Friday, October 15, 2021

A Chinese Restaurant in Mayberry?

The core of the story centered on Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower, raising his son, Opie, assisted by his Aunt Bee, all in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina

The Andy Griffith Show, which aired from 1960-1968, with 249 episodes, is a beloved and iconic comedy series. It always did very well in the ratings and is commonly listed as one of the best TV series ever. It was considered a wholesome show, generally upholding strict moral values. As a child, I watched the series and I’m sure many of my contemporaries did the same. 

However, nowadays, the series receives some criticism as there was almost no diversity in the show. For example, there was only a single black actor, Rockne Tarkington, who had a speaking part on the show and he only appeared in a single episode, as Opie's football coach. A few other black actors and actresses appeared as non-speaking extras, although none of them were listed in the credits.

Thus, I was recently surprised to learn that one of the episodes centered on a Chinese restaurant in Mayberry! I didn’t remember that episode from my childhood, and wouldn’t have imagined such an episode existed. Fortunately, the episode, from 1967, presented a very positive image, which would have reached many households all across the country, helping to break erroneous preconceptions and prejudices against the Chinese. Such positive depictions are absolutely necessary, so let's take a deeper look at this fascinating episode.

The episode, “Aunt Bee’s Restaurant” (Season 7, Episode 21) aired on February 6, 1967. At that time, in the fictional town of Mayberry, there were a few restaurants, primarily diners, including the Mayberry Diner, Bluebird Diner, and Snappy Lunch. There was a more upscale spot, Morelli’s, which was located just outside of Mayberry. All of these restaurants provided basic American fare, and most were relatively inexpensive. 

As the episode began, Andy and his friend, Gomer Pyle, were discussing what they would eat for lunch when Aunt Bee arrived. She mentioned that she might stop by the Spare Ribs Tavern and bring some home for dinner. However, Gomer mentioned that the restaurant had closed the day before, as they couldn’t succeed. 

Aunt Bee commented that Mayberry wasn’t really a spare rib town, which is very curious as North Carolina is well known for its barbecue, including its ribs. Aunt Bee then finished, by stating,  “The restaurant business can be so treacherous.” This was intended to mean the restaurant business was very difficult, and didn't refer to any betrayal or deception. 

Next, Aunt Bee stopped by the Spare Ribs Tavern, to speak to the owner Henry. The signs in the restaurant were interesting, providing insight into their menu. One signs mentioned, “Complete Lunch” including items like beef stew, meat balls, roast beef, roast pork, chicken fried steak, ham & lima beans, and hamburger steak (all priced $1.25-$1.35). The lower part of another sign mentioned Cole Slaw and Homemade Soup. A prominent third sign promoted Barbecued Ribs, To Go, for 85 cents. A fourth sign mentioned hot dogs, pizza, French dips, and chile. Interestingly, the sign also mentioned beer for 25 cents, even though Mayberry was a dry town. 

The Spare Ribs Tavern probably served a menu similar to many of the other existing restaurants in Mayberry, except for possibly the barbecued ribs. So why wasn't it able to compete with the other local restaurants? The tavern had far more variety on their menu than just barbecued ribs.  

Henry wasn’t present so Aunt Bee spoke with Charlie Lee, the chef, and the old her that he planned to return to Pittsburgh to work at Wong Soo’s Canton Palace. Bee was disappointed, as she felt he was an excellent chef, and Charlie then told her that he felt a Chinese restaurant in Mayberry would have been a great idea, a relative gold mine. Charlie began learning how to cook Chinese cuisine when he was 17 years old, and stated he knew how to prepare items like chop suey, chow mein, and egg rolls

However, Charlie noted it would take money, about $400, to renovate the tavern and turn it into a Chinese restaurant. Charlie lacked the needed capital so he needed a partner to invest that money, but he didn't know no one who would do so. As Bee left the restaurant, she found a penny on the floor, and Charlie told her it was her lucky day. 

Later that day, Bee was at home with Andy, and she began to sing “Chinatown, My Chinatown,” a popular song written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz back in 1906. She had already made up her mind to invest in the Chinese restaurant and was slowly trying to tell Andy about it. She asked him, “Everybody likes good wholesome food, don’t they?” This was a clear indication that she considered Chinese cuisine to be “good wholesome food.” She finally then told Andy, who was skeptical of her plans. 

Andy didn’t think she knew anything about running a restaurant, although she claimed it would be like serving a lot of company, although Andy replied that she didn’t serve sub gum to her guests. Andy’s friend, Howard Sprague, showed up at their home and Andy asked for his opinion on Bee’s plans, hoping he would be on Andy’s side. Howard though was a fan of Chinese cuisine, and especially fond of water chestnuts, and thought having a Chinese restaurant in Mayberry would be a good idea. 

Andy remained doubtful but Bee went forward with her investment. So, at least some of the people of Mayberry had some familiarity with Chinese cuisine. Had they visited a Chinese restaurant in another part of North Carolina? That information isn't provided in the episode. However, it's good to see that none of them had a negative image of Chinese cuisine. 

Charlie Lee’s nephew, Jack, arrived in Mayberry to be the waiter in the new Chinese restaurant. He was currently attending the University of North Carolina, studying for a Masters in Psychology. Charlie, Bee and Jack, helped decorated the restaurant, with large Chinese screens, lanterns, and other similar items. 

The Grand Opening of “Aunt Bee’s Canton Palace” was held and the restaurant was packed. One of the guests raved about the Moo Goo Gai Pan, a dish he’d never eaten before. Andy, his girlfriend Helen, Howard, and Gomer, ate together. Howard caught an error on the menu on the name of a chicken dish, Ling Chi Chi, which he ordered along with a bowl of something like a Chinese matzoh ball soup. Andy, Helen and Gomer ordered the $1.95 chow mein dinner, although Gomer was going to get the smaller $1.65 chow mein dinner until Andy mentioned that he was treating. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meal and couldn’t wait to return. Gomer wanted to try their fried rice. 

At the end of the night, when the restaurant was essentially closed, Bee sat down with Andy and friends, and a plate of fortune cookies was brought to the table. Bee was pleased that they had a revenue of $80 (about $633 in today's dollars) for the night, which might mean they had about 40-60 customers that evening. When Bee opened her fortune cookie and read her fortune, she seemed nervous and wouldn't tell anyone what it said, merely claiming it was silly. 

Later that night, she couldn't sleep and sat in the kitchen, looking at her fortune. Andy woke up and saw her in the kitchen. He picked up her fortune from the table and read it, which said, “Beware of new business ventures, they can prove costly.” Bee, who was superstitious, was greatly concerned about the fortune, stating, “The Chinese are very intelligent people." 

The next day, Bee tried to get Charlie to make some changes to his restaurant, from adding more seasoning to the chow mein to expanding the menu to include steaks, chops and spaghetti. Charlie wasn’t happy with such changes and, with Jack, went to speak to Andy. Charlies was worried that the changes would quickly put them out of business. Jack eventually tried to use his knowledge of psychology to convince Bee not to worry about her fortune cookie, but was unsuccessful. Rationally, Bee understood she shouldn't be superstitious, but she couldn't stop her feelings. 

In the end, Jack opted to buy out Bee, giving her back her $400 investment. The Chinese restaurant remained open, although it’s unknown if they changed its name, or at least removed “Aunt Bee’s” from the name. Jack had previously not wanted to buy out Bee's investment, but he got a fortune cookie which helped changed his mind. The restaurant wasn’t mentioned again in the series so its ultimate fate was unknown, although it seemed very popular and likely would have remained in existence. 

Charlie Lee was played by Keye Luke, a native of Guangzhou, China, born on June 18, 1904, but who was raised in Seattle, Washington. His lengthy acting career began in 1934, and some of his roles included “Number One Son” in the Charlie Chan films and Kato in the Green Hornet film serials. He would also play the blind Master Po in the Kung Fu series, as well as Mr. Wing in the Gremlin movies. He was the first Chinese-American contract player signed by RKO, Universal Pictures and MGM. He died of a stroke in 1991. In 2012, he was also the subject of Keye Luke, a short documentary and bio-pic, directed by Timothy Tau, about his early life and career. 

Jack was played by Lloyd Kino (Kinoshita), who was born on May 18, 1919; in Seattle, Washington. He too had a lengthy acting career, appearing in numerous television series during from McHale’s Navy to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (as well as one episode of Kung Fu), as well a number of movies from Mortal Kombat to Godzilla, The Cable Guy to The Last Tycoon. He passed away in 2012. Interestingly, in the Andy Griffith episode, Jack was a college student but the actor was actually 47 years old at that time.

This 1967 Andy Griffith episode depicted Chinese restaurants in a very positive manner, and due to its immense popularity, likely was influential in persuading Americans to dine at such restaurants. With Chinese restaurants receiving so much negative publicity over the years, it's always good to see a more positive depiction. And it's cool to imagine the Canton Palace having a lengthy and successful history in Mayberry.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Greco, one of my favorite spots for Gyros & Loukamades, has opened a new location at Hub Hall next to TD Garden. To celebrate the opening their newest location, Greco is hosting their first Breakfast Gyro Pop Up on October 23 and October 24 from 8am-11am. 

Greco, ownered by Demetri Tsolakis and Stefanos Ougrinis, opened its first location on Newbury Street in 2017. Greco shares all of their tastes of home. Greco is their “meraki,” the need to remember and create. Greco now has three other locations in Boston’s Back Bay, Seaport and Downtown Crossing.

The Breakfast Gyro Pop Up Menu includes: 
--Greek American: two eggs your style, bacon or sausage, ketchup, honey mustard, onion, tomato, French fries ($10)
--Truly Greek Breakfast Gyro: two over easy eggs, pork gyro, feta, tzatziki, onion, tomato, French fries ($12)
--Beefeggy: two over easy eggs, bifteki, spicy feta, onion, tomato, French fries ($12)
--Breakfast Fries: Hand-cut potatoes, feta, pork gyro, fried egg, hot sauce ($8)
--Pumpkin Spiced Frappe: sketo, metreo, glyko +nounou ($5)

2) The 12th Annual Champagne Day is  next Friday, October 22. This is a day to celebrate all things Champagne, from the unique sparkling wine and its history to the region of France that gives it its name. To mark the occasion, retailers, restaurants, bars, clubs, and schools around the world are planning tastings and special events, both in person and virtually. Currently, I haven't seen any special Champagne events being held in the Boston+ area. 

Now more than ever, we know just how special it is to come together with loved ones and friends, and there is no better way to celebrate than by grabbing a glass of Champagne and toasting to brighter days ahead, either in-person or virtually.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Nightshade Noodle Bar: Compelling Vietnamese/French Cuisine in Lynn

Last week, I finally dined at Nightshade Noodle Bar, in Lynn, for the first time. I'd read the raves about it and had been intrigued by their menu. The pandemic certainly delayed plans but I finally made the journey, and now I look forward to returning, to try more of their delicious cuisine and drinks. It's a worthy restaurant destination for their Vietnamese and French influenced menu. 

There's plenty of on-street parking available near the restaurant, and I was actually surprised at how many open spaces there were on a Friday evening. Nightshade has a good sized patio, and they also offer take-out and delivery. There's a medium-sized room for indoor dining, with a bar to the left of the room, high tops to the right, and an open kitchen to the back. It has a comfortable ambiance, and I love the open kitchen concept. To dine inside, you must show proof of vaccination, which is a reasonable request during these times.

The kitchen is headed by Chef Rachel Miller, a Virginia native, who has worked at a variety of restaurants in Boston, including notably as the Chef de Cuisine at Clio. For over two years, she also worked as a private chef and conducted numerous Nightshade Pop Up dinners. In October 2019, she opened Nightshade Noodle Bar, and the last couple years have obviously been difficult due to the pandemic. Not the best time for a new restaurant. 

I want to provide my preliminary thoughts on Nightshade Noodle Bar, and please note that these are based on a single visit. After I dine there more, I'll update my thoughts in an additional article. 

For this visit, I chose to have cocktails rather than wine, although the wine list is interesting and I would like to explore it on future visits. The Drinks menu has 8 special Cocktails, priced $11-$15, with lots of diversity to the type of drinks available, often with an Asian flair.

The Nightshade Mai Tai ($15) is made with Privateer rum, almond, lime, and Vietnamese cinnamon. It's fruity, smooth and easy-drinking, with an intriguing hint of cinnamon, and is much different from the usual Mai Tais you find made with orange and pineapple juices. 

The Moon Rabbit ($12) is made with Tito's vodka, guanabana (also known as soursop), lychee, and lime. Another fruity, but not overly sweet, drink with a pleasing tropical flair.  

They offer a nonalcoholic drink, the Nha Trang Beach ($6), made with shiso, coriander, guanabana, lemon, lemon, and soda. However, you can add Mezcal (+$6), which I did. Another well-balanced, tasty cocktail, with the flavors meshing well with the taste of the Mezcal. 

My favorite of the cocktails was the Saigon Cigar Club ($13), made with bourbon, Thai banana, and black cardamom. What an intriguing and delicious drink, almost like a tropical version of a Manhattan, and the addition of the banana leaf was a cool visual touch. 

The Food Menu has plenty of interesting options, broken down into several different categories. There are Snacks & Bites, 5 choices ($5-$16), from Shrimp Toast ($5) to Chili Crisp Cream Cheese Crab Dip ($16). The Small Plates has 8 choices ($10-$18), from Pho-Smoked Shrimp Cocktail ($14) to Sungold Tomato Salad ($10) and they have two RollsFried Clams or Lobster ($16). There is also Viet-Cajun Seafood, a 1/2 pound of Wild Carolina Shrimp ($16) or Steamers ($12). In addition, there are sections for Noodles, 4 choices ($20-$32), and Rice, 3 choices ($20-$28). Finally, for a splurge, there are a few special Caviar dishes, with options to add caviar to some of the other dishes as well. 

Our server informed us that the menu is generally meant to be shared, and she recommended that we order three dishes per person. It might remind you of a Spanish tapas menu, where you get the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes for dinner. Service was excellent, with our server being personable and attentive. 

From the Snacks & Bites, we ordered the Curried Beef in Betel Leaves ($8), in a sweet chili sauce. This was my first bite of food, and it captivated me from the moment I tasted it. Juicy and flavorful  with a hint of spicy heat accented by the mild sweetness of the sauce. Pure deliciousness, and it boded well for the rest of the meal that was to come. I've had beef in Betel leaves before, but this was certainly the best version I've ever tasted. Highly recommended! 

Also from the Snack & Bites section, we ordered the Grilled Coconut Sticky Rice Pop ($6), topped by a brown butter tamarind pork floss. A well-balanced dish, the flavors worked together harmoniously, nothing over powering the others. The coconut, tamarind and pork each played their role, creating an intriguing and tasty appetizer. 

The Viet-Cajun Steamer Clams ($12) were served in a "super aromatic lemongrass cajun butter", and that butter was compelling, with lots of aromatics and a touch of spicy heat. In general, the clams were very tender and good, except a couple were a bit too gritty. I suspect the Viet-Cajun Shrimp dish would also be quite delicious.  

From the Small Plates, we chose the Kabocha Squash Bot Chien ($12), Vietnamese rice cakes, crispy confit duck tongues, green chili sauce, duck egg, and pickled carrots & daikon. An intriguing and creative dish, which was a fine blend of textures and flavors, all meshing well together. The crispy duck tongues were a nice addition and unless you knew what they were, you probably never would have guessed that they were tongues.  

The Dungeness Crab Fried Rice ($28), housed in a crab shell, is made with black garlic-chili sauce and a ginger scallion vinaigrette. Savory with sweetness from the black garlic and crab meat, this was another compelling dish, and I could have easily eaten this all on my own. The cool presentation also adds to the allure of the dish. Highly recommended. 

The Chicken Curry Noodle Soup ($20) is made with Vadouvan chicken broth, thick tapioca noodles, braised chicken thigh, crispy ginger, thai basil, and coriander. Again, another excellent dish, bursting with flavor, with an amazing broth, tender pieces of shredded chicken, and thick, chewy noodles. You'll be drinking the broth straight from the bowl.

The Homemade Egg Noodles, made with caramelized garlic sauce, peanuts, Thai basil, and chili crisp, comes with either braised mushrooms, shredded beef or both, and we opted for both ($24). A superb dish, with immense flavor, lots of umami, and a great balance of textures and flavors. I would have loved to experience this dish with an umami-rich Kimoto/Yamahai Sake. Highly recommended!  

Overall, we enjoyed an excellent dining experience and the food was stellar, creative and flavorful. I'm eager to return and highly recommend that my readers dine there as well. 

I'll note that a 20% admin fee is added to every check and that money is supposed to be split among the whole team, including the back of the house, to make everything more equitable. "Additional tips to the restaurant are not necessary but are appreciated!"

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

All About Vermont

"All in all, Vermont is a jewel state, small but precious."
--Pearl S. Buck

Do you only visit Vermont in the winter, to ski and engage in other winter sports? Well consider Vermont as a destination for the rest of the year too, spring, summer and fall. Every season has something special to offer.  I've actually visited Vermont far more in the summer than any other season, and even more than I've visited Cape Cod. I've also visited Vermont more than any other New England state. It has a special place in my heart. 

Vermont's a fine destination for food and wine lovers, especially for locally produced products. You can visit farms, farmer's markets, wineries, breweries, distilleries, dairies, cheese makers, and much more. A great starting place for information is Dig In Vermont, to find plenty of interesting places to visit. Plus, while visiting Vermont, be sure to stop at the information booths and stands to pick up more local information and maps.

How much do you know about the drinks industry in Vermont?

The Vermont wine industry is about 36 years old, although the first licensed winery in the state was the North River Winery but they did not make wine from grapes, just assorted fruits and especially apples. It wasn't until 1997 that the first commericial winery that used grapes was established, Snow Farm Vineyards. There are also over 60 beer breweries and brewpub throughout the state, producing some of the country's best beers. In addition, there are at least 20 spirit distilleries in the state. 

Agriculturally, Vermont is a diverse land of numerous artisan farms, producing everything from cheese to Waygu beef, honey to Mangalitsa pork. Vermont is also the leading producer of maple syrup in the country. If you love food, there is so much in Vermont to please and tantalize your palate. 

Currently, I've posted 35 articles on Vermont drinks, food, history & culture, I've also referenced Vermont, generally as a subject, in other articles on my blog. I strongly suspect some of my most recent Vermont experiences will end up on my 2021 Annual Favorite lists. 

To help bring more visibility to Vermont, I've compiled all of the links to my Vermont articles into this single post. It shall be a repository of those articles, listed in chronological order from the newest to oldest, and I'll update it when I write a new article about Vermont. This should be helpful to my readers who want to delve deeper into the compelling state of Vermont. 

Vermont Waygu: Pure Breed, Pure Deliciousness
New Sampan Article: Balut Brings Business to Cavendish Game Birds
Cavendish Game Birds: From Quail to Balut
Vermont Raised Mangalitsa Pigs: Bring On The Lard
Social House: A Culinary Treasure in Manchester, Vermont
Chester, Vermont: Helping Hands & Wine, Cheese, Pies, Candy, Donuts, and More
Shacksbury Whistlepig Lo-Ball: A Delicious Barrel Aged Highball Cider
Backacre Beermakers: A Tasty Sour Golden Ale From Vermont
TasteCamp Vermont: When Life Gives You Apples, Make Cider
TasteCamp Vermont: Maple Syrup Wine & Spirits
TasteCamp Vermont: Distilleries, From WhistlePig to Smugglers' Notch
TasteCamp Vermont: Honey & Barrel-Aged Gin From Caledonia Spirits
TasteCamp Vermont: History, Prohibition & Today
Thirst Boston: Distillers Round Table--Dave Pickerell of WhistlePig
Thirst Boston: Craft Cider--From Orchard to Glass
Rant: Vermont, Hybrids & Respect
TasteCamp 2016: Vermont Bound!
Champlain Orchards Cidery: Heirloom Semi-Dry
Vermont Cheesemakers Festival: The Cheeses & Other Foods
Vermont Cheesemakers Festival: The Beverages
Bangkok Bistro in Burlington, Vermont

Monday, October 11, 2021

Rant: To Buffet, Or Not Buffet, That Is The Question

During the pandemic, once restaurants were permitted to open again, they often had to make changes. One of those changes was the elimination of buffets, especially the all-you-can-eat variety. Such buffets were seen as too dangerous, a health hazard, and justifiably so in many cases. However, some buffets have begun to return, and we shall see whether they succeed or not. Other buffets may never return.

For example, the famed Brazilian churrsasco restaurant, Fogo de Chão, will open at the Burlington Mall on October 12. How will that be received in these times? On the other hand, Prince Pizzeria hasn't restarted their excellent Lunch Buffet, although numerous people have asked for its return. Feng Shui, also in Burlington, hasn't reopened their Chinese/Japanese buffet either. Fuddruckers has reopened their condiment bar, which allows you to choose from a variety of items to top your sandwiches. Maki Maki, in Woburn, has reopened their all-you-can-eat menu, but it's very different than many other buffet options. 

Have you returned to any buffets yet? Are you going to avoid buffets? Should buffets return? Are there any buffets which you feel are especially safe?

I fully understand the potential health concerns about the reopening of buffets. I'm sure some people are torn, loving the general idea of all-you-can-eat buffets but worried about their safety. Some people are willing to go to the buffets, while other may never go to a buffet ever again. Some buffets are enacting measures to make them safer, although such measures may not ensure everyone. 

Since the pandemic, the primary all-you-can-eat buffet I've visited is Maki Maki, in Woburn, because it's very different. There aren't buffet tables where you select what foods you want to scoop onto your dish. In fact, you basically don't get to see the food at all before your order it. Instead, you receive an extensive menu of all the available foods and you tell your server which foods you would like to eat. And once your finish that dish of food, you can order more of the menu until you are full. The food always is served hot and you know no other customer might have interacted with the food. It's a much safer version of a buffet.

This would be a great way for other restaurants to operate their buffets. It could make their customers feel safer, while still providing the benefits of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Why don't more restaurants institute this type of system? It might be a bit more costly, due to greater server interaction, but it might garner more customers as well, which could offset the increased cost.

Have you eaten at Maki Maki, or someplace similar? If so, what are your thoughts on that buffet system?

Friday, October 8, 2021

New Sampan Article: Ganbei! Baijiu Cocktails Are Here

"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

For over a year, I've been contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. It is published in print as well as online, available in both Chinese and English. I've previously written thirty articles for Sampan, and you can find links here

My newest article, Ganbei! Baijiu Cocktails Are Here, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Baijiu, a Chinese spirit with a lengthy history, is the world's most popular spirit although in the U.S., it has a bad reputation with many non-Asians. That reputation is generally based on ignorance of the myriad varieties and flavor profiles of Baijiu. Most Chinese consume Baijiu straight, generally with food, but there is a new movement to use Baijiu in cocktails. And Baijiu cocktails might appeal more to non-Asians in the U.S. Learn more about Baijiu cocktails in the full article. 

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, October 7, 2021

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely and tips well.
1) Croatian Premium Wine Imports is now bringing in wines, from three different wineries, from the Croatian wine region of Istria. These are fascinating wines, from indigenous grapes, and include some amphora wines as well.

Fakin Wines, Motovun: In northern Croatia, the term "fakin" can mean a mischievous person, but in Istria it comes from the Italian “fachin” which refers to a person that carried luggage at a train station. Mirena Bagur's grandfather, in addition to having a small vineyard, was a fachin in Dalmatia,. Their wines being imported include the 2020 Malvasija, 2018 La Prima Malvasija, 2019 Teran and the 2017 Teran Il Primo

Kabola Winery, Buje: The Markežić family is well known for producing high quality wines macerated in amphorae. You can order the 2018 Kabola Amfora Malvazija, 2016 Kabola Amfora Teran, 2020 Kabola Secco and the 2020 Kabola Muškat Momjanski (a dessert wine).

Ritoša Winery, Poreč: Their vineyards are close to the Adriatic and on terra rossa instead of clay, means that the same variety will create a different wine. You can sample the 2019 Ritoša Malvazija Istarska, 2016 Ritoša Teran, 2018 Ritoša Rosé, and the 2018 Ritoša Red Rose Muskat Porečki. This summer, I tasted the 2019 Ritoša Malvazija Istarska, and was thoroughly impressed. Check out my review here as well as for more information about the winery. 

I've haven't tasted any of the other Istrian wines that are now available, but I have previously tasted others and I've enjoyed the grapes and styles Ive encountered. Be palate adventurous!

2) In the same vein, you should be trying Greek wines as well. I've long been a fan of Greek wines, and you can read my many Greek wine articles here. Bostonians are lucky to have killer Greek wine list available at Did you know that Krasi Meze + Wine in the Back Bay. In fact, it has the second largest all Greek wine list in the entire country. Sommelier and Wine Director Evan Turner has grown the wine list to 300 bottles since Krasi opened in February of 2019. 

Evan Turner's wine list at Krasi showcases bottles from PDO areas with a focus on the known grapes of Greece as well as those that are more rare and indigenous. He has been a Sommelier for over three decades and lived in Greece from ages 11-17. He has spent his entire professional career extolling the virtues of Greek wine.

Evan has now launched a Wine Wednesdays series at Krasi that will offer guests exclusive tastings, flights and by the glass pours of Greek wine. Treats, behind the scenes info, and laughter will also be flowing. This is not a stiff and stuffy wine tasting. But it is a really cool opportunity to check out cool grapes like Limniona that date back to more than 3,000 years ago and were written about by Homer and Aristotle - and almost became extinct!

Wine Wednesdays starts at 5:00 p.m. at the Krasi bar and is on a first come, first served basis. Every other week will have a specific theme, with the other weeks being a bit more free flowing. The event is open to the public and the cost varies dependent on what you wish to order, from a single glass of wine to a full wine flight. 

Upcoming themes include: 
October 20: Xinomavro; Tough to Say, Easy to Drink
November 3: Old as Time Itself: The Most Ancient Grapes of Greece
November 17: How Do You Say “Gobble, Gobble” In Greek? Thanksgiving Wines
December 1: It’s Freezing Outside So Lets Drink Wine From Santorini!
December 15: Great Wines For Christmas

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Vermont Waygu: Pure Breed, Pure Deliciousness

For many people, they mainly know that Waygu beef originated in Japan and is expensive. They may also believe some of the myths about Waygu, such as that the cows must be fed beer or sake, and get regular massages. Although that might happen in some isolated cases, there are actually no regulations that mandate such matters. And the vast majority of Waygu cows are never massaged or fed beer or sake. Waygu is also sometimes confused with the term Kobe, which actually refers to a type of Waygu raised in a specific geographical area under strict regulations. 

In August, I traveled to southern Vermont, visiting a few different farms with a couple friends. One of our stops was at the Vermont Waygu Farm at Spring Fork Farm in Springfield. The owner is Dr. Sheila Patinkin, a Vermont native, who spent a significant period of her life working as a pediatrician in Chicago. Around 2006, she returned to Vermont, and purchased the 350-acre, Spring-Rock farm, whose origins extend back to 1790. What would Sheila decide to do with the farm?

In 2006, Sheila also went to visit her cousin in Montana, and he primarily raised Angus cattle. However, he served Sheila some Waygu beef burgers and it was a transformative event. Sheila loved the incredible taste of the Waygu, and that led to her deciding to raise Waygu on her new farm. The farm first needed to be reconstructed and renovated, made ready for her new endeavor, so it wasn't until 2008, that she started raising 20 Waygu calves, and never looked back.

Since then, Sheila has become a mini-expert on Waygu. She stated that many of the other small farmers in Vermont have become mini-experts in their respective fields as well, part of the nature of the artisan operations in Vermont. Sheila also made the significant decision to raise only 100% purebred Waygu, certified by the American Waygu Association, and not the hybrids which are common throughout the U.S. 

I found Sheila to be extremely hospitable, intelligent, down-to-earth, and clearly passionate about her farm and Waygu. Not only did she provide us a fascinating tour of the farm, but she also provided us a delicious Waygu dinner. It was a superb experience, and I also ended up purchasing a variety of Waygu products. 

Let's begin our exploration of this farm with a couple important questions. What exactly is Waygu? And what is its history in the U.S.? 

The term "Waygu" simply translates as "Japanese cow" and refers to four breeds, including the Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu), which constitutes about 90% of all Waygu. There is also the Japanese Brown (Akage Washu), which is called Red Waygu in the U.S. There are also the Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu) and Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankakushu). In the U.S., you'll obviously find primarily Japanese Black with a few Red Wagyu as well. 

Historically, Waygu cattle were originally agricultural draft animals, bred for physical endurance. This breeding led to animals which possessed greater muscular fat, which comprised an important source of available energy for the cattle. As such, Waygu beef has extensive marbling, more fat than other cattle breeds, and this greater marbling makes their meat more unique, more rich and silky.  

Although you might think the higher proportion of fat in Waygu beef is unhealthy, that isn't true at all and it is probably even healthier than other breeds of cattle. For example, the saturated fat in Waygu contains about 40% stearic acid, which does little to raise cholesterol. Wagyu beef also contains a higher proportion to a fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is known to be an anti-carcinogen, an anti-inflammatory, and helped in reducing heart disease and diabetes. Wagyu beef contains more CLA than any other food, and about 30% more than any other cattle breed. So, consuming Waygu is healthier than probably any other type of beef. 

There is some ambiguity as to when and how the first Waygu cattle were exported to the U.S., with differing sources stating the year was 1975 or 1976. One of the more prevalent stories is that four Waygu bulls were brought to the U.S. by Texas cattleman Morris Whitney and an unidentified Japanese investor. These cattle were named Mt. Fuji, Judo, Mazda and Rueshaw, but the endeavor ended as a financial failure, and the cattle were sold. As the U.S. didn't possesse any Waygu females, they needed to crossbreed the Waygu with other cattle breeds like Angus and Holstein. 

About 14 years later, The Pantagraph (IL), May 28, 1991, noted that there were currently about 300 Waygu cattle (all male) in the U.S., mostly in Texas. It was also mentioned that a single Waygu commonly sold for $50K-$100K, and in Japan, their meat sold for an average of $68 per pound. In addition, the article stated that 12 black Wagyu cattle had recently been born from Holstein mothers on a farm in Illinois. 

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), April 6, 1992, reported that no purebreed Wagyu existed in the U.S. There were about 60 Waygu crossbreeds, ranging from ratios of 7/8 to 15/16; as well as several thousand half-breed Waygu. There still weren't any female Waygu in the U.S. but that would soon change.

Everything changed in 1993, when the first female Waygu were permitted to be exported to the U.S. The Des Moines Register (IA), September 12, 1993, reported that 3 purebreed Waygu cows and 2 bulls were delivered to Iowa. The cattle had initially spent several months of quarantine in Japan and then New York, before finally arriving in Iowa. The Waygu were owned by two Japanese investors, under the corporate name of New Era Genetics Limited, who spent two years trying to make this happen. 

There had been multiple previous attempts to import Waygu cows into the U.S. but they all had failed, primarily because they lacked Japanese investors or consultant who would have been able to better cut through the bureaucracy in Japan. So why did these Japanese investors get involved in this endeavor?

One of the two investors owned a restaurant in Japan, and he wanted to raise Waygu in the U.S. as production costs were much lower than in Japan. Japan had also recently lowered their tariffs on imported beef, making Waygu production in the U.S. even more attractive and financially lucrative. Once those tariffs were lowered, beef exports from the U.S. to Japan started increasing. About 42% of the beef that Japan imported came from the U.S. The article also finally noted that there were only about 1500 Waygu in the U.S. which were half-blood or greater. 

The Great Falls Tribune (MT), November 6, 1994, noted that the three purebred Waygu cows had given birth during the summer to the first purebred Waygu born in the U.S. More Waygu cows were soon be imported into the U.S.  For example, the Miami Herald (FL), February 22, 2004, reported on Gary Yamamato, a Texan who owned the BK Ranch and one of world’s largest herds of full-blooded Waygu. In 1999, six years after the first three Waygu cows were imported to the U.S., Yamamato purchased 88 Waygu cows and 12 bulls, as well as hiring a Waygu expert, Shogo Takeda, a Japanese veterinarian.

Sheila started her farm with 20 Waygu but has now become one of the country's top breeders of purebred Waygu cattle. She conducts a very scientific approach to raising the Waygu, undoubtedly due to her prior medical training, which "...uses live ultrasound results, DNA information, and phenotypic growth data to make in-time decisions that prioritize the health of the mother and calf. Our on-farm lab,..., gathers statistics on, steer frame size, hip height, rump fat thickness, birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, average daily weight gain, basic marbling scores, all to ensure a best-of-the-best breeding program generation after generation.

All this is done to protect the health of her Waygu as well as to improve each new generation. In addition, Sheila sells some of her cattle at auction, so all of the genetic and medical information she obtains helps in that regard. Although Sheila has previously owned over 500 Waygu cattle, she presently owns about 260 breeding cows, although she will selling about 65 in the near future at a live auction.

Sheila held her first cattle auction in 2018, and stated that her farm is actually best known for its livestock, not its beef. At her next auction, which will be held live and online on October 23, she will sell off about 65 cows and 15 bulls. Check out the Auction Catalog and you'll see the extensive and comprehensive information that Sheila has gathered on each of her Waygu. When Sheila states her farm is "data-driven," the auction catalog gives you a great insight into what they entails.  
The Waygu cattle are raised naturally, without antibiotics or hormones, and there's about 1-2 acres of pasture for each cow-calf pair. A special Waygu feed is given to the calves, which constitutes about 70% roughage and 30% grain. One of the most important aspects of raising the Waygu is to present them with a low stress environment, as low stress leads to better marbling. Fortunately, Waygu have a good temperament and calve easily, making raising them easier. Although Red Wagyu technically make better cows, their marbling isn't as good. 

The Waygu are raised for about 25-30 months before they are slaughtered. At that point, they typically weigh around 1400 pounds, having gained about 1.7 pounds per day. That will yield an 850 pound carcass, and about half the meat will end up as ground burger. Their breeding Waygu live long lives, and they still have a few from back in 2007, making them about fourteen years old. Sheila also mentioned that it's more expensive to raise Waygu in Vermont rather than places like Texas and Iowa. 

Prior to Covid, Sheila sold about 95% of her Waygu beef to restaurants, but just prior to the pandemic, she instituted an e-commerce site, with the help of two of her children, making the meat available to consumers, and that greatly helped when all the restaurants had to close. Now, about 80% of her business is through e-commerce and only 20% for restaurants and food service. 

Through her e-commerce site, Sheila offers a wide variety of Waygu meats and she ships all across the U.S. You'll find plenty of typical cuts of beef, from New York Strip to Ribeye, as well as some of which you might not be familiar, like Coulotte and Denver Chuck. The cuts generally come in several different sizes, and everything ships in vacuum sealed packages. Waygu is more expensive than other beef, but it's worth the extra cost. And for those in Massachusetts, the base shipping cost is only $14.99, which is very reasonable. 


I got a glimpse inside her refrigerated storage area, which was packed with Waygu beef, separated by specific cuts and types. Some of the boxes and containers were empty, as she was out of stock of those particular meats. There was also a section of Misfits, meat that didn't meet her aesthetic standards, which Sheila wouldn't sell because she only wants to sell quality Waygu. As Sheila said, "You have to be the best of the best." 

In the future, Sheila wants to acquire more cattle, to increase her supply, as her meats sell out quickly. She can't currently meet all the demands for her products. After tasting a number of her Waygu products I fully understand why they sell out so fast. I've already eaten nearly all of the Waygu products I purchased, and I'm ready to buy more.

Her Waygu beef has won numerous awards as well at various competitions.

After our tour, Sheila provided us a special Waygu beef dinner, including several different cuts and types of beef. We first began with a cheese and meat platter, which contained a phenomenal Bresaola, made from Sheila's Waygu, from bottom round. Bresaola is basically an air-dried, salted beef that is also aged for 2-3 months. This Bresaola possessed such an alluring aroma, and was tender and flavorful, with nutty notes. What a compelling product and could be one of the best Bresaola that I've ever eaten. 

The Bresaola was produced by Oliver Perkins, of A Small Good, in Rockport, Maine, as part of an experiment, to determine whether Sheila would like more produced so she could sell it. Perkins makes "salumi with terroir," using wild fermentation, and they are the only facility in the U.S. doing so. Perkins also uses many local ingredients to craft his salumi, such as northern spice bush which he uses to spice his Bresaola. I think this experiment was a smashing success as that Bresaola was amazing, and it makes me want to seek out more of Perkin's products.

For the main course, there were a variety of different Waygu cuts and types, including Ribeye, Denver Chuck, and A5 Kobe (not from her farm). You can see all the compelling marbling in the Waygu. We certainly weren't expecting such an amazing dinner, but it was a very generous treat.

As Sheila prepared the rest of the dinner, we cooked the meat on the grill. As Sheila has said, cooking Waygu can be very simple, just adding a bit of salt and pepper and then cooking the meat on the grill. She wants the meat to speak for itself, and not be concealed beneath any sauce. You just need to be careful not to overcook the meat, so timing on the grill, oven or stovetop, is very important.

I was very pleased with how the Waygu was cooked on the grill, and it was an intriguing comparison test to assess the different cuts and types. We were disappointed with the A5 Kobe, as it just wasn't as tender and flavorful as it should have been, and didn't compare to previous such samples I've tasted. However, the other cuts were all delicious, tender and very flavorful. I had brought some wine and we had a fine feast, with great conversation as well. 

My favorite was the Denver Chuck, a cut that is lesser known but worthy of more recognition. It comes from the shoulder, and is commonly well-marbled and tender, with a rich, meat flavor. A skilled butcher is required to obtain the Denver cut, which is one reason why this cut isn't as well known. When it is available though, it is commonly less expensive than other cuts, making it an excellent value too. It is a fine steak for the grill, and only needs salt and pepper.

In the weeks that followed my visit to the farm, I've enjoyed several Waygu products that I purchased there. I got a package of two 8-ounce Waygu Burgers, and prepared them simply, without any cheese or other toppings, to experience the ground beef. And it was quite juicy and tender, with lots of meaty flavor. An excellent burger which possessed greater flavor than many other regular beef burgers.

The Waygu Smoked Beef Chorizo was amazing! First, it too was juicy and tender, with a meaty flavor enhanced by the spices. There was a pleasing spicy heat to the Chorizo and they were juicier than many other Chorizo I've previously eaten. I highly recommend these Chorizo and I'll definitely pick up more in the near future.

The Waygu Smoked Beef Kielbasa were also juicy and tender, a commonality to these Waygu products. They definitely taste like a finely made kielbasa.

The Waygu Flat Iron is a less expensive cut, which sometimes can be tough, but that wasn't the case with this steak. We cooked it simply on the grill and it was tender and juicy, with plenty of flavor. It was thin so didn't take long to cook on the grill. 

Most recently, I had some more of the Denver Chuck, with Shitake mushrooms, which was nicely marbled, tender and flavorful with a rich, silky mouthfeel. For a lower cost cut, this packs an excellent value and is highly recommended.

Rather than purchase cheap, factory-farm beef, a better option would be to purchase locally grown beef, raised on small, artisan farms, like the Vermont Waygu Farm. Sheila raises purebred Waygu cattle, a rarity in the U.S., and does so both naturally and with a strong scientific foundation. She sells a wide variety of Waygu cuts and products, and they possess great flavor, much better than some of the beef you find at the chain grocery stores. Yes, they are more expensive, but you are paying for the high quality and taste of the beef, and they are certainly worth the price. It's easy to order the Waygu online, and I strongly encourage you to give it a try.