Thursday, December 28, 2017

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) On Wednesday, January 17,  at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with the Israel Wine Producers Association which represents 30 Israeli wineries—from commercial to boutique — and was established to unify the leading quality Israeli wineries in a concerted effort to promote Israel as a ‘fine wine growing region’. Israel has been able to take their ancient history and blend it with the most modern technology to produce some of the finest wines available and become one of the fastest growing winemaking regions in the world.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Joshua Greenstein, the Vice President of the Israel Wine Producers Association, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from Israel’s wines. The menu will be presented as follows:

Tuna Tartare, Cherry Tomato Cup
Smoked Salmon, Cucumber Barquette, Pickled Ginger
Lemon-Saffron Chicken Brochettes
Carmel “Kayoumi Vineyard” Riesling, Galilee, 2014
Char-Broiled Mediterranean Salmon (mushroom quinoa salad)
Teperberg “Essence” Chardonnay, Samson, 2014
Castel “C” Chardonnay, Jerusalem, 2016
Coconut-Curried Cornish Hen (cilantro rice, braised greens, winter squash, red onion jam)
Jezreel Valley Winery “Adumim,” Galilee, 2014
Psâgot “Edom” M Series, Jerusalem, 2014
Teperberg “Inspire” Meritage, Shomron, 2016
Applewood-Grilled Rib-Eye Steak (barley and Brussels sprout risotto, wild mushroom tapenade)
Tulip Winery “Reserve” Syrah, Galilee, 2014
Yatir Forest, Judean Hills, 2013
Peach and Berry Cobbler (toasted walnuts, peach sorbet)
Mystery Wine

COST: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
MORE INFO: Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) Earls Kitchen + Bar at the Prudential Center is gearing up to host their first New Year’s Eve celebration in the Back Bay while Boston’s “First Night” fireworks twinkle above. The three-season rooftop bar will be transformed into a Winter Wonderland-themed lounge where “ice” will play the counterpart to Boston’s hottest night of the year to socialize.

Beginning at 8pm, revelers will be treated to a welcome drink in an ice mug before indulging in an a la carte icy oyster bar or more sips through an ice luge. Groups of four-or-more also will be treated to table service, inclusive of various packages with bubbles and bivalves.

WHEN: Sunday, December 31, beginning at 8pm
COST: Individual tickets: $50 per person (includes welcome drink)
Table for-four people: $300 (includes round of welcome drinks, a bottle of sparkling wine and a dozen oysters)
Table for-six people: $500 (includes round of welcome drinks, two bottles of sparkling wine and a dozen oysters)
MORE INFO: Tickets and reserved table options are available for purchase by visiting Ticketholders must arrive prior to 10 pm for guaranteed entry.

3) Join TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel for dinner, drinks and dancing on New Year’s Eve and ring in 2018 with specialty entrées, festive drinks, a DJ and party favors—the perfect evening for couples and groups alike.

TAMO’s daily menu will be offered in addition to New Year’s Eve specials from Chef Robert Tobin including a Grilled Ribeye (baked potato, gorgonzola crema, braised collard greens), Sea Bass Bouillabaisse (garlic anchovy crostini) and Beef Carpaccio (capers, pickled red onion, watercress, shaved parmesan, truffle oil). Later, guests can toast to the New Year with any of TAMO’s festive seasonal cocktails and “Sparklers” like the Kir Royale (Chateau St. Michelle Champagne, Chambord, raspberries) or Red & Green (Poema, Cava, pomegranate, mint).

Televisions will broadcast the infamous “ball drop” and a DJ will be spinning music from 9:00pm until 1:00am so guests can dance their way into 2018.

There is no ticket price or cover charge for the festivities and reservations for dinner can be made via OpenTable.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

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) Executive Chef Josue Louis and the entire team at Bistro du Midi invite guests to indulge in two special menus showcasing the best of the restaurant’s spectacular Provencal cuisine this New Year’s Eve. The first seating (5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m.) features a four-course prix fixe menu, and the second seating (8:30 p.m., 9:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 10:00 p.m.) features a five-course prix fixe. Head Sommelier Ray Osborne is pulling out all the stops with a magnificent lineup of artfully paired wines to enhance the entire dining experience. Guests looking for a more casual experience can visit the first-floor café or one of two classic bars, where guests can select dishes from a special a la carte version of the New Year’s Eve menu.

The full New Year’s Eve menu options are as follows:
Warren Cove Oyster, Green Apple Mignonette*
FIRST COURSE (choice of)
Heirloom Baby Carrots, Pomelo, Gingersnap, Buttermilk
Scallop Crudo, Blood Orange Sauce Vierge, Fennel Meringue*
Wagyu Beef Tartare, Celery Root, Hazelnut
SECOND COURSE (choice of)
Parsnip Soup, Hen ff The Wood, Sage Sable, Aged Balsamic
Spanish Octopus, Sunchoke, Golden Delicious, Smoked Almonds
Seared Foie Gras, Squash Butter, Pistachio Granola, Brioche
Fresh Alba White Truffles, Black Pepper Chitarra, Farm Egg Yolk, Trumpet Royales
(supplement $30, wine pairing $10)
THIRD COURSE (choice of)
King Ora Salmon, Salsify, Swiss Chard, Bordelaise
Sirloin, Purple Potato, Pearl Onion Brulee, Horseradish Butter
Chestnut Crusted Venison, Baby Turnip, Red Cabbage, Cocoa Jus
FOURTH COURSE (choice of)
Praline Budino, Espresso Cremeux, Kirshwasser Ice Cream
Lemon TART, Champagne Sabayon, Blackberry Ice Cream

Warren Cove Oyster, Green Apple Mignonette*
FIRST COURSE (choice of)
Heirloom Baby Carrots, Pomelo, Gingersnap, Buttermilk
Scallop Crudo, Blood Orange Sauce Vierge, Fennel Meringue*
SECOND COURSE (choice of)
Spanish Octopus, Sunchoke, Golden Delicious, Smoked Almonds
Wagyu Beef Tartare, Celery Root, Hazelnut
Seared Foie Gras, Squash Butter, Pistachio Granola, Brioche
THIRD COURSE (choice of)
Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Black Trumpet, Ricotta Salata, Cashews
Squid Ink Risotto, Calamari, Prawn, Sea Urchin
Fresh Alba White Truffles, Black Pepper Chitarra, Farm Egg Yolk, Trumpet Royales
(supplement $30)
FOURTH COURSE (choice of)
King Ora Salmon, Salsify, Swiss Chard, Bordelaise
Sirloin, Purple Potato, Pearl Onion Brulee, Horseradish Butter
Chestnut Crusted Venison, Baby Turnip, Red Cabbage, Cocoa Jus
FIFTH COURSE (choice of)
Praline Budino, Espresso Cremeux, Kirshwasser Ice Cream
Lemon Tart, Champagne Sabayon, Blackberry Ice Cream

Reservations are strongly encouraged and can be made by contacting the restaurant at 617-426-7878. The New Year’s Eve menu for the first seating is $95 per guest with an optional wine pairing for $65 per guest. The second seating menu is $125 per guest with an optional wine pairing for $75 per guest.

2) At Chopps American Bar and Grill, inside the Boston Marriott Burlington Hotel, Executive Chef Steve Zimei has prepared a three-course menu to ring in the New Year. Celebrate the end of the old and the beginning of the new with a meal including a choice of appetizer like Prime Beef Carpaccio (toasted ciabatta with black truffle aioli, olive relish and shaved parmesan) or Roasted Beet Salad (great hill bleu, toasted almonds, and maple balsamic vinaigrette). Dive into entrée choices including Bone-In Filet Mignon (caramelized onion, dauphinoise potato, heirloom carrots, haricot verts, and port wine), House Made Ricotta Gnocchi (lobster, butternut squash, mascarpone, and sage brown butter), or Herb Crusted Atlantic Halibut with shrimp & fennel risotto and smoked tomato. Guests have the option of ending the meal on a sweet note with the festive Ginger Crème Brulee (plum and raspberry compote) or the decadent Warm Chocolate Cake (espresso gelato topped with heath crunch). The Chef’s Tasting Menu is $75 per person.

Those looking to say cheers to 2018 can also do so with a special champagne menu crafted by Director of Food and Beverage, Bruno Marini. Menu highlights include Dom Perignon 2009 for $200 per bottle, Veuve Rose 2008 for $170 per bottle, Louis Roederer Brut for $75 per bottle and NV Armand de Bragnac ‘Ace of Spades’ for $450 per bottle.

Take the elevator home with Boston Marriott Burlington hotel’s special New Year’s Eve package, starting at $250. The package includes dinner for two at Chopps with entertainment from 8 p.m. – 1 a.m., a bottle of champagne welcome amenity, and 2 p.m. late check out, along with a buffet breakfast for two guests at Chopps on New Year’s Day. The booking code for New Year’s Eve CHOPPS package is EVE.

For reservations, please call 781-229-6565

3) Join Committee this New Year’s Eve in the Seaport for sharable plates, creative cocktails, and a live DJ to welcome 2018 in style. Cheers with loved ones and new friends with a complimentary flute of champagne as the clock strikes midnight, as guest dance to the best beats of 2017 from DJ Ryan Brown (spinning 10 p.m. – 2a.m.). Join Committee for dinner before the ball drops and enjoy a variety of Spreads, Salad, Meze, and Main Courses including: Smoked Salmon Tarama (manouri, preserved cod roe, lemon relish, koulouri), Kebab Giaourtlou (spiced ground beef, warm yogurt, ripe tomatos, pita), Lamb Fricasee (lamb shank, spinach, dill avgolemono), and Calamari (grilled with Greek olive oil, lemon, rigani, or fried and served with Alfa beer aioli). Don’t forget to dive into the dessert menu with items such as Xinomavro Chocolate Cake (merenda, vanilla ice cream, Nescafe crumble) and Baklava Cheesecake (phyllo, walnuts, honey).

Let the good times roll with New Year’s Day Brunch on January 1st featuring favorites with a Greek twist including Greek Yogurt Panckaes (vyssino, honey, toasted almonds, fresh berries), Breakfast Gyro (scrambled eggs, grilled halloumi, loukaniki, florina pepper, coulis, wrapped in pita, served with patates tiganites), and Tsoureki Toast (fresh berries, maple whipped cream). DJ Ryan Brown will be back to keep the festivities going while guests kick off the New Year.

To make reservations, please call 617-737-5051

4) Celebrate the holiday season with the help of Saltie Girl, and guests can celebrate in Saltie style with a la carte specials for lunch and dinner and a special caviar tasting beginning Christmas Eve, December 24th, through New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2018.

In addition to the restaurant’s daily menu, Executive Chef Kyle McClelland has crafted holiday specials for guests to savor. On Sunday, December 24, from 5:00PM-9:00PM guests can opt for Christmas Eve a la carte dishes such as Trio of Salt Meadow Lamb from Quebec with huckleberry jus, fresh mint jelly, and a Kennebec potato cake, Whole Salt Crusted Loup de Mer served with Cara Cara béarnaise sauce, roasted root vegetables, brussels sprouts with pistachio butter, and crushed marble potato with caviar, or French Omelette with torched camembert and toasted black walnuts, and butter lettuce salad with white truffles, black truffles and caviar.

Complete the holiday meal with libations such as Saltie with vodka, Gordal olive, pickled onion, and caviar or Earl Grey “Boba” with peach bourbon, ginger, tea, and boba pearls. Shared cocktails for two, such as Pineapple with Elyx, yuzu, lemongrass, and citrus soda and Prickley Pear with tequila, shrub, lime, soda, are also available

On Sunday, December 31, guests can ring in the New Year in style with specials that include Winter Truffle and Porcini Bucatini with butter lettuce salad, and French Omelette with torched camembert and toasted black walnuts, and butter lettuce salad with white truffles, black truffles and caviar.

Celebrate the first day of the year with a spectacular New Year’s Day brunch. Enjoy brunch favorites such as Eggs & Eggs with soft scramble eggs and caviar served with butter brioche, Bagel Benedict with avocado, egg, and house béarnaise served with a choice of smoked salmon, caviar paddlefish or lobster, and Fried Lobster & Waffles, served with sweet corn butter and spicy maple syrup. Compliment the brunch with a cocktail, such as a classic Bloody Mary, Orange with rye, sugar, bitters and lemon or Grapefruit with vodka, aperol, elderflower and lemon, to nurse your New Year’s hangover.

From December 24 through January 1st, 2018, guests can also enjoy a special Caviar Tasting with Cristal Toast, half dozen oysters, trio of caviar, and traditional accoutrement. Additionally, specials are available throughout the week in addition to the regular daily menu.

Limited reservations are available for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinners, and can be made with credit card by calling the restaurant at 617-267-0691.

5) Bistro du Midi is introducing Pour Le Plasir, which literally translates to a pour “for pleasure,” as a way to enhance every day. Pour la Plasir is available in Bistro du Midi’s street level café all day, every day. Take a break from the busy shopping season in Boston’s Back Bay or top off the workday as Head Sommelier Ray Osborne hand-selects a rotating variety of luxurious wines for just $10 per glass.

Sip alongside friends, family, or co-workers as you take in picturesque views of the Boston Common this winter. Guests can indulge in unique selections such as Cecchi’s 2011 Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, a Prugnolo Gentile wine that is beautifully dry, spiced, and balanced with flavors of morello cherry.

Bistro du Midi is also elevating the everyday by offering two hand-selected pours for you and a guest from 4 -7 p.m. on weekdays at the bar, specially paired with Executive Chef Josue Louis’ evolving Test Kitchen Flatbread for only $25.

6) Matadora, the new Spanish tapas & steak restaurant in the renovated Hilton Woburn. Matadora will offer a special New Year's Eve Tasting Menu, a special Five Course dinner that includes a Cava Toast at midnight as well as the traditional dozen grapes (for good luck). This is offered at a price of $65/person or $95 with Gramona Cava.

Spanish Mezze Plate (Smaller Portions Assorted Individual or for the Table)
Jamon Serrano
Chorizo Iberico
Marinated Manchego
Spiced Marcona
Spicy Saffron Lobster Bisque (Pimenton Crème Fraiche, Fried Tarragon)
(Roasted with Evoo Salt & Espelette)
Kale, Radicchio Treviso, Roasted Root Veg (Carrots, Turnips, Rutabaga, As Examples)
Tossed with Kale Vinaigrette & Finished with Sherry Honey or Possibly Blood Orange Syrup
Crispy Candied Orange Peel
Wood Grilled Lobster Tail (Gently Poach In Butter, Seasoned with Espelette & Salt & Grill)
Trio of Ricotta Cake, Crème Fraiche Ice Cream, & Churros

For Reservations, please call 781-904-0658

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017: 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 2017. I have already posted my Top Ten Wine lists, Favorite Wine-Related Items, Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items, & Top Ten Favorite Restaurant Dishes, 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've 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: Sorry Boston, but this year the winner is located in New York City. My good friend, Adam Japko, introduced me to Torishin, a Yakitori paradise, where we sat at the chef's counter, watching the culinary magic happen in front of us. They specialize in chicken, though their other dishes, from Rosy Seabass to Kumomoto Beef, were excellent as well. They serve every part of the chicken, and each skewer was a marvel. I never expected to love chicken arteries like I did. They also have an excellent Sake and Shochu list, enhancing your dining experience. Service was superb and this restaurant earns my highest recommendation. The memories of this dinner will always remain with me.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant: My dining experience at Pabu, a Japanese restaurant located in Boston's Millennium Tower, was close to being one of my top restaurant experiences of the past year. The Omakase consisted of nine courses of Nigiri Sushi and Seafood, and each course was beautifully presented and absolutely delicious, with incredibly fresh seafood. Some of the best sushi I've tasted. Their Sake list is voluminous, with plenty of great choices, including numerous ones you won't find at other local restaurants. Excellent service, a beautiful interior, and a menu of plenty of diversity. I very much want to return to explore more of their menu as I'm sure I'll find much to delight me and tantalize my palate.

Favorite Runner-Up Japanese Restaurant: While exploring the growing culinary scene in Quincy with Kerry Byrne, I was thoroughly impressed by Fuji at West of Chestnut, a Japanese restaurant which is part of an Asian restaurant group with other locations in cities like Boston and Somerville. The cuisine was creative and delicious, aesthetically pleasing and fun. The Fried Whole Fish with Black Bean Sauce was a sublime dish. Though their Sake list is small, they have some excellent options. They even had a very cool private dining area, which has Boston its own kitchen for small groups. Quincy has plenty of interesting restaurants, and Fuji is definitely one of the highlights.

Favorite Portuguese Restaurant: Though I don't get down to Fall River much, I really need to return to Terra Nostra, a killer Portuguese restaurant to which the good people of LGL Imports introduced me. From Chouriço a Bombeiro (flaming chorizo), to Cow's Leg Stew, from Lapas Grelhadas (grilled limpets), to Roasted Rabbit, the food was compelling, much of it excellent, hearty comfort food. They also have an extensive list of Portuguese wines, so many good choices at affordable prices. And the experience was enhanced by all the fine people who dined with me.

Favorite New Spanish Restaurant: Open for less than two months, Matadora is a Spanish Tapas restaurant located in the Hilton Boston/Woburn hotel and it has made a strong initial impression. With compelling dishes like Basque Street Corn to Flaming Chorizo, the tapas choices are strong, delicious and ample for the concept. Their wine list has plenty of interesting Spanish wines, including some Sherry, and their cocktails are creative and tasty. The restaurant has a cool and comfortable look, with a huge metal bull sculpture as a centerpiece. I'm looking forward to my next visit to explore more of the menu.

Favorite New Fast Casual Restaurant: I'm a huge fan of Committee, the Greek restaurant in the Fan Pier area, so I was excited when I learned they would be opening, a Greek fast casual place specializing in Gyros and Loukoumades. I wasn't disappointed a single bit. Everything is fresh, from the meats which marinate for 24 hours, to the grilled pitas. I love their Lamb Gyro, which is packed with delicious fillings, and their crisp, hand-cut fries are topped by Feta! And the Loukoumades, Greek donuts are an addictive dessert, hot, soft and available with a variety of toppings, from chocolate to nuts. When I'm on Newbury Street, it's hard not to stop here.

Favorite New Chinese Restaurant: Hunan cuisine is not easy to find in the Boston area but the new Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, in Kendall Square, offers a number of traditional Hunan dishes, as well as some of their own takes on other Chinese dishes. I was enamored with dishes such as the succulent Mala Duck, Jimmy's Crab Bao and their take on General Tso's Chicken. Their more traditional dishes are also excellent, from the Sumiao Shang Gan to Grandma's Pork. They also have a good cocktail program, including several Baijiu cocktails which are very difficult to find in the local area. Check them out for lunch or dinner.

Favorite New Indian Restaurant: The Maya Indian Grill is a welcome addition to Wakefield, providing fresh, from scratch Indian cuisine, including regional dishes from Kashmiri, Punjabi, Bengali, Malabar, Goan and Madras. Their Lamb Samosas may be the best I've ever tasted and I was impressed with the layers of flavors in dishes like their Lamb Vindaloo and Chicken Lagan. And they make excellent Indian breads, which to a bread lover like me is so appealing. They have a lunch buffet and even offer delivery.

Favorite New Seafood Restaurant: It was exciting when the Burlington location of Island Creek Oyster Bar opened, making it even easier for me to visit this superb seafood restaurant. The Burlington location is aesthetically appealing, with special rooms for private groups, and the food & drink are as delicious as the Boston location. Wine director Laura Staley has created a unique and diverse wine list which well complements the cuisine. All of their food, from the Raw Bar to their Tuna Melt, is delicious and service is always impeccable. Seafood is such a healthy food, and everyone needs to eat more, so you all should be dining here.

Runner-Up Favorite New Seafood Restaurant: Another new seafood restaurant, Mooncusser Fish House, is offering some compelling choices. Their wine list is compelling, diverse and interesting, with plenty of classic wines, from Bordeaux to Barolo, while also celebrating less common wines, from Spanish Txakoli to Greek Moschofilero. Their cuisine is also interesting and delicious, with a killer Seafood Chowder. The restaurant is actually divided into two parts, a more casual eatery downstairs and a high-end location upstairs. I need to get back to check out more of their menu.

Favorite Restaurant with a Chef Change: As I mentioned earlier, I'm a huge fan of Committee and they had a chef change this year, hiring a new Chef de Cuisine, Theo Tsilipanos. Chef Theo is a native of the Greek city of Lamia, and even owned a restaurant there for about eight years. He has brought his own culinary skills and knowledge to Committee, making some changes to their menu, but they have been positive, maintaining the same level of quality and innovation as the prior chef. Changing one's chef can be risky but Committee had a win with the addition of Chef Theo and it remains a favorite spot.

Runner-Up Favorite Restaurant with a Chef Change: Chopps American Bar & Grill, located at the Burlington Marriott Hotel, also hired a new Executive Chef, Steve Zimei. Chef Steve began his culinary career working for Chef Daniel Bruce and eventually worked in a number of other local restaurants before returning to work for Chef Bruce at Chopps. Their food remains at a high level of quality, without an iota of diminishment. Some changes have obviously come to the menu but the new dishes are creative and delicious. My admiration for this restaurant continues.

Favorite New Unique Cuisine Restaurant: It appears to be a one-of-a-kind restaurant in Massachusetts, the only one dedicated to Moldovan cuisine. The Moldova Restaurant in Newton offers tasty and comforting Moldovan cuisine and also Moldovan wines. Though the names of the dishes sound unfamiliar, like Plăcinte la Tigaie and Mititei Moldovenesti, the food itself will bring to mind Eastern European favorites. I was quite taken with their cuisine, even their amazing Chicken Soup, and it was well complemented by their wines. This unique restaurant is something you need to experience and I'm sure you'll be a convert after your meal.

Favorite Pizza/Pasta Restaurant: Once again Ciao! Pizza & Pasta makes my Favorites list. Though I haven't dined there are often as usual, my experiences have remained consistent. Great food, from their wood-fired pizzas to their house-made pasta dishes. Prices are very reasonable considering the quality and quantity of food you receive. The owners, Edson Coimbra and Chef Marvin Posada, are the nicest and most genuine of people. I've brought many people here and everyone who has accompanied me has loved the place. If you haven't dined here yet, you need to make a New Year's resolution to immediately remedy that.

Favorite New York Lunch Restaurant: When I travel to New York City, I nearly always find a way to have lunch at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, though I've actually never had dinner there. Their Rotisserie Duck is amazing, so tender and flavorful with a crispy chive pancake. However, the rest of their menu is also excellent, such as their scrumptious steamed buns. They also have an interesting wine list and I'm never disappointed when I dine here. Plus, after lunch, I can walk across the street to their Milk Bar for a sweet treat.

Favorite Chicago Restaurants: On a short, whirlwind visit to Chicago, Adam Japko and I packed in plenty of restaurant visits and my top three includes QXY Dumplings, Slurping Turtle, and MotomaroQXY Dumplings, located in Chinatown, specializes in dumplings, with about 40 different types, and they are all basically soup dumplings. Delicious comfort food and you can even watch the kitchen staff making the dumplings. Slurping Turtle is a ramen spot, but their Duck Fat Fried Chicken is a decadent wonder. This is another comfort food spot, which also has a large selection of Japanese whiskey. Motomaro is a high-end Japanese spot with a large and diverse menu, each dish delicious and creative. Plus, they have a nice Sake list as well as plenty of intriguing cocktails. Chicago is definitely a great food city.

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. There are also some new Favorites, places I only recently encountered but which I know I will be returning frequently. Please note that this is not a list of the "Best" Boston-area restaurants, but my own personal favorites. There are plenty of other excellent restaurants in the area and just because a place is not on my list doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it.

A&B Burgers

Bistro du Midi
Dumpling Cafe
Myers & Chang
Select Oyster Bar

Taberna de Haro

The Bancroft
Chopps American Bar & Grill
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Sichuan Gourmet

Craigie on Main
Little Donkey
Puritan & Co.
Sumiao Hunan Kitchen

Ciao! Pizza & Pasta

Fall River:
Terra Nostra

Clam Box

Bistro 5
Tasty On The Hill

Moldova Restaurant

Fuji at West of Chestnut

Iron Town Diner

The Painted Burro
Tasting Counter

Fusion Taste
Taste of Siam

The Porch

Osteria Posto

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

2017: Top Ten 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 2016. I have already posted three Top Wine lists, my Favorite Wine-Related Items and my Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items. Now I want to move onto food and showcase my Top Ten Favorite Restaurant Dishes of the past year.

This list includes ten 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. And I'll note that all of these restaurants are located in Massachusetts.

This is certainly not a complete list but it's 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 not in any order of preference, so all receive equal accolades. For more of my favorite restaurant dishes, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Haggis at Civic Kitchen & Drink (Westborough)
At a Robert Burns Scotch Dinner, they served Haggis, a traditional Scottish dish that's made from a sheep's heart, liver and lungs, mixed with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, and then encased in a sheep's stomach. Authentic Scottish haggis though can't be imported into the U.S. so the restaurant sourced it from a place in New Jersey, which was made with oatmeal, beef liver, lamb breast, onions and spices. Though a bit leery, the haggis had a pleasant aroma and when I bit into it, it was actually delicious. A silky texture like corned beef hash with a nice balance of spices and a slightly earthy element. I devoured every bit of haggis on my plate and would order it again if I had the opportunity.

Fried Whole Fish with Black Bean Sauce at Fuji on West (Quincy)
This impressive dish, a whole California Striped Bass, had flesh that was moist, flaky and sweet while the crispy skin was nearly addictive. The black bean sauce added a mild earthiness to the dish, with plenty of umami, complementing the sweetness of the fish. Don't worry about seeing the entire fish at your table as this dish is too delicious to miss. And pair some umami-rich Sake with this fish.

Yellowfin Tuna Melt at Island Creek Oyster Bar (Burlington)
A Tuna Melt is a rather common sandwich, yet there are restaurants which elevate it to new heights, and Island Creek accomplishes that objective. The tuna melt is on white rye, with ICOB pickles and Fontina cheese, and it is frankly one of the best tuna melts I've ever eaten. The creamy and delicious tuna filling doesn't ooze mayo like some other tuna melts, and the pickles add a nice texture as well as some sweetness. The melted fontina adds some nutty notes and the bread, with panini-like grill marks, is just the right thickness. Everything meshes well together, creating a superb sandwich.

Mooncusser Chowder at Mooncusser Fish House (Boston)
Made with skate, clams, smoked scallop, creme fraiche, & barley crackers, this amply-sized bowl of chowder contained an appealing and complex melange of flavor. It wasn't overly thick or thin, just the right consistency, and there was plenty of tender seafood within its depths. Right now, with the cold weather, this would be an excellent choice to warm your belly.

Short Rib Mac & Cheese at Chopps American Bar & Grill (Burlington)
Elevated comfort food doesn't always work, but other times, such as in this instance, it can excel. This Mac & Cheese is topped with toasted cornbread crumbs, adding a little grainy and crunchy texture as well as the sweetness of the cornbread. The rotini, which were cooked just right, were in a creamy, cheesy sauce with tender, meaty pieces of short rib. It's large enough to share though you might want it all to yourself.

Classic Lamb Gyro at (Boston)
Located on Newbury Street, is a fast casual spot which basically makes everything from scratch. The Classic Lamb Gyro is compelling, with a grilled pita wrapping up a hearty amount of fillings, including plenty of tender and flavorful lamb. The tomato jam adds nice acidity and a little sweetness to the gyro while the salty fries enhance the blend of flavors. It was fresh and delicious, ample and well balanced. I wish I lived closer as I would be ordering this gyro every week.

Roasted Rabbit at Terra Nostra (Fall River)
More people need to eat rabbit as it is such a nutritious and delicious meat, though numerous people shy away due to a psychological barrier, especially if they ever owned a rabbit as a pet. I love rabbit and this year, this Portuguese inspired rabbit dish was impressive. The meat was tender and moist, flavorful and with a crisp coating. The sauce enhanced the rabbit and I could have consumed the entire dish on my own.

Lamb Burger Slider at Troquet (Boston)
Troquet moved to a new location, adding a new bar menu which contained plenty of interesting dishes, from pizza to crispy smoked chicken wings. The superb Lamb Burger Slider, topped with lamb bacon, goat cheese feta, and harissa, was moist and juicy, with creamy feta, mild salty bacon, and a slightly spicy harissa. The bread was soft and fluffy, and I easily could have devoured half a dozen of these sliders. An excellent bar snack.

Basque Street Corn at Matadora (Woburn)
Topped with roasted garlic aioli, Idiazabal cheese, and Espelette pepper, this was an amazing dish. I've had similar dishes at other Spanish restaurants, and far too often, the corn tends to be a bit mushy. Here, the corn was tender and firm, the way an excellent corn on the cob should taste. The corn was grilled very well and the addition of the compelling melange of cheese, garlic and pepper well complemented the corn, creating an especially delicious dish. I can't wait to return to have more of this corn.

Friptura De Miel at Moldova Restaurant (Newton)
Another compelling lamb entree! This Moldovan dish consists of roasted lamb, stewed in special wine and rosemary sauce, and normally served with roasted vegetables. The lamb is cooked for over four hours, braised and then roasted in the oven. All that slow cooking made the lamb extremely tender, and you certainly didn't need a knife to cut it. The lamb was tender and juicy, with a hint of rosemary, and it lacked that gaminess which turns off some people to lamb. As a lamb lover, this dish impressed me immensely.

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

Matadora in Woburn: A Taste of Spain

 “Food had always been something that brought people together in my life and that’s a tradition I want to continue at my restaurants.”
--William "Billy" Jimenez, Chef de Cuisine at Matadora 

I love Spanish cuisine, from Tapas to Paella, as well as Spanish wines, from Cava to Sherry. I've travelled to Spain three times, spending a total of about five weeks in that wonderful country. When I learned that a new Spanish restaurant would open in Woburn, only a few miles from my home, I was excited and curious. How would it stack up against other local Spanish restaurants? Would they serve authentic Sherry? Would they serve some of my favorite Spanish dishes?

The Hilton Boston/Woburn, located on Forbes Road, recently completed a comprehensive renovation, including the addition of Matadora, a Spanish restaurant, which opened on October 30. Matadora was created in partnership with COJE Management, the team behind Boston restaurants Yvonne’s, RUKA and Lolita. The menus at Matadora were developed by COJE’s Culinary Director Tom Berry and are now being executed at the restaurant by Matadora’s Chef de Cuisine William Jimenez, focusing on "tailored tapas and flavorful cuts of meat and fish from the kitchen’s centerpiece – a custom, wood-fired grill."

The restaurant is located just to the left of the hotel lobby, open to the lobby and not hidden behind any walls. Most of the ceiling is also open, ascending numerous floors and visually accessible from the balconies of numerous guest rooms. The kitchen too is open, a design concept I always appreciate, and you can sit at the counter directly in front of the kitchen, watching the cooks work their culinary skills. It is an aesthetically pleasing restaurant, that emanates an ambiance of welcoming and comfort.

As you enter the restaurant, it'll be impossible to miss their huge centerpiece, a 900 pound sculpture of a bull, which was made from scrap metal, including automobile parts, from Thailand. Quite a stunning piece of art.

There are several semi-circular banquettes, very comfortable spots for couples or small groups. There are also a variety of other tables within the restaurants, which can accommodate most any group.

In the back of the restaurant is a large, rectangular bar, with a view outside the front windows.

This is their custom, wood-fired grill, the centerpiece of their kitchen, and where many of their entrees are cooked. William "Billy" Jimenez is the chef de cuisine, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, started his culinary career as a line cook at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. He has also spent five years at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston and in the Bar Boulud kitchen with Chef Aaron Chambers, whom Billys calls his most influential mentor. While there, Jimenez worked his way up from line cook to sous-chef. The most important rule he’s teaching his staff is that the smallest and simplest details are what sets great food apart. “My whole kitchen philosophy revolves around this - perfect the smallest detail and then perfect the next,” explains Chef Jimenez. “When you have every detail from start to finish perfected, the same ingredients become something else entirely.”

I was invited, as a media guest, to check out Matadora and I should note that it only has been open for 1 1/2 months so it is still within that stage where restaurants shake out the final kinks. As such, some matters could potentially change at the restaurant in the near future as they determine what works best for them. Overall, I was impressed with the restaurant and feel it is an excellent addition to the local area. I will definitely be returning to try out more of their menu and recommend that my readers check it out as well.

With a full bar, there is plenty of interest for your drink preferences. They have a list of ten special Cocktails ($8-$12), such as the Calimocho (Red wine & Cola) and Fancy Pants (Gin, Fino Sherry, Bergamot). They also have Red and White Sangria ($10/glass & $32/pitcher). On Tap, they have 10 beers & ciders ($6-$12), as well as 9 beers by the bottle ($5-$18). The list includes several Spanish beers and ciders.

As for Wine, they have 10 choices available by the glass ($10-$14) with 6 Spanish wines, the rest from California and Oregon. These 10 wines include one Sparkling wine, a Cava, as well as 4 Whites and 5 Reds. Though I didn't see it on the menu, maybe an oversight on my part, they have 8 Sherries available by the glass, and all 8 are authentic Sherry including La Gitana Manzanilla and a few bottlings from Lustau. That pleases me very much and I note that they use the Lustau Sherries in their cocktails.

The Wine list by the bottle ($38-$140) is broken down into Red, White and Sparkling, and then further grouped by general region, like North Atlantic Coast & Archipelagos. The list has about 5 Sparkling Wines (all Cavas), 23 Whites and 25 Reds. Most of the wines are Spanish, but with some wines from Portuguese, California, and Oregon. There is a nice diversity on the list with plenty of intriguing Spanish wines and even the non-Spanish wines are generally interesting as well. It was cool to see some wines from the Canary Islands, as well as Spanish grapes like Godella, Mencia, Hondarrabi Zuri, Albillo, and more.

We began our evening with a glass of Cava, the 2013 Gramona “Gran Cuvee” ($13), a delicious, crisp and dry Cava, with tiny bubbles, notes of apples and a hint of toast. A pleasant way to begin dinner.

The Red Sangria ($10) is made from Tempranillo, Brandy, Orange Liqueur, Juniper, and Cranberries. It was tasty, not too sweet and possessed an interesting melange of fruit flavors, with a hint of juniper and a bit of tartness from the cranberries.

The Sherry Cobbler ($10) is made with Lustau Amontillado, Apples, Cinnamon, and Mint, and had a pleasing taste, the hint of cinnamon making it a bit more unique than other Cobblers I've enjoyed. Refreshing and nutty, with a touch of mint.

The Slow Motion ($12), made with Bourbon, Lustau East India Sherry (a Cream Sherry), Amaro, and Bitters. This reminded me of a Manhattan and despite the addition of the Sherry, it wasn't overly sweet, balanced out nicely by the Amaro. There was a bit more richness in the cocktail than a normal Manhattan and it persuaded me to add some Cream Sherry to my Manhattans at home.

The Bullfighter ($10) is made with Plantation Rum, Lime, Honey, and Ginger Beer, more of a Light n' Stormy. It was a well balanced cocktail, with a mild sweetness, and a rich ginger taste.

Matadora currently serves Breakfast and Dinner, though not Lunch. As for the Dinner menu, it primarily includes small plates and wood-grill entrees. You'll find entries for Spanish Cheese (6 options, $8-$12 each, from Aged Manchego to Garrotxa), Spanish Meats (6 options, $11-$16 each, from Chorizo Iberico to Jamon Serrano), Olives, Nuts & Cured (6 options, $5-$7 each, from Boquerones to Marinated Manchego), Tapas (14 options, $8-$19, from Patatas Bravas to Charred Galician Octopus), Entrees (4 options, $19-$29 each, from Grass Fed Burger to Spicy Catalan Mussels), Wood Grill A La Carte (6 options, $18-$59, including Steaks, Pork Chop, Salmon, and Tuna), and Sides (5 options, $7-$9). Their Dessert menu has 3 options, $7-$9 each, including Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, Cantabrian Ricotta Cake, and Hot Churros.

There is a good diversity of dishes, though I wish they served one of my favorite tapas, Gambas al Ajillo, garlic shrimp. They also do not serve another of my favorite Spanish dishes, Paella, though they had considered it, eventually deciding to concentrate on tapas and wood-grilled items. During my visit, I concentrated on the small plates, and each dish was a nice portion size considering the nature of each item.

From Spanish Meats, the Chorizo Iberico ($11), sausage cured with smoky sweet paprika, is served exquisitely thin, with what appears to be a little olive oil. The spicy chorizo was tasty, a light dish which would be a nice way to begin your dinner.

From Olives, Nuts & Cured, the Marinated Manchego ($7) is prepared with olive oil, vinegar, roasted garlic and herbs. The cheese itself has a soft cheddar-like consistency and was an addictive little snack, with a nice blend of flavors enhancing the cheese.

From Olives, Nuts & Cured, the Spicy Gordal Olives ($6), made with some spice, are briny with a tender, fleshy exterior around the pit. The spice adds an intriguing taste to the briny olive, elevating them above a bare olive.

From Olives, Nuts & Cured, the Boquerones ($7), white anchovies, are made with vinegar, garlic, and herbs. The anchovies are tender and meaty, with a clean, lightly briny flavor. Even if you generally don't like anchovies, you need to try this dish as I think these anchovies will change your mind.

From Tapas, the Chickpea Fried Calamari ($12), with Andalusian dipping sauce, Ras el Hanout, Aioli and herbs, was excellent! The thin rings of calamari were especially tender with a delicious, clean fried batter. Some of the best fried calamari I've tasted in some time. And the Andalusian dipping sauce was a compelling complement to the calamari.

From Tapas, the Spicy Tuna Tartar ($16) is made with hummus, green olive, espelette mayo, and sesame, all atop a rosemary torta. There was plenty of silky tuna atop this dish and its flavors were intriguing, very different from the usual tuna tartar dish. The torta was flaky, with a pleasing herbal note to it.

From Tapas, the Pan con Tomate ($8) is a simple, but iconic Spanish dish, which basically consists of tomato rubbed garlic toast with EVOO and sea salt. The bread was nice and crusty on the edges and soft on the inside, with a clean and delicious taste, with the acidity of the tomato and plenty of garlic. A well executed dish.

From Tapas, the Patatas Bravas ($10) was an ample plate of crispy potatoes with sides of pimenton aioli and tomato romesco. The potatoes were tender and fluffy inside and I loved the spicy romesco sauce. I kept thinking about the other dishes that the romesco sauce could enhance, even the idea of slathering some atop a burger.

From Tapas, the Jamon Iberico Croquettes ($11) are made with Idiazabal cheese and are topped by Pimenton Aioli and herb salad. They are small enough that you could pop an entire one into your mouth, and when you bite into them, they are crunchy and creamy, bursting with flavor, including bits of ham.

From Tapas, the Basque Street Corn ($8), topped with roasted garlic aioli, Idiazabal cheese, and Espelette pepper, was probably my favorite dish of the evening. I've had similar dishes at other Spanish restaurants, and far too often, the corn tends to be a bit mushy. Here, the corn was tender and firm, the way an excellent corn on the cob should taste. The corn was grilled very well and the addition of the compelling melange of cheese, garlic and pepper well complemented the corn, creating an especially delicious dish. Highly recommended!

From Tapas, the Shrimp Toast ($15) is made with wild shrimp harvested from the U.S. Gulf, from Apalachicola, Florida. It's great to see that they are sourcing their shrimp domestically! The shrimp, with a number of veggies, including hot peppers, sits atop a thin slice of garlic toast and slathered with spicy saffron butter. The plump shrimp were tender and the rest of the toppings mixed for a tasty blend, with a mild spicy heat. Another winner of a dish.

Finally, we opted for one more Tapas, the Flaming Chorizo ($16), grilled chorizo pequeno with a piquillo honey mustard. The five plump chorizo sit in a flame for a short time on your table, a cool presentation. When you bite into the crisp skin of the chorizo, you'll be impressed with the moist and spicy meat, probably the spiciest of dishes we ate. Cooked perfectly, the chorizo were delicious, an excellent ending to our savory dishes.

I had to order one of the desserts, the Hot Churros ($9), which are covered with cinnamon sugar and accompanied by a rich chocolate dipping sauce, that was thick and reminded me of dark chocolate. The hot Churros had a crisp exterior with a fluffier interior, and plenty of sweetness from the cinnamon sugar. Dipping them in the rich chocolate made for a delectable treat, a great way to end an excellent evening.

Overall, I had an excellent experience at Matadora and they are doing quite well despite only having been open for 1 1/2 months. They have a very good drinks program, from their cocktails to wine list, and their food menu has plenty of delicious options. Portion size is reasonable, quality is high, and the dishes are certainly reflective of fine Spanish tapas. Service was attentive and personable, without being obtrusive. Matadora is a welcome addition to the local culinary scene and I definitely will return to try more of their menu, especially to explore their entrees such as the Spicy Catalan Mussels and even their Grass Fed Burger. I recommend you check out Matadora and get a taste of Spain in Woburn.

Friday, December 15, 2017

2017: Favorite Spirits, Sake, 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 2017. I have already posted my Top Wine lists as well as Favorite Wine-Related Items. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & 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. For more spirits, Sake, cocktails and drink-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Achievement in Spirits Writing: This year, I'm especially proud of my article, An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal, where my research uncovered a wealth of documented references to Pechuga Mezcal, a type of mezcal that has been flavored with meat, as well as maybe some fruits and spices. Prior to my article, there were bottles from the 1930s that were labeled Pechuga but there was no known documentary evidence prior to that time. However, I found over 30 different written references to Pechuga before the 1930s, extending as far back as 1864. There is still more research needed in this area, but I was pleased to contribute my efforts to expanding the known history of this fascinating type of Mezcal.

Favorite Whisky Dinner: A great theme, killer whisky, and delicious food all combined to make the  Robert Burns Scotch Dinner at Civic Kitchen & Drink a wondrous experience. It was my first Burns Night celebration and I marveled at the ritual, the toasting, and the intriguing food, including Haggis, which I actually enjoyed very much. There was plenty of Scotch, each unique in its own right, and all quite tasty and complex. The crowd was fun and it was more than just a simple dinner, but an intriguing experience and the memories will remain for a very long time.

Favorite Blended Scotch Whisky: This year, I've attended two Compass Box tasting events, though I've only written about one of them so far. However, it is clear to me that Compass Box and its owner John Glaser are producing some excellent blended Scotches. I've enjoyed most of the portfolio that I've tasted and am impressed with the diversity of their whiskies. Their limited edition Double Single thoroughly impressed it, a silky smooth, complex and well-balanced whisky with a fascinating melange of flavors. There were hints of vanilla and caramel, berries and tropical fruit, herbs and spices. Each sip seemed to bring something new to my palate. Highly recommended.

Favorite Irish Whiskey: Tullamore DEW, the "official Irish whiskey" of the Boston Red Sox, is offered at the Tully Tavern, in Fenway Park, especially in the Monster Mule, a variation of the Moscow Mule that is made with 1 part Tullamore DEW, 4 parts Ginger Beer, and lime juice. They have a nice portfolio of whiskies, but my favorite was the Tullamore DEW 14 Year Old Single Malt which is matured in the usual three types of barrels, but then also spends a little time in Port and Madeira casks. On the nose, there are pleasant notes of apple and tropical fruit, and the palate also presents this fruit flavors, accompanied by a complex mix of vanilla, spice and caramel, with an elegant creaminess that caresses your palate. The finish lingers for quite a time and I can easily see myself sipping this all evening.

Favorite Whisky Rant: It is an issue which deserves attention but seems unlikely it will acquire what is needed. In my Rant, Whisky, Sherry Barrels & A Lack Of Transparency, I discuss how a number of whiskey producers are using Sherry-style barrels, from outside the legal Sherry region, but those barrels are still be labeled as Sherry barrels. Sherry is a protected term and it should be respected and honored yet some whiskey producers are failing to do so. We need more people to know that this problem exists and then hopefully a united effort and get whiskey producers to change their ways on this issue.

Favorite Spanish Whisky: Have you ever tasted whisky from Spain? Spain isn't a significant producer of whisky but you may hear more about Spain in the near future if whisky like the Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky becomes more well known. Produced from malted barley grown in Spain, the whisky spends about four to six years aging in Palo Cortado Sherry casks, which is definitely a rarity in the whiskey industry. This whisky presents with a nice, dark amber color and its complex aroma is enticing, a blend of harmonious fruits and spices. You could easily sit and enjoy the diverse nose of this whiskey for quite some time before taking a sip. Your palate will be seduced by the complex, and sometimes subtle, melange of flavors that caress and tantalize. It is sweet, briny and savory, with plenty of fruit, from apples to raisins, as well as lots of spicy notes. Honey, caramel, and malt with clear Sherry notes and a long and lingering finish that satisfies to the last wispy taste. It is elegant and compelling, unique and delicious, a well-balanced whiskey that will surprise and delight.

Favorite Unique Whiskey: At The Townshend in Quincy, Palmer Matthews, their Bar Manager, introduced me to Dry Fly Distilling Straight Triticale Whiskey, which might be the only straight Triticale whiskey in the world. Triticale is a hybrid of rye and wheat which was created in Scotland in the late 19th century. I enjoyed a shot, chilled by a single large chunk of ice, and found the whiskey to be intriguing, with a nice spicy kick up front, which then became soft and almost sweet. As I love Rye whiskey, I savored the spicy element of the Triticale, but also liked how the wheat softened it more on the finish. If you want something more unusual, but still quite tasty seek out this Triticale.

Favorite Maryland Rye Whiskey: During a visit to the Tenth Ward Distilling Company, I had the chance to taste a few of their products and I was most taken with their Lindsay Stunkle Rye Whiskey which is named after a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger from Frederick, Maryland. This limited-release whiskey is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at a whopping 120 proof. It is released twice a year, in June and November, and is intended for home aging. It is spicy and potent, enhanced by the addition of a little water, and will definitely appeal to rye lovers. There is complexity to its taste and a lengthy finish, and I would love to see this aged in the barrel for a number of years.

Runner-Up Favorite Maryland Rye Whiskey: Also from the Tenth Ward Distilling Company, a more unique Rye whiskey is the White Caraway Ryewhich is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at 95 proof. The spirit is mashed with caraway seed so it is intended to taste more like rye bread, though it may also remind you of Scandinavian Akvavit. I was captivated by the intriguing flavors of this spirit, as it certainly reminded me of spicy rye bread, with a hint of mint. Though you could drink this on its own, I think it would be best used in creating some fascinating cocktails.

Favorite Gin: As I've said before, I'm not usually a fan of gin, disliking the over-powering juniper flavor I find in many, but I have enjoyed some that I felt were more well-balanced. Certainly a more unique gin, the Pierde Almas 9+ Botanicals is actually a hybrid Mezcal/Gin, using Mezcal as the base spirit and then adding nine botanicals, including juniper, coriander, star anise, fennel seed, orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, orris root, and nutmeg. On the nose, the piney aroma of juniper is dominant though beneath that aroma were more subtle herbal notes. Once you taste it, the Mezcal elements make themselves known, and it is an intriguing and complex spirit. There are plenty of citrus notes up front, with an interesting melange of spices and herbs, as well as a smoky edge, especially on the finish. The piney notes of the juniper became much more integrated into the whole, and the other botanicals joined the complex mix. This is definitely a sipping spirit, which is quite enjoyable neat, and each sip seems to bring new flavors to your palate.

Runner-Up Gin: From the McClintock Distilling Co. in Maryland, their Forager Gin is a vapor infused New-World style gin using about 18 botanicals inspired by native herbs found in the Appalachian wilderness. On the nose, there is a strong juniper aroma with subtle hints of other botanicals in the background. On the palate, the botanical mix is more balanced, and the complex melange of flavors delights the mouth. There are elements of fruit, mainly citrus, and floral flavors, with a sprinkle of spice elements. The gin should be served chilled, and would be delicious on its own, or used in cocktails.

Favorite Rum: Rum actually has a lengthy history in the Oaxaca region, a place best known for Mezcal. However, little Oaxacan rum makes it out of Mexico, which is a shame. One of the recent exports is the stellar Paranubes Rum, brought to you by the good people of Mezcal Vago. Made from sugar cane juice, and not molasses, the Paranubes is made in a very traditional manner, the current producer being at least the 3rd generation in his family to produce this rum. Its aroma is very funky and prominent, with a saline character that reminds me of the smell of the ocean or an olive tapenade. The aroma doesn't follow through much on the palate, which instead brings a mild sweetness, a touch of grassiness, and some citrus and tropical fruit flavors. It is more light and elegant, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It reminds me of a Rhum Agricole, and its distinctive and unique aroma and taste certainly sets it apart. The Paranubes can be consumed on its own though it also would work well in a variety of cocktails.

Favorite Unique Rum:
From Navazos Palazzi, which also made the Spanish whiskey I previously mentioned, comes another unique spirit, a Cask Strength Rum, aged in Sherry barrels. The base rum had been distilled in the Antilles, where it aged for five years in ex-Bourbon barrels, and then given to a Spanish Sherry bodega, where the rum further aged in Oloroso barrels for 10 years. The color of this rum was deep and dark, though with some translucence, reminding me in some ways of an aged Oloroso Sherry. I was enamored with the complex aromas that wafted up, seducing my nose. There was fruit and spice, nuts and chocolate, and it was a pleasure just to sit and enjoy the aromas. On the palate, I was initially pleased with the relative dryness of the rum. It wasn't one of the prominent sweet rums but rather its sweetness was of a more subtle nature, with underlying caramel, vanilla and molasses flavors. And the complexity of the nose was duplicated on the palate, such a compelling melange of flavors that seemed to present something new each sip I took. There was a certain nutty and saline character that reminded me of Sherry, but also bright citrus and plum notes. There were plenty of spicy elements, with a backbone of umami, and hints of leather. Elegant and fascinating, this rum had a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Favorite Mezcal: Pierde Almas, which made the Mezcal/Gin hybrid mentioned above, is primarily a Mezcal producer and they have an amazing portfolio. My current favorite is their  Maguey de Lumbre Mezcal, made from a rare and little-known agave. The aroma is more subtle, with hints of citrus and smoke, and the first taste is pure gustatory pleasure, a hedonistic revel in the complexities and flavors of the Mezcal. This was a compelling Mezcal and once I started looking deeper, it only became even more intriguing. Citrus notes dominated the flavor profile but there was much complexity providing harmony to the spirit. There was also a mild smokiness, subtle herbal accents, and wispy spice notes. Just sit and sip it and you'll realize the fascinating complexity of this spirit. The taste was clean and smooth, an elegant pleasure, something to slowly savor on a summer evening, though you could certainly enjoy this year round.

Favorite Pechuga Mezcal: Pierde Almas also produced my current favorite Pechuga Mezcal, the Mezcal de Conejo, which is produced using a rabbit. Pechuga is a type of mezcal that has been flavored with meat, as well as maybe some fruits and spices. Once I tasted this Pechuga, I was immediately struck by the anise notes in this Mezcal and then I could detect the ripe fruit flavors, especially pineapple, a mild smokiness, and a touch of a more wild and gamey element. It was complex and intriguing, a unique melange of flavors which should please any Mezcal lover. You wouldn't know this Mezcal was made with rabbit, but it still would make for an interesting addition to your Easter dinner.

Favorite Shochu: Shochu, a distilled spirit made in Japan, can be made from many different ingredients though sweet potato is considered one of the best choices. While dining at Tori Shin in New York City, I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Shochu, the Tenshi no Yuwaku, which is a sweet potato Shochu that was fermented in Sherry casks for about 10 years. This is a more unique Shochu as few are ever aged this long. It's name translates as "Angel's Temptation," a reference to the Angel's Share, the amount of spirit that evaporates over time while it ages in a barrel. I enjoyed it neat, finding it rich and creamy, with intense Sherry notes, hints of sweetness, and plenty of complexity.

Favorite New Liqueur: A collaborative effort between companies in Britain & France, the Escubac seems to have its roots in Ireland. It is a "juniper-free botanical spirit," made from a base of neutral sugar beet alcohol with the addition of 14 botanicals. After it is distilled, they infuse it with saffron and sweeten it with raisins, vanilla, and sugar. The Escubac has some sweetness up front but it wasn't cloying or overly sweet, and it was complemented with a mix of citrus and herbal notes, with intriguing spice notes and a touch of bitterness. I was pleased with its complex and intriguing melange of flavors, and it can easily be used in a variety of cocktails.

Favorite Baijiu: With many Americans, the Chinese spirit Baijiu suffers an image problem, often considered to have a terrible, off-putting taste. Though there are some Baijiu with very strong aromas and tastes, others have much lighter and appealing flavors and are worthy of attention. Made in New Zealand, Taizi Baijiu, the creation of two Chinese brothers, would be a great introduction to Baijiu for anyone. With its clear color, the Baijiu has an intriguing nose of berries and licorice, and on your palate, the berry flavors are very prominent upfront with more licorice notes on the finish. It has a slightly oily texture, but drinks very smooth and balanced, and you wouldn't realize its high alcohol content. There is an underlying complexity, more subtle notes, including some herbal elements, accenting the Baijiu. One of the best Baijiu I've ever tasted, I highly recommend it.

Favorite Chicago Bars: On a whirlwind visit to Chicago, I was fortunate to visit two cool and compelling bars, including Income Tax and Estereo. Income Tax, which has been open for a year, is cozy and elegant, with a lengthy bar and a casual, welcoming vibe. Their drinks list is diverse and interesting, and they carry some Sherry by the glass. Their food is also quite tasty, and is great for pairing with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Service is excellent as well, and it is the type of neighborhood bar you really should frequent. Estereo is also a neighborhood bar, specializing in spirits from Mexico, Central America, and South America such as Cachaca, Pisco, Mezcal, Tequila, Sotol and more. Great cocktails, incredible diversity in their spirits, knowledgeable staff, and a fun & lively atmosphere make this a great place to drink.

Favorite Sherry BarTaberna de Haro wins this category hands-down, once again, 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. If you are ever in the area, you must stop here and try some Sherry.

Favorite Restaurant Cocktail: The Schrodinger's Coupe is available at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, which makes several other Baijiu cocktails too. The Coupe is made with Baijiu, curaçao, grapefruit, lime and plum bitters. It's Baijiu taste was accompanied by some sour fruit flavors with a hint of grapefruit. It wasn't overly sweet and was a refreshing summer drink.

Favorite Restaurant Hot Cocktail: While at a Burns Night dinner at Civic Kitchen & Drink, we began the evening with the Ginger Rabbie, a hot cocktail, made with Towiemore Classic Scotch, tea, molasses, and ginger. It was similar in some respects to a hot toddy, only mildly alcoholic, lightly sweet, and with a pleasing taste of tea and spice. Great for the winter.

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: The Kirin-Zan Junmai Daiginjo, which comes in a cool pentagonal blue bottle, is a superb Sake, elegant and complex, with such an alluring taste. It is clean and bright, with subtle citrus notes, some peach and melon, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. It is said to be "reminiscent of a clean mountain stream," and it possesses such a sense of purity, a Sake that pairs perfectly with nigiri. This is a Sake which impresses and I highly recommend it. Find it locally at Pabu Boston.

Favorite Junmai Ginjo Sake: I was impressed with the unique Hakkaisan Snow-Aged Junmai Ginjo, which spends three years in an insulated storage room chilled only by 1000 tons of snow! It is a Genshu, undiluted by water, and has a high acidity. I found the Hakkaisan to have a more subtle aroma and on the palate presented an elegant, deep complexity with hints of melon and a touch of anise. It was full-bodied and smooth with rich, savory umami. A hedonistic pleasure that is extremely food friendly. It can be found locally at Reliable Market.

Runner-Up Favorite Junmai Ginjo Sake: While dining at Torishin, a killer Yakitori restaurant in New York City, I ordered a carafe of Fukuju Junmai Ginjo and it was so delicious I had to order a second carafe. The Sake was simply superb, with a dry, clean and elegant taste with plenty of fruit notes. It was silky smooth, drank so easily, and I could have sat all night savoring this Sake. Highly recommended.

Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Sake: The Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai Sake is produced from Gohyakumangoku rice, and is a typical Yamahai Sake, with delicious earthy notes, high acidity and plenty of umami. It is easy drinking, smooth, and complex with a hint of citrus, smoke, and sweetness. Simply a delicious Sake, which will pair well with many different foods, from mushroom risotto to a grilled steak.

Runner-Up Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Sake: The Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto Sake has a high acidity and it was quite compelling, a mellow and smooth-drinking Sake with plenty of delicious umami. It has a richness to the mouthfeel, a lengthy and satisfying finish, and is something I could sit and drink all day. There is a mild earthiness to the Sake which enhances the totality. A well-made and delicious Sake, it would be an excellent pairing with umami dishes, especially mushroom or truffle-based ones, and would also go well with various meats.

Favorite Sake Store: It is difficult to find a local wine shop that carries a large and diverse Sake selection. However, Reliable Market, in Union Square, Somerville, has been enlarging their selection, and stock many of their Sake in refrigerated cases. You'll find plenty of Sake, of all types, in regular-sized bottles as well as half-bottles, at a range of price points. They also carry both local Sakes, Dovetail (from Waltham) and Blue Current (from Kittery, Maine). Reliable Market probably has the best and largest Sake selection in the Boston-area and you should check it out.

Favorite Sake News: Back in April 2015, I posted an article, An Expanded History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., which discussed the early history of Sake breweries in the U.S. My research for this article included combing through hundreds of old newspapers, picking out tidbits of information that hadn't been previously collected into a single resource. It was a fascinating exploration, expanding my knowledge of this topic, and revealing intriguing facts which contradicted what many previously believed. This year, a Japanese man, who runs a packaging company, wrote an article for a Japanese Sake journal based upon my article and I wrote out it in My History of U.S. Sake Breweries Inspires A Journal Article. And fortunately, I got to meet the author last month when he visited Boston, and we drank plenty of Sake together.

Least Favorite Sake News: In Ugh! More Stinkin' Scores For Sake From Wine Advocate, I express my displeasure at the Wine Advocate for continuing to provide "scores" for Sake. I've been ranting about this issue since 2013 but it is more recently that the Wine Advocate has started providing Sake scores on a more regular basis. Their main effect seems to be raising prices and they don't seem to be sparking much discussion or interest on Sake. Even on the Robert Parker bulletin boards, Sake discussion is all but nonexistent. The scores aren't really helping anyone, and are probably hurting more, so they should be eliminated.

Favorite Beer: I dislike most beer, as I am very sensitive to the bitterness of hops and that taste turns me off. Every once in a while though, I find a beer that does appeal to me. This year, I was impressed with the The Flying Dog "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale. This beer is brewed with Shishito peppers, a generally sweet Asian pepper where about one in ten is spicy. I found this beer to be light, crisp and refreshing, lacking bitterness and with just a whisper of spicy heat, mainly on the finish. There are some subtle malty undertones and a couple hints reminding me of a Sake. It would be an excellent beverage on a hot, summer day.

Favorite Cider: From the Asturian region of Spain, the 1947 Sidra de Nueva Expresion is
is a Petillant Semi-Dry Cider, produced from a blend of 14 apple varieties, all from their own orchards, with a rough breakdown of about 75% sharp, 15% bitter-sharp and the rest bitter-sweet. Fermentation occurs in an open chestnut vat, with wild yeasts, and I was quite surprised that they also allow it to mature in the open vat for about 12 months! The vats are old, some being as much as a hundred years or more, and are quite large, about 15,000 liters. It possesses a strong, appealing apple aroma and on the palate, it presents as mostly dry and crisp, with strong apple flavors and only the slightest hint of sweetness. It also has a  mild effervescence, enough to be a nice palate cleanser and excellent for food pairings, and a lengthy pleasing finish.

Favorite Pear Cider: For the second year in a row, this Asturian pear cider, the Viuda de Angelón Sidra de Pera is the winner. The pear trees are wild, organic and over 70 years old. Once the pears are picked, they are first fermented in stainless steel, with wild yeasts, and then mature for about four months in chestnut vats. Then, they undergo a second fermentation in the tank. This is an impressive Perry, with a harmonious blend of earthiness with subtle pear flavor and a mild effervescence. It is dry and refreshing, with lots of depth. It would be excellent on its own or paired with food, especially something with umami.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Cocktail: At Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, they have several cocktails, and I was impressed with their Sumiao Citrus, which is made with white grapefruit juice, lemon, simple syrup, blood orange puree, and orange garnish. This was an interesting concoction, not overly sweet, and was quite refreshing. The fruit flavors blended well together, presenting a tasty melange of flavors. If you aren't drinking something alcoholic with your meal, then this would be a good option.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: Switchel used to be popular in New England in the 17th century, and now seems to be making a bit of a comeback. At Russell Orchards in Ipswich, I bought their version of Switchel, which is made from with apple cider vinegar, apple cider, maple syrup, ginger and water, with the vinegar and cider made on their premises. It is unpasteurized so needs to be refrigerated. The Switchel possesses a distinctive ginger aroma and it is prominent on the palate too. It is dry with a prominent vinegar aspect, subtle apple notes, and a ginger backbone. It is refreshing and I see how it can be quite refreshing on a hot day. Plus, it makes for a great cocktail ingredient.

Favorite Canned Non-Alcoholic Drink: At, a fast-casual Greek restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, they have a few canned drinks including the Tuvunu Greek Mountain Tea, which is made from Sideritis, an indigenous perennial. The tea is flavored with brown cane sugar, wild blossom honey, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. It was delicious, with only a mild sweetness, and pleasing tea notes and an herbal backbone. It is refreshing and you could easily drink can after can without feeling bloated or overwhelmed by sugar as you can be with soda.

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