Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Seafood Fear Momgering: The Mercury Myth

The public needs to understand that the media too often engages in fear mongering concerning mercury in seafood. Listen up and stop worrying. The health benefits of seafood consumption far outweigh the risks.

For several years, I have been advising my readers on this issue. In my post Eat More Fish! Significant Health Benefits, I provided information from a Harvard doctor noting studies that showed Omega-3s were the only dietary factor proven to reduce cardio-related deaths, and by as much as one-third. The doctor also discussed that fears of mercury were vastly exaggerated and that the health benefits of seafood outweighed any risk. In follow up articles over the years, such as Rant: Stop Worrying, Seafood is Safe and The Healthiest Food You Can Eat?I have provided information from other experts, supporting these matters.

However, despite the mass of scientific studies into this area, the media often chooses to exaggerate the risks of mercury, to make consumers fearful of eating seafood, As I mentioned in SENA14: How Can We Increase Seafood Consumption in the US?, media stories that discuss the risks of eating seafood outnumber articles about the benefits by about 4 to 1. This is because scary articles get more attention from readers, and thus sell more newspapers and magazines, or gain better ratings. These scary articles are not because the media truly believes mercury is a major threat. This is just about money and consumers need to look beyond the fear mongering.

All consumers should check out a recent article in Forbes, titled The Activist-Led Panic Against Mercury In Fish Is Harming The American Diet and written by Gavin Gibbons, vice president of the National Fisheries Institute. Mr. Gibbons addresses this fear mongering about mercury in seafood and does an excellent job of cutting through the myths. As he rightfully point out, the significant health benefits of seafood are "...based on countless independent, peer-reviewed studies..." 

And as for the potential danger from mercury? "But it’s also true that no published, peer-reviewed scientific study can locate a single case of mercury toxicity from the normal consumption of commercial seafood in the United States. Nor is there any evidence that countries like Japan, where the average consumer eats as much as ten times more seafood than Americans, have suffered from an epidemic of mercury poisoning." 

How many people do you know have died from heart disease, or have serious problems relating from it?  I am sure most everyone knows people negatively affected by cardiovascular disease, and seafood consumption could have reduced the risk for all those people. Nearly 600,000 people die each year due to cardiovascular disease and it is the #1 killer of women. Now, how many people you know who have died from mercury poisoning? I bet you probably don't know anyone. 

Eat more seafood. It is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and its benefits have been scientifically supported by thousands of studies. Do not let the fears of mercury prevent you from consuming seafood. Learn the truth about the risk of mercury, and understand that the benefits of seafood far outweigh any minimal risk from seafood.

And media, stop the fear mongering! Stop it now!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rant: Sex, Drugs & Restaurant Reviews

When you describe a restaurant experience to someone, do you use the language of drug use or sex? That choice speaks volumes about the type of food you ate, as well as the the size of your check.

I've been immersed in a fascinating new book, The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky. The book explains and expounds upon various food-related words, as well as examining the role of words in everything from menus to restaurant reviews. It is part history and science, psychology and etymology. If you love food, it is an excellent read, one which will intrigue and interest you, as well as make you think of food in different ways. I highly recommend this book and I'll likely be writing, in the near future, about a few other things I learned from it.

In one of the chapters, Sex, Drugs and Sushi Rolls, Jurafsky explores some of the language used in restaurant reviews. In general, it was found that positive restaurant reviews were more likely to use sexual metaphors, though sexual metaphors were most commonly used when describing expensive restaurants. It seems that when people spend a lot of money at dinner, they desire a special experience, one which is as good as great sex. Which restaurant experience was the last one you would describe as orgasmic?

There are twp types of food which are most associated with sexual metaphor: sushi and dessert. With sushi, a number of restaurants create Maki rolls with sex-related names, while the texture of raw fish can also bring sexual metaphor to the forefront. With dessert, the texture is also very important, leading to the use of words that carry sexual overtones, such as sticky, silky, and gooey. Good desserts are often described as seductive and orgasmic.

As an aside, the presence of a good dessert at a restaurant can lead to a higher rating for that restaurant, at least when Yelp was analyzed. In a study, reviews that failed to mention dessert gave a lower average rating than reviews that mentioned it. In addition, the more the review discussed the dessert, the higher the rating. Restaurants need to pay attention to the important of dessert to many of their customers. Dessert cannot just be an afterthought.

In restaurant reviews of less expensive restaurants, sexual metaphors are much less common and instead you will find more of the language of drug use. I'm referring to snack foods and bar foods, burgers and fried chicken, cupcakes and fried twinkies. In describing such foods, people may state they crave the foods, are addicted to them, or need a fix. No longer is the meal equated to a sexual experience, but instead it is equated more to a shot of heroin or a vial of crack. Are such foods your drug of choice?

Why is this so? Jurafsky states they these foods are guilty pleasures, foods we know are not the best for our health but which we want anyways. That is similar reasoning you would hear from a drug addict. In addition, we try to cast the blame on the food itself, claiming we are not at fault, that we are helpless against the allure of the food. Interestingly, women are more likely to use such drug metaphors when describing food, possibly because they are under more societal pressure to eat well.

If you write restaurant reviews, check your old reviews and see if all of this is true for you. If you share your restaurant experiences with others, even just verbally, try to recall if this applies to what you have said about restaurants. If you read restaurant reviews, see if the writer uses drug or sex metaphors, and if they conform to what the studies have found.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Lovin’ Spoonfuls is a Boston based, 501c3 non-profit organization that is legitimizing local, immediate, and responsible food rescue. They facilitate the rescue and distribution of healthy, fresh food that would otherwise be discarded. Lovin’ Spoonfuls works efficiently to deliver this food directly to the community organizations and resources where it can have the greatest impact.

Each year Lovin’ Spoonfuls hosts The Ultimate Tailgate Party,is a yearly benefit featuring 16 of Boston’s “MVP” chefs cooking high end versions of their favorite tailgate food, a silent auction, entertainment and much more. The theme of the event reflects the Lovin’ Spoonfuls mission: battling hunger is a team sport.

This year, Lovin’ Spoonfuls is thrilled to honor founding Culinary Board Members Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers during the VIP hour, for their inaugural and continuing support of their work. As Chef + Owner of Flour Bakery & Cafe, Joanne has become a nationally renowned author, and together with her husband, celebrated restaurateur Christopher, they own and operate Myers + Chang, the acclaimed South End restaurant. Christopher and Joanne are beacons for the charities they support and ingrained in the fabric of the Boston community.

On Sunday, November 9, Lovin' Spoonfuls will host the fourth annual Ultimate Tailgate Party and celebrate their upcoming 5th anniversary, all while overlooking Boston’s scenic waterfront at Sam's. The event will is sponsored by Bank of America and the John W. Henry Family Foundation.

The annual event, also hosted by Esti & Drew Parsons who are co-owners of Sam’s, features an all-star team of Boston’s premiere chefs who will once again join the party by cooking their own creative takes on their favorite tailgate food. Guests will be able to enjoy creative comfort food from Lovin’ Spoonfuls Culinary Board Members Jamie Bissonnette (Coppa and Toro), Joanne Chang (Myers + Chang and Flour Bakery), and newest Culinary Board member Michael Scelfo (Alden & Harlow), as well as Karen Akunowicz (Myers + Chang), Asia Mei (Sam's at Louis Boston), Colin Lynch (Menton, No. 9 Park), Louis DiBiccari (Tavern Road), Matthew Gaudet (West Bridge), Will Gilson (Puritan & Co.), Tiffani Faison (Sweet Cheeks), Daniel Bojorquez (La Brasa), Jason Cheek (Merrill & Co.), Steve Postal (Commonwealth), Christine & Carla Pallotta (Nebo), Jason Albus (Fairsted Kitchen), the team from Mei Mei Street Kitchen, and Keith Pooler (Bergamot).

The Ultimate Tailgate Party kicks off with an exclusive VIP hour featuring a dazzling display of cheese & charcuterie, courtesy of Wasik's Cheese Shop and Josh Smith of New England Charcuterie, from 6pm-7pm. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $250, which allows guests entry into the VIP hour and includes all the cheese and charcuterie you desire, champagne, a meet & greet with the chefs, exclusive "buy it now" privileges for all silent auction items, and a VIP gift bag full of swag from some of our local supporters. Last but certainly not least, the VIP hour features an intimate celebration honoring Founding Culinary Board Members Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers. Beer, wine, and cocktails will be shaken and served by Sam's own Jon Parsons and Nick Korn of OFFSITE.

The main event will start at 7pm, and general admission tickets are $100. The ticket price includes access to chefs tasting stations and complimentary signature cocktails, beer from Peak Organic Brewery, as well as wine and sparkling from sponsor M.S. Walker. The Tailgate Party will also feature a silent auction with exclusive food and New England experiences, plus a photo booth stocked with everyone's favorite football memorabilia.

All tickets are available for purchase at: lovinspoonfulstailgate14.eventbrite.com

2) William Kovel and his team at Catalyst have joined forces with Templeton Rye for an exclusive Templeton Rye Pork Project Dinner. Templeton Rye Whiskey is also in the pig-raising business called the Templeton Rye Pork Project and they have sold one of their prized pigs to Catalyst who will host a “snout to tail” dinner. The team behind Templeton Rye feeds their exclusive rye mash to their pigs to give them a unique taste and flavor. There are a limited amount of pigs that are raised and there is a wait list of restaurants to order them.

The Templeton Rye Heritage Pork Project stemmed from their close association to agriculture and livestock in Iowa. They breed their heritage pigs and feed them a diet that includes spent Templeton Rye Mash.

Catalyst will have a multi-course pig feast, paired with Templeton Rye Cocktails on Sept. 23, at 7pm, and tickets are $71 per person. This is a unique opportunity to try one of the best pig dinner experiences available. The menu includes:

For The Table
Assorted Charcuterie With Traditional Accompaniments
First Course
Crispy Pork Rillettes, Shaved Fennel And Apple Salad, Fig Mustard
Second Course
Family Style Smoked Pork Loin
Sparrow Arc Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Baked Beans With Braised Pork
Hard Cider Braised Cabbage
Rye-Whiskey BBQ Sauce
Corn Bread
Third Course
Family Style Sage-Apple Stuffed Porchetta
Sauteed Rapini With Pine Nuts And Raisins
Rosemary And Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Roasted Cippolini Onions
Agro Dolce Peach Mostarda
Sticky Toffee Pudding, Dates, Rye Ice Cream
Roasted Peaches, Buttermilk Biscuit, Rye Vanilla Chantilly

Space is limited and Reservations are required. Please call 617-573-7000.

3) This week, Anthony Caturano, Chef & Owner of Prezza in the North End, will begin dishing out seasonal favorites to capture the most fitting flavors of fall including pumpkin, acorns, mushrooms, corn, figs, apples and pears. Chef Caturano’s revamped menu combines classic hearty Italian comfort cooking with the fresh and full-bodied tastes that emanate his style.

New to Prezza’s appetizer options include the following: Burrata (roasted pumpkin, sea salt, pistachio vinaigrette - $16); Wild Mushroom Soup (porcini cream, white beans, roasted tomatoes, pecorino cheese - $15); Roasted Figs (wrapped in prosciutto with gorgonzola, aged balsamic – $16); and, Bibb Lettuce (apples, walnuts, blue cheese, walnut vinaigrette - $14).

For housemade pasta selections, seasonal favorites include: Pumpkin Ravioli (lobster, mascarpone, brown butter, sage - $18/$36); Corn Raviolini (pancetta, corn, rock shrimp, white wine, garlic, butter, parmigiano cheese - $16/$32); and, Pear Raviolini (pecorino, mascarpone, cheese, butter - $16/$32). There are also new preparations of signature entrees like the Seared Scallops (lobster mushrooms, warm Brussels sprouts salad, roasted potatoes - $36) and Roasted Halibut (acorn squash puree, spiced hazelnuts, sautéed baby kale - $38).

To conclude with something sweet, indulge in Pumpkin Tiramisu (espresso, ladyfingers, cocoa power, whipped cream - $12).

Other classic Prezza dishes that will remain on the menu include: Grilled Clams (sausage, tomato, lemon zest, oregano - $16); Wood Grilled Squid and Octopus (braised white beans, toasted parsley - $16); Zucchini Flowers (pancetta, polenta, roasted tomato - $16); Lobster Fra Diavlo (saffron tagliatelle, garlic chives, roasted tomato, fennel, chili flake, lobster meat - $18/$36); Crispy Pork Chop (vinegar peppers, potatoes, roasted red onions - $30); Homemade Meatballs (sausage, ribs, tomato, polenta - $28); Halibut (creamed corn, leeks, potato, bacon - $38); and, Lamb Chops (broccoli rabe, pickled chanterelles, roasted potatoes - $40).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cannonball Jellyfish: Eat Up Americans

Do you enjoy eating jellyfish? I'm guessing many of you do not.

In the past, the gelatinous texture of (or the perception of such) jellyfish dishes has prevented me from enjoying it. Last Spring, I dined at Miya's Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, and was a bit hesitant at one point, knowing that a dish of Cannonball Jellyfish Nigiri  was coming to our table. How would I handle that gelatinous texture this time? To be polite, would I need to eat it despite my dislike of its taste? Spitting it out would not be acceptable.

However, when it came to the table, it didn't look like other jellyfish I had seen (see the photo above). It had a pinkish hue to it, and had been topped by a spicy roasted sesame marinade. When I tasted it, I found the texture to be more firmer, almost the springiness of a gummy bear. It wasn't that mushy gelatinous feel that is off-putting to me. In fact, the Cannonball Jellyfish was quite tasty, and I would definitely order it again. Kudos to Chef Bun Lai for preparing this delectable delight.

But what is a Cannonball Jellyfish?

Also known as a cabbage head jellyfish or jellyball, it acquired its primary name because it resembles a cannonball's shape and size. Its dome-shaped cap can grow to about 10 inches in diameter and beneath the cap are numerous,short tentacles. Though they generally do not sting humans, they still possess a toxin which can cause cardiac problems, so care needs to be taken when catching them. Cannonball jellyfish can be found along the East Coast as far south as Brazil and also in parts of the Pacific Ocean. It is the Gulf Coast which seems to be capitalizing the most on the great presence of these jellyfish.

They are seasonal creatures, generally seen from the later winter into the summer, and are more than abundant in the Gulf waters. Once seen as a nuisance, fishermen in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, are starting to reap significant profits from these jellyfish. When they are plentiful, a vessel can fill its trawl net in only five minutes, and must be careful not to leave their net in the water too long or they'll have such a heavy load their nets won't be able to handle it. Fishermen garner about 9 or 10 cents per pound, and can earn $5,000 to $10,000 a day. Certainly a lucrative business.

In Georgia, the cannonball jellyfish industry began as an experimental fishery, eventually becoming a recognized fishery in 2013. During the experimental period, the sustainability of the fishery was examined and the result was that populations remained stable, justifying the establishment of a recognized fishery. Jellyfish trawlers in Georgia must adhere to a number of regulations, including a Turtle Excluder Device (TED), to prevent the capture of leatherback sea turtles. It has become Georgia’s third largest commercial fishery, after shrimp and crab, and that is even more remarkable when you consider the tiny amount of licensed vessels.

Only five vessels can legally catch cannonball jellyfish. Just five! The primary reason for this limitation is that there is only a single processor and exporter in Georgia, Marco Seafood, which can only handle approximately 22,000 thousand kilos of jellyfish at a time. At the processing plant, the jellyfish bodies are salted, dried, preserved and packaged. During that process, the jellyfish lose 80% to 90% of their weight.

The vast majority of this processed jellyfish is exported to Japan, China and Thailand as there is very little market for them in the U.S. The Asians often use the jellyfish in soups and salads, and even believe the cannonball jellyfish has medicinal properties, such as relieving pain from arthritis. Though the flesh is considered relatively bland, Asians enjoy and savor the texture, which they refer to as crunchy-crispy.

In South Carolina, Steven Giese is hoping to launch a significant cannonball fishery with the creation of a new processing plant called Carolina Jelly Balls. This plant would be about five times as large as the Georgia plant. However, he has encountered some fierce resistance to his plan from locals. As such, the future of this new processing plant is ambiguous though if the Georgia plant has worked well, it would seem to give some proof in support of Giese's plans.

Is cannonball jellyfish sustainable? It doesn't appear that the major seafood sustainability organizations, like Seafood Watch, have spoken on this issue, generally because it isn't a matter they have studied well. We do know that jellyfish populations all across the world seem to be expanding in recent years. In addition, Georgia authorities have monitored their fishery for over 12 years, and there didn't appear to be any issues with sustainability. These fisheries are certainly worth watching over time, but for now, it seems cannonball jellyfish should be sustainable.

Why aren't more  Americans eating cannonball jellyfish? Chef Bun Lai proved to me that a simple, tasty dish can be made from this jellyfish. The texture shouldn't be an issue with anyone who enjoys squid or octopus. These jellyfish are also low in calories and high in protein, so they are good for you too. As I've said repeatedly, and most recently last week, Americans need to diversify the types of seafood they eat, to expand beyond the six basic species they usually consume. More chefs also need to work with this jellyfish, to create enticing dishes which will attract more people to it. Opposition to eating these jellyfish may be more psychological than anything else, so it is time to get over that issue and embrace the cannonball jellyfish.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Wines Of Uruguay (Part 3)

The Wines of Uruguay 2nd Annual U.S. Trade Tour was an excellent opportunity to sample and learn about a wide range of Uruguayan wines which are currently being exported to the U.S., though all are not yet available in Massachusetts. At this event, there were 16 wineries, pouring a total of over 80 wines, including Sparkling, Rosé, White, Red and Dessert wines. Though I didn't taste everything, I was able to sample about 50 wines, enough to form some preliminary thoughts about the wines of Uruguay.

In general, the white wines, mainly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, were dry, clean and well balanced, with more of a European flair. They were food friendly and many were good values. The red wines were also well balanced, food friendly, and more interesting than most of the white wines. I was intrigued to see the range of Tannat wines, from easy drinking, inexpensive wines to higher end, more tannic and complex wines.

The easy drinking, inexpensive Tannats would make an excellent introduction for wine consumers to the wines of Uruguay. As inexpensive Malbec wines from Argentina caught on with consumers, so could these inexpensive Tannats catch on too. Their often fruity and approachable style would please many wine drinkers, and providing a good introduction to the Tannat. Consumers could eventually move up to the Tannat blends, where grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon help to soften the tannins of the Tannat, making them approachable too, but with added complexity and flavor.. The high-end, single varietal Tannats could intrigue and delight the wine lover, who seeks something new to experience.

Besides Tannat, other red grapes seem to possess some potential in Uruguay too, from Pinot Noir to Cabernet Franc. Though there were only a handful of such wines at the tasting, I generally enjoyed what I tasted and would like to see more examples to better ascertain their potential. In addition, I would like to explore more of their Sparkling and Rosé wines, as I only had a single example of each, As Uruguay continues to experiment and study, they will better be able to determine which grapes will grow best in the different terroirs of their country. Uruguay isn't a one-trick pony which must rely only on a single grape, Tannat. It is a diverse wine region with the potential to produce numerous interesting and delicious wines.

Now, I''m going to discuss some of the Uruguayan wines which most intrigued me at this event. Please note that I didn't taste all of the wines at the event, and won't be mentioning every wine I tasted. This is more a survey of some of the most interesting and delicious wines I encountered.

Alto De La Ballena
With a name that roughly translates as "high of the whales," this winery was founded in 2000 with the purchase of 20 hectares of land in the Maldonando region. Their original goal was to make top notch Merlot, though they have found their land is excellent for producing Syrah, which has been compared to that found in Crozes-Hermitage.

The 2010 Alto De La Ballena Reserva Merlot, which sees about 1 year in French oak, was fruity and pleasant, an easy-drinking wine. The 2010 Alto De La Ballena Reserva Cabernet Franc was more intriguing to me, with deep black fruit flavors, smooth tannins, mild spice notes and a lengthy,pleasing finish. Based on some of my other tastings of Uruguayan Cabernet Francs, I think this is a very good region for that grape. The prize of their wines was the 2010 Cetus Syrah, about $60, which isn't yet available in Massachusetts. Only about 1800 bottles were produced, and it is a big,though not an overpowering wine, with rich, black fruit flavors, an underlying backbone of spice, some floral elements, and a certain elegance. One of my top three wines of the tasting.

Antigua Bodega Stagnari
With roots extending back to 1910, and even longer roots to wine making in Italy, this winery owns about 20 hectares of vineyards. Their 2014 Del Pedregal Chardonnay, which sees no oak, was clean and well balanced, with pleasant apple, lemon and pineapple flavors. Easy drinking, this is a pleasing style which should please many.

Finca Narbona
The winery produces about 80,000 bottles annually, and their wines are not yet available in Massachusetts though I hope they can find a local distributor in the near future. Pictured above is Fabiana Bracco, the Export Manager for Narbona.

The 2013 Puerto Carmelo Sauvignon Blanc is produced more in a French style and made to be food friendly. It has prominent fruit flavors, especially grapefruit and lemon, with a clean taste and nice acidity. The 2013 Narbona Blend 001 (about $25) was excellent, a Tannat based blend where they won't reveal the other grapes. With moderate tannins, the wine had intriguing depth of flavor to it, a delicious blend of black fruit and spice, with hints of leather, blueberry and herbal notes. Highly recommended. Pinot Noir is made by only about 7 wineries in Uruguay, and the 2013 Narbona Pinot Noir (about $30-$35) is an elegant example, with pleasing red fruit flavors, some minerality and a hint of earthiness. The 2010 Narbona Tannat Roble (about $40) is big and bold, tannic and muscular, with almost a sweetness to the rich, dark fruits. Make sure you have a thick, juicy steak handy.

Bodega Garzon
Located on the eastern border of the Maldonado region, they are one of only two wineries that currently produces an Albarino. Their 2014 Garzon Saiuvignon Blanc ($14) sees no oak and sits for about 6 months on the lees. Delicious grapefruit and citrus flavors, with more richness than other Sauvignon Blancs. An easy-drinking value wine. The 2013 Garzon Albarino also sits on the lees for about 6 months, and was an excellent example of this varietal. Crisp and clean with tasty white peach and citrus flavors, as well as some with mineral accents. Would love this wine with some fresh seafood.

Artesana Winery
Established in 2007 and located in the Canelones region, this small winery produces only around 2000 cases, hoping to eventually expand to 4000 cases. They have a 20 acre vineyard and are the only winery which grows Zinfandel. They just acquired a Massachusetts distributor, Humboldt Imports, though their Tannat-Zinfandel-Merlot blend is not yet available.

The 2012 Artesana Tannat ($16)  is a nice expression of Tannat, with tasty black fruit flavors, mild spice notes and hints of smoke. The tannins are moderate and the wine delivers plenty for this price. The 2012 Artesana Tannat-Merlot ($16) is a blend of 60% Tannat and 40% Merlot, which matures in both French and US oak. Smooth and easy-drinking, this was a compelling wine, blending red and black fruit flavors, spicy notes and mild tannins. This is the type of wine which would convert many wine drinkers to lovers of Tannat.

I was thoroughly impressed with the 2011 Tannat-Zinfandel-Merlot, a 55%/25%/20% blend that spent 24 months in French oak and only 130 cases were produced  The harmonious complexity of this wine was superb, and the restrained tannins made this wine even more compelling. There was so much going on in this wine, and all of it was pleasing and delicious. Highly recommended and one of the top three wines of the tasting.

Giminez Mendez:
They were the first winery in Uruguay to produce a wine with Malbec, and they were also the only winery at the tasting to showcase a Rosé. The 2014 Alta Reserva Malbec Rose, with a medium red color, was dry and clean with tasty red fruit flavors and good acidity. A pleasing, easy-drinking Rosé which can be enjoyed year round.

Bodegas Carrau
This family first made wine back in Spain around 1752 and eventually some of the family traveled across the Atlantic and started producing wine in Uruguay around 1930. They produce an intriguing portfolio of wines, from value wines to high-end bottlings, and consistently they are quality wines.

The only sparkling wine at the tasting was the 2009 Sust Vintage, Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine ($24.99), a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Aged for 30 months on the lees; this will remind you of a Champagne, dry and clean, with rich flavors of green apple, and brioche. The 2013 Savignon Blanc sur lie ($12.99) sees no oak and spends about 6 months on the lees. Tasty grapefruit and lemon flavors, it is more of a French style than a New Zealand wine. Especially interesting was the 1752 Gran Tradicion, a blend of 90% Petit Manseng and 10% Sauvignon Gris. Aromatic, this was a very herbal wine, with a nice depth of flavor and an intriguing finish. This should interest any wine lover seeking something different.

The inexpensive 2011 Tannat Reserva ($12.99) was elegant and delicious, delivering plenty of flavor and complexity for this low price point. An excellent introduction to Tannat. The 2007 Ysem ($20) is a blend of Tannat from their north and south vineyards, and is also elegant and delicious, with a bit more complexity and stronger fruit flavors than the Reserva. A step up for only a small amount of money. The 2009 Amat Single Vineyard Tannat ($30), from the Cerro Chapeau region, is aged in French and US oak for 18-24 months. With even greater complexity, and moderate tannins, this is a compelling wine, showing more of the potential of Tannat, without drowning you in tannins. This is a Tannat to impress your fellow wine lovers and is highly recommended.

Bouza Bodega Boutique
A family owned winery, they own two vineyards, totaling 25 hectares, one in the region of Las Violetas and other at Mellilla. They grow Albariño, Chardonnay, Merlot, Tempranillo and Tannat. The 2011 Bouza Albarino is bottled in a Riesling-style bottle, because the family liked its look. About 20% of this wine was matured in second-use oak and it also is aged on the lees for about three months. This wine had a bit of smokiness enhancing its deep, fruit flavors, and is a much different Albarino than the other wine I tried. The 2011 Bouza Tannat A6, aged in American oak for about 14 months, provided lots of spice, black fruit flavors and moderate tannins. There were  some interesting hints of other flavors on the finish, such as chocolate notes. The 2011 Bouza Monte Vide Eu is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Tannat, and presents a silky smooth wine with intense red and black fruit flavors, mild spice and some floral accents. An impressive blend.

Marichal Winery
This is a family owned winery, founded in 1938 and located in the Canelones region, with about 50 hectares of vineyards.

The 2013 Marichal Premium Variety Tannat ($14-$16) sees no oak and is a fruity and approachable Tannat, an excellent introduction for those new to this grape. Just like inexpensive Malbecs appealed to consumers, this is the type of Tannat which should do the same. A step up is the 2011 Marichal Reserve Collection Tannat ($18-$20),  which spends about 12 months in oak, delivering more complexity, a bit more tannins, and deeper black fruit flavors and spicy notes on the finish. Again, it remains an approachable wine, and still at a very good price. The 2011 Marichal Reserve Collection Pinot/Tannat ($18-$20) is a 70%/30% blend that spends 10 months in oak. It presents a fruity wine with a rustic backbone, mild tannins, and a pleasing finish. An interesting blend that is another very approachable and reasonably priced wine.

One of the top three wines of the tasting was the 2011 Marichael Grand Reserve Tannat "A" ($55-$60), a wine that is only made in good vintages. It spends about 18 months in oak, sees no fining or filtering, and only about 2300 bottles were produced. This was an alluring and seductive wine, with intriguing complexity, intense flavors, silky tannins, and a lengthy and satisfying finish. This wine shows the high-end potential of Tannat, how tannins can be made manageable, and the depth of flavors that can be drawn forth from this grape. Highly recommended.

Traversa Winery
Founded in 1956, this family owned winery is one of the largest in Uruguay. They produce a port-like wine, the 2008 Licor de Tannat ($22). With 18.5% ABV, this dark red colored wine is smooth and appealing, with a mild sweetness, good acidity and subtle berry and coffee notes.. An excellent wine to sip after dinner, or paired with a dessert.

Based on my sampling of all these Uruguayan wines, I will certainly be on the hunt to try even more. There is excellent diversity in Uruguay, and even the Tannat presents itself differently in many different ways. As their exports continue to grow, more and more people will realize the winders of Uruguay, and it could replicate the success of Argentina. If you get a chance to try a wine from Uruguay, don't hesitate to take it.

What are some of your favorite wines from Uruguay?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

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) In general, you won't find many Sakes that are priced over $150 for a 720ml bottle at retail shops. However, you can find a small list of 7 expensive Sakes at This Is Asia. Prices range from $520 to $3300, though some of the bottles are 1.8 liters, which is twice as large as the usual 720ml bottle. So comparatively, the highest price for 720ml would be the Bessei Gouka Kamotsuru Daiginjo, at about $1320. And for the record, I've never tasted any of the Sakes on this list. Have any of my readers tasted any of these expensive Sakes?

2) Want to brew your own Sake? Several new Sake breweries will be sprouting up in the U.S. in the near future, including one in Massachusetts. Some of these brewers started making Sake at home. If you would like to try this at home, you could purchase a newly offered Sake Making Kit from Norse Hutchens. For $57, you get nearly everything you need to make Sake, except for white raisins and sugar. You can even read the directions to use the kit online. This is really a makeshift way of making a Sake-like product and is more a diversion than for someone who is serious about making Sake. If you would like better advice on home brewing Sake, check out Brewing Sake: Release the Toji Within.

3) Sake brewing has also been growing in other countries outside of Japan, from Brazil to Norway. Anna Greenhouse provides a nice summary of these breweries in HarperscoUk. The info about the three Sake breweries in Brazil was very informative. I knew of two breweries there, but had little details about their operations. The info on upcoming breweries in Britain and Scotland is also very intriguing. This is a Sake article I strongly recommend you check out.

4) Get ready to raise an ochoko and celebrate Sake Day ("Nihonshu no Hi") on October 1. Saké Day originated in 1978 by a declaration of the Japan Saké Brewers Association. It is now celebrated worldwide, though local celebrations are very sparse. Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Sake (酒) is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (酉), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Sake Day. It may also be due in part to the fact that October is generally considered to be the official start of the Sake brewing season.

Think ahead for your Sake Day celebration and seek out a bottle of Sake to buy and take home. Remember, Sake pairs well with all kinds of foods. Or make reservations at a restaurant with a good Sake list, like Thelonious Monkfish in Central Square, Cambridge.  If you need any suggestions or assistance with Sake, feel free to email me.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Wines Of Uruguay (Part 2)

If you examine the location and climate of Uruguay, there is little question why it is an excellent location for vineyards. It is located on the same latitude as South Africa and Adelaide, Australia. The Uruguayan climate is very conducive, with a predominantly maritime climate and about 1000mm of rain annually. The high amount of rainfall is possibly the greatest climatic obstacle to the vineyards, but Uruguayans have learned how to adapt.

Their vineyards are planted with about 72% red varietals with Tannat, at 43%, leading the group. In a land where beef is king, it is easy to see why red wines are so popular, especially when most of their production is consumed within the country. The other main red grapes include 21% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Cabernet Franc, You'll also find grapes such as Arinarnoa, Marselan, Tempranillo, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, and Nebbiolo. A number of these grapes show the clear influence of Italian, Basque and Spanish immigrants.

As for white grapes, plantings include 27% Chardonnay, 22% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Sémillon, and 5% Viognier. In addition, you'll find minor plantings of grapes like Albarino, Petit Manseng, and Roussanne. These vines seem to show more of a French influence though the addition of Albarino clearly comes from Spanish immigrants. Maybe Uruguay should explore more Spanish and Italian white grapes. There are at least several wineries with experimental vineyards, researching the viability of numerous different grapes.

The undisputed signature grape of Uruguay is Tannat, which is planted on about 7200 acres, and the country has more Tannat vineyards than the rest of the world combined. France probably has the second highest amount of Tannat vineyards though the grape has spread across the world, from Australia to South Africa. In the U.S., Tannat can be found in California, Maryland and Virginia, and in South America, Tannat is also found in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil.

It is believed that Tannat may have originated around the 13th century, planted in the town of Madiran, though the first written mention of this grape wasn't until the 18th century. It's original home is likely in the Western Pyrenees of France, and now is primarily grown in France in the Madiran AOC. Sometime before 1870, it is believed that Basque immigrants brought Tannat vines to South America and they ended up in Uruguay. The vines adapted well to the climate of Uruguay and it quickly became considered the national grape. This reminds me of Malbec, how that French grape thrived in Argentina and became their signature grape. Tannat is not as well known as Malbec to the average wine consumer, but that could change in the future,

Tannat is easy to grow, ripens late, and has a thick skin which provides some resistance to powdery mildew and botrytis. It produces robust wines with strong tannins, dark fruit flavors and spicy notes. It is also considered to be one of the healthiest red wines as it contains 3 to 4 times more antioxidants than other red grapes, and also has a high concentration of resveratrol. As Malbec wines in Argentina are very different from Malbec wines from Cahors, France, so are Tannat wines in Uruguay very different from Tannat wines from Madiran. Tannat wines in Uruguay tend to be softer and less tannic than that in France. The Tannat grape has transformed over the last 140+ years in Uruguay, and can create compelling wines.

In Uruguay, Tannat wine is not monolithic, but actually is produced in a number of different styles, from soft & fruity to big & bold. You'll find inexpensive, easy-drinking wines as well as high-end, terroir driven Tannats. Though there are plenty of single varietal Tannat wines, you will also find it blended with a number of other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier. These blends often help to tame the strong tannins of the Tannat, making the wines more approachable.

Though grapes are grown throughout much of Uruguay, they are concentrated in four regions: Canelones, Montevideo, Colonia, and Maldonado. Canelones, which has 60% of Uruguay's vineyards, is known for its clay-rich calcareous soils, while Montevideo is more known for the clay in its soil. Colonia possesses stony alluvial soils while Maldonado has soils rich with decomposed volcanic rock. What is most important to understand is that there is a diversity of soils, over 95 different types, within Uruguay, providing numerous different terroirs.

It is said that the wines of Uruguay combine European tradition with New World technology, and are usually well balanced. As most of the wineries are small, with few large companies, they are mostly artisan operations. There are also a fair number of female wine makers in the country. As exports continue to increase, you'll be hearing more and more about Uruguayan wines, and based on my recent tasting of their wines, you'll want to drink these wines.

To Be Continued...

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Wines Of Uruguay (Part 1)

It's a South American country which imported a French grape in the 19th century and since then has made it its own, becoming the signature varietal of that country. It is also a country which possesses a strong wine culture, and consumes most of the wine it produces. It is a country where beef is king, so red wines dominate. It is a country to which many Italian and Spanish immigrants came, bringing their wine making knowledge and traditions with them. It is a country where terroir is becoming more and more important as research, study and experimentation expand. It is a country where the altitude of their vineyards is important.

What country am I referring to in this description? You'll probably first think about Argentina, and all of it firs that country. However, it also fits a second South American country, Uruguay, and I think you'll be hearing more and more about this country in the near future. Located in the southeasterm region of South America, Uruguay (whose name means "land of the painted birds") possesses a pristine environment, with exceptionally pure water and about 410 miles of coastline, Approximately 82% of their land is dedicated to agriculture, the highest percentage of any country in the world. The more you learn about this intriguing country, the more you will be drawn to it, and want to travel there.

Until recently, I'd only tasted a handful of wines from Uruguay, and all were Tannat. Uruguay though has been on my radar this past year for a couple other matters, Estuario del Plata Caviar and Del Terruño Beef.  Because of the caviar and grass-fed beef, I've studied a bit about Uruguay, a small country surrounded by Argentina, Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean,  It has a population of about 3.4 million people, which is less than the population of Greater Boston.

There are also approximately 12 million cattle in the country, nearly 4 for each person. Uruguay is the #1 global consumer of beef, about 132 pounds of beef per capita, having recently dethroned Argentina which currently consumes about 129 pounds per capita. In comparison, U.S. beef consumption is only about 58 pounds, less than half what Uruguayans consume. Beef is Uruguay's primary export and with all the red meat they consume, it is no surprise that they love to drink red wine.

Recently, I attended the Wines of Uruguay 2nd Annual U.S. Trade Tour, where 16 wineries from Uruguay poured samples of their wines, a total of over 80 wines. There was also a seminar, presented by wine educator and speaker Gilles de Chambure, MS. on the differences of wines, especially Tannat, from the four major wine regions in Uruguay. This was a fascinating and educational event, enlightening me on the diversity of the wines of Uruguay. Uruguay is more than just Tannat, and even Tannat possesses its own diversity.

The more I learned about Uruguay, the more I saw its similarities to Argentina, though Uruguay's wine industry seems to be about ten years behind. We've seen the explosion in popularity of Malbec from Argentina during the last ten years, and maybe Tannat can have that same success. I've seen the potential of Tannat, though its future is still indeterminate. The wines of Uruguay are worthy of success and it might become one of the hot new wine regions. As we ponder its future, let us first take a look at its past.

As the conquistadors explored South America, it is thought that the Portuguese may have been the first Europeans to reach the region of Uruguay around 1512 though Spaniards traveled to the area around 1515. Both encountered fierce opposition from the Charrúa, an indigenous, semi-nomadic people and they also learned, to their dismay, that there was no gold or silver to be found in the region. Battles against the Charrúa continued as both Portugal and Spain decided they would still try to eventually colonize the area.

By 1603, though they didn't yet possess a permanent settlement, the Spanish introduced cattle, finding a verdant land which they thought would be conducive to such ranches. Finally, in 1624, they established their first permanent settlement at Soriano on the Río Negro. During this period, Jesuit missionaries also created a number of colonies in the valley of the Rio Paraguay. The Portuguese eventually decided to battle the Spaniards for the region, and thus, around 1670, they constricted a fort at Nova Colonia do Sacramento. The battles for control of this region would continue for more than 150 years,

Though it is likely that the Jesuit missionaries made their own wine in the 17th century, the first known mention of Uruguayan wines was not until 1776. This written reference noted that Spanish explorers brought vines from the Canary Islands to Uruguay. Not much seemed to happen with these vineyards for the next fifty years, as battles took prominence, with Portugal, Spain, Britain and Brazil all seeking to claim the area of Uruguay, The indigenous Charrúa became mostly casualties, and were largely wiped out in the massacre at Salsipuedes in 1831. Out of all these battles, Uruguay finally acquired its own independence in 1828.

With independence came an increased interest in vineyard plantings, though wine making didn't make its mark until the 1870s. Pascal Harriague (1819-1894) is said to be the Uruguayan "father of commercial winegrowing." Pascal immigrated from the French Basque region and eventually purchased an estate, La Caballada, in Salto, a town on the Rio Uruguay and it developed into a 200-hectare vineyard. In about 1870, he planted Tannat, a French grape from the Pyrenees, and its popularity soared. By 1877, it was being considered the national grape of Uruguay, and in honor of Pascal, Tannat became commonly referred to as Harriague.

Another important person in the history of wine in Uruguay is Francisco Vidiella, a former gardener from Catalonia. In 1874, he  established a vineyard and winery at Colón, planting Folle Noire and Gamay Blanc, both imported from France. Because of his contributions, Folle Noire became commonly referred to as Vidiella. It seems Uruguayans like to rename grapes after important countrymen..

Many other grapes were introduced to Uruguay during this time though it wouldn't be until 1903 that the first wine laws would be enacted.  Much of the wine produced at this time was for local consumption and it would not be until the 1980s that there was a major push to increase the quality of Uruguayan wine, as well as rules concerning labeling. In 1987, the National Institute for Vitiviniculture (INAVI), was established, and assisted in the creation of two levels of classification for wine: Vinos de Calidad Preferente (VCP) and Vino Común (VC).

VCP wines must meet a number of quality standards, such as being made from vinifera grapes and sold in 750ml bottles. The wines must be analyzed and approved by INAVI. If they fail to meet these standards, then the wines must be labeled as VC. If a grape variety is referenced on a label, the wine must contain at least 85% of that grape. In addition, if a geographical region is mentioned, all of the grapes must come from that region.

What is the current state of the Uruguayan wine industry?

There are approximately 200 wineries, with about half producing less than 100,000 bottles. Most of the wineries are small, family-owned operations and there are very few large companies. Uruguay has about 22,250 acres under vine, making it about half the size of Napa Valley. Total annual production is about 10 million cases and only 5% is exported, though their exports have tripled during the past five years. Their largest market is Brazil, which imports about three times as much Uruguayan wine as the U.S. As exports continue to grow, Uruguayan wines will start showing up in more and more American wine shops.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Get hungry for BostonChefs.com's 11th annual Flavors of Fall at the Royal Sonesta Hotel Ballroom on Monday, November 17 in support of Youth on Fire.

You can attend the VIP Hour from 5:30-6:30pm to indulge in savory snacks, briny bivalves and a glass or two of bubbly. Then, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, chefs from in and around Cambridge will be plating their favorite seasonal dishes to be paired with an assortment of beers and wines at the Main Event. This year, even more restaurants have been added into the mix so that guests can sample twice as many harvest-inspired snacks than ever before. Enjoy past favorites Park, The Blue Room, Belly, and Sandrine's, as well as a couple of new participants like Commonwealth and The Sinclair. And because a party just isn't a party without music, the Jane Potter Trio will be back to keep your ears just as happy as your tastebuds.

Every penny from sales of both VIP ($125) and Main Event ($75) tickets will be donated to Youth on Fire, a program of AIDS Action Committee that provides a safe, supportive space and a full range of services and resources designed specifically to meet the needs of homeless, runaway and street involved youth. The funds from our efforts this year will be used specifically to secure permanent housing for those working to transition off of the streets.

Tickets for Flavors of Fall, the season's longest-running tasting extravaganza, are available online now.

2) This month celebrate oyster season at the first annual Battery Wharf Oyster Festival. Benefiting the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association and the Island Creek Oyster Foundation, the event will be held on the Boston Harborwalk at Fairmont Battery Wharf on Sunday, September 21 from 2pm-5pm. The waterfront will be alive with music, small plates prepared by some of the city’s most popular chefs and a wide array of freshly shucked oysters from Massachusetts-based growers.

Five of Boston’s most talented chefs will be at the event preparing small plates. Participating chefs include Michael Serpa from Neptune Oyster, Will Gilson from Puritan & Company, Graham Lockwood from Aragosta Bar & Bistro, Jeremy Sewall from Row 34 and Island Creek Oyster Bar and Louis DiBiccari from Tavern Road.

Massachusetts’ South Shore and Cape Cod waters are the home for a number of oyster growers. The growers, all of whom are part of the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association, include Moon Shoal, WiAnno Oysters and Beach Point Oysters from Barnstable, Chatham Shellfish Company, Indian Cove Aquaculture in Wareham, Cotuit Oyster Company, Eastham-based First Encounters, Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury and Pleasant Bay Oysters from Orleans.

Tickets for the Battery Wharf Oyster Festival are $65 per person, including all food, two drink tickets, live entertainment and a cash bar. The event is hosted by Fairmont Battery Wharf and Island Creek Oysters. To purchase tickets, please visit oyster-festival-boston.eventbrite.com.

3) On October 14, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will team up with Louis-Fabrice Latour, President of Louis Latour, for an exclusive four-plus-course wine dinner. Family operated since it’s foundation in 1797, the French winery in Burgundy is internationally renowned for the quality of its red and white wines. The company has continually built a reputation for tradition and innovation and takes pride in practicing environmentally-friendly methods. Both white and red grapes are hand-picked at their peak ripeness and undergo a complex fermentation process to produce some of the finest and full-bodied flavors in the world.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Smoked Scallop Mousse - fried sage, bruléed apple
Salmon Gravlax - rutabaga, lemon confit vinaigrette
Poached Shrimp - brandade, sweet garlic
Paddlefish Roe - crème fraîche, fingerling potato
Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne, NV
Sea Bream (celery root emulsion, verjus vinaigrette)
Louis Latour Meursault, 2012
Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet, 2012
Halibut en Croûte (romanesco, cauliflower, hazelnut, preserved lemon)
Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Sous les Puits,” 2010
Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Sous les Puits,” 2009
Bacon-Wrapped Monkfish (savoy cabbage, pickled chanterelles, calvados caramel)
Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru, 2010
Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru, 2009
Grand Cru Gruyère (anise tuile, pistachio, mint)
Louis Latour Beaune Premier Cru “Vignes Franches,” 2009
Louis Latour Château Corton Grancey, Grand Cru, 1999

COST: $135 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

4) Head to The Beehive on Wednesday, October 8, for “Oktoberfest Der Beehive,” the ‘Hives annual event featuring Bavarian and German food & libations, and live entertainment from The Bavarian Hofbrau Band including oompah, beer songs and polka.

Start the night off with an ice cold beer from Harpoon Beer including Harpoon IPA, Octoberfest & UFO Pumpkin, and Cape Ann Brewery Co. including its Fisherman's Kölsch, Cape Ann Brew and the exclusive Honey Brew, before indulging in Executive Chef Marc Orfaly’s Bavarian-inspired specials. In addition to the regular menu, Chef Orfaly will serve up items such as German sausages and house roast pork knuckle both served with sauerkraut and potatoes. While enjoying ice cold beers and cocktails, guests can also enjoy The Beehive’s oven fresh pretzels. Dinner and drinks will be served from 5pm-1am.

Not in the mood for dinner? Join the Beehive at 7:30pm when the The Bavarian Hofbrau Band takes the stage. Founded over 20 years ago, The Bavarian Hofbrau Band perfected the oompah style band. Members have visited the Old Vienna Hofbrau in Montreal, the World's Fair in Tennessee and have even traveled to various cities and towns in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The evening’s entertainment will take guests on a tour of Europe, starting in Vienna, going north into Bohemia, then west through Northern Germany and then south through the Black Forest, Bavaria and finally Liechtenstein.

For reservations, please call 617-423-0069

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

iFest: Ireland in Boston (And Win Tickets!)

In ten days, Ireland will come to Boston  at the iFest, a three-day festival that celebrates Irish culture, cuisine, heritage, hospitality, and entertainment. The festival will be held from Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28 at the Seaport World Trade Center. There will be something for all interests, such as Music/Entertainment, Literature/Design, Genealogy, Sports, Tourism, and Food/Drink. If you have any interest in Ireland, I'm sure there will be something here to intrigue you.

For my readers who enjoy good food and drink, the iFest offers much to savor. There will be Chef Demonstrations with several of Ireland’s top chefs, including Darina Allen, Kevin Dundon, Cathal Armstrong, and Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year Mark Moriarty, who will prepare dishes prepared with Guinness stout. These Irish chefs will be joined by some local chefs, including iFest Culinary Ambassador Barbara Lynch, Ana Sortun, Lydia Shire, Ming Tsai, Jasper White, and Colin Lynch. Mixologist Ezra Star of Drink will also demonstrate how to blend the perfect cocktail.

You'll also find an Irish food village with the opportunity to sample Irish produce, cheese, and bread and meet exhibitors from Burren Smoke House, Kerrygold, National Organic, and Crossogue Preserves.

Want something more alcoholic? You can attend a beer tasting at the new, experiential Guinness 20/20 Bar which will show the future of what Guinness pubs will look like, served with samples of Irish food. There will also be samples of Irish cocktails made with Dingle Distillery Irish vodka & gin.

There will also be Jameson Irish Whiskey tastings. In addition, a master cooper from the Midleton distiller will lead a master class on the old skill of cooperage – taking the barrels apart and showing how whiskey is distilled.

For something nonalcoholic, you could attend a Bewley’s Irish Tea Party with a Boston pastry chef, Maura Kilpatrick.

You can order tickets online here, and avoid waiting in line at the event to purchase tickets. A General Admission session ticket costs $60 or get a VIP ticket for $110. There are also special Family package deals.

However, I am also giving away TWO FREE GENERAL ADMISSION TICKETS (a $120 value) to the Sunday session. All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment here telling me what you like about Ireland, The contest will end on Thursday, September 18, at midnight. I will then randomly select one commenter to win the pair of tickets.

I'll be attending the iFest on Friday evening, and will be reporting back on what I experienced. Hope to see some of my readers there too. We could sip some Irish whiskey together.

Update on September 19: And the Winner has been selected! There were 8 entrants and I used a Randomizer to determine the winner of the free pair of tickets. Congratulations to the winner, JacquelineC. Please contact me to arrange to get your tickets.

Boring Americans: The Seafood Edition

Americans have boring tastes. In general, they tend to stick to a limited amount of choices, rarely venturing out to explore the possibilities. For example, when considering wine consumption in the U.S., a small number of grapes dominate the market, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon leading the pack. This is despite the fact that there are hundreds of grapes used to make wine around the world. Why aren't more Americans adventurous with their plates?

Sadly, this applies to seafood consumption too. There are more than 100 seafood species available in U.S. markets, but only 6 species account for 91% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. Once again, Americans show that their culinary choices are generally boring. There is a bounty of available seafood species, but most Americans won't venture out to try all of these delicious and interesting species. Why is that the case?

The top seafood for Americans is shrimp, and the average person consumes over four pounds a year, an amount equivalent to the average consumption of the #2 and #3 seafoods, canned tuna and salmon. The other three seafood in the top six include Alaska pollock, tilapia and Pangasius catfish. Such limited choices. In comparison, the Japanese regularly consume far more different species, as 80% of their seafood derives from 18 different species, three times as many as Americans. However, the Americans are not along in their limited choices. For example, 80% of Iceland's seafood consumption derives from only six species and 80% of Norway's seafood consumption only comes from five species.      

As Americans rely on such a limited amount of seafood species, that puts a greater strain on those species. It would help promote sustainability if more Americans diversified their seafood palate, eating less common species, which can be equally as delicious as the more common ones. I recently described the benefits of eating mussels, yet only about 1% of Americans eat mussels. Why not add mussels to your list of commonly eaten seafood?

When you next dine at a seafood restaurant, why not try something different, a type of seafood you have never eaten before? Ask your server for suggestions. When you visit your local seafood market or seafood department, try something new, and ask your fish monger for suggestions. Be adventurous with your palate and you might find some new favorites.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rant: Dirty Restaurant? No Worries If It's Authentic

When selecting a restaurant, how much do you value its cleanliness? Are you willing to dine at a dirty restaurant if the cuisine is "authentic?"

It seems that many people are willing to make that trade-off, and that disturbs me on a certain level.

In June, a study, Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: Hygiene and Authenticity in Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants was published in Management Science. The study was conducted by Glenn Carroll of Stanford Graduate School of Business, David W. Lehman of the University of Virginia and Balázs Kovács of the University of Lugano, Switzerland.  Their study included statistical analysis of over 724,000 consumer reviews from Yelp (of over 9700 restaurants) and over 52,000 food safety inspections conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

They found that many restaurants of they studied, by law, must publicly post their health grades, meaning that consumers can readily determine the cleanliness level of a restaurant. It would seem logical that consumers would value restaurants more which possessed higher health grades. However, when selecting a restaurant, cleanliness is not the only factor that consumers consider.

For a number of consumers, authenticity of the cuisine is very important. I'm not going to get into a lengthy discussion of what constitutes "authentic" cuisine as it is a very complex issue, and often it is more of a personal issue. Each diner generally has their own idea of which restaurants they consider to have authentic cuisine. They might consider the opinions of restaurant reviewers, though there is no guarantee that the reviewer is an expert in that particular cuisine. For the purposes of this article, what is most important is that many people value authenticity.

In the study, it was found that reviewers tended to rate restaurants higher if they had a higher health grade or if they were considered authentic. However, if a restaurant was rated highly because it was considered authentic, the health grade generally didn't matter so that even a place with a low health grade received a high rating. Authenticity was valued much higher than hygiene, and consumers would ignore dirt and health violations just because the cuisine was considered authentic. What does this conclusion say about people?

When considering authenticity, we generally are referring to ethnic restaurants. Does this mean consumers assume authentic ethnic restaurants are dirty?  Is this a form of prejudice or ignorance?  Do consumers have different standards for restaurants, dependent on whether it is ethnic or not? For example, a steakhouse is almost never referred to as "authentic"or not. Thus, the health grade of such a place would be very important but if it were a Chinese restaurant, consumers would care less about the health grade.

It seems strange that people would value authenticity over a threat to their health. The threat of food poisoning seems to be ignored in favor of authenticity. It seems even more strange when you realize that authenticity is elusive.

How important is authenticity to you? Does it trump the cleanliness of a restaurant?  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) On Tuesday, September 23, at 7:00PM, the Met Back Bay will host Kitchen Kibitz in its private dining space “Townhouse” for a special Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) pop up dinner called “Land of Milk & Honey.” The event will be a prix fixe dinner in a communal setting exploring some of the mystical Mizrachi Jewish cuisine of the Middle East, specifically the small community of Yemen. The guest chef for the evening will be Chef Geoff Lukas of Sofra Bakery. Making it an extra sweet new year, the menu will reflect traditional ingredients of honey, pomegranates and fenugreek with large trays to share and plenty of entertainment throughout the night including live music and belly dancing performances.

The all-inclusive ticket price of $85 per person can be purchased beginning Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 via the following Eventbrite link: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/kitchen-kibitz-land-of-milk-and-honey-tickets-12946215479
Seats are limited to 34 seats, so purchasing tickets well in advance of the event is highly recommended.


Course 1: Bread Service:
Malawach, flatbread with fenugreek, challah
Zhoug, matbucha, za'atar
Hummus ful
Charred eggplant with coriander and pomegranate
Apple and hawayej tabouleh
Black-eyed peas with fenugreek and cascara
Course 2: Soup
Yemenite Soup (Hawayej, knedlach, charred leeks, summer veg, hilbeh)
Course 3: Main
Braised lamb shoulder with pomegranate molasses and chickpeas (Kabsa mixed rice, Schmaltzy potatoes with pickled lime, Roasted brussels sprouts au jus with pomegranate seeds)
Course 4: Dessert
Date and apple halva
Yemeni honey cakes with comb
Malabi with pomegranate syrup

2) On September 30, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will team up with David Adelsheim, Proprietor of Adelsheim Vineyard, for an exclusive four-plus-course wine dinner. As one of Oregon’s founding wineries, the first vineyard was planted in the early 1970s in the north part of Willamette Valley. As a family-owned vineyard in its fifth generation, experimentation and collaboration have contributed to its regional and national success. Core standards for crafting stylistically consistent wines include using traditional and state-of-the-art techniques that create elegance, complexity, balance, and richness in their aromas, flavors and texture.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Nori Dusted Tuna - pickled daikon, miso ginger aioli
Scallop Sashimi - pickled squash, brown butter vinaigrette, local apple
Trout Pâté - caraway dust, trout roe, tart pear jam
Local Oysters on the Half Shell - preserved lemon, pomegranate sumac
Adelsheim Auxerrois, Chehalem Mountains, 2012
Hazelnut Dusted Trout (spaghetti squash, golden raisin, warm hazelnut apple vinaigrette)
Adelsheim “Bryan Creek Vineyard” Pinot Blanc, Chehalem Mountains, 2012
Adelsheim Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, 2012
Long Island Duck (chestnut spaetzle, lightly smoked duck confit, blueberry & beet purée)
Adelsheim Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2012
Adelsheim “Elizabeth’s Reserve” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2011
Grilled Flat Iron Steak (mole negro, chipotle cherry glaze, roasted yams, charred leaks)
Adelsheim “Vintage 32” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2009
Fresh Blackberries (honey rosemary ice cream)
Adelsheim Déglacé, Willamette Valley, 2012

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

3) Friends of Boston’s Homeless partners with renowned Boston chefs Karen Akunowicz (Myers + Chang), David Becker (Sweet Basil, Juniper), Chris Douglass (Ashmont Grill, Tavolo), and Jim Solomon (The Fireplace), for an exclusive farm-to-table fall harvest dinner to benefit The Serving Ourselves Farm at Boston’s Long Island Shelter.

The evening will feature a sunset cocktail reception on The Serving Ourselves Farm followed by a four-course dinner by the event’s team of celebrity chefs. Designed to showcase local food purveyors and culinary talent, the dinner will draw on ingredients grown and sourced at the farm. Guests will enjoy an elegant and intimate affair with a relaxed atmosphere featuring family-style food presentation, simple farm-inspired décor, and the company of fellow contributors.

100% of proceeds from the event will benefit Friends of Boston’s Homeless programs to help homeless individuals gain independence through education, employment, life skills development and permanent housing. To date, the annual Fall Harvest Dinner has raised $75,000 and is expected to reach a total of $100,000 this year.

WHEN: Thursday, September 25
6:00 – 7:00pm Sunset Cocktail Hour and Hors D’oeuvres
7:00 – 10:00pm Four Course Harvest Dinner with Beer and Wine

TICKETS: $250 per person / $2,000 per table of six (includes signage and goods from the farm)
To purchase tickets, call (617) 942-8671/8683 or visit https://www.fundraise.com/2014harvestdinner.
4) Cook, an American bistro located in Newton, will begin its new ‘Cook for Charity’ celebrity chef series by welcoming WCVB-TV host Anthony Everett of “Chronicle.” On Wednesday, October 1,from 6pm-8pm, Everett will roll up his sleeves and get cooking with Executive Chef/Owner Paul Turano as they serve up the special “Everett Flatbread,” designed by Everett himself from the open kitchen, wood-fired grill. The five ingredient flatbread (representing WCVB-TV’s Channel 5) will consist of: sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, onions and meatballs with 100% of flatbread sales going directly to the Multiple Sclerosis Society which works to improve quality of life for individuals and families affected by MS; and raises funds for cutting-edge MS research to stop disease progression, restore lost function and end MS forever.

Everett has been heavily involved with the MS Society, and the night of cooking will be one of several celebrity chef events at Cook, all of which will raise money and awareness about a charity chosen by the specific celebrity of the evening.

COST: $15 per flatbread. 100% of proceeds from the Everett flatbreads all evening long will be donated to the MS Society
The regular menu will also be available on the night.
Reservations are recommended by calling 617-964-2665.

5) On Wednesday, September 17, at 6:30pm, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House invites guest to explore the bold and flavorful wines of Napa Valley winery, Cliff Lede Vineyards. Cliff Lede General Manager, Lee Abraham will be onsite to meet with guests. Guests will enjoy a five-course seasonal dinner paired with a selection of the vineyard’s finest wines.

2014 Cliff Lede Wine Dinner Menu
Passed Appetizers
2013 FEL Pinot Gris
Beer Battered Alaskan King Crab Bites (Sam Adam Noble Pils Beer Batter, Blood Orange Remoulade)
Oysters on The Half Shell (Melon Gastrique)
Second Course
Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc
Cirtus Poached Sea Bass (Sea Bass poached in a citrus broth, White Peach Salsa)
Third Course
Cliff Lede Pinot Noir
Three Season Lamb Lollipops (Black Cherry Compote, Wild Mushroom and Thyme Demi, Pomegranate Cola Syrup)
Dinner Course
Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon
Bone-in Filet (Bone Marrow and Foie Gras Reduction, Smashed Potatoes, Glazed Baby Brussel Sprouts)
Moondance Dream Cabernet Sauvignon
Chocolate Tasting (Truffles, mousse, mini chocolate pastries)

COST: $195 per person + tax and gratuity
To make a reservation, please call (617) 951-1368.

6) On Tuesday, September 23, the Beat Hôtel will be transformed into the Big Easy during its first ever “New Orleans Burlesque: Fleur de Tease” from 8:30PM to 12AM featuring drink and dinner specials from Chef Ignacio Lopez, live music from The Brian Thomas New Orleans Band and a spicy burlesque show. Three of NYC's top burlesque performers will twist and twirl their tassels in homage to the storied history of New Orleans burlesque, once a hot-spot for superstar entertainers performing at legendary clubs in the French Quarter. The great residents of the Big Easy who once invented jazz used that same creativity to produce a vibrant burlesque scene that has remained ever present in the city since the 1940's.

The sultry show will feature three tempting, teasing and tantalizing ladies including New York City’s Calamity Chang. This “Asian Sexation” is a talented burlesque performer as well as the co-producer of the world's only Asian Burlesque Spectacular show in NYC. Joining her onstage is “The Go-Go Pussycat” Bettina May, a former Suicide Girl who has been performing nationally for the past six years. The Maine Attraction who will entice the audience with her dance-inspired “Burlesque Fusion.” The ladies will perform to the explosive sounds of The Brian Thomas New Orleans Band. Boston based trombonist Thomas is one of the most sought after musicians in the country playing music ranging from jazz to funk. He has been playing trombone since the age of 10 and leads his own jazz quartet, big band, and funk power house Akashic Record, each of which feature his original compositions.

While enjoying the show, guests can feed their appetite with specials from Ignacio Lopez which will be served in addition to the regular menu. Guests can indulge in everything from Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos with black beans, Spanish rice, queso blanco, cheddar and salsa ($25), BBQ Spare RIB Dinner, tender pork ribs, country mashed potatoes and slaw ($24), and Seared Duck Breast with risotto, sour cherries, kale and port wine sauce ($27).

For more information or to make a reservation, please call 617-499-0001.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Steal Scallops? Go To Prison

Across the globe, we've heard the tales of "pirates" who capture endangered fish or violate fishing regulations. Often referred to as Illegal, Unregulated & Unreported (IUU) fishing, it poses a dire threat which needs to be stopped, and there have been a number of international efforts to prevent such crimes. We cannot forget though that sometimes these problems are more local, and are equally as important. Though we should generally support local fishermen, we must be realistic and understand that there will always be a tiny minority who choose to violate the law, and must be stopped and punished.

Potential violators need to understand that those who choose to violate U.S. fishing regulations will be caught, punished and may even end up in prison.

Back in December 2011, a criminal complaint was lodged against D.C. Air & Seafood, Inc. (based in Maine) and five individuals, included Christopher Byers, the owner of that company. The complaint alleged that the defendants conspired to violate 16 U.S.C. § 3372(d), 16 U.S.C. § 3373 (d)(3)(A) and 18 U.S.C. § 1519, essentially falsifying Fishing Vessel Trip Reports concerning their harvesting of Atlantic Sea Scallops.

The Elephant Trunk Access Area (ETAA) is a large fishing area on the East Coast, covering more than 1000 nautical miles, that contains a high density of sea scallops. The region was closed to scallop fishing from July 2004 to March 2007 to allow the scallop population to grow and renew, an important step in protecting the species. From March 1 to March 15, 2007, the region was temporarily reopened for scallop fishing with the provision that a ship could only harvest 400 pounds of scallops per trip. The region was then closed and again temporarily reopened from March 1 to March 13, 2008, with the same limit on catches.

The individual defendants in the complaint were the owners and/or operators of four vessels that were licensed to harvest scallops in the ETTA. These vessels were required to file accurate Fishing Vessel Trip Reports for their catches. However, it was alleged that all four vessels falsified these Reports, in both 2007 and 2008, concealing the true amount of scallops that they harvested, which was higher than the allowable 400 pound limit.

During these two years, the four vessels claimed on their reports that they only harvested approximately a total of 28,000 pounds, a little less than the legal limit. In actually, they harvested nearly an additional 80,000 pounds, which was never reported. Some of these ships had special hidden compartments to conceal the extra scallops, while sometimes the extra scallops were secretly off-loaded at night in Atlantic City. It is obvious that greed fueled these gross violations.

Fortunately, somehow NOAA learned of their perfidy and likely possessed sufficient evidence of the conspiracy that all of the defendants eventually pleaded guilty rather than go to trial. Just recently, defendant Christopher Byers was sentenced and he will spend 30 months in prison for his role in this matter. He must also pay restitution of $520,371, the value of the unreported scallops. In addition, his company D.C. Air is on a five year probation and cannot participate in the scallop industry during that period. The other individual defendants still await their own sentencing, and they too could face prison time.

Let us hope that all fishermen pay attention to this story and understand the great risks they take if they try to violate important fishing regulations. Is it worth the risk of going to prison? Is it worth threatening the continued existence of seafood species? Fishermen may be frustrated sometimes by stringent fishing quotas, but illegally breaking those quotas is not the solution.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rant: Yelp & Extortion

Does Yelp penalize businesses that refuse to advertise with them? Though a number of businesses claim this is the case, Yelp has vehemently denied these allegations. A recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has brought this issue to the forefront once again, and their written decision provides fascinating food for thought.

Yelp is a crowd-sourced business review site, where consumers rate everything from restaurants to nail salons. It has been the center of controversy for years, for a variety of reasons. In the case at hand, several businesses filed a class-action lawsuit against Yelp for civil extortion, as well as violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and the California Business & Professions Code. There were four primary plaintiffs, from a dentist to an animal hospital.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed their lawsuit, and that dismissal was appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A three-judge panel affirmed the district court's dismissal, and the opinion was written by Judge Marsha S. Berzon. With any such court opinion, we need to understand that their decision is based only on the evidence before them, and that their decision may be narrowly applicable in a number of aspects. Reading the actual decision will help you better understand what occurred.

Contrary to some headlines, the Circuit Court did not state that Yelp has never engaged in extortion. Its ruling was far narrower, concluding only that extortion did not occur in the case of the four primary plaintiffs. However, based on the court ruling, it would be extremely difficult for any other business to successfully bring a suit for civil extortion against Yelp.

The court stated that the legal requirements to prove extortion were stringent, and that the plaintiffs failed to meet that burden. The plaintiffs didn't possess a pre-existing right to have positive reviews appear on Yelp, and this would likely apply to almost any business on Yelp. In addition, Yelp possesses the right to post, or not post, any review it chooses, whether positive or negative, and also can post them in any order it desires. This too would apply to almost any business, and not just the four primary plaintiffs.

In essence, this gives Yelp great power to manipulate user reviews, if they so desire. For example, Yelp could post only the negative reviews of a business, and choose not to publish any of the positive ones. This would not be unique to Yelp but would be applicable to any similar review site. If you check out the user reviews for a business, there is no guarantee that you are seeing all of its reviews. That is a disturbing thought, raising the issue of trust.

Based on these rulings, it would be extremely difficult for any business to bring a suit for extortion against Yelp though the court added it was still possible, "if adequately pled."  However, there might be other causes of action to cover these allegations and they might possess a greater chance of success. If a business has a contract with Yelp, then there is the potential that such allegations might constitute a breach of Yelp's contractual duties. That would be dependent on the specific terms of the contract, and would vary from business to business.

Another issue raised by this suit was that two plaintiffs alleged that Yelp penned negative reviews of their businesses but the court didn't find sufficient evidence to prove these allegations. And even if Yelp had authored reviews on their own site before, that would be insufficient to prove that Yelp did so with these specific plaintiffs. Mere speculation is insufficient. Hard evidence is necessary and neither plaintiff was able to provide such.

The District Court addressed a significant issue, immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (“CDA”), that the Court of Appeals chose not to address, finding it unnecessary to do so. The District Court felt that even if Yelp manipulated user reviews, they were immune under the CDA from any lawsuit. Section 230 says that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." Such immunity may be even more important that the stringent requirements to bring an extortion suit. This immunity is not absolute, but it is powerful. As an aside, it also can provide immunity to bloggers from being sued because of comments from other people made on that blog.

It seems that plaintiffs have not yet decided to appeal this decision. Based on what I have read in the decision, it doesn't seem it would be worthwhile for the plaintiffs to appeal. They seem to possess a lack of necessary evidence to prove some of the key points of their suit, and the legal requirements appear stringent enough that they are unlikely to prevail. Proving your allegations is an important aspect of any lawsuit.

Yelp may or may not manipulate reviews based on whether a business advertises with them or not. They deny doing so while others claim that they do. In the case at hand, none of the four plaintiffs proved such manipulation. However, the courts ruled Yelp could engage in such manipulation and it would not constitute extortion. Such manipulation may be legally protected, but it raises the issue of the trustworthiness of such reviews. However, more proof, beyond anecdotal assertions, is needed to indicate that such manipulation occurs. And all crowd-sourced user review sites are susceptible to this potential problem.