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Rant: Wake Up Japan, Bluefin Are In Danger!

Date: Mon, Mar 11, 2013 Wine Tasting

"The oceans deserve our respect and care, but you have to know something before you can care about it."
--Sylvia Earle

The International Boston Seafood Show began yesterday, a huge seafood event bringing together people from all over the world. I plan on being there all three days, learning more about seafood issues, tasting new products, networking and much more. And gathering fodder for new Monday Rants.

Yesterday, I attended theSpecies Forum on Tuna, a conference intended to describe the current status of tuna fisheries. As the fate of tuna is a significant issue, the one hour set aside for this conference could barely scratch the surface of the matter. A good-sized crowd showed up for the conference, indicating a substantial interest in the subject of tuna. I was especially curious after a prior post of mine indicated that bluefin stock might have seen an increase.

The first speaker was Michael Crispino, the Vice Present of Communications & Outreach for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF). He provided some statistics on the tuna industry, noting that there are 7 species of tuna, divided into 23 stocks, and that about 4,354,600 tons of tuna are caught worldwide each year. Skipjack account for 57% of that total, Yellow Fin for 26%, Big Eye for 10%, Albacore for 5%, and Bluefin for only 1%. These stocks are managed by five Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), identified as IATTC, ICCAT, IOTC, WCPFC, and CCSBT.

Purse seine fishing is the most common method of catching tuna and accounts for 62% of the global catch. Long line accounts for 13% of the global catch while pole & line accounts for another 11%. The top producer of tuna is likely Thailand and a few of the other top producers include Spain, Ecuador, and Seychelles. The top importers include the U.S., UK, and Spain. Though we should note that Japan consumes nearly 80% of bluefin tuna.

Michael noted that the overall stock of most tuna species is not well and that we possess the ability to catch more tuna than is sustainable. The management process requires improvement too. Transparency is also important to the marketplace.

Jennifer Goldstein, a Senior Wild Fisheries Specialist from the New England Aquarium, noted that illegal tuna fishing still occurs which coincides with one of my prior posts that noted that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 19,000 tons of Bluefin tuna were traded through Panama, though none of that tuna was reported as caught to ICCAT. Action needs to be taken to punish the involved countries for this illegal activity. If that is not done, then such illegal fishing will continue, ignoring the quotas that exist. Jennifer also said that everyone who work in the tuna industry needs to be an optimist, essentially hopeful that the species can be saved.

Dr. Bill Fox, the Vice President & Managing Director of Fisheries for the World Wildlife Fund USspoke briefly about the resilience of tuna. Though it was a bit technical, it seems that tuna are fairly resilient, which gives much hope if we can better control our fishing of tuna species. It is not yet too later for any species, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be taking better action to protect them.

The final speaker was Howard McElderry, the Vice President and Director of Electronic Monitoring at the Archipelago Marine Research Ltd., discussed the use of cameras and electronic monitoring of fishing activity. He stated that such monitoring is necessary and the best practice to determine the amount of tuna stocks and that "technology is an agent for accountability." It helps to demonstrate traceability and its accuracy will best help maintain stocks at sustainable levels. I certainly agree with all of his statements, that science is necessary to best determine accurate stock levels.

The panel as a whole also addressed the problem of bycatch, noting that there is "no silver bullet" to eliminate bycatch. Bycatch is an important element of sustainability yet all fishing methods lead to some degree of bycatch. To best combat the bycatch problem, a fishery by fishery approach is necessary.

The issue of consumer perceptions and buying patterns of tuna was not discussed, despite its significance to the problem of deplete tuna species. This was likely partially due to the limited time of the panel and might have even been outside their limited goal for this discussion. However, most people in the industry realize that tuna stocks have problems so it might have been more valuable to discuss more ways to help reduce the great demand for tuna, especially bluefin.

As I mentioned earlier, the Japanese consume about 80% of the world's bluefin tuna and they are unlikely to decrease that consumption any time soon. There is also evidence that when U.S. consumption decreases, that leads to an increase in Japanese consumption. The Huffington Post recently detailed the problem, stating that the average Japanese consumer knows little about any issues with vanishing bluefin. The media and government both do little to make consumers aware of the problem. The few actions the government has taken seem largely ineffective and far much more is necessary. As long as there is a great Japanese demand for bluefin, international actions to protect that species will be ineffective to some degree, and that could end up being a fatal degree.

So wake up Japan! The bluefin tuna is in grave peril so the time to take action is now.

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SeaShare: Seafood For Hungry Americans

Date: Sun, Mar 10, 2013 Wine Tasting

One of the most touching aspects of the International Boston Seafood Show is the Coffee For a Cause, at Booth 2467, where you can buy a cup of coffee and part of the proceeds benefit the SeaShare charity. SeaShare has over 200 affiliates, serving all 50 states, and their primary goal is to alleviate hunger, a most worthy cause.

In January, I posted "Get Off Your Ass And Help The Less Fortunate!", a wake-up call to the food-obsessed to help fight hunger. I have often supported and posted about charitable events that try to help alleviate the problems of hunger. I was not aware of SeaShare until this event but after learning about them, I have much respect for their goals and actions. They seem to be a company worthy of support.

SeaShare is allegedly the only nonprofit organization dedicated to providing seafood to our country's food banks. They attempt to get fishermen, processors, distributors, retailers and others to make contributions toward this effort. Since 1994, the seafood industry, about 120 companies and their associates, has donated approximately 150 million seafood meals through SeaShare, which have been shipped to 80 major food banks in 38 states. Certainly a significant effort.

They also are trying to make as many of their donations as sustainable as possible. Most of the fisheries they deal with are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Their concern is not only with hunger, but also with protecting the environment and stocks of seafood. That elevates them in my eyes even more.

I am also pleased to see that SeaShare understands the great health benefits from seafood and that is partially why they are donating seafood to these food banks, to better the diets of these people. As I have noted before, seafood often is expensive and price is a significant obstacle to consumption. Those experiencing hunger, with limited funds, are much less likely to purchase seafood, yet they too need the health benefits of seafood. SeaShare helps these people reap the benefits when they otherwise would never have done so.

So buy some coffee and help SeaShare, or make some other type of donation to them.

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The Flavors of Los Angeles: Cafe Dulce, N/Naka, Night+Market & The Bazaar

Date: Sun, Mar 10, 2013 Wine Tasting

From the South Bay to the Valley
From the West Side to the East Side
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the sun is shining all the time
Looks like another perfect day
I love L.A. (We love it)
--Randy Newman, I Love L.A.

As I wandered around the streets ofLos Angeles, the lyrics of Randy Newman's paean to L.A. echoed through my mind, and visions of its music video accompanied those lyrics. I spent several days in Los Angeles attending the Design Bloggers Conference,a fun and fascinating event that would not seem my usual interest. However, I was there to make a presentation, How to Differentiate Yourself In a Crowded Online Marketplace, which entailed speaking about Sake and Blogging.

At its most elemental, all of the design bloggers and I are lovers of beauty, just in different areas, so we have much more in common than what it might seem on the surface. That shared aesthetic sense binds us on a deeper level than our mutual use of the same tool, blogging. As I spent time chatting with a number of the attendees, it was clear that we did share much, and that they were eager to learn and share their own passions with me.

While I was in L.A., I enjoyed some delicious meals, snacks and drinks. It was my first time in that city but I would like to return again to check out more of its culinary scene. I only checked out there merest fraction of what the city has to offer. During my culinary experiences, I did not take my usual detailed notes and photographs, desirous more of experiencing the meal and socializing with my dining companions. However, these spots are all worthy of mention.

Adam Japko, the founder of the Design Bloggers Conference, and I wandered around Little Tokyo one afternoon, checking out the sights. This is a great neighborhood with a myriad of Japanese shops, restaurants, and attractions, including the Kinokuniya book store (one of my favorite book shops), Mitsuwa Marketplace and Koyasan Buddhist Temple. One of my favorite finds was the Cafe Dulce, situated in the Japanese Village Plaza.

Cafe Dulce is a coffee shop and bakery that creates a wide variety of baked goods and sandwiches, from roti buns to donuts, cakes to breads. It was a small, clean shop and you could watch them baking numerous items. Service was also very friendly and helpful. A very cool, independent shop. Adam raved about the Vietnamese Style Iced Coffeewhile I enjoyed some unsweetened iced tea. We tried a couple roti buns (which seem to have a Malaysian origin), including a basic roti and a green tea one. Lightly sweet, they had a slightly crisp outer crust with a softer interior and a very pleasant flavor. They were also very fresh. Think of it as a mildly sweet and flavored bread roll.

What really excited me though were the Bacon Donuts! This was a yeast donut, topped by a sweet glaze and plenty of bacon crumbles. A perfect combination of sweet and salty, atop a soft, fresh donut. Even without the bacon, this would have been an excellent donut. I found them very addictive and bought some to take back to the hotel. I have previously eaten the Maple & Bacon donut at Voodoo Donuts in Portland, OR, but I much prefer this bacon donut. I have never been a big fan of maple, and the lightness of this donut was compelling. They sell other donuts too, some covered with breakfast cereals, green tea donuts, cream filled and more. They looked as good as the bacon donut and I wish I had more time to explore all of the flavors. If you visit or live in L.A., then you must check out Cafe Dulce.

For my first evening in Los Angeles, Adam and I chose a special place to dine,N/Naka, a kaiseki inspired Japanese restaurant which has earned many raves. Adam also ran a contest on Twitter, giving the opportunity for a couple design bloggers to join us for dinner. The winners were Amy, ofHouse of Wentworth,and Kelley, ofThe Hidden List, both who are from Dallas, Texas. It was a superb evening, with incredible food, great Sake and wine, and very pleasant conversation.

Chef/Owner Niki Nakayama, a Los Angeles native, has trained in Japan, including under Chef Masa Sato in the art of kaiseki. Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese practice, involving a multi-course meal that emphasizes presentation, taste, seasonality, local ingredients and balance. Each dish is a work of beauty, from its presentation to the complexity and balance of its taste. Chef Nakayama's first two restaurants, Azami Sushi Cafe and Inaka, did very well and N/Naka is the natural extension of those two endeavors. Their website states that "..., Chef Niki Nakayama is committed to creating a meal that will engage your attention — it's about enjoying the moment, the current offerings of the season, and ultimately, the food in front of you."

The restaurant is very unassuming from the outside and we drove right by it initially. Inside, it has a more spartan decor, yet provides a warm ambiance. It is a relatively small place, with a limited amount of seating, yet the tables are spaced far enough apart to give some element of privacy. In one room, there is a glass wall showing their wine cellar area and I was excited to see all the Sakes mixed in with the wines. For dinner, you basically have the choice of a nine, ten (vegetarian), thirteen or sixteen course meal, so you need to plan for a 3.5 to 5 hour dining experience. It is well worth your time.

Our server, who actually had only been working for four days, did a very good job, acting very courteously and professionally. The entire service lacked pretension and we were made to feel very welcome by all of the staff. We opted for the 9 course meal and you can check out this menu for more detail of what that can entail. The menus change regularly, especially considering what is seasonally available. Everything was amazing and I cannot recommend N/Naka enough. Enjoy the photos of many of the dishes we savored.

What colors! And love that Uni.

A piece of art.

Very fresh fish, from Big Eye Tuna to Hamachi.

Maybe my favorite dish of the evening, with abalone and garlic.

Incredible Nigiri.

A compelling version of Chawanmushi.

A simple but delicious dessert.

Our drink choices well accompanied the food. We selected a single wine, the 2009 Bodegas Paso Robles "Dona Blanca" ($28), a Grenache Blanc/Malvasia Bianca blend from one of my favorite Paso Robles producers. I previously tasted the 2008 vintage and the 2009 was equally as compelling, with lots of complexity, great flavors and a satisfying finish. Everyone very much enjoyed this wine. And as the wine retails for about $18, the restaurant is offering it at a low markup. Highly recommended!

We started our Sake enjoyment with a glass of the Sawa Sawa Junmai Nigori, a Sparkling Sake, that was lightly sweet, effervescent and fruity. Next, we ordered a bottle of Shichida Yamahai Junmai Karakuchi, a dry, umami rich Sake with elements of anise and licorice on the finish. This would be excellent with mushrooms, beef or other umami-rich dishes.

We ended with a killer Sake which impressed everyone. The Denshin Natsu Daiginjo Nama is a rare Sake, with only 420 bottles made each year. It is produced by the Ippongi Kubo Honten brewery, which was founded in 1902, in the Chubu region of the Fukui prefecture. The brewery sits at the base of Mt. Haku, deep in Echizen, which is known for its crystal clear water. It was made from the famed Yamada Nishiki rice, which was polished to 50%. Incredibly complex, great fruit flavors, crisp, clean and smooth. A "Wow!" Sake, sure to impress, and which all of us loved very deeply. It receives my highest recommendation though it may be difficult to locate.

The next night, a group of about ten of us, went to Night+Market, a Thai street food place. Their website describes the type of food they create: "In Thai, it's called 'aharn klam lao' which roughly translates to 'food to facilitate drinking.' That's at the heart of what we do. We make food for drunkards." Unfortunately, we arrived at the restaurant past 9pm, on a Sunday, and didn't know that the place closed at 10pm. So we were a bit rushed, though the restaurant allowed us to stay a bit past 10pm.

The basic menu includes about 25 different items, from small plates to heartier entrees, and there was a Specials menu with 6 additional items. We selected some dishes and also asked our server to bring us a bunch of his own recommendations. In the end, we received a nonstop parade of dishes, which probably constituted at least 80% of the menu. Overall, the food was quite tasty with only a couple dishes which were merely average. We received a great variety, including many spicy dishes, seafood, pork, beef & vegetables. Be wary as several of the dishes are very spicy and you may need something to mellow the heat in your mouth.

My favorite dishes were the Fried Pig Tails, Beef Grapow and Whole Fish Sam-Rod (with a delectable cripsy skin). Everyone who tried the fried pig tails loved them, though a few people refused to even tast them. Other delicious dishes included the Koi Pla (salmon ceviche), Tendon Panang with Roti, Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles with short ribs), the Pork Toro (grilled fatty hog collar), and Kar Moo Parlow (braised pork hock). The most disappointing dish was the Nuoc Mam Chicken Wings, which were very ordinary, especially when compared to the wings fromPok Pok in Portland, another Thai street food place.

Service was very good and it is a cool place to grab a bite and a drink. Most of the dishes are very well prepared, with an intriguing blend of spices, and none of the dishes were bad. They were merely ordinary. Night+Market earned my recommendation.

My final dinner of my trip was another small plates restaurant,The Bazaar by Jose Andres, which serves incredible Spanish Tapas. There were about twenty of us, including singer Patti Austin(who was a down to earth and fascinating person). Located in Beverly Hills, the restaurant decor is extremely compelling, chic without being ostentatious.

A tasting menu was prepared for us, with eighteen courses, and we ordered our own wines. Overall, the meal was delicious and certain dishes even brought my mind back to Spain. I liked their creativity as well in the nontraditional tapas. Everyone I spoke to at our table was very pleased with our dinner.

The menu included:
American Caviar Cone (like a salty ice cream cone)
Sweet Potato Chips (excellent!)
Jamon Iberico with Pa'amb Tomaquet (bread topped by rubbed tomato with silky ham)
King Crab Can (served in an actual can, tasty sweet crab meat)
Mussel Can (also served in a can)
Market Fish Ceviche & Avocado Roll
Not Your Everyday Caprese (cherry tomatoes & little balls of mozzarella that squirt in your mouth, so tasty)
Ensaladilla Rusa (potatoes, carrots, tuna belly and mayo)
Bunuelos (codfish fritters, very good)
Papas Canarias (salty wrinkled potatoes with mojo verde, quite addictive snack)
Seared Mary's Farm Chicken (meaty, tender, juicy, cripsy skin, quite compelling)
Catalan Spinach
Wild Mushroom Rice with Idiazabal cheese (creamy, umami rich and also addictive)
Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks (tender, meaty and tasty)
Philly Cheesesteak (very interesting, nontraditional dish)
Pan con Chocolate
Traditional Spanish Flan
Special Chef's Selection Dessert (a mousse-like pudding of some type)

With my meal, I primarily drank Sherry, introducing the rest of our group to some excellent selections. Our first two choices were both from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, one of my favorite Sherry bodegas. We had the Manzanilla La Gitana and the Amontillado Napoleón, both different in taste yet good choices for the tapas dishes.We also had the E. Lustau Palo Cortado Almacenistas Vides, a superb Sherry with a great depth of flavor which was the favorite of a number of people at dinner. Palo Cortado is one of my favorite types of Sherry and the Almacenista was very well made.

We had excellent service and I was thoroughly impressed with the restaurant. It too receives my highest recommendation.

I left Los Angeles, with a full and satisfied belly, singing "I love L.A."

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The Tipsy Sensei & Others. And A Contest!

Date: Sat, Mar 9, 2013 Wine Tasting

This month is the First Year Anniversary of the publication of my first short story,Yurine's Pot, the beginning of the Tipsy Sensei series. Since then, I have published two more short stories and a novel in the Tipsy Sensei series. I am also pleased to publish this month my second paperback book,The Tipsy Sensei & Others, my new collection of nine food, wine and Sake short stories. It is available through Amazon as aTrade Paperback and an Ebook. I hope to conduct some local signings of the paperback and will announce them on my blog once they are scheduled.

The nine short stories contained within this volume range from romance to mystery, fantasy to thriller. It collects together the first three Tipsy Sensei stories as well as adds a new story centered on a popular character from Demons, Gods & Sake. You will also find five other food and wine stories.

The collection contains:

Yurine's Pot (Tipsy Sensei #1): Nate Randall is a Sake expert in Boston and his son is dying from cancer. Nate receives an ancient, magical item that allegedly can cure any illness. Others desire that item as well, and may be willing to kill for it. Can Nate save his son, and if so, at what cost?

The Ghost Of A Ninja (Tipsy Sensei #2): Several thieves have been slain under mysterious circumstances. Is the ghost of a ninja responsible? Nate is asked to help a friend who is worried that he will be murdered next. Can Nate solve this mystery and save the life of his friend?

The Fox & The Katana (Tipsy Sensei #3): Nate has been approached by a kitsune, a fox spirit, who wants Nate to murder her mate. She claims that her mate is a remorseless and sadistic killer who has slain innocents across the U.S. Can Nate kill this kitsune? Or is Nate being set up, a pawn in some intricate scheme?

Forest of the Ox Demon: A brand new story featuring Hato, a popular character from Demons, Gods & Sake, the first Tipsy Sensei novel. This is a historical tale of medieval Japan, exploring Hato's mysterious past, and involves ninjas, brigands and a supernatural creature.

You Had Me At Foie: A tale of romance, a bond formed over a delicious dish of foie gras.

Feast For A Killer: What would you do if an assassin showed up on your doorstep to kill your spouse?

The Perfect Wine: An obsessed wine lover seeks a legendary perfect wine. Can such a wine exist? And if so, what price would you pay to drink such a wine?

The Veil Of Flowers: A geeky and unusual story, told from the viewpoint of a yeast in a barrel of Sherry.

The Passwords: A more traditional mystery, where a man must decipher an enigmatic letter to provide justice for a murdered friend. The key to the cipher involves wine.

Check out my latest book and please understand that you can read this book even if you do not own a Kindle. You can download a Free App for your computer or smart phone that will allow you to read any Kindle ebook.

While you read The Tipsy Sensei & Others, I will be working on Nate's next supernatural adventure, Hand-Fed Tigers (Tipsy Sensei #5). Could it involve zombies and cats?

Now, on to my Anniversary Contest.This is a picture of Jessica, Courtney & Laura, some new fans of Demons, Gods & Sake. The photo gave me an idea, to collect pictures of other fans holding a copy of any of my books. I have decided to make it contest with a cool prize.

The contest will run from now until midnight, April 5, 2013. To enter, just send me a picture of yourself holding one of my books. If you only have an ebook, just send me a picture with your ebook reader showing the cover of one of my books. You will get an extra entry if the picture is of my latest book, The Tipsy Sensei & Others. You can also earn up to four extra entries if your picture is especially creative, which I will determine at my discretion.

The Grand Prize will be that I will immortalize you as a character in the next Tipsy Sensei novel, Hand-Fed Tigers. The character will bear your name and might also share some of your interests and personality. We will work together on the details. You will also receive a copy of the paperback version of Hand-Fed Tigers. At least two Runner-Ups will also receive copies of the ebook of Hand-Fed Tigers when it is ultimately released.

So start taking your picture with the Tipsy Sensei!

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Joining The Drink Local Wine Board

Date: Fri, Mar 8, 2013 Wine Tasting

I have recently reviewed wines from several Massachusetts wineries, including Westport Rivers. Last year, several of my posts discussed wines from diverse regions such as Mexico, Nova Scotia, andVermont. Thus,my latest endeavor fits well within my interests, to explore and promote wines from all over North America.

I am pleased and proud to announce that I have been appointed to the board of directors ofDrink Local Wine LLC, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise attention of regional wines from all across North America.

"Richard is a welcome addition to the Drink Local Wine board," said Michael Wangbickler, President of the Drink Local Wine Board of Directors. "He is committed and passionate about regional wine, brings us the perspective of a New Englander, and has extensive experience working with organizations such as ours."

I will be joining the current board members which include: Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post; Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications; Richard Leahy,an east coast wine writer and consultant; Gil Kulers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Rhonni Moffitt, publisher of Arizona Wines & Vines magazine; Dezel Quillen, Virginia wine blogger who writes My Vine Spot; and Lenn Thompson, founder and executive editor of the New York Cork Report.

Drink Local Wine is the brainchild of Dave McIntyre and Jeff Siegel, who writes the Wine Curmudgeon blog. The organization holds two major events each year: a Conference spotlighting regional wine and Regional Wine Week, when bloggers and writers from across the continent write special pieces about their favorite regional wines. The 2013 DLW Conference, the fifth annual, will be held in Baltimore, Maryland on April 13 and will focus on the wines of Maryland. I will be attending the conference and as I have not tasted Maryland wines before, this will definitely be an interesting conference.

All fifty states now have wineries yet most states receive very little publicity about their wines. California, Washington and Oregon dominate the wine press and short shrift is given to the rest of the country. However, you can find well crafted and delicious wines all across the country and those examples need to be promoted and praised. I have done my part to write about some of these wines but more can always be done. Being a part of Drink Local Wine will give me the opportunity to do more.

That will include not only promoting U.S. wines, but also the wines of Canada and Mexico. In May, I will be attending TasteCamp, which will explore the wines of Quebec.

I encourage all wine lovers to expand their horizons and explore wines from all across North America. Don't confine your drinking to just a few states, but be willing to take a chance on wines from all over. You will likely find some new favorites, if only you are open to taste something new.

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The Welcome Return of Prezza

Date: Tue, Feb 5, 2013 Wine Tasting

Prezza is on fire!

I am speaking figuratively of course. After suffering a terrible kitchen fire last July,Chef & Owner Anthony Caturanoreopened Prezza on January 10. Prezza is one of my favorite Italian restaurants so I eagerly looked forward to their reopening. Last week, I returned to the restaurant for dinner and though they have been reopened for less than three weeks, it seemed as if they were back at the top of their game. The kitchen was not rusty in the least. Prezza is back and you need to dine there.

After a chocolate tasting at Cocoanuts, I went to Prezza for dinner with a few friends and fellow bloggers, including Adam, Jen and Kerrie. None of them had ever dined at Prezza before. They all left the restaurant thoroughly impressed, well sated after an incredible meal. You can check out Jen's review and Kerrie's review of their dining experience at Prezza. As someone who has dined there before, I found everything was as good as ever and it continues to receive my highest recommendation.

During the course of the evening, we enjoyed two bottles of wine, including the 2007 La Spinetta Barbera D'Asti Ca' Di Pian ($42) and the 2007 La Spinetta Nebbiolo Langhe ($54). La Spinetta is a consistently good producer and both of these wines were delicious, pairing well during the course of our meal. Prezza's wine list has over 800 choices, and there are some incredible wines on the list which will thrill any wine lover. Though many might prefer to order Italian wines, the list includes wines as well from all over the world. The list tends to be reasonably priced and there are good wines available at all price points.

We began our meal with a few appetizers, includingAnchovy stuffed eggplantwith scamorza and roasted tomato ($16),Lambrusco braised Chicken Thigh with grilled bacon and crispy potatoes ($16), and the Chestnut soup with croutons, duck confit and white beans ($15). I didn't try the eggplant but was assured by Jen that it was delicious. The chicken thigh was amazing, with tender, moist meat accompanied by a rich, compelling wine flavor. The thick slice of bacon and crispy potatoes enhanced the dish, which I would definitely order on a future visit.

I ordered the chestnut soup and was not disappointed in the least. The creamy, rich soup had a prominent nutty taste that was complemented by the tender duck slices and the beans. The crunchy croutons were a nice addition and I could have easily devoured a dozen more of those too. A hearty dish for the winter, it makes for a good starter.

Chef Caturano then generously sent us a couple complimentary dishes of pasta, including Chestnut Raviolini with pulled duck, butter and parmigiano cheese and Potato Gnocchi “a la Bolognese”, a rustic meat ragout with, tomato, porcini cream and pecorino cheese. I have long been a huge fan of his pasta dishes and both were superb. In both dishes, the pasta was cooked perfectly, the sauces were well spiced and balanced, and each bite made you crave another. I would highly recommend both dishes, and in fact, any pasta made at Prezza.

For an entree, two opted for the Seared Sea Scallops with squid ink gnocchi, lobster, cherry tomatoes and basil lobster broth ($34), one for the Fish Stew, lobster, swordfish, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid, lobster broth, toasted bread with saffron aioli ($38). I heard raves for the Scallops and Stew, and both dishes had ample portions. Prezza doesn't skimp on quantity, and also does not sacrifice quality.

I went forBambi, akaVenison Loinwith grilled cabbage and amarone risotto ($38), though I opted out on the cabbage.The venison loin was a good-sized hunk of meat and I savored every bite. Cooked nicely, it was moist and flavorful, as appealing as any piece of beef. The risotto was also amazing, perfectly cooked rice with a rich flavor bringing to mind red fruits and spice. I was well satisfied with this dish.

Though tempted by the Zeppole with salted pecans and chocolate sauce on the Dessert Menu, I was just too full, like everyone else at the table, to order dessert. It didn't help that we had sampled numerous chocolates before coming to Prezza.

Service was excellent, as usual, and we all had a great evening, filled with fine food and wine, excellent conversation and plain fun. I am so pleased that Prezza has reopened and cannot recommend it enough. The food is as exquisite as ever, they don't skimp on quantity, and there are plenty of excellent choices for drinks. I wish Chef Caturano and the staff at Prezza much luck and I hope to return there again soon.

I must try the Zeppole.

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Rant: Make It Simple But Accurate

Date: Mon, Feb 4, 2013 Wine Tasting

Though I am always pleased to see Sake articles in the media, helping promote this wonderful beverage, I get dismayed when such articles containerroneousinformation. I try to educate people about Sake, to clarify their misconceptions, but that becomes more difficult when articles in popular magazines and newspapers perpetuate such misconceptions. Most of the time, such errors could have been easily corrected and that makes the offense seem even worse.

The new issue of Boston Magazine contains an extensiveAsian Dining Guideand one of the articles, Good Libations, discusses Sake. Though it is a brief article, it makes some significant errors and I was initially informed by the Food Editor that the article had been fact checked. That was dismaying and raised numerous questions in my mind. If it was fact checked, and still contained errors, then what did that say about the process? Who fact checked the article? How was it fact checked? What resource(s) was used to fact check it? Why were the errors allowed to stand?

I was later informed that at least some of the errors were intentional. Intentional? Apparently, they did not wish to confuse the public with too much information so they chose to ignore and omit certain basic facts about Sake. They essentially wanted to dumb down the article because they didn't believe the public was capable of handling the truth. I think the use of erroneous information is more harmful to the public in the long run and that the public is capable enough to handle at least a minimal degree of difficulty. They should be treated as adults, not children, and not spoon fed simple data as if incapable of handling more. One can be simple yet accurate.

Let us look more closely at the errors that were put forth in the article.

First, the article states that there are "three types of premium sake" but there are actually six types. The article failed to mention that there are three types of Honjozo Sake, a second premium category. The Honjozo category is actually even larger than the Junmai category.

The magazine intentionally omitted any reference to Honjozo, allegedly for simplicity's sake. However, they still could have remained accurate yet also been simple. All they would have had to say is something like "there are six types of premium sake but we will highlight only three here." That is succinct and accurate, fixes the error and should not unduly confuse readers. As you see, the term Honjozo didn't need to be mentioned yet readers might be intrigued enough by the reference to other types of premium Sake to seek out more information.

Second, the article states that the types of premium Sake are "categorized by the amount of rice milled away" but that is not truly correct either. First and foremost, the most important element that determines whether a Sake is "premium" or not, is the number and type of ingredients used in the production of the Sake. The milling percentage is a secondary consideration and alone not indicative of a premium Sake.

To be a Junmai, a Sake must only contain four ingredients: rice, water, yeast and koji-kin. To be a Honjozo, the Sake can contain one more ingredient, distilled alcohol. No matter how much of the rice is milled away, a Sake is not "premium" unless it also only has those four or five ingredients. Only about 25% of all Sake produced qualifies as "premium."

Again, the fix would have been relatively simple, adding that premium sake is "categorized by the number & type of ingredients, as well as the amount of rice milled away." Succinct and accurate, it fixes the second error and again should not unduly confuse readers.

Third, the article states Junmai must be "milled to 70 percent or less of the original grain." Beside the awkward construction of that phrase, it is incorrect as there is no minimum milling requirement for a Junmai. A Junmai could be milled down to only 80% and still be considered a Junmai. The only requirement for being a Junmai concerns the number and nature of its ingredients. This is an error that runs rampant in many other Sake articles too.

The fix is also simple. Just state that "Junmai does not have a minimum milling percentage." There is really no reason why that couldn't have been done.

I don't see a valid reason why this article could not have been made accurate. Alleged concerns about dumbing down the article for the general public do not seem warranted, especially considering how easy it would have been to fix the errors. I understand this was not a lengthy educational article on Sake but simple articles can and should still be accurate. Give your readers some credit for being intelligent.

As a final matter, I want to address the lone "tip" in the article, advising people to look for the milling percentage on the label if the writing is in Japanese. I don't think that tip is really helpful and is more likely to confuse someone than help them.

The average person will almost never find a Sake in the U.S. which doesn't specify its type, such as whether it is a Junmai or Ginjo. They will though find a number of bottles which fail to list the milling percentage. So it is far more prudent to remember the type of Sake you prefer and seek out that type on the label rather than hunt on the bottle for milling percentages, which might not even be there. Plus, it is probably easier to remember a word "Ginjo" rather than remember you like Sake that has been milled down to at least 60%.

If you go to a restaurant, their Sake menu will list Sakes by type and almost never mention the milling percentage. Thus, remembering that you like "Ginjo" makes ordering Sake at a restaurant much easier too. Forget milling percentages and learn the name of the Sake type you enjoy.

Kanpai!

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Wayland Winter Farmers' Market

Date: Fri, Feb 1, 2013 Wine Tasting

Though it almost seems like every city and town has a summer/fall farmers' market, there are far fewer winter markets despite their value. One winter option is the Wayland Winter Farmers' Market at Russell's Garden Center, easily accessible off Route 128 on Route 20. The market is now open on Saturdays, from 10am-2pm, through March 9. They have about 40 vendors and also run certain special events, like Farm Fiber Days and the Massachusetts Farm Wineries Day.

I checked out theMA Farm Wineries Day last Saturday, which had nine local wineries presenting some of their wines for tasting. Many of the regular vendors were present as well. Usually there are only a few wineries at the market but this event brings out several more. It was an impressive market, with a diverse range of vendors, many offering food samples. I bought numerous items and considered buying even more, which will have to wait until my next trip.

I am going to highlight some of the vendors but please realize there are plenty of others I didn't mention who are also worthy of attention.

One of the first tables I encountered in the market belonged toSweet Lydia'sof Lowell, which makes gourmet marshmallows and s'mores. They even were selling hot chocolate topped with various flavored marshmallows. Though I didn't purchase anything, I was very tempted and will be sure to do so next time. The Toasted Coconut Marshmallow is calling my name.

I have been a fan of theDanish Pastry Houseforat least five years so it was great to see them at the market.They make a variety ofbaked goods, from breads to pastries. Their baked goods seem to go fast so it pays off to get to the market early and make this one of your first stops.

I have previously patronizedFior D'Italia Pasta & Cheesewhen it was at the summer farmer's market in Wakefield.Vic Tirrito owns this pasta company, which is based in Vermont, and he uses only products from New England, also trying to use as much organic as possible. At the market, he sells pasta, ravioli, gnocchi, sauces and even makes a few dishes you can eat at the market.

Located in Amesbury,Seacoast Buttersmakes a variety of compound butters using organic butter and locally sourced ingredients. There are at least 15 different flavors including Bacon and Sriracha (both which I enjoyed). A 3 ounce container costs $5.75 which seems a bit pricey, though they are using quality, natural ingredients.

West River Creamery, located inLondonderry, Vermont, produces a range of delicious cheeses. They have about 40 milking cows on their 200+ acre farm. At the market, they had at least eight cheeses you could taste, includingMiddletown Blue, Middletown Tomme, Cambridge Farmhouse English Cheddar, and Smoked Cambridge. My favorite was the Marinated Fresh Goat Cheese which was so creamy and savory.

Caledonia Farm, located in Worcester County,combine with Burnshirt Valley Farm to sellpasture raised beef, pork, chicken, and goat. I bought some beef and pork and look forward to seeing how it tastes.

More pasture raised beef can be found atCharlton Orchard Farms, which also sellsapples and cider. Obadiah McIntyre Farm Wineryis located at their farm, selling a variety of wines, including fruit wines, sparkling wines and hard ciders.

If you prefer lamb, then stop by the table forWindsong Farms, a 35 acre farm located in Harvard. You'll find lamb rib chops, loin chops, boneless leg, shoulder roast, shanks, sausages, ground lamb, liver, heart, and kidneys. As a lamb lover, I was very pleased to see their offerings.

Would you rather have seafood? Well C&C Lobster & Fishoffers plenty of fresh fish and even lobsters for sale. Yes, seafood isn't cheap but it is one of the healthiest foods you can eat and it delicious. Adding seafood to your diet is strongly recommended.

Haven't got the time to make a seafood dinner at home?Fishwives Specialty Foodshas you covered with theirMandy's Seafood Chowder. All natural, gluten free and using sustainable seafood, this is a lobster bisque filled with shrimp, scallops, clams and fish. Most of the seafood is local except the shrimp is wild caught from Key West and sometimes they use Alaskan pollock. I tasted the chowder and it was very appealing, a nice creaminess to it without being too thick. It was well spiced and it would be excellent for a winter dinner. I bought some and have already enjoyed it for dinner one night. I will be sure to buy more when I return to the market.

For some, it may sound like a nightmare pasta sauce.Joslin Foodsprovides a line ofSummit Six pasta sauces which are all natural, fat free, and low sodium but they also contain veggies from each color group including carrots, green beans, eggplant, red cabbage, garlic and tomatoes. Yet even if you dislike some of those veggies, worry not. I very much liked this sauce and it didn't taste at all like cabbage or green beans. They have three different varieties: Summit Six Kids (smooth and mild with no chunks), Summit Six Classic (thick and savory with chunks) and Summit Six Spicy (chunky with a spicy kick). I tasted the Spicy but it lacked any chunks in the sample I tasted. I bought some of the Spicy and look forward to seeing what I think when I have more than a small sample.

There is even a food truck at the market, the uniqueVesta Mobile Wood-Fired Pizza. What a cool idea!Theirpizzas cost $8-$12 and you can choose your own toppings or have one of their creations, such as the Breakfast (cheese, bacon, sausage, onions, peppers, Egg Beaters), The Vesta (red sauce, bacon, chicken, Mozzarella and Provolone cheese) or the Beetza (pesto, winter moon root beets, caramelized red onions, black olives and Gorgonzola cheese). Above is the Vesta and it was tasty, with a nice, crisp crust, plenty of toppings and lots of cheese. I recommend getting a pizza for breakfast or lunch when you stop at the Wayland market.

Coastal Vineyards, owned byDavid and Linda Neilson, was founded in 2004 and is located in South Dartmouth. They have a small, 8 acre vineyard, growing Chardonany, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. They produce at least 14 different wines, generally using only their own locally grown grapes.

At the Market, they poured several of their wines and overall I think they are doing a good job of making some easy drinking, pleasant wines. The 2010 Estate Chardonnay ($15) was my favorite, an unoaked version which was crisp, clean, and dry with pleasant green apple and pear flavors. Though I am not a huge fan of cranberry, the 2011 Cranberry Sunset ($16), a blend of Chardonany and cranberry was appealing, with a mild tartness from the cranberry. The 2010 Seaside Red ($20), a blend of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin was a light bodied wine with nice red berry flavors and some herbal notes.

Mead is hot now!TheGreen River Ambrosia Winery, located in Greenfield, is asmall, artisanal meadery that currently produces about 5000 gallons annually, nearly twice what they made the prior year. They use local raw honey and their meads are sulfite free and gluten free. As they are still a small meadery, they are able to obtain sufficient local honey, from Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, for their products.

The Liquid Sunshine ($15) is a traditional semi-dry mead and I enjoyed it, with its pleasant honey notes and a mild sweetness. The Winter Warmer ($15) is a full bodied, semi-sweet mead with winter spices and it is perfect for this cold season. Hints of cinnamon and Christmas spices make this a tasty mead. My favorite of the meads was the Apple Cyzer ($20), made from a 13 heirloom variety cider. Topped by a crown cap, the cyzer is a little frizzante with a rich apple flavor, mild sweetness and appealing honey notes.

They also produce an intriguing non-mead beverage, the Ginger Libation ($15). It is touted as a "pre-Prohibition style ginger beer" and a "spicy alcoholic ginger soda." It is sweetened with cane sugar, pineapple, and citrus juices. It is technically a ginger wine rather than a beer as no malt is used. However, it tastes very similar to a ginger beer, lightly effervescent with a strong ginger flavor and mild sweetness. I bought a bottle and made a Dark n' Stormy with it, though the meadery calls such a Drunk n' Stormy. It made for a delicious, albeit strong, cocktail and everyone who drank it enjoyed it very much.

Kip Kumler, owner/wine maker ofTurtle Creek Wineryof Lincoln, also made an appearance at the market. I have written several times about the winery and their wines and Kip is a very passionate and skilled wine maker. He presented several of his wines, including the 2011 Riesling, 2010 Pinot Noir, 2010 Syrah, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Cabernet Franc. If you have not tasted his wines, you definitely should do so.

Turtle Creek now has a wine club, their Wine Subscriptions, which sends out quarterly releases of wine to all its members. There are three different levels, dependent on how many bottles you wish to receive, from 3-9. You will receive a discounted price, from 10%-20%, discounts on shipping and a number of other benefits, such as being able to attend special events. Sound good if you enjoy Turtle Creek Wines.

Running Brook Vineyard & Winery, founded in 1998, is located in North Dartmouth and they produce wines primarily from their own, locally grown grapes. Their 2007 Pinot Noir ($18) was light bodied with bright red fruit flavors and a hint of spice. Easy drinking and the type of red you could easily drink with seafood.

The Wayland Market has numerous other vendors that I did not mention Bagel Alley, The Herb Lyceum, Paino Organics, Shady Oaks Organics, Terrosa Farm, and others. It was very popular and it is understandable why that is so as there are plenty of interesting vendors, selling lots of tasty food and wine. I will be returning to the market and highly recommend that everyone check it out too.

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Thursday Sips & Nibbles

Date: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 Wine Tasting

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
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1) For Valentine's Day, consider The Beehivewhich ispresenting “3 Days of Lovin’!” A 3-day long love fest of Valentine’s Day inspired dinners accompanied by romantic live music, drink specials from Svedka Vodka, Domaine Chandon and Moët & Chandon as well as menu specials including: “My Heart Beets Crab Salad” with beets, hearts of palm & sugar snap peas, Rack of Lamb for Two with salsa verde, roasted potatoes & blood orange salad, and Roasted Sea Scallop with spinach & truffle pommes puree, to name a few. Pair the dinner of your choice with delicious cocktails from Svedka, or toast your love with a glass of Domaine Chandon or Moët & Chandon to set the mood.

Reservations are highly recommended, and can be made by calling 617-423-0069.

Performance Schedule:
Wednesday, February 13:
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Alex Brown Piano Trio, 7pm-12am
Thursday, February 14:
--Romantic Early Jazz Set featuring Fernando Huergo, Yulia Musayelyan and Nando Michelin: 5pm-7pm
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Gabriela Martina: 7:30pm-9:30pm
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Sissy Castrogiovanni: 9:30pm-1am
Friday, February 15:
--Romantic Early Latin Jazz Set: Gilson Schacknick Trio, 6:30pm-8:30pm
--Valentine's Day 3 Days of Lovin’ featuring Wishes and Thieves: 10pm-2am

2) Ashmont Grill’ will host its first stemmed glass wine event on Monday, February 18 at 7:00 PM. Winemaker Rodney Schatz of Hybrid Wines, an offshoot of Peltier Station, will host a communal dinner for a maximum of 20 guests. Cost is $55 per person (including tax and gratuity) and you can RSVP to tara@ashmontgrill.com or call them at 617-825-4300.

Over five courses of seasonal cuisine, Schatz will chat with diners about how top-rated, sustainably grown grapes from his family’s 1,200 acre vineyard in Lodi, California were meticulously blended to make a new breed of affordable, food-loving wines. Blends to be poured include Hybrid’s pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and petite sirah. Vintages span 2007 to 2011. Menu will be posted online soon.

Ashmont Grill will now also be open for lunch every Friday at 11:30 AM. A 10-item menu of salads, sandwiches, pasta and soup will be available, and lunchtime will segue into dinnertime, so that the Grill’s famous Super Turkey Burger, Pearl Hot Dogs, and Cobb Salads can be enjoyed anytime until 5 PM on that day. Lunch items range from $7-15.

Desserts, always a top draw at Ashmont Grill, will also be available at the new Friday lunch. Pastry Chef Clare Garland’s lineup for January includes:
Chocolate Crème Fraiche Cake with Roasted Pears
Parfait of Banana Cream & Butterscotch Pudding with Pecan Crunch
French Apple Tart with crème anglaise

3)Chef Brian Poe is bringing the Tip Tap Room’s first Valentine’s Weekend to Beacon Hill. For three nights, Chef Poe will serve up The Love Game menu which features a series of bold – and aptly named – dishes. In addition to the regular menu, “The Love Game” is offered as a five-course prix fixe or with the items available a la carte:
--Wicked Tuna: Tuna tartare in soy vinaigrette with wasabi and pickled ginger sorbet ($10.95)
--You Had Me at Carpaccio: Cayenne-dusted buffalo carpaccio, horseradish, truffle & rosemary vinaigrette and a touch of caviar ($11.95)
--Mixed Emulsions: Peppercress, celery root chips, seared foie gras, apple-cider-champagne vinaigrette ($12.95)
--Wildly in Love: Kangaroo in peppercorn, antelope in cranberry gin, elk in rosemary-sage marinade, rutabaga puree and parsnip-parsley salsa ($28.95)
--Hot Sticky Mess: Hazelnut & chocolate waffle with white chocolate chip-marshmallow butter and chocolate caramel maple sauce ($11.95 – for two people)

Cost: Five-course prix fixe: $75 per person (individual items are also available via a la carte pricing)
For reservations, please call: 857-350-3344.

4) On Tuesday, February 12, from 5pm-12am, 75 on Liberty Wharfwill get decked out in festive décor for a special Mardi Gras-inspired night in celebration of this year’s Creole carnival. In addition to the bayou-themed embellishments, Corporate Chef Markus Ripperger has assembled a selection of Southern-inspired dishes featuring an array of the region’s most iconic ingredients - think succulent crawfish, spicy andouille sausage and zesty Cajun flavors - that promise to make your taste buds shout, “Holy Trinity.” And, inspired by the Big Easy’s chief customary cocktail, 75 will offer a line-up of Hurricane-themed sips ideal for those really looking to get in the spirit.

75 on Liberty Wharf’s menu of Mardi Gras-themed cuisine will feature the following specials:
Louisiana Seafood Burger (homemade burger with fresh halibut, Atlantic salmon, center cut swordfish, toasted croissant, lettuce, tomato, spicy aioli, field greens) $14
Jambalaya (crawfish, shrimp, chicken, spicy andouille sausage, peppers, tomatoes, steamed white rice) $19
Crawfish Étouffée (crawfish, garden vegetables, tomatoes, Cajun spices, white rice) $19
Shrimp & Chicken Gumbo (shrimp, chicken, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, Cajun spices, white rice) $19

75 on Liberty Wharf’s Mardi Gras specials will be served in addition to the regular New England-centric menu.
For reservations, please call: 617-227-0754

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Westport Rivers: Local Wines Worthy Of Respect

Date: Wed, Jan 30, 2013 Wine Tasting

Can vitis vinifera, the common wine grape, grow well in Massachusetts? Can it produce delicious Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, or should local wineries purchase their grapes from outside of the state? Should Massachusetts concentrate more on growing hybrid grapes or making fruit wines?

The 30+ Massachusetts wineries present a varied picture and many of them do not grow their own grapes. Some make fruit wines while others purchase grapes from places like California and New York. Of those that do grow their own grapes, especially vitis vinifera, most seem to be located in southeastern Massachusetts, along the Coastal Wine Trail.

Consisting of about 80 acres, the largest vineyard in Massachusetts, and possibly all of New England, is owned byWestport Rivers Winery, which was founded in 1986. The owners believed the climate and soil at their site was an excellent location for a vineyard, and their wines give proof to their belief. They only produce wines made from grapes they grow on their vineyard, such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Rkatsiteli, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat and Pinot Noir.

I lasted visited the winery over six years ago though had enjoyed their sparkling wines for a few years before that. About seven years ago, when I began blogging with a group of friends at the Real World Winers site (now defunct) andbefore I started The Passionate Foodie, the 2001 Westport Rivers Brut Cuvee RJR Sparkling Winewas one of ourmost highly recommended wines. Since that time, I have generally only seen their sparkling wines available at local wine stores. Their still wines were elusive but I now wish more shops would carry them, so that they were more readily available. I also need to make a trip down to the winery again, maybe this spring, to learn more about everything they are doing.

Westport Rivers recently sent me samples of two of their sparkling wines, the 2006 Brut Cuvee RJR and the 2001 Blanc de Blancs Brut. Then, this past weekend, the winery had a table at the Wayland Winter Farmers' Market and I had the opportunity to taste and be impressed by several of their still wines and one apertif/dessert wine. Their winemaker, Bill Russell, is producing plenty of wines of which he should be proud, showing the potential for Massachusetts wines produced from locally grown grapes.

The 2006 Westport Rivers Brut RJR ($34.99) is produced from a blend of about 70% Pinot Noir with the remainder Chardonnay and a touch of Pinot Meunier. It spent over four years in tirage, was disgorged about eight months before release and has a dosage of 0.8%. This is a compelling sparkling wine with a fine golden color and a pleasing nose of toast and citrus. On the palate, it is clean, dry and crisp with lovely green apple and toasted bread notes. It has a nice depth of character, a long satisfying finish, and will remind you of a nice Champagne. It is not inexpensive but I think it can compare well to Champagnes at a similar price point.

For New Year's Eve, I chose to open the 2001 Westport Rivers Blanc de Blancs Brut ($45), produced from 100% Chardonnay. It spent about ten years in tirage, was disgorged a little over eight months before release and has a dosage of 0.2%. This is a superb sparkling wine that is well balanced and possesses great complexity. It has prominent acidity, is very dry and has intriguing notes of green apple, toast, pears and hints of other elusive flavors that willtantalize your palate. I was extremely happy that I opened this bottle to bring in the New Year, starting off the year with a fantastic local wine. At this price point, I think it competes very well with similarly priced Champagnes. It gets my highest recommendation.

As for their still whites, I tasted three of them and enjoyed all three. The 2011 Westport Rivers Chardonnay ($18) is a blend of 80% oaked Chardonnay and 20% unoaked, made in a more French style. It is crisp and dry with bright apple and citrus flavors and only a touch of richness from the oak. An excellent food wine, it is also pleasing on its own. The 2011 Westport Rivers Riesling ($18) is also crisp and dry, with bolder citrus flavors and hints of tropical fruit. Easy drinking and food friendly, this is another delicious wine from their portfolio.

I was intrigued by the 2011 Westport Rivers Cinco Cães ($18), a unique white blend of Rkatsiteli, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat and Chardonnay.Cinco Cães, a Portuguese phrase that means "five dogs," is named for five dogs they owned, four Labrador retrievers and an Azorean cattle dog. Though an easy drinking wine, you might at first overlook its complexity. A fascinating blend of aromatics with tastes of green apple, pear, citrus, and herbal notes. It is crisp and delicious, with a lengthy finish and after having a glass, you are going to crave another and then another. Highly recommended.

How do red grapes fare in Massachusetts? Westport Rivers grows Pinot Noir but they have only produced a still wine from Pinot Noir twice, including the recent 2010 Westport Rivers Pinot Noir ($25). Most of their Pinot Noir ends up in their sparkling wines. About 600 cases were made of the 2010 Pinot. It was a light bodied wine, with tasty notes of cherry and ripe plum along with a mild earthiness. Mild tannins, an alcohol content of 13.2% and a pleasing finish. A Pinot that is sure to appeal to many wine lovers.

Pinot Noir also figures into a fascinating apertif/after dinner wine, the Grace Pinot Noir ($25). The winery sends out some of their Pinot Noir to a distillery to make a brandy. When the brandy is returned, they add some Pinot Noir juice and age it for five years in French oak. Five different vintages are blended together and the end result has a powerful alcohol content of 17.5%. It is going to remind you of an aged Tawny Port in some respects with its intriguing flavors of caramel, dried figs, dark cherry and other savory notes. There is only a hint of sweetness in its rich and luxurious mouth feel. Unusual and compelling.

Massachusetts can be proud of Westport Rivers, making true local wines that will intrigue and satisfy wine lovers. Seek out their wines and you can look forward to more coverage from me of this compelling winery.

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Shōjō: A Welcome Addition To Chinatown

Date: Tue, Jan 29, 2013 Wine Tasting

In Japanese mythology, a shōjō is commonly considered to be a water spirit that loves Sake. You'll find several legends about them that center around magical Sake, from Sake that can cure any illness to Sake pots that are always full, no matter how much your pour out. The legend has a Chinese origin and the term is sometimes translated as "orangutan" so that a few legends describe shōjō as resembling monkeys. In my first Tipsy Sensei story, Yurine's Pot, the legend of the shōjō played a pivotal role. With my interest in such matters, I was intrigued by a new Chinatown restaurant called Shōjō.

The restaurant opened last August but it wasn't until recently that I stopped by there for lunch. I was going to be in the area so decided to check it out. I learned from theirFacebookpage that during the month of January all of the items on their lunch menu were only $5. Sounded like a great time to sample a variety of their dishes inexpensively. However, their lunch menu was not listed on their website so I contacted their PR person to obtain a copy. My friend Jackie and I then dined there, and at the end of the meal we learned that the restaurant had comped our lunch. You can also check out Jackie's compellingreviewof our dining experience.

Shōjō is a small restaurant and bar, seating around 50 people, and located in the heart of Chinatown on Tyler Street. Its intent is to attract people to Chinatown who might feel intimidated by some of the more authentic and traditional restaurants. To that objective, its cuisine is Pan-Asian with a modern twist, a playful take on more traditional and authentic dishes. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and the menus change weekly "...depending on the availability of fresh and local ingredients." The walls have various paintings of a simian shojo on a search for a river of Sake. There is an enticing casual vibe about the restaurant.

The usual lunch menu is divided into three sections, including Soup & Small Bites (8 items, priced $4-$8), Mains (10 items, most priced $7-$9) and Desserts (1 item, priced at $5). They have a list of vegetarian options too. The lunch menu we viewed at the restaurant was a bit different due to their anniversary special where all the items were priced at $5. There is plenty of diversity on the menu, and there should be something for all tastes and preferences. In addition, I feel it is reasonably priced, even considering the usual lunch menu prices.

I looked at their drinks menu, which intrigued me, but we didn't order anything to drink besides green tea. They have about nine Sakes, some Shochu and numerous unique cocktails. There are some good Sakes on the list though nothing especially unique. For a restaurant using a Sake legend in their decor and motif, I would have liked to see a greater number and variety of Sakes available on their menu. I am interested in trying some of their Shochu cocktails.

Overall, our food was delicious and satisfying and I am eager to return. The Red & Hot Wonton Soup (usually $5) is a perfect dish for winter, a savory and spicy soup with several small wontons. It was a good-sized dish and the broth seemed more intense and complex than the usual wonton soups served at many Americanized Chinese spots. A great way to start your lunch.

The Char Sui Empandas(which are not on the regular lunch menu) resembled a fried ravioli filled with a savory, moist chunk of pulled pork. A tasty starter which will appeal to everyone.

The Duck Fat Fries with Sirracha Aioli (usually$5) were addictive, crispy with a fluffy interior, and with that welcome flavor addition from the duck fat. A great bar snack with Sake or a cocktail.

My favorite dish was the “Damn! Damn!! Noodles!!!” (usually$8), which comes with ground pork, bean sprouts, egg noodles, and Szechuan peppercorn though I had mine prepared without the sprouts. This is a twist on Dandan noodles, which are often found in Americanized Chinese restaurants made with a peanut butter sauce. Traditionally, no peanut butter is used. The fresh noodles were cooked nicely, with just the right amount of firmness to them, and the entire dish offered a delectable taste, savory, salty and rich, especially with the egg yolk. The crispy pork bits really added to this dish. I liked the presentation too and would highly recommend this dish.

The Grilled Chicken Coconut Curry Over (usually$8), atop jasmine rice, was another winner of a main dish. A large, moist and tender boneless chicken breast was covered by a spicy curry with a rich coconut taste and some crisp veggies. This is another dish I would strongly recommend.

For dessert, we had some Chocolate Sesame Balls (usually$5), which are a twist on a traditional Chinese dish that usually contains Azuki bean paste. This was an interesting dessert, made from a glutinous rice flour which gave it a chewy texture, which was covered in sesame seeds, adding nuttiness, and then fried. The center contained rich, warm chocolate and made for an intriguing blend of textures and flavors. You might fight over who gets the last of these tasty treats.

We also tasted a Coconut Jelly dessert, covered in a berry puree, which was ok, just not my preference. It had a different jelly texture, much firmer than the typical jello, panna cotta or similar dessert. The coconut flavor was mild and the berry taste seemed to overwhelm the coconut.

My first experience atShōjō was very positive and I look forward to my next visit, to try more of their dishes and to delve into their drinks menu.I like the fact the menu changes frequently, so you will find something new all the time.This is not the place to go if you are seeking authentic Chinese dishes. Rather it is a spot where you go to enjoy their playful takes on traditional cuisine, a great entry spot for newcomers to Chinatown who might feel intimidated in more traditional spots. However, even if you love traditional Chinese food, it is well worth visiting here for their unique take on Asian dishes.

Kanpai toShōjō!

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Rant: Reviewer Card, Douchebags & Ethics

Date: Mon, Jan 28, 2013 Wine Tasting

By now, you probably have read at least one article about the new Reviewer Card, a plastic card that states "I Write Reviews." The Los Angeles Times was one of the first to bring this card to our attention and numerous others have written about it during the past week. A self-described "lifelong entrepreneur" essentially decided that if restaurants and other businesses were aware that he wrote online reviews then they would provide him special service. As he felt there were other online reviewers in a similar situation, who wanted special treatment, he created the Reviewer Card.

An online reviewer simply flashes this card at a business and the hope is that the business will fawn all over this person, providing them special service, far better than the average person receives. It can be used at almost any business, from a restaurant to a hotel, from a dentist to an auto service station. The catch is that there is absolutely no guarantee that use of the card will be successful, and based on the comments of some restaurant owners during the past week, it could actually get you kicked out of some places.

This entrepreneurcharges $100 for the plastic Reviewer card and states he will only provide them to "highly active review site users," though there are no parameters for what that entails. It is the entrepreneur's sole discretion as to who can receive the card. Interestingly, their membership application has apparently changed during the past week, maybe due to all of the recent negative press. Previously, they listed specific online sites, such as Yelp and Trip Advisor, where you indicated your contributions. There was no place though to list if you wrote a blog. Now you simply list your "Top Reviewer Profiles" so it could also include a blog.

In addition, there appears to be a new question on the application: "Do you accept to use this card ethically and morally?" There is nothing on their website that indicates what constitutes an ethical and moral use of the card. Thus, it is a question with no real teeth. Based on comments made by the entrepreneur, his grasp of the ethics of restaurant reviewing seems questionable. For example, he apparently sees nothing wrong with failing to disclose any special treatment he receives, which many others would see as an ethical failure to be transparent, an ethical failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The question seems to be new, drafted in response to all of the negative publicity.

The entrepreneur claims that he has sold about 100 of the Reviewer Cards and has given away another 400 or so though we should probably take his claims with a grain of salt. If true, he has already earned about $10,000, which is fairly lucrative for selling a cheap plastic card which guarantees nothing. It makes little sense for anyone to purchase this card. Why pay $100 when any reviewer could spend $10 and buy a bunch of business cards that say the exact same thing? In fact, they could even get a bunch of business cards for free from a few different companies.

Those business cards possess the same potential as the Reviewer Card. Even without any card, some try to assert that they possess aprivilegedstatus as an online reviewer. There have always been stories of Yelpers and others who have just announced their status to a restaurant owner, demanding special service or comped meals. Use of the Reviewer Card only elevates the level of ignorance and arrogance of these people.

If you collect all of the various articles about the Reviewer Card during the past week, the most common pejorative you will find about the card and those who would use it is "douchebag." It is an apt description. Few have defended the practice and rightfully so. It raises a number of ethical issues which any restaurant reviewer should consider but which some unfortunately ignore. Despite theentrepreneur'sdenials, the Reviewer Card seems designed to violate these ethical considerations

Use of this card can be seen as a form of extortion, where the reviewer demands special service from a restaurant or other business with the unspoken threat that they will write a terrible review if the business does not comply. A threat does not need to be spoken to be intended or understood. With the spread of the Internet, and all of the consumer review sites, restaurants and other businesses fully understand that any customer can write a negative review that thousands will see. It is in their best interest to treat all customers equally as they never know who might or might not write a review.

Use of this card can also be considered a type of bribe, where the reviewer agrees to provide a top review if they receive special service. A pay for play situation. The entrepreneur behind this card sees nothing wrong with this practice, though responsible restaurant reviewers understand the ethical problem with that type of behavior. Transparency is required for any situation where there is a potential conflict of interest, such as receiving free samples or a comped meal. The FCC certainly sees this as a necessity for bloggers, though there are certainly a few bloggers who violate those disclosure requirements.

The Reviewer Card is fornarcissistic,entitled douchebags who think they deserve special treatment just because they write snarky reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor. They don't want to be treated like any average customer. They want to be special, to receive special treatment. They don't want to tell the truth but rather brag about the treatment they received, which the average patron might not ever receive. It is also for someone dumb enough to spend $100 for a card they could create on their own for a minimal cost, if not free.

I think that the example of the Reviewer Card should cause anyone who reviews restaurants, wines, and other businesses to do some soul searching, to review their own behavior and ensure that it is ethical. They should ask certain questions and honestly answer them. Are you always transparent in your reviews? Do you ever guarantee a review in exchange for some type of consideration? Do you threaten in any way, verbally or not, to write a negative review if you do not receive special consideration? Do you endeavor to be honest in your reviews, to share both the positive and negative?

For bloggers, I recommend that you post your own ethical policies on your sites, to indicate the standards you endeavor to follow. As an example, you can read my own Code of Ethics, Disclosure, Advertising and Sample Policies. If you wish to be taken seriously in any way, you should be an ethical reviewer. It will enhance your credibility and reputation.

Don't be a douchebag!

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Signing Event For Demons, Gods & Sake: Feb.2

Date: Sun, Jan 27, 2013 Wine Tasting

Have you read my Boston-based, supernatural thriller yet?

As Ipreviously mentioned, my new novel,Demons, Gods & Sakeis now available asaTrade PaperbackthroughAmazon.The Trade Paperback is 252 pages long and sells for $14.95.Thisnovelis the fourth installment of theTipsy Senseiseries, the adventures ofNate Randall,a Sake Expert from Boston. The novel is also available as anEbookand the prior three Tipsy Sensei short stories are available asEbookstoo.

Demons, Gods and Sake can now be found at three bookstores,The Book OasisinStoneham,Bestsellers Cafe in Medford, and Pandemonium in Central Square, Cambridge as well as theAKA Bistro restaurant in Lincoln. I am hoping to make it available in a few other local and independent book stores in the near future. If any restaurants, book stores or other businesses would like to stock my new novel and/or do a book signing, please contact me.

On Saturday, February 2, from 2pm-3:30pm, I will be presiding at an author event and signing my novelat Bestsellers Cafe in Medford. So come on down, meet me and pick up a copy of my book. I will be answering questions about my book as well as any Sake questions people have. Pick up a copy for yourself or get one for the book lovers in your life.

Hope you see you at my author event and signing!

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Health Benefits of Sake

Date: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 Wine Tasting

It has been brutally cold for the last couple days and people have been warned that drinking alcohol will not keep them warm. However, is that fully true? A Japanese doctor, Yukio Takizawa, disagrees when it comes to Sake. "Recent studies have shown that moderate consumption of saké can maintain our body temperature in the cold. During acute exposure to a cold environment saké may prove advantageous by increasing blood circulation and heat production."

Though Dr. Takizawa does not differentiate whether he is referring to cold or warm Sake, it is common for the Japanese to drink warm Sake during the winter.Kanzakeis the general term for warmed Sake though there are several specific terms for Sake served at various heated temperatures. The first written references to warmed Sake are from the early 10th century and it was not until the early 17th century that drinking warmed Sake during the winter became commonplace. Interestingly, around the start of the 18th century, the Japanese started drinking warm Sake year round.

Why did the Japanese drink warmed Sake? It is thought that the primary reason may be for their health. The Chinese had drank warmed alcohol for a long time before the Japanese and they had health traditions that drinking warmed beverages were better for your health. During the early 18th century, Kaibara Ekiken, an influential samurai, physician, scientist and philosopher, wrote a book promoting the idea that warm Sake improves the circulation of one's life energy.

The health benefits of Sake extend well beyond protection from the cold. "Consuming saké in moderation has been hailed in Japan since ancient times as a healthy practice that delivers good health, longevity and excellent skin tone." Though you might want to dismiss that as primitive folklore with little basis in reality, recent scientific studies have provided a solid foundation for these beliefs. "In light of the best current medical knowledge, moderate saké consumption is good for liver health, effective in preventing most forms of cancer, enables good blood flow, and reduces stress." Dr. Takizawa also stated: "Saké too offers a number of particular health benefits, including increased HDL (or the good) cholesterol, thus preventing heart attacks, strokes and other health problems. Furthermore, saké contains many naturally occurring nutrients." Sake can even help you sleep better. "Moderate consumption of saké is known to reduce REM sleep and increase the non-REM or deep sleep, therefore helping to make for more restful sleep."

All of the above quotes can be found in Dr. Takizawa's compelling book: Sake, Health and Longevity(Veronica Lane Books, May 2011). This short, but fascinating, book details a myriad of health benefits, based on numerous studies, provided by Sake. You can read this book to learn more detail about the general health statements I quoted above. Besides the health benefits, it also provides basic information about Sake production, Sake types and pairing Sake with food. It is a great starting point for learning more about Sake and raises many intriguing points that deserve follow up and exploration. Sake is delicious but it also appears to be good for you, providing another important reason for everyone to check it out.

"In fact, an ancient Japanese saying reminds the gourmet ”to drink sake, not to get drunk by it.

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