Founded in 1996
Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in "North By Northwest" (1959)
IN THIS ISSUE
ST. LOUIS, MO
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
ST. LOUIS, MO,
REBOUNDS BY UPDATING ITS
HISTORY AND CULTURE
By John Mariani
I remember seeing its graceful shape far off in the distance when my wife and I drove across America in 1977, and my son remembers seeing it when he did the same drive in 1998. There’s now a vast new visitors center and museum at its base, amidst well-landscaped grounds (they buried a highway that used to run through it), that will tell you everything you’d want to know about the design and construction of this Midwestern wonder of the world.
Although the city has only 320,000 residents, it has the feel of a bigger city as it sprawls along the Mississippi River, married briefly to both the Missouri and the Illinois, crisscrossed by four interstate highways, with 79 designated neighborhoods.
This is the city lovingly exalted by the 1944 movie “Meet Me in St. Louis,” centered around the city’s 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (though filmed on MGM’s back lots), the same year it hosted the Summer Olympics.
The city dates back to fur trading days, founded by the French in 1764, acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Steamboats plied its rivers by 1818, and Missouri became a state three years later.
Like all expanding Midwest cities, wealth brought culture, and today St. Louis is a home to some extraordinary museums and attractions—most of them open to the public gratis. Some lie within Forest Park (left), site of both the Exposition and Olympics, which attracts 12 million visitors each year. It’s much larger than New York’s Central Park and includes the Missouri History Museum and one of America’s greatest cultural institutions, the St. Louis Art Museum (right). On a recent trip there, I was struck not only by the comprehensive nature of its 34,000 holdings, from Ancient American art and Art of the Pacific to Medieval and renaissance rooms, Islamic exhibitions, stunning Asian pottery, and modern art (with one of the largest collections of the German artist Max Beckmann), but with its perfect, soft lighting in both galleries and open spaces.
Elsewhere in St. Louis are the Contemporary Art Museum and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. The city’s Symphony dates back to 1880, now performing in the gorgeous and opulent Powell Hall.
The Missouri Botanical Garden (left), spread out over 79 acres, is the oldest of its kind in the U.S., with an indoor rainforest, waterfalls, tropical birds, a serene Japanese garden and children’s educational area, all connected by an on-and-off tram.
I’ll be writing about the city’s culinary offerings in upcoming articles, but I can’t fail to mention that St. Louis is an historic and major beer producer, with visits to huge breweries like Anheuser-Busch (now owned by Belgians) requisite, along with brewery tour companies that visit artisanal and microbreweries throughout the city.
One of the most revealing aspects for me while touring the city’s bustling Delmar Loop in the University area were the sidewalks implanted with bronze stars commemorating St. Louis’s native sons and daughters of national and international renown, including actors like Betty Grable and Vincent Price; authors like T. S. Eliot, William Inge, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou and Howard Nemerov; sports figures like Yogi Berra, Jimmy Connors and Sonny Liston; and a slew of musicians like Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, Albert King, Chuck Berry and Scott Joplin. Probably its best-known citizen was the man who flew the plane named after the city, Charles Lindbergh.
Not all of them loved their hometown, and many left as soon as they could. “I ran away from St. Louis,” said Josephine Baker (left), “and then I ran away from the United States, because of that terror of discrimination.”
After World War II, St. Louis was not without its urban problems. There was much decay surrounding the downtown area, with gray stretches of un-patched roads and trash-strewn vacant lots; today its population is 100,000 people fewer than it was in 1950, when a flight to the suburbs began. Only Detroit and Youngstown, Ohio, have seen such precipitous declines. The city has had to battle its image as having the highest murder rate per capita in the U.S.
But infusions of Asian immigrants in recent years—Chinese in the Central West End, Vietnamese in Dutchtown—and Latinos have enriched the ethnic base of the city, now almost 50% African-American. A lavish casino has helped revive downtown, and the city’s sports teams—the Cardinals and the Blues—do very well; the city’s major industries are sound, its colleges and universities well regarded. Ten Fortune 500 companies reside there. Boeing employs 15,000 at its campus north of the city, and, as in so many Midwestern cities now, the medical sector is a leader in technology and employment. Washington University’s medical school is ranked one of the top ten in the U.S.
Symptomatic of both that decline and current rebound is one of the city’s most extraordinary pieces of reclaimed architecture, the landmark Union Station, once the largest and busiest train station in the world, with 100,000 passengers a day arriving or departing on 22 train lines, a true crossroads of America. Opened in 1894, it thrived until airlines pushed passenger train companies into bankruptcy, so that by 1978 no trains pulled in or our of this majestic station. Those that do come through St. Louis now come through an adjacent ungainly looking shack.
Saving the landmark showed the true modern spirit of St. Louis, when a $150 million renovation turned the station into an upscale hotel, now run by Hilton. Several times a day now a spectacular laser light show is splashed across its vast 65-foot-tall Grand Hall and stained glass windows depicting St. Louis as the center of America.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
485 Seventh Avenue (near 37th Street)
Six nights a week, the Times Square area is a mad, deafening rush of New Yorkers, tourists, cops, food trucks, buses, cars and taxis. People disgorge from the restaurants at six-thirty p.m. to catch a curtain or head to Madison Square Garden for a Billy Joel concert.
But on Monday nights, when the theaters are closed, the area is calmer, people aren’t in such a rush, and you can really appreciate the extravagance of the light shows up and down Broadway. So it was a good night for me and my guests to try out a year-old restaurant in the Moxy Hotel, when we didn’t run into the buzz saw of exiting diners. (Actually there was one table next to us talking so loud they did sound like a turbine generator, but fortunately they bolted to catch a Knicks game at the Garden.)
So it was easier to appreciate this handsome, marine-themed restaurant up a flight of stairs off Seventh Avenue, with walls of old-fashioned white and green tiles, cushy banquettes, rough wood tables, and a ceiling with panels that soak up noise.
I had not actually heard of Legasea, and I’m sure the reasons it had not been much talked about or reviewed by the media had to do with the usual bias against hotel restaurants, especially one in the Theater and Garment District, and not least because it is owned by the international TAO Group, known more for its ear-splitting mega-nightclub restaurants than its fine cuisine.
But at Legasea, a smaller venue, they had the good sense to put a top-notch, very experienced chef in the kitchen—Jason Hall, who’s worked at an impressive number of restaurants in and out of New York, including Craft, Hearth, Gotham Bar & Grill and Anthos, this last a revolutionary Greek restaurant I picked as the best new restaurant of the year when it opened about ten years ago.
Legasea also enjoys the careful, cordial professionalism of general manager Alexandra Lesser, who’s worked with TAO restaurants in the past and even opened a restaurant in Dubai. The waitstaff is equally as personable, though at slow times in the evening they congregate too frequently at the bar.
The menu is deceptively traditional for a seafood house. There are all the expected items, from a generously proportioned seafood tower ($75 to $105) of raw shellfish, lobster, crab, mussels and shrimp with various sauces to fried calamari with zucchini and cherry tomatoes sauce ($17). You can get simply cooked fish and end off with a slice of cheesecake. But that is far from all that Hall is producing. He’s certainly not alone in pursuing sustainability of his products, but he is one of the rare chefs who brings in wild branzino and other species from the Mediterranean and Montauk. But first you begin with a pan of hot, buttered salted yeast rolls and spreads you’d wish more places served instead of the usual bread basket.
One of Hall’s signature items this season is acorn squash that is slow-roasted in olive oil and lemon and served with a cold maple yogurt ($10). Quinoa is crisped in the oven and sprinkled atop the squash (right), with pumpkin seeds and tart dried cherries for garnish. I told you this was not your usual seafood house.
Also out of the ordinary are his creamy, piled-high crab beignets (above, left) with chipotle-laced crème fraȋche and a powder made from Indian butter ($16). The tuna tartare ($22) comes glistening and sweet, mixed with avocado, soy ginger vinaigrette and served with lavash crackers. And I was really happy with an old-fashioned salad he calls BLT of cold iceberg lettuce tossed with bleu cheese and crispy shallots for crunch ($16), which easily serves two people.
That wild branzino ($39), which comes to the table splayed, is wonderful, but yellowfin tuna au poivre ($36) lacked flavor, in both the fish itself and the black pepper. Chatham cod fish and chips ($29) was perfectly cooked, so that the batter stayed crisp and the cod exceptionally moist but not steamy within, served with good French fries. We also ordered some German butterball potatoes with chives and truffle butter for the table ($12).
Hall makes all his own pastas, and it showed in the fine texture of black pasta shells in a very savory, well-seasoned sauce of lobster, shrimp, scallops and spicy cherry tomatoes. ($27).
We were pretty sated by this point, but could hardly refuse two styles of fall dessert: fried apple fritters that had a delightful sweet-sour balance, and soft baked donuts kissed with cinnamon sugar. My wife had to have the recipe for that one.
Those desserts were gobbled up, but I cannot fail to mention the assortment of excellent ice creams and sorbets (three for $15) with which you can have toppings like Oreo crumbs and gingersnap cookies.
We were at our table at Legasea for nearly three hours, not because there was a lag in service or delivery of the food but because we just kept enjoying every morsel of what was placed before us. More abstemious gourmets might have stopped after the shellfish tower, but on that lovely Monday night in New York we were wholly content to be right where we were in the heart of the city.
Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By John Mariani
the harvests end in northern hemisphere wine
estates, new vintages from prior years come
into the market. Here
are some I’m enjoying at the moment.
BARON DE BRANE 2010 ($27)—Very rich, very supple, very layered, showing its Margaux appellation beautifully. The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot, with no Cabernet Franc. The vintage was a dry year with cool summer nights that helped build up the aroma and phenolics. This is the second wine of Château Brane-Cantenac, a renowned second growth, overseen by Henri Lurton, and a very good price for a Bordeaux of this quality. It’s ready to drink right now.
CHÂTEAU GRAND TAYAC 2014 ($33)—I was equally taken with this Margaux, though perhaps less multi-dimensional than the Baron de Brane right now—and it’s young. It was rewarding for its deep fruit flavors, lush feel on the palate and long finish. Winemaker Eric Boissenot, who consults for many of the First Growth Bordeaux, makes a small number of bottles he proudly puts his reputation behind.
DRY CREEK THE MARINER 2014 ($50)—With 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 9% Merlot, 8% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc, this is a carefully cultured blend from Sonoma County, and it has plenty of pleasure in it with soft fruit and tannins—very much a fine example of a Meritage wine, which Dry Creek pioneered back in the 1980s. The name refers to a poem by Longfellow on the label entitled “The Building of the Ship”: “In spite of rock and tempest’s roar,/ In spite of false lights on the shore,’/ Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!” Whatever.
LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY ANDERSON VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2015 ($40)—Subtlety is a virtue too often lost on California’s Pinot Noir makers, so I applaud how Long Meadow Ranch’s owners, Ted, Laddie and Christopher Hall, who make their wines right along with olive and fruit orchards as well as raising cattle and horses, have produced a wine that is supple, fruit forward but not massive, neither in its alcohol (13.5%) nor its tannins. It tastes of Anderson Valley terroir, and this autumn I’ll be drinking it with roast duck and cherries or any mushroom-hearty dish.
SIREN’S LURE 2014 ($31)—A Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec
blend, this wine shows how far Greek reds have
come just in the past five years. The siren in
the name references Corfu and its alluring sea
serpents who seduced Ulysses. All grapes are
100% non-GMO sustainably grown. It’s a nicely
robust red at 14.4% alcohol and is perfect
with roast lamb or lamb chops.
PLANTATION XAYMACA SPECIAL DRY ($24.99)—The question with rum is: Is it too good to be used in a cocktail? With this new import from Jamaica, the answer is that it is a very good, medium-bodied rum that blends impeccably into a Daiquiri or rum punch—though lost in a piña colada—while it’s an easy rum to sip on its own, before or after dinner. At 86 proof, it’s not too weighty, and master blender Alexandre Gabriel sought to emphasize the fruit and spice flavors with “animal intensity,” achieved by aging to a medium amber color. Maison Ferrand, best known for its Pierre Ferrand Cognac, owns two historic pot distilleries at Long Pond (right) and Clarendon, known for their high esters.
WATER STILL SEEMS TO BE OKAY, UNLESS AN ANIMAL PISSED IN IT
According to Sandi Toksvig, co-host of “The Great British Bake Off,” almonds, avocado, kiwi, butternut squash, and melon are not vegan. “It's the same reason as honey,” she explained. “They can't exist without bees, and bees are used in, let's call it an 'unnatural way.' Because they are so difficult to cultivate naturally, all of these crops rely on bees which are placed on the back of trucks and taken very long distances across the country. It's migratory beekeeping and it's unnatural use of animals and there are lots of foods that fall foul of this.”Toksvig went on the say that other fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cherries, cucumbers, and even lettuce are “actually not strictly vegan.”
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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The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured favorite. The story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair.
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“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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