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Resorting to Fine Food: Woodlands Inn and Auberge du Soleil by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER: New Chef at Gramercy Tavern by John Mariani
125 Parsons Road
When I was last at Woodlands Inn, my admiration for the new chef, Scott Crawford, was very high, just as it had been for the previous one, Ken Vedrinski. Now, there is another, every bit as good as his predecessors. Tarver King is young, full of enthusiasm, and as adept at keeping a classic foundation as he is coming up with brilliant new dishes he can call his own.
The Dining Room at the inn, with its 14-foot coffered ceilings, French doors, and a ceiling of painted clouds (below) , is sedate but sumptuous, although a little updating of furniture and less formality in the decor would make it a lot livelier. Stephane Peltier oversees the winelist, which has a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, is indeed one of the finest in the nation.
On my last visit we began with several amuses, ranging from a roasted potato consommé with sweet garlic flan to a lovely little omelet with onion hollandaise and shavings of white truffles. The appetizers took off with superbly silky seared foie gras with a rhubarb compote and a jelly glaze with a layer of foie gras, then fried peanuts, then Port wine jelly--a terrific idea. Foie gras also appeared with truffled French toast, toasted cashews, orange Muscat jam, and hybiscus sea salt. Scallop dumplings were accompanied by prosciutto and crispy sage drizzled with drops of vincotto.
These seem like complicated dishes, and they take time to make and plate, but the ingredients are all in perfect equilibrium, never covering over essential flavors. For our second courses there was witty take on steakhouse salads--an iceberg lettuce wedge with bacon, sour cherries, a sherry vinegar gastrique, and blue cheese, with just a shake of smoked sea salt. Gently poached in a carrot beurre montée, monkfish was tender and juicy, but a carrot-potato mousseline, green bean salad, and other ingredients clashed with the fish. Monkfish re-appeared sautéed with sweet pepper spoonbread and a classic sauce Robert that showed how Tarver (left) can blend the old--in this case old Southern culinary tradition and French too--with the modern touch of pancetta and fried broccolini.
Then came the meat course, a wonderfully crispy pork belly that had been brined for a week then made into a confit and served with cumin-scented turtle beans, and sweet-sour stewed radicchio with sour cream and baby arugula. Desserts, by Sheree McDowell, are just as inventive, from a mango-lime sorbet to re-charge the palate to hazelnut griddle cakes with Granny Smith apples, caraway cream, and salted caramel. Her rich chocolate ganache cake with malted milk ice cream, chimay sabayon, and English toffee is absolutely dreamy.
No one going anywhere near Charleston should miss an evening--and stay--over at Woodlands Inn, which gives South Carolina bragging rights few other regions can boast of at this level.
A 3-course dinner is $54, 4-courses $69, with a 5-course tasting menu at $88 and a vegetarian dinner at $78, with wine pairings $45.
AUBERGE DU SOLEIL
180 Rutherford Hill Road
It's 1985: Take 33 acres of Napa Valley hills, place a sprawling but secluded series of beautifully decorated rooms all around, install a sparkling swimming pool and a fine dining room whose terrace overlooks it all, and you have a uniquely California inn called Auberge du Soleil, opened by Claude Rouas and Robert Harmon, the first to come to the valley and bring the kind of glamor and elegance it had never really needed in the past. Now, with Napa overrun with gentlemen farmers and tourists, the Auberge is as quiet and reclusive as ever, and the food, now by chef Robert Curry, is better than ever in its history.
Curry had been exec chef at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, and has also worked at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, as well at Citrus in L.A., Louis XV in Monaco and Michel Rostang in France. He is fully cognizant of the Auberge's being smack in the center of wine country, and every dish and ingredient draws strength from that.
The dining room here has the same quiet, soft, colorful ambiance as do the rooms and suites (below), which are a combination of California-and-Provence elegance. The more rustic terrace dining area is the most coveted, overlooking the vineyards below. The winelist, under Chris Margerum, has a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator and is now up to 1,500 selections and 17,000 bottles, not just California offerings but a screed of global wines too.
On a glorious summer's day my party of four began lunch with potato gnocchi with pea shoots, tomato confit, and a parmesan nage; simply seared sea scallops needed nothing more than white corn, braised onions, peas, and a vanilla nage to complement their own sweetness, while a corn soup with rock crab and chervil oil couldn't have been better on that 75-degree afternoon.
Next came seared foie gras with peaches, pain perdu, and almonds, and main courses of seared ahi tuna with eggplant caviar, ratatouille, and a black olive emulsion, along with snow-white halibut with shell beans and a very interesting bacon basil broth. The meat dishes were a fine leg of California lamb with a potato risotto, peas, and reduction of red wine and basil, and a splendid roast chicken as juicy as the sherry vinaigrette is came with. With these we drank a seductive Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Central Coast 2004.
There were some artisan's cheese, both local and French, then sumptuous desserts by Paul Lemieux of blueberry and a peach tart with verbena pudding and yogurt sorbet; chocolate-stuffed filo dumplings with tarragon ice cream (not wonderful) and arbequina olive oil (doubly not wonderful); the best was palm sugar-roasted apricot with vanilla-scented pound cake.
We sipped a 20-year old Graham's Tawny Port, looked out over the valley and the same thing was on everyone's mind: It really, really doesn't get any nicer than this.
At lunch prices for first courses run $12-$16, main courses $19-$29; at dinner, $79 fixed price for four courses, with six courses at $105.
NEW YORK CORNER
42 East 20th Street
my, times fly. Gramercy Tavern opened 13 years ago, and it's probably
safe to say there haven't been many empty tables anytime since.
For one thing, it's a Danny Meyer-run restaurant, which means a sure
degree of sophistication without stuffiness, a warm greeting, and a
consistency year after year in food, wine, and service. (For the
record, my son works at another Danny Meyer restaurant, The
Tavern is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner nightly. Dinner is fixed price at $76, with a
summer tasting menu at $98 and vegetarian menu at $82 (all prices will
be going up after Labor Day). The Tavern
is open for lunch and dinner daily, with a 3-course
à la carte meal averaging $45-$50.
ANYONE LOSE A PROP FROM THE LAST "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN MOVIE?"
Residents from Russia's Rostov region caught a weird sea creature (right) after after a strong storm in the Sea of Azov. The 101-kilogram creature was said to produce odd "squeaky sounds," and the fishermen at first believed they had caught an alien, which they the video-ed (to see video, click here). They then said that they were scared of the creature so they ate it, and one of the fisherman declared it the best fish he'd ever tasted.
A group of New South Wales oyster farmers have patented a process to chemically boost the aphrodisiac qualities of their oysters by feeding them Viagra. After George May's doctor prescribed a low dose of Viagra for him, he tried sprinkling Viagra dust on his oysters. He and colleagues are calling their product, ViagraOysters, the "ultimate aphrodisiac," although Pfizer Pharmaceutical holds the trademark on the drug, and Australian authorities prohibit the selling of proscription drugs by anyone but physicians.
* On Aug. 12 in
* On Aug. 16 at The Bourbon House in
* On Aug 16
* S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water sponsors the 6th annual Dine Out Program during the weeks of Aug. 19-23, and Aug. 26-30, with participating restaurants offering 3-course menus ($25 for lunch, $35 for dinner). S.Pellegrino will donate $1 to Share Our Strength. For a list of participating restaurants or to make a reservation at a participating restaurant online, visit www.usadineout.com.
* On Aug. 20 chef Debbie Gold of 40 Sardines in
* On Aug. 21 in
*On Aug. 23 in
* On Aug 26
at The Lodge at Koele in Hawaii Chef
Thomas Bellec will serve a 5-course menu
paired with whiskys, hosted by Jo
McGarry, founding member of the Celtic band, Irish Hearts. Outdoor
with live music. $95 pp. Call (808)
in Houston will host a food and wine lovers' trip to Baja, California
September 23-28. The group will fly to San Diego and travel by chartered coach to Ensenada, for a 5-night stay on the beach at the Las Rosas Hotel. The group will visit 10 of
pp. Call 713-479-1312.
* On Aug 29 Martini
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
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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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