Virtual Gourmet

June 10,   2007                                                       NEWSLETTER


                                                          Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner (1952)

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In This Issue



NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Rosé Wines Get Bigger and Some Get Better by  John Mariani


by John Mariani

The Gage Hotel
101 Highway 90 West
Marathon, Texas

     cIt takes a while to get anywhere in Texas, so that the idea of driving from any point in the state to Marathon is not much more daunting than driving from Houston to Dallas.  Well, it is a hike, and there's little in Marathon to hold your interest for more than the two minutes it takes to drive through the town.  But 39 miles away there is the great Big Bend National Park, which, aside from a lack of deep, serpentine gorges, has as much beauty about it as the Grand Canyon and a lot more to see than in Monument Valley.
     Big Bend almost sneaks up on you as you drive to it along Route 385 from the north, for all of a sudden the flat Chihuahuan Desert scrubland turns into sloping hillsides and then craggy mountains riven with valleys and rivers, including the Rio Grande and Rio Bravo, which the park borders for one-quarter of the length of the Texas-Mexico border.  It is a trekker's paradise, and there are five recommended driving tours, including two through the beautiful Chisos Mountain Basin.  If you go in spring the territory is ablaze with 1,200 species of plants, including Texas' state flower, the bluebonnet.
     So after a long day of hiking or four-wheel driving, you could head to Terlingua or Lajitas for food or lodgings, but if you go Marathon you'll find a unique place to stay and one of the best new restaurants in Texas. jjjjjThis is The Gage Hotel, which was opened in 1927 by rancher-banker Alfred Gage, mainly as a trail stop and hangout for  his friends and ranchers in the area.  Marathon did not exactly grow bigger or richer during the Depression years, and the property had fallen into decrepitude when, several years ago,  rancher and art collector J.P. and Mary Jon Bryan of Houston arrived to inquire about selling the place.  As the story goes, J.P. made an offer on the place but waved his wife off from going inside because it was in such terrible shape.
       Restoration began in earnest, with the addition of a charming courtyard and series of  Los Portales rooms, which resemble the kind of structures U.S. Cavalry troops once stayed in (below). In 2003  and the Desert Moon Spa was added, admirably without compromising the historic sense of the property.  Now, in every room are paintings, tapestries, ceramics, and rugs from the Bryans' extraordinary collection of western art, so that when you turn one way or another in your room your eye settles on a very beautiful painted plate or a work of tooled leather.
     htrtInside the two-story main building (above) everything looks pretty much the way you'd hope it would, mindful that modern amenities come in pretty handy when dealing with an historic property like this. There are some rooms with a bath down the hall (men's and women's), which carries a certain nostalgic cachet, I suppose, but most rooms in the main house, as well as in flanking casitas along the garden, have their own baths and showers.
     The Café Cenzo restaurant has its outdoor courtyard too, as lovely as any out of a John Ford wedding scene, and then there is the White Buffalo Bar (below), which takes its name from an extremely rare, huge white buffalo head hung there, where the clientele seems equally divided between urban affluents arriving in Mercedes SUVs and local cowboys arriving in Ford pick-ups.  The night I was there one cowboy got so drunk he left behind a stuffed deer’s head. (They should definitely ban smoking in the bar, because that white buffalo's fur is turning yellow.)


     I suspect you'll be hearing a lot about Chef Paul Petersen (below), 36, who brings the full force of his classic culinaryddddd training to dishes that reflect the Texas territory around him without ever forcing the issue into clichés.  Even at lunch his buffalo burger and chicken fried venison sandwich not only get the appetite in full gear but are immensely satisfying examples of great American lunch counter fare made as superbly as everything else on his menu.
    At sundown tuck into a very French
torchon of creamy foie gras with honey-stewed apricots, balsamic onions and grilled bread.  His pan-fried veal sweetbreads show his skill for achieveing that difficult balance of crispness and tenderness, softness and subtlety, all enhanced with spiced balsamic onions and a lemon-parsley butter. Petersen says he keeps sweetbreads on the menu "for selfish reasons...because I love them," but maybe he can pass them off as Rocky mountain oysters to some of gristled clientele?
       4eProsciutto-crusted Morbier cheese is a nice idea, and his ancho-glazed quail has a nice bite, served with a lovely roasted pear salad with smoked red onion vinaigrette and a fried quail egg. which went very well with a bottle of Fall Creek Meritua 2003, a wine from Texas. Pan-seared scallop with prosciutto and pesto butter broke no new ground but was good, while his lamb shank braised in red wine took on added notes of creativity in a barley, currant, and apricot stew.  Another bright idea is his matching up lobster mac-and-cheese with butter-roasted monkfish, and his pepper-crusted elk medallions with a potato gratin and truffled mushroom demi-glace could have been served at any fine restaurant in Alsace.  A buffalo rib-eye gets a rub of chocolate mole sauce, served with roasted fingerling potatoes and roasted poblano blue cheese cream--a paragon of 21st century Texas cookery.
      Petersen does just fine with desserts, too, from a banana nut French toast brûlée with vanilla ice cream to a wonderful Mexican chocolate cake with chocolate pecan icing and chantilly cream.  This is a guy to keep your eye on.  For now you'll have to get to Marathon, Texas, but that's just another one of the charms of dining and staying at the Gage.

Room rates range from $78 to $330.  Dinner appetizers at Café Cenzo run $7-$20, entrees $17-$36.

by John Mariani

100 East 53rd Street

     As detailed in my book The Four Seasons, the great Seagram Building (left) designed by Mies van der Rohe on Park Avenue was, with the Lever House across the street, an instant totem of the International Style of architecture that was to dominate New York and other U.S. cities for more than two decades.  Opened in 1958, its tower of offices, with an immense set-back and plaza, needed to be anchored by a ground floor of equal eminence--24,000 square feet set under the front pillars and graduated down to Lexington Avenue to the east.  There were ideas to install an art gallery, a bank, the American Crafts Museum, even a Cadillac showroom (especially since Frank Lloyd Wright had put a Mercedes-Benz showroom in the building at 56th Street and Park).
     Putting a restaurant into the Seagram Building was an idea proposed by Restaurant Associates--RA--and, since Mies van der Rohe had no interest in such a project, his protégé Philip Johnson was hired to work with RA's own designer, Bill Pahlmann, to create a restaurants like no other before or since.  The Four Seasons was the crown jewel of RA's many restaurants, most of them themed, like the Forum of the Twelve Caesars and Fonda del Sol. On the north end of the building RA put in a more casual restaurant called the Brasserie, whose principal virtue was to be open 24/7. Still, the food was to be of a high order in an American brasserie fashion, and its jet age, subterranean design was strikingly different from both the Four Seasons or any other restaurant anywhere.  A 1971 review by Forbes Magazine said the Brasserie had "cold-cool decor and the coolest, coldest crowd in town" (whatever that means) and that "It's probably New York's most sophisticated unrich restaurant."'j
      The Brasserie has always been more proletarian than its upscale neighbors, The Four Seasons and, more recently, the Lever House Restaurant, but its current chef, Franklin Becker, has brought a luster to the food that I think is as good or better than those high-priced power lunch spots.
      Becker has an amazing ability to deliver on what is all too often merely a cliché in others' hands--straightforward but wholly imaginative American food based on the finest ingredients available.  You've heard that claim a million times before, I know, but at the Brasserie it is the real deal, a perfect amalgam of ingredients and cooking processes that result in dishes that are absolutely delicious and amply American in idea and proportion.
        The dining room itself, which seats 130, was redone two years ago by Ricardo Scofido & Elizabeth Driller, and still has a space age luminosity about it, though, except for its sloping gangway, it bears no resemblance to the original design. There is a backlighted wall of wine bottles, good tablecloths, and wineglasses.  The lighting is both soft and revealing, with the food showing off all their color and form, and the wonderful side booths, with subtle variations of color, are like shimmering alcoves of light and intimacy while not seeming in any way shut off from the whole.  It's a very happy place to be, and quite the same at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.nn
     The short menu with big type and a cover that seems to be a kind of hologram is very user friendly, with 11 appetizers, plus raw bar options, six seafood items, two "chicken & eggs," two meat, and five steaks, which, admirably, come with French fries and sauces you'd otherwise spend another ten bucks for in any NYC steakhouse. We started off with finely textured grilled octopus simply dressed with lemon and spiked with hot pepper oil. A terrine of foie gras--always a Becker specialty--comes with strawberry and rhubarb compote, and a salad of asparagus with spring onions and sunflower sprouts is served warm, which gives a small twist to the idea. So, too, when I moaned to see yet another tuna tartare and beet salad on yet another menu, Becker promised his were different, and they were, just enough to make me smile that there is always something wonderful about a cliché rethought and revived: The tuna tartare was flattened into a thin sheet, served with avocado, cucumber, and relish, and the red and gold baby beets were sliced and lapped over each other, with Humboldt Fog goat's cheese. Not earthshaking, just delicious. Had a French chef done the same items, he might have sprinkled crushed truffles on them and charged three times more.
     So, too, grilled Mediterranean sea bass needed nothing more than lemon, parsley, and olive oil to bring out all the fish's own flavor.  The only off-note of the evening were some pan-roasted sea scallops with artichokes because the scallops were watery and flavorless.
     Pan-roasted "Giannone Chicken" with asparagus, wild mushrooms and a fine old-fashioned Madeira sauce, did deserve having its producer being named, for this is a signature bird, fleshy and full of flavor all on its own, so that the sauce merely anointed its excellence. Best of all--and perhaps the very finest lamb I've ever had--were pan-roasted Colorado chops, big and meaty, with a perfect rind of fat and a chewiness that revealed more and more flavor with every bite.  Accompanied by peas and carrots and new potatoes, it was testament to American food and Colorado lamb.  We also tried some terrific side dishes, including great French fries and  nicely herbaceous spaetzle.
     All of which made us anticipate desserts that proved of equal standing, including a trio of chocolates (luscious pot de creme, deep dark sorbet, and creamy tarte) and a trio of raspberries (vanilla raspberry coupe, sorbet, and crisp rice pudding), and a candied ginger soufflé glacé with rhubarb-orange compote and honey crisp.
     A meal at the Brasserie speaks volumes about how far American cuisine in a master chef's hands has become.  I cannot imagine the most fastidious French or Italian or Japanese chef not delighting in the good, honest flavors of such food.

Brasserie is open for breakfast  and lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner Mon.Thurs. till midnight, Fri. & Sat. till 1 AM, Sun. till 10 PM.; Brunch Sat. & Sun.  Dinner appetizers range from $10-$16, main courses $19-$42. There is a 5-course tasting menu at $65 (with wines $95), and 7 courses at $85 (with wines $125)--both amazing prices for this caliber of food, when most high-end restaurants in NYC charge an average of $90 for three courses and steakhouses charge $40 and more for steak only, without side dishes.


Rosé Wines Get Bigger and Some Get Better
by  John Mariani

      Let’s be honest: Many American winelovers, including this one, cut our palates on rosé wines like Lancer’s, Mateus, and Riunite Lambrusco—all of them fizzy, all of them sweet, all of them real cheap.  Indeed, I recall the moment I decided I’d become a sophisticate when, I broke out a bottle of Rose d’Anjou, which was neither fizzy nor sweet, for a “serious date.” That bottle must have cost me at least four dollars.reqqre
      Like me, most winelovers grow up to relegate rosé wines to some unvisited limbo between whites and reds. Rosés are pale but pretty wines appropriately drunk at a seaside bistro in Provence but certainly not wines to serve with fine cuisine. I still believe that, even though more and more commendable rosé wines now appear in the market from more and more countries.
      Rosés are made by crushing red grapes and allowing the skins to be in short contact—8 to 48 hours--with the juice to obtain a pink or salmon-like color. The best known French rosés are usually made from grenache in Tavel and Lirac in the Southern Rhone Valley, while in Burgundy around Marsannay and in the Loire Valley roses are made from pinot noir. Some rosés are made simply by adding a little red wine to white wine. They are all easy to drink, about 13 percent in alcohol, and take on some floral notes, but they are still lightweight afterthoughts to better known white or red wines.
      In Spain rosés are called rosados, in Italy rosatos, in South Africa Blanc de Noir , and in California, more often than not, blush wines, including the once faddish white zinfandel.
      I’m told that there has been a slow rise in interest in rosé wines at U.S. restaurants, which I think may be due to the wider range of good Spanish and Italian examples, which tend to be somewhat deeper in color and flavor. “Rosés are becoming something of a passion among sommeliers,” William Rhodes, wine director for New York’s Carlyle Hotel, told me in a phone interview. “And that gets passed on to the guests who say they only remember roses like white zinfandel. But a lot of winemakers are now making rosé well from different varietals, and they’re meant to be drunk young and in massive quantities.”
      I assembled a slew of rosés along with a BLT sandwich to taste them with. The salty, smoky bacon, the sweetness and tang of the tomato, and the crisp lettuce seemed to bring out the best in the wines.  I might also have elected to make a salade niçoise, perhaps some grilled mackerel or bluefish with a squirt of lemon.
      My overall reaction was that the deeper the rosé hue the richer the flavor, and the older the rosé the more it has to lose. Thus, just as an experiment, I tasted a Spanish Viña Tondonia Crianza 1995 ($25) whose salmon color was tinged with a telltale brown: the wine had oxidized a long time ago and was undrinkable.
      c23The rest were all from 2005 or 2006. The palest of these—just barely pink—was a Robert Sinskey Vineyards Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2006 ($20) from California’s Napa Valley.  Despite a lack of much color it had a nice acidic bite on the palate and a hint of sweet fruit beneath, finishing well if not brilliantly. Despite its French name, Copain Le Printemps Rosé 2005 ($18) comes from Mendocino County. It had a deep rosy hue and plenty of fruit, though barely any bouquet at all and faded fast. Its principal virtue seemed to me that it was refreshing.
      Two French examples proved very different but very dull. Château de Passavant 2006 ($18) from the Loire Valley had a very odd, distastefully herby flavor, not unlike dry anisette, which might be all right with a Marseilles bouillabaisse or fennel tart with sardines, but not much else. Mas du Fadan Côtes du Ventoux 2006 ($12) showed true to form as a Rhone made no dents in my palate at all with any degree of pleasure.
      The two deepest-colored wines I tried were easily the best and most delightful: Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2006 from Argentina was not only well priced at $12 but a really lovely wine, quite rich in bouquet and body, ruby red with raspberry flavors, and a long finish.  Best of all was a wine I might characterize as a light red rather than a rose—Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo Il Mimo Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo 2006 ($15), with a big cherry aroma and flavor, a mouth-filling wine that is a lot better than most white Croatina wines from the same territory of Ghemme.
     These last two rosés I would drink with pleasure as an aperitif or with light summer foods, charcuterie, cheeses, and especially oil fishes like salmon, mackerel, mullet, and bluefish.  The rest I wouldn’t much care to drink again.
      I did, for a moment, think of trying some Mateus or Lancer’s just for fun, but by then I’d run out of BLT.
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.


"If Tony Blair found time this week to read a survey published in The Grocer magazine, he must have been devastated. . . . After all, no one goes into public life expecting one day to find that only 2 percent of senior people in the dairy industry thinks the Government is supportive enough of the cheese industry.  And which of us could truly sleep at night once we discovered that 52 percent consider this Government to be actively 'anti-cheese'?"--Natalie Haynes, "Anti Cheese? Excuse me while I process that," The Times (May 5, 2007).



A tanker train carrying Coors beer crashed into a parked locomotive and spilled beer into downtown Denver.


* Beginning June 14, the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, will hold a series of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the FOOD & WINE Classic, incl. a grand Opening Night Welcome Reception with Todd English, a private St. Regis dinner with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a pairings luncheon and dinner with Krug Champagne, and a special Gucci collection preview.  Visit

* Chicago’s Adobo Grill will host two tequila dinners at each of its Chicago locations: June 20: Wicker Park will feature Cazadores Tequila, $35 pp; June 28:  the Old Town location will present Tequila Casa Noble, $43 pp. Chef Freddy Sanchez will prepare special menus for each dinner.  Call 773-252-9990 (Wicker Park) or 312-266-7999 (Old Town).

* From June 28-July 1,The 26th Annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival will be held, with a Grand Tasting of over 100 internationals wines with the Spanish-inspired cuisine of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua culinary team led by Chef John Zaner. Eight nationally acclaimed Master Sommeliers will  feature “Sommelier’s Choice” selections.  Also, cooking demos by national chefs, a seafood festival, with guest chef Michael Mina, of Michael Mina in San Francisco and the Bellagio Las Vegas. Accommodations one, two- and three-bedroom villas begin at $299. Call 1-800-545-0018 or visit

* Circa 1886 in Charleston SC will hold Fourth of July celebration on the lawn of the Wentworth Mansion, with a buffet of Southern delicacies prepared by Chef Marc Collins. Following dinner, guests will head to the cupola of the historic mansion for champagne while taking in the city's fireworks display over the harbor. $65 pp. Call 843-853-7828, or visit

* In Healdsburg, CA, Cyrus restaurant announces the "Grand Tasting" selection of unique wines rarely served by the glass, chosen by Sommelier Jim Rollston paired with Chef Douglas Keane's 7-course Tasting Menu. $165 pp,  with wines add  $89. Call 707-433-3311 or visit
* Now through Labor Day at Wright’s at The Arizona Biltmore, the “Dinner & A Movie” offers and evening of American  Lodge Cuisine and children 12 and younger eat free, while watching popular movies on the Biltmore’s “big  screen.” Saturday at the resort  is “Dive-In Movie” night at the Paradise Pool.   A  Cabana Special will be offered on Saturday nights this summer:  $75 for four hours.

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). Click on the logo below to go to the site.



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