MARIANI’S

Virtual Gourmet


  JUNE 19,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER



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"Father's Day" by J.C. Leyendecker in The American Weekly (1947)

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IN THIS ISSUE

DINING OUT IN NAPLES, FLORIDA
By Geoff Kalish

THE GOOFY, SILLY, DOPEY AND WHOLLY USELESS
RESTAURANT MAGAZINE AWARDS
By John Mariani

 
NEW YORK CORNER
RESERVE CUT 

By John Mariani


NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
A CRITIQUE OF PURE RIESLING,
Part One

By John A. Curtas

 



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ANNOUNCEMENT:

   On June 24 at Ribalta Restaurant in NYC (from 2 PM-5 PM),  PRIMO DI MANHATTAN, sponsored by Il Pastificio Di Martino di Gragnano and the Associazione Italiana Chef di New York (AICNY) will judge ten chefs competing to create the best pasta and the winner will be awarded $5000 and a trip to Gragnano, Italy, and be invited to Le Strade della Mozzarella 2017 event in Italy. John Mariani will one of the judges.  Here are the ten chef’s finalist of the Primo di Manhattan’s competition:  Riccardo Bilotta and Simone Venturini, A' Voce Columbus; Fortunato Nicotra, Felidia; Carlo Bigi, Il Buco Alimentari; Vincenzo Garofalo, Le Cirque;  Matteo Bergamini, Black Barn; Massimo Sola, Mamo;  Patrizia Volanti, Antica Pesa Williamsburg; Pasquale Cozzolino, Ribalta; Matteo Calciati, Paola's.

 



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DINING OUT IN NAPLES, FLORIDA

By Geoff Kalish

 

The Dock at Crayton Cove

    As one would expect of a resort city, the culinary landscape in Naples experiences a sizable number of major and minor modifications from year to year. Restaurants come and go. Some of the most notable changes, however, are improvements and refinements in the fare, décor and/or service of existing establishments, or on the other hand deterioration or inconsistency in the same elements.
    So, the following comments are offered as an update to my reviews published in this newsletter  two years ago.  Also, since children dining out with their families at upscale Naples restaurants has emerged as a mainstream phenomena, I’ve included pertinent, “kids’ point of view” comments from my grandson, Jack—who writes a blog (minispinach.blogspot.com) providing food and restaurant insights and reviews for kids.
    First a few remarks on the significant departures and new additions (too early to review fully):  L’Angolo is gone from its original Fifth Avenue location, with the owner and much of the staff  now at Molto Trattoria a few blocks down the street,  offering an array Italian fare, particularly gourmet pizzas, in a quite casual setting; Mereday’s Fine Food, once located in the Naples Bay Resort, has shuttered its doors, with the chef saying that he’s giving up on trying to make a go of it in Naples; and the seemingly always crowded Handsome Harry’s, on South Third Street, has closed, with the space now occupied by the Continental, a rather pricey upscale steakhouse featuring a “craft” bar. Two notable newcomers offer takes on Peruvian fare—Inca’s Kitchen in the Vanderbilt Beach Road Pavilion Shopping Center and Coastal Peruvian Seafood & Grill, in the Bed, Bath & Beyond shopping Center on Airport Pulling. And, very new to the scene is Cooper’s Hawk on Tamiani Trail in North Naples, the 22nd restaurant in a Chicago-based chain, featuring large portions of creative fare and a wide selection of its own brand of modestly-priced wine.

 

THE DOCK AT CRAYTON COVE
845 12th Avenue South
239-263-9940
www.dockcraytoncove.com

    With a panoramic view of Naples Bay, it’s location, location, location that sets this 40-year-old very casual Naples institution apart from many other area eateries specializing in seafood. Rather rustic but comfortable seating is offered and a number of tables are large enough to accommodate even extended  family gatherings.
    Top-notch starters range from a refreshing Chickee Hut Salad, composed of mesclun greens mixed with generous portions of hearts of palm, tomato and orange segments doused with a zesty citrus vinaigrette, to classic coconut shrimp, and spicy Bahamian “cracked” conch fritters, served with sweet banana ketchup.  I find that the simply grilled or bamboo-steamed seafare like the mahi mahi, sea bass or local lobster make the best choices.      And for those looking for land-based items, the Jamaican Red Stripe baby back ribs,  accompanied by a heady guava BBQ sauce, creamy cole slaw and greaseless sweet potato fries,  are as good, if not better, than those served at other establishments in the area.   For dessert, go with the rich caramel cheesecake.
      Surprisingly, for an eatery this casual, there’s a well thought out, sensibly priced wine list with selections, with fair mark-ups, like a lively Sauvignon Sancerre with a bouquet of newly mown hay and a lively, herbal finish; also, a dry, strawberry-scented Mas Des Bressades Rosé (both offered by the glass or bottle). 
    Jack comments on his most recent visit that “the no reservation policy led to a long frustrating wait, but my lobster tasted fresh (although maybe a bit overcooked), my French fries were crisp and the waitress was very friendly and got our food to us quickly.”
 

Expect dinner for two to cost $80-$90, excluding wine, tax and tip; Open daily for lunch and dinner.

 

FISH RESTAURANT
4360 Gulf Shore Blvd North (in the Venetian Village Shopping Center)
239-263-3474

    This restaurant enjoys an enviable waterside location, overlooking shimmering Venetian Bay at the rear of a shopping village noted for its unique, upscale shops.  Unlike The Dock, however, the fare and vibe here are quite sophisticated,  whether dining inside at tables dressed with starched white cloths or on the outside deck, with the glimmer of sunset or moonlight reflected off the buildings in the distance. 
    Appetizers range from a wide assortment of pristinely fresh sushi and sashimi, salads, soups, toothsome charbroiled and oyster Rockefeller preparations, and crisp-on-the-outside, dewy on-the-inside grilled octopus. I like the rich, butter-poached black grouper,  and  the firm, yet moist day-boat scallops served over a flavorful mix of saffron rice, roasted cauliflower, hazelnuts, capers and lemon caramel. My favorite is the branzino, whether the fillet grilled with capers, tomato and shallots or the whole fish simply grilled with lemon and extra virgin olive oil. The restaurant also offers a selection of decadent seafood pasta dishes like lobster ravioli as well as grilled beef and lamb selections.  And for dessert, try the sweet and tart Key lime pie that is surprisingly refreshing.
    The wine list here offers a range of choices a cut above the usual fish-house selections, with more than two dozen brands by the glass, like the herbal King Estate Pinot Gris and the easy drinking Zenato Valpolicella, though the price hikes on the wines by the glass are very high: the latter costs about $13 a bottle in a store, while a single glass at the restaurant is $12. Jack thought that the positives here were that “the setting was very pretty and it was fun watching the boasts go by. Also, the branzino was tasty and didn’t have any bones.” Negatives he felt were, “the lobster bisque was thin and salty and the waiter was too impatient in taking our order, and we had to ask for bread a few times before he brought it to our table.” 
 

Expect dinner for two to cost $110-$120, not including wine, tax or tip. (And there’s a 3-course “first seating” dinner available 4-5:30 p.m.  for $24); Open daily for lunch and dinner.


KC AMERICAN BISTRO
865 Vanderbilt Beach Road (in the Pavilion Shopping Center) 
239-566-2 371
www.kcamericanbistro.com

    This  six-year-old storefront dining spot featuring imaginative regional cuisine as interpreted by chef Keith Casey—he’s the “KC”—is now better than ever, with consistently superior food and service and a wine list containing numerous reds and whites, like the fairly priced Paul Hobbs Chardonnay and the Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet, that mate perfectly with the fare.  And seating at booths or well-spaced tables in a number of separate rooms usually allows for conversation at normal voice levels.
      From the dozen starters offered, I find the kale Caesar with shaved Manchego and pine nuts, and the watermelon salad with whipped goat’s cheese, micro sprouts and an orange and Meyer Lemon dressing both cuts above similar dishes elsewhere.  And for a rich treat try the creamy, almost sweet Maryland Blue Crab soufflé (above).
   
    Some of my favorite entrées from a list of a dozen tempting choices include: sautéed day boat scallops accompanied by herbal scented braised spaghetti squash, cauliflower soufflé and grilled zucchini drizzled with a citrus beurre blanc; a crisp skinned, smoked pepper and molasses-glazed tender duck breast served with caramelized plantains and a refreshing jicama and orange salad; and a hearty Zinfandel-braised shortrib (left) coated in a pungent wild mushroom and veal sauce.
        To end the meal go with the orange-scented crème brûlée or the lavish chocolate ganache torte atop crème anglaise and a wild berry coulis.
 

Expect dinner for two to cost a very reasonable $90-$100, excluding wine, tax and tip. Open Monday-Saturday for dinner only.

 

BALEEN
989 Gulf Shore Drive (in the La Playa Hotel)
239-598-5700
www.laplayaresort.com

    This restaurant continues to be one of my favorites because of its great view of the sunset over the Gulf Coast, and for its well prepared range of grilled seafood accompanied by heady sauces and interesting mixes of vegetables and starches. In addition, the “bar menu” offers an excellent choice of more casual fare, like a lobster salad BLT, crunchy grouper tacos and a world-class shortrib burger on a challah bun. Moreover the restaurant features a well-priced, award-winning wine list and first-rate service by a friendly, but professional staff.
  
 On our most recent visit, Jack noted, “My sister Arielle was excited that she got to ring the bell on the deck that’s a nightly tradition here just after the sun sets.  As for the food, my tuna tartare with kimchi was very fresh and tangy, but maybe had a bit too much kimchi, and I didn’t like the taste of the scallops – probably because of the flavor from the parsnip purée they were resting on (but my grandmother had the same dish and liked it).  Also, we really enjoyed the dessert of s’mores that we made with marshmallows we cooked over a fire pit on the beach.”
 

Expect dinner for two to cost $100-$120, excluding wine, tax or tip. (Also, there’s a 3-course, fixed-price possibility for $42 per person, with three choices each for appetizers, main courses and dessert); Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 



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THE GOOFY, SILLY, DOPEY AND WHOLLY USELESS
RESTAURANT
MAGAZINE AWARDS
By John Mariani



    It’s that time of year again, when Restaurant magazine, an industry journal published out of London, names the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants,” an annual list so nonsensical as to make “Alice in Wonderland” seem like a serious guidebook.
    Years ago I was invited to be one of the hundreds of judges for this awards program (and I was to pick the other North American judges)
, now made up of more than a thousand food writers, chefs and restaurateurs, and well-traveled gastronomes. Each judge casts seven votes, “three of which must apply toward restaurants outside of his or her home region. Voters must have dined at a restaurant within the past 18 months.”
      After that first year on the panel I realized the whole thing was a farce, for several reasons.
    First, judges were not required to show any proof that they’d eaten in a restaurant they voted for within the previous 18 months, or ever.  This meant, in my case, that I could not vote for my favorite restaurant in the world, Le Bernardin in NYC, because I hadn’t dined there within 18 months.  And, in meeting with my colleagues in London that year, from as far away as Tokyo and Mumbai, it was clear that many of them had never visited France, Italy, the U.S. or South America, and none had the kind of expense account necessary to do so. No food journalist does, and many of those American restaurant critics I asked about joining the panel said they never really got out of the city where they worked.

  Yet in the end, that year’s top winners were all the most extravagant, most expensive, most molecular/modernist, and most impossible to get into restaurants in the world. So, how did anyone on our panel actually get to dine in so many of them within the prior 18  months?  None of it made sense to me, and as each year passes, the list gets curiouser and curiouser. The top spot for several years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014) went to Noma in Copenhagen, which is notoriously difficult to get into. This year for some reason Noma, praised for serving plates of moss, lichen and live ants (right) dropped down to number five, which could suggest scores of judges went back within the past year and found it lacking. Yeah, right.
    Thomas Keller’s bicoastal restaurants, The French Laundry and Per Se, consistently made the list; this year neither did.  Indeed, U.S. restaurants rarely came anywhere near the top ten, though this year NYC’s Eleven Madison Park, which serves a $295 tasting menu, got bumped up to number three.  London superstar chef Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck once held number one and is now off the list completely.  Not even the vaunted Momofuku Ko of David Chang has a place among the top 50 any longer.
    The top spot this year is the marvelous Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, whose chef Massimo Bottura is one of Italy’s rare modernist chefs.  I love Bottura’s cooking, but haven’t eaten there in two years, so I couldn’t vote for him, were I still on the panel.  And you know that Modena (250 miles from Rome, 80 from Florence) is not exactly on the expense account of most food writers.  Imagine the editor of the Mumbai Times telling its restaurant critic, “Why not just pop over to Modena to check this place out this weekend ... keep your receipts.”
    Then there are those restaurants on the list that I doubt more than a handful of committed food experts and “well-traveled gastronomes” have ever even heard of:  Mirazur in Menton, France (No. 6), Quintonil in Mexico City (No. 12), White Rabbit in Moscow (No. 18),  Gagan in Bangkok (No 23, one slot ahead of Le Bernardin), Vendôme in Bergsich Gladback, Germany (No. 35), or QuiQui in Denia, Spain (No. 49).

    Since the list is so screwy, it’s hardly surprising that only three restaurants each in the U.S., France, and Italy make the cut--the same number as Lima, Peru!—and two in Japan. The award for The World’s Best Female Chef 2016 went to Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco, but her restaurants didn’t even make the top 50 list. Doh!
   
Such imbalance begins to make the Guide Michelin’s star ratings look wholly rational, but that’s another story. Yet, despite their obvious uselessness, the Restaurant magazine awards have in some media reports been called the most powerful in the world while at the same time being widely dismissed by most establishment media.
    It’s a preposterous list, but even more important it’s just plain silly.  Yet, I expect any day now to be asked, “My God! Has Le Bernardin gotten all that bad?  Is Thomas Keller’s reign over?  Is Heston Blumenthal passé?” It’s almost like a Monty Python list whereon you’d expect to find non-existent restaurants with funny names like The Passionate Lizard or Chef Ding’s Dong. 

 




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NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
Photos by Douglas Schneider

RESERVE CUT
Setai Hotel
40 Broad Street (near Exchange Place)
212-747-0300

Reservecut.com


 

    Right off the bat let me note that Reserve Cut is Glatt Kosher, which may puzzle some and put off others.  I am no authority on matters kosher, and the term Glatt Kosher is itself a continual subject of discussion among Jews:  In an article entitled “What’s the Truth About. … Glatt Kosher,” Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotsky states, “Misconceptions about the meaning of glatt are so widespread that, for many, the term glatt has colloquially taken on the implication of a higher standard, similar to the term mehadrin,”  and that “Glatt is Yiddish for smooth, and in the context of kashrut it means that the lungs of the animal were smooth, without any adhesions that could potentially prohibit the animal as a treifa, an issue only applicable to animals, not fowl or non-meat products.”
    Reserve Cut clearly draws a large number of Jews of different ethnic cultures for whom everything on the menu is kosher enough, including wine, as approved by a Rabbi; that means dairy products may never be mixed with meat in any way and no shellfish may be served.  Beyond that, the non-Jew need be no further concerned dining at Reserve Cut.
    Okay, now on to how Reserve Cut otherwise ranks among NYC’s myriad steakhouses.  For one thing, it is one of the more spectacular dining rooms downtown, with a gorgeous hall of glassed-in wine bottles (left), and seating for 500 spread out from an entryway bar to two expansive dining rooms, one with a broad open kitchen. When the space opened six years ago on the second floor of the Setai Hotel, it was a superb Asian fusion restaurant named SHO Shaun Hergatt, and Reserve Cut has wisely maintained some of those style elements that made it such a beautiful space. Very low lighting, however, makes it difficult to appreciate much of it. This being a steakhouse, it can get boisterously loud.
    
As has become the new standard for modern steakhouses, there is a lengthy sushi-sashimi section on the menu, and Reserve Cut’s is as fine as any in town, especially the extensive number of Asian rolls, like the Volcano roll ($22) made from spicy tuna with Asian pear, avocado and tempura.  The sushi platter makes for a good assortment of nine pieces of the chef’s recommendations ($36).
    There are also many appetizers out of the ordinary here (possibly to fill in for the lack of shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crab), including a terrific dish of smoked shredded short rib tacos ($
26) with pineapple, tomato and cilantro salsa.  Rich Kobe-style beef tartare was dressed with shallots, cornichons, and quail egg yolk ($28), while excellent tuna is enhanced with black truffle, avocado, teriyaki sauce and cilantro ($24), similar to a dish of grilled blackened cod and tuna ($23).  A very delicate and thin yellowtail carpaccio came with subtle flavors of lavender sea salt, lemon zest, and tomato jam for a touch of sweetness ($24), and Chilean sea bass roulade was sided with a rainbow carrot purée, capers, and scallion vinaigrette ($24); all these show the broad range of the kitchen. The two disappointments among the starters I tried were mushy, starchy potato gnocchi with a sauce of duck confit, blistered tomatoes and zucchini ($24), and a watery roasted heirloom tomato soup with basil ($16).
    The Brooklyn-born owner of Reserve Cut, Albert Allaham (right), only 29, “descends from a long line of master butchers dating back over 200 years to Damascus in Syria, where his family ran one of the country’s most respected butcher shops,” so he’s got a lot to live up to, and he delivers with first-rate beef, veal, and lamb, with several cuts to choose from. A richly flavorful 10- ounce prime reserve cut, called the “proprietors cultivated special,” came with a lovely yellow bell pepper caponata  ($65), and it was everything you would want from a USDA Prime well-aged piece of meat; so, too, the impeccably trimmed, well-fatted rack of lamb was delicious to the bone, with roasted vegetables and a Port reduction with just the right amount of sweetness ($75), and a thick veal chop came with a terrine of tomato fillets and artichokes, a confit of sweet baby onions, and roasted king mushrooms ($61).  I was delighted to see a 12-ounce steak au poivre with caramelized carrots ($61), but there wasn’t nearly as much coarse ground black pepper corns on it as I would’ve wished, and the carrots were undercooked.  All these meats come with the option of various classic sauces like Béarnaise, Bordelaise and green peppercorns.
    Aside from some addictive golden French fries, the side dishes began showing that kosher cannot deliver much rich flavor to truffled mashed potatoes or “creamed” spinach without using butter or cream, and this also affected desserts ($16), from a strawberry sundae with fabulous strawberry sorbet but insipid corn cream, while the bourbon “milkshake” was a novelty and nothing more. The caramelized chocolate mousse with crispy phyllo and salted caramelized honey ice cream was the best of a lackluster group.  I longed for a true New York Jewish cheesecake, but for that I’d have to go to a kosher dairy restaurant or deli.
    The wine list is especially admirable for the number of well-worth-trying wines from Israel and kosher-approved bottlings from California, all based on European varietals.  There are a few at very reasonable mark-ups, like Borgo Reale Barolo 2010 at $74, while others are really hiked up, like Pardess Merlot 2011 at $162, which runs $30 in a wine shop. Cocktails are $15-$18.
    There’s no getting around the fact that the prices for the steaks and chops were as high or higher than most steakhouses around town—a veal porterhouse at Minetta Tavern goes for $52, a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye at Strip House for $58, and Colorado lamb chops at Bobby Van’s just across the street from Reserve Cut for $56—but you must factor in that you’re getting vegetables and condiments on the side, which is a rarity in most NYC steakhouses.  Kosher or not, the quality of the meat is certainly there in every bite, and you’re getting a very swank setting, so it’s all in how you want to dine way downtown. 

Lunch Mon.-Fri.; Dinner Sun.-Fri.

 





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NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR

A CRITIQUE OF PURE RIESLING,
Part One

    German wines and America have had a difficult relationship over the past one hundred years, to say the least. Two world wars in just over twenty years weren't exactly conducive to good relations (or wine sales), and dumping boatloads of plonk on the American market back in the 1970s in the form of Piesporter, Liebfraumilch and the dreadful Blue Nun (below) didn't help matters either. The overall effect has been to seriously damage the reputation of Riesling, one of the great drinking grapes of the world.
         The other problem with German wines really isn't Germany's fault. It has to do with the tsunami of "dry" chardonnay that swept over America for thirty years and still hasn't receded. Somewhere between the Judgment of Paris in 1976 and the rise of Wine Spectator a dozen years later, it was decreed that all quality white wines had to be "dry," any residual sugar was bad, and any preference for the latter pegged you as a hopeless rube just a swig away from the Boone's Farm crowd.        
        
Quality German producers got swept aside by this tide, or at least pushed into the corners of the wine drinking world, and only in the 21st Century has Riesling rebounded to reclaim its place among the noblest of grapes worthy of the highest praise. The fact that it also kicks most other wines’ butts when it comes to price and matching with food should not be discounted, be you a serious connoisseur or casual sipper.
         With these thoughts in mind I traveled to Deutschland late last year to taste my way through a few of the better estates in the Rheingau and Mosel, in hopes of gaining a further appreciation of this underrated and fascinating grape. I picked three producers whose products are widely admired and available in the United States, and after three days of Riesling immersion, it can honestly be said that there wasn't a bad sip in the bunch. But it also has to be said that to properly parse the fine distinctions between all of the various expressions of this vine, you really must do side-by-side comparisons of wines (the kind that can only be done at the winery or a good wine shop) in order to appreciate the delicate interplay of soil, acid, sweetness and minerals, not to mention age and oak, that makes Riesling so compelling and inscrutable.
         Weingut Robert Weil (below) , pronounced "VineGoot Robert Vile" preferably while rolling your r,  is now owned by the Suntory international conglomerate, which explains why you've been seeing a lot more of it on wine shelves and lists over the past few years.  Weil has been described by Jancis Robinson as one of the true "Bordeaux-like estates" of the Rheingau. It also probably explains why the tasting room is open on Sunday, which is a real plus for a wine tourist on a tight schedule.
         You arrive at this chateau-like winery by way of a gorgeous, circular driveway at the foot of the state-of-the-art facility (below). That facility overlooks the three great vineyards of the Weingut (wine estate)—Klosterberg, Turmberg, and Gräfenberg—sites that now have official Rheingau designation as "the best parcels of renowned sites since time immemorial." In another attempt to make things easier on the consumer, Weil has taken a cue from the French (quelle horreur!) and classifies its wines by terroir, designating Klosterberg and Turmberg as "premier cru"-like sites, while Gräfenberg (or GG on the label) is more akin to a grand cru vineyard in the Burgundian mold.
         Keep in mind, there's still the old Trocken (dry), Kabinett (a bit lighter and drier, although there are fully sweet Kabinett wines), Spätlese (made with riper grapes, therefore even sweeter), and Auslese (higher sugar levels still) designations on the label, all of it done with a very earnest, very German attempt to give you as much information as possible on a 3x4 inch label. Be advised, however, that no matter how hard they try, and you try, the whole classification thing will still drive you crazy.
         The Rheingau was the first region in Germany to try to validate its "dry" style of Rieslings within a system that used to only reward sugar levels. The reason for this is best understood when considering that German wines are made at the farthest north and coldest wine-making region in the world, thereby inspiring a ranking system based upon a winery's ability to coax the most ripeness from its grapes. A good rule of thumb is to look for the VDP designation on the neck of the bottle (it looks like a gold eagle with a cluster of grapes on its breast), but even then, all it tells you is that you're getting top shelf Riesling. Weil at least is a lot more English language-friendly than many others but may still leave you scratching your head when it comes to deciphering what's really inside.
         This is because the "dry" designation in any VDP wine is still a highly relative term. Trocken or Kabinett Rieslings are "dry" in the same way that a kiwi fruit is drier than a pineapple, or Donald Trump is more presidential than Kanye West. Dry Rieslings can range from mouth-puckering tartness to explosions of sweet fruit, honey and floral aromas, depending on the wine and the winery. Combine that with the Germanic predilection for stressing the sugar levels in their wines, rather than the overall sensations they invoke in the mouth, and sometimes you can leave a German wine tasting feeling like you just got confused in both a foreign language and a chemistry class.
         But none of that matters when you're simply enjoying a mouthwatering, complex white wine, and at Weil there's a lot to enjoy. After a tour of the spotless winery and a mini-lecture on the terroir of the adjacent hillsides, you end up in a very modern tasting room where your guide will lead you through a range of wines that will astonish you with their interplay of fruit, minerality, alcohol (usually low), and mouth-feel. They start you with Riesling Trocken wines from their "Rheingau" and "Kiedricher" vines (corresponding to a domaine and village wines in Burgundy), and these entry-level wines are a fine introduction into the joys of the Riesling grape. The 2014s are showing very well right now, with plenty of peachy aromas and firm acidity to balance the unavoidable touch of sweetness, even though it says "dry" on the label. (I told you things get confusing fast.)
         To confuse you further, keep in mind that the German wine industry is one place that has benefited from global warming. Both along the Rhine and Mosel, I heard producer after producer say that getting their grapes to ripen before harvest isn't the struggle it used to be. Chaptalization (the adding of extra sugar to promote fermentation) is now but a dim memory to many of them, but the side effect, according to these same winemakers, has been that “Trocken" (dry) grapes are now picked at (formerly) Spätlese levels. Which means that recent changes in climate ecology have rendered German wine vocabulary even more opaque. Which is really saying something.
         None of this matters when you're tasting one lip-smacking Riesling after another at Weil (right), and with a little coaching from Konstantin, our guide for the day and a veritable fount of information, you'll be parsing the differences between vineyards and sugar levels in no time. You will also walk away from Weil knowing that the best way to strike up a conversation with a German winemaker is to ask about sugar levels.

         A note about the tasting rooms:  Robert Weil has a modern tasting room on the site of the winery that is open to the public seven days a week. However, arrangements must be made in advance for a private tour and tasting.








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PAR-TEE!!

 Instead of paying child support by sending 300 euros every month, a chef in Padua, Italy, sought to support his daughter by sending her  pizza, which a local judge decreed he was allowed to do.   Apparently the girls' mother is not happy with the arrangement.

 





MOST FASCINATING OPENING FOR
A TRAVEL STORY IN 2016 (SO FAR)

“I woke to the gentle prodding of a flight attendant asking me to raise my window shade for the landing in Windhoek. I complied, and was immediately assailed: a bolt of white fury forced my eyelids to contract in submission, never to open again. Or, at least, not until it was time to deplane.”—Sarah Khan, “A Namibian Road Trip,” NY Times (1/31/16).

 

 









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Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

A Pinot Grigio with True Character
By John Fodera, TuscanVines 

    For me, nothing evokes images of summer more than Pesto alla Genovese and a crisp, steely white from Tuscany.  Over the past few weeks we've been tasting a variety of Rosato and Bianco wines to give you affordable options for the coming summer months.  Today,  we'll be featuring a wine that should be first on the list for lovers of Pinot Grigio.  And you may be surprised to learn which one it is.
    Castello Banfi
sits in southern Tuscany near Sant' Angelo Scalo, within the famed Brunello di Montalcino zone.  Naturally noted for producing high quality Brunello wines, Castello Banfi also produces several good quality wines priced appropriately for every day consumption.  I'd even add, every day extravagance.
    Pinot Grigio....is ubiquitous comfort.  Yet many people will unfortunately forget to check the brand when they buy a Pinot Grigio.  I say unfortunately, because some PGs are mass produced and common with little typicity or soul.  And at least a few are way, way overpriced for what they are.  Do you want a better wine at a much better price?   Then read on!
    Today we're focusing on the 2015  Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio In the glass, this estate vineyard Pinot Grigio is a medium to pale golden color and emits welcoming aromas of white flowers, honey, pineapple, and citrus.
    Sourced from sloping hillside vineyards in Montalcino (it’s the only Pinot Grigio from sun-soaked southern Tuscan town), the wine is crisp, refreshing and vibrant on the palate with flavors of white stone fruit, lemon zest, ripe pineapple and minerals.   Vinified in 100% stainless steel, the wine exudes surprising body, which I can only attribute to the excellent quality of the grapes.  This is a 2015, and an early harbinger for a vintage that winemakers are already claiming is as good or better than the exalted 2010. 
    An alcohol level of 12.5% keeps this very refreshing and while it was absolutely outstanding with the Pesto,  I also enjoyed it with raw oysters and alone on the patio as an aperitif.  If you love Pinot Grigio, do yourself a favor and seek this out.  You'll have to work hard to pay more than $18 or $19 for this wine while some others will clock in far north of $20.    91 points.   E vero!


 



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 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!

“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.




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The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.


"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.




Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.


"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross, thedailybeast.com

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily Meal.com.

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.

                                                                             





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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: LETTER FROM PARIS; RENWICK HOTEL NYC; WINSLOW HOMER'S MAINE STUDIO.






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 (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), 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 Las Vegas.



              


nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com;  nick@nickonwine.com; www.nickonwine.com.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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© copyright John Mariani 2016