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Boston Wine Expo: 90+ Cellars & Rioja

Date: Tue, Mar 11, 2014 Wine Tasting

While perusing the rows of wine exhibitors at the Boston Wine Expo, I found myself at the spacious tasting tables of 90+ Cellars. Brett Vankoski, pictured above, is one of the co-founders of 90+ Cellars and is personable and down-to-earth, an excellent advocate for his wines. In short, 90+ Cellars purchases excess wine from established wineries all around the world, and then rebottles them under their own label, at a reduced price. I've positively reviewed a number of their wines over the years, and found many of them to be excellent values. At the wine store where I work, Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, the 90+Cellars wines are very popular with consumers.

Brett led me through a tasting of several of their wines, some of their newest releases, and I've chosen two to highlight here. Coincidentally, both are Rhône blends, one white and one red. Locally, many wine stores sell 90+ Cellars wines so both of these wines should be readily available.

The 2012 Côtes du Rhône, Lot 103, is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne. The wine was originally priced at $15.99 but 90+ Cellars has priced it at $11.99. The wine has alluring aromatics, with floral elements, which bring to mind a spring day, and on the palate, there is a delightful blend of flavors, including pear, citrus, and some minerality with a hint of honey, though the wine remains dry and crisp. A pleasure to drink, this would be enjoyable on its own or paired with a salad, seafood, or even chicken, At this price, it is an excellent value and highly recommended.

The 2011 Vacqueyras, Lot 104, is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The wine was originally priced at $27.99 but 90+ Cellars has priced it at $19.99. This is a dark and intense wine, silky smooth on the palate with pleasant and complex tastes of black cherry and ripe plum with a spicy backbone. Muscular yet elegant, this wine possesses a lengthy and satisfying finish. It is best drank with food, from a thick steak to wild boar, or even a hearty Bolognese.

So check out these, and other wines, from90+ Cellars.

As a long time lover of Spanish wine, I took some time to check out the offerings from Rioja. I have visited the region in the past, reviewed numerous Rioja wines, and recommended Rioja at the wine shop where I work. The Rioja booth had four separate tables, and presented a nice tasting progression, starting with white wines and moving up to Gran Reserva red wines.

For the summer, the 2012 Cvne Monopole Blanco ($12) would be a nice choice. Made from Viura, this wine is crisp and clean, with a nice blend of flavors of grapefruit, herbs and minerality. With plenty of complexity for the price, this is a refreshing wine that would be enjoyable on its own or paired with lighter fare. The 2012 Bodegas Ontanon Clarete Rosé($10) is another fun summer wine, though it would be enjoyable year round too. A blend of Tempranillo and Viura, it is dry with subtle red fruit flavors and some herbal notes. It reminds me of some ProvenceRosé, as it is dry and more elegant.

The 2010 Ramon Bilbao Limited Edition ($20), made from 100% Tempranillo, has a medium red color and a pleasant aroma of cherry and spice. On the palate, there are flavors of red and black fruits, with a little earthiness and touch of spice. A tasty and easy drinking wine. The 2008 Bodegas Luis Alba Parcela #5, also made from 100% Tempranillo, is a bigger wine, with stronger tannins and more intense flavors. Your preference will depend on whether you want a lighter wine or not.

The Gran Reserva Red wines, which must be aged for at least five years, were impressive. The 2005 Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva was elegant and complex, with a dominant earthiness, black fruit flavors, intriguing spice notes and a very lengthy finish. A wonderful wine that earns a hearty recommendation. The 2001 Bodegas Ontanon Gran Reserva was equally as compelling, sharing many of the same characteristics except there was less earthiness and more herbal notes on the palate.

Rioja rocks!

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Rant: Don't Bottle Yourself In

Date: Mon, Mar 10, 2014 Wine Tasting

When you peruse the shelves of a wine store and see a wine in a Tetra Pak, what do you think about it? Do you pass by it, thinking it contains lesser wine? Will you only buy wine that comes in a bottle? If so, why are you such a wine snob? Stop ignoring the Tetra Pak.

In some respects, you can consider wine in a Tetra Pak to be akin to grownup juice box, but without a straw (though I'd love to see one come with a straw). Tetra Paks are better for the environment in a number of ways, making it a more sustainable choice than a bottle. It is said: "Tetra Pak cartons* use 54% less energy, create 80% less greenhouse gasses, produce 60% less solid waste volume and also have 92% less package weight, compared to a 750ml glass wine bottle." A Tetra Pak gives you more wine, as it contains a liter of wine rather than the 750ml of the average wine bottle. They are portable and convenient, not requiring a corkscrew. You can take them to the beach, on a camping trip, on a boat, and much more with the worries of glass.

I have previously trumpeted the Tetra Pak wines of Y+B Wines, which sell a variety of organic wines from all over the world. No matter how good the packaging, the wine inside them has to be good and Y+B Wines proved that delicious wine can come in a Tetra Pak. You just need to get past any preconceptions you have that wine must come in a glass bottle.

This past Saturday, I poured samples of a couple Tetra Pak wines at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose. The wines were from Fuoristrada, which is owned by Michael Schmelzer of Monte Bernardi, a Biodynamic winery in Tuscany. They now produce two organic wines in Tetra Pak, a white and a red, a Grillo from Sicily and a Sangiovese from Tuscany. Both wines, priced at $15 for the one liter Tetra Pak, are good values and I recommend them both.

I found consumers to be initially curious about the Tetra Paks, even a little wary, but that soon changed once I discussed the benefits of Tetra Paks. They were especially pleased with the convenience of the Tetra Paks, and discussed how great they would be this summer. And once they tasted the wines, they were even more convinced, as they enjoyed the flavors of the wines. It was clear that there was ignorance about the existence of Tetra Paks, but that consumers were open minded about the possibilities once it was explained to them.

So throw away your prejudices about drinking only wine in a bottle. There are alternative packagings that offer different benefits, and the wine within them is just as good as many bottled wines.

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Boston Wine Expo: Vintage Reserve Lounge Reviews

Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2014 Wine Tasting

As I previously discussed, I visited the Vintner's Reserve Loungeat the Boston Wine Expo for the first time since 2008. The event has seen some significant changes since that time, and it is now a much better event. From more (and tasty) food to a better tasting format, the Expo appears to have listened to prior complaints and worked towards improving matters. I still would like to see more diversity in the wine selections, and hopefully that too will change in time.

With approximately 100 high-end wines available for sampling, about 60% which were from the U.S. (primarily California), there was much to savor and enjoy. For example, it was a real pleasure to taste a 1979 Bordeaux(pictured above), which you might find for $150 or so. You don't often get the chance to taste such a wine. I am now going to highlight three tables of wines, those which most impressed me for their quality and value. All of the wines I will discuss cost under $100, and as low as $28. Thus, they are within the reach of most consumers, even if only as a special splurge.

Though I enjoy French Burgundy, I'll admit to much ignorance about the region and its producers. Sure, I understand the general basics and know some of the larger producers, but I certainly know little about its smaller producers and best values. What I must do then is to rely on the greater knowledge and experience of others, such as trusted wine shop staff. Or an importer likeElden Selections.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Sherman of Elden Selections, an importer of small production, estate bottled Burgundy. Though from the U.S., Dennis has spent about 30 years in Burgundy, bringing an insiders view of the region to American consumers. Back in 1983, Dennis and Eleanor Garvin packed up and moved to France, hoping to work in the restaurant industry, though their first job ended up being at a vineyard. Eventually, they bought a barge, Le Papillon, which could carry six passengers. In 1995, they started Elden Wine, mainly to obtain wines for their barge passengers, but their wine business soon grew. And now you can get their wines delivered to your door, though maybe not quite yet in Massachusetts.

After tasting five selections, both white and red Burgundies, from the Elden portfolio, I was impressed with what they presented. And once I delved deeper into the backgrounds of these wines, the stories behind the wineries seemed compelling. With around 90 selections, their portfolio is priced from $20-$180, meaning there are bottles for whatever your price point. I also found their website to be well done, containing plenty of information about their wines.

I started with the 2010 Domaine Borgeot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru 'Morgeot' ($75). Pascal and Laurent Borgeot, brothers, are fourth generation winemakers and have about 48 acres of vines, the majority being 30 years old or older. They also use only organic fertilizers. The "Morgeot" was crisp and clean, elegant and complex, with intriguing tastes of pear, peach, and an underlying spice component. It was rich and compelling, with a lengthy and satisfying finish. When you taste this wine, you understand the amazing potential of superb Chardonnay.

The2011 Maison Capitain-Gagnerot Ladoix 1er Cru 'Les Grechons'($60) is from a winery founded in 1802 by Simon Gagnerot. It was one of the first wineries in Burgundy to offer estate-bottled wine directly to the public, rather than through a negociant. Again, this wine was crisp and clean, elegant and complex, though its taste was more green apple and minerality. It was not as rich as the Morgeot, going for a leaner style which was also compelling.

Onto the red wines. The 2010 Maison Capitain-Gagnerot Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru 'Montottes'($75) is made from grapes on vines that are 67 years old and it was aged in 10% new oak. With a light red color, the nose was composed of alluring red fruit aromas with hints of spice and earth. On the palate, it shows some concentration of red fruit flavors, blended with earthy elements, yet still presenting elegance rather than being too muscular and powerful. Plenty of complexity, well balanced, and a lingering finish.

The 2009 Domaine Jean Fery Vougeot 1er Cru 'Las Cras' ($90) is from a winery with a line extended back to the mid-1800s. Since 1994, the winery has been biodynamic, though not certified, and and has conducted several improvements during the last 20 years. I found this wine to possess a bit more power than the Montottes, but still possessed of a certain elegance as well. Its red fruit flavors were deeper and the earthiness was more prominent, along with a touch of minerality. And like the Montottes, there was lots of complexity, a nice balance, and a lingering finish. Another winner.

My favorite of the five wines though was clearly the 2005 Domaine Potinet-Ampeau Volnay 1er Cru 'Clo des Chenes' ($85). The winery, located in the southern part of the Cote de Beaune, has seen five generations and consists of about 22 acres of vines. They also hold many of their vintages, aging them, prior to release. This wine was a marvel from my my sniff of its aromas, a killer melange of earth and fruit, promising the best of Burgundy. It too was elegant and ethereal, with a blend of complex flavors that seduced my palate. Each sip seemed to bring something different and the flavors seemed to last forever. A most impressive wine which is going to please any Burgundy lover. This is also a wine which definitely is worth the price. Highly recommended.

If you love Burgundy, then you must check outElden Selections,

Ole Imports, a partnership between Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, imports an excellent portfolio of Spanish wines and I have previously enjoyed a number of their selections. At the Vintner's Reserve Lounge, they presented several wines new to me which both pleased and impressed.

The 2011 Quinta da Muradella Alanda Blanco ($35) is from the Monterrei D.O., and is a blend ofGodello, Treixadura and Doña Blanca. The winery conducts organic farming and winemaker Raul Perez consulted on this project. Less than 1000 cases of this wine were produced. With am aromatic nose, the palate delighted with crisp, clean flavors of lush pear and citrus with a vein of minerality. Nice complexity and a pleasing finish. Simply delicious, I could easily enjoy this on its own or paired with seafood or a light chicken dish.

Perez once again impresses with the 2011 Raul Perez Vico ($48) a killer Mencia from the Bierzo D.O. Another small production wine, only about 500 cases, this dark red wine with compelling aromatics, was stunning. It possesses a complex and concentrated blend of black cherry, blackberry and blueberry with elements of spice, smoke and earthiness. With well managed tannins, it was silky smooth and enticing, with a lingering finish meant to impress. One of the best Mencia wines I have tasted in quite some time. Highly recommended.

The 2008 Vinyes Domènech Teixar Garnacha Vella, produced in the Monstant D.O., is produced from 100% Garnacha Peluda, which makes it a rarity. The winery has a 42 acre estate., with vines planted as far back as 1946, and is organically farmed. This was a bigger, more muscular wine with intense black and blue fruit, lots of spice, a bit of smoke and a rustic sense. A very interesting and well balanced wine. I definitely would choose this to pair with wild boar or a steak.

The 2008 Mather Teresina Cellar Pinot, produced in the Terra Alta D.O., is the flagship wine of theCeller Vinos Piñol.It also is small production, from organically farmed grapes. It is made from 35% Garnacha, 35% Cariñena, and 30% Morenillo (an indigenous grape that is almost extinct). This wine possessed more juicy, ripe fruit flavors and milder tannins, making it very easy drinking. There were some subtle spice and herbal notes beneath the fruit. This is the type of wine you can easily enjoy on its own, savoring each lush sip.

Ole Importscontinues to satisfy with their Spanish wine selections.

Flying saucers at the Wine Expo? Yes, and thanks toRandall Grahm,the founder and winermaker atBonny Doon Vineyard, based in Santa Cruz.Le Cigare Volant, the "flying cigar," is a French reference to "flying saucers." Interestingly, there is a law inChateauneuf du Papethat prohibits the arrival of flying saucers. Randall thus decided to name his Rhone style blends after le cigare volant. He produces a white and red Le Cigare Volant, as well as a Reserve bottling of both.

I loved both of the whites! The 2011 Le Cigare Volant Blanc ($28) is a blend of 62% Grenache Blanc and 38% Roussanne, presenting an alluring taste of pear, melon, and lemon, complemented by excellent acidity and a lengthy finish. It is rich and full bodied, a savory delight. The 2010 Le Cigare Volant Blanc Reserve ($54) is a blend of 56% Roussanne and 44% Grenache Blanc, and it too is rich and full bodied, with plenty of savory notes. It presents some similar fruit notes, with a bit more prominent melon, but there are some underlying herbal notes with a bit of nuttiness. Both wines are complex and well balanced, and a pure delight to drink.

As for the reds, the 2008 Le Cigare Volant is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignane. It is an intriguing and complex blend with alluring aromatics and a pleasant melange of red fruits, spice and earthiness with restrained tannins and a lengthy finish. It compares well to a fine French Rhone, and you would be hard pressed to guess this was made in California. The 2008 Le Cigare Volant Reserve ($79) is similar, though it presents with more spice and depth. a sublime wine meant to be slowly savored with good friends.

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Thursday Sips & Nibbles

Date: Thu, Mar 6, 2014 Wine Tasting

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1)On Wednesday, April 2, NF Northeast (Neurofibromatosis Northeast) will celebrate the NF community and its supporters with their Table for TEN charitable event in Boston. With Honorary Co-Chairpersons Jenny Johnson (Co-Host of NESN’s “Dining Playbook with Billy and Jenny”) and chef Brian Poe (The Tip Tap Room; Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake; Estelle’s) headlining this unrivaled evening, supporters will dine at some of the city’s top restaurants before closing out their night at a decadent dessert reception with live entertainment and an auction hosted at Parris in Faneuil Hall.

Groups of ten guests will arrive at their respective restaurant at 6pm, and will indulge in a specially created three-course menu. This year, NF Northeast has joined forces with some of the best restaurants throughout the city to make their biggest splash yet. Participating restaurants in this year’s Table for TEN event include, but are not limited to: 75 Chestnut; Artu; Beehive; BOND at the Langham, Boston; Brasserie Jo; Cafeteria; Restaurant dante; Da Vinci Ristorante; Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse; Finch at The Boxer; Lala Rokh; Lucca North End and Back Bay; Lucia Ristorante; OAK Long Bar + Kitchen; Parker’s Restaurant at the Omni Parker; Post 390; Red Lantern; Stefi’s on Tremont; Strega Waterfront; Taranta; The Tip Tap Room; Top of the Hub; and, Union Oyster House.

At 8pm, supporters are invited to continue the festivities at the official after-party hosted by radio legend Ron Della Chiesa at Parris in Faneuil Hall. At this dessert reception, Montilio’s Baking Company will provide sweet treats and revelers will enjoy Latin and jazz music by the Kenny Kozol Trio as well as a live auction with Honorary Co-Chairperson, Jenny Johnson, serving as Guest Auctioneer.

Neurofibromatosis (NF) is a prevalent genetic disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors to form on the nerves anywhere in or on the body at any time. Through NF Northeast’s efforts and the proceeds from their Table for TEN event, grants for groundbreaking research at Harvard Medical School Center for Neurofibromatosis and Allied Disorders, Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital are made possible. Over the years, incredible strides in research development have been made bringing us one step closer to a cure.

NF Northeast has provided research grants to scientists at leading institutions around the country. NF Northeast is proud to have been the impetus behind the creation of The Harvard Medical School Center for NF and Allied Disorders (CNfAD), a virtual center whose mission is to define the pathogenetic mechanisms that cause NF1, NF2 and related disorders. NF Northeast is the leading resource in the northeast for patients and families who live with NF, a genetic condition that causes tumors to form on nerves anywhere in or on the body. Neurofibromatosis is more common than cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy combined.

For more information on the Table for TEN event and to reserve online, please visit: www.nfincne.org. Tables for ten are available beginning at $1,000 and individual placements at a table may be reserved for $100 per person. Sponsorships are also available by contacting NF Northeast’s Sonja Nathan at 781-272-9936 or snathan@nfincne.org.

2) Since chef de cuisine Mark Christian McMann has come aboard, leaving the bright lights of NYC behind to join chef-owner Chris Douglass here in Dorchester. Ashmont Grill has evolved from an “almost scratch” kitchen to a “totally scratch” kitchen, and menu items now lean towards “culturally specific” areas of the US and Europe.

Some of the new dishes include:
*Avgolemono Soup
Made in classic style with fresh dill, from a recipe taught to McMann “by an ancient Greek lady” who knew exactly when to stop stirring the eggs.
*Winter Citrus Salad
Tossed in grapefruit vinaigrette are: pomegranates and blood oranges, Marcona almonds, ricotta salata, and radishes.
*Kale & Bacon Salad
“We’re maple-curing two hog bellies a week for our house bacon,” boasts McMann, who tosses this healthful green-of-the-moment with house-pickled pears, feta cheese, and cashews.
*Wild Mushroom Lasagna
Kale appears again, layered with roasted tomatoes and black trumpet-dusted ricotta, in this savory dish starring yellowfoot, hedgehog and shitake ‘shrooms.
*French Butcher’s Steak
Technically a bavette or onglet (tip of the sirloin), McMann wood-grills it, then gilds it with spicy chimichurri.
*Chicken and Dumplin’s
“This one’s been flying out the door,” McMann says, “because the pan-roasted Statler breast is splashed with natural jus, and comes with rough-rolled spinach and ricotta dumplings I was taught to call malfatte.”
*Shepard’s Pie
Local lamb is house-ground and braised in Guinness stout, then topped with a cloud of mashed potatoes for the friendly price of $17.

Pastry Chef Clare Garland recommends: “Our Ice Cream Sandwich of the Month (chocolate-mint nestled between two chocolate shortbreads) always satisfies, or, get a whiff of early spring in the Pistachio-Crusted Cheesecake with Rose-Scented Rhubarb and Strawberry Sorbet.”

3) From April 3-12, Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoastwill be held in New Hampshire and close to 50 restaurants will be participating. Sponsored by the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, Restaurant Week is a bi-annual culinary event that spotlights Portsmouth and the Seacoast as a culinary and cultural destination. The dates for the Fall are November 6-15, 2014.

Participating Restaurants include: Agave Mexican Bistro; Anneke Jans; BG's Boathouse; Black Trumpet Bistro; Blue Mermaid Island Grill; Blue Moon Evolution;Brazo Restaurant; British Beer Company; Budha O - Asian Bistro & Lounge; Café Mediterraneo; Café Nostimo; Carriage House Restaurant; Cava Tapas & Wine Bar; Common Man Portsmouth; Demeters Steakhouse; Dinnerhorn Restaurant; The District; Dolphin Striker; Exeter Inn/Epoch Restaurant & Bar; Galley Hatch Restaurant; Grill 28 at Pease; Jumpin' Jays Fish Café; Library Restaurant; Martingale Wharf; Mombo Restaurant; Moxy; The Oar House; Orchard Street Chop Shop; Portsmouth Brewery; Portsmouth Gas Light Co.; Radici Restaurant; Ri Ra Portsmouth, LLC; Ristorante Massimo; River House; Rosa Restaurant; Rudi's Portsmouth; Harbor's Edge at Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel; Stage Neck Inn; Stages at One Washington;Tavola; Three Chimneys Inn; Tulsi Indian Restaurant; Vida Cantina; Wellington Room; Wentworth by the Sea – SALT.

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Authors, Alcohol & Accolades: Volume 11

Date: Wed, Mar 5, 2014 Wine Tasting

Do you drink?"
"Of course, I just said I was a writer.”
--Stephen King

I have returned with another volume in my fun series: Authors, Alcohol & Accolades. Please check Volume 1 for links to all of the prior ten installments. Each installment showcases some of my favorite authors, and I have returned to highlight more, to delve into their drinks of choice, from Beer to Sake. I have found this to provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of the writers I enjoy and hope you like the interviews as well. Support by my readers for this series has been very positive.

You can look forward to further volumes in this series and any authors who are interested in participating in future volumes can contact me.

So let's see what some of my favorite writers, all who have recently released debut novels, like to drink.

John Dixon (Twitter: @JohnDixonBooks)
John's debut novel, Phoenix Island, already inspired a television series, Intelligence, though I believe the novel is superior to the TV show in many ways. In addition, the plots of both are significantly different so that you might not even make the connection between the two unless you were told about it. Phoenix Island is about a troubled young man, Carl Freemen, sent to a military-like camp in order to straighten his life out, and become a productive member of society. However, the camp hides many dark secrets and Carl must fight to survive and try to prevent greater horrors from hurting those he cares about, and the larger world outside of the camp. It is grim and dark, action-packed and suspenseful. It is kind of like Lord of the Flies meets the Shawshank Redemption with a sprinkling of The Island of Dr. Moreau. It has been of my my favorite books of 2014, and I eagerly look forward to the sequel.

John's Preferences:"I'm a Miller lite guy. Always have been. I like the way it tastes. It's relatively cheap and easy to find. It's refreshing on a hot day, and drinking a couple doesn't leave me feeling like I've swallowed a loaf of pumpernickel.

"In recent years, my allegiance has caused no end of entertaining friction with friends who've embraced the rise of craft beers. All of a sudden, guys I'd had fun drinking with in the not-so-distant past were treating beer like it was fine wine or single-malt Scotch. Their new-found contempt for my beloved Miller lite only spurred me to cheer its praises more loudly, escalating our beer battles into a full-blown beer war... until, in a climactic battle against my friend John D. Harvey, the king of all beer snobs, I struck the fatal blow -- with the help of the platypus.

"We were standing around at our annual writing retreat, Camp Necon. John was drinking one of several overpriced beers -- like most craft enthusiasts, he never seems satisfied with any single variety and cycles through a selection every session -- and I, of course, was drinking good old Miller lite. When I mentioned that the platypus dreamed more hours of the day than any other animal, his beer animosity got the better of him, and he claimed I was making up my platypus trivia. I told him I most certainly was not making it up, and a bet was born. The burden of proof was on me. If I failed to back up my claim, I had to drink a six pack of Guinness. But if could prove my point, he would drink a twelve pack of Miller Lite. When I provided the Scientific American article where I'd learned that fun fact, John's cry of defeat was like a thousand overpriced beers shattering at once. His concession speech was brief and bitter, and he ultimately welched, drinking only a single Miller lite, but I didn't mind. His half-stepping balk left me with extra Miller lite, a finer celebratory libation than any champagne, and with that, I closed the truly glorious day that brought victory to Miller lite and ended the beer wars forever."

Brian Staveley (Twitter:@BrianStaveley)
Another of my favorite novels so far from 2014 has been Brian's The Emperor's Blades, the first in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne. With the assassination of the Emperor, a Machiavellian plot slowly unwinds, reaching out to endanger the three children of the Emperor. Can they survive the deadly plots and learn the truth behind the assassination? Brian has devised a fascinating fantasy world with interesting and well developed characters, a cool magic system, and a story that draws you deep into its center. The tale is told from three different points of view, and I think this allows us to more deeply understand the main characters, and each viewpoint is a compelling story in of itself. This is a book that will keep your attention from page 1 to the very end. Once again, I can't wait to read what comes next.

Brian's Preferences:"If we had known, when we bought this house in rural Vermont, about the beautiful hop vines clustered on the southwestern wall, I’m certain we would have paid double for the place. As it was, we bought it in the dead of winter, and didn’t realize until late spring, when the vines had found their way into the decaying greenhouse, creeping past rotted mullions and through cracks in the glass, that we had hops. More industrious folk would have embarked on a homebrew project; we opted for a scam.

“Have some hops!” we said to all of our brewing friends. “Take lots!”

“Can we pay you?” they asked.

“Of course not,” we replied, smiling shrewdly. “We just want some of the beer.”

And so our very own Hopfest was born. We hand out the hops in the fall, then the next summer, half a dozen amateur brewers show up with their best efforts for a delightful day of drinking, lawn games, and dozing in the sun. It’s a wonderful event for several reasons – good company, hoppy homebrew, and the delicious exploitation of talented friends."

Barry Lancet (Twitter:@BarryLancet)
Released last September, Barry's Japantown instantly interested me with its Japanese connection, and I was very pleased in the end that I chose to buy it. It is non-stop thrill ride involving an antiques dealer, Jim Brodie, who ends up taking over his father's private investigation business in Japan. Beginning with the murder of a family in Japantown, the actions spans from San Francisco to Japan. It gets personal for Brodie as the matter may touch on his wife's death and endangers his young daughter. With a number of plots twists, Barry deftly creates a compelling mystery that well integrates Japanese history and culture. It is one of those "one night" books, the type that you can't put down, no matter how late it gets, because you want to finish it. And to my delight, Sake even figures into the novel. The next book in this series, Tokyo Kill, is due out in September 2014 and I'm told Sake plays an even larger role in that book. A great debut and the film rights have even been optioned.

Barry's Preferences:

"Sake of Choice: Today, I want to recommend a type of sake that is hard to come by in its freshest form, but worth the effort to track down. It’s a well-kept secret, after a fashion. You need access to a sake maker, or to someone who works at a brewery. Or if luck happens to be on your side, you may only need to inquire if a brewery has just made up a batch, or might soon do so.

"What I am talking about is the traditionally pressed shiboritate, where the fermenting sake is poured into large sacks and, in the initial stages, allowed to hang and drip out naturally. Most sake is machine pressed. Shiboritate means “just pressed.” You can find shiboritate bottled, but by the time the precious liquid finds its way into a bottle, it’s too past its prime. Or this might be a generic brand. What you are looking for is the brew directly from the source, within hours after it’s been filtered. No more than six or eight; the sooner the better.

"With the right kind of sake and drunk soon after it is filtered, it is sublime. It is soft and mellow and seems to float on your tongue. It’s the closest thing to liquid ambrosia you’ll ever taste. A lot depends on the maker and the sake he selects for shiboritate, I would imagine. The one I sampled some fifteen years ago was made by a high-ranking employee for private consumption, and hand-carried up to Tokyo on the bullet train for a party later in the day. Traditionally pressed shiboritake may not be the Holy Grail but it is certainly close."

"Shochu of Choice: My choice of shochu, when I can get it, is Hyakunen no Kodoku. It was far less popular and easier to find when I first drank it some fifteen years ago, but demand has made it harder to come by. This shochu is made from barley and aged in wood barrels. The beverage has a subtle amber color. It has the pleasingly heavy body of a good scotch and comes in at a hearty forty proof. Hyakunen no Kodoku is as satisfying and evocative as its name, which is the Japanese title for Gabriel Garcia Marqez’s novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In other words, poetic and at times transcendent."

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The 10,001 School of Sake Brewing

Date: Tue, Mar 4, 2014 Wine Tasting

Sake brewing is both an art and a science, and there are a myriad of different methods of brewing. Probably no Toji, master Sake brewer, does it the exact same way as another. Because of the vast variations of the methods of Sake brewing, the industry is sometimes referred to as Sake zukuri banryu, the “10,000 schools of Sake making.” It might be time to update this phrase, to add another school and make it 10,001.

Let's get a little geeky.

A key ingredient in Sake production is koji, which is basically a culture created by growing different fungi on grains or legumes in a warm and humid place. The term "koji" is derived from "kabi-tachi" which means "bloom of mold." Koji is used across Asia, though it is known by different names such asqu(pronounced “chew”) in China andnurukgyunin Korea. Koji produces a wide variety of fermented foods and alcohols, from soy sauce to shochu. In Japan, the specific fungus used in koji for Sake production isAspergillus oryzae,while a number of other fungi. such as Rhizopus oryzae, may also used in other Asian countries.

Like Sake itself, koji was invented in China, and is at least 2300 years old with the first written mention of koji occurring around 300 B.C. Koji came to Japan at least as early as the 8th century, and likely earlier. However, there were differences in their approach as the Japanese primarily relied on the fungusAspergillus oryzaeand usually propagated it on steamed, rather than raw, grains. Initially, this fungus originated in the air and it was a time later that producers started saving koji from previous batches and using it to start new batches. The Japanese fungus was originally called Eurotium oryzae but was later changed, in 1884, to Aspergillus oryzae. Interestingly, in 2006, the Brewing Society of Japan named aspergillus asthe kokkin, national fungus,of Japan.

With Sake, and at its most basic level, koji serves to break down the starches in rice into sugars so that yeast can turn that sugar into alcohol. It also serves to help form amino acids, which are important to the taste of Sake. In some respects, koji acts like malt in beer brewing, but there are significant differences as well.

In making Sake, how isseigiku, koji-making, conducted? There are actually numerous ways that this can be done, and each brewery may perform it differently, even if only slightly. However, I'll provide a basic overview of the process with the understanding that this is a complex and diverse activity, and that I am omitting numerous details.

Steamed rice is brought to a koji-muro, a special, heated room where the koji will be created. The steamed rice will be spread out and then mold spores, known as koji-kin or tane-koji, will be spread across the rice. For Sake, ki-koji, a yellow mold is used while in comparison white koji is commonly used to make shochu and black koji is commonly used for awamori. Over the course of about two days, the koji-kin will germinate and spread over all the rice, creating kome-koji, molded rice, which looks like it has been frosted.

Rhizopusoryzae is another fungus, like Aspergillus, which is used in other parts of Asia to make koji, though the Japan largely have ignored it throughout the centuries. The Japanese found that it wasn't conducive to making koji for Sake because it doesn't work well with steamed rice. However, that hasn't stopped a few, innovative Japanese from trying to devise ways to make Rhizopus work in Sake brewing. Why would they try this? Because Rhizopus may have a significant effect on the creation of amino acids, which can affect the taste of Sake.

Sake lover Gordon Heady recently posted about his encounter with an intriguing innovation in Sake production. Yukae Sato, a 22 year-old woman, has invented, patent pending, a method of creating koji with Rhizopus oryzae on steamed rice. Ms. Sato learned about this idea during her time at the University of Kitakyushu. There are still few details available concerning the exact procedure, likely due to patent issues, but we know that a Sake was brewed where 20% of the koji was from Rhizopus. The resultant Sake, a Junmai named Hibikini no Mori, is commercially available and Gordon reports that it is delicious. The Rhizopus appears to have boosted the levels of succinic and lactic acid, and may have boosted the levels of other amino acids too.

The use of Rhizopus in making koji for Sake actually isn't new, and its history extends back over 30 years. In September 1981, four Japanese inventors filed for a patent "Process For Preparation Of Japanese Sake Using Koji (Rice Malt) Which Is Made By Propagating Rhizopus On Raw Rice." I wasn't able to find much information about this patent, but it is clear they used raw rice rather than steamed rice, differentiating it from Ms. Sato's pending patent which uses steamed rice.

Later, in 1988, a study was published, in three parts, in the Journal of the Agricultural Chemical Society of Japan discussing a series of experiments in Sake brewing using seven different strains of Rhizopus on steamed rice. The study concluded that "The genus Rhizopus grew well in polished rice steeped in a particular solution of amino acids (Ala, Glu, Lys, Tyr, Val) and its steamed rice." They also stated that "Organic acids, especially fumaric, citric and malic acids, were present in the “peculiar koji” at higher levels than in ordinary koji." So, they too used steamed rice but I am unsure whether they actually sought a patent or not for their processes. The results though clearly showed elevated amino acid levels.

Despite this prior history, I've never previously heard of any commercially available Sake that was produced using Rhizopus. TheHibikini no Morimay thus be the first commercial Sake using Rhizopus, making it an intriguing new innovation. Ms. Sato's koji making process could be an important step forward in a fascinating and compelling new style of Sake. It is an important step as well for women in the Sake industry, who for many centuries who were not permitted even entrance into a Sake brewery. I look forward to learning more about Ms.Sato and her Rhizopus process, and hope to one day taste the resulting Sake.

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Rant: Restaurant Reviews & Yelp's Top 100

Date: Mon, Mar 3, 2014 Wine Tasting

What is the best restaurant in Massachusetts? That is certainly not an easy question to answer, and there is plenty of subjectivity involved in any possible answer.

Many consumers seek out restaurant reviews for advice on where they should dine. They might read the food column of a local newspaper or magazine, or check out the reviews from a local food blogger. Or they might check out the crowd sourced reviews from sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp. Which source is the most valuable for consumers?

Yelp has certainly been the target of much derision and controversy. And I don't think Yelp's new list of theTop 100 Places To Eatin the U.S. is going to help its reputation. I found the list enlightening and I feel it speaks volumes to consumers about what they can expect if they rely upon Yelp reviews. The list is drastically different from many other sources which have compiled their own "best places to eat" lists. There are restaurant's on the Yelp list that have probably never been listed before on any other "best place in the U.S."

Forget the French Laundry or Le Bernadin, according to Yelp the #1 restaurant in the entire U.S. isDa Poke Shack, a tiny seafood restaurant, kind of a hole-in-the-wall, in Hawaii that primarily serves poke, which you can roughly think of as a raw seafood salad. Really? The best in the entire country? Prior to this list, I have never heard of this place before, and have never seen it on any other "best in the country" list. It certainly befuddles me, though seems indicative of the type of places that Yelpers prefer.

Nearly half of the spots on the top 100 list are taken by restaurants in California. As part of the reason for restaurants to be on this list concerns the number of reviews a place has received, it seems likely that there are far more active Yelpers in California than any other state. It also seems to indicate that the list is biased more toward West Coast restaurants. With such a bias, can we take this list seriously?

There is a single Massachusetts restaurant on the list, at #32, and it is ranked higher than theFrench LaundryandLe Bernadin. That would make it the best restaurant in Massachusetts.Can you guess which Massachusetts restaurant garnered these accolades?

I bet you probably guessed wrong as it isn't an obvious choice. Yelp chose Dave's Fresh Pastain Somerville as one of their top 100 restaurants in the country. Again, I am befuddled how this place, which though it is good, somehow got ranked as the "best" restaurant in Massachusetts. Personally, I could list a couple dozen places offhand that I would consider better than this place. Do any of my readers consider Dave's Fresh Pasta to be the best restaurant in Massachusetts?

Only two other New England restaurants made the list, theFishermen's Grill in Portland, Maine at #60 andLos Andes Restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island at #69. Again, neither of these two places are on a short list of places I would consider the "best" in their state.

If these are the type of places that Yelp considers to be the best, do you really want to rely on it for your restaurant decisions?

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Boston Wine Expo: Khareba Winery From Georgia

Date: Fri, Feb 28, 2014 Wine Tasting

At the Boston Wine Expo, I traveled in time and space, back many thousands of years to a regionwhich some believe could be the birthplace of wine making. I am referring to Georgia, a country situated in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. The exact origins of wine making may never be known, but it cannot be disputed that Georgia's history in this regard extends back to the vinous beginnings. Some even believe the word "wine" derives from the Georgian word "gvino" which means "wine." Unfortunately, despite Georgia's importance to the history of wine, many American consumers have never tasted a Georgian wine.

There are over 500 indigenous grapes in Georgia though only about 38 are currently used for wine production. In time, that will likely increase as some wineries have been exploring the potential of the other indigenous grapes. It is a long, historical tradition for Georgians to ferment and age their wines in clay vessels, called "qvevri" or "kvevri." These are similar to amphorae but usually lack handles. The qvevri are commonly buried underground in a marani, sometimes said to be a sacred area, though more commonly it refers to a wine cellar.

These qvevri, for a multitude of reasons, can create some interesting wines, and the whites produced in these qvevri may sometimes be known as "orange wines," as oxidation has darkened their color and added intriguing flavors. Because of its importance, the qvevri was even added to theUNESCOIntangible Cultural Heritage List.Other winemakers from around the world have also started using or experimenting with clay amphora.

Wine is an integral component of Georgian culture, from the revelry of rtveli, their grape harvest, to the supra, a traditional feast. The term "supra" means "tablecloth" and the supra feast typically contains a lengthy amount of toasts. A tamada, a toastmaster, is selected to lead the evening, and the tamada will make all of the toasts. These toasts will honor family and friends, events in the past, present and future, and much more. It is customary to toast to every person attending the feast, saying something positive about them. The primary prohibition is that you cannot toast to anything negative.

Two years ago, at the Boston Wine Expo, I tasted and enjoyed the Georgian wines of Telavi Wine Cellar, including one wine made in a qvevri. I later sampled and was impressed by the sparkling wines of Bagrationi 1882 Winery. So, when I learned theKhareba Wineryfrom Georgia would be exhibiting at this year's Expo, I placed it at the top of my list of tables to visit. It was the only Georgian winery exhibiting at the show, and ended up being the first wine booth at which I stopped to taste.

At the Khareba tables, I metVladimer Kublashvili, their Production Director, andLia Kutateladze, their Export Manager, both who were personable and obviously passionate about Georgian wines.I was eminently satisfied with the wines I found and the table also seemed very popular during the public hours of the Grand Tasting. Consumers wanted to know more about wines from this unfamiliar region. They wanted to taste something different, to broaden the horizons of their palates. Kudos to all of those consumers brave enough to explore wine outside their comfort zone.

The Khareba Winery currently owns over 750 hectares of vineyards, and 90% of them located are located in Kakheti, in Eastern Georgia. The other 10% of vineyards are in Western Georgia, 9% in Imereti and 1% in Lechkhumi. Their Kakheti winery has been in operation since 1957, and currently produces their table wines. In 2011, they constructed a second winery in Imereti which now produces their premium quality and sparkling wines. They produce over 30 different wines and started about three years ago to produce a number of wines using the traditional qvevri. It impresses me that one of the goals of the winery is to identify and cultivate old, traditional and indigenous Georgian grapes. With such a wealth of indigenous grapes, it is great that they are trying to preserve this history and potentially find obscure grapes that will make some compelling wines.

Of the 12 wines I tasted, I found the Khareba Monastery Wines, those made with qvevri, to be the most compelling. They produce about 8 different monastery wines, including 6 whites and 2 reds, and they had 4 of them available for tasting at the Expo. The four wines I tasted were all single varietal wines, using indigenous Georgian grapes that are rarely seen outside of Georgia. You might be familiar though with Rkatiseli as it is now being grown in several other regions, and some can even be found in Massachusetts, grown by Westport Rivers.

The 2011KrakhunaMonastery Wine is a white wine that was fermented and aged in qvevri for 8 months with 5% of its skins. Krakhuna is an ancient white grape that is late ripening. This wine had a mild yellowish/amber color to it, and on the palate was dry with mild flavors of pear and herbs. With good acidity and a pleasant finish, this is a wine that would appeal to many consumers. It would be fine on its own, or paired with lighter fare, such as seafood.

The 2011Mtsvane Monastery Wine is another white wine that was fermented and aged in qvevri, but for 10 months with 100% of its skins. Mtsvane is a light-skinned, white grape and its name means "green." This was the darkest of the white wines, with a rich amber/orange color, and also the one which I felt possessed the most complex and compelling aromas and flavors. The aroma was full of fresh fruit flavors, from peach to apple, and on the palate, there was an intriguing melange of fruit, spice and minerality. With lots of umami in this wine, its savory nature was appealing and satisfying. Highly recommended.

The 2011Rkatsiteli Monastery Wine is the third white wine, and it was fermented and aged in qvevri for 10 months with 100% of its skins. Rkatsiteli is an ancient white grape, with high acidity, and its name means "red stem."This wine's color was medium amber/orange and presents with a more exotic taste, a blend of dried fruits, spice and herbs with a nice crispness. In some respects it reminded me of Gewurztraminer, but possessed its own uniqueness as well. Definitely one of the best examples of Rkatsiteli that I have tasted.

My favorite wine was the 2012Saperavi Monastery Wine, a red wine that was fermented and aged in qvevri. Saperavi is an ancient red grape, known to be very hardy, and its name means literally "paint" or "dye," due to its intense dark-red color. And this wine possessed a strong dark red color and an intense aroma of black and blue fruits, with a mild spicy undertone. On the palate, there was a complex and alluring melange of black cherry, blueberry, and blackberry with subtle spicy notes. There is also an exotic element to the wine, one that is difficult to encapsulate in words, but which makes this wine interesting and delicious. The tannins were restrained, the wine was nicely balanced, and it presented a lengthy and pleasing finish. Highly recommended.

The rest of the Khareba wines I sampled were table wines, produced in a more European style and without the use of a qvevri. In general, though lacking the complexity of the qvevri wines, I enjoyed most of the table wines, finding them easy drinking and pleasant. These are more everyday wines, inexpensive wines that you would select for an ordinary dinner or a quiet night at home. As these wines use indigenous Georgian grapes, they add their own uniqueness, helping to elevate them over some other table wines. These wines can also serve as conversation starters, and help wine lovers expand their palates.

The 2010 Khareba Brut Sparkling Wine is made from the Tsitska grape and is aged for 12 months. It was a rather simple sparkling wine, with yeasty and floral notes, and didn't appeal to my own preferences. On the other hand, the 2013 Khareba Krakhuna was bright, crisp and had tasty green apple and pear flavors. It would make an excellent summer wine, an easy drinking quaffer which would also pair well with light dishes. The 2013 Khareba Mtsvane was strongly aromatic, like a Gewurztraminer, and had some of those same spicy notes on the palate. Dry, crisp and nicely balanced, this is another easy drinker and I would like to try it with some spicy Thai.

The last of the whites was the 2013 Khareba Rkatiseli, which presented a crisp and clean taste of spice and herbs, supplemented by a mild citrus nature. An intriguing taste, and another candidate for a fun summer wine. All three of the white, still wines were pleasing and should appeal to most wine lovers.

All of the red wines contained the Saperavi grape, and the different wines showed the allure and versatility of this grape. The 2011 Khareba Saperavi sees no oak, and presented juicy black fruit flavors with spicy elements enhancing the taste. A delicious and easy drinking wine, perfect for burgers or pizza. It presents just enough exotic taste to differentiate it from wines from other regions. The 2010 Khareba Saperavi Premium sees about 20% aged in oak, and the tannins are mild. Again, there were nice black fruit flavors, with hints of blueberrry, and a bit more spice.

The 2011 Khareba Oak is produced from 100% Saperavi, aged in oak, and presents a fuller and richer taste, with black and blue fruit flavors, lots of spice, and subtle herbal notes. The tannins are moderate and the finish is lengthy and satisfying. It also presents more complexity than the other two Saperavi table wines. It was my favorite of the three red wines, but I could easily enjoy the other two as well. Once again, these reds should appeal to most wine lovers.

Finally, we ended on a sweet note with the 2012 Kindzmarauli, a semi-sweet wine made from Saperavi. With a deep red color, it has a nose that reminded me of sweet candy, and that came out on the palate as well. It was not overly sweet, and had bright red fruit flavors.

Overall, the Khareba wines impressed me, especially their qvevri wines, and further enhanced my view of Georgian wines. These were well-made wines, presenting intriguing indigenous grapes that offered an exotic aspect. Their table wines would appeal to a broad spectrum of wine drinkers, while the qvevri wines might appeal more to wine geeks, though the Krakhuna Monastery wine is more consumer friendly. Georgian wines have a lengthy history, and it seems that their future is looking bright. I encourage all wine lovers to seek out the wines of Georgia, to explore the wonders of their wines.

Khareba Winery is currently seeking a national importer so they can bring their wines to the U.S. I wish them the best of luck in finding an importer as I believe their wines are worthy, and would do well in the U.S.

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Thursday Sips & Nibbles

Date: Thu, Feb 27, 2014 Wine Tasting

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1)On March 5, at 6pm, Dinner by Dames brings together five of Rhode Island's most talented chefs for a special dining event. Chefs Melissa Denmark of Gracie's and Ellie's Bakery, Jordan Goldsmith of Garden Grille, Maria Meza of El Rancho Grande, Kaitlyn Roberts of Easy Entertaining Inc. and Jessica Wood of Fire and Water Restaurant Group, gather together for the first time to prepare signature dishes and a few treats for dinner guests.

Hosted at The Café at Easy Entertaining at 166 Valley Street in Providence, Rhode Island, Dinner by Dames will begin with a 6 p.m. reception with welcome bites from each chef, then moving into a five-course dinner featuring: Gordita with goat and green salsa, Pappardelle with confit wild mushrooms and Maine white beans with roasted leek broth, Nantucket Bay scallops with other wonderful things, Pork and beans, and Milk chocolate and grapefruit crémeux, pistachio cake and espresso-toffee ice cream.

The five chefs have all enjoyed each other’s food but have not had the chance to collaborate before. Meza said, “I’m excited to work with these great women chefs and prepare plates different from the cuisine I usually create.” Denmark said, “This is an exciting way for some of the talented Rhode Island female chefs to show off all of the great food we create.” Wood added, “It’s going to be an amazing event to see women chefs highlighted in a primarily male dominated industry.” Roberts said, “I really like working with women because they tend to be a little more collaborative. The spirit when women get together is palpable, so I look forward to sharing the energy of the night.

The cost of the dinner is $85 per person (which includes an 8% sales tax and 18% gratuity). An optional wine pairing, selected by Jessica Granatiero of The Savory Grape Wine Shop in East Greenwich, will be available to purchase at the event, as well as an a la carte wine selection. Tickets are available now at eatdrinkri.com/dames.

2) The 6th Annual Cheesemakers’ Festivalwill be held onSunday, July 20, from 11am-4pm, at theShelburne Farms Coach Barn in Vermont. This is a celebration of cheeses, artisan foods, craft beers, local wines – and the people who make them. Over 100 cheeses from more than 40 cheesemakers as well as dozens of artisan food producers and local beer, wine and spirits producers will all be gathered for this event. This is one of my favorite events of the year and highly recommended. Plus, I advise you buy your tickets early as the event sells out every year.

Tickets are $50 per person and include full access to all festival events, including workshops, demonstrations, and beer and wine tastings. An early bird special of $45 for tickets runs through March 1. To order tickets visit now on sale through http://www.flynntix.org, or by calling 802-86-FLYNN.

3) Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Carnival; different ways to describe the same worldwide party of hedonism and excess before the long (and dry) days of Lent. This March, on Tuesday, March 4, from 8pm-12:30am, Kenmore Square craft cocktail hub The Hawthorne is doing just that by bringing true New Orleans flavor to the neighborhood with a properly gluttonous and spirited Mardi Gras feast.

Time-honored, N’awlins-born cocktails like the Sazerac, Vieux Carre and Ramos Gin Fizz will be flowing Bacchus-style throughout the evening. And for noshing, live crawfish flown in straight from The Big Easy, The Hawthorne’s own oversized muffuletta and freshly fried oyster Po’ Boys lay a stick-to-your ribs foundation for a little light debauchery – horns and beads included. Rounding out the festivities is live New Orleans jazz from Mickey Bones and the Hot Tamale Brass Band, letting guests get down to the beats of Bourbon Street. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training as they prepare to run the Boston Marathon.

Cost: $75/person, includes New Orleans-approved snacks and two cocktails; other cocktails and bites available for purchase. To buy tickets, visit: http://thehawthornemardigras.eventbrite.com

4)Chef Paul Turano, chef/owner of Tryst restaurant in Arlington, has taken it upon himself to bring authenticity to his special Mardi Gras dinner being held on Tuesday, March 4, from 5pm-10pm. Served in addition to Tryst’s regular menu, Mardi Gras diners can look forward to experiencing a three-course prix fixe menu available for $35 per person featuring items such as barbequed oysters with creole butter, chicken and sausage gumbo with spicy fried shrimp and jasmine rice and bread pudding “Commander’s Palace style” with butter pecan ice cream and rum sauce. That’s not all, guests will be able to enjoy authentic cocktails and Hurricanes galore.

Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling 781-641-2227.

5)Taste of Iceland, an annual festival that celebrates Iceland’s vibrant culture, returns to Boston with a series of events from March 14-18. Presented by Iceland Naturally, the five-day event highlights the best of Icelandic food, music and culture, giving Bostonians a taste of what life is like in Iceland. This year’s events include a special Icelandic menu at Rialto prepared by chef Hákon Már Örvarsson, a Reyka Vodka Craft Cocktail Class, and the Reykjavik Calling concert at The Middle East.

Icelandic Menu at Rialto Restaurant
March 14-18 | 8PM | Rialto Restaurant & Bar | One Bennett St. | Cambridge
An authentic Icelandic meal will be available Friday through Tuesday at Rialto Restaurant, located in Harvard Square. Icelandic chef Hákon Már Örvarsson, winner of Bocuse d’Or and World Culinary Cup, will collaborate with Rialto chef Jody Adams, a James Beard Award winner and former Top Chef Masters competitor. Diners will enjoy a four-course meal featuring traditional tapas-style dishes, fresh Arctic Char, free-range Icelandic lamb, and Skyr of the Vikings. Prepared onsite with fresh ingredients flown in from Iceland, this special menu will be offered for $85 per person (tax, gratuity, and beverages not included). For reservations, call 617-234-8026 or email annie@rialto-restaurant.com.

Reykjavik Calling Concert
March 15 | 8PM | The Middle East Restaurant & Nightclub | 472-480 Mass Ave. | Cambridge
The free Reykjavik Calling concert combines three of Iceland’s most talented musicians with two Boston-area musicians for a night of spectacular collaborations. Past Reykjavik Calling performers have included of Monsters and Men, Asgeir Trausti, Lay Low and many more. Presented by WERS 88.9 FM and Iceland Naturally, admission to the concert is free and will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show begins at 9 p.m. Click here to RSVP.
Icelandic musicians: Hermigervill (Electronic) | Retro Stefson (Electronic/Alternative) | Sin Fang (Indie/Electronic)
Boston musicians: The Love Experiment (Indie/R&B) | Skinny Bones (Folk)

Reyka Vodka Craft Cocktail Class
March 16 | 4PM | The Liberty Hotel | 215 Charles St. | Boston
New to Taste of Iceland in Boston, this special, hands-on craft cocktail class will teach participants to artfully assemble cocktails using Icelandic Reyka Vodka. Led by Liberty Hotel Mixologist Juan Carlos Perez, the class is free and attendance is limited to 50. Click here to reserve your ticket (required for entry). Must be 21 years or older to participate.

6) On Sunday, March 9, from 3 p.m.– 9 p.m., Forum Bar & Restaurant invites guests for a Marathon tailgate that “goes the distance!” in the support of Forum Director of Event and Marketing Erinn Fleming, along with fellow runner Peter Riddle and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation on their journey to completing the 26.2 mile 2014 Boston Marathon on April 21.

Having been introduced to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation in 2013, Fleming was immediately captivated by their mission to provide support for individuals and families coping with cancer. On April 15th of last year, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation held a team-watch party for the 2013 Boston Marathon at Forum that was brought to an abrupt stop.

This year, Fleming, Riddle, and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation are teaming up to finish what they started by running, supporting, and continuing to raise funds for those affected by cancer. “I’m running because I cannot be inside Forum looking out again,” says Fleming. “I’m running because my chest tightens and my eyes tear up every time I think about it. I’m running because there’s a voice inside my head that said you should, you will, you are, you can.”

Cocktails and light appetizers will be served while items including Red Sox tickets, a weekend getaway to New York City, and more are auctioned off.

There is no cover for this event. Suggested donation of $20 in support of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. To make an online donation, please visit: http://www.crowdrise.com/JAF2014BostonMarathon/fundraiser/erinnfleming

7) On March 4, from 5pm-1:30am, Executive Chef Eric Gburski will embrace the spirit of New Orleans by offering exclusive Mardi Gras specials at his southern-style hotspot, Estelle's. To celebrate Carnivalin the South End, Chef Gburski will offer a two-course prix fixe menu that will give revelers a night of pure “Fat Tuesday” indulgence. To start, there is the Traditional Andouille Sausage & Smoked Chicken Gumbo. For the main course, Chef Gburski offers up a choice of two entrees: Braised Duck & Andouille Sausage Etouffee or Estelle's Creole Seafood Jambalaya.

On the liquid side, Bar Manager Jen LaForge will be shaking up the South End Hurricane, a festive Bourbon Street-inspired mix of Prichard's Peach Mango Rum, Cruzan Pineapple Rum, amaretto, Don Ciccio Hibiscus liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice and pomegranate juice that is garnished with pomegranate seeds and a lime wheel.

COST: Two-course prix fixe: $30.95 South End Hurricane: $9.95
For reservations, please call 857-250-2999.

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Boston Wine Expo: An Overview With Food

Date: Wed, Feb 26, 2014 Wine Tasting

Intriguing Georgian wines made in traditional clay pots. An abundance of value Portuguese wines. Killer wines from small, artisan producers in Burgundy. Compelling Rhône blends from California. Superb high-end Spanish wines. Grass-fed beef from Uruguay. Hanging out with wine lovers Rob Ciampa and Todd Trzaskos. These are all some of the highlights of my time at the Boston Wine Expo this year.

With a media pass, I attended the trade hours of the Expo on both Saturday and Sunday, and also visited the Vintner's Reserve Lounge on Sunday afternoon. With over 185 wineries showcasing their wines, I could only sample a small fraction of the available wines so choices had to be made, many before I even showed up at the Expo. As I mentioned before, it can be helpful to do some research before hand, to check the exhibitor list and decide where you would like to taste. I always have some flexibility too, in case I find something else compelling that I missed on my prior research.

Overall, the Grand Tasting has a greater diversity of wines than what I found at the Mohegan Sun WineFest Grand Tasting, but still could work on acquiring an even better diversity. For example, there was only a single Sake exhibitor and the South Africa tables were far fewer than last year. There was no Sherry and few local wines. The Expo should be an opportunity to offer different wines, that consumers may know little about, to hopefully make them converts. I'm sure there are economic reasons why some smaller producers won't attend the Expo, but I think there are still plenty of others who could exhibit there who do not currently.

There were a number of food exhibitors at the Expo, offering free samples of their products, from Harrows Chicken Pies to McCrea's Candies. With all the wine tasting, it is beneficial to have food to absorb the alcohol and cleanse the palate. And it can also be interesting to pair some of these foods with the wines you are tasting. While sampling a hearty red wine, it can be nice to have a piece of beef to accompany your taste. You could have tried some chocolate with a Port. There were plenty of pairing options.

I want to present my top three food finds from the Expo, items I recommend to my readers.

Del Terruno, which means"from my small corner of the earth," offered samples of their free range, grass fed beef from Uruguay. The cows are raised in open fields and eat grass throughout the entire year. They are not fed corn at all. This meat is intended to be as natural as possible and the company tries to adhere to good environmental practices. Their meat has excellent traceability, and can be tracked back to the original animal. The meat is lean, but flavorful with more of an earthy taste than the beef you are used to eating. And it made a good pairing with several different red wines. I'll admit that I enjoyed several tastes of this beef during the Expo, finding myself passing by their table multiple times during each day.

The idea ofPasta Chipsintrigued me, kind of oven baked crackers made from pasta, so I was curious to taste them at the Expo. Made from semolina flour and Italian herbs, there are currently five different flavors of these chips including Alfredo, Marinara, Spicy Tomato Herb, Garlic & Olive Oil, and Sea Salt.A 5 ounce bag costs about $4. I was impressed, and nearly addicted, with these chips, which were thin but sturdy, had appealing flavors and a nice crunch. The Garlic & Oil was one of my favorite flavors, with a strong garlic taste, though I also very much liked the Alfredo, which had a prominent cheese kick. The chips are strong enough for even a thick dip, though I like them just the way they are.

Pickled vegetables and cherries.Tillen Farms, founded by Tim and Helen Metzger, makes a line of pickled veggies, about ten different kinds, as well as four types of jarred cherries. They promote that their products are more natural, avoiding artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. If you have food allergies, a number of their products may also be good for you. For example, the Crispy Pickled Carrots are Gluten-Free, Vegan and made in a nut free facility. They were also delicious, with plenty of crispness and a mild pickled flavor. Some of their other pickled veggies include asparagus, beans and snap peas.

Their cherry types include Rainier Reserve, Bada Bing, Pink Blush and Merry Maraschino. Again, these are intended to be more natural with no artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. I tried all four cherries and each had their own specific taste and you got a sense of freshness from all of them, a lack of the artificial flavor you might be used to in many commercial maraschino cherries. They would be nice additions to a cocktail. They even suggested soaking the Bada Bing cherries in some bourbon for a special cocktail treat.

This year, I also visited the Vintner's Reserve Lounge for the first time since 2008, when I had a very disappointing timewhich soured me on that event. I can now say that the event has undergone some significant changes, and has become a far better event. First, and very importantly, they now serve a variety of foods at the Vintner's event, and not just cheese & crackers. There were 9 restaurants at the event, providing items like oysters, beef wellington, and seared halloumi. Second, there were no timed tastings. All of the wines were available throughout the entire event.

As limited tickets are sold, this is a much more casual event with few lines at the tables. And there were a number of chairs where you could sit and enjoy some of the sampled wines and foods. There were approximately 100 high-end wines available for sampling, about 60% which were from the U.S., primarily California. Another 20% of the wines were from France, with other wines from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Portugal and Canada. Once again, I wish there was more diversity in the selections. For example, there was only a single wine from Portugal, and it wasn't even a Port. There were also almost no sparkling wines at the event.

However, I was impressed with nearly all of the wines I tasted in the lounge and would return to this event next year. Tickets for the Vintner's Reserve Lounge cost $185 and I think it is worth it for a wine lover who wants to taste higher-end wines they might not usually purchase. The addition of all the food exhibitors to this event makes it a better deal than if it were only for the wine.

And if you missed theVintner's Reserve Lounge this year, you missed seeingChef Jose Duarte, of Taranta, serving a dish made with Del Terruno beef. Check out his Google Glass!Though he is still getting used to them, he had much positive to say about it and thinks they will be beneficial to chefs. And of course, his dish was delicious.

(During the next couple weeks, I'll be posting reviews of the wines I most enjoyed at the Expo.)

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Sake News

Date: Tue, Feb 25, 2014 Wine Tasting

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) A Disneyland for Sake? Rocket News 24 reported about a "Niigata sake theme park," Ponshukanand I did a little additional research on this intriguing place. Ponshukan has four primary Sake-related attractions, including a restaurant and souvenir shop. The restaurant showcases many local Niigata ingredients, including Koshihikari rice. To relax, and rejuvenate your skin, you & can visit their Sake Bath, an onsen (hot spring) where specially prepared Sake has been added to the water. The amino acids in Sake include a few which are beneficial skin, and numerous cosmetic products, made with Sake, are available, from bath gels to soaps.

The last attraction is a wall of Sake jidō-hanbaiki (vending machines), 117 in all! 95 of those dispensers are dedicated to Niigata breweries, and the remaining 22 are from different Prefectures, and that selection rotates regularly. It costs 100 yen for a cup of Sake, and at the current exchange rate, that is roughly equivalent to $1 U.S. That is certainly a cheap way to conduct your own Sake tasting. It would be a great place to spend several hours, tasting through their entire line-up. Yes, that would be akin to Disneyland for me.

2) Some good news from the New York Times, reporting on plans of the Japanese government to promote Sake. Japan is looking to boost exports of some of their cultural products, like Sake, to help their economy. One of the new programs is funding Sake tasting booths at international airports. The goal of the government is to increase Sake and rice-based exports five-fold during the next six years. The article cites some of the problems of Sake's entry into the U.S.market, which is currently their largest market. One of the problems is misconceptions about Sake, requiring increased education. The Japan External Trade Organizationisincreasing their own Sake education efforts,and Sake advocates, like myself, are trying to do our part too. Let us hope all these efforts lead to increased imports of Sake, and a spread across the U.S. of greater passion for this wondrous Japanese beverage.

3) In some sad news, Channel NewsAsia is reporting that the Sake breweries of the Fukushima region are having difficulties. In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami brutalized the Tohoku region, and caused meltdowns at the Fukishima Nuclear Power Plant. Initially, after the disaster, there was a rallying call to support the Sake breweries that had been adversely affected by this disaster. However, it appears that recently, the support of these breweries has waned, partially due to fears of lingering radiation. The Sake breweries though want people to know the water they use to produce their Sake is perfectly safe, from sources high in the mountains, and have been thoroughly tested to ensure they are safe. We need to support the Fukushima Sake breweries, so that these quality breweries, with vibrant histories, do not vanish. Don't let fear mongering prevent you from purchasing their Sake.

4) Should you drink hot Sake? Over at Eat North, there is an interesting article by Elise Gee concerning heating Sake. Elise discusses the role of the o-kan-ban, the various temperature classes, and how to eat Sake at home. I'll add a little history here to supplement her article. Prior to the 18th century, heating Sake was done occasionally and was not the norm. It was more often drank at room temperature, and sometimes serve chilled. However, during the 1700s, heating Sake became commonplace with everyone, and it is thought this was due in large part to Chinese beliefs that hot beverages were good for your health. The written character for kan, the general term for warmed Sake, wasn't created until around the end of the 17th century. Premium Sake often tastes better when slightly chilled, but some are also very good when gently warmed. Experiment at home.

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Rant: Bronuts, Ramen Burgers & the Doh! Nut

Date: Mon, Feb 24, 2014 Wine Tasting

When the Cronut craze struck, Griddler's created their own Bronuts, a burger topped by a fried egg, and with a maple-bacon glazed donut as the bun. It was recently reported that PYT, a restaurant in Philadelphia, will open a location in Boston, bringing with them the Doh! Nut, a cheeseburger topped by chocolate-covered bacon and with a glazed donut bun. And Boston Magazine has been discussing the new RamenBurger at Ki Bistro, which has a bun made of ramen noodles. I'm positive that other strange burgers, as well as other unusual food combinations, will continue to be created and promoted, discussed and debated.

When these items get discussed on social media, many people evidence their disgust, including plenty of food writers. People complain that such items are way over the top, that there is no need for such strange combinations. They state that they wouldn't eat such items, that they have much better taste than to consume such a monstrosity. These unusual foods are seen more as a joke than anything serious, and thus worthy of being ridiculed.

Doth protest too much! And sorry, but I'm not buying it.

A significant number of these people will still eat, at least once, these strange burgers and other concoctions. They might claim it is in the name of research or journalism, that they are somehow obligated to eat these items. However, that is probably not the case. It is much more likely a voluntary choice and partially a desire to garner more readers by covering a hot topic. There is also a significant element that deep down, most passionate food lovers have an insatiable curiosity to try new foods, even those they claim sound disgusting.

All the burgers mentioned above, and similarly strange food combinations, are like Sirens calling to a food-loving Odysseus. You may not want to admit your desire to taste these bizarre combos, but that doesn't make the desire any less real. Though you could ignore them, there is a strong part of you that will give into your base desires and taste these items.

It doesn't make much difference if someone else gives a negative review of these items. That desire to try them, to taste for yourself, remains strong. That is also why these trends come and go, that these unusual items usually don't stay around too long. Restaurants understand that the novelty of these items has a short shelf life, but that they can capitalize on the curiosity of the public. It also drums up plenty of publicity for whatever restaurant decides to place such odd dishes on their menu.

So don't put on a superior attitude, claiming to be above such strange burgers and foods. We know there is a good chance you'll try them, that you will be helpless to resist the lure of these culinary Sirens. It won't ruin your reputation if you state that you want a taste. Just be honest and confess to your culinary curiosity.

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Two "Cheese Hoards" in Concord

Date: Fri, Feb 21, 2014 Wine Tasting

There are two "Cheese Hoards" at the Concord Cheese Shop, and they are interconnected, one helping to both stock and sell the other. Earlier this week, I spent time with both "hoards," tasting some of the hottest cheeses at the shop.

The shop usually stocks 150-200 different cheeses, which constitutes its first hoard. This diverse selection includes many local cheeses, as well as other artisan, small production and more unique cheeses. You'll likely to discover a number of new cheeses here, and you'll have the opportunity to taste any of them before you buy. They even have regular customers who are devotees of specific cheeses, asking for them by name. Such people are true cheese lovers.

The second "cheese hoard" is the store's cheese buyer, Brie Hurd. "Brie" is a French cheese while "Hurd" is a Middle English form of "hoard." It almost seems like destiny that someone with that name would end up working in the world of cheese, especially considering the path that originally led her to the Concord Cheese Shop. About 6 1/2 years ago, Brie started working at the shop while she was in college studying Art History and Women's Studies. Neither of those two subjects would incline you to believe Brie was headed toward a cheese career. It began as a summer job, and Brie also worked on her breaks from college.

During the holiday rush at the cheese shop, and despite working hard, long hours, Brie thrived, relishing her work. She found it to be far more enjoyment than drudgery. She stated that her college life was "punctuated by her cheese education." When she graduated from Ithaca College in 2010, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life and continued to work at the cheese shop. As time passed, her passion for cheese grew and she found her happiness there. She finally concluded that cheese would be the focus of her future.

Since then, she has continued her cheese education, even competing in various cheese competitions. And this spring, she is going on a cheese journey in England. Brie "feels like a sponge right now," constantly learning about cheese, wine, and business. She "loves touching the consumer," working with the public, creating a special rapport and bringing those customers pleasure through cheese. With the passion I felt within her, I can easily see how well she would deal with customers, spreading that passion for cheese. Brie doesn't know what her future will bring, but it will most likely continue to include cheese.

Brie led me through a tasting of some of what she believes will be the most exciting cheeses of 2014. Some other exciting cheeses are seasonal and weren't available for tasting when I was there, but if you stop by, you might find them. As I have mentioned before, good cheese is not cheap though at the cheese shop, Brie stated they won't sell any cheese for more than $39.99 per pound. They try to have a range of cheese prices, from inexpensive, value cheese to higher-end artisan ones. Their average customer purchases from 1/2 to 1 1/2 pounds of cheese on a visit.

Located in the above picture, at the bottom right, is the Taleggio La Baita($18.99/lb), a soft-ripened raw cow's milk cheese from Italy. Taleggio extends back to at least the 10th century, and historically was known as Stracchino. The name "taleggio" derives from the Taleggio Valley in Lombardy. The La Baita is made by the Carozzi family, which has 3-4 generations of cheese makers. The cheese shop won't carry Taleggio produced by anyone else except the Carozzi family. This cheese has a nice firmness and isn't runny. It is creamy and smooth, with a full and buttery flavor, enhanced by the saltiness of the rind. There is a slight tang to the taste, enhancing its complexity. This would be a nice cheese with sparkling wine.

Located in the above picture, on the left side, is the Napolean ($36.99/lb), a raw sheep’s milk from the Pyrenees region of France. There is a mountain, called Le Nez de Napolean, which faces the farm and that is where the cheese gets its name. The top of the mountain allegedly resembles a profile of Napolean. This cheese is produced in a traditional Basque style, aged for 24 months, and is Brie's favorite sheep's milk cheese. It has an intriguing firmness, almost a fudgy texture, in your mouth, with a deep, nutty and savory flavor. It is an elegant cheese and Brie recommends pairing it with some honey.

Produced in the Minho region of Portugal, the Bica De Queijo ($29.99/lb) is a blend of goat (70%), cow (25%) and sheep's (5%) milks. The name roughly translates as "bag of cheese." The closeness of the ocean adds a saltiness to the the area where the animals graze, and that saltiness comes out in the cheese. When the cheese is being made, it is washed with white wine and sweet red pepper. The wheel of cheese looks compelling, almost like a small gift package, and the shop has only started carrying it during the past year. This is a silky smooth cheese, with a fresh and mild taste with hints of butter and a mild herbality. This is the type of cheese that would appeal to a wide audience, a real crowd pleaser. Pair this cheese with a Portuguese white wine, like a Vinho Verde, and enjoy.

Though I enjoyed all four of the cheeses, my personal favorite was the stunningLamuse Aged Gouda ($28.99/lb), a raw cow's milk cheese. Gouda has been produced as far back as the 5th century and takes its name from a city in the Netherlands. This Gouda is aged for about two years, and at mid-range temperatures rather than the usual cool temperatures many others use. With a rich amber, almost orange, coloration, the aroma of this cheese will first impress you, with its complex and alluring melange of aromas. When you taste it, your mouth will be flooded with a harmonious blend of flavors, including butterscotch, nuts, caramel, and savory elements. You also get some crunch from protein crystals, enhancing the sensory experience. Though firm, it also seems to nearly melt in your mouth. Highly recommended!

I also got to taste another decadent delight, the Moliterno al Tartufo ($29.99/lb), a Sardinian sheep's milk cheese that has been aged for 5-6 months, with the exterior rubbed by vinegar and olive oil. After this aging period, it is injected with black truffle paste, which creates those dark veins through the cheese. This is another cheese with an alluring aroma, a rich, earthiness that will remind you of fresh mushrooms. And that taste follows up, presenting an umami-rich earthiness that is a savory paradise. The truffle flavors are enhanced by the salty and herbal tang of the cheese. I would like to pair this with a Kimoto/Yamahai Sake, which possesses its own strong umami taste. Together, the sake and cheese would create an umami bomb of savoriness. Highly recommended.

Though not cheese related, I need to mention that the LaCuesta Vermouth Reserve ($19.99) is available at the shop. At the recent Mohegan Sun WineFest, I raved about this Spanish Vermouth, and learned that it has been a hot seller at the shop too. This is an interesting and delicious Vermouth and it is great to know that it is available here.

Go to the shop for the cheese, and pick up some excellent wines too!

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Thursday Sips & Nibbles

Date: Thu, Feb 20, 2014 Wine Tasting

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1)The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, will be holding another special wine tasting event on Saturday, March 1, from 1pm-5pm. 2014. The Wine ConneXtion has winnowed down a list of Cabernet Sauvignon wines, including omitting famous brands such as Caymus and Silver Oak, to give way to the “Rise of the Underdogs.” Guests will have an opportunity to sample some of the more unknown, yet delicious, Cabernet on the market.

Guests will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite Cab of the afternoon. Regardless of the winner, all of the featured wines will be available to purchase for a special price throughout the day. This his tasting is free to the public and, as always, walk-ins are welcome all day. *Please note: Must be 21 or older.

2) Executive Chef Paul Turano of Tryst has launched a new menu with unique takes on classic American cuisine. The new dinner menu stays true to the cuisine Chef Turano has always served, but now offers guests a wider selection of both small and large plates. Perfect for something light or for sharing, guests can choose from a selection of starters such as the Snacking Plate, chorizo stuffed dates, Serrano ham, peppadews, olives & almonds ($10), Oxtail Arancini, Barolo syrup & shaved Piave ($8), and Steak Tostada with capers, radish & cress ($10), or opt for fresh fare, a selection of salads including Chef Turano’s famed Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad ($11).

For entrée-portioned dishes, Chef’s “larger plate” section of the menu has something from everyone. From the newly added Cioppino, local white fish, gulf prawns, mussels, Sardinian cous cous ($25), Chili Glazed Pork Shank, stir fried vegetables & quinoa ($20), Roasted & Pulled Pork Sandwich ($12) to some of his staples such as the Faroe Island Salmon and Bourbon Marinated Steak Tips, the new selection of dishes will please any palate.

Tryst’s new dinner menu will be available now through spring 2014 when new seasonal dishes will appear.

3) Chef Ed Hoffey invites home cooks to the Heirloom Kitchen’s Dedham storefront to sharpen their culinary chops with a hands-on cooking class series geared towards families on the go.

Heirloom Kitchen launches its monthly “Cooking for Real Families” culinary class series on Saturday, March 1, from 7pm-9pm, as Chef Ed Hoffey leads a hands-on session on creating the perfect pasta feast for everyone in the family, including those with dietary restrictions and picky palates. Attendees will join Chef Hoffey in Heirloom Kitchen’s spacious open kitchen, working side-by-side to prepare home-style favorites from scratch:

· Use local greens and vegetables to assemble the perfect Simple Greens salad with a fresh lemon herb vinaigrette
· Learn to mix, roll, and cut Pastas like papparedelle and tagliatelle by hand and get pointers on eggless and gluten-free modifications that make it easy to accommodate dietary restrictions at home
· Cook up Heirloom Kitchen’s signature scratch-made sauces: a veggie-rich take on the classic Pomodoro; Pistou, a herbaceous Provençal sauce that is a nut-free alternative to pesto; and Creamy Parmesan sauce with comfort-food appeal for kids of all ages

After two hours of stirring, simmering, and slicing appropriate for any level of expertise, attendees will take home the delicious results of their hard work, along with recipes, tips, and techniques that make it easy for families to gather around their kitchen tables for a homemade meal.

COST: $55 per person including all supplies and ingredients
Classes are limited to ten guests to ensure opportunities for one-on-one learning and conversation.
Reservations are required; please call 781-326-4060 to learn more or secure your spot.

4) On Sunday, March 9, from 11am-1pm, Ristorante Olivio, located in Arlington, will open its doors for a special brunch to help raise money for the Boston Children’s Hospital Marathon Team, Miles for Miracles. Traditionally only open for dinner, Executive Chef/Owner Angelo “Uncle Ang” DiGirolamo will be dishing up breakfast classics in support of his son, Vince DiGirolamo’s marathon run and fundraising efforts.

Vince has devoted the past few months to training for the 2014 Boston Marathon while raising mosey to go toward helping patients at Boston Children’s Hospital—such as his 13 year-old patient partner, Jack G. In addition to training for the marathon, Vince has created VinceRunsBoston.com, where he posts about his experiences, updates, and his own inspiration for supporters to track his progress. To donate to Vince’s marathon run, please visit http://www.milesformiracles.org/goto/vdigirolamo.

For just $25 per person, family, friends and guests are invited in for a special brunch buffet featuring dishes such as: French toast panini, filled with fig, banana and mascarpone jam, ricotta pancakes and an assortment of frittatas and omelets. Chef DiGirolamo will be donating 100% of proceeds to his son’s fundraiser, all of which will be used to help Boston Children’s Hospital provide the best possible care to children and their families in a time of need.

Reservations are necessary and can be made by calling (781) 648-2300.

5)Laissez les bons temps rouler!" is a Cajun expression meaning "Let the good times roll!" and it strongly conveys the joie de vivre ("joy of living") attitude of The Beehive’s 7th Annual Mardi Gras celebration on Tuesday, March 4. The South End hot spot has spared no expense in making this year’s festivities as authentic as possible. Diners and party goers alike can look forward to the traditional jazz style of BT New Orleans 2nd Line Brass Band which will keep the crowd singing and swinging all night long!

From 8pm-12am, Boston-based trombonist Brian Thomas, one of the most sought after musicians in the country, and his brass band will take The Beehive’s stage. Brian has been playing trombone since the age of 10 in his hometown of Rochester, NY and leads his own jazz quartet, big band, and funk power house Akashic Record, each of which feature his original compositions.

From 5pm-12am, guests can indulge in Chef Marc Orfaly’s Cajun inspired à la carte specials featuring authentic NOLA-style dishes such as Louisiana shrimp and grits, pan-fried catfish and Cajun seafood jambalaya. In addition to dinner, Mardi Gras revelers can enjoy entertainment at one of The Beehive’s two bars along with a celebratory Hurricane cocktail and complimentary Mardi Gras beads before hitting the dance floor! There is no cover charge for this event. Regular menu served in addition to all special items.

Reservations recommended, so please call 617-423-0069.

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