Monday, August 31, 2020

Rant: In Simplicity, Restaurants Prove Themselves

Yesterday, I enjoyed a delicious Brunch at Island Creek Oyster Bar (ICOB) in Burlington, and my choice of entree was their Yellowfin Tuna Melt. It had been over six months since the last time I ate this sandwich, one of my favorites, here. At most restaurants, a Tuna Melt is rather ordinary, if not disappointing, but ICOB has created a marvel, frankly the best Tuna Melt I've ever tasted. 

It's a simple dish, but created with quality ingredients, and everything is properly balanced. The ample, creamy and tasty tuna filling doesn't ooze mayo like some other tuna melts. The home-made pickles add a bit of crunch and some acidity. The melted cheese adds some nutty notes and the white rye bread, with panini-like grill marks, adds a touch of spiciness and is just the right thickness. Everything meshes well together, and it's consistently excellent. Great comfort food.

The ICOB Tuna Melt is also indicative of a basic rule about chefs and restaurants: In Simplicity, Restaurants Prove Themselves. If you want to judge the quality of a chef or restaurant, you can assess how they prepare simple dishes. Do they elevate that dish above the ordinary? Do they remain true to the essence of that dish, without transforming it into something unrecognizable? Is it a dish you would order again, one you would highly recommend to others?

I've often heard it said, even by some chefs, that they judge another chef by how well they prepare Roast Chicken. It's probably not a dish you usually order at a restaurant, because it seems so ordinary, yet a skilled chef can elevate it to levels that would amaze your palate. With Japanese restaurants, I commonly assess them based on their Tempura, another simple dish but which some places elevate to an art. And it is those restaurants which are usually the best. 

These chefs don't use fancy tricks to change these simple dishes into something they are not. They embrace the essence of the dish, but know how to make it shine. They use quality ingredients and perfect cooking techniques to transform the ordinary into something much greater than the norm. I wouldn't order a tuna melt in almost any other restaurant, but at ICOB, as it's so enticing. And ICOB also makes plenty of other excellent dishes, from their Lobster Rolls to Tuna Poke. The skill and taste evidenced in their simple tuna melt is indicative of their greater excellence for their entire menu.

Which restaurants offer compelling simple dishes which you love?

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
1) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson and Pastry Chef Brian Mercury will continue their annual dinner that pays homage to one of Cambridge’s culinary legends, Julia Child, with a family-style takeout menu, paired with wine for an additional fee, and featuring her favorite dishes. 

The at-home Virtual Tribute Dinner can be picked up at the restaurant on August 28 and 29th and comes with four courses, recipe cards, a pre-recorded video, plus sides for $50 per person. Optional wine pairings for two guests is available for an additional $40.

The menu includes:
First Course: Salad Niçoise- marinated yellowfin tuna, confit potatoes, wax beans, heirloom cherry tomatoes, picholine olives
Second Course: Vichyssoise- chilled potato-leek soup, dill oil, fried garlic, smoked bay scallops
Main Course: Beef Bourguignon- Slow braised beef, glazed baby vegetables, bacon lardons
Side: Pommes Gratin- gruyere, yukon gold, crispy onions
Dessert: Chocolate Mousse Stuffed Crepes- strawberry, crème fraîche, almond

Optional Wine Pairing for 2:
Chardonnay Blend nv Old Westminster Winery "Farm Fizz" Maryland (12oz can)
Pinot Noir Blend nv West + Wilder Rosé California (250mL can)
Syrah Blend '18 Lubanzi Wines Coastal Region, South Africa (12oz can)
Vin Doux Naturel ’09 Gayral & Gallet Maury “Le Passage” Roussillon, France

For more information and to place orders, please call (617)-615-6195

2) Bisq, in Cambridge. led by Chef Alex Saenz, is now open for Patio Dining from Tuesday to Saturday, from 5:30pm to 8pm. You can call them at 617-714-3693 to make a reservation  but walk-ins are also welcome. You can now drink and dine at Bisq, rather than just getting take--out. Take-out and  delivery remain available too. Bisq is one of my favorite restaurants so I encourage you to dine on their patio and show your support. And I highly recommend that you, or someone in your party, order their Fried Chicken.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Porter's Small Batch Rye Whiskey: From Massachusetts to Utah

This scary looking guy, who reminds me a bit of of Charlie Manson, is Orrin Porter Rockwell, a Western lawman and Mormon, who was known as the "Destroying Angel." Although he spent much of his life in Utah, he was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts. When he was 16 years old, he was baptized into a church that later became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1840, Rockwell became a Deputy Marshall of Great Salt Lake City, and he also chose to never cut his hair or beard. His life was controversial, and it's claimed he killed a significant number of outlaws, many more than some more famous Western lawmen. 

Porter's image, made to resemble a Western wanted poster, is on bottles in the Porter Whiskey portfolio, produced by Ogden's Own Distillery. Porter Whiskey includes several different products, including Porter Peach, Porter Huckleberry, Porter Apple, Porter's Fire, the new Peanut Butter Whiskey, and Porter's Small Batch Rye Whiskey. The first five products are a blend of Canadian whiskey and other flavorings. I received a media sample of their Small Batch Rye Whiskey, which is not made from Canadian whiskey.

"From the late 1800's to the mid 1900's setting foot off of the train in Ogden was often a life changing experience for a transcontinental rail traveler. The train station sat as the root of the infamous Two-bit Street. "Any man's desire fulfilled for two bits." Two-bit/25th Street was a hedonist's paradise. With no trouble from the law, a man could gamble, drink bootleg liquor, spend time with an unfamiliar lady, smoke opium, or befall a worse fate.
--From the Ogden's Own Distillery website

Ogden's Own Distillery was established in 2009, making it the first licensed distillery in Ogden since the 19th century, and their first product was the Underground Herbal Spirit, a liqueur that contains 33 herbs and flavors. From the beginning, they cherished a connection to Utah's historic past, as well as having a sense of humor. Their next product, which garnered some controversy, was Five Wives Vodka, which teased about Utah's history of polygamy. They also produce Gin, under the Madam Pattirini brand, as well as the Porter whiskies. Earlier this year, Ogden's opened a new and much larger distillery facility, about 32,000 square feet, which should allow for an impressive 10-fold increase in production. 

Porter’s Small Batch Rye Whiskey (about $39.95) is made from a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The rye is sourced from MGP, in Indiana, where the finished distillate also spends a year of aging. When the distillate is sent to Utah, it spends another three to four years aging, at 111 proof, in heavily-charred, new American white oak barrels. When the aging is complete, it is blended down to 90 proof. This Rye was first launched in 2019, when about 1000 cases were released, and it remains a small production, though the new distillery could lead to a larger production next year. 

On the nose, this Rye has that spicy edge you seek if you love Rye, accompanied by more subtle elements of herbs and toasted notes. On the palate, the spicy aspect is bold, with plenty of peppery notes as well as baking spices. There is some complexity to its flavors though, with intriguing herbal notes, berry flavors, and a hint of chocolate. Each sip seems to bring something new, though subtle, to your palate. It has a bit of heat to it, a fairly lengthy finish, and some bitter notes on the finish. 

It's definitely a young whiskey, and it could probably benefit from more aging. As such, I think it's best used in cocktails, rather than sipped on its own, and would make a fine Manhattan, one of my favorite Rye Whiskey cocktails. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Việt Citron: A Follow-Up & Seasonal Specialties

Last month, I reviewed Việt Citron, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Burlington. I previously stated, "Overall, it's an impressive restaurant with very fresh and delicious Vietnamese food, and I highly recommend it." Since that time, I've been dining there regularly, generally at least once a week, and sometimes more. During that time, I've tasted some of their seasonal specialities, and ordered one of their Pound/Bulk Order products. So, I felt an update was warranted, especially considering this is a new restaurant, worthy of attention.

As I was going to a grilling party at a friend's home, I decided to bring some Pork Belly rather than the typical hamburgers, hot dogs, and steak tips. At Việt Citron, they have a menu of Pound/Bulk Order products, items you can take to parties and large feasts. I decided to order a pound of their Salt Roasted Crispy Pork Belly ($16.95). Their pork belly is delicious, with a delightful crunchy coating and silky tender meat and fat. I'd previously enjoyed the pork belly in their Bahn Mi, and this was no different. My friends eagerly devoured the pork belly, quickly emptying the dish, and it definitely was a huge hit. You just have to provide 24 hours notice when you order the Pork Belly, and then you can enjoy it at home in any manner you choose.

One of their seasonal specials is the Viet Grilled Corn ($5.75), which is smothered with a scallion jalapeno butter and topped with scallion oil. Who doesn't love grilled corn in the summer? And the addition of the scallion jalapeno butter adds a mildly spicy kick which enhances the sweet, slightly charred, corn. It makes for a nice side to your lunch or dinner. 

One of their most recent seasonal speciality was the Chili Lemongrass Pork Ribs ($15.00), listed as “Succulent grilled pork back ribs marinated w/ chilies and lemongrass.” I've had these ribs twice and both times they were tender and meaty, with a delightful spicy dry rub and a slight bit of heat. Frankly, they are some of the best ribs I've tasted in awhile. They are served atop rice and served with some fresh veggies. It's a hearty and delicious dish which I strongly recommend. It may not be on the menu for a few weeks, but will return again sometime in September.

Another seasonal speciality, and one of their few dessert options, was the Chuối Xiêm Nướng (Grilled Thai Bananas drizzled with Coconut Milk). The Thai bananas are only sweet for a short time period so this special came and went quickly, and it's missed. The sweet, tender grilled bananas were enhanced by the sweet and creamy coconut milk, although it wasn't overly sweet, and the texture was accented with crushed nuts. 

Tran Lee, one of the owners, has mentioned that many of these dishes were items she enjoyed as a child in Vietnam, and that connection makes the food even better. I also like the seasonal aspect of their menu, as well as that they are using fresh ingredients to create special and delicious items. Regular customers can often find something different on the menu that they can enjoy. My continued visits to Việt Citron have solidified my respect for this restaurant and I highly recommend everyone check it out.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Rant: Why Protect "Bad" Chefs?

In recent months, I've seen a few chefs on social media allege that 85%-95% of chefs are basically "bad" employers. However, those chefs didn't provide any evidence to support their allegations, and, to the best of my knowledge, have failed to specifically identify any offenders. Without proof and specificity, their statements are essentially meaningless. Why won't they provide more information? Why be so vague yet derogatory to so many of their colleagues? 

Is there an unwritten rule among chefs that you don't specifically call out each other?

Last week, a local chef, who eventually was identified on social media as Michael Scelfo, of Alden & Harlow, the Longfellow Bar, and Waypoint, was accused of years of bad behavior. However, specifics were scant, and despite the alleged length of this offensive behavior, none of the mainstream/traditional media has previously written about this matter. It's alleged that one such article was in the works, but that still means that years have passed without any such coverage. Why has the media failed to cover these long-term accusations for so many years? Or have they already investigated the matter and found the accusations to have no merit?

Much of the information on social media about this chef is still just insinuation and allegation. And the average consumer has probably never heard anything about this chef's alleged bad behavior. If the chef has actually engaged in this bad behavior, then why has the chef been allowed to get away with it for so long? Why hasn't anyone come forward with specific evidence against this chef? Again, it must be questioned whether there is any merit to the allegations. 

I've also seen insinuations and vague allegations of bad behavior of other specific chefs, yet once again, there is a clear lack of proof offered to support any of it. Even when asked, those making the allegations generally fail to provide proof of their claims, despite their vehemence against the chef's alleged bad behavior to inform the public? Or were reports actually made to various authorities, but they lead to no action being taken? 

If any of these allegations were true, evidence would likely exist yet why hasn't it seemingly been offered up? Do the victims fear retribution, such as being blacklisted in the industry? I suspect, especially now, that there would be a significant number of restaurants which would hire these individuals for taking such a courageous stand against an offending chef. 

Why is the mainstream/traditional media not writing about these matters? Why are others chefs reluctant to specifically call out their offending colleagues? Shouldn't they want to help clean up their industry? Without such proof, these offending chefs can continue their bad behavior for years without consequence. Some even receive very positive press and accolades despite their bad behavior.

I don't know whether Scelfo is guilty or not of the accusations which have been made against him. I haven't seen sufficient proof to convince me either way. However, there is definitely a potential story there which the mainstream/traditional media appears to have ignored for years. And if they have investigated the matter, and found no merit, then maybe that should have been a story as well. 

There are other chefs out there as well where vague accusations of wrongdoing have been made, yet no one is investigating and writing about them either. It seems that it is the rare local chef who actually is brought to task for his bad behavior, like Todd English, whose bad behavior has been written about in multiple publications. He is the exception though and other offenders escape public scrutiny. 

Is there a fear of legal recourse if specific allegations and evidence are offered? That is certainly possible, but making unsubstantiated allegations could also possibly lead to legal action, such as a defamation action. And such a threat of potential legal action isn't stopping these unsubstantiated allegations from being made. However, the presentation of sufficient evidence about a chef's bad behavior could provide an excellent defense against legal action. The mainstream/traditional media generally have legal counsel which could assist in crafting articles about such bad behavior and avoid legal issues. 

Are there unwritten rules in the restaurant industry which prevent chefs and other restaurant employees from providing proof of a chef's bad behavior? If so, maybe those rules need to vanish, so that the industry can become better. Every industry has bad apples and they need to be eliminated. Their offending behavior needs to be exposed and curtailed. Vague allegations and insinuations are insufficient to prevent bad behavior. 

Who shall step forward and make a stand? Who shall take the lead and expose bad behavior, helping to make a better industry? Will the mainstream/traditional media delve into these issues? Or is this a matter which independent bloggers and other writers can or should address? 

Bloggers definitely could write such articles, though I expect many would be wary of doing so, especially over legal concerns. Few bloggers have attorneys on call to defend them in case litigation is brought against them for such articles. And the financial cost of such a legal defense would be a strong deterrent. On a more practical side, these types of articles require lengthy research, including the interviewing of multiple witnesses, and many bloggers don't have sufficient free time to dedicate to such matters. Some bloggers might also fear retribution from other chefs. 

In the end, will anyone write about the accusations against these chefs, or will people continue to whisper in the shadows, accomplishing nothing, allowing bad behavior to thrive?

Friday, August 21, 2020

New Sampan Article: Mary Yick, A Chinatown Pioneer Who Fought Discrimination

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."

--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. I've previously written seven articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, Mary Yick: A Chinatown Pioneer Who Fought Discrimination, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. From restaurant owner to blackjack dealer, Mary Yick, like Ruby Foo and Anita Chue, was another pioneering women in the Chinatown restaurant industry, owning the Tiki Hut restaurant on Tyler Street. Like the other two women, Mary Yick was very popular, especially with the theatrical industry, and was affectionately as "The Dragon Lady."

Unfortunately, Mary might have fallen victim to sex discrimination, eventually leading her to sell her famed restaurant. After the sale, Mary went on a tour around the world, finally choosing to settle in Las Vegas, where she became a blackjack dealer, a vastly different job from running a restaurant. Like Ruby Foo and Anita Chue, Mary Yick was an intelligent, charming and savvy business woman who became a success in the restaurant industry, and introduced many people to the wonders of Chinese cuisine, especially Cantonese. Her restaurant career ended too shortly,. A tragedy in its own right. 

Check out my new article in the Sampan for more information on Mary Yick. I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which will be published next month.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
1) Ball Square Fine Wines has opened its third location, Malden Center Fine Wines, at 220 Pleasant Street, part of the new construction in that area. The new shop sells beer, wine and spirits, and a significant portion of their inventory can be found on their website. Their website also states they have Free Weekly tastings, including Beer on Friday, 5pm-7pm, Wine on Friday 4:30pm-7:30pm, and Spirits on Saturday 4pm-6pm. I'm not sure how these tastings are conducted considering necessary safety precautions. I haven't visited the store yet but plan to do so soon. Ball Square is an excellent wine shop so I expect their new Malden location will be a worthy destination. I'll report back once I've checked it out.

2) The second live online running of John Gauntner's Sake Professional Course will be held via Zoom on three consecutive weekends from Japan. The dates will be Sunday, October 4, Saturday & Sunday October 10 & 11, and Saturday and Sunday October 17 & 18, from 9:00am to 12:30pm JST (Japan Standard Time) each day. There will also be an introductory lecture and Zoom test on Saturday, October 3 from 9:00am to 10:00am.

Note, for those in the US, because Japan is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time (NYC time), the dates for the US will be Saturday, October 3, Friday & Saturday October 9 and 10, and Friday and Saturday October 16 and 17, from 8:00pm to 11:30pm Eastern Time. Zoom recordings will be made available to those that miss or cannot participate in a session.

The content of this intensive sake live online course will be identical to that of the Sake Professional Course held across the US and in Japan, with the exception of extensive sake tastings, and sake brewery visits. The goal of this course is that “no sake stone remains left unturned,” and Gauntner's motto is “exceed expectations for the course.” Every conceivable sake-related topic will be covered across the five three-hour sessions.

Each of the five three-and-a-half-hour sessions will include a 20-minute break in the middle, a thorough question and answer period, and a tasting exercise of one to three sake (to be procured by each student based on to-be-provided list) held at the end of the session. (Participation in the tasting session is optional!)

The course is recognized by the Sake Education Council, and those that complete it will be qualified to take an exam for Certified Sake Professional certification, which will be offered online on Saturday, October 24, via Classmate. Those that pass the exam will be receive a certificate, and be recognized on the Sake Education Council website as a Certified Sake Professional.

The tuition for the five-session course, including all materials and certification testing is US$350. Also, participants can apply a portion of this amount as a discount to the tuition of the live in-person Sake Professional Course at any time in the future.

Participation is limited and reservations can be made now to secure a seat; full payment will be requested by Friday, September 25th. For reservations or inquiries, please send an email to You download a document with the syllabus here. I've taken this course before and I give it my unqualified recommendation for anyone who wants to learn more about Sake. John Gauntner is an excellent instructor and he really covers a ton of material.

3) Chef David Vargas, of Vida Cantina of Portsmouth, NH, is concerned about Diversity in the restaurant industry, and on Sunday, September 13, from 3pm-5pm, outside the Vida Cantina, he is hosting a special outdoor BBQ event with some New England chefs and their favorite charities. 

Chef Vargas stated, “We all know that Diversity is the heart and soul of our restaurants, from our teams who take care of our guests, to the dishes we prepare, the music we play, the languages we speak. Our teams are amazing and talented and from around the world. We must show them our support. I am so grateful to this community and to these fantastic chefs who are donating their time to shine a light on Diversity as we raise important funds for non-profits who are close to our hearts.” 

The Guest Chefs & their Charities include:
Tony Messina & Andres Carmona, Uni / Jimmy Fund
Justin Walker, Walkers Maine / York Food Pantry
Ilma Lopez, Chaval / Full Plates Full Potential
Daniel Bojorquez, La Brasa / Lovin’ Spoonfuls
David Vargas & Michael Famico, Vida Cantina / CASA-Community Advocates for All Date: 

This is a covid compliant event and they will be selling an entire table of six instead of individual tickets. Each table costs $450 and seats 6 people and includes a family style BBQ, 2 pitchers of agua fresca and two pitchers of El Jimador Tequila Margaritas. Reserve your table in advance by calling Vida Cantina to at 603-501-0648.

4) Before Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar and its dining car existed, there was a small, house-like building called the Jaunty Jack, serving up "Good Things To Eat".  Rosebud is throwing it back to the good 'ol days with their own Jaunty Jack Fish Shack for Friday lunch. Each Friday, from 11am-3pm, they will be serving classic fish shack eats, such as Lobster Rolls, Fried Clams, Fish & Chips, and Steamers. You can eat on their street side patio, in a booth in their dining car, or even order it online for pick-up or delivery. 

The Friday menu will include items such as: 
JAUNTY DELUXE ($13): Beer battered haddock, grilled brioche, lettuce, tomato, house tartar, served with fries
CRISPY SOFT SHELL CRAB BLT ($16): Fried soft shell crab, apple wood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, house aioli, on a brioche bun, served with french fries
PEI MUSSELS ($12): Steamed mussels, white wine, garlic, parsley, thyme
FRIED CLAM ROLL ($18): Fried whole belly clams, grilled bun, lemon, house tartar sauce, fries
LOBSTER ROLL ($21): Maine lobster, mayo + lemon + herbs, bibb lettuce, grilled brioche roll, served with fries
FISH + CHIPS ($16): Beer battered haddock, coleslaw, lemon, house tartar sauce, served with fries
WHOLE BELLY PLATE ($19): Fried whole belly clams, cole slaw, lemon, house tartar sauce, served with fries

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Island Creek Oyster Bar: Reopened & Still Excellent

One of my favorite restaurants, Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, has recently reopened, and is now available for dine-in, patio dining, and take-out. Their current hours are Wednesday & Thursday 4pm-9pm, Friday & Saturday 4pm-10pm, and Sunday 12pm-8pm (Brunch and Dinner). Hopefully in the near future, they'll reopen for Lunch as well. 

Last week, I dined there with a few family members and we all thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience. Yes, it's a bit different now due to the pandemic and the safety precautions restaurants need to take, but the food and wine remain as impressive as always. They serve their full menu, the same type of items they served before the pandemic, so there's plenty of good seafood choices, from raw to fried. And their drinks list is basically the same too, with a fascinating wine list, numerous cocktails, beers, and other drinks. 

Every day, they offer a special $1 oyster, until they are sold out, and we ordered a dozen of them, the Paines Creek Oysters from Brewster, MA. A nice briny taste and they worked well with a glass of Orlean Borbon Manzanilla Sherry ($9). The dry salinity of the Sherry complemented the oysters. More people should be drinking Sherry. 

From their Raw Bar menu, we also had some Scallop Ceviche ($12), with cherry tomato, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime. Fresh, tender pieces of scallops with bright acidity and a little bit of spicy heat.  An excellent summer choice. 

Also from the Raw Bar was the Yellowfin Tuna Poke ($14), with sesame, chili, nori. As usual, it consisted of silky tuna, with tangy citrus and mild spiciness. The thin, crisp taro root chips were a nice platform for the poke and the sesame seeds added a bit of crunchiness and a nutty element. One of my favorite choices when I dine here. 

The Clam Chowder ($11) is made with hand-dug clams, buttermilk biscuits, and house cured bacon. Creamy, with plenty of pieces of clam, a smoky kick from the bacon, and a nice crunch from the biscuits. 

Even something as simple as the ICOB Caesar ($12), with garlic croutons, white anchovy, and Pecorino, was very well done. Fresh ingredients, well balanced, provided a delicious taste.

One of the highlights of the dinner was the Swordfish Belly Pastrami ($10), atop white rye and topped by a peach mostarda. A nice smokiness to the tender swordfish, with a touch of sweetness from the peach, and some spiciness from the rye. It's creative and tasty, a definite winner of a dish.

We received a complimentary appetizer too, the Blue Crab & Artichoke Dip ($13), which is served with grilled naan. This was another big favorite at the table, and the cheesy crust atop the dip was so enticing. 

With dinner, I opted for a bottle of the 2016 Andrew Rich Marine Sedimentary Pinot Noir ($72) from the Willamette Valley, Oregon. As this wine is about $35 retail, its reasonably priced at the restaurant. Silky smooth, complex, and alluring, with an intriguing melange of flavors, including black cherry, raspberry, some dark spice, a touch of earth and some mineral notes. Well balanced and elegant with a lingering finish. Pure pleasure on the palate.

As an entree, I opted for the Lobster Roe Noodles ($34), with braised short rib, oyster mushrooms, and Pecorino. The slightly reddish noodles were cooked perfectly, and were an excellent palate for the tender short rib, ample and sweet lobster meat, and earthy mushrooms. A hearty and delicious dish, which went very well with the Pinot Noir.

Everyone else ordered a a warm, buttered Lobster Roll ($28) with cole slaw and their home-made kettle chips. The roll is stuffed with warm, sweet lobster, enhanced by the buttered bun, and the sandwich remains together, rather than falling apart like at some restaurants. It is everything you want from a buttered Lobster Roll. And those kettle chips are a delight, with a great crunch to them.

For dessert, we went with one of their standards, the Banoffee Pie ($9) with dulce de leche. This is an English dessert pie, commonly a blend of bananas and toffee, though Island Creek uses dulce de leche. The banana slices atop the pie have a light, crunchy layer of dulce de leche and would be a tasty dessert on their own. The silky and sweet cream is compelling, a fine topping for the thick banana slices beneath. Make sure to save room for dessert. 

Service was excellent, with a few minor differences. For example, once the server pours your initial glasses of wine from a bottle, they aren't permitted to later refill your glasses, You just refill them yourselves, which is  fine. If you want bread, it is brought to you in a small box, that contains two slices and a plastic tub of butter. Just measures intended to increase the safety of their guests, which is very important at this time. The restaurant truly seems concerned and cognizant of safety issues, which help to reassure guests. 

The food was as excellent as always, and their have an intriguing wine list, with plenty of less common selections, sure to please any adventurous wine lovers. The seafood is fresh, prepared well, and is worth the price. I'm so pleased that they have reopened, and look forward to my next visit. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Dominio Fournier: Bring On The Tempranillo

A taste of Spain! Spain has a special place in my heart and I treasure each of the visits I've made to this fascinating and diverse country. I love their wines, from Sherry to Cava, Rioja to Albarino, and their wines pair well with a wide variety of foods. You can find excellent value wines as well as amazing high-end wines. 

I received a couple of media samples of Spanish wine, produced by the Dominio Fournier winery in Ribera del Duero, which was acquired by Gonzalez Byass in April 2019. Dominio Fournier, located in Burgos, was founded in 1960 though its winery wasn't completed until 1979. Their high-altitude vineyard, La Finca El Pina, is situated at about 820 meters above sea level, and consists of about 80 hectares, 50 which are planted with vines and those vines are separated into 22 different parcels. The average age of the vines are from 30-70 years. 

In April 2019, Gonzalez Byass acquired Dominio Fournier winery in Ribera del Duero; Located in Berlanga de Roa (Burgos), founded in 1960; the winery was built in 1979. La Finca El Pina, on alluvial soil,  is found between the town of La Horra and Roa de Duero, and has 80 hectares, 50 of which are vineyards with an average age of 30-70 years. The winery has two female winemakers, Marian Santamaría and Laura Terrazas Rodriguez. Marian has worked  in numerous wine regions across Spain and Laura once worked for the Regulatory Board of the Ribera del Duero D.O., as well as a number of wineries in the region. 

The 2016 Dominio Fournier Crianza ($30), is produced from 100% Tinta del Pais, which is another term for Tempranillo, and this is the first release of this wine. The average age of the grapes in this wine are 25 years, with a portion that are over 60 years old. It was fermented in stainless steel and wooden vats, and aged in French oak barrels for at least 12 months. With a 14.5% ABV, this wine had a dark red, nearly black, color with a bold aroma of black fruit and spice notes. On the palate, it was full bodied with restrained tannins, and delightful flavors of ripe plum, black berry, spicy hints (especially on the finish), and a touch of vanilla. A long, lingering finish, plenty of complexity, and simply a delicious wine. I paired the wine with lamb chops and it was an excellent pairing. Definitely recommended. 

The 2014 Dominio Fournier Reserva ($50) is also made from 100% Tinta del Pais, and this was also the first vintage released. It was fermented in stainless steel and wooden vats, and aged in French oak barrels for at least 18 months. The 2014 vintage was rated Excellent.With a 15% ABV, this wine had a dark red, nearly black, color with an intriguing aroma of black fruit, intense spice, and a touch of smokiness. On the palate, it was a powerful wine, yet with restraint, as the tannins weren't overpowering and it possessed a complex and concentrated melange of flavors, including plum, black berry, dark spices, a little earthiness, and more. Well-balanced, a lengthy, satisfying finish, and nice acidity. This is a wine best paired with a juicy steak, or similar hearty dish. This is a high-end wine that is well worth the price and earns my highest recommendation. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Rant: Entitlement & A Lack of Respect

The Pandemic has struck so many of us hard, from financially to emotionally, physically to psychologically. With so many of us sharing these problems, you would think that we would also respect each other, having a regard for what we are going through together. There certainly are people doing so, and they make the world a better place, and elevate our positivity. However, there's a number of people, and unfortunately its a significant number, who fail to show such regard, who act entitled and thus bring all of us down.

If you work anywhere a mask is required, such as a restaurant, grocery store, wine shop, and more, you have witnessed people either failing to wear a mask, or failing to wear it properly, such as having it below their nose. It's a state mandated rule, yet some want to ignore it, feeling it shouldn't apply to them. And if you dare say something to them, you might even be physically attacked. At the very least, they may argue with you, rather than follow the simple rule. What ignorance and entitlement!

There have been many other examples of this lack of respect during these last months as well. For example, some people make restaurant reservations but fail to show up, and don't call to cancel either. That's rude no matter when it occurs, but during this pandemic, when restaurants must limit the number of diners to conform to social distancing requirements, it's even worse. You are costing that restaurant potential income, at a time when they need every dollar. Where is your regard for that restaurant and their employees?

Another example is how some consumers handle a complaint with a restaurant or shop. First, some people complain about really nothing, simply because an employee is following the law or rules and the guest thinks they are entitled to special treatment, that they are not bound by the law and rules. They should simply follow the law or rule and keep their mouths shut. Second, those guests may also lie about their actual encounter, to make themselves look better and the employee look worse. Fortunately, video cameras can sometimes help show the truth. Other times, the employer has to try to discern the truth. 

Third, these entitled guests might attempt to blackmail the restaurant or shop, claiming how they will get many other people to no longer patronize the place because of their alleged complaint. And this blackmail may be over a relatively minor issue! Fourth, sometimes the guest won't complaint to the restaurant or shop at all, and simply trash them on social media, without giving the place a chance to remedy the situation. There's a complete lack of respect, and clear indication of the sense of entitlement of that guest. 

Unfortunately, some employers give into these guests, trying to appease them despite the fact the guests are wrong. Yes, guests are not always right. This appeasement only serves to validate the lack of respect and entitlement of these people, worsening the overall situation, and ensuring those people will continue to be terrible guests. 

It costs nothing to show others respect and have a proper regard for the laws and rules of our society. The employees at these restaurants and shops didn't make those laws or rules. They have no control over them. So, show them the respect they deserve and just follow the rules. Everyone is having troubles during this time, and we need to be there for each other, rather than become antagonistic. We can get through this pandemic if we work together, with mutual respect.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Coach Grill: A Compelling & Historic Upscale Steak & Seafood Spot in Wayland

Around 1934, the first Red Coach Grill restaurant opened in Wayland, owned and operated by James H. McManus, and located adjacent to his famed ice cream stand. In the summer of 1939, McManus opened a second location in Hingham, and then a third, in1943, in Boston. At some point, these restaurants were purchased by Howard Johnson's, which expanded it into a major chain. 

While rummaging through some items in our home, we found the above matchbook from the Red Coach Grill. It is from 1939-1943, when there were only two restaurants, one in Wayland and one in Hingham. The matchbook stated that the Red Coach was "New England's Most Famous Steak House" and noted that "Bonded Liquor Served Only."

As a child, I regularly dined at the Red Coach Grill, primarily at its location on Route 1 in Saugus. The chain now no longer exists, but a connection to its past remains. The Wayland location burnt to the ground around 1976, and about 18 years ago, the Coach Grill was constructed on the original site. Two fireplaces survived the 1976 fire, and now adorn the interior of the Coach Grill, a nice connection to the past. The Coach Grill is part of the Tavistock Restaurant Collection, which also owns Abe & Louie's and Atlantic Fish Co.

After the onset of the pandemic, the Coach Grill temporarily closed and recently reopened, after updating and renovating the restaurant. I was invited to visit as a media guest, and it invoked a touch of nostalgia, hearkening back to pleasant childhood memories of the Red Coach Grill. However, I was also looking at the restaurant with different eyes, a more critical view than the eyes of a young child.

Within the Coach Grill, located on a wall near the bathrooms, is a frame holding a copy of a Red Coach Grill menu from 1955. It's a fascinating look back over 60 years ago. On the menu, some of the items included Filet Mignon ($4.50), Red Coach Club Sirloin Steak ($5.50), Broiled Spring Lamb Chops ($3.00), Frog Legs Sauté ($3.50), Fried Cape Scallops ($3.20), Fried Lobster ($4.95), Boiled Live Maine Lobster ($3.70), and more. Such a wonderful slice of history. 

It's easy to reach the Coach Grill, as it's only a short distance off Route 95, on Route 20 (Boston Post Road). As you pull into the parking lot, you can't miss its sign, which has the iconic red coach atop it, which was a well-recognized symbol of the original Red Coach Grill. 


The front entrance to the restaurant.

Currently, the Coach Grill has erected a tent for outside dining, and they also have some limited interior dining space. 

The interior of the restaurant is typical of many upscale steakhouses, plenty of dark wood and leather, though they have also added a bit of a library motif. It has a nice elegance to it, and it's also spacious and comfortable. They have ensured that the interior conforms to socially distanced guidelines, and have also updated the décor of the dining, bar, and restroom areas, featuring new artwork, lighting, touch-free fixtures, and more. 

When you're seated, the only item atop the white tablecloth of your table is a small bottle of hand sanitizer. When guests finished dinner and left their table, the staff was quick to sanitize the table and chairs. Hygiene and safety precautions seemed very important to the staff, and it helped provide a feeling of safety for the guests. 

The Food Menu is extensive without being overwhelming, presenting a nice selection of primarily steak and seafood dishes. There are 9 Appetizers, such as Waygu Beef Carpaccio ($22), Nueske's Bacon-Wrapped Scallops ($15) and Crab & Lobster Louie ($19). There are a couple Soups, including Baked Onion Au Gratin and New England Clam Chowder, and five Salads, such as Classic Caesar Salad and Burrata & Beefsteak Tomato. There are also some Fresh From the Sea starters, including Shrimp Cocktail ($17), Colossal Lump Crab Meat Cocktail, ($19) and Chilled Seafood Platters ($47/$88).

For your Entree, you could choose one of the four Classic Entrees, such as Chicken Milanese ($25) or a Surf & Turf ($49). There are ten choices for their Steak & Chops, including Filet Mignon (10oz $42/8oz $39), Bone-In Ribeye (20 oz/$43), Chargrilled New Zealand Lamb (16oz/$38), and Australian Waygu NY Strip (10 oz/$66). You can also order Enhancements, from Crab Oscar to Au Poivre, Blue Cheese to a Cold-Water Lobster Tail. 

There are eight Seafood options, such as Fresh Local Sea Scallops ($35), Pan-Seared Sea Bass ($39), and Crab-Stuffed Shrimp ($29). There are also twelve Sides, from Asparagus to Green Beans, Hand-Cut Fries to Lobster Risotto

Their available Drinks include Seasonal Cocktails ($11-$14), 7 Draft Beers, 11 Bottled Beers, Hand-Crafted Soda, Infused Lemonade & Ice Tea, and more. The Wine list is extensive, with nearly 30 wines available by the glass, in either 6 oz ($10-$25) or 9 oz pours ($15-$37.50). The Wine List by the bottle is heavy on well-known labels, including plenty of California Cabernet Sauvignon. France and Italy also have a significant presence on the list. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more diversity on their list, wines from other countries like Spain, South Africa, Portugal and such. 

Generally, the wine prices are reasonable, commonly about two times the normal retail cost, which is significantly lower than many similar upscale steakhouses where wine prices can easily range from three to four times retail. That price difference has the potential to significantly lower your bill, easily by $50-$100, dependent on the wine you purchase. 

Complimentary warm bread was served, which is always an excellent start to a meal. A nice crusty exterior with a softer and chewy interior. The bread is initially baked at a local bakery, and the process is ended before it is finished. Its then delivered to the restaurant, where they bake it for the final eight minutes.

A pet peeve of mine is when restaurant serves frozen pats of butter with their bread, which are so hard that rather than spread on the bread, it rips apart the bread. In this case, the butter was soft and easily spreadable, enhanced by salt, which may have been Himalyana pink salt. 

I opted to begin the evening with the Coachman's Margarita ($13), which was made with strawberry, peach, jalapeño, lime, and Sauza Blue Reposado Tequila. This was a pleasing cocktail, with bright elements of peach and strawberry, balanced with a spicy kick and agave notes. It was fruity without being overly sweet and was a refreshing start to dinner.

Our dinner then began with the Chilled Seafood Platter ($47), a plentiful serving consisting of Duxbury Bay Oysters, Clams on the half shell, Shrimp cocktail, lump Jonah crab meat, and a half lobster. Served with cocktail sauce, a mignonette, and a Dijon sauce. The seafood was fresh and tasty, and I especially loved the briny oysters and the ample mound of sweet crabmeat. An excellent start for your dinner, and there's plenty for two people to share. I like ordering these type of platters as you get plenty of variety, rather than just an order of oysters or a shrimp cocktail.

With our entrees, I ordered a bottle of wine, the 2017 Haute Pierre Delas Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($97). As this wine usually sells at retail for $55-$60, the mark-up was very reasonable, and even could be considered a bargain. Made from 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, this was an alluring and compelling wine, with delicious flavors of ripe plum, blueberry, and blackberry, along with both spicy and earthy notes, silky tannins, and a lengthy finish. An excellent choice for steak and hearty dishes, though it can pair well with some seafood dishes as well. 

For my entree, I opted for their Signature Steak, the Bone-In Filet (16 oz/$62), with the Coach-Style Enhancement, which adds blue cheese, onion strings, garlic mashed potatoes, and asparagus. I ordered the steak rare, and it was cooked perfectly, and I loved the melted blue cheese atop it. The steak was tender and juicy, with plenty of meat next to the bone. Definitely a quality steak, comparable to any other upscale steakhouse. The accompaniments were tasty as well, from the crisp onion strings to the garlic-rich potatoes. 

The Pan-Seared Atlantic Halibut ($39) was accompanied by lobster corn succotash and tarragon butter. What a delicious piece of fish, flaky, tender and moist, with a crisp and buttery coating. You don't find Halibut on enough restaurant menus but it should be there as it can be such an excellent tasting fish. The succotash was very flavorful with ample pieces of lobster and plenty of pieces of fresh veggies.

For a side, I selected the Corn Pudding ($9), which reminded me of a savory soufflé, light and fluffy, with a rich corn taste. 

The Dessert menu has seven choices, priced $9-$12, and includes choices such as Skillet Cookie (a sundae atop a warm chocolate chip cookie) and a Seven Layer Chocolate Cake. As soon as I read the list, there was really only once choice for me, the Butterscotch Bread Pudding ($10), a buttery brioche with a butterscotch custard. I've raved before how I wish more restaurants served bread pudding, which I consider a very under-appreciated dessert.

This led to the only misstep of the evening, as it wasn't served quite as hot as it should have been. However, the taste was excellent, with a nice firm consistency to the bread pudding, and a rich butterscotch taste, enhanced by the vanilla ice cream. It was also good-sized, and could have even been shared with another person. I would definitely order this again, though the Skillet Cookie sounds tasty as well. 

With dessert, I had a glass of Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch ($20), a superb Scotch and one of my personal favorites. And it paired well with the butterscotch flavors of the bread pudding. The Coach Grill has a nice list of Single Malts, as well as other After-Dinner Drinks, from Port to Grappa, Cognac to Amaro

Service was excellent, and our server, Kevin, who was very knowledge of the menu, was personable, without being obtrusive. The rest of the staff was pleasant and professional as well, and all seemed well-cognizant of proper safety measures. 

Overall, the Coach Grill is like an upscale Boston steakhouse, but a bit more affordable, especially considering their reasonably priced wine list. The food menu offers plenty of options, enough for most any preferences, and both steak and seafood lovers will be very pleased with their selections. It's a good place for a special occasion, a date night, or just a night-out with some friends. And during this pandemic, I feel the restaurant is doing much to make their guests feel safe. And that's extremely important right now.

Check out the Coach Grill, get in touch with a bit of history, and savor a juicy steak or tender piece of fish while drinking a fine wine.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well. 
1) Osteria Posto, an upscale Italian steakhouse in Waltham, is now open 7 days a week for dinner, from 5pm-8pm each night, with Patio and Indoor Dining available. I'm excited as this is one of my favorite local restaurants. They are also selling eleven different To Go Cocktails, such as the Golden Age (Old Overholt Rye, Cynar, Orange Bitters, Smoked Ice), Blood, Sweat & Tequila (House Infused Cara Cara Tequila, Cardamon, Contratto, Lemon, Agave), Gin Gin Mule (Ginger Infused Gin, Lime, Ginger Syrup, Mint), and De La Famiglia (Buffalo Trace Rosebud Single Barrel Bourbon, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, Cherry Heering). 

2) Island Creek Oyster Bar, in Burlington, has now reopened; for indoor and outdoor dining, and I've been eagerly awaiting this reopening. And I'll be dining there this weekend. Their hours will be Wednesday & Thursday 4pm-9pm, Friday & Saturday 4pm-10pm, and Sunday 12pm-8pm (Brunch and Dinner). Every day, they will offer a special $1 oyster,  until they are sold out. You can also make orders to to, which includes wine and beer. Hopefully in the near future, they will reopen for Lunch as well.

3) The Painted Burro, Burro Bar Brookline & Burro Bar South End are running Taco specials throughout August, and not just for Taco Tuesdays. Each Taco is only $5 and the selection at each location may vary. These tacos are available for dine-in, take-out and delivery.

At The Painted Burro, youll find: Buffalo Cauliflower Taco, Chicken Tinga Taco, Short Rib Double Stack Taco, Swordfish Al Pastor Taco, Crispy “Baja Style” Fish Taco, Grilled Zucchini Taco, Pork Carnitas Taco, and Gulf Shrimp Taco. At the Burro Bar Brookline
, you'll find Buffalo Cauliflower Taco, Crispy Chicken Tender Taco, Short Rib Double Stack Taco, Swordfish Al Pastor Taco, Crispy “Baja Style” Fish Taco, Grilled Zucchini Taco, Pork Carnitas Taco, and Gulf Shrimp Taco.

You can accompany your Tacos with their newly added Margarita Pitchers, available in your flavors like De La Casa, Cucumber and El Diablo. Margaritas are also available To-Go.

4) Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, in Cambridge, is participating in Dine In Boston, from August 16-21 and 23-28. Sumiao will be participating with a four-course tasting menu (appetizer, soup, entree & dessert) where you’ll be able to try a variety of our Hunan cuisine at a special price. They are offered Lunch for $25 and Dinner for $38. Check out their Lunch Menu and Dinner Menu. The Sizzling Lamb entree on the Dinner Menu sounds delicious.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

An Ipswich Trek: From The Clam Box To Russell Orchards

This is Francesca, a friendly pig at the Northern Lights Farm Stand in Ipswich

If you're looking for something to do this summer, a day trip to take, why not consider driving to Ipswich. Even with the pandemic and its restrictions, there's good places you can visit, like the Northern Lights Farm Stand. It's a typical farm stand, with fresh fruits, veggies, and other food products. They also sell Mennonite furniture. Plus, there's a variety of animals you can visit, including chickens (including one who looks like an Angora cat), ducks, turkeys, a pig, two donkeys, and more. 

This farm stand is located just across the street from The Clam Box.

Everyone has their own personal favorite restaurant for Fried Clams. One of my top favorites is The Clam Box in Ipswich, as their fried clams are consistently delicious. In addition, The Clam Box has other excellent fried seafoods, from scallops to lobster. It remains very popular, and with good reason. During this pandemic, you should still consider it as a potential destination for some tasty seafood.

I recently drove up to Ipswich on a fine and warm Sunday, noting that The Clam Box opened its doors at 11am. Prior to its opening, there was already a small line of people waiting at the door, socially distanced and wearing masks. The restaurant has both interior and outside dining, with a large tent erected in their parking lot with a number of picnic tables. We chose to sit outside, to enjoy the beautiful weather.

When I dine here, I commonly get a combination as it's generally too hard to just choose one fried seafood. Fried clams, show above, are usually one of my choices. A clean, crisp and tasty fried batter over plump clams. There is a touch of the sea and it tastes like New England. And no matter if you order a plate or a side, you'll be sure to get ample mound of fried clams.

I'm also a huge fan of their Fried Scallops, which are some of the best you'll find anywhere. There is a pleasant sweetness to the plump scallops, and the clean and crisp fried coating is tasty. They certainly don't get the attention and publicity of fried clams, but should. A Plate of fried seafood also comes with two sides: french fries, onion rings or coleslaw. As you can see, there is a mound of food, with plenty of scallops. It may cost $29.75, but you definitely get your money's worth, especially considering the usual cost for a pound of scallops. 

It's a Special, only available at certain times, but their Fried Lobster is another great choice. It wasn't available during my last visit, but I always check the Specials board just in case.

Whenever I visit Ipswich, I make sure to stop at Russell Orchards, primarily to buy some Cider Donuts. The farm has plenty of other products, from fresh fruits and veggies, to baked goods and wines, cheese and ice cream. You can Pick Your Own fruits, dependent on the season, and blueberries and blackberries are currently available. They also have some of their own animals you can visit. 

If you're fortunate, fresh and hot cider donuts might be available and they are near impossible to resist. 

I recently raved about these donuts, and I can't wait to return to Russell Orchards for more.

These are just a few of the worthy spots in Ipswich, a starting place for a great and tasty day. What are some of your Ipswich favorites, which are open right now?