Virtual Gourmet

  May 15, 2005                                                                 NEWSLETTER


                                   The Wine Cellar at Peck, Milan (2005)      Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

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NEW YORK CORNER: BLT Fish by John Mariani



     Things seem to be percolating in L.A. again after a few years of gastronomic ennui.  Ortolan, owned by Chef Christophe Emé and actress Jeri Ryan, has opened big, and the new chef at L'Orangerie, Christophe Bellanca (who replaced Emé there) is doing great work, and Michael Cimarusti, the well-respected chef at Water Grill, is soon to open his own restaurant, Providence.
     oppo   Meanwhile, La Terza (8384 West Third Street; 323-782-8284) is the slick new operation of Chef Gino Angelini, whose smaller Osteria Angelini has done well enough to drive the opening of this much larger restaurant, next to the Orlando Hotel.  I've always liked Angelini's work in the past, though the Osteria didn't bowl me over; I fear, however, that he's now expanding too quickly and not keeping his focus. La Terza was, for me, a considerable disappointment.
     The two-tiered restaurant is starkly white, but it's tough to tell if diners consider the first or second level prime seating.  The lower level (left) does have a view of the street (such as it is on West Third), while the upper level escapes the feeling of being a Siberia. The crowd is constantly trying to monitor such concerns by regarding people coming up the staircase with nervous, neck-turning curiosity.
     What both dining areas share is a deliberate design to be blisteringly loud, and the caterwauling guests here contribute to the din by trying to draw attention to themselves and reveling in cell phones that emit all sorts of personalized rings, toots, and music that adds further to the cacophony.  No wonder the waiters seem harried, even as an ultra-oily maître d' makes does chummy "how-we-all-doin'?" way to every table.
     La Terza's wine list is substantial and pricing not too bad; nor are the food prices, which range from $9-$16 for appetizers, $12-$23 for pastas and risottos, and $14-$37 for entrees, about what you'd pay in Rome these days.
     The best way to begin here is with a selection of cured meats and a cream-center burrata mozzarella with prosciutto, pickled onions, and olive oil.  The three pastas I tried were good, though none outstanding, from pappardelle with taleggio cheese and guanciale to fusilli with a soupy lamb ragù and fresh mint, to agnolotti filled with veal osso buco, red chard and oregano--all good ideas with nothing substantial to them.
     There are daily specials listed, from baccalà ravioli with golden raisins on Monday (too bad I was there on another night) to grilled calf's liver with onions and guanciale on Friday.  Roasted Dover sole with fennel, thyme, lemon, and shallots was all right, nothing more, and might have been improved by using a fish more local, since most Dover sole is flown in on Mondays in the U.S. and chefs  get whatever arrives, not what they'd like.  Osso buco alla milanese with saffron risotto was correct and proper but not scintillating and a little on the light side, even for L.A.  When Italians say lamb chops are "scottaditto," they mean they burn your fingers because you can't resist picking them up while they are piping hot.  The examples at La terza were fine enough chops, though too big to pick up, served with escarole and torta rustica.  The desserts (supposedly overseen by Nancy Silverton of Campanile)--vanilla panna cotta with a tangerine salad and vanilla wafers, and zuppa inglese with brandy ice cream--were textbook perfect, and they do ricotta fritters with a sour cherry compote and mascarpone ice cream that really is delicious.
      La Terza would be easily better if it were not so frenetic and fast-paced, much better if it were smaller, and probably terrific if Angelini devoted his full attention to it. But, as with so many offshoots, it's not getting the nourishment it deserves.

      A return visit to Jer-Ne + Barqqa weird name for a superb restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey (4375 Admiralty Way; 310-241-3333;, proved that Chef Troy Thompson only gets better and better each year.  In contrast to the cooking at La Terza, Thompson's seems more focused than ever, less flashy, more intense.  The presentation of his food in
Bento boxes, tangines, woks, towers, tabletop hibachi grills,  and various other vessels is a delight, not simply there for show. (There's nothing I hate more than oddly shaped china that defies you to eat out of it.)
       I first sampled Thompson's work in Atlanta when he was chef at Fusebox, an overly designed showcase restaurant where his work still managed to shine through all the glitz.  He also did a stint in Osaka, where he learned the precision of Asian techniques, and it shows in his menu here in Marina del Rey.
     The dining room itself, looking out on
a teakwood terrace above the shimmering marina, is one of the loveliest in the city. Inside is a 14-foot long "caramel cream"-colored onyx communal table (right) that gets very chummy after 6 PM with a pretty swanky crowd.   For some reason the hotel seems to draw a large hip-hop clientele of large men in outlandish sports regalia, gold chains, and cocked baseball caps, but fortunately they didn't intrude on my sunny lunch the day I visited. I just put myself in Thompson's hands and let him rip.
      We began with
Florida stone crab claws with black truffled mayo and an ume plum sauce, the latter adding an unexpected, fine sweetness to the natural sweetness of the crabmeat. Cremini mushroom carpaccio with lemon and olive oil followed, a nice, light treatment that worked well. White asparagus with a rhubarb purée and black truffle tofu did not--a goofy idea that wholly compromisesd the taste of the asparagus. Much better was a sizzling Oriental-style halibut with virgin sesame oil (I didn't know there was such a thing), and Georgia white shrimp with winter vegetable shabu shabu, a dish that showed how cannily Thompson can adapt an idea by his tasteful creativity.  A sizzling hot rock arrived on which we cooked raw duck meat, with morels and baby corn congee--a very cool idea, followed by "Jer-ne Ma Bo Do Fu," a rather yummy kitchen workers' dish that consisted of various rice and textures of vegetables.
     Desserts included a buckwheat panna cotta (bland) with pear sorbet (tangy), and a series of ice cream cones with banana, coconut, huckleberry, raspberry, and chocolate tofu flavors. The last tasted like some form of dietetic punishment; the rest were sublime, but no more so than a "Meyer Lemon Surprise," composed of layers of Meyer Lemon curd, white chocolate mousse, rhubarb gelée, and white chocolate ice cream.
     Sommelier Alison Junker stocks a very extensive wine list for any occasion, though this is tricky cuisine to match with wines, so take her advice, course by course. And stick around to watch the sun set on the marina. It's pretty wonderful.333

     Yet another posh hotel dining room, Pavilion at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach (690 Newport Center Drive; 949-759-0808), is serving some of the loveliest, most sensibly conceived and executed food I've had in Southern Cal in quite some time.
    The formal-sounding name of the restaurant (left) should not put anyone off, for it has a fine balance of the sophisticated and the casual, not an overly dressy place but not one to enter wearing cut-offs and t-shirts with bad jokes on them. (Tattoos seem not to be much in evidence here).
     Chef Michel Piéton, born in Normandy, has been here for 17 years, a tenure that in most other cases might make me wonder about complaceny in the kitchen. Instead I found his cooking very much in the flow of contemporary Southern Cal cuisine, full of color and bright flavors, light but not cut back in flavor.

      Lunch is a slighter affair than dinner, with salads and sandwiches and soups (an American affliction).
But I managed to dine more substantially, beginning with something unexpected for a Pacific Ocean restaurant--a very well-rendered clam chowder with the cheery addition of sweet potato and avocado.  Sautéed crab cake was very definitely made from jumbo crab meat, with a crusted green tomato, charred corn, and a tomato vinaigrette--an ideal balance of flavors.  Chappelet's Old Vine Cuvée Chenin Blanc was perfect and crisply green with these, followed by a St. Supery white Meritage, aptly chosen by sommelier Cheryl Stanley.
       A blue nose grouper recently arrived from New Zealand was a wonderful, firm-fleshed fish, served with fingerling potatoes, sweet carrots, and a grain mustard sauce that added just the right touch of piquancy. Grilled sea scallops also came with fingerlings and baby beets, bell pepper coulis, and pesto--good, though a little fussy for the scallops. I must say I was ravenous again the moment a Prime rare rib-eye hit the table, accompanied by creamed spinach,  pepper chutney sauce, and more baby beets (beets figured too large that day).  Brandt Family Lopez Ranch Zinfandel 2002 was about as perfect a choice with this as any wine I could imagine.
       I can hardly count the array of wonderful desserts, from Graham crust Key lime tart and a chocolate liquid cake to tres leches pudding with white chocolate mousse and a coconut crème caramel with fresh berries. And so went another lazy sunny afternoon in the California sun.

by John Mariani

21 West 17 Street


      Last year Laurent Tourondel took New York by storm when he opened BLT Steak, refining the American steakhouse with Gallic finesse, and there hasn't been an empty seat since.  This year he has followed up with BLT Fish, which, given Tourondel's background as chef at the superb (now defunct) seafood restaurant Cello a few years back, shows his real mettle.   That he seems equally well adapted to surf and turf is only to suggest the importance of classical French training where you learn a lot about everything.
     BLT Fish is actually two restaurants, on the site of what was once AZ.  Downstairs is a "Fish Shack" (below) ttseating 45 and serving the kind of seafood you'll readily find up and down the New England coast--platters of shellfish and clam chowder, lobster rolls and fried calamari. The walls are brick, a raw bar sits in the middle, and the specials are listed on a blackboard.  Upstairs, actually on the third floor, is a more serious seafood dining room (above, left) with a striking see-through ceiling, suede walls, and gray leather banquettes, with the light of feverish culinary activity bursting forth from the open kitchen.  It's a sophisticated decor, though I'd like to see linens on the walnut tables.  The second floor is for private parties.

     When he is at BLT Fish, Tourondel works along with his cooks and chef de cuisine Mathieu Palombino, turning out an array of dishes that never become experimental and are always in good taste.  The wine list, overseen by wine director Fred Dexheimer, is solidly knit to go with the food here, weightier in whites than powerful reds for all the obvious reasons.  Pinot noirs, on the other hand, have a significant place on the list, and all wines are divided into "aromatic and stylistic" categories, and there are good bottles under $50. About twenty wines are offered by the glass, and the glassware is of fine quality.
      Like his French colleague Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, Tourondel is insistent that fish from American waters are to be preferred over fish flown in from the far Pacific and Mediterranean, though he does not totally discriminate in this regard, and he buys by the season, so look for soft shells and shad roe right about now.eeeee
      BLT Steak is famous for its cheese popovers, so Tourondel has happily come up with a signature item at BLT Fish--cheddar-chive biscuits with sea-salted butter and a touch of maple syrup.  They don't need that last ingredient, for these addictive biscuits are yummy beyond description with a simple lick of butter all on their own and threaten to put a few inches in your waistline.
      The prices of entrees here are based on the pound--$35 per pound for Florida red snapper, $32 for Maine black sea bass, $34 for Chilean wild turbot--and the whole fish average two to three pounds, so ordering one for two people is the only sensible way to go.  These may be had with any of variety of sauces, from lime-cilantro mayonnaise and ginger ketchup to curry-lemongrass and soy-citrus wasabi.  The whole fish are simply grilled and graced with olive oil, served either on the bone (as is best) or filleted for you.  The prices are somewhat below those charged in the same manner at the Greek seafood restaurant Milos, where sea scallops now go for an astounding $38 a pound.

     There are some main courses like salt-crusted New Zealand pink snapper and crispy Cantonese-style red snapper with some real spice, but the spicier items are in the appetizer column, like lovely, fat-rich tuna tartare with avocado, preserved lemon, and American caviar (above, right); there is a grilled octopus salad with bergamot oil (left), 5656and grilled sardines--nice and sweet, neither fishy nor salty--with bacon, marinated tomato, and basil.  Dungeness crab comes with avocado and a grapefruit vinaigrette, which gives it a luxurious, buttery flavor in tandem with the citrus flavors.  Piling Port-poached figs, Fourme d'Albert cheese, and walnuts onto Nantucket bay scallops does nothing to improve those bivalves' natural sweetness.
      There are lots of good side dishes here, from baked fennel and glazed carrots to salt-crusted sunchokes and light-as-air pommes soufflé, which just about every table orders.  Desserts, by Patricia Brock, are pretty darn scrumptious, including chocolate cake, and pecan pie downstairs, and chocolate praline cake topped with marshmallows and chocolate upstairs. And if you finish your meal, you are likely to be presented with some chocolates and green cotton candy.
     BLT Fish is a serious restaurant, but it's not so serious that you won't have a grand time, and that makes it a very modern New York restaurant people are going to love, as long as Tourondel and his staff can handle the crush.  There are already plans to open BLT Prime this fall, and that worries me. 
One can only wonder if next year he'll open BLT Veggie.  You can stretch a sauce too thin, and I hope success doesn't translate into multi-units in multi-cities.  Time will tell.



"Downgrade your looks:  Just by being on your own, you've upped your availability aura, and many people will assume you're eager to connect, passionate and exciting.  If you've reached your threshold for getting attention, don't be afraid, literally, to get ugly.  Wear a cap over your hair and no makeup. Or repel to the max; I know someone who used eyeliner to put a cold sore on her lip!  Less extremely, you can carry and show pictures of your family and home, or make an insta-wedding ring by flipping over your ring and placing it on the proper finger."--Lea Lane, Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips (2005).


Starbucks has opened a branch in Vienna, Austria.


One of NYC's most famous and historic restaurants, Gage & Tollner, which had been in business since 1879 in Brooklyn and which is one of very few buildings with landmark status both inside and outside, has been turned into a T.G.I. Friday's.


* The Rink Bar, located in Rockefeller Center, opens May 17, officially opening for the summer season, offering  nightly drink specials including $6 featured cocktails like mojitos, cosmos, daiquiris, and margaritas. Crispy coconut shrimp, stone-ground guacamole, the Rink Bar’s signature antipasto, and other bites.  For more information, visit

* Starting May 20 Hastings House in Ganges Harbor, Canada, inaugurates a month-long celebration of 4-course wine dinners, to showcase 5e of British Columbia vineyards’ spring releases.  The dinners can also be combined with Hastings House’s one-, two-, three- or five-night packages.  Dinners are priced at $79 (US) pp, incl. wine.  May 20:   Garry Oaks – Spring Releases;  June 3:  Lang Vineyards and Nichol Vineyards;  June 17:     Poplar Grove and Elephant Island Vineyards. Call  800-661-9255 or visit

* On May 22  Stone Creek Inn in east Quogue, NY, will hold a 5-course "Wine and Food of the      Hamptons" dinner, featuring winemaker Roman Roth of Wolffer Estate Vineyard and Chef Christian Mir. $75 pp. Call 631- 653-6770.

* On May 23 Azure Chef Robert Fathman’s in Boston will host a 4-course New England wine dinner and discussion with Bill Russell, winemaker at Westport Rivers. $50 pp. Call 617-933-4800;

* From June 1-8,  Chef José Andrés of Jaleo in DC has invited celebrity Chef Quim Marques of El Suquet L'Allmiral in Barcelona to participate in Jaleo's annual week-long celebration of the paella. On June 3, Chef Andrés and Chef Marques will prepare a giant paella for 1,000 people.  For info call 703-413-8181 or visit

* Florida’s Ritz-Carlton hotels are holding etiquette classes entitled “Graduation Class:  Business Etiquette and Dining Manners for the Graduate,” taught by Suzanne Willis instructor of “Mimi’s Manners etiquette class for children.’ Schedule:  June 1, at Naples; June 9, at Miami Coconut Grove; July 16, at Orlando.  Topics incl. Greetings & Introductions:  handshakes and proper introductions, The Job Interview:  what to wear, what to say, how to prepare, what to do: before, during and after the interview; Dining Etiquette:  place settings, table manners, how to navigate a job interview during a meal $100 pp.  Call  The RC Naples at 239/598-6644; Coconut Grove at 305-644-4680; and Orlando, Grande Lakes at 407-393-4488.

*From June 2-5 Auction Napa Valley 25 (formerly the Napa Valley Wine Auction) will take place, with 24 vintners co-chairing the silver anniversary event, including a shorter live auction, the addition of an E-auction, additional hospitality events, and the creation of an all-new, all-day food and wine showcase.   Complete Auction packages as well as individual tickets to the Friday Festival Barrel Tasting and Auction will go on sale at


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Lucy Gordan, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Diversion and the Harper Collection. He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning new Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).  

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

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copyright John Mariani 2005