"Angel Cake" (2009)
by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
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NEW YORK CORNER: A Voce, Part Due by John Mariani
CELLAR: A HARLAN DINNER FOR THE AGES
LA VEGAS: WYNN WINS AGAIN
By John Mariani
voce at Columbus Circle
Time-Warner Center, 3rd Floor
10 Columbus Circle
When A Voce opened down at Madison Park three years ago, it brought rustic Italian food to a new level of taste, at the time under Chef Andrew Carmellini (now partner at Locanda Verde), then under Chef Missy Robbins, who had been Executive Chef at the great Spiaggia in Chicago for five years, and before that at top New York restaurants like March, Arcadia and The Lobster Club, and a stint at Agli Amici in Friuli. In my article about her appointment this year, I wrote, "Robbins has translated all that learning into her menus at A Voce, which do not attempt to replicate Carmellini's dishes but continue his legacy of bold, gutsy Italian food." Now, under the umbrella of the MARC restaurant group, Robbins has opened a second front, uptown at the Time Warner Center, in the space that had been the failed Café Gray.
First thing MARC did was to remove the kitchen from the glorious window space overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park and put the brigade behind glass, allowing guests to enjoy that view from swiveling chairs beneath a mirror-like ceiling. The place sparkles at lunchtime and gets shadowy at dinner, with a noise level that edges towards the high decibels. As I so often do, I would heartily recommend adding white tablecloths at night--the tops are now black composite--which would both brighten the atmosphere and tamp down the noise.
There are similarities in the menus downtown and uptown, always reflecting the lusty side of modern cucina alla italiana. You should always begin with a selection of fine charcuterie--the beef carpaccio with walnuts and pecorino; the various salumi; and above all the 'nduja, a very hot, peppery condiment you spread on toast.
For pastas, you won't go wrong anywhere on the primi menu, at least not if you order the terrific pici, hand-rolled pasta with Brussels sprouts, bacon, almonds, and whipped sheep's milk. The ravioli filled with goat's cheese and prosciutto is outstanding, with sweet leeks and pistachios. Only by comparison did ricotta gnocchi with zucchini, squash blossoms, and mint seem somewhat bland, despite the presence of saline bottarga roe.
If you wish to stay simple with your main course I highly recommend the pollo alla mattone--a dish you see elsewhere, chicken flattened with "a brick" or other weight, and grilled--but at A Voce marinating of the chicken in fennel and chili and the side of Tuscan greens, gigante white beans, and Yukon gold potatoes makes this a sumptuous dish. A massive pork chop is served with roasted abalone mushrooms, arugula, and assertive grilled lemons, while brasato, that triumph of paisan cookery, was a plate of beef braised in red wine and served with farro, root vegetable, and the richness of bone marrow.
It's hard to pass up the selection of wonderful cheeses with condiments (left) here, so don't: have a plate and let the rest of your table order desserts to share, like the panna cotta with Meyer lemon and a hint of thyme or the espresso-chocolate tart with toasted almonds and cocoa nibs. But do try the crespelle, ricotta-filled thin pancakes with roasted apples and rum-raisin sauce--as good a dolce as you'll find this winter.
Wine director Olivier Flosse stocks one of the best Italian lists in the city, of which more than half are under $90--still a high break point, but there really are plenty of fine regional wines under $50 too.
A Voce has made the leap to the third floor of Time Warner very successfully and for all the right reasons for right now: It's not a starchy place, it's got a great view, the food leaves everyone satisfied, it's priced right, and Missy Robbins is in charge. What more can you ask?
A Voce is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, for dinner nightly, and brunch Sat. & Sun. Antipasti run $10-$16, pastas as full portions $17-$25, and main courses $28-$38. There is a prix fixe lunch at $29 and pre-theater dinner at $35.
HARLAN DINNER FOR THE AGES
But that’s exactly what Harlan set out to do, and now, all these years later, it is generally a foregone conclusion that his eponymous wine ranks among the top tier in America--and, indeed, the world.
Which is why the prospect of my flying cross-country for a wine dinner of this caliber was perfectly logical: Celebrating the 25th anniversary of an estate that has arguably done as much to raise the reputation of American wine, and change perceptions of what we are capable of on this side of the Atlantic, as any other, was not to be missed.
In general, the great wines of the world tend to share a number of important characteristics in common: They express a unique, often idiosyncratic terroir with clarity and honesty; they are produced from top-quality fruit and through fastidious winemaking; they have the potential to evolve over the years into something far more nuanced and elegant than their youth tends to express (but which is typically implied early on); and they do all this year after year, slowing building up what might be called an edifice of reliability, ever-growing complexity, and stylistic character.
But there are also a number of non-vinous characteristics that the great wines of the world share, and most of these are based in the unique philosophy that is ultimately the wellspring of their creation. For Bill Harlan, he knew exactly what the guiding philosophy of his estate would be from the beginning: It would be a family affair, rooted firmly in the land and created with an eye toward being carried on even after he no longer has a hand in it.
Businesses that have succeeded for two or three hundred years have three things in common, Harlan pointed out during the dinner. They are based on the land, remain family-owned, and carry no debt. A family, he explained, can pass a culture on from generation to generation, slowly improving without having to worry about quarterly earnings. This, in turn, affords them the opportunity to pursue their goals with more freedom, even if the process of achieving them relies more on long-term effort than short.
With that in mind, he told me, he is trying to instill in his family the importance of the land, his philosophy, and the meaning that Harlan Estate holds for the future.
The Harlan Estate 25th anniversary dinner, held at the excellent Italian restaurant Poggio in Sausalito, provided the rare opportunity not only to taste a number of Harlan’s wines but to do so alongside beautifully prepared, thoughtfully paired food. The dinner was hosted by Larry Mindel, Poggio’s owner; Peter McNee, its acclaimed executive chef and partner; and the James Beard Foundation, represented by its president Susan Ungaro, which benefited from the auction that took place that night.
The Maiden 2005 and Matriarch 2005 led off the meal, paired with a fabulously earthy spit-roasted squab, a tender preparation that highlighted the gaminess of the bird through a generous application of shaved black truffle, well-considered house-cured lardo wrapped around the rare breast, and red wine- and squab stock-braised cipollini whose sweet-savoriness actually threw the earthy notes of the dish into even sharper relief, accompanied by a lovely crêpinette and mushroom farro. The Maiden sang with dark, lush berry fruit that really came to the fore when sipped after a bite of lardo-wrapped breast. Even before sampling the food, it showed incredible structure, rich currant and blackberry fruit, notes of fresh asphalt, and a touch of tobacco.
The Matriarch, on the other hand, was more chocolatey on the mid-palate, its subtle, lush texture lifted by notes of mint, spice, and tobacco. Both of the wines have long lives ahead (a decade or more, surely), yet are wonderful right now with enough time in the decanter.
(NB: All of the wines served at the dinner had been double-decanted, between 2:45 and 6:30 that day, by Wine Director Gregory Altzman.)
Next came a single raviolo (above), filled with a tongue-coating, seasoned ricotta, itself topped with a hen yolk before being sealed, all of it plated with brown butter, sage, and enough shaved white truffles to make your average Piedmontese blush; for me, this was the best wine pairing of the night--a magnum of BOND Vecina 1999 that lifted the truffle flawlessly with its fresh aromas of anise and licorice. The palate just exploded with unexpected flashes of sesame, black bean sauce, melted licorice, and an expansive depth that continued to grow throughout the finish. Despite all that, it still maintained a sense of linearity, a core of richness that promises years of further evolution in the bottle.
Straccoto, red wine-braised short rib and oak-grilled strip steak with porcini, veal jus, and a red wine and marrow butter, were paired with both the Harlan 2000 (the most Bordeaux-like wine of the evening) and the 2004. The former, from a cooler year that winemaker Bob Levy explained made it a bit more approachable, showed an almost Pauillac-like character of soft mushroom notes, sous bois, crushed purple fruits, and excellent acidity. It coated the inside of the mouth and continued to evolve in the glass, picking up hints of caramelized wild strawberries, blackberries, eucalyptus, rich dark cherry, kirsch, and cocoa powder. Poggio owner Larry MIndel and Bill Harlan
Levy described the 2004, on the other hand, as possessing more classic Napa richness and power. It’s still young, though, and if I had a bottle in my own collection, I’d find myself conflicted over whether to open it in the next five years or to hold off until it’s a bit more mature. As it stands now, the 2004 looks to have another 15 or more years of evolution left, though at the dinner, with the benefit of double-decanting, it showed magnificent notes of mint, cigar tobacco, and grilled dark berry fruit, all of it wrapped up in a structure that allowed it to carry on for a 45-second-plus finish.
The final wine of the night, paired with a Castelmagno cheese soufflé and vin santo-preserved figs, was the Harlan 1997, a legendary bottling and easily one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted--can I give a wine more than 100 points?-- an explosive, palate-coating, almost Port-like mouthful of figs, raisins, scorched earth, and dark sweet cherries. Despite all this richness, though, there was an undeniable sense of place, an exuberance that only could have come from Napa. The perfume of cinnamon, clove, and other warm brown spices wafted up from the glass, the texture such that I had to resist the urge to chew it, and the finish, perfectly balanced, lasted for at least a minute, lingering on with characteristics of sun-warmed wild strawberries, hoisin, and black bean sauce. Even at 12 years of age, it remained remarkably youthful, both magnificent right now and, like the rest of the bottles poured at the dinner, promising a long life ahead.
First Growth quality, no question--just like Harlan set out to do all those years ago.
Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer, wine educator, and food and wine consultant. He is Director of Wine Education for the Wine School of Philadelphia, contributing editor for Philadelphia Style Magazine, wine columnist for Affluent Magazine, and writes the blog www.UncorkLife.com for www.WineChateau.com. His web site is www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.
Burger King in Tokyo has introduced the spicy "Angry Whopper" with jalapeño peppers, hot sauce, onions, cheese, bacon, tomatoes and lettuce by holding a shouting contest that allows pedestrians to scream their aggression away, such as, "I need to get a girlfriend" and "Professor, give me my credits."
DEPARTMENT OF TOO MUCH HONESTY
Q: In your book "The Nasty Bits," there's an essay in which you state that you would rather put "habitual masturbator" on a visa application than "television personality." You are now six years into "No Reservations." Do you feel more comfortable with the role?
Anthony Bourdain: Nah, not really. It still feels sort of shameful. It's easy work. I know what work is. My expectations of what work is, my concept of work or a profession was formed by 28 years of standing on my feet really working. . . . Television personality just doesn't sound like a job to me. . . . So, I'll live with celebrity chef, or television personality, but in my heart of hearts, I'd put it on the same level as lighting director on porn film, habitual masturbator, or aspiring arsonist."--Interview with Anthony Bourdain by James Leach, City BNewspaper (11/18/09).
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*On Dec. 9 in NYC,
El Café at El
Museo del Barrio, presents guest chef Scott Gottlich of Dallas’ Bijoux
Restaurant, serving up Southwestern dishes including Garbanzo Bean
Soup, Stewed Lamb Leg with poblano chile, Zamorano with Piquillo pepper
and chorizo and Mexican Wedding Cookies. The menu will be
available from Dec. 9-13. Call 212-831-7272.
* On Dec. 14 in Brooklyn, NY, Bark Hot Dogs will host a special hot dog and sparkling wine pairing event. This guided 5-course dinner will feature both regular and gourmet wieners, each paired with one of Gruet Winery’s multi-award-winning sparkling wines made by the traditional champagne method. Tickets are $30 pp. Call 718-789-1939 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* On Dec. 15 in NYC, The Gohan Society Lecture Series & Demonstration at The French Culinary Institute will feature Chef Toshio Suzuki of Sushi Zen, who will demonstrate a tasting, comparing taste and texture according to the elapsed time after ike-jime, a Japanese fish killing technique. To RSVP email: Taeko@gohansociety.org.
* On Dec. 17, in Riverside, IL, The Chew Chew Restaurant will warm up the holiday season with its SPANISH WINE DINNER WEEK, featuring 5 courses of Spanish wine & food. $55 pp.Call 708-447-4781 or visit www.thechewchew.com.
* From Dec. 21-24 in Chicago, Nacional 27 will present its annual
Cuban holiday prix-fixe menu, a four-course, family-style dinner paired
with wines. $45 pp. Call 312-664-2727;
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." THIS WEEK: 15 WAYS TO STAY SLIM ON THE ROAD THIS WINTER; David Byrne on Two Wheels.
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).
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