Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kanpai, It's Sake Day

Raise an ochoko today and celebrate Nihonshu no Hi, or as known in English, Sake Day.

Saké Day originated over 35 years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Sake Brewers Association and is now celebrated worldwide. Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Sake (酒) is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (酉), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Sake Day. It is probably also due, in part, to the fact that October is generally considered to be the official start of the Sake brewing season.

What are you doing to celebrate Sake Day? Let me provide some additional ways to learn about, experience and support Sake.

1) Today, and today only, you can get a FREE copy of the e-book of my first Tipsy Sensei novel, Demons, Gods & Sake, This exciting, supernatural thriller pits Nate Randall, a Boston-based Sake expert, against an Oni, a terrible Japanese creature, which seeks an ancient artifact of great power. In his quest to thwart this evil, Nate encounters other adversaries, including a ruthless Yakuza clan. However, he also acquires a mysterious ally, a sword-wielding man with his own secrets. The action spans the globe, from Boston to Japan, and the stakes have never been higher for Nate. Grab a copy of this novel tomorrow, which has ten 5-Star reviews on Amazon, while it is FREE.

2) You might also like to buy my newest Tipsy Sensei novel, Halloween Nightmare At Fenway, which was just published a month ago.  Nate Randall faces a new threat, an evil spawned from the darkest aspects of World War II. His samurai companion, Hato, will also face a personal challenge, a deadly swordsman who may be even more skilled than he. Can they stop the evil from putting into place their diabolical plans during the World Series at Fenway Park? The Tipsy Sensei will be challenged like never before.

3) If you want to learn more about Sake, check out my numerous educational posts at All About Sake. You'll learn about the basics of Sake, pairing Sake & food, Sake customs and legends, and much more. There are links to over 105 posts, so there is plenty to explore and learn. In addition, if you want some Sake recommendations, then please check out my Collected Sake Reviews, which has over 100 reviews of a diverse range of Sake. This is all an excellent starting point for your exploration of the wonderful world of Sake.

What has been the most popular Sake post on my blog? The clear choice is The Science of Sake & Food Pairings, an exploration for some of the scientific reasons why Sake pairs so well with many foods. Not only is it my top Sake post, it is also in the top ten most popular posts of all time on my blog. Another Sake-related post on this top ten list is the Health Benefits of Sake.

More recently, one of my most popular new Sake post has been Blue Current Brewery: Making Sake In Maine, which is about the first Sake brewery to open in New England. Though still relatively new, they are spreading across Maine, including to many non-Asian restaurants, and their Junmai Ginjo is delicious. Another of my most popular Sake posts this year has unquestionably been An Expanded History Of Sake Brewing in the U.S. I did lots of research for that article, combing numerous old newspapers and other sources to put together the most comprehensive history of the earliest Sake breweries in the U.S.

4) I've created the Sake menus for two local restaurants and you can go to either spot to enjoy delicious cuisine with some interesting Sakes. At Thelonious Monkfish in Central Square, Cambridge, you can enjoy their Asian fusion cuisine and Sushi with Sake. And at Tasting Counter in Somerville, near Union Square, you can order ten Sakes with your nine-course dinner, making it the the non-Asian restaurant with the largest Sake menu in the Boston area. The cuisine is phenomenal and pairs very well with the diverse selection of Sake.

5) Please know that I am available for hire for all your Sake related matters. I can work with restaurants, wine shops, distributors, schools, and other businesses as well as private individuals. I provide a diverse selection of services, including: Educational seminars, from basic classes to more advanced; Sake tastings, from small private affairs to larger groups; Sake and food pairings, from appetizers to dinners; Consultations on Sake recommendations for stocking in wine stores or restaurants; and other Sake events and activities.

If you are looking to hold a different event, something beyond the usual wine tasting, why not try a Sake event instead. Sake pairs with all types of cuisines so a Sake dinner could be held at any restaurant, from Italian to French, Spanish to a Burger joint. If you are interested in any of these services, just email me and we can discuss the possibilities.

Have a great Sake Day! And I hope to see you at a Sake event in the near future.

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.. **********************************************************
1)  Wendy Issokson, owner, Chill On Park, has added two new fall ice cream flavors and a new fall coffee to the menu at Dorchester’s popular ice cream and coffee shop at the corner of Dorchester and Park. Dutch Apple Pie and Pumpkin Oreo are the two new ice cream flavors for Fall, and Pumpkin Spice is the new coffee. “Of course we have to celebrate the icons of Fall – apples and pumpkin – and they are already staff favorites” shares Wendy Issokson.

New At Chill On Park This Fall:
After School Special: 10% off beverage, ice cream and bakery, Mon-Thurs, 3-5pm for students
Family Night Tuesdays: Every Tuesday evening, 6pm-8pm
*Specially priced kids ice cream cone or cup, $2.50....add one topping for 50 cents
*Free kids gift and balloon with any ice cream purchase. (One gift per child with purchase).
*Tweet #MBTA to @CHILLONPARK and your morning coffee is on us! (offer good 9am-6pm, Mon-Fri, for a small coffee or tea)
*CHANGE FOR CHARITY: Chill On Park announces its new community donation program. Each month Chill On Park highlight a local charity or program, and accepts spare change. For September and October the beneficiary is The Codman Square Health Center.

2) On October 20, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will host a wine dinner with Boisset Family Estates, the popular Napa Valley-based winery. Legal Harborside will team up with Boisset’s President, Jean-Charles Boisset, to host a four-plus-course Burgundian Californian dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with choices from their bounty. Since 1961, Boisset and his family have produced world-renowned wines from some of the most prominent winegrowing regions.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Scallop Mousse, Brioche, Pickled Squash, Local Honey
Country Ham & Gruyère Croquette, Apricot Mustard Aioli
King Salmon Tartare, Rhubarb, Fennel, Dill Crème Fraîche
Macomber Turnip Soup, Caviar, Fines Herbes
JCB “No. 21” Crémant de Bourgogne, NV
West Coast Abalone (trio of apple, crispy speck, brussels sprout leaves)
Jean-Claude Boisset, Bourgogne Aligoté “Les Moutots,” 2013
DeLoach Estate Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2013
Sunburst Farms Trout (five-spice spätzle, beetroot emulsion, sage brown butter)
DeLoach “Block 1950” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2013
Jean-Claude Boisset, Ladoix Premier Cru “Hautes Mourottes,” 2013
Roasted Squab (mushroom consommé, braised swiss chard, foie gras, poached pear ravioli)
DeLoach “Maboroshi Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2013
Jean-Claude Boisset, Chambolle-Musigny, 2013
Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche (black currant preserves, rosemary anise tuile)
Buena Vista “Raison d’Etre” Merlot, Sonoma, 2013

COST: $125 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

3) Trick-or-treating isn’t just for kids. Come see what Seaport has to offer grown up trick-or-treaters on Friday, October 30, from 7pm-10pm, at the 6th Annual Halloween on the Harbor. Flaunt your creative costume while collecting treats and prizes at some of the Seaport District’s best bars and restaurants.

Trick-or-treaters will kick off the evening at TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel before choosing to either walk or hop on one our dedicated Boston DUCK boats to travel to any of the participating Halloween on the Harbor locations. Guests will enjoy ghoulish cocktails, appetizers and treats while receiving passport stamps at each stop.

Various venues will also offer prizes for best costume. Proceeds from the $5 ticket price will benefit the Friends of the Fort Point Channel, which offers free community programming for kids and adults in the area.

Tickets can be purchased at:
This event is strictly 21+ and guests must bring a valid ID and proof of EventBrite ticket purchase.

TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel
Capiz Lounge at the Renaissance Hotel
M.J. O'Connors
Whiskey Priest
Atlantic Beer Garden
Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill
Temazcal Tequila Cantina

4) Culinary Arts Director Kevin DiLibero and the Papa Razzi Metro team invite guests to celebrate October as Pizza Month with a new promotion that allows guests to enjoy Neapolitan pizza offerings for half the price Monday – Friday from 4pm-6pm & 9pm-11pm pm in the bar and lounge.

Papa Razzi Metro, in Burlington, is celebrating Pizza Month. Guests can now enjoy half off pizzas for the month of October at the bar and lounge. Papa Razzi Metro serves certified authentic Neapolitan pizza that is "the truest of the true form of pizza."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

WuBurger: Woburn's Newest Burgers

A recent study, the Burger Consumer Trend Report by Technomic, states that 39% of consumers purchase a burger from a fast food restaurant on a weekly basis. If true, this could explain the reason for the explosion of burger joints in the Boston+ area. In the suburbs, one of the newest burger additions is WuBurger, which opened in Woburn earlier this month. It's still new, but as a preliminary opinion, based on four visits, it's a worthy spot for a delicious and inexpensive burger and you should make a trip there.

Located in a small strip of stores, with ample parking, WuBurger has walk-up windows where you can order your food or you can choose to sit inside. Inside, you order at the counter and then seat yourself. Dependent on the time, your food might then be delivered to you or you might be called to pick up your food. It has a kind of a casual diner feel and the food is prepared quickly so it is a good choice if you are pressed for time.

I like the fact that the only item they serve which is frozen is their waffle fries. The meat for their burgers is delivered fresh and they source some of their other ingredients from local farms and vendors. They are trying to elevate the quality of fast food and be more eco-consciious while still maintaining inexpensive, fast food prices. I went to their Family & Friends opening, and then went back on my own three other times. Each time, the quality of the food was consistently good. There were a couple minor service issues but that is typical of many places when they first open and I expect they will be remedied soon enough.

The star of the menu is their Burger, which comes as a Single Patty ($4.50) or Double Patty ($6.50) and is served on a Martin's Potato or Sesame roll. Complimentary Toppings include: Lettuce, Tomato, Raw Onion, Pickles, Relish, Ketchup, Mustard, & Mayo,  For $0.50 per topping, you can also add: Wu Sauce, Grilled Onions, Grilled Mushrooms, Jalapeno, American Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, & Swiss Cheese. And for $1.00 per topping, you can add Applewood Smoked Bacon, Blue Cheese, Fried Egg, Crispy Fried Onions, & Homemade Chili. There are plenty of options to customize your burger so you can experience something different every time you visit.

They have several other sandwiches ($3.50-$7.00) including a Veggie Burger, Grilled Cheese, Roast Beef Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Fried Chicken Breast, and more. For sides, the main options are Waffle Fries ($3) and Hand Cut Onion Rings ($4), and you can get them topped with Bacon, Cheddar Cheese Sauce or Chili ($1 each). However, on my most recent visit, they didn't have onion rings available as there appeared to be an issue with them. I'm not sure if they are back yet or not.

This is a Double Patty topped by a fried egg and cheddar cheese on a sesame bun. The burger was juicy and flavorful, enhanced by the egg and aged cheddar. The size of the bun was perfect for the rest of the sandwich. Just a damn good burger at this price.

The potato roll works well too, though my personal preference is for the sesame bun. I had some of the James River BBQ sauce on this burger which added some sweet spiciness to the burger.

The North Shore ($6.50) has Rare Roast Beef, American Cheese, and James River BBQ Sauce.  The roast beef was cooked a perfect rare, and was tender and flavorful, enhanced by the BBQ sauce. If anything, it might be a tad smaller than what you can find at other North Shore roast beef joints. But for taste, it is spot on.

They might be frozen, but the waffles fries are good, not overcooked and very few small pieces. If you want, you can get the cheddar cheese sauce on top or on the side. I also tried the chili and was very pleased with it. There are no beans in their chili and it is well spiced, meaty and delicious. I could have eaten a bowl of the chili on its own.

If you want dessert, they have a full menu of ice cream treats, with the ice cream sourced from Richardson's Farm.. The X-Thick Vanilla Frappe ($7) was good and thick, though still drinkable through  a straw. Have an ice cream cone or a sundae, frozen yogurt or soft serve.

WuBurger has gotten off to an excellent start and I recommend that you check it out. Grab a burger, waffle fries & a shake and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pisco Mistral & Piscoritas

You should explore the native spirits of other countries, even though it might be a bit more difficult to find them locally. I recently mentioned Sotol, an intriguing Mexican spirit,  and now I'm going much further south, to Chile, to highlight the compelling Pisco.

Four years ago, while touring through Chile, our van stopped at an isolated gas station in the countryside for a fill-up. There was a small grocery store attached to the station so I got out of the van to check it out, maybe to pick up a snack. However, I was amazed to find that the back of the store was taken up with several shelves of different bottles of Pisco, a well-known spirit in Chile and Peru. I bought a bottle, the Pisco Mistral pictured above, and when I brought it back to the van I told everyone else what I had found. Most of them then left the van to get some Pisco too. That gas station did a great business in Pisco that afternoon.

For some background and basic information on Pisco, including its history, check out my previous post, La Mar, Pisco Sours & A Cautionary Tale, and my prior review of the Macchu Pisco La Diablada, a Peruvian Pisco. Pisco still remains relatively uncommon in the U.S. but it is a growing category and you should keep an eye out for it at your local bars and liquor stores.

Pisco Mistral is owned by the Compañía de Cervecerías Unidas (CCU), the largest brewer in Chile and a producer of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The Pisco distillery is located in the town of Pisco Elqui, in the Elqui Valley, where Pisco production was first conducted in Chile. The town was originally known as :La Greda but was changed in 1936 to help support Chile's legal claim to produce Pisco. The brand name, Mistral, is derived from the name of Gabriela Mistral, who was a native of Elqui Valley and was the first Latin-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The distillery produces several different Piscos and I opened the Pisco Mistral 35, which is produced primarily from Pedro Ximénez and Muscat of Alexandria.grapes and aged in American oak. It has a light golden-brown color and appealing spicy aromatics. On the palate, it is soft and smooth, with pleasing flavors of vanilla, spice and mild herbal notes. It has a lengthy and satisfying finish, without any bite. You'll realize that it is a versatile spirit, one which would work well in a wide variety of cocktails. The Pisco Sour might be the most famous and common Pisco cocktail, but you can do so much more with this delightful spirit.

I've been having fun with my new blender so decided to put the Pisco through the paces. I decided to create a Frozen Piscorita, a Margarita that substitutes Pisco for the Tequila. I figured the flavors were similar to what you would find in a Pisco Sour so it should work well. For the Margarita mix, I used the Squeeze from the Margaritas restaurant, which was especially appropriate as it contains egg white, which is also an important ingredient in a Pisco Sour. I used the same amount of Pisco as I would have used Tequila.

The Frozen Piscorita was a big hit! It lacked the bite of tequila and there was the addition of some spicy notes as the Pisco was barrel aged. The flavors of the ingredients blended very well and the cocktail went down very easily. It would appeal to many people, including those who dislike tequila. It would be a nice introduction to Pisco and should stir the imagination as to how Pisco could be used in many other cocktails. I also made a non-frozen version and, as expected, it too worked well. Seek out some Pisco and learn more about this fascinating South American spirit.

Do you have a favorite Pisco cocktail?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rant: The Problems of Autumn

Fall in New England is a beautiful time, with the multitude of colors found in the leaves. It is a time for apple picking and hay rides, for savoring the last warm days before the chilly weather strikes. However, the autumn also brings with it a few food and drink issues, some of which I want to address today.

First, Rosé wine is vanishing from the shelves of many wine stores and that's a problem. It still hasn't caught on sufficiently that Rosé is a wine that should be enjoyed year round. Besides being delicious, it is very food friendly and works with plenty of fall and winter dishes. I've ranted before about this issue and will continue to do so until wine stores wake up and start stocking Rosé 365 days a year. There are some wine stores who understand, who keep stocking  Rosé, and they deserve your support and kudos. Tell your local wine shop to carry Rosé even when the trees are bare and even when snow falls on the streets.

Second, apples are such a wonderful and versatile fruit but they can be the subject of a few issues. At many fall markets, carnivals, festivals and more, you'll find candy and caramel apples, which might be covered with coconut, nuts, colored jimmies or other items. Candy apples were invented first, around the turn of the century, though their exact origin is murky. Candy apples, with their distinctive red candy shell, are usually made with a flavored boiled sugar recipe. Caramel apples, made with melted caramel, were first developed by Kraft Foods in the 1950s. The popularity of each varies across the country, though I have been noticing, to my dismay, an increase in the ubiquity of caramel apples locally.

I love candy apples, especially covered with coconut. It is not always easy to take that first crunchy bit of a candy apple, breaking through the hard shell, but it is rewarding. With a fresh, crisp apple, the candy, coconut and fruit make for a very appealing treat. For me, the caramel apple fails. I love caramel, from a nice sweet sauce atop ice cream to a salted, gooey center of a dark chocolate. But I don't like its soft gooey texture on a caramel apple. It is too soft, and just doesn't seem complementary to the crisp apple.

So I am dismayed that red candy apples are much less available lately. Where have they gone? Why aren't they more popular now? Why have caramel apples become much more popular? I don't have answers to these questions. But I want them to bring back my red candy apples. I want that candy crunch rather than the gooey chew.

Third, with apples come Cider Donuts, one of the best foods that exists. I love, love cider donuts but I am also picky as to the type that I enjoy. There are two main types of cider donuts, the heavier, cakey ones and the lighter, softer ones. I prefer the lighter, softer donuts, such as those from Russell Orchards in Ipswich.  They capture the taste of the apple as well as the spices that are added. With the more cakey donuts, you feel full after having one. They also tend to be more dry than the lighter donuts. So why do more farms seem to make the cakey cider donuts?

What are some of your food & drink issues with the fall?