Virtual Gourmet

December 2,   2007                                                       NEWSLETTER

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind" (1939)

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Lucy of Gramercy by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: New Book Shows Winemaking is Serious Business,
Not Romance, a Review by John Mariani



by Robert Mariani

    Despite Dublin's remarkable surge in business and industry in the past few years, I was glad to see it hasn't relinquished its rich literary heritage. Dublin is still very much a writer's city. Indeed it's the only city in Europe to have produced four Nobel prize winning authors-- George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, W.B. Yeats, and Seamus Heaney.
    A great way to soak up some of this literary atmosphere is to join
the Dublin Writers' Pub Crawl. This light-hearted two-and-a-half hour sojourn conducted by various pairs of talented Irish actors takes you to four or five different pubs, all within about a half-mile radius of Trinity College.  It was wonderful to see that on a perfectly ordinary Tuesday afternoon around three PM, all the pubs we stopped at were quite full—and now smoke free, a change that has amazingly been well received in Dublin.
    The Pub Crawl begins on Trinity's historic Common with readings and stories by the actors. As students drifted by, books in hand, our guides read passages from Oscar Wilde's letters,  then verses from Yeats's poems, after which we walked briskly to a nearby pub, where our guides donned derbies and performed a hilariously enigmatic scene from Beckett's Waiting For Godot. Each bit lasts just long enough to imbibe a few fingers of whiskey or a pint of Guinness before moving on.
     In keeping with Dublin's great literary heritage, the city is also home to the Dublin Writers Museum (18 Parnell Square North; 353 1 872 2077), which chronicles and celebrates Irish literary stars from the past three hundred years.  Here in this elegant old Victorian brownstone, you'll find all discover of interesting facts and oddities about Irish authors. Did you know, for example, that Oscar Wilde was a promising pugilist during his days at Trinity College,  and that Samuel Beckett, had he not become one of the most  influential writers of the twentieth century, would have most likely made a name for himself as a professional cricket star? Its collection of playbills (left) has amazing depth and breadth.
      I spent my first night in Dublin at the stylish new Dylan Hotel (Eastmoreland Place; 353 1 660-3000), a handsomely renovated Victorian home near the edge of the bustling Dublin City Center. It's a residential neighborhood, and on a crisp fall afternoon the street was filled with the delightful sound of young children at a nearby playground. The building was once a nurses’ boardinghouse converted into a 44-room boutique.  From the outside, The Dylan looks much like the other homes on the street. Well-kept and reserved. Inside, there is a distinctively chic re-design with Still, the sleek silver and white bar/restaurant and street-front garden on the ground floor. The Dylan Bar in the basement is a dark, moody place with a pewter bar, and barstools that look like something Queen Victoria would design if she were feeling a bit naughty, and cushy red chairs that seem to be from two or three different eras at once.
     The guest rooms are all different but done in the same vein of textured wallpapers, leather detailing, and repro-antique furnishings. The tile bathroom floors are radiant heated--a sensuous antidote to a foggy Dublin chill. Other amenities include Bang & Olufsen phones, Bose iPod docking stations and Philips LCD televisions, all mixed in with sparkling glass light fixtures and reprised Victorian furnishings.
         Room rates are US$200-US$400.
                                                                                The Dylan Hotel

     My first meal in Dublin was a great one, at the extraordinary Chapter One, (18-19 Parnell Square; 353-1-873-2266) housed  in the basement of the Dublin Writers Museum and the former Jameson Whiskey family home on Parnell Square North. Opened in 1992 by Ross Lewis and Martin Corbett, Chapter One has won many local and national awards, including Best Service, and the menu focuses on modern Irish preparations.
    Chapter One's list of starters that night included Jerusalem artichoke soup with leeks and hazelnut cream; langoustine with smoked bacon and a red pepper basquaise purée; and duck  sausage with a rich cassoulet of lentils, apple and horseradish purée.  I was  delighted with a flavorful terrine of veal topped with pear and mustard
purée and a crisp watercress and hazelnut salad.
     The entrees were also nicely balanced in taste and textures, with everything here based on Irish ingredients from the seas and farms. Thus, there is hake with braised squid, roast fennel, tomato and shellfish sauce; an  Aberdeen Angus fillet of beef with  braised mushrooms, red wine essence and a béarnaise sauce; and a loin of venison with creamed savoy cabbage, roast organic beets, stuffed white onion, and pickled walnut vinaigrette.
     I chose an exquisitely composed guinea hen, delicately wrapped in a mild Parma ham  and modified by a garlic emulsion and peas à la  francaise.  There were no strident flavors here: the blending of ingredients and preparations was simply, almost poetically, balanced.
    Desserts, too, were a simple but eloquent statement of flavors that fit together like a well-crafted sentence--a soft glazed pear worked  perfectly with a sesame tuile and pear cream accompanied by a small helping of licorice ice cream and a palmier bisquit.
Chapter One has an exceptionally good winelist, with a mostly French selection but with plenty of New World bottlings too from South Africa, New Zealand, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Chapter One is open Tues.-Sat. for lunch and dinner,
Prices for appetizers  run 10-22 euros, entrees 34-37.50 euros, with a pre-theater dinner at 35 euros.

     During my visit to Dublin this time, I was invited to drive up to the Jameson Whiskey distillery in County Cork for the introduction of their newest "old whiskey," Jameson "Rarest Vintage Reserve."     The trip itself from Dublin took a couple of hours, heading north. We passed  through several traffic-tangled towns where industry seemed to be expanding faster than the local climate can handle. New construction was everywhere, creeping into the once clear and tranquil green Irish landscape. At various points along the side of the highway we saw small clumps of ramshackle "tinkers' trailers," clotheslines strung out through bushes, and trash cans overflowing with junk.

The Distillery may be visited. (Go to: Here you'll get a good history of distillation, see the giant waterwheel that once powered all of the distillery machinery and today still turns the cogs and wheels in the Mill Building. In the Brew House is displayed the world's largest pot still, and at the end of the tour you can enjoy a whiskey tasting session in the Jameson Bar, and, of course, purchase products at the shop here.
     I must admit I found some of the verbal descriptions of this Rarest Vintage a bit effusive and consequently somewhat vague. Terms like "ripe  fruit notes of melon and dark fleshy plums" and "toasted wood with a touch of  creamy fudge" are all very poetic, but everyone's taste buds are different.  And besides, I find it more enjoyable simply to savor the complexity of a spirit this nuanced without having to name each note as it's struck.
     That said, Jameson's Rarest Vintage Reserve is definitely among the most interesting and satisfying whiskeys I've ever tasted. There's a little something new in every sip, from start to finish. One of the main characteristics of Irish whiskey that distinguishes it from Scotch blends and single malts in general, is the  absence of the smoky, peat flavor, which some Scotch connoisseurs prize but  others find overwhelming.
     In the long tradition of Irish whiskey-making, Jameson air-dries its barley as opposed to spreading it over peat smoke to keep the flavor  pure. A great many subtleties are added to each Jameson whiskey along the way by the choice of aging sherry casks from Spain, bourbon barrels from  the U.S., and by the blending of variously aged whiskeys. In the case of Jameson Gold Reserve (right), new, un-used American white oak casks were employed in concert with blends varying in age.
    This year Jameson unveiled its "Rarest Vintage Reserve" in a special limited edition, which will hit shelves in March of '07. It contains some of  the oldest and rarest whiskeys stored at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork. The event was celebrated in grand style in a heated outdoor tent at the spacious Jameson Distillery, with a musical introduction by none other than Sinéad O'Connor, backed by a full live orchestra with strings.
     O'Connor came on stage looking and sounding uncharacteristically diminutive. Gone from the singer's haunted voice were the shrill, angry cries and diatribes of her early career. She opened with an almost timid version of the beautiful ballad "Love Letters." Her performance was rather brief-- she  only sang about six tunes--and none had the fire and flash she's known for. Perhaps, just like the rest of Ireland, O'Connor had decided one lives longer and more pleasantly by simply hitting the "delete" button when it comes to violence.
      Bottles of the new Rarest Vintage Reserve were at all the tables and just a few sips tell you this is indeed a masterpiece. Only a limited number of cases will be available to the U.S., and it will retail for about  $250 a bottle.     Also on the tables for sampling was the Jameson "18-year old Limited Reserve" which was released in the US back in 2004. The 18-year-old is a blend of whiskeys aged in oak casks for at least 18 years and is indeed seductively complex. A re-packaged version of the 18-year-old will be available in February of '08.
I found myself reflecting on what had transpired in the world while this soon-to-be-famous 18-Year-Old Whiskey was being distilled in copper vats and blended in the  darkness of its oaken casks. Eighteen years ago 'The Troubles' between Northern and Southern Ireland were still tearing the country apart; the first George Bush was newly ensconced in the White House; actor Daniel Day-Lewis had won the Oscar for the Irish drama, "My Left Foot." And the whiskey masters at the Jameson Distillery here in County Cork were just beginning the long, meticulous process of creating an Irish whiskey that contains some of the oldest and rarest whiskeys in the world, aged and nurtured in fortified wine casks by experts whose lives are devoted to this historic and highly evolved process.

    While attending the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve unveiling  ceremony, I was staying overnight at the luxurious new hotel, Capella  Castlemartyr  (353 0-21 464-4050) in County Cork (left). Designed as a destination resort, Capella is an exquisitely restored, sprawling 17th-century old stone manor house on a 220-acre estate adjacent to the ruins of a thousand-year-old castle. In addition to the hotel's many superb amenities, it also boasts a world-class, Ron Kirby-designed inland links golf course, which will open in the spring of  2008.
        The Capella's rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed and there is an Auriga Spa and a large indoor pool. Guests can also enjoy  carriage ride tours of the meticulously kept grounds. In season there is easy-access deep sea fishing just outside of the Cork harbor. The gourmet dining venue here is the Belltower, while Knights Bar is open for afternoon tea and late night tastings of a vast array of whiskeys.
     Although I was only there one day, it seemed pretty clear that the County Cork area does not have enough natural attractions to draw visitors year-round. Winters can be a bit bleak here, but the luxuriously genteel Capella Hotel, which has only just opened this year, might well become a destination in itself-- as well as an attractive asset to the entire area.
       But a visit to just about anywhere in
Ireland these days is inspiring, especially if you've been there before when 'The Troubles' were in full swing. The transformation is quite dramatic, and although the North and the  South still disagree on many key issues, the one thing they've agreed upon has been to stop killing each other. Perhaps the Irish should open "An International Peace College" where our world leaders could go to study the alternatives to violence.

Robert Mariani is a freelance writer living in Bristol, Rhode Island, an co-author of the memoir, Almost Golden.

by John Mariani

35 East 18th Street/ near Park Avenue South

     I'm hoping--begging, really--that owner Phil Suarez will soon change the name of Lucy of Gramercy to Carmen of Gramercy, because the unique and brilliant chef Carmen Gonzalez deserves it. The reason for the current name is because the aforesaid Lucy is Suarez's wife, which is lovely.  But give credit where credit is due.
     I have known Carmen since she opened her namesake restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida, four years ago, and I knew from my first meal that she was immediately the finest chef in the Miami area, unique in that she was taking the cooking of her native Puerto Rico and sublimating it to haute cuisine, with all the dash, color, and bright flavors of the Isla Encantada and all the modernity and precision of a 21st century chef. The restaurant, Carmen, was one of my picks for Esquire's
Photo: Hayes & Hayes                                                                                      Best New Restaurants of 2003.
      Sadly, a fire in the hotel that housed Carmen destroyed the restaurant last year, and Coral Gables' loss is New York's gain. Ms. Gonzalez is a fireball, sweet but intense, serious but adventuresome, and what Michael Psilakis has done to revolutionize Greek food in America at Anthos, Carmen (below) has done for Puerto Rican food here.  Only a handful of restaurants in San Juan do food of this style, and Carmen does it better than any of them.
       The space itself, which has seemed jinxed after so many restaurants opened and closed here, is now very inviting, the lighting warmer, the tables both spacious and well-spaced, with good napery and glassware, and the touches of old beams and some splendid large food paintings seem evocatively removed from Manhattan.   Excellent modern Latin music plays softly in the background.
    You begin here with picadera, Puerto Rican street food, fritters of cod, manchego cheese, and other options; grated yuca and chicken with pique salsa; creamy potatoes stuffed with sirloin piqadillo; and crispy little bites of fried pork with plenty of garlic with a lemon juice relish. The grated green plantains are addictive too.
                                                                                                                                   Photo: Claudia Goetzelman
    "First Plates" are beautifully thought out appetizers (although you could almost make a meal of the picaderas), like seared yellowfin tuna with malanga mash and a remarkably inventive coconut gastrique; Fat Key West shrimp come with plantain piñon and a sweet-tangy sofrito of sautéed ham, garlic, and peppers (below), and a beautiful and creamy lobster and avocado terrine is laced with a lime mayonnaise and little plantain patties called arañitas.
      Main Plates are carefully composed to incorporate Puerto Rican ideas and richness, but I never find Carmen's food cloying or heavy, as I often have with other Latino chefs who just pile on the carbs and the sweetness.  Thus, lightly cooked black grouper is drizzled with a sour orange gastrique and sided with smoked calabaza risotto--terrific concept. Chilean sea bass (not usually my favorite fish) is creamy and sweet, bobbing in a corn broth with fingerling potato croquettes, while a three-inch thick Berkshire pork chop is cooked just to the pink, accompanied by sweet plantains, goat's cheese piñon, and a reduction of pork juices.  I'm not sure Carmen needs wagyu beef to ensure her slowly braised shortribs with funche (a kind of polenta) and Island mojito have such depth of flavor, but the beef flavor comes through forcefully as well.  On the side, the arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and the plantain fufu porridge (originally an African dish) will bring a smile to anyone who's eaten the comfort food of Puerto Rico outside of the main drag of touristy Condado.
      Carmen doesn't let up with desserts: They are as imaginative and lovable as the rest of the menu, from a perfectly creamy flan with caramel sauce and warm coconut rice pudding tamal with cajeta cheese sauce to a sour orange mango strudel with white cheese sorbet and fruit salad and an oozy chocolate cake with chocolate sorbet and devastatingly rich dulce de leche foam.

       The winelist at Lucy is very well thought out to stress Spanish and South American bottlings, from revelations like Viña Jaraba Crianza 2003 to Viñedos de los Vientos "Angel's Cuvee" 2005 (a ripasso style of the Photo: Hayes & Hayes                                                                   tannat grape), all compiled by  new sommelier Gary Dusek.
     If you can find Latino food like this anywhere in or out of New York at this high level of balanced flavor and textures, let me know. There have been several attempts in the past, some tasty, some hearty, some just plain fun. But Carmen brings it all into sharp focus, not only as an expression of what is possible within the Latino genre but what is a very personalized vision of a great chef.

      Lucy of Gramercy is open nightly for dinner. Picadera run $5.50-$10, appetizers $9-$17, and main courses $24-$32.


New Book Shows Winemaking is Serious Business, Not Romance
by John Mariani

      Put off by the oxymoronic title of Steve Heimoff’s new book, New Classic Winemakers of California (U. of California Press, 286 pages; $27.50), I was prepared for a tough slog through 26 “conversations” of winespeak.  Instead I came away amazed by the breadth of opinion and dissension among men and women for whom making wine is strictly business, with few romantic notions beyond the pleasure wine brings to people.
      Debates rage within the industry about high alcohol levels, pricing, the global market, promotion, public relations, and selling.  As Heimoff, west coast editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, warns that after the success of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina in wedging mightily and so quickly into the market, “We have recently heard reports of a massive wine industry in the making in, of all places, China. When these wines hit the market, duck: the grape and wine market will have to make serious adjustments. Even the most famous winemakers sometimes worry about their jobs; even the wealthiest owners understand that if they don’t relentlessly pursue quality, history may pass them (or their children) by.”
       This, then, is not a book about salmon roasts at twilight in the vineyards or lavish charity auctions held under white tents on green lawns. The winemakers in this book are farmers first, and marketers second, and they worry about soil, climate, rot, fungus, and the same things tomato and apple farmers lose sleep over. “I’m not favorable to watering down Pinot Noir,” says Bill Wathen of Foxen Winery & Vineyard, “it’s something I hate to do. But [in] winemaking, you do what you have to do.”
      Heimoff tries to steer clear of too much technical jargon—-bâttonage, cap management, heat summation, reverse osmosis, and so on (there is a good glossary at the end, however)--but these are really the tools of the trade, and there are enlightening passages about the reasons a winemaker like Dan Morgan Lee of Morgan Winery uses “a good chunk of Dijon [clones] 115, 667, 777” along with Wadenswil 2A, clone 12, clone 23, and Pommard. Such discussions dispel the myths of gentleman farmers in California and Bordeaux winemakers in berets sniffing and spitting out wines from grapes Mother Nature has provided. As Greg La Follette of De Loach Vineyards and Tandem Winery explains, “[Novelist] Vladimir Nabokov. . .said, `There is no art without science or fact without fancy,’ [and] I’m a believer that the language of wine is actually the language of yeast biology, of vine physiology, of chemistry.”
      If such topics do not seem engaging to the average winedrinker, I believe it is requisite to understand how even the mavericks in the California wine industry are not dreamers but hardworking, dedicated farmer-scientists who must also operate under the directives of owners and corporations.
     When winegrower Andy Beckstoffer lost most of his Napa Valley vineyards and couldn’t pay his debts, the giant firm Heublein bought them back.  “I personally guaranteed everything,” he said, “They had the right to the house, my car, my wedding ring. . . and they made me sign a personal servitude contract that said I’d farm for them as long as they wanted, I would do everything they told me to do.”
      Heimoff also exposes how difficult it was early on for women to enter the industry. When Merry Edwards (right), now with her own Merry Edwards Wines, interviewed with the late Jack Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards, he “practically lost his teeth when I walked in,” and told her he never would have interviewed her if he’d known she was a woman. (She’d put her formal first name, Meredith, on her résumé.)  Edwards was finally hired by Mount Eden by Dick Graff, who was gay, “which I think was helpful to me. . . . If I hadn’t had this little group of [gay] guys who understood that I was in the same position they were. . .they were my support team.”
    There are also anecdotes about how wineries fool the wine media once they know the critic’s predilections. When, for instance, wine writer Robert M. Parker, Jr., who dislikes filtration of wines, visits, winemakers hide their filters out of sight.
     Still, while the book clearly proves winemaking to be an agricultural endeavor backed by hard-nosed marketing decisions and buoyed by outrageously expensive, glamorous cult wines, every one of the winemakers included here exudes a passion for what he or she does that strikes me as somewhat different from the pronouncements of garlic or potato farmers.  As Gina Gallo of the huge Gallo Family Vineyards tells Heimoff, ”I sometimes think that being able to touch more people with your family wines is a greater value than making the most iconic wine that only three people in the world can have.”
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.


In Bossier City, LA, Chicago chef Pat Bertoletti won the $4,000 grand prize at the First Annual World Grits Eating Championship by consuming 21 pounds of corn mush in 10 minutes.

“Having worked on the Strip six to seven nights a week and every holiday since I was 17, my most important Thanksgiving tradition is to eat very early. . . I wear a G-string at night!  There’s always room for leftovers after the show.”—Stephanie Jordan, dancer at Fantasy topless show at
Luxor in Las Vegas, quoted in Las Vegas Magazine (Nov. 18, 2007).



TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding  Christmas, and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the most unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani

* In Washington DC, from now until the end of December, former President of Washington Sports and Entertainment Susan O’Malley teams up with The Oceanaire Seafood Room’s Executive Chef Rob Klink, to create “Susan’s Sassy Maryland Crab Soup” to raise funds and awareness for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). The soup will be available for $5.50 a cup or $6.95 for a bowl and the proceeds will be donated. Call (202) 347-2277;  Visit

* Sun. thru Thurs. in December the two Mercadito locations (179 Avenue B; (212-529-6490),  and 100 Seventh Avenue South, (212-647-0410) chef Patricio Sandoval will feature a "Taste of Oaxaca" menu.

* Beginning Dec. 5 in NYC, La Carne Grill celebrates the 8 days of Hanukkah with their traditional latkes, in addition to their regular menu, to commemorate the festival of lights.   Call (212) 490-7172;

*    On Dec. 6,  62 Main in Colleyville, TX will hold a wine dinner with Steven Kent of The Steven Kent Winery. $75 pp. Call 817-605-0858;

* From  Dec.  7-22 in San Francisco, Masa's will feature  a 12-course tasting menu based on the song, "The 12 Days Of Christmas.” Executive Chef Gregory Short will feature dishes like "Five Golden Rings" as  golden osetra caviar with Yukon Gold potato blinis, fried shallots, and crème fraiche. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Project Open Hand. Call 415-989-7154;

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 2007