has a depth of flavor which cannot be duplicated. The cheeses are all handmade in the farmstead tradition, made with milk from their grass-fed Holstein cows. 5 Spoke Creamery milks the cows at 4am and makes the cheese at 9am. It doesn’t get fresher than that.

This Menu begins January 17 and will change each week through mid-February
--Cauliflower and 5 Spoke Heritage Cheese Soup, Brambly Farm Pork and Apple Croquette
--Lobster, White Corn Tortilla and Welsh Cheddar Charlotte, Lobster-Roasted Pepper Salsa
--Grilled Maple Sugar and Spice Rubbed Duck Breast, Bacon-Redman Cheddar Waffle, Apple-Pear Butter, Brussel Sprouts with Peppered Duck Confit
--Herb Roasted Veal Rib Eye, Orecchiette with Broccoli and Crawford Cloth Bound Cheddar Cheese
--Welsh Cheddar Bavarian with Honey Apricots and Cinnamon Phyllo Crunch

5) 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar, located just north of Boston on the Salem waterfront, is celebrating its five year anniversary. Executive Chef Antonio Bettencourt has planned to host a series of three dinners to commemorate three major turning points at the restaurant. Each dinner will feature a five-course, prix fixe menu for $62 (plus tax and gratuity). The three dinners, titled Inspiration, The Opening and Fan Favorites, tell the story of how a dream to open one’s own restaurant becomes a reality. Chef Bettencourt has much to be thankful for, and he wishes to share this five year milestone with all who have taken part in his journey.

The first dinner, Inspiration, will be on Wednesday, January 23, at 6:30pm, and will feature dishes that have inspired Chef Bettencourt throughout the years. He will be recreating some of his most memorable dishes that have shaped his style as a chef, such as Tagliatelle ai Funghi, Porchetta and Agnolotti di Patate.

The second dinner, The Opening, will be on Wednesday, February 20, at 6:30pm, and will feature dishes from 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar’s very first menu. The dinner will include signature dishes that have gone on to become classics and others that are not listed on the current menu but are often requested by customers.

The series will conclude with a grand finale featuring Fan Favorites on Wednesday, March 20, at 6:30pm.  The dinner menu will be comprised of the restaurant’s most popular items. Diners have been asked to vote for their favorite dish from the past five years via Facebook and the winning dishes will appear on that evening’s menu.

Every customer who attends a celebratory dinner will automatically be entered for a chance to win a $100 gift card to the restaurant. Reservations are required for the tasting menu series and can be made by calling  978-744-0062.

6) Taberna de Haro has some interesting Wine Seminars upcoming, concentrating on individual wineries. Each tasting, which starts at 7pm, is open to 20 people and Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen will be joined by someone from the winery.

January 23: The Wines of Abadal
Owner Valentin Roqueta will be at Taberna de Haro to tell us about his modern winery with a 900 year viticultural tradition, in Pla de Bagés, Catalunya. Two unique reds, two exotic whites, plenty of Catalán tapas and spirited discussion.

February 20: The Wines of Val de Sil 
Three expressive whites, made from the godello grape, laden with minerals and mystery; and one beautiful red, a mencia with both earth and grace. Generous Galician tapas and a splash of history about the Valdeorras zone.

February 27: Raventós i Blanc Cava
Pepe Raventós, a man of his land possessed of tremendous humor and formidable knowledge, will be in attendance at Taberna de Haro to lead a tasting on his cavas, arguably some of the very best in Spain. Tradition and grace are the underpinnings of these gorgeous sparkling wines. Lots of Catalán tapas and Pepe's unique personality will make this tasting wonderful.

Cost is $40 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Reservation and pre-payment required.  Call 617-277-8272 for reservations.

7) Valentine’s Day will soon arrive at Towne Stove and Spirits and Culinary Director Lydia Shire and Executive Chef Mario Capone are whipping up some exclusive specials that will be available for four nights so lovers can celebrate all weekend long. To start off your romantic night on the Towne, the culinary duo will be serving Bluefin Tuna Carpaccio (with pickled ginger, white soy, crisped sweet potato - $21). For the main course, there is Potato Wrapped Cod (with cockles, saffron aioli, baby fennel - $35). To end the evening on a sweet note, indulge in a shared dessert for two: Dark Chocolate Cheesecake (with chocolate & champagne strawberries - $16). These items are available from Thursday, February 14 to Sunday, February 17, from 5:30pm – 11:00pm.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rant: A Conveyor Belt Of No Respect

Ten million men and I share the same genetic abnormality yet it is a problem that few talk about, and even fewer do anything to help. It is an issue that gets no respect yet as it affects 7% of the male population it is something that needs to be brought forth, considered and addressed. Last night, this issue arose for me again when I dined at a new sushi joint.

What is my problem? I am color blind and more specifically, I possess a red-green color blindness. I can see colors, including red and green. However, I can't differentiate between as many shades of red and green as other people. An average person might be able to see ten different shades of red though I might only see five shades. I can determine the correct colors of traffic lights but matching the colors of my clothes is occasionally a challenge.

Color blindness is caused by the lack of certain pigments in nerve cells of the eyes, and red-green color blindness is the most common form. There is also a blue-yellow form though it is much less common. It is a condition mostly prevalent in men and only about 0.4% of women are color blind. Despite its prevalence in men, when is the last time you saw a business worrying about anyone being color blind?

Last night, I stopped at Enso Sushi, a new kaiten-zushi restaurant where sushi glides through the dining room on a conveyor belt. When a dish that appeals to you passes by, you take it off the belt. Each plate is color coded to a specific price so that when your meal is over, the server can easily determine your bill through counting the colored plates in front of you. You receive a color coded menu so you can determine the cost of each item. Most prices range from $2-$5 per plate, with a few specials above that cost.

My problem was that two of the colors looked essentially the same to me, and the difference in their price was about $2. If I just took a plate off the belt, I might have chosen a dish that costs $2 more than I thought it did because I got the color wrong. That could be a significant issue. With some time and effort in analyzing the menu, I was largely able to differentiate which dish cost which amount, but it was a bit of a hassle and should not have been necessary.

The restaurant had other identification options available beside using color coding. For example, they could have assigned each plate a certain letter or number and thus avoided causing any issue with the color blind. I think it is safe to assume that they never considered the issue of the color blind when choosing their color coded system.

I have encountered this issue before in other color coding situations, such as guide books and maps. For instance, I own a sustainable sushi guide that used a color coded system to indicate which seafood was a Good Choice and which was Avoid. The problem was that the colors used for those two designations looked basically the same to me. That was a significant problem and I am not alone in  my difficulties. There are ten million other color blind men.

Color coding may seem to make it easy for many people yet it also makes it much more difficult for others. Restaurants, writers, publishers, and businesses or all types should consider the fact that there is a significant amount of men who are color blind. We deserve respect too.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rant: The Colonists, Football & Pretentious Wine

Wine is pretentious and elitist, best suited to the upper classes while beer is more the drink of the common man. Or at least that is how many Americans seem to view the two beverages. While many Europeans may view wine as an ordinary drink, a common accompaniment to their meals, far less Americans view it through that prism. And it has been that way since the founding of our nation.

The original Jamestown and Plymouth settlers brought beer and malt with them and it was their favored alcoholic drink. "The colonists’ interest in beer was understandable: it was the most important beverage in England, so much so that English families expended an estimated one-third of their budgets on malt for brewing." Besides continuing to import beer, the colonists also brewed their own beer, creating a wide range of different flavored beers.

The "...colonists tried virtually anything to brew and flavor their beer, including wheat, cornstalks, maple sap, elderberries, gooseberries, nuts, bark, various roots, pine chips, hemlock, and assorted leaves."  The most commonly brewed beers included those made from molasses and those from the berries of persimmons. George Washington was a big fan of molasses beer.

Wine was imported too "...but many colonists eschewed it, considering it pretentious. For the most part, wines were favored by the upper class." As today, price was an important factor in which wines were the most popular. "Wines imported from Europe were taxed, whereas wines imported from European possessions were not. As a result, wines from the Portuguese Azores or Spanish Canary Islands were less expensive than those from Continental Europe, and these wines became popular in colonial America." As we can see, wine attained a reputation from the start as being seen as pretentious and that image remains with us even today, though there are cracks in that facade.

How do we shatter the perception of wine being pretentious and elitist? Currently, the U.S. market is divided into approximately 52% beer, 32% spirits and only 15% wine. Since 1995, shares of spirits and wine have increased while shares of beer have actually decreased, by nearly 9%. Despite the increase in wine consumption, there is still a long road ahead before it becomes more widely consumed. For four hundred years, wine has been seen as pretentious so that is a significant obstacle to overcome and it won't occur overnight.

Over the last few years, there has been much talk of the “democratization” of wine, efforts to make it more accessible to the common person. Such efforts have been made by producers, marketers, retailers, writers, and more. For example, the rise of wine blogs is one such effort, the ability of any person, of any knowledge level, to write about wine, to share their thoughts and experiences. There are some wine blogs which perpetuate the aura of pretension, but the vast majority work at making wine more accessible. As another example, there are more wine stores now that aim at lowering pretension, trying to make the purchasing decision much easier for their customers.

Most of their efforts are still in their relative infancy and efforts need to be continued and expanded. Yesterday, I worked at the wine store and football was on the mind of many, important playoff games to decide who would battle in the conference championships next week. The drink of choice of the majority of customers was beer, not wine. Consider also how many beer commercials you see during football games. Who tailgates with wine? Will we one day see wine become as common a choice for sport events as beer? If that day happens, maybe we can truly say that wine has become democratized.

Do you contribute to the stereotype of wine being pretentious or do you help defeat it? If so, what do you do to help fight the perception? What do you drink for sporting events? And why? We all need to contribute to enhancing the perception of wine.

All of the above quotes are from Drinking History: Fifteen Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages by Andrew F. Smith (Columbia University Press, November 2012)