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NEW YORK CORNER : Brasserie Ruhlmann by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Terroir-ist Report by John Mariani
NEW ORLEANS NOW
by John Mariani
A few weeks ago I flew to New Orleans to attend the annual Tennessee Williams Festival and, of course, to eat around town. I also wanted to see just how damaged the city was in the post-Katrina world, and, while this is not the place to do disaster reporting, I have to say that the horror of seeing miles and miles and miles of utter desolation--seven times the size of Manhattan--was increased by the utter silence of the affected areas--no sounds of birds or insects, almost no one working to re-build because there was no water or electricity with which to do the job. It was, afterwards, not easy to look on the bright side, which would be those areas barely touched by the flooding but which suffered somewhat less.7 on Fulton
You have heard that the French Quarter suvived almost intact, but that does not tell you of the destruction wrought by rotting food, dank water, and temperatures that climbed above 100 degrees, destroying vast cellars of wine, still not replaced and inadequately reimbursed. There Tennessee Williams, Life Magazine (1948) are scores of restaurants that have re-opened, at this count, 658, which is less than half the city once had. The best place to find a growing list is to go to Tom Fitzmorris's comprehensive site, The New Orleans Menu (www.nomenu.com).
But though the unemployment rate is now higher than before Katrina, the size of the displaced labor force is a monumental 309,000 people, so that most of the restaurants are understaffed, operating at reduced hours with reduced menus, and, in so many cases, under-capitalized and without any more insurance. As Jimmy Brennan of Brennan's on Royal Street, which re-opened last month and lost its entire award-winning wine cellar, "September will tell the tale: Summer business is always down anyway because of the heat in New Orleans. Many of those that re-opened may run out of insurance and not be able to last until fall."
It is a sad situation all around. Still, as Winston Churchill said after learning of the destruction of Coventry by the Luftwaffe, "Well, let's have lunch. Everything looks better after lunch." So off I went.
Bourbon House Seafood & Oyster Bar
144 Bourbon Street
When I entered Bourbon House, which was among the first restaurants to re-open last winter, I found a dining room more than half empty, yet they wouldn't--couldn't--seat my party for twenty minutes because they simply hadn't enough staff to handle more tables. Once seated, however, all went smoothly, and Chef Jared Tees' cooking was as delicious as I remember it when it opened two three years ago.
Owner Dickie Brennan is a member of the extended Brennan family, various clans and members of which operate restaurants as disparate as Brennan's, Commander's Palace (still not open), Bacco, Mr. B's Bistro, and many others. Dickie himself runs The Palace Cafe and Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, and this is his most recent effort, opened in 2003. It's a big, gregarious place, like Dickie himself, with a happy yellow-tiled and marble-floored oyster bar up front, spacious private dining rooms upstairs, and a splendidly open dining room overlooking the street. Amber glass sconces and murals by Nick Kroll give the place an antique charm, added to by mismatched bentwood chairs made by the Thonet Company that originated them in the early 1800s. The booths are roomy, tufted leather, floors are planked longleaf pine, and wrought iron is used throughout for accents.
Houston-born Chef Tees (below) has been working for the Brennans for 15 years and knows their style--big flavors, big portions, and moderate spicing, and he brings that style to the Bourbon House, which was one of my Best New Restaurants of 2004 in Esquire Magazine, when I wrote, “Dickie Brennan and Chef Jared Tees have taken a long look at the classics of Creole seafood and found ways to make them vibrant." I tasted nothing that would make me change my opinion now in 2006, despite the deprivations wrought by Katrina upon the Big Easy.
You can have a "Grand Plateaux de Fruits de Mer" that is very grand indeed, piled high with oysters, Cajun caviar, boiled shrimp, marinated crab fingers, roasted calamari, and marinated seafood salad. For hot starters I recommend the addictive devilled stuffed crab and the nicely spicy shrimp rémoulade. There is a trio of stuffed oysters too (below), Rockefeller, Bienville, and Fonseca, and Tees' seafood gumbo with oysters, shrimp, crabmeat, okra, and andouille is among the best in town, and there is a selection of po' boy sandwiches too.
For main courses you won't go wrong with any of the seafood like Gulf flounder crusted with pecans and served in a rich Creole meunière, or redfish with a sauté of shrimp, oysters, beans, and mushrooms in a tangy lemon beurre blanc. Panéed veal came topped lavishly with the jumbo-est of snow white jumbo lump crabmeat.
Amy Mockovak's desserts were as sumptuous as ever--chocolate chunk bread pudding, pecan pie with both chocolate and caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream on top, and a spectacularly good double chocolate blondie à la mode. Brings out the child in you.
Bourbon House's winelist has substance, particularly strong in Chardonnays, and, as befits its name, a selection of about 60 bourbons, which can be sampled in flights of $15 or $20.
Appetizers run $6-$8, entrees $16-$31.
The Warehouse District was hit harder than the French Quarter (Emeril's was closed for several months), but Katrina didn't stop 7 on Fulton from opening in February, so it is a testament to proprietor Vicky Bayley to perservere in the belief that a new restaurant would havie a buoying effect on the crestfallen Crescent City.VIZARD'S on the avenue
Bayley has had considerable experience opening restaurants in Louisiana, most notably Mike’s on the Avenue in 1991 (now closed) and Artesia in 1997 in Abita Springs. At 7 Fulton she's hired California-born Chef David English (below), whose résumé includes stages at several Michelin star restaurants in France and Spain, a stint at Angèle in Napa, CA, and the job of exec chef at Cobalt in New Orleans. His cooking is very clear-headed, imaginative without excessive flourishes, taking care to keep the prime ingredients in the forefront of flavor on the plate.
In her decor of the 86-seat dining room (above) Bayley has maintained the original painted-brick walls of the premises, off the lobby of the Riverfront Hotel, with arched windows and high ceilings. A single banquette extends the entire depth of one wall of the dining room. The chairs are in the Chinese Chippendale style, and the colorful paintings are by Mike Fennelly, Bayley’s former partner at Mike’s on the Avenue (now closed).
With Ms Bayley and New Orleans food writer colleague Gene Bourg, I had an opportunity to range widely around the menu, beginning with a sparkling, crisp endive salad with pears, dried figs, and a creamy blue cheese vinaigrette. Mushroom cannelloni with shaved Parmesan and truffle sauce was excellent, and English really delivered big flavors with his grilled Gulf shrimp with New Orleans-style barbecue sauce and fried grits, which showed how a canny chef can pull off an otherwise very rich dish with lightened finesse.
The main courses included a similarly balanced version of pan-seared halibut with shellfish and paella studded with chorizo lavished with a saffron sauce, while crisp-skinned duck breast had a sweet honey glaze and "dirty rice" of duck leg confit. A grilled Angus New York strip steak took on the added luster of braised short ribs and a creamy potato purée, with oxtail ravioli, and a bordelaiase sauce (left). Yes, this was too much of a good thing, but neverthless difficult for me to stop eating.
For dessert the chocolate soufflé tart with raspberry Chambord sauce and vanilla ice cream was very, very good, equalled, however, by a banana caramel crêpe with pecan praline and rum ice cream. They don't kid around with dessert--or anything else--in New Orleans.
The winelist is all right for the moment but promises to add to the serviceable size it now is.
Appetizers run $7-$11, entrees $22-$29.
Garden District Hotel
2203 St. Charles Avenue
I've long been a fan of Kevin Vizard, who has been cooking in New Orleans for more than 20 years, first at Commander's Palace, then at Mr. B's. In the early '90s he opened his own places, Vizard's and Kevin's, but returned to the Brennan family fold first at Commander's then as Exec Chef at Café Adelaide (another of my Esquire picks of two years ago), where he had a remarkable ability to marry downhome taste with upscale ingredients, putting both po' boys and foie gras on the menu.
His robust style is still evident in every dish at his new place, Vizard's on the Avenue in the Garden District Hotel. It's small--about 18 tables--and very very loud, and I'm not crazy about very low-lighting (the photo at left was taken in sunlight) that doesn't show the color and spark in Vizard's dishes. You will eat well, though, from a lovely, light scallop flan with jumbo crabmeat, melted leeks, and a creamy crab jus to a "crab dug-out"--crispy eggplant stuffed generously with crab, crimini mushrooms, a red bean purée and spicy chimchurri sauce. I loved the redfish tamale, teeming with red onion and an olive confit, cebollitas, and roasted Creole tomato--a terrific, fully flavorful, well-textured dish, and "chicken and dumplings" was a nice tweaking of a homey classic, here done as pan-roasted chicken with wild mushrooms, favas, gnocchi dumplings and an herbed poultry jus.
Have a nice Tawny Port with desserts like Vizard's pecan cake and his creamy panna cotta.
I do hope they do something about the noise and lighting at Vizard's. This place is too good to keep hidden in darkness and too nice to require earplugs.
Starters range from $7-$12, main courses $18-$29. Dinner only.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
45 Rockefeller Plaza
Could there be a better location than Rockefeller Center, the most elegant, totemic expression of urban art deco in the world, built, amazing, at the height of the Depression and respctfully added to over the decades? With its shaft-like GE Building (originally the RCA Building), magnificent plaza and skating rink ringed by flags of all nations and centered by a gilded statue of Prometheus, it is a place of grace, beauty, and dashing style.
Yet the restaurant space at 45 Rock, built in 1938 as the Associated Press Building, has been troubled for years, with a succession of tenants that have included name consultants like Roger Vergé. Now, for the last several months under the management of Jean Denoyer, it has been Brasserie Ruhlmann, taking its name from the art deco master designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, whose work was given a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art two years ago. Reproductions of Ruhlmann-style furniture and fixtures are used throughout the new restaurant, with walls lined with deep brown faux Macassar ebony, Drouant side chairs, intricately tiled mosaic floors, nickel-plated sconces, and 20 signature mirrors that reflect light from four octagonal alabaster ceiling fixtures (above). It is quite a production, unlike anything else in New York. and very classy.
Of course, Denoyer has long familiarity with the brasserie genre, having opened La Goulue on Madison Avenue and, more recently Orsay, along with the Thai-inflected Le Colonial here and in San Francisco, and Bistro Moderne in Houston. Upon opening in late winter Brasserie Ruhlmann was of course the new kid on this very splenid block, but a well-known chef left within weeks, leaving one to wonder about the curse of 45 Rock. Denoyer quickly recouped, however, hiring the indefatigable Laurent Tourondel to consult and act as executive chef. Tourondel, who has had an impressive, if checkered career: after working in London, then at Ledoyen and Troisgros in France; he came to the U.S. as chef at Claude Troisgros' C.T. , moved to Las Vegas's Palace Court, then returned to NYC as chef at the very refined seafood restaurant, Cello, which had great reviews but closed suddenly in 2002. Tourondel re-emerged two years ago with three smashing successes in a row--BLT Steak, BLT Fish, and BLT Prime. So-o-o-o, the question presents itself, just how much time can Tourondel actually devote to Ruhlmann or take away from his other enterprises? When I visited he was fully dressed in his whites, but there are other enterprises, oui?
The distinction, of course, is that each of these restaurants runs with an exacting attention to achieving consistency within a genre, not as individualized entities expressive of the chef's individuality. If you can get things right through hard work and good management, they can pretty much run themselves after a while, and the brasserie formula has been around since Alsatians started opening these brewery-based eateries in Paris in the 16th century, and especially after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, when Alsatians flooded the city. Since then the menus of brasseries have become quite fixed, famous for their choucroute, confit, frisée salad, baekefe casserole, tarte flambée, and truite in Riesling, Beer and Alsatian wines predominated. Such items still do, though standard French bistro dishes are everywhere on brasserie menus, as they are at Ruhlmann, whose menu is also appended with New York favorites.
Thus, you might begin with Jonah crabs or East Coast oysters, and you might as well have them in a plateau de fruits de mer (small, $68, large, $110). Among hors d'ouevres are nicely fatted saucisson chaud with lentils salad, crisp frisée aux lardons, and freshly chopped steak tartare. At lunch the salad options are increased, and there are several sandwiches, including croque monsieur and the inevitable hamburger, made with Kobe-style beef ($22).
Laurent Tourondel Bistro favorites like juicy steak au poivre ($36) come with some of the best frites I've had in ages, and there is a grilled ribeye with marrow, for two ($74). Black bass is treated to a light curry sauce ($26) and sole is available à la meunière ($38) or grenobloise (at $19, a terrific bargain), and cod is done up in Provençal flavors ($23). There is also roasted free-range chicken ($24), beef short rib à la bourguignonne ($28), and some wonderful side dishes, including roasted tomatoes, potatoes au gratin Dauphinois, and gnocchi romaine.
The cheese selection is chintzy, but the desserts are tantalizing, from yummy chocolate profiteroles and baba au rhum to rich bread pudding and well-rendered apple tart. I can never resist caramelized Paris-Brest in its crisp pastry or the ethereal floating island of meringues in crème anglaise.
Prices are very reasonable for good-sized portions, though lunch and dinner main courses are about the same price. The winelist, with about 75 whites and 75 reds, gives good value in regional French wines like Robert Vocoret Chablis 2004 ($44), Guy Saget Sancerre 2005 ($40), Château La Couronne St. Émilion 2001 ($52), and Domaine Blaches Crozes-Hermitage 2002 ($40), along with a few good U.S. bottlings and some big ticket Burgundy and Bordeaux.
I want very much for Brasserie Ruhlmann to make a go of it, if just to prove that the location is not jinxed and that people will always want good, solid, honest cooking of this kind, with a nice glass of Kir royale, and an atmosphere that looks more modern than most and should age as gracefully as Rockefeller Center itself.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
by John Mariani
"Terroir" is not a genre of French horror movies, but it is very close to the soul of French gastronomy. The word comes from the Latin, terra, for "earth," and in
While this all sounds sensible enough to Americans, our country's food producers have often ignored the simple precept of terroir in favor of high volume production. American agribusiness has in the past insisted that, while some territories are better for certain crops than others, their range is enormous, and that you can produce acceptable food products on a gigantic scale. And, sadly, as all the headlines proclaim, small farms in small production regions are fast declining. We still attach territorial labels to some of our foods, like New Jersey tomatoes, Kentucky bourbon and Idaho potatoes, but "Maine lobsters" can come from anywhere north of the Carolinas and "Smithfield hams" need not be made from pigs raised around Smithfield, Virginia. And
Fortunately this American dismissal of the principle of terroir is starting to change, as American consumers begin to appreciate the specific, wonderful flavors of foods produced in regions whose soil and and sun and rain show a marked difference in taste and texture. Farmer's markets, cottage industry cheese makers, organic gardens and additive-free beef producers are working very hard to change the perception that terroir does not matter. Buoyed by the evidence that the consumer will spend more money for better-tasting food from small regional producers, the American food industry is starting to respond. Even large local supermarkets now carry a wide range of foods from regional producers.
West coast wineries have been doing this for some time now, so that there are now hundreds of "Recognized Viticultural Regions" sanctioned by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms whose geographical features, including climate, soil, elevation, physical features, and others, "are distinctly different from surrounding regions." And they get pretty specific, with regions like
But we are also seeing and savoring foods whose terroir is increasingly and proudly displayed on their labels. Superb goat's cheeses are being made at Turtle Creek Dairy in
Terroir is not just a patriotic conceit, though it is an idea full of regional American pride. It is a concept whose time has come in the United States, whose vastness and diversity has always been our strength, as much in our food as in our people.
REASON No. 45,789 WHY PEOPLE
After his son ate a Fluffernutter sandwich at the elementary school cafeteria, State Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios of Massachusetts filed an amendemtn to a school nutrition bill to restrict schools from serving the sandwich, which originated in Somerville, MA. The company that makes Fluff, Durkee-Mower, thereupon filed legislation to make the item the official state sandwich. The elementary school insisted the sandwich met nutritional guidelines.
OF COURSE, POETRY IS FOREVER BUT TODAY'S MEAL WILL BE BEHIND YOU TOMORROW
* During July
* In celebration of
* On July 18 in
* This summer, The Kitano New York is offering Summer BBQ and Manhattan Clam Bake packages, incl. a dinner of your choice prepared by a personal chef, beverages, service and exclusive use of the rooftop of the hotel, which offers stunning views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings and the historic Murray Hill area of New York, starting at $75 pp. Both menus provide a variety of choices from Certified Black Angus beef burgers and lamb chops to fresh littleneck clams, Blue Point oysters and whole
* On July 19 in
* From July 19-23 New Orleans is again home to Tales of the Cocktail, a dining and drinking experience that explores the history and spirit of the cocktail, with sirited Dinners, featuring dinner pairings at New Orleans’ oldest and most famous restaurants; a series of seminars and discussions on bartending, cocktail history and other industry trends; Cocktail Hour, featuring book signings, cooking and cocktail mixing demos; Dine and Design, a luncheon with presentations on entertaining at home; walking tours of the French Quarter; and classic and contemporary cocktail parties. Tix may be purchased online at www.TalesoftheCocktail.com or call 1-800.299.0404.
* From July 28-30, Sonoma Salute to the Arts, a showcase of the culinary, winemaking, visual, performing, and literary arts, will celebrate its 21st birthday with an opening night gala—“The Salute Celebration” and an art extravaganza on Saturday and Sunday, with food and wine, music and art. Sonoma Golf Club and Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa will host the Salute to the Arts Live Auction and Dinner on Sat. evening. Tixs for the Salute Celebration are $95 pp in advance, $125 at the door. Tasting Packages for the Plaza event are $30 in advance, $35 at the event. A Patron’s ticket, which combines The Salute Celebration and a Tasting Package for Plaza events, is $125 in advance only. For other info 707.938.1133, or visit www.salutetothearts.com.
* mk in Chicago bids farewell to foie gras with chef Todd Stein's 5- course degustation beginning July 21 through the eve of the Chicago ban on the product, Aug. 23rd. $82 pp. Call 312-482-9179.
* London’s Milestone Hotel is offering a special Wine and Dine package that incl. accommodation in a Junior Suite; Personal wine tasting with the Sommelier to select the wines for your meal; Four-course dinner for two; Post-dinner cocktail or digestif; Personalised copy of your menu and selected wines; Case of six bottles of your selected wines to take away ; Full English breakfast Available from July 28- Nov.; £679 for a one-night stay for two people, with an upgrade to a Master Suite for an additional £50 per night. call 44 20-7917 1000 or from
* The Harvest Inn in
* Geneva’s Hotel d'Angleterre is offering a Swiss Weekend Delights package that incl.: Buffet breakfast; complimentary cocktail in the hotel's ; transfer from the airport with our Bentley (According to availability ) or with a limo ; Dinner one night in Windows, and on another in Edelweiss restaurant ; Afternoon tea; voucher (CHF 500) to spend in Gübelin Jeweller's shop; guided tour of Geneva and a boat trip on the lake. Available throughout 2006, with rates from CHF 2190 for a three night stay based on two people sharing a double room. Call Leading 1 800 233 6800. Visit www.redcarnation.com.
"THE SWEET LIFE" CRUISE
This 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, 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.
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