The Brown Derby Café
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DAY by John Mariani
Far Austrian Red Wines Have Come by John Mariani
"Actually," I said, "I've had one of the loveliest days I can remember. The snow has stopped, my son plowed the driveway and walkway, and I'm sitting here in sweatpants and an old flannel shirt finishing my book. I don't have to go anywhere, and my cats don't need to be taken for a run."
We talked for awhile, then, after hanging up, I realized that it had been a wonderful day, not least because 22 inches of snow had fallen on my neighborhood in Westchester County and I could watch it all come down in big white flakes, coating the trees in what looked like thick white ermine. Knowing in advance that the blizzard was coming, I was in no rush to get out from a warm bed this morning, and I knew that schools and the gym would be closed and that the morning appointment I had would be canceled. So I had the whole day to myself to polish the last draft of my book. And to eat and drink as I wished. I felt exactly the same giddy way I did when I was ten years old and learned that there would be a snow day--the greatest of all serendipity!
Breakfast with my wife Galina was not unusual but seemed more delectable as the snow fell outside and the birds--woodpeckers, sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, whitebreasted nuthatches, brownheaded cowbirds, blackcap chickadees, and a bright red cardinal--pecked away with abandon at the feed in the hanging cylinder Galina fills each day. I had a glass of orange juice, a double espresso, and a slice of fresh mozzarella oozing between the toasted layers of the best pita bread I've ever had, from a Greek bakery in Queens. A few glances at the TV news, a round-up of the Olympic medals, and a perusal of the Friday New York Times went nice and slowly, then I bounded upstairs to my office to work.
My office windows look out over our backyard (above), a view that, ironically, made me think of a retro, reverse cliché of the 1950s when televisions had "snow" on the screens when real snow built up on the antennas. So the huge snowflakes coming down outside my office looked like old TV snow in the way it blocked my view. I really couldn't have cared how much it snowed as long as Galina and I, along with our cats sleeping together in a basket on the warm radiator, could stay inside and enjoy it. When I heard my son start up the snow plow with a roar, I sat back in my chair, checked my e-mail and got on with the sheer delight of self-editing a chapter, which is the same kind of pleasure a sculptor gets when he rubs pumice on his statue, or an artist gets when he daubs some blue paint or white highlights over yesterday's work, or a musician adds nuance to each note he'd mastered in a song the day before.
By noontime the snow was still falling but the sky was a brighter gray and the wind had died down. I went downstairs for lunch, where Galina had made a marvelously robust vegetable soup with ditalini pasta, in which she'd simmered the rind from a chunk of finished Parmigiano. I had a small glass of pinot noir from last night's bottle, picked up the mail outside, which brought nothing at all but the usual junk, and returned to my work.
The afternoon wore on and then suddenly, within a few seconds time, the sun broke through the silver clouds with a brilliance I had almost forgotten could be so jubilant when that moment strikes. Suddenly the snow glowed like the line in "A Night Before Christmas," when "The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow/Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below." The birds even seemed startled and flew away for a few seconds, only to return in a swoop, back on the branches to fill their bellies with seed. Now everything was very, very still and the snow began to cure and icicles form on the tree limbs now slowly bowing under their snowy load. I had an afternoon espresso--I briefly thought of hot chocolate--and watched the sun work its miracle, darting in and out of the clouds, finally emerging into the brightest of blue skies as the clouds sped away to the north. In late afternoon, the yard was a study in lilac-colored shadows and cream-colored shafts of sunlight.
By the time I came down for dinner, the sheen on the snow was the same as when "Good King Wenceslas looked out/On the feast of Stephen/When the snow lay round about/Deep and crisp and even." I walked outside for the first time all day and breathed in the invigorating cold air, which had a faint chimney aroma of the logs burning in my living room fireplace. Even in the depth of winter, there was a hint of springtime in the night air.
I made myself a daiquiri and sipped it slowly while watching the news of so many transportation disasters caused by the blizzard on the east coast, from New Jersey up to Boston, how the airports were shut down and the highways blocked, which I thought was a good excuse to make a warming bowl of tortellini in chicken broth with a grating of Parmigiano. I opened a bottle of two-year-old California merlot and my wife set before me the perfect dish for such a day: James Beard once called a lamb stew he'd tasted as one "you could cuddle in your arms," and this was just like that--a veal stew in a vegetable-rich sauce (below), a generous dollop of yellow polenta, and dark, garlicky spinach. I was sublimely happy and all of a sudden thought it would be a capital idea to get out of the house, so we bundled up and walked carefully over ice patches and snow drifts to a nearby store called Pane e Gelato, where we enjoyed a cornetto of creamy chocolate-hazelnut gelato and bought Italian bread for tomorrow's breakfast. We slipped and slid back home, put out the fireplace, had coffee and a tot of small batch bourbon, whose sweet first taste and sharp finish was the perfect ending to the evening.
Galina kept on watching the Olympics, which had gone about two days past my limit for snow sports, so I went upstairs, wrapped my legs in a blanket, and watched the movie "Charade," then off to bed to read John Greenleaf Whittier's 19th century idyll "Snow-Bound," dropping off to sleep after ten minutes, more likely than not with sugarplums dancing in my head. The cats were still asleep in the radiator basket, purring softly.
It had been an exceptional day, not least because New York doesn't often get that much snow on the ground. One of the reasons I love living where I do, a place with oaks and maples, evergreens and birches, green lawns in summer and white ones in winter, is that I treasure the passing of four seasons, ever predictable, always balanced between the highs and lows of cold and heat, wind and breezes, rain and sunshine. And then there's the stillness of things after a big snowfall, more silent than the usual night's silence, as if the world itself had come to a standstill, hibernating before spring slowly makes its way into bloom.
NEW YORK CORNER
Park Avenue Winter
Park Avenue Winter seems an entirely appropriate restaurant to write about this week, given that New York seems still to be in winter's icy grip.
When spring comes, the décor and name will change to Park Avenue Spring, then on to Summer, and Fall, a charming idea pioneered fifty years ago at The Four Seasons and one that I wish more restaurants might follow, the way people used to change their slipcovers in different seasons.
The decorous changes here are far more than putting on slicovers, though. The place is really transformed, as you can see in the photos here. It's not a chilly look; the place is warm and, given the fine staff here, always welcoming, with lacquered panel moldings, coffers with mismatched plaster rosettes, vintage British military buttons, custom crystal and glass chandeliers, birch branches built into the lighting elements, raw leathers and white-washed woods. (You can see all the seasonal décors on the restaurant's website.) The premises can get very loud, so there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to blast in music no one can discern anyway; it's also darker than the photo abve suggests, which is too bad because you can't really see the décor.
There are basically three rooms, the entranceway bar and two flanking dining rooms. There is also a glass-enclosed table (below) for ten people, adjacent to the kitchen, if you want to watch the gang cook, under the supervision of Executive Chef Craig Koketsu, Chef de Cuisine Kevin Lasko, and Executive Pastry Chef Richard Leach. Overseeing it all is owner Michael Stillman, who also runs Quality Meats on the west side, and Maloney & Porcelli, The Post House, and Smith & Wollensky New York on the east.
The menus here offer some year-round signature dishes along with the seasonal specials on a separate card. I tend to choose from all over the place as I did with two friends in from Italy on a recent evening. I wanted to show them the breadth of contemporary American (New York, really) cuisine, so I chose some of my favorites, as well as introducing the duo to the marvelous sweet flavor of Nantucket Bay scallops with a touch of pomegranate and shisu. They were dutifully delighted. You may go with some hamachi sashimi, which everyone is doing these days, with a tangerine vinaigrette, or perhaps something unique--"The Carmellini Challenger," a meatball slider made of veal and filet, seasoned with parmesan, oregano, thyme, golden raisins, pine nuts, onion and garlic, served over toasted sourdough with ricotta and pistachio pesto. Pardon the pun, but it is a knockout. You simply have to try this! Porcini ravioli come with tender Swiss chard and Gorgonzola cream, and my guest particularly loved the butternut squash soup with a lobster crouton.
As you might expect from a company that runs three meathouses, the Colorado lamb is superb and the veal chop here is first rate, with green garlic breadcrumbs, and there is a châteaubriand sliced for two or more. Stout-braised lamb shank was juicy and hearty, the dark beer giving it a real ballast and the accompanying cheddar-laced polenta with green apples both texture and comforting flavor. There is a fine miso-glazed lobster well worth trying, at $36.50. John Dory comes beneath black truffles, with a brioche-crusted poached egg. Do not miss ordering the French fries or the mini potato latkes that seem to disappear the minute they hit the table. Breads and muffins here are just as addictive.
The winelist has as much breadth and depth as everything else here, and the parent company has long been in the forefront of obtaining out of the ordinary bottlings in every price range.
Richard Leach has always been considered one of America's premier pastry chefs and it shows at Park Avenue Winter in dishes like his chocolate cube; the marvelous winter spice cake that tastes like Christmas Eve (right); the coconut crème brûlée, and the pistachio brown butter cake. "Holiday Horrors Revisited" is a paean--sort of--to three winter dessert items people tend to dread during the holidays--fruitcake, egg nog, and Manischewitz macaroons. Leach actually buys them all at the supermarket then combines the fruitcake with brie cheese, deep-fries it and serves it with warm with cranberry honey; the egg nog is made into a panna cotta and topped with rum foam; and the macaroons come with with amaretto ganache and are topped with crunchy chocolate crumbs and shredded white chocolate. Your call.
I can hardly wait for spring.
Park Avenue Winter is open for lunch and dinner daily, with Sat. & Sun. brunch. Dinner appetizers range from $13-$22, entrees $25.50-$48.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Blaufränkisch Vineyard (courtesy AWMB)
a bitter cold morning in Vienna on a fascinating tour of “The Third
Man” movie locations, I deserved lunch at Plachutta, famous for serving the
city’s best tafelspitz of
boiled meats, horseradish and sour cream. A pleasure as hearty as that
demanded a good Austrian wine—not a wimpy white grüner veltliner,
but a sturdy red. I looked at the wine card and saw several
blaufränkish label, none of which I was familiar with. I chose
blindly, a Johann Heinrich 2008,
and was rewarded with a wonderful example of this little-known wine
that only makes it out of Austria in small amounts.
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.
✉ Guidelines for submissions: QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes. When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below. Thanks. John Mariani
* During the month of March in San Francisco, Chez Papa Resto hosts a nightly Celebration of Delta Asparagus and Black Truffles, a $60 4-course dinner with paired wine offered for an additional $35. Call 415-546-4134 or visit chezpapasf.com.
On Mar. 1 in NYC, Provence Wine Council and Brasserie Cognac, presents a Vins De
Provence wine tasting featuring 26 of the top vineyards in the Provence
region of France followed by a three course Provencal pairing dinner
prepared by Chef Florian V. Hugo at Brasserie Cognac. Wine
tasting is free. $35 pp for dinner plus tax and gratuity and $15pp for
Provencal wine with dinner. Call 212-757-3600 or email
*From Mar. 1-4 in NYC, chef Bill Telepan presents a Harvest Menu featuring winter citrus fruits at Telepan. The tasting menu is designed so that each of the five courses spotlights a different citrus fruit. $75 pp, $60 additional for wine pairings by sommelier Aaron Von Rock. Call 212-580-4300.
March 1 in NYC, David Burke Townhouse will host a
4-course wine dinner with master sommelier and James Beard award winner
Larry Stone of Rubicon Estate $175 pp. Call 212-813-2121 or email
On March 1 in NYC, "Sing
for Your Supper" will be featured at Henry's,
an evening of song and Chef Mark Barrett's 3-course, prix-fixe
Spaghetti & Meatballs Dinner. $19; Italian-American varietal wines
half-price. Reservations required. . . . On
April 5 in NYC, "Sing for Your Supper" features pianist
Steven Blier, Call 212-866-0600 or visit www.henrysnyc.com.
On March 3, chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin hosts a dinner at The Pierre hotel in NYC, joined by
9 of the country’s finest chefs: Chefs Dan Barber (Blue Hill),
Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park), Gavin Kaysen (Café Boulud),
Anita Lo (Annisa), Laurent Manrique (Café de la Presse), George
Mendes (Aldea), Sam Talbot (The Surf Lodge) Michael White (Marea) and
Stephane Becht (The Pierre), each to cook a meal
comprised of their signature dishes for a table of 20 people.
$1,000 pp. This is part of a two-night celebration called Thank You
Tibet! held by The Tibet Fund to commemorate the 50th anniversary
of the Tibetan Diaspora. Call 212-213-5011 or write to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Proceeds go to The
On Mar. 3 in Charleston, SC,
McCrady’s presents “A
Taste of the South,” a 7-course dinner will feature McCrady’s Executive
Chef Sean Brock and former “Top Chef’s” Richard Blais and Eli Kirshtein
for a dinner showcasing the comfort of Southern foods with a unique
modern flair. $125 pp. Call 843-577-0025.
On March 4, in Santa Monica, CA,
One Pico, at Shutters on
the Beach, offers a wine dinner with special guest Peter Seghesio,
Owner of Seghesio Family Vineyards with cuisine by Chef Michael
Reardon. Taste Seghesio's renowned wines including the Venom, Omaggio,
Sonoma Zinfandel, and Arneais. $85 pp. Call 310-587-1717.
* On March 5 in Narragansett, RI, Trio presents a Casa Lapostolle wine dinner with a Melina Catelli, winery representative, paired with Chef Kevin DiLibero’s 4-course dinner. $65 pp. Call 401-792-4333.
On Mar. 5 in Dallas, Nana at Hilton Anatole will host
their monthly Friday Night Flight, a food and wine flight trio created
by Executive Chef Anthony Bombaci and Wine Steward Russell
Burkett. The event is $20 pp. Call 214-761-7470.
March 5-6, in Dallas, Savor Dallas is the largest premium
food and wine event in Texas and features a sampling of signature
cuisine from over 60 of Dallas-Fort Worth’s top chefs with selections
of over 400 premium wine varietals, top shelf cocktails and
hand-crafted beer and ales. Key events are in the acclaimed new ATT
Performing Arts Center and the host Sheraton Dallas Hotel in the heart
of downtown. Tickets $35-$125. pp. Call 888-728-6747 or
On March 6 in Schaumburg, ILL, Shaw’s Sushi Chef Naoki Nakashima
will lead an interactive Japanese sushi demoThis class will consist of
a Sashimi knife discussion, vegetable decorations for garnish, a
sashimi tasting, and a wasabi tasting. Lunch will include a shrimp and
vegetable tempura express lunch and a slice of pecan pie. Call
* On March 6 through March 14 in Atlanta, GA, diners will be able to enjoy the inaugural Buckhead Restaurant Week. The 9-day promotion will showcase the outstanding cuisine of the premier enclave’s best restaurants that will offer a prix-fixe, 3-course menu consisting of an appetizer, a main course and a dessert for $25 pp. Call 404-888-9348 or visit www.brwatlanta.com.
Starting Mar. 7 in Philadelphia,
Square 1682, a Kimpton
turns up the heat with the launch of a “Latino Night” Sunday dinner
series. Chef Guillermo Tellez introduces a 6-course tasting
menu that explores the cuisine of Latin America, and \mixologist
Bezuidenhout serves up South American-inspired specialty cocktails and
cerveza. $45 pp for dinner; 4 drink specials
additional. Call 215-563-5008.
On March 8 in Houston, Valentino Houston at Hotel Derek
presents A Window of Italian Scented Flavors in Texas featuring
renowned Sicilian Chef, Carmelo Chiaramonte, and food writer, Roberta
Corradin for a 6-course tasting dinner and wine pairings, exploring the
fusion of Tex-Mex and Italian. $100 pp. Call 713-850-9200.
* On Mar. 8, in NYC, City Winery celebrates International Women’s Day and kicks off “Divinale: Women of Wine Week” with a reception and tasting of 9 wines from Tuscany’s Castello Banfi estate, conducted by family proprietor Cristina Mariani-May. $55 pp. Call 212-608-0555 or e-mail email@example.com.
March 8, the 8th Annual “A Taste of Greenwich House” will be held at The Altman Building. NYC restaurants join together to
Greenwich House programs serving at-risk children, seniors and other
New Yorkers in need. VIP Reception provides guests with
access to restaurant tables and chance to mingle with top Chefs,
incl. Missy Robbins (A Voce), Joey Campanaro (The Little Owl,
Kenmare), Harold Dieterle (Perilla) and more. Call 212-991-0003.
Tickets are $100 in advance/$110 at door/$200 for VIP reception.
On March 13 Bosman’s Restaurant
at the Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl,
South Africa, holds the first in a series of four Gourmet
Evenings, hosted by Steenberg Vineyards wine-make John Louber, The
event, under the hand of executive chef Roland Gorgosilich, includes
canapés and a 5-course meal with paired wines. US$90
pp. For reservations: Christine@granderoche.co.za.
March 18 at The Lazy Goat in Greenville, S.C., 2009 chef
Moore will host chef Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill for a
collaborative dinner celebrating Southern female chefs. Chef Weaver
will subsequently host chef Moore for a dinner on April 20 at
Charleston Grill in Charleston, S.C. $65 pp at 864-679-5299. $100
pp at Charleston Grill 843-577-4522.
On Mar. 18 in NYC, The Four Seasons Restaurant celebrates
the Best Wines of Burgundy at a dinner and tasting with the geniuses
who make them: Thierry Matrot of Domaine Matrot, Bruno Colin of Domaine
Bruno Colin, Philippe Colin of Domaine Philippe Colin, & Guillaume
D’Angerville of Domaine D’Angerville. $150 pp. Call 212-754-9494.
From March 21- 28 in St.
MD, and the surrounding Eastern Shore communities, Talbot County Restaurant Week
features special pre-fixe menus at participating restaurants. Enjoy
free admission to area museums, a chamber music festival competition,
wine tastings and Chesapeake Film Festival will screen “Big
Night,” where attendees will be treated to the film’s
featured food and wine, following the movie. Five Gables Inn & Spa
is offering a special vacation package for visitors looking to ‘Dine
and Unwind.’ Visit www.diningtalbot.com; www.fivegables.com.
March 22 in Atlanta, GA,
Tom Colicchio will host General Manager and
Winemaker Jesse Lange of Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards for a
special Wine Tasting Dinner at Craft
Atlanta. Beginning at 7 p.m.,
guests will be guided by Colicchio and Lange through this unique
celebration of seasonal spring ingredients and wines. $155 pp. Please
From Mar. 22-28 in Chicago,
25 of the city's restaurants will offer fine dining at a deep
discount during Chicago Chef
Week. This 2nd annual event features cuisine from
Giuseppe Tentori of BOKA, Paul Virant of Vie, Michael Sheerin of
Blackbird, and Shawn McClain of Spring and Green Zebra, among others.
$30 pp dinner/ $20 pp lunch. Call 312-640-0640 or go to
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: Vienna with Fred Plotkin; Letter from Paris; Reinventing the NYC Museum Restaurant.
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.
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
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.
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