Thursday, July 31, 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) Gordon Wilcox, CEO of Wilcox Hospitality Group; Dr. Jay Austen, Jr., Chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery & Chief, Division of Burn Surgery at Mass General Hospital; Brian Poe, Chef & Owner of The Tip Tap Room.

On August 25, from 6pm-9pm, The Tip Tap Room owners Brian Poe and Gordon Wilcox, CEO of Wilcox Hospitality Group, will host the 1st annual “Chefs for Clefts” fundraiser to benefit Massachusetts General Hospital’s Global Surgical Initiative. Funds raised from the charitable fête will directly assist Dr. Jay Austen’s (Chief, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery & Chief, Division of Burn Surgery at Mass General Hospital) missions that support children with facial deformities and cleft lips as well as burn victims in Colombia.

This festive “Night in Colombia” themed event will kick-off with Colombian music paired with complimentary Colombian-inspired cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres, as prepared by Brian Poe, including: Summer Corn & Cheese Arepas; Buenelos (stuffed with goat cheese and cinnamon sugar dust); Cassava Chips (topped with roasted lechona bits); Empanadas (topped with lime-infused purple cabbage relish); Traditional Fritanga o’ Picada Colombiano (patacones, chicharrón, papa criolla, chorizo, pork ribs, yucca frita & ají Colombiano sauce); and, Colombian Ceviche de Camarones.

Brian Poe and chef friends Chris Coombs (Boston Chops & Deuxave), Andy Husbands (Tremont 647), Michael Scelfo (Alden & Harlow) and Lydia Shire (Scampo) each have graciously donated a three-course paired “dinner for ten” at their respective restaurants which will be up for bid in the silent auction throughout the evening. Supporters also will have the opportunity to mix and mingle with some the City’s top culinary luminaries.

COST: General Admission (includes open bar and passed hors d'oeuvres): $40 per person in advance; $50 at the door
VIP Tickets (includes open bar, passed hors d'oeuvres and a $100 gift certificate to the following restaurants from the Wilcox Hospitality Group: The Tip Tap Room, Estelle’s, Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, Bukowski Tavern, Lower Depths or Parish Café): $500 per person

To purchase tickets, please visit:

Additional donations for Massachusetts General Hospital’s Global Surgical Initiative will be accepted onsite or online at

2) You'’ll want to be at Fruit Center’s Water Street parking lot, located in Hingham, on alternate Saturdays this summer, —rain or shine from 11:30 AM to 1 PM, to meet the hottest restaurant chefs from Hingham and beyond, and to sample their grilled specialties, free of charge. “Look for the big white tent, where we’ll have hot grills set up and hot chefs behind them, providing a tasty free lunch for Fruit Center shoppers.

Before or after the event, shoppers are encouraged to pick up whatever they need for summer cooking; Fruit Center carries dozens of unique items made by South Shore purveyors, from pasta sauce to paleo treats.

Saturday, August 9 11:30am-1pm
Executive Chef Estaban Gallego, ESTER, Dorchester
Grilled Salmon with Mexican “Street Corn”

Saturday, August 23 11:30am-1pm
Chef-Owner Brian Jenkins, PORTO BISTRO, Kingston
Marinated Skirt Steak with Meyer Lemon, chimichurri sauce and corn

3) Beginning on August 4th, enjoy the new Monday Market Menu at Davio’s Lynnfield every Monday evening during the month of August. In addition to their regular menu, the new four-course prix fixe menu, which will rotate weekly, has been prepared by Culinary Director Rodney Murillo, will utilize ingredients grown and available at the new Rooftop Farm at Whole Foods Market at Market Street in Lynnfield.

The rooftop farm is 17,000 square feet and was designed as well as installed by Recover Green Roofs, a Somerville based company specializing in vegetated green roofs, living walls and rooftop farms. After Recover completed the design and construction of the rooftop farm, Green City Growers, also based in Somerville, assumed the responsibilities of harvesting and maintaining the crops. The estimated 10,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs are for sale in the market and used in their prepared foods department. It is the largest rooftop farm in New England and the first supermarket farm in the country.

Market Menu

Green Tomato-Cucumber Gazpacho, Maine Lobster
Bucatini, Baby Arugula, Purple Beans, Vermont Butter, Shaved Ricotta Salata
Piatti Del Giorno
Grilled Swordfish
Purple, Orange Carrots, Grilled Eggplant, Charmoula Sauce, Dill Crème Fraîche
Blueberry Torte
Mascarpone Lemon Gelato

COST: $50 per person (excluding tax & gratuity)
Reservations are recommended by calling 781-944-4810

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

10 Suggestions For Less Expensive Seafood

But seafood is too expensive!

One of the most common reasons consumers give for not eating more seafood is that they feel it is too expensive. In some respects, they are correct, as there is a fair share of seafood which, by the pound, can be pricey. However, there are numerous ways that everyone, even those on a limited budget, can enjoy delicious, sustainable and healthy seafood.

High seafood prices are not alone. Food prices of numerous proteins have been significantly increasing during the last few years. For example, ground beef is at its highest price ever, 76% higher than what it was in 2009. Pork prices, such as for bacon, have been increasing too, up nearly 13% over last year. A significant factor in the rising costs are decreases in the number of available animals. The beef cattle population in the the lowest it has been in over 50 years, while a deadly disease has recently killed millions of pigs. Even the cost of chicken breast has risen nearly 13% over the past year. As the cost of these proteins rise, then the average cost of seafood starts looking much more comparable.

However, seafood is not immune to such price increases, and some seafood types have been struck hard. For example, imported shrimp prices have reached a 14 year high, increasing 61% in the past year. And like the pork issues, the higher prices are due to a terrible disease which has been devastating the Asian shrimp industry.

I want to offer suggestions and advice on how to get better economic value when purchasing sustainable seafood. Some of my recommendations might entail a little more effort while shopping, but the end result will be very positive. As I mentioned last week, there are plenty of excellent reasons why everyone should be eating more seafood, at least 4 ounces, twice a week. It is one of the healthiest proteins you can eat, and it tastes damn good. As you should be eating more seafood, then you need to understand how to obtain the best value for your dollar.

1. Seek out local seafood as it can be less expensive than imported seafood. For example, considering the current high prices of imported shrimp, shrimp from Maine or Gulf shrimp can be a much better buy. And supporting local fishermen is an added benefit.

2. If possible, go to the fish markets in your local fishing communities. In Massachusetts, you can visit fish markets in places like Gloucester and New Bedford. Besides having an excellent supply, with lots of different seafood species, these markets often will have cheaper prices than you find in major supermarkets.

3. Try to buy seasonal seafood as it is usually less expensive because it is more abundant in season. If you buy fish out of season, the price may have a premium added to it. Salmon can be expensive, but it is less expensive when it is at the height of its season.

4. Purchase some of the less popular fish species, which often are cheaper because there is less demand for it. Try wild drum fish, snook, or cobia rather than tuna and cod. These offbeat fish are still quite tasty and it helps you expand the horizons of your palate as well.

5. A number of large discount chains, from Walmart to B.J.'s Wholesale Club, are now selling sustainable seafood, and their prices are lower than you will find at your local supermarket. They are trying to make seafood available to anyone, no matter what your budget. Even McDonald's is moving toward selling sustainable seafood, using Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified pollock in their fish sandwiches.

6. If available, sign up for a Community Supported Fishery (CSF) program. You purchase a share and get seafood delivered to you, maybe weekly or every other week, at a price that is cheaper than if you bought it at a supermarket. You can get whole fish or just fillets. You will also get to experience some different fish, less popular species.

7. Eat smaller portions. Americans often eat larger portions of proteins than we really need to eat. The recommended seafood portion is 4 ounces, twice a week. So a pound of fish provides 4 portions, and when you look at it in this manner, the price seems more reasonable. A fish that sells for $20/pound means that each individual portion is only $5, and would feed a family of four.

8. Purchase a whole fish rather than fillets, as the cost per pound is usually lower, sometimes significantly so.  However, you really only gain savings if you know how to properly cut and slice up a whole fish. That takes some skill but you can find some good books to help you in that regard, or try taking a cooking class on fish preparation. You will need to use all of the whole fish, from head to bones, to extend the value of the fish. Take the time to learn these skills and your seafood will be much cheaper.

9. Stop looking at seafood as a luxury item and instead, consider it to be an essential item when you do your weekly shopping. The health benefits of seafood are scientifically supported, by thousands of studies, and everyone's health can be improved by greater seafood consumption. Reorganize your shopping budget, dropping a nonessential item, like some sugary and highly processed junk food, so you can buy some seafood.

10. When you dine out, choose a seafood entree instead of steak or pork. Many such seafood entrees are actually less expensive, or at least comparable, to non-seafood entrees. Try to patronize restaurants that serve sustainable seafood, and enjoy the creativity those chefs bring to seafood dishes.

What is your advice for getting a better economic value when purchasing sustainable seafood?

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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rant: Iced Tea Tragedy

During the summer, I drink fresh brewed, unsweetened iced tea every day. It is refreshing, thirst-quenching and doesn't have the sugar content of sodas and other such drinks. In addition, it is cheap, roughly 3 cents a serving if made at home. I don't stop drinking iced tea when the seasons change. I continue drinking it daily through fall, winter and spring. And I am far from alone in my love for iced tea.

Iced tea was invented in the U.S., likely sometime during the 1800s in the South. There is a legend that iced tea was created in 1904, during the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, by an Englishman Richard Blechynden. However, there is clear evidence iced tea existed before 1904, so Richard may be considered more the popularizer of iced tea rather than the actual inventor.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, the wholesale value of the U.S. tea industry is over $10 Billion and Americans annually consume over 3.6 Billion gallons of tea. Each day, over half the U.S. population drinks tea, though people in the South and Northeast consume the most. What may surprise you is that 85% of the tea consumed in America is iced. That statistic shows the huge popularity of iced tea, but I think numerous restaurants are ignorant of this simple fact.

Right now, you can find iced tea at almost any restaurant, though it is not always fresh brewed. With the low cost of making fresh brewed iced tea, more restaurants should be making it themselves, rather than pouring it from some soda gun. The junk that comes from soda guns usually tastes bad, nowhere near as good as fresh brewed. I'd rather drink water than the iced tea from those soda guns. You do a disservice to your guests if your iced tea is poured from a soda gun.

My biggest problem will come after Labor Day, when summer is over. At that time, a number of restaurants begin taking iced tea off their menus, claiming it is only a summer drink. What a crock! Iced tea is a year-round beverage, and with the vast amount of people who enjoy it, restaurants need to pay attention and keep it on their menus all the time. They are losing money by taking it off their menus. These same places will keep ice cream and frozen shakes on their menus, so why not iced tea too?

Just because it is winter, it doesn't mean you should only serve hot beverages. These restaurants will still serve cold soda, but not everyone wants something carbonated. And they want something with more flavor than water. The popularity of iced tea should not be underestimated. Restaurants, pay attention and keep serving iced tea year round. Iced tea is cheap and easy to make so you have no excuses.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Austrians Like Them Young

At a media event at the Island Creek Oyster Bar, I learned that many Austrians like them young, and by "them," I mean their wines. Many of them don't have the patience to let wines sit in their cellars. They want their wines to be fresh and young, ready to drink as soon as it is bottled. This is a generalization, and certainly not applicable to all Austrians, but it is common throughout Austria.

The Austrian Trade Commission in New York and the Burgenland Wine Marketing Board came to Boston and presented a trade seminar and tasting on Austrian red wines. We learned plenty about the Austrian wine industry, and had a chance to taste a number of wines from indigenous Austrian grapes, such as Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. I've enjoyed such wines before, and this tasting only confirmed to me the delights of Austrian red wines. This is another category of wines which many consumers do not appreciate sufficiently. At the wine store where I work, it is extremely rare for a customer to ask for an Austrian red.

Overall, Austria produces annually about 250 million liters of wine, which is also about the same amount they consume each year. They export 50-70 million liters of their wine, but import a similar amount. The country has about 46,000 hectares of vineyards, generally located in the eastern side of Austria, and over 6000 bottling estates, roughly three times as many estates as there are in Australia. 35 grape varieties, 22 white and 13 red, are legally permitted and Grüner Veltliner is the most planted grape, occupying about 29% of the vineyards. White grapes in total occupy about 66% of the vineyards.

As for red grapes, Zweigelt occupies the largest portion, about 14% of the acreage. Second place, at 7%, is occupied by Blaufränkisch and third place, at 3.5%, is taken by Blauer Portugieser. All of the other ten red grapes occupy 1% or less. In general, Austrian red wines tend to have dark red colors, deep aromas, black fruit flavors and be well structured.

Zweigelt (also known as Rotburger) is a cross of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent that was created in 1922 by Dr. Fritz Zweigelt. It is a fertile grape which grows well all over Austria. With a good yield, soft tannins and being an early ripening grape, it appeals to the Austrian preference for young wines. As the indigenous Blaufränkisch usually requires some aging, Austrians apparently wanted an alternative, which thus led to the creation of Zweigelt.

Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) is an old variety, which can possess lots of acidity, spiciness, strong tannins and has an excellent ageing potential. In addition, it can be very reflective of its terroir. St. Laurent, a descendant of Pinot Noir, is a challenging grape in the vineyard, often low yielding. The older the St. Laurent, the more it seems to resemble Pinot Noir.

Our tasting basically was broken down into two flights, the first being wines, produced from indigenous grapes, that tended to be more fruity and easy drinking. The second flight were all produced from Blaufränkisch, intended to show the effects of different terroirs on this grape.

From the first flight, two wines stood out to me, one from Zweigelt and the other from St.Laurent. The 2010 Netzl Zweigelt ($18) had an intense, fruity aroma and on the palate, the bright red fruit flavors shined, accompanied by spicy notes, a bit of earthiness, smooth tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Good complexity for this price point, but also an easy drinking wine, which can be enjoyed on its own or with food. The 2011 Juris St. Laurent Selection ($26.95) possessed an intriguing smoky aroma, accented by black fruit. Its taste included a nice melange of black cherry, blackberry, dark spices, and earthiness, with moderate tannins and a lengthy finish. A wine of more depth than the Zweigelt, it probably would be best paired with a hearty dish, maybe a nice steak or even wild boar.

The Blaufränkisch flight was fascinating, showing how wines from this grape can differ dependent on terroir. In general, I enjoyed most of the wines in this flight, and believe that these are essentially food wines, especially because of their strong tannins. Black fruits and spicy notes were common to these wines, though, individually, some possessed elements of minerality, earthiness, or smokiness. What this means for the average consumer is that you can find diversity in Austrian Blaufränkisch, that it isn't a wine of a singular taste profile. More advanced wine lovers can revel in the differences of these wines from varied terroirs.

The 2011 Iby Blaufränkisch Classic was the easiest drinking of the wines, with bright red fruit flavors, blueberry notes and some mild spiciness. The tannins were the mildest of the group, though the finish was also the shortest. However, this would be an excellent introductory Blaufränkisch for anyone. The 2011 Prieler Blaufränkisch Leithaberg DAC impressed me with its complexity and taste. Delicious black fruit flavors, mild spiciness and smoky elements with an underlying minerality. With a lengthy finish, this is a wine you want to slowly savor. Highly recommended. An earthier choice is the 2011 Iby Blaufränkisch Hochäcker, definitely very different from their Classic. With more spice and black fruits, the earthy aspects dominate, reminding me of some Burgundies. Another hearty recommendation.

My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2011 Moric Blaufränkisch Reserve ($45-$50), which stunned me with its complex pleasures. Each sip seems to bring out different elements, from its blend of red and black fruits, to its strong minerality. There are intriguing notes of spice, herbs and even chocolate. The tannins are moderate but not overwhelming, and the wine lingers for quite a long time on your palate. One glass won't be enough for you, and the bottle will be empty far too quickly. This is a wine to impress your friends, and I highly recommend it.

Give some Austrian Zweigelt, St.Laurent and Blaufränkisch a try. Go to your local wine store and ask what Austrian reds they carry. Go to your local restaurants and ask what Austrian reds they have on their wine list.

What's your favorite Austrian red wine?

Thursday, July 24, 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) Owner & Chef Brian Poe, alongside Executive Chef Douglas Rodrigues, are infusing more bountiful summer flavors in the brunch, lunch and dinner menus at The Tip Tap Room in Beacon Hill. Chefs Poe & Rodrigues’ menus incorporate the peak flavors of summer along with new twists to the signature “tips” and “taps” concept.

New offerings from the Sunday brunch menu include “Without Eggs” options like the Grilled Avocado (lobster, black pepper, lavender crème fraiche - $16) and Corn Porridge (butter poached crab & escargot, agave, black truffle vinaigrette - $17).

For lunch and dinner, new soup and salad options are catered toward those with savory yet robust appetites: Corn Soup (fermented hibiscus, pearl onion, charcoal crisp, koji rice - $13); Hamakua Farm Hearts of Palm Gazpacho (roasted artichokes, lump crab, pickled spruce, plum - $15); and, Iceberg & Chicken Salad (crunchy vegetables, currants, sumac-honey ricotta, buttermilk-kosho dressing and chicken skin - $12). Other side newcomers will be as follows: Grilled Corn (Korean pepper aioli, ricotta salata, lime - $7); Potato Salad (fines herbs, white anchovy, yogurt, crispy duck skin - $7); and, Asian Greens (roasted, garlic oil, crunchy garlic - $7).

One particularly delicious new cocktail offering served and poured at both lunch and dinner will be the Monroe Doctrine (mescal, cynar, grapefruit liqueur, fresh lemon, agave - $12). Other staples which remain on the menu are The WestEnder (Mezcal, Cynar, grapefruit liqueur, fresh lemon, agave - $12); PGH (London No. 3 Gin, Green Chartreuse, cucumber, grapefruit, fresh lemon, pink peppercorn - $12); Hemingway Daiquiri (Maraschino, rum grapefruit, fresh lime - $10) and, the Crimson Punch (crimson herbal tea infused vodka, Applejack, house grenadine, fresh lime and Peychaud’s - $11).

2) From July 31 to August 24, Rosa Mexicano will keep things cool with their annual Ice Cream Festival, featuring Flavors of Mexico a la Mode, desserts inspired by classic savory dishes such as guacamole, tamales and empanadas; paired with handmade ice creams infused with Mexican flavors ranging from sweet corn-caramel to chili-spiced chocolate.

Rosa Mexicano will unveil a dedicated menu of Mexican classics gone sweet, served with authentically flavored ice creams, including:

Flavors of Mexico a la Mode
--Postre de Guacamole: Avocado ice cream served in a frozen molcajete with raspberries, white chocolate shavings, coconut crunch and mint. Served with piloncillo-chocolate sauce and cinnamon sugar buñuelos.
--Empanadas de Manzana: Warm apple empanadas with spiced Mexican chocolate sauce. Topped with vanilla-chocolate mole swirl ice cream.
--Tamal de Chocolate: Warm molten chocolate tamale and cajeta sauce. Topped with sweet corn-caramel ice cream.
--Buñuelos Rellenos: Deep fried sweet corn-caramel and Mexican chocolate ice cream coated in cinnamon buñuelo crust. Served with churros and dipping sauce
--Crepas de Cajeta: Crepes folded and served with a rich caramel sauce. Topped with sea-salted cajeta ice cream.
--Abuelita Sundae: Mexican chocolate ice cream, warm Mexican chocolate sauce, caramelized bananas, strawberries, and cinnamon whipped cream.

Helados (choice of one or three scoops)
--Aguacate: Avocado
--Vainilla con Mole:  Vanilla with Chocolate Mole Swirl
--Abuelita:  Cinnamon-Chile Spiced Chocolate
--Maiz Dulce y Cajeta:  Sweet Corn and Caramel
--Cajeta y Sal Marina:  Sea-Salted Cajeta

3) Boasting a bar stacked with 101 tequila and mezcal selections, it’s no wonder that Davis Square’s casual Mexican spot,The Painted Burro, is psyched to kick off National Tequila Day on July 24 (today!) with special one-day and ongoing programming. Happenings include:

Make-Your-Own Tequila Flight, Thursday, July 24, 5pm-1am
Choosing from three price points ($18, $21, $24) guests can mix and match three tequilas from a selection of The Painted Burro’s list to create a customized flight. For some spiked sustenance, a special tequila ceviche will be available throughout the night in addition to the regular dinner menu.

Agave Club, Ongoing
Starting July 24, The Painted Burro invites guests to take on the ultimate tequila challenge by joining the Agave Club, which tasks brave drinkers with tasting their way through the restaurant’s entire impressive lineup of tequilas and mezcals. Sweetening the deal are some prizes for each milestone reached:
· 25 tequilas or mezcals – make your own margarita kit including hand juicer, shaker, salt rimmer and margarita glasses
· 50 tequilas or mezcals – four-course dinner for two at The Painted Burro with tequila and mezcal pairings
· 100 tequilas or mezcals – roundtrip airfare for one to Cancun, Mexico

The Painted Burro’s Single-Barrel Tequila, Ongoing
Launching on July 24, in celebration of National Tequila Day, is The Painted Burro’s own privately selected single barrel of Corazón Reposado. Aged for eight months in Canadian Oak, made with 100% estate-grown agave from Casa San Matías in Jalisco and distilled with pure spring water, the house tequila offers a sweeter, more floral tasting experience. The spirit can be enjoyed by sipping or used in one of the restaurant’s signature margaritas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc: Alsatian For The Win

Tonight, I'll be sipping a variety of Alsatian wines during dinner at Puritan & Co. As I've said before, Alsatian wines are underappreciated by the average wine consumer and deserve more press, to alert wine consumers to the pleasures of these wines. This summer, many people will drink more white wines and they should check out some Alsatian whites, including the 2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition ($16).

The Maison Kuentz-Bas has a lengthy history, having been first established by the Kuentz family in 1795. One hundred years later, a marriage joined the Kuentz family to the Bas. The winery is located in Husseren-les Châteaux, a town situated at one of the highest points in Alsace. In 2004, the Kuentz-Bas family decided to sell the winery, and it went to Jean-Baptiste Adam, whose own family history with wine extends back to 1614.

Change came to the winery, as Jean-Baptiste lowered yields, and moved to organic and biodynamic viticulture. A new winemaker, Samuel Tottoli, came to the winery in 2004 and their wines are now divided into two groups: Tradition and Trois Chateaux. The Tradition series are the fresh wines, fermented in oak foudre, and focusing on the fruit. The Trois Chateaux are fermented in stainless steel and the grapes come from the best vineyards.  

The 2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition, with an alcohol content of 12.5%, is produced from Pinot Blanc, though it may not be actually 100%. Through a quirk in Alsatian wine law, a wine that is labeled Pinot Blanc may also include Pinot Auxerrois, though that does not have to be mentioned on the label. In fact, a 100% Pinot Auxerrois wine could be labeled as Pinot Blanc. In the end, it doesn't really matter and the wine is simply meant to be enjoyed.

With a fruity aroma, this crisp, dry wine is delicious and refreshing, with a nice blend of flavors, including apple, pear, a little lemon, and some mineral notes. It has a pleasing finish, with a bit of roundness to the mouthfeel. Tasty on its own, this wine is also food friendly, from seafood to cheese, chicken to salads. It is an excellent summer wine, though should be enjoyed year round. It is also a good value at the price, with more complexity than many other wines at this price point.  

(Disclaimer: I received this wine as a media sample.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 3 Rules Of Eating Seafood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rant: Dog Fighting

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

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

I like ketchup on my hot dogs. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Besito Mexican: A Little Kiss of Deliciousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) The Oceanaire Seafood Room invites scallop connoisseurs to try Alaska Weathervane Scallops off its Alaska Seafood & Wine Weekend five course menu available only July 25 - 27. These very limited, high quality, frozen-at-sea scallops are the freshest seasonal delicacy straight from the fishing boats of Alaska Weathervane Seafoods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2012 Bodegas Martín Códax Albariño: A Seafood Companion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Announcing The Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association

"The United States controls more ocean than any other country on earth. Our seafood-producing territory covers 2.8 billion acres, more than twice as much real estate as we have set aside for landfood."
--Paul Greenberg, American Catch

The most recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows annual world fishery production of 158 million tons, up an astonishing 345% from fifty years earlier. Global per capita consumption of seafood has nearly doubled to 19 kilograms annually in the last 50 years, and by 2050, the population is expected to balloon to 9 billion. Despite the vital importance of seafood as a world food supply, there is relatively little conversation outside the scientific, activist and conservation communities about how to replenish and maintain it. Everyone plays a role in the health of the oceans, and with more information, can contribute in ways that accumulate to make a sizeable difference.

Enter the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association (SSBA). Five independent bloggers from the worlds of food, science, culture and regulation have banded together, each creating weekly blog posts to bring seafood sustainability into ongoing conversations about food, corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship. Together, their social media channels reach roughly 50,000 subscribers, a substantial audience and robust network for the SSBA to begin its campaign.

Richard Auffrey of The Passionate Foodie is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts, an award-winning food and drink writer and a sake educator
Holly Henschen of The Futurist Farmgirl is a long-time food journalist, nature-lover and former Midwestern farm dweller who’s written for publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and Food Manufacturing.
Tom Siebertz of Chews-Worthy, formerly of the NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service, is a regulatory & food labeling specialist, as well as a student of food science, business and regulatory affairs.
Jason Simas of The Food Safety Blog is founder of Grant, Hamilton & Beck communications consultancy and directs social media communications for the food safety and sustainability life science company iPura Foods.
Kerrie Urban of Urban Foodie Finds co-founded Blog and Tweet Boston and writes on topics such as organic vs. natural foods and sustainability, as well as local farmers and small businesses.

The growing world population taxes water supplies, as well as the wildlife and food sources that inhabit them. Sustainable practices are vital to cultivating the seafood that remains and ensuring these creatures continue viable food sources for years to come. Look forward to cogent conversations from the Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association that aim to integrate this imperative topic of choice into the growing movement toward responsible food.

Starting soon, you will be able to read a new SSBA post every day, from Monday to Friday, so that the SSBA will post 20+ seafood related articles each month. My own seafood articles will be posted every Tuesday, though I may post additional seafood articles on other days as well. If you have a compelling seafood-related story, tip, or recommendation, feel free to contact me or any other member of the SSBA for potential coverage.

Check out my Sustainable Seafood Bloggers Association homepage for more information and links concerning seafood and the SSBA. You can also visit the other SSBA members on their respective blogs and on Twitter at the hashtag #SSBAFish.

Thursday, July 10, 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) On Sunday, July 27, at 6pm, Chef Paul Turano of Tryst Restaurant in Arlington is collaborating with New England’s very own root beer company, Tower Root Beer, for the 3rd annual Root Beer Dinner, celebrating Tower’s 100-year-old classic soda recipe.

Founded in Somerville in 1914, Tower Root Beer evolved from a tonic company into a specialized root beer company. During the Prohibition of the 1920’s when root beer became the substitute for beer that was no longer available, their pharmacist perfected recipe contributed to Tower’s early success and allowed them to withstand the stock market crash of 1929, even when the bank that held their working capital could not.

Spanning New England, Tower Root Beer grew into a well-known business before an unsuccessful merger and competition from the two major soda conglomerates forced them off the market. Over 30 years, Tower’s recipe sat under lock and key, before a third generation of the family decided to reestablish the family business after finding their grandfather's handwritten recipe.

Tryst Restaurant is celebrating the return of the timeless drink with a classic three course, prix fixe dinner by Chef Paul Turano featuring root beer inspired dishes and innovative cocktails inspired by the sweet treat.

COST: $34 per person/ $14 for optional cocktail pairing
Reservations are required and can be made by calling Tryst at 781-641-2227.

2) As part of his continued involvement with Chefs Collaborative, Chef Michael Leviton of Lumière Restaurant will host a rare Alaskan salmon event featuring American Catch author Paul Greenberg and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA). Guests will have a chance to enjoy multiple courses of fresh Bristol Bay sockeye salmon – flown in from the remote waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska – served with Lumière Restaurant signature creative seasonal accompaniments. Throughout the meal, New York Times bestselling author Paul Greenberg (Four Fish) will discuss his newest book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.

The book, which aims to uncover the tragic unraveling of the American seafood supply, shares the story of how Americans stopped eating from their own waters. Greenberg examines the once plentiful local supply of New York oysters, Gulf shrimp, and Alaskan salmon to reveal how it came to be that 91% of the seafood Americans eat is foreign.

Chef Michael Leviton’s menu includes:

--Lemongrass and Shiso Cured Sockeye with Beets, Baby Watercress and Ginger Vinaigrette
--Hot and Cold Smoked Sockeye Terrine with Lumiere Cream Cheese, Mustard Dill Sauce and Pumpernickel Croutons
--Slow Roasted Sockeye with Verrill Farm Corn, Tomatillo and Sweet Pepper Ragout, Tomato Butter and Sockeye Skin Chicharones
--Summer Berry Pudding with Goat Cheese Cream

All guests will receive a copy of American Catch. There will be time for book signing following the dinner.

COST: $125/person (includes copy of American Catch; wine, tax and gratuity not included).
For Reservations, please call 617-244-9199 after 2:30PM for tickets. You can also obtain tickets from Eventbrite at

3) The Seaport Hotel has partnered with Angel’s Envy to design a custom blend of bourbon with a flavor unlike any other. The TAMO Angel’s Envy Bourbon is now offered exclusively at Seaport’s TAMO Bistro & Bar.

Earlier this year, Seaport team members gathered to sample an array of Angel’s Envy bourbons, each from different barrels, to come up with a blend they could offer at the hotel as its own uniquely flavored spirit. They tasted 12 samples, and made notations of their preferences, similar to what you would see at a wine tasting.

Throughout the tasting, the more experienced bourbon connoisseurs observed a wide range of flavors and scents and described the final product, a blend of three different flavors, as “sweet with a light oak taste”. The blend is made up of barrel “A” 15% (no barrel aging), barrel “B” 55% (moderate oak aging) and barrel “C “30% (extensive Port barrel aging).

At the Seaport, we are committed to offering our guests a truly unique experience. The bourbon category has exploded over the past three years and we are finding it becoming very popular with the 25-35 year old demographic, and especially among women in that group,” said Seaport Hotel Vice President and General Manager, Jim Carmody. “Knowing that bourbon was growing in popularity with our guests, we were very motivated to offer them something special. Our TAMO blend has a robust flavor with remarkable complexity. It has a lot of heat up front with the subtle flavor of vanilla and caramel on the finish.”

The bourbon has been incorporated into the restaurant’s cocktail list in drinks such as the Halo Martini, TAMO Takes Manhattan, and Angel's Wings Martini. The Angel’s Wings Martini includes bursting flavors of grapefruit juice, simple syrup, bitters and muddled mint. Seaport’s newest creation is the bourbon honey chicken wings, which combines the bourbon with honey and sweet chili sauce to create a mouthwatering flavor.

The Seaport is no stranger to creating its own signature libations; last year it used honey made by its own bees, there are a million or so on the hotel roof which are tended to by Seaport’s own beekeepers, to create Seaport Honey Ginger IPA. The beer, a limited release, was served in TAMO and was the result of a partnership with Long Trail Brewing Company.

4) As the exclusive restaurant sponsor of the 2014 NEMPAC (North End Music & Performing Arts Center) Summer Concert Series hosted at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park in July, Prezza will offer a specially created three-course prix fixe menu priced at $40 for concert-goers, available both before and after the outdoor weekly performances.

In addition to serving their regular menu, the special $40 three-course prix fixe will be served as follows:

-choice of-
Roasted figs wrapped prosciutto, gorgonzola and aged balsamic
Zucchini flowers, pancetta, polenta and roasted tomato
Baby kale, arugula, walnuts, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and balsamic
-choice of-
Homemade meatballs, sausage, ribs, tomato and polenta
Boneless free-range half chicken, Yukon mashed potato, green beans and roasted onion
Grilled striped bass, corn, fava beans and fennel purée
Corn raviolini, pancetta, corn, rock shrimp, white wine, garlic, butter and parmigiano cheese
-choice of-
White chocolate bread pudding, crème anglaise, vanilla bean, ice cream
Raspberry sorbet
Tiramisu “parfait” with Kahlua and espresso

The NEMPAC weekly concert series, taking place each Thursday from 7:00pm - 8:30pm outdoors at the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, includes the following performances:

July 10th – Scott Boni Jazz Quartet
July 17th – Happy 450th Birthday Shakespeare
July 24th – Eight to the Bar - Vocally oriented swing, jump blues, and blues
July 31st – Bella Notte - Night of Italian Opera & Song Favorites

WHEN: Available from 5:00pm – 6:30pm and 8:00pm – 10:00pm on Thursday, July 10, 17, 24 & 31 (bar opens daily at 4:30pm)
COST: $40 per person
Reservations are required in advance by calling Prezza at 617-227-1577. (Please specify if you are reserving for the special NEMPAC prix fixe.)
Reservations for the NEMPAC prix fixe cannot be made on OpenTable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rosé Fun From The Rhône

I've come to share more passion for Rosé wine, that delicious and food-friendly wine which should be enjoyed year round and not just during the summer. Though it is a delight during warm, summer weather.

In the southern Rhône Valley, there is a wine region, an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), devoted to only Rosé. Now that is a true devotion to Rosé. The Tavel AOC, established in 1936, tends to produce Rosé wine that is dry and possesses more body and structure than other similar wines, such as those of Provence. They are definitely food wines, and some will age nicely. If you love Rosé, then you need to explore the wines of this special region and let me recommend two as a place to start. And both are blends of 8 grapes!

I've previously tasted and greatly enjoyed the 2010 vintage and 2011 vintage of the Prieuré de Montézargues Tavel Rosé. The winery is owned by the Richard family, which also owns the excellent Chateau La Nerthe in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. Recently, I tasted the 2013 Prieuré de Montézargues Tavel Rosé (about $20), which is a blend of 55% Grenache (white & red), 30% Cinsault, 13% Clairette, and 2% Others (Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, & Bourboulenc). It was produced through pressing and underwent stainless steel fermentation and then a short term of aging on the lees.

It is a darker pink than most Provence Rosé wines and possesses a delightful nose of strawberries and floral elements. Dry and crisp, it possesses delicious a complex blend of tastes including strawberry, watermelon, hints of grapefruit and some underlying minerality. A lengthy and pleasing finish, it beckons to you to have another sip. An impressive Rosé, this would be great with roast chicken to salmon, burgers to pizza. It will bring joy to your summer but will bring pleasure during the cold winter too. I've previously given this wine my strongest recommendation and I sticking to it.

The 2013 Les Lauzeraies Tavel Rosé ($15) is produced from a winery that belongs to the Les Vignerons de Tavel, a cooperative of about 85 members. This wine is a blend of Black Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Syrah, Clairette, Cinsault, Picpoul and Bourboulenc. The grapes comes from vineyards with lots of limestone, called Lauzes. This wine is produced in a more unique way, closer to a red wine in some respects, such as with long macerations. It is also a blend of free run juice and pressed juice, creating a very different blend.

It is even a darker pink color than the Prieuré, and on the nose it explodes with the smell of ripe red fruit with herbal accents. That red fruit is bold on the palate, lush strawberry and cherry, and is accompanied with minerality and herbal notes. It is dry and full bodied, crisp and clean, and has a lengthy, satisfying finish. This delicious Rosé is good on its own or paired with food. Personally, I like the Prieuré better but that is my own preference. This wine will please many people.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Rant: Caveats of Direct Wine Shipping

As I wrote in May, Direct Wine Shipments have been getting closer and closer to becoming a reality in Massachusetts. Previously, I noted that the Massachusetts House of Representatives submitted their proposal for the Fiscal Year 2015 Budget and it included an Amendment dealing with direct wine shipments. Since then, the Senate proposed their own Budget, which also included direct wine shipment language.

Then, a Conference Committee, with members of both the House and Senate, met and approved a compromise budget, reconciling the two different budgets and it included direct shipment language very similar to what was originally proposed by the House. That compromised budget has now been sent to Governor Deval Patrick, who has ten days to either approve the budget, or return it with vetoes. Later this week, the Governor's decision will be made and I'll note that the Governor has previously mentioned he would support direct wine shipment so there is reason for hope.

However, don't get too excited yet, thinking you'll soon be able to order wine from anywhere across the country. There are three important issues you need to understand, all matters which may serve to limit your ability to get wine delivered to you, despite this new law.

First, the new direct wine shipment law only applies to wineries and does not allow you to receive shipments of wine from out of state wine shops or online wine dealers. So forget ordering wine from those deal a day websites, or large online retailers. Only a winery, which manufactures, bottles or rectifies wine, can legally obtain a direct wine shippers license. Hopefully, we can hope that might change in the future, allowing Massachusetts residents to receive wine shipments from any wine retailer. For now though, the law will only affect wineries.

Second, any winery that wants to ship to Massachusetts must obtain a license to do so, which costs $300 for the first year, and $150 for each successive year. The winery must also follow all of the requirements within the law, such as annual reports and keep records to ensure resident receives more than 12 cases of wine each year. Not all wineries, especially the smaller ones, are going to obtain such a license. They might not see it as cost effective, or think that they are not going to do much business in Massachusetts. So don't assume that every winery is going to obtain a license to ship to Massachusetts. Your favorite out of state winery might just not participate.

Third, there is a serious issue as to whether shippers such as UPS and Fedex will ship wine from another state. For example, on the UPS website, it currently states: "UPS does not accept shipments containing wine to or from Massachusetts." If Massachusetts passes a direct wine shipment law, then both carriers will need to make changes, and that may cost them monies to license their own trucks to carry wine. And they must separately license each and every truck, instead of just acquiring a single blanket license. This could be a costly endeavor for them. What happens if they don't obtain the licenses, or only a few? That could cause problems with getting wine shipped to you. And it will also entail the wineries making agreements with the carriers too, additional work for those wineries. This is an issue that really needs to be worked out.

If the direct wine shipment law is passed, it will be a major step forward for Massachusetts wine consumers, but it is not a complete solution. There are still concerns that need to be addressed, so be happy, but it should be a measured happiness.