Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) TAMO Bistro & Bar hosts Wine Wednesdays - where they hand-select a new wine flight for their guests ($12 plus tax and services)! Every week is a new experience, and in addition, guests also have the option of pairing the flight with Chef Robert Tobin’s entrées, which he carefully selects to complement the wines ($21 plus tax and services).

Below, please find the offerings for TAMO’s next Wine Wednesday on March 30th, which features three wines, possessing expressiveness & imagination, in celebration of Vincent Van’s 163rd birthday.

Wednesday, March 30th – Three for Van Gogh
Vionta, Albarino, Rias Baixas 2013
Vega, Douro 2013
Bonny Doon, Syrah, Central Coast 2005

Entrée: Ceviche, cod croquette, spicy goat stew

2) The 23rd annual Taste of the North End, one of Boston’s most popular festivals of food, charity, and neighborhood, will be taking place on Friday, April 29th at DCR’s Steriti Memorial Rink. Bringing together the North End’s best Italian restaurants, The Taste of the North End raises money to support local organizations providing healthcare and social services to its community in need.

On Friday, April 29, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., guests are invited to sample a wide array of appetizers, cheeses, entrees and desserts from over 35 of the North End’s most popular eateries while sipping on libations from area wine and beer distributors. The event, emceed by Billy Costa of KISS 108 and NESN’s Dining Playbook, will also feature a high-end silent auction, a live band, and award ceremony honoring Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and John McGee of Mamma Maria.

Co-chaired by event founder Donato Frattaroli, owner of Lucia Ristorante, and James Luisi, CEO of North End Waterfront Health, the event will donate 100% of proceeds to area non-profit organizations. Last year’s event raised over $100,000 for non-profit organizations including: North End Waterfront Health; The Eliot School; St. John School; North End Against Drugs; North End Athletic Association; North End Music and Performing Arts Center; and more.

This year’s participants will include: Accardi & Son; Albert A. Russo Imports, Inc.; Antico Forno; Terramia; Aragosta; Aria Trattoria; Artu; Bricco; Mare; Il Panino; Cafe Paradiso; Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop; Espresso Plus; Filippo; Gennaro; Il Molo; Lucia; J. Pace & Son; La Summa; Lilly Pasta; Lucca; Mamma Maria; Massimino; Mike’s Pastry; Modern Pastry; Neptune Oyster; Paul W. Marks; Piantedosi Baking; Prezza; Rocco’s Cucina & Bar; Sail Loft; Strega; Taranta; The Living Room; Tresca; Union Oyster House; Vito’s; Carmelina’s; Ward 8; Fabrizia Limoncello; Fantasy Wines; Voga Italia Wines; Champy; and Harpoon Brewery.

Tickets are on sale now at a discounted price of $79. Tickets will be $99 after April 15th. They can be purchased on by searching “Taste of the North End 2016” or through the organization website

3) On April 3, Chef Brian Poe will debut the first ever Brunch service at Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake. Available weekly on Sundays, Chef Poe will dish out a collection of brunch plates with southwestern influences in addition to serving up his regular all-day menu. Dubbed “Hangover Specials,” the Rattlesnake will welcome all to the Back Bay for some much needed nourishment following a Saturday night out on the town.

The Bacon, Egg & Avocado Toast ($9.95) comes with guacamole, tomato, fried egg, bacon and cilantro on buttered Texas toast. The Chicken Roti Taco & Egg ($9) piles chile braised chicken, mango slaw and a fried egg on a grilled roti “tortilla.” For more traditional plates, there are Huevos Rancheros ($11.95) with two over-easy eggs, corn tortillas, refried beans, salsa fresca and an avocado and chimichurri crema and the Cheesy Egg Plate ($11.95) with three cheddar-scrambled eggs, bacon and buttered Texas toast. For those looking for a meat fix, there’s the Brunch Burger ($16.95) with Poe-co Loco seasoned ground beef, queso fresco, a fried egg and agave braised pork belly topped with green chile sauce.

WHEN: Beginning April 3: Sundays from 11:30am-3:00pm

4) Beginning in April, North End’s Terramia Ristorante will be offering a three course, prix fixe Chef’s Tasting Menu every Sunday to Thursday. For $33 per person (tax and gratuity not included) guests will enjoy a three course meal from Executive Chef Luiz Prata.

Start the meal with Insalata di Spinaci, a baby spinach salad topped with dried California figs, toasted Pignoli nuts and gorgonzola dolce tossed in a pancetta vinaigrette, or a classic Caprese salad with fresh Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Next, choose from a selection of pastas including Pappardelle alla Bolognese with veal, beef and pork, or Ravioli con Fichi, figs, mascarpone and walnut ravioli in a sage cream sauce, before enjoying the main course such as Pollo Marsala, Murrays Farm organic chicken breast, wild mushrooms and smoked pancetta served with spinach herb roasted potato, or Maiale, a filet of pork tenderloin with honey walnut crust, parsnip puree and baby spinach finished with dried California prune sauce.

The Chef’s Tasting Menu will be served Sunday-Thursday night in addition to the regular menu. Gluten free options are also available. To make a reservation please call 617-523-3112.

5) Chef Chris Coombs, the Boston Chops staff, and BRIX wine shop invite guests to join them for their first monthly wine dinner. Beginning Monday April 4, and continuing on the first Monday of every month, Boston Chops will feature wines from various regions and pair them with a menu crafted by Chef Chris Coombs.

Partnering with BRIX Wine Shop, Boston Chops’ first wine dinner series launches with "Classics from the California Coast” featuring coastal California wines and a delicious, five-course menu complementing the wine selection.

The menu will include:
First course: Aleppo Spiced Chilled Shrimp, Avocado Mousse
 Torched Grapefruit, Rice Cracker
Chanin, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, CA 2013
Second course: Spicy Crispy Sweetbreads & Pork Belly, “Wedge Salad”
Sandhi, Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, CA, 2012
Third course: Morel Mushrooms, Ricotta Cavatelli, Sweet English Peas & Pecorino
Valravn, Zinfandel, Sonoma County, CA, 2014
Main course: Grilled Rib Eye Cap “Spinalis”, Fingerling Potato, Charred Ramp Salsa
Fiddlehead Ferns, Peppercorn Jus
Hunt & Harvest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA, 2013
 Dark Chocolate Truffles, Star Anise Vanilla Cream Puffs, Coconut Cake

When: Monday, April 4, 6:30 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $79 plus tax and gratuity
Please make Reservations by calling 617-617-227-5011

6) The Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce announced Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast 2016 will be held from March 31 to April 9.  “This is the 9th year we are hosting Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast” says Valerie Rochon, Tourism Director & Interim President, Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. What started as a promotion to help bring attention and business to restaurants in the Seacoast region has turned into a twice a year tradition celebrating Portsmouth’s national reputation as a restaurant-driven destination.

51 restaurants are participating, the most ever, with a broad range of style and cuisine. It is an excellent opportunity for residents and visitors to visit places that have just opened as well as to dine at the city’s signature chef-driven restaurants with these great values. And it is an opportunity for the restaurants to give back to the community, thanking them for their support throughout the year. “The camaraderie among restaurants and the community is quite remarkable” shares John Akar, owner, Cava Tapas & Wine Bar. “We support one another and we support the community. We are all in this together and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than here on the Seacoast.”

The Cost for the three -course specials includes Lunch at $16.95 and Dinner at $29.95. You can check their website for info on the Menus of the various restaurants. Some of the restaurant menus which especially appeal to me include:

Agave Mexican Bistro: From Street tacos to Fried Oysters, Bone-In Pork Chop to Turkey Mole.
Apple Crest Farm Bistro: Cider Donut Bread Pudding!!
Black Trumpet: From Burgundy Braised Snails to Veal Saltimbocca Burger
Blind Pig Provisions: From Sasparilla Short Rib Pierogi to New England Paella
Cava: Which gives you 4 courses for dinner.
The Franklin: From Crispy Goat Wonton to Cubano Pork Belly Croquettes
Misto!: Which also offers 4 courses for dinner.
Moxy: From a Cuban Sandwich as a salad to Vermont Quail.
Tino's Greek Kitchen:From Grilled Octopus to Lamb Lollipop Chops.

Check out the full list of participating restaurants and their menus. Some places even include a beverage with their meal, such as a glass of wine or a beer.

7) Every Saturday from April 9 through April 30, The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, is celebrating “Loch and K(e)Y Bourbon Month,” a new, complimentary tasting series that focuses on the striking comparison between single barrel, hand-selected bourbons and their mass produced counterparts.

The Loch and K(e)Y society, based in Westborough, is an organization committed to providing customers with hand-selected, barrel-picked American whiskeys, blended scotch whiskeys, bourbons and single malt scotches of the highest quality. In 2015 The Wine ConneXtion became one of the few exclusive retailers of Loch and K(e)Y selections when it opened The BackRoom and expanded its inventory to include high-end spirits.

True to its name, these rare and one-of-a-kind bottles usually sit under lock and key, but this spring The Wine ConneXtion is breaking the secret seal and sampling them for the masses. Every Saturday from 1pm-5pm, throughout the month of April, The Wine ConneXtion is pouring one of Loch and K(e)Y’s high-end bourbon selections alongside that same producer’s popular, mass produced version. At the first tasting on April 9th, guests will taste and compare the Wild Turkey 101 Whiskey and the Wild Turkey Single Barrel Bourbon. Each tasting is complimentary and held in conjunction with The Wine ConneXtion’s weekly wine tastings.

Loch and K(e)Y Bourbon month will conclude with a seated tasting seminar at The Wine Connextion on May 5 from 7pm-9pm. During this event, guests will try up to six different Loch and K(e)Y selections while learning all about single-barrel bourbons and the exclusivity behind them. Seating for the seminar is limited and cost of attendance is $25 per guest. The cost of admission may be applied toward purchases at the Wine Connextion that evening. RSVP is required by calling (877) 469-5025. Guests must be 21+. For more information, please contact David Messina at (877) 469-5025.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bonny Doon: Four Pink Wines On The Edge

"First of all, since we’ve established that, at least for us, it’s not about money, let’s then talk about beauty. What voice might we lend to illuminate wine’s strange beauty?"
--Randall Grahm

Randall Grahm, the founder and winermaker at Bonny Doon Vineyard, based in Santa Cruz, California, produces a cool range of intriguing wines, willing to experiment with different grapes and styles. Aesthetics are also important to Randall, from the labels on the bottle to the wine inside. Combine experimentation and beauty, and you might create some fascinating wines. Recently, I received media samples of four of Randall's latest "Pink" wines, what others would refer to as Rosé. All four were certainly very different, experimenting with varied grapes and styles, and though all four didn't work for my own preferences, I greatly appreciate what Randall accomplished.

We begin with the 2015 A Proper Pink ($16), a blend of 69% Tannat and 31% Cabernet Franc, with an alcohol content of 13%. This is a darkish pink wine, basically a light red color, and is said to reflect the preferred style of wine during the Middle Ages, a clairet style. This is a more full-bodied Rosé, dry and crisp but with bright red fruit flavors, lush strawberry and watermelon. There are some black peppery notes but also a green pepper element, especially more on the finish, which comes from the use of Cabernet Franc. As I've mentioned before, I dislike that green pepper taste which is found in some Cabernet Franc so this was my least favorite of the four wines. However, that is a preference issue and I know plenty of other wine lovers who enjoy that taste and would love this Rosé wine. I liked everything else about this wine except for the green pepper taste.

Much more appealing to my taste was the 2015 Vin Gris de Cigare ($18), an intriguing blend of 44% Grenache, 20% Grenache Blanc, 12% Carignane, 11% Mourvèdre, 7% Cinsaut, and 6% Roussanne. With an alcohol content of 13.5%, this wine is made in the vin gris style, from grapes, picked at optimal ripeness, with minimal skin contact.  It also experiences some bâtonnage, stirring the lees after fermentation, which is intended to add some creaminess to the texture. This Rosés a pale pink in color, resembling a typical Provence Rosé, and its aroma and taste are similar as well. This is an elegant and more subtle Rosé, crisp and dry, with restrained red fruit flavors with mineral notes. There are also some subtle floral notes and a touch of savory herbs. It is complex and intriguing, with a lingering, satisfying finish. Absolutely delicious and refreshing, something you can enjoy on its own or with seafood or a light chicken dish. Highly recommended!

Returning to a very dark Rosé wine, the 2015 Il Ciliegiolo Rosato ($24) is made from 100% Ciliegiolo, an Italian grape (whose name means "small cherry") which is thought in some circles to be a parent of Sangiovese. The grape is most common in the Tuscan region in Italy, though it can be found in other Italians regions too, and it seems Italian producers are just starting to realize its potential. A small amount of Ciliegiolo is grown in California and Randall feels it is great potential there as well. With an alcohol content of 12.4%, the cherry aromas, with a hint of earthiness, from this wine are alluring. On the palate, the bright cherry flavors dominate, though there are delightful undertones of earthiness and herbs, a savory aspect which elevates this beyond just a one-note wine. Another delicious wine, something I would enjoy with grilled meats this summer.

The most unusual of the four "Pink" wines was easily the 2013 Vin Gris Tuilé ($26), a blend of 55% Grenache, 23% Mourvèdre, 10% Roussanne, 7% Cinsaut, 3% Carignane, and 2% Grenache Blanc. This is a vin tuilé , a solarized "brick wine," a style that Randall encountered on a visit to Côte de Provence.  To replicate this style, Randall let this wine sit in glass demijohns out in the sun and elements for about nine months. With an alcohol content of 13%, only 192 cases were made and as the wine is unfiltered, there is some sediment in the bottle. It has a more brownish-pink color and its aroma immediately brought to my mind the smell of sherry. And on the palate, it definitely tasted like a sherry as well, savory and nutty, with that oxidized element. There were some subtle notes of citrus and caramel, contributing to the complexity of the wine. Though Randall has stated this wine has a curry flavor, I didn't get that taste. As a sherry lover, I loved this wine though it certainly won't appeal to everyone. Highly recommended!

Kudos to Randall Grahm for taking the risk to produce such intriguing Pink wines.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Rant: White Wine Drinkers Are Less Experimental

During the last four years that I've worked at a wine store, I've found that white wine drinkers tend to be less experimental than red wine drinkers.

Is this a generalization that applies across the country? Does it occur in most wine stores? Or is my experience an aberration? I tend to believe that it is far more common than many might think and deserving of more attention.

When a white wine drinker comes to the store, they generally are seeking Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. And it is difficult to get them to choose another white wine rather than their preference. They are usually very firm in their choice, reticent to purchase anything else. All you might be able to do to help them is to recommend a specific wine within their preference. They rarely want to hear you discuss the wonders of Portuguese Vinho Verdo, Spanish Albarino, or French Muscadet. And even if they do listen to you, they will often still choose their preferred white.

When a red wine drinker comes to the store, they generally seek a larger range of wines, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec, Pinot Noir to Chianti. However, I've found them to be far more open to alternative suggestions. They aren't as firm in their preferences, willing to take a chance on a different red. They will try a Portuguese Red Blend, an Uruguayan Tannat, or a California Pinot Meunier. They tend to be open to hearing about different types of red grapes and wines, and will opt for your recommendations more times than not.

Why is this the case? What makes these white wine drinkers much pickier? Why aren't they more adventurous? It seems that the vast majority of those white wine drinkers are women. What does that mean, if anything? The ages of these white wine drinkers varies throughout the range, from the 20s to 80s, so it doesn't seem to be age related. It isn't price related either.

It's a curious enigma.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Wine Director Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s talented team welcome Austrian winemakers Michael Reinisch and Michael Malat as their guests of honor at upcoming winemaker dinner. On Wednesday, April 27th, at 6:45pm, Puritan and Co. will host a special wine dinner with these Austrian winemakers. Each hailing from different regions of Austria, this winemaker dinner will be provide guests with an excellent introduction to both the red and white wines being produced across Austria.

Along with complementary dishes prepared by Chef Will Gilson and conversation about Austrian wine varietals, Michael Malat, of Kremstal, will be pouring tastes of 2010 Brut Reserve, 2012 Riesling “Steinbühel 1”, 2012 Grüner Veltliner “Höhlgraben,” and Michael Reinisch of Thermenregion will be pouring 2013 Rotgipfler, 2012 Spiegel Zierfandler, 2013 Pinot Noir, 2011 St. Laurnet.

Cost: Tickets are $95 plus tax and gratuity
For Reservations, please call (617)-615-6195.
Due to the limited number of seats, Puritan and Co. requires a $30 deposit per person. Puritan and Co. will call to confirm attendance on Saturday, April 23. If the reservation is cancelled after that time, and the space is not able to be reserved, a Puritan & Co. gift certificate will be issued in the amount of the deposit.

2)  Tico, Chef Michael Schlow's Latin American inspired Back Bay eatery, is launching Taco Tuesdays for all the taco lovers and happy hour hoppers in Boston. Guests 21 and older can enjoy 6 Tico tacos (your choice of pork or two textured beef) and 5 Coronitas for just $30.

WHEN: Every Tuesday starting March 22.

3) Anthem Kitchen + Bar in historic Faneuil Hall is launching Cheap Date Night Tuesdays starting April 5th. For $50 per couple, sweethearts can choose from three, 3-4 course dinner and dessert menus that won't break the bank. Featured wines will also be served without the high price tag: $32 a bottle and $8 a glass.

Menus include:
Taste of New England
1st Course: Warm House Made Chips with spicy onion dip
2nd Course: New England Clam Chowder, two-time Boston Chowderfest winner!
3rd Course: Fish + Chips served with french fries, tartar sauce, and coleslaw
4th Course: Duo of Creme Brulee

Our Favorites
1st Course: Really Good Fried Pickles with chipotle aioli
2nd Course: Chopped Caesar Salad with smoked bacon, hard cooked egg, fried capers, herb croutons & grated parmesean
3rd Course: Faroe Island Salmon with snap peas, crispy rice cake, edamame puree + chili-orange mustard glaze
4th Course: Fried Twinkie

To Share
1st Course: 4 Cheese Fondue For Two with toasted ciabatta bread
2nd Course: Fig + Prosciutto Pizza, poached figs, tomato, arugula + parmesean
3rd Course: Dessert Pizza, hazelnut cocoa spread, caramelized bananas + toasted marshmallows

Featured Wines: Cabernet, Pinor Nior, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay

4) Chef Dan Bazzinotti and the BISq team is pleased to announce that they have decided to extend Dollar Oyster days to Sunday through Wednesday, from 5:30pm-12am. On those nights, guests can now enjoy fresh, local oysters for just one dollar each from when the restaurant opens until they run out. Great news for oyster lovers and I'm sure you can find numerous wines on their intriguing wine list to pair with those oysters.

5) Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer research and care, is excited to announce that Shaun Velez, pastry chef at Deuxave, will be the spokesperson for this year’s event- raising funds for Dr. Heather Parsons, MD, MPH, a promising, young breast cancer researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer institute.

Every year, Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer enlists restaurants, bakeries, and retail stores, across Massachusetts to participate in its weeklong event to raise funds for deserving, young breast cancer researchers. From May 2 to May 8, 2016, participating restaurants will either designate 100% sales of one specific dessert or 50 percent of proceeds from their entire dessert menu to support the research of Dr. Heather Parsons, MD, MPH.

Through our partnership with restaurants, bakeries, and stores, we have raised almost $1 million for breast cancer research and care. This year, funds raised will be used to fund exciting research by Dr. Heather A. Parsons, MD, MPH, who is at the forefront of research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,” Founder and President Carol Sneider said. “Funding research for this indiscriminate disease is so important, particularly as funding from the National Institute of Health decreases and young researchers are overlooked for funding or grants.”

Breast Cancer affects one in eight women, some with family history of breast cancer, and some without. Last year, over 230,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and almost 40,00 of those died from the disease.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Louisiana Seafood & Chef Michael Brewer

Time and time again, such as in my 3 Rules Of Eating SeafoodI have implored Americans to eat more domestic seafood. Sadly, we import about 90% of the seafood we consume and that is a tragedy on several levels. It is also unnecessary as there is so much delicious seafood in our local waters. By consuming domestic seafood, we give support to our local fishermen, many who have financial difficulties due to various circumstances. Domestic seafood is also highly regulated, helping to ensure our seafood is sustainable and safe.

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I spent some time at the Louisiana Seafood booth, learning more about their seafood industry and speaking with an award-winning chef, Michael Brewer. If you look at the statistics, you'll understand the great importance of Louisiana and U.S. seafood. Let's begin with the size of its waters, noting that its coastline is over 7700 miles long, which is longer than that of California. Annually, nearly 4 billion pounds of seafood are landed in the U.S. and Louisiana lands almost 900,000 pounds. One-third of all landed seafood comes from the Gulf, and Louisiana lands two-thirds of that total, making it the King of the Gulf.

As for specific seafood species, Louisiana lands 32% of the U.S. total amount of Shrimp, 34% of total Oysters, 25% of Blue Crab, 98% of Crawfish, 25% of Red Snapper, 62% of Drumfish, and 52% of Catfish. Unfortunately, it is important to note that 75% of the Crawfish consumed by Americans is imported. Why can't people stick to Louisiana crawfish? A crawfish boil is tasty and so much fun, but it is best with domestic crawfish as you know exactly what you are getting. I'll also mention that roughly 85%-90% of the crawfish harvested in Louisiana is from aquaculture, which is considered sustainable.

You might not realize that Louisiana's seafood industry includes wild and farmed raised alligators. I'm a fan of alligator meat, especially from the body. The tail meat can be too chewy and fibrous unless it is cooked just right. Roughly 310,000 wild and farmed alligators are sustainably harvested each year in Louisiana, which is probably far more than you would have ever suspected. Gator is certainly more popular in the South, but I think more Northerners should check it out too.

At the Seafood Expo, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board was present to discuss the benefits of seafood from Louisiana. I also got to briefly meet Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who oversees the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. Lt. Governor Nungesser has said, “Being a leader in the industry, we have responsibility to stress the health benefits and quality of our product compared to our imported counterparts.”

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board has also developed the American Seafood Coast Guard, an "initiative to address the issues associated with imported seafood and better educate the public about the health risks involved, as well as how to identify and where to locate high-quality, domestic product." Their basic advice to consumers includes getting them to seek out the origin of their seafood and to develop a relationship with their seafood vendor. Consumers need to check Country of Origin labels, to learn what is domestic seafood, and if they have any questions, they need to ask the fish vendor or restaurant staff. Education of consumers is vital in this regard.

As I've said before, one of the primary reasons why consumers don't eat more seafood is that they think it is too difficult to cook. Preparing seafood is far easier than most people think and if you can cook a chicken or steak, you can just as easily cook seafood. The Louisiana Seafood site provides a number of recipes for home cooks for Louisiana seafood, broken down into Shrimp, Crawfish, Crab, Oysters, Fish and Alligator. You'll also find recipes for Appetizers, Soups, Salads and Entrees. Try some Crawfish Bread Bites, Oyster & Bacon Chowder, Tropical Shrimp Salad or Crab Imperial.

For more recipes and advice on cooking seafood, please see one of my previous posts, How To Cook Seafood.

Last year, Chef Michael Brewer (pictured above) was crowned the King of Louisiana Seafood at the 2015 Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off for his Sheepshead Nachos. At the Seafood Expo, while Chef Brewer was removing shell and cartilage pieces from a large tray of crab meat, I had the chance to chat with him about his experiences and Louisiana seafood. He was unpretentious and down-to-earth, a passionate man and ardent advocate to the Gulf.

Chef Brewer initially worked as an electrical engineer but when his company closed in 2002, he decided to follow his passion and enter restaurant work. He didn't attend culinary school and began working as a waiter, subsequently receiving instruction and advice from the chefs at the various restaurants he worked. It would be the devastation of Katrina though which would firmly set him on his culinary path.

This tragedy brought out all of his love for New Orleans and he had an intense desire to help rebuilt New Orleans through food. He understood the importance of food to the people of New Orleans, such as the strong connection between family and food. In New Orleans, the talk at lunch ofen involves discussing what they will eat for dinner. There is also a close community of chefs in New Orleans, willing to help each other when needed.

For a couple years, Chef Brewer owned and operated The Sammich, a creative sandwich shop. It began as a test and closed last fall. Since then, Chef Brewer has become the new Executive Chef at Manning's Restaurant, which is located in the Harrah's New Orleans. Though Harrah's generally uses seafood from all over the world, Chef Brewer will be able to use only local seafood at Manning's. It is Chef Brewer's goal to give a soul to Manning's, to solidify its roots to the seafood of the Gulf.

Chef Brewer stated that the best thing about Louisiana seafood is its freshness, that it comes right out of their backyard. In addition, its diversity is also compelling, where fresh seafood is available year round, each season offering something different. He offered some advice on the use of seafood, first recommending that we use more "trash" fish, those underutilized species which still taste delicious but aren't as commonly popular. I've previously offered that same advice, having also heard it from a number of other chefs and seafood proponents.

In addition, Chef Brewer recommends using the entire fish, from nose to tail fin, to maximize the use of your fish and get every bit of value from it. He mentioned how he once learned the Mexican way to cook chicken skin and he then used that technique to cook fish skin. For example, he used the skins of Sheepshead fish (also known as the Convict fish), in his award-winning Nachos, which also had bacon fat tartar sauce and charred corn salsa. You will find other chefs now working with fish skin, which is great to see more people using every part of the fish.

Chef Brewer also provided some cooking advice for consumers, for preparing seafood at home. Many home cooks think cooking seafood is too difficult but his main advice is: "Don't be afraid. The worst thing you can make is dog food and that will make your dog happy." He recommends experimenting and not worrying about the results. Home cooks must get over their fears and just start cooking seafood, gaining practice and learning how to best prepare that seafood. Yes, there might be a few mistakes initially but if you keep at it, you won't keep making those errors and you'll start cooking delicious seafood dishes.

For more specific cooking tips, he states that home cooks need to get a flavor for salt, to understand how not to use too much or too little, to get to that happy medium. In addition, home cooks need to learn how to season better, to push it until it is almost too much. That will take practice but will payoff in the end, when you continually make perfectly seasoned food. Chef Brewer suggested using citrus peels as a  easoning agent, placing those peels in a coffee grinder. Finally, Chef Brewer highly recommended that consumers buy U.S. seafood, even if they have to pay more for it. U.S. seafood is a quality product and it is worth the added expense.

It was a pleasure to chat with Chef Brewer and I'm in agreement with his seafood advice. We need to eat more domestic seafood, more trash fish and not be afraid to cook seafood at home. Louisiana seafood offers many benefits and is a much better option than imported seafood, even if it costs a bit more. Explore the seafood options from the Gulf!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Owl's Brew: Tea For Cocktails

Nearly every day, year round, I drink fresh-brewed, unsweetened iced tea. I commonly drink black tea or green tea, and occasionally a flavored iced tea. I love the taste of tea and have also encountered a few delicious cocktails that used tea as an ingredient. Though you could brew your own tea at home to use in cocktails, there is an easy alternative, the tea mixers from Owl's Brew.

Back in 2011, in New York City, Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield established The Teaologist, later rebranded as Brew Lab Tea, a company that created artisanal custom tea blends. Two years later they expanded the scope of their business and founded Owl's Brew, to create tea-based cocktail mixers. Their desire was to make Owl's Brew as naturally as possible, without using the fake flavors that numerous other mixers and alcohols use.

The product is brewed in Vermont, in large kettles, and using fresh, natural ingredients, including an organic tea base and organic agave. The Owl's Brew is also gluten free and non-GMO. They make a variety of different blends, generally priced at 8oz for $9.99 and 32oz for $16.99. I first bought a bottle of The Classic at Total Wine, which is made with English Breakfast tea, lemon peel, lemon juice and lime juice. I experimented with this in several cocktails and later found their Smoky Earl at the Boston Wine Expo. Most recently, I got to taste several of their other flavors at the New England Food Show.

These tea mixers can be used with any type of alcohol, from rum to vodka, tequila to gin, beer to wine, sparkling wine to Port. The labels suggest that you mix two parts of the mixer with one part of alcohol but I would recommend experimenting with the ratios, finding something which meets your preferences. For my own preferences, I found an equal ratio was better, and sometimes even more alcohol was beneficial. Your ratio preferences will likely also depend on the specific flavor of the mixer and the type of alcohol you use. In addition, these tea mixers can be used as an additional ingredient in more complex and layered cocktails. It is a versatile product, limited only by your imagination.

The Classic has a bright lemony taste with black tea notes and more subtle lime accents. With The Classic, I initially mixed it with a Kimoto Junmai Sake, using three parts Sake to two parts mixer. The tea and citrus flavors worked well with the savory, umami-rich Sake. I think other Junmai Sakes would also pair well with the mixer. Ginjo and Daiginjo Sakes might not be able to stand up as well with the mixer. I also used The Classic with Speyburn Arranta Single Malt Scotch. The bold Scotch stood up well to the mixer at an equal ratio, and the tea and citrus flavors enhanced the taste of the Scotch. The Classic would definitely work well with a variety of different alcoholic beverages.

At the Boston Wine Expo, Jonathan Potashthe Cocktail Guru, and Kirsten "Kitty" Amann (pictured above) presented two different wine cocktails, The Wiseguy and the Santa Vino, which used Owl's Brew.  Both were intriguing cocktails, well balanced and tasty, though my favorite was The Wiseguy, which used the Smoky Earl. Made specifically for The Black Grouse Scotch Whiskey, the Smoky Earl is made from robust Lapsang Souchong tea, Earl Grey tea, lemon peel, honey, cane sugar and lemon juice. I very much enjoyed the smoky edge to the mixer, and in the cocktail, it was a pleasing combination with the yuzu and banana flavors. I very much want to experiment with the Smoky Earl at home.

Some of their other flavors, which I tasted at the New England Food Show, include:

White & Vine: White tea blended with pomegranate, lemon peel, agave, watermelon juice, lime juice, lemon juice, and raspberry juice. A nice fruity blend with a touch of tartness amidst the sweetness.

The Famous Mint Tea: Peppermint tea blended with lemon peel, agave, lemon juice concentrate, and lime juice concentrate. Lots of minty flavor.

Pink & Black: Darjeeling tea blended with hibiscus, lemon peel, strawberry juice, lemon juice, and agave. The pleasant strawberry flavor stands out with underlying citrus and black tea notes.

Coco-Lada: Black tea blended with coconut, chai spices, agave, pineapple juice concentrate, and coconut water. Tropical and spicy, this is an intriguing mixer which might be interesting in a frozen cocktail.

Overall, I was impressed with these tea-based cocktail mixers and will continue trying new combinations at home. I recommend you check them out too, and find some of your own favorite combinations. For more ideas, check out Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield new book due out this October, Wise Cocktails: the Owl's Brew Guide to Crafting & Brewing Tea-Based Beverages

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rant: Wine Is Just Fermented Grape Juice?

Wine is just fermented grape juice. As such, it has little real importance. Or at least that is what some people claim. These people want to dismiss wine as a mere luxury, thinking it has little reason to exist beyond its alcoholic content.

Let's dismiss their ignorance.

They fail to understand how wine can create connections between people, how it can bring people together, leading to friendships and more. The formation of those connections is significant, cementing relationships that can last our entire lives.

Last week, I attended a Franciacorta wine tasting with a number of my wine-loving friends. Nearly all of those people became my friends through wine. Without that connection through wine, I might never have met these people, which would have been a terrible shame. Though these friendships began with a shared passion for wine, they have developed into deeper relationships, extending beyond just wine. Wine was but the entry way for our friendships which have grown over time into something more complex.

The power of fermented grape juice.

In addition, I met new people at this tasting, other wine lovers who could become closer friends in time. Our shared love of wine became a foundation for friendship, common ground which started conversations which eventually led beyond just the realm of wine. And I probably never would have met some of these people except for the wine. For example, I got to meet Jeremy Parzen, an Italian wine expert, writer and excellent person. Without the connection of wine, our paths may never have crossed.

A person can sit home alone and drink a bottle of wine. That person might enjoy the wine but if that person shared that same bottle with others, it would likely elevate the experience. I've often said, and many others agree, that shared wine tastes much better than wine drank alone. It becomes a mutual experience, providing "oil" to lubricate conversation. It is a means of bringing people together in pleasure, spreading happiness. Even if you don't know those you are drinking with, you have common ground through the wine to get to know them better.

Life is about connections, about the people in our lives. It is those people who share our joys and sorrows, who help us in times of need. Our lives are so much richer due to the good people who are connected to us. And if wine can lead to friendships and connections, then it is an important element which is worthy of our praise. Wine might be fermented grape juice but that fails to properly encompass its greater role.

Don't underestimate the potential of wine.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Jeremy Parzen: Spreading Love For Franciacorta

Franciacorta may be the best sparkling wine that many people know nothing about.

I first wrote those words back in 2013 and they are as relevant today as they were three years ago. Franciacorta still needs wider recognition among the wine-loving community. It continues to be difficult to find in local wine stores and on restaurant wine lists. How can we change this situation?

On Wednesday evening, Jeremy Parzen, the U.S. Franciacorta Trade Ambassador, came to Boston to help elevate recognition of this quality sparkling wine. At the Wine Bottega in the North End, Jeremy, accompanied by Francesca Zocchi, who represented the Consorzia Franciacorta, presented a tasting of 11 Franciacorta wines. A number of my friends and I attended the event, and also dined later that evening with Jeremy and Francesca at Sportello. It was a fun, informative and delicious tasting event and it certainly helped to illuminate some of the wonders of Franciacorta.

Jeremy, who writes the fascinating Do Bianchi blog, has this in his About page: "In 2007, food and wine historian, Italian translator, and rock musician Jeremy Parzen Ph.D. created his blog “Do Bianchi” to offer readers a humanist perspective into the world of Italian wine and food." He first started working with Italian wine back in 1998 and has since been published in numerous magazines, seen as an expert on Italian wine. After spending some time with him, it was more than evident he is a very intelligent person who is extremely knowledgeable about wine. In addition, he is personable, down-to-earth, and humble. He also loves to engage others in discussing wine and other topics.

In 2014, the Consorzio Franciacorta retained Jeremy to create a blog devoted to Franciacorta, and the result is Franciacorta: the Real Story. This is an excellent place to find background about the region, its producers, and wines as well as the latest news of Franciacorta, including upcoming events. You will also find a link to a new movie about Franciacorta, titled F For Franciacorta.

For my own previous articles on Franciacorta, showing my passion for this delicious sparkling wine, I recommend you check out: Fun With FranciacortaFranciacorta: Bubbly That Needs To Be On Your Wine Radar and Franciacorta: Serious Bubbly You Should Be Drinking.

In short, Franciacorta is Italian Sparkling Wine, made in the méthode traditionnelle, and produced in the Franciacorta region of Lombardy. In a prior article, I stated that in 2014, annual production of Franciacorta was about 15.5 million bottles, roughly a 10% increase since 2012. As an update, in 2015, annual production increased to about 16.5 million bottles, with about 1.5 million bottles exported. Unfortunately, though the amount is increasing each year (with a 16% increase in 2015), only a small percentage of Franciacorta, a few hundred thousand bottles, is exported to the U.S. That needs to change and hopefully it will as more Americans learn about Franciacorta.

Jeremy began his discussion of Franciacorta with a short explanation of how sparkling wine is produced, which he feels is an important foundation in understanding the unique benefits of Franciacorta. One of the most important aspects of the Franciacorta region, which causes it to stand apart from many other regions which produce sparkling wine, is the climate. Franciacorta has an alpine climate rather than a continental one, which means their vineyards produce riper grapes so there is much less need to add sugar to the bubbly.

Thus, when you drink Franciacorta, the sweetness you perceive is often due much more to the fruit rather than added sugars. That is a significant difference which often doesn't receive sufficient attention. There seem to be few discussions on sugar levels in sparkling wine, despite the importance of that topic. It should also be mentioned that the alpine climate is affected in part by the moderating influence of Lake Iseo. Thus, the terroir of Franciacorta plays a strong role in the ultimate product, in the taste of its sparkling wine.

Another important consideration in the Franciacorta region is the diversity of its soils, over 60 different types. Its morainic soils, caused by ancient glacial action, are stony, with larger stones located in the northern part and much smaller stones to the south. These stony soils don't retain water well, which force grape vines to become stressed as they have to seek deeper to find water. That struggle leads to better grapes, and it is often said that the worst soils make the best wines. About 50% of Franciacorta vineyards are organic and the rest are moving in that direction too. It is possible that in the near future Franciacorta could become the first Italian wine region to become 100% organic.

Jeremy feels that Franciacorta is one of the world's greatest expressions of Chardonnay and the Franciacorta style Saten, the equivalent of Blanc de Blancs, is the perfect example of such. In Franciacorta, outside of their Rosé, Chardonnay is generally the major component of their sparkling wines, with sometimes a small percentage of added Pinot Noir or Pinot Blanc. You can find good Franciacorta for around $30-$40, though you can also find high end bottlings costing $200 or more.

I've mentioned before that I feel Franciacorta is very food friendly and was pleased to hear Jeremy echo those thoughts. Jeremy feels that Franciacorta, unlike some other sparkling wines, works very well throughout an entire meal, especially due to its freshness and fruit flavors. He feels that is an important advantage which can help convince consumers to purchase Franciacorta at a wine store or restaurant.

In the Franciacorta region, lake fish are a major pairing, including perch, a lake white fish, and freshwater sardines. These fish might be smoked or pickled (which is one of Jeremy's favorite preparations). What may surprise you is that Franciacorta has also become a major producer of caviar. I've previously paired caviar with Franciacorta and it is a superb match. Jeremy even loves a glass or two of Franciacorta with a juicy hamburger. I haven't tried that pairing yet but now it is on my short list to sample in the near future.

Of the 11 Franciacorta wines we tasted, four especially stood out to me. The Enrico Gatti Nature, a blend of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, is made without any dosage. It is dry and fresh, with pleasing flavors of green apple and citrus, a hint of nuttiness and a subtle toasty element. The Lantieri Extra Brut, made from a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, was dry and creamy with mild apple notes, some minerality and a pleasing freshness.

I was also impressed by the two vintage Franciacorta we sampled. The 2009 Fratelli Berlucchi Brut Freccianera, a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Blanc, and 10% Pinot Noir, spent about 55 months on the lees. It was an amazing sparkling wine, complex with multiple layers of flavor. Dry and intriguing, with delicious notes of green apple, citrus and toast, with a strong savory element. And its lengthy finish was so satisfying. Highly recommended. The 2006 Majolini Brut Electro, a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, spends at least 60 months on the lees. This was also extremely impressive, with a greater intensity and an earthy element. There was still pleasant fruit flavors, though more subtle, and also with a lingering and compelling finish. Highly recommended.

Let me leave you with an intriguing thought:
     Champagne is considered a sparkling wine while Franciacorta is a wine that happens to be sparkling.
--Owner of Ca' del Bosco Winery

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Wednesday, April 6, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a Rioja wine dinner with selections from Bodegas Muga. Located in the heart of northern Spain, Bodegas Muga joins together Mediterranean, Atlantic and continental influences in great harmony, creating an ideal climate for grapes. As one of the most elegant and old-world Rioja producers, Bodega Muga combines both tradition and modernity to create superior wines.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with owner, Manu Muga, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring cuisine paired with his selections from the Bodegas Muga vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Grilled King Crab, Papaya Relish, Baguette
Chaat Masala Sea Scallops, Pimentón Potato Cake, Valencia Orange Aioli
Kung Pao Grilled Cauliflower, Star Fruit
Muga “Conde de Haro” Brut Cava, NV
Orange-Scented Poached Halibut (Mixed Greens, Spicy Marcona Almonds, Strawberry-Rhubarb Vinaigrette)
Muga Rioja Blanco, 2014
Muga Rioja Rosado, 2015
Herb Grilled Lamb Lollipops (Fennel Confit & Pardina Lentil Ragout)
Muga Rioja Reserva, 2011
Venison Tenderloin (Madeira & Peppercorn Demi-Glace, Wild Mushroom & Potato Gnocchi)
Muga “Prado Enea” Rioja Gran Reserva, 2006
Manchego, Tetilla, Mahón (Jamón Serrano, Manzanilla Olive Tapenade, Mission Figs)
Muga “Selección Especial” Rioja Reserva, 2010

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

2) This April, Anna’s Taqueria continues its commitment to charitable organizations by welcoming Boston Marathon survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis to its Beacon Hill location for a special celebrity charity roller event on Wednesday, April 13, from 6pm-8pm. Haslet-Davis lost her left leg below the knee during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and will return to run 26.2 miles to raise awareness and funds for the Limbs for Life Foundation, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing fully-functional prosthetic care for individuals who cannot otherwise afford it.

For one night only, Anna’s fans can get their burrito fix while simultaneously helping a good cause. Guests who visit Haslet-Davis behind the counter will pay $10 for a burrito (plus chips and salsa) with all proceeds going to Limbs for Life.

The core of Anna’s mission is giving back to those that have helped grow the restaurant into a treasured citywide staple. Over the years, Anna’s Taqueria has supported countless organizations and has encouraged fundraising at the grassroots level by helping volunteers champion the causes they’re passionate about.

COST: $10 per person; chips & salsa included.
100% of proceeds for each guest-rolled burrito will go to the Limbs for Life Foundation.

3) One in five children in the United States does not get the food they need. 16 million kids in the United States struggle with hunger every day. These numbers are staggering and upsetting. Childhood hunger is a problem in the U.S that should not exist, and The Massachusetts Restaurant Association is partnering with Share Our Strength and their No Kid Hungry Campaign to help provide all children in Massachusetts with access to nutritious, healthy food options.

On April 11th, 2016 five restaurants across Massachusetts will be participating in Massachusetts Restaurant Day for No Kid Hungry. Inspired by Chef Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, who has graciously hosted a dinner for this important cause for the past 19 years; the MRA is pleased to announce its expansion throughout the state. The event will consist of a multi-course meal at one of five Massachusetts Restaurants, and all ticket proceeds will go to benefit No Kid Hungry’s Nutrition Education program in Massachusetts.

Participating restaurants include: Tremont 647 (Boston), One Eleven Chop House (Worcester), Quarterdeck (Falmouth), Cobblestones of Lowell (Lowell), and East Bay Grille (Plymouth).

Don’t miss this opportunity to donate to an important cause and help Massachusetts stamp out childhood hunger. To learn more about Share Our Strength and their No Kid Hungry Campaign, please visit:

COST: $75-$150
RSVP: Get tickets and more info here

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chef Richard Garcia: Talking Trash & New Rules Of Seafood Sustainability

Seafood sustainability is a complex issue and there are a myriad of factors to consider when evaluating what is or is not sustainable. It is easy to understand why the people is often so confused about this issue. Even many professionals have difficulty grasping all of the relevant elements. I have written plenty of articles about seafood sustainability and know that I continue to learn more about the subject all the time. Its vital importance to our world means that it needs to be a major concern, especially to the seafood gatekeepers, such as fish vendors and restaurants.

At the New England Food Show, which took from Sunday to Tuesday this week, there was an Education Session on this very subject, hoping to provide some simple guidelines for chefs, restaurant owners and operators. Chef Richard Garcia (pictured above) presided over the session, titled Talking Trash: New Rules Of Seafood Sustainability. Chef Garcia is currently the National Culinary Director of Sports & Leisure in North America for Sodexo USA. Previously, he has worked as a chef in the Boston area and for the last ten years, he has devoted lots of attention to seafood sustainability.

The description of the session stated: "Restaurant owners, operators, and chefs play a very important role in the success (and failure) of seafood sustainability. Learn how breaking the rules of seafood sustainability can help you navigate the confusing and ever-changing guidelines of seafood sustainability that can lead to a more profitable business." I attended this session yesterday and can confirm that Chef Garcia fulfilled his mission, providing concise guidelines which can cut through much of the confusion on this issue. However, I think that Chef Garcia could have omitted his third rule as the first two rules effectively covered the relevant issues.

Chef Garcia began by saying that we should think about seafood as we would any other protein. Most American consumers only eat pork, beef, chicken and lamb though we used to eat many other species in the past. We have narrowed our choices to a small group and that has occurred in the seafood realm too, with a focus on shrimp, salmon and tuna. Chef Garcia stated that "seafood is the only protein we still hunt" though noting that many are moving towards aquaculture. There are problems with declining stocks of some seafood species, but overall there is still plenty of seafood in the oceans.

Approximately 70% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is eaten at restaurants so they have a major role in promoting seafood sustainability. However, not all chefs and restaurants have the time to learn and navigate the complexities of seafood sustainability. Chef Garcia wanted to simplify the matter, and provide three basic rules for restaurants and chefs to follow. These rules are supposed to run counter to some of the old rules concerning sustainability and if restaurants and chefs follow these three rules, they should have few, if any, problems with sustainability.

The first old rule was that we should support global seafood offerings, following some of the guidelines provide by organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and the World Wildlife Fund. Chef Garcia's new rule was that you should only buy and serve U.S. seafood. Americans import about 90% of the seafood they consume which is a terrible tragedy. There is so much great domestic seafood that Americans should be enjoying. I've been promoting this very same idea for years, in numerous articles, including my own The 3 Rules Of Eating Seafood. We need to give more support to local fishermen, preventing them from going out of business.

U.S. seafood regulations are some of the toughest in the world and there is a strong argument that any seafood legally caught within the U.S. is sustainable. So by buying and serving U.S. seafood, you don't have to worry about its sustainability. Chef Garcia also strongly suggested that you buy whole fish rather than processed seafood. This can be less expensive as well as decreasing the chances you will be deceived as to the seafood you buy.

The second old rule centers on consuming the most popular seafood types, such as shrimp, tuna and salmon, which account for about 50% of the seafood consumed by Americans. As I've written before, though there are more than 100 seafood species available in U.S. markets, a mere 6 species account for 91% of the seafood consumed here. Those six include shrimp, salmon, tuna, Alaskan pollock, tilapia and Pangasius catfish. Chef Garcia's new rule is that you should diversify your portfolio and consumed many different species, including those more commonly referred to as "trash fish."

Again, this is a rule I fully support and have written about multiple times, such as in my Rant: Stop Eating Cod, Tuna & Salmon. That article quoted Chef Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas, who said, "One of the best ways to fight overfishing is diversity: People must be willing to cook and eat species besides the familiar ones,..." Trash fish are simply seafood species which are less commonly eaten and many are absolutely delicious. Chef Garcia has held several trash fish dinners over the years and he likes using the term "trash fish," considering it a type of shock therapy, which gets people to listen and ask questions.

This promoted a little discussion as not everyone likes the phrase "trash fish." One woman involved in the Gloucester seafood industry prefers to refer to them as "treasures of the sea" while another chef noted how "trash fish" intrigued him and caused him to start cooking with red fish. I tend to side with the use of "trash fish" as consumers need more education about seafood and anything which gets their attention is helpful. Yes, it can lead to some negative thoughts but that gives you the opportunity to dialogue with consumers, to explain why they should be eating different seafood species.

The last old rule is that farmed fish is best and Chef Garcia believes that aquaculture should largely be ignored. However, he does note that there is room for farmed seafood, especially bivalves such as oysters, mussels and bay scallops. Chef Garcia briefly mentioned some of his concerns about aquaculture and I disagree with a number of his points but don't want to get into a debate on aquaculture here. If you want more info on my position, check out the numerous aquaculture posts on my blog.

Instead, I want to address whether this third rule is necessary or not, based on the prior two rules. The fact is that U.S. aquaculture is a very small industry, providing approximately 2% of the seafood Americans consume. In addition, 80% of our aquaculture consists of bivalves with the majority of the remaining portion for catfish. Many of the negative examples cited by Chef Garcia concerned aquaculture outside of the U.S., from Asian shrimp to Norwegian salmon, and thus are not applicable to the U.S.

If we follow Chef Garcia's first rule, of only buying and serving U.S. seafood, there is little need for this third rule as U.S. aquaculture is such a tiny aspect and most of it is acceptable farmed bivalves. The third rule is essentially duplicative of the first rule so its elimination would have no practical effect. You could go with just the first two rules and it would work just as well.

At the end of his talk, Chef Garcia wanted to emphasize the importance of sustaining U.S. fishermen, helping them survive in these tough times where restrictive fishing regulations can cause hardship. In addition, he stated it was important to support those businesses which contribute to the fishing industry, such as those providing the fuel for fishing vessels. Buying domestic seafood helps all of these related industries and benefits our local communities. I fully support Chef Garcia in this sentiment.

Overall, Chef Garcia did a very good job in providing some simple rules for restaurants and chefs in navigating the complex world of seafood sustainability, especially considering the session was only 45 minutes long. On many points, his thoughts on seafood sustainability are similar to many I have been advocating for years. Personally, I would have omitted the third rule and just went with the first two as U.S. aquaculture is such a tiny industry.

Kudos to Chef Garcia for all his years of support for seafood sustainability.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Rant: Menu Ingredient Omissions

I had to send my pancakes back to kitchen...

Last week, I checked out a new local restaurant that specializes in breakfast and ordered one of the combos, which included eggs, meat and pancakes. When the pancakes arrived at my table, they were slathered in maple syrup, which is unusual as most commonly syrup is served on the side. The menu didn't mention that syrup came atop the pancakes so I didn't expect them atop my pancakes. As I dislike syrup, I had to send them back.

Why didn't the menu mention that syrup was atop the pancakes? That is an important face which should have been mentioned. The menu should have been more detailed in that respect. It is usual practice for syrup to be on the side so any diversion from that norm needs to be explicitly mentioned. I am far from the only person who doesn't like syrup on their pancakes. I shouldn't have to interrogate the server to ensure syrup isn't automatically placed on those pancakes.

This menu omission meant that a plate of pancakes ended up wasted, thrown out. It also meant I had to wait even longer to get my breakfast. All of that could have been avoided by a few extra words on their menu. As they are a new restaurant, I can give them a pass for the moment, to give them time to iron out their issues. However, this is a problem I've encountered in other restaurants as well. And something needs to be done.

If I order something, and there are ingredients listed, I want those ingredients to be complete and accurate. I don't want an unpleasant surprise when my food arrives. I don' t think that is too much to ask from a menu. For example, you might see a sandwich listed, with a partial listing of the fillings and condiments, yet they omit to mention a certain mayonnaise or mustard that is also on the sandwich. And you don't realize that until you bite into it. If you dislike mayo or mustard, that's going to displease you and it is easy to remedy.

For me, this isn't a matter of dietary restrictions or allergies, but it is about preferences. And those preferences are important to me and others. Restaurants have a simple remedy so they should make the effort and stop these menu ingredients omissions.

Friday, March 11, 2016

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) Kiwi Sake? The Southland Times presents some information on a Sake brewery in New Zealand. Strangely enough, the article never actually mentions the name of the brewery, New Zealand Sake Brewers, Ltd. which sells Sake under the brand name Zenkuro. Opened for about a year, the company is a partnership of Craig McLachlan, Richard Ryall, brewer David Joll, and Canadian sake brewery owner Yoshi Kawamura. The Sake is made from California rice and water from the Southern Alps. It is currently available in several restaurants, and they are hoping to soon add more restaurants as well as souvenir shops. I'll be seeking more info about this brewery and will report back what I learn.

2) A Sake comeback? The Japan Times is reporting on how new, young Sake brewers are trying to make Sake cool once again, to raise consumptions levels within Japan, especially with the younger generation. At the recent Craft Sake Week, there was a significant effort to take away pretentiousness and stuffiness. From a live DJ to food trucks, the event tried to reach a younger audience, to attract them to Sake drinking. In addition, two brothers at Senkin Shuzo, the oldest Sake brewery in Tochigi Prefecture, are trying to treat Sake more like wine, especially concerning the issue of terroir. The brothers are also experimenting with different types of Sake, including a range of natural ones. It is great to see all of this innovation in the Sake industry as there is plenty of room for growth and stagnation will only doom the industry.

3) A new Sake in Massachusetts? Last month, Blue Current Brewery, the first and only Sake brewery in Maine, announced that its Junmai Ginjo Sake is now available in Massachusetts, distributed by the Martignetti Companies, through their Classic Wine Imports division. It is available in 375ml and 750ml bottles. This is excellent news and you should read my review of the brewery and its Sake. In Maine, you can find Blue Current Sake in many non-Asian restaurants and hopefully this will happen in Massachusetts too, showing consumers how Sake pairs well with all types of cuisines.

4) Sake & Ramen? Yes, this is an excellent combination and some local diners are going to experience a special dinner showcasing these two. On March 21, Chef Moe Kuroki of OISA Ramen, a pop-up ramen shop, is collaborating with Chef Matthew Virzi of Aurum Hand Pies in Jamaica Plain, for a special four-course dinner. The courses will include: Wilted Kale Salad; Crispy Chashu Fritters; OISa Ramen with handmade noodles; and Strawberry Azuki Hand Pie. I am also helping out, having selected four different Sakes to accompany the dinner. This should be a delicious and fun event. There will only be a single seating and tickets cost $55 per person. There are still a few tickets left and you can go to EventBrite to make reservations. Act fast as the tickets will likely sell out soon. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Andy Husbands is the Chef/Owner of Tremont 647 and forthcoming concept The Smoke Shop, a barbecue restaurant slated to open this Spring in Cambridge. On March 25 and 26, from 10:30pm-12:30am, Andy Husbands is teaming up with Chef Peter Ungar of Tasting Counter to host The Smoke Shop’s Late Nite Pop Up. The Smoke Shop is Husbands’ heart and soul and his passion project. The Smoke Shop is about honoring the roots of barbecue and moving forward to establish new traditions just as he has throughout his years on the completion circuit.

The menu for The Smoke Shop Late Nite Pop Up includes:
--Burnt Ends Sliders traditional: sweet and spicy slaw, first place glaze served with Gram’s pickles or new style: kimchi, sesame aioli served with Gram’s pickles $5/each
--Pulled Pork Sliders traditional: sweet and spicy slaw, Red State pork sauce served with Gram’s pickles or new style: bahn mi, fresh herbs, fried shallots, yuzu nauc chum served with Gram’s pickles $5/each
--Hot Fish Sliders sour pickles, mayo $5/each
--Fried Chicken & Waffle Croquettes maple and butter $5/order
--Mini Cornbread Loaf honey sea salt butter $2/each
--4 Layer Brownies $3/each
--Rainbow Treats $3/each

Additionally, Tasting Counter will be offering a selection of natural wine, local cider and a crafty cocktail or two, all only $8/each.

2) This spring, Legal Sea Foods in Charles Square will take a trip down south with their Live Crawfish Boil. For three straight weekends, the Charles Square location will host this craw-fest by dishing out a Cajun special, prepared and priced for two. The “Two If By Sea” limited time menu feature packs together two pounds of first-of-the-season boiled Louisiana crawfish with red bliss potatoes, andouille sausage and corn on the cob.

WHEN: March 18-20 & 25-27; April 1-3, from 11:00am-11:00pm
COST: $28 for two people (excludes tax & gratuity)
For Reservations, please call 617-491-9400

3) On March 17, sister restaurants Foundry on Elm and Saloon will welcome St. Patrick to Somerville’s Davis Square for a night of merriment and Irish specialties.

At Foundry on Elm, lovers of fine food and ale will be treated to executive chef Shayne Nunes’ St. Patrick’s Day special of Guinness Braised Corned Beef & Cabbage with roasted red potatoes, baby carrots and stone ground mustard ($22).

Downstairs in Saloon’s speakeasy, Chef Nunes will dish out Bangers & Roasted Garlic Mash with caramelized shallot beef gravy ($12) that is designed to complement Saloon’s extensive Irish whiskey collection. The beverage team also will pour a specialty cocktail, The Cardinal, with Jameson, Cardamaro, red wine, lemon juice and simple syrup ($11).

4) Chef Dan Bazzinotti and the BISq team invite guests to join them every Monday and Tuesday night, from 5:30pm-10pm, for dollar ($1) oysters. Guests can now enjoy fresh, local oysters for just one dollar each. Quite a bargain.

5) On March 23, at 6:30pm, join the culinary team at Bar Boulud, Boston for a personalized, educational wine journey. Bar Boulud, Boston will host “Sip & Savor,” an educational wine dinner featuring Italy’s Veneto wine region.

Showcasing selections from the Bertani family, whose name carries centuries of winemaking expertise, the evening will explore four classically complex wines, beautifully paired with unique, seasonal dishes from Chef de Cuisine Jonathan Kilroy and Pastry Chef Robert Differ.

The “Sip & Savor” wine dinner will be served as follows:
Fluke Crudo (Omani lime, Radish, Calabrian chili, Olive oil)
Paired with Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve 2013 “Lepia” Soave DOC
Seared Octopus (Orange, Olives, Almonds, Tarragon pesto)
Paired with Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve 2012 “Torre Pieve” Chardonnay, IGT Verona
Braised Lamb Shank (Treviso, Bean Ragout, Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms)
Paired with Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve
2013 Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC
2009 Amarone Classico della Valpolicella DOCG
Équatoriale Bittersweet Mousse (Almond biscuit, Mint stracciatella gelato)

COST: $95 per person (includes tax and gratuity)
TICKETS: Available on

6) Any kind of Eggs Benedict you can dream up, finished off with a fresh beignet...yes, please. Anthem Kitchen + Bar invites you to join them for their special Bennys and Beignets Brunch on March 20. From 9am 'til 2pm, Chef Ben Hennemuth will be poaching eggs for SIX different takes on classic Eggs Benedict (including a benny burger, of course) and frying up some sweet, fresh beignets. This exclusive brunch menu will only be available that day; don't miss out!

The Bennys and Beignets Brunch menu includes:
Lobster Benny - poached eggs, hollandaise, native lobster, Portuguese muffin + breakfast potatoes
Country Benny - poached eggs, braised greens, buttermilk fried chicken, sausage ale gravy on a Portuguese muffin + breakfast potatoes
Huevos Rancheros Benny - poached eggs, black beans, crispy chorizo, avocado, Tobasco hollandaise on a Portuguese muffin + breakfast potatoes
Crab Cake Benny - poached eggs, Jonah crab cakes, Tobasco hollandaise on a Portuguese muffin + breakfast potatoes
Irish Benny - poached eggs, house braised corn beef hash, whole grain mustard, hollandaise on a Portuguese muffin
Benny Burger - poached egg, apple smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, hollandaise served on a Portuguese muffin with breakfast potatoes

And the beignets? They'll be topped with orange zest, powdered sugar, and Nutella. The perfect end to brunch. Not looking for eggs benny or sweet, sugar topped beignets? Anthem Kitchen + Bar has your brunch covered. They will also be serving their regular brunch menu during the Bennys and Beignets Brunch.

Reservations can be made by calling 617-720-5570.

7) On Saturday, April 2, from 2pm-8pm, Brass Union again will host the sixth annual Music vs. Cancer event to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The day party will feature live music entertainment provided by deejays J-Wall, Big Lebowski and Ryan Brown in addition to performances by acoustic artists Dave Wells and Ali McGuirk. Brass Union will dish out complimentary appetizers and there will be a silent auction and raffle. For those looking to get their game on, there will be a charity shuffleboard tournament with a $150 cash prize.

Brass Union’s music curator, Jeff Wallace, will be spearheading the fundraiser. Wallace’s mother, Eileen, is a breast cancer survivor who has been cancer-free for 12 years. A cause close to everyone’s hearts, the donations will help supplement Eileen’s fundraising initiatives for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as she prepares to run her seventh Boston Marathon for the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team. In the past years, Ellen has raised more than $80,000 for the cause.

COST: $10 minimum onsite donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Gift donations also accepted at

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Alsatian Connection To Tequila

The next time you have a shot of tequila, a Margarita or other tequila cocktail, you should give thanks to the French region of Alsace.

Why? What connection does Alsace have with the Mexican spirit tequila?

Let's start with a little information on the most basic element of tequila, the agave plant. Agave is a perennial succulent and was once believed to be related to the lily family but newer evidence places it closer to the asparagus family. There are over 200 varieties of the agave, about 50 of which are safe to consume. Many of those 50 varieties are used to produce Mezcal, though the majority of Mezcal is made from only a small fraction.

By law, with the first standards having been created in 1949, tequila can only be produced from Weber Blue Agave, a plant which can grow as tall as ten feet. The piña, the heart of the blue agave, can weigh an average of 100-200 pounds. Legally, a tequila must be made of at least 51% blue agave and the rest can be other sugars, such as corn or sugarcane. The best tequilas are said to be made from 100% blue agave.

Now let's travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Alsace. In 1830, Frédéric Albert Constantin Weber was born in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. He would also later be known as F.A.C. Weber and Dr. Albert Weber. He became a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Strasbourg in 1852, publishing a thesis on cerebral hemorrhage. Soon after his graduation, he joined the military, becoming a military surgeon. Frédéric also had a hobby of plant collecting, though I haven't been able to determine the origin of this hobby.

Around 1864, Frédéric was sent on a military expedition to Mexico, an invasion that would later be known by several different names, including the Maximilian Affair, the Franco-Mexican War and War of the French Intervention. Mexico, which owed debt to France, Spain and the UK, had defaulted on payments and Emperor Napoleon III of France convinced Spain and the UK to invade Mexico to recover their monies. However, France was soon alone when Spain and the UK realized that Napoleon III wanted to size control of all of Mexico. In the end, France's efforts failed and they had to leave Mexico.

During the approximate four years he was in Mexico, Frédéric somehow found sufficient free time to exercise his hobby, studying some of the native plants of Mexico, especially cacti and agave. He returned to France and eventually published some of his findings though many of his plant studies wouldn't see publication until after his death in 1903.

Most importantly, in 1902, Frédéric, under the name Dr. A. Weber, published an article in the Bulletin du Muséum d'histoire Naturelle (Issue #3, page 218) which was titled “Notes sur quelques agave du mexique occidental et de la Basse-Californie.” The article discussed and described the blue agave plant, referred to as agave tequilana, and its use in producing Pulque and Mezcal. It should be noted that when Frédéric was in Mexico during the 1860s, tequila didn't yet exist as a separate entity, and Mezcal, sometimes known as Vino Mezcal de Tequila, was the norm. It wouldn't be until the 1870s, that tequila started being known as its own entity. After Frédéric's death, agave tequilana would be named after him, becoming Weber Blue Agave.

Once, tequila could be produced from a number of different agave plants, but eventually it was decided that it could only be made from Weber Blue Agave. There are alternate explanations for why this agave was chosen, some, especially the large tequila companies, claiming that it was because it is the best agave. Other allege that blue agave was chosen because it is prolific, matures relatively quickly, and the piña has a high level of sugars. This makes it more appealing to large tequila producers who need to make significant amounts of tequila cost effectively.

Frédéric's study of the blue agave likely helped to elevate its importance, bringing it to the forefront, and now it is the cornerstone of tequila production. The use of the Weber Blue Agave is a nod to Alsace, a long distance path showing the interconnectedness of the world.

To honor Frédéric's work, please raise a glass of Crémant d'Alsace and follow it with a shot of Tequila.