"Still Life with Fruit" by Luis Menèndez (1716-1780)
Nashville Finds Its Groove
by John Mariani
New York Corner: Tocqueville
by Christopher Mariani
Man About Town: Wildcatter Ranch, TX
by Christopher Mariani
Wine: Williams Selyem Wine Dinner at Bellagio, Las Vegas
by John A. Curtas
GOOD NEWS! Esquire.com now has a new food section called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuringThe Best Restaurants in Kentucky Right Now
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NASHVILLE FINDS ITS GROOVE
by John Mariani
The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee
you’ve never thought of Nashville as among America’s 25 greatest
cities, I used to agree.
But with two
successive progressive mayors, Nashville has emerged as one of the most
cities in the U.S. right now, and, when they get the new convention
built, the city promises to become the biggest corporate draw in the
South. The Parthenon (above) has never shone more
brightly, the Titans are playing
solid, and the highest price for a ticket is just $85 (compared with an
price for a Giants game at $110).
Most important, the
city has begun to capitalize on its Music City heritage. Maybe it has
to do with the flood last year that put the Grand Old Opry under water,
rallying the country stars who stored their instruments there. The big names—Brad Paisley, Martina
McBride, Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss, and
more—are playing regularly in town. Broadway, once a risky street to
walk down after 9 PM, is now booming with restaurants and music venues
where the next big stars might be found trying out their repertoire.
Here are a whole bunch of reasons you want to get to Nashville right now.
its grand opening in 2001, the CMHFM has evolved into the most
well-mounted music museums in the country—more exciting and enticing
Seattle and Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Halls of Fame put together.
videos, and special exhibits cover
Doc Watson, from the Everly
Brothers to Charley Pride. Just to view such a collection of mint
vintage guitars and memorabilia—including Les Paul’s 1941 “electric
log” and Hank
Williams’ Martin D-28--and 600 instruments is reason enough to visit.
Studio B—An adjunct tour of the CMHFM is to bus over to the historic Studio B, founded by Chet Atkins, where he created revolutionized music with the “Nashville Sound” of background vocals and strings for every artist from Roy Orbison and Jim Reeves to Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers and Conway Twitty; Presley recorded 150 records here, often in the wee hours of the morning. Opened in 1957 at a modest cost of $37,515, Studio B is both crucible and shrine, left just as it was when it closed in the mid-1970s, the old tape decks and sound buffers still in place, the big Hammond organ there and silver Shure 555 microphones whose sound quality has never been matched. And you can still see the dent in the building where a very nervous young singer named Dolly Parton, on her way to record her first record here, jumped a curb and smashed into the outside wall.
The Hermitage Hotel— I first visited The Hermitage back in 1977 while driving across America, and while I admired the crestfallen hotel's historic nature, it was decrepit almost beyond repair and slated for demolition. The fellow who seemed to be the hotel's only staff member showed us around the once majestic, pillared lobby and mezzanine whose grand staircase was said to be the inspiration for the one Rhett Butler carried up Scarlett O'Hara in the film "Gone with the Wind," and there used to be indoor pools filled, for some reason, with alligators. He also told us, sotto voce, the place had. . . ghosts. We spend one night there.
Saved by developers, the hotel last year celebrated its centennial, and The Hermitage has been restored, at a cost of $17 million, to a magnificence no other landmark hotel in America can currently claim, bringing its Siena marble entrance hall and stained glass lobby ceiling into pristine focus once again. The wonderful Oak Bar is still intact, where you can sip a custom-made single barrel Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey made for the hotel, until the supply runs out, as is the Capitol Grille, a subterranean dining room (not associated with the Capital Grille steakhouse chain), where Chef Tyler Brown proves himself one of the best in the South. It was here in 1940 a Tennessee newcomer named Dinah Shore debuted the song “Near You.” And everyone needs to pay a visit to America’s finest Men’s Room (right), an art deco marvel of green and black tiles—once in danger of being demolished. Women are allowed to sneak a peak too.
The rooms are beautifully done over in vibrant colors, with as many references to the Old South as to every modern amenity, and, with the number of rooms reduced to 121 from 250, each 550-650 square feet in size (The Presidential Suite is 2,000 square feet) spaciousness is a hallmark of The Hermitage. There are a few alligator sculptures around the balustrades. It is Nashville's finest hotel by a very long shot, so celebrities, not a few from the country music scene, always stay here.
If any chef in America can truly claim to serve the much abused term "farm to table cuisine," it's the mustachioed Chef Brown, at The Capitol Grille (below), who daily cultivates a 66-acre Glen Leven farm a few miles away, now with its own herd of steers, and whatever is ready will be served on his menus that night. Thus, a simple summer salad can remind you what ultimate freshness means, served with a buttermilk-onion vinaigrette. His gazpacho's tomatoes are so sweet you'll remember that tomatoes are actually fruits, not vegetables, and his sweet onion bisque with Brie grilled cheese, bacon and chives is a meal on its own.
For starters there is also Brunswick stew of pulled pork, an old country item accompanied by cornbread, lima beans and corn, each with its own perfect texture. For seafood he keeps to Southern principles, serving grouper in a cucumber broth, with butterbean chow chow and benne seed rice pilaf. For meats, by all means go with his Hunter's Plate charcuterie platter, or maybe the hefty beef summer sausage with "Peaches and Cream" creamed cor, braised greens and sauerkraut. He has daily blue plate specials ranging from meatloaf with mashed potatoes to chicken and dumplings, and I was lucky enough on a Wednesday to score his fried chicken with mashed potatoes, braised greens and gravy. The rendering of this Southern favorite was fine enough, but the chicken itself, of good pedigree, had terrific flavor all on its own that added a touch of refinement. Chef de cuisine Cole Ellis clearly pays a big part of the success in all these dishes.
For dessert, how does one choose among coconut cake with cream cheese buttercream, blueberry anglaise and yuzu anglaise, a Jack Daniels-laced semifreddo with sweet-salty brownie and whiskey butterscotch sauce, and a warm summer berry pie with almond cream and buttermilk ice cream?
The Capitol Grille keeps a solid wine list, and its prices fort everything are very reasonable.
The Capitol Grille is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Starters run $8-$13, main courses $22-$38.
Hatch Show Print--316 Broadway; 615-256-2805. Since 1879 this print shop has been designing the totemic posters for music entertainers and events, including just about every poster hung in the Ryman Auditorium over the last century. Cab Calloway, Earl Scruggs, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Neil Young, Bob Dylan—all have had Hatch make their posters, and visiting the place is to see the array, the ancient typographic wooden fonts, and the printing presses that are part of American graphic history. You can have one made up for yourself, and they do wedding invitations, too.
Jack's Bar-B-Que--What Arnold's is to meat-and-threes and Prince's is to chicken, Jack's is to Southern pork barbecue, a no frills place with a few booths and tables, an open kitchen where you order and pick up, and a few good cold beers. The menu has some breadth and depth, but you can't miss with Jack's pulled pork sandwich or the delectably tender ribs, which have a typical Tennessee sauce base of vinegar/tomato sweetness and a lovely char on the outside, not too smokey. The side dishes themselves are worth dropping by Jack's--cole slaw, mac-and-cheese, corn, beans, and don't forget to order a good slice of buttermilk chess pie. Jack's front door is on Broadway, where a lot of the night action is these days in Nashville, but if you want to feel like an insider, consider ducking around back into the alley that separates the stage door of the famous Ryman Auditorium (a country music shrine so famous I need not write of it here) from the back door of Jack's, a real convenience for country music stars who want to exit the Ryman and go straight into Jack's for some aprés-theater sustenance.
FISH & CO.
2317 12th Avenue South
Fish & Co. originally opened downtown last fall but relocated to what was had been an Osteen barbecue operation that didn't click, the new restaurant has plenty of space in a large, colorful dining room, adjacent to a very popular al fresco area, with a more casual menu offered at the bar, with items like The Buttermilk Biscuit with Benton’s Country Prosciutto, a mess of beer-steamed shrimp, crispy fried black eyed peas, and a yellow fin tuna burger, and fried seafood baskets. There’s always a daily selection of oysters.
The main menu has a few of Osteen’s signature dishes I was very happy to taste again, like his creamy, rich Charleston she-crab soup with a lashing of sherry, and his fabulous Low Country shrimp and grits. If you've never quite understood the love Southerners have for grits, taste the ones at Fish & Co. and you'll be enlightened. Equally as delicious is the Georgia wild shrimp with stewed local peas, and that basket of fried fish is a paragon of American frying, the fish fingers, shrimp, oysters and hush puppies done to a golden turn.
Fancier is the superb scallop and foie gras—a big sweet scallop with an equal slab of rich fresh foie gras, with curried leeks and chive oil. And if you want to taste Southern vegetables at their absolute peak this summer, order the stack of Tennessee heirloom tomatoes with luscious buttermilk blue cheese, shaved fried onion and tangy sauce ravigote.
Desserts stay firmly within the long traditions of Southern baking, including a terrific Jack Daniels banana pudding.
Fish & Co. is exemplary in the way Capitol Grille is by bringing panache to the kinds of foods served at downhome places like Jack's, Prince's, and Arnold's, which just begins to suggest the breadth and depth of Southern food culture.
Starters run $9-$18, main courses $20-$34.
NEW YORK CORNER
by Christopher Mariani
1 East 15th Street
Arriving a few minutes before the rest of my party, I took a seat at Tocqueville’s bar and ordered a negroni straight up. I was asked if I had a preference in gin prior to being told exactly what gin was available. After making my decision, the hostess stopped by and gently placed my coat check ticket beside me on the bar. When my party arrived we were walked to our table, our chairs pulled out by a well-dressed waitstaff and our drinks were carried on a tray from the bar to our table. Throughout the meal our glasses were cleared, our courses appropriately staggered, our table kept clean and our server well-versed. When I asked where the washroom was, I was walked to the door, not pointed.
These are only a few of the service details clearly practiced nightly at Tocqueville. There is a refinement in service that bolsters the entire experience and adds tremendous value to the restaurant, making it one of the best meals I’ve had yet this year, not to mention in one of the most elegant dining rooms I’ve ever seen. That is what makes Tocqueville stand apart from so many others, even in NYC these days, when cacophony and small plates add up to a night out. This is a restaurant that you, as a New Yorker do not want to miss.
Husband and wife combo Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky can be found at Tocqueville nightly, where Marco cooks and Jo-Ann floats through the dining room. Nick Robinson is responsible for the wines and the rest of the staff is as efficient as they get.
The main room is draped in cream colors with a very simple, clean design. One chandelier hangs above, and giant murals dress the walls. Comfortable chairs surround each table and the entrance of the dining room is a stone’s throw from the back wall, fitted with cozy banquettes.
Appetizers include a crunchy softshell crab, now in season, and a yellowfin tuna tartare placed beside a shaved green apple, crystallized mustard and a touch of basil. We lapped up a house-cured terrine of foie gras with a rhubarb and riesling gelee and a sliver of roasted black mission fig. For a mid-course we could not resist ordering the parmesan grits topped with shaved truffles and a petite sunny side up egg, one of the best dishes we had all night.
For our main course, black seabass swam in a decadent bouillabaisse broth while the Peking duck terrine was simply roasted and sided by Swiss chard, easily two of the best entrees on the menu. The Arctic char was a bit lackluster; though tasty, it did not complement such an otherwise pleasing meal. Filet mignon came with truffled polenta and an osso bucco sauce.
Desserts were all-irresistible and started lightly with a coconut tofu citrus consommé and finished strong with a frozen banana soufflé served with a coconut lime sorbet. If you love chocolate, do not miss the chocolate tasting platter, a chocolate hazelnut ganache, a bittersweet chocolate tort and a chocolate soufflé with chocolate sorbet, all on one plate. There is also a cheese plate, if desired, for $16.
count—food, service, ambiance-- about
Tocqueville, and I tip my hat to Marco and Jo-Ann who for years now
running a true NYC restaurant while cutting no corners in a city where
very expensive to operate. Eleven years into its run, Tocqueville is
doing better than ever, evolving, improving and offering unparalleled
that begins when you walk in and never wavers till you reluctantly
Graham County, Texas
When we finally arrived I understood what Brian meant when he said, “Wildcatter is basically on a hill in the middle of nowhere.” The property is an impressive 1,500 acres large and in every direction the Texas frontier spreads as far as the eye can see—even an hawk’s eye. There were rolling green hills divided by the peaceful Brazos River, curved like a snake, and miles of wilderness that require a sign that reads, “Beware of rocks and snakes.”
That afternoon I sat by the pool and closed my eyes as the bright sun burned down on me and every inch of the property. I learned awfully quickly how strong that Texas sun was, so I packed up my things and headed to my room for some R&R. The ranch’s rooms are as attractive as any in Texas, designed with high cathedral ceilings, stunning views of the frontier landscape, a personal patio, comfortable beds, and a western feel that compliments its natural surroundings.
That evening I walked over to the Wildcatter Steakhouse where I received a grand welcome from executive chef Bob Bratcher and a pint of Shiner Bock beer straight from the tap. Bob is a true cowboy, complete with hat, boots, denim jeans and a voice full of Texas twang. He’s a proud Lone Star Stater and has a winning, attractive personality. He’s always smiling, gets excited at the thought of food and loves to talk. Bob is a humble man whose culinary skills far exceed his modest story telling of how he became a cook. This man knows his way around the kitchen and is a master behind the grill. Beef is his specialty and steak is what we ate for two days straight.
After another drink and some great conversation we sat down and started our feast with some homemade chili con queso made with beef tenderloin, tennis-ball sized crab cakes, some “Texas toothpicks” (fried jalapeno and onion strips), and a few “snake bites,” Bob’s very own baby back ribs. Bob then carved up an entire beef tenderloin for our table and cooked the meat to a beautiful temperature, medium rare. Sides included creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes. Desserts were not the restaurant’s highpoint and could definitely use some improvement. That evening ended back at the bar as we all cheered for the Dallas Mavericks to gain a win over the Miami Heat.
The following day I walked back over to the Steakhouse where Bob had prepared for us a traditional Texas breakfast, filled with biscuits and white gravy, omelets, homemade pork and beef sausage, creamy grits and a bloody Mary with enough spice to wake up a herd of sleeping longhorns.
Breakfast was followed by some skeet shooting with the Wildcatter ranchers Jay Brewer and Jeremy Allen, two fine gentleman who toured us through the wilderness by way of ATV accompanied by their adorable assistants, Rancher and Macho. I don’t want to toot my own horn but I am one hell of a good skeet shooter, turning those clay pigeons into dust! Jay and Jeremy also lead horseback riding tours, hikes, canoeing, fishing trips, mountain biking, Frisbee golf tournaments and much more. They are the ones keeping the guests safe and here’s how.
I was walking past the main house and saw a basketball hoop and so I decided to take a few shots. After my first shot that rattled the backboard, a giant wasp came flying out of nest burrowed underneath the hoop and had me running like a five year old. Jay and Jeremy laughed, came outside and squirted the nest down in less than two seconds with some high power bee killer. Made me realize I was a definitely a New Yorker with little to no backwoods survival skills.
Back at the steakhouse Bob had the grill torched and a dozen or so burgers searing up nice and juicy. We spent the afternoon gazing out on the horizon with a big fatty burger in one hand and an ice-cold beer in the other. There is a separation from the rest of the world at Wildcatter that I’ve felt only once or twice at other unique destinations around the world. You forget about your cell phone and emails, mostly because the service is lousy, and learn how to kick back and relax. There’s a carefree vibe throughout the property and people tend to mosey just about everywhere.
The last night I was at Wildcatter, Bob had cooked us up yet another fabulous meal inspired by the grill. It must be noted that the Steakhouse is the only restaurant on property, but who could get sick of eating American beef? Don’t worry, they have other dishes.
That evening was the ever-popular karaoke night. I cannot begin to explain what karaoke is like in West Texas when the Shiner Bock is flowing nicely but I am sure you can imagine. There was a lot of two-stepping and swinging and singing. I was the only gent without a cowboy hat on and possibly the only attendee who didn’t get up on stage. I simply didn’t know the songs. As a whole there wasn’t much potential on stage but there were a few who could’ve put on a show on “America’s Got Talent.”
is only 90 minutes west of Dallas and definitely a destination worth
It seemed as thought most guests were from Texas, but such an amazing,
resort is worth a flight from anywhere in the US. This September
hosts its Lonesome Dove Weekend, so for all you lovers out there, this
the place for you.
Obviously not at Wildcatter but I couldn't resist.
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NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
SELYEM Wine Dinner at Bellagio, Las Vegas
When Ed Selyem and Burt Williams sold their award-winning winery to John and Kathe Dyson in 1998, a shudder and a sigh went through the California wine world. Here were two of the original California garagistes -- their original vintages, starting in 1981, were literally made in a two-car garage -- selling out, and to a New Yorker nonetheless! A decade before Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estates became household names (if not exactly affordable in but a few households) Williams Selyem's single vineyard pinot noirs had every California collector begging to get on its mailing list. The fact that the winery was so modest, and output so small, only added to its prestige.
When the sale of the winery finalized (in effect, the Dyson's only bought the brand name as Ed and Burt sourced all their grapes and the winery's facilities were extremely modest), the new owners had the good sense to bring Bob Cabral on board to shepherd their ambitions (and the brand) into the 21st Century. With a brand new winery and tasting facility, estate-grown grapes, and a range of single vineyard releases showing the best of the Russian River Valley's pinot noir, Williams Selyem 2.0 has become a major player on the Sonoma scene. It's still tough to get these wines unless you're on the mailing list or in a good restaurant, but recently in Las Vegas,125 lucky souls got to sit down for a private tasting with Cabral at one of the Bellagio's famed Tuscany Kitchen wine dinners.
The dinner had a twofold purpose: to sample select WS vintages going back to Cabral's first in 1999, as well as introducing the public to the cuisine of Le Cirque's new chef, Gregory Pugin (below, on left, with pastry chef Philippe Angibeau). Cabral started the evening with one of his rare, library wines -- a deep, toasty, intense, blanc de noir sparkling wine from 2005 -- of which only a 125 cases were made. He told me it was, in essence, a "hobby wine," brought out solely for special occasions, of which this surely was one.
As stunning as the sparkler was, the '05 Hawk Hill Chardonnay was a revelation. It possessed all the attributes of a creamy, citrus-y California chard, while retaining a mineral-rich, acidic backbone more reminiscent of a white Burgundy. At six years of age, it was approaching its peak, but no where near the downward slope. Equally attention-grabbing was its pairing with Pugin's citrus-marinated langoustines with osetra caviar, minced apple and tiny cubes of vodka gelée. All told, one of those jaw-dropping combinations where the flavor elements of the wine and the dish danced like they were made for each other.
Bellagio's Master Sommelier Jason Smith may have slipped a bit with the next pairing: The intense, layered fruitiness of the '05 Westside Road Neighbors overwhelmed the delicacy of Pugin's potato-crusted halibut with celery root puree, but all was forgiven with the double-barreled pleasures presented by two '04 offerings (Hirsch Vineyard and Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard), which played off an elegantly simple espelette-crusted Colorado lamb chop. The lamb's gaminess being just what the two wines needed to show their best.
Both wines came in at a solid 14%+ in alcohol, in keeping with the higher brix these grapes are picked at these days. As dense and rich with they were -- showing beautifully after seven years, and surely destined to get better -- it was the 1999 Allen Vineyard that stole our heart. It may have been a touch past its prime, but the medium ruby color, combined with top notes of red fruit and a nice earthiness on the nose, put us in mind of a premier cru Chambolle-Musigny or Morey-Saint-Denis. It paired beautifully with the strong cheeses presented -- L'Époisse, Vieux Comté, and Saint Marcellin -- and served as a reminder that elegant, lower alcohol pinot noirs can retain their charms long after the fruit bombs have faded.
Drinking these wines alongside the winemaker, while getting a cooking demonstration from one of the Bellagio's chefs, has turned the Tuscany Kitchen into one tough ticket. Pugin's food was as stunning as the wines, and served notice that this L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (New York) and Veritas alum is ready to take Le Cirque Las Vegas to the next level. Wherever he takes his cuisine, we’re sure Bob Cabral’s wines will be there to make a perfect match with them.
"To be frank, many
Chinese are not familiar
with the Bahamas. So when I told my friends I would go to the Bahamas
the post, they thought I was going to Panama...Because Chinese know
because of its canal, and many Chinese are not familiar with the
scenery here in the Bahamas. So we need to advertise to the Chinese
let them know more about the beautiful scenery here in the Bahamas."
-- Hu Shan, China's new ambassador to the Bahamas.
YE BACK TO AMERICA AND
Homemade Ice Cream in Columbia, MO, was inspired by the number
of dead 13-year cicadas that emerged last month and thereupon
created BUG ice cream made with the cicadas boiled and chocolate
coated. Despite good sales, he discontinued the flavor.
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❖❖❖FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linked to four excellent travel sites:
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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: The Dali Museum; Packing List.
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).
ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO
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.
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