Thursday, March 31, 2022

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) Experience Croatian wines at an upcoming Wine Pairing Dinner at Brasserie on Tuesday, April 5 at 6pm. Chefs Vince Carideo and Nick Intonti will be serving a five-course menu of Croatian-inspired small plates to pair with five Croatian wines. The founders of Croatian Premium Wine will be on-site to present the wines, share their origins, and help celebrate the rich culture of Croatian winemaking.

--Smoked Shellfish Salad (Escabeche, Citrus, plum)
Malvazija Istarska 2020 Fakin
--Wild Mushroom (Green garlic, Truffle, Creme Fraiche)
Teran 2017 Fakin, Il Primo
--Braised Rabbit (Red Wine, Polenta, Arrowhead Cabbage)
Plavac Mali Barrique 2016 Terra Madre
--Duck Confit Leg (Seared Breast, Cherry)
Plavac Mali 2016 Komarna 7
--Pot de Creme (Orange Blossom, Muscat grapes, Lavender)
Muskat Momjanski 2020 Kabola
Note: Menu is subject to change according to the chefs' discretion

The dinner costs $120 per person and Reservations can be made at Eventbrite.

2) Nightshade Noodle Bar is starting a new 5 Course Tasting Menu on Wednesday evenings for $50/per person. Normal dinner service will also be available on Wednesdays. The Wednesday Tasting menu will feature some "new hyper-seasonal, hella springy dishes" which Chef Rachel Miller has been creating, as well as some Nightshade staples. Their Beverage Director, Alex, will feature a few special bottles of wine to accompany the Tasting Menu. 

Chef Miller never posts or print their Tasting Menus, as they are intended to be blind), but she is making an exception for the Wednesday Tasting Menu. Every Wednesday morning, from 10am-11am, she will post the tasting menu on Instagram and Facebook, with a link to make Reservations. There are a limited amount of Reservations available each Wednesday so book early to guarantee a spot.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

SENA22: U.S. Seafood Statistics: From Wild Capture to Aquaculture

The latest issue of Urner Barry's Reporter (Spring 2002) presented their Annual Review of the State of the Seafood Industry. The issue provided some fascinating insight into the seafood industry, and allowed us to glimpse likely future trends. The issue was provided for free at the Seafood Expo North America (SENA).  

Some people rant about aquaculture, believing it's harmful and that farmed seafood doesn't taste as good as wild caught. To a large degree, they are mistaken and aquaculture is clearly the future of the seafood industry. Historically, about sixty years ago, in 1961, 95% of total seafood production in the U.S. was wild capture while only 5% involved aquaculture. However, the amount of aquaculture has grown every year since then, and now it is the majority.   

In 2013, the proportion of aquaculture exceeded wild capture for the first time, and currently total production is now 56% aquaculture and 44% wild capture. In 2019, wild capture declined 4.1% while aquaculture increased by 3.74%. It's believed that aquaculture in the coming years will grow by about 62%. 

During the past sixty years, the practice of aquaculture has improved in leaps and bounds, helping to resolve some of the earliest problems that occurred with aquaculture. The growth in improvement of aquaculture is stunning, far outstripping any gains in the farming of beef, pork, chicken, etc. Many aquaculture products have now been certified as sustainable by various organizations. It's time for people to eliminate their prejudices against farmed seafood. 

As for wild capture in 2020, total U.S. commercial landings were about 8.4 billion pounds, valued at $4.78 Billion, which was a decrease from the prior year of $818 Million. The top landed species, by volume, was Alaska Pollock, constituting about 3.2 Billion pounds, nearly 40% of the total. The rest of the Top 10 landings, by volume, included: Menhadens, Hake/Whiting, Pacific Cod, Yellowfin/Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Pink Sole, Rockfish/Pacific Ocean Perch, Mackeral/Atka, and American Lobster. 

Pollock has become the "white fish" of choice in many prepared and frozen fish products, from fried fish sandwiches to frozen fish sticks.  

The top landed species, by value, was the American Lobster, constituting about $530 Million. The rest of the Top 10 landings, by value, included: Sea Scallop, Pollock/Walleye, Sockeye Salmon, Northern White Shrimp, Dungeness Crab, Menhadens, Blue Crab, Eastern Oyster, and Pacific Cod. It's probably no surprise that lobster is the most valued landing. 

The U.S. also exported about 2.8 billion pounds of seafood in 2021, valued at about $5.5 billion, an increase of 355 million pounds (+14.7%) and $952 million (+22.6%) compared to 2020. The Top 10 cxports included: Pollock, Salmon, Hake, Squid, Soles, Lobster, Mackerel, Cod, Ocean Perch, and Crab. So, the U.S. exports nearly 35% of all their landings.
In addition, in 2021, the U.S. imported seafood totaling about 7 Billion pounds, valued at $28 Bllion; an increase from 2020 of about 747 Million pounds (+12%) and $6.5 Billion (+30%). The Top 10 imports included: Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Crab, Catfish, Cod, Squid, Lobster, and Pollock. I'll add that in 2021, Shrimp imports were also at their highest ever recorded level, almost 2 Billion pounds. Shrimp remains hugely popular and most of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported from around the world. 

Finally, the article noted numerous challenges currently facing the seafood industry, although many of these issues are faced by all industries during these trying times. Their issues include: shipping delays, labor shortages, increased cold storage fees, elevated replacement costs, container shortages, rising freight costs, tempered production, and active demand. This has all contributed to an increase in seafood prices, and as many consumers already thought seafood was too expensive, this hasn't helped increase the consumption of seafood. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

SENA22: An Overview of the Seafood Expo

Due to the pandemic, the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) wasn't held in 2020 and 2021. It finally returned this year, although significantly smaller than usual. I'm happy that it returned, as this is one of my favorite food events of the year, three days of seafood immersion, seeking stories about the latest news and information concerning the seafood industry. 

SENA is the largest seafood trade event in North America, and in prior years it continually broke records on both its exhibitor size and attendance. In 2019, there were over 1349 exhibitors, representing 49 different countries, spread out over 256,690 square feet in exhibit space. However, this year, as expected due to pandemic issues, the event was much smaller. There were only about 830 exhibitors, about one-third less than usual, spread out over 180,000 square-feet of exhibit space. Some of the space that would normally be taken by exhibitors was taken over by food vendors, selling sandwiches, tacos, and more.

Attendance is normally over 20,000 people, but I haven't found attendance figures for this year, though it was clearly much smaller than previous years. The attendees are from countries all over the world, making the Expo a truly international event. It's an excellent example of the interconnectedness of our world, of how we are really one vast community with shared interests. When you consider the oceans occupy about 71% of the world's surface, it's easy to understand how it unites us. Plus, we also have to consider all the freshwater rivers, lakes, and waterways which produce seafood. 

Sunday is usually the busiest day at the Expo, but it seemed much more manageable this year, as in previous years it can get a little crowded walking around, especially when people sometimes stop in the middle of the aisle to chat with others. Walking up and down the myriad aisles of exhibitors at the Expo is also great exercise. And if you get tired, the Expo has several sections where you can sit and recharge your electronics. 

Although masks weren't mandated for SENA, a significant number of exhibitors and attendees still wore masks. There was also plenty of hand sanitizer available throughout the exhibit hall. Social distancing is obviously very difficult at such a large event, so masks were the main option for added protection. 

The main events of the Seafood Expo occur each year over the course of three days, from Sunday to Tuesday, over a total period of 19 hours. However, there are a few other events that occur before and after the normal hours of the Expo, such as receptions and coffee hours. This year, the program included over 28 conference sessions, the 14th Annual Oyster Shucking Competition, the Seafood Excellence Awards, and much more. 

There's something for everyone. However, you certainly can't attend every SENA event, so you need to pick and choose which you most desire to attend, which events fit your specific interests. However, it's always cool to venture beyond your usual interests and learn about something new. Over the years, I've learned plenty about seafood, and I'm always trying to further my education in this regard. 

The three-day event also had an extensive conference program, offering more than 28 sessions, on a wide variety of seafood topics. For example, the keynote address concerned an “Economic Outlook for 2022,” and was given by Megan Greene, a global economist, Financial Times columnist, and senior fellow for the Harvard Kennedy School. Some of the other conference sessions included: Why Seafood Quality is CriticalFinding the Next Generation of Diverse Seafood TalentTransforming Aquaculture, and Consumer Insights into How & Why They Shop Seafood. I always attend at least a couple of these sessions, which are generally informative and fascinating. 

Each year at SENA, there's a competition held for the Best New Foodservice Product and Best New Retail Product. The finalists’ products are displayed in the New Product Showcase and during the course of the event, the products will be judged, "based on their uniqueness and appropriateness to the market, taste profile, packaging, market potential, convenience, nutritional value and originality." The winner this year included: Best New Retail Product to Bakkafrost--Native Hebridean Smoked Scottish Salmon Side and Best New Foodservice Product to DOM International Limited – DOM Reserve Salmon Poke. 

SENA is a food event which I've promoted and recommended year after year. Besides all the delectable seafood samples, you'll also find ample fodder for many different story ideas. SENA touches on some of the most important issues facing our world, from sustainability to climate change. Every local writer who has any interest in seafood, sustainability, health, recipes, or food in general, should attend this Expo. 

However, few local writers attend SENA and those who do commonly write only a single article about it. These articles are often very basic, touching only on some of the most general issues about the Expo. Even the major local newspapers often ignore SENA, at best printing a single article about it, a basic overview lacking any depth. This year, it seems that neither the Boston Herald nor the Boston Globe have published pieces about SENA. Why is SENA so often ignored in local media coverage? It's an embarrassment that such an important event receives so little local press. 

As I've said before, this all needs to change. We need more local writers to attend SENA and delve more deeply into the myriad issues of the seafood industry. We need more local writers to help promote seafood consumption and sustainability. We need more local writers to contribute to the discussion of these vital issues. We need the print media to get more involved too. The more positive articles about seafood, the better for all of us. There's too much negativity in the media about seafood consumption and more positive articles need to set the record straight.

It should be obvious that the primary element of SENA is commerce, the buying and selling of seafood-related products and services. Nearly all of the exhibitors are there to make money while most of the attendees are there to spend money. Attendees are seeking seafood, both fresh and frozen, as well as various processed seafood products, from crab cakes to salmon bacon. Others are there to buy processing equipment, cooking supplies, packaging machinery, labeling equipment, conveyors, and much more. Still others are seeking services, from food safety to third party certification. Much of this commerce is international, with exhibitors and attendees from all over the world, trying to make deals. It's business and money.

What may not seem obvious is that SENA is not really about seafood. Despite the many thousand pounds of seafood being showcased at the Expo, it's merely a means to an end. SENA is actually about people and community. Seafood is only food, intended to provide sustenance and nutrition to people, and that is understood, though largely unspoken, by the exhibitors and attendees. SENA is much more about fishermen and fish farmers, distributors and retailers, inventors and importers. It is about all of the people involved in the seafood industry, and their economic well being. It is about the global economy as the seafood industry is truly international and affects people all across the world.

Concerns about seafood sustainability ultimately come down to the fate of people, whether future generations will have enough food to survive, and whether they will live in a clean world, with adequate resources. The fate of the oceans and the fish directly relates to the fate of mankind. Seafood sustainability is also about the survival of fishermen, that they can make a sufficient income to survive and thrive. When you understand that SENA is all about people, then the issues take on an even greater significance. We need to talk about this more, to ensure that everyone understands people are the primary concern. It is our future and nothing is more important than that.

Although SENA involves many serious and vital issues, it also has an element of fun, as well as plenty of tasty seafood samples. SENA is a showcase for new seafood products as well as place to display other seafood products which may have a storied history, such as Maine Lobster. Though it is common to find for sampling a variety of simple, fried seafoods, there are also some chefs who elevate their offerings, providing more interesting and delicious dishes. This year, because of pandemic issues, there were far less seafood samples available.   

I'll be posting additional articles about SENA in the near future, highlighting some of the items which especially caught my attention this year. Tidal Tots, Dutch Oysters, Fried Fish Skins, and more. 

Finally, I want to highlight that SENA returns next year, March 12-14, 2023, and I strongly encourage all local writers to mark those dates down on their calendar and plan to attend next year. I suspect that SENA will return to close to pre-pandemic levels next year. The seafood industry needs more champions to promote its many positive aspects and I call on local writers to step up and become one of those needed champions.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Bambolina & Kokeshi in Salem: A Quick Review

On Derby Street in Salem, two restaurants, Bambolina and Kokeshi. under the same ownership, currently share space in the same location. Bambolina opened in 2015 while Kokeshi opened in 2017, although at a different location in Salem. At some point during the pandemic, they merged together, presenting an intriguing option for diners, Italian cuisine & pizza as well as Asian cuisine, including ramen. 

The Bambolina menu is relatively small, with Antipasto (8 choices, priced $8-$24, such as a Cheese Board, Charcuterie, Marinated Feta, and Grilled Caesar Salad), Neapolitan Pizza (8 choices, priced $12.50-$17.50) and three Pasta Dishes (about $19 each, including Fettuccine Bolognese, Mushroom Fettuccine, and Rigatoni Arrabiata). 

They imported a wood-burning stove from Italy, which cooks their pizzas at 925 degrees, so it takes only 90 seconds to finish. They use Italian "00" flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, as well as any other ingredients that you order for your pizza. You can order a variety of pizzaz such as the Pastrami & Potato, Forest Mushroom, Hot Pepper & Pepperoni, and Margherita

Kokeshi doesn't serve traditional Asian cuisine, but rather takes a more creative approach, although still paying respect to the foundation of the Asian dishes. As one example of their creativity, in the past, they used to sell Octopus Hotdogs. Some of their Ramen dishes use nontraditional ingredients, but they still attempt to be respectful to Asian culinary traditions. 

The Kokeshi menu is also relatively small with 6 Starters (priced $5-$9, such as Tamari Marinated Cucumbers and Edamame), 6 Noodles (priced $16-$17, such as Back Alley Bacon Ramen and Vietnamese Noodles), Ahi Tuna Poke ($19), and Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($14). 

Even though both menus are relatively small, there's still plenty of choices which will interest diners. And as I've mentioned before, smaller restaurants menus are generally better than massive tomes, and their ingredients may be fresher as well. 

Last week, while visiting Salem, I decided to have lunch at Bambolina & Kokeshi, my first time dining at these restaurants. I was intrigued by the idea of being able to sample both menus, and there was plenty on those menus which appealed to me. 

I began with the Chicken & Lemongrass Dumplings ($9), which have sweet chili sauce, scallions, and sesame. The fried dumplings had a nice crunchy exterior, and the filling was tasty and flavorful, enhanced by the slight heat and mild sweetness of the sauce. They also had an appealing aroma, enhanced bt the lemongrass. A nice way to start my lunch and I'd definitely order them again. 

Of course I had to order a pizza, opting for the Soppressata ($16.50), with crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, Italian cured salami, fresh oregano, and pecorino tomato. A beautiful pizza, with a nice char to the crust, it was also delicious. The crust was thin, but not overly so, and as it thickened near the edges, it had a nice chewy texture to it. The toppings were tasty, with thin and flavorful slices, with crispy edges, of the salami. Definitely an excellent Neapolitan pizza and highly recommended. 

I also opted for the Col. Sanders Ramen ($16), made with a spicy pork broth, fried chicken, Tokyo wavy noodle, corn, wakame, Vermont butter, and scallions. The broth was spicy with a nice depth of flavor, and the fried chicken had a crunchy coating and was moist and tender inside. The noodles were cooked just right, with a nice firm texture, and there was a light sweetness to the dish with the corn and butter. It was an ample dish, full of flavor, and very pleasing. Another dish I'd highly recommend. 

First impressions can sometimes make a big difference, and my first experience at Bambolina and Kokeshi was extremely positive. I'll be returning again soon to try more dishes on their menu, and expect they will probably be as delicious too. Service was very good as well. I strongly recommend my readers dine here as well. 

I'll also note that one of the owners, Larry Lebowittz, will soon open Common Crafta craft beverage spot and restaurant, at the Burlington Mall. I've seen the preliminary menu and it looks intriguing. Based on the quality of Bambolina and Kokeshi, I have high hopes for the food at Common Craft as well. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

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) The Banksa revival of the New England fish house, will start offering Brunch this weekend. Executive Chef Robert Sisca & Executive Pastry Chef Alyx Abreu have created a brunch menu that is full of sweet & savory dishes, such as:

Fried Whole Belly Clams & Waffles - buttermilk fried clams, candied bacon, maple gravy
Santa Barbara Uni Benedict - Ossetra Caviar, saffron hollandaise
Smoked Salmon Benedict - red onion, capers, citron hollandaise
Scituate Lobster Benedict - spinach, saffron hollandaise
Steak & Eggs - fried oysters, flat iron steak, two sunny side up eggs, grilled toast
Smoked Bluefish Pate - furikake, espelette, chives, crostini
Everything Bagels & Lox - Chef Alyx’s house made bagels with cream cheese, heirloom tomatoes, chives
Pastry Basket with a rotating selection of Chef Alyx’s favorites such as chocolate croissants with coffee cream filling and cheddar scallion scones
Lemon Pancakes - rhubarb strawberry jam, blueberries, whipped cream
The Hangover Flatbread - spicy prosciutto, bacon, homefries, fried egg, sriracha

The brunch menu also offers items from The Banks lunch and dinner menus: New England Clam Chowder, Swordfish BLT (grilled swordfish, Berkshire pork belly, arugula, tomato, basil-lime mayo), Lobster Roll (brown butter bun, sea salt, chives, Old Bay potato chips, hot or cold), Prime Short Rib Burger (jalapeno jack cheddar, ITO, sesame bun, fries, lime aioli), Fish & Chips (IPA battered cod, slaw, French fries, remoulade) and The Chowda flatbread (creme fraiche, smoked bacon, clams, potatoes, oyster crackers).

Brunch will be served on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10:30am-2:30pm. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

A Tavola: A Superb Sicilian Wine Dinner

Some wine lovers possess a misconception about the wines of Sicily, believing that they are all essentially the same, that Sicily, as it's only an island, possesses a singular terroir. However, why should that be the case? Sicily, which covers nearly 10,000 square miles, is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It's roughly equivalent in size to the Champagne region of France, and is about four times larger than the combined size of Sonoma and Napa counties. Its size alone should be a significant clue that Sicily likely possesses multiple terroirs, a land with a variety of soil types and microclimates, able to produce a wine range of wines. 

I recently had the opportunity to taste a variety of Sicilian wines at a special wine dinner at A Tavola in Winchester, one of my favorite restaurants. Every month, A Tavola holds special events, and in April there will be a Cocktail Class and a Beer Dinner. At the Sicilian Wine Dinner, they served five courses of food, each paired with a different Sicilian wine. The five-course dinner and wine pairings cost $95 per person, and the wines were available for sale after the dinner for a special price. 

Pictured above is Chef Joe Carli (on the left) and Ciro Pirone, who works for Horizon Beverage, and who led the wine tasting. Ciro was personable, charming and humorous, and full of information about Sicily and its wines. 

It's said that Greeks, and more specifically the Chalcidians, were the first to plant vines on Sicily.  
Today there are about 100,000 hectares of vineyards, with 62% planted on hillsides. Approximately 64% of their vineyards are planted with white grapes, 36% with red, and the vineyards are also broken down 80% with local/regional grapes and 20% with international grapes. The top three most planted grapes include Catarratto Bianco (33%), Nero d'Avola (16%) and Grillo (6.5%).  

The five Sicilian wines for the dinner were from the Duca di Salaparuta Group, which owns 3 historic wine brands: Corvo and Duca di Salaparuta, both founded in 1824, and Florio, founded in 1833. They possess two sustainability certifications, VIVA and Equalitas, and state: "We have always been committed to environmental, social and economic sustainability in order to ensure that our wines are of the highest quality, to protect our local area and build a social culture." They were actually the first Sicilian company to receive the Equalitas certification. 

Prior to the start of the dinner, I opted for the Killer Bee cocktail ($15), which is made with Madre Mezcal, lime, and honey. It was refreshing, with only a hint of sweetness, some tartness from the lime, and the nice taste of the Mezcal. A fine way to start any meal.

Our first course of the evening was a Jonah Crab Bruschetta, made with preserved lemon, roasted garlic aioli & thyme. Sweet crab with a nice blend of flavors from the other ingredients atop tasty grilled bread. It was bright, like a taste of spring.

Accompanying this dish was the 2019 Duca di Salaparuta 'Kados' Grillo ($18), made from 100% Grillo, a white grape that is commonly used on Sicily, especially for producing Marsala wine. More frequently now, it's also being produced on its own, as a still white wine. About 55% of the wine was fermented in small oak casks for about forty days, and the entire wine aged in the bottle for at least three months. With about a 13% ABV, this wine had a pleasing nose of citrus and floral notes, and on the palate, it was bright, fresh and crisp, with tasty notes of citrus and a little salinity. An excellent wine for seafood, and it was a nice companion to the Jonah crab.
The second course was Chicken Fried Quail, which was buttermilk brined & crispy fried, with the addition of a Nashville hot honey sauce. I love quail, and this was an excellent preparation, with a delicious and crisp exterior coating, sweet and flavorful quail meat, and a little sweetness and a mild spicy heat from the sauce. More restaurants should serve quail. 

The second wine was the fine 2018 Duca di Salaparuta 'Làvico' Nerello Mascalese ($25), made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, a red grape that is predominantly found on Sicily. The grapes for this wine were grown on the slopes of Mount Etna, at an altitude of about 600-800 meters. The wine was aged for at least 12 months in small, fine oak casks, and had about a 13.5% ABV. In some respects, this wine resembled Pinot Noir, being light bodied with bright cherry flavors, but this wine also had some intriguing notes of cranberry, a touch of balsamic, and some subtle herbal notes. Overall, it was complex and silky smooth, well balanced, with lots of acidity and possessed of a lengthy and pleasant finish. Absolutely delicious and highly recommended. Although it went very well with the quail, it was also mentioned (and I'd agree) that it would pair wonderfully with pork dishes.

The third tasty course was the Spaghetti al limone, with beef bresaola and aged parmesan. The well-made pasta had a more subtle lemon flavor, enhancing the dish, and helping to provide some acidity for the silky and delicious bresaola. Lemon can sometimes overwhelm these type of dishes but Chef Carli used restraint, elevating the dish. As I've frequently said, Chef Carli makes amazing pasta dishes. This is definitely a dish I'd order again. 

The next wine was the 2019 Duca di Salaparuta 'Passo alle Mule' Nero d'Avola ($25), made from 100% Nero d'Avola, the main red grape of Sicily. The wine spent at least 10 months in very fine-grained oak wood and it was aged in the bottle for about 6 - 8 months. With about a 14% ABV,  the wine had a dark red color, and an appealing nose of red berries and vanilla. On the palate, it was more full bodied, with flavors of cherries, raspberries, vanilla and dark spices. 

Our final savory course was Rohan Duck, a braised leg with vincotto & a wood oven-roasted San Marzano tomato. Rohan Duck is an exclusive product of D’Artagnan, a hybrid of heritage breeds, and it's an excellent tasting duck. This dish was certainly no exception, with a delightful crispy skin, and plenty of savory, delicious and tender meat. So much more flavor than a chicken. This is probably one of the best dishes I've had in 2022. A Tavola offers duck specials, on a fairly regular basis, and I'd highly recommend any and all of them. 

With the duck, we sipped the 2017 Duca di Salaparuta 'Duca Enrico' Nero d'Avola ($50), the flagship wine of this winery and an icon in Sicily. It was the first 100% Nero d’Avola label, in 1984, in the history of Sicilian wine. It was aged for at least 18 months in fine oak casks and then another 18 months in the bottle. With about a 14.5% ABV, this wine possessed an alluring aroma of black fruits, mild floral notes, and subtle spices. On the palate, it was complex and engaging, compelling and delicious. Notes of blackberry and ripe plum, subtle spices, earthy notes, smooth tannins, good acidity, and a lingering finish. A superb wine that was bold yet restrained, silky and mesmerizing. Highly recommended and well worth the splurge! Ciro also mentioned this wine paired well with horse, a big dish in Italy. I can't comment on that pairing, but the wine was sublime with the Rohan duck. 

For dessert, we had a Nutella flatbread with cherries, covered in powdered sugar. The thin flatbread was pleasant with the hazelnut & chocolate of the Nutella, and the brightness of the cherries. My personal preference though would have been much less powdered sugar. 

The final wine of the evening was a stunner, something more unique, which was an eye-opener as to a wine category that is ignored by so many people. Many people know of Marsala wine only as something they cook with, and not something they would choose to drink. Most wine shops, unless they specialize in Italian wines, probably only stock the least expensive Marsala, if even that. My own experience with drinking Marsala wine is extremely limited as well, more from a lack of opportunity than anything else. 

Marsala is a fortified wine, with DOC status, which may be dry or sweet, and is produced in the Marsala region of Sicily. It is produced in a manner similar to the solar system which is used to make Sherry. Marsala is commonly made from white grapes, such as Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Damaschino. These wines are categorized by their color, sweetness and aging, and it's commonly served after dinner or with dessert, although sometimes it will be paired with various dinner courses. 

The 2006 Florio 'Targa' Marsala Superior Riserva Semisecco (500ml/$25) was produced from 100% Grillo, and was aged for at least seven years in Slavonian, 1800-liter oak barrels. Florio is the oldest Marsala house on Sicily. With a 19% ABV, it had a bright amber color and on the nose it reminded me strongly of an aged Amontillado Sherry. On the palate, it continued to remind me of Amontillado, with notes of dried fruit, citrus notes, a subtle nuttiness, and a mild sweetness. Such an intriguing and delicious wine, it opened up my eyes to the potential of Marsala. Why isn't there more Marsala of this quality available in most wine stores? Highly recommended! 

Overall, this was an amazing dinner, including both the food and wine. Chef Carli created an excellent menu, and each dish pleased the senses, while the five wines were tasty and intriguing, each in their own way. Service was also excellent, and it seemed that everyone else at the dinner enjoyed themselves as well. Lots of smiles and laughter. And after the dinner, a significant number of the attendees, including myself, purchased wines from the dinner. 

I strongly encourage you to dine at A Tavola, or attend one of their wine/beer dinners, and I also encourage you to drink the wines of Sicily. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

New Sampan Article: Centuries Ago, Many in Boston Saw Chinese Only Through The Lens of Exploitation

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, Centuries Ago, Many in Boston Saw Chinese Only Through The Lens of Exploitation, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. During the 19th century, before the formation of Boston's Chinatown, some Chinese passed through Boston, stage acts which garnered the interest of many attendees. This was often exploitation, displaying the Chinese merely because they were different, tantalizing the audiences with something "exotic." Read my full article to learn more about this disturbing aspect of local history.  

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!  

Monday, March 21, 2022

Rant: Restrain The Powdered Sugar!

Powdered sugar? Argh!!!

Also known as confectioner's sugar, it's simply a finely powdered sugar and cooks and chefs dust it upon various dishes, from pancakes to cookies. It's partially used as a decoration but also adds some sweetness to the dish. However, I feel that it's vastly over used and often unnecessary. I don't want a blanket of white covering an otherwise delicious breakfast or dessert.

It often starts at breakfast, where powdered sugar may be dusted atop pancakes, French toast or waffles, and I'm especially peeved when the menu doesn't mention that fact. You should have to ask for the addition of powdered sugar rather than the restaurant making it a standard addition to the dish. 

I don't want that added sweetness to my pancakes, French toast or waffles. Isn't maple syrup a sweet enough addition? Why would you also need the sweetness of powdered sugar? Add chocolate chips, Lucky Charms, or something similar if you want more sweetness to these breakfast treats. And that white powder doesn't make pancakes, French toast or waffles look any more appealing. 

Adding powdered sugar to many dessert items also seems superfluous. It adds more sweetness than is needed for many of these desserts. Being too heavy handed with powdered sugar seems a cop out, the easiest fix to make your dessert sweet. If your dessert was perfectly sweetened when first prepared, then there shouldn't be a need for powdered sugar. 

Your dessert, just like your breakfast items, should be able to stand on their own. Plus, all that plain white powdered sugar hides the natural colors of the dessert, which are often far more beautiful than a field of white. I'd rather see the dark chocolate colors of a brownie than that dusting of white. Be more creative than simply dusting powdered sugar on everything.

So what are your thoughts on powdered sugar?

Thursday, March 17, 2022

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) Kane’s Donuts is announcing a limited-edition donut with Castle Island Brewing Co. in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. The Good Evening Donut will be available in stores beginning Thursday, March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day) through Monday. March 21st at all Kane’s Donuts locations.

Tapping into Castle Island’s Good Evening Nitro Session Stout, Kane’s has crafted the Good Evening Donut, a light and airy yeast style donut topped with Kane’s signature honey glaze infused with Good Evening Nitro Session Stout and festively decorated with St Patrick's Day sprinkles.

Being a Massachusetts-based business, we take pride in staying true to our roots and supporting other local and like-minded companies through collaboration and always using local ingredients, when possible,” said Maria Delios, co-owner of Kane’s Donuts. “We know our loyal customers are going to love our latest collaboration with Castle Island Brewing Co., just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

Castle Island’s take on a Guinness, Good Evening is a nitro session stout and available exclusively in their taprooms. With an ABV of 4.9% and flavors of milk chocolate, roasted chestnut, and breakfast cereal, it pairs well with the sweet flavors of a donut.

"It's been an incredible experience collaborating with Kane's Donuts, and the timing couldn't have been better. Having just opened our new taproom in South Boston back in the fall of 2021, we knew our first St. Patrick's Day in the neighborhood would be one worth celebrating -- especially with the return of the parade after a two-year absence,” said Derek Hannan, Communications Manager for Castle Island Brewing Co. “Creating a donut together for St. Patrick's Day that highlights what we both do best is such an awesome addition to an already incredible holiday weekend."

2) Chef William Kovel's Kendall Square staple, Catalyst Restaurant, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with throwback menu specials all month long. Changed weekly, this week's featured dish, which was one of the restaurant's bestsellers 10 years ago, is Gargenilli pasta with black truffle butter, chicken oysters, bacon, and parmesan. It costs $16 for a small and $32 for a large. 

Offering lunch and dinner, Catalyst is also opening its doors today and resuming Monday service, from 11am-9pm, for the first time in two years since before the pandemic.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

B.T.'s Smokehouse in Sturbridge: Quick Review

As I said before, I recently spent several days in the Marlborough area at a conference. On one day, I had extra time to explore the region, so a few friends and I made a jaunt down to Sturbridge, to check out B.T.'s Smokehouse, which has received many raves for its barbecue. It was about a forty-minute ride but worth the time. 

B.T.'s Smokehouse, which was founded in 2007, is a medium-sized restaurant, a very casual spot, where you order at the front counter, and then pick up your food when they call your name. They have reopened indoor dining, although seem to do a large take-out business as well. 

The menu has plenty of options, including a variety of Sandwiches (such as Bison Burger, Catfish Po-Boy, and Brisket Reuben). They have Meat Platters and you choose whether you want one to three meats (including Pulled Pork, Brisket, Pulled Chicken & Ribs), and also get two sides and cornbread. For larger quantities, you can order those meats by the cup, pint or quart, or select one of their Dinners, which serve four people. There are also Sides & Snacks, like Andouille Dog Bites, Hush Puppies, and Whole Smoked Wings). 

Prices are reasonable, especially considering the quality and quantity of the food. For example, a two-meat platter is only $21, while a Regular sandwich (with 1/2 pound of meat) is $10.

The restaurant only offers nonalcoholic beverages, such as Sweet Tea, but it's also BYOB! There's no corkage fee, and you can bring your own wine or beer to accompany your barbecue. That's always a benefit. I brought a bottle of Portuguese wine, a red Vinho Verde, which went well with our food. I'll just note that they didn't have any glassware, so you have to do with tall, plastic cups. It's all very casual. 

I opted for a two-meat Platter ($21), with Brisket & Pulled Pork, cornbread, and sides of Sexy Grits and Mac &' Cheese. The Grits were creamy and tasty, while the mac & cheese was also quite good. I was pleased with both sides, although the cornbread was just average to me. 

There was certainly an ample amount of Brisket and Pulled Pork, and they were both meaty and tender, with good flavor to them. On each table, there's a selection of different sauces (such as Meat Heat, Mustard, Sweet, and Piedmont) you can place onto the meat, and I experimented with several of them. Their House Sauce was my favorite, a nicely balanced barbecue sauce, a good blend of spicy and sweet. 

I also ordered a piece of boneless Fried Chicken ($4.50) and it was my favorite part of the meal. A great crunchy coating, covering moist, tender chicken. Each bite was delicious and I could have easily enjoyed a meal of just this fried chicken. Highly recommended.

We also selected a Snack of the Bacon Bites ($7.50), small nuggets of deep-fried bacon which have been seasoned and tossed with peppered cider syrup. Another winner of a dish, with a nice balance of meat and fat, sweetness and a touch of spicy heat, and lots of taste. 

The rest of my friends very much enjoyed their food too, and I would dine here again. Bring your appetite, a bottle of wine or some beers, and several friends and have a tasty meal.