Thursday, February 26, 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) The 11th annual event A Taste of Ginger will be held on Monday, March 23, from 6:30-9:30pm, in the beautiful Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, with a goal of raising over $300,000 for Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI). The AADI works to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, and also collaborates with Joslin as they work to find a cure.

Each year, the event draws hundreds of supporters and foodies who gather to enjoy a lively evening, which includes the opportunity to meet and taste the cuisine of Boston’s most celebrated chefs, including Joanne Chang, Jasper White and Jacky Robert amidst the beauty of the MFA.

Jennifer K. Sun, MD, MPH will be honored for her contributions to the AADI’s mission and her active role within the Asian American community. Dr. Sun is an Ophthalmologist at Beetham Eye Institute, an Investigator in the Section on Vascular Biology at Joslin Diabetes Center, and an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

The event will be co-chaired by C. Richard and Deborah Carlson as well as Wesley and Summer Chen; WHDH-TV, Ch. 7’s Janet Wu will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies.

Tickets are $250 per guest, and can be purchased online at:

2) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson and his talented team pay homage to Italy’s Hillside Vineyards of Northern Italy in the next installation of “Wine Wednesdays”. Puritan & Company offers guests a taste of Northern Italy which includes a multi-course dinner prepared by Chefs Will Gilson, Alex Saenz and their talented culinary team. The Northern Italy wine dinner is $95 per guest and reservations are required. The hillside vineyards in northern Italy produce wines of considerable charm and complexity due to the altitude and cooler temperatures. This month’s wine dinner will focus on three producers operating under these extremes.

The selections featured are:
2012 Guglierame Ormeasco Sciac-Trà, Liguria
2012 Guglierame Ormeasco di Pornassio, Liguria
2013 Furlani Bianco Alpino, Trentino
2013 Furlani Rosso Alpino, Trentino
2012 Diego Curtaz “Dï Meun,” Val d’Aosta
2012 Diego Curtaz Torrette, Val d’Aosta

WHEN: Wednesday, March 4; Arrival is 6:45pm and Wine Dinner starts at 7:00pm
For reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

3) As I've said before, you should patronize local restaurants, many who have been negatively affected by our snowy winter, Dine Out Boston, hosted by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB), begins Sunday, March 1 and runs through Friday, March 6, as well as Sunday, March 8 through Friday, March 13. Dine Out Boston features a flexible pricing structure for restaurant owners and guests, alike. Restaurants have the ability to customize their lunch and dinner menus by choosing to offer lunch for $15, $20 or $25 and dinner for $28, $33 or $38. Additionally, restaurants can offer as many courses as they desire at their selected price.

Since 2008, the GBCVB has used this dining program to give back to a different local Boston charity each year. To date, over $300,000 has been raised for charities through the online auction component of DOB. The charitable partner for March 2015 is ArtsBoston, Inc. Gift Certificates provided by participating restaurants will be up for auction starting March 2, with all proceeds benefitting ArtsBoston.

This March, they also invite social media enthusiasts to share their Dine Out Boston experiences and qualify to win a $100 Gift Card to a participating restaurant. Simply take a picture of your meal, tag your location, and then share over Facebook or Instagram using #DineOutBoston. The GBCVB will award two gift cards per day, one over Facebook and one over Instagram.

For more information please visit Check out Dine Out Boston on Facebook at, Twitter at, and Instagram at

4) On March 10, at 6:30pm, Legal Oysteria will host a wine dinner with the Marchesi Antinori wine company. Since 1385, the Antinori family has been involved in the production of wine, which spans through twenty six generations. The family has always directly managed the estates with innovative decisions along with fundamental respect for tradition and for the territory in which they have operated.

Legal Oysteria will team up with Brand Ambassador, Marco Deary, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with selections from the Marchesi Antinori vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Pancetta-Wrapped Shrimp
White Bean and Calamari Salad Bruschetta
Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini
Col de’ Salici Rosé de’ Salici Brut, Veneto, NV
Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi (Sunchokes, Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes)
Antinori “Pèppoli” Chianti Classico, Toscana, 2011
La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Toscana, 2011
Braised Beef Cheeks (Tuscan Kale, Ricotta Gnocchi)
Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, Toscana, 2010
Slow-Roasted Porchetta (Charred Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Confit, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino, Toscana, 2009
Pecorino Toscano
Tignanello, Toscana, 2011

COST: $85 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling (617) 530-9392

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Boston Wine Expo: An Overview & Food

A bounty of Georgian wines, with about nine different producers, and including a few Qvevri wines. A table of interesting Bulgarian wines, a couple with indigenous grapes that were new to me. As expected, there were some excellent Portuguese wines. Intriguing wines from Lodi, elevating my interest in this wine region. These were some of the major highlights of my experience at this year's Boston Wine Expo.

With a media pass, I attended the trade hours of the Grand Tasting on Saturday as well as the Vintner's Reserve Lounge. There were over 200 wineries showcasing more than 2000 wines so I was only able to sample a tiny fraction of the available wines. I usually seek out wines which are different and more unusual, availing myself of the unique opportunity to taste such wines. Why spend time sampling wines that I see all the time at other tastings? I want this event to be educational, to learn more about less common wines.

Overall, the Grand Tasting presents some interesting diversity in their wines, though I think more would be beneficial. For example, I only saw a single Sake exhibitor and there weren't many South African tables. In addition, there wasn't any Sherry, very little Port and limited local wines. I noticed that Long Island had a fairly significant presence this year, after almost no participation in previous years. The Expo is an excellent opportunity to expose consumers to different wines, to let them taste some of the vinous wonders they might not know about but would enjoy once they tasted them. Maybe the Expo organizers could reach out to more unique producers, and entice them to display their wines at next year's Expo.

As usual, once the public hours for the Grand Tasting began, the Expo got very crowded, making it more difficult to reach many of the tables unless you waited for a time. It got more difficult to speak with producers who can't devote much of their time to each different person. This year was more crowded than normal due to the adverse weather, as those with tickets for the Sunday Grand Tasting were permitted to come on Saturday instead. In the end, they had to cancel the Sunday event due to another snow storm. If there hadn't been the storm, the Expo still would have been crowded, and it would be great if a solution could be found to make it less crowded.

I'm sure plenty of the attendees don't want to spend twenty minutes with a producer discussing terroir and harvesting methods. However, there are some wine lovers who want to take some time and learn more about the wines they are sampling. Maybe these wine lovers would benefit if the Expo had a special VIP hour or two for a limited amount of wine lovers who might want to spend more time talking with producers. Does anyone else have any suggestions for limiting the crowds at the Expo?

There were a number of food exhibitors at the Expo, offering free samples of their products, from Harrows Chicken Pies to Davids Teas, from Pasta Chips to Cabot Creamery. As I've said before, with all the wine tasting, it's beneficial to have plenty of food samples to absorb the alcohol and cleanse the palate. In addition, it's interesting to pair some of these foods with the wines you are tasting. I want to present two of my favorite food stops from the Expo, items I strongly recommend to my readers.

Back in 2012, I first discovered McCrea's Candies and they were one of my Top 3 Finds at the 4th Annual New England Dessert Showcase, They are a local company, and have expanded their selection since then. Their caramels are as tasty as ever, and I was most impressed with one of their new flavors, Highland Single Malt Scotch. They use actual Scotch, from the Ardmore Distillery, and the caramel has a prominent whiskey taste, with smoky undertones. I think the blend of the caramel and Scotch works well together and would be a unique gift for the Scotch lover in your life.

Tuscan Kitchen was at the Expo showcasing their new Online Market where you can get any of their products shipped to your home. Chef Eddie Payne was at their booth, preparing a wonderful dish of Truffle Stuffed Mascarpone Gnocchi with porcini mushroom creme and shaved pecorino tartufo. Such an irresistible dish of pillowy gnicchi with a strong umami aspect. This dish is available at their restaurant and I enjoyed some earlier this week at their Burlington location (along with a couple of other tasty pasta dishes).

During the next couple weeks, I'll be posting reviews of the wines I most enjoyed at the Expo. Stay tuned..

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Norwegian Skrei: Sustainable & Tasty Cod

Cod is tied very closely to the history of New England, as well as the histories of other countries, such as Portugal and England. Once, cod filled the waters off the New England coast, but that is no longer the case. Out of fears of dwindling stocks of cod, recent years have seen drastic cuts to cod quotas, meaning only a small amount of cod is now permitted to be caught. For example, starting May 1, the quota of cod that can be harvested from the Gulf of Maine will be slashed by 75%.

It seems clear that cod stocks in this region need to rebound and that means that the availability of local cod at restaurants and markets will be limited. As such, you need to consider other options, and you have a number of different choices. For those who still want to enjoy cod, let me offer an excellent option, though with the caveat that it only be available for a couple more months.

Consider Norwegian Skrei, a sustainable and tasty Northeast Arctic cod that lives in the Barents Sea. Skrei, which has been important to Norway for well over a thousand years, derives from a Norse word "skrida" which means "to wander or walk." Sea, When skrei reach maturity, at about five years old, they migrate in the winter, for spawning, to the Norwegian coast. From January to April, fishermen are able to catch these mature skrei, which are sometimes called Valentine's Fish because the fish are seeking a mate, and they are available around Valentine's Day.

The skrei fishing industry is considered one of the best-managed cod stocks in the world, and they have been regulating their industry for almost two hundred years, since 1816. Currently, Norway and Russia share responsibility for maintaining the sustainability of the skrei, and they have been very successful in their efforts. All skrei are also certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

For 2015, the cod quota in the Gulf of Maine will only be 386 metric tons while Norway's skrei quota will be 401,240 metric tons. That is a huge difference, and indicates skrei will be more readily available than local cod. It is also fascinating to consider that only about 10% of the skrei that migrate to the coast are permitted to be harvested, helping to maintain sustainability, as well as showing the great size of the skrei stocks. In 2014, Norway's exports of skrei have risen significantly since the prior year, 13% by volume and 25% by value.

Skrei possess some differences from Atlantic cod, including having a longer, more pointed shape and a lighter skin color. As they swim lengthy distances to spawn, their flesh tends to possess a firmer texture, and as they eat little during this travel, their flesh may also possess a cleaner taste. In addition, the skrei healthy for you, being rich in protein, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. It might be more expensive than local cod, but you're getting a quality, tasty and sustainable fish.

How do Norwegians eat skrei? One of their traditional dishes is called mølje, which is made with cod, potatoes, cod liver and cod roe. Fishermen used to cook cod roe and potatoes in a pan filled with water, and then later add the liver and cod for a short simmer. Once it was all done, they would mix it up into a "mess" or mølje. Like Atlantic cod, skrei is very versatile and can be prepared in numerous ways, from fried to broiled.

I recently received a media invite from the Norwegian Seafood Council, in conjunction with Legal Sea Foods, to experience a dinner featuring skrei. The three-course dinner was held at Legal's Harborside location and the skrei impressed me. If you like cod, or fish in general, you'll love the skrei.    
For my first course, I had Shrimp Cocktail, five huge shrimp with cocktail sauce, set beneath a half globe of ice. It was a cool presentation, and the restaurant creates this effect by putting some water into a balloon, applying some liquid nitrogen and then freezing it. When they are ready to make this dish, they use a blow torch to burn off the balloon from the icy ball. The shrimp were meaty with a spicy sauce that enhanced their flavor.

The centerpiece of the dinner was Pan Roasted Skrei, with bacon lardons, leeks, golden russet apples, and smoked mussel chowder. The skrei has a firm texture, with flaky white flesh, and a clean taste. Simply a delicious piece of fish that will appeal to any seafood lover. The rest of the dish well complemented the skrei, from the smoky chowder to the slightly tart apples. The entire dish was well composed and balanced, and I would certainly order skrei again at a restaurant or the market. It reminded me of Atlantic cod in most ways, except it possessed a firmer texture.

The meal ended with Brûléed Chocolate Banana Tart, with coconut gelato, chocolate sauce, and toasted coconut anglaise. A sweet and pleasant ending to the dinner.

Though I often ask my readers to eat local seafood, as we eat far too much imported seafood, that doesn't mean I am completely against imported fish. Skrei is a very sustainable choice, and if you love cod, then it is a good alternative as there is so little sustainable cod available in our local waters. Give skrei a chance.

Have you eaten skrei? If so, what did you think of it?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Rant: Want A Bloody Cocktail?

Mixologists sometimes reach into the past for cocktail ideas, seeking out old bartender guides, while other times they reach toward the future, trying to create cutting-edge and unique drinks. In the desire to be unique, to push the envelope, there is little they won't use in such cocktails. However, is there a limit, a line in the sand, as to what ingredients should be used? Is animal blood an acceptable cocktail ingredient?

Meat has been previously used in cocktails, with bacon being the most prominent choice. It might be as simple as a slice of crisp bacon sitting in a Bloody Mary or more complicated, such as a bacon-infused bourbon. Four years ago, I enjoyed the Abbatoir cocktail at The Gallows, which used veal stock. Presenting a savory delight, the stock added a compelling umami element. As Sake has a strong umami component, it might be interesting to create some Sake cocktails using different meat stocks. It is still rare to find cocktails with meat stocks, but it seems the next step has now been taken.

The Telegraph recently reported on a London bar that is now using pig's blood in one of their cocktails. No.9, in Chelsea, created the Slaughterhouse, which is also made with Johnnie Walker Black Label, Columbian coffee, Kahlua, dark chocolate liqueur, Campari, blood orange juice and raspberry liqueur. They source the pig's blood from local butchers and put it through a couple processes to make it more amenable for the cocktail. These ingredients, once combined, are also smoked with cheery wood and chestnut wood chippings.

The cocktail allegedly doesn't taste like blood, it merely serves to deepen the other flavors of the cocktail. If you drank it without knowing the ingredients, you probably wouldn't know blood was involved. However, how many people would order it if they knew it contained pig's blood? I suspect many people might be turned off, or even frightened, of drinking a cocktail containing animal blood. It seems difficult enough to get them to drink one made from a meat stock. Blood would be an ever greater obstacle for many consumers.

I'd try a blood cocktail. I've eaten foods before that used blood as an ingredient, including blood sausage, and I very much enjoy such dishes. So why would it matter if the blood was in a cocktail and not on my plate? It wouldn't matter to me, though I know it would to others. It is more a psychological issue than anything else for many people. They might enjoy a bloody steak but wouldn't like a cocktail that had a bit of blood in it.

Be adventurous. Trust in your bartender. Drink a bloody cocktail and enjoy it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Asturian Cider: Sidra Acebal "El Carrascu"

Besides all of the compelling wines you'll find in Spain, there are also regions well known for their hard cider, which is usually called sidra. One such region, located in the northwestern section of Spain, is Asturias, where sidra has been made for over two thousand years. The ancient Romans referred to this hard cider as pomaria and the Arabs called it siserio. Today, "Cider of Asturias" is a Designation of Protected Origin, regulated and protected by the board Cider of Asturias. Asturias produces about 80% of all Spanish cider, and they also drink more than any other region in Spain.

Currently, there are about 6500 hectares of apple orchards in Asturias, growing over 30 local apple varieties though not all are used for their sidra. They use a blend of acidic and semi-acidic apples for their sidra. In general, Asturian ciders are fermented with native yeasts, aged on the lees and bottled without any fining. They will usually taste dry, be low alcohol and possess high acidity. They should be served cool, but not cold, and can pair well with many foods, especially Asturian sheep cheeses.

Traditional cider houses are known as sidrerias, and there is even a traditional way, called escanciar, to pour it. The bartender holds the cider bottle high in the air and then pours it down to a large, wide-mouthed glass. This long pour helps to aerate the cider and also causes it to make it a little fizzy. Plus, the bartender will only pour a small portion into the cup and the customer is supposed to drink it all immediately. At home, feel free to fill your glass with some sidra and slowly savor it.

Alexander Jules Imports, who I've previously raved about the impressive Sherries they are importing into the U.S., is also importing a few other Spanish wines, including an Asturian Sidra. They recently sent me a media sample of their Sidra Abebal "El Carrascu" D.O.P. (about $12). The Sidra Acebal, which was founded at the end of the 19th century, is located in Gijón, Asturias, and they continue to make sidra in much the same way as they always have done. The El Carrascu uses a blend of apples, mainly Regona, Durona de Tresali, Raxao, Carrio and Limon Montes.

With a nice golden color,which is slightly cloudy as it is unfiltered, this sidra has a bright apple aroma enhanced with herbal elements. Its taste is intriguing, very dry and acidic,with strong apple flavors, with a bit of tartness, and an undertone which almost reminded me of a briny dill pickle, yet in a positive way. It has a more unique flavor for a hard cider, and I very much liked it. At this price point, it is a very good value, especially for a more naturally produced cider. Once again, Alexander Jules has imported something more unique and compelling.

Thursday, February 19, 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 Wednesday, February 25, in honor of National Clam Chowder Day, The Blue Ox restaurant in Lynn will donate a portion of the proceeds from each bowl of clam chowder purchased during dinner service to My Brother’s Table, a local non-profit that serves nourishing meals to the hungry and delivers meals to home-bound individuals and at-risk seniors seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Created by Chef Matt O’Neil, The Blue Ox’s Clam Chowder is twist on the classic New England version that’s packed with fresh local clams, crisp applewood-smoked bacon and laced with just a touch of Tabasco for a slight kick. Perfect for clam chowder aficionados and guests looking keep warm during wicked winter weather, The Blue Ox’s Clam Chowder is a delicious way to celebrate everyone’s favorite food holiday, while keeping the needs of hungry neighbors top of mind.

COST: $10 (tax and gratuity not included)

2) On March 11, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Louis Jadot. Based in Beaune in historic buildings that echo with history, each grape is harvested by hand to ensure highest quality and ensure superior flavor. The French winery’s aim is to express the true nature of Burgundy through their wines.Legal Sea Foods will team up with Export Manager, Olivier Masmondet, to host a four-plus-course dinner paired with her selections from the Louis Jadot vine.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Petite Salted Cod Cakes, Lemon-Saffron Aioli
Jump Lump Crab Cakes, Mustard Sauce
Seared Sea Scallop Tartlets, Dill Crème Fraîche
Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé “Sous Vergisson,” 2011
Cast Iron Pan-Seared Norwegian Skrei (Orecchiette, Creamy Basil Pesto, Enoki Mushrooms)
Louis Jadot Meursault, 2011
Louis Jadot Meursault, 2008
Braised Quail with Herbs (Roasted Pearl Potatoes, Petite Crimini Mushrooms, Black Truffle Butter)
Louis Jadot Nuits-Saint-Georges, 2011
Louis Jadot, Domaine Gagey Beaune 1er Cru “Les Chouacheux,” 2009
Cherry Wood Grilled Lamb Chops (Turnip Two Ways, Roasted Garlic Demi-Glace)
Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin, 2012
Louis Jadot Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Les Chaumes,” 2009
Manchego, Époisses, Reblochon (Black Pepper Grilled Francese, Cherry-Currant Jam)
Louis Jadot, Domaine des Héritiers Corton-Pougets Grand Cru, 2010

COST: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

3) On Wednesday, March 25, at 7pm guests will take a virtual culinary wine tour of Languedoc/Roussillon with Gérard Bertrand Wines at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro’s “Southern France” wine dinner. Designed to both educate and entertain, Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro’s (BHHB) wine dinners are aimed at individuals of all experience levels. This event is about “wonderful wines, creative food and good friends,” says Cecilia Rait, proprietress and wine director of the BHHB.

Beginning at 7pm, diners are invited to visit all four regions without leaving the comfort of their seats. Cecilia and Tracy Burgis of M.S. Walker act as virtual tour guides, moving from region to region expanding the history, curiosities and nuances of each selection. During this educational dinner guests will sample wines from the Languedoc/Roussillon region featuring Gérard Bertrand Wines. Bertrand is one of the leading winemakers from Southern France and a former member of the French National rugby team. The dinner will showcase wines from Southern France as well as the culinary artistry of Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro’s Executive Chef Lucas Sousa, whose dishes are designed to complement each featured wine.

This intimate adventure is set in communal seating to encourage conversation, laughter and fun. For $65 per person (tax and gratuity not included), guests are treated to four wines, a four-course dinner and Cecilia's and Tracy's good cheer, humor and expertise. Reservations are encouraged so please call  617-723-7575..

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Drink More Sherry: Visit Taberna De Haro

"It's almost unfathomable how our friends in Jerez manage to create such beautiful wine at such low prices. With hundreds of barrels in the soleras and dozens of careful steps required in the unique process, sherry is phenomenally labor-intensive yet an extraordinary value."
---Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen of Taberna De Haro

Why don't people drink more Sherry, especially dry Sherry? It is one of the most under-appreciated wines in the U.S.,and most of the Sherry that Americans drink is sweet. A number of American wineries produce their own Sherry-like wines, and they also tend to be sweet. However, dry Sherry is such a wonder, being extremely food friendly, delicious, complex and usually a  good value. I've written over 25 articles about Sherry, providing plenty of reasons to explore this compelling fortified wine.

For example, how much would you have to pay for a 40 year old California wine? Or a 40 year old Bordeaux, or German Riesling? You would probably expect to pay well over $100 for such aged wines, especially for quality wines. On the other hand, you can find an incredible 40 year old bottle of Sherry for less than $100. Few other wine regions in the world can offer a similar value for a quality wine of that age. As Deborah said, it is such a conundrum as to how Sherry bodegas accomplish such legerdemain.

The lack of availability of good, dry Sherry is a problem for a number of Americans. It can be difficult to find at wine shops and restaurants, partially because such places often have difficulty selling Sherry. It isn't worth it to them to stock quality Sherry for the few customers that buy it. Across the country, there are a few Sherry stars, places which understand this unique wine and try to showcase and promote it to their customers. These are places you should patronize, places worthy of our support. In the Boston area, the top Sherry sanctuary is Taberna De Haro,

At Taberna De Haro, Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen has compiled a growing list of Sherries which currently numbers 62 bottles. At any one time, about 13 of those Sherries will be available by the glass, priced from $5-$20, with most of the glasses costing $8 or less. The glass list includes a variety of Sherry types, including Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and a couple sweet options. You'll be able to explore much of the diversity of Sherry, and if you are more adventurous, you can even order a half-bottle or full bottle of many other choices.

In addition, the restaurant offers Sherry Flights, which change every two weeks, and include four different Sherries for $25 and you also get a complimentary cheese tasting plate. And if you decide to order a bottle of Sherry, even only a 375ml bottle, you'll receive a  complimentary plate of olives. Visit Taberna de Haro, get a lesson in Sherry, and you'll understand why it is so special.

Last week, I attended a wine dinner at Taberna de Haro, hosted by representatives of the wine regions of Ribera del Duero and Rueda. I showed up early and sat the bar so that I could try a few Sherries, including one of their newest offerings. I also ordered some Chicharrones, fried pork belly, to accompany the Sherries. A tasty and salty mix of crunchy and fatty bits, they were an excellent accompaniment to the Sherry.

I began with a glass of the Equipo Navazos Fino La Bota 54 ($11.50). Equipo Navazos purchases, blends and stores Sherries, and they often are unique and compelling. They number their bottlings, which usually are of limited availability. The Palomino grapes for this Fino are from the famed Macharnudo vineyard, one of the top sites in the Sherry region that has sometimes been called the "Montrachet of Jerez." This Fino has a mean age of about ten years, and will last for many years if stored well. The usual advice is to drink a Fino within a year of its release, but this is one of the exceptions. I found this Fino to be very fragrant, a pleasing aroma, that complemented its intense and complex taste. It was bone dry, bright and crisp, with mild briny and nutty notes. This Fino has more layers of flavors than you find in a number of other Finos, and is well worth checking out.

My next choice was the Emilio Hidalgo Marques de Rodil Especial Palo Cortado ($8). Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo, founded in 1874, produces a variety of delicious Sherries and this is one of their top Sherries. The solera was started in 1961 and the average age of this Palo Cortado is about 15-20 years. I love the Palo Cortado style, which is somewhat a blend of the best aspects of Amontillado and Oloroso. With an amber color, I found this Sherry to have a funky, but interesting, aroma. On the palate, it was complex and intriguing, with a delightful blend of flavors included salted nuts, caramel, and dried fruit. It was smooth and elegant, with a lengthy, satisfying finish. Another excellent option and recommended.

My final choice, and the one which I was most excited to taste, was the Osborne Capuchino Palo Cortado ($20). This is their most expensive Sherry available by the glass and Sherry lovers won't regret paying for it. I was tempted to order a second glass it was so amazing. This is such a unique and sublime Sherry, one sure to impress.

The solera for this Palo Cortado was started in 1790, meaning that a tiny portion of this Sherry is over 200 years old! What a sense of history. The solera was once owned by Bodegas Domecq but when they dissolved,it was acquired by Osborne. The Sherry is now aged in El Puerto de Santa Maria and has an average age of 30 years, earning it a VORS classification. With a dark amber color, you'll first sit and savor the alluring and complex aromas of this Palo Cortado. Your seduction begins with these aromas, and you'll be hooked from your first sniff. Once you taste it, the seduction will be complete and this Sherry will touch your heart and soul. Its complexity, its melange of intriguing flavors, and the depth of layers of those flavors cannot be resisted. It is elegant and sublime, with a finish that doesn't seem to end, and you certainly don't want it to end.  

This is a Sherry to experience, and words cannot adequately describe its merits. I highly recommend this Palo Cortado and it is a perfect example of the heights that aged Sherry can reach. You probably won't have many opportunities to experience a Sherry of this quality so go to Taberna de Haro and let yourself be seduced by this Palo Cortado.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Maine Scallops: Restrictions To Rebounding

A perfectly seared Scallop is a work of culinary wonder.

Scallops are a meaty bivalve, which can be tender and sweet, and can be served in many different ways, from fried scallops to chowders. Approximately twenty years ago, the U.S. scallop industry was on the verge of collapse, so restrictive measures were instituted to protect and reinvigorate the industry. Fortunately, these measures were successful, and some of the restrictions were lifted, though others still exist to continue protecting this valuable species.

New Bedford is the center of the scallop industry, landing about 50 million pounds and constituting about 90% of all scallop landings in the U.S. It is also considered to be the most valuable scallop fishery in the entire world. Though New Bedford gets most of the attention, we should not ignore a much small scallop fishery, that of Maine.

A recent AquaCulture Directory article noted how the Maine scallop industry underwent a series of restrictive measures in 2008, which were initially met with anger from the fishermen. However, when those measures proved successful, the fishermen came around. The number of scallop fishermen has now tripled, to 420. It is said that these Maine scallop fishermen, usually using small boats, can deliver fresher scallops than many from New Bedford.

Further good news comes from a December article in the Bangor Daily News, reporting on the 2014-15 scallop season. Though the season had just started, fishermen were getting some of the highest prices ever on scallops, about $13-$14 per pound. Last season's average price had been $12.24, and that was a record amount. These scallops prices will become around $20 per pound at retail markets and shops. Yes, they are pricey, but a pound can feed several people, making it more economical, and you are also supporting small, local fishermen.

The article also notes the history of scallop landings in Maine, from 3.8 million pounds in 1981, down to a mere 33,000 pounds in the mid-2000s. Restrictive measures have helped landings to rebound so that last year, landings constituted almost 425,000 pounds. Compare that to the 50 million landed in New Bedford. This history extends to scallops prices too, as in 2004, fishermen received a record low of about $4 per pound, which doubled in the next five years. Since doubling, prices have been increasing each year by about a $1.

Restrictive measures on fisheries are necessary to protect species, but they are also intended to protect fishermen, to ensure their is an adequate supply for the future. Yes,such restrictions can be difficult at first, but their eventual success can lead to better prices for fishermen. And we need to support these local fishermen, especially the smaller ones, and pay them fair prices for their seafood. Scallops are delicious, well worth the price, and I recommend you purchase some Maine scallops.Maine fishermen will greatly appreciate it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rant: BYOB In Boston

Wine lovers are excited when they have the opportunity to BYOB (bring your own bottle) to a restaurant. They can bring exactly the wine they want to drink with dinner, a wine that might not be available at their local restaurant. Maybe they have a special wine that isn't even available locally, or an older wine they have been storing away for years. If they bring their own wine, it can also very much cheaper, even considering any corkage fee, than buying a wine at the restaurant, where the wines may be marked up 3-4 times the retail cost. BYOB offers many advantages to wine lovers.

BYOB is currently illegal in Boston but a couple city councilors would like to change that, or at least they want to introduce BYOB to certain neighborhoods in Boston, those which currently lack a vibrant restaurant scene. However, they have already encountered skepticism and resistance from their fellow councilors. Should Boston allow BYOB, and if so, what rules and restrictions should be in place to regulate BYOB?

City Councilors Michelle Wu and Stephen Murphy have co-sponsored the BYOB proposal. To pass, there will need to be a public hearing and then a positive vote from the City Council. Then, Mayor Walsh will need to sign off on it. If the proposal ever passed, the Boston Licensing Board would then create rules to regulate BYOB, such as the amount of any corkage fee.

Initial feedback from some of the other Councilors has not been positive. Councilor Ayanna Pressley and City Council President Bill Lineham have been skeptical of the proposal, offering a litany of objections. Even Mayor Walsh has been skeptical though he is willing to listen. At this time, the proposal has been referred to the Government Operations Committee  and will eventually be brought to a public hearing.

BYOB is available in numerous cities and towns across the country, from some Boston suburbs to areas in major cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. In fact, Councilors Wu and Murphy have touted the success of BYOB in Philadelphia, hoping to emulate that success in Boston. The objective in Boston isn't to bring BYOB to the entire city, but only certain neighborhoods, where there are few liquor licenses. Thus,areas with lots of liquor licenses, such as the North End and the Seaport, would not face competition from BYOB spots. Areas such as Dorchester and Mattapan would be permitted BYOB, so their existing restaurants with liquor licenses would face some competition. Can licensed restaurants and BYOB restaurant successfully co-exist?

In suburbs such as Stoneham, Wakefield and Woburn, BYOB of wine and beer is permitted in non-licensed restaurants, and there are no corkage fees. The licensed restaurants though seem to be doing well, and selling plenty of alcohol. I have yet to hear of any licensed restaurant closing because they couldn't compete with BYOB spots. And the availability of BYOB hasn't stopped new restaurants from seeking liquor licenses. One of my favorite BYOB spots used to be Kyotoya, a Japanese restaurant in Stoneham, but when the restaurant was sold, the new owners changed it to Shabu Sai, and chose to obtain a liquor license rather than continue with BYOB.

BYOB can enhance a neighborhood's dining scene, giving people an added reason to dine out. Purchasing wine and beer at a restaurant, with high mark-ups, can be expensive, so being able to BYOB can make dining out less expensive. That can lead to people dining out even more, making up for lost revenue from BYOB. However, a BYOB restaurant still needs to have good cuisine as the BYOB aspect alone won't draw in enough people if the food isn't that tasty.

We also need to remember that BYOB is generally only for wine and beer, and not spirits. Licensed restaurants, which can sell spirits, thus have an advantage over BYOB spots, and the popularity of spirits, especially for restaurants with bars, cannot be underestimated. And in the current arguments over BYOB in Boston, there has been little discussion of the advantage of being able to sell spirits in licensed restaurants. This is also why neighborhoods with lots of liquor licenses shouldn't fear BYOB, as their ability to sell spirits still gives them an edge.

Boston needs to give serious consideration to allowing BYOB.

Thursday, February 12, 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) Sometimes, you get into a rut. You watch the same type of movie. You choose the same color sweater. Buy the same brand of toothpaste. The Cheese Shop of Concord, with its selection of hundreds of domestic and imported cheeses, won'’t allow its customers get into a cheese rut. In fact, its cheesemongers have compiled this handy guide to sampling new yet similar versions of your favorite cheeses during 2015:

If you like Gorgonzola:
Try locally-made West West Blue. Veteran cheesemaker Peter Dixon makes this two-curd, gorgonzola-style raw cow's milk cheese at Parish Hill Creamery in Westminster West, Vermont. Firm and crumbly in texture, with a rich full flavor and a spicy, tangy finish.

If you like Gruyère:
Try Switzerland’s exclusive Gruyère Alpage. Produced according to a tradition dating back to the year 1115, this raw cow's milk cheese is cooked over an open fire at a minimum altitude of 2,900 feet, from the summertime milk of a single herd. A true example of artisan cheesemaking and ancient tradition, where nature and humans are a team.

If you like Cheddar:
Try their very own Cheese Shop Glory Cheddar, a raw cow's milk cheese made by Cabot and aged at the Jasper Hill Cellars in Vermont especially for The Cheese Shop of Concord. Distinctive for its rich, milky flavor and smooth, creamy texture, this medium-bodied cheddar is a crowd-pleaser.

Like some spunk in your cheese?
Try Casa de Mendevil Velho, a cow’s milk cheese from Minho, Portugal. The rind is washed and covered with a wine-red pepper emulsion, giving the semi-firm cheese a bright and tangy personality and a beautiful appearance.

Like stinky, washed-rind cheese?
Try Ardrahan or Ouleout. Ardrahan is an Irish cow's milk cheese made near County Cork. The paste is rich and soft, and the flavors full, savory and smoky. Ouleout, from Vulto Creamery in Walton, New York, is a soft-ripened cow's milk cheese with a luxurious, silky paste and a deep, round nutty flavor. Pungent additions to any winter cheese plate.

2) Omakase is a Japanese restaurant term meaning “leave it up to us.” In other words, the diner entrusts him or herself to the chef, who uses his knowlede and experience to select and prepare a dish of his choosing, without any specific instructions from the customer. Only a handful of sashimi masters in greater Boston offer omakase, and virtually none of them restrict service by offering only omakase.

This intimate culinary experience combines adventurous dining, performance art, and education. Aka Bistro chef-owner Chris Chung invites omakase fans – whether first-timer or seasoned pro – to join him on Sunday evenings at 5:30 PM for an 8 to 10 course, seasonal omakase menu priced at $135 per person, with two critical caveats:

1) Seats for Sunday night must be reserved by Thursday night
2) Only 8 seats are available for each omakase session

Pricing for omakase excludes MA state sales tax, gratuity, and beverages (chef will suggest pairings with wine, beer, sake or tea). Aka Bistro must be informed of any allergies/dietary restrictions at the time of reservation.

Omakase reservations are being accepted for Sunday, March 8 and beyond. Act fast to get in this intriguing dining experience by calling 781-259-9920.

In addition, on Monday nights, starting March 9, Chef Chung will be serving Shabu-Shabu, a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced poultry and wild game, beef, or seafood, boiled in broth. The term is derived from the sound made when the ingredients are stirred in theliquid in the cooking pot. The dish is similar to sukiyaki in style; both consist of thinly sliced meat and vegetables and are served with dipping sauces. Shabu-shabu, however, is considered more savory. This dish is designed for sharing and priced at $55 for two.

3) To complement its nearly 120 whiskey selections, Saloon in Somerville’s Davis Square is revamping its menu to satisfy the palates (and stomachs) of the brown liquor faithful. This pre-Prohibition restaurant and bar has designed a new menu that focuses on shareable, hearty cuisine that pairs with its extensive roster of alternative whiskey and scotch selections to create the ultimate social experience.

To start, there are a dozen hors d’oeuvres including: Fried Pickle Chips (panko-crusted dill pickles, sriracha and horseradish ranch dipping sauce - $7); Duck Wings (orange-molasses glaze - $9); Corn Dog (chorizo, sweet potato-corn batter, smoked honey mustard glaze - $8); Three Brandt Beef Slider (onion aioli, bacon, cheddar, LT, B&B Pickles, fries - $15); Lamb Merguez Sausage (spicy pepper, onion relish - $12); Chips Benedict (hand-cut fries, pork belly, fried egg and hollandaise - $9); in addition to an assortment of salads, charcuterie, cheeses, flatbreads and oysters. 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 six options that come enveloped in comfort and are a perfect complement to your malt of choice including: Short Rib Pie (red wine, wild mushrooms, root vegetables, puff pastry crust - $18); Chicken Fried Rabbit Leg (cheddar biscuit, kale, sour cream gravy - $18); 1/2 a Bird (half roasted chicken, seasonal vegetables, confit fingerlings, sherry jus - $19); and, the gargantuan Baller’$ $teak (28 oz bone in rib-eye steak, lyonnaise potatoes, market vegetables - $40).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Diplomatico Rum: A Venezuelan Treasure

With the oil boom in Venezuela, whiskey, especially Scotch, became their drink of choice, a high-end status symbol. That continued for decades until recently, when their economy tanked, and high-priced whiskey became out of the reach of many. As a replacement, Venezuelans have begun embracing domestic rum. For example, in 2013, whiskey sales decreased by 29% while rum sales increased by almost 23%. In addition, domestic rum production increased from about 16 million liters in 2012 to about 22 million liters in 2013.

Rum production in Venezuela has a long history, though it was often considered a lesser beverage for many years. It has been only during the last 15 years or so that a number of the rum producers have begun creating higher quality products. As such, exploring its newer rum products is a worthy effort and you'll probably find some brands which you may favor. One of the brands I would recommend is Ron Diplomatico

I first tasted one of their rums last November, and have since then tasted a couple others which I received as media samples. The history of Ron Diplomatico extends back to the 18th century, to Don Juancho Nieto Meléndez, who worked at producing a high-quality, artisan rum. During the 1950s, the main companies involved in producing and distributing alcohol in Venezuela united, becoming the Licorerias Unitas S.A. (and Seagrams owned 51% of this new entity). The distillery which would eventually make Diplomatico rum, was founded in 1959 at the foot of the Andes Mountains. During the 1990s, a series of mergers and acquisitions changed matters, eventually leading to the creation of the Distilleries Unidas S.A. (DUSA) in 2002, which now makes Diplomatico.

It is important to note that DUSA is environmentally responsible, even having received the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Certification, which has only been attained by five other liquor companies. DUSA is dedicated to being green, to minimizing their impact on the environment, and some of their efforts include: recycling 100% of their wasterwater, recovering & recycling 100% of their solid waster, and planting over 6,000 trees. That all gives added reason to support DUSA.

Diplomatico is produced in six different bottlings, including Anejo, Reserva, Reserva Exclusiva, Blanco, Single Vintage and Ambassador. They have seven stills at the distillery, including three pot and four column stills. I received samples of the Anejo, Blanco and Reserva Exclusiva, and enjoyed all three, finding them delicious on their own, and perfect for cocktails as well. . 

Their Anejo (about $15), which was launched in 2004, is a blend of light rum from a column still and heavy rum from a copper pot still, It was aged for four years and has an alcohol content of 40%. It's the youngest rum of the Diplomatico line, and at its low price is an excellent value. With a light amber color, it has a pleasant nose of caramel and spice, with hints of chocolate and vanilla. Sipping it, I found it more full bodied, with a smooth and creamy body, and a pleasing blend of flavors, from caramel to toffee, chocolate to baking spices. The sweetness is mild and balanced, and you could easily enjoy drinking this on its own, though it would work well in any of the usual rum cocktails. At this price point, you would be hard pressed to find a better quality rum.  

The Blanco Reserve (about $30), which was launched in 2008, is a blend of light and heavy rums distilled in copper pot stills, which has been aged up to 6 years and has an alcohol content of 40%. By law, the youngest rum in this blend must have been aged in white oak barrels for at least 2 years. It has also been carbon filtered and treated with charcoal. This is a clear, white rum with a more subtle nose though it is more prominent on the palate. It is silky smooth with a lighter body and crisp flavors, with some citrus notes, hints of  sweetness, and a lengthy, complex finish. Once again, this is a rum you can easily enjoy drinking on its own, though it would work well too in the usual rum cocktails. It is definitely an excellent white rum, and at the price point, it is very competitive.    

The Reserva Exclusiva (about $40) is a blend of rums distilled in copper pot stills and has been aged for 12 years. With a rich amber color, this is a sweeter rum, a pleasant after-dinner drink or something to accompany dessert. Rich flavors of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and some tropical fruit, accompany some baking spices and slight earthy notes. Complex and alluring, this is a rum to seduce your palate, which on its own will appeal to many rum lovers. In a previous rum tasting, this was one of my favorites, and my feelings haven't changed.

Diplomatico produces some impressive rums, at very competitive prices, and they are well worth seeking out. I haven't tasted their high-end bottlings, but I expect they would be equally as impressive as their lesser priced labels. When spirits are capable of standing on their own, without having to be enjoyed in a cocktail, then they are produced well. Rum has a strong link to our history, and it is becoming more popular once again. Why not try some new rums?

"All roads lead to rum."
--W.C. Fields

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Red's Best Seafood: Local, Traceable & Flexible

Eat More Seafood. 
Eat Sustainable Seafood. 
Eat More Domestic Seafood. 

Last summer, I posted these 3 Rules Of Eating Seafood and they remain as important and relevant as ever. They are significant for so many reasons and our country would benefit greatly if more people followed these rules. I talked again about these points last week, when discussing Johnny's Luncheonette, and now I'm following up on that prior post, to discuss the seafood supplier, Red's Best, for that event.

As I mentioned, I recently received a media invite to attend a talk, Dishing About Fishing: What It Takes To Get New England Seafood Onto Our Local Tables, led by Jared Auerbach of Red's Best, a company located on the Boston fish pier near the No Name restaurant. Red's Best basically sells seafood for fishermen though it is so much more as well. Jared spoke about his company, seafood sustainability, the fishermen, and other related topics. There is passion there, and a strong concern for the economic well being of small, local fishermen.

After spending time as a fishermen in Massachusetts and Alaska, Jared started Red's Best in 2008, with a primary goal of helping local fishermen. He wanted to create a better and quicker way for seafood to get from the fishermen to the end consumer. In addition, he wanted to ensure traceability, that the fish sold at a market or restaurant could be definitively traced to the specific fishermen who landed it. Jared also wanted to work with smaller fishermen, those individual boats, rather than the large,commercial vessels that land many thousands of seafood each day.

They currently work with over 1,000 domestic fishermen, essentially all on the East Coast and many in the New England region. Jared stated that his job was "to match supply and demand.," to build an infrastructure to better move seafood. Their advantage isn't in distribution, but rather that Jared claims he can aggregate seafood better and faster than others. Using their special technology, they can streamline seafood transactions, saving time and money. Seafood can reach the end consumers quicker than under the traditional methods, such as seafood auctions, meaning the seafood is fresher.

Rd's Best uses a Traceability System to memorialize the journey from the fishermen to the end consumer. Besides noting the specifics of the fishermen, the boat and methods of catch., Red's Best also enters the chain of custody, taking possession of the seafood from the fishermen. While in their possession, they maintain the proper conditions to ensure the quality and integrity of the seafood. When Red's Best sells the seafood to wholesalers and distributors, the label comes marked with a special QR code that can be used to track back the seafood.

These QR codes are intended for the wholesalers and retailers, not the consumers, and provide them information they can share with their customers. Review this sample to see what you'll find when you check the QR code. There are listings for the name of the fisherman, the species of the seafood, the name of the fishing vessel, the gear type used, and the port where the seafood was landed. That is the type of information which helps people make determinations on sustainability. In addition, the QR code provides access to a PDF that contains all of that information and which can even be customized for a restaurant, market or store. This is a quick and easy way for retailers to have all of the relevant information concerning the source of their seafood.

Red's Best does not negotiate a price with the fishermen at the docks but rather pays them the fair market value they recover when they sell to their hundreds of wholesalers and distributors, including Sysco. That requires a level of trust on behalf of the fishermen, however considering the large number of fishermen that work with Red'ss Best, it seems their trust is well placed. Red's Best also sells to a few local fish markets and in time, they hope to start selling directly to consumers.

Part of what probably helps the fishermen's trust is that Red’s Best purchases whatever seafood the fishermen land, leading to a wealth of diversity. For example, in Massachusetts alone, they take in more than 60 different types of seafood, mostly wild except for some farmed shellfish. Jared stated that every day is a challenge as supply & demand always varies, and they are never sure what seafood species they will have available for sale. As such, Jared wants people to be more flexible in their seafood choices, and not to restrict themselves to the usual seafood preferences.

As such, Jared tries to get their customers to commit to a certain amount of seafood each week, without committing to specific species. That is kind of like a CSF (Community Supported Fishery) where a person commits to a share of seafood which is delivered on a regular basis, but never know what species they will receive. This flexibility helps keep the prices of the seafood down, promotes diversity, and benefits seafood sustainability.

In previous multiple posts, such as Boring Americans: The Seafood Edition and Rant: Stop Eating Cod, Tuna & Salmon, I've encouraged people to expand their palates, to enjoy different seafood species than what they are used to, to find new favorites. The majority of Americans generally only eat ten species of seafood, yet there are so many other delicious species available to them, In some circles, these species may be referred to as "trash fish," because so few people want to eat them, but they would be better referred to as "under-utilized fish." The reason these fish haven't been eaten more is due to ignorance rather than their lack of taste. If people blind-tasted these under-utilized species, they would likely enjoy them. Besides being delicious, these under-utilized species can be very sustainable choices, are usually less expensive, and help fishermen sell more seafood.

Is all of Red's Best seafood sustainable? That is a question where the answer depends on your own definitions and standards of "sustainable seafood." Jared states that all of their seafood is sustainable because their fishermen follow all of the strict government regulations on fishing quotas They feel that if the government permits the capture of certain levels of fish, then those fish are considered sustainable. Jared also noted that they report all of their catches to the government, to ensure they are following the regulations.

In 2012, Sam Rauch, the Acting Director of NOAA, gave a State Of Fisheries Address which echoes Jared's sentiment. Rauch claimed that when a fish is legally caught by a U.S. mandated fishery, then it is sustainable, considering the fact that the U.S. fishing industry is the most highly regulated in the world. Some fishermen think that the NOAA regulations go too far, and are not based on the best science. They want less regulations, and to be able to catch more seafood. These fishermen would agree that the seafood they legally catch is sustainable.

Not everyone agrees with this position, and you'll find some organizations whose positions on sustainability differ from that of Red's Best and NOAA. For example, Atlantic Cod and Blue Fin Tuna is permitted to be caught under NOAA regulations, though only in limited amounts. However, other organizations believe you shouldn't eat either of those two species because they are endangered. Some will say to totally Avoid these species, while others are a bit more measured, delineating specific instances, such as by the method of catch, where they are acceptable.

Who is correct? That is not an easy question to answer because of the complexities involved in the area of sustainability. We should be wary of making broad statements about sustainability but rather look carefully at the specifics involved, such as the species of fish, method of catch, geographic area, and much more. Knee jerk reactions need to be replaced with more measured reasoning.

In discussions of seafood sustainability, the element of social issues is becoming more and more important, which I've written about several times, including a few months ago.. We should be considering the plight of fishermen and seafood workers in our discussions on sustainability. That is an area of significance to Jared, supporting small, local fishermen, helping them make a sustainable living at fishing. With all of the quotas and catch restrictions, it has been a very tough economic situation for small fishermen, and Red's Best is working to helping those fishermen survive. This helps our local communities and is worthy of our support.

The philosophy of Red's Best fits my 3 Rules of Eating Seafood, promoting more seafood consumption, especially local and sustainable species. Red's Best also helps to promote the consumption of under-utilized species and support the economic well being of local fishermen. In addition, they are helping to make seafood more affordable for all. It was a pleasure to meet Jared, and I'm impressed with his company and its philosophy. You should support retailers which purchase their seafood from Red's Best.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Rant: Dining Out Despite The Snow

I'm sick of all this snow! By the end of today, we''ll probably have gotten another foot of snow during the last few days. Today will probably be another day of no travel, of staying home and shoveling snow, creating even greater mounds of snow. I feel like my house is surrounded by vast walls of snow. There's been too many days like this during the last several weeks. It's been difficult to drive, to peer past the huge snow mounds, and parking's been an obstacle as well. Walking has also been tough, meaning that many people have just remained home rather than venture out.

Many businesses have had to  close for at least a few days due to the significant snowfalls, and I suspect many will close today due to the snow. January and February can be slow months for businesses, and it has been even slower than usual due to all this damn snow. These businesses have suffered financially, and will continue to do so as long as we keep having these large snow events. One of the hardest hit sectors has been the restaurant industry.

When a restaurant has to close for a snow day, they lose money and it's not easy to make up for that loss. Even if they don't close, they probably won't have many customers as it will be tough for people to get to the restaurant. For days after the snow event, many potential customers will prefer to remain home than battling with limited parking and snow covered roads and walkways. Thus, restaurants continue to lose money for days after a snowstorm. This will put stress on even the best of restaurants, so something needs to be done to help them.

My advice is simple: Dine out more.

Despite the snow, despite the obstacles, people need to patronize more restaurants at this time, giving them your support and money. Don't go out if it is dangerous to do so, but don't stay in just because it is only inconvenient. If you can, walk to nearby restaurants. If possible, drive a short distance to other restaurants. Take public transportation if possible. Order takeout or get delivery. In New England, we are used to snow so it shouldn't be as much of a barrier as it might be elsewhere. Today, as we get maybe 6 inches of snow or more, you probably won't be able to go out, but tomorrow is another day, and you have a better chance of being able to travel.

If you don't give some added support to restaurants at this time, then don't be surprised if your favorite places have to shut down. For many restaurants, especially the smaller ones, their profit margins can be small so that the lack of business during these snowy months can be devastating. And there is little they can do if people stay away because of the snow. You need to patronize these restaurants now, to assist them in weathering these problems.

Consider all the restaurant workers as well, including the servers who rely on tips. Without sufficient business, they won't be able to earn as much money, causing them to endure financial hardship. You can help them by dining out, and tipping properly. And if you order delivery during these snow events, I'd suggest you tip them extra, to compensate them for the difficult of driving in this weather.

Dine out more. Give restaurants your support during these difficult times. Don't let snow lock you into your house for days on end.

Thursday, February 5, 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) Pastry Chef Jessica Pelletier of Menotomy Grill & Tavern believes that innovation is the way to make diners sit up and take notice. Her Smoked S’Mores in a Jar, which recently debuted, is something she’s betting you haven’t seen before.

Smoked S’Mores in a Jar layers a brown butter brownie, housemade marshmallow, graham cracker mousse and Heath Bar shards in a mini-Mason jar. Hot wood-chip smoke is then introduced and sealed in, producing a magical molten mess. Arriving at table, the smoke in the jar wafts out, thrilling diners with its faint campfire-y aroma. Alchemy in action – and more than enough for two -- just $7.

Pelletier changes her dessert menu at this all-American tavern often, and customers look forward to tasty choices like Orange-Cranberry Bread Pudding, Mocha Crème Brulee, Coffee Cheesecake and German Chocolate Cake. With a ten year career that began at the Ritz Carlton Boston and includes two years with Finale and four years with The Grafton Group, Pelletier is a seasoned pro who watches for trends, new ideas and firsts in desserts all over New England, and is given free rein at Menotomy Grill to try out whatever suits her fancy.

2) This Saturday, February 7, from 10am-2pm, it is the 5th Annual Massachusetts Farm Wineries Day at the Wayland Winter Farmers’ Market, which is located at the Russell's Garden Center.. At the Market, you'll find lots of vendors, from fresh produce to baked goods, pickles to meats, and so much more. It is an excellent winter market, and they also run numerous special events.

For Farm Wineries Day, there will be at least 8 local wineries in attendance, offering samples of their wines. The following wineries will attend:
Artisan Beverage Cooperative
Carr’s Ciderhouse
Coastal Vineyards
Mill River Winery
Still River Winery
Turtle Creek Winery
Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery
Zoll Cellars Winery

I've been to this market before on Farm Wineries Day and it is an excellent way to experience local wines, and understand what is being produced in our own backyard. Check it out.

3) The Boston Police Foundation will host its first annual Operation Dine Out on Tuesday, February 24. Restaurants throughout the city are teaming up to “Back Up Boston’s Finest” by providing a percentage of their sales as a donation to the Foundation that supports the Boston Police Department. The goal of “Operation Dine Out” is to raise awareness and provide funding for the Boston Police Foundation and its marquee programs including “Crime Stoppers,” “Text a Tip,” “Crime Watch” and “Officer Wellness and Safety” which focuses on suicide prevention as well as health and stress management programs for Boston police officers. Financial support of these vital programs, equipment and technology supports the brave men and women of the Boston Police Department and improves the quality and safety of the department and the extended Boston community.

This year’s “Operation Dine Out” participating restaurants include the following:
· Alma Nove: 22 Shipyard Drive - Hingham
· Carmenlina’s: North End, 307 Hanover St. - Boston
· Cask ‘n Flagon: 62 Brookline Ave. - Boston
· Church Boston: 69 Kilmarnock St. - Boston
· El Pelon Taqueria: 92 Peterborough St. - Boston
· Longhorn Steakhouse: 401 Park Drive - Boston
· M.C. Spiedo: 606 Congress St. - Boston
· Michael’s Deli: 256 Harvard Street - Brookline
· Parish Café: 361 Boylston Street - Boston
· P.F. Chang’s: 8 Park Plaza Space D-6 - Boston
· Shake Shack: 92 Winthrip St. - Cambridge
· Russell House Tavern: 14 JFK Street - Cambridge
· South Street Diner: 178 Kneeland St. - Boston
· Stella Boston: 1525 Washington St. - Boston
· TAMO Bistro & Bar: 1 Seaport Lane - Boston
· Vintage: 72 Broad Street - Boston
· Vito’s Tavern: 54 Salem Street - Boston
· Wahlburger’s: 19 Shipyard Drive - Hingham
· Warehouse Bar & Grille: 40 Broad Street - Boston

4) Bringing Scotch outside the realm of Ron Burgundy, Eastern Standard’s Bar Manager Naomi Levy and Chef Matt Garland will take guests on a journey to greener pastures with the restaurant’s take on a Scottish Supper paired with a selection of the country’s finest spirits. Naomi will lead guests through four courses of Scottish fare paired with its namesake spirit and a brief history lesson on the more unique Scotches ES has to offer.

The menu includes:
Snail Porridge
First Course
Kippers on Toast with Soft Scrambled Egg
Second Course
Haggis en Croute with Neeps and Tatties, Cumberland Sauce
Third Course
Scottish Blue Cheese
Fourth Course
Hogmanay Cake with Fig, Clotted Cream

Guests will start the evening with a Scotch-based welcome punch before moving into the night’s featured Scotches, which include the 1985 Bowmore, Highland Park, and Cask Strength Ledaig, followed by a special Atholl Brose Milk Punch. The event will give guests the opportunity to tip their hats to the land of Whisky (without an "e") in a night full of fun and camaraderie, and perhaps a few old Scottish drinking songs.

WHEN: Tuesday, February 17, 7pm
TICKETS: $89/person, gratuity not included. Visit to purchase tickets.
Additionally, Eastern Standard has partnered with Reserve to offer $25 toward a booking for the Scotch Dinner. Reserve is guests’dining concierge. Book a table and pay effortlessly. Download here, apply promo code standardscotch, and reserve today. Promotion valid for first-time users only. All bookings cancelled within 48 hours of the event will be charged in full.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Far From The Tree Hard Cider: Joe Frogger Spice

A hard cider reminiscent of a 200+ year old cookie? Sounds intriguing.

Last November, I raved about the hard ciders from Far From The Tree, a new cidery located in Salem, Massachusetts. Owned by Al & Denise Snape, they craft ciders using local ingredients, traditional methods and want their ciders to reflect history. These are dry ciders, actually closer to bone-dry, and that appeals to my preferences. From November to March, they are producing a winter seasonal cider, their "Joe Frogger" Spiced Cider, which was inspired by a 200+ year old cookie recipe.

If you're from Massachusetts, you might have heard of the Joe Frogger cookie, as they are still available in some locations and the cookie recipe can be found in many different sources. Joseph Brown, aka Old Black Joe or just Black Joe, was a freed slave and a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Around 1791, he and his wife, Lucretia aka Aunt Crease, opened a tavern in Marblehead next to a pond.

Lucretia was the cook for the tavern and created a cookie, which contained molasses, rum and seawater, and was eventually named Joe Frogger, a nod to the frogs in the pond. The cookies may also have originally been lily pad-shaped rather than their now common, round shape. The pond was also eventually named Frogger Pond, a nod to the cookie. Because of the ingredients, these cookies traveled well, remaining soft and chewy even on a long sea voyage. As such, they became very popular with sailors

The Joe Frogger Spiced Cider is made with apples, maple syrup, molasses, fresh ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and sea salt from the Marblehead Salt Co. All of the spices in this cider can also be found in the Joe Frogger cookies, and the sea salt reflects the old use of seawater in the cookie recipe. These ingredients and spices are commonly used in other winter recipes, from cookies to cocktails, so they work well as a seasonal product.

This cider is available, along with the Roots and Rind, at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, and that is where I bought a bottle. As the cider is unfiltered, it will be a little cloudy in your glass. The aroma of this cider has a dominant ginger smell, with the other spices and a hint of apple beneath the ginger. On the palate, and despite the maple syrup and molasses, it is bone-dry and the ginger remains the most prominent taste, but with a pleasant underlying melange of spice and fresh apple. Another winner from Far From The Tree, and it would be interesting to substitute this cider for ginger beer in a Dark n' Stormy cocktail.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Johnny's Luncheonette:Sustainable, Local Seafood

Eat More Seafood, Especially Local.

For years, I've been exhorting my readers to eat more sustainable seafood, especially domestic seafood. Sustainability is needed to protect seafood species and preserve the health of our oceans. Seafood tastes great but is also healthy, and can reduce your chance of heart disease by one-third. The U.S. imports about 91% of our seafood, and that is a shame and needs to be changed, to support our local and domestic fishermen. There is plenty of excellent, sustainable seafood found in U.S. waters, and our local fishermen need and deserve our support.

We also need to support those restaurants which sell sustainable, local seafood. I recently dined at an intriguing spot that impressed me with their commitment in this regard. I received a media invite to attend a talk, Dishing About Fishing: What It Takes To Get New England Seafood Onto Our Local Tables, led by Jared Auerbach of Red's Best (which I will write about in the near future). The talk took place at Johnny's Luncheonette, a diner-like restaurant in Newton, and we got to sample some of their fare.

Johnny’s Luncheonette was first opened over twenty years ago by John Furst and Neal Solomon, who wanted to create a traditional Jewish deli, Last March, the restaurant was sold to Karen and Kevin Masterson, who have about 30 years of experience in restaurants and most recently owned Nourish in Lexington. During the past year, the Mastersons have remained true to the roots of Johnny's, while introducing changes which they feel will make it even better. I met and spoke with Karen, a woman of sincerity, passion and realism.

The restaurant is open seven days a week, from 7am-9pm, except for Sundays when they are open from 8am--8pm. Breakfast is served all day, including such items as Crunchy French Toast, Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins, Pastrami Scramble, Matzoh & Eggs, and more. Most breakfast items are less than $10. For Lunch, there are a variety of sandwiches, from Reubens to Meatloaf, and burgers, again most items costing less than $10. There are also Dinner Appetizers and Entrees, from Macaroni & Cheese to Neal's Homemade Chopped Liver. They also serve Beer & Wine (and are currently working on improving the selections), $4 Mimosas, as well as tasty Mini Milkshakes.

All of these options are enhanced by the fact that the Mastersons are using plenty of local ingredients and seasonal produce. For example, some of their breads come from Iggy’s while the beef for their burgers comes from a small ranch in Maine. Karen's family in Alberta once owned a farm, so her concern for sourcing local fresh ingredients extends back many years. She also still grows some of her own fruit and vegetables. Besides the previous examples, Johnny's also sources much of their seafood from Red's Best, purchasing sustainable, local seafood. Though they only use about fifteen pounds of seafood each week, they hope to soon double this amount.

On their menu, you'll find seafood selections including Fried Fish Sandwich ($8.25), Fish & Chips ($12.95), Fish Tacos ($13.95), and Fresh Catch (1/2 pound of fish for $12.95). If you check the menu, you'll find that none of these seafood dishes mention the type of fish that will be served. That is an intentional omission because of their philosophy on the issue. Johnny's purchases whatever seafood is fresh and available from Red's Best, so their selection will vary each time. Johnny's is flexible in which seafood they will buy, which helps keep the prices down, and also supports local fishermen whose catch may vary. This is an excellent way to source one's seafood, one that more restaurants should follow.

This is not always an easy sell for customers, but presents an educational opportunity, a chance to expose their customers to different seafood, which tastes just as good as familiar seafood. Customers might want cod or haddock but only pollock is available, and most people would enjoy it just as much. Fortunately, this hasn't been a significant problem at Johnny's, whose customers are usually willing to try whatever seafood is available. Karen stated that Johnny's is not perfect in their sustainability, but she is realistic about the matters and sees it as a constant evolution, working towards becoming better all the time.

It is also very important to Karen that their food prices remain reasonable. She wants the fishermen and other food suppliers to be able to afford to dine at her restaurant. As you can see, their seafood dishes are very reasonably priced, and that makes it accessible to all of their customers. High-priced seafood is sometimes an obstacle to seafood consumption, but at Johnny's, they have kept the costs at a very manageable level, in part due to their flexibility in which species they purchase. Customers thus has plenty of reason to opt for seafood at Johnny's.

I got to taste several different items, from Portuguese Fish Stew to Fish Tacos, with seafood including monkfish, scup and pollock. The fish stew was delicious, with a delicious blend of spices and flavors, and tender pieces of monkfish. The breading on the fried seafood, such as in the fish tacos, was light and clean-tasting, and the fish itself was moist and tender. Both the scup and pollock were tasty, and would appeal to almost any consumer. I  didn't hear any complaints about the food from any of my dining companions. And I definitely want to return to Johnny's, to sample more of their selections.

Johnny's Luncheonette isn't trying to be a role model for other restaurants, but is simply doing what they believe is the best. They want to provide delicious and affordable food, much of it locally sourced, including sustainable seafood. However, other restaurants should take a lesson from Johnny's, especially concerning their approach to seafood. Sustainable seafood  doesn't have to be expensive, and people should be more flexible about the types of fish they are willing to eat. Check out Johnny's Luncheonette and enjoy one of their seafood dishes.

Johnny's Luncheonette on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 2, 2015

Rant: More Local Wineries

Local wine continues to grow and grow, a positive sign that Americans are embracing more local wineries. Delicious wine is being produced all across the country, as well as in Canada and Mexico. I've long been advocating for local wine and I'm glad to see the latest statistics, showing significant growth. Let us hope that trend continues.

Wines & Vines recently posted an article citing the new statistics on winery growth across North America. In 2014, almost 600 new wineries opened in North America, with 525 in the U.S., a much higher growth rate than in 2013. The total number of wineries in North America is now 8,990, with 8,287 in the U.S. and the rest in Canada and Mexico. California remains the largest home for wineries, with 3,913 wineries, almost 50% of all wineries. There are now 15 U.S. states and Canadian provinces which have 100+ wineries, including states like Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.

You should be exploring the wineries located in your own state, and I bet you'll be surprised by the quality your find. There are over 30 wineries in Massachusetts, from Travessia Urban Winery to Westport Rivers Winery, and you'll find even more wineries in the rest of New England. With the new Direct Wine Shipment law in Massachusetts, you will also be able to order wines from other states, to try more of the intriguing wines being made across our great country. Over at the Welllesley Wine Press, Robert Dwyer has provided an excellent list of the U.S. wineries which can currently ship to Massachusetts.

Though the list is dominated by California wineries, there is some interesting diversity as well. Some of the other wineries are from states including New York, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon and Washington. Curiously, one of the license holders appears to be Nimrod Wines, which imports Hungarian wines, so I'm not sure how they qualified for a license. There are some excellent wineries on the list, and more wineries will be added in the future. I'm especially excited to see Abacela Veinyards on the list, an Oregon winery I've visited that uses numerous Spanish grapes, such as Tempranillo, I've already made my plea to MA wine lovers about what they can do to support the new shipment law. They need to contact their favorite wineries and ask them to get a license to ship to Massachusetts.

Wine lovers have much to be happy about, and let's hope it continues.