Monday, April 30, 2012

An Evening of Ice Wines and Seasonal Desserts at Finale

When I received an invitation to attend an ice wine and dessert pairing at Finale, I immediately accepted. Ice wine is a guilty pleasure of mine, one in which I rarely indulge due to the relatively high price of even a small bottle. It’s an expensive product due to the process: the grapes used in ice wine are frozen while on the vine, allowing for a much more concentrated sweet wine - but in a much smaller quantity.

At this event, we were given the opportunity to taste a 2006 Jackson Triggs Vidal (Niagara, Canada), a 2009 Renwood Amador Ice Wine (California), a 2006 Selaks Marlborough (New Zealand), a 2009 Cooper Mountain Vin Glace (Willamette Valley, Oregon), and a 2006 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine (Niagara, Canada). While I found every wine to be exceptionally sweet and delicious, it’s the last one that I pounced on when our table divvied up a missing guest’s glasses.

After living near the Finger Lakes for five years, I was hoping to see a New York wine or two - upstate New York produces some fantastic ice wines - but Niagara is not too far off.

Finale’s Executive Chef Nicole Coady presented each wine and dessert and described how she figured out the pairings. The Jackson Triggs was paired with Finale’s signature cheesecake, and the next three wines were paired with a strawberry frangipane tart, key lime tart, and lemon tart respectively. We ended with a spoonful of a creme brulee with the Inniskillin. While all pairings worked well, the first was probably my favorite; the texture and flavor of the cheesecake was exquisite. (One of the secrets to the flavor is the type of vanilla. Chef Coady launched into an extended discussion of the merits of different types of vanilla, such as Madagascar or Mexican. I might be remembering this incorrectly, in which case my cheesecake will never be this delicious, but I believe it’s Mexican vanilla that she uses in Finale’s cheesecake.)

Each of the tarts was enjoyable, particularly the key lime and lemon, but they seemed a bit redundant. I would have loved to try some non-tart desserts, maybe something chocolate. The final bite, the creme brulee, was the weak spot; the texture was a bit off, and the presentation didn’t allow for the best part of eating creme brulee, breaking the torched sugar crust.

Overall, I found the event to be educational, fun, and most importantly, delicious. Finale puts on similar events several times a year, usually at a cost of $30 per person. The next event will be a craft beer and dessert pairing on May 8th and May 15th. (One of the beers on the docket is Aventinus, a personal favorite of mine.) Visit for more information about this event and other upcoming events.

Finale on UrbanspoonSee my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu
Disclosure: I received a comped ticket to this event. Nevertheless, all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Taco Truck: First Impressions

Have my taco dreams been answered? Quite possibly.

Before going to Austin for SXSW this year, I liked tacos well enough, but I didn't crave tacos. But ever since trying some of Austin's best (The Peached Tortilla, Izzoz, Chi'lantro), I've been wondering where I could find a Boston taco to satisfy my new obsession.

Then, Eater Boston brought good news: The Taco Truck was coming. Today. Originally from New Jersey, The Taco Truck has expanded to a cozy park-side spot on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, with Boston on the way soon. With the sun shining and a morning's worth of hard work behind us, Joel and I felt that this afternoon was the perfect time for a taco expedition.

Normally I wouldn't write about a place on its opening day, but, spoiler alert: I have only good things to say. As we walked down Flagg Street, we saw the bright orange truck from afar, and our stomachs began to growl. We arrived to find a short line - the secret's not out yet - and we placed our orders and were served relatively quickly. The goods: carnitas michoacan tacos for me, pollo asado tacos for Joel, two Mexican cokes (real sugar and a glass bottle? Oh yes.), and totopos (chips and salsa) to share. It all came to just over $20; initially, it seemed pricey, but the tacos are $2.25 - $2.50 each, which is actually quite reasonable, especially considering the focus on local and organic ingredients. (The tacos come in pairs, $4.50 - $5.)

We battled high winds to cross over to the river, take photos, and devour everything, but it was well worth the effort. The tacos were stuffed with just the right amount of ingredients, everything tasted fresh and full of flavor, and the meat was perfectly juicy. The corn tortillas were excellent - and this is coming from someone who greatly prefers flour tortillas.

The chips, while a bit on the greasy side, were very good overall; we were particularly fond of the lime seasoning. (I despise the "hint of lime" flavor of commercial tortilla chips; they have a weird fake lime chemically flavor. These, though, tasted of real lime and no chemicals.) We chose the roasted red salsa to accompany them, and it proved to be a solid choice. There are three other salsa available as well: a green salsa made of tomatillo, avocado, and cilantro; a spicy tomatillo and chipotle; and a spicier jalapeno, habanero, and chile de arbol. (Can you believe it? We actually weren't in the mood for spicy today. That's a rare occurrence for us.)

The Mexican cokes were, of course, refreshing, although Joel said his was a bit on the flat side.

So, it seems that my taco dreams have been answered. These are definitely on par with many of the tacos I enjoyed in Austin and better than any Boston tacos I've had in recent memory. The downside? Rather than satisfying my craving, this has only made me crave tacos even more. I'll be back. Very soon.

Like all good food trucks, The Taco Truck is active on social media, so you'll always know where to find it. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook to stay in the loop.

See my favorite dishes at this restaurant on Tasted Menu

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Viognier Is Like Paris Hilton: Bridlewood Wine Dinner at Harvest

"I make wine in a barn," said David Hopkins, winemaker for the Bridlewood Estate Winery. The 105-acre estate, which sits on California's Central Coast just north of the Santa Ynez Mountains, started as a Mexican land grant and throughout its history served as a cattle ranch, an Arabian horse breeding facility, and a veterinary hospital. At one point, it was under the ownership of the owner of 1-800-FLOWERS. Now, Hopkins creates wines in a barn that was built in 1938, surrounded by roses, lavenders, and over a hundred different types of trees.

This is Hopkins' 38th harvest; he stumbled upon winemaking while studying chemistry and plant science at Fresno State. A lab partner asked him for help in the student winery, and it began. Indeed, he speaks of wine with the knowledge of a scientist (did you know that the chemical structure of white and black pepper is very close to that of licorice?), although his appearance leans towards West Coast hippie, with long white hair, a diamond stud in one ear, and a floral pattern embroidered on his button-down shirt. (Another science tidbit before we move along: if the presence of the aromatic organic compound pyrazine is below 15 parts per billion in wine, there will be no "green" flavors such as bell pepper, eucalyptus, and mint.)

An Ohio native raised on a dairy farm, Hopkins describes himself as a "hunter/gatherer" in that he is an avid fisher and quail trapper. He takes advantage of California to add surfing and scuba diving to his repertoire, and his neighborhood includes the Matchbox 20 manager, Bob Eubanks of The Newlywed Game, and musician David Crosby ("He's just a fat fart trying to get to heaven," said Hopkins.) He also has a yellow lab named Elvis to keep him company. The girls in the tasting room gave him the name "because he's a hunk of burning love."

Hopkins aims to make his wines in the French style from 50-100 years ago, mixing grapes to control the acidity rather than adding artificial things, and he leans towards a balance of higher acidity and lower alcohol in order to pair better with food. His love of food stems from his college days, when he worked as a sous chef to put himself through school.

It's fitting, then, that my first taste of Bridlewood was accompanied by food. On a Monday night in April, Hopkins hosted a small group of food and wine writers at Harvest in Harvard Square, and Chef Mary Dumont prepared a five-course meal to pair with a variety of Bridlewood wines. Hopkins' own plate was left largely untouched as he spoke quite literally non-stop about his background, the winemaking process, the California wine landscape, and more.

Course 1: Seared Scituate Scallop with Richter Farm Rhubarb, Celery, English Peas, Candied Ginger & Celery Salad, paired with Monterey County Chardonnay (2008)

This is Bridlewood's first chardonnay released on a national scale, and the smooth and sweet 2008 vintage contains 8% viognier, a percentage that has decreased in more recent vintages. "Viognier is like Paris Hilton," said Hopkins. "It doesn't matter whose party it is; when she shows up, it's her party." While I generally shy away from chardonnays, I was astounded by the sweetness of this one, a perfect complement to the scallops.

Course 2: Painted Hills Tenderloin Tartare with Caperberries, Crispy Shallots, White Truffle Oil & Toasted Country Bread, paired with Monterey County Pinot Noir (2008)

The acidity was too much for me when I tasted the pinot noir alone, but after eating the sharply sour pickle and caperberry, the wine suddenly became velvety smooth with an almost caramel flavor.

Course 3: Roulade of Giannone Farms Chicken with Wild Mushrooms, Green Garlic, Fava Beans & Vanilla Scented Carrots, paired with Central Coast Blend 175 (2010)

That vanilla carrot puree? Definitely one of the highlights of the meal. The wine is 50% syrah, 30% cabernet, 10% viognier (there's Paris Hilton again), and 10% malbec and grenache. Hopkins described the taste as earthy at first, then turning to blueberry and blackberry, and finally becoming...Juicy Fruit gum. As for me, I think sweet and musky about covers it. It paired deliciously with those carrots, and Hopkins was kind enough to send each of us home with a bottle of this one.

I hope I don't get Hopkins in trouble with the marketing department for recounting this story, but apparently this wine used to be named "Arabesque," until the marketing department declared that the name was a turn-off to American customers, for (stupid) reasons I'll leave you to dissect. They sat down with him to figure out a new name, asking questions like "How often do you think about the blend?" and "How many tries did it take to get the blend right?" 150 seemed reasonable enough at first, but someone with a marketing and psychology background was brought in and gave three rules for a name consumers would remember: It needs to have three digits, it needs to be odd, and it needs to have at least one prime number. Blend 175 was born.

Course 4: Rooibos Tea Marinated Pennsylvania Duck Breast with Bing Cherries, Fennel, Soy Beans, Forbidden Black Rice, paired with Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

The Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon is 86% cabernet, giving it a cocoa flavor, 10% merlot, to lengthen the finish, and 4% petite syrah, to add cherry character. "This is my birthday cake," said Hopkins. The cherry and chocolate flavors mimic the cake his mother made for him when he was a child: devil's food chocolate cake with maraschino cherries in both the cake and the frosting. It paired exceptionally well with the woodsy duck and bing cherry sauce. I was particularly fond of the duck due to the rooibos tea marinade; rooibos is my favorite variety of tea.

Course 5: Toffee Chestnut Cake with Milk Jam, Mead Jelly, Orange & Sheep's Milk Frozen Yogurt, paired with Late Harvest Viognier (2010)

My familiarity with late harvest and dessert wines is limited to rieslings, ice wines, and similarly sweet choices, so the late harvest viognier surprised me (pleasantly) with its sharp citrus flavor. "It's like opening up a can of cling peaches and pouring the juice into a glass," said Hopkins, also noting the tangerine peel, apricot, and honeysuckle flavors. Harvested in the third week of November, the 2010 vintage has 13% residual sugar and no Botrytis (noble rot).

We asked Hopkins to describe his own favorite wine and food pairings; above all, he loves "a couple grilled quail and a bottle of grenache." He also recommended spicy lobster or scallops with a viognier or unoaked chardonnay. As for his favorite type of wine (aside from his own)? Rosé. Anderson Valley, in particular. On a somewhat surprising note, Hopkins admitted that he actually prefers the smell of wine to the taste. "When I smell wine, I see colors," he said. (An example of synesthesia or just figurative speaking? Either way, the intertwining of smell and color could definitely be an asset to a winemaker.)

Hopkins' outlook on wine is refreshing; while he takes his craft seriously and understands the science inside and out, he makes sure to have fun. "Making wine, for me, is like a kid playing in the mud," Hopkins said. "I never grew up."

See my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu
The food and wine at this event were complimentary. Nevertheless, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Maya Sol (2 Dine For Boston)

First, let’s get this out of your system. Make sure no one’s around. Say “Maya Sol” five times fast, out loud. Giggle for a bit. Ok, moving along…

After our disappointment at Aguacate Verde, the Mexican restaurant that has replaced our beloved Tacos Lupita, we were back in the market for a new taco spot. Someone recommended another Somerville place, Maya Sol, to Joel, and unable to stop laughing at the name, he decided that he desperately wanted to try out Maya Sol.

Expecting a takeout joint, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Maya Sol was rather large and charming; although you order at the counter and see your food prepared at a buffet-style line, there are plenty of tables and chairs and pleasant decor for dining in. (Not to mention the fantastic Mexican soap operas playing on the large television.) From brightly colored tiles to hanging bronze suns, the interior was warm and cheerful.

Read my full "she said" review, along with Joel's "he said" review, at 2 Dine For Boston.

More photos:

Maya Sol Mexican Grill on UrbanspoonSee my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cho Cho's (2 Dine For Boston)

Porter Square’s “Little Japan,” the Porter Exchange, is full of delightful Japanese food stalls, small counters and restaurants serving everything from steaming bowls of ramen to fresh sushi to bubble tea. As it’s part of the Lesley campus, it can get quite busy during peak times, particularly weekends during lunch. The biggest lines are typically at Cafe Mami, which specializes in curry and donburi. It’s one of our favorites, but the long line will often drive us elsewhere.

One recent afternoon, Cafe Mami and our other preferred spot, Ittyo, were both packed, so we ended up at Cho Cho’s, which has one of the largest seating areas. It was also almost entirely empty, as it usually is. We’ve been there before, and it’s certainly not bad, but it never seems to draw the same crowds as most of the other parts of Porter Exchange.

Read my full "she said" review, along with Joel's "he said" review, at 2 Dine For Boston.

More photos:

Chocho's on UrbanspoonSee my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Taste of Church (2 Dine For Boston)

Joel and I were recently invited to try out the new spring menu at one of our favorite spots on the other side of the river, Church. We've always enjoyed the food as well as the music venue, where we've both played and seen many shows.

Joel wrote about the tasting on 2 Dine For Boston; check out his review and my photos.

More photos:

Church on UrbanspoonSee my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Aguacate Verde (2 Dine For Boston)

Walking into Aguacate Verde is like walking into the Twilight Zone. For years – decades, even, I think – this spot was Tacos Lupita, the most delicious place in our neighborhood. It would frequently derail trips to Shaw’s. Why shop and cook when we can just stop right here and eat amazing, cheap tacos and burritos? But alas, it seems the owners of Tacos Lupita sold the Somerville spot to focus on a few other locations. I know of one in Lynn and a brand new one in Gloucester. How could they leave us?

When they left, a new owner came in with high hopes of connecting with the community and providing healthy Latin American food. Silvia is a lovely woman (and apparently a black belt in karate), and I want so badly to enjoy Aguacate Verde as much as I did Tacos Lupita, but something has felt off on each visit. While the menu looks largely the same, the prices have crept up ever so slightly while the portion size and taste have both decreased. The spot has been renovated, but I find it hard to appreciate the extraordinarily bright orange and bright green exterior (complete with a gigantic smiling avocado). The website even features a dancing avocado-man hybrid, and my browser requests that I download a plug-in I’ve never heard of.

Read my full "she said" review, along with Joel's "he said" review, at 2 Dine For Boston.

More photos:

Aguacate Verde on UrbanspoonSee my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Oasis (2 Dine For Boston)

I’m the type of person who gets worked up over logistics that probably seem minimal to other people. If I’m riding a bus in an unfamiliar city, for example: Do I need exact change? Can I pay at the back door or just at the front? Will they announce the stops clearly? Do I need to request my stop? Panic! The first day at a new job is full of little logistical details along these lines. Of particular relevance to me (and my bottomless appetite) is the lunch culture. Do people go out? Can I use this microwave? Is it OK to eat at my desk?

On the first day at a new job a few months ago, I grabbed a drink and a bag of mixed nuts from Starbucks on the way to the office, and then I sat at my desk the entire day, not leaving for lunch, partly because I was absorbing all of the new things I’d be doing, but partly because no one else seemed to be leaving for food. By the time I rode the crowded bus home that evening, my head was spinning from work instructions and hunger. I told Joel I wanted to go out for dinner, but I was starving and didn’t have the energy to figure anything out. When he suggested Brazilian food, I immediately agreed, imagining giant meat skewers. Perfect.

Read my full "she said" review, along with Joel's "he said" review, at 2 Dine For Boston.

More photos:

Oasis Restaurant on UrbanspoonSee my favorite dishes on Tasted Menu

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Media Tasting at Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe in Portsmouth (2 Dine For Boston)

When Joel and I were invited to experience Portsmouth's Restaurant Week at Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe, it was hard to resist an excuse for a change of scenery. Portsmouth's a lovely little city, and neither of us had been there in awhile, so it was a fun quick trip. We really enjoyed the seafood, particularly the perfectly cooked scallops.

Check out Joel's review and my photos from the dinner on 2 Dine For Boston.

More photos:

Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe on Urbanspoon

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