"Life Cafeteria" by
Vincent La Gambina (1936)
MAGAZINE: To Read my article "The Year of the Pig" in the January/February issue of Diversion Magazine,
HARD QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE LUXURY MARKET NOW
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: Center Cut by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Geyser Peak by Mort Hochstein
is a very tough time in every sector of the travel and food business.
And in the luxury category, entrepreneurs and CEOs are having to
re-think their strategies as the once ever-expansive high-end market
that seemed so limitless drops like a rock. Look up at night at a
deluxe hotel and you'll see way too many rooms with their lights
off. Down-sizing rules corporate travel, and posh digs become
suspect in view of tax payers' bail-outs.
recently invited to fly from New York to Paris on OpenSkies, which is associated
British Air but which undercuts BA's First and Business Class pricing
by a significant percentage. If that seems odd, it is because
Open Skies has obtained slots from NYC to Paris to land at Orly,
without a stopover in London. They have also added Amsterdam to their
flight list, and they joined forces with L'Avion last
July. I found service excellent, food and wine selections very
good, and the flight very relaxing,
and, when I missed the return flight from Paris, officials were able to
book me on a later L'Avion flight without further charges. Last week I
interviewed Open Skies' managing director, Dale Moss (below), about the current
situation in air travel.
JM: Has the merger with
L'Avion gone through and what will it mean for the company and the
JM: How does the relationship with British
JM: How do OS’s fares
compare with Business and 1st class on
other airlines to the cities you fly to?
JM: What more does OS
give the consumers?
JM: Why did so many
other of the discounted business class airlines
fail over the past year--even though the economy was much better than
it is now?
JM: Well, now that the
economy is very bad, how is OS coping?
JM: What are the plans
CC: Corporations having board meetings and lavish parties have declined. But we see upturns at different times of the year, as with the London art shows. Wives and families come at different times of the year, too. This is certainly a difficult time but we see it as an opportunity to buy hotels, and there are a lot more available for a good price right now. We are wanting to expand but not to build new hotels. We have very set criteria in existence in prominent cities which we can manage for the owners or acquire. There are a lot of hotels on the market right now but not many we would be interested in.
JM: Where do you see
CC: American market worldwide is very important. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand the business. We have of course seen an improvement in business from Russia, the Middle East and Far East, and Europeans coming to the USA. But Americans now find Europe more attractive now because of the stronger US dollar.
JM: Are there any specific ways you are trying to cater to your clients?
CC: We are financially a strong company and therefore our focus is to look after our customers extremely well. We are not cutting costs in any way, but we are containing our costs. We apply a strict yield-management program If we have availability and demand is low, then our rates will be down. The days of rack rates are gone and have been for a long time.
JM: What is the best way to get the best
rate at one of your hotels?
YACHTS OF SEABOURN
fall I had the opportunity to sail the Mediterranean on one of
the Yachts of Seabourn, a
luxury cruise line headquartered in Miami, whose ships are
considerably smaller than the grotesque leviathans that ply the world's
waters these days with thousands of passengers gorging each day
and night on sub-standard food and mediocre wines. Seabourn was easily
the best of the cruise ships I've ever traveled on--impeccable service,
first-rate cuisine, very well-chosen wines, and passengers that
reminded me of what it must have once been like to hobnob with those
who sailed back in the 1950s.
JM: What makes the
difference in price worth sailing on Seabourn rather than booking top
accommodations on other lines?
AS: The size of our ships
differentiate us. Our current fleet carries 208 passengers, and
our new ships, Odyssey (to
sail in June 2009), Sojourn (2010)
and a third (in 2011) will carry 450 guests, whereas big lines carry
thousands. We think a small ship gives you certain advantages, a more
sophisticated experience, better service, and better food, which
is served in more of a restaurant style than a banquet style.
Because of our size and because we often sail to smaller ports, or even
when we go to a big port like St. Petersburg, Rusia, we can go in and
dock right in town. Our pricing is comparable to what you'd pay
for the upper suites on the big ships, with perhaps a 20% premium in
price But when you walk out of your suite on a big ship you are
mingling with thousands of people and take part in that mass
experience. On Seabourn you are always enjoying a more intimate and
more sophisticated atmosphere.
JM: How does the food
and beverage service differ?
JM: And your wine
JM: How is Seabourn
coping with the current economic downturn globally?
JM: In the past booking
cruises is usually done far in advance. How has that changed?
JM: Are there going to
be any other changes in the brand?
by John Mariani
The Empire Hotel
44 West 63rd Street (near Broadway)
I suspect steakhouse fever is dying down all over the USA, a market seriously supersaturated with high-end restaurants all touting the finest beef money can buy and rarely actually serving it. For a while it seemed like steakhouses were a sure thing everywhere, which is why so many celebrity chefs put their names on them instead of opening restaurants that showed the kind of talent and creativity that got them celebrity in the first place.
In the case of Center Cut, the owner is not an absentee celebrity chef but the redoubtable Jeffrey Chodorow, a seasoned restaurant entrepreneur whose China Grill Management has restaurants here, several in Miami, Las Vegas and elsewhere. His New York entries have not all fared very well, but his last one, Kobe Club, took off fast in the high-flying expense account rich days of, what? a year ago? Kobe Club specializes in Kobe-style beef from Japan, Australia, and the U.S., and its dark décor and hanging samurai swords were a matter of taste to diners. Still, as far as I know, the restaurant is doing well.
Center Cut, which opened last fall, has a much more conservative atmosphere, even old-fashioned in the use of polished wood, swag curtains, very roomy tables, and pretty wall sconces, with a bar up front and an raw bar mid-way through. Located just across from Lincoln Center, it's a very good choice for pre- or post-theater; although this is a menu heavy with steaks and chops, you could just go for the raw seafood and a glass of wine, then trip lightly over to the theaters and not risk falling immediately asleep.
There is a long cocktail list with funny names like Persephone's Tea, Rhapsody in Blue, and the Candide Pear that echo Lincoln Center productions, along with a classics list, although a simple daiquiri (rum, lime, sugar) was beyond the bartender's talents one evening. The winelist is highly commendable for the fact that the overwhelming majority of bottlings are well under $100 and scores are under $50. Eight beers are offered.
The menu, under Chef Bradley Day, is not straying far from the standard New York steakhouse listings, but a few of his out-of-the-ordinary dishes are extremely well conceived and executed. His "Double Double lobster bisque" lives up to its billing, not by being heavy but by being rich with the essence of lobster flavor, along with a good dose of cream. The "five alarm wagyu chili" wasn't quite as incendiary as I expected but it was very good, though I'm sure that using a less grade than wagyu would have provided almost as much beef flavor amidst all those savory seasonings. The lump crab cake came with a tangy blood orange marmalade, and very fine duck foie gras was served as a terrine with Concord grape compote--a good hefty slice for $17. Something called "inverted onion soup" was all right if far from the best you'll find in NYC.
The theater theme is followed on the menu with "Act II," which includes "Modern Classics" of six cuts or preparations of Brandt beef, a source for all-natural, organic, sustainably raised steers that eat corn year-round. It's a very good product and Chef Day knows how best to keep it charred and juicy. The strip steak can be ordered at 12 ounces ($38) or, for two, at 24 ounces ($69), which prices out well among Center Cut's steakhouse competitors. There is also roast prime rib, cooked very, very slowly for eight hours to keep all the juices in, although a little more crisping of the outer skin is preferable. They also serve Colorado lamb and a good rendering of filet mignon with real flavor, done Rossini-style with a topping of foie gras and a Port glaze. With your meats you have a choice of six sauces with which to lavish your meats, ranging from bordelaise to peppercorns.
T here are poultry selections like roasted chicken with a Dijon mustard and thyme crust, and "Duck Ellington," the breast served with an orange sauce and wild rice. Seared Chilean sea bass (above) was deliciously juicy beneath a cosseting toasted almond crust and drizzled in a pinot noir reduction, with apple currant slaw on top. I was disappointed that Center Cut doesn't serve gargantuan lobsters that are iconic requisites in most New York steakhouses; the critters here weigh out at a puny 1 /2 pounds.
As long as you're eating carnivorously, might as well go with the terrific roasted corn and manchego cheese gratin and the creamed spinach. The eggplant fries are damn good too.
And as long as you're splurging. don't neglect desserts like cookies hot from the oven with milk, or the "fountain" sweets like the black-and-white milk shake or the pistachio crunch parfait; the hot butterscotch and cheesecake ice cream sundae is a whole lot of dessert you might want to share. If you're feeling particularly festive you might consider the bananas Foster, crêpes Suzette, or the cherries Jubilee--two venerable desserts you would be hard put to find elsewhere in New York these days.
So there's a lot on Center Cut's menu for which you might readily bring a non-meat eater or just a nosher. It breaks the NY steakhouse mold but only enough to make things interesting, like a new variation on a classic Lincoln Center opera or ballet. It deserves your applause.
Center Cut offers a $39 pre- and post-theater dinner available for 2 courses and homemade cookies to go. Otherwise, dinner appetizers run $12-$19, entrees $25-$41, with selections from the raw bar individually priced.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
A Wide and Notable Array of Geyser Peak Wines
by Mort Hochstein
Peak has always been one of the more consistent California
wineries, dependable, steady and good value. But it seems never
to have had a high profile despite wide acceptance in retail
stores and restaurants, and consistently scoring well in competition.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~NEW FEATURE: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linking up with four excellent travel sites:
#4: What kind of coffee do you
1.What is the most important thing that you have ever learned and how has it changed your life?
2. What is something you do on a regular basis to make the world a better place?
3. What is one thing you think would make Portland a
IS THERE A LOT OF SPAM IN IT?
French Culinary Institute
L’Ecole restaurant, inspired by
family recipes and favorite dishes of the master Deans and
Chef-Instructors, is introducing a new Chef’s Classics Menu, incl.
favorites such as choucroute and Cassoulet, available à la carte
($17) or as part of a prix lunch at $25 or dinner $35. Call
* From Feb. 18-27 the Tour
de France Restaurant Group is back with is celebratory
tribute to the stinkiest cheeses of the world ay 9 NYC restaurants:
Marseille, Café d'Alsace, Nice Matin, Maison, L'Express, Le
Monde, French Roast and Pigalle. Visit www.tourdefrancenyc.com.
* From now until Oct. 31, Amanyara resort on Turks &
Caicos in the Caribbean offers complimentary meals to
book 4 nights or more in one of the resort’s Pavilions or Villas in the
Restaurant and at the Beach Club. Visit www.amanresorts.com.
* Mandarin Oriental’s
Elbow Beach, Bermuda, has
put together a series of wine tasting classes conducted by the
property’s Sommelier, David Gemmell and incl. culinary accompaniments
and a special gift. The tastings will take place on Saturdays
priced at $110 pp. Call the Seahorse Grill at 441-239-9303 or email
firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://mandarinoriental.com/bermuda.
* PARISH: Foods &
Goods is bringing Mardi Gras to Atlanta. Mixologist
Steven Kowalczuk will show how to create authentic New Orleans
cocktails on Feb. 17; on Feb. 18, Chef Tim Magee will
hold a N’awlins Classic Sandwich Making Class; On Feb. 21 there
will be an afternoon of Mardi Gras fun, with live music by
Charlie Wooten's Zydefunk, crawfish, oysters, whole roasted pig and
more, Abita Beer, Hurricanes and oyster shooters. Donations benefit the
Atlanta Community Food Bank. Tickets cost $35 pre-sale (call PARISH at
404.681.4434) or $40 at the door. Call 404-681-4434.
* Beginning Feb. 18 Master Sommelier Emily Wines hosts a series of “Three on Five” Beverage Battles at Fifth Floor Restaurant in San Francisco with two fellow experts in wine, spirits and beer to compete against her each month in choosing the most perfect pairings for a 5-course meal by Chef Jennie Lorenzo. The winning pairings and dishes will then be offered as a special package in addition to the regular à la carte menu the week, for $125 pp. Visit www.fifthfloorrestaurant.com or call 415-348-1555.
* On Feb. 21 Chicago's
will hold a "Slumdog PreOscar Party" with a troupe of Live Bollywood
Dancers, DJ & Dancing, after dinner ($15 cover after 9:30pm),
"More Spice Cocktails" and Street Bombay Cuisine. Call
* On Feb. 21 in West
Point, NY, the historic Thayer
Hotel will hold its Mardi
Gras Murder Mystery Dinner Theater for $200 per couple, or $100 pp,
with cocktail hour, dinner in the Thayer’s gothic-style dining room,
and an interactive dinner theater performance. Add an overnight
stay for $339 per couple with breakfast buffet or $379 per couple with
Sunday Champagne Brunch. Call (800) 247-5047, locally at (845)
446-4731 or visit www.thethayerhotel.com.
* On Feb. 21 in Miami Beach, Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau Hotel
during the weekend of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, friends
and colleagues of late restaurateur Steven Scher gather together to
prepare a sit-down brunch benefiting the Steven Scher Memorial
Scholarship for Aspiring Restaurateurs in association with The James
Beard Foundation. Host chef Scott Conant welcomes chefs Charlie
Trotter and John Fraser and pastry chef Jean Marie Auboine, while guest
sommelier Jean Luc Le Dû presides over the wine service. $200
($180 for James Beard members.) Visit www.tix.com or call 212-627-2308.
* From Feb. 20-24 SUSHISAMBA
brings Brazil’s 2009 Carnaval festival to the streets of NYC,
live samba dancing, drummers and special menus, and live video feeds
from the annual festival in Brazil. Visit www.sushisamba.com.
* On Feb. 22 in Berkeley,
CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish
announced a 4-course Beer Dinner prepared by Chef Devon Boisen, paired
with beer. $39.95 pp. Call (510) 845-7771; www.spengers.com.
* On Feb. 24 Ozumo
Restaurant in Oakland, CA,
will host an “East Meets West” Mardi Gras celebration incl. live
drummers and samba dancers, the diverse sounds of New Orleans as
present by DJ Gray, and “Fat Tuesday” Brazilian drink specials. No
cover charge and no reservations are required. Visit www.Ozumo.com
<http://www.ozumo.com/> or call 510-286-9866.
* On Feb. 24 Piccolo
in Venice, CA, presents
its "Venetian Carnevale Fat Tuesday Edition" 9th Reversal Dinner,
because instead of you choosing first the food and then pare it with
the wine, you’ll only choose the wine first, and we will pare it with
the food, picked by our sommelier Pietro Biondi and chef Roberto Ivan.
$70 and $110 pp. Call 310-314-3222; visit
* Starting Feb. 25 in Cambridge, MA, Bambara Executive Chef Jay Silva hosts Boston Chefs Anthony Susi (Sage), Andy Husbands (Tremont 647 / Sister Sorel) and Dante de Magistris (dante, Il Casale) as a 3-part series called CHEFploitations. $50 pp. Call 617-868-4444 or go to www.bambara-cambridge.com.
* On Feb. 26 in Calabasas,
CA, Saddle Peak Lodge
will host a
4-course Chef Adam Horton benefit dinner by for the L.A. Fire
Department—Station #67, next door to the restaurant. $100 pp.
Call 818-222-3888 or visit www.saddlepeaklodge.com.
* On Feb. 27 in NYC,
il Buco's Umbrian Harvest
dinner will be held in the wine cellar. Each table will
have a one-on-one tasting with Donna Lennard, owner of il Buco of the
new harvests (2008) oil followed by a tasting of the 2007 oil.
Sommelier Roberto Paris will also be on hand throughout the evening to
discuss the Umbrian wine pairings. 4 course menu with wine
pairings and a complimentary copy of Donna's award-winning film about
the olive harvest for $100 pp. Call 212-533-1932;
* On Feb. 27 the Back
Bay Bistro at Newport Dunes
will uncork its inaugural wine dinner series with the first event
highlighting an array of premium varietals from Argentina and dishes
created by Chef Daniel Jimenez. $40 p. Call 949-729-3863 or visit
* On Feb. 28 in Covington, LA,
the grand opening of the first Bonefish
Grill in the Greater Metropolitan New Orleans area will be
celebrated with a charity fundraiser event for le Cocon du Papillion, a
transition complex in St. Tammany Parish for women and children who
have been victims of domestic violence. A $25 donation per person incl.
complementary drinks, signature appetizers and a main course tasting.
Call 985-351-7224. Visit www.bonefishgrill.com.
* From March 1-7, Atlantic
City Restaurant Week has
more than 70 participating restaurants with lunches for $15.09 pp
and dinners for $33.09. A full list of participating restaurants is
available online at www.acrestaurantweek.com.
* From March 2-6, Chef Renato Piccolotto and his
team from the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, will be at NYC's `21' Club, for the next
installment of Table Travels at ‘21’. His classic Venetian cuisine will
be available to guests throughout the week. The Hotel Cipriani
Wine Dinner is $165 pp, with wine. Cooking Class, March 6,
at $195 pp for lesson/demo, lunch with Chef Piccolotto. Call 212-
* Beginning March 3, top Bay Area Chefs and Farmers will
come together to host the 1st annual “A
Moveable Feast: Twelve Chefs Celebrate Six Farmers in a Series of
Seasonal Suppers.” Each month, 2 chefs will collaborate with a
local farmer to create an extraordinary to benefit The Center for Urban
Education about Sustainable Agriculture mission of promoting a
sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza
Farmers Market and its Education Programs. Chefs incl. Greg Dumore,
Ame; Mark Sullivan, Spruce; Loretta Keller, Coco500 and The Moss Room
and Dominique Crenn, Luce, among others. $80 pp. Visit
* On March 5, a ZD Vineyards Wine Dinner & Fundraiser
for the Leuze
Family Endowment for a Cure for Lymphoma will be held at Austin's Driskill Grill with chef Jonathan
Gelman. $98 pp. Call 512-391-7041.
* On March 8 in NYC, Chef Daniel Boulud of Daniel hosts "Black truffles, Blue Jeans, Burgundy, & Blues," a Sunday supper to support for Citymeals-on-Wheels. Chefs Michel Troisgos of Roanne,France, and Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park will add their culinary mastery. The silent auction incl. wines in rare, large format bottles and numerous gourmet items; live auction featuring experiences in travel, gourmet dining and fine wines. Guest of honor, Le Cirque's Sirio Maccioni. $1,000 pp, with “GOURMAND” tables for 10 guests @ $25,000, hosted by noted Burgundy wine makers who will be serving prized vintages at these premium tables. Call 212-687-1290 or email@example.com.
* Dublin’s The Merrion Hotel offers 2 packages for St. Patrick’s Day. The St. Patrick's Festival Special Offer incl. accommodations in a superior double or twin room in the hotel's Garden Wing, full Irish breakfast for two the next morning and 2 Black Velvets, on arrival from March 14-20, at $205 pp. The St. Patrick's Shamrock Package incl. 2 grandstand tickets and picnic box lunch for the St. Patrick's Day Festival Parade on March 17, at $497 pp. from March 16-19.
* On March 15 in Las Vegas, Chef Nico Chessa and the staff at Giorgio Ristorante at Mandalay Place celebrate Julius Caesars’ final day as the self-proclaimed “Ruler of the Romans,” also known as the “Ides of March,” with a 3-course wine dinner inspired from traditional and contemporary Roman cuisine. $49 pp. Call 702-920-2700. Visit www.giorgioristorante.com.
* On March 15 in Sacramento, CA, Family Winemakers of California, an Association of California Table Wine Producers, has selected Del Mar Fairgrounds to host its first tasting open to the public, at the Activity Center on the Del Mar Fairgrounds, with an opportunity to sample wines from 200 of California's small, family-owned wineries. Tix for consumers are $40 in advance and $50 at the door. Visit www.familywinemakers.org.
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: LINCOLN, LONDON AND LOVING
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). THIS WEEK: YOUR TENNIS VALENTINES
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. THIS WEEK: Sex Lives and Romance with
Kids in Tow.
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.