Virtual Gourmet

October 8, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER

                                                                 LYNN'S PARADISE CAFE, LOUISVILLE, KY

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In This Issue

DINING WITH KIDS by John Mariani

NEW YORKER CORNER: Picholine by John Mariani


Dining with Kidsw4t4w

by John Mariani

   It's never easy.
   And anyone who says it is is probably a liar. Dining out with kids can have its rewards, its educational value, even its  funny moments. But it's never, ever easy.
   Children are naturally ill-tuned to the slow-paced pleasures of a restaurant, although they seem perfectly suited to the ear-splitting, wait-in-line, eat-with-your-fingers diversions of fast food joints.
   Not that I blame them. Children are, by their exuberant nature, fidgety, easily distracted and likely to knock over the crystal wineglasses or drop their food on the carpet. As a matter of fact, whenever I see a child sitting stock still in stony silence at a posh restaurant, I want to take the parents aside and say, "How about letting the kids go play outside while you finish your damn
   I recall my horror when a pompous gastronome of my acquaintance told me proudly of how his 14 year-old son discussed with Paul Bocuse the merits of the great chef's roast duck and even dared to tell him the wine was corked. I wondered what form of torture this poor child had endured to turn him into the kind of persnickety stuffshirt his father purported to be.  I like to think Paul Bocuse stuck his tongue out at the bratty little gourmet.
   As the father of two sons--one now twenty-five, the other twenty-one--I have always believed that bringing children to restaurants (by which I mean any eating establishment above the fast food level) as important a part of their education as memorizing the multiplication tables and learning to throw a fastball. The dining-out experience is crucial to developing social skills and manners as well as exposing them to the wondrous diversity of the world's tastes and flavors. But I am also wise enough through experience to realize that bringing a child to a restaurant is rife with opportunities for disaster. Through trial, tribulation and error, I have learned that all sorts of special parameters must be established in planning a dinner out with the kids with reasonable expectations of having a pleasant, if not easy, night out.  Here are some of the stratagems I've found to work.

1) The Two-Hour Rule: Never bring a child to a restaurant where the meal is likely to last for more than two hours, from sit-down to check-payment. Kids simply cannot be expected to sit still for any length of time beyond that, and for most of them, even that amount of time is an endurance test. When choosing a restaurant, therefore, you should choose a place whose service is fast paced, where seating will be immediate and where the niceties of deluxe dining--little canapés, sorbets to clear the palate, petits fours after dessert--are not going to extend the dinner hour interminably.

2) Warn the Other Side: Always, always make a reservation and ask to speak to the maître d' or manager, telling him that you will be dining with children of such-and-such an age. Ask if that will be a problem for the restaurant (some restaurants really aren't set up in any way for young children). Ask if there are high-chairs or booster seats available, perhaps a place where an infant's diapers could be changed without disturbing anyone. And tell the manager you'd really, really like to be out in under two hours.

3) Feed 'em Right Away: Once upon a time restaurant tables were already set with bread and butter or brought the moment you sat down, a perfectly reasonable tradition based on the assumption that people sitting down to eat would like something to eat pronto. These days, however, the bread and rolls may not hit the table until after you've gone through the process of ordering (the ridiculous assumption being that you'll stuff yourself on bread and not order an appetizer).  Children especially need fuel early on, and by six o'clock they are ravenous and their blood sugar is plummeting. Therefore, frequent restaurants where there is something to them immediately to nibble on or ask the busboy to bring it on ASAP.

4) Eat Ethnic: Granted a lot of kids can't stomach anything beyond peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and French fries until they turn eighteen, but you owe it to them to try to educate their palate. And I've found that ethnic restaurants with plenty of finger foods are a good way to get them interested. Italian, Mexican and Chinese restaurants are particularly good for this kind of persuasion. In the case of Chinese and Mexican restaurants, there's always the requisite nibbles brought to the table within seconds of your arrival--either crispy Chinese noodles with cloyingly sweet duck sauce or corn chips with salsa. In the case of Italian eateries, there'll always be a good loaf of bread and some breadsticks. Kids are always ravenous the minute they sit down at a restaurant, so you've got to be fueled up or they flop and get ornery.;[p

   Much as I hate that tacky Chinese-American assemblage called the pu-pu platter, it does entertain the kids while getting them to try shrimp, chicken, dumpling and other items. And they will probably move up to General Tso's chicken, maybe even steamed whole fish--especially if you offer to eat the eyeball if they try the fish.  My younger son learned to love frogs' legs at a Thai restaurant because he thought they were chicken legs (no, I did not tell them they were!). And my older son started off a passion for sushi at a Japanese restaurant by popping one of the California rolls in his mouth on a dare from his brother.

5) Ask for Mom: On numerous occasions I've found that restaurants run by mom and pop are usually extremely gracious to children. I recall one instance while traveling in Italy with a  15-month-old son who had sapped our energies for the entire day. We stopped at a trattoria outside Turin run by a family whose daughter immediately swooped our son up in her arms and took him into the kitchen to feed him. As my wife and I enjoyed our wine and several courses of good Piemontese food, we heard nothing but laughter and sing-song Italian coming from the kitchen. It was a night I recall with enormous fondness, and one that convinced me that children do belong in restaurants, especially when they're made to feel welcome by the owners.

\6) Order Everything: Perhaps the best piece of advice I can impart is to order a whole lot of different dishes from the menu, allowing no more than one choice of their own per child. I've found that by loading up the table with a number of dishes--especially finger food items--that the kids invariably taste them and end up liking three out of four of them. There's something about the aroma of good food when they're hungry that sparks them to try the little brown crispy thing or the goopy white stuff that smells nice. More than once my sons have tasted the teeniest-weeniest morsel of something like fresh tuna with black peppercorns or pork chops with vinegar peppers and begged to exchange their plates for mine. One of my sons even discovered he liked caviar, though within a year he hated it again.

6) Let 'em Go!: In picking restaurants I've tried hard to choose those whose location allows for my kids to get up and leave the table and wander around safely in the garden, on the lawn or along the water. I would often eat in the dining room of the hotel we stayed at because the children could leave the table and go upstairs to watch television. I have a casual agreement with my sons that if they behave themselves for the first two courses, they may scram as of dessert. And believe me, they'd rather miss dessert in the dining room in favor of a cartoon  and a Milky Way from the minibar.

7) Try the High Road. . . Once: You're never going to convince your children that experiencing the grandeur of a great restaurant is going to be good for them, but I think that you should at least once bite the bullet and drag them to a deluxe dining room where they will be expected to behave.   I wouldn't make this venture too early in their lives--although girls are probably ready for it long before boys--but when you sense that you might just be able to pull it off, prepare them (and the restaurant) at least a week in advance and on a day when they don't have better things to do (like hanging with their friends at the galleria). Tell them what they're in for and say you expect them to do their very best to stay quiet and awake, without too much rocking back and forth, tipping over glassware or insulting each other when the waiter's around.
   I've found that the experience can reinforce some of the civilizing traits you have attempted to instill in them outside of the restaurant experience and that they may even discover that the experience was neither loathsome nor unappealing. Just don't try this too often.jujjj

8) . . . Or Try the Low Road:
   Threaten to boil them alive if they don't behave.

    In the end, I really do believe that restaurants are places where children can learn to behave, pick up some manners and be part of something very special. The look of sheer delight on my sons' faces when they tasted their first real French baguette in a Paris bistro is still bliss to me. And I shall never forget when my younger son, then just seven years old, tasted his first piece of papaya at a restaurant in Maui. His eyes widened, he gulped, he wiped his mouth and announced, "Dad, you could lie down in this stuff!"

by John Mariani


   For thirteen years Picholine has been the best restaurant on the Upper West Side and easily the most serious about its cuisine and service, thanks to chef-patron Terrance Brennan (below), who also runs Artisanal in midtown. Both restaurants have made a very high reputation for their devotion to cheese service (Artisanal has more than 250 and sells them on premises and through mail order.)uii
     But Brennan has always been a chef of the first rank, and his menus have never betrayed a style that is sophisticated, tasteful, and very cosmopolitan. Restaurants like Picholine (which refers to a French olive) could exist in other cities, but it fits into the Lincoln Center-Central Park neighborhood with the same panache as does the far older Café des Artistes.
     Recently Brennan closed the restaurant for three weeks for a total re-do, replacing the once-homey gingham checks and medieval tapestries with cool gray tones and a wine colored, patterned carpet, retaining the beautiful chandeliers and making the lounge (below)very sleek. I think the dining room could use more color--gone are all tapestries and paintings--but it is a very elegant room amidst a sea of  casual eateries on the Upper West Side.
    Suits and ties on the waitstaff do not, apparently, encourage male guests who wear what they damn well please, which brings the ambiance down a few pegs, and I wouldn't make a reservation before 8 PM, lest you get run over by the pre-theater crowd on their way to the concert or ballet.
      Once seated after 8 PM, everything is in calming balance again, and first thing you do is to peruse the 600-selection winelist overseen by wine director and g-m Jason Miller. Then come an array of fine breads; curiously enough there are no olives--picholines or other--set on the table to nibble.  Those tables, by the way, are dressed with very good linens and napery, thin wineglasses, and fine silverware--all three fast disappearing from newer, edgier dining rooms, alas.3f
     Those who deplore the demise of haute French cuisine are clearly misinformed, and Picholine is one of many thriving examples that prove the opposite: French haute cuisine is found throughout America, even if the very formal trappings of places like L'Orangerie in Los Angeles (due to close in December), Maisonette in Cincinnati (closed earlier this year), and La Caravelle in New York (shuttered last year) are no longer in fashion. At Picholine you might begin 
sea urchin pannacotta with a chilled ocean consommé and osietra caviar--the kind of dish that takes enormous focus to bring off well--or a poached egg en cocotte with polenta, braised pork belly and truffled toasts, which would make as good a breakfast as appetizer for dinner.
      Sautéed sweetbreads with vegetables à la Grecque and a mustard-raisin emulsion was something quite novel, while sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi with Gulf shrimp, chanterelles, and a parsley pistou was good but too overloaded, as French renderings of gnocchi invariably are.
     lllllThe fish courses included wild salmon lightly smoked, with a warm salad of Provençal vegetables in a hot oil, and a well-turned black sea bass with fennel marmalade, panisses, olives and orange.  Squid ink linguine added little to sea scallops and calamari, but the chorizo ail and paella broth certainly lifted the dish. Very delicious indeed was warm lobster with chanterelles, rhubarb, and a vanilla brown butter that hearkens back two decades to the days of la nouvelle cuisine. Pompano is not a fish I find travels well above the Mason-Dixon Line, but the grilled version at Picholine was very good, with avocado, watercress and a ginger-lime vinaigrette.
     We moved on to meat dishes, first a Scottish red-legged partridge of good flavor with parsnip "French toast" and a chocolate-huckleberry sauce a tad too sweet.  Buffalo medallion with patatas bravas and pimenton de la vera had real taste, which buffalo often misses, but the surprise of the evening was a dish I thought sound cloyingly bad: a take on chicken Kiev, with braised lobster mushrooms and "liquid foie gras."  Just thinking of liquid foie gras oozing out of the chicken made me wince, but in fact, that is what classic chicken Kiev is, except with butter under the skin instead of duck fat. Well, it turned out to be a really glorious dish--extremely rich, of course, but of such wondrous flavor from both the bird and the foie gras that it became one of my favorite dishes of the year.;;
     Of course we had to have cheese from Max McCalman's magnificent selection, and we were extremely pleased with them, even if service of cheese in the U.S. always seems to take twice as long as it does in Europe.
       Not enough cheese?  Order the yummy cheesecake ice cream sandwiches with a trio of dipping sauces. Warm caramel was poured over an apple studded buttered brioche, with apple salad and salted caramel ice cream. A passion fruit cannoli with coconut tapioca and exotic fruit soup was refreshing, and a chocolate soufflé with candied pine nuts didn't seem to need fennel ice cream,  For those who like desserts with peanut butter and jelly, they have one here (which I passed on).
                                             The lounge at Picholine

    Picholine seems re-energized in its new decor, and so does Brennan, whose interests beyond its walls sapped some of the pleasure of going there. But, along with
with Chef de cuisine Craig Hopson, he's here now most of the time and cooking better than ever, keeping the flame lighted for French cuisine of a very high level, even if it is infiltrated with great ideas from other food cultures.

      Picholine offers two menus at dinner, two courses at $64, with each additional course $14, and a seven-course tasting menu at $115. The restaurant is open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner, and on Sun. for dinner only.
Address: 35 West 64th Street; Tel. 212-724-8585.


"True to its family-style roots, San Gennaro's shows a confident hand with pasta dishes: We especially liked the rigatoni Bolognese ($15.95) for one, with its chunky sauce and al dente pasta. A close second: gnocchi with pesto ($14.95 for one). But I wish the lasagna ($15.95) was just a little more vertically impressive -- I don't like my lasagna close to the ground.--Charles Passy, "San Gennaro," Palm Beach Post.


In Gary, Indiana, an ice cream shop is serving a flavor called "Cold Sweat" with three kinds of peppers and two hot sauces that is so hot customers must sign an agreement before tasting it. The owner says he created it for his Hispanic customers.

*On Oct. 10,  J. Emanuel Chocolatier will launch a chocolate wine truffle line with a wine and chocolate tasting at and Bacchus Bacchus Wine Made Simple shop in NYC.  Third generation chocolate maker Tad Van Leer will  speak.  Tastings at 6 PM, 7 PM and 8 PM. $30 pp (includes a Riedel crystal wine glass). Call 212-875-1200 or visit

* In NYC on Oct. 12 “Spain’s 10” chefs, incl. Chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, Juan Mari Arzak of Arzak,  Martín Berasategui of Berasategui, Alberto Chicote, Paco Roncero, Quique Dacosta, Dani García, Enrique Martínez, Joan Roca, and Paco Torreblanca, will kick off in partnership with ICEX (Spanish Foreign Trade Institute, Foods & Wines from Spain) with a gala dinner prepared by 7 of Spain’s most innovative chefs to benefit the James Beard Foundation. With ICEX, on Oct. 13 in NYC the International Culinary Center will celebrate its grand opening and exciting new curricula, with an inaugural Summit to herald Spain, to unite who will give culinary demos on Oct. 14 at Guastavino’s, with Spanish wine seminars  led by  Steve Olsen and Doug Frost. A marketplace celebrating Spain’s finest foods and wines will be open. $300 pp. Visit or call 1-877-SPAIN10.

* On  Oct.  16,  The Arc of Hunterdon County will hold held its 14th gourmet food and wine tasting, "A Taste of Generosity," at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse, in  Hampton, NJ. Co-host and Chef H. Edwin Coss of The Milford Oyster House  has invited some of the region's top chefs to prepare tasting portions of signature dishes, joined by Chef Ed Brown of NYC’s The Sea Grill.

* On Oct. 23  the 14th Annual “Feast With Famous Faces” will be held at NYC’s Pier 60 Chelsea Piers, to benefit the League for the Hard of Hearing.  Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, will join restaurant chairman Vincent Scotto of Gonzo and  40 restaurants serving their signature dishes;  co-chairs Kassie and Jim DePaiva, joined by other cast members and fellow stars from TV’s “One Life to Live,” ”All My Children,” ”As the World Turns” and “The Guiding Light,” will also be on hand, along with  TV news anchor Jim Ryan and 40  newscasters; also, a grand raffle and parallel silent auction; corporate sponsors include Moët Hennessey, and Wine Spectator magazine. VIP tix $500 pp; general admission $350.  Call Susan King, at 917-305-7804, or write:

* On Oct.25 Jefferson Wilkes of J. Wilkes winery will be at 62 Main in Colleyville, TX, for a 4-course dinner prepared by chef/owner David Mcmillan. $110 pp.  Call 817-605-0858. Visit

* Beginning Oct. 26 , Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker of   Park 75 Restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta will prepare a series of  8-course dinners paired with French wines for 9 diners seated at the Chef's Table.  Philip Verre, Deputy Director of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, is  host for the evening, offering  lessons of history and culture about the High Museum’s exhibition, Louvre Atlanta, concluding with a private, after-hours tour of the Louvre Atlanta exhibition, with round-trip transportation to the exhibition in a 2007 Mercedes G-Class. $500 pp. Call  404-253-3840.
* From Oct. 26-Nov. 19 in Washington, DC, Cirque de Soleil celebrates "Corteo," a joyous Italian procession, and Savino Recine, chef/owner of Primi Piatti will offer a 3-course menu before and after the show, priced at $35 pp. Additionally, Recine has created a specialty flaming lemon beverage, The Dancing Clown, presented and ignited tableside. Call 202-223-3600.
* From Oct. 26-Nov. 2 Adobo Grill in Chicago will celebrate Dia De Los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” with special menu offerings, demos by Sugar Skull Artist Miguel Angel Quintana at both locations and a cooking class by Chef/Partner Freddy Sanchez at the Wicker Park location. Reservations for the cooking class are required, and can be made by calling 773-252-9990 or visit

* From Oct. 26-29 The Scottsdale Celebrity Chef Golf & Spa Invitational presented by Bon Appétit magazine will feature chefs Tom Colicchio, Ming Tsai, Todd English, Bradley Ogden, Ted Allen, and Amy Sacco.Visit or call (888) 383-8472.

* From Oct. 27-30, the 4th Annual Bermuda Gourmet Getaway will be held, with cooking demos, wine seminars, and  food tastings. Led by host Bobby Flay, attending chefs incl.: John Besh of Restaurant August and The Besh Steakhouse ,New Orleans; Robert Gadsby of Houston and LA’s Noé;  Jean-Louis Gerin of Greenwich, CT’s Restaurant JEAN-LOUIS; Christopher Lee of Striped Bass in Philadelphia; Alexander Smalls of NYC’s Smalls & Company; Katy Sparks of NYC’s Great Performances;  Jeff Tunks of Wash, D.C.’s DC Coast and Ten Penh; Jeff Tenner of Boston’s Legal Sea Foods; and Johnny Vinczencz of Ft. Lauderdale’s Johnny V.  Activities incl.: V.I.P. Reception; Bermudafest, Viking Village, with foods and products distinctive to Bermuda; Grillin' & Chillin'; Chef & Winemaker dinners; Taste of Bermuda Champagne Brunch; Friends of Beard Gala Benefit Dinner; Bermuda Culinary Development Fund (BCDF) Golf Tournament. Packages start at $1,498 pp. Call 1-800-BERMUDA; Visit


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