IN THIS ISSUE
ANNAPOLIS, Part One
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WINES NOW AVAILABLE
By Geoff Kalish
ANNAPOLIS, Part One
By John Mariani
U.S. Naval Academy Bancroft Hall Dormitory, Annapolis MD
For a city of only eight square miles—one of them water—Annapolis has a remarkable mix of the historic, the quaint, and the majestic. The first of those may be segmented into Colonial, Revolutionary, Civil War, and twentieth century periods, one very different from the other, so that Annapolis’s architecture is a hodgepodge of slatted wooden houses (left) and mansions like the striking Hammond-Harwood House built in 1774, said to have "the most beautiful door in America"; red brick Georgian government buildings, including the high-on-a-hill Maryland State House (below)--the oldest capitol in continuous legislative use since 1772; and the expansive buildings of the sprawling U.S. Naval Academy, whose majestic Chapel, which holds the crypt of John Paul Jones, was dedicated in 1908. Everything at the Academy has been enlarged and modernized over the centuries.
There is history at every corner of the city. Annapolis was the nation's first peacetime capital of the new United States after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the Revolutionary War, and where General George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. It was not until 1845 that the Naval Academy was founded here, beginning with ten acres, now spread over 338 impeccably maintained acres of campus, classrooms, a vast sports center, and a dormitory of daunting size and architectural Beaux Art beauty; Bancroft Hall houses 4,000 midshipmen in 1,700 modern rooms, many appended to the original design as recently as the 1960s.
It is thrilling to visit this exceptional campus--which they call "the Yard"-- to see the Midshipmen in their variously colored uniforms, men and women from every state, race, national background and creed, studying everything from mathematics, science, and liberal arts to the history of war and the strategies of generals going back to Alexander the Great. Their curriculum is in many ways tougher than at even the most prestigious universities, for aside from requirements to pass strenuous physical tests of strength and stamina, the Midshipmen must also maintain high academic standards. Many grads who are commissioned as officers. go into the Navy, some the Marines, others the air forces of those two arms. It is a difficult school to get into and tough to get through. Time off base is restricted. All must live by an honor code. No one pays tuition.
Preble Hall (left) houses the Naval Academy Museum, containing 6,000 prints depicting European and American naval history from 1514 through World War II and one of the world's best ship model collections, with many made entirely of whalebone. Nimitz Hall is the Academy’s library.
Maryland was a border state and Annapolis was a Union stronghold during the Civil War so it suffered no damage, although 24% of the Naval Academy officers joined the Confederate cause, many serving in the South’s meager navy. As a result, many of the city’s colonial and ante-bellum houses still remain intact, with approved, color-coded plaques next to their doors explaining their role in the city’s history or what famous personage once lived there. Streets retain their 18th century English names—Duke of Gloucester, King George’s, Hanover—and, although the city lost most of its commercial maritime industry to Baltimore by the 1780s, this is still very much a port for recreational boating. Indeed, just a month ago the downtown port was completely renovated at a cost of $6.1 million, with a new seawall and widened boardwalk.
The city radiates out from the port, which is ringed with eateries, taverns, antique stores, and boutiques, including an LP record store and an old-fashioned barber shop, and there has always been a vibrant professional and community theater scene within the historic district, including the Colonial Players—its musical staging of “A Christmas Carol” is now an annual event— and the Annapolis Summer Garden presents outdoor productions each year. There is even a small Shakespeare company I managed to visit that was rehearsing Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
What I love best about the city, which I think of more as a large town, is that it’s so pleasingly walkable. It was not designed on some rigid grid pattern—from the air it looks like a maze—instead retaining centuries’ old narrow streets and corridors, mews and alleyways, some little more than cul-de-sacs, others that were once pathways for driven cattle. The round-abouts at Church Circle and State Circle slow everyone down to a civilized pace, and steepled churches pop out from unexpected places; there is also a memorial to Kunte Kinte, the real-life person who first set his shackled foot in America and was the inspiration for the slave hero of Alex Hailey’s novel Roots.
One of the most remarkable of the old mansions is the beautifully restored, five-part Georgian mansion called William Paca House and Garden (right), reclaimed from what was barely a shell of a 19th century entrance to a hotel and named after a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today its impeccably reconstructed two acre garden grounds now frequently used for weddings and other celebrations.
One spot I almost overlooked is the Historic Annapolis Museum Store on Main Street, just across from the City Dock. Inside the solid brick structure is a shop full of souvenirs devoted to local craftspeople, and upstairs is a small but very impressive exhibit entitled “Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake” (left) which relates the sad but inspiring stories of nine servants and slaves who tried to escape bondage between 1728 and 1864. Through documents taken from the city’s Maryland Gazette along with dramatic voices and visuals to tell their tales, the people tell their stories again, including the astonishing romance of an Irish-American girl whose love for an escaped black slave was so strong that, upon his capture, she chose to join him on the slave plantation rather than to live her life as a free woman without him.
You are never far from such echoes of history while walking the streets of Annapolis, cut into by the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay, discovered by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524. The Bay still flows for 200 miles to the Atlantic, that rough ocean so many of the city’s immigrants, many not by choice, once sailed so many centuries ago.
The city has a brand new website for travel info: VisitAnnapolis.org.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
405 East 52nd Street (near First Avenue)
I have written about Le Périgord several times over the past four decades—it opened 52 years ago—and I find that I could pretty much reprint what I said four years ago or ten years ago about this great bastion of French cuisine in NYC, whose competitors once numbered a score of such places with names like Lutèce, La Caravelle, Le Cygne and Le Pavillon, all long gone. Only the venerable La Grenouille survives and thrives along with Le Périgord, leading to the conclusion that such restaurants are wholly out of fashion.
The truth is, those other restaurants—what used to be called the “Le and La crowd”—closed for various reasons that range from impossible real estate hikes (when Le Périgord opened in 1964 its rent was $600 a month) to the retirement or death of the owners. There is no question that more modern styles of French restaurants opened in their wake—Daniel, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin—and NYC is still rife with French bistros like Benoit, Cognac Brasserie and La Mangeoire, but Le Périgord sails on against prevailing fashion, and it is as certain that you will meet owner Georges Briguet today as you would have in 1970, 1980, 1990 or 2000.
The word redoubtable seems created to describe Monsieur Briguet, as affable a Swiss host as you’ll ever find, ever in a tuxedo and pleated shirt (as are the captains), smiling broadly and greeting old and new friends, and always trying to find a way to make you come back again and again. Joined by his son, Christopher, Monsieur Briguet now works at his beloved restaurant simply because he loves it more than anything in the world, and he gets antsy when he takes vacations or even days off. Madame Briguet must be a very understanding woman.
The premises differ considerably from the dated look of old-line French restaurants with their scarlet banquettes and crowded-in tables in a favored front room; instead the dining room is done in warm tones of gold with track lights and mirrored columns, with well-separated tables set with roses, and the lighting flatters everyone from the front of the restaurant to the rear and along every wall. There is a marvelous array of cold hors d’oeuvres (below) as you enter—from smoked salmon and poached asparagus to pâtés, terrines, and cold shellfish with mayonnaise ($22)—next to an equally tempting cart of desserts and a guéridon for carved roasts.
Le Périgord still maintains a clientele from Sutton Place and the nearby U.N., and on a recent visit a number of representatives from Singapore dined happily at a long table in the main dining room, while a group from Goldman Sachs was in the rear party room.
You sit down to find the tablecloth thick, the pats of butter abundant, the bread made in house, the wine list full of old vintages whose prices haven’t changed in years, especially the collection of Burgundies.
Longtime Chef Joel Benjamin has honed every dish on the menu to rigid classic standards, so recommending the Dover sole (below) à la meunière ($50), or the quenelles of pike in sauce Nantua, is always a sure bet. Monsieur Briguet insists with total justification that Benjamin makes the best lobster bisque ($12) in the city—not too thick with cream, carefully passed through a sieve, tasting of nothing but lobster and the faint smokiness of its roasted shell.
The foie gras, from D’Artagnan, has a perfect little rind of yellow fat around it and glistening cubes of Sauternes gelée ($22). Meaty but tender sweetbreads are dusted with Moroccan harissa and sweet Bell pepper ($18), while escargots are served out of their shell, as a fricassee with hazelnut butter and wild mushrooms ($18). As many times as you’ll have rack of lamb in NYC, you’ll rarely find it so perfectly cooked, so perfectly fatted, and so generously portioned with a fresh thyme crust as you will here ($46).
When was the last time you had roast duck ($40), its skin as crisp as parchment, carved in front of you, pieces then placed on a warmed plate and drizzled with an impeccably reduced jus fragrant and sweetened with orange? This dish seems to be making a comeback in some quarters of NYC, but Le Périgord’s version is still far out ahead.
You must order soufflés ($8) in advance and, whether chocolate, hazelnut, Grand Marnier, or other, they will also exhibit how practice makes perfect in the way they achieve the ideal rise above the rim, the careful melding of egg whites and flavorings, and the pour of sauce or ice cream in the steaming pierced top.
Otherwise you must choose among desserts that seem to beam at you from their cart—deep dark chocolate mousse, golden Tarte Tatin, and my favorite, oeufs à la neige of whipped, cloud-like egg white puffs bathed in crème anglaise. Ten dollars brings you a selection of several desserts offered.
A prix fixe lunch is just $35 (also à la carte), and dinner, at $75 (with à la carte options, too), runs far below La Grenouille’s $138.
One more touch that makes Le Périgord unusual: It’s open on Sundays for dinner, when many families will assemble for a fine, restful meal and gracious hospitality.
Monsieur Briguet always seems to hint that someone might buy Le Périgord, but it’s difficult to imagine he would ever give up his labor of love and more difficult still to imagine Le Périgord without him.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
TOP-NOTCH SICILIAN WINES NOW AVAILABLE
By Geoff Kalish
Discovered in the United States by more than just the wine cognoscenti, a number of excellent, sensibly priced Sicilian reds, whites and rosés are now widely available across the country. In fact, while just a few years ago many restaurant wine lists lumped bottles from Sicily into a “Southern Italian” grouping or as “other,” these same eateries now provide far more than meager selections of vintages in a separate “Sicilian” category. And retail shops that once rarely carried more than a token bottle of Nero d’Avola, now offer shelves devoted to selections from the island. To gain insight into what the market has to offer, the NYC-based Wine Media Guild recently held a tasting of more than two dozen of these wines with lunch. The following are which I thought were the six best.
With so many too sweet, low-acid rosés (rosati in Italian) on the market, the 2015 Tasca d’Almerita Le Rosé di Regaleali Terre Siciliane ($13) was a welcome find. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, the wine had a salmon pink color, a fragrant bouquet of ripe cherries and strawberries, with a fruity taste that was crisp and dry on the finish. This wine makes an excellent aperitif, but it also mates well with salmon or pork.
The four standout reds were from totally different Sicilian locales. The 2014 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($23), from vineyards outside the town of Vittoria, showed a bouquet and easy-drinking taste of ripe plums and apricots, with a long pleasant finish. This wine goes well with a wide variety of fare ranging from steak tartare to grilled veal chops to pasta with red sauce.
The 2011 Palari Rosso
del Soprano ($59) hailed from the Messina
area and is a blend of primarily Nerello Mascalese
grapes (60%) and smaller amounts of five other
indigenous varietals. Albeit pricy, the wine is
amazingly Burgundian in style with a bouquet and
taste of plums and spice and a bit more oomph than
many reds from the Côte d’Or but not as
overwhelmingly fruity as a number of California
Pinot Noirs. Try it with grilled beef or lamb.
A 2010 Vivera Etna Rosso “Martinella” ($40), from the northest side of Mt. Etna —a blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio–-shows the great aging potential for this category of wine. It has a bouquet and soft taste of plums and strawberries interlaced with exotic spices and a smooth finish with a touch of tannin. Mate this wine with grilled pork chops, ripe cheeses or rich pasta Norma.
And those consumers who view Marsala as merely a cooking wine should try the Florio Targa Riserva Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco ($35 for a 500ml bottle) for a rich, sweet treat with flavors of dried figs and apricots and a vibrant acidity in the finish to enjoy with chocolate or mild cheeses.
FOODS TRENDING FOR
AT LEAST THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS
FOODS TRENDING FOR
AT LEAST THE NEXT THIRTY SECONDS
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❖❖❖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." THIS WEEK: MONTREAL AND TORONTO; HAWAII AND HONOLULU
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; email@example.com; www.nickonwine.com.
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