Virtual Gourmet

July 9, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER


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In This Issue

New Atlanta Restaurants by Suzanne Wright




by Suzanne Wright

40 Seventh Street

    egAbout a third of the way into dinner at Ecco, I turned to my friend Laura and commented that you would never know the restaurant was only in its second week of operation, with a full room, including the attractive bar (left).  We marveled over plate after plate of astonishingly conceived and composed cuisine and smooth, assured service.  
     This is just how deftly Ecco has woven itself into the tapestry of intown dining, and
The Fifth Group, which also runs South City Kitchen, Sala, La Tavola, et al, is to be commended.  They hired the Johnson Studio to transform the old, dirt-floored Atlanta Fencing Club on a formerly desultory stretch of Seventh Street (once known for its gentlemen of the night) into a smart, stylish, completely comfortable room (there’s no posing here, though many of the patrons have model looks).  Rich materials—dark walnut, leather and Italian marble—dominate the dining room (below), along with a wall of charming black and white framed photographs and a couple of post-medieval light fixtures.  There’s also a snug perch of a patio. But it’s the open kitchen running nearly the length of the long space, with a wood-burning stove and a still-life tableau of eggplants, preserved lemons, and cheese, that holds your attention.  All dressed in white smocks, a remarkable number of professionals quietly craft plates.
    The menu is described as “European inspired,” and our sweet-natured Swedish waiter confirmed that the concept does indeed echo how he ate back home. To you and me, that means lots of small plates designed for sharing.  I was thrilled to hear that Chef Micah Willix had formerly cooked at Mark’s Las Olas in
Ft. Lauderdale, a restaurant of which I have very fond culinary memories.  Perusing Ecco's menu, I was struck by just how many of the offerings are new to jaded, food-weary Atlantans, including fried duck egg with truffles and potato; striped bass escabeche; and oak roasted branzino with braised fennel and asparagus.  We had a difficult time narrowing our choices when confronted by so many creative, inventive choices.  What an auspicious start.
    We began with a terrific meat and cheese tray, selecting Speck, smoked prosciutto and whisper-thin finocchiona (fennel seasoned salami) accompanied by a rich dollop of assertive Gorgonzola.  Next we sampled several “taste & share” appetizer options, including lightly battered and fried squash blossoms; and warm, tender, earthy grilled squid with crushed olives and almond coated sweetbreads. I am a sweetbread purist: I found the coating too heavy-handed, obscuring the delicate meat, though I did lap up the sherry-scented lentils they sat atop. But this is a trifle, the only negative note of the evening.ti77
      We hopscotched over the pizzas and panini and proceeded to pastas and mains.  The toothy, creamy risotto with spring peas had just a hint of onion,  and the balsamic-marinated quail with roasted cauliflower was lovely.  But it’s the fig-glazed lamb loin with warm potatoes and chicory that packs the biggest gastronomic wallop:  the luscious meat (worth the $34 price tag) slicked with a rich fruit sauce had me (discreetly) licking my lips. Throughout the meal, we sampled glasses of boutique wines from the extensive and affordable list assembled by director of beverages Vajra Stratigos. These included a carafe of Bodegas Arrocal Ribera del Duero that was perfect with the lamb.
    I  have a notorious sweet tooth, so  I am delighted to report that the desserts positively soar.  All four we tried were simple, sophisticated, and not too sweet; our favorite was the ricotta torta with warm sour cherries and orange confiture, but the roasted strawberries with almond semifreddo and the nutty dark chocolate millefeuille also quickly disappeared, along with a half-bottle of Moscadello di Montalcino and a tumbler of 14-year old Scotch.
    Perhaps most amazingly, we were not overly full after our indulgences. Rather, we were plotting our return. Although Ecco serves only dinner and a late night menu until
1 a.m. as of this writing, the neighborhood has quickly embraced the restaurant as its own, and  I’d wager we’ll soon see brunch and wine dinners as other Fifth Group eateries offer.  Meanwhile, congratulations are in order for the smart restaurateurs who’ve given us a unique concept beautifully realized. But it is we diners who really get to celebrate a stellar addition to Atlanta’s dining scene.
       Ecco's appetizers range from $4-$12, mains from $13-$34.

687 Memorial Dr SE

                    Last year, I interviewed Chef Gregg Herndon for an article on agave. During the course of our discussion, I waxed nostalgic for a long-defunct Midtown restaurant called Taste of New Orleans.  Herndon, as it happens, worked there. I recall everything about that restaurant, from its slightly gaudy, purple, mirrored décor to my favorite waiter, Carter, who was a part-time dental student.   My palate remembers the nuances of favorites dishes along with the modest prices. Snapping out of my reverie, I decried the lack of good Creole or Cajun restaurants in Atlanta.  I said I thought people would come to a New Orleans-type eatery.  And I said I would love once again to taste the crawfish pâté and peanut butter mousse pie.
    9Apparently, Herndon listened. That conversation was either the seed or the water for what is now Redfish
, a Creole bistro that opened in March with his partner Jack Sobel (also of Agave) in Grant Park. Who says dreams don’t come true?
Chefs Gregg Herndon and Jack Sobel

    So, obviously, I had a soft spot for Redfish even before I sampled the menu.   It struck me as pretentious to have valet parking when the adjacent lot is huge and empty, but we surrender our cars and sit in the bar.  We ordered  hurricanes, a signature Big Easy drink and a Sazerac, a strong concoction of whiskey, bitters and a lemon peel, served neat.
    The room is open, simple and casual, almost funky, as befits the neighborhood. The dark wooden tables are left bare, the lighting is low and the ambiance unobtrusive and comfortable.  Flipping open the menu, I was thrilled to see the Cajun pâté I so loved at Taste of New Orleans.  There are no fewer than 11 starters, so we settled on gumbo and fried oysters to round out our first course.  The crawfish and shrimp pâté was every bit as good as I remember, a little bit spicy, served warm with homemade chips and bread rounds.  “This would make good party food," declared one of my friends.  The flash-fried, lightly battered oysters are of varying sizes, but all are uniformly juicy and piquant when swiped in the rémoulade.  The gumbo is chock full of  shrimp, crab, andouille sausage, and okra, its roux rich, all set atop plump white rice.feg4
    For entrees we select the signature redfish,  jambalaya, and steak.  But after the success of the starters, things faltered.  The jambalaya was nestled on a ridiculously huge platter and was disappointingly dry.  Sniffed one friend, “This is more like a side dish.”  Next time I will opt for the shrimp étoufée (right).  The Fat City steak was billed as
"Kobe sirloin," but judging from the sawing we had to do and the unpleasantly tough texture, I’m not convinced.  I did like the accompanying macaroni-and-cheese studded with tasso ham, but my gal pals found it a bit anemic.  By far the best dish was the redfish, a generous pan-seared filet served with a spicy Creole jus, horseradish mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. The waitress was right, it is impeccable:  moist, perfectly cooked, lightly glazed.  Between outbursts of animated conversation, we lunged for the fish, finishing off that plate tidily.
   Naturally, we saved room for dessert.  The bread budding arrived as a slab—dense, super-rich and toothsome; we couldn’t eat more than a bite each.  Ah, but the silk mousse pie!  Made with feathery whipped peanut butter and drizzled with chocolate, it took me back almost 15 years to the days of Taste of New Orleans.  Such is the sense memory.  I hope that some of the city’s Katrina evacuees find Redfish and the culinary comfort of a taste of home.
   I’m glad for Redfish’s arrival and I look forward to eating my way through Herndon’s offerings, including the shrimp po' boy, the catfish, the shrimp rémoulade and the crawfish cake.
     Appetizers run $6-10, entrees; $12.50-20+  for specials.


620 N Glen Iris Drive


             Another mixed use development, Ponce Springs Lofts, has sprouted in Midtown with a smart-looking restaurant with an unfortunately contrived spelling, Re.past’. Let’s hope that, like One Midtown Kitchen in the early days, this restaurant loses its oddly contrived punctuation and capitalization flourishes. 
     Re.Past's chef owner, Joe Truex, hopes that at least some patrons will arrive on foot, which is likely when adjacent City Hall East becomes a block-long village.  For now, a few residents and nearby neighbors appear to have discovered the restaurant, which opened this year on Valentine’s Day.
    The 3,100 square-foot restaurant features an open kitchen, 54 seats in the main dining area, 20 seats in the upstairs lounge, six seats at the bar, and an outdoor lounge area. Although the room is below street level, thanks to grading, big windows give passersby a glimpse inside.  The room might be described as “industrial chic,” with walls one companion dubbed “mushroom,” exposed concrete, an impressive circular multi-light fixture and warm wooden beams above.  It’s comfortable and low-key.
     We visit on a Tuesday night and there are only a few tables taken. Our server was still learning some of the cryptic abbreviations on the small but intelligently selected wine list.  He sent over Chef Truex who explained, with obvious pride and enthusiasm, the process of selecting bottles for their value and variety. Truex is a charmer who hails from
Louisiana, has lived in New York, and whose heritage is French Basque.  The wine we honed in on—Allegrini, a half Amarone blend from Verona—causes him to rhapsodize. It is fantastic—smooth, pruny, pairs well with food—and at $48 a bottle, perfect for three to share.                                   Mihoko Obunai and Joe Truex 3334
    At first glance, the dishes all seem rather redundant—we comment among ourselves that  we’ve seen them before.  Sadly, the gougères, essentially duck fritters, have already been cut from the menu.  We ponder re-introducing them with a less intimidating name (maybe duck fritters will sell?)  Truex steers us to a few signature items as starters:  bacon-wrapped dates, roasted baby beet salad and mussels.  The mussels in a tangy broth made with Sweetwater 420 beer, apple bacon and dissolved goat cheese were a knockout; the housemade olive bread disappears as we dunked hunks. We agreed that although a popular tapa, the honeyed dates are a tad too rich, the bacon not quite smoky enough to cut the sweetness.  The beet salad dressed in a truffle vinaigrette with panko-coated baked chèvre is a bright palate cleanser.
     Among our main courses, the winner was Muscovy duck breast with red wine risotto and escargot confit  that was both lean and luscious.  Truex sources the fish for his jamon-wrapped hake from
Gloucester; its texture is similar to cod or sea bass, and the accompaniments, oven-dried tomatoes, braised artichokes and cannelloni beans provide a lively note.  We found the generous braised lamb shank rather dry that night.  For vegetarians, there’s a daily macrobiotic “composition” prepared by Truex’ wife and partner, Mihoko Obunai (above), who is originally from Tokyo. Before opening Re.past’, Obunai taught at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta.
    rrrDesserts succeed brilliantly:  the Japanese-style soufflé cheesecake is a fluffy marvel topped with whipped mascarpone and plated with bourbon-spiced apples and the delicious chocolate pot au crème is tweaked with burnt orange cream.  Overall, the menu is affordable, with appetizers in the $5-9 range, mains between $18-25 and desserts priced at $6.
      In the coming months, the chef plans to showcase his culinary prowess (he has cooked at the James Beard House in
New York City) with 5-course tasting menus.  But competition is stiff in the ‘hood. As the kitchen gains its footing and the servers build more confidence and polish, my hope is that the place will find an audience.  As someone who lives just over a mile from Re.past’, I look forward to its evolution. Truex is right:  we need more restaurants in walking distance, and after a meal here, we need the exercise.

by John Mariani
Photos © 2006 by Emilie Baltz
a voce9['=['
41 Madison Avenue
       Making your mark as chef de cuisine at a restaurant like Daniel Boulud's Café Boulud is pretty helpful when you get around to opening your own place.
     Thus did Andrew Carmellini build a very large reputation that brought investors to hire him as chef at the new A Voce, one of the brightest new Italian restaurants in a city hardly lacking for another.  What distinguishes A Voce from other recent arrivals is that Carmellini (below) is showing such a deft hand at teaming tradition and personality on every plate, reminding me of the Mario Batali of a decade ago.  Carmellini, who was voted Best New York Chef for 2005 by the James Beard Foundation, has teamed up with restaurateur Marlon Abela of the MARC group, which runs several very tony establishments in London, including The Greenhouse, Umu, and Morton's (a private club), as well as the superb French restaurant Gaia in Greenwich, CT, and the marriage seems to be working out splendidly. Carmellini's résumé also includes stints at San Domenico in Italy, and Lespinasse (now closed) and Le Cirque in NYC, before taking the apron springs at Café Boulud.
      []A Voce's casually chic dining room is built for a youthful clientele, with an outdoor garden section for seating 100 people, and indoors a bar and dining room done in stainless steel, brown and cream lacquers, with walnut floors, upholstered banquettes, and a fabulous installation entitled "Falling Twig" (above) that brings the outdoors in.  One major caveat: The restaurant is as loud as any I've encountered in a while, mainly because there are no soft surfaces to soak up the noise, and, in the fashion of the day, there are not even any tablecloths to help muffle the decibel level.  Oh, how I wish they had tablecloths!  I am told that the management is looking into fixing the problem, but be forewarned that conversation is not easy at A Voce without lifting your voice or using sign language.
      It's a fast-paced place, managed well by maître d' Dante Camarca (who'd also worked at Café Boulud), and the food comes out at a reasonable tempo.  Wine service, under sommelier Olivier Flosse, is admirable too, with 650 selections on the list, heavy in Italian bottlings by about 50 percent, with 64 half-bottles and 30 magnums. Plans are to have monthly wine dinners.  There are plenty of bottles under $50 of note, including Tenimenti Angelini Busillis 2004 at $45, Calera Central Coast Chardonnay 2003 at $39, and Purple Mountain Pinot Noir 2003 at $39.
      There's not much on Carmellini's menu I didn't want to order on sight.  How does one choose among tantalizing prospects like little duck meatballs with a dried cherry mostarda condiment or marinated wild salmon with crunchy vegetables and lemon?  How can one decide among pastas like pappardelle with lamb bolognese sauce touched with mint and made creamy with sheep's milk ricotta, or rigatoni alla pugliese with meatballs made from porchetta (baby pig), with tender chickpeas and broccoli di rabe, or Carmellini's grandmother's meat ravioli with tomato?  Just about everything you start with is delicious, including an array of antipasti like buffalo mozzarella, sweet-sour eggplant, pickled vegetables, and wonderful cured meats.  The grilled octopus with peperonata, chorizo sausage, and lemon is fabulous.]
       There is no lagging in the seafood main courses, from roasted sea scallops with cauliflower and almond sauce to steamed black bass with shrimp polpettini, new potatoes, and a Ligurian shellfish broth. But by all means have one of the lusty meat dishes--good old chicken cacciatore made new, with sweet peppers, crushed potatoes, and basil, or the fennel glazed duck with snap peas, duck sausage and olive sauce. The whole roast veal with celery, fava, and pancetta is served for two, more than steep at $55 per person.
       There are good Italian cheese available, and pastry chef April Robinson, who trained in chemistry before turning her talents to desserts that seem to take good advantage of that science, delivers wonderfully home-like sweets like a roasted pineapple glassato with anise gelato, chocolate amaretti cake with Malaga gelato, a lovely citrus coppa with tangerine ice, sweet vermouth, and a spark of black pepper (above), and big fat bombolini fritters with chocolate sauce.
        A Voce is a very significant addition to the Italo-New York landscape, with food that does not try to be either overly effusive nor too refined.  It tastes like food that Carmellini himself loves to eat, and, apparently, so do the delighted crowds that pack A Voce every night.
       Appetizers at A Voce range from $8-$18, full portions of pasta $17-$21, and entrees $19-$29. The restaurant is open for lunch Mon.-Sat., for dinner, nightly, for brunch on Sunday.

Actor Michael Douglas says that his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is a disaster in the kitchen. Discussing her latest role a a restaurant chef, he said, "It's probably her greatest performance ever because she's playing a chef and can't boil water."

3y                                                                P-TOOEY!
"In the kitchen's most egregious misstep, a beautiful 12-ounce sirloin steak was marred by acrid garlic butter; I actually spit out the bite I took. Because I try not to draw too much attention when I dine out, I did not make a fuss."--Alice Gabriel, "A French Kitchen Fares Well in Transition," NY Times (May 14, 2006).


* From July 10-14 NYC’s Summer Restaurant Week will offer more than 200 restaurants offering 3-course lunches for $24.07 and/or dinner for $35, with select establishments continuing through Labor Day. At a “Restaurant Week Hall of Fame” event, chefs from Aquavit, Barbetta, Brasserie, Café des Artistes, Capsouto Freres, Dawat, Gallagher’s Steak House, The Palm, San Domenico NY, Tribeca Grill, Tropica, Union Square Café, Carnegie Deli, Chin Chin, Delmonico’s Steakhouse, Gotham Bar & Grill, Le Perigord, Mark’s, Mesa Grill, Montrachet, Petrossian, Remi, Shun Lee Palace, Steak Frites, Tavern on the Green, Victors Café, Water Club, and Water’s Edge will be inducted.  For a complete list of Summer Restaurant Week participants visit nycvisit.comfor reservations visit For every reservation made at, a donation will be made to Citymeals-on-Wheels and Share Our Strength.

* From July 13-16, Robert Mondavi Winery celebrates its 40th anniversary with TASTE3, a gathering of 30 professionals in wine, food, and the arts, at Copia: The American Center of Wine Food & the Arts. Participants incl. crystal designer Georg Riedel; restaurateur Drew Nieporent; Archaeological chemist Patrick McGovern; Leo McCloskey, founder and president of Enologix; Marie Wright, flavorist, International Flavors and Fragrance (IFF)/Visionaire TASTE project;  UC Berkeley-based historian Victor Geraci; Margrit Mondavi, et al.  In addition, dinners will be held at Napa Valley wineries such as Harlan Estate, Quintessa, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Rudd and Grgich Hills Cellar; also, 25 alumni of the "Great Chefs at Robert Mondavi Winery," incl. Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, Bradley Ogden, Roy Yamaguchi, et al, and 50 of America's top sommeliers at a dinner July 15, paired with wines from Robert Mondavi Winery's wine library.  $2,350 pp. Visit or call 707-967-3997.

* On July 14, a Bastille Day Celebration  10:00 p.m. will be held at Carafe in  Portland, with a  celebration and the 2nd annual Portland Waiters Race,  live music, pétanque demonstrations, kid’s activities, and a pig roasted by Pascal Sauton of Carafe. Free admission. or call 503-223-8388.

* On July 14 Jean Francois Meteigner of La Cachette in L.A. will feature a 5-course “Parisian Bistro Night” for  Bastille Day. $90; with wine pairing $125. Call 310-470-4992 or visit
* From July 14-16 The Glenlivet Single will host “The Glenlivet Gathering,” incl. a traditional Scottish dinner aboard a classic steam train, a private tour of The Glenlivet Distillery and tasting of stock with Master Distiller Jim Cryle, a hike along the famous Smuggler’s Trail, a fitting for at to wear at a traditional caleidh party) in The Glenlivet’s Malt Barn, Scottish dances and Scottish cuisine. Each traveler will receve  a vintage of The Glenlivet exclusively bottled for guests. Rooms at the Aviemore Highland Resort. $3,500 pp. Visit

* From July 14-16, The Finger Lakes Wine Festival®, supported by The Corning Museum of Glass, will be held, with 80 wineries from  the Finger Lakes region at  Watkins Glen International. The Festival kick-offs on Fri. with the 5th annual toga party, “Yancey’s Fancy Cheese Launch of The Lakes”;   Sat. & Sun.  begins with the Great Western Chardonnay Champagne Breakfast at the Glen Club, while Sat. is topped off with the Tasters’ Banquet. New for 2006 is Finger Lakes Tri-fecta’s final bicycle race, hosted by  Call 866-461-7223, or visit

* On July 15 The Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, OH, and The Chef's Garden™ will hold The 2006 Food & Wine Celebration, a Gourmet Event to Benefit Veggie U, with cuisine and wine tastings while joining more than 20 nationally-renowned chefs at gourmet food stations; Live music and live and silent auction;  Star Chef Cook-Off, with chefs from NBC Bravo TV’s “Top Chef”! $125 per person.  Call 419-499-7500;  visit or

* This summer The Lodge at Sea Island's Chef Johannes Klapdohr invites guests to experience great food, fine wine and good times at “Cook Together” schools. July 7-8 and August 4-5:  Grilling and Smoking;  July 21-22:  Summer Soups and Salads, featuring heirloom fruits and vegetables; Aug. 18-19:  Tailgating Octoberfest-style with lessons on cooking schnitzels, sauerbraten, spatzle, et al.  $850 per night, with a two night minimum, incl. luxury accommodations, a private reception and Wine Cellar dinner at The Lodge with Chef Klapdohr, cooking class with a lunch prepared by participants, “how tos” of wine tasting with Lodge Sommelier Jane Rate, and a monogrammed chef’s jacket. Call 800-SEA.ISLAND or visit

qrqrThis 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,9999 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.


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.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, 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 new Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

6y6My 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. 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

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copyright John Mariani 2006