"Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of their Store" by Daniel MacDonald (1847)
IN THIS ISSUE
THE ALLURE OF ALSACE, Part One
By John A. Curtas
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
THE ALLURE OF ALSACE
By John A. Curtas
It is impossible not to fall
in love with Alsace. Once you see it for the first
time, resistance is futile. Once you taste and drink
its many delights, stroll its cobblestone streets,
and walk among the candy-colored, half-timbered
houses, you might as well resign yourself to a
life-long love affair with Franco-German France. Alsace is a
region, but it is also a culture: a battle-born
civilization of freedoms hard won, peoples
cross-pollinated and gastronomic traditions firmly
entrenched. It also happens to be one of the most
delicious places to eat and drink on the planet.
I like to think of Alsace as very, very French with a few German accents, and from the gingerbread architecture to the love of white wine to the gingerbread itself, you can revel in the similarities while enjoying the differences. All of which you can drink in when you are strolling the streets of Strasbourg.
You begin in Strasbourg (above, right), of course, because it is both the capital of Alsace and the gateway to the wine country. But this international city is also a gastronomic gem in its own right.
The best place to start your Alsatian education is in the Petite France section of the old city, and the best place to stay when doing so in Le Bouclier d'Or (left), a four-star hotel perched right on the edge of all sorts of gastronomic delights. Turn to your right as you exit and you will find yourself right in the heart of the most picturesque part of the city; turn a gauche and you'll be on a street filled with shops featuring all sorts of local delicacies, from the great cheeses of Alsace (Tomme, Cantal and Munster) to the local pain d’épices, baked into giant loaves weighing as much as a cinder block.
Cross the canal that circles the old part of the city and walk a few blocks and you'll find yourself smack dab in front Au Pont Corbeau (below), a local favorite for its cuisine Alsaçienne and wine list chock full of small, local producers at gentle prices. Just like Alsatians, we eschew the avant garde when we're here, opting for choucroute garni and tripes à la mode, both of which were as soul-satisfying and of-their-place as food can get. (Contrary to what you might think, tripes à la mode does not come with ice cream.)
After lunch, it's best to walk around, do some shopping, take in a museum, and visit the Strasbourg Cathedral with its single spire (the tallest in the world until 1874) and the technological marvel that is its astronomical clock. The clock is really more of a primitive calculating machine than a clock, but its 60-feet height, intricate beauty and advanced, 19th Century technology make it a wonder of artistry and engineering.
If all that sightseeing doesn't make you hungry, I
guarantee that a stroll down the Rue de Orfèvres
will. Here you will find the upscale Frick-Lutz, (below) and
various other traîteurs,
confectioners and sellers of Alsace specialties.
By now it should be getting close to dinnertime. You can pop into almost any restaurant in the Petite France quartier and be assured of having a good meal of local specialties; there's even a few newer places popping up with menus that hint of young chefs spreading their wings, e.g., 1741, Umami, but traveling to Strasbourg in search of the cutting-edge is like going to the Royal Philharmonic for some Philip Glass. Where we like to get a healthy dose of old Alsaçienne is at L'Ancienne Douane, whose name literally translates to "Restaurant at the Old Customs," located as it is in an ancient structure that dates to 1401. Located directly on the canal, L'Ancienne is the perfect place to while away a summer's day watching the boats go by as you tuck into hearty platters of jarret gratiné, a knuckle of ham with grated Munster cheese that's the size of a small football, or a tête de veau sauce ravigôte (veal head).
Speaking of football, the choucroute here -- garnished as it is with six separate meats, including two types of bacon and three different sausages -- could stymie an NFL linebacker. In chillier seasons, the cozy, wood-paneled dining rooms are the perfect places to drink in the local atmosphere and sip local wines, all served in those gorgeous, green-stemmed glasses.
Michelin inspectors are infamous for their fussiness and, more recently, their trendiness, so Au Crocodile's decidedly old-school charm might cost it a few points, but there's nothing overtly stuffy about the food or the service. The service was warm and welcoming, and the food was à point and all you could hope for in a fine French meal: gorgeous foie d'oie (right), roasted lobster with corral butter served with a fricassée of vegetables, and a pigeon de la ferme "Théo Kieffer" that was La Cuisine Français in all of its subtle-yet-intense glory.
Being no stranger to Michelin-starred
establishments, we left our meal here scratching our
head. If this place doesn't merit at least one star,
then something is amiss in the world's once
respected food guide. Regardless, if this is what
no-star cuisine tastes like in France, then we could
die happy eating nothing but. Bully for you,
Monsieur Bohrer! Stay the course and keep on
cooking, and we'll keep on coming to Strasbourg.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
1048 Third Avenue (corner of East 62nd Street)
Just three months old, and despite one change of chef and a re-casting of the menu, Theo’s has emerged as one of the best seafood restaurants in Manhattan. That it is owned by a good-looking 21-year-old Greek named Theo Katsihtis (his father is in the upscale café business) makes it all the more remarkable and lends the spacious, swanky restaurant a youthful vibe, which includes a DJ later in the evening. The interactive open kitchen (with a few counter seats for a tasting menu each night) adds light and some dramatic cooking pyrotechnics. The waitstaff is fleet-footed and very attentive, as is Theo himself, who visits all the tables to make sure all goes well.
The high ceilings, shades of gray and silver (despite what the photo above shows), antique acid-etched mirrors, slate-topped bar and tables set with tulips and votive candles make a stylish, comfortable ambiance, perhaps a bit more like Las Vegas than the East Side of Manhattan. Of course, there is the requisite long list of “signature” cocktails ($14), and the adequate wine list has a number of bottlings at decent prices that go with the kind of food served.
While Theo’s is described as a “Mediterranean restaurant,” the menu now includes a number of meat dishes that don’t quite fit that description. But, by sticking with the seafood, you will have no doubt that Theo and Chef Nicholas Poulmentis are trying to stay true to their commitment to seafood, from the array of East and West Coast oysters (market price), glistening in a splendid presentation, to a Spanish brown turbot, a species that almost never shows well in transport across the Atlantic but that here is as fine an example as I’ve had in NYC.
Poulmentis, from the island of Kythria, had been Executive Chef at Kellari Taverna, and the TV show “Greek Kitchen,” so you know where his heart lies.
You’ll receive small popovers instead of bread; unfortunately, ours came dried out, with no butter on the table.
To begin, my party enjoyed a lovely carpaccio of octopus dotted with caviar, and skewered grilled shrimp that had a good briny flavor to them. Light, generously proportioned lobster and citrus salad came with creamy avocado, frisée, fines herbs and red leaf sorrel ($22). We had a choice that evening of either Manhattan or New England clam chowder ($17), and I thought the latter would be a better test of the chef’s talents. I was rewarded with a textbook version of what New England chowder should be: creamy but not thick, seasoned but not over-spiced, with the right amount and size of tender clams with diced purple potato, bacon, celery leaf and purple shiso. Equally impressive was a pretty dish of crab and ricotta gnocchi ($24), al dente as they should be, with a touch of aji amarillo pepper, basil and a little paprika for color.
I have already mentioned the fine turbot, whose excellence was clearly due to its freshness; it was a special, indicating it was the day’s catch, not always on the menu. A tuna steak ($28) was nicely cooked and rendered but lacked fatty flavor and richness. But a Dover sole (left) revealed just how delicate a difference there is between a too-meaty, overcooked example and the tender, juicy, buttery one at Theo’s, where all the plates are heated to keep the food warm, essential for a fish like sole that is best filleted at the table. I prefer to perform that function by myself, and the kitchen smartly removed the boney edges, which facilitated the flesh to come off the spine with ease. I haven’t had Dover sole this good in this country in quite some time. Also, at $48 it was a bargain by comparison with what you may pay elsewhere in NYC.
Prices for meat dishes at Theo’s can be very high, however, almost as if they’d prefer you didn’t order them. And it is a shame, given the high quality of the rest of the ingredients on the menu and given his Greek background, that Katsihtis is serving inferior Australian lamb.
But even the French fries ($9) were close to the way they make frites in Europe, triple fried and cooked through, golden brown and crisp outside. Brussels sprouts ($9) were all right but nothing special, as if the chef felt he had to have them on the menu without really wanting to.
Desserts ($11-$14) were far from the usual: rosewater-flavored panna cotta; avocado semi-freddo with cream caramel and crushed pistachios; and gold-foil brushed chocolate cake with layers of chocolate soufflé and vanilla semi-freddo; and an English pie called banofee, with caramelized bananas and a waffle cup.
My friends and I were gone before Theo’s got into its post-nine p.m. swing, but while we were there, the noise level was wholly conducive to good conversation, and it’s worthwhile to have one with Theo himself. Within seconds you’ll sense how proud he is of what he’s trying to accomplish here, and his youthful exuberance is as fetching as the conviviality of a night at Theo’s.
Theo’s is open for dinner seven nights a week; Lunch is served Mon.-Fri. ; brunch Sat. & Sun.
Inside Edition reporters visited 28 restaurants, including Red Lobster and Nathan's in the Coney Island, ordering dishes supposed to contain lobster, then sent the meat off for DNA testing, finding that 35% of the samples had cheap fish substitutes like whiting or pollock. At Nathan's, the lobster-salad sandwich was all whiting. Red Lobster's lobster bisque turned out to contain either cheaper langostino or a mix of part langostino, part lobster. Red Lobster responded that the bisque has several types of fish because lobster's seasonality "can fluctuate," so that soups lacking any lobster at all what termed "what we call 'the luck of the ladle.'"
“Honestly, I didn’t think our
Mediterranean vacation could get much better.”
Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from amazon.com.
I'm proud and happy to announce that my new book, The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books), has just been published through Amazon and Kindle.
It is a novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured favorite. The story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring back his master back from the edge of despair.
WATCH THE VIDEO!
“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw
“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.
“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.
“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.
“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.
❖❖❖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, 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."
Eating Las Vegas
JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas
food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is
the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50
Essential Restaurants (the fourth
edition of which will be published in early
2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las
Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas.
He can also be seen every Friday morning as
the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the
Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3 in
nickonwine: 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
Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha
John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein,
Andrew Chalk, Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing
Photographers: Galina Dargery, Bobby
Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.
© copyright John Mariani 2016