Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

It used to be that only the big distilleries were able to age their finest spirits in charred oak barrels. But now, there’s a movement goin’ on…and hand-crafted oak barrels are available to aficionados at home.

Companies like Redhead Barrels (http://www.redheadoakbarrels.com) are offering oak barrels for aging that range in size from 1 liter to 20 liters. And that’s where this enthusiast comes in: with a 1-liter barrel, I’m able to age my favorite spirit–vodka, rum, whiskey, bourbon, mixed drinks, anything–in just a few weeks, elevating the flavors to levels previously unknown.

 

wood

My  1-liter barrel arrived with the spigot and bung separately. Curing the barrel is necessary before using it. I do this by rinsing the barrel out a few times to remove any loose pieces of wood chips or splinters that may still be inside. I hand-turn the spigot into the barrel until it fits snugly and place the barrel in the sink on the included stand. I fill the barrel with very hot water…and watch. Some barrels are totally watertight and will not leak. Others may take literally a few days of repeated fillings with hot water before it thoroughly seeps into the wood, expanding the wood fibers to seal the barrel.

Once there are no leaks, it’s ready to go. I empty the water out of the barrel and fill it with my favorite spirit. Because there is more wood surface area to less liquid (as compared to large barrels), alcohol will age faster…in weeks instead of years. Once I’ve aged it as much as I want (tasting it along the way is the best way to determine this), I simply pour it into a bottle to stop the aging process. I rinse the barrel out thoroughly, and I’m ready to age yet another spirit.

I chose to age a cocktail that I first savored at the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, the brainchild of talented chef Jonathon Sawyer. The call it a Negroski, their take on a Negroni. It features equal parts Campari, Cocchi sweet vermouth, and OYO stone fruit vodka. They make large batches of it and keep it in a barrel until they serve it. So enamoured my wife and I were with this drink, that I begged the bartender to give me the recipe.

Doing the math, equal parts of each ingredient meant 1 1/3 cups of each to make a quart…which fit perfectly in my 1-liter barrel. Once I corked the top with the bung, it was time to let it age.

A slight daily rotation of the barrel gently rocks the liquid inside, exposing it to the barrel’s charred wood interior, giving it more flavor. And at the end of  a week, I was ready for my first tasting: the wood had a subtle influence, rounding out the flavors. I wanted a little more, so I waited another week…even better, but not quite there. It took a total of 3 weeks before the drink reached its flavorful peak.

I poured some of the drink into a cocktail shaker with ice, stirred briskly with a spoon, and strained it into a martini glass, garnishing with a twist of blood orange peel. Delicious!

 

cask

 

Since my first batch, I’ve aged Manhattans, my homemade Lithuanian honey liqueur (Krupnikas), and even simple spirits. It’s amazing how an average whiskey becomes something quite spectacular after just 3 weeks of aging!

Since we’re quarantining, it’s time to dig out those bottles of booze that might be lurking somewhere in the back of the old liquor cabinet. Inspired by my travels, I’d like to share some of the cocktails I’m rediscovering these days, as I lock myself in my basement bar!

A few years ago, I sampled a negroni-inspired cocktail in Cleveland, Ohio, dining at chef Jonathon Sawyer’s The Greenhouse Tavern. Crazy creative food, and this mind-blowing drink that inspired me to buy a small oak barrel and start cask-aging everything I could get my hands on at home. Alas, the OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, a key part of this cocktail, is not available here in Rhode Island. And my online source will no longer ship it! But I still have a little bit remaining in my stash…

 

 

OYO STONE FRUIT “NEGROSKI”

1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit Vodka
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino

 

If you’re doing it The Greenhouse Tavern way, combine large quantities of these ingredients in the right proportions and pour them into an oak cask, then let it age! Experience tells you that newer and smaller casks will mellow flavors faster than larger, older ones. But it’s all about experimentation. Having a taste every once in a while is must, because you don’t want to over-age it, either.

If you don’t have an oak cask lying around at home, it’s still delicious without it…

Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir gently, adding a splash of soda, and garnish with an orange peel.

 

OYO Stone Fruit Vodka gets its wonderful flavors from stone fruits: cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Terrific on its own, but amazing in this recipe.

Campari is a world-famous aperitif and bitters, and a must in any decent home bar.

Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a sweet vermouth, made in Italy from the Moscato grape.

 

 

Being quarantined can get you down…or get you to go creative. I’ve decided to recreate some of the cocktails I’ve had at my favorite restaurants, using ingredients that I probably already have at home. When I did go out to the supermarket last time, I grabbed a couple of pineapples along with the rest of my groceries. I already had the bottle of Stoli Vanil in my EBSF (Emergency Booze Storage Facility).

 

 

Every major city in the United states has a Capital Grille, and it’s a great place to grab a solid dinner if you’re traveling. And right now, during quarantine, many locations are offering steaks and dinners to go. (Check with your local Capital Grille.) Although the Capital Grille in my town of Providence, RI, has moved from its original location, we can still boast that we had the very first one in the USA.

They don’t do crazy-trendy drinks at the Capital Grille. They keep a very well-stocked bar with high-end booze and they make solid cocktails. But there is one signature drink you can find there, and that’s the Stoli Doli. A Stoli Doli is simply Stoli vodka that has been infused with fresh pineapple. If you sit at the bar at the Capital Grille, you won’t be able to miss the very large jar of freshly-cut pineapple pieces swimming in vodka. They literally pour it “from the tap,” and serve it straight up, like a martini, or on the rocks. It’s delicious, and I’ve certainly had my share of them.

I decided to make my own at home one day, to serve to my friends at an upcoming party. But to my disappointment, I didn’t have any Stoli vodka in the house. (An embarrassment to most Lithuanians.) But…I found a bottle of Stoli Vanil, the vanilla-flavored vodka, and it was a real game-changer! I used that instead of regular Stoli and I came up with a sweeter, smoother drink that is now legendary among my friends. I call it…

 

VELVET ELVIS

2 ripe, sweet pineapples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1.75ml Stoli Vanil

Find a gallon-sized glass jar with a lid. Peel, core and slice the pineapples and drop the pieces in the jar. Pour the vodka in, mix well, and seal the jar. Keep it at room temperature for 7–10 days, giving it a gentle shake every day.

After 7–10 days (don’t worry…a little longer won’t hurt anything), strain it, squeezing the pineapple pieces to get every bit of liquid out. Discard the pineapple pieces. (As much as you might think they would be fun to munch, they’ve given up all their flavor to the cocktail, and taste terrible!)

Keep the Velvet Elvis refrigerated. Serve with rocks (or 1 big rock!), or shaken and poured into a martini glass.

 

As a martini, or on the rocks!

 

 

 

Did you have to go to work? Quarantined at home? either way, TGIF! Let’s make some drinks!

I’ve decided to look back at some of the more interesting cocktails I’ve had in my travels, and chances are, I still have most of the ingredients somewhere in the back of my bar to make them once again.

Coppa is a wonderful small enoteca in Boston’s South End, featuring small plates by award-winning chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette. (They’re also the 2 creative forces behind Toro in Boston and NYC.)

The food was incredible, and this drink, called “Hey, Neon,” was inspired. The glass was rimmed with dehydrated and finely chopped kalamata olives. I tried to recreate that at home, and couldn’t get the texture or the size right. And I could never get it to stick to the glass, either! Ultimately, I simply skewered a few kalamatas and placed them on the glass!

 

The original “Hey Neon” at Coppa.

 

 

“HEY NEON”

1 1/2 oz. Aalborg aquavit
3/4 oz. Punt e Mes
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/2 oz. Green Chartreuse

Add ice to a cocktail shaker and then add the ingredients. Stir well, until very cold. Strain into a martini glass. Add the skewer of kalamata olives.

 

Aalborg is a brand of aquavit (or akvavit), a clear alcohol similar to vodka but usually infused with other flavors, mainly caraway or dill, popular in Scandinavia.

Punt e Mes is a sweet vermouth, the so-called “little brother” of the granddaddy of all sweet vermouths: Carpano Antica Formula.

Cynar is an Italian bitter and digestif made from herbs, plants and artichokes. Strong in flavor, but delicious!

Chartruese is a French liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737, using a recipe that dates back to 1605. It contains 130 herbs and plants. It’s also one of the few liqueurs that ages in the bottle, changing over time. Green Chartreuse is 110 proof, and naturally colored from the maceration of its ingredients. Yellow Chartreuse, at 80 proof, is a milder and sweeter version.

 

My version of the “Hey Neon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve all got bottles of booze in our bar that probably haven’t been used in a while. Well, for me, quarantine time is the time to break them out and create! Let me share some of my favorite recipes with you…

When I go out to dinner (hoping I’ll be able to do that again soon), I’m always on the lookout for a great cocktail. These days, a great restaurant very often requires a great mixologist at the bar…not someone who can simply whip up a Cosmo, but someone who puts as much creativity in their drinks as the chef does in their dishes.

The classic negroni is made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I love negronis, and this cocktail is inspired by them. It comes from chef Tony Maws’ restaurant Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s been a decade since we dined there but the drink remains a favorite of mine. When our server communicated to the bartender that I was willing to be his guinea pig for creative cocktails, I was served this one–so new at the time, they didn’t have a name for it. I took a sip and exclaimed: “Holy S*#t!” and the server laughed and said: “That’s as good a name as any!”

 

 

“HOLY S*#T!” COCKTAIL

1 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
1 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes

Add some ice to a cocktail shaker, and add the ingredients. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

 

Bols Genever is a Dutch spirit, the ancestor of gin, created from lightly distilled Dutch grains and a complex botanical mix. It’s made according to the original 1820 Lucas Bols recipe which stood at the basis of the cocktail revolution in 19th century America.

Gran Classico is an alcoholic aperitif/digestif created following a recipe dating from the 1860s. It’s made by soaking a mixture of 25 aromatic herbs and roots in an alcohol/water solution to extract their flavors and aromas. The maceration creates a natural golden-amber color, although many other producers, like Campari and Cynar, dye their product red.

Punt e Mes is a pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet red vermouth, the “baby brother” of Carpano Formula Antica. The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano’s bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.

 

 

I started a serious diet a few days ago, with the goal of losing some significant pounds before I travel in April to one of my favorite islands in the world: St. John in the USVI. This will probably be my tenth trip, but the first since the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma a few years ago. It’s time to return and pump some money into the local economy!

One of the drinks I’m dreaming about is a Caribbean classic. When traveling to St. John, a must for my friends and me is an all-day catamaran sail to the British Virgin Islands, to the home of what I call the Greatest Beach Bar on Planet Earth: the Soggy Dollar Bar.

One of the tastiest rum drinks you can make, and one that certainly brings you back to the Caribbean, is the legendary Painkiller. It was invented on the tiny island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, at the Soggy Dollar. Located on White Bay, a stretch of the whitest sand in the Caribbean, surrounded by beautiful turquoise waters, there is no dock. You have to anchor your boat offshore and swim…hence the name: the Soggy Dollar.

 

Pre-Irma: after the hurricane, the Soggy Dollar, too, has changed, I’m sure. But it will be good to be back!

 

Daphne Henderson was the owner of the Soggy Dollar years ago, and she is credited for inventing the Painkiller, which used Pusser’s rum, a British rum that is available here in the United States. Charles Tobias, a businessman that received permission from the British Royal Navy to commercialize Pusser’s rum in 1980, tasted the Painkiller and realized the potential of this amazing drink. He took some Painkillers home to the island of Tortola, where he experimented in recreating that drink, coming up with what he thought was something that was as good as—if not better than—the original. He called it the Pusser’s Painkiller.

Tobias never found out what Daphne Henderson’s original recipe was, but when he brought his own Pusser’s Painkillers back to the Soggy Dollar, and had a tasting battle between the two recipes, his recipe apparently won 10 out of 10 times. With 5 Pusser’s bar and restaurant locations, Tobias quickly made the Pusser’s Painkiller the signature drink of these now-famous establishments…and perhaps the most popular drink among the sailing community in the US, Caribbean and West Indies.

Woody’s in St. John makes a good Painkiller to go, but nothing beats the Soggy Dollar!

 

PUSSER’S PAINKILLER

4 parts pineapple juice
1 part cream of coconut
1 part orange juice
grated nutmeg
Pusser’s rum

Combine the first 3 ingredients, with lots of fresh grated nutmeg in a glass with ice. How much Pusser’s rum you use depends on how hammered you want to get! A Pusser’s #2 uses 2 parts rum…a Pusser’s #3 uses 3 parts rum…and a Pusser’s #4 uses 4 parts rum!

I’ve had several Pusser’s #4’s back in the day when there was a Pusser’s bar in Cruz Bay, St. John, many years ago. I’ve also sampled them in the BVI on Tortola.  But I still prefer going back to Jost Van Dyke and knocking back a few of the originals at the place where the Painkiller was born, The Soggy Dollar Bar.

SOGGY2

Thanks to my buddy, Dr. Chezwick for the photo, taken years ago. My daughter is now 13, and ready for a “mock” Painkiller! Dad wants the real deal!

 

This dish is absolutely delicious and worth the effort. Despite the fact that we first had it in the middle of summer on a vacation to the beautiful island of Santorini, Greece, we always cook it around the holidays in wintertime. We don’t have access to that unusual Mediterranean lobster, but our cold water New England lobsters are a fine substitute!

Santorini gets a bad rap these days, because they’ve allowed the cruise ships to take over, and they just can’t support the massive crowds that invade this small, beautiful island every summer. Once you’ve opened the floodgates, it’s hard to suddenly turn around and tell tourists not to come. Santorini’s tourism industry drives the entire country of Greece. Sadly, it seems that many beautiful places in the world, once discovered by the masses, have to deal with this issues. (My beloved island of St. John in the USVI, is another example.)

But despite the hoards of tourists that swarm the island every summer, Santorini remains one of the most amazing places I’ve been to in my life. Having traveled there at least 4 times now, I know all the cruise ship tour bus routes and stops to avoid, and where I can still go to experience the real Santorini.

It was in one of those out-of-the-way places that we first had this dish. Taverna Giorgaros is a simple family-run restaurant that is on the road leading to the lighthouse, past the ancient ruins of Akrotiri. We’ve gone there every time we’ve visited Santorini, and only once did they have the freshly caught lobster that allowed us to enjoy this dish.

 

Where we first had our pasta with lobster sauce in Santorini.

Where we first had our pasta with lobster sauce in Santorini.

 

Love the signs!

Love the signs!

 

First, it’s absolutely important to make a good stock: the base for all the other flavors to follow.

 

Cooked lobster LTL

 

For the stock…
2 1-1/2 lb. lobsters, slightly under-cooked
12 cups water
1/2 onion, chopped into quarters
3 celery stalks, chopped into quarters
1 carrot, chopped into quarters

 

Under-cook (steam or boil, whatever your favorite method) the lobsters. (You’ll be cooking the meat again later.) Remove the lobster meat from the shells and set it aside.

Place the cleaned lobster shells, claws, tails, legs and bodies in a large pot. (You don’t want any of the internal organs or tommaley.) Crush the shells, if needed, so they fit in the pot. Add the water, onion, celery and carrot. Set the heat on high. Cook it until it’s reduced by half.

Strain the stock, discarding the lobster shells and veggies. Bring the stock back to the heat and reduce it until all you have left is 1 cup of intense stock.

 

Pasta with lobster sauce

For the lobster sauce…
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
pinch of Italian red pepper flakes
teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lobster stock
1/4 cup San Marzano tomato sauce (see below)
splash of dry un-oaked white wine (I use an Australian Chardonnay)
salt and pepper

 

Final ingredients…
reserved lobster meat
1/2 lb. cooked pasta

 

Add some olive oil to a large pan and sauté the onions until they’re translucent. Season them with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 10 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley.

Add 1/4 cup of the lobster stock and let it cook, reducing by half. Add the other 1/4 cup of lobster stock and the tomato sauce. Let it cook for a couple of minutes and add the white wine. Cook for a few minutes more.

Cook the pasta and drain it before it reaches the al dente stage. Place the pasta in the pan with the sauce, heating and coating thoroughly. Add the reserved lobster pieces and warm them through, tossing in the sauce. Serve immediately.

For the San Marzano tomato sauce: Pour a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes in a food processor and blend. Pour the sauce into a pan and reduce it over medium heat by half, until the sauce has thickened. Use this sauce in the recipe.

One of the best reasons to visit Rhode Island in the summertime is Block Island. Ferries sail from Point Judith, RI as well as Newport, and Fall River, MA. You can even grab one from New London, CT and Montauk, NY. For me, Point Judith, though on the other side of the state, is the most convenient, because I can grab the high-speed ferry and be there in 30 minutes. For someone that’s not crazy about being on a boat, it’s as fast and as smooth as it gets!

Block Island used to be a well-kept secret, but on a recent weekend, it was clear that the secret was out! The island was packed, and it seemed like every ferry was loaded to the brim with day trippers. That also meant that parking spaces in Point Judith became quite the hassle, and on our trip, we actually got what amounted to the second-to-last parking space after being shut out of dozens of huge parking lots in the area.

Despite using the Waze app, which told me we’d get there on time, we had no idea we’d be searching for a parking space for a really long time. Finding that second-to-last space, and running to the boat with our packs on our backs, we were literally the last people on the ferry.

So rule #1 about going to Block Island during peak tourist season: make reservations online, but still give yourself a lot more time than you think you’ll need to find a parking space!

My buddy, Scarpetti from 94HJY, our radio station in Providence, RI, was doing a live broadcast from Ballard’s the Saturday we traveled, and we hung out there for lunch. Great drinks, excellent food, live music, all on the beach: Ballard’s is just steps away from the ferry dock. It’s no surprise that many people that have been to Block Island have only been to Ballard’s and nowhere else!

 

We made it to Ballard’s! Time for a drink!

 

I was on Block Island with my daughter, who looks forward to our yearly trip to the island. I also do a live broadcast from Ballard’s, but this year my schedule changed and I couldn’t do it, so we figured we’d just skip the island this summer. But then we got really lucky, thanks to some friends with connections, and found a room for a single night. (In season, most hotels require a minimum 2-night stay, and usually, I book my room far in advance to get the best deal, but this was a last-minute travel decision.)

 

The Narragansett Inn. Nothing fancy, but all we needed.

 

We stayed at the Narragansett Inn, which is about a mile and a half from town. Totally basic: no AC, small rooms, shared baths, but it was clean and it was the only place that allowed us to spend 1 night. They also offered a really nice breakfast buffet, included in the room price.

 

Hangin’ at The Oar.

 

We had dinner at The Oar, a really popular restaurant and bar that is always jammin’, partly because they are world-famous for their mudslides. I had a couple on this trip, and I have to say that my memory of the mudslides was better than the real thing. They seemed a bit watered down this time, despite my ordering top-shelf booze in them. No matter, that didn’t stop me from getting a brain freeze!

 

Mudslide brain freeze!

 

The food at The Oar was great. My daughter enjoyed tacos, while I had a half-dozen Block Island oysters followed by one of their signature sushi rolls called the Candy Cane: shrimp tempura with tuna. It was delicious, and finding really good sushi on the island was a wonderful surprise.

 

The Candy Cane sushi roll.

 

Taxis run all over Block Island (no Ubers) and you really don’t wait very long for one to arrive. we took one back to town from The Oar, and did what everybody was doing: watched the last of the ferries return the daytrippers back home, and then walked around the various souvenir shops, finally grabbing some ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

 

The old Surf Hotel has been refurbished and is now the Block Island Beach House. We didn’t go inside…but it looks nice!

 

Back at the Narragansett Inn, we grabbed a couple of Adirondack chairs and watched the sunset before calling it a day.

 

Sunset on Block Island.

 

There’s lots to do on Block Island. You can rent bikes or mopeds…you can hike trails to remote beaches…you can party the night away, pub crawling to dozens of bars…you can rent entire homes and just enjoy the sea breezes and the peace and quiet…or you can stay in hotels and enjoy a bit more of the nightlife.

The secret to success with Block Island is to plan and book early. Off-season, the island is just as beautiful and not as crowded. And if you plan on bringing your car to the island, you literally need to be booking the car ferry in January!

 

First-run movies play at the theater, though sometime people have fun with the sign…

 

I’ve done all of it, from renting a house to staying in a variety of hotels. It’s all good and a really unique experience. Get to the Block!

My 12-year-old daughter’s at the age where she’s fascinated by the world of music. Working in radio, I’m lucky that I’m able to offer her some great experiences. Thanks to my boss, Rob, the man with all the connections, she got to meet her favorite band, AJR. She went backstage and met the guys from Imagine Dragons. She received a hand-written birthday greeting from Brendan Urie of Panic! at the Disco.

I saw my first concert at the age of 17. It was Three Dog Night and T.Rex at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. My daughter has already seen more concerts than I did in my teens.

As touristy as they are (and as mediocre as the food is), Hard Rock Cafes and their walls full of pictures, guitars, photos and other memorabilia, offer a glimpse into the world of music that fascinates my daughter. Once she visited her first Hard Rock, the world’s largest at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, she was hooked. If we were traveling anywhere near a Hard Rock Cafe, we had to go.

The Hard Rock at Universal was followed by New York City, Washington DC, the Cayman Islands, Paris, and Reykjavik. Yet we never made to the one in Boston, closest to our home in Rhode Island. It was time to go.

Hard Rock Cafe, Boston.

 

Our stay in Boston began with lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, near Fanuel Hall. Nothing particularly amazing about the venue, but we could now scratch it off the list.

I clearly don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

 

Because our main point of going to Boston was to visit the New England Aquarium, I chose to get a room at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, located right on the water and literally a few steps from the aquarium. The area around Long Wharf includes many restaurant and shopping choices.

The Marriott Long Wharf is a huge hotel, and I was surprised at just how clean the property was, despite the vast numbers of people who were moving through the lobby and hallways. Our room was clean and technologically up-to-date: everything you’d want in a hotel room. Beds were comfortable, towels were plentiful.

The only complaint I had about our hotel is one that I have with most of the Marriotts and Westins that I’ve been to recently. They’ve decided to make the move away from old-fashioned room service with carts, real plates and silverware, and decent food. Now they all offer what amounts to take-out service. You get a bag full of cardboard boxes that contain your meals….paper napkins…plastic utensils…and crappy food. I highly doubt all of this gets recycled. So in a world where we’re supposed to be thinking about how not to overload our landfills, these guys came up with the idea to make everything disposable. Really dumb. Goes without saying that we didn’t eat at the hotel.

No carts. No fuss. No thanks.

 

The New England Aquarium is a great place to take the family and see penguins up close. We arrived at feeding time, and it was fun to watch them eat; some of them fussy, some of them devouring their offerings of fish. The center of the building is a spiral, and inside the spiral is a huge 4-story aquarium. So as you slowly walk up the spiral, you get a constantly changing view of the aquarium and the thousands of fish and other sea life (manta rays, tortoises, sea horses, jellyfish, starfish, eels, seals, and lots more that thrive there. Again, you might be lucky to catch them at feeding time, when workers in scuba gear swim down to the different groups of fish and make sure they get fed.

One note: buy your tickets online before you go. The outdoor line for last-minute ticket buyers was huge, and we visited on a bone-chilling winter’s day. Those people standing in line were very unhappy. We just walked right in with our online printed tickets.

 

The Red Lantern in Boston.

 

We don’t have many great Asian restaurant choices in Rhode Island, so when we go to Boston, it’s almost always on our list. This time, we decided to skip Chinatown and go to a restaurant that was as much about the atmosphere as it was about the food: The Red Lantern. Great music, cool lighting, awesome design, very good food and a huge cocktail menu. My daughter had miso soup and a massive delicious bowl of beef lo mein. I shoved a few large chopstick-fulls into my mouth “for blogging purposes.” Really good. I started with a plate of boneless ribs, sweet and sticky. My main dish was a huge spicy tuna toro maki roll: a tempura fried roll with avocado, cucumber, chili soy and toro tuna, slightly torched. Over the top. The Red Lantern has a beautiful bar, and my original mai-tai was well-made, though very sweet.

Dessert selections weren’t what we wanted…and we needed a breather…so we Ubered over to Newbury Street, where we found a wonderful gelato shop: Amorino. It’s an Italian chain, and they know how to do gelato!

I suppose if I wasn’t hanging out with my daughter, I’d take this opportunity to go to a bar for one last cocktail, but instead, we just went back to the hotel and focused on the next day, thinking we’d hit the indoor pool. Turns out it wasn’t a great idea, because the pool last the Marriott Long Wharf was really small and full of screaming little kids. Plan B: find a really great Sunday brunch.

Mooo, in Boston.

 

Mooo is a steak restaurant inside the beautiful XV Beacon Hotel, on historic Beacon Street. As I was searching for brunch possibilities, I saw the tempting list of freshly-baked treats on their menu, very different from those offered elsewhere, and I knew this was where we needed to go. We were not disappointed!

Ordering the cinnamon buns was a no-brainer. The moment they say on the menu that you “need to give it a little extra time,” you know it’s going to be worth the wait! as we slowly pulled apart the gooey rolls, shoving them into mouth, I moaned like Patton Oswalt in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “Cinnnabonnnn……” (Though it was way better than any Cinnabon I ever head!)

The incredible cinnamon buns at Mooo.

 

My daughter knew almost instantly that she was going to have the chocolate chip pancakes…with a side of bacon, of course. I was contemplating the lobster eggs Benedict (I’m a huge fan of bennies), but then I said to myself: “Wait…this is a steak restaurant. They have half-a-dozen steak and eggs offerings on the menu. Have a steak, for crying out loud!” My inner voice served me well.

I had a choice of 2 ribeyes: either a 12-oz. American corn-fed ribeye, or a 14-oz. pastured, grass-fed Australian ribeye. I’m a grass-fed guy, so the larger Australian ribeye (which was also less expensive) was a no-brainer. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and was one of the best steaks I’ve had in a very long time. A couple of eggs and a side of perfectly cooked potatoes made for an ideal meal.

Brunch is served!

 

Mooo was such a great choice for brunch that I will keep it in mind for dinner on a return trip to Boston.

 

We returned to our hotel after brunch, simply to pack up and head home. A nice 24-hour getaway with wonderful food and a fun time with my daughter. I know my daughter and I will be back in June to see a Billie Eilish concert at the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, so we’ll have more opportunities to hit a couple of restaurants, this time in the Seaport District, which, sadly, is being overrun by so much new construction that you can’t even see the water anymore. It’s sad because Boston’s traffic has just been rated the worst in the country, and this will only add to a crumbling infrastructure that is already overloaded.

 

 

 

I have to give credit for this recipe where it’s due. Last year, we traveled to Washington, DC and one of our best dining experiences was at the Blue Duck Tavern, a stunning restaurant matched by its unique and beautifully prepared plates. It is the restaurant I recommend to any friends in the DC area, and one I would go back to in a heartbeat. One of the incredible appetizers I enjoyed was the roasted beef bone marrow, which had a delicious pretzel crumble on top. The moment I had a taste, I knew that I would have to recreate this for myself.

The amazing bone marrow plate at the Blue Duck Tavern in Washington, DC.

 

Bone marrow played an important role in the evolution of early man. Perhaps that’s why some of us still have that primitive craving for it.

Early man had small teeth and ate anything he could lay his hands on, especially meat. But he was no hunter. Attracted by circling vultures, he probably scavenged the leftovers from a big kill such as an antelope left in a tree by a leopard, or a large animal such as a wildebeest that had been slaughtered by lions.

Because meat is relatively easy to digest and rich in calories and nutrients, early man lost the need for the big intestines of apes and earlier hominids. This freed up energy for use by other organs. This surplus of energy seems to have been diverted to one organ in particular – the brain. But scavenging meat from under the noses of big cats is a risky business, so good scavengers needed to be smart. At this stage in our evolution, a big brain was associated with greater intellect. Big brains require lots of energy to operate: the human brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy production. The concentrated calories and nutrition found in meat was responsible for an increase in the brain size of early humans.

But around two million years ago, telltale cut marks on the surface of animal bones reveal that early humans were using crude stone tools to smash open the bones and extract the marrow. Stone tools allowed early man to get at a food source that no other creature was able to obtain – bone marrow. Bone marrow contains long chain fatty acids that are vital for brain growth and development. This helped further fuel the increase in brain size, allowing our ancestors to make more complex tools. Many historians believe that the blunt force required to break bones with tools to extract the bone marrow was a crucial ingredient in the development of the human hand, and the unique dexterity it has over that of apes.

Of course, these days, we can simply go to our butcher and ask them to slice some beef bones for us so that we can enjoy the marrow like our ancestors did. It’s much more civilized.

My box o’ frozen bones. I ordered about 25 lbs. of marrow bones from a grass-fed beef farm in Texas.

 

They key to roasting marrow bones properly is to keep an eye on them. The bones can go from frozen solid to blazing hot in no time, and that means the marrow can go beyond its rich, gelatinous perfection into a puddle of fat at the bottom of your pan in mere moments.

 

3 lbs. beef marrow bones (I like them sliced lengthwise)
3/4 cup finely ground salted pretzel sticks
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil

 

I keep the beef bones frozen, moving them to the fridge until I’m ready to roast them.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Grind them up!

Place a handful of salted pretzel sticks in a food processor, and pulse them until the pretzels are ground fine. When you’ve got 3/4 cup of ground pretzel powder, move it to a bowl and add the parsley, onion, garlic and black pepper. No salt is needed if the pretzels are salted.

 

 

Lay the bones flat on a baking pan. If they wobble, place them on a layer of coarse salt to hold them steady. Sprinkle the pretzel mix on the bones, a little drizzle of olive oil on top, and place them in the oven.

 

Now you watch…there’s that one point where they go from “not quite yet” to perfection to “Oops! Too much!” …so be careful!

Perfection!

 

Some toasted bread on the side is all you need!

 

If you’re cooking gluten-free, try Snyder’s of Hanover GF pretzels. They are awesome…you’ll never know the difference.