Review: 2018 Food Loves Tech in Industry City Brooklyn

Cover image: Square Roots © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC
With an impending food shortage crisis, global warming and conflict, sustainability and innovation are a major challenge. Food Loves Tech, now in its third year, is a beacon of inspiration bringing science, global activism and creativity into the food industry. Its mission is to push boundaries and challenge our senses.

© Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

This year, Food Loves Tech came to Industry City, Brooklyn, one of New York’s booming neighborhoods. Vendors, chefs, farmers and innovators showcased everything from the sensible to the bizarre. From hydroponic gardens to crunchy insects, I found myself eating things I would have never tried before.
Jumping from booth to booth, I was particularly impressed by Square Roots – a Brooklyn-based urban farm that ingeniously uses less water and produces more. “Farmers are enough out there, but our goal is to educate more farmers to understand the good ways to produce the products, so we grow educated farmers,” the booth’s rep said. Square Roots offers farmers training to become sustainable and environmentally friendly. Through their educational program, farmers can learn to produce more crops, while wasting less.

Manna Fish Farms © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Other sustainable veggie growers included Whole Foods and local grocery supplier Gotham Greens, based in New York and Midwest Chicago, who greeted visitors with generous packs of vegetables to take home.

On the subject of sustainability, perhaps no other food gets a worst rap than fish. Depleted stocks due to high demand, overfishing and climatic change all have contributed to declining fish populations. Although farmed fish like salmon is another alternative, it remains the scourge of fine dining restaurants whose chefs generally opt for the higher-quality wild. Organic salmon producer Manna Fish Farms is looking to change that with a variety of locally raised fish and shellfish off the Atlantic coast of Long Island. Using natural methods and healthy organic fish food, the salmon is of higher quality.

There was more than just farming at Food Loves Tech. My tastebuds were set on fire with some imaginative dishes from two of New York’s locally-sourced, eco-friendly restaurants.

They included Union Square-based Almond ‘s roasted duck served on a bed spicy kimchi. And Danny Meyer’s locavore favorite Untitled dished out a delicious potato salad made from vegetables grown in its LED-lit planters.

Almond’s spicy duck kimchi © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Now for the truly bizarre. Brooklyn Bugs really pushed the bar way out with scorpions and crickets, which I happily missed, but the cocktail shrimps seasoned with salty crunchy ants was surprisingly good. Definitely interesting, but would it end up on my dinner table? I can’t say. The sight of boiled shrimp covered with crispy black ants on anyone’s plate would be unsurprisingly off putting. 

Brooklyn Bugs © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

How many times after eating shrimps and ants have you thought, “Gee I’m parched.”? There were plenty of beverages to choose from including Bulleit Frontier Whisky who has been making good old fashioned Kentucky Bourbon since the 1830s. Fans of classic stouts would love Long Island Blue Point Breweryincluding the Good Reef Ale and an Imperial Stout, which was rare to see.
On a sweeter note, Coombs Family Farm presented its spray canned maple syrup. This is an innovative product, but its environmental mission of preservation really impressed me. Rather than use the traditional metal tube for extracting maple sap, Coombs invented a soft plastic one that doesn’t damage the trees.

Bulleit Whiskey © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

The Food Loves Tech expo is rare treat to meet some country’s most innovative and ambitious individuals behind America’s new food revolution. While some ideas may have worked better than others, I left feeling pleasantly surprised with what I tasted. There is no doubt that these innovators are changing the way we look at food and helping our planet at the same time.
Kei Hayashi reported for this article.

Review: Goose Island Tasting Matrix with the Barnyard Collective

Cover image: © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“What does it mean to be a cheesemonger?” Adam Moskowitz, founder of the New York-based cheesemonger  Barnyard Collective, can’t resist answering his own question. “I wish could have a TED talk.” Before the evening of cheese and beer, Adam warns us, “If you’re bashful, this will be a whack night.”

Fondue at Goose Island © Spirikal for WhereNYC

© Spirikal for WhereNYC

Goose Island Barrel House © Spirikal for WhereNYC

We are at the Goose Island Barrel House, an amazing event space with a stunningly beautiful interior with a long bar and medieval style chambers. There is a small demo kitchen in front of the rows of long wooden tables in the main room. I can’t help but eye the walls lined with rustic, wooden barrels. At the back, guests are busy helping themselves to cheese and free Goose Island beer.

For some, cheese and wine may seem a more fitting pair, but beer is also an excellent accompaniment. Like crackers or bread, beer is also is made of grains and has a yeasty note and a slight fizz that complements cheese brilliantly.

I fill my plate of cheeses from Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Belgium and choose a light, but slightly hoppy Sofie pilsner-style brew at the bar in the back and settle down in my seat, ready to hear the lecture.

Adam Moskowitz of the Barnyard Collective © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Most Chicagoans won’t probably know him, but Adam Moskowitz is cheese-crazed lunatic and industry expert who has been in the business for his whole life. He’s a self-described turophile, a connoisseur of cheese and naturally is “most happy when (he) eats cheese.” His Barnyard Collective, located at the Larkin Cold Storage in Long Island City, Queens, regularly hosts cheese talks and tastings with some of the East Coast and Europe’s most innovative artisanal cheesemakers such as Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill and Cultivo Creamery who share their knowledge with the cheese community. 

O.G. Kristal from Belgium © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“If you’re a cheesemonger, you are a shaman.” Adam begins. Much of lecture covers the basics: the four kinds of cheese: sheep, cow, goat and water buffalo, the three types of production: industrial, artisanal and farmstead – and a bizarre amount diagrams and geeky memes. After a long while rambling on the history of cheese, the four main ingredients and how cool it is to work with cheese, he suddenly says, “(Cheesemongers) help people connect to good memories.” He’s right.

The collaboration between the Barnyard and Goose Island itself was a beautiful mariage of refreshing beer and creamy, sinful indulgence. This is a memory in the making.

The O.G. Kristal aged-gouda style from Belgium on my plate is a winner with a beautiful finish and textures of salt crystals and melty cheesy flavor that goes perfectly with a glass of Sofie.

Cheese pairing plates © Spirikal for WhereNYC

This is comfort food at its best. My seatmate has opted for the Goose Island dark colored Parker Porter whose caramel and burnt sugar aromas make a wonderful match with the sheep’s milk. And finally, the other crowd pleaser is the Belgian Trappiste style pale ale Matilda. Its radiant, golden color and slightly hoppy, bitter note would be nice foil to a washed-rind cheese like Grayson or a French Muenster.

There were more pairings of cheese and beer following the lecture organized by one of the other cheesemongers including a wonderful Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill and a melt-on-your palette goat cheese that I washed down with my glass of Sofie. The finale was Adam’s molten, pungent cheese fondue which we greedily drizzled on our plates of roast potatoes, veggies, bread and pickles.

Goose Island beer and delicious cheese @Spirikal for WhereNYC

We take our final sips, bites and exchange a bit of small talk as the evening concludes. If cheesemongers are puppeteers and cheese are the characters in a cheese shop theatre, as Adam put it, then the result is pure, perfect harmony. And tonight will be another nice memory.

For upcoming beer events please visit Goose Island.

Review: The 2018 Big Chocolate Show

Cover image: Chocolat Moderne’s creamy display © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC Chocolate Show

Is there anyone who doesn’t love chocolate? Believe it or not, there’s a whole week in NYC that is dedicated to the rich tasty dessert, chocolate. The main event of the whole week is known as The Big Chocolate Show! This 2-day tasting event had main stage demos and classes taking place throughout the day. Now its third consecutive year, the Big Chocolate Show is an amazing showcase of sinful, creamy indulgence.

Chocolate On Maui © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

More than 200 chocolatiers, artisans, chefs, authors, purveyors and experts from around the world offering chocolate tastings and ticketed master tasting classes throughout this mouthwatering and festive weekend. 

Hopping from table to table, I must have jumped a couple pant sizes, trying different treats and stuffing myself with each bite. Some of my favorite goods were Cookie DOH Cones from The Dessertist, which had my favorite cookie dough in an ice cream cone.

Hudson Valley Marshmallow Co. had different flavors of marshmallows including salted caramel, which was to die for. Atlantic Confectionery Company had beautiful and delicate chocolate hearts. I tried chocolates with various ingredients such as ginger, lavender and quinoa.

Alyssa Tognetti (c) for WhereNYC

The Dessertist’s Cones – Alyssa Tognetti © for WhereNYC

And of course, who could forget Chocolate On Maui, the Hawaiian-based chocolatier who blends exotic flavors such as passion fruits and orange bringing a little acidity and Macadamia nuts for added texture.

A true delight. 

Arcay Chocolate from Venezuela © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Other memorable twists included: Euphorium Brooklyn – a local artisanal chocolate maker who blends ingredients from Japan. The surprise was a Japanese plum or ume-flavored chocolate, inspired by the story of historical Japanese scholar/ poet/ politician around 9th century, Sugawara no Michizane. It was his poem about plum tree flavor as a melancholic memory that inspired the creation.

There were creative designs as well including the quirky Roni Sue’s Chocolates, whose beautiful chocolate bars decorated with dried fruits and swirled with white chocolate over dark chocolate to create swirls, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting on a brick of chocolate.

Beautiful displays at the Big Chocolate Show © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

For fans of boozy chocolate delights, the Big Chocolate Show did not disappoint.

This year there is an entire 21+ section with chocolate spirits and cocktails- YUM, including the Saturday night event with the Cocktail Guru.  The Cocktail Guru & The Big Chocolate Show’s Decadent Evening of Chocolate & Cocktails is a curated two-hour walk-around tasting. Guests will visit stations stocked with an array of chocolate-friendly liquor brands that are paired with a selection of bespoke desserts and dishes made by NYC’s premier chocolatiers and chefs.

Punch from the Cocktail Guru Alyssa Tognetti © for WhereNYC

At the bar, chocolate purists and cocktail lovers can taste signature lines of chocolates while watching some of NYC’s finest mixologists shake, stir and serve custom libations designed to bring out the best in each variety. This event includes unlimited chocolate, pastry, spirit, and cocktail samples. I sampled a few of Jonathan Pogash’s cocktails. They were delish, of course.

Besides the oh so delicious chocolate, there were other vendors like rum brands, a fragrance house that made chocolate scented perfume and massages!  It was quite a day of pampering!

If you ever have the opportunity to go to The Big Chocolate Show, I highly recommend.  You surely won’t be hungry after. For more information about next year’s show visit: bigchocolateshow.com

Kei Hayashi contributed to this article.

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.