For the last six years, John Clift has worked as beverage director and sommelier at Atria Restaurant in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, where he manages a wine list that includes up to 300 selections. He’s also the wine buyer for Great Harbor Gourmet & Spirits in Edgartown. Clift earned a sommelier certificate from the International Wine Academy of Roma eight years ago and studied wines from around the world as well as wine production. Each October, when Atria closes for the season, Clift spends four months traveling to wine-producing regions around the world to fuel his passion and seek out unique wines from small producers. He has an abundance of knowledge to share and inspires diners who ask him for wine advice.
How did you develop an interest in wine?
After I graduated from college in Charleston, South Carolina, I worked in restaurants. I had no experience with wine and never really drank wine. I was working in a French restaurant and the first glass of wine I had at work was a Champalou Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France. It was different than anything I’d ever had and I just loved it. I loved the way people could sit down and drink wine and talk about food, politics, and life. Within six months of working in the restaurant, I was writing the wine list.
Tell us how you persuade a diner to try a wine.
We have a lot of return customers who trust me and know that I’ve tasted all the wines and stand behind any wine from $30 to $300. For customers I don’t know, I find out what they like and try to feel them out financially. I don’t want to offer someone a $150 wine when they want to spend $50.
Give us a few tips on how to pick a wine if you’re presented with an encyclopedia-sized wine list.
People should ask to talk to the wine director, sommelier, or someone else who is informed. The person involved with the list takes a lot of pride and is passionate about it. It’s amazing how you’ll get steered to a wine you would have never tasted because a sommelier or wine director explained something about the wine, their relationship with the wine maker, when they first tasted it, or why they put it on the list. Even if you want a $30 wine, it’s okay to ask for the sommelier’s advice.
Do you think the perception about sommeliers being arrogant has changed?
I hope so. It’s something I’ve always strived to change because there’s a stigma and snootiness about sommeliers in the industry. It’s really important to make yourself accessible to a person dining in the restaurant. There are a lot of younger people who are now passionate about wine and who may be intimidated by a list of 200 wines. I want people to ask for me to come over to the table, and I want to make them feel comfortable talking to me.
Tell us about a few new wine trends.
Italian wines have come back—especially wines from Southern Italy, like Sicily and Sardinia. They’re well priced, mostly $10 to $15 a bottle. We’ve see more and more wines from Eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Moldova. They have really old vines and they make big, deep cabernets and syrahs that you can buy for $10 a bottle. There are also Napa cabernet producers who have a lot of wines in reserve. They are placing other labels on the bottles—so not to compromise their brand—and selling these for less. One is Provenance Vineyards. They have a ton of 2007 fruit and are selling their cabernet as Uppercut for half the price. These are wines to look for.
Corazon del Mar is a creative fiesta jazzing up Nantucket’s dining scene, especially in the off-season. This Latin kitchen and Tequileria specializes in entrees with flair in a hot spot offering relaxed dining ambiance and a fun atmosphere. We started off with zippy Margaritas followed by warm tortilla chips served with excellent guacamole ($11)—recommended by our helpful waitress. In the salsa-colored Tequileria bar and cafe, we enjoyed chef-recommended Warm Stuffed Medjool Dates ($7.50) and our favorite appetizer of the night, fresh Nantucket Fluke Teradito marinated in lemon and Yuzu juice–so so good. Next we chowed down on a Lobster & Shrimp Ceviche Tostada ($18) stuffed with local lobster and Key West shrimp. The Ceviche is a specialty here, spiced up with Corazon’s special green chili crack sauce. Next we enjoyed Grilled Baby Octopus Stew ($15), tender octopus bits in delicate ham broth with fresh chick peas and marinated tomatoes, perfectly complemented by our entree of three Tecate-Battered Baja Codfish Tacos ($23) with Jicama cabbage and a chipolte cole slaw of pickled carrots, Chipolta mayo, and avocado salsa with beans and red rice—tender fish, perfectly spiced sauce and slaw—just superb. On a cool island night, Corazon del Mar was a soul-warming culinary delight.—Susan Dewey
27 South Water Street, Nantucket, 508 228-0815,
Stroll up to the take-out window at Porky’s Barbeque and Grill at Sandy Neck Beach and you’ll find a menu of hamburgers, hotdogs, ice cream, and other comfort food for beach bums. But more importantly, you’ll find some of the meanest barbeque pulled pork and beef brisket on the Cape. The family-run restaurant uses their secret barbeque seasoning recipe, developed over 18 years, to marinate the succulent, smoky, slow-cooked pork and beef, giving it an irresistible taste—at first subtle sweetness, then a bite of spiciness, then finishing off sweet again. And this is all before dousing it with Porky’s three special sauces—the sweet, the tangy, or the spicy chipotle. Try the BBQ beef brisket sandwich, a mound of black angus beef chopped into tender cuts and mounded on a roll ($7) with a side of homemade baked beans or Cole slaw ($1.75 each). Just place your order, carry your food-filled tray over to a picnic table, and enjoy the perfect no-frills beachside feast. At their main restaurant location in Hyannis, Porky’s has an extensive selection of hearty, southern-style favorites like mac n’ cheese and shepherds pie that are sure to curb a craving The meat is smoking and the sauces are simmering—it’s time to take a taste of some sweet and spicy Southern barbeque while looking out to the Cape beach!—Jill Jansson
Sandy Neck Road, East Sandwich, (508) 375-9200. Open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily during the summer.
12 Thornton Drive, Hyannis, (508) 775-4227. Serving breakfast and lunch Monday-Saturday and dinner Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
It’s the faces, the sudden faces. You see them as you wade through the crowds at the Wellfleet OysterFest. Some you know, most you don’t, but there’s a commonality. It’s that look of ballpark expectation: big eyes, easy smiles. “You see everyone,” says Elspeth Hay, a Wellfleet-based writer and author of the popular culinary blog Diary of a Locavore. “Everyone’s there, in the street, both days. I love that.”
Let’s face it: Our language has given pork a pretty bad rap. If you eat too much and feel sick, you are “pigging out.” Corrupt politicians are known for their “pork belly” deals. If you live in a messy place, it’s called a “pigsty.” We raise our ire at road hogs and male chauvinist pigs. And then there’s The Bible’s famous “Cast not your pearls before swine.”
Don’t be fooled by the simple exterior of the Ocean House in Dennisport. A fancy meal awaits—leave your car with the valet and enjoy an unforgettable evening. On a recent visit with a table overlooking Nantucket Sound and Friday night’s musical entertainment in full swing, a great start to our meal was the New Age Bento Box. This tasty appetizer offers something for everyone—five mini servings vary each night. Shiso fried oysters, tagliatelle pasta, hoisin grilled lobster tail, heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, and grilled bison sliders put our hungry stomachs at ease as the entrees were prepared. The menu is full of mouthwatering selections. The two-pound roasted lobster was extraordinary, and its four unique dipping sauces added an unusual kick. The grilled swordfish over jade rice and baby bok choy was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. From the elegant interior design and waterfront view right down to the last bite of dessert, an evening at the Ocean House should be added to any discerning Cape Codder’s dining-to-do-list.—Emma Haselton Read more…
Many of the participants at Ken Mason’s wine seminar at the Hyannis Yacht Club arrived as skeptics. It wasn’t that they doubted the quality of the bottles they were about to sample—a flight from the highly rated Sonoma producer Ferrari-Carano. It was that they were going to sip the wines from expensive glasses made by Riedel, a famous Austrian crystal glassware company that pioneered the idea of making individual stemware for specific varietals. By contrast, some of the folks who attend Mason’s wine seminars, which he holds at various Cape restaurants, insisted that they could drink wine out of a grape jelly jar and the taste wouldn’t be any different. Mason thought otherwise.
Mason, who lives in Harwich, is a manager at Classic Wine Imports, a wine importer based in Norwood, Massachusetts, that also represents Riedel. Mason holds glass tastings on the Cape twice a year to demonstrate how Riedel glasses open up the nuances of the grape compared to all-purpose glasses. “Not only do the shapes of the bowl of Riedels enhance the aromas, the lip on the glass also directs wine to certain parts of your palate,” says Mason. For instance, he says, “The glass for chardonnay has a larger bowl and the glass’s lip directs the wine to the front of your palate. The riesling glass is tulip-shaped and the rim is bent out because riesling tends to be acidic. The glass directs the wine to parts of your palate that smooth the acidity.” For more tannic wines, like Bordeaux or Cabernet, glasses with narrow bowls are better vessels.
The prices of the Riedels can be steep: their best hand blown stems in the Sommeliers series can sell for $60 to more than $100 each. However, crystal, machine-made Riedels (the Vinum and Overture series) sell for about $15 a stem and offer different the same benefits as their pricier counterparts, like a large-bowled glass for Pinot Noir with a tapered rim to trap the wine’s more delicate aroma’s and flavors. “For the wine connoisseur, the Riedel glasses takes wine appreciation to the next level,” says John Kenney, the wine buyer for Harwich East Liquors in East Harwich. “You can step up your wine appreciation and identify more characteristics in a wine, but can you justify the cost?”
If the price of Riedel glasses is a bit out of reach, there are other reasonably priced glassware options on the shelves, like those from Schott Zwiesel. There isn’t the range of varietal specific glasses in this brand, but there are a few choices and the glasses have thin lips (best for tasting wine) and good-sized bowls for red wines and ones with large and narrower bowls for whites—and cost about $10 each. Schott Zwiesel wineglasses have an added benefit: they’re made from titanium and zirconium, so they’re resistant to chipping and breaking, especially in the dishwasher. Their larger size makes them good for swirling wine and getting a waft of the aroma.
At the Hyannis Yacht Club seminar, tasters found that the Riedel glasses allowed them to really appreciate the aromas and flavors in the wine. By the end, Mason says, the skeptics were convinced that the glasses made a difference. It turns out that it takes more than a jelly jar to get the most out of your wine.
There is something so elemental about vegetable gardening, putting a simple seed in the ground, watering and watching over it until one day a tiny green sprout appears. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I planted a row of radishes in my first vegetable garden. One of the easiest, quickest vegetables to grow, the sprouts popped up, flourished in no time at all and soon plump red radishes formed, perfect for salads.
I planted that first vegetable garden when I was around 30, in a small space beside our house on the Mount Hope Bay. I was lucky enough to inherit the garden from a previous organic gardener who had prepared the soil really well, removing all the sod and New England stones, digging down several feet, and adding lots of well-rotted manure and organic matter to the soil.
Gardening by the salt water is a gift—vegetable plants seem to love the warm moist air. That first year, besides the radishes, I grew several different kinds of lettuce, fat Early Girl and Better Boy tomatoes, sturdy basil—I even had some pretty good peppers. With our two small children, I used to spend hours in the garden. I was hooked, as were my children, who used to love helping me weed, rake, plant, and especially water, the garden. I thought vegetable gardening was a breeze.
I soon learned that in addition to patience, gardening can teach you humility. My next vegetable garden was in a field behind our new home in Central Massachusetts. As soon as we moved in, I started dreaming of my huge new garden, even envisioning perfect swaying rows of corn.Perhaps I should have listened to the man in his 80s, a devoted gardener, who had grown up in our house, tilled gardens there for decades, and who had a 1930s degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS Amherst.
“Well, you can try,” said Fred, a lean New Englander with a strong handshake. “I never had much luck getting anything to grow there—except gourds. Everyone loved my gourds for their Thanksgiving tables. It’s pretty wet back there and you really can’t plant to August, but give it a try.”
Still in my early 30s, I believed I could get anything to grow anywhere if I tried hard enough, so I forged ahead. Our helpful neighbor plowed and tilled the field with his tractor, my small son seated beside him, watching the dark earth appear in beautiful orderly rows like magic. The garden looked so fertile, as if anything could grow there. We excitedly planted row after row of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
It was a disaster. The corn plants were spindly and collapsed. The tomato plants rotted. I think we had a few puny zucchini, most of which got eaten by a huge healthy woodchuck that lived in the woods behind us. Sick at heart, I faced the fact that Fred was right. The soil in the field was very wet, full of clay, and terrible for growing anything but gourds that only flourished because by August, the soil had dried out enough for germination.
After that, I kind of gave up on vegetable gardening, except for a few planters of patio tomatoes and some pots of basil and parsley. Instead, I tackled the old perennial gardens around our yard, planted with drifts of iris, peonies, wildflowers, and daylilies, which thrived and bloomed happily year after year. But every summer, I longed for the taste of my own fresh vegetables.When we moved to Cape Cod several years ago, my son decided that we should have a vegetable garden. Something about gardening as a toddler must have taken root in him and he is a landscape contractor now.
With his knowledge from a Stockbridge degree, he prepared the soil carefully in a somewhat neglected plot on the other side of our driveway, piling dark rich compost from a local supplier into sandy Cape soil.
At the center of the garden, he made a small decorative flower out of paving stones, brought back from a stay in New Orleans, when he helped the city replant its parks after Hurricane Katrina. In neat rows we planted some old standbys—tomatoes, lettuce, basil, and carrots. A more adventuresome gardener than I, he planted things like cilantro and arugula.
Our first garden, planted in 2008, was pretty successful. In 2009, we were devastated by the tomato blight that hit gardens all over New England, but we had arugula and cilantro galore. Last summer, the garden began to really take hold. The kale and zucchini plants exploded, taking over the beds. The Better Boy tomatoes were so plentiful I had enough to share with friends and co-workers and ended up freezing container after container, great for winter spaghetti dinners.
We had colorful “Rainbow Lights” swiss chard, tasty fat brussels sprouts, sweet cucumbers—and lots of basil and arugula, which I have discovered I cannot live without. I am still struggling with peppers and my broccoli was a disaster, but all in all, my latest vegetable garden was the most successful ever.
I hope that if I live a few more decades—say to 80 or so—I will figure out how to grow a perfect pepper. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Although I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Or who knows? Maybe by then I’ll have learned that it’s okay to settle for nothing more than a harvest of gorgeous gourds for our Thanksgiving table.
It doesn’t matter if Wendy Koder is out at the fish market or out on her kayak: wherever she goes, almost everyone recognizes her as Wendy the Wine Lady. It’s a moniker that Koder has earned through three decades of educating Cape Codders about wine. The Upper Cape resident has worked in almost every aspect of the wine business, from a sommelier at Cape restaurants to a wine broker to a teacher at Sandwich Community School and other off Cape community colleges. These days, Koder handles marketing for Cotuit Liquors in Marstons Mills and Empire Wine & Spirits in Kingston. She also hosts wine classes and wine dinners through her own business, Wendy Talks Wine (www.wendytalkswine.com).
How did you get started in the wine industry?
After my youngest daughter was born, I started working at a very fine restaurant in South Carver, Mass. The woman who was purchasing the wine for the restaurant and writing the wine lists left. The owner handed me the wine list and said, “Here, you’re going to order the wine.” I didn’t know anything about wine; I didn’t even drink wine. Because I wanted to do the job correctly, I read everything I could and constantly went to trade wine tastings and seminars. I began to find wine very intriguing.
Have you seen wine styles evolve over the years? Read more…
The concept is simple: local ingredients, an intimate setting, and affordable prices. But pulling off such a seemingly basic restaurant formula is nearly impossible—unless you are Krista Kranyak, the proprietor of Provincetown’s newest dining experience, Ten Tables.
The Provincetown location is Kranyak’s third Ten Tables establishment—locations in Jamaica Plain and Cambridge opened in recent years. But far from a chain, each restaurant is individual and calls on Kranyak’s ground-to-plate philosophy. She carefully considers every aspect of the dining experience—flavor, setting, and service—to make each meal special. Read more…