Magazine Coffee ad (1940s) by J.C. Leyedecker
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!
IN THIS ISSUE
EATING AROUND ALGHERO, SARDINIA
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
BEN & JACK'S STEAKHOUSE
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT (I HOPE) I'M DRINKING FOR FATHER'S DAY
By John Mariani
By John Mariani
Trattoria Marco Polo, Alghero
The circumference of the volcanic island of Sardinia, all 1,149 miles of it, is a series of scooped out scallops, with bays, shoals and inlets, crab-like claws of land and offshore juttings of massive rock structures pushed up from the Western Mediterranean. To the north is Corsica, to the east the Tyrrhenian Sea and Sicily, to the south the edge of Africa. Such a location would seem to make Sardinia central to the export of Mediterranean seafood, yet there is no large-scale seafood industry on the island, whose economy is devoted overwhelmingly to livestock and agriculture.
This all has the effect of allowing the Sardinians to enjoy a constant supply of local seafood along with excellent meats, cheeses and, now, a thriving wine sector that has adapted to modern viniculture. Sardinian pecorino, made from sheep’s milk, is the finest in Italy, and its suckling pig, porceddu, is succulent and sweet. Wild boar is available in season and seasonal seafood year-round, including the revered bottarga mullet roe. Its most famous bread, called pane carasau or carta di musica (music paper) is exceptionally thin and wafer-like (left), set on every table when you sit down. The wines to drink include Cannonau, Vernaccia, Malvasia and Vermentino, though the Sardinians drink a lot more local beer than wine.
As everywhere in Italy, the trattorias are maintaining the old traditions while new ristoranti are refining those same traditions in respectful ways. Three weeks ago I wrote about my visiting the western city of Alghero’s La Boqueria, the trattoria in the fish market where it would be impossible to find fresher seafood, all of it brought in that day, all of it sold by eleven a.m. I feasted on half a dozen platters of it—fried, broiled, grilled, steamed. including glorious langoustines (right). It was my introduction to Sardinian cuisine, and over the next week I learned and loved a great deal about the variety of the food and the gusto of the Sardinians at both traditional and modern restaurants there.
Via Filli Kennedy 20
39 079 982772
We began with a marvelous carpaccio of pesce spada (swordfish) of briny freshness and rose red triglie (mullet) marinated in orange juice (left). Then came seppie (cuttlefish) of mild flavor (they so often can taste fishy if not unstintingly fresh) with ripe tomatoes (right). There was a little salad of sweet peppers and sliced zucchini, then meaty monkfish with artichokes, and tender grilled octopus with a “caviar” made from highly reduced olive oil.
Rasa (ray) was dressed simply with arugula and served with purple potato chips, while fat gambero (shrimp) shared the plate with a puree of porcini mushrooms on toast. Mussels were fried with a light tempura crust and came lashed with a lemony cream sauce, then came a bowl of linguine tossed with buttery sea urchins and morsels of tomato.
Excellent softened pecorino and some warm, soft cookies ended off this splendid dinner, whose diversity would be difficult to find reproduced anywhere outside of the Mediterranean. You may hear that the sea is being over-fished, but you won’t see that in Alghero.
I can’t really give you an idea of what all that would cost per person, but for a three- to four-course meal, without wine, figure on about €40.
Open Wed.-Mon. for lunch and dinner.
TRATTORIA MARCO POLO
Via Cavour 46
39 079 973 8476
Somewhat more creative, but still simply rendered, was the cooking at Trattoria Marco Polo, a new place in the historic center with a beautiful barrel vault brick ceiling, perfect lighting, a blackboard menu and a coziness that makes everyone joyous to be within its two small rooms. If I ever owned a restaurant, this is what I’d want it to look and feel like.
Stefania welcomes everyone at the front and makes sure your evening will be an enchantment, while Gianluca mans the stoves, sending out a first course of local charcuterie, a beef carpaccio with arugula and tomato, and sweet eggplant alla parmigiana. I was swooning over a browned gratinata of Sardinian cheeses and zucchini (left).
The pastas that evening were local favorites: culurzones, a large ravioli stuffed with potato, cheese, mint and saffron with a tomato ragù, and wide ribbon pappardelle with olives, batons of fennel and a rich wild boar ragù.
Then came Sardinian porceddu (right), glistening roast suckling pig flavored with myrtle, the meat suffused with its melted fat and the skin crisp as parchment, which went very well with a local Cannonau Riserva 2012.
For dessert there was fried cheese graced with honey; a chocolate torta made with a cream laced with Cannonau wine.
A meal will run you about €35-40, without wine, but tax and service included.
Open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun.
TRATTORIA MARISTELLA DI SIMONIC E CABONI
Via Fratelli Kennedy, 9
+39 079 978 172
A very good lunch or dinner spot near the arc of Alghero’s stone barricade on the sea is this pleasant-looking trattoria favored by the locals, with a simple menu of Italian and Sardinian classics as dependable as sunrise and sunset.
The walls are sea green, the linens white and corn yellow, and the windows are hung with wreaths of dried red peppers. The chairs are admirably sturdy and there is a wall of wines to peruse after ordering from the menu.
A friend and I nibbled on the bread and carasau wafers, which went well with the various crudi served on the half shell as a selection of six species brought in that morning. The crisp, golden fried calamari made for a good nibble as an antipasto.
Our appetites sparked, we then dug into one of the best renderings of spaghetti with clams and garlic I’ve ever had. (Spaghetti, by the way, is a far better pasta to use for this dish than the usual linguine.) Perfectly al dente, the pasta was coated with the olive oil and clam liquid, the clams—left in their shells, of course!—were sweet and sea-flavored. You may also have this dish with olives and toasted breadcrumbs (left).
Another pasta we tried was malloreddus (above), which are like ribbed cavatelli, with just enough spicy tomato sauce to coat each one. The grilled fish is just given a blessing of olive oil and lemon: that day pagro (sea bream, known as porgy in America), was a special, grilled to have a faint smokiness. You might also consider a mixed grill of fish, octopus and Mediterranean lobster. Or a mussel-based couscous.
You’ll probably want to skip desserts here.
A meal will run you about €35-40, without wine, but tax and service included.
NEW YORK CORNER219 East 44th Street (near Third Avenue)
By John Mariani
BEN & JACK'S STEAKHOUSE
I could throw a stone off the terrace of Grand Central Terminal and hit at least ten first-rate steakhouses, all with more or less the same menu, all striving to serve first-rate USDA Prime beef. The distinctions, however, are not just in the decors but in the greeting and caretaking of guests. At places like Palm and Smith & Wollensky, do not expect much more than a grunt of acknowledgment if you’re not a regular. At national chains like Capitol Grille and Del Frisco’s it will be formally correct in a corporate way. And at a few, like Ben & Jack’s, the greeting will most likely be warm and even effusive. Owners Ben and Jack Sinanaj, with two siblings, Harry and Russ, really, really want you to come back as often as possible, and they work hard at making you a regular.
The original B&J’s opened on these East 44th Street premises ten years ago and was recently re-opened—the building had been gutted and a hotel put in—and though it’s a brand new décor, it still abides by the old-fashioned look of dark wood, pale walls, and big, well-set tables. Chandeliers add a touch of elegance, but the lighting itself needs a lift: it is low and flat and should look more like it does in the appealing accompanying photograph. The crowd—O tempores! O mores!—dresses down for the most part. It's now very casual.
You’ll get a big basket of good breads to start with while you peruse the wine list, which hasn’t improved much in the past few years, with too many overly familiar labels, not in a league with their nearby competitors’ lists. The bar does make excellent, well-proportioned cocktails.
The menu does not stray from the New York steakhouse template, and specials are few on a nightly basis. The raw bar always has platters of both East Coast ($17) and West Coast oysters ($24) available, along with the usual shrimp and crabmeat cocktails (both $23).
Yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado and seaweed salad ($21) could have used more spark in the seasoning, while perfectly good sea scallops ($21) came seared but steamy one evening. A lobster bisque had an admirable component of lobster morsels but the bisque itself was one-dimensional ($14). I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned Iceberg lettuce wedge when its appealing crisp texture is added to with a rich Roquefort cheese dressing, amazingly good tomatoes for June and nice chunks of bacon ($16), as it is at J&B's..
Last time I reported on Ben & Jack’s a few years ago, I was critical of crabcakes that were very little crab and too much breading. The ones I had as an entrée last week were a 180-degree different turn for the better—just enough breading to bind big sweet jumbo lump pieces of crab (two for $42; one for $22).
With its steaks B&J is buying very good beef with a light mineral flavor and good char on the outside. The options range from porterhouse cuts for two ($104), three ($156) or four ($208), along with filet mignon ($51) and others. Frankly, even four of us took some of the very generous steak for two home. An order of veal chop brought two hefty ones on a plate ($52).
The service of the steaks follows the tradition set at Peter Luger’s decades ago of bringing the beef out on red-hot plates set at an angle on a another plate on the table. It’s only a small bit of showmanship, but to tell the truth, a perfectly cooked steak is going to go on cooking on such a hot surface. Ask your waiter for your steak to be served on a warm, not scorchingly hot, plate.
The buttermilk onions rings (11) are as good as ever, and the French fries ($11) are just about perfect—no need for dried truffles or sprinklings of herbs. A side order of broccoli ($11) was, however, overcooked, perhaps too long in advance.
B&J’s brings in New York’s vaunted S&S Cheesecake (left)—always worth ordering—as well as a creditable crème brûlée and a pecan pie made on the premises.
As I said, attentive, cordial service is a distinguishing mark at B&J’s, whether or not you’re a regular. If they turn up the lights a little, it’ll be even more of a convivial option in the area.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT (I Hope) I'M DRINKING
FOR FATHER'S DAY
By John Mariani
For Mother’s Day mothers get flowers and scarves and crayon drawings. Fathers inevitably get Duluth underwear or Lands’ End Comfort Waist shorts. If they’re lucky they get booze, and most dads are happy with whatever their favorite Scotch has been for decades, like Dewar’s or Chivas. Those who wish to go outside that comfort zone might consider these spirits—or some very good wines—to give the old man. Here are some I intend to enjoy.
MICHTER’S SINGLE BARREL 10 YRS. OLD KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON ($175-$200)—Michter’s has been growing its reputation on the basis of new releases of bourbon and rye. Some, like this single barrel offering, are sold as collector’s items with only 24 barrels produced. Master Distiller Willie Pratt ages this one for ten years—considerably longer than most bourbons—and its price reflects not just its rarity but its refinement. A bourbon-loving dad will probably just ogle the bottle for hours before opening it to share with with close relatives and friends.
KOPKE COLHEITA 1999 PORTO ($50)—Don’t get me started on how Port producers continue to shoot themselves in the foot by offering so many kinds and grades of their products—white, ruby, tawny, colheita, vintage, crusted, late bottled, and on and on. Suffice it to say this delicious colheita (a single vintage dated tawny) has a real vibrancy and, if shy of a true vintage Port you’d have to wait another decade to mature, this nine-year-old has come around beautifully. I’ve enjoyed it immensely recently with very ripe pears and Gorgonzola cheese.
RON BARCELÓ IMPERIAL ONYX DOMINICAN RUM ($40)—Just released this spring, this Dominican rum from a firm founded by Julian Barceló in 1930 is a dark añejo blended from 10-year-old rums made not with molasses but from their own farmed sugar cane. It is aged in ex-bourbon barrels that are, uncharacteristically, heavily charred, then filtered through onyx stones, which sounds gimmicky. Whatever, it is a very rich, very distinctive rum with the oak balanced out by dark fruit flavors. Not intended to be mixed with lemons or limes but to be sipped after dinner wearing a white straw hat.
SAN PEDRO 1865 SINGLE VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2015 ($15-$17)—Chile now makes and exports a tremendous amount of wine, and, while quality is rising, too much bulk wine still gets shipped out. Viña San Pedro dates back 153 years and is now part of the VSPT Wine Group, the third largest vitivinicultural group in Chile and the second largest exporter of Chilean wine. But this Chardonnay, produced in cool climate Molina by a young enologist named Matías Cruzat, is part of Viña San Pedro’s fine 1865 portfolio. Well priced, this three-year old with 14% alcohol has enough age on it to reveal its layers of settled flavors, fruits and acids. Excellent all summer long with seafood of every kind.
MUCH THOUGHT WENT INTO THIS
WAY TOO MUCH THOUGHT WENT INTO THIS
may be the saltiest food known to mankind, so it makes
sense that the only wine that stands a chance against
these cheesy salt blasts would be as acidic as possible.
White wine from Sancerre — an appellation in central
France is made from Sauvignon Blanc. While it may seem
odd to pair wine produced a few hours south of Paris
with a bright-orange cheese snack invented in Dallas,
the rip-roaring acidity of white Sancerre has a natural
symbiosis with the corn, cheese, and salt of Cheetos. White Sancerre also tends to be super textured,
which means that when you swish it around as you drink
it, it will coat all of the fleshy parts and give the
inside of your mouth a fighting chance against all that
Cheetos buildup. Think of the
subtle briny salinity of an oyster as an example.
Sancerre’s own minerality will keep the intensity of the
Cheetos in check.”--Vanessa Price, "How
to Pair Wine With Cheetos,"
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 hillsidein 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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❖❖❖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
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish,
and Brian Freedman. Contributing
Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical
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