Saturday, December 31, 2022

10 New Year's Resolutions For My Readers

Happy New Year's Eve and I hope you celebrate well but also spend this holiday safely. I also hope you will enjoy some type of delicious Sparkling Wine, from Champagne to Crémant d'Alsace, Cava to Franciacorta, or something Sparkling from a U.S. producer. It's my fervent wish that this New Year is better for all of us, in so many ways, than 2023. 

This is also the time when many people will ponder the conduct of their lives and choose to make Resolutions, the things they want to do, or not do, to make their lives better in the New Year. Maybe you want to give up smoking or lose weight, maybe you want to start going to a gym regularly or save more money. Unfortunately, many people will break their resolutions after only a short time, within less than a month, so numerous people will choose not to make a resolution, figuring they won't follow it anyways.

As I've done for the last several years, I want to offer some alternative suggestions for resolutions, all connected to food and drink. Rather than deal in absolutes, or exact measurements, I merely hope that you choose to do your best to follow these suggested resolutions with the simple goal of doing better than you did last year. I don't expect anyone to follow these resolutions all the time. Please just do your best. I think you might find this easier to do than a more specific resolution which is an either/or proposition. Seek continued forward progress in these ten resolutions throughout the entire year.

1) Resolve to eat & drink healthier
This encompasses so much, such as eating less calories, consuming less sugar, and choosing items that have less unwanted chemicals. Take small steps in your approach rather than diving into a major change. The smaller steps won't seem as burdensome and it will make it easier to take another small step later on. And even small changes can bring about positive changes, especially when they accumulate over time. We all would benefit from eating and drinking healthier and it will also help our environment and economy.

2) Resolve to consume more local food & drink
Local products can help the environment, the local economy and benefit the local community. Plus, many of those local products can be healthier than mass produced, overly processed foods that might come from thousands of miles away. Eating more local seafood is such a great idea, for many reasons, from bettering your health to helping the local fishing industry. This resolution also includes drinking local wines, as every state now produces wine, and you might be surprised by the quality of some of that local wine. Not all local food and drink is delicious or good for the environment, so do some research to find out the best.

3) Resolve to eat more seafood, especially domestic
Seafood can be extremely healthy for you, especially those fish rich in Omega-3s, so it is an excellent choice for dinner. Seafood is also delicious, versatile and often easy to prepare. Yes, it can be more expensive, but it is well worth the added cost, and there are ways to get more value in your seafood purchases. Buying more domestic seafood will help our economy, rather than buying so much imported seafood. Eating more seafood can be one of the healthiest life changes you ever make. It has scientifically been proven that consuming 26 pounds of seafood annually will reduce your chances of heart disease by 36%. An easy and delicious resolution.

4) Resolve to expand your drink horizons
Don't keep drinking the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful beverages out there to taste, and you might find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. If you mainly drink Chardonnay, venture out and try some other white wines, such as Gruner Veltliner, Trebbiano or Albarino. Try Sherry, Sake, Japanese Whisky, Mezcal, Franciacorta, Baijiu, and other under-appreciated beverages. Sample wines from different countries, including Croatia, Moldova, Greece, Israel, and more. Taste it all, constantly trying new beverages, and continue drinking those you enjoy.

5) Resolve to expand your food horizons
In a similar vein, don't keep eating the same old stuff all the time. There are so many wonderful foods out there to taste, to see if you can find some new favorites. Break out of your rut and endeavor to try something new on a regular basis. Try some less common meats, from rabbit to wild boar, or maybe something even more unusual like insects or guinea pig. Seek out cuisines that are new to you, and look for new ingredients you can try out in your own kitchen. Taste it all, constantly trying new foods, and continue eating what you enjoy

6) Resolve to cook more at home
Cooking at home is another way to benefit the environment, and it can be more economical than eating out all the time. It also gives you a better handle on exactly what you eat, so you can make the food as healthy as you desire. It can be fun too, if you cook with someone else, breaking the potential boredom of cooking alone. Be creative in what you cook, seek out new recipes, and share recipes with others.

7) Resolve not to be THAT jerk when you dine out
When you dine out at a restaurant, get take-out, or delivery, please be polite and show respect to everyone working at or for the restaurant. Don't fault the restaurants for legal restrictions they must follow. Don't demand special treatment or threaten the restaurant just because you write reviews on some community website. Tip generously, showing your servers gratitude for all their hard work. If you have a problem at a restaurant, speak to the management and see if they can resolve your issue. If you enjoy a restaurant, spread the word about your positive experience. Good restaurants can use, and deserve, all the help they can get, especially in these times. It's a very tough industry, and a very tough time, and consumers need to better understand its difficulties, and be more understanding of restaurant efforts.

8) Resolve to give more to fight hunger
Despite the wealth of the U.S., there are still far too many people in our country who can't afford to eat properly. Hunger is a major problem in our country, as well as all across the world, and one that we can do something about. Give food or money to local food banks, national organizations, or any other charity that is trying to combat this problem. Those of us without food security issues can all help out, in whatever way we are capable.

9) Resolve not to waste as much food
It is said that up to 40% of our food ends up as waste, and that is a nearly unbelievable statistic. Food waste can lead to higher food prices and cause more environmental damage. Do your part to help reduce food waste. Don't make as much food as normal when making a meal so you don't have leftovers in the first place. As your mother probably once said to you, finish everything on your plate. Use any leftovers to make additional meals.

10) Resolve not to drink & drive
As I have said time and time again, do not drive if you are impaired at all by alcohol. It is much too dangerous and you could injure or kill yourself or someone else. Even if you don't get in an accident, you could be arrested and that comes with its own high costs. It isn't worth doing it, so please just don't drink and drive. Take a Uber, taxi, or catch a ride with someone else.

Is there anything I missed?

Friday, December 30, 2022

2022: My Favorite Restaurants

What were some of my Favorite Restaurants of the past year?

As 2023 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. I've already posted two of my annual Favorite Lists: Top Ten Wines of 2022 and 2022: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-Related Items. It's time now to cover my Favorite Restaurants of 2022. These lists should provide a comprehensive summary of my favorites from this past year, allowing my readers to more readily locate such gems, the best of my recommendations. 

This is certainly not a complete list but is more a sampling of memorable restaurants and food items I've experienced and/or posted about over the past year. This list is also in no particular order, and is purely a subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. However, all of the restaurants here earn my hearty recommendation and I hope you'll enjoy them as well. For more Restaurant reviews, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.


I'll begin with my Top Three Favorite Restaurants, the exceptional spots which are consistently excellent, offering great food and drink as well as top notch service. These are the three places which first come to my mind when I want a celebratory dinner, or just want a sublime dining experience. They receive my unqualified highest recommendations. Please note these three restaurants are not in any specific order. 

This Greek restaurant is amazing, where nearly every dish is exceptional. Their menu consists of a wide selection of small plates, perfect for sharing, and offers creative Greek cuisine, with roots in tradition but it's not afraid to experiment. Their Greek wine list, the largest in the country, is superb with so many delicious and interesting options. Service is excellent, and the servers are very knowledgeable of the food and wine. My favorite dish of my most recent experience was the Xtenia (pictured above), seared scallops with roasted corn kritharoto, cherry tomatoes, and maidanosalata. Such a great sear on the tender and sweet scallops, enhanced by the other ingredients.

Offering inventive and delicious French/Vietnamese inspired-cuisine, with their own unique spin, this restaurant offers Tasting Menus, ranging from 7-14 courses. Their dishes are exceptional, bursting with flavor, and creatively composed. Plus, they have an excellent wine list and cocktail program. I like their homey vibe, service is always excellent, and they have an open kitchen, which I've always loved. They also recently received five stars from the Boston Globe. My favorite dish from my most recent experience was the Bay Scallop Noodle Soup (pictured above), with marinated pork, smokey broth, fennel, and omani lime. Such a delicious melange of flavors, elevating this dish.  

Tasting Counter (Somerville)  
This is another restaurant which has long been one of my top favorites, and I really need to dine there more often. As I've frequently mentioned, I believe Chef Peter Ungár is one of the best chefs in the Boston+ area, and doesn't receive as much attention as he deserves. His restaurant has been consistently excellent every time I've been there, due in large part to Chef Ungár being a perfectionist. His dishes are creative and delicious, with such intriguing combinations of ingredients. And the drink pairings are excellent choices as well. If you want to splurge on one of my top dining experiences in the Boston+ area, this is the spot you should do so. 

I want to now address those restaurants, which were new to me this year, and impressed me. These are definitely restaurants I want to dine at again, and which are worthy of recommendation. 

Yakitori Totto (Somerville)
This new restaurant opened in December 2021, and has quickly become a favorite of mine. I have dined here several times this year, and each time the restaurant has been consistently excellent. You can check out my Initial Impressions for more information. Excellent grilled meats, seafood, and veggies, as well as other dishes from home-made Gyoza to Tori Dango (chicken meatballs covered with mochi rice). Pictured above is the Kawa, grilled chicken skin, which was a pure delight, crispy, chewy, and flavorful. They have a small Sake list but there are some very good choices there. 

Bambolina & Kokeshi (Salem)
Where else can you find wood-fired pizza and ramen? Bambolina and Kokeshi are two restaurants, under the same ownership, which also share the same space. There are separate menus for both spots, but you can opt for anything on either menu. Check out my initial review, and I have been there a few more times after that as well, enjoying each experience. I loved their pizza and ramen. Pictured above is the tasty Col. Sanders Ramen, made with a spicy pork broth, fried chicken, Tokyo wavy noodle, corn, wakame, Vermont butter, and scallions. The broth was spicy with a nice depth of flavor, and the fried chicken had a crunchy coating and was moist and tender inside. It was an ample dish, full of flavor, and very pleasing.

Wusong Road (Cambridge)
Another newcomer to the area, I enjoyed a delicious Lunch, and tasty Mai Tai, at Wusong Road and was impressed. The menu is Asian-inspired, but is very creative as well, such as offering their own version of New England Chop Suey. It has such a fun vibe, from its decor to the menu, and would be a great spot for a drink and some appetizers. The Mandarin Chicken (pictured above) was crispy chicken, with togarashi seasoning, scallions, sesame seeds, Thai basil, and accompanied by a Mandarin orange & sambal dipping sauce. The chicken was moist and tender, with a thin and crunchy fried coating. 

Another newcomer to the Boston restaurant scene, this restaurant is part of Chef Morimoto's culinary empire, and I only had lunch there once, but want to return to try more of their menu. I was impressed with my lunch choices, including then Spicy Tan-Tan (pictured above), with a spicy sesame broth, miso ground pork, cilantro, scallion and ajitama (an egg). The broth was compelling, with a rich sesame flavor that was nicely spiced. The noodles were cooked just right and the miso pork and egg were tasty. Everything was well composed and balanced, an excellent choice for a hearty lunch.

Chet's Diner (Northboro)
Knowing nothing about this diner, I decided to stop by for breakfast and was extremely glad that I did so. It's only open for breakfast, has a nice homey vibe, and prices are very reasonable. Their Pancake (pictured above) was exceptional, as well as quite large, covering nearly the entire plate. It was thin, fluffy and light, with a delightful taste. I only slathered butter on my pancake and it was more than sufficient. No need for syrup. It was one of the best pancakes I've enjoyed in quite some time. In February, I hope to dine here again, and maybe on multiple days. 

B.T.'s Smokehouse (Sturbridge)
Again, I only dined at this restaurant once, for a tasty lunch, but I want to return, and may do so in February. It's a well known barbecue spot, very casual, as well as a BYOB spot (with no corkage fee). Pulled pork, brisket, ribs, fried chicken and much more, and the prices are very reasonable. Pictured above, their Boneless Fried Chicken was superb. A great crunchy coating, well-seasoned, covering moist, tender chicken. Each bite was delicious and I could have easily enjoyed a meal of just this fried chicken. 

Now, I want to mention more of my favorite restaurants, those which I have dined at multiple times during the last couple years, sometimes on a regular basis. I haven't written articles about some of them this past year, although they have received mentions on my social media. These restaurants have remained consistent and excellent, and continue to earn my hearty recommendations. Please dine at these restaurants, and I believe you will enjoy them as well.

A Tavola (Winchester)
This is an excellent Italian restaurant, which is small and intimate, with superb home-made pasta dishes. Chef Joe Carli is very talented and personable, and his cuisine is as good as anything you'll find in the North End. I've written about them a couple times this year, including A Superb Sicilian Wine Dinner and some Recent Culinary Highlights. Their wine list concentrates on Italian wines, and there are many very good choices. You also should check out their event list, which includes fun and tasty wine dinners and cocktail classes. 

Tambo 22 (Chelsea)
The Boston area has seen a growth in Peruvian restaurants, and Tambo 22 is a stellar example, a more high-end spot for exceptional Peruvian cuisine. It too is a small and intimate venue. Chef Jose Duarte is another very talented and personable chef. The food is delicious, interesting, and hearty. They have a full drinks program, including numerous Peruvian spirits and a variety of Pisco Sour cocktails. It's an impressive restaurant and one that never fails to please. 

Peruvian Taste Restaurant (Charlestown)   
Another Peruvian spot, this is a smaller, more casual spot, serving delicious and authentic cuisine, including Chifa, a combination of Peruvian and Chinese cuisine. In fact, they have the largest Chifa menu in the Boston+ area. They serve ample dishes of delicious, fresh comfort food that is reasonably priced. This is the type of restaurant where you want to return again and again to try all of the various dishes on their extensive menu. It's a bit hidden away, in a more industrial area of Charlestown, but its well worth seeking it out. 

This is my favorite clam shack on the North Shore, providing such delicious, fresh fried seafood. I love their fried clams and their fried scallops are some of the best I've ever tasted, so sweet and tender. Plus, on Fridays, they often have fried lobster tails, such a decadent treat. Their plates are quite large, and probably can even be shared. They also earn kudos for their great customer service

Soall Viet Kitchen (Beverly)
The two owners, Sa Nguyen and Mia Lunt, offer authentic Vietnamese cuisine, to highlight the culinary delights of their homeland. The food is fresh, well-prepared, delicious and reasonably priced. Some of my favorite dishes include their plump Shrimp Summer Rolls, the crispy Sweet Potato & Shrimp Fritters, the tasty Steamed Pork Bao, and the alluring Chicken Clay Pot. They have Pho and Bahn Mi as well, but I recommend you branch out and try some of their other Vietnamese dishes.

Việt Citron (Burlington)
This small, casual Vietnamese restaurant serves primarily Bahn Mi and Pho, with a variety of seasonal specialities as well. I love their Crispy Pork Belly Bahn Mi, and often try their seasonal dishes, such as this past summer's Viet Grilled Corn. There is great passion here, and it's obvious they take great care in the preparation of their dishes. I enjoy having a casual lunch here, reveling in the tasty flavors of their cuisine. 

Prince Pizzeria (Saugus)
This restaurant has existed on Route 1 for 60 years, and is a place I've been going to since I was a child. It's a large, casual spot for pizza and Italian cuisine, and its pizza is basically its own unique and delicious style. I dine there regularly, and most often order their pizza, but the rest of their menu is tasty too, such as their Meatball Sliders and Lasagna. The passionate owner, Steve Castraberti, is often at the restaurant, helping to ensure it runs well, as well as being a friendly face to the guests. It's a great spot for private parties too.

The Bancroft (Burlington)
The Burlington area has numerous steak houses but my favorite is The Bancroft, and their lunch program is superb, showing they do well with more than just steak. Last winter, I dined there as a Valentine's celebration, enjoying dishes including fried clams, duck confit sandwich, and a steak & blue cheese sandwich. I've been there a couple times since then, continuing to enjoy their lunch menu choices. I need to get back there for dinner soon. 

This Greek restaurant has long been one of my favorites, from their Brunch to their Dinner. They offer a different type of Greek cuisine than Krasi, and it is delicious, creative, and well-balanced. They too have an excellent selection of Greek wine, Greek spirits, and cocktails using Greek ingredients. It is one of the best restaurants in the Seaport area, and during the summer, you can enjoy their large outside patio. 

Greco (several locations in Boston)
Another Greek spot, this fast-casual restaurant, with multiple locations, specializes in Gyros and Loukoumades (Greek donut holes). The Gyro meat, which is slowly marinated over many hours, is always tender and flavorful, with their lamb being my favorite. The Gyro, with its warm pita and Greek-seasoned fries, is such delicious comfort food. And the sweet Loukoumades, in various flavors, are always a treat as well. 

Row 34 (Burlington)
The former Island Creek Oyster Bar is now Row 34, but maintains the same high quality and delicious seafood dishes as before, including the tasty Tuna Melt! The seafood, from the fresh oysters to fried clams, is always appealing, and they also have a very good wine list and creative cocktails. When I'm craving seafood, Row 34 is always one of my top choices. 

China Sky (Winchester), 
This restaurant serves a wide variety of tasty Chinese and Japanese dishes, including sushi. Their Sesame Chicken is probably the most delicious example of this dish I've eaten. Their lotus flour coating is crispy and thin, not the overly thick coating you often encounter. The chicken is moist, tender and ample. There was much more chicken in this dish than you commonly find in similar ones. Plus, the sauce is fresh, flavorful and complex, not the thick, goopy and overly sweet sauce you find at other spots.

This is an excellent spot for Chinese cuisine, from Soup Dumplings to Dan Dan Noodles. It's a small, more intimate spot, with a full liquor license, and the food menu is extensive. Even those common dishes, which you can find in many other Chinese restaurants, are elevated in quality over many of those other places. Malden has numerous Asian restaurants, but District Kitchen is one of the best.  

Nick & Andy's (Danvers)
This restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch, and they excel at breakfast. It's probably my favorite local breakfast spot, as the food is fresh, delicious and there's plenty of variety. From their fresh-baked muffins to their hash browns (which are tougher to find locally), there is so much to enjoy about this place. Their Chicken & Waffles dish is also excellent, and one of my usual choices when I dine here. Prices are reasonable and service is very good. Overall, it's such a special place.

Another breakfast and lunch spot, Iron Town recently underwent a change in ownership, but so far, they have maintained much of the same menu as before, as well as retaining many of the same servers. I've always loved their Monte Cristo Sandwich, a hearty sandwich, stuffed with a thick mound of turkey, cheese and ham, sandwiched between two slices of French Toast. However, I wanted more sandwiches made with French Toast, and Iron Town has catered to my request, so I've had sandwiches including the   French Toast Cheeseburger, French Toast Chicken Cutlet, and a French Toast Pastrami sandwich. You too can enjoy such sandwiches just by making a special request. 


Additional Favorites: Here are some other of my favorite restaurants, many which I haven't dined at in the past year, but which I want to return to in 2023. 
These include: A&B Burgers (Beverly), Butter UR Biscuit (Beverly)Bistro du Midi (Boston), Dumpling Cafe (Boston), Mooncusser Fish House & Cusser's Roast Beef (Boston), Select Oyster Bar (Boston), Taberna de Haro (Brookline), Feng Shui (Burlington), Sichuan Gourmet (Burlington), Momi Nonmi (Cambridge), Puritan & Co. (Cambridge), Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (Cambridge), Tampopo  (Cambridge), Bistro 5 (Medford), Spiga (Needham), Farm Grill & Rotisserie (Newton), Moldova Restaurant (Newton)Dali (Somerville), Fusion Taste (Stoneham), Taste of Siam (Stoneham), Jana Grill (Watertown)Mitho Restaurant (Winchester), Ristorante Lucia (Winchester)Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe (Woburn), and WuBurger (Woburn).

Support the Restaurant Industry: As I said above, the restaurant industry has been devastated by this pandemic, especially as the federal government has done little to aid and assist the industry. Some restaurants have closed permanently and others may be forced to do so in the near future. We need to support our favorite restaurants as much as we are capable, from buying gift cards to ordering take-out, from getting delivery to tipping well. If you have a positive dining experience, tell your family and friends. Spread the word on social media. 

What were some of your Favorite Restaurants this year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

2022: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-related related items of the past year?

As 2023 approaches,  it's time to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. I've already posted the first of my annual Favorite Lists, Top Ten Wines of 2022. It's time now to cover my Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-Related Items

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.


Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial wines which can be found in almost any wine store or, instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight two such stores which continue, year after year, to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed. As an example, a couple months ago I found an excellent Spanish Xarel-lo white wine at Bin Ends in Needham for only $6! Even at three times that price, it would have been an excellent buy. 

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Malden Center Fine Wines in Malden (Excellent Sake selection)
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Press in Brookline and Wine Press in the Fenway
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain
Marty's Fine Wines in Newton
Croatian Premium Wine in Boston (Only an online store, but you can get their wines delivered to you, all across the country, with a great selection of Croatian wines)

Favorite Vermont Wine Store: The Meditrina Wine & Cheese shop, in Chester, Vermont, is an excellent place with a very compelling beer and wine selection, and some gourmet foods. It's a small store, but there's plenty of food and drink available, filling the shelves floor to ceiling, and I bet you'll find plenty to tantalize you, including plenty of natural wines, small production wines, and other intriguing wines, They have wine at all price points and any wine lover will find much of interest. This well-curated selection would be impressive wherever it was located. I visited them again this summer, buying a few interesting wines, as well as some gourmet potato chips. 

Favorite Restaurant Wine Lists: I want to highlight a few restaurants which offer some intriguing and excellent wine lists. 
     Krasi: With the largest Greek wine list in the country, you'll find almost any type of Greek wine you could desire. There are so many excellent options that you might have difficulty selecting a bottle, but the sommelier/wine director, Evan Turner, and staff can help guide you through the intriguing list. Expand your palate and explore the wonders of Greek wine. Plus, Krasi now sells their wines at retail, so if you enjoy a bottle for dinner, you can buy a bottle and take it home with you. This is such a great option, and I bought a couple bottles during my last visit to Krasi. 
    Nightshade Noodle Bar: Their eclectic, well-curated wine list has primarily more natural wines from small producers. There's plenty of interesting options available, and the wines pair very well with their delicious cuisine. The list changes fairly regularly, and there's always something new to tantalize your palate.  
     Pammy's: Their wine list is mainly Italian but with some other unique wines, from places including Vermont, Oregon, Washington and California. Plenty of excellent options, including a number of Orange wines, and plenty of Nebbiolo as well. 

Favorite Wine Dinner: This past spring, A Tavola in Winchester held a Sicilian wine dinner which was stellar. The wines were superb, several making my Top Ten Wine List of 2022, and they paired very well with the delicious foods prepared by Chef Carli, from Chicken Fried Quail to Rohan Duck. It was a fun atmosphere as well, with Ciro Pirone, of Horizon Beverages, regaling us with interesting and humorous tales of Sicily and the wines. A Tavola holds a number of wine dinners each year and you definitely should check them out. 

Favorite Wine Event News: Next year, the Boston Wine Expo returns. This major wine event, for the public and industry, will be held March 25 & 26, 2023, at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Tickets are now available, although the full schedule for the event has not been posted yet. For example, there will be wine seminars although there isn't any information about which ones will be held. With a different venue and date, I'm very curious as to how the new Wine Expo will be, after its absence in recent years. Once they post more details on the event, I will provide that info on my blog as well. 

Favorite Cocktail Spots: 
     Nightshade Noodle Bar: Besides their cool wine list, the restaurant also creates numerous tasty and inventive cocktails here, such as the Nightshade Mai Tai,  Saigon Cigar Club, the Nha Trang Beach (with Mezcal), and Coconut Margarita. They also make custom Spritz cocktails, recently making one using Bully Boy Amaro which thoroughly impressed my dinner companion. On their dessert list, I love the Thai Tea, a small Thai Tea Mai Tai, and I try to order it every time. The cocktails are creative, well-balanced and delicious. 
    Row 34: In Burlington, this exquisite seafood restaurant makes some delicious cocktails, such as the Westward Winds, a Baijiu cocktail, and They Reminisce Over You, which is made with rum and Manzanilla sherry. 
     Hecate: I haven't visited this cocktail bar yet, which is located under the Krasi restaurant, but I'm very intrigued, and their cocktail menu looks quite inventive. It's on my short list of spots to visit in 2023. 

Favorite Baijiu Cocktail: At Row 34, The Westward Winds is made with Oaxacan rum. Ming River Baijiu, passion fruit, lime, and Campari. It was delicious and well-balanced, not overly sweet (with hints of bitterness) and with rich fruity flavors, and the taste of the Baijiu shined through. Refreshing, it was a touch of the summer during this cold winter. And it's also a very good example of the potential of Baijiu in cocktails.

Favorite Sherry Cocktail: At  Row 34, They Reminisce Over You, made with Plantation Single Cask 2009 Long Pond Rum, lime, demerara, manzanilla sherry, and tiki bitters. This cocktail was well balanced, not too sweet, with a delicious, complex taste of tropical flavors, salinity, and citrus. As a lover of Sherry, I love cocktails where it is a component.

Favorite Mezcal Cocktail: At A Tavola, the Killer Bee cocktail is made with Madre Mezcal, lime, and honey. It was refreshing, with only a hint of sweetness, some tartness from the lime, and the nice taste of the Mezcal. A fine way to start any meal.

Favorite Rum Cocktail: At Wusong Road, they offer a variety of Tiki cocktails and I opted for the Mai Tai. It was made with Jamaican, Guyana and Martinque rums, almond orgeat, curaçao, and lime, and served with a metal straw. Most other places that offer a Mai Tai don't make it with such a different selection of rums, instead using much more common and less expensive rums. I enjoyed the complex taste of the Mai Tai, which was refreshing, with a noticeable alcohol content (but not overly so). And at under $11, this was also an excellent value. 

Favorite Beer: From Channel Marker Brewing in Beverly, I thoroughly enjoyed their Propeller, a Cherry Vanilla Popsicle Style Sour Ale. This beer has a 6.3% ABV, and is said to be a "Sour Ale brewed with sweet cherry, tart cherry, vanilla beans and milk sugar." This ale has a deep, rich pink color, and when you took a sip, the front of your palate was struck by bright cherry flavors, with a hint of tartness, The flavors then transformed in your mouth, finishing with creamy vanilla notes, and the cherry taste became more subtle. I was enamored with how the delicious flavors evolved over my palate. In addition, it presented with only a mild hint of sweetness, which pleased me as well. Highly recommended!

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: While dining at Yakitori Totto, I enjoyed the Kaku Rei Daiginjo ($120), which was produced by the Aoki Brewery, that was founded in 1717. The Sake was made from the famed Yamada Nishika rice, which was milled down to 48%. It was an excellent Sake, with delicious peach and apple flavors, a touch of steamed rice, a nice body, and a lengthy finish. It was smooth and tasty, and went well with the various grilled meats.

Favorite Canned Sake: WeSake is a canned Junmai Ginjo, likely produced by the Hakutsuru Brewery, a 280 year old brewery in Kobe, Japan. The rice for this Sake is grown in Tagocho, by local farmers, although the type of rice is not identified. The rice was polished down to at least 60%, and the Sake is also vegan friendly, sulfite free, gluten free, and non-GMO. It was quite tasty, being smooth and medium-bodied, with pleasant flavors of melon, steamed rice, and tropical fruit. I enjoyed it chilled with a dinner of Sockeye Salmon, and it has more body than many other Ginjo Sakes, and I think it would taste well warmed too.

Favorite Sake Educational Resource: For some of the latest and most fascinating current information about Sake, you need to read the Sake Industry News by John Gauntner. Each twice-monthly issue contains numerous intriguing news articles, sure to interest all Sake lovers, and with information you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. I've learned plenty from this newsletter and eagerly look forward to each new issue. There's not enough Sake news available out there, and Gauntner is filling a much-needed niche. If you're interested in Sake, you definitely should subscribe. 

What were some of your favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-related items this year?

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Top Ten Wines of 2022

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

As 2023 approaches, it's time to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. As 2022 winds down, I'll be posting my annual series of Favorite Lists over the next few weeks, covering food, wine, spirits and other drinks. These lists should provide a comprehensive summary of my favorites from this past year, allowing my readers to more readily locate such gems, the best of my recommendations. My first Favorites List of 2022 is my Top Ten Wines.

This list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines that I've tasted this past year. This list also includes only wines I reviewed on my blog, although I tasted some excellent wines that I didn't write about. Those wines might be mentioned elsewhere in my Favorites lists. 

Please note that this list doesn't include any of the 350 Croatian wines I tasted on this year's journey to that fascinating country. Those Croatian wines deserve their own list. However, a couple Croatian wines are on this list, as I tasted them months before I traveled to Croatia. 

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers would also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.


1) 2019 Duca di Salaparuta 'Kados' Grillo ($18)
At a Sicilian wine dinner at A Tavola in Winchester, one of my favorite Italian restaurants, I enjoyed several wines which made it onto this Favorites list. The first is the Kados, made from 100% Grillo, a white grape that is commonly used on Sicily, especially for producing Marsala wine. More frequently now, it's also being produced on its own, as a still white wine. About 55% of the wine was fermented in small oak casks for about forty days, and the entire wine aged in the bottle for at least three months. With about a 13% ABV, this wine had a pleasing nose of citrus and floral notes, and on the palate, it was bright, fresh and crisp, with tasty notes of citrus and a little salinity. An excellent wine for seafood, and it was a nice companion to Jonah crab. 

2) 2018 Duca di Salaparuta 'Làvico' Nerello Mascalese ($25)
Also from the A Tavola Sicilian wine dinner, this wine was made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, a red grape that is predominantly found on Sicily. The grapes for this wine were grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, at an altitude of about 600-800 meters. The wine was aged for at least 12 months in small, fine oak casks, and had about a 13.5% ABV. In some respects, this wine resembled Pinot Noir, being light bodied with bright cherry flavors, but this wine also had some intriguing notes of cranberry, a touch of balsamic, and some subtle herbal notes. Overall, it was complex and silky smooth, well balanced, with lots of acidity and possessed of a lengthy and pleasant finish. Absolutely delicious and highly recommended. 

3) 2017 Duca di Salaparuta 'Duca Enrico' Nero d'Avola ($50)
Also from the A Tavola Sicilian wine dinner, this is the flagship wine of this winery and an icon in Sicily. It was the first 100% Nero d’Avola label, in 1984, in the history of Sicilian wine. It was aged for at least 18 months in fine oak casks and then another 18 months in the bottle. With about a 14.5% ABV, this wine possessed an alluring aroma of black fruits, mild floral notes, and subtle spices. On the palate, it was complex and engaging, compelling and delicious. Notes of blackberry and ripe plum, subtle spices, earthy notes, smooth tannins, good acidity, and a lingering finish. A superb wine that was bold yet restrained, silky and mesmerizing. Highly recommended and well worth the splurge! 

Also from the A Tavola Sicilian wine dinner, this Marsala was produced from 100% Grillo, and was aged for at least seven years in Slavonian, 1800-liter oak barrels. Florio is the oldest Marsala house on Sicily. With a 19% ABV, it had a bright amber color and on the nose it reminded me strongly of an aged Amontillado Sherry. On the palate, it continued to remind me of Amontillado, with notes of dried fruit, citrus notes, a subtle nuttiness, and a mild sweetness. Such an intriguing and delicious wine, it opened up my eyes to the potential of Marsala. Highly recommended!  And I definitely need to drink more Marsala wine in 2023.

5) 2021 Esporão Bico Amarelo ($12)
It's no surprise to see Portuguese wines on this list. And previous vintages of this wine, and the next one, ended up on prior Favorites lists. This wine was a blend of 40% Loureiro (from Quinta do Ameal) and 30% each of Alvarinho de Monção e Melgaço and Avesso de Baião. It possessed an 11% ABV, which is slightly less than the previous vintage. In addition, the wine remains in contact with the lees for 4-6 months, rather than only 3-4 months as in the previous vintage. For this vintage, the flavor profile was similar to the previous wine, except there was a slightly richer body feel to the wine. Again though, it was still light and refreshing, with bright notes of lemon, citrus and floral elements. It's an easy drinking wine, a true crowd pleaser, and works well on its own or paired with seafood or other light dishes. 
This wine is is very similar to the previous vintage, produced from 100% Loureiro (from 20 year old vines) which sits on the lees in stainless steel for about 7 months and has a 11.5% ABV. My previous tasting note for this wine was: "I fell in love with this wine from the first sip. It possessed an intriguing nose, stone fruits and floral elements, and on the palate, its complexity and rich flavors burst through. It was crisp, fresh and dry, with a delightful melange of citrus, peach, floral notes, minerality and subtle herbal touches. This wine was well-balanced with a lengthy and delicious finish. This wine would also be perfect on its own, or paired with seafood or similar lighter dishes." It's difficult to add anything to this description as it's still appropriate for the new vintage, and I don't think there is really any significant difference with the new vintage. It remains an amazing wine, one which thoroughly impressed me. At $18, this is a very good value and I'd highly recommend buying this wine by the case.

While dining at an excellent Italian restaurant in Nova Scotia, we enjoyed a bottle of this wine with dinner. Made from 100% Nebbiolo, the wine spent about 12 months in steel, oak, and the bottle. This was a tasty wine with flavors of bright red fruits, violet notes, restrained tannins, good acidity, and a lengthy finish. A very good food wine.

8) 2018 La Tintorera “Kira-9” Rosado ($20-$25)
At a dinner at Nightshade Noodle Bar, another one of my top favorite restaurants, I loved this intriguing Spanish Rosé. It was made from 95% Mencia and 5% Dona Blanca, 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!

9) 2019 Black Island Merga Victa Pošip ($25)
From a winery on the island of Korčula, this wine was produced from 100% Pošip and had a 13.5% ABV. On the nose, there were delightful notes of stone fruits, citrus and floral elements. When I tasted this wine, it was intriguing and delicious, fresh and crisp, with a nice melange of flavors, including peach, pear, and orange, accompanied by a prominent floral aspect with herbal notes. It's probably the most floral Pošip I've ever tasted, and reminded me in some aspects to Viognier, Muscat and Gewurtztraminer. The finish was long and pleasant, and overall, the wine was nicely balanced and compelling.

10) 2020 Fakin Malvazija Istarska ($29)
Made from 100% Malvazija Istarska, this wine also had a 13% ABV and spent about six months aging in stainless steel. On the nose, it had an alluring nose of peach, herbs and spices. On the palate, it ws fresh, dry and crisp, with delicious citrus and stone fruit flavors, spice notes, a mild floral element and a backbone of minerality. It was medium bodied, with a very pleasing finish, and was certainly enjoyable on its own although it would pair well with food as well. I would like to try this wine with oysters or a light chicken dish, or maybe even some Asian cuisine.


Four countries made the list this year, with Italy in first place, occupying five spots on the list. Portugal and Croatia occupied two spots, while Spain occupied one spot. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into one Rosé, five Whites, three Reds, and one Fortified Wine. I have other wine recommendations on my blog and you just have to search for them.

If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines you've enjoyed in 2022, please add them to the comments.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays To All

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my family, friends, readers and everyone else!

May the glad tidings of this holiday season shine on you, your family and friends. May your celebrations be joyous and overflowing with great people, excellent conversation, fun times, delicious food and fine drink. May the gifts you give to others be well appreciated and bring joy to the recipients. May you thoroughly enjoy whichever holiday you celebrate at this season.

This is one of my favorite times of year. It should be a joyous occasion, reveling in all of our blessings, for no matter what ills there may be, there still is much to appreciate. That appreciation deserves recognition and sharing, and not only during the holidays. Do not dwell on the negative but rather embrace all that is good in your life.

It is also a time for giving, for sharing with those less fortunate than us. Please donate as much as you can to your favorite charities, whether you give money, time or goods. Even small donations can make a significant impact. Think of more than just yourself at this time and throughout the year.

Make sure you have a safe holiday as well. Please, please, please don't drink and drive, and drive safely and cautiously. If you are going to drink, let someone else drive, or take a taxi, Uber or public transportation. Again, please do not drink and drive! I hope that everyone will remain around to celebrate the New Year and see what 2023 brings all of us.

Drink and dine with passion this holiday, as well as every day of the year! Passion is what gives our lives meaning, what drives us toward excellence. A life devoid of passion is empty and shallow, and desperately needs change. Seek out whatever makes you passionate and revel in its delights. And share your passion with others.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 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. For this edition, I highlight some New Year's Eve options.  I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) "Oh the glory days of Windows 95, dial-up internet, Tamagotchis, and N64. Oh the wonderful memories of velvet track pants, chunky heels, and bedazzled denim jackets. Well - who wants to go back?!" Join Night Shift Brewing in Everett on New Year's Eve, from 8pm-1am, for a night of throwing it back, featuring music from the band Cosmic Rush and Night Shift Brewing beers and cocktails. From 10-11pm, there will also be karaoke and the brew crew wants to hear your best rendition of Wannabe, No Scrubs, Baby One More Time, or whatever gets you to drop it like it's hot! 

Tickets are $75/person (available HERE), and include: entry, 2 drink tickets and Night Shift Brewing's own Brut Fizzylifter sparkling wine for the midnight toast.

2) The Liberty Hotel is bringing back one an epic party in Boston to ring in the new year at Gilded - A Lavish New Year's Eve Fête. The glamorous, Gilded Age-themed party will take place on all levels of The Liberty Hotel’s main rotunda and feature three of Boston’s top DJs, two dance floors, entertainment and aerial performances by The Boston Circus Guild, and a light dinner buffet from 8 to 10 p.m. served by CLINK.’s Chef Daniel Kenney

In addition to the ticketed party, The Liberty Hotel’s signature restaurant CLINK. will also be serving up a special, themed New Year’s Eve prix fixe dinner prepared by Chef Daniel Kenney earlier in the evening. There will be two seatings: 6PM Seating (3 courses / $135 per person) and 8:30PM Seating (4 courses / $245 per person). 

Tickets, which can be purchased HERE, include options such as General Admission, table service packages available in the VIP Liberty Bar and Catwalk Lounge, overnight room packages including tickets to the party, and dinner packages that include tickets to the event in addition to the prix fixe New Year's Eve menu.

3) Michelin-starred Chef Richard Chen, of the Cantonese-style restaurant Red 8 at Encore Boston Harbor, will be serving up a prix fixe menu on NYE for $125 per person. Featuring a dim sum sampler, soup, choice of entree, and dessert, menu items will include options like steamed pork and black truffle cabbage bun, Stir-fried Szechuan Lamb, and kalamansi yuzu tart. 

Reservations can be made online or by calling 857-770-7000. 

4) On December 31st, Rare Steakhouse, at Encore Boston Harbor, will be treating its guests to a five-course tasting menu for $175 per person with an additional wine pairing for $125 per person. 

The menu will include:
Amuse: Sturgeon caviar toast- celery root crème, chive coulis, cucumber, lemon
1st Course: Nori encrusted yellowtail tuna, red mustard frills, artichokes, dried tomato, black garlic ponzu
2nd Course: Prawn-encrusted turbot, shrimp consommé, brioche, seasonal herbs
3rd Course: Snake river farms ribeye, caramelized onion puree, root vegetables, black truffle sauce royale
Dessert: Chocolate Raspberry- Chocolate Sponge, Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse, Raspberry Coulis, Almond Chocolate Crunch, Dark Chocolate Ganache

5) Chef Will Gilson and his team at The Lexington Restaurant will be celebrating Boston’s First Night with their first ever New Year's Eve celebration. Kicking off at 9 p.m., tickets to the fete are $75 and include two drink tickets, passed and stationary appetizers, and a midnight toast with everyone’s favorite Lexington crew. Sparkly attire is, of course, encouraged. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit HERE

6) Chef Michael Serpa will be serving up prix fixe menus in addition to regular dinner menus on December 31st at each Serpa Hospitality Group restaurant. Select Oyster Bar,  will offer its New Year's Eve guests a three-course, prix fixe menu for $125 per person, in addition to its regularly available menu. Recently opened Little Whale Oyster Bar will offer its New Year's Eve guests a three-course, prix fixe menu for $95 per person, in addition to its regularly available menu.  Atlántico will offer a multi-course, family-style NYE menu for $75 per guest, in addition to its regularly available menu.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Clai Winery: Natural Wines in Istria

Continuing our visit to Istria, during our two-week tour of Croatia, we next visited the Clai Winery, which is located in the village of Krasica, in northern Istria. Clai is a small, family winery, which owns about 10 hectares of vineyards and 5 hectares of olive trees, producing about 30,000 bottles of wine annually. They have no intention of any significant growth, preferring to remain small. The winery generally has 8 labels, although three of them were sold out at the time of our visit, and they also make some Rakija. 

Although they grow some international varietals, like Merlot, they mainly grow indigenous grapes, such as Malvazija and Plavina. One of their main goals is to enhance their terroir. Their vineyards are generally organic, with minimal fertilization and no herbicides, insecticides, or commercial fertilizers. Their goal is the vineyards is quality over quantity, and their yields are relatively low.

Within the cellar, the grapes are vinified with spontaneous fermentation on the skins and without the addition of enzymes, added yeasts or malolactic bacteria. The wines are also bottled without any filtering.
We sat outside during our wine tasting and lunch, with a beautiful view of the vineyards and countryside. As it was such a pleasant day, it was a true pleasure to sip and nibble outside, reveling in the beauty of Istria.

Our personable and knowledgeable host was Ana (pictured above), who described all of the wines, and told us about the winery.  

Lunch was a smorgasbord of fresh and tasty dishes, including octopus salad, roasted vegetables, and cuttlefish. We got to taste their olive oil too, made from a blend of seven olives, including two Croatian varieties.

Maybe my favorite dish was the chicken liver pate with black truffles. 

The Sea Bass Carpaccio was quite fresh, tender and delicious.

Fresh and sweet strawberries.

The 2018 Clai Pjenušac Brut Nature is a Sparkling wine, made in the Méthode champenoise, from a blend of Malvazija Istarska, Chardonnay and Plavina. Plavina is an old Istrian white grape, known for its high acidity. Made with natural yeasts, no dosage is added, and it only has a 12% ABV. I found the wine to be fresh, crisp and dry, with a tasty green apple flavor, a bit of pear, a hint of brioche, and an underlying minerality. A fine apertif, it would also pair well with a variety of foods, such as fried chicken. 

The 2018 Clai Ottocento Bijeli is a blend of Malvazija Istarska, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc (although the 2019 vintage eliminated the Sauvignon Blanc). The grapes were fermented for two weeks with skin contact and were aged for about 2 years in French and Italian barrels. It possessed a deep orange color, with a clean, smooth and savory taste, lightly tannic, with a lengthy finish. A tasty orange wine, and probably an excellent introduction to this style of wine. 

The 2018 Clai Sv. Jakov Malvazija, with a 15% ABV, is also an orange wine. The grapes, which are certified organic, for Sv. Jakov come from their oldest vineyard, which is about 42 years old. It is only bottled in excellent vintages, and the 2016 was the previous vintage bottled before the 2018. The grapes spend two months with skin contact, and later aged for two years in large oak barrels. The orange color of the wine was not as dark as the previous wine. It possesses an alluring and complex aroma, and on the palate, the complexity remained, each sip bringing something new and exciting to my palate. Savory, delicious and compelling, a type of wine which is hard to easily describe. And the reason why I brought a bottle of this home. Highly recommended! 

The 2020 Baracija Refošk, with a 13% ABV, is made from Refosco, is aged for a 1 year in oak. They wanted to produce a lighter style, With a medium red color, it is a lighter wine although it is still a bit bold and intense, but well restrained and elegant. Tasty ripe plum and blackberry flavors, subtle spice notes, a little earthy, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Probably best paired with hearty foods.  

The final wine was the 2018 Ottocento Crni, with a 14.5% ABV, which is made from a blend of 50% Refosco and 50% Merlot. It spent 2 years in oak, and possessed a pleasant taste, with plenty of black fruit flavors, mild spice notes, and well integrated tannins as well as a streak of minerality.  

Machi, the friendly winery cat, came over to visit us, and he too enjoyed the chicken liver pate. 

Clai Winery produces excellent, more natural wines, including an amazing orange wine, the Sv. Jakov Malvazija. It's a small, family winery with lofty (and very worthy) goals, embracing terroir, organic agriculture and indigenous varieties. Kudos to Clai Winery.