Virtual Gourmet

March 11,  2007                                                       NEWSLETTER


                                         Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio at NYC's Stork Club, 1954

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In This Issue

San Francisco Update by Grace Ann Walden

NEW YORK CORNER: Zeytin by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Making the Most of Irish Whiskey  by John Mariani



by Grace Ann Walden

tjyesalt house
545 Mission Street

     When the Rosenthal brothers Mitch and Steven, who after ten years left Postrio, partnered with front-of-the-house dynamo Doug Washington to open their Creole-American themed Town Hall Restaurant, many thought it was the successor to Jeremiah Tower’s long-gone Stars. Now the boys are back with a second restaurant. They found a quirky space on Mission Street, cheek by jowl to several high rises and across the street from Golden Gate University. The space they've named Salt House is long and narrow and formerly housed a printing press warehouse built in the 1930’s. And what a wondrous space! Think exposed white brick, girders, 12-foot windows, and the original hardwood floors.
     The food is contemporary American with twists and tweaks. Start with a selection of oysters, expertly shucked. I tried the Fanny Bays, Miyagis and the Malpeques. But with six or more varieties to choose from we also explored the Buckley Bay and Chelsea gems.  One surprise was the French-Canadian classic roadfood dish, poutine, a plate of crispy potatoes with short rib gravy, topped with Fontina cheese. Being French-Canadian, I’ve tasted the real deal and frankly the fontina is not a good substitute for fresh cheese curds. On the hearty side, the boudin blanc (white veal sausage) was perfect,  aptly accompanied by braised red cabbage and grain mustard.
     My companion and I were most happy with our entrees, succulent sautéed scallops, redolent with Moroccan spices with kohlrabi. I love kohlrabi and think chefs should use it more, especially in winter. A braised lamb shank was velvety and tender. And we couldn’t stop eating the faro grain with Parmesan crust. After all those oysters at the beginning, we only had room to split their praline ice cream Sunday.
     The wine list is great with the food, but my favorite part of the wine experience here is the House Blends on tap, which are poured from taps in 6 oz., 12 oz or 24 oz. bottles.
Appetizers $9-17 Entrees $19-28.

Pres a Viqwer
One Letterman Drive, Building D, Suite 150

     In the Bay Area many restaurants open in San Francisco then branch out to the suburbs. Pres a Vi is a contradiction. The first restaurant from these same owners opened in 2003 in Walnut Creek. One owner, an enophile, called it Va de Vi, which means, “go for wine” in Catalan.
      Va de Vi is the only restaurant that I would drive 35 miles to the East Bay for. Its small plate global cuisine and flights of wine are a compelling reason to put up with the traffic jams to get there. With the opening of Pres a Vi, Catalan for “captivated by wine,” located in the revamped Presidio, the former Army base, San Franciscans have only a short drive.
     Situated in a park-like setting in an
office building, the restaurant has expansive views of the Bay and Palace of Arts.  The ceiling for the San Francisco restaurant (above) resembles the interior of a wine barrel. One design element that wine lovers will dig is the glass-and-wood enclosed cellar adjacent to the main dining room. Diners can visit it to choose their own wine.
      The menu consists of 30-35 small plates, featuring the flavors of France, Spain, Italy, and the Philippines, so sharing allows everyone to try many items in one sitting. And by serving many wines by the glass and taste, as well as having flights pairing three red or white wines, diners are encouraged to try many different wines as well.
       5The executive chef of both restaurants, Kelly Degala, creates some toothsome dishes to delight diners. On two visits we tried just about the entire menu including the lobster bisque, which had the essence of tomalley, with touches of cream and brandy. The oyster spooners present six Kumamotos or Hama-Hama oysters topped with horseradish cream, Anju pepper sauce, the slight crunch of lemongrass, and micro-greens served in Chinese ceramic spoons. The accompaniments were perfect and did not overwhelm the briny little  treasures.
       One don’t-miss dish is the squid ink risotto, topped with sautéed baby squid and enhanced with roasted tomato ragoût. Pork belly lechon adds a twist to this now trendy ingredient by braising it, serving it on rice and garnishing it with sweet-and- sour papaya. One difficult decision is whether to choose between the butter-poached  Maine lobster (above) on spaghetti or Degala’s soy-maple glazed black cod. We solved our problem by ordering both. It was a wise decision. Both were classics of this genre.

Small plates range from $4-$16.

PlumpJack Caféi
3127 Fillmore Street

     PlumpJack Café was launched by Gavin Newsom before he became mayor of San Francisco.  The backing for the café and almost a dozen other projects comes from San Francisco billionaire Gordon Getty.  Their first project was a wine shop, and in the following 15 years their empire has spread to Squaw Valley, the Carneros district in Napa, a winery, two other restaurants, a lounge and a sportswear line.
      The first time I dined at PlumpJack Café about ten years, the chef at the time, Arnold Rossman, prepared a delicious roasted chicken with a natural sauce enhanced with brandy. Several chefs followed over the years, but the food stayed within the California-Mediterranean box.  The current Executive Chef, James Syhabout, is part of the new breed of chefs who have added a very modern twist to cusine. He judiciously employs molecular gastronomy where appropriate, meaning he uses sous-vide and foams and also pairs unique taste combinations.
     I can never pass up crisp pig’s trotters when I see them on a menu. Syhabout, who was born in Thailand, forms the trotter meat into crisp disks and plates them with a sweetbread  farce, a romesco with a grapefruit and anchovy emulsion. As different as this all sounds, the ingredients work to perfection. A more classic combination is foie gras with huckleberries in Acetaia No. 12 Balsamic vinegar. On one visit, I tucked into a pan-roasted breast of capon served with charred chestnut fondant, while my dining companion jealously guarded his domestic Kobe beef culotte, and braised veal cheek with stinging nettles and fingerling potatoes.
      One absolute revelation was the chef’s pistachio and olive oil ganache, which Syhabout later told me he worked on for weeks. It has a molten center and is garnished with a green apple sorbet and a bit of beet syrup. He says he was inspired by a cookie he tried from Pierre Hermé’s shop in Paris--a macaroon filled with pistachio/olive oil. Formidable!
     PlumpJack’s award-winning wine list comprised of more than 400 choices with prices just above retail, is a definite draw for wine lovers.

Appetizers $9-14; Entrees $19-29.

GraceAnn Walden is the restaurant reviewer for KGO radio and a Beard House judge. For 16 years, she wrote a weekly restaurant-news column for the San Francisco Chronicle.On Saturdays she leads history-culinary tours of San Francisco neighborhoods: North Beach, Nob Hill. Check out: or contact her about her tours at


519 Columbus Avenue

    6JK66  Much has been made of the fact that in the last few years the Upper West Side has grown a crop of very good high-end restaurants, but the enduring strength of the area has always been its myriad ethnic eateries and storefronts like Zeytin, which is possibly the best Turkish restaurant in Manhattan.
      Owners Orhan Yuzen and his cousin Ozan Yuzen, both Istanbulians, one from the waterproofing and the other from the construction industry, believed that authentic Turkish food should be displayed in New York (where so many ethnic cuisines get watered down), and three years ago hired Chef Seyfi Urtas to bring that dream to earth on Columbus Avenue.
    Zeytin sits on a busy corner and has large windows overlooking the street, which itself provides a colorful show. Inside the lighting is warm, tables are well set, and the service staff, from hostess to busboy, couldn't be nicer or more helpful. In warmer weather this should be an enchanting cosmopolitan place to dine.
       The menu is just large enough to be well handled  by the small kitchen, and the winelist has about  a dozen Turkish wines worth trying in addition to more international bottlings whose names you're probably  familiar with, but you can easily order many selections for under $35.
      In Turkish restaurants it's always advisable to share, especially with the mezes, and there is a mixed appetizer plate that is an outright steal for $15 ($12 at lunch), containing the chickpea hummus puree of tahini mixed with a judicious amount of garlic and olive oil;
cacik, a refreshing blend of diced cucumber and homemade garlic-yogurt with mint; stuffed grapeleaves with rice, pine nuts, and black currants; and patlican salatasi, eggplant salad with sautéed tomatoes.
      The hot appetizers are wonderful, from very crisp, greaseless calamari to crispy phyllo-wrapped cheese rolls called sigara böreği, filled with Gruyère and absolutely addictive. Best of all are the manti, the classic Turkish pasta dumplings filled with ground lamb lavished with garlic-yogurt and butter and dressed with mint--as good as any I've had in Turkey.524U83
      The spices and seasonings of the Middle East are rife throughout the main courses too, which include the vertically roasted sliced lamb called doner seen in every window of every Turkish eatery everywhere, along with a superbly juicy tavuk adana--skewers of ground chicken with herbs and peppers grilled and served with rice and vegetables.  There is also a mixed grill of meats.  Seafood comes off well, succulent, and flavorful, and hünkar beğendi is an eggplant puree topped with morsels of lamb cooked in a light tomato sauce.
        Do not skip the desserts--baklava and gullac--uniquely delicious at Zeytin, the flakiness of the pastry with the baklava impeccable, the honey sweetness not too sweet, and the thin wafers of gullac with rosewater and fresh pomegranate just exotic and comforting enough to make it a favorite.
       I do not mean to overpraise Zeytin except to say that I've rarely had such an enjoyable time on the Upper West Side and for a lot less money than I've gotten accustomed to paying.  This is true Turkish cuisine, well cooked, well served, and done with obviously care.
       At dinner appetizers runs $5-$15, entrees $14-$25.


Plenty of Options for Saint Patrick’s Day Spirits
by John Mariani

       r2Saint Patrick’s Day should not be an excuse to drink Irish whiskey; it should simply be another occasion. With so many refined examples now available, it seems a shame to save them for an Irish wake or as tot in Irish coffee. Indeed, over the last decade Irish whiskey sales have soared—with annual double-digit growth and 30 million bottles--at a time when other whiskies’ sales are flat or declining.
      The Irish themselves consume about 6 million bottles, with France the next largest consumer, especially since 1988, when Pernod-Ricard bought Irish Distillers Group, a 1966 fusion of Jameson, Powers, and Cork Irish Distillers.
      “Irish” is a grain whiskey, mostly blended, though there are also Single Malt, Single Grain, and Pure Pot Still styles. Unlike Scotch, Irish does not use peat in its malting process (Connemara Peated Malt is the exception), so there is less smokiness in the bottle.
      In the late 19th century more than 150 distilleries turned out more than 400 different brands of Irish, but the industry was crippled by the onset of Prohibition in the U.S.  The spirit’s slow growth after World War II had as much to do with ethnic snobbery as it did with weak grain supplies and lack of marketing money. The whiskey had a niche market among Irish-Americans, while Americans drank other “brown goods” like bourbon, rum, rye, Canadian, and Scotch.
      io564A big boost came with the popularity of Irish coffee--unknown in Ireland or anywhere else until 1942 when first created at the bar at Foynes Dock, where the flying boats docked during World War II, then promoted as a welcoming drink at Shannon Airport. In 1952 American newsman Stan Delaplane (seated at left at the Bar) introduced the beverage at San Francisco’s Buena Vista Bar, where it became famous. A plaque outside the bar tells the story.
      Today all Irish is made in just three distilleries—Midleton (owned by Pernod-Ricard) in Cork, Bushmills in Antrim, and Cooley in Louth (the only one Irish owned). Consolidation brought money and marketing clout to the global market, so that there are now at least a dozen Irish whiskies widely available in the U.S., with prestigious small-batch labels costing upwards of $200.  Yet the average price for a bottle of Irish is still below $25, making them readily affordable.
      Bushmills produces at least seven different whiskies. Its standard “White Label” ($18), is a fine introduction to Irish (Czar Peter the Great declared it the best spirit in Europe.) Its Black Bush ($25), aged in old sherry casks, has been a big hit in the U.S., with a more pronounced maltiness and a near Sherry-like, soft finish.  Their 10-Year-Old Single Malt ($42) competes with the Scotch Single Malts. Made from 100% malted barley, distilled three times, and matured in bourbon barrels for at least 10 years, this has a lively smokiness in the bouquet, with level after level of complex spices and fruit, finishing like velvet on the palate.
     Jameson, the dominant brand in the US market, 
with 2 million cases sold in 2006, dates back to 1780. . I find its basic label ($16) not quite as rich as Bushmills'; I prefer the 12-Year-Old ($42), which shows off nutty, woody flavors, and a pleasant undertone of                                                                                                                               The Bushmills Distillery
   John Power & Sons ($19)--the bestseller in Ireland itself--begins dry, almost severely, but mellows on the palate and takes on nice caramel-like notes, then comes up again with the right heat in the finish, though I find a somewhat medicinal flavor in there too. Though the same 40 proof as most Irish, it has a powerful kick.
     Tullamore Dew takes its name from “Tulach Mhoŕ” (big hill) and the letters of general manager Daniel. E. Dew’s name. The company motto is “Give every man his Dew.”  They make a good basic label ($19) and a 12-Year-Old ($27), while its Heritage ($30), blended from 20 casks laid down in 2000 to commemorate the company’s Heritage Centre opening, is a fine mix of spice, citrus notes, and vanilla from wood aging. It comes only in 70 centiliter bottles, available at duty free shops.
     wrtMichael Collins is named after the beloved Irish political leader, known as the “Big Fellow” (Liam Neeson played him in a 1996 biopic). According to the back of the slender, pleated bottle, “his heroic spirit lives on in Michael Collins Whiskeys,” which, I suppose, has more marketing persuasion than a whiskey named after general manager. The basic spirit ($26) goes through a small copper still whose long neck delays the passage of the spirit, making it more refined, spending a minimum of 8-12 years in old bourbon barrels. The first sip has a real bite at the start, then a softening, elegant sweetness and maltiness on the palate, fading slowly without any harshness whatsoever.
      Then there’s lovable Paddy Old Irish Whiskey, named, inauspiciously, after a company sales rep.  It’s pleasant enough and mild, if lacking in finesse, and is ideal for Irish coffee. And if you can't locate any coffee, Paddy does fine all on its own.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.

"According to experts, one of the hottest travel trends of 2007 will be 'mancations,' or male-only trips where men can bond while doing 'guy stuff' such as fishing or hiking in the great outdoors. In fact, according to a 2006 survey commissioned by the group travel site I'm In! . . . Where better to experience the ultimate in male bonding than in the adventure-filled Grand Teton National Park?  In the heart of rugged yet beautiful Wyoming, and nestled inside Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton Lodge Company offers a variety of accommodations and adrenaline-inducing activities from May through October to fulfill any man's need for excitement. An ideal 'mancation' might include roughing it with the boys on a weekend camping trip at Colter Bay Village, kicking back with a beer-in-hand while taking in the spectacular views at Jackson Lake Lodge, or catching up over a five-course meal at the four-diamond Jenny Lake Lodge."--Press release by Grand Teton Lodge Company.


 In Sacramento, CA, KDND-FM held a water-drinking contest in which contestants chugged as much water as they could without going to the rest room. The prize for the
"Hold your Wee for a Wii" was a Nintendo Wii game console. When a listener to complain that chugging bottles of water could be fatal, to which the station's DJs responded, "Yeah, we're aware of that," and "Yeah, they signed releases, so we're not responsible. We're OK." That day a woman in the contest died from chugging down nearly two gallons of water.

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with two excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  To go to his blog click on the logo below:


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). To go to the site click here.



* On March 17 The 8th Annual Young School Benefit will take place on  at The Winery at Quintessa in in Rutherford, CA, with a  walk-around wine and food stations as a backdrop to an auction of one-of-a-kind wines and entertainment packages, incl. lunch with Wine Spectator Senior Editor James Laube,  dinners with Gourmet Magazine's Gerald Asher in San Francisco,  Restaurant Wine's Ronn Wiegand,  and  Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam Brewery,  a tour of San Francisco's ornately restored City Hall with Mayor Gavin Newsom, and a front row seat at Napa Valley's best fireworks party on July 4. Tix are $75 pp. Call 707-967-9909, Visit

* On March 19 Patsy's in NYC will be celebrating St. Joseph's Day with a variety of special dishes incl. Stuffed Artichokes, Stuffed Mushrooms, Minestrone Soup, Broccoli Rabe, Spaghetti with Anchovies, Stripped Bass Alla Livornese, and Zeppole de San Giuseppe.  Call 212-247-3491.

* On March 21 at Martini House in St. Helena, CA, Chef-owner Todd Humphries and Chef de Cuisine: Christopher Litts a “Wine Geeks and Mushroom Freaks Dinner” with dishes based on mushrooms along with small-production Rutherford wines. $75 pp, with wines, $140. Call (707) 963-2511.

* In Southborough, MA,  Tomasso Trattoria will hold a tasting series on the wines of Piemonte, March 20, April 10 & 24, and May 8, hosted by Wine Director, Lorenzo Savona.  The wines that are presented at the tastings are available for purchase at a substantial discount at Panzano Provviste e Vino for everyone that attends the tasting.  $30 pp for each tasting or $100 for the series of four. Call 508 481 8484.

*    Chef Ron Siegel of The Dining Room at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco has designed a  6-course tasting to showcase his daily shipment of fish from Japan, called the “Kyushu Island Box of Fish Menu” at $105 pp.  Call 415-773-6168 or visit

* On March 22-25, 2007,  at the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa in Lake Placid NY, the Adirondack Festival of Food & Wine will host chefs from around the country for seminars, demos, and to share food and wine, incl. Anton Flory,  American Academy of Chefs; Dale Miller, Jack's Oyster House, Albany; Curtiss Hemm, New England Culinary Institute; Eamon Lee, Century Club, Syracuse; George Higgins, The Culinary Institute of America;Paul Sorgule, Jason Porter, Greg Michaud, and Tim McQuinn of Mirror Lake. On March 23 a 6-course dinner will be held. Call 518-523-2544.

*   On March 22 in Washington, DC, Charlie Palmer Steak is hosting an dinner with Opus One Winemaker, Michael Silacc, prepared by Executive Chef Bryan Voltaggio. $250 pp.   Call 202-547-8100.

* From March 22-24 the 12th annual Miami Wine & Food Festival, hosted this year by chef Marcus Samuelsson,  will be held to benefit Camillus House and United Way of Miami-Dade. Events incl.: Swing & Sip Golf Classic, followed by the evening’s “Taste & Toast” extravaganza, with more than 60 international wineries and gourmet treats from nearly 30 of South Florida’s top restaurants and caterers, incl. North One 10, Two Chefs, Azul at the Mandarin Oriental Miami, Atrio at the Conrad Miami, La Cofradia, Chispa and Escopazzo. $75 pp. in advance of $100 at the door; the “Food, Friends and Fun Interactive Dinner” $250 pp.;  “Bubbles, Bids & Bites Auction and Luncheon,” featuring live and silent auctions,  and  wine lots. $500 pp. Call 305-371-WINE or visit

* On March 23 Hemingway’s in Killington, VT, will celebrate its silver anniversary with a “Cheesey Affair,” a cheese theme dinner with cheesemakers Janine and John Putnam of Thistle Hill Farm in Pomfret. . . On June 1, a dinner based on the book by Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter, Found Meals of the Lost Generation. . . Aug 28, a  farmer's dinner with Vermont Fresh Network. Call 802--422-3886.* From April 11-15 The Taste of Vail announces three celebrity chefs have been selected to participate in the 17th annual event:  Michael Chiarello,  Tra Vigne;  Lee Hefter,  Spago ; Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, Frasca Food and Wine. Also,  54+ wine producers from around the world. Visit, or call 970-926-5665.

*  On March 25, Managing Director David Haskell of L.A.’s BIN 8945, will launch a new monthly "Sunday Guest Chef Series” on the  last Sunday of every month to showcase the work of guest chefs, the first being Ludovic Lefebvre, most recently of Bastide. Lefebvre, along with BIN 8945's Chef Michael Bryant for a  7-course menu at $135 pp, with  while wine guru David Haskell pairing wines  for an additional $65 or $100. Additiional chefs will incl. Sang Yoon of Father's Office, Santa Monica;  Salvatore Marino of Il Grano,  West L/A.;  Call  310-550-8945.

* On March 28 in Charlestown, MA, Copia restaurant Executive Chef Anthony Caturano  will hold a 4-course Super Tuscan wine dinner. $100 pp. Call 617-242-6742; Visit

* From March 28-April 1 the 22nd annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival will feature seminars, cooking classes and winemaker luncheons at various Austin locations, incl. “The Sauvignon Blanc Experience” with Chef John Ash; “Three Sommeliers Take on Texas” with Devon Broglie of Whole Foods Market, Craig Collins of Prestige Cellars, and Scott Cameron of Epicurean Wines;  A reserve tasting of Robert Talbott Vineyards’ Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay; The return of the well-loved “Savor the Hill Country Luncheons” with Mandola’s Estate Winery, Becker Vineyards and Fall Creek Vineyards are paired with a multi-course meal by notable Texas chefs; The Driskill Hotel presents 6 award-winning “Texas Culinary Masters Dinner.”;  “Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting” at the Hilton Austin hotel, with more than 60 restaurants from   across the state   and more than 40 wineries from Texas and the world participate; and much more. For info and tix visit; or call 512-249-6300.


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 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 2007