Virtual Gourmet

  March 5, 2006                                                        NEWSLETTER


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In This Issue

RHODE ISLAND  BISTROS by John Mariani and Robert Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: The Sea Grill by John Mariani



by John and Robert Mariani

     Rhode Island is not called "Little Rhody" for nothing: The whole state is only 1,000 square miles in area with 1.1 million residents. You can drive from one end to the other in an hour, and Newport is only half-an-hour from Providence (left), which has emerged as one of the most elegantly reclaimed cities in New England.  It's full of pretty little towns like Bristol and Little Compton, has a marvelous vineyard named Sakonnet, and its own casino in Lincoln Park.  It also has an increasing number of good, smart restaurants, many of them in the style of the two most famous in the state, Al Forno and New Rivers, both in Providence. Posh elegance and haute cuisine is not to be found easily in the state, and the casual bistro form has really taken hold. Here are four fine ones.

465 Angell Street, Providence
401 437-6950
Photos by Peter Hassel

      wwwrtrttJaime D'Oliveira has been one of Providence's more ambitious chefs, having a decade ago established his cooking credentials at Angel's, then followed up with his Providence Hospitality Group as owner of Mill’s Tavern and (since sold) the Gatehouse. Now, he also runs the new Red Stripe, with, as he told me, notions of opening others around New England.
      It's not a bad idea because the casual, easy-to-like atmosphere and menu of Red Stripe--described as an all-encompassing  "
American Brasserie with classic French, Alsatian, Spanish influence"-- could be easily replicated as long as it does not become its own cliché.   D'Oliveira is definitely hands-on: If he isn't cooking on the line with chef de cuisine Terrence Maul, he's wiping down the windows and woodwork, as I caught him outside one sunny day. The 100-seat restaurant has a bistro's charm, with dark red booths and walls, bright white tablecloths, good glassware, and black-and-white tile floor.  The printed menu itself looks like a whole lot of favorite bistros in Paris (and, by intention, not a little like New York's Balthazar), and the winelist has 100 selections, with 12 by the glass.
   Maul has cooked at the well-regarded Geronimo’s in Santa Fe, on Nantucket, and in Dublin, returning to work work Ming Tsai at the celebrated Blue Ginger restaurant in Massachusetts. He's got a real handle on this kind of food, which in addition to the bistro classics includes New England cod cakes over baked beans with red cabbage slaw, and fried whole clam bellies with a spicy rémoulade.  He also does the kind of pizza that Al Forno made famous--grilled, and it's a creditable rendering, with a good crust, although the tomato sauce used was a tad sweet. And there are daily specials that range from cassoulet with chicken sausage to meatloaf with mashed potatoes and onion gravy.
     I heartily recommend starting off with a charcuterie plate, a generous assortment of pates, galantines, and sausages with traditional garnishes and country bread. For $15 this easily serves two as a
        Good bistros put a lot of effort into their frites, and those ay Red Stripe are paragons of form--crisp, full of fresh potato flavor, just enough oil and salt.  They come with a variety of main courses, including stout-battered fish and chips with pickled jalapeño and tartare sauce that was equally crisp, with delicate juicy white meat within.  Cod also came off well . . . .  The real disappointment, however, was an item that gets its own category on the menu: "Moules & Frites."  There are nine variations, but the two we sampled were truly lackluster.  Nothing wrong with the mussels themselves, though smaller ones are always preferable to these large varieties, but the sauces in which they are cooked and served were watery and bland. Portuguese was done with garlic, cilantro, chourico, and tomato; the other we tried was called "mouclade" on the menu but bore no resemblance to the French Normandy classic cooked in a very rich, creamy sauce suffused with saffron; Red Stripe's contained, inexplicably, curry and coconut milk, which would have been better named "Moules Thailand."
      You can't go wrong here with the "
Retro-style hot fudge sundae," abundantly dripping over the glass, or the butterscotch crème brûlée.
      The wine list is a good one for this kind of food, with about 30 whites and 35 reds, and more than a dozen half-bottles.  Try the R.I. Sakonnet Estate Chardonnay ($36); I think you'll be delighted.
        Dinner appetizers here run $4-$11, entrees $12.50-$18.

                                                                                                                                                                                   --John Mariani

Bravo Brasserie
123 Empire Street, Providence

       lIf ever a restaurant had a lucky prospect, Bravo is it. Located directly across from Trinity Repertory Theatre (with complimentary valet parking) draws a crowd before performances, another at 8 PM, and some after-theater guests too. The name is, therefore, an obvious one for this new restaurant, set in a downtown landmark building, and I applaud owner  Mario Panagos, who also runs Mario's Paragon restaurant,  for casting this casual, cheery little corner setting in the brasserie mold, with dark, polished curved wood bar, tile floors, tall windows onto the street, and Parisian-style lighting fixtures. The atmosphere might be considerably brightened by tablecloths or paper. And paper napkins are really, really cheap-o for a restaurant of any seriousness.
     At lunch the fare is pretty lightweight and not very brasserie-ish--burgers, sandwiches, and such. also available at dinner. In the evening, however, the menu reverts to form, starting with a good, hearty onion soup with a nicely gratineed topping of Gruyere and good sweet onions beneath it.  Pan-seared foie gras with a blueberry gastrique hit just the right note of sweetness and acid, sided with an herb salad, and a big portion of mussels, steamed in a Dijon mustard and saffron cream sauce a la mouclade was fresh and bracing, served with a portion of very good frites you may dip into assorted sauces. You can have this either as an appetizer of main course. One of the best items was a plate of sautéed with a light cheese coating and a sweet underpinning.ffffffffff
     Duck confit came with crispy duck leg and a hefty portion of truffled sautéed potatoes, and a massive amount of mashed potatoes was the bed for what the menu lists as "sole meunière," with the requisite brown butter sauce, though the added capers makes it closer to sole grenobloise. There is also rack of lamb with Dijon mustard crust, and pan-seared sea scallops with tarragon cream on the menu.  I couldn't get too excited by desserts, which included a profiterole that appeared made well in advance and stuck into the 'fridge to harden, which is the exact opposite of what the textures should be with this classic dessert.
      There's a decent winelist at decent prices, both of which go well with this kind of fare.
      If Bravo breaks no real new ground, it's a happy enough place before, during or after theater with its own conviviality and commitment to hospitality.


Bravo is open for lunch and dinner every day, as well as Sunday brunch.  Appetizers are $4-$14, and entrees are priced from $8 to $18.

134 Atwells Avenue, Providence

     lMediterraneo was reportedly Ex-Mayor Buddy Cianci’s favorite Providence restaurant, before starting to take his meals in the federal pen.  And stars like Alec Baldwin, Danny DeVito , Rhea Perlman, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, and Steven Tyler have all been spotted at this Federal Hill hot spot. It’s not at all surprising:  the ambiance, the service and the food here are all impeccable.  Federal Hill  is Providence's own Little Italy, lined with Italian restaurants, groceries, bakeries, and other shops.
     Mediterraneo is  snazzy without being too cool or pretentious.
The 64-seat downstairs dining room has sponged stucco walls, French doors,  tiled floors, a granite bar, and photos of Italy pretty much describe it. Tables are nicely set with napery and Ritz-like blue glassware. On the weekends, Mediterraneo's second level transforms into an upscale Latin and International caffé-discoteca, well known for its outstanding light and sound systems and notorious for its exclusive velvet rope policy.  In warmer weather people dine al fresco. Mediterraneo's co-owners Gianfranco and Gaetano Marrocco, and Dr. Fabio Potenti are justly proud of their very successful Federal Hill addition. (On their website you can view the photos of them and their "Wall of Fame" photo gallery of celebrities who have visited the place: click)
     The food here is hearty, well proportioned, and classic Italian-American:  Mozzarella in carrozza is made with fresh home-made mozzarella stuffed with prosciutto, breaded, and pan-fried with tomato-basil sauce. Gamberi Mediterraneo-- shrimp sautéed in a garlic, white wine and sweet-and-hot pepper sauce--is delicious.
I began with a carpaccio of beef tenderloin sliced so thin you could almost read The Federal Hill Gazzette through it, topped with crispy fresh arugula, large and piquant capers, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a drizzle of virgin olive oil, and a few elegantly thin slices of Parmigiano. The entire dish was so delicious and airy that I ate it all in about three mouthfuls. My wife's  appetizer was the marvelous melanzane della mamma— a small crock of lightly battered, sliced eggplant in a San Marzano plum tomato sauce with  home-made mozzarella.  You might just head for the antipasti bar and choose from a wide array of starters.uuuu
    There’s a Pasta Menu consisting of ten different classics from Penne al Pesto to Rigatoni al Pomodoro e Basilico. For my main course, I requested the Zuppa de Pesce Mediterraneo and was served a large piping hot, two-inch deep bowl of rich red tomato-saffron broth filed with a medley of fresh calamari, king crab meat, sea scallops, mussels, chunks of fresh codfish, littlenecks, shrimp and a small half-lobster half in the shell. The pleasure of this dish is that it is so full of flavors and yet relatively light so you can eat a lot of it without feeling too full.  Bistecca came as a substantial New York Sirloin steak simply grilled with a side of Italian style mashed potatoes.
   Mediterraneo's winelist has a substantial 150 selections at pretty fair prices.

   After an evening at Mediterraneo, I can only imagine what Buddy Cianci is dreaming of in lock-up these days.

                                                                                                                                              --Robert Mariani

Dinner starters range from $5.95-$6.95, pastas from $14.95-$23.95 (as main courses), and entrees $18.95-$32.95.

31 State St., Bristol, RI

         nh65Just how the heck did Bristol get so lucky? The quaint little waterfront town has attracted not one, but two of the Ocean State’s best chefs: Chef Sai Viswantath of DeWolff’s Tavern (for review, click) , and now Chef Champe Speidel of Persimmon, formerly known as The Hot Point. Speidel first caught my attention a while back at Gracie’s on Federal Hill for his sharply focused flavors and creative use of ingredients. Nothing has changed in that regard. His talents continue to blossom.
     Under Speidel’s guidance, you can expect some truly innovative fare, but with nothing eccentric or “experimental," and note that because of Chef Speidel’s devotion to fresh ingredients, the menu is slightly different every night, depending on what the best items available that day might be.
         I began with the crispy Maryland soft-shelled crab appetizer ($10),  lightly breaded with an herbed mayonnaise and an “Old Bay and lemon emulsion,” which was definitely not your right-out-of-the-Hellmans-jar mayo. It was laced with subtle little flavor accents, some peppery, some piquant, to go with the crunchy crabmeat, which, by the way, is generous to serve as an entrée.
        My wife decided to explore “the Persimmon cheese experience with treats and surprises” ($12): The plate arrived looking a lot like an artist’s palette, arranged so that you can taste from the very mild and  firm cow’s milk cheese to a slightly sharper blue, and then finally to an incredibly intense goat and cow’s milk cheese.  In between the mouthfuls of cheese samples were a wide range of dainty accompanying tastes such as fig puree, litchi nuts, and marinated cherries.3y
          Other starters  included crispy calamari with spicy tomato condiment; butter-basted lobster risotto with sweet peas and creamy lobster froth; a warm salad of roasted beets, Camembert cheese, pickled fennel, navel oranges, and baby arugula in an African roasted peanut oil, honey and Banyuls vinegar; and pan-seared foie gras with duck confit ravioli.
         Before they brought our main order, they surprised us first with a very delicate sliver of sushi-style sea bass, and then with an absolutely heavenly sample of a creamy soup of morel mushrooms, spring peas, and chive blossoms.

        My main dish was a maple-and-soy glazed pork porterhouse ($24). Cooked perfectly medium rare as I’d requested, this most-tender of pork cuts was infused with a very subtle but perfectly matched sweet-and-sour rhubarb condiment. The sweetness was beautifully balanced by the subtler soy, and the rhubarb condiment just kept tasting better and better with every mouthful. The accompanying veggies were also a treat--little broccoli flowerlets, oyster mushrooms, and some wonderful tidbits of potato gnocchi the size of your thumbnail.  Our other entree was braised spring lamb shank ($24) in a dark, dark “calaminth-infused sauce” accompanied by a tantalizingly soft/sweet puree of spring parsnips, and an array of tiny but really tasty spring veggies. The lamb was on the bone but fell away at the touch of a fork.
          [Other entrees at Persimmon include herb-crusted fluke with a creamy shellfish ragoût ($24); beef sirloin with Yukon Gold potato pancakes in a Sauce Bordelaise ($26); and pan-roasted Long Island Duck breast with ravioli of leg confit in a tarragon-infused sauce ($24). Prices here seem extremely reasonable in light of the finesse and quality of the cooking.
     There is a delightfully and artfully presented "Cheese Experience" (left) at Persimmon, which is applaudable for a small restaurant like this.  For dessert  I chose a warm banana sponge cake,  with a small dollop of banana ice cream and a  sauce made from a mix of chocolate and salty peanut praline. My wife's  dessert was the yogurt and vanilla panna cotta served with fresh strawberries and a sweet pie dough. Remarkably light and loaded with soft spring flavors.
      As downtown Bristol continues to evolve with its new million-dollar, waterfront condos, Chef Speidel’s sophisticated brand of cuisine is going to be a perfect fit. Go now while the prices are still geared towards the average diner.

  Persimmon Restaurant is open for dinner every night but Monday.                                                                 

by John Mariani

The Sea Grill
Rockefeller Center
9 West 49th Street

    Christmas is never really over at  Rockefeller Center.
     For even after the great tree (left) comes down in January, the skating rink twinkles on until April, the Center is still one of the most fabled, loveliest, celebratory spots in all of New York, and the same shops open at Christmastime line the art deco buildings year-round.  And there, as in Shelley's lines, "with sleepless eyes,"  is the brilliantly gold statue of Prometheus, still stealing the fire from the sun each day.
    The Sea Grill itself has never looked better, a shimmering space with a blue bar (below) smack up against the skating  rink with a full of view of the wonderful appearance of the Zamboni. Lunch is always popular here, and there's a good pre-theater crowd, but at twilight or evening, the Sea Grill becomes truly magical as the lights go on and make the skyscrapers glow.
ui    Executive Chef Ed Brown, joined by new chef de cuisine Jawn Chasteen, previously at Town, Payard Patisserie & Bistro, and Danube, have maintained both beloved favorites on the menu, like the justifiably renowned crab cakes, with grainy mustard, pea sprouts, and scallion sauce,   and a terrific chowder of lobster, shrimp and clams, while always introducing marvelous new dishes based on the season's best finds.
It  is always a splendid idea to begin with a platter of iced, raw shellfish, or perhaps a variety of caviars. And, increasingly, the sushi and sashimi offerings are impressive and inventive.  A platter of both, at $38, easily feeds two as a generous starter, with tuna, yellowtail, amberjack, salmon, yellowjack, crab avocado roll, and spice tuna roll.  Individual pieces are also available.
     We began with a signature item here: Silky salmon tartare with slivers of truffles on them, all set in little crisp ice cream cones to be nibbled or put away in two bites. It's a fabulous item, so simple, so pure, so delicious time after time you have it.
Other current items include seared yellowfin tuna with butter bean cassoulet, roasted foie gras and Sherry glaze; okkaido sea scallops with arugula and orange-miso vinaigrette; and there are also a number of daily fish  entrees like  Casco Bay cod, wild-striped bass, and monkfish cooked on the “plancha,” a Spanish griddle, served with spinach and wine emulsion. King salmon cooked this way is treated to chorizo, shellfish, and braised escarole. At a recent lunch I was thoroughly enamored of an herb-crusted skate that had a remarkable, not-at-all stringy, texture, set in a pool of foie gras emulsion, with braised beluga lentils.
       yyyyyIf you are simply not in the mood for seafood, the meat and other items are equally as appealing, including marvelous crisp potato gnocchi with a sauce of cockles and lamb bolognese.  Add black truffle and you have the equivalent of the culinary sublime.
Michael Gabriel is the new executive pastry chef for The Sea Grill and Rock Center Café across the ice, and he is now serving sweets like pumpkin spice cake with rum raisin ice cream and a cranberry reduction; an almond semifreddo with candied almonds and port wine-roasted Italian plums;  a double chocolate mousse bombe topped with candied-caramel popcorn; and a square of Key lime pie.
       The wine list has grown in over the last year or so, though for a restaurant of this stature it could be--and should be--much better.  Prices, however, are pretty reasonable, with many bottles double the retail store price.
         Restaurants in settings so wonderful are not always as good as they might be.  The Sea Grill has for decades now exceeded expectations and is as fine a seafood restaurant as you'll find in the U.S. right now.
       Lunch and dinner prices are not far apart. Dinner appetizers run $11-$25, main course $20-$34.  Sushi and sashimi are variously priced. The restaurant is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner every day but Sunday.


"My husband's culinary breakthrough involved French onion soup.  Following a bad experience in 1973, he had been unable to so much as look at the stuff.  For whatever reason, he ordered it and actually finished an entire bowlful."--Joan Remnick in a review of Paris Match restaurant in New York Newsday (Jan. 20, 2006).


Narcotics police in Guizhou Province, China, closed 215 restaurants found to be adding opium poppy to their soups, stews, noodles, and snack.


rrThis fall, from Sept. 29-Oct. 6 John Mariani (left), publisher of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet and food & travel columnist for Esquire Magazine,  will host and lead a 7-day cruise called "The Sweet Life," aboard  Silverseas's Millennium Class Silver Whisper, with days visiting Barcelona, Tunis, Naples, Milazzo (Sicily), Rome, Livorno, and Villefranche.  There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines, cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani1111 co-authors of The Italian-American Cookbook), optional shore excursions will include a tour of the Amalfi Coast, dinner at the great Don Alfonso 1890 (2 Michelin stars), a private tour of the Vatican, dinner at La Pergola (3 Michelin stars) in Rome, a Night Cruise to Hotel de Paris and dinner at Louis XV (3 Michelin stars) in Monaco, and much more.  Rates (a 20% savings) range from $4,411 to $5,771. For complete information click.


* Utah’s Red Mountain Spa is offering the Red Mountain School for Adventure Cuisine and Detoxification Program throughout 2006. The 5-night School for Adventure Cuisine gives guests the basics for developing nutritious and delicious gourmet meals, incl.  8 hours private cooking school with Executive Chef Chad Luethje; deluxe accommodations; 3 meals per day; Healthy living classes and events; Daily guided morning hikes in a spectacular red rock setting; Unlimited fitness classes Full use of spa facilities. Rates start at $1,695 pp. Call 435-673-4905;  visit

* On March 15  a Gourmet Gala will be held at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston where 6 Irish chefs will be paired with 6 Boston chefs incl.  Michael Schlow (Great Bay), Todd English (Olives, Bonfire, et al); Barbara Lynch (No. 9 Park); Mark Orfaly (Pigalle); Ken Oringer (Clio); Angela and Seth Raynor (Pearl, Nantucket); Jasper White (Summer Shack),.  The Irish All-Star team will be Kevin Dundon (Dunbrody House), Neven McGuire (MacNean House & Bistro), Noel McMeel(Castle Leslie), Darina Allen (Ballymaloe House & Cookery School), Richard Hart (Glenlo Abbey Hotel) and David McCann (Dromoland Castle).  Also, a silent auction for a ‘grand prize’ trip to Ireland.  Part of  the proceeds go to Boston U.’s School of Hospitality Administration. Call 617-532-5063. The gala is offering a two for one deal (usually $150 pp) for people who sign up through this newsletter.

* On March 16, The Peninsula New York pays tribute to Irish families who helped create some of the finest Old World Bordeaux wines with a special WineMaker Dinner at FIVES restaurant.  Chef Gordon Maybury, a native of Dublin, will combine his favorite traditional Irish dishes with a fine-dining flair, along with a selection of  Bordeaux wines, incl. Lynch-Bages '96, Ducru-Beaucaillou '98 and Léoville-Barton '98.  $150 pp. Call 212-903-3918 or visit

* On St. Patrick’s Day in San Francisco,  O’Reilly’s Holy Grail’s chef chef Sean Canavan will offer a 3-course menu of sophisticated Irish fare. The full bar will feature Irish beers, Irish coffee, fine whiskeys and cognacs all day. Live music osphere starting at 4 p.m.  $45 pp. Call 415- 928-1233.

* From March 17-26, The KitchenAid Philadelphia  Book and The Cook will celebrates its 22nd edition this year, to include National TV stars from Food Network and PBS, celebrity chefs and cookbook authors, with over 67 culinary restaurant-based events, plus cooking demonstrations, food tours, and more, culminating in the Culinary Market & Kitchen Showcase, with more than 150 exhibitors featuring a variety of gourmet foods, cookware and kitchen furnishings. Visit

* On March 18 & 19, The Napa Valley Mustard Festival will be held at  COPIA in Napa, CA, incl. a celebrity chef cooking demos; Range, a KGO Newstalk AM810 live broadcast of “Dining Around with Gene Burns”; fine arts and crafts presented by juried artists and artisans; hands art projects for children presented by the Arts Council of Napa Valley; live performances. $30 in advance; $35 at the door, includes 8 food and 5 wine tasting tickets;  student admission $10; children ages 6 to 12,  $5.Visit

* On March 20 NYC’s Alfama will hold a tasting dinner matching the cooking of chefs Luís Caseiro and Dan Obusan with the wines from Vértice, an award-winning producer of sparkling Portuguese wines as well as table wines. $85 pp. Call 212-645-2500 or

* On March 21 a Benefit for the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers Foundation featuring 6 of Denver’s top chefs will be held at Panzano at a 6-course dinner and wine, incl. Frank Bonanno, Mizuna; Luca D’Italia Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, Frasca Food and Wine; Tyler Wiard, Mel’s.; Rachel Woolcott, Aix; Sean Yontz, Chama and Sketch; and host chef Elise Wiggins of Panzano.  $125 pp. Call 303-296-3525.

* On March 24, Chef Alberto Varetto of Sale e Pepe on Marco Island will hold a Share Our Strength event co-starring Chef Roberto Donna of Galileo in DC to cook up a “Taste of Turin,” in homage to their hometown.  There will be a silent and live auction, incl. a $1,500.00 minimum bid for Chef Alberto Varetto to come to guest home and prepare 4-course meal with paired wines. Accommodations that evening would be available at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort. SOS Package at $800 incl. suite with views of the Gulf and tropical gardens;  Two tickets to the SOS dinner; breakfast for two;  Dinner only,  $175 pp. visit

* From March 25-April 9 many of Washington, DC’s top chefs and favorite eateries will join in the National Cherry Blossom Festival tradition by serving up recipes inspired by the city’s famous spring blooms, incl. Citronelle, Ristorante Tosca, Ten Penh,  The Oceanaire Seafood Room, American ‘Sea’ Grill, Circle Bistro,  Palette, Seasons Restaurant, Zebgo, and others. Visit

* L’Auberge Carmel in Carmel, CA,, has created a romance package especially for food and wine enthusiasts that incl. two-night stay in deluxe accommodations;  half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne;  one night’s rose petal bath service; daily European-style breakfast;  one night’s dinner for two at either Restaurant L’Auberge Carmel or Bouchée.  Rates begin at $929. Call  831-624-8578 or visit


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning new Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

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copyright John Mariani 2006