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SICILIAN SOJOURN By Elin Jeffords
NEW YORK CORNER:
Valbella and Morello in Greenwich, CT by John Mariani
By Elin Jeffords
I grew up on Sicilian-American food. My nonna, who lived with us and did most of the cooking, was from the “old country.” The “new country,” Milwaukee, with its distinct ethnic neighborhoods, provided most ingredients necessary for her repertoire. That included tiny, black snails that the adults purged, steamed, picked out with a pin and gobbled, alternating with swigs of dago red (not a pejorative then, it was how the male members of the family referred to the jugged wine).We had baccalà in all it’s many salty manifestations, caponata, and a million other melanzan’ based dishes, pasta con sarde (with sardines), fish soup and thick, bready pizza topped with a shmear of intense tomato sauce, anchovies and granular hard cheese. Cannoli and biscotti aside, my sister and I devoutly despised the lot of it. Fish soup? Give us Campbell’s. Pizza? How about a nice slice of cardboard with bland processed cheese like everyone else ate.
But kids grow up and some of them become voracious food and restaurant writers who realize they might have missed out on something vital. Sure, I’ve eaten Sicilian dishes in Italian restaurants around the U.S. and even make some versions of my own; they are never like the grandmas’. So, after many trips to mainland Italy, I finally headed for the ancestral homeland.
We flew into Catania, picked up our rental car and launched into the blood sport that is driving in Sicily. We were booked at an agrotourism enclave outside of Siracusa, where we rented an apartment with kitchen. (Long ago I learned the frustration of visiting a European market full of ripe cheeses, glistening produce and squirmingly fresh seafood with no way of preparing it.) The plan for the most part was to eat our main meal at lunch, hit the markets after siesta and cook in the evening.
celebrate our arrival and armed with a list of dining recommendations,
headed to nearby Siricusa for dinner. It was early so we had the chance
compare the rather graceless modern city with the old section of
Surrounded by water, the softly crumbling buildings tinted pale gold in
fading light charmed us silly and it was the place we would return most
The first restaurant on our list was Il Veliero; (Via Savoia, 6; 0931 465887) a tiny wedge-shaped space so closely packed with tables the waiters could barely navigate. At the back, near the kitchen, were two tables, one covered with dishes of antipasti, the other, an array of iced, raw seafood. We quickly determine the antipasti was one of the few starter selections and the seafood could be had grilled or fried as secondi following the pasta. (Side note: Although the four-course meal template holds true all over Italy, few eyebrows are raised if diners of fainter appetite skip one of them.). Other than a “green” salad that consisted solely of water-drenched iceberg lettuce, it was a satisfying meal full of clean, direct flavors. I especially loved the antipasti buffet, feasting on marinated mushrooms, incredibly sweet roasted peppers, sliced eggplant dusted in breadcrumbs that had softened to a savory coat and refreshing and simple orange salad with fennel, a bit of onion and slivers of nutty green olives. No worries this would be my last encounter with one of these displays.
Sunday, the following day, meant a big mid-day family feast and La Rambla (Via dei Mille, 8; 0931 66638) on the Ortigia waterfront was hopping with convivial groups. (Most noteworthy, children, no matter how young, sat quietly through the entire lengthy meal.) It was busy, yes, but as a veteran table-watcher I noted the well-paced service, until it came to us. In brief, we were all but ignored and our food was sub-par, from seafood pasta with only a hint of seafood to chewy, overcooked mussels.
the most part, it went. Virtually every restaurant we visited from
south to Marzamemi featured the same tight, unvarying menu and set-up. Antipasti spreads
varied only slightly as did choice of catch of the day, but
it all came down to seafood pasta or risotto, fish, calamari or shrimp
or fried, and a few sides. Quality of product and preparation varied
was mostly solid middle-of-the-road. Even the best service we
never more than perfunctory.
veer from the all-seafood.
remarkable Pantalica necropolis site in the rugged Monti Iblei
involved a fair hike to view the rough burial holes dug in the rocky,
vertiginous cliffs. It would be a staggering task even today with
explosives; these were dug between the 13th and 8th
centuries B.C. After all the exertion and awe, we were hungry.
Again, though, it’s the same gelato everywhere -- everywhere except Caffé Sicilia (Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 125; 0931 835013) in the strikingly baroque old section of Noto. Corrado Assenza, proprietor of the decidedly unfancy pastry shop has an international reputation for his mind-bogglingly inventive sweets. I am still reeling at the memory of his citrus salad gelato. Glassy smooth, the complex and understated flavors opened one after another – heavy cream, true citrus, sweet fennel, and onion, nutty green olive and the hint of chile heat. It was a revelation.
shopping in Sicily was like opening a treasure chest. Each day an old
displayed his just-picked strawberries at a roadside stand near La
Loading up on picture perfect produce, dozens of kinds of cheeses and
salumi, sausages and breads is as easy as walking into a street market
supermarket (Carrefours is the
go-to store). Every small seaside town
invariably had a few fisherman hawking fresh-caught, glistening sea
Salted capers, which run almost $10 for tiny bottle in our
stores at home, cost less than a euro for twice the amount. Limoncello
almost as cheap as bottled water and we learned the trick of marinating
strawberries in it.
writer based in Phoenix, AZ.
community of Greenwich, Connecticut has more than its share of fine
restaurants that appeal both to the affluent residents of the area as
well as to business people who have meetings there and those who wish
to escape the city for a night out.
Valbella is open for
lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat. Appetizers run $14-$22, full
pastas $28-$36, and main courses $30-$41.
MORELLO ITALIAN BISTRO
long ago with tilework by Rafael
Guastavino, who also tiled the Great
Hall on Ellis Island and Grand Central Terminal's Oyster Bar, has been
through several mutations as a restaurant, but now, as Morello Italian
Bistro, I think it's found a level of food, service, price level, and
sheer amiability that gives it long legs.
Thailand—Mekhong Thai Spirit is making its
NYC, stocking the shelves of some of the hottest restaurants and bars
such as Blue Smoke,
and Gaslight, which have each created their own summer cocktail. Mekhong
spicy ginger aroma and slightly sweet
which is enjoyed neat by most Thai locals but mixed here in the States. I was present at the “Ask a Thai
Princess” promotional event, which took place in Manhattan’s Meat
District to showcase some of the spirit’s specialty drinks
offered at Revel, STK and
its launch party at the rooftop lounge, Above
Allen, on top of the Thompson LES
Hotel to celebrate its new summer label for its Lillet Blanc (right). The limited edition summer label
was created by artist Autumn Whitehust and portrays Lillet’s "The Lady
of the Vine" in an art déco
fashion representing the roaring 20’s lifestyle. Lillet
of 85% wine and 15% citrus liqueurs, is most recognized for
key ingredient in James Bond’s famed Vesper Martini introduced in the
novel Casino Royale.
THROW OUT THE PIZZA AND COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP!
Danny Meyer, CEO of NYC's Union Square Hospitality Group, which incl. Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Shake Shack and others gave eatocracy.com his list of Five Phrases Danny Meyer Hopes You'll Never Hear in One of His Restaurants:
1. "Are we still working on the salmon?"
2. "May I bring you a bottle of mineral water or do you drink Bloomberg tap water?"
3. "It's against our policy."
4. "May I grind some fresh pepper for the lady?"
5. "How is everyone enjoying themselves?"
✉ 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
* In Atlantic City, NJ, Tropicana Casino & Resort's new
restaurant FIN presents Wasabi Wednesdays. From 5-7 pm The Bar
at FIN will offer half-price sushi rolls, sake and saketini drinks.
or call 609-340-4000.
now until July 31 in Pontefract,
England, the licorice capital of England, in Yorkshire, will
welcome the Pontefract Liquorice Festival with a host
of items made from the black root available to sample, as well as
family-themed events and a town center parade. Call
* On Jul. 7
in NYC, Vosges
will host an Oyster+Chocolate Tasting
their SoHo boutique, featuring Chef Nick
Korbee of Smith & Mills. Champagne
will be poured. $50 pp. Call
212-625-2929 or email email@example.com.
* On July 8 in Manhattan Beach, CA, Sashi presents an All Star Culinary Experience for Chef Makoto's "Iron Chef America Battle Viewing"--6-course Tasting Menu. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Top Chef Champion Michael Voltaggio and more come together to prepare meal. $120 pp. Visit www.sashimb.com or call 310-545-0400.
*On July 11 Bacaro Restaurant in Champaign, Il will present Borgogno Barolo Riserva Vertical and Summer Black Truffle Tasting menu with Steven Alexander, wine director at Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago as guest sommelier. The Borgogno Barolo Riservas to be poured are the '67, '78, '82, '90, '96, '00. $300 pp. Call 217-398-6982.
* From July
12-17, Pierrot Gourmet at The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, is running a
week-long à la carte menu to celebrate Bastille Day. Call
* On July 13,
in Chicago, IL, The
Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s sommelier Pierre
Lasserre and 850 Lake Shore Drive
host “Wine Tasting at The Ritz,”
incl. an informational presentation on 850 LSD and education on the art
wine appreciation at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s Pearson Room. Call
* On July 14, Grand Cafe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco, CA celebrates Bastille Day when a beautiful Marie Antoinette will greet guests with complimentary cake and Executive Chef Sophiane Benaouda has prepared a 4-course dinner at $75 pp. $17.89 bar menu; Call 415-292-0101.
* On July 14 in San Francisco, CA, Chez Papa Resto hosts a Bastille Day celebration with a 4-course dinner with wine pairings, plus live music. $90 pp. Call 415- 546-4134 or visit chezpaparesto.com http://chezpapasf.com.
the Museum of New Mexico
Foundation in Santa Fe
announces the Taste of Santa Fe featuring
of Rivera Restaurant in Los
Angeles hosts the
Fri. night Gala, with a dinner prepared by Santa Fe chefs who
will cook Spanish, Mexican,
New Mexican, Native American and Argentinean cuisines. Gala Tix $600
(per couple) and the Community Tasting Event is $25 for 12 tickets.
* From July
18-25 in Los Cabos, Mexico, Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas
hosts "2010 PacifiCooks," featuring custom dinners designed by
collaborating master chefs, cooking
seminars, cocktail receptions and much more. Call (52)
(624) 142 9999 or visit http://www.pueblobonito.com.
* On July 19 in NYC, Gohan Society Presents "Suntory: the Whiskey of Japan" at FCI with Mr. Seiichi Koshimizu of Suntory Whisky, Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, food pairings by Chef Suvir Saran of Devi. $30 pp. call 212-710-0529.* On July 20, L'Espalier in Boston hosts an exploration of Vermont cheeses with Boston's only Grand Fromager. Call 617-262-3023 or contact Maryanne Keeney, 617-848-8805. http://www.lespalier.com.
July 22, at Strip House in NYC, Executive
Chef John Schenk will host an evening of cuisine paired with
exceptional bourbon. This 5-course dinner
will be complemented by Woodford Reserve bourbon –infused
cocktails . $85 per person. Call 713-659-6000.
* From Jul. 24 – 30 in Whitstable, South East England, the Whitstable Oyster Festival celebrates Whitstable, old and new. Highlights at the annual fair incl. the Landing of the Oyster ceremony and the Oyster Parade, as well as walks and talks around Old Whitstable and the harbor. Ticket prices vary by event. Call +44-0122-786-2267.
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: A Lighthouse with a View; Iceland Is Closer than You Think.
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).
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 SeasonsMagazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, 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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