Virtual Gourmet

March 23,  2008                                                        NEWSLETTER



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In This Issue

cape town capers By Mort Hochstein

NEW YORK CORNER: Two Kellaris by John Mariani


cape town capers
by Mort Hochstein

     We’d visited Cape Town's South African National Gallery, a giant hall that is the nation’s premier art museum. We’d toured the Jewish Museum and marveled at its historic synagogue. And we’d strolled through the Company Gardens  and blocks of flowers plumb in the middle of this city by the sea. The skies grew overcast and we were tired and hungry. We fell into a small shop  and pacified  our appetites with some outstanding falafel. As the skies grew even darker, we asked the proprietor where we might find a cab to the waterfront  before the rains came.
    “Follow me,” he said,  “I’ll take you,” and we trailed after him as he led us to a battered van and proceeded to drive us out of center city.  My wife Rollie sat up front and I in the rear on a milk carton. Traffic was murder and we urged our host, an immigrant from Egypt, to let us off so that he would not have to battle  the stop-and-go torture of the late afternoon exodus. “No,” he pronounced, “You are visitorsand I want you to enjoy our city.”
     A stranger’s outgoing hospitality  is one of our favorite memories of a visit to Cape Town. It is a city that is not exactly Paris, but closer to San Francisco in its affair with a bustling waterfront, the seas around the cape and the mountains that jut alarmingly off behind the old Dutch houses and the skyscrapers that neighbor them. It is a city of business, but also a city for leisure, particularly in the nearby beach towns and wine country less than an hour away in either direction.  It is also a city of terrific restaurants. Here are two.

The Codfather Seafood & Sushi

37 The Drive
Camps Bay, Cape Town
021- 438 0782

   Dining at The Codfather, a unique seafood restaurant in Cape Town is an educational experience. A huge, 16-foot long refrigerated showcase of fish on ice, some whole, some ready for filleting, most of them unfamiliar, is the first thing a diner sees on entering.
Ask your knowledgeable waiter about how to order, since there is no menu, and he takes you on a tour, calling off  familiar names such as  tuna, salmon and yellowtail while also pointing out  unfamiliar varieties such as red Roman, musselcracker, kingclip, barramundi, Mozambican tiger giant prawns, and an overpowering lineup of exotica from the ocean and fresh water that defies comparison.
  The temptation is to find links and relationships to more familiar fish. And while it is simple to say that  John Dory, also known as St. Pierre,  is like talapia and that barramundi, an Australian member of the Perch family,  is like orange roughy, many are strictly from Southern waters and do not fit familiar patterns. If you’ve come this far, you have to experiment and sampling is always the best way to fix a taste   in memory.
   Fortunately, The Codfather makes research easy.  Everything is priced by weight and what you see in the showcase--refreshed frequently with new catch--is what you get. You walk the array, identify a fish you’d like, and tell the waiter the size you want.  He signals the fishmongers behind the showcase and they cut   and  cook your order, usually  grilled,   within minutes.
    The restaurant, in Camps Bay, a beach area on the fringes of Cape Town, is open year round, with final orders taken at about 10:30, later on busy weekend nights. It is simply decorated with some regional art on the walls and none of the expected nets and scrimshaw, just a business-like pattern of tables and counters; the kitchen follows that same simple design. All plates arrive with a side selection of four sauces, plus chips and a vegetable. Fish is served in the simplest manner, much in the order of a Greek coastal taverna. But the variety and the quality, cut to your specifications, is awesome.
     And for those who don’t want whole fish or fillets or crustaceans, there is a lineup of sushi plates that circle around a bar on a conveyor belt  at another corner of the room. Each item travels on a colored plate, and the prices are color coded on a board above the bar. The Codfather was an early innovator, and its sushi bar is one of the oldest in the Cape.    There is also a  minimal bow to  carnivores with a  small selection of oriental stir-fries of beef, chicken or vegetable.
   We wanted our fish straight. My wife's butterfish, unlike the flat and often dry American species, was soft and velvety in texture, moist and tasty, memorable--so good it could convert a fish hater. A guest could not resist a slice of  a   monster- sized Australian  barramundi,   about a yard long, which  I felt it was cooked perfectly, extremely fresh and spiced deftly with a Mandalay  salt mixture, a dish wholly delectable and worth going back for. The prawns were truly giant, served intact with the heads on, bright red and as redolent of the sea as a briny oyster.
    The restaurant can be noisy, but not from  the soft music from speakers in the bar area, which is  drowned out by the crush of customers. Crowded and with servers bustling back and forth between the seafood showcase and their tables, there is a lot going on and a lot of happy eaters hardly shy about expressing their enthusiasm, and there is often a wait at the door.
   Proprietor Greg Cooke treats his upmarket crowd generously with a good variety of wines from a large, well-priced cellar, primarily white and South African. I noticed  many of the country’s best wines on that list, including some exceptional rare old reds I had not seen  elsewhere.  Dining at The Codfather gave us the  third opportunity  in our travels to enjoy Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, possibly the best wine of South Africa and one of the world’s finest chardonnays, hard to find other than in restaurants.  It is available in the states at about $30, surprisingly inexpensive for a wine of this quality, and worth seeking.

The Codfather is open noon till midnight. Dinner can range 70 to 110 rands, depending on  size and variety. Shelllfish are more expensive, running 60 to 130.

Azure Restaurant
12 Apostles Hotel
Victoria Road

27(0)21 437 9000
If the weather had been more comfortable, we might have dined on the terrace overlooking the Atlantic. If we’d arrived earlier, we might have enjoyed a beautiful sunset view.
    Despite our inability to  satisfy either of those pleasant possibilities, our dinner at the Azure, the elegant dining room in Cape Town’s 12 Apostles Hotel, was memorable. True, we could not gaze  on the  fabled mountain range that gives the 70-bedroom resort its name, but looking out from our corner by the window we were treated to soothing   shades of   dark blue  water  and  high, shadowy outcroppings. Inside at table, we enjoyed a dazzling march of wine and food that eclipsed the dark view from our perch over the Atlantic.
    Our dining companions, Phillip and Suzanne Knowlton, grape growers in Sonoma and partisans of Russian River Valley pinot noir and chardonnay,  normally favor wines on the order of  California's  Gary Farrell Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Kistler and Hanzell. They started the evening with a challenge for sommelier Luvo Ntezo. “Choose a wine for us,” Phillip confronted Luvo, “choose a wine that will knock our socks off.”
   The sommelier, one of South Africa’s most distinguished wine masters, did just that, not just once, but twice and thrice with a trio of beauties that would inspire oohs and aahs in Paris or Napa,   wherever   fine wine is appreciated. Luvo treated us to three knock-your-socks-off wines.
     He started by pouring  a daring entry, the first vintage from a new winery,  a minerally  2005 chardonnay, rich in grapefruit, pear, and almond flavors, a graceful white  that could stand with the best of California and Burgundy. It was the maiden offering from Ataraxia Mountain Vineyards, founded by Kevin Grant in 2004. The Ataraxia was delightful with the multi-flavored salads that began our evening. The first was the house Azure salad, crisp baby herb leaves with feta cheese, tomatoes, peppers, green olives, and a tangy blend whose name,  Le Cirque Dressing, credited its origin at the famed New York restaurant. The second was 12 Apostles Caesar Salad, a traditional melding of lettuce,  croutons, lemon juice, olive oil and egg,  topped by shavings of pecorino cheese and ringed with    tiny   cubes of parmesan.
          We called for a second bottle of Ataraxia to accompany a rich dish of sautéed shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms with chives and shallots, dressed with an oregano cream reduction and delivered on a grilled portobello. Ntezo opened  our second Ataraxia and followed up with a silken 2003 chardonnay from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, whose reputation winemaker Grant had helped establish in a ten-year period before going off on his own. This was the finest chardonnay we tasted on our travels, and on returning to New York I tracked it to one New York shop where it sells at a very reasonable $30. The two chardonnays carried us through a crayfish and prawn cocktail, dressed with fresh rocket, avocado slices, lemon segments and onion sprouts rising up from an oversized martini glass.
       Ltezo was grinning as if he’d been the star batsman in a cricket match when he set a third wine on the table. It was a 2005 Galpin Peak Pinot Noir from another of South Africa’s most honored wineries, Bouchard Finlayson. Like its two predecessors, this red originates in cool climate vineyards off Walker Bay, a gorgeous coastal area east of Capetown. Phil tested his glass with a look reflecting doubt that South Africa could produce a pinot noir to equal those made by his neighbors in California’s Russian River Valley. That skepticism vanished as he looked up with a grin and declared “Luvo, you’re three for three.”
    The pinot noir and the remaining chardonnay played off our main courses-- an enormous grilled seafood platter for two that Rollie and I enjoyed thoroughly. Phil put away  a  delicate pan fried sole, dressed in a light Béarnaise sauce, while Suzanne, a former restaurateur who knows her food, marveled at a crisp, slow-roasted duck in a caramelized citrus reduction.. The seafood platter was an overwhelming  assembly of prawns, crayfish, langoustines, grilled baby calamari, Kingclip, a local fish,  and mussels, basmati rice and a side of green salad, served with garlic butter sauce, lemon butter sauce and the regional specialty, piri-piri sauce, a moderately hot dressing based on chile peppers and garlic.
      Happy and sated, we told Luvo we could not handle dessert, but he and Chef Roberto de Carvalho  insisted on just one more plate for the four of us. The one plate brimmed over with four of Azure’s most popular desserts; a creamy cheesecake, baked Alaska,  cappuccino crème brûlée, and a selection of local fruit. They constituted a relatively tame offering from Azure’s adventurous kitchen, but   only bits and pieces remained   as we left Azure, our socks definitely knocked off.

Azure is open daily, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Average check is 200 rands.

Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, has written  on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business  Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.

by John Mariani
    There are two Greek restaurants in NYC named Kellari and both are ideal examples of how a very warm, very caring management and kitchen constitutes the best old-fashioned sense of hospitality.  When you walk in, everything conspires to drop the stress from your bones--the golden lighting, the handshake of the maître d', the smiles of the staff, and the setting of the tables.  You sit down, order a cocktail, maybe a glass of ouzo or Greek white wine, nibble on some olives, and you feel like a Hellenic king. Yet the two restaurants are quite different in style, one focused on seafood, the other more varied.  Both are well worth your appetite. Above the bar at Kellari, the words "Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends" are printed. Nothing could be truer of a good restaurant.

Kellari Taverna
19 West 44th Street (off Fifth Avenue)
     Though of good size--300 seats--the two-year-old Kellari Taverna provides intimacy at every table. The cathedral ceilings, ocher-colored walls, straw decorations, tablecloths, and cheerfully shadowy lighting ensures in this, and owner Stavros Aktipis and Chef Gregory Zapantis, who seem capable of being at both their restaurants at once, are palpably delighted you have come and want to feed you well.
     There are 300 wines on the list, supposedly the largest cache of Greek viniculture offered in the U.S., and prices are quite easy on the budget for some impressive vintages from every region. The whites are best savored with an array of mezes like  the smoked eggplant-and-sesame d
ip melitzana; some  raw, marinated  barbounia, a red mullet soaked in vinegar, rosemary and olive oil.
Calamari are  simply grilled  with lemon and oregano;  keftedes are those wonderful Greek meatballs, here made with Angus beef, in an Agiorgitiko wine sauce; garides are jumbo shrimp quickly seared and served with lemon and herbs; and octopus is similarly treated, very tender, very toothsome. But the very best starter--one I would never miss on my return–are plevrakia, slow roasted lamb riblets sprinkled with taygetos oregano that seem braised, succulent, with tremendous flavor.  It is a perfect rendering of lamb.
     We came for the seafood--displayed in profusion on ice as you pass by the kitchen--and asked for it simply grilled-- lavraki, a  bass; tipoura, a royal dorade, and several other species, served with the wild mountain greens called horta, and  oven roasted potatoes braced with lemon.  Good as they were--though at least one fish was overcooked--they didn't radically differ from one another in texture or flavor, so that the less expensive species like  barbounia and lavraki (and prices, by the pound, can mount easily) are the wiser options.
    For dessert have the rich, wonderful Greek yogurt with honey or any of the honey-laced pastries, which are not  nearly so cloyingly sweet as at other Greek restaurants.

Kellari Taverna is open daily. Pre-Theater menu is $29.95; Business lunch, $24.95; Dinner appetizers $8.95-$16.95, entrees $24.95-$36.95, with whole fish by the pound.

Kellari’s Greek Bistro
36 East 20th Street (near Park Avenue)

Stavros Aktipis and Chef Gregory Zapantis took over the premises of what had been the short-lived Parea, a frantic, frenetic, though serious Greek restaurant run by a over-hyped chef from Cleveland. It was supposed to be hip, it was blisteringly loud, and the food was hit-or-miss. People rushed to be the first there, then didn't find much reason to return.
    Kellari's Greek Bistro seems on much firmer, more convivial, and far lovelier in a more rustic, traditional way, with rough columns that remind you of Greek ruins, hanging curtains, backlighted wine bottles, lamps, a red recessed ceiling, wine barrels full of apples, copper utensils, painted pottery, wrought-iron candeliers, candles, and lovely yellow plates on clothed tables. 
The bar is composed on thick black volcanic rock from Santorini. The service couldn't be more cordial, and the decor and ambiance allows for civilized conversation throughout the large dining room. Downstairs there is a wine cellar available for private dining, and the winelist itself is exemplary of Greek bottlings.
     This is also a
"green" restaurant, not in color (which is more beige and brown) but in its commitment to an environmentally friendly interior design that makes use of recycled and reclaimed wood;  recycled paper is used for the menus and business cards, and the cooking oil is "re-purposed" into bio-diesel.
     Chef Zapantis and
chef de cuisine Jason Morrey serve the whole panoply of traditional Greek cuisine with considerable spark in just about everything, and family-style is the best way to appreciate the mezes, which include spreads of fava beans, taramasalata, and  katiskisio saganaki, a sweetened goat's cheese baked with apricots and almonds. Eggplant is stuffed with ground lamb and a wondrous béchamel, and the grilled marinated octopus is, not suprisingly,  as good as at the other Kellari. Also delicious are the loukaniko grilled sausages with black-eyed peas.
     One of the signature dishes here is "Yesterday's Lamb" (left) meaning it's cooked and cooked and cooked, then left to rest and absorb flavors overnight till it achieves a velvety, caramelized texture  suffused with seasonings, served with oregano-lemon potatoes.  Unfortunately the fish here, lavraki sea bass, was also slightly overcooked as at Kellari Taverna, which may be a tendency among Greek chefs.
     There are daily specials available, from a veal sofrito from Corfu on Monday  to braised rabbit with pearl onions on Sunday. We happened to go on a Wednesday and were blessed with an unusual braised rooster in a Xinomavro wine sauce--very, very good. 
Friday is astakomakaranada, lobster pasta in a tomato-brandy sauce.
     For dessert there is a fine baklava with rosewater syrup and really wonderful galaktoboureko custard with phyllo crust and apple syrup. With it order a dark Greek coffee and a tot of ouzo, and you'll be very happy.
     There is not a radical difference between the two Kellaris--why should there be?  Both are dedicated to good Greek cookery with an abundance of filoxenia--hospitality of a high and rare order.

Kellari’s Greek Bistro is open seven days a week for brunch, lunch, and dinner from 11:30 AM -11:30 PM (until midnight on weekends). Call for  information on live music on Greek Nights.  There is a  Family Style Pre-Fixe Lunch Menu  at $38.95; Prixe Fixe Lunch/Brunch and Pre-Theater, $24.95.

A Canadian man named
Thomas Wood beat the results of a breathalyzer test of 0.13, exceeding the legal limit 0.08 by swearing to Judge Cunliffe Barnett he was too cheap to get drunk. A blood-alcohol expert from Vancouver testified that Wood  would have had to have drunk nearly four bottles of beer in order for his blood to register high enough to fail the test, but Wood insisted that  he only drank a pint and a glass of draft beer over the course of 2½ hours, because he was too cheap to buy more.  Judge Barnett sided for Wood, writing, "When I consider all the remaining relevant evidence and testimony, I cannot say that I am convinced by Mr. Wood's testimony; far from it, but Mr. Wood does not bear the burden of proving his innocence. He is required only to raise a reasonable doubt, and I find that he has done that."

Oh, Spare Us.

“I  love stuffed tomatoes, and Baca's version ($9) is excellent — a baseball-size, reasonably ripe (for February) fruit, opened at the top like a Halloween pumpkin for a lively filling of prosciutto, cheese, and basil — but ... a tomato in February? With basil? Everything is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, Voltaire wrote in Candide, except (and I choose to believe this is implicit in the Voltairean text) winter tomatoes.”—by Paul Reidinger in a review of Baca’s in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (February 27, 2008).


* On March 25 in NYC, a discussion and food pairing with the 2007 rosé wines of Provence,  Loire,  Spain, and Greece will be led by William E. Rhodes, CWE at Country. $65 pp. Call 212-889-7100; visit
* On March 28 in Dallas, “Friday Night Flights at The Bar” at Nana will be held between 6 p.m. & 8 p.m. Wine director Vincent McGrath will host the event.  $15 pp. Call 214-761-7470; visit

* On March 27 a 5-course Castello di Ama wine dinner will be held in the wine cellar at Lucca in Boston by Chef David Ross. $150 pp.  Call 617-742-5522.

* On March 29 Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar in Chicago will participate in Chicago's EARTH HOUR, a World Wildlife Foundation initiative to turn off the lights in cities around the world for one hour. Cyrano’s will transform the Dining Room into a Festival of Candles with Chef Didier preparing a dozen dishes ($19.95 to $24.95).  Call 312-467-0546;

* Beginning in April, NYC’s Rayuela announces its new "Paella Night" featuring 5 paellas every Monday night by Chef Máximo Tejada. $28 each, with a tasting of 3 paellas at $38. Call (212) 253-8840.  Visit

*  On April 1 in NYC, Sanctuary T owner Dawn Cameron will begin a monthly series featuring tea regions around the globe with a multi-sensory talk and tasting of the Sri Lankan teas and blends that will receive their US debut.  As part of the Tea Harvest Festival kick-off, Sanctuary Twill feature regional cuisine tied to the local tea culture of Sri Lanka.  Ssuggested donation of $10 pp, with proceeds to benefit City Harvest. Call 212-941-7832;

* On April 1 Seasons Restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will hold a 4-course wine dinner with Bacio Divino. $145 pp. Call 415-633-3838.

* Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino on St. Maarten features a "High Rollers Package incl. accommodations, VIP tickets for two to Theater Royale show "Caliente,"     Royale Relief massage for two at Good Life Spa,  dinner for two at The Point, $100 jewelry gift certificate. Priced for two at $1,157 now through April 14, and $1,037 April 15 – Dec. 1.  Call 800-223-0757 or visit

* On April 4 in Schaumburg, IL, Shaw’s Crab House will host a 6-course Japanese Tasting Dinner with Chef Naoki Nakashima; sommelier Steve Tindle will pair wine and sake. $89.95; Call 847-517-2722.

* From April 4 - 6, Combsberry B & B on Island Creek outside of Oxford, MD, will hold a Culinary Weekend featuring a wine/dessert pairing, wine class, evening cooking demon and Mediterranean wine dinner by Laurie Forster, The Wine CoachÒ and Lynne Harris of Healthy Culinary Connections.  The 2-night stay in the inn’s guest rooms, incl. complimentary full breakfast. $445 pp. Visit

* From April 6-12 the second annual Vinings Restaurant Week will offer dinner menus for $25 pp, and restaurants with a lower price point will offer $25 for dinner for two. More information and a list of participating restaurants is available at

* On April 7 Louis Fabrice Latour, proprietor of Maison Louis Latour will attend and speak at a 5-course dinner by Chef Chad Martin at  at Hotel St Germain in Dallas. $125 pp. Call 214-871-2516.

* On April 7 American Institute of Wine & Food holds its 2008 Champagne Gala Benefit in NYC at the Pierre Hotel, with a 5-course dinner created by chefs Josh Grinker of Stone Park Café, Paul Vicino of Five Front, Bill Telepan of Telepan, David Waltuck of Chanterelle, Stephen Lewandowski of Tribecca Grill, and Elizabeth Katz of BR Guest, paired with tête de cuvée Champagnes and fine wines, hosted by Michael Green, Gourmet Wine Consultant / Liquid Assets Group, presiding over a live and silent auctions.  Proceeds to Days of Taste®, scholarship and educational programs.  Go to or call 866-468-7619; $250 for AIWF members, $300 for non-members.

* From April 8 - 13, the 30th Annual Scottsdale Culinary Festival will be held, prented by The Arizona Republic, with proceeds benefiting the performing art programs around the Valley. Events incl. the Eat, Drink and Be Pretty party and the “Iron Chef”-like culinary cook-off,  the  Arizona Picnic at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, “Friends of James Beard” Dinner, ulinary Hall of Fame Awards Dinner, Chef Wine Dinners, the Southwest Festival of Beers, wine country Brunch. Tix from $5-$275. Call 480-945-7193 or 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."  THIS WEEK:  10 Reasons to Visit Banff & Lake Louise; Photographing Tuscany; A Skier's Aerie in Snowbird, Utah.


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, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Biran Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin .

John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, Diversion.,, and Cowboys and Indians.  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 2008