Virtual Gourmet

February 3, 2008                                                        NEWSLETTER

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There will be no edition of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week, February 10, because Mariani will be on vacation. Next edition will be February 17.

n This Issue

DUTCH TREATS: A Weekend in Amsterdam By Mort Hochstein

NEW YORK CORNER: Pamplona by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARRiesling on a Roll by  Brian Freedman


DUTCH TREATS: A Weekend in Amsterdam By Mort Hochstein

      Amsterdam on a cold, rainy night. A cab driver who has never heard of the hotel or the restaurant I asked for seems to be touring the waterfront in a vain search. We tell him it is  new and built  in what was once a headquarters for  mercantile shipping firms.  A light dawns and he stops, backs up half a block, and deposits us  in front of a dark, gothic looking structure with  a hardly visible sign  proclaiming that it is a hotel. I look around and see that we are  across the boulevard from Amsterdam's Central Railroad Station,  our direct port of entry from Paris earlier in the day on the high speed Thalys, one of the fastest trains in the Rail Europe system.   Great location, I think, but the hotel needs greater visibility.
     I go through a door that  once served Amsterdam’s bustling shipping trade  and enter  these  forbiddingly gothic portalsthinking  I might encounter  a Dutch branch of  the Addams family.   I am, instead, comforted  by a familiar clue to the building’s new life,  a small reception desk and a  wholesomely unthreatening  receptionist  who assures us that we are in the right place. She  summons a blonde hostess to take us down a hall into a well-lit restaurant. But before I sit, I ask to tour the hotel.
      I pass a sweeping staircase and go into a small elevator. Each room is different, reminiscent of those in boutique hotels, decorated in modern tones, with attractive functional furniture, good art on the walls, super modern bathrooms, not overdressed, but definitely five stars.  Downstairs again, I am shown the building’s former bank vault, now converted into a comfortable wine vault with an adjoining tasting area.
         I return at noon the next day  to learn that what I perceived as dark and gothic in the gloomy night is a shining example of the 'Amsterdamse School', the Dutch interpretation of the international Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century. It is a monumental structure (right), soaring above its neighbors on the Prins Hendrikkade.  The building  was erected  in two phases from 1914 to 1916 and 1926 to 1928,   to house office headquarters for major Dutch shipping companies.
   Familiarly known as the Scheepvaarthuis, that is what I should have told that errant  driver and saved us a few euros in cab fare.   Reincarnated as the Grand Hotel Amrath (Prins Hendrikkade 1080031 (0) 20 5520 000),  the ornate building soars above Prins Hendrikkade , a major Amsterdam artery. Its stained glass windows look   across the boulevard toward the bustling railroad terminal and the trolley and bus hub that adjoins it and the harbor beyond. With its exquisite art, sculptures, architectural ironmongery and ornate windows, the building  is a landmark in this ancient Dutch city.
    The hotel's  Seven Seas Restaurant (below) is simply laid out, banquettes on one side, tables in the middle, flanking the  Art Nouveau windows along the opposite wall, wooden floors, marble fixtures, uncluttered and pleasant. Living up to its name, it is a seafood house, with a few concessions toward carnivores.
      What most remains in my memory is a superb Dover sole, perhaps the finest I have ever tasted in a long quest to match my  first experience with that incomparable fish many years ago in Paris. With only a few exceptions, we just don’t seem to get fish of that quality in the United States. Tender and delicate, perfectly sautéed with a light herb essence, it seemed a reward for our troubled trip to the hotel.
    Back to starters, however. Our table   shared a plate of grilled scallops dressed in a roasted sweet pepper and olive oil sabayon, and a mushroom soup that tasted of the earth and the woods, loaded with mushrooms and not overburdened with cream. The bouillabaisse will forever stand in my pantheon of memorable fish soups. Our mains included tuna with a piquant lemon-touched butter sauce, a plâteau de fruits de mer crammed with lobster, scallops   mussels, crab and rock shrimp as well as cockles, and  periwinkles.
    Turbot, another European fish that just does not show well on American tables, was on the menu, so we snapped it up and found it as rewarding as the sole.  For dessert, we enjoyed   crème brûlée, vanilla flavored, and a selection of fine Dutch cheeses.
       The restaurant and hotel have been open since late last summer and there were no flaws in its friendly and  professional service.  Albeit expensive, the Seven Seas deliver on its promises, and it will be interesting to return in another year to see how it has matured.
Daily menu of 2 courses, 30 Euros; 3  courses 39.50 and 4 courses 45 euros. à
la carte: appetizers, from 9 euros 24.50. Main courses  24-45 euros.

It, too, is a fish house, but somehow Visaandeschelde (
Scheldeplein 4;  0031-0-20-675-1583) reminded me of good times at those old-fashioned NYC steakhouses, Palm and Bruno’s. They had that same air of chubbiness, that comforting   buzz of satisfied eaters.  Visaandeschelde (there must be a shorter way to say this) is in the Amsterdam South area, off the normal tourist route, but very convenient to the huge RAI convention center. "Schelde" in the name refers to the Schelde River and its location on  Scheldeplein Street.
          Our hotel concierge  described Visaandeschelde as Amsterdam’s best seafood restaurant, and our cab driver seconded her, calling it the best place to go for  fresh  fish.  He delivered us to an unprepossessing storefront entrance, and   we entered a a comfortable yet simple dining room that seats 60 people and holds an additional 20 guests on an outdoor terrace on warm summer days.
    We were, however, in Amsterdam in early November and the wind off the nearby North Sea was chill and damp. Definitely off-season, but that didn’t deter the locals who crowd the place every night; we may well  have been the only tourists in the  crowd.  Getting a table, however, was not easy.  The concierge made several attempts and had to negotiate a reservation, settling for a 6:30 seating, a bit earlier than we wanted.
       For starters we chose  a plâteau (in Dutch, a platter), a huge  elevated plate tumbling over with  every kind of seafood  and fish imaginable, from lobster  to clams to oysters to shrimp, scallops, whelks and periwinkles.   I lagged behind  my companions,  picking out little treasures from the shells of those last two undersized crustaceans  long after my tablemates had gone on to their main courses. The platter provided my first experience with the tangy, sea-scented Zeeland oysters, a local treasure seldom seen outside of the Netherlands.
    There was a fine bouillabaisse here also, another dish loaded to the gills –no pun intended—with much of the same tasty North Sea seafood,  a garlicky rouille only slightly less sharp than its French counterpart, and a soup pungent with all that aroma and body  from its briny ingredients. Our dining companions ordered lobster bisque, almost too rich for all that good Dutch cream, morsels of lobster and shrimp swimming in a huge bowl topped by parsley and a swirl of green mustard.
    Visaandeschelde offers several sushi plates and a  limited meat menu, but ordering beef or poultry would be a total contradiction for going here. One of us enjoyed a local fish, a pan-fried red fillet of red gurnard, a meaty local fish caught in coastal waters, served with mashed, creamed potatoes, embellished with a spicy saffron mousseline and accompanied by an imaginative side order   of artichoke and kohlrabi fritters.
   We also sampled a grilled sea bream fillet with braised fennel, accompanied by cannelloni bulging with shrimp and topped by sauce americaine, and a grilled North Sea salmon accompanied by a Peking Duck spring roll and haricots vert. Pairings here are creative, and the sides can be exciting, as in those fritters, crisp and tasty. It's deserving of a second visit if only for that specialty and for that shrimp-enriched cannoli.
      Desserts are limited but enticing: floating island meringue poached in cream with custard sauce, pumpkin pie with fromage blanc ice cream, warm chocolate tartlet with caramelized plums and panna cotta with cinnamon ice cream, liqueur soaked fig and allspice chips. We elected to share the pumpkin pie  and the panna cotta and both plates disappeared quickly.
     The concierge and the cab driver gave us a good steer; we’ll be back.

Restaurant Visaandeschelde offers   chef’s menu for 36.50 euros, 4 courses for 46.50 and 5 courses for 53.50.
À la carte appetizers from 15.50 -21.50 and main dishes 23.50 to 54 euros. Open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly.
Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, writes  on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business  Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.

by John Mariani

37 East 28th Street (near Park Ave.)

     Alex Ureña has quite a culinary résumé for such a young guy, and he's earned an admirable reputation after stints at Bouley, JoJo, La Côte Basque, La Caravelle, Blue Hill, and Marseilles. So it was inevitable he would open his own place and break out with his own ideas.  Along the way he picked up valuable lessons from his Dominican Republic family of good cooks. The result was Ureña, an attempt to explore the wilder shores of contemporary Spanish cuisine à la Ferran Adrià.  Unfortunately Ureña didn't last long enough for me to get around to trying it out, but I am happy to report that its transformation into the far more approachable and easy-to-love Pamplona shows the kind of breadth and depth Alex has.
       The food of Pamplona focuses on small plates, beginning with some highly inventive tapas and appetizers (below), along with platos principales. Indeed, I found the tapas items more enticing than most of what I'd recently enjoyed in Spain's tapas capital, San Sebastián, where the offerings tend to be very traditional and don't vary that much from place to place.  At Pamplona you might begin simply enough with Spanish cheeses or a platter ($18) of four sliced hams and sausages, accompanied by good bread. But there is a lot more you share with friends here, starting with the albondigas meatballs with parsnip puree and a cranberry-tempranillo sauce. His bocadillo of braised rabbit with crema de Cabra goes down in a bite or two, and you'll crave more. Patatas bravas are fried potatoes spiced with paprika and aïoli of garlic-and-oil. and the bacalão croquettes are traditional and very savory, just mild enough in flavor but substantial.
      Among the appetizers I recommend the braised rabbit with caramelized onions and shiitakes, and the poached egg with truffle oil, a white asparagus salad, chorizo, and pimiento del  piquillo sauce--all very tantalizing on the tongue and very satisfying.  Poached shrimp comes with rice made creamy by Manchego cheese, with a chorizo sauce full of zing. Everything here is really alive with flavors.
      Yes, you could stop after the tapas and entradas, and bringing a slew of friends to Pamplona to do just that is a capital idea.  But then you'd miss the main courses like Alex's succulent short ribs with white beans and tempranillo sauce, or one of the three dishes he prepares for two people, like his juicy confit of cochinillo, suckling pig with caramelized apples, tender Swiss chard and the light sweetness of black currants--a really marvelous dish, and at $36 a great deal.
       The winelist is a serious one selected to go well with this kind of gutsy, lusty cooking, with nine wines by the glass, sangria by the glass or pitcher, special cocktails, beers, Sherries, Madeiras, and Port.  There are about 36 bottlings, split between whites and reds, with an applaudable number of Spanish regional wines under $50, like the delicious Arzuaga La Planta Ribera del Duero 2005 at $45.

Alex Ureña

     Desserts are fairly traditional but done with real flair, not least the addictive churros fritters with hot Valrhona chocolate sauce. You might also opt for a plate of cheeses, and there is a tasting of desserts at $15 and $20.
     Not that much has been done to the premises, and they are modest indeed, not terribly unlike a coffee shop in this neighborhood, mostly brown, no tablecloths, a few banquettes, and a bar up front. Pamplona could definitely use some color and brightening. The noise level is not too bad though. The service staff, a well-meaning bunch, seems a bit confused in their attempts to describe, even pronounce, some of the dishes and to set a reasonable pacing to the meal.
    Food-wise Pamplona hits right in that sweet spot that so many people have these days for exciting, richly flavorful food with individual spark, at prices that allow you to eat a little or a lot or a lot of little things and maybe splurge a bit on a pitcher of sangria.  I hope Alex stays in this gear for a long time to come.

Pamplona is open for lunch, Mon.-Fri., brunch, Sat. & Sun., and dinner nightly. Tapas and appetizers range from $5-$15, main courses $18-$38 (for two).

Rieslings on a Roll
by Brian Freedman

          Riesling from the Mosel is on a roll. Wines from the tricky 2006 vintage are now hitting retail shelves, and for the second year in a row, these fruity, brightly acidic rieslings are some of the best values in the world of wine.
          This should come as no surprise to fans of the famous whites of the region: They have, it seems, always been among the most underappreciated—and therefore undervalued—wines in the world. Where else, after all, can you expect to find single-vineyard bottlings that have the potential to age for decades without breaking the bank?
          What has made the past two vintages so unique—especially at the Spätlese level—is the potential they offer for both aging and immediate enjoyment at prices that are surprisingly reasonable. In the world of wine, that’s cause for celebration--and for buying as much as you can fit in your cellar.
          The sweet spot for riesling is the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region in the west of Germany (above). The top producers here, sourcing their fruit from the best vineyards, craft wines notable for their deft balance between sweetness and acidity. That acid, in fact, is what sets the best German rieslings apart: Without it, they would be little different from the sugar-bombs like Blue Nun that have done so much damage to the varietal’s reputation.
          The best vineyard plots tend to face south, which maximizes the amount of sun the vines receive each day. They also benefit from being planted on steep terraces facing one bend of the river or another, which reflects the sunlight back onto the vineyard, warming the grapes and helping them develop their all-important sugars.
          The 2006 vintage demanded constant attention in the vineyard, as the brutal heat of July, followed by later-season rain, made crop selection a top priority. But the best producers, carefully selecting their fruit and giving them the required TLC in the winery, have another potentially classic vintage on their hands.
          The Spätleses, as usual, seem to offer the best drinking at the most appealing prices. They are big steps up in terms of quality from the Kabinetts, yet don’t cost all that much more money. And they are both less expensive and more approachable right now than the riper Ausleses.
          I’ve tasted a number of 2006 Spätleses recently, and have, in general, been very impressed. One of the most pleasant right now is Weingut Zilliken’s Saarburger Rausch, a surprisingly light-bodied, deliciously bracing riesling with a nose of Granny Smith apples and flint and a mid-palate that reminded me of crisp autumn fruit, mushrooms, and, unexpectedly, roasted root vegetables.
          Selbach-Oster’s Zeltinger Sonnenuhr is a great wine for both riesling neophytes and devotees. It explodes with ripe, exuberant fruit aromas like lychee and white peaches. This is a mouth-coating, tropical-tasting wine that’s kept from being cloying by a much needed hit of lemony acidity and slate-like minerality. It’s a great wine to drink right now—the creamy texture is difficult to resist—or to hold onto for a decade or two and wait for it to really get interesting.
          Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben has always been one of my go-to producers; their rieslings, especially the Spätleses, are not only built for the long-haul, but they’re excellent values, too. They’ve also won me over with their transition to screw-cap closures: I love the peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about cork taint as I wait for a wine to evolve in the cellar.
          Christoffel Erben’s Erdener Treppchen has a nose so stony it verges on austere—like a bowlful of wet rocks. But there’s also lovely bright acidity, a hint of orange blossom, and a whiff of citrus fruit. This is a wine for either hard-core riesling fans to enjoy now or collectors with room in their cellar to lay down until it becomes more approachable.
          Their Ürziger Würzgarten, on the other hand, is a deeper gold color and more earthy on the nose than the Erdener Treppchen. It also benefits from notes of apple and pineapple, as well as a pronounced smokiness. Still, this is a wine that needs some time to calm down—it is still very much in its youth.
          Of course, at these prices (I paid less than $30 for each bottle), you don’t really have to make that impossible choice between opening or laying down a single prized bottle. Because unlike, say, Grand Cru white Burgundy or grande marque vintage Champagne, it’s affordable no matter what your budget is, which means that you can purchase a number of bottles and follow the wine’s evolution over time. In that regard, Spätlese from the Mosel is increasingly unique in the world of wine, even with great vintages like 2005 and 2006.

Brian Freedman is food and wine editor of LifeStyle  Magazine (, restaurant critic for and, director of wine education at the Wine School of Philadelphia and editorial director  at



The Black Frog Restaurant in
Greenville, Maine, has been giving a free sandwich called the Skinny Dip (prime rib in a baguette roll) to anyone willing to jump naked from the restaurant's dock into a lake. According to owner Leigh Turner, the dip is typically done at night, and a towel was readily available, with  most patrons applauding the skinny dippers after the plunge.


"Thick slabs of lard arranged by rather sweaty, nimble fingers to resemble small, dead pudenda.  They came with tiny pubic triangles of fried black bread, as impenetrable as roof tiles."--A.A. Gill, Sunday (London) Times.


To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Valentine's Day dinners, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events.

*  On Feb. 4 The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Long Island Chapter hosts “A Toast to Tomorrow” strolling dinner party at  Morton’s The Steakhouse ­ Great Neck, with live and silent auctions. $185 pp. Call 516-222-5530.
* On Feb. 7 the Chinese lunar New Year will be celebrated at Miami’s Mandarin Oriental, with traditional lion and dragon performances, artistic demonstrations, live music and more. $125 pp. Call (305) 913 8358; Visit www.mandarinoriental.

*   Beginning February 20, Maison 140 in Beverly Hills, CA,  kicks-off 2008 with the return of its wine & cheese tasting series, Vin et Fromage every Wednesday night at inside the Bar Noir at $25 pp. Call 310-407-7795. Visit

* From Feb. 25-29 NYC’s `21’ Club is hosting Corrado Corti, Chef at Hotel Splendido and Chef Roberto Villa of Chuflay in Portofino, Italy, at a 4-course Winemakers Dinner featuring wines of Antinori, hosted by Maurizio Saccani, Managing Director of Hotel Splendido and Splendido Mare. $165 pp.; Feb. 29: Splendido Cookery School--advanced techniques for making a 3-course Ligurian lunch, then dine with the chefs.  $195 pp.

* From Feb. 25-29 NYC’s `21’ Club is hosting guest chefs Corrado Corti, Executive Chef at Hotel Splendido and Chef Roberto Villa of Chuflay in Portofino, Italy. Feb. 25-- The Winemakers Dinner: Antinori  – Maurizio Saccani, Managing Director of Hotel Splendido/Splendido Mare hosts a 4-course dinner with paired wines from Antinori. $165 pp.; Feb. 29: Splendido Cookery School--advanced techniques for making a 3-course Ligurian lunch, then dine with the chefs.  $195 pp.

* On Feb. 25 in Cambridge, MA, Chef Jody Adams of Rialto will host Sicilian guest Chef Fabrizia Lanza for a 4-course with wines from Fabrizia's Regaleali Estate.  $100 pp. Call 617-661-5050  . . . Also from May 4-11, Adams will be guest chef on a bike trip in Sicily from Lipari to Taormina and Ragusa, with visits to outdoor markets, fishing villages, and a  Sicilian dinner. Visit

* Feb. 26 in Los Gatos, CA,  Manresa presents the "Citrus Modernista Dinner," a celebration of local, California Coast citrus. Chef David Kinch will prepare a 6-course with two wine pairings selected by sommelier Jeff Bareilles. $140 pp. Call 408-354-4330; visit

* On Feb. 26, 27 & 28, in Portland, OR,  the 2008 Classic Wines Auction  Winemaker Dinner series will feature 33 area  restaurants and 59 wineries. Each participating restaurant will  prepare a meal paired with wines from one or two different  wineries, at $150 pp, with all proceeds going to charities benefiting families and  children in Portland and Southwest Washington. The dinners lead  up to the 2008 Classic Wines Auction Gala on March 1. Visit Call 503-972-0194.

* On Feb. 27 at Dame Dorothy Cann-Hamilton’s French Culinary Institute in NYC, Chefs - Andre Soltner and Cesare Casella engage in a friendly Franco-Italian duel Moderated with specialist Ariane Daguin about the subject of truffles for a Les Dames d’Escoffier Champagne reception and tasting.  $95 pp. for Les Dames members, $105 for non-members.  Call 917-864-1234.

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: THIS WEEK: An Interview with Angler Tom Ohaus

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). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. 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, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, 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.

My 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

© copyright John Mariani 2008