Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Boston chef and restaurateur Jay Hajj and TV journalist Hank Phillippi Ryan join forces on Sunday, February 25 for the Champagne & Snowflakes Charity Brunch to raise money for the Chefs Table Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 that supports homeless veterans seeking careers in the culinary arts.

Guests will get a chance to meet both Hajj and Ryan while sipping champagne and enjoying an exclusive “mansion-style” brunch prepared by Endicott House executive chef Eddie Cerrato. The decadent brunch begins at 11 a.m. and takes place at the MIT Endicott House (80 Haven St., Dedham). Ryan will interview Hajj about his culinary journey and from boy in war-torn Lebanon to American chef, entrepreneur and Food Network regular today, as told in his recently published "Beirut to Boston" cookbook.

Hajj is best known as the chef-owner of South End casual dining landmark Mike’s City Diner. He’s also one of the partners and landlords behind Yvonne’s, the “supper club” in Downtown Crossing’s landmark Locke-Ober building, and other marquee restaurants around Boston.

Ryan’s is a familiar face to countless Bostonians as an investigative journalist for WHDH Channel 7. She’s also the award-winning author of 10 mystery novels. Guests will get the opportunity to learn more about those books, including her upcoming 2018 release, “Trust Me

Tickets for this culinary-forward fundraiser cost just $50 and can be purchased here on the Chef’s Table Foundation website.

2) CHOPPS American Bar and Grill is hosting a special fiesta in celebration of National Margarita Day today, February 22. In honor of the holiday, the CHOPPS teams welcome guests to sip on a variety of margaritas, enjoy special bites like tequila-infused doughnuts and taco specials, and enjoy live music starting at 6:30PM.

Guests can sample custom margaritas featuring Maestro Dobel Tequila, with a special lineup designed just for National Margarita Day. Margarita specials include the suave Black Diamond Margarita, made with fresh lime and agave served up in a black lava salt rimmed glass, and the spicy Smoked Pineapple Chipotle Margarita with Smoked Silver tequila and Bols Pineapple Chipotle Liqueur. Fruitier options are also available for those with a sweet tooth such as the Strawberry Fields and Mango Mania Margaritas, each including a sweet Bols Liqueur.

Executive Chef Steve Zimei will be offering taco specials to keep you fueled, including: Braised Short Rib (pickled red cabbage, jack cheese, tomatillo aioli), Tempura Fried Fish (shredded cabbage, carrot, pico de gallo, and lime), and Marinated Chicken (corn and black bean salsa, chili-lime, and chimichurri). Snack on complimentary Tequila-infused Doughnut Holes like the margarita glazed doughnut, the tequila lime doughnut, and tequila shot doughnut. Enjoy live music from David Corson starting at 6:30PM in the Great Room at CHOPPS.

3) Long known in this region for creative, farm-to-table American cuisine, The Old Inn On The Green will operate a pop-up restaurant under a classic summer tent at Jacob’s Pillow, the internationally acclaimed dance venue located in Becket, Massachusetts. The partnership with the restaurant was recently announced by Pamela Tatge, Director of Jacob’s Pillow.

The Old Inn On The Green is an 11-room inn built in the 1760s, which served as a stop on the Boston-to-Albany stagecoach route. Today, under the ownership of Peter Platt and Meredith Kennard, it boasts modern amenities for its overnight guests, and an open-to-the-public restaurant, with a deep vintage wine list and candlelit ambiance.

The Old Inn On The Green at The Pillow, as the pop-up will be called, will provide dinner and full bar service for up to 100 diners, during a 10-week season that runs from June 20 through August 26. Dinner will be served Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 PM. Sunday Brunch will be served from 11 AM to 2 PM. Executive Chef is Peter Platt of The Old Inn On The Green and the Chef de Cuisine is Matthew Sweitzer.

Typical plates:
* Duck Confit Baos (steamed buns) with Pickled Lemon-Blueberry Relish
* Lettuce Wrap with Shrimp, Carrots and Corn in mint-green pea pesto
* Falafel Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables
* Kale & Ricotta Dumplings with Corn Ragu
* Grilled Rib Eye with Onion Bordelais
* Mushroom Chicken Ballantine

Typical brunch items:
* Eggs Benedicts: Seafood, Beef, Vegetable, Smoked Salmon
* French Rolled Omelets: Ham/Artichoke, Asparagus/Chevre
* Crispy Trout Caesar
* Banana Bread Sandwich
* Baklava French Toast with honeyed apples
* Crepe Gateau with roasted fruit

Reservations are strongly suggested, and are available exclusively via

4) On Wednesday, March 14, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will present an evening with their very own Master of Wine, Sandy Block, as he moonlights in hosting a four-course pairings dinner that showcases a variety of matured wines and his personal favorites dating back to 1990.

A jack of all trades, in addition to serving as Legals’ Vice President of Beverage Operations Block also shares his 30+ years of knowledge within the wine industry as a contributing editor for media outlets and an instructor at Boston University. Block will put his acclaimed Master of Wine title to the test for this exclusive dining experience for guests to enjoy a selection of grapes carefully paired with a delectable four-plus-course dinner menu.

The menu will be presented as follows:
Smoked Salmon* Napoleon, Brioche
Curry Chicken Skewer, Masala-Orange Marmalade
Spicy Lobster Arancini
Schloss Schönborn Hochheimer Domdechaney Riesling Spätlese, Rheingau,1997
Sole Piccata (Garlic Ghee, Fragrant Jasmine Rice)
Domaine Gaston Huët “Clos du Bourg” Vouvray Demi-Sec, Loire Valley, 2007
Domaine Zind-Humbrecht “Gueberschwihr” Riesling, Alsace, 2001
Spinach-Wrapped Salmon (Mushroom Duxelles, Lemon Beurre Blanc)
Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru, Burgundy, 1999
Braised Venison Medallions (Herbed Fingerling Potatoes, Rainbow Chard)
Beringer “Private Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 1990
Château La Dominique, Grand Cru Classé Saint-Émilion, 2000
Triple Chocolate Mousse Parfait (Marshmallow, Chocolate Shavings)
Graham’s Vintage Port, 1994

COST: $135 per person, excludes tax & gratuity
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

5) Vialé in Central Square, Cambridge is enthused to announce the next event in their new, seasonal dinner series in collaboration with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA). The next CSCA Takeover at Vialé will be held on Monday, February 26, from 5pm-10pm. As with all of the dinners in the series, this dinner will pair Vialé chef/co-owner, Greg Reeves (CSCA graduate) and the Vialé team with a different CSCA student/chef. For this event, Chef Reeves will team with Rasul Ussaev, from the Professional Chef's Program, and Michael Nichols, from the Professional Pastry program, serving their own unique plates alongside Vialé's usual dinner menu.

Rasul Ussaev is currently pursuing the Professional Chef’s Program. Interestingly, cooking began as a childhood chore in which he would help prepare family dinners but has since evolved into real gastronomic passion. Rasul is highly inspired by Italian, American, and Fusion culinary influences. Travelling across the globe and visiting more than 20 countries exposed Rasul to many ideas of how to serve up more than just food, but also how to create true satisfaction in every bite. In parallel to the chef’s program, he is also a senior at UMASS Boston pursuing Bachelors in Supply Chain Management.

Michael Nichols is currently pursuing the Professional Pastry Program. Michael was born and raised in Houston, Texas, at the crossroads of BBQ, Tex-Mex, Southern, and Cajun cuisines. Growing up on a steady diet of smoked briskets, tacos al carbon, chicken fried steaks, gumbos, pecan pies, pralines, and chocolates, he nevertheless trained as an engineer like his dad. Mike moved up to the northeast to work in biotech, but was always happier cooking and baking for his family. One summer on a family vacation to Peru, amidst the mountain farms and open air markets, he decided that he should do what he loved for a living. He returned home and enrolled at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Mike lives in Newburyport, and plans to open a chocolate shop after graduation.

Make reservations for this fascinating CSCA Takeover at Vialé.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2015 Windvane Pinot Noir: A Carneros Charmer

Straddling the Sonoma and Napa wine regions, the Carneros AVA is well known as a cooler climate, an excellent area for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I've long enjoyed Pinot Noirs from the Carneros region, some of my favorite Pinots of California. Thus, I was curious when I learned of a new brand from this area, Windvane, producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Windvane, part of Freixenet USA, is largely the creation of winemaker Steven Urberg, who is also the winemaker for Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards (also located in the Carneros AVA). Urberg's vision for Windvane was inspired by his interest in the windiest sections of the vineyards, believing that wind greatly influenced the character of the grapes. He believes that "...the stress from intense gusts coupled with the steepest, rockiest and thinnest soils, allow for slower ripening, intense flavor development and high levels of acidity in the grapes."

I received a media sample of the 2015 Windvane Carneros Pinot Noir ($45), which is produced from 100% estate Pinot Noir from a variety of the windiest blocks in the westernmost section of their 335-acre estate. The 2015 vintage was challenging due to the weather conditions, leading to the harvest of only a small crop, but the grapes possessed "excellent concentration and intense character." Thus, only 1,300 cases of this wine were produced. The Pinot Noir was harvested at night to preserve their freshness an only free run juice was used for the wine. The wine was then aged for about nine months in French oak (46% new).

I opened the bottle to accompany a dinner of Chinese sausages (bought from J. Pace & Son in Saugus.) With a 14.5% ABV, the wine possesses a medium red color and an enticing aroma of red fruit with mild, underlying spice notes. On the palate, the complex wine presented delicious and intense flavors of red cherry and blackberry, enhanced by mild spice notes and plenty of acidity. Medium-bodied, the finish was fairly lengthy and satisfying, ending with a silky crispness. The acidity of the wine helped to balance the sweetness of the sausages, and its flavors worked well with the spices and flavors of the sausage.  

This Pinot Noir would have been excellent on its own too, though it would be a great accompaniment with many different dishes. It is an impressive wine, worth the splurge, and earns my recommendation.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Rant: Is Japanese Sake Too Cheap?

Is Japanese Sake too cheap?

That is a question recently addressed by an article in the Nikkei Asian Review and number of people in the Japanese Sake industry believe the answer is affirmative. They would like to see the price of Sake rise, priced more on a scale like wine, the price affected by elements such as the use of local, regional rice varieties. However, please note that they are largely concerned with the price of Sake within Japan, and not the prices overseas, such as in the U.S.

It is mentioned that foreign tourists visiting Japan are frequently shocked at the low prices of Sake, including even some of the higher quality Daiginjo Sakes. You can find an excellent Junmai Ginjo Sake for about 1,500 yen (roughly US$14), priced at the same level as ordinary table wine, making for a strange dichotomy. Far more time and effort, as well as higher-end ingredients, go into the production of the Sake. Why shouldn't it be priced higher then than some mass-produced wine made from lesser grapes?

A high quality Junmai Daiginjo can sell for only 5,000-6,000 yen (US$47-$56), which is comparatively a bargain compared to a similarly priced wine. In Japan, quality French wines can easily sell for 40,000-50,000 yen (US$376-$470). The price gap is quite expansive. There are some exceptions, with a newly added "Super Premium" category in Sake competition, including Sakes priced at 10,000 yen or higher.

Once Sake is exported to the U.S., the price rises, but it still remains more affordable than numerous premium wines. In the U.S., it is very uncommon to find Sake priced over $150 at a retail store, though you will find some on high-end restaurant lists. You'll find a myriad of wines priced over $150. In general, Sake is fairly priced based on production costs. Fortunately, and unlike the wine industry, critic ratings rarely boost the price of Sake. Sake possesses excellent value and you usually get your money's worth.

If the Japanese Sake industry chooses to raise their prices, that would likely raise the priced of Sake exports as well. Thus, U.S. consumers would see higher prices at their local wine shops and restaurants. I understand and empathize with the rationale for Japanese breweries to want to see higher prices for their products within Japan. As a consumer though, I'd prefer to keep Sake prices in the U.S. at their present levels. However, I would be willing to pay a moderate increase if it would help the Japanese Sake industry.

When compared to wine, Sake is relatively inexpensive, and a price increase would simply move Sake closer to wine prices. We are discussing primarily premium Sake, the top 25% of production, and not futsu-shu, the often mass produced, lower quality Sake. Sake is a wonderfully diverse and delicious alcoholic beverage, one of complexity and quality. Production can be quite laborious and time-consuming, especially if production is more old-style in nature. The ingredients are high-quality,  from the water to the rice. Consumers should be willing to pay a fair price for a bottle of quality Sake, even if the price must be raised a bit.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Join Davio’s Foxborough on Monday, March 5, at 6:30pm, for a five-course wine dinner hosted by Michele Pasqua of Italy’s iconic Marco Felluga Estate. Executive Chef Paul King will prepare dishes including the Seared Duck Breast, Porcini Risotto, Shaved Truffle and Crispy Pork Belly, Goat Cheese Polenta, Pear Mostarda to compliment the wine as you learn all about the rich history of Marco Felluga.

Michele Pasqua is the Managing Director of Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore. Founded in 1956, the Marco Felluga estate has long been regarded as one of the flagship wineries of Friuli, a region known for producing some of Italy’s finest white wines. Since joining the company in 2011, Pasqua holds responsibilities in all aspects of both wineries, especially in overseeing the major export markets.

Seared Scallop, Crispy Prosciutto
Smoked Gouda, Chorizo Arancini
Fig, Goat Cheese Flatbread
2015 Marco Felluga “Just Molamatta”
Crispy Pork Belly, Goat Cheese Polenta, Pear Mostarda
2015 Marco Felluga “Mongris” Pinot Grigio
Seared Duck Breast, Porcini Risotto, Shaved Truffle
2011 Russiz Superiore Refosco
Prime Brandt Beef New York Sirloin, Sweet Potato Tots, Broccoli Rabe, Maple Glaze
2014 Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc
Apple Crostata, Caramel Cashew Ice Cream, Maple Drizzle
2015 Russiz Superiore Sauvignon Blanc

The menu will be available for dinner on Monday, March 5th only for $95 per guest (excluding tax & gratuity).
To purchase tickets please visit

2) SRV Co-Executive Chefs Michael Lombardi & Kevin O’Donnell introduce monthly Pasta Making Classes. Learn to make pasta with the pros followed by a 3-course lunch, beginning Sunday, February 25, from 11am-2pm. Classes will continue to be held the last Sunday of the month and can be booked 28 days in advance.

Each experience will feature a welcome glass of sparkling wine, interactive chef demo led by Lombardi and O’Donnell, passed cicchetti offerings and a three course lunch in the private dining room including wine pairings. Guests will leave with their homemade pasta to enjoy at home.

For a more specific breakdown of the event flow and menu, please see below:
11:00-11:15: guests arrival; sparkling wine and water offered
11:15-12:30: Chefs demo 3 pastas that each guest will have opportunity to make (pasta making will continue on an on-going basis as guests learn and mingle); 3 passed cicchetti will be served during this time.
12:30: guests are invited to be seated in PDR for lunch, including Salad, 3 Pastas, Dessert, and Wine Pairings.

COST: $150.00 per person inclusive of tax and gratuity. All tickets are nonrefundable and can be purchased 28 days in advance.
To reserve, please email or call the restaurant directly at 617-536-9500. A credit card is required for taking reservations.

3) On Tuesday, February 27, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will host a four-plus-course wine dinner featuring selections from Knights Bridge Winery, a distinguished winery that produces world-class Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from its 100-acre site in the eastern hills of Knights Valley (just north of the Napa Valley), a premier source of grapes for fine wines and an area known for its mineral-rich soils and the legendary quality of fruits it puts out.

Founded in 2006 by a close circle of friends who celebrate a shared passion for wine and food, a love of farming and respect for nature, Knights Bridge Winery owners Jim Bailey, Tom Costin and Essel Bailey have created this unique place where their families and friends can gather.

Legal Harborside will team up with winery’s Boston-based co-founder Jim Bailey to host the dinner. The menu will be presented as follows:

Crab Arancini, Calabrian Chile Aioli
Shrimp Laksa, Crispy Bean Thread
Bolognese Tortellino, Cured Tomato Fondue
Knights Bridge “Pont de Chevalier” Sauvignon Blanc, Knights Valley, 2014
Pan-seared Mahi Mahi (green curry, bunashimeji mushrooms, japanese eggplant)
Knights Bridge “Pont de Chevalier” Chardonnay, Knights Valley, 2014
Lobster Thermidor (haricots verts, hedgehog mushrooms, gruyère crisp)
Knights Bridge “West Block” Chardonnay, Knights Valley, 2015
Herb-rubbed Lamb* Rack (saffron couscous, black cherry chutney, baby artichokes)
Knights Bridge “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley, 2014
Aged Cheddar, Comté, Brillat-Savari
Knights Bridge “To Kalon” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2013

COST: $135 per person, excludes tax and gratuity
Reservation required by calling 617-477-2900

4) The North End’s il Molo will join the Chinese New Year festivities by offering a selection of Chinese-inspired dishes from February 16 - February 23, from 4pm-11pm. The specials will include a Crispy Black Bass entrée (tossed and seared in a sizzling garlic lime sauce - $31), as well as some appetizer options including Chinese Short Rip Dumplings (short rib, ginger, soy, star anise served with a black bean & orange dipping sauce - $13), Shrimp & Pork Spring Rolls (shredded cabbage, water chestnuts, shrimp, pork, dried shitaki mushroom served with sweet chili dipping sauce - $12) and Pan-fried Scallion Cilantro Pancakes (served with soy miso dipping sauce - $12). Off il Molo’s regular dinner menu, the Lobster & Crab Rangoons are a restaurant favorite and are served daily with a zesty dipping sauce.

From the bar, guests can thrill their taste buds with two specialty craft cocktails created by beverage director Luke Collier for the Year of the Dog celebrations: a traditional Mai Tai and a Lychee Martini.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Momi Nomni Omakase Duet: Chef Chung & Chef Iwakura

Have you seen the term "Omakase" on a menu at a Japanese restaurant? The word derives from a Japanese word meaning "entrust" and, in essence, it means you are leaving the decisions of your dinner to the chef. The chef will present you with their choice of a multi-course meal, using the opportunity to impress you with their skill and creativity. It involves an element of trust, or at least an adventurous spirit.   

When I learned of an Omakase Duet at Momi Nomni with Chef/Owner Chris Chung and Chef Youji Iwakura, it was a no-brainer to attend this special dinner. These are both chefs in which I have complete faith in their culinary skills. I was sure that their Omakase would impress and delight me, and I also knew that my food friend Adam Japko would appreciate it as well.

Momi Nomni, which has been open for only about four months, is owned by Chef Chris Chung and is intended to be a casual izakaya. Located in Inman Square in Cambridge, it is a small restaurant, with about 30 seats, but that lends a sense of intimacy. I hadn't yet dined there so this was my first experience, though it definitely won't be my last. Chef Youji Iwakura, who has been a chef at Snappy Ramen, will be opening his own restaurant, Kamakura, in the near future, which will offer contemporary Kaiseki. I've previously experienced the cuisine of both of these chefs, and they are certainly highly skilled, the type of chefs you can always trust to present you a delicious meal.

I didn't take many notes at this dinner, choosing simply to enjoy the various dishes so this isn't a complete review of the restaurant. It is more a snapshot of the possibilities at the restaurant, as well as  a glimpse of the exceptional culinary skills of the chefs. I definitely recommend you visit Momi Nonmi and I'm sure Chef Chung won't let you down.

Sake is important to Chef Chung so there is a Sake sommelier, Stephen Connolly, at Momi Nonmi. Stephen certainly possesses a great passion for Sake and is a very good ambassador for it at the restaurant. We ordered a bottle of Yuho "Rhythm of the Centuries" Yama-oroshi Junmai Sake to accompany the Omakase, figuring this umami-rich Sake would pair well with the various courses. It worked very well, and was also delicious all on its own. Stephen also provided us tastes of a few other Sakes, including an intriguing Hiya-oroshi. If you know little about Sake, let Stephen lead you through their Sake list, providing you pairings for your meal.

Our nine-course Omakase began with Tofu Creme, home-made tofu with Maine uni, bekko-an (a type of sweet sauce), and pickled seaweed. It may not look like much, but this was an impressive beginning to our dinner. The blend of flavors was absolutely delicious, with elements of sweet and salty, with a fine creamy texture. It was like a sweet custard kissed by the ocean. I could have easily devoured a dozen of these dishes and been a very happy person.

This beautifully presented dish was Avocado, with uni senbei (the cracker), fish roe, and watercress. You could eat this dish in any way you desired, and it was savory, creamy, earthy, and briny, though with different elements than the first dish. The senbei added a nice textural element, as well as making for a nice delivery system for the rest of the dish.

Next up was an Aoyagi Sushi Duo, with Kamakura shoyu, licorice/miso, and scallions. Aoyagi is Surf Clam, and it seemed very fresh with an excellent texture as well as an intriguing taste. One piece was prepared as Nigiri while the other had a slight sear and was atop scallions. Another compelling dish, sure to please any sushi lover.

This course was Tuna, with Aoyagi clam veloute, curry, and fennel, presented in a large clam shell. The tuna was silky, its flavors enhanced by the creamy veloute and curry spice. There were plenty of layers to these flavors and everything was well balanced and delicious.

The Sashimi Millefeuille was prepared with Amadai (tile fish), turnip, kumquat, and asiago. Beautifully presented, it also possessed complex and delectable flavors, with some bitterness and sweetness.

The next course was Winter Vegetables (and I didn't get a photo), with an Amadai broth, black garlic, and truffle. This dish was also complex, with layers of compelling flavors, and bursts of umami and hints of sweetness, complementing the earthy veggies.

The Monkfish Cheeks, with daikon, walnut, and yuzu, were tender and flavorful, enhanced by the citrus of the yuzu. You don't find monkfish cheeks often so this was a special treat. It makes me wonder why more restaurants don't serve them.

Maybe the most decadent dish of the evening was the Monkfish Onigiri, with foie gras, chocolate kabayaki, and persimmon. Pure hedonistic pleasure from this superbly executed dish. Every element was prepared perfectly, and the combination worked so well.

The final course, a dessert, was the Mizu Shingen Mochi, with pomegranate, yuzu, and toasted soybean. On the right side of the picture, what looks like a pool of jelly, is a "water cake." This dessert is popular in Japan though this is the first time I've seen it in the Boston area. To eat this dish, you swipe your spoon from either side of the plater to the other, gathering all three elements together into one tasty treat.

Many kudos to Chefs Chung and Iwakura for creating such a delicious, compelling, creative and well-crafted Omakase Duet. We enjoyed every dish and our trust in the chefs was well warranted. Get yourself to Momi Nonmi and enjoy Chef Chung's cuisine. And keep an eye out for Chef Iwakura's new restaurant, Kamakura, which will open in the near future.