Virtual Gourmet

October 29, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER


                                                          Autumn Harvest (2005) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

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In This Issue

MY FAVORITE MANSIONS: Four Seasons Hampshire and Restaurant Latour by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: The RED CAT by John Mariani


by John Mariani
Dogmersfield Park
Chalky Lane
Dogmersfield, Hook, Hampshire

       Samuel Johnson was not entirely right when he famously said, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." London can wear you out, even drive you out, and when such a state occurs, there is no finer escape than the new Four Seasons Hampshire, about an hour's drive from the city in one of the loveliest country settings in England--500 acres of it. The estate dates back in history to 1086, and lore has it that King Henry VIII met his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, here.t7l
      There is an eclosed  English garden  so quaint that you might believe you'll see the Cheshire Cat in a tree or Humpty Dumpty on a wall, and beyond that an orchard, croquet lawn, and tennis courts. 
The hotel has been carved out of a 1728 manor house, to which have been appended two modern wings.The hotel runs a 70-foot canal boat and has fine equestrian facilities; arrangements can be made to tee off at two local golf curses.
      This is very restful territory, and once inside the Manor House (right), with its grand lobby and winding staircase, you will certainly feel the rigors of city life drop away in the deep, plush quiet of the rooms and surroundings.  There are 133 large rooms here with marble baths and beds set with Frette linens. There is also a very popular spa where, if you like, you can spend your post-massage recovery on a chaise lounge breathing pure oxygen while reading Country Life.  This should put you in mind of a nap before dinner, which is served in the main dining room called Seasons. (There is also a Bistro serving food throughout the day, an excellent Bar 1086, and a truly civilized Library and Library Bar.)
       Just thirteen-minutes' walk away is the little village of Hartley Whitney. which dates to the Middle Ages, and a five-minute drive takes you to Oldham on the Basingstoke Canal.  But a 30-minutes' drive took me to one of the most wondrous historic landmarks I've ever visited--not a great crumbling castle or Druidic assemblage of stones, but the absolutely charming house of Jane Austen (below), located in the equally delightful, and wholly uncommercial, town of Chawton.  wt3y3Here
England's most beloved novelist  revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, then wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. To walk through the garden here, the old bakehouse, and the little rooms, with  a small collection of her jewelry, letters, and needleworkl, and first editions of Austen's  novels, is sheer enchantment, but to see the little writing desk where she penned her quiet masterpieces is to feel very much in touch with the woman who wrote, "I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress."  History has decided otherwise, but the sheer modesty of her home puts her own self-assessment into tender, touching focus.

      Back at the Manor House in Hampshire I dined very well at Seasons (below), a beautifully set dining room that partakes of the building's heritage while giving it some bright, modern color and abstract art.  Executive Chef Jamie Jones, who grew up in nearby West Sussex,  does much the same with his menu by balancing the world of classical French cuisine with 21st century internationalism. My meal began with golden fried potato gnocchi with a light accompaniment egf3gtof tomato and crispy calamari. Very Brit and very good was a warm potato and Waterloo cheese tart with truffles, although I tasted little of the latter in the mix.  Excellent indeed was pan-fried monkfish of unstinting quality, with a proper accompaniment  of buttered leeks, glazed shallots and garlic-riddle mashed potatoes.  I could hardly have avoided ordering a fillet of fine English beef with a white Stilton fondue, leek-potato cake, and oxtail jus--a real delight and the kind of dish that well defines modern English cookery at its best.
      I tried two desserts, one, a rhubarb crumble, very good, the other, a not-at-all crisp apple tart.
      À la carte prices at dinner run £10.50-£16.50 for starters and £19.50-£32 for main courses.  There is a 6-course tasting menu at £65. The winelist is solid in several categories, particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy.
      Leaving Hampshire and heading back to London will not be easy after two or three days in this glorious countryside.

Restaurant Latour
Crystal Springs Resort
Hardyston, New Jersey

  j2Restaurant Latour has none of the historic heft of most "mansions" I report on, but I suppose by its size and architecture it serves well enough, and its actual Bordeaux-like tower and spacious architecture only needs the patina of age to improve this two-year old property set within the vast Crystal Springs Country Club in the Kittatinny Mountains of Sussex County.  Owner Gene Mulvihill has blanketed the hillsides here with enromous arrays of condos, and one's entry into Latour may well be greeted with the sounds of dueling banquets going on around the first floor. But an elevator then takes you up to a 40-seat dining room of quiet, with a panorama looking out over the mountains, and some pretty marvelous sunsets.
      I can't say I was bowled over by the décor, which is pleasing but sedate, in a kind of haute-country club way.  The service staff--in ostentatious white gloves--is well informed, and the winelist--in two cork-bound volumes--is astonishing, with about 3,000 labels and 50,000 bottles.  Ask to visit the very beautiful wine cellar,
overseen by Susanne Lerescu (below), a room you may commandeer for a private function, and even the most erudite connoisseur's jaw will drop upon beholding oversized jeroboams and nebuchadnezzars of some of the rarest wines in the world.  There are 45 vintages of Château Latour alone--dating back to 1888!--60 Super Tuscans, 20 years of Opus One, and verticals of California cult wines like Harlan and Grace Family. The Burgundies displayed can make the pulse race--if only you could afford them. Nevertheless, there are plenty of less pricey alternatives on this huge trophy list, which has been granted a Wine Spectator Grand Award, given to less than 80 restaurants in the entire world.  Odd, then, that in the restaurant one-size-fits-all glassware is used for everything from an Alsatian Riesling to a big California cab.rrrrty
hef John Benjamin (below) has worked for masters like Thomas Keller and Charlie Palmer, and his menu shows  a grasp of  technique within a  wide range of contemporary  styles, best appreciated in the $85 eight-course tasting menu. Otherwise, the menu is table d'hôte, with the main course prices, from $58-$70, reflecting the entire three-course dinner.
     We began with a tomato tartare amuse whose tomato sorbet and garlic tuile set off different temperatures and textures to spark the palate, although the sorbet itself was too sweet.  White asparagus with prosciutto strüdel and pea purée was very good, Next up were
crisp crab fritters with more tomato, this time in a fondue, with white cheese.  Sautéed foie gras came with peaches, but they were not ripe enough to have much effect.  On the bland side was corn custard with sautéed sea scallops, seriously in need of seasoning, as did several dishes that evening, so that the accompanying summer truffles were barely noticeable.
     1vTopped by a quail egg sunnyside up was a buxom barbecued quail, itself atop  salad greens, spinach, and red onions, Amish blue cheese, and local yellow corn, a good dish that might have been better with fewer ingredients. Potato-herb gnocchi, a tad soft, were dressed with prosciutto, pea shoots, tomato concasse, and garlic confit.
     Our main courses included pancetta-wrapped tenderloin of sautéed veal; the most enjoyable dish was a crisp-skinned duckling whose leg was made into a confit, with spinach-laced spaetzle, braised red cabbage and smoked bacon in a Bing cherry gastrique. The better of two fish dishes we had was a sautéed Chilean sea bass with watercress sauce, crispy, sweet leeks, and a ravioli with a tomato fondue.  A pleasant selection of cheeses followed, but there wasn't much enthusiasm at our table of four for any of the desserts  here.
      The chef seems to be trying a little too hard to be lavish in his presentations, when a little more restraint with such fine ingredients might make things even better.  But for a wine aficionado or a rapid connoisseur, Latour is a requisite trek into Sussex County.
        Latour is open for dinner only, Thurs. through Sunday.

by John Mariani

227 10th Avenue
(212) 242-1122

      The first thing you hear when you click on The Red Cat's website is Johnny Cash singing "I Walk the Line," whose lyrics don't seem to have anything with this charming West Side restaurant now celebrating its seventh birthday under owner-chef Jimmy Bradley, who also run The Harrison.  Perhaps the song title connotes the fine line restaurateurs must walk to keep customers happy night after night by maintaining a menu filled with perennial favorites while introducing new ideas after years in business. This is definitely a neighborhood restaurant that draws a clientele from all over the city, and, owing to its proximity to Lincoln Tunnel, a passel of New Jerseyans too.
      Like their other restaurants, The Red Cat is exemplary in its dedication to a cordial greeting and good service, and the kitchen has its timing down pat, so that food comes when it should and wines are poured when they need to be.  The no frills, chummy look of the place, with a bar up front, plenty of old wood, white tablecloths topped with white paper, and the generous use of warm red tones and soft lighting, is always inviting, and you can't miss the place: There's a big flag outside the door with The Red Cat's name on it.  The only problem here is the decibel level, which reaches to the range where it's very difficult to hear the person next to you; piped-in music doesn't help.
       7oExec chef Bill McDaniel (below) prints his menu  in a straightforward manner, with 11 appetizers on one page, 8 entrees on another, as is the winelist, which has about 250 selections, amiably overseen by beverage director Connor Coffey.  There are plenty of very good selections under $50, too.
     With a party of five one evening, I wanted to order just about everything on the menu, and the chef kindly sent out a couple of extras that had us trading plates every two minutes. On the table is set a big bowl of tempura-fried green beans with a soy dipping sauce--crispy and addictive.  There's also good country bread served here, along with a dish of olive oil.  One item that's been on the menu a long time, for all the right reasons, is the caramelized onion and fig crostada, with crisp endive salad and a goat's cheese cream, which is just about perfect in its balance of richness, sweetness, and vegetable flavors and textures.
     Equally as good is the tender grilled octopus with a tomato bread stew with zucchini and crispy prosciutto, and  prawns were a delicious special, nicely grilled and tender. One dish I thoroughly disliked was really weird: tempura-fried bacon; after one cloying bite, I was done with it, though its smoky aftertaste lingered.
     Among the main courses, the best were a grilled double pork chop with wilted Romaine lettuce, radishes, gigantes beans, and a lovely pumpkin seed pesto. It was really fine pork, juicy and well fatted. Calf's liver came,.i uncharacteristically, as a formidable chunk, rather than as a thick slice, but it was very, very good, served with a cippolini-tomato vinaigrette, bacon, and smashed fingerling potatoes. The finest dish was sautéed Muscovy duck--some of the finest I've ever had--cooked medium rare with sweet--sour delicate squash and a wild rice salad. Overwrought and oversalty was a crispy skatewing with a rock shrimp stew, tomato, fennel, and saffron fregola, all of which overpowered the fish.
      You'll fight over desserts as scrumptious as patîssier Jeff Gerace's--lustrous triple chocolate "enchantillon," composed of chocolate mousse cake, ganache tart, and a pot de crème; spiced pear and cranberry crisp with hazelnut crumble and buttermilk semifreddo; a compact tart-sweet apple tarte Tatin; and a tall glass of rum-coffee ice cream with hot fudge, caramel, and amaretti that you need a long spoon to finish. Desserts this good once were the monopoly of high-end French restaurants, but places like The Red Cat now serve them with equal aplomb.
       Espresso, that evening, was burnt and bitter.
      If I lived in Chelsea, I'd be a devout regular of The Red Cat; even though I'm not, I would certainly not turn down any opportunity to dine here.
The Red Cat is open nightly for dinner. Appetizers run $9-$16, main courses $20-$32.





The NY Post reported that at Dakota restaurant in Los Angeles, Angelina Jolie recently requested a "female server only" to wait on her table. The newspaper suggested that Jolie did not like male servers ogling her while she ate.

Not to Mention the Body Odor of the Hotel Staff p

"The air is redolent with the earthy smells of water buffalo and last night's rain, and their pungent but not unpleasant scent of hot rubber sap being pressed."--Mike Di Paola, "The Comeback Coast," Conde Nast Traveler (October 2006).


TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the most unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani

* From Nov.  6-17, ten chefs from
Galicia will be preparing a daily buffet lunch at the United Nations that is open to the public every weekday in the Delegates’ Dining Room. The chefs are: Alfredo Castrelo, Francisco Domínguez, Jorge García, José Rivera, Marcelo Tejedor, Pepe Solla, Roberto Walther, Carlos García Neira , Sacha Hormaechea and Xosé Torres Cannas. $25 pp. Call  212-963-7625.

* On Nov. 13 at Macy's School of Cooking, San Diego,  the New England Culinary Institute salutes Gavin Kaysen and three alumni at a fundraiser for Kaysen as he prepares for the Bocuse d'Or in January. Participating chefs include: Michel LeBorgne, director of NECI; James Houghton, Trinchero Winery; Randy Lewis, Mecca San Francisco;Doug Weldon, Bistro Jeanty, Napa Valley; Gavin Kaysen, Rancho Bernardo Inn, San Diego. $100 pp. Call 858-675-8455.

* Red Carnation Hotels is offering “It's a Wonderful Life” festive package at their three London properties: The Milestone, The Egerton House and "41." Available between Nov. 24 and Jan. 7, incl.: Minimum 2-night stay in luxurious accommodations; A gift of a  tree ornament plus a DVD of  "It's A Wonderful Life"; Full English breakfast daily; Tea with Christmas cake;  Lunch or dinner for two; a visit by Santa if children are staying with a guest on Christmas Day. In Europe call toll free 00 800 1698 8740; in the USA, 1-877-955-1515, or visit

* From Nov. 15-19, Poggio in Sausalito, CA, will celebrate Italy's Festa del Tartufo with its annual "5 Nights of Truffles." Executive Chef Peter McNee will travel to Piedmont and Tuscany, Italy to hand-select "tartufi bianchi" or white truffles. Wine Director Nicholas Nahigian will join McNee in Italy, tasting and selecting new and unique boutique wines to pair with the food.   Call 415-332-7771.

* From Nov. 27-Dec. 3 La Samanna in St. Martins will  showcase 7 chefs over seven nights: Nov.  27--John Greeley from `21' Club,  NYC with Silver Oak Cellars wines;  Nov. 28--Dominique Ferchaud from Grand Hotel Europe, St. Petersburg, Russia, with wines from Domaine Joseph Drouhin; Nov. 29--Bill Klein, River House Inn, NC with wines from Domaine Drouhin Oregon;  Nov. 30--Guillermo Méndez from La Residencia in Mallorca, Spain with wines from Baron Philippe de Rothschild Maipo, Chile; Dec. 1--Bruno Giordano from The BodyHoliday, in St Lucia, with wines from Baron Philippe de Rothschild;  Dec. 2--Renato Piccolotto from the Cipriani in Venice, Italy , with wines from Castello Banfi; Dec. 3--Mark Salter from The Inn At Perry Cabin, St. Michaels, MD, with wines from Flora Springs. Package incl. 7-nights accommodation in a Deluxe Ocean View suite, the Chef’s dinner for two each night with wine pairings, plus one night Chef’s table dinner in the wine cellar; breakfast buffet. $7000 for two people. Visit or call 1-800-854-2252.

* The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, ME, features its annual "Christmas Prelude Package," Dec. 1-3 (from $508 pp) and Dec. 8-9 (from $472), incl.  2 nights' lodging;  Cocktail reception  hosted by Chef Jonathan Cartwright;  dinner on Sat. night, serenaded by carolers; Traditional Christmas pudding; A welcome gift;  Afternoon tea daily. As always, Santa will arrive by boat and travel downtown escorted by a pair of "lobster elves" for a tree-lighting ceremony at Dock's Square. Visit or call 207-967-2321.


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.
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

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copyright John Mariani 2006