Virtual Gourmet

  JULY 17, 2005                                                        NEWSLETTER


"Visit Mexico" Travel Poster by Luis Araiza (1940)

UPDATE:  To go to my web site, in which I will update food & travel information and help link readers to other first-rate travel & food sites,  click on: home page

Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on .

NEW FEATURE! You may now subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter by clicking here.

Contents This Issue

Crescent City Culinary Sirens by Naomi Kooker

NEW YORK CORNER: Yumcha by John Mariani


Crescent City Culinary Sirens
Naomi R. Kooker

A.J. Traditional New Orleans Jazz Band
       New Orleans,  particularly the French Quarter, is a 24-hour party of  great food, music and all-night bars.
      Right before Mardi Gras the French Quarter is pregnant with anticipation. Green, purple and gold banners hang from balconies; teens escaping for spring break crowd the narrow streets. Before nine  in the morning, clarinet riffs echo in the empty neighborhood, while workers hose down and sweep away remnants of the night before. In the spring and summer, the air thickens with humidity and a sultriness that is hard to fight. That’s when it’s time to succumb and go with the flow – just as it is with dining in this city. There’s a reason it’s called the Big Easy.
      Regardless of the season,
New Orleans is one of the major dining capitals of this country,  home to Creole and Cajun cooking and some of the country’s top chefs. One of the easiest decisions on a recent visit was where to begin my culinary odyssey: Friday lunch at Peristyle (1041 Dumaine St., 504-593-9535), ][where star Chef Tom Wolfe (no relation to the authors) has been flexing the French part of his Creole skills.
       Wolfe (below) made a name for himself at Wolfe’s of New Orleans in the West End, where his menu is predominantly Creole. Last year he took over Peristyle (right), a European-style bistro made popular by the former chef/owner Anne Kearney. Wolfe said he’d make changes slowly and has kept the menu and feel of the place decidedly European.  Named for a New Orleans city park with Grecian architecture, Peristyle could just as well be construed as “Paris-Style.” The pace at lunch was luxuriously even, not slow, but well-timed and relaxing. The restaurant’s high ceilings, mauve walls and mirrors exude a European flare, with gorgeous wall-sized murals, one which is of the Peristyle, salvaged from a fire in the restaurant years back.  As a solo diner I was completely at ease settling into the red banquette and overlooking the dining room.
      89-While the menu listed dishes like crispy sweetbreads, mussels bourride and rabbit chasseur, and was priced fairly, I was smitten by the $24-three-course prix fixe lunch. (The restaurant has suspended its lunch service until September.)  The waitress brought three different kinds of bread with soft butter. Sipping a glass of Kuleto Estate Rosato di Sangiovese 2003, I started to see New Orleans through rose-colored glasses, which isn’t hard to do with James Brown and The Beatles playing in the background.   Each course matched the dry rosé: Oyster soup was a silky-textured fish fume spiked with cream, galvanized by puckered oysters.  Nothing prepared me for the brie, melted chunks that at first I thought were gnocchi until I hit the rind – a bold yet pleasant marriage of flavors. A tuft of shaved scallion crowned the roasted red pepper rouille in the center of the soup.  The main course, a lightly pan-fried sea bass, was incredibly moist, with a butter sauce of shallots, garlic lemon juice and capers. The celeriac puree underneath made a divine combination of flavors and textures. Sophisticated comfort food.
     A chocolate crêpe filled with a not-too-sweet chocolate ganache studded with dried cherries rehydrated in Chambord was an elegant ending, lightened with crème anglaise.

In the after glow I strolled along
Chartres Street, popping into art galleries, then returned to nap in my sound-proof room at the 5uRoyal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans (300 Bourbon St., 504-586-0300,,  a southern-style haven from the cacophony of Bourbon Street action.
   Dinner with a party of eaters was an amalgam of dining venues, beginning with an array of tapas at Rio Mar (800 South Peters St.;504-525-3474,, a breezy tile-and-brick-interior restaurant in the Warehouse/Arts District, now one of the most vibrant culinary sections of town, thanks to Emeril Lagasse, who opened Emeril’s a block away 14 years ago.  Panamanian chef Adolfo Garcia owns Rio Mar, which is five years old but has the buzz of a newly opened restaurant. Cooks’ heads bob behind the partially open kitchen, putting up zig-zag-stemmed martini glasses brimming with ceviches ($6). The Panamanian-style ceviche uses puppy drum (another name for redfish), which absorbs the tang of fresh lime juice and the fruity heat of the habanero pepper. Albacore tuna tucked inside empanada pastry ($4) was fresh and emboldened with olives; the bacalaitos ($4), Spanish-style salt-cod fritters, lightly breaded, plump and hot, were succulent and cooled by a mellow saffron aïoli.
     Our next stop, René Bistrot (817 Common St., 504-412-2580,, pulled us back to European flavors. 313Home to French Master Chef René Bajeux, the restaurant is in the Central Business District. The dining room (left), with mustard-colored drapes and vaulted airiness, has a cosmopolitan bustle about it. The menu is traditional French, from the pâté du jour to snails with a touch of Pernod.    Those in my party sampled the tarte flambé, an Alsatian onion tart with bacon and fromage blanc ($7). My hopes were dashed, or  perhaps too high, for the onions lacked the kind of sweetness they get when caramelized. But all was recovered with the bouillabaisse, the classic French fish stew, its broth endowed with tomato, a hint of saffron, and the seafood – chunks of tuna,3333 salmon, shrimp and mussels – was abundant and maintained its individual flavors.   For dessert, we slipped into comfy seats at La Côte Brasserie (right; 700 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-613-2350,, part of the Renaissance Arts Hotel in which magnificent hand-blown light fixtures captivate you – as well as dessert. A sweet and citrusy lemon tart had a cookie-thick, butter-rich crust; the accompanying lemon sorbet refreshing and lemon gelée, a pucker-perfect jewel.

  On another occasion dinner was at the fabled Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St., 504-525-2021;, a culinary institution at the heart of the French Quarter. Galatoire’s, founded by Frenchman Jean Galatoire, turns 100 years old this year. With the advent of accepting reservations (only this year) and credit cards (in 1992), Galatoire’s has reluctantly nudged itself to  move into the Twenty-First Century. But jackets are still required. The antique Diehl fans don’t turn, but the tables do.
     [[Galatoire’s (below) is the kind of place where it helps to know what to order, since some popular items aren’t on the menu. One such item is the famous Godchaux salad, named for a patron decades ago. It’s a bed of iceberg lettuce bed with lump crab meat and shrimp, dressed with a Creole mustard vinaigrette. It’s a rather incongruous combination given the freshness of the fish and the sharpness of the dressing, but it works.  Divine indeed are the veal chop ($28), simple, juicy, succulent and slightly pink; the Lyonnaise potatoes ($4.50), tender and buttery; and the banana bread pudding ($5), a French-bread, custard-soaked-then-baked pudding endowed with an addictive caramel sauce.
New Orleans, after dinner begs another question: Where next? For drinks head to Café Adelaide & the Swizzle Stick Bar (below; 300 Poydras St., 504-595-3305, at the Loews New Orleans. ed32eSit at the bar, where the  1920’s meets Arts & Crafts style or in the lounge where you can gawk at the Art Deco hotel lobby with stained glass. Either way, a swizzle stick – a grown-up drink with New Orleans amber rum, Peychaud bitters, sour mix, club soda and Caribbean cane sugar syrup – is in order: So is dessert. If you’re still in the mood, sink your spoon into the creamy cappuccino mousse with small, sugar-dusted beignets ($7).
      For music, take a friend and brave the Faubourg Marigny, a club-packed neighborhood down river from the French Quarter. It’s just electric and more fun with two or more. Live music – swamp, folk, jazz – billows out of the bars.0000 It’s New Orleans late-night, and there’s no telling who’s going to show. My companion and I end up at the Blue Nile (left; 532 Frenchman St., 504-948-BLUE,, where local icon and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins shortly took the stage with his too-cool band and stole the night, but not our dancing shoes.
      Late into the evening the music played. A walk back to the hotel divulged the New Orleans you can only imagine unless you see it with your own eyes. A stop in a bar revealed a man’s naked backside wrapped in Saran wrap.  I recalled a conversation I had while dining at Galatoire’s. “If you don’t live an interesting life, they’ll invent one for your,” said Gene Bourg, a former New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist and food critic. I’d like to think he was talking about the whole of New Orleans.
  In the morning you get to do it again. This time I found myself eating pain perdu, “lost bread,” at Petunia’s (
817 St. Louis St., 504-522-6440,, a quaint restaurant set in 5555a pink Creole townhouse with hardwood floors. The “lost bread” was simply their name for French toast, which was sweetened with cane syrup.
   But to leave as one comes in is to breakfast at Brennan’s (
417 Royal St., 504-525-9711,, where nothing less than their three-course spread ($36) will do. Think of it as homage to the bygone days of dining lavishly, morning, noon and night. Ask for a table in the leafy courtyard (right).  Order a Bloody Mary or Ramos Gin Fizz, then take a spoon, and dip into the tomato-rich broth of the turtle soup – yes, before 9 a.m.  Break off a piece of the hot bread held in a napkin and replenished throughout the meal. Indulge in oysters Benedict – fried oysters, Canadian bacon and poached eggs smothered in a buttery Hollandaise sauce. then end with the world-famous Bananas Foster, a Brennan’s creation from the 1950s of rum-flambéed bananas in butter, brown sugar and cinnamon poured over vanilla ice cream. Accept no imitation.  Finish with a wave of the white napkin.

by John Mariani
Photos by Bill Durgin

29 Bedford Street

     The name means "drink tea," and one of the owners, Jin R,  is  a "tea sommelier" who chooses very special Asian teas for Yumcha. She has been called China's first celerity chef for her work at Green T. House in Beijing and My Humble House in Singapore, but she is not on the premises at Umcha. She leaves behind, however, a "tea program" of exotica you should definitely try at the end of your meal.
      Whatever your vision of a Chinese tea house is, it probably doesn't resemble this trendy new corner restaurant in West Greenwich Village, owned by Jin R, Quentin Danté, and Chef Angelo Sosa. The press release calls designer Glen Coben's decor a mix of Ming Dynasty and Bauhaus, which is fair enough if you take the colors of the former and the austere lines of the latter.  There is an open kitchen where you can watch Sosa work, and he works hard. The place is packed every night.
     iuiuiSosa had previously been executive sous chef at both Jean-Georges and Spice Market, so you know you're not going here for moo shoo pork and kung pao chicken. Most of what I sampled on a warm summer's night was very tasty and quite out of the ordinary.  Crispy squab in lotus leaf with sticky rice gained additional texture from a fried quail's egg.  Crunchy pork and shrimp rolls with a ginger-mustard sauce went quickly at our table, and a bowl of egg noodles dressed with ginger vinaigrette, wok-fried corn, coconut ice and lychee was interesting, but the noodles were way overcooked, and I'm not sure the coconut ice added much.  Chili frogs' legs with a pineapple consommé was a blend of hot and sweet flavors, which is certainly a tradition in Southeast Asia. One must be careful about such flavors, however: they can quickly blunt the palate and make drinking wine as an accompaniment all but futile.  Next time I go to Yumcha I will order a cold beer.
    Only slight sweetness carried over to the main courses, which included a "Peking" duck breast with spring onion pancake--not really a match for the classic found all over Chinatown just south of here. Szechwan dusted beef tenderloin with Shanghai shoots, spicy eggplant, and mint was a favorite among our group of four. Best of all was ginger-lacquered veal cheeks with salted bean sprouts and a sour apple salad, a dish that scored on all countervailing flavors. Not so thrilling was slow-baked halibut with charred pepper and a cumin condiment that got in the way of the fish's delicacy, the way it often will in Indian restaurants.
     Portions are not exactly huge, so you must order a side dish like the very good curried fried rice with ham. Other sides tend to show up in the main courses, however.  But the menu here could use a few more carbs to satisfy one's hunger.oo
     Carrot-cumin cake with cream cheese and carrot juice reminded me of the '70s, and spiced Asian pear with creamy rice pudding of the '80s. Peanut butter cheesecake with chocolate cracklings reminded me how much I dislike peanut butter.
    Yumcha is a fine new addition to the West Village, and it's obviously popular for its conviviality and its reasonable prices, with appetizers $8-$14 and entrees $16-$26.  It should be noted, though, that this is another of those restaurants so intensely loud--plus piped in, throbbing music--that you don't want to spend more time than you have to to eat and get out into the clamor of a New York street.

                                                                                                                             The Bar at Yumcha


"Ah, the French!  They walk around clutching baguettes, they smoke like there is no tomorrow, they kiss passionately in public, and they wouldn't dream of picking up after their dogs."--Christiane Lauterbach, Knife & Fork (April 2005).


The deputy Prime Minister in Bangaldore, India, announced that listening to music in bars and restaurants is indecent, and operators' licenses would be canceled if they featured live bands at their establishments.


* From now until Labor Day Restaurant Associates' luxury restaurants offer 3-course dinners for $35, incl. NYC Brasserie, Brasserie 8 ½, Café Centro, Naples 45, Nick + Stef's Steakhouse, and Tropica. For complete list visit

* From July 22-24  Sofitel Chicago Water Tower will hold “Architecture and Design,” a celebration of art, design and architecture, with a cocktail reception at Café des Architectes. On Saturday, guests will enjoy a modern flower arranging class with Colin Collette and a food design class with Chef Frédéric Castan, followed by lunch and a private viewing of the Toulouse Lautrec exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, then a 4-course dinner prepared by Chef Castan. On Sunday, the weekend will end with an architectural tour of the city of Chicago.  $800 pp or $1,600 per room. Call 877-813-7700.

* On July 23 & 24 Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves will once again celebrate its Spanish and Catalán heritage at the winery’s 13th annual Catalán Festival of Food, Wine and Music. The Festival brings together sparkling and still wines of Gloria Ferrer, Spanish tastes from restaurants and cooking demos from Bay Area restaurants, music from Spanish guitars, and flamenco dancing and sardana, and  the dance of the “Gegants” (traditional 15-foot-tall, papier-maché, puppet-like figures). Visit

* On July 26 Portland, OR’s Basilico Ristorante will host vintner Eric Weisinger of Weisinger’s of Ashland Vineyard and Winery for a winemaker dinner at $65 pp. Call  503-223-2772.

* On July 26 in Atlanta, Sotto Sotto will explore the cooking of Campania as part of its  Tour of Italy series, a 4-course dinner at $39 pp.  Call 404-523-6678 or visit

* On July 26 NYC’s `21’ Club Chef Stephen Trojahn and Wine and Beverage Director/Bar Room Sommelier, Phil Pratt create a  menu paired towards New York’s Ommegang Brewery, famous for its Belgian-styled $110 pp.  Call 212-582-7200.

* On  July 26 Millennium Restaurant will recognize the efforts of their contributing local farmers by hosting the 6th Annual Farmer's Market Dinner benefiting Om Organics. Chef Eric Tucker will present a 5-course, with Om founder, Melanie Cheng,  present to answer any questions. . $60/person $20/wine pairing; Call  415-345-3900;

* On  July 27  Left Bank brasserie in San Mateo will host a “Chef’s Table” dinner, with  Roland Passot, chef/owner of La Folie and Left Bank, along with San Mateo’s Chef de Cuisine Quentin Topping cooking a 5-course dinner that incorporates the best of Left Bank’s rustic French cooking style with La Folie’s more sophisticated cuisine.  $75.00 pp. Call 650-345-2250.

* On July 28 in Colleyville, TX, 62 Main's chef/owner David McMillan hosts a 5-course wine dinner featuring Fritz Winery, with Calyton Fritz in attendance.  $120 pp. Call 817-605-0858.


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, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  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.

yyy u7o9o ee
rer rr ryh

copyright John Mariani 2005