Espada (barracuda) at The Funchal Fish Market, Madeira, Portugal (2006), photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
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EATING OUT IN HONG KONG, PART TWO by John A. Curtas
NEW YORK CORNER: Capsouto Frères by Mort Hochstein
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Meritage Celebrates 20th Anniversary with 201st Member by John Mariani
Out in Hong Kong, Part
by John A. Curtas
Yung Kee has been celebrating the cult of the splayed goose since the 1950’s, and there’s no doubt what to order once you pass the front window, where chefs slice, flatten and prepare them on thick round chopping blocks on their way to the roasting ovens. It is also famous for the luminescent purple-green yolks and amber colored whites of its 1,000-year old eggs (below). These pungent, sulfuric delicacies are really closer to 100 days old, having been submersed in lime, ashes and salt for about that long. Accompanied by fresh pickled ginger, they clear the palate and the head for the rich and fatty goose yet to come.
Before the main attraction came two seafood offerings; first a mixed seafood soup with bean curd that was as snow white as the rice flour noodles at MiddleRow, followed by deep fried prawns stuffed with crab roe. The soup was subtle to the point of insipidness, and benefited greatly from a healthy shake from the white pepper bottle. The stuffed shrimp were a surf-and-lake delight, wrapped in a lighter-than-air crust that tightly encased the crab fat and roe and as perfect as fried seafood can be. For the finale, a whole breast of moist and savory roasted goose was served with a fresh plum sauce that put the bottled stuff we Americans take for granted to shame.
Descending the four floors of this huge restaurant after the meal, I noticed there wasn’t a table left to be had, and I sneaked one last peak upon the chefs in the front window. Big mistake. Because standing there, beside a cleaver-wielding chef, within inches of a chopping block, were the knees and shoes of a window washer, soaping the inside of the picture window. I can’t say that it ruined the otherwise exquisite meal, but it did point up what a French chef friend of mind told me upon returning from cooking a banquet for high rollers in
After cacophonous dim sum free-for-alls and some mild, roasted goose revulsion, respite was found in the placid gentility of a hairy crab-tasting menu at the highly regarded
So it took me about two sips of slightly warmed Shaoxing Chiew--an oxidized 5-year old rice wine that smacks of sherry crossed with a dash of
The repast began with a single, large Shanghainese pork dumpling dotted with coral-colored roe, followed by a haunting crab and smoke-flavored shark’s fin soup. I’m the first to admit there are some flavor/texture profiles of Cantonese food that I just don’t get (like the obsession with dried abalone and bird’s nest), but one sip of this extraordinary soup had me appreciating the glass-like gelatinous threads that thickened the strong stock and provided a textural contrast to the uni-like crab fat roe that floated among them. Next came my lesson in dissecting the hirsute little beast whose carapace was about the size of my fist. It took awhile to dismember and pluck the intensely sweet crab meat from the shell and legs, but the lesson and effort proved worth it as I eventually got to more yellow-gold fat inside the shell containing intense specks of even more roe. Of the whole “set,” only the baked fried rice with crabmeat missed the mark, as my western palate could discern none of the fatty crab flavor present in the other dishes.
The staff, speaking broken English that easily trumped my two phrases of Cantonese--“shea-shea” (thank you) and “gan bei” (drink up!)--instructed me to take small sips of wine to accent but not overwhelm the flavors of the first two courses. With the whole crab, they gently coaxed me into sipping warm ginger tea to balance the cold sensations of the room-temperature crab I was taking from the shell. “Like yin and yang?” I asked meekly, as they nodded approvingly at my feeble effort to bridge our cultural divide. That tea had a chili-like heat and spiciness to it and was unlike any I’ve ever had in any restaurant-Chinese or otherwise.
Dessert was likewise ginger-themed, with a warm “soup” of ginger juice in which sat melt-in-your-mouth sesame seed dumplings accompanied by the large, spike-shaped flower of Forever Marigold tea. I tend to think of tea served in American-Chinese restaurants as a bad joke--it usually being little more than vaguely flavored dark warm water. But Forever Marigold, like the ginger tea before it, had an aggressive character that played off the flavors of the dessert. And like the meal as a whole, these pronounced sensations were a revelation, and belied Cantonese food’s reputation for lightness and subtlety. Some of those flavors can still be vividly recalled, more than a month later, and are among many reasons I can’t wait to return.
A few words about prices and etiquette. Compared to
Part Three of this three-part article will appear in three weeks.
Since 1995, John A. Curtas has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org.
NEW YORK CORNER
by Mort Hochstein
491 Washington Street (at Watts)
212 966 4900
There are several places in Manhattan where I dine often. Most are in the low price range, and usually near my home. There are only two among the more upscale that I return to with any frequency. One is San Domenico, serving truly expensive and truly excellent Italian food. The other is Capsouto Frères, not as expensive, not really a gourmet French restaurant, but an upscale bistro that I turn to first when I think of dining with good friends. I’ve been going there since the early eighties and it is hard to believe that this gem of a restaurant, hidden away in an obscure corner of Manhattan, has been around for more than a quarter of a century.Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, writes on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.
The frères--brothers Jacques, Albert and Samuel—founded the place in 1980, locating in an old warehouse on an untrafficked street, still hard to get to from anywhere. They were starting up in a true, low-rent district, violating the ancient restaurant mantra of location, location, location. Now, the highly gentrified Tribeca, the area below Canal Street on Manhattan’s West Side is stretching north toward a neighborhood the Capsoutos once had pretty much all to themselves. The once abandoned streets are sprouting upscale housing, restaurants and gourmet shops. Parking, however, is still available, though slightly more difficult.
In crowded Manhattan, the peace and spacious décor of Capsouto Frères is a joy. The room, with ceilings much higher than normal in Manhattan and floor space just as open, with antique brick walls and a comfortably unobtrusive bar at the front, is a pleasure to behold, nothing fancy, just plain easy on the senses and enjoyment is implied. The crowd, almost all regulars and a shade older than the wannabees populating trendy restaurants nearby, dine quietly in subdued satisfaction.
The menu at Capsouto is based on a familiar bistro lineup and trimmings the brothers and chef Bennie Pittman have added. Escargots, bouillabaisse, roasted duck, saucisson chaud, and onion soup can be found on many bistro menus now in the area, along with salade Niçoise, steak au poivre, and sautéed sweetbreads, but few places can deliver them as impeccably night after night. Capsouto serves feather-light quenelles as fine as those in more expensive French restaurants uptown, and few can even approximate the restaurant’s specialty--soufflés of varying flavors such as chocolate, raspberry or hazelnut or the chef’s special on our last visit, tangerine with crème anglaise.
We requested our soufflés immediately on arrival that night, to insure they would be available when dessert time came around. We’d started off ordering four for our table of five, but as our companions checked the full dessert menu and saw attractive options on the $39, three-course prix-fixe menu, we cut our order to three. Two of us went for the prix-fixe, selecting a crisp arugula salad with goat cheese and a vegetable terrine, Provençal style, for starters. For mains, they enjoyed the roasted duck, tangy with ginger and cassis sauce, and orange braised lamb shank.
My wife and I, anticipating those large Capsouto entrees, elected to share an endive salad, with gorgonzola dressing. My sweetbreads, accompanied by a mushroom fricassée, always a favorite, were breaded a bit more than I prefer, but otherwise flavorful. I mentioned it to Sammy Capsouto, and he suggested that I specify light breading in the future. My wife went for sole amandine and my friends took the meunière, and both were happy, although Rol’s had more butter sauce than my dieting wife normally allows herself.
And then came those soufflés, three towering poufs, one tangerine, one chocolate, one raspberry, each one better than the other and those plates went back completely empty. Our companions chose that bistro staple, apple tarte Tatin, as well as another Capsouto specialty, blueberry crêpe.
The wine list reflects Jacques' special interests, with about 150 reasonably prices bottles, many under $40, many from small wineries in
Cheers to the three brothers for nearly three decades of satisfying New Yorkers. As leaders in the Tribeca community, they worked almost non-stop after the 9/11 attacks, providing neighbors, firefighters, rescue workers, police officers and others with free meals and a place to rest. Their annual Passover seders, raising money for a different charity each year, sell out within days of being announced and we’ve been lucky to attend two of them. And a special nod to Jacques, now a spokesman for Israeli wines, and also the heavily French-accented voice for his restaurant’s humorous commercials, a staple for years in New York on WQXR and now on WOR.
Capsouto Frères is open for dinner daily. Lunch Tues.-Sun. Brunch, Sat. & Sun. Prix-fixe 3-course menu is $39. à la carte appetizers $8.50 to $18 and main courses from $18 to $32.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Meritage Celebrates 20th Anniversary with 201st Member
by John Mariani
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.
Police Collected All of the Evidence Then Ate It
In Madison, WI, Warren Whitelighting led police on a high-speed chase after stealing a Krispy Kreme donut truck. He was charged with shoplifting eight giant red hot pickled sausages from the Open Pantry on University Avenue, stealing the donut truck, ramming a University of Wisconsin Police car, attempting to elude pursing officers, operating after revocation, drunk driving (fourth time), and a hit-and-run. You may view the chase, complete with donuts flying out of the truck at: http://snafu-ed.blogspot.com/2007/12/police-chase-down-perp-in-krispy-kreme.html .
. . . . Around the same time in Richland, WA, another thief stole a doughtut truck from Viera's Bakery. An all-points bulletin was sent out and, after a 35 mph chase, Steve Swoboda, 19, was arrested on charges of auto theft and felony escape. Unlike the incident in Madison, the pilfered donuts were still intact.
OR LIKE BELUGA CAVIAR AND CHOCOLATE SYRUP
Mimi sets the tone in
room, her husband runs the kitchen with an innovative sense that has
To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Valentine's Day dinners, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events.
* On Feb 5 in Highwood, IL, Gabriel’s Restaurant continues its monthly wine series, with Chef Gabriel Viti and Sommelier Bob Bansberg presenting “TheWines and Cuisine of Bordeaux” for a 5-course dinner at $125. Call 847-433-0031; visit www.egabriels.com
* On Feb. 5 ZYR Russian Vodka and Chef Dave Spano of Red Square host
* On Feb. 7 at Currant American Brasserie in
* On Feb. 7 in
* On Feb. 8 in
* On Feb. 9 at Rialto in Cambridge, MA, Chef-owner Jody Adams will demonstrate a "The Prince and the Pauper" 3-course dinner, pairing elegant and interesting sparkling wines with deliciously rustic food from the region of Puglia, followed by the meal and wine. $125 pp. Call 617-661-5050.
* On Feb. 20 La Samanna on
* On Feb. 26 in San Francisco, The
* On Feb. 27 at NYC’s PIER SIXTY at Chelsea Piers, Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, Riingo, and Merkato 55 restaurants, will help orchestrate a grand walk-around-tasting prepared by top chefs assisted by high school students to benefit the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). Also, a silent auction with over 30 items. TV’sAl Roker will be MC. This year’s honoree is Alfred Portale, Executive Chef at Gotham Bar and Grill. $450 pp; VIP are $600 and $1,000. Call 212-974-7111or visit www.ccapinc.org.
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." THIS WEEK: HIGH ANXIETY: An acrophobe goes rappelling in Belize.
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, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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