Friday, March 29, 2013

The Fish Head Whisperer Reigns Supreme

The Fish Head Whisperer is the Champion!

I recently competed in the 3rd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest at IBSS 2013, the 2013 International Boston Seafood Show. In this contest, local bloggers vied against each other to present the best, most comprehensive and interesting coverage of the seafood show. An impartial third party judged the contest and the top prize was a significant chunk of change, $1000. Yesterday, I learned that I have been selected as the winner and I am quite happy.

This was not the first time I have won. I was the champion of the 1st Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest and in their 2nd Annual Contest, they added a prize for Best Coverage of Seafood Sustainability (sponsored by Global G.A.P.), which I also won. This year, there was only a single prize for Best Overall Coverage and my efforts lead to success. Kudos to all the Fish Heads who contributed to my win.

I would also like to thank the contest judge, Fiona Robinson, who is the Associate Publisher and Editor of SeaFood Businessfor her time and effort in judging this contest. SeaFood Business is a cool and informative magazine that covers the seafood industry and I highly recommend that everyone interested in seafood check it out. Personally, I find plenty of story ideas in each and every issue of the magazine, as well as learning more about various seafood topics.

Big thanks also go to the good people of iPura, a food safety company, and especially Jason Simas, who runs their blog and social media. iPura has been supportive of Boston bloggers for several years and they understand the value of social media. They have also been extremely supportive of seafood issues and have helped elevate the visibility of the International Boston Seafood Show. The local print media, the newspapers and magazines, provide very little, if any, coverage of IBSS, often little more than a single basic article. Yet local bloggers, due to the iPura contest, have provides plenty of stories about IBSS.

If you know me, you understand that I am competitive so I worked hard to win this contest. I wrote a dozen posts about IBSS, tweeted up a storm, posted a YouTube video and more. I would have written about IBSS even if the contest did not exist, but the contest provided an additional motivation. The Seafood Show is a compelling event, and highly recommended for anyone who loves seafood and writes about seafood topics. I previously wrote about the reasons you should attend IBSS.

What does it take to win this contest? Based on my experiences, let me offer some suggestions and advice on how you could win the contest, which hopefully will be held again next year. First, the event is held for three days and it would be most beneficial if you attended for all three days. The more time you are there, the more information you can gather. You will be able to attend more seminars and panel discussions, be able to speak with people at more booths, and be able to taste more seafood samples. The show is huge, and you really need all that time to get an excellent sense of everything.

Second, though you receive bonuses for the number of posts and tweets you make, the true key is diversity and depth. Ten blog posts, that are all basically the same, probably won't reign supreme over five posts that show great depth and diversity. You need to write about a variety of seafood topics, and do more than present shallow, surface coverage of those topics. For example, plenty of people will write about sustainability, but your post will shine if it is more creative, original and shows a greater depth. There is no dearth of story material at IBSS so you just have to look below the surface for the most interesting stories.

Third, size does matter. As I said, you receive bonuses for the number of posts and tweets you make and that can make the difference in comparing the work of different people. You should be able to write multiple posts about IBSS, ensuring each post adds to your work, and is not just a rehash of another post. One or two posts probably won't be sufficient to touch on all of the diversity and depth available at IBSS. You will need to write numerous posts to address all of the different issues and stories you find at the seafood show. Ten blog posts, each showing diversity and depth, will trump five blog posts which do the same.

You can't win though unless you enter the contest. In 2014, the Seafood Show will be held March 16-18, 2014, so make plans to be there and hopefully the contest will be held once again. If so, I will welcome any and all competition. Come see if you can become the new Fish Head Whisperer!

Shojo: Tempura Pickles to Chocolate Sesame Balls

One year ago, I published Yurine's Pot, the first Tipsy Sensei story and it featured an ancient Japanese legend about Shōjō, water spirits who love Sake. In honor of this anniversary, it thus seemed appropriate that I should visit a Chinatown restaurant called Shōjō. I previously reviewed this restaurant, after a lunch visit, proclaiming it A Welcome Addition To Chinatown. Please read that post for background information on the restaurant and here you can read my new thoughts after my dinner visit with Jen and Adam.

The restaurant was fairly busy for a Tuesday night, even at 8pm and later. Their lunch and dinner menus are different and the current version of their Dinner Menu included 14 Soups & Small Plates ($4-$10), 2 Pasta ($15-$16), 8 Entrees ($14-$18), 4 Sides ($3-$5) and 1 Dessert ($5). It is an eclectic, fun and interesting selection of dishes, Asian inspired but usually with unique twists. Consider the Winter Salad, made with Hijiki, Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts & Sriracha Cider or the House Smoked Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Asian Gnocchi, Kung Pao Sauce & Toasted Peanuts.

I began my meal with a glass of Hakushu 12 Year Old Single Malt, a Japanese whisky, a nice sipping spirit with intriguing fruity elements and a mild smoky backbone. They also carry the Hibiki and Yamazaki Japanese whiskies. Japanese whisky intrigues me, and it is difficult to find much of it in the Boston area.

We decided to start off by splitting several Small Plates, and each one was delicious, compelling and I would recommend all. Not a dud among them. The XO Fresh Corn ($4) is made with Soy and a Housemade XO Sauce, which is a mildly spicy seafood sauce. The sauce was complex and intriguing, rich in umami, elevating a simple dish of corn.

The Tempura Housemade Pickles ($5), which come with a whole grain mustard aioli, were an addictive treat. Pink peppercorns are used in making the pickles which are mildly sweet. The tempura batter is light, clean and crunchy and cover a thin sliced, crisp and juicy slice of pickle. One of the best fried pickle dishes in the city.

The Suckling Pig Bao ($8), which has received raves from many, is worthy of the accolades. Made with a Smoked BBQ sauce and Housemade Kimchi, the pork was flavorful and had a delightful, crunchy exterior. The light smokiness of the sauce enhanced the pork.

The BBQ Pork Ribs ($8) are covered by a sweet chile glaze and topped by a frisee fennel salad. The tender and flavorful meat easily falls off the bones, and each rib was meaty. The glaze is only mildly spicy and I would love to see a spicier version of these ribs. Pure BBQ rib pleasure.

For entrees, Adam opted for the Kimchi Fried Rice ($14) with tofu steak and a farm raised fried egg. He was very pleased with his entree, though a tofu steak would not have been my choice.

Jen decided on the Pistachio Crusted Tuna Steak ($18) with wasabi risotto, honey-soy glaze and pumpkin croutons. She also was impressed with her entree, raving about its flavors. She also remarked on the large size of the dish, having expected a smaller portion.

I opted for the Char Siu Pulled Pork Ravioli ($15), with house smoked bacon, Chinese celery, and shaved Pecorino. Each ravioli, cooked al dente, was quite large and filled with plenty of tender, tasty meat. The addition of the bacon, celery and cheese added a nice mix of flavors and textures, elevating this dish,  delivering an Asian flair to an otherwise Italian style dish. Very enjoyable and also recommended.

For dessert, we ended with the Chocolate Sesame Balls ($5), which I previously reviewed and which were equally as delicious this time.

Overall, our dinner was excellent and impressive, and each dish delivered. Service was professional, courteous and attentive. I believe you get a good value for the price and Shōjō is certainly a welcome addition to Chinatown. Dine there for lunch or dinner, and I bet you too will enjoy their intriguing cuisine.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1) On Tuesday, April 9, at 7pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Jordan Winery, a Sonoma County-based winery that specializes in producing Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Legal Sea Foods will team up Jordan Winery’s Assistant Winemaker, Maggie Kruse, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with choices from their vine.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Scallop Tiradito* Al Aji Limo, Micro Cilantro, Choclo
Oysters on the Half Shell, Fuji Apple Mignonette
Tempura Lobster Bites, Sweet & Sour Aioli
Jordan Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, 2010
Crab Meat Tartare in Salsa Verde (Green Apple & Ginger Vinaigrette)
Jordan Chardonnay, Alexander Valley, 2011
Mesquite Wood Grilled Tuna Steak* (Creamy Hedgehog Mushroom Risotto, Blackberry Chutney)
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2008
Herb Crusted Lamb Chop* (Black Truffle Mashed Potato, Grilled Ramps)
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2004
Aged Vermont Dandy, Grafton 3 Year Aged Cheddar, Maple Wood Aged Cheddar (Grilled Francese, Cherry Compote, Dark Chocolate Shavings)
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2002

Cost: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling 617-530-9397

2) On Saturday, April 6, Horizons for Homeless Children will host their annual Spring Event, A Night For Tomorrow, followed by the first annual Spring Event After-Party. Starting at 9:30 p.m., guests can come enjoy a fun-filled evening with the lively Horizons’ Young Professionals Group. The evening will feature late-night drinks, dessert, dancing and views of the skyline from the beautiful State Room.

All proceeds from the After-Party (as well at the annual Spring Event) will directly benefit Horizons for Homeless Children.
COST: Tickets are $75 each
WHERE: State Room 60 State Street, 33rd Floor Boston

3) For the first time ever, Tavolo will open its doors on Easter Sunday, with service from 1pm-8pm. In addition to its regular Italianate menu, Tavolo will feature a variety of a la carte brunch and dinner specials, some of which will appear on the new spring menu. Chef de Cuisine Nuno Alves loves cooking with rabbit, which his family raised and ate as he grew up with 10 siblings in Somerville. Nuno has also become something of a local expert on American lamb.

On the Tavolo menu Sunday, March 31 and beyond:
Braised Rabbit Ragu over Housemade Gnocchi
Truffled Egg or Bacala Pizza
Asparagus and Bacon Salad
Spring Pea Soup
Ligurian Whole Trout Bourride
House-Butchered Lamb Two Ways: smoked breast / roast leg
Confit Artichoke Tart in whole grain crust, inspired by Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals Eggs and Peppers over Polenta
Squid Ink Linguini with Cockles and Tomatoes
Rhubarb Panna Cotta

4) Portsmouth & The Seacoast Restaurant Week will be held from April 4-13, with a three course Lunch at $16.95 and a three course Dinner at $29.95. At least 49 restaurants will be participating this year. Doug Bates, the President of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce stated: "Every year we welcome new restaurants to the program and new dining guests to the Seacoast. We thank our locally owned and operated restaurants, chefs and farms for providing incredible product at a tremendous value as part of Restaurant Week. This year we are delighted that Portsmouth's reputation as a dining destination is being recognized nationally, with our chefs earning national honors and acclaim."

Bates is referring to two local chefs, Chef Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet Bistro, a James Beard Award semi-finalist and Chef Matt Louis of Moxy, a Food & Wine Magazine People's Best New Chef 2013 Nominee. I previously raved about Moxy and awarded it my Favorite New Hampshire Restaurant of 2012.

A trend for Restaurant Week this year is an expanded offering of Gluten Free and Vegetarian menus. There are over a dozen restaurants also offering gluten free and/or vegetarian menu options. They include The River House, Blue Moon Evolution, Brazo, Cava, Common Man, Green Monkey, Martingale Wharf, Moxy, Tulsi and more. You can find Restaurant Week menus for about 70% of the participating restaurants on the website.

Interestingly, some of the restaurants offer even better deals that the usual. For example, The Portsmouth Gas Light Co., B.G.'s Boathouse and Cafe Nostimo each offer a complimentary glass of wine or beer. The Great American Grill offers a free glass of House Wine. Cava offers a four course dinner rather than the usual three courses. Tio Juan's Margaritas Mexican Restaurant and Grill 28 are offering their three course meals all day for only $16.95. So why not give Portsmouth & The Seacoast Restaurant Week a try?

5) On Easter Sunday, March 31, Turner Fisheries is offering a special brunch from 11am-3pm. For $69 per person, ($23 for children ages 5 to 12, under 5 years no charge) guests can enjoy a chef attended carving station, both a cold a hot buffet, and a plethora of desserts. Guests can indulge in a few of Turner classics such as the Clam Chowder and the New England Seafood Harvest complete with northern shrimp cocktail, cape littlenecks and island creek oyster. There are also traditional Easter brunch classics with a “Turner twist” including Crab Cake Benedict and Carved Lamb Chops with caramelized onion rolls from the chef’s station.

For the full menu selection, click here. For reservations please call: 617-424-7425

6) On Tuesday, April 23, The Beehive presents a tribute to the “father of jazz,” Louis Armstrong with an evening of live performance featuring some of his most iconic work. Join The Beehive as musician Eric Bloom and guests take the stage to honor one of the most legendary musicians of all time.

Widely remembered for his 1968 hit song “What a Wonderful World,” Armstrong was best known for his superb trumpet skills and iconic raspy voice. He pioneered the jazz genre-- shifting its focus from collaborative group performances to solo performances with scatting and singing, and was one of the first African American musicians to make his mark on the music scene.

From 8pm-12am, the music of the great Louis Armstrong will take over The Beehive as current jazz musician Eric Bloom plays some favorite tunes. Bloom broke into the jazz scene at the young age of 17 when he was chosen as a soloist for the All Eastern jazz band that performed at Carnegie Hall. In 2009 he began playing with highly-acclaimed singer-songwriter Diane Birch and opened for legendary musicians and fresh pop icons including James Morrison, Mat Kearny and Nick Jonas, and appeared on several national TV Shows including the Today Show, the Jimmy Kimmel Show and the David Letterman Show. In 2011 Bloom started playing with two critically-acclaimed funk bands Soulive and Lettuce, and since then he has performed with Dr. John, Pharohe Monch, Billy Martin and Talib Kweli to name a few.

No cover charge, cash bar, reservations recommended.

7) Wines will be poured and cuisine will be served on Saturday, April 20, from 12pm-5pm, at The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, as they welcome guests to A Tasting for the Ages. Wine expert Aldo Rafanelli, from the famed House of Antinori will pour select wines as guests learn about the 600-year-old family dynasty, while complimentary Italian fare will be provided by North Shore favorite, Salvatore’s Andover, for all to enjoy.

With wine-making roots dating all the way back to family members in the 1385 Winemakers Guild of Florence, The House of Antinori has been in the business for over six centuries. Owning vineyards in Chianti Classico, Bolgheri, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Orvieto, and Washington State, the family has honored Italian traditions across multiple generations. Joining the family in 1987 as the sole U.S. representative, Aldo Rafanelli of Ste. Michelle’s Estate has carried the Antinori tradition overseas and will be at the Wine ConneXtion to guide guests with his passion and extensive knowledge, while providing them with rare insight into his 26 years with the company.

Walk-ins are encouraged and welcome all day! The event is Free to the public. Please note: Must be 21 or older.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Savoring Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey:

George Washington, our first President, was a lover of whiskey. His passion for whiskey was so great that by 1798, he became the country's largest distiller, making 11,000 gallons of whiskey at Mount Vernon. During the Revolutionary War, in the frigid winter at Valley Forge, Washington bought Michter's rye whiskey for his men. Michter's would later say they were “the whiskey that warmed the American Revolution.”

The history of Michter’s extends back to the mid-eighteenth century, when John Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer, settled in Pennsylvania. In 1753, he constructed a small distillery to produce rye whiskey and it soon became very popular, including with Washington. Prohibition forced Michter’s to close though it would reopen once repeal arrived. Unfortunately, Michter's faced bankruptcy in 1989 and that could have been the end of its history as its stills and whiskey stocks were sold.

However, in the 1990s, Joseph J. Magliocco and Richard Newman sought to bring back Michter's, to raise it again to his previous glories. One of their major changes was to relocate from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, and they had a new distillery constructed. They eventually brought on Master Distiller Willie Pratt, who has over forty years of distilling experience, to produce Michter's whiskey. The distillery now concentrates on single-barrel rye, single-barrel bourbon, very small batch bourbon, and unblended American whiskey.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Michter's most popular product was their Original Sour Mash Whiskey. When bankruptcy struck, production was stopped though it has only recently, in December 2012, been resurrected.  In a process some liken to making sourdough bread, sour mash whiskey uses a portion of previously fermented mash as a starter for a new mash. Commonly, the previously fermented mash constitutes 10-20% of the new mash. This is done to make the fermentation process quicker as well as create a rounder and smoother whiskey. And it does not give it a sour taste in the least.

Michter’s Original Sour Mash also uses a proprietary mashbill made from a special selection of grains. It is aged in charred, new American white oak barrels and produced in small batches. It is bottled at 86 proof and seems priced at $45-$55. I have never previously tasted any of the Michter's products, though have heard very positive reviews from my friend and whiskey writer, Fred Minnick. I received a media sample of their Sour Mash and brought it with me to my local poker game, to share it with several other whiskey lovers. How would it fare?

It fared quite well, with a number of people refilling their glasses on multiple occasions. Though several other whiskeys were available to them, they chose to keep drinking the Michter's Original Sour Mash. I too was impressed with this Sour Mash. Up front, there was an interesting and complex melange of flavors, including vanilla, orange peel, caramel and chocolate notes (reminiscent of a less sweet bourbon) while the finish came with more subtle spice notes, bringing to mind a pleasant rye. Smooth and easy drinking, there was no bite on the finish. I drank it neat though others drank it with ice.

This is a whiskey I would keep in my home bar, and which would impress my whiskey loving guests. It also motivates me to seek out more of Michter's products, from their bourbons to their ryes. I give the Michter's Original Sour Mash whiskey a strong recommendation.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Fugu Food Truck Is Coming!

Fugu. The Japanese term for the pufferfish. The above picture of a pufferfish makes it look cute though the actual fish can be lethal.

Fugu is a highly prized fish, which has been eaten by the Japanese for thousands of years. However, it also contains a deadly poison, tetrodotoxin, which is 1250 times more toxic than cyanide and for which there is no antidote. A tiny amount, only 1-2 milligrams, is sufficient to kill someone. Each year, there is an average of 30 or so cases of fugu poisoning, leading to 6-7 deaths each year. Those who did not die consumed enough poison to get sick, but not enough to kill them. Chefs who serve fugu must be specially licensed and the rigorous training to obtain such a license takes at least two years. Most deaths from fugu consumption are due to inexperienced individuals trying to prepare fugu on their own.

Starting on April 1, a new food truck, the Fugu Truck, will be traveling the streets of Boston. Though it is named after the deadly fish, do not worry as they will not be serving actual fugu. Trying to properly slice fugu on a moving truck would have been a formidable task.

This past Sunday, I was invited to attend a special preview event, to view the truck, check out some of their potential food, and to chat with those involved. It was a fun event, with some tasty food, and I believe the Fugu Truck has much potential. The cute pufferfish on their truck is intended to be a symbol, and Chef Bing first saw this fugu on the handle of one of his knives. As it takes much skill and training to prepare fugu, the symbol on their truck is thus meant to represent the "discipline, dedication, and sophistication" they hope to bring to their food.

The Fugu Truck will essentially serve Asian street food, inspired by a number of different Asian countries and regions. Each day, they will stop at different Boston locations for lunch and dinner and you can check their schedule for where they will be on any specific day. Though much of their food will be authentic, they won't limit themselves and may create some of their own Asian-inspired dishes. The menu will change constantly, and they will likely sell about 7-8 items each day. About half the items will be prepared off the truck and the other half will be prepared on the truck. They are still working on their pricing, though it will probably be something like two Pork Belly Buns for $5 and Bubble Tea for $2.50.

It is good to see that the Fugu Truck will try to be environmentally responsible, using biodegradable dishes, cups and silverware, engaging in recycling and more. In addition, they will also incorporate charitable giving into their business plan. They want to give back to the community and seem sincere in their beliefs and actions.

Chef Bing, the culinary leader of the Fugu Truck, grew up in Harbin, a major city in Northeast China, where he was exposed to plenty of street food. He eventually studied engineering at the University of Michigan yet his true passion was in cooking food. Against his parents' wishes, he journeyed to Paris where he trained at Le Cordon Bleu. While in France, he spent time working at Taillevent and Chocolaterie by Jean Charles Rochoux. Upon his return to the U.S., Bing moved to New York where he worked at places such as Dovetail and Corton. Eventually, he came to Boston, where he learned about Japanese cuisine at Oishii.  

Bing wanted to move out on his own, to indulge his culinary creativity. While pondering a number of ideas, he and several college friends checked out the SOWA Open Market and were intrigued by the idea of food trucks. After more discussion and exploration of the concept, they decided to create an Asian street food truck. They succeeded in fund raising through Kickstarter and are ready to launch their truck in less than a week.

These are some of the good people involved with the Fugu Truck, with Chef Bing at the center.

Upon arrival at the preview event, I received a cup of Iced Bubble Tea, made from black tea, condensed milk, and tapioca balls. It was a tasty tea, wasn't sweet, and the straw is wide enough for the chewy tapioca beads to flow up the straw.

Kimbap is a Korean dish which is akin to Japanese maki, a seaweed wrap holding rice and fillings. This particular kimbap contained BBQ beef and a few vegetables, like radish and cucumber. They also offer a vegetarian option. A nice blend of flavors and textures, it made for a good, one-bite treat.

Chef Bing stated that the most challenging dish to prepare are the Spring Rolls, which contain bean sprouts, cabbage, and mushrooms. He stated that the preparation is time consuming, slicing all of the vegetables the proper size and shape, and then carefully wrapping them all in the skin. I was not a fan of this dish only because it contained far too many veggies for my preference. However, the spring roll skin was delicious, thin and crispy, and any veggie lover is likely to enjoy it.

A Stuffed Eggplant dish may also not seem like something I would enjoy, but this was quite delicious. The fried eggplant slices are filled with pork, tofu and spices, and the whole thing was topped by a spicy garlic sauce. First, the sauce was a clear winner, and I would love to try that sauce on a variety of dishes. The eggplant itself was tender and the stuffing was flavorful, spiced well. It is something I would order again, which is saying much for the eggplant.

My initial plate of appetizers, and we were able to get more of anything we liked.

I wanted to dive into this tray of Pork Belly! Or grab it and run out the door. But I was good.

I got to try their Steamed and Grilled Pork Belly Buns, each which contained a good-sized, tender slice of pork belly, some scallions and a sweet bean spread. You also receive a side of housemade pickles, which seemed like crisp, lightly pickled cucumber pieces. The pork belly was compelling and flavorful, with plenty of silky fat to melt in your mouth. Grilling the outside of the bun added a nice layer to the dish and I would recommend it over the plain steamed bun. I had several of these pork belly buns as they were rather addictive. For vegetarians, they will make tofu buns but I can't comprehend why someone wouldn't enjoy the pork belly.

The Yakitori Ramen was prepared with a chicken broth, edamame, bamboo shoots, a poached egg and slices of chicken, though Chef Bing indicated he is unsure whether it will end up on their truck menu. The broth had an excellent spicy kick to it, and the noodles were tasty. It was a very satisfying bowl, except that the thin, chicken slices were a bit too big, and using the plastic spoon to cut the chicken was tough though the chicken itself was tender. Using smaller pieces of chicken would have made it easier to eat. For vegetarians, they make a miso broth and will substitute oyster mushrooms for the chicken.

For dessert, there was Coconut Rice Pudding, a vanilla creamed sticky rice pudding. This picture is before the dishes were completed, before they were topped with local clover honey, poached mango slices, and lemon peel.

It is clear that much care has been invested in their recipes and food preparation, and they are still very open to suggestions and recommendations. The staff members I spoke to seemed both positive and passionate, excited to begin this new endeavor. Kudos to Chef Bing and I wish him and his partners the best of luck with their Fugu Truck.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rant: Forget Robert Parker, Celebrities Have The Power

The local Boston news has been highlighting the issue of direct shipping of wine. That is a very good thing. As Free The Grapes states: "Massachusetts wine lovers still cannot purchase wines directly from out-of-state wineries, even though the legislature has had three years to act on an appellate court ruling directing the legislature to correct its unconstitutional ban on wine shipments." Bills seem to languish each year, going nowhere, and new bills are currently in the House. Will anything happen this year?

The reason this issue, which previously seemed to get minimal media coverage, has been highlighted recently is because of a celebrity. Drew Bledsoe, a retired football player, was once the quarterback for the New England Patriots, prior to Tom Brady. After his retirement, one of Drew's projects was to start a winery, Doubleback, located in the Walla Walla region of Washington. Drew made a visit to the State House to try to convince lawmakers that they should pass a bill to allow for direct shipping of wine from out of state wineries.

Despite the importance of this issue to many Massachusetts residents, it has taken a celebrity to bring it to the forefront. This is not the first time that celebrities have shown their power in the wine and alcohol world. Forget Robert Parker, it is the celebrities which possess the true power. And the celebrities are able to do so without the use of the 100 point rating system. It is often said that Millennials don't want gatekeepers and want recommendations from their friends, yet they seem willing to follow the preferences and promotions of celebrities.

Consider how many rap stars have promoted different wines, from Champagnes to Moscato, and their promotion has led to increased, sometimes significant, consumption. Sales of Moscato recently grew by over 80% in one year, due in large part due to rap star promotion. Perez Hilton and Cee Lo Green have been promoting Ty Ku Sake, helping to elevate its sales. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have recently released a Provence Rosé wine and the first 6000 bottles sold out in five hours. These are but a few examples and celebrity owned wines often seem to get far more attention than many other wines.

Do consumers believe that celebrities know more about wine than other people? That seems doubtful. It seems more that people want a connection to celebrities and they believe that buying wines they promote helps to form such a connection. We also have a very celebrity driven culture, where many people seem more concerned about the daily activities of celebrities rather than the problems of our world. For too many people, the question of who the Kardashians are dating seems to take precedence over climate change, the war in Afghanistan and the debt crisis. There is something very wrong with that.

Complain all you want about Robert Parker's influence. At least he has devoted much of his life to wine. I think it is the celebrities who possess the true power and more often than not, they use that power to make money, to sell their own products. And they may know very little about wine. Far more people sheepishly follow celebrities rather than follow Parker. It just seems wrong. Why follow a wine recommendation from a celebrity?

How do you feel about celebrities promoting wine? Do their recommendations get you to buy wine?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Importance Of Wine Sales By The Glass

I have dined at plenty of restaurants which sell ten to twenty wines by the glass yet may have one hundred or more wines available by the bottle. Most restaurants have far more wines available by the bottle than the glass yet does that actually make sense? Would a larger selection of wines by the glass enhance a restaurant's business?

In the latest issue of Foodservice East (Wintertide 2013, p.14), there is an article discussing a recent study by Restaurant Sciences. This study, involving research of about 10 million guest checks, is supposed to be the first study of wine by the glass consumption in U.S. restaurants. One of the most interesting conclusions was that, "Last year, wine by the glass sales made up nearly 72% of all wine sales on-premise." Most people buy wine by the glass rather than by the bottle, so why do wine lists often provide so few options for wines by the glass, choosing to provide a far greater diversity in wines by the bottle?

There are some logistical reasons why restaurants often limit their wine selection by the glass. Once a bottle is opened, the restaurant needs to have a way to keep the bottle fresh until it is empty. Wine preservation systems can be expensive but can provide value to the restaurant. Wines by the glass though usually provide a nice profit to restaurants, especially when you consider that it is common to make the price of a glass equal to at least the wholesale cost of the bottle, if not more.

Even if a restaurant cannot sell an entire bottle of wine by the glass, they are likely to at least break even on the cost of the wine. As the average pour is 6.18 ounces, there will be four glasses in a bottle, meaning that if all four glasses are sold, the restaurant would receive at least four times the wholesale cost of the bottle. That is a very nice profit margin. That high markup is also why many wine writers suggest purchasing wine by the bottle rather than a glass. It doesn't seem many people are listening to that advice as so many people still buy wine by the glass.

So why aren't restaurants offering more wines by the glass if that is what sells the most?

The Restaurant Sciences study derived a number of other interesting conclusions. They broke down the market share of the top ten white and red wine types, as well as providing average pricing in 6 different types of establishments, from family dining to hotel bars. They learned that price matters much less than the type of varietal or blend. The best values at most restaurants appear to be Pinot Grigio and Zinfandel.

The top ten whites include: Chardonnay 44.5%, Pinot Grigio 24.8%, Sauvignon Blanc 13.6%, Riesling 7.7%, Pinot Gris 2.3%, White Blends 1.3%, Gewurtztraminer 0.6%, Chenin Blanc 0.3%, and All Other Whites 4.9%. The top ten reds include: Cabernet Sauvignon 29.4%, Merlot 18.1%, Pinot Noir 15.8%, Zinfandel 10.9%, Malbec 9.2%, Red Blends 7.4%, Shiraz 3.2%, Sangiovese 2.3%, and All Other Reds 3.7%.

Chardonnay is clearly the most popular wine by the glass, and just four white grapes constitute over 90% of the total number of whites. Seems other white grapes need a greater promotion to acquire a larger market share. For red wines, five grapes dominate over 83% of the total, showing that patrons enjoy a bit more diversity in their reds. Yet even other red grapes could use more promotion as well. Most people seem to go with safe and common choices, rather than seek to expand their horizons.

I am certainly not the norm as I usually tend to order a bottle of wine (or more than one). If I purchase a glass of wine, I usually go for something more unique or exotic. I seek something different rather than the same old wines, like a grape I have never tasted before, or a wine from a lesser known region.

When you dine out, do you order wine by the bottle or glass? If you order wine by the glass, what type of wines do you usually order?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1) A couple of the restaurants celebrating with Easter Sunday specials on March 31 include:

Aura at the Seaport Hotel
(From 11am-3pm)
Easter Brunch Buffet: $55 per adult; $13 per child (ages 5-14); complimentary for children under-5
There will be an Easter Brunch Buffet ideal for the whole family, compete with a visit from the Easter Bunny, an Easter Egg Hunt and festive crafts with Samara Lamm of The Kids Place 4 Fun. Chef Robert Tobin’s culinary offerings include the following: Scrambled Eggs; Eggs Benedict (Canadian bacon, muffin, hollandaise); Ricotta Blintzes; French Toast; Pancakes (caramelized bananas, strawberry compote, Chantilly cream); Pork Sausage; Chicken-Apple Sausage; Bacon; Granola & Berry Parfait (non-fat vanilla yogurt, granola, mixed berries); Smoked Salmon; Fruit & Cheese; Breads & Pastries; Young Greens (balsamic vinaigrette); Caesar Salad (shaved parmesan cheese); New England Clam Chowder; Quiche Lorraine (ham, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese); Leek & Truffle Quiche; Ravioli (wild mushroom & goat cheese sauce); Macaroni & Cheese; Roasted Salmon (creamed leeks, caper butter); Shrimp Cocktail (cocktail sauce, lemon, tarragon aioli); Honey Glazed Ham (pommery mustard sauce); Leg of Lamb (tamarind, raita sauce); Roasted Potatoes; Potato Puree; Green Beans (tomato confit); and, Spring Vegetables (chive butter). For dessert, Pastry Chef Karen Hodsdon will dish out a variety of cakes, pies, mousses and mini pastries alongside a chocolate fountain.

Towne Stove and Spirits
(From 11am-10pm)
Specials: a la carte pricing
Culinary Director Lydia Shire and Executive Chef Mario Capone will be dishing out a series of delectable specials this Easter Sunday. To start, there is Asparagus Soup (spring garlic flan, truffle foam - $9). For the entrée, the duo will serve up Rosemary Charred Leg of Lamb (baby artichokes, white polena, mint gremolata - $22). To finish off with dessert, there is a Lemon Layer Cake (vanilla & strawberry preserve - $10).

2) The Massachusetts Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure® proudly presents the 5th annual “Chefs for the Cure” culinary event on Thursday, April 11 at The Residences at W Boston. “Chefs for the Cure” is an innovative and inspiring tasting-style event which features the opportunity to sample gourmet cuisine from some of the finest local chefs. Featured this year will be:

· Jose Duarte, Taranta
· Joanne Chang, Myers + Chang
· Keenan Langlois, Sterling’s
· Michael Zentner, Gaslight Brasserie au Coin
· Brian Reyelt, Citizen’s Public House and Oyster Bar
· Ben Lacy, Tastings Bar and Bistro
· Justin Winters, Cinquecento
· Mitchell Maxwell, Maxwell’s 148
· Peppino (Shingara Singh), Da Vinci’s
· Nicole Coady, Fixx Chocolates
· Rich Garcia, 606 Congress
· Alberto Cabre, Casa B
· Erin Erler, Cakes by Erin
· Larry Kessel, CTCA
· Michelle DeSalvo, Johnson & Wales
· Domingo-Martin Barreras, mixologist at Market

The evening will also include a silent auction, live raffle giveaways and a VIP hour featuring a live cooking demonstration. General admission tickets are available for $125 and provide admission to the grand tasting and include valet parking. VIP tickets, which also include a private reception, cooking demonstration and tasting with chef Jose Duarte, are available for $175.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

When: Thursday, April 11.
VIP Demonstration – 6:00pm
Tasting & Silent Auction – 7:00pm

3) On April 4, Neurofibromatosis Northeast (NF Northeast) will host their 25th Anniversary Celebration at Cruiseport Boston’s Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in the Seaport District. Emceed by Boston radio legend Ron Della Chiesa with appearances by NECN’s “TV Diner with Billy and Jenny” stars Billy Costa and Jenny Johnson, this silver anniversary charitable event will feature tastings from some of Boston’s best restaurants as well as a fashion show with looks provided by Ted Baker London.

To honor this quarter-century milestone, the NF Northeast organization will forego their signature Table for TEN event this year in favor of this one-time, spectacular fete that will provide support and research funds to people with neurofibromatosis (NF), a prevalent genetic disorder of the nervous system that causes tumors to form on the nerves anywhere in or on the body at any time.

Rallying for this worthy cause, family and friends of people affected by NF will hit the catwalk in fashions by Ted Baker London (201 Newbury Street, Boston). The theme of the fashion show is “travel-wear,” aptly chosen for the event’s cruise-centric locale. The models, men and women of the NF Northeast community and its Beauty Mark Nation initiative, will don temporary tattoos bearing the logo of the campaign. Guests at the event will also be invited to get (temporarily) “inked up” in order to show solidarity for NF patients and to raise awareness of an early indicator of NF, café au lait “beauty marks” on babies.

In addition to showcasing an unparalleled fashion show, guests will enjoy an open bar and savory bites from some of the city’s leading venues including: 75 Chestnut; 75 on Liberty Wharf; Anthony’s Pier 4; Artu; Brasserie Jo; Franklin Café; Legal Harborside; Lucia Ristorante; Taranta; Top of the Hub; and, Union Oyster House.

Long time NF Northeast supporter Montilio’s Baking Company will provide sweet tastes during the dessert reception which will also feature a special tribute video and live auction as hosted by “TV Diner with Billy and Jenny” duo, Billy Costa and Jenny Johnson, with items graciously donated by Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Himmel Hospitality Group, Boston Celtics, Strega Waterfront, Columbus Hospitality Group, Revere Hotel Boston Common and Ted Baker London, among many others.

This event is hosted on Thursday, April 4, from 6pm-10pm. At 6pm, guests will enjoy a cocktail hour and peruse silent auction items. At 7pm, the Ted Baker London fashion show will begin. At 7:15pm, the chef stations will open and guests will sample bites from famed eateries. At 8:15pm, guests will be seated for dessert accompanied by the live auction.

To reserve online ($125 per individual ticket) and for more information, please visit For sponsorship opportunities ($2,500 - $25,000), please contact NF Northeast’s Sonja Nathan at 781.272.9936 or

Neurofibromatosis Northeast has provided research grants to scientists at leading institutions around the country. NF Northeast is proud to have been the impetus behind the creation of The Harvard Medical School Center for NF and Allied Disorders (CNfAD), a virtual center whose mission is to define the pathogenetic mechanisms that cause NF1, NF2 and related disorders. NF Northeast is the leading resource in the northeast for patients and families who live with NF, a genetic condition that causes tumors to form on nerves anywhere in or on the body. Neurofibromatosis is more common than cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy combined.

4) This spring Tuscan Village, the culinary playground which houses both the Tuscan Kitchen restaurant and the Italian-based artisanal marketplace Tuscan Market in Salem, NH, will be hosting its first ever Easter Celebration on March 24. Guests are invited in for Easter activities for all ages including sampling at Tuscan Market, an Easter egg hunt and a visit by the Easter Bunny himself!

The festivities kick off at 10am on Sunday morning March 24 with an official visit from the Easter Bunny himself. Peter Rabbit will be roaming Tuscan Village piazza from 10am-1pm posing for photos with customers (customers should bring their own cameras) handing out candy and hiding eggs in preparation for an 11am Easter egg hunt. Children of all ages can seek out and find beautifully colored eggs filled with candy and prizes and every child in attendance will receive free gelato cards to try the wonderful handcrafted Italian treat!

This event speaks to what we’re trying to create here on the property. A village isn’t made up of buildings; it’s a community that comes together. We plan on hosting many more events in the future and making this a meeting place where people can spend the day,” said Joe Faro, Owner of Tuscan Kitchen and Tuscan Market

Complimentary sampling will be available all day so customers can try and discover the large selection of amazing artisanal products including: fresh meats and produce, cheeses, wine and sweets before purchasing or placing orders for their Easter dinner. Customers can also choose from a variety of custom made Easter chocolate eggs made by hand at Tuscan Market. When it’s time to eat, Tuscan Kitchen will also be open all day serving its award-winning fare including a Sunday Pranzo and dinner menu!

5) Guests are invited to celebrate Easter Sunday, March 31, from 11:30am-3pm, with the entire family at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. In addition to serving their regular menu, Fleming’s will offer a special three-course brunch menu for adults and children where each party will receive a $25 dining card valid for a future visit. There are also three festive specialty cocktails available: Bellapolitan (Stoli, Solerno, lime juice, Monin Blood Orange, simple syrup, orange twist - $8.95); Scottish Beauty (Glenfiddich, blueberries, raspberries, agave nectar, orange juice, lemon juice - $9.95); and, Blood Orange Mimosa (Solerno, orange juice, Monin Blood Orange, Mionetto prosecco, orange wheel - $7.95).

The culinary experience begins with a choice of three appetizers including: Lobster Bisque (sherry cream, lobster garnish); Modern Caesar (hearts of Romaine, parmesan, fried capers, crisp prosciutto chips); or, Fresh Seasonal Fruits (Moscato d’Asti, mint leaves). Up next, there is a choice of four entrées: Fleming’s Signature Eggs Benedict (choice of sliced filet or smoked salmon, served atop a toasted Wolferman’s English muffin with wilted arugula, béarnaise sauce); Baked Brioche French Toast with a Walnut Crisp (pan-style brioche French toast layered in vanilla and orange custard with a brown sugar, butter and walnut streusel, served with maple blueberry syrup, Chantilly cream, grilled sausage); Prime Rib with a Trio of Sauces (slow-cooked herb and garlic-crusted prime rib, natural au jus, creamed horseradish sauce and horseradish mustard sauce); or, Fleming’s Egg Strata (eggs, cream, vegetables and cheese, baked fluffy and served with pico de gallo, crumbled Chevre cheese and choice of spicy grilled shrimp skewers or slow-roasted filet). Each entrée is served with family-style sides, Fleming’s Smashed Potatoes O’Brien (baked potato, crumbled and fried crisp, tossed with peppers, onions, parsley and seasonings) and Ginger & Orange Baby Carrots (heirloom carrots sautéed with honey oil, citrus and garlic). The brunch adventure ends with a choice of three desserts: White Chocolate Bread Pudding (bourbon crème anglaise); Crème Brûlée (creamy Tahitian vanilla bean custard served with fresh seasonal berries); or, Walnut Turtle Pie (housemade caramel, walnuts and chocolate baked in a chocolate pie crust).

COST: $36.95 per adult; $17.95 per child (under-12)
For reservations, please call 617-292-0808

6) To commemorate the historic battles of Lexington and Concord, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host their next Legal Holiday in honor of Patriots’ Day. Hosted a few days early on April 10, at 6:30pm, the Legal Sea Foods team will pour and dish a trio of wines and small plates that celebrate spring.

The three-course pairing menu will be presented as follows in Park Square’s 10,000 bottle wine cellar:

Early Spring Pasta (sautéed shrimp, charred ramps, crimini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes)
Bethel Heights Pinot Gris, Oregon, 2009
Grilled East Coast Haddock (roasted beets salad, dill & orange gremolatta)
Capcanes "Mas Donis" Rosat, Montsant, 2011
Spring Berries Crepe (rosa regale brachetto d'aqui zabaglione)
Michele Chiarlo "Nivole" Moscato d'Asti, Piedmont, 2011

COST: $35 per person
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

7) Lucia Ristorante Owner Donato Frattaroli and Executive Chef Pino Maffeo introduce the next class in the Lucia Winchester cooking series: Artisan Pizza Making. The second installment of “Cooking Classes with Chef Pino and Donato,” this time highlighting Artisan Pizza Making. This class is the perfect opportunity to gain insight on the tips and tricks to making Lucia’s famous dough, and have the opportunity to experiment with different toppings, such as a guest favorite, Pizza del Buongustaio (white pizza with mozzarella, potatoes, pancetta, gorgonzola, and fresh rosemary).

The Artisan Pizza Making Class will be held on Wednesday, March 27, from 7pm-9pm.
Cost: $55 per person
For reservations and/or more information, please call (781) 729-0515.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rodizio Grill in Braintree

If you dine at a churrascaria, a Brazilian grill where you can eat all you want, and you have room for dessert, then you just didn't try hard enough. When that parade of enticing meats on skewers marches by your table, you can't help but taste a bit of everything until your belly cries surrender.

Last week, I dined, as a media guest, at a new churrascaria, the Rodizio Grill, which is now open at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree. The Rodizio Grill is part of a chain, currently located in ten states, and it was established in 1995 by Ivan Utrera, a native of Brazil. This is their first restaurant in Massachusetts and as it is brand new, some leeway needs to be granted to them in my review, to give them time to work out any initial kinks. Overall, I enjoyed my dinner and believe it has potential to become a popular destination.

As you enter the restaurant, the fully stocked bar is right in front of you, with a couple of televisions behind the bar.

The dining room is medium-sized, simply decorated and with a casual elegance to it. It has an appealing ambiance to it, and even when the restaurant was fairly full, the noise level was manageable.

I like the interesting pictures on the wall, lots of colors and with a cartoon-like style. They help to brighten up the restaurant.

The grilling area is fully open so you can watch them preparing the various meats, or the pineapple, as pictured above. You only have two choices for the menu, either the Full Rodizio (dinner $34.99/lunch $22.99) or Salads Only (dinner $22.99/lunch $12.99), and children under 12 have different, lower rates.
Both choices are all-you-can-eat options.

There is a fully stocked bar though the wine list seemed rather ordinary, and did not have any Brazilian wines, though I liked the fact they have the Taylor Fladgate 10 & 20 Year Old Ports. You might instead want to try one of their eight specialty cachaca cocktails, such as the famed Caipirinha. I decided to try the Caipituba ($8.95), which is basically a caipriniha with the addition of Ubatuba Guarana, a carbonated beverage made from the Guarana plant. The drink was effervescent, not too sweet and you could not taste the alcohol. A fine summer sipper.

Before you go to the salad bar, you are brought three different appetizers, which are also all-you-can-eat. There are Polenta fries, a nice crunchy treat, and Pao de Queijo, a cheese bread made with yucca flour. The bite-sized breads were best when they were warm, with a dominant cheese-flavored interior.

You also receive a plate of Banana Frita, basically sweet fried bananas covered with sugar. Though I liked these, with a fine crunch to the exterior and a creamier, banana inside, I thought they might be more appropriate as a dessert because of all the sugar.

The Salad Bar is a large rectangle, with tons of dishes available, from rice to black beans, from parmesan cheese to slices of bread. One long side has a myriad of salad vegetables so that you can make your own salad. The veggies looked clean and fresh.

The other lengthy side contained a number of prepared salads, such as Artichoke salad, Roasted Edamame salad, and Garbanzo salad. Again, the dishes all looked fresh and appealing. If you only ordered the Salads Only option, you would have plenty of choices on the salad bar. For me, I chose to only sparingly select anything here as I wanted to save room for all of the meats to come. My dining companion though felt that the Couve, sauteed collard greens & bacon, were amazing, some of the best she has ever had.

The Gauchos then began to bring their skewers of meat to our table, slicing off our choices. As the restaurrant is new, the servers were a bit inexperienced, not as polished as you might find elsewhere. They were courteous, pleasant and eager to please, but a little bit raw. I am sure that will change with time as they grow more confident and experienced in their roles. If you like your meat cooked a certain way, such as rare or well done, they will ensure they bring it to you.

On your table, you have an hourglass-like block that is colored green on one side, and red on the other. If you stand it up with the green at the top, the Gauchos will continue stopping by your table with meat. If you need a rest, just turn the red side up and they will pass you by until you turn it back to green. Once you are fully done, you turn it onto its side. This is an excellent way to control the pace of your dinner.

Overall, I was impressed with their meats, which were tender, juicy, and cooked just right. I have been to other churrascaria where the meats were overcooked and dry. Generally, the meats were also seasoned properly, without an overabundance of salt, like some other churrascaria do. Plus, there is a good variety to the meat selection, with maybe 16+ options available each night. Despite the newness of the restaurant, they are on the top of their game with their grills.

Above, is a picture of a skewer of Sobre Coxa, marinated & seasoned chicken, which was quite good.

A skewer of Paiche, a South American freshwater fish, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. This fish is just starting to be seen on American menus and it has a nice white texture with a more subtle flavor. It reminded me a little of cod and was cool to see it on their menu.

They serve several types of beef, like this Fraldinha, a tenderloin. You will also see choices such as the Picanha, top sirloin, and the Bife Com Alho, garlic beef. The Garlic Beef may have been my favorite of the night, and I had several slices of it. The smell alone was alluring, though the taste was superb as well, with plenty of garlic on the exterior of the beef.

The Frango Agri-Doce, sweet and spicy chicken, definitely has a hot, spicy kick that is balanced with the sweetness. The marinade is delicious, and I loved the heat on the finish.

One of the few items not on a skewer is the Assado, a Brazilian pot roast with potatoes and veggies. Yes, it was tasty too, with tender meat, basically falling apart.

The Linguica were juicy and flavorful.

Some of the other meats included the Lombo, marinated pork loin; Peru Com Bacon, turkey wrapped in bacon; and Coracao, chicken hearts with a twist of lime. All were very good and even the chicken hearts, which sometimes can be tough, were relatively tender.

Besides the meats, there are a couple other grilled treats which you will enjoy. The Tomate Grelhado Com Parmesao, grilled tomato with melted Parmesan cheese, was good but my favorite was the Abacaxi, grilled glazed pineapple, The pineapple slices were still juicy and with only a mild sweetness. You might not think grilled pineapple is that good, but this is compelling and you will want to enjoy more than a single slice.

I didn't have any room for dessert though they looked appealing. The Brigadeiro Royal Banana Sundae is a chocolate cake topped with ice cream, sliced bananas, Brigadeiro sauce, whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles and a cherry.

This is the Rabanada, a warm cinnamon pastry with a creamy center, served with vanilla ice cream and laced with caramel sauce.

The Rodizio Grill has made a very good showing during its initial opening and has potential. The most important aspect, their grilled meats, are already impressive and the rest will hopefully shake out during the next couple months. Come here and bring your appetite as there will be plenty you want to try. Don't load up too much on the salads, saving space for all of the grilled meats, as well as the delicious grilled pineapple.

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