ESQUIRE'S BEST NEW RESTAURANTS IN AMERICA 2011
by John Mariani
DAY TRIPPER: ANTWERP, BELGIUM
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: LA GRENOUILLE
by John Mariani
MAN ABOUT TOWN
ESQUIRE MAGAZINE HOLDS 27TH ANNUAL "BEST NEW
RESTAURANTS IN AMERICA" PARTY AT BOULUD SUD
by Christopher Mariani
THE TEARS OF CHRIST AND THE TAIL OF THE WOLF NOW
DISTINGUISH CAMPANIA'S WINE
by John Mariani
THE BEST NEW RESTAURANTS IN AMERICA 2011
Sachin Chopra, All
Spice, San Mateo, CA
Sachin Chopra, All
Spice, San Mateo, CA
A DOZEN MORE NEW
TO BE MISSED
Big cities demand a traveler's commitment to stay
put for several days, or, as has been said of great
cities like New York, Rome, London and Paris, if you
spend a week there you'll know the city well; if you
spend a lifetime, you'll realize how much you don't
know. Smaller cities, however, can be visited with
pleasure for a day or two, to take in the principal
sights and determine if you want to return for a
longer stay. In fact, I find such visits
extremely enjoyable and, more often than not, make
me hunger for more. This article is the first in a
continuing, occasional series I call "Day Trippers,"
intended to give the reader a quick, broad overview
of a city where I was delighted for just a day or
two. --John Mariani
Now doesn't that sound like the most boring place on earth? Wikipedia goes on: "Renowned for being the world's leading diamond city." Now there's a nifty reason to visit!
In fact, Antwerp is a city of great beauty, medieval and baroque grandeur, and a modernity that would dwarf such notions in cities like Florence, Lisbon, and everywhere in France outside Paris. It is a city of young people on sensible bicycles, who love their hometown and glide through its every byway, crisscrossing the grand plazas, along the river, through warrens of boutique-lined streets, and not wearing bike helmets. It is a city where the natives love and take their time with the good life, which includes a deep-seated beer culture and an embrace of both traditional and contemporary cuisines. They love their Belgian chocolates--arguably the best in the world--and their history reflects a solid grounding in business and commerce, along with some empire building.
The strictly touristic pleasures are many and very varied, beginning with the impressive Cathedral of Our Lady (right), finished in 1351. Still in the process of being impeccably restored, it is an edifice of soft light, with the usual internal extravagance driven by the Catholic Church's embrace of those wealthy enough to demand it. In fact, I learned from our guide--a beautiful woman named Carolien Krijnen, whose knowledge and personality seemed to sum up the proud spirit of the city--that because rich people were buried in graves under the marble floors of the cathedral, their relatives' eventual burial in the same site required digging up the slabs, which was quite a malodorous experience for the grave diggers, leading the rest of the population, buried in outdoor graveyards, to call the dead people in the church the "stinking rich." The cathedral is decked out with some very impressive Rubens paintings, too.
For those who cannot get enough of the artist's flamboyantly fleshy style, there is also Rubenshuis, Rubens's house. I also recommend a stop at the Plantin Moretus Museum, the beautifully secluded home of a 16th century bookbinder and printer Christoffel Plantin, now dedicated to a the history of printing.
Antwerp's historic center and City Hall is Old Market Square (above), built around the famous Gothic and early Renaissance guild houses of merchants, artisans, and city leaders who helped make Belgium exceedingly rich in their day. The buildings' stateliness may reflect the sober-sided business soul of the city, but it is softened by their decorous touches, and in the center is the tall, curious statue of a legend about a terrible giant who repeatedly attached the city, finally vanquished by an improbable Italian hero who tore off the giant's huge hands and to this day holds them up for everyone to see.
Ms. Krijnen calls her city of 500,000 inhabitants and 165 nationalities "a village with an attitude," and you'll connect to that in the main shopping area called the Meir, not far from the train station, where the international designers are located, but the cooler, more stylish and indigenous boutiques are to be found in the artists' district in the south end of the city, especially along Kammenstraat, where several of those boutiques even hold wine tastings. These are hip spots, like Hospital Clothing and Clinic Clothing (it has a dentist's chair inside the door), promoting Belgian designers. Noë by Your (left), which sells "Sex in the City" TV series videos, is known for its signature women's pumps--in 65 colors! There is even a notable Fashion Museum, with shows constantly changing. And don't forget, the impish Smurfs were created in Belgium.
If you're in town for the weekend, head for the Theaterplein Square market, where you can buy most anything at all.
Belgians revel in their food and drink with good reason, not least their exquisite chocolates--Günther Watte is a superb shop at 30 Steenhouwersvest--and their crisp, yeasty waffles (created in Ghent) that you find in stalls throughout the city, along with Belgian fried potatoes, doused with any number of toppings, from vinegar to mayonnaise and curry.
At lunch you might want to nosh on a smos sandwich, whose name means a "mess," the expected outcome of eating multilayers of bread and garnishes. Belgians love their beer and gin (I will have an upcoming story on Belgian beers in a November issue of the Virtual Gourmet), so cafés dot every street. Some of the best known include the old Den Engel at Grote Market; Kulminator, with 700+ beers listed; and De Vagant, which carries 300 kinds of jenever, the gin-based spirit of the Benelux countries.
The city teems with eateries, snack shops, beer halls, cafés, and restaurants of every ethnic stripe (there's even a small Chinatown), many along De Keyserlei near the station. The oldest restaurant in the city (1750) is the seafood-centric Rooden Hoed, whose six mussel dishes are ranked among the best in this mussel-mad city. In the South End, Famosi Italian restaurant justifies its boast, and it's a pretty hip spot, with a Vespa out front painted with Italian movie stars painted all over it (right).
We ate that evening at De Groote Witte Arend, another very old spot, dating to 1488 and once a convent, but since 1976 a beer hall and restaurant, now owned by Tim and Ronald Ferket, who serve up very hearty Belgian fare along with 280 beers. We enjoyed a beer-dark beef stew with potato croquettes, sautéed plaice with mashed potatoes, a loin of pork, and some delicious eel baked in cream. For dessert there was a crêpe filled with vanilla cream sabayon whipped with Belgian beer.
And that put a nightcap on our Day Trip to Antwerp. We returned to Hotel O (right), which is very new and very conveniently located across from the tram stops. Its owner, however, seems to have decided to be the most modern hotel in Europe, which means he's installed all card keys that must be waved in front of doors and elevators but don't always work, light switches that are very tricky to use, and, at least in our case, a room completely painted black, which might have amused Mick Jagger, but was tough to navigate because the light switches were also in black and the bathroom, too. There was also no closet we could find or hooks on which to hang our clothes. We did, however, look into our friends' all white room, complete with closet space and a big white bathtub. That was a very splendid room and if you book at the hotel, ask for one of these brighter rooms. The staff--all of whom, like everyone in Belgium--speaks perfect English to help you along, and there is a casual brasserie at ground floor offering a good breakfast, included in the room price.
Were I to return to Antwerp another day--and I must happily would--I'd wile away my time at a slow pace. It is a great walking city, a city to nosh in, take in a gallery show, sit in a café on a plaza and nibble fried potatoes. And, since city bicycles may be rented for the day, I'd hop on one and ride down every street and get to know this beautiful city just the way the people of Antwerp know it.
argument might be made that there is
really no need to update an article on Le
New York food critics have overall been very generous
in their idolatry of La Grenouille, as much for the
décor as for the food, even though there has
never been a celebrated chef in the kitchen; indeed,
the restaurant's chefs were barely ever known at all.
would rave about boiled shrimp in tomato dressing and
"masterpieces" like poached chicken with champagne
cream sauce. Ironically, the Michelin Guide has never
seen fit to award La Grenouille even a single star,
giving just three forks-and-spoons ("very
comfortable"), calling it the "Judi Dench of French
Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose.
La Grenouille is open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat.; Lunch fixed price $45 or $60; Bar menu $16-$28; 3-course ardoise men $36; Dinner $98.
Esquire Magazine Holds 27th Annual "Best New Restaurants in America"As another year passes, so does the success of yet another Esquire Best New Restaurants party, always hosted--for 27 years--by food and travel correspondent John Mariani. This year’s party was held at one of the 20 honorees, Daniel Boulud’s Boulud Sud in NYC, for a night of celebration among a group of highly talented chefs from around the country, including Boulud (with yours truly and John Mariani, left), Michael White of Ai Fiori, Jonathan Benno of Lincoln Ristorante, Lydia Shire of Towne Stove & Spirits, and many more. The annual gala rounds up some of the country’s finest chefs, all within the pages of the November issue of Esquire Magazine. Michael Mina’s namesake restaurant Michael Mina, in San Francisco took home the restaurant of the year award while John Sedlar of Playa in Los Angeles, won the award for chef of the year.
Party at Boulud Sud
The night kicked off with a grand cocktail reception while Boulud’s handsome wait staff served up some terrific canapés—sea urchin and crab tartine over crunchy crackers, vitello tonnato served on a spoon, lamb kibbeh and an herb falafel. These delicate hors d’oeuvres were all washed down with wonderful Italian sparkling rosé from Castello Banfi, which also paired their wines with Boulud’s four-course meal throughout the evening, including their marvelous Cum Laude blend of sangiovese, Cabernet, merlot and syrah. Also in attendance was French actress and vigneron Carole Bouquet, who graciously brought her Sangue d'Oro wine, a sweet Passito di Pantelleria she had us try with the savory appetizers.
Once seated, Esquire’s editor-in-chief, David Granger, began the evening with a short speech thanking and congratulating the participants before handing over the microphone to Mariani, who would spend part of the night awarding each chef from the 2011 best new restaurants list. As usual, Mariani made clear that he picks these restaurants primarily on chef-centered restaurants, the food and the distinctive flavors, along with a comical but true list of what Esquire frowns upon, like “Restaurants where any cast member from `Jersey Shore’ would be allowed to dine” and “Restaurants where there is a beets-and-goat’s-cheese salad on the menu 365 days a year.”
Carole Bouquet, Esquire editor Ryan D'Agostino, and John MarianiBoulud continued on with impressive dishes—seared Spanish mackerel with a piquillo vinaigrette; tabbouleh with cauliflower and figs, an appetizer of octopus cooked a la plancha, surrounded by Marcona almonds, arugula and a Jerez vinegar; a main course of spiced Niman Ranch lamb loin served over Algerian eggplant with yogurt and lavash; and finally, a Moroccan mint-chocolate pave with pine nuts and chocolate sorbet.
Each chef spoke briefly, thanking Esquire and Mariani for the award, expressing their joy to be part of such an elite group of talent. The majority of chefs, unlike so many “portrayed” on television, do not like socializing with their guests or showing their faces in the dining room. They’d rather speak through their food and stay within the comfort of their kitchens. So, to have all these chefs come up and speak in front of such an audience of peers and media was a charming reflection of the kind of unpretentiousness that is the true spirit of their professionalism. There were old chefs, new chefs, established chefs, up-and-coming chefs, tall chefs, short chefs, chefs with accents and chefs without Southern drawls. The group chosen for this year’s best new restaurants proves that Esquire picks one of the most eclectic collections of any magazine or rating guide. The beauty of these awards is that you can be a Mom and Pop restaurant and receive the identical award as does someone like Daniel Boulud.
At the end, Mariani praised French cooking as still the underpinning all modern cuisine, then, noting how Boulud Sud resembles Rick's Café Americaine in the movie "Casablanca," gathered the French chefs and attendees to lead a rendition of the French national anthem, "La Marsellaise." The evening finished across the street with a few bottles of prosecco at Lincoln Ristorante.
John Mariani and Michael White of Ai Fiori
America is a diverse country with cities, towns, and suburbs that showcase all different types of cuisines and styles, and Mariani does a damn good job of giving them all proper recognition. Above is the official list of “Esquire’s Best New Restaurants for 2011.”
To contact Christopher Mariani send an email
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
The Tears of
Christ and Tail of the Fox
by John Mariani
Marisa Cuomo Costa
d’Amalfi Fiorduva 2008 ($62.99—The price is
astonishing for a white Campanian wine, but Marisa
Cuomo is one of the stars of the region, and this
blend of falanghina and biancolella, planted 500
meters above the sea, is enormous and very rich. To
appreciate fully its character, I’d serve it with the
simplest of seafood on the grill. If the price puts
you off, her Furore Blanco 2009—“white fury”—at $22.99
is still a big mouthful, almost a little fizzy upon
being opened, and with 13.5 percent alcohol, excellent
for a dish of spaghetti with clam sauce. The same estate’s
red, Fuore Rosso
2009 ($22.99) has the same bountiful release
of fruit and a balance of softened tannins. I loved
this wine with a meal of grilled porterhouse steak
done over a charcoal fire.
Luigi Maffini Kratos 2010
($21.99)—Another of Campania’s bright young lights,
Luigi Maffini modernized his father’s winery of four
cultivated hectares, which now produces about 40,000
bottles of reds and whites. His Kratos vineyard
produces a very pretty white wine in the sense of it
light and well balanced between fruit and acid, citrus
and apple flavors, making it a wonderful wine with
linguine with garlic and oil or shellfish in a spicy
Villa Matilde Falanghina
2010 ($14.99)—Usually this quite simple wine
lacks body and texture, but I found Villa
Matilde’s—with a big 14 percent alcohol--to have a the
perfume of the Mediterranean in its nose, sun-rich
fruit and a clean, acidic finish. The wine is so good
on its own, I’d serve it as an aperitif with slices of
Prosciutto or with a Caprese salad of mozzarella and
fresh tomatoes and basil.
Campi Flegrei Piedrosso 2008 ($17.99)—A dominant red varietal in Campania, piedrosso has weight and heft, and Campi Flegrei, near Naples, respects that. Its aromatic aroma lasts and lasts, and fruit and tannin flow easily on the palate. This is an $18 wine I’d gladly pay double for.
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.
YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP
RUN THAT BY US AGAIN. . .?
hadn't been for the first omelette, I wouldn't have
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