Thursday, July 30, 2015

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) As part of Legal Sea Foods’ “Endless Summer” at the Charles Square location in Cambridge, their outdoor Terrace Bar will feature a “Souped Up Gazpacho Bar” during the month of August. Legal Sea Foods will serve up a choice of four gazpacho bases that can be customized by adding up to seven toppings:

August: Souped Up Gazpacho Bar
Because: Cold soup on a hot day works, and seafood on top makes it even cooler.
One Cup ($6)
Gazpacho Trio ($15)
· Red - tomato with veggies and tortilla strips
· Green - cucumber, Greek yogurt, avocado
· Yellow - cantaloupe, crème fraîche, EVOO
· White - almonds, sherry vinegar, grapes

Toppings ($3 each)
· Sweet Maine Crab Meat
· Pickled Texas Shrimp
· Squid Escabeche
· Saffron Poached Mussels
· Cajun Flaked Salmon
· Pickled Papaya
· Mango Salsa

2) The Seaport Hotel and its mixologists have teamed up with Boston-area restaurants to try to create an elixir to ease the pain of our end-of-summer blues. Thus it has created – The Rum Rumble: Grog Games. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to taste the unique creations mixed by some of Boston’s top bartenders using Papa’s Pilar Rum for a competitive event.

This first-ever rum competition will be held on August 19 from 6pm to 8pm at the Seaport World Trade Center. Bartenders are encouraged to be creative, using an existing recipe from their eatery or a new twist on an old classic; attendees will vote and be the final judge of who will emerge victorious from battle at these Grog Games – and be dubbed champion of this Rum Rumble.

For $25 per person (Must be 21+) , guests will enjoy sample-sized servings of the grogs and light hors d’oeuvres provided by Seaport. Participating restaurants include: Fee Brothers, Casa B, Backbar, Aquitaine, Boston Chops, Moonshine 152, Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar, Kirkland Tap & Trotter and TAMO Bistro & Bar.


3) Executive Chef/Partner Robert Sisca and Head Sommelier Todd Lipman of Bistro du Midi present the final month of the three-part Summer Rosé Tour. While Rosé wines are enjoyed year round, they are most prominently celebrated in the summer months. To embrace the ever-growing popularity of this wine, Bistro du Midi is presenting the 2015 Summer Rosé Tour. Head Sommelier Todd Lipman has compiled an assortment of intriguing selections to be offered in multiple formats. These wines pair well with Chef Robert Sisca’s featured dish of the month, highlighting the remarkable flavors of Provençe.

The full August menu is as follows:

Grilled Red Snapper ($27)
White Peach, Arugula, Lemon Vinaigrette
2013 L'Escarelle, Cuvée Esca Rosé, IGP Var:
Dry, citrusy, and mineral with advanced texture and loads of focus
11 glass / 16.50 pichet / 24 demi / 48 bottle
2014 Côté Mas, Rosé Aurore, Sud de France
Dry and crisp with cranberry notes and hints of herbs de Provence
12 glass / 18 pichet / 26 demi / 52 bottle
2014 Jean-Luc Colombo, Cape Bleue Rosé, VdP Méditerranée
Soft and elegant, yet dry with hints of tropical fruit and fresh flowers
13 glass / 19.50 pichet / 29 demi / 58 bottle

The Summer Rosé Tour is available to enjoy in Café du Midi, Bistro du Midi’s downstairs Café.
For reservations or more information, please call Bistro du Midi at 617-426-787

4) On October 21, from 6pm-10pm, join Steve DiFillippo and the Davio’s family in celebrating 30 successful years in Boston with plenty of food, drinks and dancing all for a good cause. Davio’s Boston (located at 75 Arlington Street) will shut its doors for one-night-only in a celebration to benefit The Greater Boston Food Bank. Guests will mingle with local Boston celebrities and sports players as they celebrate the evening with cocktails, wine and Prosecco featured at the open bar, enjoying a wide variety of Davio’s classics from appetizers, homemade pastas, Brandt beef steaks, extensive array of seafood, delectable desserts and much much more - all prepared by the culinary team as they dance the night away to live music by French Lick with WYC Grousebeck on the drums.

In 1985, Steve DiFillippo took ownership of an existing restaurant called Davio’s, located on Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay. DiFillippo transformed the location into a fine dining destination. Thirty years later, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, at its Arlington Street location, has become a dining institution in Boston and beyond—with seven thriving locations along the East Coast including Atlanta, Boston, Chestnut Hill, Foxborough, Lynnfield, Manhattan, Philadelphia and opening in Downtown Los Angeles. According to Steve, “After 30 years I feel that I am just getting started.”

100% of the proceeds raised will be donated to The Greater Boston Food Bank.

COST: $200 Per Guest (includes open bar & food)
Limited space is available, to purchase tickets in advance or for more information visit:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Umbria, Montefalco & Sagrantino: Wine Rising From The Shadows

Montefalco is referred to as the "balcony of Umbria." Does that mean Sagrantino is beautiful Juliet, poised on that balcony, and that lovers of this grape are Romeo?

It begins with the compelling food of Umbria, a cuisine of the earth that beckons to you. Cinghiale ("wild boar") prosciutto. Black truffles. Strangozzi (“strangled priest”) pasta, with Spoletina sauce. Zuppa di farro. Pecorino cheese. Simple and seasonal, bursting with the fresh flavors of the field. Who can resist such a bounty?

A necessary accompaniment for all of these dishes is wine. In Italy, as in much of Europe, wine is considered to be food, an integral element with their meals. You don't decide whether to serve wine with dinner or not. It is simply a given that wine will be on your table. More Americans need to adopt this attitude, and consume more wine with their food, to make it a necessary element of their table.

With the Umbrian delights listed above, it makes sense to select a wine from this region as well, such as those red wines made from the indigenous Sagrantino grape. Its taste profile pairs superbly with many of those dishes, from umami-rich truffles to the strong taste of wild boar. Have you ever tasted a Sagrantino wine, especially with any of these foods? For too many Americans, the answer is likely in the negative.

The problem is that Umbria often seems to get overshadowed by other regions, such as neighboring Tuscany. It remains relatively obscure to many though it is more than worthy of much greater attention. It produces great food and wine, yet it hasn't garnered the fame it deserves. The same applies to the small town of Montefalco and the fine wines made from the Sagrantino grape. They all need to rise from the shadows, to let a radiant light illuminate their wonders, and become better known all over the world.

The Italian region of Umbria is unique and fascinating, and is sometimes referred to as il cuore verde d'Italia, the "green heart of Italy," a phrase that was coined by a famous poet and Nobel Prize winner, Giosuè Carducci. It is the only Italian region which both lacks a coastline and lacks a common border with any other country. In addition, it is also one of the smallest regions in the country, bordered by the Italian regions of Tuscany, Latium and Marche. Maybe this is part of the reason it has remained relatively obscure.

The name of the region derives from the Umbri, an ancient Italian tribe which once inhabited the area about 2500-3000 years ago. The Umbri are sometimes said to have been the first inhabitants of this land, though there is archaeological evidence that the Ligurians might have actually been there first. The term "Umbri" is alleged to mean "people of the thunderstorm" because the ancient Greeks thought they had survived a great deluge.

Eventually, in the 3rd century B.C., the Romans took control of the region, incorporating some Umbri tribes into their Empire. Wine making extends back to these ancient times though it is difficult to determine exactly which people first started producing wine. Some claim it extends back to the Umbri while others believe the Romans were the first to make wine in this region. Whatever the case, we know wine production in Umbria extends back over 2000 years.

During the Middle Ages, it would be monks in this region who would be at the forefront of planting vineyards and producing wine. Umbria is sometimes referred to as la terra santa, the "land of the saints," because of the large number of saints that come from this area. For example, the small town of Montefalco is the birthplace of eight saints. How many other small towns, anywhere, can boast of that many saints? As there have been only about 810 saints, having 8 from one town is quite significant.

Two of the most well known saints from Umbria include St. Benedict of Norcia (480-547 AD), known as a Patron Saint of Europe,  and St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 AD), a patron saint of animals and the environment. Both saints had their own connections to wine, and maybe it was Sagrantino.

Once, St. Benedict, upon the death of a abbot, was asked by the local community to lead the monastery. He did so reluctantly, and the monks seemed to have a significant disagreement with how he led the monastery. It was so bad that a conspiracy of monks decided to try to poison St. Benedict. They offered him a glass of tainted wine but he allegedly made the Sign of the Cross over the glass, which then shattered, spilling the deadly wine upon the floor and saving his life.

St Francis, who spent much of his life caring for animals, used to bring wine and honey to bees to help them survive the winter. He may have given wine to other animals as well. What type of wines do animals prefer? Maybe a sweet wine from Sagrantino? It is also ironic that Umbria, a region known for the gentle, animal-loving St. Francis, would also become famous for its Norcinos, pork butchers. Pork is certainly something to love.

In central Umbria, you'll find Montefalco, a small town and comune that was allegedly founded during the time of the Umbri, and its ownership has changed hands numerous times over the centuries, including Romans, Lombards and the Papal States. During the Middles Ages, the town was known as Coccorone and the origin of that appellation is in dispute, with one theory claiming it was named after a Roman Senator, Marcus Curio, who owned estates near the city. In the 13th century, the town would receive another name change.

In 1249, Frederick II, once the Holy Roman Emperor, sacked the city of Coccorone, allegedly because it had rebelled against his authority. When the city was later rebuilt, its name was changed to Montefalco, the Mount of the Falcon, and some historians believe it was because Frederick II was an ardent falconer, while others claim it was because of the numerous falcons native to the region. This name has remained to the present.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, possession of Montefalco passed through several different hands, with various factions either sacking or capturing the city. For example, in 1414, King Ladislas of Naples sacked  the town while in 1424, Francesco Sforza seized control of the town from the Trinci. In 1527, the Black Bands, a mercenary group sacked Montefalco and maintained control for at least a month. These would be tumultuous centuries, though wine production continued throughout these centuries.

Today, Montefalco is still surrounded by stone walls from the 12th century, and other artifacts from the Middle Ages, such as frescoes and churches, can still be found within its boundaries. As Montefalco is perched atop a high hill, it has an excellent view of the rest of Umbria. It is also known as “Oil City” because of its renowned olive oil, which has been produced in the town for many centuries. In addition, it is one of the few Italian towns where wine was produced even within the city walls.

I haven't visited either Montefalco or Umbria, but I have read much of its beauty, and the photos I have seen have shown the aesthetic appeal of this area. It reminds me of the lands of Tuscany, which I have visited, and that isn't surprising due to their proximity. It is a land rich in history with a strong foundation of agriculture. It seems to be a more tranquil area than some of the more popular Italian regions, which is another compelling reason to visit. I want to sip a glass of Sagrantino at a small cafe in Montefalco, snacking on some cinghiale and watching the people of this small town walk by the cafe..

The primary grape of Montefalco is Sagrantino, whose reputation, like Umbria, has been overshadowed by many other Italian red grapes and wines. You've heard of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, Chianti and Barolo, but Sagrantino remains obscure despite its potential to produce great wines. The exact origin of Sagrantino is unknown, though there are multiple theories. Some believe it is an ancient grape, and might even be the grape which Pliny the Elder, almost two thousand years ago, referred to as Itriola. Others speculate that during the Middle Ages, the grape was brought by monks, either Byzantine or Franciscans, from either Greece or Asia Minor.

The derivation of its name is also in question, though many believe it is based on the Italian word sacro meaning “sacred,” which could be due to monks in the 16th century using the grape to create a sweet sacramental wine. Another authority claims that the grape's name derives from the word sagra which means "feast," because the wine was most commonly drunk on feast days, though most of those were religious holidays. Beside being a "holy wine" or "feast wine," it is also a wine of mystery, with an enigmatic origin, though it seems to be at least five hundred years old.

About 2400 acres of Sagrantino are now grown in the area of Montefalco, as well as part of the municipalities of Bevagna, Giano dell’Umbria, Gualdo Cattaneo and Castel Ritaldi. This wasn't always the case, as by the early 1970s, the grape was nearly extinct, with few,producers seeing any value in it, Sagrantino almost took up permanent residence in the shadows, if not oblivion. As a brief aside, outside of Italy there are a few plantings of Sagrantino in California and Australia.

Fortunately, the potential extinction of Sagrantino was stopped by a few wise people who realized that Sagrantino possessed vast potential and helped to resurrect the grape. Arnaldo Caprai was one of these sagacious individuals. With a background as the owner of a large textile company, he actually knew little about wine yet still bought he Val di Maggio estate in 1971. This ignorance might have been a blessing in disguise as he also wasn't saddled with the wrongful myths about Sagrantino. Instead, with fresh eyes, he looked at the Sagrantino grape and saw a bright future, planting vineyards and eventually taking on his son, Marco, into the winery.

Through the hard work of Caprai and other Sagrantino pioneers, Montefalco Sagrantino would attain DOC status in 1979 and fourteen years later, in 1992, would be promoted to DOCG status, the highest wine category in Italy. Within about 30 years, Sagrantino had transformed from near extinction to becoming one of the preeminent grapes of Italy. That is quite a turnaround, and would not have been possible without the passion and determination of a number of individuals who saw the potential of Sagrantino.

Sagrantino is a late ripening grape, rich in polyphenols, which give it structure and allow it to age well for many years. The wines typically possess a dark, almost inky, red color and tend to be tannic, though that can be managed by the wine maker. These wines often possess flavors of cherries and mulberries, as well as a certain rusticness, producing a bold, earthy dry wine that is perfect for pairing with black truffle, meats and strong cheeses like Pecorino, or in other words, much of the typical Umbrian cuisine.

You'll find Sagrantino used in both DOC and DOCG wines  First, there is the Montefalco Rosso DOC and Montefalco Rosso Riserva DOC, which differ only by the amount of aging, with the Rosso requiring 18 months of aging (and no need for oak) while the Riserva requires 30 months of aging, with at least 12 months in oak. The wine blend used to require 60%-70% Sangiovese, 10%-15% Sagrantino and the remaining percentage, 15%-30%, from several other authorized  red grapes.

However, just last month, the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco, the Montefalco Consortium, voted to change that regulation so that Rosso going forward can only contain 60%-80% Sangiovese and 10%-25% Sagrantino. That will obviously affect the general taste profile of these wines, as they now can only use two different grapes, so it will be interesting to taste these future wines.

Second, there is the Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG which must be produced from 100% Sagrantino and requires 30 months of aging, with at least 12 months in oak. Third, there is also a Montefalco Sagrantino Passito DOCG, where the Sagrantino grapes are dried on mats for at least two months and which needs to be aged for at least 30 months.

Starting back in 1981, a number of wine producers in Montefalco joined together as the Montefalco Consortium. The Consortium, which currently has 227 members of which 56 are wineries, represents more than 80% of the certified production of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Montefalco DOC in the region. They have even sponsored an official wine trail, the Strada del Sagrantino, which provides purple signs to lead tourists to the various wineries.

Most recently, the Montefalco Consortium has also been at the forefront of programs to create more sustainable vineyards. Their latest project is Grape Assistance 2015, a study with the goal of reducing the use of harmful pesticides and other dangerous chemicals. Initially, they are involved in gathering a wealth of data on everything from climate to soil so that they can develop a proper plan of action..

Recent statistics show that Sagrantino is stepping out from the shadows. During the last 15 years, production of Sagrantino has more than tripled and the number of vineyards in the DOCG area has increased from 122 acres to 650 acres. This growth in Sagrantino vineyards is probably a significant reason for the recent changes to the Montefalco Rosso DOCwine blend. With more Sagrantino available, there is less need to supplement blends with other grapes. In addition, the number of DOCG bottles produced annually has risen to 1.5 million. Last year, approximately 3.5 million bottles of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and Montefalco Rosso DOC were sold.

My own experience with the wines of Montefalco and Sagrantino has been limited, though eight to nine years ago, I had my first such wine, an Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso. At that time, though I knew little about it except for its taste, it was my favorite wine of the event I attended. Since then, I rarely have seen Sagrantino wines at other tasting events, and it isn't common at most wine shops either. Though its overall growth has increased significantly, it still seems to be mostly in the shadows in the U.S., needing more light to show people what they have been missing.

The Scacciadiavoli Winery, the oldest estate in Montefalco, derives its name, which means “drives away devils” from an exorcist who once lived in a village on the perimeter of their estate. The priest would use wine, probably a sacramental wine, in his exorcisms and maybe it was Sagrantino. The estate was founded in 1884 by Ugo Boncompagni-Ludovisi, Prince of Piombino, Marquis of Populonia, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, Duke of Monterotondo, Sora and Arce, Count of Conza and Marquis of Vignola. In 1892, he would surrender all of these titles and become ordained as a Catholic priest, though it doesn't appear that he became an exorcist.

The winery is currently owned by the Pambuffetti family, which took ownership back in 1954 when Amilcare Pambuffetti became the third owner of the estate. The fourth generation of the family, including Iacopo, Amilcare, Liu, Romeo and Fiammetta Pambuffetti, is now responsible for the winery. Amilcare was recently reelected as President of the Monteflaco Consortium, a strong sign that this family is truly devoted to the region.

Their estate consists of about 130 hectares with 35 hectares of vineyards; and they produce approximately 250,000 bottles annually. Their portfolio includes white wines, red wines, sparkling wines, passito, and even grappa. I am intrigued by the fact that they produce a Vino Spumante made from Sagrantino grapes.

The Scacciadiavoli di Pambuffetti Montefalco Rosso DOC is a blend of 60% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 25% Merlot that has been aged in old barrels and large tanks of French oak for 12 months with an additional 6 months in the bottle. In the future, with the new DOC changes, this wine will no longer be able to be made with Merlot.

The wine is medium red in color with an intense nose of black fruit, mild spices, and a touch of earthy notes. It is a smell that brings you into the vineyard. On the palate, there are bright flavors of black cherry and blackberry, though it isn't made in a fruit forward, international style. It has more depth, with a spicy aspect and a backbone of rusticness, that earthy element. The tannins are soft and silky, with a rich mouthful and a lingering finish. A wine I strongly recommended.

I paired this wine with Shepherd's Pie, a simple but delicious comfort food, opting for a dish that wasn't reminiscent of Umbria as I wanted to showcase the versatility of this wine. In the end, I realized that this Monteflaco Rosso was an excellent comfort wine. It is food friendly and easy drinking, the type of wine that you might open any day of the week with burgers to pizza, hearty pasta dishes to aged cheeses. It is light enough though to go with roast chicken or maybe even a fish stew with chorizo.

The Perticaia Winery is a much newer winery, and its name, in an old Umbrian tongue, means “plough”, which is said to be the tool which marked the significant transition from sheep farming to agriculture. Guido Guardigli visited the Montefalco region in the early 1990s and was persuaded by the potential of the area and its native grapes, founding his own winery in 2000. The estate currently has 15 hectares of vineyards, 7 planted with Sagrantino, 4 with Sangiovese, 2 with Colorino, 2 with Trebbiano Spoletino, and 1 with Grechetto. There are also over 250 olive trees on the estate, their part in supporting the "Oil City.".

The Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is made from 100% Sagrantino and aged for 12 months in steel vats, 12 months in small, French oak barrels oak and 12 months in the bottle. The wine is medium red in color with a spicy nose enhanced with red fruit aromas and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you might be surprised to find that the tannins are very mild. It is dry, with flavors of black cherry and plum and a mildly spicy backbone and some earthy elements. Excellent acidity helps to make this an excellent food wine. It is well balanced with a lengthy finish and plenty of complexity. Another wine I strongly recommended.

Though Sagrantino is said to be a tannic grape, this wine possessed more mild tannins so I chose to pair it with Chicken Parmigiana. This was a fine combination with the slightly spicy marinara sauce pairing nicely with the Sagrantino. The tender chicken and pasta weren't overshadowed by the wine. Again, this is a food friendly wine, especially with its high acidity, and the pairings would be similar to the Rosso, though this wine could also stand up to beef dishes. It's simply delicious.

We return to the initial conundrum of how to elevate the wines of Montefalco, the wines made form Sagrantino, out of the shadows. The first step is always to have a worthy product, to create interesting wines of quality which will appeal to wine lovers. Based on the wines I tasted, Montefalco has already achieved that step, producing delicious, quality red wines. My belief is supported by a number of other wine writers who have been enchanted with these wines and written about them in the last few years.

The next step is to provide more press for these wines, for more people to spread the word about this region and the wines it produces. Wine lovers need to be alerted to keep an eye out for Sagrantino wines, and that is a process in its beginning stages. There need to be more passionate advocates for these wines, more people exposing these wines to the sunlight rather than letting them waste away in the shadows. The Montefalco Consortium appears to be reaching out to more wine writers, helping to promote their wines, and that needs to continue.

Wine shops are also an important element of this process, as it is they who deal with many average consumers, people who might not read about wine in magazines, newspapers or online. As I work part time in a wine store, I see plenty of consumers who enjoy wine, but, left to their own devices, will choose that which is familiar to them, or the most widely known grapes and wines. However, many of those customers are willing to be more adventurous souls, provided they receive recommendations from the wine shop staff.

Those consumers are seeking some guidance, someone to point out some of the best and most interesting wines. They rely on the passion and expertise of the staff and that is the opportunity to introduce these consumers to intriguing wines like those of Montefalco. In the end, bringing these wines out of the shadows will take a united effort.

What are your experiences with .the Sagrantino wines of Montefalco?

(Please be advised that I received the two Montefalco wines as free media samples from the Consorzio Montefalco as part of a Wine Blogger contest.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

My Most Anticipated Restaurant Opens: Chef Peter Ungár & Tasting Counter

The Tasting Counter is now open!

Last December, in my year-end Favorite Restaurants post, I noted that my Most Anticipated Restaurant Opening for 2015 was the Tasting Counter, owned by Chef Peter Ungár (pictured above). As I said then, and continue to believe, Chef Ungár "is a highly skilled chef, who I believe is one of the best in this area, and has remained beneath the radar for many diners in the Boston area."

I first met Peter in 2008 when I attended one of his Chef's Table multi-course dinners which was held in his home. I was thoroughly impressed with Peter's cuisine and attended several more of his Chef's Table dinners, including having him host a special birthday dinner for me. I was excited last year when I learned he was going to open his first restaurant.

The Tasting Counter officially opened yesterday, though I attended a Friends & Family dinner on Wednesday evening. The restaurant is located in Somerville in the Aeronaut Food Hub building, the site of other food & drink businesses. It offers a nine-course tasting menu, paired with ten selections of wine, beer, Sake, or nonalcoholic beverages. The restaurant seats twenty people at a time, at their U-shaped counter (pictured above). Peter also has a mission that his restaurant should be 0 Carbon, and source at least 50% of their ingredients from Massachusetts.

Currently, the restaurant is open for a single dinner service each night from Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8pm-10pm. In the near future, they plan to add a second, earlier dinner service, as well as a lunch seating. You purchase your dinner ticket online, priced at $150 for Tuesday through Thursday seatings, and $165 for Friday and Saturday night seatings.  They will also welcome walk-in guests (for an additional $15) dependent on whether there is a free seat or not.

The price includes your nine-course dinner, 10 selections of drink, tax and your gratuity. I think that it a very fair price for the quality and quantity of food and drink you receive. Sure, due to the price, most people will view the Tasting Counter as a special occasion restaurant. However, you should seriously consider it when deciding on a venue for those special occasions.

When you purchase your ticket online, you indicate your choice of drink and note any allergies and dietary restrictions. As their website states: "We are happy to accommodate various diets, including nut-free, lactose-free, pescetarian, gluten-free, and shellfish-free. We may do gluten-free only if you have a sensitivity to gluten. We work with flour in our kitchen and unfortunately cannot guarantee a menu for any guest with celiac disease. We currently do not offer vegetarian or vegan menus, however, aim to do so in the near future."

As for your beverage choices, their wines are all natural wines, primarily sourced from Mise Wines. These wines are generally from France and Italy, and I'm familiar with some of Mise's portfolio, having enjoyed what I've tasted. The beers are from Aeronaut Brewery, and offer a variety of styles and tastes. Over time, the drink choices will change, offering new choices for your dining enjoyment,

I designed the Sake program for the Tasting Counter and it now has the largest Sake menu of any non-Asian restaurant in the Boston area. That is quite an accomplishment, showing Peter's passion for Sake and confidence in its ability to pair well with a variety of dishes. We put together a list of 10 Sakes, obtained from Classic Wine Imports and Ruby Wines, and including a diverse mix, from Sparkling Sake to Nigori.

The Sakes are generally from small, artisan breweries, and include Sake which may be organic, made from heirloom rice, use traditional production methods, and more. The list is diverse, showcasing a wide range of Sake types and styles. When is the last time you tasted ten different Sakes? When is the last time you drank Sake with a non-Asian meal? Many people have probably never had either of those two  experiences so the Tasting Counter is offering something unique. As with the wine and beer, the Sake selections will change with time, offering new experiences with the various dishes.

At the dinner on Wednesday, about 60% of the guests chose wine pairings, 20% chose beer and the other 20% chose Sake.

The restaurant grows some of their own herbs.

Dining at the Tasting Counter is an experience, as you get to watch much of the preparation of the dishes you'll be served. It is a personal experience, insinuating the guest into the kitchen, giving you access to the Chef and the rest of the staff. It is a reflection of Peter's previous Chef's Table dinners, which were held in his house, in a large living room/kitchen area. And if you ever enjoyed one of those Chef Table dinners, you will equally enjoy the Tasting Counter.

I was thoroughly impressed with Peter's cuisine this past Wednesday evening. From my first bite, I was enthralled and each course brought an appealing presentation with intriguing, delicious flavors. I also felt that the Sake pairings did very well with the various courses, a belief shared with others at the dinner who also ordered the Sake.

Let me provide you a glimpse into what you will find at the Tasting Counter. This isn't a formal review, as the restaurant has just opened, but I honestly can say that I very much enjoyed every dish and it would be impossible for me to choose my favorite among so many tasty choices. I've also added the Sake pairings for each dish. Please note that the menu may vary from what you experience, dependent on the availability of ingredients.

Welcoming Bites
--Black olive, almond, duck liver (bottom):  Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!
--Sourdough, gruyère, onion (top left)
--Sichuan, fennel, hake, roe, lime, rice (top right)
Paired with the Asahi Brewery Dassai “Otterfest” 50 Sparkling Junmai Ginjo.

Sea Urchin
Kelp custard, white truffle, & wakame. An umami bomb. Creamy, briny, and savory.
Paired with Daishichi Brewery Classic Kimoto Junmai.

Sea Scallop
Yuzu, grapefruit, preserved lemon, & avocado oil cream. Clean, fresh and bright flavors.
Paired with Shiragiku Brewery Ohtouka “Cherry Peach Blossom” Honjozo Namazake.

Hand Rolled Seaweed Pasta
Hen of the woods, anchovy, & bonito broth. Another umami bomb. Taste of the earth & sea.
Paired with Doi Brewery Takatenjin “Sword of the Sun” Tokubetsu Honjozo,

Sea Bream
Beet, pomegranate, campari, rhubarb, & sake. Fresn, tender fish with bitter acents. And a Sake gel with rhubarb cubes.
Paired with Kikusui Brewery Organic Junmai Ginjo.

Milk jam fennel, brown butter, & cucumber. A bone-in, tender fish with an intriguing milk jam fennel.
Paired with Katokichibee Shouten Born Muroka Nama Genshu Junmai Daiginjo,.

Schisandra Berry
Pine nut. A cold brewed tea which was sweet and salty, sour and bitter. A tasty palate cleanser.

Miso Cured Duck
Pear, daikon, celery, & soy. Such a silky, creamy taste to the duck, Wow!
Paired with Tomita Brewery Shichi Hon Yari “Seven Spearmen” Junma

Dry Aged Beef Sirloin Cap
Burdock, cilantro, ginger, & red curry. Tender, flavorful beef with a fine curry sauce and creamy burdock.
Paired with Huchu Homare Brewery Wataribune "Ferry Boat" 55 Junmai Ginjo.

Lime Curd
Passion fruit, lime & ginger ice cream. Light and fruity.
Paired with SakeOne Brewery Momokawa Organic Nigori

Bittersweet Chocolate
Guava, macadamia nut, & kumquat. Who doesn't like a little chocolate at the end of the meal?
Paired with Saiya Brewery Yuki No Bosha “Cabin in the Snow” Nigori Junmai Ginjo.

Parting Morsels
Raspberry lychee rose tart
Pear lemongrass chew
Beet pomegranate marshmallow
The last little taste before the dinner ends. And as you already bought your ticket online, you don't need to dip into your wallet. You just finish and leave.

I highly recommend tat you dine at the Tasting Counter and enjoy this compelling culinary experience. Chef Peter Ungár has created a fine restaurant and is worthy of your support.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

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) Chef Carolyn Johnson of 80 Thoreau in Concord is presenting a special Striper menu, for one week only. From July 29 to August , you can order the special, four-course Striped Bass Menu for only $55. Chef Thoreau is very talented and fresh seafood is always a good choice so take advantage of this upcoming dinner.

--Striper Crudo (Summer truffle, hakurei, pickled chanterelle)
--Striper Minestrone (Lobster, haricot, basil)
--Pan Roasted Striper (Cabbage, coriander, poblano cream)
--Mascarpone Mousse (Peach, raspberry, ginger)
There will also be a whimsical Striper surprise from Pastry Chef Katie Hamilburg. Maybe Candied Striper? Striper Gelato?

2) On July 26, Brass Union Executive Chef Jonathan Kopacz will be the featured grill master at the third session of the 2015 Riverside BBQ Series hosted at the Harry Parker Boathouse (20 Nonantum Road, Brighton). Now in its fourth season, the Riverside BBQ Series pairs New England’s most creative chefs with inspired craft brewers and popular bands. Situated along the Charles River, the Riverside BBQ Series is a pop-up kitchen that has drawn the likes of James Beard award winners Barry Maiden and Jamie Bissonnette that comes complete with an intimate concert and a beer festival for one all-inclusive experience.

Chef Kopacz will dish out an array of bites including Brass Union’s signature TLT (smoked tofu, arugula, tomato, kewpie), Pork Cheeks (with tomatillo) and sweet treats from Gilly’s Throwback Snacks to complement the day’s featured brewers, all hailing from New England: Harpoon Brewery, Rising Tide Brewing, Notch Brewing, Narragansett Beer, Downeast Cider House, Cisco Brewers and Peak Organic Brewing. On the music side, Tweed River Music Festival will present acts such as Bow Thayer, Josh Buckley and JMC.

WHEN: Sunday, July 26, from 4-8pm
COST: $35 per person in advance; $40 per person day-of
HOW: Advance tickets are available via
MORE INFO: Reserved for ages 21+ with proper ID. Patrons under 21 admitted when accompanied by a legal guardian. This is a rain or shine event.

3) On Tuesday, August 11, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Paumanok Vineyards. Founded in 1983, the 127-acre estate located in Long Island, New York, is owned and operated by the Massoud family. I've visited Paumanok a couple times and think they are one of the best wineries on Long Island. This should be an excellent wine dinner and I highly recommend you check it out.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Paumanok’s Winemaker, Kareem Massoud, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring cuisine paired with his selections from the Paumanok vine.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Curried Scallop Tartlets, Peach Relish
Coconut Shrimp, Garam Masala Orange Marmalade
Cochinita Pulled Pork, Plantains
Paumanok Semi Dry Riesling, North Fork, 2013
Prosciutto-Wrapped Halibut (haricot vert, feta & strawberry salad, Dijon-agave vinaigrette)
Paumanok Dry Rosé, North Fork, 2014
Fish Stew (salsa verde, lobster tomalley crostini)
Paumanok Chenin Blanc, North Fork, 2014
Pan-Seared Tuna Steak (salsa veracruzana, fragrant lime rice)
Paumanok Cabernet Franc, North Fork, 2013
Caramelized Peach Tart (honey mascarpone, candied almonds)
Paumanok Late Harvest Riesling, North Fork, 2012

COST: $75 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

4) Summer is in full swing and Terramia Ristorante is bringing Boston’s North End a $1 oyster special. Beginning Sunday, July 26,guests can enjoy an ever-changing selection of oysters at a fraction of the price. From 5pm-7pm, Sunday through Thursday, savor the flavors of New England’s best oysters, served alongside Terramia’s signature seafood, pasta and meat dishes.

Toast to the remaining summer months with selections from Terramia’s extensive wine list, from a glass of Sauvignon Blanc “Ballard Lane” ($9) to a bottle of 2013 Rose Castello Banfi “Centine” ($34). ,

For more information or to make a reservation, please call 617-523-3112.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer Port: Warre's 10 Year Otima Tawny

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

Sipping Port during the summer? It might sound crazy as many imagine that a glass of Port is most appropriate on a chilly autumn or cold winter night. However, because of the diversity of Port, there are some which do very well in the summer. For example, White Ports are commonly drunk in Portugal, mixed with tonic and ice, making for a refreshing summer libation. Rosé Port is also a lighter category of Port, and with a bit of a chill, it too will make for a pleasant summer drink. In addition, Port can be used in numerous summery cocktails.

Expand your palate and embrace Port year round.

The Warre's 10 Year Otima Tawny Port ($30) is another good choice for year round drinking, including during the summer. It is a lighter, elegant Port which can be served chilled. The company which eventually became known as Warre's originated in 1670, with the first Warre joining the firm in 1729. By the end of the eighteenth century, Warre's was one of the leading exporters of Port wine. They make a full line of Ports and in 1999, they introduced the Otima line, including a 10 Year and 20 Year Old Tawny.

The concept behind Otima was to make a more accessible Port, including the packaging. It is presented in a clear bottle with a minimal label, so that it almost resembles a still wine. Most Ports are bottled in opaque containers. Otima is meant to entice new people to try Port, to get away from the stodgy reputation that Port has with some people. It is also presented as a year-round option, which can be served slightly chilled in warmer weather. The wine, as indicated by its label, has been aged for ten years in used oak casks.

This Port has an alluring aroma, dried fruits and honey, red fruit and citrus, giving clues to the complexity you will find in this Port. On the palate, that complexity comes out in its harmonious melange of flavors, fulfilling the promise of the aroma. It is silky and seductive, with bright fruit complemented by more subtle notes of dried fruits, nuts, caramel, honey and more. It has a lighter body than many other Ports and lightly chilled, it is a nice summer choice. It is  simply delicious and highly recommended.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rant: At The Register, Put The Cellphone Down

Cellphone use is so ubiquitous, and far too many people have great difficulty lifting their heads from the screens of their phones no matter what they are doing. They walk down the street, looking at their phones rather than looking out for others who are walking in their path. When these individuals visit a store, from a wine shop to a book shop, they sometimes continue using their phone even when they go to the register to make their purchase.

That needs to stop!

First, it is rude as the cashier generally needs to engage you in conversation when you make your purchase. It is hard to do so if you are talking to someone on the phone, or texting, or surfing the Internet. Second, it is dehumanizing to the cashier, as your attention is on your phone and you aren't treating the cashier as a human being, but rather as if they were an automaton. Third, mistakes can easily be made as you aren't paying sufficient attention and may not properly understand whatever questions the cashier asks you.

If you have to make a call, then handle the call before you go to the cashier. Once you get in front of the cashier, put your phone away or down. Give your full attention to the cashier. Treat them as a human being. Engage in some actual face to face social interaction. Your life is far greater than the tiny screen of your cell phone.

At the wine shop where I work, this happens on occasion. It is clear from their telephone conversations that it isn't an emergency. And it is more difficult to handle their transaction as asking them relevant questions isn't easy. I know others feel the same way too, and stores are not the only victims. At restaurants, servers can encounter the same problem.

Have some consideration and put your cellphone down.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

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) On July 28, from 10pm-1am, Bergamot Chef Keith Pooler will create a Whole Hog Roast pop up in support of his first Pan Mass Challenge ride that is taking place on August 2nd. Proceeds from the Bergamot Whole Hog Roast will benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Dana Farber and the Pan Mass Ride contribute to finding a cure, research and assisting family with the financial burdens.

The Whole Hog “Pop Up” is $20 per person and that includes all the food. The menu includes whole hog, barbecue black eyed peas, hominy slaw, potato salad and corn on the cob. There will also be a cash bar.

For tickets, please call 617-576-7700 or log onto Eventbrite.

2) Chefs Brian Poe and Douglas Rodrigues are debuting new brunch items at The Tip Tap Room.

Brunchers who “Want Eggs for Breakfast” will enjoy new additions like the Summer Vegetables & Herb Frittata (tossed greens, black truffle vinaigrette, home fries - $10.95); The Signature (three-egg omelet, mushrooms & vegetables, toast, home fries - $12.95); Lobster Scrambled Eggs (fines herbes salad, home fries, toast - $17.95); and, Skillet Roasted Scrambled Duck Eggs (duck confit, spring onion, petit potatoes, tossed greens - $11.95).

For “Throw Mine on the Griddle” cravings, there is Roasted Spring Onions & New Potatoes (bacon, pecorino cheese, black garlic ketchup - $9.95); Strawberry French Toast (Devonshire double cream, walnut crumble, rhubarb syrup - $12.95); Smoked Cheddar & Corn Griddle Cakes (corn butter, bacon, pomegranate, brown butter crisped eggs - $10.95); and, Corned Brisket Red Flannel Hash (black garlic, fried farm eggs, baby herbs - $14.95).

For those with a “Give Me Gluten” hankering, stomachs will be satisfied with additions such as the Fried Calamari (licorice glacé, preserved lemon yogurt, shishito peppers - $13.95); Biscuits & Gravy (buttermilk biscuits, pork sausage patty, lemon-thyme gravy - $10.95); Baked Open Face B.L.T. (thick toast, broiled Idiazábal cheese, fried egg - $11.95); and, Glazed Short Rib Grilled Cheese (Gruyère cheese, red kosho - $12.95).

Cocktail offerings poured during brunch include The Tip Tap Bloody Mary (Spicy pickles - $10); Violetta (vodka, violet liquor, fresh lemon, cava - $12); Bittersweet in Barcelona (Cocchi Rosa, cava, sugar - $12); Sangria (white peach or blackberry red - $8.50); and, The Three Doshas (ginger & lemon bourbon, lemon, honey, mint - $12). For thirst-quenching mocktails, the Cold Toddy (Ethiopian cold brew coffee, chicory - $6) and Rosemary-Yuzu Limeade (rosemary, lime, yuzu - $6) also will be served for those who prefer non-alcoholic libations.

The Tip Tap Room is open for brunch service on Saturday and Sunday from 10:30am to 3:00pm.

3) On August 4, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Chestnut Hill will host a South African wine dinner with MAN Family Vintners. Established in 2001, MAN is a dynamic South African winery dedicated to making wines that consumers enjoy drinking on a regular basis. As a family-run operation, MAN is on a mission to create real, well-balanced wines at an affordable price point. Their blends are distinctive and their modern-style blends seamlessly with a touch of Old-World elegance.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with MAN Owner & Winemaker, Tyrell Myburgh, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring cuisine paired with his selections from the MAN vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Seared Sea Scallops, Watermelon & Feta Salad, Arugula Oil
Poached Chilled Littleneck Clams, Tomato, Avocado
MAN Family Vintners Chardonnay, Coastal Region, 2014
Shrimp Mulligatawny Soup (shrimp, curry, coconut milk)
MAN Family Vintners “Free-Run Steen” Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, 2014
Seared Wild Salmon (frisée & red endive salad, goat cheese, dried cherries, lemon vinaigrette)
MAN Family Vintners Pinotage, Coastal Region, 2013
Grilled Tuna Steak (gorgonzola whipped potato croquettes, wilted rainbow chard, raspberry-fig agrodolce)
Tormentoso Cabernet Sauvignon, Coastal Region, 2013
Manchego (apricot compote, hazelnut butter, dark chocolate shortbread)
Stark-Condé “Three Pines” Cabernet Sauvignon, Jonkershoek, 2011

COST: $65 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9392

Monday, July 13, 2015

Rant: Doctor, Doctor

With a birthday yesterday, and a recent visit to my physician, my health has taken center stage. The older we get, the more our health is of concern. In addition, when one's life revolves around eating and drinking, there are a number of potential health issues one should consider. These are not matters you often see mentioned on food and drink blogs. You're more likely to see pictures and descriptions of food porn and trophy wines, of restaurants and wine shops, of bakeries and wine tastings. Amidst all of this, we still need to consider our health, one of the most important elements of our lives.

For example, according to the CDC, about 35% of U.S. adults are obese and as of 2013, about 24% of the people in Massachusetts are considered obese, which increases your chance of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. It isn't easy when you dine out frequently to maintain a proper weight. It takes much discipline.

As another example, diabetes affects nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States but a quarter of Americans who have type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it. An additional 79 million (or one in three) American adults, have prediabetes, which puts them at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, diagnosis often comes 7 to 10 years after the onset of the disease, after disabling and even deadly complications have had time to develop. Therefore, early diagnosis is critical to successful treatment and delaying or preventing some of its complications.

That example helps to point out a vital issue, early diagnosis. If caught early enough, Type 2 diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise, without the need for medication. Other medical conditions are similar, early detection often being key to preventing or curing an illness. You need to see a doctor regularly, to have yearly physicals. I know that many people, including myself, are reluctant to visit a doctor, but you have to get past that. It is too vital not to do it.

If you haven't had a physical in less than a year, then get to a doctor immediately to get a check up. The longer it has been since you last saw a doctor, the quicker you need to get a physical. I would prefer it if all my readers and friends lived long and healthy lives. There is no valid excuse to skip regular visits to a physician. It might feel like a pain having to go, but the potential consequences of failing to go could be literally deadly.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

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) SKYBOKX 109 in Natick is a family-friendly sports bar and restaurant. Their new 'Whiskey Passport’ serves as a ticket for guests to explore the world’s finest whiskey, Scotch and bourbon. The idea is to get guests to try different forms/varieties of whiskey from all over the world as a way of expanding their palate.

The way it works is this. When guests arrive, they can ask to join the program for free, at which point they’ll be given an actual passport that they sign and date as their commitment to sampling 50 select whiskeys within one year. Each time they come into the restaurant to continue their worldly whiskey tour, they alert their bartender, who stamps the placeholder for each whiskey included in the tour. Categories, or “Stops” on the tour include ‘Hometown Heroes’ (New England), ‘The Rest of North America,’ ‘Kentucky Bourbon,’ ‘Irish,’ and ’Scotch.’ (over 60 whiskeys in house)

If guests fill up their passport with all 50 stamps within one year, they will receive the following:
· Custom-engraved glass – 1 side with roman numeral noting the order of completion, 2nd side with SKYBOKX logo
· T-shirt: SKYBOKX109 logo and ‘Whiskey 109’ on front, opening declaration (in the passport) on the back
· Whiskey 109 Hall of Fame: Photo and name of person in framed section in restaurant

They will keep your passport here on file so you just have to tell your bartender your name upon arrival. Make your way around the world, sampling the magnificent whiskeys unique to each region. To keep your spirits up, at 25 whiskeys you’ll earn a $20 SKYBOKX 109 gift card. You have exactly one year to earn all 50 stamps before your passport expires.

2) Boston’s preeminent French chef, Jacky Robert, goes wild for Bastille Day. In fact, when his wife was due for a summer Caesarian section to deliver their first child, Jacky insisted it be done on July 14. It was. And to this day, Jacky proudly shares this most traditional of French holidays with the birth date of his daughter, Iris.

Now in Week Four of operations, Ma Maison Jacky Robert has started a French revolution in its staid Beacon Hill neighborhood. And the bistro clearly aims to please with this three-course Bastille Day menu, prix fixe at $35 for lunch or dinner.

Trio of Pates
House-Smoked Salmon
Filet of Sole Mariane
Coq au Vin des Jacobins
Sirloin Steak with pommes de terre “a la guillotine”
Tarte Tatin
Mousse au Chocolat
Crème Caramel

3) The 13th “Taste of Cambridge” returns to the site, University Park at MIT, where the event began with plenty of food & drink, featuring outdoor seating, beer and wine gardens, lawn games, grills, craft beer, The Dirty Water Brass Band, celebrity DJ’s and dancing! It will be held on July 14t, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m with VIP Opens 5:30 pm- 9:00pm.

Highlights of this Year’s Annual Taste of Cambridge include:
--Each “Adult” ticket to the Taste of Cambridge includes four glasses of beer or wine from our beer gardens featuring Amstel, Harpoon, John Harvard’s Brew House, and a variety of other specially chosen beers and wines.
--Our VIP area features a “Bloody Mary Bar,” a raw bar, specialty cocktails, and miniature golf! VIP’s have separate “fast pass” entrance to event through VIP area. VIP area has a mix of unique restaurants and mixed drinks and closes at 9:00 pm, a ½ an hour later then general area. VIP guests can sample in general area as well.

Children and Families are welcome! Get the ultimate Tasting Ticket for the under 12 set (accompanied by a parent): there is so much to choose from -it’s hard for even the pickiest kid to resist! Kids Tasting Tickets are available for $15.00 each for children 6 to 12; kids under six are free.

Feel good and do good! Buy a ticket to this benefit and provide support to local Cambridge non-profits doing direct service work in Cambridge in alcohol and drug prevention and treatment. The TOC helps to support five non-profit alcohol and drug prevention and treatment programs each year: Past recipients include: Cambridge Camping, Food for Free, IHR, The Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, Transition House.

Please note: This is a charitable event and we do not issue ticket refunds. In case of inclement weather we have a rain date of 7/16/15.

Tickets can be purchased for $50 in advance or $60 at the door. VIP tickets are $75.  Children Tickets: ages 6-12/$15; under 6/free

4) At the end of this month, Boston area consumers will be able to purchase a dizzying selection of award-winning cheeses made from Massachusetts milk, all available under one roof. The Massachusetts Cheese Guild is partnering with The Trustees of Reservations to feature nearly 70 cheeses made by 16 local artisans at the 28,000 sq ft Boston Public Market, opening on the Rose Kennedy Greenway July 30. The partners hope to achieve two primary goals: to highlight the quality and diversity of Massachusetts-made cheese, and to promote and generate revenue for Massachusetts cheesemakers.

“They are excited to bring their members’ cheeses, some never available beyond the farms where they are produced, to the Boston Public Market, and look forward to a long and successful collaboration with the Trustees of Reservations.

In addition to numerous hard to find cheeses, many previously sold only on area farms, the booth will offer a wide variety of made-in-New England items ranging from bottled milk and yogurt, to cheesemaking supplies and cookbooks, to maple syrup, honey, pickled vegetables and granola, condiments and crackers. Rounding out the merchandise mix are books and magazine, locally baked baguettes, wooden cutting boards, Trustees-branded clothing, sea salt, and preserves.

A fulltime general manager for the cheese booth has been hired. She is Gannon Long, formerly of Glen’s Garden Market in Washington, DC. Several part-time shopkeepers will share responsibility at the booth for spreading the good word about local cheeses, joined by volunteer “cheese ambassadors” from the Cheese Guild and the Trustees. Occasional demonstrations and Meet the Cheesemaker type events are planned for the future.

“It is fitting that the vendor booth of Appleton Farms, America’s oldest working farm, will be a one-stop shop for cheese-lovers looking to sample the bounty the Commonwealth has to offer.”

5) Haru is gearing up for summer in the city with the release of new seasonal dishes and cocktails available beginning today. These summertime specials are designed to capture the lightest and cleanest flavors of the season through a duo of sophisticated appetizers, a refreshing sushi roll and two thirst-quenching cocktails.

From the kitchen, Haru will introduce two appetizers: Bluefin Crab & Corn Fritter with blue crab, corn, green onion, ginger, Thai basil and an Old Bay dressing ($8) and Tuna Tataki & Tomato Salad with seared rare tuna, vine ripened tomatoes, avocado and fresh herbs in a light lemon vinaigrette ($16). Haru’s featured sushi roll this summer is the sweet and flavorful Watermelon Roll made with snow crab, green onion, mint and watermelon that is topped with shrimp and served with a lemon dressing ($18).

For those looking for a retreat from the heat, Haru will debut two cocktails ($7.50 each) that are bursting with the bright, refreshing tastes of summer. The Cucumber Matcha Margarita sees Avión Silver tequila, Ty Ku Cucumber sake, Luxardo and matcha mixed in with a housemade cucumber-jalapeño infusion that tantalizes taste buds. With the use of matcha (a fine powdered tea hailing from Japan), this margarita-with-a-twist packs in the nutrients with its natural detoxifying qualities. The Watermelon Lemonade marries two summertime favorites in a clean yet tart blend of Absolut Citron, Ty Ku Silver Junmai, St-Germain Elderflower liqueur, fresh watermelon, lemon and thyme syrup.

WHEN: Available July 7 through October 6.

6) This summer, MET Back Bay is adding a brand new Rosé menu, just in time for the warmer weather. The MET’s new wine menu features a variety of pink wines to be purchased by the glass or the bottle. Stop in for a glass or pair it with one of MET’s signature dishes including the Pan Roasted Atlantic Halibut with Meyer lemon risotto, peas & stems and pistachio oil, New England Lobster Roll made with fresh shucked Scituate lobster and mayo served on a brioche bun, and Wellfleet Clams & Bucatini with prosciutto ends and garlic brown butter.

Rosé Wine Menu (by the glass)

Domaniers Selection Ott
Provence, France 2014 $15
Pale pink, with subtle aromas of red fruit, & a touch of citrus. It’s silky & supple with perfect acidity for patio sipping or summer suppers. Pairs well with fried food & grilled white flakey fish.
Minuty Prestige Rose
Provence, France 2013 $9
Very intense aromas of citrus fruits and white flowers. Has a good balance between rich fruits & the frest acidity. While there is a crisp, tangy background, the foreground is ripe with strawberries & apricots. The whole things is finished with a lively, bright aftertaste.
M de Minuty Rose
Provence, France 2014 $17
Hints of peach & candied orange. The mouth is fresh and round. Low acidity. Very light finish, no lingering palate.
Guilhem Rose
Pays de I’Herault, France 2014 $9
Vivid rose pink. Pleasant, intense with hints of strawberry. Mouth: Full & round with aromas of crushed red fruit. End: Splendidly fresh and long.
Signature Magali Rose
Provence, France $12
A light salmon pink in color. “A flattering bouquet of citrus fruits and red fruit.” Fresh & smooth on the palate, evoking the juiciness of apricots & grapefruit. Pairs well with vegetable dishes, salads, grilled foods. Also an excellent aperitif wine.
Chateau Beaulieu
Provence, France $10
Fruit-forward wine brimming with bright, summery notes of strawberry, raspberry & wildflowers.

7) Wendy Issokson, owner of the new Chill On Park in Fields Corner, Dorchester, announced today the start of “Family Night Tuesdays” at this ice cream and coffee shop that is becoming Dorchester’s neighborhood ice cream destination.

Family Night Tuesdays
*Every Tuesday evening this Summer, 6pm-8pm
*Specially priced kids ice cream cone or cup, $2.50....add one topping for 50 cents
*Free kids gift and balloon with any ice cream purchase. (One gift per child with purchase).

Family Ice Cream Social on Tuesday, August 4 and September 1
--August 4 Family Ice Cream Social:
*Special event with free face painting and kids activities. Fun for the whole family. 6-8pm.
*Specially priced kids ice cream cone or cup, $2.50...add one topping for 50 cents
--September 1 Family Ice Cream Social:
*Back to School Night at Chill On Park, with kids games and activities and surprise gifts for kids back-to-school backpack (with purchase of ice cream). 6-8pm.
*Specially priced kids ice cream cone or cup, $2.50...add one topping for 50 cents

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wines of Crete: A Taste of History & Terroir

King Minos. Daedelus, architect of the Labyrinth. The dreaded Minotaur. The romance of Ariadne and Theseus. The mythology of Crete captivated me as a child and it has remained an interest of mine. Today, I can also experience the lengthy and fascinating history of Crete through its wines.

Each sip of Cretan wine is like a taste of the ancient past.

The history of wine making on Crete extends back at least to 4000 BC. Crete is also the location of the oldest known wine press, from 3500 BC, and the Law Codes of Gortyn, the oldest legal document in Europe which addresses wine laws. The indigenous grape, Dafni, may be the oldest still extant grape in the world. You could drink a wine made from a grape that once was enjoyed by Socrates or Aristotle .In the ancient world, the wines of Crete were sold by merchants all over the known world. However, despite this lengthy history, the wines of Crete currently are not as well known as they should be, and that needs to change.

Bistro du Midi hosted Wines of Crete, a non-profit, wine promotion and advocacy organization. for their master class, Discover Crete's Native Varietals: History in the Glass.  This was an industry event, presenting education on the wines of Crete along with a tasting of twenty-two wines. The Wines of Crete was formed in 2006 and now has 30 winery members, representing about 90% of all Cretan wineries. They are responsible for the "...the promotion and recognition of Cretan wine, both inside and outside Greece now, and on the other, the development of wine-tourist mainstream on the island..." All of their member wineries, no matter their size, get the same amount of promotion.

The presenters included Moderator David Ransom, Wine Journalist; Robin Kelley O'Connor, CWS, CWE; Project Manager of Wines of Crete Stella Astirakaki and representative from Strataridakis Winery; Winemaker John Stilianou; and marketing specialist Alexander Sikiaridis. The event began with  a short educational program, with a tasting of six wines, and then there was a walk around tasting with lunch.

One of the most important items discussed was that Crete possesses eleven native grapes, including seven whites (Vidiano, Vilana, Thrapsathiri, Malvasia di Candia, Spina Muscat, Dafni, & Plyot) and four reds (Kotsifali, Mandilari, Liatiko, & Romeiko).  About 80% of their vineyards are planted with these native grapes and 20% with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. New plantings though are more often with native grapes, so they are relying less and less on international grapes. Though there are plenty of white wines made from a single varietal, most of their red wines are blends.

I first encountered these native Greek grapes back in 2007, with tastings of wines made from Dafni, Kotsifali and Mandilari. Over the years, I've enjoyed a number of other Greek wines, especially as the Boston Wine Expo usually has several tables of wines from Greece. At the recent Master Class, it was a real pleasure to taste more Cretan wines, to experience a glimpse into the current status of their wines, and learn more about their intriguing native grapes.

During the presentation, Robin Kelley O'Connor made a fascinating comment, one which gave me pause to think. He stated that "native grapes give us a whole new set of wine descriptors." It is the uniqueness of such native grapes which raises different impressions in their aroma and taste. Though they might seem familiar in some ways, they also present something different, which may spark new thoughts.  It could be more challenging to explain what we find within these wines made from native grapes we haven't experienced before. That is one of the wonders of wine, expanding our palates by experiencing what is new to us.

Out of the 22 wines I tasted, there wasn't one that I disliked, though some definitely stood out above the rest. A few of the wines were made from or included international grapes,such as Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot. Those were generally my least favorite of the wines, primarily because they had a more international taste profile and I was seeking more of a taste of Crete. They certainly weren't bad wines by any means, and I could easily enjoy a glass before me, but I wanted more of a taste of place.

Though it is difficult to put into words, I generally found the Cretan wines had a certain exoticism to them, a unique quality which was hard to pinpoint. This is probably due to Robin's comment on a need for new wine descriptors with native grapes. Though these wines are similar to others in most respects, there are unique elements too which should delight your palate.

My top 3 white wines included:
--2013 Rhois Tamiolakis Rhous Skipper: A blend of 70% Vidiano and 30% Plyto, with an alcohol content of 13.5%. A complex and intriguing wine, it presents with citrus and lemon flavors, savory notes and plenty of minerality. It has a richer body with crisp acidity and a pleasing finish.
--Vidiano Miliarakis: Made from 100% Vidiano with an alcohol content of 12.5%,. With strong acidity, the peach and melon flavors shine forth. An excellent summer wine, it can be enjoyed on its own but also would work well with food.
--2014 Idaia Winery Ocean:  Made from 100% Thrapsathiri, it has an alcohol content of 13%.. With pleasing citrus and stone fruit flavors, this wine also has crisp acidity, mineral notes and a dry finish. Another good wine for the summer.

My top 3 red wines included:
--2011 Mediterra Winery Mirambelo: Made from a blend of 80% Kotsifali and 20% Mandilari, it has an alcohol content of 13%. This was a more rustic and brooding wine, with red berry flavors in the background, moderate tannins, and some spicy accents. The flavors balanced well, and it is definitely more of a food wine, from BBQ to a hearty ragu.
--2007 Stilianou Winery Theon Gi: Made from a blend of 75% Kotsifali and 25% Mandilari, it has an alcohol content of 13%.. This is an organic wine, and was impressive in its complexity and depth of flavors. Rustic and earthy, with a dark berry streak and herbaceous notes. A lengthy, satisfying finish, this is another wine that would be best paired with food. It also is an excellent example of the potential of these native grapes, the high quality which they can produce. Highly recommended.
--2013 Monastery Toplou Liatiko-Mandailari; Made from a blend of 85% Liatiko and 15% Mandilari, it has an alcohol content of 14%. Another impressive example of Crete's native grapes. The wine is complex and intriguing, a fine melange of earthiness and spice, ripe plum and black cherry. Mild tannins, a long, long finish, and a certain exoticism which is hard to describe. Also highly recommended. The monks have been making wine here for over 500 years.

Seek out the unique wines of Crete, especially those made from their native grapes. It is a taste of history, a taste of terroir Enjoy them this summer aas well as year round.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Big Flower Rosé: A Unique South African Wine

The National Flower of South Africa is the King Protea, also known as the Grand Protea, which is the largest flower of the genus Protea, Though it comes in many different colors, it is often said that the pink-colored flower is the most beautiful. The pink King Protea is also the inspiration for an intriguing new Rosé wine.

Protea Heights Farm is located in the Devon Valley, close to the center of Stellenbosch, and in the late 1940s it was the first farm to cultivate protea flowers. Currently, the owner, Ginny Povall, cultivates 53 acres, with 24 devoted to protea. Their flowers bloom all year round and they export many to Europe. Besides growing flowers, they planted vineyards in 2009 and 2010, and now have about 13 acres of grapes, organically grown, including Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvingon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and a little Pinot Noir. The 2014 vintage was their first of any size.

As Botanica Wines, they produce Chenin Blanc from a 50+ year old vineyard high in the mountains of Clanwilliam and as Big Flower Wines, they are currently producing a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Rosé. Only 200 cases of their 2014 Rosé were produced and only 6 cases were imported into Massachusetts. Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose acquired one of those cases and I bought a couple bottles there. And FYI, there are still some bottles available there for sale ($19.99).

The Big Flower Rosé intrigued me as it is a blend of 2/3 Petit Verdor and 1/3 barrel fermented Chenin Blanc. It is rare to find Rosé made from Petit Verdot and it is one of my favorite grapes. Not much about how the wine is made is readily available online though It has an alcohol content of about 13.6%. The wine possesses a nice salmon color and on the nose presents bright red fruit aromas as well as some floral notes .On the palate, it is crisp and dry, with subtle strawberry and raspberry flavors, along with notes of minerality and stone fruit. It has some richness, an interesting complexity and a lengthy,pleasing finish.

I was impressed with this Rosé, which goes beyond a simple quaffing wine. It is very food friendly and great for the summer, though I would also enjoy this year round. With its limited availability, few of you will get to experience its joys, but I recommend that you become one of those few.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Celebrating Local Diversity: People of Color Blogging About Food & Drink

Diversity is important for all of us, helping to broaden our experiences, to open our minds to new ideas, and to eliminate our biases and prejudices. The benefits of diversity touch on all aspects of our lives, and it is a topic many people have been addressing. It is a topic that can be controversial at times, but we should not avoid it because of that fact. We need to meet it head-on, to embrace diversity and cherish its positive aspects. Diversity will only make us better human beings.

As a small contribution to this issue, I want to showcase local people of color who blog 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. We need to expand our scope and learn of the unique viewpoints from people of color as well.

I've been blogging about food and drink in the Boston area for almost ten years,, and the vast majority of bloggers I see at local events are white. I have 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.

Initially, I would like to create a list of people of color who live in Massachusetts and blog about food and/or drink. In time,I will expand the list to people outside of Massachusetts but I want to start off small first, to make it a more manageable project. This is by no means a comprehensive list but provides a starting good foundation.

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.

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.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) It is the Cabernet Sauvignon of Sake rice, considered the King of Sake rice. And Nippon presents the reasons why it is so popular in the article,. "Yamadanishiki Reigns Supreme Among Sake-Brewing Rice Varieties." The article begins with a short explanation of the role of rice in Sake production, noting some of the reasons why Yamandanishiki is such a favored rice, from its large kernels to its prominent shinpaku. Yamandanishiki, a crossbreed, was created in 1923 in the Hyōgo Prefecture, and most of that rice, about 71%, is still grown there. In recent National Sake Tasting Competitions, over 80% of the entries were made from Yamandanishiki.  Check out this article and learn more about this famed Sake rice.

2) Sake labels can be daunting as many Americans can't read kanji. However, The Japan Times recently reported that METI plans bilingual app that scans sake labels, The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is developing a smartphone app which will scan Sake label and provide a wealth of info about that bottle. The initial release of the app will be in October and is should be free. Initially, it will only cover about 10 brands, making it of limited use, but it will expand over time, starting around April 2016. The goal is to provide info for over 1000 brands, but that is probably around a couple years away. This could be a valuable app but it will rake time before it is truly beneficial.

3) Italian Sake?The Asahi Shimbun is reporting about Tiny Japanese brewery links up with Italian town to make unique sake. Shintani Shuzo, said to be Japan's smallest Sake brewery, is collaborating with the Italian city of Biella, in the Piedmont. The brewery is using rice from Biella to make a special Sake, called  Il Sake. This Italian rice is not too conducive to Sake brewing as koji has difficulty penetrating into the rice kernel. However, the Sake is supposed to be easy to drink, something to drink casually at room temperature. It is an intriguing experiment, and could lead to more collaborations, with other countries, in the future.

4) Sake brewing is traditionally a male-dominated profession though that is starting to change. Saveur recently highighted three of Japan's Female Sake Brewers, including  Miho Imada of Imada Brewery, Yoshiko Sato of Kaetsu Brewery, and Miho Fujita of Mioya Brewery. There are only about 20 female Toji,  master brewers, in Japan and it is great to see Saveur showcasing some of the achievements of women in the Sake industry. Check out the brief info about each of these three women, and I'll note that some of the Sakes they produce are available in the U.S. so you can support these women by buying andd enjoying their Sake.

5) I just want to highlight two of my own recent Sake posts, which both deal with the same subject. In Rant: The Legal Protection of Sake, I discuss Japan's plans to try to garner legal protection for "Japanese Sake." The plans are still tentative and I offer some of my own suggestions. In Protecting Japanese Sake & Rice, I offer a theory as to why Japan is only now moving to try to protect Japanese Sake. It might not be a fear of foreign breweries but more a fear of foreign rice, which could become very cheap if a new international trade treaty comes to pass.