Odessa Travel Poster c. 1930 (artist unknown)
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by John Mariani
by John Mariani
Cleveland gets a bad rap consistently from those who have probably never set foot in this town that straddles the east and midwest. Home to a slew of excellent museums of art and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (right) that is well worth visiting, as well as one of America's great symphony orchestras and enough leading medical centers to make Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston envious, Cleveland has a broad if not very deep dining scene, sadly ill served by its local food scribblers, who seem more interested in finding a cheap eatery than a fine restaurant.
I get to the city about once a year now and always find places that rank with the best around the Midwest. Here are two of the new ones.
L’ALBATROS BRASSERIE & BAR
11401 Bellflower Road
Interiors photos: Kevin Reeves
Three decades ago Chef Zachary Bruell opened one of the era’s most innovative nouvelle-style restaurants--Z Contemporary Cuisine. That he did so in the then staid dining climate of Cleveland was all the more remarkable, so he deserved all the praise he got back then. Ten years later he sold Z and didn’t re-appear on the Cleveland dining scene until 2004, opening a casual seafood house called Parallax, then a high-end fusion dining room at the Cleveland Clinic named Table 45--all cutting edge of their moment.
Restless as ever, Bruell (below) has expanded his grip on the city's food culture by taking over a roomy old carriage house restaurant and turning it into a classic French brasserie that exemplifies just how flexible that genre is, despite falling in and out of the spotlight.
You enter into a sexily lighted white brick bar area with aluminum chairs; to the left is the main dining room, which looks out over the leafy patio and leads to another room done with red brick walls and tiled floors, a fireplace, and large painting of a woman with haunting eyes who looks like a heroine in a Russian novel. To the right of the bar is another dining room, very minimalist, all in white, a little cold compared to the warm ambiance of the other rooms. Tablecloths would help everywhere, and it can get loud everywhere in the evening.
It's one thing to find all one's favorite bistro/brasserie dishes on a menu done well but it's doubly rewarding when you can see the personality of the chef in each one. So, nostalgic dishes like braised leeks with Dijon mustard, a chicken liver and foie gras mousseline, and good old hearty cassoulet bubbling with white beans and duck confit were not just rendered impeccably but with a real dose of spirit and Midwestern generosity. Becoming wonderfully common in American restaurants, charcuterie plays a major role at L'Abatros, including creamy terrine of pork and veal, and a chicken liver and excellent, well-seasoned, nicely fatted housemade sausages.
Yet that is Bruell’s talent—to take those old dishes and to add his own verve so that they seem amazingly new, as when he combines Midwestern walleye pike with lobster quenelles (below) swimming in devastatingly rich sauce amèricaine, or sublimates the whole idea of French toast by riddling it with wild mushrooms and a lashing of balsamic sauce. You might start off with a textbook perfect onion soup gratinee, bubbly and steaming hot, sweet with caramelized onions and plenty of Gruyère.
All true bistros serve mussels but Bruell brings along crisp, hot pommes frites with an aïoli dipping sauce to gild the lilies. There is also roast chicken with a rosemary-lemon glaze, a grilled sausage platters, and skatewing is expertly sautéed in brown butter than given a dash of vinegar. The pizzas and pissaladière are nothing to get overly excited about, and the menu is a tad too long, appended by daily specials like oxtail ravioli and beef short ribs with Yukon gold gratin. There is a cheese service here that is wholly admirable, so you could get along with just some charcuterie and cheese and a bottle of wine from a solid list and be very happy.
You've got to have desserts, though, in all their Midwestern largess--a warm, chewy chocolate brownie with crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream; a frozen lemon soufflé; and good old crème caramel and chocolate napoleons.
At L’Albatros, the more things change, in Bruell's hands, the better and better they get. His latest venture is an Italian restaurant downtown that I have yet to visit. But I can't wait to.
L'Albatros is open daily for lunch through dinner, with appetizers $6-$12, entrees $16-$23.
BISTRO on LINCOLN PARK
2391 West Eleventh Street
a good deal of vitality in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, mostly
to medium-sized restaurants often set within charming old homes. You
even get a pretty green park thrown in at Bistro on Lincoln Park (which
replaced Sage on these premises), along with enthusiastic young chef
Peter Joyce (below) and his
Megan. Peter has worked in good area kitchens,
including Salmon Dave’s Pacific Grille, Pier W, and Blue Point
Grille, and you get a good sense of his focus when you hear that just
about everything you will eat was made on premises, which have a clean,
cozy look of blond wood floors and celadon painted walls, with
three dining rooms that include an even cozier little adjunct (seats
Bistro on Lincoln Park is open nightly for
dinner from 4:30 PM. Appetizers run $6-$15, entrees $16-$21.
is beyond me why
traditional Middle Eastern cuisine has not wholly captivated an
American dining public that has easily embraced Mexican, Italian,
French, and Spanish cuisine but still seems to regard the food of
Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Greece, and Turkey as somehow a third-level
alternative, despite the fact that the ingredients used are the basis
for the rest that straddle the Mediterranean. There is certainly
nothing exotic about the ingredients (although I don't know why anyone
likes eating grape leaves), and the savoriness of the cuisine is of a
type that sophisticated New Yorkers, at least, should love with
the same degree of intensity they do other cuisines.
Appetizers are $6.50-$8, entrees $18-$29.
There are two mezes fixed price dinners for 4 people at $45 and $50.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
To me, the best days are those spent in various stages of discovery: Of a new restaurant, of an unfamiliar ingredient, or of a grape variety or region I’d never heard of before. Genuine discovery, however--the kind that shifts how I view the world of flavor--is rare.
Which is why the three days I spent in New York, at Vino 2010 in the beginning of February, was such a treat.
For the second year in a row, the Italian Trade Commission played host to Italian Wine Week, a gargantuan gathering of producers, writers, and members of the trade in New York. From February 2nd to the 6th, well over a thousand wine professionals descended upon the city (the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was the center of gravity) to attend seminars, panel discussions, wine dinners, and tastings. And, as is so often the case, it was the unexpected aspects of the program that made the biggest impression.
With a wine history that stretches back millennia, and with countless indigenous grape varieties, Italy has the potential to be a goldmine for wine lovers. Unfortunately--and this is the case with so much of the wine world--the vast majority of consumers stick with relatively familiar grape varieties from the same well-known regions of the country when the time comes to open a bottle of Italian wine. Of course, a country with Italy’s incredible diversity of terroirs and winemaking traditions is about far more than the handful of grape varieties that most people are familiar with--Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, etc.--and the regions with which they’re most comfortable. (These wines are often great, to be sure, but they are certainly not exhaustive of what Italy’s wine life consists of.)
The great benefit of immersing yourself in several days of dialogue and tasting like the programs at Vino 2010 provided, then, is having the opportunity to explore those dark little nooks and crannies that may not constitute the main body of its contemporary winemaking culture, but that certainly contribute a real added sense of depth and soul.
The first seminar I attended focused on what the program called “the new generation of Southern reds.” The topic of the lecture and tasting was the wines of Calabria, the region at the toe of the Italian boot where a sense of loyalty and respect for the traditional, native grape varieties has helped prevent them from disappearing altogether, said wine writer Alfonso Cevola, who led the seminar.
How fortunate for us. The wines we tasted, though crafted from varieties that are generally unfamiliar to even passionate Italian wine lovers--Gaglioppo, Magliocco, Greco Nero, and others--generally possessed the holy trinity for wine enjoyment: Expressiveness, terroir-specificity, and idiosyncrasy. The Senatore Vini Ciro Rosso Classico Riserva “Arcano” 2006, for example, produced with 100% Gaglioppo, possessed an aroma that fell somewhere between the funk of a container of dried porcini and the prettier perfume of a jar of herbes de Provence. The palate--darker, spicier, and filled with ripe cherries--contained an edge of tea-like bitterness that was both totally unexpected and utterly charming. At the beginning of the program, Mr. Cevola instructed the attendees to put aside our preconceptions about what to expect from the wines; Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the rest, he explained, would not necessarily provide an adequate framework for appreciating the more “wild” flavors of these ones. He was right: Their uniqueness is exactly what made them so appealing.
On the opposite end of Italy, up in Friuli, the wines, expectedly, are quite different. And while the reds I tasted were lovely (I’m a fan of Refosco), it was the whites that grabbed the lion’s share of my attention at the Friuli dinner held at Le Cirque. This was a unique and far too uncommon way to experience a particular region’s wines: It was set up as a walk-around tasting and dinner, with chefs from restaurants in the region providing appropriate pairings for the wines.
My wine of the night was Conte d’Attimis-Maniago’s Bianco Ronco Broilo 2005 from the Colli Orientali del Friuli, a wonderfully unique Chardonnay - Pinot Bianco blend whose grapes were dried for 40 days prior to pressing, lending the wine a rich, nutty character that was perfect both on its own as well as alongside the polentina con ricotta mele e rafano, a polentina with ricotta, apple, and fresh-shaved horseradish. I was also charmed by the range of thoroughly gulpable Friulanos, Ribolla Giallas, and Sauvignons. These are whites that more people should be familiar with: Their combination of fruit, minerality, and refreshment are irresistible.
The seminars ran the gamut from an excellent discussion on the role that social media plays in the wine world to a tasting and seminar on Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and covered a wealth of topics in between. There were other wine dinners, extensive tastings, and ample opportunities to explore what has been for millennia, and still remains today, one of the most diverse, complex, and rewarding wine cultures in the world.
Even now, and even among professionals, there is an entire universe of unexplored Italian wine territory that is more than deserving of attention. As a wine, food, and travel writer, engaging in exactly the kind of work that I did at Vino 2010, in exactly that sort of exploration and discovery, is what really gets me excited about the future of the wine world, both in Italy and elsewhere.
You don’t need a monocle or an ascot to appreciate that.
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
PETA is seeking to raise
to place a life-size
rendition of the founder of KFC in Corbin, KY ( home of the first KFC., made entirely of
to radiate "the smell of the crowded, filthy sheds in which chickens
are forced to live out their short lives before being killed for KFC's
WRITING 101: Do Not Try to Write
on an Empty Brain
"True story: Years ago,
I invited my buddy Steve over to watch a game. He offered to pick up
some wings. I offered to call in the order. Delirious with anticipation
(beer! football! chicken skin!), my eyes rolled back and my fingers,
suddenly trembling, dialed.
✉ 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
On Mar. 7 thru Mar. 31 in Washington,
DC, Art and Soul,
located in The Liaison Capitol Hill, an Affinia Hotel, will offer a
prix-fixe 50th Birthday Menu in celebration of celebrity chef/owner Art
Smith’s birthday. Executive Chef Travis Timberlake developed the
3-course menu of Chef Art’s favorite foods. $50 pp. Call
202-393-7777 or visit www.artandsouldc.com.
* Through March in Livermore, CA, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards will be hosting their 1st Annual Wine Month, offering all wines by the bottle half-off for those who dine. Guests are invited to choose from the restaurant's selection of over 400 wines. Call 925-456-2450 or visit www.wentevineyards.com/restaurant.
* On Mar. 9 in Vail, CO, Larkspur Restaurant will host a Guest Chef Dinner featuring Mark Dommen from One Market Restaurant in San Francisco. Five courses with wine pairings for $125 pp. Call 970-754-8050. Visit www.larkspurvail.com/events.
* From March 10-14, the Brunello Restaurant at the Baglioni Hotel London will be hosting guest chef Chef Pino Lavarraof the Rossellini’s at Palazzo Sasso, in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, the first in the series of seasonal guest chef events. £95 pp. Call 0207 368 5900.
On March 10 in Yountville, CA,
Chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega will
prepare a special dinner with fChef Lachlan Patterson of Frasca in
Boulder, CO. Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, also of Frasca, will be at
Bottega to pair wines from their own label, Scarpetta, with the
4-course tasting menu, plus a tasting of Chef
Chiarello’s Ribolla Gialla. Call 707-945-1050.
* On March 11, Petrossian will celebrate the 25th year located in the landmark Alwyn Court building on NYC’s Upper West Side with a CAVIAR-centric 4-course prix fixe menu – from amuse through dessert and coffee – at $90 pp. Guests should mention Anniversary Menu when reserving. Call 212-245-2214.
* On March 13 & March 17, in Chicago, The Hunt Club will host two St. Patrick’s Day parties featuring “The Irish Threeway”--a “quaffer” bomb shot with the large bottom bulb containing 11 ounces of Guinness and the small top bulb containing one ounce of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Bushmills Irish Whiskey for $7. Additional food and drink specials for March 17 include $5 “Stuffed Blue Burger” and $5 specialty martinis. Call 312-988-7887.
* On Mar. 14 in Sonoma, CA, the Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa’s Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar are presenting their 4th Annual Salt and Sparkling Wine Dinner featuring a 5-course dinner paired with sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer Winery. Presented by the team of Chef Janine Falvo and Sommelier Chris Sawyer. Resort & Spa. $95 pp. Call 707-931-2042.
*From March 15-28, The Tarrytown House Estates on the Hudson is offering a special package for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, which features prix-fixe specials at all the finest restaurants in the Hudson Valley. The Tarrytown House Estates package incl. overnight accommodations and full American breakfast for two in the historic mansion. Its restaurant, The Cellar, will also offer 3-course dinners for $28. Call 800-553-8118 or check their Website at www.tarrytownhouseestate.com.
On March 16, April 6 and May 4, in Bellevue,
WA, "the Scandinavian Wine Hacks" - Erik Liedholm and Lars
Ryssdal, will present a series of wine classes at Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar.
The March class explores the Northern Italian wine regions of Piedmont
& Tuscany, the April class spotlights Bordeaux, and the May
finale focuses on the Pacific Northwest. $90 each or $240 for the
three-class series. Call Erik Liedholm at 425-456-0010 ext 46.
* On March 25 in Calabasas,
CA, Saddle Peak Lodge
presents an evening with Semler Vineyards. Executive Chef Adam Horton
will pair a four-course dinner. $95 pp. Seating limited to 45
guests. Call 818-222-3888.
* On Mar. 29 in San
Diego, Urban Solace
restaurant will welcome Jews and gentiles alike to an Urban Seder led
by Sam the Cooking Guy (Sam Zien) and restaurant critic Steve
Silverman, to raise money for Jewish Family Service’s “Project SARAH,”
supporting survivors of domestic abuse. $90 for adults, including
wine, and $75 for children. E-mail Debi Saltzberg at
email@example.com, call 619-295-6464 or visit www.urbansolace.net.
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: SARASOTA AND THE CIRCUS; Smart Deals: A Multisport Trip with ROW Adventures in Idaho, Montana and Washington; Butterfield & Robinson in 2010.
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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