Monday, June 30, 2014

Rant: The Fragility of Life

As this blog is primarily about food and alcohol, it might seem easy to dismiss it as relatively unimportant in the greater scheme of things. There are certainly plenty of more important topics that could be discussed, from terrorism to racism. However, if you look a little bit deeper into the world of food and alcohol, you'll realize that it actually can play an important role in our lives. It is not as shallow and ephemeral as it might seem from a cursory look.

I could easily point out some of the larger food and drink issues that affect our entire world, such as sustainability and the hunger crisis. No one can dispute the importance of these issues and they alone would justify the significance of any blog that covers those topics. We need more dialogue about such issues, a greater discussion on potential solutions and advice on how to improve these situations. However, that is not the prime point of this post.

I want to discuss the fragility of life.

We don't like to consider or discuss death, our own mortality. We don't like to consider life without our family and friends. We usually face it, and often reluctantly, only when it directly touches our lives. As much as we want to avoid it, death will come for all of us, and we don't know when it will arrive. We don't need to dwell on our eventual deaths, but we should acknowledge its inevitability and live our lives as if it might around the corner.

For many people, food and alcohol is a quality of life issue. It is what brings us pleasure, what makes our lives happier. And as I have emphasized repeatedly, food and alcohol is always much better when it is shared with others. If food and alcohol enhances our experiences with our family and friends, if it makes our lives better, then it is certainly a vital aspect of our lives. Just think of the simple pleasures of a grilled hot dog or glass of Rosé at a backyard BBQ with your family and friends. It is moments such as that which we should cherish.

Not everyone may feel that way about food and alcohol, but the basic idea remains for everyone: Enjoy life. It is far too short and we don't want to die with any regrets. Don't wait until you are older to create a bucket list. Start now and try to enjoy every ounce of life. Dine at that restaurant you have been wanting to visit but just haven't done so yet. Buy that bottle of wine or whiskey you have been eyeing. Travel and experience the food and drink of another state or country. Don't keep putting it off, as there might not be sufficient time tomorrow.

And finally, make sure you tell your family and friends that you love them.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Favorite Fiction Books of 2014 (So Far)

Back in December 2011, I started a blog column, Authors, Alcohol & Accolades, which asked some of my favorite authors about their preferred drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There have been 11 editions of this column so far, with more coming in the near future. The inspiration for this series is that I am a voracious reader, of both fiction and nonfiction, and I wanted to combine that interest with my love of food & drink. The series has proven popular and it has been fascinating to explore what authors enjoy drinking.

As a special addendum to that series, I previously posted a list of my Favorite Fiction Books of 2013.  Now, I am going to post a similar list, of some of my favorite fiction books of the first six months of 2014. During this time period, I have read over 130 books, both fiction and nonfiction. As I mentioned, I am a voracious reader, and expect to read about the same amount during the rest of the year.

The following lists of favorites will include books of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Mystery/Thrillers. Though nearly all of these books were published in 2014, there might be a few that weren't, but I first read them in 2014. The books are also not in any specific order of preference.

My Top Ten Favorite Novels of the first six months of 2014:
--Phoenix Island by John Dixon
--The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
--Red Rising by Pierce Brown
--The Detainee by Peter Liney
--Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry
--Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson
--The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
--Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards
--Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
--Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner

There are five other books which almost made the above list, but I had to make some tough cuts. However, they are still worthy of my recommendation.
--Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick
--The Furies by Mark Alpert
--The Forever Watch by David Ramirez
--Blood & Iron by Jon Sprunk
--The Empire of Time by David Wingrove

My Top Ten Favorite Anthologies of the first six months of 2014:
--Dangerous Women edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
--Kaiju Rising edited by Tim Marquitz & Nickolas Sharps
--World War Cthulhu edited by Jonathan Oliver
--Lovecraft’s Monsters edited by Ellen Datlow
--The Dark Rites of Cthulhu edited by Brian Sammons
--Dead Man’s Hand edited by John Joseph Adams
--The Lizard Ardent Uniform edited by David Cranmer
--Equilbirum Overturned edited by Anthony Rivera & Sharon Lawson
--Neverland's Library edited by Roger Bellini
--Dark Sun Rising edited by John Cairns

I am very interested to see which of these books will still be in my Top Ten at the end of the year. I already know there are some potentially excellent books due out during the next six months so there will be serious challengers to those currently on these lists. All of these books would make great summer reading and a number of these authors have also written other worthy books. Please support an author, a small, independent business person, and buy more books.

What are some of your favorite books so far this year?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Seeking a great wine bargain at a local restaurant? Starting July 1, and running through September 2, you can find such excellent bargains at Troquet's annual Wine Cellar Clearance Sale. Every night during this period, owner Chris Campbell will offer approximately four dozen vintage bottles of wine at deep discounts. These bottles are the last of their kind in his cellar and once they're gone, they're gone. Bottles are for enjoying with dinner, not takeaway.

I've been to this wine cellar during previous years and Troquet offers true bargains and rare finds. You will find plenty of older wines, at frankly dirt-cheap prices, from all over the world. You'll never know what you might find, but I'm sure you will find something intriguing.

Troquet recommends diners make reservations, as this event is quite popular, so please call 617-695-9463 to book your dinner.

2) On Wednesday, July 9, from 7:30pm-11pm, Beat Hôtel will transport diners to Greece during its first Greek Beat Fest, a night featuring specialty Mediterranean-inspired menu items and music from Synavlis.

In addition to the regular menu, guests can enjoy Greek-inspired food specials with a Beat Hôtel twist. Executive Chef Ignacio Lopez will be serving up dishes like mezze platters, shrimp with walnut garlic sauce, roast leg of lamb with oregano potatoes & Greek salad, and seared ahi tuna with warm cauliflower salad, lemon & olives that pair nicely with any Beat Hôtel libation. Signature cocktails to indulge in include the Soursop Fresca, concocted of Bluecoat gin, soursop nectar, agave, lime, and soda ($12) and the Electric Sidecar, made with Clear Creek apple brandy and Fruit Lab orange organic liqueur ($12).

The food isn’t the only thing going Greek on the 9th. Guests will be able to enjoy authentic Greek music from Synavlis. Hailing from Greece, Synavlis is a talented quintet that performs traditional Greek music from Asia Minor and the Islands of Chios, Lesvos and Naxos.

For more information or to make a reservation call 617-499-0001.

3) July presents a special British theme at The Cheese Shop of Concord, with several exclusive, in-store happenings worthy of note:

Tuesday, July 1
A special British Cheddar, aged especially for The Cheese Shop is available for just a few weeks.
--Cheese buyer Brie Hurd journeyed to the U.K. in April, and met with 3rd-generation cheesemaker Jamie Montgomery of Montgomery’s Cheddar. After tasting the cheese in various stages of aging, on the North Cadbury Manor Farm where it is made, Brie was invited to select one wheel exclusively for The Cheese Shop of Concord. This exceptional cheddar was made in June 2013, aged to a “round and balanced” 11 months, then shipped to Concord. Montgomery’s is “the epitome of traditional, handmade, unpasteurized Somerset cheddar” and is carried only by the top cheesemongers in the U.S. It has won over 15 worldwide cheese competitions since 1996. Muslin-wrapped and aged on wooden shelves for up to 18 months, it has a flavor some have called “like the caramelized crust of a Sunday roast.” The store will sell it by the pound until it runs out.

Thursday, July 3
British Cheesemakers invade The Cheese Shop. Meet them & enjoy free sampling all day.
--Two respected cheesemakers will be visiting on this date. Stop by to meet these artisans, and enjoy samples of their award-winning wares all afternoon.
Sam Holden, HAFOD Welch Organic Cheddar
Holden makes small batch cheddar cheese from raw, Ayshire cow milk, known for its high butterfat content. The cows graze in meadows near the Aeron River in West Wales, on a farm certified organic since1973. This distinctive cheese reveals its Swiss recipe origins in its deep nutty flavor, and it has a distinctive mold rind.
Joe Schneider, STICHELTON Blue
Joe is one of six cheesemakers at the Welbeck Estate at the tip of Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, “the English blues heartland,” and a growing region for artisanal foods. Not a true Stilton because it is made with unpasteurized milk, the cheese’s name means “style of the village.”

Saturday, July 19
English Beers & Ciders Sampled from 1pm-5:30pm
The staff of The Cheese Shop’s promises to pour some eye-opening beers, ales and ciders from England.

Throughout July
Blackboard Special: Ploughman's Lunch Sandwich
--The term ploughman’s lunch has been used in England since the 1300s. It refers to a fast and filling cold platter, often served with ale. Cheese Shop will offer a traditional version on pumpernickel with English cheddar, ham, chutney, hard boiled eggs and pickled vegetables.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Portuguese Rosé From Herdade do Esporão

As I have said repeatedly, Portugal is a wonderland of wine value. You can find so many delicious wines under $15, and even under $10. At the wine store where I work, I have recommended Portuguese wines to many customers, and subsequently turned them into Portuguese wine lovers. They are especially impressed by the value such wines offer and I am here to recommend a couple more such wines, both from Herdade do Esporão and both Rosé wines.

I've been a fan of the Herdade do Esporão winery for a number of years, and have previously raved about their wines. Each year at the Boston Wine Expo, I also take some time to sample the newest vintages of their wines. Overall, Esporão produces a wide range of interesting and delicious wines, from excellent values to higher end, impressive bottlings. I strongly recommend that you check out their portfolio and gain an appreciation for Portuguese wine.

Hopefully, as the weather has been improving, you have already been enjoying some Rosé. Now, Rosé is appropriate year round, and is an excellent food wine, but many people still drink Rosé primarily in the summer. It is an excellent summer quaffer, something to enjoy while sitting outside with family and friends, whether in a backyard or on a beach. Enjoy it with a summer salad or BBQ, or just savor it on its own.

If you are seeking an excellent bargain Rosé, then I have exactly what you need. How about a delicious Rosé for only $7? You would be hard pressed to find another Rosé that delivers as much for so little. The 2013 Alandra Rosé ($6.99) is a blend of Aragones, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional and has an alcohol content of 13.5%. It is crisp, dry and fruity with delicious strawberry and cherry flavors. Simple but satisfying, this is going to please many wine lovers, especially at this price point. I enjoyed it with some grilled chicken and it paired very well. Highly recommended!

They also produce the 2013 Vinha da Defesa Rosé ($14.99), a blend of Syrah and Aragones which has an alcohol content of 13.5%. This Rosé is a darker red color than the Alandra though it too presents as crisp and dry. It possesses strong flavors of cherry, strawberry and raspberry, with a bit more depth than the Alandra. It also possesses a longer finish. At $15, it is still a good bargain, especially if you are seeking a Rosé with a bit more depth.

What Portuguese Rosé wines do you enjoy?

(Disclaimer: I received both of these wines as media samples.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rant: Lazy Chefs

Once upon a time, if you were a chef, your greatest ambition was to own a restaurant. Now that's just a stepping stone to the true goal of global fame."
--The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax

Last month, I Ranted about Lazy Food Writers, who write mostly about current trends rather than spending the time and effort to write something more original. As I said, this is the easy route, penning shallow articles which are eminently forgettable. I called on these food writers to up their game, to start writing more original articles and not just chasing trends. Unfortunately, they are not alone in the food industry. There are Chefs too who take the easy route of chasing trends rather than seeking to be original.

On Facebook, in response to my Lazy Food Writer article, Chef/Owner Charles Draghi of Erbaluce asked for me to next address Lazy Chefs. He referred to those: "Chefs who are content to copy the latest culinary trends, and then reap all of the attendant media coverage and hype from it, instead of working their medium and coming up with their own creative and unique "voice?" Chefs who do more swanning than cooking, and who get whip-lash looking for the next photo-op?" As I had been reading The Tastemakers at the time, I had been considering writing something on chefs. Chef Draghi's comments help inspire this latest post.  

In many respects, lazy food writing has contributed to the rise of lazy chefs. When food trends get the most publicity and visibility, then some chefs decide the easiest way to promote themselves is to follow those trends. When food writers want to write about the newest cronut clone, then some chefs will create one, desirous of the publicity. I have received far more press releases about chefs and the latest trends than I have about chefs doing something truly original, or following their own muse. And the massive media attention now devoted to cooking and chefs, from television to magazines, has exacerbated the situation.

The restaurant business is competitive and it is understandable why some chefs choose to follow the trends. It helps keep their restaurant in the front page of the news, bringing them publicity they might not have otherwise received. However, that is due largely to lazy food writers who choose to primarily write about trends. A chef will get far more attention for the latest twist on the Cronut than a different version of a bread pudding. It is a vicious circle which needs to be broken. Chefs and restaurants with their own unique voice, who don't follow the trends, deserve much more press coverage. They deserve to be noticed for what they do. They should be embraced for choosing to follow their own voice.

I'll give you some examples of chefs and restaurants who I believe are not slaves to trends, who follow their own unique culinary path and are worthy of more attention from food writers. Consider Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano of Prezza, Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro, Chef/Co-owner Chris Chung of AKA Bistro, and yes, Chef/Owner Charles Draghi of Erbaluce. These places might find their way onto Best Of lists, but otherwise they often fly under the media radar. When is the last time you recall reading an article about these chefs and restaurants? Let food writers shine their lights more often on these chefs and restaurants. Don't let the chefs who just follow trends get all of the press.

Chefs, stop being a slave to trends and blaze your own path. However, we also need food writers who are willing to cover those chefs who don't promote the newest trends and fads. Those more original chefs deserve encouragement. The laziness can be conquered.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) On July 14, at 7 pm, Bondir restaurant in Concord will be partnering with French in Acton to host the center’s sixth annual Bastille Day Celebration. French in Acton language school led by Madame Cynthia Edelman focuses on teaching French to students of all ages and skill levels. Each year French in Acton hosts a Bastille Day dinner to provide students and those interested with an opportunity to speak the French language with others while enjoying some cuisine of the land.

Chef Jason Bond is offer a special three course Bastille Day Dinner for $65 per person (wine, tax and gratuity included). To reserve, please call Bondir Concord at 978-610-6554.

2) In honor of the first full weekend of Summert, The Blue Ox in Lynn (a restaurant I really need to get to) will debut a special “Lemonade Stand” menu.

Created by GM and Beverage Director, Charlie Gaeta, the special menu will blend freshly-squeezed lemon juice and house-made simple syrup with the following fresh fruit combinations, each of which are available as a virgin drink for $4, or with each guests’ choice of premium tequila, rum or gin – for $11. Each lemonade drink is blended and strained to order.

Beginning this Saturday and lasting through the weekend, Charlie will be serving the following unique takes on lemonade:
--Watermelon Lemonade - pulverized watermelon (strained), fresh lemon juice, house-made simple syrup (premium tequila, rum or gin optional)
--Cucumber & Orange Blossom – orange peel essence, cucumber water, fresh lemon juice, house-made simple syrup (premium tequila, rum or gin optional)
--Cantaloupe - fresh cantaloupe (crushed and strained) fresh lemon juice, house-made simple syrup (premium tequila, rum or gin optional)
--PIMM’s Lemonade – infused with classic fruit flavors commonly found in a PIMM’s cup – including fresh mint, strawberry and house-made local rhubarb syrup (which itself is infused with juniper)

3) I am very excited that the Tuscan Kitchen and Tuscan Market will be coming to Burlington, to 24 New England Executive Park, which is close to the Burlington Mall. I previously raved about the Salem, NH market location. The Burlington Tuscan Kitchen will use fresh Italian ingredients, ranging from hand-made pastas to freshly baked artisan breads to homemade gelato. Tuscan Kitchen will also incorporate imported pasta machines, a meat rotisserie, wood-fired ovens, and fireplaces to create a cozy atmosphere. While Burlington’s Tuscan Market will be a bit smaller than the NH location, it will still retain much of the same features, including a 30 seat Cafe.

The new Tuscan Kitchen and Tuscan Market is scheduled to open the first week of September 2014.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bronwyn Restaurant: Schnitzel, Spatzle, & Stickum

I've long felt that T.W. Food, owned by Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann, is one of the most underappreciated restaurants in the Boston area. When many people discuss the best restaurants in the area, T.W. Food doesn't often seem to garner a mention, despite being more than worthy for the accolade. Their new restaurant, Bronwyn, though seems to be getting much more attention and press. And once again, I believe they have created a winning restaurant.

Bronwyn, located in the Union Square region of Somerville, features the cuisine and drinks of Germany and greater Central and Eastern Europe. The restaurant has a patio, their biergarten, an inside bar area, and a dining room. Last week, Adam (of Wine Zag) and I stopped there for dinner after a Cognac tasting. It was our first time dining there, but certainly won't be the last. We sat at the bar, sampling several dishes and tasting some of the cocktails and wine offerings. We were both impressed and look forward to checking out the rest of the menu.

They have a full liquor license so you can order one of their special cocktails, priced $9-$12, or a Haus Cocktail, which are numbered 1-9, and priced $10-$12. I began the meal with an Eins Haus Cocktail, which contains Old Overholt Rye, Nux Alpina Walnut, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, Boston Bittahs, and St. Elizabeth Allspice. A spicy and complex cocktail, it was a strong way to start the evening.

The Drinks Menu also contains over 40 beers, from Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, and the US, with plenty to intrigue and please the beer lover. There are around 11 wines available by the glass ($8-$12) and about 34 by the bottle. The bottled wines, with a good portion under $50, generally come from Germany, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia. You'll find Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, and plenty of other interesting wines.

The Food Menu begins with a Prix Fixe option, 4 Courses for $45 per person ($29 for Beer & Wine pairing). There are then about 10 Starters ($5-$12), 9 Mains ($17-$32), 4 Sides ($5 each), and Haus-Made Wurst (Mini plate for $14 with 2 sausages, potatoes, sauer krat or the Giant plate for $27 with 6 sausages). There are some specials, including their own take on the Burger and Hot Dog. Despite all the emphasis on meat, there are even vegetarian and vegan options. In addition, they serve Brunch on the weekends.

After enjoying a cocktail, we had a glass of the 2013 Schloss Gobelsburg, “Cistercian,” Rosé ($11), made primarily from Zweigelt though a bit of St.Laurent may have been added. It was crisp, clean and dry with subtle red fruit flavors, reminding me of Provence-style Rosé.  Delicious and easy drinking, this is an excellent food wine too.

As for Starters, we began with the Pierogi ($11), two large house-made Pierogi, filled with ham and cheddar cheese, and topped by a sweet pea relish and mint. With a crispy, fried exterior, the interior fillings were creamy and flavorful. This dish is certainly different from other pierogi dishes I have eaten, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Another Starter, which is not on their online menu, was Coppa atop toasted bread with red onions. Another tasty dish, the coppa was tender, with just enough saltiness and spice, and was like an open faced sandwich. This would have made an excellentt lunch sandwich.

We also had a Mini Wurst Plate ($14) with a couple sausages, accompanied by a side, the Gurken Salat ($5). I actually don't recall which sausages we got, but I remember they both were delicious, though different. One was a more traditional sausage, while the other was round, almost like a mini-sausage patty. The potatoes with the sausages had a crunchy exterior, but were soft and fluffy inside. The Gurken Salat were essentially thinly sliced pickles, and were addictive.

We moved on to a bottle of the the 2010 Movia Rebula ($63), produced from 100% Ribolla from vines that have an average age of 66 years. This is an intriguing "orange" wine, with a complex blend of minerality, spice, apricot, apple and more. It is crisp with a lengthy and pleasing finish. I have enjoyed a number of other Movia wines, but this Rebula was new to me. It is an impressive wine, and paired well with the food to come, especially the white anchovies!

Moving onto Mains, the Schnitzel à la Holstein ($24) had two pork schnitzels topped by a garbanzo bean ragoût, a soft boiled egg, capers and white anchovies. The pork was tender and flavorful, with a nice crunch to the coating, and its flavor was enhanced by the egg. A hearty dish, this should satisfy most diners.

I was especially impressed with the Spätzle ($19), a classic Schwabian pasta with asparagus, red onion marmalade, and Comté cheese. Great comfort food, with perfectly cooked pasta and plenty of melted cheese enhancing the dish. If I had eaten only this Spätzle, I would have been more than satisfied. This is a dish I highly recommend.

The Dessert Menu has 4 choices ($8 each), and we ordered the German Chocolate Cake, which has almonds, coconut, and a vanillensauce. Sweet and decadent, this is a fine way to end your meal. A nice blend of flavors and textures, it is worth saving a bit of room after your meal to order this dish. And it is large enough to share.

With dessert, we tried the Stickum Uerigea fascinating beer eau-de-vie, also known as "beer brandy" or "bierschnaps." Bronwyn carries three of their products, the Stickum Uerige, Original ($22), Stickum Uerige, Château d’Yquem Barrel ($25) and Stickum Uerige Plus, Port Wine Oak Barrel ($27). These are very limited production spirits, and it seems they commonly sell for $150-$200 a bottle, which explains the price per glass.

The Château d’Yquem still possesses a flavor of beer, combined with notes of honey, dried fruit and floral elements. My preference was the Port Wine, which had almost no beer flavor, but plenty of concentration, depth and complexity. It does show Port wine characteristics, but you also realize that it is more than Port. There is enough acidity to balance the sweetness, and this may be my new favorite method of drinking beer.

Overall, I had an excellent dinner at Bronwyn, and very much look forward to dining there again. The flavors are compelling, the drinks are interesting, and service was excellent. I think the food is fairly priced for the quantity and quality. Check out Bronwyn for some Schnitzel, Spatzle, & Stickum!

Bronwyn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2010 Vinarija Dingac Peljesac: A Croatian Value

Not all discount wine stores are the same. It is a pleasure to peruse the shelves of those stores which stretch beyond the big names and regions, which seek out more unique gems to fill their stock. Bin Ends, in Braintree and Needham, is one such store and on a recent excursion there I found an interesting and delicious Croatian wine, the 2010 Vinarija Dingač Peljesac Red Wine (about $14).

Croatia is located across the Adriatic Sea from northern Italy, and the Peljesac peninsula extends about forty miles into the Adriatic. Grapes have been grown in this region for thousands of years so there is much history here. Much of the land is steep and rocky, necessitating the use of donkeys to transport grapes (which is why there is a donkey on the wine label). The region also has plenty of sunshine and lots of herbs grow there, which can add herbaceous notes to the wines. In 1961, the region of Dingač within Peljesac became Croatia's first protected wine region.

Most of the vines in this region are planted with the indigenous and hardy grape, Plavac Mali, which means "little blue" as the grapes are small and blue. It once was believed that Plavac Mali was an ancestor of Zinfandel, but DNA analysis has proven that not to be the case. In fact, Zinfandel is one of the parents of Plavac Mali, the other being an ancient grape Dobričić. The Vinarija Dingač winery produces several wines from Plavac Mali.

This is the first wine I've ever tasted a wine made from Plavac Mali so I can't discuss whether it is typical or not. I can't compare it to other Plava Mali wines to see how it measures up. All I can do is tell you that I enjoyed its taste and found it to be a good value.

It is an easy drinking red wine, but with sufficient character to raise it up beyond simple plonk. It was medium-bodied with mild tannins and an interesting blend of flavors, including black cherry, ripe plum, dark spices, pepper and a hint of herbal notes. There is a sense of the exotic in the taste, as some of it seems familiar but there is also something different with it as well. This would be an excellent burger and pizza wine, though it would stand up to a hearty pasta dish too. I think it would do well with a summer BBQ too.

I need more Croatian wine.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rant: The Safety Of Food Trucks

Is eating at food trucks safe? Is it as safe as eating at a brick & mortar spot?

There has been a vocal group in the Boston area who have railed against food trucks, claiming they are less safe than brick & mortar restaurants. What is the truth though? We may now have evidence to show that overall, food trucks actually possess better food safety records than brick & mortar spots. Hopefully that will convince some critics that their position is not supported by the evidence.

The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm, recently published a report, Street Eats, Safe Eats, which details their study of over 260,000 food-safety inspection reports from seven cities, including Boston. The other cities included Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C. In all seven cities, they found that food trucks and carts did just as well, if not better, than restaurants.

Specifically for Boston, they analyzed 29,828 inspection reports from the period of 2011 to July 2013. They concluded that food carts averaged only a single violation, food trucks averaged only 2.7 but restaurants averaged 4.6 violations. For critical foodborne violations, food trucks and restaurants received roughly the same amount, averaging less than one violation.

Though the report does not address it, I think that we must also consider that the food truck phenomenon is relatively new in Boston, with a large surge starting around 2011. There is a learning curve involved, as all these new businesses learn to handle the challenges, including food safety, of operating a food truck. As these businesses acquire more knowledge and experience, I expect the number of violations will decrease. It will help if food truck operators work together to share information, to help each other resolve problems and issues.

The report also made an interesting conclusion, indicating the best path to increased food safety: inspections. As Angela Erickson states in the report, "...the recipe for clean and safe food trucks is simple—inspections. More burdensome regulations proposed in the name of food safety, such as outright bans and limits on when and where mobile vendors may work, do not make street food safer—they just make it harder to get."

Don't worry about dining out at a food truck.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Earlier this week, on Tuesday, June 10, Billy Lyons, proprietor of Menotomy Grill & Tavern, celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Only diehard Arlingtonians and history buffs would know that their town'’s name has morphed over the past 400 years from the Indian word Menotomy ("swift running water") to West Cambridge (1751) to Arlington (1838). William (Billy) Lyons desired to create a neighborhood tavern designed to evoke both the feel and the flavor of his hometown, which played a supporting role in the Revolutionary War.

Warm wood, steel beams, a copper bar back and a massive fieldstone fireplace evoke the feel of the kind of tavern that British and American soldiers marched by as they headed to battle in nearby towns. Artifacts such as lanterns, antique school blackboards, signs and patina’d table stands, all curated by Lyons, complete the ambiance.

Rounding out the Menotomy Grill team are two solid kitchen vets who will share chef duties: Mark Thompson (Chez Henri) and Andrew Lehman (Flora). The debut menu, the entrees priced from $14 to $21, includes:

* Smoked Cod Cakes with Crock o’ Baked Beans
* Tuna Nicoise Salad
* Vegetable Lasagna
* Roasted Chicken with Edna’s Potato, Sausage and Pepper Stuffing
* House-Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich with Chickpea Fries
* Cayenne & Vinegar Wings
* Burgers: Beef, Veggie, Salmon, Tuna, Turkey served with housemade pickles
* Menotomy Indian Pudding
* Blackboard specials daily with brunch items available on Sundays

What’s to Drink ? Weekly cask ale poured into Imperial pints, 20 draft beers, root beer floats, full wine list, and vintage cocktails including the circa 1773 Cooper’s Flip:

2 oz. dark rum
1.5 oz. cask ale
1 egg
½ oz. molasses
½ oz. pumpkin puree
dash fresh grated nutmeg
Shake vigorously and pour into a rocks glass.

2) On Saturday, June 14, at 6:30pm, Pantry, the signature restaurant at The VERVE – Crowne Plaza Natick, is celebrating National Bourbon Day by hosting a three-course prix fixe dinner and cocktail hour that features an array of bourbon-infused plates created by Executive Chef Alastair Mclean that are aired with an array of bourbon whiskeys.

The evening begins in the hotel’s Stardust Plaza lounge where guests will sip a complimentary Bourbon Peach Berry Muddle as they dine on house-made hors d’oeuvres. Next, guests will move into Pantry’s dining room where they’ll enjoy their preferred main course and bourbon pairing before ending the night on a sweet note.

The Pantry’s three-course, prix fixe bourbon tasting menu will be served as follows:

1st Course (Passed)
French Toast, Foie Gras Torchon, Cherry Bourbon Syrup
Chicken Liver Bourbon Pate, Crostini, Giardiniera
Bourbon-Battered Stuffed Peppadews, House Boursin
Bourbon Peach Berry Muddle
2nd Course (choice of one)
--Smoked Trout Ravioli (Bourbon Cream, Bagel Chip Crumble)
Jim Beam – Devils Cut
--Bourbon Rabbit Ragout (Celery Root Puree, Garlic Chips)
Maker’s 46
--Smoked Rib & Pork Belly (Bourbon Marinade and Glaze, Kale, Smoked Tableside) Knob Creek- Smoked Maple
3rd Course (choice of one)
Bourbon Vanilla Panna Cotta (Pecan Ice Cream, Bourbon Brittle)
Jim Beam Honey

COST: $75 per person
For reservations, please call 508-416-1352

3) Executive Chef/Partner Robert Sisca and Head Sommelier Todd Lipman of Bistro du Midi collaborate with James Kowalshyn of L’Espirit du Vin to present a unique five-course dinner paired with the wines of F.E Trimbach on June 24, at 6pm.

The origin of F.E Trimbach Wines dates back almost four centuries to 1626. The vineyard is still managed by direct family members including Hubert Trimbach, nephews Jean and Pierre, and his daughter Anne. The Trimbach brand is widely known as distinct, timeless and of exceptional quality, earning its reputation as the most widely recognized Alsace brand in the United States.

The five-course meal and its pairings are as follows:

Sweet Corn Soup, Crème Frâïche, Lardon
2011 Pinot Blanc
Crispy Pork Belly, Farro, Golden Raisin, Pickled Fiddleheads, Pork Jus
2007 Gewurztraminer, Reserve
Pan seared Tilefish, Crispy Scales, Tomato Confit, Pea Shoots, Chorizo Emulsion
2077 Riesling, Cuvée Fredric Emile
Sage-Rubber Loin of Pork, Morels, Favas, Haricot Verts
2011 Pinot Noir, Reserve
Golden Peach Clafoutis, Honey Ice Cream
2000 Pinot Gris, Vendage Tradive

Cost: $125 per person, not including tax or gratuity.
For reservations, please call Bistro du Midi directly at 617-426-7878

4) Taberna de Haro is holding their last wine seminar of the season on Thursday, June 26. Come meet Noelia Paz, winemaker and owner of Bodegas Tampesta. The ambitious Noelia de Paz and her brothers started something unique when they sought help from one of Spain’s most prestigious and daring winemakers, Raúl Peréz. Raúl helped them plant some very special vines in northwest Spain’s under-the-radar but oh-so-promising Tierra de León DO. Insistent upon showing off indigenous grape varieties that are compelling and full of character Noelia and Raúl have worked determinedly to handcraft some of Spain’s most distinct, interesting, artisanal wines under the Bodegas Tampesta label. Prieto Picudo and Albarín may be little-known grapes, but they are powerful and delicious when grown and vinified by this passionate team.

On the Menu:
--Totus Tuus cava (to welcome you & put you in that wine-space)
--Maneki Blanco 2013
Mousse de trucha (Trout mousse, grilled toast)
--Tampesta Blanco 2013
--Tampesta Rosado 2013
Patatas a la importancia (potatoes w saffron, bird stock, and garlic)
--Tampesta Finca de los Vientos 2009
Ropa Vieja (garbanzos sautéed w chorizo, beef shank, tomato, & clove)
--Tampesta Imelda 2010
Queso Leonora con compota de pimientos (Semi-cured goat cheese from León with red pepper compote)

Cost: $55 per person (plus tax & gratuity)
Reservation and pre-payment required. Call 617-277-8272 in the evening.

5) Continuing Eastern Standard's “Standard Education” series, Wine Director Colleen Hein is providing guests a peek into the Champagne region drawing from her experiences there this spring. During her extensive travel through Champagne in April to visit boutique grower Champagne producers, Colleen learned about the region’s cool and often challenging climate from small, artisanal producers who are defying the staunch traditions and techniques that have defined Champagne for centuries.

She now gives guests a glimpse by way of glass into the exciting changes that are slowly taking place in the region, pairing hand-selected sparkling and red wines from Champagne with five courses of Eastern Standard’s New England-inspired bistro fare.

WHEN: Tuesday, June 24 7:00 pm
TICKETS: $150/person
Please visit to secure a seat at the table. CONTACT: or call 617-532-9100

6) This Saturday, June 14, the new Del Frisco’s Grille will open in Burlington. Located in a new shopping area cross from the Burlington Mall, this restaurant is the more casual offspring of the Del Frisco Double Eagle Steakhouse.

Executive Chef Rob DiTonno, who has been with Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group for the past three years at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Boston’s Liberty Wharf will feature local favorites like the Berkshire Pork Meatballs and East Coast Fish Tacos, alongside new classics such as Wood Oven-Baked Flatbreads, Cheesesteak Egg Rolls, and Ahi Tuna Tacos. Three days a week the menu will feature the “Daily Dish,” a daily special served Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The menu is rounded out with a selection of prime steaks, hearty salads, formidable sandwiches and chef-inspired entrees.

The Grille, open for lunch, dinner and brunch, offers two floors of dining with seating for 220 guests along with an upstairs bar with 10 seats, a downstairs bar with 20 seats and an outdoor patio with fireplace with seating for 100.

I was invited to preview the new restaurant, getting a tour of the facilities and getting to try some of their dishes. In short, it has a great look to the place, with an open kitchen, lengthy bar, and a cool exterior patio on the second floor. I also enjoyed the food, from a superb Corn Chowder (with crabmeat and smoked bacon) to their hearty Grille Prime Cheeseburger (with 2 patties). It is worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Korean Summer Sauce: A Tasty New Condiment

Are you familiar with Gochujang?

It is an important Korean condiment, commonly made from red chili, glutinous rice, soybeans and salt, and then fermented. Traditionally, it was fermented outside, in clay pots, but now many people use commercially produced gochujang. It is supposed to be savory and spicy, with a strong umami component.

A group of students from the Harvard Business School have created their own version of gochujang,which they have named Korean Summer Sauce. Their sauce is made from red pepper paste, honey, plum extract, sweet rice wine, garlic, sesame oil and soy. In general, they will be selling a 10 ounce bottle of their sauce for about $6, and it may only be available online currently. They are still a new company, so the availability of their sauce should grow in time.

I have little experience with gochujang so can't say whether the Korean Summer Sauce is similar or not. And I need to seek out some gochujang, to better explore this Korean condiment. However, I can speak on the taste of the Korean Summer Sauce. I was sent a media sample bottle and have since tried the sauce with several different dishes.

In short, I enjoyed the taste of this condiment, its savory flavors, with a mild spiciness, a hint of sweetness, and some umami goodness. It was an excellent topping for chicken lettuce wraps as well as a dipping sauce for fried chicken. It went well atop steak tips too. The others who tasted the sauce with me also enjoyed it very much. I think it is a versatile sauce, that can be used in many different ways with plenty of different foods. I wish it had more spicy heat, but that is more just a personal preference.  

If you get a chance, check it out. And if you have any recommendations for gochujang, please send them my way.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) Women saving Sake? In The Miracle Of Feeding Cities, Makiko Segawa wrote an article, Sake Revolution, Part 1 which goes into detail about the role of women in the Sake industry as well as consumers. Traditionally, Sake was seen as a man's drink, and women were prohibited from working in Sake breweries. However, that has been changing and women have become important in all aspects of Sake. For example, there is a life-style magazine, Bacchante, for female Sake brewers. In Tokyo during the last three years, over 100 Sake bars have opened and 70% of their customers are now young women. Only 1% of Sake brewers are currently women, but hopefully that will continue to change and the numbers of women involved in brewing will grow. Sake is not just a man's drink.

2) Hot or cold Sake? In general, premium Sake should be drank slightly chilled. However, there are plenty of exceptions and understanding the reality is not always easy. In Harpers UK, Anna Greenhous goes into detail about serving Sake at different temperatures. Personal preference plays its role in this matter, but there are also valid reasons why certain Sakes are better served at certain temperatures. The idea is to enhance their flavor profiles and sometimes being chilled does that while other times, heating it may do that. Anna also provides advice on how to properly heat Sake as well as a few of her own personal recommendations of Sakes to taste at different temperatures.

3) Ancient rice strains? In the Journal Gazette, Aya Takada wrote an article, Sake Boom Revives Vintage Rice Strains.There are around 100 different types of Sake rice, and farmers now are trying to bring back some older, almost forgotten rice strains to create new Sake. As Japan attempts to boost exports of food items, like Sake, there is an increased need for rice growers, and some are resurrecting these vintage strains. Yamadanishiki, a vintage strain that has long been considered the king of Sake rice, has seen an increase in production too, which bodes well for the future of the Sake industry.

4) Want more information on the 2014 Sake Awards? The National Research Institute of Brewing has received a short report in English on the recent 2014 Sake Awards, the 102nd year of those awards. The report mentions the entry process, which comes with a fee roughly equivalent to $158, and each "manufacturer" is limited to a single entry. There were 845 entries that underwent five days of blind tasting judging. 442 entries received prizes, with 233 receiving Gold awards. The most lengthy section of the report is the Comments on the Quality of Entries This Year. That section discusses the weather during the rice growing season, as well as the brewing season. It also mentions the general quality levels of the Sakes they tasted. Very interesting, and for more info on these awards, check out my previous article on Sake Competitions.

5) Sake rice grown in the U.S.? In the Arkansas Times, David Ramsey discusses how an Arkansas farmer is growing Sake rice and it could be a game changer for Sake producers in the U.S. Currently, Calrose, which is not a Sake rice, is used by most U.S. Sake producers. Though Calrose has an intriguing pedigree, some claim that because it is not a Sake rice, then its Sake cannot be as good as Japanese Sake. But what will happen when Sake rice, grow in the U.S. becomes available? At Isbell Farms in Arkansas, they have started growing Yamada Nishiki rice, and at least one Japanese btewery has already used some of the rice to brew some delicious Sake. The article discusses the history of the farm, and how it got involved growing Japanese rice. The farm is cultivating at least a couple other Sake rices too. None of these Sake rices are yet available to U.S. Sake producers, but it sets a precedent that Sake rice can be grown in the U.S. That could be the next revolution in U.S. produced Sake.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Rant: Eating With Your Ears

What might entice you to try a new food? Or turn you off from trying it?

Though tasting a new dish is the only way to know whether you actually enjoy it or not, you still have to get to that point in the first place. It is not enough that a dish tastes delicious. There are numerous other factors which might prevent a potential diner from tasting a new item. For example, looking at a new dish, you might find it appealing or not. Presentation can be very important. Does it look like a plate of sludge or a piece of art? Your nose might also turn you onto a dish, as its enticing aromas caress your nostrils. Or it might smell like something rancid meaning you will push the dish away.

Were you aware that your ears also play a part in what dishes you will or will not taste?

".., but often farmers and distributors don’t realize how much a bad name can be a roadblock to public acceptance . A name gives a food its identity and meaning. Before people taste it, smell it, or pick it up, they hear the name and make a quick calculation whether it sounds tasty or not."
--The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax

The simple name of a food can play a major role in its acceptance or not. The name needs to sound appealing, to sound delicious. If the name sounds too strange or off putting, then there are plenty of people who will avoid it. It may seem silly that people won't try a food just because of its name, but it is the truth. And there is some science behind this matter as well.

".., successful food names whip up an instantaneous expectation of how the food will taste by stimulating neural network associations in the brain—basically connecting the dots between memories, images, and sensations to create an idea of what that food will be like before you even see it."
--The Tastemakers

Let's consider some examples. Back in 1978, "canola" oil was named, using a mashup of "Canadian" and "oil." Why was that done? Well, the oil was developed from a new strain of rapeseed but that word would have brought with it too many negative emotions. So, a change was desired and ultimately they chose canola, and its popularity remains high. I have written previously about the Patagonian Toothfish, which Americans know as Chilean Sea Bass. It was thought Americans wouldn't find "Toothfish" appealing, so an enterprising fish monger decided to rename it for an American audience. That is also why some restaurants and fish mongers refer to Sable Fish as Butter Fish, thinking the later term is more appealing. Consumers are also more likely to try a dish of sweetbreads rather if they were called thymus glands.

What food have you shied away from tasting merely because you dislike its name? Are there foods you think should be renamed so they would appeal to more people?

Friday, June 6, 2014

How To Cook Seafood, Vol.2

"Scallops are expensive, so they should be treated with some class. But then, I suppose that every creature that gives his life for our table should be treated with class."
--Jeff Smith

Are there reasons why you don't cook more seafood at home?
Do you have difficulty, or feel intimidated, preparing seafood at home?
Do you know how to best cook fish and shellfish?

As I have previously said, on repeated occasions, Americans don't eat enough seafood. You should eat seafood at least twice a week, garnering its significant health benefits. A significant reason why people don't eat enough seafood is that many are not comfortable cooking seafood at home. They feel intimidated, and don't want to potentially ruin an expensive piece of fish. I have found that even some of my more food-oriented friends still are not confident cooking seafood. So how do we change that? How do we give people more confidence in preparing seafood at home?

Welcome to the second edition of How To Cook Seafood series where I present advice and recipes for seafood from local chefs. The advice is geared for home cooks, simple suggestions and recipes that most anyone can do at home. My hope is that it will spur on more people to cook seafood at home. If any local chef is interested in participating in this series, please contact me.

Now onto two more chefs with advice and recipes.

Chef Rich Vellante, the Executive Chef at Legal Sea Foods advises:

"First things first: you want to make sure that you’re cooking the freshest, highest quality fish possible. Not only is it important for obvious reasons but, to me, cooking a great piece of fish is about keeping it simple so the true flavors of the fish are prevalent. Make an investment in your ingredients and you’ll make it easier on yourself in the kitchen. So a few words about fish purchasing:

"The first rule of thumb is to buy from a well-known, busy (one that has a high volume so inventory moves quickly) fishmonger with a quality-driven reputation. It’s particularly important because the seafood industry is not regulated as tightly regulated as the meat or poultry industries, so one must have a level of confidence and trust that the fishmonger is providing you with high quality, fresh fish.

"Then ask questions such as: Where and when was the fish caught? Was it previously frozen? Is it wild or farm raised? Are antibiotics or chemicals added? What fish had been plentiful and looking/tasting good recently? When you get direction from the fishmonger on what fish is very fresh, ask to look at it. If it is a fillet, then look for a firm flesh with a clean cucumber aroma. If it is a whole fish, the eyes should be clear, not cloudy. And if the gills are there, they should be bright red, not a dull red. Once you decide what you want, a good fishmonger will dress the fish anyway you ask.

"You should cook the fish the day you bring it home. Worst case scenario, cook it the next day. Now on to the preparation:

"Many home chefs find the prospect of cooking seafood somewhat daunting but, in fact, fish is very versatile and can be prepared in a multiple of ways. Depending on the fish, you can bake, sauté, poach or grill it. But my favorite way to cook it is always rooted in simplicity. One of those ways is to cook the fish in parchment or foil and bake it in the oven - take any fillet of fish and put it in foil with your favorite vegetables, herbs, white wine, salt, pepper and any other flavoring you desire and wrap it up tightly and bake in the oven. The end result is that all the aromas and juices are captured in the foil, so you end up with a light, flavorful and moist fish that will impress every time. It’s a very easy to prepare, all-in-one dish that’s healthy and satisfying. It’s a great family meal that can easily be adapted to serve more or fewer people. Enjoy!"

Fish in Foil
serves 4

2lb 4 haddock fillets (or any white fish)
3oz sliced zucchini (or any seasonal vegetable)
3oz shaved brussels sprout (or any seasonal vegetable)
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 plum tomatoes - cut in half
1T fresh marjoram
1T butter

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Place the fish in the middle of a piece of aluminum foil layered with parchment or wax paper. Cover fish with zucchini and Brussels sprout, then layer tomato slices and marjoram on top. Add salt and pepper to taste, then dot with the butter. Make an envelope out of the foil, enclosing the fish and vegetables, and place it on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. Open the foil carefully to let out steam.

Chef Paul Turano, Owner of Tryst and Cook, advises:

These tips may seem simple, but they are often overlooked. It is key to have all your prep work done before you start. You get one chance to do fish right. Be sure to always taste everything and be sure you don’t over salt. You can always add. Make sure you remove any extra moisture by using a paper towel to absorb excess water. Make sure your pan is hot when searing fish and always sear the fresh side first. Once you flip it over you can lower the heat.

4-6 Halibut Steaks

Pan sear halibut steaks until golden brown.
Finish in oven @ 350 for 6-8 minutes

1 Sliced white onion
4 Stalks lemon grass
1 diced red chili
1/4 cup sliced ginger root
Sauté until lightly caramelized
Cover with the juice of 3 coconuts and 1/2 cup water. Simmer for 30 minutes, shut off heat and steep following ingredients
--1/2 cup cilantro
--1/4 cup chopped scallions
Strain after 30 minutes

Red Curried Vegetables
1 sweet potato peeled and diced
1 head of cauliflower separated into small florets
1 bell pepper diced
1 red onion diced
3 small zucchini diced 1/2 " and seeded cut on a bias
1/2 T minced lemongrass centers
1/2 T minced garlic
1/2 T minced ginger
2 T Coconut milk
1T red curry paste
1/3 cup scallions cut on a bias
Roast cauliflower and sweet potato separately with canola oil salt and pepper until tender
Stir fry Zucchini, onion and peppers with ginger, garlic and lemon grass until tender and aromatic
Add coconut milk and curry to coat, combine with cauliflower and potato
Add scallions and adjust seasoning adding picked cilantro leaves for garnish

In a bowl mound heated vegetable composition, top with a piece of fish and pour about 1/3 cup of strain broth over the fish. Finish with scallion Julian

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) On June 24, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will team up with Donald Patz, Co-Founder & National Sales Director of Patz & Hall, for an exclusive four-plus-course dinner. Founded in 1988, this California winery has a celebrated portfolio of single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Patz & Hall uses the very best small, family-owned Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards in California with the talented winegrowers who farm these world-class sites. Built on a shared commitment to quality, these partnerships have led to the rich diversity of the wine portfolio, contributing to acclaimed cuvées and sought-after single-vineyard wines.

The menuu will be presented as follows:

Fried Green Tomato, King Crab Salad, Smoked Tomato
Compressed Watermelon, Soy and Yuzu Marinated Tuna, Shiso
Black Bass Crudo, Tear Drop Tomato, Shishito Peppers, Lemon Thyme
Yakitori-style Grilled Octopus, House-made Ponzu, Asian Pear
Patz & Hall Sparkling Wine 2010
Chilled Corn Soup (Roasted Summer Squash, Lobster Medallion, Opal Basil)
Patz & Hall, Dutton Ranch 2012 – Russian River Valley Chardonnay
Patz & Hall, Alder Springs Vineyards 2003 – Mendocino Chardonnay
Skate Wing with Gnocchi al Nero (Tomato Confit, Grilled Calamari, Spicy Brodo di Mare)
Patz & Hall, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012
Roasted Lamb Loin (Braised Lamb Belly, Baby Artichokes, Graffiti Eggplant, Summer Beans)
Patz & Hall, Jenkins Ranch 2012 – Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Patz & Hall, Hyde Vineyard 2000 – Carneros Pinot Noir
Maine Blueberry Tart (Sweet Corn Ice Cream)
Patz & Hall, Late Harvest Wine 2011 – California

COST: $135 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

2) Spring is the optimum time of year for enjoying fresh goat cheese, and The Concord Cheese Shop has taken delivery of several worthy cheeses – both goat and not -- from small New England farms, some as close as half an hour away. I haven't tasted these new cheeses yet, but I certainly am motivated to drive to Concord to do so.

Lake’s Edge Goat Cheese (Blue Ledge Farm, Salisbury, VT)
A dramatic-looking, ash-veined cheese, aged just three weeks before being shipped to Concord Cheese Shop from this 100-acre farm. It’s named for the whitish stones often found along the shores of Lake Champlain.
Fresh Goat Cheese Crottins (Crystal Brook Farm, Sterling, MA)
Goat cheese “buttons” so fresh they’re often delivered within 48 hours of being inside the ewe. Cheese Shop marinates ‘em Italian style and sells ‘em by the 3” piece; perfect plunked atop a green salad for a light spring luncheon.
Mixed Drum (Twig Farm, West Cornwall, VT)
Made by Michael Lee from raw Ayrshire cow plus Alpine goat milks, this semi-hard cheese is named for its shape, and Concord Cheese Shop is pleased to carry it when we can get it (arrived May 2014), after it ages for 4 to 7 months.
Berkshire Blue (Great Barrington, MA)
Whole Jersey cow’s milk, and fatherly attention over its 60-day production process by career-changer cheesemaker Ira Grable results in this creamy and udderly delicious cheese made in the English style, but with much lower salt content. BB’s facility is smaller than a studio apartment, but its flavor reads like a penthouse coop.
Hooligan (Cato Corner Farm, Colchester, CT)
This scamp of a ripe, washed-rind cheese with creamy interior and bright orange rind has been a staff favorite for the past year. Mother and son cheesemakers bathe the small wheels in brine to encourage a pungent surface. This is one of 22 cheeses made on a farm just two hours away.
Dorset (Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlet, VT)
An award-winning, washed rind, raw Jersey cow’s milk cheese that’s soft-ripened and sold in 2.5 lb. wheels that can only be described as buttery.
Von Trapp Farmstead Oma (Cellar-aged at Jasper Hill Farm, VT)
Cheesemakers Sebastian and John von Trapp named this cheese after their German grandmother, Erica, whom they called Oma. It’s made from raw milk produced by cows grazing in Mad River Valley, and its taste is earthy and complex, with a silky texture.
Tarentaise (Thistle Hill Farm, North Pomfret, VT)
Concord Cheese Shop proprietor Peter Lovis loves this organic, grass-fed Jersey cow’s milk cheese so much he’s asked cheesemakers John and Janine Putnam for a special aging shelf at the farm for the wheels slated for sale here. There, Tarentaise is not only extra-aged for, but arrive with a report on the weather conditions the wheels endured. Made in traditional copper vats, this is an assertive and complex, natural rind cheese worth discovering.
Tobasi (Cricket Creek Farm, Williamstown, Massachusetts)
Inspired by taleggio, this semi-soft, raw cow’s milk cheese has a taste that’s a cross between butter and custard, but with seasonal variations that often add a hint of nuttiness.
Arpeggio and Prescott (Robinson Family Farm, Hardwick, MA)
Two of four farmstead cheeses made from raw cow’s milk at this fourth generation farm located about an hour away from Concord. Arpeggio tastes of its central Massachusetts terroir, and is still spreadable after 2-4 months of aging. Prescott is a dense cheese aged 9 to 12 months, and is so darn good it won the 2013 American Cheese Society gold medal.
West West Blue (Parish Hill Creamery, West Westminster, MA)
This spicy aged Gorgonzola style blue comes from veteran cheese craftsman Peter Dixon, the man who showed most of Vermont how to make cheese. A masterpiece made in small batches with whole raw cow milk.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alexander Jules: Three Impressive Sherries

Would you drink a wine that was described as "caramelized fish roe" or "sugar coated fish scale?" Before you answer, know that those were complimentary comments and this wine was a huge hit with the wine lovers savoring it yesterday.

As I previously mentioned, this is International Sherry Week, and yesterday I attended a lunch tasting of three new Sherries at Taberna de Haro. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm, and a small group of us sat outside the restaurant, enjoying some tapas with our Sherry. It brought to mind my time in Jerez, sitting outside a tapas bar, and sipping Sherry. Chef Deborah Hansen led the tasting, which also became a round table discussion on all things Sherry, from the public perception of this unique beverage to retail sales. Fun, informative and so very delicious.

In the U.S., we have experienced only a portion of the Sherry styles and types that are available in Spain. Deborah mentioned that she was once told that Spaniards didn't believe our market was ready yet for certain Sherries, that they didn't want to confuse the U.S. marketplace. It is as if they want us to first move beyond sweet Sherry, and to better understand and appreciate dry Sherry. For example, it was only relatively recently that En Rama Sherry, a lightly filtered wine, has been made available in the U.S. As we embrace Sherry more, then we will eventually find an even greater diversity in the market, and that is very exciting.

Jamon! Enough said. A fine accompaniment to Sherry.

Anchovies, more tasty treats. Sustainable and also excellent with Sherry.

And of course some Olives. Sherry, especially Fino and Manzanilla go great with salty foods.

The three Sherries we tasted were from the portfolio of Alexander Jules, a company that was founded in 2012 by Alexander Russan. This company is not a Bodega nor an Almacenista but is more similar to that of a Negociant. Alexander visits Sherry producers or cellars, tastes through many of their barrels, and selects a number of barrels to create a special Sherry, what he feels will make a compelling wine. The Sherry is then sent to a bottler, who also will filter and/or fine the wines. This is very similar to what is done by the well known Equipo Navazos

Alexander got interested in Sherry while he was in college, finding great complexity in Sherry at a very reasonable price (which is still the case). He eventually starting working in the coffee industry, where he apparently developed an excellent palate which would later serve him well with Sherry. Seeking a new challenge, Alexander decided to get into the Sherry business. The Spanish are very open to business dealings with foreigners, and Alexander must have impressed them sufficiently that some of them have chosen to work with him.

After selecting a Sherry, Alexander wants them bottled with minimal processing, only a bare essential amount of filtering. His intention is to present a Sherry as close as to what it tastes like directly from the barrel. Too much filtering can also strip flavor and color from a Sherry. It is fascinating that minimal filtering permits some living matter, generally yeasts, to remain within the bottle, so the Sherry remains a living wine, and will evolve over time in the bottles. These Sherries should age well, and it would be intriguing to see how they develop over the years.  

Alexander, who is based in California, noticed Deborah frequently tweeting about Sherry and he contacted her to see if she were interested in trying his Sherry. He eventually mailed her samples and she was enamored with their taste and complexity. After initially tasting them, she let them sit for a week and tasted them again, to see how they changed with time. She liked their evolution, and noted that they tasted differently, though still good.

I first tasted the three Alexander Jules Sherries (a Fino, Manzanilla & Amontillado) a few weeks ago while dining at Taberna de Haro with two good friends. I was impressed then and was eager to taste them again yesterday, to learn more about these Sherries. Once again, the Sherries impressed and I highly recommend that everyone check them out.

The Alexander Jules Fino 22/85 was selected from 22 of the 85 barrel Fino Celestino solera at Bodegas Sanchez Romate Hnos. I've visited this Bodegas before and they produce excellent Sherry so Alexander certainly chose well. The Fino Celestino solera contains the oldest Fino produced at the bodega, about eight years old on average. It is basically bottled En Rama, with minimal filtering, has an alcohol content of only 15% and was bottled in May 2013. Only 1100 bottles were produced, meaning it is very small production.

The Fino has a bright gold/amber color, darker than many other Finos, and a pleasant aroma of brine and almonds. I haven't found that strong of a briny aroma in most other Finos, and I might almost think it was a Manzanilla by smell alone. On the palate, the Fino is more full bodied, with a bold and complex blend of saltiness, nutty notes, and hints of spice and herbs. With each sip, I seem to find something else within its intriguing taste. And I love that it only has 15% alcohol, lower than many other Sherries. This is not a simple or forgettable Fino.

The Alexander Jules Manzanilla 17/71 was selected from 17 barrels of the 71 barrel San León solera from Bodegas Argüeso in Sanlúcar. The solera is as old as the bodega itself, having been established in 1822. It is basically bottled En Rama, with minimal filtering, has an alcohol content of 15% and was bottled in May 2013. Only 1100 bottles were produced, meaning it is also very small production.

It possessed the same color as the Fino, and from comparing the color of the two glasses, you would be unable to differentiate the two. Its aroma burst with a briny delight, enhanced with floral elements and a touch of spice. On the palate, it has that delicious taste of the ocean, bringing to mind oysters and uni. Again, this Sherry was complex and intense, with hints of citrus on the finish, something you don't often find in Manzanilla. I am a huge fan of Manzanilla and loved this Sherry, preferring it slightly over the Fino, but that is due only to personal preference.

I should note too that over the course of our lunch, there were some subtle changes in the Sherries. Part of it is due to the fact they warmed up some, but also because they are living wines, evolving over even a short time. Thus, it would be beneficial to savor and pay attention to these Sherries while you drink them, to assess the changes that come with time.

The Alexander Jules Amontillado 6/26 was selected from 6 of the 26 barrel "Amontillado Fino" solera from Bodegas ArgüesoIt has an average age of ten years, has minimal filtering, an alcohol content of 17.5% and was bottled in May 2013. Only 1300 bottles (500ml each) were produced, meaning it is also very small production.

This was the wine that was described as "caramelized fish roe" and "sugar coated fish scale." It is a stunning Sherry, with such a fascinating and harmonious melange of aromas and flavors. There is that sense of the sea, the brininess that exists in the other two Sherry, and that is coupled with flavors of caramel, toffee and butter. There are also hints of dried fruit and spice. It is bright and intense, tantalizing and sublime. Everyone really enjoyed this Sherry, appreciating its complexity and simple deliciousness. Highly recommended.

To taste these Sherries, stop by Taberna de Haro, which is one of the only (if not the only) restaurants currently carrying them. They are being distributed by Winebow so they are available in a few wine shops, though due to their rarity their availability is limited. The Fino (750ml), Manzanilla (750ml) and Amontillado (500ml) generally retail for around $45 a bottle. These are unique and impressive Sherries and I think the price is reasonable. I need to buy some myself.

Remember, once these Sherries are sold, they won't ever be offered again. This weekend, Alexander is traveling back to Jerez, to research and taste test some future bottlings. I look forward to these new bottlings, to see what other treasures that Alexander creates.