Virtual Gourmet

December 9, 2007                                                       NEWSLETTER

The Katzenjammer Kids by Harold Knerr (1945)

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Solace by John Mariani



Forget the $300 corkscrew, the ceramic Japanese knife, and the plates with Currier & Ives prints on them. Those things tend to get "re-gifted" or returned to Williams-Sonoma the day after Christmas.  Think unique! Think dopey! Think about items like those below, most of which are available from the very weird site, Who wouldn't feel glowingly in a finely crafted chicken hat?


by John Mariani

406 East 64th Street
First and York Avenues)
(212) 750-0434
      Solace is about as far East as you can go and not fall into the East River. It’s a very nice upper East Side neighborhood, fairly quiet, very upscale. What it does not have is any restaurant of the caliber of the six-month old Solace, a very charming, intimate spot where chef-owner David Regueiro is cooking exemplary modern American  cuisine.
     Reguerio, a Brooklyn kid,  comes well trained, with stints at formidable NYC restaurants like Bouley and Aureole, a stint in France, and a position as exec chef at The Water Club, also on the East River.  Now with his own place he is drawing an Upper East Side crowd that lives in the area's brownstones and apartments, as well as those doctors and researchers who work at Rockefeller University and nearby hospitals, and there is a distinct neighborly feeling about the whole enterprise, with its tall French doors opening onto East 64th Street.
      Inside, the well-lighted front room (above), with a small bar and 30 seats, leads to a 40-seat rear room, and a 38-seat garden patio that must be enchanting in spring and summer.  The cream-colored leather banquettes are as softly comfortable as the mahogany chairs are a little awkward to lean back in. Tablesettings, stemware, and linens are of good quality, and, with tables nicely separated and a good use of brick and wood, there is no  problem having a civilized conversation.
      Reguerio (below) has learned all his lessons well, focusing his talent on a well-balanced menu of contemporary ideas without eccentric flourishes or stylized preparations.  At first glance the items on the menu seem familiar, because he doesn't go into dithyrambs of description. He simply knows how to treat ingredients with respect, beginning with a lightly spiced and seasoned roasted butternut squash soup with a lacing of maple syrup and crème fraîche.  Charred yellowfin tuna--elsewhere a big bore--is here a very tasty, fine piece of fish with a delightful pickle relish, herbed oil, and peppercress. There was everything to love about an eggplant, goat's cheese and tomato terrine with salted hazelnuts, greens, and garlic toast, except that it was a little cold.  Excellent in every respect was a richly flavorful duck confit risotto with turnips, Parmigiano, and a crispy slice of pancetta.

     Among the main courses, Reguerio does a splendid turn on butter-braised lobster (below) with "late harvest corn" and potato hash and the bright idea of a slightly sweet-tangy Concord grape verjus: every element in this dish just sang. Also very good was a prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin with orange and cardomon-dusted fennel with soft. sweet Mission figs.  Now that venison is coming into the market, Reguerio is cooking thick slices of it rare, treating them to a plum compote and the welcome greenery of peppery escarole.  Pan-seared red snapper sat, rather lackluster, fashion in an aromatic lobster broth, with shrimp and lobster.   It needed gusto.
      Pastry chef César Ramirez is doing equally  impressive work with sweets like rum-glazed corn cake with tea ice cream and maple syrup; an old-fashioned Key lime tart with a  novel lime-enhanced caramel and coconut ice cream; a superb chocolate terrine with milk chocolate Chantilly cream and vanilla ice cream; and my favorite  of all--orange blossom honey crème brûlée.
       The winelist, with plenty of bottlings under $50, is solid for a restaurant of this size and a menu of this style. Nonetheless, the staff should be more familiar with its contents than to ask "What number is that bottle?"  Service overall is cordial but could use  a bit of polish.
       If I lived on the upper East Side, I'd welcome David Regueiro to the neighborhood with open arms and eat there once or twice a week. Since I do not, I must content myself with convincing readers that his is a true and important young talent worth seeking out if you live elsewhere in NYC or plan to be visiting the city any time soon.
Solace is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat.; Brunch on Sunday. Dinner entrees run $21-$29.

by John Mariani
With the holidays coming up, it's well worth asking, is a great producer’s Champagne costing twice the price of his regular bubbly really twice as wonderful? This question came vividly to mind at a recent tasting of what are called “prestiges cuvées” (prestige blends), top-of-the-line vintage Champagnes from producers like Moët & Chandon, Bollinger, and Piper-Heidsieck.

    Prestiges Cuvées are actually of rather recent origin:  All the so-called Grandes Marques--Champagne’s top producers--got along for the last 150 years offering just three or four different Champagnes, such as Brut, demi-sec, and perhaps a rose, always blended to a house style. Now these same producers now promote their vintage prestiges cubes, made from the finest selection of grapes.
     Moët & Chandon break-out label, Dom Pérignon, was introduced in 1937 as the first super premium Champagne but didn’t really catch on until 007 made it famous in the first James Bond film, “Dr. No,” in 1962 (below).  More recently, prestiges cuvées like Roederer’s Cristal have caught on with the music and show crowd (although an offhand dissing by a Cristal spokesman of that crowd drove them straight into the embrace of D.P.). A regular Roederer vintage Champagne, like 1996, costs at retail about $100; Cristal from the same vintage runs double that.
      There is a fashion among connoisseurs to recommend years of aging in bottle for a prestige cuvée. Still, there is the possibility of the wine’s losing fruit or taking on slight oxidation.  Nevertheless, the older vintages I tasted showed particularly well, gaining richness and complexity from a patina of age.  The Dom Pérignon ’85 was exceptional, with a well-toasted bouquet and levels of fruit flavor and acid beneath the bubbles.  Cristal ’96 gained dimension after the chill was off the wine, but still tastes a little young, and I found Deutz Blanc de Blancs “Cuvée Amour de Deutz” ’95 continues to show the more elegant style of the 1990s, refreshing and promising a long life. Piper-Heidsieck “Rare” ’90 was typical of the house style, with the kind of ripe fruit I enjoy in Champagne. Marilyn Monroe used to say that a glass of Piper each morning warmed the body.
    Pommery “Cuvée Louise” ’89 was very fine, with small bubbles and an almost bittersweet finish.  The Pol Roger “Sir Winston Churchill” ’95, tasted in magnum showed promise and a definite Pinot Noir advantage, but little more at this point. Age will definitely improve it.
     My favorite was a Gosset “Celebris” Rosé ’98, which, like most rosé Champagnes is rightly proud of its fruit, its good body, and its charm.
     Prestiges Cuvées are as good as Champagne makers know how to produce, and, as usual in such matters, the subtleties of taste are where the romance truly lies.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in
Bloomberg Muse News, which 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.



Recipes from Rachael Ray’s Just in Time! cookbook

Mu Shu Soup
New England
Chicken Patty Sammies
Caesar-ish Salad and Fried Ravioli
Cheryl’s Poached Fish
Provençal Tuna Melts
Mac `n’ Cheese `n’ Burgers
Can’t Beet That! Drunken Chicken
Sloppy Joaquins

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     Photo taken by NancyKay Shapiro at Balducci's market in NYC


 * From Dec. 17-24 NYC’s Patsy’s Italian Restaurant will be celebrating the Holiday season this year by serving the Italian Feast of The Seven Fishes, incl. Calamari Salad, Shrimp Scampi, Stuffed Calamari, Baccala Salad, Clams Posillipo, Octopus Affogati, and Shrimp Fra Diavolo, and Frutti Di Mare Sauce, with struffoli for dessert. $49 pp. Call (212) 247-3491.

* On Jan. 1, The Kitano New York will celebrate the New Year with a traditional Osechi 7-course  meal for brunch and dinner, consisting of a variety of dishes, each having their own significant meaning to wish you good health, fertility, a good harvest, happiness or a long life. Osechi (“year-crossing soba”)  is served in colorful lacquer boxes called jubako.  The brunch selection is available for $80 per person and the dinner menu is available for $100 per person. Call (212) 885-7111. or call 212-885-7000.

* From Jan. 1-Feb. 5 in Chicago all three Heaven on Seven locations will be letting the good times roll during Mardi Gras, culminating  with a Fat Tuesday Extravaganza. Visit

* In Bangkok, Soneva Fushi Resort & Spa and Soneva Gili Resort & Spa have invited Raymond Blanc of England’s Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons  to host a range of events from Jan. 5-11. Chef Blanc will prepare 2 dinners at each resort, with cooking demos at Over Water Bar and the Organic Garden Restaurant. Also, cocktail and canapé receptions. For details visit

* From Jan. 11-13 the Mohonk Mountain House at New York’s Shawangunk Ridge, will host its culinary theme weekend with "A Taste of Spain,"  with new Executive Chef Jim Palmeri, incl.: A wine tasting of Spain's distinctive regional varietals and book signing with wine expert Kevin Zraly, author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course; 2 chef demos and tastings: "Tapas, Tortilla, and Turrón" with Chef Dennis Nowe and "Paella Valenciana" with Chef Palmeri; A traditional Flamenco extravaganza and a night of dancing with Latin band Soñando. Call 800.772.6646 ; 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

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copyright John Mariani 2007