Local Flavor- Giumarello’s

As much as I like to dine while traveling, one still has their favorites close to home. And if I’m going to have kind things to say about restaurants abroad, I would be remiss if I did not give similar accolades to those establishments I enjoy locally.  Without a doubt for me and my girlfriend, that place is Giumarrello’s. Granted we may be a little biased as this was where our first date took place but I was already aware of how good Giumarrello’s was at that point. I can simply sum up why in four points, a fantastic cocktail list, an excellent menu, great atmosphere, a pleasant and attentive staff.

The restaurant has a low lit yet very warm atmosphere that, along with the staff, is very welcoming. There is a mix of seating with reserved tables, first come/first serve tables, and a large seated bar area. There is outdoor seating available and a selection of tables in both the reserved and first come/first serve areas are perfect for people watching, if that is something one enjoys.

 

One of the reasons my girlfriend and I quite enjoy this establishment is their cocktail menu. While they have an equally extensive wine and beer list, it is definitely the variety and quality of their cocktails that keep us coming back. Of the many you can pick from, two have become my regular go to cocktails. The first is the Vesper Martini (pictured left). If you have seen the Bond movie “Casino Royal” with Daniel Craig, then this may sound familiar to you. The martini uses both gin and vodka along with a little something extra to make this a very smooth Martini with just a little bite. They make if perfect every time. As good as that cocktail is, it has recently garnered some tough competition in the Dubliner (pictured right, nearly finished). This whiskey cocktail is very flavorful, balanced, and beyond smooth. There is definitely something for everyone on their cocktail list.

 

As good as the drinks are, the food is even better. The menu has an excellent mix of steaks, seafood, and Italian dishes along with interesting appetizers and decadent desserts. Both the oysters and the shrimp pancetta have been regular favorites of mine to start off with. On this recent visit, I opted for the wild mushroom bisque and I was not disappointed. For my main course, I got the bone in ribeye “Cowboy” steak medium. I don’t eat steak that much at home and actually don’t order it out much either. Every time I get steak here, it is cooked to perfection, and this was no exception. I can’t say I have one favorite dish from their main courses. I try to not order the same thing every time I’m there and they have all been outstanding.

As I mentioned before, the staff is impeccable. They are attentive and polite without being overbearing. The waitstaff has their timing in that regard down pat and the waitstaff and kitchen have their timing down to a science. Any mistakes are corrected or otherwise addressed. Honestly, I’ve only encountered one and even then it was brought to my attention by the waiter without me even noticing it first. One nice touch is that the manager is very present and aware. Each time we go, he has always stopped by the table to ask how our meal was. Always pleasant, he seems earnest to here what one has to say.

If I were to have any criticism of the restaurant, I would say the parking. The parking is a mix of self park and free valet, however there seems to very little self parking. On many nights only the valet seems available and as one who carries very little cash, I feel awkward not having anything to tip valet. Perhaps I bear some responsibility in that regard? While it would be nice to have more self parking spots, I’m not sure they have anywhere to put the additional spots.

Despite that one area of criticism, it does not impact my view of Giumarello’s at all. I feel this restaurant hits all the marks and if you live in the area of Haddon Township, NJ this restaurant should be on your list.

Boston- Food, Fenway, Friendship, and METAL!

This was certainly not my first foray to Bean town. It’s a city that thanks to one of my best friends Brian Haley I’ve explored multiple times. One of the many things I like about Boston is that it has so much to offer but is not so large it becomes daunting. It has history, great restaurants, and a great public transportation system that allows you to easily go all over the city. This was one of those three day whirlwind trips (not my first) Brian and I planned out many months ago centered around seeing one of our favorite metal bands, Anthrax. As usual, there was much more than just the concert.

My train arrived at 1:15pm on a Saturday and Brian was there to meet me at South Station. Our hotel, The Verb, was close by and we were quickly checked. Definitely a different hotel. The hotel has a music theme to it. A small area of great music memorabilia and a small record library available to guests as each room is furnished with a record player. If you are looking for something like the Four Seasons, this may not be the place for you. Parking is a flat fee of $48.00 (not nightly/daily) which for city parking is phenomenal per my friend Brian. It is also located right next to Fenway and around the block from House of Blues where Anthrax was playing making things quite convenient. If you are looking for a place that is a lot of fun with friendly, helpful staff, and you don’t mind a sign with a large guy who looks like Chris Barron from the Spin Doctors, then this maybe right up your alley.

Being the gentleman that Brian is, we had a couple rounds of McCallan that he brought for the weekend. We quickly headed out and started an unplanned bar crawl of the Fenway area bars. Unfortunately, we neglected to pace ourselves not acknowledging we are no longer in our early twenties. After a brief break back at the hotel, we decided to hit The Citizen Public House and Oyster Bar. I rarely say “no” to oysters. The darkly lit but warm decor was perfect for our last stop of the night. The food was excellent with a wide selection of savory choices but nothing too out of the ordinary. After starting with a round of oysters, I went with the safe choice of their cheeseburger. It was quite good despite being a common menu item. Flavorful, juicy, and cooked to order. We rounded out the meal by sharing some bread pudding, as any hardcore heavy metal fans would do. However, the star of the evening was their Manhattan (hopefully you are not sensing a pattern to my blog articles). I’m quite a fan of both Gin Martinis and Manhattans and this was by far the best cocktail of that ilk I’ve had. I simply let the waiter surprise me with his choice of bourbon from their vast selection and viola, perfection. His choice was Basil Hayden’s small batch bourbon from Clermont Kentucky. It was the perfect balance of sweet combined with the slight bite of bourbon.

The next day, after breakfast, we decided to take a tour of Fenway Park. I highly recommend this if you have the chance. Even if you are not a baseball fan, there is a lot of history here. Some well known, some not so much. While they have replaced many of the original seats, there are still sections under the 2nd level that still have the original seats from when it first opened in 1912. The view from the seats atop The Green Monster is quite good and to me is worth a return trip to see a game from up there. You have the lone red seat commemorating when unsuspecting fan Joseph A. Boucher survived Ted William’s record 502 foot dinger.  The prior owner’s Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey names in Morse Code on the left field scoreboard which is where they used to have picnics and listen to the Red Sox away games. It was also a great surprise to see that they have created Fenway Farms where they grow produce on the roof to supply the stadium food services.  A very well done and informative tour.

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Before we knew it, it was time to get to the show. We arrived early as I had surprised Brian by getting the VIP meet and greet before the show. It is something I’ve wanted to do and I knew Brian being an even bigger fan that I would enjoy it. One might get exaggerated images of backstage passes and partying with the band but that is not the case. There was a pretty large group who had gotten the package and it was well organized for the most part. It was also pretty quick but I think it rather had to be. I can only imagine how many fans they meet and sign autographs for before each show and this was the last show of their American tour. Even still, they were very down to earth, very appreciative of their fans. In particular, Joey Belladonna seem to really light up when I told him how great it was to see him back with the band.

Anthrax shared co-billing with Killswitch Engage and they had two opening bands in The Devil Wears Prada and Code Orange. All the bands put on a great show and put out their all.  However, Brian and I were there to see Anthrax and we were not disappointed. Their set was intense and they played a great mix of old and new songs. Joey’s vocals are still amazing after all these years and their energy has not diminished one bit. It’s been 26 years since I first saw them and they still do not let down their fans. The mosh pits were still fierce and despite some minor aches and pains post show, I was please to know I could still hang in the pit. And just when you thought the intensity could not get any higher, they hit the war dance part of “Cry for the Indians”, their closing song, and the floor went insane. Just of sea of bodies moving like a tidal wave. Thankfully I had the big man Brian to help keep me vertical. It was great to see that even though those in the pits are much younger than Brian and I, they are still very cool and maintain proper pit etiquette, helping up those who fall to the ground, and not making intentional moves to hurt people. On the funny end, I’ve always known I’m not as heavy as I look and it was once again confirmed here. In my still successful run at crowd surfing, Brian and the guy who tried to get me up dropped me and the security guard who got me at the front of the stage collapsed under me. Oops. Still quite a rush.

Boston. Just go there. You will have a great time no matter what you do. If you have the chance, take the Fenway tour if not take in a game. If you are fan of Metal, go see Anthrax. They put on a phenomenal show. You probably still have plenty of time but why wait?

Dansk Mjød Viking Blod

Despite the fact that, like many people, I favor certain beer types over others, I relish the opportunity to try new beers. However, it’s very rare that I come across something very new and different. Perhaps I just need to try harder, if my liver will allow me? So when I saw Dansk Mjød Viking Blod on the menu in Tucson and read its description, there was little chance I would not order it. Honestly, just on the name alone I would have ordered it. The menu described it as a “honey wine” and in reality it is definitely a mead. Mead is created by fermenting honey with water and sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops. This particular brew is from Denmark and consists of Honey, water, hops, dried hibiscus, and “various spices” per their website. The alcohol content of mead can be anywhere from 8% to over 20% with this weighing in at a very respectable 19%.

Sweeter beers are nothing new in this day and age however Viking Blod is intensely sweet which some may not appreciate. It feels thicker, almost like nectar, and there is
only a hint of carbonation. All of that combined with it’s high alcohol content makes for quite a different experience. Likely because as already covered, this is a mead and not a beer despite it being listed with other beers on the menu. I imagine that is intentional; that if it was listed under a “Mead” section, it might result in decrease sales. Personally, I greatly enjoyed Viking Blod and not just for the name. Not only is it very different, I found it to be not filling at all which I attribute to its minimal carbonation. So, if you ever see this (or other mead) listed on a beer menu, you want something very different, and you are not afraid to jump out of your comfort zone, definitely give this a try.

Eating on a Recommendation

While in Montreal, Teena and I decided to eat one night at a place recommended by Anthony Bourdain. That place? The simply if not comically named Joe Beef. Despite everything I read online about needing to make reservations a month ahead of time, we were able to get Saturday night reservations calling just the night prior. The restaurant itself is located outside of downtown Montreal on Rue Notre-Dame West. It appeared to be a one block oasis of dining and entertainment set amongst homes and apartments. For us, it was a perfect 25 minute walk from our hotel, but could definitely be longer depending on where you were staying in Montreal, so a cab (or Über) may be necessary.

We actually arrived a bit early and our table was also ready somewhat early from our designated reservation time. One immediately notices how warm, cozy, and intimate the establishment is, especially in regards to the table next to you. The menu, wine list, and drink list is written on a chalkboard in French and difficult to read in the dim lighting. Not to worry as the wait staff have the menu pretty much memorized. I can see how some may not like the atmosphere. It could be considered claustrophobic and you can’t help but hear img_0580your neighboring diner’s conversation. If you are one who likes your dining establishments somewhat standard, this may not be the place for you. I know my father would be irritated and might lend to the concept of the “rude American”.  I started off with the Oysters. They had a selection of three kinds from various Canadian locals. Unfortunately, other than the one’s from Prince Edward Island, I don’t remember where the other two were from. I opted for a half dozen equally divided amongst the three. All fantastic. Admittedly, I’ve been on an oyster kick since my initiation to them almost a year ago in Vancouver. I also guess it’s hard to mess up oysters unless you let them sit for days in the heat before serving them.

My main entree was related to me by our waitress as a “beef brisket” and in actuality it was more in line with a beef burgundy. I wish I could say I liked it as much as my oysters. I found the beef to vary between dry and less dry. The vegetables were good and would have been even better if the stock was not so bland. Overall, I felt let down by the entree.

Their wine list is extensive and I have to commend them on this. You could find any type of wine to pair well with your meal and even wines to pair with contrasting meals as Teena had a white fish entree. As we were both in the mood for a red, the 2014 Christopher Pacalet Chenas was a nice, light beaujolais that complimented both our meals well.

In summary the staff, oysters, and wine are great and the atmosphere is dependent on the diner’s tastes. As for the entrees, to be fair since I’ve only dined there once, I’ll say are hit or miss. While I’m an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, I have to admit, I was expecting to be blown away by this meal and I just wasn’t.

Lambics- Mort Subite

For those who love beer and aren’t scared to try something very different, give a lambic a try. After tasting them, you may question if these are really beers and I assure you they are. Lambics are brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium southwest of Brussels and in Brussels itself at the Cantillon Brewery. As opposed to other beers, which are fermented with carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeast, lambic is fermented spontaneously by being exposed to wild yeasts and bacteria native to the Zenne valley in which Brussels lies. This process gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinous, and cidery, usually with a sour aftertaste.

I’ve had numerous lambics in the past and I’ve found them to be too sour for my taste. img_0589Mort Subite or Sudden Death was a nice change for me. Don’t let the name fool you, it actually has a low alcohol content of 4.5 percent. What makes me like this lambic over others is that it has a perfect balance of sweet and sour. It’s starts off sweet with raspberry flavors and finishes tart. Just enough of each to make it very interesting and enjoyable. Again, if you like your beers standard and bland, this is probably not for you. However, if you have braved the variety that is out there such as IPA’s, porters, and wheat beers and want something very different, give a lambic a try, especially this one.