Virtual Gourmet

September 17,  2006                                                       NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNEROrsay by John Mariani


by John Mariani

      Boston is not what I'd call a crucible of gastronomy.  Little begins here that is afterwards copied elsewhere, and the brief eruption of what was called "New New England Cuisine" in the late 1980s has pretty much vanished, despite the fact that many of the chefs who created the movement are still in town cooking, like Lydia Shire, Jasper White, Gordon Hamersley, and Jody Adams.  The good news is that they are still doing great work, using New England seafood and provender, and that Boston is one of America's first-rate restaurant cities despite its having little that one might any longer consider "indigenous cuisine."
            Happily, the new restaurants of  what was called Beantown (where baked beans are a great rarity) have filled the void very admirably, year by year showing that they can rank with the best in the
U.S. And many of the best of the new ones are outside of Boston. Here are three, two over the bridge in Cambridge, one in the 'burbs.

Royal Sonesta Hotel

40 Edwin Land Boulevard
Cambridge, Mass.

       Opening in a Royal Sonesta Hotel is not the most promising of ventures, and being in charge of breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a tough way to focus one's energies. tttt Nevertheless, on the basis of the quality of cooking I enjoyed at Dante, named after Chef Dante DeMagistris (below), I would certainly say that this is a true foodie's destination. Suck up your prejudices about hotel restaurants, dismiss your initial reaction to going through the lobby, and the oddly disjointed configuration of the restaurant, and sit down to have a splendid meal in a colorful atmosphere that allows the Cambridge sunlight to pour in.
       weThe decor is light and airy, with a sexy, polished stone bar, curved gray booths, very comfortable leather chairs, and interesting backlighted stained glass, with artwork chosen from the collection of Sonesta chairman Roger Sonnabend's wife Joan. The tables are an ash color, topped with mats. The only off-note is the passel of waiters in beaten-up bluejeans who look as if they were off to a B.U. tailgate party  with Wayne and Garth.  Outside there is a charming riverfront patio with umbrellas over the tables (above).
     I only had a chance to have lunch at Dante, but on the basis of what I and a friend had, I would love to go back for a more extensive dinner.  We began with a calamari salad (below) with sweet and sour peppers, cucumbers, and greens buoyed by buttery brioche toast. Salmon tartare, though a ubiquitous dish in and out of the Boston area, needed no help; it was a superb rendition with wasabi-ginger soy sauce, tobiko, baby greens, and more cucumbers.  While hardly traditional, well-made potato gnocchi came with sweet Gorgonzola cheese, roasted peaches, Speck bacon, and a pistachio pesto, which somehow worked, though a little goes a long way.  Housemade spaghetti "a la guitarra" [sic] was delicious, with plenty of bright, sweet crabmeat, guanciale, summer peas, and a lemon-scented crumbs--a great dish.
      For main courses I reveled in the honest simplicity of "chips on fish," a little turn that involved yuzu-marinated hake with potato sticks, shallot rings, and a mix of Italian salad greens called puntarelle--just wonderful. Dante's inventiveness carried over to a veal T-bone that was crusted with coffee beans and served with warm pea tendrils,eeeee sautéed tiny tomatoes, vinegar peppers, and Taleggio.  I'm not sure the coffee did much for the dish, but it didn't detract from the savoriness of the other complementary ingredients either.
     He is equally playful with desserts, which included a refreshing ginger soda with salted caramel mousse and almond wafer, and two overly herbaceous items--aloe vera with strawberries and basil flowers, and bayleaf sorbet with Moscato. Not great.
       Dante is in top form, his cooking evolved from  a few years back when, at Blu in Boston (attached to a spa),  it was fussier, lightweight, and lacked punch.  Now it has power and finesse, brightness and vigor, in a fine balance that makes Dante the restaurant well worth a trek over the Charles River that it happily overlooks.
       Dante is open for breakfast and dinner daily, for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch Sat. & Sun.

242 Harvard Street
Brookline, Mass


       Both Jeremy and Lisa Sewall have deep roots in New England, and Jeremy's go down very very deep.  In 1705, when Brookline, a "Muddy River" hamlet, was incorporated into Boston, Samuel Sewall, son of Judge Sewall (notorious for his part in the Salem witch trials, for which he later apologized) became the first Town Clerk, and it is believed the name of the suburb derived from his family's "Brooklin" lands. Thus, the name Lineage.
       So if anyone is going to understand New England's culinary history, it is Jeremy (below), who has had long experience in top-flight restaurants like L'Espalier  and Great Bay in Boston, the White Barn Inn in Maine, and Lark Creek Inn, California.  I very much admired his work at Great Bay, and I knew, sooner or later, he'd have his own place and his wife by his side.
     Lineage is in Brookline's Coolidge Corner, on a very pleasant main street to which the new restaurant adds color and vitality. The principal color is buttercream yellow, contrasted with dark and blond wood, white linens, and good lighting.  A map (left) of the Sewalls' colonial holdings in  Brookline is set into one wall.  There's a bar behind which is a wood-fired brick oven, and you can eat there and watch them cook up your meal.  It's a casual place with serious food, and the prices, with appetizers running $8-$14 and main courses $19-$32, fall somewhere in between; the quality of all the ingredients is very high, especially the seafood, which Sewall carefully sources from the vast offerings of the North
     iiiiiiiMy friends and I started off with chilled shrimp and a watermelon gazpacho laced with lychee and the zing of jalapeño--all ingredients to tantalize the palate.  Crab and scallion beignets hit the table next and were gone in the blink of an eye. Next came "Cousin Mark's lobster Cobb Salad," which was little more than pleasing (more beignets, please!), and then a gorgeously succulent cod roasted in a wood oven, with Littleneck clams, chorizo, tomatoes, and thyme--a very old New England dish with Portuguese underpinnings.  A meaty crabcake followed with the soft texture of guacamole flavored with lemon pepper and a fine aïoli.
   The winelist at Lineage is well fitted to the tastes on the plate.

Cod cheeks casserole

     Not everything here is seafood, however, and Sewall's roast chicken breast with a wild mushroom ragoût, shallots, and parsley showed as much panache as most dishes I tried on the menu, ending off with lustrous, good old-fashioned butterscotch pudding, creamy and rich, with a nice bittersweet underpinning and  toasty pecans. Also good was a darling chocolate cake with cherries drizzled with golden caramel.
           Lineage is precisely the kind of food any sensible person would want to eat with relish and the kind of unassuming place where you'd want to eat on a regular basis. 
Sewall has done his lineage proud.
     Lineage is open for lunch Tues.-Fri., dinner Tues.-Sun., and for brunch on Sunday.

92 Winthrop Street
Cambridge, MA

      Om sits off Harvard Square in a former music store, with two stories, one a flashy, loud lounge downstairs, and upstairs an almost just-as-loud restaurant (ask for a table overlooking the street, which is a tad quieter). Om is stunningly decorated with Tibetan and Asian art, and owners Bik Yonjan and Solmon Chowdhury pay homage to their own Nepalese ancestry with 5,000 square feet of bamboo floors, wood carvings, Buddhist sculptures, hand-crafted stone walls, linen club chairs, steel mesh curtains, and a light-reflecting waterfall. It's pretty stunning throughout.
      One might have thought, then, that they'd bring over a Nepalese chef (although in my small experience with Nepalese cuisine, he probably wouldn't have a very large menu).  Instead they had the capital idea of hiring one of New England's finest chefs, a nice Brooklyn Jewish girl named Rachel Klein (left), whose previous position at Lot 401 in Providence, Rhode Island, manifested a sensibility and creativity rare anywhere in the U.S, right now. Klein cooks with dazzle, but she never tries to razzle-dazzle you.  Her food has spark, color, wit, texture, and draws from a global network of food sources.
     3tioIf you have a drink in the lounge downstairs (below), hobnobbing with the university crowd, consider
an “Aromatherapy Cocktail” with names like Little Buddha and Vitruvian Muse, which may well induce a touch of nirvana within minutes. Then head upstairs and begin with highly addictive Parmesan-dusted popcorn. The menu changes all the time, but when I was there I enjoyed a radiantly scarlet borscht with smoked potatoes and ginger, an homage to the cooking of her eastern European parents.  Her lovely, velvety parsnip soup with caramelized pears, Madras curry, and coriander is like the best vegetable mulligatawny ever.  She does a first-rate duck confit, with Castilian blue cheese, a pear mustard, Turkish pepper and pine nut brittle. Silky hamachi sashimi comes with a sweet-tangy peach confit, yellow pepper, Thai chili syrup, and pineapple mint and sage.  “Steak & Eggs,” a grilled filet mignon with Yukon potato purée, asparagus, fried truffle egg, and bordelaise sauce, is a rich, decadent, winning K.O.0o
     Klein presents tuna tartare with Korean chili-lime vinaigrette, accompanied by a currant-hibiscus spritzer, pomegranate, and a ginger gelée, which just skirts being gimmicky, and foie gras comes with a delightful p
ecan pie; then there is a "duet" of pork that involves the loin and the braised belly, with an apple mostarda, sweet-sour cabbage, fingerling fried potatoes, and Chinese hot mustard.
       Om's pastry chef has changed since I was there this summer, and Klein has taken over that station too, so I'm pretty sure the sweets will be impressive, as is just about everything at Om,
which is like nothing else in the Boston area right now.
   OM is open nightly till 1 AM, Mon-Fri. for lunch. Dinner appetizers range from $11-$19, main courses $22-$38.


1057 Lexington Avenue
Orsay sits on Lexington Avenue much the way Le Dôme and La Rotonde sit  on the Boulevard Montparnasse, their awnings  and  colored lights  like beacons in the rush of traffic,  their outdoor tables  ever occupied with people who come again and again for the same homey, delectable cuisine traditionelle.
     Named after  a fashionable boulevardier and dilettante in the arts, Count Alfred Guillaume Gabriel d'Orsay, the restaurant is now about four years old, and its owners, 
Jean Dénoyer, Régis Marinier, and François Latapie  have gone through a number of chefs, some content to reproduce favorite bistro dishes, others champing to do much more.  The current chef, a Brit named Jason Hicks, is easily the best Orsay has had, for he shows he has a flair for contemporary French fare while respecting its beloved bourgeois traditions.
       Orsay's main dining room (below) is an enchanting reverie of a place, evoking a true Parisian brasserie sensibility, with mahogany paneled walls, beautiful Italian mosaic tiles, brown leather banquettes with frosted glass partitions, wicker chairs, and Art Nouveau-inspired chandeliers. There is, of course, the requisite zinc-topped bar, and the lace-curtained French doors open onto the sidewalk. There are two floors here, the downstairs dining room seating 145, with a lovely private room upstairs.
      Orsay's winelist is very strong for a restaurant of this type, with 225 labels, ranging from $19 up to $595 for Reserve Bordeaux. Fifteen wines are offered by the glass and a dozen carafes.p]
      Hicks (below) is from the Cotswold of England, but has worked extensively in Europe, Australia, and the U.S., with stints at The Gleaneagles Hotel in Scotland, the Kings Street Café in Perth, Aqua in San Francisco, and in NYC at Aureole and Orsay's sister restaurant La Goulue.  He shows a particular affinity for cooking game, as he displayed at a marvelous dinner built around grouse, which are just now in season.
      My wife and I attended this dinner as well as ordering many other item off the menu to see what kind of range Hicks has.  And it was quite an evening, beginning with
a glass of Heidsieck Monopole NV Champagne to sip with canapés. We climbed to the pretty upstairs room and sat down to a first course of superb langoustines from the Isle of Sky poached simply in lemon butter, and a chilled corn soup with baby pink prawns and black trumpet mushrooms, accompanied by a rich 2004 Les Vergers, F & L Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet Prémier Cru.
      hhhhhkWhat followed was a delicious, traditional "poacher's broth," a consommé that included abundant morsels of 
Buccleuch Estate duckling, pheasant and wood pigeon, Cairngorm Mountain hare, and Strathspey girolle mushrooms,  accompanied by tender carrots and pearl barley.  (All the game was brought in from Scotland through wholesaler Scottish Wild Harvest in Plainfield, NJ.) Also with this course we enjoyed a house-made boudin blanc of chicken, veal, and pork with a pear lentil salad and peach chutney, with which we drank a marvelous 2003 M. Chapoutier Les Méysonniers Crozes-Hermitage.
      And then came the noble red grouse, shot just three days before. (Thank God the days when such game birds were hung until "high" with a rotting stench that increased their gaminess to noxious, distasteful levels are long over!) The grouse came in a pretty iron casserole atop a mirepois of carrots, turnips, radish and pearl onion, with its own jus and bread sauces. We also had a black feather chicken with its own fine flavor, with simply roasted, then mashed potatoes (a great bargain at $24).
     Two formidable wines were served with the main course--a luscious, bricky
1999 Château Gruaud-Larose and a velvety, well-fruited 2000 Olivier Leflaive Pommard.
      In good Scottish fashion, an apple tarte Tatin with vanilla ice cream came with a glass 12 year-old Famous Grouse whiskey, and afterwards cheese.  This following of a sweet with a savory  does not always work, but that evening the cheese was an enchantment, a huge artisanal
round of Tobermory Truckle Cheddar from the Isle of Mull, accompanied by house-made oatmeal  biscuits and a cold a glass of 2003 Les Clos des Paulilles Banyuls.k';'
        It was quite an evening of happy surprises in the match-ups of food and wine, and Orsay will be serving game dinners that will include partridge, pheasant, and wood pigeon as well, throughout the fall at $150 pp. Otherwise the regular menu is always available.

Orsay's Outdoor Seating on Lexington Avenue

     Orsay is open for lunch, Mon.-Sat., for dinner nightly, and for brunch on Sunday.
Appetizers run $8.50-19.50;  entrees $15-45; desserts $8-12. There is a two-course lunch at $24 and three courses $29.50, with a $25 prix fixe menu at dinner from  5:30pm to 6:30pm.



Julie Hunt of Skowhegan, Maine, pleaded not guilty to charges that she showed her daughter and two friends how to make cookies with a laxative in them. The Waterville Morning Sentinel reported that  four 7th and 8th grade students at Carrabec Community School got sick from eating the cookies, which were placed on the teacher's desk with a note that said, "We made these cookies just for you, hope you enjoy them."  The girls were suspended from school.



"Here's the funny thing: The men's rooms [at Agami] have their own sinks; the women's rooms (confirmed by a female colleague) do not. So guys, if you wash up inside the men's room and walk directly to your table, any females observing you passing the communal sinks are going to assume you didn't wash your hands."--Phil Vettel, "
A Tale of Two Sushi Spots," Chicago Tribune (Aug. 31, 2006).


* On  Sept.  21, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wines from Spain will present The Great Match: Wine & Tapas, featuring more than 300 Spanish wines paired with tapas prepared by 11 New York City Chefs including: Philippe Chow (Philippe), Marc Murphy (Ditch Plains), Alex Urena (Urena), Yasuhiro Honma (EN Brasserie), Marco Moreira (Tocqueville) and more. $60 pp, with 100% of all admissions will be donated to Citymeals-on-Wheels to hand-deliver meals to the homebound elderly. Reservations: 1-866-849-8703 or reserve online at  Reservations will be accepted until 3 PM on September 21. No tickets will be sold at the door. Location: Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18 Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.

* On Sept. 19,  Circa 1886 at the Wentworth Mansion in Charleston, SC, will host the 4-course Stoller Vintner Dinner prepared by executive chef Marc Collins , with vintner Bill Stoller in attendance. $85 pp. Call (843) 853-7828 or visit

* On Sept 19 Vito Pelosa of  Aroma in NYC will showcase Piedmont’s other “B” wines, with Nico Conta, one of the founders of Malgra’ winery, presenting his Barberas.  Five wines are paired with typical dishes of the region. $95 pp. Call  212-375-0100. Price: $95.00 per person, plus tax and service.
* On Sept. 20 Vintage Restaurant in Woonsocket, RI, is holding a 5-course Spanish Wine dinner by Chef Brian Counihan.  $70 pp.  Call 401-765-1234.

* On Sept. 28 in Chicago, Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. will hold a charity auction at restaurant TRU with a 5-course dinner with wines. A live auction of 8 lots of truly exceptional wine and lifestyle packages will take place during the dinner. Proceeds to the Village Foundation.  Tix $1,500 pp.  Call 312-482-9996.

* On Sept. 25, Grace restaurant in L.A. will feature rare wines from Grace Family Vineyard and 4-course meal from Executive Chef Neal Fraser, with proceeds going to Hope Net. $300 pp.  Call 323-934-4400.

* From Sept. 25-28, in  celebration of New York Sake Week,  SUSHISAMBA will be offering a 5-course OmaSake menu, featuring sake pairings with a tasting menu of Japanese-Brazilian-Peruvian inspired dishes made with featured sakes.   The annual Joy of Sake event, is the largest sake tasting held outside of Japan, and fittingly, over 250 sakes will be available,  incl. this year’s newly released fall sakes and the winners of this year’s U.S. National Sake Appraisal. Call 212-691-7885.

* From Sept. 26-Oct. 27,  Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach, CA,celebrates the art of sausages and beer with an artisanal Oktoberfest Tasting Menu at The Loft Bistro, with  house-made sausages from Chef John Cuevas. The Oktoberfest Tasting Menu is $55 pp with beer flight ($40 w/o beer). Call 949-715-6420.

* On  Sept. 27, Maximilian Riedel of Riedel Crystal of America will host a Champagne Tasting and Reception to benefit Living Beyond Breast Cancer and premiere the new Riedel Pink “O” Champagne Glass, whose sales benefit the charity.  The tasting will take place at NYC’s  Parea restaurant.  Tickets are $150 in advance/$175 at the door. Call 610-645-4567.

* On Sept. 28 at  NYC’s Tavern on the Green, The Black Culinarian Alliance will pair with 75 aspiring culinary students of color with NYC chefs incl. Anita Lo of Anissa,  Mark Murphy of Landmarc,  Sue Torres of Sueños, Sheron Barnes of Baton Rouge and Mo Bays,  and Arlene Weston from Marrons.  $100 in advance, $125. at door. Visit or  call 1-866-469-8497.

* On Sept. 28 in Chicago, Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. will hold a charity auction at restaurant TRU with a 5-course dinner with wines. A live auction of 8 lots of truly exceptional wine and lifestyle packages will take place during the dinner. Proceeds to the Village Foundation.  Tix $1,500 pp.  Call Julie Dion at 312-482-9996 .

*From Sept. 29-Nov. 12 the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival celebrates its 11th year at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL, spotlighting regional food and wine from New Zealand to Mexico. More than 25 international marketplaces serve tapas-sized portions of regional specialties;  Daily seminars offer tastes of wine and beer; culinary programs feature winemakers and guest chefs at elegant dinners, wine schools, cooking schools and pairings.  More than 100 wineries offer complimentary tastings; guests can sample marketplace cuisine in tasting portions from $1.50 to $4.50;  The Festival Welcome Center, with a Champagne and Sparkling Wine Bar; 250 Disney chefs and guest chefs conduct culinary demos and hostdinners and tasting events; 1,200 wine and beer seminars providing samplings;  the weekly Party for the Senses grand tasting, featuring live entertainment. Call 407-WDW-FEST;

* On Oct. 3, the 10th Annual BROOKLYN EATS presents Brooklyn’s best foods and beverages from more than 55 local restaurants serving tasting portions with international wines, micro-brews, coffee, and Brooklyn sodas, at NYC Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce will award scholarships to hospitality management students from the NYC College of Technology. Tix $95 & $75 pp. Call 866-468-7619 or  visit

* On Oct. 3 Unwind with Wine™, a new wine tasting club, will host its first event, “Six Wines to Devastate Your Friends” with Mark Oldman, author of Oldman’s Guide To Outsmarting Wine and  wine columnist for Rachael Ray Everyday Magazine.  This tasting will also incl.  antipasti by Chef Pnina Peled of Ristorante Cinque Terre at the Jolly Hotel Madison Towers in NYC, where the event will be held. $65 pp.  Visit

* On Oct. 3 McCormick & Kuleto’s will hold is 13th annual Shuck & Swallow Oyster Challenge on the West Plaza in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, with an oyster and wine pairing at McCormick & Kuleto’s. Tickets, available at the door, are $25.00 pp., with  proceeds donated to The Marine Mammal Center.  Call 415-929-1730.


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