Monday, June 29, 2015

Protecting Japanese Sake & Rice

It's probably not about foreign Sake breweries.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Japanese efforts to legally define and protect "Japanese Sake." Legal protection apparently will be sought from the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the initial definition, which is still subject to change, indicates that "only sake made in Japan using domestically grown rice be sold as “Japanese sake.” Such efforts to protect "Japanese Sake" are akin to previous efforts to protect items like Champagne and Sherry, efforts I support.

However, I was curious as to why Japan decided to just now seek legal protection for Sake. What was the impetus for their decision? Were they concerned about the couple dozen of foreign Sake breweries which have arisen around the world, from the U.S. to Norway? None of the news articles seemed to indicate a rationale for Japan's actions.

I might now have an answer. An article I read yesterday in the Financial Times may just offer that rationale. You've probably heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a "free trade" agreement among 12 countries, including the U.S. President Obama has been trying to get approval for this controversail agreement, and has run into some opposition, especially from Democrats. It is also an agreement which has garnered plenty of attention in Japan, and I wrote a couple years ago how it could lead to lessened or eliminated Sake tariffs.

If TPP passes, it could lead to a significant reduction in Japan’s heavy tax on imported rice, currently about $1.30 per pound. Discussions on rice imports and tariff reductions have occupied plenty of negotiations between the U.S. and Japan. If the taxes on imported rice are drastically reduced, it could mean that some Japanese Sake producers might decide to purchase the less expensive rice from the U.S. rather than use more expensive domestic rice. The Sake industry may see such a scenario as a threat to their traditional product.

Would Japanese Sake breweries actually use U.S. rice? Consider that about 75% of all Sake is called futsu-shu, regular Sake which often is made from table rice, and not the more expensive Sake rice. Futsu-shu often is inexpensive and some producers try to make it as cheaply as possible. If they had access to cheap U.S. rice, cheaper than domestic rice, there probably is a good chance they would do so to save expenses.

It seems logical then that the Sake industry would want to protect itself from this eventually, If they require "Japanese Sake" to use domestically grown rice, that would probably stop most Sake breweries from considering using U.S. grown rice, no matter how inexpensive. The threat to the integrity and reputation of Japanese Sake is not from foreign breweries. It is more from the possibility of Japanese brewers no longer using Japanese rice.

Rant: A Rushed Tasting Menu?

The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi has received many, well-deserved raves and garnered great fame for sushi chef Jiro Ono, the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant in Tokyo that has earned three Michelin stars. At this restaurant, for about $300, you'll receive a tasting menu of approximately 20 courses. Reservations must be made at least a month in advance, and they have no shortage of customers willing to pay for the experience.

One common criticism about the restaurant is that the meal seems rushed, that you finish your meal in only about thirty minutes. The criticism has some validity, though the shortened dining period is intentional, and based on a few different reasons.

In the U.S., such multi-course meals are usually extended over of the course of two to three hours, if not longer. When you pay such a high amount for your dinner, many expect to enjoy a leisurely meal, making it a lingering experience. They want to slowly savor each course, to appreciate all that the chef invested in each dish. When they are paying such a high amount of money, they want to derive value and perceive value to include a lengthened dining experience.

If a local restaurant tried to push its diners to finish a large tasting menu in half an hour, there might be a revolt. Reviewers would probably scold and penalize such a spot,  complaining the unnecessary rush. On places like Yelp, such a restaurant would get plenty of One Star reviews.

However, can such a "rushed" tasting menu be justified in any manner?

One of the primary reasons why a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro is compacted into a short time period is based on science. It takes the human body about twenty minutes to become satiated after eating. The longer you continue to eat, the more and more full you will feel, and the less and less you will appreciate the later courses you eat. If you consume your entire meal in about thirty minutes, then you are more likely to appreciate and enjoy each and every course. Chef Ono wants every course to receive the full attention of his customers.

Think about those lengthy tasting menus you have experienced, and try to remember how you felt during the later courses. I'm dined with a number of people who have spoke of being full, but who still continued on, finishing the last few courses, but really not enjoying them to their fullest. This provides support to Chef Ono's thoughts, and maybe other restaurants should pay heed. Maybe tasting menu meals in U.S. restaurant should be eaten quicker than the usual time periods. We might not have to cut them down to thirty minutes, but cuts might be justified.

There would be a trade-off involved, a lessened "experience" but with a reward of a greater enjoyment of your food. How much do you value the experience of a lengthy tasting menu, knowing that you probably won''t properly enjoy the later courses of your dinner? How important is it to you to experience the food at its optimal condition? Would you still be willing to pay the same amount for a tasting menu that occurs during a much shorter time period?

I doubt we're going to start seeing a growing trend of 30 minute tasting menus in the U.S. anytime soon. However, restaurants might want to start trying to reduce the amount of time of their tasting menus, paying consideration to the amount of time it takes their customers to start feeling full.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, June 26, 2015

My Favorite Fiction Books of 2015 (So Far)

Back in December 2011, I started a blog column, Authors, Alcohol & Accolades, which asked some of my favorite authors about their preferred drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There have been 11 editions of this column so far, with more coming in the near future. The inspiration for this series is that I am a voracious reader, of both fiction and nonfiction, and I wanted to combine that interest with my love of food & drink. The series has proven popular and it has been fascinating to explore what authors enjoy drinking.

As a special addendum to that series, I've previously posted lists of my Favorite Fiction Books of the Year, such as last years Favorite Fiction Books of 2014. I am going to post a similar list, of some of my favorite fiction books of the first six months of 2015. During this time period, I have read over 130 books. Though there are still a few more days in June, I won't be reading any more fiction as I am immersed in a couple non-fiction books which will take me to the end of the month, As I mentioned, I am a voracious reader, and expect to read about the same amount during the rest of the year.

The following lists of favorites will include books of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Mystery/Thrillers. Though nearly all of these books were published in 2015, there might be a few that weren't, but I first read them in 2015. The books are also not in any specific order of preference. It was hard enough to break the list down as I did without trying to rank it from #1 to #10.

As a special addition this time, I'm also offering some drink pairings for each work, selections which I think are fitting for various reasons. Hope you enjoy.

My Top Ten Favorite Novels of the first six months of 2015:
--The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
(Read with a glass of elegant Junmai Daiginjo Sake.)
--Golden Son by Pierce Brown
(Read with a flute of fine Champagne.)
--Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell
(Read with a large glass of earthy Burgundy.)
--The Awesome by Eva Barrows
(Read with a glass of youthful Zinfandel.)
--The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
(Read with a glass of aged Madeira.)
--He Who Walks in Shadow by Brett Talley
(Read with a glass of savory Mead.)
--The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
(Read with a glass of Argentine Malbec.)
--Take Down by James Swain
(Read with a shot of American Rye Whiskey.)
--Lords of the Sith by Paul Kemp
(Read with a glass of inky-dark, bold Petite Sirah.)
--The Cartel by Don Winslow
(Read with a shot of Anejo Tequila.)

My Five Honorable Mention Novels of the first six months of 2015:
There five books almost made the above list, but I had to make some tough cuts. However, they are still more than worthy of my recommendation.
--The Conformity by John Hornor Jacobs
(Read with a glass of powerful Barolo.)
--One Kick by Chelsea Cain
(Read with a glass of warm Mulled Wine.)
--The Liar's Key by Mark Lawrence
(Read with a glass of expensive Bordeaux or a strong, dark Lager.)
--Predator One by Jonathan Maberry
(Read with a glass of two fingers of a peaty Scotch.)
--Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale
(Read with a glass of dry Hard Cider.)

My Top Five Favorite Novellas of the first six months of 2015:
--In Midnight's Silence: Los Nefilim by T. Frohock
(Read with a glass of elegant Fino Sherry.)
--Prisoner 489 by Joe Lansdale
(Read with a glass of brash White Whiskey.)
--Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium by Clive Barker
(Read with a glass of sweet, herbal Vermouth.)
--The Shadow of Elysium by Django Wexler
(Read with a glass of Dark Rum.)
--Return To Honor by Brian McClellan
(Read with a glass of Light Rum.)

My Top Five Favorite Anthologies of the first six months of 2015:
--Sharkpunk edited by Jonathan Green
(Read with a big Mai Tai, or any other Tiki cocktail.)
--Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams 
(Read with a small glass of an ethereal Sauternes.)
--Limbus Inc. Book 2 edited by Brett Talley 
(Read with a glass of aged Amontillado Sherry.)
--Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries & Rogues edited by J.M. Martin 
(Read with a cold glass of an intriguing Craft Beer.)
--A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests edited by Josh Reynolds & Miles Boothe
(Read with a shot of smoky Mezcal.)

What do you think of the Drink pairings? Would you choose a different Drink for any of these books?

I am very interested to see which of these books will still be in my Top Ten at the end of the year. I already know there are some potentially excellent books due out during the next six months so there will be serious challengers to those currently on these lists. All of these books would make great summer reading and a number of these authors have also written other worthy books. Please support an author, a small, independent business person, and buy more books.

What are some of your favorite books so far this year?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.. **********************************************************
1) On Monday, June 2, at 6:30pm, Terramia Ristorante, located on Salem Street in the North End, is celebrating the long standing history of Frescobaldi wines with a five-course Tuscan wine dinner. The Frescobaldi family has over 700 years of winemakers dedicated to serving the highest quality Tuscan wines. Established in 1300, their faithful clients have included everyone from great Renaissance artists to the Papal and English Courts. Centuries later they were the first in Tuscany to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Nero and Chardonnay, and to this day they continue to change the wine industry.

At this Frescobaldi dinner, will sample Chef Luiz Prata’s hand-crafted five course menu paired with Frescobaldi’s Tuscan wines. The meal will start with Tonno Crudo, a sushi grada tuna tartare with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and micro greens salad matched with a 2013 Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Chardonnay. The second course follows with Torta, smoked tomato and braised onion tart topped with goat cheese and mâche greens alongside a 2011 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva. As the night continues, guests are treated to spinach and feta filled Ravioli Amatriciana with smoked pancetta, spicy Collina tomato sauce, pecorino and parigiano, paired with a 2011 Tenuta di Frescobaldi. The fourth course includes the Bistecca, a prime filet mignon complete with sweet potato mash, sautéed baby spinach and red wine reduction complimented by a 2008 Frescobaldi Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino. The evening will finish on a sweet note, a Budino Di Pane, salted caramel bread pudding with vanilla gelato, is enjoyed with a 2006 Frescobaldi Pomino Vin Santo.

Ciro Pirone, Director of Italian Wines at Horizon Beverage Company will be on hand to discuss the nuances and history behind each and every wine.

Cost: The dinner is $70 per person (+tax and gratuity).
Reservations are required and can be made by calling Terramia at 617-523-3112.

2) Last summer, Fruit Center debuted an outdoor grilling series – offering free lunch for its customers -- with a unique twist: manning the grill in the supermarket’s parking lot were recognizable chefs from South Shore restaurants, rolling up their white-jacketed sleeves to serve up mini-samples of recipes lifted from their own impressive menus, but made with meats, seafood and produce given to them by Fruit Center.

A repeat of the outdoor grilling series for summer 2015 was a no-brainer. The chefs that'’ll appear at Milton Marketplace and the Hingham Harbor location are a mix of both familiar and emerging culinary personalities.

Grilling demonstrations at Fruit Center are free of charge and lunch items will vary. Look for the big white tent and the smoking grill in Fruit Center parking lots on the following dates between 11:30 am and 1pm.

Saturday, June 27 in Milton
Alex Horowitz, TAVOLO, Dorchester
Alex is likely to draw inspiration from any of the 22 regions of Italy
Saturday, July 11 in Milton
Jenna Perette, JENNA’S DRIVE-IN, Weymouth
Grilled Shrimp Tacos with special sauce will be on the menu today
Saturday, July 18 in Hingham
Andrea Schnell, SQUARE CAFÉ, Hingham
Back by popular demand, this personable young female chef has promised us a delicious surprise
Saturday, August 1 in Milton
Chris Douglass, ASHMONT GRILL, Dorchester
Chris has kept the neighborhood happy for almost ten years with his local and comfortable American menu
Saturday, August 22 in Hingham
Jes Childers, NEW WORLD TAVERN, Plymouth
This South Shore newcomer is worth discovering, with a selection of global dishes grilled right

3) To complement its nearly 120 whiskey selections, Saloon in Somerville’s Davis Square is debuting a new menu to satisfy the palates (and stomachs) of the brown liquor faithful. Designed by Executive Chef Shayne Nunes, this pre-Prohibition restaurant and bar’s refreshed and expanded menu focuses on shareable, savory cuisine to pair with its extensive roster of alternative whiskey and scotch selections creating the ultimate social experience.

To start, there are over a dozen hors d’oeuvres to choose from. To showcase the season’s bounty, Chef Nunes serves up Saloon Street Corn (two grilled cobs, spicy remoulade, cotija cheese, grilled lime - $7); Watermelon & Watercress Salad (feta, granola, fig-balsamic vinaigrette - $9); and, Local Heirloom Tomato Salad (beefsteak tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pistachio-basil ricotta, reduced balsamic - $12). For heartier whiskey-friendly bites, there is Grilled Bratwurst (tomatillo relish, smoked honey mustard, brioche finger roll - $6); Baby Back Ribs (whiskey BBQ, peach-purple cabbage slaw - $10); Picatta Chicken Wings (roasted garlic, capers, parmesan, lemon-butter sauce, fresh herbs - $8); and, Crispy Potato Wedges (garlic, parmesan, pork belly, horseradish mayo - $7).

For turophiles balancing the art of spirits and cheese, there is an Artisan Cheese Board (selection of three cheeses with assorted fruits - $13) and meat-lovers can sharpen their appreciations with the Charcuterie Board (selection of three cured meats with mustard and toast - $14). Saloon also will continue to serve up its signature Devils on Horseback (feta-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon - $9), inspired by a taste in history when the Norsemen invaded England and wore rashers of bacon as armor while on horseback.

For entrees, there are five options that come enveloped in refined succulence and are a perfect complement to your malt of choice including the Tenderloin Steak Tips (bourbon marinade, roasted garlic-potato purée, red watercress salad, crispy shallot, picked red onion - $24); Pan-Roasted Atlantic Swordfish (creole potato salad, grilled peaches, golden peach BBQ - $24); Arline Chicken Breast (fig and chorizo stuffed, smoked Gouda polenta, baby kale, lemon-butter sauce - $20); Grilled Stuffed Avocado (red quinoa-charred corn salad, heirloom cherry tomatoes, pistachio-ricotta, farm egg, sriracha - $15); and, the Rodeo Burger (USDA prime, Great Hill blue cheese, crispy onion strings, whiskey BBQ, garlic parmesan fries, brioche bun - $15).

4) Are you ready to rumble? On July 1, at 5:30pm, Puritan & Company is hosting a Rosé Rumble  in the next installation of “Wine Wednesdays.” Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Chef de Cuisine Alex Saenz, Wine Director Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s team are featuring 15 different varieties of Rosé paired with small bites.

Guests are invited to say “Yes Way, Rosé!” where they can mix, mingle and sample at this celebration of the pink-hued wines. Passed appetizers and small plates will be paired with a selection of 15 rosé wines to make this event a little more special than most.

Cost:  Tickets are $65
Reservations are required so please call 617-615-6195 or log onto

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stoneham Farmer's Market Returns

After a hiatus, the Stoneham Farmers Market has been resurrected and opened last week. I checked out the first market and look forward to returning again, to revisit some of the vendors and see what other new vendors begin showcasing their products. The Market is open every Thursday, from 2:30pm-6:30pm, on the Town Common and will take place into mid-October. There is plenty of parking in the area, making it easy to stop by the Market.

In the middle of the Common is the main Market booth, where you can obtain additional information, check the calendar of upcoming events, enter a raffle, and more.

This sign provides a calendar of upcoming events at the Market, from entertainment to artisans.

There was a community booth with the Stoneham Alliance Against Violence whose mission is: "To raise community awareness of domestic violence, and to promote programs that work to reduce violence and encourage healthy relationships." It is good to see the Market helping to promote such important community issues.

Obviously, at a Farmers Market, you hope to get some fresh and delicious produce and there were three vendors at last week's market. During the next few months, you will see a number of different produce vendors, including Kelly's Farm, Sugar River FarmArrowhead Farm, and Lanni Orchards.  Some of these farms sell organic produce. Everything I saw looked very fresh, and the items I eventually purchased, from tomatoes to Romaine were tasty.

Some of the produce may be more expensive than you find at the local, chain grocery stores, but I believe it is worth the extra cost. It is local and fresh, and some of the produce you get at the grocery stories might come from anywhere in the world. You get to support a local farm, a small business, rather than a huge corporation. The organic produce can be more expensive but it is just as pricey as organic produce at the chain grocery stores. I also think the local produce tastes better than much you might find at the chain grocery stores.

Red Fire Farm was also at last weeek's market.

Based in Somerville, Deano's Pasta produces a variety of pasta, from fresh egg fusilli to ravioli. You can also purchase theit sauces, such as marinara or cream sauce. Their menu is likely to change each week, offering different items all the time.

There were several baked goods vendors at the Market. Top Shelf Cookies, which bakes its cookies in Dorchester, offered about five different types this week, and it seems they will offer some different choices in the future. From Chocolate Chip to Green Monster Mint, the cookies cost $3 for a pack of 2 and $7 for a pack of 6. I sampled some of the cookies and they were soft and fresh, with very nice flavors. Top notch products. I especially liked Alex's Sweet Heat, a chocolate cookie made with hot sauce which gave it a pleasant, spicy finish. I'll be back to buy more of their cookies.

Jennifer Lee's Bakery offers cookies, breads, cupcakes and more. I bought one of the corn breads and it was good, especially watm, slathered in butter and accompanying some pulled pork.

Two other bakers who were at the Market last week include Swiss Bakers and Mad Cake Genius. Swiss Bakers is one of my favorite bakeries, and they always have lots of delicious Swiss treats, from preztel breads to berliners, linzers to weggli. Mad Cake Genius now has a store in Melrose and they produce Finnegans, those small, cinnamon puff pastries which once were made by Hank's Bakery. That alone is reason to check them out.

Roberto's Seafood offers about a dozen types of frozen seafood, such as Haddock ($9 lb) and Tuna ($9 lb). I didn't buy anything from them last week but plan to do so soon. Local seafood is a great choice and the prices seem reasonable. As I often say, people need to eat more seafood so it was great to see such a vendor at the Market.

Besides all the food, last week there was a booth selling paintings and prints.

There was also Wicked Good Soap Company,, which makes bath and beauty products, including goats milk soap.

It is great to see the Stoneham Farmers Market back again, and I hope you check it out to buy some fresh produce, baked goods, seafood and more. I'll be returning there and if I find anything particularly special, I will be sure to let you know. I am hoping the Market will have a meat vendor in the near future.