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What’s New on
the Atlanta Restaurant Scene? by Suzanne Wright
YORK CORNER: PARK
AVENUE AUTUMN by John Mariani
FROM THE WINE CELLAR: All That Is Wrong with
Global Wine in One Bottle
by John Mariani
New on the Atlanta Restaurant Scene?
Mansion on Peachtree
3376 Peachtree Road
At a time when so
many Atlanta restaurateurs are going for casual dining in cavernous
(read: noisy) spaces, The
Mansion on Peachtree in Buckhead is a welcome
change. The Mansion is a sister to Dallas’s celebrated Mansion on
Turtle Creek and doubles as a luxury residence. It will be home
to Tom Colicchio’s Craft in the coming months, but the 95-seat NEO is
already in full swing. Designed by A.M. Stern, the 127-room
boutique hotel has a neoclassical grandeur, with beautiful ebony
millwork, lush drapes and carpeting, creamy leather upholstery and
Start with a cocktail in the lounge (right). Blond
bartender Stephanie Ruhe has been called the “elixir goddess” and the
“drink diva” for good reason: her Lady Sapphire is an award-winning
drink made with chamomile-infused gin, vanilla, honey and
lemongrass. The restaurant overlooks English gardens and has
already attracted a smart set for its contemporary Italian cuisine. The
hostess, sommelier, and our server were all attentive and polished
while managing to retain a certain Southern charm throughout our meal.
My companion was a vegetarian, and I
decided to let the chef compose our meal as we surrendered to the quiet
opulence of our surroundings. Following an amuse bouche of
champagne-kissed eggplant, we were presented with mozzarella-stuffed
tomatoes ($15) enlivened with aged balsamic. It’s a simple dish
that requires pristine ingredients; unfortunately, the tomatoes were
slightly mealy. The kitchen rebounded with a plate of ethereal gnocchi ($10), stuffed
with asiago cheese and
chervil, which gave the
thumb-sized pasta a brilliant green hue. The mushroom risotto
($20) was creamy and toothsome, topped with a scattering of morels—a
Grilled tofu with caramelized onions,
pine nuts and olives was superior both in flavor and texture to my
slightly overcooked pork tenderloin with green apple and red
cabbage. Both our desserts (each $10) were winners: a lemon
ricotta cheesecake with raspberry saboyan and an “exploration of
chocolate” featuring a Frangelica mousse. And here’s a smooth
touch: our leftovers were dispatched to our vehicles, where they
awaited us in the driveway.
240 N Highland Ave NE
has become one of
Atlanta’s hottest destination dining neighborhoods. Zaya, a
restaurant, is hoping to capitalize on the many upwardly mobile
young professionals who have bought condos here, along with the
suburbanites drawn to the mixed-use development of the trendy
area. A trio of New Orleans restaurateurs—Hicham Khodr, Tarek Tay
and Gaby Saliba—are the owners; Atlanta chef Scott Mujure helms the
kitchen using traditional, family recipes.
My own heritage is Mediterranean, so I am
predisposed to like this earthy, robust cuisine. But the space
gives me pause: it is gargantuan. While the dark woods,
candlelight, red touches, glass accents and stonework give it a sexy
vibe, the sheer scale robs the space of the compelling intimacy that so
distinguishes restaurants in Jordan, Greece or Turkey. I wish it
were half the size or configured differently; to make the numbers work,
Zaya is going to have to keep the place bustling.
Our server was laid-back in a way that
might be construed as indifference, but it’s the food that
shines. My friend and I were tempted to
fill up on pita
and muhamra, a deliciously
rich and sharp spread made with pomegranate,
walnuts, chili paste, olive oil, and lemon juice, before the parade of
plates arrive. Zaya’s lentil stew ($5.50) was bright, not muddy
(good hangover food, I’d venture), but the halloumi (a.k.a “squeaky
cheese”) was marred by flavorless tomatoes (why not substitute
grilled, paper-thin zucchini?). Both the tabbouleh ($6.95)
and the chunky, smoky baba ghanuj
($6.95) were explosively flavorful
and satisfying. The lamb chops ($22.95), marinated overnight in
an aromatic spice mixture and then chargrilled, were good, but the beef
tenderloin chunks, made a more savory impact.
The U10 scallops were mutant-sized but
surprisingly buttery. They were plated with our favorite dish of
the night, an absolutely addictive Israeli couscous made with an
unusual combination of black beans, corn and soujook (Armenian sausage).
For desserts ($6.95), the asta, an eggless custard encased in
a phyllo purse (right) scented
with orange blossom and rose waters, was light
and lovely, if far too large a portion even for two to share. The wine
list is evolving; look for Lebanese reds and an ice wine from Canada.
565 Peachtree Street
is an urbane, adult space (hooray!) in a
condo building on a rather forlorn stretch of Peachtree Street
unsuccessfully dubbed “SoNo” (South of North Avenue, in Midtown).
The soaring, two-story space is done up in soft shades of moss,
espresso and paprika, and features a New Southern, seasonal menu.
I ascended the grand staircase to dine on the
mezzanine at a too-small glass table snuggled against the railing
overlooking the first floor (left).
Our server was exhaustively
knowledgeable about the menu by Chef Shane Touhy (formerly of Blueridge
Grill) and recommended we start with the “grits bar.” Good call.
Three individual bowls featured creamy grits ($4-$7) topped with low
country shrimp, fried oysters and spicy hollandaise and our favorite,
ham and pimento cheese. This is cornmeal as God intended it.
The eggplant, tomato and goat cheese blintzes
($10) with caramelized Vidalia onion are both delicious and unique—I’ve
simply never encountered it on a menu. But the fried green
tomatoes with fresh shrimp and Creole rémoulade at $15 are a
disappointment. Among our entrées, the glazed pork chop
($24) was ho-hum, but the accompanying gossamer silver queen corn
soufflé was divine—we fought over the final forkful. The
pan-fried Georgia trout with pink-eyed peas, blue crab, corn
succotash and zinfandel butter was stellar--crispy on the
outside, yielding on the inside. Grilled lemon pound cake with
Key lime butter cookie gelato ($6)
was a cool twist on a classic,
though the ice cream’s color was rather lurid.
I hear Dogwood is quite the
after-work watering hole; I hope some of the tipplers stay for the food.
Dogwood is open for
lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.
621 North Ave NE
been to 4th and
Swift twice and my chief complaint is a waitstaff that is young
and sweet but lacking knowledge about both the menu and wine
list. That said, I am smitten with the place and understand why,
in such a short time, it has become a go-to neighborhood bistro. The
name is a combination of its location, in the former Southern Dairies
building in the Old 4th Ward in Midtown, and its chef, Jay Swift,
formerly at Rainwater.
On my first dinner visit, my friend Barry, who
lives in the ‘hood, joined me. The décor is
post-industrial neutral: exposed brick, beams and concrete with
an exhibition kitchen. When it comes to wine and spirits, General
Manager Christian Schultz is delighted to supplement his servers’
familiarity, so let him bring you small batch vodkas, bourbons and
gins, or a glass of semillion or cabernet sauvignon. Or try the
signature drink, the Old 4th Ward, made with Georgia peach whiskey and
flatiron steak with olive chimichurri
($25) was perfectly cooked, if understated (amp up the olives!), but
the deconstructed lasagna of braised lamb shoulder with wild mushrooms
was nicely balanced between sour and sweet. The softshell crab
was a bit greasy for our taste, but the pan-fried chicken livers with Speck, shallots, and
sherry vinegar were silky, complex and
piquant. The passion fruit parfait sandwich ($7) with its coconut
macadamia shortbread was sharp and refreshing, though the ice cream was
a tad too hard.
On my second visit I ate in the bar
area. The truffle butter and parmesan popcorn (4)—earthy and
tangy—was hands-down the best I’ve ever eaten; we took a bagful home to
watch the Presidential debate. The grilled beef burger ($12) is
the size of a nosegay, topped with melted layers of pimento cheese and
homemade ketchup spiked with habanero
pepper; the side of fries were first-rate.
Truffled celery root ravioli ($17) with
toasted almonds, braised radicchio and pecorino, was as my friend noted,
like Grace Kelly--delicate, simple and elegant. The
crispy Carolina flounder was a knockout, evoking memories of salty
beach breezes and served with autumnal accompaniments of roasted
fingerlings, French beans, chanterelles and winter squash.
Open nightly for dinner.
Suzanne Wright is a writer
living in Atlanta and founder of www.writesquared.com.
by John Mariani
100 E. 63rd Street
The experiment was a
success: Breathing life into a moribund restaurant is far more
difficult than opening a brand new one, and the odds were that Park
Avenue Café, which Alan Stillman opened a decade ago was going
after a long, respectable run. It had garnered praise from the critics,
a faithful upper East Side clientele, and coasted for years on the
reputation of Chef David Burke. After Burke's leaving to open his
namesake restaurant, Park Avenue Café wasn't able to find its
footing. But instead of closing, Stillman brought in two
important figures with youth and enthusiasm on their side--his son
Michael and Chef Craig Koketsu (below), who were both already running
side steakhouse, Quality
In addition, rather than leave the
somewhat dated folksy décor of Park Avenue Café, Stillman
took a gamble on what has
been a trademark of The
Four Seasons restaurant since opening in 1959:
Each season the décor changed; in the case of the Four Seasons
the trees around the Pool Room and the colors worn by the staff; at
Park Avenue Café the entire décor was, through some canny
design, completely transformed each season, as was the menu. The new
name for the restaurant was, depending upon the time you visited, Park
Avenue Winter, Spring, Summer, or, at the moment, Autumn.
It seems to have been a winning
formula, for when I visited on a Tuesday evening when the volatility of
the Stock Market was in full swing, the place was packed by 7:30, with
the sound of people having a very good time all around me. Most
seemed like regulars, and they dressed quite in the casual Upper East
The sensibly sized menu has
sections for salads, appetizers, chops, mains, and "for the table" side
dishes. We began with a haystack of crispy shrimp atop a mass of
cole slaw, and we fought over each morsel of those delectable shrimp.
Cabbage came stuffed with duck confit--terrific
idea, though it could
have used a bit more duck. Fig carpaccio with Hoja Santa goat's cheese
was a lovely treatment, and very flavorful Iberian ham came simple with
grilled cheese toast.
I had the first of the season's venison
chops here, and they were expertly cooked medium rare, nicely
gamy (too often farm-raised venison has very little flavor), with
pomegranate and pumpkin seeds: you can see how carefully the autumnal
theme has been thought through. Juicy Kentucky fried quail was every
bit as popular as that crispy shrimp, and it came in a bucket (why?)
with pear slaw and a warm biscuit I could have eaten ten of. But then I
wouldn't have had room for the excellent, fat Dover sole with fines herbes butter or the fine
Atlantic cod with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and a much-too-sweet
butternut crème brûlée. A specials menu
also included several mushroom items, and the mushrooms in
papillôte was a charming idea. Sweet potato cottage
fries and sweet creamed corn with crunchy jicama and basil made for
yummy sides. Indeed, if there is a questionable idée fixe in the autumn
menu, it's Koketsu's consistent use of sweetness in so many dishes,
which can be cloying and may blunt the wines' delicate flavors.
course, you'll expect that with desserts, like the rich and
wonderful "chocolate cube" and the crisp hot apple fritters with
cranberry brûlée and toasted almond ice cream. A
caramelized banana crêpe with frozen maple mousse started off
well enough, but the addition of crunchy bacon crumbs tasted odder than
they were savory. Have one of the tawny ports listed as after dinner
drinks; they go well with desserts too.
So, if autumn is your
favorite season for food, rush over the Park Avenue before late
December when the winter season kicks in. I can't wait.
Lunch and dinner are served
daily, brunch on Sunday. Dinner appetizers run $11-$18, entrees $29-$45.
FROM THE WINE CELLAR
That Is Wrong with Global Wine in One Bottle
by John Mariani
first sniff I thought the wine was a
little corked. But after a few swirls that was evidently not the
problem. After the first sip of Andeluna
Grand Reserve Pasionado 2003
(suggested retail is $50, but I've seen it at $40-$65), a Bordeaux
blend made in Mendoza, Argentina, the problem revealed itself in an
explosion of high-alcohol, grapey, oaky flavors that seemed to me to
epitomize all that is wrong with what has been called the globalization
Here was a wine that was technically
unflawed—clean, smooth, and bright. The bottle lingo, by winemaker
Silvio Alberto, reads, “Full bodied and complex, it exhibits aromas of
ripe red fruits and spices with flavors of red fruit, spice, and anise
and notes of vanilla and chocolate that complement the rounded
tannins.” The repetition of the words “ripe red fruits” and “spice” in
one sentence should tell you something: This is winespeak, hitting all
the Pavlovian notes used to describe thousands of modern red wines
around the world, from Argentina to Croatia, seeking to cash in on the
global taste for big, alcoholic red wines.
Andeluna was founded in 2003 by Dallasite H.
Ward Lay, of Lay Capital Group Llc (his father, Herman W. Lay, founded
Frito-Lay), who lives much of the year on his 200,000 acre cattle ranch
in Patagonia. The Andeluna Pasionado bottle, which has a sticker from Decanter Magazine
awarding a gold medal to the wine, also extols the
consultancy of Michel Rolland, a controversial figure in the wine world
who often has advocated pumping up red wines by delaying picking the
grapes until extremely ripe. He also sometimes recommends using a
process called micro-oxygenation, by which small bubbles of oxygen are
added to wines to make them rounder, allowing them to age faster in
stainless-steel tanks to achieve the slower, natural oxidation that oak
barrels provide. Andeluna's importer, San Francisco Wine Exchange, says
micro-oxygenation is not used for the wine.
I do not know if this process was used at
Andeluna, but for a five-year old wine made from 35 percent cabernet
sauvignon, 35 percent merlot, 20 percent malbec, and 10 percent
cabernet franc, it is very mature, the tannins very soft. The real
problem is that Andeluna Pasionado tastes like a hundred other wines of
its kind and style—the global taste you find when a very new, very
well-endowed winery lacks the tradition to know just what their
vineyards may be capable of expressing.
I tasted Andeluna Pasionado blind, I would
no more venture a guess that it was a wine from Mendoza than I might
think it came from Mendocino County, California, Valencia, Spain, or
Ragusa, Sicily. This is a wine designed to win awards, the kind
of cabernet California cult wine faddists say will “blow your doors
off.” It tastes more of the lab than of the individual vineyard,
like prune juice more than good wine, so cloying in its fruit, so
lacking in a fine edge of acid, that my wife and I left half the bottle
undrunk while having a simple dinner of grilled pork chops and white
The fact that the label noted a minimum
alcohol volume of 14.7 percent also made this something of an ordeal to
finish. This is not outrageously high for a cabernet blend, but it is
symptomatic of the levels achieved where the wine tastes “hot” and the
nose is full of alcohol.
Andeluna Pasionado is not a poorly made
wine—indeed it is a very carefully made wine—but it is not the kind of
wine that expresses the best coming out of Argentina’s Mendoza Valley,
where malbec has shown the most distinction as a varietal. It is too
big, too rich, too alcoholic, and lacks both dimension and the
character of terroir.
There is a lot wrong with a world of
wine where attempts are made to have every varietal taste more or less
the same, and where hugeness and over-ripeness are seen as a virtue as
much as they are a marketing strategy.
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 on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.
OF WRETCHED EXCESS
FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up
with three excellent travel sites:
The Rachael Ray Tattoo
101: RESTRAIN YOUR FLESHY ADJECTIVES
Marina--On weekends, the crowd skews Marina
gorgeous: Bin 38’s deep
storefront space (ending in a handsome patio) becomes a festival of
yoga toning and highlighted hair. But the food at this wine and beer
bar shows surprising rigor. The smallish plates from ex-Delfina chef
Glenn Christiansen have a self-effacing quality that many cooks seem
genetically incapable of producing. The dishes hit nuanced notes on the
palate’s middle range, stripped of the sweet or tangy shocks that can
make the pinot blanc in your glass turn acid on the tongue. On a recent
visit, honey-drizzled corn fritters were more soft-toned than
saccharine, while sliced Kobe flank steak on a fleshy potpourri of
roasted peppers kept its dusky perfume neatly contained. The meal made
even an old-school Napa cab, outsize and oaky, seem dignified."--John
Birdsall and Scott Hocker, San
Francisco Magazine.com (Oct. 2008).
* A brand-new Tartufo Bianco menu is now available
at Imago, the Hassler Roma's
renovated rooftop restaurant. Chef Francesco Apreda has created a menu
devoted entirely to white truffles, which will last only last as long
as the truffles do, which, as predicted by the season's rains so far,
will be until December of this year. Visit www.hotelhassler.com.
* In Highland Park, IL, Carlos'
Restaurant is celebrating its 27th anniversary in November,
and owners Carlos and Debbie Nieto have planned special culinary
events, incl. Retro Menus, Rolling Back Prices to 1981; Carlos Nieto's
61st Birthday Champagne Celebration with $61 bottles of Champagne
during the month of November; 27th Anniversary Special Degustation Menu
($100 or $155, and Special $55 Degustation Menus Thursdays, offering a
three-course dinner for $55. Call 847-432-0770;
* Every Tuesday in November, Dominick’s in West Hollywood hosts a
series of dinners for $19.48 to commemorate its opening in 1948.
Wine Director Susan Brink will tailor her Tuesday Night Flights to pair
with the menu, included in the $19.48. Call 310-652-2335.
* From now through December, BLVD in Westwood, CA, will donate
proceeds from specialty cocktails to the AIDS Project Los
Angeles. Each featured cocktail is $12 with $1 from each purchase
donated. Call 310-474-7765; www.blvd16.com.
* On Nov. 13 in San Francisco, the Fifth Floor is hosting 3 of the
City's renowned beverage experts competing to pair their beverage of
expertise with a special 5-course menu by Executive Chef Jennie
Lorenzo. Master Sommelier Emily Wines will be competing for the
best Wine pairing, Jacques Bezuidenhout will compete for Cocktails and
Dave Mclean (Magnolia) will compete for Beer. This will all take
place in the Chef's Room, with 10 spots available for $125 pp. Call
415-348-1555 or visit www.fifthfloorrestaurant.com.
* On Nov. 16 Chef Suzanne Tracht, chef and owner of Jar and Tracht’s restaurants and the new Suzpree, is proud to announce the
Premiere Suzpree Benefit for SOVA, the nonsectarian food and social
service program arm of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles dedicated
to alleviating hunger and poverty in the community. Cocktail reception
and silent auction, 5-course dinner Call 323-655-6566 or
email@example.com or visit visit www.thejar.com.
• On Nov. 18 Virtuoso Luxury Travel network is
partnering with restaurants Roy’s
and McCormick & Schmick’s,
for a ‘Culinary Journey through Australia’ incl. a multi-media
presentation that focuses on these destinations. Select Roy’s and
McCormick & Schmick’s restaurants across the U.S. will host this
original one-night-only event. Tix are $100 per person. For
reservations and listing of restaurants, call 866-796-3885; visit
* On Nov. 20 Chef Thomas
Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se hosts the March of Dimes Gourmet Gala at NYC’s
Per Se, along with a silent auction and gift bag. Tix are
available for $1,500. For more info, visit
* On Nov. 20 Les
Vins de Georges Duboeuf and City
Harvest's Generation Harvest will present a Beaujolais Nouveau
party at the Samsung Experience at Time Warner Center. Featured
restaurants will include Landmarc and Extra Virgin, et al. $65 pp
before Nov. 10, $85 after. Call 917-351-8716.
* On Nov. 20 Angelina’s
in Tuckahoe, NY will hold a 5-course wine dinner with Opus One and
other California selections. Call 914-779-7944.
* Mangia! North Beach
in San Francisco, a history, food and cultural tour, is being held
every Saturday 10 AM-3:30 PM with food writer GraceAnn Walden, with
tastes along the way and a 3-course lunch with wine at Rose Pistola.
$80. Call 415-302-5898 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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: Books on Italy and Trading Your
House for one in Europe.Dogwood
Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet
A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food
scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is
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:
Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!",
is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with
children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle
McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family
travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide
its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and
practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy,
safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children
who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of
adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.
All You Need to Know
Before You Go
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani.
Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,
John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort
Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing
Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical
Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and
Radio, and Diversion.
He is author of The Encyclopedia
of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary
of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the
award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.
newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our
years growing up in the North
Bronx. It's called Almost
Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our
so many wonderful things seemed possible.
For those of you who don't think
the Bronx as “idyllic,” this
book will be a revelation. It’s
about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful
neighborhood filled with great friends
and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives.
It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost
the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this
very personal look at our Bronx childhood. It is not
yet available in bookstores, so to purchase
a copy, go to amazon.com
or click on Almost Golden.
© copyright John Mariani 2008