Wine and buzz at WGBH’s tasting Friday night

Kevin Cassidy of bottles in the North End and Jacqueline Church enjoy the 2009 “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling by Charles Smith. bottles donated a case of the wine to Friday night's event.

A successful event always has these elements in common:

The right mix of guests. In the case of WGBH’s Old World New World Showdown on Friday night, that mix included long-time ‘GBH fans, new ‘GBH fans, and a whole other set who were drawn to WGBH’s Yawkey Atrium at One Guest Street for the chance to taste eight wines, mingle with friends, tour the studios, and stay on for a live jazz concert with Melissa Aldana after the tasting.

A well-considered program. That meant a sparkling wine reception (just to set the tone!) followed by a paced tasting of four grapes — Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Syrah — first in their Old World iterations and then in their New. The tasting was punctuated between grapes by comments from certified wine educator Adam Chase of Grape Experience and feedback from the crowd. That kept everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction.

Good-quality food and drink. This we couldn’t have achieved without the very generous support of the following local wine shops and distributors:

Buzz. The event was completely sold out. Guests were texting and tweeting. Feedback ranged from “Timely, informative, fun!” to “Loved the tour of the studios. Loved the concert.” to “Hope this event is repeated in the future!!!”

You can count on it.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

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Tonight’s wine tasting at WGBH: A real community effort

WGBH members, guests from the public, and especially local wine shops are all pitching in to make tonight’s wine tasting a big success.

The theme is a friendly showdown between the Old World and the New World. Every 15 minutes we’ll taste a wine from either place — Old World Sauvignon Blanc first, then New World Sauvignon Blanc. Old World Riesling first, then New World Riesling. Ditto for Pinot Noir and Syrah — Old World first, then New World.

Then, at 9 p.m., guests of the tasting are invited to attend the live jazz concert in Fraser Recording Studio. It’s quite a night out with WGBH!

A big thank-you goes to the following wine shops and wine professionals for contributing to tonight’s event:

Federal Wine & Spirits

Henry’s Wine Cellar

bottles (372 Commercial Street, Boston)

Tomasso Trattoria and Panzano Provviste

Bauer Wine & Spirits

Wine ConneXtion

Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquors

Martignetti

Grape Experience, with special co-host Adam Chase

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Teach a Chef to Fish: Sustainable Seafood on the Front Lines at the Boston Seafood Show

Seafood on display this past week at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Sustainable seafood, along with locally grown ingredients, are two trends in the restaurant industry that are here to stay.

Which would be good news for fishermen and farmers – not to mention for the oceans, fish, and community ecosystems – if only our understanding of the science behind agriculture and, to a greater extent, aquaculture, was better.

“Ninety percent of diners want restaurants to serve only sustainable seafood,” Jacqueline Church said Tuesday morning during a panel called Teach a Chef to Fish at the International Seafood Show at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. “But nearly 75% do not know what species are close to extinction.”

That gap between desire and knowledge is a problem. And that makes it an opportunity, as Church sees it, especially in terms of education. Since two-thirds of the seafood Americans consume is consumed in a restaurant, Church sees chefs as the “front line” in an offensive approach to more educated diners.

Bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass are two examples of non-sustainable fish that are nonetheless in high demand. “I hear lots of chefs say their customers won’t let them take those fish off the menu,” said Andy Husbands, chef-owner of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorel in Boston. “But we’ve done it, and other restaurants we know [like Fairmont Battery Wharf, also in Boston] have done it and we’re doing fine. Frankly, if a customer demands bluefin tuna, I don’t need that customer.”

“’My customers demand that’ is shallow excuse to keep those fish on the menu,” said Barton Seaver, a Washington D.C.-based chef and host of a PBS series called Turning the Tide, which uses dinner to tell the story of our shared common resources. “Those chefs are selling themselves and the customers short. I’m a hospitality professional, it’s my job to figure out how to eradicate the word No. I didn’t say no to Chilean sea bass, I sold the customer on the solution,” meaning a more sustainable alternative like barramundi.

In addition to the conversation between chef and diner, however, is a lack of knowledge within the scientific community that would actually improve the likelihood of fishing in more environmentally-responsible ways. It was only recently understood, for example, that some popular species like Orange Roughy take up to 30 years to reproduce.

“That’s an example that highlights the need for science,” Church said, “because we nearly overfished it to extinction. Chefs liked the fish, they liked to work with it, and diners liked it but we didn’t understand its life cycle. We don’t have the science yet about how to properly manage it.”

Nor, said Seaver, do we have a cultural understanding of fish as food. “We use different words to identify cow and beef, and pork and pigs. But fish and fish? We haven’t gotten the cultural identity of what fish represents to us.”

The “Dirty Dozen” of non-sustainable seafood species:

  1. Shrimp
  2. Farmed salmon
  3. Bluefin tuna
  4. Eel
  5. Red snapper
  6. Orange roughy
  7. Octopus
  8. Patagonian toothfish
  9. Cod
  10. Shark
  11. Halibut (Atlantic)
  12. Grouper

Additional resources:

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Irish Moonshine, Colcannon, and Christy Moore on Celtic Sojourn

WGBH's Brian O'Donovan

WGBH's Brian O'Donovan, host of A Celtic Sojourn.

My task for last Saturday’s segment on WGBH’s own A Celtic Sojourn radio program was to discuss the history of beverages in Ireland, as well as contemporary iterations of Irish cuisine.

There are harder things in life than that.

Brian O’Donovan, the program’s gracious and welcoming host, punctuated our segment with recordings about colcannon (a recipe wrapped inside a song), whiskey (seeming much like the devil), and the Irish version of moonshine called poitín (courtesy of Christy Moore).

In between the music, Brian and I talked about things like the history of Irish whiskey as a medicinal elixir, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork paying homage to Julia Child, and the very clever work-arounds that distillers of long-outlawed poitín invented to keep their moonshine production clear of law enforcement’s prying eyes.

Intrigued by the Irish? Listen to my interview with A Celtic Sojourn’s Brian O’Donovan.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Looking Forward to Lunch: Ming Tsai to Open Noodle Bar at Blue Ginger

Ming Tsai

Ming Tsai in the studio, creating another delicious dish for an episode of Simply Ming.

Two weeks from today, Chef Ming Tsai will open a noodle bar for lunchtime service in the lounge of his iconic Wellesley restaurant, Blue Ginger.

Two weeks from today, foodies from all over greater Boston will have another very special reason to look forward to lunch.

Tsai will do his own spin on classic ramen and stir-fried noodles. Think Spicy Pork Miso Ramen, Garlic Miso Ramen, and Yakisoba Stir-Fried Noodles.

Think yum.

As for what to drink?

Check out Tsai’s own suggestions for wine, beer, and cocktails from the restaurant’s list, to pair with his food. Or if you’d like a general overview of wines and which ones go with which foods — yes to Chardonnay with seafood; no to Pinot Noir with hot, spicy food; yes to Syrah with duck — check out Tsai’s brief and very helpful primer on wine varieties.

You will be well-prepared. And, with the new noodle bar open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., you will also be well-fed and well-nourished. All day long.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Trusting the Tweet: Mussels Riesling Marinière at Brasserie Jo

Brasserie Jo's bartender mixes up a French-style cocktail behind the bar.

There are certain characteristics of a French-style brasserie that makes it a French-style brasserie.

There’s got to be a bar, preferably made of zinc but heavy, deep wood will do.

Floors have to be tiled, at least in part, in colored patterns.

The menu has to have pommes frites, confited things, and profiteroles.

The wine list has to be mostly French – naturally – but the cocktail list too has to be Franco influenced, stylistically and literally. Think Grand Marnier, Chartreuse, and Cointreau.

Brasserie Jo, inside the Colonnade Hotel on Huntington Avenue, fits all those characteristics.

Take the cocktail list, which includes an optimally sippable 38 Eiffel, composed of Stoli Blueberri, St. Germain liqueur, and lime juice “in honor of Gustave,” as the menu says.

The menu itself overflows with brasserie classics like Cassoulet Toulousain and Choucroute Alsacienne. Though the duck breast special I had Saturday night was disappointing, the Mussels Riesling Marinière with pommes frites was exceptional.

There are two reasons I know this to be true.

First, the mussels made my companion for the night, a Belgian who has been living in the US for some 14 years, actually pine for home. (Little known fact: Belgians consume more mussels per capita than any other country on the planet.)

Secondly, the Mussels Riesling Marinière were recommended via a tweet from @funfearlessbean while I was en route to the restaurant. The exchange went something like this:

WGBHFoodie: What to eat at Brasserie Jo on a cold, rainy night?

funfearlessbean: The Mussels Riesling Marinière, absolutely! And use the bread to soak up the rest of the sauce.

So we did. Order the mussels, that is. But here was my Belgian friend’s tweak of the tweet: to use the frites instead of bread to soak up the sauce. As soon as he’d eaten enough of the mussels to open up a little space (this did not take long), he simply dumped the cone of accompanying frites into the sauce. And then he promptly ordered a second round of frites.

It was, to use the Dutch term, lekker. It was, to use the French term, délicieux.

It was, to use my term, right on.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Adventures of Spice Girl: Tracking Down the Mind-Opening Za’Atar

Although za'atar itself remains elusive to our Spice Girl, shops like the Syrian Grocery in the South End yield their own treasures.

When I was a little girl my friends and I dreamed one day our Fairy Godmother would appear, wave her magic wand, and turn us into Cinderella. That never happened – alas – but along the way to living my life the Food Fairy appeared, sprinkled me with oregano, and said, “Henceforth, you shall be known as Spice Girl.” Ever since, I have had the most excellent adventures in the pursuit of exotic and elusive seasonings.

Imagine my excitement when I learn of za’atar, “the spice combination that opens up the mind.”

I become aware of this glorious concoction when my Food, Wine and Travel book club, based at Cornerstone Books in Salem, decided to read The Foods of Israel by Joan Nathan. She tells us za’atar is sprinkled on pita bread with a little olive oil for a Middle Eastern breakfast bruschetta, and that it’s used as a topping on pizza and pasta, a dry marinade for chicken or fish, and a tasty addition to salads and vegetables.

Nathan also informs us that Israeli parents feed it to their children for breakfast because they believe it opens up their minds and makes them more alert as students.

My search for za’atar began in the international foods aisle of the Super Stop & Shop in Swampscott, which carries an assortment of products from the Middle East, and it doesn’t end until I dig out the Syrian Grocery Store on Shawmut Avenue in the South End. There, after yet another wondrous journey, I came face to face with za’atar and discovered a portal to the Middle East just 30 minutes from my home.

Joan Nathan’s personal recipe for za’atar:

Take ¼ cup of dried oregano and thyme, 2 tablespoons of dried sumac, ¼ cup of roasted sesame seeds, and salt to taste. Remove any twigs, and crumble the oregano and thyme between your fingers into a bowl. Add the sumac, sesame seeds, and salt to taste.

This is not a purist’s za’atar, but it is a flavorful first cousin. Note that South End Formaggio, right next door to the Syrian Grocery Store, carries one of the recipe’s main ingredients, sumac.

Carol Pagliaro, aka Spice Girl, is a guest writer for today’s WGBH Foodie blog.