Monday, August 21, 2017

Rant: After Labor Day, Expand Your Palate

Two weeks from today will be Labor Day, which many see as the end of summer although autumn won't officially arrive for a few weeks more.

Besides the change in the seasons, Labor Day is also the unofficial start of wine tasting season. From September to December, most wine stores will hold large-scale wine events, some where you can taste more than fifty wines. Even better is that most of those events will be free, or they will charge only a nominal fee. This is your opportunity to taste many dozens of wines, and you should seize the chance to do so. As I've mentioned many times before, the best way to learn about wine is to taste it, and taste even more.

The best way to learn through tasting is to expand your palate, to taste plenty of unfamiliar wines, to experience different grapes and to sample wines from new regions. You could easily attend these events and drink only wines you know but why do that? It won't teach you anything. It won't provide you a new experience. You learn something from what is new. And what you learn might also bring you much joy.

Sure, you probably won't like everything new you taste but that shouldn't be an issue. You are only sampling the wines, taking a sip or two, and it is probably for free. If you dislike a wine, if might help you understand what wines you will enjoy. And amidst all that tasting, you'll probably find a number of other wines that you do like, and may even find a new favorite. Take the risk, expand your palate and taste as many different wines as you can.  

And a little more advice. When you attend these tastings, take some notes so you remember which wines you liked. Don't rely on your memory alone because after tasting a couple dizen wines, you probably won't remember your favorite wine the day after. At the very least, use your smart phone to take a photo of the label. That is the easiest way to remember the wines that impressed you.

You'll thank me later for helping you expand your palate.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

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) Viale, Cambridge’s modern-Italian restaurant, is introducing a signature hand-made pasta Brunch Menu, elevating the typical avocado toast with innovative pasta options. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Greg Reeves is looking to give his guests an authentic Italian feel while enjoying the popular weekend meal, using fresh, house-made pasta options and seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

People have a stigma that pasta has to be filling or too heavy for certain meals, and when I was creating the menu for our brunch options, my main goal was to prove that wrong. You most certainly can incorporate a fresh, hand-made pasta option into a classic brunch dish, and I think guests will try these dishes and stop carb-shaming,” said Chef Reeves.

Viale’s Pasta Brunch Menu includes:
Chocolate Fettucini (peanut butter, coconut, and brown butter puffed rice) $12
Duck Egg Carbonara (bucatini, pancetta, and a poached duck egg) $17
Ricotta Cavatelli (chanterelles, Georgia peas, and basil pesto) $16
Potato Gnocchi (wild boar bolognese, grana, rosemary) $17

Still seeking adventure without the pasta? Enjoy unique twists on brunch staples such as Eggs Benedict with North Country bacon, egg, ricotta, and grana ($13), Crispy Duck & Buckwheat Crespelle with fried eggs, and roasted corn ($14), and the Brunch Burger with North Country bacon, fried egg, provolone, Russian dressing, and French fries.

Let the pasta balance out one of Viale’s hand-crafted cocktails like Prosecco Correcto with grappa di moscato, muscat grape shrub, grapefruit, prosecco, lavender ($12), School’s Out with earl grey montenegro, gin, orchard apricot, peach puree, lemon, becherovka ($12), and Victim of Venus with blueberry infused cocchi rosa, vodka, amaretto, lemon, creme de violette ($12).

To make a reservation, please call (617) 576-1900.

2) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson and fellow chef friends will be joining forces to pay homage to one of Cambridge’s culinary legends, Julia Child. On Thursday, August 24th, at 6:30 p.m., Puritan & Co.’s Will Gilson alongside other local chefs will celebrate the life and culinary adventures of one of the culinary world’s greatest heroes, Julia Child, with a family-style menu inspired by her classic recipes.

Each chef will prepare one course inspired by his or her favorite Julia Child recipe- offering guests a unique, collaborative dining experience. Contributing to the evening’s meal will be Leo Asaro of Tico, Dave Bazirgan of Bambara, Kevin O'Donnell of SRV, Shaun Velez of Deuxave, and Ellie Wallock, Puritan & Co.

This dinner will be seated in a communal style at larger tables with each dish served individually. Carafes of wine on each table will be kept full for all to share with Puritan and Co.’s full wine and cocktail list available for purchase.

Tickets cost $95 and can be purchased at

3) On Sunday, August 20th, Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca will transport guests to their Nonna’s kitchen for a classic Italian Sunday Supper. The multi-course meal will cost $40 per person with an additional wine pairing available for $20. A 5 and 7 p.m. seating are available and walk-ins/reservations will be accepted.

The menu will include:
1st course:
Tomato Bruschetta (Mozzarella di Bufala with Prosciutto di Parma)
2nd course:
Zucchini alla Parmigiana (Escarole and Beans)
3rd course:
Crema al Mascarpone with Frutta di Bosco

To make reservations, please contact (617) 421-4466

4) Chef/Owner Michael Schlow and the Tico Boston team invite guests to a unique experience with a choice between two featured Casamigos cocktails paired with light bites and mingling. On Tuesday, September 12th, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Tico will be hosting a unique experience featuring Casamigos Tequila cocktails, light bites, and sit-down, family-style dinner.

The evening will include a welcome reception featuring passed appetizers and a Casamigos cocktail; followed by an educational component; and will finish with a delicious family-style dinner. The Casamigos brand ambassador will share the history of tequila. 1oz pours of Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo will be sampled and sipped.

After the educational component a family style dinner will be served highlighting guests favorite menu items of the moment. The event is limited to 25 guests to keep everyone involved and attended to during the educational aspect.

Tickets to the 21+ event cost $55 (this does not include taxes, gratuity, or additional beverages) and can be purchased via the Eventbrite at

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rant: Food/Drink Writers of Color

"So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you'd like. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
--American History X

With the tragic events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia, the hate that is spewing from ignorant racists, the violence that has led to death and numerous injuries, we need to stand united against the forces that seek to divide our country. We need to embrace diversity, opening our minds to new ideas, and to eliminate our biases and prejudices. Embracing diversity will only make us better human beings. And don't we all want to be better people?

As a tiny contribution to this issue, I want to once again showcase local people of color who blog/write about food & drink. I previously highlighted women who blog about wine, and it has been an extremely popular post. It helped to bring to the forefront all the valuable contributions and unique voices of these bloggers. Now, I want to expand the scope and highlight the unique viewpoints from people of color as well. I have done this before but I think on light of recent events, it would benefit us all to post about it again.

I've been blogging about food and drink in the Boston area for almost twelve years, and the vast majority of bloggers I've seen at local events have been white. I've spoken about this before, stating we need to find ways to attract more people of color to these events. An initial step would be to identify those people of color who blog, to showcase their talents. This could be a motivation for other people of color to get involved and start blogging too. It will also present blogs with different voices, a way for all of us to expand our own experience and knowledge.

The following is an initial list of people of color, living in Massachusetts, who blog/write about food and/or drink. This is by no means a comprehensive list but provides a starting foundation. Check out these food & drink blogs and I am sure you will like what you find. If you are or know of any other local people of color with food & drink blogs that are not on this list, please have them send me their info, including their name, URL and a brief description of their blog, and I will add them to the list.

Embrace diversity!

Bianca of Confessions Of A Chocoholic

Chanie of Life By Zen: Chanie shares her adventures and experience with delicious foods, drinks especially great wines, and life in Boston. She cooks and is always testing new recipes or looking for fun foods but prefer to talk about her food adventures and dining experiences.

D. of A Little Bit About A Lot Of Things: This is a food and lifestyle blog. D has been been writing since 2010 and her photos have appeared in Boston Magazine, Boston Common, Thrillist, BostInno and others.

Fiona of Gourmet Pigs; Gourmet Pigs was started in Los Angeles in 2007 and Fiona moved to Boston in 2014. The blog reviews restaurants, bars, and events in the two cities and wherever she travels to around the globe.

Georgina of Notes On Lifestyle By Georgina

Jacqueline of Culinary Consulting

Jen of Tiny Urban Kitchen

Korsha of Korsha Wilson

Kristina of Appetite For Instruction

Lisa of Anali's Next Amendment: Lisa writes about life, food and current events. She’s been blogging since 2006 and is a freelance writer and attorney. She regularly writes for LegalZoom and manages Free Yoga Boston. She’s also an organizer and contributing editor at Kwanzaa Culinarians, where recipes and food stories from the African Diaspora are shared.

Markeya of Traveling Foodie In 4" Stiletttos

Tiffany of The Fab Tiffany is the Boston Editor of The Fab Empire, a lifestyle blog that caters to up and coming urban professional featuring notable people, events, eateries, nightlife and entertainment throughout the country.

Vanessa of Without A Measuring Cup

Yaimani & Yadira of The Two Riveras; We write with simple honesty on food, travel, sisterhood, current obsessions and the simple joys of life. Follow us as we share photos, stories and pieces of our adventures from Boston and beyond.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

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) A Jack's Abby Beer Social will be held on Tuesday, August 15, from 7pm-9pm, at Tavolo Ristorante. They will be showcasing five beers from Jack's Abby. Tickets get you a Jack's Abby beer glass and small pours of each beer, each served with a tasty pairing from the Tavolo kitchen. At the end they'll give you a full pint of whichever beer was your favorite. The event starts at 7 pm but please arrive a few minutes early to check in and get comfortable.

Limited space available so sign up soon!

Tickets are $40 and available through Eventbrite

2) Today is National S'Mores Day so let me provide you a couple ways to celebrate. First, you can get your fix at TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel. They are offering S’mores in a Crock ($9), a "warm, indulgent deconstructed s’mores bowl topped with vanilla ice cream." It is made with Graham crackers, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, and vanilla ice cream. Enjoy it in front of one of the fireplaces at TAMO or outside on TAMO Terrace.

3) Another option to celebrate National S'Mores Day is at ArtBar Cambridge. They have a special Fire Pit Menu served all summer by the beautiful fire pits overlooking the Charles River. They offer creative spins on campfire favorites, served in cast iron skillets, and are meant for sharing. For dessert, they offer their S’mores Skillet ($15) with home-made marshmallow, chocolate ganache and salted bourbon caramel drizzle. I've had this before and it is a decadent and delectable dish. Highly recommended!

The rest of the Fire Pit Menu:
3 Meat Chili Nachos ($13)-pickled jalapeno, shredded cheese
Crab Rangoon Dip ($15)-fried wontons
Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($13)-pita chips
Polenta Fries ($15)-chipotle aioli

Fire Pit reservations are recommended, so please call 617-806-4200

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cinnamon Rolls & A Mother's Love

Do you have a favorite recipe that your mother makes, something you've enjoyed your entire life and which still brings a smile to your face and gives you a happy belly?

Yesterday, my Monday morning was brightened by my mother (pictured above) baking one of my favorite foods, Cinnamon Rolls. I went over to her house and watched her whip up a few batches of cinnamon rolls, and I was able to savor them still hot out of the oven. Sheer bliss!

When my mother was 14 years old, and in the Girl Scouts, she learned a recipe for cinnamon rolls and she has been making them throughout her life. The recipe hasn't changed except sometimes she also makes an icing for them. As a child, I loved these cinnamon rolls and my love for them hasn't diminished one iota. They still make me so very happy. Besides being delicious (who doesn't love cinnamon?), they also are a sign of my mother's love. Plus, there is a bit of nostalgia there, a hearkening back to my childhood. They are a perfect comfort food, which I would eat year round. A simple item but with so much complexity attached to them.

Do you have a similar food or dish in your life, something your mother created, and still does, something indicative of her love?

These are the cinnamon rolls, ready to be placed into the oven.

And these are the cinnamon rolls, ready to eat. It takes much discipline not to devour the entire plate.

Let me share my mother's recipe for Cinnamon Rolls, so you can feed your belly and heart.

2 1/3 cup of Bisquick
2/3 cup of water
Stick of butter

Mix together the Bisquick and water with a fork until it forms a dough. Then spread a flat surface with some Bisquick as you might with flour. Roll out the dough into a large square.

Spread a thin coat of melted butter over the spread-out dough. Then mix cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle it over the dough. Roll the dough like a jelly roll and then slice the roll into pieces about three to four inches wide.

Place the pieces on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minuutes, until brown. Enjoy them while they are still hot.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rant: Drink Holidays & World Baijiu Day

There is National Chardonnay Day and National Cabernet Sauvignon Day. There are also Wine Days celebrating Merlot, Moscato and Champagne. Plus, there are Drink Days celebrating everything from Rum to Egg Nog, Margaritas to Mai Tais. The basic idea behind such days is to promote a grape, wine, beer, spirit or cocktail, and savvy marketers take the opportunity to highlight and push their products. However, do we really need all of these wine/drink holidays?

For the more popular choices, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, I don't think we especially need a special day to showcase these grapes. They are already hugely popular and there are many other grapes more worthy of attention, grapes which are less popular or less known. There are plenty of under appreciated grapes and wines, such as Assyrtiko, Rkatsiteli, or Sherry, which would benefit much more from their own special day. They need the publicity, to boost their sales and recognition. There are other alcohols worthy of more attention to, from Mezcal to Sake.

I would much rather see days celebrating the drink underdogs, helping to gain them recognition and new fans. I want people to broaden their palates, and taste something new for them. They need to be enticed to step out of their comfort zone. For example, Sake is still vastly under appreciated in the U.S. so having a day that celebrates and promotes it makes sense. Did you know International Sake Day has existed since 1978? That makes it far older than most, if not all, of the other wine and drink holidays.

This Wednesday, August 9, is World Baijiu Day, a holiday created by Jim Boyce, who runs the nightlife blog Beijing Boyce and wine blog Grape Wall of ChinaThe intent of the day is to raise awareness of Baijiu, to highlight its wonders beyond the borders of China. Even though Baijiu is the most popular spirit in the world, most Americans know little, if anything about it. As I've said before, Baijiu seems to be the Durian fruit of the spirits world, both having a reputation for funkiness which turns off some people, while others become fervent fans. It is a compelling beverage and I strongly encourage everyone to seek it out and sample some of its wonders.

When is the last time you saw a Boston-area writer pen an article about Baijiu? It is a rarity, indicating that more attention needs to be paid to this spirit. Not enough people are writing and talking about this unique beverage, despite its fascinating history, production methods, and customs. We need to change this and World Baijiu Day can help spread the word, and maybe entice more writers to talk about Baijiu.

Last year, I wrote seven articles about Baijiu, covering a diverse selection of topics, from Baijiu reviews to an detailed explanation of its production methods. This is a great place to start your education about Baijiu.  

Baijiu: The Durian Fruit Of The Spirits World (Part 1)
Baijiu: Its Unique Production Process (Part 2)
Baijiu: Drinking Etiquette & Some Reviews (Part 3)
Baijiu: Cocktails, Boston & World Baijiu Day (Part 4)
Baijiu: Food Pairings (Part 5)
Vinn Bajiu: Made in Portland
Baijiu: The Essential Guide To Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus

In celebration of World Baijiu Day, there will be events held all over the world, from Beijing to Liverpool, Stockholm to Los Angeles. In the Boston area, there is a single restaurant celebrating this holiday: Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, a new restaurant in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Sumiao carries five different Baijiu, including three by the bottle, Maotai ($288), Wuliangye ($188) and Luhzou Laojiao ($118), and two by the glass, Hong Kong ($11) and Jiannanchun ($16).

In addition, they have four Baijiu cocktails ($14 each), including: Schrodinger’s Coupe with Hong Kong, curaco, grapefruit, lime and plum bitters; Ice Cold Fusion with Mianzhu Daqu, cognac, triple sec and lemon; Perpetual Motion with Mianzhu Daqu, blood orange, lime, elderflower liqueur and mint; and, Pyroclastic Punch with Hong Kong, Fruitlab hibiscus liqueur, passionfruit cordial and lemon. Check out my prior post about Sumiao, with my thoughts on all four of these delicious cocktails.

Baijiu is also becoming more readily available at liquor shops in the U.S., though previously you might not have even realized it existed. Baijiu may be hugely popular in Asia but it needs much greater exposure in the rest of the world, including in the U.S. It is a unique and delicious spirit and well worth seeking out. This is a Drink Day that I wholeheartedly support and hope that everyone else takes this opportunity to acquaint themselves with Baijiu. Stop by the new Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, experience some of their tasty Hunanese cuisine, and have a Baijiu cocktail. I plan on stopping there at lunch time for a Baijiu cocktail. Will I see you there?

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

Thursday, August 3, 2017

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) Diane Kochilas, award-winning cookbook author, television personality, consulting chef, teacher, and one of the world's foremost authorities on Greek cuisine, will launch her delectable cooking program this October - My Greek Table With Diane Kochilas.

Premiering October 4 on public television stations across the country (check local listings) with 13 episodes, the series takes viewers to the source, as Diane introduces the stunning vistas, fabulous food, easy, nutritious recipes, and the unmatched hospitality Greece is known for worldwide.

My Greek Table With Diane Kochilas is more than a travel-cooking show. The series is a thorough exploration of the original Greek-Mediterranean Diet, shot on location throughout Greece in places such as Crete, Santorini, Ikaria, Lesvos, Thessaly, Macedonia, the Peloponnese, and Athens, as well as in a beautiful kitchen in Athens.

Diane delves into the breadth and variety of Greek cuisine, with regional specialties, an array of delicious vegetable and bean dishes, healthy desserts, and, yes, those iconic classics, too, from Greek salad to souvlaki! There will also be an in-depth look at the key ingredients of the Greek-Mediterranean Diet: extra virgin Greek olive oil, real Greek feta and Greek yogurt, wild herbs and healing herbal teas, whole grain breads and rusks, greens and vegetables, fish, honey, wine and more. Everything Diane showcases in My Greek Table is accessible to her American audience.

"Greek cuisine is healthy, delicious and extremely varied. It goes way beyond baklava and gyros," says Kochilas, a New York native who now resides in Athens. "With My Greek Table, I want to reveal a country and a culinary point of view that feeds my soul and has shaped me into the person and chef that I am today."

2) On Thursday, August 10, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Michele Chiarlo’s extensive portfolio of Piedmont wines. A Piedmont staple, Michele Chiarlo and his family have been making wine in the region since 1956. With estates in the finest appellations of Piedmont, the Chiarlos produce fine Italian wine upholding the time-honored tenets of tradition, discipline, sustainability, passion and care. Cultivating over 110 hectares of vineyards across the Piedmont landscape, Michele now works alongside his two sons, Stefano and Alberto, to ensure that the rigorous quality expected of Chiarlo wines is properly maintained, as they expand their operations across the Italian countryside. With great respect for the terroirs and vines that make the tradition of Italian wine possible, the Chiarlos continue to make quality, artisanal wine firmly rooted in the traditions and history of the Piedmont region, distinguishing the family as one of Piedmont’s most honored winemakers.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Michele Chiarlo’s North American brand ambassador, Adam Verona, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Chiarlo family’s collection of Piedmont wines. The menu will be presented as follows:

Salmon* Tartare, Jalapeño Emulsion, Jicama Sticks
Octopus, Mediterranean Olives, Preserved Lemon, Grilled Crostini
Oysters* on the Half Shell, Caviar*, Sake Yuzu Vinaigrette, Lemon Drops
Michele Chiarlo “Le Marne” Gavi, 2015
Pan-Seared Halibut Cheeks (crispy pancetta, potato gnocchi, roasted tomato sauce)
Michele Chiarlo “Le Orme” Barbera d’Asti, 2014
Michele Chiarlo “La Court” Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Nizza, 2013
Braised Cornish Hen (wild mushroom ravioli, rainbow chard, truffle shavings)
Michele Chiarlo “Il Principe” Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe, 2014
Michele Chiarlo “Reyna” Barbaresco, 2014
Bone-In Ribeye “Bistecca Fiorentina” (roasted yukon gold potatoes, heirloom tomato salad)
Michele Chiarlo “Tortoniano” Barolo, 2011
Michele Chiarlo “Cerequio” Barolo, 2013
Key Lime Pie (zabaglione sauce, whipped cream rosette)
Michele Chiarlo “Nivole” Moscato d’Asti, 2016

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

3) TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel is offering three striped bass specials that will satisfy your cravings in the best possible way: Striped Bass Kabobs ($14), Striped Bass with Spicy Gazpacho, new potatoes & bacon ($30) and Beet-Cured Striped Bass, with tomatoes & watermelon. These specials will be offering in addition to the regular menu every day from 11:30am – midnight through the end of August.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai Sake: Earth & Umami

I often love the Kimoto/Yamahai styles of Sake, which can taste earthy with lots of umami and higher acidity. Because of their high level of acidity and umami, they can pair well with many different foods. Kimoto was the original method of production, basically where large oar-like poles, referred to as yamaoroshi, were used to stir the moto, the yeast starter. For hundreds of years, this process was conducted in Sake breweries all across Japan. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century, did someone realize that this laborious process was completely unnecessary.

In 1909, Professor Kinichiro Kagi, at the National Institute for Brewing Studies, realized that the use of the oar-like poles to mix the moto wasn’t necessary. The moto could be left on its own to complete the process, although a couple adjustments were required, including adding some more water and raising the temperature a bit. Yamahai is short hand for "yamaoroshi haishi moto," which roughly translates as "creating the moto without the use of oar-like poles."

To hone this new method, Professor Kagi conducted some experiments at the Suehiro Sake Brewery, located in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture. Once Professor Kagi left the brewery, the next Toji working at Suehiro decided not to use the Yamahai process. Eventually though, the brewery would revive this method, using it for many of their premium Sakes.

As an aside, a few years after the discovery of the Yamahai process, brewers realized there was an even easier method. If they added lactic acid to the moto, they could cut the required time in half and it was also a much less risky method. This became known as the Sokujo method and is now the most commonly used method, though some breweries still make at least some of their Sake with either the Kimoto or Yamahai methods.

The Suehiro Brewery was founded, in 1850, by Inosuke, from the Shinjo family, which was a Sake supplier for the Lord of Aizu, Hoshina Masayuki. Inosuke eventually went out on his own, founding Suehiro, and it has been a family business for eight generations, becoming one of the largest Sake producers in the Tohoku Region.

The Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai ($26.99/720ml) is produced from Gohyakumangoku rice, which has been polished down to 60% (which technically would make it a Ginjo). It has a Sake Meter Value of +1, so it is basically neutral with a 15.5% ABV. This seems to be a very typical Yamahai Sake, with delicious earthy notes, high acidity and plenty of umami. It is easy drinking, smooth, and complex with a hint of citrus, smoke, and sweetness. Simply a delicious Sake, which will pair well with many different foods, from mushroom risotto to a grilled steak. It went well with our dinner of a stir-fry shrimp and noodle dish. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sparkling Muscadet: Oysters, Curry & A Tuna Melt

Muscadet & Oysters. It's almost a cliche wine pairing but there is also much truth to be found. Muscadet is a white wine, produced at the western end of the Loire Valley, near the city of Nantes, in the Pays de la Loire region. With its proximity to the sea, briny oysters are readily available in this region, and they commonly pair very well with the local Muscadet. However, Muscadet is versatile, pairing well with far more than just oysters.

The name “Muscadet” refers to common characteristic of the wine, which in French is “vin qui a un gout musqué,” basically translated as “wine with a musk-like taste.” Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which was probably initially planted in the 1600s, if not earlier, and was imported from the Burgundy region. Burgundy chose to uproot many of their own Melon de Bourgogne vineyards and today only a tiny portion remains. Melon didn't begin to attain dominance in the Loire until soon after 1709. What happened was that there was an extremely terrible freeze in 1709, destroying many of the other vines, but Dutch traders found that the Melon de Bourgogne was very hardy and encouraged massive plantings.

Melon de Bourgogne is a relatively neutral grape, similar in that respect to Palomino, the famous grape used to produce Sherry. French winemakers discovered ways to transform the Melon into compelling wines. One of the most important techniques is sur lie aging, where the wine stays in contact with the lees after fermentation. Other techniques include oak barrel fermentation, bâtonnage (stirring the lees),and extended maceration.

There are four main appellations of the Muscadet region: the generic AOC Muscadet (which covers the entire region); Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine (which produces about 80% of the region's wine); the Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire; and the Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu. Muscadet is the most commonly produced wine in the Loire region. Muscadet wine is commonly light, dry, and may have a slight effervescence, which in the region is referred to as "pearls of youth." The flavors can include green apple, a certain yeastiness or even a touch of saltiness (like a manzanilla sherry).

As I wrote yesterday, though I've previously enjoyed a number of Muscadet wines, this past weekend was the first time that I've tasted a Sparkling Muscadet. While dining at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, we ordered the Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($40/bottle at the restaurant, $20/bottle at retail stores).

Julien Braud is from the small village of Monnieres in the Sèvre et Maine appellation, where he worked on the family estate, Fief aux Dames, which they have owned for over a century, producing Muscadet. In 2012, Julien decided to venture out on his own, taking three hectares of his family's estate, and now he currently possesses seven hectares. He practices organic agriculture, with the addition of some Biodynamic practices. In the winery, he uses natural yeasts and ages his Muscadet on the lees in glass-lined, underground cement vats.

The Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut is made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grape, is certified organic, and was fermented by the Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pétillant-Naturel. In short, this method allows the initial fermentation to finish in the bottle, trapping carbon dioxide in the bottle, creating bubbly. It has a low 9.8% ABV, meaning you can have an extra glass without worrying much about getting too tipsy. Only 450 cases of this wine were made though, so it could be difficult to find, though locally it is distributed by Arborway Imports.

As I raised the flute to my nose, visually delighted by the tiny bubbles, I was entranced with this wine, loving its appealing and intense aromas, such beautiful fruit with a wisp of the ocean. On the palate, there was lots of crisp acidity, delicious citrus notes, and a steely minerality with an herbal hint. It was fresh and tasty, each sip making you crave more. We enjoyed the wine so much that we ordered a second bottle.

Though the Muscadet was wonderful with our oysters, it also went well with the fresh and bright Striped Bass Ceviche.

The Unshelled PEI Mussels, in a yellow curry broth with couscous, also went great with the Muscadet, its acidity helping to cut through the creamy curry. I would love to pair this Muscadet with Indian cuisine.

Even the Yellowfin Tuna Melt (one of my favorite lunch dishes at Island Creek) went well with the Muscadet. Again, the acidity of the wine dealt well with the creaminess of the sandwich.

Andrew, my good friend and fellow wine lover, loved the wine too!

I highly recommend this Sparkling Muscadet, especially at this price point. It is a great summer wine, especially paired with seafood, though it is also versatile and it would work with much more. It may not be easy to find at your local wine shop, but in Massachusetts that shop could order it from Arborway Imports. And if you dine at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, this would be a great choice on their wine list, especially considering its relatively low markup.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Rant: Boring Restaurant Wine Lists

Ever had a Sparkling Muscadet?

Until this past weekend, I'd never tasted one and now I want to buy a case to put into my wine cellar. The Julien Braud La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($20/retail), a Sparkling Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, was thoroughly impressive, captivating me from the start with its alluring nose. Where did I find this gem? On the wine list at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington.

On Saturday, I had lunch at Island Creek with Andrew, my good friend and fellow wine lover, and we eagerly perused their extensive wine list. There were plenty of interesting choices on the list and we ultimately went with the Sparkling Muscadet. It sounded fascinating, neither of us had tasted one before and it was inexpensive, only $40/bottle. It turned out to be an excellent choice, and we even ordered a second bottle.

Laura Staley, who creates and curates their wine list, has done a fantastic job of choosing a diverse selection of wines, with plenty to intrigue any wine lover. New wines are added to the list at various times, so there is often something new and interesting to select when you dine there. It may actually take you a while to choose a wine from the list because so many selections will appeal to you.

I love dining at Island Creek for a number of reasons, from its delicious food to its excellent service, as well as the fact that they have such an interesting wine list. I am bothered by other restaurants, which might have tasty food and good service, but have boring wine lists. Frankly, I feel that a boring wine list at a restaurant is often a sign of laziness. It will hurt your business as well, as it will turn away wine lovers who might otherwise enjoy your restaurant but want some good wines with their meal. I have plenty of friends who more often than not choose to patronize a restaurant with a compelling wine list.

A boring wine list commonly contains the usual suspects, the large commercial wines that are well known to many. It is extremely easy to put together such a list, and your distributor could probably do the work for you and select such wines. There is no imagination or creativity invested in such a list. It seems to be guided more by mercenary motives, wines that you know the average consumer will easily buy. You certainly aren't designing a list that will appeal to more discerning wine lovers. You are catering to the masses, presenting plenty of safe options. Bah, what a waste!

It isn't difficult to make some changes so that your wine list will be more interesting. You can even keep many of those boring wines if you wish. You need to allocate at least part of your wine list to more intriguing and compelling wines. Yes, that takes a little more work, to find those type of wines, but it certainly isn't difficult. It does take a willingness to expand your vision, to take a chance on something different. However, it can pay off when avid wine lovers find something of interest on your list and decide to dine there because of those more interesting wines. And if your staff is well trained, they could sell those different wines to some of the average consumers too.

Restaurants will invest much time and effort into creating their food menu, selecting their decor, and choosing their employees. They should also spend some of that same time and effort in selecting a wine list too. Even if a list is small, you don't have to fill it only with the usual suspects. Don't take the lazy way out. Add some interesting wines to the list and help your restaurant. Or continue to lose potential customers who opt for restaurants with more intriguing wines on their list.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen: An Impressive Beginning

"But in the West, Hunan cooking is often confused with Sichuan cooking. In China these two cuisines have very distinct characteristics. Whereas Sichuan is known for the hot and numbing sensation from dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, Hunan flavors are hot and sour from pickled chiles and pickled vegetables, made by letting brined fresh ingredients ferment naturally."
--Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking by Kian Lam Kho

To begin, consider this fascinating bit of trivia concerning Hunan. In 1931, the Governor of the Hunan province banned the book Alice in Wonderland because of its talking animals. The Governor stated, "Animals should not use human language, and it is disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level." I'm sure that ban would have applied to other children's books with talking animals too.

The mountainous province of Hunan is located in the southern central region of China, on the south bank of the Yangtze River. It is an agricultural treasure, producing about 40% of the total rice in China. Hunan cuisine, also called Xiang cuisine, is one of the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese cuisine and extends back at least to the 17th century. Hunan cuisine once was broken down into three primary styles, including Xiang River, Dongting Lake and Western Hunan. However, over time, Hunan cuisine has evolved, the three styles merging together and becoming a single contemporary Hunan style.

Hunan cuisine is often said to be hot and spicy, with a major use of many different types of chiles. During their winters, it is thought that chiles are beneficial to their health. There is a common saying: "Sichuan people don't fear hot food, Hunan people don't fear any degree of spiciness at all, and Guizhou people fear to eat food that isn't spicy." Chairman Mao Zedong, who was from Hunan, once said, "You can't be a revolutionary if you don't eat chilies."

However, Hunan cuisine is about far more than just spicy heat. First, there is a strong sour element, often from vinegar, in many of their spicy dishes. Second, the cuisine often can be very healthy, with seasonal ingredients, including fresh vegetables, herbs and seafood. Fermentation is also a significant element in their cuisine, sometimes helping to balance out any spicy heat. The important thing to know is that Hunan cuisine is far more diverse than just being spicy.

"Hunan, along with many other southern regions of China, is known for producing excellent cured bacon and ham, two prized ingredients that also often characterize Hunan flavor."
--Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking by Kian Lam Kho

During the 1970s, a number of Chinese chefs, skilled in Hunan cuisine, came to the U.S., though they often adapted their recipes for American tastes. For example, one of the most famous dishes from that period is General Tso's Chicken, which is now a staple dish in many Chinese restaurants. You've probably tasted this dish before, and some of your may enjoy it. It most often consists of heavily battered and fried chicken pieces covered by a thick, sweet sauce. That common recipe though was specifically designed to appeal to an American palate.

Though there is some dispute as to its origin, one of the most popular stories states that the dish was created by Chef Peng Chang-Kuei, a Hunanese chef who worked as the presidential palace chef of the Nationalist Government in Taiwan. In 1953, U.S. Admiral Arthur W. Radford visited Taiwan, meeting with President Chiang Kai-Shek. Chef Peng decided to create some new dishes for an official banquet, creating General Tso's Chicken, which was named after a famous Qing dynasty general, Zuo Zongtang.

His version had a light batter on the chicken and was tart, garlicky and spicy though American versions would later become much sweeter dishes. Around 1971, a couple Chinese chefs came to New York and created their own versions of this dish, making it sweeter to appeal more to Americans. A year later, Chef Peng came to New York but his version, even though it was the original, was considered an inferior copy. So, the sweeter version, with a thicker batter, became the norm, beloved by many Americans.

Locally, you'll find a few Chinese restaurants offering some Hunanese dishes, but a new restaurant concentrating on Hunan cuisine opens today in Kendall Square in Cambridge, offering many traditional dishes, as well as some of their own innovative takes. Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is the creation of Sumiao Chen, a pharmacologist at Novartis as well as a restaurateur who was previously involved in opening the Feng-Shui restaurant chain. Sumiao, which is a Chinese word meaning “sketch", was born in Xiangtan, a city in Hunan which was also the birthplace of Mao Zedong, and she received culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu.

During this week, I visited the restaurant, as a media guest, during their soft opening as well as at last night's opening party. As such, I'm not going to provide a complete restaurant review but rather provide some of my initial impressions of the restaurant. Please note that as the restaurant has only officially opened today, you can probably expect some changes during the near future as they fine tune everything.

I had the opportunity to speak with Sumiao Chen, who I found to be personable and energetic, and learned that this restaurant is more than just an investment for her. There is clearly much passion within her, and she sees Sumiao Hunan as reflective of her cultural experiences over the past 25 years. It also is indicative of her love for her father, as the restaurant is decorated with some of his artwork. This is definitely a very personal endeavor for Sumiao. When I asked her about her favorite items on the menu, her excitement level elevated as she pointed out some of those dishes, such as the Mala Duck and Red-Braised Pork.

During the Opening Night party, there was a live band and Sumiao showed her joie de vivre as she danced with a number of staff and friends to the music.

It didn't end there as Sumiao even sang, in Chinese, with the band! When is the last time you saw a restaurant owner singing in their own restaurant?

The restaurant was designed to include multiple dining experiences, including: "...more traditional dining room seating in front of a fireplace, a bar that overlooks an expansive action kitchen, a polished lounge area that boasts a large communal table abstractly shaped in the form of an “S” and additional low-top options for a more intimate experience." It presents a casual and fun ambiance,  with lots of color, and large windows facing out into Kendall Square.

As I mentioned, the restaurant is decorated with several pieces of art. "The space is outfitted with four major artworks that celebrate the juxtaposition between history and modern day as well as Chen’s love and appreciation of art that has been nurtured since infancy. Chen – the daughter of one of China’s most celebrated painters and calligraphers, Peihua Chen – has thoughtfully selected pieces to exhibit the beauty and sophistication of the Hunanese culture. Among the works is a magnificently vibrant painting of a lotus flower by Peihua Chen, the flower of the Hunan province that represents rebirth, purity and self-awareness. In full circle just as her father gifted her the translated name of “Sketch” at birth, this painting was his final gift to his daughter before his passing on his only visit to the United States in 2000."

The drinks program at Sumaio has been designed by beverage consultant Richard Echeverria, and will be run by Paul Lamprey. Their drinks list includes 5 different Baijiu, a Chinese spirit which is actually the most popular spirit in the world. Baijiu has been produced in the Hunan region for a very long time though it has only been more recently that they have been making Baijiu which has become noteworthy. They also offer four different Baijiu cocktails, which are generally made with Hong Kong Baijiu, and you will rarely find that many Baijiu cocktails at any other local restaurant.

For more information on Baijiu, including reviews of the 5 Baijiu carried by Sumiao, please check out my prior post, which has links to all of my other Baijiu posts. And with World Baijiu Day coming up on August 9, Sumiao Hunan would be a great place to celebrate this holiday and learn more about this fascinating Chinese spirit.

The Drinks menu also has five Tiki Cocktails as well as five other Signature Cocktails (generally priced $12-$14). There are even four Mocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, which is great for the who don't want to imbibe but want something different to sip. The Wine list has about 13 options by the glass ($9-$10) with another 11 available just by the bottle. There is some good diversity on the list, better than many other Asian restaurants. The Sake list is short and generally unexciting, except they do carry a couple of Sakes from the local Dovetail Sake. I would like to see them add some more interesting Sakes to their list.

I've enjoyed all four of their Baijiu cocktails, noting that all of them had the prominent fruity and herbal flavors of Hong Kong Baijiu. The Schrodinger's Coupe ($14) is made with Baijiu, curaçao, grapefruit, lime and plum bitters. It's Baijiu taste was accompanied by some sour fruit flavors with a hint of grapefruit. It wasn't overly sweet and was a refreshing summer drink.

The Perpetual Motion ($14) is made with Baijiu, blood orange, lime, elderflower liqueur, and mint. It had more red fruit flavors, with enhanced aromatics and a touch of citrus. This cocktail was also refreshing, wasn't overly sweet, and was well balanced.

The Ice Cold Fusion ($14) is made with Baijiu, Cognac, triple sec and lemon. This might have been my favorite of their Baijiu cocktails, offering a bit more of a sour taste, enhanced by the flavors of the Cognac.

The Pyroclastic Punch ($14) is made with Baijiu, fruitlab hibiscus liqueur, passionfruit cordial and lemon. It was probably the sweetest of the four cocktails, though not overly so. It had deep berry flavors with nice aromatics.

The Maitai-Hunan Style ($12) is made with Bacardi White, Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum, Curacao, Orgeat, mixed juices, and a dark rum float. It had a nice blend of tropical fruit flavors, was only mildly sweet, and the spice notes enhanced the taste. Another winning cocktail.

The Asian Atom ($12) is made with Bacardi white rum, Myers original dark rum, Apricot brandy, Mai Tai mix, mixed juices, and 151 float. It was a bit sweeter than the Mai Tai though it had a pleasant taste, especially a tropical accent.

The Sumiao Citrus ($6) is one of the Mocktails, made with white grapefruit juice, lemon, simple syrup, blood orange puree, and orange garnish. This was an interesting concoction, not overly sweet, and was quite refreshing. If you aren't drinking something alcoholic with your meal, then this would be a good option.

Much research and experimentation went into the development of their menu, including testing over 300 dishes. Some of the eliminated dishes required ingredients that weren't available locally while others weren't considered healthy enough for their concept. The chefs who will execute these dishes are Changchun Ji and Xinke Tan, and they have worked at restaurants including Nobu, Masa, Hakkasan and Hunan Manor.

Chef Changchun Ji came to the United States in the early 2000s when he accepted an offer to work as a chef at Masa in New York City. Since then, Chef Ji has since worked at distinguished restaurants such as Nobu Fifty Seven, Hakkasan in New York City and in Beverly Hills, Din Tai Fung, and Chengdu Impression before arriving in Cambridge to helm the kitchen at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen.

Chef Xinke Tan began his culinary career in 2000, working as a kitchen manager for Kaixuanmen Restaurant in Zhijiang, Hunan, China for six years. Moving to Munich for work in 2007, Chef Tan later returned to China, relocating to Xiangtan, Hunan, Sumiao’s hometown, in 2011 where he worked as executive chef at Jinyuan No. 1. An expert in Hunan cuisine and Chinese flavor profiles, Chef Tan arrived in the United States in 2012, working at a number of Hunan restaurants around America such as Hunan Taste in Baltimore, Hunan Manor in New York City as well as Dong Ting Chun Hunan Restaurant and King Fu Master in Los Angeles. Now back on the East Coast at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Chef Tan brings his expertise in Hunan cuisine to Kendall Square.

The base of Sumiao's Hunan's menu is contemporary Hunan style, with a few dishes from other Chinese culinary traditions. Their lunch and dinner menus will essentially remain unchanged while their weekend menu, which has more authentic Hunan dishes, and the Chef's special menu will change frequently, based on seasonally and the the availability of ingredients.

The initial dinner menu includes Soups (4 choices, $7-$8) and Appetizers (6 choices, $7-$12), from Sumiao Hot & Soup Soup to Garlic Calamari. The menu is then split between Vegetable and Meat & Fish, with dishes prepared in four different ways, including Hunan Wok, Steamed, Pan-Seared, and Stir-Fried (Vegetables $12-$18, Meat & Fish $14-$45). Try Hunan Wok Mountain Yams, Pan-Seared Cucumber with Shisho, or Stir Fried Skinny Broccoli. Or opt for Hunan Red-Braised Pork, Steamed Lava Fish, or Stir-Fried Beef on Fire. There is also a section for Grains, including Pancake, Noodle, Rice and Bao, with three options for each category, ranging from $10-$20. Check out the Hunan Roti Canai, Scallion Cold Noodles, Sanxiang Fried Rice or Jimmy's Crab Bao.

The Weekend menu is intended to present more authentic Hunanese dishes, and it will change from time to time. Currently, the menu has 6 additional options ($8-$28), such as Sea Jelly with Daikon Radish, House-Made Pickled Beans with Pork, House-Made La Rou with Mushrooms, and Pan-Seared Whole Wheat Dough.

The menu is certainly diverse, and many of the dishes will seem familiar to people, though you might find some dishes prepared differently than you are used to finding elsewhere. Prices seem reasonable based on the quality and quantity of the dishes. And everything I tasted was delicious.

The Spicy Crunchy Cucumber ($8), topped by a house sesame scallion sauce, wasn't overly spicy, though the heat does build up in your mouth, and had a nice crunch to it. It also seemed to work as a decent palate cleanser while enjoying some of the other dishes.

The Rustic Scallion Pancake ($12) was light and flaky, not oily, with a clean and compelling taste.

One of the highlights for me was the Mala Duck ($9), with an aged mala soy rub. The duck was tender and moist, with crisp skin, mild spice notes and lots of savory flavor. Beneath all the deletable slices of duck was a small pile of additional duck pieces, though there were some bones amidst those pieces.

The West Lake Beef Chowder ($8), made with parsley and egg whites, seems to be more of a soup than a chowder, reminding me in some ways of an egg drop soup with tender pieces of meat within it. The broth was savory and tasty, and the bowl is quite large, big enough for two people at least.

The Sumiao Fried Rice ($12), with eggs and soy sauce, is a relatively simple dish but very well done, tasting fresh and savory.

Jimmy's Crab Bao ($9), with pork and an aged vinegar chili dipping sauce, remind me of soup dumplings as they have a juicy interior so you must carefully bite into them so you don't lose all that delectable broth. These bao have a pleasing texture and each bite encompasses a tasty and complex blend of flavors. And the dipping sauce is an excellent enhancement to the bao.

The Sumiao Gyoza ($6) are home-made pork gyoza,  accompanied by a five spices dipping sauce. Like the bao, these gyoza have a nice texture, with a slight crunch due to the frying, and are filled with a light, meaty mix.

From the weekend menu, the Sumiao Shang Gan ($8) consists of rectangular pieces of bean curd with pork belly, green cayenne pepper, and garlic leaves, though initially I thought the greens were green beans. Though I'm not a big tofu fan, I enjoyed this dish, each tender piece of bean curd having soaked up the spicy and savory flavors of the dish. This is a spicy hot dish, the type of Hunan cuisine you hear about.

Also from the weekend menu, the Grandma's Pork ($15) has plenty of pork belly, with green cayenne pepper and garlic leaves. It was probably the spiciest of all the dishes I enjoyed, and was one of my favorites. The tender pork belly is salty and flavorful, enhanced by the heat of the pepper and the crunch of the garlic leaves. This is a fine example of Hunan cuisine.

I had to try their Stir-Fried General Tso Chicken ($16), with dried chili pepper, to see how it compared to the myriad versions available at so many Asian restaurants. Sumiao's version is based on the original recipe of Chef Peng though they have also made some modifications, adding in some Hunan elements, and thus creating their own unique version. I was thoroughly impressed with this dish, and it is probably the best version I've ever tasted. The chicken had a light, crunchy batter and the sauce was more savory, with mild spice and plenty of complexity. Highly recommended.

Some of the appetizers on their Opening Party night included Dessert Fish (and that is savory, not sweet), Fried Calamari and Lotus Meat Balls. Those scrumptious meatballs were made from pork, lotus root, egg, flour, corn starch, soda powder and black pepper. They had a great crunchy coating and a moist and savory taste within.

If you have room, they also have a small dessert menu, with about eight options ($8-$12), including Exotic Bomba, Green Tea Tiramisu, Chocolate Pistachio Souffle and Creme Brûlée.

Overall, this is an impressive beginning for Sumiao Hunan Kitchen and expect it will become a popular restaurant in Kendall Square. I will certainly return, to try more of the menu, and see how the restaurant develops over time. I highly recommend you check out the restaurant and experience for yourself their Hunanese cuisine, accompanied by a fine Baijiu cocktail. I wish Sumaio Chen and her whole team the best of luck in this endeavor.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

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) Big Night Entertainment Group Chef/Partner Kevin Long and the Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge team invite guests to kick start their week with the newly-launched Kasai Monday Menu. Every Monday, Chef Kevin Long serves up the Kasai Monday Menu featuring Asian-inspired Bar Bites perfect for post-work snacking or pre-game grubbing.

The Kasai Monday Menu is available in the restaurant’s lounge area from 5pm-10pm and features six bar bites including Wings & Rings pairing of tempura onion rings and jalapeno honey glazed chicken wings; Bao Full of Bull slow braised boneless short rib, crispy bao, jalapeno, mirin pickles; Drunken Chicks on Fire crispy potato starch dusted chicken skewers, bourbon buffalo sauce, bourbon flame – three piece; Long End of the Stick Asian spice marinated beef tenderloin, skewed with bell pepper, sweet onion, Gojujang dipping sauce; Taco vs. Taco one spicy salmon and one spicy tuna wonton taco; and Sushi Cupcakes, Empire’s signature appetizer of broiled lobster and scallops in spicy garlic butter, placed in a sushi rice cup – two piece.

Guests can wash it all down with large-format cocktail specials from Bar Manager Nancy Nguyen that are perfect for sharing with friends like the Pineapple Mai Tai choice of Classic with Bacardi 8 or White Mai Tai with Ciroc Pineapple (serves two) and The Big Kahuna with Grey Goose, fresh watermelon punch, mint and ginger (serves four or more).

For reservations, please call 617-295-0001

2) The Mandarin Oriental, Boston announces the debut of Ceviche@MO, a pop-up tasting menu featuring a selection of fresh New England seafood. An inviting place to gather socially and unwind after a busy day in Back Bay, guests are able sit amongst the lobby’s exotic blonde wood paneling and enjoy a trio of house-made summer ceviche paired with an ombré of rosé, handpicked by sommelier, David Bérubé.

Available individually or as a tasting flight, Ceviche@MO will be served through August 31 in the hotel’s Lobby Lounge.

--SCALLOP CEVICHE ($16): avocado, red fresno pepper, yuzu, cilantro
--SHRIMP CEVICHE ($14): tomatillo, red onion, radish, lime juice, chive, parsley, chervil
--OCTOPUS CEVICHE ($18): sweet bell peppers, cherry tomato, tomato water, castelvetrano olives, parsley
--Glass of Rose $12-$16

3) The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is proud to announce Cambridge’s newest Summer food festival, The Char & Bar Wars – a head-to-head battle between 30 of the hottest local restaurants and bars benefitting the Rindge School of Technical Arts Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program. On Wednesday, August 2, from 5pm-8pm, Food lovers will take the judge’s seat as they taste slider size burgers and sample cocktails prepared by popular local restaurants, battling to win the title of Best Classic Burger, Best Signature Burger, and Best Summer Cocktail.

Restaurants that will be throwing their hats in the ring include: Glass House, AC Bar and Lounge, Harvard Square Shake Shack, ArtBar Cambridge, Craigie On Main, The Automatic, Forage, Tasty Burger, Boston Burger Company, The Asgard, Atwood's Tavern, Atlantic Fish Co., La Fabrica Central, The Rising Bar, Rindge School of Technical Arts Culinary Program, Café Luna, Nubar and more!

WHERE: 50 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge
HOW: Tickets are available via Eventbrite for $45 and include unlimited sampling of food and drinks – a valid 21+ ID is required to receive the Bar War bracelet. To purchase tickets, visit

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ron Navazos Palazzi Cask Strength Rum: Aged In Sherry Barrels

While sitting at the bar at Troquet, I thoroughly enjoyed a superb Lamb Burger Slider, topped with lamb bacon, goat cheese feta, and harissa. As I savored this burger, I spied an intriguing spirit on a shelf behind the bar, knowing I had to taste it. I'd previously tasted other spirits from this company but hadn't yet sampled this one. I didn't fight the urge and ordered a glass.

Jesus Barquin & Eduardo Oreja of Equipo Navazos, known for bottling exceptional Sherries, partnered with Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits to produce a series of Spanish spirits, including brandy, rum, grain whiskey and malt whiskey. Last month, I reviewed the Navazos Palazzi Malt Whiskey and found it to be "...elegant and compelling, unique and delicious, a well-balanced whiskey that will surprise and delight. My highest recommendation!" I had high expectations for their Ron Navazos Palazzi Cask Strength Rum ($100-$110) and wasn't disappointed in the least.

The alleged origin story behind this rum is intriguing, though not all of the details area readily available. It is claimed that Jesús Barquín and Nicolas Palazzi were visiting numerous bodegas in the Jerez region, seeking either Brandy or Sherry. At an unnamed bodega, they stumbled upon numerous barrels of rum, certainly nothing they expected to find. Through further research, they uncovered that the rum was made from 100% molasses and had been distilled in the Antilles, though the specific island is not mentioned.

Initially, the rum was aged in the Antilles for five years in first-fill bourbon barrels. It was then sent to the bodega in Spain, payment for some unknown transaction. The bodega transferred the rum into used Oloroso barrels, where it sat for more than ten years. Barquín and Palazzi acquired 32 casks of this rum so it is a finite spirit. They have chosen to bottle it unfiltered and at cask strength, 51.5 ABV,  releasing 1500 bottles a year until the rum is gone. Currently, it appears they have released bottles in 2013 and 2014.

The color of this rum was deep and dark, though with some translucence, reminding me in some ways of an aged Oloroso Sherry. Sniffing the contents of the glass, I was enamored with the complex aromas that wafted up, seducing my nose. There was fruit and spice, nuts and chocolate, and it was a pleasure just to sit and enjoy the aromas. On the palate, I was initially pleased with the relative dryness of the rum. It wasn't one of the prominent sweet rums but rather its sweetness was of a more subtle nature, with underlying caramel, vanilla and molasses flavors. And the complexity of the nose was duplicated on the palate, such a compelling melange of flavors that seemed to present something new each sip I took. There was a certain nutty and saline character that reminded me of Sherry, but also bright citrus and plum notes. There were plenty of spicy elements, with a backbone of umami, and hints of leather. Elegant and fascinating, this rum had a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Highly recommended! I'll be buying a bottle or two soon.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rant: If There Is Any Doubt...

On this past Tuesday morning, while driving in Gloucester, famed Chef Barbara Lynch was involved in a motor vehicle accident, striking a parked car. The police arrived on the scene and Lynch failed sobriety tests and registered nearly twice the legal limit on a breathalyzer. She was subsequently arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol. Fortunately, no one was injured in the accident. It could have been much worse.

We will probably never know all the facts surrounding this incident. Most likely, Lynch will plead out to the charges, without the necessity of a trial. That is a very common occurrence in such incidents. We will probably never know how much alcohol Lynch consumed, and won't understand why she chose to drive after consuming all of that alcohol. Let us hope that this arrest is a wake-up call for Lynch, who won't ever drink and drive again.

Her arrest provides a fascinating cautionary tale for everyone who might consider drinking and driving. And it also provides a glimpse into the culinary world and the problem of substance abuse.

My own advice on drinking and driving is very simple.

If you've had too much alcohol to drink, if there is any doubt in your mind, don't drive.

Any questions?

This is an absolutely vital issue for everyone who enjoys alcohol of any type, from wine to beer, from Scotch to hard cider. During the summer, there are plenty of parties and barbecues, picnics and beach outings, and there is the potential for people to over indulge, to drink too much at these events. There is nothing wrong with that, and you can drink as much as you desire, as long as you give up your keys to someone who is sober.

As I've said multiple times before, and which I'll repeat year after year, "If there is any question, no matter how small, whether you are too intoxicated to drive, then don't. If your family or friends think you have had too much to drink, don't drive. Just don't. It is not worth the risk by any calculation." Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi or Uber, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep it off. Just don't drive!

Rationally, we all know the dangers of drinking and driving. We endanger our own lives as well as the lives of others. Every year, we hear multiple news reports about terrible auto accidents, some with fatalities, that occur because a driver was intoxicated. Families are torn apart, lives are ruined, and much more. Why don't we learn from all these incidents? Even if you don't get in an accident, you might get arrested for drunk driving, with all the attendant high costs, and not just economic. You might even end up in jail.

About 17,000 people are arrested for drunk driving in Massachusetts each year. That is a huge figure, showing that far too many people still don't understand that they should not drink and drive. Each time you drink and drive, you endanger yourself, your passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other vehicles. Let someone else drive you, whether it be a friend or family. Take an Uber or public transportation. Leave your car where it is parked as you can always pick it up the next day. You have plenty of options so there is absolutely no reason to drink and drive. Be responsible.

I don't want to lose any family or friends this year due to a drunk driving accident. I don't think anyone wants to lose their loved ones either. Your family and friends would rather you didn't drink and drive as they don't you to die in a terrible drunk driving accident. So please just don't!

As for the issue of substance abuse in the restaurant industry, that is an important topic for another time.