Virtual Gourmet

November 8,  2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

                                                             World War Two poster by Herbert Bayer (circa 1943)


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In This Issue


by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNERBarbounia by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Tuscany’s Forgotten  ‘97 Brunello Returns From the "Dumb"
by John Mariani



by John Mariani

                                                                   Cakewalking at the Windsor Court Hotel

      I need not point out again that New Orleans restaurants have rebounded faster than could have been imagined after Katrina destroyed so many of them four years ago, so let me just launch right into a round-up of some of my recent meals all over town, some new places, some old.

701 St. Charles Avenue

      The all-too-obvious question I get from first-time visitors to almost any city is, if I had to pick just one place to eat, where would it be? It is impossible, of course, to answer such a question about such a large, gastro-wealthy city like New Orleans. If you seek festive, I might say Commander's Palace; if you want old-style Creole, I might say Pascale Manale; a jazz brunch, probably  Brennan's; for Cajun, K-Paul's.
     So when I say that Herbsaint is one of my very favorite  places in the city, I mean  just that: I'd just as soon have my one meal there as at any of the other notables in town, for in so many ways Chef Donald Link (below), who also runs the wonderful Cochon, marries all that is best about New Orleans cooking in a small corner restaurant that is bright, buoyant, modern, and marvelously hospitable.
      With its cheery colors of yellow and white, its big windows, small bar (left) and its peek into the kitchen, Herbsaint is wonderfully comfortable, neighborly really, as is the menu, which changes often. When I was last there, I dug into one of the best tomato-shrimp bisques I've ever had--focused, simple goodness with fine, intense flavors from the first-rate ingredients. An antipasto plate of housecured meats and white bean crostini showed the same virtues, and, except for a little overcooking of the pasta, freshly made spaghetti in a buttery cream with guanciale bacon and a fried-poached egg was a delightfully satisfying lunch item.  Fried frog's legs have long been a favorite here, and it is difficult to understand why you don't find them in more places around town.
      Link and his crew seem to take both pride and care in demonstrating how an honest dish like fried catfish can be truly delicious, served with green rice and a piquant red onion chile sauce as a prefect complement. Meatloaf was somewhat softer than I like it but the flavor was good, enhanced with buttered mashed potatoes and tasso-spiked gravy.  Don't miss the French fries with a pimenton aïoli.
     And never skip dessert at Herbsaint--everything I've had here has been excellent, not least a rich rice pudding with berries.
      Note well that this is not the most elaborate food in New Orleans, nor is it particularly indigenous.  But the kitchen here weaves tradition and modernity in equal measures, taking in the strains of Americana and making small wonders of them all.

Herbsaint is open for lunch Mon-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.

International House Hotel
221 Camp Street
504 553 9550

    New Orleans is still lacking in good examples of a few species of restaurants, but the opening if Rambla this year under Chef de cuisine Scott Maki brings the city its first first-rate tapas bar, where you can sit at counter-like tables and eat you fill of everything from sweet Medjool dates wrapped with smoked bacon, Marcona and Valdéon cheese; calamari stuffed with pecans and spicy andouille sausage and dressed with tomato-olive concasse; or a potato and onion tortilla Spanish style; of tender grilled octopus with lemon oil; and the pecan-andouille filled calamari with chunky olive-tomato concassée.
       The charcuterie is one of the real draws here, served in more than ample portions at very fair prices. And the patatas bravas are spicy and firm and fat and hot on the roof of the mouth. Cochon du lait, a fine bayou pork specialty, is creamy rich, with good burnished skin. New Orleans style finds its flavors in the shrimp with herbed butter.
      Rambla is named after the main thoroughfare through the heart of Barcelona, where you'll find eateries serving this kind of food, and the lay-out, with its high tables and chairs, copies the style of those tapas bars, including a communal table. In Barcelona people tend to go from one place to another, noshing their way along the route, but here in New Orleans, you'd do better to bring a bunch of friends, hike yourself onto the chair, order half the items on the menu and start sharing. It won't really mount up to much with items starting at $6 and running not beyond $22.
There is also a fine array of cheeses and for dessert the crisp, hot, steamy churros with chocolate (above) are diabolically good.

The Rib Room
Royal Orleans Hotel
621 St. Louis Street

       It had been years since I'd dined at The Rib Room, though it has always been one of my favorite, most consistent restaurants for turning out not just some of the best beef in the city but combining it with a menu full of Creole dishes.  Like every other restaurant in town, The Rib Room has been freshened and brightened sine Katrina, including some fine new private dining rooms.
      It's legitimate enough for a three-day traveler to ask why one would go to a restaurant of this stripe in New Orleans, yet the menu, under Chef Anthony Spizale, goes far beyond the rubrics of serving first-rate roast prime rib of beef-- and that goes for other beefy options like the
"Steak for Two" (tenderloin and sirloin, sliced to share and served family style); the cast-iron skillet seared filet mignon on a mirepoix of Louisiana sweet and Yukon gold potatoes with Southern Comfort cane syrup reduction and crispy onions; and the New York strip  with a garlic and red wine gastrique, julienne vegetables and  an admirably thick Béarnaise sauce.
       So, those dishes are obviously the prime reason you go to the Rib Room, and why locals love the place.  The locals also know about the imaginative items on the menu like Spizale's  crawfish and grits boulettes and the "Crab Cake Short Stack" drizzled with lemon garlic butter and Creole tomato marmalade, one of the best dishes in a city in love with crabs.  There's Creole gumbo here, too, and turtle soup, and even a gooey-rich French onions soup.
     Among the many seafood offerings you will enjoy p
otato-crusted redfish  atop a warm shitake and lump crabmeat salad with meuniére vinaigrette, or perhaps the spit-roasted shrimp  with garlic, white wine, lemon, and parsley with creamy risotto.
      The presentations are elegant without being fussy, the side dishes sumptuous, and the desserts as decadently good as any in the city. The winelist is a very fine selection, well used for private parties of a kind New Orleaneans throw with abandon.
     So there are plenty of excellent reasons to go to the Rib Room even if you're not up for the main ingredient here. Spizale has tuned his menu to the territory, and it's to his credit that he counts among his guests so many regulars from the antique dealers in the French Quarter and so many newcomers who become semi-regulars ever after.

The Rib Room is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At dinner appetizers run $10-$15, main courses $28-$46.

Dickie Brennan's PALACE CAFÉ
605 Canal Street

      Though bright as a new penny, the Palace Café, under Dickie Brennan's gregarious ownership, is edging up to its 20th anniversary. Set within the historic Werlein Building, with its beautiful wrought-iron winding staircase leading  up to the second floor dining space, past the two-story mural of local life and legends, the place just bubbles over with bonhomie.
       Dickie Brennan’s handshake is the first confirmation that such genuine hospitality is still intact in New Orleans, and as I sat down to a well-set table with starched white linens and read through Chef Darin Nesbitt’s menu of Creole classics and new items, I knew that this city of dining in the grand style had never losts its appetite.
     There are clearly no holds barred here when it comes to richness, but nobody in their right mind goes here for a diet lunch. (I recall that when the Sugarbusters Diet swept through New Orleans a few years back, it seemed more an opportunity for men to order bigger slabs of meat and just leave the carbs off the plate.)
     So, you open the menu and yours eyes bug out as much as your appetite begins to race.   This is a big menu so you should take your time. How about braised pork with watercress, crumbled bleu cheese, crispy leeks, and fennel marmalade to start things off? Or the signature crabmeat cheesecake baked in a pecan crust with a wild mushroom sauté and Creole Meuniére? Another favorite is a mess of blue crab claws  with garlic, lemon and Creole seasoning, and the barbecued shrimp in a sauce spiked with Abita beer, served with cracklin’ corn bread is a winner.
     The Palace Café can get fancy with excellent results in dishes like the pepper-crusted duck breast with seared fresh foie gras atop parsnip mashed potatoes with a citrus-confit salad and sauce au poivre. I find it hard to turn down the andouille-crusted fish of the day pan-roasted and served with Crystal hot sauce-spiked buerre blanc, chive aïoli, rissole potatoes and vegetables. Nobody does a better rotisserie chicken, dusted with mushrooms and served with truffled mashed potatoes, lemon-arugula salad and finished with a Creole marchand de vin.
      I've long applauded the superb strawberry shortcake lavished with whipped cream here (only when the berries are at their peak), and the over-the-top Mississippi mud pie is thick, dense, and delicious.
       The Palace Caféis a place locals go on Friday for a cocktail at lunch, a big meal, some fine wine, then God knows what they do in the late afternoon, which can run late indeed. Regulars also know about the terrific
"Temperature Lunch," with two courses priced at yesterday’s high temperature (85° means an $8.50 lunch),  available through Labor Day. They really want to show you a good time at the Palace Café, any way they can.

The Palace Café is open for lunch Mon.-Sat. Sun. for brunch; dinner nightly. Appetizers at dinner run  $8-$12, entrees $17-$34.

300 Poydras Street
(504) 595-3305

      Other members of the Brennan family have their fingers in the pots of so many restaurants in New Orleans that it's difficult to keep them all straight, but Café Adelaide, after a belle of the Crescent City named Adelaide Brennan (right), is in the spirited grip of her nieces Ti Brennan Martin and Lally, and now, under Chef Chris Lusk, it is better than ever.
      Adelaide herself, aka Queenie and Auntie Mame, was apparently the kind of woman who gave New Orleans a good dose of its swagger. As recalled by
her nieces  and nephew Alex, she was "a striking redhead who marched to her own drummer. No other 'older people' acted like her. They were all much more sensible, while Aunt Adelaide was the definition of glamorous—and naughty," entertaining with equal aplomb the likes of Danny Kaye, Rock Hudson, Raymond Burr, Helen Hayes, Jane Russell, and Bob Hope.
      A good deal of her spirit hangs over Café Adelaide, both in the genuine good times ambiance of the multi-room bar and dining spaces, the bright lighting so everyone can see everyone, and the pace set by hostesses who can be a Southern mix of the genteel and the sassy. Which is a good description of Chris Lusk's fabulously creative menu, from his blue crab pound cake with Port Sault "icing" and truffled crab claws--a dish so rich you should keep yourself in check after a forkful or two. He makes a fine Louisiana shrimp and okra gumbo and a equally impressive blue crab and Camembert bisque afloat with saffron popcorn.
     He seasons shrimp and rosemary-scented grits with sea salt and Tellicherry pepper to make it sing--or zing!--then ladles them into a lemon croustade and spoons on a New Orleans BBQ sauce blanc. A Parmesan biscuit panéed grouper with summer squash pappardelle, sweet garlic, oven-dried tomatoes and lobster-Prosecco velouté is a masterful tour de force, as great a dish as any in the Big Easy, and there are many levels of flavor and texture to his Cayenne five-spice rubbed Ahi tuna with blue crab fried sticky rice, garlic chips, wilted mizuna greens and Muscadine-ginger jam. Whew!
     For dessert why not stay simple with hot, fresh
"Milk & Cookies"  with brandy milk punch ice cream?  On second thought, you don't want to pass up the El Rey mocha truffle milk shake made with dark chocolate ice cream and  espresso whipped cream, or the buttermilk biscuit pudding with Abita Root Beer caramel and LeBlanc's pepper jelly pecans. No, you don't.
     I let my hosts Ti and Lally talk me into a cocktail over lunch, then a fine white Burgundy, which put me in mind of why everyone loves this city of generosity and a "take-it-slow" attitude that seems to rid the world of its anxieties for a few hours, twice a day.

Cafe Adelaide is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Dinner starters run $7-$12, entrees $24-$32.

713 Rue Saint Louis

Increasingly I find it easier to love Antoine's than to like it. I've dined here over four decades, and this 1840 institution--one of the very first true restaurants in the USA--has such historic ballast throughout its warren of 15 dining rooms that I find returning to the place as much a testament to historical endurance as to shrine-like renewal, especially after Hurricane Katrina took off nearly an entire wall of the old structure and ruined its formidable wine cellar.
      As happened in so many cases in the French Quarter, Antoine's got a thorough, well-needed scrubbing, so everything now looks brighter than it has in years, not least my favorite dining room (below)--the one oddly shunned by many locals as fit only for tourists--the big one you enter through the door off the street. It has wonderful, soft light pouring through the huge windows, Champagne-colored walls and white tile floors, mirrors, ceiling fans, an old bar, and decidedly rickety tables and chairs. It is really very beautiful, while some of the rooms preferred by locals, especially for private dining, can be downright dreary, not least the one they call the Dungeon. But do get up and walk around to see some of the other salons, like the fine Rex Room, and another of  motifs japonais.
       Antoine's, which has been in the same family line since it opened, rarely changes its menu (until recently printed entirely in French), and one would think that practice makes perfect after 160 years in business.  But doing the same thing for so long can also induce an ennui reflected in much for the food and service here.  My most recent meal, at lunch, was pretty typical of the way things have been going for some time now, beginning with a greeting that falls somewhere between rote and dismissive.  The waiters, many here for many, many years, go through their motions robotically, and even when they ask if you're enjoying your meal, they don't seem to care what your answer might be. They shrug a lot. I pretty much poured my own wine throughout the meal, and my food came out of the kitchen in a dismayingly short period of time between ordering and hitting the table. I didn't see my waiter for a while after that.
       Antoine's has a big menu, with most of the dishes unchanged for scores of years, including a few, like oysters à la Rockefeller, created right here back in the 19th century. It is a thoroughly French menu with Creole lagniappe, so that crawfish tails (in season) come in a white wine sauce with tomato; alligator soup is highly seasoned, and pompano--a fish Mark Twain characterized as "delicious as the less criminal forms of sin"--à la Pontchartrain, is served with crabmeat sautéed in butter.  I began with lump crabmeat in a pleasant cream sauce and a mix of cheese and breadcrumbs baked and browned under a flame. It was good, if, at $18.75, a little skimpy.  I've always loved the hefty slab of châteaubriand here with a well-rendered marchand de vin, but this afternoon I went for a filet of trout meunière; the speckled trout itself was of good quality, but there should have been a more luxuriant amount of butter in the sauce. Of course, I had Antoine's signature pommes soufflé, as perfect as ever, light as the Montgolfier balloons they were named for, crisp, salted, and wholly addictive.  Desserts are very old-fashioned, not least the flaming cherries jubilee and the bread pudding with warm rum sauce.
      Antoine's winelist has been built back up to imprssive, if pricey, dimensions.
     And so it goes at Antoine's, where the past is as much a part of the present as they can make it--an admirable conceit, but a shake-up in the kitchen and staff would bring needed luster to such a lovable antique.

Antoine's is open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., for Jazz brunch on Sunday. The lunch and dinner menu are priced the same, with appetizers from $7.75-$19.25, and main courses $24-$43.75.

The Grill Room

Windsor Court Hotel
300 Gravier Street

     The sale this spring of the venerable Windsor Court Hotel has, for the moment, not changed the chef or look of the Grill Room, so for the time being my report still stands.
      It is still one of the loveliest dining rooms in New Orleans, just outside of the French Quarter, with the finest, most sophisticated of all bars in a city where a good one is often measured by its raucous spirit. The main dining room, flanked by an enclosed terrace room overlooking the entranceway fountain, is closer to an haute cuisine establishment in London or Paris than any other in New Orleans, and I think visitors might wish to factor that into their decision to dine here if they are looking more for the ambiance of the typical Big Easy restaurant.
Drew Dzejak (right) was last at  Charleston Place in Charleston, and before that at the Woodlands Resort and Inn in Summerville, South Carolina. He is trying to offer a little something for everyone, so his menu is broken into categories of "Southern," "Unadulterated" (ridiculous name), "steakhouse," and "indulge." I ate mostly across the board, enjoying a classic Southern crabcake with tomato-bacon vinaigrette, and very good chicken from Ashley Farms with "dirty" rice studded with boudin sausage, crispy chicken livers, and sausage gravy, which proves again you refine Southern cooking without straying too far from wholesome flavors. From that "unadulterated" section, butter-poached shrimp and grilled King crab with blood orange oil was an interesting play of textures, and from the "indulge" side there was excellent grilled foie gras and lobster with frisée, arugula, sweet sherry and a honey vinaigrette. If you want beef, the duo of filet mignon, foie gras potato puree, short ribs, garlic spinach, pearl onions and a Port reduction should make you very happy and very full--and at $34 not at all overpriced.
     Desserts I tried included a Key lime crème in a phyllo square, with a grapefruit reduction; Creole rice fitters (a bit mushy) with cane syrup ice cream and hot Calvados cider, and a chocolate truffle trio.  The winelist at the Grill Room continues to be one of the best selected in its range and breadth.

The Grill Room is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. At dinner, appetizers run $9-$16, main courses $26-$44.


250 Park Ave South (off 20th Street)

       Since opening last year Barbounia has gone through some changes, not least a fine new Israeli chef,  Efraim Naon, with partner Alon Jibli. The menu is more Pan-Mediterranean than ever, so those expecting only Greek food will be neither disappointed nor surprised by the new additions from around the Basin, including Southern Italy, North Africa, France, and the Middle East, including an array of delectablly traditional mezze. There's even pizza and French croque monsieur to develop the theme.
     Barbounia is a very attractive room, as it has been for several restaurants that have preceded it in this space, but now the lighting is good, soft, and golden, the room done
with tall arched ceilings divided by Moorish columns that should put you in mind of Southern Spain or Northern Africa. The well-spaced wooden tables are commodious and include a long communal offering and banquettes set with puffed up pillows. Beyond is an open kitchen, from which you get the scents of spices and baking breads. It's unfortunate, then, that the place is so loud that it is not easy to hear much of what your companions want to say or what your charming, well-trained waitress and wine director might want to tell you. Piped in music certainly adds to the cacaphony.
     Some will feel jostled by all that noise, others seem to cut through it, and the place is lively after 8 PM. It's a place where people share dishes and pass plates, including those mezze served on flatbread--creamy hummus, tzatziki, roasted eggplant, taramousalata, and tangy feta, available individually or all five for  $19.95. There are also plates of grilled merguez sausage and gigante beans with olive oil, and a "Greek fondue" of melted Kefalograviera cheese laced with Metaxa brandy. Larger appetizers include delicious, sizzling terracotta shrimp in
garlic-rich olive oil, and  smoky, charred octopus  with a grilled fennel salad.
     Naon has a broad, varied background, with stints at Marc Méneau in Burgundy France, Keren in Tel Aviv, and Taboon in NYC, so he handles seafood with as much rigor as he does meats, from a fine grilled swordfish steak with Morrocan tomato, garlic and paprika sauce, with yellow green zucchini, green olive tapenada and eggplant mousse whose components enhance the fish in every way, to a lobster risotto  made with wild wheat, creamed spinach, goat's cheese and a little fresh oregano for aroma and taste. Lamb is such a requirement in a Mediterranean restraurant that Naon offers two good options, baked in  terra cotta as kebabs--a very good dish--with pepper chutney, tahini and  pistachios topped with flat bread then cooked in a clay pot; and nicely trimmed,fat grilled lamp chops,  first marinated in onion water, with garlic confit, button mushrooms, glazed carrots and kalamata olive-lamb jus.
      These  are is full-flavored, big, hearty dishes so one dessert will easily feed two or make nibbles for three--the kanefah of phyllo with goat's cheese and honey is a good choice to share a forkful or two with a friend.

Barbounia is open for lunch and dinner daily;  Mezze and tapas run $6.95-$8.50, appetizers  $12.50-$15.95, and main courses $18.75-$33.95. Fied price dinner $35.



Tuscany’s Forgotten  ‘97 Brunello Returns From the "Dumb"
by John Mariani

    I hope you haven’t drunk all the  1997 brunello di Montalcinos in your cellar, because  if you have, you may have made a mistake.
       Back in the late 1990s, the wine media and trade went wild  over 1997 Tuscan wines, insisting this was the greatest vintage  of the 20th century. In particular, the region’s most famous wine, brunello di Montalcino, was deemed magnificent.  Prices soared for futures, wines were on allocation, wineries and distributors held back supply from the market, and  within months of appearing on store shelves, the 1997s were hard  to find. Then everyone went silent.

Castello Banfi, Montalcino

      When people started actually drinking the wines, it became evident they didn’t even come close to deserving the ratings  doled out by the media. They weren’t even particularly fine  examples of brunello much less “wines of the century.”
     Hype is the life’s blood of the wine trade and media, with  the former needing to sell cases in both good years and bad, and the latter eager to make headlines. The 1997 brunellos just  didn’t justify the extravagant praise. It seemed buyers were bamboozled. Bottles of the vintage that once sold for $100 and  more, can now be found for less than half that price.
       I’d bought a few cases and have been drinking them year by year, only to find the vintage decent but dull. Last December, I tried to unload some of my 1997s at auction. The auction house wasn’t interested.
       Then, a few weeks ago, I opened a 1997 Castello Romitorio,  whose beautiful label of a painting called “Bread and Wine” (right) is  by Italian artist Sandro Chia, also owner of the estate. Even as  I poured the wine into the glass I could tell something was very  different. The fruit in the bouquet was powerful, leaping up  from the glass. As I swirled the wine, the aroma was as fresh as if it had just come from the barrel.
      I sipped and was amazed. The wine had developed so  remarkably in the two years since I’d last tasted it that I thought I might have chosen a different vintage. But, no, here was the 1997 I’d previously found so dreary coming into brilliance, in color, in bouquet, and in complexity of flavors.  Its tannins were loosening, its 13 percent alcohol was in perfect balance, and its sangiovese grosso grapes exhibited all  those qualities that gave brunello di Montalcino the reputation  of being one of the world’s most treasured wines.
       I’ve gone on to sample others of the vintage and found, to varying degrees, the same transformation taking place. Some,  like Mastrojanni’s, are just beginning to shed their adolescent  gawkiness, while others, like Castello Banfi, seem close to full  maturity.
       Obviously big red wines can and do improve with age, and  some wines go through what the trade calls a “dumb period.”  But the discrepancy between the early hype and the wine on  release was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
      And then I realized why.
      Traditionally, brunellos were wines that were made to be  saved for decades before coming into full maturity. Legendary  bottlings like those of Biondi-Santi, which created the wine’s  reputation in the 19th century, tasted better at 50 years of age  than at 20. But brunello’s fame has caused so many newcomers to  plant estates in and around the town of Montalcino that that old  style has been transformed into several styles, most lighter,  some with more alcohol.
      Back in 1975 only 800,000 bottles of brunello were produced  by 25 estates; in 1995 more than 3.5 million bottles were made  by 120 winemakers. Today there are more than 220, many making  wines to be drunk young, and the trade and media have largely gone along with the shift.
      According to Ian D'Agata, director of the International Wine Academy in Rome and author of The Ecco Guide to the Best Wines of Italy, "An even bigger problem has been caused by far too many of these new estates planting in clay-rich soils not suitable to sangiovese, which is a very difficult grape to make wine from."
       There are now plenty of brunellos never intended for  longevity -- few producers want their capital stock hanging around for 50 years before achieving its potential. So, while my early experiences with the 1997s were out of whack with the  hype, a dozen years later that vintage is developing into a very fine one indeed, with the prospect of getting still better in  the next 5 years.
     So I’m holding on to what I’ve got and may even buy more,  now that they’re pretty cheap. If I do, it will be brunellos
with a proven track record, like those above and illustrious  names like Biondi-Santi, Fattoria dei Barbi, Tenuta Caparzo, and  Altesino.
     I can’t wait 40 years to drink them, though, so maybe I’d  just better stick with what I have and be a little more patient.

John Mariani's 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.



In NYCs Meatpacking District a costumed Bacon Lady has appeared,  with video camera and microphone, asking people, "Do you like bacon?"


"The piece you are about to read marks either the end of restaurant reviewing as we know it, or a brave new dawn – and I am genuinely not sure which. For as I write it up for you in all its imperial 1,500-word majesty on Friday, August 21, 2009, and send it lumbering out into the world through the normal channels to be edited, subbed, illustrated, faffed and fiddled with, printed and bound and thrown in the back of a van to arrive, finally, 15 days later, on the floor of your local newsagent, from where you will pick it up and heave it home to where, you hope, your husband has put the kettle on, so that you can tear off the polythene bag, toss away the Bathstore flyers and droiky CD giveaways, and flick through the real pages with your real fingers, until you get, finally, to this page, to find out – be still, my beating heart – what this restaurant critic thought of the relaunched Criterion restaurant in Piccadilly, the world already knows. And has known for more than a fortnight.'--Giles Coren, The London Times (9/5/09)


Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

IMPORTANT NOTE: Owing to the number or Thanksgiving announcements received, QUICK BYTES cannot publish any but a handful of the most unusual.

* During Nov. and Dec. in San Francisco, Café de la Presse presents the 2nd in their ongoing series, A Culinary Tour of France, with the focus now on Champagne. The region will be showcased through their traditional dishes and wines which will be offered à la carte, in addition to the regular menu.  Call 415-398-2680 or visit

* On Nov. 12 in Berkeley, CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto hosts a Berkeley’s Kitchen Benefit Dinner with a 4-course prix fixe menu prepared by Chef Devon Boisen, paired with beer. $60 pp inclusive. Call 510-845-7771;

* On Nov. 12 in Peoria Heights, IL, June restaurant hosts a farm dinner with award-winning farmer Henry Brockman and Terra Brockman, author of The Seasons on Henry’s Farm who will be on hand for a book-signing afterwards. The 5-course dinner, paired with exceptional wines is $90. Call 309-682-5863 or visit

On Nov. 12 in NYC, Tour de Champagne brings together prestigious champagne houses, local chefs, special guests and live entertainment to create anevening at La Venue. The event begins with a Prestige Champagne Seminar and ends with a Fin de Soirée. Three ticket levels are available. $100-$195.

* On Nov. 13 in Kohler, WI, The American Club is hosting the annual In Celebration Of Chocolate Night featuring more than 7,000 pieces of chocolate incl. the award-winning Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates, handmade desserts, and an ice cream, sorbet & cookie bar. Tickets are $75 pp. Hotel packages start at $200 pp. Call 800-344-2838 or

* From Nov. 13-15 celebrate fall Italian style at Sassi in Scottsdale, AZ, with Festa di Maiale, honoring the traditional feast of the pig. A 5-course menu  will be offered at $55 pp. Visit

* On Nov. 15, The Chew Chew Restaurant, in Riverside, IL, will hold its Annual Fall Beer Festival, with 30 unique seasonal beers, live music by  "Kevin Trudo  Guests." Proceeds to " Hannah's Hope for Giant Axonal Neuropathy" (GAN) in honor of 6 year-old Riverside resident Ethan Tkalec.   $40 pp.Call 708-447-8781.

* On Nov. 18 in Yountville, CA, Bardessono celebrates the release of Douglas Gayeton's SLOW: Life in a Tuscan Town with a 4-course Italian dinner and wine pairing.  All guests will receive a signed copy. . $125 pp. Call  707-204-6030.

* On  Nov. 18 in New Orleans at Calcasieu Chef Donald Link will celebrate of the official arrival of Georges Duoeuf Nouveau Beaujolais, honoring his Cajun-French roots with the first annual “Can-Can” fundraising event for Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, with Can-Can dancers, Georges Duoeuf Nouveau Beaujolais, and an assortment of contemporary Louisiana menu items. Benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank guests are encouraged to bring a donation of canned goods. Tickets for the event may be purchased for $30 by calling 504-588-2189, ext. 4.

* On Nov. 19, in San Francisco, CA, Arlequin Wine Merchant will host a “No More Nouveau” wine tasting celebrating the “real” Beaujolais from award-winning Cru Beaujolais producers incl. Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, Pierre Chermette, Jean Paul Brun, Alain Coudert, John-Paul Thévenet and more. $15 pp. Call 415-551-1590.

* On Nov. 21 Chillingsworth Restaurant in Brewster, MA, will host a casual celebration of the harvest with a Beaujolais Nouveau eveningfrom Georges Du Boeuf served with hors d’oeuvres and the first course;  the remainder of the meal will be paired with Morgon, Julienas, etc,  a wine with each course.  $95 pp. Call 508-896-3640.

*  From Nov 26-29, in NYC and Chicago, Vermilion celebrates an Indian-Latin Thanksgiving: a 6-course dinner incl.  black cardamom smoked turkey, panch-puran ginger cranberry chutney, roasted corn soup, brazilian feijoada, mexican pumpkin horchata, white chocolate goan pudding and more. $45 pp, vegetarian option offered, with a round of champagne. Chicago: 312-527-4060, NYC 212-871-6600;

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: CONDOS TO GO; SMART DEALS IN MONTANA; RARE TRAVEL POSTERS; COPENHAGEN.


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:

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

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


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