Virtual Gourmet

  August 21, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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Boston Bounds Back
by John Mariani

New York Corner: The Dutch
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Plein Sud
by Christopher Mariani



by John Mariani

    Can restaurateurs sniff out a recovery when everyone else has the jitters? It would seem so in Boston, where a slew of well-financed new restaurants have opened just as the city’s economy is showing signs of a small boom driven by high tech. In fact, the nation’s largest private sector construction project is set along Boston’s waterfront, anchored by a new $900 million, 1.1 million square-foot office building developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. Already on the scene is Legal Harborside at Liberty Wharf, a venture of the Legal Seafood chain, which has 18 casual restaurants and markets in Massachusetts and units in nine other states.
    The new two-story restaurant is President & CEO Roger Berkowitz’s answer to all those who keep asking him when he would open a true fine dining restaurant. Legal Harborside, set on what used to be Jimmy’s Harborside for 85 years, is three stories and 20,000 square feet, making it the largest restaurant in Boston. The first floor (left) is as casual as other Legal eateries, with a great bar (below) but the second floor is done in the sleek style of an ocean liner, with curved rosewood ceilings and black, mast-like columns. The wine list carries bottlings no other restaurant in Massachusetts has.
    The third floor is a 150-seat
rooftop bar designed to look like a ship’s deck. Open now for only a month, the two dining levels are packed every night, with crowds spilling out onto the rooftop patio.  The menu lists fourteen species of oysters, all from cold northern waters from Cape Cod to British Columbia. Chefs Rich Vellante and Robert Fathman do a splendidly rich lobster soup dashed with sherry under a cap of buttery puff pastry, and while his tempura of soft shell crab with grits and white asparagus is the epitome of summer food, the accompanying squid ink vinaigrette is anything but. The simply sautéed grey sole, however, gains a great deal of flavor and texture from crab-stuffed squash blossoms, a green garlic velouté, and charred spring onion relish. For dessert go for the brûléed mascarpone cheesecake with minted berries and a brandy snap.
Three of Boston’s most highly respected chefs have opened downtown. Michael Schlow, who also runs Radius and Via Matta, has debuted Tico near the Hancock Center, with a menu based on his own extensive travels in Spain and Latin America. He and head chef Joshua Smith are exemplary in being among American chefs who have turned a serious eye on Latino cuisine without going the molecular route.
         Tico is two large, colorful rooms, with an open kitchen, mismatched tables and reclaimed wood, with an outdoor fireplace on the patio. Scores of tequila bottles are backlighted at the bar (below).    The long menu of small plates is convincing evidence of just how far Latino spices and flavors have come beyond the usual Mexican and tapas fare. Tico’s tacos are terrific, juicy and well-seasoned, like the two-texture beef with morita chilies. From the Spanish plancha griddle comes quail with mango and yellow aji peppers, and tostados are piled high with tuna tartare.  The now requisite crispy pork belly, decadently fatty, is enhanced with sweet onions and mustard.
         Best ideas is to go with Tico’s “Can’t Decide” menu, chosen by the chef for the whole table.  Pray they include the creamy, buttered sweet corn with bacon, chilies, and Thai basil.
         Adjacent to the Hynes Convention Center in Back Bay is Boston’s newest big splurge restaurant—Towne Stove & Spirits, the glamorous, two-level spectacular run by Lydia Shire and Jasper White, both veteran chef-restaurateurs who since the 1980s have been innovators in Beantown. Shire took over the venerable but creaking Locke-Öber Café and turned it around, and two years ago opened one of the city’s best new Italian restaurants, Scampo. White, also  in the vanguard of the  mid-1980s New New England Cuisine movement, runs five Summer Shack seafood houses. Here they've combined forces to winning advantage.
At Towne the two of them have put everything they know into high-end dining with a swank downstairs bar. Up a grand staircase, past glass walls and polished wood railings, you enter a two-level dining room  (right) that seats 300 people in roomy booths with starched linens, yet none of it is very formal; instead the rooms have a free-flowing, brash swagger about them.
         In that spirit, the menu offers 11 different preparations of lobster, but the one you must not miss is the lobster popover so hefty with lobster meat and so delicious you could make a lunch of it. But then you’d miss the skewer of swordfish and octopus scented with bay leaf and grilled over a wood fire, with a citrus vinaigrette and pearls of cous cous. Shire and White, along with executive chef Mario Capone, don’t seem to care a whit for dainty food, so their sugar-smoked Peking chicken—the whole mahogany-colored bird—is brought lavishly to your table and sliced, served with sweet potatoes; it’s an over-the-top, irresistible masterpiece and should become Towne’s signature dish.  If there’s any room at the end of your meal, at least share the brown sugar angel food cake with caramel ice cream and maple cotton candy.  Towne is out to blow your doors off.
    Bina (left), while not new, is a downtown Italian restaurant with a new chef, Will Foden, who works under executive chef-owner Azita Bina-Seibel and her brother Babak Bina. It's one of the best modern styled restaurants in a conservative town--minimalist, with huge windows on the street,   creamy, sandy tones punctuated with bright colors and expressionist artwork.  To the side is a groceria offering Italian foods and ingredients.  The quality of the ingredients is immediately evident in their stuzzicare (snacks, at $3 each), like lamb meatballs with goat's cheese fondue and truffled lardo.  An antipasto of sformato robiola cheese with asparagus and egg is delicious, and there are several crudi raw fish options.

    For a pasta try the ravioli "malfatti," formless ravioli with brown butter, or the sweet and savory cavatelli with rabbit ragù pear and truffle cheese. Bina is one of those rare Italian restaurants where the main courses, secondi, are even better than what precedes them.  I really liked the braised breast of veal with a pleasingly mild anchovy puree, and the Arctic char with onion puree, snaps peas, and guanciale is a marvelous mix of sea and land. There's also porchetta pig with vin santo sauce. All these entrees run under $30.

    Island Creek Oyster Bar (below) is a whole lot more than an oyster bar. It's a big, loud rollicking restaurant adjacent to one of Boston's best hotels, The Commonwealth, and Fenway Park Field, making it ideal for a pre-game supper. Owners Jeremy Sewall and Skip Bennett maintain close daily relationships with their purveyors, not least New Englands' oystermen, whose names you'll find on the seasonal menu. It's a happy place and people are clearly having a good time just being here, and it's hard to be disappointed by the array of shellfish (a platter enough for four is $78).
    Appetizers may include a few mussels renditions, perhaps with lemongrass broth and chili flakes, along with house-cured gravlax, and a pan-fried Jonah crab cake with apple and fennel salad. There are at least three lobster dishes, including the inevitable lobster roll with rosemary aïoli, chips and cole slaw (not the best lobster roll I've had in Boston).
    They don't fuss too much with the fine fish they serve, so that a line-caught cod comes with clams and artichokes; pan-seared skate has a saffron quinoa, baby bok choy and creamy scallion and yogurt raita; seared scallops come with a roasted mushroom ragôut, and lentil and lobster cream--a terrific idea. And don't forget to order a side or two, or three, of the buttery biscuits, baked beans (very difficult to find these days in Beantown), or crispy zucchini cakes.
    Desserts are a paean to sweetness Americana, with strawberry shortcake (but with basil ice cream?), doughnuts with strawberry-rhubarb jelly; and even a good old ice cream sandwich.  The wine list here is excellent.   

   The Cambridge neighborhood known as Area IV, between Kendall and Central Squares, near M.I.T., has burgeoned with bio tech companies like Dyax Genzyme on Technology Square, conveniently located across from the sleek, new, very casual Area Four restaurant.  There’s a fine bakery upfront, while the dining area, facing huge, handcrafted ovens, turns out an array of small plates that include a tangy seviche of wild Rhode Island striped bass, thin-crusted pizzas with toppings of Wellfleet cherry stone clams and bacon, mussels cooked in white ale with roasted tomatoes, and a few larger plates, with a mac & cheese of daunting richness that you will fight friends  over not to have to share it. This is a fine place to pick up breakfast, delightful for lunch, and doing great biz at dinner.
    Chef-owner Michael Leviton is happy turning out such desirable comfort food, including the dripping sundae of soft serve ice strawberry ice cream, marshmallow sauce, and chocolate almond meringue crunch. In keeping with the no frills ambiance, Area Four has communal tables and serves wines mostly from kegs and boxes along with 12 rotating beers on tap.
   In the same neck of the Cambridge woods in Bondir (left) a darling little dining room
owned by Jason Bond, a midwesterner and chef for 20 years, so natural and wholesome are worthy descriptors of his farm-driven cuisine.  The menu, fairly lengthy for a small kitchen, therefore changes daily but when I visited it contained some lovely, full-flavored, ungimmicky food of a kind you might crave week after week. This summer we thoroughly enjoyed an excellent ceviche of blackback flounder with pea greens, chili oil vinaigrette and caramelized shallots with an aniseed tuile.  Scituate scallop was sweet and fattened, with roasted fiddlehead ferns, Swiss chard, and baby bok choy, chive and chervil broth.  Mallard duck breast came with a radish green pesto, black lentils and cornmeal cake, and the roasted venison leg with a honey and spice-glazed salsify and white wheatberry salad was a hit at our table. Only a dish of mint tagliatelle with peas, pancetta, spruce, fragrant cicely and ricotta was a mess--flavors that just didn't hang together and clashed with one another.
    Leviton has the balance right on a plate--the vegetables should share at least equally with the protein.  His is a menu I wouldn't mind feasting on if it were totally vegetarian. He does overdo the tangles of microgreens, but that's not a big problem with food this tasty.


A version of this article ran in Bloomberg News on August 15.



by John Mariani

131 Sullivan Street (near Prince Street)

    The name, says The Dutch's website, means nothing, though it vaguely evokes Manhattan's first European settlers. The place, while brand new, does have the cast of a good old American eatery in SoHo, and Chef Andrew Carmellini, with his partners
Josh Pickard and Luke Ostrom--the gang that opened the Italian trattoria Locanda Verde--are doing a mostly American menu here. It's a very friendly place, lots of wood, white tiles, slatted ceilings, open kitchen, and the waitstaff, even under the nightly crush of a crowd that just has to be here right now! is very amiable and knowledgeable.
    It does get outrageously loud--all hard surfaces--though the Sullivan Room room (below)  beyond the oyster bar (right)  is supposedly less so.  A manager did ask one grotesquely loud table of six shirtsleeved guys to try to keep it down a tad, but that had little effect.  In answer to whether or not The Dutch has a dress code, management gives an entirely reasonable response for the neighborhood:  "
This ain’t no country club, but it’s no ball game either. This is New York. Do what you feel, but keep it fresh."
    Carmellini, with on-premises chef Jason Hue,  is treating American fare exactly the way he treats Italian food: simple, based on the best ingredients, as much as possible local, and a square meal for a square deal: except for the steaks and chops (an 18-ounce sirloin is $48, a 28 ounce veal porterhouse $52, and a 40-ounce ribeye for two is $105), there are no main courses above $29, though if you start ordering a platter ($75 and $125) of shellfish and nine-dollar french fries, the bill can get steep quickly.
    Right off the bat, let me say the meats are excellent--the legendary LaFrieda offerings--so the bone-in NY strip had the true beefy taste even some Prime lacks these days. Impeccably cooked, it was the kind of thing I crave every week or so.  But this is not just a steakhouse, so try the snacks like the little oyster sandwiches, fried and set on small buns. 
    Appetizers include dressed crab with a bloody Mary element and old-fashioned Green Goddess dressing, a nice dish, if nothing to get excited about, and ruby red shrimp with fried green tomatoes and pepper sauce, which is. Bland fluke is laid over sweet watermelon and lime. A special one night was a sumptuous seafood pie (on most nights it's filled with rabbit), plumped up with fish and lobster and oysters, in a rich creamy sauce under a golden cover of cracker-thin crust.  Sea scallops were lustrous, served with summer's sweet corn, bacon (always a good idea), and a delicate bite of chipotle.  Of excellent quality was a rosy breast of duck with black Mission figs, pecans and the textural virtues of a three-grain pilaf.
    Even though I was very tempted to share a plate of cheeses--interesting varieties like Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia and Boucher Blue from Green Mountain Blue Cheese in Vermont--for dessert I can never resist strawberry shortcake, and The Dutch makes a fine one, with lemon-anisette granita, though the tarragon cream makes for an odd flavor. The same wholesome goodness can be said about devil's food cake with black pepper boiled icing, and each night they make fresh, hot pies (right), whose variety changes each night, so do ask.  Peaches are beautiful these August days.
    The Dutch also proudly has a wide range of unusual spirits, beers, cider, and cocktails.  But the immensity and fine selections of its wine list is totally unexpected.  There's a lot of French bottlings here, and a lot of expensive ones, too, but you'll find wines here that you won't easily see on a hundred other menus.
    So, don't let anyone tell you The Dutch is just a terrific steakhouse or another gastro-pub.  It's both those things, but what it really is hearkens back to an earlier time in New York, and across America, when food like this ruled. It's good to see so much of it back in better shape than ever at The Dutch.

The Dutch is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly, for brunch ch Sat. & Sun.



by Christopher Mariani

85 West Broadway (at Chambers Street)

    It’s really amazing that cooking shows now blanket most cable and  major television networks across the country, some of them good, most not. Based on my last three dinners in NYC, I can confidently say that Bravo’s Top Chef series and the Food Network’s Iron Chef, although over-dramatized at times, are both doing a great job of casting a group of highly talented chefs. In the past month, I’ve written about the West Village’s Kinshop restaurant, run by Herold Dieterle, winner of the first season of Top Chef; Hearth restaurant, owned by Marco Canora, winner of Iron Chef; and most recently, Plein Sud, run by chef Ed Cotton, a finalist during season seven of Top Chef. All three restaurants were as good as any in NYC doing their kind of cuisine, that is, Thai, regional Italian, and French. By no means  have I deliberately searched out restaurants with TV show winners;  I happen to find out this information after each dinner was finished. Come to think of it, maybe I should start keeping an eye out for the next winner. He or she will probably open a restaurant shortly after and it will most likely be a very good restaurant based on what I’ve tried just this month.

         This past week I drove deep into Tribeca, down by Chambers Street, and dined at Plein Sud on West Broadway, opened by veteran Frederick LeSort and serving true French bistro food. Executive chef Ed Cotton is a proud New Englander, born and raised in Waltham, MA, where he began his career as a cook, eventually settling in Boston, where he trained under Todd English at Olives and Figs. Years later, after a stint out in Vegas, he returned to Boston for awhile before heading south for NYC, where he worked alongside master chef Daniel Boulud as sous chef at Daniel and DB Bistro Moderne. Having honed those skills over the years as a French chef, he is now serving some of the city’s best French bistro dishes.
lein Sud, which means more or less "straight South," opens with a grand bar fitted with leather bar stools, an attractive wood finish and a handful of polished tables along the window, where even at the early hour of six p.m., Wall Street’s money pushers stand around for a post-work cocktail and a quick dinner. The dining room is lovely, almost every table bordered by a dark brown leather banquette and dimly lit by hanging glass light fixtures above each table. The wait staff is on top of everything and will not allow a used dish to linger for more than a minute before being cleared. The staff is extremely well-versed on the menu and offer a pleasant friendliness while still maintaining proper professionalism.
         Cotton serves traditional charcuterie, a selection of cured meats,
foie gras, pâtés and sweet sliced pickles with a spicy mustard sauce, most made in house. Starters include the escargots persillade, mixed together with sautéed mushrooms, chopped ham and petite, crunchy croutons that absorb the pool of butter in which the snails still simmer when served. Spicy lamb merguez sausage comes to table wrapped up and surrounded by braised greens and soft chickpeas. Do not miss Cotton’s caramelized onion tart topped with boucheron cheese, made with a buttery flaky crust, one of my favorite appetizers on the menu.
         For main courses, the beef cheeks daube provençal (right) comes in a rich reduction with sweet spring onions, chopped carrots and a side of crispy rice mixed with shreds of fried garlic. The cod has a
brandade crust yet was a bit lackluster, sided by saffron braised tomatoes and olive crushed potatoes.
         Desserts included a lemon tart, a bit soupy, but still delicious with a sweet, tart flavor balanced with a buttery crust. There’s also a peanut butter ganache topped with chocolate, one of the heavier desserts on the menu.
         Cotton proves that unlike many other TV chefs who are surprisingly un-talented at what they claim as their
craft, that there are still some who exist with the clear passion and enthusiastic flair to cook as well as they appear to on largely regimented television. Plein Sud is wonderful restaurant from start to finish, with the food, décor and service staff continuously working in harmony each and every evening, an idea that may seem obvious but shockingly rare, even in NYC.  

Plein Sud is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; brunch Sat. & Sun.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to




In Wallace, NC, Vishon Murphy (left) was booted out of a Pizza Hut
for being dressed as a woman after customers complained.
Pizza Hut reps said he also entered the store three times and
 bought nothing.



"When hiking alone in Alaska, I'd been told, make noise. The last thing you want is to surprise a bear.  And so I was doing my best to fill the woods with song, belting out Broadway tunes as I trekked the Denver Glacier Trail, when an enemy stepped right onto my path.  This was no bear, however, but the beady-eyed state bird of Alaska, the ptarmigan."--Colleen Kinder, NY Times (Aug. 8).


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan) is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

" A fact-filled, entertaining history [that] substantiates its title with hundreds of facts in this meaty history of the rise of Italian food culture around the globe. From Charles Dickens's journey through Italy in 1844 to 20th-century immigrants to America selling ice cream on the streets of New Orleans, Mariani constantly surprises the reader with little-known culinary anecdotes about Italy and its people, who have made pasta and pizza household dishes in the U.S. and beyond."--Publishers Weekly

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

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,  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: Four Tech Tips for Travelers; Letter from Lisbon.

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 Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA 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).

The Family Travel Forum
 - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners.

Family Travel Forum

                                                                    ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, 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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© copyright John Mariani 2011