Virtual Gourmet

April 27,  2008                                                        NEWSLETTER

Betty Crocker Through the Ages

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Two West Side Newcomers--Naima and Bagatelle by Edward  R. Brivio

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Perrier-Jouët Lets You Make Your Own Bubbly by John Mariani


by Henry Togna

    Airports are where architects are allowed to let themselves go--design and function theoretically being the key words. When arriving at Madrid’s spectacular Barajas Airport (airport code: MAD), allow plenty of time to move about its echoing vastness, and bring trainers for mile-long walks through multiple levels.  Terminal 4, designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, was recently called by The New Yorker's architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, one of the great new airports in the world.  And it’s only 9 miles from the city center!
   Madrid, the stately capital of Spain, is a bit lacking in soul, missing the spark of Barcelona, the romanticism of Seville, the sensuality of Mallorca or the Moorish virtues of Cadiz.
   We stayed at The Ritz, the Orient-Express-owned Grand Dame, which displayed a certain decorative fatigue, although the Royal Suite (€5,136; left), where we gratefully found ourselves, was a riot of Belle Époque gilt and grandeur. There are 167 guest rooms, all done individually with period antiques. Staff from management down showed a comforting, deferential Old World charm and courtesy. There is a fine fitness center and sauna.
    The Ritz's location is more than convenient, within steps of the lovely Retiro Park, the Teatro de la Zarzuela, and the Madrid's three great art museums, the Prado, the Thyssen Bornemisza and the Centro de Arte Moderno Reina Sofia.
    Dinner one night in the Ritz's Goya restaurant was a much-hyped Menu Degustaçion, which sadly should be mispronounced to express its awfulness! An opening course of Brie-stuffed ravioli was in fact a crusty quesadilla that completely missed the point of ravioli. Artichoke hearts on a puree of lettuce and peas defined the word stewed. The main course of partridge had been long ago cooked and was covered in heavy-duty gravy, a waste of a lovely little bird. Lemon cake was a dull sponge with hints of lemon trying to break through the sweetness.
      The much-hyped La Broche (Calle Miguel Ángel 29-31; 34 913 993 437), owned by Catalan chef Sergi Arola, is a white-on-white modernist statement (right) with black-clad staff who introduced every dish rather charmingly in both Spanish and English. A plethora of amuses-gueules was offered, and they were surprisingly muted, given the chef's El Bulli background! It being Easter weekend, perhaps the chef was away. One dish was a croquette filled with essence of ham, which the waiter said was disgusting; it was interesting but he was right.
      All star aspirational chefs feel the need to demonstrate their cleverness, which that evening extended to myriad treasure-filled candy jars as a finale. To start, we had one of his indisputably great dishes--creamy (mostly) potatoes with a poached hen's egg sunk in the middle, with enough black truffle on top to put most of Spain's pigs into a wild frenzy, a truly sensual dish.
     My partner had razor clams delicately and lightly steamed with a millefeuille of Roquefort for tangy contrast. Main courses were a sirloin steak cubed, with a sauce so powerful as to make it challenging to eat, almost certainly the chocolate content! Dessert was a truly sublime white chocolate “nine ways,” and though I never eat white chocolate (the waiter insisted), I was amazed at how delicious it was, as was the finesse of citrus fruits in a froth of passion fruit under a sugar bubble. All in all, dinner at La Broche was a very good experience.
      El Gran Barrill (Calle de Goya, 107; 91 431 2210), a contemporary styled restaurant (below), seemed to suffer from Easter weekend blues, with few diners and lackadaisical Spanish-speaking only waiters. The kitchen was operating crisply though, and we worked our way through an array of the freshest fish, from anchovies, to small intensely flavored crabs, langoustines cooked with garlic and crunchy salt, sweet baby lobsters, all as if straight off the beach. The blandness of the decor and the curious choice of pop music did not detract from the delight of such delicious seafood.
      According to its website, El Gran Barrill has hosted everyone from  Richard Nixon and  John F. Kennedy, to
Demi Moore, and Jean-Claude van Damme, although none dropped by that night.
     On other evenings, at various cervecerias, we had enough jamon iberico for a lifetime, so much so that I started hallucinating about Pio Tosini prosciutto in all its delicate pinkness. Strangely enough, Madrid seemed to be more of a beer city than a sherry one like Seville, where the range available in tapas bars is wonderful.
    Neither a restaurant nor a night club, but most certainly a tourist destination, El Corral de la Moreria serves a sprinkling of standard dishes of no particular merit. Its claim to fame lies in its 50 plus years of flamenco, which while clearly not on any Madrileño’s must-visit list nevertheless unleashed the passion that flamenco releases in its singers and dancers. A troupe of ten put body and soul into a generous hour-long show marked by real commitment and good humor.

Henry Togna is a hotelier in London, owner of 22 Jermyn Street, and compiles his own newsletter to what's going on in London.





513 West 27th Street (near 10th Avenue)

       Named after a John Coltrane composition that in turn had been named for his wife, as well as for a reserve bottling of Aglianico grapes from the De Conciliis winery in Campania,  Naima the restaurant is owned by two jazz buffs, Samir Jahdadic and Roberto Vuotto, with Chef Julio Aquilar, has been pleasing  diners since its opening in 2005. A large garage door, now glazed with rectangular panels of glass, recalls the space’s former incarnation as a parking garage. Small but inviting, the bar off to the left as you enter welcomes you into an industrial-sized room that’s more NYC Japanese steakhouse than ristorante or trattoria, with its red-and-brown color scheme and a back wall that looks like nothing so much as an oversized shoji screen. 
       Tables are bare, rustic brick walls are accents. The designers opted to make the décor fit the space, which it does rather nicely, as well as suit its young neighborhood clientele here on the western fringes of Chelsea. No attempt was made to render the décor “Italianate,” and none was needed, as the food speaks eloquently enough of its country of inspiration with every delicious bite.
     Is there a tastier bean than the fava, especially as prepared here in a salad with delicious pecorino di Pienza (creamier and much more interesting than your usual pecorino romano), sliced pears and arugula? A frisée salad is given an Italian twist with lardons of pancetta, wild mushrooms, and a balsamic reduction, both clean, fresh, and acidic enough to revive the appetite, which, after all, is what appetizers are supposed to do.
     Spaghetti alla vongole was a bright, zippy version with nicely tangy-sweet cherry tomatoes as well as wonderful, tiny clams in the shell. Penne “Naima” was rich and rewarding, with Speck—for the moment, my favorite “cold-cut”-- red radicchio. and morsels of mozzarella in a slightly pink cream sauce.
    I love well-prepared octopus, and the grigliata of baby octopus here was wonderful, with more of that red radicchio trevisano, and fennel, both perfectly grilled, I’m just not sure if a main course of polpo isn’t too much of a good thing. Our other secondo was ossobucco alla milanese with saffron risotto, the meat falling off the bone, and the rice creamy and properly al dente at the same time. A marrow spoon was thoughtfully provided.
     A simple, delicious panna cotta was all the dessert we needed.
    When I first became aware of wine in the early 60’s, the Italian selection was pretty much limited to straw fiaschi of Chianti, Asti Spumante, and Bolla’s always dependable if unexciting  triumvirate of Soave,  Bardolino, and Valpoliocella. Contemporary Valpolicella, however, is a different story, and delicious ones can be found in every price range. Our 2005 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Caterina Zardini from Giuseppe Campagnola ($54), showed just how good this red from the Veneto can be, a blend of 70%  Corvina and Corvinone Veronese, and 30%  Rondinella  that gives it a lovely floral complexity on the nose with violets and a touch of roses vying for attention. Fruit-forward, in the modern-style, with wonderful depth of cherry flavor, it still had plenty of grit and edge to make it go beautifully with food.

Open for lunch and dinner. Antipasti: $9 to 18; pastas:  $12-$18; main courses $19-$34.


409 West 13th Street (near Ninth Avenue)

    At this 90-seat Parisian-style  bistro in the Meatpacking district, don’t expect downtown-chic. Bagatelle's  unassuming façade in no way prepares you for the elegant white-on-white interior, with (thank heavens!) tablecloths, walls, and serving pieces all immaculately white, set off by dark wood bistro chairs (bent-wood and wicker) and the equally somber tones of the serving staff’s uniforms, all aglow in soft lighting from crystal chandeliers and flickering candles. It’s a mix of upper Eastside elegance and Left Bank informality; certainly none of the dishes we enjoyed at a recent dinner did anything to diminish that effect; nor did the all-around affability and professionalism of the staff ever lag.
Co-owners Remi Laba and Aymeric Clemente  and Chef Nicolas Cantrel, who worked  for nine years at Alain Ducasse's Aux Lyonnais in Paris and Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, then at Daniel, Country, and Bobo in Manhattan. Most recently, he was Executive Chef at Bobo in Manhattan’s West Village, so he clearly brings considerable professional and culinary clout to the proceedings here.

     What’s a bistro without impeccable fruits de mer? As we looked over the menu we shared a half dozen Caraquets, (cold-water, farm-raised oysters from New Brunswick, Canada), small, plump and sweet, and just about as fresh as could be. We should have ordered a dozen.
     Tuna tartare was all the better for its accompaniment of a nicely citric avocado salad, its texture and flavors complementing the raw fish. Equally good was a wild mushroom risotto garnished with shards of Parmigiano, creamy with just the right bite to the kernels of rice, and the woodsy flavors from the funghi.
          The grilled branzino (sea bass), whole but already de-boned, was an excellent piece of fish, stuffed with dill, thyme, and lemon slices, then simply grilled to enhance yet not mask its exceptional freshness. Baby carrots and string beans were all that was needed, or wanted, to complete the dish.
        On a par with everything that preceded it was an elegant, user-friendly bouillabaisse, once again, not massive, and all the better for it. Each species of fish and crustacean had spent just the right amount of time cooking in the superb fish stock, nothing mushy or over-cooked here. Even its traditional accompaniment of delicious rouille, contained just enough garlic for flavor, without making its presence known for days to come. Don’t pass up the crisp, golden French fries either.
    There are also nightly specials including navarin d’  agneau  on Monday, petit sale au lentilles  on Tuesday, pot au feu on Wednesday, and so on.
         Desserts were a classic gâteau Ste.-Hônoré of puff pastry and whipped cream and an intense dark chocolate mousse.
        A 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin A.C.($90) from Domaine Gélin in Fixin in the Côtes-de-Nuits, had everything I look for in red Burgundy: earthy, slightly gamey, dry cherry flavors, a nice supple texture, and not a hint of sweetness.

Bagatelle is open for dinner every night. Brunch Sat. & Sun. Appetizers; $10 to 20, main courses: 24 to 36, sides: 8, desserts: 9.

Edward Brivio is a freelance writer living in New York.




  Épernay, France

by John Mariani

     In a world where luxury has been so watered down and just so much mass marketing, the idea of having something "tailor made" still carries enormous appeal, not to mention prestige.  Anyone with a couple of grand can buy an Armani or Ralph Lauren suit good for s season or two, but for about the same money one could have a suit made by a Savile Row tailor that will last a decade. As Oscar Wilde observed, a cynic is a man "who knows the price of everything and ghe value of nothing."
      And until now, the idea of having one's own Champagne made according to one's own preferences and personality seemed like a ridiculous conceit in an industry that turns out millions of bottles made in a house style. But this is the exclusive new idea behind Perrier-Jouët's custom-designed Champagne,
called Perrier-Jouët By and For, and only 100 cases have been allocated worldwide.
    Those who like the idea of “bespoke” Champagne will have a chance to visit the P-J headquarters in the beautiful city of Épernay to meet Chef de Caves, Hervé Deschamps—the seventh in a line to have held the position in the last two centuries.
The idea goes beyond the concept of the Prestige Cuvées other Champagne houses produce, which are their top-of-the-line vintage Champagnes specially blended to a unique house style.  Indeed, the Champagne houses pride themselves on making bubblies that are very specific in style, year after year.  So the idea of allowing an individual to have a hand in the production of his own special cuvée is certainly unique.
That individual--called a beneficiary--will pay between $92,000 and $105,000 for a package that begins with airfare and transport to Paris for him and four guests, a night's stay in a Paris hotel, a chauffeured drive to the lovely city of Épernay in the heart of the Champagne region, and four-course lunch at P-J's exquisite Maison Belle Époque  (above), a private guesthouse that dates to 1811 and which contains one of the finest collections of art nouveau furniture and artwork from Master Glassworker Emile Gallé, who in 1902 designed the famous white anemones that adorn each of the prestige Perrier-Jouët cuvées.
  From there you enter the wine caves  for a discussion with Deschamps as to your palate preferences, along with an extensive Q&A about your “wider tastes and desires.”  Deschamps  then  selects a variety of different Champagnes for you sample, and on that basis he will craft a personalized Champagne.  He begins with samples of Perrier-Jouët Fleur de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2000 cuvée from the village of Crémant’s two finest vineyards, Bourrons-Leroy and Bourrons du Midi. He then creates a “liqueur d’expédition,” changing the different combinations of wines blended with different proportions of sugar to show different possibilities and degrees of dryness, fruit, sharpness, acid, and so forth, he belives matches your personality and tastes.
In the subterranean caves 100 alcoves (left) have been specially built to hold the cases of 12 bottles, one for each future owner, whose name will be placed on the alcove., which already contains some impressive celebrities.   Then, the waiting begins: Already seven years old, the Champagne will age an additional year to allow the liqueur d’expédition sufficient time to marry with the Champagne. You are then invited to co-sign with Deschamps each bottle, which will be delivered in a special case (below, left) to your door. (The case of Champagne alone, without the whole package, goes for about $72,000.)

To commemorate the launch of By and For, P-J asked Maison Van Cleef & Arpels to create a spectacular  brooch based on the Gallé anemone. Made of white gold and set with 450 round diamonds, the brooch will be available in several of Van Cleef & Arpels boutiques around the world.
       To make even more of a splash of the release of the new Champagne with as much bang as possible, P-J also held a grand gala at the Paris Opéra Garnier, to which an array of buyers, celebs, and journalists, including this reporter, were invited. I must say that, having attended  more than a few of these kinds of affairs (and avoiding many, many others along the way), I was astonished by the luminous glamor of this one, which began with a flashbulb-popping procession of guests up the staircase into the hall of th house, where a video of grande dames associated with the refinement of the Champagne--including actresses  Sophie Marceau and Gong Li in attendance that evening --was thrown onto vast screens as silvery confetti poured through the hall.
       Then it was upstairs to a long dining room (right) that resembles a gilded hall at Versailles. Men in black tie and women who seemed quite used to ballgowns sat on both sides of two long, mirrored tables as waiters presented a menu of questions similar to those Master Deschamps would ask his By and Four patrons--"Do you think you are more forest or sea?" "More Mozart or Rossini?"  Remarkably these menus reflected options for dishes to be made with certain ingredients, which would seem to task a restaurant of 50 seats.  But here were seated more than 200 people, and the chef catering the evening was Anne-Sophie Pic, whose famous restaurant Pic in Valence has three Michelin stars and who was chosen Chef of the Year  for 2007.
      The dinner was astonishing for its excellence, probably cooked in the Sous-Vide process and assembled with garniture at the Opéra.  On the basis of my answers to those personality questions, I was served foie gras blonde (chicken livers) crème brûlée, then a lovely velouté of wild mushrooms with a whole egg yolk, then pheasant rollatine in a reduction of its broth, with a julienne of vegetables. An array of chocolate desserts followed.
    Of course, we were drinking principally P-J Champagne, which seemed both appropriate and lavishly decadent. It was quite an evening, as glamorous as any I've ever been part of, even if I could never afford to be a P-J beneficiary. So, the only thing left to do, it seemed, was to head for the Hemingway Bar at The Ritz and have a nightcap or two.

     For information on Perrier-Jouët's By and Four package, Call 914-848-4743.

Oy Vey!  There Goes the Pastrami!

President Richard H. Schwartz of The Jewish Vegetarians of North America wrote a letter to the Union of Concerned Scientists that stated, "We applaud UCS for their important initiative. But they, like most scientific groups, are overlooking 'an inconvenient truth' that even Al Gore has not sufficiently addressed--a November, 2006 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization  documented that animal-based agriculture emits more greenhouse gases (in CO2 equivalents)  than all forms of transportation worldwide combined (18% vs. 13.5%). The group urges rabbis and other Jewish leaders to consider how a shift toward plant-based diets would: improve the health of Jews and others; show the relevance of Judaism's eternal teachings to current societal challenges, thus helping to revitalize Jewish life; and, most importantly, help move an imperiled world to a sustainable path."


"9 PM (Food Network) RACHAEL RAY FEEDS YOUR PETS. Not only is Ms. Ray passionate about food, but she is also passionate about animal, preparing homemade meals for her dog, Isaboo, whose feeding frenzies seem to be a testament to their tastiness.  In this hour special, Ms. Ray shares her recipes, tours a New England bakery for pets and visits dogs living on a cattle ranch in the Colorado Rockies.  She also offers practical morsels on safe and nutritious food for furry members."--TV Listing


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 29 in Los Angeles,  Stefano Ongaro, owner and wine director of All’ Angelo Ristorante, and Dalla Terra Winery host “A Night in Tuscany”--a celebration of Northern Italy in a series of regionally-focused wine dinners at All’ Angelo. Chef Mirko Paderno will showcase Northern Italy’s gastronomic heritage and his refined talents with three menus that highlight regional culinary traditions complemented by Ongaro’s pairings from Della Terra . $145 pp.  Call  323-933-9540.

* In NYC beginning May 6 Hearth will hold the Spring Series of Wine Dinners with Wine Director Paul Grieco. Call 646-602-1300 May 6:  The Greatest White Grape in the World: Chenin Blanc; May 7: Charlie Brown Grapes: Zierfandler, Scheurebe, and Ruché; May 13: Beer. For further events visit

•    On May 6 in L.A. Grace celebrates 5 years in business by offering a 5-course menu reflective of executive chef Neal Fraser’s own personal signature favorites.

On May 7 at Alto! in NYC an Italian Winemaker dinner and Champagne Taittinger Reception will be held, for $350 pp.  Call 212-308-1099.

* On May 8 In Highland Park, IL,  Carlos and Debbie Nieto of Carlos’ Restaurant and Tom Jiaras of International House of Wine And Cheese will host a special wine tasting and  4-course dinner with Argyle Wines, featuring winemaker Rollin Soles, at $85 pp.  Call  847-432-.0770.

•    On May 9 in Newport, RI, Castle Hill Inn & Resort, presents  a wine dinner featuring selections from Champagne Pommery with Champagne expert Geoffrey Loisel , with  a 4-course dinner by Executive Chef Jonathan Cambra. $125 pp.  Call 401-848-0918 x 150 or visit

•    May 11 at Shaun’s in Atlanta will mark the 5th monthly dinner in Chef Shaun Doty’s special dining series catering to those with celiac disease. , with a gluten-free and wheat-free menu for $45 and $65 with gluten-free beer pairings.  Call 404-577-4358 or visit

* On May 16 & 17 in Washington DC, SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience will feature a reception-style sampling of 35+ sweet and savory appetizers and 96 craft beers from 48 breweries served by the luminaries of the craft beer industry. Tix are $85 to each of the 3 tasting sessions.  Seminar topics incl. “Beer vs.Wine; Cross Drinking without social stigma” and “Craft Beer and Cheese and Beer and Food.” Visit

*On May 16 & May 17, Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson will hold her  her “Weekend Immersion Wine & Food Course” at Mandarin Oriental, New York, with structured lessons, an intricate series of food and wine pairings, and helpful tips and tastes of wines, all paired with cheeses. Package rates range from $2,420-$3,195. Call (866) 801 8880. Tix  to the wine course without accommodations are $795 pp. Call (707) 535 6742 or visit

* On May 17 in DC, Acadiana will hold a “throw down” party where guests will learn  to  make the customary crawfish and shrimp Boil, with potatoes, and corn  on the cob, accompanied by beer. The class is $75 pp. Call  202-222-0987. On the patio the boil is $13 per pound for crawfish, or $17 for shrimp.

* On May 17 & 18 The Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance (SVVGA) will hold the second annual "Passport to Sonoma Valley" at more than 40 wineries throughout Sonoma. Visitors will be issued a "passport" providing them unprecedented access to the wines and wineries, with exclusive VIP tasting bars offering special pricing and wines available only at the wineries. A portion of "Passport to Sonoma Valley" proceeds go to the SVVGA Scholarship Fund. Advanced tix $50/weekend, $45/day and $10/designated driver. Call 707-935-0803 or visit

 * On May 22 Justin Vineyards will hold a Wine Dinner to benefit Girls for a Change ( at Michael Mina’s Arcadia in San Jose. A 5-course menu prepared by chef Daniel Patino. $125 pp. Call (408) 278-4555.

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, EXPLORING ALASKA'S INSIDE PASSAGE.


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,  Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Brian Freedman, and Dotty Griffith. 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), and other books below..

 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