Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 3 Rules Of Eating Seafood

Summertime in New England brings lobster rolls, fried clams, grilled shrimp and more seafood treats. One of my favorite, local seafood restaurants is the Clam Box in Ipswich, which has superb fried clams and also some decadent fried lobster. Whether you drive to Cape Cod or Maine, Gloucester or Rhode Island, you'll find plenty of excellent seafood options. Whether a local or tourist, there is seafood which will tempt your palate and please your belly.

However, at its most basic, what do consumers need to know about seafood?

Seafood issues can be complicated, requiring extensive research and study as well as lots of questions. It can be a daunting matter to the average consumer who lacks the time or inclination to dig so deep into these issues. They would prefer easy guidelines to follow, basic rules which will lead them through the morass of intricacies of seafood issues. I'm here to offer these consumers some basic advice, three rules to follow for seafood consumption. If you follow these rules, you'll help yourself, you'll help seafood species, and you'll help local communities.

In the near future, I will expand upon these issues in greater detail, and provide additional seafood advice for consumers. These three rules though are an excellent starting point, leading consumers toward the right direction.

1. Eat More Seafood
Most Americans need to eat more seafood, especially because of its significant health benefits. In 2013, seafood consumption decreased by 4%, down to about 14.4 pounds a year, making it seven consecutive years of decreasing consumption. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people should consume about 26 pounds of seafood each year, meaning most people should be eating about 11 pounds of seafood more than they currently consume. You should be consuming at least 4 ounces of seafood, twice a week.

Research has shown growing evidence of the significant health benefits of fish, for the heart, brain, and bones as well as against cancers and inflammatory diseases. But some of the strongest evidence is for its significant benefits to preventing heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) the leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease, killing nearly 600,000 people each year. Since the 1970s, over 20,000 research studies have been conducted on the health benefits of seafood and they have concluded that eating seafood twice a week can reduce your chance of dying from heart disease by 36%. You probably won't find another single food that has been scientifically proven to reduce heart disease so significantly.

You owe it to yourself, and your family, to eat more seafood and benefit your health. In addition, seafood is delicious. Because of the great diversity of seafood, I'm sure there is seafood that nearly anyone will enjoy. It can be prepared in a myriad of methods, to fit any desire. Don't just enjoy it in the summer, but partake of seafood year round.

2. Eat Sustainable Seafood
Despite the vast size of the oceans, and all the freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams, they do not contain an endless supply of seafood. And throughout history, man has overfished some of these waters, driving some species to the brink of extinction. That is unacceptable. We need to protect these endangered seafood species, as well as to protect the health and welfare of the oceans and other waters. Don't you want your children to be able to enjoy the same types of fish that you have enjoyed? Do you want to be responsible for killing off an entire species?

Fortunately, sustainable fisheries, which protect seafood species as well as the oceans, are becoming more and more prevalent. Consumers need to do their part by eating sustainable seafood, choosing not to eat any seafood which isn't sustainable. Yes, it is not always easy to determine what seafood is sustainable, though I will be offering advice in the future. What you should take away from this rule though, is that you should seek out sustainable seafood. When you buy seafood at your local market or restaurant, ask whether it is sustainable or not. Look for third party certifications, stating that the seafood is sustainable. We need to do our part to ensure the security of our seafood for future generations.

3. Eat More Domestic Seafood
A Maine lobster roll and a plate of New England fried clams are absolutely delicious, and they are even better because they are locally sourced. New England is not the only area in the U.S. with excellent local seafood. Think of the bounty of Gulf Shrimp, Alaskan Salmon, East Coast Oysters and so much more. With all of this excellent seafood available, then why does the U.S. currently import about 91% of our seafood? That is a disgrace. We need to support our own local fishermen and eat more of our own seafood, rather than primarily eat seafood from the rest of the world.

With imported seafood, there are greater issues with seafood misidentification and potential food safety issues. Wouldn't you rather buy some fish that came off the boat a few hours before, or a piece of frozen fish from China that has traveled thousands of miles after being processed in a different country? The FDA only checks about 2% of the seafood that gets imported into the U.S., so food safety is a major concern. Your best solution is to eat more domestic seafood, to support our own fishermen and communities.

(For more Seafood info, please check out my Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association homepage).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rant: Dog Fighting

What do President Barack Obama and Inspector Harry Callahan aka "Dirty Harry" have in common?

Though they might seem to be very disparate individuals, they hold a similar opinion on a controversial topic. It's a topic that divides many people, one which garners much emotion. And during this summer season, the topic is particularly relevant and may lead to heated arguments in backyards, beaches and elsewhere. I have my own stance in this controversy, counter to both the President and Dirty Harry, and I'm sure it'll anger some. However, I firmly stand by my opinion.

I like ketchup on my hot dogs. 

That opinion isn't popular. President Obama has stated that “You shouldn’t put ketchup on your hot dog" while Dirty Harry in "Sudden Impact" agrees, having said, "Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog."  Even the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council has posted, "Don't...Use ketchup on your hot dog after the age of 18. Mustard, relish, onions, cheese and chili are acceptable." Chicago seems to take the lead in its opposition to ketchup on hot dogs, but people all over the country have embraced a similar sentiment.

Why so much hate for ketchup on hot dogs? That seems more difficult to determine, with various theories that seem to lack much logical support. It might be something that at its most basic is more psychological than anything else. The most common criticisms seem to be is that ketchup covers up the taste of the meat or that there is too much sugar in the ketchup. However, when you look at everything else that often is placed onto a hot dog, that rationale easily falls apart.

Let's look at the basic Chicago-style hot dog, which is topped by a mound of ingredients, including yellow mustard, chopped white onions, green sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spear; tomatoes, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt. All those toppings are going to cover up the taste of the meat far more than just a slather of ketchup. And if sugar is a worry, then why add sweet pickle relish? It makes no sense to oppose ketchup cause of its sugar content, but add a different sweet condiment.

A number of people like chili atop their hot dog, and people don't complain about that, yet a common ingredient in chili is ketchup. We also should realize that there are various types of ketchup out there too, and you can even create your own ketchup recipe at home. Some of these different ketchup sauces can be spicier than sweet. You shouldn't generalize about ketchup due to all its possible varieties.

We also have to remember that this is just a hot dog. It isn't haute cuisine. It commonly includes meat trimmings and fat, spices and preservatives. So what's the big deal about what some people choose to put on it? Why be a snob about putting ketchup on such a plebian food? People generally don;t complain about ketchup on burgers, and that is far closer to a steak than a beef hot dog will ever be. Get off your high horse about what you think is an acceptable condiment for a hot dog.

If you don't want ketchup on your hot dog, that is fine as that is your preference. Just don't tell everyone that no one should put ketchup on their hot dogs. Don't make some grand pronouncement that ketchup doesn't belong on any hot dogs. I'll bet that your rationale doesn't stand up to careful scrutiny and reasoning.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Besito Mexican: A Little Kiss of Deliciousness

New restaurants continue to open on a regular basis in Burlington, making it an interesting, suburban culinary destination. There have been a few new steakhouses, a BBQ joint, a noodle shop and more. One of the latest openings is Besito Mexican Restaurant, located at the Burlington Mall between Legal Sea Foods and Bobby's Burger Palace. The concept of Besito, which means "little kiss," was conceived by restaurateur John J. Tunney III and he opened the first location in New York in 2006. A second location was later added in New York, then a third in Connecticut and Burlington is now their fourth site with a fifth planned for Chestnut Hill.

Though Besito has only been open for about a month, I've dined at Besito three times (once as a media comp and twice on my own) and found it to be consistently good on all three visits, especially considering its newness. I'm impressed with its cuisine, service, and decor and look forward to dining there again soon. Besito is a welcome addition to the Burlington area, and it earns a hearty recommendation.

The decor in the dining room is rustic and elegant, with an intriguing wall of candles, over 150, on the back wall. There are numerous Mexican artifacts and works of art scattered around the restaurant, and they avoid the tackiness you find in some Mexican spots. You feel comfortable here, and that can be very important to the enjoyment of a relaxing meal.

As you first enter the restaurant, you'll see the mahogany bar, pictured above during the evening. At Besito, Tequila is King, and they stock over 75 tequilas, mostly priced at $9-$15, except for a few rarities. If you order tequila, you will also got a chaser of homemade Sangrita. Tequilas can be ordered in four different Flights, a serving of 3 shots such as Blanco Silver, Reposado, Anejo or a Vertical (priced $17-$23). There are plenty of Margarita options ($11-$13), including the House “Besito Patron” Margarita, featuring Patron reposado, Cointreau, pomegranate-tangerine juice and fresh squeezed lime juice.

They also carry 6 different Mezcals, though currently they do not have any Mezcal cocktails as they don't feel there is much of a market for them. As I've said before,Mezcal is under-appreciated and Tequila seems to get most of the publicity. It is time that changed and more consumers understood the delights of smoky Mezcal.

The bar also stocks nine different Beers ($6 each), nearly all from Mexico, and about fifteen Wines, most available by the glass ($8-$12). The wine list is ok, with plenty of familiar names (though nothing from Mexico), but the bottle prices generally seems to be marked up 3X retail. However, you probably aren't coming here for the wine. You can also opt for Sangria, white or red, for $9/glass or $30/pitcher.

The Food Menu, which is the same at all locations, was developed by Executive Chef Carlos Arellano, who began learning about cooking when he was a teenager working at his family’s cevicheria in Mexico City, and Executive Chef Scott Wojcik. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and though the full menu is available all day, there is an additional lunch menu with some extra options. Both menus note which dishes contain organic ingredients.   

On the lunch menu, you will find Taquitos (soft corn tortillas, 3 choices, $11.95), Ensaladas (4 choices, $13.95-$14.95), Tacos Dorados (hard tacos, 5 choices, $11.95-$13.95), and Quesadillas (3 choices, $8.94-$10.95). All of these dishes are served with organic black beans and their house rice (essentially white rice with scallions). At the start of your lunch, you will also receive a basket of chips with a side of mild salsa. In addition, you have the option of getting their Tableside Guacamole ($11.95).

For dinner, you also receive chips and salsa and can order the Tableside Guacamole. The menu is broken into Appetizers (11 choices, $6.95-$14.95), Tacos al Besito (5 choices, $17.95-$20.95), Enchiladas Y Budin (5 choices, $17.95-$21.95), Platos Fuertes (12 choices, $17.95-$27.95) and Sides (6 choices at $4.95 each). Again, all of the main dishes are served with organic black beans and house rice. With most of the dishes costing $20 or less, it is an affordable location for many. And once you consider the quality of the dishes, then you realize it is a good value.

I was very pleased when I inquired about the sourcing of their seafood as much of it comes from domestic waters. For example, they sometimes get Striped Bass from Massachusetts or Long Island, as well as Red Snapper from the Gulf. In addition, they source their Shrimp from the Gulf, which makes me feel good.

Their red Sangria contains red wine, Cointreau, peach liquor, fresh fruit and juices and is very dark in color. I'm picky about my Sangria and this made the cut, as it was fruity but not too sweet, with some nice pieces of peach and apple. It is refreshing and makes an excellent summer drink.

The La Sandia Margarita ($12) is made from Organic Casa Noble blanco tequila, Cointreau, fresh watermelon, agave nectar, and fresh squeezed lime. With a prominent watermelon flavor, it also wasn't too sweet and the taste of the tequila was evident, enhancing the cocktail. A nice balance of flavors.

The Market Margarita ($13) didn't impress me as much. Made from Corzo reposado tequila, triple sec, agave nectar, pineapple juice, cilantro, jalapeño, and fresh squeezed lime, it had a prominent taste of pineapple with lots of cilantro bits. However, the tequila taste was nearly disguised and there wasn't sufficient spice from the jalapeño. It is a cocktail with potential, but needs a little tweaking.

I tasted a flight of Mezcal, including the Los Amantes Joven, Los Amantes Reposado, Ilegal Joven and Ilegal Reposado. All four are good, with that smokiness I love in Mezcal, but my favorite of the four was the Los Amantes Reposado. Two years ago, I reviewed this Mezcal, and highly recommended it, finding that it tasted just as excellent now as it did then. It would be a great choice if you are new to Mezcal. In the rear of the photo above, you can also see the cup of homemade Sangrita that came with the flight, which helps to cleanse your palate.

On the lunch menu, some of the soft and hard tacos are the same, while a couple others are only made one way. For example, Carne Asada only comes in a hard taco and they use Adobo Chicken in their soft tacos while they use Tinga Chicken in their hard tacos. For the hard tacos too, you can get a mix of three different types, but that option is not available for the soft tacos. I'm unsure why these differences exist.

Above is a photo of the Mixtos Hard Tacos ($12.95), which include Carne Asada, Pollo and Camarones. The Carne Asada includes grilled marinated skirt steak, shredded organic romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, chile de arbol salsa, and queso fresco. The Pollo has shredded tinga chicken, shredded organic romaine lettuce, queso Chihuahua, crema, and pico de gallo, while the Camarones has crispy shrimp, shredded organic romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, chipotle cream salsa, and queso fresco. The fillings overflow the tacos, though you can then use the chips to scoop it up.

The hard tacos had a fresh, crunchy corn taste. Of the three types, I probably liked the Camarones the best, enjoying the crunchy batter of the shrimp and the spicy kick probably due to the chipotle cream salsa. The Pollo though had plenty of moist and flavorful chicken, with a nice blend of spices, and was quite tasty. The Carne Asada was very good too, with delicious tender beef. The hard tacos are an excellent choice for lunch.

As for the soft tacos, the Camarones ($11.95) were also a winner, with plenty of crispy shrimp, shredded organic romaine lettuce, pico de gallo, chipotle cream salsa, and queso fresco. Each taco had two, soft tortillas and it was difficult to fit everything inside them. I really like the addition of the queso fresco to these tacos.

As for Appetizers, I love Queso Fundido ($8.95) so had to order it, and Besito makes a tasty dish, with baked queso Chihuahua, rajas, chorizo, cilantro, and white onion. They give you some small, warm tortillas with this dish. Melted cheese and chorizo is such a great combo, and this is an addictive appetizer.

The Ceviche del Dia (market price) changes dependent on what is available that day, and included Shrimp when I had it. It is accompanied by plantain and corn tortilla chips, and I really enjoyed the plantain chips, especially topped by some of the ceviche, which had a nice blend of citrus and spice. The shrimp was plump and plentiful, and the well-balanced flavors impressed. A highly recommended dish.

As for entrees, there are plenty of interesting choices so you might have some difficulty deciding on what to choose. The Salmon Manchamanteles ($22.95) has roasted salmon, crispy bananas, pineapple pico de gallo, and mole manchamanteles. With a nice presentation, the dish was absolutely delicious with a perfectly cooked piece of salmon, and a compelling sauce enhanced by the fruit flavors. Everything worked well, a harmonious plenty of excellent tastes. Another highly recommended dish.

The Enchilada Mixtas ($19.95) are filled with skirt steak, grilled chicken, chorizo, guajillo cream salsa, sweet plantains, cilantro, and queso fresco. There was plenty of tender meat in the filling, and the flavorful sauce added a creamy texture to the enchiladas. Once again, the flavors were nicely balanced and everything seemed fresh.

You might want a Side with your entree, and my top recommendation would be the Tamale de Elote, a fresh corn tamale with chipotle chile cream, onion, cilantro, and queso fresco. A creamy, rich corn flavor, with hints of spice, made this a compelling dish, which will have you scraping the corn husk to ensure you get every tasty bit.

Another Side is the Elotes de la Calle, roasted corn with queso fresco & chile molido. With a smoky taste, enhanced by the queso fresco, this is another good choice.

For a little sweeter Side, try the Platanos con Crema, fried sweet plantains with crema and queso fresco. The plantains were cooked just right, with a bit of a crispy coating and a soft, moist interior, and their mild sweetness went well with the creaminess of the cream and queso. I've previously had too many overcooked plantains so these were a pleasant surprise.

You better make sure you save some room for Dessert, as this is another area where they excel. There are about five Dessert options, each for $7, and I enjoyed three of them, each enticing my palate. The Pastel de Chocolate is a devils food cake, layered with homemade whipped cream and strawberries, and topped with tres leches and a pomegranate cabernet syrup. A rich and moist chocolate cake, it was enhanced by the sweet homemade cream, fruit and mild but flavorful syrup. A great way to end your lunch or dinner.

The Tres Leches is a vanilla sponge cake marinated in citrus tres leches, with homemade whipped cream and fresh berries. Again, the cake was moist and the homemade whipped cream was rich and creamy, enhancing the cake. Sometimes Tre Leches can be too heavy, but this was not the case here. One of the better versions of this cake I have enjoyed.

The Pudin de Chocolate is a Mexican chocolate pudding topped with homemade whipped cream and served with buñuelos. Such a rich and creamy chocolate flavor, this will satisfy any chocolate lover. And the cinnamon/sugar covered "cookies" made dipping delicious. I would come to Besito just to enjoy their desserts.

At the end of your meal, your server will drop off a bag containing a warm churro, which I haven't been able to resist eating before I left the restaurant. You also receive a tiny worry doll, which you are supposed to place under pillow at night and it will take away all your worries.

Service is excellent, and it often is a team effort, with a primary main server. When you arrive, your server will greet you in Spanish, and they generally have a very pleasant attitude, being attentive without being obtrusive. My only minor complaint is that they have been trained to always ask if you want one of their house margaritas or the tableside guacamole. After multiple visits, that might start to be a little annoying.

Overall, Besito is doing great for a restaurant that has only been open for a month. The food is delicious, fairly priced and there is plenty of diversity so there should be something for everyone. Service is professional and attentive. There are limited options for Mexican cuisine in the Burlington area so Besito is a welcome addition. I'll definitely be returning and Besito earns a hearty recommendation.

Thursday, July 17, 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) The Oceanaire Seafood Room invites scallop connoisseurs to try Alaska Weathervane Scallops off its Alaska Seafood & Wine Weekend five course menu available only July 25 - 27. These very limited, high quality, frozen-at-sea scallops are the freshest seasonal delicacy straight from the fishing boats of Alaska Weathervane Seafoods.

Caught from the Bering Sea on the Arctic Hunter, the fishermen catch, shuck, clean, size-sort, box and rapid-deep-freeze the Alaska Weathervane within four short hours of capture. This process locks in the Weathervane’s natural sweet flavor and delicate texture for scallop aficionados to enjoy around the world, from the remote pristine icy waters of Alaska. These scallops are not soaked in water nor combined with any chemicals in processing.

The five-course menu will include not only Alaska Weathervane Scallops but also Alaska King Crab, Wild Alaska Halibut and Wild Alaska Salmon. Each course is paired with wine selections of JCB No. 21, Cremant de Bourgogne, NV; Domaine de la Perrière Sancerre; La Crema Monterey Chardonnay; and CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Guests can only order the Alaska Weathervane Scallops as part of the pre-fixed menu selections. The five-course dinner costs $85 per guest.

We are looking forward to sharing this ultra-fresh seasonal indulgence with our loyal patrons,” said Wade Wiestling, Corporate Executive Chef of The Oceanaire Seafood Room. “It is a short fishery with very limited catch so we encourage area-residents to come try these legendary scallops while we have them!”

Alaska Weathervane Seafoods is a marketing group formed by three of the Alaska Weathervane Scallop fishing boats and their crews to sell the sweetest, all-natural scallops in the world. These three fishing boats are the only vessels to hold license to catch and freeze onboard the legendary Alaska Weathervane Scallops. The scallops are fished sustainably in a manner respectful to the environment and other fisheries.

2) Legal Oysteria, a Legal Sea Foods one-off, has now opened in Charlestown. Oysteria is a casual neighborhood restaurant serving coastal Italian-style seafood with a menu developed by Executive Chef Rich Vellante, a dual American and Italian citizen. The menu is inspired by the food he cooks at home for friends and family and the bar program is designed to complement the cuisine.

Legal Oysteria is inspired by a traditional “osteria” and aspires to provide a casual, comfortable and accessible environment. The space features an open design with floor-to-ceiling windows, an expansive island bar seating 30 with a white marble top, an open kitchen boasting an old world brick oven with true clay-based fire bricks and a rotisserie. The dining room seats 139 people and there is also a private dining space for parties of up to 35.

Legal Oysteria’s menu showcases the freshness and purity of its seafood offerings and other ingredients. Preparations are simple and authentic and the brick oven informs the menu. Highlights from Vellante’s menu include: Charred Octopus (tomato, potato, coriander vinaigrette - $10); Crispy Eggplant Caponata Dip (grilled focaccia - $8.50); Roasted Clam Pizza (mozzarella, pecorino, parsley - $12); Grilled Stuffed Trout (braised fennel, pickled cherry tomatoes - $19); Steak Pizzaiolo (crispy rosemary tomatoes - $24); Whole Roasted Fish (potatoes, tomatoes, olives - $20); and, Sausages Stuffed with Truffle Cheese (lentils, leeks, pancetta - $18). There are also a variety of “Small Plates,” priced between $3-5, including Salt Cod Crostini, Ricotta Fritters (spicy honey) and a trio of Oyster preparations (raw, grilled and baked).

On the spirits side, Legal Oysteria’s bar program is designed to complement the cuisine. The all-Mediterranean wine list – heavily focused on offerings from Italy and Spain – is presented by the grape varietal or varietal mix. There are 32 wines by the glass, five by the half-bottle and four tasting flights. The cocktail program highlights the wine, vermouth, chinato and amaro of Italy and beyond. There are six signature drinks, as well as six aperitivi, featured including: Prosecco Cocktail (a traditional spritz with prosecco, Aperol, Aperitivo Rosa, citrus, soda - $11); Amaro Mule (a fun, flavorful take on a classic bracer with Nonino Amaro, fresh lime, ginger beer - $10); del Sole (“proof of a higher power” with Moscato Chinato, prosecco, love); and, Mr. Wonderful (strong, dark and handsome with rye, amaro, citrus oil - $10). There are eight draught beers, including regional craft selections.

3) Pura vida,” or the good life, is what renowned chef and restaurateur, Michael Schlow and executive chef Leo Asaro at Tico are bringing to Back Bay for the restaurant’s annual Summer Patio Series.

Tico will bring the streets of Latin America to its Back Bay patio, serving authentic dishes like sausages, quesadillas and empanadas. Chefs will be stationed throughout the patio cooking up these delicious treats while roving ‘Tequila Girls’ from Cazadores will be passing out samples of this small-batch tequila aged in virgin oak barrels.

The Tico Street Food Fair menu features:
· Sausages with Spicy Mustard
· Empanadas with Salsa Verde
· Pork, Manchego and Jalapeno Quesadillas with Chipotle Aioli
· Vegetarian Quesadilla
· Style-your-own Cazadores Bloody Maria Bar with a super-spicy ghost chili-infused tequila, a mild blanco tequila, three house-made mixers, and a variety of house-blended spice rims
· Traditional Margaritas from Cazadores

WHEN: Saturday, July 26, 1om-4pm
COST: $35/person; includes food, Cazadores Bloody Maria Bar, Cazadores Margaritas, non-alcoholic beverages, tax and gratuity. Beer and cash bar not included.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2012 Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño: A Seafood Companion

Sitting in the northwest corner of Spain, surrounded on two sides by the Atlantic Ocean, is the region of Galicia. Seafood is the king of cuisine and about half of the seafood consumed in Spain comes from the waters off Galicia. These waters are home to the famed percebes, goose barnacles, which are collected by brave fishermen who risk their lives in rough waters to collect this delicacy. It is no wonder then that wines from this region are created to accompany seafood.

The Denomination de Origin (D.O.) of Rías Baixas, established in 1988, contains about 9138 acres of vineyards and approximately 90% of the plantings are Albariño, though 12 grape varieties are permitted within the D.O. As an aside, "Rias Baixas" meants "lower rivers" in Gallego, the native language of Galicia. The key to Albariño wines in this region is terroir, and the flavor profile will vary dependent on the terroir.  For example, different terroirs might yield a more mineral-driven and structured wine or a softer, rounder wine. Because of the location of its region, Albariño is sometimes referred to as the "wine of the sea."

The region encompasses over 6,500 growers and 20,000 plots of land, meaning that the average vineyard is very small, less than half an acre. There are about 180-200 wineries in this region, about 57 or so which export to the U.S. Interestingly, over half of the wineries have female winemakers, which was not always the case and has occurred primarily during the last twenty years.

Albariño is very popular in the U.S. Consider that in 2010, Rias Baixas exported approximately 3.55 million liters of Albariño, and the U.S. imported 1.9 million liters, about 54%. After the U.S., the most important markets for Albariño might surprise you, as they include the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Though indigenous to Spain, Albariño is now grown in many other parts of the world, including the U.S., where the first plantings were in Virginia.

Last night, I attended a media dinner at Row 34 which showcased the 2012 Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño with seafood. This was my first time at Row 34, and it seemed quite busy for a Tuesday night. It had a much more casual feel than the Island Creek Oyster Bar, though we were seated in a bit more elegant private dining room. I definitely need to return to check out their regular menu.

Bodegas Martín Códax was established in 1986 as a cooperative and now has about 285 members. The winery name is derived from the name of a famous 13th century Galician poet, more accurately known as a jogral, who composed a type of lyrical poetry called cantigas. A jogral is similar in a number respects to a troubador, though they are not nobles. Their head winemaker is Katia Alvarez, who started her career in wine at age 19 as an intern at a Galician wiinery. She eventually earned a degree in viticulture, worked in a Rioja winery, and spent a couple years in Chile before joining Martin Codax.

The 2012 Martin Códax Albariño (about $15) is made from 100% Albariño, was fermented in stainless steel tanks, and has an alcohol content of 12.5%. With an aromatic nose of citrus and flowers, the wine is dry, crisp and lush, with a delicious melange of apple, pear and lemon and a backbone of minerality. It possesses a lengthy and pleasing finish, and each sip beckons you to have another. It makes for a compelling summer wine, but has a richness that would not be out of place in the winter either. At this price point, this is an excellent value and highly recommended. I've long been a fan of Albariño, and have enjoyed the wines of Martin Códax for over five years.  

It almost goes without saying that the Albariño was a killer pairing with seafood. We began the evening with some Oysters on the half shell, and their brininess went well with the acidity and minerality of the wine. We also had some Smoked Scallops atop brioche toast and topped by caviar. Again, that acidity and minerality made a nice accompaniment to the scallops. We then proceeded to a dish of Striped Bass Crudo, with herb salad and crispy shallots. The clean taste of the fish was enhanced by the citrus flavors of the wine, and the acidity helped to make each bite seem fresh and new.

The main course, pictured above, was the rich Brown Butter Lobster with corn, basil and tomato. With two claws and a tail, there was plenty of sweet lobster meat, and the Albariño was rich enough to stand up to the lobster. And again, its crisp acidity helped with this dish.

Albariño is a no-brainer with seafood, though I will note that different styles of Albariño will pair differently with certain types of seafood. However, don't think Albariño only works well with seafood. It is a versatile wine that will pair nicely with a wide variety of cuisines and dishes, from Asian to BBQ. And this Martin Códax Albariño is a good choice whether you are new to Albariño or are already a fan of that grape.