Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower Eating K-Rations, Tunisia, 1943
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Index: A complete list of restaurants covered in this newsletter
since 2003. Please
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: Bottega del Vino and Mia Dona by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: 30 Years of Solaia Shows What a Super Tuscan It Is by John Mariani
QUICK BYTESNEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with two excellent travel sites:
PORTLAND--LEFT COAST--GETS IN SEATTLE'S FACE WITH NEW RESTAURANTSby John Mariani
However friendly intercity feuds may be, neither contender likes it when the other gets more media attention. And that seems to be the case these days with Portland, Oregon, whose competitiveness with Seattle has been going on for a long time now. But until recently, Seattle had most of the bragging rights when it came to restaurants and food. Its Pikes Market alone is a pretty astinishing place.
I take no sides on the issue except to say that Portland has come very far very fast in catching up with its larger competitor on the gastronomic front, and that ranges from cafes and bread stores to fine restaurants.
Like Vancouver, Portland has a very vibrant restaurant scene, but it's based largely on the reputation of small, individualistic establishments rather than upscale dining rooms. Along these lines are several new restaurants that have managed to develop a very faithful clientele of people who like to eat casually and well.
529 NW 23rd Street
Chris Israel (below) must surely be the only chef to have taken a sabbatical from the restaurant biz to become an associate art director at Vanity Fair. Before that he had given Portland some real culinary snap upon opening Zefiro in 1990, which was one of my favorite restaurants in the city at a time when modern gastronomy was just burgeoning there.
Now he’s back in Oregon as chef at 23Hoyt and is again setting the agenda for a style of Mediterranean cuisine that is seriously dependent upon the magnificent seafood and provender of the Pacific Northwest.
The two-story premises obviously have his esthetic touch all over them, along with partner Bruce Carey, who also trained in the visual arts and did stints at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe, Square One, and Fog City Diner before moving to Portland, where he also runs Bluehour, saucebox, and clarklewis. Thus, you could start off at the ground floor bar (right) with a glass of sauvignon blanc from the Willamette Valley and nibble on fried rice croquettes oozing mozzarella, or a freshly ground burger on brioche bun with jack cheese, bacon and French fries. There's always good jazz on weekends at 23 Hoyt.
Up a few steps in the dining room you can snuggle into an out-of-the way banquette corner with a bottle of BlackCap Pinot Noir while dining by candlelight on lovely chickpea soup with a little bite of smoked paprika and a swirl of olive oil and, or roasted Alaskan halibut with grilled summer squash, fennel, and herbaceous sauce vierge. The new summer 2008 menu lists other Mediterranean-inflected dishes like spätzle with braised rabbit, leeks, cremini mushrooms, chives, crème fraîche, crispy shallots and dill; sautéed Idaho trout with sauce rémoulade, roasted potatoes and spinach; and lamb shank printanier with baby turnips, carrots, new potatoes, snap peas, tomato and white wine and herbs.
Oregon is one of the great farm states for summer berries, so if Israel is listing the blueberry crisp with crème fraîche ice cream or the raspberry sorbet with vanilla shortbread or the rhubarb cobbler with cornmeal topping and crème fraîche ice cream, don't miss them.
The winelist is solid, about 150 labels, all nicely printed on the back of the menu, with scores of wines under $50 and plenty of Oregon and Pacific Northwest wineries in proud array.
23Hoyt has charm to burn and the kind of neighborhood congeniality that accrues to corner bistros like The Spotted Pig in NYC and Herbsaint in New Orleans--but only when they’re done with this kind of stylish panache.
Dinner appetizers run $6-$14, main courses $19-$30. Dinner only is served Tues.-Sat.
has a good number of Asian
restaurants—Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese—and one of the
finest, the three-year-old Pok Pok, is run by chef Andy Ricker. You
could easily pass right by Pok Pok and not have a clue that this is one
of the best Asian restaurants in Portland; it was named
"Restaurant of the Year for 2007" by The
Oregonian food critic Karen Brooks. It
looks a bit ramshackle,
the Richmond neighborhood is taking its time gentrifying, and the
put you more in mind of a burger stand. Inside there are about 12
tables in an area called the Whiskey Soda Lounge, and you can readily
imagine American servicemen once upon a time dropping by here for a
cold one in any city in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos.
Pok Pok is open for lunch and dinner
Mon.-Sat. Menu prices at dinner range from $8-$14. Cash only.
Pok Pok, Biwa has the more conventional look of an Asian restaurant, in
this case one focusing on "ramen, udon, yakitori, sashimi, sake,
kimchi, gyoza" and other Japanese items that form the basis of izakaya
eateries, which are basically drop-in places to get sake and drinks and stay
for casual food. It's a pleasant place, barebones in most ways,
with a bar, some tables, and not much else. From 5:00 PM till
6:30 there's a happy hour that mirrors that after-work period in Tokyo
when you can do sake flights, and Monday night they do tabletop nabe cooking from a simmering
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
BOTTEGA DEL VINO
7 East 59th Street
NYC's Bottega del
Vino has, after three years, gone from being a reasonable facsimile of
the original in Verona, Italy, to an Italian restaurant that stands out
all on its own.
daily at 8 AM for Italian breakfasts of pastries and coffee, and they
serve panini throughout the
day. At dinner antipasti run$12-$22, pastas
$20-$24 (as main courses), with entrees $26-$42.
206 East 58th Street
my admiration for Chef Michael Psilakis and partner Donatella Arpaia could hardly be higher with regard to how they have transformed culinary concepts about Greek and Mediterranean food at Anthos (I chose Psilakis as "Chef of the Year" for Esquire's Best New Restaurants 2007) and his more casual Greek restaurant Kefi (now being expanded).
Self-taught and possessed of tremendous energy, Psilakis has a knack for bringing the best of tradition into the 21st century, with a definite American swagger. Arpaia, meanwhile, runs the front of the houses with aplomb and a sure sense of design. They have several projects in the air at one time, including the re-opening of their first restaurant together, Dona, which was also one of my best new restaurants of the year it opened.
Mia Dona is Psilakis' take on Italian food in a lustier vein than the exquisite renderings of his modern Greek food at Anthos. This in itself is laudable enough, and Mia Dona is a more casual place, though it still has its fetching swank in its zebra carpets, white-covered books, huge mirror, and Fonasetti plates hung on the wall. Tables are clothless. The place is loud, the waitstaff a little frantic. The winelist, though building, was hardly impressive when I visited a few weeks ago.
Psilakis is a Greek-American and Arpaia an Italian-American, bloodlines they put to good advantage at Dona. But at Mia Dona the food doesn't always come together and seems too quickly thought out rather than thought through, quite possibly because the two of them have so much--excuse the pun--on their plate right now. Mia Dona seems more like a good opportunity than a distinctive restaurant; I found much of the food good but not all that wonderful.
Very good indeed was an arugula and chicory salad with grilled onions, oven-dried tomato, aged provolone cheese, a bite of pepperoncini, and a chianti vinaigrette--a bargain at $8. Indeed, prices across the menu are very reasonable, with nothing above $25, and half-portions of pastas $11-$13. There are also some good Italian wines in carafe, from $9-$13.
The rich, delicate taste of burrata, the cream-centered buffalo mozzarella, was compromised by blood orange, red onion, balsamico, and fennel dusted with an assertive dill. Spiedini of grilled quail, merguez sausage sweetbreads, pork involtini, and lamb polpetti was a nice idea, as was crispy rabbit on the bone with salt-and-vinegar fingerling potato chips, and a cucumber rémoulade. Dull in flavor was warm calf's tongue with a poached egg, mushrooms, and pecorino cheese.
The pastas we tried included a pappardelle with a white bolognese sauce (without tomato), toasted hazelnuts, and pecorino--O.K. but very gummy that night. Bigoli with sausage, broccoli di rabe, lentils, chilies, and pecorino was not very pretty but had plenty of hearty flavors, while gnudi--"naked"--pasta with sheep's milk ricotta, truffle butter, mushrooms, crispy Speck, and sage was undercooked.
We enjoyed a mixed grill of lamb chop, rib, cotechino, bone marrow, salsa verde, and lemon, again dished out with no idea to color or presentation; an olive oil-poached cod with broccoli di rabe, calamari, clams, and a sun-dried tomato pesto that had too much going on,;and a not very pleasant hockey puck of braised veal breast with almost raw escarole and cannellini beans.
Mia Dona needs focus; moreso, it needs commitment of a kind that a very busy chef like Psilakis may not be able to provide while keeping all the balls in the air of his various enterprises. Hubris is a good Greek word for believing one's powers limitless. Perhaps it's time for Psilakis and Arpaia to stand back, slow down, and smooth everything out before embarking on another restaurant adventure.
Mia Dona is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., Brunch Sat. & Sun., and dinner nightly.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
30-Year Retrospective of Solaia Shows
What a Super Tuscan Really Is
by John Mariani
When Marchese Piero Antinori first produced a single vineyard blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc in 1978, it was a wine that deliberately diverted from government regulations as to what grapes could and could not go into traditional Tuscan appellations like Chianti Classico. As a result, Solaia and other renegade Tuscan wines like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Antinori’s own Tignanello were only allowed to be labeled as “vino da tavola,” later “IGT” (Typical Geographic Indication).
Yet it was clear from the start that these non-traditional wines were far superior to Chianti Classico and, with the exception of the great Brunello di Montalcino, most other Tuscan reds. In the trade they were dubbed “Super Tuscans.”
“Solaia coincided with the incredible revolution in Italian wine when vintners began focusing on quality rather than quantity,” said Antinori at a wine media tasting and luncheon at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant, where Solaia was first introduced in the U.S. back in 1979.
“It has now been 30 years we have been making Solaia,” he said, “and it has evolved over that period depending on what we’ve learned and what we want to express about elegance and finesse. The first two vintages were blends of only cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, but eventually we began to add sangiovese, and each year adjusted the amounts of the varietals in the blend.”
Imperially slim and impeccably dressed in a dark gray suit and blue tie, the Marchese, 69, whose family has been making wine for more than 600 years, epitomizes Tuscan nobility in the 21st century. Together with his daughters Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia (right), he is intimately involved with the business of Antinori wines and tirelessly promotes them throughout the world, along with the company’s other labels, which include holdings in Piedmont, Puglia, and Umbria, as well as in California, Washington State, Hungary, Chile, and Malta.
Antinori reeled off his own stipulations for a wine to be great: “First, it needs complexity; it cannot be a simple wine; next it must have consistency: it should be at least as good 30 minutes after you drink the first glass. Third, it must have aging potential, and last, a great wine should give you both intellectual and mystic pleasure.”
All these attributes were amply on display at Le Cirque that afternoon, with 10 different vintages poured, from the first, 1978, to the yet-unreleased 2005. One vintage, the 1985 ($380), had lost all appeal and showed oxidation; others, like the 2001 ($170), tasted delicious right now, with silky tannins and layers of flavor, though Antinori insisted “one must be patient for four or five years with this vintage.”
The 1978 ($520)was remarkably sound, with enormous depth, while the 1988 ($260), from a very small vintage, had lively vegetal and spice notes, with semi-firm tannins. The 1990 ($400) was richly masculine, a wine of brawn, with years to go; Antinori declared it a “great vintage, though not as elegant as we first thought.” One of his own favorites was the 1994 ($200), a more feminine wine with brilliant color, vibrancy, and freshness.
The 1997 ($450), once considered the greatest vintage of the last century in Tuscany, was thinner than I expected, its tannins mellowed out. The 1999 ($220) clearly needs at least two more years to open up and to mellow out the oak and tannins.
The 2005, which should be released next year, had a medium body and backbone, having spent 24 months in new oak and then being bottled last December. “Solaia absolutely needs bottle aging to realize its potential,” declared Antinori.
At the luncheon the estate’s delicately fruity white wine from Umbria, Cervaro della Sala 2005 ($40), a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent grechetto, was served with a lustrous lobster risotto. Then, with a succulent roasted loin of veal in morel cream sauce, the 1997 Solaia was poured, and with the Italian cheese course the 2004 ($170), whose youth was a virtue with strong cheeses like gorgonzola cremificato, piave, and robiola bosina.
By day’s end I came away convinced that Solaia is indeed one of the greatest red wines of Italy or anywhere else, and that, despite so many variations and adjustments over the years, the wine has kept its essential Tuscan character of velvety elegance and complexity. I can hardly wait for its 40th birthday.
The prices quoted above are an average of listings at wine-searchers.com for various vintages of Solaia.
NEXT WEEK: The Other Antinori
“I piled the red jelly, white ice cream, black chocolate and frozen white nuggets [of nitrogen-treated elderberry flowers] into my mouth, half-expecting the mass to burn through my body and downward toward China. Instead they burst on my tongue and crackled like Pop Rocks. Thoroughly Danish, impressively innovative and potentially explosive, they seemed apt symbols of the new Copehagen dining scene.”—Seth Sherwood, “The Coming of Age of Nordic Cuisine,” NY Times (May 4, 2008).
In response to my article last week on the Best Foodie Movies, I received several delightful and informative emails, including this:
* From June 1-Aug. 28 The
Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, CA and MacArthur Place Inn
(www.macarthurplace.com) is featuring the “Girl and the Fig Spa
Package,” available Sunday-Thursday, incl.:- 2 nights
accommodations; Girl and the Fig Cookbook autographed by Author,
Sondra Bernstein; One 100-minute “Figs from the Garden” spa
treatment per person; Dinner for two at Girl and the Fig;
complimentary continental breakfast buffet and evening wine and cheese
reception. $649-950 per night. Two night stay is
required. Visit www.thegirlandthefig.com
* On June 1 in NYC, Union
Square Cafe’s array of wines from the late Valentino Migliorini,
of Rocche dei Manzoni, will be p;aired to Chefs Michael Romano and
Carmen Quagliata multi-course feast of la cucina Piemontese. $300
* On the first Tuesday of every month, NYC’s Sanctuary T’s Dawn Cameron takes tea
lovers on a “virtual” tasting tour of a tea region of the world.
This First Annual Iced Tea Festival begins June 3 with a “Chillin’ with
Iced Tea” tea slam.” The admission fee will go to benefit
City Harvest. Call 212-941-7832. Visit www.sanctuarytea.com.
• On June 3 in Highwood, IL, Chef Gabriel Viti and Sommelier Bob Bansberg at Gabriel’s Restaurant will present "Ernest Hemingway’s Table – A Feast," to celebrate the renowned author’s passion for food and wine, a 5-course menu with wines. $125 pp. Call 847-433-0031. Visit www.egabriels.com.
* The Hotel Cipriani
in Venice, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a double-room
rate of US$6 to the first 5 guests booking directly through the hotel’s
Web site (www.hotelcipriani.com)--the rate of opening night at the
hotel in 1958.
* On June 11 & 12, the leading wineries of Brazil
will host their first-ever Chicago tastings. A tasting for trade
and media professionals will be hosted at BIN 36 on June 12, and a special
consumer tasting event ($35) will be offered at Just Grapes in Chicago
on June 11, featuring Brazilian hors d'oeuvres and Latin jazz. Call
* In Monaco The
Hôtel de Paris’ Wine Cellar package features a private
tour and wine tasting in Les Caves, now through Jan. 4, 2009, at $2,434
for two. Package incl. accommodations for two nights, buffet
breakfast, dinner and drinks for two at “Le Grill,." Call (800)
595-0898; visit www.montecarloresort.com.
* On June 14 In Santa Monica, CA, Akasha Richmond of Akasha , Govind Armstrong of Table 8, Gregory Foos of Ocean & Vine, Joe Miller of Joe’s Restaurant, Katsuya Uechi of Katsu-Ya, Neal Fraser of Grace and BLD restaurants , Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen, and Michael Green of Gourmet Wine & Spirits Consultant will attend Gourmet magazine’s annual Gourmet On Fire! Tickets are $90 pp before June 1, $100 after; Visit www.gourmetscoop.com/fire; or call 1-877-490-3337. Proceeds benefit The Southland Farmer’s Markets Association.
* This summer The Bedford Village Inn and Restaurantin New Hampshire hosts 5 renowned chefs who will be participating in its 2008 Chefs Invitational Series. One guest chef per month will appear in the inn's Overlook Room for 4-course, $85 dinners with wine. Schedule incl: June 19--Jason Tucker, Executive Chef, TRESCA Boston; July 31--Chef Renee Bajeux, LA PROVENCE Lacombe, Louisiana; Aug. 14 ---Kurtis Jantz, NEOMI’s at Trump International Hotel Miami, Florida; Sept. 18 --Donald Link, COCHON and HERBSAINT New Orleans; Oct. 16 --Matthew Levin, LACROIX at the Rittenhouse Philadelphia; Nov. 14 --Lorenzo Polegri, ZEPPELIN Orvieto, Italy. Individual chefs' menus and bios are available online at www.bedfordvillageinn.com; Call 800-852-1166.
* From June 18-22 at La
Samanna in St. Martin will hold its Gastronomic Week Act II
culinary event, with chefs from five Orient-Express properties
worldwide, as well as wine pairings from five different wineries.
Chefs incl. Raymond Blanc, from the Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in
Oxfordshire, England; Francesco Carli, from Copacabana Palace in Rio De
Janeiro, Brazil,;Daniel Echasseriau from La Samanna; John Greeley from
21 Club, New York City; and Wilo Benet from Pikayo in San Juan, Puerto
Rico. Call 590 590 87 64 00; Toll-free US: +1(800) 854-2252.
* On June 20-22 in
Chicago, The 11th Annual Taste
Street presented by Miller Lite and Bank of America will be held
Randolph Street corridor, Highlights incl. popular local and national
musical acts on the Southwest Airlines Main Stage, dishes from the West
Loop neighborhood’s best restaurants, a wine garden, and chef cooking
demonstrations at the Taste of Randolph Street Culinary Pavilion
presented by Whole Foods Market. $10 suggested donation goes towards
the West Loop Community Organization. Visit www.jamfests.com or call
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: THIS WEEK: 1.The Merrion Hotel, Dublin reviewed; 2. Biking in Vermont and New Hampshire; 3. Jacob Collins paints the Maine landscape
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contrinbutor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 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. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
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). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. 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.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.