Soviet Era Anti-Alcohol
Poster, circa 1960
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NEW YORK CORNER: Del Posto by John Mariani
WINE CELLAR: Too
Much Limoncello Gets Danny DeVito a New Product
Up in Maine: Oakland House Seaside Resort
By Naomi R. Kooker
There’s a place where you can go where the ocean is like a lake, a lake as clear and as smooth as glass, the night sky so dark the stars and moon the only navigators (unless you have a flashlight), the food sumptuous, and the only thing for you to do is read, sleep, take walks, hike, kayak, and sit and watch the sun fade into a salmon-colored sky.
A five-hour drive from Boston brings you to Oakland House Seaside Resort in Brooksville, Maine, a 50-acre compound along the edge of Eggomogin Reach in Penobscot Bay. There are two main buildings: Oakland House, which dates back to the late 1770s, with the latest addition built in the late1880s, and Shore Oaks Seaside Inn, a 1907 Arts & Crafts-style inn (below, left).
The property has been in the same family for eight generations and is run by Jim and Sally Littlefield. Jim is a trained engineer and eminent story teller, Sally has a background in indus
The landscape is all Mother Nature, with a few innkeeper’s touches, such as a gorgeous wild flower and herb garden alongside Oakland House. A small gazebo jets out into the water from the shores near Shore Oaks. Fifteen cottages (right) are tucked in the woods, though many of them overlook the ocean . They have wood-burning fireplaces (except for one, which is gas), bedrooms, living rooms; some have kitchenettes, some full kitchens.
While Oakland House is relegated to housing the 35-some staff, the inn’s administrative offices and the dining rooms, Shore Oaks inn or the cottages are havens for weekend or week-long getaways. The inn has 10 guest rooms, each carrying a distinctive charm. Mission-style furniture, Art Deco lamps and high, cushy beds that lull you into a completely restful sleep mark each individual room decorated by Sally. Her love and knowledge of the Arts & Crafts time period, which was a deliberate back-to-simple-and-functional backlash against the overwrought Victorian age, shows in the care and details of each room.
Room No. 6 – a corner room on the second floor that overlooks the ocean, welcomes the shore breezes and the sunset, and has a fireplace – is easily the most romantic. (Some argue it’s No. 7, which is bigger and also has a fireplace.) White sheer curtains, white wicker furniture, an embroidered white coverlet grace the room with a clean airiness. Some of the rooms have a private bath, some are shared. Rooms No. 1, 5 and 8 have deep, soaking bathtubs.
Old books and games fill a small library; the living room rallies around a stone fireplace. There’s a small dining room where guests eat breakfast on the off seasons; but everyone takes dinner at Oakland House, the place where Jim’s family began the legacy. The dining rooms (below) are an enchanting labyrinth of rooms separated by glass doors and windows overlooking the gardens. One or two dining rooms are reserved for families with small children. On our first evening our hostess seats us at our own table, which will be ours for the duration of the stay. From then on we sat ourselves between 6 and Single white tapered candles – the only place candles are allowed – set the rooms aglow.
Woody Clark, the executive chef of seven years, manages to change the menu every evening and yet maintain the same standard of creativity and quality not commonly found this far in the middle of nowhere. Instead of the rustic, utilitarian fare one might expect,
Oakland House does have a beer and wine license. The beers are mostly microbrews, such as
Breakfast is a full, hot buffet served in Oakland House. But because my guest and I visited on the off-season, we are served breakfast à la carte in the Shore Oaks’ dining room. The blueberry pancakes are delicious and full of tiny wild
Breakfast and dinner (all five courses) are included in the overnight prices, except in the off-season. With prior notice at dinner a boxed lunch can be ready the next day, otherwise you’re on your own. Thursday nights the staff puts on an extravagant lobster bake by the shore – included in the meal plan.
Jim says to watch for seals that often come into the Reach. We mistake bobbing lobster traps in the dusk for what could be seals’ heads. At Shore Oaks we sit in
One day we go sea kayaking. Local companies, such as Old Quarry Ocean Adventures in
There’s nearby Blue Hill with all its artist and pottery galleries and quaint shops.
Oakland House Seaside Resort, 435 Herrick Road, Herricks Landing, Brooksville, Maine, 800-359-RELAX or 207-359-8521, www.oaklandhouse.com. Prices range from $370 to $770 per couple for two nights, incl. breakfast and 5-course dinner, depending on season. A 7-night stay for a family of four in a cottage ranges from $2,835 to $5,500, incl. breakfast and 5-course dinner; a cottage in the off-season, early spring and fall, no meals included, starts at $475 for a week. Two cottages remain open year-round.
by John Mariani
85 Tenth Avenue
Avid readers of the Virtual Gourmet may have wondered why, after 18 months, I have not yet reviewed Del Posto in Chelsea, one of the most publicized restaurants opening in 2005, and one whose owners are among the brightest lights in New York gastronomy--Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, her son Joseph Bastianich, and TV chef Mario Batali. It wasn't for lack of interest. Upon its debut the lavish expenditure of money on Del Posto--at least $12 million--for design, kitchen, winelist, and tablesettings was immediately obvious, and the pre-opening buzz, complete with a front page food section article in the Times, was enormous.
"I hate to use the word fancy and I hate to use the word luxury, but it's going to be a fancy luxury restaurant," Batali told the Times. "The last thing I want is the lemmings in their Chanel miniskirts waiting three deep at the bar to have a cosmopolitan." Del Posto was going to be a serious Italian ristorante--with a $240 rack of veal, a $220 shoulder of pork, and a $200 whole king salmon to be carved tableside. There would be artisanal chocolates and Lidia would be making zabaglione in a copper pot in full view of guests.
Then, upon opening, a battle with the owner of the building (a former cookie factory) flared into the newspapers and blogs, dragging on for months of bitter give-and-take. Meanwhile, Batali and Joseph Bastianich were in the midst of planning to open two restaurants in Los Angeles (one, Mozza, has opened) and two in Las Vegas (one recently did). And then. . . everyone waited for the reviewers: Many were lukewarm, accusing Del Posto of overreaching and exorbitance; others didn't think the food was very Italian; The Times' Frank Bruni gave the restaurant three stars out of four, and the Michelin Guide gave it two out of three. Del Posto's owners had hoped for better.
My own response to initial visits in the first three months of operation was to take a wait-and-see attitude. Clearly, despite its lavishness, its pillared, marbled, wrought-iron grandeur, and its exquisite tablesettings, Del Posto had a certain theatricality but seemed rather stiff; the food was good, sometimes excellent, but sometimes bewilderingly dull. Batali was sometimes on the premises, decked out in his usual delicatessen wardrobe of shorts and orange sneakers, but he left all the cooking to exec chef Mark Ladner (right), while Joe Bastianich stayed close as much as possible to get things right. Consultants and cooks came and went, as did the $240 rack of veal and other high-priced items. Everyone complained about the portion sizes, which have incrementally increased.
To my mind Lidia Bastianich's 20-year-old Felidia, on the upper east side, is a better, certainly more congenial Italian restaurant, while Joe and Mario have kept Babbo full for good reason since opening seven years ago with the kind of gusto that marked the early Batali style. Then there is the lovable trattoria Lupa, the trailblazing seafood restaurant Esca, the family-style Becco in the Theater District, the high-earning Otto pizzeria, and the tapas-inflected Bar Jamon and Casa Mono. With all those and new projects on their plate, just how much time and personalized touches the owners could put into Del Posto seemed a legitimate question.
I'm happy to report, then, that over the past year Del Posto has evolved into a stellar restaurant and probably very close to what the owners originally envisioned for this oceanliner-like dining salon. Subtle modifications have made it a warmer, more comfortable place, and the menus, though still high in price, deliver in terms of refined cuisine that manages to balance the simplicity of Italian tradition with just enough flair to make it special and individualized.
The cotechino sausage, once bland, now has spice and seasonings, sliced at the table and served with lentils that have a good shot of vinegar to them. As has become the case at all Batali-Bastianich restaurants, the selection of salami and sausages is excellent, here served with asparagus pickles. Taking a cue from Esca, there is yellowfin and tail "SUSCI," with radish, fennel, snowpeas and violets, while a cacciucco stew is full of fresh seafood, served with toasted fregola.
For pastas the spaghetti with crab and lemon is now a wonderfully flavorful dish, and the only thing wrong with the tiny agnolotti dal pin in a rich Parmigiano broth with truffle butter is that I can never get enough of them. White corn crespelle with spinach pesto, lemon zest, and robiola cheese was curiously without much spark. Not so the pumpkin cappellacci with almond milk and black truffles--one of those dishes that lifts Del Posto well above most Italian restaurants in New York, even if the dish is seemingly un-Italian. Chestnut raviolini with partridge ragù and myrtle are good, as are the green garganelli with a ragù bolognese.
Fish have underwhelmed me, especially a Dover sole whose sauce was viscous. Better, though far from exciting, was a roasted turbot with morels and thyme, sauced with a reduction of sangiovese wine. Meat dishes range from a homey but very tasty turkey alla cacciatora made with a condiment of cockscombs and chicken livers called cibreo, and roast loin of pork is delicious, served with cardoons, celery, and an artichoke cassola.
There is an excellent selection of cheeses here and, on a 1,200-selection winelist, plenty to drink them with. They still have the rich. decadent artisanal chocolates and, if Lidia is in, she'll still whip up the golden, Marsala-laced zabaglione from scratch. Otherwise desserts are fairly simple in presentation but beautifully thought through, whether traditional, like the gianduia with caramelized pears and whipped cream or the chocolate tart with orange buttermilk gelato and a cardomon foam.
Del Posto is now among New York's top fine dining rooms, and if the Bastianiches and Batali can continue to devote their time and attention to food and service, it should continue to ascend in the culinary firmament. A caveat, therefore, is in order: On a recent Sunday evening my table of five experienced what I call the "Sunday Night Syndrome," when everything at a restaurant seems to slide by a good 20 percent, perhaps because none of the staff has much enthusiasm on Sunday, when many restaurants are closed for good reason. That evening the hostess refused to sit three of the party, even though they arrived early, until the other two arrived. Wine service took far longer than it should, and, most serious of all, most of the dishes were heavily oversalted to the point of the main ingredients losing their flavor.
I do not know if Mark Ladner was off that night, but neither he nor the Bastianiches was on the premises. Batali has long insisted that there's little reason for him to be so frequently at his restaurants--how could he be?--but it was clear that night that someone should have been there to crack the whip.
Del Posto is open daily for lunch and dinner. Appetizers at dinner run $15-$23, pastas $17-$26, and main courses $27-$42, with tasting menu options.
NOTES FROM THE WINE (and Spirits) CELLAR
Too Much Limoncello Gets
Danny DeVito a New Product
by John Mariani
"Staircase in Anacapri" (2005) by
When actor Danny DeVito showed up slurringly hung over last November on the TV show “The View” (below), he explained that he’d been out late the night before with pal George Clooney at Scalinatella restaurant in
Ba-da-bing! A new product was born! DeVito, who says he puts his name on "every single thing I do," signed with Harbrew Imports, Ltd. Of
At a July launch party DeVito, who pronounces the beverage “lemon-cello,” says that after his appearance on “The View” (click here to watch it) people started sending him bottles and cases of limoncello. The widely reported incident—and DeVito’s comic confessional—sounded like the best kind of hype for a sweet milky-yellow liqueur that has been gaining popularity in the U.S., principally in Italian restaurants. Harbrew’s CEO Richard DeCicco, who knew DeVito before his “View” appearance, contacted the actor and saw a natural fit, saying, "We're thrilled to partner with Danny to develop an exquisite Limoncello that's truly worthy of bearing his name. He's a beloved entertainer with a refined palate and a taste for the good life, and this spirit suits his spirit perfectly.”
DeVito’s is not the first celebrity name Harbrew has affixed to its products: They also market Bench 5 Scotch (“specially bottled for Johnny Bench”) and Duke Ellington Cognac.
DeVito’s Premium Limoncello will be in stores mid-August at a retail price of $24.99. Harbrew will distribute in New York, with distributors signed up in other states. According to Harbrew consultant Carmine Valle in a phone interview, they are producing a million bottles, all of which will be imported to the U.S.
Limoncello is a liqueur most associated with its original source of production, the Amalfi Coast and, more specifically, the isle of Capri. I recall the first time I saw and tasted it some ten years ago while walking along the Via Tiberio on Capri, lined with outdoor stands selling ceramics, scarves, and souvenirs, along with offering little glasses of this bright yellow, cloudy cordial, served ice cold. I was hooked on the first sip.
After that I enjoyed a small glass after every meal on the Amalfi Coast, and I’ve ordered it in Italian restaurants in the U.S. and have it occasionally after dinner at home.
Limoncello has a distinctive, clean taste of lemon—the lemons of the area are considered some of the best in Italy—a pleasant sweetness, and a slight burn on the back of the palate.
The spirit is pretty simple to make. You take lemon rinds, a sugar solution, water, and pure alcohol, and steep it for as long as you wish to balance the flavors. Sometimes grappa is used as the alcohol base. The final alcohol content is about 32 percent. The worst commercially produced limoncellos tend to be viscously sweet and cloying and have a bad burn of alcohol.
Despite DeVito’s contention that he grew up drinking limoncello in his Italian-American family, you would have been hard put to find a single bottle of limoncello in the U.S. even ten years ago. But now there are perhaps a score of brands available, not all made along the Amalfi coast, some not even in Italy. There are also now variations like orancello, made with orange peel, hitting the market.
Vincenzo Canale, a hotelier on Capri, claims to have first served her guest the liqueur and patented the name Limoncello di Capri S.r.L. in 1988. There is now a Sorrento Lemon I.G. P. (protected geographical indication) that sets rules about the use of Sorrento lemons, cultivated by the Solagri cooperative of about 200 farmers, and forbids the addition of color, stabilizers and flavorings.
I tried several limoncellos currently in the market and found that the Capri or Sorrento examples, like CapriNatura ($23) have more complexity and tend to be less sweet than some of those “Made with Sicilian Lemons” like Lemoncello [sic] Pellegrino ($22). The lemons of Capri and the Amalfi coast are large and have thick skins rich in the oils that impart flavor. Harbrew contends that DeVito’s limoncello is made with lemons from the protected area and the producer is the president of the consortium. I liked the good burn of the DeVito product, though it was a little sweet to my taste. I think it would make a excellent cocktail with a jigger or two of Campari or sweet vermouth.
By the way, the website for DeVito’s limoncello even has an Italian song to go with the product (click here), although this is not the first time the liqueur has been the subject of pop music. Earlier this year singer Avril Lavigne (right) gave interviews claiming her song "I Can Do Better" was written after consuming half a bottle of limoncello and contains the lyrics, “I will drink as much Limoncello as I can/And I'll do it again and again/I don't really care what you have to say/'Cause you know - you know you're nothing.”
Sounds like a new limoncello just waiting to take wing.
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.
GOTTA LOVE THOSE WACKY GERMANS!
Dr. Shuji Sakegami of the Bio-Engineering department at
* Starting July 22, Ecco in
* On July 28 Chillingsworth in Brewster, Mass, will hold a Vintner's Dinner with Brice Jones of Emeritus winery. $125 pp. Call 800-430-3640. Visit www.chillingsworth.com.
* From July 30-Aug. 5, Hakubai in The Kitano in NYC will feature an "Eel Eating Days of Summer" menu based upon the lunar calendar "Doyo," which refers to the 18-day time period prior to the change of seasons, called "Natsubate," when the Japanese believe eating eels is beneficial to health. Hakubai's Executive Chef, Yukihiro Sato has developed lunch and dinner menus featuring Japanese eel delicacies. Call 212-885-7000 or visit www.kitano.com.
* On Aug. 7 in
* On Aug. 8 Chef Jimmy Bannos of Heaven on Seven will be honored by the American Culinary Federation Chicago Chefs of Cuisine Association as their second inductee into the Chicago Chefs of Cuisine Hall of Fame and
* On Aug 10 & 11 the
* On Aug. 19 the Singapore Tourism Board will host a Tiger Beer Singapore Chilli Crab Festival along the waterfront promenade in front of Riverview Restaurant and Lounge (www.riverviewny.com) in
* On Aug. 19 and 26 Chefs Susan and Michael Maddox celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Hts., IL, with two dinners: Aug. 19: 6-course dinner, paired with wines, with restaurateursChristian and Agnes Ziegler, Pierre and Judith Pollin, Dominique and Jacqueline Legeai from D&J Bistro in Lake Zurich, Jean Marc and Mari Loustaunau from Cafe Pyrenees, and Andy and Terry Andresky from 1776 in Crystal Lake. $92 pp. Call 847-506-0222; www.letitideparis.com.
* From Aug. 19-23 S. Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water will support the restaurant community and Share Our Strengthwith its 6th annual Dine Out Program, with participating restaurants offering patrons special 3-course menus ($25 for lunch, $35 for dinner), to include a complimentary bottle of S.Pellegrino Sparkling or Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water. For every Dine Out meal served at participating restaurants during that period, S.Pellegrino will donate $1 to Share Our Strength. For more info and to view a list of participating restaurants or to make a reservation visit www.usadineout.com.
* In Ireland, the "Town & Country" package incl. 2 nights in Conrad Dublin followed by 2 night stays in the Mount Juliet Conrad, near Thomastown, Co Kilkenny; breakfasts; Dinner for one evening in Conrad Dublin and both evenings in Mount Juliet Conrad; shopping or sight-seeing tour of Dublin; visit to the studios and workshops of some of Ireland's leading craftspeople located within the vicinity of Mount Juliet Conrad; chauffeur transport to Mount Juliet Conrad and Dublin Airport. From $4,625 per couple. Call + 353 56 777 3011 or email email@example.com.
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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