Virtual Gourmet

August 12,  2007                                                       NEWSLETTER


"Come and Get It" by Gil Elvgren (1959)

WEBSITE:  To go to my web site, in which I will update food & travel information and help link readers to other first-rate travel & food sites,  click on: home page

Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on

SUBSCRIBE AND UN-SUBSCRIBE: You may subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter--free of charge--by clicking

In This Issue

LONDON CALLING by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: X20 by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR:  Summer Reds by John Mariani


by John Mariani




     The pound sterling is now pegged at two American dollars, making the prospects of visiting
London twice as expensive as New York or Las Vegas.  Which means a meal will easily run you $150 per person—without booze or wine—in top places like Gordon Ramsay, The Square, and Tom Aikens. Nevertheless, American tourist numbers are at the highest they've ever been in Europe and London.  Go figure.
lFortunately many
London restaurateurs, including Tom Aikens, have been opening more casual restaurants where the food and décor are in a different style but highly appealing in every way.
 Tom’s Kitchen (27 Cale Street; 011-44-
20-7349-0202), located just off Kings Road, run by his identical twin brother, has been packed since opening this year, serving housemade charcuterie, a massive and succulent côte de boeuf (the most expensive thing on the menu, at $66 for two), and his signature “7 hour confit of shoulder of lamb.” You might choose to sit at the lively communal table in this gregarious, white-tiled room with an open kitchen.  The winelist has scores of bottles under $50.
     The place gets intensely, ear-shatteringly loud, which some find part of the fun (the photo at left shows the total lack of any soft, sound-absorbing surfaces), but I am one of those fuddy-duddies who  prefer being able to hear my partners' voice above the din.
     The chef in the open kitchen is Robert Aikens, and he looks happy as a clam back there because he can be sure his guests are having a jolly good time noshing on his red onion tart and tomato salad with mozzarella and pesto, and a platter of housemade charcuterie. The crab and scallop tortellini with fennel fondue, lobster, and basil velouté was wonderful, although they should change the menu to read "a single tortellino."
     Main courses follow simple suit with dishes like an excellent duck confit with freshly made chips and a red wine-shallot sauce, a luscious macaroni and cheese, a decent monkfish-squid casserole, and that superlative côte de boeuf served for two. Every dessert is a winner, from a superb chocolate fondant with praline ice cream to velvety, rich vanilla yogurt with churros fritters.
       Another nice touch: Tom's Kitchen dotes on children and their families and even serves breakfast.

      Arbutus (63-64 Frith Street; 011-44-20-7734-4545), located in Soho, has made its own considerable reputation—including a shiny new Michelin star--by offering a three-course pre-theater menu at £17.50,  with scores of good wines available by carafe, starting at £4.25, to go with modern Brit food.  weA la carte a three-course dinner will run you about £28. Owners Will Smith and chef Anthony Demetre aim to provide top quality for a fair price, and the fact that this is one of the most unassuming and handsome new restaurants in town makes it all the more popular.
   There is always a plat du jour, like roast chicken with sautéed potatoes and morels in cream sauce, and appetizers and entrees each  number a sensible eight items, beginning with lovely asparagus with a fried duck egg, an equally vibrant crushed tomato soup with a dollop of ricotta and a swirl of olive oil, and braised pig's head with potato puree and caramelized onions. There was at least one oddity on the night I visited--a squid and mackerel burger that was not, to my taste, an honorable marriage.
       For main courses go with the halibut with potato gnocchi and Cornish cockles, or the slowly roasted, succulent lamb with sweetbreads and artichokes. For innards lovers there is lamb's tripe and trotters Using lesser cuts of meat is one way of saving money and passing it on to the consumer.
      Desserts are homey and delicious--warm waffles with strawberries and vanilla cream, and a warm chocolate soup with caramelized milk ice cream.  The vanilla cheesecake with strawberries is light and fluffy.
     Arbutus shows that fine food need not be fussy and need not be extravagantly priced, especially if millions have not gone into decor. Arbutus is in fact a smart-looking, well lighted place where the conviviality makes up for a deliberate lack of gilt and velvet.

      If, however, you are feeling a bit flush, I would by all means hasten to the Grill Room at The Dorchester Hotel (Park Lane; 011-20-7629-888;, where a new, young chef named Aiden Byrne (below) is doing some of the finest cuisine in London right now, balancing regulars' love of the classics with his own bright ideas for a younger crowd.
       qLong before I ever published a word, I dreamed of someday having lunch in New York at The Four Seasons with an editor who looked like Bennett Cerf and at the Grill at the Dorchester with an editor who looked like Trevor Howard. Eventually I did have lunch at The Four Seasons with an editor, although she looked more like Nora Ephron than Bennett Cerf, and have yet to dine with a London editor at the Dorchester.  But I have dined at The Grill many times over the years and always enjoyed it immensely. For decades it was always the same, the room done up in a curiously Spanish motif, the  formally dressed staff at the beck and call of London businessmen, trysting lovers, and  aging aristocracy. The roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was always wonderful, and the  the classic dish Dover sole à la meuniére was always deftly de-boned (if you wish) at the table by a  waiter who spoons the sizzling butter over the fish along with serving boiled potatoes or crispy, light golden pommes soufflé. Half the delight of the dish is watching the service of it, in anticipation of the first morsel.  With such a great, rich seafood dish nothing would satisfy me but a bottle of Corton-Charlemagne chilled to precisely 45 degrees.
     You can still have those dishes, and I still pine for them, but I was really astonished at the brilliance of the new cooking at the Grill.  The food looks complicated, and it takes enormous skill to prepare, but it is not in the rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrleast fussy, starting with an appetizer like Byrne's ballotine of rabbit with crayfish and peas or his creamy chicken and garlic soup with a dice of potatoes and translucent black truffle ravioli.  I didn't taste (perhaps fortunately) much white chocolate in a risotto accompanying superlative roast Cornish scallops, but the summer flavor of a pea sorbet with mint and crème fraîche was enchanting.
      Our main courses included "squab pigeon" (a redundancy) cooked perfectly rosy, with tangy pickled cabbage and a sweet garlic butter sauce in lush counterpoint.  Roast leg of pork followed the Grill Room's traditions, but Byrne added a wonderful langoustine cream to the dish along with boulangère potatoes, with the lagniappe of rillettes of pork.  There is a selection of British and French cheeses, while desserts have an elegant simplicity that matches the spirit of the Grill--a lemon posset with raspberries and honey and poached rhubarb with vanilla yogurt and lemon jelly.  The breads, made on the premises, could be much better than they are now.
      A tab here can mount easily, though the 6-course tasting menu at £70 is worth every penny, and at lunch there is a very fine fixed price menu, with two courses at £25 and three at £27.50.
      The re-do of the Grill's decor has been somewhat controversial, going from Iberian flourishes to murals of romping Scots highlanders in full regalia, which I actually like quite a bit. It's not modern but it seems apt for this, still one of the great and enduring British dining rooms, now with a very promising talent in the kitchen.  Why, then, The Dorchester is putting in an Alain Ducasse operation right across the hallway from the Grill is beyond me.  At a time when they should be promoting the talent, diligence, and hard work of Mr. Byrne, it seems silly to hire a chef in name only who will rarely be anywhere near the eponymous restaurant.


by John Mariani


71 Water Grant Street
Yonkers, NY


   There's a long story behind X20, the stunning new restaurant on the Hudson River at Yonkers, NY,  in full view of the Palisades, the carousel lights of the George Washington Bridge, and the purple towers of Manhattan.  Peter Xaviar Kelly (below), who grew up in this river city, now struggling to rebound from decades of decay, has been a local star chef in the area, with three  well-known, highly regarded restaurants across the Tappan Zee in Rockland County.  This new multi-level restaurant is set on the 100-year-old Yonkers Recreation Pier, from which ferries ply the fast-moving waters of the Hudson down to Wall Street.
     rereeThe project,
designed by Highland Associates, turned out beautifully, though it took six years to make it happen, given the byzantine ways of state and local politics, engineering reports, historical societies, and all the rest of the red tape that goes with something this size.  Now that it's done, you can see the millions of dollars Kelly and his brother Ned, who mans the dining room, poured into X20, with its vast expanses of windows, bamboo floors, artwork by John Beerman of Nyack, hand-crafted furniture, a sushi lounge, unique utensils, fine stemware, and civilized acoustics.
     X20 is, however, a restaurant still in the making, and I suspect it will be where the Kelly brothers want it to be six months from now.  Knowing that it is not, they have wisely restricted reservations, so that no matter when you call the restaurant a day or two before you wish to dine--even weeks out--a receptionist will tell you, "Sorry, we're fully committed," even if the dining room is only three-quarters full that evening.  This allows the Kellys, and chef de cuisine Kenny Breiman, to get the timing right and the staff in shape.  Upon my visit neither was down pat yet, and I have received reports of long delays between courses and cold food.
     The sushi, while dramatically presented, is fairly routine, and the rice-to-fish ratio favors the former to the detriment of the latter. A terrine of Hudson Valley duck with pistachios and truffles, celeriac salad, and a red currant and orange peel glaze was a lovely idea, but the texture of the terrine itself somewhat grainy.  Very good indeed was a dish of ravioli filled with juicy short ribs and foie gras in truffle butter, with grated amaretti cookies and bitter-salty broccoli di rabe.  So, too, a warm flan of Silver Queen corn with lump crabmeat and fore gras, grated chorizo and a micro-greens salad was like comfort food in excelsis.  Not so a warm salad of calamari and sweetbreads whose fennel pollen and passion fruit seeds did little to make up for a basic blandness.ttttg
      My favorite among the main courses were a grilled breast of squab with a sprightly tamarind glaze, soothing white corn-and-cheddar grits and leaf spinach--an impeccable blend of ingredients--and a mignon of Berkshire black hog with grilled bacon, homey gingered sweet potatoes, and a rosemary-scented apple condiment.  Good, if not exceptional, was a sage-rubbed veal chop with mushroom custard and an odd lime-flavored hollandaise that did not interact well. The problem with a crispy duck schnitzel with red cabbage, a ragoût of spaetzle and duck leg confit, with glazed turnips, was not the combination or the cooking but that the duck meat had little flavor at all beneath the crispy shell.
     Desserts include pleasing renditions of chocolate-espresso cake and butterscotch pudding laced with Irish whiskey.
      The winelist, always building, now has more than 300 selections, 40 by the glass, with mostly gracious markups and a few bargains among the rarer wines.
      Service was well meaning but often inattentive, and there were lapses of time between courses.
      X20 is such a gorgeously situated restaurant, especially at twilight when the sun sets behind the Palisades and the southern sky turns lavender, that I have every hope it will bring the lower Hudson Valley all the admiration and wonder it is due.   I also believe that once X20 gets in synch, it will be an outstanding destination restaurant for anyone who hasn't been north of Manhattan in a while.

    X20 is open for lunch Tues.-Fri., and dinner Tues.-Sun., with Sunday brunch.  Dinner appetizers range from $8.50 to $14, and main courses $28-$35.

by John Mariani

In the Heat of Summer, Cool Down with Red Wines

     jNow that the dog days of summer have pretty much descended upon the entire U.S., the thought of drinking big, heavy cabernet sauvignons, barolos, and pomerols with outdoor food is about as appealing as wearing a sweater to the beach.
      Nevertheless, most winelovers would not wish to go through August and Labor Day drinking nothing but white wines and roses, especially if the food on the grill is steak, lamb or hamburgers.  The solution to the dilemma is to drink lighter reds, particularly those that can chill down a little and be refreshing while matching the richer flavors of red meat.
      When I say chill, I mean slightly, to 50 to 55 degrees F, which is about the recommended cellar temperature for all wines, but a little too cold as a temperature for drinking big reds.
      The good thing about light reds is that they will go well with anything a full-bodied white will, except simply grilled or sautéed white fish like bass, sole, and halibut. Even then, if those fish are made with a red wine-and-butter sauce, the same red wine used would be the most rational choice to accompany the meal.
      Light reds go very well indeed with mussels, octopus, scallops, salmon, mackerel, and monkfish. And they hold up with red meats, as long as they are not doused with hot seasonings. With those meat dishes I go with a medium-priced merlot.
      Among the light reds I enjoy in summer, Sancerre Rouge is at the top of the list. Made from pinot noir in the Loire Valley, red Sancerre has a limestone flintiness that you don’t find much in red Burgundies; neither do you get Burgundy’s depth or complexity. The producer to look for is Lucien Crochet, whose La Croix du Roi 2004 ($26-$30) has delightful cherry notes, and the vintage is lighter than the 2005. Other dependable labels include Alphonse Mellot and Henry Natter.56
      A bit bolder and bigger in bouquet and body are the pinot noirs from New Zealand, which are now beginning to get the same kind of high praise NZ sauvignon blancs have garnered for years. The oddly named Box-O’-Birds Pinot Noir 2003 ($25) gets its name from the kiwis’ colloquial answer to the question, “How are you?,” and means “the speaker is cheerful, happy, or in fine health.” This is a solid pinot noir, from nose to finish, but with just 13.6 percent alcohol neither overwhelming nor heavy. Drink it with a pasta with pesto sauce made from fresh basil and pine nuts, or with an appetizer of cured ham like prosciutto or Serrano.
      Beaujolais crus—not 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau, which by now is not worth drinking—from Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliènas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Saint-Amour, and Régnié, are among my favorite summer wines, most especially with grilled chicken, salade Niçoise, and goat’s cheese. The Gamay grape is always assertive, always identifiable, and a little chill is welcome. Georges Duboeuf is the 500-pound gorilla of Beaujolais, controlling more than ten percent of the region’s production, and his Juliènas Flower Label 2005 has developed ripeness and a vigor that makes it ideal for warm weather. And at about $11 a bottle (I’ve found it on sale for a lot less), you can invite a lot of friends over for dinner.
      ddddddddItaly’s Veneto region produces two contenders for summer quaffing—bardolino and valpolicella—though there are very few good examples of the former in the U.S. market.  And unless I were serving a fat porterhouse steak, I’d be shy of the bigger-bodied valpolicella ripasso wines.  But a regular valpolicella of medium heft and reasonable price, such as Bussola Classico 2005 ($16) is testament to just how delicious a well-made example can be, and it would go perfectly with pork, tomato sauces, and an oily fish like salmon.
      Let me end by recommending a varietal we don’t see nearly enough of—petite syrah, or petite sirah, which was once believed to be related to the Rhone Valley’s syrah but is actually the grape known in the Rhone as the durif, which itself is a cross breed of peloursin with syrah. You won’t find much of it in France any more but it is still propagated as Petite Syrah in California where a few examples are well worth seeking out, not least one I just found from Bogle Vineyards of Grafton. Their Petite Sirah 2005 ($12) is a beauty, full of black cherry flavors an spice, and therefore just the thing to go with smoky barbecue, even if there’s pepper and sweetness in the accompanying sauce.
      In every case, go with the younger vintages, stick them in the ‘fridge for 15 minutes or the freezer for five, and sip them under an umbrella or swinging in a hammock to induce a good summer’s nap.

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.


Restaurateur Greg Engert of Rustico in Alexandria, Virginia, with nearly 300 varieties of beer has been making "Hopsicles," ice pops flavored with beer.
Flavors include  "Raspbeery," "Plum," and "Fudgesicle," with Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. Alcoholic Beverage Control says Hopsicles may violate beer-serving laws.


In Destin, FL, McGuire's Irish Pub has for ten years
had a men's room with a sign in  large print reading  "Ladies" with smaller text clarifying that women shouldn't go in there because it's--har dee har har!--actually the men's room. The women's room has a similar sign. After  the father of a 15-year-old girl was interrupted by a man in the women's room, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation threatened the pub with closure for "Lack of signage properly designating bathrooms." General Manager Billy Martin told the Northwest Florida Daily News"We're not trying to be malicious. It's an Irish joke kind of thing." More than 3,000 pub patrons have signed a petition to bring the signs back.


* On Aug. 13, 20 & 27, Valentino in Santa Monica owner Piero Selvaggio  presents a 7-course meal served family style. Call  310-829-4313. Visit

* On Aug. 14 Chef Geoffrey Zakarian of Country in NYC will hold a Summer Champagne Dinner featuring special cuvées from the houses of Dom Perignon, Krug and Ruinart.  $250 pp. Call 212-889-7051.

* On Aug. 21, California Cafe, Los Gatos launches Tasting Room Tuesdays featuring a different local winery each week, kicking off with Bonny Doon winery,  with live music and passed hors d' oeuvres from Chef Taylor Boudreaux. $10 pp. Guests who dine at that evening or purchase a bottle of wine to take home will be refunded and corkage fees. Call 40-354-8118 or

* On August 23, the Hotel Bel-Air in Bel-Air, CA, will hold Le Grand Aioli, celebrating the garlic harvest, on the Front Lawn. The meal will center around the traditional aioli and feature bouillabaisse, paired with wines from Brander Vineyards. $125 pp. Call 310-943-6742 or send an e-mail to

* On Aug. 24 in Orlando, FL, the Rosen Centre  is hosting the "Rosen Centre Vine and Dine," a wine-pairing dinner series  of four evenings, exploring  a different region of the world with each dinner, and prepared by  Executive Chef Michael Rumplik and Specialty Restaurant Chef Fred Vlachos.. The series finale is Oct. 26. 65 pp. Call 407 996-9840; visit or

* Lafitte Guest House in New Orleans announces a new summer culinary school, to be held Aug.  24-26 and will incl. a 3-night stay, with instruction from chef Greg Picolo of the Bistro at Maison deVille. All students will receive recipes for the menus prepared and will be presented with a certificate of completion. Starting at $1200 pp single occupancy or $1700 double occupancy, with breakfast, food and wine with cooking instruction.  Call 504-581-2678 or visit

*    The French Riviera’s Château de la Tour in Cannes has unveiled a special “4 for 3”  package incl. a 4-night stay in a double room for the price of a 3-night stay, plus  buffet breakfast daily, VIP welcome Champagne and fruit basket, two dinners for two in the hotel’s “Le 10,” private parking and a surprise welcome gift.  238€ (US$230) per night, valid from Aug. 20-Dec.      Visit


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. It was 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

yyy u7o9o ee
rer rr ryh

copyright John Mariani 2007