"Eve" by Galina
IN THIS ISSUE
WHAT'S NEW IN MIAMI?
BY JOHN MARIANI
R.I.P. CLARISSA DICKSON WRIGHT
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
DAVIO'S Northern Italian Steakhouse
by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE NEW FACE OF BAROLO
by John Mariani
WHAT'S NEW IN MIAMI?
BY JOHN MARIANI
Ocean Boulevard, Miami Beach
Despite the pizzazz that still enlivens Ocean Boulevard on Miami Beach, a good deal of the gastro-excitement has shifted to other parts of Miami, not least the Design District, which is quickly becoming a destination for tourists as well as those looking to decorate their condos. Here are some of the most enticing new restaurants in the sun-kissed city right now, both on and off the Beach.
4141 NE 2nd Avenue
Quick: name a great Italian restaurant in Miami. No? Okay, how about a real good one? Take your time. Nothing? Then here’s the exciting news: MC Kitchen is not just the best and best looking Italian restaurant in Miami, it’s one of the best in America right now.
It’s hard to imagine an Italian restaurant in Miami having partners with better iambic names than Chef Dena Marino and Brandy Coletta. Dena’s national repute comes from working with Michael Chiarello at Tra Vigne in Napa Valley, then at Ajax Tavern in Aspen, where her lusty style of Italian cooking fit like a ski glove in the town’s Rocky Mountain chic.
Brandy, a grad of U of M and a business developer who worked on two Presidential campaigns, has a canny sense of South Florida style, shown in MC Kitchen's clean, stripped down décor befitting its Design District location, starting with gauzy curtains hung from a 16-foot ceiling, polished wood paneling, a bar backed in chrome and mirrors, and a white marble counter at the stainless steel open kitchen. Even the liquor and wine bottles seem artfully placed on glass shelves to harmonize with the rest of the décor.
What distinguishes MC’s cooking is its elemental simplicity--the first rubric of Italian cuisine, adapted by Dena Marino with all the gusto she can muster in a dish like her pappardelle of spring ramps and “forever braised” pork ragù, and her crisp, charred pizzas topped with broccoli di rabe, sausage, fontina and caramelized onions. Miami being a hot weather city, she lightens up the menu with a juicy mahi mahi with arugula, licorice-like fennel, tiny, rare Ligurian Taggiasche olives, and tangy orange vinaigrette.
Her food and Coletta’s savvy coalesce in a sophisticated balance rare in a sunny city where glitz too often trumps good taste.
35 NE 40th Street
This is another Design District restaurant whose previous occupant, Pacific Time, was much heralded as among the more innovative restaurants of its day. Oak Tavern owes its name to a huge and ancient oak tree on the premises, and it's more down to earth than its swanky predecessor, both in its décor and its menu, which pretty much has something for everyone. It’s got a big, long friendly bar, roomy leather banquettes, brick walls and tables made from reclaimed wood, with a large communal table on wheels near the entrance. Of course, this being Florida, there is ample space outside.
Chef David Bracha (below) separates his menu into small plates, pastas and pizzas, large plates, charcuterie, cheese and sides, and there’s plenty of everything, which means not everything is going to be of equal value. I was really won over by black grouper with an octopus-romesco stew ($26) and by a snapper filet with toasted farro, spring vegetables and pistou ($25). Suckling pig ($24)--a regular item here--was crisp of skin and velvety of flesh, served with hearty braised lentils, mustard fruit and a smoked jus.
I wasn’t enamored of the bland duck pizza with fontina and truffle ($15) or by the unconvincing St. Louis smoked ribs ($14)--there’s good reason why barbecue places are only barbecue places--but the boquerones with roasted peppers, kale, and ricotta ($6) are addictively good, and for dessert, if they have the pineapple upside-down cake, order it before they run out. Each day there is a special, like short rib pho or wood-grilled goat, all very modestly priced.
The wine list is short
unimpressive, but there’s a serious attitude towards
good artisanal beers.
Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., nightly for dinner.
431 Washington Avenue
The name is forgivably duplicitous, for while you will find beef cheek on the menu, I didn’t see any tongue; by the same token, the name implies this is a fun, drop-in kind of place with serious food, from charcuterie and cheeses to generous main courses, all served by a chef, Jamie DeRosa, with a very long, very fine résumé that includes working with well-known chefs Allen Susser, Wolfgang Puck, Mark Peel, Joachim Splichal, and Geoffrey Zakarian. Together with fellow industry veteran Michael Reginbogin, he opened the 150-seat Tongue & Cheek on South Beach.
The menu is not unlike Oak Tavern’s, though smaller and better focused, starting off with appetizers like bruschetta of heirloom tomatoes with Boursin-style cheese ($9), and finger foodie lettuce wraps of crispy pig’s ears with orange and salted peanuts ($14).
Ricardo Torres does some fine desserts, not least Norman’s Key lime pie (in homage to Florida chef Norman van Aken, I suspect), and a Cracker Jack milkshake and Almond Joy bar that is sure to make your head waggle.
The place is big and wide, rich in wood and subway tiles, with views of the Miami skyline painted as a mural. It’s a lot of fun, though the music can get way too loud, and there’s hardly a dish on the menu that will leave you hungry.
Dinner served nightly.
Gale South Beach Hotel
1690 Collins Avenue
when it comes to Italian food, and Chef Paolo
Dorigato has a good one:
born in Trento, he picked up his American mojo at
restaurants like Le Cirque,
Osteria del Circo, and Cipriani Wall Street in New
York before coming to Miami,
where he is doing some authentic cucina
italiana in a refined, sleek dining room that
could very well be on Milan’s
fashion street, Via Montenapoleone.
Like MC Kitchen, Dolce brings a higher level of
Italian cuisine to the city and certainly to the
By all means begin with selections from the mozzarella bar with artisanal meats and vegetables ($14-$26). There are pizzas ($13-$17) listed, too, but I found them too trendily thin in the crust, without the proper chewiness. Pastas include an excellent short rib ravioli in a richly reduced Barolo wine sauce ($$22) and a very tasty pappardelle alla bolognese ($20), although it’s more a meat and tomato sauce than an authentic rendering alla bolognese. Spaghetti and meatballs ($23) are a nice choice, now becoming again as popular as pasta primavera used to be.
Dorigato is at his finest with seafood: a roasted branzino ($34) was perfect, served with cous cous, baby carrots and cherry tomato sauce (right), and the seared red snapper ($27) with leeks, asparagus and olives was simple and delicious in every moist morsel. I did not care at all for his veal milanese with Tuscan fries.
The best of the desserts is his budino pudding with salted caramel and a chocolate chip cookie for good measure, followed by a light panna cotta with mango puree and strawberry compote.
Dolce’s wine list is not particularly comprehensive but solidly chosen in both white and red categories.
Dolce serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
THE CYPRESS ROOM
3260 NE Second Avenue
No one is a bigger fan than I of Chef Michael Schwartz, whose fabulous Michael Genuine Food & Drink was the first big opening salvo in the Design District a few years back. Indeed, the restaurant rang up so many awards, including my own as one of the “Best New Restaurants of the Year” in Esquire, that money men came calling and convinced Schwartz to open a lot more places very quickly, including another Michael’s Genuine in the Cayman Islands, dining rooms on two Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Harry’s Pizzeria, as well as a line of beers. (His Restaurant Michael Schwartz in The Raleigh Hotel is in limbo with the recent sale of the property.)
On top of all that he opened The Cypress Room last year in the Design District, a small, clubby dining venue that has the ambiance of one from the 1950s, with a wood-burning grill as the featured cooking implement. This means the cooking is very simple, which I usually applaud, but I found the food overall to lack any real excitement, and there were some problems with pacing and the temperature of the food. Royal red shrimp ($23) with cucumber, coconut, lime and puffed rice was pleasant enough, but frog’s legs ($21) with capers and potato definitely needed a dose of garlic. An onion soup ($17) was actually a thin chicken broth with a pullet egg and a little Gruyère cheese.
The best of the entrees was a superb bouillabaisse Florida style ($37) with aromatic fennel and plenty of good olive oil, and I sort of enjoyed a leg of lamb in broth ($46). A not very big antelope chop ($46) came out tepid and bland. Thrice-Cooked fried potatoes ($10) were absolutely wonderful and I wish I'd ordered more. There is also, as it follows the fashion of the day, a côte de boeuf I didn’t try, at a whopping $139 for two.
Of the desserts a Pavlova cake had a meringue crust that was too hard when it should have been crisp but yielding.
I hope that Michael Schwartz has not got too much on his plate to deal with. He's immensely talented, but The Cypress Room does not show that off at his best. Nor do management contracts on cruise lines.
CLARISSA DICKSON WRIGHT LEAVES THE KITCHEN
This week the last of the “Two Fat Ladies" died: Clarissa Dickson Wright followed the passing away of her colleague Jennifer Patterson (on the right in the photo) in 1999, leaving everyone who loves food very much to mourn two of the great teachers of English cookery.
couple filmed four BBC series that became
internationally beloved for their
quirky disobedience to any trends or fashions in
around the English
countryside in their sidecar motorcycle, they would
arrive at a large stone
house, enter a spacious well-equipped antique
kitchen and begin preparing old-fashioned British
fare underpinned by classical French technique.
Wright had once been an attorney, battled and defeated alcoholism, worked as a cook and managed a London book shop, ran a catering business and luncheon club, and became a guild butcher—a rarity for a woman then. She had run through a large inheritance, went bankrupt more than once, and grew fat. But when asked if she minded the TV show being called “Two Fat Ladies,” she replied, “If you're fat you're fat. I hate this modern-day political correctness, that you don't call things by their proper name."
Her persona, which was only slightly less eccentric than her partner’s, was that of a formidable and brazenly large woman, laughing heartily, tongue in cheek, lecturing, cajoling, and saying outrageous things like, “you really want to get it well greased. Did you see `Last Tango in Paris?’ Something like that.” She raged at health food and never imagined too much of something could be anything but better.
The two women had
actually never met before they went on the air in
1996, so the show was really an act, one
playing off the other, Jennifer r-r-r-rolling
and Clarissa making
off-color jokes as the kitchen filled up with
wonderful smells only imaginable by
the TV viewer. The show met every
expectation of those who like their Brits dotty, and
Wright and Patterson
played it all to the hilt—fiercely intelligent but
seeming to be completely loopy. They were the polar
opposites of the frenzied BBC sitcom characters
Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone on "Absolutely
Fabulous." The Fat Ladies never quite
winked at the camera
but you knew they were having a ball, and it came
through the airwaves like the
aroma of vanilla and caramelized sugar.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
NORTHERN ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE
451 Lexington Avenue (near 46th Street)
Monday night in NYC. Bitter cold: 21 degrees with wind chill factor down to 10. Nobody on the streets. Not a night to go out to dinner. Yet, upon entering the three-month-old Davio's, I found that it seemed everyone who did go out to dinner that night was in the restaurant, which was doing booming business. Which goes to prove that: New Yorkers are a tough bunch; steakhouses make sense anywhere; and Davio's, a small steakhouse chain, has plenty of out-of-town regulars and new fans.
Since opening the original Davio’s in Boston, owner Steve DiFillippo has had considerable success capitalizing on the Italian steakhouse theme, with branches in Foxborough and Lynnfield, MA, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. When I heard he was opening in NYC, I arched an eyebrow, not because Davio’s food could not compete with the city's better steakhouses, but because I wasn’t sure New Yorkers would embrace a Boston clone, especially in a neighborhood overrun with steakhouses.
Obviously, I had no need to worry. For, like several of the new steakhouses around town, like NYY Steak, Del Frisco’s Grill, and Costata, the formerly entrenched attitude problem at the door of older Manhattan steakhouses is nowhere part of the reception or service at Davio's, which is subterranean. People who come down the stairs here are welcomed warmly and treated to a robust hospitality that most patrons come to cherish.
Of course, the addition of the title “Northern Italian Steakhouse” to the Davio’s name means that the menu will cast a wider net than most others in the field. Indeed, Davio’s menu is somewhat unwieldy, with many more dishes than is necessary. Chef Chad Brown, a native of Seoul, South Korea, has a solid résumé that includes stints at NYC’s Del Posto, CATCH, and Bond 45, and he’s been given some leeway to create his own dishes that you won’t find at other Davio’s branches.
It’s a good looking place, broken into sections, with a bar with its own menu, a semi-open kitchen, well-set and well-separated tables, and good modern artwork, all of it breaking away from the clichés of steakhouses with wood floors, yellowed walls, and dark wainscoting.
The best dish of our evening at Davio’s was the very first--crisp chicken livers with a Port balsamic glaze, toasted pine nuts, and crisp spinach ($12), the kind of dish that, once tasted, will change your idea of chicken livers forever. Pan-seared foie gras took beautifully to fig and ricotta-stuffed gnocchi in a lush Vin Santo sauce ($21). American Kobe meatballs with tomato sauce and caciocavallo cheese ($12) were very good, though I’m not sure they were much improved by adding Kobe beef to the mix.
There are six pasta dishes on the menu and every one I tried was first rate, including spaghettini with abundant lobster, tomatoes, and basil ($34). Capellacci come with slowly roasted squash, Amaretti cookie crumble and a rich walnut cream sauce ($27), while potato gnocchi (left) with mushrooms, basil and white truffle oil ($28) were fought over at our table.
I have chided the Davio’s people for a lack of authenticity in their “bolognese” sauce, but their tagliatelle in a braised veal, beef, pork and tomato sauce ($28) would win over anyone by any name whatsoever. It’s delicious.
This is a steakhouse, but we enjoyed a pan-seared halibut whose snow white flesh was well accompanied by pancetta bacon, broccoli di rabe and the sparkling addition of tangerine, all in an olive oil and anchovy bagna cauda bath ($38).
The beef dishes come from unassailable sources, including a
fine center cut filet ($37) with more flavor than expected of this cut (right), and a finely crusted NY sirloin ($48), cooked perfectly, with a deep rich flavor only meat this good can achieve. Side sauces like blood orange citron, salsa verde, truffle tarragon butter and Davio’s Steak Sauce are available.
In the face of such quality meats, it was puzzling, then, to find an Australian rack of lamb (with roasted lamb neck, escarole ragu, and cannellini beans) at $45 on the menu--especially since the Atlanta Davio’s serves far superior Colorado lamb (which is infinitely better than the New Zealand lamb they serve in Philadelphia for $49). Davio’s NY’s nearby East Side competitors--Palm, Smith & Wollensky, Sparks, Michael
Jordan, and others--all serve American lamb for the same reason they serve American beef: superior quality.
Side dishes all ranked with the best around town--buttermilk mashed potatoes, spinach alla romana, spicy broccoli di rabe, and more, though it’s odd they don't offer the usual French fries, hashed browns or onion rings.
Desserts like panna cotta (right) are
generously proportioned to share, and the warm
chocolate cake is a fine one.
An added attraction is Davio’s proximity by one block to Grand Central Terminal, and breakfast is served every day. More important, in a neighborhood already rife with steakhouses, Davio’s is trying hard to attract a clientele that can count on true hospitality rather than the kind of favoritism that reigns at its competitors. They do so by offering a two-course $25 lunch and a three-course $38 dinner, Bar Menu, and, exclusive to the NYC branch, wines are half price on Sundays from 5 pm to 10 pm.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By John Mariani
It is by now a given among connoisseurs that Italy’s Barolo wines are on a par with the very finest wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, though there is something of a cold war going on among Barolo producers in the region of Piedmont, pitting strict traditionalists against a more progressive wing.
Not that anyone there can fiddle too much with the basics, for under Italian wine laws Barolo must be made entirely from nebbiolo grapes from delimited zones within Piedmont, named after the towns set among 19th century vineyards. Barolo will always be a big, tannic red wine--called “noble”--and the government gives the wine its highest appellation, D.O.C.G., which means it is guaranteed to be among the highest quality wines in Italy. Indeed, if a vintage turns out to be low in quality, the Barolo vintners must label their product as simple “table wine.”
The imbroglio among vintners in the present century matches those who believe that Barolo must be made tannic, with fermentation lasting up to two months and aging done in huge old oak barrels called “tonneaux” for many years, and, on the other side, a younger generation that believes the old style robs the wine of its fruit and takes far too long to mature. These modern Barolos are more commonly aged in smaller French barrels called “barriques” and made of new wood. That these are somewhat less weighty wines than the traditional Barolos is generally true.
The problem for the consumer comes when confronted by so many new Barolo labels. Wine-Searcher.com shows 500 different Barolo labels on its website , and that’s only a partial list. And these producers want very much to sell to the U.S. market because interest here is very high.
“Americans who love wine really know a lot about them--more than many Europeans,” says Paolo Damilano, a fourth-generation winemaker at his family’s Piedmont estate, Damilano (right). “It’s difficult to sell Barolo in Italy because the Italians think of it as a special occasion wine, while Americans drink it as often as they wish to.”
The occasion I had to drink Damilano’s wines was at Ristorante Morini in New York when Guido was on a sales and media tour. “Sixty percent of our exports are to the U.S.,” he said over a plate of macaroni with tomato, onions and mozzarella. “Only fifty percent of our wines are actually sold in Italy.”
Paulo (on the right in photo) and his brother Guido, together with their father, Mario, date the family’s winery to 1890. Originally set on just 12 acres, it has been appended with holdings in the most prestigious zones, including La Morra, Casorzo, Serralunga, and others, all growing nebbiolo grapes, but each with a different expression of terroir in the wines.
One section, called Cannubi, is planted on a long hill above the town of Barolo, providing an ideal amount of sun and a perfect mixture of marl and sandstone soil for the grapes to prosper (below). Damilano’s Cannubi, from vines that date back five decades, is aged for two years in the traditional big oak barrels, and on its emergence in the market its tannins are tamed and its elegance pronounced, even with a high 15 percent alcohol. The fruit and acids are impeccably balanced and go very well with simple dishes and meats.
Damilano’s Barolo Brunate, made from grapes from younger, albeit 30-year-old vines, is only 14 percent alcohol, after spending 24 months in a succession of new and old oak barrels. It has amazing richness bound with complexities and nuance, and, if one is willing to wait three to five years, it will be a template for a middle style, between strict tradition and progressivism.
Damilano also produces less expensive Piemontese wines like Barbera d’Asti, Arneis, Nebbiolo and Chinato, but it is on their Barolos that they stake their reputation and on the American market where they are carefully building it.
THERE WAS SOME THOUGHT ABOUT
WRAPPING THE WHOLE THING IN BACON THEN TOPPING
IT WITH FRENCH FRIES AND ROLLING IT INTO A
PEPPERONI PIZZA, BUT IT WAS NOT COST EFFECTIVE
According to the Los Angeles Times, Taco Bell is testing a burrito and quesadilla combination that rolls the contents of a burrito inside a toasted quesadilla. Some of you might recognize this exciting menu item as Taco Bell’s answer to the Quesarito, a secret menu item from Chipotle. Taco Bell’s Quesarito options will include a beef, shredded chicken or steak burrito with rice and sour cream, wrapped in a grilled quesadilla. Depending on your choice of meat, the test prices range from $1.99 to $2.99.
10: SOME OF THEM SEEM
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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: SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA
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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).
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