Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tambo 22: Chef Jose Duarte Brings Peru to Chelsea

It's an extremely difficult year to open a new restaurant. At the beginning of 2020, I was excited about the forthcoming Tambo 22, a new Peruvian restaurant headed by Chef Jose Duarte. I've been a fan of Chef Duarte for many years and loved Taranta, his Peruvian-Italian fusion restaurant in the North End (which sadly has recently closed). Taranta was a fusion restaurant that worked very well and helped to introduce Peruvian ingredients to the Boston area. I've also seen Chef Duarte at many food events, especially charity ones, and he has always been personable, gracious and kind, simply a genuinely nice person. 

Tambo 22 opened in March but soon thereafter had to close due to the pandemic. That had to have been brutal, having to shut down just as your restaurant had barely opened. I didn't have a chance to visit it when it first opened but over this past weekend, I made my first visit and eagerly look forward to dining there once again. It was an excellent dining experience, with great food and drinks, and it's a worthy successor to Taranta. Kudos to Chef Duarte!

The Incas constructed thousands of “tambos” on their roads, and although there was some variation, a tambo was basically like an inn, providing food, drink and lodging. Chef Duarte wanted to create a "tambo," without the lodging, at "the crossroads of Route 1 and Route 16," in Chelsea, where he resides.  It's a relatively small restaurant, and initially possessed about 20 seats inside, though with pandemic regulations, there is less interior dining and they have also set up some exterior dining. The interior is a bit rustic, with some great photos of Peru and some of its people. There is also a bar to the left of the restaurant, and recent rule changes will allow them to have diners sit at the bar. 

And who doesn't love llamas?

We dined outside, and the tables are all properly spaced, and they have tried to make the area more decorative, with some palm trees, pumpkins, and plants. They have heaters, though they were unnecessary on the evening we were there. Because their seating is limited, I would suggest making reservations, especially on the weekends. 

The Drinks menu has plenty of interesting options. For Cocktails ($12-$14), you can opt for the traditional Pisco Sour (always a good choice)the Chilcano Smash (made with Pisco, lime, mint, & ginger beer), the 22 Old Fashioned (made with Four Roses Bourbon, Salted Honey, Peruvian chuncho bitters, orange) and others.

They have a few Draft beers, all from New England, and 6 beers by the can, including two Peruvian beers, Cusquena (a golden lager) and Cristal (an American style lager). The Wine list has about 11 wines available by the glass ($8-$11.50), and about 18 by the bottle. Almost everyone wine is from Argentina and Chile, many organic/biodynamic. There are also Nonalcoholic options, including, Chicha Morada, Inca Kola, Handmade Passion Fruit Soda and Handmade Guava Soda. The drinks menu complements the Peruvian cuisine.

I had to order a Pisco Sour ($13), made with Pisco, lime, sugar, egg white, and angostura bitters. For more information about Pisco and Pisco Sours, including possible origin stories for the cocktail, check out my previous post, La Mar, Pisco Sours & A Cautionary Tale. The Tambo Pisco Sour was excellent, well balanced, frothy and with only a hint of sweetness. It's definitely on par to those I enjoyed at La Mar and the little hearts atop the froth were a nice touch.

With the Pisco Sours, you also have the option of adding Chicha Morada, Guava or Passion Fruit, to add a different flavor. I opted for another Pisco Sour, but this time with Chicha Morada, a purple corn-based drink. Chicha Morada has ancient roots in Peru and it continues to still be widely consumed in that country. This cocktail was also compelling and refreshing, once again with just a touch of sweet. It had an almost red berry flavor to it, though with its own unique taste. Highly recommended.
They also have a Red Sangria ($12), made with Red Wine, Pisco, Triple Sec, Chicha Morada, Lime, and Orange. This was another excellent drink, well-balanced and with only a mild sweetnesst. Very refreshing, with a nice blend of flavors, and you could easily drink a few of these over dinner. 

With out drinks, we were served a complimentary bowl of Cancha, the Peruvian version of "corn nuts." This dish uses large-kerneled corn, called maíz chulpe or maíz cancha chulpe, which are tossed with oil and toasted in a hot skillet. Once done, a little salt is sprinkled atop them. A fine accompaniment to drinking, these salty, crunchy pieces of corn were light and tasty. 

The Food Menu is small, but diverse, and divided into three sections: Starters, Salads and Mains. There might also be some Specials offered, and there were two specials on the evening we dined there. The Starters section has about 8 choices ($10-$16), from Ceviche del Dia to Mussels, Pulpo Al Olivo to Better Than Buffalo Wings. The Salads section has 2 choices ($10-$12) including an Ensalada Amazonica and an Ensalada Mixta Con Quinoa Y Queso Fresco, both which you can add Salmon, Beef Anticucho Skewers, or Grilled Paiche Skewers. The Mains section has 9 choices ($15-$32), including the Tamburguesa (a burger made with Alpaca), Lomo Slatado a Lo Diego (beef tenderloin), Quinoa de Verano (grilled summer veggies & quinoa), and Paiche Amazonico (banana leaf-wrapped Amazonian Paiche).

We began with the Starter of Causa de Mariscos ($16), made from Yellow Peruvian Potato, Seafood of the Day, Rocoto (a type of chili pepper), and Caviaroli (an olive oil). There were three different Causa, each made from a different type of seafood with a different sauce. Such a beautiful presentation. There were thin slices of olive and peppers on the plate, with a couple other sauces, including one very spicy one. The seafood was atop a creamy potato base and each was delicious, with its own unique flavors. The Lobster Causa was my favorite of the three. 

Crabmeat Causa

Baby Shrimp Causa

Lobster Causa

We also opted for one of the Special Starters of the evening, Paiche Anticuchos Skewers ($16). For more info about Paiche, check out my prior article, Paiche, the Ood of the Amazon. In short, it's one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, and is native to South America. Paiche meat is white, firm, relatively boneless, high in Omega-3s and high in protein. It's flesh also possesses a more subtle and elegant taste, which means it is versatile, allowing a wide range of flavor pairings and preparations. If you love seafood, then you should try Paiche. These skewers were scrumptious, such tender and moist, white flaky meat with a nice char. Perfectly prepared, this might even convince a seafood hater to embrace fish. Highly recommended!

Accompanying the Paiche skewers was a fried Yuca, with a huancaina (spicy cheese) sauce. A crisp, fried coating with a fluffier interior, and much lighter than other fried yuca I've tasted before. The sauce added a mild spicy kick which complemented the yuca. 

For Mains, we had the Lomito de Chancho Anticuchero ($22), grilled Pork Tenderloin with Anticucho Sauce and an Aji Amarillo Risotto. The pork was properly tender and meaty, with a great flavor from the anticucho sauce, which added some peppery notes. The risotto had a mild spicy kick to it as well, from its hot yellow pepper paste. It was a hearty dish, which will go well in the fall and winter.

Speaking of perfect comfort food, the Aji De Gallina En Tazon ($22) hit that mark! It's made with slow cooked Pulled Chicken, creamy Peruvian Pepper Sauce, Yellow Peruvian Potato, Q’s Botija Olive Roasted Pecans, Choclo White Rice, and a "Perfect Egg." It is served with a side of white rice, with bits of Choclo (a large-kernel Peruvian corn). I loved this dish, which possessed such a complex and compelling taste, with plenty of tender chicken meat, and bits of extras, from the small potatoes to the pecans. And the egg, with its soft yolk, added even more flavor. It seems like a simple dish, yet there is so much going on and everything works so well together. Highly recommended!

I also ordered one of the Starters as a side, the Yuca Frita ($10), which came with a side of Huancaina Sauce. The Yuca was just as good as the larger piece that came with the Paiche skewers. They were crispy on the outside, but fluffier inside, definitely some of the best fried yuca I've ever had. They are definitely firmer than a regular French Fry, but there's nothing wrong with that in the least. 

Currently, the restaurant doesn't have a Dessert menu, though it will come in the future. However, they did provide a complimentary plate of these tiny cookies, filled with Dulce de Leche. Flaky and light cookies with that sweet and creamy Dulce made for an excellent ending. 

Overall, I was impressed with Tambo 22, and their Peruvian cuisine was well-prepared, aesthetically pleasing, cooked perfectly, and delicious. The blending of interesting Peruvian ingredients delivered some intriguing and different flavors. Prices are reasonable considering the quality, quantity and taste of the dishes. The cocktails were also well made, balanced perfectly and not trying to rely on sweetness to conceal the flavors of the cocktail ingredients. Service was very good too and it was pleasant dining outside. Chef Jose Duarte has created a fine, new restaurant, though I expected as much from such an excellent chef. I can't wait to return, to try more of the menu (like the alpaca burger) and it earns my highest recommendation.  

Have you dined at Tambo 22 yet?

Takahiro Nagayama "Noble Arrow" Namazake Tokubetsu Junmai: All About Terroir

Wine lovers, pay attention to a Sake with similarities to Chablis from Burgundy. 

The Nagayama Honke Brewery, which was founded in 1888, is located in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. The current President and Toji is Takashiro Nagayama but before starting as the Toji, he spent time working with the famed Philippe Pacalet in Burgundy. Takashiro found a special passion for Chablis, terroir and the effects of limestone. When he returned to the Sake brewery, Takashiro desired to produce Sake that was reflective of terroir, and which benefited from limestone. 

Takashiro only uses rice grown on their estate, in limestone rich soils, although most other breweries purchase their rice from elsewhere. In addition, the region around the brewery is located above the largest limestone cave in Japan, and Takashiro uses the water that flows over this limestone, benefiting from its high calcium levels. Terroir in Sake (which is worthy of its own article) is a relatively new concept, and Takashiro is certainly one of the leaders in this field. 

The Takahiro Nagayama "Noble Arrow" Nama Tokubetsu Junmai Sake ($40/720ml) was produced from a blend of Yamada Nishiki rice, often considered to be the King of Sake Sake, and Hattan Nishiki, and it was polished to 60%. That is a Ginjo level polishing rate, which is likely why this Sake is labeled as Tokubetsu. The Sake also has a Sake Meter Value (SMV) of +2 , an Acidity of 1.6 (which is higher than usual), and a 15.5% ABV.  

This is a fascinating and complex Sake, aromatic and rich in flavor, with creamy notes and an underlying minerality. Its higher acidity is clear, providing a delightful crispness to its taste. There are flavors of melon and green apple, with a mild minty note on the finish. It does remind me of some mineral-driven French white wines, though you won't forget it is Sake. As such, it is delightful on its own, but would pair well with foods that those French whites do. This would be great with oysters and other raw seafood. 

This Sake should convince you of the possibilities of Terroir in Sake. Locally, this Sake can be found at Malden Center Fine Wines and I highly recommend you check it out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo Sake: White Heart

The label for this Sake is reminiscent of a grain of rice, and the large white area in the middle could be the the Shinpaku, the "white heart." The shinpaku refers to the pocket of starch in the middle of the rice kernel, where all the sugars are concentrated. By polishing the rice, you remove the outer layers and get a greater proportion of the starches within. A Daiginjo Sake, which polishes away at last 50% of the rice, embraces the "white heart."

Nanbubijin, Inc., located in the southern region of the Iwate Prefecture in a region called Nanbu, started brewing Sake in 1915 when the Kuji family, which worked in the soy sauce brewing business, decided to expand its business, which was named the Kuji Shuzo. Around 1951, the company decided to start producing "clean and beautiful Sake," renaming itself Nanbu Bijin. Nanbu represents their region while Bijin means "beautiful woman." Together, Nanbu Bijin basically translates as "Southern Beauty." 

The Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjo ($35/720ml) was produced from Yamada Nishiki rice, often considered to be the King of Sake Sake and possesses a large shinpaku, and it was polished to 50%, the minimum amount for a Daiginjo Sake. The Sake also has a Sake Meter Value (SMV) of +4 (meaning it may have a touch of sweetness), an Acidity of 1.6 (which is higher than usual), and a 16% ABV. Interestingly, this Sake even has a Kosher Certification

This is an elegant, aromatic and complex Sake, with a compelling melange of flavors, including melon, strawberry, peach, and lychee, with some underlying minerality and whispers of intriguing spices. It is medium-bodied, luscious on the palate, and with a lingering finish. This is a hint of sweetness in this well balanced Sake, though overall it presents as dry. And at only $35 for a Daiginjo, it is an excellent value as well, as many Daiginjo Sakes sell for $50+. 

This is another Sake which works beautifully on its own, but would also pair well with a variety of foods. This would work well with a variety of seafood dishes though with its high acidity, it might also be intriguing with a burger or pizza. Locally, this Sake can be found at Malden Center Fine Wines

Tensei "Endless Summer" Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake: Briny Melons

As summer is now over, and cooler weather is starting to come, wouldn't you like to reclaim a touch of summer? First, cue up Point Break and all of its surfing action, and then pour yourself a glass of Tensei "Endless Summer" Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake

The Tensei Sake brewery, founded in 1872, is located in the Kanagawa Prefecture, and draws inspiration from its gorgeous coast and the surfer culture of the Shonan region. Shonan is sometimes said to be the home of Japanese surfing, and is packed with surf shops, surf clubs, and similar businesses. The term "tensei" translates as "heavenly blue sky." The grounds of the brewery also has a  beer brewery, Japanese restaurant, Italian restaurant/pizzeria, bakery, and an art gallery,

The Tensei "Endless Summer" Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake ($35/720ml) was produced from Gohyakumangoku rice, polished to 60%. Legally, a Honjozo must be polished down to at least 70%, and the greater polishing here would take it to Ginjo level, which is likely why it is labeled as Tokubetsu, which means there's something special about the production. Honjozo also means that some distilled alcohol has been added to the Sake to bring out certain aromas and flavors. It is then diluted down to the usual alcohol level so it only has a 15% ABV. Information on its Sake Meter Value (SMV) and acidity isn't readily available. 

This past Friday, I was relaxing outside at a friend's home, while we grilled shrimp, steak tips, and sausage. It was a warm and sunny day, and I opened a bottle of the "Endless Summer." It was rich and full-bodied, said to be from the high mineral content in the water used in brewing, and possessed delicious flavors of melon and pear, with an underlying salinity to it. It was essentially a briny melon, mouth-watering and compelling, and a perfect summer beverage. And its rich, bull-bodied nature also make it a nice pairing for the grilled foods. 

I loved this Sake on its own, but it would also pair well with a variety of foods. I especially want to pair this with local oysters. During the autumn and winter, it would still be a good choice, especially because of its richness, and that briny melon aspect would recall the summer. Locally, this Sake can be found at Malden Center Fine Wines

Monday, September 28, 2020

Rant: How Do We Mainstream Sake?

The popularity of Sake continues to grow each year but it still remains largely a niche beverage. How do we make Sake more mainstream, so that it is as popular as beer or wine? 

There are plenty of valuable suggestions on how this can be accomplished, from more Sake education to making Sake labels more approachable, however I think the most effective recommendation is: We need more non-Asian restaurants to place Sake on their menus

Currently, Sake is mostly found at Asian restaurants, so the average consumer equates it only with Asian cuisine, from sushi to kushiyaki. That misconception prevents Sake from becoming more mainstream, relegating it only to a certain type of cuisine. We need non-Asian restaurants to have the courage to place Sake on their drink menus, to show consumers that Sake pairs well with a diverse selection of cuisines and foods. 

We need change! 

Sake can be paired with appetizers, entrees and dessert. It works well with a myriad of cuisines from Italian to French, Mexican to Spanish. It is an excellent accompaniment to a diverse selection of foods, from burgers to pizza, seafood to poultry, mushrooms to cheese. Its versatility is without question yet few restaurants, except for Asian spots, take advantage. In some cases, it is even a better food pairing than wine. 

I've previously written about how well Sake pairs with food, in articles such as The Science Of Sake & Food Pairings, Pairing Cheese & Sake, Slurping Oysters & Sipping Sake, Sake, Seafood & Lobster, and Sake For Thanksgiving. I've presided at Sake dinners, pairing it with Italian cuisine at Prezza and French cuisine at AKA Bistro. Locally, the Tasting Counter, in Somerville, is the only non-Asian restaurant to have any type of significant Sake program. And they've done an excellent job in showing the potential of Sake with all types of dishes. 

However, we need many more non-Asian restaurants to put Sake on their drink lists, to follow the lead of the Tasting Counter. We need to see Sake available at pizza joints, burger spots, Mexican restaurants, French bistros, fried chicken places, and so much more. We need Sake to be seen as a commonplace choice wherever you dine. As long as Sake is seen as only an accompaniment for Asian cuisine, then it will never become mainstream, remaining forever a niche beverage. 

These changes will involve some work for restaurants. It will require more education about Sake on the behalf of restaurants and sommeliers, who should be excited to learn about this compelling beverage. They need to learn how Sake will pair well with their cuisine. They need to learn how to persuade diners to take a chance on a Sake pairings. None of this is difficult, and mainly involves an investment of time and a willingness to experiment

Those pioneering restaurants willing to take a chance on Sake would be in a unique position, with a new selling point for consumers, standing out from other restaurants. They could lead a path to a future where Sake becomes more popular and mainstream. So what are you waiting for?


Celebrate Sake Day On October 1

On Thursday, October 1, raise an ochoko and celebrate Nihonshu no Hi, or as it is known in English, Sake Day

Sake Day originated over 40 years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Sake Brewers Association and is now celebrated worldwide. Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Sake (酒) is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (酉), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Sake Day. It is probably also due, in part, to the fact that October is generally considered to be the official start of the Sake brewing season.

What will you do to celebrate Sake Day? Will you share a bottle of Sake with family or friends at home or a restaurant? Will you take time to learn more about Sake? Will you go to a wine shop and buy a Sake you've never tasted before? With the pandemic, celebrations will be a bit more low-key this year, with more virtual events, but you can still celebrate the holiday.

Let me provide some suggestions as to how you can learn about, experience and support Sake. These apply for Sake Day as well as every other day of the year. We need more Sake Lovers in the world!

First, if you want to learn more about Sake, check out my numerous educational posts at All About Sake. You'll learn about the basics of Sake, pairing Sake & food, Sake customs and legends, and much more. There are links to over 100 articles, so there is plenty to explore and learn.

One of my most popular Sake posts has unquestionably been An Expanded History Of Sake Brewing in the U.S. I conducted extensive research for that article, combing through numerous old newspapers and other sources to put together the most comprehensive history of the earliest Sake breweries in the U.S. This article even led to Tsuneo Kita writing a Journal article in Japan, referring my article and writing, "This paper would not exist without a blog of April 2015, written by Mr. Richard Auffrey. I express my sincerest appreciation to him." Continuing this historical element, I've also written a three-part article on The Origins & History of Sake, which further parts coming in the future.

Another very popular Sake article is The Science of Sake & Food Pairings, an exploration for some of the scientific reasons why Sake pairs so well with many foods. Sake works well with far more than just Japanese cuisine, and you'll learn there is a Sake for all cuisines and foods. Why not celebrate Sake Day by trying out a Sake pairing with your favorite foods?

Second, if you want some Sake recommendations, then please check out my Collected Sake Reviews, which has over 100 reviews of a diverse range of Sake. This is all an excellent starting point for your exploration of the wonderful world of Sake. Maybe you will have difficulty finding these Sakes at your local wine shop. You can send me a photo of the Sake selection at your local wine store and I'll give you my thoughts on which Sakes you should try. 

Third, the American Sake Association has created an extensive schedule of virtual Sake events to celebrate Sake Day. You'll find items such as a virtual tour of a Hawaiian Sake brewery, a cooking demonstration, a discussion of Sake glassware, a seminar with John Gauntner, and much more. Register online here, and it only costs a small $5 donation. This is an excellent opportunity to learn much more about Sake.

Fourth, do some Sake shopping! A new wine & liquor shop has opened In Malden, the Malden Center Fine Wines, which is connected to Ball Square Fine Wines. I've been impressed with this store and they have a very good selection of Sake at reasonable prices. There is plenty of diversity in their selections, and they sell various sized bottles as well. I've bought a number of Sakes here and been very pleased with what I've found. (Plus, their wine and spirits selections is also compelling and worth checking out.)

Fifth, invest in a local Sake Brewery. Todd Bellomy, former of Dovetail Sake in Waltham, is seeking investors for his new endeavor, the Farthest Star Sake brewery in Medfield. This would become the only Sake brewery in New England, as a few prior Sake breweries have closed. If you would like to invest, please find plenty of information about the project here. Todd is very passionate about Sake and I know many people enjoyed the Sake he previously made for Dovetail. 

What will you do to celebrate Sake Day? 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Peking Duck: A History in the Local Region & Chinatown

That crispy skin! Who can resist its taste and texture? It might be the most popular element of Peking Duck, a Chinese dish of roasted duck. It can be found in a number of restaurants in Chinatown, although the version at China King might be the most famous and popular, and which can be seen in the above photograph. 

What is the history of Peking Duck in the U.S.? When did the first Chinese restaurant in Boston serve Peking Duck?

During the 19th century, nearly all U.S. newspaper references to Peking Duck referred to the breed and not the dish. This breed was introduced into the U.S. during the 1870s and quickly became very desired, eventually being used to create a new breed, the American Pekin or White Pekin.

The San Francisco Bulletin, January 12, 1885, noted, “Ever since its first introduction into the United States, the Peking Duck has steadily gained in popularity until now it takes a front rank among desirable breeds.” These ducks were described as “…pure white, hardy, vigorous and prolific.” The Abbeville Press & Banner (SC), July 31, 1889, also mentioned that, “Most breeders says that the ‘Pekin’ duck, a bird of Chinese origin, is the most desirable for all purposes. It is hardy, matures early, and weighs from fourteen to twenty pounds to the pair.”

One of the first references to Peking Duck as a dish was in an article titled What Chinese Eat, and which was printed in several newspapers in 1900. Maybe the first of those newspapers was the Kenosha News (WI), September 20, 1900. The article stated that, “Poultry is also one of the strong points of Chinese farming and cooking. The Peking ducks are celebrated throughout the empire for their size and delicacy, and the preparation of their flesh is one of the finest evidences of Chinese skill in cookery.” The article continued, “If one of my American readers cares to try a duck a la Chinoise, here is the recipe,” which you can see above.

The first reference I found for a U.S. restaurant specially serving Peking Duck was in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (NY), December 24, 1919, which had an advertisement for the Victory Restaurant, which served Chinese & American cuisine. One of their Christmas dinner specials was Roast Peking Duck, with Stuffing, for $1.00. 

However, one of the first Mandarin restaurants in the U.S. was the Mandarin Inn Cafe in Chicago, which opened in 1911. I haven't been able to confirm that they served Peking Duck although it seems probably as they specialized in Mandarin cuisine. 

Peking Duck at a Chinese banquet. The Santa Fe New Mexican, March 7, 1920, described a Chinese banquet, mentioning “At these banquets sixteen to twenty courses may be served, the last of which is the Peking duck tucked into a pastry envelope. The proper thing is to pick the pastry up in one’s fingers and the uninitiated westerner provides entertainment for his Peking host by letting the duck and gravy shoot through one of the corners. And if you are not served with Peking duck you may consider yourself intentionally slighted.” This was the only reference I found to Peking Duck being served in a "pastry," although the writer might have been referring to the traditional pancakes. 

More information about how Peking Duck was served and eaten in China was presented in the Chanute Weekly Tribune (KS), December 19, 1924. The author dined at a Chinese restaurant in Peking which specialized in Preking Duck. It was noted that the diners were first taken to a private room where they were brought some dressed ducks for them to choose for dinner. The chosen duck was then roasted in front of an open fire, and “then came the duck, brown and crisp and smoking hot. The servant started slicing off the meat in little slivers which came onto the table in a continuous stream. A saucer was put in the middle of the table and as fast as it was emptied more was slid onto it. We had each been provided with a little stack of pancakes, and the system consisted of holding one of these in your left hand while you reached into the center of the table with your chopsticks and secured three or four of the little pieces of meat and crisp, tender, brown skin, which you placed in a row across one diameter of your little pancake. To this, if you desired, you added a few slivers of green onion, and (if you were rash enough) some minced garlic. Then the pancake was rolled around the filling into a sort of overgrown cigarette and eaten, the end being walloped in a dish of soy sauce, about the consistency of catsup before each bite.”

The article continued, noting a practice which some Americans wouldn't find too appealing. “The last of the duck was signalized by the arrival of the head of the duck, neatly split, so that you could eat the brain and any other tidbit you might be able to extract.” Duck heads might still be provided with some Peking Duck dishes, so you could try it if you were more adventurous.

An article in the Oakland Tribune, February 8, 1927, reported on a planned celebration of Chinese New Year San Francisco. “The grand final feast of garlic-laden dumplings, Canton eels and Peking duck will be spread Tuesday,…” 

After World War II, Mandarin restaurants started to appear across the U.S. with one of the first being The Peking Restaurant in Washington, D.C. in 1947. Peking Duck also started to be mentioned in Boston newspapers during the 1940s, though the articles were about it being served elsewhere, and not in Boston. 

The Boston Globe, March 11, 1942, provided information on restaurants in New York City, including those in Chinatown. The article advised diners in Chinatown to simply tell the cook, with some notice, what you wanted to eat. “Given two days’ notice, he can even provide a Peking duck, which is like no duck anywhere else on earth, its outer surface coming all orange-colored and its inner surface tasting like heaven when the clouds are fluffy.”  Quite a compelling description of Peking Duck which probably intrigued plenty of people to seek out this dish. 

The Boston Globe, May 16, 1948, briefly noted that there were Chinese restaurants in Hawaii that sometimes served Peking Duck.And in Boston Globe, September 30, 1948, there was a brief mention of restaurant in Peking, China, where “Peking duck is broiled over flames which are said not to have been extinguished for more than a century;..”

A lengthier article was in the Boston Globe, October 7, 1948, also describing a restaurant in Peking and the preparation and serving of Peking Duck. It was noted that “The Peking duck certainly deserves the fame it has achieved. The ducks are kept in a dark room and artificially fed until they have reached the right age and plumpness. Then they are broiled over an open fire until the skin is browned and crisp. The duck is then brought in and exhibited before being carved into small pieces. It is eaten in this manner. Small, delicate pancakes are served along with the duck, and the diner places a bit of the duck in the pancake, covers it with a mysterious but magnificent sauce, along with a bit of sweet onion and cucumber and a dab of soy sauce, rolls it up, and eats it with his fingers.” Peking Duck is still eaten in this manner, with bits of skin and flesh inside small pancakes. 

There were a couple more references to Peking Duck being served in New York restaurants. The Boston Globe, April 20, 1951, mentioned that Peking Duck was served at the Shanghai Café, which was run by Charlie Foo. The Boston Globe, March 26, 1952, noted that Peking Duck was served at an uptown café; though it wasn't named. That article also mentioned, “In North China it is considered a delicacy and takes 48 hours to prepare.”

Besides New York, San Francisco was able mentioned as a place for Peking Duck. The Boston Globe, July 28, 1957, described a restaurant called Kan’s; noting that “Peking Duck also takes a day to prepare, mainly because the skin has to be coated with honey and then faced toward a southeast wind. Sometimes, when Kan is becalmed, he has been known to use a Westinghouse fan.” It continued, describing an accompaniment to the duck, different from the usual pancake. “Peking duck is served with thousand layer buns, a lump of white dough that resembles a dumpling or may be a just brown-and-serve roll which has been served before it was browned. A thousand layer bun is supposed to peel into a thousand layers, ..”

Peking Duck is part of Mandarin cuisine, and the first Mandarin restaurant wasn't established in Massachusetts until 1958, when Joyce Chen, opened her first restaurant in Cambridge. Her menu listed  Peking Duck ($10), describing it as “Duck specially prepared and served with Mandarin pancakes, a famous Peking speciality—Order one day in advance.” Besides being the first to serve Peking Duck in this area, Chen was also a pioneer in a number of other respects, such as popularizing the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and coining the term "Peking ravioli." 

Only two years later, another Mandarin restaurant opened in the area, in Medford. The Boston Globe, May 17, 1960, had an ad for Peking on Mystic, at 66 High Street, Medford, which served Mandarin and Shanghai style Chinese food. Perusing their menu, you'll see they served Peking Duck for $9.50, and it had to be ordered in advance. The Boston Globe, April 18, 1969, provided a review of Peking on Mystic, noting that they served Peking duck, which required prior notice, though on weekends, it could usually be prepared with one hour notice.

During the 1970s, several other Boston and Cambridge restaurants started serving Peking Duck. Part of this was fueled by interest in China due to President Nixon's visit to that country. The Boston Globe, January 29, 1971, mentioned that Shanghai Low, at 21 Hudson Street and which opened in October 1970, specialized in the cuisines of Peking, Shanghai and Szechwan. They sold Peking Duck ($12), with one day notice. The Boston Globe, March 24, 1972, had an ad for the China Pearl, which served Peking Duck, with a three day advance notice, and mentioned the President has enjoyed the dish while he was in China.

The Boston Globe, March 10, 1974, reviewed Lucky Garden Restaurant, in Cambridge, and noted it was one of seven locations within a fifty mile radius of Boston where Peking Duck could be found.  And the Boston Globe, November 14, 1974, mentioned that Peking on Fresh Pond, in Cambridge, served Peking Duck ($15.50), with advance notice. 

Today, Peking Duck can be found in Boston’s Chinatown restaurants including China King, Empire Garden, Peach Farm, China Pearl, and New Jumbo Seafood

China King
, owned and operated by Doris Huang (seen in the above video), makes one of the most famed Peking Ducks in the city. I recently interviewed Doris and we discussed her Peking Duck. Prior to the pandemic, they used to sell about 20 Peking Ducks a week, and that number has obviously greatly decreased during the last six months, although the day before the interview, they had sold 5 Peking Ducks. On Thanksgiving, they have sold as many as 50 Peking Ducks, a "Chinese turkey," in a single day.

At China King, their Peking Duck dish is served three ways. First, it's served traditionally, with flour pancakes and hoisin sauce. Second, shredded duck is stir-fried, served with hand-pulled noodles and third, some of the duck served in a soup with tofu and vermicelli. The order will serve four people and costs about $60. A day's notice is required, and maybe even longer near the holidays such as Thanksgiving. Ordering Peking Duck for take-out would also be an excellent way to support Chinatown restaurants. 

Where is your favorite Peking Duck served?

Monday, September 21, 2020

Rant: Candy vs Caramel Apples

With the advent of fall, there are certain seasonal treats which become more readily available, especially items using apples. One of my favorites, which can be found at many local farms, are fresh, cider donuts, and my favorites are from Russell Orchards. Prior to the pandemic, when we used to have local fairs, carnivals, and festivals, you would also find candy and caramel apples, which might be covered with coconut, nuts, colored sprinkles or other items. They are more difficult to find now, but are still available at some shops and farms. 

Most sources claim that red candy apples were invented first, by William Kolb, a candy-maker in Newark, New Jersey around 1908. Sources also claim that caramel apples were first developed by Kraft Foods in the 1950s. Although I found multiple references to "candy apples" in 19th century newspapers, none of the references were specific enough to identify their actual nature. Some of the references almost seemed to indicate they were merely a type of candy, and not what we think of when we think "candy apple."

However, I was able to find multiple, specific and detailed references to candy apples which predated their alleged invention in 1908. The St. Louis Republican (MO), November 5, 1900, published an article about local candy shops that were lowering their prices. It also mentioned that one of the shops had introduced a "Russian delicacy." The article continued, "The new thing was candied apples on a stick. The apples were raw but the candy was red and sticky, and altogether winning." A competing candy store quickly learned how to create these candied apples, and the price dropped from 3 for a nickel, to one penny each, and finally to 2 for a penny. It's now clear then that Kolb wasn't the inventor of red candy apples. 

The Buffalo Evening News, July 19, 1904, provided a recipe for a "candy apple" that stated "place apples pierce with bits of wood (like skewers) where the stems had been. These are placed in a pan and covered with a common brown taffy." This isn't a red candy apple but seems more similar to the caramel apple, as it was covered with a softer coating. 

There was another reference to a red candy apple prior to 1908, in The Times Herald (MI), December 9, 1905, which published an article about the holiday season and mentioned "Red candy apples for the holiday time may be easily made at home by dipping small perfect apples in a bath of hot candy colored a brilliant red." 

Candy apples, with their distinctive red candy shell, are usually made with a flavored boiled sugar recipe, while Caramel apples are covered with melted caramel. There is a huge textural difference between the two, one with a hard outer shell and the other with a gooey exterior. The popularity of each varies across the country, though I've been noticing over the last several years, to my dismay, an increase in the ubiquity of caramel apples locally. 

I love red candy apples, especially covered with coconut. It's often a challenge to take that first crunchy bite into the hard shell, but it's rewarding. With a fresh, crisp apple, the candy, coconut and fruit make for a very appealing treat. For me, the caramel apple fails. I love caramel, from a nice sweet sauce atop ice cream to a salted, gooey center of a dark chocolate. But I don't like its soft gooey texture on a caramel apple. It's too soft, and just doesn't seem complementary to the crisp, juicy apple. Plus, maybe it's also a bit sentimental, as growing up I most often had and enjoyed red candy apples. 

Why has the popularity of red candy apples waned? What is behind the rise of caramel apples? I don't have answers to these questions but I want to be able to more readily find red candy apples.

Do you prefer red candy apples or caramel apples? And why?

Friday, September 18, 2020

New Sampan Article: A Restaurant Review of Việt Citron

The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."

--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I've mentioned previously, I've a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. I've previously written nine articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, Việt Citron: Phở, Bánh Mi & More, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Việt Citron, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Burlington, opened a short time before the pandemic began, and now has reopened, offering take-out, delivery, and patio dining. I've been a regular, eating there about once a week, and I've been impressed with its fresh and delicious Vietnamese cuisine. Pork Belly Bahn Mi, Beef Pho, Chili Lemongrass Ribs, Bo La Lot, and more. Read my review for more details about this excellent new spot, and I hope you'll check them out.

I'm currently working on a new article for the next issue of Sampan, which should be published near the start of October. 

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. For now, some of these events will simply be the opening of certain restaurants, generally ones dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. And I hope everyone dines out safely, and tips well.
1) Puritan & Company’s Chef/Owner Will Gilson and Pastry Chef Brian Mercury have created a space next to the restaurant called Puritan Provisions focusing on grab-and-go foods, takeout orders, pantry goods and homemade staples.

Every Thursday & Friday, 12pm-4pm, and Saturday & Sunday, 10am-4pm, Puritan Provisions will be open next to the restaurant, Puritan & Company. Puritan Provisions will be a gourmet shop offering homemade staple pantry items, grab-and-go breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and pre-made meals to take home and finish off. 

Some of the menus available include:
Grab And Go Breakfast Sandwiches: Bacon Egg and Cheese; Pastrami, Egg and Cheese; Sausage, Egg and Cheese; Broccoli Rabe, Egg, and Cheese
Grab And Go Lunch Sandwiches: Roasted Pork, Broccoli Rabe and Provolone on a Sub Roll; Pastrami, Mushrooms, Swiss and Dill Mayo on Rye; BLT with Miso Mayo on Sourdough; Roast Turkey Apple Onion Chutney, Cheddar and aoli on Seven Grain 
Bake at Home Meals: Eggplant Parm; Zucchini Cakes; BBQ Chicken Thighs; Beef Short Ribs and Polenta Sauces and Dips: Pistachio Pesto; Green Chile Sauce; Truffle Butter; Pimento Cheese; Pea Hummus; Za’Tar Onion Dip; Bluefish Pate 
Pantry Items: Pickles; Jams; Brian Mercury’s Granola; Everything Bagel Crumble; Brian Mercury’s Homemade Ice Cream 

2) Time Out Market Boston announced a new addition to its culinary roster, Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood Chef Carolyn Johnson and Co-Owner Ian Calhoun present a menu showcasing the North Shore’s roast beef sandwich alongside other coastal classics, such as their signature lobster rolls—served either warm with lobster beurre rouge or cold with tarragon and grainy mustard mayo. 

Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood is the fun little sibling to Mooncusser Fish House and we are very excited to keep growing and join the culinary lineup at Time Out Market Boston,” says Chef Carolyn Johnson. “We started Cusser’s Roast Beef and Seafood in 2018 out of a takeout window and are now thrilled to share the concept’s greatest hits at Time Out Market Boston, where guests can experience our very personal take on New England classics from land and sea.” 

I'm a huge fan of their Roast Beef sandwiches so this is big news. Their seafood is also excellent, and I hope you can also find Carolyn's Whoopie Pies there too. Check it out!

3) Union Square Donuts owners Josh and Noah Danoff enthusiastically welcome Sarah Belisle, formerly Wallace, as Head of Culinary Productions. Sarah, most recently General Manager at Magnolia Bakery Boston, brings experience including lengthy stints at Magnolia Bakery in Boston and New York City (where she also worked with Daniel Boulud), and as Pastry Training Manager at Flour Bakery + Cafe.  

Sarah joins Union Square Donuts at a moment of transition. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the shop went dark for two months, forcing co-owner Josh Danoff to consider the challenges facing small businesses (especially food businesses) in a post-pandemic world. A serendipitous meeting with Sarah, led to discussions about the importance of taste memories during stressful times, which led the Danoff brothers to hire Sarah, and jointly elevate the Union Square Donuts’ menu to satisfy the public’s hunger for nostalgic flavors that conjure up kinder, sweeter times.

During the toughest weeks of March, April, I realized I wanted to use the pandemic as a catalyst to further connect Union Square Donuts with the community,” says Josh Danoff. “With Sarah Belisle on board, we’re better positioned than ever to serve up happy memories in every donut. Next level!”

Some of the Union Square Donuts include Peach Pie, filled with golden peaches and topped with buttery pie crust, the Chocolate Caramel Delight, a new twist on the favorite Girl Scout Cookie -- a classic chocolate cake donut topped with toasted coconut, smothered in decadent caramel and drizzled in rich, dark chocolate, and the Caramel Apple Crisp , an apple butter-filled donut dipped in salted caramel and topped with a brown sugar oat streusel.

They have four locations, including: 20 Bow Street in Somerville, 409 Harvard Street in Brookline, Time Out Market Boston in Fenway and Boston Public Market in Downtown/North End. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Epic Oyster: A Fine North Falmouth Seafood Destination

It was a wonderful weekend, spending time and relaxing on a friend's boat in Pocasset, down the Cape. Such serenity and watching the sunset was sublime. There was also home-made Sangria, Margaritas, and a Thirty-Year Old Port. 

Where to dine on Saturday night? Our friends highly recommended Epic Oyster in North Falmouth so that is where we went. The menu intrigued me and I read other positive reviews of the restaurant, so I was excited to go. Owned by Marc and Sarah Warner, it is primarily a seafood restaurant with some Portuguese influences. And if you don't like seafood, there are other options as well, from steak to chicken.  

The building itself is historic, having started as a Tierney dining car in 1922, eventually ending up in Falmouth where it became known as the North Falmouth Diner. Finally, in 2017, the Warners purchased the property, starting Epic Oyster. Marc used to sell wine and also worked at Legal Seafood, while his wife was previously involved in teaching. Both have Portuguese ancestry, and also hired a Portuguese chef for their restaurant.

Currently, the restaurant has a large outside dining area, which wraps around much of the restaurant, and we sat in a booth which was nestled away, providing much privacy and a feeling of safety. During the course of the evening, the restaurant staff seemed cognizant of proper safety precautions, helping to make this a more pleasant and safer experience. 

The menu, which is mostly seafood; has lots of options, without being overwhelming. There were 11 different types of Oysters available, all from Massachusetts, and most from Cape Cod. It was cool to note that many of the listings included the name of the oyster farmer. The menu also has numerous small plates as well as larger entrees, including Poke bowls, Salads, Shellfish Bisque, a Burger, Piri Piri Chicken, Prime Ribeye, Bento Boxes and more. Of course they have Lobster Rolls ($32), including a Warm Truffle Lobster Roll ($39).

There were three Cocktail Specials ($12-$14), and I opted for the Velvet Fist ($14), which was made with Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, natural ginger ale, and blood orange. It was refreshing and tasty, a fine way to start the evening. 

We generally ordered Small Plates, so we could share and experience more of the diversity of the menu. And of course there were plenty of items I'll need to try the next time I visit Epic Oyster. I really want to taste their Shellfish Bisque. 

The Bang Bang Shrimp ($16) includes flash fried shrimp, sweet chili, scallion, and shredded iceberg. Large, plump shrimp with a thin crunchy coating and a delectable sweet chili sauce. The dish was well made, balanced well, and a real winner. 

The "Old School" Spare Ribs ($20), prepared take-out style with house duck sauce and home-made pickles, was another winner. Extremely tender, meaty and with a luscious and compelling sauce. There actually was no need for the side of duck sauce as the sauce already on the ribs was so delicious and didn't need anything extra. And pickles were a nice, crunchy side, with a touch of sour. 

The Stuffed Quahog ($7), which came with drawn butter and lemon, was quite large and very tasty, with plenty of pieces of clam, and a nicely spiced stuffing. A true touch of New England. 

Their Wine list has about 13 choices by the glass ($9-$26) and17 choices by the bottle. You'll find Sparkling, White and Red wines, with plenty of big brands. Prices are generally very reasonable, such as only $59 for Veuve Cliquot, which is essentially its retail price. The Caymus Cabernet is $100, for a liter bottle, which is also about retail. Excellent deals for such wines. 

However, the restaurant also has some wines that aren't listed on their menu, and you would only know that if you had inside information as they don't mention that fact on their menu. Fortunately for me, someone told me about their off-menu wines so I asked about them when I was at the restaurant. I ultimately selected the 2014 Vale de Maria Three Valleys ($60), an excellent Portuguese wine, priced at about twice the usual retail. 

The wine is a field blend of various Portuguese grapes, from 35+ year old vines, and the grapes are foot trodden in traditional lagares. Complex and intriguing, silky and lush, the wine had fresh notes, as well as a touch of age. Delicious and compelling, I give it a hearty recommendation. 

We ordered a Side of the Grilled Chourico & Azorean Pineapple ($12). The pineapple slices were juicy, with a touch of smoke, and the chourico was plump and meaty, with a pleasing taste. The chourico went very well with the wine. 

The Grilled Oysters ($20) are made with a garlic-herb butter and pecorino crumbs, and were another delicious dish. The pecorino crumbs added an extra touch of saltiness to the briny oysters and the sweet and herbal butter. 

The Shrimp Mozambique ($16) was made with Portuguese EVOO, garlic, pepper, cilantro, and whiskey flambé, and came with a couple slices of bread. Again, the shrimp were plump, though this time in a delightful spicy sauce with sliced cherry tomatoes. The sauce was also great for dipping the bread. Of the two shrimp dishes, I give a slight preference to the Bang Bang Shrimp but both are worthy dishes. 

A simple dish was the Lump Crabmeat Cocktail ($18), accompanied by a mustard dressing, but with an ample mound of sweet crab. I asked for a some cocktail sauce, which they quickly brought as I'm not a fan of mustard dressing, though the others with me enjoyed it. 

Finally, we ordered one of the large entrees, the Miso Black Cod Bento ($36), with miso marinated black cod, pickled oyster mushrooms, sushi rice, pickled ginger carrots, and scallions. The black cod was excellent, with a tasty sweet glaze, and that sweetness was balanced by the pickled mushrooms and carrots. 

Service was excellent, and though we had plastic silverware and paper plates, they were all of high quality, sturdy and even visually appealing. The dishes were ample, fresh, delicious and prepared well. Though it isn't an inexpensive restaurant, the prices are reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients, the size of the dishes, and the excellent taste. Wine prices though are very reasonable, and help to make your overall check lower than it might be at other restaurants where wine prices can be as much as three or four times the usual retail price. 

I definitely want to return to Epic Oyster and it earns my hearty recommendation.