Virtual Gourmet

July 6, 2008                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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There will be no issue of Mariani's
Virtual Gourmet
next week (July 13),
because Mariani will be on vacation next week.
The next issue will be July 20.


In This Issue



NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR2005 Red Burgundies May Not Wow All Winelovers by John Mariani




by John Mariani

     With the dollar pegged at two to the pound sterling, it would seem that visiting Britain these days and dining around London is prohibitively expensive.
     The truth is, it ain't cheap, but for the most part, even with that dreadful rate of exchange, it is possible to dine as well as you would at nay upscale restaurant in any major U.S. city at about the same price.
      London restaurateurs are as concerned about their own local clientèle as their American, so that they have tried to keep prices reasonable, especially at the slew of new places opening all over town. True, if you insist on dining at Gordon Ramsay's flagship on Hospital Road, or La Gavroche, or Nobu (all three of them), you will pay a fortune for food that is very good but far from the most exciting in London right now.  Otherwise, there are plenty of terrific new places where you can spend $30-$40 (that's dollars) for lunch and $50-$75 for dinner, which is about what you'd spend for similar restaurants in NYC, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston.   Also, be aware that many London restaurants now add a 12 percent service charge, so you do not have to add a penny more. Here are some places I think give particularly good value for the money right now.

"More, Please." From Dickens' Oliver Twist, illustrated by George Cruikshank.


12 St. George Street

   The folks who opened the very popular Soho restaurant Arbutus, Will Smith and chef Anthony Demetre, have followed up with another big hit, Wild Honey, which has as much to do with their holding down prices as with the high quality of the food here.
     Where the latter is sleek and cool, Wild Honey has the feel of a traditional, wood-paneled, casual club, though there is not the least whiff of pomp here, from the hostess to the waitstaff, and the menu itself is just the right size that a table of six could order everything on it.
     You begin with good bread and butter while perusing a list of wines (the majority under $70) whose every bottle is available by the glass or carafe. They even list "ABV" (alcohol by volume), though I'm not sure why. The cooking strikes no new territory, instead standing firmly on modern Anglo-Italo-French precepts that good ingredients make for good meals, beginning with slowly cooked breast of Elway Valley lamb with "heritage burgundy" potatoes and spring onions. One day there was pressed sole--curious but very good--with a beurre noisette and trumpet mushrooms, and ravioli of potatoes with black cabbage and a lovely touch of dried lemon.
    Our entrees included Cornish pollack, octopus and shallots in a fine red wine sauce, and a roast of Limousin veal with soft, Parmesan-laced polenta. Slowly cooked pork belly--which has caught on as much in England as in the States--came with a risotto of pearl barley and spicy chorizo, with smoked olive oil.  Farther up the pig, there is braised head with potato puree and sweet caramelized onions.
     You may then choose from a wonderful selection of 17 cheeses, but don't miss the scrumptious desserts like Poire William-soaked babka with poached pears and Chantilly cream or the fabulous pain perdu with apricot crème anglaise.
      And what will this put you in the hole? Well, there's a pre-theater dinner at $35 and at lunch three courses run $31--both incredible bargains. At dinner appetizers run $8.50-$12.50 and main courses $31-$38--which includes VAT tax. An optional 12 percent service charge is also added.  It would tough to eat this well in New York or Chicago and cost twice as much in Paris.

8 Porchester Gardens
020 72211415

    Chef Rowley Leigh, who moonlights as a food columnist for the Financial Times, long wanted to open and big, expansive, well-lighted, family-style rotisserie of a kind he'd spent so many happy hours in in France. It seemed natural, then, to name his new place in West London Le Cafe Anglais, with 170 seats, which does indeed have a spectacular rotisserie open to view.  And when you walk past the counter with its great haunches of sizzling meat waiting to be carved, one's appetite begins to rage.
     Even before that you are likely to be seduced by Le Cafe Anglais' attractive hostesses and waitstaff, who are nothing if not helpful and friendly at every point in the meal, and it is very likable to see so many Londoners here with their young children.
    The large room, next door to Whiteley's shopping center,  is very light, airy, and extremely comfortable, with booths the favorite tables. It's a clean, modern look without any weird objects or artwork to distract from the business of eating well.
     Leigh's menu is extensive, categorized under hors d'oeuvres, first courses, fish, roasts, vegetables and desserts, with about 30 items in the first two categories alone.  With friends I was able to rip through 20 dishes from all over the menu starting off with an array of good, creamy burrata cheese on terrific bread, a kipper pâté with soft-boiled egg (nice touch), luscious Parmesan custard and anchovy toast, some pickled herring with fine potato salad, and good, homey rabbit rillettes with pickled endive.  Each dish was tradition but with a small flip of ingenuity.
     So, too, the official first courses, including lamb sweetbreads with salsa verde, potato salad with black truffles, and foie gras terrine with Pedro Ximenez sherry jelly--are robust but not heavy dishes that were are happily satisfying.
     The best of the fish was a black bream with tangy Seville orange and almonds, though Dover sole with a sauce Béarnaise was nothing to rave about, the fish lacking the requisite fattiness you expect from its provenance.
     I can rave about most of the meat dishes from that grand spit--leg of black-faced lamb with celeriac puree and truffle jus; something called "Middle white pork" simply served with apple sauce; and chicken that comes tangy with lemon thyme and garlic, whole, half, breast, or leg, however you'd like it. Creamed spinach was very good, and gratinéed dauphinoise potatoes devastatingly rich.  Each day there are lunch specials and each evening the day's roast, which might be calf's liver on Monday, suckling pig on Tuesday, and a rump of beef with "bubble n' squeak" on Sunday.
     The desserts toed a simple but savory line--bitter chocolate soufflé with pistachio ice cream, and  custard tart with rhubarb, and a light Champagne jelly with rhubarb and blood orange.
       And the damage?  Not bad at all: Hors d'oeuvres run $6 each, starters $10-$27, fish $20-$50 (the latter for the forgettable Dover sole), and roasts $27-$31, with a rib of beef for two at $84, VAT included, optional serve 12 percent, and a tacky $3 cover charge.  The winelist is about 150 labels strong, with plenty of good bottlings starting at $30 and only the priciest above $100.

29 Maddox Street

      Hibiscus originated eight years ago in Ludlow, but last year Lyon-born chef Claude Bosi and his wife Claire relocated to London on tony Maddox Street in a minimalist, very cosmopolitan dining room that won raves from the local critics from the day it opened, including an uncharacteristic whoop that Bosi (below) is "a seriously talented dude!"
    That he is, having trained under Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse, and with his wild curly hair, reminiscent of Marco Pierre White's unruly coif, he has a rugged, ready-to-cook-for-your demeanor that is engaging.
      When I asked Bosi why he left France for England, he said that the cuisine and restaurants of his native land are too staid, the kitchens too restrictive.  "Here I can cook as I wish for a clientele that appreciates it for what it is," he said.
     What it is is a superbly imaginative cuisine, all his own, inventive without being bizarre, complex without being complicated. For example, Bosi's foie gras dish sounds a little odd--"roast foie gras, Cous-cous of Romanesco cauliflower, white cauliflower puree, tamarind syrup, and confit of `Main de Buddha"--which actually all balances out in terms of fat, richness, delicacy, sweetness, and refinement.  It is actually first cooked Sous-Vide, then finished a la plancha, and the "main de Buddha" is a southeast Asian lemon with fingers that supposedly look like Buddha's gilded hand.  Plenty of butter, cream, and truffles went into a royale of Ardéche chestnut and lemongrass with a button mushroom velouté.
     Rabbit is done as an escabeche with a salad of bean sprouts, soya bean puree, and pickled white carrots--very simple, very, very good.  A beautiful little starter was a poached egg yolk with Savoy cabbage and coconut foam.
      Our main courses included a very rare (they should ask) squab with a confit of tamarillo in Muscovado sugar, with wild chicory leaves to blunt the sweetness, and a pumpkin-passionfruit puree to hold a middle ground of sweet and sour flavors. "Hand-reared pork" (huh?) comes two ways: first, as crisp pork belly, with freshwater eel (a tad fishy) cooked in truffle jus, fondant potatoes, and roast pineapple, then as a warm sausage roll with salad and black truffle dressing. Cornish John Dory seasoned with air-dried ham, roasted root vegetables with a spice mixture called ras el hanout, and cream of candied chestnut and gherkins. There is a fine selection of cheeses from Neal's Yard of London  and Bernard Antony of France.
     Desserts were a mixed bag: a chocolate tart with Indonesian basil ice cream worked, as did and iced Kaffir lime parfait with mango salad, sweetened olive oil, and mango dressing, but a Jerusalem artichoke and dark chocolate "Viennetta" with caramel cream and vanilla sorbet was dreadfully out of whack with the rest of the cuisine here.
      The room itself has just the right mix of yin and yang, soberly masculine and softly feminine, with only 45 seats, well separated from each other, and the finest linens, silverware, and stemware. The winelist is 500 selections strong, beefed up with Bordeaux and Burgundy, with 40 dessert wines.
       The tab here is higher than at the other restaurants in this article, though by U.S. restaurant standards of this caliber, about the same as if you were dining at a three-star dining room in Manhattan, Boston, or Las Vegas.  The menu offers plenty of options (all with V.A.T. and 12.5 percent service): A 2-course lunch is $42,  3 courses lunch is $50, 6 courses, $140; dinner is $120, a "Taste of summer" 5 courses $125, 7 courses $150, and vegetarian $120.  A meal here is well worth whatever you choose to pay.


10-12 Lower Belgrave Street

   my favorite meal of my recent trip to London was at the unassuming, extremely affable Olivomare, whose sister restaurants are two others I recommend, Olivo and Oliveto, all run by the gregarious Mauro Sanna. Here the emphasis, as the name suggests, is on Italian seafood, a motif readily shown in the wall imagery to the left in the all-white slip of a dining room; beyond that is a sky lighted room, and outside in good weather there are tables.
     The crowd seems as fashionable as it is well heeled, though there is nothing ornately posh about the premises, and the prices are very reasonable for this high quality Mediterranean seafood--starters range from $18-$23, pastas as main courses $26-$31 (the latter for seafoods risotto), about two-thirds those prices for appetizer portions. Main courses run $34-$38.  There is no added service charge.
     Best thing to do on sitting down is to have a glass of Sardinian Vernaccia, the house aperitif, at $8 a glass. Then begin the feast with friends, perhaps beginning with burrata with mullet roe and cherry tomatoes, or impeccably chargrilled stuffed calamari with tomato and basil. There is a dish of sea urchins with crostini, and a marvelous baby octopus stew with bay leaves, chili, and tomato sauce.  I adored the mascarpone gnocchi with prawns and tomatoes, and simply grilled prawns are every bit as good as you'd find in a Sardinian trattoria, where you'd also find an equally fine cassola stew of mixed fish and shellfish to match Olivomare's.  Baked sea bass with black olives and wine sauce was succulent in every morsel, and a grilled brochette of fish and shellfish came impeccably cooked, with each species tender and juicy. The Alto-Adige whites are a better choice. The majority of bottlings are under $60.
    The winelist is compact, with a lot of Sardinian reds that may or may not go with most of the seafood on the menu, so ask. There is also a new gourmet deli next door, named Olivino, carrying many of the same fine products Sanna uses at Olivomare.




by Edward Brivio

154 Central Park South (near 7th Avenue)

     It was love at first sight when I walked into South Gate,  Chef Kerry Heffernan’s new restaurant located on the ground floor of the Essex House hotel.  I couldn’t help thinking,  this is just what one of NYC’s top dining rooms should look like at the beginning of the 21st century: dazzling, dramatic, nostalgia, and cliché-free.
      The room is a large, light, soaring space, with the ceiling a good 30 feet above your head, walls covered with small mirrored tiles inset at differing angles so each reflection is slightly different from its neighbor’s, and big comfortable chairs around well-appointed tables separated by wide-open spaces. No cheek-by-jowl seating or communal tables, thank God. No tablecloths either: they would be as out of place here as Miss Marple clutching a Blackberry. Whether you’re facing the rear of the dining room and the sleek, contemporary, yet still hearth-like fireplace; the beautiful bar against a 40 foot “wall-of-wine” backdrop, or the floor-to-ceiling front windows overlooking the Park’s Fragonard-like massif of trees, sightlines are all good here. Anyway, the chairs revolve so, at least momentarily, you can enjoy each of them. Tony Chi & Associates have created an interior of sophisticated, urban drama that prepares one for the sure-handed, refined drama of the cuisine. Central Park South may have lost San Domenico, but it has another eatery worthy of the address.
       We enjoyed Chef Heffernan’s flan of English peas for the first time when he cooked at 11 Madison Park, and it's only improved in the years since. There’s still that ethereal, silken texture, and intensely true flavor that made the original such a treat, but now it’s surrounded by a scattering of wonderful, whole fresh peas.  A few strips of prosciutto provide the salt, a few tiny morels the bite, and a chervil emulsion rounds out the dish to perfection. Mayan shrimp and leeks vinaigrette with cardamom, rocket and dill, all added up to a nicely acidic provocation to the palate. The smoked char was as sweet as the morning’s catch, with flavor as fresh, clean, and delicate as the grapefruit sections seasoned with savory that accompanied it. Just be aware that the portion is minuscule, five paper-thin strips of that delicious fish, when twice that  amount would still have left me wanting more.
     Move on to butter-roasted lobster, a whole one taken from its shell and cut up for your convenience, with a mild kimchi, as well as a light broth scented with marjoram and red pepper. Delicious oven-roasted Colorado lamb, another doll-sized portion of loin, came with a generous cassoulet, deconstructed so it was light and savory, along with tat soi, an Asian, small-leafed green used mostly for salads, and a marjoram gremolata.
     Chef Heffernan seems to possess an instinctive mastery of complementary flavors, a comfortable familiarity with the global larder, and a taste for the less mundane, more delicate of the fresh herbs available: marjoram rather than oregano, savory as opposed to thyme or rosemary, and chervil, often called “the gourmet’s parsley.”
     It’s just as well some portions are on the small side, since it would be a crime to skip dessert here. The chocolate pot-de-crème was excellent, as were its garnish, a perfect chocolate madeleine, and little balls of chocolate as crisp and crunchy as their name, chocolate craquante, would suggest. I can’t resist passion fruit in any guise, and the passion fruit meringue tart at South Gate maybe one of its best. Forget lemon, or Key lime--this is the tropical fruit meringue pies were created for. With it came a small glass of “soda”—like a passion fruit egg-cream-- and a fittingly bland yet rich coconut sorbet.
     Our wine, chosen with the help of the knowledgeable sommelier, and one of a handful of bargains on an extensive wine-list where prices quickly hit three figures, was a 2005 Regis Bouvier Marsannay Clos du Roy for $68, with nice dry, cherry fruit, not a hint of sweetness, and the supple texture and medium body pinot noir is known for. A wonderful Grappa di Nebbiolo di Barolo from Berta brought everything to a perfect close. The various flavors from the grappa seemed to blossom at the back of my throat only after I’d swallowed.

South Gate is open for lunch Mon.-Sat., for brunch Sun,  and for dinner nightly.
Appetizers: $12 to $21; entrees: $25 to $39; desserts: $9 to $12.


Edward Brivio is a contributing writer to the Virtual Gourmet.  He lives in Manhattan.


2005 Red Burgundies May Not Wow All Winelovers
by John Mariani

     Having recently sung the praises of the 2005 red Bordeaux in this space , it is disappointing to give a shrug about the 2005 red Burgundies.
      Perhaps I am more disappointed than depressed by many I’ve tasted, because the wine press and sellers have heaped such high praise on the 2005 bottlings coming out of the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. Master of Wine Jasper Morris’ report for Berry Bros. & Rudd, London’s oldest wine merchant, calls the vintage an “extraordinary year”: “The grapes had thick skins and ripe pips giving rapid and profound colour extraction, yet the profile of the vintage is definitely more red fruit than black.  There is a marvelous refreshing mineral aspect which keeps these wines lively and dynamic.”
     Actually, I agree with some of the opinions in that assessment, but one must read between the lines. “More red fruit than black” connotes a lighter body, and “lively and dynamic” hints still further at a youthful, bright vintage whose maturity will be rapid and difficult to predict.
     I have not had the chance to taste the most sought-after estates in Burgundy, like Romanée-Conti, whose lesser Échezeaux is selling well in excess of $1000 a bottle and whose top wines are being gathered up for auction or not yet available. Instead I assembled a selection of well-regarded labels from the 2005 vintage priced under $150 a bottle, assuming they would be just as impressive, if not as glorious, as the greatest Burgundy crus.
     Overall I found the wines were lively and seemed well along in their maturity. I had expected huge floral bouquets upon opening the bottles, but for the most part that was not the case.  Some of the wines were tight, others quite open, though dark tannins were not much in evidence. It is possible some are going through what the industry calls a “dumb” period after recent shipping; if so, there were a lot of dummies in the class.
     Michel & Joanna Ecard Savigny-les-Beaune Les Serpentières 1er Cru ($35) was lightweight, as this wine often is, but one-dimensional, with no nose of consequence, even after swirling and letting it aerate.
     Surprisingly bland, even watery, was a Domaine Joseph Voillot Volnay, made from “vieilles vignes” (old vines) on just 25 acres, which should have given it some fat and bite.  The wine did nothing to enhance a dinner of roast pork one evening, when I thought a Volnay would be a perfect match.
      Gérard Raphet’s Chambolle-Musigny 2005 ($55) also had but a slight bouquet and a light body. There was refinement here, a true Burgundy pinot noir flavor, but it was no triumph for a supposedly great vintage.
      Catherine et Claude Marèchal’s Chorey-les-Beaune ($35) was certainly cheap enough for a very pleasant Burgundy, and there was some charm and good fruit there too.
      One of the better examples of the 2005 I tasted was the Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots by the large producer and negociant Bouchard Père & Fils. It had considerably more body but not the hugeness of a New World pinot noir.  Instead, it showed the satiny elegance you’d expect in a premier cru, along with good fruit.  Still, the tannins seemed quite modest, which does not indicate that many more years in the bottle will improve it measurably.  And at $115-$125 a bottle, I’d like more iron in this velvet glove.
     I will keep an open mind for now about the 2005 red Burgundies  and taste them again next year—by which time the most illustrious grand crus will be all gone—and see how they’ve aged. They may be in a state of arrested development right now, but somehow I doubt it.  I feel somewhat like the anti-Jim Cramer of “Mad Money.”  He “just wants to make you money.” I just want to save you some.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.



Jessica Simpson sporting a t-shirt
sold at Primehouse restaurant in NYC.
$20 each.


"Mr. Beef on Orleans, 666 N. Orleans; (312) 337-8500. I say go for the combo (beef and sausage). Walk up to the counter and say `Combo, wet, hot, for here.'"--Pat Bruno, Chicago Sun-Times (6/20/08).


* From July 5-27 in Chicago Brasserie JO celebrates Bastille Day with Proprietor/Chef J. Joho’s  “Frenchie’s Menu,”  On July 14 itself there will be live gypsy-jazz. Call 312-595-0800 or visit

•    On July 14 NYC’s Cercle Rouge is celebrating Bastille Day with a special 3-course menu, live music and decorations. $39.95 pp. Call 212-226-6252.

*  On July 17 in Kirkland, Washington, chef Vicky McCaffree of Yarrow Bay Grill  will hold a wine dinner featuring Justin, with Yarrow Bay Grill wine director Jake Kosseff choosing the wines. $195 pp. Call 425-889-9052 or visit

* On July 19 in Venice, The Feast of the Redeemer (La Festa del Redentore), a tradition that dates back to the year 1576, will be celebrated at the Bauer De Pisis restaurant and the Bauer Palladio Garden Bar & Restaurant at a gala dinner at the restaurants of two of its properties; the Bauer Hotel and the Bauer Il Palladio. Euro 420 pp Euro 200 including beverages.  Guests will be able to enjoy the fireworks show after dinner, shortly before midnight. Phone: +39 041 520 7022. Visit:

* On July 27 in Washington DC,  in celebration of Spain’s Santiago Festival,  Taberna del Alabardero will celebrate Spain’s culture, cuisine and cocktails with a one-night-only ‘Juerga’ (or party), with Spanish music and flamenco dancing. Sommelier Gustavo Iniesta will teach revelers how to make traditional Spanish cocktails, while guests will also enjoy an array of popular Spanish tapas, created by Executive Chef Dani Arana.  $75 pp. Call  202-429-2200; Visit

*From Aug. 1-Sept. 30 , many of Miami's top fine dining restaurants will participate in Miami Spice Restaurant Month,  offering $23 lunches and $36 dinners consisting of 3-course, prix fixe menus, organized by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and  Amex.  Visit

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with three 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,  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."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: An Interview with Angler Tom Ohaus


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contrinbutor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. Click on the logo below to go to the site.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, 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 Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

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

My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

© copyright John Mariani 2008