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THE NEW JAMES BOND--NOT THE MAN HE USED TO BE by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: Gilt Revisited by John Mariani
MR. RIPERT GOES TO THE RITZ
by John Mariani
The last time I visited Grand Cayman
decades ago all I remember were dozens of banks and billions of beach
was a scuba diver’s paradise, but aside from turtle watching, there was
to see or do. And of course, this
the Caribbean, the food was inedible, as it still so often is in the
So the arrival of the illustrious Eric Ripert, chef-partner of the best seafood restaurant in the world, NYC’s Le Bernardin, to create and oversee two restaurants at the brand new Ritz-Carlton on Grand Cayman (above) came as a major surprise to me. The only other famous chef to dip his toe in the Caribbean waters has been Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose attempt at fine dining at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island is an embarrassment. Ripert’s commitment gives me reason to think that finally—outside the French island of St. Bart’s—one can really eat well and do so at a first-rate, very lavish resort with all the usual Ritz-Carlton amenities, including dinner at sunset on the beach (below).
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery.
The 144-acre, 365-room Ritz-Carlton resort bestrides the beautiful, white, powdery
Al this activity can build up a mighty appetite, which can be sated with enormous pleasure at the resort's two main restaurants, Blue by Eric Ripert and the steakhouse named 7 Prime Cuts & Sunsets. Blue is a shadowy, shimmering dining room overlooking the aquamarine sea, and on my recent visit I found the food amazingly good and pretty close in menu and style to what I love about Le Bernardin—fine, clean flavors based on the best seafood available. Ripert (left) almost quit when told he had to use approved seafood flown in at great expense by Fed-Ex, which is standard issue in the Caribbean, where dependence on local stocks is full of frustration. As much as possible at Blue, Ripert tries to bring in a very high percentage of product from contracted local fishermen. To prove his point, Ripert took me back to his kitchen where an impressive 50-pound tuna had just been brought in from local waters.
The results of such commitment show in Ripert’s signature yellowfin tuna with foe gras on a toasted baguette and in his tropically-inflected dishes like pan-roasted swordfish with fragrant shrimp-fried basmati rice in a coconut curry broth. Fat baked snapper is served with a sour-spicy broth, sweet potato, plantains, and avocado, while striped bass is cooked in white wine with cockles, served with potatoes suffused with whipped cream and a splash of lime and lemon oil. Every night there is a section of simple grilled species like wahoo, swordfish, and bluefin tuna, and you may choose a sauce from several to go with any of them. The $120 tasting menu is the way to go.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner only.
Sad to say, the casual poolside restaurant Periwinkle was in need of a lot of fine tuning when I visited, the menu dull and predictable and its execution perfunctory, although Ripert swore to me it will be up to snuff ASAP. But the steakhouse here is terrific: Despite its goofy name, 7 Prime Cuts & Sunsets (left), which Ripert does not oversee, is a large, very handsome and very spacious room opening onto the pool. It has tiled floors, striped wallpapers, and polished wooden tables. (The napery could be better and the wineglasses thinner.)
The quality of the food overall was first-rate, and I daresay I know of no steakhouse in the region, outside of Bern's in Tampa, that could match 7 Prime for the quality of its beef and other ingredients. Here you can start off with a conch and crabcake with chipotle aïoli, or some bluefin tuna tartare with a soy-lime emulsion. There was flamed amberjack one evening that was pristinely fresh and fine, while the pistachio-crusted Colorado rack of lamb was one of the finest I've ever enjoyed. So, too, a rosemary-rubbed 12-ounce New York cut steak was excellent and went beautifully with both wasabi-mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and a bottle of Concha y Toro Don Melchior. Desserts included luscious profiteroles, crème brûlée, chocolate lava cake, and one of my childhood favorites, peppermint and marshmallow ice cream.
The restaurant is open daily from 7 A.M. on. Appetizer prices range from CI$8-CI$14, and main courses CI$23-CI$39.
Grand Cayman itself is quickly being cramped up with new hotels and condos, but Seven Mile Beach is still pristine and as yet uncrowded, ahd the Ritz-Carlton has one of the best, unsullied prospects. You can still watch the turtles, swim with stingrays, and go deep sea fishing. And you can still haul your funny money to the banks and get treated like an Arab prince. I’m not sure what happened to the gnats.
JAMES BOND 2006--NOT THE MAN HE USED TO BE
by John Mariani
Early on in the new James Bond flick, "Casino Royale," 007's boss, M, played by Judi Dench, excoriates her newly appointed "00" number for botching a job by saying, "Any thug can kill people." Alas, Ian Fleming's suave British agent, who had more to do with advancing connoisseurship and style than any fictional character in history, is indeed a thug in this new movie, a lout who seems as ill-fitted to wear the Brioni designer suits tailored for him as to drive a brand new Aston Martin, which he destroys within thirty seconds of getting behind the wheel; his Aston is even configured to be driven American style, even though he's in the Bahamas, where they drive on the British side of the road.
Several movie critics have commented that the actor playing Bond--Daniel Craig (above)--comes closest to Ian Fleming's original conception of Bond, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it was Fleming who believed Sean Connery (below, right, in "From Russia with Love") was perfect for the the role of 007, debuting in 1962 in "Dr. No" and establishing the iconography of a man who was fearless, extremely deadly, extremely worldly, unbelievably sexy, and just as good at driving a car as he was seducing the mistress of his enemy. Other actors had been credible in the role--George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, even Pierce Brosnan, although Roger Moore, who made the most Bond movies (seven) was little more than a foppish mannequin in the role.
Physically Craig looks nothing like Fleming's Bond, but then neither did Roger Moore. Craig is a craggy, somewhat disheveled rugby player type, with a haircut that resembles Pee Wee Herman's and a hairless chest that shows off his six-pack. Craig wears clothes badly: There's even a sequence when he dons a Brioni tuxedo given to him by his femme fatale Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and gawks in the mirror like a teenager about to go off to his junior prom. He is also humorless, with little of the repartee that Fleming and the onscreen Bonds used to such witty advantage. He's also rather dim-witted, sloshing down martinis, one of which almost kills him, while playing poker for $10 million stakes against a vicious antagonist named Le Chiffre in a casino in Montenegro. In Fleming's Casino Royale, the setting is the far more glamorous Monte Carlo, and Bond tells a C.I.A. agent, "I never have more than one drink before dinner."
Fleming's 007 was a man of very personal tastes. Neither a gourmet nor gourmand, Bond's preferences in food, wine, and spirits were part of his worldliness. "I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink," says Bond in the Fleming's first 007 novel (1953), on which the current film is based. "It comes partly from being a bachelor, but mostly from a habit of taking a lot of trouble over details. . . . It's very persnickety and old-maidish." Fleming summed up Bond’s world weary gourmandism in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when he wrote, “when traveling abroad, generally by himself, meals were a welcome break in the day, something to look forward to, something to break the tension of fast driving, with its risks taken or avoided, the narrow squeaks, the permanent background of concern for the fitness of his machine.”
Before Bond entered pop culture the merest display of Epicureanism in a male character was a sure sign of his untrustworthiness or villainy (think of fat Sydney Greenstreet and Walter Slezak). Even among heroes, being a “gourmet” was considered somewhat epicene, as with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe (right), and Zorro’s foppish alter-ego, Don Diego. Try to imagine Bogart, Gable, Cagney, Cooper, or Wayne ordering Taittinger Blanc de Blancs while supping on smoked salmon and caviar. For the same reason, it is interesting to note that in 007’s first appearance on film—in a 1954 TV adaption of “Casino Royale”--Bond (played by American actor Barry Nelson) orders not the famous “shaken, not stirred” vodka martini of the book but a manly man’s Scotch on the rocks.
Bond was the first fictional male hero to revel in a love of good food and wine, and his connoisseurship was as much a part of his persona as was his Aston-Martin and Walther PPK. Indeed, his intimate knowledge of wine and food were tools crucial to his survival, as much in detecting uncouth enemies’ intentions as well as in shattering his their maniacal egos. In the film "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) Bond exposes two waiters as assassins because they fail to identify Château Mouton-Rothschild ’55 as a claret (left), and in "From Russia with Love" (1963) 007's suspicions are aroused—too late--when a false British agent orders red wine with fish. Bond cannot resist strutting his Epicureanism, complimenting his Japanese host in “You Only Live Twice” (1967) on his sake, “especially when it’s served at the correct temperature--98.4 degrees Fahrenheit.” Bond exercises any opportunity for one-upmanship, even with his superior, M: In “Diamonds Are Forever,” Bond sips a glass of Sherry and says to M, “Too bad about your liver, sir; this is a very good ’51 solera.” When M shoots back, “There are no vintages in Sherry, 007,” Bond replies, “I was speaking of the original solera on which the sherry was based. . . 1851.” And in “Goldfinger" (1964), when presented with a “rather disappointing
Fleming’s Bond endured terrible hangovers and suffered self doubt, as the character does in the new Bond film. Fleming took great pains to detail Bond's gourmet meals (although Noël Coward pronounced Fleming’s own cooking at his Jamaican residence, Goldeneye, as inedible). In Diamonds Are Forever Bond describes the perfect woman as "somebody who can make sauce Béarnaise as well as love." He does not care for sushi and despises tea, calling it one of the reasons for the downfall of the
Fleming larded his potboilers with Bond's preferences: 007 bought his coffee beans at De Bry on
In the very first Bond film, “Dr. No” (1962), his preference for a vodka martini “shaken not stirred” is even noted by Dr. No himself, who later serves Bond a Dom Pérignon ’55, prompting 007 to sneer, “I prefer the ’53 myself.” From that moment onward D.P.’s sales soared--—so much so that the Bond films were a repository of “product placements.” By the next film, “From Russia with Love,” Bond is conspicuously drinking Taittinger Blanc de Blancs in two different scenes. But starting with "Live and Let Die" in 1973, Bond begins a string of eight films in which he drinks Bollinger (although he switched back to D.P. in “Diamonds Are Forever”). By the time of “Licence to Kill” (1989) such promotions had become embarrassingly blatant: Timothy Dalton tells room service, “and of course, I’ll want a bottle of Bollinger R.D. sent up right away.” In fact, for the film "The Living Daylights" Bollinger traded on the Bond name by producing a limited edition poster headlined, "Bollinger, the Champagne of James Bond 007" (left). And during the making of “For Your Eyes Only” a spokesman for the film told the press, “We don’t know what Bond will be drinking this time. We had a little trouble last time getting enough of the right
One can only imagine, then, what Stolichnaya paid producer Cubby Broccoli to have Roger Moore hold up a bottle of Stoli to the camera at the end of "A View to a Kill" (1985). Or what Finlandia gave the producers to have Pierce Brosnan switch to their brand in "Die Another Day" (below). Or the money Hennessy forked over to have Bond, in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service” (1969), tell a St. Bernard that has restored him with brandy after a near fatal avalanche, "Good fellow, but I do wish it had been Hennessy." Even Mike Myers' Austin Powers parodies (below) of the Bond movies seem to parody product placement by having them so many brandished in so many scenes.
Bond’s living high on the hog does take its toll. In both the novel Thunderball (1965) and the movie "Never Say Never Again" (1983) based on it (which had already been made into a 1965 film), 007’s physical condition is of some concern to M--furred tongue, high blood pressure, and a liver "not palpable"—causing him to chastise Bond for his consumption of “too much alcohol, fatty foods and white bread,” to which Bond replies, "I don't eat all that much white bread, sir." He is thereupon sent off to Shrublands health clinic to purge his body of "free-radical toxins," but, after refusing a meal of "lentil delight" and goat's cheese brought by a beautiful nurse, Bond seduces her by breaking out his secret hamper of Beluga caviar, Strasbourg foie gras, quail's eggs and vodka.
Clearly the Bond movie franchise had become stultified with outlandish fantasy sequences and tacky computer-generated derring-do, and the producers are to be commended in bringing something of Bond's human dimensions back into focus with the new "Casino Royale." Watching Daniel Craig in action playing a rough-around-the-edges version of Fleming's hero is to see how the movie franchise has, yet again, been able to renew itself, but in the bargain most of what made Bond so appealing in the first place--the man all men wanted to be and all women wanted to bed--has been lost. Craig's macho man is all muscle and thug; he is not the man Fleming described in the 1953 novel as Bond ends his day at the casino: "His last action was to slip his right hand under the pillow till it rested on the butt of the .38 Colt Police Positive with the sawn barrel. Then he slept, and with the warmth and humour of his eyes extinguished his features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, and cold."
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
The Palace Hotel
glory that is the Villard Mansion , which dates to 1884,
he glory that is the Villard Mansion(right)
, which dates to 1884,with its exquisite wood-paneling, marble fireplace and parquet floors is among the rare interiors in NYC to be landmarked, which means that any entrepreneur that occupies it must respect and maintain every square inch of its beauty.
But the news that he would be replaced by a stellar young chef whose work I applauded eagerly when two years ago he took over the kitchen at Stephen Starr's re-cast Striped Bass in Philadelphia more than enticed me to return to Gilt.
At Striped Bass Christopher Lee, 30, formerly at Oceana, Jean-Georges, and Daniel in NYC, showed himself one of the real masters of American seafood, and I was delighted he was returning closer to where I could get to his food. Lee came aboard in October.
Yet my high hopes were dashed by a meal that struck me as an excrescence of his style, an overwrought, fussed-with flourish that seemed to be more about the plate than the food; no wonder the tag line here is "A Taste of the Unexpected." Many of the flavors I recall with such pleasure at Striped Bass are still here but they lie beneath irrelevant wrappings and sit on china swabbed with thick reductions that look like someone forgot to wipe the plate clean. A yellow fin tuna tartare with kimchee, rice pearls, scallion pancakes, and a shallot-ginger dressing was one of the less complex items, and it was good and clean in flavor. Nantucket bay scallops were not the sweetest I've had (the season is still early), and they were compromised, not enhanced, by edamame beans, passion fruit, lotus root, black truffles, and an unidentified jus. If ever there was an ingredient that need next-to-nothing done to it, it is delicate bay scallops; these seemed more part of an idea than the idea itself.
So, too, when you order a dish of agnolotti, it is reasonable to expect that you'll get a good portion of the fat little stuffed pastas. At Gilt you get three, filled with bland butternut squash equidistantly placed on the plate with morsels of good meaty quail, hazelnuts, ricotta cheese, and cranberry sage butter--all right, but a wholly inept understanding of what a pasta dish should be.
Frou-frou ran riot in the main courses too, from a New Zealand John Dory with black beluga lentils, baby carrots, arugula and an ill-advised pear cider, to pheasant braised as a torchon, served, with some restraint, alongside sweet potato purée, Brussels sprouts, and huckleberry jus. "Peking Style" squab had little of what one would expect from such a moniker, here served with dull vegetable fried rice, spicy Asian greens, broccoli florets, and a sweet-sour sauce--all of which made me recall what a really wonderful dish a true Peking duck is, but not this. Combining short ribs and lobster on one plate is not, in itself, a bad idea at all, but combining pomegranate and cauliflower, black trumpet mushrooms, and tagliatelle is (and the $12 supplement on a 3-course $78 prix fixe is unnecessary).
The Bar At Gilt
There is a lengthy and admirable tea menu here, and the cheese service is splendid too. Desserts is a category where a chef can go a little crazy, but curiously enough, Gilt's desserts are actually quite sensible and very good, save a caramel financier with caramel hazelnut praline whose accompanying caramel ice cream was too salty to make sense.
The wine list at Gilt (which is on their website) is about a thousand labels strong, a spectacular screed for very wealthy people, though for the rest of us there are few decent selections under $60. The service at Gilt is professional and helpful, and they need all the help they can get: the night I visited, only five tables or so, mostly couples, were taken in the dining room.
I suspect the cool reception thus far of Gilt by the general public has more to do with its a) being in a hotel and b) the dreary lighting and ambiance of the room. For me, however, my wonderment at how a great young chef could get such giddy ideas about conflicts of flavors and fussy presentations and expect New Yorkers to respond with enthusiasm is disappointing, to say the least.
Gilt is open for dinner Tues.-Sat. There is a $55 pre-theater menu.
THINGS MOST OF US DON'T WORRY
MUCH ABOUT WHILE TRAVELING
"We shriek as the launch bounces off the chop, and the salty spray makes everyone scramble to protect his or her mobile phone, a task made harder for Fatma bin Fahad because she is also trying to keep her head scarf from flying off and her black chiffon abaya from whipping up her backside."--Susan Hack, "Future World: Dubai," Conde-Nast Traveler Britain.
TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding 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 more unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani
* From Dec. 4-9 The Food Studio in
* On Dec. 5, Zingerman's Roadhouse in~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
* On Dec. 7 Mae Mae Café in NYC will serve a “Slovenian Soliloquy,” a 3-course dinner with wine pairings showcasing the culinary and winemaking traditions of Slovenia for just $32 ($22 for the meal only). Chef Vesna Carman, who owns one of the country’s most highly acclaimed gostilinas or inns, Pri Danilu, will present highlights from her Slovenian St. Nicolas Day Celebration Dinner at the James Beard House the night before. Call (212) 727-2424.
* Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 15, the Hotel d'Angleterre on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, will offer a “What A Wonderful Winter Fantasy” package, incl. 2 nights accommodations; bottle of "Vin des Glaciers"; Welcome gift and a basket of "Biscôme"; CD of Swiss Christmas Carols; daily buffet breakfast traditional cheese fondue in a typical chalet of the Jura; "Mont Blanc 4807" cocktail in the Leopard Lounge; 4-course dinner at Windows by chef Philippe Audonnet; pastry demo; access to the fitness and sauna rooms; if staying on Christmas Day, a stocking stuffed with season goodies; Rates from CHF1346. In
* On Dec. 12 Unwind with Wine is hosting an "Affordable Holiday Sparklers," with 3-course wine dinner by Executive Chef Pnina Peled of Ristorante Cinque Terre at the
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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