Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays To All

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my family, friends, my readers and everyone else!

May the glad tidings of this holiday season shine on you, your family and friends. May your celebrations be joyous and overflowing with great people, excellent conversation, fun times, delicious food and fine drink. May the gifts you give to others be well appreciated and bring joy to the recipients. May you thoroughly enjoy whichever holiday you celebrate at this season.

This is one of my favorite times of year as I love sharing the holidays with my family and friends, enjoying their company as we eat and drink to celebrate the season. It should be a joyous occasion, reveling in all of our blessings, for no matter what ills there may be, there still is much to appreciate. That appreciation deserves recognition and sharing, and not only during the holidays. Do not dwell on the negative but rather embrace all that is good in your life.

It is also a time for giving, for sharing with those less fortunate than us. Please donate as much as you can to your favorite charities, whether you give money, time or goods. Even small donations can make a significant impact.

Make sure you have a safe holiday as well. Please don't drink and drive, and drive safely and cautiously. If you are going to drink, let someone else drive, or take a taxi or public transportation. Again, please do not drink and drive! I hope that everyone will remain around to celebrate the New Year and see what 2015 brings all of us.

Drink and dine with passion this holiday, as well as every day of the year! Passion is what gives our lives meaning, what drives us toward excellence. A life devoid of passion is empty and shallow, and desperately needs change. Seek out whatever makes you passionate and revel in its delights. And share your passion with others.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Year In Seafood

"Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time."
--H. P. Lovecraft

Each year, I've been writing a number of Seafood-related posts, covering a wide range of topics, from sustainability to cooking, from health to the law. This year, I've written even more about seafood, with about 50 posts, and this past summer I decided to dedicate Tuesdays to a regular Seafood post. That regular Seafood article is also part of my involvement in the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Assocation, a group of passionate writers who want to elevate the public's knowledge and appreciation of seafood.

In short, I want more people to consume seafood at least twice a week. Not only is it delicious, but it is scientifically proven to be healthy for you, especially in reducing your chances of cardiovascular disease. You should consume sustainable seafood, to protect the species and the environment, so the next generations will be able to enjoy the bounty of the sea too. You should eat more local seafood too, rather than eat so much imported seafood. That will help our local fishermen, our local communities, and has other benefits as well. You should support responsible aquaculture, as farmed seafood can be sustainable. Spend some time and learn more about seafood so you don't just accept negative media images.

To help my readers locate all of my Seafood articles of 2014, I figured I would compile links to those posts in this summary article. These 50 articles comprise a diverse selection of topics, and you will see that I have tried many times to help dispel some common seafood myths and misconceptions. The media presents about four times as many negative articles about seafood as positive articles, and that is unjustified. They know though that negative articles sell more newspapers and magazines than positive ones. As I said above, spend some time to learn the truth.

Once again, I attended the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), participating in the the 4th Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest at #SENA14a special contest for Boston area bloggers in which they compete to offer the "Best Overall Coverage" of SENA. As the reigning champion, I tried to retain my crown, and I succeeded, winning with my extensive coverage of this fantastic seafood event. In addition, I also won FDA, FSMA & Imported Seafood Safety Prize, offered by ABC Research Laboratories for my coverage which best focused on "on the changing regulations for imported seafood in the United States, especially as it relates to products detained by the FDA and new regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)."

Seafood Expo North America: Why You Should Go
SENA14: How Can we Increase Seafood Consumption in the US?
SENA14: Is Aquaculture Sustainable?
SENA14: Sustainable Caviar In Florida
SENA14: Maine Lobster from Trap to Table
SENA14: Estuario del Plata Caviar
SENA14: Updates From The Aquaculture Stewardship Council
SENA14: Verlasso Salmon: An Update
SENA14: Chilean Sea Bass--Back From The Brink
SENA14: Chefs For Seals
SENA14: FSMA & Imported Seafood
SENA14: Eleven Things You Need To Know
SENA14: Baja Seas: A New Yellowtail Aquaculture Project
SENA14: Food of Interest
SENA14: The Seven Keys of Sustainability
SENA14: How To Cook Seafood
SENA14: Pathways to Sustainability & Global Salmon Initiative
SENA14: Fish Fun & Photos
SENA14: Brief Items Of Interest
SENA14: Final Ponderings
The Fish Head Whisperer Reigns Supreme Once Again

And here are the rest of my Seafood posts from the past year, and you can be certain to look forward to plenty of seafood coverage in 2015 as well.

To Feed The World, We Need More Aquaculture
Seafood Mislabeling: How Prevalent?
Seafood Sustainability & Social Issues
Seafood: Fighting The Mercury Myth
Updated News on Seafood Consumption, Landings & Aquaculture
Americans, Don't Ignore Farmed Seaweed
The Origins of Ceviche, Tempura and Fish & Chips
The Largest Marine Reserve in the World
Sushi Titans Battle! O Ya vs. Sushi Iwa
Seafood Fear Mongering: The Mercury Myth
Cannonball Jellyfish: Eat Up Americans
Boring Americas: The Seafood Edition
Steal Scallops: Go To Prison
Lucky Peach: The Seashore Issue
The Endangered Vaquita: A Cautionary Tale
New MA Seafood Program: But What About Farmed Shellfish?
Consumers & Seafood Certification
Want Cheap, Tasty, Healthy & Sustainable Seafood? Choose Mussels
10 Suggestions For Less Expensive Seafood
The 3 Rules Of Eating Seafood
2012 Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño: A Seafood Companion
Announcing the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association
How To Cook Seafood, Vol.2Pirate Fishermen: No Peglegs Nor Parrots
Miya's Sushi & Chef Bun Lai: Like A Haiku
Maine Lobsters: Endangered? How To Cook Seafood, Vol.1
Rant: Seafood Sustainability Not As Important Now?
The Healthiest Food You Can Eat?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 In Review: A Collection of Favorite Lists

At the end of each year, I compile a number of lists of my Favorites of the past year: the top wines, restaurants, foods, sake, spirits, and more. These summary posts help my readers more easily find my favorites of the past year, rather than skimming through hundreds of posts on their own. I also enjoy compiling these lists as it enables me to scan over my blog for the past year, to relive many pleasant memories of the food and drinks which most pleased me.

The lists do not necessarily address the "Best" of anything, as I have not partaken of everything in any category so cannot pass such judgments. However, every item on these lists gets my strongest recommendations and I have faith that they should strongly appeal to most of my readers. Kudos go to all of those who are listed in my Favorites as they have well earned the accolades.

This post collects links to all of my 2014 Favorite lists.

I hope you enjoy.

2014: Top Ten Wines Under $15
2014: Top Ten Wines Over $15
2014: Top Ten Wines Over $50
2014: Favorite Wine Related Items
2014: Favorite Spirits & Drink Related Items
2014: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50
2014: Favorite Food-Related Items
2014: Favorite Sake Items

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014: Favorite Sake Items

What were some of my favorite Sake items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2014. I have already posted seven other lists of my Favorites of the past year, from wine to food, and this is my final list, my Favorite Sake Items of 2014. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more sake related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Sake continues to maintain a prominent role, a specialized niche, on my blog. My passion for Sake is ever growing and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Sake and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. I want more and more people to taste it, finding joy in its flavors. I want more stores to stock and sell Sake, to make it something they recommend to their customers. I want more restaurants, of all cuisines, to carry Sake on their beverage lists. Sake is as worthy as any other alcoholic beverage and deserves at least equal billing.

Sake in the News: I;m very glad to see that Sake seems to be getting more and more attention in the media. This year, I have been posting a series of regular Sake News articles, which collect the links to some of the most interesting and informative Sake articles in the news. Each Sake News post references about 3-4 new Sake articles found online, and is a good way to see the diversity of Sake articles that are currently being written.

Sake Statistics: For the last few years, Sake exports have been growing and breaking previous records. In 2013, Sake imports to the U.S.increased by 13%, to 516,000 cases. That still makes Sake very much a niche beverage in the U.S. but continued double digit growth is a positive sign. What is also positive is the amount of domestically produced and consumed Sake. In 2013, Sake produced in the U.S. increased by 1% to 1.7 million cases, over three times the amount of imported Sake. The top U.S. brand is Sho Chiku Bai, constituting 27%, about 587,000 cases, which is also greater than the amount of imported Sake. SakeOne, located in Oregon, grew by 8.4% to 89,000 cases. There is plenty of room for growth so we need to continue advocating for greater Sake consumption.

Favorite Honjozo Sake: The Nyukon "Into Your Soul" Tokubetsu Honjozo, produced by the Musashino Shuzo, is made from Gohyakumangoku rice which has been polished down to 60%, so it would technically qualify as a Ginjo though they do not label it as such. The taste was dry and clean, with subtle peach and melon flavors, and hints of herbs. Smooth and easy drinking, this was delicious and would appeal to Sake lovers as well as those new to Sake.

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Kamoizumi Shusen Junmai "Three Dots", produced by the Kamoizumi Shuzo, is made from Hiroshima Hattan rice which has been polished down to 58%, so it would technically qualify as a Ginjo though they do not label it as such. An elegant Sake, this presents with a strong umami taste, more mushrooms and leafy herbs. It has a bit more body than the Nykon, but remains dry, smooth and easy drinking. This would be an excellent Sake with meat dishes.

Favorite Ginjo Sake: The Kokuryu Tokusen "Crystal Dragon" Ginjo, made by the Kokuryu brewery, is made from Gohyakumangoku rice which has been polished down to 50%, so it would technically qualify as a Daiginjo though they do not label it as such. This was a more powerful Sake, with bolder flavors of fruit, especially melon, pear and even a bit of cherry. There were depths to the Sake as well, showcasing hints of other, nearly elusive flavors. Definitely a Sake to slowly savor, to enjoy its complexity.

Favorite Daiginjo: The Evoluzione Junmai Daiginjo, produced by Ume No Yado brewery, is an elegant Sake, with a nice melange of subtle fruit and herbal notes. It has a lighter body and plenty of complexity, making it an impressive Sake. I don't have much technical info on this Daiginjo, but its flavor profile and style make it a worthy selection.

Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Style Sake: The Mioya Shuzo Yuho "Rhythm of the Centuries" Yama-oroshi Junmai Kimoto, made by the Mioya Shuzo, is made from Notohikari rice which has been polished down to 55%, which would qualify it as a Ginjo though it is only labeled as a Junmai. It has a higher acidity, at 2.2, than the usual Junmai. Most Sake is aged for six months to a year before it is released, but this Yuho is aged for about four years prior to release. This may be why the Sake is so smooth on the palate, an easy drinking liquid which goes down far too quickly. It has a powerful umami taste, with underlying elements of earthiness, some citrus flavors and even Sherry notes on the finish. Nice acidity, a lengthy finish and plenty of complexity. An excellent choice, it garners my highest recommendation and I think it will be enjoyed not only by Sake lovers, but also those new to Sake.

Favorite One-Cup Sake: The Kibo is produced by the Suisen Shuzo, a Sake brewery that was destroyed by the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake, but which rebuilt itself. "Kibo" means "hope" and it is a very appropriate name. The Sake is produced using local Hitomebore (which means "love at first sight") rice, which has been polished down to 70%. It has a dominant aroma of steamed rice with hints of melon, both which also come out on the palate, along with a bit of green apple. It is dry, smooth, and full bodied with some pleasant umami. It is easy drinking and you could pair it with pizza or a cheese burger.

Favorite Sake Liqueur: The Ume No Yado brewery also produces an Aragoshi line, Sake-based liqueurs, including a Yuzu Shu. Each of their liqueurs contains Sake, 21% of fruit by volume, and a tiny bit of Shochu for depth and aroma. The Yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit, possessed a bright citrus flavor, a bit of tartness and a mild sweetness. Very pleasant and would make an excellent cocktail addition, though many people might enjoy it on its own too.

Favorite Infused Sake: At Miya's Sushi, they create numerous infused Sakes, generally offering 7 or so, at any one time though their experimentation with different flavors continues. You might find the Emerald Witches' Lips, flavored with hand picked white pine needles, or the Dragon Lady Sake, made with ginger, lemongrass, and honey. The Pineapple & Sumac Berry Sake was delicious and the Ultraviolet Kisses Sake, a briny drink made with homegrown red aged shiso and sour plum. My favorite though was the Chinese Firecracker Sake, a blend of home grown hot chili peppers, lemons, limes, citron, lemongrass, and honey. It was a complex and intriguing blend of citrus and underlying heat. The mild sweetness helped to balance the spiciness, and the citrus provided some nice acidity.

Favorite Organic Sake: The good folks at The Floating World a small Sake importer who I've previously raved, has a new Sake and it too is a winner. The Mutemuka Junmai Muroka Nama Genshu is rather unusual as it is a premium Sake made from two types of rice, including a table rice. For their moto, the yeast starter, they use Kaze Naruko, which is a Sake rice grown only in the Kōchi Prefecture. For the fermentation tank though, they use Hino-Hikari, a type of table rice, which means this Sake uses more table rice than Sake rice. For this Sake, the rice is polished down to 65%. Up front, there is a fruity taste, some melon and pear notes, but that quickly transforms on your palate into a more savory and earthy element, which then dominates your mouth. A surge of umami floods your palate, with hints of herbal notes and a tinge of bitterness. It possesses a fascinating complexity and this is also a very food friendly Sake, especially because of its high umami.

Favorite Warmed Sake: Yoshimasa Ogawahara introduced me to warm Sake through his Hikomago Junmai, and it was an enlightening experience. I tasted the Sake at a few different temperatures, witnessing how the taste profile varied at the different temperatures. The Hikomago is a matured Sake, aged for three years before release, and was made so that it could be enjoyed warm. It also paired well with a variety of foods, from olives to cheese. Drink more warm Sake.

New Sake Brewing Innovation: Getting geeky, I explained about a new Sake innovation in my article, The 10,001 School of Sake Brewing. A different fungus, rather than the usual, is the subject of experimentation to produce koji. It is supposed to create Sake with more amino acids than normal. The first commercial version has been released, and though I haven't tasted it yet, it is very intriguing to me. It could be an umami bomb of epic proportions with those added amino acids. It is always cool to see the cutting edge of Sake innovation.

Favorite Sake Sorbet:: The Pazzo Gelato Cafe invited me to create my own gelato/sorbet flavor, and my choice was the Tipsy Sensei, a sorbet blend of Ty Ku Coconut Sake, Yuzu and Coconut. It was such a fun experience, though the Yuzu was very dominant in the sorbet, and the recipe needs adjustment to bring more of the coconut out. However, it was indicative of the potential for using Sake to make ice cream and other frozen treats.

Favorite Sake Bar, Las Vegas: Located off the Strip, the J Sake Bar is a new spot and carries over 100 Sakes and serves a variety of Japanese dishes. I had a fun time, though it was far too brief, and I could have easily spent several hours there, tasting a range of Sakes. It is more like an izakaya, and certainly a spot that all Sake lovers should visit if they go to Las Vegas.

Favorite Restaurant Sake List: At Abriya Raku, a Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas, you'll find an incredible Sake list, with over 75 choices, 50 of which are available by the glass. There is a nice diversity of Sakes, and the markup is one of the lowest I have ever seen at a restaurant, usually less than twice the usual retail. For example, a $30 Sake at retail may sell at Raku for only $50. That makes it a very affordable spot to try a few different Sakes, and it helps that they serve plenty of delicious food too.

Favorite New Sake Book: Famed Sake expert John Gauntner has a new book, Sake Confidential, and is an excellent work that addresses more advanced topics about Sake. This book fills a gap, as most Sake books are generally introductory, with mostly basic information. However, it is still easy to read and understand, and provides plenty of fascinating information about Sake. Even those knowledgeable to Sake are likely to learn at least a few things from this book. I loved this books and I highly recommend it to everyone interested in Sake.

Favorite New Sake Magazine: John Gauntner is also behind a new magazine, Sake Today, which is a quarterly magazine all about Sake. The magazine has plenty of interesting articles, great photography, and also fills a needed niche. The articles are diverse, and you'll find both introductory articles as well as more advanced topics, as well as cool interviews. Other magazines rarely publish Sake articles so a magazine devoted only to Sake is very welcome..

New Sake Menu: I was pleased this year to design the new Sake menu for Thelonious Monkfish, an Asian restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge. It now has some delicious and interesting Sakes, fairly priced, and it's great to see that the restaurant is doing its part to promote Sake consumption. It was fun to work with them, teaching their staff about Sake, and I hope you visit the restaurant and taste some of the Sakes I selected for them.

Kanpai!

What were some of your favorite Sake items this year?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday Sips &Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1)  Pier 6, on Charlestown’s waterfront, is holding a “Winter White” dinner in its private dining room which features a 360° panoramic view of the Boston skyline on Sunday, January 18, 2015 beginning at 6pm.

Beckoning its guests to celebrate the season, rather than hide from it, Pier 6’s Executive Chef Adriano Silva has prepared a special multi-course prix fixe dinner for $50 per person (tax and gratuity not included) which dresses the plate entirely in white. “This gives the restaurant a great reason to show people this amazing room which is one of the best kept secrets in Boston and gives me a great opportunity to play with off menu ingredients,” said Silva.

Lacking color, but not flavor chef Silva will present the following Prix Fixe Menu:

Choice of Salad
Belgian endive, heart of palm, feta cheese, white wine vinaigrette
or,
White bean and fennel salad, house made ricotta cheese, daikon radishes, white balsamic vinaigrette.
Choice of Entree
Pan seared scallops, celeriac puree, jicama, baby turnips cognac cream sauce
or,
Creamy risotto, white truffle oil, shaved parmesan
or
Baked halibut steak parsnip puree, roasted cauliflower, citrus beurre blanc
Dessert
White chocolate mousse, Chantilly cream

Please call 617-337-0054 for reservations.

2) Catalyst Chef William Kovel closes out 2014 and welcomes 2015 with a five course, prix-fixe dinner this New Year’s Eve. This celebration dinner includes a five-course menu for $80 which can also include wine pairings for an additional $40. The menu include the following:

Table
--Wellfleet Oysters, Traditional Garnish $3-
--Catalyst Charcuterie, Toasted Country Bread, Pickled Vegetables $18-
First
--Seared Nantucket Bay Scallops, King Oyster Mushroom, Tasso Ham
--Roasted Winter Salad, Quince, Pear, Beets, Fromage Blanc, Peppercress
--Crispy Oxtail Croquette, Sunchoke, Apple, Horseradish
--Mionetto, Prosecco – Valdobbiadene, Italy
Second
--Guinea Fowl Ravioli, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Parmesan, Truffle Jus
--Cauliflower Soup, Jonah Crab, Meyer Lemon
--Crispy Pork Belly, Green Curry, Shitakes, Wellfleet Clams
--Maison Roche de Ballene, Vieilles Vignes, Bourgogne Blanc – Burgundy, France
Third
--Orange Glazed Rohan Duck, French Green Lentils, Preserved Lemon, Crispy Duck Leg, Chinese Five Spice Jus
--Slow Roasted Salmon, Braised Endive, Fennel, Swiss Chard, Orange Butter
--Georges Bank Lemon Sole, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Celery Root, Lobster Emulsion
--Dry Aged Beef Strip Loin, Potato-Scallion Rosti, Savoy Spinach, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Perigourdine Jus
--Roasted Acorn Squash, Golden Quinoa, Dried Cranberries, Pecans, Pear Butter, Crispy Kale
--Lemelson, Six Vineyards, Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, Oregon
Supplement
--Assortment of Local Cheese $6-
Fourth
--Dark Chocolate Custard, Caramel Cinnamon Popcorn, Popcorn Ice Cream, Candied Hazelnuts
--Lime Cheesecake, Coconut Sorbet, Passion Fruit Curd, Coconut Tuile
--Carrot Cake, Carrot and Ginger Puree, Pineapple Sorbet, Spiced Walnuts, Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
--Duckhorn, Decoy, Merlot – Alexander Valley, Sonoma, California

Reservations are available, starting at 5:00pm. For reservations, please call the restaurant at 617-576-3000

3) Back for the fourth year in a row, The New Center for Arts & Culture will host the annual, ‘Moo Shu Jew’ show, a comedy dinner event on Christmas Eve. Inspired by the Jewish family tradition of spending Christmas Eve in a Chinese restaurant, the night will feature several celebrity comics from primetime’s most popular late-night talk shows. This year’s lineup includes, Cory Kahaney, Harrison Greenbaum, Josh Gondelman, and Adrianne Tolsch who will perform Jewish-inspired stand-up while guests enjoy a delicious dinner (no shellfish, no pork!).

MENU

Appetizers
Teryaki Beef
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Scallion Pancakes
Vegetable Hot and Sour Soup

Main Dishes
Orange Beef
Chicken Kung Pau
Tofu with Mixed Vegetables
Spicy Green Beans
Vegetable Lo Mein
White Rice

Dessert
Fortune Cookies

Drinks
Soda
Water
Tea
Cash Bar Available

WHEN: Tuesday, December 24, 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Hei La Moon Restaurant 88 Beach Street Boston,
COST: $75 Adults, $45 Young Adults (40 & under). Ticket prices include four-course dinner, (no shellfish, no pork!).
To purchase, visit www.newcenterboston.org

4) To ring in their first New Year, River Bar will host a duo of celebrations at Assembly Row. On New Year’s Eve, River Bar will be transformed into a festive Tiki Party indoors and outdoors at their fire pit and heat lamp-lined patio areas. The River Bar team will shake up tiki-inspired cocktails, including their take on a Scorpion Bowl, as revelers toast by the open fires. Executive Chef Patrick Gilmartin will bring Polynesian tastes to Assembly Row with specials like the Saugus Rabbit Legs (Chef’s tribute to Kowloon’s famous “Saugus Wings” - $12) and Nantucket Bay Scallop Rangoon (apple butter - $15).

The following morning, River Bar will open their doors for a Leftover Chinese Food Brunch. From Executive Chef Patrick Gilmartin’s kitchen comes “Leftover” Scallop Rangoon (smeared on a bagel - $12) and Kung Pao Chicken Terrine (with eggs - $10). For those looking for a more traditional hangover brunch experience, Chef Gilmartin will The River Bar Breakfast Sando (egg, Taylor Pork Roll, Brillat Savarin cheese, leeks, stone & skillet English muffin - $14), Bourbon French Toast ($10), Chorizo Scotch Quail Eggs ($9) and Housemade Chinese Sausage Sub (black bean mayo, red cabbage, cucumber slaw - $13).

WHEN: Tiki Party: Wednesday, December 31, from 5pm – 2am
              Chinese Leftover Brunch: Thursday, January 1, from 11am – 3pm

Admittance to the Tiki Party is complimentary and is 21+ with a proper ID. Food and beverage specials on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are available a la carte.

5) Pastoral owners George Lewis and Todd Winer invite guests to Pastoral for a New Year’s Eve Masquerade Party from 10pm-2am on Wednesday, December 31. Guests are encouraged to wear a mask while they enjoy music by DJ Castaneda, small bites prepared by Pastoral Chef/Owner Todd Winer, two complimentary Ketel One cocktails and a champagne toast at midnight.

Tickets are $45 from 10pm-2am and only $25 for guests who make a dinner reservation earlier that evening and want to stay for the party. Tickets can be purchased by calling the restaurant at 617-345-0005 or logging onto www.eventbrite.com.

6) Earls Kitchen + Bar will celebrate its first New Year’s Eve at Assembly Row by dishing out a customizable, three-course prix fixe menu. For starters, Head Chef Tim Pennington will serve up a choice of Seasonal Greens or a Seasonal Soup. Chef Pennington’s trio of main courses include the Oven Roasted Salmon (grilled corn, olive oil marinated fennel salad, baby new potatoes, jalapeño cilantro puree), Bourbon Mushroom 7oz Certified Angus Beef Sirloin (crimini & button mushrooms, rich demi, garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables) or the Cajun Blackened Double Breast of Chicken (custom blackening spices, garlic butter, warm potato salad, coleslaw). For one last taste of sweet indulgence in 2014, there is the Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding (chocolate & toffee sauces, vanilla bean gelato, candy snap basket) or seasonal Gingerbread Cake (roasted apples, salted caramel, vanilla bean gelato).

For those looking to toast the ball drop with some bubbly, Earls Kitchen + Bar will feature three sparkling delights: La Marca Prosecco ($9.25/glass; $37/bottle); Piper Heidseik Brut ($22.25/glass; $89/bottle); and, Dom Perignon 2004 ($275/bottle).

WHEN: Wednesday, December 31, from 11:30am – 1:00am
COST: Prix fixe menu: $40 per person (excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity)

7) No time to whip something up for that fast-approaching holiday fête? Leave the pastry prep to the pros this year with help from Cape Cod-based, European-style bakery and café, Pain D’Avignon. Following the close of farmer’s market season, the Hyannis eatery pops up at Back Bay’s Fairmont Copley Plaza, to sell party-ready treats in its only Boston-area location.

Pain D’Avignon will transform The Fairmont Copley Plaza’s tea court into a gourmet holiday farmer’s market complete with the hotel’s impressive Christmas tree and festive décor. Convenient grab-and-go options for time-crunched hosts and party-goers alike will include:

· Classic Italian Panettone
· Seasonal Pies
· Raspberry Streusel
· Buttery Croissants
· Fudgy Brownies
· Scones
· Famous Cranberry Pecan Rolls and Breads
· Baguettes
· Parmesan Crisps
· Housemade Potato Chips

Individual items range in price from $4.00 to $14.00. Customizable gift bags are also available for up to $60.00.

WHEN: Friday, December 19, 2pm-6pm

8) Bao Nation, Boston’s first and only dedicated Asian bao bar, has opened in the rear of Shalimar Indian Grocery/Dosa Factory at 571 Mass. Avenue in the heart of Central Square. Bao Nation joins its next door neighbors, H Mart and Dosa Factory, to create fresh, fast and inexpensive Asian food in the city. Bao Nation is the brainchild of Pavan and Manraj Pabla, whose father Amrik Pabla is CEO of One World Cuisine, corporate parent to a network of culinary enterprises throughout greater Boston..

Bao is short for baozi, light and fluffy buns steamed in woven straw baskets. References to bao date back to 3rd century China. Bao Nation's light and fluffy Taiwanese-style buns are slider-sized, steamed to order, and priced at $3, $4 and $5. Chicken or vegetarian dumplings are $6-7, and rice bowls – coming to the menu soon – can be had for $9-10. Bao Nation shares an indoor seating area with its four-year-old sister restaurant, Dosa Factory. In the spring, outdoor tables and a handy pass-thru window for takeout orders will become available.

Debut Menu
* Central Bao (braised Kurabuta pork belly with sesame oil, pickled daikon, cilantro and green apple relish)
* Bird Bao (crisp boneless chicken wings with pickled onion and peanut powder)
* Miso Bao (miso-cured tofu with bok choy)
* Fish Bao (with ginger, scallions, lemongrass and mint)
* M.I.T. Bao (minced lamb with ginger, garlic, pickled mushrooms)
* Harvard Bao (marinated grilled chicken with dried coconut, peanuts, cayenne)
* J.P. Bao (filled with vegetable tempura)
* Chinatown Bao (top seller so far: fried honey-teriyaki duck, chopped peanuts, red peppers and radishes, mint sauce)
* Dessert Baos – Sweet, salty, crunchy and soft all at the same time, this combination of applewood smoked bacon and peanut brittle with dehydrated brown milk and chocolate dust is indescribable. A second option is a bao that is deep fried and filled with sugared apples, almonds, cranberries and granola. Both are just $3.

Today, December 18, from 5pm-7pm, Bao Nation invites its Facebook friends toshow them that you Like them in exchange for 1 FREE Bao. You must be present during the applicable time frame to collect.