"Coffee, Puerto Vallarta" By Galina Dargery
IN THIS ISSUE
SAN FRANCISCO Part One
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
SAN FRANCISCO Part One
By John Mariani
Clark Gable, Ted Healy and Jeannette McDonald in San Francisco (1936)
There’s no question that San Francisco can claim a place right beside New York and New Orleans as a seminal restaurant town. At the same time that those other cities were building a restaurant culture—Delmonico’s opened in the Wall Street area in 1837 and Antoine’s in the French Quarter in 1840—by the time the Gold Rush was in full swing in Northern California in 1849 the city, then known as Yerba Buena, rushed to feed the newly rich entrepreneurs of the day with a Barbary Coast swagger.
Whenever I visit, then, I try to get to what’s old and new and some in between. Here’s part one of my report on a visit last month.
333 Brannan Street
The year-old ROOH is the first restaurant opened outside of Asia by the New Delhi-based Indian Good Times Restaurant group, whose stated goal is to “bring Indian cuisine onto the international map in a way that has never been presented before [by] blending modern cooking techniques applied to Indian cuisine with a tradition going back more than 2000 years.”
While Indian restaurants have changed measurably in major cities across the U.S., ROOH and its sister restaurant Baar Baar in NYC (see my review below) have really done more than any others to alter perceptions of Indian cuisine, design and décor. At ROOH, Sujan Sarkar, Executive Chef at both restaurants, recently awarded Times Chef of the Year in India, is taking full advantage of the Northern California bounty of meat, seafood and provender to create wholly novel dishes always grounded in Indian flavors and cooking techniques.
The restaurant itself, located in SoMa, sprawls over 3,548 square feet, done in vibrant Indian colors of indigo, Rani pink and turmeric yellow, with very tall ceilings hung with industrial ducts and crystal chandeliers. The rattan chairs and leather booths are very comfortable and the bar lounge is stunningly lighted, like a set out of Bladerunner.
The cocktail program has quite a novel touch: You are presented with a circular graph whose center lists six flavors of “ancient Ayurveic wisdom”—salty, sour, sweet, bitter, astringent and pungent; the next circle lists the ingredients in cocktails with names like Mustard Old Fashioned, Berry Shikanji and Hyderabad Tonic, all very unusual. So, you can match your cocktail to the flavors of the food you are tasting. With drinks this exotic, you’ll need some guidance. Then, too, ROOH has an extensive wine list, and Vishvas Sidana knows best which ones go with which dishes.
The panoply of dishes—many I’d never encountered—runs from small plates like dahi puri flatbread with luscious yogurt mousse, potato, avocado, tamarind gel and raspberry ($10) to paneer chili of crisp shredded kataifi, ginger chutney and lemony achaar pickle gel ($14), each relying on tradition but tasting brighter and more enticing than most versions I’ve had. Pickled cauliflower comes with an onion uttapam pancake, sour cream and crunchy peanut chutney ($15).
Tuna, not often seen in Indian cuisine, comes with California avocado, tamarind gel, green mango, togarashi chili powder and delightful puffed rice ($15), while a “gun powder scallop” gets its name from the hot curry oil drizzled on the mollusk with corn curry and a salsify crisp ($19).
Among the large plates that wowed me were a monkfish done tandoori style with alleppey curry and a rice dumpling ($30) and hearty, nicely fatty beef short ribs curry (below) with baby turnips, rawa semolina and marrow-stuffed kofta and garlic mashed potatoes ( $32). Of course, there are wonderful Indian breads like garlic naan ($5).
Desserts as well are Western with Eastern flavors added: a carrot halwa cake with cardamon and chocolate with yogurt sorbet, hazelnuts and puffed millet crisp (both $10).
ROOH is a bellwether restaurant in a city that respects culinary tradition while always encouraging innovation.
EIGHT TABLES BY GEORGE CHEN
8 Kenneth Rexroth Place
As with ROOH, Asian cuisine is showing its myriad influences at Eight Tables, opened last fall, featuring Chinese shifan tsai, or “private chateau cuisine,” referring to the experience of dining at a private home with a banquet prepared by a highly respected chef who uses the seasons as his guide to ingredients.
Located on the second floor of the $20 million China Live complex in Chinatown, Eight Tables is reached through a barely lighted back alley entrance, which seems to add to the mystery of what you will soon be experiencing. As you exit the elevator you are cordially greeted by a hostess in a room set with a wonderful 1950s style phonograph that plays old Shanghai jazz, then you enter into a series of eight rooms set for individual parties at beautifully polished tables with brass inlaid Lazy Susans. Photos of owner and executive chef George Chen’s family are hung on the walls above you. The service staff is dressed in beige Ralph Lauren suits. Even the chopsticks are embossed, one pair for right-handed guests, one for left-handed. It’s swank, all right, and has a shadowy cinematic cast.
Chen has always been in the forefront of authentic Chinese dining experiences in San Francisco, having started at Madame Cecilia Chang’s seminal restaurant, The Mandarin. On his own he opened Betelnut Peiju Wu, an innovative Asian beer house, which I deemed one of the Best New Restaurants of 1996. Chen then launched the multi-unit Long Life Noodle Company, and turned his focus on Shanghai cuisine at Shanghai 1930. Other concepts followed. So Eight Tables is a culmination of his career and his goal to give Chinese cuisine the same respect it has in China itself, adding a superb wine, sake and whiskey list to the mix, overseen by Anthony Kim.
Dinner here is a $225 fixed price for about ten courses, with accompanying wines at $125 more.
I haven’t the space here to detail everything I had, so I will just say that the presentations are spectacular and Taiwanese chef Robin Lin’s ideas can be amazing without being extravagant. You begin with nine small dishes set on one serving plate, each jewel-like, and you’ll probably forget what the waiter tells you they are. But the principal ingredient becomes apparent as you pop the item into your mouth, which follow a sweet-and-sour and hot pattern.
Next come Four Seas dumplings filled with, respectively, osetra caviar, bay scallop, trout roe and sea urchin. Shao kao’ barbecued duck skin followed, with Iberico ham char sui and a siu yuk pork belly sandwich; black cod was steamed in a banana leaf with bamboo cannelloni, lotus root and eggplant; velvetized chicken (cooked with egg whites) was appointed with black truffles, a soya veal jus and scallion roll but didn’t add up to much flavor; the last savory course was a foie gras potsticker with rice porridge and black sesame dumpling. Then comes a fermented rice sorbet dashed with gogi vinegar and pastry chef Luis Villavelazquez’s chocolate bean cake with rose sorbet.
I was a bit jetlagged the night I dined at Eight Tables but that didn’t diminish my pleasure over the course of a two-and-a-half-hour meal. I was so constantly surprised and amazed by the presentation, the refinement and the flavors of what I ate that I left feeling elated and wondering what the next menu will be in the next season.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
13 East First Street (near Bowery)
Photos by Liz Clayman
As noted above about ROOH in San Francisco, new Indian restaurants are emerging as among the most exciting in major U.S. cities. And since Baar Baar shares the same owner and executive chef-partner, Sujan Sakar, with ROOH, I might have expected a replication of the latter on the East Coast. But, although both share the same intentions and commitment to modern Indian cuisine, the styles are quite different, with Baar Baar (which means “again and again”) somewhat more rustic, specializing in enhanced street food from various cities on the subcontinent. Some dishes overlap at both restaurants, most do not.
It’s a big space with tall ceilings, roomy leather booths with marble tables, and mirrors on distressed concrete walls. The bar is backed with myriad bottles of colorful liquors on gleaming glass shelves, and hanging lamps provide ample light to appreciate the color and presentation of the dishes as well as to read the long menu. Also affecting is a sound level, despite some unnecessary piped in music, that is buoyant but not enough to be disruptive of conversation, and you can actually hear all the service staff explains to you. And g-m Matthew Radalj is well worth listening to for backgrounds, history and recommendations.
Sakar was that week at Baar Baar rather than ROOH, so I left it up to him to choose our meal, starting with an array of steamy, pliable sourdough kulcha breads ($9-$11) with different fillings and toppings like piquillo peppers and onions; Kashmiri duck and apricot and endive; and green pea and goat’s cheese—items unlikely to be found anywhere else around town.
There are housemade chutneys, and most of the menu is composed of half/small plates ($9-$18) that include a dahi puri of avocado, tamarind, mint, cilantro and a yogurt mousse. The cauliflower served with curd-rice mousse, peanut chutney and podi masala is similar to the one at ROOH, while glistening oysters are served on a guava and chuili granita with lemon foam. Tandoori octopus, seared and tender, came with boiled pongal millet and peanut chutney, and minced lamb keema Hyerabadi comes with a luscious potato mousse, green peas and buttered pao, a savory mush.
Larger plates ($24-$32) may easily be shared, and, unlike so many Indian kitchens, Baar Baar does not overcook its fish, in this case a whole seabass with a deliciously assertive mustard cream. A straightforward beef short rib curry comes with baby turnip and carrot, green chili oil, and the butter chicken (right) with red pepper makhani is a lovely and a very rich dish that is good to finish with.
Those who shy away from Indian desserts should take a leap of faith at Baar Baar, to be rewarded with a banana tarte Tatin with caramel, vanilla ice cream and sesame nougat; a wonderful carrot halwa cake scented with cardamom and sided with pistachio kulfi ice cream, raisin gel and milk skin crisp (both $10). There are, of course, an ample number of Indian teas.
The wine list is certainly extensive for a place that calls itself an“Indian Gastro Pub,” and there are plenty of bottlings under $60. Rieslings work especially well with this food.
Baar Baar is faring well since opening two months ago, not least with what appear to be a slew of affluent Indians who are coming to see what Sakar and his crew are proposing to do with tradition. The Bowery has seen a lot of restaurants come and go in the past year, but for its unique cuisine, Baar Baar is the only game in this part of town.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
LA CREMA SONOMA COAST CHARDONNAY 2016 ($23)—La Crema makes a lot of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from California and Oregon vineyards, and this is their basic bottling from Sonoma, with 13.5% alcohol. It is a very creamy Chardonnay without the cloying caramel and bitter oakiness so many others have. La Crema makes others more site specific, but at $23 this one is at least as flavorful as Chards twice the price.
CHÂTEAU FONBADET PAUILLAC 2012 ($50)—Pauillac in Bordeaux’s Haut-Médoc region is justly famous for its Premier Crus like Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild and Latour, which sell for hundreds of dollars. But you’ll get an entry-level taste of what makes the region such a superb terroir in this charming blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and a touch of Malbec. It has a long life in it, too.
RESERVE MALBEC 2015 ($21)—While it’s rare
that I ever drink the same
wine night after night, were I forced to live far
from a wineshop, I’d happily
repeatedly quaff this rich Malbec from Mendoza
made by a young group of vignerons.
Winemaker Gérman Di Cesare ages this Malbec for 12
months in French oak, then
in bottles for another year. At 14.5% alcohol it
has body, structure and plenty
of complexity at a good piece. This I could drink
many nights in a row.
UPSHOT RED WINE BLEND ($28)—Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld explains on the label at some length and all caps: “UPSHOT (NOUN): THE FINAL OR EVENTUAL POSITIVE OUTCOME OR CONCLUSION OF A DISCUSSION, ACTION, OR SERIES OF EVENTS,” meaning this wine is the end result of a unique experimental blend from Sonoma County, with 44% Zinfandel for body and fruit, 29% Merlot for softness, 15% Malbec for complexity, 7% Petit Verdot for fruity intensity and, “for the fun,” 5% Riesling to provide a floral note. It really works, and shows that California need not be bound by wholly traditional assemblages.
HILLOCK ESTATE DISTILLERY SOLERA AGED BOURBON ($103)--- To be a stickler, many would insist that bourbon can be made only in Bourbon County, Kentucky, but as the makers of Hillock Estate indicate, New York State has been a barley and rye producer since the 1800s, so why not put some of it into a bottle of whiskey? Prohibition shut down the distilleries in the Hudson Valley, but Hillock has revived the industry and done so with an impressive and layered bourbon with a little bite but not the sweetness of some of its competitors’ to the South.
MAGNUS HIGHLAND PARK SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY ($39)—This Highland Park whisky’s label calls it “unapologetically bold” and “bears the soul of our Viking ancestors.” Perhaps, but to me it was simply a delicious, smoke-rich, very peaty sipping Scotch that for a single malt is amazingly well priced. Very good for these cool spring nights and baying at the moon.
DEPT. OF WRETCHED EXCESS, PART 7,886
A Tokyo restaurant chain
named Stamina Taro Next
A Tokyo restaurant chain named Stamina Taro Nextis making an eating challenge in the form of the “Meaty Mega-sized Stamina Taro Napolitan Spaghetti” (left)--a 4.4-pound bowl of spaghetti topped with a one -pound hamburger patty topped with four thick strips of bacon, and s four pork cutlets on top, weighing in at 8.15 pounds. Anyone who can manage to eat it in 30 minutes or less will get it for free, and will also get a 50,000 yen, or $455, gift certificate.
A French waiter named Guillaume Rey has filed a discrimination complaint with Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal after being fired by the casual dining chain Milestones Grill and Bar for allegedly being “aggressive, rude, and disrespectful” to customers. Guillaume Rey insists he was fired for "being French," which means he "tends to be more direct and expressive" than some servers." The Tribunal denied Rey's request.
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.
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.
Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from amazon.com.
The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) 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 his master back from the edge of despair.
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“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." THIS WEEK:
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.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Geoff Kalish, Mort
Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina
Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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