Easter Post Card
ANNOUNCEMENT: On Wednesday, April 18, John Mariani will host a book signing dinner at Via Vanti restaurant at 2 Kirby Plaza in Mount Kisco, NY. Five-course meal at $85 per person, including signed copy of How Italian Food Conquered the World. Call 914-666-6400. Click here.
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Calming Down Those California Pinot Noirs
by John Mariani
Big cities demand a traveler's commitment to stay put for several days, or, as has been said of great cities like New York, Rome, London and Paris, if you spend a week there you'll know the city well; if you spend a lifetime, you'll realize how much you don't know. Smaller cities, however, can be visited with pleasure for a day or two, to take in the principal sights and determine if you want to return for a longer stay. In fact, I find such visits extremely enjoyable and, more often than not, make me hungry for more. This article is another in a continuing, occasional series I call "Day Trippers," intended to give the reader a quick, broad overview of a city where I was delighted for just a day or two. --J.M.
by John Mariani
Kuşadasi is not on most
people's first destination stops in the Aegean,
unless you are an archaeologist, in which case it
would be the prime purpose of your visit.
Brasserie Pushkin 212-465-2400 www.cafe-pushkin.com
Syrnikov's contentions don't really amount to much in the real world of Russian cuisine. For to take potatoes out of Russia one might as well take them out of all European cuisines, remove tomatoes from Italian cuisine and chile peppers from all of Asia, because all those foods and more entered the world's larders via the Americas in what was called the post-1492 Columbian Exchange. His rant reminds me of the old Russian proverb, "If the poor did not provide the food, the rich would have to eat money." High class Russian food is just as Russian as that of the commoners.
It is, however, well worth noting that the food served in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg in Tsarist Russia was heavily influenced by French cuisine, whose impact on all the aristocratic courts of Europe was enormous. French was the language of the Russian court. Even a dish of raw, seasoned beef called "beef tartare," which only appeared in Paris restaurants in the last century, has nothing to do with the cooking of the nomadic Turkic people called Tatars. So it's natural that so many French-style dishes would appear on Russian restaurant menus, which tend to be festive and celebratory, as it is today, Russian Orthodox Easter, when, after midnight Mass, Russian break their Lenten fast with meats and other rich foods.
All of this is worth keeping in mind when you visit the extravagantly decorated, new Brasserie Pushkin, with its huge chandeliers, carved moldings and ceilings, polished inlaid wood floors, gorgeously lighted bar (above), and Russian motifs that date back to the 19th century and the Beaux Arts era. (The drab brown tablecloths are hardly what you'd call festive, though.) The only thing out of synch is the playing of American jazz music rather than Russian, but that might be for the better. Otherwise, civilized conversation, even of the romantic kind, is happily possible.
You are greeted warmly by a bevy of beautiful Maria Sharapova-lookalike hostesses; the staff, some of whom are Russian, is cordial if as yet still on a learning curve for American dinner service. The management and waiters spend way too much time convening at the bar or in front of the computer, their backs to their guests, but I trust this will be corrected soon enough. Currently, Moscow chef Andrey Makhof is on premises to train a largely American kitchen, led by chef de cuisine Jawn Chasteen. When Makhof and the other Russians now employed here return to Moscow is anybody's guess but I was told they are due to leave at some point.
Brasserie Pushkin is owned by One Percenter Moscow restaurateur Andrey Dellos, who has several similar restaurants in Russia and one in Paris, as well as a large chain of fast food eateries called Mu-Mu. He has, obviously, spared no expense in making the NYC operation (most likely a prototype for more to come) his showcase, and its location just east and across the street from that venerable NYC landmark The Russian Tea Room (1927) seems calculated to show that Russian cuisine can be highly refined yet retain its lusty links to the past. (It should be noted that many of the same items, at more or less the same prices, appear on both restaurants' menus.)
The menu comes as a folded broadsheet on brown paper, with old prints (and a few lame Russian jokes and antiquated historic notes) of dishes, pots and pans. It's a lavish screed, and there are plenty of delicacies here you won't find elsewhere in NYC. Of five salads offered, we tried the "vinegret," with beets, pickled cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, very hearty, generous, and delicious. Among the appetizers is one of the finest beef tartares I've ever had--impeccably fresh beef, chopped to just the right mince, well seasoned and mixed with quail egg on a crouton. Tuna tartare would have been its equal had the horseradish foam not been so tame--which is always the demerit of a foam sauce.
My wife, Galina, who is two-thirds Russian, had to admit that the buckwheat blinis were excellent, feathery light, with a good buckwheat flavor, topped with crème fraîche (the fancy French name for sour cream), eggs, chives, and salmon roe (or, for $135, with osetra caviar). Stickler though she is, Galina also nodded vigorous assent as to the ideal texture and taste of the pelmeni, a kind of Russian ravioli stuffed with pork, beef and lamb.
Among the entrees, I was particularly delighted with chicken pojarsky, a breaded cutlet that may often come off as heavy and dense. Here it is as fluffy and juicy as a well-wrought omelet, light and very flavorful. Blintzes, which most New Yorkers will associate with heavy Jewish deli food, show themselves here to be refined, with a crispy skein of dough wrapped around succulent braised veal, with crème fraîche.
Among the four seafood entrees, sterlet (above), a small species of sturgeon, is served whole to retain its juices, accompanied by piped potato puree, baked cherry tomatoes, and a lush crayfish sauce (curiously enough, here spelled "crawfish," Louisiana-style). Also pristine in its whiteness was Casco Bay cod that took on a touch of sweetness from an apple-rosemary puree, Brussels sprouts leaves. and a fine reduction of Muscat wine.
Desserts are intentionally lavish but oddly don't come up to modern standards. "Café Pushkin" is the name given to an old-fashioned layer cake with blueberry and raspberry jellies, toasted almonds, raspberry sorbet (too firm), pistachio mousse and a vanilla-orange coulis--a dish too fussy and too fussed with. A hazelnut meringue dome (right) with ice cream filling, saffron-apple marmalade and sheer sheets of apple is a reminder of why baked Alaska went out of fashion, and the profiterole was one big softball of puff pastry sandwiching praline-coriander ganache with a chocolate lime sauce--the kind of over-the-top presentation that might make you think Russian food is a bit on the excessive side.
For a new restaurant, the wine list has immediate heft, depth and breadth, but it is astonishingly top heavy in very high end bottles, with few whites below $75 and few reds under $100. A bottle of Château Montrose '05 will run you $135 at a store; here it's $545. Patz & Hall Pisoni '08 runs $60 retail, here $208. Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge '08 is $60 versus $164. There are a number of specialty cocktails and house-infused vodkas.
Brasserie Pushkin should evolve into a real enchantment when everything hangs together and comes into focus. It's beautiful, it's fun to be there, and the food can be enlightening about what Russian cuisine once was and now is again.
11:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.
Brunch Sat. & Sun. Appetizers $15-$29 (caviar more
expensive), main courses $21-$48.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARJohn Mariani's 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.
Calming Down Those
California Pinot Noirs
by John Mariani
Rachael Taylor and Freddy Rodriguez in "Bottle Shock" (2008)
If I wanted to get drunk fast, I need not knock back jiggers of whiskey. A couple of glasses of high-alcohol California pinot noirs will do the job nicely. When cult pinot noirs of Napa and Sonoma get way beyond 15 percent alcohol, many in the American wine media give them high points ratings, glowingly characterizing them as “blockbusters,” “fleshy,” “muscular,” and “hedonistic,” which may be fine buzz words for Hollywood Roman gladiator movies but not what I seek in a good pinot noir.
Indeed, it would be a rare thing to find any of the great pinot noir-based wines of Burgundy at anything like those levels: Romanée-Conti, one of the richest (and most expensive) Burgundies, usually hits 13 percent. Any wine, red or white, must have its alcohol by volume printed on its label, though the bottle may in fact contain, by law, plus or minus one percent for wines over 14 percent, and there are tax penalties for underestimating those levels.
Still, those monster California pinots (Oregon pinots tend not to be so massive) gather accolades and awards, sometimes allocating their wines through subscription. Finesse and balance are not their strong points. High prices are.
I have always been an admirer of the pinot noirs of Williams Selyem, whose wines stay between 13.8 and 14.1 most years, although they’ve made some whopping big chardonnays and zinfandels that break the 16 percent ceiling. Increasingly I have been drinking with pleasure a range of California pinot noirs below 15 percent, and they haven’t the high price tags of their brawnier competitors’. Here are some I’ve enjoyed recently, all under 14 percent.
Forest Glen Pinot Noir 2010
($8)—Very easy to drink, at 12.8 percent, with very
soft tannins and tangy acids. It’s actually made
from 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent syrah to
give it more berry flavors. The regional vineyards
are not specified on the label. Not a great deal of
depth here, but for eight bucks it will go well with
a club sandwich or grilled salmon.
($13)—The silly name tends to put off wine snobs, as
can its website that reads “rumor has it that
Vampire Vineyards are actually owned by a circle of
vampires,” along with a company founder who’s an
“entertainment lawyer from New York.” Still, while
no one would call this pinot noir complex, it has a
good strawberry nose and a hint of that “barnyard”
taste pinot noir fanciers love. With 12.5 percent
alcohol, it’s a lightweight that makes it a fine
choice for veal or pork dishes, even fresh tuna
DeLoach Heritage Reserve 2009
($13—This Russian River Valley example—a region from
many of the best California pinot noirs now
come--begins on the palate with plenty of fruit,
clean, fresh, at 13.5 percent alcohol, and with true
pinot noir flavor of a kind bigger examples
obliterate. DeLoach (below) prides itself on still
using the old punching-down technique in the wine
vats called pigéage
in Burgundy. Not a long finish but it’s rich enough
to go with
roast lamb or any chicken dish imaginable.
MacMurray Ranch 2009
($18)—There are violets in the nose, typical of fine
pinot noir, and this Sonoma Valley bottling has both
the body and spice that define the better aspects of
sunny California pinot noirs from cooler terroirs.
I’d happily drink it with smoky pork or a pasta dish
with wild mushrooms.
Coppola Silver Diamond Label
2009 ($18)—The price is certainly right for this
example from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia
Highlands. It is bold and complex, with a sweet
undertone you rarely find in Burgundian examples.
It’s one of those rare pinot noirs that will go with tomato sauces,
which I suspect winemaker and sometimes filmmaker
Francis Ford Coppola (left) had in mind all the
time. The website also recommends it with take-out
Ramspeck Napa Valley 2009
($17)—A wonderful bouquet that flourishes into a
wine with some tight tannins, this will take on the
char of a steak grilled outdoors as well as game
dishes come this autumn.
Angeline Reserve 2010 ($17)—This is an interesting blend of pinot noirs, 36 percent from Sonoma, 34 percent from Mendocino, and 30 percent from the cooler Santa Barbara, all of which comes together in admirable balance, not least in the acids that underpin and refresh the tannic qualities. This one has some of that plummy character those who love big-fisted wines crave, and I’d as soon serve it with cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or a fine Cheddar as I would with the sweet flavors of Chinese food like Peking duck.
"CORRECTIONS: A report last Wednesday in the Off the Menu column rendered incorrectly the name of a food and music festival planned for Prospect Park, Brooklyn, in May. It is The Great GoogaMooga, not The Great Googa Mooga."--NY Times.
YEAH? THEN WHY DO
According to scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada, there is a direct relationship between eating fast food or commercial baked goods (doughnuts, cakes, croissants) and the risk of developing depression, with fast food fans 51 percent more likely to develop depression than minimal or non-consumers. Also, results of the study indicated that those who ate the most fast food and commercial baked goods were more likely to be single, less active and have poor dietary habits, as well as smoke and work over 45 hours per week.
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❖❖❖FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linked to four excellent travel sites:
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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: HALIFAX AND THE TITANIC.
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).
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