Lauren Chapin, Robert Young, Jane Wyatt and Elinor Donahue in the TV
series "Father Knows Best" (1954-1960)
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!
TURIN: HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT, PART ONE
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: JONES WOOD FOUNDRY
by John Mariani
MAN ABOUT TOWN: GAZALA PLACE
by Christopher Mariani
WINE: AMERICAN SAUVIGNON BLANCS' STYLES TOUGH TO PIN DOWN
by John Mariani
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THIS WEEK: The Best Desserts of 2011 (So Far).
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TURIN: Hiding in Plain Sight
by John Mariani
Photos by Galina Dargery
“Not even the Italians know Turin! They only know FIAT! FIAT! FIAT!”
So said Michele, a spry, elegant, elderly Turinese who took my wife and me for a cup of rich bittersweet coffee and chocolate called a “capriccio” at the historic Caffè Baratti e Milano (below), opened in 1875 on Turin’s broad Piazza Castello. We’d met him just minutes before on our search for the equally famous café named Bicerin, only to learn from Michele that it was closed on Wednesdays.
He didn’t seem troubled by his statement that the world outside of Piedmont, including the rest of Italy, did not regard his hometown as worth visiting, unless it was to see the Automobile Museum. “It is not a bad thing not to have so many tourists,” said Michele, who had a salt-and-pepper beard and wore an artfully thrown scarf around his shoulders. He never gave us his last name and who seemed to have retired to the life of a boulevardier known to every bartender and barrista in Turin.
“Look around you,” he said, smiling. “Turin is never noisy, never crowded, except”—his eyes rolled back—“during those Winter Olympics! So we Torinesi have our restaurants and cafés all to ourselves most of the time. Our mercato sells every kind of food and wine you could possibly want, and that new place EATaly is just a few kilometers that way.” He waved his hand in the general direction of the gargantuan food market and restaurant complex established in 2007 in the out-of-the-way Lingotto district. He shrugged. “Maybe I visit someday.” And then he was off, saying he was meeting friends at a trattoria whose name he neglected to share with us.
I must admit that I, too, had little knowledge or interest in Turin, having only paid brief visits to the city in the past while attending a food conference or simply passing through to tour the beauty of the Piedmontese countryside and wine country, where some of the region’s most noted restaurants, like Combal Zero in Rivoli, Locanda del Pilone in Alba, and Delle Antiche Contrade in Cuneo, are located. My earlier visits had, however, disabused me of any thought that Turin was a drab, self-absorbed northern industrial city. It is worth noting that director Michelangelo Antonioni used Milan in “La Notte” (1961), Rome in “L’Eclisse” (1962), and Ravenna in “Il Deserto Rosso” (1964)—not Turin—to depict the deadening effect of industrialization on the soul of modern Italy.
Europe, justly famous for its long, graceful series of arcades, the
its vast piazzas, and its stately and highly efficient grid pattern. The Po River flows as majestically
through Turin as the Arno does through Florence and the Tiber through
FIAT has, of course, dominated and buoyed Turin’s fortunes since 1899 (it still produces 37 percent of Italy’s GNP) and had an enormous hand in the post-war Italian Economic Miracle called Il Boom, when it released the two cylinder Fiat 500 (Cinquecento) in 1957 (left), which was both very efficient and affordable for upwardly mobile Italians. Still, the Torinesi are quick to remind people that their city was in fact the first capital of an Italy unified in 1861 under Victor Emmanuel II, whose Royal Palace, set in the huge square entered from the broad Via Roma, is a spectacular example of a baroque opulence intended to reflect the proud independence of Piedmont, which only 50 years earlier had been annexed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Upon invading Italy in 1800, the young Corsican general faced 20,000 Piedmontese and 11,500 Austrians, but his tactical genius divided his enemies and, in embarrassment, King Victor Amadeus II ceded Piedmont to the Corsican, who immediately demolished Turin’s city gates and bastions and renamed the Royal Palace as the Imperial Palace—a decree that horrified and humiliated the Torinesi. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815 freed Piedmont, whose power increased in the decades leading up to 1861, when it became the capital of the new Italy.
As an imperial city, Turin’s artistic treasures are exceptionally fine, all in baroque wrappings. Although there is no museum the equivalent of Florence’s Uffizi or the Brera in Milan, the Royal Palace itself (below)—once residence of the powerful Savoy dynasty, taken over by the Italian government in 1946--is crammed with notable works. My wife and I were amazed at room after room of imperial salons, including Queen Maria Theresa’s quarters, in every color of marble, each with trompe l’oeuil painted ceilings, and we were particularly impressed with the palace’s collections of exquisite tapestries and Chinese porcelain.
We toured the city’s Egyptian Museum at the Academy of Science, considered one of the finest of its kind in the world, on top of which sits the admirable Sabauda Gallery, with works by Bronzino, Veronese, Jan Van Eyck, and Van Dyck. And to gain a sense of the unique way that Piedmontese royalty could actually welcome the red-shirted rebels of Garibaldi’s army, the Museum of the Risorgimento in the Palazzo Carignano, where the first parliament of 1861 met, depicts the region’s history from the 19th century through Unification, and on through two world wars.
The splendid Duomo of St. John the Baptist, still home to the now wholly discredited Shroud of Turin, is the city’s only true example of pre-baroque Renaissance architecture. And, as everywhere else in Italy, there seems a church or chapel on every block.
Museum of Cinema, set inside a landmark
500-foot tower originally designed as a synagogue in 1863 by Alessandro
Antonelli. We wound from hall to
hall and room to room over five floors, flanked with flickering images
cartoons and the first primitive, silent efforts of Thomas Edison;
within the play
of chiaroscuro and expressionist lighting that evoked “The Cabinet of
Caligari,” there are mini-theaters, and long corridors lined with huge
posters from every era. There is
also a futuristic café-restaurant (left) on the ground floor whose
and light could be a setting for a bar in “Star Wars” or “Bladerunner”
perfectly into the ambiance of the museum.
But if you ask a Torinese where his city’s true artistic achievements lie, he might well say they are in those beautiful arched walkways that line miles of streets and plazas throughout the city center. Of even height, woven throughout the city along the city center so as to connect with one another, the arcades were built over the course of two centuries, principally as shelter from Piedmontese winters but also as showcases of banks and boutiques, antique pharmacies and food shops, and, more than anything else, cafés and candy emporiums. Look above their doorways and you see stencils and carvings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Their façades are done in black marble or richly varnished mahogany, usually in the baroque style but also in more “modern” styles of Art Nouveau or Art Déco, and they act very much like picture frames for paintings.
One of the most famous is The Baratti & Milano (1875), which bears the imperial crest given it by the Vittorio II. The King and Garibaldi toasted the Reunification at Caffé Mulussano, later relocated in 1907 and done in the sleek art déco style of that period. Litterateurs have long made Caffé Fiori (1873) their second home, and in his day FIAT founder Gianni Agnelli passed his few idle hours at Caffé Piatti (1875). And while each has its secrets of coffee making, it is likely that the locally produced Lavazza coffee is the starting point for the artfulness. While café culture vitalized every large city in Italy during the 19th century, none but Turin brought it to an art form in and of itself, where the cafés were extravagant testimony to the luxurious pleasures of taking time to sit, drink and talk. Indeed, it is the arcades that allow for such an extravagance of cafes barely imitated in Venice’s Piazza San Marco.
Through the spotless windows we saw countless displays of the most beautifully crafted chocolates, marzipan, and sugared fritters in pastel colors, pink paper, gold foil, arrayed in painted tin boxes or set on lace doilies. The soft lighting inside is never harsh, never low, imparting a Christmas ornament’s appeal to the confections every day of the year.
And then there is the aroma of the chocolate itself, almost always commingled with coffee set on the zinc or marble counters, where white-coated barristas grind, pack, adjust, steam, fizz, and present their handiwork in a manifestation of Turin’s deeply ingrained coffee culture, richer here than anywhere else in coffee-obsessed Italy. The thunder of the shuddering coffee machine, the clink of the cups and saucers hitting the bar and the tinkle of the little spoons in the saucer never lets up. The barristas pour a glass of Asti spumante for some, a tipple of vermouth—created in Turin by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786—or a dark, bittersweet amaro digestiva for others. A waiter delivers a slice of sugar-dusted cake, covered with satiny dark chocolate, with a filling of the chocolate-and-hazelnut cream gianduja that is also an invention of Turin.
There are many stories as to how gianduja got its name, sometime in the 19th century, when chocolate and coffee shops had become the rage throughout Europe. Turin tradition has it that the name derives from “Giovanni della doja” or “Gion d’la duja” (John with a pint of wine in his hands), a popular commedia dell arte marionette created by Gioacchino Bellone di Raccongi and first exhibited in the city as of 1808. Others contend it was named after di Oja, a hamlet near Bellone’s hometown, and that the name is really Giovanni di Oja.
Whatever the origin of its name, gianduja made a tremendous contribution to European chocolate candy as we know it, and in Turin, hazelnuts seem inseparable from chocolate in any form. Indeed, Turin is chocolate mad, and yet another of its finest sweet ideas was bicerin, a small rounded glass with a metal handle (from which it gets its name) of hot espresso, chocolate, and milk. Various aficionados debate the origins of this totemic Turinese concoction, though the most widely accepted was that it was first made at Caffè al Bicerin (above and left), which opened on the Piazza della Consolata in 1763. (Incidentally, the church across the piazza has one of the most extraordinary interiors in Turin.)
room with tiny marble tables, candles that
votive, antique mirrors, dark red banquettes, wall sconces, and old
chairs. The cramped counter holds jars of bon bons and chocolates, and
Faema coffee machine rumbles and roars like a FIAT assembly line when
glasses of thick, semi-sweet bicerins are made.
Next Week: Where to eat and drink in Turin.
This article is
expanded from the original that appeared in the magazine La Cucina Italiana.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
It would, then, be a misnomer if
not a downright insult, to lump Jones Wood Foundry with all the other
clichés of the gastropub genre downtown and in Brooklyn
these days, for
Hicks is such a superior, knowledgeable chef about this kind of food
that you will want to come here to taste the Real McCoy and do so
within a very charming, well-run establishment.
Jones Wood Foundry is open for dinner nightly; Brunch Sat. & Sun.; Toast lunch Mon.-Fri.
Dinner starters and soups range from $7 to $12. Main courses $17-26.
Food and restaurants have never been so all-consuming to New Yorkers as over the past five years. I remember friends of mine who rarely tasted anything beyond their mother’s cooking who are now out twice a week ordering exotic sushi and spending every last dollar they earn to be one of the first to try out the city’s hottest new restaurants. The food craze has hit NYC hard, so that cuisines that were once almost impossible to find are popping up around every corner like Starbucks. (Indeed, there's a newly coined word for restaurants that are intended to come and go--pop-ups.) Were you to ask the average New Yorker where is a good place to grab some Thai or Indian food, you better have a pen and a long sheet of paper handy.
in Daliat el-Carmel,
Israel, opened her first restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen named Gazala
was serving Druze cuisine, a fare that shares the essence of many
Eastern Mediterranean dishes
from Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. NYC residents embraced Halabi’s
Gazala Place, and just three years later she opened her second
on the Upper West Side where I dined last week. According
to Halabi, hers are the only two restaurants serving this kind of
The restaurant is in the process of receiving its liquor license and claim they will have it soon, but call ahead and make sure before you show up empty handed. The night I dined it was still BYOB, so I brought a nice bottle of red wine.
The interior is unfussy, surrounded by brick walls with arched windows, dark-wood chairs and tables, and that is all. On the right side of the dining room you can look inside the small kitchen as Halabi and cast stir up small appetizers and tasty lamb dishes. If the heat of the summer is not too intense, try and grab one of the four outside tables; they are among the best seats in the house.
After being greeted by our amiable waitress, we started with a selection of cold and hot appetizers. Ground, tender meat came packed with thick rice and rolled up inside delicate green grape leaves, served with a side of room temperature cucumber yogurt; they come six to an order, none of which were left behind. The chickpea hummus was silky and resembled the texture of a yogurt, blended with a hint of tahini and a noticeable amount of lemon juice that added a wonderful citrus element to the usually subtle and soft dish. The warm pitas used to lap up just about everything in front of us were very thin and had a pleasant chewy consistency that was not your typical pita. There is also a delicious babaganoush appetizer and a dish called “meat cigars,” fried pita stuffed with onions, meat and tahini, the one and only boring dish we were served all evening.
For main courses, we were very pleased with the halabi, chopped oval-shapped meat patties placed over a plate of fresh tomato sauce seasoned with parsley, onion and pine nuts. Ground meat was flattened thin and covered with cheese in the kafta tahini, a very lush dish packed with flavor.
The dessert menu is small, and I highly recommend the kenafi, which is made to order, filled with sweet cheese, pistachio and syrupy honey that gets absorbed into the crispy shredded dough, easily enough for two people. If you have room also try the traditional baklava, a flaky pastry filled with pistachio nuts and a honey-lemon mixture.
From start to finish Gazala stays true to its Druze culture and doesn’t offer anything outside of the cuisine, except for a diner-sized order of blueberry cake. The wait staff is warm and although could use a bit of refinement, they still leave you walking out with a gracious smile and tamed appetite.
Open seven days a week. Appetizers range $4.50-$6.50, entrees $8.50-$16.95
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NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Sauvignon Blancs’ Styles Tough to Pin Down
What I almost never do is order a sauvignon blanc from America, where it is sometimes called fumé blanc. All the virtues I find in French sauvignon blancs—-their aromatic bouquet, herbaceous, slightly grassy flavor, and lightness of structure—seem so often squandered in California and Pacific Northwest wineries, which tend to overemphasize herbal notes, making most taste like a newly mown lawn with plenty of dandelions and a little fertilizer thrown in.
Many examples deliberately imitate the fruit punch flavors of the enormously successful Cloudy Bay and other sauvignon blancs out of New Zealand. One wine writer writing about Cloudy Bay found “Tangerine, mango and citrus flavors are pure and focused, smooth, round and wonderfully refreshing, with peach, Key lime pie, mineral and floral elements that really take off on the finish.” As I said, fruit punch.
America’s sauvignon blancs tend not to be quite that aggressive, but their styles differ radically. Some very light, others hefty, with up to 14.5 percent alcohol. The big grassy ones are a mouthful but their charms fade very fast after a few sips. The varietal’s prodigious growth and vigor can lead to an under ripeness that can add to those herby demerits. The varietal had a surge in popularity after the late Robert Mondavi re-named it fumé blanc in 1966, to avoid confusion with cabernet sauvignon and giving it a sexy French nuance.
Many California wineries don’t allow much if any skin contact with the grape juice; others do. Some age only in stainless steel; others use oak barrels. In some instances, semillon or other grapes may be added.
It’s difficult, then, to pin down the American sauvignon blanc style. But with summer and outdoor grilling upon us, a reasonable case can be made for the American varietal as a good choice for big smoky flavored foods. With that in mind, I collected a slew of western state sauvignon blancs of different styles and vintages and tasted them with and without such foods.
Sineann 2007 ($30)—This
small Yamhill County, Oregon, producer, best known for its pinot noirs.
Unfortunately, although the bottle I sampled had a very tight glass
the smell was slightly chemical and the wine itself, obvious from its
starting to oxidize.
Carica Kick Ranch 2007 ($25)—Sonoma Valley’s Carica has only been making wine since 2005 but already has a considerable following. The owners insist their sauvignon blancs follow “classic French style” with “crisp acidity,” with 25 percent sauvignon musque is added and 10 percent of the first blend ages in new French oak. This was indeed a very Sancerre-like sauvignon blanc, tasted, with a lovely fresh bouquet, excellent body and clean acids. This was clearly the best of my tasting, perfect will fish cooked on the grill.
Windsor Sonoma 2007 ($15)—With vineyards in the warm Russian River Valley, Windsor Sonoma takes advantage of cool summer nights to keep acidity levels high, with a judicious 13.9 percent alcohol. The color is very, very pale, the aroma herbaceous, but the overall taste flabby, without those promised acids evident. It’s a one-dimensional wine.
Groth Vineyards & Winery 2007
in Napa’s Oakville appellation, Groth has been highly regarded for its
sauvignon blancs since the 1980s, made from grapes grown in
Goth’s website says gives the wine “a lush, full melon/citrus character
aroma and in the flavor.” Leaving the juice on the skins gives it more
but you get a high alcohol level of 14.5 percent. It’s
overdone. This is a very fine example
of the bold California style of ripe fruit and balance of acidity, as
well as a singular family effort, as shown at right, with Dennis,
Andrea and Suzanne Groth anointing the harvest.
Turnbull 2008 ($23)—Napa-based Turnbull makes a wide range of wines, sourcing grapes from four Oakville and Calistoga vineyards, and the juice spends an unusually long time on the lees. Very pale in color, with a modest apple-like nose, it begins brightly on the palate but fades fast without any real finish. It would be fine with grilled chicken or even hot dogs.
Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery 2009 ($35-$40)—Napa’s Spottswoode specializes two cabernets and its sauvignon blanc, fermenting them in small stainless barrels, then French oak to add toast and spice. This is another fine example in the Loire Valley style, a very creamy wine but with tantalizing acid and freshness that would make an excellent aperitif or a wine to go with summer salads and tomatoes with goat’s cheese.
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.
BUT THEY HAD TO STOP DRINKING WHILE DR. HERZOG WAS DRILLING
“On a warm spring night, one waitress . . . made an unusual, Bloomfield-worthy offer. `We have one fish head left. It’s snapper.’ Met with stares less skeptical than dumbfounded, she pressed on: `You can eat the cheek, the neck—I had the eyeballs, they were good. You can eat the brain—it’s involved. Some people like it.” –Shauna Lyan, “The John Dory Oyster Bar,” The New Yorker (5/30/11).
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