This issue of the Virtual Gourmet comes
two days early because I will be in Colorado over the weekend when it
is usually sent out. If you still wish to read the issue that
appeared last Sunday click
here or go to the archive above.
NEW YORK CORNER:
Thalassa by John Mariani
FOR THE WINE CELLAR: Wines of the Languèdoc by John
Photos by Bobby Pirillo
It took six long years, but the recently reopened, completely refurbished Brazilian Court Hotel more than justifies the wait, re-establishing this 20’s Grande Dame as one of the best stopping-off places in Palm Beach.
Opened in 1926, the hotel soon became the favored haunt of business moguls, celebrities, and socialites who enjoyed its atmosphere of cloistered seclusion, as well as its several discreet exits, far from the prying eyes of photographers, the public, and the occasional acrimonious spouse. Originally a cluster of Spanish- Mediterranean buildings designed around interior courtyards by legendary New York architect Rosario Candela, the resort added second wing added in 1936 by the equally renowned Palm Beach icon Maurice Fatio. The glory days of the Roaring 20’s lasted well into the 60‘s, whereas the next two decades saw the beginning of a long decline.
“Café Society” may have moved on, but the Brazilian Court’s exquisite “bones” remained, so when the Schlesinger family purchased the property in 2001, a complete overhaul was in order. Once again, guests arrive beneath its signature porte cochere of crisp, white canvas out front. Within, the courtyards, Candela’s to the north, and Fatio’s, with its fountain, to the south--both fringed with a veritable rain forest: sturdy, swaying palms, supple, the chevroned stalks of ginger, fretwork bamboo, and birds-of-paradise with their huge, lustrous, deep-green leaves--look fresh and brand new. A third courtyard to the west contains the heated pool, overhung with tall palms, and its attendants of well-cushioned chaises.
All this, and you’re no more than a couple of short blocks from the ocean and only a few more off Worth Avenue. Not that I know anyone who can really afford to shop there, but its patios, particularly those banked in masses of polychrome bougainvillea and others with narrow, wrought-iron gates leading to small second floor apartments are unexpected gems.
Proprietor Leslie Schlesinger was not only project manager overall, but, as interior designer, she created the more intimate ambiance of the guest rooms as well. Our gorgeous, up-to-the-minute-contemporary, second-floor suite, overlooking fountain and patio through a screen of foliage, could not have been bettered. The large living room, a profusion of mahogany wood --from the austere beauty of the Asian-accented furniture, the deep crown molding, and the plantation shutters--against pale lemon walls and celadon-hued upholstery, was anchored by a high-backed sofa, strewn with pillows of such all-embracing comfort that for a fleeting moment I dreamt of never getting up, owing in part, certainly, to the handful of rather interesting, lavishly-photographed, coffee-table books thoughtfully left at hand.
A galley/hallway leads to an equally luxurious bedroom, aglow in polished mahogany: an enormous king-size bed with linens fit for the most demanding sybarite, night-tables, and tall, folding, louvered-doors screening plenty of closet space. A marble bathroom ample enough to accommodate a big stall shower, a sink, and an extraordinarily deep Jacuzzi tub, was fitted out with thick, terry towels and a variety of Frederic Fekkai toiletries. I especially enjoyed the glimpse of deep-green, densely packed, tropical vegetation outside all the windows, like the locale of a Somerset Maugham short story, minus the shabbiness and sordid goings-on.
Enter Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud and you’re enveloped in the cool elegance and warm hospitality that both Café Bouluds (NYC and Palm Beach) have always had in spades. A suite of comfortable dining rooms in an sprawling, posh, Florida-style ranch-house, the surroundings put you at ease while heightening culinary expectations. A floor of red-veined, limestone tiles, quarried in the Corton region of Burgundy, their red striations said to be caused by the leaching of grape juice from nearby vineyards, creates an atmosphere of relaxed informality in the foyer, and continues past a cozy well-stocked bar--in the evening, the bartendress makes killer mojitos--delivering you into the hands of General Manager Laurent Chevalier for whom “GM” is really too corporate a word for his role; his own surname, chevalier, is much better. In him the long tradition of fine French service finds a worthy, contemporary avatar. Beautiful diction, that lovely trace of French accent, and, more important, a sincere joy and know-how in seeing to others’ pleasures win you over at once. Maître d’ Ludo Thevenet only enhanced the welcome.
Deep recesses add interest to the ceiling, subdued lighting from wall mounted lamps flatters diners, as do terra cotta walls that seem to glow softly behind attractive original landscapes. Flawless table settings atop pale pastel linens, club chairs covered in persimmon, patterned silk, and a hushed ambiance add to the drama. The comfortable tables spill out into one of the Brazilian Court’s gorgeous courtyards, where you can dine al fresco, overlooking the boy-with-a-dolphin in his fountain, amidst a tidy jungle of exuberant vegetation.
Flawless Hawaiian tuna tartare coupled with a bracing watermelon and radish mini-salad and a few sweet pea falafels began the proceedings. Next, a bowl of clear Chinese pork broth, heavenly in its own right, was made even more celestial by the delicious smoked duck wontons afloat on its surface. Elegant, hand-made farfalle scoglio were awash as any true sea-rockfish should be with Louisiana shrimp, mussels, and tender calamari, in a “sea foam” of oyster
nage, with lemon zest, subtle chervil, and clams Casino crumbs for added piquancy. The grilled Hawaiian waloo magically combined a dense, swordfish-like periphery with a meltingly tender center. Around it, a quartet of Tunisian vegetables were minor gems in their own right: shaved radish, minted eggplant, roasted sweet peppers, and spicy carrots that turned these humblest of root vegetables into a treasure.
Were I forced to choose a favorite, it would have to be the crostino di pancetta with, as well, house-cured maple bacon, spiced pork belly, chestnut puree, and Italian chicory atop a slice of hearty toasted bread, all covered with lavish shavings of white Alba truffles. Inimitable pork in three of its most flavorful guises, fleeting moments of sweetness, a bitter “herb,” a good, solid, crunch, and the earthy notes from the world’s best truffles, all blended seamlessly and without heaviness--another tour de force for Chef de Cuisine Zach Bell.
The duo of Vermont pheasant, the breast cooked en cocotte, the leg turned en ballotine, served alongside fried pheasant and cauliflower mushrooms, on a palette-knife smear of kabocha squash and a sprig of nepitella mint isn’t on the regular menu, but for the sake of Florida diners, should be soon. Our final entree was a North African-inspired lamb duo, two loin chops (awkward bones removed) on a bed of creamy white beans, plated next to a link of homemade merguez sausage atop a square of beautiful white and bright green broccoli couscous with a serving of yogurt sauce on the side. Another example of what makes both Café Bouluds always such a pleasure to visit is the fact that a solid grounding in classic, French technique remains the best preparation for turning out finely-tuned World cuisine. Even the sorbet intermezzo was much more than the usual nod to tradition--a kalamansi (an Asian citrus fruit, like the kumquat, with sweet skin and tart pulp) soda with coconut ice cream, perfectly satisfying in its own right.
A myriad of desserts, prepared by Pastry Chef Matthew Petersen followed, not to mention the always welcome tray of exquisite petit-fours and the brown bag of superb madeleines that are a Boulud signature. A caramelized brioche with raspberry pearls, tonka foam, and an orange blossom ice cream to make any Floridian proud, then an Autumn tasting: pear tart (with the crumbly crust, subtly flavored with nothing but butter, that only French or French-trained pastry chefs, maybe Swiss as well, seem able to achieve) apple confit--like apple butter--and apple carpaccio with a crème fraîche sorbet.
Outdoor Dining at Café Boulud
The chocolate hazelnut bar stays on my mind. Once again, a creation worthy of the creations of Hediard or Fauchon’s, a precise rectangle, layered with praline, dacquoise, and an intense chocolate cream, sat next to a perfect globe of rich chocolate ice cream, a thin ribbon of chocolate, anchored in a shard of gold leaf, leading irresistibly from one to the other. Artful without being “artsy,” complex without being overdone, and, most importantly, too delicious not to want to destroy its beauty immediately. Finally, an equally memorable chocolate caramel tart, with chocolate-vodka granite, on a smear of caramel studded with sliced peanuts.
Dinner was abetted by a handful of wines well suited to the various dishes: A Château La Louvière 2002 from Péssac-Leognan got things started. One of the better efforts from a difficult vintage for white Bordeaux, its lovely framework of oak showed first. After a while in the glass, the fruit slowly emerged but always with a nice flinty edge. Its very lack of opulence made it the perfect partner not only for the tuna tartare but also for the wonton soup. A Château Guiot 2007 rosé, from the Costières de Nîmes, was more red wine masquerading as rosé than tinted white, with plenty of body to handle the seafood farfalle as well as the grilled walu. Next came a wonderful Russian Hill pinot noir 2004, from the Russian River, known for its silken textured, slightly dusty pinots that know how to balance fruit with acidity and a touch of earth. A perfect “food-wine” with enough stuffing --and a touch of spice--to stand up to the crostino and the pheasant.
The last vin rouge was a Crozes-Hermitage Les Croix 2006 from Les Bruyères. With a heft that was more Hermitage than Crozes, its deep fruit, and medium-to-full body complemented the full flavors of the lamb.
The curtain began to descend with one of my favorite dessert wines, a Domaine de Baumard, Quarts de Chaume 2004, from the Loire, one more proof that Chenin Blanc is a noble grape. Sweet but not cloying, pleasingly, not overly viscous, matching precision with opulence and that slight hint of almonds along with white fruits, it shows why the best Chenin Blanc is so intriguing. The final showpiece was an unabashedly sweet, yet always, refreshingly taut Taylor Fladgate 2001 LBV, an affordable way to gain entry to the full-blown joys of their superb Vintage Port.
Starters: $10 to 24; entrees:
$33 to $49.
question that one of the
great bargains offered by this year’s Palm Beach
its first--that ran in October, was lunch at Café
Boulud for only $20.08, as demonstrated every afternoon by the packed
dining room. Not able to lunch there, we did take advantage of the
week’s offerings at two other Palm Beach eateries. Another “best-buy”
was the $20.08 lunch at Coco (290
Sunset Avenue, 561-832-3734), a Japanese/fusion
eatery located on Sunset Avenue (below).
À la carte: appetizers: $9-$12; specialty rolls: $9-$25; entrees: $21-$35.
be put off by the informal, enjoy-yourself,
atmosphere, or raucous din if you arrive at Amici on the weekend during
happy hour, as we did. Happy hour inevitably ends and peace and quiet
resume. Amici provides exceptional,
Italian fare, in abbondanza-sized
portions, served, if your lucky, by very deft waiters,
especially Ed, who is also conversant with the wine list. Some nights,
a new wine-list seems to contain nothing but unknown, vaguely-known, or
much, much too well-known bottlings (those mass produced, aggressively
marketed, big brands that make up the core of too many restaurants
lists, albeit, many of them now quite good.) Hesitation here came from
my own parochialism grounded in a profound fear of the oversweet,
horribly jammy, full-bodied reds, now produced worldwide.
Antipasti: $16 to 18; pizze:
$15-$19; primi: $24-$32;
having covered the NYC dining scene for more than three decades now,
I find that remarkable restaurants still somehow escape my notice, or
at least my
visitation, so that the "discovery" of a place that has been around for
some time but that is brand new to me is a burst of serendipity I
look forward to. In the case of the beautiful restaurant
Thalassa, which means "sea" in Greek, I entered a huge space on a side
street in TriBeCa that was once the headquarters and warehouse for
Fantis Foods, owned by the Makris Family, the leading Greek
imported food company in NYC for nearly a century.
FROM THE WINE CELLAR
the French Army, Languédoc Now Going Maverick
If Napoleon’s Army marched
on its stomach, the French Army of two World Wars, Indochina, and
Algeria did so while on a daily ration of wines from the
France’s largest wine-producing region. Having a reputation as “le gros
rouge” did nothing to enhance the reputation of the Languédoc as
the French have increasingly disdained cheap red plonk and sought out
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.
As you might have read, NBC,
the network that brings you that cute "Biggest Loser" show about
grotesquely fat people losing weight onstage, has banned an ad by PETA
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as far too racy for
family viewing. The ad shows beautiful women having a good old
time with vegetables, and a PETA official told the media,""PETA's
veggie ads are locked out, while ads for fried chicken and burgers are
allowed, even though these foods make Americans fat, sick and boring in
bed." Solely in the interests of fair and crusading on-line
journalism, The Virtual Gourmet
here fearlessly provides the footage of the PETA ad. We want YOU to be
the judge! Click on:
OPENING OF A RESTAURANT REVIEW YET IN 2009
"When your rats grow
bigger than your chickens and you can hear them at night in the chicken
coop, laughing at your traps ... them's hard times.I mean to pack it
in, as a chicken farmer. But what am I going to farm? Rats? What am I
going to eat for lunch? What am I going to give to my friends for their
birthdays?"--L.E. Leome, "Fanny's Restaurant -- and the literary
possibilities of duck soup," San
Francisco Bay Guardian (Jan. 14, 2009).
THIS EXPLORER IS ASKING A CANNIBAL CHIEF HOW DIFFERENT PEOPLE TASTE,
AND THE CHIEF SAYS, "WELL,
ITALIAN MAN VERY GOOD WITH GARLIC AND TOMATO. AND RUSSIAN MAN GOOD WITH
VODKA AND BEETS." SO THE EXPLORER ASKS, "WHAT ABOUT FRENCHMEN?" AND THE
CHIEF SAYS, "YOU KNOW HOW TO CLEAN ONE OF THOSE?"
In Papua, anthropologist Olga Ammann quotes people who have eaten other humans who have died. According to one cannibal, “The meat of white people smells too strongly and is too salty.” The Japanese are said to be among the best-tasting, but the meat of the tribe’s own women is the ultimate gourmet dinner . . . Meanwhile, in Colorado, a woman told a court that killing, dismembering and cannibalizing her ex-boyfriend was “a horrible thing." Her attorney quoted her as saying, "I'm deeply ashamed. The person who killed Peter Green is not me."
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. 20 in Los Gatos, CA, Manresa presents the Citrus
Modernista Dinner, a celebration of local, California Coast citrus.
Chef David Kinch will cook a 5-course dinner with exotic varieties of
citrus. Two wine pairings will be offered. $140 pp. Call
408-354-4330 or visit www.manresarestaurant.com.
* From now until Feb. 28 in Forestville, CA, Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant announces
a Two Night, Three-Star Package with Cyrus
restaurant, incl. 2 nights accommodations at Farmhouse Inn in a luxury
cottage; 2-course breakfast; 5-course dinner at Farmhouse Restaurant by
Chef Steve Litke with an optional add-on wine pairing selected by
Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth; 5-course menu at Cyrus with optional
add-on wine pairing selected by Cyrus Sommelier Jim Rollston. $750 per
couple. Call 800-464-6642.
* La Samanna resort in St. Martin declares February as their designated epicurean month. When guests stay 6 nights or longer at a regular rate they will enjoy all meals at the resort on a complimentary basis, culminating with a special 4-course dinner in La Cave, La Samanna’s award winning wine cellar prepared by Chef Daniel Echasseriau. with this delectable deal. Visit www.lasamanna.com or call 1-800-854.2252.
* In Los Angeles, All’Angelo’s
owner Stefano Ongaro has introduced a new menu adjusted to the economy,
featuring $ 8-$10 appetizers, $15 pasta courses and $20 main courses,
with a weekly wine promotions at $5 by the glass and $15 per half
carafe. Call 323- 933-9540. http://www.allangelo.com/menu.asp.
* On Feb. 9 in Charleston, SC, High Cotton Maverick Bar & Grill welcomes
Domaine Carneros Vineyards, along with their head wine maker Elaine
Crane for a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner, with a hors d’oeuvres
reception, followed by a 4-course dinner with wines pairings created by
Chef Anthony Gray, Executive Chef and by Patrick Emerson, Wine
and Beverage Director. $68 pp. Call 843-724-.3815; visit the web site
* On Feb. 10 in Charleston, SC, The Old Village Post House announces the next wine dinner, featuring MacRostie Wines of Sonoma, with Steve MacRostie as guest speaker and food by Chefs Frank Lee and Jim Walker, with wine pairings by Patrick Emerson, Wine and Beverage Director. $55 pp. Call 843-388-8935; visit www.oldvillageposthouse.com.
* On Feb. 12 In Huntington, NY, Prime – An American Kitchen and Bar offers an Italian Wine Dinner with Cascina Iuli Wine by Chef Gregg Lauletta. $150 pp. Call 631-385-1515 or www.restaurantprime.com.
* On Feb 19 in San Diego, chefs Colin MacLaggan of Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar and
Victor Jimenez of Cowboy Star are teaming with The Macallan for a
4-course dinner paired with a single malt Scotch selection from The
Macallan. $75 pp. Call 619-542-0394.
* London’s Capital Hotel
is offering The Capital Idea as a 3-night package incl. Full
English Breakfast; Luxury Chauffeur driven car to meet
guests on arrival and departure from and to Heathrow International,
London City Airport or Eurostar Terminal; Free access to “The
Peak Health Club and Spa”; One two-course pre-theater dinner
between at Le Metro; One Afternoon Tea in the hotel’s Sitting
Room; Executive Double or Twin Room at US$1,399 per
stay, additional night at $400 per room per night; Deluxe Double
or Twin Room at $2,197,additional night at $450; Junior Suite at
$2,530, additional night at $500; Single Room rate of
$1,199, additional night at $300 Call (800) 628-8929 or
* On Feb. 21 over 30 Monterey County wineries will be showcased during an evening of wine, international cuisine from the Pacific Rim, Brazil, and Italy, live music from Grammy winner Louie Ortega, dancing, and a silent and live auction, hosted by past Monterey County Supervisor, Butch Lindley. The Auction & Gala will occur in the private barrel room at Jackson Family Wines in the Salinas Valley, CA. Proceeds will be distributed to worthy charitable and viticulture research causes. $175 pp. Visit www.montereywines.org, or call 831-375-9400.
* On Feb. 23, Jean Francois Meteigner will present
the first 2009 Club Culinaire of French Cuisine "Chef à Table"
dinners at La Cachette in Los
Angeles. The theme is "A Night in Provence" with a 5-course tasting
menu paired with wines. During dinner, each table is hosted
by different chefs. $105 for club members, $115 for non-members. Call
310-470-4992; visit www.clubculinaire.org.
* On Feb. 25 Justin
Vineyards is hosting their Isosceles release party at Nick+Stef’s Steakhouse in downtown
Los Angeles with a 6-course wine dinner for $95 pp. Call 213-680-0330;
* On Feb. 25 at PIER
SIXTY at Chelsea Piers in NYC, Chef Marcus Samuelsson of
Aquavit, will help orchestrate a grand walk-around-tasting of culinary
creations prepared by NYC chefs, assisted by high school students, to
benefit Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). The evening’s
festivities will also include a silent auction that includes
once-in-a-lifetime culinary and travel packages. TV star Al Roker will
be emcee and this year’s honoree, Drew Nieporent will receive the C-CAP
Honors Award. Tix are $500, VIP are $600 and $1,000. Call
212-974-7111 or visit www.ccapinc.org.
* From Feb. 27-March 1, Boca
Bacchanal Winefest & Auction is scheduled at various
sites in the Boca Raton, FL area. It begins with 8 Friday Vintner
Dinners held in private residences, featuring world-class chefs and
vintners, highlighted by silent and live auctions and a multi-course
dinner, at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Sunday Grand
Tasting, showcasing 30 local restaurants and over 140 wines. Visit
http://www.bocabacchanal.com or call 561-395-6766 X 101.
* On Feb. 27 in Grand Rapids, MI, WGVU and D&W Fresh Market present West
Michigan’s premier wine tasting event at The Public Museum with 300+
international wine selections and 25 + tables of foods provided by
D&W Fresh Market. Call 800-442-2771 or visit
* On Feb. 28 in Grand Rapids, MI, 200 craft beers
from more 30 Michigan micro-breweries and brewpubs will be available
for sampling at the 2009 Michigan
Winter Beer Festival, sponsored by the Michigan Brewers Guild.
Tix incl. admission and 12 tasting tokens, $35 each in
advance and are available online at www.michiganbrewersguild.org.
* On March 3-5, Classic
Wines Auction Winemaker Dinners will be held in, Portland,
Oregon, when 33 winemaker dinners will feature some of Portland’s
finest chefs along with 58 winemakers from Oregon, Washington and
California. Proceeds support 5 Portland area charities. $150 pp. Call
503-972-0194. Visit www.classicwinesauction.com.
*The fourth annual BB&T Charleston Food + Wine Festival, scheduled for March 5-8, offers guests the unique flavors of the Lowcountry while tasting the epicurean delights of the country’s best chefs, authors and wine professionals at more than 50 events throughout the weekend. Supporters of the Festival , lend a hand in raising charitable donations for the MUSC Children’s Hospital and area culinary related charities. Visit charlestonfoodandwine.com or call 843. 727.9998 ext.4 for tickets or more information!
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: European Airfares on Sale; Intrepid Travel and Their Very Affordable Adventures; Biking in style in Europe; Nicholas Lowry of Antiques Roadshow and The Art of the Ski Poster
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 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).
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.
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.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.