Virtual Gourmet

June 21, 2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

Clifton Webb  and Raymond C. Hair, Jr.  in "Sitting Pretty" (1948)



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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Pera by John Mariani



Part One

By Suzanne Wright

1782 Cheshire Bridge Road
photos: Jonathan Stancel

     When Michael Tuohy left town last fall to helm a new restaurant in Sacramento, CA. the fate of the restaurant he left behind, Woodfire Grill,  was uncertain.  I’m pleased to report that chef Kevin Gillespie is making a name for himself in his former mentor’s digs.  Gillespie, a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s 2009 Rising Star Chef of the Year, continues to focus on fresh, organic and sustainable ingredients.  A recent five-course tasting menu ($65, wine pairings extra) showcased the young chef’s talents.
     An amuse of silky potato-and-fennel soup kicked off the meal, followed by Maine lobster with avocado mousseline accompanied by an original fennel and mojo salad.  The mojo had a touch of cinnamon to temper the piquancy of the fennel and the pour, a 2006 Muja Rioja Blanc, had a custardy acidity that brought out the woody, grilled flavor of the shellfish.  Next was seared foie gras served with cinnamon toast and cherry puree—a rich, almost breakfast-like concoction that melted on the tongue.  A 2007 Austrian Kracher Aulese, a blend of chardonnay and Riesling had floral and fig notes that married quite nicely with the cinnamon.
      A carpaccio of beef with truffle oil and parmesan was bright and clean-tasting, though overwhelmed by the 2006 Pio Cesare Barbera D’Alba, which had a slight musty character.  I would have preferred a sharper, lemony quaff.  The main course, grilled Sonoma duck breast (right) with roasted mushrooms, turnips and artichokes was hearty yet refined.  A light reduction that included pork jus and bacon and a dice of apples punctuated the lean medallions and a 2007 Domaine de la Janasse Côte Du Rhone made for a velvety pairing.
     The young, red-headed chef with close-cropped beard concedes that his desserts need work.  A too-sweet molten chocolate cake with dulce de leche ice cream was competent if not memorable, but the 2004 Montilla Moralles PX sherry was simply divine.

Dinner is served Tues.-Thurs. Appetizers run $9-$16, main courses $14-$32; There is a 3-course dinner at $35, and 5 courses at $65.

659 Peachtree Street NE

     Gary Mennie, formerly of Canoe and, most recently, his now-shuttered Taurus, has turned up at Livingston’s, in Midtown’s stately Georgian Terrace Hotel.   On the night I dined, Mennie was expediting orders during a busy pre-theater rush just a week after its opening.  The two-level, historic digs looks spectacular--plush banquettes opposite the kitchen, a view of the old Fox Theater through large windows fronting Peachtree Street, filigreed balconies, a dramatic white marble staircase, a subdued and monochromatic leather and chrome décor.
     Atlanta’s only grande dame hotel deserves a chef of Mennie’s caliber.  But it must be said the service was infuriating that evening.  The waiter was both lackadaisical and ill-informed, cocktails took far too long to appear tableside and several dishes arrived without advertised accompaniments like seasonal ramps.  I expect Mennie and his GM to address these kinks.
      That said, much of what we ate was creative, well-executed and delicious.  Onset Bay oyster gratin ($12) with smoked bacon, baby spinach and anise was a rift on oysters Rockefeller and beautifully plated on a bed of rock salt.  Short rib ravioli ($10) was inspired and complex, the pasta the beautiful color of butternut squash. Spring pea soup ($7) was served unexpectedly hot, with the further surprise of Marcona almonds and tangerine oil.  The hanger steak and short rib duet ($25) with crispy gnocchi “'tater tots” was meltingly tender and flavorful, and the Riverview Farms Berkshire pork ($22) with a springy Vidalia onion tart was lovely.  My favorite was the Louisiana rabbit ($24) with Speck ham and golden potato puree;  I polished off every morsel.
     Desserts were also excellent:  a coconut financier with roasted pineapple and caramel mascarpone was the standout, though the basil-spiked, off-sweet strawberry shortcake was also a winner.

FLIP burger boutique
1587 Howell Mill Road
404-352-FLIP (3547)

     Flip Burger Boutique is Richard Blais’ latest venture.  The ever-boastful Blais declared during my visit that the concept, which he may roll-out nationally, is “money in the bank.”  And judging from the reception he’s gotten, he might be right, having finally nailed the elusive combination of comfort food and avant-garde culinary tricks.
      Located in a blue-collar neighborhood dubbed Westside, the minimalist white space reads as edgy catnip to the urban pioneering yuppies who dine at communal tables.  There are beef burgers and others fashioned from seafood, all served on plump, brioche-like buns.  I most liked the bun mi ($8) made with ground pork and goosed with a kick of herbs such as mint, and the lamb burger ($9) with a well-balanced pairing of green olive relish and cooling yogurt, though my dining companion favored the Cuban ($7.50), which was smoky, salty, gloppy fun with a slightly fruity note.   I especially liked two sides, the fat and juicy vodka-battered onion rings ($3.50) and the pickled vegetables ($3.50), appealingly served in small mason jar.
   The Krispy Kreme shake ($6) topped with scorched marshmallows was too tricked out for me—and way too sweet. Though it beats the other shake on offer:  Blais’s foie gras, which has surfaced on every menu he’s had a hand in for years.
    Eating at the counter overlooking the kitchen was my preferred seat in the house that was once Serpas True Food in the Old Fourth Ward.  Chef Scott Serpas has kept the restaurant true to its heritage, originally a cotton factory. He hasn’t gussied it up.  Alas, I wasn’t drinking on the night of my visit, but on offer were such concoctions as Moon’s back porch lemonade, a Pisco sidecar and a “gint.”  There’s also an abbreviated selection of wines by the glass.
      Dishes are hit-and-miss in this likable neighborhood eatery.  The eggplant hushpuppies ($8) sounded great, but the texture was a bit mushy and the red gravy clunky.  Superior were the flash-fried oysters ($10) with pickled chilies and mirliton, and the smoked ham and white bean salad ($9), which had a depth of flavor and complexity from the salty ham, sweet sherry and tangy feta cheese.  Pigs n’ blanket ($9) are an irresistible 1950s housewife’s staple, improved vastly with house-made sausage (Serpas hails from Louisiana, so he knows pork) and phyllo casing.  Jumbo sea scallops ($22 ) were dreadfully salty and had to be returned one night, but fork-tender short ribs ($21) with potato celery root gratin dissolved on the tongue in waves of dense, delicious flavor.  And the "airline chicken breast" ($18) is most emphatically not the dried-out bird you get at 30,000 feet; rather, it refers to a cut that includes the breast and wing and it is succulent, plated with creamy basil mashed potatoes for good measure.  The fried apple pie ($6) with vanilla ice cream?  It’s worth the calorie splurge.

Open for lunch and dinner daily. Burgers go for $6.50-$17.

Suzanne Wright is a writer living in Atlanta and founder of



303 Madison Avenue (near 42nd Street)

        Confusing pan-Mediterranean cuisine with Greek or Turkish or North African cuisines is like speaking of Pan-American cuisine: There are many similarities, but there are also many distinctions.  Pera, located conveniently near Grand Central Terminal, is decidedly Turkish and its food ranks with the very best I've had in Istanbul.  As well it should: Pera is a venture of Burak Karaçam of BK Restaurant Partners, whose family has owned and operated successful restaurants in Turkey, and Chef Sezai Celikbas comes from the well-known Köșebași chain; co-chef is an American,  Jason Avery, who brings his own skills to the enterprise.
      Pera is the old name for what is now called Istiklai Caddesi, an international neighborhood of consulates, whose side streets are now gaining trendy bars and clubs, near the teeming Galatasaray Fish Market.  Pera's décor is thoroughly modern and beautifully, softly lighted. Tables are well separated and well set, and there is a mezes bar up front that is very popular after 5 PM, and a long communal table. Echoes of Turkish design are seen in the  onyx and alabaster panels and ceramic tiles, with two  palas (curved swords) covered in satin. One wall is stocked with wines from an excellent list that contains several Mediterranean offerings.
      The heart of Turkish food is in the meze appetizers, which can easily make for a full meal at a very reasonable price. If you intend to move beyond them order the Chef's Meze Sampler (below), at $22, which will easily feed two or three people, and contains aromatic cold and hot mezes like stuffed grape leaves, delicious and creamy whipped eggplant, crispy phyllo roils, warm hummus, a soujouk sausage and cheese dip, and true Turkish beef and bulghur tartar called çiğ köfte. These, individually, range from $6-$12.
     One of the specialties here are pidettes ($4 each), more or less like little pizzas, which we had with soujouk and kasseri cheese, with spinach and pinenuts, and with fire-roasted eggplant, which could all fall under the meze group here. Then there are several lavish salads, which at $12-$15 make for a light meal on their own.
     Lamb is, of course, a Middle East passion, and Pera's signature ground lamb Andana, marinated with spices, is one of the best dishes I've had this year--the seasoning in balance with the fine texture and flavor of the lamb scooped up with warm pita bread.  Also excellent is the marinated lamb tenderloin dashed with oregano pesto.
     My preference for any Mediterranean seafood is to have it just broiled, grilled, or roasted, and Pera's expertise shows admirably in the roasted dorade with roasted lemon and tomato drizzled with good olive oil--as marvelously simple as good food from first-rate seafood can be.  The pasta "moussaka" was a savory plate of wide pappardelle noodles with lamb and eggplant ragù, béchamel, and parmigiano, though it doesn't bear much resemblance to the baked, bubbly moussaka you might expect. Main course range from $19-$34.
     Desserts are in the phyllo-based Turkish tradition, but at Pera they are lighter and not so intensely sweet as you so often find. Which allows you to  enjoy a good cup of medium-sweet Turkish coffee, thick, rich, and  fortifying.
     Pera offers a $45 chef's tasting menu for the table, served family style, which is a very good deal. There's also a $35 pre-theater menu.
     This is all very savory food and stands out among Turkish restaurants in NYC; what Pera adds is a beautiful setting and exceptionally cordial service, backed by a fine winelist and prices that make this easy on any budget.

Pera is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat.




"I learned that kissing a man while leaning against a warm dishwasher is a lovely, lovely experience, (Go ahead! Try it! I'll wait.)"--Molly Wizenberg, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.


As Gordon Ramsay looked on, Anadita Dutta Tamuly, 26, of Assam, India, consumed a world record of 51
bhut jolokia chilies (considered the hottest in the world), then rubbed the seeds in her eyes. The previous record was a mere 8 jalapeños. (Ramsay could only manage to eat one, and last year a chef died after eating a chili sauce in an an endurance competition.) Ms. Tamuly said she was disappointed because she'd previously eaten 60 peppers in practice.


* On June 22 in NYC, Carmine’s hosts an evening to raise money for Italy’s earthquake victims, with all proceeds from the event going to the National Italian American Foundation, featuring unlimited wine and wine tastings with a number of vintners on site to describe their varietals, accompanied by passed hors d’oeuvres and a festive Carmine’s antipasto station, followed by a 4-course dinner.  $150 pp. Call 212-221-3800.

* Starting June 23 in NYC, Emily Wines, master sommelier of NIOS, will host a series of Sommelier Smackdowns going head-to-head with renowned wine and spirits experts. The pairings will be served with a 3-course dinner prepared by chef Patricia Williams. The winner will be chosen by popular vote and receive bragging rights for the month, along with a traditional championship wrestling belt. NIOS’ first Sommelier Smackdown on  June 23 is a battle between Master Sommeliers Emily Wines and Laura Maniec of B.R. Guest.  $55 pp.  Call  212-485-2999.

*  On June 28 in Chicago, Tru is hosting a 10-Year Anniversary Gala with chefs Rick Tramonto, Gale Gand, Tim Graham and Meg Galas for a 10-course dinner, incl. Jose Andres, Jaleo, Washington, D.C.;  Susur Lee,  Shang, NYC;  Craig Shelton, The Ryland Inn, Whitehouse, NJ; Ming Tsai, Blue Ginger, Boston; Michelle Bernstein, Michy's, Miami; Michael Symon, Lola and Lolita, Cleveland, and Michael Laiskonis,  Le Bernardin, NYC. $295 pp. Call 312-202-0615.

* On June 28 in Providence, RI, Chef/owner Bruce Tillinghast of New Rivers will hold a "Farmers' Dinner" at $75 pp. Call 401-751-0350.

* On June 28 in Arlington, VA, the  Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company holds a Pig Roast when founder John Sneddenwill talk about the art of barbeque and demonstrate grilling techniques at a whole pig roast brought to barbeque enthusiasts in association with Slow Food DC.  Guests will also receive a lesson on pickling and canning techniques. $35 for Slow Food members, $40 for guests.  Visit

* On  June 29 in NYC, Alto restaurant invites guests to bring their favorite 1980s Barolo to enjoy and share with other guests.  A 5-course meal appropriate to these wines will be served.  Sommelier Eriz Ziller I will also open a great Barolo from Alto's cellar.   $150 pp. Call  212-308-1099.

* On June 30 in Half Moon Bay, CA, Cetrella Restaurant will host a 4-course Alfaro Family Vineyards & Harley Farms Wine Dinner, by Executive Chef Sylvain Montassier; with a tasting reception.   $95 pp. Call 650-726-4090. Visit

* On July 3 in London, the Capital Hotel will host the  Bordeaux winery Chateau Pavie, with  Chef Eric Chavot creating  a 5-course menu to compliment the selection of Chateau Pavie wines.  £250  pp. The Capital is offering a special room rate of £295 per night. Visit / or call 44-20-7591-1200.

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." THIS WEEK: PARIS


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).

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, Bloomberg News, 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