Virtual Gourmet

January 4, 2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

                              Aux Deux Frères Charcuterie, Alsace (2006). Photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery


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To Read my article on Dining Out in Santa Fe, NM, in this month's Diversion Magazine, click here.

In This Issue

Dining Out in Copenhagen by John Mariani


NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Blanc de Blancs Champagnes by John Mariani



Dining Out in Copenhagen by John Mariani

    Some decades ago Scandinanavian food was very much a part of American gastronomy, with numerous Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian restaurants in New York, Chicago, and cities like Minneapolis where Scandinavians settled in the 19th century.  Even into the 1960s Swedish meatballs and Danish pastry were staples of the American party table. Now, there is next to nothing left of those food traditions in the U.S., so that most people couldn't really describe what Danish food is, unless they've seen the movie 1987 "Babette's Feast" (right), which seemed to consist of nothing but dried cod and bread-and-ale soup until Babette prepared a spectacular classic French dinner for the townsfolk.
      But like all food cultures in Europe over the last decade, Danish cuisine has taken salient leaps into a modernity sprung from tradition, so that the heaviness that once marked the  Danes' gastronomy has given way to new interpretations while accepting global ideas that make perfect sense on their menus, not least when it comes to seafood. On my recent trip to Copenhagen I found an array of foods and styles of restaurants that could as easily be found at New York's well-regarded Aquavit--one of the few Scandinavian restaurants left in the U.S.  There are now ten Michelin stars in Copenhagen, including NOMA, The Paul in Tivoli Gardens, and MR, and a brigade of young chefs have incorporated everything from pasta to sushi in their cooking.
Incidentally, the waitstaff at every restaurant I visited was always friendly, very knowledgeable, and, as I've noted before, wholly fluent in English. And remember: tax and service are all included in the menu prices, and there is no tipping in Copenhagen.

         Also in Tivoli is a delicatessen with its own retail dairy and bakery that supplies their formal uptairs Restaurant Herman, which specializes in classic Danish cuisine, and the casual brasserie called Nimb, where the open stoves are set right across from the big wooden tables (left) that afford a wonderful view of the Gardens. When I visited Nimb it was December so the menu was featuring winter specials like sautéed foie gras with glazed figs in balsamic vinegar on buttery toasted brioche; pink, roasted breast of duck and creamy rillettes with a crispy potato fondant, and tangy red cabbage braised in orange juice; and a Danish Christmas spcial--ris à l'amande, which is a rich rice pudding with cherry jelly and dried cherries on French toast caramelized with gingerbread spices and a mulled wine sorbet--quite a triumph of tradition wed to modern culinary ideas.  Good winelist, too, at Nimb, with some very reasonable regional global wines.
     Nimb charges 345DKK for two courses (about $66), 395DKK for three ($76), and 435DKK ($83) for four.
     A less modern--though very new--place for a cozy dinner is Les Trois Cochons, which is run by a restaurant company named Cofoco with several styles of eateries around town.  With its glass-fronted wine shelves (right), butcher tiles, simple settings, and bistro-style menu at 275 DKK, Les Trois Cochons (the three pigs) is a popular spot and a fairly romantic one for its low candlelighting, bare wooden tables,  and intimate size.  As in many casual Copenhagen restaurants, paper napkins are the rule, which is pretty chintzy.
      There isn't a great deal of choice on the small menu, which changes often, but more than enough for a couple to enjoy, starting off a generous selection of the chef's hors d'oeuvres of the evening, some charcuterie, and, as everywhere in Copenhagen, good bread. Salmon comes with mussels and fennel scented with Pernod, and I thoroughly enjoyed a richly fatted duck confit with red cabbage, sweet prunes, and its own reduction for gravy. An entrecote of beef was chewy beyond what bistro steask should be, served with foie gras, Jerusalem artichoke and a Port reduction.  The chef then sends out his "gourmandise" of desserts.

      Somewhat more adventurous and a whole lot larger is the restaurant SALT, located in the historic Admiral Hotel and done up like everything there in bold angles of wood beams, teak, deep marine blue colors, and soft chiaroscuro lighting, allowing you to peer through the windows to the twinkling lights of the harbor.  The 100-seat dining room (below) was designed by London's Conran & Partners  (they have three other nearby restaurants), with nicely spaced tables (the room also serves an extensive  breakfast buffet in the morning). The winelist is excellent at SALT.
       We began with a dish of fried scallops with pumpkin, cardomon, and vanilla crumble--nicely creative, with subtle flavors and textures, evocative of the spice routes Danish sailors plied. Poached saddle of a remarkably fat rabbit came with white cabbage and parsley. Curiously enough, the main courses included yet another fried seafood--monkfish, this time--with pickled calf's tongue, warm potato salad, and leek, which harkened back to Scandinavian roots,. Roasted leg of venison with a not-too-intense black blood pudding, apple, and Jerusalem artichoke was an ideal winter's dish.  There was also a  hearty tenderloin of pork marinated in beer then roasted, with a braised shank and yellow split pea soup.
     Desserts included a pleasant citrus cake with lemon mousse and browned butter.
     The appetizers ranged from 110 DKK-115 DKK, main courses 240 DKK-275 DKK.
      One of the most striking upsale restaurants in Copenhagen is Alberto K in the SAS Royal Hotel, which has for decades retained its Arne Jacobsen décor from the 1960s (one guestroom, number 606, has been left completely as it was then), which had a significant influence of the interior design of modern hotels.  At the top is the restaurant, on the 20th floor (right), with a marvelous view of the city, and here, too, the dining room reflects the clean linear work of Jacobsenian design. The name of the dining room commeorates the dedication of its former manager, Alberto Kappenbergers, whose portrait graces one wall; the rest are glass, the tablesettings exquisite, and chairs quintessential Danish modern.
      Alberto K is very much committed to contemporary Scandinavian cuisine based on all that can be gleaned crom the seas and land, so we bagan our meal with langoustines from Læsø with a sweet-pickle mustard, radish, pancetta ham, and onion, served with a glass of delicious Paolo Scavino Sorriso wine from the Langhe. North sea cod and celery swam in a browned butter cream of salt cod with hazelnuts, watercress, fennel, and sweet cicely, accompanied by Marziano Abbona Cinrino from Dogliano.
    The man courses was wild duck with a fine gamey flavor that was enhanced by morel mushrooms, with apples and something translated as "roots from Wiuff" and apples; the wine, a syrah Il Bosco from Tenimenti Luisig d'Alessandro from Cortona. Medjool dates with limoncello and chocolates finished the evening with a glass of Frescobaldi Pomino. Alberto K stocks one of the finest wine cellars in the city, and these Italian gems are among the best priced.
     Four courses here run 600DKK, accompanying wines, 535DKK.

     A bright new idea in Danish cuisine has taken on the international colloquialsm "Smushis," served in profusion--several on one plate--at the Royal Café attached to the Royal Copenhagen design and retail store.  It's a long, sunny, fanciful and pretty room (left), rather feminine, with some high white marble tables where you sit and order your choice of dozens of small versions of the traditionally huge open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød, which are longtime staples of a Danish lunch. Smushis are lighter, more global in their ingredients, and artfully crafted so that you can easily eat four or five of them with a glass of Danish beer, and be out the door happy and not much poorer for the afternoon.
     Brunch is 150 DKK, while 3 smushis cost 125 DKK (45 DKK per piece), and they also serve terrific desserts here. It's a concept the brand hopes to take worldwide, starting in, of all places, Japan; then again, the smoked and fresh fish and the spicy condiments, pickles, and roe should do very well way over there.

If you wish to read Part One of this report on Copenhagen, click here.

by John Mariani
Photos by Katherine Bryant

50 Commerce Street

             Of all Greenwich Village streets, narrow, tiny Commerce, almost a cul-de-sac, is perhaps the loveliest. It reminds me of the old Warner Bros. backlot streets of the 1930s or of an Edward Hopper painting, with a hazy sunlight falling on red brick.
     At the end of it sits a quite historic restaurant of the same name, once a speakeasy, then called Blue Mill and later Grange Hall. All the lineaments of the space have been lovingly respected and refined, with chestnut booths, subway tiles, terrazzo floors, and a reclaimed 1940s art deco Brunswick bar. Recently added, two superb murals (left) by David Joel called
“A Common Ground for Sisters’ Story”--a symbolic rendering of the story of two sisters whose sea captain father connected two townhouses by a garden in order to bringing his irascible daughters closer.
   The current occupant, Commerce's owner Tony Zazula, formerly of Montrachet, has taken on Chef Harold Moore as partner, also a Montrachet grad, to create a menu that, while not really indicative of what would have been served 60 years ago here, does have a kind of old-fashioned, homey flavor to it all.   Mixing Italian, French, and American ideas and dishes, the menu hangs together extremely well, with little on it that seems extraneous or out of character. Chef de cuisine is Snir Eng-Sela.
     The breadbasket should tell you something: All of the offerings in it are irresistible--ciabatta, olive, French and,  not least, the fat soft pretzels are delicious on their own but also good for mopping up the duck and foie gras rillettes with black cherry shallot jam and the "ragù of odd things," meaning oxtail, pig's trotter and tripe with hand-rolled orrecchiette. Spaghetti carbonara is made wisely, with lots of black pepper and a coddled egg you mix in to cook with the pasta's heat, while fettuccine with "one-hour tomato sauce" and housemade ricotta was a simple beauty of a dish. 
A starter of calf's liver was a little chewy that night and needed sweeter caramelized onions. If you wish to go light, have the delightful 20-herb salad with Manchego cheese, olive oil and lemon.
     The night's special--which I wish they had every night!--was Prime rib of beef, succulent and medium rare, with Yorkshire pudding in a little casserole. I only wish they'd also served me the bone to gnaw on (I asked but no go): some of the best meat clings to it. A red snapper with eggplant and charred scallions in a Thai-inpsired herb broth was a little out of the ordinary here but delicious nonetheless.
      Two people must share the roast chicken, as good and moist as most in New York, with a foie gras-bread stuffing and potato mousseline that could have used more butter.
       New York pastry chefs rarely miss a step, and Commerce offers some splendid sweets, including chocolate-hazelnut mille feuille topped with more chocolate, hazelnuts and saltedy caramel; a roasted pineapple cheese cake; and a yummy little tarte Tatin with three ice creams.
      Commerce is a warm, very convivial Greenwich Village-style of restaurant, so I am not happy to report that when it fills with people, around 9 PM--and New Yorkers can be very loud!--the acoustics and wholly unnecssary piped-in music (a woman at the next table ask them to turn it down or off, which management did--for about five minutes) makes the latter part of a meal a struggle to hear anything anyone is saying without shouting. Fix that (it isn't all that difficult) and you have one of the most charming new restaurants in Manhattan.

Commerce is open for dinner Monday-Saturday, Sunday brunch. Aapetizers run $13-$19, entrees $23-$36.




by John Mariani

      Now that New Year's is over--a time when too much good Champage is wasted in letting it gush onto the floor or being served to throngs who wouldn't know the difference between French Champagne and German Sekt, it seems like a good moment to consider Champagne more specifically as a wonderful wine with a good meal--throughout a good meal.
       Anywhere else but in France’s Champagne district the idea of putting the phrase “blanc de blancs”—white wine made from white grapes—is a mere redundancy.  True, white wine can be made from red grapes, and most Champagne is made with pinot noir, sometimes blended with chardonnay.

      But in the Côte de Blancs, where Champagne’s chardonnay is principally grown, producers, and many connoisseurs, believe that a Blanc de Blancs is the most delicate and elegant of sparkling wines.  In order to make up my own mind I joined other wine writers for a tasting of 13 Blanc de Blancs over a four-course lunch at the increasingly fine Brasserie restaurant in midtown New York.
      What I came away with from the tasting was that there are certainly differences among the various Champagnes but that they were very subtle, so that the prices, which ranged from $40-$270, did not usually indicate superior quality the higher the price was.  Instead, as with most Champagnes, the differences were more stylistic, with age adding nuance but youth exhibited wonderful freshness.
      My very favorite came about midway in price—a rich, almost woodsy Charles Heideick Blanc des Millenaires Brut 1995 ($90), whose aging proved that older Champagnes need not taken on that slight oxidation smell and taste that the Brits traditionally favor.  The most expensive, at $270, was Perrier-Jouët Cuvée Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs Brut 2000, which retained sumptuous fruitiness with a balance of citrusy acids that made it quite a mouthful.
      At the reception we were served a Nicholas Feuillatte "Brut Extrem" ($40), the extreme being there was no “dosage,” the French technical term for sugar liquid added to start the second fermentation, so the wine was extremely dry, not much to my liking.  The same mark’s Blanc de Blancs Brut 1999, at only $45, was a delight, however, here showing off that fruited finesse that the chardonnay grape possesses in a vintage year.
      A course of bay scallops with slightly sweet parsnip mousseline and chervil verjus was well complemented by Mumm de Cramant Grand Cru Brut Chardonnay ($56) and a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut ($60), both very delicate wines, but a Henriot Blanc Souverain Brut Pur Chardonnay ($46) tasted simply bland.
      The next flight accompanied a seafood course of grilled wolfish with green beans and a Champagne beurre blanc—a sauce with an obvious gastronomic kinship to Champagnes.  The winner with this dish was the $270 Perrier-Jouët, but I found the opulence of Alfred Gratien Blanc de Blancs Brut ($90) and Deutz Blanc de Blancs Brut 2002 ($80) was ideal with a buttery seafood dish like this.  One bottle of Ayala Blanc de Blancs Brut 2000 ($66) was corked, but the next was sound, if much too citris to my taste.
      Champagne with meat dishes is tricky, but a superbly flavorful veal chop with morel mushroom sauce and sweet roasted cabocha squash was cooked to bring out all the wintry flavors without overpowering a glorious Taittinger Blanc de Blancs Brut Comte de Champagne 1998 ($130)—my favorite producer making a marvelous example of chardonnay power. The Charles Heidsieck mentioned above matched the veal dish with its own woodsy notes, and a Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Extra Cuvée de Réserve was mature and vibrant, just beginning to fade. (1999) A fairly insipid Louis Roederer Blanc de Blanc Brut 2002 ($70) was the fourth wine in the flight.
       With a couple of exceptions, I would gladly drink any of these Champagnes for New Year’s, though I think they deserve a good meal like the one I had to bring out their refined virtues. But price should guide such considerations whenever it comes to wines whose distinctions are in their styles, not necessarily on their labels.

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.


In Tehran, Iranians tried to make the world’s biggest sandwich to get into the Guinness Book of World Records but before an inspector could get there the crowd rushed the chicken-and-ostrich meat sandwich and began to eat it, devouring it all in a matter of minutes. The planners said they had video footage of the sandwich in the hopes Guinness would accept that.


“What Paris had lost to modernity was its pungency. Gone was the acrid Gitane-Gauloise pall of any self-respecting café.  Gone was the garlic whiff of the early morning Metro to the Place d’Italie. Gone were the mineral mid-morning sauvignon blancs downed bar-side by red-eyed men. . . . Gone were the bad teeth, the yellowing moustaches, the hammering of artisnas, the middle-aged prostitutes in doorways, the seat-less toilets on the stairs, and an entire group of people called the working class.”—Roger Cohen, “Paris-Cuba,” International Herald Tribune (12/8/08).


* In Highland Park, IL,  husband and wife team Carlos and Debbie Nieto of Carlos' Restaurant host Carlos and Debbie's Dinner Film Club every second and third Friday of the month. For $60 pp guests will enjoy a 3-course dinner, a classic film, and discussion over fresh dessert and coffee. Call 847-432-0770. Visit

* Galette des Rois, the traditional French cake served on Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings on Jan.  6,  are being made by Patissier Laurent Dupal  at Ceci Cela in NYC (55 Spring Street; 212-274-9179), until the end of January. They can be ordered a day in advance for $29.

* On Jan 12 La Cachette in L.A. will present a 5-course wine pairing dinner created by Chef/Owner Jean Francois Meteigner, featuring  wines of Jean Chartron Puligny Montrachet.$135 pp. Call 310-470-4992. Visit

 * To celebrate London's Victoria & Albert Museum “Magnificence of the Tsars” exhibition,  The Egerton House Hotel offers guests a "V&A Tsars package," through March 29, £309 per night, incl. early check-in, late check-out and guaranteed upgrades; English breakfast; Vodka martini and caviar blinis with afternoon tea and pink Champagne; tix  to the V&A with  access to the Members' Lounge. Guests staying 2 or more nights in the hotel's V&A suite receive a complimentary private talk or tour by the exhibition curators. Call +44 (0)20 7589 2412 or visit

•    * From Jan. 25 – 30 and Feb. 1 – 6, the second annual dine LA Restaurant Week will take place, presented by LA INC. and the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. Dining experiences will be available in 3 price categories: Deluxe Dining is $16 for lunch and $26 for dinner; Premier Dining is $22 for lunch and $34 for dinner, and Fine Dining is $28 for lunch and $44 for dinner . Visit

* In Colorado Springs, CO,  The BROADMOOR presents the 7th Annual “Salute to Escoffier” Weekend, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, to benefit the Education Fund of the Colorado Restaurant Association and The BROADMOOR’s Culinary Training Program and Scholarship Fund. Friday night:  “Taste of The Broadmoor” welcome reception in the Main Ballroom.,  cooking demos  and Grand Buffet. Call 800.634.7711 or visit

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with 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,  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: A Few  Favorite Places for 2008.


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor 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.

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. 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 2009