Pig Island in Red Hook Brooklyn. Saturday, September 8th

Want to sample some of the best barbeque pork from the region? Look no further than Pig Island, an annual event in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  At the event, you could sample several different pork dishes as well as drinks. This year there was several different whiskeys, ciders, and beer as well to taste.  There were musical performances and on the park, you could relax and eat while enjoying the view of the water. The food was excellent but was gone too quickly!

 

Pro Tip: Get there early so you can secure your spot at in the park, and get first dibs on some great food!

This was the 9th annual Pig Island NYC event and it was held on Saturday, September 8th on the Red Hook, Brooklyn waterfront.

For more information check out the Pig Island website: http://pigisland.com/

 

Review: Ghost Bottle Night with Brewmaster Garrett Oliver at the Hopleaf Bar

Cover image: Garrett Oliver © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“I grew up in the matrix,” Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster, author and beer lover Garrett Oliver jokes raising a beer glass. The audience takes the first sip of Brooklyn Brewery’s prototype, Chichicapa, named after a Mezcal-producing village and the brewery’s latest collaboration.

“You really can taste the Mezcal,” he said.

The Hopleaf Bar event room © Spirikal for WhereNYC

It is absolutely amazing if not weird. For fans of spicy cocktails, this is a must try. The chilled, crisp beer suddenly smacks you with a belt of smoky Mezcal heat. It stops me in my tracks. Even my seat mate seems baffled. “I can’t make out whether I’m drinking beer or spirits,” she tilts her head. Like an abusive girlfriend, it is addictive. Smokey, hot yet refreshing, I need another sip.

We are sitting upstairs at the Hopleaf Bar, a Chicago institution and Midwestern mecca to craft beer. Since its expansion over five years ago, the second floor regularly hosts tasting events, including a recent Chimay beer and cheese pairing.

Standing in front of a sold-out audience, Oliver introduces ten of the Brewery’s rare and obscure beers. He is gregarious, witty and has traveled the world and worked with breweries in England to Japan. “I’m 400 years old,” he laughs.

Garrett Oliver © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Undoubtedly Oliver is Brooklyn Brewery’s top ambassador, and even his name is as ubiquitous as craft beer itself, having hosted beer events at the Japan Society as well as having written The Brewmaster’s Table and contributed to the Oxford’s Companion to Beer. His passion for the industry stems in part of his time spent in Europe.

“I fell in love with beer while living in England and later with cheese when I went to France.”

The other part comes from the Brooklyn Brewery’s collaborations with industry experts worldwide. With their knowledge, the brewery has revived old techniques and put its stamp on new, conceptual beers. Or as he calls them, “Ghost bottles.”

Wearing his signature dapper hat and his bright white smile, Oliver begins with a philosophical explanation of the meaning of “ghost bottles.”

“(Ghost bottles) are like moons,” Oliver explains. Produced in small batches, they sometimes blossom or disappear just as moons do. Limited in quantity, they are not available in any liquor store, only for sampling.

Ghost Bottle © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Having between 10 and 12% alcohol, these beers are not for the fainthearted. I’m already feeling a bit dizzy after the third pouring. And remembering the steep staircase I would have to eventually use again, I decide to pace my drinking.

“Craft beer is the truth,” Oliver says while carefully distancing himself from the crazed American ultra-hoppy-till-you-break-tears pale ales, or APA. Brooklyn Brewery, according to Oliver, is not looking for punishing gimmicks or novelties. The brewery has gone a different, quirkier route than other craft brewers by conjuring up classic, comforting flavors with a twist.

Like the Chichicapa I tried, the brewery’s Improved Old Fashioned also messes with your mind in a good way. While you have the texture of beer, there is no denying the classic flavors of the rye whisky cocktail on your palette. If I were blind tasting, however, I’d swear I was drinking a refreshing Old Fashioned.

Oliver’s latest partnership with fellow kindred spirit and spicemaster Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte NYC is an ode to nostalgic Christmasy flavors and pleasant dried fruits. “Lior is a painter,” Oliver says adding that the beer is the canvas. Born in Israel, Sercarz’s love of spices came from the local street food. He has worked in some of France’s best kitchens before he came to New York to work for Daniel Boulud. He has since collaborated with the likes of Eric Ripert of the three-Michelin starred Le Bernardin and has travelled the world in search of the best spices.

Tripel Burner © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Their Belgian-style Tripel Burner may sound menacing, but it is a pleasant combination of black licorice, figs, pumpkin and nutmeg flavors.

Other favorites of the evening could complete a perfect meal or dish. Cloaking Device, Oliver admits was a geeky name, but this porter, brewed in red wine barrels, is a rich, dark ale with a chocolaty, yeasty note. It is surprisingly lighter than it looks but is unmistakably a porter. Its sweetness, he adds, would pair well with desserts and gamey meats or charred carrots in yogurt sauce.

“Beers are like humans,” Oliver concludes. “(They start as) cute babies to (become) awkward teenagers.” What matters most is structure, balance and elegance when making beer. The goal is not too produce superlatives but conjure memories and take you on an international journey. While “local is great,” he says, it is “spectacularly limiting.” “The inspiration (of Brooklyn Brewery) comes from far away.”

For upcoming tasting events, please visit the Hopleaf Bar.

Review: FIAF’s 2018 Bastille Day on 60th Street

Cover image: © WhereNYC

Crême brûleé © WhereNYC

Like Christmas, FIAF’s Bastille Day block party is an annual tradition that New Yorkers never miss. For me, however, it was my very first. This year was different. I was excited to go, and I sure picked a great year to attend. Not only was I able to experience this French block party of delicious food and desserts but able to catch this year amazing win by les Bleus for the 2018 World Cup with fellow Francophile compatriots.

Live Street Music © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

As I got there with my hot date, we decided to walk down 60th street where were greeted by French vendors ranging from crepes to free Nespresso to musical artists engaging the crowd to dance. This year’s celebration stretched over four blocks, longer than previous years. Each booth in every corner showcased something new and different.  There were French pastries, tourist offices and boutiques dazzling crowds with promotions and delicious goodies.

Champagne Party Ticket © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

 

Noticeably after we passed the rainbow of balloons, we saw a gigantic screen and a crowd of strangers huddled together watching the World Cup final between France and Croatia. It was a picture perfect year with les Bleus’ 4-2 win, and the subsequent burst of joy right on 60th Street.

FIAF’s Bastille Day indoor events also provided a much needed relief from the summer heat and celebratory screaming crowds. After a while, we headed to the VIP Lounge at Amali, 115 E. 60th Street. That is where we met some amazing different writers to mix and mingle with. We sipped on wine, some Perrier, refreshing limonade and ate delicious bread and cheese — including Brie, my favorite!

Sporting their summer’s best at FIAF’s Bastille Day © WhereNYC

In addition to the beloved cheese and wine pairings in the lower level hall of FIAF, the Champagne Tasting at Le Sky Lounge on the top floor was like entering a luxurious world full of delicious bubbly and chocolate. My guest and I were given a ticket that allowed us to have one decadent dessert from each exhibitor. As for the champagne, it was a rare treat to sample from some of the lesser known winemakers. There were exceptional sparkling champagnes from Pol Roger, Ayala, Champagne Delamotte, and Besserat de Bellefon, as well as refreshing, sparkling cocktails made with Grand Marnier. We nibbled delicious macarons from world-famous Ladurée, decadent chocolates from Voilà Chocolat, and sweet dessert from Maman Bakery.

Grand Marnier cocktails © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Voilà Chocolat was a lot of fun and a neat concept of DIY truffle dipping. The company brought their station to make Bastille Day truffles. I got to pick my own truffle dip it with chocolate and decorated it with a fancy FIAF topping. Not only was it fun to make, but très delicious!

Bastille Day Truffles © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Jazz singer Chloé Perrier entertained the Sky along with favorite French and American songs from the 1920s to the 40s. It was definitely the icing on the cake and really made the tasting classy.

This was definitely a wonderful experience to remember. As always with mingling over a glass of wine at an event like this one, you meet new friends and discover something new. I plan to keep in touch with some of the people I met in the VIP lounge. If you decide to come next year, it is free entry to block party, food and drink available for purchase. But the real fun and decadence happens indoors with the extraordinary champagne and wine tasting events that are worth their price tag.

For information on upcoming events in the fall including the must-attend annual open house, be sure to visit FIAF.

Review: Taste of Terroir · Provence: More than just Rosé! with sommelier Ms. Dany Saint-Pierre

Cover image © Spirikal for WhereNYC

There are few things in life that conjure a perfect mid-summer evening than a gathering of friends in Provence sipping wine and enjoying the breathtaking scenery. The South of France has it all; Mediterranean climate, scent of wild herbs, delicious food and some of the world’s iconic wines such as Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. Deeply rooted its soil, Provence’s winemaking tradition dates back nearly 2500 years when ancient Greek settlers planted the first grapes.

Left to right: Whispering Angel rosé, Clos Ste-Magdeleine de Cassis and the red Terre d’Ombre Baby Bandol © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Bringing a little sunny Provence to a cold, rainy Chicago, sommelier Dany Saint-Pierre recreated her own Provençal wine experience for guests at the Alliance Française in Chicago. During of which, she led us through a masterclass showcasing a group of delicious French wines that will bring a little Southern France magic at your next dinner party.

Seated before us is tantalizing display of goat cheese, sliced baguettes, olives, slices of lemon and toasted almonds – each of which will pair with the wines.

“Pairing intensity of flavor is an art,” Ms. St-Pierre begins. While it really depends on your taste, Ms. St-Pierre has some useful tips.

If serving a dish, for example, with a higher acidity such as salad vinaigrette or a fresh seafood or light canapé, a fresh rosé is a good place to start. The popular Whispering Angel from Château d’Esclans, is a “complex rosé,” explains Ms. St-Pierre as the guests take their first sips. It contains up to five grapes, and like most rosé, keeps for up to two years. It is accessible, which editor Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast once described Whispering Angel as a reliable, affordable rosé for any occasion, retailing at $20 a bottle ($19 at Binny’s). It is also slightly sweeter and fruity. If you’re after a dryer punch with a cleaner finish, try Château d’Esclans’ rebellious Rock Angel or Château Puech-Haut Prestige 2017 from the neighboring Languedoc region 2017 for $18 also at Binny’s.

The star of the evening. Clos Ste. Magdeleine de Cassis 2015 © Spirikal for WhereNYC

The star of our evening class was the Clos Ste-Magdeleine 2015, a beautifully balanced white wine from the seaside village of Cassis. If there was ever wine made for seafood, it’s this one. The Clos Ste-Magdeleine would balance beautifully with grilled fish, eggplant or a fresh ceviche. Comprised of four grapes including the herbal Marsanne and Clairette, the wine has an incredible, pleasant texture with floral and spicy aromas.

Neither too sweet nor dry, “it is perfect with an oily fish like sardines,” Ms. St-Pierre said. As I take my second sip, I notice the wine actually becomes pleasantly sweeter when paired with the salty almonds and citrusy lemon.

The 2015 is pricey, nearly $30 a bottle at Plum Market Wine Chicago but totally worth it. Unique and unlike a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, it has its own flavor. And like the Whispering Angel, always serve it well chilled.

An evening of sipping delight © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Its owners aren’t descended from the ancient Greek settlers, but the Zafiropulo family left Greece in the 19th century and settled in Marseille. Four generations later, they are still producing this lovely wine.

The Baby Bandol pairs brilliantly with chèvre and olives. © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Finding an ideal red wine for your summer meal is not an easy thing and sometimes even “risky” – as Ms. St-Pierre explains. The medium bodied Terre d’Ombre 2015, or Baby Bandol from Domaine de Terrebrune is a winner. For $20, it is a great wine that can be enjoyed through the year. “Leave it to decant 20 minutes before serving, or you may keep it in the refrigerator up to 20 minutes to 65ºF (18.3ºC) (if serving during the summer),” Ms. St-Pierre recommends.

Robust without a long, heavy tannic finish, it’s best paired with a great dish. “It not fun to drink without food,” says Ms. St-Pierre. It is absolutely perfect with the herbal goat cheese and olives on our tables. It could also work with lamb or a garlic-roasted chicken.

Finally, finish the meal on a sweet note with the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2013, a wine “made for desserts” from Domaine de Durban. Available at Plum Market for $16, it is an affordable alternative to a higher end Sauternes from Bordeaux. But like the latter, it is also brilliant when served chilled with foie gras as I had discovered from a previous rendez-vous with another Muscat from Domaine de Coyeaux.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise © Spirikal

Made in the traditional process of arrested fermentation, the yeast is killed by a grape liqueur, leaving the remaining sugar. It may sound barbaric, but it’s all in a good cause. The residual sweetness of the Muscat is pleasant with a mild, sweet bouquet and the texture smooth and nectary. While it is good with mint chocolate served at the event, Ms. St-Pierre suggest to enjoy it with a “a fruity crumble or citrus tart with a fruit coulis.”

How ever you want plan your meal, Ms. St-Pierre encourages everyone to “experiment.”  She adds that wines are “not to necessarily contrast” but rather to complement and enhance your meal, bringing joy and of course, the pleasure of the table.

For more information on upcoming events, visit the Alliance Française Chicago.

Review: Japan Society 20th Annual Sake Lecture & Tasting: Unorthodox Variations

Cover image  © WhereNYC

After countless sushi sessions midday with my partner in food crime, I’ve developed a taste for a warm, yet delicate cup of sake. This warm rich treat has quickly become a staple with my spicy tuna roll.

John Gaunter, presenter and editor of Sake World is the face of Japanese sake in America. © WhereNYC

Now, as a self-proclaimed spirits connoisseur, I’ve gone to several whiskeys, beers and wines, but never have I ever made the effort to go out to taste sake. I decided to investigate. Each year the Japan Society hosts an annual sake talk and tasting with 30 types of premium sake. I knew I had to go.

The night was kicked off by industry expert and Sake World editor John Gauntner with an informative discussion on the unorthodox variations of sake. Gauntner delves into the pros and cons of these sake anomalies and examines how they stack up against the tried-and-true standards. He went through the different types of sake and explained the different types of sake to the lively crowd. As he continues, it opened my eyes to the many different variations of this drink. I never heard of red sake. Sparkling sake? I did not know that it was a thing, but as he went on I knew I must try each variation. After some lively Q&A, John Gauntner invited each of the brewers on stage before the main event– the tasting.

Sake © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

So after the presentation, it was time to finally try the different variations! The Japan society was arranged with several tables with brewers. They had all the northern sakes located in the north part of the building and the southern sakes in the South part of the building. The building itself is gorgeous with a bonsai tree in the build of a fountain.

I carefully took note of each sake, in order to understand the different notes in liquid. Each was unique in its own way. As I went from table to table, I learned to distinguish different notes. I tasted crisp, citrus, and fruity sakes to name a few! The crowd became super friendly as we all tried the different brewer’s creations. Some notable standouts included Kirin Hizoshu from the Kaetsu brewery in Niigata which was enclosed in a beautiful blue bottle that looked too beautiful to drink. The was a cold sake Hanagaki Usunigori Junmai Daiginjo that crisp and as white as snow.

Kirin Hizoshu © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

If you thought this event exciting, then the Japan Society is something you should look into. The Japan Society host many unique programs to immerse people into Japanese culture. It’s an American nonprofit organization supported by individuals, foundations, and corporations that bring the people of Japan and the United States closer together through mutual understanding, appreciation and cooperation. More than a hundred years after the Society’s founding, its goal remains the same—the cultivation of a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan. To learn more about the Japan Society for more information on programs and events at JapanSociety.org.  

Hanagaki Usunigori Junmai Daiginjo © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

After this event, I know I more confidence to taste and order sakes. I plan to incorporate more sake into my diet in the near future.

Review: Natto: Japan’s Probiotic Superfood Event at Japan Society, May 23, 2018

Cover image: Modern natto… put in on anything! © Meg for WhereNYC

Mr. Spaeth and Ms. Yonetani © Meg for WhereNYC

“It is quite wonderful to see so many people interested in natto or just natto-curious,” Ms. Ann Yonetani, “microbiologist turned food entrepreneur/natto maker” (as per Japan Society), began. Ms. Yonetani shared the stage with her friend, former New York Times and current Serious Eats writer, and who’s also half Japanese, Mr. Sho Spaeth for a talk on natto. When they both met in 2016, Mr. Spaeth was baffled by Ms. Yonetani’s passion to promote natto in the United States because the fermented, pungent soybean would be a hard sell to the public.

Ms. Yonetani growing up eating natto (c) Meg for WhereNYC

But the natto industry could hardly hope for a better PR rep. Quirky with fun nerd vibe and clever, Ms. Yonetani unexpectedly became the ultimate “natto cheerleader.” 

While natto is a “common day household food experience in Japan,” Ms. Yonetani explained, as a Japanese-American growing up in Philadelphia, it was impossible to find. It was during a visit to Japan when she first tried it. She does not remember her first time tasting natto, but she remembers that she eventually fell in love with it.

What is natto?

This “Japanese soul food” is essentially fermented soybeans. As a Japan-American myself, I was familiar with Ms. Yonetani’s description of  the “most polarizing quality of natto.” In Japanese, it is referred to as neba neba, the sticky, stringy texture that natto has, similar to that of okra. We laughed when she said that it tastes “like Boston baked beans crossed with a stinky French cheese with the slippery mouth feel of Southern okra,” but added, “No, it tastes nothing like kimchi!” as she often finds herself saying to Americans. As I also grew up eating natto myself, Ms. Yonetani’s take was definitely spot on.

It’s all about the soybeans! © Meg for WhereNYC

The term ‘superfood’ gets thrown around a lot, according to Ms. Yonetani, but natto has healthy properties. The two basic ingredients are soybeans and bacillus subtilis culture, a natural probiotic and a source of nattokinase, which is rich in Vitamin K2. Bacillus subtilis is a part of the microbiome, or beneficial microbes that we can’t possibly live without. Known as the best source of Vitamin K2, it can help strengthen bones, improve cardiovascular health and aid digestion. Nattokinase is a natural blood thinner, which may prevent stroke and heart disease and is sold in supermarkets such as Whole Foods.

To combat the decline in natto consumption in Japan, today there are many new varieties “to appeal to the younger generation.” For example, dried natto is sometimes served on Japan Airlines flights in place of peanuts. Traditionally, natto was more of a “breakfast staple,” Ms. Yonetani explained, served with a bowl of rice, scallions and soy sauce, and sometimes a raw egg. Though still her preferred way, Ms. Yonetani also likes to “throw [natto] on pretty much anything,” which she encouraged the audience to do the same. “Think of it like a cheese and put it on anything you’d put cheese on.”

Line up, take a plate, and go! © Meg for WhereNYC

Ms. Yonetani learned how to make natto from a fifth generation maker in Japan. One must “start from really good soybeans” and of a specific type. Interestingly, the majority (80%) of natto is made from U.S. grown soybeans and is fermented for one day only. “Fermentation makes food more digestible,” Ms. Yonetani explained. Natto began as an “accident,” just like many delicious common foods today, and it was likely discovered by samurai warriors when they fled with fermented soybeans wrapped in rice straw to prevent it from spoiling.

As founder of New York based natto company, NYrture Food, one of Ms. Yonetani’s missions is promote natto in the U.S. and around the world. “I think America is finally ready for it,” Ms. Yonetani explained. For beginners, she suggested trying “the black natto” as it is “much milder and chocolaty” and not as sticky as the traditional kind. Also “mix it with foods that will dilute or get rid of the gooeyness.” As mentioned before, the “neba neba” (sticky, stringy texture) quality is something that people either love or hate. Her company sells traditional, black, and even turmeric natto – the latter shocked the judges in this year’s natto competition in Japan.

Annual natto competition in Japan (c) Meg for WhereNYC

Our tasting reception included new unorthodox varieties including: Natto Italiano, Black Natto Parfait, Natto Pani Puri and a traditional style Natto Maki Sushi served on a clear plate. The reception also served wine and soft drinks like a palette-cleanser. For me, the traditional style Natto Maki Sushi was the best. It had the familiar “neba neba,” character and  distinct odor with the bitterness of traditional natto.

Although a daunting task, it would be great to see healthy options like natto become popular outside of Japan.

Wine Tour de France 2018 – Wines of Paul Bocuse’s Rhone Valley

Cover image: © Meg for WhereNYC

The name Paul Bocuse of the culinary legend, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 91, is synonymous with high-end French gastronomy. Affectionately known as Monsieur Paul to those in the industry, his recipes and his unashamedly French classic repertoire won him fame and a Michelin starred culinary empire. His base situated in Lyon, France’s culinary capital in the Rhône-Alps region, is also famous for its exquisite wines. FIAF honored the Frenchman’s legacy with some of the region’s most iconic wines in its Skyroom.

FIAF Wine Tour de France © WhereNYC

Upon entering, there were  rows of table, each sitting six people. Each guest received a folder with an information packet to use to take notes while wine tasting and order forms from the Upper East Side wine shop Millesima, and pencils. In front me, there were six glasses of wine, cheese (from Président), bread  (by Maison Kayser), and charcuterie. It was sheer agony to wait  as my mouth watered and stomach growled.

After a quick introduction by FIAF representative, Benjamin Raphanel, a wine buyer at Millesima, introduced himself and the two other experts, Mr. Mike Duffy from Martin Scott Wines and Mr. Ilya Smolenskiy from Skurnik Wines who guided us through the tasting.

Map of Rhone Valley vineyard regions © Meg for WhereNYC

As a “normal” non-connoisseur wine lover, I always thought Côte du Rhône wines were generally red and accessible, as they went with any kind of meal and were not too thick or bitter. Often, there are affordable ones served at restaurants in France. But the region also produces white wines, which I knew little about.

“A lot of French wines are pretty,” said Mr. Duffy, as we tasted the first, the Domaine Louis Chèze St. Joseph Ro Ree Blanc. The term “Appelation (d’origine contrôlée),” according to Mr. Duffy and Mr. Smolenskiy, confirms a wine’s authenticity. As Champagne can only come from Reims in Northern France and be produced in a specific way, St. Joseph must also follow a certain set of strict laws “to protect the terms.”  Both St. Joseph and Pagus Luminis, Condrieu white wines came from the Northern Rhône region, which Mr. Smolenskiy explained is much smaller than Southern Rhône. The Northern part is incredibly steep, depriving the grapes of water. Both wines are very refreshing and fruity and can be enjoyed alone.

Cornas wine bottle © Meg for WhereNYC

The reds at the tasting included the Cornas, the most expensive one on the list, retailing at $84.99, from the southern edge of Northern Rhône. It is a “broad, powerful wine,” Mr. Smolenskiy said. Like most Rhône reds, it was 100 percent Syrah, giving it its dark, rich color.

The majority of the red Rhône wines come from the South, which is relatively flat in comparison to the North. The most famous, and one of the oldest wines, is the Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge. It is “fruity, elegant and pretty” as the presenters aptly put it. The region is fairly dry and is known to be windy. “The balance of sugar and acidity and the perfect climate” makes popular wine famous and expensive, the presenters said.

The last wine was the “super elegant” Côte Rotie from the Northern Rhône region, retailing at $69.99. It has a spicy, bacon-like taste, caused from being stemmed, as the stems add “pure fruit flavor which to some people may be unpleasant,” Mr. Smolenskiy said.

Châteauneuf du Pape bottle (c) Meg for WhereNYC

All wines except for one were from the year 2015, which was a “great vintage year for wine,” according to the presenters. This was because the wines were made in “perfect, warm conditions” and “will last 30 years.” Apparently younger wine is more fruity, and aged wine has more savory notes.

Some in the audience asked about the effects of global warming on “the vineyards and the wine industry in general.” Warmer climates cause acidity levels to drop, and alcohol levels to rise. This can potentially change the grapes and significantly affect the vineyards. For example, Champagne used to be the coldest wine region, but now there are other colder regions in England. As most wine makers are relatively small, climate change can potentially cause serious damage to their business. On the other hand, global warming can allow for new wine regions to bloom as well.

The wine servings and hors d’œuvres at Le Skyroom were a delightful, educational heaven. At the end, the audience was able to go up to the Maison Kayser bread table and take home a bread of their choice.

My next step (and yours should be too) is to go to Millesima to buy the Pagus Luminis Condrieu, which was my favorite white wine that I tasted, and the Châteauneuf du Pape Rouge as a gift for my father. Now not only do I have a greater appreciation for Côte du Rhone wines, but also for French wines in general, which I will happily continue drinking.

Review: The Third Annual Charcuterie Masters at the Flushing Town Hall

Cover image: Il Porcellino Coppa cured ham © WhereNYC

As someone who recently started eating meat after being vegan for the past six and a half years, it’s easy to say that the craft of charcuterie was relatively foreign to me. Meat has always, for a lack of a better word, scared me. I still can’t bring myself to touch raw meat and more often than not, I will let my partner take over the cooking in that case. Aside from aesthetics, the meat industriously has often left me questioning: what am I consuming and where is it coming from?

New York’s own Le District serving savory samples. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

My knowledge of charcuterie and palate has expanded immensely. I tried liverwurst and even blood pudding for the first time, as well as witnessed first hand (from a live demonstration with Chef Rodrigo Duarte) the importance and care that goes into butchering the animal.

˝Despite having consumed more artisanal meat in the span of four hours than I have in my entire life (and enjoyed every smoky and seasoned minute of it) this retired vegan has a new appreciation for not only the consumption of meat, but also more importantly, the handling.

Chef Durant giving a demo on the infamous Flushing Town Hall stage. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

 

 

Some of the countries best in charcuterie were seen last Saturday [February 24, 2018]

at the historic Flushing Town Hall in Queens. Home to some of Jazz’s greatest legends, like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong [just to name a few], the event had an immediately welcoming atmosphere that felt oddly nostalgic despite the fact that this was a place and a world I didn’t know much about.

Too delicious to wait for a photo. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC

“The hallmark of [Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts] (FCCA)’s current programming is a cross-cultural focus: works that fuse or bridge different cultures, as well as larger programs that bring together presentations of art forms from different parts of the world…”

˝With a fitting space to compliment the event, like the cheese and wine to the evening’s main course, 60 different charcuterie products were selected out of 98 applicants from all over the US and Canada. From Peter McChesney’s espresso salumi, to Will Horowitz’s fermented and seasoned radishes dipped in a mushroom sauce, there wasn’t a corner of the room that wasn’t filled with creativity and care.

Chef Horowitz’s fermented radishes. ©Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

“We want to recognize everybody who entered…we realize that there was a lot of work, money and time that went into all of these products. And it’s obvious that all of the contestants care about the subject matter. That means we care about you too,” said judge Chef Brian Polcyn, co-author of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.

Guests sampled the contestant’s charcuterie and participated in a People Choice Award, with the overwhelming task, of selecting their favorite table. Doug Kelles aka “The Bacon Guru” was the crowd pleaser and the Grand Champion of Charcuterie Masters was Bill Miner, Chef and owner of ll Porcellino salumi. His wagyu beef bresaola alongside the thinly sliced coppa, proved the attentive skill required to “wear the crown.”

The winning table giving out samples. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

“I’m completely blown away. This is a dream. We’ve only been in business for two-and-a-half years, so we’re really brand new at doing this. It’s humbling to be among the best of the best in the country,” Miner said.

With plans to open a wholesale facility next month and sell nationwide by the summer, Chef Miner bases their success off of hard work and “using the best quality animal for the best quality finished product.”

Regardless of my dietary preferences in both the past and the present, the statement resonated with an underlying principle: transparency; a word that felt universal between the participants and judges.

Brooklyn Cider House serving patrons. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC

“Charcuterie is a very important part of modern American cooking; it’s not a modern craft…Our costumers want to know where their food comes from… it’s a craft that needs to be cracked, it’s a craft that needs to be developed, it’s a craft that is learned. And it’s a pleasure to see how thing have changed,” said Chef Polcyn before awarding the winners in front of an enthusiastic and wildly supportive crowd.

Eager crowd sampling the charcuterie before the announcement of the winners. © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC

“It’s a nice community,” Miner said,” It’s not a bunch of egos. Everyone’s [here] to help each other.”

Whether you were there for the Black Label Donuts made from banana, pecans, miso and bacon (lots and lots of bacon); the Brooklyn Cider House’s simplistically perfect “apple only” cider, or just the appreciation of well cured meats, it was hard to leave without feeling apart of the camaraderie. I certainly don’t plan on showcasing my “talents” any time soon, but will say I do feel a little more at ease with the idea of approaching meat in my kitchen. I might even season it myself next time.

Guest enjoying a Black Label Donut.  © Sarah Monahan for WhereNYC.

For more information on upcoming foodie events, visit: https://www.nyepicureanevents.com.

Review: Walking in a Sake Wonderland: A Year at a Japanese Brewery

Cover image:  Sake tasting at the Japan Society © Meg

Tired of working in the corporate world?   Then, why not work for that drink that you love so much?

That is essentially what Mr. Timothy Sullivan did. Sullivan, who was given the honor of the title, “Sake Samurai” in Kyoto, Japan in 2007, fell in love with something Japanese in 2005 – in New York City. And it was not anime. It was sake.

The sake that he tasted with his delicious sushi that night was a premium Junmai Ginjo by Hakkaisan. He wanted to find out more about sake but realized that there wasn’t enough information out there.

So he began his own blog, urbansake.com, that same year.

According to Mr. Sullivan, sake is “Japanese culture in a cup.”

Why move to Japan? © Meg for WhereNYC

Mr. Sullivan found his calling. He first started teaching at the Sake School of America while working in the corporate world, and eventually transitioned to a full-time career in the sake industry. As he had more opportunities to travel to Japan to promote Hakkaisan products, he decided to move to Japan and live there for a year. He not only wanted to improve his sake knowledge and his Japanese language skills, but also wanted to “get to know the people behind the sake.” So he received a special Japanese visa, which was specifically for cultural activities usually reserved for foreign artists and athletes, and went on a journey to work at the Hakkaisan sake brewery in Niigata, Japan.

Walking over fire for good health?! © Meg for WhereNYC

As he spoke joyfully, comically and nostalgically about his various cultural experiences in Niigata – including how he walked barefoot over soil that was just dramatically lit on fire at the Hakkaisan Shrine Hinata Festival (to wish for “one year of good health”), he also showed many pictures of himself covered from head to toe, working at the brewery. At Hakkaisan, the workers took each step of the sake making process very seriously. Although they also use machines, they believe that many things can only be done well by hand.

While camping out a year at a sakagura in Japan may seem like a loafer’s paradise, it was anything but a holiday. For Mr. Sullivan, it meant serious work: from polishing and milling the rice to meticulously washing each rice bag with his hands. He explained every step in detail. For example, rice becomes very fragile when they are milled, and if they are cooled right away after milling, rice will crack in half.

During the cold winters in Niigata, when trees have a special guard on them to hold the snow up, the majority of the sake making process takes place.

He also spoke about the Koshiki Taoshi, which is a formal dinner that happens among the workers to celebrate the day they stop steaming rice. For them, it was unique occasion to shed their work suits in favor of jackets and ties.

Needless to say, Mr. Sullivan had an unforgettable experience. The chef at the brewery’s staff cafeteria specially served Mr. Sullivan’s self-proclaimed favorite food, chicken pot pie, for his goodbye party. They even gave him a jar of umeboshi (pickled plums), another of his favorites, along with one of the shovels he had to use, albeit unsuccessfully, to place the rice in each bag.

Despite the weather and walking over hot coals, he never got sick even once in Japan. And while his Japanese still could use some polishing, he learned so much more about the craft of sake brewing.

Sake tastings are always a hit at Japan Society (c) Meg for WhereNYC

In the United States, sake, along with ramen shops, has taken off, becoming one of Japan’s biggest export destinations. In New York, there are several sake bars frequented by connoisseurs and hipsters alike. In Japan, it is another story. Still considered a “parents’ drink”, there are no “hip” sake bars and is almost always served with food. Beer is the most popular drink in Japan.

He gave some interesting tips on enjoying sake. Interestingly, it is easy to pair with food because of its ‘umami’ (savory notes) and the fact that it has 1/3 of the acidity of wine.

Temperature matters when you age sake (e.g. Room temperature will cause the sake to darken its color.) Sake lasts around 2-3 weeks after the bottle is open, as long as it is kept in the refrigerator. The more earthy, robust sakes have a longer taste life.

The three sakes! (c) Meg for WhereNYC

 

Our post-talk reception included three Hakkaisan sakes:  the Junmai Ginjo (the “sake that changed [Mr. Sullivan’s] life.”), the Honjozo (best selling Hakkaisan sake) and a special 3-year Snow Aged Junmai Ginjo. The latter is stored in a “Yuki Muro” (i.e. snow storage seller) with 1000 tons of snow in it, for 3 years.

I am no “sake samurai,” but appreciate the taste. Personal favorites included  the Junmai Ginjo and the intriguing Snow Aged. For many of us in the audience, it was a rare opportunity to learn about the inner workings of a brewery and the passion and devotion that the people in the industry give to making sake.

Review: The New York Times Travel Show on January 26-28, 2018

Cover image: Bahamas’ colorful display © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

“YOU BELONG HERE.” – Provincetown, MA (From ManAboutWorld Trade Day Reception)

LGBT Travel Booth (c) Meg for WhereNYC

The New York Times Travel Show was full of booths, amazing travelisto/as, awe-inspiring presentations and performances, and loads of places to go and places to stay, no matter who you are and where you are from. This year featured a LGBTQ section, organized by the handsome, beautiful and lovely people from gay travel magazine ManAboutWorld.

Every year, the NYT Travel Show draws thousands of visitors stuffing bags with brochures and goodies from the different booths. While many of the freebies including the quintessential  key chains, some were very creative and special. Mexico’s Puebla region gave out USB drives with pictures and videos of the region. Of course, the live performances stages and cooking demos were again bustling with entertaining shows and serving tasty treats.  As one who loves food, I checked out the Introduction to the Taste of the World presentation, where the speakers demonstrated how they would cook an easy “breakfast couscous” in their RV via the on-stage stovetop.

Live performances including dancers from Thailand © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Camp Cody from New Hampshire had interactive activities for kids (and adults) such as making s’mores. In the same section there was also a compact RV from Taxa, Inc., on display, which I was able to go inside and experience how practical for traveling all over the United States this RV was.

S’mores- sh’mores! You gotta have ’em! © Meg for WhereNYC

As expected, the Caribbean section was full of color, music and energy. Since the end of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Cuban Guru has been promoting guided tours to island at the travel show, and assured that the travel agents are all Cubans who cater itineraries to each customer, and take care of essentially everything, including your visa.

Korea’s Winter Olympics-themed booth was full of interactive activities such as fishing and curling, which came with various prizes. Many customers were seen taking pictures with Korea’s Winter Olympic mascots who hung out around the booth as well.

Indonesia’s vibrant, mystical carnival costumes stood out as well, which led customers to find out that Indonesia is not just Jakarta and Bali. With over 17,000 islands in the country, there is a lot of diversity and natural beauty that the country has to offer – such as the “hidden secret” (or not so much anymore), Raja Ampat, which had breathtaking views and pictures/videos on display.

Bubble tea at the Taiwan booth at the NY Times Travel Show © WhereNYC

Brazil’s booth was serving an açai drink, which naturally attracted many customers to hear what Brazil was all about. Ms. Masche from Rio de Janeiro said that the “quality of life has become better” after the Olympics, as she is able to easily take the train from her home to the center of Rio now. She also mentioned that Brazil’s visa system has changed for the better. It is cheaper ($40) for U.S. citizens and is an electronic visa that can be processed within 72 hours.

Hanging with the Korean Olympics mascots! © Meg for WhereNYC

Taiwan proudly served bubble tea, which natural attracted many customers who formed a line circling around their booth. Israel served wine, which naturally attracted winos like myself to go to their booth and hear what they have to offer.

Being Japanese, I was very proud to see the organized Japan booths full of customers, and the Ashura live ninja performance presented by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). They combined suspense, action and humor in a truly shocking, yet enjoyable performance that was interactive and entertaining to watch.

The non-cliché destinations in the Europe section of were Azores, Ukraine, and Belarus. Azores, part of Portugal, was a place that I had never heard of, but after hearing about this remote island state from travel agent Mr. Joao, I am highly convinced that this hidden gem (only 5 hours away from JFK!) is the place to be.

The Japan booth is one of the largest at the Travel Show © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

The Ukraine booth was promoting adventure tours, such as a Chernobyl tour, a Shooting tour, and a Tank driving tour. This “politically incorrect” Eastern European country that had only been truly independent for 4 years, was proudly promoting its craziness and uniqueness. Belarus, as it is “where Soviet Union began and ended,” promoted its combination of influence from the Soviet Union (i.e. tank riding) and Western culture (i.e. castles from the medieval times). They were also promoting their “5 Days Visa-Free” initiative, which has already attracted an influx of tourists.

Although South Africa’s booth was by far the most colorful, biggest, and most vibrant, Rwanda’s tour companies stood out to me as the travel agents promoted cultural tours and safari tours in traditional Rwandan dress in the Africa section.

The presentation floor was downstairs, and I watched Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods being interviewed in a large, full pressroom (three rooms combined). Initially, I did not know much about Mr. Zimmern other than the fact that he was a chef on Bizarre Foods. After the talk, I became a fan. He spoke about his childhood growing up in New York City. He kept the audience engaged in his witty, long-winded answers, as he pronounced ‘pho’ like ‘fo,’ “because I am not Vietnamese, and that is the same reason why I would not pronounce ‘Van Gogh’ like ‘Van Gogh’ (imitating Dutch pronunciation).”

Andrew Zimmern is not just the “Bizarre Foods” guy © Meg for WhereNYC

When asked about immigration in the United States, and he said, “The U.S. is like the New England Patriots. Every year we get the best players.” As a self-proclaimed “glass full-full guy,” Mr. Zimmern added that no matter where we live, what language we speak, or what kind of food we eat, “We have more things that unite us than divide us.” Mr. Zimmern continued to show us his authentic and down-to-earth side, when he admitted to having struggled with ‘happiness’ as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and said that where and when he is happiest is when he is with his son by the water. He closed the talk by complimenting the gastronomical diversity and deliciousness that Queens, New York has to offer (which I completely agree with), and with the thought, ‘Travel is transformative.” Travel changes who we are and how we think.

 

Visit Bhutan © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

After inspired by the talk, I visited one of Bhutan’s booths, and was very curious to know why it had been called “the happiest country in the world.” Mr. Tshewang of Zhidey Bhutan Tours & Treks explained that it is the least developed country, and the more developed a country becomes, the more materialistic one becomes, leading to unhappy citizens. He added that backpackers are not allowed in Bhutan, in order to preserve the culture. He also said that one never starves in Bhutan, because “if you have a problem, it is our responsibility to help you.” In Bhutan, people are not focused on the future, as long as one is happy today.

Let us travel more and see the world and become happier, better citizens.