Monday, January 29, 2024

Rant: Approach Wine Like A Child

Have you lost your sense of vinous wonder?

After years of wine drinking, some people's palates become jaded and little excites them anymore. They also don't seek out different wines, electing to drink the same old wines all the time. Still other people become arrogant and pretentious, often primarily chasing after trophy wines, engaging in one-upmanship with their friends. They seek out high-end Bordeaux and Burgundy, California Cabernet and Italian Barolo, and similar such wines. Dining out with such people becomes a competition, with each person seeking to select what they perceive to be one of the best trophy wines on the list. 

All of these people see nothing wrong with their behavior, failing to realize they have lost their sense of vinous wonder.

There are people, with the same amount of wine drinking experience, who haven't become jaded or pretentious, who still marvel at wines that aren't trophies, wines which may be inexpensive and more unusual. They get excited about rare grapes, unique wine-making styles, and less common wine regions. These individuals appreciate and understand the allure of trophy wines, the expensive classics, but they don't make them their raison d'être. They find pleasure and wonder in a much wider range of wines, of all price points, of all types, from all regions.

It's usually easy to differentiate those who are jaded or pretentious from those who still possess that sense of wonder. Those who still possesses that wonder will present a new wine, priced under $25, that excites them and you'll see a fire in their eyes and their words will be indicative of their delight. They will be eager to share that wine, to spread their thrill with their friends. 

On the other hand, the jaded person might share a similar wine, finding it of interest, but it's obvious they lack a true passion for the wine. It's offered more as intellectual experience, and it might even be compared to higher-end wines, noting its failings compared to those classics. They will likely concentrate more on what they see as flaws in the inexpensive wine, and might even show disdain for it.

We should approach wine as a child approaches life, with an eager curiosity. Like children, we should  embrace wonder and be open to new experiences. We should want to explore the diversity of wine, and not simply surround ourselves with "classic," and other expensive wines. For example, at the upcoming Boston Wine Expo, there will be ample opportunity to explore less common wines, and not just the same old wines you drink all the time. If you attend the Expo, or any other large-scale wine tasting event, you should approach it with a child's curiosity. 

I want to spend time and share wine with those who still possess their sense of vinous wonder. We can marvel together at the unique, inexpensive wines we find. We can still drink and enjoy high-end, classic wines too but we won't turn up our noses at other wines. We will cherish the diversity of wine, being adventurous and exploring all that exists.

Try to examine your own approach to wine with a critical eye, to determine whether you still possess that wonder or not. If you do, then I strongly advise you to be wary of becoming jaded or pretentious.  If you do not, then I highly recommend you make changes to your vinous life. It's never too late to change. If you refuse to change, then you'll lose out on so much.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

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'll be mentioning some spots for Valentine's Day celebrations. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Abe & Louie’s will be dishing out a quintet of specials for six nights of “date night.” To start, there’s a half-dozen roasted A5 Atlantic Coast oysters with wagyu renderings, black truffle, and gremolata ($30) as well as a slow-baked beet salad with whipped goat cheese, toasted pistachios and a lemon-mint vinaigrette ($19). For entrees, there is a poached Maine lobster tail with gnocchi Parisienne, beech mushrooms and bearnaise ($42) in addition to a 16-ounce, 40-day dry aged bone-in NY strip with grilled broccolini and a twice-baked potato ($115). The dessert feature is a wild strawberry tarte with chocolate ice cream ($12). Cocktail pairings include Forbidden Fruit with Sipsmith gin, Cardamaro, Cappelletti, cranberry juice and prosecco as well as Devilish Margarita with Patron, Cointreau, spicy yuzu puree, crème de cassis and fresh citrus. Reservations from February 9-14. 

2) Atlantic Fish Co. will feature their full menu of seafood classics in addition to some special features during the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. To start, there is a roasted butternut squash & radicchio salad with winter pear, aged parmesan, and citrus vinaigrette ($17) as well as six oysters Rockefeller with wilted spinach and a black truffle hollandaise ($27). The duo of mains is a baked New England scrod with Ritz cracker crumbs, roasted broccolini, fingerling potatoes and a lemon-butter sauce ($39) in addition to lobster carbonara with homemade fettuccini, guanciale, English peas and pecorino Romano ($46). For something sweet, opt for the wild strawberry tarte with chocolate ice cream ($12). Cocktail pairings include Who’s the Best Catch? with Lunazul reposado tequila, lime juice and scotch bonnet pomegranate as well as How About a Squeeze? with orange vodka, clementine oleo, Pom juice and fresh citrus. Reservations from February 9-14.  

3) Coach Grill, will dish out six nights of romance-inspired specials for Valentine’s Day. The starter features are a half-dozen grilled Atlantic Coast oysters with ginger mignonette and pomegranate kernels ($27) as well as a prime steak tartare with toast points ($31). Bring your appetite for the main courses, a Colorado herb-crusted rack of lamb with potatoes au gratin and green beans in a red wine reduction ($75) and the grilled swordfish chop with roasted mushrooms, cauliflower puree and lemon-brown butter ($65). Leave room for dessert, a wild strawberry tarte with chocolate ice cream ($12). Featured cocktails include the Getting Fizzy with It with Sipsmith gin, pomegranate, simple syrup, fresh citrus and soda water; No Sour Hearts Here with Benchmark bourbon, Pom juice, Domaine Canton and fresh lemon juice; and Temple of Love with Grey Goose, Luxardo, black cherry puree, grenadine and Sprite. Reservations from February 9-14.  

4) On Wednesday, February 14th, Saltie Girl will be hosting a four-course, prix fixe dinner with Chef Kyle McClelland. With two seatings at 6 and 8 p.m., the special dinner will be held in Saltie Girl’s original, intimate space located at 281 Dartmouth Street. The seafood-centric menu costs $100 per person and will feature options including wagyu beef tartare, cacio e pepe spaghetti, and pan-roasted black cod. Please visit HERE for the full menu and to make a reservation.

5) Chef Will Gilson’s romantic Italian destination Geppetto will be offering a special five-course tasting menu on February 14th for $95 per person to celebrate amore. The menu will feature a choice of options including dishes like shrimp scampi, lamb chops, chocolate budino, and strawberry + persimmon pavlova. Please visit HERE for more details and to make a reservation.

6) Chef Will Gilson’s Puritan & Co., located in Cambridge’s Inman Square, will be serving up a five-course dinner on February 14th for $95 per person. Menu options will include choices such as Maine mussels toast, squash risotto, ricotta gnocchis, steak frites, and lemon vanilla posset. The full beverage menu will be available in-house for purchase, as well. For the complete menu or to make a reservation, please visit HERE.

7) Rochambeau will be celebrating Galentine's and Valentine's this year! Rochambeau will be celebrating the galpals on Saturday, February 10th with a fab dinner party including a champagne tower, live music, decorations, $1 oysters, menus specials like crepes and chocolate covered strawberries, and more from 7 to 10 p.m. On Valentine's Day, they will be serving up a three-course dinner menu on Valentine’s Day for $85 per person, with an additional wine pairing and specialty cocktails available. The restaurant will be elevated with a romantic feel for the evening with white linens and roses on each table.

8) On Valentine’s Day,  Little Donkey, the global tapas restaurant from Chef Ken Oringer, located in Central Square, invites its guests to celebrate all things love with a special menu where guests can choose from a variety of curated Little Donkey favorites items to customize their unique Valentines’ Day tasting menu experience.

On February 14th, Little Donkey will offer a tasting menu with 3 courses and dessert, created by Executive Chef Darrell Boles, with menu highlights such as:
Crispy Lamb and Beef Dumplings with Szechuan chili crisp
Tandoori Beets with warm burrata, tamarind chutney, curry leaf, coconut and pecan dukkah
Seared Scallop with torched miso mayo, crispy potato and tobiko
Truffle Ramen Cacio e Pepe with miso, ramen noodles, parmesan and black pepper
Red Wine Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek with potato puree and cognac prunes
Profiteroles with maple walnut ice cream and hot fudge

The indulgent tasting menu is $75/person and reservations are available on Resy.

9) This Valentine's Day, Wednesday, February 14, from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Zuma Boston will offer a special Valentine's Day Omakase Menu comprising 13 dishes and an included glass of Telmont Rosé Champagne. 

As you embark on the sensory journey, savor delights such as spicy chu toro sashimi, Chilean seabass tempura, and wagyu gyoza. Highlights include pork belly skewers with apple mustard miso, grilled scallops with pickled plum, shiso, and mentaiko butter, and a chef's premium selection of sashimi and sushi. Delight in the main course with options like roasted lobster in shiso ponzu butter, black cod marinated in saikyo miso wrapped in hoba leaf, and ribeye with chili ponzu sauce. For those seeking the epitome of indulgence, upgrade to Japanese A5 Wagyu for an additional $40 per person. Conclude your romantic evening on a sweet note with the Zuma premium dessert platter, a decadent ensemble of treats specially crafted to enchant your senses

This Omakase special costs $215 per person and Reservations can be made HERE.

10) Celebrate Valentine’s Day with your significant other at Forcella Boston. The North End restaurant is featuring a Crab & Lobster Ravioli with Caviar. The Jonah Crab, Lobster and ricotta filled ravioli is topped with oven dried tomatoes, lemon-mascapone cream and Sturgeon Caviar. This dish costs $44 and is available from February 14th-17th. Forcella is also highlighting their Rigatoni alle Melenzane dish. The $27 entree is made with Roasted Eggplant, Capers, Basil, Pomodoro and Grana. This is an easy dish that can be made from the comfort of your own home!

As for a cocktail, sip on a Chocolate-Dipped Cherry Martini. Available the week of Valentine’s Day, the cocktail is mixed with cherry vodka, triple chocolate liqueur and grenadine. Garnished with a fresh maraschino cherry, the limited-time only drink costs $18.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Travel to Portugal With Me In October!

"All wine would be Port if it could."
--Portuguese Proverb

Would you like to join me on a vacation in Portugal this October, exploring the wine and food of this compelling country? I'm collaborating, as a wine tour guide, with Sagres Vacations, a local company which specializes in exciting vacations to Portugal and Spain. We've created an interesting itinerary that will explore the wine and food of northern Portugal. I'm hoping some of my friends and readers will decide to join me on this upcoming trip.       

Portugal is becoming a hugely popular destination for American tourists. 2019 was a record year for tourism in Portugal, which was then brought down by the pandemic. Yet, tourism has since rebounded, and has even been breaking new records. For example, between January and July of 2023, a record number of bout 16.8 million people traveled to Portugal. The largest group of these tourists were from Britain, with Spain in second place, and the U.S. in third place. The number of U.S. tourists increased 27% in 2022, and increased by 26%, over 2019 figures, in the first couple months of 2023. More and more Americans are discovering the wonders of Portugal.

As you're aware, I've long been an ardent lover and promoter of the wines of Portugal, including Port Wine. I’ve written over 100 articles about Portugal, including its wines, spirits, cuisine, history, culture and more. Over 60 Portuguese wines have ended up on my annual Top Ten Wine lists, including 6 in my recent Top 20 Wines of 2023. In addition, I’m a Certified Wine Location Specialist, a collaboration of the Center for Wine Origins and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Do Porto,  which includes Port wine and the Douro region. I've also been inducted as a Cavaleiro in the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, a Knight in the Brotherhood of Port Wine, an honor bestowed upon me for my ardent promotion and support of Port wine. 

I was last in Portugal this past October 2023, spending my time in northern Portugal, and I've written a number of articles about my experiences, with more articles coming in the near future. On this new trip, in October 2024, we will visit some of my favorite places, as well as plenty of new places. There's so much to explore in Portugal that no single trip can cover everything you might want to see. However, you can sample some of the best northern Portugal has to offer, enjoying excellent wines and cuisine. I'm very excited to return to Portugal and hope you can join me there.

Our tour, Wine Vibes in Portugal, will take place from October 8-17, 2024 and includes luxury accommodations for eight nights. We'll visit the Vinho Verde, Douro and Dão wine regions, as well as the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Some of the wineries we'll visit include Quinta da Lixa, Quinta do Vallado, Quinta da Pacheca, Kopke, Caminho Cruzados, and Quinta dos Roques. This list includes three wineries whose wines have ended up on my annual Top Ten wine lists. There will also be a walking tour of Porto, seeing many of its historic and interesting sites. Numerous meals are included, including lunch at DOC, a superb restaurant in the Douro. Check out the full itinerary for all of the details, including the cost and how to register for the trip.

The itinerary also provides you plenty of free time so you can explore Portugal on your own. You might want to visit other wineries, especially other Port Houses in Vila Nova de Gaia. In Porto, you can eat the iconic Francesinha sandwich, a hearty meal with French fries, and I know I'll be seeking one or two when I return to Porto. You can see a fascinating and moving Fado performance, a unique Portuguese music genre, with a delicious dinner, at Fado Português. In Porto, walk down Santa Catarina street and shop at the many intriguing shops there. There is so much you can do in Portugal! 

This small trip will consist of just 15 people, and the only prerequisite is that you should enjoy wine. You don't have to possess any specific level of wine knowledge, but be willing to learn about the wines of Portugal. So eager beginners are just as welcome as those who already know Portuguese wines well. If you have any questions about the trip, feel free to contact me or you can also contact Sagres Vacations

And as I've said multiple times before: "I have heard the clarion call for the wines of Portugal, those intriguing wines which seduce with their tantalizing aromas and flavors. It is my desire that many others feel the urge of that clarion call too. To that end, I have become an ardent advocate for Portuguese wines, to share all the excellence I have found in their wines." I hope you can hear that clarion call as well, and will join me in Portugal in October.

"Sip your spirits and cure your cold, but I will take Port that will cure all things, even a bad character. For thee was never a Port drinker who lacked friends to speak for him.”
--William Makepeace Thackery 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Boston Wine Expo: Advice on Attending

The Boston Wine Expo is returning this year, once again to the Park Plaza Hotel, on Saturday, March 2 and Sunday, March 3. The 2-day event will feature over 100 participating wineries from all over the U.S. and select international ones as well. The new Expo is organized by Raffaele Scalzi, the Boston Wine Expo Show Director and Founder of Scalzi Hospitality Corporation. I attended last year's Expo, and want to offer some advice for attendees this year.

At the Expo, you'll be confronted with hundreds of different wines and spirits, which can be overwhelming. There's no way you can taste all of them, or even a large percentage, so what should you do? What is the best strategy to handle this intimidating dilemma? What other advice should you know about attending such a large-scale wine event? 

Though many don't like to discuss it, there's always a contingent of attendees that go just to get drunk. I don't advise anyone to do this. Instead, have fun, taste wine, but don't over do it. You will want to remember what you experienced and tasted. Use this opportunity to learn about wine, to find new favorites, and to socialize with other wine lovers. 

What is my best advice for attending these Grand Tastings? Like many endeavors, the key is in your preparation. Don't just show up and drink, especially if you want to learn anything. Take some time and make a plan. I've attended numerous of these Expos and, based on my experiences, I'll help you make an informed plan so you can best enjoy the Expo.

Initial Planning

1) Your first decision needs to be which events you want to attend at the Expo. You have the choice of 4 Grand Tasting sessions, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Each ticket costs $95. The Grand Tasting is the main event, where the 100+ wineries and distributors showcase their wines. If you can only go one day, I recommend going to Sunday to avoid the largest crowd. Saturdays are usually the busiest day at the Expo. 

2) You should also consider attending one or more their Tasting Classes, which are $65 each, as they can be an excellent choice for more directed wine education in a more intimate setting. A few seminars which sound especially appealing include: For The Love of Sake (Japanese Sake), Portugal From Two Perspectives (Portuguese wines), and Origins of Albariño (A delicious Spanish white wine). Buy tickets early though as seating is limited and seminars can sell out. For example, Intro to Wine Tasting, is already sold out!

3) If attending the Grand Tasting, the sheer number of wines available for tasting is intimidating. To make the most of your time at the Expo, you shouldn't just show up at the Expo and wander around tasting wine. You'll probably miss plenty of wines you wished you had tasted. Instead, I strongly recommend that you make a plan beforehand, deciding which wine regions and/or specific wineries tables you want to visit and taste. Check the list of Participating Exhibitors (which should be on the Expo website in the near future) to see which wineries will be at the Expo and select a number you want to visit.

4) When choosing which winery tables to visit, I also recommend that you don't drink wines you already know and like. You can do that anytime and anywhere else. Instead, take this opportunity to expand your palate and try different wines, hoping to find new wines to enjoy. Never had Portuguese wines? Then make an effort to venture to their tables and try some of their wines, from Vinho Verde to Altejano reds. Never had Greek wines, then check out their wines made from grapes like Xynomavro and Agioritiko. With all the diversity of wines available, it makes little sense to spend your time drinking the same wines you drink at home all the time. Be willing to experiment and taste something different. Make the Expo an opportunity to explore the wide world of wine.

Pre-Expo Preparation

5) How will you get to the Expo? Remember that you will be tasting lots of wines so you may not be able to drive home safely. No one should ever drink and drive! So, if you can, take public transportation, book a nearby hotel room, get an Uber, or have a designated driver. Please don't drink and drive. That is the most important advice in this entire post. DON'T DRINK & DRIVE!!

6) Eat a hearty breakfast or lunch before going to the Expo. If you are going to be tasting all that wine, you should have a full stomach to help nullify some of that alcohol. If you go on an empty stomach, the alcohol will hit you harder and quicker, and you won't last long. There will be some limited food available at these events, but it's much better to start off with a relatively full belly before you even get there.

7) Dress comfortably, noting that there is always the potential you might spill wine on your clothes. So leave those white shirts, blouses, pants, etc. home. It's a casual event so there is no need to get all dressed up, though you are welcome to do so if you desire. Just beware of the possibility of wine spills. It's also very important to wear comfortable shoes as you will be on your feet for hours, walking around the tasting rooms. 

8) Please don't wear perfume or cologne as they will interfere with your ability to properly smell the wine, and will also interfere with the ability of other people to do the same. It's very important for a number of attendees to be able to smell all of the aromas within the wines. That becomes so much more difficult when a strong perfume or cologne clouds their sense of smell. So please show consideration for your fellow attendees and don't wear it.

9) Make sure all your electronics, such as your camera and smartphone, are fully charged. It's a pain when your battery dies half way through the Expo and you are unable to take any more photos. You might also be posting to social media while at the Expo so you want sufficient power in your smart phone to keep you going for the while event.

10) If you drive, leave your coat in your car. There isn't a coat check room at the Expo so otherwise you will have to wear or carry your coat throughout the event. 

At The Expo

11) When you are tasting wines, please spit. Every sip you swallow adds to your alcohol level and if you do not spit, you will soon find yourself intoxicated. Even small sips can add up quickly. Once you are intoxicated, all of the wines will start tasting good to you and you probably won't learn anything. Spitting is the only way to navigate through a large number of wines, trying to discern which new wines appeal to you. So spit, spit, spit! At the very least, minimize the amount of wines you swallow and spit out the rest.

12) While you're tasting wines, take frequent breaks to drink water and eat snacks to help cleanse your palate. There will be a few vendors selling snacks at these events, such as cookies and candies. Water is also necessary to stay hydrated and the Expo usually has plenty of free water available. All of this will help keep your palate sharp and also try to limit the effect of all that alcohol.

13) Carry some napkins in your pocket. They will help if you spill any wine, letting you quickly blot up such a spill. In addition, your wine glass is likely to get a little sticky after you've tasted a number of wines and a napkin can help clean off your glass for continued tasting. Plus, if you nibble on some food, an extra napkin can come in handy.

14) If you really enjoy a wine, ask questions about whether it is available or not. Unfortunately, not all of the wines poured at these events may yet be available in Massachusetts. If it's available, they should be able to tell you the name of the distributor. Write that info down as it will help you locate the wine later. You can go to your local wine store with that info and they should be able to get the wine for you.

15) If you find a new wine you enjoy, how will you remember it? You can take notes, writing down the name of the wine, or use your smart phone to take a picture of the wine bottle label. Nothing is worse than tasting a great wine but later forgetting its name. You will taste plenty of wines at the Expo so the only way to ensure you remember which ones you enjoyed are to take notes or pictures. Taking a photo of the label is easy and you'll be very glad later that you have a record of your favorite wines.

16) Bring cash/debit card/credit card with you just in case you want to purchase anything at the Expo. There will be some food vendors selling their items, as well as other lifestyle vendors, selling everything from jewelry to culinary knives. Some of these vendors offer special deals for Expo attendees so you can save some money off their regular prices.

17) Most importantly, make sure you have fun!

A list of the participating wineries and distributors has not yet been released. Plus, the full list of Tasting Classes isn't out yet. When that information becomes available, I will post another article with my own recommendations for the wine and spirit booths that Expo attendees should visit. 

Hope to see you at the Boston Wine Expo this year!

Monday, January 22, 2024

Fado Português: Passion & Emotion Overcoming Language Barriers

"Fado cannot be explained, it is felt, you won't be able to explain it, but you will want to hear it again."
--Fado Português website

Fado is a type of Portuguese music which extends back at least to the 1820s in Lisbon, although it might be even older. It's often said that the music is sad, and deals with themes of fate, loss, and heartache. Others state it be deal with happy topics, and can be about overcoming adversity. Whatever the topic, it's intended to be emotive, and the singer may also use hand and body gestures, as well as facial expressions, to enhance the emotive experience. The singer is commonly accompanied by a guitar (10 or 12 string) and a viola (also known as a Portuguese guitar), a six-string guitar. 

When I was planning my visit to Portugal, I wasn't going to Lisbon, but I knew there were Fado establishments in the Porto area. I had never attended a Fado performance before, and I wanted to remedy that. After doing some research on Fado venues, I finally decided to make reservations at Fado Portuguêswhich is located in Vila Nova de Gaia. That proved to be an excellent choice, and I was thoroughly impressed with the experience. If you've never experienced Fado, you definitely need to do so, and in the Porto area, I highly recommend Fado Português

Fado Português, which opened in 2021, is a showcase for Sandra Correia, a professional Fado singer for over 30 years. Over the years, Sandra has performed in many concerts and shows throughout the world, and has released three albums, bringing Fado to millions of people. Besides Sandra, Fado Português also presents a variety of other Fado singers such as Sandra Cristina and Jorge César.

Fado Português has two main dining areas, and performances can occur in both rooms. We sat in the small, back room, which makes for an intimate venue, and which also has a view of the Douro River. The restaurant opens at 8pm, with the first performance starting around 9pm. You can make a reservation, until 10:30pm, for the Fado performance and there's a 30 Euro minimum per person. After 10:30pm, there's a straight 10 Euro charge per person. You can order off the menu, or for 45 Euros per person, you can order a multi-course dinner. We opted for the multi-course dinner, and it was delicious and a good value. I highly recommend that you make reservations as it's a small and popular venue. 

An inspirational decoration in the back dining room.

A picture of Sandra Correia. 

Our multi-course dinner included two Starters (chosen from a list), a Main Course (chosen from a list), a bottle of wine for a couple, a Dessert Tasting, coffee, and a glass of a 10 Year Old Port.  

A pleasant and easy drinking Portuguese red wine.

Tender and flavorful Clams. 

Succulent Prawns with garlic.

Our main course was the Steak Fado Português, with a tender steak, fried potatoes, rice and some veggies. For dessert, we had a sampler of three different tasty treats and a lovely glass of aged Port. Overall, I was very pleased with the tasty food and drink, and recommend you opt for the multi-course dinner. 

During the course of the evening, there were three Fado performances. The first occurred after the Starters and the second occurred after the Main Course. The final performance took place after dessert. During each performance, service stopped, the lights were dimmed and Fado etiquette indicates you should remain silent during the performance. The two guitarists were very talented, complementing well the Fado performers. 

All of the songs were sung in Portuguese, a language I don't speak, except for a small number of words and phrases. Despite that language barrier, I still greatly appreciated Fado, although granted I would probably appreciate it even more if I understand all of the words. What's most impressive though is that each singer is so emotive, and you deeply feel the song and the emotions it evoked. Their performances touched my heart and soul, even though I couldn't understand the words. 

The best music in the world touches your soul, and the lyrics are secondary to the emotional impact of the singer. Instrumental music is another excellent example where the emotions evoked by the music is primary. The quote with which I started this post is true, that "Fado cannot be explained, it is felt,.." And the talented Fado singers made you feel their heart-felt emotions.  

Sandra Cristina was the first Fado performer. She possessed a powerful and moving voice, mesmerizing you with the passion within her tone and movements. 

Jorge César was the second Fado performer, offering a different and deeper tone, yet also so expressive and emotional. 

During the final performance, the wondrous Sandra Correia sang, and the other two performers would join in later during the performance as well. Sandra possessed a powerful and soulful voice, and I felt it deep within my core. You would have to be a stone statue not to have been deeply touched by her passion. What an awesome finale, and it made me want to learn much more about Fado. You don't have to know how to speak Portuguese to enjoy Fado, all you have to do is open yourself up to the passion and emotions of the singers. 

There's an excellent interview with Sandra HERE, which is well worth reading, to learn more about Sandra and her ideas and philosophy on Fado.  

While in Porto, seek out the passion you'll find at Fado Português

Thursday, January 18, 2024

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) Officially launching on Monday, February 5th, Rochambeau is putting a French spin on its Steak Frites with the opening of "The Steak Room." The Steak Room will transform Rochambeau's first-floor dining room into a steak frites-only dining experience exclusively serving a prix fixe steak frites-centric menu for guests to enjoy.

The Steak Room prix fixe menu will be available daily from noon to 10 p.m. in Rochambeau’s first-floor dining room. The menu will feature an eight oz. skirt steak, endless frites, greens, and fresh bread for only $36 per guest. In addition to the prix fixe menu, a selection of hors d'oeuvres (such as Steak Tartare and Shrimp Cocktail), cocktails, beers, wines, and dessert (such as Chocolate Cake and Ricotta Cheesecake) will be available to order a la carte. For complete menu details, please see HERE.

Alongside Rochambeau's “Steak Room” experience, brunch service will continue to be available in Rochambeau's street side cafe daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. while regular dinner service will be available nightly in Rochambeau’s second-floor dining room. 

2) Join Chef Michae Serpa and a line up of chef friends for a special charity dinner on Thursday, February 1st at Atlántico in Boston’s South End in support of Best Buddies International.

Kicking off at 6 p.m., the evening will bring together Boston's culinary talent to serve up a six-course tasting menu for $125 per guest. With every chef preparing one course each, participating chefs include Colin Lynch, Cassie Piuma, Will Gilson, John Paine, Jamie Bissonette and Michael Serpa. A complementary wine flight and a cocktail flight will also be available to pair with the menu for an additional cost.

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit HERE.

Best Buddies is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Their programs help people with IDD form meaningful friendships with their peers, secure successful jobs, live independently, improve public speaking, self-advocacy and communication skills, and feel valued by society. The IDD community that Best Buddies serves includes, but is not limited to, people with Down Syndrome, Autism, Fragile X, Williams Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.

3) On Thursday, February 1st, Saltie Girl will be hosting a four-course, prix fixe dinner with Chef Kyle McClelland. With two seatings at 6 and 8 p.m., the special dinner will be held in Saltie Girl’s original, intimate space located at 281 Dartmouth Street. The seafood-centric menu costs $120 per person and will feature options including:

Amuse bouche: Oyster Royale with spinach, champagne sauce, caviar
First course options:
“Fried” Oyster & Quail Egg with kaluga caviar and parmesan espuma
Maine Uni Toast with toasted milk bread, bone marrow butter, aged ponzu glaze
Second course options:
Lightly Torched Hiramasa black truffle rice with infused cauliflower emulsion
Pounded Marinated Tuna foie terrine with winter black truffle ponzu
Third course options:
Pan Roasted Filet of Dover Sole with wilted greens, smoked trout roe, chive butter sauce
Salmon en Croute with lobster, kale, caviar sauce
Dessert course (TBD)

Reservations can be made HERE.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Cálem Port Cellar Tour & Lunch at Uva

During my trip to Portugal last fall, we stayed for a few nights at the Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the Douro River from Porto. Gaia is the location of numerous Port Houses, the places where they age their wines, and you can visit and tour many of these Houses. You can learn much about Port wine here, and experience Ports of which you aren't familiar, such as aged White Ports. During our stay in Gaia, we made a stop at Cálem for a brief tour. 

Cálem was founded in 1859 by António Alves Cálem, who desired to export wines to Brazil, which was not the typical market at that time for such wines. Britain and other European countries were the primary markets, but there was a significant Portuguese population in Brazil, so Cálem's idea had merit. 

In 1998, the Spanish-owned company Sogevinus was established and its first purchase was Cálem. It would later purchase other Port producers, including Burmester, Kopke, and Barros. Sogevinus concentrates on Port Wine, and in 2020, about 7.8 Million bottles of their annual production of 8.8 Million were Port. In addition, their Cálem Velhotes brand is the top seller in Portugal, accounting for about 25% of all Port sales. That's a huge portion of the market!

Cálem owns about 33,000 acres of land in the Douro, including 3 high-quality, A-1 vineyards. As they need more grapes than they grow, they also purchase grapes from other growers. Cálem annually exports about 12 Million bottles to around 50 countries. Their symbol is a caravel, a small sailing ship which was popular from the 15th-17th centuries.  

At Cálem, you can first visit their small museum, which deals with the Douro region and Port production, a good way to learn some basic information about this fascinating region.  The official tour then begins with a 4 minute movie and you're given special glasses to wear so you can see some special effects during the film. In addition, the seats vibrate at times, creating more of an immersive experience. 

After the short movie, the tour moves into the cellars, and I'll note that the Cálem cellars are even older than the winery's founding in 1859. I'll also note that most Cálem wines are not made in lagares, except for some special still wines, and Cálem doesn't produce aged White Ports. The winery uses about 14 white grapes and 15 red grapes for their wines. And their last Vintage Port was in 2020.  

One of your first stops in the cellar was in front of one of their great vats, which can hold 74,000 liters of wine. These huge barrels take 8 coopers about two weeks to construct, and we saw a vat that had been made in 1917. It was very cool that the winery showed a number of lighted displays on the great vat. I thought this was a fascinating and memorable way to educate people about the winery and Port wine. The addition of this visual display enhanced the tour, making it better than simply a dry recitation of the facts.

The tour comes from a wine tasting, but we skipped the tasting as we were headed to a Port tasting at the nearby Kopke store.

At the end of your tour at Cálem, you can stop at their store, where you can purchase Port and Still wines to bring home. The Cálem 1961 Colheita Port is the oldest wine they have available for sale. I would definitely recommend a tour of Cálem if you visit Vila Nova de Gaia. 

After our tasting at Kopke, we were invited by the winery to have lunch at Uva By Cálem, which is located on the banks of the Douro River (providing some great views). The restaurant opened in 2019 and is headed by Chef António Vieira. It has a casual elegance and the menu is diverse, with dishes to appeal to any preferences.

We started off lunch with the 2022 São Luiz Rosé, made from the Tinta Coa grape sourced from the São Luiz vineyard in the Douro, which is owned by Kopke. With an appealing aroma, this Rosé was delicious, elegant and subtle, dry and crisp. Tasty flavors of red fruits, some floral hints, and a backbone of minerality. Easy drinking but not overly simple, and an excellent way to begin our lunch.

Our first course was slices of Seared Tuna, which were tender and flavorful, and the dish looked beautiful as well. The sesame seeds added a nice textural component, and the roe added a taste of the sea.

Our second wine was the 2020 São Luiz Reserva Tinto, made from a blend of red grapes, and it too was delicious. Fruity, with flavors of red and black fruits, a hint of spice and a touch of smoke. Good acidity, a pleasant finish, and smooth tannins. Neither of the two São Luiz wines are yet available in the U.S., but the Tinto may be in the near future.  

Our second course were tender and tasty Slices of Beef, accompanied by a vegetable mix and crisp French fries. The dish went well with the red wine. 

Dessert was a rich and decadent Chocolate Brownie with berries and a raspberry sorbet. We enjoyed a 2008 Kopke Colheita Port with dessert, which was nicely sweet, with delicious flavors of caramel, nuts, vanilla and baking spices. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

Rant: Reservation Cancelations & No-Shows

Consider this hypothetical: 

You're a business owner. A customer makes an appointment with you, to avail themselves of your services, and you will be paid for that appointment. Because of that appointment, you turn down other paying customers who wanted to see you at that same time. You also purchase supplies to handle your customer's needs during that appointment. 

However, when the appointment time arrives,  your customer doesn't show up, and doesn't even call to tell you they won't be there. Thus, you don't get paid, and you have extra supplies which you might not be able to use with another customer. If the customer had given you reasonable notice that they could not keep the appointment, you might have been able to get someone else to fill that appointment. You'd probably be upset at that no-show customer, and justifiably so.

Unfortunately, that situation happens far too frequently in the restaurant industry. Numerous customers make reservations but then never show up for those reservations, and may not even call to say they won't be there. It might seem to some people to be an innocuous harm, thus providing justification for their cavalier attitude, but that isn't the case. It can have a significant financial effect on that restaurant, on everyone from the owner to the servers. And this discourteous act needs to stop.

Over the holidays, I know one local restaurant where over 25 people with reservations were no-shows! This is a relatively small restaurant so that many no-shows has a significant impact. I've also heard of other restaurants over the holidays which also had far too many no-shows and last minute cancellations. Even some restaurants which ask for a deposit face this problem.

Restaurants often operate on thin margins and no-show reservations hurt their bottom line, especially if someone doesn't call to say they won't be showing up. Other potential customers may get turned away because of that reservation. Servers, who rely on tips, won't earn as much money because of the no-shows. A no-show is definitely not a victimless activity and it needs to stop. Where is basic courtesy and etiquette? You wouldn't like it to occur to you, so why do it to others?

Some people make multiple reservations for the same day and time, and then, frequently at the last minute, choose which restaurant to visit, failing to call the other restaurants that they won't be there. Stop doing that! Yes, there are a few legitimate reasons why you might need to no-show at a reservation, from medical to family issues, but a simple phone call to the restaurant is still warranted. Have the courtesy to notify the reservation of your cancelation, and give them as much advance notice as possible. Give them a chance to get someone else to take your reservation time.  

And if you have to cancel your reservation or are a no-show, try to make it up by making a new reservation for the restaurant, and then honoring that reservation. 

Stop being so self-absorbed and thinking only of your own needs and wants. Give consideration to how your actions affect other people. Failing to show up for a reservation and not even calling to cancel is a selfish act. Start thinking about how such actions could negatively impact the restaurant and its employees. We need more people to be courteous, to consider others. And we need people to be more courteous not just in this situation, but in all aspects of life. 

Thursday, January 11, 2024

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) On Monday, January 15, Legal Sea Foods is celebrating its own “Legal” holiday, “Chowda Day,” offering cups of its New England Clam Chowder for just $1. On January 16, the restaurant is also launching its first-ever, limited-time offer where rewards members will receive a FREE Maine Lobster Roll when purchasing one of the iconic rolls at regular price.  

Legal Sea Foods’ “Chowda Day” returns, following City Council President, Ed Flynn’s official proclamation in Boston last year. Proceeds from “Chowda Day” will be donated to support life-saving research at Boston Children’s Hospital. New this year, Legal is celebrating Chowda Day online too at Shop Legal Sea Foods - where customers can order and ship two quarts of chowder anywhere in the U.S. for just $20. The brand hopes to break the all-time “Chowda Day” record of over 9,000 cups ordered and calls on chowder fans to help hit 10,000 cups this year.

The fundraising event is just one of the various initiatives Legal Sea Foods is dedicated to in its ongoing commitment to supporting groundbreaking work at Boston Children’s Hospital. The brand also holds an annual gift card fundraiser to directly benefit Boston Children’s Hospital and Dr. Leonard Zon’s zebrafish lab, which is a part of Boston Children’s Stem Cell Program. In 2023, Legal Sea Foods donated $100,000 of proceeds raised directly from “Chowda Day” and gift card promotion to advance the hospital’s groundbreaking research efforts.

"We extend heartfelt appreciation for the commitment and invaluable backing poured forth by Legal Sea Foods over the last 30 years. We take pride in our enduring alliance and are eager to see what’s on the horizon," expressed Mike Bornhorst, Vice President, Corporate Development, Leadership Giving and Special Events, Boston Children’s Hospital.

Starting January 16, Legal Net Reward members at Legal Sea Foods can receive a FREE half pound Maine Lobster Roll. For the first time ever, the restaurant is offering a buy-one-get-one-free offer. This signature New England-style dish is loaded with a half pound of Maine lobster meat and served traditionally with lemon mayo and chives or warm butter-poached on top of a perfectly grilled bun. The BOGO promotion is only available to its Legal Net Rewards program members. Diners have until January 31 to sign up online by creating an account at, downloading the new Legal Net Rewards app, or in-restaurant by scanning a QR code. This is a limited time offer and will be gone after January 31st.

2) Valentine's Day Dinner! Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan & Co. team will be serving up a five-course dinner on February 14th for $95 per person. Menu options will include choices such as Maine mussels toast, seared halloumi, squash risotto, ricotta gnocchis, steak frites, swordfish, and lemon vanilla posset. The full beverage menu will be available in-house for purchase, as well. For the complete menu or to make a reservation, please visit HERE

3) Valentine's Day Dinner! Chef Robert Sisca and the Bistro du Midi team will be serving up a romantic, five-course, French-inspired prix fixe menu on February 14th for $175 per person with an optional wine pairing for $90. Please see HERE to make a reservation. 

4) Valentine's Day Dinner! Chef Michael Serpa and the Little Whale Oyster Bar team will be offering a $75 three-course prix fixe menu. Additionally oysters, shrimp cocktail, dressed lobster and caviar service will be available a la carte in addition to a $65 wine pairing to complement the prix fixe menu.

5) Valentine's Day Dinner! Chef Michael Serpa and the Select Oyster Bar team will be offering a $75 three-course prix fixe menu. Additionally oysters, shrimp cocktail, dressed lobster and caviar service will be available a la carte in addition to a $65 wine pairing to complement the prix fixe menu.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Non-Rant: Food/Drink Friends

"There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship."
--Thomas Aquinas 

As 2024 begins, I want to add some positivity rather than start the New Year with any negativity. I want to highlight an important aspect of food and drink, one which you may know about but one which you might not give enough thought. As I recently reviewed my food and drink experiences of 2023, selecting my Favorites of the past year, there was a common element which I didn't highlight in those end-of-the-year articles. 

That common element is friendship.

It is a given that the circumstances surrounding us when we eat and drink will affect our perception of that food and drink. If you're vacationing in Europe, drinking local wine at a picturesque cafe, you'll probably think the wine is stunning, partially a reaction to your amazing surroundings. If you had that same wine at a dirty, noisy and crowded little restaurant, you might not enjoy it as much. Besides your surroundings, the people with you at the time will also play a role in your enjoyment. When you are dining with the people you most love, those closest to you, you're more likely to have a better experience.

As I have repeatedly said before, good food and drink is even better when shared. My best dining and drinking experiences have always been with good friends and/or family. I sincerely hope that you have at least one good friend who enhances your own dining and drinking experiences. As this new year begins, maybe you should thank those friends for enriching your life. I also hope that you do the same for your own friends, making their own food and drink taste better. Appreciate the friends in your lives and make your life even better. Without friends, your life is empty and shallow.

On Facebook, I posted a link to my recent article, 10 New Year's Resolutions For My Readers, and one of the comments I received was from food-lover Gary Goldblatt. He stated, "Good list that covers all the bases. If there’s one thing I’d add, it’s to be a better food friend: invite people to try a cuisine or item you’re familiar with and they are not. And, as I’ve quipped before, use your food knowledge as a bridge, not as a wall. While it’s great to have that knowledge, it doesn’t make you better than the rest. But sharing that knowledge with the rest does make you better

That's an excellent addition, dovetailing well into this post. Sharing your knowledge of food and drink is beneficial for many reasons. It will enhance your own experiences, as well as those who dine and drink with you. I love introducing people to new foods and drinks, providing them interesting information to make them a better educated consumer. We need more people to do so, rather than keep their food and drink knowledge to themselves. I'll note that Gary is a fine food bridge, always open to sharing his food knowledge with others, and I have benefited from his shared information in the past. 

Cherish your food and drink friends, and try to be a better one yourself. 

"Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief."
--Marcus Tullius Cicero 

Friday, January 5, 2024

National Whipped Cream Day: Its Origins, Aaron Lapin & Reddi-Wip

Who doesn't love whipped cream? 

It tops so many different desserts and dishes, from a mound atop an ice cream sundae to a dollop atop a Belgian waffle. You'll find it atop hot chocolate and frappes, creme brûlée and bread pudding, and so much more. I'm certainly a huge fan of whipped cream, especially home-made, though I won't turn down almost any type.

Today, let us celebrate National Whipped Cream Day, giving even more love to this tasty treat! I haven't been able to pin down the exact origins of this holiday, but its first known reference extends back at least to the end of 1983, forty years ago. The earliest reference I found (mentioned in a late 1983 newspaper) was to a calendar, The 1984 Calendar of Self Indulgence, by Sandra Boynton. The calendar listed numerous food holidays, including National Whipped Cream Day, which was celebrated on January 5. 

Did Sandra actually invent this holiday, and maybe other food holidays, just to fill up her calendar with interesting items? It's possible, although I haven't found anything yet to confirm it. In addition, it's likely that this holiday is connected in some respect to Aaron Lapin, the creator of Reddi-Wip, the first canned whipped cream. It seems more than coincidental that National Whipped Cream Day occurs on Aaron's birthday.

Whipped cream has existed at least as far back as the 16th century, although it wasn't called "whipped cream" until the late 17th century. Although the Oxford English Dictionary claims the first use of the term "whipped cream" was in 1673, I found an earlier reference. In The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, an English cookbook from 1669, there was a recipe for Crème Fouettée, the French term for "whipped cream." However, within the recipe, it was also referred to as "whipped cream." The passage stated, "If you would have your whipped cream light and frothy, ...

It's also interesting to note that the recipe called for the sweet thick cream to be whipped with "...white hard rushes (of such as they make whisks to brush coats) tied together,.." This use of branches and such was apparently common for at least a couple centuries. The metal whisk wouldn't be invented until around 1840. 

The 20th century would see the significant influence of technology on this sweet whipped topping, and Aaron Lapin spearheaded those changes. 

Who was Aaron Lapin?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 5, 1951, provided an abundance of information about Lapin, with The Los Angeles Times (CA), July 13, 1999, adding some additional details. Aaron Soffer Lapin was born on January 5, 1914, and as January 5 is National Whipped Cream Day, it's very likely the date was chosen by the inventor of this holiday to honor Lapin's birthday, especially considering his significant contribution to the whipped cream industry.

Lapin graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and then attended the Washington University Law School. It was during this time that he acquired the nickname "Bunny" as his friends realized that his surname, Lapin, meant "rabbit" in French. However, in 1935, Lapin decided not to take the bar exam, and become a lawyer, but instead chose to work in his father’s clothing business. Certainly a major change in careers, and he probably couldn't have predicted the major changes that would come to his career. 
As a brief note, the Chula Vista Star (CA), June 24, 1932, reported on a new local product, Sta-Whip, a "healthful vegetable gelatin mixture." It was being marketed by C.C. Inskeep, a scientist and prominent Chula Vista business man. “The new product is decidedly unique in that it may be used with evaporated milk as well as cream and its use as an agent for whipping cream that ‘stays whipped’ is said to be unsurpassed.” In addition, the article noted, “It has the advantage of having a sweet taste only, so there is no conflict with the most delicate flavors of the food in which it is used.” It was apparently a product that made whipped cream last longer. 

In 1941, after six years in the clothing business, Lapin traveled to Chicago, to see Mark Lipsky, his brother-in-law, who worked in the milk business. While there, he met Thom Saehlin, a salesman who selling Sta-Whip. They talked for a time, with Lapin quite intrigued about the product. Finally, Lapin decided to buy Saehlin out, taking everything, including the formula for Sta-Whip. 

Unfortunately, during World War II, whipped cream was rarely made as it usually required a minimum of 30% butterfat. War time restrictions prevented the production of cream over 19% butterfat, making it far more difficult, if not impossible, to make whipped cream. Sta-Whip though could be used instead of the butterfat, and was also much cheaper. Lapin concluded a deal with the Valley Farm Dairy to make the Sta-Whip, and then Lapin would sell it, with them splitting the profits.  

The Sta-Whip started selling well, and he even sold a franchise to make Sta-Whip. There were some negative issues though. Some legal restrictions arose and there were problems with the heat during the summer. Lapin tried to overcome these problems, and one of his experiments was to use a drug store gun to spray out the Sta-Whip. This idea obsessed Lapin, who decided to go the next step, to design a throwaway spray gun. 

In December 1947, he started approached the largest can manufacturers with the idea of creating canned, whipped cream, but they told him it was impossible. However, he eventually convinced Knapp-Monarch Co, St. Louis, an appliance manufacturer, to produce the item. “In due time, a special valve came forth which traps the gas that whips the cream inside the can and forces it our as you want it.” What was in the can? “The can you buy contains only cream of 30% butterfat content, the Redd-Wip stabilizer, some vanilla and so-called whipping cream gas.”

Thus, in 1948, Lapin formed a corporation, Reddi-Wip, Inc., with Mark Lipsky, each owning 50% of the stock, although they took on a third partner too, Lou Lang who contributed  $15,000 to the company. Lapin filed for a patent (pictured above) for his new dispensing container for "fluffed cream." And for a number of years, their whipped product would more often be referred to as "fluffed cream" rather than "whipped cream."

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat (MO), July 6, 1948, reported on the new product, canned whipped cream from Reddi-Wip, Inc., which would soon be available from licensed dairies. The whipped cream would last for two weeks, if refrigerated, making it convenient to use at any time. 

This might be the first newspaper advertisement for the new Reddi-Wip. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat (MO), July 22, 1948, printed an ad for Reddi-Wip, which noted it sold for 43 cents a can. Contrary to the prior article, the ad stated it stayed good only for one week, not two, in the refrigerator, and other articles around this time would repeat that it only lasted one week. 

There was a legal notice in The State (SC), November 30, 1948, where Aaron Lapin, on behalf of Redd-Wip, Inc, which was headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, applied for a trademark.

In Life Magazine, September 26, 1949, there was an ad for Reddi-Wip. The ad stated the cans were 7 ounces, and could provide almost a quart of whipped cream, which they considered to be "about 31 generous servings." The ad also stated Reddi-Wip was a "boon to busy housewives" and that "Men love the extra glamor that Reddi-Wip gives to plain desserts." There was also a warning that consumers should only get genuine Reddi-Wip, and not any of the imitators. 

In the course of three years, the Reddi-Wip business boomed and they had an annual income of $7 Million, producing about 40 million cans each year. They also had 52 licensed plants in the U.S. and Canada producing Redd-Wip with their formula, as well as employing about 750 people across the country. 

Lapin claimed that whipped cream consumption had doubled since Reddi-Wip first came on the market. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also stated “Even embittered competitors cannot deny that in three short years this upstart from St. Louis has become the king of sweet white fluff.” Canned whipped cream was a game-changer so it's only appropriate that National Whipped Cream Day takes place on Lapin's birthday. 

Making your own whipped cream isn't difficult but using a can of Reddi-Wip is so much easier, and there's no mixing bowl to later clean. In addition, who hasn't sprayed a can of whipped cream directly into their mouth? I have done so on multiple occasions, and probably will do it again in the future. Interestingly, Cool Whip is currently the most popular whipped dessert topping, and Reddi-Wip is now in second place. However, I'd much rather have Reddi-Wip than Cool Whip.  

What's your favorite dessert topped with whipped cream?

(Updated/revised from a prior post.)