Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving: A Day Of Reflection

Today, many of us will gather together with family, friends and others, savoring a lavish feast of food and drink. We might go to local football games, watch it on TV or watch something else, like the Macy's Day Parade. We will talk and laugh, toast and cheer, savoring all the goodness of the day, reveling in the joy of the holiday. However, amidst all this merriment, we should not forget the meaning of the day. Today is about more than turkey and wine, stuffing and football, pecan pie and naps.

Thanksgiving is a day for reflection upon our lives, to ponder and be thankful for all of the positive things in our lives. We need to appreciate the goodness in our lives, to be happy with everything we have (and I don't mean in a material sense). No matter what troubles or adversities we might face in our lives, I am absolutely sure there is also much to bring us joy.

Our focus today, and actually how it should be every day, should be on the positive aspects of our lives. Savoring the positive in our lives can brighten the darker parts of our lives, and place everything in perspective. Complaining and criticizing often accomplish little and instead we should concentrate on solutions. We can make our lives better if we truly desire to do so. It may take time and effort, but we can accomplish much with a positive mindset.

I am thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. I am thankful for all my blog readers, as well as the fans of my Tipsy Sensei series. It would take too long to list every single thing I am thankful for here, but I will take the time to reflect upon all of them today. I will try not to dwell on the negative elements in my life. It will hopefully be a day of appreciation and reflection, of hope and a brighter future, though it wont be easy this year.

In August, Camille "Frenchie" Babine, my father-in-law, passed away. and he would have turned 96 years old in October. There will be an empty seat at our Thanksgiving table this year, and that won't be easy for the family. We will try to cherish all our fond memories of Frenchie, to reflect back on how he enriched our lives, rather than dwelling on the loss. We will raise a toast to Frenchie, a man who lived a long and full life. We all miss him.

I fervently hope that everyone else can embrace the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. It may be corny, but a hug and kind words can mean so very much. And you'll never regret it.

I'm going to enjoy plenty of tasty food and drink today, but I will remember that today is about more than the feasting. It is primarily a time for thanks, for all the good that is in our lives, and for being with the people we care about and love.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a special Wednesday edition of Sips & Nibbles (as tomorrow is Thanksgiving), my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming.
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1) Santa is coming! On Sunday, December 7, from 4pm-7pm, The Beehive will host Santa Supper with live holiday music, a special menu, photo opportunities and mingling and jingling with the big man himself... Santa Claus.

During The Beehive’s Santa Supper, kids have a prix fixe menu which includes seasonal specials such as Reindeer Chicken Nuggets, veggies and Santa approved warm cookies and milk. The children’s prix fixe menu is $15 for kids ages 10 and younger. While the kids are running around with Santa, parents can sneak in one of The Beehive’s handcrafted cocktails such as the Storm Warning ($11.50) or the Spiced Pear Collins ($12), while indulging in an Italian-inspired Sunday Supper presented by Executive Chef Marc Orfaly including spaghetti & meatballs, chicken piccata, eggplant parmesan and more. Regular menu will also be available.

Throughout the evening kids of all ages will be surrounded by the sounds of the season as guitarist Bobby Keyes takes the stage to perform selections from his all new Christmas album. Bobby B. Keyes defines our American musical heritage by blending rhythm & blues, country, jazz, rock, pop and swing. His guitar playing is inspired and passionate, his musical taste is exquisite, and his sound is clean and refreshing.

Reservations are highly recommended. No cover charge. Please call 617-423-0069 for more information or to make reservations.

2) On December 8, at 6pm, Legal Oysteria will host their first wine dinner with Legal Sea Foods’ Vice President of Beverage Operations and Master of Wine, Sandy Block. At this exclusive four-course pairing dinner celebrating everything Italy, Sandy Block will guide guests through his selection of the exquisite tastes and flavors of “Undiscovered Gems of Italy.” I think this is going to a tasty and educational dinner, with plenty of intriguing Italian wines.

The menu will be presented as follows:

APERITIF
Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Prestige” Franciacorta Brut, NV
FIRST COURSE
Brodetto Di Pesce (Italian Stew of cod, clams, mussels and squid)
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Alto Adige, 2013
Kofererhof Sylvaner, Alto Adige, 2012
SECOND COURSE
Pappardelle alla Bolognese (classic five Meat ragù, hand cut fresh pasta)
Paitin “Sori’ Paitin” Dolcetto d’Alba, Piemonte, 2011
Coppo “L’Avvocata” Barbera d’Asti, Piemonte, 2012
THIRD COURSE
Veal Braciole & Creamy Polenta (stuffed with pine nuts, raisins, prosciutto, parmigiano reggiano)
San Felice Pugnitello, Toscana, 2008
Fattoria Colsanto Sagrantino di Montefalco, Umbria, 2009
DESSERT COURSE
Cinnamon Panna Cotta (autumn fruit compote)
Maculan Torcolato, Veneto, 2008

COST: $75 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling (617) 530-9392.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Seafood Mislabeling: How Prevalent?

When you go to the local butcher shop, and buy a steak, you'll most likely get exactly what you want. If you want beef, you''ll get it. The store wouldn't confuse the issue and mislabel pork or venison as beef. They wouldn't do it with poultry either, so if you want chicken, you'll get it and not duck or quail instead. However, when it comes to seafood, the issue is far from clear cut. There is the possibility you won't get the type of seafood you want to buy because the seafood has been mislabeled. There is some disagreement over the actual frequency of seafood mislabeling.

Sometimes a cheaper fish is mislabeled as a more expensive fish, cheating the customer. Mislabeling though can be more than an economic mistake. In fact, it can be deadly if someone happens to be allergic to the mislabeled seafood. Mislabeling can lead to other potential health problems as well, and thus efforts to reduce mislabeling are very important.

In recent years, a number of organizations have conducted their own mislabeling investigations, and their results have varied, though the amount of mislabeling has usually been seen as high. In response, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) conducted their own investigation in 2012 & 2013, and recently issued a report on their findings. In their investigation, the FDA conducted three sampling efforts, a total of almost 700 DNA tests, from 14 different states, including Massachusetts. They primarily looked at fish which are thought to be at the highest risk of mislabeling, including basa, catfish, cod, grouper, haddock, snapper and swai.

The FDA investigation reached the conclusion that mislabeling occurred only in 15% of the cases, a far lower percentage than other studies concluded. In addition, the FDA found nearly all of the mislabeling occurred with snapper and grouper, which only account for less than 2% of seafood sales, and not all the other allegedly high-risk seafood. Their tests seem to indicate that mislabeling is far less an issue than others have reported. So who is correct? And how do we reduce mislabeling?

Currently, there are already laws against mislabeling, such as Section 403(a)(1) of the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act (21 U.S.C. 343(a)(1)). The FDA has issued the Seafood List - FDA's Guide to Acceptable Market Names for Seafood Sold in Interstate Commerce, to provide the seafood industry information to prevent mislabeling. So is there really a need for more laws and regulations in this area, or should there simply be greater efforts involved in enforcing the existing laws and regulations? If seafood mislabeling is a smaller issue, as the FDA investigation concluded, then greater enforcement would probably be the better way to handle the situation.

Something needs to be done to reduce seafood labeling. What do you think is the best solution?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rant: There's No California Chardonnay On The Menu?

What do you mean there's no California Chardonnay on the wine list?

Must a restaurant wine list cater to all tastes, or can it specialize, ignoring some very popular choices? Is such specialization a good thing, or does it spite customers who want something different? How much choice should there be on a restaurant wine list?

Consider Taberna de Haro, an excellent Spanish restaurant in Brookline and one of my favorite restaurants in the area. I think they have a superb wine list, with over 325 choices, and it is unique because all of their wines are from Spain. You won't find a California Chardonnay or an Oregon Pinot Noir on their list. However, you will find Albarino, Tempranillo, Mencia, and much more. You'll find wines from all across Spain, including the Canary Islands and Mallorca. You'll find Sparkling wine, Rosé, Sherry, Dessert wines and even Spanish cider. You'll find incredible diversity on their wine list, even though it is limited to Spanish wines.

I respect Chef//Owner Deborah Hansen for having the bravery to limit her wine list to only Spanish wines. Obviously her decision might have turned away some customers, people unwilling to expand their horizons and drink something different from their usual choices. It would have been easy for her to stock a selection of California Chardonnay and Oregon Pinot, but she took a more difficult stance, wanting her Spanish cuisine to be paired only with Spanish wines. In doing so, she has compiled an amazing Spanish wine list, one which must be one of the best in the country.

Most other local restaurants are unwilling to limit their wine list in this manner, trying to cater to all customers. One other brave restaurant is Erbaluce, which serves Italian cuisine and has a nearly total wine list of Italian wines, with a few French Champagnes thrown into the mix. However, restaurants like Taberna de Haro and Erbaluce are the rarity. I don't believe that should be the case, and I would like to see far more restaurants taking a stand, and offering more limited wine lists, lists which are appropriate for their cuisine. And more customers should support these restaurants.

If you dine at an Italian restaurant you don't expect to be able to order Fajitas or Kung Pao Chicken so why should you expect to find non-Italian wines? You should immerse yourself in their cuisine, which includes the wines of that region. To many Europeans, wine is food, and is an integral part of their meals. Sometimes it is much better to have less choice than more. If you want authenticity in your cuisine, that should extend to the wine as well.

Sure, non-Spanish wines can pair with Spanish food, and non-Italian wines can pair with Italian cuisine, but that doesn't mean a restaurant needs to provide those options. We should respect the decision of any restaurant which choose to carry only regional wines appropriate to their cuisine. We should not complain about it, or refuse to dine there because we can't find something like a California Chardonnay. We should be open to trying new wines, just as we would a new dish of food. We shouldn't expect every restaurant to cater to all our wine whims.

Embrace restaurants which take a stand with their wine lists.

Addendum (11/24): Erbaluce only has Italian wines on their list now.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Horse-drawn coaches carrying travelers from Hartford to Albany in the mid-1700s often paused at an inn on the town green here for a whiskey and a good night’s sleep. Today, The Old Inn on the Green remains much as it was then, with its wide pine floorboards, multiple fireplaces, and candle lit dining rooms. Under the auspices of innkeepers Peter Platt and Meredith Kennard, the inn’s nods to modern life include a swimming pool, Frette linens, air conditioning, in-room Jacuzzis, Wi-Fi and satellite TV. The Old Inn on the Green’s inventive American cuisine has won a number of awards, and Yankee Magazine named The Old Inn on the Green the #1 historic inn in New England.

This week, The Old Inn on the Green unveils a renovated taproom on its premises, created to meet the 2014 needs of both travelers and local guests. The renovated taproom features a bar top crafted from locally mined schist, custom designed pine shelving, paneling and cabinetry, and handmade barstools fashioned from local ash trees and hickory. It’s a look that fits seamlessly into the circa 1760 inn, thanks to 12 months of respectful attention from an historic preservation architect, a local master cabinetmaker, and a wise and seasoned builder. Classic cocktails, local draught and bottled beer, and an extensive wine list make the new, 7-seat taproom a welcoming stop

2) On Saturday, December 13, Santa Claus will be paying Harvard Square a special visit at Beat Brasserie aka Beat Hôtel for its second annual family-friendly Santa brunch from 10am-3pm. Guests of the Santa Brunch can count on food and drink from Chef Ignacio Lopez, live holiday music from Bobby Keyes, photo opportunities and mingling and jingling with the big man himself...Santa Claus!

The Beat’s Executive Chef Ignacio Lopez will serve a  selection of brunch fare such as quiche made with Tuscan kale, sundried tomato & goat cheese served with a house salad ($14.50), wild flower honey & lemon pancakes with wild blueberry compote ($14) and eggs shakshuka, poached eggs, north african tomato sauce, peppers and polenta ($14.50) while children can order scrumptious selections off the “Flower Children” menu including kiddie scrambled eggs & toast ($7.50), grilled cheese ($7.50) and pancakes ($7.50).

While the little ones are running around with Santa, parents can have a hand-crafted cocktails such as the Electric Sidecar, Clear Creek apple brandy, Fruit Lab orange organic liqueur and sour mix ($12) or the Purple Door, Tito’s vodka, blueberry puree, and real maple syrup ($12). Wine enthusiasts can warm up with one of Beat’s 32 American artisanal wines on tap. Guitarist Bobby Keyes will get everyone in the holiday spirit with a live performance featuring holiday tunes from his new Christmas album.

This is an event for kids of all ages. Santa will be available for photos opportunities, but cameras will not be provided. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling 617-499-0001. Regular brunch pricing and specials offered. No cover charge.

3) Known to be superior in taste, large format wine bottles are classified as anything more than 1.5 liters (the equivalent of two bottles of wine), and over 150 bottles are now available in 1.5, 3, 5, 6 and even 9 (equivalent to 12 bottles of 750ml wine) liter bottles at The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover.

Every year, Sam and Tina Messina, siblings and co-owners of The Wine ConneXtion, set out in search for rare, large format wines produced by some of the most prestigious wineries-- and each year, their quest is unpredictable. Every large format wine is hand-bottled which makes production limited, and their availability rare. Bottles that do make it to the retail stores are found few and far between, and when they are available, are usually scooped up by wine enthusiasts who want to add them to their prized wine collections.

This year, The Wine ConneXtion searched far and wide to acquire the largest selection of large format wines in New England. Nowhere else can you find such a vast assortment of large format wine, many of which were special ordered directly from the wineries and include older vintage wines that do not exist in the 750ml format today. Offering everything from 1.5, 3, 5, 6 and even 9 liter bottles, The Wine ConneXtion’s collection of large format wines is the Holy Grail for any vino lover. More than just a bold statement, large format bottles add a unique touch to dinner parties and make an impressive gift for both avid wine collectors and those hard-to-buy-for friends! Quantities are extremely limited, so stop by The Wine ConneXtion while supplies last. Visit www.wineconnextion.com for an updated list of available bottles.

4) On December 8, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will team up with Lacey Burke, Brand Ambassador of Ruinart, for a four-plus-course champagne dinner. Producing champagne since 1792, Ruinart is the oldest established champagne house in the world. Founded by Nicolas Ruinart in the renowned region in the city of Reims, the house is today owned by the parent company LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA. With the Chardonnay blend at the very soul of Ruinart, its fresh aromas, vivacity and purity, are is evident in all cuvée varietals. The delicate grape will only display the full breadth of its aromatic richness after a slow maturation in the coolness of the Ruinart cellars. The maturation process is a true testament of the Cellar Master's skill, required to tame and highlight this sometimes fickle grape. Brightness, intensity and elegance are only a few combinations of the unique traits that reside in the celebrated “Ruinart Taste."

The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Quail Egg, Caviar, Crème Fraîche, Dill
Black Forest Ham, Gruyére Croquette
Scallop Crudo, Lemongrass Gelée, Red Fresno, Madras Curry
Baked Oyster, Creamed Leeks, Pernod, Brioche Crumbs
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, NV
FIRST COURSE
Hudson Valley Duck Terrine (Duck Liver Mousse, Duck Rillette, Red Currant Gelée, Blood Orange Honey)
Ruinart Brut Rosé, NV
SECOND COURSE
Butter Poached Maine Lobster (Sauce Américaine, Puff Pastry, Upland Cress, Tarragon Essence)
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, 2004
INTERMEZZO
Yuzu and Elderflower Sorbet (Finished With a Touch of Herbsaint)
THIRD COURSE
Slow Roasted Loch Duart Salmon (Mushroom Consommé, Braised Swiss Chard, Roasted Quince)
Dom Ruinart Rosé, 1998
DESSERT COURSE
Lychee Pudding Cake (Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, Coconut Compote)

COST: $165 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

5) The 3rd Annual Christmas in the City Kick-Off & Celebrity Holiday Tree Auction event will be Wednesday, December 3, from 6pm-8pm, at the Seaport Hotel. The evening will feature an auction of Christmas trees lit and fully decorated by the Black and Gold’s left wing, #17 - Milan Lucic as well as a “Boston Strong” tree in memory of Mayor Thomas Menino – who was a huge supporter of Christmas in the City for over 20 years. 100% of money raised from this event will go to Christmas in the City, including ticket sales.

The Seaport Hotel will be providing tasty nibbles and a cash bar for guests to enjoy during the event; the hotel will again serve as a toy drop-off location for Christmas in the City, beginning November 25th. You can literally valet your toys, by pulling up to the valet and either handing them off or running them in to the lobby yourself, to make donating quick and easy. Celebrity guests include Santa Claus and Jake & Sparky Kennedy (founders of Christmas in the City) in addition to the many supporters of Christmas in the City.

Christmas in the City, a 100% volunteer organization, will hold its 26th Annual Holiday Party this year and is expecting to serve thousands more children this year – so they need more support than ever to meet the need. 5,000 children living in shelters, hotels or transitional housing will attend the celebration with their Mom or guardian. The following day, Christmas in the City will give out toys and clothing, serving 12,000 more children whose families have fallen on hard times and otherwise might find nothing under the tree.

Admission price is a donation of $20. Guests are also asked to please bring ONE toy to donate.
Tickets are available at http://citc2014.eventbrite.com

6) Are you ready to go whole hog? Join the Grafton Group on December 9, from 6pm-9pm, for the first-ever “Heads to Tails Privateer Pig Dinner” at Russell House Tavern. Chef Tom Borgia is prepared to treat your taste buds to a six-course feast featuring local heritage hog from Brambly Farms in Norfolk. Each course has been paired with a handcrafted Privateer Rum (also made in MA) cocktail – shaken or stirred to perfection by Bar Manager Ashish Mitra and guaranteed to keep you refreshed all evening long.

The Menu is as follows:

Course 1
Blackstrap Cured B.L.T. (House-Cured Bacon, Smoked Tomato, Peppercress)
Ipswich Daiquiri (Privateer Silver Reserve Rum, Lime, Celery Juice, Real Sugar Simple, Celery Bitters)
Course 2
Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche (Crispy Pig Skin, Yuzu, Melon)
Maggie’s Daisy (Cilantro & Chive Infused Privateer Silver Reserve Rum, Yuzu, Melon, Velvet Falernum, Rhubarb Bitters, Salt)
Course 3
Curried Clam and Pork Belly Chowder (Steamed Littlenecks, Braised Pork Belly, Pink Peppercorn)
Shave and A Haircut (House-Spiced Privateer True American Amber Rum, Cola Syrup, Harpoon Boston Irish Stout)
Course 4
House-Salted Cod and Chorizo Doubles (Garbanzos, House-Made Chorizo, Shaved Spanish Chorizo, Fried Dough, Pickled Shallot)
Mary Pickford (Privateer Silver Reserve Rum, Pineapple, House Grenadine, Maraschino)
Course 5
Pork Shoulder Aji Mojo (Braised Calilou, Macomber Turnip Puree)
Rum Bronx (Privateer True American Amber Rum, Sweet and Dry Vermouth, Orange Juice)
Dessert
Boozey Black Cake (Jamaican Allspice Ice Cream)
Winter’s Sting (House-Spiced Privateer True American Amber Rum, Giffard Menthe-Pastille, Orange)

COST: $75 including tax and gratuity. Tickets are limited,
TICKETS: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/heads-to-tails-privateer-pig-dinner-tickets-14237246989?utm_campaign=new_eventv2&utm_medium=email&utm_source=eb_email&utm_term=eventurl_text