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NEW YORK CORNER: A Stroll Down Arthur Avenue by John Mariani
America's Greatest Food Writer Passes Away by John Mariani
ESQUIRE'S BEST NEW RESTAURANTS OF 2006
by John Mariani
At a time when the whole world seems starved for good news, eating well may be the best revenge. Lucky us: In the U.S., too, the restaurants are full, and I can say with a good deal of patriotic pride that there is now no city of any size in America where you can’t get a great meal, from Boston to Baton Rouge, from Boulder to Birmingham. For twenty-three years now I have been traveling the USA for Esquire to compile the annual Best New Restaurants in America, and things get better every year. The issue (November, left) has just come out.
At the very top the ante has been raised extremely high. Last year Steve Wynn changed the paradigm of the Las Vegas dining scene by hiring name chefs required to actually cook in his resort, most notably Alessandro Stratta of Alex and Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta, both Best New Restaurants for 2005. But things reverted to form this year when MGM Grand opened Joël Robuchon and Caesar's Palace opened Guy Savoy, whose eponymous three-star master chefs are contracted to visit several times a year. The difference between these and the half-hearted efforts of Jean-George Vongerichten's Prime at Bellagio and Alain Ducasse's Mix at Mandalay Bay is that Robuchon and Savoy have clearly made an enormous commitment in personal integrity to make their Vegas outposts as good as the Paris originals.
So, too, amidst the headlong flurry of chefs like Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, and Charlie Palmer to stick steakhouses anywhere the money seems right, the redoubtable Wolfgang Puck has taken the genre to a standard that eclipses them all, at his spectacular Beverly Hills restaurant, CUT.
Hotels and casinos have plenty of money to bankroll such grandiose projects (whether they make money or not is another thing), but it is inspiring to see that many of the best new dining rooms of 2006 are still signature restaurants of individuals who put all their money, heart, and soul into them. They form the real ballast of American gastronomy.
So here are 2006’s great new restaurants (in alphabetical order) where you’ll eat well and be very glad that you did.
The restaurants in blue are linked to reviews that have appeared in the Virtual Gourmet.
Acadiana, Washington DC
Ame, San Francisco
A Voce, New York
Bong Su, San Francisco
Country, New York
Cordavi, Charleston, SC
CUT, Beverly Hills, CA: RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Dona, New York
The Georgian Room, Sea Island, GA
Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
Joël Robuchon at The Mansion, Las Vegas
Junnoon, Palo Alto, CA
Om, Cambridge, MA
Proof on Main, Louisville
Rasika, Washington, DC
Redd, Yountville, CA
Stephan Pyles, Dallas: CHEF OF THE YEAR
Summit, Colorado Springs: BEST NEW DESIGN
NEW YORK CORNER
A STROLL DOWNAARTHUR AVENUE
by John Mariani
If you’ve been to Little Italy in Manhattan and were disappointed by the touristy atmosphere of the place, the t-shirts, and the forgettable food, it’s because you went to the wrong one.
The real Little Italy--a vibrant neighborhood where Italian-Americans still live, work, shop, eat and drink--is up in the Bronx in what is called the Belmont Section of Fordham. Others just call it Arthur Avenue, because that is the neighborhood’s main street, bisected by East 187th Street and lined with restaurants, pizzerias, cafes, groceries, meat markets, fish markets, pastry stores, and shops selling Venetian glass, espresso pots, and generously sized pasta platters. It is one of the safest sections of New York, with mothers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and sisters and brothers hanging out of the three- and four-story windows watching out for each others’ kids, calling across the street to remind those same kids not to forget to bring home the cannolis, and playing endless CDs of Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti.
This is the Bronx the way it was in the 1950s, a time when figures like Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Eddie Arcaro, Rocky Marciano, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta, and Julius LaRosa ate in the restaurants here. A time when names like Toscanini, Sinatra, Martin, Como, and Tony Bennett were princes, none moreso than a skinny, local kid named Dion Miglucci, who called his do-wop group, the Belmonts, after the neighborhood.
The streets around Arthur Avenue still ring with the sounds of storeowners singing "Oj Mari" while they slice prosciutto--"Quanta suonno ca perdo per te"--"I have lost so much sleep over you." The air smells like garlic and tomato, fresh basil, coffee, and breads baking in the ovens of Addeo & Sons and Madonia Brothers. Yankee pennants festoon the storefronts, and men sit on folding chairs at their social clubs to watch the soccer games from Italy, sip bittersweet liqueurs, and read the sports pages of Il Progresso.
I grew up not far from Arthur Avenue, and I still shop there every week, knowing the fat, sweet figs will soon be filling the groceries, the softshell crabs will be wiggling in the wooden stalls at Cosenza’s Fish Market, where people eat clams and oysters from the outdoor stand and many of NY's best chefs and caterers buy their seafood. The just-weaned pigs will be in the glass case at Biancardi’s Meats, one of a handful of true family-owned butcher shops left in New York. Here you'll find fabulous beef, beautiful veal, Murray's chickens, D'artagnan's poussins, čevapa sausages, and smoked bacon.
There is always a beautiful new array of dishware at Nick’s Variety Place, and in summer they serve the Italian ices--lemon, chocolate, strawberry--scooped and patted into little pleated paper cups at Egidio Pasticceria.In the vast enclosed Arthur Avenue food market, David Greco at Mike’s Deli (they have a great website) is cutting off morsels of a new imported cheese or slicing mortadella and giving everyone a taste. David is the prime mover of Arthur Avenue, forging a future that means better and better food, produce, and groceries year by year.
Hero Sandwiches at Mike's Deli
There is a butcher here who specializes in offal has beautiful, snow white tripe, sweetbreads, calf's liver, brains, tongue, and every other part of the animals, and across the hall at the Mount Carmel Gourmet Food Shop, Jessica Navarra is putting together a gift basket of Abruzzese pasta, Tuscan olive oil, and grissini breadsticks,with a box of hazelnut-studded torrone nougat for good measure. She has twenty different olive oils, a dozen different olives, scores of pastas, chickpea flour, marinated cheeses, sprigs of fresh oregano, salted sardines, bottles of truffle oil, hot peppers, and hard candies wrapped in colored wrappers.
Up the street at the Calandra Cheese store a woman is specifying she wants that morning’s mozzarella, creamy, white and oozing whey onto the paper it’s wrapped in, and around the corner on 187th Street at De Lillo Pastry Shop, a son is buying his grandmother a dozen anise-scented biscotti, carefully stacked inside a white box and tied with string. Mt. Carmel Wines has a new shipment of elegant, well-priced Barolos from the Piedmont region, and at Borgatti's they’ve just made a fresh batch of cheese ravioli, which sell out in an hour, along with sheets of egg-yellow pasta cut into the requested width of spaghetti, fettuccine and angel’s. Across the street at the Mt. Carmel Candy Store you can still get a true New York egg cream--a masterfully rendered concoction made with u-bets chocolate syrup, ice cold milk and seltzer, no egg, no cream. Down a couple of blocks at Terravova Bakery they’re pulling the last loaves of the day from the city’s last coal-fired oven, as much an historical artifact as it is a symbol of the neighborhood’s refusal to change.
Then there are the pizzerias and restaurants, from one end of Arthur Avenue to the next--which is only five or six blocks. On the corner of 187th Street Full Moon Pizzeria is always packed, and there’s a news photo in the window at Giovanni’s Pizza of George W. himself, awkwardly trying to eat a slice with pepperoni while campaigning for the Bronx vote. But the best pizza is served at Mario’s, which opened in 1919 and is now a fifth-generation restaurant with superb linguine with clams, perfectly grilled langoustines, tender, light potato gnocchi in a bright tomato sauce, and tiny pink lamb chops you pick up by the bone to eat--called scottaditti, which means “finger burners.” The pizza here is nonpareil, based on a thin crust that bubbles and puckers and chars as it is carefully moved around the pockets of hot air in the fearsome oven. The simplest of toppings--mozzarella, tomato and basil--meld together into Neapolitan bliss, and with a bottle of good Chianti like Remole, this becomes a meal you eat either in reverential silence or with exultant cries of “perfetto!”
Most of the Italian restaurants of the neighborhood serve more or less the same menu; each turns out a better version of one dish than another, which you learn through repeated visits. At Anna & Tony’s, here since 1927, the spaghetti alla carbonara, with eggs and pancetta bacon, is lustrous, rich and creamy without cream, and the spaghetti nicely tender. At Amici’s the meat-stuffed tortellini alla panna arrives at the table lavished with cream and Parmigiano cheese, and you think you cannot possibly finish them all, but end up resenting your offer for your friends to try a few. Dominick’s is something of a special case on the street, for long ago a restaurant critic from the New York Times pronounced this no-frills, communal table eatery to be “one of the last of those unvarnished pasta houses that serve an honest bowl of spaghetti with fresh sauce, rough red wine and superb housemade bread,” which is like calling a modest Chinese restaurant “a good chop suey parlor.” Dominic’s is a good deal more--You get a mass quantity of linguine with anchovies, platters of pork chops with peppers, good stuffed clams, a nice slice of cheesecake--and the check almost always ends up costing $65 no matter what you order. But don't go expecting glorious Italian food; Dominick's is more about feeding than fine dining.
One of the best restaurants in the neighborhood is the least typical: Roberto’s is a treasure that an enormous number of people have found. The small, low-lighted room with its bare wooden tables is like a palette upon which the eponymous chef-owner creates his artistry. Skip the menu and just go for any of the night’s dozen or more specials--perhaps the long braised rabbit with tomato and onions, the spaghetti cooked with leeks and porcini mushrooms in a pouch of foil, impeccably grilled octopus in a tangy vinaigrette, the massive, beefy sirloin slathered with Gorgonzola, and the superb, lemony torta with a perfectly made espresso, all accompanied by an excellent winelist with bottlings from every major region of Italy. Always packed and not easy to get into, Roberto's is worth the wait.
It is a neighborhood still strongly, proudly attached to the Old Country--which means the regions of Campania, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia--attested to by the photos from Italian fashion magazines adorning the hair salons and the music stores stocking Italian CDs and videos. There are two street fairs during the year, commemorating St. Anthony and Mount Carmel, when they close down 187th Street and the aroma of frying sausages and zeppoli fritters floats through the neighborhood, and the people from all over Fordham come down to take a chance on the wheel of fortune.
As much as Arthur Avenue is about eating, it is about community too. At the former Belmont Playhouse productions were once mounted that went to Broadway and Hollywood, and local boy Chazz Palmentieri wrote the one-man play “A Bronx Tale,” which Robert DeNiro made into a movie of the same name (but filmed in Queens because the Arthur Avenue merchants and restaurateurs didn’t want their business and peace messed with for days on end), which starred Palmentieri.
It is decidedly not a place that revels in any kind of gratuitous association with “The Sopranos” or mobsters, whose occasional, silent presence offends the good people who live and work here--a population that now includes a number of Hispanics, Albanians, and Croatians, who themselves have opened their own shops, like Kosova Meats & Grocery and the Gurra Café. Arthur Avenue’s form of tolerance is to encourage everyone to come in and shop, meet the purveyors, learn about the difference between a branzino and a sea bass, how to choose the best Parmigiano, and what to do with dried, salted cod called baccalà.
If you’ve just finished a tour of the Bronx Zoo or the glories of the New York Botanical Garden (left), or perhaps took your son or daughter to see about the prospects of going to Fordham University, just cross over Fordham Road and turn left onto Arthur Avenue. Two blocks down the facades of the buildings change, you start to see people double-parked and putting groceries into their trunks. And then, after a day of shopping here, or a pizza at Mario’s, or a night or good food and wine, you start to realize why this--not that other place--is the real Little Italy.
Cosenza’s Fish Market--2354 Arthur Avenue; 718-364-8510.
Biancardi’s--2340 Arthur Avenue; 718-733-4058.
Nick’s Variety Place--2344 Arthur Avenue; 718-367-7433.
De Lillo Pastry Shop--606 East 187th Street; 718-367-8198.
Mike’s Deli--2344 Arthur Avenue; 718-295-5033.
Mount Carmel Gourmet Food Shop--2344 Arthur Avenue; 718-933-2295.
S. Calandra & Sons Cheese--2314 Arthur Avenue; 718-365-7572.
Mt. Carmel Wines--612 East 187th Street; 718-367-7833.
Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles--632 East 187th Street; 718-367-3799.
Mt. Carmel Candy Store --621 East 187th Street; 718-367-6016.
Terravova Bakery--691 East 187th Street; 718-733-3827.
Addeo’s Bakers--2352 Arthur Avenue; 718-367-8316.
Madonia Brothers Bakery--2348 Arthur Avenue; 718-295-5573.
Full Moon Pizzeria--600 East 187th Street; 718-584-3451.
Giovanni’s Pizza--2343 Arthur Avenue; 718-933-4141.
Mario’s--2342 Arthur Avenue; 718-584-1188.
Anna & Tony’s--2407 Arthur Avenue; 718-933-1469.
Amici’s--566 East 187th Street; 718-364-8250.
Dominick’s--2335 Arthur Avenue; 718-733-2807.
Roberto’s--632 East 186th Street; 718-733-9503.
Kosova Meats & Grocery--2326 Arthur Avenue; 718-563-0832.
Gurra Cafe--2325 Arthur Avenue; 718-220-4254.
Arthur Avenue Cafe--2329 Arthur Avenue; 718-295-5033.
America's Greatest Food Writer Passes Away by John Mariani
R. W. Apple, Jr., better known as the indomitable Johnny Apple, who spent more than 40 years as a correspondent and editor at The New York Times, died Oct. 4. Winner of numerous journalism prizes, respected as one of the toughest, more resolute trench reporters to cover the Vietnam War, and an editor of awesome knowledge on just about any subject, Apple was the newsman's newsman.
Yet, ironically, he will probably be best remembered for his work as a food writer for the Times and other publications. For the last several years his beat has been almost exclusively food culture, and he was as eager and enthusiastic to write about his favorite places to eat Dover sole in Europe as he was his favorite barbecue smokeshacks in the American South. His appetite was as large as his expense account, and he exercised both with gargantuan gusto. He was, in my opinion, the best food writer in America.
Perhaps, though, it was not ironic that this indefatigable reporter, political pundit, and Washington insider, will be remembered best for his food writing. Indeed, it's almost a tradition in American journalism for a great writer to write as well about food and drink as he does about war and politics. Apple follows directly in the footsteps of journalists like Ernest Hemingway, A. J. Liebling, and Waverly Root for whom writing about food came as naturally as writing about war, art, sports, and the human condition. No one, however, did it with more joy and élan than Johnny Apple, whose prose tickled and goaded the reader to hop a train or a plane to find the little joint or the big deal restaurant that served the ultimate dish of its kind.
I didn't really know Johnny well, though we'd met and talked many times (we were both members of the James Beard Restaurant Awards Committee for several years), and I don't recall ever sitting down to a table with him. But on so many occasions when I was in a foreign or American city, checking out an old favorite (which Johnny probably clued me into) or a new restaurant, he'd often be there before me, with his lovley wife Betsey, his girth hitting the edge of the table, his well-worn checkered shirt opened at the neck, and his knife, fork, and spoon--or fingers, more likely--poised to attack a platter of choucroute or a porterhouse or a bouillbaisse or a brace of quail--always with a great bottle of wine.
Johnny Apple was 71 when he passed away this month. And what a life he had and shared with us all.
HOW MUCH MORE AFFECTION CAN YOU TAKE?
"Back at the nomad's tent, I am greeted as always, with affection, teasing, and yak butter tea."--Robyn Davidson, "A Nomad in Tibet," Condé Nast Traveler (October 2006).
AND HE HAD PLANS FOR ANOTHER CAFE NEXT TO THE ISRAELI EMBASSY NAMED "ADOLF'S."
In Belgrade, Serbia, diplomats told Milomir Jeftic to change his cafe's name--Osama, which means "secluded" in Serb-Croat and was named after a local homeless shelter. The cafe was located right next to the U.S.Embassy. Explained Jeftic, "I admit I have heard of Osama bin Laden, but until now I was not quite sure who he was."
* On Oct. 19 in
* The state of
* On Oct. 30 in
* On Oct. 21 K&L Wine Merchants in
* On October 23, NYC chef will join with local broadcasters and daytime drama stars at the 14th Annual Feast with Famous Faces, which benefits the League for the Hard of Hearing, to be held at PIER SIXTY at Chelsea Piers. Chefs incl. are Chef Ed Brown of The Sea Grill, Chef Julian Alonzo and Pastry Chef Martin Howard of Brasserie 8 ½, Franck Deletrain of Café Centro and Chef Chris DeLuna of
* On Oct. 27 Chef Walter Staib and City Tavern of
* On Oct 31 the “Second Annual Fall Game Feast” will be held at NYC’s Daniel, a 5-course dinner of wild hare, partridge, wild turkey, venison and wild boar paired with specially selected wines. $495 pp. Call 212-288-0033 ext 124.
* On Nov. 2 at NYC’s Rainbow Room a gourmet tasting reception, dinner and dessert, to benefit the March of Dimes NY Division will be held, incl. a live auction, and dancing under the stars. Honoree is Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner of The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery. Participating chefs incl. David Bouley, Roberto Deiaco, Christian Delouvrier, Jean-Louis Dumonet, Jean-Louis Gerin, Claude Godard, Guy Reuge, Jimmy Sakatos, Jacques Sorci and Jonathan Waxman. The event is co-chaired by Ruth Reichl, Editor in Chief of Gourmet, and Robert B. Chavez, Pres. & CEO of Hermès of Paris, Inc. $1000 pp. Call Jennifer Schwartzenberg at 212-353-1012.
* On Nov. 3, a Red Tie Gala will be held to benefit the Little Sisters of the Poor and the elderly poor residents at St. Anne’s Home in
* On Nov. 5 McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant (415- 929-1730) and Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in
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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