Thursday, July 21, 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.
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1) Celebrate Banyan Bar & Refuge's "1st birthday" with a Hawaiian Style Luau on Monday, July 25th. Lei's, Tiki drinks (out of pineapples), an a la carte menu filled with Kulua pork, Poke , and so much Don Ho music.

This is a seated dinner. Banyan opens at 5pm but will be taking reservations depending on availability and until the kitchen closes at 10pm. Reservations can be made by calling the restaurant 617-556-4211.

THE MENU
Vegetables
Green papaya salad, long beans, lime vinaigrette, toasted peanuts (gf,v) $7
Watermelon Salad, tomato, silken tofu, shiso, lemon ginger vinaigrette, sesame seed (v) $7
Potato salad, macaroni, kewpie mayo, egg, pickles (gf,v) $6
Roasted purple sweet potatoes, soy glaze, togarashi (v) $6
Meat + Seafood
Smoked scallop + jonah crab rangoon, pineapple sweet + sour sauce $9
Manapua, stuffed sweet bread, char siu pork, guava jelly  $5 each
Spam Fried Rice, grilled pineapple, salt cod, fried garlic (gf) $12
Plates
Lomi Lomi salmon bowl, backyard farms tomatoes, pickled red onions, cilantro, fried shallots, white rice (gf) $14
Grilled octopus poke bowl, kimchi, seaweed, taro chips, white rice  $16
Kalua Pork, slow roasted pork in ti + banana leaf, coconut milk braised local greens, king’s hawaiian bread (gf)  $14

2) Pier 6, Charlestown’s waterfront dining destination, has just launched its mid-summer menus featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients from Executive Chef Adriano Silva.

New dinner additions include the Halibut Tartare with avocado, wontons, and sesame vinaigrette ($15), Local Burrata with a tomato chutney, arugula pesto, and brioche ($12), Provencal Style Duck Leg served with brussel sprouts, celery root puree, and a plum coulis ($14), Pepper Crusted Tuna with summer vegetables and a gazpacho sauce ($27), and a New York Strip with cauliflower mashed potatoes and a mushroom gravy ($35).

For an afternoon delight try the all new lunch menu which includes Grilled Swordfish with sugar snap peas, faro salad, and romesco ($25), or a Chicken Caesar Wrap with parmesan, croutons, and potato salad ($12). Brunch offers options such as Avocado Toast with cherry tomato, dukkah, feta, and fried egg ($8), or the Heirloom Tomato & Watermelon Salad with fresh mozzarella, red onion, and balsamic ($10). For an al fresco dining experience order off the new deck menu with options such as the White Clam Flatbread with corn, bacon, tomatoes, mozzarella, and cherry peppers ($14), or a Rustic Italian Flatbread with sopressata, oregano, mozzarella, and cherry peppers ($12).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My New Favorite Beer: Night Shift Harborside

If you live in Massachusetts and love beer, then you've likely heard of Night Shift Brewing, a craft brewery located in Everett. Even though their beer generally isn't sold outside of Massachusetts, numerous beer lovers from other states are also aware of and enjoy their beer. At the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, where I work part-time, I see the popularity of Night Shift beer as it doesn't stay long on the shelf.

Though I'm not really a beer lover, I took the opportunity last week to attend, as a media guest, a tour and tasting at the brewery. I wasn't hopeful that I'd find a beer I enjoyed, but I was willing to check it out anyway and see what I might find. To my pleasant surprise, I found two beers that I actually liked, one which impressed me so much that I bought a couple bottles to take home.

The origins of Night Shift Brewing extend back to 2007, when three friends, Michael Oxton, Michael O'Mara, and Rob Burns, engaged in home brewing in a kitchen in Somerville. Their passion for home brewing grew, and they referred to themselves as "Night Shift" as that is when they did most of their brewing as they all worked day jobs. Eventually, in 2011, they started construction of  their first commercial brewery on Charlton Street in Everett and it opened in March 2012. They quickly outgrew this spot and in May 2014, they opened a new brewery on Santilli Highway in Everett. Current plans include the production of 10,000 barrels of beer this year.

The new brewery space includes a 2500 sq. ft. Taproom, which originally was somewhat of an after thought, as the founders didn't expect it to be as popular as it has become. You can order any of their beers, in a variety of sized-glasses, many on draft. You can also order a sampler so you can try multiple beers. They sell a little bit of food as well. Currently, they sell about 50% of their production in their taproom, showing its importance and popularity. In addition, most of the rest of their production is sold within 25 miles of the brewery.

It also helps that the brewery hosts a number of different activities during the week to draw in more customers. They also have a patio area where you can sit and drink this summer. It's a commercial area of Everett so the view isn't anything special, but you are there for the beer, not the view.

Night Shift seems to experiment often, trying to create a wide variety of different beers, including the use of a myriad of barrel types, mostly used, for aging. There are seasonal beers as well as beers that are available year round.

My primary reason for disliking most beer is their bitterness due to the hops. I have a sensitivity to certain types of bitterness and hoppy beers are a major turn-off to me. However, I am aware that there are some types of beer where the hop influence is minimal, such as the Gose style.

Gose (pronounced like "Gozer" the evil, god-like entity from the original Ghostbusters movie) is a style of beer that extends back at least to the 16th century, though some claim its lineage is even older, where it is invented in the German city of Goslar, from which it acquired its name. Over time, the style became extremely popular in the city of Leipzig, leading to the construction of over 80 Gosenschänken, Gose taverns. The style died off after World War II but has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, including the production of numerous Gose beers in the U.S.

Usually, Gose is a top-fermented sour beer, brewed from at least 50% malted wheat, with the addition of some coriander, and usually has only a 4%-5% ABV. They generally do not have a prominent hops flavor and taste sour because of their inoculation with lactic acid after the boil. Gose commonly has a tart lemony taste with an herbal element and briny aspect. The briny aspect sometimes comes from the addition of salted water. Within the U.S., breweries across the country have been creating their own Gose-style beers, putting their own spin on it, including some which are hoppy or flavored with other substances.

The Night Shift Harborside ($12/750ml) is a Gose-style ale that was brewed with coriander and Island Creek Oysters. Beer brewed with oysters? Yes, and they are not the only brewery which has done so. The Harbourside is a traditional Gose in many ways, being a top-fermented wheat beer and a 3.6% ABV. However, instead of adding sea salt or salted water, they produced the batch with the addition of about 350 live oysters to the wort a few minutes before the end of the boil. I found this beer to be crisp and refreshing with a bright lemon taste, mild coriander spice, and a strong briny element which I very much enjoyed. It made for an excellent summer drink, sour and salty, and lacked the bitterness I find in many there beers. And with its low alcohol, you could drink plenty of this on a nice summer afternoon. I think this beer would pair well with seafood dishes too!

It certainly qualifies as the best beer I've had this year and sets a high bar for any other beers I sample the rest of this year. Even if you think you don't like beer, you should taste the Harborside as it may change your mind.

I also enjoyed the Timbo Slice, a barrel-aged sour golden ale with tangerines and apricots. It had bright fruit flavors, including stone fruit and tropical fruit, with a mild earthy aspect. This is a beer with a bit more substance to it, and just wasn't as summery as the Harborside, though I would enjoy the Timbo Slice in the fall and winter, maybe paired with a beef dish.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rant: Why Aren't You Drinking More Rum?

Why aren't you drinking more Rum?

As I said recently, "Rum may be one of the most under appreciated spirits, something which is most likely to end up in a cocktail rather than sipped on its own. It isn't as revered as Whiskey or as popular as Vodka. You'll usually find plenty of Tequila bars but few Rum bars." Last year, according to the Impact Databank, the overall category of Rum declined by almost 2%. Why is that the case? Why are less people drinking rum? And how do we turn around that decline?

There is a little bit of good news though, despite the general decline, as the the top five most popular Rum brands, above $15, actually increased by about 3% last year. This is a small increase but still important as it is at least a positive change. There is still much more growth which is warranted and desired, so let us hope that the changes continue and grow.

The top five Rum brands include Pernod Ricard’s Malibu, Proximo’s The Kraken, Campari America’s Appleton Estate, Diageo North America Myer's, and William Grant & Sons Sailor Jerry. Even their growth has been a bit rocky during the last few years. For example, from 2013-2014, both Malibu and Myer's saw declines of about 2%. And from 2014-2015, Sailor Jerry saw a decline of about 4.6%. The Kraken has seen some of the best growth, 18.5% from 2013-2014 and 12.5% from 2014-2015. Even though these are the five most popular brands, their total production generally isn't that high, such as 110,000 cases from Sailor Jerry and 360,000 from the Kraken.

Summer is supposed to be a very popular time for rum, especially in frozen concoctions, but rum can and should be enjoyed year round. There is a great diversity of rum styles and types, including British, Spanish and French. There are complex and intriguing high end bottlings which can be as interesting as whiskey, though rum often costs less than comparable quality whiskey. Rum can be delicious on its own though it also is extremely versatile in cocktails. It would seem to be an excellent spirit which should warrant much more attention yet it hasn't really done so yet. And that is puzzling.

Recently, I've written a few articles about Rum, showcasing its potential and providing some recommendations, including: Diplomatico Rum: Venezuela, Water Buffalo & Tasty RumThirst Boston: History of Caribbean Rums; and Thirst Boston: The House of Agricole Rhum. You can find a number of other Rum posts on my blog as well. It is a spirit I enjoy, one which I encourage all of my readers to explore and embrace. We also need more restaurants and bars to start showcasing Rum, to offer a greater variety of brands, styles and types. We need them to create and offer more interesting Rum cocktails.

So I return to my original question: Why aren't you drinking more Rum?

What's your excuse? Why are you drinking other spirits rather than rum? What is it about rum that turns you off? Do you see it as a lesser spirit? If so, why?

And if you actually enjoy rum, give us some reasons for your love of this spirit. Share your thoughts and maybe others will reconsider their position and start drinking more Rum.

Thursday, July 14, 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.
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1) In celebration of summer in the city, Lydia Shire – alongside executive chef Simon Restrepo and executive sous chef Alex Pineda – is bringing seasonal specialties to the menu at Scampo with nearly 30 new offerings.

To whet your appetite, there are a series of newcomers. For a decidedly summer starter, the Lemon Cukes & Avocado are served over a cilantro and peanut salad with a toasted sweet sesame dressing ($13). For sea treasures, Scampo is bringing back their signature Clams Casino ($16) in addition to debuting Sushi Tuna that has been crisped in bean thread noodles and served with kabocha squash dumplings ($21) and Purple Garlic Soup with homemade almond milk and buttered crab ($16). For meat lovers, new options include the Tender Broccoli Raab with farro strozzapreti and caramelized pork belly ($21), a sharable platter of Greek Style Lamb Chops with tomatoes over a whipped garlic and vinegar skordalia ($32) and Hungarian Mangalica Prosciutto with dark maraschino cherries and a stuffed zucchini flower ($36). From the signature mozzarella bar, there are a trio of newcomers, one served with vine ripe heirloom tomatoes and basil ($14), one with beef sirloin carpaccio, arugula, beet root hummus and fried chick peas ($23) and another with burrata, corn shoots and sweet vidalias on a warm puffed caramelized red onion tart ($21).

In the “Handmade Breads” category, there is Garlic Bruschetta with baccalà mantecato ($10) and on the pizza side, there is a White Pizza with truffle cheese, sherried chanterelles and fig preserve ($28) as well as Melting Stracchino with crushed potato and crumbled hot sausage ($20).

The “Handmade Pasta e Risotti” offerings have been refreshed to include Corn & Mascarpone Ravioli with sherried chanterelles and toasted hazelnuts ($19/29), Spinach Gnocchi with delicate poached shrimp “meatballs” and an ‘assertive’ green herb sauce ($18/28), Spiced Lamb Manti with saffron yogurt and a brown butter tomato sauce ($19/29) and Walnut Risotto with robiola and brûléed fresh figs on a grilled, toasted fig leaf ($28).

The entrée-sized “Plates” also have undergone a seasonal revamping, including the Yellow Miso Glazed Chilean Sea Bass with lemony cous cous in tagine with ras el hanout ($38); Grilled Scottish Salmon with blistered kale leaves, beet red wine butter and white truffled potato gnocchi ($34); Pink Swordfish ‘Piccata’ with sliced green heirloom tomatoes, Sicilian pistachio pesto and crisped Florida rock shrimp ($36); Brick Chicken with coconut onion rings ($30); Charcoaled Duck Breast with broiled fresh plums on a toasted olive oil cake, finished with red sorrel leaves and candied fennel ($34); Sugar Cane Roasted Kurobuta Pork Chop with summer’s fresh corn risotto and shaved black truffle ($39); Charcoaled Porcini Rubbed Veal Chop with charcoaled sugar snap peas, buttermilk aioli and aligot potatoes ($46); and a 1.75lb Lobster Savannah ($48), a resurrection of Shire’s famed dish at Locke-Ober.

2) On Thursday, July 21, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Bar Boulud, Boston, located at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, will embark on a vinicultural journey to Provence. Provence, located on the southern coastline of France, has long been regarded as one of the world’s best winemaking regions and it happens to be one of Chef Daniel Boulud’s personal favorites.

Guests are invited to join Bar Boulud's Sommelier, David Bérubé, for this four-course educational experience, which will feature bold and classically complex wines paired with seasonal French-inspired classics.

The “Summer in Provence” Wine Dinner Menu will be served as follows:

Seared Tuna Niçoise (Taggiasca olives, haricots verts, cherry tomatoes, white anchovies)
Estandon Vignerons, Côtes de Provence Blanc 2015
Grilled Loup de Mer (Fennel, lemon, sauce vierge)
Estandon Vignerons, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2015
Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb (Petits farcis of summer vegetables)
Estandon Vignerons, Côtes de Provence Rouge 2013
Honey Rosemary Peach Tart (Homemade puff pastry, crème anglaise, frangipani ice cream)
Domaine de Cristia, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, 2007

COST: $95 for four-course menu and wine pairings (Ticket price includes tax and gratuity)
Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/summer-in-provence-wine-dinner-tickets-26122559278

3) Sister restaurants Parsnip and Night Market of Harvard Square, are pleased to reunite Chez Henri alum Jason Tom, Mark Thompson, John Hendron, Rembs Layman and and former Chef/Owner Paul O’Connell, for a very special pop-up dinner. that pay homage to a much missed and beloved institution. On Thursday, July 28, there will be two seatings, a 5:30pm/6pm and 7:30pm/8pm for this dinner which will bring back Chez classics such as empanadas, guava-glazed ribs, and of course the (infamous) Cuban sandwich. A mélange of Cuban-inspired cocktails will be available for purchase.

25% of the proceeds will benefit Chef Paul O’Connell’s new organization, NECAT. NECAT's Culinary Arts Job Training Program provides opportunity to resource-poor, chronically unemployed and underemployed adults and at-risk young adults. Through in-demand job training, support and employment services, NECAT helps individuals launch careers in the food services industry and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Tickets cost $48, not including drinks and gratuity. Tickets can be purchased at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/chez-henri-reunion-at-parsnip-restaurant-tickets-26563326625.

4) French culinarians extraordinaire Jacky Robert and Sam Sosnitsky invite you to join them in the celebration of Ma Maison’s one year anniversary. Their cozy Beacon Hill restaurant transports you directly to a boutique Parisian cafe, where diners can enjoy authentic cuisine Francaise. Period. In recognition of thus milestone, Chef Jacky has created a special $45 dollar, pre-fixe menu to mark the event.

Menu as follows:
First Course
Fried Clams With Mustard Creme Brûlée
Second Course
Maine Lobster (1 LB) Cooked In Smoke On A Crispy Sushi Roll, Mango Salsa
Dessert
Peach Cobbler W Vanilla Ice Cream

The special anniversary menu of will be available starting the night apres Bastille Day on July 15th and continue through September 1. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling 617- 725-8855.

5) Chef Dan Bazzinotti and the BISq team are excited to announce a new summer menu that presents some of the summer’s best ingredients in innovative ways. While delivering fresh summer flavor, BISq’s new menu remains focused upon the rustic yet refined food with emphasis on eclectic, shareable small plates that the Inman Square eatery has become known for.

New dinner menu items include:
Red Snapper Ceviche ($12)
strawberry-habanero tigers milk, cucumber, roasted sweet potato, and basil
Green Gazpacho ($7)
cornbread, smoked almonds, sour cream
Beet Salad ($8)
quinoa, cotija cheese, chimichurri, avocado, and castelvetrano olive
Drumlin Farm’s Peas and Radish ($9)
kohlarabi, soy-wasabi beurre blanc,, and crunchy ginger
Smoked Cornbread Blood Sausage ($12)
red cabbage slaw, bbq baked lentils, and tobacco shallots
Local Striped Bass ($14)
duxelle, baby summer squash, yellow tomato vinaigrette, and basil

The Smoked Cornbread Blood Sausage really intrigues me! Probably going to check it out.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Baijiu: The Essential Guide To Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus

"Few drinks are as widely consumed and misunderstood as baijiu."
--Derek Sandhaus

In my prior Baijiu posts, I've only scratched the surface of the wonders and complexities of this Chinese spirit. Though I intend to explore it more in future posts, there are some other resources you can seek out to learn more about Baijiu. You'll find a number of online and printed articles about Baijiu, though most don't go into great depth. However, there is also a single English book about Baijiu which provides much more depth and plenty of details about this intriguing Chinese spirit.

You should check out, Baijiu: The Essential Guide To Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus (Penguin Books, Australia, November 2015 in paperback-$16.95, March 2014 in e-book-$9.99). The book has approximately 194 pages and is broken down into about 12 chapters. Sandhaus has spent many years in China as a China-based writer and editor and has previously published two books, Tales of Old Peking and Tales of Old Hong Kong. He also maintains a blog, 300 Shots at Greatness and runs a Baijiu consultancy.

Sandhaus has this to say about his book: "This book is intended as a step towards bridging this knowledge gap, but moreover it is a celebration of China's marvelous traditional spirits." He continues in a little more depth: "Within its pages is all the information one would require to understand to differentiate types of baijiu—tastes, categories, production methods, regional characteristics, etc—and an in-depth overview of major brands and distilleries. Make no mistake, this is the blueprint for putting together a bitchin’ Chinese liquor cabinet and annoying your friends with pointless baijiu trivia."

The book begins with a history lesson, extending back to ancient China and the invention of alcohol. Interestingly, the Chinese viewed alcohol as a luxury, not a necessity like Europeans who drank alcohol because their water was unsanitary. The Chinese though drank boiled water and tea, avoiding the need for alcohol like Europeans. The history lesson then deals specifically with Baijiu, from its beginnings to the present. Sandhaus paints a fascinating picture of this history.

Next, Sandhaus delves into the production process of Baijiu, from its ingredients to qu, fermentation to distillation. Though these topics could be complex, Sandhaus provides an easily understandable view into the entire production process. If you are familiar with the usual processes of fermentation and distillation, you'll be intrigued by the unique aspects of making Baijiu, from its solid state fermentation to the use of mud pits.  

The book then moves onto an explanation of the four mains styles of Baijiu, identified by their aroma, and then also explains numerous other smaller styles, from Dong Aroma (medicine aroma) to Chi Aroma (which is infused with pork fat). You learn how these different styles are produced differently, helping to show the vast diversity of Baijiu. Continuing on, you'll find information on drinking etiquette in China, from toasting to gift giving.

"There's an old saying in Chinese winemaking: 'Water is an alcohol's lifeblood, qu is an alcohol's backbone, and grains are an alcohol's flesh."
--Derek Sandhaus

The next section is the longest, a list of some Baijiu brands with tasting notes and information on the distilleries. With over 10,000 distilleries, this certainly isn't a complete list but includes many of the most popular brands, and a nice cross-section of different Baijiu types. This is an excellent reference if you want to learn more about a specific Baijiu brand, and also provides the URLs to the distillery website. You'll find some fascinating historical facts within this section too as well as photos of each Baijiu bottle.

Sandhaus even provides a shorter section on Huangjiu, basically "yellow wine," which includes traditional Chinese grain wines and beers. This is even more difficult to find locally than Baijiu but is another interesting section to read, with lots of intriguing history and trivia. After that section, you'll find a brief section on Cocktails, including four recipes for drinks including: El Presidente, The Yellow Emperor, Chinese Zombie, and Fire & Ice. At the end, there is also a Glossary of terms, useful for reference.

Throughout the book are plenty of color photos, including bottle shots of each Baijiu, and they will enhance your appreciation of Baijiu. It may be the only Baijiu book in English, but it would still be a valuable reference even if there were others. Sandhaus has written a detailed, but easily understandable, book about Baijiu which should help motivate readers to give this intriguing Chinese spirit a try. It might have been nice to see more cocktail recipes and some information on food pairing, but those are minor issues which don't detract from the usefulness of this book. Baijiu: The Essential Guide earns my hearty recommendation.