Thursday, March 28, 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.
1) Boston Harbor Hotel Chef and founder of the Boston Wine Festival, Daniel Bruce is continuing the celebrated traditions of the Boston Wine Festival through the month of April with a special Wine Wednesday dinner series. Chef Daniel Bruce, alongside Sommelier Ben Oram, will welcome guests for a special Wine Wednesday dinner series at Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar, featuring four thematic events: Tour of Chile (April 3), Rosé Soirée (April 10), Spring Bounty (April 17) and Willamette Pinot (April 24)

The Wine Wednesday dinner series takes place in Meritage’s second floor dining room, featuring sweeping views of Boston Harbor. Each dinner runs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00pm.

The full menus for the April Wine Wednesday series at Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar are as follows:

Amberjack Crudo, toasted Marcona, pink grapefruit, micro greens
Emiliana Natura Chardonnay
Blackberry Glazed Roast Duck Breast, melted spring green onions
Concha y Toro ‘Terrunyo’ Carmenere
Cocoa and Crushed Fennel Rubbed Organic Hanger Steak, pureed purple potatoes, rapini greens
Errazuriz Don Maxamino
Tres Leche Cake, coconut, mango, passionfruit

Flash Smoked Sea Scallops, sunchoke chips, rose aioli
Villa Viva, Cote de Thau, Languedoc
Maine Lobster Tempura, sweet pea pureé, micro red mizuna
Center of Effort Rosé of Pinot Noir
Rabbit Cannelloni, Idiazabal cheese sauce, fava leaves
Gramercy Cellars ‘Olsen Vineyard’ Columbia Valley WA
Vacherin, raspberry, ginger, rose gel

Grilled Jumbo Asparagus, crispy prosciutto, lemon sauvignon blanc hollandaise
Concha y Torro Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc
Pan Roasted Jumbo Flounder, spring white honey mushroom, apples, wild leeks
Chappellet Chenin Blanc
Cracked Black Papperdelle, sweet peas, duck prosciutto, tendrils
Lafarge, Fleurie, Beaujolais
Spring Dug Parsnip Cake, grapefruit, cream cheese, fennel

Char Seared Yellow Fin Tuna, blackberry syrup, smoked toi mui
Eola-Amity Hills (Neika Soil)
Wild Mushroom Soup, crispy maitake, shaved fennel
Ribbon Ridge (Willakenzie Series)
Wood Grilled Lamb T Bone, roasted Romanesco, sunchokes
Dundee (Jory Soil)
Rhubarb Pavolva, strawberry, black pepper, candied orange

Tickets for each dinner in the Wine Wednesday series can be purchased on Eventbrite for $120 per person (including tax and gratuity). For tickets, please visit
This is a 21+ event.

2) Join Executive Chef Steve Zimei and the team at Chopps American Bar and Grill for a special wine dinner featuring Paul Hobbs Winery hosted by owner Matt Hobbs. Paul Hobbs Winery has seven estate vineyards in the most acclaimed regions for growing pinot noir, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon.

On Wednesday, April 3rd starting at 6:30 pm, join winery owner Matt Hobbs and the team at Chopps for a three-course prix fixe menu paired with varietals from the most distinctive sites in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Napa Valley.

The full menu for the evening is as follows:
Chef’s Selection of Passed Hors d’oeuvres
2016 Chardonnay Paul Hobbs, Russian River, California
Pan Roasted Atlantic Halibut (red quinoa, baby bok choy, pinot noir butter)
2016 Pinot Noir Paul Hobbs, Russian River, California
Grilled Coffee Spiced Filet Mignon (celery root puree, broccoli rapini, salda verde)
2015 Vino Cobos Malbec ‘Bramare’, Luján de Cuyo, Argentina
2016 Vino Cobos Red Blend ‘Cocodrillo’ Mendoza, Argentina
Flourless Chocolate Cake (bittersweet chocolate, raspberries, ganache, hazelnuts)
2014 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, California

Seats are available for $90 (including tax & gratuity). For reservations please call 781-221-6684 or purchase on Eventbrite at

3) Scampo Chefs Lydia Shire and Simone Restrepo have put an Italian spin on traditional lunch favorites with the new Scampo “Short on Time” Lunch Prix Fixe Menu that newly launched. The menu is $25 and includes three courses:

Choice of starters
--Baby iceberg salad avocado, sundried tomato & pancetta vinaigrette
--Prosciutto & mozzarella w/ shaved green asparagus salad.. cassis dressing
Choice of main
--Pea & mint ravioli w/ butternut squash butter sauce.. crispy radish salad
--Veal scaloppini w/ gorgonzola dolce risotto.. arugula & brown butter, walnuts & sage
Choice of dessert
--Lydia Shire’s tiramisu
--Scampo fruit sorbet

WHEN: Mondays through Fridays, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
For reservations, please call (617) 536-2100

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Tonno: A Compelling Italian Seafood Restaurant in Wakefield

One of my most anticipated restaurants of 2018 was Tonno, an Italian Seafood restaurant which eventually opened in Wakefield. Tonno was to be located only a short distance from my home, and I already respected the Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano very much. Back in 2000, Chef Caturano opened his first restaurant, Prezza, situated in the North End of Boston, and it has become one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Boston.

Last Spring, I wrote about the forthcoming opening of Tonno, noting: "I also have much faith in the culinary skills and knowledge of Chef Caturano, and feel secure that his new restaurant will be impressive. I rarely dine at the other Italian restaurants in Wakefield, finding most of them to be of rather average quality. However, I expect I'll be a regular at Tonno when it opens. So, before you dismiss Tonno as just another Italian restaurant, do your research and understand its differences, and the reasons why you should anticipate its opening."

In 2016, Chef Caturano opened his second restaurant, Tonno, in Gloucester, highlighting Italian seafood dishes. "Tonno," which is Italian for “tuna,” is also the name of the chef’s boat. Last year, he decided to open a second location of Tonno in Wakefield. The concept of Tonno is to feature "coastal Italian seafood and other treasures from land and sea. The culinary program is designed to showcase Italian seafood classics, with nightly specials that reflect the catches of the day from the local waters."

I've now dined at Tonno multiple times and found it to be consistently excellent, for food, drinks, and service. I love the variety of dishes that are always offered, as well as the various specials held on different nights. Prices are reasonable for the quality and quantity you receive. The house-made pastas are killer and they certainly know how to prepare a compelling seafood dish. Chef Caturano has created another top-notch restaurant and it's great to see it in the suburbs.

Tonno has a full bar, so you can begin your evening with a beer, cocktail or glass of wine. They carry a few Italian beers, as well as a number of local beers, from breweries like Night Shift and Bent Water. They have a dozen of their own inventive cocktails, and certainly can make most any other cocktail you might desire. One of my favorites is the Black Manhattan ($13)pictured above, which is made with Putnam Rye, Zucca Rabarbaro, and Carpano Antica Vermouth. The wine list is about 75% Italian, the rest being domestic wines plus a few Champagnes. There is a nice diversity of Italian wines, with a fair number of bottles costing under $50 as well as some high-priced splurge wines.

The regular Food Menu is broken down into Sfizi (about 15 choices, $2.25-$16, Shrimp Cocktail to a Meat Board, Arancini to Crostini, Olives to Crudo), Primi (8 choices, $10-$14, Mussels to Crab Cake), Homemade Pasta (4 choices, $20-$24, Tagliatelle Bolognese to Bucatini Alla Carbonara),
Secondi (9 choices, $25-$38, Grilled Tonno Steak to Ribeye, Grilled Swordfish to Boneless Half Chicken) and Desserts (3 choices, $6-$8, Tiramisu to Biscotti). Plenty of choices, even if you don't like seafood.

Although the regular menu has plenty of options, Tonno also has a daily page of Specials, which nearly doubles your choices. The Specials menu adds Raw Bar items, Appetizers, Entrees, Sides and Desserts. Much depends on what is fresh and available. This means that every time you dine at Tonno, you'll find something new on the menu to tempt your palate. Some other local Italian restaurants have the same menu, day after day, and it gets stale quickly.

In addition, Tonno runs a number of other daily specials during the week. There are Gravy Sundays, which showcase red sauce dishes like Chicken Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmigiana and Gnocchi with Tomato. A new addition is their Grill Mondays, presenting dishes such as Grilled Stuffed Calamari, Grilled Salmon Burger and Grilled Seafood Skewer. On Tuesday, they offer Spaghetti & Clams with Oregano & Garlic while on Wednesday, you'll find Spaghetti & Meatballs. For Thursday evening, from 4pm-5:30pm, they have a number of inexpensive bar specials, such as Meatball Slider ($3), Veal Milanese Slider ($4), Roasted Red Pepper Crostini with Mozzarella ($3), Fried Oyster Po'boy ($3), and Shucked Oysters ($1). And on Friday, you can find Cacio e Pepe.

I didn't take notes and photos on a couple of my visits, simply enjoying the experience. Thus, the following is but a sampling of dishes I and my dining companions enjoyed. I will note that there wasn't a single dish on any of my visits that disappointed.

A sampling of Tonno Tartare, compliments of the kitchen, and each spoonful was a silky delight, with rich tuna enhanced by fruit and spices.

On another occasion, we received these Seared Tuna slices as another compliment of the kitchen. The tuna was cooked perfectly, with that lovely rare tuna surrounded by a nice sear. The tuna was silky and tender, such a tasty treat. I've also enjoyed their Grilled Tonno Steak with White Beans ($29), which was also cooked perfectly, rare with a nice sear. When you name yourself after tuna, you better make sure you can deliver on excellent tuna dishes, and Chef Caturano succeeds well in this regard.

The Scallop Crudo ($14), with blood orange puree, spiced almonds, cucumber tsukemono, candied citron, and Gloucester sea salt, was a delicious blend of flavors and textures, from the tender scallop slices to the crunchy almonds, with tasty citrus accents. The thinly sliced, pickled cucumbers were mildly flavored, with a nice crispness to them. Highly recommended.

This was one of their daily specials, a Burrata dish, with orange slices and nuts, and it was delightfully creamy, balanced with the crunch of the nuts and the grilled bread. Simple but tasty ingredients.

The House Crostini ($10) was made with honey ricotta, cherry mostarda, toasted pistachios, and coppa. Once again, ⁣the chef created a well-balanced dish, in both flavor and texture, and this was absolutely delicious, being sweet, creamy, salty, and crunchy.

The Arancini ($10) have a light, crunchy coating, with a creamy and cheesy interior, and sit within the rich tomato sauce. I enjoy Arancini and these certainly fit my idea of what an excellent arancini should be.

The Fried Calamari with Cherry Peppers ($13) is another very good example of an iconic dish. The calamari is very tender, with a light and clean coating, and will please any calamari-lover. Even one of my dining companions who didn't normally eat calamari enjoyed these.

The Chicken Parmigiana ($24) is a common dish at many Italian spots but this is one of the best examples you will find. It has a scrumptious crispy coating, not the softer coating you too often find elsewhere. The chicken was tender, enhanced by the plenty of melted cheese and tangy red sauce. Tonno is not just about seafood, and has plenty of other dishes to offer.

The Braised Pork Shank ($32), with barley risotto and clementine mostarda, was a hearty dish, and the pork easily fell off the bones. It was tender and flavorful, and the risotto was rustic, with a savory kick.

The Veal Milanese ($26), covered with arugula, sliced tomatoes and parmesan, was cooked like the Chicken Parmigiana, with a nice crisp coating, surrounding tender veal. It was an ample dish as well, though I made sure I ate every last piece of veal. Highly recommended.

The Grilled Ribeye ($38), with rabe and roasted potato, is a nice and flavorful piece of steak, and carnivores won't be disappointed.

The Eggplant Parmigiana is another ample dish, almost resembling a large piece of lasagna as it is stacked so high. Tender and delicious, you'll enjoy this dish too.

One of their special Desserts, was the Semolina Cake ($8), with laurel leaf syrup, blood orange coulis, toasted pistachios, and whipped cream. The cake was light, with an almost savory taste, but sweetened by the syrup, coulis and whipped cream. A nice ending to our dinner.

The more traditional Tiramisu ($8) is very good, the right blend of flavors.

Tonno receives my highest recommendation and Chef Anthony Caturano has another winner in his culinary group. I'm always telling my readers to eat more seafood and Tonno is definitely a place to find plenty of delicious seafood dishes. In addition, you'll also find excellent Italian cuisine, from hand-made pasta to crisp veal milanese. Tonno is such a great addition to the suburban culinary scene and you should check it out.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Rant: Support Your Local Restaurants!

"It amazes me when people can’t believe a restaurant is closing & when they find out it is they are all like “OMG” & “not another one” & “I love that place, but haven’t been in...” GO support all the places you don’t want to fucking disappear cause we are all dying without YOU"
--A Tweet from Chef Alex Sáenz of BISq 

I've espoused the sentiments found within Chef Sáenz's tweet before, multiple times on my blog, and I'm likely to continue doing so in the future. It is something that needs to be constantly repeated, to ensure that people listen and understand. It's clear that not everyone comprehends these issues because every time a restaurant closes, you hear the same words, the same disbelief at the closure.

However, it is actually a very simple idea. Unless a restaurant has a sufficient number of customers, it won't be able to earn a sufficient income to stay in business.

This past weekend, I dined out at a local restaurant and it was relatively empty. There are a number of reasons why that might have been the case, from the time to the weather. It is a high quality restaurant, with plenty of delicious food and much to offer its guests. It would be a terrible tragedy if it had to close, and would leave a large hole in the suburban culinary scene. So, I'm bringing back this article, to once again remind everyone that you need to support your local restaurant. I can't repeat this sentient enough.

With the recent spate of restaurant closures, there has been lots of speculation as to the reasons for the closures. Most closures are likely due to a myriad of factors, some the public may know about and others of which they have no clue. At their most basic, the reasons are usually economic and a large part of that equation is the number of customers that dine at the restaurant. No restaurant can survive unless they have enough customers. The winter can be a tough time for restaurants as not as many people dine out during this season. Plus, bad weather, such as a snow storm, can keep customers away.

So, unless you want your favorite restaurants to close, you need to be active in your support, just as Chef Sáenz said.

First, you need to dine at your favorite spots, as much as you can. Dine out during the winter. Dine out in bad weather. Dine out during the week, when the restaurant may be at its slowest. Dine out at their special events, from wine dinners to pop-ups. They are one of your favorite restaurants because you love their food, so make the effort to dine there more.

Second, recommend your favorite restaurants to your friends and family, as well as anyone else you might encounter. When you talk to these people, relate your experiences at your favorite restaurants. Put the bug in their ear that they should dine there too. This is very important, as the word needs to be spread about these restaurants, so that others patronize it as well. And if they spread the word as well, then even more people will dine there.

Third, spread the word through social media, from Twitter to Facebook, tagging the restaurant. Show photos of your food, tell others about your positive experience, share your thoughts. Your reach will extend to others that you may not speak to on a regular basis and hopefully bring even more customers to the restaurant.

Fourth, write reviews on the restaurant's Facebook page, Yelp, Trip Advisor, or elsewhere. It doesn't have to be a lengthy review, just sufficient to show your passion and love for the restaurant. It can make a difference, and could be sufficient to convince someone to dine there too. Just keep spreading the word, far and wide.

I implore you to take action today, to make a reservation for one of your favorite restaurants. Make plans to have lunch, brunch or dinner. And then, make plans to spread the word about your dining experience, to let many others know about one of your favorite spots.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Slow Wine Guide Tasting: What is Caberlot? (Part 2)

Maybe rather than burying a cow horn, stuffed with manure, beneath your vineyard, you might do better to bury a bottle of 1985 Sassicaia. It certainly seems to have brought much good fortune to Podere Il Carnasciale

At the Slow Wine Guide tasting event, I had the opportunity to taste a grape new to me, a grape that is produced by only a single winery in the world. The grape is called Caberlot and is mentioned only briefly in Jancis Robinson's comprehensive Wine Grapes encyclopedia. She wrote, "There is also a small, isolated vineyard near Arezzo, central Italy, where Carnasciale grow a variety called Caberlot, thought to be a crossing of Merlot with an unidentified parent." However, there is more known about Caberlot and it is a fascinating tale.

The story begins in the late 1960s, in an abandoned vineyard near Padua, where Remigio Bordini, an agronomist, discovered a new grape. This grape, which would become known as Caberlot, seemed to share characteristics of both Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and appears to be a natural crossing of the two varieties. Remigio kept this unique grape in a nursery for about twenty years, until 1986. It was then that he chose to share the grape with a single family.

Four years before that, Wolf and Bettina Rogosky, husband and wife, decided to buy some land, full of olive trees, atop a hill in Tuscany, in the southern Chianti hills of the Valdarno, just outside of the Chianti Classico appellation. They discussed planting grapes to make wine, eventually seeking advice from Vittorio Fiore, an enologist. It was Vittorio who fortuitously introduced them to Remigio Bordini. Their meeting must have gone extremely well because Remigio decided to allow the Rogoskys to take cuttings from his nursery so that they could grow Caberlot in their new vineyard.

The Rogoskys planted their initial vineyard, named Carnasciale, in 1986 on the site of an old olive grove, and it was tiny, only about .74 acres. Carnasciale is a nearly obsolete word in Italian that refers to the "period of Carnival." Hoping for luck, Wolf buried a bottle of 1985 Sassicaia, a famous Super Tuscan wine, under his first vines. At the time, Wolf probably didn't realize that the 1985 Sassicaia would eventually become known as a legendary wine. For example, that was the first Italian wine that Robert Parker gave 100 points.

Their Caberlot wine, which was bottled only in magnums as Wolf believed the wine would age well in that format, would eventually become a cult hit. It's scarcity helped, plus the fact that no one else was permitted to grow this grape. Unfortunately, Wolf died in 1996, but Bettina continued pursuing their passion for Caberlot. Following previous plans, Bettina planted additional vineyards in 1999, 2004, and 2011, so that they now have about 13.5 acres of vineyards, producing a total of about 9000 bottles annually. Even with the additional vineyards, production remains small. Their son, Moritz (who I met at the tasting), now works with his mother, helping to promote their wines.

The vineyards are being converted to organic, and they hope for the process to be completed in the near future. It wasn't until about 2005, that the wine was first exported to the U.S., and even at that time, it was still difficult to find in Italy. The "X" that is seen on their labels, which is different each year, is intended to signify the crossing of the grapes, the Cabernet Franc and Merlot, plus it also draws attention to the label even from across a room. The color of the label is also different each vintage. 

In the Slow Wine event guide, the winery received two designations, including a Bottle indicating the winery is a benchmark in quality. The other designation, "Slow Wine," is because the winery produces wines that represent "an expression of place, originality and history." Their 2015 Caberlot also received a designation as a "Great Wine."

Before getting into the Caberlot, we had a chance to taste a Sangiovese wine they started producing in 2015. The 2016 Valdarno Di Sopra Ottantadue, made from 100% Sangiovese, sees no oak and is intended to be an easy drinking red wine. It is fresh and bright, with prominent red fruit flavors, especially cherry, good acidity, and a pleasing finish. It is a simple, everyday wine, which would pair well with pizza to burgers.

In 2000, the winery created a second wine, Carnasciale, which is made from Caberlot from younger vines, is released in 750ml bottles, and is supposed to be more approachable. I tasted the 2016 Carnasciale, which is vilified in the same manner as the higher-end Caberlot. It is aged in French barriques, 70% new, for about 22 months and then for another 6 months in the bottle. I found this wine to definitely be very approachable, with restrained tannins, rich flavors of red and black fruit, mild spice notes, and a lengthy finish. There was a light greenpepper/vegetal note, typical of some Cabernet Franc, though I'll note a couple of my friends who tasted the wine didn't discern that note.

The 2015 Caberlot (about $275/magnum) is made from their oldest and best Caberlot grapes. It undergoes malolactic fermentation and then is aged, for about 22 months, in French barriques, of which 70% are new, one third each Allier, Vosges and Tronçais oak, medium toast. It will then spend about 18 months in the bottle before release. The wine is unfiltered, has a 13.5% ABV, is bottled only in magnums, and Bettina hand-numbers each label. It has to be labeled as IGT Toscana as the grape is unrecognized in the DOC. It was definitely a more complex wine, with silky tannins, more plum and black raspberry flavors, a spicy backbone, and a touch more green. Each sip delivered an intriguing taste, which tantalized the palate with a harmonious melange of flavors. The lengthy finish was satisfying and the acidity was spot-on. It seemed a little tight, so would benefit from aging, but it was still enjoyable as is.

I preferred though the 2014 Caberlot, which came from a cooler vintage, especially as I couldn't detect any green pepper notes. The fruit flavors were a touch more vibrant and the mouthfeel was a bit more smooth, yet it retained all of the complexity of the 2015. It was also a bit more enjoyable as is, though the potential for aging was evident. Both wines would benefit from food pairing, maybe wild boar or lamb.

The wines of Podere Il Carnasciale won't be easy to find, but they are worth the splurge if you get the opportunity.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 21, 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.
1) Yesterday, Casa Caña kicked off its new, monthly rum dinner series. Each dinner will feature a welcome cocktail followed by a three-course meal paired with rum cocktails for only $45.

Casa Cana is a Latin kitchen, patio & rum bar that features innovative New Latin cuisine, or as the Latin Americans locals call it, “Nuevo Latino.” This style of cooking uses traditional ingredients and a plethora of textures, colors, and flavors that when combined, create a cuisine that is unique to South and Central America, and it’s Latin neighbors in the Caribbean.

WHEN: Check out of of their upcoming rum dinners:
Second dinner: Thursday, April 25th featuring Banks 5
Third dinner: Wednesday, May 29th featuring Leblon Cahaca
Fourth dinner: Wednesday, June 26th featuring Bacardi

Guests must be 21+ to attend and tickets can be purchased at:

2) Portsmouth and the Seacoast chefs are digging out of the snow and digging into early early Spring product to bring to the table for Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast from March 28 – April 6. You have 40++ reasons to visit this charming and delicious seacoast community with dozens of restaurants, breweries and hotels ready to welcome visitors and kick off Spring. Produced by the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth, Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast is a highly anticipated “ten days of Saturday nights” with the city’s top chefs going all out to showcase their restaurants and to thank visitors for their support throughout the year. Plus be sure to check out the special Cocktail Menus highlighting Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin, local brews and more.

Located one hour north of Boston and one hour south of Portland, Maine, Portsmouth is an easy drive from all points New England. Known for its historic sites, architecture, festivals and coastal charm, Portsmouth attracts talented and ambitious chefs and restaurateurs who are creating a one-of-a-kind New England culinary destination.

Restaurants from all over the NH Seacoast are participating –including from the towns of Portsmouth, Durham, Hampton, New Castle, Rye, Exeter, and Kittery, Maine.

This year, some new restaurants participating, such as Botanica and Armando’s. Check out Chef Matt Louis’ Game of Thrones inspired Menu at Moxy (I love the idea of the House Baratheon meal of Drunken Boar Bangers & Mash). At Chef David Vargas’ Menu at Vida Cantina, there are riffs of dishes by Mexican chefs who were nominated this year as semifinalists by the James Beard Foundation. This is David’s first time to be nominated and he is thrilled to see chefs with Mexican heritage being recognized. Also check out these Restaurant Week Menus which intrigue me, including Cava Tapas & Wine Bar, the Franklin Oyster House, Misto!, Ore Nell's, and The Wilder.

Menu Prices: Lunch: Three Course Prix Fixe for $16.95; Dinner: Three Course Prix Fixe, $29.95
*Note: Some restaurants extend the $16.95 value price for dinner as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Slow Wine Guide Tasting: Italy, California & Oregon (Part 1)

When you're confronted with about 300 wines available for tasting, you have to make some hard decisions. In only four hours, no one can properly taste and give respect to all of those wines so you need to be very selective as to which of those wines you'll sample. Forced to be selective, I knew that I'd miss out on tasting some interesting and delicious wines. However, I was pleased to find some compelling wines which were well worthy of attention.

The 2019 U.S. Slow Wine Tour visited five cities, starting in San Francisco and ending in Boston, where it took place at the City Winery. The Tour was intended to showcase the release of the 2019  Slow Wine Guide, a wine review guide which doesn't use numeric scores to assess wine. This guide is an offshoot of the Slow Food movement, which was established in Italy, in Piedmont, by foodways activist Carlo Petrini as a way to protect the world’s gastronomic traditions.

Their website states their basic philosophy, "Slow Food believes that wine, just as with food, must be good, clean, and fair--not just good. Wine is an agricultural product, just like any of the foods we eat, and has an impact on the lives of the people who produce it, as well as on the environment--through pesticides, herbicides and excessive water consumption which are all commonplace in conventional wine production." The first edition of the annual Slow Wine Guide, centered on Italian wines, was published in 2010, with an English translation released the next year. To review their wines, they visited each winery, spoke about their agricultural practices & wine production, blind-tasted their wines, and then composed their reviews.

In 2017, Slow Wine decided to expand their coverage to California, so they traveled there, visiting and evaluating hundreds of wineries. The 2018 Slow Wine Guide was the first to include reviews of California wineries, 70 in all. For the 2019 Slow Wine Guide, they expanded their California coverage to include over 130 wineries. In addition, they have added coverage of Oregon, including about 50 wineries. As their website states, "Oregon’s commitment to sustainable wine-making and respect for the terroir is consistent with Slow Wine’s principles and its mission to support local agriculture."

In addition, they note, "Like last year’s book, the 2019 guide isn’t intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive: it’s a growing, living, and breathing almanac that’s meant to give voice to the new wave of America’s viticultural renaissance." Next year's guide will continue to grow, including more wineries from California and Oregon, and possibly reaching out to other U.S. states as well. Though the inclusion of other states might take a bit longer.

I didn't know until I arrived at the Slow Wine tasting that approximately 300 wines were available for sampling. I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the event. Representatives of 85 wineries were present, including 79 from Italy, 3 from California and 3 from Oregon, each pouring about three wines. Some of the Italian regions covered include Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Marche, Piedmont, Veneto, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, Umbria, and more. There were also three joint tables, representing the Prosecco DOC, Lugana DOC, and Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, which added about another 50 wines. Some of the wineries were seeking importers but a significant amount are already available locally.

In the tasting event guidebook, some of the wineries and wines were marked with various symbols or phrases, indicating something special. The wineries might be marked with a Snail, Bottle, or Coin while the wines might be marked as Slow Wine, Great Wine or Everyday Wine. In short, the Snail indicates those wineries whose values align with the Slow Food movement, the Bottle indicates high quality, and the Coin indicates excellent value. The Slow Wine designation represents "an expression of place, originality and history," while the other two phrases are self-explanatory.

The tasting was spread out over three rooms, and though it was well-attended, by various representatives of distributors, wine stores, restaurants, the media, and more, it generally didn't feel too crowded. There was a table of food, snacks to help cleanse your palate, and there was plenty of bottle of water too. The event seemed to run well and I encountered plenty of other attendees that I knew. There was a casual vibe, though plenty of work got done as well.

A few of my highlights of the tasting included a Tannat/Malbec blend from Oregon, a delicious Italian Rosé made from a blend of Barbera, Groppello, & Sangiovese, and an Italian wine made from a grape that only a single winery in the world is allowed to produce. In the next couple weeks, I'll be writing in detail about some of these highlights as well as some of the other wines I tasted, sharing the best of what I tasted.

To Be Continued...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Rant: "We Don't Know How To Talk About Seafood"

"We don't know how to talk about seafood."
--Barton Seaver

It might seem strange to hear that sentiment spoken at the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), but if you think more carefully, maybe it's the perfect place to discuss this statement. This sentiment was espoused by Barton Seaver two years ago at a panel conference at SENA, yet it continues to resonate with me. As I attend SENA 2019, exploring what the seafood industry has to offer this year, his words are the forefront of my thoughts and it's worth taking a look back at Barton's thoughts. Those thoughts remain as significant and relevant now as they did then.

Barton Seaver, who currently lives in Maine, has been a successful Chef and is now a seafood activist, educator, speaker, and author of 7 books. His website states, "Barton is a firm believer that human health depends on the health of the ocean and that the best way to connect the two is at the dinner table." He is a powerful and persuasive speaker, with an easy, personable style and an infectious passion for seafood. Barton is a compelling advocate for the seafood industry,

When he began his remarks at the panel conference, he started with: "We don't know how to talk about seafood." He continued his speech, noting that we don't have a great definition of "sustainable seafood," especially as there are so many elements to the concept of sustainability. Although many, if not most, of the exhibitors at SENA tout the sustainability of their products, they all have different definitions of what that constitutes. And each year that I attend SENA, it seems the definition of sustainability expands to include additional concepts.

Another important issue that Barton raised is that seafood often isn't included in discussions about "good food" despite it being maybe the only type of food with the term "food" actually in its name. We don't talk about "landfood" or "airfood." We don't talk about "beef-food" or "chicken-food." We need to look at seafood more from a cultural viewpoint.

Barton also mentioned that seafood suffers from "otherness," being seen as different from other foods. Over time, seafood lost its identity, partially from the advent of refrigeration and a decrease in home cooking. When people commonly think of proteins, they usually don't include seafood in their thoughts. It is also the only food that is considered guilty before being innocent. It is something people think must be analyzed, to determine whether it passes a person's standards or not. These same individuals don't conduct that same analysis with their beef, chicken, or pork. A person will ask whether a salmon is farmed or wild, but that same person is unlikely to ask whether chicken is from a factory farm or not.

The culinary aspect of seafood scares people, who feel intimidated when trying to cook and prepare seafood. Education is definitely needed in that regard. Currently, Americans eat almost only 10 species of fish, 8 if you group the types of catfish together. Other fish and seafood is not seen as having the same value as these 10 species. Our fishermen catch so many other species and this is an unsustainable economic situation. We demand the market supply for fish rather than take what is caught. We must all start eating other species of fish and seafood, going beyond the common 10. We need to put less pressure on those common 10 and also help fishermen who catch all the other species.

Barton then raised an issue I hadn't considered before, but which makes much sense. He stated that one of the biggest obstacles to sustainability is the recipe. The problem is that recipes usually are composed to use a specific type of fish. For example, you will find recipes for Cod and Mussels, Salmon and Crab. Some seafood cookbooks break down into chapters for these specific seafood types. However, Barton feels that recipes shouldn't specify the fish type but be more generic, such as a "light, flaky whitefish."

The idea is to encourage home cooks to seek outside the common 10 and use other seafood species, which are similar to the common ones they already enjoy. That is excellent advice, though such a cookbook would probably need to have a list somewhere, grouping seafood species by the generic definitions within the cookbook. For example, the average consumer doesn't know what dogfish is like, so they would need to have some guidance as to what type of recipes it would fit within. Barton also had advice for Chefs, that they should not ask for specific species but should ask for what is fresh. In addition, they should "sell the dish, not the seafood."

Barton then moved on, stating that we need to "end the conversation of wild vs farmed." He feels it is an artificial distinction, that we should treat them both the same and stop arguing about aquaculture. Those sentiments were echoed in a panel conference I attended yesterday, and I'll be writing about that conference in the near future.

As Barton says, "Seafood is such an amazing opportunity" and "Seafood sustains us." He also noted how valuable it is for our health, how numerous studies show that eating sufficient seafood can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 36%. A doctor from Tufts once told him of the 3 Ss of good health: Wear Seatbelts, No Smoking, and Eat Seafood.

"Fish lacks story." Barton is not the first sustainable seafood proponent that I have heard make this point, and its validity is without dispute. Barton feels we need to use other methods to connect people to seafood, and shouldn't start with the seafood. We need to connect it more to cultural issues. For example, we can talk about social issues such as the fact that 52% of the people involved in aquaculture are women. Aquaculture provides plenty of jobs and that is a great story. In addition, we should consider the story of how we keep fishermen in business, the civic values of helping members of our community. We all should "Talk about sustainability in any measure that is meaningful to you."

Barton Seaver provided much to ponder and I hope it helps spark something within my readers as well. People need to eat more seafood, for an abundance of reasons, from improving your own health to helping local fishermen make a living. Stop treating seafood as an enemy and treat it as you would hamburger or fried chicken. Don't treat seafood as an "other."

(This is partially a reprint, with some revisions, of sections of a prior post, but one which is especially relevant as I attend SENA 2019, and which discusses many points which remain as significant now as they did two years ago.)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Vale do Bomfim & Pombal do Vesuvius: Portuguese Delights

With a history extending back to 1882, Symington Family Estates is one of the largest and most important producers in the Douro region of Portugal. They own well-known brands including Graham's Ports, Cockburn's Port, Dow's Port, Warre's Port, Quinta do Vesuvio, and more. The Douro is well known for its Port Wines, but the region also makes some excellent still wines. You can check out one of my previous posts, The Douro River Region: Beauty & Thriving Amidst Adversity, for some background on this area. I received a couple media samples of two of Symington's Douro still red wines, and I was't surprised by their quality.

Quinta do Vesuvio, which can trace its history back to the 16th century, was acquired by the Symingtons in 1989, and its 1000 acre estate is located in the upper Douro. It is considered one of the best, and largest, vineyards in the Douro Superior. The 2015 Pombal do Vesuvio ($28), the winery's second wine, is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 45% Touriga Franca, and 5% Tinto Amarela. The Portuguese term "pombal" translates as "dovecote," and refers to an ancient dovecote, where pigeons or doves were housed, which is in the middle of the vineyards. It was an exceptional vintage, the weather cooperating throughout the year. giving rain when necessary.

The wine went through fermentation in stainless steel, and then was aged for about 10 months in French oak. At only 13.5% ABV, the wine had a rich, dark red color with a pleasing nose of red fruits and floral notes, a touch of violets. On the complex palate, the red and black fruit flavors were prominent, accented by some dusty spices, bright acidity, well-integrated tannins, and some underlying minerality. The finish was long and satisfying, and there was a mild earthy touch as well. Definitely an excellent food wine, with everything from pizza to burgers, steak to pasta with a hearty ragu. An excellent choice to experience what the Douro has to offer in still red wines.

The 2016 Dow Vale do Bomfim ($12.99) is from the Quinta do Bomfim, which was acquired by Symington in 1896, making it their oldest owned estate. The quinta is located just beside the town of Pinhão, and consists of a 130-acre property with over 160,000 vines. This still wine is a blend of 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional and 50% Field Blend of indigenous grapes. All of the grapes come from the same vineyards they use for their Vintage Ports. The wine spent about 6 months in neutral oak, has a 13.2% ABV, and is an excellent example of the great values you can find in Portugal.

With a dark red color, it possesses an appealing fruity aroma with floral accents. On the palate, there is a tasty melange of red and black fruit (especially cherry and plum), peppery spice with some licorice notes. Mild tannins, a moderately long finish, and decent complexity for this price point. An easy drinking wine which provides better quality than many other wines at this price point. This wine will pair well with a wide range of foods, though it can be enjoyed on its own as well. Highly recommended!

Drink more Portuguese wine!

Thursday, March 14, 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.
1) Way back in 2007, while I was traveling across Spain, I visited the Parés Baltà Winery in the Penedes region. It was a fascinating visit, and we got to taste plenty of their delicious and well-made wines. Since then, I've often enjoyed their wines locally and now you will get a couple chances to meet the good people of Parés Baltà and enjoy some of their wines paired with compelling food.

On Tuesday, March 26, from 6:30pm-8:30pm, Tres Gatos is hosting Marta Casas and her husband Josep Cusiné Carol, the winemakers from Parés Baltà, for a Catalan Spring Wine Dinner. Parés Baltà is a small family owned traditional winery that goes back to 1790. The two women at the helm of the winemaking are both oenologists and produce high quality organic wines and Cavas with grapes from their 5 estates, situated around the winery and in the mountains of Penedès.

Chef Stephen Marcaurelle is creating a four-course menu to pair with select wines Marta Casas and her husband Josep Cusiné Carol will be pouring. Price is $65 per person (includes four-course dinner, wine, and talk).  Reservations are limited so please call at 617-477-4851 for this opportunity.

And on Thursday, March 28, from 6pm-8pm, Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington is hosting An Evening In Penedès: A Parés Baltà Wine Dinner. Wine Director Laura Staley recently took an unforgettable trip to Parés Baltà, and tales and photos upon her return have inspired Chef Matt Celeste to create a menu influenced by the coastal bounty of the Spanish region. Paired with our shared passion for hospitality, co-owner Joseph Cuisiné and winemaker Marta Casas are joining us at Island Creek Oyster Bar Burlington to host a special evening that will transport you to their homeland through a tasting of their wines. What began as a Cava house has become a leader in producing organic and biodynamic wines far beyond the sparkling wine the region is known for. Come escape the New England Winter and lose yourself in the warmth and romance of the region.

Tickets are $125 and include five courses, eight wines, tax & gratuity. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

3) Do you like Pinot Noir? Do you like Oregon Pinot Noir? If so, you might want to check out Pinot In The City, which will be held on Thursday, May 2, from 6:30pm-9pm (with VIP access at 5:30pm), at the Castle at Park Plaza. 60 wineries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley will be coming to this event. The tasting event features owners and winemakers pouring a selection of wines, including library and current releases, paired with delicious Pinot noir-friendly small bites. Not only will there be Pinot Noir, but there will also be Oregon Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sparkling Wines and more.

Tickets cost $90 for General Admission & $130 for VIP Admission and can be bought through Eventbrite. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance; there will be no ticket sales at the door.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Rant: The Seafood Expo: Why Aren't You Going?

This upcoming Sunday, thousands of fascinating and tasty creatures from the sea, a deluge of seafood, will descend on Boston. This epic event is one of the top food events of the year, but it seems to be ignored by most local writers and bloggers. Why aren't you planning on attending the Seafood Expo North America (SENA)?

Starting on Sunday, March 17, and ending on Tuesday, March 19, SENA returns to Boston, and it is probably the largest seafood event in the country. If you are a writer, from freelancer to a blogger, and cover any topics related to seafood, from recipes to sustainability, then I strongly encourage you to attend. As I have said repeatedly before, "the seafood show is fertile soil for a myriad of story ideas as each exhibit booth has its own unique and interesting story." Any writer who attends this show should easily find the seeds for at least a dozen stories, and likely many more.

SENA is a huge trade show, and last year there were about 1341 exhibitors, representing 57 different countries, showcasing a wide diversity of products and services. The total exhibit space is about 258,630 square feet, broken down into 30+ aisles of the Expo, so just walking through the show makes for great cardio exercise. With the vast number of exhibitors, you're sure to find plenty of fascinating stories. Even if you attended all three days, you still wouldn't have enough time to visit all of the booths.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about a myriad of seafood issues, to talk to numerous seafood businesses, to explore the seafood industry. You can discover more about different countries, such as by visiting the pavilions for Japan or Iceland. In addition, the show is fun, with plenty of delicious seafood samples, from lobster to oysters. Ever had salmon bacon? Fried alligator? You never know what might be available to sample at SENA. SENA presents a range of interesting conference panels too, and this year you can attend ones such as  "Seafood Trends & Preferences at Home & Away from Home" or "Changing the Narrative on Sustainable Aquaculture in the Culinary Community." You can also attend the annual Oyster Shucking Competition.

We all know that seafood is at the crux of some of the most important food issues in the world. The range of seafood topics touches on so many crucial matters, from sustainability to health, climate change to slavery. Seafood is integral to the economic health of many local businesses, from fishermen to restaurants. The potential extinction of certain fish species is a major concern that needs to be addressed. These are all issues which need much more coverage by the media, and which you can make your own contributions.

Why do I care? First, I view our local writers and bloggers as a community and I believe we all benefit by helping each other, giving recommendations for excellent events. Second, I feel that seafood is a vital topic which more people need to write about so that we raise attention to all of its urgent issues. That will benefit all of us in many ways. It is with greater exposure and cooperative efforts that we can cause change in the seafood industry. Third, it is a sad fact that there are four times as many negative articles about seafood than positive ones, and we need to change that ratio.

So I hope to see you next weekend at the Seafood Expo North America.

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Mind Of A Sommelier: Leo Keka

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

Leo Keka is the owner of Alba Prime Steak + Seafood and Zef Cicchetti & Raw Bar in Quincy Center. A native of Albania, he fled the impoverished former communist nation in 1990 by swimming across a lake to a refugee camp in Montenegro, before finding his way to the United States. Keka, unable to speak English at the time, landed his first job in the industry when he was hired as a dishwasher by fellow Albanian-American and celebrated restaurateur Anthony Athanas of late Boston culinary landmark Anthony’s Pier 4. Keka soon became a server, displayed a natural knack for hospitality and quickly worked his way up through management at both Legal Sea Foods and Grill 23 & Bar, before opening his fine-dining Quincy Center restaurant Alba in 2001. Such an inspiring story!

Now, onto the interview:

What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
I’m the owner of Alba but also the wine director. Wine is one of my great passions and I love that part of my job. We have a great, great staff that is very knowledgeable about wine and about our wines in particular. But at the end of the day, even as the owner, I pick most of the wines on our list and I’m proud to do so.

Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
Our wine list is focused on American/California cabernets and Oregon pinot noirs with a heavy selection of Italian reds: super Tuscans, Barolos, Brunellos. Those big hearty Italian red wines. We have some great options and sell a lot of them.

What are your objectives with the wine list?
Our goal at Alba is to offer a great bottle of wine at a great price, no matter the guest’s taste or budget. I think a lot of wines are subject to over-pricing in restaurants. We try to avoid that. We try to come in at a very fair price for our guests. Our wine list I believe rivals that of any of the top steakhouses or restaurants in Boston. But our prices are much more affordable.

A lot of the reason why is for me very personal. We grew up very poor in Albania. We didn’t have great restaurants. We had very few material pleasures. One of those pleasures was wine. I remember one Christmas night when I was about 15 my mother brought home this giant 18-liter bottle of red wine that my grandparents had made. It was amazing.

I was hooked on that taste and on the celebratory aspect of drinking wine. I loved it from the beginning. My dad had tried before to get me to drink beer. I didn’t like it. I still don’t. But I’ve loved wine from that moment I first tasted it. I still remember drinking that bottle of wine today.

So that desire to make great wine affordable still influences our list. I’m willing to sell wine at a lower price than other restaurants if it means somebody can experience a wine they might otherwise have missed and enjoy that feeling I felt that Christmas night as a teenager back in Albania. I think our combination of world-class wine at a fair price is the big reason why we sell so much wine.

How often does the wine list change?
We’re always getting in new bottles if they fit our program. But big picture the wine lists changes substantially every six months to reflect new vintages, new bottles, new trends. We probably sample 500 to 600 bottles every six months, find the great picks, and revamp the menu to reflect those tastes. But at any given time we might pick up something new if I really like it and it fits our program.

Are there omissions on your wine list you would like to fill?
I’d love to serve more sparkling wine. I don’t think people drink enough champagne or sparkling wine. Americans in general tend to think of champagne as something you celebrate with, a special occasion wine, and not something you enjoy on its own or with food. Great sparkling wine is tremendous with a variety of foods. I wish more people would order champagne with their food like they do a bottle of chardonnay. We’d certainly offer more. I’d love to sell more.

How do you learn about new wines?
I’m always keeping up with Wine Spectator, following wine auctions, the wine blogs, following global trends. And we have a steady stream of vendors through here most every day showing off their newest bottles. We move a lot of wine for all the big houses in the region so they’re always eager to show off their best new stuff. So we stay up on top of things that way, too. Just by tasting and talking about wine every day with other people who know and love wine.

What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
Our guests are already well educated about brand-name wines. So they typically want to know what’s the next thing we have that tastes like the wines they already know. So we like to steer them to new wines, about the winemakers, the wine-making regions. I think it’s up to us to lead them to the next great bottle of wine. We want them to buy a bottle because we like it ourselves. But of course we want to make sure it fits their taste profile.

What is the most common criticism you receive from guests about your list?
People are always trying to get more. We have 400 to 500 bottles on the list. We’re trying to pair our wine with our food and also be true to our brand. But there are always more options. People always want more options. Even with the hundreds of bottles we offer, people want more choices. They might ask for something from South Africa or Argentina because it’s great wine they read about or heard about somewhere. But usually those wines aren’t on our list. They’re not consistent with who we are and you can’t carry everything.

We also lack Sake, for example. Sometimes we’ll have a really great Sake. But not usually. It’s not part of what we do. But sometimes people ask for it. You can’t be everything to everybody. But with that said we work hard to ensure our wine list is consistent with our food and our influences and that we offer high-quality wines at a good price.

What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
The greatest challenge is trying to keep current choices consistent with past choices. Does that make sense? This is what I mean: somebody comes in and asks for a bottle that they loved. They may be a regular or somebody who comes in only a once a year. But we don’t carry that bottle anymore. The vintage is gone. We ran out. The distributor is out of stock. Whatever the case might be. But we need to make sure we have something comparable in terms of flavor, quality and price point that’s consistent with the great bottles we’ve offered that guest in the past.

So we have to know what our guests expect. The flavors, the styles, the prices. And we have to make sure those options are available, even if the label on the bottle changes. It’s a challenge. But it’s also one of the most enjoyable parts of the job.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the best value wines on your list?
     We sell a 1-liter bottle of Caymus Cabernet for just $95. So naturally we sell a LOT of Caymus. I believe we are the No. 1 single-unit restaurant in Caymus sales in all of New England.
     Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay is another great deal for just $45. It’s from California. It’s very balanced. Pairs well with a lot of food. It’s sexy. It kicks ass. It’s a chardonnay lover’s dream and at $45 we sell a lot of it.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
     Our Masseto 2015 is a pretty rare super Tuscan. A 100-point wine. An outstanding special occasion wine. A great wine to enjoy among friends. A unique blend of super Tuscans with a lot of complexity. It’s a wine most people would drink and it remember it forever. We sell it for $900 when it might run you $2,000 somewhere else in Boston.
     Also, we’re lucky to be one of the few restaurants in the region to carry Sassicaia 2015, which Wine Spectator named its No. 1 wine of 2018. This is one of the world’s great wines and we sell it for just $315.

Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
If I have to drink wine for myself, it would be anything from Howell Mountain in Napa. I love the earthiness of the wines in that region. I like the tannins. I like big wines that need decanting. Great spices. Howell Mountain wines remind me of Old World wines. We carry wines from Robert Craig, Dunn and La Jota vineyards in Howell Mountain.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your wine list, your work as a sommelier, or wine service?
My experience in this industry was forged soon after I moved here from Albania at some of the greatest restaurants in America most notably Anthony’s Pier 4, Legal Sea Foods and then Grill 23. When I landed in Boston I couldn’t even speak English. But Anthony’s Pier 4 had one of the best, most expansive wine lists in America and a very demanding customer base. I learned the wine business, and I learned the language, pretty fast. Then I feel like I refined my knowledge at Grill 23, which had that outstanding wine list and still does today. I learned a lot at both places and met people passionate about food and wine.

I wanted to carry that passion forward here at Alba and sell the same wines but at a better price. I’ve got to meet so many great winemakers, producers, sommeliers and have had the pleasure tasting a lot of wine. It’s helped me create a palate where I can tell you everything I like or don’t like about a wine and then convey those experiences to my staff and to my guests and hopefully help people make educated decisions about their wine.

I’ve taken all those experiences and brought them here to Alba and love sharing them with our guests. It’s really the same passion I learned that Christmas eve when I was teenager drinking my grandparent’s wine. If people get anything out of dining at Alba, I hope that get that passion and pleasure we get from serving great food and great wine.

Thursday, March 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.
1) A Taste of Ginger will be held on Monday, March 25, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, in the beautiful Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts. Proceeds from A Taste of Ginger will benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) which works to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, and collaborates with Joslin as they work to find a cure.

Each year, hundreds of supporters and foodies gather to enjoy a lively evening, including the opportunity to meet and taste the cuisine of more than 30 of Boston’s most celebrated chefs such as Jasper White, Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery + Café, Tiffani Faison of Tiger Mama, Tracy Chang of PAGU, Sumiao Chen of Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Jimmy Liang of Fuji at Ink Block, and Andy Husbands of The Smoke Shop BBQ, amidst the beauty of the MFA.

Culinary chair Bik-Fung Ng has been a committee member of A Taste of Ginger since its creation in 2005; she has more than 30 years of experience in the food industry and has been an activist in the Asian Community for many years, often collaborating with the AADI on nutrition-related projects. Longtime Joslin supporter and A Taste of Ginger founder Leverett Wing, whose parents helped establish the AADI at Joslin, will serve as event chair alongside Audrey Paek, a staple in the Boston nonprofit community, including time on the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

Emceed by Emmy-nominated NBC 10 Boston and NECN anchor and reporter Joy Lim Nakrin, the event will honor the founding families of one of Boston’s first and largest chef-centered fundraising events and will celebrate the substantial advances the AADI has made through research, education, outreach, and culturally appropriate treatments. This event will mark the 15th year that funds raised by supporters of A Taste of Ginger have helped fund the important work of the AADI.

I've attended this event multiple times and it always is a great time, with some amazing food, and it is all for an excellent cause.

TICKETS: Tickets are $250 per guest, and can be purchased online

2) Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE) has announced the chef line-up for its fundraiser, OF COURSE! 2019, taking place Sunday, April 28, at CCAE in the heart of Harvard Square. The event features a festive and interactive “Menu of Classes” at CCAE from 4:45pm-6:45pm and then the party continues as a brass band leads guests down the street to The Charles Hotel Ballroom. 

Guests will enter the ballroom to discover 17 of the city’s talented and much-appreciated chefs, restaurants and breweries presenting favorite food and drink for “A Taste of CCAE.” “It truly is a celebration of CCAE and the community” explains Linda Burton, executive director, CCAE. “At CCAE our goal is to bring education, conversation and the community together in a vibrant setting. April 28th will be one extraordinary evening where we salute not only our incomparable classes and inspired instructors, but also our wonderful supporters and many of Cambridge’s top chefs, vintners and breweries.”

There are 17 Cambridge chefs and restaurants participating:
Chef Jody Adams and Chef Pantazis Deligiannis, Saloniki
Chef Joanne Chang, Flour
Chef Tracy Chang, PAGU
Chef Peter Davis, Henrietta’s Table
Chef Carl Dooley, The Table at Season to Taste
Chef Mark Goldberg, Temple Bar
Chef Felipe Herrera, Felipe’s Taqueria
Chef Scott Jones, Luce
Chef Maura Kilpatrick, Sofra
Chef Tyler Kinnett, Harvest
Chef Tony Maws, Craigie on Main and Kirkland Tap & Trotter
Chef Peter McCarthy, EVOO and Za
Chef Michael Pagliarini, Benedetto and Giulia
Chef Kristen Rummel, Honeycomb Creamery
Chef Jeffrey Salazar, Parsnip
Chef Michael Scelfo, Alden & Harlow / Waypoint / Longfellow Bar
Chef Chris Willis, Pammy’s

The exclusive wine sponsor is 90+ Cellars, and an original OF COURSE! 2019 cocktail is being concocted by Bully Boy Distillers.

OF COURSE! 2019 is the CCAE’s primary fundraiser, providing resources to produce the 1200+ classes it presents each year, as well as to support its robust scholarship program, Conversations on the Edge discussion series, the Blacksmith House Poetry Series and its many other innovative programs and initiatives.

Time: 4:45pm-6:30pm: A Menu of Interactive Classes at 42 & 56 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA
6:45pm-7:00pm: Brass Band Parade from 42 Brattle Street to The Charles Hotel
7:00pm-9:00pm: OF COURSE! 2019 "Taste of CCAE" Gala Party at The Charles Hotel

Tickets cost $275 and are available through

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Katie's Kitchen: Delicious, Value Breakfast in Wolfeboro

Over the weekend, I spent a couple days in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, staying at Adam Japko's stunning lakehouse with a number of friends. Both mornings, I stopped by Katie's Kitchen for breakfast and every time I now return to Wolfeboro, I'll make sure I go back to Katie's Kitchen. Delicious, fresh and inexpensive breakfast in a homey atmosphere. And those Cinnamon Rolls!

Katie's Kitchen, owned by Patty Lord, is a small, homey and casual restaurant, a place frequented by many locals. Locals know they can get up and refill their own cup of coffee, or even bus their own table. Everyone seems to know everyone else, a close-knit community, bonding over pancakes or bacon & eggs. Patty presides over the restaurant like a charming aunt, extremely personable, very attentive, and with a nice sense of humor. She likes the restaurant as it is, resistant to changing anything because she feels everything works well just the way it is. For example, she won't add an expresso/cappucino machine, believing her coffee is sufficient for all. Why ruin the charm of this place with such a machine?

The restaurant primarily serves breakfast and their menu is relatively simple, though they are willing to make almost anything else you might want if it is possible. They have you covered with all the basics, such as eggs, pancakes, omelettes, waffles, and eggs benedict. Their low prices are hard to beat, such as 3 Eggs, Toast & Home Fries for only $2.20! Three good-sized Pancakes for only $2.50. Only $3.25 for an Omelette. They also make fresh muffins and cinnamon rolls each morning, in limited quantities, so make sure to get there early so you don't miss out.

(As an aside, I also want to bring your attention to a fascinating article by my friend Patrick Maguire, Overtip Breakfast Servers. He makes persuasive points about why you should tip well at breakfast, especially at such an inexpensive place like Katie's Kitchen. The usual 15%-20% gratuity just isn't adequate in this situation.)

The Cinnamon Roll is amazing, soft and full of plenty of cinnamon, as well as covered with a mildly sweet glaze. Though it comes with a large pat of butter, you won't need it for this sweet treat. This is one of the best cinnamon rolls that I've eaten at a restaurant. I'd come to Katie's Kitchen just for a couple of these pastries.

Their fresh Muffins are also quite tasty, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a Butterscotch Muffin here. I love the taste of butterscotch but had never had such a muffin. The butterscotch flavor in this moist muffin was just enough, not overly sweet or strong, but prominent and delicious. We need more Butterscotch Muffins!

The Blueberry Muffin was also quite good, moist with plenty of sweet blueberries, and a nice crusty top. Their Corn Muffin was tasty as well.

The Belgian Waffle, with a side of crisp bacon, was chewy and flavorful, just how I prefer my waffles. I also enjoyed their Blueberry Pancakes, which were large, and filled with plentiful blueberries.

A simple dish of Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Home Fries and English Muffin. Hearty and delicious.

If you enjoy breakfast, and find yourself in the Wolfeboro area, then you must stop by Katie's Kitchen. You won't be able to beat the prices, the food will be fresh and delicious, and you'll enjoy the homey ambiance. And their cinnamon rolls and muffins are a must buy! Kudos to Patty and the entire staff at Katies Kitchen.