Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Faccia Brutta, a new coastal Italian restaurant from chefs and restaurateurs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, opened earlier this week for dinner service. This restaurant "focuses on seasonal dishes highlighting the diverse cuisine of the coastal Italian region, drawing inspiration from their travels across Liguria, Sicily, Sardinia, and more." It will serve seasonal cuisine with locally sourced ingredients featuring snacks, crudos, housemade pastas (with gluten-free options cooked in a separate kitchen) and more. 

Menu highlights include: 
Grilled Octopus with black rice, guanciale and fava beans
Live Scallop served in the shell with lardo, crunchy endive and black truffle vinaigrette
Squid Ink Trottole with Maine uni, melted leeks and Calabrian chili
Pansotti, a half moon ravioli typical in Liguria with swiss chard, ricotta, walnuts, brown butter and fiddleheads
Orecchiette Baresi with inspiration from Puglia featuring an beef gravy with nduja, tomatoes
Christmas Style Branzino, a whole fish butterflied with one side cooked with salsa verde and the other with pesto trapanese
Grilled Lobster with Calabrian chili butter, fregola and clam vinaigrette

Their beverage program includes cocktails such as 1794 (Capari, rye, sweet vermouth, chocolate mole bitters and an orange twist), a fun twist on the Negroni; a selection of Spritzes, and more. The wine list focuses on approachable wines from the coastal Italian area, as well as selections from around the world, all sourced from smaller organic producers. 

Faccia Brutta is now open six days a week, with service starting at 5PM to 10PM, Monday through Saturday.   

2) Rochambeau has now initiated Rochambeau After Dark. their new late-night weekend programming. Every Friday and Saturday night, Rochambeau will now open its doors for weekend evenings full of live music and fun. The party starts with live jazz in Rochambeau's café space from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. followed by cocktails, dancing, and a DJ in the restaurant's first-floor bar/lounge area from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Rochambeau After Dark is free to attend but VIP table reservations are available for purchase and can be made by calling (617) 247-0400. VIP includes prime table seating and access to a special VIP martini and wine bar.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Nightshade Noodle Bar: Tasting Menu Delights

Nightshade Noodle Bar is one of my Top Three Favorite Restaurants in the Boston+ area. It's consistently excellent, with killer cuisine, an interesting drinks program, top-notch service, and a cool ambiance. It earns my highest recommendation (check out prior reviews) and I have encouraged numerous people to dine there, who also loved their own experiences there. Thus, when I was deciding where to have a celebratory dinner for my birthday, I chose Nightshade. 

For this visit, I opted for the Blind Tasting Menu option, where you simply choose the number of courses and then the Chef decides which dishes to serve you. You can suggest a course or two you would like included in the menu. The Tasting Menu options include 7 courses ($85), 9 courses ($110), 12 courses ($140), and 14 courses ($160). In addition, on Wednesday evenings, they offer a special 5 course menu ($50). For an additional fee, they can also create Custom Drink Pairings for your dinner.

This was my first time trying one of their Tasting Menus, and I chose the 9 course dinner, without the custom drink pairing as I decided to select my own wine. I also asked for the Dry-Aged Duck Breast to be included in my tasting menu. I was thoroughly impressed with my dining experience, greatly enjoying the various dishes, which presented a nice variety. Some of the dishes were presented in a single dish, to be shared with my dining companion, while others were presented in individual dishes, one for each of us. By the end of the evening, I was sated and very, very happy. A wonderful birthday celebration.

As I was there more for a celebration, I took photos but no notes, so I don't recall all of the specific details of each dish. Our server, who was personable, knowledgeable and attentive, did explain each and every dish. Some of the dishes were prepared fairly simply, while others were more complex, with a greater amount of ingredients, and each dish was well balanced, with both taste and texture. 

We started our dinner with a glass of a Brut Nature Cava, as all celebrations should begin with some bubbly. It was a very dry and flavorful Spanish sparkling wine, which ended up being a great choice for our initial food courses. 

We began our dinner with Caviar Service, with an eggspuma dip, garlic, and crisp potato chips. The caviar, slightly sweet and mildly briny, went nicely atop the creamy dip and the salty chips. There is some creme fraiche in the intriguing and tasty dip too. I liked the fun pairing of caviar with potato chips, rather than the usual blinis. 

The Second Course included more unique treasures from the sea, Percebes and Uni. The chilled Percebes, also known as gooseneck barnacles, commonly come from Spain and are very dangerous to harvest. They are found on rocky coasts, in dangerous surf, in Galicia and the fishermen risk their very lives to obtain them. Their shell almost looks like talon, and you simply need to twist off the shell to get the tubular meat inside. The meat is tender, lightly sweet and briny, a definite taste of the ocean, and they were served with a Vietnamese lime pepper dipping sauce. A delicious and unique treat. It's been a long time since I enjoyed percebes, so it was a pleasure to have them again. 

I've long been an Uni fan, so was also pleased to enjoy some again too, this time in the shell with some Thai basil. Creamy, salty, and tasty, the Uni also went very well with our bubbly. This duo, of Percebes and Uni, was one of my favorite dishes of the tasting menu. 

For the Third Course, we received Kabocha Squash Bot Chien, which is composed of Vietnamese rice cakes, crispy confit duck tongues, green chili sauce, duck egg, and pickled carrots & daikon. As I've said before, this is an intriguing and creative dish, which was a fine blend of textures and flavors, all meshing well together. The crispy duck tongues were a nice addition and unless you knew what they were, you probably never would have guessed that they were tongues. This is a fine example of a more complex dish, which is well balanced and works extremely well. 

The Fourth Course was Peach Bahn Mi, with green chili citrus butter and pickles, atop toasted bread. A nice treat, with some sweetness from the peach, a nice crunch from the toast, more crunch from the pickles, as well as good acidity balancing the sweetness. 

It was difficult to get a good photo of the Fifth Course, as it was deep down inside a a small cup. It was Dry-Aged Duck Breast with braised yuba, smoked pork broth, and a tamarind bbq sauce. The duck was exquisite, tender, moist and flavorful, and I could have easily devoured a much larger dish of the duck. What looked like thin, wide noodles was the yuba, dried tofu skin, which was a little dense and sopped up the broth and sauce well. Highly recommended.

The Sixth Course: The Homemade Egg Noodles, one of my favorite dishes on their menu, made with caramelized garlic sauce, peanuts, Thai basil, and chili crisp. A superb dish, with immense flavor, lots of umami, and a great balance of textures and flavors. I think I've eaten this dish every time I visited Nightshade, and I'm sure I'll eat it again many times to come.

Onto the Seventh Course: Amarena Cherry Claypot Caramel Foie Gras atop grilled coconut sticky rice. A decadent dish, with delightful textures, including the silky foie, and a nice blend of flavors, from the cherry to the coconut. 

As a palate cleaner, our Eighth Course was light and refreshing, although I can't recall exactly the components. Our Final Course, of which I didn't get a photo, was a small dish of Chocolate Mousse. a rich, creamy chocolate with a subtly complex taste with hints of citrus, dried fruit and spice and enhanced by a touch of sea salt. And there was a lit candle in my dish for my birthday. A nice little touch. 

During the course of the dinner, we drank a bottle of the 2018 La Tintorera “Kira-9” Rosado, a Spanish Rosé made from 95% Mencia and 5% Dona Blanca. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Delicious, dry, and full of bright red fruit flavors. Easy drinking and very food friendly, it went well with the various dishes we enjoyed. Great summer choice! 

If you haven't dined at Nightshade Noodle Bar then you should make reservations to do so soon. If you have been there before, why not visit them again? I'll also note that I made a brief stop at their new Sin City Superette, which is adjacent to the restaurant. The small shop has a wide variety of items, from basic essentials to Sushi, from fresh veggies/fruits to frozen meats, from cheeses and tortillas, and much more. You can get Nightshade's Chili Crisp! And earlier during the day, you can get freshly made sandwiches, such as cheeseburgers and special hotdogs. I need to return there to spend more time checking out everything they have for sale. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Rant: Don't Cook Your Wine!

We just survived a heat wave, several days with temperatures over 90 degrees. We have rightfully been concerned with protecting our family and friends from this intense heat. We have also rightfully been concerned about protecting our pets from this intense heat. 

However, are you concerned about your wine and the intense heat?

It should be illegal, the torture of an innocent wine bottle by the application of intense heat. It's also a far too common crime during the summer season. Please stop this cruel practice, and persuade others to give it up as well. Please save the gentle wine bottle.

Would you lock your child or pet in a hot car with the windows rolled up? I think not. So why do people do so to their wine bottles? The heat can destroy your wine, and I doubt anyone wants to lose the wine they just bought. So do something about it.

Summer is the time for travel, and maybe you'll visit a wine shop or winery. You might buy some wine and then need to transport it with you. Often, the wine is just placed into the trunk, and you might leave it there for a couple days, or drive with it for quite a distance. You need to realize that your trunk can get very hot and that heat could adversely affect your wine. It needs protection.

When I travel, I often bring my metal wine case, which is insulated and holds a dozen bottles of wine. Thus, I can safely transport my wines. It has been invaluable on long trips. You don't need to purchase such a case, though if you often buy wine it can be a good investment. Instead, you can carry some other type of insulated bag, box or other container, the same type you would use to transport frozen food or other perishables. You need to protect the wine from the heat, keeping it at a cooler temperature.

An insulated container has other uses too if you travel. You might find some food you wish to take home, and that too can be protected on your long drive home. How many times have you stopped at a farmer's market or food shop, and wanted to buy something but worried about it surviving the journey home? An insulated container will resolve that issue.

It is an easy solution to a rampant problem. Save the wine bottle from the heat, so that you don't come home and find your wine is ruined. Cherish the insulated container.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.

1) Executive Pastry Chef Alyxandria Abreu of The Banks Fish House in Back Bay has just launched pints of her house made ice cream and sorbets to go, alongside a rotating line up of house made ice cream sandwiches that are changing weekly. 

Pints of ice cream are available in classic flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio as well as Alyxandria's unique flavor profiles like lavender buttermilk, blueberry miso, and coffee fudge ripple. Sorbet flavors include but are not limited to strawberry and pink peppercorn, blackberry gin, spiced pineapple and rhubarb sherbet. Pints of ice cream are $12/each and pints of sorbet are $14/each.

The rotating line up of house made ice cream sandwiches combine various cookies and cakes such as triple chocolate cookies, olive oil cakes, shortbread and funnel cakes with artisanal ice cream flavors for a treat that is both frosty and fun!
July 8- 14: Mint chipwich mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiched between triple chocolate cookies
July 15- 21: Pistachio ice cream sandwiched between olive oil cakes
July 22- 28: Earl Grey ice cream sandwiched between lemon thyme shortbread biscuits
July 29 - August 4: Strawberry balsamic ice cream sandwiched between funnel cake

These are available to-go on a walk in basis and also by calling ahead at 617-399-0015 to place an order. 

2) The team behind Nightshade Noodle Bar, Chef Rachel Miller’s French and Vietnamese inspired fine dining restaurant, has opened a new community market in their beloved “sin city.Sin City Superette’s mission is to make healthy foods and other everyday necessities available to the neighborhood, including grocery staples, pantry items, household essentials, hygienic supplies, grab-n-go hot and cold prepared foods, and so much more. Miller works with local farmers, produce vendors, fishermen/women, and chefs to bring in a variety of products to the market, while ensuring as much accessibility and affordability as possible, accepting EBT payments and soon offering delivery of groceries and all other available items.

It means a lot to me to provide everyday essentials, affordable raw, hot and cold prepared foods and offer more EBT to my neighborhood as we all continue to recover from the pandemic,” said Rachel Miller, Executive Chef/Owner, Nightshade Noodle Bar & Sin City Superette. “The idea for Sin City Superette stemmed from pandemic response, realizing that we could be so much more useful to the community, while creating more jobs in our growing neighborhood, if we rearranged our resources and extended our reach beyond what Nightshade Noodle Bar was built to offer.

Sin City Superette also offers the community a variety of fresh seafood, ranging from local staples like Mussels and Fresh Lobster Meat from Maine, to exotic finds like Gooseneck Barnacles and Carabinero Prawns from Portugal, and Live Dungeness Crab from Washington. In an effort to “normalize high-quality, low-priced caviar,” Sin City Superette also offers ramekins of creme fraiche, recommending patrons grab a bag of chips to pair. Grab-and-go items from “the hot box” include the Sin City Burger, made with Sin City Sauce, Cheddar, Pickles and Onion on a Potato Roll, and the Vegan Black Bean & Corn Burger, topped with Plant-Based Cheddar and Pickles, served on a Vegan Roll. Additionally, Sin City Sushi, a HACCP certified operation within Sin City Superette, will operate 5 days a week, stocking both grab-n-go sushi items and made-to-order items for lunch and dinner.

Located at 71 Exchange Street in Lynn, Sin City Superette is open Wednesday-Sunday, 8AM-8PM and is located on the commuter rail (Central Square Station), 3 stops from North Station, and on several bus lines going to the red, blue and orange lines. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Kane's Donuts: From Fried Dough to Chocolate Butterscotch

For July, Kane's Donuts offers three new specials: Pink Lemonade Donut, Fried Dough Donut, and S’mores Donut. I was especially intrigued by the Fried Dough donut so stopped by their Route 1 location earlier this week. 

Their displays were filled with plentiful samples of their donuts, and you can once again dine inside, or outside on their patio area. Donut prices range from about $3.25 to $4.50, and they have a large selection of Gluten-free options too. One of my favorite items is their Coffee Roll, which is sold as an individual item or a larger size that is appropriate for sharing. They also seem to have available more types of breakfast sandwiches, including a 24-7 Burrito and Waffle Sandwich

The Fried Dough donut is "fluffy, airy, yeast donut and doused with salted sweet-cream butter and heavily dusted with classic fried-dough cinnamon and sugar mix." The taste of this donut certainly reminded me of fried dough, and it was definitely light, buttery and airy, and not overly sweet. Very tasty and I'd order it again. 

The Chocolate Butterscotch donut seemed to be new as well, and it's not listed on their website. It's larger than the usual donuts, and at the base is a chocolate cake-style donut topped by frosting with butterscotch chips, chocolate drizzles and with cream in the donut hole. A more decadent donut, with a nice combination of flavors, and a good bit of crunch from the chips. It's large enough to split with someone else, so two of you can enjoy this treat. 

Check out the new flavors at any of the locations of Kane's Donuts.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Kringa, Croatia: The First European Vampire

The Croatian region of Istria, which borders Slovenia, was once owned by Italy, and there remain many Italian influences, including that Italian is one of their two official languages. To the ancient Romans, the land was known as "Terra Magica," the "Magical Land." It's a region rife with numerous legends, from faeries to giants, from ley lines to Perun, the Thunder God. During my recent trip to Croatia, I also had the opportunity to visit the site of another Istrian legend, that of the first historic European vampire!

Jure Grando Alilović (known in Italian as Giure Grando) was born in 1579 in the small village of Kringa, located about 22 miles north of Pula. Jure Grando worked as a stone mason, and "Grando" is likely a nickname, referring to his large build. He married a woman named Ivana, and they had two children, a daughter Ana and a son Nikola.

Jure Grando died in 1656, at the ripe old age of about 77, from some unknown illness. Although he lived a long life, the legend claims this his "life" didn't end with his death. Each night, After his death, he allegedly rose from the grave as a vampire. The term used to describe him was strigoi (or štrigon and štrigun), which can refer to both a vampire or a warlock. As Jure Grando came back from the dead, he was considered more of a vampire, and there were stories that he actually drank blood. 

It's claimed that the reason Jure Grando became a vampire is that he wasn't buried properly, that his tongue hadn't been pierced by a nail. No explanation was given why he hadn't been buried in the right way, which had been presided over by Father Giorgio. For an incredible 16 years, Jure Grando terrorized Kringa, stalking the village during the night. He would knock at a door, and then someone living at that home would die within a few days, a victim of the vampire. It's unknown how many villagers died in this manner. 

In addition, Jure Grando allegedly visited his wife, on many occasions, sexually assaulting her, and even drinking her blood. Ivana described her former husband as a smiling corpse. Soon after Jure Grando's nocturnal attacks began, his two children were sent away to Volterra, Italy, a small town southwest of Florence, ostensibly to protect them from their vampiric father. 

In 1672, after sixteen years of terror, nine villagers, including prefect Miho Radetić and Father Giorgio, assembled in the graveyard to finally put an end to Jure Grando. They dug up his grave, opened his coffin, and found that he was a well preserved corpse, which was smiling, and not the rotted and decayed body he should have been after all of those years. Father Giorgio said some prayers over the corpse, hoping to make it stop its predations, and one of the villagers tried to puncture its heart with a stake of hawthorn, a famed method of destroying a vampire. Unfortunately, the stake wasn't able to pierce his flesh.

After more prayers, one of the villagers, Stipan Milašić, attempted to decapitate the vampire, using either an ax or a saw. The corpse bled profusely as the blade cut into its flesh, and the vampire screamed out in rage and pain. However, once decapitated, that was the end of Jure Grando, and he never harmed anyone in the village ever again. His final resting place is currently unknown, and there isn't any marker in the local graveyard to indicate where he was buried. 

Jure Grando was the first person described in European historical records as a vampire. Although Vlad Dracula existed during the 15th century, about 200 years before Jure Grando, Dracula wasn't ever mentioned as a vampire until Bram Stoker's novel in 1897. The tale of Jure Grando was first written about seventeen years after his decapitation. The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (Slava vojvodine Kranjske), written by Janez Vajkard Valvasor, was published in 1689 in Germany. This work was an encyclopedia, consisting of four volumes, that described the travels of Janez, including his visit to Kringa, and the vampire tale of Jure Grando. Janez also mentioned that Kringa was a market village where there was always "more wine than water."

Some of the superstitious beliefs of the Istrian people were also mentioned in this book. For example, "The people of the Istrian countryside are firmly convinced that sorcerers suck the blood of children. This sucker of blood they call 'strigon' or 'vedavec'. They believe that after his death a 'strigon' wanders about the village around midnight, knocking at, or striking, doors and that someone will die within days in the house whose doors he has struck. And if someone dies during this period, the peasants insist that the 'strigon' has eaten him. Even worse is the belief of these gullible peasants that the wandering 'strigoni' furtively creep into their beds and sleep with their wives without ever letting out a single word."  

Other books over the years would reference the tale of Jure Grando as well, including Letters on Truths in Popular Superstition by Herbert Mayo, which was published in 1848. Interestingly, this book was one of those used by Bram Stoker in his research for his novel Dracula. As Jure Grando was decapitated at his end, the character Jonathan Harker used a Kukri knife to decapitate Dracula at the end of the novel. Jure Grando and Dracula shared the same fate.

There was also an article that appeared in November 1856 in the Chamber's Repository which also related a story about Jure Grando. It stated, "The widow Grando also complained that she was tormented by the spirit of her husband, who night after night threw her into a deep sleep with the object of sucking her blood." And as for the death of the vampire, "A hawthorn stake was brought forward, and as often as they strove to drive it through the body the sharpened wood rebounded, and it was not until one of the number sprang into the grave and cut off the vampire's head that the evil spirit departed with a loud shriek and a contortion of the limbs."

After a visit to Pula, we headed inland and stopped in Kringa for a brief visit. Unfortunately, it was a holiday so the village was very quiet, and everything was closed up. Almost no one could be seen on the village streets, almost as if the village was uninhabited, although that wasn't the case. There is a Jure Grando Museum but it was closed at the time of our visit. There are also four churches in tiny Kringa, including the Parish Church of St. Peter & Paul, the Church of St. Anne, the Church of St. Catherine, and the Church of St. Anthony the Hermit. I've read of a vampire-themed bar in Kringa, but I didn't see it while wandering the village and maybe it closed in the recent past. 

In August 2006, a plaque was installed on the outside of a school in Kringa, commemorating the villagers who destroyed the vampire Jure Grando. It's a small plaque, which many people might overlook, and the lettering has faded some so it's not as easy to read. It's also written in Croatian, so many tourists might not understand it. However, the term "vampiru" might stand out if you read the place closely. 

The plaque states that the villagers included: Prefect Miho Radetić, Stipan Milasic, Matej Hrvatin, Nikola I Jure Macina, Juraj Zuzic, Martin Udovivic, Nicola Krajsa, and a Pauline monk, Father Juraj I Nikola Nyena from Lupoglav. It also states, in a rough translation, that "at the local cemetery" they "confronted the vampire Juri Grando and freed Kringa forever" from "nocturnal attacks" as "evidenced by the record of Johan Weikard Valvasor."

The story of Jure Grando is fascinating, and it was cool to get to visit the village at the center of that tale. Istria is a compelling destination, and this was but one of the highlights of my visit to this region, and I'll be writing plenty more about Istria in the near future. 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.

1) Krasi, a superb Greek restaurant in Boston, has a new Brunch menu and there's certainly many interesting items on the menu. Some of the items that sound appealing to me include: Baklava Muffin (with walnuts, Greek honey, cinnamon, & clove), Koulouri homemade sesame bread, Greek honey butter), Strapatsada (tomato & feta scramble, mushrooms, frigania toast), Saganaki (fried egg, kasseri, feta, boukovo, cherry tomatoes), and Tsoureki (merenda, kataifi crumble, Metaxa glazed apples, whipped cream). 

You'll also find cocktails such as as Aphrodite's Bellini, Bloody Mitsos, and a Greek Negroni. Plus, they offer a special $20 Wine Carafe. This summer, Krasi would be a great place for Brunch (or dinner).

2) Kane’s Donuts has a number of new summery flavors for July, including the Pink Lemonade Donut, Fried Dough Donut, and S’mores Donut. The Pink Lemonade donut is a light, fluffy, yeast style donut filled with lemon curd filling, iced with a tangy pink lemonade icing, then topped with a candy lemon slice. The Fried Dough donut is fluffy, airy, yeast donut and doused with salted sweet-cream butter and heavily dusted with classic fried-dough cinnamon and sugar mix. The S’mores donut is a yeast style donut, frosted with Kane’s rich, decadent, chocolate frosting, then topped with broken graham crackers, mini marshmallows and torched to give that tasty campfire flavor. Check them out!

3) Bar Enza will transport guests to the seascapes of Italy at their upcoming Italian Island Vacation Wine Dinner on Wednesday, July 20, from 6pm-8pm. The evening will feature four courses from Chef Mark Ladner and premium pours from Sardinia, Sicily, and Ischia, Bay of Naples alongside conversation with Bar Enza's sommelier.   

The Menu will feature:
Upon Arrival: Guests will enjoy Warm Ciabatta Sticks with Smooth Mascarpone, Lava Salt, Sorrento Lemon Powder, EVOO
1st Course: Sweet Corn Fregola with Garlic Chives, Aleppo Pepper, Lime Zest. Paired with Vermentino,Cardedu "Nuo", Sardinia, 2019
2nd Course: Cool Sicilian Gazpacho with Tomato Juices, Cucumber, Jalapeño, Melon, Crushed Avocado, Caper Salt Croutons, EVOO. Paired with Nerello Mascalese Rosé, Regaleali, Sicily, 2020.
3rd Course:: Pan Seared Monkfish Tail with Piccata Sauce, Summer Vegetable Scafata. Paired with Cerasuolo di Vittoria, COS, Sicily, 2017.
Dessert Course: Vanilla Gelato Float with Ruccholino

The dinner costs $150 per person (including and gratuity). Tickets, and more information, can be found HERE

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Samobor: Podrum Filipec, Bermet & Muštarda (Part 2)

Have you ever heard of Bermet, an aromatized wine from the Croatian town of Samobor? Until my recent Croatian visit, I was unaware of it, but now it's definitely peaked my interest. 

When we visited Samobor, we stopped at one winery, Podrum Filipec, which produces two specialties of the region, Bermet and Muštarda. They were both new to me, and I was pleasantly impressed by both. Bermet is an aromatized wine, flavored with herbs, spices and fruit, similar in some respects to Vermouth, although Bermet isn't fortified. 

The history of Bermet in the Samobor region extends back at least to the mid-18th century. A version of Bermet is also made in Serbia, primarily in the Fruška Gora region, and its origins may also extend to the 18th century. I haven't been able to definitively determine which region first created Bermet, although the oldest known documentation seems to indicate Samobor is the more likely originator. 

These two regions are separated by over 200 miles, so the origin of Bermet is fascinating. As Bermet began in monasteries in both regions, then it seems likely the monks from one monastery shared the recipe with other monasteries. Was there a special connection between the monasteries of Samobor and Fruška Gora? As a side note, it's claimed that Serbian Bermet was once served on the Titanic. 

Some articles claim that Bermet originated in the Samobor region with the arrival of Napoleon and his troops around 1809. This is not actually true as there's documentary evidence of Bermet existing over 50 years before the arrival of Napoleon. There's a manual, from 1755, that was composed by "pharmacists" at a monastery in Samobor, and it has a recipe for a "special aromatised wine" that is very similar to modern Bermet. 

This monastery was the first "pharmacy" in Samobor, and Bermet initially was intended for medicinal purposes, such as to aid digestion and relieve fever. The original versions of Bermet contained only red wine and wormwood, but over time, other ingredients were added, some for additional medical purposes, and others for their flavor, especially to balance the bitterness of the drink. The recipe from 1755 had evolved from the basics, and included lemon balm, bitter orange, mustard seed, coriander and cloves. Thus, it's clear that Bermet was created before 1755, although how much longer we are unsure, as it had already evolved at this point beyond the wine & wormwood concoction. 

During the later 18th century, the spices and ingredients used in Bermet were often costly, so Bermet was likely the domain of the wealthy. It would take time for the price of those ingredients to decrease, before Bermet became more readily available for the general public. 

Enter the Filipec family, one of the oldest in Samobor, which has been producing Bermet since the early 19th century. One of their early ancestors, Mijo Filipec, worked as a maunciple (in charge of buying & storing provisions) at the Samobor Franciscan monastery, and it's believed that he gave the recipe for Bermet to his family. Throughout the years afterward, the Filipec family produced Bermet, but only for their own private use. 

For a lengthy period, the Filipec family was primarily engaged in the tannery business but in 1946, the Communists seized control of the tannery, wanting to have complete control over leather production. Thus, as his livelihood had been seized, Josip Joca Filipec started producing Bermet and Muštarda on a commercial basis. The business would continue down the generations, although it was still only a side business, with their main business being a factory that prepared foods for the winter. In 1999, Antun Filipec (who led our visit) established Podrum Filipecproducing Bermet, as well as other still and sparkling wines.    

Today, there are only about four commercial producers of Bermet in Samobor, and each uses their own secret recipe, although there are obvious similarities. Of the four producers, the Filipec family has the oldest recipe. Some other families in Samobor produce Bermet in their homes, but it's only for their private use. Home production has occurred for many years, and it was traditional to open the new batch of Bermet at Christmas. 

Samoborski Bermet now possesses a Protected Designation of Origin with the European Union, and you can read the EU Technical File on it. According to this file, Bermet production begins with crushed red grapes to which are added figs, carob, orange, lemons and wormwood. Red wine is later added, with a portion of that wine infused with sugar, vanilla, cloves and nutmeg. It must age for at least three months in 150-350 liter wooden barrels. 10% of the grapes must also come from vineyards in Samobor. Traditional red grapes include Frankovka, Portugizac Crni (Blauer Portugieser), Kavčina Crna,  Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and Dornfelder, and a few white grapes are permitted as well, such as Graševina, Kraljevina and Rhine Riesling.

Commonly, Bermet results in a full-bodied, dark red wine with an intensive herbal aroma and bitter-sweet flavors, with fruit and spice notes as well. Bermet should be served chilled, whether neat or on the rocks. It can also be used in cocktails. Might be an intriguing substitute for Vermouth. A Bermet Manhattan? 

Our host for our tasting was Antun Filipec, who was charismatic and humorous, and told us more about their own production of Bermet. He noted, "It is wine but it isn't wine." It's certainly not what most people think of as wine, but it certainly has a strong wine component. Antun also stated that some of the main ingredients in their recipe include wormwood, carob, oranges, and dried figs, and all of their fruits come from Dalmatia. Second, their Bermet is generally aged for 5-6 months in the barrel, about twice as long as required. Some of their barrels are very old, as much as 150 years old. Third, all of their Bermet have vintages, and Antun is seeking a relative consistency from year to year.  Fourth, their base wine is usually made from about 90% Frankovka and 10% Portugizac Crni, both grown in vineyards in the Samobor region. Lastly, the ABV varies from 13-15.5%. 

We began our tasting with the 2021 Samoborski Bermet, which had a dark red color and an intriguing herbal nose. On the palate, there was a complex and well-balanced blend of bitter and sweet, with prominent herbal notes, and hints of citrus and vanilla. Each sip though seemed to bring a slightly different taste, and it would be a pleasure to slowly sip a glass over an hour or two, seeing how it evolved over time in the glass. It was delicious, and I can see its potential, from an aperitif to a cocktail ingredient. As it isn't fortified, so the alcohol level is lower, you can drink more Bermet than you can something like Vermouth. 

Bermet can age well, and Antun has a section in his tasting room with numerous older vintages. In general, the bitterness decreases over time and the herbal components help the wine to age well. Antun let us taste three older vintages of Bermet and it was enlightening to see how it transformed with time, although each vintage has its own uniqueness as well. 

We began with the 2009 Bermet, which had a lighter color, was less bitter and more sweet. It was smooth and delicious, with more citrus notes. The 2006 Bermet was about the same light color, but was more bitter than the 2009, although much of the rest of the taste was fairly similar. It was intriguing that the bitterness hadn't decreased more than the 2009 vintage. The 1992 Bermet (30 years old!) was actually a little darker in color than the other two. There was a touch of bitterness, but more sweetness, and lots of bright herbal notes and citrus, and a lengthy finish. It was still lively and could easily age for another twenty years. Definitely an impressive experience. 

Antun also produces Bianco Bermet, a limited edition wine that was made in 2013 using Grasevina grapes. It started as an experiment, but met with much raves so they decided to continue producing it. They now make about 500 bottles a year, and it's aged for seven years in the barrel. It possessed a beautiful golden color, had a compelling and complex aroma, and on the palate, it was mildly bitter, with a mild sweetness, and fresh herbal flavors and subtle fruit, mainly of citrus. 

After the Bermet tasting, we adjourned outside to taste some of their still wines. Outside, there was an old wine press, a three column press from 1864, which still works and they even use it on occasion. Their other wines include Joko (a sparkling wine), Grasevina & Pinot Gris, Tia (a rosé), and Cuvee Roko (a red blend). 

Of the two white wines, my favorite was their 2021 Grasevina, made with grapes from their own vineyard. With a 12% ABV, it was fresh and crisp with an excellent aroma of herbal and floral notes. On the palate, there was plenty of fresh fruit, including pear and grapefruit, as well as mineral notes and a subtle herbal aspect. Simply delicious! The 2021 Sivi Pinot Gris, also from grapes from his own vineyard, was easy drinking and pleasant, with tropical fruit flavors and a touch of grapefruit. 

The 2021 Tia Rosé is produced from Frankovka, and is made to be semi-sweet with a 11% ABV. Antun stated his philosophy is to make Rosé with a little sweetness, He also noted that this was a "lady's wine," though this was not seen as derogatory, more just that is the type of Rosé many women sought.  I found the Rosé to be only mildly sweet, with crisp acidity and plenty of fresh red fruit flavors. It would be a nice summery wine, to sip outside with friends or family. 

We tasted two vintages of the Cuvee Roko, a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zweigelt, and Frankovka. Each grape is vinified separately, and the wine is aged in barrel for at least 18 months. The 2018 Cuvee Roko had spent 18 months in old barrique, had a 13.5% ABV, and was said to be a "wilder" wine. With a medium red color, it was lighter bodied with pleasant tastes of cherry, plum, and mild spice notes. There was a mild earthy touch to this wine as well. The 2019 Cuvee Roko had spent 24 months in barrique, and was a smoother wine, more complex and with more spice notes. It lacked that earthy aspect, and had a cleaner taste, and a lengthier finish. 

Podrum Filipec also produces Samoborska Muštarda, made by Antun's uncle. Legend states that Napoleon and his men introduced Muštarda to the region, and the people of Samobor created their own version. Antun's uncle uses a recipe from the 19th century, and the ingredients generally consists of mustard seeds, sweet wine must, grape jam, salt, and sugar. 

I'm generally not a fan of mustard, but I was intrigued by Samoborska Muštarda, which certainly seemed very different than most other mustards. We got to taste some with local charcuterie, and I was surprised how delicious it was! With a dark color, and reddish tones, it possessed a compelling nose, and on the palate, it was very spicy, lightly sweet, and much less mustard flavor than many others. It was complex and tasty, intense and interesting. I enjoyed it so much, I even bought some to take home.

If you visit Samobor, then you must visit Podrum Filipec, to taste their Bermet & Muštarda. It was a fascinating visit, with plenty of delicious wines, and you'll experience the unique Bermet. 

(Please note: Photos #5, 7-10 are courtesy of Todd Godbout)

Monday, July 4, 2022

Recent Culinary Highlights: Iron Town Diner to Viet Citron

There's once again no Rant today as there's been enough bad news recently and today is a holiday, Independence Day, so I just want to highlight some of the tasty delights I've recently enjoyed, giving some attention to excellent restaurants which are worthy of praise and your patronage.

I've previously written a few times about my explorations of the potential of French Toast for sandwiches other than the famed Monte Cristo. Most recently, I mentioned a French Toast Chicken Cutlet sandwich I enjoyed at the Iron Town Diner in Saugus. This past week, I opted to try a Hot Pastrami & Swiss on French Toast, and I'm pleased to say it was also an excellent choice. Again, the sandwich was enhanced by the eggy taste and texture of the French Toast, and didn't get soggy. The pastrami was lean and tender as well. I didn't have any mustard on the sandwich, and wasn't sure how that will go with the French Toast. 

My server also mentioned that he had tried a French Toast burger for the first time and enjoyed it, even talking to the chef about possibly adding it to one of the Specials some time. Let's hope that happens and more people can enjoy that delicious combination. However, anyone dining at Iron Town Diner can always order such a sandwich, even if it isn't on the menu. They are very good in handling special requests. 

One of my favorite lunch spots (which is also great for dinner) is Viet Citron, a Vietnamese restaurant in Burlington. I've been dining there since it opened early in 2020, just before the pandemic struck. Bánh Mi, Phở, Mama Tran's Chả Giò, seasonal specialties and more. For lunch last week, I began with a seasonal specialty, the Viet Grilled Corn, which is smothered with a scallion jalapeno butter and topped with scallion oil. The sweet corn was nicely grilled, and the scallion jalapeno butter added a mildly spicy kick. A delicious summery treat, with its own unique twist.  

I then enjoyed a Crispy Pork Belly Bánh Mi, which is one of my favorite choices here. The Bánh Mi can also be chosen with lemongrass sirloin, Big A** chicken, grilled prawns, or crispy tofu puffs. The sandwich comes on a baguette and is filled with pickles, jalapeños, cilantro, signature aioli, and garlic soy reduction (or fish sauce if you prefer). I love the pork belly as it's tender and crispy, with crunchy bits and soft fat. The freshness, flavors and textures of the other ingredients enhances the sandwich. The sandwich is amply filled, and it's great for take-out as well. 

I've tasted most of the dishes at Viet Citron, and been pleased with all of them. They use quality ingredients, some local, and invest much time into preparing some of their signature dishes, from the crispy pork belly to the Phở. It's a great, small local business worthy of your support.