Virtual Gourmet

November 11,  2007                                                       NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue

An Interview with Joël Robuchon by John A. Curtas

: Bar Stuzzichini by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARFrom Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay to Emeritus Pinot Noir by John Mariani



An Interview with Master Chef Joël Robuchon

By John A. Curtas
     When the "Chef Of The 20th Century" (as proclaimed by Gault-Millau in 1996) is in town and at the stoves of his eponymous restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, gourmands from within and without Las Vegas come running to see what he and Executive Chef Claude Le Tohic are cooking up.  Unlike many “celebrity” chefs, Robuchon doesn’t arrive with a phalanx of public relations flacks in tow, and indeed, he spends most of his time in the kitchen when he’s here.  Getting him out of there isn’t so easy--unlike many of his American and French colleagues--a fact diners packing both his restaurants, Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, seem to appreciate.

Writer John A. Curtas, Alexandre Gaudelet, VP of Food & Beverage at the MGM Grand, and Joël Robuchon

    His flagship was fully booked for the week he was in town in September, despite the $365 prix fixe, and à la carte pricing at a minimum of $170 for three courses (although with an amuse here and a mignardise there, your course count will always be much higher). Bon Appetit Magazine had also just named Pastry Chef, Kamel Guechida, Pastry Chef Of The Year (Oct. 2007),  so the time seemed ripe for picking the brain of the master.
          JC:  So how has your cuisine evolved since your days at Jamin (his three-star restaurant in Paris, which he retired from several years ago)?
          Robuchon:  To the extent my food has always been grounded in respect for both the product and flavor of the product, it hasn’t really.
          JC:  Is it harder to get people to appreciate your food in Las Vegas than it is in Paris?
          Robuchon: In Paris there's a constant dissertation [by food writers] on what the customers wants, but  many times they think they know more than they do. It’s somewhat harder in Las Vegas because there are far fewer regular customers and many more tourists, and a lot more celebrity chefs!
        JC:  What was your biggest fear about opening a restaurant in Las Vegas?
          Robuchon:  My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find the same quality produce, and seafood that I could get in Paris here in the middle of the American desert.  But American beef is better than it is in France, and we’ve had no difficulty getting the same produce and fish here; in fact some of yours are even better.  So we have the same products here, and now we’re getting the same customers!
          JC:  Has your experience in Las Vegas influenced your cooking in any way?
          Robuchon: Definitely.  I never would have thought of putting a mini-hamburger (topped with foie gras of course), with [truffle-dusted] french fries on the menu until I came to America.  Now it’s become one of our most popular dishes on the menus at every L’Atelier. [Robuchon also runs L'Ateliers in Paris, Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, and London.]
          JC:  Besides, obviously, France, what country has most influenced your cooking?
          Robuchon:  Japan has influenced me quite a bit, I go there four times a year. Its cuisine impresses me with its emphasis on flavor and combinations of flavors in foods.  To me Japanese food is more about the flavor and Chinese food is more about texture.
          JC:  What’s your opinion of molecular gastronomy and its practitioners?
          Robuchon:  There is too much emphasis on texture and not enough flavor in that type of cooking.  Much of it consists of adding chemicals, emulsifiers, and other things to natural foods that good gastronomy works hard to take out.
          JC:  But I noticed a foam or two in some of your dishes, and even an avant-garde take on risotto using soybeans instead of rice. Why did you do that?
          Robuchon:  (grinning) We don’t use chemical additives for our foams or emulsifiers.  Veal trotters were used for our emulsifier in the soybean risotto, to bring out the flavor of the main ingredient.
          JC:  What do you see as the future of haute cuisine?
          Robuchon:  Michelin 3-Star dining will always be around, but there’s a lot less room for it in the world than there used to be.  The challenge today is to make the table exceptional in a more casual setting--much like we try to do at L’Atelier.  The hardest thing to do is to make a simple meal well.
          JC:  But if French cuisine is about the intensification and extraction of flavors – in other words, doing things the hard way to maximize flavor-- does that mean French cuisine and technique is dying out?
          Robuchon:   Far from it.  What seems simple,  such as the combining of basic flavors,  becomes more complex when it comes to getting things right.  A good example would be a simple Caprese salad.  It seems easy, but is really very difficult if you want to make it correctly.
          JC:  Do you ever worry about diluting your brand by continuing to open more restaurants?  And how is it that you continue to do so after getting so famously burned-out back in the mid-nineties in Paris?
          Robuchon:  At my age (61, looking at least 10 years younger), everything I do I do to please myself and because I enjoy it.
          JC:  And where are you opening next?
          Robuchon:  Tel Aviv, next year, in their historical district.  I have many friends in Israel and we are very excited.

Since 1995, John A. Curtas has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at The translation of this interview from French was by Alexandre Gaudelet, VP of Food & Beverage at the MGM Grand.


by John Mariani

928 Broadway

     Bar Stuzzichini, in the Flatiron District, focuses on its namesake appetizers, as well it should, because there's plenty to love here among the categories of Crostini, Formaggi, Verdure, Pesce, Fritti, and Salumi.  The best way to approach this bounty is to order the "Stuzzichini Misti," a choice of five items, $24 for two people, $46 for four, and those are very good deals indeed.  You can choose whatever you like, and since the appetizers run $3-$12, you'll eat well and cheaply.
      I loved the stuffed eggplant and the deliciously addictive  chickpea fritters, as well as the lightly smoky scamorza cheese to eat with good country bread, and the juicy, flavorful polpette meatballs. Among the salumi, you may choose among sweet cacciatorini sausage, spicy soppressate, Prosciutto di Parma, or pizza rustica.
      Depending on how hungry you are you might want to order just one more course, or share a pasta and a main course, and with nothing over $22 on the menu, you can afford to be a little profligate. Chef Paul DeBari, whose ancestors came from
Rome, Naples, and Foggia, worked at the Austrian restaurant Wallsé before creating this Southern Italian menu, and the best of it approaches the best I've had in those Southern regions where good taste takes precedence over flair and composition.
        Of the pasta dishes we tried, one was outstanding--the rigatoni with oxtail ragù--the other somewhat flavorless, because the promised pistachios and lemon combined with tagliolini in a creamy, Alfredo-like sauce didn't come through.
        Maybe they were saving all the lemon for the best of our main courses--a fabulously crispy lemon-laced chicken. Also very good was braised rabbit
Bari style, and a short rib bracciole, but wholly absorbed with the braising liquids, tomato, onion, and spices. Swordfish is so often not as fresh as it should be in restaurants, and the example here, done alla puttanesca with cherry tomatoes, garlic, capers, and olives, was somewhat fishy smelling and lacked the right texture swordfish uniquely has when it's at its best.
      Carolyn Renny, who currently works on the "Martha Stewart Show," does some yummy pastries, also available at the bar late at night when you may need a sugar rush and a good, strong espresso.
   The 100+ winelist is appropriately all Italian, with a focus on the wines of the South, from Abruzzo to
Sicily. The restaurant puts "Enoteca" in its logo to indicate this is a place to drop by for some wine by the glass, served in quartinos.
      The long dining area and front bar has an authentically rustic atmosphere, with expanses of polished mahogany, big wagon wheel-like chandeliers, photographs of
Naples by Salvatore Mancini, and mosaic floors. Banquettes are red or striped, tables, sad to say, are naked, which doesn't help a truly ear-shattering decibel level that keeps Bar Stuzzichini from being more enjoyable than it is.  Conversation becomes a shouting match here.
      That said, if you can somehow manage to get a table a little out of the noise corridor, you will be as close to a true sense of the kind of metropolitan cafés, bacari, enotecas, and trattorias that enliven the spirit of the Italian South, with plenty of good wine and laughter to go along wit it.

Bar Stuzzichini is open for lunch and dinner daily, for brunch on Sat. & Sun.


by John Mariani

                                     Emeritus William Wesley Vineyards of the Sonoma Coast

      At the Air Force Academy Brice Cutrer Jones learned about “duty, honor, and country”; as a fighter pilot in Vietnam he learned about leadership; at Harvard Business School he learned to “question every assumption”; and when he founded Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards in 1973 in the Russian River Valley as a tax shelter he found out “that I was going to be broke for a very long time.”

      Seventeen years, to be exact, and that was just to break even. “When I went back to visit Harvard,” says Jones, 67, “they gave me the `Long Suffering Award,’ and the guy who gave it to me was Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman of Blackstone.”
      When success did come, Sonoma-Cutrer had earned respect as one of the finest chardonnays produced in California. His first vintage was 1981. In April 1999 Jones sold the company to Brown-Forman, which also owns Fetzer Vineyards, Korbel, Jack Daniels, and Southern Comfort. They asked Jones to stay on as president. It was a marriage, he says, made “in purgatory.”
      “Going public was ruinous,” Brice told me over lunch in New York at Tocqueville restaurant. “Brown-Forman wanted more quarterly profits and more wines, and I wanted to make less.  They wanted to grow from 150,000 to 500,000 cases. We locked horns on lots of issues, and they finally got fed up and fired me.”
      By then, however, Jones (left) had bought 105 acres of apple orchard north of Sebastopol, which he’d even offered to Brown-Forman, which declined, so he and six other Sonoma-Cutrer management people invested in the land and started planting pinot noir, not chardonnay, even though Brown-Forman had waived Jones’s non-compete agreement. Eventually 30 employees of Sonoma-Cutrer left to join Jones.
      “Fifteen years ago I said western Sonoma Coast was going to be the Côte d’Or of California, and we’re out to prove it,” says Jones adamantly. “Should we try to taste like Burgundy? No, but we should emulate their charm, elegance, balance.” Then, sounding quite the California gentleman farmer, “I want my pinot noirs to be a holistic, seductive experience.”
      The result is Emeritus Vineyards, which produces just 5,500 cases. With winemaker Don Blackburn, who previously worked at David Bruce Winery, Elliston, Bernardus and Byington wineries, Emeritus makes two pinots from two estates, the Russian River Valley ($32), sold in nine states, and the William Wesley ($50), available only through the winery’s website: The 2005 vintage, which I tasted with Jones, is currently available.
      Blackburn utilizes clonal selection and dry farming to help the grapes achieve full ripeness without excessive sugars and extracted flavors. Grapes are hand picked at night (right), so they are cool when they arrive at the winery. He too can sound quite Left Coast when he describes his pinots as having “aromas that work harmoniously toward creating a complete, well-focused impression that gives the taster an ineffable sense of well-being."
      Not that he’s wrong.  After drinking both the wines with Chef Marco Moreira’s fine lunch of chilled corn soup with a green tomato marmalade and lemon-scented chicken with a confit of sweet onions, pancetta ham, and fava bean puree, I certainly felt lulled into a sense of well being.
      The wines are indeed elegant, very velvety, big but not cloyingly extracted.  The alcohol is not nearly as high as some Sonoma pinots—14.3 percent for both wines—but the wines do indeed express what is best about the Russian River Valley terroir for pinot noir, which isn’t really very much like the soil of wind-blown Burgundy. The California sun boosts the sugars but Blackburn is careful to keep the acids in tandem, producing pinots that are clearly full of California boldness.
       Jones, meanwhile, is working as hard as ever, using the slow post-harvest season to travel and drum up business. Ninety, he thinks, is probably a good age to consider retirement.  So if you call him and get his answering machine, he may greet you with a weather report from Sonoma Coast, fill you in on the current vintage—“light but the best in memory”—and say that he’s “on the road, burning shoe leather, with my hat in my hand, doing what I did 25 years ago.”
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.


The London Fire Brigade closed off roads in Soho after people complained of a noxious chemical burning their throats as they passed by a Thai restaurant. Smashing down the door, the police found a roasting pot with nine pounds of bird’s eye chilies intended for nam prik pao chili paste. There were no arrests.


"Some melancholy within me finds
Milan appealing on a typically damp day.  Perhaps it’s the morning tide of industriousness. Men in navy cashmere coats cycle towards the financial district, child seats in use for children or briefcases.  Mothers with flying coat tails clutched by children in oversize crash helmets zip by on motorini. School-bound teenagers shove each other on the orange trams. Doormen sweep their sidewalks. In bars, coffee cups clink and coffee grinders buzz.  Milan’s ever-present diesel fuel smell energetic and promising."—Madeleine Johnson, “What I Love about Milan,” Financial Times (Oct. 28).



* On Nov. 14 at Valentino in Santa Monica, “An Evening in  Umbria with  Monini Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” will be held with matched wines. $125 pp. Call 310-829-4313 or visit

* On Nov. 15 Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay, CA, will be hosting a 4-course Dungeness Crab dinner by chef/partner Lewis Rossman with the wines of Bob and Jim Varner, who will discuss their Santa Cruz appellation Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  $85 pp. Call 650-712-0245  or visit

* On Nov. 15 in Washington D.C.,  The Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center teams up with J Vineyards and Winery for a 4-course wine dinner by Chef Karen Hayes and Pastry Chef Bruce Connell.  A representative from J Vineyards and Winery will give tasting notes on each wine.   $125 pp. Call 202-416-8555. Visit
* On Nov. 16 in D.C., Taberna del Alabardero's  Sommelier David Bueno partners with Spanish wine importer Aurelio Cabestrero, to present a unique 6-course Wine Tasting Dinner.  $125 pp. Call 202-429-2200. Visit

* On Nov. 17 Chef Jody Adams of Rialto in Camridge, MA, will hold a cooking class on the food of Emilia Romagna, followed by a 4-course lunch with paired wines and recipe booklet. $125 pp. Call (617) 661-5081.

* The Heritage Suites at the Steenberg Hotel & Winery, near the center of Cape Town, in South Africa, offers a package a two night at a rate of $2,600. incl. accommodation, all meals, and drinks.  In addition, they will interact one night with award-winning Chef Garth Almazan who will show them how to prepare a contemporary South African dinner, in their suite, while the Steenberg wine steward provides a private wine tasting. Visit or call +27 21-713-2222.

* On Nov. 19 The Center for Wine, Food & Culture presents "Beaujolais: The World's Most Popular Wine" at  Stony Brook Manhattan, 401 Park Avenue South in NYC.  Meet Rudolph Chelminski, author of I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It  the World's Most Popular Wine.  $30 pp.  Register now with secure online payment at:

* In Key Largo, FL. From Nov. 29-Dec. 2 the Ocean Reef Club will hold the 13th Annual Vintage Weekend to showcase some of the finest aircraft, automobiles and motor yachts from the 1900s to 1970s owned by Ocean Reef Club members and guests.  Lunch at Alabama Jacks; the Concours d'Elegance drive-by; sock hop-themed reception and dinner party; road rally, and awards ceremony. Call (800) 741-7333.
* Red Carnation Hotels is offering the 'It's a Wonderful Life' festive package at their three London properties, The Milestone, The Egerton House and "41,” available between Nov. 23 and Jan. 6, incl.: 2-night accommodations;  Deluxe tree ornament plus a DVD of "It's A Wonderful Life"; English breakfast daily; Tea for two with Christmas cake;  Bottle each of red and white wine; Lunch or dinner for two  and a visit by Santa if children are staying with a guest on Christmas Day.  For rates call 877-955-1515.

* For the third consecutive year, Chef Sal Marino prepares the classic Italian dish, bollito misto, for guests, Wednesday nights at Il Grano in Los Angeles, a 50course menu at $49 pp.  Wine selections from sommelier Peter Birmingham will be offered at a 20 percent discount for magnum bottles. Call 310-477-7886.

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

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copyright John Mariani 200