Thursday, April 2, 2015

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) Boston Nightlife Ventures (BNV) is excited to announce Akinto at Wink & Nod, a new culinary collaboration with Executive Chef Patrick Enage that is part of the craft cocktail speakeasy’s rotating pop-up dining program. Focusing on Southeast Asian cuisine, Enage’s six month residency in the kitchen at Wink & Nod begins on Monday, March 30.

The name Akinto means “this is mine” in Tagalog, reflecting Enage’s view of the program as a welcome opportunity to articulate and explore his own distinctive culinary perspective. Enage explains, “I see Akinto as an exciting opportunity to introduce guests to the Southeast Asian flavors and ingredients I grew up with—the flavors that shaped my culinary perspective.”

Enage was born in the Philippines and moved to Los Angeles at a young age. A culinary school graduate, Enage worked in fine dining establishments and hotels across the country before meeting his mentor, current BNV Chief Culinary Officer Bill Brodsky, while working the line at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club. Prior to joining the BNV team, Enage worked as Chef de Cuisine at Brodsky’s City Landing restaurant in Boston. To prepare for this new project, Enage took a month to travel around Asia this winter, exploring traditions and ingredients at their source.

Akinto will showcase the distinctive flavors and ingredients of Southeast Asian street food from Enage’s native Philippines as well as India, Singapore, Thailand, India, Vietnam, China, Japan and Laos. Designed to encourage sharing, the menu features snack-sized small and medium plates that complement Wink & Nod’s cocktail program, as well as large plates and desserts that will satisfy guests seeking a full meal.

Highlights from the approachably priced menu include:

Small Plates ($7-$10)
--Pork Hash “Sisig” with quail egg, calamansi, and soy
--Traditional Shrimp Bao Buns in a curried mussel liqueur
--Spicy Pork “Drop Wontons” with anise BBQ, toasted sesame-rice wine, & peanut paste
Medium Plates ($11-$18)
--Braised Oxtail and Black Bean Water Spinach with jasmine rice and house chili oil
--18-Hour Pork Belly in a Kabocha-pho broth
--Kabayaki Glazed Swordfish Belly with grilled Taiwan lettuce and salted duck egg vinaigrette
Large Plates ($22-31)
--Teapot Fish Stew with lemongrass-native clam broth
--Steamed Striped Bass with orange miso tamarind glaze and long beans
--Korean Style Beef Short Rib with X0-coconut glaze, calamansi, cilantro, flowering chives, and peanuts
Desserts ($6-$9)
--Green Tea-Almond Chocolate Bar
--Thai Tea Crème Brulee with peanut crackle
--Turon Banana Fritter with jack fruit and smoky caramel

As I have written about before, I have bemoaned the fact that there is so little Filipino cuisine available in the Boston area, so I am very excited to see the arrival of Arinto. I hope you check it out too and let me know your thoughts.

2) On April 13, at 6:30pm, Legal Oysteria will host a Tuscan wine dinner with Wine Expert, Claudio Andreani. Legal Oysteria will team up with Andreani to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with selections from the Tuscan vine.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Grilled Calamari Salad
Fresh Cod Cakes
Olive Oil Poached Tuna Crostini
Tenuta Campo al Mare Vermentino, 2013
Pan-Seared Trout (fennel purée, warm pine nut dressing)
Tenute del Cabreo “La Pietra” Chardonnay, 2012
Tenuta di Nozzole “Le Bruniche” Chardonnay, 2013
Swordfish Saltimbocca (slow-roasted balsamic turnips & cipollini onions, toasted fregola)
Tenute del Cabreo “Il Borgo” Super Tuscan, 2011
Tenuta TorCalvano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2011
Rosemary and Black Pepper Rib Roast (roasted wild mushrooms, grilled asparagus, porcini jus)
Tenuta di Nozzole “La Forra” Chianti Classico Riserva, 2009
Aged Gouda
Pecorino Romano
Tenuta di Nozzole “Il Pareto” Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009

COST: $85 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling (617) 530-9392

3) On Monday, April 20, in celebration of the 2015 Boston Marathon, The Beehive will host the second annual benefit event in support of the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund. From 10am-1am, 100% of the profits will be donated towards the organization’s mission to fuel cutting-edge research and clinical programs in trauma healing and limb reconstruction.

The Reny Family established the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund in gratitude to the doctors at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) that saved their 18 year old daughter’s life and limbs following the explosions at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. The fund fuels innovative research and clinical programs in trauma healing and limb reconstruction to help future patients with traumatic, athletic and disease-related limb injuries regain their strength so they can step strong once again. The Beehive is proud to honor the medical heroes at BWH who treated and saved 39 patients with life-threatening injuries that day and support this effort to turn the tragedy that befell the Reny Family into hope for the future.

Guests will enjoy a day of live jazz performances and cuisine from The Beehive’s Executive Chef Marc Orfaly. Opening for a special holiday brunch, guests can enjoy selections from The Beehive’s brunch menu including: Eggs Shakshuka, poached eggs baked “North African Style” in tomato sauce with polenta ($15), Quiche with hot & sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, caramelized onion, mozzarella ($16.5) and Sirloin Steak & Potato Hash, poached egg, salad ($17.50). For kids ten and under, The Beehive has a “Little Bee’s Kids Menu” featuring scrambled eggs and toast, kiddie French toast and grilled cheese and frites (all $8).

For dinner, guests can indulge including dishes such as: Szechuan Style Beef Brisket with Kung Pao vegetables ($25), Roasted Salmon, truffled savoy cabbage and whole grain mustard broth ($26), The Beehive Prime Burger with frites & slaw ($18) and Cauliflower Parmesan, arugula and pomodoro sauce ($24).

For reservations, please call 617-423-0069

4) The South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation presents the 13th Annual Taste of South Boston on April 12th from 6 - 9 pm at the Plaza Ballroom at the Seaport Hotel . Don’t miss out on this chance to sample delectable culinary creations from South Boston’s new dining establishments including: Pastoral, Bastille Kitchen, Loco Taqueria, J.P. Licks, and the Juice Box. In addition to these new establishments will be: American Provisions, Barking Crab, Café Porto Bello, Cranberry Café, Empire, Flour Bakery & Café, Jerry Remy's Seaport, Legal Harborside, Lincoln, Local 149, Lucky's Lounge, M.C. Spiedo, Miam Miam Macaronerie, No Name Restaurant, The Paramount, Salsa's, Salvatore's, Stephi's in Southie, Strega Waterfront, Sweet Tooth Boston, Tamo Bistro & Bar, Temazcal, and Trade.

Al's Liquors will be pouring samples of select wines, and Harpoon Brewery will be providing samples of their latest brews.

Purchase tickets today at:

5) As the highly-anticipated premiere of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” approaches, the show continues to establish itself as a true cultural phenomenon. In response to the excitement among devoted viewers, Violet Thorn, the signature bar and lounge located at The VERVE - Crowne Plaza Natick, will offer a special menu inspired by the fantasy drama during the weekend of the premiere.

On Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, “Game of Thrones” enthusiasts are invited to enjoy a selection of small plates created by Executive Chef Alastair Mclean and Chef James Booth for the return of the hit series. Fans looking for bold flavors will want to start with Dragons Tail with Fire Breath ($10), an appetizer of crispy pig tails tossed in a spicy sauce, while those seeking hearty fare that’s guaranteed to satisfy even the nobles of Westeros will want to dig into piping hot Beef n’ Bacon Pie ($12), a beef stew topped with a flaky puff pastry. For “Thrones” fans hoping to dine like true medieval royalty, Violet Thorn’s King’s Landing Confit ($10), a dish comprising of turkey leg with giblet gravy, and Baratheon Blood Wild Boar Rib ($12), a plate of ribs with braised tomato sauce, are the perfect fit. Providing a perfectly sweet ending is Sansa’s Homemade Lemon Pie ($8), a light and refreshing dessert drizzled with vanilla icing and topped with roasted almonds.

Guests looking for a complete experience will want to take advantage of The VERVE’s “Game of Throne’s”-themed overnight package that includes the following: two small plates from Violet Thorn’s special menu, a bucket of three beers from Ommegang Brewery, popcorn, and of course, a complimentary in-room viewing of episode one of the season five premier on Sunday, April 12th.

COST: Room package starts at $159 for Saturday, April 11th and $219 for Sunday, April 12th (tax and gratuity not included). Package includes: choice of two small plates from “Game of Thrones”-themed menu, popcorn, and a bucket of three beers from Ommegang Brewery.
For Reservations, please call 508-653-8800

6) On Wednesday, April 22,  The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, is celebrating the opening of “The Back Room at The Wine ConneXtion,” the new high-end wines and spirits room, with a complimentary whisky sampling, “East Meets West.”

Last year Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible named Yamazaki Single Malt Japanese Whisky the best whisky in the world— the first time in its history that a Japanese whisky took the top spot, bypassing Scotch and shocking connoisseurs all over the world. But what are the defining differences between the two whiskys? From 6:30PM to 8:30PM the expert staff will be serving tastes of top-shelf whiskys from Japan, Taiwaan and Scotland, highlighting the subtle flavor differences between the two styles as a result of heating techniques, climate and landscape.

Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the evolving profiles of the whisky world and to support the expansion of The Wine ConneXtion.

COST: Tastings are complimentary and open to the public, 21+ only

7) In lieu of a vacation to Europe this spring, Davis Square watering hole Saloon is going on “Island Time, Scottish Style” as they host a whiskey tasting celebrating the liquid delights of Scotland’s shores on April 21 at 7pm. Emceed by Saloon’s resident malt man and Beverage Director Manny Gonzales, this spirits-based tasting will showcase single-malt scotches from various Scottish islands including Islay, Jura, the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Arran. Complemented by a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, Gonzales will hand-select some of the greatest tastes from Scotland’s premier isles while imparting his wisdom on how these whiskeys are developed in relation to their islandic surroundings.

COST: $35 per person
Advance reservations required. For tickets, please visit:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Japanese Sushi Contest: Seeking Judges

A Japanese cooking competition that pits two skilled chefs against each other in a challenging, and potentially perilous, endeavor. And two local food writers have the opportunity to be on the judging panel for this unique and exhilarating battle.

Last September, I had the honor to be one of five judges presiding over an epic Sushi battle that was filmed for ABC Asahi Broadcasting, a national Japanese TV network, for a prime time cooking competition. You can read my previous article for background and to learn more about my experience. I have the honor to have been approached again, this time by the Doukeshi Broadcasting Network, to judge another Japanese Sushi contest that will air on Japanese TV. And this time, I have been asked to select two other local food writers to join me on the judging panel.

Once again, a famed Japanese sushi chef will be pitted against a Boston-area judge. Due to confidentiality reasons, I cannot yet reveal the identity of the Boston-area chef except to state that the chef is well known for their skill in seafood preparation, and has been training for the last two months for this upcoming competition.

In partnership with Chicot Seafood, a Japanese based seafood exporter, this culinary competition will focus on a special ingredient, Fugu, Japanese pufferfish. The Japanese have been eating fugu for over 4000 years,and it remains a highly sought delicacy. For the contest, the chefs will prepare fugu in three ways: Sashimi, Nigiri Sushi, and a Maki Roll. The technique of cutting fugu into thin, translucent sashimi slices is known as usudzukuri. It is considered the best way to enjoy this fish.

Yes, you probably are aware that fugu can be poisonous. The organs of the fish contain tetradotoxin, a dangerous poison which paralyzes the body. However, if properly sliced and prepared, you can safely eat the flesh of the fugu. You might feel a slight tingling on your tongue, which is due to residual traces of poison, but it is not a deadly dose and won't even make you ill. In the past fifteen years, less than 30 people in Japan have died from fugu poisoning, and it is almost always because some fool local fisherman decided to make some fugu at home. So, the competition should be completely safe, although you will have to sign a Waiver of Liability just in the remotest of chances that something negative occurs.

This will be an exciting competition and I look forward to judging the results of this endeavor.

If you are a local food writer and wish to participate as a judge, please leave your name and email address in the comments and I will be in touch to discuss that matter. Two judges will be chosen, and you will receive extra consideration if you have experience in Japanese cuisine..

UPDATE: Yes, this was an April Fool's prank post and at least a few people did fall for it. I placed a few hints in the post as to is true nature. First, in the Labels, I placed "holiday" which referred to April Fool's Day. Second, the word "Doukeshi" is a Japanese term that means "clown" or "jester." Third, the word "Chicot" refers to a historical jester who worked for King Henry III. Hope you enjoyed this little joke.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rant: Seafood Fraud & Imitation Crab

As you peruse the shelves of your local grocery store or gourmet food shop, you spy a Crab Dip and you decide to buy it so you can serve it at your next party. However, you din't actually read the list of ingredients on the dip. It is not until you are home later that you take a closer look at the dip and realize that it doesn't contain any crab! It contains only "imitation crab," a mixture of  different white fish such as pollock and flounder. Why isn't there any crab in your crab dip?

At your local sushi restaurant, you decide to order the Kanikama, which the menu says is crab. However, you learn that it too is not real crab, and just more of that imitation crab. You also realize that the  California Maki Roll that you love, which also says it contains crab, only has imitation crab. Isn't that a type of seafood fraud, where the package doesn't tell the truth about what is inside?

In 1973, a Japanese company created Kanikama, an imitation crab meat which is made from pulverized white fish, and usually other ingredients like egg whites, that has been cured and then shaped to look like crab meat. Crab flavoring is added to it, and red food coloring is used on the exterior. It may also be called Surimi, a Japanese term which means "ground meat." The most important thing is that it doesn't contain any actual crab meat.

Obviously, imitation crab is used because it is cheaper than using real crab. Its use is widespread, and goes much farther than just the sushi world. Many processed  foods that say "crab" actually use the imitation crab. Imitation lobster is also made from surimi but its use is much less common than the imitation crab. Fewer products seem to use fake lobster. It can be difficult to find processed foods that contain actual crab.

I want to see menus and products be more transparent about imitation crab, to make its use much more prominent on their packaging. If it says "Crab Dip" on your package and it doesn't contain any real crab, I want the word "Imitation" to be as large and bold as the words "Crab Dip." I don't want to have to squint to read the tiny font of your ingredients to see real crab is missing. Be honest and true about your products.

Otherwise, it becomes a form of deception, a type of seafood fraud.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Boston/New England Lamb Jam 2015

Do you love lamb? Would you like the opportunity to taste numerous lamb dishes? Then maybe you should attend the New England Lamb Jam.

On Sunday, April 12, twenty New England chefs and over 800 lamb lovers will gather at The Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge to kick off the 6th Annual Boston/New England Lamb Jam Global Flavors Tour, the annual multi-city culinary cook-off where attendees decide which chefs have earned their “chops” by voting on inspirational American lamb dishes.

Competing for the titles of “Best in Show,” “People’s Choice” and “Best Mediterranean, Asian, Latin and Middle Eastern inspired dishes,” New England chefs will prepare and serve their most flavorful American lamb dish to be put to the test by lamb-loving attendees and New England’s top food media. The victor will go head-to-head with other winning chefs from Seattle, Austin, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Lamb Jambs in an attempt to claim the title of “Lamb Jam Master” at the Lamb Jam finale in New York City later this year.

We designed the Lamb Jam Tour as a way to bring communities together and drive awareness about the benefits of American lamb,” says Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board. “Approximately one third of consumers have never eaten lamb, and many try lamb for the first time in a restaurant, so it’s exciting to see so many local Boston chefs incorporating innovative lamb dishes to their menus.

General Admission tickets are $60 and provide an opportunity to sample 20 globally inspired lamb dishes, taste brew from 12 local breweries, and mingle with local shepherds and artisans and vote for the best Lamb Jam dishes.

You can also opt for the VIP treatment. Chefs Jamie Bissonnette of Toro & Coppa and Matt Jennings of Townsman will be conducting a spring training centered on grilling in a seminar style VIP hour. Each dish will be served with a craft cocktail, beer or wine paired by a local beverage expert. Participants will also experience a pasture to plate demonstration by a master butcher and local lamb producer. VIP tickets are $100 and include admission to the rest of the Lamb Jam festivities.

Visit for the complete lineup and to purchase general admission tickets.

When: Sunday, April 12
1:45 – 3:00pm (VIP)
3:00 – 6:00pm (General Admission)

Participating New England chefs include:
Brian Alberg of The Red Lion Inn
Brian Dandro of Art Bar
Robert Siscan of Bistro du Midi
Michael Sherman of Brasserie 28
Justin Melnick of The Terrace
Daniel Bojorquez of La Brasa
Tiffani Faison and Dan Raia of Sweet Cheeks Q
Chris Douglass of Ashmont Grill
Peter Davis of Henrietta’s Table
Jim Solomon of The Fireplace
Justin Shoults of BRINE
Thomas Borgia of Russell House
Nemo Bolin of Cook & Brown Public House
Ben Lloyd of The Salted Slate
Matt Varga of Gracie’s
Matt Louis of Moxy
Gregg Sessler of Cava
Niko Regas of Emilitsa
Chris Gould of Central Provisions
Damian and Ilma Lopez of Piccolo

Organized by the American Lamb Board, a portion of the proceeds will go to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a Boston based organization dedicated to facilitating the rescue and distribution of healthy, fresh food that would otherwise be discarded.

I'll be judging at this year's Lamb Jam so I am very excited, to get to sample 20 different lamb dishes from a talented pool of chefs. I hope to see you there.

Tavern Road: American Lamb

"Well, Clarice - have the lambs stopped screaming?"
--Hannibal Lecter

It's been a voyage around the world of lamb lately. Icelandic lamb, Australian lamb and American lamb. As a lamb lover, this sampling has been a culinary voyage of great delight. However, I know some people who dislike lamb, who think it tastes too gamey, and won't ever order it at a restaurant or cook it at home. I'm sure though they would enjoy lamb if it were prepared differently from what they've tasted before. Lamb is a versatile meat and can be showcased in so many, many ways. You merely need to be open to trying something new.

Recently, the American Lamb Board hosted a media lunch at Tavern Road where Chef Louis Dibiccari prepared us a four-course lamb meal. Lisa and Phillip Webster, owners of North Star Sheep Farm in Windham, Maine, provided the lamb and Lisa also gave a short talk about lamb and her farm. Richard Doucette, the in-house butcher at Tavern Road, gave a butchery demo while Lisa gave her talk. In addition, Formaggio Kitchen served several sheep's milk cheeses prior to our lunch and 90+ Cellars provided four wines for the lunch.

The American Lamb Board "is an industry-funded research and promotions commodity board that represents all sectors of the American Lamb industry including producers, feeders, seed stock producers and processors. The Board, appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, is focused on increasing demand by promoting the freshness, flavor, nutritional benefits, and culinary versatility of American Lamb." They will also be hosting the Lamb Jamb next month, where 20 New England chefs will compete, trying to create the best lamb dish.

Above is Lisa Webster of North Star Sheep Farm, which has been in operation since 1997 though their families have been involved in raising sheep for over 100 years. Lisa and Phillip actually became sheep farmers in Maine around 1984, and then in 1997, they bought the 225-acre Stevens Farm in Windham. They raise several thousand sheep, all of which are pasture raised on certified organic grass. They do not use an antibiotic or hormones on the sheep, and if any sheep actually needs antibiotics, it is automatically removed from the meat program. They are passionate about sustainable farming, and are an Animal Welfare Approved farm. They believe in whole lamb sales so nothing goes to waste. They also offer some Lamb Recipes on their website.

For more info, in Lisa's own words, please watch the two videos below.

This is Part 1 of a video with some opening remarks by Chef Louis Dibiccari. After his comments, then Lisa Webster gives a talk about lamb and her farm while Richard Doucette butchers a lamb.

This is Part 2 of a video with more information from Lisa Webster and Richard Doucette comtinues to butcher the lamb. There is lots of valuable information in this video, and it is also quite cool to see the lamb be rendered down into trays of appealing meat.

The open kitchen at Tavern Road. The wooden counter at the front was specifically built so that it could be used for butchery.

This is the whole lamb prior to being butchered.

Richard Doucette is placing a rack of lamb onto a tray. He did a superb job of butchery and even made it seem easy.

Some of the results from the butchery demo, such appealing cuts of lamb. And the skill of Richard Doucette is more than evident.

Our lunch was prepared from another lamb, and these were cooked on the rotisserie.

Lamb hot dogs!

Shredded lamb for the birayni.

Lamb merguez sausage, though they almost look like giant, unfrosted cinnamon rolls.

Formaggio Kitchen presented four sheep's milk cheese, and my favorite was a new cheese for me, the Zimbro, a Portuguese raw sheep's milk cheese. It is a thistle-rennet cheese, which is aged for 60 days, and presents a creamy, pudding-like interior. You remove the top of the cheese and then scoop out the soft cheese. In the photo above, you can see the Zimbro on the left with a spoon sticking in it. The Zimbro possessed such an appealing and interesting taste, with soft herbal accents. All of the cheeses were tasty, but the Zimbro was special.

There was even a sheep's milk Blue Cheese. Bring on some Port.

After the lamb discussion and butchery demo, we sat down, looking forward to our lunch. Chef Dibiccari wanted to present lamb in four different styles and types of cuisines, to show its versatility. It also served to showcase his own creativity and culinary skills. The week prior to this lunch, I had attended an Icelandic reception at Tavern Road and enjoyed an Icelandic lamb dish. After enjoying that dish, I was excited to see what the Chef would do with this American lamb.

The first course was Lamb Biranyi, with wild rice, black garlic, rabe, cashew, and dried apricot, and accompanied by a papadum. An excellent presentation, this dish burst with delicious flavors and a nice blend of textures, from the tender lamb to the crunchy cashews. Savory, with sweet accents. this was an addictive dish and I would order it again if it were on the menu.

The papadum was different than the usual, being more like a soft flatbread than the crunchy papadum you get at most Indian restaurants, but it still was delicious.

The Harissa Rubbed Roast Leg of Lamb & Merguez Sausage, with kabocha squash, red peppers, saffron couscous, and mint gremoulada, presented a more Mediterranean style lamb. The Merguez was the standout, with a complex, spicy kick. I wished I had much more of the Merguez. The Harissa lamb was tender and flavorful, balanced by the sweetness of the kabocha and the saffron notes.

The third course was a Lamb Hot Dog, with a buttered bun, shaved onion, pickle relish, and "French's" yellow mustard (though I had mine without the mustard). Though it seemed more like a sausage than a hot dog, it was thick, juicy and with a complex melange of spices and flavors. Damn, it was delicious. I wish I had these hot dogs this summer for the BBQ.

The final course was a Dijon Glazed Rack & Loin, with a cassoulet of Sienna Farms' beans and early spring offerings. Tender lamb, with a mild gamey flavor, and a strong, savory broth and tender beans. And by this point, my belly was quite full of lamb, very satisfied.

Above is Brett from  90+ Cellars , who supplied four wines for the lunch, including the Lot 65 French Fusion White, Lot 118 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Lot 75 Pinot Noir, and Lot 72 Saint Emilion Grand Cru. I've had these wines before and they are very good, values wines.  However, he also shared a new wine they will soon be selling, actually a new label, Earthshaker Wines, that showcases terroir. The wine was the 2013 Syrah, from Knights Valley, Sonoma, California, and it retails for around $15. It was easy drinking, but with complexity and character, making this an excellent value. Deep black fruit flavors, strong spice and restrained tannins. A perfect choice for lamb,

This was an informative and tasty lunch, providing plenty of fascinating info on lamb as well as a series of delicious and diverse lamb dishes. I've gained a greater appreciation for the culinary skills of Chef Dibiccari and my love for lamb continues.

Will I see you at the Lamb Jam?