Thursday, July 20, 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.
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1) Eastie’s latest newcomer, Cunard Tavern, is now be open for weekend brunch. Available every Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Cunard will offer brunch-goers an eclectic menu full of brunch classics and re-imagined, new interpretations of old favorites.

Ranging in price from $10 to $22, Chef Anthony Pino’s brunch menu will feature approachable, fun entrées including:
Elvis Sandwich (peanut butter, banana, and bacon in egg-dipped brioche and grilled)
Bacon and Egg Burger (Swiss, applewood-smoked bacon, over easy egg, fresh tomato, shredded lettuce, slice onion and chipotle hollandaise)
#BasicBreakfast (two eggs, cheesy hash browns, crispy applewood-smoked bacon, and toast)
Baked French Toast Casserole (baked brioche with seasonal fruit toppings and homemade whipped cream).
Lobster & Corn Salad roll (maine lobster and local corn in a buttered hotdog roll)

To complement its food menu, Cunard will offer guests a variety of handcrafted “adult beverages” including a Chili Verde Bloody, Mimosas, and an assortment of Bellinis made with various fresh purees.

2) On Tuesday, July 25, join Chris Schlesinger on The Automatic’s porch as he makes his famous Paella! Spanish style appetizers, seafood and pork paella and a whole lot of hospitality are going to be served homestyle out on the porch by Chris Schlesinger and The Automatic team.

Chris, a James Beard award-winning chef, founder of East Coast Grill and author of several books, opened The Automatic with his friend, legendary bartender Dave Cagle. “This is our first summer season out on the patio, so we figure we have to christen it with paella and rosé” says Chris.

It all started with a friendly paella competition over the charcoals at his summer home in Westport. Then Chris’ paella recipe was featured in The New York Times and it has become a summertime staple. Come with friends to cheer on “Old Man Schlesinger” as he cooks up his sacred summer dish. Toast the cook with The Automatic’s large format rosé! Make your reservations now, this will sell out.

Price: $35 per person, fixed price
Please call 617-714-5226 to make a Reservation

3) Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca Chef Mario LaPosta and his team invite guests to join them on Thursday, July 27 to explore the flavors of Puglia. Babbo Pizzeria will host an Italian wine dinner to explore the flavors of Puglia. Starting at 6 p.m., the evening will include a tasting of four different courses, along with wine pairings from the region.

The menu is as follows:
Antipasti 
--Bruschetta with Burrata di Andria
--Cozze Gratinate
--Peperoncini Ripieni with Tuna
--Zensa Salento Fiano 2014
Orrecchiette, Pomodorini Secchi, Salsiccia, Broccoli Rabe
Li Veli 'Primerose' Negroamaro Rosato 2016
Parmigiana di Melanzane
Pietregiovani Primitivo 2013
Goat's Milk Ricotta Panna Cotta, Vincotto Biscuit, Fresh Figs
Babbo Limoncello

Tickets are $95 and can be purchased by logging onto https://pugliawinedinner.splashthat.com/

4) Tapestry in Fenway is hosting an Aloha Party featuring Hawaiian cuisine such as Hawaiian Pizza along with Spam and pineapple dishes, tiki drinks and live Island music performed by Big Party Orchestra.

The event is open to the public and will take place on Sunday, August 20th from 2pm until 8pm. There is a $5 cover charge at the door and there will be a cash bar.

5) 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. The event will take place at 50 Landsdowne Street, Cambridge.

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, Café Luna and more,

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 https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-char-bar-wars-tickets-34656023098#tickets.

6) On Monday, July 31, celebrated Chef Paul O’Connell from the legendary Chez Henri shares the secrets of his famous Cuban sandwich with The Automatic. The Automatic’s Dave Cagle and his team are honored to launch The Automatic’s new signature Cuban Sandwich – with the blessing of Chef Paul O’Connell.

We are thrilled that Chef Paul O’Connell is bringing back his famous Pork Butt!” says Dave Cagle. “We say it’s time to Stop The Madness!! He’s sharing his recipe, teaching us his tricks, and we will begin serving the classic Cuban Sandwich starting at 5pm on July 31. And then every night after that.” It will be The Automatic’s new signature sandwich.

To make reservations, please call The Automatic at 617-714-5226

7) Chef/Owner Lydia Shire – alongside executive chef Simon Restrepo and executive sous chef Alex Pineda – is debuting 25 new creations at Scampo that encapsulate the boldest and brightest flavors of summertime.

To whet your appetite, there are a series of new starter courses. In the “Handmade Breads” category, there is Crisped Lebanese Pita Bread with whipped white bean and anchovy, sumac and pistachio oil finished with grated, cured egg yolk ($15) and on the pizza side, there is a new Tiny Meatballs Pizza with jowl bacon, candele sauce and gremolata ($20) as well as a White Pizza with truffle cheese, sherried chanterelle and fig preserve ($25).

Other new starters include the summery Avocado Soup with a salt-baked prawn a la plancha and charred scallion crème fraiche ($17); Peekytoe Crab Salad on a lemony artichoke heart with red sorrel, lemon aioli and apple jelly cubes ($25); Maple Torched Foie Gras with sous-vide coffee butter and yellow raisin brioche ($26); the sharable Char-Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops with whipped French feta mash (two for $22; three for $32); Tandoori Fired Large Sea Scallops on whipped white eggplant ($24); Spain’s Ibérico Ham with warm Portuguese custard tarts and shaved persimmon ($39); and, Heirloom Tomatoes with horseradish panna cotta, melon and pine nut puree ($16).

From the signature mozzarella bar, there is a trio of newcomers: Mozzarella with Prosciutto on grilled watermelon steak ($29); Mozzarella with Beef Sirloin Carpaccio with peppery red watercress and petit cracked black pepper arancini ($22); and, Burrata on olive oil-fried chestnut polenta with broiled Frog Hollow Farm’s organic peaches ($22).

New “Handmade Pasta e Risotti” offerings include the Delicate Three-Cheese Lasagna, a deconstructed creation filled with robiola cheese and topped with zucchini blossoms and truffle honey ($21); Sweet Potato Agnolotti with crisped pork belly and caramel ‘pulled’ roasted hazelnuts ($19/29); Beet Pappardelle with blue poppy seeds, white baby beets and black summer truffles ($18/28); and, Butter ‘Toasted’ Acquerello Risotto, from Piedmont, with summer’s soft shell lobster and ‘silver queen’ corn ($28).

The entrée-sized “Plates” also have undergone a full seasonal revamping, with Rare Tuna served with frites, crisped ‘black and white’ squid and curly parsley bagna cauda ($36); Roast Day Boat Nova Scotia Halibut with cockles and rouille of rolled gratin with the thinnest zucchini and summer squash ($38); Crisped Salmon with spiced laksa butter and micro citrus greens on steamed coconut milk jasmine rice ($34); Classic Brick Chicken with red chard gnocchi, Alabama white BBQ sauce and a fried pickle ($30); Heritage Red Wattle Pork Chop with an intense rum-raisin butter and French fried parsnips ($36); Scampo Duck with celery leaf and almond milk risotto finished with Sangue Morlacco dark cherry liquor gastrique ($35); Seared Darling Downs Wagyu Skirt Steak with ripe tomato and peach with a pistachio pesto ($38); Scaloppini of Tender Veal with king oyster mushrooms and young taleggio with farro grains and marsala wine ($36); and, Fish & Chips with apple cider-battered hake and lobster served with root chips and Tokyo tartar ($44).

For sides, diners now can round out their experience with new accompaniments like Grilled Corn & Corn Sformato with chipotle and chili-lime salt ($10) and Simon’s Incredible Dauphine Potatoes & Tempura Onion Rings ($10).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TasteCamp Maryland: Tenth Ward Distilling Company

"There was one mistake Baltimore never made. Baltimore, and the state of Maryland, never endorsed Prohibition. We were known as the wettest state, where beer and liquor was freely available before and after the Volstead Act's repeal in 1933."
--The Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2010

As I recently wrote, I attended TasteCamp 2017 in Maryland and during our weekend visit we sampled a number of local spirits. During our visit to McClintock Distilling Company, we also had the opportunity to taste some spirits from the Tenth Ward Distilling Company, and I found three of their products to be interesting, innovative and delicious.

The Tenth Ward Distilling Company, which opened in July 2016, is located at 508 East Church Street in Frederick, in a part of the city which was once known as the Tenth Ward. The distillery is owned by Monica Pearce and Kyle Pfalzer. Monica and Kyle are committed to environmental sustainability and also try to be as local as possible. For example, all of the grain they use is sourced relatively local, about 33 miles away, from the Ripon Lodge Farm in Rippon, West Virginia. In addition to providing the grains, the farm also malts their barley and rye, as well as smokes their corn.

The distillery's slogan is “Ward off ordinary,” which is a partial play off their name and also indicative of their objective to "push the limits with unconventional distilling and aging techniques while at the same time bringing back some historical and local aspects to our process." And based on the spirits I tasted, I see some of that unconventionality as well as homage to local history. They currently produce three spirits year-round, and a few others seasonally or as limited releases.

The Claude Countee Corn Whiskey ($28), produced year-round, is named after a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger from Frederick. The whiskey is made from a mashbill of 80% corn and 20% malted barley, and comes in at 95 proof. Though their website states this whiskey drinks similar to a peated Scotch or Mezcal, I feel that it is more like a smoky bourbon. You have the sweetness from the corn, enhanced by a prominent, but not overwhelming, smoky aspect. Sweet and smoky, it was quite tasty and smooth, despite the high alcohol content. This could be enjoyed on its own, though it would make for an excellent ingredient in a cocktail, maybe a smoky Manhattan.

The Lindsay Stunkle Rye Whiskey ($36), produced year-round, is also named after a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger from Frederick. This limited-release whiskey is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at a whopping 120 proof. It is released twice a year, in June and November, and is intended for home aging. It is spicy and potent, enhanced by the addition of a little water, and will definitely appeal to rye lovers. There is complexity to its taste and a lengthy finish, and I would love to see this aged in the barrel for a number of years.

The most unique of their spirits was the White Caraway Rye ($36) which is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at 95 proof. The spirit is mashed with caraway seed so it is intended to taste more like rye bread, though it may also remind you of Scandinavian Akvavit. I was captivated by the intriguing flavors of this spirit, as it certainly reminded me of spicy rye bread, with a hint of mint. Though you could drink this on its own, I think it would be best used in creating some fascinating cocktails.

Tenth Ward Distilling is producing some impressive and innovative spirits and there is much potential for the future. If you ever get to Maryland, seek out their spirits.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rant: Stop Hoarding Your Wine

Four years ago, I visited southern Oregon and stopped at Abacela Winery for a tour, tasting and lunch. The winery has a strong affinity for Spanish grapes and in 1995, they planted the first Tempranillo in the Pacific Northwest. Over  a delightful lunch with Paella, the star wine was the 2005 Abacela Paramour ($90), made from Tempranillo and created in a Gran Reserva style. At that time, it was an impressive wine, though the winery suggested it should be cellared for several more years. I purchased a bottle to take home and placed it into my wine cellar, where it sat for four years.

Last week, for my birthday celebration, I finally opened that bottle, sharing it with family and friends. It was an amazing wine, loved by everyone who tasted it, and I certainly wish I had purchased more when I visited the winery. For my birthday, I wanted to open a special bottle and price wasn't an object. I realized that I might never enjoy this wine again, and that the price for the 2005 vintage had probably risen. I might have been able to sell it for a profit. However, I don't have a single regret that I opened the bottle.

In the end, it was just a wine, something to drink and share. I didn't view it as an investment vehicle, something to save until its value increased and then sold it off at a profit. I don't have a single bottle in my wine cellar that wouldn't open for some occasion. And I also don't let my special bottles sit in my cellar, waiting for the perfect occasion which never seems to arrive. Every bottle in my cellar is meant to be drank.

Too many people let their special wines sit in their cellars and never open them. They say that they are saving them for a special occasion, maybe a holiday, birthday, anniversary or other celebration, but they never actually get to opening them. Wines don't age forever. At some point, a wine will peak and then it will begin to decline. Do you want to drink your wines when they are on the decline? Will you wait until the wine is actually over the hill, if not dead?

You need to stop hoarding those wines and drink them. Commit to opening a special wine on your next celebration, even if you are only celebrating that it is Friday night. Sure, you could try to save those special wines, hoping they gain in value so that could you sell them some day. However, what do you really gain? And what will you do with the money you might earn from selling the wine?

Life is about experiences not objects. And the experience of sharing an expensive bottle of wine with good friends and family is priceless. I have good friends who understand that sentiment, and freely share their own special bottles on various occasions. They are all about the experience, worrying not about the price of the wine.

Stop hoarding your wines! Share them with family and friends and savor the experience. You won't regret it.

Thursday, July 13, 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.
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1) The Painted Burro, the festive, upscale Mexican kitchen and tequila bar in the heart of Somerville’s Davis Square, is adding fajitas to their flavorful menu as part of Tex-Mex Mondays.

Fajitas that are in rotation include Carne Asada with Guajillo BBQ, Ranchero Chicken, Blackened Salmon, and Achiote Pork Loin and all come in a sizzling skillet with onions, peppers, grilled banana pepper, with a side of house made flour tortillas, chimichurri, lettuce, tres quesos, and pico de gallo.

Accompanying the rotating selection of tasty fajitas are fun featured drinks and $5 coronas, tecates, pacifico, modelo, and more.

To enjoy the Burro’s special fajita offerings, simply dine-in on any Monday and enjoy the two featured tacos in rotation that week.

2) TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel is celebrating our favorite summer crustacean during the month of July by offering three lobster specials that will satisfy your cravings in the best possible way:

Lobster salad with corn, sea beans, and yellow pole beans ($19)
Lobster mac and cheese ($20)
Lobster “bake in a bag” with lobster, corn, mussels, and new potatoes ($30)

These specials will be offering in addition to the regular menu every day from 11:30am – midnight through the end of July.

3) Chef/Owner Christopher Coombs, Executive Chef Adrienne Mosier, Pastry Chef Shaun Velez, GM/Sommelier Jason Irving, and the rest of the Deuxave team invite guests to join them for a special mid-summer wine dinner.

On Tuesday, July 25th at 6:30 p.m., Deuxave will be hosting a four-course wine dinner featuring the wines of Central France’s Loire Valley alongside thoughtfully paired dishes.

The evening’s menu will include:
To begin:
Striped Bass Crudo with Shiro plums and sorrel paired with Marc Bredif, Vouvray, Loire, FR, 2015
Second course:
Local burrata with heirloom tomatoes, and summer herbs paired with Domaine Riffault, les Desmalets, Sancerre, Loire, FR, 2015
Third course:
Confit suckling pig with apricots, mustard greens, and garden flowers paired with Domaine du Clos de l’Elu, Magellan, Anjou, Loire, FR, 2013
Dessert:
Pineapple tatin with lychee mint salad and Coteaux de Layon ice cream paired with Clos de l’Elu, 1er Cru “Chaume”, Coteaux du Layon, Loire, FR, 2014

Cost: Tickets are $149 plus tax and gratuity
For reservations, please call (617) 517-5915.

4) On Tuesday, July 25th, at 6:30pm, Abe & Louie's, the Back Bay steakhouse, will host a decadent and delicious wine dinner featuring distinct vintages from Jordan Vineyards paired with a four course dinner by Chef Tindaro LoSurdo. Attendees will be joined by a very special guest that evening - legendary winemaker Rob Davis, who has been creating the Jordan vintages for over 40 years.

The Menu includes:
--Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble paired with East vs. West Coast oysters served with cucumber and wasabi mignonett
--2014 Jordan Winery Russian River Valley Chardonnay paired with sweet corn and duck confit spring rolls with pickled mango salsa
--1999, 2005 and 2013 Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvignon paired with grilled prime ribeye served with salt roasted marble potatoes and honey roasted purple carrots
--Dessert wine paired with a sea salt and callebaut chocolate brownie sundae with luxardo cherry sauce

Cost: $165 per person, not including tax or gratuity.
Interested guests can make reservations by calling the restaurant at (617) 536-6300.

5) Debuting on Sunday, July 23rd, Chef Jason Santos’ Buttermilk & Bourbon will soon offer brunch service, with a taste of the Bayou, every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Buttermilk & Bourbon, located at 160 Commonwealth Ave., will offer brunch-goers a taste of the Bayou in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay.

In addition to Buttermilk & Bourbon staples like its freshly fried beignets with vanilla bean mascarpone, warm honey-glazed biscuits, and deviled egg toast, the brunch menu will feature a variety of new, signature items. Menu highlights will include buttermilk biscuit and gravy with house-made sausage, smoked fontina, and chives; Anson Mills cream cheese grits with a slow-cooked egg, holy trinity, and scallions; peach-pecan perdu with vanilla bean mascarpone and Louisiana cane syrup; bananas foster pancakes with sweet walnuts and buttermilk whipped cream; and fresh crab benedict with hot Nashville hollandaise, Benton’s ham, and Stone & Skillet English muffin. Brunch dishes range in price from $7 to $22 and are accompanied by an assortment of a la carte sides ranging in price from $2.50 to $5.

To complement its food menu, Buttermilk & Bourbon's beverage menu will offer guests a variety of handcrafted signature cocktails; red and white wines; bubbles; and beers. Exclusively available for brunch, new, signature drinks will include a soft serve mimosa made with watermelon sorbet and champagne split; and a pitcher of hurricane made with Cruzan rum, passion fruit, pineapple, orange, lime, house simple, and grenadine.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

TasteCamp Maryland: McClintock Distilling Co.


Craft distilling is booming all across the country, and a significant number of these new, small producers are creating some delicious and interesting spirits, from whiskey to rum, gin to brandy. TasteCamp originated as a weekend-long immersion into lesser known wine regions, having visited areas including Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Quebec, Virginia, Niagara and Vermont. Over time, the concept of TasteCamp has evolved, so that not only do we explore wine, but we now also explore local beer, ciders, spirits, and food.

About 30 or so writers and wine industry people recently attended TasteCamp 2017, which was held in Maryland. Once again, we visited wineries, breweries and distilleries, sampling much of what Maryland has to offer, and I found much to enjoy. In downtown Frederick, one of our visits was to the McClintock Distilling Company, which only opened in December 2016. Despite its youth, I was impressed with their concept, objectives, and existing products. This is certainly a distillery with a bright future ahead of it.

In December 2014, the city of Frederick amended their city code and permitted small, craft distilleries to operate in the downtown area. Only a few distilleries have so far opened in Frederick but you'll likely see more in the near future. Tyler Hegamyer and Braeden Bumpers, who both graduated from Elon University, had an interest in producing spirits, and received some education and training in distillation at Cornell University and the American Distilling Institute.

On the site of an old mechanic's garage, they chose to open McClintock Distilling Company, which includes a distillery and tasting room. The distillery was named after McClintock Young, a famous inventor in the 19th century, who had over 100 patented inventions. With a passion for innovation, he also owned one of the first foundries in Frederick. And it is that passion for innovation which has inspired Tyler and Braeden.

The distillery uses only 100% certified organic ingredients and hopes to soon become a certified organic distillery. They currently use about 120 tons of grain annually, acquiring whole kernel grains from Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Ontario. Though they would like to use local grains, those grains still need to be organic and Perdue farms purchases most of the grain in Maryland. Their long term goal is to purchase as much local, organic grain as possible.

I was fascinated to learn that McClintock grinds all of their own grains, using a stone burr mill which once was used by an old bakery. They might be one of only two distilleries in the U.S. to use a stone burr mill. Also known as grist mills, they are able to grind grains into a fine flour which doesn't cause the grains to heat up, and also helps the flour maintain the flavor. This makes their distillery more unique, and could lead to a more flavorful end product. It also helps them keep quality control of every aspect of the process.

The milled grains pass directly into the mash tanks, which prevents oxidation. They have three fermenters, and the usual, full fermentation takes two days, using a proprietary distillers yeast. As they are very concerned with sustainability, and wish to be waste neutral, they use a closed loop cooling system, which reuses the water that chills the mash tanks. In addition, after fermentation, the spent grains are sent to local farms as pig food. I'm sure those are very happy pigs.

McClintock's stills, including a pot and column still, were created by Kothe Distilling, a renowned German company, and were made with lots of copper, which benefits distillation. On the left side, you can see their 1000 liter pot-column still.

Their column still has an attached Vapor Basket that allows them to better produce their gin, as they place all of the botanicals in the basket. This helps to better extract the flavors in those botanicals.

They currently have three products for sale, a Vodka, Gin and White Whiskey, and have been aging some of their spirits in 30 gallon barrels. They believe they will age their spirits for about 1-1.5 years before they are released for sale. For example, they have some used Hennessy Cognac barrels in which they are aging some of their gin. I had the chance to taste two barrel-samples, and they definitely show potential. I am very intrigued to see how they taste once the aging is complete.

The Epiphany Vodka ($28) is made from Northern Italian organic white wheat, and was double distilled and triple filtered. It has a relatively smooth and clean taste, with a hint of earthiness. Though you could probably drink this chilled, on its own, it probably would be best in a cocktail.  It was my least favorite of their three products, but it is still a good vodka.

The Forager Gin ($36) is a vapor infused New-World style gin using botanicals inspired by native herbs found in the Appalachian wilderness.

Here is the list of botanicals used to produce this gin. Quite an interesting combination. On the nose, there is a strong juniper aroma with subtle hints of other botanicals in the background. On the palate, the botanical mix is more balanced, and the complex melange of flavors delights the mouth. There are elements of fruit, mainly citrus, and floral flavors, with a sprinkle of spice elements. The gin should be served chilled, and would be delicious on its own, or used in cocktails. I'm not a huge fan of gin, as I find too many overdo it with the juniper flavors, but I really enjoyed the more balanced botanicals in this Forager Gin. Highly recommended.

The Maryland Heritage White Whiskey ($34) is made from a blend of about 80% Rye, with the rest being wheat and corn. It has a high rye content, intended to reflect the historic ryes from pre-prohibition Western Maryland distilleries. In addition, the whiskey was aged for about 24 hours in an oak barrel and is 84 proof. As a big Rye fan, this whiskey appealed to be, presenting with plenty of tasty, spicy notes, with a hint of sweetness from the corn. In general, it was smooth and easy-drinking, with only a touch of heat from the alcohol. This would be a nice choice in a Manhattan of other whiskey-based cocktail. Also highly recommended.

McClintock Distilling is on the right path, with passionate owners, who are trying to be sustainable, organic and produce quality spirits. Their initial products were impressive and I see great potential here, including with their aged spirits. I also feel they would be an excellent model for other craft distillers. If you ever get to Maryland, seek out their spirits. And if you have an interest in craft spirits, you should pay attention to what McClintock Distilling is doing.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Alpha Estate: More Greek Wines For Summer

"Where there is no wine, there is no love."
--Euripides

During the summer, it's best to have a variety of wines on hand, including some White, Red and Rosé.  Each has its place, pairing well with the different foods of summer, from fresh seafood to grilled burgers. Some of these wines will also do well on their own, offering a refreshing and delicious beverage while you sit outside, hanging with family and friends. Let me recommend three Greek wines, one of each wine type, for your summer needs.

Alpha Estateimported by Diamond Importersis located in the heart of the Amyndeon, a wine region in the Northwest of Greece. Their vineyards cover over 160 acres situated on a plateau around 2,000 feet above sea level. The winery is led by Angelo Iatridis, "...considered by many to be Greece's most promising winemaker." Alpha is also considered "...one of the most cutting edge producers in Greece and has established the most technologically advanced vineyards in the viticulture world." I received media samples of three of their wines, and each was delicious and interesting, and would be excellent for the summer, or any other season.

The 2016 Alpha Estate Rosé ($19.99) is made from 100% Xinomavro, which spent two months on the lees, and has a 13% ABV. With a bright pink color, this wine has a delightful fruity nose and on the palate, it is crisp, dry and fruity, with tasty flavors of strawberry and cherry and subtle floral notes. It has a medium-body, with a lengthy, satisfying finish. This is the type of Rosé I really enjoy, and it was a pleasure to enjoy poolside. It also paired very well with some grilled chorizo. This would certainly be a food-versatile wine, from oysters to burgers, roasted chicken to pizza. Though sipping it on its own, while relaxing poolside, is quite the pleasure as well.

The 2016 Alpha Malagouzia Turtles Vineyard ($15.99-$17.99) is made from 100% Malagouzia, a grape that was nearly extinct until being revived in the late 20th century. The Turtles Vineyards is a sub-region of the Amydeon, located at an altitude of about 660 meters, with northwestern orientation, facing Voras mountain. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, spent about two months on the lees and has a 13% ABV.

The wine has a yellowish-green color with an aromatic nose of herbs and tropical fruits. On the palate, it has an intriguing and complex melange of flavors, including spices, herbs and fruit. I could detect notes of citrus and melon, rosemary and mint. It was dry and elegant, with a pleasing acidity and a lingering finish. Each sip seemed to bring something new to my mouth and I was quite taken with it. This wine would go well with seafood, from haddock to shrimp. Or you could sit in the backyard on a summer evening, savoring each sip as you watch the stars.

The 2014 Alpha Xinomavro Hedgehog Vineyard ($19.99-$21.99) is made from 100% Xinomavro, from the Hedgehog Vineyard which is a sub-region of the Amydeon, located at an altitude of about 690 meters, with north orientation, facing Petron Lake and Voras mountain. The wine, with a 14.5% ABV, spent eight months on the lees and was aged for 12 months in French oak with an additional 12 months in the bottle.

It has a deep red color with an alluring nose of red and black fruits, accompanied by some spice notes. On the palate, it possesses a complex blend of flavors, including ripe plum, black cherry, raspberry, vanilla, pepper and other spices. The tannins are well integrated, it has a nice acidity, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is an excellent wine for grilled meats, including burgers, ribs, and steaks. It would probably also work with roasted chicken, salmon, and pizza. On a summer evening, with a cool breeze in the air, you could sip this on its own, and think of the grilling delights you enjoyed earlier.

I often recommend people drink Greek wine and you should explore my Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine, which I hope will motivate you to explore the diversity and wonders of Greek wines. All three of these wines from Alpha Estate would be excellent choices to start your sampling of Greek wines.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rant: Wine Tastings Without Passion

Importers/distributors often conduct wine tastings at various wine stores, trying to garner interest in their wines, with the ultimate goal of selling more wine. I've attended many of these tastings, and was even at one yesterday afternoon. Yesterday's importer/distributor, who offered five Georgian wines for sampling, possessed a deep passion for the wines and region, and his passion was more than evident as he presented his wines to many different consumers.

Because of his passion, he excited the consumers about his wines and sold a good number of those wines. Without that passion, the tasting would have been far less successful, and could have even been a bust. I've been at those tastings too, where the importer/distributor is just going through the motions, a passionless stance, where it almost seems the importer/distributor would rather be elsewhere. Consumers notice and tend to avoid the tasting table, or if they do taste the wines don't get as excited about them. Less wines get sold.

Wine tastings are one of the best ways to get consumers interested in different wines, those they might not have purchased on their own, unwilling to take a risk on an unknown. However, those different wines also need a passionate advocate to inform and persuade consumers on the reasons they should taste and enjoy those different wines. If a importer/distributor has an unsuccessful wine tasting, maybe they should first consider whether their presenter showcased a passion for the wines or not. And if the presenter lacked that passion, it is time to choose another presenter.

When I work at the wine shop, I often see how my passion for certain wines appeals to consumers, causing them to take a chance on a wine they might never have tasted before. I've had customers eavesdrop on me describing a wine to another customer, and be so intrigued by my passion, they then ask to buy that same wine. That wouldn't happen if I was passionless in my advocacy for the wine.

Obviously, the importance of passion applies in many other fields as well, from food to books. As consumers, we understand how we are attracted to those salespeople who possess passion, who excite us about their products. Wine shops need to support passionate importer/distributors, and inform the non-passionate ones that they need to step up their game.

Thursday, July 6, 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.
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1) Pastry Chef Robert Differ, of Bar Boulud, Boston, is celebrating the arrival of National Ice Cream Month, held in July, by bringing back the “Back Bay Sundaes.”

Available now, Chef Differ will be serving up these three ice cream beauties, which are the perfect summer treat to enjoy on Bar Boulud’s terrace among friends or in the lounge after work as a cool and creamy pick-me-up. This year’s flavors include Magically Delicious (toasted oat cereal ice cream, vanilla crumble, lucky charms, marshmallow $13), Black & White (cookies & cream ice cream, bittersweet chocolate sauce, Chantilly, BB chocolate wafers $14), and Hazelnut Rocher (hazelnut ice cream, Nutella, praline pirouettes, vanilla Chantilly, hazelnut rocher $14). A tasting version of all three sundaes is also available for $15.

Chef Differ is inspired by desserts that skillfully offer a balance and juxtaposition of texture, temperature and seasonal flavors. Why not try out his Back Bay Sundaes.

2) Ocean Prime Boston, located in the Seaport district, is rolling out its #TGISF (Thank Goodness It’s Summer Friday) Seafood Happy Hour, from 4pm-6pm, every Friday this summer. Guests can enjoy $1 oysters and $10 sushi rolls in either The Lounge or the newly-opened outdoor patio.

Sushi Rolls Include: SUSHI ROLLS INCLUDE:
o Prime Roll: Tempura Shrimp, Cream Cheese, Scallion, Beef Carpaccio
o Lobster Roll: Poached Lobster Tail, Kiwi, Pickled Serrano, Masago, and Spicy Mango Puree.
o Tuna Roll: Spicy Tuna, Avocado, Cucumber
o Dynamite Roll: Tempura Shrimp, Spicy Mayo, Sesame Seeds

To make Reservations, please call (617) 670-1345

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino: A Sherry-Like Still Wine

Combine the Eye of the Hare with the Eye of the Rooster and produce vinous magic!

What legerdemain am I referring to? It involves a Spanish wine region, a desirable soil, a famed terroir, and a grape commonly used in producing fortified wine. They all combine to produce an intriguing still white wine, an uncommon practice but one which might pave the way for more producers to consider this possibility.

When I visited the Jerez region, one of my visits involved Grupo José Estévez, a Spanish wine company with roots back to 1809 when they aged Sherry and Brandy. For more background on this company, please check out my prior post about this visit, Bodegas Grupo Estevez: Music For the Flor. As an interesting aside, the Bodega plays music for the Sherry in their barrels, hoping to positively impact the flor. The Grupo owns several other bodegas, including Sherry producer Bodega Valdespino.

Bodega Valdespino may be the oldest sherry bodega in the region, and the family has been producing sherry for over 700 years, extending back to the 13th century. Once King Alonso the Wise retook the Jerez region from the Moors, he awarded his loyal knights with land and vineyards. One of those loyal knights was Alfonso Valdespino, and his descendants carried on in the wine business.

With its holdings, Grupo Estévez owns about 800 hectares of vineyard in the Marco de Jerez, with 256 hectares situated in the famed Macharnudo Pago, located about 5 kilometers northeast of Jerez. Sometimes called the "Montrachet of Jerez," this region has a high elevation, about 135 meters above sea level, and its soil is Albariza, pure chalk limestone, giving its wines a distinctive chalky character. Albariza is considered the best and most desirable type of soil in the Jerez region. Within the Macharnudo Pago, there is also a sub-area known as Macharnudo Alto ("High Macharnudo"), which is located at the highest elevation of that estate.

The main grape in this region is the Palomino Fino, which is used primarily to produce Sherry, from Manzanilla to Palo Cortado. It is known by a number of other names, including Ojo de Liebre ("eye of the Hare"). For more information on this intriguing grape, please check out my prior article, The Mystery of Palomino. As I noted in that article, Palomino Fino is sometimes used to make still wines, but that remains rare. So, when I recently found a new still wine, made from Palomino Fino, I was intrigued.

The 2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino ($15.99), a Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz, began as an experiment, as Valdespino spent about five years vinifying Palomino Fino from various parcels in the Macharnudo Pago, trying to determine which parcel might produce the best still wine. Eventually, they decided that the Ojo de Gallo ("Eye of the Rooster") parcel, in the Macharnudo Alto, was the best. The Palomino Fino vines, cultivated organically, are about 20-25 years old, and harvesting is done by hand. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, and then it is aged for about 6 months on the fine lees.

The Ojo de Gallo, with a 12% ABV, has a nice golden color and the nose reminded me immediately of a Fino Sherry. On the palate, it also was reminiscent of Fino Sherry with a bright salinity, citrus flavors, a strong minerality backbone and savory notes. It was crisp and very dry, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It was fresh, elegant and complex, an intriguing wine that certainly shows the potential for Palomino Fino in still wines. Highly recommended!

I picked up this wine at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose and you too can find it there, at least until it sells out. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Rant: Boston-Area Restaurants, Embrace Sake

There is some good news for local Sake lovers. 

There are two new restaurants, owned by two skilled local chefs, which should hopefully open later this year and both will showcase Sake. Kamakura, owned by Chef Youji Iwakura, and Momi Nonmi, owned by Chef Chris Chung, will offer Japanese cuisine, the first more of a Kaiseki-style spot while the second more of an izakaya. Both restaurants won't merely have a few Sakes on their menu, but will celebrate a passion for Sake. Sake will be a focal point in their drinks program and that is compelling. I eagerly look forward to the opening of both restaurants.

There is some bad news for local Sake lovers. 

The problem is that Sake, in the Boston-area, is being largely confined to Asian restaurants, especially those offering Japanese cuisine. We need more non-Asian restaurants willing to embrace Sake, to showcase it in their drinks program, to pair it with their non-Asian cuisine. Currently, the Tasting Counter is the only local, non-Asian restaurant which has shown a true passion for Sake.  With your dinner, you have the option of 10 Sakes pairings with your multi-course meal. Why don't more non-Asian restaurants see the value in adding Sake to their menus?

First, let me correct any misconceptions you might have about Sake and food pairings. Sake is not just for Asian cuisine. In fact, it is extremely food friendly and there is a Sake that will pair with everything. Check out my article, The Science of Sake & Food Pairings, to understand many of the reasons why Sake works so well with various cuisines. You can also read some of my related, and more specific articles, on Sake pairings, including: Sake For Thanksgiving, Slurping Oysters & Sipping Sake, Pairing Sake & Cheese, and Sake, Seafood & Lobster Anywhere. I've done Sake pairing dinners at Italian and French restaurants, and at home, I've paired Sake with so many different foods. There isn't a Boston-area restaurant which wouldn't benefit from adding Sake.

Many restaurants want to be on the cutting edge of the drinks world, offering wine from hot new regions, local beer from new micro-distilleries, and intriguing new spirits. Well, Sake is on that cutting edge, with thousands of years of history behind it, but there are also plenty of new brewers embracing the future. With so few non-Asian restaurants showcasing Sake, it would be a great way to make your restaurant more unique.

One of the main obstacles to adding Sake to the menus at non-Asian restaurants is probably a lack of knowledge about Sake. That is simple to remedy, as all you need to do is educate yourself. There are Sake classes you can take or Sake consultants you can speak to. Sommeliers spend time learning about new wine regions, so why not just extend that education to Sake? Look at it as a new challenge to face, to learn more about this fascinating beverage, and see how well it pairs with a myriad of cuisines.

Boston-area restaurants, especially non-Asian ones, please embrace Sake!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Sparkling Rosé from Kir-Yianni: Greece For The Win

"The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him who drinks it."
--Pliny the Elder

Drink some Xinomavro this summer! Maybe you're not sure what Xinomavro is, but I hope you're willing to learn. Xinomavro (which roughly translates as "acid black") is an indigenous grape in northern Greece and often is compared to Nebbiolo. Xinomavro is difficult to grow and usually provides mild color, strong tannins and high acidity. Because of those characteristics, it ages very well. While young, the wines tend to be dominated by red fruit flavors and as the wine ages, it starts to show more savory notes, such as tomato and olive. Though it can make impressive red wines, it can also be used to produce compelling Rosé wines.

In Greece, there is a single Appellation of Origin for Rosé wine, the Amyndeon, located in northern Greece in Macedonia. All of the wines from Amyndeon must contain at least 85% Xinomavro. One of the most well known wineries in this region is Kir-Yianni, which means "Sir John" in Greek. The winery was founded in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris, who had left the Boutari Wine Group. Though their first vintage was in 1990, it was not until the 1995 vintage that the wine was bottled under the Kir-Yianni name. More than half of their labels are single vineyard growths on the eastern and western slopes of Mt. Vermio in Macedonia. They grow indigenous Greek grapes, like Xinomavro and Assyrtiko, as well as some international ones such as Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

Last night, I chose to open a Greek Sparkling Rosé, made from Xinomavro. I received a media sample of the 2016 Kir Yianni Akakies Sec Sparkling Rosé ($19.99), which is made from 100% Xinomavro. The vineyard for these Xinomavro grapes is located in the viticultural zone of Agios Panteleimon within the Amyndeon appellation in Florina, in northwestern Greece. The vineyard is located at a high altitude of about 600 meters. This Sparkling Rosé spent about 3 months on the lees and has a low 11.5% ABV.

With a light red color and tiny bubbles, this Sparkling Rosé possessed an alluring nose of bright red fruits. On the palate, it was crisp, dry and full bodied with a refreshing effervescence, a mild creaminess and rich flavors of strawberry and cherry. It has a pleasingly long and delicious finish, with hints of savoriness at the end. I paired this Rosé with garlic & parmesan sausage and rice pilaf, and it was a tasty pairing, the fruit meshing well with the herbs of the food. This Rosé would also pair well with a variety of other foods, from seafood to burgers, pizza to roast chicken. Or you could enjoy it on its own, sitting outside in the summer sun, toasting a special occasion, or savoring it at home some evening.

I often recommend people drink Greek wine and you should explore my Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine, which I hope will motivate you to explore the diversity and wonders of Greek wines. The 2016 Kir Yianni Akakies Sec Sparkling Rosé would be an excellent choice to start your sampling of Greek wines.

This summer, drink Greek!

Thursday, June 29, 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.
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1) On Tuesday, July 11, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute‘s extensive portfolio of Tuscan wines. A Tuscan staple, the Folonari family has been making wine in the region since the 1700s. With estates in the finest appellations of Tuscany, the Folonaris produce distinctive, small-production wine that has made them one of the most prestigious and respected winemakers in Italy. Currently owned and operated by Ambrogio Folonari and his son Giovanni, the Folonari family brand innovated in 2000 by subdividing their existing estate vineyards and expanding their operations into new regions of Tuscany, allowing the family to augment their portfolio and produce a greater diversity of craft wines. By both expressing the continued innovation and creativity of contemporary Tuscan winemaking, while also honoring the Tuscan tradition and the region’s rich history, the Folonari family has cemented itself as one of Tuscany’s most distinguished winemakers, and is world-renowned for its devotion to quality and craftsmanship.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute’s US brand ambassador and Italian wine expert, Claudio Andreani, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Folonari family’s collection of Tuscan wines. The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Lobster Cake, Lemon Tarragon Aioli
Grilled Octopus Crostini, Calabrian Pepper-Saffron Aioli
Clam Casino
Tenuta Campo al Mare Vermentino, Bolgheri, 2015
FIRST COURSE
Fettuccine with Clams (white clam sauce, garlic crostini)
Tenuta di Nozzole “Le Bruniche” Chardonnay, Toscana, 2016
SECOND COURSE
Swordfish Saltimbocca (lemon caper sauce, whipped Yukon gold potatoes)
Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, Toscana, 2014
Tenute del Cabreo “Il Borgo” Super Tuscan, Toscana, 2013
MAIN COURSE
Veal Scallopini (mushroom marsala sauce, charred broccolini)
Tenuta di Nozzole “La Forra” Riserva Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Toscana, 2012
Tenuta La Fuga Brunello di Montalcino, Toscana, 2012
CHEESE COURSE
Parmigiano-Reggiano, Aged Cheddar, Aged Gouda (macerated berries, pancetta crisp, brioche toast points)
Tenuta di Nozzole “Il Pareto” Cabernet Sauvignon, Toscana, 2011
Tenuta di Nozzole “Il Pareto” Cabernet Sauvignon, Toscana, 2013

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

2) Chef Tony Susi and the Capo team introduce the Capo Gelato Stand to West Broadway in South Boston. Inspired by the traditional Italian gelateria, the Capo Gelato Stand features an outdoor cart with over a dozen flavors of both gelato and sorbet from locally owned and operated Giovanna Gelato. The rotating flavors are made in small batches with premium ingredients, and include a mix of Italian classics as well as some custom flavors.

Sample gelato list includes: chocolate, espresso, Nutella, pistachio, salted caramel, straciatella, strawberry, vanilla, amaretto, cannoli, coconut, tiramisu.
Sample sorbet list includes: blood orange, lemon, mango, raspberry, blackberry, passion fruit, peach, pineapple.

Gelato and sorbet are available in two sizes, small ($3.25) or large ($4.75) and can be customized with toppings ($.50 each), including: chocolate tuile, espresso crumble, broken cannoli shells, amarena cherries and strawberry jam.

Enjoy the frozen treat on-the-go or in Capo’s café, located inside Capo restaurant, adjacent to the dining room. The Capo Gelato will be available this summer Thursday – Sunday from noon – 7:00 p.m. (weather permitting), and also available as dessert for dinner guests.

3) Executive Chef Josue Louis and Head Sommelier Todd Lipman of Bistro du Midi celebrate the start to summer with Bubbles on the Half Shell. Summer afternoons just got a little sweeter with the launch of Bubbles on the Half Shell at The Bar at Bistro du Midi. Every weekday from 4-6 PM, guests can enjoy $1 East Coast oysters with a champagne mignonette and explore Sommelier Todd Lipman’s favorite champagne, prosecco and sparkling cocktail selections.

Suggested Bubbles: 
--Nino Fanco, Rustico, Prosecco $14/glass, $55/bottle
--Pol Roger, Reserve Brut $29/glass, $125/bottle
--Gosset, Excellence Brut, $70/half bottle
--Ruinart, Blanc de Blancs Brut $145/half bottle
--Aubry, Premier Cru Brut $115/bottle

Sparkling Cocktails
--Champagne Cocktail Provencal $14 (Scrappy’s lavender & grapefruit bitters, muddled sugar cube)
--French 75 $14
--Cucumber Sureau $13 (Pearl cucumber vodka, St. Germain, fresh lemon & lime juice, sea salt, soda)

4) Coppersmith, South Boston’s vintage-industrial restaurant, along with Executive Chef Jason Heard, are firing up the smokers for the summer and introducing Weekly Whole Hog Roasts to celebrate the season of outdoor cooking.

Having started on Wednesday June 28, and continuing throughout the summer until Wednesday August 16, Chef Heard will tap into his southern roots and barbeque expertise to roast, smoke and offer an array of globally-influenced flavors from Latin to Asian and everything in-between. Weekly Whole Hog Roasts, using locally sourced meat, will not only have a unique theme, but will also be served with traditional side dishes that complement the theme that week. The bar will accompany the weekly roasts with cocktail specials that enhance each theme in a refreshing way.

The weekly roasts will be offered as a dinner special for $24 per person from 5pm-10pm or while it lasts.

Themes are as follows:
Wednesday, June 28th - Latin
Wednesday, July 5th - Southern
Wednesday, July 12th - Korean
Wednesday, July 19th - Chinese
Wednesday, July 26th - Jamaican
Wednesday, August 2nd - Spanish
Wednesday, August 9th - Tex Mex
Wednesday, August 16th - Hawaiian

Reservations are highly recommended. To book a reservation or for more information, please visit www.coppersmithboston.com.

5) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Sommelier Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s talented team will soon offer guests an expanded wine list of Riesling varietals. Riesling can be polarizing, especially if the wine is sweet. Puritan & Co. invites wine novices and aficionados alike to reacquaint themselves with the varietal as it rolls out its new "Summer of Riesling" wine list.

Carefully curated by Sommelier Peter Nelson, Puritan's "Summer of Riesling" wine list, starting on July 1, will be added to Puritan's current wine list this Saturday. The list will feature primarily dry wines, most with highly expressive fruit character, and even an option made without added sulphur, Binner. The internationally sourced wines will hail from Germany, France, Austria, Italy, California, New York and Oregon.

The list will be separated into two categories- one featuring 7 more affordably priced, approachable bottles and the “$100 Club”- a selection of 5 wines that regularly cost up to $180, but are available for Puritan guests for only $100 each.

To make reservations, please call 617-615-6195

6) Boston’s sister restaurants Beat Brasserie and The Beehive are giving guests the chance to give back, as they support the Black Donkey Project and the 2017 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) with a portion of sales of each bottle of Via Ottimista’s 2013 Nebbiolo wine going to life-saving cancer research, now through August 5.

Sold at both Beat Brassierie and The Beehive this summer, Via Ottimista will be available by the bottle, for $45, and a portion of sales from each bottle will be donated to help fight pediatric cancer, in support of the Black Donkey Project, an organization created to better the community and support efforts to cure pediatric cancer. Each bottle is created with grapes from Bee Sweet Vineyard in Edna Valley, California, and flavor notes on the wine include aromas of violet, rose, tea and a lightly savory taste, making Via Ottismista the perfect bottle for any wine lover to pair with Beat and Beehive’s creative seasonal cuisine.

A portion of the proceeds from each bottle will go directly to the PMC, a race that raises money for life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This charitable promotion will be available at each restaurant from now until the day of the race on Saturday, August 5.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Askanya: Compelling Single-Origin Haitian Chocolate

"The taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex... For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate... entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better."
--Dr. Ruth Westheimer

The island of Haiti was one of the first countries to commercially grow cacao, though it wasn't a very successful endeavor. However, throughout the centuries, cacao has continued to be cultivated in Haiti and there has been more success in recent years, with the potential for much more. Their cultivated cacao trees tend to be older, and more desirable varieties, such as Criollo and Trinitario. Criollo, which is difficult to grow, constitutes only about 5% of the world's production and is most often used in high-end chocolate. Trinitario is a natural hybrid, being hardier to cultivate, and can also have a superior flavor.

In 2015, Haiti produced only about 4500 metric tons of cacao, which is approximately 0.1% the of global supply. This low amount is due to a number of factors, including natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake of 2010 which decreased cacao production by about 36%. Over 90% of the cacao beans cultivated in Haiti are exported in their unprocessed state as it is difficult to ferment the beans in Haiti. There are only a small number of fermentation facilities, and it is those facilities which elevate the quality of chocolate. 90% of the cacao beans also come from small, family run farms, which, on their own, generally don't have the power or finances to market their products.

The Fédération des Coopératives Cacaoyères du Nord (FECCANO) is a cooperative of about 3000 cacao farmers, most from northern Haiti. Back in 2009, the Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, an international, non-profit dedicated to helping small farmers, started educating FECCANO in cacao fermentation techniques as well as helping to open four fermentation facilities on Haiti. They worked with FECCANO in other cacao matters too, such as helping them garner fair trade and organic certifications. FECCANO now has been able to export some high-quality chocolate, earning more money for its many farmers.

Locally, you might have enjoyed some Haitian chocolate from Taza Chocolate, which produces an 84% Dark Chocolate Bar sourced from Produits Des Iles SA (PISA). However, there is a new product on the market, a Haitian bean-to-bar chocolate that is produced solely in Haiti. And it is amazingly delicious.

Les Chocolateries Askanya is Haiti's first and only bean-to-bar chocolate company, located in Ouanaminthe, a town in northeastern Haiti. Their motto is "Grown in Haiti, Made in Haiti, Enjoyed Everywhere." The company was founded in 2015 by three entrepreneurs, including Corinne Joachim Sanon Symietz, her husband Andreas Symietz, and Gentile Senat. Corinne, a Haitian native, was previously an engineer and business consultant, but had a dream of returning to Haiti and starting a business to create jobs. In the end, the founders decided to accomplish this goal by creating a chocolate factory.

The name of their company derives from one of the founder's German hometown, Aschersleben, which in a Latinized form is Ascania. This is also the name of a legendary king in Roman mythology and the founders wish Askanya to become known as the Queen of Chocolate in Haiti. Askanya initially spent time investigating cacao through FECCANO, and now it has become their only cacao supplier.

Currently, Askanya produces three different, single-origin chocolate bars: Paradis, Wanga Nègès and Minuit. They are available in 55 gram bars (about $6 each) and bite-size 10 gram bars (12 for $12.50). The colorful wrappers for their chocolate bars celebrate the native flora and fauna of Haiti, including the bird of paradise (Paradis), night butterflies (Minuit), and hummingbird (Wanga Nègès).

The chocolate is available across the U.S., from New York to California, Illinois to Washington, D.C. Locally, Askanya was previously available by mail order through New Leaf Chocolates in Arlington, but the company has temporarily shut down. There is no other Massachusetts location selling Askanya but you can order them online and get some shipped to you. I received some media samples of the three different bars and found the chocolate to be quite impressive.

The Paradis is a Milk Chocolate bar, made from Haitian cacao, sugar, milk, and cacao butter, with 47% cacao. A milk chocolate bar can have as little as 10% cacao but the Paradis, with its 47%, is closer to the rough category of Dark Milk Chocolate, which generally is said to have at least 50% cacao.

When you look at the Paradis, it certainly is darker than many milk chocolate bars you may have seen, and on the palate, it will strike you as more similar to dark chocolate too. The Paradis has a rich and creamy texture, with delicious chocolate flavors and a mild sweetness. The taste is enhanced by subtle fruit flavors, providing additional complexity. There isn't any bitterness to the flavors and it will definitely please any chocolate lover.

The Wanga Nègès is also a Milk Chocolate bar, made from Haitian cacao, Rapadou (artisanal cane sugar), milk, and cacao butter, with 50% cacao. Rapadou is an unrefined, whole cane brown sugar, and can add flavors of caramel or molasses. With a 50% cacao, it would qualify as one of the Dark Milk Chocolates and it will definitely remind you of dark chocolate. The Wanga Nègès was my favorite of the three bars, presenting a complex and compelling taste. It was creamier and smoother than the Paradis, with a rich, chocolate taste and a complex melange of subtle other flavors, from caramel to dried fruit. There was no bitterness and the taste of the chocolate lingers in your mouth for quite some time. Highly recommended!

The Minuit is their their Dark Chocolate bar, made from Haitian cacao, sugar, and vanilla beans, with 60% cacao. It is the darkest of the three bars, with a rich, deep and dark chocolate taste, but again there isn't the bitterness you may associate with dark chocolate. It also has its own complexity, subtle fruit flavors, sweet vanilla, and more than I strained to try to identify. It is a chocolate to slowly savor and enjoy, reveling in its subtle complexities.

Frankly, these were some of the best chocolate bars I've enjoyed in quite some time. Their creamy richness and complex flavors were compelling, and from the first bite you know these are high quality chocolates. If this is indicative of Haitian chocolate, then let's hope more companies start producing chocolate bars and other chocolate treats. Seek out Les Chocolateries Askanya and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Rant: Chocolate Souffle & Hungry Children

Over the weekend, I was fortunate to attend, as a media guest, a Chocolate Souffle cooking class led by Chef Jacky Robert at his restaurant, Ma Maison. Jacky is a famed French chef, well known in the Boston area, and Ma Maison is an intimate, and reasonably priced, French restaurant. Jacky was very personable and helpful, making it easy for us to learn how to prepare a proper souffle. I'd never made a souffle before, though I've eaten plenty, so this was all uncharted territory.

Here are our finished souffles, fresh out of the oven. Generally, they looked pretty good, especially considering most of us had never made one before.

And this is mine. It should have been a bit higher (I mixed in the egg whites a bit too long) but it tasted delicious.

Though this event was fun, I was most struck when Jacky mentioned that he usually conducts these cooking classes as fund raisers, to raise money to fight childhood hunger, especially in the Philippines. Jacky is one of the founders of Chefs Feed Kids, a non-profit organization established to combat hunger, especially in the Philippines. As their website notes: "There are about 1.5 million street children in the Philippines. The very poor kids are thin, untidy, and undernourished, hardly equipped to survive the hazards of everyday living and working on the streets." Other local chefs also help out with this charity and you can see the list here.

In addition, Jacky also helped to establish On Board For Kids, another non-profit organization established to combat childhood hunger. Their full mission is "to provide food, education, shelter, clothing, and healthcare to children in need around the world." They sell a few products, t-shirts and cookies, to raise funds, but also host various events, where all the proceeds go directly to feeding & educating children all over the world.

Their next event will be held on Saturday, September 23, a Sunset Cruise, which will feature a number of local chefs, headed by Jacky Robert. Tickets cost $150/person and can be purchased online here. If the tickets do not sell out, you will be able to purchase them at the door for $180/person. This should be a delicious evening of food & fun, and it will all be for a great cause.

Childhood hunger is a serious problem across the world, even in our own country. In the U.S., approximately 13 million children live in households that do not have consistent access to sufficient food. Worldwide, about 3.1 million children die from hunger each year. There are a number of organizations dedicated to fighting this problem and they need your help. I have much respect for Chef Jacky Robert for his efforts to battle this terrible problem. I also have much respect for all of the others chefs who work with Jacky in this battle.

It was fun to make a souffle, but the most significant aspect of my experience was learning more about Jacky's efforts to save children. Please help him out, by attending the On Board For Kids Sunset Cruise, or making a donation to one of Jacky's nonprofits.

Save the children, save the world.

Thursday, June 22, 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.
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1) The Hawthorne patio will become your go-to destination for tropical tiki drinks and boozy blender beverages. Returning this year, Swizzle Sundays at The Hawthorne invites guest bartenders from around the city to work the blenders on the patio from 5:00pm to dusk, serving up island-inspired favorites.

The full summer line-up includes:
June 25th – Tim Cooper of 86 Co. Caña Brava Rum
July 2nd – Eric Anderson of Hendrick’s Gin
July 9th – Sean Frederick of Plantation Rum
July 16th – Willy Shine of Jagermeister
July 23rd – Bob McCoy of Privateer
July 30th – The Hawthorne’s own Jackson Cannon
August 6th – Kerrin Egalka of Compass Box
August 13th – Jesse Lauden of Island Creek Oyster Bar
August 20th – Yuna Asriyan of Absolut Lime/Elyx
August 27th – Colin Asare Appiah of Bacardi

Please call 617-532-9150 for reservations.

2) Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and the team at Harvest welcome guest chef and author Walker Stern from Battersby for a special “The Book and the Cook” dinner. On Sunday, June 25, from 6pm-9pm, Harvest's cookbook series "The Book and the Cook" will host famed Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen author and Battersby Restaurant co-owner and chef, Walker Stern. Battersby, the small New York eatery, opened its Brooklyn doors in 2011. Since then, it has risen to fame for its thoughtful dishes, expert technique, along with a unique and welcoming environment.

Guests will enjoy dishes from Chef Walker Stern’s cookbook Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen for guests to enjoy, complete with wine and beer pairings. Guest Chef Walker Stern, will step out of his four by six-foot kitchen and into Harvest for a guest chef dinner, collectively prepared with Harvest Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey.

The menu for the evening is as follows:
RECEPTION
GOUGERES WITH MORNAY SAUCE
Chicken Liver with Shaved Mushrooms and Balsamic
Chiarli Cleto, Lambrusco, Modena Spumante Rosé
FIRST COURSE
WATERMELON SALAD WITH SHISHITO PEPPERS AND FETA
Villa des Anges, Pays d’Oc Old Vine Rosé
SECOND COURSE
GRILLED TUNA WITH PIPERADE AND SPANISH HAM
Chimay Rouge, Belgium
THIRD COURSE
PAN-ROASTED CHICKEN WITH SUMMER FRUIT PANZANELLA
Julien Sunier Fleurie Beaujolais 2014
FOURTH COURSE
FENNEL SEEED PANNA COTTA WITH LEMON CONFIT
Evolucio Tokaji 2012

Cost: The Book and the Cook dinner is $70 per person (inclusive of a signed book, beverage pairings, tax & gratuity) and includes a reception and seated dinner.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 617-868-2255 directly to book seats or visit https://www.eventbrite.com/the-book-and-the-cook-battersby-at-harvest to purchase tickets.

3) Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge, which recently celebrated its Five Year Anniversary, is offering Unlimited Sushi on Monday evenings, starting at 5pm.  The Unlimited Sushi costs $29/person and there are no menu substitutions, no sharing and no to-go options. There are 11 options on the menu, essentially all Maki rolls, from Spicy Tuna to Return of the Hamachi Tartare.

For reservations, please call 6170295-0001

4) Gather, the modern American restaurant located in Boston’s home for innovation, District Hall, will be hosting two Game of Thrones themed Brunches to celebrate the upcoming Season 7 premiere. GoT fans can join Gather for themed food and drink specials alongside other Game of Thrones inspired activities to celebrate the Season 7 premiere all weekend long.

WHEN: Saturday, July 15th, and Sunday, July 16th from 11am-3pm
Guests wishing to join Gather’s realm for brunch should make reservations for inside seating, as seating is limited, by calling 617-982-7220.
Patio seating will be available first come, first serve and weather permitting.

5) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things rosé at their third annual Rosé Rumble. This Rosé Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Wednesday, July 12th, the third annual rosé rumble will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here: https://roserumble3.eventbrite.com/.

This should be an excellent event and I strongly recommend you check it out.

6) Puritan & Company Chef Will Gilson will be teaching a hands-on cooking class at the Milk Street Cooking School Master Class on how to prepare a New England Clambake at home on Wednesday, July 19th from 6pm-9pm in the Milk Street Test Kitchen, 177 Milk Street, Boston.

In this hands-on Master Class, students will learn tips and facts about the seafood used and secret techniques for ensuring a properly cooked feast that highlights the best of our simple summer ingredients. The class will also cover wine and cocktail pairings, since clambakes are the perfect party food.

Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased by logging onto www.177milkstreet.com

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Spanish Sippers: Albariño to Viura

As Summer arrives, and temperatures rise, many people opt for a chilled white wine, either on its own or paired with food, from chicken to seafood. You have plenty of options for white wine from all over the world, from Portuguese Vinho Verde to Alsatian Riesling, from Sicilian Grillo to Georgian Rkatsiteli. You also should consider whites from Spain, which can be affordable and delicious, and I have two specific recommendations for you today.

Back in 1999, José Miguel Arambarri Terrero started a winery in Spain, eventually enlisting the assistance of his sons, Ricardo and José Miguel. They eventually expanded their operations, adding wineries, and are now producing wine in 15 Denominations of Origin (D.O). Their overall company became known as Vintae and they export many of their wines to the U.S.  I've written about a few of their wines before, finding them excellent values, and the two wines I'm recommending today fall into that category as well. Please note that both of these wines were media samples.

The Atlantis line, launched in 20015, consists predominantly of white wines, from different D.O., which are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Atlantis line does include a single red, a Mencia from  the Bierzo D.O. I recently sampled the 2016 Maetierra Atlantis Albariño ($12), from the Rias Baixas D.O., which is made from 100% Albariño, undergoes stainless steel fermentation, sees no oak and is only 12.5% ABV. I enjoyed this wine with some Shrimp Scampi and even used some of the wine to make the sauce.

With a light golden color, the wine presented an appealing, fruity aroma and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and delicious. There were tasty flavors of apple, melon and pear with a medium-body and a pleasing finish. An easy drinking wine, it presents with more complexity than many other wines at this price point. It is enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but also pairs well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes. It was a big hit with the other guests and it didn't take long before the bottle was empty.

Bodega Classica, located in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, produces Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Rioja line launched in 2003, which was named after Diego Lopez de Haro, the founder of the city of Bilbao, and his descendent, as 12th century lieutenant in Castille. Their wines are produced using traditional Riojan winemaking methods and the grapes comes from some older vineyards, with some being over 100 years old.

The 2016 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Blanco ($10) is a white Rioja, made primarily from old vine Viura with some other grapes which are not identified. It is matured for about three months in French oak and has a 12.5% ABV. I found this wine to have a lighter golden color than the Albariño and a more floral nose, accented by some tropical fruit flavors. On the palate, it was crisp and dry with bright lemon notes, a mineral backbone, and some floral accents. It seems a little leaner than the Albariño, with a pleasing finish, and it too worked well with the Shrimp Scampi. It is also enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but will pair well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes.

Both wines are excellent values which would be great for the summer, though they can be enjoyed year round too. Spain delivers once again on delicious and inexpensive white wines.