Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Jay's Pizza in Malden: Jhol Momos!

What is it about the pizza joints in Malden? I previously wrote about Classic Pizza, a typical pizza & sub restaurant but which also has a small, delicious and intriguing menu of Indian cuisine. You would never know from the outside that you would find inside tasty Chicken Tikka Masala or Paneer Pakora. Now, I've stumbled on another typical pizza and sub joint, Jay's Pizza & Ice Cream, which also is hiding a fascinating speciality.

Jay's is a tiny spot, with only a handful of tables and seats, but has a lengthy menu of the usual suspects, from pizza to subs, chicken fingers to calzones. However, you'll also note a small sign advertising Jhol Momos, a Nepalese dish. Who would ever have suspected this pizza joint would sell Nepalese dumplings? Maybe this is due to the recent change in ownership.

Momos are indigenous to South Asia, especially Tibet, Nepal, parts of India, and Bhutan, though the word itself seems to have Chinese origin, and simply means "steamed bun." They can be filled with a variety of ingredients, from yak to pork, chicken to vegetarian. Now, you can find momos in at least a few restaurants in the Boston area but Jay's offers a type of momo which is much less commonly found in the local area.

In Nepal, especially its capital Kathmandu, jhol momo are an extremely popular street food. "Jhol" roughly translates as "liquid" or a "liquid-like consistency," and the dish itself are momos in a cold broth. The broth may include ingredients such as sesame, garlic, tomato, onion, lemons and achar (an Indian condiment of pickled fruits and vegetables with spices). It may taste hot, spicy, sour and/or tangy, dependent on the specific ingredients and their ratios.

At Jay's, the Jhol Momo dish costs about $8-$9 and you receive 10 hot Momos in a cold broth. The dichotomy between the hot and cold was initially a little jarring, as it isn't a usual combination you find in many cuisines. You might get a room temperature sauce for other dumplings, but it is almost never a cold sauce. And even then, you can add as much or as little of the sauce you desire. In this case, the momos are sitting in the cold broth. However, after the initial trepidation, I found that the combination actually worked well.

The momos themselves possessed a fairly thin dumpling wrapper that had just the right amount of consistency, and they were filled with an ample portion of a tasty pork and spice mixture. You can also opt for chicken or vegetation momos. On their own, the momos make an excellent dumpling. Now, the cold broth was intriguing, with a strong and complex curry taste, and it added to the flavor of the momos. The broth seemed to have lowered the temperature of the momos, transforming the hot dumplings into a dish that worked well on a hot summer day. Highly recommended.

So what other Malden pizza joints are concealing special culinary treasures?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Rant: Beauty, Wine & The Beast

"Wine is, at its best, an agent of beauty, and the writer does well to engage with it on that level."
--What Makes A Wine Worth Drinking by Terry Theise

I've begun reading an advance copy of Terry Theise's new book, which is due out in November. The Introduction, which many people commonly skip when reading a book, is a fascinating read, full of intriguing ideas and poetic language. The above quote is in the introduction, and I suspect it will be elaborated further within the book. However, it is a concept which Theise touched on in his prior book, and which others have advanced as well.

The quote brought to mind one of my old posts too, which dealt with beauty, and I felt it was warranted to bring it back as the ideas are timeless and worthy of reflection. What are your thoughts on beauty and wine?

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

The tale of Beauty and the Beast is well known, and its theme and basic framework have been used many times, in books, movies, television shows, plays and more. It teaches us to look past the shallow surface, to find the beauty within, and it would not have had such an impact if beauty were not an important value. There is probably not a single human culture which does not possess a concept of beauty, though what they consider to fit their definition of beauty can vary widely. In the end, it boils down to cherishing what we find to be aesthetically pleasing.

Beauty, of whatever kind, invariably excites the human soul to tears.
--Edgar Allan Poe

The appreciation for beauty often seems to get lost in discussions of food and wine, though its importance there should not be underestimated. I am talking about beauty in all its aspects, not solely the visual, which can touch any of our senses. And I am not discussing any particular definition of beauty either, but merely the aesthetic concept which can encompass all of the diverse definitions. We need to embrace beauty, to praise it, to savor it, to share it.

Beauty in things lies in the mind which contemplates them.
--David Hume

Last week, I mentioned Ernesto Catena who possesses a Japanese aesthetic, which influenced the creation of his Alma Negra winery. An appreciation of beauty is one of his primary motivations, and his passion for that beauty is infectious. He relishes the beauty of nature, of simplicity, of balance. Fred Minnick, a friend of mine, is an accomplished photographer, often taking wine and food related pictures. He has an excellent sense of aesthetics, drawing out the beauty of his subjects, whether they are people or inanimate objects. Even the most grotesque of subjects can be transformed into a beauty through a skilled photographer's eye. Terry Theise, wine importer and author, wrote Reading Between the Wines, which contains many beautiful phrases and sentences, showcasing the aesthetics of language.  

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
--John Keats

Writers understand the beauty of language, and how a special turn of phrase can elevate a story to another level of aesthetic appreciation. A wine bottle may possess an ugly label, yet the wine within might be indescribably beautiful, a sublime sensory pleasure. A plate of food which is presented beautifully will often seem to taste better than a messy, unappealing looking plate. It is often said we eat through our eyes, and there is some truth to that. There is no endeavor where beauty does not play some role, and we should endeavor to cherish beauty where ever we encounter it.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
--Rachel Carson

To that end, I would like to see more food and wine writers embrace the beauty, in what they experience as well as how they present themselves. Let your writing highlight beauty while you also attempt to make your words beautiful. Eaters and drinkers, don't just swallow and guzzle, but take time to appreciate the beauty of what is on your plate and in your glass. Take time to allow your senses to properly savor everything. Beauty elevates our experiences so we should be eager to seek it out.

Beauty awakens the soul to act.
--Dante Alighieri

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Thursday Sips & Nibble

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) National Clear Out The Shelters Day, a unified campaign dedicated to helping families bring home a furry friend, will soon be here and Harvard Gardens wants your help. Join the Beacon Hill bar on Saturday, August 18, from 11ma-3pm, for specialty cocktails, food specials, and raffles, all in the name of a cause you can feel good about.

All proceeds from the raffles will be donated to cover adoption fees at local shelters for dogs and cats in need of a loving home. Some prizes will include: a class pass to Soul Cycle, jewelry from Crush Boutique, something sweet from Beacon Hill Chocolates, an assortment of gift cards to local restaurants, and more!

Every year millions of companion animals end up in shelters, and that number continues to rise. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 1.5 million dogs and cats combined, are euthanized due to overcrowding. This number can be reduced dramatically if more people adopted pets instead of buying them. So stop by Harvard Gardens next Saturday to help these animals find a home!

For more information, please visit https://harvardgardens.com
To book a reservation please call (617) 523-2727

2) During the month of September, Kendall Square’s Sumiao Hunan Kitchen will be shaking up its specialty Mai Tai cocktail for only $5. Sumiao’s Hunan-style Mai Tai is an interpretation of the spirit-forward worldwide classic, paying homage to the original cocktail recipe from Trader Vic Bergeron but with subtle changes to complement its signature Hunan cuisine.

Because Hunan cuisine employs many spicy elements, Sumiao has increased the sweetness of its Mai Tai without adding the abundance of fruit juice that’s often found in a traditional Mai Tai. Complex flavors such as clove, cinnamon, citrus and molasses come with each sip as a result of the decadent Chairman’s Spiced Reserve Rum.

WHEN: Available during normal operating hours throughout the month of September.

3) On Wednesday September 12th, at 6pm, guests can enjoy a genuine taste of Sicily. The Lexington il Casale team has curated a very special experience featuring olive oil from Lexington native Giuseppe Taibi of Olio Taibi. The evening showcases a special 5 course menu of dishes with Olio Taibi’s handcrafted oils, such as his fruity Nocellara and peppery Biancolilla. The dishes are also complemented with il Casale’s in house wine from the same region. The full menu for the evening is as follows:

Insalata di Finocchio all'Olio Taibi "Nocellara" **
fennel, arugula & nocellara olive salad dressed with Olio Taibi's "Nocellara" olive oil
Chardonnay, stemmari, sicily, italy
Bruschetta al Pesce Azzurro
smoked bluefish pate, grilled garlic bread bruschetta finished with Olio Taibi "Biancolilla"
Rose, nero d'avola & planeta, sicily, italy
Maccheroni al Pesto Siciliano **
homemade tube pasta, sun-dried tomato pesto, almonds, pecorino pepato siciliano D.O.P finished with Olio Taibi "Nocellara"
Gnero d'avola, noto, feudo maccara, sicily, italy
Agnello al Forno alla Saracena, Cous-cous al Pistacchio con Olio Taibi "Nocellara"
oven roasted lamb saracene style, pistachio cous-cous, crispy artichokes & Olio Taibi "Nocellara"
Cerasuolo di vittoria, cos, sicily, italy
Torta della Nonna all'Olio Taibi "Biancolilla"
Grandma’s olive oil tea cake, whipped ricotta, candied orange peel
Passito di pantelleria, donna fugata, sicily, italy

All courses marked ** are vegetarian
All courses can be made nut free

Tickets for the five-course meal are $85 (exclusive of tax and gratuity) and can be reserved over the phone at 781-538-5846.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sousaku Bistro in Malden: First Impressions

Malden is home to numerous interesting & tasty restaurants, including a significant number of ethnic spots, from Vietnamese to Haitian. It would take you plenty of time to explore all of them, meaning you might miss out on some of the best places. For example, though Sousaku Bistro, a Japanese restaurant, has been open since the end of 2015, it was only until recently that I dined there a couple times for lunch.

Located at 166 Eastern Avenue, and set up a little from the road, it can be easy to drive by and miss this spot. And it isn't in an area that seems to get much foot traffic. Around the corner, on Ferry Street, you''ll find several other restaurants and most of the foot traffic is there. As such, Sousaku seems to fly under the radar and you need to intentionally seek it out. It is open six days a week, closed only on Tuesdays.

Sousaku has a quite large menu of Japanese cuisine, from Sushi to Yakitori, Kushikatsu to Rice Bowls, and so much more. Many of these are traditional dishes, but there are also plenty of more innovative dishes where the chef has created his own unique takes. Prices are generally reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the dishes. They have a fully stocked bar, including Sake (with several good options) and Japanese Whiskey.

The Sushi Lunch ($12) includes 5 pieces of Nigiri Sushi and a Tuna Roll, accompanied with Miso Soup and Salad. The miso and salad were good, with a light and tasty dressing atop the salad.

The Sushi was good-sized, tasted fresh and was very satisfying. Two pieces of Maguro are usually $7.50, meaning their Sushi is a bit more expensive than many other spots, but still less expensive than some high-end places. And based on the size and quality, the price is fair. This lunch special is a very good deal.

The Sweet Potato Tempura (3 pieces for $2.95) was exquisite, just perfect crispy tempura batter covering the tender sweet potato. I often judge a Japanese restaurant by the quality of their tempura and in this regard, Sousaku is a big winner. I would probably order some tempura every time I dined here.

The Tatsuta-Age ($6) is deep fried marinated fried chicken in a light batter, and it was tender and moist with a nice taste to the flavor, with hints of possibly ginger. This has a much lighter batter than "chicken fingers" and it is more about the chicken than the batter.

The Boky Bun ($6) is a roasted pork bun, served with lettuce, fried scallion & their special barbecue sauce. However, the menu doesn't mention there is also mayo on the bun, which was a fail for me. Otherwise, it was a delicious sandwich, with tender pork, a soft bun, and the fried scallions added a nice little crunch.

The Chashu Pork Noodle Soup ($9.25) is made with slices of roasted pork, shiitake mushroom, fried onion, scallion, corn, half-boiled egg, sesame, and wakame. You then have the choice of a Curry Broth or Tonkotsu Broth. You also have the option of Soba, Ramen or Udon noodles. I opted for the Tonkotsu with Ramen, and it was okay but nothing special. Presentation was lacking and it lacked the depth of flavor you find in better Ramen soups.

The Yakitori menu has 12 options ($3-$10 per skewer), and you order by the individual skewer, though there is a Combo plate available.  I tried the Matsusaka Pork, Oyster Mushroom Wrapped in Bacon, Scallop, and Chicken. I liked the barbecue sauce on each grilled skewer, with the nuttiness of the sesame seeds, and the meats and seafood were cooked well, being moist, tender and flavorful. A nice variety of flavor and textures, and I would like to try more of the skewers.

The Dessert Menu has 4 choices, such as Fried Ice Cream and Mochi, and I enjoyed the Fried Banana ($5). A nice, crispy light batter covered the sweet, slightly mushy banana pieces.

Sousaku is worthy checking out, though maybe their menu is too large and they might be better off concentrating on less. Service was excellent on both of my visits. I will be returning there to check out more of their offerings and would like to hear from anyone else who has dined there.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rant: Making Hospitality Better With A Japanese Proverb

Servers, consider this hypothetical: You have been asked to serve a once-in-a-lifetime table of customers. How would your service differ in this experience over your usual service?

Take some time to ponder your answer. Be honest with your answer. You aren't giving a public response so there is no need to put up a front.

Now, if you answered that your service might be better, more extensive, more accommodating, more personable, or something similar, then maybe you need to change your mindset concerning service. Maybe you need to learn some Japanese.

Ichigo ichie is a Japanese proverb that can be literally translated as “one time, one meeting,” or more loosely translated as "one chance in a lifetime" or "never again." The underlying meaning of the proverb is that you need to cherish every encounter in your life as if it will never be experienced again, as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime event. Even if you meet the same people at multiple encounters, each of those encounters is unique in its own way, and you never know if that meeting will be the last one.

This proverb is a central component of Japanese hospitality, also known as Omotenashi. I'm not going to go into depth on the concept of omotenashi in this post, but will concentrate on ichigo ichie. Japanese servers cherish the moment with each guest, understanding this might be their only encounter with this person so they want to present their best face and give their best service. You give your all, for every guest, at all times. You don't adjust your service as to whether you feel someone is a big tipper or not.

This is far from an easy concept to enact, especially considering what we are taught in our American culture. In addition, for this concept to best work, customers need to embrace it as well. They need to accept each restaurant visit as something unique, a once in a lifetime meal. There needs to be a mutual respect between customer and server. The customer needs to strive to be the best they can be as well. And it might be far easier to get servers to change than customers. How many customers are going to be open to lessons in how they can be a better customer?

Let this be a starting point for further discussion. The Japanese certainly have fascinating thoughts on hospitality and maybe they can be adapted for the U.S. hospitality industry. Or maybe the U.S. isn't ready for such a change.