Pan Am ad for Hawaii by Flying Boat circa 1940
Returns and The Wauwinet Re-Opens on Nantucket
YORK CORNER: Craftsteak New York by John Mariani
Restaurant Magazine Gives Awards to
the 50 Best Restaurants in the World by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Fat Bastard Is Now Joined by Mad Dogs & Englishmen by John MarianiQUICK BYTES
Springtime Returns and The Wauwinet Re-Opens on Nantucket
by John Mariani
A bumpy drive from Nantucket town takes you to the seclusion of the Wauwinet, whose historic
Today, with its beautiful polished wood floors and tufted chintz banquettes, its golden lighting and breathtaking view of the water, it has the charm of a 1950s movie wherein Cary Grant might take Deborah Kerr to dinner.
It would not be difficult to fall in thrall with The Wauwinet at any time of year even if it did not have a fine restaurant, but it only opens seasonally, and May 1 was the kick-off for 2007. Its 34 rooms and cottages are cozy rather than capacious, lovingly decorated in individual styles, fabrics, Pratesi linens, and wallpapers; odd then that the bathrooms are so rudimentary, the given reason that the original configuration of the building precluded expansion in that area.
The greeting from a young international staff is endearing, modern amenities like wireless Internet access, 200 DVDs, and Ipods provided for those long walks along the beach are very welcome, and there are all sorts of charming little touches like the service of Port and cheese in the afternoons, lemonade in the summer and apple cider in the fall in the Library, and fleece blankets in which to cuddle in those deck chairs facing the ocean. Indeed, you can happily zone out here and do absolutely nothing to your heart's content, or you can join any of the Inn's myriad activities, which include a cruise on The Wauwinet Lady, and a day of lobstering, an extensive tour of the remarkably diverse Great Point Wildlife Refuge (below) in a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and some exotic bird watching. There are also surfcasting expeditions for the mighty blues and striped bass, and the Siasconset Natural History Excursion, in a 1946 Ford Woody Wagon, during which Captain Rob McMullen takes you to 'Sconset fishing village and regales you with stories of the island's history dating back to the 1700s.
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
I have returned periodically to The Wauwinet on Nantucket for good meals, even fine meals, but only on my last visit to its restaurant, Topper’s, did I experience a truly superb one, thanks to new chef David Daniels, who also gives cooking lessons at the inn. The dining room (below) is very lovely, with its period furniture and artwork, and Chef David Daniels' menu teem with the bounty of New England farms and fisheries--Island Creek oysters with American Caviar and frozen green apple juice; baked Nantucket Bay scallops basted with butter and set with smoked bacon, in an emulsion of Parmesan cheese; creamy lobster soup dotted with pickled ramps, graced with corn foam; and brown sugar crème blur with a raspberry “roll” and chocolate cookie. Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
Daniels (left), who is self-trained, comes from Boston’s The Federalist in the XV Beacon Hotel, and he continues to exhibit a sure hand with New England provender and seafood, amply displayed at a recent dinner at Topper’s. We began with a “Symphony of Caviar”—osietra, sevruga, and American sturgeon, and a gorgeously roasted whole foie gras with tropical fruits and a seductive coconut caramel. A terrine of foie gras was glazed with maple syrup, served with cinnamon brioche and butternut squash emulsion. Roasted frogs’ legs came bathed in brown butter, and the lobster bisque here is nonpareil. Homey but sublime was his truffled rigatoni with melted Gouda, Gruyère, and a Pouligny chèvre fondue.
The best main course was pan-roasted venison, with a delightful, faintly sweet cocoa caraway glaze, and purée of sweet potatoes; almost its match was roasted duckling with caramelized endive, farro risotto, and a black fig jus. We ended with a frozen lemon soufflé with blackberry sauce and warm chocolate fudge cake of daunting richness.
Our accompanying wines, including a ’98 Mount Eden Chardonnay and ’00 Clos Vougeot, were from a list of more than 1,200 labels—one of the finest in the nation, but very pricey.
There is also a casual terrace restaurant here in the process of updating.
Nantucket, which is reached by ferry or plane (the TV series "Wings" took place at the Nantucket Airport), is just near and far enough to seem wonderfully out of the way, as different from the beach scenes in Florida as Big Sur is from Malibu. You come here for peace and quiet--despite the hordes of tourists who descend on the island in summer--and The Wauwinet provides both those virtues along with the salient addition of having some of the finest cuisine and wines in New England.
The Wauwinet, on Wauwinet Road (508-228-0145) is open from May 1- mid October 2007. Topper's is opne for lunch and dinner daily. A la carte dinner appetizers run $18-$30, and entrees $30-$55.
NEW YORK CORNER
85 Tenth Avenue
First of all, the place is stunning looking--the former premises of the 95-year-old Frank's, now relocated around the corner in Chelsea Market--done over by Bentel and Bentel (they did The Modern and the new Insieme), with a sexy use of shadow and chiaroscuro. There is a dramatic two-story glass wine tower, a slate bar, trestle-like pillars, plenty of space between tables, and comfortable banquettes, although, in the style of the original Craft, there are no tablecloths, a design statement that is really a masquerade for being chintzy.
The staff is excellent, cordial and. . . well meaning. But there were plenty of problems from the get-go: First, I ordered a margarita that came without any discernible Cointreau in it; I sent it back. The second attempt was only passable.
I opened the winelist to find it difficult to find any red wines I wanted to drink under $100, an observation I mentioned to the sommelier, who acknowledged the number of wines at $150 and up, which is perhaps why, on the night I visited, few other tables seem to have ordered a full bottle of wine, contenting themselves instead with glasses of wine, with the cheapest--a rosé--going for $11. I settled for a pleasing Remelluri Rioja that, at $70, was actually quite fairly priced. One of the reasons for the $100+ wines is, I am told, that in high-end steakhouses like this, few people order anything less, so they don't stock many. Fair enough.
They brought good fluffy, yeasty Parker house rolls, and the the kitchen sent out some pleasant hamachi and mackerel, though I didn't get the point of some odd crystals I was told was (I think) dehydrated Serrano ham, an idea that made no sense, especially in a New York steakhouse. Much worse was a shrimp cocktail that came out ice cold, which had the effect of blunting any flavor this already chewy, overcooked crustacean might have had to begin with. And at $18 it was not cheap.
There are a couple of pastas on the menu, which included good if unexceptional and messily presented raviolini, and a plate of mushy gnocchi. Onion rings ($10) were nonpareil--crunchy, sweet, and tasting of onion, not batter; hen-of-the-woods mushrooms were all right, nothing more.
But O.K. you come to a steakhouse for the steaks, and Craftsteak is trying to forge a novelty in that overworked genre by offering 13 different cuts, a conceit that confuses what has always been a very simple choice of options--sirloin, ribeye, porterhouse, maybe a T-bone, or filet mignon. Here you have to choose among 18-ounce strip steaks that have been aged either 28, 42, or 56 days, the price rising with the age ($49, $52, and $55). Then there is a 12-ounce New York strip from California ($39), a grass-fed Hawaiian strip at $52, a 6-ounce and a 10-ounce filet mignon from Kansas ($32 and $45), an 8-ounce flat-iron steak at $32, a Nebraska 20-ounce T-bone at $64, and wagyu-style cuts from Idaho, California, Texas, and Japan. Got all that? Really, now, has anyone ever gone to a first-class, high-priced steakhouse wondering or caring what state his beef comes from? It's all very confusing, not unlike the original Craft's menu upon opening several years ago when the customer had to mix and match categories that had to be explained at length by the staff.
Ah, but what if those myriad cuts were in fact stunningly different in flavor, just as a ribeye is from a filet mignon? Then, perhaps Craftsteak would truly be distinguished among old-fashioned competitors like Spark's, Smith & Wollensky, The Palm, and so many others around town--especially at a time when obtaining USDA Prime beef of any kind is getting tougher, and dry-aged Prime nearly impossible. I was baffled then when, having ordered the 56-day strip steak--which I expected to taste like those magnificently intense, beefy, dry-aged, rigorously charred steaks of 30 years ago one could only find in certain New York steakhouses--I got a piece of beef that tasted barely aged at all. For one thing the beef's exterior had not even acquired a char, an omission explained early on when Craftsteak opened with a zillion-dollar kitchen using griddles followed by roasting in an iron pot, instead of the conventional broilers used everywhere else. I believe the cooking process at Craftsteak has since been changed, but when I complained to the chef de cuisine, Damon Wise, about the lack of charring, he said, "We're working on it."
Beyond that the beef simply wasn't particularly flavorful, certainly not like steaks I might have had elsewhere in New York that evening. A 6-ounce filet mignon, never the most flavorful cut to begin with, had little to recommend it either. I am a latecomer to the early chorus of New York food critics who have declared much the same thing about the cooking and flavor of the beef at Craftsteak, so I'm surprised they haven't fixed things.
Desserts were awful: Banana pie didn't taste much like banana, and peanut butter pie tasted far too much like a cloying mess of peanut butter.
I have not, as yet, mentioned that Craftsteak is a clone of the first one in Las Vegas, where I found the food quite admirable a year or so ago, and that it is a production of the increasingly active Tom Colicchio, former chef-partner at Gramercy Tavern. Having opened Craft, then another in Dallas, with others to come in Atlanta, and L.A., a casual Craftbar in NYC, and a few 'wichcraft sandwich spots, Colicchio has a lot on his plate, not to mention that bombastic TV show "Top Chef." He doesn't pretend, however, to be cooking in them all, and the chances are good that if you're in New York, and he's in New York, you'll find him at either Craft or Craftsteak.
Having once debated Colicchio about the problems of absentee chefs who are busier developing new projects than overseeing firsthand the problems of one or the other, I find it hard to believe what he said that day about how vigilant management is at his restaurants and about having cooks who have worked with him for years and years. Such commitment, he said, makes inconsistency negligible. At the time of my visit to Craftsteak NYC, Chef Wise said he'd only come aboard at Craftsteak four days before, but he's been working with Colicchio's restaurants for yeras. The problems at Craftsteak are not, however, solely in the inconsistency but in its promise to give guests the kind of impeccably cooked steaks that will forever change their minds about the taste of beef. What I tasted only made me want to go around the block to Frank's or to Valbella's or the Old Homestead or to head uptown to the original Palm and order a 16-ounce strip steak, well-charred on the outside, medium-rare within, as juicy as can be, with every morsel mooing.
Update: I spoke with Colicchio this morning, and he says that, since my recent visit, they have changed some of their suppliers and he is much happier with the current quality and taste of the beef. He also said that he believes a real charring of a steak's exterior results in a burnt taste, and that is the reason he roasts his beef at high heat.
I will, therefore, be going back to Craftsteak at some point to see what differences--and distinctions--the restaurant is capable of. Colicchio didn't get this far in his substantial career to play second fiddle in the steakhouse sweepstakes.
Restaurant Magazine Gives Awards to the 50 Best Restaurants in the World by John Mariani
The London-based Restaurant Magazine has announced its annual awards for the 50 best restaurants in the world (www.worlds50best.com), based on votes by 651 voting panel members from every region around the globe. (I headed the North American panel). Rules allow for only two of the five votes by each panel member to be within a home region. France this year had 12 restaurants in the top 50, the USA has 8, the UK 7, Spain and Italy 6 a piece, and Australia 2.
1 El Bulli, Spain
2 The Fat Duck, UK
3. Pierre Gagniaire, France
4 French Laundry, USA
6. Bras, France
7 Mugaritz, Spain
8. Restaurant Le Louis XV, Monaco
9 Per Se, USA
10 Restaurante Arzak, Spain
11 El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
12 Gambero Rosso, Italy
13 L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, France
14 Hof van Cleve, Belgium
15 Noma, Denmark
16 Le Calandre, Italy
17 Nobu, UK
18 Jean-Georges, USA
19 Hakkasan, UK
20 Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, France
21 L’Astrance, France
22 Can Fabes, Spain
23 L’Ambroisie, France
24 Gordon Ramsay, UK
25 La Maison Troisgros, France
26 Le Bernardin USA
27 Martin Berasategui, Spain
28 Le Gavroche, UK
29 Le Cinq, France, Paris
30 Charlie Trotter's, USA
31 Dal Pescatore, Italy
32 Daniel, USA
33 Rockpool, Australia
34 St. John, UK
35 Chez Dominique, Finland
36 Alinea, USA
37 Bukhara, India
38 DOM, Brazil
39 Oaxen Skärgårdskrog, Sweden
40 Chez Panisse, USA
41 Enoteca Pinchiorri, Italy
42 Cracco Peck, Italy
43 L’Arpege, France
44 The River Café, UK
45 Oud Sluands, The Netherlands
46 Combal Zero, Italy
47 Le Quartier Francais, South Africa
48 Taillevent, France
49 Bocuse, France
50 Les Ambassadeurs, France
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Fat Bastard Is Now Joined by Mad Dogs & EnglishmenJohn 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.
by John Mariani
The Click Wine Group, which has grown their Fat bastard line into the third best-selling French brand in the
“If we don’t evolve, we run into trouble,” says the company Founder and CEO, Peter Click, 46, “We are consumer driven, and just five years ago only 11 percent of
Put 25 pounds on David Letterman and you’ve got a pretty good facsimile of Peter Click. He also shares the comedian’s irreverence for the establishment. Over dinner at a Mediterranean-style restaurant in
“When we started Fat bastard in 1997 we wanted it to be fun, easy to drink, consistent in quality, and sell for around $10.” The white label, with a squatting, smiling hippo, took its name not from Mike Meyer’s Scottish fat man in the movie “Goldmember” (which came out in 2002) but from French winemaker Thierry Boudinaud’s remark that the chardonnay was a “fat bastard.”
Scoffed at by the wine press, Fat bastard sold only 2,500 cases in its first year, then 60,000 within three years, then doubled sales every year since. “Wine store owners really pushed the wine as something of quality and price value,” says Click. “We could feel the consumer pulling it off the shelf. But if Fat Bastard was just a gimmick with a funny name, the consumer would have gotten tired of it. They obviously haven’t. And today 22 percent of it is sold in restaurants.”
Click was definitely not to the vineyard born: He is a Coloradan trained in corporate finance, which he found boring, so in 1985 he cashed in and bought a ticket on Air New
Click stayed in Australia for six month, then returned to the U.S. in 1986, took a job as wine buyer for a restaurant, and a year later founded Click Wine Group in Seattle, overseeing about 30 wines; the company now has more than 50, from nine producers around the world.
For the new Global Wine Collection, Click buys no bulk wine, instead giving winemakers parameters of texture, finish, and ratio of acids and tannins. The Collection now includes Root:1, a cabernet sauvignon from Chile; 2up, a shiraz from Australia named after a popular pub game there; Mad dogs & Englishmen, a blend of 50% monastrell, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, and 20 percent shiraz; and Clean Slate, a German riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer district. This last won a Double Gold medal at the 2006 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Labeling, Click insists, is crucial to marketing wine on a large scale today. “A label should say, `Try me.’” This he learned the hard way when he produced an Italian wine named Bootleg that came shrink-wrapped with a zipper on the bottle (left). “People couldn’t see the liquid in the bottle. It flopped.”
Clean Slate comes in cardboard cases (above) made to look like blocks of slate, as are the point-of-sale display boxes. “We wanted to de-mystify the traditional German wine label, which, aside from being in German, has like twelve descriptive phrases on it few people can decipher. And the bottles are always dark green or brown glass. We made a clear bottle with a slender label that looks like slate, gives you just the name, the vintage, and the description `Mosel-Saar-Ruwer a region of steep slate hills and winding rivers.’”
The bottle for Roots:1 (below) shows a root graphic with an explanation that the wine is from ungrafted vines, because
Click is well aware that most Americans do not drink much wine to begin with and when they do they drink below $10 a bottle, whereas his Global Wine Collection runs $10-$15, which falls under the “super premium” category. Thus, the newest wine in Click’s portfolio is a line extension of Fat bastard as a
Having sampled several of Click’s wines, I could taste his point. The Fat bastard line, even the German riesling, have distinctly sweet underpinnings that appeal to the young winedrinker, whereas the Chilean cabernet has the kind of body and complexity that has understandably made it the third best-selling Chilean cabernet in the super-premium price segment. Even so, you can find it in
WRETCHED EXCESS NO. 4,345
A 123-pound hamburger has been added to the menu at Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA. It includes an 80 pound patty, a pound each of lettuce, mayo, ketchup, mustard, and relish, 160 slices of cheese, 33 pickles and a 30-pound bun, all for $379.
"My son eats sushi. Under most circumstances, that would hardly bear mentioning. Except my son is 13 -- do we even have to venture into the issue of what teens will and won't touch? -- and he's been enjoying the cooked varieties of the stuff since he was a little kid. You don't risk giving a little kid raw fish. Not that he wouldn't have tried it. Spence is reasonably adventurous where it comes to new flavors, as long as they don't involve brussels sprouts. Or broccoli, unless it happens to be at the hands of a Chinese chef. In that case, he's all about the broc. I attribute all of that to a simple fact: The kid has been taken to every sort of restaurant since he was in diapers. He was an infant, no more than about 3 months old, when we hoisted him in his portable seat and sat him next to us at Pascal's, a chic bistro in
* On May 14, NYC's Tribeca Grill will present a 5-course dinner by Chef Stephen Lewandowski with Williams Selyem winery and winemaker Bob Cabral. $195 pp. Call 212-941-3900.
* On May 14 in NYC, to honor the 201st anniversary of the cocktail, the Museum of the American Cocktail will be hosting a cocktail dinner where mixologists such as Sasha Petraske, Tony Abou-Ganim, Dale DeGroff, Michael Waterhouse, et al., will present specially created cocktails paired with a 5-course dinner at Tribeca's Devin Tavern. Tix are $250 pp, proceeds go towards building a permanent home for the Museum of the American Cocktail at the
* On May 15 Niche in
* On May 16 - 19 and May 24 – 27, The Greenbrier resort in
* From May 17-26 “La Dolce Vita Comes to
Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana, will hold 8 Vintners Weekends and one Champagne weekend in May, June and July, featuring cuisine by Executive Chef Jacob Leatherman, plus outdoors and indoors activities. May 17-20: Pepper Bridge Winery; May 24-27: Fisher Vineyards; May 31-June 3: L'Aventure Winery; June 7-10: Saviah Cellars Winery; June 14-17: Joseph Phelps Vineyards; June 21- 24: Robert Keenan Winery; June 28-July 1:
* On May 19,
*On May 22 the Bel-Air Hotel in
* From May 23-27, 1,000 wines made by 200 winemakers will be poured at the The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, beginning with Vintner Dinners at 20+ of the city's restaurants and culminating with "Bubbles and Brunch" on Sun. Other events incl.: VINOLA!—120 wines from around the world; Artisan Cheese with Chef John Folse; Blind tasting tactics 101, with Rebecca Chapa, D.W.S., C.W.E., Rubicon Estate Ambassador; Local shrimp with Chef John Besh; "All the Dirt on Pinot Noir" with Joe Davis of Arcadian Winery and David Graves of Saintsbury; Sake: Not Just for Sushi Anymore?, with Ed Lehrman, of Vine Connections; "Tango with Argnetinean Malbec"; et al. Visit www.nowfe.com.
* On May 26 & 27,
* From May 26
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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, ForbesTraveler.com 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:
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