Oliver St. John Gogarty Pub, Dublin Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery (2006)
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NEW YORK CORNER: Country by John Mariani
STAYING PUT IN VERONA
by John Mariani
"But I can give thee more:
For I will raise her statue in pure gold;
That while Verona by that name is known.
There shall no figure at such rate be set
As that of true and faithful Juliet."
--William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet," Act V, iii (1594/5)
Many years ago Esquire's travel columnist Richard Joseph wrote a story entitled "Staying Put in Verona," whose thesis was that choosing a hotel room for several nights in Verona allowed one to travel extensively to some of the most beautiful parts and sites of Italy, all within a daytime drive or train trip. It was a revelatory article and one I took to heart. So on my first visit to Verona I did what Joseph suggested and was rewarded with one of the most sensible vacations ever--no rushing around from bed to bed in still another city, no re-packing, and no sadness about having to move on when I'd rather stay put. And the thought of returning to marvelous, wonderful, beautiful Verona made the trips to outer regions like excursions from an adopted home.
In the years I succeeded Joseph (who died in the saddle, or, more specifically, while flying to another destination) as Esquire's food & travel correspondent, I 've been back to Verona many times and love it all the more because familiarity with this legendary city plays on all one's romantic notions about Italy, and, of course, Romeo and Juliet.
Ever linked to nearby Venice, Verona has been a city of traders and markets, and the wealth they brought made it into one of the loveliest city's in Veneto, of a perfect size that prevents its city center from being overwhelmed by traffic--although the numbers of tourists flocking here can be exhausting in peak season. Still, it's a second-tier city for those who only have time to visit Rome, Florence, and Venice. It is within easy striking distance by rail and car to Venice (70 miles), Milan (95), Mantua (25), and just 18 miles from Garda and the glorious lake country (for my article on Lake Garda click). So making easy day trips is a snap, and Verona is amiably easy to get in and out of.
It is a city of low density and soft northern light, and everything has been scrubbed clean in recent years to reveal the city's
The center of the city--I actually prefer to call Verona a town--is built around the famous Roman amphitheater, third largest in the world and virtually intact. In front of it is the airy, wide-open Piazza Bra, where, except for the eyesore of a McDonald's, sitting at a cafe and watching Verona go by is one of the most delightful things to do upon returning to town in the evening. The Adige River (above) snakes its way through the city, and the Ponte Scaligero is one of the finest bridges in Italy for its architectural strength and refinement. The old herb market in Verona is where the Piazza Erbe opens itself to the city's mascot--a Venetian lion perched on a column in front of the Palazzo Maffei, and the area still functions as a busy market surrounding the fountain here.
And then there is Casa di Giulietta,
Alas, there probably never was a Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare having derived the story from an earlier English poem based on still earlier work that places the action of the story in Siena before other authors placed it in Verona.
So, with both fervor and awe, thousands head to the house of Juliet, which Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery was actually a 13th century inn, to pin their love notes to the wall. Actually "pin" is far from the right word: they are stuck to the wall (left), often with chewing gum, and they create a parti-colored pastiche of small reveries and deep emotions that attest to the persistent charm of the legend, bursting with what Samuel Johnson called "the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance."
Dining well in Verona is as easy as stepping into almost any trattoria. Indeed, the larger, fancier ristoranti in the better hotels like the superb Due Torre Baglioni (4 Piazza Sant'Anastasia; 045-595044; click) and the Gabbia d'Oro (4a Corso Porta Borsari; 045-800-3060 ) are stuffy and to be avoided if you're looking for true Veronese atmosphere and good food. By all means stay in such hotels, but don't eat there. One of the best restaurants in the city is Il Desco (7 Via Dietro San Sebastiano; 045-595-358), which has high elegance without pretension, and the cooking is excellent and refined, sometimes a bit much so as with its olive oil gelato, but imagination usually does not get the better of the chef, who delights in cooking first-rate ingredients with a minimum of fuss and modicum of artful presentation.
Somewhat similar in style but more traditional in cuisine is 12 Apostoli
Also well known is the far more rustic Antica Bottega del Vino (3 Via Scudo di Francia; 045-800-4535; click), which also has an extraordinary winelist, one of the finest in Italy, and the lusty cooking of the Veneto. They also have a two-year-old branch in New York now (for review, click). The owner of both restaurants is Severino Barzan, and the menus are very similar-- paste e fasoi, their version of pasta and bean soup; risotto cooked in Amarone wine, baccalà alla vicentina (salt cod), trippa alla parmigiana (tripe with tomato and Parmigiano), fegato alla veneziana (calf's liver sautéed with onions), and delicious rabbit stew. It can take you hours to go through the winelist, but stick with a wine of the region or from Piedmont and you won't go wrong.
My current favorite trattoria, quite near the center of town, is Al Pompiere (5 Vicolo Regina d'Ungheria; 045-803-0537), on a side street near Juliet's house. There are two rooms, small but spaciously occupied by tables set with green-and-white tablecloths, and walls filled with photos of Italian celebrities you probably have never heard of (right). One of the specialties here are the housemade prosciutti and salume, which they slice thin and carry on a bountiful platter to your table, where you are already drinking a fine valpolicella ripasso, or a single estate bardolino, soave, or a massive, well-aged amarone. We chose a Mithas Corte Sant'Aldo 2000 Valpolicella, which, contrary to most old-style valpolicellas, had enormous body and good Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
fruit up front and a fine long finish.
There aren't many pastas on the menu here, but we were very happy with a plate of sheer ravioli stuffed with pesto and dotted with olive oil, more pesto, chopped tomato, pignoli, and an olive tapenade. Beef cheeks in a deep, dark wine sauce with yellow polenta followed, and flavorful guinea fowl with plums and roast potatoes.
One could literally stay put in Verona and never budge for several days, exploring the culture, perhaps attending a concert in the arena, and shopping up and down Via Pallone and its endless sidestreets. Or you can venture out to Milan and Venice and Lake Garda. And you can be back in time for dinner and an espresso before the moon rises over this sweetly romantic city.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
90 Madison Avenue
Every time I walk
down a street in New York,
almost anywhere, I can look up and suddenly be astonished
by a building I've passed a hundred times and never really
noticed suddenly transformed into a thing of great beauty. This is the
case with an edifice on lower Madison Avenue that houses Country
restaurant. Lyrically lighted from the outside, the early 20th
century Beaux Arts building is a graceful period piece called the
Carlton Hotel, which had grown considerably shabby over the years, now
impeccably renovated by David Rockwell.
WHEN THE MOON HITS YOUR EYE LIKE A BIGGA PIZZA PIE, THAT’S AMORE!
WHEN THE STARS MAKE-A YOU DROOL JUST-A LIKE PASTA-FAZOOL, THAT’S AMORE!
. . . EXCEPT IN AVE MARIA,
Domino's Pizza founder Thomas S. Monaghan is building a new town to be named Ave Maria, to be governed according to strict Roman Catholic principles, with no place to get an abortion, pornography or birth control. The pizza magnate is bankrolling the project with at least $250 million and calls it "God's will. Stores will not sell pornographic magazines, pharmacies will not carry condoms or birth control pills, and cable television will have no X-rated channels. Gov. Jeb Bush, at the site's groundbreaking earlier this month, praised the development as a new kind of town where faith and freedom will merge to create a community of like-minded citizens.
FOOD WRITING 101: Lesson 766: Try not to sound as if you're writing a skit for Monty Python
"Now, the double-baked Swiss soufflé I was less happy with, but not because it wasn't perfect. It's just that I was dreaming of the Rabelasian fromage-fest you get with the soufflé suissesse at Le Gavroche, but received, instead, a sort of Honey I Shrunk the Soufflé! facsimile, no bigger than the palm of a toddler's hand, resting on the two things I like least in the world--no, not tricky-to-reach pimples and Richard Littlejohn, but walnuts and celery. Euuuuuuuuuch. It went neither with the brassy 2000 Stag's Leap shiraz I had ordered, nor with the chill, grey Wiltshire afternoon."--Giles Coren in a review of Le Mazot in the London Times Magazine (January 28, 2006).
"THE SWEET LIFE" CRUISE
This fall, from Sept. 29-Oct. 6 John Mariani (left), publisher of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet and food & travel columnist for Esquire Magazine, will host and lead a 7-day cruise called "The Sweet Life," aboard Silverseas's Millennium Class Silver Whisper, with days visiting Barcelona, Tunis, Naples, Milazzo (Sicily), Rome, Livorno, and Villefranche. There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines, cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani co-authors of The Italian-American Cookbook), optional shore excursions will include a tour of the Amalfi Coast, dinner at the great Don Alfonso 1890 (2 Michelin stars), a private tour of the Vatican, dinner at La Pergola (3 Michelin stars) in Rome, a Night Cruise to Hotel de Paris and dinner at Louis XV (3 Michelin stars) in Monaco, and much more. Rates (a 20% savings) range from $4,411 to $5,771. For complete information click.
* On March 12
* On March 15 a Gourmet Gala will be held at the
* On March 17 at The Hotel Bel-Air, in
* On March 20
* On March 21 Woodlands Resort & Inn in
* From March 20-24 The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group will be hosting its 38th semi-annual Wine Week, when for $10, customers can sample 10 wines with the cost of lunch. All establishments in the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group are hosting this much-anticipated event, in 16 locations across the country. Over 17,000 bottles will be poured. Participating restaurants incl. 11 Smith & Wollenskys nationwide, Cité, Maloney & Porcelli, Park Avenue Café, and The Post House in NYC.
* On March 25 K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco will feature a tasting of wines from small producers who make organic/biodynamic wines from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, Jura and
* On March 25 “Puttin’ On The Ritz” in The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Boston will offer dancing from 7-11:30 PM to The Ritz-Carlton Orchestra under the direction of Dave Burdett. Admission charge is $35 per person for entrance only to The Dining Room. Guests then may order cocktails, champagne, wine, light dining dishes and desserts as they wish. Call 617-912-3355.
* On March 27 NYC’s Women for WineSense will hold an "American Pinot Noir Tasting" with John Haeger, Author of North American Pinot Noir, at the
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
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