"Let's Eat Out" by Gil Elvgren (1967)
HAPPY 4th OF JULY!
NEW YORK CORNER: Scarpetta by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: 2005 Bordeaux Lives Up to its Rep by John Mariani
THREE CONNECTICUT RESTAURANTS
WORTH A DRIVE
by John Mariani
"Ice Cream Stand," Berlin, Connecticut (1939). Photo by Lee Russell
Like most people, I’m a sucker for a good mom-and-pop restaurant, of which Connecticut has been acquiring a good number, including the fine Metro Bis in Simsbury, owned by Courtney Febbroriello and her husband Christopher Prosperi; and Rebeccas, owned by Reza Khorshidi and Rebecca Kirhoffer; Thomas Henkelmann at The Homestead, owned by Thomas and Theresa Henkelmann;, and Restaurant Jean-Louis, owned by Jean-Louis and Linda Gerin, all in Greenwich; and the Dressing Room in Westport, opened next to the Westport Playhouse by Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward. Two admirable new mom-and-pops have followed in recent months, opened by people with impressive New York credentials and local addresses—Fraîche in Fairfield and Harvest Supper in New Canaan. Both, despite their small size and modest storefront locations, are among the best restaurants to open in Connecticut in the past year. A slightly older restaurant named Bricco, in West Hartford, is a brother-brother-brother operation, and it's become one of Connecticut's best modern Italian restaurants.
is the labor of love of Marc (below)
and Karen Lippman, who
years have wanted to work near where they live after Marc’s stints as
at La Ventanas al Paraiso in Cabos, Wild Blue, in New York, and Ocean
Drive in South Norwalk, CT.
Appetizers $11-$19, main courses $24-$39.
Supper, opened in March, is the perhaps too-cutesy name for
Grace and Jack Lamb’s new small plates restaurant on New Canaan’s main
shopping street. Their considerable experience includes ownership of
New York’s Jewel Bako sushi
bar, Jack’s Oyster Bar, and Dégustation
Wine & Tasting Bar. They, too, yearned to run a restaurant
home, Greenwich, ten minutes away.
All dishes are “small plates” $7 to $17.
78 La Salle Road, West Hartford
On Billy Grant's website he writes: "Bricco is about my mother’s spaghetti carbonara. Let me explain. My mother can cook anything. She is a magician. On Sunday we would gather for dinner and no matter what was cooking in the pot, it was bound to be the sweet definition of `comfort food.' No dish spoke to me about the comforts of home more than her spaghetti carbonara. So, when my brothers, Michael and Anthony, and I started Bricco, at its heart we knew it had to be all about comfort food. Fresh, simple and honest. When combined with a glass of wine and the perfect dessert, a meal at Bricco is like the Sunday afternoon meals of my childhood. Corny, I know, but the truth often is."
Not corny at all, as far as I'm concerned; homage to a mother's cooking is always encouraging, and Grant (above) has a whole lot on his menu that I doubt his mom never even dreamed of. In essence, Bricco is a distillation of Grant's sentiment and his experience in working both traditional and modern Italian cuisine, and, if a Friday lunch packed to the rafters with locals was any indication, Bricco is pleasing an awful lot of people. I am a new convert myself.
I told Billy Grant to cook as he wished and was rewarded with a first course of grilled cuttlefish, Portuguese octopus, and sea scallop, all impeccably cooked, with a simple salad of arugula, tomato confit, olives, olive oil and lemon--perfection! Then came two pastas: "Grandmother's ravioli," which did indeed have a wonderfully old-fashioned heft and flavor, stuffed with chicken and prosciutto and glossed with sage butter and tomato confit. (Did grandma actually use sage butter and tomato confit?) Light, supple potato gnocchi were lavished with a braised lamb bolognese ragù with roasted tomatoes and minted peas. I could have eaten two plates of them.
But then I wouldn't have had room for the beautifully cooked roasted halibut (left) --snowy, juicy, and fat--with a carrot puree, asparagus and morel mushrooms.
For dessert there was a chocolate bombe with mango sorbet and pineapple mango salsa, a Key lime cheesecake with strawberries and whipped cream, and a delightful cannoli filled with ricotta, candied fruit, and chunks of chocolate. Mom and grandma would be very proud. I was simply happy as could be, reminded once again that there is terrific food served outside of the Metroplex to the south. Those fortunate to live in southern Connecticut should feel very proud of restaurants like these.
Appetizers run $6-$12, pizzas $14-$16, pastas $16-$18, main courses $18-$28.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
355 West 14th Street (near Ninth Avenue)
Scarpetta is part of a second wave of restaurants to open around NYC's moribund Meat Market District in the West Village; most of the first wave have been pushed out by high rents that only high-fashion boutiques can afford, so the opening of Scarpetta is welcome, especially since its chef-owner, Scott Conant, (left) has long been considered one of NYC's finest interpreters of Italian cuisine, most recently at L'Impero and Alto uptown. He parted ways with his partners last year, and now he has his own place, whose name means "a little shoe," a colloquialism for the crust of bread Italians use to clean their plates with. That connotation says a lot about the kind of lusty, hearty fare that Conant is serving here, dominated at the start by primi piatti well worth sharing with a good bottle of wine from a solidly appointed list (although it could certainly use more bottlings under $75).
From Day One Scarpetta took off with a foodie crowd that knows Conant's work, and when I visited the staff seemed a bit overwhelmed. The long room begins with a big mahogany bar that leads to a skylighted dining room room (below) with minimalist decor (the New York twilight and starlight are almost enough) and, alas, bare wood tables. Lighting is not flattering. My biggest criticism on my visit early on was the unbearable loudness of the place, further fueled by pounding bass-and-drum notes piped through a sound system. Conant told me they were working on baffling the sound, but the first step would be to turn off music no one can hear or care to listen to anyway.
Those primi are among the best things in the menu: a wonderful old favorite, lightened and made bright and new, mozzarella in carozza, cooked with stewed baby tomatoes. Raw yellowtail comes simply glossed with ginger-scented oil and flaked sea salt that provide a nice textural crunch. Grilled octopus with mint and greens was tender and good, but arrived lukewarm. Fabulous braised ribs of beef would make a marvelous main course if the portion were only slightly larger; it is served with farro risotto and vegetables. The creamy polenta with a fricassée of truffled mushrooms had everyone battling over it at our table. Tuna 'susci, a signature Conant item of raw fish, came with marinated vegetables and preserved truffles, and crispy fritto misto was perfectly cooked, but a heavy seasoning of herbs overpowered everything. My very favorite dish was the chickpea soup, a wonder of mingling flavors, with morsels of sausage and baby cabbage--a rich peasant's dish if there ever was one.
Pastas we tried were all delicious, though portions are a tad smaller than we might have hoped at $22-$24. Simple spaghetti with tomato and basil is always welcome, while tagliatelle with a lamb ragù and fresh peas has become something of a cliché around NYC, though Conant's version is at the top of my list. A light gracing with anchovy butter perks up ricotta raviolini with lovely golden squash blossoms, and the duck and foie gras ravioli in a Marsala reduction sums up quintessential Conant cuisine.
By this time your appetite may be flagging but your palate should be anxious to try entrees like black cod with caramelized fennel and a concentration of tomatoes; seared, creamy-white sea scallops with mushrooms and sunchoke puree, and another well-known Conant dish, roast goat, capretto (left), as tender as can be, with peas and fingerling potatoes. Orata, as usual, turned out not to be the tastiest fish in the sea, though here helped along with leeks and a fregola ragù.
Desserts in Italian restaurants get better and better in America (not the case back in Italy), and Scarpetta's are among the best I've tasted in NYC, including a Key lime and torrone cheesecake with citrus salad; a caramelized apple pie with polenta crust and black pepper-dusted caramel sauce with honey-vanilla gelato; and a wonderful coconut panna cotta in a tangy-sweet guava soup with caramelized pineapple. Chocolate lovers will fall in thrall to the Amadei chocolate cake with burnt-orange caramel gelato and a dark espresso sauce.
It's great to have Conant back cooking the kind of food on which he made his reputation at L'Impero. The man's got soul, and it's manifested in every dish at Scarpetta, so remember to clean your plate with a morsel of bread.
Pastas, $22 to $25; main courses, $25 to $37.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
wine industry and media are overly fond of pronouncing promising
Bordeaux releases as a “vintage of the century”—1982, 1989, 1990, 1995.
But since we are only in the eighth year of the 21st century, I feel
giddily confident that the 2005 Bordeaux is at least the best vintage
of the decade—with the high prices to match.
THE MAN WAS A
FOOD WRITING 101: Try to keep references to 17th-century German astronomers to a minimum.
“Johannes Kepler used the figure panis quadragesimalis—the Lenten pretzel—to illustrate the knotty path certain planets would have to circle the earth, but supposing the pretzel, not the sun, is the center of the universe, then Erwin Schrottner, the owner of Café Katja, might be its Copernicus. The guy who has it all figured out.”—Lauren Collins, “Café Katja,” The New Yorker (June 2, 2008).
* In Calabasas, CA, Saddle Peak Lodge, has announced its
line up for the summer/fall wine dinner series, with a guest
winemaker presenting his or her favorite vintages coupled with a
6-course dinner created by Chef de Cuisine Adam Horton and Sous Chef
Chris Kufek. $150-200 pp. July 17: Corte Riva
Vineyards; July 31: Qupé Wine Cellars; Aug.
21--Michaud Vineyard; Sept. 5: Foxen Winery; Sept. 18: Rosenthal
Malibu; Oct. 9: Justin Winery. Call 818-222-3888. Visit
* The Museum of the
American Cocktail will open the doors to its new home in New
Orleans this July, inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at
the Riverwalk Marketplace. The unique-and-expanded exhibit, designed by
Curator, Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh, features two hundred years of
cocktail history. The mueum will be open during the "Tales of the
Cocktail" event. Visit:
* From July 7-12 in NYC, Chef owner Alex Urena will
the festival of San Fermin at his restaurant Pamplona, 5 courses, $65 pp. or $90
with wine pairing. Call 212-213-2328; www.pamplonanyc.com.
* On July 16 Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Chicago will celebrate its 70th Anniversary Dinner, hosted by Lawry’s chairman Richard N. Frank, and president and CEO Richard R. Frank, respectively the son and grandson of founder Lawrence L. Frank. $70 pp. Call 312-787-5000.
* From July 17-19 in Napa the Robert Mondavi Winery’s TASTE3 conference
will bring more than 300 guests together incl. Andrew Kimbrell,
Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety; Ben Wallace, author
of The Billionaire’s Vinega; Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar in
Lebanon; Dan Barber, chef/owner, Blue Hill & Blue Hill at Stone
Barns; and others. Speakers’ and hosts’ bios are posted at
www.taste3.com. Private winery dinners at Etude, Gargiulo, Hall Wines,
Mumm, Quintessa and Rubicon Estate; a private tour of artists’ studios
with Margrit Mondavi; a hands-on exploration of “all things
fermented” at the Culinary Institute of America with Master Baker Peter
Reinhart; a hike up Mount Veeder with Mount Veeder Winery winemaker
Janet Myers. Visit www.taste3.com or call 707-967-3997.
* On July 17 in Charlotte, NC, Upstream Restaurant will host a
dinner featuring Napa Cellars wines, with Brian Garnett, National Sales
Manager for the winery, to greet guests. and offer insight into the
production of Napa Cellars vintages. Chef Tom Condron, Chef de Cuisine
Scott Wallen and Pastry Chef Lauren Jakubek serve a 5-course menu. $58
pp. Call 704-556-7730.
* From July 18-20 St. Lucia's Jade Mountain will celebrate its
“Mango Madness Festival--1001 things you could do to a mango before you
die," with consulting Chef Allen Susser, author of The Great
Mango Book, with a mango chutney workshop, cocktail party, tasting and
demo, cooking class, and the "Night of 1000 Mangos" dinner. $250 pp.
* From July 19-20 at Watkins Glen, NY, The Finger Lakes Wine Festival,
presented by Yancey’s Fancy New York’s Artisan Cheese and sponsored by
the New York Wine & Grape Foundation will feature wine seminars on:
Wine & Chocolate; Seven S’s of Wine Tasting; Riesling Heaven and
more. For tickets and information call 866-461-7223 or
*On July 19 The
Garden, in Huron, Ohio is hosting it's 6th annual Food &
Wine Celebration, a fund-raiser for Veggie U to support children's
health. Tickets are $145 until June 1. Call 419-499-7500. Visit
* On July 20 in Atlanta, Share Our Strength invites
Georgians to join the fight against hunger at “Give Me Five,” an
evening of gourmet food and wine at The
Lodge at Waterfall Country Club on Lake Burton. 5-course
dinner featuring Georgia grown products prepared by chefs are Scott
Crawford, the Georgian Room at The Cloister at Sea Island; Shaun
Doty, Shaun’s; Doug Turbush, Bluepointe, Robert Gerstenecker,
Park 75; Christopher Jennings, pastry chef at Park 75, with wines
selected by Thomas Roberts, sommelier at the Georgian Room. $375
pp. Visit www.strength.org. For rooms at Kingwood Golf Club
& Resort, call 866-546-4966.
NEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with three excellent travel sites:
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: Jumel Terrace B&B, NYC; Abu Dhabi.
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). . 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.