Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Committee Ouzeri + Bar: Greek Brunch & New Cocktails

Delicious Greek cuisine, a killer Greek wine list, unique Greek spirits, an inventive cocktail program, and the quality is consistently high. These are some of the reasons why Committee Ouzeri + Bar is one of my favorite restaurants, a place of which I give my highest recommendation. 

They are celebrating their 6th Anniversary this month, and I was invited as a media guest to Brunch this past weekend, as well as to check out some of their newest cocktails, which are based on Greek spirits.

Brunch is offered at Committee on both Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-3pm. Their Brunch Menu offers some Greek variations of popular brunch items, from Tsoureki Toast (Greek French Toast) to Spanakopita Grilled Cheese. You'll also find some of their regular dishes, from Souvlaki to Zucchini Crisps. Prices are reasonable considering the quality and quantity of food. The restaurant was very busy on the day I was there, both inside and on their outside patio. 

They have a full Drinks menu too, including Beer, Wine, and Cocktails, as well as non-alcoholic choices, from a variety of fresh squeezed juices to coffee. Their Seasonal Juice was a blend of pineapple and cranberry juices, which was quite tasty and refreshing, the cranberry helping to mute some of the usual sweetness of the pineapple. 

Recently, Beverage Manager Lou Charbonneau and his team created the Summer in Greece cocktail series, intended to showcase some of the lesser known Greek spirits such as retsina, ouzo, tsipouro, mastiha and Stray Dog Wild Gin. They created four new cocktails, which will be available throughout the summer, until Labor Day. I sampled two of those cocktails and was impressed, finding both to be delicious, well-balanced and harmoniously composed.

The Ultra Crushable Retsina Cocktail is composed of Retsina, Stray Dog Wild Gin, Mt. Olympus Flower Tea, and Lime. The Stray Dog Wild Gin is an excellent Greek gin, where the juniper isn't dominant but you'll be delighted by an intriguing melange of mountain botanicals. I need to get myself a bottle to experiment with it at home. 

A cocktail with Retsina? Although Retsina has a bad reputation with many people, there are plenty of Greek producers who are now making delicious versions of Retsina, not at all like some of the Pine-Sol examples of the past. This cocktail was well balanced, tasty and refreshing, with subtle pine notes beside a dominant herbal melange, mild tea notes, and a touch of sour from the limes. A fine summer cocktail and don't let the fact that it is made with Restina prevent you from ordering one. Give it a chance and I strongly suspect you'll enjoy it very much. 

The Frozen Mastjito is a frozen Mastiha Mojito. Mastiha is an aromatic resin, known as mastic, from the mastiha tree and grown on the island of Chios, especially in the southern regions. The resin is also sometimes called Arabic Gum and Tears of Chios. The sap from the tree is it softens into a gum which may taste initially bitter but then acquires a pine/cedar taste. The ancient Greeks chewed this mastic gum to aid digestion and Chian wine were also highly prized during that period. Nowadays, it is considered a local tradition that Masticha, chilled or on ice, should be served with dessert or coffee.

Again, this was a tasty, refreshing and well-balanced cocktail. It possessed a noticeable and pleasant herbal taste from the mastiha, a hint of mint, and both enhanced by notes of melon. It wasn't overly sweet, and it was frozen, an alcoholic slush that is again a perfect summer cocktail. 

Lou Charbonneau and his team have created a couple delicious and fascinating cocktails, showcasing the versatility of Greek spirits in cocktails. Their other two new cocktails include the Hermes Wallbangeropolis (Ouzo, Vyssino, Mango, Orange, Lime) and the Tiki...Poso S'Agapo (Tsipouro, Metaxa, Baklava Orgeat, Pineapple). Baklava Orgeat?!! Yes, I have to return to check out these other cocktails.

The Feta ($14), an ample chunk, was fried, sesame encrusted, and drizzled with Greek honey, as well as accompanied by a plate of slices of pita bread. I love this dish, such a nice blend of salty, sweet and nutty flavors. Just smear some atop pita and enjoy. It's an excellent snack if you're just going to have some wine or cocktails, or a tasty appetizer before your entree. 

The Greek Yogurt Pancakes (half-order, $16) are topped by a sour cherry vyssino, honey, toasted almonds, and fresh berries. You receive three good-sized pancakes, and it's large enough to share. The pancakes were light and fluffy, just how I best enjoy them, and the toppings presented a nice blend of sour, sweet, and nutty flavors, with a variety of textures as well. I'd enjoy these pancakes simply slathered with butter, but the toppings certainly make it more of a meal. 

The Breakfast Gyro ($14) is amply stuffed with scrambled eggs, grilled Halloumi, and loukaniko, wrapped in a pita, and served with crispy home fries. It was accompanied by a Florina pepper coulis, a spicy sauce you could pour over the contents of the gyro. A hearty dish, made more unique by the addition of the halloumi, and its squeaky texture, and the spices of the loukaniko. The coulis was delicious as well, giving it a kick like tabasco but more depth. And the home fries were nicely crispy, also like a home-made French fry. 

The Loukaniko Hash ($16) presents 3 sunny-side up eggs, atop a pork and leek sausage, butternut squash, celery root, and spinach, with a side of sourdough toast. A fine hash, enhanced by the yolks of the eggs. 

Committee remains consistently excellent, a great showcase for Greek cuisine, wine, and spirits. Their new cocktails, which use Greek spirits, are creative and delicious, and just right for the summer. Go visit their patio, enjoy the weather, try a couple of their new cocktails and enjoy some of their cuisine. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

An Early History of Slade's Barbecue: “A Living Monument"

Slade’s Bar & Grill (once known as Slade’s Barbecue) is an institution in Roxbury, and it has existed for over 90 years, introducing North Carolina barbecue to Boston. A recent Boston Globe article, by Devra First, about Slade’s Bar & Grill intrigued me, and I strongly encourage you to read that article first and then return to this one. 

I decided to delve deeper into the history of this pioneering restaurant, which was founded by Renner Slade. During my research, I leaned even more fascinating information about Slade's Barbecue, including that it is even older than it claims.

Even though Slade’s website states the restaurant began in 1935, there are a number of sources that indicate the restaurant actually started in 1928, seven years earlier. However, the roots of the restaurant also allegedly extend back a few generations to North Carolina, to the great-grandfather of Renner Slade.

According to folklore, the origins of Slade’s Barbecue were spawned in pre-Civil War North Carolina. The Boston Traveler, December 9, 1959, related the story that the enslaved Benjamin Slade chose to celebrate his 41st birthday by preparing a “gigantic barbecue for himself and his friends in a secluded glade in the woods near where he lived.” This gathering was apparently a secret, meant to be hidden from the slave owners. 

The article continued, “The food was what he and his friends could collect, and Benjamin served it with a special seasoning of herbs he had gathered.” However, they were discovered at their barbecue by a group which probably included the owner of Benjamin. Rather than punish Benjamin, it was said that his barbecue food was so impressive that Benjamin was relieved of his duties as a general worker and made a cook. He would then prepare barbecue for numerous social and political gatherings.

The Greensboro Daily News (NC), January 20, 1960, also added that, “Part of the folklore is that Slade had been a slave and won his independence because of the gratitude his master had for many wonderful barbecue feasts.” The Boston Traveler article didn't allege that Slade had been freed due to his culinary skills.

Both the Boston Traveler, March 23, 1956, and the News and Observer (NC), January 31, 1960, mentioned that Benjamin Slade was the great-grandfather of Renner Slade, who would found Slade’s Barbecue Restaurant. Those articles also claimed that Benjamin had first introduced barbecue to North Carolina (a claim which many dispute).

Benjamin’s cooking secrets were said to have been passed down through his family, and many of those recipes have remained unchanged throughout the generations. According to the Boston Herald, August 20, 1945, both the grandfather and father of Renner Slade operated barbecue restaurants in North Carolina. However, I haven't been able to otherwise confirm the veracity of this claim and no other source made this claim. 

Renner Slade was born around 1881 and the Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, claimed that “Mr. Slade’s desire to be a chef and his own boss, started ‘way back when he was a child and saw a man in a white cap making hot cakes in a restaurant window.” Slade thought about that image all his life, wanting to be like this cook, but he wanted to produce meat rather than hot cakes. This would seem to refute that his father and grandfather operated barbecue restaurants, as you would have expected Renner's inspiration to have derived from those restaurants. 

A different origin tale was related in the Boston Traveler, December 9, 1959. First, it indicated that Renner had been taught to cook by his sister. Second, it claimed that as a young boy, a number of people in his home town, including family members, died of “black draught” which Renner thought was malnutrition, and that better nutrition might have saved them. 

It was also alleged that Renner had worked in hotels and restaurants throughout the country, which would have been prior to his soap business days. However, this was the only reference to indicate Renner had worked as a cook prior to when he came to Boston. 

The confusion likely resulted because there was another Renner Slade during this time period, who also was a black chef, and started working in resorts and restaurants in New York. In 1928, this Slade eventually moved to Pennsylvania, taking a job at the Central Hotel in Hanover, PA, and his wife also worked there as a pastry chef. 

The earliest documented reference I found to Renner Slade was in the Connellsville Daily Courier (PA), November 14, 1907, in a wedding notice. On November 12, Renner Slade of Connellsville married Daisie Mae Young, and they planned to reside at 234 Main Street in Connellsville.

The next references to Renner would not be until 1920 and 1921, detailing his establishment of the Renner-Slade Soap & Chemical Co. in Pennsylvania. At some point before 1920, Renner had moved from North Carolina to Uniontown, PA. Why did Renner, if he had worked in various restaurants, decide to shift gears so drastically to run a soap business? I wasn't able to find any information about why Renner decided to establish this soap business. 

The Renner-Slade company was incorporated in Delaware by Renner Slade, Daisy Mae Slade, and Henry Brown. Renner acted as the President and General Manager. They produced about 15 different types of soaps, including Laundry Soap, Toilet Soap, Liquid Soap and Shampoo, Automobile Soap, Paint Cleaning Soap, and Soap Powders.

As an aside, it appeared Daisy Mae worked at least part-time as a writer. She penned an article in the St. Louis Clarion (MO), April 2, 1921, about a speech given by Col. Roscoe Conkling Simmons at the Uniontown High School. Simmons was a journalist and orator, currently working for The Chicago Defender, a black weekly newspaper. He was also the nephew of Booker T. Washington.  

The subject of his speech, was Under Which Flag, which Daisy Mae stated was the “finest address ever heard in our city.” The speech included a eulogy of Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington. Plus, while Simmons was in the city, he was a guest at the Slade's home.

Renner-Slade Soap ran into some serious legal problems in 1924. The Daily Courier (PA), August 8, 1924, reported on a judgment in a lawsuit against Renner-Slade Soap Co., and their property and factory on Feathers Avenue, Uniontown, was seized and taken. Despite this serious setback, it appears Slade continued, at least on a partial basis, in the business.

The Uniontown Morning Herald (PA), April 1, 1925, published an advertisement for “Slade’s Magic Cleanser” which was said to be “Absolutely harmless on the best painted walls, pictures, enameled woodwork, tile or brick." Interested parties were asked to contact Renner Slade at Box 1202, Uniontown, PA. Was he just selling off prior products? Or was he producing them at another location?

The Boston Traveler, December 9, 1959, claimed that a fire destroyed his soap business but no other reference confirmed this claim. The lawsuit, which seized his factory, was obviously a significant factor in the downfall of the soap business.

Within the next few years, Renner Slade decided to get out of the soap business, and moved from Pennsylvania to Boston, MA in 1928. In addition, at some point before 1928, Renner’s marriage to Daisie Mae ended, and he remarried a woman named Anna Burnette. I’ll also note that they eventually had two daughters, Donessa (born August 27, 1934) and Anne (born around 1937).

It was in 1928, not 1935, that Renner Slade opened his first barbecue restaurant. The Boston Traveler, December 9, 1959, mentioned that when Renner Slade first came to Boston, in 1928, barbecue was largely unknown in this region. So, with a starting capital of $700, Slade opened a barbecue restaurant. “His first restaurant was on the first floor of a building on Warwick St., Roxbury, around the corner from the present location.” Renner would cook chickens in the window, leaving it open so the aroma would entice people. The restaurant only had two tables, and some customers would stand outside or sit on the sidewalk to enjoy their barbecue.

In addition, the Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, indicated that Slade, and his wife, opened their first restaurant at a small location on Hammond Street, in Roxbury, which could seat about 20 people. Warwick intersects Hammond, so his first restaurant was likely at this intersection. Within two months, “Boston discovered him and barbecue chicken became the fad.”

Soon enough, to expand, they tore down a wall to the house next door, and then could seat 100 people. And about nine months later, they moved to a spot on the corner of Hammond and Tremont Streets, at 958 Tremont, where the restaurant has stood ever since.

There was a brief mention in the Wyandotte Echo (KS), August 19, 1932, of a dinner held at Slade’s Barbecue on Tremont Street. 

The Boston Herald, June 24, 1933, printed an ad for Slade’s Barbecue, stating; “Delicious food at a moderate price. Our coffee is freshly brewed every few minutes.” The restaurant was also said to be open nightly until 2:30 am 

The Boston Globe, November 13, 1934, reported that Renner Slade purchased real estate at 21 Hollander Street, in the Elm Hill section of Roxbury. The estate included a frame house and 3300 square feet of land, which was assessed at $8500.

As of March 1935, Renner Slade owned three barbecue restaurants, and he was already being referred to as the “Barbecue King.” Renner’s second restaurant, located across the street from his spot on 958 Tremont, was intended to handle the crowds that couldn’t fit into his main restaurant. Renner then decided to open a third spot on Columbus Avenue. At this time, Renner employed about 100 people, nearly all who were black. In 1936, Slade apparently established a Slade’s Barbecue at 217 Neck Street, North Weymouth..

The Tribune Independent (MI), March 23, 1935, stated Renner had a record of selling 60,000 barbecued chicken dinners. 

Interestingly, around 1935, Renner’s clientele was 80% white, and that percentage only grew, so that by 1940, the clientele was said to be 98% white. This likely didn’t change significantly until the 1950s and 1960s, when the black population in Roxbury experienced a great boom in growth. In the Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, an article alleged, “Residents of Roxbury give Slade credit for starting to bring large numbers of white patrons to this section to eat and spend their money where it would help his race. Nearly all of Slade's employees were black. 

When Prohibition ended in December 1933, Renner Slade began applying for liquor licenses, at least as far back as November 1935, and maybe earlier. 

In a 1938 catalog by Republic Steel, there was information about food service equipment by Enduro, which possessed a metallic, silvery lustre. Enduro equipment was used in Slade’s Barbecue, including for a steam table, hood over the steam table, urn stand table top, and back paneling (which is pictured above).

Slade’s Barbecue saw even more growth during the next four years, but it would become a case of too much, too soon. The Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, mentioned that Renner opened a fourth restaurant, a more deluxe spot in the Back Bay. Plus, Renner acquired a chicken ranch in Abington, which possessed modern AC equipment and had a capacity for 25,000 chickens. Each week, this farm produced about 4500 4-pound broilers for his restaurants! He also acquired a “truck farm,” adjacent to the chicken farm, which produced vegetables for his restaurant.

As an aside, the Boston Traveler, December 9, 1959, reported that Slade had been mentioned in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not column for being a restaurant owner competing against himself, owning   four restaurants, which all served essentially the same food.

Slade admitted in the Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, that he had expanded too rapidly, which led him to selling nearly everything but his main restaurant on Tremont. At that remaining restaurant, he employed over 50 people, including 4 bartenders and 7 chefs. Selling his other properties turned out to be profitable, as Renner now claimed that his main restaurant made a greater profit than he had seen from all four of his restaurants before. 

Slade said, “...that it was Boston’s cosmopolitan air and its appreciation of good cooking that built his success in a business that is worth one half million dollars today.” In today's dollars, that would equate to about 9.6 Million. Quite a successful business. 

Renner also stated that he knew 80% of his patrons by name, especially as he often spent time sitting and chatting with them at the restaurant. Besides the restaurant, Renner still did some catering, including some large-scale events. At a 20th anniversary celebration in Vermont, he barbecued two steers, weighing 1700 pounds, and 12 lambs. For a century celebration in Connellsville, PA, Renner served about 10,000 people, delivering “every known variety of barbecued meats.”

The Boston Traveler, December 9, 1959, also referenced the Vermont barbecue, held in Morrisville, but stated it was an ox-roast, maybe the first in modern history in the area. About 5,000 people sat through a drizzling rain to enjoy the two oxen.

The Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, continued in their article and mentioned some of the other employees of Slade’s Barbecue, such as Conwell Florence, the general manager and Slade’s right hand man. Elwyn Barrows was a “Well known organist and pianist takes care of the entertainment nightly at the café.” And Thomas Brown was the “courteous head waiter.

Renner Slade was called “Boston’s King of Barbecue,” famous for his barbecue chicken and meats, which were flavored with a special sauce. The article concluded that Slade’s Barbecue was “A living monument to a genius who discovered what people liked to eat…and gave it to them.”

A brief ad in the Boston Herald, January 21, 1943.

The Wellesley News, April 8, 1944, printed the above ad, noted it had existed since 1928.  

Unfortunately, Renner Slade, age 64, passed away in August 1945, but the restaurant would stay in the Slade family for a time, eventually becoming owned by Donessa Slade, Renner’s daughter, and managed by her husband, Earl Coblyn. 

During the second half of the 1950s, there were several brief mentions of Slade's Barbecue. The Boston Traveler, March 23, 1956, mentioned that it still “presents barbecue at its best.” A writer in the Boston American, March 2, 1958, mentioned that he was surprised to learn that the jukebox at Slade’s Barbecue had an old hit from 1939, Bill Kenny’s Ink Spots “If I Didn’t Care.” Many other jukeboxes during this period contained only the most recent hits, so it was unusual to find a jukebox with a twenty-year old hit. 

A brief mention in the Boston American, December 27, 1959, stated that Slade’s Barbecue was celebrating their 31st anniversary, which is again evidence that the restaurant opened in 1928. There was a small ad in the Boston American, January 19, 1960, noting Slade’s Barbecue sold “Mouth-Watering Chicken” and was open from 9am-3am.

The Greensboro Daily News (NC), January 20, 1960, in referencing Slade’s Barbecue, wrote that “For patrician Boston knows the delights of Eastern North Carolina barbecue. The pleasure has been Boston’s for five generations or more.” It also wrote, “Slade’s restaurant, 958 Tremont Street, Boston, has that indefinable something which characterizes Goldsboro barbecue.” High praise from a bastion of barbecue. 

A curious coincidence? The Boston Daily Record, December 14, 1960, discussed a new Western television show, Shotgun Slade. Slade’s grandfather was Benjamin Slade, the successful owner of a chicken barbecue restaurant. However, Slade (no first name every provided) wasn’t interested in working at the restaurant, so he ended up as a private detective. Did the creators of his western derive inspiration from the story of Slade’s Barbecue, Renner Slade, and his ancestor, Benjamin Slade?

We'll end with an amusing and cute story. The Boston American, April 3, 1961, reported on a story about Chickie, a 3-month old cat, owned by Amy Robertson, the 7 year old daughter of Irving Robertson, a co-owner of Slade’s Barbecue. 

One day, a vending machine service man loaded up the cigarette dispenser at Slade’s, and somehow Chickie snuck into the dispenser. During the next two days, people could hear cat cries but no one could locate the source. When Irving went to get a pack of cigarettes, he heard the kitten inside and realized what had happened. The kitten, unharmed, was safely removed from the machine. 

Slade's Barbecue, now Slade’s Bar & Grill, has a fascinating history, although more in-depth research might be able to uncover even more details. I'll end by returning to a compelling quote from the Pittsburgh Courier (PA), December 16, 1939, “A living monument to a genius who discovered what people liked to eat…and gave it to them.” 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Rant: Not All Wines Need Special Days

Last Friday, June 25, was National Croatian Wine Day. This was the first official celebration, and the date has special meaning for Croatia as it was also the 30th Anniversary of Croatia's declaration of independence. In 1991, Croatia declared its independence from the Republic of Yugoslavia.

I attended two online Croatian wine tastings for the Wine Day, sampling five different Croatian wines, including a Malvasia Istriana, Pošip, Plavac Mali, and two Plavac Mali Rosés. Tasty wines that are unfamiliar to many Americans. It makes sense that Croatian wines need their own special wine day, to increase awareness, to expose more consumers to these delicious wines. They are currently a niche wine  and need greater recognition. 

The basic idea behind wine days is to promote a specific grape or wine. However, are all such days necessary and beneficial, or are some merely marketing ploys? 

To me, not all grapes and wines actually need their own Wine Day. Those which are already well known, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. don't need additional promotion. Their wine days become more of a marketing effort to sell specific wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is already a very popular grape so why does it really need its own special day? What does it really accomplish which warrants holding a special day of promotion? 

There are plenty of under appreciated grapes and wines, such as Assyrtiko or Sherry, which would benefit much more from their own special day rather than Cabernet. They need the publicity, to boost their sales and recognition. But many fewer wineries would support days promoting those under appreciated grapes and wines. Cabernet Sauvignon Day can draw in many more wineries, from all over the world. Thus, it is much easier, and profitable, to market Cabernet Day rather than Pinotage Day.

I would much rather see days celebrating the wine underdogs, helping to gain them recognition and new fans. I want people to broaden their palates, and taste new grapes and wines. Niche grapes and wines can benefit immensely from greater exposure. So, we need more wine days like National Croatian Wine Day. 

So rather than another Chardonnay Day, let us see Xynomavro Day or Madeira Day. What do you think?

Friday, June 25, 2021

New Sampan Article: Dr. Ensang Cheng: Boston’s First Chinese Licensed Physician

"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 twenty-five articles for Sampan, including:

My newest article, Dr. Ensang Cheng: Boston's First Chinese Licensed Physician, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. In New England, Ensang Waniella Cheng became the first male Chinese to graduate from Harvard Medical school, and was the only licensed Chinese doctor in New England for about the first half of the 20th century. He also started the first free Chinese public library in New England. He was very popular throughout his life, despite several legal entanglements which plagued him during his career.

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, June 24, 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.
Committee Ouzeri + Bar, one of my favorite restaurants, is celebrating their 6th Anniversary this month. Such delicious Greek cuisine, a killer Greek wine list, unique Greek spirits, and an inventive cocktail program. Their patio in the summer is usually jam-packed, with plenty of people enjoying this fine restaurant. 

To celebrate their anniversary, as well as the advent of summer, and the launch of the Summer in Greece cocktail series, Committee is hosting the Summer in Greece Patio Party this Sunday, June 27 from Noon-4PM. The Patio Party is open to the public, will have a cash bar, and the full menu is available. In addition, there will be complimentary passed meze, Greek music and more. 

Beverage Manager Lou Charbonneau and his team are taking the Committee cocktail experience to the next level. The Summer in Greece cocktail series showcases some of the lesser known Greek spirits such as retsina, ouzo, tsipouro, mastiha and Stray Dog WIld Gin, in four new cocktails from now until Labor Day. 

The fascinating Cocktails include:
--First Ever Ultra Crushable Retsina Cocktail (Retsina, Stray Dog Wild Gin, Mt. Olympus Flower Tea, Lime)
--Hermes Wallbangeropolis (Ouzo, Vyssino, Mango, Orange, Lime), a Harvey Wallbanger riff with vyssino sour cherry and mango)
--Tiki...Poso S'Agapo (Tsipouro, Metaxa, Baklava Orgeat, Pineapple, Success)
--Frozen Mastjito (A frozen Mastiha Mojito to embrace Greece, because everyone has done froze)

I'll be checking out those new cocktails this weekend.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

2020 Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc: Delicious Value Wine

Back in December 2019, I wrote about a number of tasty value wines that were sold under the Tussock Jumper Wines brand. You can check out my prior article for more background about this brand. 

In short, Tussock Jumper sources wines from regions all across the world, from California to Australia, Germany to South Africa, Portugal to Italy, and elsewhere. There are around 20 or so of their wines available in the U.S. They source the grapes for their wines from multiple small farms and vineyards, bottling the wine near the source, to help the local communities.

As their website states, "tussock" is "a tuft-like grass that grows in meadowlands all around the world, but each species is unique to its region. It’s also a nod to our commitment to preserving nature, and sustainable winemaking." 

Their wines are generally priced under $15, and I previously felt that their wines compared very well to similarly priced wines. They were tasty and pleasant, delivering good quality at their price point, and offering more than some other value wines. 

I recently tasted the new vintage of one of their wines, the 2020 Tussock Jumper Chenin Blanc ($11.99). This wine is from Stellenbosch, South Africa, made with 100% Chenin Blanc and has a 13.5% ABV. It was produced with minimal cellar intervention, and spent about four months aging on the lees. I found this vintage similar to that of 2017, possessed of crisp acidity, tropical fruit flavors, and some subtle mineralogy. There were some peach notes in this vintage, and it had a pleasing and fairly long finish. 

I paired the Chenin Blanc with some simple seared scallops, and it was a fine pairing. This wine is very food friendly, and perfect for the summer, sipping on its own, or paired with salads, chicken, and seafood. Definitely an excellent buy at this price.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

An Early History of Chinese Herbalists in Boston

Within two years of the establishment of Boston’s Chinatown, there may have been a Chinese herbal doctor in the community. Some of the earliest newspaper references to Chinese herbal doctors failed to provide the name of the doctors, as well as other identifying information. However, the importance of such herbalists was very evident, and such herbalists are still vital to the Chinatown community today.

The first newspaper reference to a Chinese herbalist was provided in the Boston Globe, August 16, 1889. The writer sought the only Chinese doctor in Boston, to question him about the “elixir of life,” a discovery credited to Dr. Brown Sequard, a Mauritian who taught at Harvard for a few years during the 1860s. This elixir would allegedly prolong life, and numerous doctors were experimenting with it, to assess whether it was effective or not. Some claimed that the Chinese had known of this elixir for many years before its alleged discovery by Dr. Sequard.

The Chinese doctor was difficult to locate, but was finally found in a top story apartment at 38 ½ Harrison Avenue. His office, a narrow little room with bunks, was in the front of the apartment, and one wall of the room was lined with shelves containing “..curious-looking bottles containing different-colored mixtures.” In the rear of the room, on the bunks, were Chinese under the influence of opium.

Fortunately, the herbalist spoke English so the writer didn’t required a translator. The writer asked the doctor if he “...had occasion to use a medicine which is subcutaneously injected into the blood, and which has the capacity of prolonging human life or will give the muscles and nerves increased force…

The herbalist answered affirmatively, and from one of the shelves took down a box that contained a little package that appeared wrapped in the skin of a lizard. The writer wrote, “This he explained contained a powder that not only would make a man live long, but when its soul departed from its earthly abode it would ensure him a reserved seat in the happy land on the other side of the river.” He continued, “The doctor explained that the powder was dropped on a cut made in the left arm, and it generally killed three out of four who tried it, but those who survived the test would be made aware of its powerful influences as an elixir."

Would you take such an elixir, if it provided extreme longevity, but also killed 75% of the people who took it?

The herbalist also showed the writer a different mixture which “…would add 10 years to an ordinary life. It was composed of certain matter taken from the bodies of lizards, worms and various insects, and two drops were considered a dose.” This mixture apparently didn't kill anyone who took it. There is certainly a question as to whether the herbalist’s responses were intended to be taken seriously or not, or whether he was just relating tall tales to the writer.

The writer also indicated that some licensed physicians were conducting experiments with Dr. Sequard’s elixir. Although not conclusive, the initial findings appeared to indicate the elixir didn’t work, and at least one subject had died.

A lengthy article in the Boston Post, April 26, 1896, went into more detail about the nature of Chinese herbalism, although it was also more sensationalist and negative in parts. The title of the article made its viewpoint clear, “Heathen Medicine Man. Boston Chinese Doctor Drives Out the Evil Spirits of Disease.” The article began, “There is a presumably reputable Chinese firm doing business on the lower end of Harrison avenue, who import medicinal herbs direct from the Flowery Kingdom..." It is unclear whether this was the same doctor described in the August 1889 article.

When the writer met the Chinese doctor, he described him as “A squat, oily, almond-eyed individual, emitting a pungent odor of opium from his unkempt person,..” An obviously negative depiction of the herbalist. The writer claimed to have a severe cold in his chest and the herbalist “inquired the nature of my ailment, my symptoms, and even my habits. To be brief, the fellow was really quite astute…” The doctor felt the writer's pulse, and then wrote a prescription (pictured above) for the writer. “ The writer paid the doctor $2.00 and then went to a Chinese clerk near the street entrance to fill the prescription.

The prescription allegedly represented 15 distinct herbs/drugs of vegetable origin. Some of these ingredients included: Kan chaok, a hairy plant from Fukien province, that “..,has apparently no special mission on earth."; Kat kang, credited “as possessing the same efficacy generally attributed to an American oyster cocktail.."; Pak cheuk, which may be regarded as a counter irritant to the fourth ingredient; Pak chut, a sweet cordial from Chekhiang province, much used by Chinese gourmands; Leng pak, from the bark of the mulberry tree; and Ts un Kan, which stands high among the "Mongolian rheumatics...." The clerk put together the perscription, boiled it in water for twenty minutes, and then advised the writer to drink it before going to bed.

The writer, through the assistance of the Queen of Chinatown, also claimed to have witnessed an exorcism at a Chinese opium joint on Harrison Avenue. He wrote, “In all large cities of America containing Chinese colonies, the major portion of the so-called doctors form a bastard priesthood, who practice exorcism for almost every conceivable ailment to which flesh is heir. Thus, diseases are the respective manifestations of different demons, each possessed with greater or less malignity, and it is the duty of the physician to invoke the aid of some god, using medicine only as a compliment.” However, this is basically the only reference to such exorcisms in the newspapers of this time period.

There was another lengthy article about a Chinese herbalist in the Boston Journal, December 5, 1897, although this one identified and described the doctor, Yee Quok Pink. Above, you can see a picture of the herbalist, a sample prescription on the left side, a picture of this office at the bottom, and the image on his sign on the right side. 

Pink's office was located in a little, dingy back room at 31 Harrison Avenue. Although the reporter thought it was dirty and smelly; his view of Pink was positive, “…Yee Quok Pink can render just as good service in his humble quarters as a Back Bay doctor surrounded by modern comforts.”

Like the prior reporter, this writer had difficulty finding a doctor in Chinatown, and would later learn there might be 2-3 doctors in Chinatown, and that some prior doctors had left as the job didn't pay well. The reporter was introduced to Pink by Chung Ki Sun, a prosperous merchant, and it was noted that Pink didn't speak any English.

Pink was about 50 years old, a native of Canton, China, and also had a brother in the business. Pink started to study medicine when he was 20 years old and as there had been no medical schools near Canton, he studied under a doctor with 3-4 other people. That small group studied under four different doctors, at least for five years, and then they been practicing. Pink came to the U.S. about 20 years ago, starting to work as a doctor in New York.

About 11 years ago, around 1886, Pink came to Boston and had an office at 40 Harrison Avenue for about 5-6 years. It is possible that Pink was the first Chinese herbalist in Chinatown. Pink eventually travelled back to China for a few years, but then returned to the U.S., again first to New York. A few weeks ago he returned to Boston, seeking a good place for a permanent office.

Pink stated there currently wasn’t much sickness in Chinatown, “Chinamen pretty healthy. They hardly ever sick. When they sick they have colds, consumption and stomach trouble.” Pink noted that he treated a few non-Chinese patients too. He charged his patients based on what they were capable of paying, from maybe 50 cents for a poorer person to $2 for a wealthier one.   

The reporter asked for a prescription for a cold, and Pink wrote him one, telling him to take it to a Chinese drug store, where it would cost him 50 cents. He was supposed to take the medicine ten times a day, if he had a bad cold, and only five times if he had a less serious cold. The prescription was also said to be good for consumption and stomach trouble.

Pink described some of the herbs in the prescription, including: Chun fo too, which is like ginger and is included to warm a person; Hoot sut, to strengthen the belly; Mook hant, to drive away all pain; Hoy woo, which drive the medicine to all parts of the body; Fook sing, to strengthen the bladder; and Chun sor, to strengthen the kidneys. The writer inquired why he needed all of these different herbs for just a cold and Pink replied, a “man got to have his organs working well, if he have a cold,…

The reporter concluded, “Yee Quok Pink is an admirable representative of a Chinese practitioner. He understands his business, is methodical, conservative and enlightened. He believes that too much medicine is often a greater harm than none at all. He believes that three-quarters of all the diseases which affect mankind would cure themselves if they were given the chance.” 

Pink's last thought, that many diseases cure themselves, is fascinating as a licensed physician, a white man, would say essentially the same thing in 1916, in his opposition to Chinese herbalism. I'll go into more detail about that physician later in this article.   

Ever tasted Joke Soup? The Boston Journal, March 29, 1903, presented an article about Dr. Yee Chong Chang, of Chinatown. Dr. Chang graduated from a Chinese medical school and came to the U.S. about 42 years, around 1861. He received a medical license from the State of Indiana and came to Boston about seven years ago, and had an office on Oxford Street.

A female reporter visited his office to interview him, and she was the first woman to ever have entered his office. He made house calls to any women who needed his medical services. They never came to his office. Dr. Chang had patients in a number of cities and towns outside of Boston, and also had some non-Chinese patients.

The reporter spoke to the doctor through his interpreter, William F. Holske, who the Chinese hailed as a “cousin.” Dr. Chang made “joke soup,” but what is that? The doctor stated, “Many are its contents, careful the preparation, long the cooking. But the result is a life giving dish which is well worth waiting for. It dispels that tired feeling, it is a tonic, mental and physical, and withal it is satisfying to the palate, which is more than can be said of most American medicine.” The reporter claimed to be sick so Dr. Chang took her pulse, and finally concluded that she wasn't actually sick.

In January 1904, advertisements started appearing for the Foo & Wing Herb Co., located at 564 Massachusetts Avenue. In the Boston Herald, January 31, 1904, there was a lengthy article, which potentially might have been an advertisement, like a modern advertorial. It began by discussing Chinese medicine in general, noting “..., the Chinese still study the original medical works which were written 4000 years ago, and they still observe the leading principles laid down in those works.” It continued, "…the practice of medicine has always been held in the very highest esteem among the people of China."

It was mentioned that, “Every doctor holds it as a point of honor to transmit his skill and his dignities to his sons, and thus have been established lines of physicians covering many generations and handing from one to the other valuable professional secrets.” A representative of one of those families was now located in Boston, T. Foo Yuen, formerly of Los Angeles, having practiced there for 10 years. Curiously, his medical practice had been exclusively for whites, “ he has had no time to devote to those of his own race,…

Dr. Foo's medical training began from his earliest childhood, and his study took place over 15-20 years, studying “..., the numerous medicinal herbs of China, their medicinal properties and the best ways to prepare them into remedies;” and “.., to study diagnosis by the pulse,…” He graduated with highest honors from the Imperial Medical College at Pekin, entitled to rank as an Imperial Physician, those few permitted to attend the members of the royal family.

About 12 years ago, he came to California, and spoke no English though he now speaks it fairly well. He spent his first 2-3 years in San Francisco before moving to the milder climate of Los Angeles, establishing the headquarters of Foo & Wing Herb Co. at 903 South Olive Street. “This corporation deals in prepared remedies under its own trademark, and also imports and sells a few articles of pure and wholesome foods for the use of its patrons, such as the best Chinese rice that can be procured and a certain brand of tea that is especially adapted to the use of invalids.” Dr. Foo had also written a number of books on Chinese medicine.

The article/ad continued,“But the genuine system of Chinese, or Oriental, medicine is simple, clean, consistent and effective. And this is the universal verdict of the intelligent men who know most about it.” It was noted that over 3000 varieties of medicinal herbs existed, but commonly only 300-400 were used. The medical system relied on pulse diagnosis, where “..the physician asks the patient no questions whatever, but determines his bodily condition, the seat and extent and nature of the disease, in every instance, solely and entirely by feeling the pulse of both wrists.”

Dr. Foo's partner was Dr. Tom Wing, a skilled physician and a distant relative of Foo. Dr. Wing had lived in the U.S. for about 20 years and spoke English very well.

An advertisement for Foo & Wing Herb Co. in the Boston Post, February 10, 1904: noted, “The Oriental method of diagnosis by the pulse alone, three fingers being used upon each wrist, which will tell exactly where the seat of your disease is located.”

Another advertisement in the Boston Globe, February 28, 1904, had a photo of Dr. Foo. The ad also stated, “Their method of diagnosis is by the pulse alone, which will tell where your disease is located without asking questions.” People were encouraged to visit the doctors, and their diagnosis would be free. In addition, they would receive a copy of a 300 page book, a “guide to health and how to keep well.” It provided many recipes for cooking nutritious and attractive dishes for the sick, useful hints on diet, lessons on anatomy, bodily exercises, and more. The ad also offered free medicine for a week for any patient who began treatment before April 10, 1904.  

The Boston Post, April 16, 1904, had another advertisement which gave a photo of Dr. Tom Wing.

In another advertisement, in the Boston Globe, May 28, 1904, for Foo & Wing Herb Co., there was a reproduction of a page from an ancient Chinese medical book, although the ad didn't explain what that page depicted. 

The Boston Journal, May 16, 1904, reported on the death of Lee Hay Wey, alleged to be the only Chinese doctor in Boston, although that didn't actually appear to be true. Wey had only been 36 years old, unmarried, wealthy, and died from tuberculosis. He graduated from a Chinese medical university and came to the U.S. about 12 years ago. He lived for two years in San Francisco, before moving to Boston. For five years, his office was at 9 Harrison Avenue. I couldn't find any other newspaper references concerning him, except about his death.

There were brief mentions of another Chinese doctor in the Boston Globe, February 12, 1907 and Boston Globe, July 25, 1907Dr. Yee Chong Chin (who is probably the same as the previously mentioned Dr. Yee Chong Chang) had an office on Oxford Street, and he stated that only three 3 Chinese were too sick to participate in the Chinese New Year’s celebrations that year.

Another brief mention. The Boston Globe, June 3, 1911, reported that Lou Quey, known as the "lung doctor" in Chinatown, and with an office at 32 Oxford Street, was fined $50 for possession of opium.

The Boston Globe, June 29, 1911, noted that Dr. Tom Wing and his wife, who lived at 561 Massachusetts Avenue, just had a baby girl. The advertisements for Foo & Wing Herb Co. largely continued through March 1913, and at some point Dr. Foo returned to Los Angeles, apparently leaving Dr. Wing behind to run the business.

Up to this time, Chinese herbalists weren't legally considered to be medical doctors so they could, and some were, charged with unlawfully practicing medicine without a license. They would generally be fined, and then simply continue acting as an herbalist. It almost seemed that such fines were just seen as a part of their business. Sometimes the Chinese would claim they were only "herbal merchants" and not doctors, trying to avoid prosecution. In 1914, efforts were initiated to recognize herbalism as a legitimate medical practice and allow them to be licensed, but such efforts wouldn't be successful.

One of the sponsors of the bill was Rep. McGrath of Boston, and the primary impetus for the bill was Pang Suey, a famed Boston herbalist, who had even treated McGrath's father. Pang had been charged with illegally practicing medicine on multiple occasions. However, Pang, a graduate of the University of Canton, China, had many supporters, claiming that his treatments had resolved their medical issues.

An adverse reported, created by the Ways and Means Committee, was rejected by a vote of the House. The main opposition to the bill came from Rep. Warner of Taunton, who stated that Pang Suey refused to learn English and thus refused registration as a physician. However, Rep. McGrath countered that Pang was willing to take an examination on the type of medicine he practiced, which was very different than what American doctors were taught.

The Boston Globe, February 25, 1916, reported that on the prior day, the Legislative Committee on Public Health held a hearing on the herbalist bill. Over 50 patients of Pang Suey were present to support the measure and there was also a petition signed by over 2100 people in favor of the bill.  

Next, the Evening Herald, March 8, 1916, reported that the Legislative Committee on Public Health held another hearing on the herbalist bill. Dr. Richard C. Cabot opposed the bill, stating he was convinced the evidence he had heard was that Dr. Suey didn’t know for what he was prescribing. In response to some of Suey's patients,  Cabot replied, “Most people who go to a doctor for treatment recover of themselves. Most diseases have a tendency to get better, and we who are doctors often known, when we are treating people, that our remedies do not cure. Nature does the work.Dr. Walter Bowers, the secretary of the State Board of Registration in Medicine also opposed the bill. He had examined Dr. Suey and claimed he the lacked the knowledge of medicine demanded of licensed practitioners.

We return to the words of Yee Quok Pink from 1897, who stated "... that three-quarters of all the diseases which affect mankind would cure themselves if they were given the chance.” Dr. Cabot's words above echo those words, showing that Chinese herbalists and American licensed physicians may share some commonalities.

Dr. Cabot ventured to Dr. Suey's home and office, to gather more information. The Boston Globe, March 9, 1916, reported that Dr. Richard C. Cabot, assistant professor of Harvard Medical School, and leading Back Bay practitioner, went to Pang Suey's home, on the north side of Dartmouth Street, near Appleton. It was noted that Suey had originally practiced medicine in the province of Kwantung, and “whose medical learning came to him through a member of the staff of the Chinese Medical Academy at Pekin.” For about 10 years, Suey, who is now 49 years old, had been dispensing herbal medicine in Boston.

Pang also stated that he is ..“a regularly enrolled physician in China; that under the old system there, before the Revolution, it was the custom for a medical student to obtain his credentials as a doctor from the physicians under whom he studied." His certificate as a doctor was attested by the American Consul at Hong Kong and by the Imperial Chinese Embassy at Washington.”

According to the laws of Massachusetts, "... no doctor may practice in this State who has not passed an examination in writing before, and been registered by, the Board of Registration in Medicine.” There were some accepted exceptions, and some wanted to add another exception, for herbal doctors. The bill was originally introduced by Harold L. Perrin of Wellesley, seeking to add an exception for “registered pharmacists or persons dealing in natural herbs in prescribing gratutiously.”

Pang explained that he made a diagnosis by pulse alone. “It is a method recognized in China for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years.” He would then write a prescription, which was filled in the basement of his house, “where his private herbarium is maintained, in charge of a Chinese dispenser.” He charged only for the herbs, and not the consult, and thus, “He does business as a person dealing in natural herbs and not as a doctor.”

There were a number of clients at Pang's home, ready to speak to Cabot and vouch for Pang. Interestingly, none of these clients were Chinese, and they came from Boston and the suburbs, with three even arriving in limousines. This was clearly intended to impress Cabot and others, to indicate the fame of Pang wasn't restricted to the Chinese community.

For the finale, a girl came in for a consult, and she hadn't visited Pang before. Pang felt her pulse, holding her left wrist first for a minute and then her right wrist. There was a plate glass screen, suspended on two cords, that shielded Pang from her breath, but allowed him to reach and check her pulse. The only question he asked the girl was her age, and he then stated “Your circulation is poor, and you have a pain in your back, here,’ indicating the seat of the pain. The girl confirmed his words.

In April 1916, the bill passed the Senate but the House of Representatives rejected it. There was another hearing on the matter in March 1917. The Boston Globe, March 6, 1917, reported that at the hearing there was nearly a fistfight between Walter P. Bowers of the State Board of Registration in Medicine and Representative Joseph B. McGrath. Bowers spoke to the committee and McGrath claimed he didn’t tell the truth, and they almost started fighting. The hearing also ended, abruptly, with much hissing by a number of women who were present.

Unfortunately, the bill lost some of its purpose as the Boston Globe, April 23, 1917, stated Pang had died, “famous for the healing herbs he dispensed to hundreds of people in this city,..” Efforts to pass the herbalist bill would continue for a few more years, but without Pang, it lost much of its impetus.

After the death of Pang Suey, about $178,000-$184,000 in cash was found in his home on Dartmouth Street, hidden in mattresses, under rugs, behind pictures, and elsewhere. This would be tied up in probate for six years before its final resolution.

The Boston Globe, June 20, 1918, reported Tom Foo Yuen, currently of Los Angeles, and Joe Lop Wai, of China, sought a share of Pang's estate. They claimed they had a partnership agreement with Pang, which indicated how much they were owed. Prior to 1909, Foo said Pang “was employed by him, assisting him as a dispenser of herbs of curative power,..” Foo had also sent Pang to China to make a study of herbs. 

When Pang came to Boston to start a business, Foo advanced him $3300 and a partnership agreement was drafted in which both would share the profits equally. Later, a new agreement was drafted and Wai was admitted as a partner. The new agreement split the profits, with Pang receiving 3 parts of 11, Wai 2 parts of 11, and Foo 6 parts of 11. In addition, Foo alleged that Pang had claimed he was working at a loss, but had actually concealed about $200,00 in profits from his partners.

Back tracking a little, Pang had an assistant in his herbal business, Joey Guoy Shong, who would become the first husband of the famed Ruby Foo. Upon Pang's death in 1917, Shong started residing at his Dartmouth home, took over the herbal medicine business, and became the administrator or of Pang's estate. In December 1918 and September 1923, Shong was charged with practicing medicine without being registered, both times being found guilty and fined about $100 each time.

The Pang estate controversy continued. The Boston Globe, October 21, 1919, reported that Joe Lop Wai, patriarch of the Joe family of the world, and one of China’s greatest herbal doctors, died, penniless. He was was 73 years old, and it was alleged he died of a “broken heart” by disappointment and postponement of the probate matter of Pang, his nephew. In June, Joe and Foo had come to Boston to contest the estate, but there had been delays.

When Pang’s herbal business in Boston wasn’t doing well, Foo sent Joe to help him, and Joe remained for 3-4 years until the business “had reached a paying basis.” Then, Joe returned to LA and eventually China. In China, there had been a partnership agreement, and Joe was awarded 4-11 of the estate, but that that ruling obviously had no validity in the U.S.. Resolution of this probate matter was still several years away from resolution.

In December 18, 1919, Dr. Tom Wing, who had been Foo's partner in Foo & Wing Herb Co., died the day before. The business would continue though. In April 1920, Dr. Foo :moved back to Boston and took up residence at 497 Columbus Avenue.

Resolution for Pang's estate. The Boston Globe, August 8, 1923, noted that Dr. Pang's wife and son would receive substantially all of his estate. The claims of Foo and Joe were rejected, and Shong apparently received only a small amount, mainly to pay expenses. 

The Boston Globe, March 29, 1929, noted that Peter Chan, about 35 years old and the proprietor of Foo & Wing Herb Co., was arrested by State Police for unlawfully practicing medicine without registration. The police seized a truckload of Chinese foods and herbs.

Despite this illegality, Chinese herbalists would continue to operate, as they had done for the past forty or so years in Boston, and still are in existence today. These herbalists had much support from their patients, both Chinese and non-Chinese, and their main opposition appears to have been licensed physicians. Now, as you wander the streets of Chinatown, and see one of the herbalist shops, you'll understand better some of their local history.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Rant: How To 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 most of those will only make incremental progress to the objective of mainstreaming Sake. Slow but steady progress. As we ponder this issue, we must ask what suggestion might have the greatest and quickest impact? 

Last week, I had reason to contemplate this question once again, and my answer is the same as it has been for quite some time. I think the greatest impact, the best way to make Sake more mainstream, is by getting more non-Asian restaurants to place Sake on their menus. 

Let's see a new Burger & Sake restaurant open, or a Pizza & Sake spot. Let's see a sommelier at an Italian bistro recommending Sake with a pasta dish. Let's see a seafood restaurant recommending Sake with fried clams or a lobster roll.  

Currently, Sake is mostly found at Asian restaurants, so the average consumer equates it only with Asian cuisine, from sushi to katsu. That misconception prevents Sake from becoming more mainstream, relegating it only to a certain type of cuisine, ensuring it remains more of a niche beverage. 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.

Sake can and should 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 PairingsPairing Cheese & SakeSlurping Oysters & Sipping SakeSake, Seafood & Lobster, and Sake For Thanksgiving. I've presided at Sake dinners at local restaurants, pairing it with Italian and French cuisine.

Locally, the Tasting Counter, in Somerville, is the only non-Asian restaurant to have any type of significant Sake program. With their dinner, you can opt for the Sake pairing, and get to taste ten different Sakes with their fantastic and creative cuisine. They've done an excellent job in showcasing the versatility and potential of Sake with all types of dishes. Why can't other local restaurants follow their example and institute their own Sake programs?

We need many more non-Asian restaurants to put Sake on their drink lists, to follow the lead of the pioneering 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?


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dr. Ensang Cheng: Boston’s First Chinese Licensed Physician

The first Chinese doctors in the U.S. were herbalists, following an ancient tradition, and there are still Chinese herbalists today, including in Boston’s Chinatown. In the late 19th century, a handful of Chinese chose to attend American medical schools, to receive a degree as a M.D. Surprisingly, the first Chinese person to attend a U.S. medical school was a woman, Jin Yunmei, who graduated in 1885. The first male Chinese to receive a degree was Joseph Chak Thoms in 1890.

In New England, Ensang Waniella Cheng became the first male Chinese to graduate from Harvard Medical school, and was the only licensed Chinese doctor in New England for about the first half of the 20th century.

Dr. Cheng was a native born American citizen, born in Hawaii in 1877, and eventually entered the University of California. In his senior year, he moved to Boston, transferring to Harvard University, and then the Medical school, graduating in 1909.

The first mention of Dr. Cheng in a magazine or newspaper was in The Chinese Students Monthly, January 1911, which briefly noted, “The November meeting of the Harvard Chinese Club was held at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Ensang Cheng, Cambridge, where there is a piano.”

During his school years, around 1908, Dr. Cheng married Evilda C. Nielson, a white woman and socialite from California. However, the marriage only lasted for about five years, as in 1913, Evilda filed for divorce, alleging her husband choked and struck her. She asked the court for $200 a month in alimony and to retake her maiden name, Evilda C. Nielsen.

Evilda claimed that Cheng earned about $500-$1,000 a month (about $13,500 to $27,000 in today’s dollars), which was certainly a lucrative practice. In China, it was common practice to pay doctors only while you were well, but Cheng preferred the American way of paying when you were sick. Throughout the years afterward, his medical practice would remain quite lucrative.

Around March 1914, Evilda was granted a divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty, which Dr. Cheng didn't contest. The Boston Globe, March 21, 1914, quoted Dr. Cheng as stating to the court “that so far as she was concerned intermarriage of the white and yellow races was a failure.” Evilda receoived only  $100 a month in alimony.

In 1914, Dr. Cheng had his office at 7 Tyler Street in Chinatown, and he was the only licensed Chinese doctor in New England. His waiting room occupied the first floor of a small brick building, and also evolved into a gathering place for the better educated in Chinatown. To enhance this, Dr. Cheng ordered a significant number of books from China, starting a free Chinese public library, the only one outside of San Francisco. As Chinese books in the U.S. were rare, this free library was quite valuable.

The Boston Herald, April 12, 1914, also alleged that Dr. Cheng came to the U.S. 17 years ago, about 1897, after graduating from Pey-Yang University in Southern China. However, this was the only mention I found of his attendance at this university, and based on the other references, this might have been an error. The newspapers also noted that Dr. Cheng had worked in a number of Boston hospitals, thus not just treating those in Chinatown.

There was a brief mention in the Boston Globe, January 23, 1917, that during Chinese New Year, numerous Chinese gathered at Dr. Cheng's offices on Tyler Street. What this meant would be explained four years later, and this could have been an annual activity during Chinese New Year.

In the Boston Post, September 12, 1918, it was reported that Dr. Cheng, of 25 Tyler Street, was appointed an assistant to the registrars of the Selective Draft Board No.5 of 42 Court Street, so that he could help to register over 100 Chinese for the draft call. The article also mentioned that Cheng was born in Hawaii 31 years ago and came to Boston on 1906. Cheng is a native born American citizen; born in Hawaii 31 years ago; educated at Harvard and graduated from Harvard Medical School; came to Boston in 1906;

Chinese New Year once again. There was a curious article in the Boston Post, February 7, 1921, which discussed Chinese New Year and Dr. Cheng, stating, “Dr. Cheng is Chinatown’s official physician. He is paid by the year to keep them well.” So, it seems that some official Chinatown body likely paid his salary, although it wasn't identified.

The article also mentioned that many Chinese in lodging rooms didn’t have bathrooms, and that it was primarily the wealthy that had bathrooms in their residences. In what might have been an annual New Year’s tradition, numerous Chinese went to Dr. Cheng’s office to take a bath! That's probably why they were gathering at his home back in 1917 too.

Unfortunately, Dr. Cheng would have a series of legal entanglements throughout the next twenty years. The beginning was reported in the Boston Globe, February 4, 1923, where Dr. Cheng, who was still the only licensed Chinese physician in Boston, was charged with selling two packages of morphine, containing 40 grains, to a unnamed girl. Federal agents also searched his office and found another 20 grains of morphine. Dr. Cheng was ultimately fined $200 for this offense. 

In 1926, Dr. Cheng was living at 58 Oak St, Boston, and owned a summer home, for the past three years, at Shore Acres, Egypt Beach (in Scituate). He made extensive improvements to his cottage there, using Chinese mechanics, and it was considered to be an odd design. During the summers, he entertained lavishly.

However, in August 1926, Dr. Cheng was arrested, charged with performing an illegal operation, an abortion, upon Erma Warfield Sawin, a 21-year-old undergraduate of the Sargent School of Physical Education in Cambridge. She was also an instructor of athletics at Andover playground and the niece of Judge George Warfield. The girl's health was initially in serious condition at a hospital, although she recovered.

At this time, abortions were illegal although there were a number of doctors who would covertly perform the operation. Cheng denied any involvement and, initially, Sawin refused to identify the boy responsible, or the doctor. However, she later identified Cheng as her doctor and it was learned the young man responsible was a Harvard student who had fled the state and was with his parents in Indianapolis or Minneapolis.

The ultimate resolution wasn’t mentioned in the newspapers but, a later police record of Dr. Cheng made no mention of this incident. Thus, it's possible that the charges against Dr. Cheng has been dropped for some reason.

There was an intriguing, brief article in the Boston Globe, June 5, 1933, titled, “Enraged Cat Bites Three in Chinatown.” An alley cat severely bit 2 children and a man, and then was hunted by nearly a score of police for 4 hours, from 6pm-10pm, before the cat was finally cornered and shot to death in a dark cellar at 18-20 Oxford Place. Dr. Cheng treated all three of the cat's victims.

More legal woes for Dr, Cheng. In December 1934, Dr. Cheng and five other men were arrested, with Cheng being chased with receiving stolen property and being an accessory after the fact of robbery. A 700 pound safe was stolen from the home of Thomas Le Torney of the South End of Boston. The safe was taken to a barn on the estate of Dr. Cheng in Reading, where it was opened and allegedly found to contain $150 in cash and $5000 in jewelry.

Dr. Cheng claimed that he had innocently rented the barn to the other five men, and had no knowledge of the theft of the safe. Fortunately, in January 1935, Cheng was found not guilty of all charges. 

By March 1937, Dr. Cheng was remarried, to Linda Basse, the owner of a large chicken farm on West Street, Reading. In March, Linda had a cousin from Italy who had been told she might soon be deported. Linda went to a fortune-teller for advice, a "gypsy couple" with an office on Stuart Street, Boston. She alleged they assaulted her and stole $3500. The police noted Linda had facial bruises and a bit mark on her left arm. She also required stitches for a wound on her head.

The couple tied up Linda, taping her mouth shut, and left her in a locked, second-floor room. Linda was able to break a window and call for help. It was later learned the couple escaped in a taxi and an alert went out to the police stations in Boston. 

In May 1937, the couple, Rose Bimbo and her husband, James Miller, who ran a tea roman fortune-telling business on Stuart Street, were arrested in Indianapolis, Indiana. The article also noted that Dr. Cheng's wife was named Linda Vasse (different surname from the prior article). However, the Indianapolis police alleged that Rose and James didn't fit the description provided by the Boston Police. Mrs. Cheng was shown photographs of the pair and she identified them as her assailants.

At this time, the couple were identified as Rose Bimbo, age 26, and her boyfriend, Charles Pienton, age 24. They were extradited to Boston, and were to face trial at the end of May. They were convicted and Rose received a sentence of 15 years at the Sherborn Reformatory, the longest sentence ever imposed on a woman in Suffolk County, while Charles received five years in the Concord Reformatory. 

Four years later, Dr. Cheng was arrested once again, for performing another abortion, although the case this time was much more series. In October 1939, the police arrested Cheng and Henry McCue, a florist and state prison parolee, on the charges of kidnapping and illegal surgery, an abortion, on 16 year-old Catherine Theresa Dulong, who lived in Woburn. The police searched Dr. Cheng's 70 acre estate in Reading, including his 12 room house and poultry farm, in an attempt to locate the body of Catherine Dulong, as the police chief though she was dead.

Both Cheng and McCue initially denied any responsibility, with Dr. Cheng claiming the girl was brought to him with a sexually transmitted disease. Catherine's mother, Mary Dulong, alleged she had taken her daughter to see Dr. Cheng on September 3 and 19th, and that she last heard from her daughter, by telephone on September 23. The Dulongs lived at 68 Park Street, Woburn, and the family included father John Dulong, a WPA worker, and eight children.

Henry J. McCue, age 34, lived at 164 Waverly Road, Woburn, and had been working as a florist since his release frm state prison. In March 1931, McCue, with another man, was sentenced to 15-20 years for attacking two girls. However, a few months later, the girls went to court and recanted their story, getting charged with perjury. The Governor then commuted the sentence of the two men to 5-7 years. McCue was paroled 2 years later, although his record indicated he had been previously arrested 20 times for various offenses.

Catherine Dulong was described as being 5 feet, 4 inches in height, and weighing 110 pounds. She had black hair, brown eyes and “...said to be extremely attractive, appearing more as a young woman of 19 or 20 than one of 16." 

Mary Dulong said that when her daughter called her on September 23, Catherine stated she was still at Cheng home and wanted her mother to pick her up. For some reason, her mother didn't go to Cheng's that day to pick up her daughter. When Mary called Dr. Cheng on September 25, he claimed that Catherine was no longer at his game. Mary allegedly knew of her daughter’s pregnancy early in September and that a married man, possibly McCure, encouraged Catherine to get an abortion.

In November, McCue was allegedly being cooperative with the authorities and told them that he had heard from Catherine on October 18. It was possible that she was still alive and just ran away from the area. The newspapers never mentioned that she was found. 

Despite McCue’s cooperation, both men were tried in this matter and in January 1941, they were both found guilty for conspiracy to commit an illegal operation. They received a sentence of 2 years in the house of correction. Cheng also temporarily lost his license to practice medicine.

In January 1946, Dr. Cheng, now of 79 Harrison Avenue, had his physician’s license restored, and he returned to running his private medical practice. He was actually appointed by Mayor Curley to be the director of a tuberculosis program for the city health department but Dr. Cheng resigned within 24 hours of his appointment. He said the pressure of private practice made him impossible to carry out his duties in the official post. Dr. Cheng remained free of legal entanglements after this point. 

As of April 1956, there was a second licensed Chinese physician in Boston, Dr. Stanley L.F. Chin of 92 Hudson Street. 

Unfortunately, two years later, in June 1958, Cheng, at age 81, passed away due to a heart ailment. It was noted that he had been a staff physician at the Boston City Hospital for many years and also briefly taught at Harvard Medical school. In addition, he was long active in civic and charitable circles. He was survived by his wife Linda and two adopted children, William and Lana.

Cheng was a pioneer in New England, the first licensed physician, and had a successful practice for many years. He was well loved in Boston, heavily involved in supporting the community. His legal troubles didn’t appear to hurt his reputation, and he was likely one of numerous doctors who performed similar operations, albeit illegally.

My Research resources for this article included:
Biddeford Daily Journal (ME):
January 31, 1941
Boston Herald (MA): April 12, 1914; October 27, 1939
Boston Globe (MA): March 21, 1914; January 23, 1917; February 4, 1923; August 7, 1926; June 5, 1933; January 25, 1935; March 12, 1937; May 6, 1937; May 12, 1937; May 22, 1937; November 3, 1939; November 10, 1939; January 24, 1941; January 25, 1941; January 29, 1941; June 25, 1958
Boston Post (MA): September 12, 1918; February 7, 1921
Boston Traveler (MA): May 21, 1946; April 19, 1956
Chinese Students Monthly, January 1911
Elyria Chronicle Telegram (OH): August 6, 1926
Evening Gazette (MA): June 11, 1937
Evening Star (D.C.): August 6, 1926
Hammond Times (IN): August 6, 1926
Honolulu Advertiser (HI): October 29, 1939
Jefferson City Tribune (MO): August 11, 1926
Lowell Sun (MA): August 6, 1926; December 14, 1934; October 27, 1939; October 28, 1939
Medford Mail Tribune (OR): December 16, 1934
Naugatuck Daily News (CT): August 7, 1926
Patriot Ledger (MA): November 6, 1925
San Francisco Call (CA): August 31, 1913
Springfield Republican (MA): December 16, 1934