Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ten New Year's Eve Resolutions For My Readers

Happy New Year's Eve, and I hope you enjoy your celebrations this evening, whether you go out to a party or have a relatively quiet night at home. Have some bubbly, whether it is Champagne, Franciacorta, Cremant d' Alsace, Cava, or some other type of Sparkling Wine. As the ball falls in Times Square at midnight, I hope you are with family and/or friends, looking forward to the start of 2016. And I especially hope that this New Year is better for you than 2015.

This is also the time when people will ponder their lives and choose to make Resolutions, the things they want to do, or not do, to make their lives better in the New Year. Maybe you want to give up smoking or lose weight, maybe you want to start going to a gym regularly or save more money. Unfortunately, many people will break their resolutions after only a short time, so numerous people will choose not to make a resolution, figuring they won't follow it anyways.

As I previously done, I want to offer some alternative suggestions for resolutions, all connected to food and drink. Rather than deal in absolutes, or exact measurements, I merely hope that you choose to do your best to follow these suggested resolutions with the simple goal of doing better than you did last year. I don't expect anyone to follow these resolutions all the time. Please just do your best. I think you might find this easier to do than a more specific resolution which is an either/or proposition. Seek continued forward progress in these ten resolutions.

1) Resolve to eat & drink healthier
That encompasses so much, from eating less calories to choosing items that have less preservatives and chemicals. Take small steps in your approach rather than diving into a major change. The smaller steps won't seem as burdensome and it will make it easier to take another small step later on. And even small changes can bring about positive changes. We all would benefit from eating and drinking healthier and it will also help our environment and economy.

2) Resolve to consume more local food & drink
Local products can help the environment, the local economy and benefit the local community. Plus, many of those local products can be healthier than mass produced, overly processed foods that might come from thousands of miles away. This includes drinking local wines, as every state now produces wine, and you might be surprised by the quality of some of that local wine. Not all local food and drink is delicious or good for the environment, so do some research to find out the best.

3) Resolve to eat more seafood, especially domestic
Seafood can be extremely healthy for you, especially those fish rich in Omega-3s, so it is an excellent choice for dinner. And seafood is delicious, versatile and often easy to prepare. Yes, it can be more expensive, but it is well worth the added cost. And buying more domestic seafood will help our economy, rather than buying so much imported seafood. Eating more seafood can be one of the healthiest life changes you ever make.

4) Resolve to expand your drink horizons
Don't keep drinking the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful beverages out there to taste, to see if you can find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. If you mainly drink Chardonnay, venture out and try some other white wines, such as Gruner Veltliner, Trebbiano or Albarino. Try Sherry, Sake, Japanese Whisky, Mezcal, Franciacorta, and other under-appreciated beverages. Taste it all, constantly trying new beverages, and continue drinking those you enjoy.

5) Resolve to expand your food horizons
In a similar vein, don't keep eating the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful foods out there to taste, to see if you can find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. Try some less common meats, from rabbit to wild boar, or maybe something even more unusual like insects or guinea pig. Seek out ethnic dishes that are new to you, and look for new ingredients you can try out in your own kitchen. Taste it all, constantly trying new foods, and continue eating what you enjoy

6) Resolve to cook more at home
Cooking at home is another way to benefit the environment, and it can be more economical than eating out all the time. It also gives you a better handle on exactly what you eat, so you can make the food as healthy as you desire. It can be fun too, if you cook with someone else, breaking the potential boredom of cooking alone. Be creative in what you cook, seek out new recipes, and share recipes with others.

7) Resolve not to be a douchebag when you dine out
When you dine out at a restaurant, be polite and show respect to everyone working at the restaurant. Don't demand special treatment or threaten the restaurant just because you write reviews on some community website. Tip properly, showing your server gratitude for all their hard work. If you enjoy the restaurant, spread the word about your positive experience. Good restaurants can use, and deserve, all the help they can get.

8) Resolve to give more to fight hunger
Despite the wealth of the U.S., there are still far too many people who can't afford to eat properly. Hunger is a major problem and one that we can do something about. Give food or money to local food banks, national organizations, or any other charity that is trying to combat this problem. Those of us without food security issues can all help out.

9) Resolve not to waste as much food
It is said that up to 40% of our food ends up as waste, and that is a nearly unbelievable statistic. Do your part to help reduce food waste. Food waste can lead to higher food prices and cause more environmental damage. So, as your mother probably once said to you, finish everything on your plate. Use leftovers to make additional meals.

10) Resolve not to drink & drive
As I have said time and time again, do not drive if you are impaired by alcohol. It is much too dangerous and you could injure or kill yourself or someone else. Even if you don't get in an accident, you could be arrested and that comes with its own high costs. It isn't worth doing it, so please just don't drink and drive.

Is there anything I missed?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: Favorite Food-Related Items

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

Let me continue my collection of lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2015. On Monday, I posted my list of my Favorite Restaurant Dishes of 2015 and yesterday, I posted my Favorite Restaurants & Top 50 list. Now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from cookbook to food events, seafood to soup. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

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

Favorite Food Trade Event: For the fifth year in a row, I have selected the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and I wrote twenty-one posts about the show this year. The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next SENA in March 2016. Hope to see you there too.

Favorite Food Education Program: The Seafood Nutrition Partnershipa non-profit organization dedicated to raising public awareness about the health benefits of seafood, created the Eating Heart Healthy program. Its goal is to introduce seafood into the diets of women and their families, to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. Through interactive cooking and nutrition education, they have succeeded in teaching a number of women who have subsequently introduced seafood into their family meals. Such a worthwhile objective, which has shown success, it deserves far more attention.

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

Favorite Cookbook: Nikkei Cuisine presents over 100 recipes, reflecting a blending of Japanese cuisine with those of Brazil and Peru. It presents a more unique cookbook, one which highlights a cuisine which previously has not received sufficient attention. The recipes are for cooks of all skill levels and there are plenty of beautiful photographs of the various dishes. The recipes also cover everything from appetizers to desserts, so you could make an entire meal from this cookbook.

Favorite Food Contest: With about 32 burgers vying for contentions, the Battle of the Burger was a fierce competition, presenting plenty of delicious and inventive burgers for tasting. It was a full scale event, with music, wine and cocktails to complement all of the burgers. I made it through 21 entries, making some new finds, and feeling delightfully stuffed. The event didn't get too crowded until later in the day, giving me plenty of time to savor burger after burger. I recommend you check out this event next year.

Favorite Food Truck Item: The Crispy Chicken Rice Burger, with a sweet & sour sauce, at the Rice Burg Food Truck was an interesting and tasty sandwich. The chicken, all white meat, was large and thick, with a crisp coating and lots of tender, moist meat. The sauce was good too, a nice balance of flavors. The rice patties were interesting and delicious, adding an intriguing element to the sandwich, like a rice and chicken bowl. Overall, a delicious sandwich which was priced very reasonably.

Favorite Cheese Shop: When it comes to cheese, the suburbs reign supreme with the Concord Cheese Shop, which commonly stocks 150-200 cheeses, including many local cheeses. The staff is very knowledgeable and passionate about their cheese, and they are always seeking out new cheeses for their stock. Besides all that cheese, they also carry a variety of other gourmet foods as well as wines and beers. It is an excellent destination for many reasons.

Favorite Lamb Dinner: Starting with some amazing cheese, such as the Portuguese Zimbro, the Lamb dinner at Tavern Road was fantastic, from start to finish. Got to watch a fascinating lamb butchery demo before enjoying a Lamb Hotdog, Lamb Merguez Sausage, Lamb Biryani and much more. The lamb was also from a local farm, making it even more compelling. Accompanied by wine, and good friends, this was an excellent event.

Favorite New Seafood: Norwegian Skrei is a sustainable North Arctic Cod that lives in the Barents Sea. The skrei fishing industry is considered one of the best-managed cod stocks in the world. I enjoyed some pan-roasted Skrei which possessed a firmer texture than other cod, and had a delightful flaky white flesh and a clean taste. Simply a delicious piece of fish that will appeal to any seafood lover.

Favorite Seafood Product: The Sunburst Trout Farms produce numerous trout produces and I was especially taken with their Trout Jerky I enjoyed the texture and taste of the jerky. It was chewy, but without being too hard on your jaw, the texture you want in a piece of jerky. The taste is pleasing, with a nice blend of spices, a touch of briny goodness, and isn't overly fishy. You'll realize the jerky isn't beef or pork, but you won't care.

Favorite Local Seafood Purveyor: Located on the Boston fish pier, Red's Best sells fish for over 1,000 fishermen, offering more than 60 types of seafood which is sustainable and has traceability. It is all domestic seafood, much local, and it includes under-utilized species. I really like their philosophy, their support of small, local fishermen, and their passion. They now have a small store at the Boston Public Market which you should visit to buy some excellent seafood.

Favorite Soup: At the Seafood Expo, I tasted and was enamored with the Peruvian Shrimp Chupe, a chowder made with peas, corn and aji planca (a type of chile pepper). I found this chowder to possess a great depth of flavor, a creamy texture and a unique spicy kick to it. A perfect winter chowder which would warm your body and soul. I had to return to this booth several times to get another taste of this chowder.

Favorite Nuts: The Pearson Farms Georgia Pecans possess a fine, nutty taste with a firm texture, tasting fresher than some of the pecans I've bought at the local store. I had a pecan pie made with these nuts and it came out excellent. The pecans had a prominent savory flavor, and seemed to enhance the pie even more than usual. I'm sure those pecans would enhance any dish they calls for such nuts and you can order them online.

Favorite Candy: I previously raved about the Caramels from McCrea's Candies and they continue to satisfy, offering new flavors on a regular basis. One of my new favorites is their Highland Single Malt Scotch, which is made with actual Scotch, from the Ardmore Distillery. They have a new packaging now, which is more elegant, and even more new flavors. Their caramels are soft and chewy, with bright flavors, just an excellent sweet bite, one you might find addictive.

Favorite Food/Drink Blogger List: Diversity is important for all of us, helping to broaden our experiences, to open our minds to new ideas, and to eliminate our biases and prejudices. To promote and celebrate diversity, I have compiled a list of People of Color Blogging About Food & Drink. It is a small but important list and I highly recommend you check out these blogs, to gain a different viewpoint on food & drink issues. If anyone knows of someone else from Massachusetts who belongs on this list, please contact me with their info.

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50

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

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2015. I have already posted my Top Wine lists, Favorite Wine Related Items Favorite Spirits, Cocktails & Drink Related Items. Yesterday, I posted my Favorite Restaurant Dishes of 2015 and now I want to address my Favorite Restaurants of the past year as well as my Top 50 Restaurants.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find a few Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled a little bit this past year.

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

Top Restaurant Experience: Though I enjoyed some excellent dining experiences in the Boston area this past year, my top dining experience took place at Tasting Counter in Somerville. Chef Peter Ungár opened his restaurant in July, which I had eagerly awaited, and it has received many well-deserved raves from other reviewers too. The cuisine is inventive, appealing and absolutely delicious. The setting is cool and intimate, a twenty-seat counter where you can also watch the chef and kitchen staff preparing your food. I consulted on their Sake program & they now possess the largest Sake menu of any non-Asian restaurant in the Boston area. I highly recommend you check out Tasting Counter and expect that in 2016, Chef Peter Ungár's name will be on everyone's tongue

Favorite New Restaurant: So many interesting restaurants opened this year, so this wasn't the easiest decision to make. But, Ciao! Pizza & Pasta, which I reviewed Quality Food In A Small Package and An Update, is deserving for multiple reasons. First, its food, including wood-fired pizzas, house-made pasta, and paninis, are high-end quality and quite tasty, but at very reasonable prices. It is a small place, mostly takeout but with a handful of chairs at a counter, yet it doesn't skimp on anything. And it is located in Chelsea, enhancing their neighborhood, and could be the start to a culinary surge in Chelsea. It hasn't received much press yet but I'm sure you'll be hearing much more about in 2016. Get there now and find out why it earns my highest recommendation.

Favorite Bar Restaurant: Beneath Davis Square in Somerville, you'll find Saloon, a killer whiskey bar that also has an excellent food menu. Duck Wings to Lamb Merguez Sausage, Chicken Fried Rabbit Leg to Short Rib Pot Pie, and much more. It is elevated comfort food, perfect accompaniments to cocktails and whiskey. The menu changes on a regular basis so you can try new dishes all the time. And with over 120 Whiskies on their list, you'll need to fill your belly with some of their delicious food to soak up all that compelling alcohol.

Favorite Suburban, High-End Italian: Though it has only been open about a month, Osteria Posto in Waltham has already made its mark as an Italian steakhouse. From killer appetizers like Sweetbreads Marsala and Burrata, to delicious pasta like Agnolotti Dal Plin atop Goat Bolognese and Mafaldine, there is much Italian to enjoy. And their Steaks, like the tender Cap Steak, will also satisfy your more carnivorous cravings. Top notch service, an excellent cocktail & wine program, and an elegant ambiance, will all combine to make your dining experience memorable. It's open for lunch and dinner so make the trek to Waltham.

Favorite Suburban, Mid-Level Italian: Another compelling new restaurant this year, located in Burlington, is Osteria Nino. Reasonably priced, this Roman-inspired restaurant offers an ever-changing menu of scrumptious pasta dishes, delicious pizzas, hearty sandwiches, and much more. Enjoy dishes like Cacio e Pepe, Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu, and Bacon Pizza. With an all-Italian wine list, there are many interesting choices available, and their bar also produces some tasty cocktails. I lunch here on a regular basis and it remains consistently good. With all the new restaurants in Burlington, this is one that should be at the top of your list.

Favorite New Sandwich Restaurant: Though they have an extensive  breakfast and lunch menu, the specialty at Tasty On The Hill, located in Medford, is the Francesinha, a traditional Portuguese sandwich, especially in the Porto region. They serve six variations and I've enjoyed three of them so far. These are hearty sandwiches, topped by a tangy, savory tomato-based sauce and served with house-cut French fries. The Traditional is a meat-lovers fantasy, made with five different meats, from steak to bacon. If you want less meat, go for the Bacalhau, which only has salt cod. They even have a Vegetarian option. These sandwiches are unique in the Boston area and I highly recommend you try one.

Favorite New Inman Square Restaurant: As a long-time fan of Bergamot, I was excited when their sister restaurant, BISq, opened in Inman Square. Chef Dan Bazzinotti is creating some inventive and delicious food, including a roast leg of lamb which was silky tender and bursting with flavor. The restaurant also has a fascinating wine list, a cool cocktail program, and will satisfy your thirst, no matter what your taste. It is small and intimate, with a casual and fun atmosphere, and you need to visit to enjoy a compelling culinary experience.

Favorite New Burger Joint: New to WoburnWuBurger will also be opening a second location in Inman Square in the near future. The Woburn location is reminiscent of an old-fashioned diner and they offer excellent burgers, reasonably priced and fully customizable. You can get one or two patties, with your choice of toppings, or you can try one of their other sandwiches or hotdogs. Get a side of Waffle Fries or a cup of meat Chili, and then end your meal with Richardson's ice cream. Fast, casual, and inexpensive, this is a great place for lunch or dinner.

Favorite Hotel Restaurant: Hotel restaurants sometimes are seen as lesser places, and that reputation is partially deserved, but there are a number of exceptions, such as Chopps American Bar & Grill at the Burlington Marriot. The menu is diverse, the dishes are prepared well, and their drinks program is excellent. Enjoy a thick steak or silky tuna, a dry-aged burger or a meat-covered pizza. Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Chopps has you covered and it will show that hotel restaurants can produce culinary wonders.

Favorite New Maine Restaurant: The Velveteen Habit is a fine dining tavern, having taken over the old Arrows space. It impressed me, from its excellent cocktail program to its tasty & well-made cuisine, from its intriguing wine list to its impeccable service. Their dedication to providing much of their own produce from their garden and their reliance on many local purveyors is admirable. Portland is well known for its excellent restaurants but you don't have to drive that far. Instead, take a shorter drive to The Velveteen Habit and experience their cuisine & drinks program. You won't be disappointed.

Favorite New Maine Restaurant Neighborhood: Kittery, Maine is most known for its outlets, but it needs to be better known for its intriguing Foreside neighborhood which is becoming an interesting culinary destination, just across the river from Portsmouth. Enjoy Ramen and Pork Buns at Anju Noodle Bar, buy locally sourced meats at MEat Butcher Shop, and savor the light and flaky Crullers at Lil's Cafe. There are other restaurants in this neighborhood you can experience too and you should spend some time exploring this up and coming area.

Favorite Connecticut Restaurant: Miya's Sushia sustainable sushi restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, remains my favorite spot. You can feel good about the food, which is both sustainable and nutritious. You won't be disappointed with all the tastes and flavors within each compelling dish. Make sure to save room for dessert too, at least a single bit worth of room for its Seven Deadly Sushi. It remains a very affordable restaurant and will continue to be so. Chef Bun Lai deserves every accolade and rave he has received and it garners my highest recommendation.

The Passionate Foodie's Top 50 Restaurants
In addition to the Favorites listed above, I've compiled a list of my own Top 50 Restaurants, those Massachusetts places where I'm sure to always have a delicious meal, whether a casual breakfast or a high-end French dinner. These are the places I seem to recommend the most to others, including some places where I dine on a regular basis. Many of these places have been listed on prior Favorite Lists, some for multiple years, and are all worthy of recognition and recommendation. This is not a list of the "Best" restaurants, but my own personal favorites and you can find my reviews of these spots on my blog.

The Beehive
Dumpling Cafe
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Myers & Chang

Alden & Harlow
Craigie on Main
Flat Patties
Puritan & Co.
T.W. Food

Ciao! Pizza & Pasta

Clam Box


The Painted Burro
Tasting Counter

Fusion Taste
Taste of Siam
Three Amigos

Osteria Posto

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: Favorite Restaurant Dishes

What were some of my favorite restaurant dishes of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2015. I have already posted my Top Wine lists, Favorite Wine-Related Items, and Favorite Spirits, Cocktails & Drink Related Items. Now I want to concentrate more specifically on my Favorite Restaurant Dishes of the past year.

This list includes fourteen dishes which I not only enjoyed immensely, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious or something more unique, but all stand out for some particular reason, above the other dishes I have tasted this past year. These are the type of dishes I would order again and again, and which I would highly recommend.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable dishes I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. It is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. This list is in alphabetical order, by name of the restaurant, and isn't in any order of preference. For more of my favorite restaurant dishes, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Striper Crudo at 80 Thoreau (Concord)
With summer truffle, hakurei, and pickled chanterelles, this was a fresh delight of textures and flavors. The striper flesh was delicate and firm, clean and fresh, like a fine sashimi. It was enhanced by the subtle earthiness of the truffles and the pickled chanterelles added a tasty acidity. A perfect summer dish which showcased the fish in the best of light.  

Fried Scallops & Shrimp at Chopps American Bar & Grill (Burlington)
This flash fried seafood was amazing, especially the scallops. The tasty crunchy coating was clean and light and the scallops were tender and sweet, some of the best fried scallops I've had in some time. The shrimp, which come from the U.S. Gulf, were also very good. 

Campanelle with Chorizo Bolognese at Ciao! Pizza & Pasta (Chelsea)
Out of all the pasta dishes I enjoyed this year, this was the most impressive. It was hearty and delicious, with plenty of creaminess in the sauce, lots of spicy meat, and crunchy bits of chorizo, The house-made campanelle pasta was cooked perfectly and was an excellent vehicle for the bolognese. I've eaten this numerous times during the last few months and it has remained consistently excellent.

Duck Confit Pizza  at Ciao! Pizza & Pasta (Chelsea)
Ciao makes it to the list for a second time with this superb wood-fired pizza. This pizza is made with duck confit, some crispy duck skin, fresh mozzarella, a sweet potato/butternut squash puree, caramelized onions, and cranberries. It was an excellent blend of flavors, with sweetness and tartness, and the duck meat was tender and flavorful. The pizza crust cooked just right, all making for a damn tasty pizza.

6 Hour Meatballs at Osteria Nino (Burlington)
Made from pork, beef, and grana, these meatballs were tender and flavorful, a delicious melange of taste and texture. Forget those tough and dry meatballs you might find elsewhere, these are going to please even the most discriminating palate. You can even order them at lunch in a delicious Meatball sub.

Osteria Burger at Osteria Posto (Waltham)
I haven't yet written about my lunch experience at Osteria Posto, but their Burger well deserves an accolade. A thick, 9 ounce burger, with pancetta, Fontina cheese, a mushroom marsala pasata and tomatoes, is juicy and flavorful, with plenty of umami, a little smokiness, and plenty of gooey cheese. It is accompanied by crunchy potato chips that will remind you of Cape Cod-style chips. 

Crispy Skin Duck at Puritan & Co. (Cambridge)
This large piece of duck was quite thick, cooked mostly rare, and was absolutely sublime. It was extremely tender, with crispy skin, and each piece just melted in my mouth. I'd order that duck again and again.

Duck Wings at Saloon (Somerville)
Covered by an orange-molasses glaze, the tender meat nearly falls off the bone, there is a nice crispness to the skin and the glaze isn't overly sweet. There is a stronger taste to the duck meat than chicken and that isn't a negative. I've long been a fan of duck. We need to see more Duck Wings on local menus.

Tan Tan Men at Sapporo Ramen (Somerville)
A sesame flavored soup, with thick egg noodles and topped with spicy ground pork. Large and hearty, this is a rich and savory soup, with spicy heat, nutty accents, and plenty of umami. Each sip of the soup bursts with complex flavors. The ground pork adds a meaty element, and helps to boost the umami, while the noddles add some firm texture. 

Fried Chicarrones at Taberna de Haro (Brookline)
Fried pork belly, a tasty and salty mix of crunchy and silky fatty bits, they were an excellent pairing with Sherry.

Sea Urchin at Tasting Counter (Somerville)
Tasting Counter has so many compelling dishes but one of the standouts was this dish. Made with kelp custard, white truffle, & wakame, it was creamy, briny and savory, bursting with umami bomb. Perfect for a Sake pairing.

Traditional Francesinha at Tasty on the Hill (Medford)
With five meats, a fried egg, cheese and topped by a tomato-based sauce, this is one big-ass sandwich, accompanied by hand cut French fries. All the different meats provided different textures and spices, and they blended harmoniously together, enhanced by the fried egg and all the melted cheese. The sauce was tangy, savory and slightly spicy with a strong tomato flavor. Very tasty, it was a fine topping for the thick sandwich. A carnivore's dream.

Lamb Hotdog at Tavern Road (Boston)
More like a sausage than a hot dog, it was thick, juicy and with a complex melange of spices and flavors. I could enjoy these on the grill all summer long.

Tater Tots at The Velveteen Habit (Maine)
Some of the best tater tots I've ever had, the crispy exterior had a clean taste and the interior was delightfully creamy, almost as if they contained a tasty portion of mashed potatoes. The balance of the two textures enhanced the dish and they would have made a great bar snack.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays To All

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

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

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

It is also a time for giving, for sharing with those less fortunate than us. Please donate as much as you can to your favorite charities, whether you give money, time or goods. Even small donations can make a significant impact. Think of more than just yourself at this time and throughout the year.

Make sure you have a safe holiday as well. Please, please, please don't drink and drive, and drive safely and cautiously. If you are going to drink, let someone else drive, or take a taxi or public transportation. Again, please do not drink and drive! I hope that everyone will remain around to celebrate the New Year and see what 2016 brings all of us.

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

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Night Market Chef Jason Tom invites guests to Night Market for a fun night of dining, drinking, and celebrating this New Year’s Eve. Night Market will be hosting two options for guests on New Year’s Eve- traditional reservations for guests with the regular menu available along with a five course menu option from 5pm-8pm followed by a New Year’s Eve Party starting at 9pm with passed appetizers and Sake Slushies to ring in 2016.

From 5pm-8pm, Chef Jason Tom will offer the traditional Asian Street Food menu for guests to order off of enhanced by a special tasting menu option for guests looking to end 2015 on a delicious note prepared by Chef Tom. The five-course tasting menu is priced at $60 and includes optional $5 sake pairing per course.

Beginning at 9pm, the restaurant will be hosting a Night Market New Year’s Eve Party from 9pm-1am. The party will feature passed Asian Street Fare appetizers such as Night Market Skewers, Wontons, Tea Eggs and Fried Chicken Wings along with Sake Slushies and Sake Cocktails as well as a midnight champagne toast. Night Market New Year’s Eve Party tickets are $35 and include passed appetizers, two drink tickets and a champagne toast.

To purchase tickets or make a reservation, please call the restaurant at (857) 285-6948

2) Legal Harborside’s second level will ring in the New Year by dishing out a decadent three-course menu featuring the best from land and sea. The customizable menu includes the following options:

-choice of-
“Treasures of the Sea” (oysters, jumbo shrimp cocktail, snow crab, housemade accoutrements)
Lobster Soup (oloroso sherry, puff pastry)
Housemade Gavlax (Beet emulsion, cucumber, rye, horseradish crème fraiche)
-choice of-
Roasted “Rack of Sole” (brown butter, celeriac purée, Meyer lemon, sea beans, caper berries)
Surf & Turf (creek stone beef tenderloin, Maine lobster tail, season vegetable, pomme purée)
North Atlantic Sea Scallops (toasted farro, pancetta, poached pear, Marcona almond, amaretto foam)
Poached Halibut (baby bok choy, ginger champagne nage, citrus)
-choice of-
Cappuccino Mousse (Sambuca cream in a chocolate coffee cup)
Puff Pastry with Fruit (champagne sabayon)
Triple Chocolate (With raspberry coulis, white chocolate anglaise and fresh raspberries)

WHEN: Thursday, December 31, from 5:30pm – 10:00pm
COST: $65 per person
Reservations can be made by contacting 617-477-2900

3) This New Years’ Eve, Abby Lane will be saying goodbye to 2015 by celebrating the biggest movie of 2015- Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Abby Lane’s Star Wars-themed party will feature passed appetizers by Chef Jason Santos, movie clips and highlights on the big screen, a photo area and selfie station with life-sized cut-outs of the Star Wars cast, and a costume contest.

Prior to the Star Wars-themed celebration, Abby Lane will be open for regular dinner service on its first floor until 11 p.m.

WHEN: Thursday, December 31, 10:00pm to 2:00am
Tickets cost $50 before Wednesday December 23rd, and $65 after Wednesday, December 23rd.
To purchase tickets, please visit
For more information please call (617) 451-2229.

4) On January 20, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Far Niente Winery. A popular Napa Valley wine estate established in 1885, Far Niente wines are renowned for their ability to gracefully age and become more nuanced and elegant with time.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Eastern U.S. Region Manager, Tom Gilhooly, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Far Niente vine. The menu will be presented as follow:

Swordfish Kabob, Tamarind, Curry
Scallop Pastry Pie, Grilled Peach, Pepper Relish
Thai Tuna Taco, Jicama, Chipotle Aioli
Far Niente Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2013
EnRoute “Brumaire” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2013
Cherrywood-Grilled Salmon En Pipian (baby arugula, Peruvian potato cake)
EnRoute “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2013
Ten-Pepper Rubbed Pan-Roasted Duck Breast (mashed parsnip, roasted Brussels sprouts)
Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2012
Nickel & Nickel “State Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, 2012
Herb Grilled Lamb Chop (mushroom ragout, mint chimichurri sauce)
Far Niente “Cave Collection” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2005
Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2013
Cheesecake (orange caramel Sauce, almond Brittle, vanilla whipped cream)
Dolce “Late Harvest Wine,” Napa Valley, 2009

COST: $135 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Ciao! Pizza & Pasta: An Update

Two months ago, I raved about Ciao! Pizza & Pasta in Chelsea, noting: "Ciao is producing killer house-made pasta and wood-fire pizzas, far better than the average takeout pizza joint. Chef Posada is working big magic in a small restaurant, and this is the type of place that every community should have." Since then, I've returned multiple times to Ciao, trying some of their other dishes as well as enjoying my favorites, such as the amazing Campanelle with Chorizo Bolognese. I wanted to give a short update on this new restaurant, and reiterate my prior high recommendation.And I'll start mentioning a couple delicious pizzas you will find there.

The Sopressata Pizza has large, thin slices of tasty sopressata (basically one piece covers a whole slice), big cloves of garlic confit and plenty of mozzarella. Your breath will slay vampires once you're done but it will be more than worth it. I love garlic so this pizza really appealed to me, and I wouldn't mind adding that garlic confit to some of their other wood-fired pizzas too.

Their new Uovo Pizza is basically a Breakfast pizza, with thin sliced potatoes, bacon, mozzarella and a soft egg. This is how you should start the day, much better than a meager breakfast sandwich from McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts. I love the gooey yolk that spreads across the pizza, covering the potatoes and bacon. It was absolutely delicious and I don't know why more pizza places don't add a breakfast pizza to their menu.

Ciao has also started selling their house-made pasta in small containers so you can cook it at home. Currently, Spaghetti and Rigatoni are the only available options but I suspect other types will become available in the near future. They cost $4 each and as they are fresh, they strongly suggest you use them with several days of purchasing. Each container also states the appropriate cooking time is 3 minutes. I picked up a container of the Spaghetti to check it out.

Over this past weekend, we made a dish with Chicken and the Spaghetti, in a oil & garlic sauce. We prepared the pasta for 3 minutes and it came out perfectly, with just the right amount of texture and bite to the spaghetti. It is that texture which differentiates it from most dry spaghetti and it worked well with the oil and garlic, so well that we finished the entire container. No leftovers for us. The next time I stop at Ciao, I'll be sure to pick up more pasta and hope they sell the campanelle in the future.

Ciao has some other interesting plans for the near future, though I can't mention certain items yet. I will just say that if the changes come to fruition, they will make Ciao an even better restaurant. I'll continue regularly dining here and highly recommend that you check it out too. Chelsea is very lucky to have such a restaurant.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015: Favorite Spirits, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items

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

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2015. I have already posted my Favorite Wine lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

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

Favorite Cocktail Supply Shop: Located near Davis Square in SomervilleThe Boston Shaker offers everything you need to create cocktails, except for the alcohol, and it is a perennial winner in this category. Plenty of spirit & cocktail books, a wide range of bitters, shakers, stirrers, glasses, and so much more. They also run cocktail classes, book signings and other fun and informative events. It is an excellent place to purchase gifts for the holiday season for your cocktail loving family and friends.

Favorite Spirits Book: Bourbon Curious: Breaking Bourbon Myths & Misconceptions by Fred Minnick is a fascinating book on Bourbon, going way beyond the basics of this American spirit. It does not shy from controversy, addressing some of the dark sides of the Bourbon industry. It is also a very good reference book concerning Bourbon producers, from their history to their bottlings. Fred has an easy writing style, even when he details some of the geekiest aspects of bourbon. Highly recommended.

Favorite Non-Kentucky Bourbon: Though most Bourbon is made in Kentucky, it actually can be made anywhere in the U.S. The Colorado Straight Bourbonfrom Peach St. Distillers, is made from a mashbill of 60% local corn, 20% rye, and 20% two-row malted barley. It is open-air fermented, distilled once, and aged for at least two years. It is a small batch bourbon, with only 1 and a 1/3 barrels produced a day. It is a lighter bourbon, with a smooth and lightly sweet taste and some mild spicy notes. An easy sipping Bourbon, it would also do well in a cocktail.

Favorite Highland Scotch Single MaltThe GlenDronach Single Cask, which is cask strength, is a powerful Scotch, with strong spicy notes, caramel and chocolate flavors, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It benefits from the addition of a little water due to its high alcohol content. This complex and intriguing whisky is something to slowly savor with some good friends.

Favorite Speyside Scotch Single Malt: The BenRiach 10 Year is a peated whiskey, and I loved its smoky aroma. The peat is prominent but doesn't overwhelm, adding an interesting smoky aspect to its flavor, complementing its nutty notes. It is smooth and alluring, complex and bold. Another fine sipping Scotch.

Favorite Irish Whiskey: The A.D. Rattray Cask Collection 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey is from a company which bottles whiskies from Scotland and Ireland, though they generally don't disclose the origin of the barrel. There is talk that their 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, might originate from Bushmills. With an ABV of 57.5%, this is a whiskey that would benefit from the addition of a little water. It possesses a bright taste, with fruity notes, hints of caramel, and intriguing herbal notes. It is complex and light, a whiskey to slowly savor, appreciating all the subtle flavors and aromas which can be found. Highly recommended.

Runner-Up Irish Whiskey: The Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey is made from a mashbill of 95% corn and it is matured in used California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. It is bottled at 46% AB without chill filtration. With a dark amber color, the whiskey presents spice and red berry flavors on the nose. On the palate, the whiskey is smooth and flavorful, with notes of caramel, red berries, spice and even a little chocolate. There is a slight sweetness, reminiscent of some bourbons, which is obviously due to all the corn. It should appeal to a wide range of whiskey lovers.

Favorite Japanese Whiskey: I love many the selections in the Nikka portofilio and the Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt and was also impressive. Silky smooth, complex and with a lengthy finish, the whiskey presented intriguing flavors with plenty of spicy notes, some red berry flavors and caramel notes. The Japanese are producing plenty of high-quality whiskeys and this is certainly one of their best that is available in the U.S. Highly recommended.

Favorite Rum: From Venezuela, Diplomatico Rum should be on your radar. They produce about six different bottlings and I've tasted several of them. Their Anejo, at only $15, is an incredible value and you would be hard pressed to find a similar quality at this price point. Their Blanco Reserve, about $30, is a compelling white rum while their Reserva Exclusive, about $40, is a complex and alluring rum, which will dazzle you with its fine taste and complexity. Enjoy any of these rums on their own, or in a special cocktail.

Favorite Mezcal: Tequila seems to get all the attention but smoky Mezcal deserves much more attention. The Mezcal Vago Elote is is an unusual Mezcal as it is infused with roasted corn that is grown on the estate, With a mild smokiness, the sweetness and flavor of the corn is prominent, enhanced by some herbal and citrus notes. This would be a nice introductory Mezcal, as the smokiness is restrained and the slight sweetness makes it a bit more mellow. For Mezcal lovers, it presents a more unique taste profile which should intrigue and satisfy.

Favorite New Spirit: Sotol is a Mexican spirit, produced only in the state of Chihuahua, and has a history extending back approximately 800 years. It's made from a different type of agave, a wild variety most commonly known as Desert Spoon and in Spanish it is known as Sotol, so the name of the spirit is the same as the plant. It is reminiscent of Tequila but with an interesting herbal component. Try the Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata Sotol. Sotol is a spirit I want to get to know better and there is even a U.S. distillery, Genius Gin, which is producing their own Sotol.

Favorite Restaurant For Mexican Spirits: Though most Mexican restaurants have plenty of Tequilas, not all carry other Mexican spirits like Mezcal, Sotol and Raicilla. The Ole Mexican Grill in Inman Square though has an amazing selection of all of these Mexican spirits. They are very knowledgeable and it is an exciting spot to explore the diversity of these spirits. Move beyond Tequila and check out the rest that Mexico has to offer.

Favorite Margarita: Though the Margaritas Mexican Restaurants might be a chain, it doesn't mean they can't produce some excellent cocktails. Their Naked Jalapeño Margarita is made with Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila, fresh lime, triple sec and simple syrup and comes both frozen or non-frozen. I loved the spiciness of the tequila, especially in the frozen version, and the cocktail is not overly sweet, being nicely balanced with the heat of the tequila. I now make some of my own Margaritas at home with Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila.

Favorite Whiskey Bar: With about 120 whiskey options, Saloon in Davis Square, Somerville has something for all whiskey lovers, from Bourbon to Scotch, from Hudson Valley whiskey to Japanese whiskey. Manny Gonzalez, their Beverage Director, has curated a diverse and intriguing whiskey list, and also leads Whiskey classes and creates some amazing whiskey cocktails. Besides their whiskey, they serve delicious and hearty food, from Fried Pickle Chips to Duck Wings. Eat and drink well at this compelling destination.

Favorite Sherry Bar: Taberna de Haro wins this category hands-down as there is no other local restaurant which comes close. With over 60 Sherries, including some rarer bottlings, Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen has compiled an amazing Sherry list, offering a good number by the glass. The Sherries pair very well with her Spanish cuisine and I could easily sit at the bar all night sampling different Sherries, from a bone dry Fino to a sublime aged Palo Cortado. Three of my Top Wines Over $50 were Sherries I enjoyed at this restaurant. My highest recommendation.

Favorite Maine Bar: At The Velveteen Habit in Maine, they have an excellent craft cocktail program, They create their own inventive tinctures, infusions, and bitters, and you can see the bottles stored throughout the room. You might see Crabapple Rye, Orangecello, or Orange Spiced Rum and they also make their own brandy cherries. Local is important to their bar program too so they carry a number of spirits produced in New England. The bar manager, Jeff Baker, is personable and knowledgeable and creates a welcoming atmosphere. Highly recommended.

Favorite Restaurant Cocktails: Here is a short list of four of the best cocktails I enjoyed this past year.
     Ward 44 at Saloon in Davis Square, Cambridge: Made from Pork belly rye, grenadine, and lemon. As you bring the glass up to your mouth, your nose will be caressed by the smell of bacon. And when you sip, the taste of smoky bacon will fill your mouth as well, with a mild spiciness, citrus notes and a hint of sweetness.
      Tempo Triplo at Paparazzi Metro in Burlington: A unique blend of three different Vermouths with orange bitters. This cocktail was lightly sweet, with plenty of herbal notes and a slight bitter edge to the finish. It was interesting, refreshing and delicious. And it was great to see Vermouth taking a starring role in a cocktail.
      1851 at Osteria Posto in Waltham: This is made from English breakfast infused Rye, Ramazotti, honey, & whiskey barrel bitters. It was fruity, with citrus flavors, a mild spiciness and a strong tea flavor on the finish. The alcohol was more subdued and I very much enjoyed its combination of flavors.
     Uncle CJ's Rootbeer at The Velveteen Habit in Maine: Made from Root liquor, Old Overholt Rye, vanilla simple syrup, TVH sassafras bitters, and orange. This was an excellent and well-balanced craft cocktail, more savory than sweet. It had the taste of old-fashioned rootbeer, without the carbonation and sweetness, and a nice spicy edge to it.    

Favorite Home-Made Cocktails: While making numerous Frozen Margaritas this summer, I opted to make a variation, used an oak-aged Chilean Pisco rather than tequila. My frozen Piscoritas were a big hit! They lacked the bite of tequila and there was the addition of some spicy notes from the barrel-aged Pisco. The flavors of the ingredients blended very well and the cocktail went down very easily. Pisco is an under-appreciated spirit and you should try creating some cocktails with it.

Favorite Local Hard Cider: The Far From The Tree Cidery in Salem produces some of my favorite dry hard ciders. This year, I enjoyed their new Joe Frogger Spice, based on the recipe of a 200 year old cookie, and which is made from apples, maple syrup, molasses, fresh ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and local sea salt. The aroma of this cider has a dominant ginger smell, with the other spices and a hint of apple beneath the ginger. On the palate, and despite the maple syrup and molasses, it is bone-dry and the ginger remains the most prominent taste, but with a pleasant underlying melange of spice and fresh apple.

Favorite Non-Local Hard Cider: The Sidra Acebal "El Carrascu" is a Spanish hard cider, produced in the Asturias region, and made with a blend of apples, mainly Regona, Durona de Tresali, Raxao, Carrio and Limon Montes. Its taste is intriguing, very dry and acidic, with strong apple flavors, a bit of tartness, and an undertone which almost reminded me of a briny dill pickle, yet in a positive way. It has a more unique flavor for a hard cider and I very much enjoyed. It is an excellent value and Alexander Jules, which is better known for importing some killer Sherries, brought this tasty cider to the U.S.

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Velveteen Habit: A Fine Dining Tavern

For about 25 years, Arrows Restaurant was one of the most famous restaurants in Maine, embracing a farm to table philosophy long before it became trendy. However, back in 2013, the owners, Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier decided to sell the restaurant, so they could concentrate on their other endeavors. One year later, they sold their restaurant and it would be another year, in April 2015, before this new spot would open as The Velveteen Habit. Is it a worthy successor, a culinary destination you need to seek out?

The restaurant closed this past weekend for the winter and will reopen in March. In November, I dined at the restaurant, as a media guest, which was during their Post Season Supper menu. As such, I experienced a sampling of the restaurant's potential and not the full menu which they have at the height of their season. My experience was compelling, with plenty of delicious food and drink, and I certainly want to return to The Velveteen Habit. In addition, it is worthy of my recommendation and I hope you will check it out too when it reopens in the Spring.

The restaurant is owned by Benjamin Goldman, who I had the pleasure of meeting, and he used to work in the corporate world, at Goldman Sachs. However, that wasn't satisfying enough for him and he eventually became a certified sommelier with a dream of owning a restaurant. When the Arrows location became available, that dream became a reality. It was Goldman's wife who developed the name of the restaurant, a clear reference to the famous child's story, The Velveteen Rabbit. The change from "Rabbit" to "Habit" was intended to reflect the hope that people would keep coming back to the restaurant.

The Executive Chef is Chris Wilcox, a young man who began working in restaurants in 2003, including stints at Spring Hill Restaurant in Washington, ON20 Restaurant in Connecticut, and Millwright’s Restaurant in Connecticut. The Connecticut restaurants have excellent reputations, and were a great place for Chef Wilcox to acquire culinary experience.

The restaurant is located in a beautiful, 160-year-old farmhouse, sitting on four acres, with a one-acre garden. During peak season, they hope the garden will provide about 85% of their produce. In addition, they have recently installed beehives so they can produce their own honey. Local, seasonal, and sustainable food is very important to them and their menu frequently changes due to the seasons and what is available. In these respects, they are continuing the basic philosophy of Arrows.

Arrows though was also a more formal restaurant, desirous that their guests dress appropriately, such as jackets for men. On the other hand, The Velveteen Habit aims for a more casual atmosphere. They consider their concept to be a "fine dining tavern," and they want it to be accessible to everyone. There is no dress code and there is no pretension. You'll find a welcoming vibe in the restaurant, a place where anyone would feel comfortable, whether local or tourist.

We began our evening with a cocktail at the bar. You can sit at the small bar counter or at the long table pictured above, and you can also eat in the bar if you desire. We spent a little time chatting with Jeff Baker, the Bar Manager, and I was impressed with their cocktail program. Jeff is personable and knowledgeable, and this is the type of bar I would enjoy visiting on a regular basis. They create their own inventive tinctures, infusions, and bitters, and you can see the bottles stored throughout the room. You might see Crabapple Rye, Orangecello, or Orange Spiced Rum and they also make their own brandy cherries.

Local is important to their bar program too so they carry a number of spirits produced in New England. For example, they carry the Barr Hill Tom Cat, a barrel-aged gin from Vermont. Though I'm not usually a gin fan, I enjoyed this gin, as the juniper flavor was more subtle, and there was a complex melange of other flavors, herbal and spice notes. I liked it so much that I bought a bottle later when I found it at a local wine shop. They also carry the Blue Current Junmai Gino Sake, which is made in Kittery, Maine.

I opted for the Uncle CJ's Rootbeer, made from Root liquor, Old Overholt Rye, vanilla simple syrup, TVH sassafras bitters, and orange. This was an excellent and well-balanced craft cocktail, more savory than sweet. It had the taste of old-fashioned rootbeer, without the carbonation and sweetness, and a nice spicy edge to it. We also had a glass of Spanish Cava with the addition of a house-made, bitter cardomon-infused sugar cube. It added an intriguing flavor component to the Cava, transforming the simple sparkling wine to something more interesting. This was an excellent way to begin the evening, though I also could have just remained in the bar all night trying different cocktails.

There are a couple different dining rooms and their total capacity is about 75 people. There is a certain rustic simplicity to the decor and the restaurant would be appropriate for an intimate date or a small party of friends out for the evening. If it wasn't dark when we had dinner, I think we would have been able to look out on the garden.

The Post Season Supper Menu is small, with about ten appetizers (most $3-$9) and five entrees (most $14-$23). There are also seven local cheeses (most $5 each). Much of the menu would probably be considered creative American fare, with some French influences, from a Burger to a Tomahawk Ribeye, from Duck Meatballs to Roasted Wild Mushrooms. Prices are reasonable, there is plenty of diversity on the menu, and you get a sense of what the restaurant is like during its main season.

Owner and sommelier Benjamin Goldman’s has compiled an exciting and diverse wine list, and there is plenty to intrigue and delight a wine lover. In addition, the wine list does change at times too when Benjamin discovers new treasures which he wants to add to the list. There are wines from all over the world, and the mark-up seems to be twice retail on many bottles, which is a lower mark-up than many other restaurants with three or four times retail mark-ups. For example, you can find the Sean Thackrey Pleaides, one of my favorite wines, for only $65. You will find plenty of bottles available for under $50 but if you want to splurge, there are some exciting pricier wines.

There are about 17 wines available by the glass, in either a 3 ounce or 6 ounce pour. Prices for 6 ounce pours range from $8-$26, including a 2010 Guiseppe Lonardi Amarone della Valpolicella which they pour using a Coravin, a method of pouring a glass of wine without removing the cork, which allows a restaurant to pour a more expensive bottle of wine without worrying about it going to waste. They also have about 15 Beers ($5-$16), an interesting list which should also please beer lovers.

Rather than select a bottle of wine, I asked Benjamin to select some wines by the glass to accompany our dinner, and that was a fine decision as he chose some delicious and interesting wines. The 2011 Domaine du Crêt de Bine Beaujolais is a natural French wine, made from Gamay, and possesses an alluring aroma. With tasty dark cherry and cranberry flavors, it had some nice depth, a touch of minerality, and good acidity. There was a hint of a rustic edge to this light red wine, and I was very much pleased with the taste. An excellent choice.

We began by ordering some appetizers, starting with the Naturally Leavened Whole Wheat Sourdough ($3) and cultured butter. The thick slices of bread were hearty and fresh, and the butter was creamy and flavorful.

The Tater Tots ($5) with a Spanish Bravas sauce, was one of my favorite appetizers, and some of the best tater tots I've had. The crispy exterior had a clean taste and the interior was delightfully creamy, almost as if they contained a tasty portion of mashed potatoes. The balance of the two textures enhanced the dish and they would have made a great bar snack.

The 2014 Domaine des Persenades Gros Manseng was crisp and dry, with delicious melon, lemon and grapefruit flavors. There was a little tartness to the finish as well as mild herbal undertones. An intriguing and delicious white wine.

The Charcuterie ($21) plate contains house-cured and fermented meats and veggies, as well as a Parker roll. The meats included Soppresata, Fennel Sausage, Black Pepper & Red Wine Salami, and Smoked Berkshire Ham. The meats were all very good, spiced well, and the ham was a standout. The pickled peppers were also a favorite. You could almost make a meal of this plate alone.

An off-the-menu item at this time, but which is a regular on their peak season menu, is Beef Tartare, accompanied by crisps. The tartare was different than many other similar dishes as the beef was like tiny cubes, rather than finely minced beef. I think that added a bit more texture to the dish, and I thought it was a tasty variation. The crisps too added something different rather than the usual slices of bread you receive with most tartare dishes. A real winner.

The 2012 Domaine Philemon Croix d'Azal is made from the Fer Servadou grape, presenting an intriguing rustic wine, with lots of depth, black fruit flavors, a nice earthiness and mild tannins. It has plenty of character and can stand up to some heartier foods.

The Duck Meatballs ($7), with white beans, braised prunes and brussel sprouts, were very firm and chewy, with a nice flavor of duck and topped by a compelling gravy. This was an earthier dish and the Croix d'Azal was a perfect pairing for this dish.

The Salt Cod Fritters ($6), with fennel and heirloom apples, reminded me of the tater tots, how they were so crisp on the outside, yet creamy on the inside. In this case though, the fritters had that nice salty taste from the cod, enhanced by the fresh, acidity of the apple pieces.

The Roasted Wild Mushrooms ($9), with dried beef and tarragon, was another earthy dish, rich in umami, with a nice selection of different mushrooms. The dried beef added a good textural contrast to the mushrooms.

For an entree, we split the Tagliatelle Pasta ($19) with smoked short rib, preserved tomato, gremolata, and parmesan. The pasta was cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of texture, while the meaty sauce was scrumptious and hearty. Though The Velveteen Habit isn't an Italian restaurant, this dish would fit in well at any quality Italian spot.

For Dessert, you have several options, including the Chocolate Pot de Creme and the Cinnamon Pound Cake. You also can get a Scoop ($3) of ice cream or sorbet, such as the Buttermilk Ice Cream or Tangerine Sorbet. I opted for the Roasted Banana Ice Cream atop cashews, which was creamy and full of rich banana flavor. I enjoyed the crunchy addition of the cashews. If you want a small sweet bit after your meal, a scoop of this ice cream would more than please.

You can also get Cheese for dessert, and we had two different cheeses, including the Ben Nevins (a raw sheep cheese from Vermont) and the Sweet Caroline (a cow/goat cheese also from Vermont). The cheese is accompanied by lavendar lavash and honeycomb from their own beehives. Fresh honey with delicious cheese is always an excellent pairing.

With dessert, we drank a glass of their house-made Irish Cream, which will remind you of Bailey's except that it tastes far more fresh and creamy. A pleasant way to end a big meal.

Overall, The Velveteen Habit impressed, from its excellent cocktail program to its tasty & well-made cuisine, from its intriguing wine list to its impeccable service. Their dedication to providing much of their own produce from their garden and their reliance on many local purveyors is admirable. Though I experienced only an abbreviated menu, it well showed their potential when they are at their peak. The Velveteen Habit is a culinary destination you need to seek out, to make the short drive to Maine to experience their cuisine & drinks program. You won't be disappointed.