Founded in 1996
"New Jersey Eggs from Unpastured Chickens" (2018) By Galina Dargery
IN THIS ISSUE
DINING AROUND MONTRÉAL
By Geoff Kalish
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By John Mariani
ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week because Mariani will be eating and drinking his way around Spain on behalf of his readers.
DINING AROUND MONTRÉAL
By Geoff Kalish
Chez Muffy, Montréal
Like Québec City, Montréal sits along the St. Lawrence River, contains a quaint “old town” district and a larger more modern area, and holds a daily farmers’ market. In addition, both offer outstanding well-designed art museums featuring exceptional exhibits, such as the current showing of African Influence on the work of Picasso at the Montreal Musée des Beaux Arts and the Berthe Morisot exhibit at Québec’s Musée Nationale des Beaux Arts that features many of her little-shown paintings from private collections.
Similarities aside, Québec is quite “Francophiled,” with primarily French spoken and a laid-back feeling, while Montréal is a far more French-English, fast-paced city. Even within the similarities there are marked differences. For example, while the shops in both “old town” areas look similar, those in Québec carry mainly tee shirts and the like, with many of those in Montréal presenting more upscale goods, especially brands made in Canada like Joseph Ribkoff and Simpli.
On the other hand, both cities continue to offer ample opportunity for excellent upscale lodging, wining and dining. (All prices are in Canadian dollars, which are worth 75% of U.S. dollars.)
54 rue Saint Pierre
Dinner at the highly touted Initiale lived up to its reputation as a gourmet mecca with fresh seasonal fare. Located in a former bank building on a corner across the street from the Old Port area, the elegant modern interior features cream-colored walls and tablecloths, with attractive dark wooden latticework panels across the windows.
The dining room is managed by the affable Rolande Leclerc and the kitchen by her husband, Yvan Lebrun, and a small staff. And, while the restaurant only offers a nine-course menu, primarily composed of French classics, along with a five-course option of both classic as well as more modern preparations, the prices are a bargain ($165 for the nine courses and $115 for the five), with wine pairings available for each. We selected the latter, plus the wine pairing (at $99).
Our meal began with a small portion of dewy arctic char served with shrimps and a smoky cream sauce. Next came perfectly roasted large scallops with yellow and green beans and finely chopped broccoli, all topped by a tasty shellfish vinaigrette, followed next by a portion of tender, pink roasted duck (above) coated with a reduced red wine Grand Veneur sauce and accompanied by chanterelles, an onion compote and a portion of classic halibut filet meunière atop a cauliflower puree and fresh corn cake. Our dessert was a confection of fruit, pastry and cream (left).
Rather than trying to find one wine to match with the fare, we went with the pairing, which brought an outstanding array of white, rosé and red French and Canadian wines, each mated quite harmoniously with the fare.
Auberge Saint Antoine Hotel
10 rue Saint Antoine
When last reviewed in this publication, two years ago, this once very upscale restaurant located in the boutique historic Auberge St. Antoine Hotel was named Panache and served French and Québecois classics. However, in the past year this space with a farmhouse feel (rustic stone walls and wood-beamed ceiling) has morphed into its current incarnation, Chez Muffy, named for the matriarch of the family that owns the hotel, Martha “Muffy” Bate Price.
While the tablecloths are gone and it no longer offers a large selection of haute cuisine choices, it serves a more modest selection of “farm-to-fork” dishes geared to families, especially locals. I found the fare well prepared, service pleasant and professional, and a wide range of top-notch Canadian and French wines, albeit a bit pricey, continues to be offered. Portions are quite generous.
An appetizer of chanterelles came as a casserole loaded with the delicate mushrooms sautéed with shards of tasty local seagrasses; a crisp baby lettuce salad arrived with a zesty, creamy vinaigrette dressing. A main course of Québec lobster scooped from the shell was served atop a thick, heady lobster bisque, while Atlantic halibut was enlivened by a lemon-ginger dressing and accompanied by garlicky potatoes and tender turnips from the hotel’s garden. We accompanied the meal with a fragrant, plummy 2014 Volnay from Fernand and Laurent Pillot ($145) and concluded with a dense, albeit slightly fallen, chocolate soufflée.
Expect dinner for two to cost $140-$150, not including wine, tax or tip.
128 Sherbrooke Street West
Located two blocks from the Musée
Nationale des Beaux Arts, Montreal’s ultra plush
Ritz-Carlton Hotel is known locally as the “Grande
Dame of Sherbrooke,” opening its doors on New
Year’s Eve 1912.
Of note, it was the first hotel in the
world to be named “Ritz-Carlton,” derived from
combining the name of the consortium founded by
the original developers, The Carlton Corporation,
hotelier César Ritz, who lent his name with a
proviso that every room have its own bathroom.
The dining room features a blonde wood and glass-themed interior with well-spaced cloth-covered tables, a long bar and an open kitchen, with an outdoor seating area under an awning that looks out on a formal garden that includes not only greenery and flowers but a pond with a waterfall and swans. As to the cuisine, the fare served is casual haute cuisine at its best; for those familiar with Boulud’s New York City establishments, think more in terms of Café Boulud or Boulud Sud, not Daniel.
On our recent visit, an artistically composed starter of small squares of a fois gras terrine accompanied by semi-dried apricot wedges, dabs of apricot jam, hazelnuts and cubes of brioche tasted as good as it looked. And an egg-yolk ravioli, filled with fresh sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with sautéed mushrooms and adrift in a bubbly spinach coulis was decadently rich.
For main courses we enjoyed a thick filet of broiled sea bass topped with figs and chanterelles, doused with a zesty saba sauce made from a grape must reduction, and an artfully composed plate of tender lamb saddle with summer beans, black trumpet mushrooms, all set in a savory lamb jus. We drank an excellent bottle of 2016 Saint Joseph from Domaine Natacha Chave that had flavors of plums and a distinct peppery finish. We concluded the meal with velvety ice cream and a basket of freshly made tiny madeleines.
900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle
I am happy to report that since its last Virtual Gourmet review some nine years ago, this establishment now open for more than 25 years, has not lost a step. In fact, chef Norman Laprise (right) seems at the top of his game, and the front of the house continues to sail smoothly along under the watchful eye of his wife, Christine LeMarché.
The restaurant is still situated in a sleek room featuring brown wood, beige walls and gauzy curtains over the tall windows, and I found the fare continues to be not only extremely flavorful but exquisitely beautiful on the plate. For example, a starter of foie gras arrived looking more like an abstract painting than food, with a large square of rich, creamy terrine surrounded by a slice of just-baked brioche, fresh raspberries, almonds and a small pool of raspberry purée. Its taste was no less spectacular, the raspberries and purée serving to accompany the fois gras perfectly, much like a glass of Sauternes. Equally beautiful and tasty was a starter of Nordic shrimp tossed with delicate mushrooms and slices of fresh green vegetables.
For main courses, we dined happily on a large slab of cooked-to-the-minute halibut surrounded by green and yellow beans, and a dish of tender leg of guinea fowl, the plate strewn with morels and dabs of a pesto purée.
For dessert we shared an order of raspberry ganache in a chocolate tuile served with ice cream.
Service was prompt and professional and for wines we had two half-bottles—a berried 2015 Alain Gras Saint Romain from Burgundy and a cassis-scented 2015 Château Tour du Pas Saint-George Saint Émilion .
Hotel Le St. James
355 rue Saint-Jacques
This restaurant is housed in the plush Hotel Le St. James, once the Merchants’ Bank Building dating from 1870. It is a large, rather formal room with well-spaced tables dressed with starched white tablecloths, dark wood paneling and a towering ceiling. It offers a seasonally-changing menu with a focus on innovative interpretations of “European classics.” While it has garnered accolades as one of the best and most creative upscale eateries in Montréal, we found the fare somewhat inconsistent.
An appetizer of grilled octopus arrived very soft and rather tasteless—most likely pre-cooked too long and not grilled long enough—and a summer salad came with an overabundance of dressing. Yet a main course of sea bass served with zesty, tomatillo and mango salsa and shitake mushrooms was moist and flavorful, as was a savory duck breast with crispy skin served atop a heady cherry sauce. For dessert, we enjoyed three slices of well-chosen cheeses with toast and condiments to match and the restaurant’s “nouveau” interpretation of a chocolate ice-cream sandwich.
Service was prompt and professional. From an extensive wine selection, we accompanied our meal with an excellent sensibly-priced 2011 Francis Gay Savigny-les-Beaune, with a fragrant bouquet and taste of ripe berries and anise.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
840 Second Avenue (near 45th Street)
The menu at Palm Restaurant circa 1947
I first started out as a journalist in the
seventies, a rite of passage in New York was
to be invited to eat at Palm, the storied
steakhouse on Second Avenue and 45th Street
that began as a modest Italian restaurant
during Prohibition and evolved into a power
lunch and dinner spot, not least for all the
writers and reporters, sports figures,
industry titans and show biz stars whose
caricatures lined every inch of every wall.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
Autumn weather is struggling in and one looks forward to cooler temperatures, but good, fresh cool white wines are always worth putting on the table. Here is a number of whites that all have different flavor profiles.
LAGAR D CERVERA ALBARIÑO 2016 ($18)—Made from 100% Albariño in Rias Baixas in Galicia, this has a real citrusy tang that is refreshing at the very first sip and enhances whatever lighter foods you are eating, like the tortellini in chicken broth I enjoyed it with over lunch. The estate is now owned by the illustrious La Rioja Alta since 1988, which means great care was taken to keep this wine as lively as possible. The 2017 vintage is also now available.
FETZER SUNDIAL CHARDONNAY 2016 ($7.50)—This is a very appealing California-style Chardonnay at a remarkable price. It’s not subtle, but at 13.5% alcohol it’s not massive or overripe either, and winemaker John Kane aims for levels of flavor. Different toast levels in the oak barrels were used to produce the buttery flavors many people will enjoy with dishes like chicken, black bass and trout.
MICHAEL MONDAVI EMBLEM CHARDONNAY 2016 ($35)—Similar to the Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay, this Sonoma County production is for those who like fleshy whites with a little sweetness but in balance with the apple-citrus flavors. The website reads that “The 2016 Emblem Chardonnay marks our premier voyage into the Petaluma Gap, a subappellation of the Sonoma Coast AVA [whose] unique aspect . . . is that it consistently experiences much greater wind speeds than its neighboring regions in southern/western Sonoma County.” It was a vintage in Sonoma with smaller berries, meaning sugars were condensed, so they were picked early and went through partial malolactc. The wine spent 10 months in both new oak and neutral oak barrels, and emerged at a high 14.5% alcohol.
CANTINA TRAMIN KELLEREI MORITZ PINOT BIANCO ($14)—This northern Italian Pinot Bianco from the Sudtirol-Alto-Adige region has a lot more going on in the bottle than the varietal gets from southern climes. It was vinified in stainless steel, without malolactic fermentation, so the nice nutty flavor comes from the grapes themselves, not the barrel. Fine acids and good fruit make it a match for any kind of seafood, risotto with vegetables or rabbit cooked over the grill. It gets its body from 13.9% alcohol. Also a good option with a terrine of foie gras.
ALOIS LAGEDER BIANCO ($30)—Alois Lageder is
one of the very best winemakers in Europe,
founded in 1823 and still in the family, with
biodynamic grapes from their own well-tended
Dolomites vineyards as well as long contracted
cooperatives. Though located in northern
Italy, they speak German at the estate and the
back label is in that language. The “IGT”
means it is a wine made according to the
Lageder blend, not in accordance with the DOC
regulations, and you won’t find the grapes
listed. "Fórra" means narrow valley" refers to
a canyon in Adige. Made from a cross between
Riesling and Pinot Bianco, the Manzoni Bianco
grape was created in 1937 and is not widely
planted. It has a good deal of weight at only
13% alcohol and a delectable aroma.
BUT WHAT IF YOU JUST SMOKE THEM?
Rodale Books has pulled an Instagram influencer’s foraging cookbook, Johnanna Holgren's Tales from a Forager's Kitchen, after critics indicated that some of the recipes could make people sick because they involve unsafe ingredients, including raw, peeled acorns, raw elderberries, and raw morels, which can cause nausea and vomiting and contain difficult-to-digest chitin.
BLOCK THAT METAPHOR!
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.
WATCH THE VIDEO!
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“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.
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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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