Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mooncusser Fish House: Giving Some Love To A Scrumptious Seafood Sampling

In recent years, Boston has seen the opening of a number of excellent seafood restaurants, and as you know, I've long encouraged people to eat more seafood. Seafood provides immense health benefits and it is also diverse and delicious, able to be prepared in a myriad of ways. On my recent weekend stay at the Boston Park Plaza, I dined at one of Boston's newer seafood restaurants, Mooncusser Fish Housethoroughly enjoying a tasting menu of fresh and compelling seafood.

Back in July 2017, Mooncusser Fish House opened, a joint endeavor led by Ian Calhoun, Vincent Vela, and Chef Carolyn Johnson, all who also own and operate 80 Thoreau in Concord. This seafood restaurant is actually divided into two parts, the Moon Bar located on the first floor and the Mooncusser Fish House on the second floor. The Moon Bar is the more casual dining area while the upstairs is more higher-end. During the week, at lunch time, they also open Cusser's Roast Beef & Seafood in the Moon Bar, and I recently wrote about my lunch experience there.

For dinner, we chose to eat upstairs in their more formal, though it isn't pretentious, Mooncusser Fish House. Note that it is several levels up so be prepared to climb some stairs, though they do have an elevator if you can't take the stairs. It is a small, more intimate dining room, perfect for date night or a business dinner.

You can opt for a Prix Fixe Menu (3 courses/$49), a Tasting of Local Fishes (5 Courses/$85) or select your own dishes off the menu, which is divided into First Courses and Main Courses. There are 7 options for First Courses, priced $10-$17, and you can choose items such as the Tuna Tartare,  Mooncusser Chowder, or Smoked Char Terrine. There are 6 choices for Main Courses, priced $30-$42, and you can choose items such as the Monkfish, Bone-In Skate Wing or Grilled Whole Fish.

This is a definitely a seafood-centric restaurant and the only non-seafood options are the Baby Chicory Salad (First Course) and the Grilled Lamb Rack (Main). I'm sure those dishes are delicious but seafood is king here. I'll also note that the price range  of their dishes has remained relatively the same since they first opened.

We decided on ordering the Tasting of Local Fishes ($85) with Wine Pairings ($75), wanting to sample a variety of their available dishes. As this was more a dinner for pleasure, I didn't take many notes, simply reveling in the experience. Overall, it was a superb dinner, with plenty of excellent dishes and wine pairings. Mooncusser hits it out of the park with their seafood!

The first course was a Halibut Crudo, with blood orange, mint, pickled ginger, and puffed wheat. The silky halibut was fresh and clean, with a mild but flavorful taste, enhanced by the citrus. The puffed wheat was almost like little pieces of popcorn, adding a crunchy texture to the dish. The wine pairing was the 2017 Gilbert Picq Chablis, an absolutely delicious Chardonnay with complex notes of white flowers, citrus, and mineralogy with a hint of briny salt. It went great with the crudo and I would love to try this wine with oysters too.

The second course was Lobster Bisque, made with wild mushrooms, pumpkin, and white truffle. Creamy and bursting with lobster flavor, sweet pumpkin notes, and earthy notes from the mushrooms and truffle. An excellent blend of flavors and perfect for a chilly winter evening. The wine paring was the 2014 Reynvaan Queen's Road Marsanne-Viognier, from Walla Walla, Washington. This wine brought intriguing notes of peach, melon and pineapple, with an underlying minerality and plenty of acidity, able to cut through the richness of the bisque. Another great choice.

The restaurant presented us with an extra, complimentary course, their Rye Chitarra, made with uni, celeriac, and mushrooms. I loved this dish! Perfectly cooked pasta, briny uni, and umami-rich mushrooms, all combined for a fantastic taste. Such a nice blend of flavors of the soil and sea. Highly recommended!

The next course was Scallops, with sweet potato, pomegranate, and pistachio. Initially, I was confused about the "orange" scallops in the dish before realizing they were actually sweet potatoes that were shaped like scallops and seared in a similar manner as well. And they were so tasty, a nice sweetness with a great sear. This is something I'd love to replicate at home. The sweet scallops were also seared perfectly, bringing fresh, clean flavors enhanced by the nuttiness of the pistachio. Another winner of a dish and highly recommended. The wine pairing was the 2017 Le Roc Des Anges Llum Grenache Gris, a complex and compelling wine, with rich citrus notes, intense minerality, and great acidity. A wine of elegance and restrained power, one to please most wine lovers.

The final savory course was Grilled Tuna, with sunchokes, an oyster, and pearl onions. The lightly seared, and mostly rare tuna, was silky and tender, meaty and satisfying. It was exactly what you desire in a grilled tuna dish. And the briny oyster was a pleasing extra. The wine pairing was the 2012 Sanguis Verve Grenache, from the Central Coast, California, and it was a killer wine. Great fruit flavors, a pleasing spicy backbone, plenty of complexity, and a lengthy finish. Such an excellent wine pairing!

Dessert was Petites Madelines with tangerine sorbet, olive oil, citrus, and coriander. A light and refreshing dessert which didn't overwhelm you with sweetness. The tiny madelines were light and delicious, and I wanted more. Their Pastry Chef Katherine Hamilburg is extremely talented. The final wine pairing was the 2015 Haut Charmes Sauternes, a nicely balanced dessert wine with intriguing and complex flavors.

Service was excellent, attentive without being obtrusive. And all of the food was excellent, well balanced dishes with great, fresh flavors. I was satisfied at the end of the meal, without feeling overly stuffed. The wine pairings worked so well, and I got to experience some fascinating and tasty wines which aren't the usual suspects. If you desire a quality seafood dinner, I highly recommend Mooncusser Fish House and suggest you order the Tasting of Local Fishes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Mind Of A Sommelier: Christopher Williams

(Check out my Introduction to the The Mind of a Sommelier series.)

Christopher Williams is the Beverage Manager and Sommelier at Harvest, located in Harvard Square. Harvest is an iconic restaurant, having been in existence for over forty years, which is a huge accomplishment. I recently dined there, attending a The Book & The Cook event which involved Hacking Whiskey. It was a fun and tasty event, with plenty of inventive cuisine.

Christopher Williams has always shown a passion for the hospitality industry, starting as a server at age 18. He graduated from Clark Atlanta University in 2009 with a degree in Psychology and began his interest in wine education in 2013 when he served as a waiter & wine steward at Bone's Steakhouse in Atlanta, Georgia. Christopher became a Certified Sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2016. After serving as a sommelier at The St. Regis Atlanta, Christopher moved his talents to Boston and started as the restaurant manager and sommelier at Grill 23 & Bar, and for the past year, he has been making his mark at Harvest.

Now, onto the Interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
Sommelier, I prefer that title because it defines who I am and what I do for my profession. I specialize in providing the finest beverage service and engaging with our guests about different wines from different regions of the world, along with pairing wines from my list with the food our chefs prepare daily.

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
The wine list at Harvest covers the classic representation of wines from regions all over the world. I believe that the wine list a sommelier builds should never be about themselves or what is “trending” for the moment. Our job should be to have a wine list that is fun and engaging, but also true to the character of the wines grown in a particular region.

What are your objectives with the wine list?
I want to continue to be an excellent wine steward like my predecessors before me and add more wines to the list that will grab the interests of all the guests that visit Harvest. They say there is a wine for everyone and my goal is to have a list that is approachable for the guest looking for something of “value,” but also consists of wines that a true wine connoisseur will look through and notice some rare wines from smaller producers that may not be well known to the masses.

How often does the wine list change?
The wine list changes fairly often, sometimes 3-4 times a month due to our futures program and changes in vintages. I try to keep a nice rotation of wines so when one is out, I have plenty of options on reserve to choose from and replace with. It’s great because a guest that dines with us one evening may return a month later and notice newer selections on the wine list.

Are there omissions on your wine list you would like to fill?
I would like to add more Riesling options for both the Alsace and German sections of my wine list. I’m in love with Riesling and unfortunately, I feel people are hesitant in trying it because they believe all Rieslings are sweet. There are dry, off dry, sweet and sparkling representations of this grape. Riesling is so versatile you can match almost anything to it!

How do you learn about new wines?
I learn about new wines from my fellow sommeliers, vendors and even guests that come in to the restaurant. They are always excited to tell me about their recent trip to a country and the wines they had a chance to try. In this profession, you are constantly learning something new every day about wines from all over the world.

What is your strategy on pricing the wines on your list?
Pricing structure for Harvest’s wine list is marked in a way that is fair to our guests, I try to provide as much value as possible for each section of the list..

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
The most common wine question asked by my guests is what area on my wine list can they find “value.” I tend to lead them straight to Argentina or South Africa because they can provide excellent wines that are priced very fairly on a wine list..

What is the most common criticism you receive from guests about your list?
The most common criticism I receive from guests about Harvest’s list is that they would like to see more wines with significant bottle age to them. It can be quite the task trying to find wines from the 90’s or early 2000’s that would not cost a pretty penny on the wine list..

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
I think my greatest challenge as a sommelier is fighting against the negative image some people have towards someone in my position. Back in the day sommeliers were thought of as arrogant and snooty towards those who would not spend a lot of money for a bottle of wine. Even now I hear stories from people about their recent visit to a restaurant where the sommelier was trying to sell them a bottle of something they thought was cool or better than what they had originally asked for assistance with. Very few sommeliers act like this and they can make it harder for the rest of us to build trust with our guests who may be hesitant in asking for help. A sommelier above all should always show humility and remain humble. It is always about the guests and their experience, we should never try to force our beliefs or opinions on to someone unless they genuinely wish to know what we like to drink. A good sommelier always wants to help you find a bottle of wine that you truly will enjoy at a price point that you feel comfortable spending..

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the best value wines on your list?
One of the best valued wines I have on the list at Harvest is the 2016 Stag’s Leap Hands of Time from Napa Valley for $66. It is a popular wine on my list made by an iconic estate that at one point in history beat Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion in the 1976 Judgement of Paris blind tasting.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
One of the most unique wines on the list is the Chateau Musar from Lebanon. When you think of a Cabernet blend most people would not think of Lebanon, most likely they would go straight to California or Washington state. It is full-bodied, savory and yet has an elegance to it that is quite wonderful.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
My favorite wine at Harvest is the 2015 Radio Coteau Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay from California. They make cool climate, single vineyard wines that are out of this world, very terroir driven..

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your wine list, your work as a sommelier, or wine service? 
Harvest’s wine list is constantly evolving, and I believe in feedback from my guests no matter how small the detail may be. I want our guests to truly enjoy themselves at Harvest and know that I am always happy to talk to them about various beverages. I want people to know that they can come “across the river” as they say and enjoy a nice glass or bottle of wine in Cambridge at Harvest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

2015 Henry's Drive "H" Syrah: Australia Rocks Again!

As I mentioned in yesterday's Rant, it's time to reconsider the wines of Australia and I'm back with another Australian wine review, exploring a compelling expression of Syrah. This isn't a fruit bomb and showcases more of the elegance in Syrah.

Henry's Drive Vignerons is located in the wine region of Padthaway, in the southeast area of South Australia, a wine region that officially became an appellation in 1999. During the 19th century, horse drawn coaches provided transport to and from the farms and wineries in this region, and one of the coach drivers was Henry John Hill, whose route passed through land now owned by the Longbottom family, owners of the winery. Kim Longbottom and her late husband Mark chose to name their winery after this coach driver, a honor for his hard work and dedication, as well as a connection to their historic past.

Kim Longbottom, who hails from the region of Marlborough in New Zealand, and her late husband, Mark, planted their first vines in 1992, releasing their first wines in 1998. Currently, the property includes about 300 acres, of varied plots, with an additional 30 acres in the McLaren Vale. They grow a variety of grapes including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The Padthaway region has a Mediterranean climate of warm dry summers with cool nights.

I received a media sample of their 2015 Henry's Drive "H" Syrah ($27.99), which is made from 100% Syrah, has a 14.1% ABV, and only about 750 cases were produced. Initially, the wine was  fermented on the skins for ten days and then underwent malolactic fermentation. It was then aged for for 15 months in French oak puncheons and hogsheads, which are 25% new, 25% one-year old, 20% two-year old, and the rest three-year old. The 2015 vintage in Padthaway was said to be an excellent one, with dry conditions throughout much of the season.

I found this wine to have a rich, red color and an appealing nose of blueberries and floral notes, with just a hint of spice. On the palate, there was an initial bust of bright fruit, cherry, raspberry and blueberries though it wasn't jammy in the least. As the taste progressed, there was an undertone of spice notes, especially on the finish. The tannins were well-integrated and the wine presented as silky and elegant, with a fairly lengthy and satisfying finish. Delicious and compelling, this is another wine that doesn't fit the old stereotype of Australian Shiraz.

I paired this wine with a dinner of Australian lollipop lamb chops and it was a very fine pairing, each enhancing the other. This wine earns a hearty recommendation, and is another example of the diversity that can now be found in Australian wine.

NECAT's 2018 Accomplishments: Donate Now!

NECAT (New England Center for Arts & Technology) is one of my favorite causes. In short, NECAT provides culinary training to students who have had troubles or disadvantages in their past, such as drug addiction or incarceration. You can check out my previous article, Support NECAT & Transform Lives, for more background information on NECAT and their mission.

As I wrote before, "NECAT is helping to show their students that they don't need to be defined by their past, that they can move forward despite what they might have once done. They are helped to believe in themselves so that they can change their lives for the better. They might have challenged backgrounds but that isn't sufficient to hold them back, if they are willing to work toward a better future. These are such worthy goals, creating a better community for all of us."

Now that 2018 is over, NECAT has written about their accomplishment during this past year, noting, "What a year for NECAT! We grew our team, launched a new culinary job training program, developed strong partnerships and continued to provide life-changing services to those who need them most." NECAT opened a second culinary training program in Everett, allowing them to train even more people. In 2018, they were able to educate 164 students, and the Everett program had an impressive completion rate of 86% Overall, graduates of NECAT had a 3-month job retention rate of 76%, indicating they are serious about their new careers, and they also have an average starting wage of $14.52. Lives are being transformed, helping these individuals, their families, and the community.

Importantly, revenues for NECAT increased by 33% over 2017, indicative of the strong support they are receiving from the government and community. Unfortunately, government monies are always tentative as cuts are always possible. They need more private donations, enabling them to expand and teach even more students. If you can, please donate to NECAT and right now is a great time as all donations received in the first quarter of 2019, up to $50,000, will be matched by Robert K. Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl champions New England Patriots. Currently, about $21,515 has been raised so there is more room for growth. Please, donate now!

I'd also recommend you keep your calendar open for a NECAT fundraiser on May 16, with special guest Chef Andy Husbands of The Smoke Shop BBQ. These fundraisers events are a great way to learn more about NECAT, enjoy delicious food prepared by the students, and donate to a great cause.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Rant: Let's Reconsider Australian Wine

"Global demand for Australian wine has fallen substantially since exports peaked in 2007;..."
--Market Watch (January/February 2019)

As I previously mentioned, I resolved this year to taste more Australian wines, to assess the diversity and quality that is now being produced in that country. I've recently tasted some excellent examples of Australian wines, such as the 2014 Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon, which only had a 13% ABV. I certainly understand the reasons behind the decline in the popularity of Australian wines, but maybe it is now time to reconsider, to return to Australian wines and find new reasons to love their wines.

The recent issue of Market Watch (January/February 2019) published an intriguing article about the current status of Australian wines, noting the problems Australian wine has faced. "..., Australian wine exports were down 11% to 17.7 million cases in the fiscal year ended June 2018,..." However, they also noted that there have been some positive changes in recent years. For example, "In the calendar year ended November 4, 2018, Australia posted gains at the luxury ($20-$25 a 750ml) and super-luxury ($25-and-above) tiers,...growing 16.1% to 7.8 million cases and 15.4% to 3.1 millions cases in the U.S.,..." In addition, "The number of Australian wineries present in the U.S. has also risen in recent years, pushing to nearly 300 in 2018 after sinking to 234 just two years prior."

In 2017, close to 70% of Australian wine imports, about 11,714,000 cases, were encompassed by only ten wine brands. The top three Australian wine brands include Yellow Tail (7,350,000 cases but down 6.3% from 2016), Lindemans (1,332,000 cases but down 13.2% from 2016), and 19 Crimes (1,056,000 cases, which has about doubled since 2016). At the wine shop where I work, I see the huge popularity of Yellow Tail, and recently 19 Crimes has also been popular. It would be good if people could look past just these top ten brands and started exploring the greater diversity that Australia has to offer.

The Market Watch article noted ".., there's a lingering stagnation for the category at the retail end." Consumer education is needed, to make them cognizant in the changes in the Australian wine industry. Australian Shiraz was once vastly popular though they often showcased "...high-abv expressions of the grape that burst with bold, ripe flavors," also known as "fruit bombs." There was a backlash against these Australian fruit bombs, and I'll admit they turned me off from wanting to drink Australian wines.

However, changes have been made in Australia. For example, a number of wineries now highlight different expressions of Shiraz, presenting more diversity in the flavor profile of their wines. You can find plenty of Shiraz wines that are not fruit bombs. There has also been a move to highlight other regions of Australia, areas which have received little attention in previous years. These regions produce different wine styles, due to their different terroirs. In addition, wineries are using a wider array of grapes, from Chardonnay to Vermentino, Pinot Noir to Grenache.

There are plenty of reasons to reconsider Australian wine and now is the time to explore their wines. Broaden your vinous horizons, exploring different regions of Australia, different grapes and different expressions of Shiraz. I'll be continuing my own explorations of their wines and encourage all of my readers to join me on this journey.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Mind Of A Sommelier: Bruno Marini

(Check out my Introduction to the The Mind of a Sommelier series.)

Bruno Marini is the Director of Food and Beverage at Chopps American Bar and Grill, located at the Burlington Marriott. I've previously given raves to Chopps and it was one of my Top 50 Restaurants of 2018. I believe it is under-appreciated, worthy of far more attention than it receives. I've had the pleasure of meeting Bruno on multiple occasions at Chopps, including at some of their excellent wine dinners. If you've never been to Chopps, it is time for you to check it out.

Bruno Marini graduated from Johnson & Wales University in 1991, and gained experience working at famed restaurants Biba and Pignoli. In 1997,  he stepped into his first General Manager position at the high-end fusion-style eatery, Ambrosia, where he oversaw the restaurant’s growth and development alongside their celebrated chef and owner, Anthony Ambrose. In 2000, Marini assumed the role of General Manager at The Federalist, a French restaurant with an esteemed wine program, which encompassed an impressive collection of more than 32,000 bottles and 2,700 selections of fine and rare wines. In 2015, Marni joined the team at Chopps American Bar and Grill and currently serves at the Director of Food and Beverage of Pyramid Hotel Group Boston.

Now, onto the Interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
I prefer Wino, but Wine Director would be appropriate.

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
We have over 375 selections of wine – well-balanced selections of full and half bottles representing California, Italy, Pacific North West and a sprinkle of French, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

What are your objectives with the wine list?
To cater to our guests. It’s not about what I like to drink, it’s about what the guests are looking for and offering them a quality list at a solid value.

How often does the wine list change?
We maintain a consistent list. We update vintages on a regular basis and revise the wines by the glass 2-3 times a year.

Are there omissions on your wine list you would like to fill?
We try to keep our placements reflective of items that sell, but we are always looking for new additions from our guests’ recommendations.

How do you learn about new wines?
Well, I’m not a wine geek so I don’t go to tastings or belong to wine clubs, but I meet with my wine vendors on a regular basis to see what’s new in the market. I am also very fortunate to have close relationships with winemakers and owners, so I love to get the inside scoop on new releases or trends.

What is your strategy on pricing the wines on your list?
Be fair, competitive, offer deals and don’t be obnoxious when possible. I review wine lists in the area and try to stay at least 12-18% cheaper. Wine lists are usually marked up 2.7-3.2 times the cost of wine and you will find that there are some great deals on our list.

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
“Will this go with what I am eating” or better yet, “Will I like it?”

What is the most common criticism you receive from guests about your list?
I’d say if there is one thing, it would be not having a very specific wine that someone visiting is looking for. We try to maintain a very friendly wine list, this means there is wine that has name recognitions and hits all price points.

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
Consistently educating staff about new wines, changing trends, and what to offer guests for the best dining experience. 

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
A rock star Sonoma wine maker is Clay Mauritson. He is young and an innovator. He is known for his Zin from Rock Pile but makes a series of Single Soil Cabs called Loam, Positas and Suther. Also, any wine from Realm is super unique.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
Wow! Tough one, but I really enjoy wines from Gaja-Italian and Kelleher Family-Napa.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your wine list, your work as a sommelier, or wine service? 
I am proud to have created & managed the 1st Grand Award-Winning Wine list in Boston for 5 years straight. At the time only 83 restaurants in the world had the award given by Wine Spectator. Now, Grill 23 & Bar has that award and I could not be prouder for them. I was also fortunate to make, bottle and sell my own wine with legendary wine maker Su Ha Newton of Newton Vineyards in Napa. Our current wine list is friendly, extensive, familiar and reasonably priced and I hope our guests enjoy the selections.

Thursday, February 7, 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) Join Harvest on Sunday, February 24, from 6pm-9pm, on their heated patio to dance, drink and eat at the 4th Annual Winter Ice Party. DJ Ryan Brown will play top hits while guests sip on frosty Harpoons and wintry ice luge drinks made with Maker’s Mark. Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett is serving up an array of fresh New England cuisine and party favorite bites including bacon wrapped scallops, arancini (goat cheese, parmesan, basil and marinara), Calypso Chicken (jerk spice, molasses, cilantro, scallions), Oysters (Island Creek Oysters & Mookie Blue Oysters), and homemade pretzels. Top off the evening with sweets from an exclusive dessert bar specially prepared by Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship finalist and Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey. Satisfy your sweet tooth with French macaroons, doughnuts, tiramisu, and flan.

Harvest is joining forces again with Furnishing Hope of Massachusetts whose mission is to help families who are transitioning out of homelessness create a home for themselves. A portion of proceeds from ticket sales will go towards providing families with basic furniture and household goods necessary to create a comfortable and nurturing environment.

Price is $55 per person. Space is limited and reservations are required. Visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/4th-annual-harvest-ice-party-tickets-54382704132 to purchase tickets.

2) On Thursday, February 14, from 4pm-11pm, il Molo, in the North End, will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with three courses of romance inspired by the Mediterranean and New England coasts. A loving creation of the restaurant’s Executive Chef Pino Maffeo, the prix fixe menu was made with your sweetheart’s cravings in mind, featuring a variety of creative seafood, meat and pasta dishes.

Appetizers include Local Oysters, Smoked Salmon Carpaccio, Lobster & Crab Cake, Shrimp & Lobster Tempura, Burrata Salad, Fried Calamari, Strawberry Salad and Classic Shrimp Cocktail which will lead the way for a heavenly Main- Course: choose from: Miso & Champagne Glazed Salmon served with roasted Brussels sprouts, Pan-Seared Cod Loin with chards, chorizo, clams and beans, Grilled Filet Mignon served with Sautéed Spinach, Baked Stuffed Maine Lobster (+$15), Stuffed Veal Chop with spinach, garlic, prosciutto and burrata, served with broccoli rabe and beans (+$15), New England Seafood Stew served over risotto, a Fresh Daily Pasta, Duck Milanese with roasted hazelnuts and orange. End your meal on a sweet note with a decadent homemade Dessert such as Coconut Cake, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake or Raspberry & Chocolate Tiramisu.

COST: $70 per person, excluding gratuity & taxes. Reservations are required, so please call (857) 277-1895. Credit card will be required to hold any reservations.

3) Matadora, a Spanish restaurant located in the Hilton Boston/Woburn, has a new Executive Chef, Stephen Coe. “We are thrilled to welcome Stephen to the great team at Matadora. Along with his incredible culinary talent, he brings an energy and excitement that will appeal to our dinner and hotel guests as well as our local community,” remarked Mike Chouri, general manager, Hilton Boston/Woburn.

Massachusetts native Stephen Coe is a graduate of both Johnson & Wales University (Culinary Arts) and the Institute Francais des Alpes in Annecy, France (French Food & Language). Following culinary school, Chef Coe took on a diverse array of roles that ranged from chef positions at Greater Boston’s BOKX 109 American Prime steakhouse to Topper’s at The Wauwinet (Nantucket), The Country Club (Brookline), The Martini House (Napa Valley) and most recently, as opening chef of Mirbeau Inn & Spa at The Pinehills.

He is also a passionate food truck owner, operator and consultant. His food truck, SWAT Culinary Assault Vehicle, is fashioned from a SWAT truck he picked up at auction and serves indulgent eats with high-impact flavor. In addition to his food truck, Chef Coe has consulted for Food Truck Nation and helped concept other trucks including Lobsta Love and Grilled Cheese Nation. Competitive by nature and never one to shy away from a challenge, Chef Coe has cooked on more than 100 stages worldwide and emerged victorious from multiple Food Network shows, including Chopped’s “Ultimate Redemption Challenge” and “Grill Masters” as well as Tyler Florence’s Recipe Contest. His lengthy list of accolades also includes titles at World Food Championships, World Bacon Championship, American Culinary Foundation’s Boston Chef of the Year and more.

From February 14-17, Chef Coe has created a new menu for celebrating Valentine's Day. You'll find choices including Corn & Crab Bisque, Pear & Marscapone Sacchetti, Alaskan King Crab Leg, Crispy Duck Naranja, Rack of Lamb, and a Rib-Eye Tasting.

To make a Reservation, please call 781-904-0658

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

2014 Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon: A Compelling Australian Wine

One of my goals this year is to taste more Australian wines, to give them reconsideration and see whether they have changed during recent years. As I mentioned before, I have drank very few Australian wines in the last few years, having been turned off by the large amount of jammy fruit bombs that country seemed to produce for a time. I didn't want a sledgehammer of wine to assault my palate, but I rather desired wines with more subtlety and complexity. And I'm starting to realize that those jammy fruit bombs may not seem to be the norm any longer.

The Shirvington Winery, which is located in Willunga, just south of McLaren Vale, was founded in 1996 by Paul and Lynne Shirvington, with their sons Tony and Mark. Their first vineyard, about 16 hectares, was named Redwind, and they began by planting Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, though it now includes Mataro (aka Mourvedre) too. The Redwind vineyard is at an elevation of about 50 meters, has red clay and limestone soil, and has a Mediterranean climate with maritime influences. They later purchased two additional vineyards, Kurrawyba (in McLaren Flat) and Manjalda (in McLaren Vale). All of their vineyards are sustainably farmed.

I received a media sample of their 2014 Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon ($58.99), which is produced from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which was barrel fermented and then aged for 19 months in 100% French oak (33% new, 11% 1 year old, & 56% 2 year old). I was especially pleased to note that this wine only had a 13% ABV, indicative to me that this wine was unlikely a jammy fruit bomb. I also chose to pair this wine with Filet Mignon, figuring that it would work well with a nice piece of steak.

With a dark red, almost plummy color, the wine had an appealing nose of red fruits with subtle spice notes. On the palate, there was an initial taste of bright red fruits, cherry and raspberry, and on the finish it transformed so there were more black fruit, plum and black cherry, flavors. Throughout the complex palate, there were subtle spice notes, restrained tannins, and a hint of sweetness. It was a more elegant wine, with a lengthy, satisfying finish, and it was a delightful companion to the Filets. This Cabernet had more in common with European wines than California ones. Simply delicious and it earns a hearty recommendation.

Another win for Australian wines. And I have more reviews coming in the near future.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Rant: The Value of Refugees & Immigrants

(Four years ago, I posted this Rant, during a time when the fate of Syrian refugees was front and center. Considering recent events and the significance of these issues at this time, I feel it is vital to bring back this Rant due to its applicability in the current crisis. I've slightly revised it from its original form to be more relevant to the immediate issues.)

The fate of refugees and immigrants are significant issues right now, with plenty of heated rhetoric and arguments. Fear is at the heart of much of the discussion and though the general threat of terrorism is real, the actual risks from these refugees and immigrants is much much less than the doomsayers proclaim. The basic humanity of these refugees and immigrants needs to factor far greater into these discussions, and compassion needs to be a prominent value.

America owes a huge debt to the refugees and immigrants which have come to our country over the centuries. They bring a diversity to our country which only benefits us all. Our country would not be as great as it is without the diversity that such people bring. And the important benefits they bring outweigh the small risk that is entailed. We cannot become insular, shutting our borders to these people.

Yes, there may be some bad apples in the bunch but there are bad apples everywhere, including people who have lived in this country their entire lives. We have to understand that these bad apples are a tiny exception and far from the rule. Those bad apples do not reflect the general mentality and behavior of the greatest majority of refugees and immigrants. We already have vetting procedures to help minimize those risks.

Let's consider but one area where America owes a huge debt to refugees and immigrants: our culinary scene. There are plenty of other significant areas that can be discussed but I just want to concentrate on this one area for now.

First, most restaurant kitchens, all across the country, couldn't operate without the refugees and immigrants who perform some of the most basic, and still very important, duties, from dish washing to prep work. They commonly work behind the scenes, unseen by the restaurant diners who might only may know the main chef. As they work unseen, too many people fail to understand their vital role and their importance to what ends up on your plate.

I've talked to a number of chefs who have been immensely grateful for these workers. Few others have been willing to do such jobs, from dish washing to basic prep work. Without these refugees and immigrants, it would be difficult to find others willing to do these duties. In addition, the chefs uniformly state that they are some of the hardest working people they know. For a significant number of these refugees and immigrants, they work multiple jobs, maybe in a couple different kitchens. These people contribute significantly to the community.

Second, these refugees and immigrants bring to the U.S. their home cuisines, including different ingredients, recipes and techniques. They have created a greater diversity in our culinary scene, opening diners up to so many new and different foods. Consider Boston and its neighboring communities and try to count the numerous cuisines from different countries which are represented, which wouldn't exist except for the influx of refugees and immigrants to our country. Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mexico, El Salvador, Senegal, Afghanistan, Vietnam and so much more.

In addition, other chefs have adopted the ingredients, recipes and techniques of these refugees and immigrants. Their culinary heritage has spread across the country, becoming firmly ingrained in our society. Without their contributions, our culinary world would be boring and plain. We revel in culinary diversity but need to understand and appreciate the myriad contributions of those refugees and immigrants.

Third, the presence of refugees and immigrants in restaurant kitchens, plus the spread of their cuisines, helps to make our communities more diverse, and more tolerant of differences. When people are exposed to more diversity, they become more worldly, and can better understand that despite out differences, we share many similarities too. We don't need a 50th burger joint in the area, but we certainly could use more restaurants from places like Guatemala, Armenia, Uruguay, Georgia, Nepal, and more.

Rather than worrying so much about the greatly exaggerated risks of refugees and immigrants, let us devote much more consideration to all the positive contributions they can make to our country. Let us embrace our humanity and compassion, and stand up for these refugees and immigrants.