Virtual Gourmet

August 10, 2008                                                                      NEWSLETTER

Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in "Something's Gotta Give" (2003)

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In This Issue

Atlanta Restaurant Round-up By Suzanne Wright




Atlanta Restaurant Round-up
By Suzanne Wright

240 N. Highland Avenue

       “A little piece of Louisiana in Georgia” is how owner Todd Rushing describes Inman Park’s Parish (above).  Housed in the gorgeously restored 1890 Terminal building--a former pipe factory--the light-filled interiors include exposed brick walls, a tin roof, a walnut-and-zinc bar, red glass chandeliers and tall vases of peacock feathers.  There’s an extensive cocktail menu; I loved the sunset-colored "caipir-cane," a well-balanced take on a hurricane, a mix of cachaça and champagne with passion fruit and pomegranate juice garnished with lemon.  Like other Concentrics restaurants (One Midtown Kitchen, Two Urban Licks), the menu is a bit uneven.  The crispy oysters Rockefeller ($9), an odd deconstruction of the classic, was disappointing (I couldn’t taste the oysters at all), but the heads-on jumbo BBQ shrimp ($18) were lip-smackingly delicious, with a roux-like flavor. The sunflower salad ($8.50) with candy stripe beets, sunchokes, sprouts and baby corn was light and fresh, but go ahead and splurge, calorie-wise, on the decadent crawfish and chicken sausage cheesecake (right; $8).  Fork-tender braised pork cheeks ($15) atop a crawfish johnnycake and mustard creamed leeks were the best of the entrees I tried.   The espresso macchiato soufflé with chicory ice cream ($5) and the Abita root beer float with sassafras ice cream ($5) evoke true New Orleans spirit.  There’s also a market downstairs with take-away items including po’boys, muffulettas and cupcakes.

2277 Peachtree Road

     Linton Hopkins’ Holeman & Finch Public House  is just across the driveway from his acclaimed Restaurant Eugene.  Named for Hopkins' grandpa Holeman and partner Greg Best’s grandpa Finch, it’s an egalitarian gastro pub already beloved by those in the restaurant trade.  Walk in and you can see the kitchen staff bustling behind a pane of glass; the Indie tunes are selected by the waitstaff.  Call the décor post-industrial:  it’s unfussy, with dark woods and a communal table in the dining room; a cascade of glassed-in  charcuterie bisects the bar.  We had great fun with our server, Evan, who enthused (with good reasons) about the fried bologna ($5), housemade with Painted Hills fresh pork and served with course mustard. Tangy pimiento cheese ($5) comes with housemade Saltines.  There’s an explosion of flavors in a salad of mixed greens, crispy shallots and candied bacon with fried May River oysters ($12), but the crawfish beignets ($8) seemed a bit leaden, with a  too-sweet glaze. The stand-out was the roasted veal sweetbreads ($12), velvety and yielding, served atop sautéed greens and hog jowl with brown butter.  Warm chocolate brownies with savory black pepper ice cream ($6) were tasty, but the cocoa-cola float with Fernet Branca ice cream and candied lime ($4) has pucker power.

793 Juniper Street
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges and Chris Yeo

     Celebrity restaurants abound in ATL: Usher owns a piece of The Grape, Gladys Knight owns a chicken and waffle chain, Sean “Puffy Combos owns Justin’s.  So all eyes are on Chris “Ludacris” Bridges’ Straits.  The Midtown location has been problematic for others; the “South meets Singapore” concept, an outpost of Chef Chris Yeo’s California fusion chain is audacious.  The walls are blood red--or is that eggplant? (the lighting is low), the woods dark, the soundtrack heavy on Prince and other R&B performers, though kept to a relatively mellow audio level.
     I liked the not-too-tart, not-too-sweet lychee martini as an accompaniment for starters like the kung pao chicken lollipops ($9), moist legs lacquered with red jalapeño and crushed peanuts, and the meltingly tender honey-glazed Kobe beef spare ribs ($11).  Both the roti prata ($7) and the vegetarian Singaporean spring rolls ( $9) arrived a bit limp and soggy.  Loved, loved, loved the sweet-hot lady fingers sambal ($10),  perfectly cooked okra with not a hint of the vegetable’s dreaded slimy texture.  Banana blossom salad ($12) with  grilled chicken, Asian pears, and herbs transported me to Hanoi streets.  Both the whole Maine lobster and crispy softshell crab ($39 each) can be ordered with house chile sauce or black pepper garlic butter.  Opt for the crab; the lobster was dry during my visit. Better yet, save a few dollars and sample the slightly smoky "origami seabass" ($25); this signature dish is a knockout:  delicate and moist, baked in parchment and presented in a paper “box” with ginger, longan (cousin to a lychee), and wolfberries.  Carnivores should steer for the rustic beef rending ($14) which comes with an acid green pandan polenta.  The sweet potato crème brûlée ($6) is a smooth finish. 

C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar
3240 Cobb Parkway, Vinings, GA

     Vinings, Georgia,  is the setting for family-run C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar. Framed black-and-white family pictures crowd the walls of this self-proclaimed “neighborhood saloon” with brass doors, mosaic floors, a tin ceiling and a 35-foot mahogany bar. Classic cocktails include a sidecar, Pimm’s Cup and a gin rickey, my favorite of the libations.  Of the raw oysters (about $3 each), the summersides from Prince Edward Island, quilcenes from Washington and giant Katama Bays from Massachusetts were all standouts, briny and clean-tasting, served with housemade cocktail sauce and prosecco mignonette. The chopped salad ($10) was an excellent version of the classic with hearts of palms, egg, peppers, shallot dressing, Roquefort and bacon, though the truffle vinaigrette overpowered the seared raw tuna with artichoke carpaccio ($14).  Of the entrees, the roasted scallops with mint pea puree and warm bacon vinaigrette ($27) and the lush dry-aged New York strip ($48) were best; the roasted codfish (market price) was slightly overcooked.  Spinach with olive oil and garlic ($6) was a well-executed side. The profiteroles and apple Tatin were fine, just beside the point.

188 14th Street

   The Colony Square Hotel has been transformed into the W and its restaurant is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s branch of Spice Market. Chef Ian Winslade (formerly of Bluepointe, Shout and Posh) has been recruited to helm the kitchen.
     You ascend a flight of stairs from the lobby to the room. The interiors are attractive and minimalist, with bells and ropes soaring overhead.  Servers, like Kirsten, who was authoritative and passionate but not smarty-pants, wear long purple tunics.  The ginger margarita was a zingy starter, refreshing with a touch of heat.  Order the $48 tasting menu, a great value, and plan to take home leftovers—the portions are huge.  And let the sommelier pair wines for you; you’ll enjoy surprises like a 2005 Terra Rouge rosé from California, a white table wine from Frogstown, Georgia (the blend includes viognier), and a Hungarian dessert wine.
     Spice Market serves gussied-up Southeast Asian street food, riven with spices like cardamom, cloves and chilies and balanced between hot, citrus and sweet flavors.  The pork satay with pickled vegetables was a tad fatty, but the black pepper shrimp with sun-dried pineapple and ginger scallions was bursting with sunshiny sweetness.  The spiced chicken samosa with cooling cilantro yogurt and the lovely tuna tartar with crunchy radish atop creamy avocado was rich without being cloying. The salmon cha ca la vong is a riff on the famed Hanoi dish, served in a spicy peanut broth, though I prefer the original that uses halibut.  The roasted cod with chili sauce was too salty the night I visited, but the char-grilled chicken with kumquat lemongrass dressing and candlenuts was splendid, as was the ginger fried rice served with an egg sunny side up.  Desserts are multi-culti: Thai jewels and fruits is a kaleidoscope of color--water chestnuts tinted with red fruit juice, mango, papaya and jackfruit served on coconut granité and Ovaltine kulfi, which tasted like milk chocolate-covered caramel popcorn.

Suzanne Wright is a writer living in Atlanta and founder of


216 East 49th Street
212- 888-4555
by John Mariani

     There are reasons that you don't read very much these days about Chinese restaurants in New York, and Chin Chin's owner, Jimmy Chin will be happy to tell you why: "They don't want to change. They keep the same menu and the real specials are all written only in Chinese. They also don't want to change the old-fashioned decor. They say, `We're doing all right, so why change?'"
      Of course, Chinese restaurants are not doing all right--some thrive, some coast, and Chinatown has lost enormous luster and business, going back to 9/11. Its streets are un-navigable, the parking is impossible, and the waitstaff--if they speak English--just take your order and bring it, sometimes along with the check.
       Chin Chin, in midtown, was, in fact, one of the first Chinese restaurants in NYC to break several of the molds mentioned above.  The menu was far more varied, the cooking more refined, the décor decidedly modern and quite beautiful, and Mr. Chin's constant presence adds not only his own personal touch but keeps a very affable staff on its toes, from the cordial greeting to the fond goodnight.
      There are two rooms here,  packed most nights of the week (it's also very popular at lunch; the three-course $27.07 menu is a steal); one is a well-lighted main dining room (above) done in rich cream colors and red wood, and a rear banquet room in deep red, both decorated with very fine old photos of Mr. Chin's family (one is shown below).  That alone seems to guide Mr. Chin's dedication to his cuisine and customers, for generations of his ancestors are literally looking over his shoulder.  He is an ebullient guest, as friendly with his many faithful regulars as to newcomers, for he would very much like you to become a regular.  Take his advice on the menu--he's an excellent guide in gauging guests' likes and dislikes, and he stocks a winelist far better than most Chinese restaurants around town.
        It's a fairly large menu--more than a dozen hot appetizers, including juicy steamed dumplings of shrimp, chicken, or vegetables, and just as many cold.  In addition there are specials, like the impeccably sautéed soft shell crabs I had recently--crisp, golden, hot, and plump with sweet meat. Satiny eggplant with mild garlic sauce is a terrific starter, and if you enjoy bean curd, you will love the country-style here.
      Then there are soups and those wonderful Chinese noodle dishes--I was very taken with the Cantonese mai fun noodles with shrimp.  Then come myriad poultry dishes, which includes a textbook perfect Peking duck (at $42.50, it's easy to share for four people as an appetizer, two for a main course), its skin as crisp as patrchment, its meat lustrous, the saucing liught and not cloyingly sweet.  Seafood incorporates some western ideas--and species--with classic Asian grace, as with the scallion mussels in casserole and the Formosan sesame prawns.  Chin Chin's crispy orange beef could have been crispier but it had good flavor, and the Chin-do shredded pork had plenty of complexity in spicing and texture. There is also curried lamb stew, and something I intend to try next time--"pork and beans."
      You leave Chin Chin delighted, but more important, you leave feeling you have dined at a restaurant of sophistication and refinement, led by Mr. Chin in his effort to make his place yours.

Chin Chin is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and dinner daily. Appetizers range from $6.50-$19.50, noodles $15.50-$21.20, and main courses $19.50-$38.50.  A Peking Duck Dinner, in four courses, is $38.50 per person.



by John Mariani

Aging bourbon at Buffalo Trace

      Bourbon—America’s only native spirit—has a long, if not always illustrious history. A designated product of Kentucky, it has survived the Civil War, Prohibition, and a post-war decline in sales as Americans switched to “white” spirits like gin, vodka, and light rum.
     “Back in the 1980s the bourbon industry was dying,” Bill Samuels, Jr., President of Maker’s Mark in Loretto, Kentucky, told me over lunch at Bourbon Bistro in Louisville.  “Distilleries were closing, people were out of work, and the whole category was regarded as unsophisticated brown liquor with too much burn.”
     Samuels, with his father Bill, Sr., almost singlehandedly brought bourbon back to favor with a slightly sweeter and much smoother spirit called Maker’s Mark, with its now iconic red wax cap.  “Traditional bourbons were pretty raw,” says Samuels, Jr., “and it was definitely regarded as something your grandpa drank on the porch. Thank God for Kentucky Derby Day—at least a lot of bourbon got sold in mint juleps.”
      Maker’s Mark, now owned by Fortune Brands, replaced bourbon’s rye grain component with more barley and winter wheat. “My father burned the original 1840 recipe,” says Bill. The new bourbon came out in 1958, made in small batches. With some canny advertising, Maker’s Mark developed a cult following;  "In 1967 we sold about 16,000 cases," says Samuels. "By 1980 we were up to 50,000, and we've had double digit growth every year since. We're now up to 900,000 cases."
      Other, failing distilleries took note. Today there are a score or more of  “single barrel,” “single batch,” “small batch,” even “very small batch” bourbons, each made more or less by the same traditional process of milling grain (51 percent must be corn by law), cooking it with malted barley, fermenting the mash, and double distilling it to no more than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol).  It is then stored in oak barrels and aged. Except for single barrel bourbons, the spirit in the bottle is usually a blend of various barrels, usually from several different years.
     Ninety-seven percent of bourbon is made in Kentucky by 9 working distilleries, with small amounts produced in Missouri, Virginia, even New York’s Hudson Valley. Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, and Heaven Hill are all involved in major expansion, and, according to an AP report, Jim Beam, the world’s largest bourbon producer (also owned by Fortune Brands) is pouring $70 million into expansion.
      According to Beverage Information Group, 14.7 million 9-liter cases of straight whiskey (mostly bourbon, but including Tennessee whiskey, and rye) sold in the United States last year. Exports are increasing fast, too.  In 1999 barrel inventory was 3.7 million barrels; in January 2007 4.9 million.
   One of the current leaders producing a wide range of bourbons is Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort (now owned by the Sazerac Company), which claims to be America’s oldest distillery--1787--(below, left, in 1882) in continuous operation: during Prohibition it was one of four distilleries allowed to make spirits for ”medicinal use.”
  I visited the beautifully maintained distillery set on 118 acres of rolling hills, where each of its 12 fermenters handles 92,000 gallons. The fine stonework structures are full to the ceiling with barrels of varying ages, their provenance marked with product code strips.
       Aside from its flagship bourbon, Buffalo Trace, the distillery makes Eagle Rare Single Barrel, W.L. Weller, Blanton’s Single Barrel, George T. Stagg, and Pappy Van Winkle’s, each what p.r. manager Angela H. Traver calls “expressions.”  (They also make rye whiskies, even a vodka.) The distinctions of these and other small batch bourbons has to do with blendings, the amount of charring in a barrel, and the aging, so that one may be higher in alcohol, another very dry, another oak, and another faintly tasting of honey or spice.  All, like the massive George T. Stagg, which is uncut by water and unfiltered, are on allocation.
     Having returned from Kentucky, I gathered a passel of bourbons for my own home tasting and found that, given their various styles, it all comes down to a matter of one’s personal preference more than exceptional quality.  Taste one of the old-line traditional bourbons and you’ll feel that stinging burn. Sip a small batch bourbon and, with the U.S. dollar versus the Euro, you may switch from Cognac and Scotch single malts to America’s own best spirit.
    Here are some I particularly enjoyed.

Maker's Mark ($20-$25): A modern standard of consistency,at 90 proof, with a very smooth, faintly sweet style and a lovely dryness at the finish. A remarkably low price for a great  whiskey.

George T. Stagg
($150 and up): Named after a 19th century bourbon pioneer (left), this massive whiskey is  straight from the barrel and neither cut nor filtered, so the alcohol actually varies by bottle. It matures quickly and is so  limited than it's tough to find outside of Kentucky.

Buffalo Trace ($21-$26): At 90 proof, it is a big bourbon  with an admirable balance of oakiness, vanilla and spice, along with a layer of complexity from the use of rye with the corn  grain.

Blanton's Single Barrel ($42-$55): 93 proof and showing it, this is indeed an unblended single-barrel bourbon, very concentrated, with as nice peppery bite. A beautiful bottle whose  little metal stoppers depict different race horses.

Elmer T. Lee ($25-$27): Named after the 89-year old  master blender, this 90-proof bourbon is robustly structured, with slight sweetness in the nose and some leathery notes.

Woodford Reserve ($30-$35): Very well priced for a  sophisticated small-batch bourbon of both power and velvety smoothness. The distillery also offers a Reserve Master's series,  hand-numbered, made in smaller quantities.

Knob Creek Small Batch Aged 9 Years ($40): Named after  Abraham Lincoln's childhood home, this 100-proof bourbon is aged  nine years, lending it a vanilla oakiness and a light caramel  sweetness.

Booker's ($47): Originally made by Jim Beam's legendary  blender Booker Noe, it's a whopping 124.9 proof, making this truly a sipping whiskey -- in small sips -- and can take a little  dash of water to bring out all of its wonderful tobacco aromas. Uncut, unfiltered.


Touring the bourbon distilleries has become a major draw in Kentucky. One of the best guides is Sean Higgins of Mint Julep Tours , which offers options to visit seven distilleries, with tastings, along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, all in an air-conditioned, snazzy van.

John Mariani's weekly wine and spirits 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 on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.



In Volterra, Italy, the Fortezza Medicea, a maximum security prison, offers tourists a chance to dine inside at a white tablecloth dining room in a 14th century castle, with inmates dressed as waiters, as part of a program to train them for jobs upon release.  The dinner costs $55.


"The strangest thing I ate . . . was at Jinnam, one of several restaurants on the market’s second floor.  I knew the name of my lunch: sannakji. Commonly referred to as live octopus, sannakji isn’t really alive, but the raw tentacles writhing on the platter might lead you to think otherwise. Rather, it’s just some lingering electrochemical reaction that causes those thin strands to curl, stretch and attach their suction cups to your lips and gums as you try to ingest them. Rumor has it that people occasionally choke to death on sannakji, but a quick dip in sesame oil keeps the suckers from adhering too tightly. The most surprising thing about sannakji? It tasted good — clean and meaty — and once I’d gotten over the discombobulation that comes from eating something that most definitely does not want to be eaten, I was chopsticking tentacles into my mouth as if they were octo-popcorn."--Matt Gross, "The Weird, Wild and, Ultimately, Sublime,"  NY Times (July 20).


*  On Aug 10 Marco kicks off Boston Restaurant Week with a $33.08 prix fixe menu every day until Aug. 24.  Visit or call 617-742-1276.

* On Aug. 14, 21, and 28 Chef Marc Orfaly hosts a dinner series of Boston chefs at 29 Fair Bistro in Nantucket, $95 (incl. wine) pp.  Call 508-228-7800.

* On Aug. 19 in Summerville, SC, Woodlands Resort & Inn will host “Wines of the World” wine tasting and dinner “For the Pinot Lovers.”  $88 pp.  Call 843-308-2115.

•    On Aug. 22 in Schaumburg, IL, Shaw’s Crab House is hosting its 6th Annual Clambake Dinner on the restaurant’s outdoor patio at $49.95; Call  847-517-2722;

* On Aug.  24, in Lockport, IL, Tallgrass Restaurant will host the "Haute Brillat-Savarin Dinner: A Gastronomic Blast into the Past." The six-course dinner prepared by Chef Robert Burcenski, paired with four wines by Maitre’d Thomas Alves, will be composed of Jean –Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's favorite food items and done in the style of his time (early 19th century). $150 pp. Call 815-838-5566;

* On Aug. 24 Robert and Kara Brooks host a "Farm to Fork Dinner" at Still River Café in Eastford, CT.  The twilight experience will begin with a tour of their vegetable gardens and a discussion of organic gardening techniques, followed by a kitchen tour by Kara and cooking demo,  topped off by a 7-course tasting menu. $125 pp. with 25% of proceeds to The Nature Conservancy’s Rain Forest Project. Call 860-974-9988;

* On Sept. 9, San Francisco’s Campton Place will hold a wine dinner with Keith Rutz from Rutz Cellars, at $165 pp.  Call 415-955-5574.

* From Oct. 5-12 food & wine writer  David Rosengarten, will lead a trip through Alsace at harvest time, incl.   visits to a dairy farm making Muenster, a small jam and preserves factory in Niedermorschwir,  a sauerkraut producer during Alsace's annual celebration of "the new sauerkraut," the bakery in Strasbourg recently chosen as France's best,  restaurant visits, from hearty winstubs (Alsatian bistros) to restaurants with  Michelin stars, incl.  Auberge de l'Ill, and visits to the region's top wine producers.  Call Kelly DeMarco or Brian Hunter at 212-307-1990; Toll-Free: 877-814-6502; visit

* The Metropolitan London’s new Afternoon De-Light tea incl. the traditional British Tea selection  (scones, cupcakes, and sandwiches), all made with healthier ingredients such as low fat crème fraîche, no-bread for the sandwiches, fresh fruit purées instead of unrefined sugars, flour substitutes, and olive oil instead of butter, available in the Met Bar and Lobby Lounge from 3-6 pm, Thursday-Saturday for £24 and includes a choice of seven teas.   Call +44 (0) 20 7447 4757.  Visit

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with three 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: A report on China; El Bonita Motel; Daly;s Home, Ireland; Least Visited U.S. Parks.


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