Fallen Leaves

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Great War, WWI ended. The first world-wide conflict that changed the face of war forever was finally over, but it would only be a temporary lull, until aggression again consumed the world with the start of WWII.

Today is a solemn day of remembrance and an opportunity to thank all of the men and women who have given “that last full measure of devotion” in defense of this great nation.

To commemorate this day, Charles Schumann has produced a near-perfect libation… The Fallen Leaves…

1-1/2 oz. Calvados

1-1/2 oz. Carpano Antico Sweet Vermouth

1/2 oz. Dolan Dry Vermouth

1/4 oz. Cognac

Shake with crushed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

God bless veterans everywhere! Without your tireless sacrifice, this nation would cease to exist…

Cin-Cin

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The Larchmont

David A. Embury, a Manhattan-based attorney, was born on this day in 1866. Who is David A. Embury, you ask? Well, Mr. Embury wrote one of the most pivotal books on cocktails in 1948, entitled The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, which essentially guided generations of men and women to a boozy future. I have read this sacred volume at least a dozen times and have tried to commit its contents to memory. Alas, so compendious is this work that not even my eidetic memory can store all of the recipes.

The Larchmont is in honor of Mr. Embury and hails for the book 365 Days of Cocktails…

An orangy riff on the standard daiquiri, refreshing and yet pleasingly Fall-like…

1-1/2 oz. White Rum

1/2 oz. Grand Marnier

1/2 oz. Lime Juice

1/2 oz. Cold Water

1/4 oz. Simple Syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Cin-Cin!

Elderflower Martini

ElderflowerMartini

Almost 50 years ago, hippies came together to celebrate the season of Aquarius and love, gathering in Upstate New York for an unforgettable “love-in.” In honor of those hippie grandparents, a concoction of psychedelic proportions, the Elderflower Martini. A careful balance of sweet and sour, with a perfumed essence not unlike the air at Woodstock 50 years ago… potent, but without feeling so… and safer than licking blotter acid…

Ladies and gentlemen, the Elderflower Martini…

3 oz. London Dry Gin (I actually used Plymouth to enhance the floral essence)

3/4 oz. Dry Vermouth (I used Dolan, again to emphasize flowers)

3/4 oz. Elderflower Liqueur

3/4 oz. Crème de Violette

Shake with crushed ice until very cold. Strain and garnish with an orange peel, if necessary. I added a dash of orange bitters to give the cocktail an edge.

Cheers!

An Evening with Chef Rosario

BertuccisLogo

I think I visited Bertucci’s for the first time back in 1983. I was still in school and living in a sublet that Summer and the Davis Square outpost was a regular haunt, given its delicious brick oven pizza and basement bocce courts. After college, my tastes turned more towards finer cuisine, but I always found myself returning to Bertucci’s. Something about the pizza and the simplicity of the other dishes made it easy and gratifying. There was a welcoming, homey feel and a genuine, authenticity to the food that reminded me of home.

Fast forward 30+ years and I am still a regular at Bertucci’s, more so now because of the welcoming family atmosphere and convenience of their many locations. One might initially think that Bertucci’s is just another Olive Garden – family-friendly Italian food without soul or passion – non-distinctive and guaranteed not to offend. Well, you would be wrong.

A recent evening spent with the Chef Rosario Del Nero, Vice President of Culinary – Executive Chef at Bertucci’s was both eye-opening, as well as a validation that Bertucci’s truly has soul and passion when it comes to Italian food.

The evening began several weeks before, when Ryan, the Manager at the Attleboro Bertucci’s told us that the customer feedback forms that we diligently enter after each meal are read by all the management in the company, including Chef Rosario. Ryan indicated that if we wanted to see some of our old favorites brought back, then we should tag Chef Rosario in our comments and let him know about our nostalgic hunger pangs.

Well, my better half did exactly that, explaining our long-time support of Bertucci’s and our desire to see our favorite pasta dish, Rigatoni ala Bertucci, brought back to the fold. Lo and behold, Chef Rosario responded and invited us to be his guest at a nearby Bertucci’s to prepare the dish with our support. So, we set a date and eagerly waited for the evening to arrive.

And the visit was magical. Not only did we get to have an evening with an incredibly passionate and genuine Renaissance man, but the welcoming support of the staff at the Attleboro Bertucci’s had us feeling like we had just stopped by our Nonna’s for a quick bite.

For those who don’t realize it, the food at Bertucci’s is entirely homemade. Nothing is pre-prepared, so the food is as fresh as possible every day. We were welcomed with a mouth-watering assortment of antipasti, as well as a dish of homemade meatballs in marinara sauce. The meatballs are a returning signature to the menu and represent a key element of Chef Rosario’s approach to food – freshness, authenticity and passion. And they did not disappoint – moist and flavorful with just the right blend of spice, prepared by Suzette, an Area Director who oversees as many as seven restaurants. That is true passion.

BertuccisPolpette

BertuccisAntipasti

As we noshed, Chef Rosario shared a bit of his history and that of Bertucci’s. Chef’s anecdotes about his home town in Lombardy and the remarkable Bitto Storico cheese produced there were captivating. We learned that Bitto Storico is a cow and goat milk cheese produced in the Valtellina valley of Lombardy by means of traditional methods promoted by Slow Food. The cheese is only produced in Summer, when the cows and goats can free-range in the high alpine meadows. The resulting cheese, according to Chef Rosario is one of the most amazing cheeses of Italy, having the ability to age for more than 25 years. You know what I am going to look for the next time I visit Wasik’s in Wellesley!

BertuccisPaulRosarioPassion

After our antipasti, Chef Rosario donned his white apron to prepare the dish that brought us together in the first place – Rigatoni ala Bertucci. The dish was on the menu back in the 1990’s, but was ultimately removed, largely due to the risks in making the signature Vodka Cream Sauce. It had been one of our favorites and for good reason – it is truly amazing – simple, fresh with a perfect balance of ingredients. And, no, I am not going to divulge the recipe, as simple as it is… you can visit the Attleboro Bertucci’s and see if Ryan, Hillary and crew will duplicate it for you…

BertuccisRigatoni

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We shared more stories over dessert and before we knew it, the evening was at an end. We made many new friends and feel an even deeper connection to Bertucci’s. While Bertucci’s is obviously a profit-making business, it is also a set of restaurants whose purpose is to promote the wonderful importance of Italian food and the warmth and vibrancy of Italian culture. Chef Rosario is the embodiment of this and through his example, ensures that every visit to Bertucci’s is amazing.

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To top it off, our son even got to make his own meatball pizza, his favorite, courtesy of the same Area Manager who made the meatballs earlier in the day.

BertuccisPetePizza

Our thanks to Chef Rosario and all the staff at the Attleboro Bertucci’s for making our visit truly memorable.

Buon Apetito!

Connie’s Rustic Kitchen & Tavern, Wrentham

ConniesSign

Finally got in to try a brand new (as of July 5th) Wrentham restaurant – Connie’s Rustic Kitchen and Tavern. Overall, for a brand-new place, we were pleased with what we found.

The accommodations are definitely Tavern-like. A bit worn around the edges, but overall comfortable and homey. It was quiet on the evening that we dined, but I can imagine, it must get fairly energetic with a crowd.

Our server was very sincere and eager to please, albeit a bit young and inexperienced. I am chocking this up to the newness of the restaurant. Our waitress was incredibly accommodating, but needed to check almost all our questions with either the bar, or the kitchen before answering.

Next, the bar. As someone who dives deep on cocktails and wine, I can be overly critical of bar service. I always have a few test drinks that I use to gauge service. In this case, a Negroni was not possible because of a lack of key ingredients – Campari. I was a trifle dismayed that the barkeep failed to recognize the cocktail by name, but he seemed like a nice enough guy that had he the ingredients, he could have rolled a decent cocktail. The wine list is short and simple, with very modest pricing.

ConniesMirassou
Visiting the link above, brings you to a Facebook page that has some mouth-watering pictures, which are what drew us in. The menu offers gastro-pub cuisine with specials that aim for a notch above. We tried a variety of items – base menu and specials to get a sense of the quality, etc.

ConniesCalamari

Appetizers were divided. The Fried Calamari was very nice, with a light batter that was not oily and a good quantity of rings and tentacles.

ConniesCaprese

The special Caprese Salad was a disappointment. The tomatoes were under ripe and lacked taste and the mozzarella was rubbery, also without much taste. The drizzle of balsamic was tasty but could not make up for the blandness of the other ingredients. To me, a special should be exactly that – special and probably based on the availability of exceptional ingredients. In this case, the ingredients were lacking.

ConniesInvoltiniConniesChickenBroccoli

Entrees were again divided. The Chicken Involtini was very nice with a seductive wine sauce and a mouth-watering stuffing. The Chicken and Broccoli over pasta was disappointing and bland. The chicken was flavorful, but the sauce was thin and way too garlicky. A little more creaminess and a little less garlic would dramatically improve the dish.

ConniesIceCream

Only one dessert is offered and it changes weekly. At our visit a huge, homemade ice cream sandwich was on offer. Visually stunning and very tasty. While we were told that the cookies were chocolate chip, we all agreed that the taste suggested the presence of oatmeal… confirmation with the kitchen came back as chocolate chip…

As previously noted, overall, we were pleased and given the newness, need to return to make further inroads. Everything appears promising and despite some missteps during our visit, nothing was so egregious to dissuade us from returning. We love local, so we will be tugging hard for Connie’s to succeed!

French 75

*Decided to refresh a take on this noted pre-Prohibition libation…

French75New

Nothing is more appropriate as a celebratory libation than the French 75! Whether for Bastille Day, our own Fourth of July, or for any excuse to raise a glass, the French 75 is perfectly equipped for the task.

The cocktail is named for a piece of French artillery invented in 1898 known as the French 75 or Soixante-Quinze. The cannon was noteworthy in that it is considered the first “modern field artillery piece,” with a quick-firing, hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism. It also used time-fused, shrapnel-based shells that were more devastating to personnel than fixed targets, a characteristic particularly valuable in the trench warfare of WWI. The cannon was the mainstay of French artillery until the onset of WWII.

The cocktail itself was apparently born during WWI at Harry’s Bar in New York, and consists of Gin, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup and Champagne. The combination was said to have such a kick that it felt like being shelled by the powerful French 75 field piece. Variations of the cocktail were created through the 1930’s, with the noted David A. Embury substituting Cognac for Gin in his The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, a seemingly more French version.

Given the many variants, the generally accepted recipe is thus:

1 oz. London Dry Gin, or VSOP Cognac

½ oz. Lemon Juice

½ oz. Simple Syrup

3 – 4 oz. Extra Dry or Brut Champagne

Add all the ingredients except the Champagne to a shaker. Shake well with crushed ice and strain into a Champagne flute. Top with the Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.

 

Cin-Cin!

 

Old Bordeaux

In the thirty-five or so years that I have been tasting, exploring and enjoying wine I have been extremely fortunate. I have had gracious and generous teachers, men and women who have opened their minds, their hearts and their cellars for my benefit. I like to think that their sharing was a reward for my passion and enthusiasm about this magical elixir, which has been with us for the last six thousand years, or more.

OldBFLight

Recently I was privy to a once in a life time opportunity, the tasting of twelve incredible Bordeaux wines dating back to 1953, including many from 1961, 1962, 1966, 1967 and 1974. The flight was simply the most incredible collection of wines, all but one showing Bordeaux’s eminent potential for greatness.

The flight was as follows:

OldB1974Carbonieux

1974 Carbonnieux Blanc, Graves, Pessac-Léognan

Truly noteworthy. For a white wine with 43 years of age, it was showing beautifully. Deep amber in color with a light, almost floral nose. As it spent time in the glass, the bouquet opened to vanilla, butterscotch, pear and custard. On the palate, the wine was expectantly dry, very light-bodied with moderate acidity. With more time, the wine began to show an Amontillado-like character with layers of complexity on the finish. Clearly builds a case for the aging potential of white Graves.

OldB1953Montrose

1953 Montrose, St. Estèphe

Marvelous. Vibrant nose with cooked fruit, saddle leather, cedar and mineral hints. Medium-bodied, very well-balanced with almost no tannin. Soft and earthy on the palate, with gamey, roasted meat and mushroom notes. Very long, complex finish. Hints of red fruit were an amazing testament to the aging potential of this wine. To have any trace of freshness at 64 years old is simply amazing. The fact that the wine was a 375mL split is even more incredible.

OldB1961Talbot

1961 Talbot, Saint-Julien

A bit disappointing. Brownish tint with a hint of ascetic acid on the nose. Sweet cooked fruit, prunes. Sherry-like with a strong Oloroso nature. Burnt orange rind on the palate with forward acidity. In this case, the 375mL format is showing its age.

OldB1962Gruaud

1962 Gruaud Larose, Saint-Julien

The overwhelming favorite of the flight, by weighted score. Brickish tint with a strong earthy nose. Roasted game, cooked fruit, menthol, saddle and cedar hints abound. Charming. Medium-to-full-bodied with great mid-palate weight. Some acid and a sour cherry tartness. Dark fruit with an evolving, ultra-complex finish. Absolutely wonderful.

OldB1966Fourcas

1966 Fourcas Hosten, Listrac-Médoc

Brickish with a faded, garnet robe. Peppery nose with dark, cooked fruit hints. Medium-bodied but very dry on the palate. Tart with briarwood notes. Long finish, but a little abrasive.

OldB1966LesOrmes

1966 Les Ormes-de-Pez, St. Estèphe

Briskish but with a blood-red robe. Cooked fruit nose with prune, saddle leather and cedar hints. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity and surprisingly firm tannin. Dry and lacking mid-palate weight. Dark fruit and anise on the finish.

OldB1966Palmer

1966 Palmer, Margaux

The overwhelming favorite of the flight, by first place votes. Brickish with a fig-like nose with stewed fruit, prunes, saddle leather and cedar. Medium-bodied with good mid-palate weight. Some acidity and firm tannin. Dried fruit and roasted game on the finish that is almost endless. Awesome vibrancy for 51 years old.

OldB1966LasCases

1966 Leoville-Las Cases, Saint-Julien

A bit disappointing. Brickish with faded garnet robe. Tired nose with saddle leather and cedar hints. Medium-bodied with firm acidity. Very dry. Tart. The 375mL format did not help this wine age. Very tired overall.

OldB1966HautBrion

1966 Haut-Brion, Graves, Pessac-Lèognan

Second in terms of weighted score, as well as first place votes. Brickish but with a dark, opaque robe. Dark fruited nose with black cherry/blackberry jam hints. Medium-to-full-bodied with loads of dark fruit. Lovely. Gamey, roasted meat palate with smoky notes. Long finish with strong mineral/granitic notes. Another wine of incredible vibrancy for 51 years old.

OldB1967Smith

1967 Smith Haut Lafitte, Graves, Pessac-Lèognan

Unfortunately, the cork had failed and the wine was pure vinegar.

OldB1967Cos

1967 Cos D’Estournel, St. Estèphe

Very disappointing. Light brickish, faded rose. Bright nose with some cherry fruit hints. Very light-bodied with no tannin and firm acidity. Tasting more like an old Burgundy than Bordeaux with dried red berry notes.

OldB1967HautBrion

1967 Haut-Brion, Graves, Pessac-Lèognan

A solid wine coming in third by the number of third place votes. Deep coloration with a faded rose tint on the disk. Cooked fruit nose. Meaty with saddle leather, cedar and smoky hints. Medium-to-full-bodied with firm tannin and moderate acidity. Great mid-palate weight with dark fruit notes. Long finish, a bit muddled.

OldBordeauxTableA few notes about the vintages.

1953 Not deemed to be a spectacular vintage. The growing season was considered hot, which developed strong sugar levels. September rains pushed the harvest out far enough to allow for added hangtime, which is one reason why the wines from 1953 are showing such great potential.

1961 Considered a legendary vintage with many wines still drinking exceptionally well.

1962 Classic shadow vintage, coming on the heels of the legendary 1961 vintage. Many wines are showing great potential, not unlike 1983 and 1996 wines.

1966 A very strong vintage with many wines, like the Palmer and Haut-Brion above showing an almost youthful vigor.

1967 Deemed a minor vintage. Some wines continue to show well, but most are tired and were likely at their peak back in the late 1990’s.

1974 A very weak vintage with a few standouts, but overall very poor quality and aging potential.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge Cocktail

 

Edward Teach, or Blackbeard as he was more familiarly known, was one of the most notorious pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy, a period between 1650 and 1730. He was born sometime around 1680, likely in England, but records indicate that his family relocated to Jamaica shortly after his birth. It appears that he served aboard the HMS Windsor in 1706, under the name of Edward Thatch. It also appears that he may have served aboard a privateer vessel shortly after joining the Royal Navy. Privateers were state-sponsored pirates that were employed to harass enemy shipping during wartime. Many times, after their charter was revoked because hostilities ended, privateers would continue to plunder shipping because it was quite lucrative. This fact may explain how Teach came to join Captain Benjamin Hornigold in 1716 as a full-blown pirate. Hornigold gave Teach command of his own sloop and before long, the two were joined by Stede Bonnet, another fierce pirate.

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Before the end of 1717, Hornigold retired from piracy, leaving Teach and Bonnet in charge of their growing pirate fleet. Teach captured a French merchant vessel, La Concorde, renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge and promptly added cannon and weaponry to make it his pirate flagship. Shortly afterward, Teach blockaded the town of Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina, requesting a substantial ransom for its release. In the ensuing conflict, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was grounded on shoals near Beaufort, South Carolina. Teach escaped and was ultimately pardoned. It was at this point that he parted ways with Bonnet and resumed his life of piracy. Teach so angered then Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, that a small force of soldiers and sailors was dispatched to capture the pirate. A terrible battle ensued and on November 22, 1718, Edward Teach and many of his men were killed, ending his reign of terror.

Teach acquired his ominous nickname Blackbeard because he wore a thick, black beard that gave him a ferocious, lion-like appearance. To further augment his terrifying looks, it is rumored that Teach tied lit fuses beneath his hat that created a smoking halo about his head.

While Teach only plundered on his own for little more than a year, his record of piracy was prodigious. Unlike most pirates of the day, Teach did not torture or mistreat his crew, nor his captives. Teach also captained his vessels with the permission of his crew, somewhat at odds with the common belief that all pirates were tyrannical in nature.

QueenAnnesRevenge

 

In honor of this “gentlemanly pirate,” I present a cocktail named after his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge:

3 oz. Angostura 7-Year-old Rum

1 oz. Creole Shrub (Liqueur d’Orange)

1/2 oz. Cherry Herring

1 oz. Lime Juice

Shake with crushed ice and strained. Garnish with a pair of Luxardo Maraschino Cherries.

 

Refreshing and tropical. Yarg!

 

Walk the Plank

WalkthePlank

A few of my favorite cocktails are the Boulevardier and the Negroni. Both are “shoulder cocktails,” or libations that act as a transition from one season to another. Both are kindred spirits, having the same mixers, different only because of the base liquor.

Because I love to experiment, I thought about mixing a related cocktail, but one with a definite Summer bent. To me, nothing says Summer quite as firmly as Rum, so Rum had to be the base spirit. The cocktail needed to be refreshing and bright. There is nothing as refreshing as a brace of lime juice. To balance the drink, an element of sweetness was needed, but I didn’t want to make it overt. An organic, earthy sweetness was necessary. I could accomplish this in many ways, such as the selection of a Rum that was on the sweeter side, as well as opt for mixers that were somewhat sweet. I did want to maintain an element of colonial punch-like verve, so there needed to be a certain bitterness to the cocktail. Campari and Sweet Vermouth would give me those qualities. And thus, a cocktail was born!

In honor of the pirate in all of us, I present the Walk the Plank cocktail:

2 oz. Angostura 7 year-old Rum, or similar aged Rum
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth, preferably Antico Formula
1/2 oz. Lime juice, preferably fresh squeezed

Shake with crushed ice, strain. Garnish with a slice of orange and lemon

(*The picture clearly shows a garnish of Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. This was due to a lack of fresh citrus on the bar…)

Cin Cin!

Tommasi Family Estates

One of the first times I experienced the magic of Amarone della Valpolicella Classico was with the wines of Tommasi. I have since grown incredibly fond of Amarone in general, placing the region easily in my top three.

Tommasi is considered a Viticoltori, or “Viticultural Company,” which is akin to a Negociant in France. Bascially, Tommasi owns vineyards and wineries in a number of regions in Italy, four to be exact, stretching from their starting point in Verona and reaching as far east as Tuscany and as far south as Puglia. While diversification is key to a successful wine business, sometimes it can be a distraction which impacts focus and ultimately quality. Not so in the case of Tommasi. The family run organization is large enough to manage the growth and breadth of the business.

Tommasi was founded in 1902 and is situated in Pedemonte (not to be confused with Piedmont), in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region, on a small piece of land in the Northwest part of Verona, between the plains and the Lessini mountains near Lake Garda.

Giacomo Tommasi started with a tiny vineyard in Valpolicella, and has since grown steadily over the course of many years. Today Tommasi owns vineyards and estates in four different Italian regions:
– Tommasi Viticoltori and Filodora Estate in Veneto;
– Tenuta Caseo in Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy;
– Casisano in Montalcino and Poggio al Tufo in Maremma Tuscany;
– Masseria Surani in Manduria Puglia.

TommasiMap

The estate is run by nine, 4th generation family members all aligned with the overall mission of Tommasi – producing the most genuine Italian wines with the highest level of quality available.

In the Veneto, Tommasi offers a very broad portfolio of wines, consisting of whites, reds, roses, sweet and even Grappa. For me, the Valpolicellas are noteworthy, especially the Amarone wines. In our cellar we have numerous vintages going back as far as 1990. Recently, we opened a 1997 Amarone and it was stunning. The wine was vibrant, full-bodied with seemingly infinite complexity. All the familiar markers of well-aged Amarone were present: dried, cooked fruit, figs, raisins with subtle black pepper and allspice notes. Prodigious length provided a stage upon which a never-ending collection of evolving flavor and aroma sensations were on display. Almost exactly 20 years old and this wine is still an explosive powerhouse. The most interesting thing to note… this bottle is Tommasi’s “entry-level” Amarone. The winery boasts a Riserva, which must truly be a remarkable wine.

TommasiAmarone

While the Amarone is the subject of my fascination here, we have their Rafaèl Valpolicella and their Ripasso bottles in our cellar, both tremendous wines in their own right.

Tommasi’s portfolio, as I noted previously is quite extensive.

Their Website is a great repository for all their wines. Of particular note is the List of Award Winning Wines – Truly impressive.

While no longer the value that it once was, Amarone is worth the expense and it appears to be an investment that improves and grows over time.