Founded in 1996
Campari Poster by M. Dudovoch, circa 1912
IN THIS ISSUE
MIAMI, Part Two
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
MARIA HAS ITS EYE ON THE WEATHER
By John Mariani
As noted last week, the
real culinary excitement in Miami is happening
across the causeways from Miami Beach, whose
inundation with snowbirds and South Americans
has resulted in little else but buzz-fueled
eateries, with a few exception like Habitat and
Stiltsville, which I wrote about several months
ago. Here are two new restaurants with real
personality and innovation of a kind that would
be welcome in any city.
104 NE 24th Street
If not exactly kicking and screaming, I was brought to Plant Miami with a great deal of reluctance by a friend who swore I needed to keep an open mind. For Plant Miami is a vegan restaurant that calls itself “The Sacred Space,” and, while I haven’t the slightest problem with vegetarian restaurants or people who choose a vegetarian lifestyle, I find vegans too often to be proselytizers, even belligerent towards those who cannot accept their extreme attitude towards consumption of anything even vaguely having to do with animal products—even wine, which may have been filtered using animal skins.
But upon arriving at this breezy, casually elegant new restaurant in Wynwood, I didn’t see any staff sporting hemp outfits and no one sneered at my leather belt and shoes. Nor was there any longwinded philosophical explanation of the food. And, just in case I found the food hard to swallow, they did in fact serve wine I could wash it down with.
In the end, I could not have been happier than to dine—and I mean dine, not just munch—at Plant Miami, for most of the food was both delicious and beautifully presented. Outside of some insipid fake “activated cheese” and words like “the Sacred Salad” strewn around the menu, there was nothing you might not find on a regular menu that happened to be among the vegetable dishes.
There on a sunny patio I was as delighted as I was impressed by Chef Horacio Rivadero’s lovely dishes like harvest dumplings with a sweet potato and coconut wrapper and ginger foam ($17). A concentrated confit of papaya with fennel oats and tamari pearls ($17) didn’t need the macadamia “goat’s cheese” but was full of intense flavor.
Thai noodles with tamarind and panka, kelp noodles, red cabbage, carrots, sesame seeds and watercress ($24) had real heft, chewiness and crunch all at once. “Cacio di funghi” ($25)—another intentional misnomer—was actually a bowl of tasty kelp noodles with a cashew truffle “béchamel,” baby brassica and truffle “caviar.”
And, if I didn’t know where I was, I’d swear dessert chef Veronica Manolizi’s Key lime brûlée with an expertly made almond crust and vanilla “ice cream” ($16) was the real deal.
Again, using words like "cheese," "béchamel" and "caviar" here is sheer gimmickry, which Plant Miami does not need when it can produce food of such high caliber. A rose is a rose is a rose, except when it’s made of soy.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
223 NW 23rd Street
Three-year-old Alter is Chef-owner Bradley Kilgore's intention to provide the neighborhood with a very edgy, very loud, very buzzy restaurant that fits into the curiously sleepy Design District. The walls are scuffed up concrete, the ceiling ducts are exposed, the kitchen wide open and a squiggly neon light is the rare note of color.
One food magazine says, “Alter is so cool it doesn’t even have to try.” But Kilgore (below, far right) is trying very, very hard to produce a distinctive modernist Asian fusion cuisine that, if too often overwrought, is still tantalizing and mostly delicious, best appreciated in the five-course $75 menu, or the seven-course $95 and nine-course $165 alternatives; à la carte is also available.
Our party began with what has become a much talked-about dish: a soft egg (below, left) with a sea scallop foam, truffle pearls and chives ($10/$20), which had the perfect balance of its elements. If there is such a thing as umami, this might have it. Grouper cheek (below) with nicely chewy black rice, sea lettuces, cucumber and a rich shoyu-laced hollandaise ($32) was a fine, novel melding, as were oyster mushrooms with a yuba tofu crisp with sweet soy glaze and chili threads ($16). Equally fine was duck breast grilled over pine cones that had been cured in sake lees, combined with banana and shio shiro ramen ($34).
The nominal appeal of wagyu beef ($70/$85) was overwhelmed by an otherwise savory combination of mole, cobia, smoked bean and beef katsuobushi, made from fermented, smoked and dried tuna.
One of the desserts offered that evening was an odd rendering indeed: whipped caramel with Camembert ice cream, roasted pineapple, marigold honey and bee pollen ($11). Chefs should ask themselves, if no one else had ever thought of piling all those ingredients together on a plate, maybe there’s a good reason.
By the way, the eight bucks for “bread and beurre” with sumac and dill seed crust and “umami butter” is too much by about seven dollars.
Kilgore’s imagination invests every item on his menu—none of it that might be described as Floridian—and his technique rings true. But adding more and more to a dish with tweezers does not make it better, especially when some ingredients cannot really be tasted at all. I suspect he’ll temper his talent soon enough. Miami needs chefs like him to push the envelope.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
43 West 27th Street (near Fifth Avenue)
Cardoncello DiVino is not the first New York restaurant to be named after a mushroom—Chanterelle opened in SoHo back in the 1980s—but the owners of this fine osteria in NoMad have added a pun by calling it “divino” (divine) while capitalizing the V so that it also refers to wine.
The name derives from the cardoncello mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii), which grows at its best in the Mediterranean region, and the restaurant has an exclusive importing arrangement to have them shipped fresh from Puglia every week. They have a unique flavor, woodsy but never musty, and they do not shrink in cooking.
Executive Chef Max Convertini (left), formerly of Bottega del Vino in Verona, calls the fungus “the beating heart of our restaurant” and mentions its fame as an aphrodisiac as well as the legend that the poet Ovid wrote of it with high enthusiasm. Perhaps.
While Convertini and chef de cuisine Gianni Palazzo are very serious about their food and wine, the restaurant’s two rooms have a rural, rustic feel, provided by designer Giulia Torregrossa, with off-white brick walls that reveal flowery images upon close inspection, floors with faint pastel colored squares, glowing overhead lighting and an open kitchen. The ambiance demands guests do nothing more than enjoy themselves and be open to new flavors, buoyed by a 150-label wine list.
The best way to begin, then, is at the top of the menu, with roasted cardoncello mushrooms (right) with potato, caciocavallo cheese and Italian black truffles in a little tart ($17)—or you can get the mushrooms alone as a side dish ($8)—but I highly recommend the panelle of chickpea polenta with tangy goat’s cheese and sautéed shrimp ($15). You might also consider a tasting of four olive oils ($18). The bread basket is very good quality and plentiful.
Every pasta I tried was wonderful—all housemade—revealing the ideal texture for fresh pasta cooked perfectly. Gnudi pumpkin and ricotta dumplings were dressed with truffle slices (the white ones will start coming soon) and a crumble of amaretto cookies ($17), while plump, tender agnolotti (below) enfolded braised beef in a leek fondue with a Barolo wine reduction ($22). The twisted pasta shape caserecce, not often encountered in New York, came with red onion, pork belly, pecorino and a faint touch of housemade crystallized licorice candy ($17).
Main courses have heft and deep flavors, from slowly braised American wagyu beef cheek, cardoncello mushrooms and shallots served with truffled mashed potatoes ($29). Admirably fat Colorado lamb chops came with red endive, wild onions, wine must and autumn chestnuts ($33)—about as appropriate a dish for November as you’ll come across right now. Large shrimp langostini were seared and sided with orzotto pasta and a lovely, foamy asparagus fondue ($27).
Share a couple of desserts, like the fat panzotti (big bellies) stuffed with Nutella, toasted almonds and licorice, or a light blueberry cheese cake made with sheep’s milk and a warm caramel sauce (both $7).
On a Monday night Cardoncello was doing good business, but was not full, and I suspect that, when it is, the decibel level will be very high. So, go early, go on a Monday, relax and enjoy some of the most enticing Italian food in the city right now. Max Convertini is out to enlighten you to his cooking and maybe even convince you those mushrooms are aphrodisiacs.
Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR❖❖❖
SANTA MARIA HAS ITS EYE ON THE WEATHER AND
Tenuta Santa Maria
Tenuta Santa Maria
The company was responsible for the first “Ripasso Secco” Valpolicella, a drier, fuller-bodied wine, and in 1959 produced its first Amarone, under the name Gaetano Bertani, who also created a top-of-the-line project from grapes grown in the highly regarded Tenuta Santa Maria property in the Illasi Valley, which they had acquired in the 1850s.
Then, in 2012, the historic Bertani company was bought by the Angelini Group, a Roman Pharmaceutical Company with no connection to the Bertani family. Gaetano Bertani and his two sons, Giovanni and Gugliermo, retained ownership of the Tenuta Santa Maria estate, but there is no longer any Bertani family member associated with the old winery. (Not surprisingly, the new company’s website, while providing a long history of the estate, does not mention the absence of the Bertanis.)
So, the tradition of the original family winery is being carried on by the current generation, Gaetano and his sons (below). I met Giovanni Bertani last week for dinner at Cardoncello DiVino (see review above) in New York and learned straightaway that in upholding tradition the company is in no way eschewing its strides in modern viniculture. Indeed, global climate changes are causing wineries throughout Europe to re-think a balance that will preserve the old character of their wines while saving them from being affected by the climate heating up.
“We’ve had to move some of our vineyards to higher elevations because of the heat,” said Bertani, who looks quite a bit like an Italian Ed Sheeran. “We’re now picking the grapes in September, when it used to be in October. We have to work hard and fast to see if we can even make our wines the way they were in the 1930s. It was not just a different era of wine technology, but the terroir is being affected now to a degree we cannot yet measure.”
Foremost, the problem of too much heat is that it matures the grapes earlier, so the grapes get fat on sugar that turns into high alcohol. Also, no one knows if a temperature change of even half a degree might alter or kill the microbes that have lived in the soil for millennia.
“There is also the idea that Amarone”—which by tradition is made by drying Valpolicella grapes from the upper part of the clusters (left), concentrating the sugars to make a wine higher in alcohol and sweetness—“should taste leathery, even oxidized,” he said, “but that was because they were not well made. An Amarone should have good body, but must also taste fresh and complex.”
Over a meal of antipasti and pastas that we
might well have been enjoying in Bertani’s
hometown of Verona, we began with a very
creamy Lepia Soave 2017 ($20), made
from 62-year-old 100% Garganega grapes, whose
richness comes from being left on the lees for
50 days. It went very well with a dish of
with tangy goat’s cheese and sautéed shrimp.
Torrepieve 2016 ($35) was a single vineyard 100% Chardonnay, which is something of a departure for Bertani, and I wondered if they were spreading their net too widely in a Chardonnay-satiated world. Nevertheless, Bertani’s had the vigorous taste of a Grand Cru Chablis. Fifty percent of the crushed grapes spend 150 days in barrique barrels, the rest fermented in steel containers. In March of the year following the harvest, the two wines are assembled and refined for about six months, followed by four months in bottle. I was impressed.
Pràgal 2016 ($20) is intended as an international wine that “shows the full expression of our region,” he said, made from Corvina, Merlot and Syrah for spice, with some partially dried grapes spending eight months in big barrels (right), although a small amount of the juice does spend time in barriques. It’s an I.G.T. wine that under Italian wine rules cannot get a more localized D.O.C. appellation.
Bertani’s Valpolicella Superiore 2016 ($25), from 75% Corvina, 10% Corvinone and 15% Rondinella, at a fine 13.5% alcohol, was a classic style the family is known for, a distinct balance of fruit and acid and a wine that fills the mouth with flavor.
The Amarone 2012 ($90), made from 75% Corvina, 10% Corvinone and 15% Rondinella, was the last of the wines tasted, and it was very clearly made in a modern style, with none of that nostalgic sweetness and oxidation of the past. The grapes were picked mid-September and dried for four months on bamboo and wooden mats. By January 50% of their original weight is lost, and the dried fruit is then pressed to ferment for 25-30 days and fined in large barrels. Five years from the harvest it spends another six months in bottle, emerging at 15% alcohol. It was clean, bright and big bodied without being in anyway cloying or alcohol-dominated, the kind of Veneto wine that can easily rank with the best out of Tuscany and Piedmont.
So while the Bertani name may now belong to a Roman drug company, the break has allowed the current generation of Bertanis to keep their traditions and their style while improving the health of their vineyards and taking on global warming.
YET ANOTHER REASON TO HATE MILLENNIALS
“Welcome to the best party in Wicker Park. On a comparatively sleepy stretch of North Avenue, this homage to the Mississippi Delta is so packed it’s practically shaking, filled with men in ironic mustaches and women in ironic wire-rimmed glasses, all of them nodding along to hip-hop and sipping fruity vodka punches from shareable cut-glass vases.”—Delta Sky Magazine.
NO, WE DON'T DIG
NO, WE DON'T DIG
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.
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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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