Virtual Gourmet

October 19, 2008                                                                 NEWSLETTER

Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner by Chuck Jones

NEW! Click to go to my new column at Esquire Magazine.

Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on

SUBSCRIBE AND UN-SUBSCRIBE: You may subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter--free of charge--by clicking

In This Issue

WHAT'S NEW IN L.A.? by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNEROlana by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Whispering Angels, Pink Floyd, Brad and Angelina Give Provence Rosés Year-Round Glamor by John Mariani



What's New in L.A.?

New Restaurants in L.A. Back Away from Culinary Dazzle

by John Mariani

     Well into the 1990s Los Angeles was the edgiest of America’s restaurant cities. But more recently novelty and culinary dazzle seem to have given way to safer, more traditional cuisine. Wolfgang Puck hasn’t opened anything interesting in L.A. since CUT two years ago, instead branching out to Indianapolis (PUCK’S), D.C. (The Source), and San Diego (Jai). The 2008 Michelin Guide didn’t award a single L.A. restaurant a three-star rating. (The new edition comes out this month.
    Los Angelenos still hunger to catch celebrities dining out, so the Latino steakhouse Beso opened by "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria Parker and star chef Todd English has been one of the year’s hottest restaurants.  Now, Gordon Ramsay has announced he and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham will open a restaurant together featuring English comfort food.
     Ramsay already debuted his own namesake restaurant last May in the London West Hollywood Hotel (though he didn’t bother to attend the opening). Recently I had a very good meal there, in a room sparse with guests. Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood (
1020 N. San Vicente Boulevard; 310-358-7788) is a sleek, large two-room restaurant and bar that, like its New York counterpart, is as mirrored and gleaming as a Hollywood hair salon.
     Chef de Cuisine Andy Cook, who’s worked in Ramsay kitchens in London and Tokyo, plays it safe with his master’s menu, keeping the food simple, with subtle flavors that provide the local dining scene with more refinement than it’s seen in a while.
     Plump, sweet sea scallops come with a cauliflower puree and the underpinning of a sherry vinegar reduction. Roasted king prawns are packed into sheer ravioli enhanced by calypso beans and a seafood cassoulet. There is a lot to like about the sheer quality of roasted sirloin of Sonoma lamb, which Cook serves with a confit of the shoulder meat, creamed potatoes, and a classic lamb jus with pearl onions.
     Desserts share the same delicacy of intentions, as in the Valrhona chocolate fondant with rich brown butter caramel and vanilla ice cream, and delightfully light pineapple soufflé with toasted coconut and a jolt of Thai curry ice cream.
     The winelist is good, not great, leaning more towards the old World than the New, and, as in New York, most bottlings are marked up very high, while the cost of food is actually quite moderate.

      Fixed price, lunch at $28 and $35; Dinner appetizers $14, main courses $18-$22; Fixed price dinner, 7-course tasting menu $85. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

      Alain Giraud, while not an international celeb chef like Puck or Ramsay, has always enjoyed  a high local rep for the studiously French cuisine he has served over his years in Los Angeles, first at Lavande in Santa Monica, then at West Hollywood’s Bastide (now on its fourth chef). In the past, Giraud worked for others; now, with restaurateur-club partners Mike Garrett and Tommy Stoilkovich, he has his own place—Anisette (225 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica; 310-395-3200)—set in the vast former bank space of the Historic Clocktower Building in Santa Monica.
      Every ornamental attempt has been made to incorporate the look of a Parisian brasserie, from the white tiles and dark shelves of wine bottles to the pressed tin ceiling and long zinc bar. Seating is cramped, requiring waiters to pull out the table to sit and extract guests.
     Anisette is, however, darker than well-lighted brasseries like Bofinger and La Coupole in Paris, and, instead of the jolly gregariousness of those institutions, Anisette rings with the cacophonous, high-pitched, nasal screeches of parties greeting and air-kissing each other as waiters cock their ears to be heard at tables.
     The menu is straight-down-the-line brasserie fare, and overall, from the iced shellfish platters and various charcuterie, the kitchen does a commendable, if undistinguished job.
      There are nightly specials, like duck à l’orange ($26) on Wednesday and blanquette de veau ($24) on Thursday, while the daily menu is a screed of brasserie classics like beef Provençal daube ($26), daurade royale ($75 for two), and rack of lamb ($60 for two). Onion soup ($13) was gratifyingly gooey with Gruyère cheese though not hot enough; indeed, I found many dishes seemed rushed out of an overworked kitchen, sometimes tepid, sometimes overcooked. Sweetbreads ($16) had little flavor or seasoning at all. The Steak Frites ($22) lacked flavor, the French fries—which are a true test of a French kitchen--were far from crisp.
    Desserts (all $8) were true to form only, like the slightly gummy chocolate mousse and profiteroles with dried-out puff pastry. The winelist is unexceptional, despite a few unfamiliar vins du pays, and the wines by the carafe ($13-$16) wholly unsatisfying.
      Some of Anisette’s flaws seem due to its being overwhelmed by the crush of customers avid to claim a table here. What I’d really like to see is  more of Giraud’s exuberant personality in the food. Getting it all to come out right is fine but getting it to come out with distinction if better.
     Appetizers, $13 to $19.50; main courses, $18 to $26; plats du jour, $22 to $30. Some dishes for two more expensive.
Open for breakfast.


      I have never seen so many car dealerships in my life until I drove down Brand Boulevard in Glendale, which is not sufficient reason to drive out there unless you want a deal on a new Lexus.    But in a year when it was hard not to stifle a yawn over the new restaurants in L.A., Palate Food + Wine (933 South Brand Boulevard; 818-662-9463) is, if you want to taste superb food at prices hard to believe can be so reasonable in this day and age.
     It’s not a wonder of design—a fairly simple room, one a 1928 warehouse, with a flattering pink glow, a friendly bar, black-and-white tile floors, an open kitchen and big windows from which you can see hundreds of unsold SUVs. In the rear is a big family-style table and behind that a great communal room where you can feast on cheeses and wines in a sleek industrial-style wine cellar.
     But from the greeting and seating to the service and winelist, Palate hits every point of hospitality.  Chef Octavio Bercera, formerly with the Patina Group restaurants, and chef-partner Gary Menes starts you off with Mason jars of salmon rilletes and potted Berkshire pork, then tempts you with crawfish with chile butter; and yellowtail poached in olive oil with olive tapenade and artichoke béchamel; pork belly with farro grain and cherries; and a fabulous wagyu rib-eye with sweet onions, charred carrots, and oxtail sauce—this last, the most expensive thing on the menu—at $19.  The winelist, overseen by Steve Goldun, is first rate in every category and priced to sell.
     Whatever you spent on gas to get to Glendale you’ll save on the food and wines here and go home very happy. And the manager here seems to be an exact clone of The Great Lebowsky—“The Dude!”
    Appetizers run $3-$35, entrees $11-$19.


by John Mariani

72 Madison Avenue (btw 27th/28th)

     Olana is in one those odd parts of Manhattan that is usually not kind to restaurants, despite being in quite a central location in midtown.  Then again, there haven't been many attempts aside from the wonderful Country that have the decorous appeal and snazzy glamor Olana does, and the midweek night I visited the place was doing very good business.
     Named after the fantastical estate of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church (a State Historic Site), Olana's decor was inspired by the grandeur of the Hudson Valley mansions and the richness of their furnishings and colors. Managing Partner/Owners  William and Patrick Resk (below) gave the rooms 17-foot ceilings, roomy banquettes, leather paneled and mirrored walls, and mahogany blinds. Chairs are wrapped in mohair, others in velvet, and good linens drape the well-lighted tables. Hudson Valley artwork is displayed throughout. Red dominates in the warm, sumptuous way it should.
     Chef/owner Albert Di Meglio has a strong résumé, with experience at Le Cirque and Osteria del Circo. His food has gusto and a very generous personality that comes through in the largess of every dish.  On the night I visited, however, several dishes came out tepid, not hot, which is something the kitchen has to pay closer attention to.
     We began with roasted octopus with red quinoa and a garlic-rich rouille vinaigrette--quite delicious--and a fine heirloom tomato salad--perhaps the last good ones of the season, alas!--with crispy parmesan chops, a lacing of pesto, and a chardonnay vinaigrette. It was a perfectly composed dish whose ingredients worked in luscious harmony. 
      So often sweetbreads, which are pretty bland to start with, stay that way in preparations that muddy the situation. DiMeglio's starter of sweetbreads and langoustine lets the two ingredients subtly play off each other, with the addition of a celery-pancetta marmalade, peppery purslaine, and a green apple-parsley sauce, all adding numerous complementary flavors. We tried a hearty trio of pastas on one dish ($20) as a main course--tacconi, tomato risotto, and raviolini--all very good. Monkfish osso buco, nice and meaty, came with a parsnip puree, and braised endive that gave it a nice bitter edge to go with the saline flavor of crisp lardons and an herb jus.  Olive-poached halibut with a ragoût of eggplant, lime beans, roasted tomato, and a clam-saffron jus was a fine enough idea, but it seems it's so difficult to coax real flavor out of halibut these days. Braised short ribs have become almost a requisite dish for every restaurant in America to have on the menu, so a chef has to work hard to distinguish his: DiMeglio's are as good as most, with a celery root puree, Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, and crispy onion, if nothing really out of the ordinary. Don't neglect ordering either the shoestring potatoes or the herbed onions rings--both addictive.
      My favorite dessert was a sticky date pudding with ginger tapioca, candied walnuts, and a delightful pomegranate sorbet--a blockbuster of  sweets best shared with another.  Also excellent was roasted pineapple semifreddo with brown butter caramel, cinnamon oat waffles, and almond streusel, and what's not to love about the homey triple chocolate sundae composed of a bitter chocolate torte, cocoa nib ice cream, and luscious gianduja hot chocolate?  While other pastry chefs are  scenting ice cream with basil and making sake sorbets, Olana's Katie Rosenhouse is serving the kinds of desserts that everybody will love and, probably,  crave long afterwards.
      Olana has not been on everyone's radar this year but it deserves to be.  There's a lot of effort by DiMeglio and the Resk Brothers going into each aspect of the restaurant, from décor and crisp napery and tablesettings to food it would be tough not to like.  Olana is not a concept, it's a damn good place to eat.

Olana is open Mon.– Fri.  for lunch, Mon.-Sat. for dinner. At dinner appetizers run $13-$17; pastas $15-$16 as a starter, $20-$26 as a main course; main courses $25-$39. Four-course tasting menu at $69, five courses at $81.


Whispering Angels, Pink Floyd, and Brangelina
Give Provence Rosés Year-Round Glamor

by John Mariani

    Conventional wisdom—or mindless tradition—dictates that rosé wines are delightful for summer but not serious enough to drink past Labor Day. I’ve bought into that notion myself, usually drinking and writing about rosés in early summer and forgetting about them until the following year.                                                                                  The Bordure Maritime
      But a recent tasting for wine media at Le Cirque restaurant in New York held by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP), representing 583 producers, private and corporate cellars, dispelled those seasonal considerations in an effort, quite simply, to get people to drink more Provence rosés.
      There are several appellations under French wine law for the region—Côtes de Provence, Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, Côtes de Provence Frejus, and Côteaux Varois en Provence—all in the south of France, from Aix-en-Provence down along the French Riviera. More than a dozen grape varieties are grown throughout the region, principally grenache, carignane, syrah, and cinsault; about 80 percent of production is in rosé wines. The rose color comes from saignée (“bled)—the use of free-run juice from just-crushed red grapes after a short maceration.
      Now that that’s out of the way, let me focus in on the question of whether rosé wines can hold their own with cold weather fare.  Frankly, there’s no reason why any good rosé cannot substitute for white wine, which winelovers drink throughout the winter with the usual lighter dishes like seafood and chicken. In fact, a good quality rosé has considerably more flavor than many white wines like pinot gris, pinot blanc, sémillon, and grüner veltliner.
      More important, the rosés from Provence now coming into the market have considerably more intensity than so many of the old standbys like Domaine Ott, which I’ve always found a bland, flowery, too-dry blend of ugni blanc and semillon, and at $35 a bottle way overpriced.
     But the wines I tasted at the luncheon—some given fanciful names that should appeal to the American winedrinker who already enjoys French wines like Red Bicyclette—had both flavor and intensity along with a rosier color; and they are priced right.
      With salad Niçoise and lobster risotto (two dishes that are as appealing in summer as in fall), we drank two wines: Cuvée du Cep d’Or Les Maîtres Vignerons de Saint-Tropéz 2007 ($8-$14), a 50-50 blend of grenache and cinsault that had a golden peach color and was dry but fruity right through to the finish; and a Château d’Esclans “Whispering Angel” 2007 ($20), also dry and deeper in rose color, with a lovely aromatic ending that was due to a blend of five varietals—grénache, rolle, cinsault, syrah and mourvèdre. Those last two gave it real ballast and, at 13.2 percent alcohol a silky body.
     The main courses were monkfish with a blanquette of curry, coconut, and scallions with rice pilaf, and chicken with a fricassée of chanterelle mushrooms. With these we enjoyed a Château de Pourcieux 2007, with a fresh, floral nose and plenty of fruit throughout the palate, and at $16 a wine of distinctive, high quality.
     Le Cirque then sent out a “Symphony of Desserts” with which drier rosés might not have coped well.  But a Château Miraval Cuvée “Pink Floyd’ 2007 ($22), a blend of cinsault and a little grénache that has a deep rose color, showed remarkably well with the rich floating island dessert of poached meringues and crème anglaise. The name, by the way, comes from Pink Floyd’s recording “The Wall” at the château’s recording studio here in 1977. Today the new owners of the property (left) are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
     With the desserts we also had a quite complex rosé with a balance the taste of toasted almonds and rich fruit flavors—Domaine Saint André de Figuière 2007 Réserve ($27)--although the sweetness of the desserts blunted the latter.
      I would happily drink these wines with these kinds of foods at any time of the year, not with red meats or spicy sauces but with most appetizers, any seafood, chicken, even veal. Oh, I learned one other thing about rosés that day: Do not chill them down too much—about 55 to 60 degrees is ideal—because cold kills their subtleties, even in a hot summer along the Riviera.

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 on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV



According to the Prince's 2007-08 Annual Review, a disclosure of the Royal family's  financial activity for one fiscal year, Prince Charles fills his 38-year-old Aston Martin with surplus English wine. The car now runs on wine-based bioethanol, while his Jaguar, Audi and Range Rover  run on biodiesel, sourced from used cooking oil.

When You Run Out of Things to Write About Do Not Just Print Your Grocery List.

"But on Saturday morning—(rain, happily! seriously cuts down on the crowds, and strollers are rare)—I decided to take my time and buy everything I'd buy at the grocery store.  Plus a lot more corn than most people would imagine eating.  Six, seven, eight, nine ears is a perfect Saturday morning breakfast as far as I'm concerned (I bought 18 ears for $9). I did not by the five-pound $25 duck.  I did not buy potatoes or some of the beautiful greens available (wish I had).  And when I totaled it all up, it didn't cost much more than what I'd have spent at the grocery store on a typical visit.  For $71 bucks, and a few staples, I think I've got four great meals for four, plus a couple of lunches."—Michael Ruhlman's blog (9/10/08)


* On Oct. 18 Primehouse New York’s Executive Chef Brian O’Donohoe hosts a 6-course menu with select wines from Napa Valley’s Hall Winery, for $175 pp. Call 212-331-0328.

* On Oct. 19 the "Rising Stars of Opera and Wine" will be featured at NYC’s Chanterelle, part of  Sunday Salons, a year-long series inspired by the passions and interests of the Chanterelle family, bringing together beloved subjects including wine, music, cheese, chocolate, poetry and spirits. For information on the Met’s 125th anniversary season visit

* Hearth and Insieme in NYV will feature a Fall Series of Wine Dinners at Hearth, with Wine Director Paul Grieco.  They will incl.: Oct. 21:  Rancio Wines of Roussillon (Hearth); Oct. 28: Super Hot Spain (Hearth); Nov. 3: Bounty of Brews (Hearth); Nov. Southwest of France (Hearth); Nov. 12 (Insieme); et al.  For info  call 646-602-1300; visit

* On Nov. 9 Chef Dante de Magistris of Dante in the Royal Sonesta Hotel in East Cambridge, Massachusetts has invited some of Boston’s premier chefs to battle it out at an outdoor, meatball cook-off. chef who creates the winning dish will receive a grand prize and the title of “Best Balls of ‘Em All.”  $20 pp.

* From Nov. 11-13  the 2008 Fall Oregon Bounty Winemaker Dinner Series features 10 Oregon restaurants and 14 wineries involved in the Oregon Bounty campaign celebrating the state’s wineries, restaurants, culinary destinations and inns and hotels. Proceeds support the Classic Wines Auction and its local nonprofit partners benefiting families and children in Portland and Southwest Washington.Visit

On Nov.  12, 13 & 14, Brian Moule Chef owner of Chardon d’Or Glasgow will join Jason Wicks at NYC’s Orsay for a 6- course tasting menu of wild Scottish game and artisanal hand made cheese coming from a Jaff reade on the Isle of Mull. Glenmorangie will be pouring a newly released 25 year old single malt. $165 pp. Call 212-517-0015.

*   From Nov. 13-16  The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, FL, holds its annual Stone Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival with chefs Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston, SC; Amanda Lydon of The Straight Wharf Restaurant in Nantucket, MA; Colby & Megan Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, MO; Felicia Suzanne Willett of Felicia Suzanne’s in Memphis, TN; and Jamil Pineda from The Colony Restaurants in Longboat Key, FL. Winemakers from Reynolds Family Winery, Bell Wine Cellars, Antica, Van Duzer Vineyards and Mumm Napa will feature a variety of their chosen selections. Complete festival packages incl. 3 days and nights of culinary events. Visit or call 1-800-4-COLONY.

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with four 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: Interview tihe CEO of, Rick Seaney, and Aspen's Secret Season.


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor 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.  This week: Aloha Specialties.


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: Justine Henin Opens Florida Tennis Academy.

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement. This week: Tempe, AZ; New England Camping; Melia Cabo Rio.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and 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, 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