Review: AWIB Cheese and Japanese Whisky Pairing at the French Cheese Board

Cover image: Suntory Toki Whisky at the French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Story contributor Kaori Mahajan

Highball cocktails with Suntory Toki © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Lowering my nose into my glass, the mélange of whisky and bubbles tingled in my nostrils as I took a careful sip. Although not a fan of whisky, the Highball cocktail with a twist of grapefruit and carbonated soda was really refreshing and a nice way to kick off the event at the French Cheese Board.

Once associated as a man’s drink, women have increasingly embraced whisky, snapping up nearly 37% of the market share in the U.S. From the 1980s’ powerbroker drink choice, the ladies have begun organizing their own whisky-themed events. For some, it is a desire to try something different. Typically, cheese is often paired with wine or beer, but according to Asian Women In Business founder Bonnie Wong, it was excuse to experiment with delicious French cheeses. Similar to the cheese and sake event last year, AWIB’s Japanese whisky and cheese pairing was about pushing boundaries and bridging cultures.

Dazzling display of French cheeses © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The French Cheese Board is no stranger to unorthodox cheese pairings at its concept store in SoHo, whose events include cheese and Japanese tea as well as a 50 Shades of Grey-themed chocolate and cheese soirée, where blind-folded patrons reached in a gold mystery box of creamy goodies. Since its quirky lab incarnation in 2016, the FCB has dazzled New Yorkers with amazing towering displays of cheese, pop-ups and foodie meet-and-greets.

Hibiki Whisky and Camembert © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

For whisky lovers, Suntory needs no introduction. Standing alongside the top producers of Scotland and Ireland, the Japanese maker’s whiskies rank among the world’s best. Famed for its award-winning, floral Hibiki and Yamazaki, tonight the Japanese distiller showcased its top-selling classics as well as its newest star, Toki, part of Suntory’s promotional campaign which included a recent stopover at Roki Brasserie. Recently available in the U.S., Toki combines a spicy, oaky blend of Hakushu, Yamazaki and Chita distilleries.

“The pairing process was a trial and error” – said Rosser Lomax from Jim Beam Brands Co, part of the Suntory Group, who had the difficult task of pairing Japanese whiskies and French cheeses. Happily, many of them worked very well. He matched Toki with a soft cow’s milk cheese Chaource, which has a creamy, crumbly texture, bringing it to a whole new level.

Suntory Whisky including Toki, Hakushu, Hibiki and Yamazaki © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Fans of smoky whisky would delight in Suntory’s Hakushu, a 12-year single, champagne gold malt. Far from a super smoky Laphroaig, Hakushu is a bit subtler with a sweet pear note. The choice of creamy Camembert from Normandy was really nice with the smokiness of the Hakushu worked well with the  buttery, mushroomy flavor of the Camembert.

Hibiki, known for its incredible floral bouquet and complex aromas with a hint of Mizunara, a Japanese oak, seemed an interesting choice to pair with the Rolls Royce of French cheeses, the fiery orange, nutty Mimolette. Interestingly, the honey sweet and candied citrus flavors of Hibiki cut through the cheese’s super sharp nuttiness.

Charles Duque of the French Cheese Board discussing Mimolette © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Finally, we moved to Japan’s number one seller and Suntory’s flagship single malt, Yamazaki 12 year, which has an agreeable fruity, buttery caramel note that carries a warming cinnamon finish. Normally paired with soft fruit, it seemed natural to enjoy it with sheep’s milk Tomme Brûlée, which is often served with apricot or fig jam. The whisky and saltiness of the cheese was so well balanced that I could not help wanting more.

A cheese shrine © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

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Daring as these combinations were, AWIB’s activities also stretch beyond the casual meet-and-greet. Though AWIB’s primary purpose is to support Asian professional women through forums and fundraising, the group often includes non-members and spouses at its meet-ups. Events include test-driving Teslas and an upcoming, colorful Diwali Day event at Bloomingdales.

For more information on membership and activities, visit AWIB.

Review: FIAF’s Bastille Day on 60th Street July 9, 2017

Cover image:  Karen Peled and Co. dancing the Cancan © WhereNYC

Croissants and pains au chocolat by Bien Cuit © WhereNYC

Crême brûleé © WhereNYC

From one stall to another, it was a magnificent display of delightful delicacies and fragrant aromas wafting through the narrow passage as crowds of people happily trolled through the one of New York’s largest street fairs, stretching from Lexington to Fifth Ave. Brooklyn-based Bien Cuit’s pains au chocolat stacked like flakey golden bars with a sliver of sinful, dark chocolate. With a blowtorch, a woman nearby expertly caramelized the sugar coating on the tops of crême brûlées.

Next door armed with a pair of tongs, Chef Daniel Monneaux of Le Bec Fine Foods, a friendly, but gruff character, wooed passer-bys with sizzling, steamy merguez sausages on mini hotdog buns. Then, there were the vibrant displays worthy of a street-food Michelin star. Thomas Keller Group’s Bouchon Bakery’s three-tier cake stand was like a high tea fit for the Queen.

Steps away, one couldn’t also help but marvel at the colorful bundles of creative macarons by Mad Mac.

And of course, who could forget beloved, pâtissier François Payard’s éclairs au café, each garnished with crystalized coffee beans, and the endless rows of perfectly made lemon, peach and raspberry tarts, each for a fiver.

Raspberry tarts and chocolate éclairs by François Payard © WhereNYC

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Financier Bakery © WhereNYC

Fans of the classic crêpe bretonne would delight in the sticky banana and drizzled chocolate crêpes by The Crêpe Escape. The only thing needed was a fruity-flavor sparkling water from one the Perrier gals.

Drawing inspiration from the fragrances and flavors of Provence, Sel Magique showcased some of its delicious herb-salt blends with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

Cheerful smiles at FIAF’s Booth © WhereNYC

In celebration of France’s fête nationale, or national holiday, FIAF’s annual Bastille Day on 60th Street is synonymous with Christmas for many Francophile New Yorkers. Far from the memory of the bloody insurrection at the fort of Bastille in 1789, the commemoration in New York had a more cheerful take, filled with great food, wine, live entertainment and prizes. Every year, FIAF hosts two very special indoor-tastings including the super-indulgent Champagne and Chocolate pairing in the Sky Room, where guests sample some of the finest chocolates from Chocolat Moderne, Marie-Belle and La Maison du Chocolat. Below in the Tinker Auditorium, patrons can enjoy Southern wines from the Languedoc and elsewhere, 1664 beer, or a refreshing, pastis cocktail by Ricard.

Confectionary and Biscuit purveyor La Cure Gourmande  © WhereNYC

While there were the traditional sights of long-legged ladies in fishnets performing cancan dance, there were also unusual additions to this year’s line-up including: It’s Showtime NYC, which honestly underwhelmed even with an improvised cha-cha-cha audience-participating climax. Away from the stage, the entertainment continued with mimes, and the brass Hungry March Band weaved the crowds with cheerful sounds.

Mimi Catherine Gasta © WhereNYC

Needing a bit of refreshment, perhaps a little drunken solace away from the sweltering heat and pushing mob, I wandered to the VIP Room tucked away in Amali for glass of rosé and plateful of baguette, bleu d’Auvergne, brie and some slabs of pâté. While there were several wines to choose from, I was particularly drawn to the refreshing, unique rosés from the Languedoc region of France. Among the wines of Provence, Bordeaux, and Loire, it is unforgivable to miss those  along France’s Southwestern coast. The 2016 Hédonisme by Gérard Bertrand and Syrah-blend Les Hauts de Janeil of the same year were everything you want with a rosé, refreshingly dry with a slight fruity afternote.

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Wines of the South were a hit in Summer in the South of France tasting. © WhereNYC

The Pays d’Oc as it’s also known has a coastal rustic, dry charm with breathtaking seaport towns like the Port Wenn-like Collioure, near the Spanish-Catalan border and the fast-growing, young city of Montpellier. Too often overshadowed by neighboring Provence, the Languedoc region offers a more affordable, but no-less-enjoyable vacation destination with great food and impressive wines like the famous Pic Saint-Loup, Minervois and Château Coulon. In an effort to boost tourism to one of France’s most underrated regions, Sud de France booth promoted its line of tours outside and showcased some amazing wines in the Summer in South of France tasting at the FIAF Tinker Auditorium.

Sud de France and Le Boat © WhereNYC

Despite crowds and summer, the buzz of FIAF’s Bastille Day celebration was exceptionally jovial with vibrance, indulgent delights and sounds that captured the free revolutionary-spirit of France without any mayhem.

Don’t miss FIAF’s upcoming First Tuesdays with wine, cheese, mingling and more.

Review: Summer Seasonal NYC Craft Beer Festival at the Metropolitan Pavilion, June 24, 2017

Cover image: Belly’s Korean-flavor slider and Alesmith beer by Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

212 © WhereNYC / Craft Beer Summer Seasonals

“This is our Flatiron Ale,” the rep from 212 Brewery from the Catskills said while pouring me a sudsy glass full. “It’s an APA made with water from Saratoga Springs, New York.” “What’s an APA?” I asked. APA, or American Pale Ale is hoppier than Indian Pale Ale. I shuddered with fear. American craft beers have a reputation of being notoriously too hoppy. Assuring me that he toned down the hops to make it more “approachable,” I took a sip. It was mellow but with a little hoppy kick at the end. Really delicious.

American craft beer has come a long way from the over-the-top-bitter hoppies. Once geared for a deranged craft-nerd palate, many have mellowed. The ultra-bitter-to-bring-you-to-tears artisanal brews such Dogfish Ale have given way to more balanced beers of Sixpoint and Brooklyn Brewery, who have come from the deep end to make inventive beer more accessible.

This year’s Summer Seasonal showcased a variety of brews balanced for the masses. That is not to say that these beers were in any way mediocre. Quite the opposite. Far from watered down, beers such as Catskill Brewery’s Darbee pale ale has an aromatic floral note, while its Foeder aged-beer had a slightly wooden sourness that would go well with light dishes.

Luke Boyle of Catskill Brewery © WhereNYC

According to brewer Luke Boyle, Catskill Brewery beers can work with a variety of cuisine, and like 212, is meant for many occasions. Similarly, Paradox Pilsner may sound complex with its name, but it is a nice bohemian-style pilsner that work at any barbecue.

Many of the local beers followed the summer citrusy love affair without going into overdrive. Personal favorites include the lemony Narragansett Beer’s Del’s Shandy,  and Gun Hill’s Citra Sour Softserve drank like a gueuzey cider.

Natives of Queens, New York, know all too well the famous Boulevard of Death, but the less-dangerous Queens Boulevard Sessions IPA was both bitter and crisp, while leveled on the hoppiness.

Narragansett Beer’s Del’s Shandy was a citrusy thirst-quencher © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Welcomed surprises also included Radiant Pig’s Gangster Duck Red, which drank really well, even with its ridiculous name.

 WhereNYC / Craft Beer Summer Seasonals

Paradox Pilsner © WhereNYC

There were some fun, non-beery brews. Tea cocktail mixer favorites Owl’s Brew has branched into beer with three selections involving fruity flavors. The Watermelon was a bit too sweet for my liking, but I enjoyed the sour, Blondie and That’s My Jam.

Not every craft beer followed a balanced, nuanced brewing philosophy. There were some misfires. Upland Brewery’s Iridescent barrel aged was like drinking a glass of concentrated bitter lemon extract. Full Contact by Kings County Brewers made with raspberries had impact but for the wrong reasons. Punishingly sour, it lacked balance.

Owl’s Brew © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC / Craft Beer Summer Seasonals

In search of something a bit stronger, I wandered over to the spirits counter, which could have easily been its own event. Visitors fortunate to venture here discovered brandy from Kentucky, rum from Colorado, Irish gin, peaty whiskey from Cognac, France and Vodka from Sweden.

Copper & Kings from bourbon-country Kentucky, using bourbon casks, produce a signature naturally caramel brown brandy that had a delightful warming sensation with a delicate bourbon after note. Its 100-proof Cr&ftwerk distilled in stout barrels was surprisingly mellow with a lovely cherry, chocolaty flavor.

Brandy Rocks! Copper & Kings from Kentucky © WhereNYC

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Not known for making gin, the Gunpowder Irish Gin was intense with a slightly smoky tea aroma that mixed beautifully with the thyme-infused green pepper juice cocktails next door. From the Cognac region of France, Bastille 1789 commemorated its own French-revolution with a smoky, peaty whiskey, which could give Lagavulin or Laphroaig serious competition. Scotch lovers at Summer Seasonal would still delight with samplings from Glenmorangie. While the Original was comforting and pleasant, the Nectar D’Or was a serious crowd-pleaser. Finally, the Quinta Ruban has a soft, dryness with an interesting contrast of carmel and a refreshing zing.

Glenmorangie © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Perhaps not as famous as Stolychnaya or Greygoose, five-times distilled Vodka Råvo from Sweden was beautifully pure and would go well with a plate of oysters.

While Colorado is the last place you might think of finding some great rum, but the cola-like flavor of the Alsatian-style Amer Fleur de Joie and sustainable, spicy Montanya Oro gave a bit of tropical sunshine. Finally, the Mezcal Buen Bicho from Mexico, while starting gentle and smokey, finished with a fiery punch and literally blew smoke out of my nostrils.

While there were plenty of beers and spirits to enjoy, there were limited food options. Jerky Hut sold a variety of delicious, spicy beef jerky. Hanna’s Meatballs offered a sobering, hearty variety of home comforts.

Wisco Fresh © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

The Wisco Fresh fried cheese curds for $8 was a bit steep, so I opted for the amazing $5 Belly Korean-inspired sliders with gochujang glazed bacon, which went perfectly with my glass of beer.

For more information on upcoming craft beer expos, visit NYC Craft Beer Festival.

Review: Annual Sake Lecture & Tasting: 20th Anniversary Japan Society June 5, 2017

Cover image:  Chiyonosono Junmai Daignjo Koshu 1997 by Chiyonosono Sake Brewing © WhereNYC

“Where is the sake industry today?” Sake World editor and our host John Gauntner asked the audience at the sold-out event at the Japan Society. A charismatic figure, with a shock of gray hair, he is the official sake ambassador to the U.S. Since its inception twenty years ago, John Gauntner has dutifully hosted the annual sake event at the Japan Society, covering a range of themes and bringing award-winning chefs like David Bouley and Japanese pottery expert Robert Yellin.

Marumoto Sake Brewing© WhereNYC

 

Sake / Japan Society

Taking a bow. Representatives of over 11 breweries of © WhereNYC

Gauntner said the in the 1990s, New York had just a couple of shops that had a decent range of sake; however, today the city has embraced Japanese rice wine.

John Gauntner © WhereNYC

Tasting events such as these at the Japan Society, speciality shops such as Sakaya in the East Village and the rise in trendy, authentic Japanese gastropubs, or izakayas, and ramen-yas have boosted sake popularity. Distributors as well as sommeliers, according to Gauntner, are taking sake very seriously, meticulously pairing it with non-Japanese dishes. On average, according to Gauntner, consumption in the U.S. grows 10% a year, with around 5,000 kiloliters imported from Japan.

Sake / Japan Society

The beautifully balanced Yuho Junmai-shu “Eternal Embers” was a favorite © WhereNYC

Both a combination of tasting events such as this and the explosion of authentic trendy Japanese restaurants such as ramen-yas and gastropubs, or izakayas that dot New York City have helped boost sake’s popularity. Finally, craft sake breweries like Brooklyn Kura, one of 15 in America, with the help of the industry in Japan have also begun to take off.

Dassai 23 “Migaki Niwari Sanbu” Junmai Daiginjo was the top-end crowd pleaser. © WhereNYC

While hot house sake, or atsukan, still enjoys a special place in our hearts, New Yorkers now enjoy an incredible range of different sakes including sparkling to aniseedy premium drinks. At the tasting, reps happily bantered with patrons, hopping from table to table and clammering to sample the goods. There were the reputable big names such as Dassai 23 and the award-winning Kirin Hizou Shu Daiginjo, neighboring the more modest Shichida Junmai Daiginjo by Tenzan Brewing.

The prized Kirin Hizou Shu Daiginjo was a superb treat. © WhereNYC

While sake’s popularity in the West, particularly the United States, has grown to a roughly 30%-share of the export market, it has had an adverse effect in Japan. Mr. Gauntner said that since 1998, Japanese consumption of sake has dwindled with many sake producers going under. Since 1997, about 586 breweries in Japan have disappeared. Oddly while production is down to almost 60% since the end of the 20th century, the number of sake pubs and high end premium sake have spiked. The paradoxical relationship between the success and demise of the sake industry stems from poor local demand and rising foreign interest. Too often viewed as old person’s drink, many younger Japanese are drinking far less these days.

Vintage sakes or koshu like this Tentaka Daiginjo had a deep, dry sherry taste. © WhereNYC

Meanwhile rice-producing regions near Sendai are still contending with the fallout from the Fukushima disaster of 2011. Even with the success of its export market, Mr. Gauntner said, the breweries cannot only rely on it.

The Japanese government has come to the rescue promoting sake tourism. And younger brewers taking over the family business are giving traditional sake bottles a makeover with sleeker labels and logos to attract younger buyers while making it more accessible through online sales. There are more single source and rice-to-bottle breweries such as the Chikurin organic sake by companies such as Marumoto Sake Brewing. And tasting rooms and sake workshops have also renewed public interest. Flavors

Some sake reps really got into character! © WhereNYC

Those who frequent izakayas after work know that there will always be cheap sake, but the different varieties that one should also enjoy may differ from one region to another. Surprisingly, there were quite a lot of aged vintage sake, or koshu at this tasting event. Once a rarity, koshu has made its own niche in the market. Unlike red wines, aged sake’s value may not appreciate in monetarily but these vintage brews certainly pack a massive punch of flavor. Tentaka’s vintage 1989 had deep, bold dry-sherry notes with a long finish.

I particularly liked the 10-year Hanagaki Daiginjo Koshu and 2013 Shousetsu Junmai Daiginjo, simply because I found their flavors more accessible. The 1997 amber Okonomtasu Tokubetsu Junmaiginjo and Hoyo 1984 from Uchigasaki Shuzoten had an intense whiskey-like characteristic, which also had a pleasant fragrance. While all were very enjoyable, they may not be for everyone’s taste.

Though sake consumption in Japan has waned, John Gauntner remarked that perhaps its trendy appeal in the West, in cities like New York, will finally rekindle the Japanese love for this underrated beverage.

For more information on upcoming events, visit the Japan Society.

Review: French Revolution: Wine Trailblazers at FIAF April 24, 2017

Cover image: The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers © WhereNYC

The 2nd installment of the Wine Tour de France sold out. © WhereNYC

Arranged before my eyes were nine glasses of wines: whites, rosés and reds, shimmering like a beautiful crystal bouquet. With a plate of charcuterie, cheeses and mini baguettes at my side, this was going to be a good night.

FIAF The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers

Côtes de Jura “Les Sarres” Savagnin 2014

Gently swirling the crystal clear liquid in my glass and taking in a deep snifter, I was immediately bombarded with sunny, fragrant floral notes transporting me to the Jura Mountains near the Loire Valley. Then, the taste hit; light, dainty with just a little acidity and mineral saltiness. This was Savagnin from Domaine Rijckaert, a light, tart white wine with extraordinary boldness to super clean finish. With a bite of salty comté cheese on my plate and a second swig, I was in heaven.

The essential wine pairing kit. © WhereNYC

The second installment of the FIAF’s Wine Tour de France, hosted by Wine Enthusiast Magazine editor Lauren Buzzeo, introduced three passionate independent vintners, each from some of France’s most reputable wine-producing regions.

From left to right: Florent Rouve of Domaine Rijckaert, Patrick Léon of Château d’Esclans and Louis Fabre of Château Coulon © WhereNYC

Part of the charm of the event included hearing their personal stories, full of passion and knowledge, they came from a long wine tradition like Louis Fabre of Château Coulon in France’s Languedoc region, whose family-run business dates back to 1605. Domaine Rijckaert – the name of a wine enthusiast from Flanders, Belgium, who founded his domaine in the heart of Bourgogne and the Jura to produce lovely white wines. And from sunny Provence, Patrick Léon of Château d’Esclans who has been in the industry for decades delighted us with his beautiful rosé wines.

FIAF The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers

Florent Rouve © WhereNYC

There was a technical side to the talk and tasting as we learned about the grapes and of course the term terroir, which has no single equivalent in the English language. According to Ms. Buzzeo, terroir includes “the rainfall, climate, wild nature and herbs”, all of which contribute to a wine’s unique character. The direction of the wind, position to the sun and elevation can even affect its quality and taste.

Vins Rijckaert 2014 Pouilly-Fuissé. © WhereNYC

The selection of wines included the familiar crowd-pleasers that will never tire. Domaine Rijckaert’s 2014 Pouilly Fuissé and Chardonnay, happily less oaky than its heavier Californian counterpart, carried a delightful mineral acidity with lingering floral notes.

Waving the banner of Provence, Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2016 Rosé, whose name was inspired by a visit chapel, achieves “everything one would want with a rosé,” according to Ms. Buzzeo. It was exactly how Patrick Léon described it, light touches of syrah, fruité and reliably delicious. It could pair with just about any dish.

There were unusual newcomers which should land in everyone’s wine collection. Léon’s Rock Angel, a stronger rosé packed a little unexpected spicy punch, and his Garrus, a special blend of acidic blanc and slightly salty rosé works well with bold flavors, including truffles.

FIAF The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers

Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé was a winner. © WhereNYC

Moving west of Provence, to France’s Languedoc region, Louis Fabre, gave us our final three wines. Too often overlooked by many outside of France, the Languedoc actually produces some of the country’s best wines including the famed Pic Saint Loup and earthy Minervois.

The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers FIAF

Château Coulon 2015 Rouge, Château Fabre Gasparets 2013 and 2016 Rosé (Corbières)  © WhereNYC

Mr. Fabre is hardly a newcomer to the industry with his estate dating to before the French Revolution. Unique in character and utterly delicious, his three wines played with our minds and danced on our tongues. With each sip, my tongue was swimming in a sea of complementing contrasts. The intensely pink blended rosé Corbière of grenache and shiraz was beautifully done. Heavy, yet light, salty but sweet, and in the end, the clean finish. Chateau Coulon’s two remaining reds were simply amazing. The first Corbièreswas a young, accessible red with berry flavor with notes of cherry and sage herbs. The Gasparet was deep and intense in flavor with a certain cacao or coffee note that Mr. Fabre attributed to the grape. Earthy and fragrant, it had wonderful savage beauty that reminded me of the scruffy, landscape bordering the Southwest coast of the Mediterranean.

FIAF French Revolution France's Wine Trailblazers

Fun and informative © WhereNYC

Fun, interactive and informative for both novices and wine experts alike, FIAF’s Wine Trailblazers hit all the buttons, although there could have been a bit more cheese and charcuterie to pair with the wines. As the evening drew to a close Ms. Buzzeo and three vintners happily bantered with guests while posing for pictures. As I drained the final contents of my glass, I felt like I had just visited three regions of France without leaving my seat.

FIAF Wine Trailblazers

Travel France by glass. © WhereNYC

Don’t miss FIAF’s next Wine Tour de France with Vive La Femme; Women Winemakers on the Rise May 22, 2017.

Review: Japan Street Fes Ramen Contest in Astoria, April 23, 2017

Cover image: Kyshuya Wakayama-style ramen at Japan Street Fes © WhereNYC

Masamune Ramen brought theatre to their sporting traditional yukatas and grilling pork © WhereNYC

It was love at first slurp as I closed my eyes and lowered my nose in the bowl of ramen. It was absolute heaven, the equivalent of a culinary perfect pitch of complementing and overlapping flavors and textures: the firmness of the noodles and tender grilled chashu or pork with just a sliver fat. The pickled bamboo shoots added a little acidity and bite and the egg was cooked with just a little gooeyness. The icing on the cake was the garnish with a crispy tuile of nori, or seaweed. Tying everything together was that creamy ramen broth of pork, nicely seasoned and perfectly balanced.

Live entertainment was another draw at the event © WhereNYC

This wasn’t a ramen-ya on a hidden street somewhere in Japan, where the lonely salaryman might find some comfort food while slogging home after a long day at the office. When I opened my eyes, I was on Steinway in Astoria, Queens, at the second leg of Japan Street Fest and Ramen Contest.

For two days in Chelsea and Queens, ramen vendors from Japan and the U.S. East Coast treated the public to their versions of this Japanese classic. From stall to stall, boiling pots of water and broth steamed like magic cauldrons while chefs grilled juicy slabs of pork over charcoals. Long queues of patrons intertwined like hungry serpents waiting to get a bowl of the good stuff.

And there was plenty of it, too. The most popular dishes included Menya Masamune’s signature Shio Ramen from Miyagi, Japan and Astoria-based Shuya’s Bluefin Tuna Paitan version. Yet, the simplicity of ramen is its reliability and authenticity. From Hartsdale, New York, Kishuya’s Wakayama-style ramen hit all the right notes. Perfectly balanced, yet powerful the broth married the whole dish beautifully.

Those unfamiliar with agodashi, or flying fish broth, are seriously missing out on a wonderful Kyushu treat. Umi No Ie izakaya in the Lower East dished out a superb ramen that was light and delicate with the taste of the sea.

Umi No Ie’s flying fish broth ramen © WhereNYC

The biggest find, however, was the least popular of the day. Snappy Ramen from Boston bravely served an all-vegetarian tomato ramen that was absolutely delicious.

Snappy Ramen’s Veggie Tomato ramen was delicious. © WhereNYC

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The broth was almost like a vegetarian consommé with a slight sweet tomato note at the end. The green spinach noodles only added to the affect. Garnished with saffron it reminded me a of a Southeast Asian laksa without being too overcomplicated.

There were plenty of non-ramen food options and shopping past the noodle stalls. Fans of Japanese Kansai-style okonomiyaki and takoyaki delighted in the street food section, where people ate hashimaki, a rolled okonomiyaki on a stick – a first for me.

Yamasu Japan © WhereNYC

One of the more interesting stops was at Japanese snack and traditional foods purveyor Yamasu Japan who, at its booth, sold a selection of tsukemono pickles, dried sardines and flavored peanuts from Chiba, Japan.

But less impressive were the chewy grilled squid, dipped in tare and served on a stick, which was almost inedible.

Although there were many positives about the street fest, it needed more organization. People began queuing at the Menya Masamune booth because they had mistaken it for the entrance line to the fair.

Takoyaki © WhereNYC

Tickets to sample ramen cost $10 each, while there was no prior mention of the costs on the website. The lack of event map and volunteers directing traffic made it difficult to navigate and soon long lines appeared everywhere. It would have also been helpful to purchase tickets in advance online, and Japan Street Fes could have divided the event into morning and after sessions to ease overcrowding.

Grilled okonomiyaki to order © WhereNYC

Negatives aside, it was an ambitious two-day event that featured independently owned restaurants, unknown to most New Yorkers that serve food with pride and knowledge. It was impossible to say who had the best ramen at the end of the day, but with our bellies full and hunger satiated, we all felt like winners.

For upcoming events, visit Japan Street Fes.

Review: Brisket King NYC at LIU, Brooklyn April 19, 2017

Cover image: Chef Jesse Jones © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Where do you start? I thought as the wafting aromas of Izzy’s Smokehouse BBQ dish filled my nostrils. The taste was even better with the perfect balance of fat and tender meat that just melted in my mouth.

Izzy’s Smokehouse © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Whether during the summer or at an indoor event, there is always something magical about a barbecue. Meat sizzling over charcoal, the drinks and friends chatting carries that nostalgic charm and feeling of comfort. At the 2017 Brisket King NYC, it was impossible not feel intoxicated by the buzz. Guests both young and old happily tucking into the delights on offer while enjoying a banter with the chefs.

This year’s Brisket King was extra special at the historical theatre at Long Island University in Brooklyn. With roots tracing back some 91 years, the venue morphed into the ultimate tasting arena, where over 21 participating chefs delighted guests with an array of amazing and inventive dishes in this rustic cook off. Friendly and energetic, the venders served their culinary creations with pride. This year, award-winning celebrity judges Aaron FranklinDaniel Vaughn and John Tesar came all the way from Texas to size up the best of the cooking competition.

© Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Kimchi Smoke © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

For me, it was very difficult to say who was the most impressive contender of the evening. Every booth I hopped, I discovered something new. There were burgers, meatballs and tacos but all done with care, knowledge and passion while others cleverly incorporated Asian flavors. South Korean-style Kimchi Smoke had a tasty tender brisket smothered in their original cheese sauce, which packed a serious punch of flavor. The techniques some had perfected, however, bordered on zealotry.
Randall’s BBQ brought an amazing meat that had been smoked for more than 18 hours the night before!

Ribs Within © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Another highlight of the Brisket King cook off was Ribs Within, which brought a little porky fun, cheerfully wrapping bacon on barbecue skewers. Doesn’t everything taste better with bacon?
Some may have underestimated their popularity at the frenzy. 2014 Top Chefs contestant Jesse Jones from New Jersey had one of the longest lines. Cherry Street Bar-B-Q from Canada actually ran out of their food in the middle of the event! Such a shame because I never got to taste their dish.
With all the sizzling meats and spicy fare, there were fantastic drinks to bring a refreshing breeze and cleanse the palette.

NY Honey © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

For those in need of a stiff drink to wet the appetite, Tito’s craft Vodka delivered on taste while Catskill Provisions’ Honey Whiskey was smooth, subtle and heartwarming. Fans of a summer G & T should get a bottle of Queens Courage‘s artisanal Gin. And if you like a bit of fiery magic, Empire Spirits Project made an exceptional Bloody Mary. Another favorite was a mead-like honey liqueur from KAS Spirits, which complemented the food nicely with smooth, mellow notes of honey. And of course, there was good ol’ beer including Guinness, which showcased a great series of its beers for all to enjoy with grilled meat.

ButcherBar © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Although it was also impossible to try all the dishes as I had already jumped several pant sizes sampling generous portions of food, I tried as best as anyone could.  Since the event was a competition, at the end, the judges chose the top four vendors, with Izzy’s BBQ knock out dish beating out the other heavyweight rivals.

Crowds poured into the 2017 Brisket King NYC © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

In the end of the day, the dishes served had great flavors and each told a unique story. But most importantly, however, is that they were a joy pleasure to eat, and surely that is what it should be about.
By the time I left the Brisket King at LIU with a full belly and feeling a bit tipsy, I could only think about the upcoming summer barbecue season.
Kei Hayashi contributed to this article for WhereNYC.

Review: “When Domaine de Canton meets” Cocktail Launch at Fine & Rare

Fine & Rare Restaurant and Bar © WhereNYC

The Ginger Brenne House cocktail © WhereNYC

Day Drinking by Kat Odell © WhereNYC

“The book was inspired by my time living by Venice Beach,” guest author Kat Odell said of her cocktail recipe book Day Drinking: 50 Cocktails for a Mellow Buzz. Beautifully edited, it tells a personal story full of happy memories with friends. Like the 19th century French food author Brillat Savarin extolled “the pleasure of table”, Ms. Odell’s book also seeks to recreate the ‘laid back, low-key’ nostalgic moments in the company of others.

St. John Frizell © WhereNYC

Themes of taste memory, compatibility and seasonality summed up the Domaine de Canton cocktail launch at the mixology-themed restaurant Fine & Rare in Midtown, where some of New York’s most creative bartenders came to showcase their own personal cocktails using the French-style, ginger-infused liqueur.

With a meticulous attention to detail, right down the flowers or herbs used to garnish the drinks, each mixologist brought a unique personality with every cocktail.

Inspired by a Second World War era tiki-style drink known as Suffering Bastard whose roots go back to the British army in North Africa, St. John Frizell’s The Monty Buck, was an absolute winner. With a splash of Domaine de Canton, Laird Apple Brandy and El Dorado 5-year rum, it was both bold and refreshing without being too sweet.

Le Nonne Blanc by Lynnette Marrero © WhereNYC

Made in the French tradition of marrying Eau-de-vie with Vietnamese ginger, Domaine de Canton is incredibly adaptable. The tropical style cocktails included Le Nonne Blanc by Lynnette Marrero of Llama Inn -a mix of Domaine, champagne and Zacapa, a Guatemalan sugarcane-based rum. Aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it had subtle note of ginger. There was, however, a slightly peculiar cough syrupy aftertaste which took over.

Nick Bennett’s Tequila citrus cocktail © WhereNYC

Porchlight barman Nick Bennett’s Lunazul tequila-based cocktail, The Dr. Ian Malcolm, combined classic tequila and citrus flavors, but for my personal taste, I would have liked a little kick of chilli.

Although not a fan of Bourbon, Seamstress bartender Christian Orlando’s My Fellow Traveller and the hot toddy-style The Warm Embrace by Lucinda Sterling delivered on the button.

Christian Orlando’s My Fellow Traveller © WhereNYC

My Fellow Traveller had a summery Northern Caribbean feel, which according to Orlando, was a nostalgic summer-on-the-porch cocktail with a clever hint of lemongrass. Sterling’s Warm Embrace made with Apple Cinnamon tea, Apple cider and Domaine de Canton was deeply fragrant and warming, perfect for a cold, wet rainy day.

Nostalgia and comforting aside, there were bold, challenging cocktail creations that really pushed boundaries. Young Kim’s Ginger Brenne House bravely incorporated a smokey single malt scotch with citrus juice. Not for the faint-hearted, it delivered a burst of an Orange-Crush like fizziness, but it oddly worked very well.

The Ginger Brenne House by Young Kim © WhereNYC

Finally, Gates Otsuji of the Standard Grill delivered his Day Dreamer, a gingery martini, an eclectic concoction reflecting Gate’s own mixed background of Italian, Scottish and Japanese descent. Its simple garnish of marigold flower gave a nice earthiness, but the martini was a bit too sweet.

Gates Otsuji © WhereNYC

The beauty of Domaine de Canton lies in its versatility. Whether with tequila, rum or whiskey, the ginger-infused liqueur can take on big flavors or serve as a perfect accompaniment with its delicateness. Even after the party began to wind down, the buzz continued as the guests happily chatted over their cocktails.  Like Kat Odell said about her book Day Drinking, good drinks with friends create warmth and happy memories.

For upcoming events or mixology classes, visit Fine & Rare.

Kat Odell © WhereNYC

Review: Spring Cheese Pop up Sale at the French Cheese Board April 7-8, 2017

Cover Image: ‘Cheese Board’ Île de France Brie, iStara P’tit Basque and Isigny Ste Mère’s Raspberry Fromage Frais © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Mimolette at the French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

“I didn’t know you could ferment carrots,” said one guest perusing the orange slices on the table. “Yeah, they’re carrots,” joked the girl working the tasting booth with a French accent.

Rest assured these were no root vegetables, but one of France’s prized cheeses: 6 and 18-month aged mimolette – the Rolls Royce of cheesy paradise. To compare it to a super sharp cheddar would not do it justice. Starting off mellow, slightly salty, it then delivers a mouth-fizzing punch of nuttiness that lingers happily on the palette before the screeching-to-a-halt finale. Proof that cow and bug can work in perfect harmony and happily available in the United States.

Emmental at the French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The two-day event at the SoHo’s beloved French Cheese Board, a shrine to the French and creamy, showcased some of France’s most well-known cheeses while introducing some of the Hexagone’s newcomers. While many Americans may have yet to learn more about French cheeses, never underestimate the diverse palette of a New Yorker.

With far more publicity, including a whopping 1,800 views on WhereNYC’s Facebook page, this showcase was far more reaching than previous low-key pop-up events. The French Cheese Board managed to send a thousand tongues wagging, drawing in noticeably larger crowds than before.

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French Cheese Board

The Crown Jewel © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Preceded a by a special press-only reception, the fighting French pulled out all the punches with an ideal but every-bullet-counts all-star dairy cast. Highlights of the two-day event included the crowd-pleasing Brie from Île de France and the lovely pungent bleu Saint Agur. The first had everything one would expect from a brie pairing beautifully with either champagne or a full-bodied Shiraz or Bordeaux red. For the latter, try it with slices of green apple and a glass of sweet sherry or port wine.

Fans of wash-rind cheeses hunting the elusive, stinky Époisse, normally at its peak after May, would also enjoy Saint Albray, a slightly milder-but-no-less-exciting clover shaped cheese from the Juraçon in Béarn, bordering France’s three other Basque Country Provinces. Speaking of Basque cheese, starting with the nutty sheep’s milk P’tit Basque by iStara is the perfect gateway to the region’s other top-gamers: Ossau-Iratyshaun-the-sheepy Brebis Pyrénées and Spanish manchego, which all pair beautifully with fig or apricot jam and either a glass of Basque chacoli or a hoppy beer.

Brie by Président © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Beginners to French cheese world should not fear the Triple Crème label as a artery-clogging slow death, but enjoy it as a milder, creamery kind of cheese. Président’s Brie Triple Crème tends to be softer and more accessible in comparison t the Île de France version. While the Saint André was a bit mushroomy, the authentic, creamy Camembert from Normandy was the other crowd pleaser, which pairs well with a fruitier Beaujolais red or a deeper Côte de Rhône. Also flying the Normandy flag was the salted Beurre d’Isigny, which translates to the most unctuous, delightful butter that you’ll ever have. Perfectly seasoned, it is absolute heaven on toasted baguette and drizzled with chili-honey.

St Agur © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Looking to wedge its spoon in the Greek-style yogurt market, the French Cheese Board gave its ideal breakfast take with creamy, tangy Fromage Frais by Isigny. Those familiar with the comforts of a warm croissant and creamy yogurt of a classic Parisian continental breakfast will love Isigny’s franco favorite, available in Mirabelle or Framboise flavors.

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The celebrated cheese map at French Cheese Board. © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

With an estimated over 1,500 cheeses in France, it is impossible to know where to begin, but the French Cheese Board’s Pop-Up events are an exciting way to experience some of the country’s most iconic delicacies while chatting with experts in the industry. While there has been a surge in beautiful, high-end artisanal cheeses in the U.S., even the new generation of bearded American cheesemakers owe their craft in part to French ingenuity and tradition. At the end of the day, the French still are in the game producing cheese as good as it gets.

For information on upcoming events, please visit the French Cheese Board on Facebook.

Story notes and images contributed by Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

WhereNYC seeking talented writers to cover events in the city

Cover image: Gifu at the Japan Society © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

If you ever thought about becoming a writer or just want to check out what’s happening in the city, WhereNYC is looking for enthusiastic writers to cover events in the city.  From foodie soirées, cultural expos, cocktail receptions to museum after-hours events, experience the city as never before. This is a fantastic opportunity to have fun and meet people.

For inquires, please contact SpirikalNYC@gmail.com or by Facebook.

Thanks!