Friday, August 30, 2019

Japanese Sake in a Juice Box! Nihon Sakari Onikoroshi Futsushu

Japanese Sake in a Juice Box! And yes, there is a Straw too.

The Japanese aren't hung up over packaging for Sake, and Tetra Paks are simply one option for producers. Plus, Sake often comes in a single-serving size, 180ml, which is traditionally known as an ichigo or just go. A traditional Sake bottle holds 720ml, or four go, and is called a yongobin.

As far back as 2009, I've been extolling the virtues of wine in a Tetra Pak, though it was rare to see any with a straw. Tetra Paks are better for the environment in a number of ways, making it a more sustainable choice than a bottle. As I've stated before, "Tetra Pak cartons use 54% less energy, create 80% less greenhouse gasses, produce 60% less solid waste volume and also have 92% less package weight, compared to a 750ml glass wine bottle." In addition, they're portable and convenient, not requiring a corkscrew. You can take them to the beach, on a camping trip, on a boat, and much more without the worries of glass.

Some people are dismissive of Tetra Paks yet their advantages cannot be ignored, especially in a world where climate change is a major issue. Plus, the sheer convenience of them makes them compelling, especially during summer when many of is travel to the mountains or beaches.

The Nihon Sakari Onikoroshi Futsushu ($7.99/180ml), with a 13-14% ABV, is produced by Nihon Sakari Co., Ltd., which was established 130 years ago in 1889 as the Nishinomiya Sake Brewing Company. In 2000, they changed their name to Nihon Sakari and they have also taken back on their old slogan, "More flavorful, more beautiful." Their main headquarters is located in Nishinomiya, in the Hyogo Prefecture, an area well-known historically for Sake production.

This Sake is Futsu-shu, non-premium Sake which constitutes about 75% of all Sake production in Japan. The quality of futsu-shu can vary widely, from cheap and harsh to smooth and flavorful. This Sake is also named Onikoroshi, which is roughly translated as "demon slayer," and during the Meiji era (1868-1911), Sake that was extremely dry was commonly known as Onikoroshi.

Drinking this Sake out of a straw was fun, and I found it to be dry, with a pleasing blend of earthiness and rice flavors. It was a simple Sake, but relatively smooth and easy on the palate with a hint of bitter on the finish. Definitely food friendly, it would also be enjoyable on its own. Don't overly think it. Just drink and enjoy.

Summer isn't over yet, so pick up some of these Tetra Paks for your travels. Kanpai!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Casa Blanca: A Compelling Moroccan/French Bakery in Revere

My first introduction to the Casa Blanca House of Pastries was when several of my good friends brought some of their pastries to celebrate my birthday. I was thoroughly impressed with those layered French pastries, a well balanced delight of flavors and textures. They came in several different flavors, and each was compelling in its own right. I knew then that I had to check out this bakery, to find out what else they had to offer.

The Casa Blanca House of Pastries originally started as a small shop on Shirley Avenue in Revere, and eventually opened a second location in Everett. This summer, they moved their Shirley Avenue location to a larger space, at 151 VFW Parkway in Revere. Owned and operated by a family of brothers, there are both Moroccan and French influences, and they offer both savory and sweet options, from breakfast to lunch, dinner to dessert. Moroccan cuisine isn't too common in the Boston area so you'll find some more unique items here.

Their Breakfast Menu includes many of the usual dishes, from eggs to pancakes, waffles to breakfast sandwiches. There is also an option for a Moroccan Breakfast ($10.99), which includes coffee or tea, m'semen (a flatbread), baghrir (spongy pancake), harcha (semolina bread), baguette, oatmeal, hard egg, cream cheese, olive oil and honey. There are very few local bakeries where you can find those Moroccan breads and pancakes.

For Lunch or Dinner, they also sell a variety of sandwiches, from burgers to steak and cheese, from lamb kabab to falafel wrap. You'll also find salads, soups and dinner entrees, generally grilled meats or fish with rice and salad. I tried their Cheeseburger ($7.00) and Mixed Grill Dinner (chicken, lamb & ground beef-$12.99), and found them to be of average quality, nothing special. Those dishes wouldn't persuade me to return here to try other lunch or dinner options.

However, the strength of Casa Blanca lies in their baked goods, pastries and desserts. And they are well worth a visit for all of these items. Not only will they delight your palate, but they will also impress your guests at a party or celebration.

First, check out the case of their various breads, including items like m'semenbaghrir, and harcha. It would be nice if they labeled the items so you knew what they were, but the servers will freely answer your questions about all of the breads. Many will look somewhat familiar, with some items resembling Indian naan and others like a thick English muffin. They possess their own uniqueness though, and are quite delicious.

The M'semen, which is available in circular or rectangular form, is a traditional flatbread of North Africa, though sometimes it is referred to as a crepe or pancake. Its name derives from a Berber word meaning "well baked" or "well kneaded" and it is made so that it possesses about eight or so layers. I found it to be buttery and flavorful, flaky and soft, with plenty of internal layers. It is thicker and larger than a naan. It is an excellent bread for dipping into various sauces, and I've even used it to make a tasty meatball sandwich. On the menu it's listed as Moroccan Flat Bread ($1.75) and it is a very good value too.

This item is similar in some respects to a croissant, and was filled with melted cheese. Again, it was flaky and flavorful, thicker than a typical croissant, and filled with plenty of savory cheese.

They sell a variety of the usual baked goods too, from doughnuts to muffins, danish to croissants. Their Cinnamon Rolls ($2) were amazing, with a soft and flaky roll, garnished with just the right amount of cinnamon and glaze. They were one of the best cinnamon rolls I've enjoyed in quite some time. It was the late afternoon when I purchased these cinnamon rolls, and I suspected they had been made early that morning, for their breakfast crowd. However, they seemed as fresh as if they had just been made. Highly recommended.

Other cases are filled with a variety of pastries, including Napoleon, Eclair, Tartlet, Cannolli, Carrot Cake, and others, generally priced $2.50-$2.99. They are visually appealing and you'll probably have difficulty choosing what you want. I don't think you'll go wrong though whatever your choice.

These French Pastries ($2.99), from Chocolate to Caramel, are layered beauties, with rich and creamy flavors. They aren't heavy, so you'll probably be able to finish one on your own. They are also available in plenty of other flavors, including Strawberry, Mango, Lemon, Moka Coffee, Black Forest and more.

I highly recommend you visit Casa Blanca House of Pastries for their breads, baked goods and pastries. They are well-made and delicious, reasonably priced and diverse. Their bakers and pastry chefs are obviously well skilled and it's also great to be able to find some of their Moroccan specialities which are difficult to find elsewhere. I know I'll be returning there again soon, to enjoy some of the items I've previously enjoyed, and to try some new ones too.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Rant: National Recognition Yet Uneven Service

Last week, I stopped for a quick bite and a glass of wine at a Boston restaurant which has received national attention this year for their wine program. This was actually my first visit, which was long overdue, to this spot. The food was delicious and the wine list was impressive but the lackluster service was a fail.

Awards and accolades aren't a guarantee that you'll have a positive restaurant experience.

I sat at the bar and during the time I was there, I was able to observe and compare the actions of two different servers, the one who served me and another who later served others at the bar. There was an obvious and significant difference in the attitudes and actions of the two servers. One well represented the restaurant and its concept, while the other failed as an advocate, evidencing a lack of passion.

A food menu and wine list were placed in front of me without real comment. Then, my server left to let me peruse the two menus. When the other server tended to his guests, he was much more communicative. First, he explained their wine program, noting some of the unique aspects of it. Second, he also detailed the day's food specials, which weren't listed on the menu.

My server didn't mention either of these items to me. He left me in the dark, limiting my choices because of my ignorance. He did the bare minimum, failing to rise to the occasion like the second server.

My experience would have been different, and more positive, if I had the second server. I might also have chosen different food and wine, based on that new information. When you have a more unique wine program, you need to ensure that your customers understand it. And that means your servers need to be proactive, to inform customers about it and not put the burden on the customer to have to ask about it. The second server did an excellent and seamless job of discussing the wine list and food specials. You felt his passion. And that is what will lead to positive reviews and bring in more customers.

Despite my experience, I'll likely return to the restaurant, hoping my experience was more an aberration.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Westmount Winery: Pinot Gris to Pinot Noir Rosé

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

Rant: Boston Needs Vampires!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Puritan & Company Chef/Owner Will Gilson; along with notable Boston-area chefs that include: Little Donkey’s Jamie Bissonnette, Chickadee’s John Da Silva; Select Oyster Bar’s Michael Serpa; Nathalie and Haley.Henry’s Peter McKenzie; Pastry Chef Brian Mercury and Spoke’s Kelcey Rusch. The Puritan & Co. team invite guests to join them for a delicious, multi-course meal inspired by culinary legend Julia Child.

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

Tickets, which cost $110 each, will be available for purchase at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Rant: At The Register, Put The Cellphone Down

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

That needs to stop!

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

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

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

Have some consideration and put your cellphone down.

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

Monday, August 5, 2019

Rant: "Ugly" Food Deserves Love Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Spicy World: Sichuan Skewer Pot in Malden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Kingston Cuts, Lounge & Grill, specializing in classic Steak Frites, has opened at 25 Kingston Street in Boston. Kingston Cuts is "founded on the principle that topnotch food and service shouldn’t have to bankrupt the customer." Kingston Cuts General Manager Everett Strauss says, “I wanted to open a place that people could visit frequently—without going into hock. Less expensive doesn’t have to mean lesser ingredients and a less attentive waitstaff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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