The Menu from Windows on the World at New York's World Trade Center 2001
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Where's the Wine at J&B? by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: The River Café by John Mariani
DINING OUT IN LONDON, Part Two by John Mariani
Strong at every level, London's gastro-scape is as impressive for its depth as for its breadth, and many restaurants that have been around for a good long while are keeping up admirably with the novelties of the day. Not least is the enchanting Restaurant at The Ritz (150 Piccadilly; 7493-2687), which may well be the most beautiful in London, as fit for a dalliance out of The Forsyte Saga as a rendezvous in Waugh.
Opened one century ago, the Ritz (left) was the first of that city's structures to be built of reinforced steel and concrete. Which is just lovely, I'm sure, but such thoughts don't much occupy one's mind as you enter the pink-and-gold salon (below) of crystal, marble, and trompe l'oeuil, with its white tie-and-tails service (introduced by César Ritz himself), still part of the ritual of dining here. So dress accordingly or be bounced; it is possibly the one restaurant left in London that demands gentlemen wear jackets and ties. Hear! Hear!
The room's huge French windows look out over the Terrace and Green Park, and I actually find it more beautiful in the daytime than in the evening, but who's quibbling about such grandeur?
Executive Chef John Williams, who came to The Ritz from the Savoy Group, has had wide experience in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as an early sting at Boston's R-C. Here he has performed the deft trick of maintaining the classic culinary traditions of The Ritz while bringing it into modern focus. Indeed, dishes like his wonderful butter-poached lobster with parsnips and braised oxtail are as modern as any fine restaurant in town, as is his very flavorful roasted sea bass with caramelized endive and stuffed baby squid and sauce vierge. A warm salad of pigeon and sautéed foie gras with pear vinaigrette stands somewhere between tradition and modernism, while a confit of beets with biscotti, Roquefort and horseradish cream with lentil dressing shows the same delicate balance. The best dish I sampled was a sauté of sweet, fat Dublin Bay prawns with braised pork belly and a confit of pear puree, which could easily pass muster anywhere in Paris these days.
There is a superb array of British cheeses (among others) and the soufflés at The Ritz are certainly the best in London.
You might well want to begin an evening here at the glittering Rivoli Bar, now five years old and as swank as anything in London, with its camphor wood veneer, Lalique glass panels, gold and silver leaf mirrors, and mohair sofas. And, of course, for tea time the tables are usually taken by an extraordinary array of types that range from well-heeled American tourists and Middle Eastern businessmen to London's bon ton and oddities who look fresh from a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. And, if you're so inclined to join the Asians and Middle Easterners with their Russian girlfriends at the downstairs casino, you can dine there as well.
The Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a 3-course pre-theater dinner at £45, and 4-course dinner at £65. By the way, on Friday and Saturday nights The Ritz keeps the tradition of the dinner dance (four courses at £75), which is extremely popular.
Somehow, until now, Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill (11-15 Swallow Street; 0207 734 4756 ) has escaped my notice, despite its being around for ages. Opened in 1916 with an Italian façade it happily retains, Bentley's is now all shiny and new, but without distressing its antique charms. Owners Richard and Nigel Goodhew and partner/exec chef Richard Corrigan bought the place last year and have spruced up the Victoriana quite elegantly, including some quietly posh upstairs dining rooms and the shimmering downstairs Oyster Bar (below) where I had a splendid lunch. Here you can sit at the marble-topped counter or on red leather banquettes with marble tables. There is also a baby grand piano in the snazzy champagne bar here.
Chef Brendan Fyldes, formerly of The National Portrait Gallery and L’Escargot, sets a typical British seafood menu at the Oyster Bar (upstairs the food is a bit more complex), starting with ice bowls topped with an array of the day's oysters and clams, which you may enjoy with a glass of
Ingredients come first here, sourced from the best waters and farms by Corrigan, and there is a bakery and patîsserie on premises that serves up good, simple desserts like crème brûlée, chocolate petit pot, and a brown sugar meringue with strawberries.
Appetizers range from £7-£12.50, main courses £13.95-£33. Upstairs is somewhat more expensive. Bentley's Oyster Bar is open daily from noon till 1 AM; the Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. The average price per person, without wine, but including service, is about $75-$80 for dinner.
If you're not quite up for seafood or the grandeur of The Ritz, and want good Italian food without paying the high tab at places like Locanda Locatelli and Zafferano, a very friendly, familial little place called Oliveto (49 Elizabeth Street; 020-7730 -0074) in Belgravia may be right up your alley. Wholly unassuming, with pretty unpretentious decor, Oliveto is fast-paced, casual, and won't cost you much (appetizers run £2.50-12.50, pastas £6-£13.50, and pizzas £9.50-£13.50). I had a lovely lunch with friends, scarfing up a tender octopus salad with arugula; dried tuna (mosciame) with green beans and sun-dried tomatoes; and char-grilled fennel salad with ricotta sarda. This was followed by winning pastas like pappardelle with fava beans, arugula, and broad bean puree, a plate of linguine with crab spiked with chili and garlic, and spaghetti alla bottarga with grated mullet roe--all perfectly cooked. The pizzas may well be the best in London.
Caveat: Many people have commented on the fact that Oliveto allows smoking throughout its small dining room, even though it gets families with children. Within the year this will in all probability change as London starts to require no-smoking in restaurants.
Prompted by Indian friends whose gustatory opinions I trust, I returned after several years to Veeraswamy (Victory House, 99 Regent Street; 020-7734-1401), reputedly the oldest Indian restaurant in the city, opened in 1926 by an Indian princess and an enterprising Brit who knew that there were plenty of returnees from the Raj with a craving for curries. In the decades that followed, Veeraswamy became quite a social hub, but by the 1960s pretty much a tourist trap. I recall eating here--quite expensively for a college student on summer vacation--and wondering why it had the reputation it did, since I could have dined as well at any number of curry houses around town for one-quarter the price. On my last visit a decade or so ago, the place had been snazzed up, but the service and the food were lackluster still.
Hurrah, then, for the takeover in 2001 by the Masalaworld Group, headed by Namita Panjabi and her husband Ranjot Mathrani, who also own the estimable Chutney Mary, Amaya, and Masala Zone restaurant in London. Amaya garnered enormous press when it opened two years ago, but I am delighted to report that the Group's recasting, to the tune of £1.5 million, of Veeraswamy has made it my favorite Indian restaurant in the city right now.
The decor now reflects the palaces of the Maharajas in the 1920s, with a silver ceiling, Moghal floral design carpets, granite flecked with gold, a display of gorgeously colored turbans, Kalighat-style Bengali painting, silvered jali screens, and colored glass shades that throw a lovely light over the evening's proceedings.
The restaurateurs are adamant about the authenticity of their regional cuisines, hiring chefs from those regions, and using the finest spices from India to flavor and bring color to the food. Indeed, the food at Veeraswamy does not show the usual gradations of olive brown so many Indian kitchens do in their food. Veeraswamy's dishes are very individualized in their sheen, texture, color, and taste, spiced as you wish but always manifesting the complexity of seasonings for which Indian food is famous. Heat is not a flavor here, merely a carrier of flavors.
It is almost futile for me to recommend specific dishes here, for it is in the array--to be shared--that Veeraswamy reveals its virtuosity, from very juicy tandoori dishes and vegetarian specialties to smoky, aromatic biryanis. Most impressive is their way with fish--so often horridly overcooked in Indian restaurants, here juicy and subtly flavored, not overpowered by the accompanying spices, whether it's grilled prawns or fish fillets steamed in a banana leaf (an ideal way to cook them). Lucknow-style chicken breast is rolled with pinenuts, lemon, and rose petals, and duck is given the tandoori treatment, with a sizzle of cinnamon; lobster curry is laced with fresh turmeric and cuddled in coconut; and eggplant is smoked with cloves in the tandoor. There are delightful appetizers to nibble on and steaming, smoky Indian breads, and if you've never been happy with Indian desserts in the past, I think you will be with those freshly made at Veeraswamy.
Veeraswamy is open for lunch and dinner daily. There is a pre-theater menu at £16.50, and for dinner appetizers runs £5.50-£9 and main courses £14-£20.
Another refurbishment has brought a new, modern luster to The Capital (
Its eminence has been maintained by Chef Eric Chavot, whose career I've followed with interest for more than a decade, when he was cooking at his namesake Interlude de Chavot; prior to that he did stints at The Restaurant (Marco Pierre White), Chez Nico at
Here at The Capital,with the resources of The Capital Hotel (opened 1971) behind it and under the eye of owner David Levin, he clearly has been given the mandate to take no shortcuts in search of excellence, and his cuisine reflects a precision and seriousness of purpose rarely found in British cooking.
The winelist, by the way, is extraordinary in a city with plenty to brag about. Particularly strong in Bordeaux, the list has depth in every category, and includes Levin's own Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which I highly recommended.
The best way to go at The Capital is with the tasting menu, at £68, serving five courses (cheese is an additional £10) to judge Chavot's breadth. With this the sommelier will pair wines, if asked, for an additional £47 (prices include tax, and a 12.5% service charge is added in). Otherwise, three courses are fixed at £55.
For starters there are tasteful wonders like seared scallops with cucumber jelly, a really terrific crab lasagna with a cappuccino of langoustines, a velouté of onions with roasted langoustine and truffled tortellini, and, of course, foie gras, quickly seared in the pan and served with lentils.
The menus change here often, depending on the market, but you will probably have variations of dishes I loved, like grilled turbot with mushroom ravioli (left), or a fillet of lamb, simply roasted and flavored with cumin. Saddle of rabbit is done with Provençale herbs, accompanied by seared calamari and tomato risotto, and a sort of "surf and turf" arrives as pot-roasted lobster with a foie gras boudin sausage made white coco beans.
Desserts at The Capital are very much in step with the style and quality of what precedes them, including a wonderful, buttery shortbread with rhubarb and raspberry, ginger ice cream, and yogurt; also very good is coconut dacquoise with mango and passion fruit foam with banana sorbet, and charming little apple baba cakes with Granny Smith apple sorbet and a Calvados jelly. His iced coffee parfait with dark chocolate fondant (right) is a seductively sweet masterpiece.
This is a menu wholly thought through, balanced in spices and herbs, textures and techniques, and the wine service buoys everything here. Mr. Levin is to be applauded for his never-wavering commitment to this highly personalized restaurant, and Mr. Chavot is to be acknowledged as one of the two or three best chefs in London today.
The Capital Restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.
To read Part One of this story, click.
A GOOD GUIDE TO LONDON'S GASTRONOMY. I've found that the best, most up-to-date book I've found for gourmet visitors is Charles Campion's The London Restaurant Guide, with more than 350 trenchant reviews chockful of all info you might need, including tube stops, and whether the restaurant adds a service charge to your bill.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
"Where O Where Are the Wines at J&B?"
by John Mariani
When I walked into London'sNEW YORK CORNER
I certainly didn’t see any bins of wine through the windows of the building at
“We used to have shops in
Currently Justerini & Brooks, opened in 1749, has more than 2,000 active accounts, which has for centuries included the royal family, and has counted everyone from Charles Dickens to David Niven among its customers. The company has held a Royal Warrant since George III and was shipping wine and spirits to British officers in
The late Princess Diana was a regular visitor to the premises and had lunched in the boardroom. When she lay in state in St. James’s Palace, the crowds come to pay their respects made it nearly impossible to get into Justerini & Brooks.
I could not browse my way among bins of wine for something suitable for dinner that evening because there simply are no bins at Justerini & Brooks. I could, however, peruse their catalog, which lists more than 1,500 different wines, each with a symbol next to it recommending it for drinking now or in need of further aging.
The catalog is a remarkable document (available on line at www.justerinis.com), not only for its comprehensiveness in recent bottlings and releases but in rare old wines from great vintages like 1961 (including châteaux like Chasse-Spleen, Nénin, and Beau Rivage) and both Château Ausone and Brane-Cantenac from 1928.
Extremely strong in
The wines are all stocked in cellars in
In addition, the firm offers personalized “cellar plans” to help a client build a collection of fine wines, storing them free of charge 90 feet underground for two to four years. Its “Drink Free” plan recommends that an investment of £20,000 could easily be split half into pure investment wines and the other half into wines for drinking in the future. If you like, you can then sell the investment wines at some future date for a profit.
Justerini & Brooks ships its wines all over the world, having built a fast-expanding market in the
Justerini & Brooks has its competitors in London, not least the venerable Berry Bros. & Rudd, across the street at
If you do wish to browse to your heart’s content, London’s vast department stores all have notable wine shops on premises, including Harrod’s, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, and Harvey Nichols. Handford in
by John Mariani
The River Café
WRETCHED EXCESS NO. 1,246
Given the article above on London, one might think I am speaking here of that city's beloved River Café, unquestionably the best Italian restaurant in Great Britain. But in fact I am speaking of the wholly unrelated River Café that has been nestled in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge since 1977 and still one of the most ravishing restaurants in the world.
Forgive me if I quote myself from another context: Think of every Hollywood movie that opened with swelling Gershwin-like music and a shot of the New York skyline from beneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the fast-flowing East River: That’s the exact location and feeling you get at the River Café, which for nearly three decades has been one of the most stunningly situated restaurants in the city, carefully maintained by owner Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe, (who also runs The Water Club on the other side of the East River.
It was a daring idea at the time, to lease a barge-like space from NYC at a time when Brooklyn had little cachet, and at the beginning the panoramic view was the draw, but fine food and wine mattered to O'Keeffe and before long the restaurant was considered on the cutting edge of New American Cuisine, crafted by a succession of chefs who recently returned for the restaurant's 30th anniversary--Rick Stefan, Larry Forgione, Charles Palmer, David Burke, Rick Laakonen, Rick Moonen, and the current chef, Brad Steelman.
The dining room itself is handsomely lighted, with Parma gold walls, bistro wicker chairs, fine napery and glassware, and assorted other rooms for the enormous number of private dinners, weddings, and luncheons held here. Sunday brunch is probably the most sought-after in the city. Once upon a time maître d's at the River Café extracted big baksheesh to obtain a window table, but I do not believe that is any longer the case. Which is not to say that people will not reserve or receive special treatment if you're a regular, but the fact of the matter is that the entire dining room, which is not very large to begin with, hasn't a single bad table, and everyone gets a fine view of the the river and the Manhattan skyline.
The 500-label winelist is very good, not as thick as some but better selected than many others, since opening under the guidance of wine director Joseph DeLissio, author of The River Café Wine Primer (2000), who was in the vanguard of support for California wines. Given the fact that the River Café has been around for 30 years, it has long cellared some exquisite older vintages and kept them at very reasonable prices. The list has a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
Chef Steelman carries on the tradition of sumptuous American cooking at the Café, with a three-course fixed price menu at $85, and a six-course tasting menu at $102. On a recent evening we began with very good rabbit wrapped in pancetta with ravioli filled with "Brooklyn ricotta," napped with a pea puree and natural pan juices--a dish as lovely as it was tasty. Terrine of foie gras was fine and silky, served with buttery brioche toast, though the Port and gingered poached plum was a little too sweet for the dish; the menu recommends a glass of '03 Maison Nicolas Réserve Sauternes ($4.50) with this dish.
Bluefin tuna came seared rare, with foie gras stuffing, a Burgundy black truffle vinaigrette, and sweet roasted onion purée--a lot going on there, but the elements added to the rich taste of the foie gras. Sweetbreads with fettuccine needed perking up with better seasoning.
Of the entrees, the very best was a Prime sirloin, impeccably grilled over charcoal with a yummy gnocchi gratin, and roasted spring onions, though the $7.00 supplement seems sadly out of place here. On the other hand, Colorado rack of lamb was oddly devoid of the richness of fat that territory usually delivers; it came with lamb merguez sausage, golden fondant potatoes, and a mint-mustad seed glaze. I loved the roasted, pancetta-wrapped, breast of hen with cornbread stuffing, braised leeks, sautéed spinach, glazed organic carrots, and roasted garlic jus, which gave me my first taste of early autumn. Cape cod monkfish, nice and juicy, came with roasted suckling pig ravioli, a raisin purée poached in Sauternes, roasted mushroom filets, and the braising juices from the pig, all of which added up to somewhat less than it sounded on the menu.
Desserts are every bit as generously proportioned, including the signature chocolate marquise Brooklyn Bridge with a terrine of hazelnut and vanilla ice cream. If you cannot get enough sweetness in a dessert, you may meet your match with the chocolate sticky toffee cake with pistachio ice cream between dark chocolate cookies lavished with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream. Also very sweet, when it might have been more tart, was an apple upside down cake with Granny Smith sorbet, dulce de leche ice cream, and basil syrup. You may also order a gift box of delicious handmade chocolates to go, for $20.
And so The River Café stays right where it is, amazing everyone for its beauty, its consistency, and its longevity. Even in inclement weather the choppy waters of the East River and the looming bridge and cityscape across its expanse have a wonderful, ghostly appeal. In perfect weather, there is no more beautiful place in New York to dine.
The River Café is open daily, with a la carte lunch served Mon.-Sat., with brunch on Sunday.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, Curly's Pub
at the Packers' Lambeau Field will be
serving a 40-ounce beef patty called
the O'Line Burger with cheddar cheese,
lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, four pickles,
a bucket of fries, an onion loaf, and four
WELL, YOU DO SOUND A LOT LIKE A SALMON
"And so are we, but in our self-consciousness have become hubristic, and therefore harmful. Make no mistake: we are animals. I am no different from a salmon. Why else would I return to Cleveland!? Cleveland! I had to return. I returned by smell. I returned to spawn. I’m not kidding. There is no other logical justification for the apparently ludicrous decision to live in Cleveland when I don’t have to. I think if we acknowledged our place in the animal kingdom—happily at the top of the food chain—and stopped thinking we were so damned superior to animals, it would be a better earth all around. We are animals who eat other animals."--Michael Ruhlmann,"It's a wonderful life."
* Starting Sept. 12 Illycaffe will present “The Beauty Has A Taste” exhibit at NYC's Time-Warner Center, with weekly CoffeeSense classes, hosted by food journalist David Rosengarten. On Sept.14, Style Editor for the New York Times, Stefano Tonchi, will announce the
* On Sept. 13 in
* From Sept. 14-20, Chicago’s Adobo Grill will be hold a fiesta at both its
* On Sept. 14 Commander's Palace Las Vegas will be continuing their cocktail 5-course dinner series, hosting an Absolut Vodka Cocktail Pairing at $100 pp; Oct: 12, a Bourbon Pairing dinner; Nov. 9,with mixologist Francesco Lanfranconi; Dec. 7, "Tiki-n-Christmas"celebration with mixlogists Jeff "Beach Bum" Berry of Commander's Palace, and Dr.Cocktail (a.k.a Ted Haigh). Call 702-892-8272.* From Sept. 18-25, Riingo in NYC has partnered with Stone Ridge Orchard to craft a special, apple-inspired 3-course menu (Riingo means “apple” in Japanese), using proprietary apples from Stone Ridge Orchards. Guests can also sip on the Riingotini cocktail. $35 pp, $50 incl. beverage suggestions. Call 212-867-4200.
*At ChazzFest, the Charleston Music and Heritage Festival that debuts Sept. 16 in Charleston, SC, with musicians Al Green, Sam Bush, Buddy Guy, the Drifters, et al., Carolina Catering will serve the "Love and Happiness Pre-Concert Culinary Throwdown," featuring classic Southern cuisine. Also, Sticky Fingers will serve barbeque and an oyster roast, and Gullah Cuisine will sell shrimp and grits, she crab soup, and other delicacies. Other local food purveyors will be on hand. $35 for adults ($45 day of), $5 for children 6-12 ($10 day of), children under 6 free, and $25 advance for students ($35 day of). Visit www.etix.com.
* On Sept. 19 in
* On Sept. 19 the Dining Room at Woodlands Inn in Summerville, SC, will host its monthly “Wines of the World” tasting and 4-course dinner by Executive Chef Tarver King: “Travel in Napa Valley.” $79 pp. Call 843-308-2115. Special overnight room rates are available.
* On Sept. 20 at the Hotel Bel-Air, Chef Douglas Dodd will present a wine dinner with Emmanuel Kemiji, Master Sommelier and owner of Miura Wines. $100 pp. Call 310-943-6742.
* Wines from
* From Sept. 24-30, the first annual Atlanta Midtown Restaurant Week will offer pre-fixe, 3-course menus, for only $25 pp. Participating Restaurants incl. Eno, The Globe, The Grape at Atlantic Station, The Grape at Midtown, Lobby, MidCity Cuisine, Mitra, The Oceanaire, ONE.Midtown Kitchen, Piebar, Shout, Spice, Taurus, Toast, TWO Urban Licks, and Vinocity. For info go to www.atlantadowntown.com/HavingFun_RestaurantWeek.asp
* On Sept. 24 in North Bennington, VT, Pangaea Restaurant and Powers Market will hold the 4th in a series of 4-course dinners and tastings, featuring the wines of the Gunderloch Winery, incl. their ‘96 TBA. Fritz Hasselbach, who runs the Gunderloch Winery, will be speaker. $120 pp. Call 802-442-7171; www.vermontfinedining.com
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