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Deep Down in Paris' Great Wine CellarS by John Mariani
YORK CORNER: 'Cesca's New Chef by John
by John Mariani
“What is your pleasure?” is a question not taken lightly by
Indeed, La Tour d’Argent (15 Quai de la Tournelle; 33-1-4046-7111), which traces its history back to 1582, possesses the most astounding wine cellar in
Head sommelier David Ridgway, a Brit, here since 1981, contends that each week he has at least a couple of tables spending $20,000 or more for wine. “The extremes are expanding. There are those who want spectacular wines, and those who just want to drink a good value wine I recommend. I don’t push the rare ones; they sell themselves. Americans tell me how much they want to spend, and sometimes they feel insulted if I suggest something under their price level.” Ridgway, one of 15 sommeliers at the restaurant, also insists many of La Tour d’Argent’s wines above 300 Euros (about $375) are priced less than in American wine shops.
Some connoisseurs in
Taillevent’s complete list is massive, but every table is presented with a wine card of about 320 selections, most quite young from the mid-‘90s and 2000 vintages, with dozens priced under $50. Mark-ups seem to average about 2-3 times retail prices in the U.S.: A Mouton-Rothschild ’83 goes for 290 Euros ($365), which sells in U.S. wineshops for about $150. But remember, restaurant wine prices in
“My goal is to have people choose their favorite region and varietal and offer them a wide range of options,” says head sommelier Marco Pelletier, who came from Michel Rostang to Taillevent seven months ago. “I’m happy to say that 90% of our clientele ask my advice, and our regulars trust us to surprise them with a wonderful wine from Chile or Australia. It is important that we have a list not just to show off but to offer variety and some fun.” Just recently a guest brought a rare bottle of 1925 Taylor’s Port to Taillevent, which Pelletieri opened by heating the bottle’s neck, then icing it. “The cork was too old to risk crumbling into the bottle. So I just snapped off the neck. Everyone applauded.”
Taillevent has also just debuted its tasting cellar downstairs, where clientele may go for digestives of Port and brandy.
One of the newest and best modern cellars in Paris is at Le Cinq, the restaurant of the Four Seasons George V Hotel (31 Avenue George V; 33-1-49-52-7154). Having taken over the moribund property in 1999, management started from scratch in building the winelist. “The old cellar had nothing left,” says sommelier Thierry Hamon. “Everything had been sold at auction. Now we have more than 1,500 selections and 50,000 bottles, with 40 wines from the U.S. and Canada. We’ve been very successful buying older Bordeaux, so we are quickly building strength in that area.”
Like his colleagues, Hamon is delighted to make suggestions within a guest’s price range. “I’m proud to say that at lunch today I only opened the wine list four times; the rest of the guests asked me to choose. Americans tell us what they want to spend. The Russians may start at 1000 Euros. The other night one of them ordered a 12,000 Euro magnum of Bordeaux. For the Japanese I propose wine by the glass.”
You may visit Le Cinq’s wine cellar, once part of an old stone quarry used to build the nearby Arc de Triomphe. In World War II the cellar was walled up to protect its bottles from falling into German hands. Today the cellar is state-of-the-art in temperature and humidity control. It is also romantically lighted. “Several people have proposed marriage in the cellar,” says Hamon.
Intimidation is the last thing any of these sommeliers want to convey. So, when they ask, “What is your pleasure?” let them do their job and surprise you with something special. Only a cad would do otherwise and spoil their fun.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
164 West 75th Street
Nearly three years in business, 'Cesca has been packing them in ever since Chef Tom Valenti and partner Godfrey Polistina gave the Upper West Side its best Italian restaurant ever. The warm atmosphere, the rusticity married to New York polish, and winning, wonderful Italian cooking made 'Cesca (named after Polistina's daughter) a favorite not just in the neighborhood but for anyone who loves this kind of hearty, robust cooking.
This year, Valenti left 'Cesca to oversee (and perhaps eventually take over) Ouest, another West Sider he opened in 2002. The current ownership of 'Cesca is The Off the Menu Restaurant Group, which also currently runs Ouest and Mainland. Valenti was not, however, always in the kitchen at 'Cesca, leaving chef de cuisine duties to Amanda Freitag, then to Michael Della Verde, so the Group sought out a new chef who had the chops to maintain 'Cesca's style while adding measurably his own. They have chosen very wisely: Kevin Garcia, who was born on the Upper West Side, has had long experience at top restaurants, including Al Forno in Providence, Il Vipore in Lucca, Italy, Prime in Las Vegas, and Luca at the Boca Raton Resort. Lately he was chef de cuisine at Del Posto in NYC.
The L-shaped dining room (above) hasn't changed much as far as I can tell, still dominated by a big open kitchen where you can see Garcia hard at work. The counter is piled with fresh breads made here, and there's a marvelous aroma that hits you as soon as you enter the restaurant. Iron chandeliers, brown velvet banquettes, and warm lighting puts you in mind of a ristorante in the hills of Umbria or Tuscany. There is also an enchanting wine room (below). The winelist is full of the kind of full-flavored wines that go so well with this style of cooking; the wines are not cheap, though, and I'd like a better selection under $50. There are, however, several good wines by the glass, which may be sampled in flights of three.
The menu is pretty large, but nearly everything I sampled came out well, despite the crush of a Saturday night crowd. By all means try out the light, crisp fritto misto of vegetables and seafood, or perhaps the simple and luscious buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and basil--both dishes done as well or better than any in NYC. True, there are a lot of clichés on the menu, like tuna carpaccio and linguine with clams, but you won't often run across Etruscan farro salad with tomato, cucumber, and red onions often, and, on the basis of the sweet and savory trippa alla Fiorentina cooked with white wine, tomato, and prosciutto served here, I urge that people take another try at tripe if they haven't seen it on an Italian menu recently.
Pastas are lusty and delicious, from a good and spicy bucatini all'Amatriciana, with chile peppers, onions, and sweet tomatoes, to correctly pungent garganelli malafemmina, ridged pasta with heirloom tomatoes, anchovies, Cerignola olives and ricotta salata. Tagliatelle ribbons come with abundant prawns, calamari, tomatoes, chilies, white wine, and basil, while farro also plays a part in a tender, rich risotto. Best of all the pastas sampled was ravioli stuffed generously with braised duck meat and lavished with a balsamic and brown butter and sage dressing.
There are daily specials offered weekly--tagliata di manzo on Tuesday, porchetta on Wednesday, veal chop on Thursday, risotto sapore di mare in Friday, and, on Saturday, panate di maiale. On the regular menu there is succulent wood-roasted orata with sea beans and Meyer lemon, a yellowfin tuna crusted with grilled porcini and served with caponata and pignoli, and a nicely fat-riddled grilled pork chop with smoked bacon, white beans, olives, and a touch of oregano.
Desserts are fairly predictable but homey and well made, from the gelati and pannacotta with berries to a tasteful tiramisù and crisp apple crostata. The moist cheesecake here is gilded with whipped cream and nut brittle. Espresso is well made, if you beg them to make it so.
I welcome chef Garcia, who seems to have the homeboy touch in this, his own neighborhood, and the total lack of pretension on the part of everyone who works at 'Cesca makes it a restaurant you truly look forward to returning to; I know I do.
Appetizers run $12-$14, pastas (full portion) $18-$23, and main courses $27-$542. 'Cesca is open for dinner only, daily.
WITH AN OINK OINK HERE, AND A MOO MOO THERE. . .
Embassy Suites Hotels has created an omelet inspired by Donald Trump aptly named “The Domelet," containing ham, cheese, peppers, and sour cream with salsa.
THAT'S FUNNY, A RECENT SURVEY OF WOMEN'S SEX PREFERENCES SHOWED THE SAME DATA
According to American Express's Briefing, a survey on women dining out done by Marketing to Women showed:
1. Women are less likely to be satisfied with their frequency of dining out in both tableservice and quick service restaurants.
2. Women's brains take in and integrate information from what they see, hear, and emotional overtones.
3. Women pick up on and respond to things that men can't--making them more likely to be turned off by aspects of an experience that aren't what they should be, but also more conscious and appreciative of the nice touches.
4. Women appreciate more nuances than men at every point along the way, from reservations to how you say goodbye.
5. Tidiness can make a difference when it comes to the potential battleground of bathrooms.
6. If you design a "guy place," you're not going to get the romantic dinners, the date crowd, the single women.
7. When you meet women's heightened expectations, you are more than fulfilling those of men, leading to increased customer satisfaction for both.
"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.
* On Aug. 7 the Fifth Annual Hall of Fame Fundraising Dinner benefiting the Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation will be held at MoMo’s Restaurant in
* For the 55th consecutive summer, Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, CA, presents "Tastings on the Lawn" on Aug. 12, featuring a super-premium wines, incl. reserves and limited releases, with food and live music by the Paul Hlebcar Trio, on the sprawling grounds of the Napa Valley winery. Mondavi family members will be in attendance to greet guests and sign bottles, available at a 20 percent discount. Charles Krug's
* On Aug. 17 in~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
* On Aug. 19 Michael~David Winery in Lodi, CA, producers of the Seven Deadly Zins, Seven Heavenly Chards, Incognito and, Earthquake wines will transform their winery into a Jamaican jam session with San Francisco's Red di reggae sensation, and incl. food, beverages, wine tastings, and barrel sampling. $65 pp; Designated Drivers: $35; Wine Club/Wild Women on Wine Members $45; Wine Club Designated Drivers: $35. Call 209-368-7384. Visit www.lodivineyards.com
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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