Restaurants

Foodservice East | Guest Column: Ten Points of Liability & Ten Best Practices

15 Million Americans have food allergies and we crave a great dining experience just as much as our non-allergic friends and families do. Restaurants that "get it" and offer us a relaxing and safe dining experience will be rewarded with repeat business. Restaurant staff in all positions - front of the house, back of the house, bar - each member of the staff need to know how to avoid making guests with food allergies sick, or worse. Where can allergens hide? What are the differences between intolerance and allergies? What is the difference between cross-contaminiation and cross-contact?

Foodservice East

Foodservice East, a business publication for the Northeast foodservice industry, began in 1926 as Hotel & Restaurant News in Boston. Susan Holaday the current editor and publisher invited me to write this guest column on the topic of food allergies.

Food Allergy Service Checklist

 

no room for error

I wrote this column as a risk assessment checklist. It includes ten ways to get it wrong and ten accompanying best practices. Click here to read the post: Foodservice East | News and information for the Northeast foodservice industry. Interested in a training  or consult for your restaurant? I've designed a one hour session that can be delivered in a normal staff training hour or pre-meal meeting. I also offer a menu consult, and risk assessment.

An Evening of Beer, History, and a Boatload of Oysters

  Well I'm on my way shortly here to a terrific event at Harpoon Brewery.

Imagine a giant Venn Diagram with Oysters, Beer, History, Culinary Geekdom all intersecting. THAT is where we'll be tonight!

 

CB

An Evening of Beer, History, and a Boatload of Oysters... Tickets, Boston - Eventbrite.

Aprons inspire - Kitchenwares, Chef Scelfo & Yours Truly in the Boston Globe

How excited was I when none other than @SchmattaHari herself asked me if I'd like to share my opinion on aprons? Pretty darned excited. First of all it's Jill Radsken, smart, funny journalist and owner of the best twitter handle ever. Second, "share my opinion" are probably my three favorite words, maybe even as exciting as "dinner is served." Seriously, though. I'm now on the same page of the  The Boston Globe  with one of the best chefs in town, Chef Michael Scelfo, AND my favorite and most loyal sponsor, KitchenWares -- on the same page! 

 

aprons

Aprons inspire a jump-start in the kitchen - Food & dining - The Boston Globe.

Feels good. Now I better get a fancy new apron, don't you think?

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Dining Out - Advice for Restaurants, Tips for Diners

15 million Americans have food allergies, and these numbers continue to rise. Restaurants ignore this issue at their own peril and that of their customers. In my experience, the vast majority of people in the hospitality industry do care about helping their guests have an enjoyable experience. Landing a guest in the hospital is not their goal. But without a specific protocols and training to handle food-allergic diners, restaurants run the risk of doing just that. Front of the house, kitchen staff, servers, food runners, bar staff -- all must understand the nature of food allergies and intolerances, where hidden dangers lie, and how to avoid sickening a guest or worse. I advise restaurants on avoidance of these risks, share resources and offer techniques specifically to prevent sickening a guest or sending them into anaphylactic shock.

  • Did you know: there's now a Yelp like site specificially for Food Allergies? Allergy Eats will catalog diners' experience eating out. 

A Recent Example

Just this past weekend, I dined out at a prominent Boston restaurant. After informing the server of my food allergies, I enlisted her help in choosing from among three dishes that I thought could most easily accommodate my allergies. We selected the tuna salad Niçoise. As she indicated the deviled egg contained dairy, I asked if a simple boiled egg could be substituted. "No problem."

When the dish was delivered to the table, it was by a food runner, not the server. The food runner had no idea of my allergy. When I asked that he take it back and tried to explain that the dish must be replaced, not simply remove the egg due to cross contact on the plate, he was confused.

She came over and said "I put it on the ticket." So possibly she forgot. Possibly no one noticed. Obviously, no one was tracking that order was free of noted allergens. This leads me to believe any number of cross-contact issues are probably occuring and no one has trained the staff in protocol to safely serve FA (food allergic) diners.

Did I have confidence that the egg was not simply switched out? Not really. At least three things could have been done to ensure this did not end badly. This restaurant is clearly in need of FA training. Had this been a more hidden error, say an ingredient in a dressing, we could have had a serious crisis on hand.

In other restaurants, I've also had:

  • "dairy-free" tacos come out drizzled with sour cream;
  • a "dairy-free" dessert that contained dairy  (even after much discussion, prior notice and last minute confirmation by the chef, AT THE TABLE)-- the chef saying "oh you might want to avoid that, it has a little dairy".
  • I've been told fries are okay, until I ask if anything that's buttermilk battered gets fried in the same oil;
  • I've had a server clarify with the chef that the rolls contain no dairy then add "the chef says just go easy on the butter."  etc., etc.

Advice for Restaurants

Lose one guest, lose a group of sales. Get it right and reap the benefits of customer loyalty and increased sales. Conversely, consider the cost of killing a guest.

In one study:

  • 25% of restaurant staff polled said that food allergic diners could safely eat a small amount of the trigger food.
  • 33% thought frying would destroy the allergens.

These are potentially lethal mistakes.

Is your restaurant prepared?

I offer a one hour training designed to fit into a normal pre-meal staff meeting.

In it we cover:

  • hidden allergens,
  • allergies versus intolerance,
  • myths about food allergies,
  • basics of cross-contact,
  • best practices.

Learn how to:

  • minimize risks in serving an increasingly allergic dining public,
  • get a valuable resource guide, and
  • discover simple steps you can take to address this growing issue.

As a food writer, consultant and trainer who developed food allergies late in life, I’m dedicated to educating restaurant staff on the basics of food allergies and how to avoid serious and potentially lethal mistakes.

  • Contact Me today to receive your Risk Assessment Checklist and to talk about scheduling a training for your staff.

Tips for FA Diners

To learn more about dining out with food allergies including tips for diners, and to read a list of hidden allergens, see my Washington Post article: Food Allergy Sufferers Negotiate Minefields.

  • When possible, phone ahead to alert the restaurant.
  • Go off hours.
  • Check the menu online first to familiarize yourself with ingredients.

Here are more tips for diners.

~ ~ ~

This is Food Allergy Awareness Week - drop a comment to share your experiences dining out with food allergies, or write to me if you'd like help training your staff.

 

Fifteen Million Reasons - - Why I'm Speaking at the 1st Annual Food Allergy Conference

Doing my part - in June - speaking at the first annual Food Allergy Research & Education conference in Chicago. FARE_logo

 

Here's the conference schedule and my speaker page.

 

 

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That's right, 15 million Americans are living with food allergies. That's 15 million reasons to get educated about keeping people with food allergies safe and included.

I'm looking forward to meeting some of the experts whose research I've been following since my diagnosis, hearing what's new and learning from others how my training, consulting and writing can help. With allergies on the rise, more of us are touched in one way or another:

  • grappling with our own food allergies,
  • learning to cook for family members with allergies or
  • understanding how to safely serve customers with food allergies.

 

Read my article in the Washington Post to learn what it's like to negotiate minefields when dining out -- imagine if one careless gesture by server or chef can result in illness or death for you or your loved one.

If you're a chef or restaurant owner or manager and want to learn how I can help you train staff --Email Me.

To receive your free Ten Points of Liability Checklist, complete this form.  [contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='I%26#039;m a:' type='select' required='1' options='Chef,Restaurant Staff,Restaurant Owner/Manager'/][contact-field label='I%26#039;m interested in:' type='select' required='1' options='Food Service Risk Assessment,Menu Review,Staff Training'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]

Oyster Lovers - Join us for a Special "Slurp and Learn" Oyster Century Club Event!

Mare Collage

The Oyster Century Club© invites you for a special midday oyster tasting event.

oyster oyster oyster

 BREAKING NEWS: PARTICIPANTS ALSO GET FREE ADMISSION TO THE EAT BOUTIQUE HOLIDAY MARKET!

...register today, we'll all head over after....

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They Shoot Oysters, Don't They?

This Saturday, December 7 from 12 - 2 ,

we'll be enjoying oysters and special appetizers while

professional photographer and oyster-loving friend, Brian Samuels shares the secrets to capturing great oyster iPhone shots.

We'll be tweeting, instagramming and sharing photos as we shoot and eat.

Brian's classes have been selling out across the country, we're thrilled to grab some time with him Saturday!

Bring a friend!

Sign up today.

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DozenMare

 

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Go Here, Eat This: (Not) Osushi Harvard Square

When we got last minute tickets to see the Yamato Taiko Drum troupe at the Sanders Theater in Harvard Square we thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the new, expanded OSushi - recently relocated from the tiny boîte in Copley Square.

The Menu

Korean influence is immediately apparent in the expanded menu. Early on a Saturday night the place was ominously empty. With only a handful of tables full, the first thing I heard (over the rattling cacophony of the ventilation system) was the server telling the table next to us that their "chicken was taking awhile but would be out shortly" -- a refrain we also heard later - though the restaurant go no busier.

Hot green tea was served just shy of tepid. Ruh Roh.

We ordered Shishito peppers only to be told they were out. Gyoza are served steamed or deep -fried (odd, usualy these are pan fried rendering a chewy top- crispy bottom we love.)

This odd, deep-fried version were good enough, with a gojuchang (Korean chili ) spiked dipping sauce.

He ordered pork bulgogi - a smaller portion than we were expecting for an entree. My shochu was also a very light pour, barely a full finger and though I picked the least expensive one, it was $15. He said, "$15 for that drink?" I said "It's like city city price for a craft cocktail" to which he replied "but it's shochu" good point. This is typically a working man's warm up. Not so pricey.

The next disappointment was my ramen. While the noodles were toothsome and the broth chili-fied...it was completely missing tofu and the shishitos which I already knew they were out of. The shiitake while plentiful seemed raw and an afterthought.

When I pointed out to the server that the tofu was missing she said "that's the way we serve it." (Then why have tofu on the list of ingredients on the menu? I checked the menu again on the way out.) Curiously, it was also served with a small ladle. When I asked for a soup spoon, she indicated the ladle. I said I'd prefer a soup spoon. Eventually, I got one.

The best dish was the easiest to make at home: an edamame snack. $78 later we scoured the Square for something to top off our not-quite satisfied tummies.

OsushiCollage

Service

Service was glacial, despite a half dozen servers and bussers standing around.

When a family with a young boy, maybe 3.5 or 4 years old sat next to us, the little boy asked for orange juice. It was served in a very tall glass with a straw. Fine for an adult but when his head barely cleared the table, you are inviting an accident. Why not serve it with a small cup he could handle? My tea cup was both narrow enough for little hands and much more manageable height for a child. It's a small nit to pick perhaps, but on a night when everyone seemed to be searching for something to do, not one of the bored staff thought of this. I had time while I waited for my soup spoon.

A note on Allergies

I was happy that they confirmed that my ramen comes with an egg and they noted my dairy allergy on Open Table. Better to err on the side of caution. But, eggs don't come from cows - and it's sign the kitchen doesn't really know the 8 major allergens. This is the minimum diners ought to be able to rely on (and also the law in Massachusetts.)

I am reminded of the the Woody Allen quip:

The food wasn't very good, and the portions were so small. 

I really had no quibble with the ramen portion size but the overall experience left me no desire to return again.

 

 

On Connecting Through Food and Connecting To Food - Itadakimasu

  Kinfolk Magazine sponsored a series of dinners in various cities in June. They called it the Butcher Block Workshop on Fish Cleaning; Charcuterie; and Butchery.

I was thrilled to be invited to the one here in Boston at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. I find Chef Josh Lewin to be one of the most thoughtful chefs around (much like his predecessor at BHHB, Jason Bond). These guys are what I most admire, first and foremost delicious food, the rest is secondary isn't it? Secondary, but not unimportant.

Beyond delicious food, these chefs are quite studied. And, they are teachers,  able to share, through their menus, and events like this, their knowledge. I always learn something new and taste something that is a revelation when I dine with Josh.

So it was on this hot day in June.

Itadakimasu

Through this event, we got learn about lamb, try our hand at certain cuts. We sampled a little simple piece of skirt, a butcher's cut on this size animal.

It's hard to look at a whole animal, without its life, without its skin and to think of it as food. But it is food and we choose lamb that has been given a good life and hopefully met a good death. It is through the art of butchery that a life becomes food. I have great respect for this ancient art.

The reverence for the life we're consuming is expressed at the Japanese table by the saying "Itadakimasu" - uttered before tucking into a meal.

Often mistranslated as "Bon Appetit!" but it doesn't mean the same thing - at all. The Japanese custom is to give reverence for the thing that gave its life for your meal.

I find butchering a quiet and peaceful act. I've not witnessed a killing beyond a lobster or an oyster, not sure I could. But I sure as hell respect it and wish more people did. Some find looking at this repugnant or difficult. It should not be easy. I find people who wrinkle their noses at food which reminds them it was once alive, more difficult than looking at the whole, skinned lamb.

Lamb butchery

 

The Menu

Nasturtium & Grape Leaf Dolma - pistachio rillettes, challah, Jordanian hummus

Ab Gosht - potato, dried lime, saffron tomato sauce

Shushan Snow - Cilantro lime confiture, rye

Gelato - shared chocolate

 

Baynatha Khubz wa Milah - a Jordanian phrase, if memory serves, roughly translates to "now that we have shared a meal, we are connected."

A beautiful meal, a reverent experience of butchery, and a connection to food, to people I will not soon forget.

Thanks to Kinfolk and to the Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro for never ceasing to reveal something new in the every day experience of feeding ourselves and others.

 

Peonies and menu

From Ennui to Joy - Delicious Oysters and Life Lessons from Nonesuch Oyster Farmer Abigail Carroll

Meet Abigail Carroll through this lovely TEDxYouth presentation. Life lessons for all of us. Get your hands dirty! Can you imagine leaving Paris, money, a Count for a boyfriend and trading it all for hip waders, algae, and Biddeford, Maine?

She did it and we're thrilled she did. In this TEDxYouth talk Abigail tells her story and shares the lessons she learned along the way.

Reminds me of the oft-quoted Hemingway remark about how oysters instill us with the sense of possibility, and how they immediately lift our spirits.

Oysters as Homecoming

Just as Abigail experienced a homecoming through the acquisition of her oyster farm, so do we have a homecoming of sorts each time we bring an oyster to our lips. We are kissed by our mother, the sea.

I am excited to announce that Nonesuch Oysters will be one of our sponsors at the Oyster Century Club's screening of Shellshocked: Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves. Having just tasted her oysters I can attest to their lovely flavor. Abigail will be bringing oysters to share with us.

 

Nonesuch Oysters is a young, eco-friendly oyster farm located within a nature conservancy at Nonesuch Point in Scarborough, just south of Portland. Our Scarborough River is one of few in Maine to boasts outstanding natural resource waters. Home to these great-tasting, healthy oysters!

Already among Maine's favorites, Nonesuch Oysters are gaining fame nationwide for their bright, fresh, salty-sweet flavor with a delicate grassy undertone. In 2012, Nonesuch Oysters received the "Outstanding Micro Business of the Year" award from Scarborough Economic Development Corp.

Nonesuch Oysters have been showcased on the menu at New York’s celebrated James Beard House and the Grand Central Oyster Bar. We also received a lovely write-up in Rowan Jacobsen's, A Geography of Oysters website.

Our Oysters and Movie Night

We will be screening the award-winning documentary, Shellshocked which looks back at oysters' hey day in NYC which was then the oyster capital of the world, then look forward with the help of some very special guests at what is being done locally to restore oysters to their important place in our ecosystem.

Guests will include:

Dr. Anamarija Frankic, of UMass Boston:

Dr. Frankic, Associate Director of the School for the Environment at UMass, Boston, will discuss the exciting new field of biomimicry and how it can be used to restore our coastal environment.  She will describe the Green Harbors Project she created with UMass students to explore through "LivingLabs" what nature would do to improve conditions in the harbor.  Professor Frankic is also an adjunct professor at the Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography in Croatia and has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to establish a biomimicry course and the LivingLabs program in Croatia.

Andrew Jay, President of Massachusetts Oyster Project

Andrew Jay is the President of the Massachusetts Oyster Project.  The organization is dedicated to restoring oysters to the Commonwealth's estuaries. Mass Oyster has four primary activities- oyster shell recycling, education, direct oyster restoration, supporting other restoration programs. You can learn more at www.massoyster.org.
Many thanks to Les Zygomates for hosting this event. Please register via EventBrite, here The Oyster Century Club Presents...as seats are limited by space.
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Go Here, Eat This - Washington D.C. Edition - MintwoodPlace, Ripple

Some relationships are difficult from the get-go. You get started on the wrong foot and you're never confident you're on solid ground. Sometimes you take a long break, then a brief encounter seduces you into thinking, "this could work." It rarely does. But not all relationships are created equal. Do they all need to be "the one"? Can't they be an occasional dalliance and can't we celebrate that? Be in the moment when we're in it and not expect more?

I'm speaking, of course, of my relationship with our Capitol city. I'm speaking of Washington, D.C.

First, I have to acknowledge that my initial introduction to this complex city was as a young teen, living in a suburb, chafing at the last hold of my parents' authority. I spent probably a good 50% of my entire time there calculating my escape in one way or another. I was like a prisoner with a life sentence and an elaborate escape plan. I tried once or twice at age 14. I needed bigger spoons. And an accomplice.

At 17 I made my final escape. The accomplice, like so many inmates, was predictably untrustworthy, but we got me out. I escaped to college in New York and I never looked back.

As an adult, I've gone back to visit family once or twice a year. Usually, I'm struck by the suffocating humidity and I return North to Boston, assured that I will never move South again.

Then, once in a great while, something magical happens. You're surrounded by art and history, a fluttering shower of Cherry Blossoms and you're enchanted.

A recent visit had the odds stacked in D.C.'s favor, like catching someone right after they've walked out of the hair salon, a massage, or a really good session of therapy, or sex. D.C. was at her best even with unseasonably warm springtime weather. But D.C. had Catherine in her favor. She benefitted from the reflected glow of this force of nature en route from Dhaka to Kyiv and I was smitten all over again. As we talked and walked and drank and ate - trying to make up for too few such stretches of uninterrupted solo time, we noticed how green D.C. is. Trees everywhere. We noticed that the cross walk lights give you a civilized 30-something seconds to cross the street. (Boston starts blinking stop 10 seconds after it gives you the walk sign, drivers are revving their engines by the time you're mid-crosswalk.)

People are nice in D.C. They say "please" and "thank you" and they smile. They chat and they don't look at you like you're an escapee from the local looney bin when you initiate a conversation. There's a Southern gentility about the way people interact.

There's poverty, yes. But there's also a ton of money. Which means a ton of good dining options for those of us lucky enough. I guess it's partially due to all those lobbyists with expense accounts.

Well, we enjoyed the best of city that weekend. We popped in to see our friend Hope (the diamond, yes THAT one), took in some fabulous Asian art, and enjoyed some very good meals. Lots of laughs. Gratitude. Book stores, shoe stores, jewelry, parks. Did I mention drinks? And Food?

MINTWOOD Place

I called on Twitter pals in D.C. for reco's on where to eat. This was one of my friend Shulie's choices and what a great time it was. Discretion does not allow me to show off some jewels that bedazzled, but let's just say "over the top" might come to mind. (As all good Asians know, markets can be volatile, jewelry is an asset you can hold on to.) We started with craft cocktails; a Marilyn Monroe (Hibiscus Infused High West Vodka, Royal Combier, Lime, Cranberry & Orange bitters) for La Cecil and a Woodrow Wilson (Boomsma Jonge Genever, Hum Liquor, Elderflower, Cava) for me.

Mintwood Place Food and Drink

As MINTWOOD Place emphasizes local, farm-to-table seasonal foods, I could not help myself. We ordered from every part of the menu, even when only one of us was interested in a dish (calf's heart for me, eye-catching dessert for her. Saved again by the dairy allergy.) L to R: Woodrow Wilson cocktail; Blistered Shishito Peppers and Maple Pork Cracklins; Whole Boneless Royal Dorade with braised fennel and Picholine olives; Wood-grilled confit calf's heart salad over baby collards. Every bite was fantastic.

I highly recommend MINTWOOD place and I'll go back any chance I get.

tel 202.234.6732 email hello@mintwoodplace.com 1813 Columbia Rd. NW, WDC 20009 Mondays CLOSED Tuesday - Thursday 5:30pm - 10:30pm Friday & Saturday 5:30pm - 11:30pm Saturday & Sunday Brunch 10:30am - 2:30pm Sunday 5:30pm - 9:30pm

 

Ripple

I'm tickled by Ripple. It's possible they intend a clever play on the association with cheap wine. It's also possible I'm the only one that thinks that it's just a reminder of  the ripples on the water . Dip a toe in, I promise you they've got a fantastic wine list. But then, why take my word for it when Wine Enthusiast picks it as among the Top 100. More on the wine in a moment. The ripples spread out first course, entrees, cheeses, desserts...

Don't you love these tiles?

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Decor is usually not the first thing I talk about, and readers know I'd eat in a hole-in-the-wall with good food. However, it's a good sign when the first thing you do walking into a place is to begin imagining how this or that would look great in your own place. It's plush, elegant, like your very cool, better paid, imaginary older sister's place. You think "those cushions for my sofa" "those tiles for my kitchen backsplash...Oh wait!~"

That is the moment you spy the cheese cart. And a fromagier who is happy to tell you precisely which of the cheeses is peaking - just today.

This is going to be a good meal.

Ripple DC

And it was good, much better than good.

Local, sustainable, all that I love can sometimes be wonderfully rustic. Here, it is decidedly elegant. Sophisticated - did I say that already? - there's a skilled and thoughtful chef at work here.

And a young female sommelier who knew exactly what we would enjoy when we described what we were leaning towards.

I'd had this once before and forgotten about it. A winemaker who took over her family's winery, Elisabetta Foradori produces the most elegant wines, beautiful mineral backbone, courtesy of the Dolomites, biodynamic since 2009.

The fruit and earth are beautifully balanced with Syrah-like tannins opening over mid-palate. It worked well with our food and I'd love to be drinking a glass right now.

wine

Somehow I missed the pig on the way in, but snapped a pic on the way out.

I'd return here any time and highly recommend it.

RippleDC

Open Daily at 5pm Sunday Brunch 11:00am-2:30pm 202.244.7995 3417 Connecticut Ave NW, DC

 

Celebrate National Oyster Day with the Oyster Century Club

Oyster Century Club  

Right Here, Right Now

  • Celebrate National Oyster Day with The Oyster Century Club and Maré Oyster Bar! Rachel will be joining us. Rachel has been interning with me and recently went back to school at Rhode Island School of Design. I asked her to take a crack at designing a logo for us and am thrilled with the results! Come meet Rachel and enjoy half price oysters and clams during our Tweetup Monday, hashtag #oyster100
  • It seems there's been a rash of oyster  thefts on the Cape. This is not only just plain wrong, it hurts tourism built around our burgeoning oyster industry. Hope the next news on this is better.
  • One of my favorite local writers is Tamar Haspel, publisher of Starving off the Land. You've read her in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and more. She and her husband are now farming oysters. Barnstable Oysters "Practice Shellfishness" is underway and we hope one day soon we can host an Oyster Century Club event featuring these babies. Read Time, tide, and temperature — Starving off the Land to learn more about what Tamar & Kevin are up to.

 

Coming Soon

First Light Oysters - Mashpee Wampanoag - I recently learned about these oysters being raised by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. We're hoping to plan a tasting in the near future.

Shellshocked: Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves - I'm working on a screening of this oyster documentary coupled with a tasting. Stay tuned for more info.

 

About the Oyster Century Club

We're a merry band of oyster lovers working our way to tasting 100 varieties. By joining the club (see sidebar) you are entitled to prizes, giveaways and special deals at Oyster Century Club sponsors. When you log 100 varieties you'll get a certificate marking the accomplishment. So far at least one of us, Larry Yu, passed the quarter century mark, tasting 25 varieties.

 

I'm up to 50 - how about you?

 

Oyster lunch

 

 

Salmonella and the City

Food trucks are hot. Diarrhea is not. We love our food in Boston and the number of food trucks and popups has made good, inventive food even more accessible than ever. Unfortunately, bad food happens.

There's bad food, and then there's food that literally makes you sick.

Salmonella

According to the website of foodborne illness expert litigator, Bill Marler: Salmonellosis (the disease caused by Salmonella) is the second most common foodborne illness after Campylobacter infection. It is estimated that 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis occur each year in the U.S.; 95% of those cases are foodborne-related.

When I heard about the Salmonella outbreak and its link to Clover Food Labs, I was as surprised as the next person. I've been a Clover fan since they parked at Dewey Square. I never would have suspected this outbreak from them.

Because I'm a big fan of our local farmers' markets and food trucks, people began to ask me questions. I also wondered if Clover gets its supplies from our same farmers, would I possibly have produce, meat or eggs in my fridge that I should get rid of? I set out to get more info.

I began checking various sources:

- Clover's site. Which seemed to suggest it was a statewide outbreak.

- The Executive Office of Health Human Services. Site has an "active alert" system but no information on various pages about any statewide outbreak.

- Main switchboard at EOHHS told me they had "no idea" about any statewide Salmonella outbreak.

- They referred me to Foodborne Illness. "Not us."

-  They referred me to Health Labs "Epidemiology" Left message.

- They referred me to Public Health - no information.

Then I called the Public Health Commissioner's office: Cheryl Bartlett's assistant said she had no idea why there was no information on the site, agreed I shouldn't keep getting transferred or referred from office to office. She asked me to hold while she tried to find someone with an answer. No luck.

- She took my number and I got a call back from someone indicating there was an "ongoing investigation" and informed me the "active alert" button was for emergencies only, such as tornadoes. She said the outbreak "was not statewide and only 12 cases had been reported." No causation had yet been identified but there is an active investigation. I asked why the public could not get this information from the website. Why are there so many offices and not one of them who might logically be aware of an outbreak and investigation of Salmonella (a foodborne illness that one might think is a public health issue?) was able to provide any information? No answer. Why was there not even a simple message on the site indicating 12 cases had been identified and that there was an active investigation? No answer.

Talk about frustrating.

What the Clover Owner Wants You to Know About the Food Poisoning Investigation | BostInno.

What the Clover Owner Wants You to Know About the Food Poisoning Investigation | BostInno

 That's our nasty little bug, Salmonella.

Wherefore are Thou Inspectional Services?

I think the state, the city could do a better job at food safety. Why doesn't Boston have the rating system that California or New York use? Citizens are able to see at a glance that regular inspections are occurring, and a letter grade  or a pass/fail is posted in the window of each establishment.

I guess we'd have to have regular inspections in place. This is not the first time I've tried to get information about our Inspectional Services practices and policies but clearly, we the public deserve to know SOMEONE is looking at the safety of food that is being served to us.

As rumors swirl about the food handling practices at Clover, wouldn't it be best to spend that energy asking for accountability and transparency from our tax-supported public servants charged with food safety?

I applaud Clover's attempts at transparency even while I don't agree with the handling of some of the questions, it does seem from the Globe's correction that they are guilty of some sloppy reporting.

If you want to learn more about Salmonella, there's good info on the WebMD site here as well as more detailed info and sources at Bill Marler's site.

If you want to learn more about this particular outbreak - good luck. The best I could get was "under investigation" and zero explanation for how and when the public would be privy to causation.

We should expect better from all involved.

Taking a Dim Sum View - Chinese New Year Whets Foodies' Appetites

Since we're approaching the Chinese New Year people are getting excited about banquets (like the Boston Food Tours special Chinese New Year tour and banquet) and poking around the edges of Chinese food maybe more than they usually do.

lion dance 2008

Why not take our tour, or even throw your own Chinese New Year party? Here' are two excellent books to help you prepare your own Chinese New Year event:

 

If you are approaching Chinese food as a spectator sport, definitely get your hands on the latest Lucky Peach - Chinatown edition (!)

luckpeach

 

 

 

 

 

and have a look at this Wall Street Journal piece on dim sum: Taking a Dim Sum View - WSJ.com.

 

Go Here, Eat This: Shōjō Restaurant

Where to Go? What to Order?

Looking for a place to eat in Boston? The “must-try” spot for Chinese food? Dumplings? Dim Sum?

My favorite burger? Pizza? A Gluten-free joint? Who does the best dollar oysters? Roast pig?

People often ask me where they should eat in Boston and what they should order when they get there. In these “Go Here, Eat This” quick posts, I share notes of good spots to eat, highlighting what’s unique about the place, including some of my favorite dishes, house specialities, indicative of the cuisine, or just ones that I really enjoy.

I’ll also try to note things like whether the place is friendly to those with allergies, or disabilities, etc. Just stuff you ought to know.

Where to Go:

Shōjō Restaurant

9 Tyler St  Boston, MA 02111 (617) 423-7888 Lunch: Mon - Fri 11 -3 Dinner:  Mon - Sat 530 - 11 Bar: Fri - Sat 530 -1

There's a new restaurant in Chinatown and this may not be news, in and of itself; but this one is is noteworthy for both its pedigree (the China Pearl owners' next generation is at the helm and the benefits of the inside track are clear: they opened in August but on local entertainment rag already touted them one of the best in July) and its direction. It deserves some attention.

The desire here is very clear: to become a destination restaurant for those who don't normally venture into Chinatown. Decor, a bar menu and familiar foods and tastes, make Shojo the sort of spot you could take a friend to when he or she normally avoids Chinatown for whatever the reason. Trust me, I've heard them all. Even from friends who proudly proclaim they walk through Chinatown to get to PF Changs. Not even kidding. I predict Shojo will continue to draw the crowd I saw during lunch. One or two tables of diners who looked like adventurers giving the new spot a try and the rest looked like residents of nearby cube farms in the FiDi or workers at Tufts. Younger, more diverse and clearly enjoying the food.

While I've only been once, and it was during the $5/5 month anniversary menu (good time to try it!), and while our meal was comped when my friend's advance inquiry to the PR folks apparently got through, I'm fairly confident I could recommend you'd get the same experience without the benefit of the Passionate Foodie's advance work.

To watch - allergies:

As a diner with allergies, I must point out that my dairy allergy had been accounted for when I arrived. A nice surprise! Chinatown is generally safe from dairy concerns, but when you get into fusion butter creeps in...

Each item on the lunch menu had been marked to indicate which dishes were safe for me to choose from. This level of care is hard to find and leads one to feel your health, and your dining experience, are in good hands. When our first course came out, (marked as verboten for me) we were hard-pressed to determine where the dairy might be. Upper left, these were fried pork dumplings, rather like an empanada. I asked our server to check - was there dairy in the dough perhaps? It had been left off my approved list and Rich was really enjoying them...

Turned out the "dairy" was only an egg wash. Egg, as we now know, is NOT from a cow's udder so it was fine for me to enjoy and I did. Herein lies the dilemma for a diner with allergies: If the kitchen is confused about whether egg is safe or not for a dairy-allergic diner, what else are they confused about when it comes to allergies? Many chefs erroneously believe, for example that removing nuts from a salad already plated makes it safe for a guest with nut allergies. Not so. Others believe frying alleviates the issue. I'm happy they erred on the side of safety here, but was it a conscious - if misguided choice - or simply misinformation? For some, this could be a life-threatening choice. Happily for me, I was reasonably confident after a conversation with the server that the rest of my meal would be safe to consume.

 

What to Eat:

Of the dishes we sampled, I'd recommend especially the wonton soup, the Damn Damn Noodles and the curry.

Middle: Spicy red wonton soup was very nice. A departure from the typical light chicken broth, this had a bit of heat and sour notes, as well. The dumplings were delicate.

The dish on the upper right: "Damn Damn Noodles" presumably a play on "Dan Dan Noodles" which are not peanut butter -sesame noodles as is commonly assumed but a noodle dish with a meat sauce. Anyway, this rendition was lightly sweet and savory bits of meat laced through fresh noodles and topped with an egg, a nice touch.

Shojo Restaurant Boston

Lower row, L to R:

Grilled chicken curry - a large boneless chicken breast served atop white rice in a spicy red curry (not Chinese in origin, but drawing from Thai flavors). Again, a slightly non traditional version of a familiar dish, rendered well.

Middle: these are a play on the traditional Chinese pastry "jian dwai" glutinous rice flour wrapped around red bean paste or lotus seed paste, rolled in sesame and fried. Here the filling was chocolate.

Right: a jellied coconut milk, firmer than panna cotta or jello, mild flavored, bathed in a lovely berry puree.

Unique about this place:

Unlike many spots in Chinatown (Q hot pot the notable exception), this has a bar you could enjoy on its own. The food is clearly designed to draw a younger crowd, less likely to venture out and explore the neighborhood. I hope Shojo succeeds at drawing folks here. Once in Chinatown, they might feel more comfortable about returning.

The bar menu is on my "to try" list, we couldn't at our lunch this time as both of us had to be crisp (rather than toasted) for the remainder of our afternoons. I was pleased to see that drinks were made with in-house infusions rather than the ubiquitous flavored vodkas. A few were quite intriguing.

I'm interested in some dinner menu items and also need to explore the website claims of "local" - I'll update this post when I've returned.

Best Bites of 2012

I was asked to contribute to the best bites list - a compilation of media folks' recommendations published by Boston's Hidden Restaurants. Given the stellar company, I can't hope to provide a secret favorite or a yet-to-be-discovered spot (although I DO know of a new dumpling house coming to Chinatown - scoop!)

I took a different approach. What are some of the unexpected spots or standout dishes at perhaps surprising spots that I'd recommend?

Here, then are my picks for the...

Best Bites of 2012

Oysters at Mare Oyster Bar - selection that’s hard to beat, perfectly shucked. Sure there are tons of good oyster bars in town now, but this was a surprising addition to a North End spot and I've not had a more perfectly shucked, diverse dozen anywhere.

Cassoulet at Les Zygomates - just wonderfully rendered version of this home-style dish, the tagines are pretty terrific, too.

Sichuan dumplings at New Shanghai - The Sichuan chili oil defines tantalizing.

Sichuan dumpling

Ramen or soba at Pai Men Miyake - okay it’s in Portland, but it takes less time to drive there than it does to wait on line at any top ramen spot in Boston. I don't believe anyone in Boston even does yakitori over binchotan coal...the motsu (pork intestine yakitori) might be the single bite that stands out this year.

yakitori Pai Men Miyake

Red Wattle heirloom pork and barley dish at Russell House Tavern. An off-the-menu item that is worth asking for. If enough of us do, maybe Chef Scelfo will put it on the menu? This luscious barley and Red Wattle fat is the stuff of dreams.

Clams at Enzo in Newburyport - off the charts umami, Enzo is a perfect marriage of sustainable, local ingredients, contemporary interpretations of traditional Ligurian dishes. These are Woodbury clams and the Striper that day was also amazing. What I love is that the Chef Reilly is confident enough to let the technique and the ingredients speak for themselves. No ego on the plate, getting in the way.

Enzo Clams

 

Two final thoughts:

I had the most ethereal falafel at the new Piperi, haven't been back but I bet it's going to be just as good next time. And, the head cheese at 51 Lincoln (in addition to other dishes there) were so good, I was sad to realize that it was 2011 when last I was there. Must remedy that!

Go Here, Eat This: Mare Oyster Bar

"Go Here, Eat This" is my series of mini-restaurant reviews. Instead of a full blown standard review, I give a simple recommendation of dishes to try at various spots I've enjoyed.  To find other recommendations, search on "Go Here, Eat This". Mangia Bene! Boston's North End, our "little Italy" section of the city, is chock-full of great discoveries. Like its European counterparts, this is a village you can wander aimlessly in, and one that provides an array of wonderful discoveries. Even frequent visitors and locals get pleasant surprises now and then. Such was the case a month or so ago when we wandered out on a warm late-Autumn afternoon and discovered the newly renovated Mare now includes...a raw bar!

Mare collage

We sat looking at a beautiful handwritten menu behind the bar, with a dining room behind us that looked for all the world like some spot in South Beach. Sun flooded the room, some less-than-gracious tourists shouted at servers, and a gentle breeze moved through huge open windows.

Mare Dining Room

Naturally, my attention was focused on this spread of oysters. As the founder of the Oyster Century Club© it is my duty to scout out the best oyster selections, the cleanest shuckers, the deals. It's work I take seriously.

Excellent Oyster Selection

Mare might have the best shucker in town. I had a dozen oysters, each pristinely shucked, not a bit of shell and no oysters nicked. This selection blew me away. I had six varieties in my dozen, several that were new to me:

  • Stony Island, Orleans, MA
  • Little Pleasant Bay, South Orleans, MA
  • Black Fish Creek, Wellfleet, MA
  • Sunken Meadows, Eastham, MA
  • Rock Creek, Orleans, MA
  • Belons, Darmariscotta, ME

 

Doc ordered two items: both delicious and well-prepared. Shrimp pizetta and pulpo (octopus). I have known Mare as a restaurant promoting sustainable seafood. In fact, my introduction to them was at a sustainable seafood dinner. Disclaimer: these two items (shrimp and octopus) are two that are difficult to source sustainably; so I'm not sure if their appearance on the menu signals a departure or if there is info that just wasn't available to us about the sourcing. If I get

pizza shrimp

 

pulpo

 

Mare Oyster Bar

Open for Dinner Sunday - Friday 4 - 11 PM and Saturday 2 - 11 PM

135 Richmond St., Boston 617.723.6273

 

To learn more about sourcing sustainable seafood:

 

The oyster bar at Mare is fantastic and oysters are a sustainable seafood you can enjoy without worry.

Mare Oysters

Mare Oysters - before

oysters done

Mare Oysters - after

Go Here, Eat This: Russell House Tavern (and a send off for Jen!)

When people think of Russell House Tavern, they often think of charcuterie, meat, sausages, and pork. All these are rendered beautifully but don't overlook the expert kitchen offerings in other areas: Russell House Tavern

One of the things Chef Michael Scelfo and staff do so well is to source locally raised and grown foods, whether it's Brambly Farms pigs, or local herbs and fruit, you will have a sense of the place and the season on your plate at Russell House Tavern. The fish (above) was amazing, striper if memory serves. The salads were so artfully composed it called to mind the phrase "we eat first with our eyes" and we really did enjoy feasting on these beautiful dishes.

Russell House Tavern Tartare

Steak tartare can be like Russian Roulette if you talk to food safety experts, they'd probably advise against it. Here is an example of the benefits of local, sustainable meats. I would never eat steak tartar if it were food service beef. No accountability or traceability to safe, humane, clean slaughterhouses, no true food safety. In the hands of a thoughtful chef, I'm secure in the knowledge that my risk is well within limits I'm comfortable with.

As our friend Jen leaves us for the wilds of Milwaukee, becoming the publisher of Edible Milwaukee as she turns a tender 29 (is this a record?) - we will celebrate her incredible accomplishment and devotion to local sustainable foods and chefs like Michael Scelfo with a farewell dinner tonight. I don't relish the thought of saying good bye to her, but I'm glad to be celebrating her in such a perfect spot, and happy for the food-minded folks in Milwaukee.

Abundance of many things to look forward to tonight, and gratitude.

 

Go Here, Eat This: Pai Men Miyake

Most of my "Go Here, Eat This" posts focus on places in Boston. Today I'm going to encourage you to take a little trip. If you wanted to find genuine ramen, farm-fresh ingredients, locally raised, organic meats; if you wanted to discover the joy of true yakitori seared over binchotan coal; if you craved a new local oyster you're not going to find at your local Boston raw bar; you could take a trip to Japan.

Or, you could take a short road-trip North of Boston to Portland, Maine.

It is so worth the drive...Here's why...Pai Men Miyake.

Pai Men Miyake

It's a terrific local spot that features farm fresh produce and meats. As in THEIR farm. Really, how can you improve on that for sourcing?

See that fire on the stove on the right there? That's intentional. It's Binchotan coal. We'll get to that in a moment. First, we had to try the pork buns because the meat comes from pigs they raise. Besides, who doesn't want to start with pork buns?

I was delighted to find that two oysters were offered and one of them I'd not only never had, I'd never heard of. John's River Oysters are from the local river. Pemaquids we do see from time to time here. Housemade cocktails and mocktails were excellent as well. I also tried a local microbrew that was fine to accompany the yakitori.

Pai Men Miyake Pork Buns

Binchotan is a very special compressed "white" Japanese charcoal that burns extremely hot and evenly. It is precisely the type of coal one needs to produce proper Yakitori. Mad proper, yo. Too often some insipid chicken on a skewer slathered in teriyaki sauce passes for Yaktori. 'Tis an abomination, I tell you! Yakitori is perhaps the Japanese version of Nose-to-Tail whole beast cookery, taking many bits of different animals often the ones discarded and turning them into enticing little bites on skewers. I could make a meal of them.

  • Kawa - Crispy chicken skin - what's not to love.
  • Bonjiri - Chicken tail - the fat and crispy skin bonus bite.
  • Butabara - Pork belly - easy to love.
  • Motsu - Pork intestine - amazing, the slightest earthiness gives a hint of its origins but really appealing and yes, delicious.
  • Gyu tan - Beef tongue - tender in a way that the tongue in a deli sandwich hopes to be.

Pai Men Miyake - Yakitori

And finally, the noodles. This is the thing we came for. I had been whining about the lack of proper ramen in Boston. I'm excited we may finally be getting a ramen-ya in Porter Square (I know there's the food court inside the Porter Exchange, but I cannot queue up for an hour for ramen. Constitutionally incapable.)

The middle bowl is kake soba. Konbu and shiitake broth. The dark green is wakame, a sea vegetable and scallion. The broth was so umami-rich, I nearly asked to switch.

I ordered the house ramen pai tan ramen is a pork and chicken broth. That's a slice of their home grown pork belly, a soy-marinated egg that hovered in creamy deliciousness between poached and hard boiled. Crispy sheaf of nori. This dish took me straight back to Tokyo. Actually, for the second time. The yakitori had me recalling my trip to Japan maybe 15 years ago now. I ventured out one night on my own and ended up in an Izakaya style restaurant that specialized in yakitori. The only thing that would have made that night any better would have been to share it with someone.

Well, at least we now have each other, Doc. And, thanks to your sleuthiness, we have Pai Men Miyake. Can't wait to go back!

 

 

Pai men Miyake

188 State St, Portland, Maine Tel: 207-541-9204

Hours:

Monday-Saturday 12pm-12am Sunday 12pm-10pm

 

Oyster Century Club Hosts First Tweetup, Second Event Announced

Our first Tweetup of the Oyster Century Club© included dozens and dozens of oysters, a dozen or so members, friends, a couple of significant others and obviously, ample wine.  

zygomates tweetup Oyster Century Club

 

Lovely selection - Big Thanks to our special sponsor Les Zygomates. One of the top raw bars in the city with a daily Oyster Happy Hour - $1 oysters Monday through Friday from 4 PM - 6 PM. Can you beat that?

Yes, actually you can!

Special for Oyster Century Club members only: Show your tasting sheet at Les Zygomates and receive a free half dozen oysters along with any full bottle of wine you order. Sounds like a great reason to head over for some oysters, don't you think?

We sipped, slurped, laughed and laughed. And for the members, there was a raffle. The prize went to Rachel Black, one of our first Oyster Century Club members. Congratulations Rachel! Hope you enjoy this saké service and simple but elegant design that allows you to ice the saké without diluting it.

Glass Sake Set

 

Perfect for World Saké Day! In case you're wondering, sake and oysters are a perfect pairing. Find out why here from Rich Auffrey, Slurping Oysters, Sipping Saké. (hint: umami plays a part.)

 

SAVE THE DATE:

October 11 - A shucking demo open to oyster lovers everywhere held at Whole Foods Market (Charles River Plaza) from 6:30 PM - 7:30 PM. "Aw Shucks -

 

Stay tuned for more prizes to be raffled and for upcoming events.

 

 

Paul Barron Explores Restaurants, Social Media with me and Tom O'Keefe. We have an Ice Cream Date!

I was delighted to be invited to appear as a guest on Coco TV, the brainchild of Paul Barron (The Chipotle Effect) who seeks to "help restaurants change the planet." Peruse Paul's site, DigitalCoco to see more about what they're doing to help companies harness analytics. Tom (AKA Boston Tweet) and I were chosen to share our thoughts on how "local" and "social" intersect here in Boston. (Funny our first "Tom and Jackie" show was on pizza and this one ends with ice cream. How is it I got this damn dairy allergy again?) Barron is taking his show on the virtual road, filming a series across ten US cities investigating what influencers are seeing in local markets. How are restaurants using social media to enhance, broaden and deepen their relationships with consumers? What trends are emerging?

I caught up with Paul for some follow up questions while he was en route to present at a conference in Miami. It was a fascinating conversation reaching into future and reflecting on the changes he's seen in the fast casual restaurant segment since his early days at Microsoft.

Back to the Future

In the early days of technology's presence in restaurants, the industry resisted the use of POS touch screens that are today, ubiquitous. "It was like we were bringing them something from Mars. They were still using registers and paper tickets. A restaurant that might've been doing $700 could increase sales to 1.2 million with the right technology." Will tablets replace the touch screens? Perhaps.

Barron sees a parallel with social media in that many in the industry are almost being dragged into the world of social media. "Now when we can show them that consumers, armed with smart phones, can be your best evangelists or your worst enemies. When we analyze the data from venue check-ins, Instagram, etc. we see overlap. In the sandwich segment, we're tracking the top 50 brands. The top 5 in social media stats, were also in the top ten in venue mentions. We went one layer one more and found that these top five also had higher - 70% higher - referral scores in Trip Advisor and Yelp. That's pretty significant ROI, it shows social and local work to increase positive reviews and referrals."

The technology available to consumers today, the use of apps and the drive toward social media connections is as revolutionary, maybe the first real overhaul in the industry since the invention of the automobile.

Beyond an Accumulation of Likes

I asked Paul what companies are doing besides accumulating "Likes" on Facebook. "Most companies are not analyzing the data they get from Facebook, etc. There is gold in that data. If they can starts to identify patterns including  what we call “circular patterns”, they will reap huge rewards."

"For example, if you "Like" J.P. Licks on Facebook, and you're connected to me. And even if I had never heard of J.P. Licks, don't even live in Boston, but we are connected and share an interest in culinary, I can become a fan because of your influence. I travel to Boston frequently, I can become a customer and a fan. Imagine all the people in your circles that live in Boston..."

"Companies have this gold mine of the connections, the audience, your "likes" connect your people and your brands. It's huge."

Beyond that? "Cross-competitive data set, THAT analysis, will be the next frontier, we have just begun to scrape the surface, seeing some trends in more advanced brands like Starbucks are starting down the path. Who in your circle is eating elsewhere that might be eating instead at my restaurant?"

Predictions and Ice Cream

Paul shared an intriguing prediction. In the future, Facebook and Twitter will go the way of MySpace. These closed networks will flourish for a few more years, and more open networks will emerge. Leading brands that embrace technology will create their own open network. "Starbucks has 30 million facebook fans - that could swing the election - imagine that influence if Starbucks picked a side and influenced 30 million fans..."

Facebook and Twitter don't know it yet, but their days may be numbered if Barron is correct.

"Social poaching, it's starting already. Brands are starting to take their own audience to their own networks. Look at what Red Bull is doing on YouTube. It's not just selling energy drinks. With its YouTube content creation, it will become the ESPN of YouTube. If brands are smart, they'll realize they are not selling a product as much as they are selling a lifestyle. They're connecting consumers to their brand. This could completely shift the way the landscape looks today."

"Starbucks is sort of doing it on their digital network, imagine what is possible, it could reformat media, journalism." said Barron.

I hope to be on the side of those doing that reformatting, along with Paul and other forward-thinkers. For my part, I think of the social media as the kitchen in the virtual house party. We gravitate there and the fun starts when come together over a meal.

Nothing is more exciting than thinking about the ways the food on our plate can not only bring us together but also make the world a better place. Thanks Paul, for sharing your thoughts on this exciting time and the changes you're seeing.

And next time you're in Boston, J.P. Licks is on me!

 

 

  • What are your observations about how Boston restaurants use Social Media?
  • Who's getting it right? Who could do better and how?