Wine Love for my Servers Chapter One: Marques de Murrieta

I have a lot of smart people in my life. The smartest among them suggested I post the weekly wine tutelage I give to my staff. With some trepidation, I do so, and here it is!  

BY Deborah Hansen | 0 Comment(s)

Back at the Stove, a Luddite no more

Back at the Stove, a Luddite no more

My restaurant didn’t even have a website until the summer 2007. This was when I bought out my partner and became sole-owner of Taberna de Haro. Since fate had so decisively catapulted me onto such new and un-manicured paths, I figured a hot date with the 21st century was also in order. My first website was colorful and appealing. Sensual. My favorite feature was that there was no way for me to update it or manage it in any way. Luckily in this tumultuous time of change for me, there was a welcome and flattering flurry of mentions, articles, and kudos in most of Boston’s publications, and my little Taberna flourished. “What a great publicist you have,” commented more than a few. Nope, no publicist. Word of mouth buoyed me and my fellow owner-operated restaurants, nary a Tweet nor a FB post required to make an honest living using your rough hands and firey heart.

I worked around the clock, filling the gap my departed partner had left both in the restaurant and at home. When the Fall of 2008 happened, we tightened our belts. I redoubled my support of WBUR to remind locals of my reasonably-priced establishment, and emerged from the recession lean and grateful. I still had yet to open a Facebook page or a Twitter account. “Have you ever thought of a publicist?” many queried.

By 2012 it was time for me to grow - or face obsolete-dom. The Seaport district was swelling with jumbo restaurants with their enormous advertising budgets, and chain steakhouses arrived on the scene with their formidable heft. ‘BIG’ became the trend. Two small local publications past away, The Phoenix and Stuff, leaving us small restaurants with two less trumpets. Local and much-loved chefs began to open second and even third spaces, and I was still just a little spot where nothing BIG nor exciting really happened, unless you count the yearly Wine Spectator Award for my BIG Spanish wine list and the bristlingly fresh sardines and razor clams I served a few times a month. I would have hired a publicist, but there was nothing new to publicize.

When the space next door to me here on Beacon St. opened up, I felt fate nudging me down paths unknown once again. A 60 seat restaurant? A bar with big-girl cocktails and comfy high chairs? A hostess and a Sous Chef? A bookkeeper? Yes, to all of it. And loans! And a Twitter account! And a frenzy of photos on the Taberna de Haro Facebook page touting the gorgeous specials my talented Sous Chef makes! A shiny new website that requires managing and posting! And, a publicist.

My days became consumed with e-mails, Tweets about Spanish wine, posts, blogs, managing a staff that had double in size, and mostly, learning the language of TechSpeak so I could effectively maintain said website. I learned to send newsletters from it, no small feat considering the language of each aspect (layout, colors, photos, importing addresses, text, etc.) is different from the other. Not even my graduate degree in language helped me with this. I learned about pixels and sizing each photo appropriately for each separate spot on the site. Why would they be consistent with one another?? I learned that when your Unsubscribe button malfunctions, you lose customers. I learned that when you find something to get passionate about, something truly exciting and reasonably unique like roasted suckling pig, you may thrill your foodie base but you alienate your vegetarian friends. I learned that the contacts of a good publicist get you mentioned here and there, but don’t fill your restaurant like a good old fashioned review did way, way back in the late ’90’s and early 00’s. ( I knew I needed a publicist when Eater, who also loves BIG, did a full-page, detailed review of the new tapa bar chain that opened in Brookline last year - 2 days before it had even opened! Clearly the words of a publicist, verbatim, on the page). I learned that Yelp is the Power of the People in a way that democracy only dreams of being, and it needs to be properly respected and managed. I learned that it is very sweet when people ‘Like’ your sensual food photos on FB, but this doesn’t pay the rent. I’ve crunched numbers late into many nights to understand my intimate relationship with the bank - and I’ve concluded that Boston needs double the number of residents to support all the new restaurants that have opened in the past few years. I also concluded that I missed having calloused hands and burned wrists.

Dizzy from all the news and words and buttons and worries, I have re-entrenched myself, elbow deep once again, into the olive-and pig-scented soul of the Spanish cuisine I so adore. Artichokes, lentils, goats, endives, sheep cheeses, anchovies, saffron, quince, blood sausage, eggplants, sweetbreads, flan, smokey paprika and sherry vinegar all bring me peace and thrill in equal parts. Back in the kitchen, a Luddite no longer, I am cooking more than ever at Taberna de Haro, as well as writing a cookbook. And I know 2014 will be a BIG year!
Deborah Hansen

 

BY Deborah Hansen | 0 Comment(s)
  • October 29, 2013

Mission: Authenticity

How do you like that feeling when you are slightly but not hopelessly lost in a new city or country, when the signs don’t make sense, and nothing looks nor smells familiar? I, for one, adore it. Forget the map app. I just try to enjoy the sensation of new territory, because it smacks of adventure. Our hunter-gatherer brains tell us to be wary of new terrain and all its foodstuffs for there may be danger lurking behind every street-food vendor and each barely-marked hole in the wall eatery, but I relish this sensation. I do not claim to have evolved much from my hunter-gatherer past. To the contrary. I just like to relax into the dumbness of my cerebral cortex and follow my nose. The frontal lobe of my somewhat-evolved brain may say to me “Street food here? Utterly devoid of any sanitation principles? Unrecognizable victuals? Don’t do it! Belly turbulence guaranteed!” But I let my reptilian brain stem override this reasoning and I buy the food on a stick with the stinging sauce that two pairs of hands (that I saw, anyway) touched. I eat it with the thrill of several senses. It’s colorful. It’s fatty. It’s warm. It’s spicy. It’s new and different! And that un-marked closet-cum dining spot? I venture in. No one understands me, I understand no one. I point, I hold out some crumpled cash, and wait for whatever arrives while savvier customers jostle me and slurp. I savor my plate of the new and unknown, noodles in some animal’s broth with vegetables I cannot name. I am nourishing my body with different foods and forging more neuron paths in my brain as it grapples with the new.

You see, authentic food experiences force us up and out of the grooved rut. The tongue feels wowed, and the brain expands a tiny bit (I’ll take that, even if it’s the tiniest of tiny bits). In my Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro, open since 1998, I aim to bring you some thrill - and perhaps some neuron expansion, too - through truly authentic food. A dish may not be what youare expecting. And that’s a good thing. ‘Tortilla’ for example, is a pan-fried omelette containing so many potatoes and onions it is 3 inches tall. Those potatoes and onions have been simmered in real (read: expensive) olive oil, so the wedge you are served is perfumed with olive oil, sweet with well-cooked onions, satisfying with the soft starchiness of potatoes - some crispy brown on the edges- and juicy with perfectly cooked eggs. Oh, I could boil thosepotatoes in water, use cheap vegetable oil, and buy commercial eggs (which require full cooking) rather than free-range, but then Taberna de Haro’s tortilla would not be authentic. You wouldn’t feel Spain in your midst. You wouldn’t have an extraordinary, rut-busting experience.

In world booby-trapped with chain restaurants that guarantee sameness and no new neuron paths, I live for authentic food experiences. In the lunar landscape of the pre-made and the predictable, I crave an original dish or five, and I bet you do, too. Therefore, my mission as chef-owner is authenticity. Take the griddled cuttlefish with black allioli. Cuttlefish is the plumper, squatter cousin of the squid, and he needs to be cut into little cubes before being browned on our flat griddle, called a ‘plancha’ in Spain. Planchas are ubiquitous in tapas restaurants for their unique ability to brown food. That black allioli on your cuttlefish, ‘sepia’ in Spanish, is made by mixing mayonnaise, raw garlic, and squid ink, which costs $30 per jar. I could just serve you white mayonnaise, but that might remind of the chicken salad you had for lunch. Not my goal. I want to delight you with the adventure of something new, the irresistible sensation of black, garlicky mayonnaise on thick squid-like pieces of sweet sea critter, lightly caramelized.

When authenticity is your mission you resist the temptation to buy commercial olives and you import them from Spain, higher price and shipping costs be damned. You stick to traditional recipes you learned during your years in Spain from hard-to-manage sous chefs whose heads were filled with grandeur - and their moms’ traditional recipes! You don’t jump on the chuck wagon of food trends to be hip, rather you keep on your menu the anchovies, the frogs legs, and the saffron salt-cod balls you’ve always had. You make stock for your paella that takes hours, never even considering canned. You peel and cut potatoes by hand rather than using the frozen kind with so many ingredients on their labels. Shouldn’t fried potatoes be just that?

Authenticity to me means staying the course of my ambassadorship to the traditional food and wine of Spain, a place to which I am forever indebted for rocking all my neurons with her flavors and uniqueness for over 30 years now. Imported black-hoofed pig ham. Rich green Spanish olive oil. Dozens of sherries by the glass. Exquisite and costly cheeses that Issan of Formaggio’s Kitchen chooses with as much passion as rigor. 330 different wines from Spain and Spain only. Black paella, using that squid ink again! Piquillo peppers and guindilla peppers. Raw salt cod in your Catalán salad, roasted baby pig once a week, perfectly fried chicken thigh pieces in an audacious amount of olive oil, and naturally raised beef at twice the cost to bring you ten times the pleasure are all examples of my commitment to authenticity. I humbly offer a little foray into Spain’s flavors without the transatlantic journey. I may not be able to offer quite the adventure of that street food vendor in Mexico city with the food on a stick, nor that shoebox noodle spot in the Japanese neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil, but I do deliver authentic.

By Deborah Hansen

Chef-Owner-Sommelier

Taberna de Haro

999 Beacon St.

Brookline, MA 02446

617-277-8272

tabernaboston.com

 

BY Deborah Hansen | 0 Comment(s)