Monday, July 31, 2023

World Baijiu Day--August 9: Celebrate at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen

Next Wednesday, August 9, is World Baijiu Day, a day to celebrate and honor this fascinating and delicious Chinese spirit, which you might not realize is also the most popular spirit in the world. This holiday was created back in 2015 by Jim Boyce, who runs the nightlife blog Beijing Boyce and wine blog Grape Wall of China. The intent of the holiday is to raise exposure of Baijiu, to spread awareness beyond the borders of China.  

Jim Boyce says, "It's part of a theme of going "beyond ganbei", the typical practice of draining shots of room-temperature baijiu, one that turns off many people." He also stated, "Like many others, I've had those reckless ganbei sessions that left me wondering if I could look at a bottle again," says Boyce. "But this spirit has a long history, an impressive range of styles and, as we saw last year, can work with cocktails and infusions and foods." 

Numerous venues, all across the world, will participate in this holiday and you can check out the list of participants. You'll find a diverse variety of ways that these venues are showcasing Baijiu, from cocktails, liqueurs and infusions to chocolate, pizza and beer. In the U.S., you'll find events in Baltimore, Cambridge, Los Angeles, and New York, although more venues may be added during the next week.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, in Cambridge, will be celebrating World Baijiu Day once again. Founded in 2017, and from the start, the restaurant has offered Baijiu and Baijiu cocktails on their drinks menu. For the last several years, they have also supported World Baijiu Day. This year, they have created a special new cocktail for the occasion, the Summer Jade. It is made with Baijiu, Amaro Montenegro, Lime, Falernum, and Pink Guava Puree.  

In addition, they offer three other Baijiu cocktails on their drinks menu, including:
Fung Wah – Sesame Baijiu, Chrysanthemum, Honey, Ginger, Lemon, Peated Scotch
Baijiu Blast – Baijiu Gin, Green Tea, Midori, Pineapple, Lime
Perpetual Motion – Baijiu, Blood Orange, Elderflower, Mint 

Next week is also the start of Dine Out Boston, and Sumiao participates so while you enjoy their Baijiu cocktails, you could pair them with a special 4-Course Lunch ($33) or 4-Course Dinner ($46). There's a good chance that I'll visit Sumiao next Wednesday to celebrate World Baijiu Day!

Why does Baijiu need a special day of recognition? It's because so many people have many misconceptions about this intriguing spirit. For example, many Americans claim they hate Baijiu, stating it tastes like stinky cheese or sweaty socks. This is usually based on their single experience of Kweichow Moutai, a sauce aroma Baijiu. Moutai may be hugely popular, but it can be off-putting to someone who has never experienced Baijiu before. 

However, Baijiu is a diverse beverage, with many different flavor profiles. There are plenty of lighter, fruitier versions which would appeal to anyone who drinks other spirits like rum, vodka or gin. It can be drank on its own, or used in many different cocktails. People need to realize its diversity, and that there is likely a style that will appeal to them.

For more information about Baijiu, you can check out the 16 articles I've previously written about Baijiu, delving into its fascinating history, production methods, and providing reviews of numerous Baijiu. I've tried to promote this beverage as it can be absolutely delicious and it's also versatile, making an excellent cocktail ingredient. World Baijiu Day is a perfect time to learn more about this Chinese spirit and sample some examples, to get past your hatred of this liquor.

You can hold your own World Baijiu event with friends and family. Just seek out some Baijiu at your local spirits shop and have your own tasting party. Baijiu is becoming more readily available at liquor shops in the U.S., though previously you might not have even realized it existed. Although Baijiu is hugely popular in Asia, it needs much greater exposure in the rest of the world. It is a unique and delicious spirit and well worth seeking out.

Expand your palate and try something different and more unique. Taste some Baijiu and celebrate World Baijiu Day!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

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) Leadership from Legal Sea Foods continued their philanthropic efforts with Boston Children’s Hospital, donating $100,000 raised from various initiatives including its holiday gift card fundraiser and annual Chowda Day event. 

The donation was accepted by Dr. Leonard Zon who leads the Stem Cell Research Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Legal Sea Foods team presented the hospital with a $100,000 check to help fund the hospital’s Zon Laboratory to advance vital research. Dr. Zon and his talented team graciously guided the Legal Sea Foods group on a tour of the lab, where they were able to see the direct impact of their fundraising efforts in the Stem Cell Research Program and learn more about the everyday work in researching blood cancers and other diseases using the zebrafish model of research.

"We remain unwavering in our dedication to champion the groundbreaking research being conducted at Boston Children's Hospital,” said Matt King, Legal Sea Foods Brand President and COO. “Our profound gratitude goes out to our esteemed guests and dedicated Legal Sea Foods teams, whose endless support has enabled us to raise substantial funds for this pivotal cause. As we forge ahead, we eagerly anticipate the continuation of these invaluable relationships, propelling us towards more discoveries at the hospital and brighter futures for the countless children they will save."

2) The team at Puritan & Company will once again celebrate the life of local culinary legend Julia Child at its tenth annual Julia Child Tribute Dinner on Thursday, August 10th, starting at 6pm. Chef/Owner Will Gilson, his talented team, and a lineup of guest chefs will treat attendees to a delicious prix fixe menu of signature Julia dishes.

Each course will be served alongside carafes of wine on each table, which will be kept full for all to enjoy throughout the meal. Full wine, beer, and cocktail lists will also be available for purchase. Seatings will be available communal-style, individually at the bar, or on the patio-weather permitting. 

Alongside Chef Will Gilson, guest chefs include:
Robert Sisca (Bistro du Midi/The Banks)
Sean Blomgren (Spruce Peak Vermont)
John DaSilva (Chickadee)
Louis DiBiccarri (Sub Rosa)
Dante DeMagistris (IL Casale/The Wellington)
Tony Susi (Bar Enza)
Alexis Babineau (Puritan and Company)
Rachel Dykes (Puritan and Company)

Tickets cost $150 per person (including food, wine & gratuity) and can be purchased HERE

Monday, July 24, 2023

Rant: We Need More Breakfast Pizza

Over the weekend, I made a morning stop at the Tuscan Market in Salem, New Hampshire. Beside shopping for some pasta and sausage, we decided to get a bite to eat. On their breakfast menu, they offer five different pizzas, two which are breakfast pizzas. The first was the Classic Breakfast ($15), made with eggs, provolone, prosciutto cotto, spinach and Hollandaise. We opted for the other, the Formaggi ($15), made with eggs, mozzarella, parmigiana reggiano, taleggio, and black pepper. We also added some prosciutto. 

The Formaggi is the pizza pictured above, with two large eggs, with hard yolks, with the eggs and cheese sitting atop a layer of prosciutto. This was delicious, with an excellent crust, with crunchy edges and a chewy interior. The blend of melted cheese was tasty, enhanced by the salty prosciutto and the taste of the eggs (although I would have preferred a gooey yolk). This was a fine choice for breakfast, and I've enjoyed a number of breakfast pizzas at other restaurants over the years.

So why don't more restaurants serve Breakfast Pizza?

A breakfast pizza, topped with items such as sliced potatoes, bacon, sausage, fried or scrambled eggs, cheese, and more, can be absolutely delicious. It isn't a difficult dish to create yet you won't find it available on many menus. Think of all the pizza joints you know and then consider which ones make a breakfast pizza. You might know one or two, at best. 

So why isn't it more popular and available? It's puzzling to me and it seems such a no-brainer. People love pizza so why wouldn't they also love a breakfast pizza? I know plenty of people who would order a breakfast pizza for lunch or dinner as well. This seems to be a missed opportunity for many restaurant so I fervently hope some restaurants take notice and decide to add it to their menu. 

A quick Google search indicates that the origins of breakfast pizza are murky, with one restaurant owner claiming to have invented it in the 1990s. Other sources claim that it extends back to the 1970s. However, in a more in-depth exploration, I've found references to breakfast pizza back to the late 1950s!

The earliest newspaper mention I located was in the Buffalo News (NY), December 19, 1957, in an article with above title. The article provided a recipe for breakfast pizza, using English muffins as a base, and topping it with tomato paste, salt, pepper, butter and pork sausage meat. The same recipe appeared in newspapers into 1958, in states including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, Indiana, Arkansas, and New Jersey.

Another type of breakfast pizza, a Cereal Pizza, was described in the Garden City Telegram (KS), August 1, 1960. The recipe called for making a "crust" of crushed corn flakes, topped by cooked farina, which was chilled over night. The next day it was then topped with butter, brown sugar, cheese, bacon or sausage. This recipe was reprinted in other newspapers, such as in California and Illinois.

The Chicago Tribune (IL), September 13, 1964, mentioned a recipe contest, sponsored by the Poultry & Egg National Board. One of the entrants had a recipe for "Honeymoon Breakfast Pizza" which was said to be "like a sour cream soufflé on a pizza crust."

The Mount Vernon Argus (NY), October 1, 1964, presented a different recipe for breakfast pizza, which used cornbread as a base, and it was topped with eggs and sausage, with a suggestion to add tomato sauce if desired. This recipe was repeated in newspapers in Oregon, Nebraska, Maryland, California and Louisiana.

More breakfast pizza recipes would be published during the rest of the 1960s, and throughout the 1970s too. Interestingly, the Cornish Guardian (Cornwall, England), November 7, 1969, published a recipe for Breakfast pizza, which used a scone dough for the crust, and was then topped with eggs, a can of tomatoes, and sausages. 

It's clear that the idea of breakfast pizza has existed for over 65 years, and many variations exist. Now, we just need to make it more common, more readily available at local restaurants. Breakfast pizza needs its day in the spotlight!

Where have you enjoyed Breakfast Pizza? 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

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) Soall Viet Kitchen, in Beverly, is starting Saigon Nights, a weekly summer patio event starting on Saturday, July 22. It's ant opportunity to gather with friends and soak up the ambiance while indulging in our new summer cocktails and savoring the flavors of their new menu.

Explore unique combinations of flavors in their Snow Pea Ginger Martini (brandy, sake, ginger liqueur, lime), savor the crispness of their Cucumber Sloe Gin Spritzer (sloe gin, shochu, cucumber, lime, topo chico), indulge in the exotic and fruity notes of their Lychee Sangria (Pinot Grigio, Lychee Liqueur, triple sec, lychee, and lime), or enjoy the Mango Basil Smash (Honey Whiskey, lemon, mango, and basil).

Please also note that the Beverly location will be closed on Sundays for the summer (7/2 - 9/5) so their team can enjoy summer outings with their families.

2) Umbria, a noted Italian restaurant in the North End, is opening tonight, in renovated, multi-level space. There's a first-floor open kitchen Italian concept, a second floor upscale dining area, a third floor jazz lounge and fourth and fifth floor nightlife. Owned by Frank DePasquale and the DePasquale family, the restaurant has a capacity for 368 guests, including 80 on its rooftop. The space also includes a garden which will provide ingredients for Umbria’s menu.

Overseen by Depasquale Ventures Corporate Chef Nello Caccioppoli, the menu will feature both the rustic Italian cuisine and high-end steak offerings synonymous with the Italian region of Umbria. The menu will feature a wide variety of food spanning from raw bar selections and seafood towers to artisanal pastas and certified angus beef cuts. Dishes will include Truffle Burrata, Baked Stuffed Lobster, Umbria Cioppino, Veal Parmigiana, Gnocchetti al Cinghiale, and Pappardelle Ragu. Umbria’s signature Prime Certified Angus Beef menu will include 4 oz. A5 Japanese Wagyu Sirloin, 36 oz. Prime Tomahawk Ribeye for Two, 8 oz. Prime FIlet Mignon, and 32 oz. Prime Porterhouse Fiorentina

Umbria set the stage for putting together a great night out. It had a dinner club where you could have a great meal, then you could finish the night with a dance, a drink, music, and a friendship. We’re going to bring that special experience to the North End and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with our family, friends, and new guests,” says owner Frank DePasquale.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Caves Messias 1963 Colheita Port: An Exquisite 60 Year Old!

For most people, the opportunities to drink a 60 year old wine are extremely limited, and it's usually for a celebratory occasion. For my birthday last week, I wanted to celebrate with a very special wine, and decided to open a bottle of the Caves Messias 1963 Colheita Port, which I had purchased four to five years ago at Bin Ends and stored away for a special occasion. 

It was an exquisite wine, complex and delicious, with so much life still within it. A great choice for my birthday celebration. 

For much of Europe, the 1963 vintage was generally considered terrible. Bordeaux, Sauternes, Burgundy, the Rhône, Piedmont, and Tuscany all suffered, while wines in Spain and Germany were generally average at best. However, an exception was Port, where 1963 was considered a legendary vintage! So, if you want to purchase a wine from 1963, one of your best options would be Port. 

Caves Messias was founded in 1926 by Messias Baptista, and his descendants still manage the company. The company produces a wide range of wine (from Sparkling to Port) from many different regions of Portugal. The company is also based at Mealhada, a small city in central Portugal, in the Bairrada region. In the Douro Valley, they own about 110 hectares of vineyards, and produce a wide range of Port products, including White, Tawny, Ruby and Rosé, 10-40 Year Old Ports, LBV, Vintage and Colheita.   

I should note that this 1963 Port is not a Vintage Port, but rather a Colheita. The term "colheita" roughly translates as "harvest" or "vintage," however it's also a specific category of Port. In short, it's a Tawny Port, with a vintage date, and which has been aged in the barrel for at least seven years, although it can be aged for much longer. 

A Vintage Port must be from an excellent "declared" vintage, so Vintage Port cannot be produced every year. For example, during the 1960s, only 1960, 1963 and 1967 were declared as Vintage years. On the other hand, Colheita Port can be made in any vintage. Vintage Port is also usually aged for only about 2 years in the barrel, and then will continue to age in the bottle. When you purchase a Vintage Port, it's commonly recommend that you wait at least 10 years or more before you should drink it. However, Colheita Port can be drank anytime after it has been released. No need to store it in your cellar before drinking it. Vintage Ports seem to get the most publicity, but Colheita Ports definitely are worthy of much more attention.

The Caves Messias 1963 Colheita Port currently sells for an average price of $392, although I paid less than 50% of that price several years ago. It's the type of wine which will continue to appreciate in value each year. Although the price seems high, consider that the wine is 60 years old and from an exceptional vintage. Plus, only 3,000 bottles of this wine, a tiny amount, were produced! And compared to many other wines of similar characteristics, including age and vintage quality, you could easily pay two to three times that amount. 

This 1963 Colheita, with a 20% ABV, was a field blend of Portuguese grapes, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Barroca. It was aged for 50 years in the barrel, having been bottled only in 2013. It doesn't require decanting as it has been filtered so there's no sediment. It's also recommend that you serve it at about 48-57 degrees Fahrenheit, so it should be chilled before serving. 

If you examine the photo at the top of this page, you'll see a strange glass next to the bottle. That's a Port Sipper, whose history may extend back to the early 18th century, if not earlier. It's also known as a Sipping Pipe, and the first ones were made of ceramic. Nowadays, they are made of glass or crystal. The thin, hollow pipe is used as a straw, allowing you to drink the Port from the bottom of the glass, where oxygen isn't able to reach, preventing oxidation. I bought some of these Port Sippers a few months ago, but they aren't necessary to drink Port. I also haven't used them enough to compare the differences between them and a typical wine glass. 

What did I think of this Port?

With a light, tawny color, I was first entranced with its alluring and complex nose, such a variety of intriguing aromas emanating from my glass. And on the palate, there was also a complex melange of flavors, enticing and tantalizing my palate. As I first tasted this Port, I was surprised by its fresh, bright flavors, youthful signs in such an old wine. This was definitely a wine which could age beautifully for many more years. 

As I sipped more, I was impressed by its depth of flavor and concentration, with touches of caramel, almonds, spice, dried fruit, and much more. Each sip brought something new, even if subtle, to my mouth. It was a delight to slowly sip this Port, savoring the evolving flavors. It also possessed a fine acidity, balancing its soft sweetness, and a silky smooth mouthfeel, ending with a long, lingering and satisfying finish. Just an exquisite Port, and words cannot do it justice. It's something meant to be experienced and enjoyed, elusive of capturing that experience in words. 

I enjoyed this Port with some blue cheese, one of my favorite Port pairings. And as I didn't finish the bottle on my birthday, I've been savoring it over the course of the past week. I only wish I had bought another bottle of it those years ago. This Port certainly made my birthday even more special. 

Drink more Port!

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

2019 Karanika Amyndeon Cuvée Rosé Extra Brut: Tantalizing & Delicious

On my recent birthday, I knew I needed some Sparkling Wine, but wanted something a bit different. I came across this Greek Sparkling Rosé which intrigued me. I'd previously enjoyed another sparkling wine from this producer so figured this one would be delicious as well.

Domaine Karanika, which was established in 2004, was founded by Laurens M. Hartman – Karanika, and his wife, Annette van Kampen. Their goal is to produce high-quality, organic sparkling wines produced by the Methode Traditionelle. They also possess a love for the Xynomavro grape, believing it can make exceptional sparkling wines. Their vineyards, which are organic and Biodynamic, are located at the Amyndeon plateau in the far north-west of Greece. The Amyndeon appellation only permits the Xynomavro grape.

According to their website, "Our winemaking philosophy is minimal handling of grapes and wines with few additions, and respectful to the earth farming. We believe that only in natural balance one can find true quality. We follow nature, instead of trying to control it." It also states, "We only disgorge on Flower days (air) just after full moon, we transfer wines on Leaf days (water) just prior to full moon, etc etc. We work according to Maria Thun’s biodynamic calendar in the winery and vineyard."

The 2019 Karanika Amyndeon Cuvée Rosé Extra Brut (about $30), which has a 11.5% ABV, is made from 95% Xynomavro and 5% Limniona, and produced by the Méthode champenoise. Limniona is an indigenous Greek grape, thought to have originated in Thessaly, and although it's currently rare, its potential is causing a number of producers to start embracing its use. 2019 was also a good vintage in this region of Greece. 

With a light pink color, the nose of this wine presents bright red fruit aromas. On the palate, the wine is quite dry, very crisp, and with delicious flavors of strawberry and cherry. The tiny bubbles are persistent and the wine has a rich mouthfeel. It also possesses a lengthy and satisfying finish, a great choice for a summer bubbly, on its own or with food. This is a sparkling wine which tantalizes and pleases your palate, and will also make you a fan of Xynomavro. 

As I've often said, you need to drink more Greek wines, and that includes their quality sparkling wines.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

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) North Street Grille
, located at 229 North Street in Boston, won the title of ‘Boston’s Best Breakfast’ as part of Good Morning America’sUnited States of Breakfast’ competition. In the Boston showdown, Robin Sidell, the owner of North Street Grille, had to face off against her brother, Sol Sidell, owner of South Street Diner. Robin’s Banana Bourbon French Toast (pictured above) defeated Sol’s Boston Cream Pancakes

And recently, at the GMA Breakfast Finals, North Street Grille competed against restaurants from Philadelphia, Houston and Cleveland. First Place was awarded to the Pastrami, Egg & Cheese Sandwich from Middle Child of Philadelphia, but North Street Grille took Second Place.  

I had the best experience having the chance to showcase my Banana Bourbon French Toast on a national stage, the support we have received from our customers and the community is amazing.” said North Street Grille Owner Robin Sidell. “I loved meeting the competing chefs who were just as passionate as I am, to be the best breakfast spot in our respective cities. The experience was even more special as my brother Sol joined me to support and act as my sous-chef for the day. To say our mom was proud and beaming with joy is an understatement.”

The Banana Bourbon French Toast is available at North Street Grille for $15.95.

2) J.P. Licks, a famed ice cream shop, and Grill 23, a famed steakhouse, announce a collaboration to commemorate the restaurant’s 40th anniversary. Grill 23 Coconut Cake Ice Cream transforms Grill 23’s coconut cake into an ice cream flavor that will be available in all 17 J.P. Licks store locations for a limited time this summer. 

At Grill 23, Executive Pastry Chef Valerie Nin's Famous Coconut Cake is filled with a coconut custard and served with pineapple sherbet and coconut dulce de leche. For decades it has remained the most popular pick among repeat customers, a coveted way for guests to end their meal on a sweet note.

We tasted one forkful of Grill 23’s famous Coconut Cake and knew we had to create an ice cream inspired by its incredible flavor,” says J.P. Licks founder and owner Vincent Petryk. “We translated this incomparable dish into creamy, coconut custard ice cream, blended with sweetened and toasted coconut and loaded with pieces of cake.

Chef Nin shares, “I’m so excited to help celebrate 40 years of Grill 23 with the combination of two classic birthday —and Boston — foods, coconut cake and JP Licks ice cream!”

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

2019 Monemvasia Winery Tsimibidi Monemvasia: A Value Greek Wine From A Rare Grape

One of the reasons I love Greek wines is all of the unique grapes which can be found there, some with histories extending back to the ancient Greeks. Over the weekend, I enjoyed an inexpensive Greek wine made from a rare grape I'd never tasted before, Monemvasia

The history of the grape may reach back to around the 12th century, when it was thought to be one of the grapes in a famed, blended sweet wine known as Malvasia. On the Peloponnese peninsula, in the region of Laconia, is a port town known as Monemvasia, once a busy trading port. The name of the port, which became the name of the grape, means "single entrance,' from the Greek term moni emvassis.  The Franks called this port Malvasia, and that's the origin of the name of the famed sweet wine, loved during the Middle Ages, especially by the Venetians.

However, when the Ottomans took control of this region, they destroyed most of the vineyards, so the famed Malvasia was no longer produced. The Monemvasia grape wouldn't make its return again until the 20th century. In addition, DNA analysis of this rare grape has shown that it has no actual connection to any type of Malvasia grape. The Monemvasia grape is said to possess low acidity and be prone to oxidation.

Currently, Monemvasia is mostly found on the Cycladic island of Paros, in the central Aegean Sea. However, there are wine makers in Laconia who have been growing Monemvasia, bringing it back to its original homeland. Some are even trying to recreate the historical Monemvasia-Malvasia sweet wine. 

One such winery is the Monemvasia Winery, which was founded in Laconia in 1997 by Yorgos and Elli Tsimbidi. Starting from scratch, they planted Monemvasia, and other Greek grapes, with a passion for resurrecting the Monemvasia grape, including trying to recreate the historical Malvasia sweet wine. Some of their other grapes are also more rare, including Kydonitsa, Asproudi and Mavroudi. The winery currently has 30 hectares of organic vineyards. 

The 2019 Monemvasia Winery Tsimbidi Monemvasia ($15), with a 13% ABV, was fermented in stainless steel, and aged for six months on the lees. On the nose, it had pleasant fruity and mild floral notes. And on the palate, it possessed a rich mouthfeel, with tasty flavors of citrus and pear, nice acidity, a mineral backbone, and a pleasing finish. It's an easy drinking wine, but with some complexity, and a very good value at this price. This would be delicious on its own this summer, or paired with seafood, salads, and cheese. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Non-Rant: Choosing A Special Occasion Restaurant

Which restaurant should you choose for a special occasion?

The answer isn't always easy, and will depend on many different factors, from price to cuisine. It's a question I've often seen asked on numerous forums, and a question I've been asked by many people. I want to offer ten restaurant suggestions, which will fit a variety of needs, places which I find to be consistently good and definitely worthy of your patronage. These are places I especially love, and which  I've also recommended to many others. 

I also want to note that my list only includes restaurants located outside of Boston. There are plenty of lists of Boston restaurants, but far fewer for those outside of it. In addition, this list is far from comprehensive, but is more just a small selection of some of my favorites. 

When considering where to celebrate your special occasion, there's a number of questions you should ask yourself, to help narrow down the possibilities. How much do you want to spend? Do you want to splurge, or be more economical in your choice? Will your celebration be for breakfast, lunch or dinner? How many people will be celebrating with you? Is there a specific type of cuisine that you desire? Are you looking for a more intimate venue? Will you be accompanied by children? Does anyone in your group have any dietary restrictions? Do you want an excellent wine list or a large selection of beers on tap? And there's even more questions you can ask as well.

As you consider these questions, and others, here's my top suggestions:

Nightshade Noodle Bar (Lynn): For a splurge, Nightshade offers inventive and delicious French/Vietnamese inspired-cuisine, with their own unique spin, in multi-course tasting menus. Its wine and cocktail program is also excellent. It's a more intimate spot and is one of my Top Three Favorite restaurants. I'll be dining there later this month celebrating one of my own special occasions. As it's very popular, try to make reservations as far ahead as possible. 

The Bancroft (Burlington): Also for a splurge, and for either lunch or dinner, the Bancroft is one of my favorite steakhouses. I've dined there most often for lunch for special occasions, and those lunches have always been excellent. Steak may be their speciality but you'll find plenty of other delicious dishes, from Fried Clams to a Duck Confit Sandwich. 

Pellana Prime Steakhouse (Peabody): Pellana is another classic steakhouse, a place to splurge, with an excellent wine list. Sure, you could easily go to one of the chain steakhouses, but these more independent places will surprise you with their quality. 

Nick & Andy's (Danvers): Sometimes, you want a breakfast celebration, and my top choice for such would be Nick & Andy's. The food is fresh, delicious and there's plenty of variety. Try their fresh-baked muffins or hash browns (which are tougher to find locally). Prices are reasonable and service is very good. 

Ithaki (Peabody): Another excellent spot for breakfast, which definitely flies under the radar, is Ithaki. Their breakfast menu has some of the usual dishes, but also includes some special Greek dishes, from Bougatsa to Strapatsada. It's a more unique spot, and definitely worth consideration. I'll add that they also offer lunch and dinner, and if you're seeking a Greek flair to your celebrations, then definitely check out this restaurant.

Row 34 (Burlington): For both lunch and dinner, this is a great spot for fresh seafood, from oysters to tuna credo, from fried clams to lobster rolls. Their lunch menu even has an excellent Tuna Melt! They also have a very good wine list and creative cocktails. I've celebrated here a number of times, for both lunch and dinner.

Clam Box of Ipswich (Ipswich): For more of a casual seafood spot, I'd opt for the Clam Box, which 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.  

A Tavola (Winchester): For a more intimate spot for dinner, and which serves excellent Italian cuisine, check out A Tavola. Their home-made pasta is superb, and you can also find some intriguing and delicious specials, from chicken fried quail to duck wings. Their Italian cuisine is as good as anything you'll find in the North End. Their wine list concentrates on Italian wines, and there are many very good choices. 

Tambo 22 (Chelsea): For a splurge, and a more unique cuisine, check out this Peruvian restaurant. It's also a more intimate spot, and should impress your celebrants. The food is delicious, interesting, and hearty. They also have a full drinks program, including numerous Peruvian spirits and a variety of Pisco Sour cocktails.

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 tasty pizza is basically its own unique and delicious style. You can easily book a large celebratory party, at a reasonable price, here. It's a very family friendly spot, and everyone from children to adults loves pizza so it's a great choice for all. 

Thursday, July 6, 2023

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) Gordon Ramsay Burger, the newest restaurant from chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsay, officially opened its doors yesterday. The restaurant, located inside Canopy by Hilton Hotel, is a full-service dining destination featuring the chef’s signature butter-basted burgers, including the Hell’s Kitchen Burger, fries and milkshakes – all made with fresh ingredients to-order. 

"I am thrilled to finally open Gordon Ramsay Burger in the amazing city of Boston. Boston is a foodie city that truly embraces new and exciting dining experiences, and I'm honored to be a part of its growing restaurant scene," said Ramsay.

The restaurant boasts a roof deck on the second level with views of downtown, the West End, the North End and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The over 4,000 square-foot restaurant space resides at the base of the Canopy by Hilton Hotel.  

Guests can sink their teeth into classic choices like the Backyard Burger or more unique creations like the Farmhouse Burger, featuring a juicy patty, butcher’s cut bacon, and a fried egg. For guests seeking vegan options, there is a Vegan Burger. In addition to burgers, the menu boasts an array of sides like truffle fries and beer-battered onion rings, as well as non-burger options like the Hellfire Chicken Wings.

Gordon Ramsay Burger will be open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. 

2) A Tavola, an excellent Italian restaurant in Winchester, is hosting another wine dinner, On Wednesday, July 12, starting at 6pm. The theme is Summer Wining Around Northern Italy, and the wine host will be Ciro Pirone of Horizon Beverages.

The Menu includes:
First Course: Melon & Prosciutto (chili & lime marinated melons with prosciutto de Parma)
Paired with Collavini 'il grigio' Sparkling Brut
Second Course: Summer Flatbread (basil pesto, fontina, parmesan & garden tomatoes)
Paired with Gagliardo 'fallegro' Favorita 
Third Course: Burrata (Sicilian salsa rosso, oregano)
Paired with Marchesini Bardolino Classico
Fourth Courses: Cavatelli (Unity Farms Berkshire pork ragu, orange mint gremolata)
Paired with Tenuta Rocca Barbera d'Alba.
Fifth Course: Creme Brûlée (White chocolate & strawberry creme brûlée)
Paired with Villa M Brachetto

Tickets cost $110 per person (plus tax & gratuity). Give them a call at 781-729-1040 to make Reservations. This is one of my favorite restaurants, and I've attended some of their prior wine dinners, which have always been a tasty and fun time. Reserve now to ensure you get a seat at this event.

3) Bonde Fine Wine Shop, a boutique wine and accessory store in Harvard Square, has officially announced its summer tasting series. 

The summer evening wine tastings begin on Wednesday July 12 and continue bi-weekly through Wednesday, August 23, from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. The fee for wine tastings is around $85 per person. All tastings hold a maximum of eight people and include flights of four handcrafted wines. For each evening tasting, Bonde Fine Wine will focus on a specific theme to inspire its flights and bites, such as pairing wine with sushi, sausages, cheeses, macaron, and more. In these tastings, Bertil will teach attendees how to match dishes with the appropriate wines to achieve delightfully delicious combinations, all in a friendly and fun atmosphere.

July tastings will include two Wednesday wine tastings. On July 12, from 7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m, Bonde Fine Wine will host Bastille Day: American Wine with French Food—oh mon Dieu! In this cross-cultural mélange, actual French man Bertil Jean-Chronberg will assure you that you can absolutely pair French classics with American wine. In 90 minutes, the guests will learn the French secret to pairing in an American way. On July 26, from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m Bonde Fine Wine will host Macaron Dégustation with American Dessert Wine. Though it originates from the Middle East, this soft, small, round meringue-based cake is now a world-famous French pastry, and Bertil will teach all how to pair a dessert wine with a macaron based on its color, flavors, and aromas. 90 minutes of laughter and very sweet fun guaranteed!

During the month of August, Bonde Fine Wine will host two Wednesday evening tastings. On Wednesday, August 9, from 7 p.m. – 8:30p.m, Bonde Fine Wine will host the class Pairing Sushi and Wine—it’s possible! Sushi, sashimi, maki, onigiri—behind these Japanese dishes hides a very special taste: umami. Spend 90 minutes with sushi-fanatic Bertil Jean-Chronberg to discover how to combine this specific taste and aroma with wine. Further, Bonde Fine Wine will pair Not Your Average Sausages with Not Your Average American Wines on Wednesday, August 23, from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. This one’s for the sausage connoisseur that likes them all: chicken, pork, vegetarian, sweet or spicy sausages. This event, hosted by wine expert and sausage aficionado Bertil Jean-Chronberg, will help attendees discover the secrets behind the perfect sausage and wine pairing.

In addition to Bonde fine wine’s weekly tasting offerings, as part of the fantastic Harvard Square Open Market every Sunday, Bonde Fine Wine has turned Church Street into a Wine Garden right in front of Bonde Fine Wine Shop’s brick and mortar. Every Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from July 2nd to October 30th, Bonde’s tent has twelve comfortable seats and will shelter guests from the sun or rain. Attendees can purchase a flight of three wines, or can simply order by the glass and sip away while listening to live music and watching the passersby. Every Sunday has its own theme. 

Bonde’s Wine Garden Schedule through August:
● Sunday July 2: Tour de France 2023: Stage 1 - All French Grapes for the American Team
● Sunday July 9: Tour de France 2023: Stage 9 - All French Wines from France
● Sunday July 16: Tour de France 2023: Stage 15 - French wines vs. American wines
● Sunday July 23: Tour de France 2023: Stage 21 - Paris the Final: Celebrating with Grapes from the Winner’s Country
● Sunday July 30: A Shining Tasting: Gold Rush in the Sierra Nevada and the Sacramento Valley
● Sunday August 6: East Coast: From Massachusetts to Vermont, via the Maine
● Sunday August 13: On the Trail of Sasquatch: Oregon Wine
● Sunday August20: In Peace with Thunderbird: Washington wines
● Sunday August 27: Deep in the Southwest: New Mexico Wines

To reserve a spot for a tasting, please visit

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

2021 Glooscap First Nation X Benjamin Bridge Rosé: A Taste of Nova Scotia

During my last visit to Nova Scotia, I visited the Benjamin Bridge winery, although I didn't do a wine tasting as the winery was too busy with a private function. However, I bought a few wines which intrigued me, as I knew the winery had a good reputation and had enjoyed one of their wines previously. 

The winery was founded in 1999 by Gerry McConnell and the late Dara Gordon, who were both lawyers, and "held similar values in their respective areas of practice, including the rights of workers, gender equality, and improving the Nova Scotia economy." Their twin daughters, Ashley & Devon McConnell-Gordon, now lead the winery. Since 2008, their head winemaker has been Jean-Benoit Deslauriers, who previously worked in wineries in California and Chile, specializing in sustainability.  The winery claims to be "Nova Scotia's Sparkling Wine House."

Their vineyards are located in the hills of the Gaspereau Valley in Nova Scotia. According to their website, "What came to be known as the vineyards of Benjamin Bridge in 1999, are in fact a part of Mi’kma’ki - the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq Nation and home to the Peace and Friendship Treaties. Consistent with the essence of these Treaties and as allies, we wish to humbly acknowledge our friendship with Glooscap First Nation, with whom we’ve begun a lifelong relationship of reconciliation, with an annual public event at the vineyard featuring food, storytelling, and learning." 

The winery became allies and friends with the Glooscap First Nation, who helped teach them about the   land called Mi’kma’ki. As their website also states, "This allyship with Glooscap First Nation embodies something many are now coming to learn: we must look at the past to not only understand present-day circumstances but also that our actions today have implications for future generations and that the solutions for balance and wellbeing must be reflective of that specific ecosystem and place." 

Out of this allyship, the winery created a special Rosé to honor that friendship. The 2021 Glooscap First Nation X Benjamin Bridge Rosé ($20.89) was produced through this collaboration, with joint decisions on everything from the choice of varietals to the label design. A portion of the profits (although the percentage is not stated) go to directly support community activities for the Glooscap First Nation.

The wine, with a low 10% ABV, is a blend of 45% Ortega, 43% Riesling, 7% Gamay, and 5% Pinot Gris. Ortega is a new white grape to me, which was cross bred, in 1948 in Germany, from the grapes Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe. It was created with cold-hardiness in mind, and was named after the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset. It's an early ripening grape, and can produce a variety of wines. Although it's most common in Germany, it can also be found in England, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and all across Canada. 

The wine has a light salmon color and aromas of citrus and floral notes. On the palate, there's a melange of delicious flavors, with a prominent lime taste, tropical fruit and subtle red fruit flavors. It's bright, crisp, and fresh, with a touch of effervescence and a moderately lengthy finish. It doesn't taste like a usual Rosé, but more like an intriguing white wine, which is likely due to the fact it was produced from mostly white grapes. This wine would be delicious on its own, but would pair well with seafood, light chicken dishes, and more. I'm definitely interested in checking out more wine made from the Ortega grape. 

Monday, July 3, 2023

Rant: Why The Hate For Hot-dogs & Ketchup?

Over this past weekend, and during the next couple days, with the 4th of July Holiday being tomorrow, many people will be grilling, with hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill. This then raises one of the most controversial topics in the food world, should you use ketchup on your hotdog? 

In the movie Sudden Impact, Inspector Harry "Dirty Harry" Callahan stated, "Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog." When Anthony Bourdain asked President Barack Obama whether you should put ketchup on a hot dog, he replied, “It’s not acceptable past the age of 8." The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council also has declared that, "Don't...Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18." In Chicago, they are especially virulent against the use of ketchup on hot dogs.

Start a conversation on social media about ketchup and hot dogs and you'll hear many adamant, and even vehement, admonitions that you should never put ketchup on a hot dog. It can be a divisive topic, one filled with emotion, and will likely come to the forefront once again as backyard grilling ensues.

Contrary to the haters, I like ketchup on my hot dogs and I'm here to defend my stance and shatter the myth. Most of the haters have no actual reason for their opposition to ketchup, simply taking it as an article of faith that it doesn't belong atop a hotdog. For those few with a rationale, the primary reason for their opposition to the use of ketchup on a hot dog falls apart when the facts are properly considered and analyzed.

Why so much hate for ketchup on hot dogs? At its heart, the most commonly stated reason is that ketchup is too sweet. However, that reason fails to be convincing with further analysis. First, there are numerous different types of ketchup on the market, with varying degrees of sweetness, including some which are far more savory. Thus, you can't generalize about ketchup because of its diversity. Second, many people approve of chili on hot dogs, yet they don't seem to realize that ketchup is an ingredient in a number of chili recipes. You might then have ketchup on your hotdog and not even realize it. However, chili is considered an acceptable hot dog topping, despite potentially containing ketchup.

However, for the most compelling argument, we must look at the famous Chicago-style hot dog, especially as that city is so strongly anti-ketchup. Their hot dog is topped by a mound of ingredients, including yellow mustard, chopped white onions, green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomatoes, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt. With all those ingredients, can you really appreciate the hot dog itself? The numerous condiments seem to be the star of such a hot dog.

In addition, and most importantly, this Chicago-style hot dog generally contains more sugar than a hot dog covered with just ketchup! It seems rather disingenuous for Chicagoans, and others, to complain that ketchup is too sweet yet their own famous toppings present even more sugar.

Let's consider the sugar levels of a few toppings. In general, ketchup contains about 3.5-4.0 grams of sugar while sweet relish has about 4.0-4.5 grams of sugar. So why is sweet relish acceptable, despite its high level of sweetness, while ketchup is disdained? It makes no logical sense and destroys the argument that ketchup is too sweet for a hot dog. In addition, the average tomato contains 3.0-3.5 grams of sugar, making it the second sweet ingredient on the Chicago dog. Plus, Vienna sport peppers have about 2 grams of sugar and dill pickles have about 1 gram of sugar.  meaning there are three sweet ingredients. That means a Chicago dog could possess three times the amount of sugar found in ketchup alone.

The opposition to ketchup as being too sweet on a hot dog clearly falls when you look at it rationally. The famous and well-accepted Chicago-style hot dog is much sweeter than a hotdog merely slathered with ketchup. Since the sweetness argument has been put to rest, what other complaint can you have about the use of ketchup? I suspect that whatever the rationale, it will fail when put to careful analysis. The opposition to ketchup is more just a knee-jerk response, with no real basis in logic or fact. 

In the end, we also have to remember that this is just a simple hot dog. It isn't haute cuisine. It commonly includes meat trimmings and fat, spices and preservatives. So what's the big deal about what some people choose to put on it? Why be a snob about putting ketchup on such a plebian food? Get off your high horse about what you think is an acceptable condiment for a hot dog. Ketchup isn't the villain so many claim it to be.

What is your rationale for your opposition to ketchup on hotdogs?