Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The buffet has closed...

As you may know, my father passed away from complications relating to Alzheimers and dementia back on March 16…it’s been a month now, and I want to share a few words about him.  This is not my normal post...if you're looking for a review or a rip-job, come back soon. For now, please indulge me. 

My dad was a simple, yet complicated man, but obviously, these few words cannot do justice in explaining him.  In fact, I’m not sure after 50 years I even could begin to adequately describe him.  He really was “indescribable”.

He was a man that could cook and bake…an entrepreneur and a restaurateur, a dreamer and a driver. A man with just a high school education, but a master Bridge player.  A storyteller that liked to be alone, and a man that liked a fine meal and lobster, but LOVED a Chinese buffet.  He was a man that listened to Verdi operas, Glenn Miller, The Gatlin Brothers Band, Earl Scruggs and Frank Sinatra (a perplexing taste in music). 

My father had some hard years, but was a man who could often be heard saying, “I feel good.  I’ve had a good life”.  These words were a frequent refrain in his recent years, before the disease really ravaged him.  My sister and I take some comfort that he truly felt that way, even though from the outside looking in it didn’t always appear to be so.

Many of you had the pleasure of knowing my dad.  Even though he was a storyteller, he was also someone who could not be told anything.  He was a man many people turned to for advice, though I always thought I knew better (but occasionally did not).  Many of his own friends asked him over the years to speak with their kids, if they felt those kids were coming off the rails a bit; my dad could guide those kids along the right path, because, I believe, he saw himself in them, and knew how to talk to them.  He really had a way with all kids…and dogs.  He used to say:  the key is, get down on their level.

My father would also not take “no” for an answer if he felt otherwise.  I recall that when I was being sworn in after passing the bar, I was only allotted two admission tickets, and I was already married.  Elayne was given one, and of course, with a Jewish mother, she got the other.  I felt terrible, and I called other friends who would be getting admitted that same day, but couldn’t score a ticket for my father; it was worse than high-holiday seating.  My father never seemed upset or bothered, and it was no surprise that he showed up at Faneuil Hall for the admission ceremony.  As we walked past the ushers/guards, my father walked right past them, and said “I’m not missing this just because I don’t have a ticket” and he kept on walking.  He never planned on missing it, just as he would never plan on missing any of our events.  We celebrated well when I passed the bar and Elayne passed the CPA exam; he took genuine pleasure in those accomplishments.  

My friend Hugh humorously refers to my father as “The Great Philosopher Gil Weinstein”; my father was never short on commentary and advice, and a lot of schtick-there a few that stick with me to this day.  When opening a fortune cookie, he would always say “help, I’m being held prisoner inside a Chinese fortune cookie factory.” (as if there are any other fortune cookie factories…) Then he would flip it over and say “never mind, I escaped”.  As Hugh would tell you, he would always say that kids don’t want your money, they want your time; despite whatever was going on in our lives, he gave us just that-his time.  From Y Indian Guides, to Cub Scouts, TBA Basketball, drum corps, my sister’s acting and dancing classes and recitals, he was there.

In his later years, he did become softer and mellower.  No longer was he eating 19 lobsters in one sitting (yes, it’s true, at Rusty’s Custy Scupper in Rhode Island), but he still did enjoy his Chinese buffet…you might say he became addicted to them, hence his nickname as “The King of the Chinese Buffet”…no matter where he was, he could find them.  Once, on the way to Missouri moving me out for law school, he told me to “pull over at the next exit”.  When I asked why, he said “I want Chinese, and I think there’s a place at the next exit.  I can sense it”.  Sure enough, even though I thought he was full of crap, we pulled over the there it was…a Chinese buffet.  And it wasn’t too bad.

Though he had job loss, failed businesses, family deaths and divorce…he was resilient.  He took figurative punches but never let them bring him down.   Was he easy to live with?…not really.  As kids, we called him Gestapo Gil...but it was an iron fist in a velvet glove. 

He loved to see his grandchildren, just loved to make sure they were ok.  Sometimes would drive over, say hello and leave...a 2-minute visit, precisely; but that was satisfying to him…to see them for those two minutes, and to know they were ok.  That’s all he needed because he reveled in their wellbeing.  That was “wealth” to him.

My father enjoyed that I, along with my high school friends, had turned out ok (in his opinion).  He was proud that Hugh became a surgeon, especially after Mr. Buell, our sophomore biology teacher, told us that we wouldn’t amount to anything; “The world needs garbage men too”.  He was proud that I, along with other friends like Lou, became lawyers.  He was proud that all my friends were good people and enjoyed knowing I still had many of my childhood friends in my life…

Among my father’s most important professional accomplishments (to him) was his small role in the space program.  After seeing action in Korea, he got a new billet in Natick, MA, at the Army labs, where he became a member of the “Climate Commandos”, a team of human guinea pigs, put through extreme physical challenges, while testing the first space suit liners, boots and the like.  His picture, as part of this unit, with the Mercury Project astronauts, was in the Smithsonian, and my father was immensely proud of his small role in American history.  He truly believed that this is the greatest country in the world, put his life on the line to protect it, and loved that he helped, in some small way, expand our horizons into space (maybe that’s why he enjoyed “Star Trek” so much… “Space, the final frontier…”).  Given the chance, I think he would have re-enlisted in his 70s…and that’s why he is buried in the National Cemetery in Bourne, MA.  Because when it is all said and done, and there’s nothing left to say and nothing left to do, by his choice, my father will rest with others that gave of themselves in ways that many of us can only imagine and admire.

Like most fathers, there were many lessons implicitly taught by him:   work for yourself but work hard; always do your best; and don’t expect someone else to a do a job that you wouldn’t do yourself, and he had a little poem he would recite at opportune times: “As you ramble on through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole”. 

My father was a depression-era baby, and like many people of that generation, was not afraid of hard work, or doing what was necessary to make ends meet.  He was tough as nails, and could not be embarrassed easily, and would never be ashamed of doing anything if it meant putting food on the table…but always looking ahead. 


My father, in his favorite position-in line, at a Chinese buffet-2009
So he was a man who had plenty of “holes” that could have derailed him at any time, but he didn’t focus on the negative…he put his head down and plowed along. Yes, he did it his way, but he made sure that we learned by his example.  He would want us all to do the same now…when things are tough…there is no embarrassment or shame…work hard, do your best, and plow through it.  

So plow along, we will, but for now, the buffet is closed.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

And the hits just keep on coming...

I really appreciate all the kind words many of you have shared with me through various channels...my work, on your behalf, will never be done.  But for now, please enjoy these quick hits for some current, and upcoming spots, on Connoisseurs Corner...available for download a little while after broadcast here.  

Suburban Chinese

When I was growing up, Sunday nights were designated for a trip into Boston’s Chinatown to eat at the long-gone “House of Roy”.  Back then, there was no such thing as great suburban Chinese food.  If you wanted high-quality Asian cuisine, Chinatown was where it was at.  No more.

Lately, there has been some media attention on suburban Asian cuisine options.  There are a lot of reasons why you can now get excellent Chinese food in the suburbs, but regardless the reasons, we all win!  Better food in the suburbs means better food, period. And I have a few I really like.

SuChang’s in Peabody.  This is a beautiful spot in Peabody, on Lowell Street.  It doesn’t look like an Asian restaurant from the outside, or the inside.  The décor is bright and airy, and the food is contemporary Asian, with some traditional dishes.  If you live on the North Shore, you have to go to Su Changs.

Dumpling Daughter in Weston.  More take-out than sit-down, this is owned and operated by Nadia Liu Spellman, daughter of the great Sally Ling.  This is a delightful little shop, with fantastic rice bowls, noodle dishes, and dumplings.  Try the baby bok choy with sautéed garlic, or chicken dumplings in Sichuan sauce.  Dumpling Daughter gives you a reason to travel into deep downtown Weston.

SichuanGourmet with multiple locations in Framingham, Brookline, Billerica and Sharon.  This my local go-to Chinese place in Framingham.  Always packed, the food is fresh and very flavorful, and I mean very.  With choices like “chicken with hot green pepper” to dry-cooked chicken with chili sauce, or Gan-gou chicken, beef or tofu, with potato, bean sprouts, asparagus and Szechuan peppercorns, be prepared to have your tongue tickled, but both flavor and spice.

Alice’s Mandarin Taste on Pond Street in Sharon.  A small place, but with a big and flavorful menu.  Try the beef chow foon, or any number of creative and flavorful chicken dishes.

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As you know, I’m always interested in trying new spots, but finding the time is sometimes difficult.  However, from March 6-11 and 13-18, all the listeners/readers should be thinking about setting aside a night or two to enjoy Dine out Boston.

Dine Out Boston formerly known as Restaurant Week Boston® is brought to you by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau and American Express twice a year, providing locals and visitors an opportunity to sample area restaurants at special prices. Participating restaurants design  prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner. the Chef then prepares a menu to delight.

Diners can choose from old favorites to the latest culinary hot spots, from nationally known chain restaurants to local chef owned bistros, from Asian or Argentinean fare to French, Italian, tapas and sushi, from the award-winning restaurants of Boston and Cambridge to the gourmet gems in the suburbs north, west and south of the city.
Check it out and make your plans.

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One of the best parts of being from New England are farm shops, especially at the apple orchards.  Having gone to school in Amherst, a local favorite was Atkins Farm in South Amherst.  I am happy to say, 30 years later, Atkins has expanded and no longer focuses solely on apples.  They have a market, with local produce, meats and seafood.  There’s a cheese counter/case, bakery, deli, butcher and prepared foods area.  Of course, there are apples and pies, but a trip to Atkins is much more than apples.  Check out their website for all the details on offerings at Atkins or visit it on West Street in Amherst.

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I am always on the lookout for unique gift-giving ideas in the food realm, for colleagues in my regular work.  My mother put me on to Wicked Good Cupcakes, featured on Shark Tank.  With an actual brick and mortar location in Faneuil Hall, but with a thriving mail order business, these are not your normal cupcakes.  They are cupcakes constructed inside a glass mason jar, so all the flavors meld together.  If you love a good cupcake, how could you not love a cupcake you eat with a spoon, making sure to get a little bit of everything with each bite.  I gave these to a few associates this past December and they were big hits.  Check them out at here.  




Chalkboard



I am privileged to be a panelist on WBZ/Jordan Rich's "Connoisseur's Corner"; it is an honor, and I am thrilled to help out local food purveyors and restaurants, and point people to food events.  It is especially thrilling to know we've reached people, and the great purveyors we feature are getting traction.  Over the years, I have really enjoyed meeting these business people, and have landed wonderful friendships.  However, I must say, I was very excited to see this picture posted by Jordan today, outside of Zayde's Market in Canton.  You can hear the spot at the Connoisseur's Corner link here...I am humbled.

Remember, Zayde's is Critical Palate approved!


Friday, February 26, 2016

Because spots are rolling...



New Connoisseurs Corner spots started running yesterday, and listeners (or those that can't listen) often ask about the topics, so as always, I'm posting (in a few parts), typed up versions of my crib notes for the spots.  Please tune in to WBZ 1030am, or check us out on CBSBoston.com in a couple of weeks when the recordings are posted on the website for your listening pleasure.

Without further ado, here are the first few spots.

1.  Zayde’s in Canton (home made corned beef)

I love little local shops that offer something a little different or unique…my wife happened to stumble into Zayde’s Kosher Market in Cobb Corner in Canton, MA.

This is more than your usual Kosher market.  Previously known as the Butcherie II, about a year ago they changed their name and I think gives it a homier feel.  But more than the name, the food tastes like home.  With fresh prepared foods to go, including soups, marinated and cooked meats and traditional foods like stuffed cabbage and chicken schnitzel, and bagels straight from Brooklyn, they’re gaining real traction.  But, to me, the most interesting, and tasty items was their home-made corned beef.  This is not your deli-counter, plastic-wrapped corned beef, but a tender cut of beef, seasoned and cooked slowly, rendered into a sublime treat for your mouth.

With a dearth of real delis (there’s even a book called “Save the Deli”), the choices are few, but sometimes a market holds a few surprises, and home-made corned beef at Zayde’s is one!

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2.  Vin Bin

Since I normally focus on food, I don’t want you to get nervous when I mention the Vin Bin in Marlborough, Southborough and Hopkinton, and thevinbin.com.  Just a month or so ago, I asked a colleague for advice on a new, unknown, hidden jewel for lunch, and she put me onto the Vin Bin on Route 9 in Southborough.

In a non-descript plaza across from the reservoir, the Vin Bin disguises itself as a wine and craft beer shop, but in both its Marlborough and Southborough locations, they have café where you can order extremely well-made and tasty sandwiches, Panini, soups and salads.  With high quality chips and other accompaniments, as well as cold drinks, and plenty of seating, I really enjoyed my roast beef sandwich, which was made with  pepper crusted slow roasted beef, horseradish mayo, vermont cheddar, arugula, tomato, ciabatta, and my colleague enjoys the Shoemaker, which is house made chicken salad, pancetta, mayo, red onion, celery, lettuce, tomato,  ciabatta.  These are terrific shops with helpful people, making delicious food.  Adding to the experience is the cheese counter where you can sample and purchase high-end cheese.  The Vin Bin is a “Vinner”!

Check it out at: The Vin Bin

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3.  Concord Cheese Shop


For the first time ever, THE CHEESE SHOP OF CONCORD has launched a cheese-of-the-month club.
Artisinal and imported cheeses are expensive, but if cheese is your thing... each months' package includes a different themed assortment of 1.5 lbs. of cheese
The club includes crackers, notes on pairing suggestions, and a bonus gift of jam/chutney/nuts/tea or olive oil.
February's theme is Great Cheeses of Massachusetts (did you know there are more than 100 made here in the Commonwealth?)
You can pick up at the shop, or have it shipped Priority Mail for a few bucks more and you can join the club for 3, 6 or 12 months.
A unique personal or corporate gift idea.
Call THE CHEESE SHOP OF CONCORD at 978-369-5778 or check out the website here.  

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4.  Every Sunday, tens of thousands of readers open up their Sunday Boston Globe Magazine and drool over its recipes and luscious food photography.
The man behind those images, a talented local artist named Jim Scherer, is exhibiting a collection of his works in Milton at FRUIT CENTER MARKETPLACE from now thru the end of March.
This mouth-watering display of sensuous plums, juicy green apples and burst pomegranates is free to the public, and can be enjoyed daily during Marketplace hours.
Don't miss this deliciously unique art show, located next to the brand-new restaurant, The Plate, on the mezzanine level of Fruit Center.
FruitCenter Marketplace is at 10 Bassett Street in East Milton Square.

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5.  Eating isn’t just about the food on the table, but the table itself.  As you know, you eat first with your eyes. 

A new shop in Newton has opened recently with the memorable name of: GREENTAIL TABLE
Every item on its shelves has been meticulously curated and includes items you will not find anywhere else in metrowest ...much is made from natural and sutainable materials.
from simple ceramic bowls fired in The Imperial Ovens of Japan, to Italian cocktail glasses imbedded with real silver
and from hand-printed kitchen linens to copper candlesticks ... and so much more you'll need an hour to take it all in !

Need a gift for a food loving friend, relative, co-worker or hostess ?  Stop by GREENTAIL TABLE at 343 Watertown Street in Newton.
You can check it out before you go at www.greentailtable.com


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Coming up...more spots!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Spots are still running...


Because the response has been so positive, as always, here are some more notes for the current Connoisseurs Corner run...

Crazy Holiday foods

Having been through the first half of the holiday season, there seems to be a trend on the Internet and some food shows-how to make, serve and eat some of the most garish food concoctions around.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Turducken (chicken inside a duck inside a turkey)-a distinctively Cajun delicacy, this has been featured on many food shows and food sites on the Internet.  Really?  Who wouldn’t want to slice into the three main poultry types that have different fat contents and need to cook to different finish temps?  I’m not sure I’d eat this with someone else’s mouth and out of respect for my listeners and readers, I am refraining from posting a picture.

Cherpumple (Huffington Post)
Cherpumple-see on many websites, Facebook feeds and even the Huffington Post, it’s a cherry pie baked into a white cake on top of an apple pie baked into a yellow cake on top of a pumpkin pie baked into a spice cake that has all been frosted together.  I don’t know whether I should be salivating or disgusted…maybe both.


Memory meals

This is the perfect time of year to think back on great memories from family meals.  Personally, my family meal experiences are not the images that Norman Rockwell paintings are made of, but most of my great family memories arise from meals.  Whether it was my Nana’s brisket, or my father’s challah warm from the oven, or being with my grandparents, aunts and uncles on the holidays while my mother prepared a sumptuous repast, ending the days with games of Trivial Pursuit, these are the memories that last a lifetime.  I encourage all the listeners to remember and share these memories, especially at the holiday season.


Holiday gifts:
It’s always nice to show your appreciation or thanks to colleagues and business associates.  Since I’m all about the food, I often look to food-related gifts for the holidays.  Though I have no direct relationship with any of these, here are a few of my favorite food related web sites…these are taste tested, and Critical Palate approved:

Popcornopolis-some of the most exquisite popcorn ever popped, with a strong Internet presence, as well as some brick and mortar shops (the closest to us is in South Deerfield, at the Yankee Candle Factory Store).  With flavors such as Almond Toffee, Birthday cake, Rocky Road and Pecan Caramel, in addition to the traditional favorites, you cannot go wrong with their huge variety of flavors, gift packs, and cases.

Gingerbread Construction Company-A local company with brick and mortar stores on the north shore, you can also order on line.  You can order traditional gingerbread houses with all sorts of decorations, but the real flavor party is in the muffins, muffin loaves, cookies and brownies.  They ship all over, and deliver locally, and you can walk into their stores in Winchester and Wakefield.  You will not be disappointed in these baked goods…and the recipient will be thrilled.

Bostoncoffee cake – who in the office doesn’t like a coffee cake?  I know my colleagues love coming in to find a coffee cake surprise, and who better than Boston Coffee Cake.  Created right here in North Andover and shipping world wide, these are delicious and their website has a bunch of other baked goodies as well, such as whoopie pies!  The recipient will be saying “whoopie” as soon as they open up the box.

Grandma’s chicken soup https://www.grandmaschickensoup.com/ --we all know that chicken soup is good for you.  Our people refer to it as Jewish penicillin, and a whole series of books has been written on how it’s good for the soul.  Grandma’s chicken soup has been around since 2004 and featured on the Food Network.  Grandma’s Chicken Soup is more than just soup! Soup delivery is a unique get-well gift idea, just choose one of the delicious and nutritious soup combination packages. They also offer delightful deliveries in a wide variety of Gift Packages that include noodles and matzah balls or just noodles. Grandma's get well gift baskets are sure to please.  This is a unique idea.  I’ve eaten a lot of chicken soup in my life, and this is good soup.  Remember, don’t say it with flowers, say it with a matzah ball!


Chococoa-- what can I say about Chococoa that hasn’t been said before?  These are not the hockey puck-sized overly oily pies in cellophane, these are two-bite, delectable, creamy whoopies that will knock your socks off.  From traditional chocolate cake with vanilla buttercreme filling to pumpkin with pumpkin filling and chocolate with salted caramel cream, these stand up to some of the greatest confections ever created.  Located in Newburyport, along with their café, they are a tremendous gift for friends, colleagues, business associates, and even yourself.

Stay tuned for more in a few months, but as always, I'll have plenty to say on other topics.