"Cowboy and Cop" (1940) WPA Photo by Lee Russell
NOTE: This Week's edition of the Virtual Gourmet arrives earlier than its usual weekend appearance, owing to travel plans.
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THE VEGANS EAT-as in LAS
NEW YORK CORNER:
Blanc by John Mariani
OF SOUTH AFRICA, Part Two by
The world is still
surprised to find that not
everyone in Las Vegas lives or works on The Strip, despite the fact
that greater Clark County has a population of over 2 million
people-many of whom never gets within a mile of a major hotel or
casino. And it is a fair bet that a vast majority of residents do
not ever dine there. Nor do they want to. With Vegas’s
phenomenal growth over the past ten years have come so many overblown,
outlandishly expensive restaurants, that even well heeled locals
dismiss them as playgrounds for the expense-account crowd.
Residents want quality and value, too often the latter at the expense
of the former (hence the proliferation of franchised, fast food
suburban blight.) But serious, off-Strip restaurants do have
strong local followings, such as these three hot spots that deliver
serious bang for the buck. Best of all, they are also open for
are few things more
pleasant in the Vegas Valley than sipping wine on the patio of Marché
Bacchus on a weekend afternoon. Started eight years ago by
Gregoire and Agathe Vergé, the place was sold to their good
Jeff and Rhonda Wyatt late last year, who have updated the
décor; expanded the wine offerings (that have always been deep
in quality Burgundies); and brought the food in line with the well
selected bottles in Las Vegas’s most charming wine shop.
Starter courses for dinner are $7-$13, and
main dishes run from
$16-$38. At lunch, sandwiches are $9-$11 and the $15 La Bavette
de Bacchus (a grilled flat iron steak with frites and maitre d’ hotel
butter) is a steal.
less a wine guru than
Robert Parker has proclaimed the wine list at Lotus of Siam the best
list of German Rieslings in America. Gourmet magazine has also called
it the best Thai restaurant in the
country, although to look at it, you may at first be unconvinced,
because calling its location undesirable is an understatement. My
standard advice to those seeking this mecca of fabulous food is to
ignore the wig shops, billiard parlors and dilapidated storefronts that
surround it, and concentrate on the small, modest foyer, where you will
notice that every famous chef and food writer in America (and more than
a few from across both ponds) has their picture on the wall with
Chef/owner Saipin Chutima.
doesn’t get any more old school than Pamplemousse
A Vegas landmark since 1976, this
small, cozy, very pink dining room puts one in mind of a French
albeit one with pictures of Elizabeth Taylor and Marlene Dietrich on
the walls (right). Owner
Georges LaForge (below) will
tell you that his friend
Bobby Darin suggested the name (it means “grapefruit” in French)
shortly before he died in 1973. Since that time every Rat Packer
and Vegas headliner from Frank and Dino to Wayne and Siegfried and Roy
have graced the tiny, almost stoop-shouldered entrance facing Sahara
Avenue to partake of the cuisine classique of France.
Pamplemousse is open for lunch and
dinner. Starters are $12-$2, main courses $30-$48, with lunch
prices being roughly half that.
Since 1995, John A. Curtas has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org.
by John Mariani
142 West 10 Street (near Waverly Place)
New York is an astonishing place for the depth and breadth of its culinary talent, whether it's imported from France or Italy or homegrown. The scores of amazingly talented young chefs graduated from the top kitchens in the city invests even the humblest of storefronts in every borough with the kind of weekly excitement that other cities could not match in a year.
The talent at Bar Blanc, a new restaurant in a former carriage house on one of the prettiest streets of the West Village, is testament to the wonderful enthusiasm that a passel of experienced professionals bring to a new venture. Kiwon Standen, a former lawyer, managed the business operations of the Bouley restaurant group for five years before going on her own to become a restaurant consultant. Didier Palange was most recently GM of Bouley. And Chef César Ramirez had been Chef de Cuisine of Bouley and, prior to that, Sous Chef at Danube. This is the formidable résumé power behind Bar Blanc, one of the loveliest, most amiable, and best new restaurants to open this year in New York.
When you walk in off that darling narrow street you are effusively greeted by Ms. Standen and Mr. Palange, whose gregariousness is the first signal you will have a good night. To the left of the white interior is a 12-stool white stone bar whose black lacquered walls carry wine bottles in lighted niches. In the 60-seat dining room the floors are wood, the walls white brick, and the banquettes white leather. Lighting is warm and flattering throughout, with silvery lamps hung from the ceiling; somehow the designer has managed to keep the noise level fairly reasonable, although tablecloths would have helped measurably. The bar seems to attract a line of attractive women for whom the décor and ambiance of Bar Blanc seem perfect for a night out with their friends for drinks and dinner.
Chicago-born Ramirez (below), 36, describes his cooking as "creative French"; fair enough, for it bears traces of the kind of finesse David Bouley brought to modern cuisine twenty years ago. Still, there are plenty of Italian ingredients and concepts here too. He shows himself a master of balanced flavors, no ingredient, no starch, no pepper overpowering the next; so, too, his textures are admirably American. Even a dish that doesn't sound all that enticing--baby Boston lettuce and hearts of palm with a poached egg, pecorino cheese, and a balsamic vinegar oil--has just the right combination of acids, proteins, farm flavors, and crispiness to make it a winner. Big-eye tuna comes raw, with baby arugula, crispy shallots, ricotta salata, balsamic, and a light lemon vinaigrette, while a perfectly cooked jumbo sea scallop takes on subtle saline dimensions from being wrapped in porcelry belly, served with a broccoli puree in a baby leek broth--what a lovely dish!
Among the entrees I enjoyed seared black cod--not done with the ubiquitous soy-sake soy, but with a saffron-mussel sauce with spinach, roast burdock, and a squirt of squid ink. Crispy striped bass comes in a surprising stew of organic coca, diablo and cannellini beans, and a little chorizo oil to give it fat and flavor. Tubular casarecce pasta comes with braised organic chicken. oven-roasted tomatoes, sugar snap peas, fava beans and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, which constitute an ideal light dish for springtime. The best of all I tasted that evening was a roast veal breast (why don't more chefs cook this succulent cut?) with wild watercress in a marvelous Parmigiano broth.
All desserts, by Daniel Keehner, were superb, from the warm almond cake with poached Asian pear, pear sorbet, and mascarpone to the coconut napoleon with kumquats and a touch of coriander in an exotic fruit sorbet. And don't miss the warm beignets with bittersweet chocolate jam, passion fruit, and toasted cocoa bean ice cream.
Not always does a chef's menu all seem part of a complete thought process. Too often they put on items merely to please a customer, or they try to do some outrageous items in among the other more sensible dishes. Bar Blanc delivers at a style of modernity and good taste that even New Yorkers don't see very often in their restaurants. Bar Blanc is like a nice little white box that when opened exudes goodness and refinement and lots of little delicious surprises.
Blanc is open for dinner nightly. Appetizers $10 - $18, Entrees
$22 - $36, with a 4-course tasting menu at $72.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WINES OF SOUTH AFRICA, Part Two
by Mort Hochstein
more than a half hour
from Cape Town in South Africa, heavy trucks servicing the
Swartland Winery dominate the roads near the busy market town of
Malmesbury. The American beverage giant Gallo has planted its
flag and vision in wine country here, attempting to produce a
brand to rival Australia’s Yellow Tail, the leading
imported wine in the United States. Swartland, which produces more than
2 million cases of wine annually, has created a full line of
international varietals for Gallo under the name Sebeka, with an
eye-arresting label of a golden cheetah racing across the bush and a
suggested retail price of $8.99. The Sebeka line is a win-win
proposition for Gallo and Swartland. Gallo has found a reliable source
of value wines in a region with huge production and Swartland is making
its entrance into the United States.
To read Part One of this article, click
"Perhaps instead of offering fat people money, which they will only spend on pies, we should once again stigmatise them. Fat adults could be forced to pay for two seats on public transport, could be given the worst seats in restaurants and scolded over their choice of dessert. `Have the fruit salad, you fat pig,' and so on."--Rod Lidle, "Laugh at lard butts – but just remember Fatty Fritz lives longer," The Sunday Times (1/27/08)
SO THE PISCES ORDERED FISH, THE CANCER ORDERED CRABS, THE TAURUS ORDERED STEAK, AND THE AQUARIANS JUST HAD A BOTTLE OF WATER
A "Gastrological Dinner"
series is being held at The Boulders Resort & Golden Door Spa..
with astrologer Tom McMullan explaining how "the movement of the
constellations and planets influence the lives of dinner guests as they
enjoy a gourmet meal under the night sky." McMullan has worked with
celebrities such as Regis Philbin and Robert Downey Jr.
To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Mother's Day Day dinners, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events
* On April 22nd Hudson River Cafe in NYC presents a Spring Food Wine Festival, a night of outdoor grilling by Chef Ricardo Cardona and tastings of over 100 wines and spirits for $35 pp. www.hudsonrivercafe.com.
* On April 24-26 The Grand Wine & Food Affair in Sugar Land and Houston, is offering a vintner dinner in the Texas Hill Country with air transportation included by private corporate jet to Becker Vineyards in Stonewall. Other events incl: a biodynamic, organic and sustainable viticulture seminar at a luncheon at the Sweetwater Country Club; Champagne with the Masters, at Sugar Land Marriott Town Square ; silent auction; Riedel wine glass seminar; visit www.thegrandwineandfoodaffair.com.
* On April 28 Chef-owner Jody Adams of Rialto in Cambridge hosts a 4-course dinner with four women winemakers with small productions specializing in organic and sustainable agriculture: Diane de Puymorin from Chateau d’Or et de Gueules; Nathalie Blanc from Mas Carlot; Sylvia Cornut from Mas Guiot; and Carolina Furque from Furque. $100 pp. Call 617-661-5050.
* On April 29th, T.W. Food Restaurant in Cambridge will
feature an artisanal spring food menu in collaboration with bio-dynamic
winemaker Tony Coturri, of Coturri Vineyards, Sonoma California.
$95 pp. Call 617 864-4745.
• The Hotel Vintage Plaza in Portland. OR, offers a “Growing Up Gourmet” package that incl: Welcoming bottle of Vintage Plaza private label wine and First Blush varietals Merlot and Chardonnay grape juice for the kids.; 3-course dinner from Chef John Eisenhart at Pazzo Ristorante; The one-night package starts for 2 people, a grown up and a child, at $299; additional $55 per person per evening. Call 503-228-1212 or visit www.vintageplaza.com.
* On May 5 in Dallas, Mattito’s is throwing
their annual Cinco de Mayo celebration with a
live performance by Salsa and Meringue band Carabali. Call (214)
* Inspired by the Broadway
revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “SOUTH PACIFIC” now playing at
Lincoln Center, Terrance Brennan, Chef-Proprietor of NYC’s Picholine has unveiled a 3-course
South Pacific menu priced at $95, combing Asian and Hawaiian flavor
profiles with traditional French cooking techniques, a complimentary
glass of Tahitian Royale. www.picholinenyc.com. Call 212-724-8585.
* On May 10 Westport Rivers Vineyard will host the 2008
Coastal Wine Trail Kick Off, a 2-hour tasting of the 7 wineries
of the Coastal Wine-- Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod, Langworthy Farm
Winery, Newport Vineyards, Greenvale Vineyards, Sakonnet Vineyards,
Running Brook Vineyard as well as Westport Rivers Vineyard &
Winery. Sample local artisan cheeses, local baked goods, natural
gourmet products from Wicked Good Foods, a cash raw bar. $35 pp. Visit
. Call 508-636-3423.
* On May 13 a 5-course
Rosenthal Winemaker Dinner will be
held at Brooks in Ventura,
CA, prepared by Chef Andy Brooks,
with the winemaker from Rosenthal Winery. $125 pp. Call 805-
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, ForbesTraveler.com 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 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.
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, Brian 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., Forbestraveler.com, 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), and other books below..
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.