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HEAD FOR THE HILLS! Fine Dining in NYC's Suburbs by John MarianiNotes from the Wine Cellar: Summer Whites and Rosés by John Mariani
HEAD FOR THE HILLS!
by John Mariani
Fine Dining in NYC's Suburbs
928 Hopmeadow Street
The charming little Connecticut town of Simsbury is a lot more affluent and sophisticated than suggested by Metro Bis' notice that "shoes and shirts are required." Still, there's nothing stuffy about this darling 64-seat restaurant, for its own simplicity of decor and the warm greeting by Courtney Febbroriello, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Chef Chris Prosperi, is what makes this as delightful a place to drop into if you're a local as it is a little gem to discover if you're driving through the beautiful countryside of Connecticut, outside of Hartford.
Were the food merely a recitation of old bistro classics, I would not be spending this space writing about Metro Bis. But Prosperi is an excellent and imaginative chef who goes far beyond the expected; his restaurant has been named one of the top 30 in the state by Connecticut Magazine and its winelist has a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
For lack of a better term--and it is a very good term--Prosperi serves Modern American Cuisine, buying the best ingredients he can find while keeping his prices gratifyingly moderate, with dinner appetizers running $3.95-$14.95 and main courses $19.95-$23.95. So, too, there are plenty of bargains on the winelist, which is just the right size for a restaurant of this size and aspirations.
On a recent evening my party of four ate widely from a menu of 7 starters, 3 salads, and 6 entrees, beginning with some lustrous house-smoked salmon with a roasted golden beet salad, capers, and golden osietra caviar. Equally lustrous and wonderfully creamy was a torchon of foie gras with lightly grilled brioche, micro greens, a lovely compote of figs and a fig purée. A crab cocktail went beyond the ordinary in having a horseradish vinaigrette, pickled celery root, and a shot of vodka, while tuna tartare--another ubiquitous item--was here enhanced with a wakame seaweed salad, wasabi-laced crème fraîche, and crisp sesame wafers with which to scoop it all up.
Our main courses included slow-roasted Niman Ranch pork with steamed baby bok choy, braised fennel, baby and carrots--the ideal vegetables to go with pork. Creamy sea scallops were pan-seared and served with parsnip purée, grilled corn, a spicy smoked pepper vinaigrette, and a reduction of Port wine, with all elements admirably coalescing in sweet, smoky balance. Poached lobster was good, if not thrilling, with a tomato-herb couscous, butter poached jumbo prawns, and a saffron-fennel sauce that needed more bite.
As is obvious from the above descriptions, Prosperi is a very generous guy, but he gives each dish proportion rather than simply piling on extra, smothering ingredients. So his grilled Kobe flat iron steak is rich enough on its own but gains measurably from whipped sweet potatoes, Gorgonzola, crispy onions, and a mustard demi-glace (actually it doesn't need this last gilding).
For dessert there were happy renderings of crème brûlée, a vanilla panna cotta with crème anglaise, a tangy blood orange sorbet, a warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream and a terrific warm caramel sauce, and a chocolate velvet torte with a berry coulis and whipped cream.
If many items at Metro Bis sound familiar, read their descriptions again and then taste them: Prosperi is always adding something you don't expect or better than you've had before. Which is what makes him a considerable talent doing what he loves in a region of neighbors who love him back, packing the place on weekend nights. It's clear that he and his wife Courtney work very very hard at it, and if you wish to know just how hard, read her memoir, Wife of the Chef.
Metro Bis is open Monday-Saturday: Lunch ; Dinner .
Photos by John Porco, Integrated Enterprises Inc.
Perfection comes from repetition, and in the case of Emilio Restaurant in
Emilio--the fellow with the brochette on the menu cover at left--and Lidia Brasesco opened Emilio in 1979 in an old clapboard house, once a girl's school, dating to 1894, and from the start they distinguished Emilio from the cliché-ridden Italian restaurants of that time by offering a wider range of regional Italian dishes and an antipasto table of daunting diversity. As more quality Italian products came into the
Emilio passed away a few years ago, but his wife Lidia is still happily welcoming regulars at the door while her son Sergio--a man born to be a host--roams the dining room and, for the last three years, Chef Jeffrey Bruno (both shown below) does the cooking.
I hadn’t been back to Emilio for some years, so I wondered if the restaurant had perhaps slipped into complacency with the same old menu. I was delighted to find Emilio better than ever. The premises may be dated in design but are uncommonly warm and inviting, with a large, convivially lighted front dining room, a smaller one to the rear, two cozy alcoves and a semi-private room. Tables are widely separated, which allows for good conversation.
Sergio long ago committed to stocking the best Italian wine list in the county, comparable to the finest in
Sergio's enthusiasm brims over when speaking about wines to go with your food. After discussing the specials with our table of four and recommending certain dishes, he politely asked what price range of wines we wished to stay within. Then, rubbing his hands like a sorcerer, said, “I think I have something very unusual you’re going to like.” Moments later he returned with a bottle of Trebbiano d’abruzzo, which is a workhorse grape in
It was a delight with our appetizers, which included an array of those antipasti from a cart wheeled to our table. It was difficult to choose among the offerings, so Mr. Brasesco spooned up plates of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mushrooms, sweet-sour and spicy eggplant caponata, artichokes with sunflower oil and herbs, various sliced hams, and morsels of mozzarella and Parmigiano.
We then moved on to share spaghettini teeming with mussels, Littleneck clams, cuttlefish, and rock shrimp in a light, quickly made tomato sauce ($18 as a full portion, $9.50 as a half). One of the signature items here is a plate of panzerotti—“big bellied” pasta filled with housemade ricotta and Swiss chard served in a decadently rich walnut cream sauce ($19/$9.50). A delicate pasta crêpe wrapped spinach, ricotta, and veal, baked in a very authentic bolognese sauce with both meat and vegetables, with a lavishing of béchamel. Ravioli stuffed with shredded short ribs of beef ($16 and $9.50) was richer still.
Swooning a bit now, we went on to the main courses, going as somewhat more lightly with a menu with a lot of heft on it. A marinated pork tenderloin with porcini mushrooms and fresh tomato ($23.95) was a triumph of simple flavors, as was a whole baby chicken slowly roasted to retain succulence then given a sweet balsamic glaze scented with rosemary ($21). Scaloppini of sautéed veal came with sweet sausage, porcini and braised cabbage in a brandied cream sauce ($23.25). Filet of sole was applaudable for its Sardinian-style addition of raisins and pine nuts ($22.50), though that evening, at least, the fish was overcooked and falling apart.
With the meats Brasesco chose a rare Jermann Blau & Blau 2002 ($60), from
None of us needed dessert by then, but it was impossible to dispel Mr. Brasesco’s pleading to try one or two, maybe three. Most of the desserts are made by a neighborhood baked shop named CCG Patisserie.
Having returned after a long hiatus, I was happy to find Emilio surpassing what I remember of its food and service back in the 1990s. Indeed, after 27 years, Emilio is a rare restaurant that still shows even more promise.
Appetizers at dinner run: $6.50-$12 and main courses $18-$31.25.
Zuppa RESTAURANT & LOUNGE
Yonkers, NY, is one of the great Hudson River towns whose former "Hello, Dolly!" turn-of-the-last-century elegance is evoked in the tinted postcard of Getty Square at the left. But over decades of decay Getty Square acquired such a poor reputation that when the owners of Zuppa Restaurant & Lounge opened there in 2003, their customers’ greatest fear was to exit the restaurant and find their car had bee stolen or burglarized.
Indeed, the restaurant’s location the neighborhood had acquired the nickname “
Still, owners Robert and Philip Leggio and Armando Santucci believed an upscale Italian restaurant had a good shot at succeeding, especially since
The restaurateurs spent a year renovating the strikingly handsome, historic Yonkers Gazette news building of very tall ceilings, huge windows, and vast red brickwork, to which they added a spacious, shadowy lounge and a deep red dining room with well-separated tables, excellent table appointments, and glowing table lights.
After a slow start, the word did get out, and soon people from Riverdale and
As happened when one or two good restaurants opened in neighborhoods like SoHo, TriBeCa, and the Lower East Side in New York, South Philly, Chicago’s Loop, and San Francisco’s Mission District, Zuppa threw light onto a dark street and helped bring people to what were once derelict, unsafe areas. Zuppa eased the way by offering free valet parking.
Zuppa’s success has very clearly spurred the area’s development: Two months ago a delightful French bistro named Chartreuse opened up the block, a modern pub named the Grist Mill opened across the street, and near the river Pierview Restaurant has brought further vitality. A
But Zuppa would never have succeeded if it did not offer food of a kind not readily found in even the richest enclaves of
DiBari says that the rich, soulful Italian food of Mario Batali is his greatest influence, and you taste it in pastas like pappardelle with a veal bolognese sauce with fresh mint and artichoke cappelletti cuddled in slowly cooked, sweet tomato. Ricotta gnocchi dumplings come with a duck ragù, pea greens, and a dose of assertive pecorino cheese. He also does some creditable pizzas, which make for a terrific nibble before the pastas and main courses.
Beautifully presented desserts match any I’ve had in Manhattan Italian restaurants for imagination and simple goodness, from a creamy budino chocolate pudding with Italian marshmallow to a tangy-sweet blood orange semi-freddo—a cross between custard and ice cream. Do not leave without ordering a bag of hot, chocolate-filled zeppole fritters laced with caramel.
Zuppa’s winelist offers about 20 wines by the glass, in addition to a very fine collection of Italian and international reds, including all the top producers like Tignanello, Sassicaia, and Gaja. Mark-ups seem to average about two-and-a-half times retail, with some, like the Gaja Barbaresco 1999, a relative bargain at $295, when it sells in some
If Zuppa did not deliver good food and good vibes, it probably would not have survived its first year in
Dinner appetizers at Zuppa run $8-$15, pastas (full portions), $17-$20; main courses $22-$33. Live jazz on weekends.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Summer and Rosés
by John Mariani
Are rosé wines returning to favor in the U.S.
That wasn't always the case, and the limited selection contributed to the wine's image problem. Nowadays, anyone who still thinks that rosé wines never rise above the mundane obviously haven't tried Robert Sinksey's Los Carneros Vin Gris (about $17), which has levels of complexity from its Pinot Noir components rarely found in the rosés of the past.
With all roses, the latest vintage is likely to be the best available; they are not intended for long aging. I am delighted by Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Graham's take on a Provençal-style rosé that he calls Vin Gris de Cigare 2002 ($11), made from a complex of grapes -- 34 percent Grenache, 25 percent Cinsault, 19 percent Mourvèdre, 12 percent Counoise, 8 percent Syrah and 2 percent Viognier. The combination makes this ``California Pink Wine,'' as it's called on the label, considerably more interesting and layered than others of this style, and a lot more flavorful than some of the dull roses of even five years ago.
Back in the 1960s, Americans started tanking up on pink wines like Mateus, Lancers, Cold Duck and Lambrusco. They particularly liked Riunite Lambrusco, which by 1984 was selling 11.5 million cases in the
Slightly more upscale drinkers bought Tavel Rosé or Domaine Ott, which were considerably more expensive, had a pretty, peachy-rose color, more alcohol (13 percent and up), came in curvaceous bottles and tasted like distilled flowers.
While I can't say rosés have made a dramatic comeback, I am happy to report that there are more and much better examples of this light, summery wine than ever before, with more based on a greater diversity of grape varieties. I found a dozen at a premium
Flavors became a bit bolder and fruitier with a 2002 Marsannay from
For finesse and levels of bright fruit and bouquet, I'd recommend another bargain: Château Rosé, Mourgues de Gres from the Costiéres de Nîmes in the
Going for a bigger-bodied wine, I recommend a Sancerre rosé from the
I didn't find much to get excited about in Spanish rosados, though I have had some pleasant ones in the past. Among Italian rosatos I like best the simple, cherry-like wines called Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a Sicilian light red made from Calabrese and Frappato grapes. It's difficult to find in the
California rosés definitely showed best, probably because the abundance of sun and the mineral-rich soil are ideal for the category. Alexander Valley's Iron Horse Vineyards produces a well fruited Italian-style rose, from Sangiovese grapes that spend seven days on the skins (more than usual for a rose), giving the wine considerable richness and color, and a nice strawberry note ($10).
I tasted all these wines quite cold, then tasted them again only slightly chilled, a temperature that revealed more levels of flavor and bouquet. At lunch, I had the rest of the Sinskey with funghi porcini sautéed in garlic, olive oil and parsley, and the rain outside failed to darken the sunny pleasure of the match.
JUST AS SHE CAME TO THE WORDS "WIND BENEATH MY WINGS". . .
FOOD WRITING 101: Try not to write as if you had only completed the fourth grade.
"The pulled pork was well done; the fat was gone, but the meat, bathed in the house-made barbecue sauce, was tender and flavorful. So, too, was the big, roasted sweet potato, that was oh-so naturally sweet. The fresh greens in the salad were dressed with a delicious house-made dressing. The oven-fried chicken was slightly dry, but it did gain a decent flavor from the seasoning in the crisp breading. It came with good macaroni and cheese and sauteed cabbage. Both meals came with a complimentary slice of sweet potato pie."--John Long, "Healthful Choice Opens on Cleveland's East Side," Cleveland Plain Dealer (March 15, 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' 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.
To all media publicity agents: Owing to the large volume of announcements received regarding holiday events, I will only have room in this newsletter for those that have a unique distinction to them. It would be impossible to list all Mother's Day event. --John Mariani
* Throughout May, Chef/Owner Cesare Lanfranconi of Tosca in
* Dukes Hotel has created a special “Children's
* From May 12-20 NYC will celebrate the cuisine and wines of Navarra, in northern Spain, with a 14 restaurant event entitled The Kingdom of Navarra, Spain Visits New York, sponsored by the Government of Navarra and the Navarra Chamber of Commerce, with each restaurant presenting dishes, menus or wine selection to highlight the Navarrese dining experience, incl: Alcala (212-370-1866), Artisanal (212-725-8585), Bolo (212-228-2200), Casa Mono (212-253-2773), Hearth (646-602-1300), Olives (212-353-8345), Pintxos (212-343-9924), Sala One Nine (212-229-2300), Solera (212-644-1166), Suba (212-982-5714), Tia Pol (212-675-8805), Toledo (212-696-5036), Ureña (212-213-2328), and wd-50 (212-477-2900).
* On May 13 the Lodge at Tiburon will hold the “Sip & Sleep Wine Festival Package” in conjunction with the 23rd Annual Tiburon Wine Festival, starting at $299 for a one-night stay in a Deluxe Room; Two admission tickets to the 23rd Annual Wine Festival; Breakfast for two by the Bay at Café Acri. Visit www.thelodgeattiburon.com or call 1-800-TIBURON 800-842-8766. The Festival features wines from over 65 premium
* The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s 2006 “Girls Will Be Girls” Package offers female guests a chance to raid Chef Anthony Chavez’s pastry kitchen and nibble their way through his signature desserts. Also incl: Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago beauty professionals in-store makeovers; a farewell gift of savings and gift certificates at Burberry, Frette, La Perla, Lillie Rubin, at al; Museum of Contemporary Art admission for two; a Cosmopolitan martini in The Greenhouse, complimentary fresh-popped, and the movie-of-your-choice in your room; receive exclusive savings and incentives with your Premier Perks card at Water Tower Place, just an elevator ride away from the hotel; late check-out on Sunday;, allowing you plenty of time to continue to sleep Sunday Brunch. Rates begin at $500 per night, plus $240 for an additional connecting guestroom. Call 800-621-6906.
From May 17-19 the First Annual Festival of Food and Wine will be held at the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa at Lake Placid, NY. Chef Paul Sorgule of the Mirror Lake Inn, has invited 6 of his colleagues to share their knowledge and break bread with food and wine enthusiasts, concluding with a farewell dinner as well as a ready-set cook competition, a lecture series, and demos, seminars. Attendees can purchase a 3- day packages inclusive of all events and a special room rate or individual events available. For a schedule of events, bios of attending chefs, and prices, visit www.mirrorlakeinn.com/dining
* On May 20 Ghirardelli Square’s first annual public wine festival, "Uncorked!," will be held in partnership with COPIA, bringing award-winning wines to the San Francisco waterfront, with tastings, engaging chef demos, wine seminars, and a chocolate & wine pairing event. Live entertainment and a blind tasting led by a selection of industry notables. $35 in advance, $40 at the festival; $75 VIP Reserve, $100 at the tent.
* On May 21, Chef Laurent Tourondel of BLT Fish will host Café Boulud, Nobu, and more of
* On May 22 Max and Benny's Restaurant-Deli-Bakery in
* On May 22 the Asian Chefs Association debuts their on-going “Taste of Asia dinner” series at Malacca Restaurant in
* On May 23, Martini House in St. Helena, CA, will present its third “Wine Geeks and Mushroom Freaks” dinner entitled “The Taming of the Shroom” featuring a 5-course meal for $68 pp, developed by Chef/Owner and fungi fan Todd Humphries, paying homage to a different mushroom with every course. For $128 pp, each course will be paired with wine selected by Bob Foley of Pride Mountain Vineyards, Hourglass Wine Company, Switchback Ridge and Robert Foley Vineyards. A mycological expert will also be on hand to lend their fungal expertise. Visit www.martinihouse.com. Call 707-963-2233.
* On May 23 in the private dining room at~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
* From May 27-29 the 16th annual Memorial Day Weekend in Wine Country, sponsored by the Willamette Valley Wineries Assoc., will be held with an opportunity to visit some of the Valley’s small, family-owned wineries often closed to visitors, as well as larger wineries and tasting rooms offering new releases, barrel tasting, gourmet food and limited quantity wines. For a wine touring map with winery listings, lodging and dining, please call 503-646-2985, or visit www.willamettewines.com.
* On June 3 Auction Napa Valley has a line-up of celebrity chefs from all across the country at “The Party,” incl. Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière in
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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