Lemon and Asparagus (2007) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
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NEW YORK CORNER: Park Avenue Summer by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: It Takes a Greek Woman's Touch To Keep Château Margaux On Top by John Mariani
Dining Out in Lisbon
by John Mariani
Photos by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
In Paris you start the day with a croissant and bad coffee; in Rome with great coffee and a bad croissant. But in Lisbon you begin with a pastéis de nata—an incredibly rich cinnamon-laced custard tartlet dusted with powdered sugar, originally created by nuns.
The little tarts are sold in many of the city's cafés, but most everyone agrees the best are at the historic and vast Pastéis de Belém (84-92 Rua de Belém; 351-213-637- 423; left), here since 1837 and packed from morning till midnight. Students gather here before and after school, well-dressed Lisboans come here mid-morning or after lunch, and late into the night the huge kitchen keeps turning the perfect pastries out and the coffee machines are hissing. Legend has it that the café has the original nuns' recipe, and if so, we are all blessed indeed.
After you've had a breakfast of one or two pastéis de nata, take a long walk over to the Largo de Sao Dominicos. By the time you get there you'll be ready for a pick-me-up, so join the line out the door of the minuscule bar named À Ginjinha (8 Largo de Sao Domincos; below) for a bracing shot of liqueur made from Óbidos cherries. It's absolutely delicious, very sweet, and makes you smile, as is everyone else around you. Drink only one--for now--because they are potent as well as restorative, so they are as good in the morning to get you going as they are to urge you towards a nice sesta in the afternoon.
For a good, fairly light lunch, head uphill (Lisbon has lots of hills) to the casually modern Restaurante Flores (2 Praca Luis de Camões; 351-21 340 8222) attached to the Bairro Alto Hotel. Here Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa is showing himself one of the young innovators of Portuguese cuisine within a sleek modern dining room where we enjoyed cannelloni stuffed with shellfish and thinly sliced scallops, with which we drank a Vértice 2004 white wine from the Douro. Next came, unexpectedly--and unexpectedly good--a Thai salad with sliced seared beef and roasted peanuts, followed by a filet of grouper crusted with chorizo and potato, and sided with eggplant caviar and a tomato olive oil--nothing strained, just good flavors in harmony. The red wine was a Singularis Alentejo '03. For dessert there was lemongrass and raspberry crème brûlée. Flores carries a very up-to-date Portuguese wine list obviously chosen to show off modern viniculture at its best in the country. Prices for appetizers average $10, main courses $18, desserts $6.50.
Some of the most experimental cooking in Lisbon right now is at Pragma (Casino Lisboa, Parque das Nações; 214 667 700) in the sleek new Casino in the Parque das Nações. Here Chef Fausto Airoldi (below) aims to be Portugal’s answer to Spain’s Ferran Adrià, with dishes like scallops carpaccio with pomegranates and truffled vinaigrette, and chocolate-poached foie gras with salt and red wine. Some of it works brilliantly, some limps. Among my favorite dishes that evening, in this strikingly modern, tall, back-lighted barrel-ceiling room with walls painted aluminum and deep red, with very spacious, well-set tables, seating, in total, just 46 people, were a blood pudding with bread cubes, carrot cakes, tomatoes, and fava beans, with crispy pig's tongue cut as a cookie shape. An intermezzo in the meal was a refreshing pineapple daiquiri shooter, and the main meat course a sautéed filet of fine venison with stewed vegetables--very, very delicious. The cheese course was taleggio and came with Madagascar pepper ice cream that somehow won me over, served with marinated cherries, followed by a dessert of almond puree in puff pastry, served with a Grandjo Late Harvest wine from the Douro. Menus here run about $70 for five courses, $82 for seven, and $95 for nine.
For traditional Portuguese fare, a good bet is Nariz de Vinho Tinto (75 Rua do Conde; 251-395-3035), around the corner from the Lapa Palace. The name means “Red Wine Nose,” and owner José Matos Cristovão creates the menu, waits tables, and talks to every guest. Have the clams with garlic and coriander or the bean-and-cabbage soup, washed down with Portuguese wine from a list with bottlings dating back to the 1980s. If you wish to take a break from Portuguese food, traditional and modern, there is a good Italian restaurant in the Rata neighborhood called Mezzaluna (Rua Arthilharia Um 16; 351-21-387-9944) that is always packed, run by an Neapolitan-born chef named Michael Guerrieri, who actually grew up in Long Island, came to visit Lisbon, and never left. He happily comes out of the kitchen to talk with his guests, which number many Americans, and he has managed to keep his prices very reasonable indeed. The dining room is too low-lighted (Note to Mr. Guerrieri: if your waiter needs a flashlight to brighten the menu, your room is too dark), with a pleasantly casual ambiance. Some of his best dishes are rigatoni with morsels of pork and radicchio and laced with vinegar, and a very juicy, crisp-skinned chicken leg stuffed with ham and tomato and served with shoe string potatoes. The winelist comprises about 60 selections, mostly Portuguese.
If, however, you have time for only one meal in Lisbon, I'd send you straight to the narrow Travessa de Santo Antão where you can grab an outside table at Bon Jardin (11 Travessa de Santo Antão; 351-21-342-4389; right), which Lisboans know as "Rei do Frango" (King of Chickens) for the platter of fabulous spit-roasted chicken with fried potatoes that has been served here forever (left). A long-time concierge at the Lapa Palace said his grandmother used to take him to Bom Jardin as a Sunday treat.
Having just about gotten my appetite back after a bout of flu, I tore into the wonderful chicken here with knife, fork and fingers, and after a couple of bottles of cold Sagres beer all was right with the world again, and it cost all of about $15. By the way, if Bon Jardin is full, which is usually the case, there's a branch about twenty feet away on the other side of the street.
I haven't mentioned all the art deco and art nouveau cafés, the wineshops, or the stores selling candies, spices, and dried cod. It is all part of a gastronomy based on the sea and enriched by Portugal's imperial designs on colonies that once reached to Southeast Asia and gave up its spices. That's all long in the past now, but the bright flavors and colors remain everywhere.
To read about Lisbon as a destination, with hotels, museums, etc., read Part One of this article.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
PARK AVENUE SUMMER
about two months to get to Park Avenue Summer before it disappears like
Brigadoon. Actually its premises won't disappear but the menu
will and much of its decor. This is the unusual plan for a
restaurant that had a good long run as Park Avenue Café, under
Alan Stillman. A few months ago the word was that the place would
close, but then Stillman's son Michael, who also oversees the Quality
Meats steakhouse on the West Side, decided to reinvent the
with a similar name but new concept, whereby the decor and menu will
change every season. Changing a menu seasonally is nothing new,
but as far as I know, only The Four Seasons restaurant changes decor
that way, and then, it's mostly just a change of foliage in the Pool
Lunch and dinner are served daily, brunch on Sunday. Dinner appetizers run $11-$18, entrees $29-$45.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
It Takes a Greek Woman's Touch To Keep Château Margaux On Top
by John Mariani
One of the world’s greatest wines was not always so great. Like other First Growths of the
The estate itself and the wines had clearly been neglected, and by 1977 Château Margaux had been on the market for two years with no takers.
“When my father (André Mentzelopoulos) looked into buying Margaux, I actually went to a dinner where other businessman tried to discourage him,” remembers Corinne Mentzelopoulos, “but it was too late. Honestly, when a Greek citizen arrives in
One offer by the American company National Distillers had been spurned by the French government itself, but the Greek-born André Mentzelopoulos, who had made his fortune in France in the grocery and real estate business and was married to a Frenchwoman, was granted permission in 1977 to purchase the estate, which Thomas Jefferson had once called one of the “four vineyards of first quality.”
Mentzelopoulos poured money into the estate both to restore the vineyards and the chateau, today considered one of the most beautiful in
Upon André’s death at age 65 in 1980, his wife Laura, then Corinne took over Margaux’s management, which she continued to do when, in 1991,
Ms. Mentzelopoulos, 54, regards herself as the latest in a long line of caretakers at Margaux: “Chateau Margaux does not belong to us but we belong to Château Margaux. Our role, albeit great as some people have thought, is only a little part of a very long history [the estate has been making wine since the 16th century], so whatever we’re doing today is nothing in comparison to the soil and terroir that has been assembled over the centuries that have made the wine great.
“Funnily enough, we need a poor soil because we want the vines to struggle. The more the struggle, the more complex they become, and every decision I make, about an acre or a barrel today is going to be judged in another 50 years.”
Corinne Mentzelopoulos speaks very fast, in flawless English, as well as in French and Greek. Born in France, she had a Scottish nanny and at the age of ten spent the first of many summers in Canada. “I literally lived on North American junk food!” she says, “ and I’m very, very much into American stuff because when you are 10 years old and you go every summer of your life for two months, it sticks with you forever.”
After graduating with a major in Classics at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, she was appointed product manager at Havas S.A., then comptroller of Primisteres S.A., which ran the family’s food stores, before becoming involved with Margaux, now a full-time job, along with raising three children, two daughters, currently in college, and a 14-year-old son. “I am raising my children like American kids,” she says happily. “They’re very much into the American way of life. And if I had to move, I’d move here to the U.S. To be honest, I wouldn’t live in Greece.”
When I asked her if she sees a future in going into partnerships with California wineries to produce a Bordeaux-style California cabernet, as did Château Mouton-Rothschild with Robert Mondavi to produce Opus One, she shook her head and shrugged: “We make 12,000 cases of Margaux, and that’s a hell of a lot of wine. So you will still find old vintages available in the years to come. I don’t want to make a cult wine that sells all its bottles before it’s even released. I’m convinced that, whatever the investments, whatever the energy, we couldn’t produce something as good as Château Margaux. And if it produced something less good, what’s the point? I might as well invest in bonds, which I already do.
“I mean, I don’t need it because I work all day and I’m happy as I am. So O.K., I invest in shares and what do I do then? Sit all day and buy ten Rolls Royce and 20 yachts? I would shoot myself at the end of the day because I’d be so bored.”
Today no one would argue that Château Margaux has regained its eminence, which was proven yet again to this writer over lunch with Ms. Mentzelopoulos at Le Cirque in New York. She’d brought the 1999 vintage, which was decanted, and from the first burst of its sensuous bouquet to the long, lingering finish on the palate, the wine showed itself the match of any in the Médoc, any in Bordeaux, any in the world. In its balance of fruit, acid, and tannins, its complex, evolving structure, and its wonderful freshness, the wine was a revelation every time I took a sip. And, according to Madame, “It will get even better in the years to come.”
You probably want to know which dishes Madame thought would go well with the ’99 Margaux at Le Cirque. She perused the menu and chose an appetizer of stuffed zucchini blossoms followed by two cheeseburgers with caramelized onions. Then she started in on the French fries.
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.
GOOD THING HE DOESN'T BAKE BAGUETTES
In Sibiu, Romania, bakery owner Vasilie Presecan shaved his head and asked his 60 employees to do so for hygienic and marketing reasons, explaining that the resemblance between his workers' bald heads and the bakery's bread was "very striking."
Excerpts from Kissing in the Kitchen: Cooking with Passion by Kevin T. Roberts
Hot Dates--How cool is it to eat hot dates when you're on a hot date?
Lumpia--This Philippine "love stick" is like a meat-style egg roll. My Irish buddy had these at his girlfriend's house and hasn't left since. Now they're engaged; thank you, Lumpia Gods!
Firecracker Shrimp with Cajun Salmon Butter--This dish has some heat to it, but it's a full-flavor heat, not the "Oh, my God. I've burned my date's lips off!"
Make-out Macaroni with Lobster ad Cheese Blend--When you make this recipe you're guaranteed to whet your date's whistle and get some serious kissing in.
* On Bastille Day, July 14, Shaun's in
* On July 14 the Festival del Sole will hold an Artisanal Wine and Food Tasting hosted by the Boutique Wine Producers of Napa at Meritage Resort in
* On July 18 the Bel-Air Hotel in
* On July 20 the Center for American Food & Wine at SageCliffe in Quincy, WA, will offer the 'Savor the Region' culinary series offers a luncheon and dinner, each featuring a wine tasting reception of Cave B Estate Winery and SageCliffe releases, as well as a hands-on cooking demos from the Ancient Lakes, followed by an elegant meal. Call 509-785-2283; www.cavebinn.com. Tix by calling 509-785-3780.
* From July 22-27 the South Jersey Independent Restaurant Association (SJ Hot Chefs) presents "Farm to Fork Week," a tribute to local farming. Each restaurant will offer a 4-course dinner at $30 pp. Info is available at www.sjhotchefs.com.
* From July 26-28 in
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, 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:
Tennis Resorts Online: A 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.
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