Virtual Gourmet
August 8,  2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER

Facsimile menu of the "City of Los Angeles" Streamliner (1936-1947) at the American Festival Cafe, NYC



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GOOD NEWS! now has a new food section  called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.
 THIS WEEK: Seven Deadly Sins of a Restaurateur and Eat Pray Love for Men: A Guide to International Eating


In This Issue


: The Breslin 
by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Difficult to Pronounce, Delicious to Drink

by Brian Freedman

Man About Town: Stockholm--What Goes On Under the Midnight Sun by Christopher Mariani



by John Mariani

                                                                                                                                        photo by LILA

   I do not play polo but I've been close enough to it via my brother who for many years played in a very rough-and-tumble version of it in New England where I learned that with a huge galloping animal beneath you,  it is not a sport to be taken lightly.  Strength is among the first requirements, agility, then finesse, all tied into the instincts of a horse with its own mind in pursuit of a wooden ball around a field filled with other horses wondering why the human beings on their backs are so intent in knocking the thing down the field.
      At the Palm Beach International Polo Club (IPC), all those sporting talents are in evidence plus a good dose of gentility, at least before and after the Arcalux USPA 106th U.S. Open Polo Championship tournament I attended. in April. The match attracts the top players and teams from around the world including the fellow considered the world’s best, Adolfo Cambiaso, along with top-ranked Americans Nicolas Roldan, Jeff Hall, Julio Arellano, Mike Azzaro, and others.

      The IPC is based in Wellington, Florida, hosting  major tournaments and world-class events throughout the season, including the Highest Goal Polo played in the U.S. and such prestigious competitions as the Iglehart Cup, Joe Barry Memorial Cup, Ylvisaker Cup, C.V. Whitney Cup, and USPA Piaget Gold Cup, culminating with the coveted Arcalux Open played out on eight manicured polo fields, including the Piaget Field, flanked by sponsored tents and boxes like the Nespresso Grande Pavilion, where people gather --some even to watch the game--and to attend the lavish brunch put on by NYC's Bistro Bagatelle.
      I was fascinated by the grand frivolity of it all.  The pageantry was somehow very American, and a good excuse for men and women to dress up in every imaginable form, from $300 fitted bluejeans to $3000 highheeled shoes. Long dresses, short dresses, hats galore, men in slacks with little whales embroidered on them and plenty of Lacoste polo shirts in Crayola colors.  One might write a long article simply detailing the various shades of tans the women have developed or sprayed on.
     And then there's the very strange tradition of "divot stomping" at which, at a certain pause in the polo match, people get out of their seats or from under the tents and hobble across the field,  Champagne glasses in hand--try to imagine doing this in Jimmy Choo and Leboutin shoes!--to stomp down the clumps of dirt and grass torn up by the horses' hooves and riders' mallets.  Ann odd exercise but a tidying up in next to godliness down there.

    Palm Beach, as you might have heard, is a rather affluent neck of the Florida woods, the setting for the movies "The Palm Beach Story" and "High Society," a place where mansions are often pink and the only sound you can hear are the water sprinklers. The kind of place where, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it in The Great Gatsby, "people played polo and were rich together."  Taxes and the recession have taken their toll here as everywhere, but, with the line-up outside the
U.S. Open Polo Championship of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Maseratis, and top-of-the-line Mercedes, it's hard to say. The season would end, people would head back north and west,  but over that weekend, the Land of Oz was in full swing.

     I was happily staying at The Colony, which since 1947 has been a crucible of Palm Beach social life, done up in British Colonial architecture and recently treated to a $12 million facelift, with all its 90 guest rooms, suites, (right) villas and penthouses brought up to 21st century standards of posh luxury.  The principal restaurant here is the Colony Steakhouse, as much a draw for its swank bar and "ladies lunches" as for its USDA Prime beef. The Palm Court, adjacent to the pool, is for casual bistro-style dining.  Top entertainers fill the season at the Royal Room  cabaret.
     In Palm Beach itself the dining options are highly diverse, exponentially if you include West Palm Beach and surrounding communities like Delray and Boca Raton. Here are some good choices I had a chance to visit this spring.

The Breakers

One South County Road
Palm Beach, Florida

     A complete refurbishment of The Breakers has also been ongoing, and a number of new dining options have joined the older favorites here.
  The original L’Escalier, a grand room in size, is now more intimately configured without compromising that grandeur.  No walls have been added, only subtle dividers. The principal dining area now seats 32, with oversized armchairs, deep banquettes, tables set with  Versace china, Christofle silverware, and an array of  Riedel crystal. The service staff is among the finest you'll run across in the U.S.  And master sommeliers Virginia Philips and Juan Gomez are there to guide you to just about any wine in any range from any region imaginable, chosen from a 1,400 label, 25,000 bottle collection. Or they can match wines to what you choose to eat. "Whatever you wish" would be worth inscribing above the portals at L'Escalier.
     As a matter of fact, that's what I told Mr. Gomez and Chef de Cuisine Greg Vassos--serve me whatever they wished. What followed was testament to the refinement of luxury dining, a not inexpensive enterprise these days but one that reminds a true gourmet just how exquisite the fine dining experience can be.  No intrusive music, no other tables knocking into yours, no sloppily dressed waitstaff, no urgency to get you in and out fast.  The table, which is to say L'Escalier itself, is yours for the evening--still the norm in France but an amenity fast retreating in the U.S.
     I sat down to the beautifully set table and began with the "Chef's Garden Landscape" of potato risotto, porcini made to look like "soil," various powders and baby vegetables, this with a glass of Chilean carmenère from Errazuriz 's "Don Maximiano Estate."  I have read that Vassos is considered a molecular cuisinier--not high praise in my mind--but aside from a few foamy sauces and some playfulness on the plates, I didn't see any of that unnecessary manipulation of ingredients concocted by chefs under that mantle.  Instead there were lovely presentations of a peekytoe crab salad with black radish, avocado, a fizzy grapefruit supreme, melon terrine, and coriander vinaigrette.  The "Foiewhopper" was wagyu beef and foie gras with lobster, confit of portobellos, candied orange on a brioche bun with classic sauce périgueux.  Vassos did throw some harmless corn chowder foam onto a crisp scallop with a périgourdine sauce, but most everything was sensible and very tasteful.
      Dover sole with a textbook beurre monté and beluga lentils, baby leeks, apple gelatin, caper puree and mustard beurre blanc was way overdressed, compromising the fine flavor of the sole.  I did love the crab and mascarpone agnolotti with corn, favas, pumpkin gnocchi and a white truffle foam in corn broth, which was marvelously flavorful and sumptuous enough for a main course.  Veal came with more crab, Yukon potatoes, asparagus, a "deconstructed" Béarnaise, and sherry veal jus, accompanied by a Kurtz Family Vineyards Boundary Row  Shiraz 2006 from Australia's Barossa Valley.
       As is always so welcome at a restaurant of this caliber, there is a selection of cheeses and marvels of desserts too many to mention.
       L'Escalier make have the look of a dining salon of another time but this is no museum piece: It is exemplary of how a chef with innovative ideas and a solid classical background can match the grandeur of such a room and the finesse of its staff in a manner that is as up to date as any restaurant of the decade.  You get what you pay for.

L'Escalier is open for dinner Tues.-Sat.; À la carte appetizers run $$15-$43, entrees $35-$53; petit tasting menu $95 (with wines, $55 more), and grand tasting $145 ($90 more with wines).


101 N. Clematis Stree

West Palm Beach


      Right off the bat, you'll think of St. Tropéz, and right off the first sip of rosé wine and the first morsel of Chef Julien Grémaud's terrine of foie gras, you'll swear Pistache is as true to form as any bistro in South Florida.  Managing partner  Thierry Beaudraiseda, from Bordeaux, seems to know everyone and aims to please newcomers and regulars alike with a bonhomie that is as much a part of the draw here as the wonderfully evocative bistro décor and outdoor patio, with its red awnings and rattan chairs. Inside it is as cozy as it is amiable, casual in a genteel way, genrous in its hospitality.
    All the bistro classics are here, including a fine array of charcuterie like the hard sausage of Lyon called rosette and the  well-fatted saucisson with garlic.  The cooking is solid, honest, from a true hanger steak with excellent  hand-cut frites to juicy coq  au vin and a lovely dish of seared scallops in a lobster sauce with fragrant basmati rice.  An American special of  softshell crabs was overcooked the night I visited.
   I love the well-selected winelist, with high-priced "Cellar Selections" alongside very reasonable tariffed vins de pays and two dozen wines by the glass.
   Bistro desserts are among my favorites, and the best here are the light, vanilla-rich floating island and the bread pudding Bréton with rum and raisins in a rich custard sauce.  You'll come for lunch but you'll linger after dinner.
Dinner starters run $11.50-$19.75 and main courses $13-$27.50.  Pistache is open daily for lunch and dinner, with brunch Sunday.

1000 Okeechobee Road
West Palm Beach

      Head over to West Palm Beach, maybe ask directions, and you'll get to Dolce de Palma, a highly personalized restaurant run by the ebullient big guy Chef Anthony de Palma, whose simple objective is to feed you and make you feel happy.  It's difficult not to in this cheery, red-walled place with the tiny open kitchen up front and a patio outside. He also runs a gelateria, so don't overeat before dessert.
     You can go light and just have a well-made panini crammed with good Italian ingredients, or wraps, but those don't really showcase de Palma's talent for Italian and Mediterranean food, which becomes evident in his grilled margherita-style flatbread with fresh mozzarella, a good way for a table to start off while deciding among delicious dishes like his porcini bolognese-sauced rigatoni pasta with wild boar meat and tomato, or his fusilli abundant with tender shrimp, white beans, garlic and a dash of clam juice. His gnocchi are light but perfect in dumpling size, sauced with marinara and fresh mozzarella.
      For meat I'd go with the roasted seven-spice chicken--a very good bird indeed--with baby bok choi and coconut curry sauce, which veers from the Mediterranean template but does so with panache.  Grilled pork tenderloin was more American, fat, juicy, with roasted sweet potato and a lush burnt lemon syrup.
     As noted, save room for gelato (above). It's first rate.

Dolce de Palm is open for breakfast and lunch Wed. and for dinner Wed.-Sat. Appetizers run  $4.50-$18, main courses $14-$34.


201 East Atlantic Avenue

Delray Beach, Florida



  Whaddaya wanna eat? You want red chile tacos. Got ‘em. Cheeseburger? Done. Beer-battered fish. Here you go.  Whatever you feel like eating and drinking, The Office’s menu probably has it on there somewhere.  But it’s also got Maine sea scallops wrapped in Serrano ham with Spanish rice and a romesco sauce, along with “Pork and Beans” made with a slab of Niman Ranch pork belly, barbecued butter beans, and crispy leeks; and braised short ribs with potato puree and a sinus-clearing horseradish sauce. To wash it all down there are 45 boutique beers on tap and 200 wines.

      The Office, with its outdoor tables and bar and an interior that evokes a Kennedy Era décor of polished Brazilian walnut shelves loaded with art and design books, an ethanol fireplace, a vintage Underwood typewriter, and leopard-patterned carpets, is trying wincingly hard to be very hip but somehow it’s succeeding on Delray Beach’s main drag. Women with sparkly tans way too early for springtime and guys in Ralph Lauren golf shirts and salmon-colored shorts pack the room or hang over the bar, while hard rock blasts from the speakers.   Expensive tight tank tops, t-shirts, ripped jeans, and gold mules rule.  Margaritas vie with magnums of Veuve Clicquot, and you’ve got to try the two Florida beers on the list—Monk in the Trunk and Holy Mackerel.

      What distinguishes The Office from the other out-of-the-box eateries along the strip is the cooking of chefs Larry La Valley and Francy Deskin’s commitment to taking the basics of American prole food and giving them just enough twist to put them on a par with the best contemporary kitchens turn out, whether it’s fried green tomatoes and a green onion aïoli or cheddar-and-jalapeño-laced corn bread with maple pecan butter and pimiento cheese.

       You just know that restaurateur David Manero has more units of The Office on his mind, but for now, this is the place you want to hit in Palm Beach County for a good time and a good meal at a good price.

Appetizers run $9-$18, main courses $12-$28.





16 West 29th Street (near Broadway)

     Chef April Bloomfield and partner Ken Friedman have been among New York foodies favorite downtown innovators ever since opening the minuscule Spotted Pig, where just to get in was a triumph of some doing.  A seafood restaurant didn't work out quite so well last year, but The Breslin is booming, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Located near the Flatiron Building, The Breslin, in the Ace Hotel has a familiar look, since that look can be traced to any number of antique bars and pubs in New York opened at any time since 1890. It has the requisite dark wood and leather, the rough floorboards, tin ceiling, a Schlitz Malt Liquor sign, and lots of animal motifs, not least the pig, which figures large on the menu here. The cocktails have names from music albums, like Coldplay's "Rush of Blood to the Head," and the place is very very loud, even during the day.
      But the service staff couldn't be nicer and the host and hostess don't have to put up with people who insist they had a reservation because The Breslin doesn't take them, which can be very off-putting to a lot of people, including myself, who don't think hanging out at the bar drinking expensive cocktails named after rock songs is a fun way to while away the hour or more till I sit down to dinner. I went at lunch instead.
     That said, you'll eat well at The Breslin if you like to eat hearty, along the lines of a bear just out of hibernation. Somewhere on the menu there are boiled peanuts and caramel popcorn and a salad, and some cheese alternatives, but this is a place devoted to inveterate, unapologetic carnivores who see nothing wrong with following some delicious chicken liver parfait with Madeira jelly with a platter of crispy cotechino sausage with baked beans, a big fried egg on top and parsley salad.  There is also a good seafood sausage with rich beurre blanc, and if you haven't had good old British bubble and squeak for a while, here's the place to get it.
    The lamb burger has caught on big time in an age when the food dudes seem to believe they actually discovered burgers and dissect its virtues and vices as if they were speaking of canard à la presse.  There are, of course, suckling pig items galore.  Expect to ask for a doggie bag.
     I somehow managed to put  away half a slice of nice tangy buttermilk pie, which started me to humming Hoagy Carmichael's great song, "Ole Buttermilk Sky" much to the chagrin of my guest.
      It all tasted blindingly good on a sunny New York midday, though when I got home for dinner, I really had to fake it.  A day later, I was a little hungry again.

Open weekdays for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; weekends for brunch and dinner. Dinner entrées $17-$36.



Difficult to Pronounce,
Delicious to Drink

by Brian Freedman

            For a long time now, grape oracles have been predicting the rise of Greek wines on the American market. The main stumbling blocks, they tend to say, are the public’s lack of familiarity with the country’s wines and regions in general, and with the names of the varietals in particular.
           While the pronunciations can be difficult (Malagousia and Agiorghitiko, for example, certainly aren’t the most consumer-friendly grape names in the world), and while the divisions of the country’s wine-growing regions remain a mystery to most consumers on this side of the Atlantic, we seem to have access to more excellent Greek wines than ever before that are built to charm and change perceptions.

            To completely abuse a phrase, my personal Greek wine paradigm was shifted at a lunch I attended this past spring at NYC's Marea restaurant, which featured the wines being brought into the country by  Cava Spiliadis and its charismatic, passionate head George Spiliadis. In particular, I was floored by the wines with which winemaker Evangelos Gerovassiliou has a hand, specifically, Domaine Biblia Chora and his eponymous Domaine Gerovassiliou, (below) as well as by Domaine Katsaros, the three of which provide not only an excellent introduction to the range of Greek wines being produced today, but also a great deal of pleasure.
            What made these wines so special and so full of promise on these shores was the fact that they did not pander. In a world where extending hang time to pump up sugars and therefore alcohol, over-extracting, and clobbering juice with new oak is often the most tempting way to appeal to reluctant wine drinkers here, these wines were generally content to simply be what they were.  This is not to imply that they don’t see any oak or that some of them aren’t on the more powerful end of the spectrum. Rather, it’s to say that the winemaking seems to have been at the service of the juice, of the land in which the grapes originate, and not the other way around. The result, then, was a collection of wines that spoke of their unfamiliar origins while still being somehow familiar. They were challenging yet approachable, balanced, and thoroughly food-friendly.

    One of the most surprising aspects of the wines was their freshness, pronounced acidity, nd balance. Most consumers, after all, tend to assume that the wines of Greece will reflect the stereotypically hot climate of the country, and as a result find their footing on riper, more alcoholic ground. The best wines, however, were thoroughly balanced, expressed their terroir very clearly without the often obscuring overlay of super-ripe fruit and alcohol, and didn’t seem to be aiming for an overtly international style. The wines of Domaine Gerovassiliou come from the 56 hectare estate vineyard in Epanomi, 25 kilometers southwest of Thessaloniki. The Mediterranean climate of Epanomi means that native varieties like Assyrtiko, Malagousia, Limnio, Mavroudi, and Mavrotragano do quite well there, as do the more familiar Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Grenache, and Merlot.

            Happily, even the international varieties maintain the Greek identity of their terroir, and show the minerality and acid balance that seem to be the hallmarks of these wines. I particularly enjoyed the Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia 2008, with its intriguing notes of chalk and persimmon, all of it carried on a delicately waxy texture that provided substance without overwhelming weight. The Domaine’s Viognier 2008, too, was an unabashed winner, its highly spiced character rich with everything from charred peach and smoke to ginger and nuts.
            Biblia Chora, on the other hand, is in a cooler climate, 350 meters above sea level on the slopes of Northern Greece’s Mt. Pangeon. Here, Mr. Gerovassiliou and his oenologist partner, Vassilis Tsaktsarlis, produce wines of purity and brightness. Assyrtiko and Agiorghitiko are the Greek stars here, as well as Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. These wines, too, despite the cooler climes they’re born in, exhibit power alongside their transparency and expressivity.
            The 2008 Ovilos, a blend of 50% Assyrtiko and 50% Semillon, is a perfect, food-friendly example of how remarkably well indigenous and international varietals work together in Greece. It starts off with a nose of warm vanilla-peach custard and walnuts, and then, on the palate, turns in the direction of cooked pastry shell, poached pear, almond skin, and lemon oil. There’s real weight to this wine, real presence on the tongue, but its spine of minerality and pitch-perfect acid balance keep it from crossing over into the realm of the heavy. The gold medal it was awarded in Decanter magazine last year was more than well-deserved: It was wholly necessary.
            Biblia Chora does just as well with 100% international-varietal bottlings as it does with purely native ones. The 2005 Merlot, for example, is lush, expansive, and fully expressive of its fruit, but also shows plenty of warm clay notes and a posture-providing sense of minerality.
            The Chardonnay 2009 from Katsaros was also a complex stunner, and pulled off the very difficult trick of staying fresh and mouthwatering while displaying a texture on the chewier end of things. Slate and chalk were balanced out against apricot, lemon, and lime, all of it tied together by a creaminess that was irresistible.
            These, then, are the wines that promise to introduce Americans to the ample current achievements and future possibilities of Greece. Wine has been made for thousands of years there. It’s about time we finally gave it the serious consideration it so richly deserves.

Brian Freedman is a food, wine, and travel writer, wine consultant, and speaker. He writes the blog for Wine Chateau, is  restaurant critic for Philadelphia Weekly, South Jersey Magazine, and Suburban Life Magazine, wine columnist for Affluent Magazine, and contributes to a number of other publications, including Philadelphia Style Magazine.



by Christopher Mariani

Stockholm--What Goes On Under the Midnight Sun
     Celebrating Easter in the Russian Orthodox tradition is quite a unique experience.  I should know, since I've been attending it all my life. Our whole family gets together on the eve of Easter, helps to prepare the evening food’s, and then around 11:30 pm we all head to midnight Mass.  The meal does not begin until our return from Mass, and all food is served room temperature,  including roasted smoked ham, Russian potato salad, carrot and red pepper salad, pickles, and my favorite dessert in the world, cyrnaya pascha, very similar to a Italian ricotta cheesecake but made with farmer’s cheese instead.
    Oh yeah, and the vodka! How could I forget the vodka!  Staying true to our Russian heritage, it is only right that during the celebration we drink Russian vodka, which my mother usually flavors with lemon or orange rinds and softens with a touch of glycerin.  Tradition requires toasts throughout the meal accompanied by the consumption of a jigger as we all say “na zdarove”--to your health! By the end of the night, or should I say the morning, the few who have not made their way to the couch sit back at the table with a vodka-induced smile and a belly full of food.
It is always tough to break tradition but after a recent trip to Stockholm ,where I tried Sweden’s Kanon  Organic Vodka, I might have to introduce the family to a great non-Russian spirit.
    I arrived in Sweden and took a 20-minute Arlanda Express train  (much more convenient and economical than a taxi) directly into the city of Stockholm, where I walked half a block to the Nordic Light Hotel (left), a trendy spot with a vibrant lobby, beautiful rooms, and a lively bar and lounge. Once settled in, I ventured into Stockholm and walked along the city’s beautiful waterways, over the charming bridges connecting the islands that make up the metropolis, and stared in amazement at the remarkably untouched architecture found around every corner.  The city’s buildings are full of living history and culture because Stockholm was one of the few cities spared the  destructive bombing of WWII.  The buildings are all of similar design and proportioned in size, not many over seven stories tall.
    As I passed through one of Stockholm’s busy pedestrian-only streets in the city’s section called Old Town, I was hit with the tantalizing aroma of ice cream waffle cones being pressed at the Café Jäärntorget (below).  There a young Swedish girl sat in front of the waffle iron and slowly poured the mix and closed the lid as the buttery, sweet scent filled the street. Before trying the café’s wonderful ice cream and cone, I walked directly across the street to a small eatery with outside seating called Restaurang JT (below), where I tasted the chef’s traditional Swedish meatballs, köttbullar med gräddsås, a bit overcooked and dry, but full of flavor thanks to the cream sauce and side of lingonberries.  Prior to having the meatballs, I ordered the källarmästartoast, a very common Swedish appetizer, consisting of tender fillet of beef, topped with crispy thick bacon and Béarnaise sauce served over two pieces of white toast.  I also ordered prawns mixed with dill mayonnaise, a staple in Swedish cuisine, that was very appetizing.  The chef insisted on my trying the reindeer roast with morel mushroom sauce that had a great gamy flavor and surprisingly tender for  meat with so little fat. During my meal I tried one of Sweden’s local beers called Nils Oscar God Lager  (5.3% alcohol) that had a great full body flavor and medium amber color.
     That evening, I met the founder of Sweden’s Kanon Organic Vodka, Peter Hjelm, a charming gentleman who was nice enough to take me on a tour of Stockholm by way of water on his personal boat. As we passed the beautiful islands that make up Sweden’s archipelago, I sensed the romance in the air caused by the royal wedding
of Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westlingust just one day prior  at the Storkykan cathedral, as I saw couples kissing in far-off seaside gazebos.  Peter and I slowly cruised along as I had my first taste of the Kanon Organic Vodka poured from a lovely light blue wooden casing.  The vodka was smooth with a very gentle finish, uncharacteristic of most moderately priced vodkas.
     Peter also introduced me to a very traditional sailor’s cocktail known as café kask, made with a mixture of Swedish coffee and vodka.  The interesting part of the café kask is how the drink is proportioned.  A "real man," as Peter put it, will place a Swedish coin, a krona, at the bottom of a mug and slowly pour dark coffee until the coin cannot be seen, then vodka is added to lighten the drink until the coin reappears;  the final step is to top off the drink with more coffee until the coin again disappears.  The drink packs a shot of caffeine with a hefty amount of vodka, immediately reminding me of the Italian espresso and Sambuca drink, without the sweet licorice flavor of course.  As I went to make two more cocktails, Peter said, “no, thank you” as he was reluctantly abiding by the new BWI drinking law that forbids boat operators in Sweden to drive under the influence after consuming more than one alcoholic beverage.
     As we continued to sail, the islands we passed were covered with beautiful green grass, tall spruce, elm and birch trees, storybook-style houses and random camp tents set up along the water as families were enjoying the Swedish law allemansrätten, which translates into “all man’s right.”  The law states that all land in Sweden is public, even land that is privately owned, and any family may camp for one night on another man’s property as long as the camp site is set 100 yards from the property owner’s house.
            For dinner that evening we pulled along a charming wooden dock that led us to one of Stockholm’s yacht clubs called J Nacka (below), where I began my meal with an order of the fish soup, a bit salty, common among many appetizers in Sweden, along with a piece of steaming hot bread that I covered with Swedish butter, always whipped and mixed with either dill or parsley.  For our main course we shared the “mess,” a mixture of succulent whole shrimp in the shell, two pound lobsters split in half, delicate sweet pickled herring, and baby shrimp mixed with homemade mayonnaise and dill. The meal was as refreshing as Sweden’s crisp cool air and light breezes, and around 11:30 pm when our meal ended, we walked back to the boat under the baby blue and silver sky that glistened off the still water  and headed home for the night.
              The following day, I took a trip to the small town of Gripsholm, approximately 45 minutes west of Stockholm, where I visited the Kanon Organic Vodka distillery (below), the third largest in all of Sweden, and met with CEO Andreas Johansson, who gave me a tour of the property.  Johansson is a chemist and the master-mind behind the fermentation process for the Kanon vodka.  He is a perfectionist and has done a wonderful job at creating a high quality vodka without having to go back and distill multiple times or use charcoal filtration, which is a method used to clean out the bad qualities of a badly made vodka.  He says he those methods are not needed if the vodka is made properly the first time around.  
     The distillery is gorgeous with original cannons placed throughout the property and is surrounded by open fields and Swedish mansions that sit far off in the distance.
     The distillery tour began as we put on white lab coats and entered the first of three sections that immediately reminded me of the aroma I encounter every time I walk into Arthur Avenue’s Madonia Brothers’ bakery, as the naturally grown wheat was being mashed at a high temperature in preparation for the fermentation process that would soon follow.  Johansson explained that all the wheat used to create the vodka is nationally certified organic wheat and is part of the NOP, National Organic Program.  The approved local farms do not use any pesticides to kill the local wildflower and do not use additives or unnatural fertilizers.  The distillery itself only requires ten workers to operate it and can produce up to 10,000 liters of vodka per day.  The distillery also has tremendous history: in 1580 the Akers Iron Foundry was started by King Karl XI to produce cannons for the Swedish military, while the distillery was used to produce vodka that would be given to the cannon factory workers as incentives to work harder and faster.  The amount of daily production would reflect the numeric coin received at the work day’s end that would be exchanged for a specific amount of vodka.  Just about two hundred years later the Kanon distillery became a royal distillery under King Gustav III, who banned the production of vodka by anyone who did not work on royal grounds. After the enlightening tour of the distillery, we headed to the Gripsholm Inn where Johansson not only showcased tremendous hospitality and a wealth of knowledge but impressed me with his ability to speak fluently multiple languages; he also play the guitar, a true renaissance man.
The Gripsholm Inn (below), dating back to 1609, is the oldest Inn in all of Sweden.  The inn is a very upscale bed and breakfast with beautiful antique décor and classic wooden floors and ceilings  standard throughout the entire inn. The rooms are darling and seem right out of a Victorian trimmed dollhouse.  The town itself looks exactly the way it did 500 years ago and most likely will remain  so for the next half-millennium,  with the exception of the new cars, which are few of to begin with.  The locals are lovely and very content with their peaceful lives as they fish for fun and take long walks with their  loved ones around the surrounding placid lakes.  I will never forget waking up the first morning and taking a walk along the water’s edge to hear only the sounds of a light breeze and the quacking of a small flock of ducks teaching their young to swim.

hat evening we dined at the Inn, where I had a chance to try a wide array of vodka cocktail mixtures created by Stefanie Marco, Kanon’s professional mixologist, who is enthusiastic, well-educated, and best of all has a firm understanding of what makes a good cocktail.  While I sat on the outside patio, I tried Stefanie’s cucumber mint aperitif.  Throughout our five-course meal there was one drink that trumped all, the Kanon Smoking Full Body, made with strained blackberry puree,  vodka, fresh lemon juice, and Veloce cordial, served in a cloche glass with freshly vaporized rosemary.  The aroma from the rosemary was delightful and paired perfectly with the lamb tenderloin surrounded with rosemary jus.
    The following day I headed back to Stockholm in search of one more terrific meal, so I headed to Vassa Eggen, located on the southwest corner of Stockholm’s Scandic Park.  I dined outside at a terrace table where the street was bustling with cars, yet I did not hear a single car horn, quite a pleasant absence, since I've lived in New York my whole life.  I began my meal with an order of that Swedish pickled herring that I simply could not get enough of.  The herring was served warm, the fish very fresh, and the dish had just the right balance of sweet and salt.  I ordered two entrees only because I couldn’t resist, and of course they were both heavy dishes that required a long walk afterwards to help digest. The first was Vassa Eggen’s tender veal brisket (left) served with an amazing garlic puree.  The veal had plenty of flavor, was soft enough to cut with a fork, and  had just the right amount of fat, which melted with each bite.  I also had to try the black blood pudding served with sautéed apples and thick slices of bacon.  The pudding itself was a bit lackluster, but the flavor from the bacon was a nice accompaniment.  After such a hearty lunch, I took a walk through Stockholm’s Sofo, a section of the city that mirrors NYC’s Soho.  Sofo is a shopper’s paradise with great stores, fun little cafés, and a sea of young beautiful Swedes enjoying their vibrant city.
  The last night of my trip, I attended Kanon vodka’s mid-summer night launch party at Stockholm’s hottest outdoor lounge, F12.  The party was celebrating Kanon’s new label  that was designed by Thomas Mastorakos.  The party was a blast and everywhere I turned, I was looking at a tall, 6’0 foot, blond model with gorgeous blue eyes and a body that even swimmers would envy. Sweden is beautiful in every aspect, and Stockholm is an incredible city that combines the essence of Venice’s waterways, NY’s shopping scene, folkloric architecture, and Scandinavian beauty all in one.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Austrian brewers of Walder Senn beer have invented a new beer laced with cheese that promises a "positive and healthy" amorous  response after drinking it. Chief brewer Heinrich Hommel explained how the  ingredients and lower alcohol won't detract from lovemaking: "Our aim was to get rid of the cheesy taste of the whey while keeping its nutrients and positive ingredients - the lactose and the vitamins which help keep men healthy," he said.


"It’s certainly possible that Andre Natera, the new chef at The Fairmount's Pyramid Restaurant & Bar, has his own tales of drinking Old Crow with hookers and losing his Mustang in an arm-wrestling match. I should have been tipped off by my excited server's lengthy description of the salad, which involved 'the chef hitting it with oil' and 'the chef hitting it with mint.' In this server's telling, the chef pummeled every dish."--Hanna Raskin, "The Pyramid Restaurant & Bar," Dallas Observer (July 2010)


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

* From now thru Sept. 30 at Nana at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, TX, Executive Chef Anthony Bombaci is extending his "Summer Savings Menu," a three-course dinner for $45 pp. On Sept. 3  Friday Night Flights returns featuring a trio of rustic Italian small plates paired with three Italian wines. The flight costs $20 pp. Call 214-761-7470.

* On  Aug. 14 in New Orleans, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum will host Jay Henrickson as he discusses the history of Herbsaint, part of their month long series "Absinthe Minded," with lectures every Saturday in August . $10 pp.  On  Aug.  21  journalist Todd Price  discusses the cultural influence of absinthe and its presence in art and literature.  $10 pp. Visit  or call 504-569-0405.

* From Aug 18-29 in NYC, the Tour de France Restaurant group will celebrate the tomato with their third annual tomato festival.    The nine Tour de France eateries  offer their own regional interpretation of tomato favorites.   Visit

* On Aug. 19 in New OrleansCafe Adelaide will host its, "We Live to Eat," Dinner.  Bar Chef, Lu Brow will pair a cocktails with Chef Chris Lusk's cuisine; Neil Gernon and Monica Bourgeois of Vending Machine Wines will be on-hand to taste and discuss their new wines from Napa Valley.   $55 pp. or call 504-595-3305.

On Aug. 19,  Hush Denver will partner with Restaurant Avondale and Sous Chef Patrick Funk for an ‘Eat Outside the Box’ event at the Jet Center in Eagle, CO. Welcome reception with passed appetizers, 5-course dinner with wine pairings. $100 pp, incl. tax and tip.

* On Aug. 19 Café Adelaide in New Orleans, LA, will host a “We Live To Eat” wine & cocktail dinner. Bar Chef Lu Brow and winemakers Neil Gernon & Monica Bourgeois of Vending Machine Winery will lead guests through the cocktails & wines paired with a 4-course dinner by Executive Chef Chris Lusk. $55 pp. Call 504-595-3305.

* On Aug. 20 in Arlington Hts., IL, Le Titi De Paris will highlight the wines of Russian River Valley with a 6-course menu from Chef/Owner Michael Maddox. $85 pp. Call 847-506-0222.

* On Aug. 23 in Santa Monica, CA, Mélisse Restaurant hosts Chef David Kinch of Manresa as part of their Michelin Starred Guest Chef Series. $150 pp.  $20 from each meal will benefit Special Olympics.  Visit or call 310-395-0881.

* On Aug. 25 in New York, NY, El Porron presents a tapas festival special in honor of the annual Tomato Fight in Spain taking place that same day.  Designed for two,  each person will receive a glass of wine of their choice plus a hearty selection of 6 tapas will be served for the two to share.  $80 for 2 ppl.  Call 212-207-8349.
*On Aug. 26 Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, LA, will host a “We Live To Eat” wine dinner. Commander’s Palace Wine Guy Dan Davis and Lynn Fritz of Lynmar Estate will lead guests thru a 3-course menu by Executive Chef Tory McPhail. $65 pp. 504-899-8221.

* On Aug. 31 in Larkspur, CA, Left Bank Brasserie hosts “Goat Night: A Head to Tail Event” at which a variety of a  cuts of goat's meat will be served. Call 415-927-3331;

* On Aug. 28  in Healdsburg, CA, Simi Winerywill celebrate the newest release  of the 2007 Landslide Vineyard Cabernet  Sauvignon with a party to taste, sip and dance to New Orleans Jazz among the  towering redwoods on the Landslide Terrace. Call 707-473-3236. Wine Club Members $10, General  Public $20.

* On Aug 28 near Prosser, WA, the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center hosts the annual Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame Gala.  Bill Powers and David Lake are honored. Celebrity Chef, Dave Martin, caters, and wine has been specially crafted by Milbrandt’s Gordon Hill.  Tix and sponsorships available at  or by calling 509-786-1000.

* From Sept. 4 – 5 in West Sussex, England, more than 150 varieties of tomato will be on display at the Totally Tomato Show as competitors compete for the spot of tastiest tomato and compete in the tomato growing competition.  Growing tips, cooking demos and tastings.  £7.50 for adults, £3.50 for children, £7 for seniors over 60 and £18.50 for families.  Call +44-0124-381-8210.

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: Live Like the Vanderbilts (and the Astors and the Whitneys) at the Montauk Yacht Club; In Search of the Real Cleopatra.


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

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: Christopher Mariani, 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 2010