Thursday, November 30, 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) The Painted Burro Harvard Square is celebrating its Grand Opening after opening its doors last week. Located in the heart of Harvard Square in the former Border Cafe space, the restaurant has been redesigned and features two floors of dining and bar space. They're throwing it back to 2012 with some of their OG Burro menu items and prices, such as $9 De la Casa Margaritas, to celebrate our newest location!

The Painted Burro Harvard Square is the third location of Chef Joe Casinelli’s upscale Latin American kitchen and tequila lounge. The restaurant will embrace its long cultivated vibe and taste, with some new menu additions for its new Cambridge neighborhood. Its seasonal menu will bring the tastes and colors of each passing month. Along with daily lunch and dinner, the restaurant will also continue its Bottomless Brunch on the weekends.

2) Executive Chef & Partner Robert Sisca is introducing the Holiday Bouchon Lunch menu to Bistro du Midi. The Holiday Bouchon Lunch is a three course prix fixe menu with classic French dishes that will be available exclusively on weekdays from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m. during the month of December. 

The Holiday Bouchon Lunch is $45/person and features:
FIRST (choice of)
French Onion Soup aged comté, sherry, sourdough
Kale Caesar Salad black garlic vinaigrette, parmigiano, white anchovies
SECOND (choice of)
Chicken Paillard caperberries, frisée, baby tomato, balsamic
Tomato Ricotta Totellini grilled shrimp, confit tomatoes, lobster emulsion
Moules au Pastis saffron aioli*, grilled bread
Crème Brûlée pear, vanilla
Sébastien Girost, Brut Réserve, Champagne NV +$25
Paul Hobbs, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2021 +$30
Les Pélerins de Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estèphe 2016 +$28

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

DOC: A Compelling Douro Restaurant

While planning my trip to the Douro region, a friend highly recommended that I dine at DOC Folgosa Restaurant, stating that it was, "One of the best tasting menus I have enjoyed in years." I did some additional research on the restaurant, and it certainly was enticing so I made dinner reservations. DOC ended up being one of my top dining experiences in Portugal, and I also cannot recommend it enough to anyone visiting the Douro region. What an amazing dinner!

On the evening of our reservation, our driver took us from our hotel to the restaurant, and most of the Douro was shrouded in darkness, with tiny lights visible sporadically in the mountains. You gained a sense of the isolation of the homes and wineries in the mountains, as well as a sense of serenity and great views of the sky. 

DOC, located in the village of Folgosa, is owned by famed Chef Rui Paula, and he opened it, with his brother Pedro, in 2007. He would open additional restaurants as well, including DOP in Porto and Casa da Cha da Boa Nova in Leça da Palmeira (which was awarded 2 Michelin stars). DOC is an acronym for “Degustar Ousar Comunicar” which essentially translates as “Taste, Dare, Communicate”. The cuisine is contemporary Portuguese with a modern and inventive flair. 

At the restaurant, the dining room was full and we sat on the terrace patio overlooking the Douro River. It was a relatively mild night, and there were heaters on the patio so it was comfortable. When the restaurant started to clear out, they offered to seat us inside, but we were fine on the terrace and remained there for our entire dinner. 

Inside the restaurant, and visible from our table on the terrace, there was a large screen which provided a live stream of the kitchen. A fascinating perspective, and a rarity among the restaurants I've ever visited.  

DOC is open for both lunch and dinner. For dinner, they have three Tasting Menus available, each for 120 Euros, as well as an A la Carte menu. The Tasting Menus include the Essence, Signature and Vegetarian, each with seven courses, including 3 Starters, 2 Mains, and 2 Desserts. An optional Wine Pairing of 7 wines is available for an additional 90 Euros. The A la Carte menu has about 18 Starters (19-34 Euros), 9 Mains (38-40 Euros, with a couple more expensive dishes for 2 people), and 8 Desserts (15.50-16.50 Euros). 

The restaurant allows each guest to select a different Tasting Menu, rather than forcing the entire table to order the same menu. So, we opted for the Essence and Signature tasting menus, and I added the Wine Pairing for the Signature menu. This allowed us to share the various dishes, so we actually ended up sampling 14 different courses. I took very few notes during dinner as I was simply enjoying everything, each dish offering such a delicious blend of flavors and textures. I also thoroughly enjoyed nearly all of the paired wines, with only one wine being too oaky for my own preferences. 

I began the dinner with a glass of 2014 Cattier Champagne RP, which was created in a partnership with Chef Paula. It was delicious, dry and complex, with elements of apple, pear and brioche. A fine way to begin the evening.

We also ordered an additional wine by the glass, the 2021 Unlocked Siria, which is made from 100% Siria, an indigenous Portuguese grape I've never tasted before. An intriguing wine, with stone fruit flavors, spice notes, and some herbality. 

My Wine Pairings included: 
  • 2022 Covela Natur White Wine: Excellent
  • 2019 Paulo de Tebas White Wine: Too oaky for my preferences.  
  • 2021 Quinta dos Avidagos White Grande Reserve: Excellent. My favorite white.
  • 2019 Quinta do Pessegueiro Red Wine: Elegant and delicious, 
  • 2018 Quinta de Ceis Old Vines Red Wine: Also elegant and delicious. My favorite red.
  • NV A Laranja Mecanica White Wine : Like an orange wine. Excellent 
  • Calem Tawny Port 40 Years Old: Superb. 
Dinner began with a loaf of warm, fresh bread with a nice, crusty exterior and a soft, slightly chewy interior. I love warm, fresh bread so, to me, this is always a great way to start a dining experience.

We then received a "Chef's Welcome" course, an amuse bouche, a dish of Corn different ways, with a Shrimp Slider. A fun way to begin, and the sliders were especially tasty.

For the first course of the Essence menu: Burrata, tomatoes and olives. Not a traditional plating, but the ingredients were fresh and delicious, and was more complex than a traditional plating.

For the first course of the Signature menu: Foie gras, pear and nuts. Silky foie, enhanced by the crunchy nuts and taste of pear.

For the second course of the Essence Menu: Sea bass and mushrooms. This was basically Sea bass tartare, which was silky smooth, with a citrus accent, and fresh, thin and slightly earthy mushrooms. Delicious!  

For the second course of the Signature menu: Smoked eel, Pata Negra smoked ham and dates. I loved this dish, especially as I like eel. Smoky, salty, and meaty, with a touch of sweetness.  

For the third course of the Essence Menu: Eggs cooked at low temperature and Alheira Sausage. This intriguing dish has a hidden egg, and you are supposed to break the yolk and then mix up the dish. Such an amazing taste, with the sausage and egg, like a highly elevated breakfast dish.  

For the third course of the Signature: Scallop and green curry. Tender, sweet scallop with an intense and flavorful curry sauce. 

For the fourth course, a Main, of the Signature menu: Sea bass, cauliflower, and mussel. Such fresh tasting seafood, presented in a creative manner.

For the fourth course, a Main, of the Essence menu: Grilled Octopus with infusion of EVOO and garlic. Superb! Such extremely tender octopus, with a delicious meaty taste with hints of the sea. One of the best octopus dishes I've enjoyed this year. 

For the fifth course, a Main, of the Signature menu: Crispy Suckling Pig with galette potatoes and sautéed vegetables. It was like delicious pork belly, with a very crispy skin and silky fat and flavorful pork. 

For the fifth course, a Main, of the Essence Menu: Baby lamb, raisin couscous and Romesco sauce
The lamb was excellent, tender and flavorful, perfectly prepared. Both meat mains were so compelling. 

For the first dessert of the Essence Menu: Citrus Eclair. A nice blend of textures, with sweet citrus accents.

For the first dessert of the Signature menu: Apple and celery.

For the second dessert of the Signature: Ruby brûlée, raspberry and roses.

For the second dessert of the Essence Menu: Chocolate and coffee pie.

Finally, we received some cookies as a parting gift.

Service was professional and excellent, with multiple servers attending to us during the course of the dinner. The courses were spaced out so you didn't feel rushed. The food was creative, well balanced and absolutely delicious. And the wines were generally excellent as well. I was thoroughly impressed and it fully lived up to my high expectations. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 27, 2023

Rant: Holiday Wines? Stop Being A Cheapskate

The holiday season is here, and many people will stop by their local wine shop to purchase wines for parties, dinners, or gifts. Let me provide you an important piece of advice, which applies to all the wine you'll purchase this holiday season.

Stop being a cheapskate! 

In preparation for the holidays, people stock up on wine to serve their guests at the various parties and celebrations. Often, because they are buying bottles in bulk, multiple bottles, their primary concern is price. So, they too often buy the large, commercial "value" wines, the brand names which are known to everyone, which are very cheap. Don't do it

It takes almost no thought to buy such wines. Though such wines might be drinkable, they aren't going to impress anyone. You've chosen to take the cheapest route possible, in both price and time. These wines are generally industrial products, created to taste the same year to year, and you never know what additives might be in these wines. They are like the McDonald's of the wine world. Do you really want to serve such wines to your family and friends?  

There is a better way. 

If you're hosting a holiday party, don't you want to impress your guests? Or do you want to be known as the person who bought the cheapest wine available? Don't you want your guests to leave the party talking about the great time they had, telling others about the delicious wines they enjoyed? Or would you rather have them later complain that the wine was unappealing?

It only takes a little extra work, and maybe price, to elevate your wine selections. Or would you rather be known as a wine cheapskate by your guests, who know you bought cheap wine with no real thought?

I certainly understand the need to control your wine costs when you are providing for a number of guests. You don't have to buy $50 wines to impress your guests and you don't even have to spend $20 per bottle. I've purchased numerous $10-$12 wines, only a few dollars more than you might otherwise spend, and brought them to parties where the other guests loved them, wanting to know where they could buy them. 

There are good and interesting wines at this price point, if you know where to seek them out. If you want your holiday celebration to be even more popular, then you should serve those type of wines. The extra effort will elevate your party and please your family, friends, and other guests.

How do you find these inexpensive but interesting wines?

To start, the easiest path is to seek out one of the better discount wine stores. These places often carry a good selection of wines costing $15 or under, a larger selection than you will find at a regular wine store. You'll find plenty of variety in these inexpensive wines, whites and reds, sparkling and rose, domestic and imported. You'll find wines comparable in price to those large commercial "value" wines but which offer much more character, taste and value.

My top recommendations for discount wine stores include Bin Ends in Braintree and Needham, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Make the effort and drive to one of these discount spots and find better value wines. The investment of time will pay off, creating many happy guests at your next party.

For example, when I go to Bin Ends in Needham, I can purchase a couple cases of wine, averaging $10-$12 per bottle, and get a nice diversity of wines, reds, whites & rose. These wines will satisfy most people. They are excellent every-day wines, and work well as inexpensive wines for larger parties too. Rapid Liquors also offer a large selection and you can always find excellent values there. 

If you some reason you can't make it to one of these discount wine shops, you still have options. At whatever wine shop you visit, it might be best to ask the wine store staff for recommendations of value wines. They should be able to direct you toward those inexpensive wines which will be more interesting and delicious than those cheap commercial wines. You should also remember that most wine stores offer a discount for bulk purchases, commonly 10-20%, and sometimes on as few as 6 wines, which is another way to save money on your purchases.

But if for some reason you can't ask a store employee for some recommendations, then my best advice for selecting a good wine that is $12 or under, is to buy a Portuguese wine. I think some of the greatest value wines are coming out of Portugal, especially at this price point. Chances are that if you purchase a Portuguese wine costing $12 or less, you will find a delicious wine, much better than similarly priced wines from most other regions. And there are plenty of Portuguese wines available in that price range. There is probably no other wine region where you can find as many good wines at that price point.

You also should know that paying a few dollars more for your wine can make a big difference. When you start considering wines priced from $10-$15, your options increase drastically. You can find some interesting wines from all over the world in that price range, though they still offer value. And if you are buying in bulk where the wine store offers a discount for larger purchases, you can save enough money so that the wines end up priced closer to $10 per bottle.

So this holiday season, don't buy the same old cheap wines. It won't take much effort to select some better choices, and still very inexpensively. In the end, you'll impress your guests, make your holiday party more memorable, and drink better wines.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

Today, all across America, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. This year is an excellent time to remember the deeper meaning of the day. Beyond the turkey and pecan pie, the stuffing and cranberry sauce, the doughnuts and mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving is a day for reflection upon our lives, to ponder and be thankful for all of the positive things in our lives. 

We need to appreciate the goodness in our lives, to be happy with everything we have (and I don't mean in a material sense). No matter what troubles or adversities we might face in our lives, I am absolutely sure there is also much to bring us joy.

That is especially true during these troubling times. We need to embrace the positivity that we do possess, rather than wallow in despair. We must see hope in the future, and we must cherish the good in our lives. Our focus today, and actually how it should be every day, should be on the positive aspects of our lives. 

Savoring the positive in our lives can brighten the darker parts of our lives, and place everything in perspective. Complaining and criticizing often accomplishes little and instead we should concentrate on solutions. We can make our lives better if we truly desire to do so. It may take time and effort, but we can accomplish much with a positive mindset.

I am thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. I am thankful for all my blog readers. It would take too long to list every single thing I am thankful for here, but I will take the time to reflect upon all of them today. I will try not to dwell on the negative elements in my life. It will hopefully be a day of appreciation and reflection, of hope and a brighter future.

I fervently hope that everyone else can embrace the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. You might not be able to see them in person this year, but see them on the computer, or talk to them on the phone. You'll never regret sharing your feelings with your loved ones.

I'm going to enjoy a fine of drinking and eating, with a small family group. I'll open a couple some special wines, enjoy some amazing food, and savor the day. And I'll spend time remembering everything I should be thankful for in my life. I hope my readers do the same.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Caves da Raposeira: Portuguese Bubbly

Were you aware that the Portuguese produce Sparkling Wine in the Douro region? 

On our recent trip to Portugal, we visited Caves da Raposeira, the largest producer of Sparkling Wine in Portugal, with about 10-12 million bottles stored in their caves. The history of bubbly in Portugal extends back to the late 19th century, when agronomist José Maria Tavares da Silva began experimenting with the Méthode Traditionelle, the same method used to make Champagne, where secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. Then, in 1898, Caves da Raposeira was established in Lamego, with the objective of producing sparkling wine. 

In 2002, the winery was purchased by the Sociedade Agrícola e Comercial da Varosa, which also owns Caves da Murganheira, another producer of sparkling wine. They now constitute about 60% of the sparkling wine market in Portugal. One of the primary differences between these two producers is that Raposeira uses more indigenous grapes. 

Raposeira owns about 30 hectares of vineyards, but as they need about 100 hectares to produce all of their bubbly, they purchase grapes from a number of local farmers. The first pressing of their grapes is used for their best sparkling wines, while the second pressing is used for their regular sparkling wine. They then sell the skins and such to a spirits distillery. 

We walked through their oldest, underground wine cellar, which is all natural, keeping the wines at a constant, proper temperature, and the cellar holds about 2 million bottles of sparkling wine.  

The winery sells about 2.5 Million bottles each year. 

Riddling, turning the bottles so the sediment gathers in the neck of the bottle, is done by hand, and it takes about four weeks to complete. This process can be mechanized, but they continue to do it manually, the traditional way.

After our tour of the cellars, we tasted a couple of their sparking wines. The 2015 Raposeira Velha Reserva Brut is their top wine, made from a blend of Chardonnay and Cerceal. Cerceal is an indigenous Portuguese white grape, grown mostly in the Douro, and which generally adds acidity to white blends. The wine was aged in the cellar for at least seven years. With a pleasing aroma, this bubbly was dry and complex, with an intriguing melange of flavors, including green apple, lemon, citrus, and a touch of brioche. It possessed a lengthy, satisfying finish and certainly would remind you of a fine Champagne. I was impressed with this Sparkling Wine and bought a bottle to take home.

The Raposeira Super Reserva Rosé Bruto is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, which spent at least five years in the cellar. With a deep pink color, the nose burst with red fruit and on the palate, it was dry and fruity, with strawberry and cherry flavors, enhanced with a touch of savoriness. A less complex wine than the Reserva Brut, but it still was interesting and tasty. It would be a nice aperitif,  especially in the summer. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies And The Galafura Viewpoint

While in Portugal, we made a stop at Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies), located atop the hill of Santo Estêvão (Mount St. Stephen) in Lamego. The history of this location extends back to the 14th century, when a chapel to Santo Estêvão was constructed in 1361. However, it was destroyed around 1568 and a new chapel was then built, which included an image of the Virgin and Child. 

Over time, worship of Santo Estêvão waned, being replaced by devotion to the Holy Virgin, Our Lady of Remedies. Construction on a new sanctuary was then begun in 1750, and it took over 100 years to complete, finally finishing in 1905. 

An impressive Baroque staircase, with 686 steps and a number of different levels, leads up the hill to the sanctuary. These levels are decorated with various statues, fountains, obelisks and more. One level is known as the "Courtyard of the Kings," and it contains images of eighteen kings of Israel that are related to the Holy Virgin. 

The Sanctuary is especially busy on September 8, the day of the Nativity of the Virgin.  

Another beautiful church in Portugal!

A photo of the roof. 

Various azulejos within the sanctuary, all dedicated to the Holy Virgin.

The organ, located on a second level. 

After leaving the Sanctuary, our driver, Joaquim, took us on a drive, headed to the São Leonardo de Galafura viewpoint, often considered one of the most impressive views of the Douro. The viewpoint is at a summit which is about 640 meters high. Above, is a stone with a plaque which excerpts a work from the famous Portuguese writer, Miguel Torga, who found much inspiration from this viewpoint. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, with a rainy drizzle, so the view wasn't as beautiful as it would have been on a sunny day. However, despite the weather, it was still impressive, and if you are in the Douro region, you should make a stop here.