Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Westmount Winery: Pinot Gris to Pinot Noir Rosé

"Westmount embodies the spirit of adventure and exploration."
--Westmount Wine website

The delight of Oregon wine! Pinot is King, especially in the Willamette Valley, but other grapes grow well in different regions of Oregon. With the heat of the summer, it's a great time to explore the White and Rosé wines of Oregon, such as those of Westmount Wine. I received a couple media samples of their wines, which were both delicious and refreshing.

Westmount Wine Company, which falls under the parent company NW Wine Co., was founded by four people, including Danielle Andrus Montalieu and John Niemeyer. The third founder was Laurent Montalieu, who acts as the Executive Winemaker. He studied agricultural engineering at the Institute of Oenology in Bordeaux, moving to Oregon in 1987, eventually becoming a partner and winemaker at the famed WillaKenzie Estate. The fourth founder was Robert Moshier, who has a degree in Production and Operations Management. He is also a wine lover, as well as an avid climber and mountaineer.

"The Westmount winemaking philosophy is to maintain the personality of the vineyard while allowing the grapes to develop into the wine they were meant to be.”
Anne Sery, Winemaker

Westmount Wine has over 100 acres planted with grapes, primarily Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, with some Chardonnay. As they are outdoors people, it was only natural for them to produce wine in cans as well, something which is much easier to carry and transport in the wilderness (or beach) rather than glass bottles.

The 2018 Westmount Pinot Noir Rosé ($20), with a 12.9% ABV, possessed a medium pink color and an alluring nose of fresh red fruits with a hint of tropical fruit. On the palate, it was dry, crisp and fresh, with bright strawberry and watermelon, and subtle hints of more tropical fruits and citrus. A tasty, refreshing and well-balanced wine, it is excellent on its own though is also very food friendly.

The 2017 Westmount Pinot Gris ($20), with a 13.1% ABV, was equally as delicious. A compelling nose of stone fruit with a hint of spice. On the palate, it is fresh and crisp, bright and round, with tasty flavors of pear, apple, and a subtle spice note and hints of a floral element. Well balanced, with a fairly long and pleasing finish. Enjoyable on its own or paired with food, from salads to seafood.

Both of these wines are easy drinking, perfect for the summer, but they aren't simple. There is sufficient complexity for the price, and they'll provide much pleasure as well.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Rant: Boston Needs Vampires!

There seems to be only a single restaurant in the Boston area that serves Vampires. With all of the restaurants in this area serving Mexican cuisine, you'd think there might be more Vampires available. Unfortunately that isn't the case and it should change. Bring on more Vampiros!

"An order of Vampiros, a thinly sliced mini-steak snuggled in a corn tortilla is a must."
--Del Rio News-Herald Mundo Latino (TX), September 5, 1993

Vampiros resemble a type of open-faced taco, and basically are composed of a grilled corn tortilla which is topped by melted cheese, carne asada, and other varied toppings. Check out the recent article, Interview With the Vampiro by Dylan James Ho, for an excellent introduction to this intriguing dish. In the U.S., Vampiros have been around for at least about thirty years, and the above newspaper quote was the oldest reference I found.

"Vampiros involves white cheese melted on corn tortillas and sprinkled with bits of carne asada, like a beefed-up quesadilla."
--The Los Angeles Times, January 26, 1995

It certainly doesn't seem difficult to create Vampiros so why are they so rare in the Boston area? The only restaurant I've found that serves them is the Yard House, under the name of Vampire Tacos. Their website states, "Vampire Style" is a street taco wrapped in a grilled, crispy cheese-crusted flour tortilla shell." Their recipes is made with carnitas, bacon chorizo, chipotle, cumin crema, guacamole, roasted garlic, and cilantro. Does anyone else know of another Boston area restaurant serving Vampiros?

"That includes the Vampiro, which brings a grilled corn tortilla heaped with carne asada or pastor topped with gooey, melted Monterey Jack cheese, guacamole, sweet caramelized onions, and crisp shredded lettuce."
--Arizona Republic, July 22, 2011

Why is Boston so behind on Vampiros? For at least 30 years, they've been available from Texas to California, and currently seem to be huge in Los Angeles. Why does it take so long for some trends to travel here? It seems like it would be an excellent opportunity for a local chef to present Vampiros to Bostonians. So who will step forward and offer this "undead" Mexican dish to their diners?

Friday, August 16, 2019

East Of Suez: Delicious Pan Asian Cuisine in Wolfeboro, NH

"Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst"
--Mandalay (1890), by Rudyard Kipling

What first drew me to the restaurant was the fact that it was BYOB. Then, I checked out their food menu and it intrigued me as well, Pan-Asian cuisine, ranging from the Philippines to Vietnam. It also seemed reasonably priced. And as I looked further, I learned that it had existed for over 50 years, a worthy and uncommon achievement in the restaurant industry. As I was going to spend a few days vacationing in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, I knew I wanted to dine at East of Suez

East of Suez was founded back in 1967 by Charles and Norma Powell, taking over a spot that once houses a pizzeria. Charles' father had been a naval officer, photojournalist and cinematographer, and often took Charles with him on visits to China and Japan. In 1962, Charles met his future wife, Norma Antonio, who was from the Philippines. At the time they opened the restaurant, they both lived in New York, so running a restaurant wasn't easy and during the early years, the restaurant was only open on weekends.

Currently, the restaurant is owned and operated by their daughter, Elizabeth Powell Gorai. East of Suez is primarily open for the Summer, though it may extend a bit into October dependent on the weather. Their food is prepared to order, and many local ingredients are used, except for those unavailable. It is also a BYOB spot, so you can bring your own wine or beer, though they also sell a variety of nonalcoholic beverages.

Their website states, "We are one of the oldest Pan-Asian restaurants in the United States, serving an eclectic sampling of exotic cuisine from Southeast Asia and the Pacific Rim, with occasional detours around the world since 1967. Our menu is small, specifically so, to represent a mix of the time-honored classics and culinary innovations our patrons have grown to love, however, each evening we experiment by adding choice delicacies to our collection, in much the way a traveler gathering mementoes might do, if he ventured to explore 'East of Suez."

The restaurant is cozy, spread out over several rooms, and decorated with an eclectic Asian decor, spanning several different cultures. I dined here twice, with several good friends, and on both visits it was fairly crowded, indicative of its popularity. We also brought wine with us on both occasions. Overall, I was impressed with the cuisine, enjoying the layers of flavors in each dish. It earns my hearty recommendation, and I look forward to dining there against some time.

The Regular Menu is relatively small, but with plenty of different choices, and each day they have a Special Daily Menu, adding even more choices. The Regular Menu generally consists of Starters/Small Plates (7 choices, $10-$12), Mains (8 choices, $19-$24) and Desserts (4 choices, $9-$10). The Special Daily Menu adds a Soup (Cup $6, Bowl $8); 4 Starters/Small Plates, 3 Mains, and 2 Desserts. So, there's plenty of options without being overwhelming. There are also Vegetarian and Gluten Free options. This is an excellent place to order a bunch of small plates and share, so you can sample the range of dishes available.

The Manila Polo Club Chowder ($6 cup/$8 bowl) is made with "Rich steamer clam and black tiger shrimp broths with chunky shrimp, bay scallops, clams, golden potatoes, veg." It is "Simmered all day in sweet cream seasoned with saffron, garlic and a hint of red chili." This was a superb chowder, rich and flavorful, with plenty of chunks of seafood. It wasn't too thin or too thick, and was seasoned well, creating nice layers of flavor. It was a big hit at our table.

Another big hit were the Goat Cheese Rangoon ($11), made from "Local NH farm goat cheese, seasoned with fresh herbs, enveloped in wonton skin & deep-fried crispy outside, melty inside; with sweet chili sauce dip." I'm not a fan of Crab Rangoon, with their fake crab meat and cream cheese, but I loved these goat cheese rangoon! Fried perfectly, with a crunchy exterior, the creamy goat cheese was a delight on the palate, enhanced by the sweet chili dip. We had these on both visits as they were just that damn good. Highly recommended!

The Philippine Lumpia ($11) were "Fingerling spring rolls of pork, tiger shrimp & veggies, deep-fried, sliced & served with pineapple sweet & sour." You can also order a Vegetarian version of the Lumpia. These crunchy rolls, with flaky layers, had a pleasing balance of flavors.

The Crab & Corn Fritters ($12) consist of "Shredded lump crab meat and shaved cob corn blended with Thai herbs and spices; Deep-fried crispy and served with nuoc cham, sweet chili lime dip." Another tasty and well balanced dish, the fritters had a great fluffy texture to them, with the crunch of the corn, some sweet crab, and a hint of spice. The dip was delicious too, as were all of the sauces and dips at the restaurant.

The Sichuan Giant Dumplings ($14) were "hearty pork dumplings steamed and drizzled with crunchy garlic soy black vinegar and chili flakes." They certainly were packed with savory pork and the sauce was intriguing, with sour and umami flavors, and a mild hint of heat.

The Japanese Yakitori ($12) include "Rock sugar & sweet soy marinated boneless organic chicken thigh, skewered & charbroiled; with ginger teriyaki glaze." Juicy, flavorful chicken, with some slight charring, and a light sweetness. Again, a well balanced and tasty dish.

Another of the regular Small Plates, Tita Glo's Lettuce Cups ($10), are "Auntie's wok-tossed turkey, apple, raisin & veggie crumble, with sesame, hoisin & garlic; served warm in a cool Boston lettuce leaf with toasted sunflower seeds." A take on lettuce wraps, it is also like a taste of Thanksgiving, with Asian accents.

The Longanisa Bao Buns ($10) are "Sweet and garlicky Philippine pork sausages in puffy steamed bar bun, with lettuce, tomato, onion and banana catsup aioli." Soft buns, with a meaty and intriguing sausage taste, enhanced especially by the aioli.

Onto some Main dishes now. The Bulgoki Steak ($22) consists of "Korean BBQ style, Angus beef flank steak, sliced thin & marinated in sesame, sweet soy & garlic chili miso paste; charbroiled & served with spicy kimchee pickles." The steak was tender and delicious, with a compelling and well-balanced sauce, bringing a nice contrast of sweet and heat.

The Drunken Noodles ($24), aka Pad Kee Mao consists of "wide rice noodles pan-fried with black tiger shrimps, red chili oil, garlic, sweet Thai basil leaves, red and green peppers, onions and Shaoxing rice wine in a sweet & spicy oyster sauce." The noodles had just the right texture and absorbed the tasty and spicy sauce. A hearty dish, there was plenty of shrimp and veggies, and it seemed fresh and bright, a delightful summer dish.

I really loved the Philippine Adobo ($20), "Mama Tars' tender confit of bone-in organic chicken & country style fatty pork, marinated and slowly braised in crushed garlic & soy vinegar with bay leaf & black peppercorns; with sliced fresh banana." Both the chicken and pork were extremely meaty and tender, in a superb and scrumptious sauce, each bite bringing gustatory pleasure.  Highly recommended.

The Vietnamese Bo Luc Lac Beefsteak ($25) is another beef dish, with "Well-marbled Angus rib-eye marinated in soy, garlic, rice wine, and lemongrass, char-broiled to order, sliced and served over mesclun greens and aromatic herb-tossed rice noodles, with nuoc cham, sweet chili lime dip." Once again, the beef was tender and flavorful, though with its own unique taste, a bit brighter here due to the lemongrass. The rice noodles were also quite tasty, with a mild herbal flavor.

Besides all the savory dishes, make sure to save room for Dessert. The Banana Blueberry Hawaiian Bread Pudding ($9) is made from "Barnstead blueberries and coconut sugared bread custard, served with Alae Sea salt butter caramel." I love Bread Pudding and will often order it if I see it on a menu. I think it is an under appreciated dessert, and still would love to see a Boston-Area bakery specializing in it. This Bread Pudding was fantastic, with an excellent, spongy texture, and great flavors of coconut and blueberry, with a salty and sweet edge from the caramel. Highly recommended.

 
The Banana Tempura ($10) consists of "Sweet bananas, batter-dipped, deep-fried light & crispy & honey-drizzled, with scoop of coconut ice cream." Another winner dessert, with an excellent tempura batter, fresh and sweet bananas, and creamy coconut ice cream. Pure hedonism.


Overall, East of Suez presents well-balanced dishes with pleasing layers of flavor. The dishes seem fresh and and everything seems cooked just right, from their noodles to steak. Some of the dishes seem very traditional while others are variations, and those variations, like the Goat Cheese Rangoon, work well. Service was very good on both visits. My only complaint is that they need better wine glasses, as the ones they offer seem more like fancy water glasses. However, you can bring your own glassware if you so desire (which we did on one visit). I strongly recommend you check out East of Suez before the summer ends.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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.
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1) Puritan & Company Chef/Owner Will Gilson; along with notable Boston-area chefs that include: Little Donkey’s Jamie Bissonnette, Chickadee’s John Da Silva; Select Oyster Bar’s Michael Serpa; Nathalie and Haley.Henry’s Peter McKenzie; Pastry Chef Brian Mercury and Spoke’s Kelcey Rusch. The Puritan & Co. team invite guests to join them for a delicious, multi-course meal inspired by culinary legend Julia Child.

On Thursday, August 29th, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Puritan & Co. will team up with area chefs to celebrate the life and culinary adventures of one of the culinary world’s greatest heroes, Julia Child. Guest chefs from around Boston will prepare a Julia Child recipe and present guests with a unique multi-course meal paired with wine. Taking place in August, Julia’s birth month, the dinner will celebrate one of the most important culinary visionaries in history. At this event, guests will be seated at large communal-style tables, though each dish is served individually. Carafes of wine on each table will be kept full for all to share with full wine, beer, and cocktail lists available for purchase.

Tickets, which cost $110 each, will be available for purchase at: https://juliachild6pco.eventbrite.com

2) On Wednesday, August 28, from 5pm-7pm, Glass House, the restaurant, bar, and modern day “meeting house” in the heart of Kendall Square, is hosting 7th Annual Bombshells Against Breast Cancer to raise money and awareness for The Ellie Fund – an organization that provides essential support services to breast cancer patients.

Pink-clad guests will enjoy refreshing drinks, light bites, and a night of raising money for a great cause on the Glass House patio alongside Boston Bombshells (noun ; an influential woman in Boston who supports other women in and out of the work place through her attitude and actions), at this annual event.

This year’s Bombshells include:
Courtney Cox – Reporter, NESN
Julia Scaparotti – On-Air Personality, 103.3 AMP Radio
Fabianna Marie – CEO, Fabulously Fighting & Fabssential Wellness
Heather Higgins – Chief Cookie Officer, Top Shelf Cookies
Bekah Berger – Radio Host, Hot 106 Providence
Ashley Erling – Executive Producer, The Rhode Show
Janet Wu – Anchor, Bloomberg
Jessica Hennessy – Owner, The Haute Life
Loren Raye – Radio Host, The TJ Show
Kate Arnold – VP / Creative Director, Weston Table
Andrea Cook – AVP of Communications, WORK Inc.
Elizabeth Pehota – Reporter / Host, New England Revolution
Rachel Holt – Sports Reporter, NESN
Tanya Edwards – Writer & Producer, Boston Globe Media
And more to come!

Tickets are available for $20 via Eventbrite and benefit The Ellie Fund. Throw on your favorite pink (optional) attire for a fun filled night. Event is 21 +.

3) With National Rum Day taking place tomorrow, Friday, August 16, all locations of The Friendly Toast are ready to celebrate with a new Tiki Flight.

The Tiki Flight is offered all summer long and features four specialty tiki cocktails, including:
--Shandy’s Painkiller (Flor de Cana silver rum, Rumhaven coconut water rum, crème de coconut, pineapple, OJ)
--Singapore Zing (New Amsterdam gin, cherry & orange liqueurs, passionfruit puree, pineapple, grenadine, bitters, fresh lime)
--Original Mai Tai (Silver & dark rums, amaretto, pineapple, OJ, fresh lime)
--Mermaid’s Tail (Rumhaven coconut, water rum, spiced rum, blue curacao, pineapple, fresh lime).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hudson-Chatham Winery & Respect For Hybrids: A New Estate Blend

There are prejudiced individuals who would dislike the 2016 Hudson-Chatham Block Two Red Table Wine without even tasting it. These snobs would dismiss this wine without sampling the liquid within the bottle. Such a shame!

They would miss out on a delicious wine, all because of their shallow views concerning hybrid grapes. This Red Table Wine is a blend of four hybrid grapes but you should't allow that fact to color your opinion about this wine. Hybrids often get little respect because they are not "pure" vitis vinifera like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Hybrid wines are far too often judged by the nature of the grapes rather than the taste of the wine.

Vitis vinifera is the "common grape vine" and the one most used for making wine. All of the major grapes of which you are familiar are likely these types of grapes, from Tempranillo to Syrah, from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Blanc. Hybrids are a cross of two or more Vitis species, such as vitis vinifera and vitis labrusca. They are often created by people seeking to create a hardier grape, especially for harsher northern climates. Because they are not pure vitis vinifera, some people turn up their noses at these hybrids, refusing to believe they can produce quality wine. Drop that pretentiousness and judge these wines by their taste.

It has gotten to the point that some fans of hybrid grapes don't even want to use the term "hybrid," to avoid the prejudices that the term can spawn. I believe we should embrace the term, and don't try to hide what is being used. Instead, we need to fight the prejudice by getting these people to taste these wines, to understand the quality that can be found within them.

Sure there are poor quality wines made from hybrids, but there are plenty of poor quality wines made from vitis vinifera too. There are also some excellent wines made from these hybrids, and a wine lover would be hard pressed to guess they were hybrids simply from tasting the wine. You should approach a wine without prejudices or biases, willing to taste the wine and let it stand on its own. If you do so, you will probably find plenty of delicious wines that you might never have experienced otherwise.

In the Hudson Valley of New York, one of the most ardent advocates of hybrid grapes is Carlo DeVito. Carlo, with his wife Dominique, own the Hudson-Chatham Winery and you can read my prior article for background on the winery. The winery produces a number of different hybrid wines from grapes like Baco Noir and Chelois. I've enjoyed a number of them in the past, and I recently opened a media sample of the 2016 Hudson-Chatham Block Two Red Table Wine, sharing it with friends during a meal of grilled ribeye and sausages.

This wine is a field blend of four grapes, Baco Noir, Chambourcin, DeChaunac and Chelois, and this is their first release of this wine, made from all estate fruit. The wine was inoculated, but underwent open top fermentation for approximately 21 days. It was subsequently aged in older French barrels, for about two years, and has only a 12% ABV. When I tasted the wine, I immediately thought of Beaujolais, a light, fruity wine with subtle spice notes. Easy drinking and delicious, it was the type of wine that makes you crave a second, and third, glass. It was perfect on a fine summer day with some grilled meats. It isn't a wine to over-analyze, but one simply to drink and enjoy.

In addition, if you were blind-tasted on this wine, you'd never know hybrid grapes were used. It would certainly be an example of a wine that could change your views about hybrids. So get over yourself and stop prejudging hybrids. Drink the wine before making any judgments. Carlo certainly understands the quality that can be produced from hybrids and wine lovers should broaden their palates and enjoy his wines, including this new red blend.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Rant: At The Register, Put The Cellphone Down

Cellphone use is ubiquitous, and far too many people have great difficulty lifting their heads from the screens of their phones no matter what they're doing. They walk down the street, looking at their phones rather than looking out for others who are walking in their path. When these individuals visit a store, from a wine shop to a book shop, they sometimes continue using their phone even when they go to the register to make their purchase.

That needs to stop!

First, it's rude as the cashier generally needs to engage you in conversation when you make your purchase. It's hard to do so if you are talking to someone on the phone, or texting, or surfing the Internet. Second, it's dehumanizing to the cashier, as your attention is on your phone and you aren't treating the cashier as a human being, but rather as if they were an automaton. Third, mistakes can easily be made as you aren't paying sufficient attention and may not properly understand whatever questions the cashier asks you.

If you have to make a call, then handle the call before you go to the cashier. Once you get in front of the cashier, put your phone away or down. Give your full attention to the cashier. Treat them as a human being. Engage in some actual face-to-face social interaction. Your life is far greater than the tiny screen of your cell phone.

At the wine shop where I work, this happens on occasion. It is clear from their telephone conversations that it isn't an emergency. And it is more difficult to handle their transaction as asking them relevant questions isn't easy. I've heard from plenty of other people who feel the same way too, and stores are not the only victims. At restaurants, servers can encounter the same problem.

Have some consideration and put your cellphone down.

(This is a slightly revised, reprint of a Rant from four years ago but the issue remains as relevant now as it did then.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The First Chinese Restaurants Outside Boston (Part 1)

If you have a craving for Chinese cuisine, you likely don't have to drive far to find such a restaurant, or can get delivery service. Chinese restaurants exist in most Massachusetts cities and towns, and it isn't uncommon to find multiple restaurants in your city or town. The town of Stoneham, where I live, has a population just over 20,000, and there are five restaurants offering Chinese cuisine.

However, it wasn't always so easy to find Chinese restaurants in Massachusetts. During the 19th century, it seems there weren't any Chinese restaurants outside of Boston. It wouldn't be until the start of the 20th century that a few Chinese restaurants started to appear in other parts of Massachusetts. During the first couple decades of the 20th century, you might find one or two Chinese restaurants in other towns or cities. By 1931, there were approximately 30 Chinese restaurants located outside of Boston, from Cambridge to North Adams.

Where were these first Chinese restaurants located? When did they first open? Did they have difficulties in the cities and towns where they were situated? What are their stories?

I've previously written a five-part series, The First Restaurants In Boston's Chinatown, and now I'm expanding my coverage to include the rest of Massachusetts. This is a work in progress, and I'll be adding additional cities and towns in the future parts of this new series. This first article, which generally covers a period up to 1950, deals with Cambridge and Fitchburg

The first Chinese restaurant in Cambridge appears to be the Harvard Chinese Restaurant, which opened on June 21, 1902. The Cambridge Tribune, June 14, 1902, noted that this upcoming restaurant had petitioned the licensing board for a common victualler’s license. Nowadays, all restaurants need such a license to operate but it was very different back in 1902. A restaurant didn't need a license to be open from Monday to Saturday, but they needed a common victualler’s license to be open on Sunday. At the time, the licensing board placed the petition on hold as they wanted to wait to inspect the restaurant once it was fully fitted.

A week after that article, the restaurant opened, without a victuallers license. The Cambridge Chronicle, June 28, 1902, provided more details about this restaurant. It was located at 527 Massachusetts Avenue, on the second floor of the building. The restaurant employed only three people, a Chinese cook and two Chinese waiters. There were two dining rooms and their cuisine included a "variety of Oriental dishes," including “soups, chop sooy, lobster, chicken, candy, nuts and tea.

However, the Harvard Chinese Restaurant then seemed to vanish from the newspapers. Did it quickly close for some reason? Why did it pass into obscurity so fast?

The next Chinese restaurant didn't open until the next decade. The Cambridge Tribune, June 19, 1915, first reported on the plans of James Ort, which in some other sources would refer to as Ott, who wanted to open a Chinese restaurant at 2 Central Square, Cambridge. James wanted to transfer his current common victuallers license to the new Chinese restaurant. There is some contradictory information about Ort's prior business.

Some sources claim he ran a spot called Loud's Lunch at 545 Massachusetts Avenue, and other sources allege he ran a Chinese restaurant at that location. Still another source claims that though he received a victuallers license, he never actually opened the restaurant. The licensing board generally favored allowing the transfer of the victualler's license although Alderman McCarthy was an outlier, believing the location wasn't a proper place for a Chinese restaurant. As such, the decision on the transfer was delayed a week.

The Cambridge Tribune, June 26, 1915, then noted that the decision on the transfer was tabled once again. Three on the board were in favor of the license, noting that it was backed by several prominent businessmen and there was a personal guarantee that the place would be run properly. Two members now opposed it, claiming they had received letters of opposition from ministers and others, and that “such a place is not generally conducive to morality.”

That same day, the Cambridge Sentinel, June 26, 1915, reported that Alderman McCarthy alleged the restaurant, “would be conducive to immorality, as young girls would most likely be enticed up there.” The same racist rhetoric that had previously fueled efforts to ban women from visiting Chinese restaurants unless accompanied by a man. Another interesting detail also emerged from this brief article, that the rental for the restaurant would be six times the current rate!

Despite the opposition to the transfer of the license, Ort went forward with construction work on the restaurant. The Cambridge Chronicle, July 31, 1915, detailed the renovations taking place on the second floor of 2 Central Square, which was thought would be completed around September 1. The restaurant was going to be divided into three main sections. “The corner on Magazine street is to be handsomely fitted for ladies, and ladies with escorts. The portion facing Massachusetts avenue will be for gentlemen, both being elaborately furnished and lined with mirrors.” The third section was for the kitchen, storage, etc. It is fascinating that a section was being set aside primarily for women.

We also learned that Chin Fook & Co., merchants and bankers located in Chinatown, on Harrison Avenue in Boston, held a long lease on the property. Ort, who was part of the firm, was on the license. A later source would also note that the cost for the renovations would be about $10,000.

The Cambridge Tribune, September 11, 1915, mentioned that the licensing board had decided to deny the transfer of the victualler’s license. That meant that Ort could not open on Sundays. This didn't prevent the opening of the restaurant.

The Cambridge Tribune, October 2, 1915, had an advertisement for the Grand Opening of the Imperial Chinese Restaurant, offering Chinese and American foods. There would be “Special Table D’Hote Dinners, 25 cents to $1.50 per plate” and "A La Carte Bill-of-Fare", including "Chinese Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Soups, Candies, Nuts and Preserves--Chicken, Lobster and Oysters Served In All Styles."

The restaurant proved to be quite popular, as noted in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 6, 1915, which also stated, “Perfect cooking is the policy here.” It also was run quite well, and in the Cambridge Sentinel, November 27, 1915, it was noted that one of the aldermen who had previously opposed the transfer of the victualler's license, now was supporting the idea. This led to the victualler's license finally being granted in early December.

A couple months later, it was mentioned in the Cambridge Chronicle, February 12, 1916, that James Ort was now a partner in the restaurant, with Quan Soon You and others, after they had bought our the interest of Chin Fook.

For about the next twenty years, ads for the Imperial Chinese Restaurant would be regularly printed in various newspapers, though the restaurant didn't appear to be mentioned in many articles, except as a spot for a few different functions and events. There didn't appear to be any significant problems with crime, or any issues about morality. In fact, the Cambridge Sentinel, August 11, 1934, reported that the Imperial Chinese Restaurant was still as popular as ever. Chop suey remained very popular, as was take-out. They also played music, both from a piano and the radio. The newspaper also stated, “The same high grade management continues.”

The last article I found referencing the restaurant was in Boston Globe, October 24, 1940, in an article noting the Imperial Chinese Restaurant had been ransacked by burglars. After that, mentions of the restaurant, as well as advertisements, vanished. Thus, we don't know when and why the restaurant may have closed. Another mystery.

There were a couple other brief mentions of Chinese restaurants in Cambridge during this time period. The Cambridge Sentinel, March 15, 1924, reported that The Inspector of Provisions had inspected, a few times, a Chinese restaurant located over Gordon’s theater. He found it unkempt, and after several warnings failed, he closed the place. A similar incident was reported in the Cambridge Sentinel, August 18, 1934. The Board of Health revoked a license for a Chinese restaurant at 86A Windsor Street, owned by Mary China, which was found to be dirty and unsanitary.

The first Chinese restaurant in Fitchburg opened in 1902, just like the first one in Cambridge. The Fitchburg Sentinel, June 26, 1902, first reported that King Far Low, a Chinese man from Providence, would open a Chinese restaurant on June 28 over Quong Wah’s laundry, at the corner of Blossom and Crescent Streets, opposite the Cummings theater. The article noted, “Meals and lunches will be served in Chinese style and Chinese dishes and viands will be the attractions.

After its opening, the Fitchburg Sentinel, June 30, 1902, mentioned that the restaurant was at 20 Blossom Street and its food included, "Chop suey, foo youn dan, yo yo, foo chee, chow min, roast duck, fried one tune, yat ko min, and other dishes."

The Fitchburg Sentinel, July 3, 1902, posted an ad for this new Chinese restaurant. It is interesting that they offered only Chinese cuisine, and not American fare as other restaurants would do.

A raid at the restaurant! The Fitchburg Sentinel, January 7, 1904, reported this Chinese restaurant was raided by police, as they had allegedly received many complaints of violations of the liquor law. It was also alleged that girls and women frequented the restaurant at all hours and the owner sold opium as well. However, no evidence was found in the restaurant which could lead to an arrest. In the newspaper the next day, the restaurant claimed the raid was instigated by spite, caused by two young men who had previously tried to leave the restaurant without paying their 70 cent bill.

By May 1905, apparently King Far Low closed or sold his restaurant as another Chinese Restaurant, Novelty & Tea Store, opened at that location. The new owner was the Wing Chon Low Co. However, this new spot didn't last long either, as the Fitchburg Sentinel, September 8, 1906, reported the Blossom street restaurant had closed and a different, non-Chinese restaurant was going into that location.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, April 1, 1915, posted an advertisement for the Royal Restaurant, a "First Class Chinese Restaurant," located at 22 Day Street, and noting it was under new management. It would serve American and Chinese food. Back in 1912, this location was a grocery store, which had just assumed new ownership. I couldn't locate whether another restaurant had occupied this location prior to Royal Restaurant. The new management may just refer that they took over the business space from the grocery store.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, November 14, 1917, printed an ad for the new Canton Restaurant, a Chinese-American restaurant, which actually didn't provide a street address. The owner was the Canton Restaurant Co. and the manager was John Fong Ying. The ad emphasized "Pure Foods, Carefully Selected and Expertly Prepared, Our Policy." Other sources would indicate the street address of this restaurant was 294 Main Street.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, May 10, 1919, presented an advertisement with some menu items at the Canton Restaurant. That included: Turkey a la Creole Soup for 10 cents, Roast Stuffed Vermont Turkey 75 cents, Sirloin Steak $1.00, Fried Chicken (Nankin Style) 75 cents, Chicken Chop Suey with Pineapple 75 cents, Vegetables such as Mashed Potatoes and Stewed Corn, and Strawberry Shortcake for Dessert.

Check out the special Christmas dinner menu at the Canton Restaurant. The Fitchburgh Sentinel, December 22, 1922, printed the ad, which offers a multi-course dinner for only $1.00, with a choice of two entrees, Turkey or Chop Suey.

New management. The Fitchburgh Sentinel, May 2, 1923, reported that the Canton Restaurant was currently closed, and planned to reopen on May 10, after a number of renovations were completed. The restaurant was also under new management, being taken over by David Block of Colorado, who has wide experience in managing restaurants and clubs. Dancing would now be allowed at the restaurant. The May 6 newspaper noted that the new chef would be Chester Mills, the former chef at Camp Walden and the Peaks Island house.

In December 1934, the Canton Restaurant obtained a liquor licenses to sell beer and wine. And check out the ad in the Fitchburg Sentinel, August 15, 1936, discussing some of the specialties of the restaurant, as well as the ability to Dine and Dance. The last reference I found to this restaurant was in July 1943, so it seems likely the restaurant had to close soon after.

The Fitchburg Sentinel, April 2, 1938, posted an ad for the grand opening of the Peacock Chinese Restaurant, which was located at 9 Prichard Street. The owner was Mary A. (Ying) Wong, the daughter of John Fong Ying, who originally opened the Canton Restaurant. Mary ran the Canton Restaurant from 1927-1937, and then opened the Peacock, which she would operate until her death in 1967.

To Be Continued...

Monday, August 5, 2019

Rant: "Ugly" Food Deserves Love Too

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."
 --Confucius

In the food world, where Instagram is immensely popular, you're been fed a lie. You've been led to believe that only "beautiful" food is worthy of attention. If a stylish and compelling photo can't be taken of a dish, then it's ignored. It's a shallow and insidious belief, and easily spreads beyond the food world, so that people begin to believe that outer beauty is most important in many other areas too. It teaches the wrong lesson. We need to battle this lie, and embrace the fact that even "ugly" food deserves love too.

The photo above probably isn't "worthy" of Instagram because sausage gravy generally isn't seen as appealing on a picture. It's often considered an "ugly" food, and thus not worthy of attention. However, this dish, a Hash Stack, is one of the most popular items at the restaurant where it's served. It's pure comfort food, a delicious blend of flavors and textures, and definitely worthy of your attention. This "ugly" dish shouldn't be ignored as it possesses its own "inner beauty," a food for the soul.

Chain restaurants understand the appeal of "beautiful" food and their commercials, often using a food stylist, work hard to depict their foods in the best light. However, when you actually patronize those restaurants, what you get served probably doesn't resemble the beauty of their commercials. It is another type of lie, one pertinent to Instagram as well. Restaurants may help Instagrammers take the best photo of their food, although when you dine there, your dish might not actually look like those photos.

In addition, a photo doesn't tell you how a dish tastes. All you see is the outer shell, and not what is within. Beautiful food can lack sufficient flavor and taste. It might be too dry, too overcooked, too unbalanced, too salty, etc. And ugly food can be the opposite, some of the best food you've ever tasted. We need to look beyond appearances, to get to the heart of what is truly important. Would you rather eat something that is pretty and tasteless, or something ugly and flavorful?

We need to stop promoting the idea that only beautiful food is worthy. We need to embrace the myriad "beauty" that is found in all dishes, even if on the outside, they don't follow traditional images of beauty. "Ugly" food deserves just as much attention and we shouldn't settle for less.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Spicy World: Sichuan Skewer Pot in Malden

The area around Pleasant Street, Exchange Street and Florence Street/Commercial Street in Malden is undergoing significant construction. Right now, with all of the large construction vehicles and equipment on the roads, it isn't the easiest place to navigate or find street parking. As such, some people may avoid the area, but they would be passing up the opportunity to dine at an intriguing new Sichuan restaurant, Spicy World, at 157 Pleasant Street.

This is the second location of Spicy World, the first being in Boston's Chinatown, at 7 Beach Street. I've never been to the Chinatown location but have dined twice at the new Malden location, which just opened in June. It's a medium-sized restaurant, with a long bar area, and is open for both lunch and dinner. They have a full liquor license and offer a variety of cocktails, priced at $7.50, from a Mai Tai to a Grateful Dead. They also offer a variety of shots, at $4.00, from the Alien Nipple to a Black Unicorn.

They have an extensive menu of Chinese dishes, including plenty for the more adventurous, such as Chili Frog, Spicy Jellyfish, Spicy Pork Knuckle, Duck Head, Pig Ear, and Spicy Tofu Pudding. You also find more familiar cuisine, such as Homemade Dumplings, Fried Rice, and Crispy Chicken Wing. Prices are very reasonable, with almost everything costing $15.95 or less, especially considering portion size appears to generally be ample.

The Stem Dumplings ($7.95), with a spicy house sauce, were delicious, with a great texture to the dumpling skins, a flavorful pork & veggie filling, with a mildly spicy sauce. They were obviously fresh and home-made and not something pre-frozen. (I think the menu had a typo and they meant "steam" not "stem.")

The Soy/Flavored Duck Wings ($9.95) formed a large mound on this plate, and were topped with crushed peanuts and onions. The wings themselves weren't intact, as I had expected, but were cut into much smaller pieces. They were meaty and tasty, with that richness you find in duck that you generally don't find in chicken. The texture and flavor of the peanut added an intriguing element to the duck.

The specialty of Spicy World is Sichuan Skewer Pot, better known in China as Málàtàng, which roughly translates as "spicy numbing." Its name derives from its use of mala sauce, an oily and hot sauce which is created with Sichuan peppercorn, chili pepper and other spices. It is a common street food in China and its origins are murky.

At Spicy World, you begin with the "soup/broth" ($2.50) and then choose your level of spiciness, from 0 to 5. I first opted for the level 2 and it was just at my limits for spiciness, and it definitely is very much a numbing heat in your mouth. On my second visit, I went with level 1, and it was much better for my own preferences, though still with a pleasant numbing heat. Your own heat preferences will vary.

Next, you can choose, if you want, rice or noodles, from $1.50 to $3.00, which include items like White Rice, Udon Noodles, Ramen Noodles, and Green Bean Noodles. The rice comes in a bowl as a side, while the ramen noodles (which reminded me of the instant ramen noodles you find in supermarket packages) were in the soup.

Then, you choose an assortment of skewers to top your soup, including vegetables, meat, and seafood. There are over 45 choices, and they are all priced at only $1.00! Your options include items such as potato, lotus root, winter melon, tofu skin, yam cake, chicken, lamb, quail egg, beef tripes, pig blood, squid, shrimp, fish ball, and more. Near the front of the restaurant, there are refrigerated cases containing all of the various skewers so once you order, your server can easily collect the skewers for your meal.

When they bring you a menu, they give you a pen so you can check off the items you want. That works for the skewer pot as well as all of their other dishes.

This is a skewer pot with ramen noodles. I'll note too that the bowl is quite large and makes for a filling meal.

This is a skewer pot without any noodles in the soup.

The soup broth is flavorful, with a numbing heat, and a bit of scallions and greens in it. As the skewers sit in the broth, they pick up some of the spicy heat too. I enjoyed the skewers I ordered and the portion size varies dependent on the specific item. For instance, with the Quail Egg, you receive a skewer of three small eggs. The Mini Sausage has two links while the Potato has three, thinly sliced and fairly large pieces. The meats, from the Chicken to the Lamb, were generally tender. The Shrimp comes whole, with head and tail, and is a fairly decent size.

I'm certainly going to return here to try more of their menu but my initial visits have been very positive. Service was excellent, the food was tasty, prices were reasonable, and there is plenty of variety. I feel bad that Spicy World is brand new and all of the nearby construction work is likely adversely affecting their business. It is definitely worth checking out, taking the effort to find a parking spot so you can dine there.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

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.
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1) Kingston Cuts, Lounge & Grill, specializing in classic Steak Frites, has opened at 25 Kingston Street in Boston. Kingston Cuts is "founded on the principle that topnotch food and service shouldn’t have to bankrupt the customer." Kingston Cuts General Manager Everett Strauss says, “I wanted to open a place that people could visit frequently—without going into hock. Less expensive doesn’t have to mean lesser ingredients and a less attentive waitstaff.

The centerpiece of the Kingston Cuts menu is a trio of butchered-in-house, Angus Steak-Frites weighing in at 10, 14, and 22-ounces and ranging in price from $16 to $34 dollars. Each steak is accompanied by dressed greens and a mound of Original Fries, cooked crisp in beef lard. A ground-daily burger ($15) is a half-pound patty of New York sirloin, flank, and ribeye and will be available only as long as the day’s supply lasts.

Kingston Cuts has a large selection of Dinner Salads, including Grilled Romaine ($12), with bacon, cherry tomatoes, onion and house made Bleu Cheese dressing and a Baby Kale Mediterranean ($12), with black olives, chick peas, and feta. Sandwich lovers are sure to swoon over the triple cheese Grilled Cheese ($14) served on sourdough bread with creamy tomato soup and truffle fries. You can customize a bowl of Ritz Cracker and Panko crusted Macaroni and Cheese ($15) made with a blend of mozzarella, cheddar & gruyere cheese, available with chicken, falafel, or steak. They also offer Jumbo Lump Crab Cake Sliders.

North Shore born and bred Chef Gary Yanko began his career in the hospitality industry as a bar back and bartender at Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort in Connecticut. He has run the kitchens of various pubs & restaurants; honing his skills and developing a flair for hearty, down to Earth fare.

Kingston Cuts has many cocktail offerings, including a Pink Aloe cocktail with house infused gin, raspberries and cucumber, or a citrusy Limoncello Collins. For a nightcap to end your meal, consider their Espresso Martini with Grey Goose Vanilla Vodka, espresso and chocolate bitters, or perhaps the House Barrel Aged Manhattan.

2) I've found another reason why I really want to dine at the new Simcha, their Taco TuesdayChef Avi Shemtov has created an array of Tacos Arabes (Arab tacos). “Tacos Arabes capture the essence of Simcha,” said Shemtov. “Our goal is to tell the global journey of the Israeli people through our food and few dishes tell that story better than tacos Arabes.”

Tacos Arabes were a 20th-century creation in Puebla, Mexico introduced to the region, according to local legend, by Lebanese immigrants. The immigrants took the flavors and ingredients beloved in their own culture and turned them into tacos befitting local Mexican tradition. Arab tacos were born!

The Tacos Arabes will be served on half-shells of the restaurant’s house-baked pita, and will sell for $2 each on Taco Tuesday (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.). During the rest of the week, they will be available at regular prices ($4 to $8 each).

Some of the Tacos Arabes include:
Braised beef tacos – short rib, blue cheese aioli, harissa, sumac onions, zesty labneh
Smoked white fish tacos – branzino, pickled vegetables, farmer’s cheese, cilantro
Vegetarian tacos – roasted vegetables, fried chickpeas, tahini, carrot-top zhoug
Coriander sausage tacos – crumbled house-made sausage, blistered tomato, mango habanero slaw, feta

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

GreCo: Gyros & Loukoumades at the Seaport

I've long been a fan of Gre.Co (meaning Greece & Company) on Newbury Street, loving their fresh Gyros and Loukoumades. The Newbury Street location is small and intimate and now there is a new location of GreCo, in the Seaport region, and it is much larger and more spacious. You'll find the same delicious food there, but a few new items and even some wine and beer.


I recently attended a media preview of this new location, which is now open to the public. The restaurant is lengthy and spacious, with plenty of small tables, counter seating, and a few larger tables as well. It has a modern look and will soon have patio seating as well, so you can dine outside with a cooling breeze from the sea.

At one end of the restaurant is a large table, that is almost in its own room, giving some privacy to diners.

Around the corner from that large table, you'll find a quote on the wall from The Odyssey by Homer, "A guest never forgets the host who has treated him kindly."

Like an assembly line, you order at the counter and the various employees will out together your meal. Much of the menu is similar to what you'll find at Newbury Street, except there are a few new dishes. The Seaport locations still prepares its foods, marinating their meats for about 24 hours, using their own house-made marinades. The Pitas are cooked on the grill, ensuring they are fresh and hot.

The food menu is dominated by seven different types of Gyros, all which are served in a warm pita with tomatoes, onions and hand-cut potatoes. The seven Gyros (priced $8.50-$10.50) include the Pork (with tzatziki), Chicken (with honey mustard), Lamb (with tomato jam), Bifteki (ground beef with spicy whipped feta), Loukaniko (pork and leek sausage with mustard sauce), Veggie (squash fritter with lemon yogurt sauce), and Mushroom (braised mushrooms with Greek fava). As everything is made to order, you can also customize your own Gyro, choosing your own protein and sauce combination.

I'm partial to the tasty Lamb Gyro, which is was packed with plenty of tender and flavorful meat. The tomato jam adds nice acidity and a little sweetness to the gyro. The addition of the salty fries also enhanced the gyro. This is quality fast casual food.

As a slight variation, you can also have a Salad ($10.50) or Plate ($11.50), selecting your own protein and sauce combination, and each also comes with pita bread. The Plate also comes with a side. You can order a salad on its own, including the Horiatiki ($8.50), Cretan ($8.00), Mykonos ($8.00), and Kos ($9.00). There are also a small number of Soup & Sides, such as Avgolemono (egg lemon soup, $3.50) and Greek Slaw ($2.50).

One new item on their menu was the Greek Summer Gazpacho ($6), made with chilled tomato, onion, cucumber, red pepper, roasted pine nut and feta mousse. Refreshing and flavorful, with bright cucumber accents, I especially loved the hunk of feta in the soup, adding a briny edge to the soup. Highly recommended.

As for Sides, you can order the Homemade Dips, served with with Pita ($4), selecting Tzatziki, Spicy Whipped Feta, Charred Eggplant of Greek Fava. The Gre.co Fries ($4.5), hand-cut potatoes with feta, are addictive. The crisp fries, with a fluffy interior, are enhanced by the salty, creaminess of the feta.


Who wouldn't love Loukoumas, Greek donuts? You can even watch them making your Loukoumas for you! They come in five different flavors, $5-$6.50, including Classic (Greek honey, walnuts and cinnamon), Yaya’s (hazelnut praline, oreo cookies, powdered sugar), Bougatsa (custard creme, phyllo, cinnamon, powdered sugar), Lady Marmalade (fig marmalade, yogurt mousse, toasted almonds), and Choco Loco (white chocolate ganache, wafer crumble, cocoa powder).

The Bougatsa was a decadent treat, with the sweet and creamy custard, lightly crisp phyllo and hot donuts. This is the type of treat to make you forget about your diet.

The Classic remains a delicious option, the walnuts adding a nice crunchy texture to enhance the light and fluffy loukoumas.

GreCo has upped their beverage program, adding both alcoholic and non-alcoholic choices. For Coffee, you'll find Freddo Expresso, Freddo Cappucino and Frappe (Greek iced coffee). You'll also find non-alcoholic options like Greco-Jito (basil, cucumber & honey), Tsai (Greek mountain tea, honey, ginger & lemon), and Homer's Punch (watermelon, star anise, mint & lemon). The Greco-Jito was refreshing and tasty, an excellent summer drink.

For alcoholic options, they have a Greco “Opa Opa” Light Lager ($6), which is made exclusively for them, as well as a Seasonal Beer ($5.50). For wine, there are two options, a White and a Red, both from the Karavitakis Winery of Crete. The Karavitakis Little Prince White ($6.50) is a blend of about 65% Vilana and 35% Vidiano. This wine is bright and crisp, with notes of lemon, citrus and pear. A pleasant summery wine, perfect for sipping on the patio. The Karavitakis Little Prince Red ($8) is a blend of 65% Kotsifali and 35% Mandilari. Smooth and easy drinking, there is still depth to this wine, with pleasant black fruit flavors, including plum and black cherry. There is a freshness to this wine as well, and it paired very well with a lamb gyro. I'm especially pleased that both wines use indigenous Greek grapes, helping people to expand their palates and experience these delicious wines.

I suspect GreCo in the Seaport will do very well. It offers reasonably priced, delicious and quality fast casual food. The restaurant is aesthetically pleasing and is one of the better new options in the Seaport region. I know that when I'm in the Seaport, it will always be one of my top choices. And you can look forward to more locations of GreCo opening in other parts of Boston in the future.