Virtual Gourmet

June 8, 2008                                                        NEWSLETTER

"Tulip and Parsley " (2007) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Elettaria by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Do the 2005 White Burgundies Wear the Emperor’s New Clothes? by John Mariani




by John Mariani

  The time to relax and read is upon us, and while most food and drink books are made to be glanced at while cooking or drinking, a notable few are an interesting for the way they are researched and written as for their good taste.  Here are some of the new ones stacked up by my chaise lounge this summer, a pitcher of daiquiri nearby.

BEYOND THE GREAT WALL: Recipes and Travels in the Other China by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan, $40)--Another great big, heavy, well-illustrated tome by the authors of the award-winning Hot Sour Salty Sweet, this is a lavish production that takes the reader far outside the city eateries designed for tourists into regions as remote as Golmud, the Aktai Mountains, and Mongolia in search of the vast array of cuisines that make up the gastronomy of this highly diverse country.  The recipes seem to be as close as possible to the originals.

by Arthur Schwartz(10Speed Press,$35)--Easily the leading authority on Jewish cookery in this country, where Jewish food has sadly become merely modifications of other ethnic foods, Schwartz reclaims the legacy of Yiddish cookery--sometimes critically--by bringing you to the places where the best of it has been made for decades and translating the ideas into recipes that will work at home.

RALPH BRENNAN'S NEW ORLEANS SEAFOOD COOKBOOK by Ralph Brennan, with Gene Bourg (Vissi d'Arte Books, $45)--Odd, really, that a city so based on its seafood has never had a first-rate seafood cookbook. Ralph Brennan, who owns Redfish Grill among other restaurants in the Big Easy, has given the city and us what it has long needed, full of tantalizing Louisiana recipes and a text by local food writer Gene Bourg who knows everything worth knowing about the local food and drink. Kerri McCaffety's photos are, as always, revealing of all that makes this food so irresistible.

by Carolyn Banfalvi ($24.95)--The food scene in Budapest has burgeoned really only in the last three years, and Carlyn Banfalvi lovingly chronicles the full extent of it, from a culinary history and guide to modern winemaking (which has made tremendous strides) to both the traditional and trendy new restaurants that now dot this marvelous old city. Well put together on heavy stock, with fine, evocative photos.

by Alison Harris  and THE BEST WINE SHOPS & BARS OF PARIS  by Pierrick Jégu (The Little Bookroom, $16.95)--The Little Bookroom has brought out two lovable volumes for all those who believe Paris is not just a movable feast but a constantly changing one. Beautifully photographed, each volume brings you right inside the belly of Paris food culture, and the authors both have an enduring and deep love for their city. The translations are artful enough to convey their passions, too.

EVERYDAY DRINKING by Kingsley Amis (Bloomsbury, $19.99)--Could their possibly be a duller title for some of the sprightliest writing about the joys of imbibing? The late Mr. Amis, who certainly did plenty of on-site research on the subject of cocktails, gives us some hilarious takes on old cocktails, new cocktails, his cocktails. There is a terrific essay on hangovers, and even some fun quizzes at the end.  Did you know that after the battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson's body was shopped back in a cask of rum?


-Fish Without a Doubt by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore

-Rick Stein's Complete Seafood by Rick Stein

-The Great Big Butter Cookbook edited by Diana von Glahn

-Chocolate by Paul Cuvelier

-Mediterranean Fresh by Joyce Goldstein

-A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent


33 West 8th Street (at MacDougal Street)

      The whole trendy idea of what used to be called "fusion cuisine" used to bug me, not because crossbreeding food cultures is a bad idea in itself but because so many of the early practitioners hadn't a clue how to go about it, having spent ten days in Bangkok or a fortnight in Tuscany or a weekend cooking class in Morocco, only to return to the U.S. and start mixing everything up without having grown up or trained in the cuisine.  The results were usually dreadful.
     I recall once speaking to an Indian chef who told me that India has something like a thousand different types of mangoes, yet only one is exported to the U.S. and that meant only one was ever used in the myriad dishes American chefs were concocting in a flagrant abuse of authenticity. It would be similar to an Italian using pepperoncino peppers in making his interpretation of Mexican food.
     Fortunately two things have changed the face of fusion: first, young well-trained chefs either born abroad or first generation here got into the restaurant business, and second, the last decade has witnessed a tsunami of better, more varied international ingredients that allow the chefs' food to taste similar to that in the Old Country.  By using those ingredients with the techniques learned in a classic kitchen, they have transformed fusion cuisine from gimmicky to wonderful, while distinguishing themselves through their own imagination.
      Enter into the picture chef Akhtar Nawab (below)and partner-manager Noel Cruz, who opened Elettaria (the Latin word for green cardamom) this past February on lively West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village. Nawab (formerly of The E.U. and Craftbar) is of Indian background, Cruz (Craft, Craftbar) of Filipino, have brought ideas and spices to a menu that refines the street food of those countries while making more western  ingredients like pheasant and quail sing in ways I have not come across before.
      The 72-seat restaurant has a cheery, rustic ambiance, with a good steel bar, reclaimed barn-wood ceiling, plank floorboards, and old brick walls in what is a landmarked Greenwich Village building. (interesting factoid: previously the space housed a club  called The 8th Wonder, whose headliner was  Jimi Hendrix.)  The open kitchen is brightly lighted so you can watch Nawab and his crew going through the ministrations. The service staff, though harried on busy nights, is friendly, knowledgeable about the food, wine and signature cocktails (several named after movie actresses like Rita Hayworth and Jane Russell), and the winelist itself is geared to go with this kind of food. The really impressive list here, however, is the booze list--dozens of out-of-the-ordinary bottlings including some wonderful rye whiskeys.
      You and your friends could easily make a meal by ordering all the appetizers, which include plenty of winners: Kona kampachi raw fish with jackfruit, hearts of palm, and the crunch of smoked peanuts. Pork ribs are dusted with garam masala that perfumes the air, with the soft meat surrendering to the bite, served with snow peas, lychee, and cool yogurt.  The generous portion of sweetbreads is a very good dish, with the texture of romaine lettuce, the sweetness of pineapple, and the spark of pink peppercorns.  Asparagus salad comes with marinated mousseron mushrooms, smoked pork, and a cumin vinaigrette, while sea scallops keep their subtle flavor alongside parsley puree, oxtail meat, spring's ramps, and coriander leaves.  Samosas, little pastry pillows with curried rabbit, a coconut sambar and tamarind vinaigrette were all right, if no better than the average samosas you'd get at any Indian restaurant. Juicy crabmeat resala with a fine turmeric-onion  soubise, basil seeds and fried herbs was faintly fishy one evening and the accompanying gnocchi too soft.
     That's just the appetizers. But don't worry, there are only seven main courses. The best was the duck with a keema stew, very succulent, with nettles and cardamom providing wonderful aroma and flavor. Bavette, a delicious, thin cut of the short loin of beef, was impeccably chewy, served simply with oyster mushrooms, turnips, and the scent of fenugreek. Black sea bass with a confit of fingerlings (good idea) was served with coconut, tapioca, and pea leaves to provide varying textures.   The ricotta malfatti in mattar paneer sounded promising but it got lost in the curry stew.
      For dessert the "milk donuts," somewhat like Indian rasmalai, are soaked with rosewater and you get the lagniappe of ginger custard and yogurt gelato, while the very French chocolate financier is very good, with the addition of coffee cardamom pot de creme and chocolate almond brittle. Coconut tapioca pudding is pleasing, with a banana fritter, but the leaves of coriander distract from the cool subtlety of the pudding.
      Elettaria is an adventurous place with exciting food, but nothing is so exotic that it would put off anyone with even a finicky palate.  And with prices for starters $9-$16 and main courses $18-$25, those people who love Asian flavors will be delighted with how they've been suffused throughout this engaging menu.

Elettaria is open for dinner nightly.


Do the 2005 White Burgundies Wear the Emperor’s New Clothes?
by John Mariani

     In his new, comprehensive book, The Wines of Burgundy (U. of California Press, 878 pages), Master of Wine Clive Coates awards the 2005 vintage of white burgundies 18.5 points out of 20—“fine plus.” He also blasts the wine media—especially Americans—for simply not understanding Burgundy and for carping that it is overpriced, calling critics “often misinformed or just plain pig-ignorant.”
       I certainly do not pretend to possess Coates’s experience in tasting burgundy, but I think I can tell when a vaunted wine is simply not very enticing, especially at prices well above $50 a bottle.  The very finest white burgundies, like the 2005 Domaine Romanée-Conti Montrachet, are selling for up to $5,000 a bottle.
       Assuming wines of that order and rarity will always sell to people who may or may not ever drink them, most of us are left to ferret out good white burgundies at prices somewhat easier to afford.  That was my modus operandi in sampling a slew of various white burgundies from 2005, none more than $85.  This price category is not, I’m sorry to report, where the much-touted brilliance of the 2005s shines.
     From Volnay to Meursault, from Chablis to Chassagne-Montrachet, the wines in this under $100 price level are pleasant white wines but nothing to rave about.  And although white burgundy lovers insist the wines need another two to four years of age, I found little in those I sampled to suggest they would get much better.
     Truly boring was a Chassagne-Montrachet ($55) by Etienne Sauzet, whose reputation ranks high in Burgundy. I found the wine one-dimensional and without structure, its fruit and acids barely emerging.
     Henri Boillot’s Meursault ($45) is entry level Meursault, a region that produces a tremendous amount of white wine in the Cote de Beaune. Neither indicative of any particular style nor distinctive enough to be readily identified as Meursault, this was a good white wine, nothing more or less.
      Somewhat finer was a Louis Jadot Meursault, at $37 a very nice example of what this varietal can be—very dry from the clay and pebbled soil, but with warmer chardonnay butter notes.
      Then there is good old dependable Chablis, which at its best is a sturdy, flinty, dependable white burgundy whose charms are not expected to be too lush. A Joseph Drouhin at $20 was delightful for all those reasons, and at a price where I think Chablis is best enjoyed with a platter of iced shellfish.
      One might argue, Clive Coates among them, that I was tasting the lesser white wines of Burgundy, no premier or grand cru.  But for that I would have had to spend much more money.  For the prices I did pay, I know plenty of wonderful white wines, including chardonnays from California, Italy, and elsewhere that would give me much more pleasure and much more to enthuse about.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.


FOOD WRITING 101; Try to Vary Your Use of Adjectives

“MacArthur’s: Terrific fried chicken. . .”

“Take Five: . . . a terrific fish taco, meatball wedge. . .”

“Smoque BBQ: Terrific ribs. . . “

“Wholly Frijoles: . . . mango cheesecake, and it was terrific.”

--Pat Bruno, “Dining,” Chicago Sun-Times (May 16, 2008).


After kicking and biting
Gernaro Vazquez, 63, in the chest and kicked Andres Hernandez, 52, two men near a ranch in Chiapas, Officer Sinar Gomezan threw an ornery donkey was thrown into a Mexican jail designed to hold drunks and public nuisances. disturbances. The animal remained in custody until the owner paid the men’s medical bills. Police did not say what caused the donkey to become enraged or what the men were doing to the animal before the attack.


* Beginning this week on the first Wednesday of each month Morton's The Steakhouse Buckhead holds “Wine Down Wednesdays”  From 5:30 to 7 p.m., $12 buys guests a generous sampling of 3-4 wines plus complimentary appetizers. Call 404-816- 6535.

* On June 10 at NYC’s Adour, François Parent Burgundy Winemaker & Vineyard Owner, will be guest at a 4-course dinner by Chef Tony Esnault.  $400, Call 212-710-2277.

* On June 19 the 2008 Taste of Cambridge, the 6th annual charitable food festival, highlights the diverse restaurants that Cambridge,  MA, has to offer,  at 100-800 Technology Square, Cambridge . New additions incl. a pastry corner, charcoal grills, and a VIP area and some returning favorites such a Chef’s Hat Raffle and of course live music. To benefit Community Servings and Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. $50 in advance, $60 at the door; VIP tickets $75. Visit:

* On June 21 in San Francisco Masa's Restaurant announces the return of guest chef, Richard Reddington for a 25th Anniversary, with Masa’s current chef  Gregory Short $195 pp. with wine pairings offered by Master Sommelier Alan Murray.  Visit or call 415-989-7154.

* On June 23 a Justin Winery dinner will be held at Four Seasons Resort Lana`i, The Lodge at Koele, Hawaii.   Executive Sous Chef Fabrice Huet and special guests Deborah and Justin Baldwin, proprietors of Justin Winery,  will plan a meal, for $125 pp.  Call  (808) 565-2335.

* On June 24 Chef Anthony Susi of Sage Restaurant in Boston, prepares a 5-course dinner created around the Estate Wines of Sardinia’s Sella & Mosca.   $65 pp. Call  617-248-8814 or visit
* In Seattle, from July 6-July 10, Chef Tom Douglas will hold his second annual Culinary Summer Camp, allowing guests to explore Seattle's culinary scene via field trips, food challenges, tastings, cooking demos, and drinking. Chefs incl. Thierry Rautureau of Rover's;  TV Chef Mario Batali; Eric Tanaka of Dahlia Lounge, et al.  $2,500 pp. Call 206- 448-2001.

* On June 25  & 26 in Dallas, 62 Main will be holding two events back to back with importer Jack Jelenko. Wednesday, June 25th will be a Mandois Champagne dinner. $89 pp.  and on the 26th Maison Park Cognac and cigar night in our Bar on 2. $55 pp.  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."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK:  An interview with Bob Spitz, author of The Saucier's Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip Through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe; A Walking Tour in Tuscany; Richard West on The Geography of Bliss


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contrinbutor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 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 Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


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