Virtual Gourmet

November 9, 2008                                                                 NEWSLETTER

"Autumn Apples, Northern Michigan" by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

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In This Issue

What’s New on the Atlanta Restaurant Scene? by Suzanne Wright


NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: All That Is Wrong with Global Wine in One Bottle
by John Mariani


What’s New on the Atlanta Restaurant Scene?
By Suzanne Wright

The 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 marble floors.
     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 woodsy triumph.
      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

     Inman Park has become one of Atlanta’s hottest destination dining neighborhoods. Zaya, a Mediterranean 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 shawarma ($13.95), juicy 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

 Dogwood 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.

4th & SWIFT
621 North Ave NE
678- 904-0160

      I’ve 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 housemade lemonade.
     The 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



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 to close 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 own 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 Stillman's west side steakhouse, Quality Meats.
       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 it was the trees around the Pool Room and the colors worn by the staff; at Park Avenue Café the entire décor was, through some canny paneling 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 Side mode.
        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.
       Of 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.



All That Is Wrong with Global Wine in One Bottle
by  John Mariani

   On 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 of wine.
     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.
     Had 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 beans.
      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.

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 on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.



The Rachael Ray Tattoo


"Bin 38, 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 (Oct. 2008).


A brand-new Tartufo Bianco menu is now available at Imago, the Hassler Roma's recently 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

* 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;

*  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

* 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 or visit visit

•    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


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,  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


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor 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 Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA 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: The 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.

Family Travel Forum

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 Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

My 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 lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of 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 or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

© copyright John Mariani 2008