Las Vegas Bets Big on Itself, Part One
by John A. Curtas
New York Corner: John Dory Oyster Bar
by John Mariani
Man About Town: Galatoire's Restaurant, New Orleans
by Christopher Mariani
by John Mariani
GOOD NEWS! Esquire.com now has a new food section called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.
A Gentleman's Guide to Dining Etiquette
LAS VEGAS BETS BIG ON ITSELF, Part One
by John A. Curtas
"In Spain and Europe, even middle-class people are proud to spend their money on the best, fresh food from farmers and fisherman. But too many people here [read: Americans] have gotten spoiled and now want everything cheap." So said José Andrés (one of the chefs with the most food cred in America right now) to me as we discuss the most remarkable restaurant to open in Las Vegas in the past five years. Essentially, that restaurant is his competition -- sitting as it does a stone's throw from Jaleo (his new spot) across the third floor of The Cosmopolitan -- in what will soon be called The Ultimate Gourmet Food Court by every gastronome in America. "When you consider the freshness and quality he is bringing to the table, his prices aren't really that high at all," Andrés offers, as he cuts up a quickly-fried egg for me and mixes it with Spanish caviar. "It is the way people who care about what they eat do around the world. Americans just need to be taught."
Our conversation was about Estiatorio Milos, taking place while José is (literally) dashing to and fro, kibbitzing with customers, gently berating waiters, and rushing by my spot at the tapas bar to pop the occasional deep-fried quail egg with artichoke or molecular olive into my mouth. The effect is like trying to interview Andrés Iniestia during a soccer match, but in between his Spanish-flecked patter and good-natured ribbing of this restaurant writer, he is full of admiration for what Chef-owner Costas Spiliadis is doing across the hall.
What he's referring to is the conceit that underlies both his restaurant and Milos -- that of exquisite food meant to be shared. Both restaurants eschew the "I'll have the Dover sole" form of ordering in favor of making the ordering and eating of everything a communal experience. While Jaleo may trumpet its wacky, fabulous tapas served in a blizzard of small plates, Milos, as befitting the standard bearer for the culture that founded Western Civilization, prefers a more formal approach. Both restaurants are best experienced in groups of three to six-- the better to enjoy a variety of the bounty they offer, and at Milos, it's also the best way to get the most bang for your buck.
Consider this: a whole, three-pound fish will run your table around $150. (They don't serve fillets here, believing rightly, that flavor and freshness is lost by cutting up a fish before it is cooked.) Split two ways, both the cost and the amount of fish is more than the average couple would want to spend. Bring one or two more hungry souls to the table, though, and that pristine pisces now costs no more than the average strip steak. The same holds true for the appetizers and salads. The Eipirotaki salad -- a major mound of sliced cabbage dotted with dill, Bleu des Causses, and orange slices -- seems expensive at $16.50, but not if you split it four ways--and there is plenty to feed four. Thus are all items on this menu made for a table of at least three adults, making the price/person more than reasonable -- especially in the realm of high-end dining with such impeccable provisions.
Once you bite into a perfect piece of charred, slightly chewy octopus, or dip your lightly fried eggplant into a thick, tangy tzatziki sauce from another planet. Paper thin, fried zucchini accompany the eggplant in the "Milos Special," along with cubes of Graviera cheese saganaki. Crunch, cheese, yogurt and vegetables effectively becoming a celebration of all that is good and holy about the Mediterranean diet. Follow these with a platter of four spreads (tzatziki, fava, lemony hummus, and a silky taramosalata) and you'll start getting with the Peloponnesean program.
That program consists of a deceptively simple, two-page menu, with eleven appetizers on the left side, five salads and vegetables on the right, two Creekstone Farms steaks, Gleason Ranch lamb chops, and a single heading that says simply, "From The Sea." Under that heading are the entries: fish in sea salt, and Astakomakaronada (an Athenian lobster pasta for two that will set you back a cool $120). But the deliciousness of this place is in the fine print at the bottom of the menu, that refers you to Milos' "display" -- the huge fish/seafood/vegetable counter against the far wall, beside the open kitchen, where the day's catch is displayed for you to peruse and choose from.
Before you get to them, though, one appetizer is mandatory: avgotaraho aikieroto, aka bottarga, the famed roe of the Mediterranean gray mullet. One of the world's great delicacies, you will neither find nor taste a better version of this briny, nutty, haunting essence of the sea. Not too bad a deal for $32.
Of the whole fish, they beckon to you like Poseidon's soldiers, begging to be eaten so their sacrifice was not in vain. After you are seated, your waiter will ask if you'd like to view the display -- a cagey marketing move bent on capturing an already captive audience -- and will take you through the pedigree of each fish as if each were a personal friend. Clear-eyed with glistening skin, each species is a wonder of the edible ocean so prized by seafood aficionados. Order the lavraki (loup de mer) roasted under a crust of Mediterranean sea salt (yes, even the salt comes from a certain supplier prized by Spiliadis), and you will get the whole show from Executive Chef Pericles Koskinas as he carefully chips away the crust, then rolls back that skin without breaking it, before portioning out the dense-but-soft, fragrant flesh. A few capers and a lemon/olive oil emulsion of unmatched intensity is all you need to appreciate your piece of perfection.
Most of these swimmers are also offered raw, and while the presentation won't make any sushi chef jealous, the sparkling fineness of the meat will have you questioning what you ever saw in tuna tartare.
Landlubbers will feel right at home as well, since the provenance of the lamb chops (Gleason Ranch Sonoma) and the beef (Creekstone Farms) is as impeccable as their seasoning and roasting. We were lying in the weeds for those chops, expecting the same old, denuded, tasteless lamb that has become de rigueur in American restaurants ever since New Zealand figured out a way to sell frozen lamb by making it taste like de-natured beef. Instead, a big platter of chops arrived (again, enough for four), just to the medium side of rare -- instead of the other way around -- best showcasing their intense, lamb-ness.
There is a serene elegance to Milos, whose original is in Montreal and branches in NYC and Athens, that strikes as soon as you enter the low-ceilinged, softly lit space, and continues throughout every refined, discriminating ingredient and taste placed before you. From a simple plate of lemon-grilled heli (eel) to the sweetest, thickest, creamiest goat's milk yogurt circled with the best, thyme-infused honey you have ever tasted, this cuisine walks the walk of the best ingredients treated with the utmost respect.
The most interesting thing about Comme Ça (pronounced "kohm sah," meaning "like that") is that it isn't afraid to challenge nearby Bouchon and Mon Ami Gabi at their own game, that is, classic French bistro food. That Comme Ça thinks it can do so within a stone's throw of one and just a half mile from the other is a testament to the confidence of a baby-faced Californian chef named David Myers. After contemplating all this Gallic competition, you'll next notice CC's classic menu -- straight from the Rive Gauche in Paris: steak frites, omelets, soupe à l'oignon, steak tartare, that is a dead ringer for much of the same fare at the other two. The third thing you'll notice is the more aggressive seasonings Myers brings to that highly similar fare, like his steak tartare, and finally, after noticing all of those things, you'll see that everything seems to be being done on a slightly higher, and tastier plane than at Mon Ami Gabi (no small feat that), and can compete, tartare to tartare with anything Bouchon can throw at you.
After you've taken notice of all that, then swooned over your crispy skate wing Grenobloise -- sharply accented by capers and lemon, and bathed in brown butter -- and sat up and savored every last lardon in your salad frisée, you'll get knocked out by how fantastic the burger and fries are. Those fries are twice-fried in peanut oil, crisping them to a fare thee well, while allowing a strong potato flavor to burst from within. Dusted with some fleur de sel, they are as addictive as any fries in town and could foil Bouchon's in a french fry face-off. That burger is a flat out, mineral-rich, beefy, juicy delight, on a gorgeous lacquered bun, and dripping with good cheese. In a town now dripping with good ground beef, it is one of the best.
Equally arresting are the chicken diable and cheesy onion soup, along with a tarte flambé that even Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys would have to admire. When a dining companion ordered the chicken diable at one of our lunches, we scoffed at her pedestrian choice. Two bites later, and we were converts: its peppery crust might not pass muster in Paris (Parisians run away at the mere mention of a hot pepper), but provides a nice, multi-cultural kick to a superior piece of chicken meat. The basil and mustard sauces might also curl a Frenchman's toes, but were carefully rendered and disappointing only in there not being more of them.
time in Parisian bistros that most
spend in restaurants their entire lives -- but to these taste buds, it
best everyday food in the world, and Myers’ renditions of these
classics are so
spot on, you could take them to the Left Bank. By the way, CC is an
offshoot of the Los Angeles original.
AND ONE MORE OFF THE STRIP. . .
The name means “Charcoal House Enjoyment,” and from the minute it opened in May, 2008, gourmands of all stripes have flocked here to taste Chef/owner Mitsuo Endo’s precise renderings of robata-cooked food. For the uninitiated, robata or robatayaki cooking is a simple yet sublime form of charcoal grilling, using Japanese oak charcoal to cook vegetables, fish, and meat around a small, pyramidal, glowing pyre of bright orange logs. But this charcoal house does not live by grilled foods alone. Endo’s house-made, fried, agedashi tofu and foie gras soups have become legendary, and legendary is what his kaiseki dinner is about to become.
A kaiseki dinner is Japanese eating at its most structured, complex and beautiful. Japanese chefs consider it an art form balancing all the senses with the color, appearance and texture of its multiple courses. Everything from the seasonal ingredients to the serving vessels they come in (or on) must complement and build upon your total immersion in the dishes and techniques of the chef. No detail is ignored, nor considered too small to perfect. It is to traditional, barbaric western eating (giant slabs of protein, huge bowls of starch) what heavy metal is to haiku.
what looks like a child’s wooden toy. Your server instructs you to push
fresh Takigawa tofu through the box and into a bowl by pressing on the
handle, and presto – ribbons of soft, silky curd magically drop into a
broth of sweet/savory intensity. Next, a platter is presented
marinated smelts (ayu nanbantsuke) alongside a tiny whole
crispy crab (meant to
consumed whole), asparagus coated in crispy rice cracker crumbs, and
topped with salmon roe – each bite harmonizing with what has come
From there a dobinmushi clear soup of pike eel, chicken, shrimp and ginko nuts, then sashimi of almost Bar Masa-like freshness, followed by wooden spoons upon which rest two circles of tofu – one seasoned with green tea sea salt, the other with a grapeseed, balsamic soy glaze. Even as Endo ratchets up the protein – with a foie gras egg custard that will bring tears to your eyes, and an ebishinjo (shrimp) soufflé suffused with a hidden, umami depth charge of uni (sea urchin) – he is careful to keep anything from coating your palate with fat, or sticking to your ribs with starch -- the better to keep your senses heightened at all times.
The seven different sakes poured during the feast also help, rather than hinder, your appreciation of each mind-blowing course. The other animal proteins making an appearance are Kobe beef fillet seared on hot stones and flamed with cognac -- homage to the world’s greatest beef – and gamy, funky, softshell turtle meat encased in a gray-green turtle aspic that made for the single strangest thing we’ve tasted in years.
food can be subtle to the point of invisibility, but Endo’s kaiseki
highlights this love of delicacy while bringing forth enough strong
captivate his American eating audience. It is a Japanese food education
The kaiseki dinner must be ordered in advance by calling the restaurant. Depending upon the number of courses and types of sake ordered, the cost will run approximately $75-$150/person. Open for dinner Mon.-Sat.
Part Two of
Dining in Vegas will appear next week.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
JOHN DORY OYSTER BAR
1196 Broadway (at 29th Street in the Ace Hotel)
Ken Friedman and chef/partner April Bloomfield's Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village kicked off the gastro-pub fad a few years back, and the little corner eatery in Greenwich Village hasn't had any empty table since. So, too, their next venture, The Breslin, has had customers clinging to the rafters to get a table. It was with some puzzlement, then, that their first John Dory restaurant in Chelsea did not fare well, despite good reviews. It closed in 2009 with the promise of a relocation: John Dory Oyster Bar, in the Ace Hotel, delivers on that promise.
It is not--how does one say?--a full-fledged restaurant, insofar as it takes no reservations, has only high tables and chairs, no main courses, and no bread is brought to the table. The waiters seem to dress as they please, as do customers. The décor resembles higher end pubs and seafood houses in London, with aquarium globes holding live fish, marine objets d'art around, but no soft surfaces whatsoever. This means the place gets very, very loud, and they pump up the jam after 9 PM. So what exactly is the appeal of John Dory Oyster Bar? Well, it's the food itself, served up by an amiable crew that starts with a warm welcome at the hostess station, where you will usually be told there is going to be a wait for a table. In midweek, this does not seem an agonizing problem, but on weekends you'll be standing at the bar for quite a while. A very sensible wine list--neither too big nor too small, with some good bottlings under $50, though not many--has been put together by the vivacious sommelier Carla Rzeszewski (left), whose guidance you should take about what goes best with that on the menu.
The menu is short, categorized as Crudo, Raw Bar, Bar Snacks, Small Plates, and Dessert. There isn't any pretense about anything here, and if you're up for a good nosh with friends, John Dory Oyster Bar can be a lot of fun. The bar snacks are not jimmy sticks and potato chips: they are items like parsley-anchovy toast, chilled crab and avocado, and Parker House rolls with char pate. You can also get these terrific Parker House rolls on their own, for $4.50, but it seems a little chintzy to charge for bread. You can also spend $3.50 on roasted peanuts with garlic and rosemary, which are pretty addictive.
Start off with those raw specimens, from sea trout tartare with crème fraîche and caraway to hiramasa (amberjack) with sprightly ginger. The night I visited they had sweet Nantucket bay scallops, and with just a little lemon and olive, they were superb, served at just the right temperature at their peak of flavor, though they may not always be available in what is always a too-short season.
From the Raw Bar comes a wide array of seasonal oysters big and small, east and west, and since the one thing in the world I seem allergic to is oysters, I'll take my friend and colleague, Peter Meltzer of Wine Spectator to pronounce the six or more species he sampled first rate. Chilled Dungeness crab was plenty meaty, and you have to dig for the fattest parts in the body cavity. Chilling does not, however, really help with this shellfish.
The small plates live up to their name--with none more than $16--so sharing is not easy. There's a fine, creamy crab and coconut soup, and the tender grilled octopus with potatoes and garlicky aïoli is as good as it gets. There is also a panade, a term not often seen on American menus or, these days, even on French menus, where it is usually spelled panada. It describes any of a range of pastes used to thicken forcemeats or a soup made from bread, stock, milk and butter. At John Dory Oyster Bar the stock is lobster, and the bread soaks up all the flavors, rather like an onion soup. The night I sampled it, however, salt nudged out the rest of the flavors.
There are a few simple desserts, and you should try the Eccles cake, made with a short pastry and dotted with currants (which also gives the dessert one of those unsavory Brit colloquialism--"squashed fly cake"), which apparently originated in the English town of Eccles.
John Dory Oyster Bar is all that it wants to be, and for a casual meal, the food is very good. Its current success may put off those who have little patience with waiting, and a ten-dollar taxi to and from makes such waits even more unpleasant. But know all that beforehand, go with a couple of good friends early or late, have a cocktail or a beer at the bar, and you'll have a good time without too much expense.
John Dory Oyster Bar is open daily for lunch and dinner. Raw bar, $3 to $35; bar snacks, $3.50 to $11; small plates, $4 to $17.
MAN ABOUT TOWN
by Christopher Mariani
Photos by Louis Sahuc
209 Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street appears slightly different in broad daylight than it does during the tail end of an untamed Thursday night fueled by Hurricanes, Jesters and Hand Grenades, just a few of the potent yet easy-to-drink cocktails served throughout the Quarter. I should know, I was there. A late night on Bourbon may not be for everyone, but it is definitely worth experiencing once in your life. Nestled in between the neon beer signs, endless T-shirt shops, bars and gentlemen’s club is Galatoire’s, a true New Orleans restaurant. A lunch at Galatoire’s is as restorative as the breeze off the Mississippi.
When asked what makes Galatoires so wonderfully unique, I respond, “The answer is easy, it is the hospitality, service and food.” That may seem like a fairly typical answer to what makes for any good restaurant, but few are this good anywhere. Galatoire’s, along with nearby Brennan’s on Royal Street, offers each and every customer a feeling of importance. When you walk into either restaurant, you will be immediately approached with a smile and treated as if you were somebody of magnitude, southern hospitality at its finest. There is a common respect between Galatoire’s and its guests, a bond which has been formed over decades of consistency and tradition.
Friday lunch is the prestige day to eat at Galatoire’s, a day when reservations are taken only for the upstairs dining room. It is not unusual for longtime regulars to pay surrogates to line up outside at six a.m. to assure a downstairs table at half past eleven. The downstairs dining room has never accepted reservations and never will; it is strictly first come first serve. Guests literally huddle and eagerly wait outside until the doors finally open and then quickly shuffle inside to claim their table. All diners are dressed impeccably, men sporting their best blazers, shirts and ties (many with bow ties), pocket handkerchiefs sticking up out of almost every jacket pocket, and most men flaunting a Panama planter’s hat, of course, removing it before sitting down. (By the way, Meyer The Hatter is heralded as the best hat store in New Orleans.) Every woman, peacock in spirit, is propped up on high heels, wearing a colorful dress, showing off her finest and most expensive jewelry, her hair looking as good if not better than on the day of her wedding. It is a statement to be seen at Galatoires on Friday for lunch, and many of the customers have not missed a lunch in over 20 years.
The clientele is an absolutely wonderful complement to the elegant and classic décor. Starched white cloths gracefully drape each table, silverware appears to be polished before each service, the walls are blanketed by gleaming antique mirrors and the waiters all wear black tuxedos. The entire service staff is made up of professionals, men of a certain age who have decades of experience under their belts. They take pride in their craft and are as important to Galatoire's as is the executive chef or maître d'. Without taking a glance at your menu, you can easily have a 15-second conversation with your waiter and feel confident that he will bring you exactly what you want. If they have it, they will serve it, no “let me check with the kitchen” responses here. Most waiters will have either a trace or an abundance of an unmistakable New Orleanean accent, a small but notable charm that adds character to the experience.
The menu is filled with lush portions of fresh lump crabmeat, fried shrimp, oysters and seasonal crawfish, some covered with Hollandaise, others a rémoulade. I started with a mound of rich crabmeat maison; sautéed crawfish in a cocktail sauce with a strong presence of horseradish; shrimp etouffée and the season’s first taste of fried softshell crab. The meat in each bite was succulent and full of a distinct flavor found only in Louisiana. The portions at Galatoire’s are generous and meals are not meant to be rushed. It is typical for guests to linger until 4 p.m. after arriving hours earlier, ordering more food and more wine.
For entrees we ordered a plate of fried shrimp and the sautéed pompano smothered in rich, buttery sliced almonds with a touch of lemon. The food at Galatoire’s is simple. There is no manipulation of ingredients. They start with great ingredients and finish with great food. For dessert, order the bananas foster, a dish actually created at nearby Brennan’s.
There was a time when Galatoire’s seemed like it was coasting, resting on its considerable reputation and a crowd as faithful as a Catahoula to its master. But after some finessing by new partners, the place itself looks as if it had opened yesterday, and the kitchen has never turned out better food, now among the finest in New Orleans.
There is a timeless feel to Galatoire’s that is difficult to find anywhere outside of New Orleans—even in New Orleans it is a rarity-- especially in restaurants across the country that tend to quickly jump on the trendy bandwagon in an attempt to stay modern. Many restaurants continuously go in and out of style, names and menus changing yearly, yet Galatoire's has been doing what they do best, serving real food and offering nonpareil service, and I suppose that is why they have had a line out the door since opening in 1905. It makes you wonder if being stylish and hip is really all that cool?
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NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
With White Wines, There’s No Time to Wait
by John Mariani
I won’t tell you to pour your five-year-old white wines down the drain, but if you don’t drink them ASAP, you may well want to.
The simple fact is, 99.9 percent of all the white wines in the world do not age well after a year or two and are at their best upon release, which may very well be the springtime after the autumn harvest.
This was brought into focus for me yet again after tasting a bottle of 2008 La Follette Manchester Ridge Chardonnay from Mendocino Ridge. At $48 it is among the pricier California chardonnays; at 15 percent alcohol it is also one of the most potent.
It’s a big wine, well made in the bold California style, not too much oak, but I felt the wine, now less than two and a half years old, was not going to get any better in the bottle. There may have been some oxidation or it may be going through what is called in the trade a “dumb” period when some wines hibernate and later flourish.
So while I enjoyed the wine with a fillet of simply grilled red snapper, I was glad I didn’t have a whole case of it in my cellar. More and more with white wines, I’m drinking them as soon after I buy them from the wine store as possible. And believe me, if a wine store is selling—always at a discount—a white wine more than three years old, you can bet it’s because it hadn’t sold very well upon release.
My views on this subject are certainly not lost on the vast majority of winemakers around the world who never give much thought to aging their white wines for more than a few months or a year in the first place. I have, of course, had impressive examples of muscadet, pinot blanc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, and riesling several years old, and the greatest of all German riesling dessert wines are aged for many years and can be drunk with delight even decades later.
One of the white wines I’ve always been amazed by, which I’ve written about here, is Valentini’s Trebbiano d’abruzzo, a varietal made in huge bulk by other producers and disdained by many in Italy as nothing but a workhorse white. Somehow Valentini manages to make his trebbiano long-lived, and I’ve had bottles a decade old that are still brilliant.
So, too, connoisseurs and producers of the finest white Burgundies insist that the very finest, like Puligny-Montrachet, Batard-Montrachet, and the rare Montrachet itself (which sells for about $2000) need at least three and perhaps even ten years of aging to achieve true maturity. Even then I’m skeptical and have no plans to wait that long, even if I could afford such prices. It’s almost a moot point, though, since these wines are such rarities that they are well beyond all but a Hong Kong wine auction bidder’s budget.
The Brits have long exhibited a preference for what they call an “onion skin taste” of old vintage Champagnes, which comes from a certain amount of oxidation, which does nothing for my palate. I have tasted some fine old vintage Champagnes and applaud their longevity, but I much prefer younger, vibrant examples precisely because they are so fresh and blooming with fruit and acid.
In any case, most people don’t order expensive ancient white wines, especially in more casual restaurants, like New York’s new Lyon Bistro (right), where the best-selling wines are sauvignon blanc and French chardonnay. “I personally love old Chablis,” says owner Francois Latapie, “but I don’t have the clientele for it here. They do like St. Véran, Macon, and Alsatian riesling, and the vintages I stock are the most recent, 2009 and soon 2010.”
There are, however, fine dining restaurants that proudly toe the line for older white wines. “I look for wines that have phenomenonal mineral force, concentration of fruit and can benefit from aging,” says Ruben Sanz Ramiro (left), sommelier at New York’s Veritas restaurant, which stocks 3200 labels and 75,000 bottles, 25 percent of them white. “They become better integrated and complex aromatically. We have old white burgundies and even California chardonnay going back to the 1970s—Stony Hill, Chalone, Mount Eden. They are absolutely sound, with extraordinary acidity that protects the wines over time. In most cases, when I recommend them, in most cases, our guests are really pleased and surprised.”
You take a chance with every bottle of wine you open—some might be corked, others oxidized by accident—which is why a good wine steward is critical when ordering expensive wines in a restaurant. But with whites, youth trumps age most of time, which is why, when a waiter at Napa & Co. in Stamford, CT, recently apologized because the bottle of Spanish albariño I ordered was a younger vintage than the one on the list, I just smiled and said, “Even better! Let’s see how it tastes."
John Mariani's 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.
a London poll, more than half
of British women pay for themselves on a first date, even though men
to pay. Only a
quarter of women
said that they thought men should pay for a first date, while three
said they themselves should foot the bill. Fifty-five percent of the
men expected to
pay the full bill on a first
date, with 41 percent of the men using
discount vouchers on a first date.
In Dover, PA, 37-year-old
allegedly stuffed a bag of frozen
shrimp down his pants then attacked a grocery
store security guard, who sustained
minor injuries. McDaniel was
caught in the store's parking lot by the security guard and
a bystander. He is being held on $10,000 bail.
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