Casino de Paris poster (c. 1937) by J.D. Van Caulert
IN THIS ISSUE
WHAT'S BLOOMING IN DALLAS?
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT'S NEW IN
By John Mariani
WHAT'S BLOOMING IN DALLAS?
By John Mariani
Charlotte and Donald Test Kitchen at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
In the Texas culture wars among Dallas, Houston and Austin, Big D has been investing heavily in making the city a Southwest hub for art, architecture and modern museums, doing so by hiring some of the best architects in the world: Renzo Piano did the Nasher Sculpture Center, Thom Mayne did the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Robert A.M. Stern the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and Naud Burnett Landscape Architects just did a unique addition to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden called A Tasteful Place (right), a $12 million, 3.5-acre ornamental garden, pavilion and kitchen, along with the Margaret and Jay Simmons Lagoon.
The Arboretum itself—which Dallas boosters boast has always operated in the black—was named “One of the World’s 15 Most Breathtaking Gardens” by Architectural Digest. A Tasteful Place goes well beyond the traditional mission of most other botanical gardens. According to the architectural firm’s president, Kevin Clark, the six-year project was always focused on sustainability and the propagation of plants and vegetables that will be used in cooking classes at the glassed-walled Charlotte and Donald Test Kitchen, in conjunction with partners that include the Dallas County Master Gardeners and Master Wellness program of Texas A&M AgriLife; El Centro College; the Department of Clinical Nutrition, UT Southwestern School of Health Professionals and the Center for Human Nutrition; UT Southwestern Medical Center; and Texas Woman’s University Department of Nutrition & Food Sciences.
The modernity of the design incorporates the latest environmental technology, like using gunite and bentonite to create the bottom of the lagoon, which will enable the Arboretum to collect rainwater and run-off to fill the lagoon, planted with water lilies, water pickerel, water bacopa, water poppy and lizard tail.
At night the lighted fountain changes colors and sprays 20 feet in the air, while a brook runs under a bridge and connects other sections of the 66-acre Arboretum, incorporating hardy trees like October Glory Maples, Ginkgo, Bur Oaks, Live Oaks, Magnolias, Japanese Maples, Golden Rain Trees, and Vitex Trees that will provide various changing colors throughout the year. In the children’s Adventure Garden, water is used to generate electricity as well as water fountains and misters in the hot, humid Dallas climate.
“From the walkways [around it], we’re intentionally trying to obscure the views of A Tasteful Place until the last moment,” says Clark, “so that once you step inside, you have those ‘a-ha!’ moments.”
Also new to the city’s cultural landscape is the Texas Sculpture Walk in the downtown Dallas Arts District, said to be the largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation. More than 20 works by prominent Texas artists were installed along the walkway from the private collection of Craig and Kathryn Hall, whose 180-story, LEED Gold Certified KPMG Plaza at Hall Arts opened three years ago, done by architectural firm HKS Inc. The 50,000-square-feet property also includes the city’s most acclaimed new restaurant, Stephan Pyles’ Flora Street Café (below), and the Asian fusion concept Musumé.
FLORA STREET CAFÉ
2330 Flora Street
Stephan Pyles has for four decades been the city’s most innovative chef for his elegant Southwest modern cuisine, and his new restaurant was designed by Jim Rimelspach of Wilson Associates to fit impeccably into the Dallas Arts District. A jellyfish-like lighting fixture moves up and down, opening and closing from the ceiling, and the chandeliers mimic those of famous opera houses around the world. A canopy of backlit amber alabaster panels are suspended over a wide open kitchen and bar, while a large abstract 3D tapestry overlooks the dining room, and a floor-to-ceiling, mirrored étagère holds jars of red chili peppers and yellow lemons. The room is, though, very loud at peak period, and the throbbing music only adds more sound to detract from conversation. I would have thought the designer wold have put in baffling.
As I mentioned to Pyles when I dined there, most
chefs cook in a simpler style as they grow older,
but at his new place he is doing more complex food
than ever before.
The menu descriptions go on and on, so you
don’t need the waitress to vocalize them.
I was wild abut the intense flavor of crispy Colorado lamb belly with avocado-watermelon, huarache, creamer Peas and spicy salsa verde ($19), the kind of dish Pyles has always made his signature, and Amish chicken roulade with mojo-rojo, peas, poblano quesadilla and cauliflower al pastore ($19) shows how he can meld Mexican flavors so impeccably with American ingredients. Saline North Carolina country ham added measurably to the taste of silky sea scallops that had a tangerine crust and a sweet eggplant puree ($48). But best of all I tasted was Texas wagyu ribeye brisket with grilled okra, baby roots, and Mole Negro ($52), which showed this cut to be far more interesting than an unctuously fatty slab of wagyu.
Desserts are equally as well thought through, like the tres leches crèmeux with Texas peach ice cream then in season, dulce de leche and the nice citrus tang of verbena ($10), and a cassis parfait with hibiscus sorbet, brown flower sable and berry-glazed jicama ($10).
A night out at the Flora Street Café will be expensive, but no one will complain about the portions, the number sides on a dish or the overall sumptuousness of the experience here. Combine it with one of the city's best wine lists, and it’s easy enough to see why this is a tough reservation to snag on short notice.
Open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; for dinner
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
287 Hudson (between
Spring and Canal)
It was a little off-putting when I read Adoro Lei’s menu with names for its pizzas that include “Worship Wings,” “Boozy Bettina” and “Tempted to Touch.” (You can only imagine what the cocktails are named.) Also, from photos of the place, the owners seem to stress a nightclub vibe and glam crowd rather than the food.
Yet walking into Adoro Lei (Italian for “I adore her”), our party was well received, promptly seated and served by a very engaging young woman who balanced professionalism with an infectious personality and her own fashion style.
The photo appended here (left) doesn’t really show the color and pizzazz of the dining room, its walls set with a series of women-with-food images by artist Dessie Jackson (left). The bar, where old movie scenes are looped, was doing well that night, and, this being Thursday, a DJ was getting ready to spin music certain to make anyone over the age of fifty squirm.
The menu is a broadsheet of departments—salads, panini, Share Us apps, soup, entrees, pasta, wood burning vegetables, and, smack in the center, eighteen pizza variations ($12-$20). Chef Mario Gentile knows very well how to make true Neapolitan-style pizza, not the ultra-thin crackling kind popular elsewhere. His are puffy, yeast-scented and pliant. I didn’t deliberately avoid the goofy-name pizzas but ordered what sounded the most savory, all made with a first-rate crust impeccably baked in a wood-burning oven smoking away in the background. A Romeo pie was topped with good spicy sausage, peppers, sweet onions, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, while a Simonetta had onions caramelized in Sherry wine, stracciatella and herbed goat’s cheeses and “exotic mushrooms,” which were not. Charlotte contained braised veal-and-pork meatballs, creamy ricotta, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Next time I may be tempted by a Niccolo with fennel and soppresatta, or the fried pizza.
The two “Share Us” appetizers we tried were bland—chewy fried calamari and lobster mac & cheese—but a side dish of roasted Brussels sprouts cauliflower with caramelized onions, red pepper flakes, lemon and pecorino ($9) was very good. A generous portion of eggplant “parm” ($17), now making a big comeback around town, was scooped up quickly by everyone at my table, and the “lover’s purses” of pasta stuffed with cheese, sweet ripe pear in a brown butter and sage sauce with roasted walnuts, arugula and Parmigiano shavings was overwrought but a dish very much fit for lovers to share ($22 or $32).
There are beignets and Italian cookies for dessert, if you’re still hungry. The slender wine list is nothing to cheer about.
By nine p.m. the music was getting louder and the vibe of Adoro Lei shifting into high gear, so anyone considering a relaxing visit should get there around seven. You’re in for big flavors and big portions. You’ll have a very good night of it and probably take some food home.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR❖❖❖
WHAT'S NEW IN
An Interview with Moët &Chandon's Benȏit Gouez
The caves at Moët-Chandon, Épernay
As it should be, the great wine estates of France are tied to traditions that have consistently made their products among the finest in the world, as much for Champagne as for Bordeaux and Burgundy. Still, wars, economic depressions and change of ownership have always affected the Champagne regions of Reims and Épernay, while technology has improved the overall product, even if the sacrosanct méthode champenoise technique remains tied to the18th century.
To bring me up to date I sat down with Benôit Gouez (left), 48, for thirteen years Chef de Cave at Moët & Chandon (below), over dinner at New York’s Gabriel Kreuther restaurant and learned there is much that is new among so much that is old in the sparkling wine industry.
Gouez, who looks a bit like a younger French version of Robert DeNiro, is hardly alone in wanting to promote Champagne beyond its special occasion image, noting that while 300 million bottles of the French bubbly are produced each year, the French drink up half of it.
“You know, Champagne is very much a global wine,” he said. “Champagne invented marketing! Everyone knows it around the world, and when people see others drinking it from a nice Champagne glass, they think, hmm, I think I’d like a glass for an apéritif or over dinner. People are drinking it in a more casual way, even over ice.”
When I asked if he thought pouring Moët on the rocks was a little demeaning to Champagne’s image, Gouez shrugged and said, “If you’re sitting in the sun on the French Riviera or in Miami, the idea of Champagne on ice makes a lot of sense.”
I asked if sales of Italian prosecco and Spanish cavas, which are always cheaper than even entry-level Champagnes, have affected Champagne sales. Gouez replied, “No, except for those Champagnes that shouldn’t exist.”
He also contended there has been a renewed interest in sweeter, demi-sec Champagnes after decades when bone-dry examples garnered all the cachet. I told him I have long thought that most of the préstige cuvée Champagnes called pas dosage—by which the traditional small amount of liquid sugar (dosage) used to balance acidity is not used lack the cherished fruit flavor Champagne should have. Gouez did not disagree, saying quite pointedly, “Pas dosage has more to do with an intellectual vision, not with pleasure. The dosage helps the wine recover from the possibility of oxidizing after fermentation of the natural sugar in the grapes.” He then admitted that sales of préstige cuvées are minuscule: “Sales people talk about them, but people don’t drink them.”
Although Gouez has been with Moët for only 20 years, 13 as Chef de Cave, he has a comprehensive knowledge of the wines’ history over the past 150 years. Napoleon was a visitor (left). “I’ve tasted some very old Champagnes that were well made and still lively after a century in the bottle. But up until the post-war era not all Champagne was very well made or might be made from inferior grapes and stocks. In the 1930s they had much lower yields, so that the producers in Épernay and Reims made more from selling potatoes. Even in the ‘70s and ‘80s there was little that was extraordinary. Vines were young and they didn’t control them the way we do today.”
To Gouez every harvest is different, even though Moët’s Brut Impérial is the epitome of the label’s consistent style. The blend was created in 1869 and is now made from more than 100 different wines, 20% to 30% of them reserve wines. It matures in the cellar for 24 months, then for at least three in bottle. The style is definitely fruit rich, sprightly with fine bubbles and very appealing with a wide range of tastes. At $39 it may be the best buy from a great marque you’ll find.
For vintage-dated Champagnes he believes no years should be the same: “We vary the percentage of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The effervescence must be taken into account.”
I asked if climate change and global warming have had an effect on Champagne production. “We have data on climate and temperature going back to the 1940s,” he said, “and we’ve looked at ten-year averages and clearly see a curve. From 1940 to 1988 the sugar decreased, but since 1988 the opposite is true. The heat causes the grapes to have more sugar, which up until now has been a positive thing, but we don’t know about the future if things continue to change. I do know we are harvesting earlier than ever. We never used to harvest in August in the last century; now we do.”
We also tasted two wines from the Grand Vintage Collection. The 2002 ($140) came from a perfect summer’s weather, with each vineyard harvested according to ripeness, some well into September. The assemblage is 51% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 23% Pinot Meunier. The disgorgement was done only one year ago, and Moët is known for holding its wines back sometimes twice the average legal requirement. I found it had a rich plum and peach component, with a pleasing toasty quality in the finish.
The 2009 ($65) fell under Gouez’s tenure, when the weather was perfect and the vintage was one of the finest of the decade, allowing Gouez ample opportunity to make the assemblage, which turned out to be 50% Pinot Noir—the highest since 1996–-36% Chardonnay and 14% Meunier. It’s a beautiful Champagne, very full—you can taste the influence of the Pinot Noir—with a great deal of complexity, a wine that will certainly age well but is so delicious right now that I would not want to wait.
A brand new production from Moët is called MCIII ($280; in magnum $650), which, said Gouez, “was twenty years in the making, the ultimate blend!” It also comes in a dazzling new bottle, nothing like the traditional Moet bottles. The name means “Moët & Chandon Three Strata,” referring to the “perfect integration and complementarity [sic] of the assembled wines,” which leads to “sagas,” that is, “unique expressions.”
The Primary Stratum is “made from the metal universe,” meaning the most intense Chardonnay and the most structured Pinot Noir from 2003 that have been fermented and aged in stainless steel vats to add an intense fruity wine dimension. The Second Stratum is from the wood universe, with Grand Vintage blends 1998, 2000 and 2002 that have been partially aged in large oak casks, which integrates “more elements of transformation and evolution” that “evokes images of the autumn season.” The Third Stratum is glass, with Grand Vintage Collection 1993, 1998 and 1999 aged in bottle and disgorged, giving the finished wine “a dimension that is lively and full of vitality with more roasted notes and depth.”
It all sounds like Marketing Speak to me, but the wine is a charming, elegant and complex Champagne that is probably going to shake up some of the region’s other grandes marques to take more novel approaches to their own wines.
STUPID CRIMINALS, PART 2,455
Bradley Hardison (right), a North Carolina competitive doughnut-eating champion, was convicted for breaking into a safe at Dunkin’ Donuts.
AH, YES. . . FOREVER GQ
AH, YES. . . FOREVER GQ. . . YOU COULD GRILL BURGERS ON THOSE FAB ABS!
Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
Wine is a joy year-round but in cooler weather one grape varietal has really taken center stage in my daily activities – that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello di Montalcino.
From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.
Second, cooler weather here means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines. That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello. Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello. The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.
What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura? Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi. When we first began planting our vines there in the late 1970s studies from the University of Bordeaux indicated which strains of many varietals we should plant, based on the soil type and microclimate of each vineyard. But when it came to the region’s native Sangiovese, there was only local lore, no scientific research. So we took it upon ourselves to figure out this vine, and set off on three decades of incredibly detailed research.
We started with 600 apparent variations on Sangiovese, because it is so susceptible to variations in weather and soil, and narrowed that down to 160 truly genetically different clones. We planted a vineyard with two rows of each type, made wine from each of them, and charted the differences – remember, you only get one chance a year to make wine, so this took time.
It took about ten years to get some concrete results, though we continue to experiment today and always will – you never stop learning in science and nature! Once we determined which were the best, complementary clones that could be planted together to make the best Brunello, we chose to plant them in what we determined to be the optimal vineyard sites. Coincidentally, the best soils and climate conditions are in the slopes surrounding the medieval fortress today known as Castello Banfi, known since Etruscan times as Poggio alle Mura – the walled hilltop. Hence the name of our most special “cru” of Brunello, representing a synthesis between tradition and innovation.
Though the focus of this study was our Brunello, all of our Sangiovese-based wines, including the super Tuscans SummuS, Cum Laude, and Centine, benefitted from this work. And that’s the third reason for celebrating Sangiovese this month, for the range of wonderful reds that usher us into autumn! One wine in particular was inspired by our research – the BelnerO, a Sangiovese dominant blend with what I like to call a kiss of Cabernet and a whisper of Merlot. We grow the grapes a little differently for BelnerO than for Brunello, make the wine with less oak aging and released it earlier from the winery, providing a counterpoint to Brunello and a lovely terroir-driven wine in its own right.
If you know Italians, you know that by nature we are multi-faceted, varying in mood, and always passionate. As a nation, we span from the hot sunny beaches of Sicily near the African coast to the rugged mountains and Alpine ski slopes of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north. Sangiovese is grown in almost all of Italy’s regions and reflects the unique nature of each; it is most famous (rightfully so) in Tuscany, yet even there it reflects the nuances of each hilltop, valley and subzone. It has something a little different to say in Brunello than Chianti, Morellino than Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino than Super Tuscan blends.
Here is a smattering of Sangiovese-based wines that you may wish to get to know better, reflecting a spectrum that appeals to every occasion, every taste, and every budget. We can assure you that the conversation will never become boring.
Recommendations for Celebrating Sangiovese
BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese – A refined cuvée of noble red grapes perfected by our pioneering clonal research. This dark beauty, BelnerO, is produced at our innovative winery, chosen 11 consecutive years as Italy’s Premier Vineyard Estate. Fermented in our patented temperature controlled French oak and aged approximately 2 additional years. Unfiltered, and Nitrogen bottled to minimize sulfites.
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, with flavor hints of licorice, cherry, and spices. Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste. Unfiltered after 1998 vintage.
Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrique for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish.
Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – A single vineyard selection of our most historically outstanding Sangiovese, aged five years before release, the additional year more than that required of Brunello including 6 months in barrel and 6 months more in bottle to grant its “Riserva” designation. Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of fruit and subtle wood influence. Round, complete, well balanced with hints of chocolate and berries. Unfiltered after 1998.
Poggio alle Mura – The first tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape. Estate bottled from the splendidly sun drenched vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name. The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky. Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices. The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red. The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut. It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note. It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.
SummuS – A wine of towering elegance, SummuS is an extraordinary blend of Sangiovese which contributes body; Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit and structure; and Syrah for elegance, character and a fruity bouquet. An elegant, complex and harmonious red wine.
Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.
Centine – A Cuvee that is more than half Sangiovese, the balanced consisting of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes, this is a smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character, and a perennial favorite at my own dinner table.
Banfi Chianti Superiore – The “Superiore” designation signifies stricter government regulations regarding production and aging requirements, as compared to regular Chianti. An intense ruby red wine with fruit forward aromas and floral notes. This is a round wine with well-balanced acidity and fruit.
Banfi Chianti Classico – An enduring classic: alluring bouquet of black fruit and violets; rich flavors of cherry and leather; supple tannins and good acidity for dining.
Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – Produced from select grapes grown in the "Classico" region of Chianti, this dry, fruity and well-balanced red has a full bouquet reminiscent of violets.
Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico – This is our newest entry into the Chianti arena, coming from a 99 acre estate in Castellina, the heart of the Chianti Classico region. The wine is a captivating mauve red that smells of cherry, plum and blackberry with hints of spice. It is round, full and balanced with very good acidity.
Col di Sasso – Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Luscious, complex and soft with persistent notes of fruit and great Italian style structure.
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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 (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.
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