Donna Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)
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NEW YORK CORNER: Bodrum by John Mariani
NEW IN NAPA
by John Mariani
"Mount St. Helen's" by Jocelyn Audette; www.jocelynaudette.com
Mile for mile California's beautiful Napa Valley probably has more fine restaurants than any wine country in the world. Indeed, it has more fine restaurants than many major cities, and I would include Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle, Providence, Miami, and Dallas. This critical mass has been building ever since the late 1970s when places like Domaine Chandon opened its doors and Mustards Grill set the absolute proper template for wine country dining. The stature of others like Auberge du Soleil, La Toque, and the great French Laundry have made the Valley a dining destination, and when you add in terrific, more casual places like Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon, Tra Vigne, Wine Spectator Greystone, Redd, Terra, Martini House, and Angèle, you've got a territory worth more than a weekend visit to see a few wineries.
Sorry to report, then, that the brilliant chef Joseph Humphries at Meadowood Resort, having won every accolade possible, including from this reporter in Esquire, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Michelin Guide, left recently, and management is now actively looking for a replacement.
New restaurants do not open in the Valley on a weekly or even monthly basis, and there is little turnover--except for chefs. Here are two new ones that I found well worth a visit for a casual meal while you save up for one at The French Laundry and wait for the new chef to arrive at Meadowood.
641 Main Street
The people who run both Mustards Grill and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, have now opened Go Fish in St. Helena. Surprisingly, while there is no lack of good seafood in the Valley, this is the only restaurant solely devoted to seafood. Its clean, bright setting (formerly Pinot Blanc) is wonderfully apt--white tiles, blue fabrics, white tablecloths, large glass windows, a fireplace, comfortable, well-set tables. There is a broad marble sushi and sake bar as you enter, and you can just drop by for a bite there. Outside is an apple orchard, a patio with mulberry trees, and a vegetable garden. All in all, a lovely mix.
This is a Cindy Pawlcyn production, and since 1983 she has been one of the Valley's prime movers in food. She has brought on Tokyo-trained sushi master Ken Tominaga (right) to oversee the raw items at the bar, where there are dozens of options for sushi and makimono rolls, with various combinations available. There is also a tasting menu of shellfish, that includes Pacific oysters, Dungeness crabs, and Gulf prawns.
The regular menu lists "small plates & bowls" along with main courses and "fish your way," for which the day's catch is offered sautéed, wood-grilled, and then sauced with any number of options, from tapenade and scallion-ginger to lemon-caper-brown butter, and tartar sauce, and there is a distinct Pan-Asian influence throughout. I found the simpler dishes the better ones, like a whole snapper with black-eyed peas and spicy greens, and the Alaskan halibut with beans, vinaigrette, and herbs. Grilled calamari with a gremolata and watercress were flaccid and a little too charred, and a miso-marinated black cod in shiitake broth was quite good, even if the dish has become something of a West Coast cliché. There are some delightful desserts here, including a warm peach tart with vanilla ice cream and a roasted banana-rum ice cream sandwich.
The winelist is listed on the back of the menu, about 60 labels strong, with an additional list of about 13 sakes, even a sparkling Haruishika.
Go Fish is open for lunch and dinner daily. Small plates begin at $9 and entrees $17-$28.
Hoc is certainly no substitute for masterchef-restaurateur Thomas
Keller's French Laundry or the more casual Bouchon, nor was it ever
meant to be.
In fact, it wasn't really intended to stick around for very long: As
its name suggests, Ad Hoc was supposed to be opened for a few months
while Keller planned for the opening of a burger joint to be called
Burgers and Half Bottles. The latter is still not open, while Ad Hoc is
still around, and for all the best reasons.
The sign on the outside reads "For the Temporary Relief of Hunger," and like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Ad Hoc doesn't offer menu choices: You eat what's offered on any given evening, and pray you like whatever it is. (I remember once at Chez Panisse years ago when kidneys were the only thing offered for a main course.) The fare at Ad Hoc is much simpler, however, and only a vegetarian would find it impossible to love what is served. Food , overseen by chef de cuisine David Cruz, formerly of Bouchon, is served family style, which I love, and there are about 20 items in rotation on the seasonally driven menu on a nightly basis. The night I visited we began with a heirloom tomato salad with marinated cucumbers, avocados, basil, and garlic-and-oil crostini--each ingredient at their peak of the season.
came juicy braised beef short ribs (above)
with sautéed wild mushrooms,
spinach, fingerling potatoes, and yellow corn. It was very rich,
very intense in flavor, and very good for using the terrific bread to
sop up the juices. Next came Cowgirl Creamery's SF Drake cheese with
wildflower honey and almonds, and for dessert an old-fashioned warm
chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce (right). On
second thought, if you were a
vegetarian, you could just not eat the
meat on the plate and gorge on the abundance of vegetables.
The price of a meal at Ad Doc is $45. The restaurant is nightly for dinner.
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
I am always excited by the prospect of going to a new Turkish restaurant, not only for the wonderfully savory food, full of onions, tomato, cheese, sesame, and pistachios, but because of the family atmosphere that usually makes them so comfortable and inviting. The owners always seem deliriously happy you have chosen to dine with them, the food comes out quickly and generously, and the wines go with the whole flow of the evening.
This was exactly the atmosphere I enjoyed at Bodrum, a six-month old Turkish-Mediterranean restaurant on the Upper West Side, owned by Executive Chef Turgut Balikci (who also runs the admirable Pasha) and his partner, Huseyin Ozer. Named after a Turkish resort by the sea, Bodrum seats 40 inside and 30 at the outdoor cafe (heated in winter). The dining room is intimate, with candlelit walnut tables, leather and iron chairs, fabric banquettes, bronze sculptures by Arturo di Modica, and a woodburning oven that bakes an array of pizzas and other dishes.
There are two chefs here--Aysen Candaner, who handles the mezes and kebabs, and Mehmet Tanyeri, who does the main courses. One could happily dine all night long at Bodrum from Mr. Candaner's side of the menu, and sharing is very much encouraged in this family-style atmosphere. Hummus here is one of the best I've had in New York, and the babaganoush runs pretty close behind, with its smoky flavor and lightening with yogurt. Strained yogurt with mixed walnuts, dills, and purslane was delicious, and you could quite easily keep eating the slender sigara borek--crispy phyllo stuffed with feta and chopped parsley--and be greedy about it. I liked the manti,steamed ravioli-like dumplings filled with ground lamb and herbs, although the garlic-yogurt was too thick, too much, and too rich, drowning the flavorful manti. A plate of celeriac with dill, peas, lemon and olive oil called zeyfinyagli kereviz was fairly bland and served too cold.
Moving on to Mr. Tanyeri's offerings, there is a very good lamb shank, succulent and falling from the bone, served with mashed potatoes, and spicy ground lamb kebabs with pitas (which keep coming out piping hot throughout the evening) are drizzled with yogurt and tomato sauce. I'm afraid I can't bring the same high praise to the seafood dishes I tried: grilled dorade was overcooked and fell apart, and a Moroccan-style fish tagine of red snapper with preserved lemon, olives, and vegetables didn't come together and was in pieces and a little fishy.
The desserts here are lighter, and therefore less cloying, than comparable Mediterranean, honey-drenched sweets, so by all means have the crisp, delicious baklava and a cup of well-made, very hot, very dark Turkish coffee.
I regret I didn't have a chance to try the pizzas at Bodrum, because it was just too difficult to stay away from those dishes farther east in the Mediterranean. But I'll be back and pizza will be my first choice, then the mezes.
Bodrum is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner nightly. Main courses are $12-$24.
NOTHING IMPROVES THE TASTE OF
SMOKED SALMON LIKE CHLORINE
The world's largest underwater dinner party was held in a
ABSOLUTELY POSITOOTLY THE WORST METAPHOR OF 2007
“Can a lasagna with as little sunshine and as much stormy intensity as [chef] Trabocchi’s justly call itself a lasagna? . . . That’s a chewy topic for debate, and I cast my vote this way: Fiamma is about as Italian as a poodle in a Prada scarf.”—Frank Bruni, “Rewritten in Its Own Language,” NY Times (Nov. 28, 2007).
* On Jan. 9 in
* On Jan. 14 in NYC Tribeca Grill will present a Sine Qua Non Wine Dinner with a special 5-course menu by Executive Chef Stephen Lewandowski. $450 pp. . . . On Feb. 6 several Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers will be attending and showcasing their barrel samples from the 2006 vintage, as well as many older vintages. Tribeca Grill will host a 5-course dinner to pair with these wines; www.myriadrestaurantgroup.com; Call 212-941-3900.
* From Jan. 15-31 San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau's (SFCVB) 7th annual Dine About Town San Francisco will be held, sponsored by The San Francisco Chronicle. Visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com for more than 100 participating restaurants offering prix-fixe lunches for $21.95 and/or dinners for $31.95.
* From Jan. 18-20 the Fifth Annual Sun WineFest, Mohegan Sun's Food and Wine Festival, will be held with celebrity chefs, cooking demos and wine tastings, incl. Celebrity Chef Dine Around, with Todd English (
* From Jan. 27-Feb. 1, and Feb. 3-8 dineLA Restaurant Week, offers 3-course lunch and dinner menus from LA's restaurants incl. Patina, Grace, Crustacean, 3 on Fourth, Twin Palms, Dakota Steakhouse, Ciudad, Zucca, Red Seven and Katsuya. The two dining levels are Deluxe: $15/lunchand $25/dinner; and Premier: $22/lunch and $34/dinner. For a complete listing of restaurant, go to http://www.dinela.com
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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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