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TIME TO THINK ABOUT MIAMI? by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: A Meeting of Culinary Giants: Philippe Rochat and Gray Kunz by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: At Thanksgiving Drink as the Colonists Drank
by John Mariani
TIME TO THINK ABOUT MIAMI?
by John Mariani
The days grow short and cold up north, so it might well be time to start thinking about a flight south, perhaps Miami, where the sun still shines and there are always plenty of new restaurants to check out. Unfortunately, many aren't worth the effort. Chains and high rents have forced many of the best of years past out of business, including Norman Van Aken's Norman's in Coral Gables, Jonathan Eismann's Pacific Times, Johnny Vinczencz's Johnny V, and several others.
Now, just as I was about to report on it, the very elegant David Bouley Evolution, in the Ritz-Carlton, Miami Beach, has just closed this week. Given the high visibility of a NYC celebrity chef like Bouley, the shuttering is particularly telling. Perhaps my review below--now completely useless--may indicate why it did not succeed in a neighborhood where fine cuisine is way down the list of attractions. Of course, according to the owner, the fact that Bouley had not visited the restaurant since last February didn't help.
As Van Aken told the Miami Herald, "I don't think Miami is capable of being a big foodie town. Miami was a better place in the early '90s. What's happening today is one step above Fast Food Nation."
I'm afraid I have to agree, especially with regard to Miami Beach, where there is so much truly bad food--really expensive dreck--and so many gargantuan, cacophonous eating houses.
There is, however, one new restaurant off the Beach in Miami proper that is well worth a visit after a day at the beach.
MICHAEL'S GENUINE FOOD & DRINK
130 Northeast 40th Street
Given what Van Aken said above, any restaurateur hoping to draw a local clientele with taste has to open elsewhere in Miami.
Chef-restaurateur Michael Schwartz, who made his rep on the Beach years ago at Nemo, then at Shoji Sushi and Big Pink, decided to fill a void across the causeway in the burgeoning Miami’s Design District, and since opening Michael’s last spring, that void has been filled in with gallery people and foodies who come to feast on Schwartz’s “fresh simple pure” downhome fare based on organic ingredients, at prices amazingly fair for such a high quality of cooking.
The place has the look of an upscale luncheonette with winsome little touches, like the mosaic of Guatemalan coins. You’re greeted by Schwartz’s wife Tamara (who is herself quite a dish), and if you can take the Miami heat sit outside on the patio or, inside, snuggle into a booth facing the open kitchen, where Schwartz is firing away. Bring friends, then just point anywhere on the menu and share everything, starting with a few nibbles of crispy hominy with chile and lime.
I pretty much just told Schwartz (right) to send out whatever he felt like, and it kept coming for a while. His chicken liver crostini are dreamy, part Tuscan, part Jewish. There's a light salad of watermelon and feta cheese with pickled onion, arugula, and lemon oil. The yellowfin tuna tartare with grapefruit, avocado, and crispy potatoes is pure Florida soul food. Skip the mediocre pizza, but do not miss the chile-hot chicken wings with creamy cucumbers, or the wood-oven roasted prawn with garlic butter and a bite of lime and cilantro.
For main courses get right to the roasted pork shoulder with cheese grits and pickled red onion, or the crispy breast of veal that gives new, sensual meaning to the phrase “chew the fat.” Crispy beef cheeks with whipped celeriac and a not-sweet chocolate reduction is a delightful twist. Equally crispy and good was a breast of veal--a neglected cut of meat--and the best fish I tried was wood-roasted Florida black grouper with roasted Brussels sprouts, pancetta ham, and a sprightly lemon aïoli.
Desserts are gee-whiz-scrumptious, including a caramelized banana upside down cake with devastatingly rich dulce de leche cream, and a pretty lemon meringue tartlet.
Now, what will this run you? It depends: the dishes are served small, medium, and large, so the mediums can serve as a hefty starter or a good-size lunch portion. At dinner the smalls run $8-$11, the mediums $9-$16, and the large plates $16-$39, with some extra large items, like a 24-ounce porterhouse, in the $40+ range.
The winelist is excellent and fairly priced, and for a place this pleasantly casual, the wineglasses are of good, thin quality.
David Bouley conjures up certain
ultra-high standards of cuisine and service that seem inextricable from
where his namesake flagship, along with Danube, and Bouley Bakery, have
long been counted among the most serious dining establishments in
America. To demonstrate those same standards would, therefore,
require the same dedication and fanatical focus Bouley has always shown
in his long career. So it came as a surprise to find him opening
David Bouley Evolution last December, so far from home base, and on
South Beach at that. Still, the cosseting of Ritz-Carlton
management within what is now the most strikingly handsome hotel on the
strip suggests more than an idle commitment on everyone's part.
We then turned to lamb and beef for our main courses: a rack of lamb with tiny gnocchi(why does a restaurant of this caliber find it necessary to say "homemade gnocchi")
Brussels sprouts and a zucchini-mint purée was very fine, and
excellence of the Prime New York sirloin was only enhanced by roasted
shallots in a classic Burgundy wine reduction with fingerling potato
puree and "fresh" parsley dressing.
For as enjoyable as the dinner was, I found the concepts slightly dated--too many foams, too many purées, very little textural contrast. I do not know if South Beach will embrace the high style of David Bouley(left)
in the ways they do the hip-and-happening bar restaurants along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, but for the person who has had more than enough of that, this is the place to go for fine, if somewhat safe, haute cuisine.
CULINARY HANDS ACROSS
Gray Kunz and Philippe Rochat in the middle of their respective staffs at Columbus Circle
I cannot recall ever writing about a meal, however wonderful, prepared by a visiting chef to another chef's restaurant.
Indeed, I usually avoid such weddings for several simple reasons: The cooking almost never approaches the quality I've experienced from the chef's home kitchen, and if I haven't been to the chef's restaurant I have no way of judging how representative the experience of sampling his wares in a foreign kitchen really is. Obviously the ambiance and service will be almost completely different in unfamiliar surroundings, and the people who really benefit are usually the staff at the host kitchen, which gets a up-close view of another's chef's work. It is also a bit snooty and counterproductive for me to write about a meal my readers cannot attend after the fact.
But a recent dinner at Café Gray (10 Columbus Circle; 212-823-6338) in the Time-Warner Center showed that a truly brilliant master chef can throw off revelatory sparks that suggest what he cooked that night must be very close to what he cooks back home, if only because it's difficult to imagine so many dishes being any better at Philippe Rochat's namesake restaurant in Crissier, Switzerland. Hôtel de Ville-Philippe Rochat (1 rue d'Yverdon; 41-21 634 0505) is considered one of the finest in the world (with three Michelin stars), set within what was once the Town Hall, then the premises for Frédy Girardet's cherished restaurant, where Rochat began working in 1980 then took possession when Girardet retired in 1996. Like his mentor, but unlike his three-star counterparts in France like Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, and Pierre Gagnaire, Rochat is resolutely in his kitchen, for lunch and dinner, from Tuesday through Saturday. So his leaving to come to NYC with his kitchen brigade to cook for three nights at Café Gray (Chef-owner Gray Kunz worked with Rochat at Girardet a while back) was a very rare event.
The dinner was hosted by the Lake Geneva Region, the Office of Tourism of the Canton of Vaud, and Lausanne Tourisme, with further support from Swiss luxury watchmakers like Hublot, Audemars Piquet, and Chopard. The event also co-incided with the 10th anniversary of the winning of the New York Marathon by Franziska Rochat-Moser, Rochat's wife who began a foundation for promoting long-distance running talents, prior to her death in an avalanche in 2002.
Hôtel de Ville-Philippe Rochat
After a glass or two of Dom Pérignon '99 and passed canapés that included precise cubes of duck foie gras glazed with old Madeira, crispy langoustines with Oriental chutney, and a tiny cup of turtle soup, guests sat down to an amazingly light velouté of green apples with osietra caviar to add a saline-briny edge, then spaghetti á l'italienne--a creamy, buttery sauce--with white Alba truffles in profusion. A sweet morsel of a scallop from Brest, with an emulsion of Dom Pérignon was perfectly simple, and sole came in a lovely juice of carrot and lime, again, something so very simple yet so remarkably flavorful. The only dish I didn't care for was blue lobster tail in a court-bouillon à la livèche (lovage) that was a little watery and bland. The main course was a triumphant and wholly classic lièvre à la royale--a rich dish of braised hare with bacon, the liver and gizzards of the hare, cooked in red wine with a mélange of vegetables.
Then came cheeses, followed by a "cocktail exotique" with spiced mango, and a wittily conceived feuillantine of bittersweet chocolate with Florida oranges and a chocolate "milk-shake" ice cream.
What the meal showed--and no one rose from the table feeling stuffed--was that French cuisine (even à la suisse) has a delicacy and finesse that coalesces around a principal ingredient that is showcased, never obliterated, never turned into something else. The beauty of it all is in the execution and the timing, not in novel ideas about how to change something already wonderful.
Rochat, who seems a very shy man in the dining room, thanked everyone for attending, to a wall of applause, as Gray Kunz stood by his side enjoying his friend's momentary celebrity. For the next day Rochat would be heading back to Crissier, and by Tuesday morning he would be back at his own stoves, diligently, and, I suspect, very happily.
By writing about this unique evening I hope that the reader will have an inkling of what both Rochat and Kunz are capable of, night after night after night.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
At Thanksgiving Drink as the Colonists DrankBy John Mariani
You’re not likely to find it in schoolbooks, but the real reason the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 was because they ran out of beer. In the Mayflower’s log is found the notation that the Pilgrims landed where they did because "We could not take much time for further search, our victuals being much spent, especially beer.”
Before long, however, they were making beer from maize, spruce or birch. By 1637 the Colony had two licensed breweries.
At the first Thanksgiving dinner in the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims probably drank sweet wine made from wild native Labrusca grapes and with their Indian friends feasted on oysters, cornbread, eel, goose, venison, watercress, leeks, berries and plums.
The early colonists certainly drank wines based on native grapes like
The colonials would certainly have had access to European wines. In fact, Capt. John Smith, in his Sea Grammar of 1627 recommended all incoming ships from
The British already had a long history as importers and exporters of Portuguese wines and the technique of making Port wine by adding brandy to red wine was the work of a
The colonists would also have ample access to locally produced cider, both fermented and unfermented, and ginger beer, as well as imported brandies and “London Dry Gin,” so-called because it was made near
Rum, a product of the
So, if one wants to be very traditional about celebrating Thanksgiving in the style of the pre-Revolutionary War colonists, you have a wide range of beverages to choose from. This year I’ve decided to serve an array of beverages at my Thanksgiving table based on pre-1776 models and menus.
Therefore, when my guests arrive I will serve them cocktails (beverages that date back before 1800) made with either London Dry Gin like Beefeater ($16) or a rum like Bacardi Gold ($12). I’ll mix the gin with quinine tonic, for quinine was discovered to be essential onboard British ships to prevent scurvy. I’ll make a rum punch with citrus fruits and spices, a beverage known in print at least since 1625. An ad in The Salem Gazette for 1741 noted that orange juice was becoming preferred to lemon juice in the fashionable punches of the day.
For those wanting something lighter, I’ll pop the cork on some sparkling cider. In 1775 the Continental Congress decreed that every American soldier should receive a choice of one quart of either cider or spruce beer daily. I was only able to find a French import—Duche de Longueville Cidre de Bouche de Cru ($6) made in
We will then sit down to dinner, where I will serve a New York State Finger Lakes Riesling like Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Semi-Dry Dry Riesling ($14) to go with the cream of watercress soup we’ll begin with. For the turkey course, which will have as many sweet as savory flavors in the stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes, I’ll serve a Virginia wine from a European varietal--Barboursville Vineyards’ elegant Octagon ($34), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, made from vineyards on land that was once the 870-acre plantation of Gov. James Barbour, whose mansion was designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Then will come the cheese course—a sharp, aged Vermont Cheddar from Cabot Cheese in Montpelier, with glasses of either a Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($50) or a Cossart Gordon Bual Colheita Madeira 1990 ($30), which will carry over nicely with the traditional desserts of apple pie and pumpkin pie. Then, after coffee, for those still in a celebratory mood, I shall bring out snifters of a fine, well-aged dark rum, like Plantation 8 Year Rum from
If there are any beer drinkers at the feast, choose pale ale or stout over lager, which was not made in
Dining this well, with these wines and spirits, it is easy to be thankful for what the American colonists set in motion nearly four centuries ago.
John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.
FOOD WRITING 101: EVEN IF YOU DO LIVE IN LA-LA LAND, TRY NOT TO WRITE AS IF YOU DO.
"SPECTACULAR beaches, dramatic cliffs, amazing surf -- it's hard to feel sorry for Malibu. But if you love to eat out, life has dealt you the kind of hand that's landed you a spread on Broad Beach (or even a Thanksgiving week condo rental on the other side of the highway) and you've had enough of Nobu Malibu, you'll have to jump in the Ferrari and zoom out of the ZIP Code to find much of interest. . . .Happily, Terra's not too expensive -- most of the main courses are in the $20-$28 range (steaks are more). So you don't need to pull up in the Enzo to feel right at home; you can leave it in the garage and take the Nissan. You don't even have to live in 90265 -- sometimes a drive up PCH can just make you feel like a million bucks. And at long last, you don't have to head back south for a decent dinner."--Leslie Brenner, LA Times (Oct. 17, 2007).
TWO IS RED SNAPPER
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
* In observance of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, select
* On Dec. 1 The Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, CA, will celebrate the holidays with its 5th annual "Gingerbread Inn" fundraising event to benefit Marin County's Whistlestop Meals, Wheels and More. Guests will decorate their own pre-assembled gingerbread houses, with the assistance of 13 of
* On Dec.1 & 2 Rutherford Appellation Wineries will be "Kickin' up the Dust" at the first annual Passport Weekend, with special pourings, tastings and entertainment, for the two-day price of $50. Profits will be donated to the Rutherford Dust Restoration Team, a group of vintners and growers who are working together to improve the health of the
* From Dec. 4-11 in NYC, Toloache’s Chef Julian Medina will be celebrating Hanukkah at the restaurant this year by offering a special menu at dinner throughout the eight nights of the holiday. Call 212-581-1818; visit www.toloachenyc.com
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:
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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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