You’d think it would be easy to get a good whiskey sour in any decent restaurant. After all, it’s a pretty simple and very classic drink, right? Well, I’ve had more watery sours in the last year than I can count, from Chicago to New York and several places in between including several in New Jersey. But last Friday at INC in New Brunswick, NJ, I was not disappointed. And my sour was not watery. It was delicious, appropriately cloudy, with the bourbon hitting you on the front end and the lemon on the back, all covered with a lovely egg-white froth laced with bitters. Just superb. And that was the start of an evening that was outstanding. We began…

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I dined at Hotoke in New Brunswick on Friday night for the first time since at least 2011. I’d remembered the place fondly, and it was wildly popular at the time, so I was anticipating a fabulous meal. Sadly, not so much. Laura and I started out with cocktails—she with the Silk Road—X-rated Malibu and Parrot Bay Passion Fruit Rum, Pineapple juice and a splash of Cranberry, which was great. My whiskey sour, though, was watery and near-tasteless and went back in favor of a Pomegranate Martini, which was at least decent, but served for some odd reason in a wide-bowl wine glass. Appetizers of Mini Lobster Crab Cakes, which as far as we could tell had nothing to do…

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This tiny place in Westfield, adjacent to a highway-type franchise hotel, bills itself as “one of the best French restaurants in New Jersey.” That is nonsense. It’s got to be the best French restaurant in New Jersey. And one of the best of any kind. I had lunch here years ago and remember it to be good but unremarkable. Not so on September 26, when my date and I decided to see what all the acclaim is really about. We were greeted warmly and escorted to our table, which was formal and lovely but not over the top. After a short wait, our waiter approached and began the service, which throughout the evening was attentive but not intrusive. And he…

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As I write this I’m sipping a glass of Pine Ridge’s 2009 Chenin Blanc/Viognier.  But make no mistake, this piece is about Champagne. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Chantal Bregeon-Gonet, who with her brother Pierre Gonet run the Champagne House Philippe Gonet. This house specializes in Blanc de Blancs made entirely from Chardonnay, and their annual production is only about 200,000 bottles or about 17,000 cases. That may sound like a lot of wine, but to give you a reference point, one of the “Grand Marques” – Moet et Chandon – produces about 26 million bottles, or 2.2 million cases each year. You probably already know and have tasted wines from one of these big producers –…

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Well - those people at the James Beard Foundation FINALLY figured out what's what and recognized my cousin Mark Gaier and his partner and co-owner/Chef Clark Frasier of Arrows Restaurant of Ogunquit, Maine as Best Chefs - Northeast! Many more! Read what the Portland Press Herald says. Seacoast Online says. And check out Guyot-Top 40 Restaurants in the Country. Guys, heartiest congratulations, and Christine and I had a great evening.

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1. Wine should always be served in a clean, spotless glass with no lint. If you get a dirty glass, send it back. Dirty glasses aren't fun to drink from, and soap film gives a nasty taste; it also kills Champagne bubbles. 2. Speaking of glasses, the type and size of glass matters. If you're in a family-style Italian restaurant or "old fashioned" Spanish or Portuguese place, you might find yourself drinking out of short, cylindrical tumblers. That's culturally appropriate, but only for inexpensive table or house wine. For anything else, even at a casual dining place, the glass should be at least 12 or 13 ounce size, with a slight tulip-shape flare.  Try to avoid drinking out of the…

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A couple years ago, The New York Times writer Amanda Hester noticed that it wasn't real tough for restaurants to get a wine list "Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator magazine.  I want to mention it here because it illustrates a point that needs making when you're thinking about what wine to order in a restaurant (or in a retail store for that matter), and why. Hester wrote: "...with such a large number of winners, perhaps competition is too strong a word. Of the 3,360 awards granted this year, from a pool of 3,573 entrants, 2,808 received the basic award. Only the winners of the Grand Award, the magazine's top award, of which there are 89 this year, are ever…

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I recently wrote a piece about the restaurant bait-and-switch, about which I received more comments - all positive - than any other post on Wine-Flair, ever. So this morning when I was checking out a discussion about restaurant wine service "pet peeves" on Wine 2.0, I realized that the bait-and-switch thing is just the tip of the iceberg, and that diners need to know more to get good service. Ordering wine in a restaurant, and the rituals of presenting the bottle, opening it, presenting the cork and the first pour give a lot of people angst...and some end up just drinking beer or a cocktail instead. I've long said that the wine and restaurant businesses need to do more, a…

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I had two experiences in one week that demonstrate both how good and bad restaurant wine service can be, and how you gotta pay attention if you want to avoid paying for Margaux but drinking Boone's Farm. It's unfortunate that this nonsense still goes on...and on. The good was La Griglia restaurant in Kenilworth, New Jersey. While perhaps not the nexus of haute cuisine, this pleasant establishment has an extensive wine list, running to 34 pages and naturally focused on Italy. It features dozens of wines under $100, many of those in the $30-$70 range and a nice selection of new world offerings. I found quite a few things to like, one of which I ordered, Bastianich "Vespa Bianco" 2003,…

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