Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Exploring Moldova Restaurant & Moldovan Wine: Part 2

As I wrote yesterday, I was recently invited by Andrei Birsan, the owner of Vins Distributors, a wholesaler of Moldovan wines, as a media guest to taste some of his portfolio, as well as to experience Moldovan cuisine at the Moldova Restaurant in Newton. At the dinner, we were joined by Artur Andronic, who owns the restaurant with his wife Sandra.

Artur and Sandra are natives of Moldovas and they initially opened an Italian restaurant in Newton but quickly realized it just wasn't for them. They decided instead to open a Moldovan restaurant, celebrating their heritage, which would also be the only such restaurant in Massachusetts. Hiring a Moldovan chef, they also received much input from their families about the cuisine and recipes, and finally opened in April 2016. It turned out to be an excellent decision as this is a restaurant you need to experience, to enjoy Moldovan cuisine and the warm hospitality of Artur and Sandra.

Moldovan cuisine consists of numerous traditional European foods, from beef to pork, potatoes to cabbage. It also draws influences from Romania, Greece, Poland, Ukraine, and Russian, as well as the former Ottoman Empire. Thus, many of the dishes will look familiar to the average person, though the names may look inscrutable.

The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, and is a relatively small, but comfortable spot. The bright colors and designs on the walls are aesthetically pleasing, and include a map to give you a better idea of the geography of Moldova. Artur was a gracious host, personable and knowledgeable, and it was a pleasure to dine with him and learn more about Moldovan cuisine. Though I've previously enjoyed Moldovan wines, I'd never before had their cuisine so this was a welcome experience.

I've already mentioned the wine list at Moldova Restaurant, but I'll also note they have a full bar, serving various cocktails, and a small beer list. In the future, they hope to add some Moldovan beers to that list. You'll also find some non-alcoholic choices including Compot, a home-made, traditional Eastern European fruit punch. Next time I dine here, I'll have to try the Compot.

The Dinner Menu has a compact range of diverse choices, including: Appetizers (5 choices, $7.95-$11.45), such as CLĂTITE CU GĂINĂ ȘI CIUPERCI (Chicken and mushrooms crepes) and FASOLIȚĂ (Bean paste with caramelized onions); Soup & Salad ($6.45-$8.95), such as ZEAMĂ (Heart warming chicken soup with homemade noodles) and SALATĂ DE VARZĂ (Fresh cabbage salad with scallions, parsley and olive oil); Placinte La Tiger (5 choices, $7.95-$8.95), a traditional pan-fried pie with various fillings); Entrees (3 choices $16.45-$17.95), such as FRIPTURĂ DE GĂINĂ (Roasted chicken, stewed in broth with onions and garlic, served with pickled vegetables and traditional polenta with feta cheese and sour cream on the side); and Chef's Specials, (3 choices $18.95-$24.95), such as CÂRNĂCIORI DE GĂINĂ (Grilled chicken sausages, served with fresh cabbage salad, baked potato topped with sour cream and scallions, pickles and home made hot sauce on the side); Sides (5 choices at $5.45-$8.95), such as CARTOFI ȚĂRĂNEȘTI (Country style pan fried potatoes with onions and herb); and Desserts (2 choices at $8.95-$9.45).

Though the full menu is also available for Lunch, there is a Lunch Special ($10.95) which includes: Soup or Salad, plus a Side & Entree or a Pie, with a nonalcoholic drink.

We began with a traditional Plăcinte la Tigaie, a thin, pan-fried pie with various fillings, and I'll note that the term "plăcinte" derives from the Latin "placenta," which means "cake." They serve five different types, filled with items such as potatoes, cabbage, apples, and cherries. I opted for the PLĂCINTĂ CU BRÎNZĂ ȘI VERDEAȚĂ ($8.95), which is filled with cow cheese and herbs. Traditionally, they use sheep's milk cheese but that is difficult for them to source locally so they chose to go with cow's cheese instead. The filling is made with egg whites, local feta, cottage cheese, dill and parsley, but they don't add any salt. The pie is thin, flaky and crisp, reminding me a little of a scallion pancake (without the scallions), and the cheese filling is creamy and lightly salty. A tasty start to dinner, it is an excellent comfort food and I would love to try it with some of their other fillings. And the PLĂCINTĂ paired very well with the Sparkling Wine!

Artur wants to add a sampler platter to the menu, showcasing several of the different dishes so patrons can experience a range of different items. As such, he had his chef put together a sampler for my visit and I was glad to have the opportunity to try a number of different items rather than just a single dish. In the near future, you'll probably see a similar platter available on the menu.

The first dish was the SARMALE ($16.45), cabbage and grape leaves, stuffed with rice, chicken, tomatoes, carrots, fried onions and herbs, and served with sour cream. Please note that the above Sarmale was only made with grape leaves and not cabbage. The rice plays the prominent role in this dish, and with the chicken it is a very traditional and inexpensive Moldovan dish, especially prepared by the women in the household, and they are always served at Moldovan parties. These were delicious, with a slight crunch to the grape leaves and plenty of flavorful filling, with lots of rice and finely chopped chicken and veggies. They make for a tasty snack and pair well with white wine.

The second sample were the MITITEI MOLDOVENEȘTI ($19.45), grilled minced beef and pork rolls that are normally served with fresh cabbage salad, baked potato topped with sour cream and scallions, pickles and a home made hot sauce on the side. "Mititei" means "little ones." This is not as much a traditional Moldovan dish as it is more of a traditional Romanian one, however it has become one of their most popular items at the restaurant. This is a meaty and well-spiced "sausage," with a nice char, and it was enhanced by the compelling and flavorful hot sauce, though I didn't find it especially hot.

The final sample was the FRIPTURĂ DE MIEL ($24.95), roasted lamb, stewed in special wine and rosemary sauce, and normal served with roasted vegetables. The lamb is cooked for over four hours, braised and then roasted in the oven. All that slow cooking has made the lamb extremely tender, and you certainly don't need to knife to cut it. Your fork will suffice. The lamb also is superb, with a hint of rosemary, and plenty of juicy, tender meat, lacking that gaminess which turns off some people to lamb. As a lamb lover, this dish impressed me immensely and I highly recommend it.

Artur mentioned that Moldovans don't like to let any food go to waste, so they will use bread to sop up any leftover sauce in a dish. At his restaurant, they make their own country-style bread, which has a soft but thick consistency, just right for dipping into sauce.

One of their sides is TĂIEȚEI ($5.45), home made noodles topped with butter and served with feta cheese. These are very traditional, hand-cut noodles, made from scratch, that are commonly used in soups. They are served with feta to add more flavor to them. The noodles had a nice consistency, not too soft or too hard, and with the salty feta, they made for a nice side. I could easily see these noodles used in other dishes too, such as soup or topped by the lamb stew.

Another side was the MĂMĂLIGĂ ($5.45), a very traditional dish of polenta served with feta cheese and sour cream. They use a different type of corn flour which makes it more yellow as well as a bit harder than other polenta. Commonly, you mix the polenta with both feta and sour cream. It certainly had a firmer texture and the feta gave it a nice salty and creamy kick.

Dessert was CUȘMA LUI GUGUȚĂ ($9.45), sour cherries crepes with home-made whipped cream and chocolate. This is an extremely popular item on their menu, and they have even run out some nights when many customers ordered it. It was certainly a hedonistic pleasure, plenty of creaminess, tart sour cherries, and that spongy texture of the crepes, with a chocolate accent. It's easy to understand the popularity of this dessert and it was a great way to end a compelling Moldovan dinner.

The Moldova Restaurant is unique and interesting, with plenty of diverse and delicious food. Much of it is comfort food, sure to please your palate and belly. The welcoming vibe of the spot is also a compelling reason to visit. Plus, the fact they carry Moldovan wine makes a visit more of a total Moldovan experience. Kudos to Artur and Sandra Andronic for opening this restaurant, indicative of their passion for Moldova. I strongly encourage my readers to check out the Moldova Restaurant for lunch or dinner.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Exploring Moldova Restaurant & Moldovan Wine: Part 1

The Republic of Moldova is the least visited country in Europe as well as the poorest country in Europe. However, Moldova has been producing wine for about 5,000 years and currently exports about 67 million bottles annually. I recently wrote an article encouraging people to be wine activists, to buy and drink wines from certain countries, to help their economies thrive. "Financial support of a country’s wines contributes to the well-being of regions, countries, and producers." Considering Moldova's economic situation, then supporting their wine industry is more than warranted, especially considering they are producing some delicious and interesting wines.

Recently, I was contacted by Andrei Birsan, the owner of Vins Distributors, a wholesaler of Moldovan wines, and invited as a media guest to taste some of his portfolio, as well as to experience Moldovan cuisine at the Moldova Restaurant in Newton. I've previously tasted only a handful of Moldovan wines but my experience had been very positive. And I'd never previously enjoyed Moldovan cuisine so I was eager for this meeting.

Andrei grew up in Moldova, leaving the country when he was 21, and came to the U.S. He underwent some training in the law and never thought about a career in the wine industry. However, in 2014, on a trip to Moldova, he tasted an ice wine, falling in love with it. When he returned to the U.S., he wanted to import it but knew he couldn't make a career out of a single wine. So, he decided to import a number of Moldovan wines, to showcase his home country in Massachusetts, and received his first shipment of wine in July 2015. His portfolio currently has about 40 Moldovan wines, which should increase soon by about 10 more.

During the course of our dinner, I tasted eight different wines and found Andrei to be a charming, knowledgeable and interesting person. It was clear that he was passionate about the wines of Moldova and it was infectious. These were wines that would please most any wine lover, and several of them were excellent values as well. They were also excellent food wines, though some could easily be enjoyed on their own too.

As I mentioned earlier, wine originated in the region of what is now Moldova about 5,000 years ago. The area became the Principality of Moldavia in the late 14th century, remaining dominant until 1812 when Russia seized control. Russia later subsidized French colonists to come to the region, and they uprooted most of the indigenous grapes, replanting them with French varieties. Who knows how many indigenous grapes might have been lost due to this uprooting. Once the Soviet Union dissolved, Moldova, which is located between Ukraine and Romania, declared its independence, similar to what occurred in Georgia.

Currently, Moldova has about 150,000 hectares of vineyards, growing over 30 different grapes, about 10% being indigenous varieties, such as Fetească albă, Fetească regală, Fetească neagră, and Rară Neagră. About 70% of their production are white wines and they export about 67 Million bottles of wine annually. One of their biggest trends currently is creating blends with both indigenous and international grapes. Though only about 5% of their vineyards are organic, Moldovan wine law prohibits the addition of any chemicals into wine.

There are four different wine regions in Moldova, including Balti (northern zone), Codru (central zone), Purcari (south-eastern zone) and Cahul (southern zone). According to a new law enacted in 2016, producers must place the regional designation on the label. Some of these regions also have micro-regions. For example, in Cahul there are micro-regions including Taraclia, Ciumai, Comrat, Ceadir-Lunga, Baurci, Cazaiac, Tomai, and Cimislia.

A traditional Moldovan home has a cellar where food and wine is stored, including the wine the homeowner made on their own. The importance of such wine cellars may be part of the reason why Moldova, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has the world's largest wine collection, over 1.5 million bottles, which is called the Golden Collection. This wine cellar, located in the town of Milestii Mici, has over 34 miles of gothic style shelves, with about 70% red wines.

Let's highlight a few indigenous grapes from Moldova.

Fetească Albă (which translates as "white maiden") is a white grape, the most widely planted indigenous grape in Moldova, occupying about 4,334 hectares. When you consider the country has about 150,000 hectares of vineyards, plantings of the Albă constitute only a tiny percentage, less than 3%. Albă is also found in Romania and Hungary. In Moldova, Albă is commonly used for producing sparkling wine, as well as still wine, which posses medium acidity, as well as citrus and floral flavors.

Fetească Regală (which translates as "royal maiden") is also a white grape and allegedly acquired its name when the grape was dedicated at a birthday celebration for Queen Elena of Romania and thus acquired its "royal" status. The grape is more commonly found in Romania, with some also found in Hungary and Austria. However, in Moldova, the grape is sometimes blended with Fetească Albă and a distinction between the two isn't always made clear. Regală can make aromatic wines with good acidity.

Fetească Neagră (which translates as "black maiden") is a red grape that early vanished during the Soviet era but which has been making a comeback since Moldova gained its independence. The grape can be found in part of Romania too. It is commonly used to make dry, sweet and semi-sweet wines, which typically have a deep red color and a black currant flavor.

Rară Neagră (which translates as "black grandmother"), also known in Romania as Băbească Neagră, is a red grape which typically makes wines with high acidity, a lighter red color, and red fruit flavors, especially sour cherry. There are only about 170 hectares of this grape grown in Moldova, and a little is grown in other places, including Romania, Ukraine and even in the Finger Lakes region of New York (where it is known as Sereksia).

All of the Moldovan wines I tasted from the Vins Distributors portfolio are available at the Moldova Restaurant in Newton, as well as a number of wine stores in the Boston area and elsewhere. At the Moldova Restaurant, all but one of the wines they carry are from Moldova, the outlier being a French Champagne. I'm always supportive of restaurants that choose to stock primarily wines from the country of their cuisine. First, those wines go well with the traditional cuisine of their country. Second, it helps customers expand their palates and try something different. Third, it gives a market to wines that might otherwise have difficulty getting on wine lists elsewhere.

Their wine list has wines available by the glass, carafe and bottle, though not all selections are available by the glass or carafe. There are 4 White wines available by the glass/carafe with an additional white wine available only by the bottle. There is one Rosé wine available by the glass, carafe and bottle. There are 6 Red wines available by the glass/carafe with 2 additional Red wines available only by the bottle. There are 2 Sparkling wines available by the glass/carafe with 2 additional Sparkling wines available by the bottle. Prices per glass range from $6-$13 with prices by the bottle ranging from $23-$90, with most priced $50 and under. You can also order a Wine Sampler of three different wines.

I began my tasting with some Moldovan Sparkling Wine. The Cricova Winery, founded in 1952, is located in the town of the same name and their wine cellars are the second largest in Moldova. About 62% of the wines they produce are Sparkling. The Cricova Crisecco Vin Spumant Alb Brut, a blend of 90% Fetească Albă and 10% Muscat, is produced by the Charmat method (like most Italian Prosecco). At 12.5% ABV, this bubbly is aromatic, with a distinctive Muscat nose enhanced by some citrus notes. On the palate, it is dry, crisp and tasty, with flavors of apple, pear and subtle citrus. A very pleasant and easy-drinking Sparkling Wine, priced under $15, it is also an excellent value. I definitely want to explore more of Cricova's Sparkling Wines.

Chateau Vartely is a newer winery and "Vartley" means "city-fortress." Their 2015 D'Or Fetească Regală is made from 100% Fetească Regală, from vineyards in the Orhei region. The wine, with a 14% ABV, is vinified in stainless steel and then spends up to six months aging in oak barrels. It possesses an intriguing aroma, a combination of fruit and savory notes, both which come out on the palate too. It is a full-bodied white wine, with an intriguing sour apple element, accompanied by notes of lemon, herbs and a hint of fresh mowed grass. A more unique and delicious white wine.

The Purcari Winery, founded in 1827, has a storied history. It was in 1827 that the Emperor of Russia, Nicholas I, issued a special decree which granted Purcari the status of the first specialized winery in Bessarabia. By 1878, the winery was receiving international attention and had been served to kings and queens across Europe. At the turn of the century, the winery replanted about 250 hectares of their vineyards, and installed state-of-the-art technology at the winery. The 2014 Rosé de Purcari is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and 10% Rară Neagră, with a 13% ABV. The wine is dry and crisp, with subdued red fruit flavors, a bit of peach, and a hint of herbal notes.

The 2016 Rară Neagră de Purcari was impressive, luring me in from my first sniff of its compelling aroma. The wine is made from 100% Rară Neagră, was fermented in stainless steel, aged in French oak barriques and has a 14% ABV. The aroma is very savory, with black fruit accents and subtle spicy notes. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, with soft tannins and good acidity. It presents an intriguing melange of bold flavors, ripe black fruit, spicy notes, hints of vanilla, and an almost meaty undertone. A lengthy finish completes this well balanced and delicious wine. At around $22-$23, this is a very good value for such a tasty and interesting wine. I also got to taste the 2014 vintage, and it was not as big and bold as the 2016, though it contained a similar flavor profile, just in a more subtle way.

The 2010 Negru de Purcari ("black of Purcari") is the signature wine of Purcari and it is sometimes called the "Queen's Wine" as it was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II. The wine is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Saperavi, and 5% Rară Neagră. It has been aged for about 18 months in French oak and has a 14% ABV. With a dark red color, it has an alluring nose of black fruit, spice, and earthiness. On the palate, the ripe plum and black cherry flavors dominate, supported by a rich spiciness, and a mild earthiness. It is full-bodied, with well-integrated tannins, a silky mouthfeel and a lingering and satisfying finish. This is a well-made blend which is sure to impress any wine lover. Highly recommended.

The 2015 Chateau Vartely Individo is an interesting blend of 42% Rară Neagră, 30% Malbec, and 28% Syrah, which spent about 12 months in French oak barrels. The aroma combined red and flack fruits with a spicy undertone. On the palate, the red and black fruit flavors shone, supported by spicy accents, and hints of vanilla and chocolate. Restrained tannins, a supple mouthfeel and a lengthy, pleasing finish.

Finally, we ended the tasting with the 2009 Cricova Prestige Patriarh, a vin rosu licoros, a red dessert wine that is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and has a 16% ABV. I was expecting a heavy, sweet wine but that was far from the case. Instead, it had a lighter body, with intense ripe plum and fig flavors and only a moderate sweetness, balanced by some nice acidity. It was silky and delicious, an enticing wine which made for an excellent after-dinner drink.

Overall, the Moldovan wines were delicious and interesting, pairing well with the various foods we enjoyed. I strongly encourage all wine lovers to explore the wines of Moldova, especially those with indigenous grapes. The Moldova Restaurant is a great place to sample these wines, especially paired with Moldovan cuisine. Those wines though will work well with many other cuisines too, from simple pizza and burgers, from oysters to pasta, from pork to steak. And by buying & consuming Moldovan wines, you will help the overall well-being of that small country.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Paranubes Rum: An Oaxacan Treasure

"... aguardiente de cana (sugar cane brandy), which tastes not unlike New England rum."
--The National Tribune, February 05, 1903

Rum doesn't receive sufficient appreciation as a spirit, most often ending up in a cocktail rather than enjoyed neat. It isn't as revered as Scotch or as popular as Vodka. It isn't considered as intriguing as Mezcal or as compelling as Bourbon. However, rum possesses a fascinating history, is produced all over the world, and there is plenty of diversity in rum types and styles. Rum deserves far more attention and maybe the new Paranubes Rum can help in that regard.

Let's begin our exploration of rum by journeying back in time about 500 years...

By 1500, Madeira, a Portugeuse archipelago, had become the largest exporter of sugar in the world. Some years earlier, when Christopher Columbus was young, he received training in the Madeira sugar trade and that experience would later provide inspiration when he journeyed to the Caribbean. During his first journey, as he pondered ways to make money in these new lands, Columbus realized that the Caribbean islands would be an excellent spot to grow sugar cane. Thus, on his second voyage, in 1493, he allegedly brought sugarcane with him to plant in the Caribbean. There is some question whether that sugarcane died on route and if later explorers were actually the first to plant sugar cane in the Caribbean.

Whatever the truth, sugar cane soon became a common and popular crop throughout the Caribbean and also quickly spread to the continent, from Brazil to Mexico. During the first-half of the 16th century, the Spanish planted sugar cane in Mexico, and large plantations soon arose across the country. It didn't take long for people to start using sugar cane to produce alcohol and with the advent of distillation, the indigenous people eventually created their own version of sugar cane rum.

"El chinguirito es bebida venenosa, mortal, y destructiva de la salud de los indios, y el permitirla sería causa de la extinción de aquellos útiles vasallos." ("The chinguirito is poisonous, mortal, and destructive drink of the health of the Indians, and the permitting would be cause of the extinction of those useful vassals.")
--Memoria sobre las bebidas de la Nueva España, sus efectos y sus gravámenes excesivos by Francisco Leandro de Viana (1781)

This sugar cane rum, commonly known as aguardiente de caña, is mentioned at least as far back as 1631, in an official government prohibition. This indicates that sugar cane rum had existed for a number of years prior to the prohibition, though it might not have been documented until 1631. It would be around 1714 that this rum would also become known as chinguirito. 

During much of the 17th and 18th centuries, the production of chinguirito was illegal, primarily to prevent it from being competition for Spanish brandies and wines. However, government officials noted that it was extremely difficult to enforce the law as illegal distillation equipment was simple to create and hard for officials to locate. Finally, in 1796, Spanish officials relented and made the production of aguardiente de caña legal.

About a hundred years later, the El Paso Daily Herald, on April 7, 1899, reported on an official report from Mexico, the first to give "an exact and complete account of the amount and value of the agricultural products" of Mexico. The 1897 report provided some intriguing details on the alcoholic beverages being produced in Mexico, noting the following categories:
--Aguardiente de cana: 812,690 Hectoliters with a Value of $3,930,704
--Aguardiente de Pulque: 13,697 Hectoliters with a Value of $123,787
--Mescal or tequila: 399,281 Hectoliters with a Value of $4,135,377
--Pulque: 2,630,028 Hectoliters with a Value of $4,939,673
--Tlachipue 2,422,171 Hectoliters with a Value of $2,940,701

Note that a hectoliter is equivalent to one hundred liters. So, the production of aguardiente de caña was roughly equivalent to 108 Million 750ml bottles. As we can see, about twice as much aguardiente de caña was produced as compared to mescal and tequila, but the value of mezcal and tequila for a hectoliter was twice as much. The report also stated that "... the people of Mexico consumed 50 liters of alcoholic stimulants per capita in the year 1897, and spent per person $1.30 for their drink." It is clear that Mexico has a lengthy history of rum yet you hear very little about it. That needs to change.

There are two main types of rum, industrial (which is made from molasses) and agricultural (which is made from sugar cane juice), though over 95% of all rum is made from molasses and you may see a few rums that are a blend of both sources. In general, rums made from sugar cane juice tend to be more earthy and grassy, while molasses rums tend more to be fruity and nutty with baking spices notes. In general, French style rums, commonly referred to as Rhum Agricole, are made from sugar cane juice. As such, it is a terroir driven spirit, which molasses-made rums are not. When the sugarcane is harvested, the cane is crushed the same day, a fresh pressing. Rhum is not permitted to add anything to change the color, though other rums are permitted to add caramel.

Paranubes Rum, produced in Oaxaca, is similar to Rhum Agricole as it is made from sugar cane juice. Within the state of Oaxaca, the Paranubes is more specifically made in the region of the Sierra Mazateca Mountains, inhabited by the indigenous Mazatec (roughly translated as "people of the deer") people. The Mazatec are best known for their use of "magic" mushrooms, psilocybin mushrooms which create psychedelic effects, in a variety of rituals, for healing, and more. People in this region have also been producing aguardiente de caña for centuries.

Jose Luis, who creates Paranubes Rum, is aware that his father and grandfather produced aguardiente de caña, and it is possible additional ancestors may have done so as well. Jose grows four different types of sugar cane, though his rum is primarily made from Caña Criolla, a reddish African sugar cane which is common in the West Indies, with the addition of a small blend of the other types. Once harvested, the sugar cane is brought to the distillery, known as a trapiche, where it is crushed and the pulp is removed, leaving pure cane juice.

You should check out the Paranubes website for more detailed information on the fascinating distillation process, and you'll understand the uniqueness of what Jose does, as well as how much work is involved in the process. For more background on Jose, and how he came to the attention of Judah Kuper of Mezcal Vago, you should also read the intriguing article in Imbibe Magazine.

I've been attempting to locate the official Mexican regulations as to the production of rum and so far have only been able to find an alleged abridged translation. This page claims that Mexican rum "... should undergo a maturation process in oak barrels" and it must be matured for at least eight months.  If that is the case, then the Paranubes Rum would not qualify as a rum in Mexico as it was not matured in oak. However, I suspect the regulations may be different than what I've found and I will update this post once I locate more information.

The Paranubes Rum ($49.99) is not yet available in Massachusetts, but on my recent visit to Chicago, I was able to find some at a wine & spirits shop. It safely survived the trip in my checked luggage and I recently opened a bottle to sample it. Its aroma is very funky and prominent, with a saline character that reminds me of the smell of the ocean or an olive tapenade. It's not a smell you would usually associate with the mountains of Oaxaca and I don't recall another rum with a similar aroma.

The aroma doesn't follow through much on the palate, which instead brings a mild sweetness, a touch of grassiness, and some citrus and tropical fruit flavors. It is more light and elegant, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. Though it is has a 54% ABV, you wouldn't know it from its well balanced taste. It definitely reminds me of a Rhum Agricole, and its distinctive and unique aroma and taste certainly sets it apart and you probably wouldn't confuse it with any other rum. To me, that speaks of the terroir of the Paranubes, that sense of place which gives the rum its uniqueness. The Paranubes can be consumed on its own though it also would work well in a variety of cocktails.

I made a cocktail with the Paranubes Rum and Switchel, as switchel and rum once was a commonly consumed combination. It made for an interesting and tasty drink, with the tartness of the switchel working with the fruit and saline of the rum. I'll be experimenting with the Paranubes in other cocktails in the near future.

I hope more Oaxacan rums come onto the market so that we can experience more of the terroir of this region. Paranubes Rum is exciting and different, delicious and compelling and you need to seek it out. Judah Kuper of Mezcal Vago already sells some incredible Mezcals and with this diversification, he continues in that vein with an incredible Oaxacan rum.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Executive Chef Nick Dixon and the Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant team welcome colder weather with new seasonal menu items and the return of Thursday Night Ramen.

Fall menu highlights include:
WEEKDAY BRUNCH (Monday – Thursday, 10am-3pm)
--Pumpkin Pancakes with graham cracker crumble, cream cheese frosting, plump golden raisins, bourbon maple syrup
--Pastrami Hash with house smoked brisket, piquillo peppers, smashed Yukon potatoes, sautéed leeks, poached eggs, whole grain mustard hollandaise
--Smoked Salmon Benedict ciabatta bread, smashed avocado, house smoked pastrami salmon, lemon hollandaise, lemon dressed greens
--Pork Carnitas Burrito crispy smoked pork, salsa verde, tater tots, runny egg
--French Onion Soup Meatballs pork and beef meatballs, Gruyere cheese, garlic croutons, French onion soup
--Salmon Quinoa Bowl with wood-fired Faroe Island Salmon, quinoa, fresh sage, roasted winter squash, red grapes, Vermont goat cheese, apple maple vinaigrette
--Cast Iron Seared Pork Chop sage and buttermilk brined Berkshire pork chop, seared Brussels sprouts, shallot confit, roasted baby carrots, apple bourbon jam, hard cider reduction.
--Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts with Szechuan peppercorns, shishito peppers, honey roasted peanuts, sweet chili sauce
--Shaved Apple Salad mixed greens, plump golden raisins, shaved Honeycrisp apples, Vermont goat cheese, honey mustard dressing
--Butternut Squash Pizza fontina, bacon, caramelized onions, pecorino Romano, rosemary oil
WEEKEND BRUNCH (Saturday & Sunday, 9am-3pm)
--Dark Chocolate Waffle peanut butter drizzle, hot fudge sauce, maple whipped cream, honey roasted peanuts
--Hot Smoked Pastrami Sandwich Gruyere cheese, sauerkraut, spicy mustard, griddled Iggy’s rye bread
--Thick Sliced French Toast cinnamon brioche, brown butter pastry cream, caramelized apples and cinnamon, Vermont maple pecan syrup, Applewood smoked bacon
--Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal old fashioned rolled oats, roasted honeycrisp apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, cream

The Lincoln team continues with Brunch Test Kitchen every Friday this fall, where you can find a rotating lineup of brunch items and boozy milkshakes available for one day only (Friday 10am – 2pm). Guests can also toast to fall with a variety of new fall cocktails from Beverage Manager Rob Macaffrey, including the Autumn Mule (vodka, apple cider, caramel, lime), Candy Apple (gin, apple liqueur, cranberries, ginger) and Maple Crisp (rum, maple, apple, lime).

Every Thursday, starting at 5pm, Ramen returns to the Lincoln menu, featuring Chef Dixon’s traditional Bacon Dashi broth, complete with rotating Asian-inspired snacks to accompany Lincoln’s signature Ramen ($15). Ramen is available on Thursday evenings only, now through February 2018.

2) Jack’s Coal Fired Pizza has opened its first location in Burlington with a menu of handcrafted pizzas, pastas and wings, brought to life within the restaurant’s coal fired and wood fired ovens, made in Italy. As the name suggests, the coal fired concept is carried throughout Jack’s, influencing everything from the cocktail program to the interior décor. Helmed by Executive Chef Steve Walsh, the all-new 6,000-square-foot eatery and bar is located in Burlington in the property formerly occupied by Papa Razzi.

Patrons can indulge in hand stretched 16” Coal Fired Pies, 12” Wood Fired Pies, and a selection of starters, pastas and green salads in addition to nearly 40 craft and local beers and an array of wine and specialty cocktails like the Coal Fired Peach Lemonade (Tito’s, white peach puree, charred lemonade, coal fired peaches), made using lemons and peaches singed in the coal fired oven. Menu choices crafted in the coal fired oven include the Coal Fired Wings (lemon herb-rubbed or buffalo), the Swine & Sprouts (tomato, roasted Brussels sprouts, pork belly, mozzarella, garlic, balsamic reduction), White Clam (béchamel sauce, mozzarella, garlic, oregano, bacon), and Picante (tomato, pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, banana peppers).

Jack’s Wood Fired Pizzas are cooked using white oak wood, and include choices like the Margherita, Popeye (mozzarella, feta, spinach, roasted garlic, olives), and West Coast (mozzarella, fig jam, prosciutto, bleu cheese, peppadew, onion, arugula). Guests can end their Jack’s Coal Fired Pizza experience on a sweet note with the homemade Banaffee Pie (graham cracker, toffee, banana, and custard) or homemade Carrot Cake (walnuts, cream cheese frosting).

Jack’s Coal Fired Pizza is open from 11:00am – 1:00am daily. Their menu seems to be larger than the other coal fired pizza restaurants in the area. Plus, the addition of the wood fired oven is an intriguing extra.

3) On Wednesday, October 25, you can meet Jeffrey Roberts, author of both the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese and the newly released Salted & Cured, the history of charcuterie in America, at The Cheese Shop of Concord. You can meet Jeff at two different segments:

3:30pm–5:30pm: Chat with Jeff, purchase a signed copy of his books if you like, and enjoy some cheese & charcuterie nibbles paired with exquisite Spanish Cider, courtesy of Ciders of Spain. No reservation required – just stop on by!

6:30pm–8pm: A more formal and intimate presentation given by Jeffrey & The Cheese Shop of Concord’s Peter Lovis featuring a series of a half dozen cheese, charcuterie and Spanish cider pairings – hosted by The Cheese Shop & Ciders of Spain. Space is very limited - just 16 attendees. A $22.09 reservation fee is required, which will be given back to you as a $20 store credit to spend that evening on any of the featured items (the difference being the processing fee). Register soon as this rare event will quickly reach capacity. Buy your ticket here on Eventbrite.

The Pairing will include:
(A) Hubbardston Blue. Westfield Farm (Fanjul Natural)
Prosciutto Americano. La Quercia –
(B) Harbison. Jasper Hill Farm (Guzman Riestra)
Guanciale. Olli.
(C) Ashbrook. Spring Brook Farm (Angelon 1947)
Beef Bresaola. Larchmont –
(D1) West-West Blue. Parish Hill Creamery
(Sidra de Pera/Diamantes de Hielo)
(D2) Wild boar salami. Creminelli – (Riestra Natural)

4) On Wednesday, November 1, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Post 390 is hosting a one-of-a-kind dinner, part of their "Farm to Post" series, featuring coffee and cacao beans from New England’s top local coffee roasters and chocolate makers. Executive Chef Nick Deutmeyer and the team at Post 390 welcome guests to satisfy their taste buds at a special four-course dinner featuring local coffee roasters and chocolatiers. This dinner includes a welcome reception and a four-course dinner with specially-paired beverages. Guests will be able to mingle with artisan roasters and chocolatiers who will answer questions throughout the dinner.

The menu is as follows:
COCOA NIB LAVASH (Cashew butter, apple)
MINI BUTTERMILK BISCUITS (Brown sugar cured ham, whipped coffee butter)
BEEF & SCALLION MEATBALLS (Black coffee barbeque sauce)
PUFFED BUCKWHEAT & COFFEE ROASTED ROOTS (Heirloom carrots, baby turnips & beets, sautéed kale, espresso vinaigrette)
COFFEE & CROISSANT (Veal, caramelized onion & coffee bouillon, steamed milk, short rib & gruyere croissant)
GREEN COFFEE BEAN SMOKED DUCK BREAST (Cocoa parsnip puree, caramelized pear, brussels sprout leaves, coffee dusted confit & cherry croquette)
TAZA AFFOGATO SUNDAE (Coconut dulce de leche, cocoa nib brioche, espresso)

Cost: Tickets are $55 per person (inclusive of beer and appetizers).
Space is limited and reservations are required.  To purchase tickets, visit

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Eating & Drinking In Chicago: One Dinner, Three Restaurants

On one evening in Chicago, we decided to do a bit of a restaurant crawl for dinner, visiting three different restaurants, all located within roughly a block or so of each other. Sure, we could have dined at just one place, but as we only had two evenings in Chicago, we wanted to experience as much as possible. The three restaurants were located in the Fulton Market neighborhood, which seems to be filled with many different restaurants, making it easy to walk from spot to spot.

We began our culinary journey at Leña Brava, a Rick Bayless restaurant which specializes in the cuisine of Baja California Norte. What initially intrigued me about this place was their drinks list, which includes over 30 Mexican wines from the Valle de Guadalupe, as well as a huge Mezcal list. In the photo above, you can see some of those Mezcal bottles displayed on one of the walls. I enjoyed a glass of the exquisite Pierde Almas Tobala Mezcal, and was also impressed with one of their cocktails, the delicious Negroni-ish, made with Siete Misterios Doba Yej mezcal, pineapple and cinnamon infused Aperol, and Carpano Antica.

Their Food Menu is essentially broken down into two sections, Ice & Fire, cold and hot dishes, and we chose to concentrate on the Ice section. The Ice sections is broken down into Oysters & Uni, Aguechiles, Ceviches, Cocteles, Laminados, and Salads. Their website states: "Our seafood is sourced from sustainable fisheries and environmentally responsible aquaculture enterprises." That is always an important element to see in a restaurant.

The Uni, Scallion pancakes, Oaxacan Pasilla ($27) is created with West Coast sea urchin, scallion-sesame corn masa pancakes, Oxacan papilla crema, pickled Klug Farm peaches (Szechuan pepper), tobiko, and baby corn. This was tasty, with a nice blend of textures and flavors, from the creamy uni to the slightly crunchy peaches.

From the Aguachiles section, we ordered the Opah Watermelon ($15), Sashimi-grade West Coast Opah in a spicy-watermelon-chiltepin "broth" with savory grilled watermelon, tomatoes, cucamelons, and garlic chive oil. This was the best of the three dishes we ordered, with silky opah, enhanced by the sweetness of the watermelon, with acidity from the tomatoes and a bit of tang from the garlic chive oil.

The Scallop Ceviche Al Pastor ($18) is made from Hudson Canyon diver scallops, a limey ceviche "broth" with flavors of tacos al pastor, crispy chorizo crumble, crunchy jicama & carrots, pineapple, and cilantro. This is definitely a very different ceviche, and the crunchy jicama and carrots just didn't work for me with this dish. Though the flavors were good, it was texturally where this dish failed me, or at least my perceptions of how a ceviche should be.

Our favorite restaurant of the three was clearly Motomaro, an amazing Japanese restaurant that impressed us on so many levels. It is a higher-end restaurant, large and elegant, and we sat at the medium-sized bar. Of course we had to order Sake and the OneTen Purple Yamahai Junmai Ginjo was an excellent choice, a compelling Sake made by a female toji. It was full bodied and crisp, with a mild earthiness and plenty of umami. And it paired very well with the various dishes we ordered.

The food menu is expansive and everything sounds so good that it might be difficult for you to select what you will eat. Based on the four dishes we enjoyed, I don't think you can go wrong with whatever you order. The quality of the food is top-notch, and each dish is carefully and artfully composed and balanced.

The Gyuniku Udon ($18) is made with aged Carlisle family beef, chili beef fat, futo udon, and sesame. The beef is at the bottom of the dish, and came to the top once we mixed up the noodles. The noodles were cooked perfectly, with just the right texture, and the beef was tender and flavorful, with just a touch of spicy heat. Excellent comfort food and a fine start to our visit.

The Live Dungeness Rice ($28) is prepared with dungeness crab, uni, ikura, and split peas. An intriguing melange of textures and flavors, this was another delicious dish with plenty of sweet crab, creamy uni and a bit of green. With each bite, you craved more and more.

Though I'm usually not a big fan of tofu, there have been exceptions. The Age Dashi Tofu ($14), of which I don't have a photo, is created with house tofu, chanterelle mushrooms, and broccoli rabe. The fried tofu was delicious, with a crispy fried coating and a firm tofu texture within, all within an intriguing and flavorful sauce, enhanced by the umami of the mushrooms.

The Simmering Pork Curry Croquettes ($19) is a panko fried rice croquette made with heritage pork. The only minor issue is that the name of the dish indicates multiple croquettes when you actually receive just one. However, it is a large croquette, and reminds me more of a flatter version of  aracini because it is made from rice. A great crunchy exterior, with savory pork within, and a delicious sauce with a great depth of flavor.

Overall, Motomaro receives my highest recommendation. Service was excellent, the food was killer, and their drinks program has plenty of interest.

Our third and final stop was at Duck Duck Goat, part of Chef Stephanie Izard's culinary empire. Duck Duck Goat is stated to be "reasonably authentic Chinese food" and we had to wait a short time before we could get a seat at the bar. By this point, I'd stopped taking photos and was just enjoying the food and drink we ordered.

We started with Jiaozi, beef short rib and bone marrow potstickers, which were incredibly savory, with that powerful tang of bone marrow and plenty of silky short rib. The Pork Fried Rice, made with jasmine and sweet red rice, grilled pork belly and sausage, was certainly much better than the fried rice you find at most Chinese spots. There was a delicious depth of flavor, plenty of tender and delicious pork, and some nice textural elements. My favorite dish of our visit was the Char Siu Bao, a steamed barbecue pork bun, and honestly it was probably the best I've ever tasted. There was plenty of tender pork, bursting with flavor, within the soft and fluffy bun. Great comfort food.

I would like to return to Duck Duck Goat and explore more of their menu. I can easily understand why they get such large crowds, even on a Wednesday evening.