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QUESTIONS? TO REACH JOHN MARIANI WRITE
BOSTON'S NEW RESTAURANTS By
OBIT FOR A GRAND RESTAURANT: Cafe des Artistes by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Stonestreet Out to Prove All California Chardonnays Aren’t Blockbuster Oak Bombs by John Mariani
BOSTON'S NEW RESTAURANTS
By John Mariani
Count me in as an avid tourist when visiting Boston. I love the Public Gardens, the Freedom Trail, Fanueil Hall, and the Old North Church. I still really like going to Durgin-Park Café, which dates back to 1827, sitting down at a long communal table, kibbitzing with the engagingly brusque waitresses, and digging into clam chowder, broiled scrod, a stuffed two-pound lobster, and roast turkey, ending off with Indian pudding laced with molasses.
But the other side of me goes to Boston to dine at restaurants that represent some of the best cooking in America, often from the hands of chefs who kicked off the so-called “New New England Cuisine” back in the 1980s.
Traditions of excellence have always been part of the fabric of Boston, and that is as true of its restaurants and chefs as it is of its devotion to maintaining the integrity of its historic architecture. Like Durgin-Park, the equally venerable Locke-Öber Café, opened in 1875, is now run by one of the city’s most beloved chefs, Lydia Shire, who has also recently opened the wonderful Italian restaurant Scampo.
The restaurants of the first generation of brilliant young chefs of the ‘80s are still in full flourish, like Frank McClelland of L’Espalier (recently moved to new quarters), Jody Adams of Rialto, Jasper White of Summer Shack, Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro, Micahela Larsen of Rocco, and Jacky Robert of Petit Robert Bistro. Here are some pf the newest run by veterans.
50 Leonard Street
Everybody loves a firehouse, and the de Magistris brothers loved one in Belmont, Mass, so much they turned it into a trattoria alla famiglia. The best-known of the fratelli is Dante (far right), who, with his father Leon and his brothers Damian and Filippo, saw the perfect possibilities for a big, brick-walled space where they could put in the kind of kitchen they wanted, have a good bar, some outside tables, and allow people to eat as much or as little as they wish. And, yes, there is still a fire pole here.
Dante is well known for his tenure in many of Boston's best kitchens, including his own Dante in Cambridge, and here, with his family, he is recreating many of the dishes that date back generations, along with several his nonna probably never thought of, like carpaccio of beef with Gorgonzola fondue.
You begin here with sfizi (little tastes), that include pork meatballs with mozzarella and a sauce made from the pig's head; burrata mozzarella with persimmons (below) salt cod baccalà balls with pinenuts and tomato and sultanas; porcini risotto arancini balls containing a nugget of scamorza cheese, with a spicy tomato sauce; and terrific fegatini chicken livers grilled on skewers till just pink and juicy. I;d also recommend the salumi plate ($21 for two, but three can easily share) that holds prosciutti, culatello, Speck, and sweet melon.
The move on to the pastas, which Il Casale serves either as a first course portion ($8-$12) or main course ($17-$21), and here are at least ten of them every night, from tagliatelle with a tradition, long simmered bolognese to a wonderfully lavish lasagna with true besciamella, meat ragù, bufala mozzarella, and the addition of egg. The "Vesuvio" is a plate of pasta with a goat ragù, while the gnocchi are lavished with a porcini cream, peas, asparagus, and fava beans.
If you're still hungry, there is a slew of fine main courses, none more than $24, except a $38 grilled veal chop with Vidalia marmellata. Otherwise, you'll love the fritto misto of fried seafood; the striped bass cooked in "aqua pazza"--crazy water--and the terrific Sicilian, lemon-and-caper scented roast chicken. For dessert try the Venetian frittelle, little morsels of fried, sugared dough, with your espresso, or the lovely little cannoli tubes with ricotta cream.
The guys are keeping prices at a recessionary level, but this kind of food--and volume--is never going to rise by much, because that is the nature of eating and sharing in a place like Il Casale. The winelist, too, is very sensibly priced, with scores of bottlings under $50. It's certainly worth a trip out from Boston or Cambridge, although be forewarned that traffic congestion can be fearsome and a taxi ride will cost you a fortune.
Il Casale is open for dinner only (for the time being) Tues.-Sun.
IF YOU'RE STAYING IN BOSTON
The Langham Hotel
250 Franklin Street
Located within the five-year-old majestic Langham Hotel (formerly the Meridien) in the Financial District are two restaurants, the Cafe Fleuri, which serves a mix of American and New England-style dishes, and the gorgeous Bond, which is open for lunch and dinner and specializes in small portion dishes, and on weekends has a lively and live (I'm told) DJ. I had a splendid lunch in this grand space that was previously the posh restaurant Julien and before that part of a Federal Reserve Bank, opened in 1922, with all the means in terms of pillars, crustal chandeliers, gilt, marble and filigree. Yet the management has been able to warm the place up with more casual appointments and striking use of brilliant red colorations. (there is also an outdoor terrace overlooking the park). The walls have blow-ups of Americans who appear on U.S. currency.
This is a very popular place for a light lunch, but Chef Mark Sapienza is not out merely to placate hunger with the usual salads and soups and sandwiches. When we dined there we loved the first-rate clam chowder and a softshell sandwich could not have been made with fatter, sweeter, crunchier crab with Bibb lettuce, a good slice of summer tomato, and well-rendered, spicy mayonnaise. Since Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are all the rage right now, Sapienza has added one, and it's a good one, made with roast chicken, marinated vegetables, cucumbers, coriander, and a shot of chili aïoli. There's a also a Vermont goat's cheese tart with Vidalia onions, and a laudable New England lobster roll on buttered toasted brioche. There is also a menu "drink food" that goes way beyond the usual nibbles, including chorizo sausages with fingerling potatoes, steak tartare with brioche and parmesan aioli, and irresistible gougère cheese puffs with a caramelized onion mustard.
Bond may not occur to visitors as a must-dine, but I think Sapienza is doing some of the most delectable food in Boston right now and Bond is as easy to slip in and out of at your leisure, pleasure, and budget as anywhere in town.
Bond is open for lunch and
dinner Mon.-Sat. from 11 AM-2 AM. Dishes at Bond run $8-$22, with
"drink food" 6-$12.
348 Congress Street
Restaurant photo by Mike Ritter
Barbara Lynch, for good reason, has been one of Boston's most treasured restaurateurs, having first made her mark with No. 9 Park, a place that a decade ago seem to hit just the right balance of upscale and casual chic, with solid cooking and lovely prospect over the Gardens. Now, several enterprises later, which include restaurants, a bar, and a butcher shop, she's been on a roll, and she's planning another restaurant in the fall.
None of this seems to have sapped her energies or creativity, which is always geared to a proper New England restraint and lack of flamboyance, nowhere better seen than in the easy-to-like Sportello down in the industrial neighborhood known as Fort Channel Point. This is little more, and certainly not less, than a luncheonette-style, all counter space, second-story place where you can drop in for a salad or plate of pasta or dessert, or walk out with those same desserts in a box. The white counter is set with backless stools, so you're not expected to linger, and the waitresses are right there to serve you, picking up food from a kitchen grill just feet away. It's bright, it's cheery, and it's fun, not to be taken too seriously but you can see why it's been so popular, despite its odd location.
There is one problem here,
and it is one that I had when Lynch opened No. 9 Park. Prices, for food
made from inexpensive ingredients, are remarkably high for remarkably small
portions in a no-frills setting in a Boston neighborhood
whose rents couldn't be outrageously high (yet). An $8
salad sounds cheap enough, but it came as a few shaved vegetables with
hazelnut vinaigrette in a cereal-size bowl, as did strozzapreti pasta with
braised rabbit and green olives, at $15, and baked stuffed maccheroni with veal, chicken and
mushrooms at $17. And this was at lunch. At dinner the
pastas run up to $20, though striped bass at $23 and a sirloin at $30
seems quite fair. If the portions had been more generous--we left
hungry--and more in line with those hearty half-portions at Il Casale
($8) or those at the posh Sensing below or Bond above, where they have
tables and chairs, I might be more
inclined to recommend a trek to this part of town to eat at a
3 Battery Wharf
was quite excited when I heard the news that
Chef Guy Martin of Paris' renowned, Michelin 3-star restaurant Le
Vefour, was going to be opening a dining room in Boston, to
Sensing, sending his very young acolyte Chef de Cuisine Gerard Barbin, to
do the cooking. Which, of course, as these things go, mean Monsieur
Martin will rarely be at the new restaurant, which is located in the
Fairmont Battery Wharf Hotel, which is played down on the restaurant's
Sensing is open for breakfast, lunch, and
NEW YORK CORNER
Selimaj's American Dream story is as proud as any, having come to this
country in 1978 from Albania to work hard
in the restaurant industry, first washing dishes, and eventually open
an Italian restaurant of his own named Bruno, with his brother Bruno.
After that, he started naming new restaurants after himself, including
the first Nino's on First Avenue, then Nino’s Tuscany, Osso Bucco,
Nino’s Positano, Osso Bucco Uptown, Nino’s Bellisima Pizza (where he
once promoted a $1,000 pizza with four different kinds of
Petrossian caviar), and now, Nino’s 208. Selimaj (right) has also managed over the
years to attract NYC celebs and pols, and his regulars are fiercely
Nino's 208 is open for lunch
and dinner daily.
OBITUARY FOR A GRAND RESTAURANT
The Closing of Café des Artistes
by John Mariani
This past week, after nearly a century, NYC's famous and historic Café des Artistes on West 67th Street closed its doors.
The splendid building called the Hôtel des Artistes, built between 1915 and 1918, has been home to the Café on its ground floor since 1917; it was not until 1932, however, that the building's board of directors thought it a capital idea for artist Howard Chandler Christy, who was born in a log cabin in Ohio and rose to become one of the most successful magazine illustrators of his day, to paint a series of murals featuring 36 nude girls and one oddly diapered he-man romping in a sylvan setting that looks a lot more like Central Park (which the Café borders) than Arcadia. Indeed, these extremely sexy murals look like a rather randy version of "Flash Gordon Meets the Amazons of Venus," starring Buster Crabbe, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, and Jean Harlow. And they are glorious!
Over the decades, through Depression, Prohibition, war, and changes in taste, the Café endured and thrived, counting among its regulars scores of artists and musicians as residents in its huge studio-based apartments, including Isadora Duncan, Norman Rockwell, Noel Coward, Alexander Woollcott. The long-time owners, George Lang and his wife Jenifer, have kept it all marvelously intact, both in décor and spirit, since 1975.
Those risqué murals have always had a lot to do with the Cafe's success over the decades, although Lang had to remove a quarter-inch of soot from the smoky walls when he purchased the restaurant at a point it was due to close and the murals to be scattered. A master restaurateur who had for years worked with Restaurant Associates on many of its most flamboyant projects, Lang brought his Hungarian sensibility to the idea of a cafe whose Upper West Side location would remind many other immigrants from the post-war era of the gaiety of their youth.
He also brought the menu into the post-war period with a large sampling of traditional French and American bistro items and more than a nod to Lang's own Budapestian culinary heritage, which included his mother's famous chocolate Ilona torte. For more than a quarter century Lang and his wife have maintained the Café through various chefs and maître d's, some better than others, as was the food during their tenures. Under Jenifer Lang's gaze the staff was always exceptionally professional, the coat check girls beautiful, and the waiters knowledgeable about everything from the food preparation to the winelist, and could kibbitz if appropriate with their famous guests.
I suppose I've been going to the Café for as long as Lang has owned it, always with a thrill that I am in the midst of something uniquely New York and unobtainable anywhere else, always with the possibility that at the next table may be Beverly Sills, Isaac Stern, or any of the Hollywood actors who happen to be in town or on Broadway.
It closed, depending on the reports you read, because of problems with the union and the recession, and the Langs (right) poured millions into the restaurant to shore it up in difficult times. If it was an institution it was certainly the liveliest for the longest, as much a part of New York night life as Delmonico's, Barbetta, `21' Club, The Four Seasons, and others whose doors are still open.
One can love places like Café des Artistes out of all semblance of objectivity. And I admit to falling under its spell. From the first time I saw those Christie nymphs frolicking on the walls, I felt I had passed through some uniquely New York ritual. Paul and Joanne Newman were sitting in the corner.
There is always the prospect--and a very good one, I think--that the Café des Artistes will be taken over by another restaurateur, one who wouldn't dream of disturbing those murals or the ambience of such a beloved place. If that happens, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that something so much a part of the fabric of the Upper West Side can be brought back to vivid elegance so that those naughty Christie girls can go on swinging among the trees, unaware that time ever passes at all.
Go to www.cafenyc.com/cafedesartistes for virtual tour of the premises of Cafe des Artistes.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
SOME OF THEM JUST
WOOFED IT RIGHT DOWN
In a study by the American Assn. of Wine Economists, researchers provided 18 volunteers five dog food samples along with Spam, liverwurst, mousse, and pâté, to try in a blind taste test. Only three were able to identify the dog food. "We have this idea in our head that dog food won't taste good and that we would be able to identify it, but it turns out that is not the case," said Robin Goldstein, a co-author of the study, told the L.A. Times. The five samples came from a wide price range and were processed to have a similar consistency. And 72 percent rated the dog food as the worst-tasting pâté.
YOU DRINK IT OR PRAY TO IT?
"Vega Sicilia, Unico 1994 (96), about €200--It has the height and weight of a gothic cathedral with buttresses of cabernet and a creamy smooth aisle of polished pitch black fruits. Glistening through the stained glass, occasional kirlike touches, and is 100 per cent cocoa chocolate."--Thomas Clancy, "Spain’s best kept secret," The Post IE.
* In Old Town Alexandria, VA, Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier unveils a new 3-course Early Supper Menu, for $38 pp. incl. a glass of eco-friendly white or red wine for an additional $7. Call 703-894-3440.
* In White Plains, NY, 42 is introducing its new “Chef’s
Tasting Menus” that will also benefit Blythedale Children’s
Hospital. A donation of $10 will be made to the Valhalla hospital
for each tasting menu served. The 5-course “Chef’s Tasting Menu”
is $65 pp, wine pairing an extra $30. The 7-course menu is $85,
with wine pairing for an additional $42. Call 914- 761-4242.
Sept. 5-20 in NYC,
the Netherlands Board of Tourism is promoting Taste NiEuW Amsterdam Restaurant Week
to coincide with the NY400 celebrations. Over 50 restaurants will
offer the $24 Taste NiEuW Amsterdam Menu, to commemorate the
Dutch purchase of Manhattan for 60 Dutch guilders (about $24). A
dedicated website offers visitors a list of participating
restaurants and enter to win a trip to Holland! Visit
* From Sept. 13-20 at Virginia Beach Wine Week 2009,
over a dozen participating restaurants will offer Virginia wine
specials, including wines both by the glass, flights and bottle paired
with menu items specially created for the event from local farms and
local waters with sustainable seafood options. Visit
www.VirginiaBeachWineWeek.com or call 757-288-3861.
* On Sept. 15 "The Gold Medal Wine Tour" will take place
at Chef Allen’s in Aventura, FL, with a
reception and 4-course dinner paired with gold-medal winning wines from
the American Fine Wine Competition. This dinner will raise money for
End Childhood Hunger. Win door prizes , bid on wines, dinners,
wine glasses, and more at the silent auction. $125 pp. . . . On Sept.
22 the Tour moves to Ortanique in
Coral Gables, FL, at
$125. www.goldmedalwinetour.com ; Call 561-504-VINE (8463).
* On Sept. 16 on Miami
Beach, Blue Door at Delano
is presenting a 5-course wine dinner featuring the Spanish wines of El
Coto and the cuisine of Delano’s executive chef Maria Manso, at
$85 pp. Call 305-674-6400.
* On Sept. 16, Patina Restaurant Group sponsors the first of a series of cooking and baking class fundraisers at the St Joseph Center’s Culinary Training Kitchen in Venice, CA. Chef Kevin Meehan of Café Pinot and formerly of Bastide and L’Orangerie will be hosting a “Culinary Experience for a Cause.” In the class, attendees will learn how to prepare and present an elegant 3-course gourmet meal. $150 pp and $250 per couple. Call 310-396-6468 x328.
* On Sept.
17 in NYC, The Four Seasons restaurant will
celebrate the best food and wines of Tuscany with Carlo and Aurora
Baccheschi Berti of Castella di Vicarello. For one night only,
the winemakers will transform the restaurant into their fairy tale
castle in Maremma, where they make some of Italy's legendary Super
Tuscans. $250 pp. 212.759.9008 or Regina@ReginaInk.com.
* On Sept.
18 in Cleveland, Moxie will be hosting its 2nd annual
Rosh Hashanah dinner, incl. the traditional dishes from
apples and honey to house-baked challah, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish,
brisket, oven-roasted chicken and sweet noodle kugel. All served
family style. Call 216-831-5599.
* From Sept 18-30,
The ChicagoOriginals, a group independent
restaurateurs in Chicagoland and many cities throughout the United
States to promote independently owned restaurants, will host their 5th
Annual Mussel Festival. For a list of
participating restaurants, visit
* From Sept. 18-20
in Greenville, SC, guests
can enjoy a weekend of food, wine and music complete with wine
seminars, cooking demonstrations, culinary cook-offs, tasting showcases
and live music at "Euphoria."
Chefs from across the country incl. France's Guy Savoy will make guest
appearances at wine dinners. Individual tickets and ticket packages are
available starting at $45 at www.euphoriagreenville.com.
* On Sept. 21 in NYC, actresses Jane Alexander, Dixie Carter, Blair Brown and Jill Eickenberry will don aprons to help serve food alongside some of NYC's top female chefs at the Sixth Annual "A Second Helping of Life," at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers, 7 p.m. Proceeds from the reception and silent and live auctions will benefit SHARE, to women with breast or ovarian cancer, their families and friends. Individual tickets are $300, $500 and $750. Tables of 10 are priced from $5000. Call 212-719-0364 x 239 or visit www.sharecancersupport.org.
* On Sept. 26 & 27 in Sardinia, The inaugural "Porto Cervo Food Festival," by Starwood Costa Smeralda Resorts, will host a Italian specialty food exhibitors, with chefs creating original menus based on their culinary vision highlighting Sardinia’s produce and ingredients. Hotel Cala di Volpe and the Sheraton Cervo Hotel are offering a Package from 345 Euros per room, incl. entrance to the Cervo Conference Center, breakfast buffet, dinner at one of the hotel restaurants prepared by the Guest Chefs of the Event, or a Dinner Package incl. a 4-four course dinner at one of the hotel restaurants prepared by the Guest Chefs of the Event at the special price of 70 Euros per person, selected wines incl. Visit www.portocervofoodfestival.com.
Sept. 28-Oct. 4 in Great Britain,
Harvey Nichols Restaurants holds
"3 Stars, 3 Cities" for British Food Fortnight, with chefs from three
of the UK’s finest country house hotels to collaborate with
Harvey Nichols chefs. Kenny Atkinson, Head Chef at the Seaham Hall
Hotel, Co. Durham, will spend a week with Chef Richard Walton-Allen of
the Fourth Floor Café, Leeds; Chris Horridge, at Cliveden,
Berkshire, will work with Louise McCrimmon at the Second Floor
Restaurant; and Mark Teasdale, at the Sharrow Bay Hotel, Lake
District, with Jonas Karlsson at the Fifth Floor Restaurant,
London. £55 for 6 courses in Knightsbridge and Leeds or
£45 for 6 courses in Bristol.
* On Sept.
29 in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor will host the Fourth
Annual “Taste of The Broadmoor” dinner benefiting the resort’s culinary
apprenticeship program and the Colorado Restaurant Association’s
ProStart Program. The 5-course dinner will feature cuisine by The
Broadmoor’s Chef Siegfried “Sigi” Eisenberger, Summit’s Chef Bertrand
Bouquin, Penrose Room’s Chef Justin Miller, Charles Court’s Chef Greg
Barnhill, and Pastry Chef Rémy Fünfrock. $150 pp
incl. reception and wine pairings. Call 719-577-5733.
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: LONDON CALLING--JFK to London City Airport? ; TAKE THE TRAIN? Does it ever make sense to take Amtrak? ; WASTE NOT AT MoMA on the new new installation by Song Dong at NYC's MoMA; SMART DEALS: FLORIDA'S GULF ISLANDS
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:
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.