Virtual Gourmet

May 14, 2005                                                                    NEWSLETTER


Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Catherine Scorsese and Robert DeNiro in "Goodfellas" (1990)


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.

In This Issue

My Favorite Mansions: Conrad Mount Juliet and Dunbrody House by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: Cafe Gray by John Mariani



My Favorite Mansions
                                                    Mount Juliet Conrad, County Kilkenny,  Ireland

by John Mariani

       None but the Irish seem to take such joy in sighing.  They love nothing more than to rue a moment of happiness. Take this lovely poem by Padraic Perse, "The Wayfarer":

     The beauty of the world has made me sad,
     This beauty that will pass;
     Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
     To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
     Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
     Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
     Lit by a slanting sun,
     Or some green hill where shadows drifted by.

      I was reminded of such a lyrical setting on a recent trip to Ireland while looking out the tall casement windows of my suite at the Mount Juliet Conrad, sitting as it has for a very long time on the slow-moving River Nore.  All the natural beauty Pearse wrote of yawned below me, stretching across a sheep field and in view of horse stables, and the river reflected the light of a red sun as blue shadows crept from the forests. I sighed too, but not out of any sense that all this would pass--except when I left Ireland a few days later.  Instead I was buoyed by the fact that such a very beautiful place has been restored and maintained so that its antique charms seem min no danger of passing away for decades to come.yyi
     Built and named for the wife of the First Earl of Carrick more than two centuries ago, this grand Georgian home was in the same family until 1914, and was taken over by Killeen Investments in 1987. The mansion is set on 1,500 gorgeously landscaped acres not far from the darling village of Thomastown in County Kilkenny, 75 miles south of Dublin.  There are 32 bedrooms (right) in period decor, along with two- and three-bedroom large guest houses on the property called The Rose Garden, the Paddocks and the Hunters Yard.
     There is a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole
championship golf course, a par 53 putting course, practice greens, and a 3-hole academy course. You may go fishing (with instruction, if necessary) in the River Nore and the Kings River, boasting  wild Atlantic salmon and brown trout in abundance between March and September.  The estate is also home to the Iris Kellett Equestrian Centre, which offers tuition,  trail riding,  and cross-country jumping on the estate’s course. Add in tennis, clay shooting, archery, and croquet, a  Spa & Health Club with an in-door swimming pool, and you're pretty much set for a stay that offers a great deal of everything.
      3333tjuiThere is also the occasional fox hunt (which Oscar Wilde once described as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable") held on the estate. Straight-backed riders in black and scarlet livery
sit atop snorting black, brown, gray, and white horses and sip a dram of Irish whiskey or Champagne while dozens of yelping hounds mill about  like anxious children waiting to get on with the excitement of it all.  Then, with the sound of a bugle, they are all off together at a trot, to return hours later for more Irish whiskey and a good meal at the resort.
       I decided against the trot in favor of a deep massage in the spa here, yet I felt just as deserving of a good meal as did the hunters, so my wife and I dressed for dinner
(it's actually fairly casual, though several men wore jackets) at the stately Lady Helen Dining Room, whose quiet delicacy of cream-white-and-azure colored walls, a taupe-and-rose-colored carpet, carved mahogany chairs, and bas-relief filigrees is buoyed by the sound of people having a lovely time in a style that hearkens back more generations than anyone can now remember.
     You may start off with a cocktail in the well-upholstered Tetrach Bar or the Major's Room overlooking the estate. (For more casual dining there is also the wood-paneled
 Kendals Restaurant in the nearby Hunters Yard, serving a lighter menu of contemporary Irish cookery.)r8
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
      Chef Paul Quinn has a light touch without the sacrifice of flavors that depend on the correct amount of fad and seasoning. .Our dinner in the Lady Helen (right) was impeccably served by an Irish and European staff, beginning with a torchon of foie gras with black grapes and truffled tarte Tatin with vanilla-scented chutney.  Four preparations of rabbit came on one plate--a tiny stuffed loin, the roasted rack, a confit of the leg, and a parfait made from the liver--very finely wrought in every instance.
  A not-too-sweet tangerine sorbet followed, then a warm leek-and-potato soup before the main courses.  We chose
wild boar--which I thought would have had more flavor of its own--enhanced with buttery, thinly sliced, crisp pommes Anna made aromatic with smoked garlic and served with creamy truffled Savoy cabbage, carrots, a sprinkling of chervil, and apple jus to give it a little sweetness.  My wife had very fine veal loin with truffled sausage, a smoked garlic potato soufflé, roasted shallots, and a confit of leeks.
     We opted for cheeses, which were unfortunately served cold, then a glass of Port before retiring up the grand staircase and off to a very comfortable bed.  Dinner is 72 Euros (about $92), with tax included.
     I might add that the modern amenities of widescreen TV, internet hook-ups, and excellent bathroom toiletries go without saying here, but it is not the modernity of Mount Juliet that impressed me as much as its quiet sense of place and time, both thankfully reclaimed and now perpetuated for posterity.  The life of an Irish country gentleman has been much improved on in the 21st century.
    Mount Juliet Conrad, County Kilkenny: Tel. 353-56-777-3000;

Mount Juliet is within easy driving distance of the picturesque village of Thomastown (which will take all of five minutes to wander around), and also about 45 minutes from Waterford, a delightful fishing town of mid-size bisected by a waterfront and wonderful for strolling through winding streets that have obviously been enjoying a recent economic boom.  Several people recommended lunch at the historic Granville Hotel, though the food turned out to be sadly typical of so much outdated Irish cooking, despite the rise of standards and ingredients throughout the country.  Here was the usual meat and vegetables, the same steam-table lamb and fried cod, mucky mashed  and greasy fried potatoes, along with the only saving grace, a twice-poured pint of Guinness.
      Then, despite a series of counterproductive signs that had us going in circles, we arrived at the Waterford Crystal factory, 55555which gives a really terrific tour of every step in the intense process of turning sand into exquisitely molded and cut crystal, crafted by artisans and artists (right) whose training goes on for years.  It is a visit I heartily recommend.

      That evening we dined at Dunbrody House Hotel (below) on the Hook Peninsula, which is clearly one of the committed labors of love I've ever seen.  Set on 200 acres, this 1830s Georgian manor was ancestral home to the Chichester Family, now owned by the indefatigable Catherine and Kevin Dundon, who are content to run the hotel, and the spa, and a cooking school on premises but also to maintain one of Ireland's finest country restaurants.
      ]Almost everything served here comes either from the estate or from local farmers and nearby waters, and menus are made up daily, as are the breads.  Thus, the fish come out of Duncannon Harbor, the shellfish from Kilmore Quay, the salmon is smoked in Arthurstown, and the vegetables from Wexford or from their own gardens.  Each morning the eggs are collected from their own hens, so no one is ever late for breakfast at Dunbrody.
     Unfortunately my wife and I had not the time to spend overnight in this beautiful mansion, whose every room is different in style,rrrhyr elegantly set with antiques and superb artwork, as are the halls and the public rooms.  You may sit in a drawing room (right) on a fluffy couch, enjoy a cocktail and peruse the menu before going in to dine at the Harvest Room (below).  Kevin is a mildly--not a wildly--creative chef, which I mean as a high compliment: he has a fine sense of culinary imagination without ever going to a carefree extreme.  So I was quite charmed with pan-seared scallops served on a risotto suffused with crab, so simple, so unconstructed. A goat's cheese terrine came with wild mushrooms, greens from the garden, and peach chutney, with garlic crostini.  With these starters we sipped a crisp, green-gold '03 Montmain Domain de Bois d'Yver Chablis.
    .I expected good beef that evening, and Dunbrody's comes from Wexford, grilled and beautifully charred, served with golden oyster mushrooms, a gloss of white truffle oil, and a reduction of red Médoc wine.  The succulence of oven-baked breast of corn-fed chicken was increased by being swaddled in a little cloak of prosciutto and flavored with basil beneath the skin. With it came cherry tomatoes and roasted garlic cream, a lovely small triumph of balanced tastes.  Happily I chose one of my favorite Argentinean wines for the meats--'03 Alta Vista Malbec Grand Reserve.  (Prices on wines here are not outrageous, but the US dollar does not go very far on this list.)
      There were artisanal farmhouse cheeses--at ripe room temperature--and a pear in wine, then the Dunbrody Chocolate Kiss--a finale of chocolate ganache, raspberries and strawberries, the recipe for which, among others, is in Kevin lovely Full On Irish (2005), which he dedicated "to my mum, who inspired me to cook from an early age."
     If Kevin's food does not sound particularly "Irish," it is not, at least not in the sense of being based on old Irish recipes. It is, however, modern European cuisine based on local provender and seafood, which is the way all cooking should be by whatever name you choose to call it.  This is Kevin Dundon's food, and, with Katherine overseeing the dining room and winelist, Dunbrody is as personal a statement as any in this unique mansion near the sandy coves of County Wexford.
      The table d'hôte menu is 55 Euros ($75).
Tel. 051-389-600;

by John Mariani

Cafe Gray
Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle

       rwWith the exception of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's ill-fated, now closed steakhouse, V, and Charlie Trotter's, which never did open, the restaurants (and retailers) in the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle seem to be doing quite well, not least Café Gray, which since opening in November 2004, has succeeded in drawing crowds of  fine diners who may not be up for the  four-hour meals at Per Se (assuming they could get a rez) or the $500 sushi bar at Masa. Café Gray is a far more amiable place, not that tough to get into, popular at lunch, with a good bar crowd, busy at dinner, and not outrageously expensive.
      If it has been controversial in any way it is over the decor, a glitzy, mirrored space by the Rockwell Group where you'd expect a production of "The Wedding Singer" rather than a fine restaurant, with the kitchen (right) overlooking the grandeur of Central Park (from the third floor), thereby preventing guests from seeing much of it. It belongs in the "What were they thinking" school of design, but in an odd way perhaps it has worked in Café Gray's favor by encouraging people to come here solely for the food not the view, with no need to fight over or pay off for an "A" table, because there really aren't any.  This is definitely a place people come to dine well, not just to preen, be seen, or say they've been-here-and-done-that.  Happy, repeat customers pay the bills better than the guy lucky or rich enough to go to a restaurant once in his life.
      Otherwise the place is very comfortable, the noise level not bad, the table appointments excellent, with tablecloths and fine wineglasses, and the winelist getting better and better, geared more to Chef Gray Kunz's mastery of flavors and form. There's a real bartender here who knows how to make cocktails at the bar, and the staff is cordial and well coached.
      qwwwWhen Café Gray opened I thought Kunz  (left) was cooking a bit tentatively, testing out his market; the food was very good but not very much like the stunning and imaginative cuisine he had created at his last appointment, Lespinasse (closed three years ago). But now, eighteen months after Cafe Gray opened, his food seems to be more personalized, focused, beautiful but not precious and deeply flavorful in every ingredients, as if removing so much as a leaf of micro-greens would make less of the dish. In the open kitchen you can see the fever and intensity of a cooking line in full flourish.
     On a beautiful spring night our table of four began with little amuses of steak tartare, actually a tenderloin carpaccio, with spicy ketjap manis, an Indonesian condiment usually made with palm sugar and anise; then marinated jicama and avocado with  hearts of palm and basil, a very refreshing starter; and little roasted red beets whose own earthiness was picked up with horseradish cram and vinaigrette.  With this was poured a cheery Chapuy non-vintage Blanc de Blanc.
     Among the first softshell crabs I've  had this season, Kunz's were the fattest, served with
fennel salad and orange, and a shellfish rémoulade, accompanied by asplenidly buttery '01 Jean Dauvissat “Montmains”Chablis.. Seared foie gras came with springtime's pickled ramps, Asian pears, and crunchy bits of hazelnuts with which a lightly sweet '04 Sauvignon Blanc, Château Doisy–Daëne made an ideal match.eee
     Springtime was also very much present in a lovely green and white asparagus velouté with tiny chervil ravioli (too few of them, once enjoyed), which a
'05 Fred Loimer Grüner Veltliner  did nothing for. But a curried cauliflower and eggplant stew with caramelized pearl stew that showed Kunz's time in the Orient was well spent was enhanced by the surprisingly bold '04  Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault.
Next came the seafood course, starting with wild King salmon of lustrous fleshiness, fat and rich, served with a crawfish étouffée and a watercress bouillon, though accompanied by an undistinguished '04 Bisson Vermentino. Some of the best halibut I've had recently was grilled, with artichokes and a harissa-spiked tomato confit that did not overpower the fish but didn't do much for the delicacy of a '04 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis.
      Our two meat offerings were blissfully flavorful spring lamb that took on Mediterranean undertones from an herb-lamb sausage, pea tendrils, and a garlic flower cream--such a subtle idea impeccably realized, with which a '00
“Alberdi” Rioja Reserva  went beautifully. A big, round '00 Vietti “Castiglione Falletto” Barolo was absolutely spot on with braised osso buco over saffron linguine and a light fennel-thyme butter.
     As hard as we were tempted by a cheese course, we begged off and opted instead for a chilled rhubarb soup with refreshing lime-yogurt sorbet, and a well-wrought, classically made chocolate soufflé with raspberry coulis. We sipped a non-vintage
Maury “Cuvée Speciale” Mas Amiel, 10 Years, made with Grenache.
     It was the kind of meal and evening that made me realize all over again how much depth and breadth New York restaurants have, meaning that, while I can't imagine eating much better anywhere in New York, I can eat just almost as well at any number of restaurants. The distinction is that Café Gray is uniquely Café Gray, and Kunz has proven himself yet again to be in the very top tier of New York chefs.

Appetizers at dinner run $19-$28, main courses, $31-$38. The restaurant is open for lunch, Mon.-Sat., dinner, daily.

     Incidentally, the Time-Warner Center will be adding two new restaurants: This fall Chef Michael Lomonaco will helm a new American grill where Vongerichten's V used to be, and Marc Murphy, who owns Landmarc and the new Ditch Plains, will open a larger branch of Landmarc on the premises originally designed for Charlie Trotter's, to open next spring.



"When it's time to head for the airport, I realise a quick dose of Libya has put me in a good mood.  I'm feeling healthy, tanned, and energised, and I've seen amazing things in the space of a long weekend.  Of course, the whole plane is mightily pleased to see good old British Airways drinks trolley coming down the aisle--but, hey, detox, retox, that's the way we live. Eh, Bacchus?"--Nigel Tisdall, "The Lure of Libya," Marie Claire Travel (April 2006).


Mama Lena's Pizza House in Pittsburgh is offering a pizza measuring 3 feet by 4 feet for 99 cents.


* On May 16 North One 10 in Miami celebrates its Second Anniversary with a wine dinner with guest Russ Wies, G-M of SilveradoVineyards . $85 pp. Visit Call 305-893-4211.

* Boston’s Sel de la Terre Chef/Owner Geoff Gardner and Wine Director Erik Johnson announce the next "Wine Wednesday" series.  MAY 17: Bordeaux; MAY 24: South Africa; MAY 31: Picnic Basket Goodies; JUNE 7:  Summer Sippers; JUNE 14:  Rosé Colored Glasses; JUNE 21: Sel de la Terre Clam Bake; JULY 5:  Red, White & Blue: The USA; JULY 12: No Wine Wednesday;  JULY 19: Australia & New Zealand; JULY 26: Bubbles, Bubbles, Everywhere! $45 pp. Call 617-720-1300. Visit

* From May 19-21 the New York Culinary Festival will be held  at Pier 94 New York (54th Street and 12th Avenue), incl. NYC chefs and food from top eateries, incl. Megu, Petrossian, Artisanal,  Osteria Gelsi, Blair Perrone Steakhouse, Country, Payard Patisserie & Bistro, Picholine, WD-50, Artisanal, Butter, Joseph’s, Citarella & Brasserie 8 1/2, Tintol,  Colors, et al. Demos  and seminars incl:  “Molecular Gastronomy” by Will Goldfarb of wd-50; “Easy Entertaining” by Ted Allen of Robert Mondavi Private Selections; “Summer Cocktails” by Julie Reiner of the Flat Iron Lounge and Jason Kosmas of Employees Only; “Chocolatina, Queen of Desert” by Martin Howard;  “Foie Gras Vol au Vent” by Pascal Condomine of D’Artagnan, et al. Live music, ice sculpture, fashion consultants, cookbook authors, etc. $20 pp, $10 for children. Visit or call 1-800-555-MENU.

* On Sat, & Sun. from May 27-Oct. 8, 40 Chicago chefs will prepare recipes during the Chicago Botanic Garden’s  annual Great Chef Series at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden demo kitchen, sponsored by Barilla Pasta. Chefs incl. Susan Goss, West Town Tavern; Tony Priolo,  Coco Pazzo; Matt McMillin, Big Bowl; Noah Bekofsky, Aria; et al.  Call 847-835-5440, or visit

* From June 1-4,  Napa Valley Vintners  will hold the 26th  Annual Auction Napa Valley, culminating in the live auction at the Meadwood Resort.  Jack and Dolores Cakebread and family, owners and founders of Cakebread Cellars, will chair this year’s auction. Tickets at

* From June 6-11  ‘A Taste of Andalucia’ festival at the InterContinental Miami in partnership with Diego’s Restaurant, Coral Gables, with 6 of the region’s top chefs, incl.  Manolo Rincon; Jose Dominguez Oneto, chef and food critic from Cadiz; Francisco Afan Del Rio of ‘Casa Pepe,' Cordoba;  plus Juan Martinez Lao, Antonio Jesus Caballero Sanchez and Francisco Javier Cobos Martin, all from Exsena Café-Teatro Restaurant, Sevilla.  Also Spanish wines and  ‘La Tropa’  flamenco. Call 305-577-1000.

qrqrThis fall, from Sept. 29-Oct. 6 John Mariani (left), publisher of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet and food & travel columnist for Esquire Magazine,  will host and lead a 7-day cruise called "The Sweet Life," aboard  Silverseas' Millennium Class Silver Whisper, with days visiting Barcelona, Tunis, Naples, Milazzo (Sicily), Rome, Livorno, and Villefranche.  There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines,9999 cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani co-authors of The Italian-American Cookbook), optional shore excursions will include a tour of the Amalfi Coast, dinner at the great Don Alfonso 1890 (2 Michelin stars), a private tour of the Vatican, dinner at La Pergola (3 Michelin stars) in Rome, a Night Cruise to Hotel de Paris and dinner at Louis XV (3 Michelin stars) in Monaco, and much more.  Rates (a 20% savings) range from $4,411 to $5,771. For complete information click.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, 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.

6y6My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. A beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there. To read an excerpt click.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

yyy u7o9o ee
rer rr ryh

copyright John Mariani 2006