"Come and Get It" by Gil Elvgren (1959)
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NEW YORK CORNER: X20 by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Summer Reds by John Mariani
by John Mariani
The pound sterling is now pegged at two American dollars, making the prospects of visiting
Tom’s Kitchen (27 Cale Street; 011-44-20-7349-0202), located just off Kings Road, run by his identical twin brother, has been packed since opening this year, serving housemade charcuterie, a massive and succulent côte de boeuf (the most expensive thing on the menu, at $66 for two), and his signature “7 hour confit of shoulder of lamb.” You might choose to sit at the lively communal table in this gregarious, white-tiled room with an open kitchen. The winelist has scores of bottles under $50.
The place gets intensely, ear-shatteringly loud, which some find part of the fun (the photo at left shows the total lack of any soft, sound-absorbing surfaces), but I am one of those fuddy-duddies who prefer being able to hear my partners' voice above the din.
The chef in the open kitchen is Robert Aikens, and he looks happy as a clam back there because he can be sure his guests are having a jolly good time noshing on his red onion tart and tomato salad with mozzarella and pesto, and a platter of housemade charcuterie. The crab and scallop tortellini with fennel fondue, lobster, and basil velouté was wonderful, although they should change the menu to read "a single tortellino."
Main courses follow simple suit with dishes like an excellent duck confit with freshly made chips and a red wine-shallot sauce, a luscious macaroni and cheese, a decent monkfish-squid casserole, and that superlative côte de boeuf served for two. Every dessert is a winner, from a superb chocolate fondant with praline ice cream to velvety, rich vanilla yogurt with churros fritters.
Another nice touch: Tom's Kitchen dotes on children and their families and even serves breakfast.
Arbutus (63-64 Frith Street; 011-44-20-7734-4545), located in Soho, has made its own considerable reputation—including a shiny new Michelin star--by offering a three-course pre-theater menu at £17.50, with scores of good wines available by carafe, starting at £4.25, to go with modern Brit food. A la carte a three-course dinner will run you about £28. Owners Will Smith and chef Anthony Demetre aim to provide top quality for a fair price, and the fact that this is one of the most unassuming and handsome new restaurants in town makes it all the more popular.
There is always a plat du jour, like roast chicken with sautéed potatoes and morels in cream sauce, and appetizers and entrees each number a sensible eight items, beginning with lovely asparagus with a fried duck egg, an equally vibrant crushed tomato soup with a dollop of ricotta and a swirl of olive oil, and braised pig's head with potato puree and caramelized onions. There was at least one oddity on the night I visited--a squid and mackerel burger that was not, to my taste, an honorable marriage.
For main courses go with the halibut with potato gnocchi and Cornish cockles, or the slowly roasted, succulent lamb with sweetbreads and artichokes. For innards lovers there is lamb's tripe and trotters Using lesser cuts of meat is one way of saving money and passing it on to the consumer.
Desserts are homey and delicious--warm waffles with strawberries and vanilla cream, and a warm chocolate soup with caramelized milk ice cream. The vanilla cheesecake with strawberries is light and fluffy.
Arbutus shows that fine food need not be fussy and need not be extravagantly priced, especially if millions have not gone into decor. Arbutus is in fact a smart-looking, well lighted place where the conviviality makes up for a deliberate lack of gilt and velvet.
If, however, you are feeling a bit flush, I would by all means hasten to the Grill Room at The Dorchester Hotel (Park Lane; 011-20-7629-888; www.thedorchester.com), where a new, young chef named Aiden Byrne (below) is doing some of the finest cuisine in London right now, balancing regulars' love of the classics with his own bright ideas for a younger crowd.
Long before I ever published a word, I dreamed of someday having lunch in New York at The Four Seasons with an editor who looked like Bennett Cerf and at the Grill at the Dorchester with an editor who looked like Trevor Howard. Eventually I did have lunch at The Four Seasons with an editor, although she looked more like Nora Ephron than Bennett Cerf, and have yet to dine with a London editor at the Dorchester. But I have dined at The Grill many times over the years and always enjoyed it immensely. For decades it was always the same, the room done up in a curiously Spanish motif, the formally dressed staff at the beck and call of London businessmen, trysting lovers, and aging aristocracy. The roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was always wonderful, and the the classic dish Dover sole à la meuniére was always deftly de-boned (if you wish) at the table by a waiter who spoons the sizzling butter over the fish along with serving boiled potatoes or crispy, light golden pommes soufflé. Half the delight of the dish is watching the service of it, in anticipation of the first morsel. With such a great, rich seafood dish nothing would satisfy me but a bottle of Corton-Charlemagne chilled to precisely 45 degrees.
You can still have those dishes, and I still pine for them, but I was really astonished at the brilliance of the new cooking at the Grill. The food looks complicated, and it takes enormous skill to prepare, but it is not in the least fussy, starting with an appetizer like Byrne's ballotine of rabbit with crayfish and peas or his creamy chicken and garlic soup with a dice of potatoes and translucent black truffle ravioli. I didn't taste (perhaps fortunately) much white chocolate in a risotto accompanying superlative roast Cornish scallops, but the summer flavor of a pea sorbet with mint and crème fraîche was enchanting.
Our main courses included "squab pigeon" (a redundancy) cooked perfectly rosy, with tangy pickled cabbage and a sweet garlic butter sauce in lush counterpoint. Roast leg of pork followed the Grill Room's traditions, but Byrne added a wonderful langoustine cream to the dish along with boulangère potatoes, with the lagniappe of rillettes of pork. There is a selection of British and French cheeses, while desserts have an elegant simplicity that matches the spirit of the Grill--a lemon posset with raspberries and honey and poached rhubarb with vanilla yogurt and lemon jelly. The breads, made on the premises, could be much better than they are now.
A tab here can mount easily, though the 6-course tasting menu at £70 is worth every penny, and at lunch there is a very fine fixed price menu, with two courses at £25 and three at £27.50.
The re-do of the Grill's decor has been somewhat controversial, going from Iberian flourishes to murals of romping Scots highlanders in full regalia, which I actually like quite a bit. It's not modern but it seems apt for this, still one of the great and enduring British dining rooms, now with a very promising talent in the kitchen. Why, then, The Dorchester is putting in an Alain Ducasse operation right across the hallway from the Grill is beyond me. At a time when they should be promoting the talent, diligence, and hard work of Mr. Byrne, it seems silly to hire a chef in name only who will rarely be anywhere near the eponymous restaurant.
by John Mariani
Water Grant Street
There's a long story behind X20, the stunning new restaurant on the Hudson River at Yonkers, NY, in full view of the Palisades, the carousel lights of the George Washington Bridge, and the purple towers of Manhattan. Peter Xaviar Kelly (below), who grew up in this river city, now struggling to rebound from decades of decay, has been a local star chef in the area, with three well-known, highly regarded restaurants across the Tappan Zee in Rockland County. This new multi-level restaurant is set on the 100-year-old Yonkers Recreation Pier, from which ferries ply the fast-moving waters of the Hudson down to Wall Street.
The project, designed by Highland Associates, turned out beautifully, though it took six years to make it happen, given the byzantine ways of state and local politics, engineering reports, historical societies, and all the rest of the red tape that goes with something this size. Now that it's done, you can see the millions of dollars Kelly and his brother Ned, who mans the dining room, poured into X20, with its vast expanses of windows, bamboo floors, artwork by John Beerman of Nyack, hand-crafted furniture, a sushi lounge, unique utensils, fine stemware, and civilized acoustics.
X20 is, however, a restaurant still in the making, and I suspect it will be where the Kelly brothers want it to be six months from now. Knowing that it is not, they have wisely restricted reservations, so that no matter when you call the restaurant a day or two before you wish to dine--even weeks out--a receptionist will tell you, "Sorry, we're fully committed," even if the dining room is only three-quarters full that evening. This allows the Kellys, and chef de cuisine Kenny Breiman, to get the timing right and the staff in shape. Upon my visit neither was down pat yet, and I have received reports of long delays between courses and cold food.
The sushi, while dramatically presented, is fairly routine, and the rice-to-fish ratio favors the former to the detriment of the latter. A terrine of Hudson Valley duck with pistachios and truffles, celeriac salad, and a red currant and orange peel glaze was a lovely idea, but the texture of the terrine itself somewhat grainy. Very good indeed was a dish of ravioli filled with juicy short ribs and foie gras in truffle butter, with grated amaretti cookies and bitter-salty broccoli di rabe. So, too, a warm flan of Silver Queen corn with lump crabmeat and fore gras, grated chorizo and a micro-greens salad was like comfort food in excelsis. Not so a warm salad of calamari and sweetbreads whose fennel pollen and passion fruit seeds did little to make up for a basic blandness.
My favorite among the main courses were a grilled breast of squab with a sprightly tamarind glaze, soothing white corn-and-cheddar grits and leaf spinach--an impeccable blend of ingredients--and a mignon of Berkshire black hog with grilled bacon, homey gingered sweet potatoes, and a rosemary-scented apple condiment. Good, if not exceptional, was a sage-rubbed veal chop with mushroom custard and an odd lime-flavored hollandaise that did not interact well. The problem with a crispy duck schnitzel with red cabbage, a ragoût of spaetzle and duck leg confit, with glazed turnips, was not the combination or the cooking but that the duck meat had little flavor at all beneath the crispy shell.
Desserts include pleasing renditions of chocolate-espresso cake and butterscotch pudding laced with Irish whiskey.
The winelist, always building, now has more than 300 selections, 40 by the glass, with mostly gracious markups and a few bargains among the rarer wines.
Service was well meaning but often inattentive, and there were lapses of time between courses.
X20 is such a gorgeously situated restaurant, especially at twilight when the sun sets behind the Palisades and the southern sky turns lavender, that I have every hope it will bring the lower Hudson Valley all the admiration and wonder it is due. I also believe that once X20 gets in synch, it will be an outstanding destination restaurant for anyone who hasn't been north of Manhattan in a while.
X20 is open for lunch Tues.-Fri., and dinner Tues.-Sun., with Sunday brunch. Dinner appetizers range from $8.50 to $14, and main courses $28-$35.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
by John Mariani
In the Heat of Summer, Cool Down with Red Wines
Now that the dog days of summer have pretty much descended upon the entire
Nevertheless, most winelovers would not wish to go through August and Labor Day drinking nothing but white wines and roses, especially if the food on the grill is steak, lamb or hamburgers. The solution to the dilemma is to drink lighter reds, particularly those that can chill down a little and be refreshing while matching the richer flavors of red meat.
When I say chill, I mean slightly, to 50 to 55 degrees F, which is about the recommended cellar temperature for all wines, but a little too cold as a temperature for drinking big reds.
The good thing about light reds is that they will go well with anything a full-bodied white will, except simply grilled or sautéed white fish like bass, sole, and halibut. Even then, if those fish are made with a red wine-and-butter sauce, the same red wine used would be the most rational choice to accompany the meal.
Light reds go very well indeed with mussels, octopus, scallops, salmon, mackerel, and monkfish. And they hold up with red meats, as long as they are not doused with hot seasonings. With those meat dishes I go with a medium-priced merlot.
Among the light reds I enjoy in summer, Sancerre Rouge is at the top of the list. Made from pinot noir in the
A bit bolder and bigger in bouquet and body are the pinot noirs from
Beaujolais crus—not 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau, which by now is not worth drinking—from Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliènas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Saint-Amour, and Régnié, are among my favorite summer wines, most especially with grilled chicken, salade Niçoise, and goat’s cheese. The Gamay grape is always assertive, always identifiable, and a little chill is welcome. Georges Duboeuf is the 500-pound gorilla of
Let me end by recommending a varietal we don’t see nearly enough of—petite syrah, or petite sirah, which was once believed to be related to the Rhone Valley’s syrah but is actually the grape known in the Rhone as the durif, which itself is a cross breed of peloursin with syrah. You won’t find much of it in
In every case, go with the younger vintages, stick them in the ‘fridge for 15 minutes or the freezer for five, and sip them under an umbrella or swinging in a hammock to induce a good summer’s nap.
FILL MUG WITH BEER, INSERT STICK, PLACE IN FREEZER, TRY NOT TO FORGET IT'S IN THERE
Restaurateur Greg Engert of Rustico in Alexandria, Virginia, with nearly 300 varieties of beer has been making "Hopsicles," ice pops flavored with beer. Flavors include "Raspbeery," "Plum," and "Fudgesicle," with Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. Alcoholic Beverage Control says Hopsicles may violate beer-serving laws.
BOY, WAS GEORGE MICHAEL EVER EMBARRASSED!
In Destin, FL, McGuire's Irish Pub has for ten years had a men's room with a sign in large print reading "Ladies" with smaller text clarifying that women shouldn't go in there because it's--har dee har har!--actually the men's room. The women's room has a similar sign. After the father of a 15-year-old girl was interrupted by a man in the women's room, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation threatened the pub with closure for "Lack of signage properly designating bathrooms." General Manager Billy Martin told the Northwest Florida Daily News, "We're not trying to be malicious. It's an Irish joke kind of thing." More than 3,000 pub patrons have signed a petition to bring the signs back.
* On Aug. 13, 20 & 27, Valentino in
* On Aug. 14 Chef Geoffrey Zakarian of Country in NYC will hold a Summer Champagne Dinner featuring special cuvées from the houses of Dom Perignon, Krug and Ruinart. $250 pp. Call 212-889-7051.
* On Aug. 21, California Cafe,
* On August 23, the Hotel Bel-Air in Bel-Air, CA, will hold Le Grand Aioli, celebrating the garlic harvest, on the Front Lawn. The meal will center around the traditional aioli and feature bouillabaisse, paired with wines from Brander Vineyards. $125 pp. Call 310-943-6742 or send an e-mail to email@example.com.
* On Aug. 24 in Orlando, FL, the Rosen Centre is hosting the "Rosen Centre Vine and Dine," a wine-pairing dinner series of four evenings, exploring a different region of the world with each dinner, and prepared by Executive Chef Michael Rumplik and Specialty Restaurant Chef Fred Vlachos.. The series finale is Oct. 26. 65 pp. Call 407 996-9840; visit www.evergladesrestaurant.com or www.rosencentre.com.
* Lafitte Guest House in
* The French Riviera’s Château de la Tour in Cannes has unveiled a special “4 for 3” package incl. a 4-night stay in a double room for the price of a 3-night stay, plus buffet breakfast daily, VIP welcome Champagne and fruit basket, two dinners for two in the hotel’s “Le 10,” private parking and a surprise welcome gift. 238€ (US$230) per night, valid from Aug. 20-Dec. Visit www.hotel-chateau-tour-cannes.cote.azur.fr
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below:
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Click on the logo below to go to the site.
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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