Monday, January 15, 2018

Rant: Vanquishing Fear Through Communication

"People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday that commemorates the birthday of this civil rights hero. In this single post, I can't do justice to the vast work of Dr. King but want to at least write something which attempts to epitomize the spirit of Dr. King. And of course, I want to tie it into the world of food and drink. The above quote is pertinent in many ways, in many different realms and industries. It encourages us to reach out and converse with others, to learn more about each other so we fail to fear others out of our ignorance.

In the Boston+ area, food & drink writers need to embrace more diversity, to reach out and connect with others who are different from them. We need to have more communication with others, to expand our circles so that we can understand others better. We have to break down the artificial barriers that separate us, which can be taken down so easily if only we want them to vanish. And we have to work together to take down other barriers which are more real and not as easily vanquished. Rather than fear and ignorance, we need to be more welcoming and knowledgeable. We need to offer each other assistance, to help us all grow in various ways.

For example, though there are hundreds of food & drink bloggers in the Boston+ area, the number which are written by people of color is extremely low. I've previously highlighted some of those writers, which unfortunately is a very short list, though I'm also sure that my list isn't complete. I've also previously written about my disappointment at the lack of diversity in numerous food and drink events I've attended over the years. Obviously people of color love food & drink just as much as anyone else so how do we encourage more of them to blog and attend local events? One way to do so is for us to communicate more with others, to open ourselves to people who are different from us. We should actively seek new experiences and provide support, assistance and mentoring to others who are open to it.

As another example, food and drink writers need to seek out more diversity in the subjects they wrote about, to break out of their comfort zones and communicate with others who are different from them. Interview, highlight and feature more people of color who are chefs, cooks, restaurant owners, wine makers, winery owners, etc. Maybe you feel uncomfortable talking with these people, or visiting their  places, but you need to get over it, and just do it. Confront your fears and you'll find there was no reason for fear in the first place. Visit some parts of Boston you don't normally visit, which might be places such as Roxbury and Dorchester, and check out the culinary wonders going on in those areas.

Break out of your circles of comfort and reach out to people outside those circles. Push aside your fears and misconceptions and get a first hand experience with others. We all can do our part to unify rather than divided, and the first step is communication, just talking with others, learning about their experiences and points of view. It's all very simple and the benefits can be enormous.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) This is an exciting event, bringing a taste of Peru to Cambridge! I've long said we need more Peruvian cuisine in our local area so I hope this event does very well. And how often do you find Guinea Pig on the menu?

The Automatic Food & Drink is letting Chef Martin Su, who is a native of Peru, take over the kitchen on Sunday, January 28, for a special Peruvian Takeover. Chef Martin will highlight some of his favorite and authentic dishes from Peru.

The proposed Menu includes the following:
--Leche de Pantera ( Panthers Milk )
blood clam, seed weed, toasted cancha, lime juice, fish broth, garlic, ginger
City: Lima
--Rocoto Relleno (stuffed spicy pepper)
rocoto pepper, onion, raisin, kalamata olives, ground beef, queso fresco, poached egg
City: Arequipa
--Inchicapi de Pollo (creamy chicken chowder)
yucca, culantro, peanut, onion, polenta, chicken stock
City: Loreto
--Seco de Cabrito (goat stew)
chicha de jora, Ají Amarillo, panca, Cilantro paste, onion, beans, salsa criolla
City: Trujillo
--Pepian de Cuy (hearty guinea pig stew)
yellow potato, panca, peanut, garlic,chicken stock
City: Cusco
--Patarashca de Trucha (patarashca of trout)
Patarashca is a Quechuan* word meaning to fold and paste
cumin, tumeric, salsa criolla, fried plantain, banana leaf
City: Iquitos
*Quechua is the official language of the Inka Empire
--Suspiro a la Limeña (sigh of Lima lady - meringue)
condensed milk, evaporated milk, white meringue, cinnamon
City: Lima

All items to be ordered a la carte, and pricing is still To Be Determined.
Reservations are encouraged, but not required.

2) For National Hot Toddy Day, which is today, January 11, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is offering their own version of a Hot Toddy ($7), with a base of a "warm lemon-honey black tea that is enriched by the depth of Courvoisier VSOP Cognac, a spirit that captures the earthy essence of autumn in New England. A house made lavender-clove reduction is folded in and the cocktail is finished with a sweet dose of Disaronno Amaretto and garnished with a lemon twist."

With the cold temperatures we've been facing, a Hot Toddy will hit the spot, and warm you up.

3) The new Eventide Fenway is now offering rotating brunch-specific specials mid-day on Sundays, from 11am-3pm, alongside their regular menu. Start the day off right with Buns and Bubbles – two signature Chinese steamed buns filled with soft scrambled eggs, topped with dollops of caviar and served alongside the classic morning OJ and bubbles mimosa – or a Pork Roll Breakfast Sandwich – New Jersey’s beloved breakfast meat with eggs and cheese on an everything bagel.

4) Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie on Main and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, just debuted Craigie On Main’s Vegetable Burger on Tuesday. This is the vegetable counterpart to Maws’ famous Craigie Burger. “This vegetable burger will stand on its own” according to Maws. Long a supporter of vegetables, it is actually not surprising to learn that Maws has been working on Craigie’s Vegetable Burger for over a year. “I am fascinated by America’s love of burgers” shares Maws. “I always wanted to create a really great vegetable burger. In fact, my brother Alex, who is a vegetarian, challenged me to create a vegetable burger as good as our cheeseburger at Craigie. He thinks this is a pretty awesome burger, so I hope everyone else agrees!”

The Craigie Vegetable Burger is made with roasted black beans, brown rice and lentils as the base. Maws adds to it a special blend of fire roasted mushrooms, tahini, fermented black bean powder, miso powder and a kick of pomegranate molasses. Egg serves as the binding agent to keep it all together. “The taste and texture are both so important” shares Maws. “This has to taste really really good. I didn’t want to create a vegetable burger just so I could have one on the menu. My purpose is to create a really juicy and delicious vegetable burger that holds its own on the plate and on our menu.” Maws serves the Craigie Vegetable Burger on a home-made bun, and is tinkering with the condiments.

The Craigie Vegetable Burger will be served Tuesday nights only, starting at 5:30pm until they run out, at the Bar at Craigie on Main. The Price is $18.00

To a carnivore like me, can any veggie burger really stand up to a beef burger? Maybe I will have to check it out and see.

5) The North End’s il Molo is gearing up for a Patriots post-season to remember with a special dollar menu. Head to il Molo for Saturday night’s matchup against the Titans, from 4pm-11pm, and nosh on a new $1 Game Time menu featuring finger foods such as Grilled Italian Sausages (topped with perfectly charred caramelized onions and pepper rings), Crispy Shrimp Tacos (topped with spicy aioli sauce and pickled red onion), Fried Calamari (served with sweet dipping sauce) and fresh Oysters – all for a buck. Complimentary, freshly popped Parmigiano Popcorn will also be available at the bar throughout the game.

il Molo’s 54-inch flat screen TV hanging above the bar provides sight lines from almost anywhere in the bar-area, and an extensive list of beer, wine and cocktails completes the intimate game-watching experience.

The Game Time Menu is available with the purchase of any beverage and is offered at the bar and at high-top tables in bar-area only.

6) David Vargas, chef/owner of Vida Cantina and business partner Joel Harris, owner of Dos Amigos, announce the formation of Vida Tortilla, an exciting new collaboration bringing together a local chef, local farm, and local business to create a new local product: fresh organic tortillas. Vida Tortilla’s one-of-a-kind tortillas will be made with Tuckaway Farm’s organic heirloom flint corn using local expertise and labor. Vida Tortilla’s fresh organic tortillas will be featured at Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, as well as at the very popular Dos Amigos’ 4 locations, farmers markets and local specialty stores. Vida Tortilla plans to be preparing and selling fresh NH grown, NH made tortillas in Spring 2018.

The team has just launched a Kickstarter campaignwith a goal of $11, 500, to raise funds for securing a business loan to help pay for the purchase of a custom-made tortilla machine and the build-out of a new kitchen in Dover, NH. The Kickstarter campaign runs through January 22, 2018 and Backer rewards include cooking classes, taco parties, and a fiesta catered by Dos Amigos and Vida Cantina.

Their Kickstarter campaign has nearly reached its goal and just needs a little push to get them over the goal line. You can join the campaign directly through Kickstarter or you can attend a special fund raising event, Vida Tortilla Night, which will be held at Vida Cantina on Thursday, January 18. A Four-Course Menu will be offered for only $25, and a portion of the proceeds will go toward the Kickstarter. The Menu includes Seasonal Salsa, Flint Corn Encrusted Haddock Taco, OG Chicken Pie, and Mango Stone Fruit Galette.

This is a challenge, as we are young entrepreneurs and our funds are limited” explains Vargas. “We are asking for help via the Kickstarter to help make this delicious, sustainable project a reality. It is a big ask, but we have the farm, business and culinary experience to make it happen. We are proud and excited to create this new local business right here in New Hampshire.”

This sounds like a cool Kickstarter, and they are close to meeting their goal. Why not help them make their dream a reality?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) Did you know Sparkling Sake exists? A recent Japan Times news article discusses the growing popularity of Sparkling Sake, from its origins in 1998, noting "Presented in small, stylish bottles, many kinds of sparkling sake are only about 5 percent alcohol - lower than the 15 percent of typical sake. It is a popular choice among women." At most of the Sake tastings I have held, Sparkling Sake has usually been the most popular choice of the women attending the tasting. A few brewers have also started producing Sparkling Sake that is more similar to Champagne. Sparkling Sake can be a introduction to Sake, showcasing its diversity and breaking misconceptions about the nature of Sake. The next time you want to celebrate with some bubbly, consider Sparkling Sake.

2) Should you age Sake in oak barrels? Very little Sake is aged in wood, and most that is aged in such a manner is aged in Japanese cedar and known as Taruzake. This has historical precedent but what about oak aging, like with wine? The Japan Times wrote about Wakaze, Inc. is now exporting its Orbia Sake brand, which has been aged in used oak barrels. One variety, the Sol, is aged in former red wine barrels while the Luna is aged in former white wine barrels. The Sol is "known for its rich sourness and fruity aroma" while the Luna is known "for its delicate sweetness." A major reason for the creation of these Sakes is to make them better pairings for Western cuisine, such as meat dishes or other fatty foods. This is an intriguing idea though I could see the oak barrels overwhelming more subtle Sakes.

3) Huge Sake news from New York! The Nikkei Asian Review is reporting that the Asahi Sake Brewery, which produces the famous Dassai brand, is planning to open a large Sake brewery in New York state. They have purchased a 62,000-sq.-meter site in New York's Hyde Park area, located in the Hudson Valley, in partnership with the Culinary Institute of America, and the total investment is estimated to be about $31 Million. Plans indicate the brewery will be about to produce about 1.8 million liters, and primarily Junmai Daiginjo, using locally grown rice. They hope to price this Sake at an extremely inexpensive $15, when most other Daiginjo Sake costs $40+. This is certainly indicative of the huge Sake market in the U.S. and could help promote Sake in a large way, especially considering its low price. It will likely be a couple years before we start seeing Sake from this planned brewery but it's very exciting news. And maybe other Japanese Sake breweries will now consider opening a brewery in the U.S.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Rant: Dine Out More This Winter

Last week, there was a significant snowstorm in the Boston area, leaving over a foot of snow in some places and causing some coastal flooding. Driving was treacherous, some roads needed to be shut down, and you needed a boat to navigate some roads. Many people chose to remain inside rather than attempt to travel, canceling their scheduled plans. And this situation leads me to provide some advice I've given before, to remind people who might have forgotten.  

A number of restaurants, which remained open despite the snow, ran special offers, trying to entice diners. Snowstorms can wreck havoc with a restaurant's bottomline, especially when you consider that January and February can usually be slow times. After the holidays, people often tighten their economic belts and don't dine out as much, trying to pay off any bills incurred during the holidays. Others make resolutions, starting diets and try to eat more at home. Thus, at this time, restaurants need as much business as they can get, and a snowstorm can throw a wrench into those plans.

When a restaurant loses business due to a snowstorm, they lose money and it is not always easy to make up for that loss. Some restaurants run "blizzard" or "snowstorm" specials, attempting to lure in some customers. Even after a major snow event, some potential customers will prefer to remain home rather that attempt to battling snow covered roads and limited parking. Restaurants may continue to lose business for a few days after a major snowstorm. This will put stress on even the best of restaurants, so something needs to be done to help them.

My advice is simple: Dine out more this winter.

Despite the snow, despite the obstacles, people need to patronize more restaurants at this time, giving them your support and money. Don't go out if it is dangerous to do so, but don't stay in just because it is only inconvenient. If you can, walk to nearby restaurants. If possible, drive a short distance to other restaurants. Take public transportation if possible. Order takeout or get delivery. In New England, we are used to snow so it shouldn't be as much of a barrier as it might be elsewhere. And during this winter, when there isn't any snow, dine out more, giving your business to these restaurants to help them survive this season.

If you don't give some added support to restaurants at this time, then don't be surprised if your favorite places have to shut down. For many restaurants, especially the smaller ones, their profit margins can be small so that the lack of business during these snowy months can be devastating. And there is little they can do if people stay away because of the snow. You need to patronize these restaurants now, to assist them in weathering these problems.

Consider all the restaurant workers as well, including the servers who rely on tips. Without sufficient business, they won't be able to earn as much money, causing them to endure financial hardship. You can help them by dining out, and tipping properly. And if you order delivery during these snow events, I'd suggest you tip them extra, to compensate them for the difficult of driving in this weather.

Dine out more this winter. Give restaurants your support during these difficult times. Don't let snow lock you into your house for days on end.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) For the first time, Legal Harborside’s scenic second level dining room will offer a regular weekday lunch service from 12:00pm-3:00pm while overlooking Boston Harbor. Last month, Legal Harborside opened their second level for midday dining to accommodate the bustling holiday season and given the popularity of the service, it will become a permanent fixture in the New Year.

Legal Sea Foods’ flagship location in the Seaport will offer an upscale lunch experience on their second level with a menu comprised of chilled shellfish, crudos, soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches and entrees. Highlights from the menu include Jonah Crab Toast with fennel fronds, jalapeño and lemon aioli ($15); Legal’s Signature Crab Cake with jumbo lump crab, remoulade sauce and seasonal salad ($17); a Lobster Roll, prepared traditionally with mayo (MP); a Salmon Burger with freshly ground salmon and roasted red pepper sauce ($14); and, Grilled Tuna with cous cous and butternut squash ($MP).

For reservations, please call 617-477-2900

2) Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is welcoming the New Year with the start of new traditions in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Designed to heat up the frigid winter, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is serving up a collection of spice-packed specials and after-dinner drinks to warm the soul.

Available throughout the month, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen’s chef specials include the 2017 Fish Platter – a popular menu feature from their New Year’s Eve special – with red braised whole tilapia flavored with a black bean chili sauce and garnished with ginger, scallions and green & red peppers ($38) and the Furious Frog, a daring twist on their signature “Angry Frog” creation that brings even more Hunanese heat to a mix of bullfrog, duojiao, pickled red pepper, garlic and scallions ($32). Debuting at the end of the month and available through the spring, the 2018 Delight is a bowl packed with all of SHK’s favorite things: egg-wrapped fish paste, meatballs, bamboo shoots, calamari, pork, sea cucumber and more ($48).

If you are resolving to cut dessert from your diet in 2018, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen now will offer a dedicated “Digestif Spirits” menu. Comprised of single malt scotches, cognacs, cordials and after-dinner cocktails, the new menu is the ultimate perfect ending to any meal without all of the guilt. Highlights include a Macallan 18 Year ($26), Balvenie 14 Year ($20) and Glenlivet 12 Year ($15); D’ussé VSOP ($17) and Courvoisier XO ($25); Fernet Branca ($10) and Godiva ($10); and, a Chocolate-Hazelnut Martini ($10).

3) Thursday, January 11th is National Hot Toddy Day and the Seaport Hotel’s TAMO Bistro + Bar is a fine place to celebrate. Escape the frost and cozy up by the fire to enjoy a piping hot toddy, made with whiskey and customized to your liking. Choose from Traditional (Seaport honey, lemon cloves), Spicy (Sriracha-infused Seaport honey, dried pepper) or Sweet (cinnamon-infused Seaport honey, cinnamon stick) variations to satisfy your taste and warm up from the inside out this winter season. Each Toddy is $12.