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☛ In This Issue
CUISINE DEAD? NOT BY A
The Oak Room
The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room is, with Café Carlyle and Feinstein's, one of the few great cabarets of NYC, which has no lack of newer clubs all over town. But none is so special or historic as these. "The Oak Room Supper Club tradition began when friends petitioned owner Frank Case to open the room to an after-theater crowd wishing to continue their merry-making until the wee hours of the morning," reads the press release, heralding the opening in 1939 with a Viennese chanteuse named Greta Keller. Since then the careers of many of the great stars of music have both begun and flourished here, including Barbara Carroll, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Feinstein, Andrea Marcovicci, Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, and Peter Cincotti.
The Algonquin was, of course, also famous as the meeting grounds of those 1930s wits known as the Round Table--New Yorker writers like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Alexander Woollcott--forever remembered as a crucible for quips that have become part of gossip Americana. "A Vicious Circle"--Parker's characterization of the Table--is also the title of a painting of the Algonquin Round Table (below) by artist Natalie Ascencios that hangs in the hotel's Round Table room. Featured in the painting, from left to right, are: (standing) Robert Benchley, Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Sherwood, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, (seated) Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun. Some examples of their wit:
● "That woman speaks eighteen languages, and she can't say No in any of them."--Dorothy Parker.
● "Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing."--Robert Benchley.
● "All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening."--Alexander Woollcott.
Those legendary figures are long gone, but The Round Table room is still there, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Anyway, back to The Oak Room. I was recently fortunate to attend a performance of Andrea Marcovicci (left) doing the song book of Johnny Mercer--"Skylark," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Autumn Leaves," "Hit the Road to Dreamland," and many more--and she knows well how to play the diva, one who sadly missed being painted by John Singer Sargent, just as he would have missed painting her: She is the epitome of "Madame X." And her knowledge of American Music history is both impressive and tied neatly into her performances, so that you learn while being slyly seduced.
The food, served before the performance, is not really the point of attending, but Chef Alex Aubry and Sous Chef Michael Moore do a more than creditable job with continental dishes like a salad of cherry tomatoes, avocado, smoked mozzarella, red onion and lemon thyme vinaigrette; a nicely meaty pan-seared crab cake with a good smoked pepper, tartar sauce, and organic greens; well cooked, generous rack of lamb with grilled sweet potato, charred asparagus, merlot reduction with fresh mint; saffron Gulf shrimp with artichoke hearts, tomato, English peas, and a lobster saffron sauce over linguine. For dessert you will not go wrong with the crisp and juicy apple caramel galette with sour cream and cinnamon ice cream or the big, dark brownie ganache cake. The winelist could use considerable updating.
The service at The Oak Room is very Old School, performed with impeccable timing by long-time waiters who are dependably affable--and I suspect they could tell enough stories to fill a couple of volumes on Oak Room lore. I really wish someone would write that history, which evolves, quite successfully, season to season. Too bad John Cheever and John O'Hara are no longer available.
Going there is one of those things out-of-towners are wont to do and a requisite for those who think of themselves as true New Yorkers. So you get a genteel mix of the former and the latter, some who know the performer of the evening, some who stare, dazzled by the radiance of the star light who stands just feet from the dining tables and comforted by the assurance that cabaret is still going strong in a New York that seems much the way it used to be pictured in MGM movies where Gene Kelly danced with "Miss Turnstiles of the Month" and Judy Garland met a soldier under a clock at the Astor.
The Oak Room is open Tues.-Sat. for dinner only, with à la carte appetizers, $14-$20 and entrees $38-$42. Dinner seating begins at 6:30 p.m. with an 8:30 p.m. curtain time. There is a second performance on Friday and Saturday evenings at 11 p.m. Guests may enjoy an à la carte menu at 10 p.m., prior to the second show. There is also a Music Charge for performances.
ISOSCELES MAY BE IN SHORT SUPPLY
Although some winemakers try to avoid the descriptor “cult wine,” there’s no way around the term when it comes to Isosceles, a much sought after blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Opening prices for Isosceles usually start around $60 but often escalate to three figures for those who aren’t on the mailing list and must seek it on E-Bay and other trading sites.
The term may carry some baggage, but owner Justin Baldwin sees nothing wrong with fathering a cult wine. “We’ve got several hundred fans waitlisted for Isosceles and I’m only sorry we can’t satisfy everyone. Our production, unfortunately, tops out at about 4,000 bottles, not enough to satisfy demand.. It’s gratifying to know so many people want Isosceles, and it’s rewarding to our team to know that people will go to great lengths to enjoy what we make.”
Unlike many producers whose skills are in the fields and the winery, Justin and his wife-partner Deborah Baldwin have a strong financial world background. Justin was an investment and international banker when he and Deborah, a mortgage banker, purchased vineyard property near Paso Robles in 1981 and planted their first wines one year later. Over the years they added accommodations, appropriately called Just Inn, and a restaurant, creating added reasons for winelovers to travel the back country. There were fewer than a dozen vineyards in the region in those days. Now there are nearly 200.
They kept their executive positions in Southern California, working weekends and every spare day for the next ten years to nurture the vineyard, the inn and the restaurant. “I kept my day job until I felt we were ready to concentrate full time on the winery,” Justin observes. Today, a skilled crew handles the vineyards and other basics, while Deborah concentrates on marketing and Justin on administration, although both are active in production. With a creative , strong-minded couple like the Baldwins, there is often a lot of give and take. “No major disagreements,“ Justin notes, “we share a goal and understand the difficulties and eventually find our way together.”
“You need good dirt, good wine and good people,” says Deborah, “ but the final step is marketing. You must be able to sell the wine and keep it in front of the public.” One or both of the Baldwins hit the road frequently, bringing their message to distributors, retailers and consumers.
Isosceles, the star of the lineup is a dark ruby, almost black wine with blackberry fruit and spicy oak scents on the nose. It’s a big, mouth-filing wine with dark flavors and tannins that need aging time. Isosceles follows the traditional Bordeaux blend, about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and equal parts of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, depending on the vintage.
Justin produces a varied lineup of 35,000 to 40,000 bottles each year. It includes a Cabernet Sauvignon rich in dark chocolate, black and red berry tones, a food-friendly wine that can only improve with proper cellar time as well as a Syrah, both in the mid-twenties. The winery offers three wines at about $45: Savant, primarily Syrah blended with Malbec and other reds; Justification, 65% Cab with Merlot, and reserve Tempranillo, as well as Zinfandel and Malbec.
Orphan, the entry level wine at about $18 is a blend of reds selected by the winemaker after other bottlings are accounted for, hence the name Orphan. The whites include a basic and reserve Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Viognier, ranging from $15 for the Sauvignon Blanc to $26 for the high-end Chardonnay. In January, the Orphan, Zin and Malbec were sold out and the only Isosceles to be had was a magnum listed at $150.
The pastoral calm in the hills of Paso Robles is a far cry from the executive suites of southern California and the Baldwins have carved out the kind of life that they dreamed of while toiling in the financial world.
Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, writes on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.
in Boston reported that Wendy Golini, 43, swears
she saw the image of the Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa on her
cutting board after praying
to her. "Like most people lately, this economy has taken its toll on me
financially -- causing much need for faith and prayer. I was praying to
Mother Teresa every day," Golini said. "I was at my coffee shop,
stressing out about bills and I started to pray to her and when I wiped
down the cutting board, she appeared on the board. I have witnesses who
were there, and I’m not crazy -- this isn’t a hoax."
“My husband will love that kind of dirty-whore cheese.”—Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, buying Pecorino Gregoriano at Brooklyn Larder.
✉ Guidelines for submissions: QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes. When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below. Thanks. John Mariani
* From now until Feb. 1, Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, NJ, will honor its truffle season tradition with a new 6-course Black Truffle Tasting Menu at $105 pp. Call 732-345-9977 or visit www.restaurantnicholas.com.
* On Jan. 18 in Dallas, TX, Stephan Pyles will host a 5-course dinner paired with Hall wines in the restaurant’s private dining room. Chef Pyles and Proprietor Kathryn Hall will educate diners on the food and wine pairings. $125 pp. Call 214-999-1229 x102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.stephanpyles.com.
On Jan. 22, in NYC,
restaurateur Ken Aretsky and soul food chef Charles Gabriel debut Fried
Chicken Fridays at Aretsky’s Patroon,
in the restaurant’s Gibson room. Executive chef Bill Peet’s bar
menu is also available. The live musical stylings of honky tonk
piano player Benjamin Healy accompany the Southern feast. $25
pp. Call 212-883-7373.
* On Jan. 29th The Boat House in North Tiverton, RI, will host a
Moët Hennessy Wine Dinner. Melina Catelli, for Moët Hennessy,
will lead guests through each selection of wine paired with a 4-course
menu from Executive Chef James Campagna. $75 pp. Call
* On Jan. 29, in Dallas, Nana at Hilton Anatole Hotel is hosting a Chivas Regal Scotch Tasting paired with exemplary bites by Executive Chef Anthony Bombaci for $50 pp. Call 214-761-7470. www.nanarestaurant.com . . . .On Feb. 5, Nana is hosting its monthly Friday Night Flight featuring 3 wines paired with 3 small plates created by Chef Bombaci. $20 pp.
* On Feb. 1, Feb. 22, Mar. 29, Apr. 19, May 10, May 24, and Jun. 7 in NYC, the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) presents “A Wine Tour de France: Discovering French Cépages” in 6 sessions, each focusing on the wines of a different region of France. Tastings will be led by Michael Madrigale, Chef Sommelier at Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud, and guests will also sample France’s cheeses and charcuterie. Single tastings $115, or $95 for FIAF members, additional pricing options for multiple tastings; Call 212-355-6100 or visit www.fiaf.org/events/winter2010/2010-01-wine-tastings.
* From Feb. 2 – 6, in Sausalito, CA, Poggio is celebrating their 3rd annual Bollito Misto Festa with a selection of slowly simmered meats served tableside from a special heated cart. $19 pp. Call 415-332-7771. . . .Every Monday Poggio offers traditional Tuscan porchetta prepared from David Pasternak’s Devil’s Gulch Ranch milk-fed pigs. $16 pp. Add a quarto of Chianti for $7.50. Call 415-332-7771.
* From Feb. 4 - 6, at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, The Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation will hold the qualifying competition to select U.S. team to compete at the Bocuse d'Or International Culinary Competition in Lyon, France in 2011. Sixteen teams will compete, with the top 8 to advance to the final competition. A panel of judges, incl. The Foundation's Board of Directors comprised of Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jerome Bocuse, will Team USA at the global competition. This event is free and open to the public. Visit www.bocusedorusa.org.
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK: FIVE EXPERTS VOICE THEIR OPINOION.
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 KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). THIS WEEK:
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.
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; email@example.com; www.nickonwine.com.
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.
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